Here’s what I wish could happen:
- I write a book or schedule a retreat or offer a service.
- The world comes storming to my gates to buy, attend, or work with me.
Here’s what actually happens:
- I write a book, schedule a retreat, or office a service.
- Crickets have the stage.
- I decide to promote that book, retreat, or service.
- I feel angsty and wish I didn’t have to promote my work. I do it anyway.
- A few people unsubscribe or maybe whine about “self-promotion.”
- I feel bad.
- I keep promoting.
I have an uneasy relationship with sales, partially because I really do wish I could just do this work for free—or barter. I’m always up for a barter especially if it involves angora rabbits. But I also have an uneasy relationship with sales because I came to writing through academic means, and academics still live, oddly, with an idea of meritocracy as the way people get recognition for what they do.
In the academic model, you get degrees, you publish articles that (sadly) almost no one reads, and you get a job that you can never lose. Most of the world does not work this way. In fact, most of the world is not a meritocracy at all. It’s … well, pick your metaphor—battlefield, dog fight, chaotic mass of swirl. For me, I like to see the world as a field of wildflowers. (Stick with me. I’m not going to go too hippie dippy.)
My teacher Sharman Apt Russell wrote a book called An Obsession with Butterflies. (It’s a great book, by the way.) She began writing that book with a single question: what does a butterfly see when it enters a meadow full of wildflowers? That image is one that I hold dear because I put myself in the place of the butterfly. I fly into that field, and I see the colors and shapes of all those flowers, and I have to choose to start somewhere, right?
The world, then, on my good days, is like that field of wild flowers. We put our books, retreats, services, and courses up and make them as pretty as we can. We choose a color scheme, a petal shape, a height of the stalk, and we set them out in the world for people to see. And we let our flower flag fly. (Love mixing idioms, I do.)
That’s all sales is—putting your work out into the world so that people know it’s there and can choose if it they want. If they don’t want, then they can—and should—say NO. It’s not fair to them if we don’t give their butterfly selves the choice to see our work, and we can’t blame them for not picking our flower if we don’t get it out in the field where they can see it.
Now, that’s not to say we need to be doing sales all the time or even most of the time. That’s like pushing our flower into the beds of our friends’ houses. Instead, we share, but in moderation. Here are my three guidelines for sales:
- 25% sales; 75% helpful stuff that is about other people. I share other people’s content, review their books, post helpful links, share tips, post funny pictures of cows.
- Sell to the people who care. I do my best not to flood my general FB or Twitter feeds with sales stuff because the people I know there already know I have books out and can get them when they want. I do post a little in those spaces, but more like 10% instead of 25% of the time.
- Try not to take it personally. I lost a bunch of folks from a mailing list when I sent a sales email. That does hurt—I won’t lie—but when I get some perspective, I just realize they are not my people. AND I believe firmly that grown-ups should say NO to what they don’t want. So I’m glad they’re gone … mostly. But not in a mean way. You know what I mean, right?
So take this from me. . . it’s really okay to promote your own work, even if people tell you it’s not. You are proud of what you write, teach, provide. Put it out in the world. Let your flowers rise up toward the sun. Let them glow with pollen and fill us all with delight. (Okay, I’m slipping into hippie-dippie love child land, so I’ll stop.)
But really, don’t be afraid to sell. Just be responsible and courteous. It’s that simple.
For more, check out Andi’s Love Letters to Writers.