Do You Suffer From Marketer’s Block?

Recently, I’ve noticed an interesting evolution in the writing productivity classes I teach.

Up until a few years ago, writers almost always took one of my classes because they were procrastinating or blocked on a book or other work. These days, however, many who take my classes have finished their book: it’s their marketing they’re stuck on.

And many of those who are stuck are indie publishers.

What gives?

To understand what’s going on, you first need to understand that procrastination isn’t caused by laziness, lack of discipline, lack of commitment, or any other lack, but disempowerment. Disempowerment means you’re not missing anything; just separated from, or constrained from using, that which you have. Locate and remedy the disempowering forces in your work and life, and your energy, discipline, commitment, etc., will “automagically” reappear. Here’s more info on how to do that. 

So what would disempower an indie publisher?

The major disempowering forces are: perfectionism, ambivalence, resource constraints, unmanaged time, ineffective work processes, traumatic rejections, and a disempowering career path. I characterize them all, and detail their solutions, in my book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific. Perfectionism is the most serious because it undermines you in many ways, and also impairs your ability to solve the rest.

meaneditorBut let’s look at that last one: disempowering career path. In the bad old days of traditional publishing, writers slogged away for years in a fundamentally disempowering system. You took years to write a novel; an editor or agent held onto the manuscript for months and then decided its fate in a few minutes (if you were lucky). And often, depending on how your publisher treated you and your work, getting accepted only brought on more disempowerment, since you would have little or no say over your book’s cover, editing, and marketing.

In such a situation, where the odds are really stacked against a writer’s success–especially if your work isn’t trendy, or otherwise easily salable–procrastination actually makes sense as a way of “opting out” of an unfair and hopeless-seeming system. So that’s what many blocked writers were doing: rebelling. This example illustrates two core features of procrastination:

  1. Our reasons for doing it are always valid. Always.
  2. It’s a suboptimal response to a bad situation. Procrastination isn’t a character flaw; it’s simply a coping strategy. And it’s even okay (and entirely human) to procrastinate once in a while. However, as a primary coping strategy, it’s a disaster, and leads to a life of unfulfilled bitterness.

Cut to 2013, and the glories of indie publishing.

Most readers of the Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog know that indie is a a major liberating and empowering force for writers. As Joe himself recently wrote: “It truly is the best time in history to be a writer. The are no longer any boundaries. You can work with whomever you want to, at your own speed, get paid monthly, write about anything you want, do very little marketing, and still reach readers….What an amazing, incredible time to be alive. How lucky we all are.”

I concur! I indie published the 7 Secrets, and wound up with a book I truly loved that is now helping many people and selling hundreds of copies a month in electronic and paper formats. Like many successful indie publishers, my main problem is not the disempowering drudgery of dealing with capricious and uncaring publishers, but finding the time to replicate my success by writing and marketing as many other books as possible. Believe me–it’s a much better problem to have!

Which brings us to all the cases of Marketer’s Block I’m seeing.

I think what’s happening is that many writers, who finally see themselves as having a realistic path to publishing via indie publishing, are no longer feeling disempowered when writing. And so they’re finishing their books.

But then, after they start to market, it’s a whole other story. Suddenly, they realize that marketing is not just a much bigger process than they had envisioned, it’s also much slower. They had dreams of winning readers by the dozens or hundreds, but instead they’re winning them a few (or one!) at a time, in what seems like a painfully slow effort.

They’re also discovering that, while it’s fantastic to have access to a superabundance of great marketing tools, it’s also overwhelming. For many writers, figuring out the right mix of marketing tools and techniques is a constant challenge that’s only getting tougher. A year ago, for instance, few writers had heard of email direct marketing companies like BookBub, BookGorilla, and BookBasset, but now they’re all the rage.

It can all lead to a kind of overwhelm, decision fatigue, “analysis paralysis,” and the feeling of disempowerment that leads to procrastination.

So what to do?

Here are some techniques that will help:

  1. Acknowledge that you’re in a business. The writers who succeed are those with the clearest vision, and what they see most clearly is that indie publishing is a business. So they educate themselves on business (visit SBA.gov to learn about free resources in your area) and conduct themselves like businesspeople. ALL businesses, whether they’re selling shoes or salsa or science fiction, require lots of marketing and sales; and the best any business can offer is a decent return on an investment, which means that to succeed, you need to be be prepared to make initial investments of money, time, and attention.
  2. Relatedly, lower your expectations. Forget about the overdramatized, reductive, and probably untrue “overnight success” stories the media constantly pushes–they’re not the norm. Indie publishing, like most businesses, is a long term endeavor, so work hard, moderate your expectations, and relish even your small successes (which probably aren’t as small as you think).
  3. Kid-in-candy-storeDon’t compare. In practically every class I teach, sooner or later someone starts complaining about Fifty Shades of Grey–how bad it is, how unfair it is that it’s a bestseller, how much the world sucks for “real writers,” etc. (It used to be Twilight, by the way–writers can always find someone to envy; and while I’m at it, let me remind you of Joseph Epstein’s famous quote that, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.”) It doesn’t matter. Focus on writing the best books possible, and on doing the best possible marketing for those books, and your odds of a success that will be satisfying, if not stratospheric, will soar.
  4. Work on your perfectionism. Because it is the main brake on your productivity and success. It’s not at all the same as having high standards; it’s a toxic brew of unreasonable expectations, harsh self-punishments, grandiosity, shortsightedness, reductionism, dichotomization, and more. For the complete description, click here. And for the solutions, click here.
  5. And, finally, Have fun. Because Joe is right: this is a golden age for writers. The problem we have is the one we want to have: too much opportunity. It’s the problem of the proverbial kid in the candy store, and, like the kid, all we have to do is pace ourselves and we’re in for a great time.

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