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The #1 Problem All Writers Face Is They Suck at Sales and Marketing

by | May 7, 2024 | Writing

The life of a writer often feels cursed.

So many of us are starving artists. I’ve been writing online for 10 years and I have two distinct groups of writer friends:

  1. The group of romantic writers that obsess over the writing, complain/blame a lot, and can never pay their bills.
  2. The group of writers who practice the art form and make stupid amounts of money off the back of their writing.

There’s one subtle difference between the two groups…

Writers who comfortably pay their bills embrace sales and marketing

The traditional writers hate the word sales.

They think making money online is dishonest and scammy. So the only way they try to make money is saying, “Hey, here are some words, now pay me.”

In a world drowning in words, this is the least valuable way to earn a living. Because words themselves aren’t enough to attract people to your work. Successful digital writers have learned the basics of sales and marketing.

They’re no Gary Vaynerchuk, and they don’t believe in endless sales funnels, but they are convinced they have to sell themselves and their work. (Even if they have no sales skills.)

The Justin Welsh formula that’s great for non-salesy writers

Justin Welsh is a 7-figure writer.

If you chat to him, like I have, you’ll notice he’s a pretty humble and quiet guy. He’s an introvert and hates cheap marketing.

Because of this limitation he had to find a different way to do sales and marketing as a writer. This is his approach:

1. Promote yourself online every single day

He says to promote your work, name (brand), opinions, ideas, and how you think. We each have a unique worldview, and that’s one of the best ways to get people to read your writing without clickbait.

2. Expect readers to react in one of these predictable ways

Every time you do sales and marketing readers will either:

– Love you (customers)
– Hate you (who cares)
– Join you (network)
– Follow you (students)
– Ignore you (already are)

Unsuccessful writers suck at sales because they want everyone to like them. They’re secretly people pleasers.

When they get one hater they get all defensive and allow it to disrupt their entire writing empire. Successful writers don’t care about the 1% of haters that exist online and will find faults in everything they do.

Haters don’t pay a writer’s electricity bill. Read that again.

When you expect haters to read your writing and leave a stupid comment, it becomes an opportunity. They help you see where you may lack self-awareness. They also give you great content ideas for future essays.

Harsh Truth: Nobody else is going to promote your writing

This is where the average writer goes wrong.

They believe in some writing fairy godmother that’s going to see their brilliance and promote their writing for free.

  • Writing platforms (features, columns, staff picks)
  • Lottery-like social media algorithms
  • Traditional book publishers that occasionally dish out advances
  • Hollywood that occasionally finds a great story and turns it into a movie

These outliers are what delude most writers. They treat these rarer and rarer opportunities as a given, as long as they show up for enough years.

But when you outsource the sales and marketing of your writing to an unknown third party, you risk waiting your entire life to gain traction and never getting it.

In the meantime, you starve because of your refusal to promote your work, and you end up pissed off at the world that no one reads your writing.

So you throw mud at other writers and call anyone who does make money from their writing a pyramid scheme or “too salesy.”

The middlemen of the writing world are disappearing. If you want to write in any form, you’ve got to do the promotion part yourself.

I have good news. There’s another way to do sales and marketing as a writer that won’t make you feel dirty and want to take a shower…


The simple principles of ethical self-promotion

Self-promotion makes me feel like the former Donald Duck president.

I hate talking about myself, I dislike fame, and the word “influencer” makes me vomit. I want my ideas to stand out, not my last name. So I invented a different form of self-promotion that you can steal.

Focus on your email list

Too many writers try to sell too many things.

The #1 thing you want to promote is your email list. Everything else is a distraction that probably won’t help you earn a living.

An email list is where you can interact with people and build trust. It’s where you create value through publishing helpful writing, that over time will build your writing career.

Never ask for money the first time you meet a reader

The “buy me a coffee” button is one of the greatest sins in writing history.

Asking a reader for money the first time they read your stuff is like meeting someone you find attractive for the first time and asking them to have a cheeky gang bang later that night.

The best approach to sales and marketing is to be relational instead of transaction.

  • Transactional writers think about themselves first and do anything they can to score some sexy time with a reader. They think short term.
  • Relational writers want to date a reader for a while and perhaps sell something later that leads to marriage. They think long term.

No one is giving you money the first time they read your stuff. Read that 101 times until it sinks in.

Use “P.S.” instead of sending sales emails

Once you have an email list, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overwhelming readers with sales emails.

The better approach is to email out quality pieces of writing and then place a gentle one-sentence “P.S.” at the end that says something like:

“If you want to go deeper on this topic then get my book/webinar/template/coaching/ paid newsletter, etc right here.”

Now you sound considerate and intelligent rather than desperate, naked, needy, and homeless.

Never sell anything on social media timelines

Social media timelines are for gaining attention with your writing, not right hooking people in the face with a sales pitch.

Sell your online writing, not a book

A lot of writers suck at sales and marketing because they’re selling the wrong thing. They’re stuck in pre-internet 1990s thinking.

The best thing you can sell as a writer *isn’t* a book.

The average reader isn’t going to go from reading your one-sentence tweet, to buying your book that takes them 10–20 hours to read. We’re too busy for that. Starting with a book is the worst strategy in history.

Selling a book comes much later in an online writer’s journey (if at all).

Selling your online writing is a better option. The easiest business model is a paid newsletter using a platform like Substack.

Or you can give away all your writing for free via an email list and just sell a 1–1 service such as ghostwriting, freelance writing, copywriting, coaching, consulting, etc.

Try being more humble

Meet the reader where they are. Flex your credentials less. Remove the letters after your last name. Be a little kinder to the reader. Talk to them like they’re your friend instead of a way to make money.

Final thought

I’m tired of seeing writers be broke.

Thinking that you can avoid self-promotion, sales, and marketing is forcing you to never be a successful writer. If you refuse to sell then that’s fine. But you should stop writing and use your energy somewhere else.

Just like you have to sell your resume and experience to a potential employer to land a job, the same applies to your writing.

Either sell your writing, or stay at a job and keep selling your resume to earn a non-writing salary. There’s no in-between.

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