How selling as a writer is different from selling as a creative entrepreneur.
If you’re a writer who wants to write for publications, be a bestselling author, or have any kind of readership for your work, you’re in the creative industry, but you’re also—like it or not—in sales.
Don’t panic, however!
Artists sell differently. Artists SHOULD sell differently. And the sales and marketing that works for artists is entirely different from the sales and marketing that works for traditional businesses and even non-creative online businesses.
Yet, ask any business guru about selling and you’re given the same strategies and formulas to sell your art that are given to sell a car or a refrigerator.
It doesn’t work.
I know because I’ve been selling books and products online (not to mention articles, essays, and features) for the last fifteen years. This year, as we grew and turned into a “real business” with directors and contractors, I started bringing some professional advice in from grown-up traditional business people.
This was a mistake because I am, at heart, an artist and everything I create and sell is a part of that calling. The shift in my mind from “artist” to “business” affected my business, and not in a good way. It took me months to figure out that what I was doing before I decided to act like a “real” business was working precisely because I’d been selling like an artist, not a brick-and-mortar business.
Here’s what else I learned that artists need to remember when they go to sell anything, be that a book or a product.
1. Let your instinct be your guide
The price that feels right TO YOU is always the right price, no matter what anyone, including the market, says. And here is why: You will only ever sell effectively at a price that you feel connected to. As an artist, you will be required to sell your art, whether that is a course, a self-published novel, or a painting. We are not trained salespeople, nor do we have any interest in becoming so. Which means we’re only ever going to feel comfortable selling things we believe in at the price we ourselves would have paid for it.
Ever seen authors apologize for the price of their books because their publishers set the price and they have no control over it?
If you resist promoting your product because you’re not 100% behind it, that’s a problem. Having a lower-priced product you’re happy to sell is any day better than a higher-priced product you can’t put your force behind.
2. Know what your readers want and give it to them, but honor yourself first
You will never write or create anything new and genre-bending if you consistently write for the market and for readers, especially if you’re dulling down your own true voice in the process.
Steve Jobs once said, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” As a creator, this will become your mantra. Sure, you can sell articles, books, courses, and digital products based on customer research and what people want, but I now run a six-figure business and it all started with a course called 30 Days, 30 Queries, which no one would have “wanted.” Indeed, before I launched it, experienced writers told me that no one wanted to send 30 queries in a month and that it wasn’t even possible. Now it’s one of the best-known, highest-recommend, and most-loved courses on pitching online.
My courses and communities are popular with writers and I consistently get feedback saying they’re helping people do things they’ve never done before and stay committed to goals in ways they never have, but I didn’t create the community based on feedback from readers. I wanted to be part of a community of writers I adored, couldn’t find something that worked for me, and so I created one.
I fulfilled my vision first.
3. Believe passionately in what you’re saying, doing, and offering
When you believe in something, the sales material pretty much writes itself. I don’t have to “sell” you on Wordling Plus, any of my books, or my courses because I’m so excited about launching them and putting them on the market.
To me, it seems more like coming online to tell a bunch of writers I really connect with about things I know and can teach them that will help them do so too. To me, telling you about Wordling Plus doesn’t seem like selling because I’m so excited to share with you all the cool stuff we’re doing in there, such as creating an online community and doing monthly sprints and giving you most of my courses for free (I know!)
I want you to come and join us in our accountability and the behind-the-scenes conversations we’re having about what agents want and how I’m working with my editor and what telling my story has REALLY been like in dealing with family. I WANT to share this stuff with you because I know it will help you. Why would I NOT want to tell you about it?
When you care about what you publish and promote, you won’t worry about being “too salesy.” You will go the extra mile and push yourself and say things like, “You must buy this book” because you truly believe that the people you’re talking to must buy this book. You’re confident it will help them and when you truly believe that, saying it won’t be hard at all. Selling becomes natural and easy.
4. Provide value even when you’re selling
Every sales message you put out there—every single one—should have some value beyond just the sales message. If you look at the way I sell, you’ll see I always offer something of value. I’ll write an article such as this one that gives you insight into why I’m selling or how I’m doing it, or I’ll share the story behind the product or I’ll just give you some of my best advice and show you where to find more.
Because here’s the thing: Am I interested in having you buy from me? Sure, of course I am. The products I offer will help you create a fulfilling career and a fulfilling life. Why would I NOT want you to buy something that will show you how to create a writing career that’s fulfilling, makes you money, and gives you freedom?
But am I interested in selling to you? Nope. I’m interesting in telling you stories, I’m interested in having you read my work, I’m interested in being the best writer I can be and having a wide readership for that work. I’m interested in sharing those things with you if you’re resonating with them. So I give you those stories, my work, and some of my most personal writing and if you feel you want more of that, I give you the option to buy it. Easy for me, easy for you. No sales “tactics” necessary.
The most important thing to remember here is to know who you’re writing for. Don’t dumb down your work for hundreds of thousands of people in the mass audience. Write for YOUR people, the unique subset of people who will resonate with what you do and believe in the same truths that you believe in. Write for yourself. Write what is true for you. Your tribe will find you. The people who resonate will stick around. The people who find meaning in your work will support you and continue to do so with whatever you create and publish because it is not your product that they’re buying, but your vision.
Don’t be a company, be a person. Be an artist.
Most artists start acting corporate and what they consider to be “businesslike” when they realize they need to start selling. That is a big mistake.
To sell like an artist, first be an artist.
Delight your small audience. They will carry you and your work if you believe in it and allow them to share in it.
5. Always practice integrity in selling
You can always find someone ready to criticize your work and your prices. Just make sure that person isn’t you. You can stand true in your products and in your pricing if you remain a person of your word and stay consistent in everything you believe in.
Here’s an example: I teach my students to charge what they’re worth. I show them how to create the best, most authentic, most original work possible. I show them how to find stories no one is telling. And I show them how to get the best possible rate for that work. I encourage them not to undersell themselves.
So if I preach charging what you’re worth and honoring your work and your gifts, how hypocritical and inauthentic would it be for me to not do the same?
How ludicrous would it be for me to give away for free things I know will change your life? How inauthentic of me as a teacher to not show you the ways in which I can teach?
I never worry about what people think of my work or my pricing because I stand firmly by everything I create and what I charge.
And if ever that rare circumstance occurs where I feel I’ve made a mistake in charging either too much or too little, I fix it.
6. Your opinion is the only one that matters
Know your goals. What are you hoping to achieve with this project and what do you need to do in order to sell it in a way that helps you achieve your goals?
Be true to you. What is YOUR vision? What is YOUR priority? What is YOUR ideal in this situation?
The market may have something different to say, but don’t forget what I said at the beginning—you’re an artist.
Follow your gut, both when it comes to the creation of your work and when it comes to how you sell it, and you can’t possibly go wrong.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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