Artists (writers) like me tend to not be great producers. By that I mean that we’re great at making things beautiful, but we’re really not that great at convincing people to buy them. – Allison Vestervelt
When I was in college, a friend and I joked that we wanted to find patrons, people with a lot of money who would just pay us to write and read books. We were joking, but also, we were very serious. We knew – even then in our English-majory arrogance – that art doesn’t pay well and that we were going to need help to be able to make our art.
I’m still looking for my patron, or as Allison Vestervelt puts it, my producer, the person who is going to convince the world that my writing is absolutely worth buying. I’m okay with wanting to find that person. I am not okay with becoming my own sales force.
Really, what I want to be is a NASCAR driver, the Carl Edwards of writing, someone whose only job is to drive that car really well, turn left with skill, and try not to wreck. That driver’s sponsors cover the expensives, and s/he does an interview and poses for a picture once in a while. But mostly the driver’s job is to race well. That’s what I want, and honestly, I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
While I have no problem at all talking about my work – be it my books or my editing or my teaching – while I am confident that what I do is high quality and valuable, to be able to do that work well, I cannot spend all my time trying to convince people to buy it. My art suffers when I do that.
We seem to have gotten these things mixed up as artists. We think we have to build a platform, and often in the process of building it, we neglect the very art we want to set on it. We think we have to spend our time building blog readership or accruing Twitter followers or networking so that we can use those connections to sell our work to more people. In the meantime, our work is still out there in the ether, waiting for us to stop checking our Google Analytics and give our time to the actual art.
So, I’m going to stop with all of that. Do I want (and even need) people to take my classes or hire me as an editor; do I want to help more writers get words down through coaching? Yes, of course, because I love that work. But beyond putting the information out there (and maybe throwing a link or two into a blog post,) I’m not going to spend a lot of time marketing. I just can’t. That search for higher blog stats and increased Facebook likes can gobble up all my time, and of late, that’s just what I’ve let it do. I need to be about creating art . . . and I need to trust that my patrons will come – with shares and recommendations, with referrals to friends, with new manuscripts for me to edit. Not because I’m lazy and not because I don’t believe in my work, but because sales, marketing those aren’t my jobs. Writing is.
So Derek Halpern and Michael Hyatt, let those guys teach people how to sell. They do a great job. Maybe some of the people they teach will share their learning and gifts to help sell what I do – I’d be grateful for the gift.
But me, I’m going to read blogs full of beautiful words and books that push my understanding of language and craft and that draw me deep into story because my job – my part of this absolutely incredible body that is the human race – is to write and help other people write better. That’s all.
I have to believe that if I do the work, everything else will fall into place. Maybe even that patron. I’m not above putting a logo sticker on my laptop.
What is your job? Are you meant to write or to support writers? Are you meant use your gifts to promote people doing great things and, thus, do something great yourself, or do you need to put your head down and write that book or craft that table, letting other people be your sales force?
Note – please know that I realize that part of the writer’s life in our culture is promotion. I’m not saying I won’t blog (obviously) or share things on Facebook or go on book tours when my book sells. I will, but I’m not going to lose days and days of good writing time to do those things. I need to write, so that’s where my focus will be.