The New Market–with thanks to Seth Godin

Because I’m gearing up to market my first novel, Hannah, Delivered, in a bit less than a year, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what it means to put creative work into the world.  Most writers I know, myself included, assume their job is to write.  Writing is where we’re creative.  Writing is what we love.  Once done, we “succeed” by landing a publisher, we’re rejected by or we reject the publishers and print it ourselves, or we contentedly or discontentedly stow the manuscript under the bed.

Because I’m gearing up to market my first novel, Hannah, Delivered, in a bit less than a year, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what it means to put creative work into the world.  Most writers I know, myself included, assume their job is to write.  Writing is where we’re creative.  Writing is what we love.  Once done, we “succeed” by landing a publisher, we’re rejected by or we reject the publishers and print it ourselves, or we contentedly or discontentedly stow the manuscript under the bed.

Seth Godin is an internet and marketing guru with a fresh understanding of how the world now works.  “Whether or not you choose to be a marketer,” he told Krista Tippett in an interview, “you are one.”  Two of Godin’s ideas are rolling around in my head, changing my attitude to my upcoming publicity push.

First, Godin is interested in ethical marketing:  “Weaving a story and weaving a tribe and weaving a network that means something.  Doing work that matters.  Because now…everyone has their own printing press.  So what are you going to put on it?”  Most of the writers I work with don’t have any problem writing a story that means something.  We put our hearts into our work.  It matters, to us and, I believe, to others.  Godin links this creative endeavor to the creative work of building a community—something few writers consider, much less do.  What if writers understood launching our books to be an extension of the creative process, only instead of creating with words we create with people?  What would it look like for a writer to build a meaningful community—an audience—around a book?

Second, Godin is interested in the depth rather than the breadth of his work’s impact.  “I’m thrilled that almost everyone I meet has no idea who I am and what I do.  Because I don’t want lots of people showing up and saying, I read this, I read this, I read this.  Can I have your autograph?  That’s not the point.  The point is will someone come up to me and say, based on what I learned from you I taught ten other people to do this, and we made something that mattered.”  In other words, Godin suggests we measure our success not by numbers or fame but by the work’s good impact on the world.

I keep thinking about a story Cheri Register tells.  At a lecture, a prominent New York agent responded to a question from the audience by saying, “There’s no market for adoption stories.  Don’t bother.”  Cheri had written for and spoken to communities of adoptive parents for years; this work had helped her build a writing career; it had been deeply gratifying for her and significant for hundreds of adoptive families.  The agent’s comment revealed only one way (the culturally accepted way) of measuring success.  I like Godin’s advocacy for another.  The internet makes these kinds of “tribes” easy to find:  “You can take someone who hangs out in the East Village…who has 27 tattoos—they go to Amsterdam, they can find someone…who talks their language and acts like them… What the internet has done is meant that we don’t have to get on a plane anymore to meet strangers who like us.”

Now I’ve yet to put these new ideas about marketing into practice.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.  But I take heart from Godin’s perspective.  “There’s no such thing as cultural radar anymore,” he says.  “There’s cultural radars.  The New York Times bestseller list is stupid.  They should stop publishing it.  Because it doesn’t mean anything.”  Ha!

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew