In chemistry, catalysts are agents of change that shatter the inertness of a stable molecule. The catalyst itself doesn’t participate in the chemical exchange. It neither gives nor takes. Its mere presence, however, upends everything else. And the same holds for the more personal, the more human catalysts that affect the lives of people.
A good example of a catalyst in my career was the decision to hire David Farland to edit my first book, Advent 9. Simply having his name attached to the project opened opportunities for me I would not have had otherwise. By the time I had implemented his roadmap for me, I had a professional understanding of everything it takes to publish a book. If I had been given another year with him, I’m sure I would have grown in additional ways.
In particular, I was hoping to learn how to do marketing and publicity for my book from him. The roadmap he left for me had many gaps in the marketing information. For many months after Dave’s passing, I found myself scrambling, trying to augur the secrets of marketing a book, and encountering frequent dead ends.
The Bad Advice
Every course or article about marketing makes the same mistake: it advertises itself as teaching universally applicable rules of marketing, then proceeds to address marketing only as it applies to a single field or product. The article “Top Ten Secrets of Marketing” is actually about how to market vacuum cleaners. That course on “Advanced Marketing Techniques for Professionals” only applies to people who are trying to sell online courses. All that confident claptrap about “demonstrating your product in the client’s home” or “leave your business card on a CEO’s desk” does nothing to help a publisher and novelist get his books read (and probably isn’t that great for selling vacuum cleaners, If I’m being honest).
Why no one could apparently teach the universal, underlying principles of marketing is still a mystery to me. Because it’s not like marketing fails to have underlying universal principles. There are general facts about marketing that apply just as much to an author selling his book as they do to a call center selling life insurance. Yet successful marketing professionals appear to believe that these bedrock principles should be passed over in favor of the niche tactics that worked for their specific situation (“Have you tried selling your book in bowling alleys? That’s where I sell all my bowling shoes, so I know they’re a good place to sell stuff.”)
At times, including the window of time immediately after publishing Advent 9, it seemed as if I would never decipher the arcane art of marketing. I knew that if I tried an “all of the above approach,” I would quickly learn which marketing efforts work and which don’t. I also knew this lesson would be costly—the kind that could waste a great deal of my money.
Even with that waste, it would be worth the cost as long as I learned enough from the experience to make marketing my next book easy.
I’m happy and sad to say I was right. The painful lessons showed me where I should direct my efforts. I am beginning to understand the underpinnings of marketing. I still wish I could go back and teach these lessons to my younger self directly, and avoid the expense of making so many wrong turns, but I can say that what lessons I have learned were worth the money and time.
My Special Position
Ever since I was a child, I have had a talent for speaking the ineffable. I have a handicap when it comes to intuiting situations. What others can learn from observation, I have to be told with exact instruction. But this poses a problem, because most adults can’t explain the things they know. They can’t even explain how they perform their daily tasks. They think they know a subject right up until the moment they are called upon to teach it. And if they can’t explain a thing to me in words, then they can’t teach me.
The flipside of this is that any knowledge which can be conveyed in words, I can easily master. This has forced me to live a life of putting intuitive, ineffable processes into words—to find a way to say the unsayable. Taming the undefined is my superpower, and has become a hallmark of the way I convey information on this website, with many good examples.
As such, once I learn a subject, I am able to teach it in a clear and understandable way. I do not hide the truth behind abstract smokescreens with the hope that you will somehow guess my meaning. I just tell you how to do the job.
It feels like I’m approaching an understanding of how marketing works, and if so, I’m probably going to become the best possible person to explain the subject to others. I’m even starting to look forward to the prospect, though I have no idea how or when I will ever get the chance to teach anyone about it. This blog, for all the good information it holds, has the disadvantage of being a well kept secret. The writer who discovers it will be empowered in ways they can’t yet imagine, but they will have to find it first. I can only send the invitation.
What the Next Iteration Will Bring
Today, I am a thousand times the marketer I was at the release of Advent 9. And I am not done marketing Advent 9. As my own roadmap begins to take shape, I can begin to understand what is required of me to become a household name and bestselling author.
And the crazy part is, I already have a ton of resources. I’ve been building them for years, knowing that one day my immense Twitter following, my ability to turn a phrase, and my not insignificant funding would somehow help me. I just never understood which direction I should be throwing all these javelins. Now I know.
Give me enough time, and I’ll be able to tell you how I pulled it off.
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