When You Step in Dogma, Scrape it off your Shoe: Writers, Ignore Dogmatic Marketing Advice

by Anne R. Allen

The most dangerous concept in the universe is probably, "there is only one right way." People who insist there is only one right way to live, think, behave, or believe are responsible for most of the world's conflict and suffering.

Merriam-Webster defines dogma as "a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted." It stifles innovation and creative thought.

As Steve Jobs said, "your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking."

Dogmatic thinking is a symptom of narcissism. A narcissist can only perceive reality through his own narrow experience. Rather than learn about other people's experiences, he will bully others into diminishing or denying their own perceptions and insights. Because narcissists are unable to imagine themselves in other people's shoes, they can't understand that everybody has their own way of perceiving—and any or all of those ways can be "right" for them.

I've heard this view of reality compared to a giant wooden fence, where each of us can only see through a tiny knothole. The narcissist thinks his personal knothole-view is the only "real" one, and he believes everybody else should be forced to give up their knotholes and take his word for what is on the other side of the fence.

Last month I warned about the dogmatic enforcers of what Kris Rusch calls "weird writing rules." But the purveyors of "must-do book marketing rules" are just as dangerous. In fact, they can do more damage to your career.

Writers these days are buried under piles of insane to-do lists handed to us in workshops, forums, webinars and blogposts as if they had been carved on tablets by the Almighty and carried by Moses from the mountaintop. (Or at least from Mountain View.)

Nobody questions this stuff. Nobody asks, "Who says?" or "Where's the proof these things will work for me?" Most authors blindly accept whatever dogma is making its way around the bookosphere this week.

We constantly hear that "everybody knows" that if our books aren't making millions, either they're bad books or we're not trying hard enough.

This creates a sense of frantic urgency and what social media guru Chris Syme calls "The FOMA (Fear of Missing Out) Mindset.

Whether you're going the traditional route or self-publishing, you're constantly lectured by publicity experts, marketers, social media gurus and know-it-all authors who tell us: "If you're serious about your career you must…"

Plus of course you are already active at…

And you know you should be…

And where are your…

And if you're indie, you do have some of your books serialized for free on Wattpad, don't you?

Plus of course, you must run sales and advertise on Bookbub and all those other pricey newsletters. And if they won't take your books, start writing in a genre that Bookbub likes better. Who cares what you or your existing readers want or what you're good at?

And make sure you put in a lot of time harassing reviewers. Because they'll be sure to write great reviews for books in genres they don't like if you just send them enough emails. (For advice on how not to piss off a reviewer, check out Julie Valerie's post at Cinthia Ritchie's blog.)

And maybe buy a bunch of reviews from those paid review sites. Because lots of phony rave reviews always sell books. And Amazon has so much fun suing the phony reviewers. You don't want to deprive them of that, do you?

And you are designing and posting paid ads on Facebook, aren't you? What? Are you paying any attention at all?

And why aren't you on Audible making audiobooks of all your titles? And on Babelcube getting your books translated into dozens of foreign languages? You don't really care about your career, do you?

In addition, you MUST send weekly newsletters to everybody who has ever commented on your blog, followed you in social media, or stood behind you in line at Starbucks.

You should send those emails even if you have nothing to say but "I'm totally full of myself." Because annoying people is a great way to get them to give you money. (Hey, it works for political candidates.)

And this is the supreme commandment of book marketing dogma: THOU SHALT SACRIFICE ANYTHING TO BUILD THY EMAIL LIST. You're nobody if you don't have a million subscribers. So lure them by bribing them with everything you've ever written for free. Or better yet, give them gift cards so they can buy other people's books.

Because the primary aim of writers is not to write books and sell them, but to spam every inbox on the planet. Who cares that everybody deletes your newsletters? And nobody ever bought a book because of spam? And that what you're doing is probably illegal and a violation of the CAN-SPAM Act? At least you're following book marketing dogma, and that's all that really matters!

And, oh yeah, in your spare time, you should be turning out twelve-to-fifteen books a year.

I Tweeted a post last month on how to build your mailing list and one of my Tweeps tweeted back, "so much to do, so much to do!"

I felt her pain. I realized it's my pain too. Even as a Tweeted that post, I felt my stomach clench. There's too *&%! much to do. And I'm sick of it. Literally. I've had some kind of flu-y chest congestion for two months.

But every day I see new blogposts and articles and workshops, all telling us we're not working hard enough and if you're not selling, it's ALL YOUR FAULT.

And you know what?

It's a pile of poop.

Most of the people who are telling you this stuff do not write fiction. Their pronouncements are often based on a marketing book or a blog written by some guy who claims to have made a million dollars five years ago following this formula or that. And what they don't tell you is that guy's sales fell off a cliff two years ago and now he's desperately trying to stay afloat by selling this book full of out-of-date "rules".

Remember that marketing dogma is what tells charities and politicians to phone strangers at 6 PM every Friday evening when they're frantically trying to get dinner on the table after an exhausting work week. Telephone solicitors are told this is the best time to get people to donate money. (Apparently their bosses have confused colorful four-letter words with currency.)

Marketing dogma also teaches that the only demographic that matters is males between the ages of 18-35. This is a concept that dates from the 1950s when manufacturers—especially the automobile industry—were trying to build "brand loyalty" in the young. They thought that if they could get a teenager to brush his teeth with Ipana toothpaste, he'd be a fan of Bucky Beaver for life (sorry, you have to be very old to get that reference. :-) )

Most businesspeople know that "brand loyalty" no longer exists—if it ever did—but who cares? Most marketers still prefer to spend advertising dollars to reach underemployed 20-somethings trapped in perpetual student loan debt than older people with time and money to spend.

Marketing dogma teaches that marketing to people over 50 is worthless because they're all going to croak any minute. It treats all seniors as identical, whether they're 50 or 100 (The day I turned 55 my phone started ringing hourly from telemarketers trying to sell me wheelchairs, walk-in bathtubs, and burial plots. Happy Birthday you decrepit old geezer!)

It's amazing how many people prefer to follow dogma that's half a century out of date instead of trusting their own perceptions.

So I say enough with the bullbleep! The truth is there can be no dogma when it comes to marketing—especially online book marketing. These people are trying to codify something that is moving too fast to be pinned down.

You know why most books aren't selling as well as they did three or four years ago?

Because we're putting out over a million books a year. A million MORE books each year, because every book has an infinite shelf life. But the number of readers stays the same.

The way for an author to stand out in that vast mass of electrons is NOT by spending 12 hours a day on marketing and another 12 hours writing novels and priding ourselves on the fact we haven't had a wink of sleep since October of 2011.

Exhaustion does not generate great art. In spite of what Edna St. Vincent Millay said about that two-ended candle of hers. Ms. Millay did not have to deal with 24/7 media, Internet trolls, addictive cat videos, or blog pirates.

My advice to you is the same as the advice my doctor gave me last week. Take a rest. Listen to what Ruth Harris said in February. Take some time to goof off.

Blogger Jami Gold recently wrote a great post on author self-care and another on how we cannot do it all They are both must-reads.

Because here's the thing: nobody knows what sells books. What worked last month probably won't work now.

And the one thing we know won't work is…writing badly.

Why did J.K. Rowling become the most popular children's author in the world? It wasn't by giving away books to strangers so she could get their email addresses to spam them. It wasn't by learning Mandarin and chatting up Chinese kids on messaging apps. It wasn't by posting daily videos of her cat on YouTube.

It was by writing something unique that spoke to millions. By listening to her inner voice and not the trend predictors (and not cleaning her house for four years.)

Most importantly she was in exactly the right place at the right time with something nobody knew they wanted, but they were starving for.

I'm not saying that all marketers are full of it or that you shouldn't listen to them. A number of very sane book marketers give excellent advice. Frances Caballo, author of Avoid Social Media Time Suck said right on this blog "I don’t think it makes sense for authors to be everywhere…Otherwise, they are wasting their time and resources." Marketing expert Penny Sansevieri warns of "Content Fatigue." And book marketer Chris Syme says, "Many marketers are doing authors a disservice. Much of the social media marketing advice I see aimed at authors is…borderline unethical."

(And anybody who tells you that the way to market books is to reply to Tweets by other authors with a "buy my book" Tweet is setting you up for the Social Media Hall of Shame. When I Tweeted the countdown sale on HOW TO BE A WRITER yesterday, Catherine and I got one of those.)

What's even more important is what Author Earnings Data Guy said at Digital Book World in February: "As industry insiders, all of us—publishers, agents, retailers, pundits and analysts, and even authors—we tend to overestimate our own importance and our influence on the ways things are going to shape up. In the end, it’s about readers and what they want."

In other words, we don't have as much control over this stuff as we think. The only thing we really have control over is our books.

We know we need to do the basics: whether you're querying or self-publishing, every writer needs to be Googleable. Plus you need a website or a well-maintained blog (sorry, those six blogs you started and immediately lost track of don't count.) And you want to be on a few social media platforms. Which ones? It's going to depend on your genre, readership, personality and that elusive magical power of timing.

That's because there is no "one right way" to sell a book. Each book has to make its way to readers on its own path.

To quote Steve Jobs again: "Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice."

And I think the most important advice we need to hear is: "log off the Internet and go write."

Now I'll go follow it myownself. The one thing I know for sure is that I can't sell books if I'm dead.

I'm hoping to move this blog back to Blogger. Yes, it's clunky and the security isn't as good. Plus marketing dogma says "Blogger bad; self-hosted Wordpress blog good." But it's a lot less of a hassle for someone like me who would rather spend my time writing fiction than endlessly dealing with tech.

This has been a fascinating experiment, and I've learned a lot. I'm very grateful to Johnny Base for all he has done for us.

But Blogger is like a comfy old shoe. I'm not sure when or if the move will happen, but expect some changes in the next couple of weeks.

By Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) March 20, 2016

Anne also blogs at Anne R. Allen's Books. This week she's talking with Catherine Ryan Hyde about cyberbullies and review trolls.

What about you, Scriveners? Are you finding yourself buried under to-do lists and piles of dogma? How do you deal with the overload of marketing information? How do you find balance between social media obligations and actually writing?


99c Countdown!


by NYT mega-seller Catherine Ryan Hyde and Anne R. Allen


From March 19-March 27 it will be only 99c or the equivalent at all the Amazon stores around the world  It's also available in paper for $12.99  


Literary Death Match 250 word Bookmark Contest. Judged by Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket). Must be under 250 words. $1000 first prize. All finalists will be invited to read at LDM events near where they live. $15 for one entry $20 for two. Enter via submittable. Deadline May 16th, 2016

Writer's Digest Annual Writing Contest. First prize: $5000. Entry fee $15 poetry $25 prose (Early bird prices) Enter your poem, story, essay, magazine article, play, TV or film script. Lots of prizes. Early Bird Deadline May 6, 2016

Strangelet is a paying journal of speculative fiction that is looking for flash fiction, short stories and comics for their September issue, edited by Bill Campbell of Rosarium Publishing. They pay .01c a word, with a minimum of $5. Deadline for the September issue is April 30th

Sequestrum Reprint Awards. Finally a contest that actually wants previously published short stories and creative nonfiction! Entry fee $15. Prize is $200 and publication in the Fall-Winter issue of Sequestrum. The runner-up will receive $25 and publication. Finalists listed on the site. Deadline April 30th, 2016.

WERGLE FLOMP HUMOR POETRY CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE. Limit one poem with a maximum of 250 lines. First Prize: $1,000. Second Prize: $250. Honorable Mentions: 10 awards of $100 each. Top 12 entries published online. Deadline April 1, 2016.

Win a Chance to Write where Hemingway Wrote! Enter the Florida Keys Flash Fiction Contest to win a three-week Key West residency at the renowned Studios of Key West between July 5 and July 31, 2016.Inspire your creativity by spending up to 10 days writing in Ernest Hemingway’s private study at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum — and experience Hemingway Days 2016, celebrating the iconic author who called Key West home in the 1930s. Submit your finest flash fiction story, 500 words or less, between now and March 31, 2016.

Platypus Press. A new UK small press is looking for literary novels and poetry collections. No agent required. Though your manuscript must be complete, the first three chapters of a novel will suffice when submitting. It must be previously unpublished, but work posted on a blog or personal website is acceptable. Accepts simultaneous submissions.

"Operation: Thriller” Writing Competition: NO ENTRY FEE. Open to all UK and US authors of thrillers – previously published novels are accepted if you are the owner of the rights. Submissions will be evaluated by a panel of judges (agents and editors). Up to $1,300 in total cash prizes for the 3 winners, on top of free editorial assessments and developmental edits by Reedsy editors. Deadline March 31, 2016.

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