Note to All Creatives: Marketing is Your Job

Note: This is a guest post from bestselling author Ryan Holiday. I don’t normally run guest posts, but Ryan is a friend and trusted advisor. In this post, he shares some incredible ideas from his latest book Perennial Seller, which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to create work that lasts. Enjoy!

In an interview, the novelist Ian McEwan once complained light-heartedly about what it was like to go out and market a book after spending all the time creating it:

I feel like the wretched employee of my former self. My former self being the happily engaged novelist who now sends me, a kind of brush salesman or double glazing salesman, out on the road to hawk this book. He got all the fun writing it. I’m the poor bastard who has to go sell it.

Note to All Creatives: Marketing is Your Job

Every artist can relate. Very few of us got into this business because we wanted to have to manage social media accounts or approve an advertising campaign. Writers became writers because they wanted to write. Actors want to act — not spend two weeks on a grueling press tour. The founder wants to be working on their product, not polishing blog posts for some content marketing side hustle.

But considering how few people get to produce art for a living, and how much drudgery and “hawking” is involved in almost every other industry and profession, this seems like a rather privileged complaint. Who is going to sell your movie, your app, your artwork, your service if not you? Even if you pay someone else a lot of money, how hard are they really going to work?

Nothing has sunk more creative projects than this silly, entitled notion that “I’m just the ideas guy.” Or that McEwan put it, that there is a difference between being an artist and a salesman. In fact, they are the same job.

Being an artist and a salesman is the same job.

Ryan Holiday

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If Not You Then Who?

Who should make the time for your art if not you? What does it say that you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves to get to work telling people about this work you have made? Name one person who should be more invested in the potential success of this project than you.

The idea that the world is waiting with bated breath for another movie, another book, another app? It’s not true. People love classics from the recent and distant past. When Harper-Collins has an imprint called Harper Perennial, for instance, or when catalog albums are outselling new releases, it should tell you something:

People are pretty happy with the old stuff.

To get them to like your stuff is no easy task, then. “’If you build it they will come’ can happen, but to count on that is naive,” Jason Fried explained to me when I asked how he built 37signals, now Basecamp, into a platform with millions of users after pivoting from a Web design company to a Web app company in 2004. “In order for the product to speak for itself, it needs someone to speak to.”

It needs someone to speak for it, too.

As Byrd Leavell, a literary agent, puts it to his clients, “You know what happens if your book gets published and you don’t have any way of getting attention for it? No one buys it.” That can’t be what you want!

There is Plenty of Time

Al Ries and Jack Trout, likely two of the greatest marketers who’ve ever lived, acknowledge that CEOs are very busy. They have meetings, phone calls, business dinners, and countless other day-to-day responsibilities. So, naturally, CEOs delegate the marketing to other people. But this is a huge mistake.

“If you delegate anything,” Ries and Trout say, “you should delegate the chairmanship of the next fund-raising drive. (The vice president of the United States, not the president, attends the state funerals.)” The same is true for creatives. We get it—you have other projects to do, you have a family, you’re busy.

The same goes for artists. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will find that there is plenty of waste inside our artistic routine. Time spent watching TV, time spent on meetings that go nowhere. You can cut back on all this.

  • Take the time you spend messing around on your personal Facebook and use it to build an online community
  • Take the time you spend fantasizing about being in the New York Times and spend it developing relationships with people who can get you there.
  • Take the time you spend dealing with the Resistance, with procrastination, and lean into it. Use those less-than-inspired moments to think about how to build your platform or get attention.

The last thing you can ever afford to skimp on is marketing. Your product needs a champion. As Peter Drucker put it: “[Each project] needs somebody who says, ‘I am going to make this succeed,’ and then goes to work on it.”

That must be you. Marketing is your job. It can’t be passed on to someone else. There is no magical firm — not even mine, which was lucky enough to count Jeff as a client — who can take it totally off your hands.

Even if you’re famous, even if you have a million Twitter followers, even if you have a billion dollars to spend advertising — it’s still on you and it still won’t be easy. It’s on you to make this great thing you’ve made and reach as many people as possible with it.

Marketing is your job. It can’t be passed on to someone else.

Ryan Holiday

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What’d I’d like you to see is that this isn’t an obligation. It’s an opportunity. It’s perfectly possible to apply same amount of creativity and energy into marketing as you put into making.

Marketing Is Art

Look at brilliant campaigns like Paulo Coelho’s decision to upload his own book on Bittorrent sites in Russian to grow his fan base. Look what he did in Brazil with his publisher to run ads that featured the entire text of his famous novel The Alchemist. It’s a giant block of text in 4.1-point font, so it’s basically impossible to read, but it’s still a stunningly clever and brazen move.

The brilliant ad reads in part, “Thanks to the 70 million who read the book. If you are not one of them, read this ad…” The result was immediate coverage in outlets like Adweek and, of course, much love on social media. He had to do that — he had to lead those efforts.

In 2014, the mostly unknown band Vulfpeck released a 10 song album, Sleepify, all songs featuring 31 seconds of silence. The idea stemmed from the fact Spotify didn’t pay artists until a “proper play” of 30 seconds. By creating this album the band was inserting themselves into the larger discussion of royalty payments to artists.

When the band released the album and encouraged fans to download and play while sleeping (since all the tracks were silent) the band not only earned $20,000 in Spotify royalties, they earned mentions in Rolling Stone, Forbes, Billboard, The Guardian, and many more.

Think about Marc Ecko hustling to send “swag bombs” to influencers—including a hand crafted Malcolm X airbrushed jacket to Spike Lee to celebrate the director’s movie. He was making stuff as his marketing. Over two decades later, Marc and Spike are still working together.

Are creative marketing ideas like this not their own works of art? Wouldn’t your work be served well by applying your muscle and creativity to coming up with something similar?

There are so many great ideas and cool ways to get your work out there, I promise.

  • Do the thing that you think is crazy–that isn’t allowed (I once helped an artist create a boycott of their own work)
  • Take a stand. Take a risk.
  • If you want to be in the news, make news.
  • Reach out to potential champions of your work (they are desperate for good stuff too)

Do the thing you think is crazy.

Ryan Holiday

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Jeff talks about the difference between a starving artist and a thriving artist — this is that difference. The desire and the ability and the initiative to get what you’ve made in front of people. To see the whole equation as the artist’s responsibility — not just the time they spend in the studio or at the computer or on stage.

Plenty of people can make great work. Not everyone has the dedication to make it and to make it work. Marketing is an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself, to beat out the other talented folks whose entitlement or laziness holds them back.

So yeah, you have to get out there and hawk your stuff. Not just because if you don’t, who will, but because no one can do it as well as you can.

What has held you back from marketing your work? What are you going to do next to get your work out into the world? Share in the comments.

Ryan Holiday’s latest book, Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts is a meditation on the ingredients required to create classic books, businesses, and art that does more than just disappear. His writing has been translated into 28 languages and sold half a million copies worldwide while his creative firm, Brass Check, has worked with companies like Google, Taser and Amazon. You can join the 80,000 people who get his weekly articles.

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32 thoughts on “Note to All Creatives: Marketing is Your Job

  1. From my experience Jeff – on an eBook level – part of becoming a successful author involves having the clarity and conviction and confidence and boldness one develops by shopping their wares. It is like, I kinda believed in my writing after I self-published a few eBooks. Then I saw how clear I really was after shopping the eBooks around, promoting them, giving them away, receiving reviews and marketing those suckers.

    No person avoids the marketing because your credibility as an author often rests on the fact that you get out there and do in person signings, or online chats, or whatever you’re doing to market the eBook. It is the great clarity builder. Excellent advice here.

  2. Hi Ryan and Jeff,

    Awesoem write-up!

    Thanks for reminding us that as creatives, marketing our products is an opportunity rather than an obligation. I agree that every product needs a champion, and who better to do it than the creator?

    You’re so right that there “are so many great ideas and cool ways to get your work out there.” I remember the following marketing stunts by Richard Branson:

    1. Put on a wedding dress to publicize his retail store, Virgin Brides. In 1996, the Virgin Group opened Virgin Brides, a wedding and bridalwear store. To commemorate the launch, Branson shaved his beard and wore a wedding dress and makeup.

    2. Drove a tank down Fifth Avenue in New York City. When Virgin launched Virgin Cola in 1998, Branson took to the streets of New York City, but in a peculiar way: He drove a tank through Times Square and pretended to blow up the Coca-Cola sign. This spectacular stunt is one of his most memorable.

    3. Jumped off the roof of a hotel casino. In 2007, Branson celebrated the first Virgin America flight by bungee jumping off the Palms Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, a 407-foot tall building. The stunt did not go quite as planned, and Branson crashed against the building twice and ripped his pants.

    My greatest take-way from this inspirational piece is this: “Plenty of people can make great work. Not everyone has the dedication to make it and to make it work. Marketing is an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself, to beat out the other talented folks whose entitlement or laziness holds them back.”

    Thanks again!

    Best regards

    Pedro Okoro

  3. Such an interesting post for me to read today. Marketing….sigh.

    I had a full load of clients last week when an emergency call came. Someone was referred to me who had intense anxiety. This person lost everything because of an accident; their job, spouse and even children to the foster system.

    I had a few moments so told her to send this person by my office at once. I walked the person through an Anxiety Release Session, that took her anxiety from a level of 15, down to a 3 in just a few moments.

    When I told her my next client was here, she stood up and looked at me with awe saying,”Who ARE you?! Why haven’t I heard about you before today?”

    I responded, “Because I’m a believer, writer and a coach, not a marketer.”

    Because of this free gift, she has already brought me paying clients. This works the same way on line, free and remarkable results, bring prosperity and wealth.

    Many people, who are like me, will find this post a useful reminder that marketing is our personal responsibility. Thank you.

  4. I have the emails or know where to get them for my target audience. I have a website and a blog but how do you invite people to read your work. Is there a form letter?

    1. You want to make it as personal as possible. For example, if you are reaching out to a book review, spend a few minutes looking at their previous reviews in your genre. If you see any books that are similar in theme to yours, mention in the email “I saw your review of X, Y, and Z, and noticed that you’re a fan of (Strong female characters, or whatever it is.” I think you would really relate to (Insert character name and book title) and would be happy to send a free copy for review.” if you have a planned event (IE, the launch of a book, or a promotional sale, etc.) Mention that and the dates, and that you would love to promote their review during that event if possible. If you have an audience worth bragging about (I have 9 K across all platforms) mention that too. Kind of form, but not too form. They get hit up with requests all the time, but I’ve found that if you show interest in them first, give them a reason to be interested in you (beyond “This is GREAT!”) and then give them a timely reason to respond, this is a pretty useful formula to get responses fairly regularly.

      1. Thank you. I agree that is crucial to show interest in them. I will work that into my intro letter. D. Claybrook

  5. I may be naive but where does your tribe come from? Aren’t they who you market your work to? I’m just beginning to chip away at building a platform for my book, but need to know what my prospective tribe wants. ((Hello tribe followers, where are you?))

    1. I think a great way to find a tribe is to practice in public. Sharing artwork on Instagram for artists, as an example, or blogging for writers. You have to share your work to build the audience.

      1. Katie, I built a tribe for my books by talking about books. I built an email list where I recommended books to people. It took years to build but I’ve now been able to send 6 emails to that list recommending my own writing!

  6. Ryan, I am reading your book, Trust Me, I’m Lying so I look forward to reading your new one as well. I know it’s hard to market ourselves because we’ve been taught about not bragging, and it seems like that’s what we’re doing. But if our book truly is a service to a group of people, they don’t think of it as bragging. Thanks for the post, Jeff. I’m proud to be part of your tribe, and I’ve got your book on my TBR list.

    1. I so agree, Marsha, about the bragging part. I see so many other people promoting themselves, and I think, “Is that what I sound like?” I know it’s not bragging if you are helping people in some way, even if just entertaining them, but those voices of self-doubt creep in nonetheless.

      1. Yes it can feel like bragging but we should also consider the reverse: What does it say when we’re NOT interested in talking about or telling people about our own work? It sends a message–unintentionally of course–that we don’t think it’s very good. I’ve gotten this criticism myself from Tim Grahl. He pointed out that if I am ashamed to fully sell my own work to my list they assume that’s because I’m not proud of it and don’t believe it is worth their time.

        1. Excellent point, Ryan. I do believe that the essence of most writer’s block lies in self-esteem/confidence issues. For me, and I suspect for other writers, it’s a strange dialectic: we’re wordy people by nature, but we’re not natural horn tooters. In fact, many of us write precisely because speaking, promoting, etc. are not our preferred methods of communication. But in today’s world of publishing, we don’t really have the option of retreating from marketing, however uncomfortable it makes us initially.

  7. My biggest marketing struggles:

    * Having something to actually market (besides paid content I’ve written for other people or organizations). I’ve spent so much time working out bugs on my website and simultaneously dealing with some life events that have left me a bit wrecked that I have barely had the time or the energy to compose any of my own work.
    * How to go back to SM after taking about three years off. (I made the reluctant choice to go back to TW and FB for a client, and I know it can help me build my tribe, but I still hate it, especially FB.)
    * Marketing myself without appealing to friends, neighbors, old HS classmates, and current clients in completely different genres. Worlds colliding that should remain separate! How do you get people to read your first blog posts, short of getting them published elsewhere? How do I separate a mish mosh of longtime FB followers into a personal group and two professional groups (one for my blog/potential books on expat living and one for my current area of paid writing, which is mostly in the equestrian niche)? Do I create a bunch of pages? Am I then reliant on inviting “friends” to “like” my various pages (yuck)? What happens if I write a novel–do I have to start from scratch all over again because it’s not the same tribe?

    I feel like there has to be a better way, but I don’t know what it is. I’m American but live outside the US in a fairly remote area, so in-person promotion isn’t viable most of the time, nor do I particularly care to be particularly social in my community. Marketing myself feels so distasteful and overwhelming to me that I am paralyzed with inertia every time I sit down at my laptop. I’m trying to learn how to overcome that procrastination: (worth listening to), which is another reason I’m not working–ironic, I know, but hopefully a one off.

    1. Hello, Patricia!
      I’m not an expertise in Marketing, but I may have some things to help you with it.
      First of all, you said that you don’t have nothing to actually market, but you do. You have a website, you write blog posts, you write stuff in the equestrian niche, so you do have something to market. It’s your work.
      Also, when trying to sell your books or any kind of product that you have, it’s vital to use the social medias. I know that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every SM platform has their problems, and sometimes it’s hard to like it, but it’s needed. Most of potential readers are in the social medias.
      And now, the part that I actually wanted to talk about.
      I believe that there is no problem in appealing to your friends, family and whoever wants to help you. You don’t have to be that annoying person who is always talking about their work, and doesn’t care about what is going on around you. But, you can ask them to read what you’ve been writing, and if they like it, why not share it with their friends? That is nothing wrong with it, just don’t let it ruin your relationships.
      I know that sharing your stuff in every SM and talking about it can be boring. However, if you do want to be read, that’s the way. Spread the word, share your blog posts, show them to everyone that would care about it. Don’t be ashamed, and do what you must.
      You also asked what would happen if you write a novel. Well, I can’t tell you precisely, but I can give you a perspective.
      If you write about cooking, is unlikely that every one of your tribe would read your new fantasy novel. But, it’s also unlikely that no one will read it. You don’t have to start from scratch, some of your tribe may follow you through this new adventure. And some may not.
      Your job, as a writer, is to write. Marketing is part of the processe, and you will have to do it every single time. As Ryan said, it doesn’t get easy. But, if you want to keep doing it, you will have to face the challenges and… well, keep doing it.

      Good luck with your art, and with your marketing!

      P.S.: I apologize for all the mistakes that I certainly committed, english isn’t my native language.

      1. Thanks for the pep talk, Caio. No apologies please for your English–I’m sure it’s better than my (?Portuguese?).

        I’m not ashamed of what I write, but I do like to keep my worlds separate. I live in Latin America, and I don’t have a supportive family back in the States, nor are many of my old friends there interested in my life here. There’s far too much gossip and sniping to promote my blog among other expats in my community here. My clients and professional connections, who make up the bulk of my SM “friends,” are my clients, not people I necessarily want reading about my personal life in my blog (if they even would–these are busy people: Kentucky Derby winners, Olympians, etc.). Everything I read about launching a blog says to call on friends and family and to spread the word via SM, but I really don’t want to do that.

        What I really need is a personal FB profile, a professional FB page, and another group of FB contacts entirely for expat life, and I don’t know how to begin to separate them. Anyone know how to do that? What do you do when you have multiple tribes? Writing a novel is a fun goal of mine, but realistically I see myself supporting myself with nonfiction writing in widely diverse areas, so the multiple tribe conundrum is likely to remain for a while.

        Meanwhile, I guess I’ll try to find some expat bloggers and forums that align with my blog content (expat life can be rewarding and revealing, but it’s not always the Disneyland trip some websites make it out to be). I can cross post to Medium and like sites. Thoughts?

        1. Yes, I’m from Brazil.
          I understand. Facebook has some advantages that you could use to find another Tribe, and keep things separated. I can try to give you some tips about it too. I don’t believe creating a new profile would help you, especially because you said that doesn’t like FB. So, using two accounts would be very boring to you, and it may take away the fun part of building your new Tribe. So, I would tell you to create A) a FB page, related to your blog content, or even to your work entirely, and B) a FB group, also related to your blog content.
          Why is a group a good idea? I don’t have numbers, only some experience, so what I’m saying is what worked with me in a similar situation. FB pages help to get your word spread, and it’s also a nice way to connect with your readers. But, a group is more personal. In the group, you would be able to talk directly with your public, and in my experience, the FB users are more likely to be engaged in a group.
          What I do is use the FB page to find some people who would be interested in participating in the group. I disclose all my blog posts in the page, and when I see someone who likes the content, I ask her if she wants to join the group, where I talk with my readers, they ask questions and we discuss about a lot of stuff, not always related with writing (My blog is about creative writing), but we also talk about some big news, nerd stuff, RPGs, recipes, and whatever we want to.
          I think that’s the beauty of the FB group, you’re not there just to talk about yourself, you want to share your thoughts, and you can read what your readers think about it.
          Give it a try!

          P.S.: I would like to read something about your expat experience. Do you have a blog?

          1. FB groups are a good idea! Thank you!

            I think I also have to be okay with saying, “You know, for me FB was great about five years ago, but it’s not the same now, and it just doesn’t work for me.” It’s like a relationship I’ve outgrown. I’m going to see if I can migrate some of those valuable FB work connections over to LinkedIn, which is a better setting for me, and kind of let my personal FB profile sit for now, other than participating in whatever groups I can find. Meanwhile, there are other SM platforms that suit me better (ah, the old “other fish in the sea” story), and I can focus on them.

            I haven’t made my blog live yet because of both the stuff mentioned above and because I scrapped the first handful of posts I wrote to recompose them in a voice that felt more authentic to me. I’ll try to remember to drop you a note here when I launch it, so you can check it out. Thanks so much for the interest! Is your blog in Portuguese, or do you have any English language content I can read?

  8. As a former insurance salesman turned writer I totally relate to this. It’s far too easy to forget the ancient dictum, “Nothing happens until a sale is made.” (Brian Tracy) Thanks Ryan, for a truly uplifting and helpful article.

  9. I agree 100% with this article. As a creative writer and a freelance health and fitness writer, I spend time writing of course and the rest of my time marketing. You can’t have one without the other, not if you want your pieces to be read!

    Emily |

  10. I dove myself in the marketing of my work already. Day by day, I’m learning something more and this is how success is built. Small doses per day, creating your time to do the work. Thanks for sharing these precious thoughts.

  11. Thank you, Jeff & Ryan,

    “Marketing IS Art” – that just shifted my mind out of the drudgery of the work that needs to be done, reminding me it can also be creative and fun at the same time. I started marketing with these intentions. My husband and I left a home base behind in 2014 to go on an unconventional cross-country book tour we called The JOYride. We had so much fun, but after six months of intense travel and marketing, there was little time for actual creative writing. Threee years later, we’re still traveling on our JOYride, but now with more balance. Just finished Real Artists Don’t Starve recently and looking forward to reading Ryan’s new book. Thanks to you both for all you do. It’s really re-energized my process. – Aimee

  12. No one understands, and hence, has the passion to champion a book more than the person who wrote it… It’s very much like money. NO ONE is going to be as careful with investing your money as you… No one…

    What I like to do is go “3rd person”. In other words, I talk about what I’ve written as though it was written by someone else. It’s SO much easier to let the passion flow if the “author” is someone else…

    That’s also why I use a pseudonym. It makes it really easy to gush about a book when it sounds like you’re just a fan of great writing…

    1. This is a really interesting angle Steve. I’m really glad you took the time to comment. I understand, it often feels super unnatural to tell people about the things you’re doing. Not because they’re not good, but simply because we all have in built hangups about what is socially acceptable. Great workaround. Thanks again!

  13. Hey Ryan and Jeff (fellow TW’er here) What a great post! I’m going to post an Instagram post to my writer biz IG @writegrowshine on Thursday about this and share it linking back to you guys! Thank you so much for such great and useful content! I just got this account started so I’m stoked to have such an awesome thing to talk about with my peeps!

  14. Ya Marketing is the Job nice article. Check some of the best real estate projects in Bangalore.

  15. My background is promotion and marketing which I totally, absolutely LOVE. So I really get this and believe what you’ve written. At every TV station I worked at I always reminded everyone that “every employee is in the Marketing Department”. Of course yours is more targeted to the creators who forget sometimes (or don’t want to fool with it) that after that amazing piece of art is finished, the work has only begun. Great stuff. Thanks

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