by Emily M. Akin
This article first appeared in The Christian Communicator, a magazine for Christian Writers.
Would you like to sell more of your writing? Maybe you should write less and market more. To get your work published, you must give your customers, the editors, what they need when they need it. That means you may have to spend more time marketing than you spend writing.
When I first ventured into Christian writing, I had just retired from the business world. From my experience in public relations and sales, I knew that I had to research the Christian market thoroughly if I wanted to succeed at publishing my work. At conferences, I was amazed to hear people say. “Rejection doesn’t bother me. I write the message God gives me. If my work doesn’t get published, it doesn’t really matter.”
I thought, “But, if your writing isn’t published, who will hear your message?” Jesus said that we should go into the whole world telling the Good News. If that’s the aim of Christian writing, then we MUST publish.
The whole submission process struck me as highly inefficient. The writer waits for weeks, hoping that his or her work will be accepted. Then, when it’s rejected, the writer is back to square one. Editors sometimes must reject excellent work simply because it does not fit “their editorial needs at this particular time.” The quality of the writing is not the problem. It’s the quality of the market research that needs improvement.
The Sales Approach
Selling is making people buy what you have. Writers who write what they want to write without regard to the needs of a specific market are asking for rejection. It’s impossible to get editors to buy something they don’t need. When manufacturing was king in the American economy, the sales approach ruled. Salesmen went door to door offering products that were mass-produced. If the customer did not need the product, the salesman’s job was to make the customer want it.
Using the sales approach, I decide to write an article about the Golden Rule, because I think this world needs that message. I write it my way in very general terms, and it reads like a sermon. This is a rejection in the making. I’ve not considered my readers, and I’ve not been creative in approaching a familiar subject. What editor would want it?
The Marketing Approach
Marketing is developing your product with the customer’s needs in mind every step of the way. As customers have become more sophisticated, manufacturers have realized that customers want to be in the driver’s seat. Customers know what they want, and they have plenty of vendors to choose from. Manufacturers have now adopted the marketing approach. The same principle applies to writing.
Using my Golden Rule example, I could write a story for the children’s market. It could be a fictional story illustrating how “do unto others” works in real life. I might develop it differently for a Christian publication than for a secular one. For a business publication, an article on the Golden Rule could address the problem of honesty in business practices. Both articles would teach the same truth, but each specifically targets a specific interest and/or age group.
An added benefit of this approach is that you can write several pieces targeting different publications using the same research. I’ve sold three articles based on my research on the benefits of the arts in education (both Christian and secular).
Marketing Your Writing
Writers complain about marketing as if those activities are a waste of time. In one of the marketing seminars I attended, the instructor said a successful writer should spend 80% of his or her time on marketing. It makes sense. If I spend more time being sure my writing is appropriate for the chosen market, I will have fewer rejections and more sales. If I have more sales, then my God-given message is reaching more people.
In my insurance training course, I learned to do needs analyses. Our sales kit had a list of questions to ask the customer. Based on the customer’s answers, I could assess how much insurance the individual needed. The instructor pointed out that marketing is showing people what you have to offer. But, he said you have to ask the right questions in order to make a sale. The writer can perform a similar analysis to identify the needs of the targeted publications. Market guides provide some of the answers. Writers’ conferences bring editors and writers together so that those questions can be answered face to face.
Coming from the business world, I try to use the marketing approach as taught in most business courses. In product or service marketing, the vendor must develop his or her own Marketing Mix, commonly called the “Four P’s” of marketing (product, promotion, place, and price). See NetMBA for detailed discussion of the Four P’s.
Here’s the marketing mix I developed for myself as a writer.
• Be sure the target publication has a need for your type of article.
• Be sure the article conforms to guidelines specific to this publication.
• Check and double-check for typographical and usage errors.
• Spend quality time on your query letters and cover letters.
• Assemble your best clips to send with your queries.
• Set up a web site and post your resume and writing samples for all to see.
• Go to conferences so that you can get to know editors personally.
• Use market guides to get your work to the right place at the right time.
• Turn your work in before the deadline.
• Your product may be free at first. Use non-paying markets to get in print.
• When you have published clips, it’s easier to get into the paying markets.
Whether you write for the sheer joy of disseminating the message of Jesus Christ or to make a living, your testimony will be heard only if it is published. That means you must spend as much as 80% of your time on marketing activities. You may write less, but, in all likelihood, you’ll sell more.