Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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February 19, 2024

Stop Wasting Your Marketing Money, Time, and Energy

By Lisa Norman

money and time being wasted

Do you hate marketing?

Great! I have good news for you: everything we know about marketing is changing, except for one thing: the core best practices. Things that have always been true are still true. All the hacks and elaborate technological hoops are moving and shifting, but I’d like to suggest that this is the best thing that could happen for writers.

I’ve watched too many writers spending valuable time and energy trying to do the things they feel they “should” do for marketing, while at the same time they tell me that they wish they could just write.

What if writing was the best marketing you could do?

What is successful marketing?

Successful marketing is giving your fans what they want from you. Writers and fans make connections that transcend technology. You need to understand what your true fans want. Create a memorable and engaging experience for your fans, one that makes them feel valued and appreciated, and they will love you and tell others about you.

But how do you do that? How do you know what your fans want?

If a shoe company discovered that their fans wanted jackets, they would have a choice: provide jackets or get new fans.

This sounds overly simplistic, but we need to remember: You want fans who love what you write.

Not everyone will be your true fan. You want to get your writing in front of those who will love it. For this to work, you’re going to need to showcase your writing.

Advertising, search, and email marketing are tools that we’ve used in the past to get eyes on our work. These tools are undergoing huge technological changes that we need to stay on top of, and that may change the way you decide to spend your marketing resources.

The Changing Landscape of Advertising, Search, and Email Marketing

Paid ads (Facebook, Amazon, etc.), search engine optimization (blogging!), and email marketing (newsletters!) are some of the most effective and widely used tools we have. They help us reach readers, bring them to our website, introduce them to our books, and turn them into loyal fans.

But it is important not to forget that your most powerful tool is writing brilliant books.

Other marketing tools change based on how people are interacting with technology, but readers’ connection to story and their desire to connect with storytellers is only growing stronger. People value connections with authors and stories they love.

Major changes to watch:

Changes in Advertising

Each new privacy law impacts the ability of advertisers to target specific people to sell products to. Have you noticed the shake-ups in social media channels lately? Most of them make their money through advertising. As people shift their behaviors and cut back on advertising, these platforms are struggling to survive.

Meta is testing an ad-free subscription model in the EU after the changes in privacy laws. Social media platforms make money from advertising. If they can't advertise effectively, they need to find a new way to make money.

Have you noticed the death of magazines and other spaces that were supported by advertising? People are cutting back on their advertising spending and many venues don’t have the subscriber base to survive without advertising revenue.

Review the Effectiveness of Your Ads

Is your paid advertising profitable? If not, maybe the problem isn’t you. Maybe you don’t need to learn the latest tricks in order to make money. Maybe you need to explore other marketing options!

I want to be clear here: some genres are still doing very well with paid advertising. If you’ve cracked the code and you’re making money with ads, just keep one eye on your profitability and continue to explore other marketing options. Don’t base your entire career on paid ads.

But if advertising isn’t working for you, I want to suggest that it is okay to not put your energy there. You have a guilt-free pass to stop.

As a writer, the takeaway here is that your paid advertising may be decreasing in power as privacy laws and ad-free subscriptions change the algorithms. Remember that the content you share on social media is only as effective as your connection with your audience. This means that focusing on connecting is not only more important, but it may also become more effective!

Everyone’s mileage with paid advertising will vary, but if you aren’t making money at it, this may be a great time to stop doing it entirely.

Changes in Email

Both Google and Yahoo have also introduced “new” requirements for bulk senders, those who send more than 5,000 emails per day. These requirements include:

  • Using your own custom domain name
  • Authenticating your domain with SPF, DKIM, or DMARC (link to my article)
  • Making it so people only have to click one button to unsubscribe
  • Keeping your spam complaints below 0.3% (meaning that the people on your list don’t complain)

These changes turn long-standing best practices into mandatory standards. The goal is to reduce spam.

I’d like you to consider this: if you are sending out something that people don’t want to receive, you may actually be sending spam.

Let that sink in.

If your only reason for contacting your fans is to sell them something, stop and think before pushing send: Would you like to receive that email? This applies whether you are sending 5 emails or 5,000 emails.

Now, think about the kinds of email you do like to receive, and apply it to the emails you send out.

  • Only send messages when you have something to say.
  • Only send your emails to people who want them.
  • Only send emails your fans want to read.

Changes in Google’s Accounts

Google has begun phasing out inactive email accounts, those that have not been logged into or used for over two years.

What does this mean? You may find that you have old addresses on your subscriber list that need to be removed, but be careful because, due to changing privacy practices, your system may not accurately be tracking who opens and reads your newsletters.

Changes in Privacy Protection

New privacy protection options from Apple and others are affecting the statistics from our websites and our newsletters.

If someone has privacy enabled on their email—and many people don’t even realize that they have turned these features on—you may not know that a reader has opened and read your email. I’ve had authors send emails to people saying, “I’m going to remove you because you haven’t been reading…” only to get angry emails back saying that they’ve been reading every one.

You can't accurately track how many of your subscribers open your emails. You also can't use email open rates as a guide for other actions, but they are still effective as general trends. Instead, you need to actively engage your readers, encouraging them to reply, comment, or click on something to send you a signal that they are there.

Sure, you can encourage your subscribers to add your emails to their VIP list, to ensure that they receive and see your emails, but that's asking your readers to take a technical action. Better to create emails they want. Emails they will read and respond to. (Spoiler: the trick is the superpower of your writing.)

Yes, I just told you that it is okay to not worry about those statistics and to focus on interacting with your readers!

Changes in Search Engines

Another trend that is shaping the future of search and email marketing is the rise of voice search and artificial intelligence like Bing’s Copilot, Google’s Bard, and many others. How people search is changing from keyword-focused to topic- and content-focused.

What does this mean for you? It means you have an advantage!

Writers write words. That may sound overly simplistic, but work with me here. Natural language is not just your native language, but your superpower. As a writer, you can write engagingly about topics that will interest your readers. This gives you a tremendous advantage over non-writers who own websites.

Keywords vs Stories

Search engines have never just looked for keywords, but that has been an easy way to study the results. Search engines are only as useful as their ability to provide people with the search information they’re looking for. If a search engine can’t do that, people will go elsewhere. Here's just one article about this change.

For years, businesses have focused on writing with a goal of being the best for specific words, specific topics they want to rank for. This is a highly competitive and technical skill.

Now, with “generative search experience” (GSE—the AI approach that is predicted to replace conventional search engines) those articles focused on words are losing ground fast. Hang out in the search engine optimization space for long and you see people freaking out over lost traffic. Writers do not need to panic, but they do need to notice that the world is changing.

Writers write words that tell stories.

Did you know business people are trying to learn how to write stories so they can score better in search engines? (Seriously—look at how many businesses are trying to hire writers these days.)

Don’t get distracted by all of the marketing aimed at helping businesses write keyword-focused stories. Writing stories is what you do naturally.

However, this only works if you are writing what your fans want to read. So, if you are filling your blog with random posts because you feel you should, here is your free pass to stop.

Yep, I just said that. If you aren’t going to blog about stuff your readers want to read and share about, don’t waste your time or energy. It won’t work. More about blogging next month.

How to Give Your Fans What They Want

The key to successful marketing is to understand and cater to your readers’ needs, preferences, and expectations. You need to create a memorable and engaging experience for them, one that makes them feel valued, appreciated, and entertained.

Here are some tips and best practices:

Know Your Audience

The first step to giving your fans what they want is to know who they are, what they want, and why they want it.

There are many tools out there to help, but most of them don’t work well for creative writers. Again, I’d like to suggest that your writing is and has always been one of the best ways to connect to your fans!

Create Valuable Content

How many times have I heard writers say that they just want to write? They don’t want to spend so much time marketing; they want to write! Guess what? Your readers want the same thing! They want you to stop trying to sell them stuff and just give them more stories!

Blog posts can include cut scenes, backstories, even flash fiction. Blog posts can become newsletters so that your true fans don’t miss out on any of the juicy story bits. And all this content can even feed into new stories, books, and other products!

You can figure out what connects with your readers in blog posts or in books. I think it is easier to experiment with a blog post! But there are authors who prefer to experiment by writing books. That’s an option. For authors who wish they could “just write,” a blog can be a powerful tool, if they are willing to keep at it for a long time.

I’d like to suggest that if you don’t have valuable content to put in your blog, you may want to consider not blogging. Look at the different types of websites. A business card website may be more appropriate for you if you don’t want to share engaging content!

Engage and Interact with Your Audience

The final step to giving your fans what they want is to engage and interact with them regularly and consistently. Foster a sense of community and belonging. You need to listen and respond to their feedback, questions, and comments. You want to acknowledge and appreciate their support.

You also need to encourage your fans to tell others about your stories.

There is a marketing principle that people won’t do what you don’t ask them to. So ask them! Ask your fans to communicate with you. Ask them to leave a review or tell a friend about your story.

Create experiences based around your stories that people can’t wait to share. Examples: backstory, surprise alternate endings, a chance to name a character, even maps of the fictional places you write about. The key here is that both you and your readers should have fun. Then ask them to invite their friends to the party.

What if the most effective thing you can do as an author is to step back from a lot of the marketing techniques and tricks, and instead focus on writing stories and getting them into the hands of your fans?

The Good, the Bad, and the Obvious

  • Your readers love you for a reason.
  • Your fans want to be entertained.
  • You’re in the entertainment industry. (If this comes as a surprise, embrace this truth right now.)
  • If your emails aren’t entertaining, then you are failing.
  • It is better not to send out any email than it is to send out one that isn’t wanted. Stop sending boring newsletters!

Need inspiration? Check out my 2-part series from last year on shareable newsletters!

How does this hit you? Have you seen some marketing techniques becoming more or less effective? Does this give you any ideas for how to find and interact with your true fans?

* * * * * *

About Lisa

head shot of smiling Lisa Norman

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, LLC, an indie publishing firm.

Interested in learning more from Lisa? Sign up for her newsletter or check out her classroom where she teaches social media, organization, technical skills, and marketing for authors!

Top image by Deleyna via Midjourney.

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52 comments on “Stop Wasting Your Marketing Money, Time, and Energy”

  1. Wow, this is packed with critical info. Your line: "As a writer, the takeaway here is that your paid advertising may be decreasing in power as privacy laws and ad-free subscriptions change the algorithms." That is an eye opener. Writers are bombarded with book marketing gurus who claim to have the magic key to paid ads. Your point is well taken that we need to focus on CONNECTION with our readers foremost. That is my watch-word for this year. BUT I still am unclear on how to discover who my readers are and how best to reach out to them with the content they want. As for all the privacy changes coming down the pike, I'm SO glad you're in our corner helping the clear the hurdles.

    1. This is one of the biggest topics - finding true fans - and it can be hard depending on your niche. Some writers write to market, which means they know their fans before they write the book.

      Interestingly enough, many of the power techniques taught by those gurus hinge on you discovering your readers. So many of the gurus in the space are making a living off affiliate commissions (encouraging you to use ___ product). I want to be very careful IN this statement, because I do believe that everyone deserves the right to make a living! Good ads DO connect you with your audience.

      But if you don't know who they are, even the best ads run the risk of failure.

      Branding can be really hard. I'll be talking more about a tangential topic next month. But in the meantime, just know that these things take time. And I've seen one super-fan launch more than one career. It isn't in the size of the fan base as much as it is their power and energy.

      Every single fan that you find is a gift. Treat them well!

  2. I always enjoy your articles--so filled with good information. That engaging part is always the hardest. What if you do try with questions and stories, etc., and still get crickets?

    1. Sylvie - one of the hardest parts of this is the "giving it time" part. It is very easy to jump to doing something new too quickly. I have stats that I'll share next month (this one was already long enough), but the short version is that if you work hard at finding and engaging them for 6 months and still haven't found anyone, then you can try a different technique. (Note to lurkers reading this: I know what Sylvie is doing. It is brilliant, and I believe will work. She's doing something SMART.) Make sure that you are sharing it out to all of your channels (I believe that you are already doing this.)

      Exploring this space for several months gives you the time to let the thing that will finally connect FIND its audience. Also: look at your stats graph. I won't out your numbers, but I see consistent growth over the last few months.

      Pay attention to your newsletter subject lines. Bring your writing talent to those lines and see if you can get your open rates up. (That's a tip for everyone, because those subject lines are often missed opportunities.)

  3. Lisa, it almost felt as if you wrote this article for me! I know I am not alone when I say I do not look forward to marketing. But I do know that readers love the way I write. Thank you for this insight. I’m actually excited about this.

    1. Woohoo! As I often say, if you aren't having fun marketing, you're wasting time. People are attracted to people who are having fun.

      Somehow we've gotten it into our heads that marketing needs to be hard or miserable. (Hmmm... it may be because marketing TO us focuses on pain points, and those are the pain points marketers who are marketing TO authors are using?) But look at people who are succeeding. They don't seem to be having a terrible time. They seem to be doing creative and fun things.

      You don't have to be successful before you can have fun at marketing. The reverse is actually the case. Have fun marketing, and hopefully the success will follow!

  4. Thank you for this, Lisa.
    I have had an email list for years because I was told by many experts that it's essential. It has grown very little, and was at 34 people. I did everything possible to grow it. I had a reader magnet and I asked for people to sign up on my blog. It did little or anything for my sales.
    Then came Google and Yahoo's directive. I was having hours worth of trouble validating and authorising my domain. I had no help from Mailerlite who, due to so many people wanting help were only responding to paid accounts.
    In the end, I have decided to ditch my newsletter. That has freed time and brainpower, too, that I can use for my blog. I get more responses from that than I ever did from my newsletter.
    Although not mentioning newsletters as something to give up in your post, I feel you have given me some permission.

    1. V.M. - well, you probably won't like this comment, then. (grin) But what I can say is: yes, give up the way you WERE doing it, but do NOT ditch the LIST. Keep those names and emails.

      Read the lead post on deleyna.com about the alphabet soup. Run the test. Email me and mention this comment along with the URL with your results. No charge: I'll help you sort that out.

      Yes, put your power into your blog. And then re-use your blog content for your newsletter. Make it easy on yourself. Make it FUN. Make it about your writing. You may see that list start growing.

  5. Lisa,
    Thank you sooo much for sharing your wisdom with us. I do not like marketing, so I choose to write. Thank you for giving me permission to do what I love and ignore the hoopla of marketing.

    1. Jackie - writing is what our fans want from us. You're just giving them more of what they want, and giving yourself permission to do what you love.

  6. Lisa, thank you for keeping us up-to-date with all the technological challenges to advertising. I love "if paid advertising isn't working for you" don't put your energy there. I have chosen the word "intentional" to guide me this year which helps me choose where to put my energy but you've helped me clarify the marketing piece.

  7. Hello, my dear friend. Excellent post. You know me, I didn't know people made money from blogs and things. I just want readers.

    Much love.

    1. There are many ways to "monetize" websites. As writers, though, we generally are only trying to monetize by getting readers. Absolutely correct. Which is why a lot of information that is out in the universe doesn't apply to us as much as we thing it will!

      You write. Write as awesome as you always do. Let your blog reflect your voice and the beauty of your writing. And mostly... just enjoy the writing!

  8. I love this focus! I never thought of marketing emails precisely in this way. We all are in the entertainment/education industry and have to be a little like Taylor Swift in our connections, right? Thanks for this very insightful piece!

  9. Ahhhhhh, my dear, dear friend.

    If I didn't know you so well, I'd pay you a compliment. But I can't, cause I know you're brilliant, and this just proves it.

    So I apologize, because I'm not going to tell you that this article is timely and yet evergreen, easy to read and easy to apply.

    ...but I will say that I loved finding out I have a super-power!

    (I knew that off-green glow at night wasn't anything to be worried about...)

    It's remarkable, and I feel so grateful, that my deepest fears as a storyteller are being alleviated because the selfish world of publishing and SEO are eating themselves.

    (Can you say "Woot! Woot!" for cannibalism?)

    Relationships will always be the foundation and the greatest building blocks. Being kind and thoughtful will will always be the gold that trumps the dollar bill. Being attentive and focusing on service to others will ensure you a recession-proof future.

    Brilliant as always, Lisa.
    12 out of 10.

          1. Hey,...this is my night off! YOU try babysittin' some kid whose supposed 'ta be a "HERO".

            WhatEVER.

            I'm just sayin' that Buckley don't do any of this on his own. That's all...

                1. Wand?
                  No mägo of any true caliber uses a WAND. That's for children, young lady.
                  Like all those 'Potter' people, promoting the riding of brooms...can you imagine the WEDGIES PEOPLE GET!???

                  *sigh*
                  I'm sorry, dear, didn't mean to raise my voice like that. I'll go now, and just say that you have a lovely talent for words.
                  This siteweb is lucky to have you.

              1. Guys, remember what happened when we did this back in 2015 on Smartblogger.com?

                Let's pull it back and keep it to our own real estate. Don't want Lisa to get into trouble.

                ...but for the record, you're comments ARE the best. Okay Chuck?

  10. This article has some great insights and information. I see a near constant push to be spending money on ads. I thought Brandon Sanderson made some great points about the costs of ads being pushed up by the number of people bidding while their effectiveness is decreasing.

    Finding and connecting with readers is a challenge especially when the various social media platforms won't share your content unless you pay. I've revived my blog but getting readers to visit and interact is the next step.

    How concerned are you about any copyright infringement issues when sharing free content on your blog, especially if you're sharing deleted scenes for work that hasn't been published yet?

    1. Copyright infringement IS an issue, Cynthia. Writers that will be published traditionally definitely should not publish any material that will be in the book, and I'd check with an agent to understand the guidelines/limitations.

      That said, the world is full of copyright issues right now. It sounds like I'm making light of it, which is not my intent. BUT... you have as much risk of copyright infringement AFTER publication as you do before.

      Not a legal recommendation, but still something I go to often: there's a book called The Go Giver that was recommended to my daughter a few years ago. One of the points is that if we hold back too much, we can limit our reach and our success potential. I'm not putting it well. The book is short, well worth reading.

      I'd be cautious, yes. Don't post something that's going to hurt the salability of the book. Outtakes, backstory... flash fiction? These are things that we often do to get ourselves into the mood for writing, and using them to help grow a fan base feels more likely to be a positive. But I'm in no way intending to give legal advice. That's a line that each writer has to make their own decision as to where their comfort level is.

      And of course, the writing has to be GOOD for this to work. (Something I wouldn't be worried about for you, but it might be relevant for others.)

      1. Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll have to check it out. I’ve been making an effort to take part in some writing challenges to create short stories of about 1000 words and those seem to be good candidates for sharing, especially if I don’t have plans to expand them into longer works.

        1. Those are great ideas, Cynthia! Yes! And there's no saying you can't gather them up into a short story collection later!

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