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Thoughts on marketing creative work

On not sitting back and waiting for something to happen

All in one basket

For a long time I wasn’t into marketing, to put it mildly. I only had a vague idea of what it involved. Having worked in education and the arts all my life, it felt as of marketing was ‘over there’ somewhere and we (teachers / lecturers / creators) were someplace else. When I did encounter marketing it was often with suspicion. A feeling not helped when marketing seemed to misunderstand or misrepresent, or appeared shallow, surface, fluffy, to reinforce stereotyping, and heteronormativity, or sometimes it appeared downright prejudice, particularly against women (through over sexualisation) and anyone considered ‘marginal’ (through invisibility). So in my head I lumped all marketing into one basket marked ‘not for me’ and didn’t examine my own assumptions and massive generalisation.

A revelation

Then what happened? I met some people who I liked, who were into marketing. And some people who were clever who were into marketing. Some people who loved books who did some great marketing, and some writers who knew all about marketing.

Then the following revelation dawned on me (slowly). I’m sometimes slow at processing – it comes with being dyslexic – but I quite like it when things occur to me slowly, because I get to see the workings. Anyway, here’s the revelation:

How ethical marketing works

  1. Keep on creating and doing what you do.
  2. Decide who will be interested in the stuff you create and have enough money to buy it. (Imagine them, write a description. These people are often a lot like you. There are billions of people in the world – there will be some people out there who fit your description.)
  3. Find those people. (Seth Godin describes this as ‘finding your tribe’.)
  4. Tell those people about what you do and why you do it, and possibly how you do it. Tell your story. (That is, inform them, educate them, inspire them, don’t sell to them yet.)
  5. See the world from their point of view. This is easier than it sounds (because these people are like you) but very easy to forget.
  6. Let them know where they can buy what you create. (It’s frustrating, being interested in a book, picture, cartoon or other work of art, and not knowing how to find it.)
  7. Keep on creating and doing what you do.

Marketing itself isn’t bad: IT DEPENDS WHAT YOU ARE SELLING.

  • Selling bombs = bad.
  • Selling a piece of art you’ve created with love = good.

Marketing itself isn’t bad: IT DEPENDS HOW YOU ARE SELLING.

  • Hoodwinking people with false promises or or harassing people to buy or using stereotypes to sell = bad.
  • Offering people something they genuinely want that will make their lives better, without being pushy = good.


  • Deceiving people = bad.
  • Being honest and engaging people in interesting conversations = good.

And WHY YOU ARE SELLING matters too.

  • Selling fridges for something to do, though you’d rather be a photographer = bad
  • Selling fridges because you need to make money to feed your family = good
  • Selling fridges to make people’s lives better, and to help them eat more healthily and plan their lives better = good

Ethical marketing

I also realised that, to me, bad = not kind, not thinking stuff through, not considering how your actions affect other people, prejudice, stereotyping, but any facet of life could go ‘bad’. On the one hand, any facet of life could be unkind, unthinking, prejudice, stereotyping. On the other, marketing isn’t necessarily unkind, unthinking, prejudice, stereotyping.

In sum, I had discovered ethical marketing.

Confronting my uncomfortable relationship with marketing

The reason I was thinking all this was because, having moved from working in education full time to working for myself almost all the time, I had to learn to:

  • Market my writing
  • Treat myself as a small business

This meant confronting my uncomfortable relationship with marketing. It also meant a LOT of learning! In fact, a great deal of the time since I left my full time job has been spent learning. I didn’t know it would be like that, but looking back, it had to be that way. It’s been a steep learning curve.

What educators could learn from the world of marketing

Now I know for certain that teachers and lecturers would really benefit from learning about these things, from an ethical marketing perspective:

  • Blogging
  • Business planning
  • Colour
  • Design
  • Online resources – especially the free ones – like Canva and Unsplash
  • Online learning platforms – like Udemy and FutureLearn
  • Photoshop
  • Sales funnels and selling generally

What I was missing out on

I know that because this was a part of life I was missing out on and, actually, learning these things has been a revelation. I feel like a richer person because I’ve learnt about marketing. Of course I’m not an expert and don’t expect to become one soon, but I feel that understanding more about ethical marketing has deepened my knowledge of the world, and my ability to look after myself.

(Not) sitting back and waiting for something to happen, plus a bit of tweeting

A lot of writers do one or all of these to market their work:

  • Tweet about it
  • Share it on Facebook
  • Tell their friends
  • Maybe write a blog post
  • Rely on other people to market for them
  • Twiddle their thumbs

And sit back and wait for the readers to come to them – and nothing happens. Then, probably – depending on how resilient the writer is – there’s a a cycle of despondency, melancholy and depression as a result.

And that’s been me too – I didn’t know how to do it, I didn’t have time to learn, let alone do the marketing properly. But now I’ve got to put into practice what I’ve learnt so far, especially as I have another book out, and an online course to market.

Quality is the point of entry

By the way, one of the things I learnt from Nick Stephenson while discovering more about marketing, was that ‘quality is the point of entry’. In other words, this is not a debate about the quality of the writing you’re selling. Assume that the writing has to be really good, and that the proof-reading and production needs to be really good. Yes, you could knowingly market something that’s a bit shoddy and badly written, but why would you want to do that? I also heard this sound-bite from Reid Hoffman: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” I take that to mean – it’s not only OK, it’s a very good idea, to learn from DOING IT.


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