9 Habits: Brag

Years ago, I wrote a bestselling book called 9 Habits of Highly Profitable Writing. I’m assaying a second edition now, and that process includes posting each of the habits here for you, for free. 

Habit Six: Brag

The truth is you have to make some sales if you want to write for a living. Professionals in every field advertise themselves, their company or both. Professional writers don’t get a pass from this rule just because the concept scares most of us.

As a freelance writer, I spend about as much time marketing myself and my work as I do writing it. This includes my blog and social media presence, sending applications for contract gigs, querying publications, touching base with former clients, setting up speaking gigs, and reaching out to local businesses.

If you don’t know how to market, learn. If you don’t like marketing, suck it up and get to work. This is part of the freelance life, and the rewards outweigh doing something you don’t love once in a while.

Look at it this way, whatever career you have now includes doing stuff you don’t like. It might be a particular task, or dealing with a specific kind of client. You might love every part of your job, but hate the commute or missing dinner with your family while you’re on a trip. Whatever it is, you still do your career because the good outweighs the bad.

It’s like that with freelance writing. You’re gonna have to market yourself. What you need to ask yourself is whether or not that pain is worse than all the gain you’ll get from becoming a full-time writer.

Every time I bring this up at a conference or with a coaching client, I hear the same objections.

“Dammit, Jason! I’m a writer, not a salesperson!”

Awesome Star Trek reference aside, yes you are. At least, you will have to be if you want to sell enough work to call yourself a professional writer. The thing about reality is, it doesn’t care about your opinions. It exists whether or not you want it to, or like it to be that way. To succeed in this or any other field, you must meet reality on reality’s terms.

“I don’t want to sully my art with commercial concerns.”

I’ve talked about this earlier already, both in this book and on my blog. It’s possible I’ve mocked some people about it on the internet. Bottom line: this attitude is bullshit. You can grow your talent by writing for a living, or let that talent atrophy by giving your time and energy to another job. It’s your choice

“Money’s not important if you do what you love.”

Karate schools don’t make any real money. I lived for seven years on less than $20,000 while working 70 hour weeks doing what I loved. I did have fun, but I have a lot more fun now that I don’t worry where my mortgage payment’s coming from. You can do what you love and have plenty of money. Doesn’t that sound nice?

“I don’t know how.”

Yes you do. If you’ve ever been on a date, or gotten a job, or convinced your kid to do his homework, you have successfully sold something. You might even have enjoyed the process. See more about this below, because sales is actually something you do every day.

“I hate marketing.”

Chances are you don’t really. It’s much more likely that you have a skewed perspective of what marketing really is. Even if you do hate marketing, you still have to market. The fallacy in that case isn’t your belief that you hate marketing. The fallacy is your belief that it matters. Which brings us to…

A Change In Perspective

The real secret about successful reluctant marketing is to change how you view it. Marketing doesn’t have to be cheesy, manipulative “The first 100 callers get a second potato twirler absolutely free!” ad copy. Sales doesn’t have to feel like the last time you bought a used car.

Remember the last time you really, really loved a book? Remember how you talked about it until your friends told you to stop? Remember how a few of those friends went out and bought the book (or borrowed it from you)?

Guess what? You were selling that book! Do you love your book at least as much as you loved that book you raved about to your friends? If so, doesn’t it deserve the same treatment? If not, why aren’t you writing a better book?

At its core, marketing and sales are simply identifying a need, then letting somebody know you can fill it. People need writers to write stuff. You write stuff and like money. There’s a beautiful symmetry there that only needs a connection. Marketing is nothing more or less than making that connection.

Unleashing Your Geek

I’m a geek. A big geek. I dig science fiction, pay attention to comic books, appreciate the inherent mathematics in good heavy metal. I run a D&D game twice a month and have deeply considered opinions about the differences between the book version and the movie version of Lord of the Rings.

But you know what? Everybody’s a geek in their own way.

Have you ever gotten a jock talking sports statistics, or a dizzy woman who hasn’t read a book since middle school talking about her favorite celebrities? What geeks! Even Mad Men lead Don Draper is a geek when he’s talking about what he does best.

We’re all geeks, and that’s a good thing. Not long ago, I got three job offers without asking for them simply by geeking out about how awesome it is to be a writer in the 21st century. I didn’t go into those conversations looking for work, or trying to make a sale. I just talked about stuff I find fascinating. My energy and passion, and the knowledge that comes from them, made the sale without me even having to try.

Don’t “market” with cheap tricks and cheesy lines. Make the sale by telling people truthfully how impressive you are. If you do it well, enough people who need you will hear about you that you’ll make sales without ever once having to say “Act Now!” or “Moneyback Guarantee!”.

You Have a Heavy Responsibility

Is your writing excellent? Of course it is! If it weren’t you would be spending the time you’re reading this getting better at your writing.

You have a responsibility to the world to get the song of your words out into the soundtrack of the universe. You also have a responsibility to make it the best song you can sing. Your writing can make the world a better place, even if it’s only by giving people a laugh on a stressful day.

If your work can make people’s lives better (and it can), I have one question for you:

How dare you keep it a secret?

Who the hell are you to withhold the brilliance of your writing from those who need it? Who are you to stand in between people you can help and the help you can give?

Stop it. Immediately. And give yourself permission to be awesome, feel awesome, and let other people know how awesome you are.

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