Marketing as Good Stewardship

Dear Author: Is it God’s will for you to sell a lot of books?

To some, that question illustrates the complexity of understanding God’s will. To others, that question illustrates the complexity of understanding book sales. Either way, when it comes to successful marketing, there seems to be a strange dance between skill and luck, hard work and good fortune. Or to spiritualize it — there is a give-and-take between the book’s creator and the author’s Creator.

Have you noticed that marketing often gets a bad rap from Christian writers? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no marketing whiz. Like most of you, I am much more comfortable writing than selling. Nevertheless, it puzzles me how some Christian writers approach marketing. It goes like this:

I’ll do the writing, but God must do the marketing.

In her post Why Do We Think Jesus Will Do All Our Marketing?, Mary DeMuth quotes Randy Ingermanson:

I’m hesitant to say this because I know I’ll immediately hear from people who say that I have no faith, that I am sacrilegious, or that I am Not A Real Christian. But somebody needs to say this. So here goes:

The worst advice I have heard is “Jesus will do all your marketing for you.”

Let’s be clear that Jesus is on my management team and I consult him often when making big decisions. But in my experience, Jesus has never typed a press release, called a radio station to set up an interview, posted a blog entry, fixed the CSS on a web site, or written copy for a sales page. (emphasis in original)

Randy’s POV takes aim at a perilous but pervasive mindset among many Christian writers: We’ve come to see writing as “spiritual,” and marketing as not. Marketing is the “ugly” part of writing, the “worldly” dimension of being an author, the “necessary evil” you must tolerate, the downside of being published, the greens in an otherwise tasty meal.

This bifurcation is symptomatic of the sacred / secular mindset suffered by many evangelicals. It goes like this: Church is sacred, work is not. Praying is sacred, doing the dishes is not. Reading the Bible is sacred, reading Robert Frost is not. Serving at the homeless shelter is sacred, volunteering at the art gallery is not. Thus, writing is sacred, marketing is not. Which is why

  • We over-spiritualize the writing process, and
  • We under-spiritualize the selling process

One of the unspoken (but perhaps intended) results of such a compartmentalized view of writing is this: We can always blame poor book sales on God. “I am proud of my book,” we say. “It just wasn’t God’s will for it to take off.” Heaven forbid that an author blame themselves for poor book sales.

Please do not misunderstand me: Just because you approach marketing with vigor and savvy is no guarantee your book will do well (and really, what is “doing well”?). There are multiple factors to a book’s success — like good writing, hard work, the right publisher, market trends, endorsements, platform, etc. (see self-published phenom Amanda Hocking’s post entitled Some Things That Need to Be Said.) And having all those things in place is still no guarantee your book will perform well. Nevertheless, the person who sees God as having “called” them to write can inevitably stick God with the blame if their book tanks.

For this reason, I’m starting to believe it is helpful to see writing and marketing as flip sides of the same calling. If God’s “called” you to write, then He’s “called” you to market.

I’m thinking of The Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30). In this classic tale, not only did the master entrust his servants with different sums of money, he held them responsible for their management of said sums. Those two elements are the crux of the lesson: (1) Gift and (2) Management. So for the writer, that looks like this:

  • Writing is your gift / talent.
  • Marketing is your part of the stewardship of the gift / talent.

No, marketing is not the only part of stewardship. Nor is it probably the biggest part. I faithfully manage my writing talent by trying to write better, not just trying to yell louder. Marketing is just one way to “multiply” my talent, which seems to be a big deal for the master in the biblical parable.

Another interesting spin on marketing from a biblical perspective could be this: Your talent is intended for others, not just you. This may sound supremely arrogant, as if you are “God’s gift” to others. Nevertheless, Scripture teaches that our talents are not meant entirely for personal gain. Take this verse: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (I Peter 4:10 NIV). So…

  • Your talents are a gift from God
  • Your talents are given to serve others

The point being: If your writing gift is intended for others, how else are you going to deliver besides, um, just writing?

Of course, if a Christian writer’s sole purpose in marketing is to “get rich” or “become famous,” they probably missed the gist of their “gifting.” This isn’t meant to imply that prospering from your talent is wrong, but that the heart of marketing (from a biblical perspective) is sharing, not getting rich, it is connecting with others, not just advancing your “brand.”

So for the Christian writer, getting an agent, growing in the craft, employing an editor, expanding your platform, studying trends, jumping through hoops, may not seem very “spiritual,” but they can all be parts of being a good steward with your talent.
And parts of selling more books.

Yeah. Writing is a lot more fun than marketing. Marketing can be a grind, it can be distasteful, it can bring out the absolute worst in a person. Nevertheless, marketing can also part of “good stewardship.”

Question: Do you agree that marketing gets a bad rap from writers? Should it? Do you tend to see marketing as the “un-spiritual” part of writing? Do you think it’s God’s will for writers He has “called” to sell books? What are some signs that a person is going overboard with marketing?

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Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike’s debut novel, “The Resurrection,” is in stores now. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.