I Didn’t Sign Up For This

UnexpectedI don’t know a single writer whose publishing dreams included being a full-time marketer for their books.
The writing and publishing dream usually includes visions of spending several hours a day at the laptop, sending manuscripts off to a publisher, receiving big checks, getting fabulous starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, hearing from awe-struck fans who loved your book, being interviewed on the Today Show… and reaching the top of the bestseller lists.
And even for those whose dreams are more modest, the vision usually includes writing books and getting them sold to publishers, going through the editing process, and being available for whatever book promotion the publisher wants to do.
Blogging? Sending out newsletters? Maintaining a huge following on Facebook-Pinterest-Twitter-Goodreads? It was never part of the plan.
Many authors decided to give writing a try not only because they felt they had something to say, but to escape a job they don’t love. They love to write, so they figured, why not try to make a living at it?
Only to discover that this job, too, has elements that don’t bear any resemblance to anything they ever wanted to do. They wanted to write — not hawk their books on Internet streetcorners.
You know by now that it’s impossible to be a commercial success as a writer without participating fully in the marketing process. You already know writers need a “platform” regardless of whether they self- or traditionally-publish. You’ve been told over and over again that you need to think of your writing as a business. There’s a good chance you’re not happy about these facts. So how do you come to terms with them? Here are a few ideas.
→ Remember that everyone’s dream job comes with aspects they don’t like or didn’t anticipate. Writers aren’t alone in needing to accept the downsides of their chosen career. No job is perfect.
→ Read books and blogs about book marketing, and choose a small handful of marketing activities on which to focus. Break them down into manageable daily tasks. Don’t try to do everything. Just do something.
→ Keep your writing your #1 priority. Your books themselves will always be your best marketing tool.
→ Attend conferences and other writer events, and commiserate  with other writers — but avoid the Negative Nellies. Surround yourself with people who understand what you’re facing, and who can offer encouragement and ideas along with the inevitable venting.
→ Be clear about your goals for your writing. The greater you consider the importance of commercial success, the more you should be concerned about building a platform and participating in marketing. Beware of developing an “entitled” mindset in which you hope for (or expect) commercial success based only on your writing and feel you don’t need to worry about the marketing aspect.
What further ideas do you have for accepting the aspects of being a writer that you didn’t sign up for?



What, you mean your writing dreams didn’t include being a full-time marketer? Click to Tweet.
Many choose writing to escape a job they hate – only writing’s no picnic either. Click to Tweet.
“I didn’t sign up for this.” Accepting the realities of being a writer today. Click to Tweet.


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] “I Didn’t Sign Up For This” […]

  2. […] media stuff has to do with you, The Guardian explains Why Authors Need to Join the PR Circus, and Rachelle Gardner has some tips for those who still aren’t comfortable with the marketing side of […]

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  4. Carolynnwith2ns on August 22, 2013 at 11:28 AM

    Book me on Good Morning America instead of the Today Show, thank you very much.
    But seriously Rachelle:
    Through no effort of my own I was handed a publishing deal and a plan for success that would have garnered a full page in PW. I would have been on the cover of WD. They said my book was a publishing phenomenon. YOU, my dear, would know my name.
    I blew it.
    Without representation I had no idea what was required of me. That was forty years ago.
    Now, I live by this:
    Never ever look into the face of unexpected opportunity with anything less than clear eyes and the thought – what if this was my only chance?
    Throw at me what you will, I will post, comment, tweet, speak, sing, show-up and shut-up if that’s what it takes to sell my soul to god of writing-success.

    Okay…taking a breath in the real world, I’m off to work. Its truck day and I get to put dishes on shelves.

  5. Ute Carbone on August 21, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    What a terrific and timely post! I’m struggling with balance. I like connecting with readers and other writers, but selling is very hard for me. And I find that I need a different mindset– writing takes a lot of time and mental space for me. It’s hard to switch from people-promo mode to solitary-writing mode. I’m working on it…

  6. Sheena-kay Graham on August 20, 2013 at 6:28 PM

    Marketing is important but it can’t cover bad writing.

  7. yakinamac on August 20, 2013 at 4:04 PM

    The description of the “more modest” dream was so like mine it was eerie! I’m now a quarter of the way through six months of unpaid leave from my “real” job, and am starting to appreciate that what once felt like the unattainable goal of completing my novel’s first draft was really only the very beginning of the process. Also starting to appreciate how much time can be eaten up by social media! The prompt to keep writing the #1 priority was key for me – thank you.

  8. terryberriest on August 20, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by building a platform and find that it gets in the way of sending queries to agents. When you wrote, “Don’t try to do everything. Just do something,” it took off some of the pressure.

  9. Emily Morgan on August 20, 2013 at 2:01 AM

    Great post – it’s the reality of the world today, and I think that most writers are coming (or have come) to this conclusion. I remember reading a quote from Agatha Christie that went along the lines of, if she felt like renovating the conservatory, she would sit down, write a book, send it off and then wait for the check. Those days are long gone!

  10. Shari Popejoy on August 19, 2013 at 7:36 PM

    I knew I was a writer–for better or worse–the day I realized that
    being a writer meant that my words provided an open invitation for
    critical review–from someone who had just rated a lice treatment
    product–with negative results. My first impulse to the awful
    realization that as a writer I continually and voluntarily give
    permission to others to misunderstand and criticize my deepest
    thoughts–was to go write about my angst. 😉

  11. Judy Lee Dunn on August 19, 2013 at 4:45 PM

    I chuckle only because I owned a marketing business, for which I was also lead copywriter, for 20 years. So my problem, as a debut author, is to NOT spend so much time thinking about promotion, especially since I don’t even have a product to sell yet. Actually, I am looking forward to the marketing part. I am rather impatient to get to my final draft! Words of wisdom here, Rachelle. : )

  12. WendyHJones on August 19, 2013 at 4:43 PM

    It is indeed a full time job just keeping up with the marketing. It’s true that all jobs have elements we don’t like and like all jobs we need to plough on. As always a great blog

  13. Jemma on August 19, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    I can so relate to Jan and Beth!
    That’s why I’ve stopped trying to justify how much work writing is and how long
    it takes to get it right. With respect
    to marketing, I’m of the KISS mentality. (Keep it simple sister…Ha! I
    prefer that to the original!) However,
    my bigger beef with being a writer is spending so much time indoors. I
    love the outdoors, but get so little of it compared to the hours I used to
    spend outside in my younger years. I know. I know. We’re
    supposed to make time for it. Easier said than done, when there is so much
    else that can’t be neglected.

    Still, writing is what I do and who I
    am. So I take the bad with the good. So far the good is winning!


  14. Stephsco on August 19, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    I love social media and networking with other writers online. The hard part for me is to give some of that up to focus more on writing. I took a year and a half to slog through my first completed, polished manuscript. If I want to keep this machine rolling, I need to be more disciplined with my time, use what I’ve learned, and finish projects in a shorter amount of time. I can’t comment on blogs every day, I can’t promo everyone else’s tweets. But I can do those in smaller bursts.

  15. Brian on August 19, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    The best thing to do is conceive your marketing as another form of writing and/or being creative, ie something more than empty updates about buying one’s book, etc.

  16. Frank Zubek on August 19, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    If I may add…. Those writers who are sticking to the e-book express plan (I myself have 5 books online) need to set aside a chunk of time each week to marketing. (Remember….Even as famous as McDonalds is and as part of a number of people’s weekly eating habits it may be- it STILL spends money on marketing month after month to stay in the eye traffic) Now, those writers who hang on to the dream of being a paper format author and letting the publisher handle everything….while that’s a good dream you need to remember that your paper format book has a very narrow window of MAYBE a month to perform and if there aren’t enough sales there are literally dozens and dozens of other books in the pipeline ready to take your place on the shelf at the bookstore. And after they send YOUR book back to be pulped, what’s your next option? Sell it out of your garage?
    The nice thing about e-books is that its there 24/7 for as long as you need it to be. But it is up to YOU to make the effort to keep the marketing going as well as begin work on the next book. I just advocate e-books because there is so much MORE potential to make short and long term money from the e-book format than in the paper markets. And one important reminder…to those of you lucky enough to get a paper contract- do NOT let go of your e-books rights. The paper publisher may tell you its a fad but it isn’t. If it was such a fad why are they so anxious to keep those rights for them self? Its YOUR book. Do some homework. Check out the news and markets and seek out other authors who are published. Many of them are willing to help. Good luck to you all!

    • Stephsco on August 19, 2013 at 12:52 PM

      Great points!

  17. helebore on August 19, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    Writing is the hardest thing I love to do. Yes, I’m spending time on social media, but I set out writing goals each day or for the week. Some are projects in non-fiction, others novels. I get the social in the media and have met lovely “friends” in the writing and history world. Yes, I’m laying out my marketing plan for the prequel I hope to have out in late September. You just have to think that way. Thanks for the post. Always helpful.

  18. Grant on August 19, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    Thanks, Rachelle! For several months after my new indie book came out, I
    had a serious case of social media mania, starving my writer self in
    the process. For the past several weeks, however, I’ve been writing
    eight pages on my next novel every day, five days a week, before turning
    on the computer (I write in longhand). I really don’t resent the
    marketing part, because I know it’s all up to me to do it. But putting
    first things first has helped me find my writing groove again. Instead
    of feeling resentful, as before, I’m doing both things effectively,
    enjoying my dual roles. — Grant

    • Seraph Stein on August 20, 2013 at 9:32 AM

      Yes Grant I hear you. It is easy to get lost in the list of ToDos. Without the writing. The rest means nothing. You would have a useless platform made to share nothing. So good for you and thanks for the reinforcement. Besides its faster to tweet than write a page. So write the page first. Then tweet tweet like a birdie as you walk down the hallway to lunch. In regards to you and you mission. -Seraph Stein

  19. Carol J. Garvin on August 19, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    Beth and Terry have both pinpointed that building a platform is more about building relationships than deliberate marketing and I strongly believe that. But when a book is being launched I don’t think you can put a deadline on the length of time you will spend promoting it before leaving that aspect behind in order to write again. The authors I know write constantly and promote constantly as an overlapping routine, rather than alternating between the two. I don’t know how effective that is, but it seems reasonable to expect both to be part of the successful writer’s life.

    • Terry Shames on August 19, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      I agree, Carol. What I meant was that I went on an all-out blast to push my debut novel, and after a month (okay, it has really been two months, if you include pre-pub promo), I’m planning to get back to a more balanced life which includes more writing, less promo.

  20. Terry Shames on August 19, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    Wow, is this ever timely. I’m just coming off of a month of promoting my debut novel–that’s after 30 years of writing, 20 of which I was trying to get published–and finally breaking into the world of the published writer. When I started back in the 80s, there was nothing like social media. Writers depended on their publishers to get the word out about their novels. I’m really lucky that my publisher assigned me a great publicist, but there was never any question that most of the details depend on me. I’m also lucky that social media seemed designed with me in mind. I love to put in my two cents on FB and twitter. After being active on social media for so long without a book to tout, it seemed natural to holler about my happy news. And people have responded with great joy. My advice to aspiring authors is to get involved with social media now. You don’t have to spend much time on it, but it will be a great platform if you’ve established yourself as a real person.

    I’ve also loved doing readings at bookstores. I gave myself six weeks to really push my book, especially in Texas (where my platform is, since I’m writing about small-town Texas–even though I live in California). I have been amazed at the incredible people I have seen since high school (and high school reunions) who have come to my events to celebrate my late success.

    But I’m tired! I find myself yearning to get back into my study to hunker down with my next book. My other advice is to give yourself a deadline for how long you are willing to really work to get your book “out there.” Then get back to writing!

  21. ColleenCoble on August 19, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    I’m a weird one for sure but I actually love that part of the writer’s life. 🙂 I’m a people person, and the hardest thing about it is all the alone time. I can be at my computer and zoom over to chat with readers on Facebook. I feel like I’m surrounded by friends even when I’m writing. LOL

  22. Kathryn Elliott on August 19, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    “Hawk their books on Internet streetcorners.” Ha!! “Pst, hey buddy, wanna buy a women’s fiction.” My late grandfather said it best, “EVERY profession is sales.” Teachers sell education, doctors sell care plans, the list never ends.One aspect of writing I never signed up for was the time it takes to drain the “junk” tank each day. I know the value of social media, but I feel like a human SPAM filter. Accepting one questionable friend request leads to an inbox of unwanted visitors. Anyone have a good program to thin the cyber herd?

  23. Inion Mathair on August 19, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    Mathair’s more of the social media butterfly than I am, but I’ve been taking more of that responsibility lately and it’s daunting for sure. I was shocked to see how supportive everyone was. From readers, to those in the literary field, it’s as if we’re one big family merely in the pursuit of a good story. Great post, Rachelle.

  24. JeanneTakenaka on August 19, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    One thing I would add in learning how to flex with all that is required is having a friend or mentor who’s already walked the path you’re walking on. I’ve found this to be invaluable. She shares her wisdom gleaned through mistakes and through experience. Her investing in me has helped me develop a good mindset for what’s ahead, as well as shown me how I can come alongside those following behind me.

    And, as has already been shared, thank you for the reminder that writing needs to be my #1 priority. This one can be easy to forget in the pursuit of keeping up with everything else that seems to be required of writers.

  25. Lisa Lawmaster Hess on August 19, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    I actually enjoy some of the promo stuff, but get bogged down in the time it takes. Great, balanced post, Rachelle. Thanks for putting things in perspective.

  26. Walt Mussell on August 19, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    Though I have no published novels yet, I’ve always thought that one of the things in my background that would benefit me, once I sell, is that I have sales experience. I’m constantly marketing myself and my product in my day job. I don’t know if my assumption is valid. However, I can’t wait until the day that I find out.

  27. Kay Shostak on August 19, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    Favorite quote to get me past all the things I don’t like. “Promise me
    you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your
    head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have
    always loved to swim.” Tyler Knott Gregson

  28. kaypeotone on August 19, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    Favorite quote to get me past all the things I don’t like. “Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.” Tyler Knott Gregson

  29. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on August 19, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    What I didn’t expect was that people who read my book feel like they know me. There is quite a bit of ‘me’ in the protagonist, Scott Everton, but it’s eerie nonetheless.

    I have been greeted with the name of ‘Scott’ rather than ‘Andrew’. Several times…

    “Hey, you’re the guy who wrote ‘Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart’, right?”


    “It’s nice to meet you, Scott!”

    Nice, but weird!


  30. Jan Cline on August 19, 2013 at 10:14 AM

    I didn’t know I would have to continually convince family members that writing is not just a hobby. This can be a painful part of being a writer. I talk to other writers who experience the same feeling that they never seem to be legit in the eyes of their spouses or children. I think it has probably made many writers quit or at the very least be discouraged.

    • Terry Shames on August 19, 2013 at 12:51 PM

      Jan, I was just with a friend who was talking about a woman in her 30s who is “sitting around doing nothing” after she lost her job. I talked to the young woman and she was eager to ask some questions of me since she is 55,000 words into writing a novel. That’s doing nothing!???

    • Amber on August 19, 2013 at 4:58 PM

      I find myself often facing the same situation ! I have found out rather quickly is although my family supports what ever it is I decide to do … Writing is considered a hobby and not a job. I have been writing for years and now on a journey to market . My biggest support system are my fellow writers ! 🙂

    • Jessica Dotta on August 24, 2013 at 1:40 PM

      Jan, I went through that experience myself! It’s very difficult to keep walking a path that makes people feel antagonistic towards you! It helped to remain close to fellow writers.

    • Debra J. Gordon on August 26, 2013 at 12:18 PM

      Jan: I can most certainly appreciate your position and concern for remaining harmonious with family members. But in the end… and in my case, somewhere along the way I simply decided that I’d not give another person that much power in my life.

    • Leaf MacMoragh on September 12, 2013 at 11:28 AM

      What’s hard for me is having to tell my friends and family to leave me alone while I’m working. They see me in front of the computer and figure since they can walk up to me, I’m okay to be interrupted. They just don’t understand it’s work. Not just me having fun. I hate having to tell people to leave me alone. But sometimes it’s the only way to get anything done. I just don’t like feeling like I’m being antisocial. It was easier when I had a cubicle in an office.

  31. Seraph Stein on August 19, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    I giggle fondly as I read this today… perfectly timed as always Rachelle. I flash back to the day I wrote, [THE END] and honestly thought it was.

    That was 9 months, two novels, five picture books, a blog, a FB account w daily quotes, a website w/ sections of all my books, a twitter account, and at least fifty query letters and multiple manuscript submissions ago.

    Lol. I was so naive.
    But now I know better.

    Now when I see a book on the shelf at the grocery store I realize the 1000 steps it took to get there and I stand in awe of the authors persistance.
    I think sadly about how many of us must give up before we ever finally find that voice, that agent, that editor, that perfect blog niche.

    So again today I will tweet. I will FB. I will blog and I will write my three pages in at least two of my books in progress in between my 40 e-mails and my 30 patients knowing one day… I will be on the shelf at the grocery too.

    Thank you Rachelle, your timing is impeccable.
    Kindest regards,
    Seraph… always typing something…. Stein.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 19, 2013 at 10:12 AM

      Seraph, what a great perspective – to be able to see all the work behind every book on the shelves. That can definitely help in our “acceptance” of the way things are. If all those other writers can do it, I can too. Thanks for the thoughts.

  32. Beth K. Vogt on August 19, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    I knew writers had to be marketers — I just didn’t realize how many new marketing things were going to materialize any given day.
    Facebook. Twitter. Google+. Klout. Ad nauseum.
    I always go back to the basics:
    1. I won’t keep up with it all (and that’s not the goal anyway.)
    2. Always remember: Social media is about relationship — not marketing. Even when you’re marketing.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 19, 2013 at 10:14 AM

      Great points, Beth. None of us can keep up with it all! Thinking we should be able to will make us crazy.

  33. Richard Mabry on August 19, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    Did I have any idea the amount of marketing involved when I began to write? Absolutely not. Then again, there are lots of things about lots of jobs that we don’t recognized until we’re in the middle of them. As I’ve been told many times before, “That’s why they call it work.” And writing is, indeed, work. Great reminder and common-sense advice. Thanks for the post.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 19, 2013 at 10:16 AM

      Richard, I’m sure your many years in your own dream job had plenty of elements you didn’t love, but it was still “what you did” and you kept at it. I appreciate your taking the same stance with your writing. The world is better for it!

  34. Heather C. King on August 19, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    I have people all the time ask me how to write and tell me how they are sure they are meant to be writers, but they never consider how much time I invest in this process, how much of it is preparation, marketing/social media, reading and learning, editing, and sending out work not knowing if it will garner a result. It’s hard work, but they have visions of best seller lists after hitting ‘post’ on a blog entry or two.

    But I also love your reminder to keep the writing the #1 priority. It’s easy to be consumed by everything else and lose passion for the words and the messages themselves.

  35. idelette on August 19, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    I’ve just come out of a season where I felt like I “had” to write. I “had to” show up and tweet and share updates. This summer I took time to remember why I love writing. It’s shifted my thinking to: I get to write. I get to share ideas with the world. I’m thankful for that.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 19, 2013 at 10:10 AM

      Idelette, I love that! “I get to write.” Such a small but powerful shift. Thank you!

    • Darcy Conroy on August 19, 2013 at 7:46 PM

      That’s exactly what I wake up to every weekday morning! When I pick up my phone to turn of my alarm I see the message: “Hey, get up! You get to write today!” I’ve been lucky enough to write full time for several years, now, but that still makes me smile and get up with joyful intent, every day 🙂