The Dip or the Dead-End?

My guest today is Mary Gottschalk, author of Sailing Down the Moonbeam and most recently, A Fitting Place. Mary shares her insights into marketing and the challenges marketing presents to writers today. I encourage you to visit Mary’s blog and to take a look at her books. Mary is an excellent writer and someone I look to for guidance in many ways.
Now let’s welcome, Mary.

Back in the days when I was a financial consultant to multi-national corporations, I loved Seth Godin’s little tome called The Dip.  In it, Godin offered a way to deal with that awful feeling of being ”stuck” … with those days when you’re wondering why on earth you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing.

Godin, a popular management consultant in the corporate world, draws a distinction between “a temporary setback that will get better if you keep pushing” (the Dip) and a situation that “will never get better, no matter how hard you try” (the Cul-de-Sac or dead-end).

I find Godin’s wisdom relevant for writers, particularly for indie authors who are laboring in the field, trying one trick after another to market their books, with varying degrees of success.

Even as I was still in the writing stages of my novel, A Fitting Place, I found myself resenting the seemingly endless hours I spent on social media, garnering information about titles and book blurbs and covers and printing options and, of course, marketing strategies. Pundits (social media people, mostly) kept telling me how useful this information would be. I had no reason not to believe them, but I wanted to be writing, not making lists of websites to contact and contests to enter.

I grew grumpier with every passing day.  I abhor repetitive tasks. The ever-growing list of to-do’s made it almost impossible to enjoy a bike ride or read a book—assuming I actually found time to get on a bike or pick up a book.

Even more, I hated the idea of asking strangers to do something for me.  This quirk goes back a long way.  At age 7, I was the only one in my troupe who failed to sell her quota of Girl Scout cookies.  That pattern followed me throughout a successful career.  In the early years, I never had to send out resumes because I had mentors who believed in me and opened doors on my behalf.  In the later years as a consultant, word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients meant I never had to advertise.

As a consequence, I was woefully ill-prepared by both temperament and training for the kind of self-promotion that an indie writer needs to be successful.

We’ve all heard, of course, that you’ll be more successful if you focus on things that you are good at as well as passionate about.  Marketing failed on both counts.

At the same time, I didn’t like the idea of being a quitter.

Should I just buckle down and do the marketing tasks, regardless of how unpleasant they seem? Was this a dip that I could forge through, eventually developing the marketing skills to generate significant sales?  Or was this a cul-de-sac? Would I spend days and weeks on a repetitive series of tasks I hated, with little to show for my efforts?

What Godin’s little book offered was a way of thinking it through.  What I soon realized was that my measure of success with A Fitting Place is not how many books I sell or how many contests I win.  It is the simple pleasure of having a reader tell me that my novel made him or her think differently about the complexity of human relationships, about the need to break down social stereotypes about gender, about the importance of taking responsibility for your own decisions.  It is the delight of sharing life experiences with book clubs and writing groups.  And of course, it’s always nice to be told that A Fitting Place is a “page turner.”

From that perspective, I already know that my novel is successful.  Selling another 1,000 or 50,000 books will not materially increase my level of satisfaction.

An intensive marketing campaign would almost certainly be a dead-end rather than a dip.

With Godin’s help, I have begun to get some balance back in my life.  I now have time to take a philosophy class, to go for a bicycle ride, and last but not least, to dig into my waist-high “to be read” pile.

I would love to hear how you’re dealing with challenges of marketing.

Meet Mary:

DSC_4440-Edit_2-2Mary has made a career out of changing careers.

She spent nearly thirty years in the financial markets, first in New York, and then in New Zealand and Australia, eventually returning to New York.

Along the way, she dropped out several times. In the mid-1980’s, at age 40, Mary and her husband Tom embarked on the three-year sailing voyage that is the subject of her memoir, SAILING DOWN THE MOONBEAM. When the voyage ended, she returned to her career in finance, but dropped out again to provide financial and strategic planning services to the nonprofit community.

AFittingPlace_FrontCover_3.5In her latest incarnation, she is a full time writer. Her first novel, A FITTING PLACE, was released in May, 2014.  She lives in Des Moines, Iowa.



A Fitting Place –

Sailing Down the Moonbeam –

25 thoughts on “The Dip or the Dead-End?

  1. Thank you for these thoughts Mary. Since I’ve read and reviewed both your books, I’m pleased to realize I’m one who contributed to your return to serenity. I’ve come to a similar conclusion about my work, and hope as our numbers grow, we can help re-balance the writing community in this regard.
    The meat of this matter may be money, though we all have plenty of ego skin in the game.
    Few people realize that in the golden days of traditional publishing, 10% of the titles financially supported the other 90%. Having a published book even back then did not guarantee huge sales. Few authors, especially first-timers, earned back their relatively meager advances (if they got one — not all did, even then). That advance may have covered the substantial copying and mailing costs involved in getting an agent and contract back in the Paper Age.
    Today’s situation is better — we CAN publish our own work, at any level from putting together our personal best effort and popping it onto CreateSpace and Kindle to investing substantial sums in pre-press professional services for editing, book design/layout and cover, multiple print/distribution channels and a publicist.
    The more one invests, the greater the pressure to market. By collaborating even more widely as beta readers and learning a few skills, we can minimize that investment and related pressure.
    You’ve beautifully covered the ego angle.
    Thank you Sherrey for hosting Mary’s moderating voice!

    1. Sharon, thanks for sharing your thoughts on moderation in marketing as well. Having talked real time this summer, I know that you too have made some changes in your day-to-day life to move toward serenity. Appreciate your taking time to share with us.

      1. Sherrey … thanks for hosting me today … I’ve so enjoyed our mutual exchange of ideas this week. I am hoping — per your blog on my website— that our paths will cross in 3-D soon!

    2. Thanks Sharon .. you were indeed one of those who helped me think through what I wanted from a book … and I’m hoping that one of these days soon we can begin our collaboration on a host of book related themes without the pressuring or writing or selling books!

  2. Well said, Mary. And Sharon. At the beginning of this year, I did what would’ve been unthinkable last year – I opted out – of writing, promoting, supporting, networking, learning, and believing in the book business. All that energy went into coping with a new job. It’s not like I love the job, but it puts a regular paycheck into the bank; something I haven’t enjoyed for a long time. So, that’s kind of contrary to your sentiment, Mary; and yet it feels similar – I’m at peace with my decision, for now, though I can feel the urge to pick up where I left off returning … who knows what the future holds. Missing you all; wishing you all luck with your present endeavors. I may be returning to the writing nexus soon, but only when I’m ready. I need to put 2014 behind me first.
    Love your new blog, Sherrey!

    1. Belinda, thanks for reading and commenting. Sometimes a step back to do something different, whether we necessarily like it or not, is the healthy thing to do. My philosophy is there’s always tomorrow, next month, or next year to restart your creativity. And I’m betting you will!
      We need to schedule an ear-to-ear conversation one of these days. I’ll email you soon. I promise! In the meantime, take care.

    2. Belinda … I think there is a great deal of commonality in our decisions … going for what feels right at the time, rather than obsessing about something we “should” do, for reasons that are often quite obscure. But we do miss you in the FB discussions!

  3. Mary, your words are just what I needed. I’ve been dragging my feet on the final phase of my getting my memoir out there–publishing. I, too, have spent enormous numbers of hours on the Internet, listening to all the experts on how to publish successfully, and quite frankly, I’ve questioned whether I should even move forward. I derive more satisfaction from blogging than worrying about book sales. After reading this today, I know my heart has been right all along–satisfaction is knowing someone is touched by your words, not the potential sales. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and I look forward to reading your books!

    1. Mandy, I’m at about the same stage of the game as you. Mary’s words have also brought me comfort in knowing that making a difference is why I started this memoir, and it will be the reason behind publishing if I only sell 5 copies or less. Thanks for stopping by today and sharing your thoughts.

    2. Thanks Mandy … I did love the writing of both my novel and my memoir, but I wrote because I wanted to connect with people who got a “shiver of recognition.” But it took me a bit longer than you, I think, to realize that my efforts at marketing were a bit like trying to boil the ocean …. not destined to have much effect, and for what purpose.

  4. Mary, your experience in the corporate world, and your wise use of Seth Godin’s helpful way of thinking, makes this post very useful to all authors.
    I love the story about the Girl Scout cookies. I wasn’t allowed to be in the Girl Scouts (part of the glittering world). But I loved hawking cookies at our roadside stand. For me, marketing and talking with readers is as rewarding, most of the time, as writing itself. Another thing I love is learning, and social media provide me with more than enough opportunities to do that!
    Even with an interest in marketing, however, I can and do grow tired of all the effort it takes to get noticed in a crowded field. My last blog post tells of my temptation to float way out of the ether. It’s a choice I may well make some day.
    I love your wise decision to focus on the satisfaction of connecting with one reader at a time, knowing that you have created a book capable of helping people rethink what they think they understand. No small matter!

    1. Well said, Shirley! We are each as unique as our books and skills, aren’t we? For some, marketing is a joy; for others, not so much. Reaching a comfortable decision is the important goal. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I’ll wade here into murky waters . . . As a professional journalist I was used to pressing a button, sending my stories to an editor and the copy desk . . . the next day seeing my story in print reaching thousands of readers. That’s all I had to do. I was a reporter, a writer, not a marketer.
    As an author, I realize marketing becomes essential in terms of discoverability, ebooks sales. But how to go about it with integrity and honesty as well as keeping your energy intact for your creative muse? Sadly, it’s become a bit of a free-for-all out there like boxers in the arena going endless rounds . . . exhausting to watch let alone partake of.
    Book contests are often advertising in disguise, requiring time and financial investment to get reviews, recognition for your “award winning” book. Facebook postings proliferate . . . have become popularity contests – who gets 10 comments or “likes” versus 60? People start demanding of you to let them know if you’re reading their posts by leaving a one word response, or they threaten to take you off their “Friend” list. It’s reminiscent of high school. Candor often gets lost in the “feel good” marketing blitz that produces meaningless congrats, as much as heartfelt responses and support.
    I admire anyone who has the courage to write a story and publish it. What is harder to grasp is how we got from A to Z. Writing a memoir, for example, requires pulling from deep within. Turning it into an endless marketing campaign; well, maybe that’s the ego part or recouping expenses. I spend no more than $100 a year on marketing my books; the rest I do through free offerings, such as Kindle Countdown or social media. I do plan to pay $30 next month to a group called ERN to advertise my memoir commemorating the 20th anniversary of my husband’s death. But, again, that comes out of the $100.
    It’s essential to have other endeavors – at least for me – as a way to turn writing into a decent supplemental income. I do this through editing, as well as charging a nominal fee for my writing group; book signings, talks and workshops. Stepping back, reflecting, establishing or reestablishing priorities are important survival tools to cultivate our creative spirit. Also, remembering why we became or wanted to become writers in the first place. Thanks Mary and Sherrey for getting an important conversation going.

    1. Susan, thanks for bringing additional dimension to the discussion. I spend more time lately on Twitter than Facebook for the reasons you have stated, and I find I’m enjoying interacting with others a lot more. If you haven’t read either of Frances Caballo’s books, I highly recommend either one or both. I learned so much about making my social media time work for me, not the other way around.
      Your words “remembering why we became or wanted to become writers in the first place” resonate with me on so many fronts. Thanks as always for sharing your wisdom and experience.

  6. And Mary Gottschalk, I haven’t forgotten about you! Thank you so much for sharing a look at your private thoughts and feelings about marketing today. I know I have found grounding in your words–I want to make a difference and my reason behind my memoir is the hope that someone, if only one someone, reads it, a difference will be made. Maybe I’ll only sell 5 copies or less, but that’s not my goal. And also Susan’s words about remembering why we started writing or wanted to are being written out and placed on my workspace wall.
    I have truly enjoyed our post exchange! Let’s do it again sometime, shall we?

    1. Thanks, Cate … and I sure am rooting for you …. there were so many things we seemed to have in common, and I keep hoping your health will improve enough for us to go back to them …
      BTW … I will be OZ from mid-January to late February, 2015. Will email you to see about an in person visit!

  7. Sorry to be so late in the discussion, but want to say I’m with you Mary. For me too, it’s time for doing a few things on my bucket list, so it will be moderate marketing for me when my book is published.

    1. Joan, it’s never too late to join the discussion. Like you and Mary, my intentions at publishing time is to moderate the marketing effort as well. Life is too short to be spent in a tailspin of marketing efforts.

    2. Thanks Joan … glad to know I’m not alone in my frustration …. Enjoying family, friends and travel is way more important than the number of books you’ve sold!

  8. Thanks for the inspiration ladies. And I would have to agree, although we all wish to make a living from our work somewhere down the line, there is nothing so gratifying as when our words have touched a reader with inspiration. 🙂

  9. Thanks for stopping by, D.G. With both my books, I had a message … not preachy, but in the nature of a lesson learned. It’s always gratifying when a reader has that “shiver of recognition” at a shared human experience.

    1. Do you two know what I really love? When members of the writing community begin to overlap in their online friendships! Like right now … first, I met friend Mary, and then because of Mary, I think, I met D.G. Bonuses all around. And feel the same on those good feelings when our writing touches another.

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