Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Guest Post by Hillary Rettig

Do You Suffer From Marketer's Block? by Hillary Rettig

Recently, I've noticed an interesting evolution in the writing productivity classes I teach. Up until a few years ago, writers almost always took one of my classes because they were procrastinating or blocked on a book or other work. These days, however, many who take my classes have finished their book: it's their marketing they're stuck on.

And many of those who are stuck are indie publishers.

What gives?

To understand what's going on, you first need to understand that procrastination isn't caused by laziness, lack of discipline, lack of commitment, or any other lack, but disempowerment. Disempowerment means you're not missing anything; just separated from, or constrained from using, that which you have. Locate and remedy the disempowering forces in your work and life, and your energy, discipline, commitment, etc., will "automagically" reappear. Here's more info on how to do that.

So what would disempower an indie publisher?

The major disempowering forces are: perfectionism, ambivalence, resource constraints, unmanaged time, ineffective work processes, traumatic rejections, and a disempowering career path. I characterize them all, and detail their solutions, in my book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific.

Perfectionism is the most serious because it undermines you in many ways, and also impairs your ability to solve the rest.

But let's look at that last one: disempowering career path. In the bad old days of traditional publishing, writers slogged away for years in a fundamentally disempowering system. You took years to write a novel; an editor or agent held onto the manuscript for months and then decided its fate in a few minutes (if you were lucky). And often, depending on how your publisher treated you and your work, getting accepted only brought on more disempowerment, since you would have little or no say over your book's cover, editing, and marketing.

In such a situation, where the odds are really stacked against a writer's success--especially if your work isn't trendy, or otherwise easily salable--procrastination actually makes sense as a way of "opting out" of an unfair and hopeless-seeming system. So that's what many blocked writers were doing: rebelling.

This example illustrates two core features of procrastination:

(1) Our reasons for doing it are always valid. Always. And,

(2) It's a suboptimal response to a bad situation. Procrastination isn't a character flaw; it's simply a coping strategy. And it's even okay (and entirely human) to procrastinate once in a while. However, as a primary coping strategy, it's a disaster, and leads to a life of unfulfilled bitterness.

Cut to 2013, and the glories of indie publishing.

Most readers of the Newbie's Guide to Publishing blog know that indie is a a major liberating and empowering force for writers. As Joe himself recently wrote: "It truly is the best time in history to be a writer. The are no longer any boundaries. You can work with whomever you want to, at your own speed, get paid monthly, write about anything you want, do very little marketing, and still reach readers....What an amazing, incredible time to be alive. How lucky we all are."

I concur! I indie published The 7 Secrets, and wound up with a book I truly loved that is now helping many people and selling hundreds of copies a month in electronic and paper formats. Like many successful indie publishers, my main problem is not the disempowering drudgery of dealing with capricious and uncaring publishers, but finding the time to replicate my success by writing and marketing as many other books as possible. Believe me--it's a much better problem to have!

Which brings us to all the cases of Marketer's Block I'm seeing.

I think what's happening is that many writers, who finally see themselves as having a realistic path to publishing via indie publishing, are no longer feeling disempowered when writing. And so they're finishing their books.

But then, after they start to market, it's a whole other story. Suddenly, they realize that marketing is not just a much bigger process than they had envisioned, it's also much slower. They had dreams of winning readers by the dozens or hundreds, but instead they're winning them a few (or one!) at a time, in what seems like a painfully slow effort.

They're also discovering that, while it's fantastic to have access to a superabundance of great marketing tools, it's also overwhelming. For many writers, figuring out the right mix of marketing tools and techniques is a constant challenge that's only getting tougher. A year ago, for instance, few writers had heard of email direct marketing companies like BookBub, BookGorilla, and BookBasset, but now they're all the rage.

It can all lead to a kind of overwhelm, decision fatigue, "analysis paralysis," and the feeling of disempowerment that leads to procrastination.

So what to do?

Here are some techniques that will help:

1) Acknowledge that you're in a business. The writers who succeed are those with the clearest vision, and what they see most clearly is that indie publishing is a business. So they educate themselves on business (visit www.SBA.gov to learn about free resources in your area) and conduct themselves like businesspeople. ALL businesses, whether they're selling shoes or salsa or science fiction, require lots of marketing and sales; and the best any business can offer is a decent return on an investment, which means that to succeed, you need to be be prepared to make initial investments of money, time, and attention. Relatedly,

2) Lower your expectations. Forget about the overdramatized, reductive, and probably untrue "overnight success" stories the media constantly pushes--they're not the norm. Indie publishing, like most businesses, is a long term endeavor, so work hard, moderate your expectations, and relish even your small successes (which probably aren't as small as you think).

3) Don't compare. In practically every class I teach, sooner or later someone starts complaining about Fifty Shades of Grey--how bad it is, how unfair it is that it's a bestseller, how much the world sucks for "real writers," etc. (It used to be Twilight, by the way--writers can always find someone to envy; and while I'm at it, let me remind you of Joseph Epstein's famous quote that, "Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.") It doesn't matter. Focus on writing the best books possible, and on doing the best possible marketing for those books, and your odds of a success that will be satisfying, if not stratospheric, will soar.

4) Work on your perfectionism. Because it is the main brake on your productivity and success. It's not at all the same as having high standards; it's a toxic brew of unreasonable expectations, harsh self-punishments, grandiosity, shortsightedness, reductionism, dichotomization, and more. For the complete description, click here. And for the solutions, click here.

And, finally,

5) Have fun. Because Joe is right: this is a golden age for writers. The problem we have is the one we want to have: too much opportunity. It's the problem of the proverbial kid in the candy store, and, like the kid, all we have to do is pace ourselves and we're in for a great time.

Hillary Rettig is author of the best-selling The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block (Infinite Art, 2011) and other works. She has taught writing, creative, and business productivity for more than a decade at Grub Street Writers, The Mark Twain House & Museum, The Loft Literary Center, and www.SavvyAuthors.com. She worked as a business coach and microlender for more than a decade, until indie publishing made it possible for her to live entirely on the proceeds from her books, workshops, and coaching. Visit www.hillaryrettig.com for free information about overcoming procrastination, perfectionism, and writer's block; and to learn more about Hillary and her work. She welcomes your inquiries at hillary@hillaryrettig.com.

Joe sez: Good advice, well presented. 7 Secrets of the Prolific is now $3.95 on Amazon, and I just bought a copy.

If anyone has questions for Hillary, please put them in the comments.


w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

nice to see one of the good people out there succeed. mazel tov on the success of your book, and the good works you have done in other venues.

Jude Hardin said...

Excellent post, Hillary! I just bought a copy of your book as well.

I've been thinking about going vegan, and I was wondering if you have any general tips for someone just starting out.

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Hillary is the best! I heard her speak at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, and she is the real deal, with enlightening advice on how to recognize and work through reasons we don't succeed.

I heartily agree with her conclusions and urge you to pick up the book, which is a bargain at any price.

Chuckles Austen said...

Wow. Thank you, Hillary. A really amazing post, and incredibly helpful in such a short space. One book sold! Being prolific has never been a problem. But I see now that you're right--I've had a block about the marketing.

Well played, Ms. Rettig!

Hillary Rettig said...

Hi Everyone, Thank you for your kind words! Please note that the principles in 7 Secrets apply not just to writing, but pretty much everything. (My next book will apply them to weight loss.) So you can use them to overcome marketing block, too.

Jude, highly recommend Erik Marcus's short, intelligent, fun book Ultimate Vegan Guide as a starting point.

Everyone who has read 7 Secrets please leave an Amazon review! Reviews really do catalyze sales, and even a 1-2 line review is absolutely fine. Here's the URL

Nancy Beck said...


Bought a copy of your book weeks ago, and it's quite helpful! (I also purchased another, similar book, but that one didn't help at all.)

I already know I'm in business (set up as a sole prioprietor due to Dean Wesley Smith's series on Think Like a Publisher), and my expectations aren't unrealistic (though there's nothing wrong with dreaming :-)).

Good luck with all of your books!

Anonymous said...

Ms. Rettig, if you could make your "buy on Kindle" link more prominent, that would be great. I still bought the book, though, just had to actually type your name in the Amazon search bar :)

Stella Baker said...

Just bought your book...will I have to actually read it before I make my millions of sales? ; - )

Seriously, great info well said. I look forward to reading your book.

Shaun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shaun said...

Relevant: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/10/27/procrastination/

Unknown said...

Fantastic post. Thank you Hilliary and Joe!

Seems addressed specifically to me, but didn't see my name.

Being a lifelong perfectionist I've perfected procrastination. I seem to be more "productive" if I wait until deadline is upon me. It also gives a "subliminal excuse" for sometimes not producing the best product. "Had to turn it in." That doesn't cut it in this business. Which chapter has the self test that tells me I need a shrink?

Downloaded "7 Secrets" from your website instead of Amazon. Hope that maximizes your profits. If so I hope others will too. Easy with PayPal and it arrived in 2 minutes.

Research/reading sometimes is a procrastination tool. Perusing your book convinces me I can be cured. Will keep you posted on that.

I can now see how my Internal Critic has influenced not only my writing, but also my pickleball http://www.usapa.org/ a fun sport, great exercise, especially for old knees. Try it. When missing an easy shot I start a dialogue with my internal perfectionist voice, "stupid, no excuse for that, what's wrong with me today? what a waste, yada, yada." Your book is becoming my new best friend. I can see the light!

I'm going to get better at setting more realistic goals,deadlines and time mgmt.
Thanks for that too in Ch 4.


Elisabeth Zguta, Author said...

Wise words - thanks

Hillary Rettig said...

Shaun -

I'm so glad you posted that link because I strenuously disagree with it. To call someone who procrastinates "weak" is misguided. To use the example in the article, I can think of plenty of reasons someone would have plenty of artsy movies in their Netflix queue but keep watching dumb, escapist movies instead. Maybe, just maybe, they are constantly exhausted and stressed in the evenings from work, family, etc., and so really need the escapism.

The interesting question is why they would put those artsy movies in their queue to start with. They must have an interest in them. So I'm guessing that many of them did go through a period - say in college or young adulthood - where they did watch artsy movies. So, what's different between the period when they watched the artsy movies and now? They didn't grow stupider, lazier, or less cultured, I assure you. Their context changed.

It's the same with writing, weight loss, and everything else. In class, people often introduce themselves as serious procrastinators or blocked. Then we do a free writing exercise and - whamo - everyone writes like mad. NO ONE is blocked. That's because procrastination is always externally caused - it resides either in your current context, past context (e.g., harsh parents or teachers), or sometimes in the work itself. (For instance, writers whose topic is emotionally challenging.)

In classes, I can create a context that fosters prolificness; and I teach people how to do it at home, too. It's rather easy once you get past the "I'm lazy" or "I'm weak" misconception and start focusing on problem solving.

There's a LOT of misinformation about procrastination out there, and a lot of it is similarly victim-blaming, and, honestly, that really pisses me off.

On the plus side, I now have most of a new blog post (for my own site) written. :-) So Thanks again for sharing that misguided link!

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Hillary! I will check that out.

Hillary Rettig said...

Jeff -

Thanks for your kind words, and also buying a copy. You're right - buying from my Website does maximize my profits. Thanks! I would be grateful if you would leave an Amazon review when you're done.

Happy also to learn about pickleball. I'm a huge dog person, so any sport partly created by a dog works for me. It is absolutely true that practicing nonperfectionism (what I call compassionate objectivity) in any area of your life will help in other areas. One of my favorite stories along those lines was from someone who took a quilting class from a nonperfectionist teacher who said, very encouragingly, "If no one's bleeding, we're doing great!"

abe said...

Nice post.......thanks for your post, very inspire

Greg said...

As a new author I am aware that, as I stare up at the marketing mountain before me, I am going to need to make some decisions, and become fatigued by that. I can’t explore every internet marketing option, so I’m going to have to go with the ones that resonate with me. I am going to have to experiment until things click into place – change the price, description, opt in and out of various publishing schemes.

At the moment that experimentation includes giving away my book for free for a month. It also includes writing my very first press release (fun but tricky). It also includes having a go at microcerpt, a new micro-excerpt-releasing-website-thingy for writers – could it be the Twitter of fiction? Who knows. Probably not. But it is one of the few websites I have chosen to try and engage with fellow readers and writers.

Speaking of engaging, I knew Joe back in the day. When I say knew, I mean he sent me a private message in response to a post or comment I’d made on a now-defunct literary site. If I remember, he was the first person who did that. Who was this bearded stranger? So I checked out his blog, this blog, and have checked it out regularly ever since. Back in the day Joe was going on about something called self-publishing, and I was trying to get a traditional deal. I read his blog but those were early days and I decided against self-pubbing. The deal for me came but it didn’t work. In fact it was pretty much everything Joe has warned about on this blog. The upshot, Joe made a million bucks and I made nine (single, individual bucks). Maybe I’ll listen to him this time… (to be honest I already have).

G.Dawe – author of:

Invoking Gonzo – A Daunting Search for the Lost Identity of Man

Alan Spade said...

I think Shaun's link has some very interesting points and shouldn't be dismissed too lightly.

In my humble opinion, our brain naturally tends to avoid effort. I do not say that to culpabilize writers, but yes, it's natural to be lazy. The article demonstrates that not only writers are lazy : procrastination is a habit of the human mind.

To apply writer block theory to marketing block does not seem totally fair : to write is our speciality, we authors are made for that (yes, you have to constantly improve your craft, but it's more easy for me to improve my craft with words than with numbers, for instance). Not all authors are made for marketing or business.

So procrastination can still apply with marketing, but it applies much more strongly with writing, which is my speciality.

@Joe : related to the previous blog post, did you notice Kobo's conditions will change on October, 17 ?

It seems that there will be no more a limit to the 70% royalty. If I've not misanderstood, you'll be able to price an ebook $20 and keep 70%.

A good thing in my opinion, because it shows Kobo tries to compete with Amazon and Apple. And that gives more freedom to authors. We need competition among distributors.

There's still plenty of room for improvement for Kobo, of course. ;)

Hillary Rettig said...

Greg Dawe -

> as I stare up at the marketing mountain before me, I am going to need to make some decisions, and become fatigued by that.

I would respectfully suggest that framing the situation as a "marketing mountain" will, by itself, create fatigue. (And perhaps overwhelm and despair.) Language really counts, and I suggest framing marketing as a game, a process, a practice, an endeavor, etc.

Interestingly, in his fantastic commencement at the U of the Arts, Neil Gaiman also used a mountain metaphor:

"Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

"And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain." - Link

But I think "mountain" works better as a destination you're headed towards (with the mountain itself the implicit reward - to continue my candy store metaphor it could be The Big Rock Candy Mountain :-)) then something you have to laboriously scale.

Hillary Rettig said...

>In my humble opinion, our brain naturally tends to avoid effort. I do not say that to culpabilize writers, but yes, it's natural to be lazy....To apply writer block theory to marketing block does not seem totally fair...Not all authors are made for marketing or business."

Alan, thanks for your interesting comment. In response, I will ask why so many blocked or "lazy" writers are dynamos in other areas of their lives? They're doing a ton of errands, or chores, or housecleaning, or favors for others, or good works, OR they're overgiving at their day jobs. Or, they're doing hours and hours of web surfing, video games, etc.

They are clearly not lazy people. So why are they suddenly "lazy" when it comes time to write? The answer is usually that:

(a) They are overidentified with their writing, which creates a terror of failure and a need to escape via procrastination. (I describe this process in detail in the Disempowerment Cascade section of<a href="http://www.hillaryrettig.com/procrastination/>this page</a>.)

(b) And while they are desperate to escape, others are dragging them into their agendas (for a cleaner house, someone to go out partying with, extra work project, extra volunteer project, etc.)

And btw there's nothing special about writing that causes "laziness," except maybe the mythology around it. (cf. famous quotes about how "Writing is easy, just open a vein," etc.) The most prolific writers have always treated their writing like a job, not a holy mission. Hence Somerset Maugham's famous quote (paraphrased here) about how, "I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at 9 every morning." And the superprolific Stephen King and Anthony Trollope, who, in their autobiographies, advise writers to view their work the way manual laborors view theirs.

And famed writer/writing teacher John Gardner wrote, “If children can build sand castles without getting sand-castle block, and if ministers can pray over the sick without getting holiness block, the writer who enjoys his work and takes measured pride in it should never be troubled by writer’s block. But alas, nothing’s simple. The very qualities that make one a writer in the first place contribute to block: hypersensitivity, stubbornness, insatiability, and so on.”

So, I dispute your claim of intrinsic laziness. Little children create constantly, without barriers. (And if you can stand one more citation, Mel Levine, the late famous authority on learning differences, wrote a book called The Myth of Laziness, about how children are frequently labeled "lazy" for behavior whose sources can be traced to external influences including: physical problems, cognitive problems, bad teaching, and home problems.

If someone truly doesn't want to write, or market, then they're better off not doing those things. But perfectionism, fear, confusion, and other constraints should always be dealt with before giving up on an activity that seems important. And there's no point at all in labeling someone weak or lazy or undisciplined - those labels are both undermining and misidentify the problem, assuming a problem exists.

Alan Spade said...

Hillary, I agree with you it's not the individuals that should be labeled "lazy". It's the way that we identify something as a duty and not a pleasure that cause procrastination.

I know when I write I have first to "start the engine", you know, in order for my writing to become a pleasure.

It's starting the engine that causes some effort.

It's not unavoidable, though : when I write for determinate periods, it's much more easy to slip to my worlds of words. For instance, when I do it in train, I may be very tired, it works anyway. Because I know I have no choice : I have to do it, or elsewhere, I would have brought my portable for nothing.

What Stephen King advises is also a very good way for doing the first effort, the one that cost the most.

Concerning overidentification and fear of failure, yes, I think you are right, that can be causes of procrastination.

Unknown said...

Haven't finished ch 1 of "7 Secrets" yet, Hillary and it's working already. Played 3.5 hrs of doubles pickleball this AM and won 10 of 12 matches against the best players there.

What's different? Didn't have any conversations with "Mr. Perfectionist" about, shoulda, coulda, being lazy, etc. Instead my self talk said, "know how to fix that, use a better stroke for that situation, etc."

Power of positive thinking? Yes. Difference? "Mr. Perfectionist" was never allowed in the conversation!

Will see how it works Friday for 4-5 hrs of games against best competition in Houston.

Love it. My whole world will be better after finishing the book. It's my choice. I'm in control.

More productive writing today as well.

Thank you, Hillary

Shaun said...

Hillary, didn't see your response to my post till now.

It's funny you disagree with it. I posted it because I thought it was similar to what you were saying (granted, I haven't read your book). I agree with your interpretation about the films, and I think it is exactly what the article is suggesting (although suggesting they went through a period where they watched them in young adulthood was a straw man). The reason people choose those films is because they are being weak, giving in to impulse, not because they always stupid, lazy, or uncultured. As an anecdote, I try to write every day. There are days when I feel like crap, or am sick, or exhausted, or whatever. But I can force myself to write. Therefore on the days that I don't force myself, I am being weak, I'm letting my environment win, instead of saying, Hey, I can do this; I’m giving in to the impulse of now, and disregarding how my future-self will feel.

With that broad of a definition though, everything is external. For something to be truly externally caused, it would mean that a randomly selected person from the general population, in that same situation, would also not do what they are supposed to. Trying to tell people they aren't to blame is nice, but untrue. This is the kind of thing psychiatrists try to help people get over; stop blaming the world and realize that they have control over a large portion of their own lives.

I think you may be misinterpreting "weak" here, taking it as a slight. It's simply a statement of fact, not a general judgment for someone to put upon themselves. Like you said, if people start telling themselves, I'm weak and lazy and worthless, they're already screwed. But realizing that I'm weak when it comes to certain impulses? That's how we avoid them. Look at AA, or gambling addicts. They know they are weak to that particular impulse, so they avoid it entirely.

This will sound mean, like I'm some curmudgeon, but I totally don't mean for it to, but what bothers me is people’s denial of science, without actually understanding the science.

It may suck to think of humans as irrational, lazy, and weak in the face of our biological drives, but it's how we are. Pretending we're not can only go so far

Hillary Rettig said...

>"Haven't finished ch 1 of "7 Secrets" yet, Hillary and it's working already. Played 3.5 hrs of doubles pickleball this AM and won 10 of 12 matches against the best players there."

Jeff, I am honored to be assisting in the career of a pickleball champion. :-)

Remember that another powerful technique is to dialogue with the perfectionist bully. Its goals are often laudable; it's just its methods that stink. So don't let it abuse or call you names, but engage it as per examples in my book and here: http://www.hillaryrettig.com/solutions-to-perfectionism/ You be the compassionate adult who is both wise and in charge.

And please leave a review of 7 Secrets on Amazon! I would be very grateful!

Hillary Rettig said...

Hi Shaun,

Thanks for your reply. I would suggest that labeling (e.g., weak, lazy) is an intrinsically limited and unproductive activity. Although it may work for you - and you should absolutely do whatever works for you - it doesn't work for many people. Here are some reasons:

a) labels are shaming; they often have a moralistic component. And shame is very disempowering.

b) labels are reductive. someone who is weak around video games or alcohol may actually be strong in other areas of their lives.

c) labels are vague. what does "weak" mean, really? Detached from writing? Attached to some other activity? Susceptible to a third one?

Another example of vagueness: the people in my classes often think they're weak around writing. BUT, they are the ones showing up. Most kids want to grow up to do something creative or individualistic (e.g., firefighter, doctor), but how many adults actually wind up following that dream. Relatively few. The ones in my classes are those who, despite their blocks, are still in the game. They show amazing perseverence and dedication, which are forms of strength, not weakness.

d) Because labels are unjust they can trigger the rebellion form of procrastination.

If labels work for you, it's probably because you are relatively nonperfectionist. I sometimes refer to myself as lazy--never others--and when I do use that term it's pure descriptor, no shaming.

Shaun said...

I’m not suggesting labeling. From what I know, all the things you list are among the problems with it.

I was pointing out that the descriptor “weak” was a simple statement of fact—humans can be weak in the face of impulse—not a value judgment, and that you shouldn't let that cloud your perception of the accuracy of the facts presented within.

I posted the link because it’s based on peer-reviewed, scientific studies, and I thought it might help some people get over their procrastination. I also thought it might give backing to what you said, since there are plenty of blog posts on the internet that are nothing but supposition and anecdote, posts that lack a backbone of data, and that are simply the writer’s feeling on a subject.

That said, the best self-help books tend to be those not labeled as such. Much of what we know about cognitive bias comes from the research of Nobel-winner Daniel Kahneman, and Amos Tversky; the former of who wrote Thinking, Fast and Slow, which covers pretty much every bias we know about.

Hillary Rettig said...

Thanks for the references, Shaun. I am fascinated by the topic of cognitive bias, so will check them out.

Thanks also for the useful conversation!