Christian writers, in particular, have failed to understand the depth that the skill of marketing represents. When people think of marketing, they think of a used car salesman twinkling a toothy grin, hiding the maleficent predator beneath. Nothing could be a more grotesque misrepresentation of what marketing is. Marketing is simply a proxy for human nature. Marketing is the human soul writ large on the free market.
Logo design is a proxy for beauty.
Sales copy is a proxy for existential need (providing solutions to problems).
User experience is a proxy for environmental design.
Value proposition is a proxy for care—for love.
Call to action is a proxy for mission, and mission is a limb of human purpose.
Monetization is a proxy for time—exchanging the precious moments of my life I’ve spent on building this product for the precious moments of time you’ve spent earning the money you spend on it.
Do you understand? It all means something. Marketing—its ideas, tools, and scripts—is a systematic representation of interpersonal contact—of human intimacy. Many relationships have stood strong or crumbled on the basis of communicative success or failure. In the same way, your success as a writer will succeed or fall on the basis of marketing success or failure.
Let’s dive into the 16 critical marketing apparati that every writer should understand in order to reach their personal writing goals.
1. Content Strategy
I was talking to a friend the other day who started a podcast. Three months in, he told me: “Nobody’s downloading my podcast. I get like, 100 downloads a month.” He wasn’t asking for advice, so I didn’t step into my marketing shoes to give him unsolicited guidance. But his problem was clear: He thought that if he just published a podcast on iTunes, people would listen to it. It looks so cool to see your podcast on iTunes! Why wouldn’t people listen to it?
Here’s the truth:
There are over 500,000 active podcasts on iTunes right now. His podcast is just another one of them. And nobody will ever listen to it unless he learns how to implement content strategy into his business model.
Businesses used to operate with a simple strategy: “Build it and they will come.” It’s a business model that completely neglects marketing strategy. It worked for many local businesses when commerce was simpler—brick and mortar businesses were handed down from father to son, needs in a community were apparent and easy to fill, and a good location was all the marketing you needed.
Writers are in a completely different situation—for two reasons. First of all, their stage is global. Google puts you in competition with every writer in the world. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage—you are able to reach millions of people without stealing bread from anyone else’s mouth (advantage), but you are competing for your audience’s precious reading time against thousands of other writers (disadvantage).
By strategically creating a unique reader experience through finding an uncommon content angle, you significantly diminish the disadvantage of globalism and create for yourself an open field of potential readers with no competition. Content strategy is the key to making yourself unique enough to be attractive to the right readers in a sea of noise. If you were able to reach 1 million people through your writing (which almost no writers ever do), you’d only be reaching 1/7,000th of the world’s population. Creating content that adds value to peoples’ lives in a way that only you can is the key to increasing that number.
The other reason that writers can’t use the “build it and they will come” strategy (or “write it and they will come,” if you will) is because writers don’t have a real product. You might think: “I’m going to write a book, and that will be my product.” Nobody makes money on books. And if they do, it’s a 1-in-a-million thing.
You have to stop thinking about a book contract as the premium financial asset of the writing journey—the content itself is valuable. Once you realize that you’re not selling a product, but rather giving away your most valuable asset—your content—for free, you will realize that not selling a product is the biggest advantage you have in achieving financial self-sustainability through your Christian writing brand over any product-based brand.
Think about it this way: If McDonald’s doesn’t sell food, they don’t make money. Writers have a multitude of ways to make money beyond praying that people buy their book that took them two years to write—affiliate links, email list sponsorships, eCourses, sponsored content, speaking events, and mastermind groups. Each of these avenues of monetizing your brand through giving away your content for free holds 10x the financial ROI potential than a book contract through a traditional publisher.
Ditch the product marketing mindset. Don’t base your writing brand business model on a brick and mortar strategy.
2. Your Branding
Your brand has to look good. Your brand should be clean, but not stock-and-trade—elemental, bearing character. Your brand should have unique flares of detail that distinguish it from stereotypical brands in your space, but it shouldn’t be overcomplicated, packed with distracting design features, inflections, and features that create an unintuitive reading experience.
Create a few core anchor elements that will be replicated across all of your distribution platforms, and focus the rest of your energy on creating and packaging high-quality content.
3. Your Logo
Don’t put too much effort into your logo. If you’re a solo writer, the best thing you can do is make your name your logo. There are multiple kinds of logos—abstracts, mascots, emblems, symbols, logotypes, lettermarks, and wordmarks. I would recommend using your name as a simple logotype. If you have enough design chops, or a designer friend, or some spare room in your budget to hire a one-off designer, then you should absolutely create a distinguishable logo mark that stylizes basic framework and breaks the conventional configuration of your chosen font.
Do something with the letters, lines, or surrounding space that enables people to recognize your unique brand just by looking at it. This will be more and more important as you grow your brand.
Canva Pro enables you to download plug-and-play custom designs that include your logo, titles, and fonts on pre-designed templates that are gorgeous. For reference, I use Canva Pro for all of my blog images (see above). I was once at a marketing mastermind meeting, and the headliner for the conference was there on his computer creating his powerpoint. I peeked over, and he designed every powerpoint slide on Canva Pro (they looked so professional) in under 15 minutes. It was insane. That evening, I purchased a one-year subscription to Canva Pro and have used it almost every day since.
Envato Elements is a more advanced digital asset system. In other words, it gives you thousands of pieces of custom art, scripts, logos, textures, and mockups to make your brand look professional, but requires you use a program like Adobe Illustrator to use them. For reference, every piece of design work (besides my blog images) you see on my site—books, covers, fonts, etc.—come from Envato Elements. I use them almost exclusively.
4. Your Brand Script
Your brand script is a summary of three elements:
Why you exist
Who is your intended audience
How you solve your audience’s problems
You don’t have business doing anything else—writing, building, designing, or marketing—until you have these three elements perfectly articulated in a way that satisfies you. Dig into your business model, your audience’s psyche, and your writing process to unpack exactly how each of these three variables relates to the other in order to reasonably say: “This will build growth momentum.”
The final deliverable of your brand script is your elevator pitch. Ever ask someone about their writing brand and they start yammering incoherently for the next 30 seconds? It’s terrible. There’s an easy way to avoid this. Drawing upon the three elements you’ve articulated for your writing brand, write an elevator pitch using this formula:
“I ___ (problem solving strategy) for ___ (audience) because ___ (purpose).”
Boom. That’s it. When you have completed articulating those three elements, you have your elevator pitch. As a writer, you may want to massage that pitch into something more eloquent and subtle. That’s fine. But start there, and build upwards. The grammar of your elevator pitch (what, who, how) represents the conceptual coherence of your brand that can be expressed in the simplest, and oftentimes most attractive, terms.
5. Your Brand Guide
Your brand guide includes your brand script, but adds your core color scheme (no more than 3 colors), your logo, and all other basic meta-elements from which you will draw when you create content.
If you can, try to fit your brand guide into a single sheet—a brand guide one-sheet that you can use not only for yourself, but also for others who desire to partner with you. Having your own brand guide will distinguish you as a professional brand and make people who work with you once want to work with you again.
6. Your Value Proposition
Value is the thing you give you audience in exchange for your time. If you don’t have a clear value proposition in your writing, headlines, titles, and summaries, people won’t read, click, buy, or subscribe to tune in on whatever you’re doing. Time is a valuable commodity, and if you want to grow your audience, you have to make it clear how what you’re offering is as valuable as time.
The most common value proposition for which people are willing to trade their time is feeling. People don’t buy products. They buy feelings. What feeling are you exchanging for your readers’ time, information, and potentially money?
This is no time to be modest.
If your answer is: “I have no value proposition,” then don’t “write.” Just keep a diary.
Even people looking to educate themselves, learn a new category, or improve themselves are looking for more than just information—they’re looking to feel informed by the best authority on the topic. Google’s entire search engine algorithm is built to give people the most valuable content on the topic they’re searching for.
If your content feels too much like guesswork, too shallow, not biblical enough, not practical enough—in other words, if it doesn’t feel useful enough in the exact moment your readers are reading your words—they will stop reading. Your readers will stop giving you their time, and they certainly won’t give you their continued attention, email, or money.
7. Your Call to Action
Your call to action (CTA) is the single action that you desire every reader to take. Ideally, this CTA will have long-term perpetual value. An example of a short-sighted CTA is: Buy my book. It’s not bad to sell books. But once someone buys your book, you have no more relationship with that person. They have a book, you have their money, that’s it.
A better CTA is (more on this below): Sign up for my email list. That email subscription is an evergreen contact that you can invest in understanding, nurturing, and monetizing. Most software companies pay hundreds of dollars to acquire a customer (they call it their “cost of acquisition,” or COA). It’s baked right into their business model. They are willing to do this because they believe they can make thousands of dollars in the long term by nurturing that relationship.
If you can make one request of a reader—”Buy my book” vs “Subscribe to my list”—only writers with a vision for the short-term will choose “Buy my book.” If your readers subscribe to your list, you’ll have dozens of opportunities to subtly market your book and other products and services to them. If they buy your book, that business relationship is over for good. Amazon doesn’t give you a list of buyers. You should always forego the small royalty you make on a book sale for long-term writer-reader relationship.
8. Your Audience Selection
Make sure that you pick the right audience for your topic. If you’re a biblical scholar blogging about the history of the Bible’s textual criticism, don’t write for Atheist Andy who reads Sam Harris and lives a hedonist lifestyle—he doesn’t care.
Hone your audience. Who exactly are you interested in reaching? You must answer this question for yourself before you begin writing consistently on a larger scale. Who exactly are you trying to reach?
It’s okay if this audience changes over time. In fact, you should hold you audience in an open hand if you find that the people you reach are different than you anticipated. Change your audience selection if a different audience selects you. But you can’t start writing to blank heads. If you do, your page views will be just as empty as your audience strategy.
9. Building Your Authority
It’s important to position yourself as an authority. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. You don’t have to be a billionaire. But what have you done? Sometimes, it’s enough to have been interested in something for a long time. A 10-year subscription to Christianity Today can be spun as “I’ve been reading deeply at the forefront of Christianity and culture for over 10 years.”
Whatever brought you to the place where you’re prepared to write about your chosen topic, showcase that journey in a way that emanates credibility. People usually don’t care about credentials. I would rather read someone who is passionately interested in what I’m searching for than someone who is merely a credentialed expert in the same topic. In fact, the passionately interested person usually has a perspective that challenges the conventional wisdom (which I’ve already heard), and I’ll want to read him or her more than the traditionally credentialed author.
As you angle yourself through your writing, frontload your interests configured in terms that tantalize readers to follow you as you dig more deeply into that area of interest.
10. Achieving Consistency
I have many friends who have started blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels, published 10 articles the first week, and then left it to die in the dust.
Consistency is the rarest virtue in the writing world. If you can achieve publication consistency—which rests squarely on writing consistency—then you have a stark advantage over 99% of the writing community. The hobbyist writes when he feels like it. The successful writer writes in precise iterations to fulfill his particular brand strategy. You may not be able to tell the difference between them today, but in one year, the hobbyist will forget he even had a blog, and the successful writer’s analytics will be skyrocketing.
Which will you be—hobbyist or success?
11. Your Search Engine Optimization
As a writer, you should be seeking to develop authority in a particular topic, and the audience for whom you’re writing should be interested in this topic. Google is the magic that connects authorities and audiences.
Every topic you could imagine writing on has keywords that people search in order to find that topic. Your blog should seek to fill your content with those specific keywords so that Google knows to connect your site with your desired audience.
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” An SEO-rich site will have the highest quality content, using the appropriate keywords and their synonyms. Google tracks your site, what words you use, what synonyms you use, how unique your content is, how people find you, how many people “click through” to other pages on your site, how long they remain on your site, and a variety of other factors.
The better you leverage these variables, the more Google’s algorithm will send people to your website. If you are writing blindly, Google will not see you as an authority in anything. But once Google starts sending people your way, they start sending everybody your way. There’s a saying in the marketing world: “Google doesn’t like you until other people like you.”
If you can generate lots of traffic to your site through your email list, social media accounts, backlinks from high-authority sites, and direct traffic from any other sources, Google will take notice and start sending people to you by up-ranking your site in its search results.
If you don’t know how to leverage SEO principles, I suggest reading Adam Clark’s book SEO 2019. It has become an industry standard for the basics of SEO in the past year, and is a fantastic resource for new bloggers looking to rank #1 for certain keywords.
Another great resource is Will Coombe’s book 3 Months to No.1: The “No-Nonsense” SEO Playbook for Getting Your Website Found on Google. It’s not as well-known as Clark’s work. It has more of a blogger feel, but is an easier read, in my opinion.
12. Your Social Media Presence
Most people find this surprising—social media has the lowest conversion rate of any other digital media you could use to promote your writing. This varies, of course. I once worked for website that received 2 million visits per month, and 60% of our traffic came from Facebook.
However, it’s important to recognize that generally, social media has a very low ROI compared to investing in your email list and building your SEO. The reason it’s important to note this is that most writers spend 80% of their time on social media, and treat the high-ROI tools like a footnote, when they should be doing the exact opposite.
How, then, should you use social media to get the greatest return on your time invested?
It’s simple—add value. Again. And again. And again. Do not talk about your brand. Do not talk about yourself. Give. Give. Give. Give without asking. Then, when you have your plan in place to get the maximum value out of an ask … ask.
An extremely successful marketer named Gary Vaynerchuck calls this method Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. We all know brands that only talk about themselves. “Check us out!” “Visit our site!” “Hey, look at us!”
But what does get you to engage? Funny stuff. Free stuff. Interesting stuff. New stuff. Remember the goal of social media—to build a relationship with your audience. Ever talk to someone who only talks about themselves? You can’t get away from them quick enough. Ever talk to someone who is a great conversationalist—asking you questions about yourself, expressing interest in you, offering to give you opportunities and resources that help you in your journey? Yes.
Be a reputably generous person on social media. You will build an audience faster than all your writing friends whose tweets are 90% “Check out my article!” and “Thread (1/79).” If your audience is a beehive, adding value to their lives is honey.
13. Your Content Distribution Strategy
Conventional content distribution strategy will give you two contradictory answers—(1) put all your content in one place so that everyone knows where to find you, and (2) distribute everything you create on as many platforms as possible.
It really depends on your brand. You should always be sending people back to your website where they can sign up for your email list. That should always be your acquisition protocol priority #1. But how do you get people to your site?
There are multiple powerful options. Facebook is good because the platform is highly shareable. Twitter is worse because its algorithm suppresses your tweets, and few people rarely ever see what you publish. Instagram is even worse because you can’t hyperlink your picture to your blog.
Distribution methods that give you maximum real estate when you publish are best. Email, Podcast, and YouTube are premium methods of distributing your content. However, they take time to produce. If you record every blog as a podcast and create a static video image from that to upload to YouTube, that makes every piece of content three times harder to create (writing, recording, editing, and uploading).
You already have in mind your preferred methods of distribution. The key question you have to ask yourself is: Where does my audience live? When you have the answer to that question, focus all your energy on growing your platform there in order to achieve the highest return on your time invested in that platform.
The goal of utilizing these third-party platforms on which you don’t own your relationships (they can delete your account any time they wish) is to drive people back to your website to sign up for your list so that you can build your relationships with your audience on your terms. However much people use YouTube, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram … they use email more.
Remember that—drive all distribution methods back to the distribution method that you own.
14. Your Monetization Plan
There are multiple ways for writers to monetize their writing. Forget getting paid to write for now—with a book contract or a paid freelance gig. Those payments are too small and too infrequent to serve as a foundation for your monetization plan. Here are a few ways to monetize your writing by productizing your authority:
eBooks — PDF, Amazon, etc.
Membership perks (exclusive Facebook live events, etc.)
Use an eCommerce platform like Squarespace, Shopify, or WordPress to enable people to click “Buy” with one-touch tools like PayPal and Apple Pay. Once you have this aspect of your website established, all traffic to your website becomes more than potential readers—they become potential customers.
More than that, your margins on your own products are much higher than your margins on one-time payments from publishing companies or freelance gigs.
15. Your List Building Protocol
List building is simple. And converting potential audience members into engaged customers is likewise straightforward.
Write good content.
Give your content clickable headlines.
Convert clicks into sign-ups with an attractive pop-up that offers something valuable.
Nurture those sign-ups into trusting relationships through continuing to give free value.
Finally, recommend your product, angled as a value-add to your readers.
It’s that simple. This should be your business model. Whether your positioning yourself as an expert in a topic, or a master coach of a skill, always have a confident understanding of why you’re valuable to your audience, and continuously exude that value through giving them helpful content.
A common obstacles writers face in list building is the open rate. What if you have a list of 10,000 people and a 5% open rate? Something is wrong. The average email open rate in the Christian marketplace is 20%. If you can achieve this, you should be happy (for now). A few ways to increase open rates are:
Write more clickable, interesting subject lines
A/B test (send half your list one subject line, and the other half the other. Measure results)
Adjust frequency—you may be sending emails too often, or not enough.
However, don’t be discouraged if people aren’t opening emails. I receive emails that I want to open all the time, but then I forget to open them later. I’m thankful that those authors continue to send me emails, because even though I may open 1 in 4 emails from Tim Ferris, I eventually do open them just to take a peek—because I know he’s always going to tell me something interesting, new, and useful.
16. Your Network-Building Game Plan
Networking is the most neglected aspect of the writing game. Partnering with other writers to get exposure to their audiences, so that some of them might subscribe to your email list, is a vital aspect of building your platform. In fact, when writers tell me they don’t have a networking strategy, I internally place a bet that in 3 months they will no longer be writing.
Here are a few ways to build positive relationships that pay off in a big way in the Christian writing space:
Praise other authors. This is a great way of building relationships with people who have bigger platforms than you. Write an article on “How _______’s Strategy Revolutionized My Perspective on _____.” Very often, they will retweet, re-share, or maybe even personally thank you for your post.
Offer high-quality guest posts for other author platforms. Guest posts are a win-win for the guest blogger and the host. If the content is truly high-quality, that means the host will get the SEO win of having Google send people to his or her site, and you will get the list-building win of linking back to your page and acquiring new emails.
Ask authors if you can promote anything of theirs to your list for free. This is just downright flattering. Nobody can say “No” to free stuff. And this is a fantastic gesture of good will to build social capital that pays off in the long-term. This will help bolster your reputation in the authorities who speak to your niche.
Use the downloadable eBook below to better understand how to implement these tools to build your writing platform.
Be unashamed in making use of these marketing tools to build your writing brand. Be forewarned: It does require a lot of work on the front-end, but it is entirely worth it. By taking seriously these marketing tools and implementing them into the architecture of your brand’s business model from the ground floor, audience growth will be 10x easier.