Writing Fiction vs. Selling Fiction

In his comment on my previous marketing post, reader Misha Burnett draws an important delineation between writing fiction and selling fiction:
And this is exactly why I gave up trying to write for money. It's a sales job, and I don't like sales. Having a fairly decent product line helps, but a good salesman who is a mediocre writer can make money with fiction. If you're a lousy salesman, however, it doesn't make any difference how well or poorly you write. 
Writing fiction isn't a job. Selling fiction is.
My reply:

"Writing fiction isn't a job. Selling fiction is."

You're exactly right.

When aspiring authors come to me for career advice, the first question I ask them is why they're writing.

Making a decent supplemental income is one thing. Making a living is a related, but different ballgame. Publishing a book just to scratch it off your bucket list and impress your family and friends is a whole other sport. Specifically, an amateur sport.

That question catches most of them off guard. The number of aspiring authors out there who've never stopped to consider why they want to write is staggering.

If you want to write a novel as a personal challenge or an essay in the craft, that's great. Don't pay for pro editing or a cover. Enjoy the pleasure of writing "The End" on the last page and file the MS in a shoe box in your closet. Or send a few copies to friends and family. Congratulations. You've achieved what very few people ever accomplish.

If you have more than one book in you. If, in fact, you can't stop writing. I mean, if they locked you away, you'd swallow a pencil nub, regurgitate it in your cell, and cover the padded walls with fever dreams. That kind of obsession.

If you need to write like you need to breathe and you want your writing to reach as wide an audience as possible, then you need to learn sales. It serves no one to be good at the art and bad at the business.

On a personal note, I used to hate sales, too. I did my tours in the Christmas retail trenches trying to convince people that they wanted useless junk they couldn't afford. I'm not talking cool toys for grownups with some entertainment value. I'm talking extended warranties on CDs and store credit lines. It was miserable.

In the middle of that drudgery, I sold my first short story. Suddenly I learned that people wanted to read my writing, and what's more, they'd pay me for it.

Now I've come to appreciate sales. I even love sales. Because there are people out there who want to read my stories, but they won't know it until I tell them that my stories exist.

I'll let you in on a big secret: everything is sales. Life is sales. If you think about it, you use salesmanship in your day job, whatever it is. In the hypothetical case that you don't, your job depends on someone who does.

But it goes beyond that. Your interactions with co-workers, friends; even your spouse and kids involve salesmanship principles. So it's not a matter of biting the bullet and suffering the unpleasant necessity of sales. It's about having something you're so passionate about that you find joy in doing everything you can to share it.

People who find their dream jobs always say it doesn't feel like work. For me, selling my stories doesn't feel like sales.

Here's an example. Because I want it to be enjoyed by as many readers as possible, The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III is now on sale for only 99 cents.

The Secret Kings - Brian Niemeier



  1. Brian

    Great and thoughtful post. I disagree with you somewhat about salemanship within the family. I'm deeply leerly about reducing family relations to simply persuadion. Undoutedly i'm misunderstanding your point. I do get the part about sharing your passions with family as that's an act of generous love. That maybe the point you're making that something you truly love shines through and everyone sees it

    1. Right. I'm not reducing family bonds to transactional relationships. I'm pointing out that wanting others to share your joy in your art is the same impulse that moves a lover to want others to acknowledge the beauty of his beloved.

  2. Brian

    Thanks for the clarification. That puts me at ease and makes it easier to share the love of storytelling. Never thought of writing entertaining stories as an act of love like in some of the Psalms. Once again ideas germinate :)

  3. Sales has a bad name in this country which is a shame. Done properly, sales is providing people with something they need and want for a reasonable compensation. Anyone that has a successful business will have discovered this simple fact.

    Even the act of storytelling involves an implicit sales agreement - lend me your attention, I'll spin you a tale. I, as a writer, can't tell a story without an audience, a reader. I can put the words on paper, but until I share them, the telling portion hasn't happened. Offering the story to others is the first (hardest) part of the process - asking for the sale.

    And thank you for the sale on The Secret Kings.

    1. Well said. I'd overlooked the connection between sales and storytelling, but you're correct.

      And you're welcome.