Authors Don’t Exist in the Digital Age

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Consider these riddles: If a tree falls in the forest but no one hears, does it make a sound? If someone writes a book but no one buys it, does it make that person an author?

For the past seven years, I’ve coached over 500 authors from beginners to bestsellers and reached this conclusion: There is no such thing as an “author.” Instead, there are only people who write stuff that they want other people to buy. Nobody dreams about writing for free, and the few who don’t care if people buy what they write are generally known as “poets.”

If there’s no such thing as an author, how do we define people who write stuff that they want other people to buy? We call them “salespeople.” Am I serious? Would I dare use such language? The purists believe it’s blasphemy to use the “s-word” in literary company. You cannot unite writing and selling without being heretical. Maybe so, but I’m simply stating the truth. If you want other people to buy what you write, then you are a salesperson for your work. It’s not the act of writing that makes someone an author. It’s the act of someone else buying what you wrote.

Here’s my point: If you want to be a successful author in the digital age of publishing, you cannot afford to separate selling from the writing process. As you learn the craft of writing, you must also learn the craft of selling, which means learning how to answer the reader’s ultimate buying question, “What’s in it for me?” All too often, however, authors shirk the sales responsibility with negative misconceptions, such as:

  • The publisher will do the selling for me (Those days are long gone).
  • I’m a literary purist and selling is below me (Good luck making money off of snobbery).
  • I’ll post a free e-book on Amazon and wait for everything to take care of itself (Enjoy the long wait).
  • I don’t have time to write and sell my work (The problem isn’t time; it’s prioritizing your time).

I’m not trying to give writers a heart attack. Here’s the good news: The easiest way to promote your work is to write more, which should be in a writer’s sweet spot. Selling your book means writing effective newsletters, blog posts, short stories, free resources, social media posts, word-of-mouth tools, magazine articles, etc. If you’re truly a writer, then these types of promotional activities should be in your wheelhouse.

The problem is that too many writers categorize these selling tasks as a separate, negative side of writing. So, they do them half-heartedly or don’t do them at all. No wonder so many books fail to break even and so many writers fail to make a living. The answer is to make selling your work an integrated, positive part of working as a writer.

If you want more people to buy your books, you must view yourself as both a writer and a salesperson. You can choose to eschew selling and only embrace writing. But, you’ll usually live as a writer with a divided mindset who struggles to gain more readers. In contrast, when you embrace writing and selling as mutually beneficial, then you’re able to become a more productive, confident, and successful writer.

There is no such thing as an author. There are only writers who want other people to buy their stuff. If you can’t bear the thought of learning to sell what you write, I’ve got great news…the poets are always looking for new recruits.


Expert Publishing Blog
Rob Eagar

About Rob Eagar

Rob Eagar is the founder of WildFire Marketing, a consulting practice that helps authors and publishers sell more books and spread their message like wildfire. He has consulted with numerous publishers and worked with over 400 authors, including several New York Times bestsellers. Rob is the author of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire, which is considered the new bible of book marketing. For more information, visit:

25 thoughts on “Authors Don’t Exist in the Digital Age

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  3. Shirley Hershey Showalter

    I couldn’t agree more. I can also add that being an entrepreneur is fun! I spent my life as a professor, a college president, and a foundation executive. I’m having fun as a newly-published author enjoying the conversations in the communities I’ve built and joined in the last four years in anticipation of publication. The skills of writing and the skills of selling are both skills of influencing.

  4. PeterTurner

    I think you have left out one other common reaction from authors when confronted with the task of selling (i.e. effectively marketing) their work. “I’ve tried all that and it doesn’t work!”

    As more and more books are produced and the number of hours devoted to immersive reading stays flat (we hope), the more often we’ll hear this refrain.

    What authors need (as well as readers) are a more effective and efficient ways of connecting books with readers who will value them enough to pay for them.

  5. robinelevin

    What Rob says is sad but true. I have noticed that the most successful indie authors are the ones who can sell themselves. It’s a set of skills you must have in addition to your literary abilities.

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  7. Kate

    For me, it is not just about marketing. You are much more likely to succeed in certain genres with avid online outlets: sciience fiction, erotica, romance. Other books will very much need publisher backing, especially children’s books.

  8. Michael W. Perry

    Actually, it might make more sense to create a pair of independent professionals, one who does the writing and the other the sales promotion, with the profits split between them.

    Why? Because it’s hard to wear two hats or to do two very different things well.

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  10. Greg M.

    Would you hire and electrician to do plumbing? On some minor jobs a handyman will suffice, but if you want professional work you want to get the person with an electrician’s or plumber’s license. Some people might have both but odds are you’ll need two people if your power and water need work.

    So what kind of writer to you want to read? The handyman or the professional?

    You can make a good living as a handyman and if you’re just good enough people will hire you (or buy your books) but you’ll be a writing handiwork.

  11. Marilynn Byerly

    That may be true of nonfiction writers, but fiction writers have to have split personalities. If all a writer is thinking about is selling the book while he’s writing a novel, that novel will suck because it will be disjointed and generic.

    Once the book is the best it can be, THEN the author should worry about the act of selling it.

    And for the record, I’m a professional writing teacher as well as a multi-published author with “real” publishers.

  12. William Ash

    Well, we live in a market society and suppose market values are the only values. I have no problem with treating your career professionally. And if you are going to self publish, marketing is part and parcel of the job. But that does not lead to the conclusion that authorship is just a term for people that sell things. If that is the case, then James Joyce had lousy sales and Amanda Hocking is a bigger author.

  13. Karin Hoffman

    Peter— The key to your statement, \What authors need (as well as readers) are a more effective and efficient ways of connecting books with readers who will value them enough to pay for them\ is authors, as well as publishers (some one in the same), must know the demographics of their reader. This information is the backbone to everything else a writer and publisher does. I’ve been sitting in the fog in Edmonds Washington (my office is in sunny Denver, CO) for two weeks helping one of our authors launch the pre-publication marketing for her debut novel \84 Ribbons\ (March 2014 TendrilPress). As her publisher we provide several \Book Marketing\ books to the author at the time of signing along with an extensive 30 week pre-publication marketing plan specific to their book. She has at least 6 of the book here (one is WildFire) all tabbed and pencil market—this is my most dedicated author— but processing all of this information about promoting it is still more than an author can digest and choosing what to do when is all about your book’s demographic and consistency. — After 25 years of packaging and shepherding self-publishers and 10 years of publishing 30+ authors through Tendril Press I firmly feel that authors must have teams to get promotions done and be consistent for the long haul. Author is not the only \park\ in town. It is not a process of \if you write it they will come\. Too many authors try to publish without a any platform in place. (Platform is the development of your committed readers— your followers). Thus, often their promotion efforts fall short of their expectations.

  14. Karin Hoffman

    The problem with that theory is that writing a book is only 10% of the process! The rest is promotion.—Being an author is a business. Writing is a business. Authors, like business owners, have a responsibility to be visible and get their books visible. Publishers need to help promote their authors too. However, as a publisher, I can promote an author’s book all year maybe even three and I can get it into the stores, but sales will be much lower than if the author is not out promoting their message. Authors, often don’t understand that they are promoting their message, their WIIFM to the reader not the book— You can have the best widget in the world but if no one knows it’s there or what it does for you then you can usually  count on NO SALES. Another issue is — you can have great marketing but the reader doesn’t have a clue who you are. Why should they listen to you. Oh you may be an expert but because you are basically a big fish in your little pond you have a challenge to move to the bigger pond. Who the heck are you to present this information? I never heard of you before. Only focused and consistent author promotion (platform building) can over come the who are you and why should I listen to you.

  15. Karin Hoffman

    OOPS— my above post was in reply to Michael W. Perry’s comment. And yes Micheal, we are a small press with very focused author marketing support— WE do not make any $$$ until books sell. So we are very active in helping all of our authors promote their books— HOWEVER, the old cliché that “you can lead a horses to water but you can’t make him drink” holds true for authors as well.

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  20. Guest

    It’s not disingenuous “salesmanship” that I fear. It’s people, period (cf. Sartre). What about the fourth option, hiring a professional PR company or publicist to do all the social media bunkum in one’s stead? Is this a viable option for reclusive, Salinger/Pynchon/V.C. Andrews-esque, social-phobic paranoids who accept the necessity of marketing, but become physically ill at the notion of doing it themselves? Is it an absolute requirement that one become “friendly” with complete strangers online, who might well be sexual perverts or sociopathic cyber-bullies or pathological narcissists? I get along better with fictional people and my dog than I ever would real people. I’m strange that way, I guess (but then, so was Dickinson, and she certainly did well, at least after she was gone). Given the example of the electrician not being hired to do a plumber’s job, if interacting with people is something that falls out of one’s capabilities, what’s wrong with hiring someone who is adept at this skill to do it for them? Or should the social-phobic writer either give up on his/her dream of selling even one copy of a work, or slog through the abject torture of social-skills training and Toastmasters Anonymous meetings?

    1. vashiel burula

      I agree. Devoted readers are a myth as much as authors. Most people can barely read a 144 character semi-literate line of gibberish, let alone absorb ideas that require time and consideration and often – REconsideration.
      I appreciate writers who are NOT always in my face. None of my favorite writers have social media pages, and some of these writers aren’t well known. I assume they’re too busy WRITING rather than shilling and I appreciate the results.

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