The Stephen King Guide to Marketing

Stephen King

Today’s guest post is by Jason Kong. You may remember him from an earlier guest post here at JaneFriedman.com: Are You Making This Marketing Mistake?


How does a writer become successful?

Here’s one simple formula:

  1. Write something someone values.
  2. Get that something in front of that someone.

Put another way, you need both good writing and good marketing.

Many writers see this as two steps. Write first, then worry about marketing once the words are published. The belief is that the writing and marketing processes are distinct.

But is that really true?

If you think marketing equates to advertising or pitching, then perhaps. Yet if we dissect what makes a piece of writing more likely to reach its intended target, we see a different picture.

To explore this further, let’s turn to a writer who is very familiar with success: best-selling author Stephen King.

3 writing insights that produce better marketing

King is mostly known for weaving tales of horror and suspense, but in the late 1990s he wrote a book outside the realm of fiction. On Writing is an autobiography that also shares his approach to his craft.

While it’s clear that hard work, talent, and luck all factored into his career, King’s perspectives on writing were also instrumental to his accomplishments.

Particularly striking is how many of his principles of good writing align with the principles of good marketing.

Need proof? Here are three short excerpts from the book that highlight useful insights:

1. “You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”

As a writer, you already know that appealing to everyone will result in appealing to no one. The same reasoning applies to marketing, which is sometimes known as a niche approach. Targeting narrowly provides a more remarkable experience for the people that matter, which makes it more likely they’ll recommend your writing to someone else.

One technique is to visualize a single ideal reader, which for King is his wife Tabitha. Your archetype may be a friend, a teenager who like vampires, or women dealing with breast cancer. Whether the person actually exists or not is less important than the clarity of what the individual is like.

Picture an ideal reader in your mind, and write just to that person.

2. “Not a week goes by that I don’t receive at least one pissed-off letter (most weeks there are more) accusing me of being foulmouthed, bigoted, homophobic, murderous, frivolous, or downright psychopathic.”

King knows that as more people love his work, more will also despise it.

If you’re a writer that stands for something, you’ll also elicit passion from both sides of the fence. It’s a package deal that you should gladly accept.

Don’t let the critics stop you. Instead, focus on your fans and your writing will reach and delight the right people.

3. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

Do you understand why you write?

It’s not selfish to want results from what you do—you have to earn a living after all. But ego-driven rewards can overshadow some of the more fulfilling aspects of your work.

Marketing, like writing, works really well when you create value for others. When you make someone’s life significantly better, that’s an experience that ends up getting shared with others.

There’s no better marketing than that.

How to make your marketing work better

Good marketing isn’t something that’s slapped on once the writing is done. It’s not something that should simply be delegated to publishers, advertisers, or PR specialists.

That’s because your best marketing comes from the writing itself. You have to create something others love in the first place.

Stephen King built a successful career on this concept. Will you?

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Jason Kong
Jason Kong (@storyrally) helps fiction writers build better platforms. Sign up for his free newsletter here.
Jason Kong

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32 Comments

  1. You had me at “Stephen King.” ;)

    I second what James Horton said. I just finished reading On Writing this past summer and never thought of King’s advice in terms of marketing, but what Jason wrote makes perfect sense. I’d heard similar takes on the ideas before, but it bears repeating because obviously I keep forgetting. Thanks!

  2. Great points, Jason. I think too often writers think about building platform as tools outside of our writing. Go here. Tweet that. Share this. A reader who connects with your story will come back again for that particular type of story. If you give them a steak the first time and chicken the next and fish the third time, they’ll stop coming back. How often do we read reviews where the reader says, “I’d hoped it would be like ABC book, but it disappointed. I won’t be back again.” If as a writer we want to give them something completely different – especially genre-wise – it’s a good idea to use a pen name because you will connect with an entirely different audience (usually.) I just finished reading Sarah Jio’s third novel, and in each, she gives us a story from the past that’s connected to something happening in present day. I know what I’m going to get with each of her novels. I ask myself the same thing when I’m drafting a story.

    • Malena: You bring up several good discussion points.

      It’s true that if an author writes in several different areas, a reader could be interested in one but not the other. If the writer’s platform is built around topic, then you’re right: separating the audiences makes sense. I can definitely see this for non-fiction writers, for example, where the subject plays a significant part of a reader’s interest. For a fiction writer or novelist whose platform is built on the storytelling, I can see the subject/genre mattering less.

      The other point you make is that books by the same author have a way of lending credibility to each other. If a readers like one book, they’ll feel more certain they’ll like another written by the same person. Whether or not they actually will, is a separate matter. :)

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  5. Jason, I think I will! I had my lightbulb moment while reading a book by Christina Katz a few years ago, about building a platform (Get Known Before the Book Deal – http://amzn.to/QpM385), and one thing really rang true. To paraphrase, she said a book is only one way you get the word out about your belief, passion, or that thing that you need to share with the world. I discovered my “thing” – rethinking the second half of our lives; changing how we view and approach the experience so it’s more positive – and my novel just reflects that. So does my blog. I think I’m creating something other people do love. Bonus: so do I!! Thanks for this thoughtful post.

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  8. Well said, it’s an amazingly simple formula to have success in writing. It’s all about word of mouth and that does indeed just have the two requirements. The rub of course is that most people, no matter how hard they try, can produce a book that people love so much that they tell everyone and their brother that they “have” to read this.

    • Michael: you’re right — just because it’s a simple approach doesn’t mean it’s easy.

      I’m not trying to imply that writers will achieve a readership as impressive as Stephen King’s. His platform is so huge that it has the perception that most people know and like his stuff.

      What I’d like to say is that many writers perhaps have not yet connected with their core audience, the fans that will generate positive word-of-mouth. The best way to do that is having the willingness to greatly appeal to some readers while doing the opposite to everyone else.

      The degree of attraction will vary by writer, of course. But the number of supporters needed to sustain a career may be much smaller than a lot of people think (see: Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans).

  9. I really enjoyed reading this. Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite authors. I am in the process of trying to get my book published and marketed and this was just good basic marketing advice that is right on. Thanks for reminding me that I write because I love to and as long as I keep doing that, I will have readers that will enjoy it.

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  12. Point 2 is the one that stays with me. Strong work is marked by a strong flavor, and a strong aftertaste. My goal as a writer is to reduce the proportion of middle-of-the-road reactions, and so to broaden not only the proportion of readers who love my work, but the proportion who hate it as well. Both the secret and the goal of ‘marketing’ is to get the work in the hands of those more likely to love than to hate it. It’s that simple, like any number of things that require serious work.

  13. Thank you for a very helpful article. I didn’t even know Stephen King had this book out, but I will certainly be reading it as part of my research! I blithely published my first book in 2011 with very little idea of just how hard it would be to find my target audience and get the book in front of them…

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  16. Nice article, Jason! I really enjoyed it. Made me laugh when I read it, nodding along and thinking, ‘yes, yes, sound advice,’ and then only afterward did I realize who wrote the article! :-D

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