Content Marketing: Selling Your Masterpiece by Giving Another One Away

contentmarketingsampleIf you’ve heard of content marketing before, you know it’s not rocket science.

It’s a lot like when stores give away free samples. You try enough of something to find out you like it, then you buy it.

How you actually give the sample is the most important part.

Businesses often offer free guides that require emails or lead people somewhere else (like a product page), if the company is curating content the right way.

When it’s time to buy a product, the customer chooses the business that has already been offering them help on the subject.

Content marketing has been something of a quandary for creative people. Your creativity is your content, so how do you market that?

Well, here’s how:

 1. Stop complaining

As soon as you talk about to creative people about the internet and content, there’s a familiar and very intellectualized rant.

“Content is becoming de-monetized!” the artist cries, a hand swept over the forehead. “The internet has made everyone an artist, effectively making no one a paid artist!”

When people say this, they’re ignoring why content is getting free: it’s easier than ever to get published.

Nowadays, you can become a published artist by uploading a Thing and clicking a Button.

Creating art isn't about getting published anymore, it's about getting fans.
The hurdle to creating art isn’t about getting published anymore, it’s about getting fans.

If creative people stopped complaining about this, they would be able to think that this may be a good thing.

When content is so easily distributed, the problem isn’t about getting published, it’s about finding an audience for your work.

 2. Make samples

To begin content marketing as a creative person, you need to have samples. That’s what you’ll show your potential audience.

  • Writers need to write short stories or essays and put them into a collection
  • Bands need to produce an EP
  • Photographers need to make a collection of themed photos
  • Artists need to create a themed portfolio

Why all the emphasis on “themes” and “collections?”

Because you’re a creative person with a vision. Your stuff has a theme.

By creating this collection, you can figure out what that theme is and then decide who’s actually going to enjoy experiencing that theme.

Oh, and all the while, don’t forget to commit to minor projects to promote these collections: blog posts, photos of works-in-progress, snippets of upcoming songs, etc.

 3. Have a place

You’re going to give your samples away to a lot people in a lot of places. Your website is your place.

You need that place for people who come looking for you after they experience something you published.

  • Writers who submit pieces to magazine need to have a website to put in their author bio
  • Photographers and artists need to have a website on every piece of their work to ensure that, no matter how it gets distributed online, fans can find you
  • Bands should have a website for longer-form content: merch, art, blog posts about  songs, recording and concert experiences, etc.

 4. Give it away, the right way

The biggest mistake that creative people make is not having a plan for their samples. Fresh with the triumph of making a website, they slap their masterpieces on their websites and proceed to ignore them.

I’ve written before that you can’t just put your fiction online and expect people to read it. The same goes for any form of art.

Content marketing is about reaching your audience where they are (check out my article about Facebook marketing for authors to read about my idea of “periphery marketing”).

This is a very personal issue for me. I’m planning to self-publish a short story collection, but I’m not sure if I should hang onto some short stories so I can send them to magazines, instead.

At the end of the day, that’s because I’m having the same crisis that all artists are having: what’s in it for me?

 5. Make a strategy that actually involves money


So we’re back to where we started.

Writers submit short stories to magazines without even the expectation of payment. Visual artists upload their work with no further plan to promote it. Bands decide they’re too cool for websites and don’t know what a website could do for them, anyway.

All of that is because, for most creative people, there’s no actual system to ensure that they get something from their work, whether it’s “free” or not.

Let’s take a look at two real world examples to see how samples can pay off.

1. Earthtone9

Earthtone9 is a metal band whose guitarist, Owen Packard, I interviewed. If you want to see the full case study about how this band used social media and email marketing to forgo a label, check it out.

In short, Earthtone9:

1. Played some shows

2. Distributed fliers and hung up posters about how fans could get a free song on their Facebook Page at the shows (content marketing #1)

3. Used Social Campaigns to like-gate that song, so fans had to Like the page to get the download

4. Created a “greatest hits” album that was similarly promoted

5. Made the album free (content marketing #2)

6. Received email addresses from everyone who downloaded the album

7. Kept in touch via email and Facebook about upcoming shows & projects

8. Asked for donations through PledgeMusic via Facebook & email and gave supporters free samples of new songs (content marketing #3)

9. Raised 114% of fundraising goal in three weeks: enough for the album and a professional music video

2. Hugh Howley

Hugh Howley is a self-published author whose sci-fi stories, broadly called Wool, have done exceedingly well. The series has been optioned for movies and has been reviewed by big-time media outlets like Wired.  It’s enjoyed the very precipice of Amazon charts, too (full article by Hugh Howley). 

Here’s what Hugh did:

1. Self-published a 12,000-word novelette (content marketing #1)

2. Gained word-of-mouth through positive reviews, slowly but surely

3. Received requests for more of the same from fans

4. Self-published more of the same: up to five installments of the Wool series (content marketing #2)

5. Assembled all of the installments into one collection

6. Received cover art from fans

7. Received copyediting from fans who sent in typos

8. Maintained a very active blog before and after getting famous (content marketing #3)

To conclude…

The key is to always have a next step for people when you send, distribute, or promote your work. And make sure you have a continuous stream of content to make fans have a reason to stay in touch.

Earthtone9 set up a whole system to make sure that fans could always be reached whenever something new came out.

Hugh has a blog (and a somewhat active Facebook Page) that allows him to directly interact with readers and keep them up-to-date with his latest projects.

The breakdown

1. Content Marketing for creative people means having a strategy behind all the amazing stuff you’re making.

2. Samples of your work help promote your other work if you start distributing it through the right channels

3. Free art should always be part of a longer strategy

4. Stay in touch by providing short-form content like blog posts, works in progress, previews, and sneak-peeks.

5. The goal is making people want more of your art… so much more that they will pay for finer, longer-form stuff

Looking for more help? I’m working on a guide to Facebook & content marketing for early 2013.

If you’re interested, sign up for The Creative Brief, my free monthly newsletter, and I’ll email it to you as soon as it’s ready!

First photo credit: avlxyz

One thought on “Content Marketing: Selling Your Masterpiece by Giving Another One Away

  1. Hi!

    I’ve just discovered your site today and just wanted to say a BIG THANK YOU!
    There’s so much awesome knowledge and I’m going to share this site to the Writer’s Community I’ve set up: Herefordshire Writers.
    – Catherine (in England)

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