How Much Time Should Writers Spend Writing vs. Marketing?

stone timeTime. It’s what we writers fight for. Without it, we have no hope of bringing our written creations to life. We need time to study, time to read, time to ponder, time to dream, and – of course – time to write.

To further tax our meager repositories of minutes and hours, writing dreams that include hopes of being published and getting our writing into the hands and hearts of readers also require time to network, market, and otherwise promote ourselves and our work.

So, the question becomes, “How much time should you spend writing vs. marketing?”

I don’t have a definitive answer to share, but I have been trying to capturing more accurately the amount of time I spend on non-writing, but writing-related activities. This list includes things like blogging (which is typically unpaid, but serves to strengthen your voice and build your audience), research  (for grants, submission guidelines, etc.), attending organization meetings, and even reading industry pubs (either online or off).

More importantly, I’m also trying to do a better job of quantifying the value of each activity so that – ultimately – I can get a more realistic sense of where I should be spending my time in order to get the best return on that precious investment.

Off the top of my head, the amount of time I spend per week on non-billable, marketing-related activities typically looks something like this:

  • Reading and retweeting blogs: 30 to 60 minutes per day – I read the blogs on my iPhone via Feedly while I snuggle with my daughter after bedtime stories. I then schedule them to publish on Twitter via Hootsuite either at the same time, or in the morning when I can use my laptop.
  • Writing my bi-weekly column: 1 1/2 – 2 hours every two weeks – This is the 600 – 700 word piece I write for my local paper (sometimes syndicated). It’s not a paid assignment, but it’s a wonderful creative exercise and a “real” deadline that keeps me working on the essay form.
  • Blogging here at Live to Write – Write to Live: 2 – 4 hours each week – The Weekend Edition posts that I publish each Saturday morning typically take me approximately 2 hours each. In addition, I write a second weekday post every other week. And then I try my best to contribute to the Friday Fun posts as well.
  • Commenting on Blog Posts: 45 minutes to an hour each week – Responding to comments on my posts is important to me, so I try to answer each and every one.
  • Business Networking/Prospecting: 1 – 3 hours each week – This is more about my commercial writing, but I’m including it here because copywriting is how I earn my living. Activities in this category include get-to-know-you calls with people I’m interested in meeting, coffee dates, responding to inquiries from existing or new clients, and any pre-contract project work such as speculative project scopes and estimates, etc.
  • Future “Vision” Planning: Not nearly as much time as I’d like – This includes time dedicated to “Big Picture” dreaming and planning. I definitely need to do more of this.

SO … if I do the math, that puts my average weekly time spent on activities somewhere between 6 and 11 hours. And this tally doesn’t even include time spent on my writerly education, things like listening to podcasts, participating in online and offline writing classes, and attending industry events like conferences and workshops.

Wow.

I guess maybe I should do that value assessment sooner than later, but we’ll save that for next time.

For now, I’m interested to hear about how you divvy up your precious time between writing and – if you are working towards writing for an audience – marketing. What kinds of marketing activities do you include in your daily rounds? How much time do you spend on them? Do you have a sense of whether or not they are valuable to you, either in the short-term or long-term?

Thanks for sharing! 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s the followup piece: Writers and Marketing – What Makes Sense?

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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42 thoughts on “How Much Time Should Writers Spend Writing vs. Marketing?

  1. Just so much time. Impressed by those who can schedule – life keeps interrupting.
    Unless a writer has experience in sales, marketing, and understands where/when/how/why to focus efforts, self marketing is maddening. And there’s also the personality of writers who frequently are shy or quiet. What a complex problem

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective.

      You bring up an excellent point about the difficulty of even knowing where/when/how/why (and I’d even add “what”) to do on the marketing front. There are SO many options, even if you’re focusing primarily on the online world. It can be intensely overwhelming.

      Though I am experienced in a broad range of marketing strategies and techniques, I am learning (for myself) to focus on only those activities that I actually enjoy. I will not force myself to do some marketing task because I feel like I “should.” That is the kiss of death. Especially for a busy, time-starved writer. 😉

  2. I spend more time marketing when not actively working on another book, since all the experts agree that working on your next book is the most important priority. In my spare time I read books on marketing as “homework,” and do similar things as you mentioned: leave blog comments, engage on Twitter, and other social media.

    Interestingly, the more proactive I am in marketing, the more my sales seem to suck. I don’t get it…

    • Your sales go down when you market more actively? That’s not terribly motivating, is it? As a marketer, I’m intrigued to know more.

      Interested, also, to know which marketing books you’ve read and liked. Any titles you’d recommend for writers?

      • I try not to dominate the Facebook/Twitter feeds since no one likes that person, and I try to mix it up between sharing my posts, others’ posts, interesting tidbits, and if I’m really desperate, pictures of my kittens. I have no idea what the explanation is, but so far I’ve only sold one book for February. I have no idea why.

        I recommend How to Market a Book by Joanna Pen, Create Your Author Platform by Chuck Sambuchino, and I subscribe to Writer’s Digest which always has good stuff.

      • Pictures of kittens are always a good thing! 😉

        Thanks for sharing more details. If you haven’t already, you may want to explore ways to reach more specific audiences. While Twitter and Facebook are two of the largest social platforms, their enormity makes it extra challenging to be seen/heard in their feeds. There is definitely something to be said for cultivating niche audiences on other properties like blogs and even visual networks like Pinterest and Instagram (my recent post on visual social media touches lightly on the marketing possibilities: https://nhwn.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/pinterest-and-instagram-for-writers/)

        TKS for the book recommendations. I’m also a fan of Joanna Penn’s, and Dan Blank of wegrowmedia.com also has some fabulous posts and resources.

        Lastly – sticklers rock. 😉

  3. My problem is that I love writing. And I love marketing. The bit I don’t enjoy is sticking to a routine, self-imposed or otherwise! Long time no speak Jamie – hope you’re doing well over there!

    • Ok, John. This is downright eerie.
      It HAS been a long time, but I saw your fabulously unique, illustrated avatar over on Ann Handley’s blog just this morning. (LOVED that post, didn’t you?) How nice to see you here!

      I can totally relate to where you’re coming from. I love writing, and I kind of geek out for marketing. Interesting thought about sticking to a routine (or not). I hadn’t really thought about that aspect much, but your comment makes me wonder about how routine might help or hinder in this context.

      We hear all the time about the importance of consistency in content marketing (including social), but is that really as much of a factor as some experts say? And are there, perhaps, other modes of marketing that might allow a writer (who is not a marketer my either choice or trade) to develop a more organic cadence to his or her marketing efforts and communications?

      Hmmm … just a few words from you, John, and the wheels are turning! 😉

      Very nice to “see” you.

      • I’ve maybe been a little quiet recently. But popping back here reminds me how many smart people there are sharing useful thoughts.

        And I agree – the word “chuffed” is great. If you imagine a small but proud sigh of satisfaction, it’s almost onomatopoeic.

      • Awww …. 🙂

        Well, it’s just lovely to see you.

        And – yes! – “chuffed” … definitely onomatopoeic (another fabulous word!).

  4. This is a really interesting subject! I know I spend far more time writing and should do more marketing, blog wise but also fiction writing wise. I’ll spend ages writing a post, editing it, then I’ll send it off feeling all chuffed but then don’t do enough to actually put myself and my opinions out there. So sometimes that chuff-worthy post doesn’t get the notice it should. This will be something I’ll work on!

    • Getting noticed is the key, isn’t it?

      It’s so frustrating to pour your heart and soul into a blog post and then have very little response, if any. Despite having an ick factor for many creative writers, marketing is a necessary evil. And, done right, it can even be fun – an extension of your writer personality and world.

      Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective.

      PS – Love the word “chuffed” 🙂

    • I think if any of us put our mind to it, we could read 100 books in a year. I am almost at a pace that gets me to 52 books in a year (almost!). If I gave up watching TV and movies, I’m sure I could double that without any trouble. I won’t give up watching TV & movies, though, because that’s time I enjoy with my beau and daughter.

      That said, I think any of us can expand our reading time if we get creative (and determined) enough.

      As for jobs getting in the way of writing. I hear you. I’m one of those people who writes for a living, but the writing I do to pay my bills is creative in a different way from the fiction writing that I hope to do. I sometimes worry that in addition to taking up SO much of my time, my marketing writing will somehow poison the well of my fiction writing creativity. BUT, I’m always comforted to know how many wonderful (and successful) fiction writers also held less than creative/glamorous jobs (writing-related and not) all during their illustrious careers. I’m working on a related post that I hope to share soon.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  5. Interesting post. I’ve only just published my first book to Kindle (after 10 years of tinkering) and now have started the toe-curlingly humiliating part; marketing (FaceBooking, Twittering, Blogging, you-name-it-ing). I now see the writing (for me) was really the easy part. If I was left to my own devices, I expect I would just write all the time (secretly, you understand; manuscripts hidden away on a laptop that nobody but me had access to). But I guess you can’t truly call yourself an author if nobody but you has ever set eyes on your work. Not that I can officially call myself an author now, I still I have to go to work! Anyway, it’s nice to hear that others find the marketing bit unpalatable too! I’ll just keep plugging away! 🙂

  6. I wish I could answer that question. At the moment I spend all my extra time writing and have only thought about marketing in a theoretical sense. Someday I just might send some of my work to an editor like person…

    • You always make me laugh, Andrew. 😉

      Good for you for spending your extra time writing. Without that, there’s no point marketing, is there?

      On the other hand, marketing is best done gradually so that you can build an audience organically over time. Maybe you could find one “marketing-like” activity to “play” with. See how you like it.

      Good luck!

  7. Thanks for explaining how you use Twitter, which I just started using, but there’s no love there.
    I’ve tried writing only. Then after my novel was published, I did nothing but marketing. Oy.
    Now, I’ve expanded both my blogging and pen-for-hire work while continuing with fiction. (Since I write novels, it can be along time between books.) No question, this balance is better. And rather than think of blogging as marketing, I see it as building audience, starting and expanding conversations with readers and writers, all of whom have such varied and interesting insights; their points of view widen my world.

    • I’m on the fence about Twitter myself, Deborah. I see very little engagement there, but it’s a great way publicly share the content I’m reading.

      I think you’re right on about needing to find that multi-pronged approach that balances different kinds of writing and marketing activities in a mostly organic flow.

      I also want to highlight what you said about thinking of blogging as an audience-building activity rather than a marketing activity. The beauty of the reality is that marketing IS audience-building and audience-building is marketing. Too many people get hung up on thinking that marketing is all about the hard sell, when the truth is that it’s more about creating conversations and building communities.

      Oh – you may have just inspired yet another post. 😉

      TKS!

  8. Sorry. I’d love to respond to your thought-provoking blog on time, but it’s a constant struggle to find TIME for writing interspersed with life. By my estimate, I need about 20 hours a day to explore, create, and write. Unfortunately, sleep and food and doggy things and the detritus of modern life interferes. So, I’m just sweeping up those pockets of chaos while writing as if I were on a schedule.

    • “… sweeping up those pockets of chaos …” I love that. 🙂

      I can’t imagine having 20 hours in a day to focus on my creative work. I’m not sure I’d know what to do with myself. There is something to be said for fitting our creative lives into our “regular” lives. There is an alchemy there that, in my opinion, brings an authenticity to what we create.

      But, that’s just a hypothesis.

  9. I have been thinking about this a lot for the last couple of weeks. I thought I would start blogging to practise my writing. As a teenager I wrote a lot of stories and journals and essays, but then life got in the way and I put it aside. I took a year’s leave from work to get back into writing, but I will still be working part time as a teacher. The ‘writing’ fire has been burning hotter and I just want to write and write. I suppose it is just for me, but also I have lots of things I would love to share with the world, particularly through short stories and picture books for children. But where do I start with marketing? I am lost in this area and suppose I’ll just keep doing some researching and find my way. Thanks for your post!

    • Wonderful that you’ve made time to get back to that “writing fire.” Good for you!

      As for marketing, I included some links to a few of my “marketing mindset” posts in my response above to Adele. I’ve also written a number of pieces here on Live to Write – Write to Live. (You can peruse the Marketing category.)

      I am always impressed by Dan Blank’s work on the marketing side of things. You can find him at http://www.wegrowmedia.com. And Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn is another fabulous resource.

      Finally, I always include a collection of blog links (to specific posts) in my weekend edition posts, and many of those links will take you to information about marketing for writers: https://nhwn.wordpress.com/category/saturday-edition/

      I hope that’s helpful.
      Good luck & happy writing! 🙂

    • That isn’t a question with an easy answer, but a couple of quick thoughts …

      Since your blog looks to be a “mom blog” (I wrote for a couple of mom blogs for years – it’s a fun space to write in!), I’d recommend that you explore the world of mom blogs. Look for groups on Facebook, Twitter chats, Pinterest group boards, etc. Spend some time engaging with the larger community and seeing where your voice and writing might fit in. Talk to people. Comment on other people’s blogs. Share your posts when and where appropriate.

      There is no silver bullet or instant fix. Developing an audience for your blog is a long-term project. But, try to have fun experimenting and exploring.

      I hope that helps. You may also want to look into larger, professional communities like Blogher and other such groups that have large numbers of mom bloggers in their communities.

      Good luck!

  10. 6-11 hours a week…sounds doable unless I had in teaching, my day job, parenting my 2 kids, my all the time job, skating mom my 5 days a week 3 hours each time…But. I confess. I must find the time to both write and promote myself. My writing doesn’t get written unless I squeeze out the time. People do not find my blog if I do not work at finding ways for readers, authors and publishers to take notice of my blog. I must make choices. Sit and watch TV or write? Go to shopping or write? Go to the movies or write? I choose to write. (Though I do schedule time in for relaxing activities…they keep me energized and connected to the world, without such I would not be able to …write!)

    • I know what you mean, Kelly-Lynne. So many choices.

      I’m a single mom running a freelance writing business for herself and putting in (I kid you not) 6+ hours a week with my daughter on her dog-walking business. We also both ride (there’s about 6 more hours each week) and she takes four dance classes. There is homework and housework and household management (little things like paying the bills & stuff). I talk to my mom for nearly an hour each day. Oh, and I have a wonderful beau who comes over three or four nights a week for dinner (thank the gods he cooks!) and some shared TV time. Life is BUSY.

      Frankly, I was amazed when I added up all the time I spend on marketing and marketing-related tasks. I thought, “Who knew?!?” And when I look at the list of all the stuff that DOES get done, I’m doubly amazed.

      I think the secret to success is less about carving out big chunks of time (which is nearly impossible) and more about using little pockets of time to your best advantage. I get a lot done while waiting for my daughter to fall asleep or waiting in line at school pick-up. Busy moms like us have to make the most of each spare moment.

      … and make good choices when we finally find two minutes of down time. 😉

      Good luck! It’s an uphill battle, but we’re pretty invincible when we put our minds to it.

    • It’s true, isn’t it?
      My daughter was watching me write today and she wanted to know why I wasn’t constantly typing. I had to explain that even when my fingers weren’t on the keyboard, I was still writing … even while I was just staring out the window.

      😉

  11. Pingback: Writer Profile: Vincent Panella | Live to Write - Write to Live

  12. Pingback: Writers and Marketing – What Makes Sense? | Live to Write - Write to Live

  13. Just curious, how many hours per week do most of you spend writing, editing, or maybe outlining your books?
    I am trying to build the habit of writing 3 hours a day 7 days a week, which shouldn’t be too hard since I’m retired.

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