Posts Tagged how to build an author platform

What Makes You So Special? The Magic to Selling Books

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

I’ve worked both sides of the business fence—the creative and the corporate (and continue to do so). The strange things is that all industries are facing the same challenges as our world gets smaller, more integrated, and increasingly populated with competition. All types of businesses, whether we are selling tacos, signs, t-shirts, cardboard, technology or books must answer the same questions or face extinction:

Why YOU?

Why not someone else?

What do you offer ME?

What makes you so special?

WHO ARE YOU and why do I (the consumer) care?

A Lesson from SEARS

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Keith Nerdin...

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Keith Nerdin…

For generations, Sears was a corporate juggernaut. Sears promised quality products at an affordable price. Then, Kmart came on the scene. So, Sears decided to get a bit fancier and more like a higher end department stores like Macy’s in reaction to increasing competition.

Yet, herein grew the confusion. Those who viewed Sears as a place for discount goods simply shopped at Kmart. Those who viewed Sears as a department store just went to Macy’s.

Sears had inadvertently muddled it’s brand. The company lacked focus, and, without focus, they lost domination over their market and have yet to reclaim it.

Why?

They couldn’t answer the above questions.

Why Sears and NOT Kmart or Macy’s? What did Sears offer the others didn’t? Why their products/stores? What makes me (the consumer) care?

There are only three core successful strategies whenever selling books (or even tacos or video games for that matter). Yes, THREE. Hey, I dig simple. Though, I will offer a caveat: There is overlap between corporate business and publishing (writing/selling books), but they’re hardly the same creatures. Yet, the smart writer understands that making a living doing what we love involves good business sense. Why not harness the great ideas both worlds can share?

Cost/Quality

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike V...

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike V…

Okay, some of you might think I am cheating a bit here and putting two in the same category. Yet, I will say that there are many successful authors (indie and self-published) who aren’t writing The Great American Novel, but they turn out a lot of books people enjoy reading. Brain candy.

Sometimes people just want a burger, and they consume Big Macs with a lot more regularity than foie gras. These (burger) authors will never win a Pulitzer, but they frequently do very well because they tell good stories and a lot of them. Thusoffering e-books for $1.99 or $2.99 or $3.99 (for the trilogy) is a sound business strategy. Because when one has fifteen, twenty or more titles to sell (I.e. John Locke)? Those numbers add up exponentially.

If we spend more time on quality, then cost is less of a factor (though don’t get crazy). No one would respect a fine-dining establishment run from a food coach selling escargot for .99 in a paper boat. In fact, we might call the Health Department O_o.

Truth is, quality can command a higher price (because it takes longer to produce) .

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 7.09.36 AM

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Herbie’s Vintage 72

My book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is the culmination of two years and over 20,000 pages of reading/research (some of it highly tedious). There’s a ton of information about neuroscience, marketing, advertising, the history of communication and how technology’s very literally changed the structure of the human brain (why ads have lost so much power). I teach how to form a viable, sustainable brand that connects to readers, and the book also include a simple step-by-step plan for branding and blogging that has proven to work time and time again and has helped sell (now) millions of books.

And I’m funny :D.

This is why I won’t be selling this book for $1.99 (aside from, perhaps, a short promotion for the e-book). Why? No one would respect the information I offer.

That and I read Gutenberg Galaxy Brilliant man but…. O_o.

Differentiation

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 10.03.48 AM

Image via Demotivationals.

Product (books) can contribute to this factor, but differentiation is why I’ve been pushing for writers to have a meaningful and effective social media platform for YEARS. In a world deluged in books? Why you? Why me, for that matter? Social media helps us stand out in a sea of choices. We (readers) gravitate to who/what we know and like.

Brick-and mortar businesses have the benefit of a storefront and location. Maybe Joe’s isn’t the best place for a burger, but it’s next to my work and cheap and I can eat in the 30 minutes I’m allotted for lunch. 

But even with the most premium real estate, if a business can’t differentiate and offer quality at a good price, it can still tank.

When I was in NYC in 2012, there was a juice bar across from the Hyatt. PREMIUM real estate, but they didn’t open until after 9:00 a.m. and closed at 4:00 p.m. They had the best (and likely most expensive) location, but they offered nothing different or special that would make regular commuters streaming the streets to and from work deviate from Starbucks. They were missing the people most likely to buy their product—those going to work and home from work.

Not surprisingly, they were out of business when I returned in 2013. Yes, I was bummed.

They had a great product, but, like Sears, they failed to answer the critical questions. WHY YOU? WHY are YOU so special? What do you offer that will make me deviate from a Kmart Jamba Juice?

As authors, we face the same problems. The modern consumer wants to know, Why should I READ instead of playing XBox or watching Duck Dynasty? Isn’t reading WORK? Why your book, when there are a quarter of a million others?

And there are a lot of writers out there paying for fancy marketing and ad campaigns thinking it’s the Golden Ticket. I’m certain that juice store thought the same when it rented premium space in Manhattan. But this is no longer enough. We have to be unique, special, offer value, connect to the consumer and be able to answer the critical questions…

WHY US? WHY OUR BOOKS?

Focus

Business used to be BIG. Big was BETTER. Big business, big papers, big publishing, but big is dead and the remaining few are barely able to sustain their bulk.

Small business makes up most of the commerce. The future is niche. Nintendo is a fabulous example. They didn’t try to take on XBox or PlayStation. They came out with the Wii. Nintendo spotted a huge audience being left out of the gaming experience—those who wanted to play and have fun, but weren’t hardcore gamers.

Unlike XBox, they didn’t seek to be an all-in-one technology device where one could play games on-line with ten buddies in five countries, watch YouTube, browse the web and check in on Facebook. Nintendo focused on simplicity, on the inexperienced gamer (who likely never would play First-Person-Shooter Games).

Grandma could bowl and Grandpa could swing a tennis racket. Toddlers could dance and Nana could dance with them. Whether bowling, wielding a virtual sword, or working out? Wii was SIMPLE….which meant Nintendo didn’t have to compete with the bigger gaming consoles. They could also beat the bigger boys on price and make a profit far sooner by filling an overlooked need with a far less expensive product.

Focus is one of my pet peeves about having multiple pen names, but that’s another blog :D. It’s also why we don’t need to be everywhere all the time on social media. It dilutes the power of focus.

For writers? Look around. Who is a forgotten or overlooked audience? Where can you find a niche audience just waiting for you to see them? To connect with them? I teach how to do this in my book, btw ;).

Beyond social media, what genre boundaries can you break as an artist? Sure, write urban fantasy, but there’s a ton of competition. Why not an urban fantasy with a thirty-something, forty-something or even Baby Boomer heroine? Hey, just because we get older doesn’t mean we’re dead and don’t want to believe we still got it :D.

FORTY's so bright, I gotta wear shaaaaadddes..... Yes, I am forty.

FORTY’s so bright, I gotta wear shaaaaadddes….. Yes, I am forty.

Trust me when I say I am not interested in a book with a twenty-something protagonist. I want older women to ROCK, and maybe writers can help our society stop looking at getting older like it’s a disease.

For the love of CHOCOLATE, they’re smile lines not psoriasis! What’s with all the CREAMS? I am NOT contagious and you will ALL be here eventually, so why can’t “being older” be HOT?

What are your thoughts? As readers, do you get tired of the same tropes? What is a favorite book or movie and what made it special? Why was it different than all the other choices? Why did it stand out? Do you struggle with focus? Shouldn’t being older be hot? It was for Sean Connery, why not us gals? Oh, and big thighs. Stop stuffing us in Spanx and just let a gal with a booty and curves/cushion be HOT…ok, that just went a weird direction *hangs head*

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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106 Comments

The Rise of Individuality—What This Means for Publishing & Authors

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Larry Lamsa

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Larry Lamsa

We’re now into the Digital Age, and the ramifications of a connected world are still being revealed daily. But, there’s one trend I’d be hard-pressed to argue with. The 20th Century was all about homogeneity. Madison Avenue flourished by telling us which clothing brands made us cool, which car made us special, what foods were “healthy.”

Information was controlled by gatekeepers and commodities restricted by retailers, thus homogeneity was the goal. Homogeneity was simpler and required less paperwork and thinking.

Generations bought Wonderbread because it was “fortified with vitamins” and “good for your kids.” In 1986? Hope you liked stirrup pants. There was a cultural need to “fit in” and be like everyone else, especially those who were the “cool kids.”

“Pillars of Same” Go Crashing Down

With the advent of the Internet and widespread use of social media, homogeneity is crumbling. Individualism is now revered more than ever in human history. And, no matter how weird, off-beat, or All-American we want to be? There is a subculture to embrace our style. Mega-trends have lost their power.

Today, changing lifestyles, the Internet, the balkanization of communication, and the global economy are coming together to create a new sense of individualism that is powerfully transforming our society. ~Microtrends, Penn/Zalesne

What this means is that, as consumers are faced with more and more choices, they’re segregating themselves into smaller and smaller subgroups. Love tattoos? Duck Dynasty? Duck Dynasty tattoos?

Can’t get enough of Jackson Galaxy and cat whispering? Are you Stay-at-Home-Mom who kicks butt on a Roller Derby Team each Saturday? It’s all out there, and most of us are a unique mixture that can’t easily be categorized.

For instance, yesterday I began my day with green juice and 50 minutes of yoga. I ended the day watching my husband reload ammunition while we watched Duck Dynasty and I prepped the grill. We also debated briefly over which superhero we were.

Actual Conversation in Our House:

Me: I’m so happy I had a boy.
Hubby: Why?
Me: Because the world needs more good guys. In fact, you’d be a really dull superhero. You’re Superman. All paladin. No baggage.
Hubby: I am SO not Superman. I call Green Lantern.
Me: Green Lantern didn’t have baggage either. Not like Batman. You don’t have enough drama to be Batman.
Hubby: As long as I’m not Aquaman.
Me: I’m Poison Ivy. Or Harley. You good guys are suckers for chicks with drama.

And what all of this means is that 20 years ago, we knew which table to sit at–Jocks, Preps, Nerds, Geeks, Good Kids, Band Kids, Kid Who Smells Like Old Carpet. The lines were clearer, namely because we had only a handful of networks and limited retail outlets to define our identity.

Now? We have the reins of individual freedom and we like it.

What Does This Mean for Publishing?

Big publishing has a number of limitations. First, their size. Second, massive overhead. Third? 20th Century thinking. They have to find the mega-trend to stay in business, but what does this mean in a marketplace that is rapidly shifting to micro-trends?

NY is less able to spot the micro-trends, because in a world of algorithms, numbers and spreadsheets, one relies on the past to predict the future. Business is always looking backward in order to move forward. It’s like trying to drive our car using the rearview mirror as the main guide. Says a lot about where we’ve been, but gives limited information as to what’s ahead.

Indies Have Revealed the Micro-Trend

We’ve talked about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, yet I will point out that I’ve met agents who turned down the manuscript. It was through E.L. James’ massive volume of independent sales that the micro-trend surfaced and then NY could turn this success into a mega-trend. A genre which received little to no attention has grown exponentially.

This was one of the reasons I recommended NY create e-book divisions as early as 2009 (REAL e-book divisions, not vanity-press retreads). Find a good book, give it a chance and see if the trend emerged. If not? The product cost less to produce and the writer could earn a higher royalty.

Even if the book didn’t sell bazillions of copies, writers didn’t have to sell that many books to make a healthy living and be freed up to write more books. Now instead of NY banking the farm on finding the ONE mega-trend, they could reap the rewards of countless micro-trends.

Which is exactly what Amazon has been doing.

Amazon doesn’t need one author to sell two million copies (not that they are opposed to it), but they can easily have 20 or even a 100 authors sell two million copies. The money spends the same.

This is Why Social Media is Vital for Authors

Social media is vital for keeping our fingers on the pulse of the public (code for “readers”). We can use blogging to define our brand then use content to attract those who share our “subculture” tastes (which I teach how to do in my new book).

It’s the main reason it’s death to be the All-Writing-All-The-Time-Channel. That’s a one-dimensional subculture that is overfished and quickly grows stagnant.

Also, any writer worth his/her salt is interested in a lot of things. The more we feed our subculture, the healthier it becomes, and the more loyal. We are all seeking our peeps, our tribe, our “friends” in a world that has become explosively larger.

Small is the New Big (Thank, you, Seth Godin)

Modern humans are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of choices, and, as a response, we stick to what we know. Sure, in 1999 we LOVED the megastore because it was new and shiny. Almost fifteen years later? We’re tired of needing to hail a taxi at the Mega Wal-Mart because we forgot the ketchup on aisle 3 and are now in the school supplies on aisle 93.

We’ll pay a bit more to shop at the corner market who appreciates our love for Organic Raw Kombucha, GF hot dog buns, and foie gras. We can buy Wonderbread at a supermarket or go to the small boutique grocer that sells sprouted grains for those of us in the crowd of Wonder-Why-We-EVER-Ate-Wonderbread.

Everyone wins.

But to spot and nourish the micro-trend, we must be present. Micro-trends can earn us a healthy living. A single writer doesn’t need to sell as many books to keep the lights on as NYC does. Also micro-trends have the potential to grow up to be mega-trends. Spreadsheets can’t tell us as much as people can. And, trust me, people have a lot to say. Numbers can’t tell us as much about the future as relationships can.

What are your thoughts? Do you love a world where you can define your own style? Create your own genres? Mix in your varied interests? Have you met people on social media with similar hobbies that you’d never have met in person?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.

My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU. If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

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