Posts Tagged how to sell more books
We’ve been working through an Author Acrostic the past few posts. Why? Because a zillion craft books and workshops can’t do it. We can be the most talented writer the world has ever seen, yet go to our graves with no one ever knowing our names. How? This job is as much about our hearts and minds as it is our hands. This profession is largely mental. We’re athletes of the mind. We have to train our will along with our skill.
Today, we are on T.
T is for—Turn Over the Future. As professionals, it is key to cast our care and keep our responsibilities. Too many writers waste valuable time on crap they can’t control, all the while ignoring what they CAN. It’s an easy snare, which is why ALL of us have to remain vigilant. Even me. Maybe especially me.
Social Media Snare
This might sound bizarre coming from the Social Media Jedi for Writers, but social media does NOT SELL BOOKS. When I say, “social media” I mean, the book spam, the promos, the ads, the impersonal fluff we’d luuuuv to automate, outsource or measure with an algorithm. This stuff doesn’t work. I’ve said this approach would’t work since MySpace was around (and time has redeemed me).
This is why I created the WANA method. WANA methods have sold hundreds of thousands of books, have launched unknowns into the record books. But WANA methods can’t be automated or outsourced (Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World). We have to turn over our future and trust that, if we plant love and grow relationships, then pair those relationships with a clear brand and excellent writing? Harvest will come.
This traditional marketing-advertising behavior is a dinosaur. It’s responsible for an abysmal .001% of reasons people decide to buy a book.
Recently, I heard mega-agent Donald Maass speak and he’s the one who gave the statistic above (not sure where he found it) but he said essentially what I’d blogged about only a couple weeks previously in my post Social Media, Book Signings & Why Neither Directly Impact Overall Sales.
Social media is the human connection, and is taking the place of the traditional book signing. Book signings don’t sell books. Never did. BUT, they were the only place readers could come and get to know and connect with the author in a meaningful way. Book signings were the way to cultivate the long-term fans.
Social media now is a way we can easily do the same thing from home and all it costs is TIME. We can use social media to rise above the din in an age where discoverability is becoming a nightmare. Social media is far more effective than books signings because geography, status, and money are no longer limitations.
What Can the Pre-Published Author Control?
Virtually the same things we published ones can. Hone our craft. Write the book. Finish the book. Query. We can’t control getting an agent beyond the query (or networking). Even when we land an agent that doesn’t guarantee that agent can sell our work. Even if our work is sold and published, it might tank, or take off. We can’t tell.
But, we can control writing more books and better books. In between, while taking a break? Build that platform.
The rest is trying to read chicken bones.
If we hope to be relevant in the Digital Age, then the question is not longer whether we will do social media, rather, how we will do it.
Look to those who are successful and who will remain successful. Look to Anne Rice. She’s on Facebook A LOT. Talking to her fans. Asking questions, sharing, discussing. Why? She’s an ICON! Exactly, and she is putting in the social sweat equity to remain that way. She understands the fans are EVERYTHING.
I was recently talking to Jonathan Maberry at a conference. This man practically lives on the NYTBS list. He turns out a novel every two and a half months and write columns, novellas, short stories and also is one of the lead writers for Marvel Comics. His novels have been optioned for Hollywood and his Rot & Ruin series is now being made into a television series.
He works an hour, then spends ten minutes on social media connecting.
Social media is something we can directly control. Sales? Forget it. I see so many authors running around like a wind-up toy. They check their algorithms and beat up stats on Amazon. They research another way to promote, send mailers, hunt for new and improved ways to do blog tours or hold contests. They futz with the price of their book more than Kim Kardashian posts selfies.
And the sales don’t budge.
Look to the Pros
Pros understand what they can control and focus there. They write. They finish. They ship. They study. They read. They know that cultivating an on-line community is key to relevance in The Digital Age. They also write more books instead of camping on top of ONE.
Pros know to start where you ARE.
Maberry didn’t always write full-time. He worked as a bouncer at a strip club and later as a bodyguard. He fit the writing in between crappy jobs because he knew a life getting beat up and stabbed was not his ideal career plan. James Rollins fit in writing after a long day working as a veterinarian. Tess Gerritsen began with a short story she wrote on maternity leave. Her next novels were penned while she was working as full-time doctor.
We will never have optimal working conditions. Accept that reality and this career will be far less frustrating. As I write this, I have a fever. I’m achy and miserable and would rather be in bed. But, I’m abysmally behind and I need work. While I am getting a cramp from kicking my own @$$, that isn’t very fruitful. I’ve dropped the ball, but I CAN pick it up and RUN.
It’s life :D .
I must remember to focus on what I can do NOW. In the present. What can I control? I can get my butt in my seat and do my job if I want to be like the legends I revere. Pros don’t worry and fret over how many Twitter followers they have or if the latest algorithm on Amazon is favorable to sales. They work. Hard. They work…smart ;) . They trust that incremental investments every day add up and that the future is uncertain. Cool thing is, we can do this too!
What are your thoughts?
I know when I am feeling like the world is crushing me, I am focusing too much on stuff that’s out of my hands. What about you? Do you drift into that territory? Do you often get overwhelmed and realize you’re spending too much time and worry on something you have no power to control? Does it feel better to know that it is okay to focus on the “little” things?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Anne Rice, being a professional writer, how to sell more books, Jonathan Maberry, Kristen Lamb, Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, Rot and Ruin, social media and book signings, social media for writers, WANA, We Are Not alone, Writing, writing tips
We can blog, tweet, promo, purchase ads and wave pom poms over our book and that is all lovely. Attention is grand. An on-line platform is essential. But, if none of these efforts translate into an actual sale? A lot of time and money wasted. What is the best way to sell books?
We’ll get there in a sec… *suspenseful music cues*
In my latest book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World I actually spend a lot of time explaining why advertising and marketing doesn’t sell books in the new paradigm (or any other, for that matter) and what changes to make for any advertising or marketing to be more effective. Yet, ads, banners, book trailers aside, people want to read a great book.
This means our best way of selling books is…
You ready for this? *drum roll*
Writing great books.
Our sample pages, which are the beginning of the book, are our most priceless selling tool. This is why I’ve dedicated just as many (if not more) blog posts to teaching craft than I have teaching social media. Social media is not magic and it will work far better with a great product (book). Whouda thunk?
I know most of you’ve heard agents and editors usually give a book one to three pages, before continuing or chunking into the circular file. You might be thinking one to three pages? But, my story really gets going on page 21.
I’ve run the first-twenty-pages-contest on this blog for about four years. Most of the samples I get? I don’t need 20 pages. I need one. Maybe five. At the outset? TEN (but that’s rare). I already know all the writer’s good and bad habits as well as the writer’s level of education and skill (or lack thereof). It’s simply shocking how many of the same problems plague the beginning of most first-time novels.
And it’s easy to think this is all very unfair, but think of your own experiences browsing a bookstore. Aside from cover and interesting title and story description, what do we do? We open the book and scan the first couple of pages. If those first pages stink or are lackluster, we don’t give the writer twenty of fifty or a hundred pages to sell us.
Unless you wrote Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but he was dead.
So when you are dead, I suppose people give more gratis, because I cannot count the number of times people have said, “Well, yes GWTDT bored the paint off the walls, but after the first hundred pages, it’s awesome!”
I…am not that motivated. I gave the book more than it’s due (because the writer was dead) and gave it 20. Next! I’m aging here.
So if you are reading this blog and you’re dead? You get more leeway. Also, what’s it like on the Other Side? Feel free to leave a description in the comments :D.
For the rest of us who remain among the living? One to five pages.
I can tell 99% of what’s wrong in a book by page five, and so can agents and editors (and readers, though they might not know what is wrong, only they aren’t hooked).
It’s sort of like going to a doctor. He/She can tell from the sphygmomanometer (been DYING to use that word) which is a blood-pressure cuff, a look at skin pallor and basic symptoms to tell if a patient has a bum ticker. No need to crack open the patient’s chest and stare right at the sickly beating heart.
Most new writers (especially) have what Candy Haven’s calls a fish-head. What do we do with fish-heads? We cut them off and throw them away, unless you are my family, who are
scavengers Scandinavians and then they make soup *shivers*. This actually explains the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo mystery.
The writer was dead and Swedish. Apparently Swedish readers looove fish-head-story-soup and somehow convinced others to give it a try. Not saying these are bad books, btw. Clearly, they have a huge fan base and rave reviews. I’m just I am not patient enough to get to the good stuff (and neither are a lot of other people).
Most new novels need to lose the first hundred pages. But that’s just something I’ve gleaned from experience. Yet, who cares about the first hundred if we can’t care about the first five? Often, the problems in the next 95 pages can be fixed by knowing what went sideways with the first five. Seriously.
Sample pages are…samples. If we go to Sam’s or Costco, how many will stop for a sample of egg rolls, pizza, or Acai juice? If the sample Green Juice Gut-Blaster tastes like steel wool mixed with moldy spinach, will you BUY the mega-bottle of Green Juice Gut-Blaster hoping it tastes better by mid-bottle?
My point, exactly.
For a fantastic resource about this, I highly recommend (AGAIN) Les Edgerton’s Hooked. Also, tonight is my First Five Pages Class to help you out (deets down the page), because we all know that the TOUGHEST part of writing a book is the BEGINNING….then the middle and WHOA—crap—the end. But, this class is for the first FIVE because if we can’t nab a reader there? The rest is moot.
What makes you stop reading a book? How long do you give books? Are you patient enough to wait a hundred pages for it to get interesting? What do you find the hardest about writing the beginning of the book? Have you lopped off your own fish heads?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
If you want more help with plot problems, antagonists, structure, beginnings, then I have TWO classes coming up to help you!
BOTH CLASSES COME WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.
A seasoned editor can tell a lot about your book with only five pages. Learn to hook hard and hook early. TONIGHT!!! I am running the Your First Five Pages Class. Use WANA10 for $10 off. This is the perfect class for diagnosing bigger story issues or even getting a work agent-ready in time for conference season. This class is April 25th 6:00-8:30 PM NYC Time. Gold Level is available if you want me to critique your 5 pages.
Also, if you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension. Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . This is a GREAT class for streamlining a story and making it pitch-ready.
Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.
first five pages, Hooked Les Edgerton, how to get an agent, how to hook a reader, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, self-editing for writers, W.A.N.A., WANA, We Are Not alone
My degree is in Political Science with an emphasis on Political Economy. To earn this degree, I had to study a lot of statistics *UGH* and to be blunt? I agree with Mark Twain, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” Surveys and statistics are a science: number of participants, number of questions, phrasing of the questions, nature of the sample group, geography, etc.
Yada, yada, yada.
But somewhere in the numbers is some truth, which is why I asked one of our WANA instructors, Jami Gold, to do this guest post for me (and yes, she will be presenting at WANACon).
Sure we love to write, but I assume all of us are asking the BIG questions: Is there MONEY in writing? How do we make a GOOD living as writers? Money seems to be the taboo and we don’t want to talk about it. Too gauche. But most of us would like to be paid for what we do, so time to dig into the uncomfortable stuff.
I’m going to add a caveat that will support what Jami is about to say. I want to approach this as respectfully as possible. But, if I hadn’t seen so much of these attitudes/behaviors, I wouldn’t bother mentioning them at all.
Many writers want to skip steps. It’s human nature to believe we are the exception. Been there, done that, myself. But? 99% of the time? We aren’t the exception at all. There are NO guarantees to any business, but there are some core principles that, when we ignore them? It’s a heck of a lot harder to succeed.
I travel to many, many conferences. I’ve written over 800 blogs and three books regarding blogging, social media, editing, covers, etc. and I’ve gotten to where I simply no longer argue. I’ve met writers who flat out refused to do social media, who refused to learn how to blog, who cut corners on cover design and interior design or who believed Aunt Lulu who taught English back in the 80s counted as an acceptable “editor.”
I’ve blogged since 2008 how important it is to have a platform, yet to this day, I get e-mails from writers who have a book coming out in a month and they want to know how to build a platform in time to promote *head desk*. I’ve argued with writers about using monikers, book spam, automation, outsourcing social media, force-adding people to Facebook groups, how hiring an SEO “gurus” will not improve sales, to keep writing and stop non-stop promoting ONE book, and on and on….and *sigh* on.
Every time I blog about three-act structure, POV or the importance of studying craft, there will always be commenters who point out exceptions and that they don’t want to be bound by “formulas.” I’ve painstakingly edited for writers who then turned around and ignored everything I recommended they change to improve the book (reader experience). Later, they had no idea why sales were dismal.
I can tell you that the authors who treat writing as a business and who seek education and mentoring are making a heck of a lot more than $1000 a year. I’ve seen it. I’ve witnessed many writers who were willing to do all it took to make a good living writing and boy they are. Hugh Howey, Teresa Ragan, H.P. Mallory, and Saffina Deforges (three of these four I know personally and all fabulous). I have many more examples but this post is long enough.
I mention these author examples because these folks didn’t begin with a long traditional backlist or NYT Best-Selling Author in front of their names. In fact, Saffina used WANA methods to skyrocket from the bottom of the pile to selling 40,000 books in one month alone. She and her writing partner broke numerous records with their work.
So, I hope you guys will see that all of these writers are doing the very things Jami is about to discuss. Due to the nature of my job and what I see daily, I feel this is a far more accurate analysis.
Going to let Jami take it from here….
The publishing world has been abuzz with the results of the 2014 Digital Book World (DBW) and Writer’s Digest Author Survey. Headlines scream “Most authors make less than $1000 a year.” Numbers taken out of context claim that 80% of the 9000+ respondents earn $1000 or less.
Eh. Yes and no.
Yes, the DBW/Writer’s Digest survey polled 9,210 or so writers. However, don’t let that big number impress you so much that you assume this survey data is uber-accurate. More than 65% of those respondents are “aspiring” and haven’t published anything yet.
The DBW/Writer’s Digest Survey Results
According to The Guardian, the remaining respondents broke down to “18% self-published, 8% traditionally-published and 6% saying they were pursuing hybrid careers.” Okay, so that leaves around 3000 respondents who have been published in some way, shape, or form.
But wait, a full 20% of both the self-published and the traditionally published respondents said they’ve made $0. Ditto with 5% of the hybrid authors. And yes, that means literally zero dollars, as the next income band goes from $1 to $999.
I find that result odd. Does that mean zero income from book sales? Or zero income after expenses?
I don’t know, but it does make me suspect the question wording and/or the respondent base was a bit hinky. Maybe those authors are planning on self-publishing, or maybe they have a traditionally published book that hasn’t been released yet. Or maybe the DBW/Writer’s Digest respondent base doesn’t reflect professional published authors.
Many have criticized the survey because it was run by Writer’s Digest, who’s been known to recommend vanity publishers to those interested in self-publishing. If the respondents were from the vanity publishing arena, then yes, I could see their income being zero (or negative).
Brenda Hiatt’s Survey Results
Anyone who has studied the industry knows that one book alone isn’t going to cut it. Professional authors, those that treat their writing as a career, focus on building a backlist. If we have 3-6 books out, it doesn’t take much income from each to break $1000.
A look at Brenda Hiatt’s amazing site “Show Me the Money” lists the advance, royalty rates, and earn out for various romance and YA traditional publishers. The vast majority of earn out amounts on her site are over $1000, so even if an author publishes only one book a year, they’d still beat that DBW figure. And Brenda’s gathered data from almost 2700 traditionally published titles.
Now, that’s not to say her respondents are rolling in the dough. The average advance or earn out probably works out to around $10K, with some as low as $200.
My point is that I don’t quite trust DBW’s results. But I’m not going to pay nearly $300 for the full report to analyze how the heck they came up with their numbers. The results strike me as “link bait” in their attempt to sell copies of their report.
Beverley Kendall’s Survey Results
We all know some self-published books are crap. I’ve seen them. I’ve talked to their authors. And they plain don’t care. They’re in it for the quick buck, or they believe they’re geniuses who don’t need editing.
That’s why I was far more interested in the results of Beverley Kendall’s survey of self-published/hybrid authors. Some self-publishers obtain professional-level editing and covers, and that group should be more comparable to traditionally published authors. Beverley asked the questions that really matter rather than lumping all self-published authors together.
She analyzed results from her 822 self-published respondents, and 65% of her respondents had no previous traditional or epublishing deals to improve their name recognition. Keep that in mind for these results. (And I highly recommend checking out her 29 page, free report of her analysis at the link above. Fantastic information!)
How Off-Base Is the DBW Survey?
First thing I note (page 4), 48.05% earned over $10,000 in 2013. Even with no traditional publishing name recognition, 46.04% of self-published-only authors earned over $10K. Hmm, that’s quite different from the 5% for self-published-only authors earning those numbers in the DBW report.
The second thing I note (page 10) is that backlist really matters. While 80% of respondents with 1-3 books for sale make $10K or less, that figure drops quickly with additional books. About 50% of respondents make more than $10K when they have 4-7 self-published books available, and 20% make more than $50K. At 12-20 books available, over 50% of respondents are making 50K or more, and 30% are over $100K.
How Much Does Professionalism Matter?
Now let’s look at those numbers for professional, self-published authors—that is, those who use a professional editor and cover artist (page 13). Of those who didn’t use a professional editor (Beverley’s definition: “with a publishing background”), 40.23% earned more than $10K. In contrast, of those who did use a professional editor, 50.82% earned more than $10K.
Similarly, of those who didn’t use a professional cover artist (her definition: “graphic artist or professional designer”), 39.21% earned more than 10K. In contrast, of those who did use a professional cover artist, 52.55% earned more than $10K.
In short, professionalism matters. And the percentage differences between professional editing and professional cover design aren’t much, so they both seem to be important. However, a professional cover has a slight edge over editing if you’re dealing with limited funds.
Is Beverley Kendall’s Survey the Anomaly?
Brenda Hiatt’s “Show Me the Money” page surveys self-published authors too. For 2012, her respondents averaged 10 titles each (that backlist mentioned above) and averaged $137K. The median, which discounts outliers better, was still $51K.
Those figures match Beverley’s 2013 results for authors with similarly large backlists. So I think it’s safe to say that for those authors who approach self-publishing as a career (build a backlist, use professional editors and cover artists, etc.), making more than $1K a year is the norm.
All that said, it’s also important to keep an eye on craft and not just think about backlist. In Beverley Kendall’s report, almost 40% of authors with 60+ self-published releases(!) make less than $10K because they’re skipping professional editing or book covers in their single-minded focus on release numbers.
Lessons Learned: How to Maximize Chances for Success
Beverley Kendall’s report is a gold mine for those on either path. Her results show what works for maximizing income, but many of the tips are also no-cost ways we can reach more readers:
- Write a series
- Make a series-related short story, novella, or the first novel free
- Include excerpts of other stories, especially at the back of the freebie
- Price novel-length books in the $2.99-$4.99 sweet spot
- Build a backlist of quality stories
- Don’t expect success overnight—think in years
“Of authors who earned over $50,000 in 2013
95.93% have 4 or more books up for sale
93.91 % have been self-publishing for more than 1 (one) year.”
Remember those years I mentioned? Time and backlist, everyone, time and backlist. *smile*
- For authors over $50K:
- 96.93% of their bestselling books were part of a series
- 68% offered one or more books in the series as a freebie
- For authors over $500K:
- 100% of their bestselling books were part of a series
- 88.24% offered one or more books in the series as a freebie
- For authors between $0-$10K:
- 25.60% have not written a series
- 32.53% offered one or more books in their series free
- 41.87% do not offer a freebie from their series
However, not every author should offer a freebie. This is where a long-term strategy comes into play. We can lose money and potential readers if we don’t have other stories available, as shown by this post:
“After downloading and reading a free digital book by an author, 88.54% of readers have gone on to purchase other books by that author.”
Only a few of her insights on how to maximize our chances for success apply more to authors willing to invest or write to the market:
- Use professional-level editing and book covers
- Beverley notes one reason why those from a traditional publishing background make more money: “22.69% MORE authors who were originally traditionally published had their books edited by someone with a publishing background than authors who had never been published before.”
- Choose the “right” category/genre (note: this often involves chasing trends(*), so your mileage may vary)
- * New Adult Romance: 43.48% earned more than $50K
- Mystery/Thriller: 30.77% earned more than $50K
- * Erotic Romance: 28.57% earned more than 50K
- SciFi/Fantasy: 19.15% earned more than $50K
- Non-fiction: 10.34% earned more than $50K
Finally, after I pestered her for more insights, Beverley did another analysis for what the statistics would be when an author did everything “right.” Of the 121 respondents who:
- Have been self-publishing for more than 1 year
- Wrote a series
- Put one or more of their books free
- Have 4 or more self-published books available
- Price their work between $2.99-$7.99
- Acquire professional editing and book covers
The stats revealed that 81.82% earn over $10K and 57.04% earn more than $50K. Click through to this link to see the full breakdown.
Beverley’s report is invaluable for showing what works. Lumping all self-published authors together (the serious and the non-serious) dilutes the lessons we can learn from those doing it with a plan for success. As Beverley said in her follow-up post:
“So does it matter really if 80% of self-published authors don’t make more than $1000 in a year if you intend to emulate the 20% who are doing it right and making a very comfortable living doing it?”
…And now I’m burnt on numbers for a while, but I hope this has been educational and enlightening. *reassembles brain*
THANK YOU, Jami!
COOL CONTEST. So, WANACon is this coming weekend. PajamaCon is FREE (Thursday Evening) and gives you a chance to make sure your computer is set up properly if you choose to join us for the conference. If not? Still a fun time and a chance to learn. SIGN UP for WANACon HERE. Also, AGENT PITCHES are available. You can SIGN UP HERE.
Since my goal is to see you guys succeed, I am offering three BIG prizes for WANACon Attendees. Grand Prize is The Book/Brand Combo. I will personally consult to either assist in plotting a new book or fixing one that doesn’t work. I will also consult you personally on your brand and give you a plan for SEO, content, everything. Book Prize is I work with you to plot or fix a book. Branding Prize is I personally consult you on your brand, teach you about SEO and lay out a plan.
EVERYONE who attends automatically gets ten entries. Encourage a friend to sign up and you earn 25 additional entries and the friend who signs up gets 15. Just make sure to tell us who referred you. WANA is committed to helping you realize your dream.
After discovering a chemical compound that makes chocolate even more awesome, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in making her sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.
Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.
author earning potential, author earnings, Beverley Kendall, Brenda Hiatt, how much do writers earn, how to sell more books, Jami Gold, Kristen Lamb, making money writing books, WANA, WANACon, Writer's Digest Survey
It’s been amazing and terrifying to watch the changes in our industry just over the past six years. For generations, there was only a handful of items a writer needed to do. Write a book. Query. Get an agent. Land a deal. Hopefully continue writing more books. Though this was far simpler, there was a horrific failure rate and most writers never saw their works in print.
In The Digital Age, we live in an exciting time. E-books have offered new life to many works that were simply a bad investment in the paper-based world (novellas, epic fantasy, poetry). Yet, with new opportunity comes new responsibilities.
We must understand the business side of our business. And, as someone who teaches at many conferences, I know that until recently it has been rare to find an in-person conference that offers training outside the old paradigm.
I’ve been to conferences with all NY agents, only a class or two on social media, nothing about formatting or indie or book covers. This leaves a majority of writers ill-prepared for anything other than a traditional path (but this IS improving).
Yet, as we watch the trends, we are seeing that even authors who traditionally publish are still pursuing other paths as well to 1) increase income harnessing the power of combined sales and 2) maintain fan excitement 3) broaden/strengthen the platform.
As it stands, NY is limited to putting out a book, maybe two per year. Also, bookstores only have so much shelf space (which is negotiated by an agent/sales team). Due to the new mega-bookstore model, stores like B&N make more money off items other than books. Go into any B&N and the entire front of the store is filled with Nooks and Nook accessories (instead of books).
Additionally, they only can offer discounts by stocking only so many books and for a short period of time. This means authors with backlists generally will only have the most recent title for sale, unless they happen to be one of the big names (J.K. Rowling).
Writing now has merged art with entrepreneurship. We are essentially beginning a business (even if we choose traditional). Any successful business has a business plan. Also, we must invest in ourselves and our dream. There are a number of hard truths.
Regular People BELIEVE Writing is EASY
The average person out there has no concept of how hard it is to write a book. They think we sit and play with imaginary friends all day, which we do, but making those friends cooperate can be nothing short of a nightmare. Readers only see the final product. They only see what took months or years to complete. There is also this mistaken notion that because we have command of our native tongue, that writing a book/novel is only a matter of sitting down and writing.
Yes, butt-in-chair can be the greatest challenge, but developing dimensional characters takes profound understanding of human nature and psychology. Then we have to create realistic and interesting dialogue. Add in enough description and detail to build the world without boring the reader. We have to maintain tension on every page, know how to balance scenes and sequels, understand narrative structure and on and on and on.
But, it is this misguided perception that writing is easy that can derail us.
Forget What Other People Think
Often we are afraid to take risks because we fear failure. Yet, any true success is birthed from risk. We can’t think about what other people think or 1) we’ll quit 2) we’ll slack off 3) we’ll listen to bad advice.
Everyone has an opinion. One way humans show love is by offering “advice.” This is fine, but we have to mature enough and grab hold of what we want so tightly that we can allow other people the right to be wrong.
When I started writing, my family didn’t talk to me for two years. I even had a church elder laugh and tell me essentially that I had a better chance of being abducted by terrorists than being successful as a writer. Other family members felt I should go to law school. For a time, I listened. I even took the LSAT and gained entrance to law school.
But, I remember standing there with my acceptance letter and I had to make a choice. Did I really want to be a lawyer? NO.
Thing is, other people can give advice, and often they do this from genuine care and concern, but remember…
Only YOU will pay the price.
When we allow others to talk us into “real jobs”, they won’t be the ones who die a slow death every day. They won’t be the ones who throw up every day on the way to work (been there). They won’t be the one with a broken heart, an empty life and a mental spiral of what-ifs that keep them awake at night.
Commitment is the Cure
Lately, we have been talking about WANACon, which is coming up next weekend and today is the last day to use the code Valentine for $15 off. It’s an affordable way to learn from top industry experts, learn about ALL kinds of publishing—self-pub, indie, traditional—social media, branding, craft, platform-building and all for a reasonable price and from HOME. New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling Author Shirley Jump will be the keynote and agent pitch sessions are available. We have over 20 presentations from top professionals.
WANACon is largely volunteer because I was living of Ramen my first conference. Even though it was local, it still cost me over $300 and a lot of driving. I wanted to offer something for those who might be on a budget or have time or geographic challenges.
Yet, here’s the thing. Do I want you to come to WANACon? Yes, we have a lot of fun and it will spoil you. Regular conferences are costly and a physical beating (especially for introverts). Most conferences also will charge extra for recordings and we provide them for free because we want you to succeed.
BUT, I don’t care if you go to WANACon or some other conference. Just go to a conference. Commit. Attend/ join RWA (Romance Writers of America) even if you don’t write romance. Surround yourself with what you want to be. Connect and learn from professionals.
I want to encourage you to take true professional steps that transition a dream into a reality. Invest in your domain name (the NAME that will be on your books). Commit to building a platform or blogging. Platforms capable of driving sales can’t be bought or POOF out of the ether. They take time and some money.
NY will not represent an author with no platform. Most agencies will google an author and if they can’t find us? Game over. Come back when we have a platform. If we go indie or self-pub? We’re dead without a platform.
The publishing world of today offers a much better chance for success, but we have to be educated and have a plan of action. We need to invest in that dream. I can’t tell you the difference my first conference made in how I viewed my career choice and even myself.
Perception is REALITY
The world thinks most writers are just wannabes typing away at a Starbucks. Why? Because a lot of us do that. I did. In the beginning, I didn’t take myself seriously. Why would others? But, when we commit and invest, this is when we change and others often do, too.
If you met someone who claimed to be an artist, but they simply carried around a notebook and drew cool pictures, we’d think one thing. But, what if we talked to them and realized they had a web site with their work, that they’d worked an extra job to train with professional artists?
Someone who sings in the shower or in the church choir is one thing. But what about the person who gives up every extra hobby to take voice lessons and record their songs? Or a chef who creates beautiful dishes for people at home, but then later takes out a loan to start a catering business?
Our level of commitment is a reflection of our passion and our genuine desire to do this thing for real.
This is February. Most of us are struggling with the New Year’s Resolutions. We all do. But whether you attend a conference a professional workshop, take classes, begin building your platform, make that shift. Otherwise, our “dream” will remain an intangible. Sacrificing time and money, risking failure, ignoring naysayers, these are the things that separate the “aspiring writer” from the “pre-published author.”
Regardless of what you write, which path you choose, which conference you attend, we support you 1000%. It’s why WANA works so hard to offer you all the tools for success: classes, conferences, WANACommons (for blog images you can use worry-free), WANATribe (social network for writers), #MyWANA and Facebook’s WANA group. We want you to have education, encouragement, resources, and a support network. The rest is in the doing ;).
As a gift, we have a free recording of Gabriela Pereira’s “How To Get the Most Out of a Writing Conference.” Use this for WANACon or any conference of your choosing. You can sign up for WANACon HERE and use the code Valentine for $15 off.
What are your thoughts? Have you been bombarded with naysayers and dream stealers? Is it hard to believe that your writing is a “real job”? I know I still struggle with that, too. What are your biggest challenges, fears? What are some of your successes? Share and inspire us!
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
attending a writing conference, becoming a professional author, how to become a published author, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, WANA, WANACon, writing tips
We’ve been talking a lot about the new publishing paradigm and all the options writers have. Being the WANA Mama, I feel it’s my duty to feed you guys the grow-up stuff. So, if you want a fluffy kitten hug? This is the wrong place. There are plenty of people who offer a magic algorithm or promotion package or SEO package “guaranteed” to launch a writer to fame and fortune. Yet, these can be misleading and take our focus away from activities that have a better chance of translating into long-term success.
Hoo-Doo Voo-Doo for Sale
What many of you might not know is I sometimes help small businesses. I recently started doing some work for my brother’s company. Why did I step in? Because he (like many others) paid thousands of dollars for a Mega-PR-Expert…who then did NOTHING.
My brother hired this well-known PR expert to create his social media and help with promotions, and *crickets chirping*. The few things she “created”? My brother could have done for free and far better. When she generated a LinkedIn account for his business, she didn’t even load the current logo and the information she did fill out was incorrect and outdated.
This is a person who’d been written up in major magazines here in Texas. My brother felt he was making a sound decision hiring her (and, from outside indications, it was a good decision).
So what went wrong? No idea.
All I can think of is this person was more focused on clients with deeper pockets, but it’s still enough to make me see red. You take money, you need to do what you promised…not ignore e-mails for seven months after doing a half@$$ job. All of us appreciate that timelines sometimes need to be moved, but communicate that and follow through.
***I’ve been guilty. When we had a sudden death in the fall, I had people expecting edits. But I knew in my mental state they’d either get, “Wow, this is perfect!” or I’d crush their will to ever write again. It was better to just say, “Forgive me. I need to delay this until my head’s screwed on straight.***
Anyway, the little advice this “expert” gave my brother was precisely what I preach against non-stop. Automation. Posting to Facebook from Twitter, etc. You should have seen my brother’s face when I said, “So you’re basically spamming people.” And, no he hadn’t read my book. He’s my little brother and probably wanted to do this without Big Sister’s help.
That was until he had a train wreck on his hands, which I am, in my limited free time, undoing gratis. *head desk* And now that he’s seen the WANA way, he’s enjoying social media a lot more and his small business platform is growing healthier by the day.
It’s SEO Not Magic
One thing many “consultants” have tried to sell my brother, many other small businesses and authors is a promise of SEO, that they can go into a web site and do all kinds of complicated technical things that will help dominate a search. I won’t say SEO isn’t important, but when we tool our SEO to the latest algorithm, we set ourselves up to have to do this over and over and over (which can become a money-eating black hole if we don’t happen to be SEO gurus).
Algorithms were initially thought to measure human behavior and preferences. But, the problem is that humans are super clever. They start juking the algorithm to gain advantage. Spammers do this all the time. But search engine companies and places like Amazon actively look for this behavior. They have teams of computer geeks who are on the hunt for those “gaming the system.” So does Facebook.
When enough people begin “gaming the system” and gain marked advantage? The computer people change the algorithm and *POOF*. Start over. To rely on SEO gaming is a formula to pull your hair out or go broke trying to keep up.
This was what drove me to create ways of building platforms that were not reliant on technology or algorithmic alchemy (that and I am lazy and not made of money). WANA methods work on any social media site. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, doesn’t matter. If these social sites go away (*cough* MySpace) and a new social site becomes hot? Your WANA platform will remain in tact and continue to grow.
You can dominate any search for your name, book, topic all on your own and with minimal effort. But, I am not in the business of doing your social media. I have zero interest in running other people’s social media. I don’t charge consulting fees to get “friends” for people or “maximize SEO” so I have a vested interest in making people self-sufficient.
Does this mean PR people and promotions are a waste of time? No. I believe they are PR people not magicians. We need to give them something to work with. Yet, writer beware. Know that much of what some companies sell for big bucks are things you can do yourself and for free (and do a lot better).
Knowledge is Power
If we are educated about what we can easily (and cheaply) do on our own, then we can 1) weed out people who just want to dazzle us with tech-speak and overwhelm us enough to shove cash in their faces 2) we can hold these companies accountable 3) we can gain a better idea of what we can’t do and can spend any promotion budget more wisely.
We can build a Twitter presence, but can we get an interview on NPR? Do we even need an interview on NPR?
Promotion Devoid of Connection is Pointless
One big complaint from authors is they feel their book isn’t doing well because of a lack of promotion. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Promotion (alone) never worked all that well.
Back when I began as a newbie writer, I had a conversation with one of the head editors for one of The Big Six. She was very honest about the ROI (Return on Investment) regarding promotion and advertising. She said the major houses did it, but ads had no impact on sales. She relayed a story about how her house had taken out a full-page ad for one of their business authors in The Wall Street Journal on the day the paper was most widely read.
Though the ad cost a small fortune, it didn’t make a dent in sales.
Today, the situation is far graver. We are inundated with advertising and most people just tune it out and have learned to un-see. In the Digital Age, the architecture of the human brain has changed to keep up with all the influx. This is why my newest book teaches how to be seen. What does a modern human brain ignore? What does it notice?
Would I love for you to buy my book? Sure. But I give away a lot of information for free so peruse the blog archives. My motive is to help writers. Simple.
Effort Devoid of Action = Failure
We could have the greatest SEO, but people have to be compelled to search in the first place. Even if people stumble across our site, they have to be compelled to click, to pursue and then to BUY. We can create the world’s most elaborate and expensive advertising campaign, but if this campaign doesn’t translate into action/sales it’s a failure.
I love it when PR people tout the awesomeness of Facebook ads. Yet, you should see their faces when my first question is, “Okay, what was the last thing you purchased solely because of a random ad in your FB sidebar?”
Can SEO work? Can ads and promotion create sales? YES…just not alone. Which is a bummer because it would be lovely to pay for some ads and then let the money hit like a tsunami. My goal here isn’t to discourage you, but to empower you. I am taking a wild guess here, but I imagine most of you aren’t trust fund babies writing for fun in between trips to The Riviera.
And if you are, will you adopt me? :D
WANA—Empowering Authors of the Digital Age
I understand most writers have limited time and income and I actually DO care about your success. I want you to use your resources in the best possible ways that can yield the greatest returns. Hire PR people, but know the best way to harness their resources. Spot an ally from a shill. Have realistic expectations from your publisher. Yes, they can promote, but there are activities we must do on our end to make those promotions effective.
Predators abound in the new paradigm. It is vital to be educated, which is why we are having WANACon (a virtual conference as close to the real conference experience without a holo-deck). WANACon will have top industry professionals from all forms of publishing. I also recruited agents and editors who are savvy to the new paradigm and who put authors FIRST. WANACon is here to keep you at the cutting edge of the changes at a price that’s affordable and all recordings are included with conference fee. Right now we have Early Bird Pricing. SIGN UP HERE.
TSA pat-downs are extra.
What are your thoughts? Have you been overwhelmed with the idea of having to promote? Unclear about what to ask or expect? Have you run the hamster-wheel of promotion only to end up half-dead?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Announcements: I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!
Also, this Saturday, I have a new class, Many Roads to Rome—Which Publishing Path is Best? Use WANA15 for 15% off.
advertising books, book promotion, does promotion sell books, effective book promotion, how to hire a PR expert, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, WANA
We talked about this earlier in the week, but when I first approached agents with the idea of a social media book for authors, I was nearly stoned. All readers want is a good book, was their cry. Yes, that was true before our world inalterably shifted with The Digital Age.
In 1993, we didn’t expect an instant reply to a phone call. In 1996, we knew to just go make a cup of coffee while we waited for our dial-up Internet to load a page, because we didn’t expect for a page to appear in a fraction of a second.
In 1999, we didn’t expect our cell phones (the few who owned them) to take brilliant pictures, play music and offer us high-speed access to the Internet so we could make reservations for dinner, buy movie tickets, or do some Christmas shopping while stranded at the doctor’s office.
These days? How quickly would you change Internet providers if you could only open one screen and it took 3-5 minutes to load?
The Difference Between Expectation and Desire
Readers expect a good book. They expect proper grammar, punctuation and formatting that doesn’t look like it was performed by a sloth with a severe Valium addiction. These are basic, fundamental expectations…and they no longer impress people all that much.
Give you an example. I took my niece to a very expensive fine-dining establishment for her graduation. I saved the money to give her a treat. I’d chosen this restaurant because it was the one place Hubby and I would go to celebrate big events, like our wedding anniversaries.
Because, the first time we went there, we were greeted as if we were the most important people in the world. Instead of working middle class, we were A-Listers. A hostess guided us to a candle-lit table scattered with fresh rose petals and an artful bouquet of flowers. There was a card telling us Happy Anniversary and it was signed by all the staff who told us how grateful they were we’d chosen their establishment.
I am not a fan of seafood, but decided to give it a try. Everything they served had been swimming in an ocean 24 hours earlier and was fast-tracked to Central Texas. I never knew fish could actually taste soooo good, namely because all I’d ever been served was frozen mush that tasted like a freezer.
The waiter tended our every need. When I mentioned I had food allergies, the head chef came out to the table and worked out a special dish just for me. At the end of our meal? The staff arrived with free desserts for both of us. The chef had personally crafted one for me to accommodate all my allergies.
Every time after, the staff of this restaurant treated us as if we were the most special people on the planet. I was a DIE-HARD FAN and we rarely eat out. When we did? This was the only choice, the ONLY place I wanted to eat. And we had to plan, not only because the place was pricey, but it was tough to get reservations if one didn’t do it far in advance.
It’s May of 2013 and I call for reservations at my all-time-favorite restaurant to celebrate my niece’s graduation (she’d won a scholarship to study abroad for the summer). I told the reservationist how important this event was. My niece has grown up in a family where Golden Corral was about as fancy as dining ever got. I wanted it to be perfect. I spent days telling my niece how amazing this place was.
We arrive and the first thing the hostess says is, “Where do you want to sit?” and points to an empty dining room. No table. Nothing prepared. Every time I asked anyone a question, the answer was, “I don’t know. I haven’t worked here that long.” The table is set with chipped bread dishes and dirty glasses. I call over one of the staff and hand her my bread plate and say, “You guys might want to throw this away.”
“Why?” *blank stare*
“Because there is a chip and I don’t want food poisoning.”
When the waiter arrives, I explain in detail about my food allergies and order a dish that is simple. All they have to do is leave off the butter sauce. I tell my niece to order whatever she wants, it’s her special day. She orders the lobster, which was $90. Our food arrives and guess whose food is swimming in butter?
We had to sit and wait twenty minutes while the food was remade. No visit from the chef. No apologies from the manager.
In short, I was fuming by the end of the night (and mortified). $220 for a meal, and the service would have been better at Mexican Inn for $30.
See, when we first went to this restaurant, we expected clean glasses, plates that weren’t chipped, servers who could answer simple questions (or make an effort to find the answer), who could take basic instructions. We expected excellent food. That alone? We would have been happy. But the original restaurant gave us more than expectations, they gave us our DESIRES.
Meet expectations? We create customers. Meet DESIRES? We create a cult following.
We desired to feel special. We desired above and beyond…and they gave us what we desired. THAT was what made me willing to save for two months to go to THAT dining establishment.
How Does This Apply to Books?
Readers expect good stories, just like we expected clean glasses. But what do our readers desire? The same thing we desired at the restaurant—to feel special, to connect, to have someone focus on us for a change.
This is why social media is such a game-changer. When we blog, we serve others. We have books to write. We don’t have to blog, but we’re going the extra mile to inform, connect, engage and entertain. Readers are expecting to be spammed by authors, yet they desire to know them and connect with them.
The writer who automates pre-programmed tweets and never talks to anyone, is like that restaurant who thought they could keep business by simply having a fancy menu and doing the bare minimum (and not all that well). I would venture to say the empty dining room should have been my first warning to RUN!
When we give others (readers or potential readers) what they desire, this is when we differentiate. There are scads of other social media experts who have books. Go to their Twitter and it takes a half a second to realize it is all pre-programmed, self-serving fluff. This is why if you see me on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else on social media? It is ME.
I don’t want to eat spam, so why would others? Yet, by looking inside, I know what I desire—meaning, connection, fun, engagement, recognition, and to feel someone cares. That is what I desire and I’m not any different than most of you or even the people who might buy my books (or even yours).
By serving people more than what they expect and, instead, seeking to give them what they desire, THAT is how die-hard, lifelong fans are made. A good book is what people expect, but search inside and ask, “What do readers desire? And what ways can I give that to them?”
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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Also, here is a list of WANA International classes and Christmas specials.
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 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
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.
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?
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. Thus, offering 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) .
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.
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?
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.
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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
effective social media for authors, effective social media for business, how to build an author platform, how to build an effective brand, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, standing out in a crowded marketplace, WANA, WANA International
Writing a stand-out novel involves a lot of individual pieces working together in perfect concert. If there’s no solid plot? Readers get confused, lost or bored. If the plot is great, but the characters are all one-dimensional paper dolls? No one cares. If we butcher grammar, spelling and formatting? It’s a formula for dismal sales or even a long line of one-star reviews from ticked off readers.
Hey, the world may think writing fiction is easy, but we all know differently ;).
One of the best ways to move plot forward with increasing momentum and to create living, breathing characters is by harnessing the power of dialogue. As an editor for twelve years, I can tell you dialogue is one of the single largest components of writing great fiction, and it’s the part that’s most often butchered. The story can be great, the setting, the prose?
….and then comes this clunky dialogue with characters talking in ways only seen on bad soap operas or movies highlighted/slayed by Rotten Tomatoes. I call it Soap Opera Dialogue or Days of Our Lives Dialogue. Why? Because soap operas never end….EVER. The dialogue is written in a way that a viewer can miss the past seven months of the show and still catch up, so there is a lot of coaching in the dialogue.
Good novels aren’t soap operas. Novels actually END.
This type of dialogue can also be called, As You, Know, Bob…Dialogue, which is what we’re going to address. And just so you know, Stephano was NOT killed by the ice cream truck. It was a ruse to fake his own death, and he’s actually partnered with Victor to embezzle funds from the charity, but you won’t find that out for another three years….
Here today to talk about how to write superlative dialogue is one of our outstanding WANA International Instructors, Marcy Kennedy. This gal knows her stuff, but if you want some reassurance, I strongly recommend checking out legendary screenwriter David Mamet’s Letter to the Writers of The Unit. (Caution: Strong Language. But, in fairness, writers who are paid to write for a major television show should have known better, and they tanked a good show with bad writing and deserved the butt-chewing).
Take it away, Marcy!…
Dialogue is a great way to convey information, but only if you do it correctly.
In Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell says the key to avoiding info dump dialogue is to remember that dialogue is always from one character to another. It can’t sound like you’re manipulating it (even though you are). It must always be what a character would naturally say.
Let me explain.
Dialogue written for the reader’s benefit feels unnatural because you have characters say things they wouldn’t normally say or say them in a way that they wouldn’t (often using much more detail than any of us include when we talk).
Dialogue written for the characters fits the context, and is always from one character to another rather than from one character to the reader. It takes more work to achieve, but the result will be worth the effort.
Dialogue that’s written “to the reader” is often called “As You Know, Bob…” dialogue.
As the name suggests, “As You Know, Bob…” Syndrome is when one character tells another character something they already know. It’s done purely for the reader’s benefit, and it’s unnatural.
TIP: A character won’t say something the character they’re talking to already knows.
Example: A husband won’t say to his wife, “When we bought this house two years ago, we emptied our savings for a down payment. We don’t have anything left.” The wife already knows when the house was purchased. She knows they emptied their savings. She also knows they haven’t been able to replace those savings yet.
Her husband has no reason to say any of that.
Info-dumps won’t always be this obvious, but if you could add “as you know” to the front of whatever’s being said? Time to re-write.
TIP: If it’s common knowledge, it won’t come up in conversation.
Example: Let’s say you have two sisters meeting to go out for lunch. One shows up at the other’s door.
Susie knocked on the kitchen door and waved to her sister who was mopping away in an apron she never seemed to take off. Her sister glanced up and waved then dropped her mop back in the bucket.
She ran a gloved hand through her messy hair that had fallen out of a ponytail and she let Susie inside. “Come on in. I’m just cleaning up the muddy paw prints left by our pit-bull, Jasper.”
Though the prose is good, it’s common knowledge among the characters that her sister owns a pit-bull named Jasper, which makes an otherwise good piece of writing suddenly clunky. Her sister wouldn’t feel the need to state the name of the dog. That’s soap opera writing.
Susie’s sister would be more likely to say…
“Come in for a sec. Just have to clean up the mud the stupid dog tracked in again.”
Even essential information needs to be given in a natural way. So if knowing that their dog is a pit-bull named Jasper is essential to the story, you could write…
“A flash of fur tore across the freshly washed floor and threw itself at Susie for a petting, and she shoved the dog down. ‘Off, Jasper.’ The muddy pooch dropped onto his back for a belly rub, pink floppy tongue lolling out of his mouth.
Ellen rubbed her tired eyes. ‘Sorry about that, Sis. Did he get you dirty?’”
Susie shook her head and rubbed Jasper’s belly with her foot. A little mud never hurt anyone. ‘Any more trouble with the anti-pit-bull crowd at the park? Rick said someone threatened to call the cops last week.’”
TIP: A character won’t say something that isn’t relevant to the conversation.
“A hundred years ago when the dam was constructed, this town was built on the dried out flood plain. If the dam breaks, it’ll wipe out the whole place.”
Did you catch the sneaky insertion of backstory in adding a hundred years ago? What regular person would actually say that? Who would care how long ago the dam was built when the real issue is whether or not the town is about to be destroyed?
Want to learn more about writing great dialogue?
On Saturday, December 7, I’ll be teaching a 90-minute webinar called Say What? Techniques for Making Your Dialogue Shine. I’ll cover the seven most common mistakes when it comes to dialogue and how to fix them, explain how to ensure your dialogue makes your story stronger, show you how to create dialogue unique to your characters, and answer some of the most frustrating questions about dialogue such as how to handle dialect, should we use contractions in historical novels, science fiction, and fantasy, and is it okay to begin a book with dialogue.
If you can’t make it at the time it’s scheduled but still want to attend, sign up anyway. The webinar will be recorded and sent to all registrants. Click here to register!
NOTE: WANA Mama (moi) has created a special page for classes and specials. Just click the new tab or go HERE.
All registrants also receive an ebook copy of the latest book in my Busy Writer’s Guides Series—How to Write Dialogue.
Do you struggle with “As You Know, Bob…” Syndrome? Are there movies that have driven you nutso with this kind of dialogue?
About Marcy Kennedy:
Marcy is a suspense and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance editor and teaches classes on craft and social media through WANA International. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books, including Strong Female Characters and How to Write Faster. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth on her web site.
common mistakes in writing dialogue, how to sell more books, how to write great books, how to write great dialogue, Kristen Lamb, Marcy Kennedy, WANA, WANA International, WANA International craft classes, writing tips
Life has many irrefutable truths. One? We get out of life what we put into it. We will get out of our writing what we invest. We cannot expect large returns from a social media platform if we rely on robots (automation) and connect randomly and half-heartedly. Social media is about relationships and being fair-weather friends has limited effectiveness.
Sure, there are flukes, people who run face-first into blind luck. But, one thing I’ve learned is the harder (and smarter) I work, the “luckier” I get ;).
When we take hold of a dream, we are assigned a sort of spiritual plot of land. Depending on the dream will depend on the plot. If we want to grow fresh peaches for our family, we don’t need a thousand acres. But, if we wish to make a living as a peach grower? We’ll have much more land and work ahead.
Same with writing. If our goal is to publish a memoir to hand down to our children, this is a different “plot” than if we desire to be a NY Times best-selling authors.
Some land is more fertile than others. If we grew up as children of famous authors, surrounded by other successful writers, then we have a reasonable head start. We “inherited” a grove and aren’t starting from scratch. Most of us are not so fortunate, so we need to start preparing our “land” early.
The Early Years
This is when we get our land and realize there are a ton of weeds, crappy soil and a zillion dead trees and trunks that need to be removed. There might even be some junk cars, scrap metal and old toilets that need to be hauled away. We need to form new habits. We need education, training and practice. We need to learn about branding and start building our platform.
When I left paper sales and decided to become a writer, I needed to learn the craft. I had bad habits. I put myself last on the list because writing wasn’t a “real job.” The early years is a lot of clearing away insecurity, fear, and even laziness. We learn to write even when we don’t “feel” like it and come to understand that simply showing up is a bigger deal than most people realize.
This is when we start planting. We’ve cleared the fields and added missing nutrients to the soil. We put our butts in the seat and blogged even if the only comments we get are from the BuyCalvinKleinCheap sites:
“I so lick you’re blog. It changed my bruther’s life and bookmarking now.”
Blogging trains us to keep a professional pace. It trains us to show up and not be too dependent on others. Sure, it’s fun blogging now that I get 95 comments, but there were years I blogged to the ether. I didn’t do it for others. I did it for ME, to train me.
Blogging is also the most resilient form of social media and one of the best investments of time when it comes to ROI (return on investment). No search engine will direct people to your witty tweet or clever Facebook post. Search engines WILL, however, start sending readers to your blog (if done properly). Also blogs can be harvested for books and promotion (and if you want to know how, my new book gives a step-by-step plan).
Sowing also involves research, plotting, writing, finishing then revising the book.
The Silent Years
After we’ve planted a lot of good stuff, it’s easy to get discouraged. We don’t plant a peach pit and a week later have a ten-foot-tall tree raining yummy peaches all over the ground. In fact, for a loooooong time, it will look like nothing is happening. It’s because that peach pit is germinating and putting down deep roots before much appears above the surface where we can see results.
We need deep roots to make it in this business, because high-winds and storms don’t stop because we want to write books (as I talked about in yesterday’s post). Did you know that the root system of any tree needs to be as wide if not wider than the span of the branches? What is below (unseen) must match (or even outmatch) what is above, or the tree will fall over and die with the first bad storm.
The Silent Years can be brutal and this is why most writers don’t make it. This is when we suffer a lot of angst. When people ask us what we do and we say we’re writers, we get replies like, “No, I meant what is your real job” or “Really? Where can I buy your book?” We must learn to brush off any insecurity and criticism and simply appreciate we’re growing, preparing for greater things ahead.
This is tough in a world addicted to instant gratification and an over-reliance on luck. Too many people want fruits with no roots (thanks, Joyce Meyer).
If we keep pressing and don’t dig up our seeds to check if they really are growing (which is highly tempting), eventually we can reap what we’ve sown. Ah, but here is the catch. Back to my peach example. After a long wait and tender, patient care, we get a tree. YAY! Eventually, we see little tiny fruits popping out. AWESOME.
Not so fast.
The smart grower plucks off all the tiny green peaches. OH NO! Why? So the tree will bear more fruit and better fruit. For us? This could mean writing two or three bad books before we get a winner. It could mean multiple revisions. But, to gain more, we have to sacrifice.
Harvest and Maintenance
In the beginning, we have a lot of back-breaking work. But, if we are patient and consistent we can finally reach a maintenance phase. Once the grove of peach trees is producing, we keep fertilizing, tending, and harvesting.
An author platform is the same. In the beginning, we need to build traction. Yet, there will come a time when we can back off. We need to let the soil rest. We need to cycle in other crops. We need margin in life or we lose that creativity and passion that started us on our path to begin with.
Two Mistakes Writers Make
One writer wants everything instantly. This writer wants a thriving platform and big books sales too early, and maybe resorts to shortcuts. They spray chemicals on green immature peaches (blogs/books) and try to pass off bitter, tasteless content to consumers. Or they just jump into the market too soon.
The other writer overworks the grove and production eventually suffers.
I’ve been guilty of both mistakes. When I wrote my first social media book, I failed to build a platform ahead of time. My first royalty check was dismal and made me cry for three days. I needed to dig in and keep cultivating.
Now? I need more margin. I’m cutting this blog back to two days a week. I’d rather give you guys two fabulous blogs and more books, classes, WANACons and consulting.
Right now, I’m blogging because I love it. It’s fun. But there are better ways I can serve you and help you learn and grow. We can get so in a habit of doing something, we fail to see when we can (and need to) stop overworking.
And this is a tricky blog to write, because I want to tell you there are times for the back-breaking-put-all-you-have-into-it-work. There are no shortcuts and this isn’t offering excuses. The marketplace is glutted with books and without a platform, our odds of success are better with scratch-off tickets. But I also want to impart on you, that there is also a time to back away. We need balance to maintain. I will still be working my tail off, just in different areas ;).
So what about you guys? Are you guilty of living too much with your accelerator pressed to the floorboard? Do you struggle with knowing where and what to let go of? Do you put everyone and everything ahead of yourself and your writing and it’s making your “creative field” suffer?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of November, 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Also, for all your author brand and social media needs, I hope you will check out my new best-selling book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.
I will announce October’s winner next week.
I’m offering my First Five Pages Class November 14th 8-9:30. The first five pages of any novel are the most critical and I will teach you how to hook hard and early and also how to spot bigger problems in your novel.
I’m also offering my Antagonist Class. The antagonist is the beating heart of the story. If you can’t seem to finish a book or a book isn’t selling or is getting rejected, this class can help tremendously. There are also upgrades where I work with you one-on-one to repair or even create your plot.
It is estimated that the average American is exposed to about 3,000 advertising messages a day. Everywhere we go there is yet another ad—billboards, commercials, radio, train tunnels, e-mail, cereal boxes, mail boxes, and even on the golf holes and bathroom stalls.
We cannot escape being constantly pitched to no matter where we hide. How many times have we gone to the gym, just to come out and have sales flyers stuffed under our windshield wipers? Or tried to read e-mail, but had to wade through twenty junk e-mails all selling stuff?
The simple truth is that we are over-saturated with marketing, and it is making us sick. Those who continue to pour it on will not be regarded fondly. One tactic some “marketers” are using to get beyond our mental ad filters is to “make their approach personal,” but are they simply going too far?
Personal or Creepy?
First of all, marketing and advertising alone does NOT sell books and my new book explains why. This reality aside, whenever I teach writers how to use social media to build a platform, I frequently have to do some retraining due to just plain BAD advice. These social media experts teach tactics normally reserved for Amway salespeople and those with water filters, vitamins or time share for sale.
And we all just looooove those people, right?
There is no substitute for authentic interaction. There are no shortcuts, but that isn’t stopping a lot of writers from thinking that they can get something from others without having to give. Here are a list of my Top Five Panel-Van Creepy Social Media Tactics…
Creepy Tactic #1–The Twitter BFF-Bot
Please DO NOT set up an auto-response to thank someone for following you and then pitch to them.
I give kudos for effort but not so much for smarts. Let me get this straight. You cannot even be bothered to talk to me in person, but you want me to drop everything and read your blog, follow you on Facebook, or buy something from you?
Do I even need to spend more time on this?
Creepy Tactic #2—The FB Fan Group Rufie
Please do not add people to your fan group unless you know them, have talked to them, or have asked permission. We don’t like our Facebook page being rufied into consenting to be a fan against its will. At least be a little classy and buy it a digital drink first and tell it that it’s pretty.
I am constantly logging on to Facebook just to realize that I am now somehow a member of a fan group for an author who I don’t know and who’s never even bothered to say “hello.” I don’t care if you are giving away free books, iPhones or puppies. This tactic is rude, unprofessional and just plain ookey.
Creepy Tactic #3–The Search Tool Cyberstalk
I know Twitter has that nifty magnifying glass that allows us to search key terms, but misuse this tool and it can get us banned from Twitter. The search tool is to help us locate people who share common interests or who are talking about a given topic.
For instance, if I LOVE sports, puppies, knitting, skydiving, or puppies that skydive, I can use the search tool to find tweets that mention those key words. This helps me find relevant links, locate hash tag conversations (#puppiesinthesky), or simply talk to and connect with people of similar interests.
This is NOT a tool to cyberstalk others. DO NOT use this tool to find people to pitch your book to.
If I tweet I swear toddlers are little psychic vampires. The Spawn is still going. How many days until school starts?
I DO NOT WANT a reply tweet that says: Hey, I see you love vampires! Mine don’t sparkle, but today they are FREE!!!
Cyberstalking will not make a person on Twitter love us or our book. In fact, it has about the same success rate as real stalking. It is creepy and grounds for a restraining order.
Creepy Tool #4—The Sock Puppet Tweeter
If you don’t want to tweet, then don’t. And if you are going to automate messages selling your book, don’t also automate messages to look like you are actually talking to people on Twitter. We know it’s fake and it’s insulting. Also, it can bite back BIG TIME and tank an author brand faster than one can say “poor taste.”
Three words: BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING.
Creepy Tool #5—Fan Page Manipulation
If you like someone, great. “Like” their fan page. DO NOT “like” someone’s page as a ploy to get them to return the favor. We don’t like manipulation in real life from the people we know and love and we really don’t like it from people we don’t know from a hole in the ground.
Yes, social media is social, and people will often respond in kind out of relationship reciprocity, but we need to initiate the reciprocity. We don’t need an e-mail saying things like, Hey, I liked your author page. Why didn’t you like me back?
This is Facebook, not high school.
I know that you guys are trying hard to be responsible, and that’s why I try to approach social media with a bit of humor. If you have made some of these mistakes, I get that there are a lot of “experts” teaching you that these behaviors are okay.
They aren’t. Stop it!
Okay, that’s settled :D.
What are some other creepy tactics you’ve seen on social media? What makes your skin crawl? Am I completely wrong and not seeing the value of these tactics? What are your thoughts? Opinions? Has your Facebook page been rufied? Does it cry and have trust issues? Are you tired of being pitched to even when you go to the bathroom?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of September, 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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
WANACon now has Day One and Day Two for sale separately so you can choose if you only can fit part of the conference. And you get $10 off through this weekend, so $89 instead of $99. And PajamaCon is included as well as free recording for the day you attend.
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–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton.
Get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE for $149 and all recordings for anything you miss or need to hear again. Sign up today, because seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.
- Losing Robin Williams—The Dark Side of Those Who Make Us Laugh
- The Kiss that Nearly Killed Me–Why Peanut Allergies are DEAD Serious
- Making Writing a Priority & When Helping is Hurting
- To Win We Must Lose—Sacrifice, Boundaries & Reaching Our Dreams
- The War on Fun—How Modern Culture is KILLING Creativity
- Reduce Stress, Increase Joy & Productivity—Why Is Simple So HARD?