Posts Tagged indie

Bracing for Impact–The Future of Big Publishing in the New Paradigm

Have you ever witnessed a car accident? Have you ever seen the accident coming before it even happened? I have. I recall being on a road trip to Florida and we hit a terrible rainstorm. The flooding was so bad that all the cars were slowing down to maybe ten miles an hour so as not to hydroplane. I recall a bright red pickup went flying past doing at least 70. I remember screaming at this driver that he was crazy and he was going to get someone…

…and then I saw it.

The world suddenly sharpened and time seemed to slow down. Far up ahead, I saw a small compact car change lanes into the truck’s path, but I was powerless to stop what I knew would happen next.

Impact.

Two people died.

Yet, despite hundreds of thousands of collisions, we see this time and time and time again. People on cell phones while driving, texting while driving, drinking and driving and doing all the things WE ALL KNOW are gambling with life. Why do they do it? Because they think that they will be the exception even though others have tried and died.

History repeats itself because we fail to listen.

So why am I talking about this? I am frustrated. Publishing has had at least seven years to make a better game plan. It has seen the music industry AND the film industry get turned upside down, gutted, then parted out. Why, then have they failed to innovate?

You can’t do this! You are going to CRASH! 

Quick History Lesson

The music industry, in my POV, has a little bit of an excuse only because it was one of the first industries to be hit by the digital tsunami. They saw it coming, too, but instead of anticipating change? Their plan was to pretend nothing would change and prop up the idea that, “People will always want to go to music stores and buy CDs.”

And it was this thinking that allowed iTunes to kick their tails.

Was change all bad?

For some change sucked…a LOT. But, the music industry was grossly wasteful. It failed to understand that the consumer–the music lover–was really who they needed to be pleasing all along. The industry made a bad business call; they supported the record store over the music lover and it HURT, and you know what? It should have hurt them. We should not reward waste.

Digital didn’t implode music; it liberated artists from waste, neglect, and stagnation.

We won’t even start on the film industry. Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy last month, so I think that sums things up.

So now we get to publishing.

I love New York. I love traditional publishing and always dreamed that one day I’d see a Big Six Publisher on the spine of my book. Still do sometimes. But when we love someone we are honest and we understand that excellence begins with honesty.

The truth will set us free. We cannot change and make a plan if we fail to accept reality. Whining is not a plan and complaining is not a strategy.

The Problem in Publishing

What has me on such a tear? Blame Porter Anderson and his AWESOME Writing on the Ether where I found THIS little nugget:

The Author’s Guild post, Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory. Some key lines stood out to me.

For book publishers, the relevant market isn’t readers (direct sales are few), but booksellers, and Amazon has firm control of bookselling’s online future as it works to undermine bookselling’s remaining brick-and-mortar infrastructure.

Translation?

Whaaaaaahhhhh. Amazon is being a big meanie and isn’t playing fair.

Am I the only one who sees something wrong with their statement? Readers aren’t relevant? Um, maybe why Amazon is kicking so much @$$ is simply because it understands that the only thing that is relevant and ever has been relevant is the reader.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of monopolies at all. In fact, I am screaming and yelling and trying to get NY to make a plan because I want them to become competitive in the new paradigm. In fact, I have been yelling for FOUR YEARS and trying to get NY to listen, while agents continued to tell writers that social media wasn’t all that important and that readers would always want printed books.

A YEAR ago, I laid out a plan on this blog for NY to harness its strengths and recover. I even e-mailed the blog to Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers and to some agents in NY…and no response, unless one counts the form letter from Michael Hyatt’s personal assistant blowing me off.

Hey, can’t say I didn’t try.

I have wanted NY to pull its head out of the sand, and you know what? I still do. Competition is good. It keeps a market healthy. I want NY to avoid the fate of the music industry and the film industry, but I have been shouting for four years and now time is running out.

We are watching an entire industry capsize because we are…trying to save Barnes & Noble? The indie bookstore?

And the band played on…

People will always love CDs paper books and want to browse in music stores bookstores.

News Flash–Um, the music industry was in the music business and their job was to get music to people who liked to listen to music. They were in the music business, not the record business or the CD business.

Publishing, you guys are in the story and information business, not the book business. Your job is to get information (NF) and stories (Fiction) to readers who dig information and stories….regardless of format. Kinko’s is in the printing business. YOU are in the information/story business.

Hanging onto the print paradigm is like ordering another drink as the Titanic sinks.

It gets better…

Established authors, for the most part, do fine selling through online bookstores. It’s new authors who lose out if browsing in bookstores becomes a thing of the past. 

Browsing Roulette is the marketing plan for new writers.

Oh…dear.

I have been teaching how to build an on-line author platform capable of driving sales for YEARS. WANA has helped create some tremendously successful indie authors. Heck, how do you think Bob Mayer started out on social media? Remember him? The guy who’s selling thousands of books a day? Why not look to see who taught him social media and maybe see if she could help your writers, too? Bob thought it was a good idea.

In fact, WDW Publishing even offered an discount so agents and editors could order WANA in bulk at a discounted price to help ramp up their authors on social media. Guess how many orders we’ve filled?

To my knowledge? Zero. To quote Jerry Maguire, “Help ME, help YOU.”

WANA methods have continued to produce success after success. WANA methods are responsible for selling hundreds of thousands of books for ALL kinds of authors. WANA isn’t just a concept, it’s a movement. We are The Love Revolution, baby. Yet, instead of NY embracing social media or even WANA, browsing is NY’s marketing plan to help new talent get discovered.

*head desk*

The Trouble with the Browsing Plan

Last I checked, a book’s position in a bookstore was real estate negotiated by an agent, so here’s the hard truth. New writers? Forget about your books being in airports, first of all. Oh, and we can also forget about being at the front of the store. That’s for VIPs only. And the tables? Yeah, don’t count on being there either.

Most likely, new writers, you will be spine out on a shelf. Sure hope your last name begins with a letter the puts you at eye level or you are screwed in trouble. And we wonder why the failure rate for first-time novelists is so staggering.

But the Browsing Plan looked so promising.

Time for Tough Love

I know some might feel I am being mean, but nothing can be further from the truth. I LOVE bookstores. I grew up in them. But when we prop up inefficiency, we stymie creativity.

Artists have had to innovate and get creative. NY hasn’t propped up failing authors out of misguided sentimentality. Why do bookstores get a pass? But, since I do not believe in criticizing without offering solutions, here are some ideas.

Solutions for Big Publishing

The Big Six are hurting because of Amazon. Fine. But instead of whining and adopting strategies like “agency pricing” why not learn? After all that has happened in the past ten years, I have to ask the hard question. Why doesn’t the Big Six have their own e-publishing divisions? WHY, WHY, WHY?

Let’s Get Creative, Folks!

An e-publishing division could get books to market far faster. This way, when a regime crumbles, a candidate is elected or a natural disaster strikes, you can sell LOTS of books while people still care. You can take advantage of trends (like, um vampires) while they are still hot instead of gambling that you can predict the next craze or waste time chasing your losses.

In a world addicted to instant gratification, one and two-year lead-times are DEATH.

The New Kids on the Block

New York, if you guys had an e-division, you could take on new untested writers that agents deliver with very little risk. If a new writer sells so many e-books, she earns a print deal and can earn a spot in a…bookstore. Publishers don’t waste paper printing books that don’t sell and bookstores don’t waste shelf space on…books that don’t sell.

Now you have a system that rewards talent and hard work and you can afford higher royalty rates. Agents and writers are happy. Yay! More authors get a shot at proving their book is what readers want, and readers can feel secure buying your books because they trust traditional publishing for quality. Now you guys are doing your real business which isn’t printing, but, rather, finding talented teachers, inspirers and storytellers and connecting them to eager audiences.

In my opinion, there is no reason that the Big Six publishers can’t use e-publishing for vetting out new authors. How many books can a B&N shelve anyway? Let B&N keep carrying the bigger name authors and a handful of other hot authors/books in printed form. They need room for all their Nook displays anyway.

But what do the bookstores do?

There is no reason that a B&N clerk can’t be there to help guide a new Nook owner through a touch-screen to check out the latest e-published titles, too. Come on! Use some imagination! Just need to step up and embrace the service industry. Ten years ago y’all were whining that people didn’t read and now that they do? No whining.

You’ve already invested in the Nook, so why not partner with NY and invest in better POD technology? Customers can browse digital touch-screens and, if customers want a paper copy? They can have one. Swipe a credit card and hit “print.” Offer them a free cup of coffee and then they can pick up their POD book when they’re ready to check out.

Indie Bookstores! Want to Thrive in the New Paradigm? There’s an App for That…

Independent bookstores can find new life in the digital age. Why? Because we still dig nostalgia. In a world where everything changes, it is comforting that some things remain. But passive selling is no longer enough. You guys need could use a little imagination, too.

Indie bookstores could still carry titles of big authors that we all know will sell loads of hard copies. None of us worried that the last Harry Potter books would go to waste. But indie stores could embrace technology for greater advantage.

Technology is getting cheap enough that you guys could also have a touch screen where customers could order digital titles straight from your store. NY Publishing could give you an app to help customers order directly from their digital imprint (and you get sales credit).

Another benefit is that the program could be designed to capture customer information so that you (the store) and publishers can glean a clearer idea of who is buying and why. Oh, and you can probably also talk customers into parting with an e-mail address so you can keep them posted on the latest and greatest releases in both print and digital.

There are half a dozen computer geeks that could even design you your own app. How many readers would looooove a Book and Candle Indie Bookstore app on their iPhone? From that app, they get customized recommendations on what books to buy and can order straight from their phone, only you get sales credit from NY.

If you can’t compete with B&N on price, compete with service.

Sure, customers might pay a little more for an e-book using their indie app, but they get to feel all warm and fuzzy knowing that their purchases are supporting their local indie bookstore AND they are getting recommendations from a bookstore they TRUST. Your opinions and knowledge of books become a service people are willing to pay extra to use.

Be innovative! I know you can do it!

Booksellers still provide a valuable service in a world of 99 cent bargains.

Most booksellers are avid readers and can help drive sales. Just offer customers an incentive to order from YOUR kiosk or YOUR app, so you make money. Maybe we get free cups of coffee or free e-books if we order from inside your store from your POS system.

Working Together

Oh and NY? You can help booksellers out by offering incentives for pushing sales of new authors and digital titles. Since waste will be minimized, you can afford to offer financial reward for helping move titles in the digital lines.

Now the authors win. Because waste is minimized, we can earn higher royalties. Booksellers win because they can keep selling the same books they have always sold while minimizing waste and overhead and they can tap into the digital sales, too.

Publishers? You get to streamline and authors who write good books will sell lots of books and those who don’t? They still won’t sell books, only the losses will be a heck of a lot less. And, because the risk is diminished, you can afford to take risks on new authors and more authors.

Also, since you will no longer be bound by physical shelf space, you can now represent authors who have great stories that might not fit cleanly in a single genre. You can also now make money off types of writing that were, before in the print paradigm, a suicide investment. Poetry, novellas, short-stories and screenplays can now earn money.

Everyone wins. Heck if you want more ideas, check out this post from last year or better yet? E-mail me. Kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

At the end of the day, I love writers. I love publishers and bookstores. I love NY! But propping up inefficient systems, denying inevitable change and complaining only keep us from working on creative solutions.

We have watched the music industry crash, the photo industry and even the film industry. They failed to properly anticipate the markets of the future and they paid for their poor foresight. They had to reinvent from the ashes.

Traditional publishing is an institution and it does bring a unique value to the industry, but that alone is no longer enough. Amazon is looming and the future is now, so this is the multi-billion dollar question. Is big publishing going to race down that same road and crash, thinking it is the special exception? Or will they choose to learn from the past and work on creating a brighter future?

Oh, and NY? I am offering help. Seriously, e-mail me and we can work on creating some solutions. I believe you have a wonderful place in the future paradigm, but we need to stop strategizing from fear and begin using your imagination :D.

So readers! What are your opinions, thoughts, suggestions? The paradigm is changing so quickly most of us can’t keep up. Is this thrilling for you or terrifying? How have you dealt with the changes? Where do you struggle? How do you think NY can become more responsive in an age of instant gratification?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Trolls, Sockpuppets and Cyberbullies by the amazing Anne R. Allen

Amazon Will Destroy You by Joe Konrath

Love the Life Givers by Ingrid Schaffenburg

Write Heart-Pounding Visceral Responses by Margie Lawson over at Jenny Hansen’s More Cowbell Blog

Why Romances are a Valid & Important Piece of Literature by my FAVE Jody Hedlund

Learn to Love the Pitch by Sarah Pinneo over at one of my favorite places Writer Unboxed

10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to Any E-Publishing Service over at Jane Friedman’s blog.

Really sweet blog over at Richard Monroe’s Blog A Little Girl’s Love

Oh and I just LOVE Gene Lempp’s blog. He has a neat post Designing from Bones–Demons, Daemons and Dramatic Struggle

A new fave? Came from #MyWANA of course! Jen J. Danna has a killer forensics blog. The post that caught my interest is about how to use bones to determine a victim’s age.

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196 Comments

What’s the Problem with FREE?

FREE! is so powerful few of us can resist. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that FREE! is what gave the indie and self-publishing movement the traction to become the wide-sweeping change we see today. FREE! finally leveled the playing field between the traditional and the non-traditional industries. So if FREE! is so awesome, what’s the problem?

More about that in a moment.

A Brief History of Zero

The concept of Zero hasn’t always been around. Zero was invented by the Babylonians, then debated by the Greeks—How can something be nothing?—then finally paired up with the numeral one by the Indian scholar Pingala. Later it was adopted by the Romans. In fact, there is some debate that the explosion of the Roman Empire was due, in part to the adoption of Zero. Roman numerals could only count so high, so it limited expansion.

And boy are we glad that the ancient Romans were a greedy lot. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to give a cute member of the opposite sex our phone number if the numbering system hadn’t changed?

My number is VII I VIIII…Crap! Hold on. That was VII I IX….

Back to my point. Once there was a notion of Zero in context with a decimal system, Zero was here to stay. It swept the ancient world like a primordial Beanie Baby fad and stuck around until finally a little place called Silicon Valley took Zero to a whole nutha’ level.

Did you know that there are 10 types of people in the world? Those who understand binary and those who don’t.

*drum, roll snare*

Yes, I’ll be here all week. Drinks are half price until five.

So let’s just say that Zero, on its own, already had it made. What could be better? Introducing the emotional equivalent of Zero we all know as FREE!

FREEE!!!! FREEEEE!!! How we love FREEEEEE!!!!

I see FREE! being used all the time, and I know how powerful this tool can be. FREE! has changed publishing as we know it.

A Brief History of FREE! in the World of Publishing

Not too long ago, if an author went any route other than traditional, it created a problem. The authors had to sell books that had not passed the gatekeepers of publishing (kinda bad juju) at an equal or higher price than a book that had (really bad juju). No easy feat.

As an example…

I had a family member who wrote a romance novel. This family member, so eager to feel validated as a writer by being published, “published” through Publish America. So, we had basically a book that content-wise was probably the equivalent of a $4.95 Harlequin…only it cost I kid you NOT $34…before shipping.

I never pay $34 for any book…even for family. A $34 book better have gold pages and a foot massage and…nope, still won’t drop that kind of money on a book.

Yet, here is the thing, who other than family would pay that kind of money for ANY book?

I have no idea if my relative’s book was good or bad. I never bought it, so I never read it, but I can see how many self-published authors were in the same dilemma as my relative. It didn’t matter HOW good the content was because NO CONTENT was THAT good.

So, as you can see from my example, a lot of self-published authors faced a real conundrum. It was bad enough to be labeled as an inferior writer, but then to try and sell wares perceived as less valuable at as much as a 200% higher price? Frankly, the game was over before it began.

To add another level of difficulty, many of these writers needed to recoup their investment. They simply didn’t have the luxury of discounting their books, let alone giving anything away for FREE!…so they were almost doomed from the start. Pricing alone was enough to keep them from ever being viewed as real literary players.

What happened?

So the digital revolution hit and with the increase in e-readers, suddenly self-pubbed or indie pubbed writers could use a new tool—FREE! Since an author didn’t have to pay any more for one e-book than he did for a thousand books (unlike paper books), pricing was no longer a problem. And, since traditional publishing sure wasn’t giving books away for free (yet), self-pubbers and indie pubbers soon did what all good entrepreneurs do. They capitalized on a vacuum in the market.

Fast-forward to Christmas of 2009.

The sale of iPads, Kindles and Nooks EXPLODED and people wanted “stuff” to put on their new shiny e-readers, but they only had so much money on the gift card, and traditional publishers weren’t giving THAT much of a discount on the electronic copies of their books. Indie and self-pubbed authors swept in with a solution. Try my book…for FREE!.

FREE was here to stay.

The Advantage of FREE!

FREE is enticing. Few things get our hearts hammering like the glorious word…FREE!. People can try our books for FREE! and risk losing nothing. What is the downside? When we get stuff for FREE!, there IS no downside to the decision and, no downside makes us humans feel all warm and fluffy.

We dig warm and fluffy.

FREE! is awesome when lots of people download our books. It makes us feel special. But beyond that?

FREE! has no power in the publishing world unless there is an impetus for consumers read then talk about our book so more books can be sold. Great, we give away 50 FREE! copies of our new book. If the books sit there unread in a bunch of Nooks and Kindles hanging out with the games we will never play, then we really didn’t gain anything. In fact, we likely lost more than we gained. FREE! can be a powerful sales tool, but we need to make sure we are employing it wisely.

The Trouble with FREE!

First of all, FREE! isn’t special when everyone is doing it.

My social media approach is very different from a lot of other experts. I believe that traditional marketing is an almost total waste of time and does little to drive book sales. Here is WHY.

The same negative effect can also happen with pricing. Oh, sure those first people who got the bright idea to offer a book for $1.99 or $2.99 or .99 cents hit a home run.

But what about those thousands who have followed suit?

When we are the only guy handing out FREE! books, then sure people line up around the block. But when every other indie or self-published author is offering FREE! downloads? It dilutes the allure of FREE!.

When FREE! has Lost its Luster

This is where social media and platform now become important. I feel that, in the face of zillions of FREE! books, people will then prioritize whose books they will read at all or even first. They will default to who they know and who they LIKE. Then if they enjoy the book, the impetus to talk, blog or review the book will greatly increase if there is a personal compulsion to act. Translation?

We’d do it for a friend.

We prioritize by reputation for quality and by relationship. We line up to download FREE! stuff from J.A.Konrath or Bob Mayer or even FREE! short stories from Vicki Hinzi or James Rollins. We might even download from friends or even writers whose blogs we love and trust for excellent content like Chuck Wendig or Tawna Fenske.

In the face of all this FREE! relationship sales matter.

Either we have a prior relationship with the product—I.e. J.A. Konrath’s many best-selling titles OR we have a personal relationship and we want to support this writer as a person. That is one of the reasons that the WANA teams are so POWERFUL. We connect to each other as people, so we go out of our way to offer support. FREE! has power because others care about the author.

Yes, Free! Can Hurt Us

FREE! actually does have the power to hurt. In the behavioral economics book Predictably Irrational—The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, MIT Professor Dan Ariely states:

The critical issue arises when getting FREE! becomes a struggle between a FREE item and another item—a struggle for which the presence of FREE! makes us make a bad decision. (page 52)

Remember earlier, the attraction of FREE! is most powerful when there is no chance of us making a bad decision. But what about this scenario?

We just finished reading the latest and greatest novel on our new Kindle Fire and decide that we want to download a new book. Lured in by FREE! we download a handful of titles that are being offered FREE! for a limited time. We don’t even bother with sample pages because, hey! They are all FREE!

Ah, but then we sit down in our limited FREE time and open the first book. The formatting looks like it was done by a blind wombat. The second book? It was clear by page five this writer had never met spell check, and was, from all appearances, highly allergic to proper grammar. The third? So many POVs we needed Dramamine to keep up with perspectives. The fourth?

Screw it.

By this point we are just going to go pay regular price for a book we can enjoy reading. Sure, the new publishing paradigm is awesome, but the downside is that what used to meet a slush pile is now being passed on to readers to sift through. Readers may or may not want to put out all that effort for a bargain.

When FREE! Transforms

See, FREE! makes an interesting transition in the world of publishing. If I grab a handful of FREE! Hershey’s Kisses at the chiropractor’s office over the .50 cent Lindt Truffles for sale at Walgreens, I still have a pleasant experience. But, if I download enough FREE! books and too many of them are a bad, time-wasting experience? Then FREE! has lost its luster and with it its power.

FREE! can hit a critical threshold where it is just…annoying.

For instance, I have a childhood friend who grew up to become a realtor. She has never sold me a piece of property but this didn’t stop her from sending me a FREE! magnet calendar. Now, the guy that sold us our house ALSO sent us a FREE calendar…along with every real estate agent in the DFW metroplex.

You guys know I am exaggerating, but you get what I am talking about.

I have a drawer full of FREE! that just annoys me every time I look at it. The Scottish part of me is too frugal to just toss a perfectly good calendar/stress ball/magnet/koozi but I am up to my eyes in FREE! stuff that just clogs up my drawer and my life.

See, I bet the first real estate agent that sent people a FREE! koozi got some business, but now that ALL of them send out this FREE! crap? We just default to the agent we know from church or the one we met at Rotary. The FREE! no longer is a consideration, but rather is a source of consternation. We default to who we know and who we like.

Among Other Down-Sides, Free! Can Make Us Seem Desperate

Back in the 90s, at the height of the dot.com explosion, every tech company was eager to hand out free shirts, free koozies, free notebooks, FREE! FREE! FREE! Yet, in the face of all this FREE! stuff, the company my at-the-time-fiance worked for took a very different approach. They offered nothing simply for FREE! and a weird thing happened.

People’s interest piqued.

Potential customers wanted to know why, when all the competition had all this FREE! stuff, did this company not follow suit? By NOT being like everyone else, this company stood apart because they offered nothing FREE!

Oooh, they don’t give out FREE! stuff so their product must be more valuable.

What’s the saying? Why buy the cow if we get the milk for FREE!? There is something to that. FREE! can be especially harmful if all we have is one title for sale or if we are at the low end of the Amazon ranking. Whether it is true or not, the subtext is too often–Oooh, she couldn’t get anyone to drop $5 for her book, so now she’s giving it away?

I see a lot of writers get very excited because Two hundred people downloaded my book! Okay, but unless that two hundred translates into more than two hundred actual sales, then we are actually in the red. FREE! must serve a long-term advantage or we are just handing away work that cost us blood, sweat and tears.

Just because we are artists, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paid for our work. I am dedicated to helping all of you realize your dreams, and part of that is teaching you how to get paid for your work.

So is FREE! ever good? Sure! There is a way to use the Power of FREE! for maximum advantage…and we will talk about that next week.

What are your thoughts? Have you had a wonderful experience offering FREE! books? Want to offer tips? Pointers? Do you download free books? Have you found some real gems? What are some problems you see with FREE!?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last Week’s Winner of 5-Page Critique is Kareen Yvette McCabe. Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com. Congratulations.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness

First, a FABU interview. James Rollins interviews Jon Land. Pop by and show some WANA support. This is a first for both of them.

Best-Seller Lists versus the Long Tail Really excellent post by NYTBSA Bob Mayer.

The Value of Publicity and The Myth of a Best-Seller by J.A.Konrath are both worth a look.

Kristin Nador has a wonderful series about blogging and this gal practices what she preaches. VERY useful series, so make sure you check it out.

My Life as a Three-Headed Chimera by Marcy Kennedy. WONDERFUL and POWERFUL blog about people-pleasing.

Have a hard time keeping up with all the blogs you love? The amazing Jenny Hansen has a post introducing us to Triberr. Yeah, I didn’t know what it was either but Jenny can help you out.

One of my favorite blogs is by the so-talented-and-also-pretty-I’d-stab-her-if-I-didn’t-like-her-so-much Tawna Fenske. Don’t Pet me I’m Writing is always a great place to perk up your day. This post on shampoo shopping? Too funny! And her fiction is truly wonderful. I HIGHLY recommend Making Waves.

Another author who makes me so jealous I could explode is truly talented and generous with her knowledge is Jody Hedlund. She has a wonderful post about How to Make Your Book Play out Like a Movie.

Jane Friedman has a fantastic post When You Need to Secure Permissions and while you are over at Jane’s MAKE SURE you check out Porter Anderson’s Writing on the Ether to keep up with the latest trends and changes and the best information available. Porter whittles down the web to the best, so this site is a HUGE time-saver.

Where there be dreams, there be dragons. Time to slay some beasties! Fabulous post by Ingrid Schaffenburg who is doing a wonderful series about dreams.

Do you call yourself a writer or an author? by Jami Gold.

Is Amazon guilty of predatory publishing? over at NPR

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Kung-Fu Writing–Taking on the Year of the Dragon

They were Kung-Fu Writing! Those geeks were fast as lighting! Adverbs a little bit frightening! Okay, I’ll stop. 2012 is the Year of the Dragon! Hiyah! *does really lame karate kick*. And yes, I screwed up and initially put Year of the Tiger. But was it really a goof? I think NOT. 2012 is gonna be WAY better…it’s the Year of the Dragon…infused with TIGER BLOOD (Thank you, Charlie Sheen for going crazy. Bailed my @$$ out of a major oops!)

Anyway, I have been a writer for many years and you learn by a lot of trial and error what tools are awesome and what are a total time-suck and waste of energy or money. For instance, the Universal Control???? TOTAL waste of money. It did NOT allow me to control the universe.

Anyway….

Many of you have made New Year’s Resolutions to:

  1. Take your dream to write seriously.
  2. Invest more energy, time, resources to becoming a professional writer.
  3. Finish your novel.
  4. Self-publish.
  5. Indie publish.
  6. Land an agent.
  7. Train howler monkeys to use nunchuks on anyone who interrupts your writing time.

All of these are awesome goals and, when it comes to the howler monkeys, just take it from me and skip trying to potty train them. A diaper will work and Season Three of Toddlers & Tiaras makes them highly aggressive, ergo better bodyguards.

I wanted to take some time to list books, tools, and other miscellaneous items that I think all writers need to be less likely to end up on a roof with a shotgun and a pan of brownies successful. These are all tools that have helped me grow tremendously in my profession, and I would like time to share them with you guys.

Best Books for Learning the Craft & Profession (in no particular order, cuz they ALL ROCK!)

Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

Hooked by Les Edgerton

Save the Cat by legendary screenwriter Blake Snyder

The Writer’s Journey–Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

Plot & Structure by Nationally Best-Selling Author James Scott Bell

Bullies, Bastards and Bitches by Jessica Morrell

Fire in the Fiction & Writing the Breakout Novel by Mega-Agent Donald Maass

Write It Forward–From Writer to Successful Author & The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by NYTBSA Bob Mayer

Social Media & Author Platform 

Yes, I am partial here, but my methods are fun and won’t make your head explode.

We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media to get you started.

Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer for when you’re ready to lose the Big Wheel and take on the Big Girl/Big Boy Bike and some training wheels.

Blogging to Build Your Author Brand Workshop in April for when you are ready to lose the training wheels for good. This class is limited to only 100 slots and this class fills up FAST.

Social Media for the 21st Century Author is to teach you guys about social media. What works? What doesn’t? What is a total time suck? What sites are essential and which ones can you ignore?

Favorite Conferences & Workshops

Anything offered over at Write It Forward is well worth your time and money. Many classes are taught by New York Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. There are all kinds of craft workshops and even a workshop to help you understand the new options in publishing. This class is designed to help you discern which publishing avenue might be the best fit for you and your work.

For those of you who write Historical Fiction, the amazing author Victoria Martinez will be teaching a course about How to Do Historical Research and Writing and Natalie Markey will be offering a class about How to Be a Mom and a Writer and Do It All….without using duct tape or shock collars. Who knew? *shrugs*

DFW Writers Workshop Conference 2012 I will be teaching three classes and MEGA-AUTHOR JAMES ROLLINS is the keynote speaker. I have been to quite a few conferences but this one is always my favorite. If you can’t go to any other conference, go to this one!

The Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention is a conference all writers must do at least once, even if you don’t write romance. The workshops and networking opportunities are almost unparalleled. Not only that, but those romance authors seriously know how to plan a party.

Essential Tools for Maintaining Health and Sanity

To keep your back and joints healthy, I cannot recommend Bikram Yoga enough. See if there is a studio in your area and try it out. For those of you in the DFW area, I go to Bikram Yoga of North Texas. Come hang out! Detox and prevent joint and back issues that are common to writers. (Or if you are like me and already have the joint and back issues, it helps A LOT!)

Yoga in general is AWESOME for writers. If you don’t have time or money to go to a studio, I recommend Rodney Yee on video (and pick up a copy of Joy Held’s Writer Wellness for more tips for being a healthy and balanced writer).

More MUST-HAVE Tools 

A Keurig Coffee Maker

I LOVE AND CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT MY…

KEURIG COFFEE MAKER

I love this little gadget. When I brewed coffee in a pot, I found I either had waste or ended up drinking too much coffee. If I happened to get engrossed in work, I could end up with old or burned coffee. No more! I can make my coffee by the cup so it is fresh every time. I can change my mind what kind of coffee I want.

Autumn Harvest? Donut Shop? Hmmmmm….maybe a nice French Roast or some of that Hippie Dippy Organic stuff I got from Sprouts. I can change my MIND, and, as a woman? That…is….awesome.

I can even switch to tea, hot chocolate or chai. The Keurig even makes ice drinks! Wheeeeeeeeeee! Huh? Too much caffeine? Why would you say…wheeeeeeeeee!!!!

The KINECT

Feel stiff or sore from sitting too long? Brain feel like silly-putty left in the sun? No more! I use my Kinect every two hours. I get up, turn it on and do a couple of fun obstacle courses that make me move and groove and get the blood back in my brains where is belongs. I like Kinect Adventures best for the purpose of getting the cobwebs out of the noggin. The only potential down-side is you do need to be self-disciplined enough to get back to work!

Kung Fu Fighting for Kung Fu Writing

If you want to have fun and get a great workout on your Kinect? Get Kung-Fu High-Impact. I laugh as hard as I fight. This game inserts you right into the plot of a bad Kung-Fu movie.

Want to do backflips on to rooftops? Be able to fight while flying? Want to shoot lightning from your fingertips? No problem! Be a star in your own Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon…if Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was seriously low budget and had monsters…and an out of shape hero wearing yoga pants and a scrunchee.

Thing is, play is good for all people, especially CREATIVE people. Kung-Fu High-Impact makes you feel like a kid and you get a great workout, too. I totally know I cannot discipline myself to do this during the workday, but it does make an awesome reward for a hard day’s work.

Next Must-Have Item?

The Nook

Okay, it doesn’t have to be a Nook, but I do recommend you get some form of e-reader. I LOVE my Nook. It is portable and I totally dig that I can change the font to giant old lady print. I am reading genres I had started to avoid, namely because of the teensy-tiny letters. *cough* High Fantasy.

Why do I prefer the Nook? I don’t know if I do, because I didn’t see any reason to own two e-readers. I like owning a Nook because it allows me to borrow books and lend books to other Nook owners. And also, most writers are broke. I think this is in large part because we buy WAY too many books. With e-readers, we can still compulsively purchase more books than we will ever have time to read…only now it is CHEAPER.

I can also download my manuscript onto my Nook so I can read for flow, and, since I am not at a computer, I can’t nit-pick my writing until it bleeds and yells.

Moi???

Yes, I am a nit-picker.

This makes up my list of cool stuff all writers should own. And, of course, the thirty-foot Slip and Slide and snow cone machine are just a given *rolls eyes*. So of course I didn’t mention those. What are some other writing essentials? Books, tools, inflatable farm animals, lava lamps, hallucinogenic leftover meatloaf, or anything else I might have missed?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

And 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Winner’s Circle

Winner of Last Month’s 15 Page Critique is Gloria Richard. Please send your 3750 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com (Yes, I am looking for a new assistant. Gigi got a promotion at her other job which is AWESOME…but I really kinda miss her).

Winner of Last Week’s 5 Page Critique is Lanette Kauten. Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com,

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!

See you next year!

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84 Comments

Why Writers Need a Platform

Today we are going to talk about platform. Platform, next to the actual writing, is simply THE most valuable asset we possess. Platform and content are the two things we control, and they are the largest determining factors as to whether or not we will have a successful writing career. Platforms offer us career stability and a foundation for a future.

What exactly IS platform?

So what is a platform? There are two sides to platform. First is the definition of our platform. What is unique about us or our writing that can be a determining factor in our content?

In Hollywood, the mantra is, “Give me the same…but different.” This should be our mantra in defining our platform. We need SOMETHING that defines us as a writer…but at the same time makes us stand out from all the others. Same but different.

Our platform definition is basically our image, and affects the way we will approach others. Think of it like how we dress. Do we approach people as the three-piece suit Power Point guy? All business and professional? Are we the D&D T-shirt video game guy, and we quote Blazing Saddles far more than is socially acceptable? Are we the seductive yet snarky diva who teaches about bringing out the inner muse? Defining platform goes a lot to adding to voice.

Just go read Bob Mayer’s blog…then pop over the Chuck Wendig. Both have amazing blogs, but very different voices and presentation. Both authors use their strong suits, and their personalities come screaming off the screen (in a good way).

I liken myself to Erma Bombeck meets technology. I strive to add a heavy dose of humor and common sense to all of my social media endeavors. I am using something unique to me; the ability to be funny…honed over 18 schools and countless Mean Girls whose sole mission in life was to make my life hell. Years of always being the new target kid developed in me a strong defense mechanism. I learned to be funny. Kind of like peeing on yourself so no one eats you.

In my Blogging to Build Your Author Brand on-line classes, I run participants through a series of exercises to help them define their unique platform. We peel back the layers of fear and the defense mechanisms to reveal the best of what each writer has to offer. Why be a bad copy when you can be an awesome and original YOU?

Defining our platform is like putting together blueprints for a building. Are we a Frank Lloyd Wright writer? A Tuscan villa writer? A post-modern industrial writer? A ranch-style writer? We need to know what we are constructing first.

Anyway, once we have defined our platform, then we go about building our platform. This can be a simple presence in a blog or on FB…or, if you read my book WANA, it is a complex layering of all the major sites worked into an intricate lattice that is designed to grow with your career and withstand upsets in the industry or on social media. The WANA Method maximizes time on social media.

Good Platforms are Solid and Can Withstand Major Shifts in Technology and Trends

All platforms are comprised of content and exposure. How much content are you putting out there? What kind of materials (content) are you using? Are you cheaping out? Cutting corners? Or are you constructing something built to last? Are you showing up daily on the job site? Or, are you adding to your structure only when the mood strikes?

One blog every quarter and tweets about the weather is not a lot of useful content. Content makes up the beams to construct the platform. If we are putting out 2-5 quality blogs a week, that is like laying down solid beams of hardwood. If we don’t blog and only play with farm animals on FB, think of that like building our platform with leftover Popsicle sticks. Yeah, there is something “wooden-ish” there, but it sure as heck ain’t load-bearing.

This is the point of all that we are doing when on social media. We are creating a load-bearing structure using content and relationships. This is the platform that will hold our reputations, our public images and our futures. Do we want that made out of beams of African Teak or cheap particle board? The better a platform is constructed, the better chance it can withstand a major change.

Case in point…

MySpace is dead. It decided to commit digital suicide two weeks after WANA released (feel free to ignore all ten pages that talk about MySpace). But this illustrates a good point about how my approach to social media is different. WANA methods focus on people, not gizmos.

At the time We Are Not Alone came out, I already had a HUGE presence on MySpace. But, because I had built my platform the way I teach you guys, I was able to keep most of my followers as tastes changed in favor of FB and Twitter. How? My platform was solid and founded on people, not technology. Technology changes, but people are timeless.

When MySpace went crazy, my platform remained intact. Members of my MySpace platform could easily find me on FB as they abandoned ship transitioned. And, the even better part was that I made enough of an impression that they WANTED to find me. That is awesome no matter how you look at it :D.

I teach you guys how to do the same. There is no guarantee that Facebook will be here next year. Twitter could turn cannibalistic and devour itself one tweep at a time. We don’t know where the technology goes or how it will change, but we DO know that people are awesome and they long to connect and be part of a community. This is the key reason that platforms created on technology are so high-maintenance and vulnerable to change (implosion). They are founded on shifting sands of gizmos, not the timeless nature of humans.

So now that you agree that platforms need to be built on relationships, let’s look a little closer. Platform gives us a number of advantages.

The Six Degrees of Separation

As society advances, we have more and more choices and are inundated with information. People tend to pull in to what and who they know. Actively participating on social media is like rolling dice. The more times you roll, the greater chances you have for being successful and opening that ONE door that changes your career forever.

Platform Gives Us Options

Too many writers are out there betting on that ONE thing to come through…an agent will represent them then NY will offer them a deal. Nothing wrong with that, but it can make us crazy in the meantime. To be blunt, an author with no social media presence and only a manuscript has limited options.

Yet, if we have a large platform, our options improve. We can indie publish or self-publish other works until an agent bites. We can take an unconventional path to publication. Four years ago, no agent would rep me. There was no market for a social media book. So, because I had a platform, I could indie publish with WDW Publishing. WANA (and probably divine intervention) landed me one of the top agents in the world.

Platforms Make Us Desirable

A strong platform gives us the luxury of being picky. Platform makes us the pretty girl that every guy wants to marry. We can stay single and break all their hearts if we want to, or we can settle down. But the best news is that we don’t have to settle for the first offer that comes our way.

Amanda Hocking, H.P. Mallory, and John Locke didn’t have to chase the first agent that smiled at them. They had a lot to offer any agent/publisher, so they were able to use their platforms (books and sales eventually are part of our platforms) to broker sweeter deals. Platforms can be viewed as a time suck, or they can be viewed as a way to improve our marketability. Writers have more power and control over their careers than ever before. Opportunity often comes wearing overalls; it’s why most people miss it.

What are some tactics you guys use to grow your platform? Any suggestions? Thoughts? What are your biggest challenges? Share!

And 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of November I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness

DeKloutifying by John Scalzi. HILARIOUS and YES!!!!

What NOT to Blog About by Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner

Learn to Fail Aggressively by Nationally Best-Selling Author James Scott Bell

Cool interview. Author Kait Nolan talks Werewolves

Enough Already! Self-Promotion Madness by Roni Loren

Why You Need Extra Eyes by Tawna Fenske

Make sure you check out Porter Anderson’s Writing on the Ether to keep up with the latest and greatest trends in publishing.

Also, Jane Friedman is an EXCELLENT resource for all writers, but especially the digital author.

Excellent article in the Wall Street Journal. Penguin Publishing launches a self-publishing division

In my “free time” I am running for Vice President of the Free World. Piper Bayard and I launch our blog tour over at More Cowbell because, seriously…the White House needs more cowbell.

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So You Think You Can ePublish?

“No one knew this boy had special powers. Little did the adults suspect he would change the world…after they changed his diaper.”

Happy Friday!!!! Today we have a real treat. Jen Talty, the better cuter half of Who Dares Wins Publishing, is here to share some exciting news about an upcoming workshop at Write It Forward. Self-publishing is EXPLODING and there are more opportunities than ever before to carve out some writing success. Yet, to quote The Incredibles, “When everyone is special, then no one is.”

There is a ton of competition now that the traditional gatekeepers no longer hold sole possession of the Keys to the Publishing Kingdom. There are so many options out there, and with more choices comes paralysis by analysis. Which option is the best fit for your work? How can you do everything and still have time to write? Is that even possible?

Let’s hand this over to Jen and she’ll explain more. Thanks so much, Jen, for being here!

***

Technology has opened many a new door for civilization. From trains, planes and automobiles, we are a society on the go. Now we’re a society on the go that brings our office AND our leisure activities in our pockets. We can stay connected to friends, family and our boss… while enjoying a good read at the beach while… on vacation… all from the comfort of our Droid, Blackberry, Tablet, iPhone, iPad, iTouch…and the list goes on.

Technology has made it self-publishing easier, and more complicated at the same time. Easier because the technology has given authors direct access to their readers. Distribution in the eBook world is not ruled by the Big 6, and therefore there the space between author and reader is much shorter. Add the incredible growth rate in the eBook market, it’s a great time to be a writer.

At Write It Forward we have a few basic concepts:

  • Writers produce the product
  • Readers consume the product
  • Everyone else is in between
  • Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way

In November, Bob and I will be teaching an on-line workshop regarding how to self-publish successfully. The course is designed to help anyone, from published authors with a backlist to the unpublished considering self-publishing. We will be giving you our collective experience in both traditional publishing, digital publishing and self-publishing.

This workshop will look closely at self-publishing distribution channels from what kind of file you will need to upload your eBook to various options you have in creating the files. We will also discuss all the various platforms such as Kindle, Nook, iBooks and Smashwords and what are the best strategies to getting your book up for sale.

We will discuss doing it yourself, outsourcing and team-building options. Authors have more options today than ever before, but the process can be overwhelming. While this is not a step-by-step technical class, the workshop is designed to give you enough information to make informed decisions on how to get your eBook on all formats possible.

We will also touch on various marketing tools we have used to help our business continue to grow.

We have over 20 years experience in traditional publishing, 5 years in ePublishing and 2 years with our own publishing company Who Dares Wins Publishing. Our unique experience is part of why we have been so successful in this new Wild West of publishing. We hope that by sharing all that we have learned, you too can have some of the great success that we have seen.

Instructor Bios

NY Times Bestselling Author Bob Mayer has over 50 books published.  He has sold over four million books and is in demand as a team-building, life-change, and leadership speaker and consultant for his Who Dares Wins:  The Green Beret Way concept which he translates into Write It Forward: a holistic program teaching writers how to be authors.  He is also the Co-Creator of Who Dares Wins Publishing, which does both eBooks and Print On Demand, so he has experience in both traditional and non-traditional publishing.

His books have hit the NY Times, Publishers Weekly, Wall Street Journal and numerous other bestseller lists.  His last release, The Jefferson Allegiance, was released independently and reached #2 overall in sales on Nook.

Bob has presented for over 1,000 organizations both in the United States and internationally, including keynote presentations, all day workshops, and multi-day seminars.  He has taught organizations ranging from Maui, to Whidbey Island, to San Diego State University, to the University of Georgia, to the Romance Writers of America National Convention, to Boston SWAT, the CIA, Fortune-500, Microsoft, the Royal Danish Navy Frogman Corps, Microsoft, Rotary, IT Teams in Silicon Valley and many others.  He has also served as a Visiting Writer for NILA MFA program in Creative Writing.  He has done interviews for the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Sports Illustrated, PBS, NPR, the Discovery Channel, the SyFy channel and local cable shows.  For more information see www.bobmayer.org.

Jennifer Talty co-created Who Dares Wins Publishing with NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer, and runs the technical side of the company. She is published in romance and teaches Creative Writing at various writing conferences across the country.

Jennifer Talty received a BS degree in Business Education with a concentration in Marketing and Sales from Nazareth College of Rochester.  She taught Business Applications at both the High School Level and in Continuing Education.  She was a co-leader of Distributed Education Clubs of America and worked with students in developing marketing, sales and public speaking skills.  After leaving the teaching profession she worked as product and sales trainer for various hardware and software companies such as 3Comm, HP and McAfee and was the regional merchandising representative for Buena Vista Entertainment.

Thank you so much for being here!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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24 Comments

Author Blogs–Solid Platform, Wrong Audience

Happy Friday!!!! Today I have a really special treat for you guys. I do have to say that I love being right, but sometimes it kinda sux being right…but then it goes back to being awesome that I am right. Confused? Okay, well I started a ton of controversy surrounding writer blogs with such posts as Sacred Cow-Tipping–Why Writers Blogging About Writing is Bad and More Sacred Cow-Tipping–Common Blogging Misconceptions.

We have big folks in publishing claiming that blogging is dead, that blogging is a waste of time and does nothing to drive book sales. Yet, I counter with, “What if blogging isn’t the problem? What if writers just don’t know how to blog?”

GASP!

I mean if I ran out and spent $2000 on a Mac computer and the promptly used it to swat mosquitos and then loudly proclaimed that Mac laptops were a waste of money, everyone would think I was a lunatic, right? Yet we have the hubris to believe that because we can string together sentences that we instantly have the know-how to write a blog that connects to thousands of readers in a way that creates loyalty and drives book sales??? Hey, I’m not judging. I learned this stuff by making all the mistakes.

Yet, we have this amazing tool–the blog–and think that with NO instruction, we can be successful. Can we? Sure. Are there better approaches that are more effective? YES!!!

Blogging isn’t dead, but blogging is an art and a skill that needs to be learned. It can be learned by trial and error (like me) or it can be learned by those who have made all the dumb mistakes and who are willing to share their knowledge (from me). It feels good to be right, but sometimes it can bum me out, too. Yet, the awesome part is that, if I am right and I offer instruction to writers who want to blog, then there is a path to success and that is great reason to get excited.

Today my pal Susan Bischoff-who is an amazing writer and very sweet/supportive person-is going to share her experience. A couple weeks ago, Susan courageously e-mailed me and asked if she could share her story so that other writers could learn from her mistake. I think that is awesome and very brave and adds one more reason I adore her.

Thanks, Susan for doing this….

***

Kristen’s recent post, The Secret to Selling Books Part I–Let’s Get Sticky, certainly got a lot of people talking. Part of what’s interesting to me about the post and the buzz it’s created is that, in a lot of ways, it’s the same thing Kristen’s been trying to tell us all along. This idea that writers talking to writers about writing is not optimal use of social media if you want to sell fiction is something that’s clear in her books We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media (a.k.a. the WANA Guide) and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.

So I wanted to talk about why, knowing and understanding Kristen’s advice regarding blogging to and for writers, I basically ignored her and did it anyway. More importantly, I wanted to give you a bit of case study about how that’s worked out for me.

Blog on topic…

From the time I read the WANA Guide, around the same time that I released my first novel, and I determined to get serious, to retake my neglected blog, to make an effort on Twitter, etc., I’ve experienced the frustration of not feeling like I had anything to talk about except writing. Kristen says to blog “on topic.” On something related to your book.

One suggestion she makes is to take the research you did for your book and write articles about that. If your fiction is set in a historical period, write articles about that period, about the clothes, food, events, technology, etc. People interested in that period will find you and may be interested in reading your fictional perspective. Write about ghosts? Then write about ghost hunters, paranormal science, ghost sightings, ghostly legends.

Even for those of us who don’t feel like we do much active research, like what we write comes purely out of our heads (Purely? Really? Not inspired by anything?) we could probably find something in the real world to tie in to our fiction.

I write about teens with superpowers. So I could write about comic book superheroes, superhero TV shows and cartoons, superhero movies, books about kids with abilities…

Yah. If had time to actually take that stuff in. And then analyze it for something to say besides ZOMG Squee! or Thor’s six-pack! :flail:. And then write about it in some way that makes it actually worth someone’s time to read about it.

Writing about writing is easy. It’s accessible to us. We think about it all the time. We discover things that are new to us, and we enjoy sharing those things with people who get it—the people we rarely meet in real life. Writing a writer blog is very gratifying.

In my case, I know that I didn’t see how I could maintain an “on topic” blog because I didn’t want to see it. I really wanted to keep doing what I was doing. And I see this from others all the time, in comments on Kristen’s posts and in what people say on their on blogs.

Just doing what came naturally…

It was very easy to convince myself that my writer blog was totally working for me. I was building a following on my blog. People were subscribing. I was selling a lot of books, in large part due to the Amazon machine. The way it works is that you hit a certain level of sales compared to everyone else, which causes you to achieve a rank, which causes you to hit their charts, which causes you to be easily seen by browsers, which increases your sales dramatically, which causes you to chart higher and more widely, which increases your sales even more, which means that some of those people are actually reading and some of those reading are actually reviewing, adding buzz and credibility to your visibility, getting you some more sales…

And where did I tell myself all of that started? In part, with all of my writer buddies. Every sale counts, and it doesn’t matter why someone bought the book, it still helped its rank.

  • I wrote a whole blog series about marketing ideas that helped me. It was very popular.
  • An article I wrote was published by a company which helps authors market. Many of those authors publish independently as I do.
  • Every time I wrote about a level of success I experienced, people who wanted so support independent publishing would say, “See, she’s sold more than 150 copies!”

And not only did those things send visitors to my blog, it did sell some books because the book itself was very inexpensive and people were curious about my writing. Some wanted to know how good a book has to be to sell like that (not like it was a huge seller) and some wanted to know if I was doing something so right that I was selling even a really crappy book. But they were all sales.

So I was writing about writing and catering to writers and I was doing just fine, thank you very much. I was being supportive and instructive. I was paying back and paying it forward, and getting all kinds of nice comments and blog love. I was building a blog and a solid blog following—something that I doubted I could accomplish. Yay!

When I realized it didn’t work…

So I went to publish my second book. Allegedly I had thousands of readers of the first book. But, uh-oh, I don’t know how to get in touch with them. Even though I offer a newsletter, only a few hundred people signed up for it. And what was really interesting to me about the newsletter, during the year in which I collected subscribers, was the fact that I didn’t know them. They were not the people who commented on my blog or talked to me on Twitter. They were people completely unfamiliar to me.

Oh, look! I think that may be a retroactive clue.

Okay, so I got ready to put the book out. I let everyone know on my blog. I asked for their help to spread the word. I wrote some extra good posts that brought in extra high traffic—posts aimed at writers and indie publishers.

The book went out. I let everyone know on social media. I posted links. My friends supported me with Twitter mentions, liking me on Facebook, carrying the badge for the new book on their blogs, writing whole blog posts mentioning the release. They were awesome. And they probably reached all the same people I reached because we have all the same followers.

Last time I put a book out, I had not built up my social media platform. If a writer friend promoted me, that message reached people I couldn’t reach. A year later, we’re all hooked up, linked in. Homogenized. I think people must get that on some level, which accounts for some of the scurrying about to find new friends and hobbies the wake of the “Sticky” post.

See, of all the people it was in my power to inform, only people who were fans of my books bought my second book. Right now I have a follower base who are fans of my writing/publishing advice.But that’s not what the book is about.

I neither want nor expect fans of the writing advice to buy my fiction if the content doesn’t interest them. I neither need nor expect pity or loyalty sales. The advice I gave, I gave for free. And I don’t regret giving it away in the slightest. I got a lot out of giving it, and that’s a big reason why I kept doing it, to the exclusion of focusing on my fiction/genre/topic stuff.

I built a writer blog. And that in itself is cool. In a financial sense, it would be cooler if I’d monetized my blog, if it carried ads. Then I’d get paid to build that following just for the sake of building it. In a marketing sense, it would be super cool if I also had books about writing or publishing to market. Then my blog would be selling my product. But my product is fiction.

Looking at my blog content as advertising, it’s like I wanted to sell jewelry and so I wrote about sports and ran the commercials on ESPN. Will I hit a few viewers who might be curious enough about me to look more deeply, a few who happen to like jewelry and then become my customers?

Maybe.

But in terms of ROI (return on investment), it is not the best use of my time and creative energy to maintain focus on a topic that has very little to do with my product. Nor to focus on a demographic that isn’t necessarily part of my target, a demographic with lots of book consumers, yes, but consumers who are over-saturated with book choices.

Solid platform, wrong crowd…

When I released my second book, I felt like I was standing on my platform, looking out over my sea of followers. People who respect me professionally or like me personally and care what I have to say about writing. People who have appreciated what I’ve been sharing with them as I’ve learned it. And there I was, ready to make my big announcement. And I said, “Hark, oh ye loyal followers, for now I have NEWS!”

And upon hearing the news, a few of them jumped up and gave me a squee, because a few of them actually like what I write. And some of them took the time to give me a grin and a thumb-up, and even a pat on the back, because they like me. But mostly they just went right back to talking to each other about writing like we always do.

Because we’re all writers. We’ve all got books coming out every week. Big deal.

Logical. Obvious. But I needed to have this experience for it to really hit home. To really understand what Kristen was saying. I had taken my evidence, my sales figures and my blog subscribers (and other social media numbers), and made them tell me something I wanted hear—that the writing about writing was really working for me. (Must be because I was just soooo good at it.)

(Please, girl.)

I want to continue to serve, to share what I learn, to be kind (and yeah, rack up some good karma). I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to do. But I need to understand that putting too much focus on that doesn’t serve what I say my goals are. That’s me becoming known as Susan: sweet, sensitive, and sometimes insightful writer girl. That’s not me developing a reputation as Susan: author of kick-ass teen paranormal romance.

If I focus on the writer persona to the exclusion or detriment of the author persona, for the sake of serving the writer community instead of my writing career…that seems a little martyrish.

So what now?

In terms of selling book 2, sales will come. I’m a good writer and it’s a solid piece of work. I just have to wait for a slow build that might have been faster if I’d been more linked in to my actual market.

And the platform?

I have a lot of thoughts. I mean, this element of what I did non-optimally is really only part of my recent mind-blowing epiphany. I think I have a better understanding of how I want to use my blog. One hundred topics for my blog that might actually sell my books? Nope. Don’t have those yet. A clue where I’m going to go to find my target demographic and how I’m going to reach out and interact with them without being spammy? Nope. I think I’m going to take Kristen’s upcoming workshop to try to figure it out. After all, it somehow seems like she’s always right.

***

THANK YOU SUSAN!!! And I really look forward to having you in class. For those reading, the class is still open but you need to sign up FAST. Class is about to start. It is $40 for TWO MONTHS. One month is for lessons and the other month is for launch. I help each participant create a brand that is special and unique and designed to connect to more than just writers. My goal is to help you connect to your future readers. 

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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56 Comments

Setting–Adding Dimension to Your Fiction

Social media is an amazing tool and it is a wonderful time to be a writer, but, I am going to point out the pink elephant in the room. We still have to write a darn good book. If we don’t write a darn good book, then no amount of promotion can help us. Sorry. That’s like putting lipstick on a pig. This is why Mondays are dedicated to craft. I am here to train stronger writers. In the comments last Monday, one of our writer pals asked me to expound on the difference between showing and telling. Setting is a great tool to do exactly that.

Today we are going to talk about setting and ways to use it to strengthen your writing and maybe even add in some dimension. Some of the information I will present to you today isn’t new, but, hey, all of us can use a refresher, right?

Setting is a magnificent tool when used properly.

Setting can help your characterization.

Setting can actually serve a dual role in that it can be not only the backdrop for your story, but it can also serve characterization through symbol. We editors love to say, “Show. Don’t tell.” Well, here is where setting can help you do just that.

Say you have a character, Mitzy, who is depressed. You could go on and on telling us she is blue and how she cannot believe her husband left her for the Avon lady, or you can show us through setting. Mitzy’s once beautiful garden is overgrown with weeds and piles of unopened mail are tossed carelessly on the floor. Her house smells of almost-empty tubs of chocolate ice cream left to sour. Piles of dirty clothes litter the rooms, and her cat is eating out of the bag of Meow Mix tipped on its side.

Now you have shown me that Mitzy is not herself. I know this because the garden was “once beautiful.” This cues me that something has changed. And you managed to tell me she was depressed without dragging me through narrative in Mitzy’s head.

She couldn’t believe Biff was gone. Grief surged over her like a surging tidal surge that surged.

Writing is therapeutic, not therapy. Some of that introspection is great, but after a while you will wear out your readers. Setting can help alleviate this problem and keep the momentum of your story moving forward. We will get that Mitzy is depressed by getting this glimpse of her house. You have shown that Mitzy is having a rough time instead of being lazy and telling us.

We judge people by their environment. Characters are no different. If you want to portray a cold, unfeeling schmuck, then when we go to his apartment it might be minimalist design. No color. No plants or signs of life. Someone who is scatter-brained? Their house is full of half-finished projects. An egomaniac? Walls of plaques and pictures of this character posing with important people. Trophies, awards, and heads of dead animals. You can show the reader a lot about your character just by showing us surroundings.

Trust me, if a character gets out of her car and two empty Diet Coke bottles fall out from under her feet into her yard that is littered with toys, we will have an impression.

Probably the single largest mistake I see in the work of new writers is that they spend far too much time in the sequel. What is the sequel? Plots can be broken into to main anatomical parts–scene and sequel. The scene is where the action occurs. A goal is declared and some disastrous setback occurs that leaves our protagonist worse off than when he began. Generally, right after this disaster there is what is called the sequel. 

The sequel is the emotional thread that ties all this action together. Yet, too often new writers will go on and on and on in a character’s head, exploring and probing deep emotions and nothing has yet happened. The sequel can only be an effect/direct result of a scene. Ah, but here comes the pickle. How can a writer give us a psychological picture of the character if he cannot employ the sequel?

Setting.

An example? In Silence of the Lambs how are we introduced to Hannibal Lecter? There is of course the dialogue that tells Agent Starling that Dr. Lecter is different, but talk is cheap, right? Clarice goes down into the bowels of a psychiatric prison to the basement (um, symbol?). She walks past cell after cell of the baddest and the maddest. All of them are in brick cells with bars…until Clarice makes it to the end.

Hannibal’s cell is not like the others. He is behind Plexi-Glass with airholes. This glass cage evokes a primal fear. Hannibal affects us less like a prisoner and more like a venomous spider. Setting has shown us that Hannibal the Cannibal is a different breed of evil. This is far more powerful than the storyteller poring on and on and on about Hannibal’s “evil.”

Setting can set or amplify the mood.

Either you can use setting to mirror outwardly what is happening with a character, or you can use it as a stark contrast. For instance, I once edited a medieval fantasy. In the beginning the bad guys were burning villagers alive. Originally the writer used a rainy, dreary day, which was fine. Nothing wrong with that. I, however, suggested she push the envelope and go for something more unsettling. I recommended that she change the setting to sunny and perfect weather. In the heart of the village the ribbons and trappings of the spring festival blew in the gentle breeze, the same breeze that now carried the smell of her family’s burning flesh.

Sometimes it is this odd juxtaposition in setting that can evoke tremendous emotion. This is especially useful in horror. Dead bodies are upsetting. Dead bodies on a children’s playground are an entirely new level of disturbing.

Setting is a matter of style and preference.  Different writers use setting in different ways and a lot of it goes to your own unique voice. Some writers use a lot of description, which is good in that there are readers who like a lot of description. But there are readers who want you to get to the point, and that’s why they generally like to read works by writers who also like to get to the point. Everyone wins.

Whether you use a lot or a little setting will ultimately be up to you. I would recommend some pointers.

Can your setting symbolize something deeper?

I challenge you to challenge yourself. Don’t just pick stormy weather because it is the first image that pops in your mind. Can you employ setting to add greater dimension to your work? Using setting merely to forecast the weather is lazy writing. Try harder.

In Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane’s story is set on an island at a prison for the criminally insane. What the reader finds out is the prison is far more than the literal setting; it is a representation for a state of mind. The protagonist, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels is imprisoned by his own guilt and need for justice. Like the island, he too is cut off from the outside world emotionally and psychologically. Now an island is more than an island, a prison is more than a prison, bars are more than bars, cliffs are more than cliffs, storms are more than storms, etc. Shutter Island is an amazing book to read, but I recommend studying the movie for use of setting as symbol.

So dig deeper. Can you get more out of your setting than just a backdrop?

Blend setting into your story.

When I teach, I liken setting to garlic in garlic mashed potatoes. Blend. Garlic is awesome and enhances many dishes, but few people want a whole mouthful of it. Make sure you are keeping momentum in your story. Yes, we generally like to be grounded in where we are and the weather and the time of year, but not at the expense of why we picked up your book in the first place…someone has a problem that needs solving. Unless you are writing a non-fiction travel book, we didn’t buy your book for lovely description of the Rocky Mountains. We bought it to discover if Ella May will ever make it to California to meet her new husband before winter comes and traps her wagon train in a frozen world of death.

Keep perspective and blend. Keep conflict and character center stage and the backdrop in its place…behind the characters. Can you break this rule? Sure all rules can be broken. But we must understand the rules before we can break them. Breaking rules in ignorance is just, well, ignorant.

In the end, setting will be a huge reflection of your style and voice, but I hope this blog has given some insight that might make you see more to your use of setting and help you grow to be a stronger writer. What are some books or movies that really took setting to the next level? How was setting used? How did it affect you? Share with us. I love hearing from you!

And 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of September I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last Week’s Winner of 5 Page Critique

Alicia McKenna Johnson Please e-mail your 1250 word Word document to my assistant Gigi at gigi.salem.ea@gmail.com. She will make sure it doesn’t get eaten by the spam folder.

Note: GRAND PRIZE WILL BE PICKED THIS MONTH. I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced at the end of September) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about how to spread word-of-mouth and build your platform, sign-ups are open for my Blogging To Build Your Author Brand on-line workshop. It’s two months long–one month of lessons and one month of launch and it is ONLY $40.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

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48 Comments

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