A Culture Addicted to FREE—How FREE is Poisoning the Internet & Killing the Creatives

Image used with permission from the creator Ira Gelb.

Image “Not for Sale” used with permission from the creator Ira Gelb who’s an activist in stopping Human Trafficking but authorized this image for use outside.

It’s funny, at various junctures I’ve felt propelled to tackle certain topics, even when that made me very unpopular. My biggest leviathan to date has been this notion of artists being expected to work for free, and I believe the reason that this topic is weighing so heavily on me is that, for the first time in years I’m no longer enthusiastic about our future.

In fact, I’m downright frightened, because of THIS.

I Feel Sick

Yesterday morning on my Facebook, a friend shared this open letter to Oprah Winfrey from a local performer in the Bay Area, Revolva, whose act caught the attention of mega-icon Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah was holding The Life You Want conference and the producers contacted Revolva to see if she would like to perform as part of a conference featuring mega-stars like Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Gilbert.

At first, Revolva was over the moon.

OMG! OPRAH! Sure! How much does it pay?

Well, we don’t pay. The artists get exposure.

Revolva in an act of unbelievable bravery…said no.

She could not work for free when she, herself, was struggling just to make ends meet—especially at an event that was charging $600-$1000 a ticket in an arena that could accommodate 18,000 people.

The producer’s response to her asking to be paid? So sorry. All the slots have filled. We’ll contact you at a later date when we hold a conference with a bigger budget.

Seriously?

Free Cancer

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.34.15 AM

Original image courtesy of NIH Image Gallery vis Flickr creative commons (added in text)

Businesses are always seeking ways to innovate and I applaud them, but with the explosion of the internet and our global society becoming more integrated in the web, the soma of free non-stop entertainment has blinded us to a cancer that’s metastasizing.

The cancer of FREE.

Artists always have struggled to have people value their work monetarily, but this is different. Very different. And yes, branding and social media are all necessary and vital, but unless we all want to die from being worked to death?

We need to pay attention to the symptoms of sickness and DO SOMETHING.

Global Culture Climate Change

The accepted norm in Western civilization for centuries was that the artist owned his or her work (copyright) and thus could choose what way to monetize it. That’s all vanished and we’re facing a monster unlike anything we’ve seen. The reason?

Consumers are blind to culture climate change that is creating an environment where disease thrives.

Stop Whining. It’s ALL In Your Head!

Image courtesy of Raymond Brown via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Raymond Brown via Flickr Creative Commons

Creatives are struggling to survive, but what makes it worse is we’re facing a life-ending “cancer” but far too many around us believe we are whining or being a hypochondriac. When my blog Pay the Writer took off, I was amazed at the wonderful support. But what amazed me even more was the vitriolic attitude toward me and writers wanting to be paid.

Create something people want to pay for or get another job was something I heard more than I liked.

I agree! But this performer Revolva illustrates what’s vexing many artists. She created an act that caught the attention of Oprah’s producers. Seemingly her content had some value since the tickets were $1000 a piece. She did create something of value for consumers, but not of value for the venue hosting her act (and profiting from it).

Our culture cheers that Oprah is worth almost $2.9 billion dollars and are happy to pay her because, “Well, she creates a product of value.” But that product of value rests largely (at least in the instance I’m referring to) off the voluntary assistance of unpaid professionals—who are told in regular life, “You want to be paid? Offer something of value or get another job!”.

Am I the only one seeing the paradox?

And I don’t know if folks like Oprah are meaning to treat artists unjustly. I think, like my grandmother offering me a whole dollar do all her yard work, many people have not caught up mentally to this new reality and then changed their ways of dealing with artists.

***A New Format

That’s what we are going to look at but today I am trying something new. This post is too short to make a book but too long for a “blog” (just over 3,000 words). The problem is that the concepts, broken apart, lose integrity and I feel we cannot see the big picture which is why I am hesitant to break this into multiple posts published separately.

As a solution, I’m trying a different structure and this is my only post this week. I’m breaking this into three acts like a play, since it actually IS our story. It just happens to be a Choose Our Own Ending kind of story.

Read all at once or one act at a time. I hope the editing makes it easier to absorb because this is an issue that is seriously impacting ALL of us.

ACT ONE—We Never Saw It Coming

#FUTUREREADERS

#FUTUREREADERS

At the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s, average people generally were not on a computer outside of work. How we found and consumed entertainment was vastly different.

If we wanted music? We bought a CD. Wanted a book? We bought one. Wanted a movie? We had to buy a ticket or a VHS/DVD. Even in secondary sources (libraries, radio, television, rental establishments) artists received some kind of compensation.

But then our culture began shifting on-line.

The BlackHoleBerry 

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Today’s user-based web is an unplanned consequence of the implosion of the dot.coms meeting with a strange confluence of other events.

Why was BlackBerry a big deal? Blackberry changed everything because it finally tipped technology from the early adopter into the mainstream. BlackBerry successfully bridged our transition from paper to handheld computer to digital and set the stage for the rise of the smartphone.

In 2006-2007, BlackBerrys took off and forever altered our world. For the first time, regular people were using their phones in never before imagined ways (I.e. as a camera).

Web 1.0 was the firm domain of the professional contributors because devices were cost prohibitive and one needed an advanced skill set (I.e. HTML) to contribute. But Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 was meant to be ruled by regular people.

The Social Media Singularity

Devices like BlackBerry made it increasingly easy for people to share content (which is a huge part of socializing). Soon people were addicted to consuming and sharing music, videos, pictures, blogs, etc. Social media appeared to accommodate this shift in behavior.

MySpace launched in 2003 but hit it big in 2005. YouTube was launched in 2005 and was one of the fastest growing sites in 2006 when it was purchased by Google. Facebook opened up to the general public at the end of 2006. So in this three-year span everything shifted.

The web we know today didn’t start getting momentum until I’d say around 2005 and after 2007? It was unstoppable. MySpace was king. Facebook was now public. Music had gone digital. MP3 players and iPods took the place of CD players. Most people owned digital cameras which would lead to Kodak claiming bankruptcy by 2013.

These massive changes set the stage for infection.

ACT TWO—The Exposure Infection Goes Systemic

panelvan

The world change and the environment was altered forever. New parasitic organisms began populating.

Blogs had been around for quite some time, but Ariana Huffington co-founded the Huffington Post in 2005, and while initially it attracted A-List contributors, it soon opened it’s doors to bloggers willing to trade “exposure” for content.

Big sites like Huffington marked a major shift in how regular people consumed news and gathered information. Before, free stuff generally had a far lower quality, so we were willing to PAY. But now that the free stuff was almost as good, as good or better than the paid stuff?

Come on. A no-brainer. Instead of paying for a newspaper or magazine, we went on-line.

“Real” journalists were paid and this was a genuine constraint for news outlets and magazines competing with Huffington and a legion of “volunteers” offering excellent content.

Huffington, like a regular print source still made money on ads, but unlike the competition (print sources) they didn’t have to worry about paying salaries, benefits or health insurance to most of their workforce.

That was a dangerous precedent. A once a homeostatic environment where artists could thrive suddenly became toxic and vulnerable to disease.

The Creative Code Blue

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

First, with file-sharing, downloads and sites with free streaming music, consumers got in a habit of getting what they wanted for free. In 2012, Emily White published a blog on NPR I Never Owned Any Music to Begin With and revealed how she had a personal collection of over 11,000 songs and yet had only ever bought 15 CDs and how she was profoundly conflicted with the new reality of our world.

Self-published authors flocked to Amazon and people like John Locke pioneered the idea of the .99 cent book and giving books for free. A tsunami of amateurs then rushed to publish unedited, often unreadable books. Countless “authors” flooded the market with content that used to be left to die in a slush pile.

Yes, I love self-publishing and some of the best books of our time are coming out of it (Wool & The Martian) but the rush of amateurs who vastly outnumber professionals has had terrible consequences for consumers and artists.

Amazon is now having to enact warnings on e-books regarding quality issues (to flag readers for spelling problems, poor editing, bad formatting) because too many amateurs were (are) offering up content that’s not ready for consumption. If uncooked chicken can make you sick, a book that’s not “done” can too.

The Casualties of Free 

Image via Alisha Vargas courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Alisha Vargas courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

I understand that businesses are rushing to give content to consumers, but in rushing to give what affect is that having? Everywhere we look on the Internet, content is FREE. Of course it isn’t really “free.”

Those who sell hardware (tools) and access to the artists? They’re doing very, very well.

Internet connection, devices, service, data streaming and conference tickets all cost consumers money. But what’s happening is those businesses and entities who deliver content (Amazon, iTunes, iBooks, AT&T, Spotify etc.) are making record profits while artists are withering on the vine.

The Future is Streaming—Poison or Potion?

I feel the future of everything entertainment will be a streaming model. We already have streaming television, news, music, and movies. I predict books naturally will follow suit.

Whether this is good or bad is irrelevant. I think it’s coming.

Barnes & Noble is dying and physical point of sale locations for new books are getting rarer. This means even big legacy publishers potentially will be muscled into cooperating with a streaming model if they want to survive.

If consumers are getting their books off a streaming model and not buying copies? Will anyone have a choice?

Courtesy of Imagens Evangelicas vis Flickr Creative Commons

Courtesy of Imagens Evangelicas vis Flickr Creative Commons

If writers don’t want to part of the streaming model? Amazon, iBooks (or whoever is offering streaming books) won’t be greatly affected. The distributors of today don’t have skin in the game.

In the old days, bookstores and publishers DIED if writers didn’t succeed. Record stores and producers DIED if musicians didn’t succeed. They couldn’t fall back on the billions they made selling gadgets, connectivity, services and camping equipment to stay solvent.

Companies are offering streaming to help artists get in front of overwhelmed consumers. It’s been designed (in part) to combat the discoverability problem, but the streaming model currently is NOT structured beneficially for artists. One musician’s song was played over a million times on Pandora, yet he was paid less than $17 (less than selling a t-shirt).

Oh, but how can you refuse? Streaming PAYS and you get exposure, you ungrateful hack. Create something people want and stop whining!

And yes, it’s scary and frustrating, but us not wanting this tech evolution to happen won’t change it coming. Tower Records, Kodak, BlackBerry, and Blockbuster are all good examples of what happens when denial is the action plan.

ACT THREE—We CAN CHANGE!

Image courtesy of Spirit-Fire via Flickr Creative Commons.

Image courtesy of Spirit-Fire via Flickr Creative Commons.

Now that I’ve shown you how our world has changed and painted a rather bleak picture, I want to revisit the story I began with.

Oprah a billionaire hosting a conference about reaching your dreams…using largely unpaid performers. Huffington selling for $300 million and growing increasingly valuable using unpaid work.

Can it change? I think so, but it is largely up to those we idolize to help change attitudes and educate the public.

Taylor Swift is an excellent example.

Earlier this past year (2015) iTunes went to launch its new streaming music program, and the plan had been to offer three months for free for users trying the program. At first this seems awesome! Especially for me (Average Consumer).

But then Taylor Swift stepped in and wrote a beautiful letter politely shaming Apple and put her money where her mouth was. She refused to allow her latest and hottest album to be used in Apple’s plan.

What’s interesting is that a company worth over $650 billion didn’t truly think about the consequences to artists by expecting musicians to work for free for three months until Taylor Swift pointed it out.

Did they overlook this because they are psychopathic jerks who stay up all night thinking of ways to crush artists? Or, has this notion of exposure made businesses (possibly unintentionally) predatory?

Doesn’t hurt to give the benefit of the doubt.

That was the point of me offering up that history lesson. In the 1990s, a used bookstore greatly benefited writers because exposure actually did translate into PAID work. The same for doing spec work for Huffington or performing for free alongside Oprah. I know I’ve even offered my comparably microscopic platform to help unknowns gain exposure because exposure is still extraordinarily important.

The problem however is that we need to make the next shift in the digital evolution. The biggest companies and names need to make it. Consumers need to make it.

Exposure used to be the treatment/cure, but the world has evolved to be exposure-resistent. Exposure is like tossing regular penicillin at flesh-eating MRSA and expecting it to work.

What we did to prime Web 2.0 cannot sustain it.

What happens when everyone views exposure as just as good as cold hard cash (which WAS the case but is no longer the case) is that then all content contributors are working for free.

When everyone is exposed then no one is.

When everyone is paid with exposure then no one is paid.

When conferences and corporations create space in the budget to pay everyone but those providing the content? That’s worrisome. It’s especially worrisome when exposure in these places is no longer leading to paid work. Why? Because it is only leading to people wanting to pay content producers with even more exposure.

The Trochordist said it best and I strongly recommend reading this post.  But the hard truth is that:

The fundamental shift in principals and morality is about who gets to control and exploit the work of an artist…Now we are being asked to undo this not because we think this is a bad or unfair way to compensate artists but simply because it is technologically possible for corporations or individuals to exploit artists’ work without their permission on a massive scale and globally. 

What I would add to this is that they can do this with the consent and support of the public who’s not understanding how their updated habits combined with outdated attitudes are killing the artists they love.

I think why all this is bothering me so much is I feel like we’ve created a system where to survive, content contributors are literally the problem. We’ve become a cannibalistic organism.

We Need to Work Together

Image of Killer T-Cells Attacking Cancer from NIH courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons (added in the obviously silly stuff)

Image of Killer T-Cells Attacking Cancer from NIH courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons (added in the obviously silly stuff)

We cannot fix a problem until we admit there is a problem. We need to all recognize that FREE has gone way beyond getting out of hand. It’s now metastatic…

…but it can be cured.

If FREE is a cancer, then WE are the T-Cells. All of us.

Apple proves things can change. After Taylor Swift’s letter, the company deeply apologized and made it right. They paid the musicians and you know what? Everyone made MORE. Consumers felt better about signing up for Apple’s streaming because it was caring for artists and the artists were paid. Artists were happy, Apple was happy and consumers were happy.

What if more BIG names were as protective as Taylor Swift?

What if more SMALL names were is brave as Revolva?

What if more ICONS were as fearless as Wil Wheaton?

What if more CORPORATIONS changed their treatment of artists like Apple?

What if consumers changed buying habits (refer to my post Fair Trade Fiction)?

What if more conferences became active and creative to find ways to support the contributors? Perhaps a commission off ads sold, ticket sales, digital tip jars or even corporate sponsorships?

What if more artists joined with the ranks of Coldplay, Taylor Swift, Adele, Beyonce and others and stood up for an ethical and sustainable internet (as these artists did with Spotify)?

What if BIG name writers supported new writers like these mega-artists are doing in music? Just like Phillip Pullman who resigned as an Oxford literary patron over lack of pay for authors?

What if more on-line magazines worked WITH bloggers like BuzzFeed who pays contributors based on click rate?

For instance, instead of ALL my best content being on my blog, magazines can recruit us as talent. I’m happy WD Magazine gave me an award, now let me help YOU! Figure out a way we can both win.

Old Guard + New Guard = NEW AND WAY BETTER GUARD! We are not alone!

All of us in one way or another need to set an example and lead the way to the next evolution of the web. Web 3.0—A Better Place to Play, Live and Work.

Image a gift to Flickr Commons from professional photographer Brett Jordan.

Image a gift to Flickr Commons from professional photographer Brett Jordan.

Revolva had a fantastic idea, that I hadn’t seen in action. She had a TIP jar on her site and I left her a tip for using her story (Note to Self: Add Tip Jar to New Website). I know Flickr allows me to donate for the commons images, but I would LOVE a tip feature so I can support the actual photographers and image creators. 

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that we have to work together to help consumers and businesses update their thinking regarding commerce.

What are some ways we can change the world? What are some companies, conferences, businesses or artists that you’ve seen doing great things? How are they solving this problem? What are ways you think we might be able to work together instead of fracturing into a million pieces of Every Man Out For Himself? 

Have you been frustrated with this increasing expectation that you need to not only give for free, but it has to be as high of quality as paid work…and people just seem to want more and more and MORE? What are your thoughts? Experiences? Opinions? Concerns? Ideas?

I love hearing from you. You guys are some of the most brilliant people I know and if anyone can fix this? WRITERS CAN. We have changed the world time and time and time again. Let’s roll!

Author Call to Arms!

After posting this, I talked with Revolva and even though her blog got over a million views? Oprah’s people never issued a statement, wrote a letter or even offered apology. There is no indication of any policy change.

The BIG players CAN and WILL LISTEN. APPLE DID!

ARTIST EXPLOITATION IS RAMPANT IN ALL THE ARTS. MUSICIANS, ACTORS, CRAFTERS, WRITERS AND ON AND ON.

IT HAS TO STOP AND I THINK IT WILL TAKE WRITERS TO DO IT.

I am asking you guys to activate YOUR platforms. ALL OF US BLOG ON THIS. REPOST THIS BLOG OR EVEN REPOST REVOLVA’S.

WRITE YOUR OWN THOUGHTS ON THIS AND LINK TO THIS POST.

I AM BUILDING A NEW WEBSITE AND I WILL INCLUDE A PLACE TO LINK TO ALL YOUR BLOGS ON THIS TOPIC PERMANENTLY. 

It’s one thing to step on a performer, but REVOLVA doesn’t have a legion of  TICKED OFF WRITERS on hand, whereas I DO. YOU can help me make a difference for ALL the arts!

WE ARE NOT ALONE!

***A special note of thanks to all the photos generously shared for free use. I donated money on your behalf.

I don’t yet have a tip jar (redoing my web site), but if you like my work, please pick up a copy of Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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229 Comments

Unfriended—Why “Cleaning Up” Your Friends Could Be Costing You BIG

Image via Link Humans courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Link Humans courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

I started out writing a blog about unfriending. That post became 2800 words and since I’ve vowed to do better about length? I cut it in half. Then that grew to 3200 words. So I had to cut it again.

Aaand then again.

Apparently I have a lot of opinions about unfriending.

After almost a thousand blog posts I seriously cannot believe we haven’t talked more about this. Unfriending. What an awful word. Un-friend. To be un-friended.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I actually posted some thoughts on the whole “unfriending” thing and there does seem to be a generational difference. Young people will unfriend  someone who’s misbehaving then add them again later. From what I understand it’s like a time-out.

I will say that, us older folks?

It is NOT a time out.

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I can promise that us older folks will take being unfriended far more personally because we grew up in an era where the word “friend” held a very different and more significant meaning.

But the reality is that, in the digital age, barriers and borders have been removed. It’s as if we are all living in a giant fishbowl. As if that wasn’t stressful enough, the social media lexicon itself has created problems. When we add people we “friend” them. Trust me, the masterminds behind social media chose this word very deliberately.

We have a saying in political science, Say it once. Say it twice. Say it three times. Say it four times. Say it five times and they will believe.

If we refer to complete strangers as “friends” the mind forms a deeper emotional attachment than say with a “follower.” This deeper emotional attachment is a double-edged sword. When creating a brand, it forges a deeper perceived intimacy with those around us, one that actually can be a powerful driver of sales. Why? Who do we buy from? People we know and people we like (code for friend).

But this is also why “unfriending” can land us in hot water. It’s a form of social rejection and the people on the other side of that screen actually do have a beating heart and feelings and we’re wise to remember that.

Image via GrandmaLow WANA Commons

Image via GrandmaLow WANA Commons

Before we look at how this unfriending unnecessarily hurts feeling and why it’s probably best to avoid and all that jazz, we need to step back and appreciate why we really might want to think twice about culling our friends list at all. How it actually is highly beneficial to have a lot of “friends” regardless of whether they talk to us or not.

By the way, when it comes to getting rid of stalkers, bullies, trolls? Feel free to unfriend and we WILL talk about how and when to do that…on another post. Today’s discussion has to do more with just people’s need to “tidy” up a friend list.

Well they never interact with me.

Okay, well Facebook’s algorithms might just never be putting your stuff in their feed so they never see it. If they aren’t causing a problem? Leave it be.

Anyway…

I know this blog is mainly for writers who are building a brand but I also know regular people who are not building a brand also follow this blog so I will say it. Unfriending is just unwise. Today we’re going to look at why we shouldn’t unfriend from a purely self-centered perspective. Why is a large friend base good no matter who you are?

First, Ditch the Old Ideas About Friendship

One thing I hear all the time (and it irritates me) is that on-line friends are not real friends. That’s just crap. Of course they’re real friends if we invest time, effort and energy in those relationships just as we would in person. I’m sorry, but the people I know on-line have been far better friends to me than people who live five miles away.

W.A.N.A.s Look like real friends to me.

W.A.N.A.s Look like real friends to me.

People on-line have traveled across oceans to come and meet/visit me, whereas people I see in person have trouble taking me up on an invitation to come over for dinner.

No idea why it is harder and harder to connect with people in the modern world, but again we can talk about that on another post.

The simple fact is that there are always different “levels” of friendship and there have always been. Back in 1992, who did you prefer to take you car to for service? Some random person you looked up in the yellow pages or that “friend” or “buddy” from high school?

Did you really have to hang out braiding each other’s hair to consider this relationship a “friendship”? No. It’s was just pretty much understood that this was a loose connection, not a friend you’d ask to be your best man at your wedding.

And here’s the deal, we can feel free to cull all our relationships down to only people we’d trust to rear our children upon our untimely death, but life is going to be really hard that way. Life is already tough, why make it tougher?

So what are the advantages of having lots of friends?

Human Capital

Humans are precious resources. The more humans we have in our network, the more resources we have to draw from and the more connections we can take advantage of should the need arise. The greater the intellectual capital in our bank, the smarter the hive mind we can tap into.

Even before social media I was known as the gal who made stuff happen. Why? I had a vast network of connections. I have had people make the joke about the Six Degrees of Kristen Lamb, but seriously, I know everyone.

Everyone.

And if I don’t know that person, odds are I know someone who does. It is why having me as a connection is highly valuable. Because…

I know people.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 9.42.24 AM

Yes this is really me talking to the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto in 1996.

Having a lot of friends isn’t an ego-stroking thing. It’s just plain smart. Trust me, it’s always been about who you know not what you know. These days if we want a new job? We have a far higher chance of getting that job if we know someone.

Even if we know someone who knows someone. Because if we don’t? Then we just better hope we wrote our resume and cover letter with enough keywords to make it past their computer filter’s algorithms designed to reject us and that is a sucky way to get a job.

We need other people.

Most people get job recommendations from “loose connections.” That person you cull out of your friends might have been the one person you needed to land that dream job.

Every big break I have ever gotten came from knowing someone. Sometimes these folks never interacted with me…but were watching. I actually got my very first professional speaking gig at RT Booklovers from a lurker in my Facebook friends. She really liked my posts and was on the panel to choose speakers.

She chose me.

What if I had cropped her out of my friends because she wasn’t a “real” friend? I actually might never have made it where I am today because that was the event that opened all the doors. I was quoted in the L.A. Times and suddenly speaking invitations piled in faster than I could accommodate. I had one year I gave up on wearing a watch because I criss-crossed the country so much.

Because of a quiet Facebook friend ;).

I’ve used my network for all kinds of things. We got hit with tornadoes one year and needed repairs done to our roof.

Hey, you guys know anyone in XYZ area who’s a good and dependable roofer?

Humans are a naturally helpful bunch. Let them.

Hive Mind

We don’t need to know everything if we have a solid network. What’s better than google? People. I save vast amounts of time researching simply because I go to my following and ASK.

Hey, writing a book set in South Africa. Can anyone give me some idioms and tidbits to make it authentic?

Aaaannnnd all of Kristen’s friends from South Africa perk to life and are thrilled to help. This is way faster than hunt-and-peck through Wiki articles hoping I get it right.

I have all kinds of people message me about guns and martial arts and hand-to-hand. It might be about writing for a scene or even just life.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 9.29.36 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 9.30.36 AM

So instead of my good friend Gry (who is in Europe, btw) trying to pore over articles or test out a bunch of ill-fitting forms of martial arts, she just came to me to narrow her search and get an informed opinion.

For the normal-not-writer-people out there, trust me, you need the hive mind too. Maybe your kid has to do a paper. Perhaps you’re contemplating frying a turkey and want to make sure you don’t accidentally create a bomb. Maybe you’re thinking of applying for a job at a certain company and need an opinion of what it is really like to work there.

You just don’t know when these people are going to come in really handy.

Yes, it’s true. We cannot actively be friends with hundreds or thousands of people at one time. About the max humans can handle is 40. So once we pass a certain number, the folks we actively engage with is only a small percentage but that is fine. They’re inert until something wakes them up and queues them to engage. Again, people LIKE to help.

LET THEM.

Here’s an example of how networks DO matter. My husband is not even friends with this gal. This was reposted by one of our friends who lives in San Diego. My husband reposted it since we live in TEXAS. Maybe this woman knew no one in Texas. She did not know my husband….but her friend was friends with someone in Texas.

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Social media is social so the more connections we have the better. We never know when part of that network will be very valuable so my recommendation? Leave them be. Yes, even regular folks.

We will talk more in coming posts about this unfriending thing, but what are your thoughts? I’m going to explore this a lot more. I really had no idea how BIG this topic was until I started unpacking it.

Why do you unfriend? Have you had someone unfriend you and it made what should have been a small tiff a BIG deal? I know I got cross with a family member and normally we would have resolved it pretty quickly…but she unfriended me on Facebook and I turned into Tony Soprano.

You unfriended me. ME? UNFRIENDED? You are DEAD to me.

We have since patched things up, but I will say the unfriending was like tossing a match on kindling.

I really DO 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.

And yes, I am a complete and total slacker. December’s winner will be announced later because I seriously had three posts go viral. Great problem to have…but tabulating a winner? Gonna take a little time. Love you *air kiss*

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International.  

Branding for Authors (NEXT SATURDAY). This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans who won’t settle for FREE.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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72 Comments

Being GOD 101—The Basics of World Building

Nice to beep you

In case I still need to introduce him to you: Alex Limberg has been a steady guest on my blog for the past couple months, and since he has taken to crate training far better than I anticipated, I might keep him around even longer.

Who’s a good guest blogger? *dangles treat*

Alex is a copywriter and blogs on Ride the Pen to help you boost your fiction writing. Check and improve your stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story (very helpful checklist for anybody who writes fiction).

All righty. How do you create your own fictional world from scratch? So glad you asked! World building is critical to writing a good story, especially in certain genres like fantasy, high fantasy and science fiction. As an editor, I can always tell writers who skipped this step, namely because it makes me want to throw their book across a room. We have to establish a world and the rules of operation in that world before doing anything else, but I am prattling on and Alex is going to help you today.

Take it away, Alex!

***

Admit it, you want to be a god.

You despotic, power-hungry person, you need your own little space where everybody (and everything) bends to your rules, and you need to get your way.

Why else would you write fiction?

Ok, maybe you have other, more noble motives as well. Nevermind, sorry for prematurely accusing you (maybe).

But still, one of the most satisfying feelings for a writer is to create his own universe. Where else can you string along any individual, save or extinguish them just as you please, decide about the colors and shapes of what is and even bend the laws of the world to your liking?

You will build your most complete worlds in two genres: Fantasy and science fiction. Here, you can recreate the entire world and re-invented every little detail, should you choose to do so.

Maybe people eat shoes and walk on bread. They might have one billion twenty-two hundred million and fourteen eyes or none. What’s an eye anyway?

For his fantasy world Middle-Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien even went so far as to invent not one, but several languages. Diving into a world that detailed and miraculous must feel very tempting to a lot of people. That’s why the masses pilgrimaged to movie theatres all over the world to watch Lord of the Rings: No doubt they would rather be guided by Gandalf than by their own employer!

Science fiction on the other hand represents a harsher, less elfish and cozy world. Whereas fantasy says This could be, science fiction tells us This will be, which is a call much more threatening call to make… we feel more personally affected by science fiction.

In the end, no matter what genre you are writing in, you are always building your very own universe.

Maybe your story plays in a police department, in a hospital, or any other environment that has its very specific code of conduct, look and pace.

Maybe people in your novel talk very realistically or maybe your characters are just goofy and funny.

It might be just about the angle your story is coming from: In a thriller, there is very little room for laughter, everything is looked at from a factual, suspense-driven angle; in a comedy, everything is supposed to be funny. You might have noticed though that in real life funny and tragic moments often take turns very quickly and even come as a package within the same experience.

So it’s finally proven: Your TV set is not your real life!

Ok, so you want to be a young god or goddess respectively, create your own science fictional world, kill everybody, and let the rest live to your liking… now how do you go about it? What tips and guidelines am I able to supply you with on your honorable quest?

Let’s look at a simplified recipe on how to prepare your own world like a warm, steaming, yummy apple pie.

And let’s use one of the most famous science fiction movies ever to inspire us.

The Outline

Before you start writing your first draft, I whole-heartedly recommend you spend some time on preparing a detailed outline for your background. Be absolutely clear about what it looks like and which rules it adheres to.

Even writing in a more “realistic” genre will be difficult without an outline (although it depends on which type of writer you are). But inventing your SF or fantasy world “on the fly” is certainly a bad idea.

Think about it: The less you know in advance, the more of your mental disk space the story background will occupy while you are writing. You can only concentrate on so many things at the same time. So while you think about what a driving tests for talking ostriches looks like, you will miss out on the characterization or on writing sharp dialogue, I can guarantee you.

Make sure to write a detailed outline on your background.

The Feeling

As a first step, you should settle on the mood you want to create: What feeling should your world evoke? Is it funny or serious, very technological or rather simple? How far off is it from the good old world we inhabit?

Sexy in Space

Image by Ludovic Bertron/Flickr CC

For example, it could be “fantastic” science fiction with many curious races involved, like Star Wars. Or it could be a high-tech futuristic environment drifting through the vast reaches of space like Star Trek.

What does it feel like, which aspect of science fiction does it highlight?

Remember the 80s movie Blade Runner?

Its plot is a bit thin. But it’s a perfect example to study background, because it consists mainly of atmosphere. The wonderful production design, the highly acclaimed cinematography and Vangelis’s gloomy score all make for an extremely moody environment.

Blade Runner outlines a dark cyberpunk world and emphasizes the somber, haunted aspect of science fiction. It’s a cold, lonely, alienated world, one in which you can’t be sure if your opposite is human or an artificial clone looking like a human (called replicant).

Of course, you could go an entirely different route and make your world a friendly place with aliens looking like SpongeBob, feeding you grapes all day long. Whatever floats your boat. The SpongeBob version would render a completely different context and statement, and would of course require entirely different details and procedures (see below).

But whatever background you choose, here is the trick:

Give it a healthy balance between a world well known to the reader and a completely unknown one!

If you use certain things and procedures that are familiar to your audience, they will identify with your world. The more you can wrap your reader up in the feeling of a real, existing world, the more she will care about your story.

On the other hand, if you embed these things in a new, futuristic context, you take your readers by the hand and lead them into a world full of wonders, which is exactly what fiction should do: Take queuing at the register in the supermarket (a familiar, slightly annoying feeling, but in your world it’s done resting on hovering chairs), or meter parking (city administration is ready to charge again, but in your world they want your karma).

Balance between realism and imagination matters. For if your entire reality is a completely new one, your readers won’t recognize themselves in it anymore; but if your reality is too close to the known world – well, it’s not science fiction any longer then, is it?

Reality

Image by Byron Villegas/Flickr CC

The Surface

Next, there is the purely physical level: Based on the mood you want to create, what does your world look, sound, feel like?

The future looks streamlined, sounds mechanic and feels waterproof – at least that’s what the convention in science fiction wants to make us believe.

What the audience “sees” and “hears” right away is the uppermost layer of your universe: In the case of Blade Runner, do you remember all of the tubes, consoles, screens, scanners and the feeling they gave you – apparently enough emotion to hook you for a full two hours (because remember, thin plot)?

Can you recall the dark, threatening details of that world, whether it was an abandoned, deranged apartment block or stacks spitting huge clouds of fire?

Technology taking over our lives is often the idea behind science fiction. Technology, by default, is artificial; science fiction worlds are user-friendly, repellent, made of plastic and metal. Have you ever seen an iPad made of raw meat? Me neither; these worlds are all synthetics and steel.

Typical science fiction design looks streamlined, reflecting, immaculate; it sounds mechanical and automated, like a clicking, a buzzing, a laser-like swoosh; it feels smooth, firm and cold. Minimalism and functionality prevail. Everything is made for quick use and to save time. Keep this in mind when you are describing your world and what the characters see, hear and feel.

Then again, all of this is just an idea, a stereotyped label. Yes, just go ahead, create some science fiction with overwhelmingly furry surfaces – show me that meaty iPad!

Cool in Space

Image by L.E.Spry/Flickr CC

The Procedures

Now you know what your world looks and feels like. But what about its inner mechanics?

Think about the technology in your world – what’s ridiculously easy for people to do now? Do they beam themselves to work? Read each other’s thoughts instead of listening to them (time saver)?

Look at the technological advance. Then think logically and realistically: Because of the new technology, which changes might have happened in social life, in transport, in administration, in communication, in trade, etc…?

Throughout the centuries, technological changes have always brought along big changes in all other aspects of life: Take the law, for example. We have the internet now, people have access to never-before-seen technology to exploit each other on a whole new level; so we need a whole new set of rules, e.g. against cyber-criminals.

Think of all the areas of life internet has had a major impact on: Commerce (online sales), love (online dating), financials (online stock exchanges), and many, many more. With the advance of the internet, technological advance brought massive shifts in many other areas of life.

But let’s consider law again for a moment: Say if people read each other’s thoughts to save some time – where is the legal limit?

Are there thoughts nobody is allowed to read, private thoughts?

How is thought reading controlled, what’s the punishment for stepping over the line?

What’s the legal consequence of reading a policeman’s thought?

And as we are already at it, the government’s inclination to control its population always brings new threatening elements with it – that’s fertile ground for any science fiction story and some healthy paranoia.

In the Blade Runner world, citizens have to take emotional tests to expose if they are replicants or not. Replicants will be retired (executed). See how new technology (production of replicants) inevitably leads to new social and legal ramifications?

And sometimes, just once in a while, technology backfires – wasn’t the internet invented to save us a lot of time? And how much time did you waste on Facebook this week?

This is the irony of progress.

The Imagination

Finally, remember: That new universe of yours has to be imaginative! Had your reader the desire to read about the trashcans and trees behind his house, he would have just studied an essay about waste recycling in Dipshit, Ohio. Instead, not only give him something he doesn’t know and won’t ever know, but give him something nobody has ever experienced before.

What is it that makes science fiction so appealing?

It’s just that we love to imagine what the future holds in store for us! This is how human beings are wired, this is the dream of humanity – to live without the boundaries of gravity, of our bodies, of place, of time. So hand out some candy to the reader:

Which unimagined possibilities can he experience in your story that he won’t ever be able to enjoy in real life?

Is it time traveling to tell his younger self about the pitfalls of life’s journey?

Is it a robot who does all his homework?

Free-of-charge love with a clone?

In Blade Runner, we have things as mundane as a video device reacting to vocal commands; we also have flying police cars, which admittedly sound more like a nightmare than a dream to the average traffic participant – but at least they are every policeman’s wet dream!

So there you have it: The future is limitless and time is incomprehensible to the human mind. Humans will always wonder what the future has in store for them and humans will always be fascinated by science fiction.

And when the future finally arrives – it will be the new past within the blink of an eye… and a new future will be awaiting!

Alexander Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Check your world building, realism and many other story elements with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Kristen here; I have beamed my way back into this post.

And now over to you: Have you written science fiction or fantasy before? Or any other genre when it felt like you were very much building your own world? Do you have a secret sauce to draw your readers into your universe? How do you make sure your audience is as fascinated by that universe as you are? Is riding a rollercoaster equally fun on Mars? If our knees would bend in the opposite direction, what would chairs look like? Let us know about the future of humanity in the comments!

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

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.

Before we go…

THIS SATURDAY! Branding for Authors. This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans who won’t settle for FREE.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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35 Comments

Twitter for Writers—Eight Ways to Nuke Your Brand

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commins via Per Gosche

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commins via Per Gosche

I’ve been an advocate of writers using social media since 2004, before social media was really a thang. In the early days of Gather and MySpace it occurred to me that we were seeing a fundamental shift in how humans would 1) be communicating 2) forging relationships and 3) finding/discovering entertainment.

Digital Age Writers? You have…no…idea.

Back in my day *wags cane* we were fighting the Russians and there were NUKES pointed at us for twenty years. We had to get our moms to drive us to a library to research for a paper using the Dewey decimal system. There was no Google. 

If you wanted a popular book and didn’t save enough babysitting money to preorder the next David Eddings book in the Pawn of Prophecy series? In hardback? You waited.

Your turn. Like behind fifty other people.

And hoped the book wasn’t overhyped crap and the last thing you’d read before being nuked.

In my day, you wrote stories in ink by handOr? On THIS thing…which you could use to brain a Russian….before he nuked you.

Thomas' Pics Image via Flickr Creative Commons

Thomas’ Pics Image via Flickr Creative Commons

And you prayed to GOD that your little brother properly screwed on the cap to the whiteout so it wasn’t dried into one glob of white goo. And if you changed your mind where a scene went? TOUGH FRIGGING LUCK. You should have plotted it out better the first time, Smart Guy!

#welcometoREALcutandpaste

When I was growing up, we didn’t know the author. Writers were proper and respectable and had the basic decency to keep their weirdness hidden from the public eye.

Freaks.

And books? We had to go to a store. A real store with like walls and freaking shelves. And if they didn’t have the next Dragonlance book? Well then cry you whiny little baby. Cry. You had to WAIT and hope you weren’t nuked before they got in the shipment.

I had a friend who skateboarded alone to a B. Dalton’s. Yes, he was nuked.

Okay, I’m finished :D .

For now.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.20.13 AM

Image via Aaron Flickr Creative Commons.

Okay, Twitter. You writers today are so spoiled but many are just wrecking one of the most powerful ways to build an author brand. Or, to go with today’s goofery? Nuking it.

What’s been strange to see is how in the older days when we were forced to interact face-to-face, interpersonal communication was just natural. Social media is supposed to simply be an extension of that. It is meant to be social and a reflection of how we would interact in person.

As a social media expert, I run into all kinds of strange behavior and tips that make me scratch my head. It’s as if the second we want to create a brand or mention we have a book for sale, we forget everything we know about being human.

Twitter is a great way to build a brand and connect and cultivate future readers, but it is shockingly misused.

Today’s post (obviously) is tongue-and-cheek, but humor can be the best teacher even if we’ve oopsed. Thus, here are eight ways to nuke your brand. Like glass-factory-glow-in-the-dark-grow-500-pound-strawberries-for-the-next-six-hundred-years.

Yes, I am being a drama queen. Too much Aqua Net killed off my brain cells.

So Eight Ways to NUKE your BRAND.

Tip #1—Only Use Automation

Writing a 140 characters is SUPER time-consuming. We aren’t Jack London. Besides, people love robots. I know when I feel lonely, I call AT&T because I know a human being will NEVER answer…EVER. Humans can be so boring and don’t offer us the option of hitting 6 if we want to hear everything they just said all over again. 

Yeah, all my BFFs send me automated messages.

Yeah, all my BFFs send me automated messages.

Real Life Application: Program cell phones to call friends and family at regular intervals to ask for money. They’d dig that.

Tip #2—Make Sure All Preprogrammed Tweets are “Carefully Crafted”

Because when we take time to artfully craft our spam, people don’t mind. They LOVE believing a real person is there only to be fooled. It’s like when that cute guy/gal in high school pretended to want to go out with us. Now we can relive that experience as adults by being duped into thinking we were chatting with a real person who actually cared.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 8.41.07 AM

Real Life Application: At the holidays, volunteer to bring one of those awesome fried turkeys, then show up instead with Tofurkey. They won’t know the difference.

Tip #3—When Programming Tweets Include Popular Hashtags…ALL OF THEM

Who goes to social media to socialize? People LOVE finding a community of real people to talk to and then having it crowded out by the same advertising over and over…and over. Because research shows that it takes at least 20 times to see an annoying face before we want to punch it.

Real Life Application: Some people see a funeral, others see a target audience in need of some cheering up with a NEW BOOK. If potential readers aren’t coming to us, we should go to them. Find where they gather then SELL. So what if it’s against their will?

Tip #4—Make People Prove Who They Are Before Talking to Them

Twitter validation services are awesome. We love meeting someone, only to have to jump through hoops to prove our love. We even get the added advantage of being redirected off Twitter to an outside site where we’re easily hacked. How else will all our friends receive direct messages from porn sites posing as us? Nothing seals an on-line relationship like giving others a social media disease. Who will they think of when they have to spend hours removing viruses and trojans from their computers.

Can we say “Top of Mind”?

Come on! It takes three whole seconds to unfollow a bot. We need those precious three seconds to carefully craft witty preprogrammed tweets. Let the other person do the fifty hoops of leg-work to earn our trust. They have plenty of time.

True Twit. Yeppers.

True Twit. Yeppers.

Real Life Application: Whenever we meet someone and start chatting, if we like them, suddenly stop talking and find a way to casually get samples of their hair for your portable drug testing kit. Hey, gotta be safe these days. Don’t want to just chat with any weirdo.

Throw in a urinalysis to be extra sure ;).

Tip#5—Tweet LOTS of Articles—Ok, ALL Articles

Most of us, when we wake up in the morning, think, “Gee, I wish I had a super long reading list. I sure miss my college syllabus.” Those of us with a corporate job LOVE people who hit Reply ALL so we can read more. Wikipedia is a hot place to hang out. Why not bring that encyclopedic magic to Twitter?

Real Life Application: Make sure to print off a box of articles for that wedding you were invited to. Who wants to dance or flirt when they could be reading about intestinal parasites? Handing people a stack of reading material is way better than getting trapped in a “conversation.”

Tip #6—Ask for Stuff Immediately

Oh, sure! Let me drop everything to buy your book.

Oh, sure! Let me drop everything to buy your book.

The second someone befriends us, it’s our job to send an automated link to their Direct Messages so they can do stuff FOR US. Buy our book, like our FB page, follow our blog, or even answer a really inane question (as if we care about their answer) *rolls eyes*. Hey, great to meet you. Do you like vampires or werewolves?

Huh?

Huh?

Real Life Application: If someone is nice to us in the grocery store, make sure to have books to sell and the ability to take credit cards on the spot. Sure, that person is trying to buy a chicken to make for dinner and now she can buy OUR BOOKS, too. Win-win. If we don’t have books for sale, we can ask for life, love or career advice from total strangers, because that isn’t creepy at ALL.

Tip #7—Tweet from Several Accounts/Identities

People on Twitter might miss out on all those “carefully crafted” preprogrammed tweets. Make sure to have anywhere from 2-7 identities sending the same messages. What’s better than spam? MORE SPAM, duh.

Real Life Application: This tactic rocks for singles on the dating scene. Meet a date then several times throughout the conversation, change names and accents. Multiple-personalities are just more people to love.

Tip #8—Never Tweet ANYTHING Original Just Retweet

Again, 140 characters cuts into word count. Save time and retweet what everyone else has to say. Two clicks? DONE.

Real Life Application: Repeat what everyone else says. Don’t you remember how your siblings loved it when you did that to them?

I am not kidding.

I am not kidding.

Why are you repeating everything I say?

Why are you repeating everything I say?

Okay, I am going to tell Mom.

Okay, I am going to tell Mom.

Man, those were good times…until the arm-bar and atomic wedgie.

Okay, Serious Now 

Twitter can be very valuable and a great place to make wonderful friends. Be real and enjoy. People are on social media to be social. We crave connection, fun and escape. If we wanted more ads we’d read the door in the bathroom stall or not bother fast-forwarding through commercials. We don’t need to be profound, deep or immensely witty to do well on Twitter, we just need to be vested, present and authentic ;).

Don’t Get NUKED! A PSA from Kevin Bacon and yes I totally ripped off his idea. Good writers borrow great writers steal :P

Before we go…

THIS SATURDAY! We can’t sell a book if we cannot articulate in one sentence what that book is ABOUT.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. Okay, about 99% of the time there is a plot problem. I can tell by a log-line what is right or wrong with a book (HINT: So can agents). Save a ton of money with editors and a lot of time trying to fix the wrong stuff and spring $35 for TWO HOURS of fun with me. Recording of class is included with admission.

This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first FIFTEEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready.

I LOVE hearing from you!

If you are old enough, how did YOU suffer? Writers today have NO CLUE! We used to get paper cuts!

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.

And yes, I am a complete and total slacker. December’s winner will be announced later because I seriously had three posts go viral. Great problem to have…but tabulating a winner? Gonna take a little time. Love you *air kiss*

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International.  

Branding for Authors (NEXT SATURDAY). This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans who won’t settle for FREE.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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42 Comments

Why Writing Isn’t Enough—The Savvy Writer’s Guide to Success

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Today, we’re going to do something a little different. You want to know one thing I love probably more than anything in the world? Spotting great talent and getting to share it. Thus, today I would like to introduce you to one of my followers who snagged my attention over the holidays and I asked her to come and share her wisdom today because I think we can all gain something from her (even me because am always learning BAY-BEE!).

I would like to introduce, Britt Skrabanek!

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Indie Author Britt Skrabanek

Indie Author Britt Skrabanek

A lot of you may be wondering how I ended up on Kristen’s blog in the first place. She’s pretty big-time, an influencer—she’s worked her tail off to build her brand presence. Many of us look to her for writing tips we can actually use, knowing some esoteric BS like “If you write it, they will come” will not be waiting in our inbox to insult us.

Chances are, you have no idea who in the heck I am.  But, Ha! Now you do :D .

I’m an indie author.

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

The other thing I am, even though it’s more difficult to say than “writer”…I’m a businesswoman. Me—a beer-drinking, tree-hugging Yogi in Portland—I’m in the marketing biz.

When Kristen and I were working out logistics for the topic of this guest piece, she said to use my business/social media wisdom with you guys. In her typical no-nonsense wisdom, Kristen said: “There is some savvy to this.”

You know what? There is.

Writing here is a big honor for me. I’ve been following Kristen’s blog since I started my indie author adventure many moons ago. The reason why she was kind enough to invite me over to her place was, quite simply, because I did some savvy marketing.

I was greatly inspired by one of her blogs on branding, Why Our Author Brand is More Important Than Ever. So I mentioned her in the post I wrote, and though we hadn’t talked more beyond a casual conversation on her blog, I asked if she would share it on social.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 8.58.53 AM

She shocked the hell out of me when she asked me to write a full piece on her blog. My small-time blogger heart went pitter-patter. You know what? I took a chance with a marketing tactic and put myself out there. All she could say was No. But maybe…just maybe, she’d say YES.

:D.

Many of you introverted writer types are totally cringing right now. But if you want others to know what you’ve written, you have to do more than shut up and write.

Writing is only half the battle. We have to market it—tell people about it and hope to God they’ll listen.

Quitting Is Easy, Not Savvy

Like many of you, I threw myself into this writing thing without knowing diddly-squat about marketing, sales, and branding. I believe that writing a novel is one of the greatest achievements of the creative mind, and though anyone can self-publish, not just anyone can pull it off.

Wallpaper image courtesy of David Turnbull via Flickr Creative Commons

Wallpaper image courtesy of David Turnbull via Flickr Creative Commons

Sure, they can put some crap out there on a whim. Amazon makes the process nice and easy—and free. To actually write a novel, you must have a die-hard imagination, you have to be relentlessly organized, and above all, you have to have the vision to see it through.

WAY back in 2012 when I self-published my first book, Beneath the Satin Gloves, I thought people were going to buy it. Real cute, isn’t it?

With great diligence, I followed the indie author rules. I had the almighty platform, with a weekly blog and consistent social media posts. Such a sweet little nobody writer I was…I started building my platform two months before my book release.

So, you can guess what happened. My friends and family, out of pity and curiosity, were my paying customers—my only fans. After that release weekend, my sales fell off.

I’m not going to lie to you. I was devastated and I wanted to quit writing. I was editing the final draft of my second book when all of this was going on, and I had to stop before I chucked my laptop out the window.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

About a week later, my temper tantrum was done. There was no moment of clarity or anything—I just realized how ridiculously naïve I had been. As Kristen said, there’s some savvy to this. We can write a badass book, but it will never see the light of day if we don’t learn how to sell it.

To sell our book, we don’t need to sell our souls, but we do need to sell ourselves.

Why Writing Isn’t Enough

I’ve self-published three novels and I still have a day job. I know how heartbreaking it is to hear that writing isn’t enough. Writing the best content possible—whether it’s a blog post, a tweet, or a full-on novel—is a must-do. Also, a must-do is engaging people. One of the ways I’ve found to make a living as a writer has nothing to do with fiction. (Shocked, aren’t you?)

I’m a Content Manager at a B2B (Business to Business) marketing agency. While writing about email metrics and marketing automation isn’t as fun as writing about a lounge-singing female spy in WWII Berlin, I’ll tell you what is fun about it. I get to learn what it takes to get people’s attention.

Everyone's a critic...

Everyone’s a critic…

Because every business has a blog these days, we’re in the same boat as indie authors. That boat is rickety as all get-out, and most of the time we’re trying not to sink into the sea of online noise.

We have to work our buns off within our niche, we have to provide value to our target audience, and we have to be consistent and tactical.

These are the non-negotiables of creating content to bring awareness to your brand. Awareness is just the tip of the iceberg of the buying cycle, and people have a very long way to go before they make a decision to buy.

I know that’s a lot of B2B jargon, but I hope you’re still with me. Because these realizations are critical for any indie author to understand.

Knowing this will keep you from bailing on your dreams.

There Are No Short-Cuts in Marketing

Image courtesy of EpSos De via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of EpSos De via Flickr Creative Commons

By now, you may be thinking that I’m just a spineless marketer. As a fellow indie, I’m just trying to keep it real. If we go back to this savvy idea, think about what that means. Someone who’s savvy is intelligent, but they’re also cool and charismatic.

As writers, we have to be Rico Suave. Remember that song? Watch this and you can have it stuck in your head for a week. You’re welcome…

In the 90s it was a one-hit wonder, but the singer, Gerardo, left us with an unforgettable image. Like “ubered,” Rico Suave crept into our English slang. Seriously, it’s in Urban Dictionary. This is branding, people.

We’re running a business. We creative types freak when we hear this, but the likelihood and longevity of our writing careers depends on it.

Have you ever seen a business become a sensation overnight? Me neither.

Starry eyes can happen to anyone—not just indies. In fact, starry eyes happen to businesspeople all the time, and guess what? Their business fails.

I had the craziest conversation with a guy I know, who is basically a B2B marketing superstar writer. He really has a handle on business writing and blows my mind with his ability to bust out copy on a daily basis that consistently engages people.

BUT, Mr. Savvy B2B Marketer had starry eyes when he started his personal blog. I had seen his first blog post release, and I congratulated him. As we talked, he told me he wanted to have 5,000 blog subscribers by the end of the first month.

My jaw dropped open. 5,000 subscribers in the first month? Holy s*&t…how?!

I asked him to share his master plans, because with almost four years of blogging under my belt, I have yet to reach 1,000 subscribers. (P.S. This is something I’m totally okay with, because engagement is more important than follower numbers any day.)

Anyhoo, he discussed duplicating the blog content on LinkedIn and possibly some social ads.

Aha, aha. Though I would never dare to copy and paste the exact blog content on LinkedIn to potentially piss off the Google Gods, I nodded along with the tactics. Getting your content in front of different audiences through different channels is good stuff.

I waited for more master plans that never came. We talked a couple of months later, and he was disappointed in his traffic. He wore that defeated writer expression I was all too familiar with, and he was already considering quitting his blog.

Because 5,000 subscribers in the first month of blogging would be a damn miracle and…because there are no shortcuts in marketing.

So, How Do We Stand Out as Writers?

AHHHHHHH!

AHHHHHHH!

Write good s&*t and become Rico Suave. Kidding, kidding. Kind of.

As devout followers of Kristen’s blog, you all know there are so many elements at play, and one measly blog post isn’t going to cover it.

I’ll be completely candid with you guys and tell you I’m one of the most impatient people I know. Now perseverance is a very different thing. Perseverance will propel you forward, so you can finish the novel you’ve been working on for three years. Impatience will disappoint you, make you think you’re not good enough when people don’t come running to buy your book you worked so hard on.

Impatience doesn’t serve us in the self-publishing world. Perseverance does.

I know we’re sick of hearing it, but it takes time. Building a brand/business is a necessary part of being an indie author, and it doesn’t happen on its own.

We have to keep going. We have to be savvy. And most of all, we have to do it for the love.

***

THANK YOU, Britt! Just so you guys know, I actually do pay attention when you link to me or talk to me. Most posts I do take time to read and this year my goal is going to be cultivating and promoting a fresh crop of W.A.N.A. talent because that’s what W.A.N.A. is all about. Teamwork. Big fish helping the baby fish so THEY can become big fish…who then help the next baby fishies.

I hope you enjoyed Britt’s perspective and please check out her site and all her social networks are listed at the bottom of this post so you can follow her. I asked her here simply because I wanted you to know that what you are feeling right now is NOT unique to writers. Yes, most of my job is working with you guys, but I’m also a consultant for I.Q. Solutions in major big brand marketing with companies like Absolut, Budweiser, Luis Vuitton, etc.

Trust me, when we are in a world that BEER companies are struggling? You know it’s tough.

I can tell you that even the big names are having to hustle to keep, gain or maintain an edge. So don’t get too hard on yourself because this is just the tough reality of the digital age. We cannot do business like it’s 1992 and survive let alone thrive.

But good news is… We Are Not Alone.

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.

And yes, I am a complete and total slacker. December’s winner will be announced later because I seriously had three posts go viral. Great problem to have…but tabulating a winner? Gonna take a little time. Love you *air kiss*

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International.  

Registration for Branding for Authors has been EXTENDED (thanks to me getting a stomach bug). This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans who won’t settle for FREE.

Also, I have one craft class listed.

THIS SATURDAY Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Britt Skrabanekis the spirited indie novelist of Nola Fran Evie, Everything’s Not Bigger, and Beneath the Satin Gloves. Her blog is a whimsical snapshot of life, musings, and the glory of the written word. She is blissfully married, has two delightfully incorrigible cats, and loves to experience the world—all of its quirky beauty inspires her endlessly. When she’s not writing, she’s a bike-riding Yogi who loves to dance.

Links: Website | Amazon Author Page | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | YouTube

 

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121 Comments

Why the Fighting? What World are We Creating for Future Readers & Writers?

"The Starving Artist" by Garrett courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

“The Starving Artist” by Garrett courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Since starting this blog back in 2008, I’ve often placed myself square in the crosshairs of critics. Why? Because I’m willing to be unpopular in order for things to change. I step up and say something super unpopular…then things level out because folks go, Oh, wow, maybe Kristen wasn’t completely crazy.

I think this latest kerfluffle regarding me and used bookstores is an interesting event for all of us to study because the digital age is now giving birth. To what? No idea. I think that’s why we need to be actively involved and these are conversations we need to start having.

No one likes talking about money, but we need to. Bookstores need to talk about it. Publishers need to talk about it and writers need to talk about it and none of us are whining when we do it.

Lines are being drawn and there seems to be this belief we must choose sides. That is dangerous because the digital age is so vast that if we’re divided? We lose. Who loses even bigger? The generations to come.

Secondary Markets of the Digital Age

Image via Frankleion courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Frankleion courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

In this entire used books debate I kept hearing used books be compared with cars and houses and computers and in my opinion that is entirely off base. Why? Cars by and large are something consumers cannot do without. Cars are a need. Houses? What’s our other option to buy? Refrigerator boxes? Computers. Really tough to get along in life without one. I have places that won’t even send paper bills anymore.

Books? For most people? Books are a want. Books are an extra. So to compare the used market of shelter and transportation (fundamental human needs) to books? It’s not even in the same universe so wasting time using these as comparisons is a non sequitur and a distraction.

Digital Versus Paper

I think as more posts are written about my Pay the Writer I’m seeing things more clearly. I think one reason for the pushback I got is that folks felt I was reader-shaming those who loved used bookstores. I honestly did not mean to, but my post was too long. It wasn’t as tight as it should have been, lending to confusion. It was probably also not as tight because I was really angry.

Really angry.

But considering that, I looked at why? Why did I get so angry at the original article and today? It hit me. Yes, the whole “exposure” thing and the “working for free” thing pissed me off, but another huge component?

I felt reader-shamed.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 3.52.59 PM

Image “Sunflowers Shamed” via Alan Levine courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

My eyes are not the best. I have an astigmatism and a nystagmus (bouncing eyes) that worsens when I am tired. Ocular albinism runs in my family and my little brother even went to the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.

After severe head trauma in an accident in 1997, my nystagmus got worse. I went from being one of those avid readers who had to sell plasma to afford her habit to not reading at all. It took forever to finish a book because my eyes would jump lines and I’d find myself reading the same line over and over. I’d lose my place and end up in tears.

The genres I grew up loving most—high fantasy in particular—were all but lost to me. My eyes couldn’t endure the small font. I tried magnifiers and all kinds of gadgets but reading by and large had become a misery.

Original Image via JDog90 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Original Image via JDog90 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Until digital.

I remember being the first to buy an iPad, a Nook and a Kindle. Yes, I go overboard in all I do. One of the first books I bought on my Nook (which I bought first to support bookstores)? Game of Thrones. I hadn’t been able to read it in paper.

I can’t describe the feeling. It felt like I was reunited with long-lost loves. I began inhaling books, sometimes a book every other day because now I could adjust the font and I could SEE. *angels singing*

Image via Charl Christiani courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Image via Charl Christiani courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

How Kristen reads all her books…

Then they added Whispersync and when my eyes get too tired for the Old Lady Font to help, I transition to audio.

Discovering e-books reminded me of when my little brother was six years old. We pretty much realized he couldn’t see, but because his eye issue was such a rare condition, no doctor had before spotted it let alone corrected it.

Until fall of 1984.

I remember walking outside the eye specialist with him (I was 10). He was wearing his new specially made glasses. He stopped, stared at the sky and wobbled…then began to cry.

He never knew the trees had leaves. Had never realized those things in the sky were birds.

It’s been over 30 years and I still remember that moment.

And maybe my experience wasn’t as big of a deal, but it sure felt like it. I’d had so many years that my greatest joy was out of reach. And Amazon? Nook? Digital? They brought that back. Better yet? Digital afforded me two things at once—I got to read books I love and also financially support writers I adore.

WIN-WIN.

And ever since we’ve gone into the digital age there is this non-stop fighting—paper versus digital. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been told that e-books are not “real” books.

Why do journalists (BIG journalists) insist on pitting one side against the other? Why do they also tend to pick the side authors are paid the least? Why is it socially acceptable and even encouraged to bash me and how I read books?

Readers Matter, But Do They? Really?

#FUTUREREADERS

#FUTUREREADERS

In all the brouhaha what kept coming up was I didn’t care about readers. That I was somehow reader-shaming people who buy used. Hint: I wasn’t.

The post wasn’t even directed to readers. It was about writers being better business people. But, if we’re going to make it about readers then all right.

What about those of us who love digital? People felt I was horrible because some people are on a limited budget and used books are the only way they can read or discover new authors.

What about people who have severe social anxiety? What about people with disabilities who order on-line? After that accident (mentioned above) I had such bad seizures I couldn’t drive. Had it not been for the Internet and on-line retailers, I wouldn’t have been able to shop at all.

What about people with transportation issues or the elderly? On-line retailers deliver right to their door. What about those readers?

If a person loves used bookstores does it mean then that they hate all these people and don’t want them to have books? If a reader doesn’t like e-books that person obviously thinks handicapped people shouldn’t have books?

No. Of course not. That’s as ridiculous as assuming that I’m against those with a limited income buying used.

If readers really matter then I want to ask. Why are we choosing sides at all?

Why did the Washington Post feel the need to shame ME and the way I happen to love getting books in order to promote the used bookstore? Why is it necessary to hurt one to lift another? It isn’t.

I get that used bookstores are great for discovering new authors and new books, but when I’m online? I get to see a list of suggestions.

Other readers who bought and liked this book ALSO bought this…

I buy more books that I will ever read (from used stores AND digital retailers).

What I don’t understand is why Salon jumps on me that I am somehow reader-shaming people who buy used in their post Don’t Feel Guilty For Buying UsedBut Rachel, just curious. If it’s really about you championing readers, then where was your post Don’t Feel Guilty for Buying E-Books? Where was the post Don’t Feel Ashamed for Ordering Books on Amazon? 

Thought so.

So maybe I did actually have a point in my post after all.

Wanting to Make a Living is Noble

Future writer.

Future writer. Get a real job you schlep!

In all the commentary I saw booksellers (used in particular) claiming how hard it was to make a living being up against places like Walmart and Amazon and digital and megastores, and that’s okay. Dang skippy it is! *fist bump*

But strangely, not one person said to the bookseller, “You’re whining! Get another job you loser! Find another paid line of work!” Yet, I lost count how many times that was said to me. How many times that was said about the writers I love.

Here’s the deal. ALL of us are in a tight spot. Digital is presenting all kinds of challenges. Consumers who want fast and cheap? They’re just as troublesome for the bookseller as the author. For publishers and booksellers and authors to be vexed by authentic market challenges?

That isn’t whining.

We all need to start having the crucial conversations. But we aren’t. Why? Low hanging fruit. It’s easier for the major journalists to keep fueling an Us vs. Them. Get paper people fighting with digital.

Why didn’t Salon pick any of my other follow up posts to highlight? The hard truth about publishing, how to support writers with reviews (for the used buyers on a limited income), or the post about Fair Trade Fiction? All of these posts meant better pay and business for authors and booksellers (used booksellers in particular)? Why didn’t they highlight any of these blogs?

Because then no one would have been fighting ;) . They couldn’t sell ads.

It’s Time for Sustainability

Baby Spawn and his iPad.

We have entire generations growing up teething on smartphones and tablets. Schools are issuing iPads instead of books. Millennials are accustomed to file-sharing and free and downloads. Remember Emily White’s famous NPR post about owning over 11,000 songs and yet only ever purchasing 15 CDs?

Emily is our future reader. This is the reader we need to cultivate a desire to buy something new…or we’re all doomed.

What about our future writers and their abilities to make a living? What about them? If we’re all going to shame them for wanting to make a living, then why don’t we just stop kidding ourselves and shut down the arts now? Instead we can train them to be real estate agents and pharmaceutical reps. You know. “Real” jobs.

Yes, READ!

Read books any way and every way you want. Libraries, used, B&N, new, Amazon, e-book. I was always in favor of that. But to say one way of consumption isn’t preferable to others (if you’re a writer)? That is just not reality. Discoverability is useless without a new purchase. People discover new music on YouTube all the time, but it doesn’t help the artist or the recording label until a purchase is made.

Yes, obscurity is our biggest threat. But it damn sure isn’t our only threat and stop acting like it is.

That’s like all of us being stranded in the Klondike and wailing that exposure is our greatest threat. Yes, well it is. But the starving to death and dehydration are also pretty big frigging deals, too.

Might it not be a good idea to instill a desire to buy new simply for sustainability? To teach social responsibility to the up and coming generations of readers? For the benefice of authors and booksellers? Because call me crazy but last I checked, bookstores sell books.

Want to save forests? Great! Recycle your newspapers. But we can’t just stop there. We are going to have to plant new trees. It’s true with trees and it’s true with artists and businesses. If we love it, we need to nurture it. Sustainability.

What are your thoughts? Do you love digital? I know I buy a lot of books from used because when I write NF I need to have page numbers and e-books don’t give me an accurate page number. Do you like the portability of the e-book? I travel and it is SO awesome being able to bring twenty books in my purse.

I also like reading at night in bed. Hubby can go to sleep and since my Kindle is backlit I can read while he goes to sleep. Do you do a lot of shopping on-line? Do you get tired of being told e-books aren’t “real” books? Do you get tired of the constant Us vs. Them? I love paper books and miss them. I just really have a hard time reading them.

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.

And yes, I am a complete and total slacker. December’s winner will be announced later because I seriously had three posts go viral. Great problem to have…but tabulating a winner? Gonna take a little time. Love you *air kiss*

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International.  

Branding for Authors (THIS SATURDAY). This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans who won’t settle for FREE.

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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84 Comments

Brain Games—Are You Unwittingly Killing Your Book Biz?

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons via Cortto

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons via Cortto

The past three weeks have been the weirdest game of telephone ever. In my scandalous post Pay the Writer,knew this would happen but there really was just no getting around it. I knew the second I made any negative commentary about a sacred cow (used bookstore) we’d have problems.

I also knew my post was going to ripple through the web and get redacted down to the juicy and untrue morsel of: Did you hear? Kristen Lamb hates used bookstores.

But this is a really cool lesson in neuroscience and communication and I believe that nothing should ever be wasted. I’m going to use this to show you some cool tricks that will help you reach out to readers, improve your book sales and up the effectiveness of your promotional efforts.

THANK YOU Critics for Proving My Point

So, this all started when I got pissed off at writers (not readers). Writers were sharing an article with a click-bait headline that was bashing Amazon (and by association all on-line retailers) and digital while hailing the great return of the used bookstore. All would have been fine…had the article simply been hailing the return of the used bookstore. I love used bookstores. Need a 12 Step Program for the money I spend there.

But the article wasn’t just hailing the return of the used bookstore. The article was using this as an opportunity to bash the best (and only remaining) ways authors are paid.

Here’s the thing. All that lovely exposure a used bookstore offers does writers no good if you spend an entire article trashing the only remaining places to buy NEW. And not just any article…a Washington Post article.

And yes, I called foul. It was a dirtbag move that was undermining writers and their ability to earn a living. I knew I’d take heat and I would do it again.

Anyway, back to the brain.

If you read my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World you’re going to find it has a lot of neuroscience in it. The human brain is a really interesting thing and the more you understand it, the more effective your brand and promotions will be.

Did you know that the human brain only begins listening at the first active verb?

So if you say, “Don’t forget your keys.” What your brain hears is, “Forget your keys.”

Seriously, use this with goal-setting and resolutions and I promise it will change your life. I say, instead, “Kristen, remember your keys.

This was why I knew my blog was going to probably come back and bite me. Yes, I knew I needed to construct it better. I had pneumonia when I wrote it and was ticked off, so I really just didn’t care.

For the folks who took time and read the blog post thoughtfully, they were dumbfounded that anyone disagreed with what I said.

I never really attacked used bookstores. I attacked the article.

I repeatedly said buy from used bookstores and that I buy from them. I even said feel free to promote them…but make sure to educate readers that you don’t get paid there so IF they read something of yours they LIKE, please buy something new.

That’s pretty much it.

And it IS okay to disagree with me. But many people who initially believed they disagreed with me, later realized they actually didn’t. We’d run into terrible miscommunication fueled by my NyQuil induced fugue state :P .

The problem (I feel) came as a side-effect of the digital age and that people tend to do a lot of scanning material. And while it was all kind of a pain in the @$$, I think some great discussion about authors being paid has come out of it and today we are going to use it for a very different but VERY useful lesson.

What Went Sideways?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Steve and Shanon Lawson

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Steve and Shanon Lawson

Because I had to add a caveat to many of my assertions, I knew I was running a huge risk. Any audience member who was not wholly focused? I chanced losing. When I wrote an assertion akin to:

Don’t promote used bookstores, unless you then tell readers at some point they are going to need to buy new. If we don’t educate our reader, they won’t know how to support us…

What do you think most people scanning the article likely saw?

Don’t promote used bookstores.

Every single article later criticizing me completely missed the point of my blog, likely because they scanned it or relied on second hand accounts.

Or worse? The reading comprehension in this country is at an all-time low. This morning I awoke to a blog claiming I was up in arms that writers needed to be paid royalties on used books. WTH? Okay, some people apparently need me to blog in crayon and use way smaller words.

I got this on Facebook last night.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.32.46 PM

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.33.26 PM

For the record, all my human sacrifices are on altars constructed of old hardbacks. Paperbacks soak in blood too quickly and then you can’t finish summoning the demon properly…

Moving on.

Another weird trick about the brain is that order dictates emotional weight/importance.

So, if you work for me as my assistant and I tell you, “I need you to get me Tom’s number, an appointment with the dentist and an espresso.”

What will you assume that I probably want the most/first? What are you also most likely to remember?

If the AC guy shows up and your kids start blowing up your phone with texts and you spill coffee in your crotch and you then look at your watch an hour later…which item are you most likely to recall? That I needed Tom’s number.

Thus, when the original article that send me into orbit began with bashing Amazon and digital sales…then later talked about the rise of used bookstores. What do you think was the most lasting impression on the brain, whether readers were conscious of it or not?

If the brain uses order to assign importance, then many Washington Post readers walked away not just feeling good about a used bookstore. They also walked away believing Amazon and digital were bad because the article began with that.

That was part of why I was so angry. It was a blatant manipulation of the audience. See, people like me can spot the man behind the curtain.

***BONUS TIP: When people are emotional, angry or upset, they will reverse the order (emotional distancing). So, if you are in a fight with your wife and she finally tells you what is wrong? And she says, “You forgot the dishwashing soap, left your clothes in the dryer, and we don’t spend time together anymore.” You are wasting your breath arguing about dish soap. She does NOT CARE ABOUT DISH SOAP. Book a B&B. You can thank me later.

Brain Business—ARE YOU KILLING YOUR BOOK BIZ?

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Frankeileon

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Frankeileon

You, dear writer have gone through all this trouble to build a platform of not just writers, but people who might be readers (code for family friends and regular folks who might buy a book). They look to YOU to be their expert and guide.

Since only about 5% of the literate population are the type who inhale multiple books a week, most of these folks may read a handful of books a year if that.

Who cares if it is your book?

Since they are NOT the type of reader who requires an intervention for their habit, this argument about everyone who reads books being so broke they can’t buy new is crap.

Most regular folks? If they want a book, they buy off Amazon or go to a B&N at their local mall. They’re generally not the reader who’s trolling the bargain bins in front of Half Price Books because they just sold some plasma and can afford a couple new Neil Gaiman books.

Ignore Outliers

The BIGGEST mistake too many writers make is they assume they are selling to themselves. That their best market is the avid reader. Yes, we love the avid reader. But she is rare and not our best market.

The left side of the bell curve (the complete non-reader) is not our market at all. But the far-right, the reader who goes through a book a day? That reader would go bankrupt trying to buy everything new. She’s going to buy mostly used or check out stuff from a library and frankly I don’t blame her.

Also, she’s likely going to be a far pickier reader to please, so reviews are going to be much rarer because she’s a tougher to impress than the person who reads two books a year.

So we ignore the non-reader for the most part. Not a bad plan. But then writers ALL chase after the far right part of the Bell Curve (The White Stag).

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons and courtesy of Richard Fisher

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons and courtesy of Richard Fisher

And THEN we ignore the 90% of the population in need of being informed or entertained. I call those Brown Deer Readers (fat part of the bell curve).

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of John Stratford.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of John Stratford.

Yes, the White Stags loooove the used bookstores, but Brown Deer Readers? Not so much. And there are a heck of a lot more of them and guess what?

Brown Deer Readers are the game-changers.

J.K. Rowling did not become a billionaire by landing only White Stags. She became a billionaire by captivating the fat part of the bell curve of folks who didn’t believe they enjoyed books…until her books.

The fat part of the bell curve would rather be trying out pilates or watching Game of Thrones or head shooting buddies on PS4.

THIS is the reader you want. It is the reader I want. Why? Because when you captivate these readers this is when legends are made.

There are people who will tell you they do not read. They do not consider themselves readers, BUT they bought every single 50 Shades book in hard cover. They bought every Twilight, every Harry Potter book. They are the most avid fans any novelist can have simply because they are NOT avid readers.

Many of these folks still believe they hate reading…but they love YOUR books.

These people become an author’s single greatest asset. They will not only buy your books, they will evangelize them.

THIS is OUR CUSTOMER.

Now. Go back to what I was talking about. Modern communication.

You post articles and blogs bashing digital and Amazon. Regular people in your platform see those scroll by and since they are not avid readers, they don’t read further. They don’t want to buy books. They like you so they want to buy YOUR book (maybe).

Later, your books come out. I can tell you (from my background) what very likely will happen.

Wow! I see Penelope’s book is out. Better not get a digital copy or go to Amazon. She said it was bad. 

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of coolio-claire

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of coolio-claire

And THIS is what started it all. Being aware what we are posting because we are supposed to be guiding our consumers, not confusing them. We cannot take for granted that every person buying our books is an avid reader who understands the book business.

Khaled Hosseini tells a funny story of how his mother bought all the copies she found of his book The Kite Runner in Iran not knowing she was buying pirated copies of his work and that he would never make a dime off her beautiful gesture of support.

Use Our Brains Other Places

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Pierre Olivier-Carles

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Pierre Olivier-Carles

How we say things has always mattered. Now that we are in the digital age it is probably more important simply because we are dealing with an overwhelmed and distracted audience. The opportunities for miscommunication are endless.

I don’t regret writing the post, but I could have saved myself a lot of time defending misunderstanding if I’d followed my own teachings.

But phrasing stuff in the negative is so common and it’s a killer. I see writers doing promotions all the time and I cringe because they’re shooting themselves in the foot (I see this with businesses too, btw).

Don’t forget to buy my book!

What did you just tell your audience?

Don’t forget to buy my book!

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter!

Don’t miss this promotion!

Strive to tell people what you do want. It’s far more effective. If you are writing to make a living, you’re going to have to communicate clearly to consumers because it is really easy to confuse them. Yes, I love used bookstores, but I really am fond of being able to pay my light bill even more. So I work hard to promote places I am paid because I appreciate how easy it is to confuse a consumer. Trust me, they can find a used bookstore on their own ;) .

So what are y’all’s thoughts?

Seriously, now does every fight you’ve ever had with your spouse make sense? Do you now understand why your kid keeps forgetting his backpack? Don’t forget your backpack! Have you spent too much time chasing after avid readers and underestimated the regular folks? What are your thoughts? Aside from wondering why I hate used bookstores :P

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.

And yes, I am a complete and total slacker. December’s winner will be announced later because I seriously had three posts go viral. Great problem to have…but tabulating a winner? Gonna take a little time. Love you *air kiss*

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International.  

Branding for Authors (THIS SATURDAY). This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans. FIND YOUR BROWN DEER!

Also, I have one craft class listed. Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line. Our stories should be simple enough to tell someone what the book is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t do this, often there is a plot problem. This class is great for teaching you how to be master plotters and the first TEN SIGNUPS get their log-line shredded for free, so you will be agent ready for the coming year.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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