Your Writing Future–Are You Investing or Gambling?

 

Welcome to WANA Wednesday, the day I dedicate to helping you guys rock it hard on social media and based off my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. There are a lot of writers out there who believe they are playing it safe. Don’t think I don’t see you. You want to wait until you get an agent to begin blogging and building a platform. The idea of using your name or having a fan page makes you uncomfortable, and you have no idea how to promote when you don’t even have a finished book. I have some tough news to tell you. You aren’t playing it safe at all. You are gambling with your future. Not even gambling. You’re playing craps. It’s okay. Breathe. It’s a common and easy mistake. I know you are hesitant, and I am here to help you out. We are going to walk you through some guarateed ways to lay the groundwork for a successful writing career, but first we need to recalibrate your brain. This might sting a little.

Look into my eyes. You are no longer a hobbyist who enjoys writing. You are a professional author, and certain duties go in the job description (yes, even if you don’t yet have a finished book).

I am going to let you in on a little secret—you do not have to be published to be considered a professional author. You don’t even have to be finished with your novel to be considered a professional author. All you have to do is decide…then do.

You are a professional author the second you proclaim it to be. Now, when you take on certain habits, one day (hopefully in the near future) you will become a successful professional author. We will talk about those habits in a minute.

Brain hurting? Okay. Work with me. Envision you were born to cook. You knew it from the time you were four years old and tried to make scrambled eggs with your mother’s waffle iron. You are only happy when you are cooking and creating new dishes. You are also a chef by trade, and since you want to make a living doing what you love, you decide to open your own restaurant. The day you take out a business loan to open Le Awesome French Food you are officially a chef-restaurant-owner. The entire time that Le Awesome French Food’s building is under construction, you are still a chef-restaurant-owner. The restaurant doesn’t have to be open and serving quiche for you to be a chef-restaurant-owner. BUT, once that restaurant opens, your habits and the work you did ahead of time (*cough* marketing…um, perfecting recipes, not spending the loan money on women and cheap liquor) will determine whether you will be a successful chef-restaurant-owner or just another flopped restaurant idea. Even though cooking is your passion, and the CORE of Le Awesome French Food, you will have to do the un-fun things like accounting, promotion, and marketing…until you make enough profit to outsource.

Okay…back to the world of publishing. You are a professional writer. Remember that. Write it on a Post-It backwards and stick it to your forehead so you can see this when you go to the bathroom. Kidding!

Building a social media platform before you are published is smart. It is professional. It is way more professional than throwing caution to the wind and hoping luck will make your book soar up the best-selling list. This isn’t Vegas. This is your future. Assuming you want a writing career, you need to be smart.

Building a platform isn’t ego or hubris, and anyone who tells you that doesn’t understand the industry. And it really doesn’t matter if you are unpublished. In fact, you have an edge simply because you don’t have anything to sell. You will find it easier to be genuine. And yeah, I am really sorry that this is more work to do, but there are a lot of reasons this career isn’t for everyone. Just think of it this way. If you work you a$$ off now, you stand a better shot of having a legion of interns doing this crap for you in the future. It’s an investment. Wise people invest. Fools gamble.

The largest majority of book sales (roughly 80%) happen via word of mouth. This is why only a fraction of writers sell the most books. Brands sell books. People know Stephen King and Stephenie Meyers and Amy Tan and…

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Kristen. You have told us this crap until we are blue! Brands! Got it! Sheesh!

Maybe some of you, but I can see others, and you aren’t too sure. You hide behind cutesy monikers and blog titles and use pseudonyms so you can keep your writing life secret (from all those people who don’t know how to use the Internet, because anyone with google and a half a brain can find you, but I digress…). I am seeing a glazed look and your palms are getting kind of sweaty when I mention the words fan page.

Repeat after me. I am a professional author. I am a professional author. I am a professional author.

Because here is the bag of dog poo slapped across the face. If we don’t stand up and claim professional status then all we are is gaggle of wanna-be hack hobbyists. Either choose the path of the professional, or forget about an agent and just write for fun. You will save a lot of therapy this way.

So for those of you interested in succeeding at this “writing” thing, read on.  

An agent isn’t the end of the game. Getting an agent is one step in a very large chess match. Great, you knocked off one pawn. No shouting Check Mate! yet. There is a lot of game to go. Your agent, should you land one, still has to sell that book to a publishing house. That publishing house then needs to sell so many copies of your book. Don’t sell enough copies, and it isn’t likely a publishing house will gamble on a losing horse twice. (Self-publishing isn’t a panacea and requires a MUCH larger platform…so no loopholes here).

How do you start looking like a wise investment? You build a platform. Your query letter is your business proposal.

Writers are essentially a small business. Sorry to burst the bubble that you can type on your Mac and get an agent and then your biggest concern will be where to buy your mansion—Malibu or Martha’s Vineyard? Yep, Santa isn’t real either. Sorry. I was bummed, too.

To be a successful writer we must lay a plan for success. We cannot control if vampires are hot or passé. We cannot control if people are reading more or less.  We cannot control if e-books will take over and NY will implode in the process. We can control TWO things. Two things, Kiddies.

Product & Platform

This is why I bust my tuchus blogging and suffering for you. I have enough suffering to go around. I am a writer, and my mother is from NY. I know all about guilt. Trust me, I am verklempt most of the time.

So to recap. We can control product. Mondays are to teach you guys tactics to get better and better at what you do…writing. We can control our product. Join a writing group, read craft books, read magazines, take one of Bob’s workshops, and practice. Grow and get better and stronger. You have yet to do your best work. And here is the deal, writing that novel is a very small part of your job as a career author. You cannot write eight hours a day.

Ah, but here is the next point that just gets a bee in my bonnet every time. We can also control building a platform. In fact, with the changing paradigm of publishing, here is the truth…we are responsible for building this platform. NY ain’t going to do it for us. A lot of your work (like our chef friend) will be to build your reputation. Look at it this way, social media gives your brain a break, and you can be doing something productive that serves your career.

Agents are taking fewer clients and publishing houses are backing fewer titles. Why? Because they are in the business of making money, so they are playing it safe by banking on known commodities. Who can really blame them? When it comes to taking on new blood, these guys are looking for good bets. Here’s a little illustration to make my point.

If given the choice between three unpublished writers, who do you think they will choose?

Creative Caroline wanted to solely focus on the writing. She felt the Internet was a distraction and only blogged every few weeks when she felt especially inspired. Most of her posts were about her own writing journey with little thought given to serving a reading audience. The total hits on her blog are nothing to write home about. Most of her comments are spam, because she forgets to go in and delete those nice comments from the Chinese Aromatherapy Cheap Handbags Cheap Zanex site. There are no comments, so no proof of a vested, reading audience. Caroline feels it is just too confusing to do Twitter, and thinks FB Fan Pages are just tacky. She does have a Facebook page, but the security is locked down so tightly the Pentagon calls her for pointers.

Creative Caroline is a really brilliant writer, and her manuscript is excellent, but the only people who know about her as an author or her book are people in her immediate family, friends and writing group. So if every person Caroline knew bought a book, she might sell 200 books (and that is being generous). When Theoretical Agent googles her name, Caroline is nowhere to be found until page three. And, when Theoretical Agent finally finds Caroline’s blog—Mystic Writer Star Dreams—the agent quickly sees that it hasn’t been updated since this past summer.

Ouch.

Networking Ned doesn’t have time to read books on his craft or even polish his manuscript. He thinks his marketing is so great that it doesn’t matter. He spends hours “friending” people on all the major sites. He knows nothing about anyone, but spams them non-stop offering free downloads of his up-and-coming book. He doesn’t genuinely interact with anyone on Twitter, he sends auto-tweets…about himself, his blog, and his book. He relies on auto-follow messages instead of taking the time to type a genuine five-word message. Ned has no time to be genuine, he is too busy thinking only of himself. Networking Ned has a heck of a “platform” to put in his query letter, but the agent can tell in ten pages that Ned doesn’t know the fundamentals of his craft. The book, to be blunt…sucks.

Prudent Polly was overwhelmed by the publishing industry, but she noted all the e-readers and PDAs and figured that the Internet wasn’t going away, so she needed to understand it. She sought out resources to help her use social media effectively, because she read in mega-super-literary-agent Donald Mass’s Writing the Breakout Novel that marketing dollars didn’t make a difference—good writing & word of mouth sold the most books. Word of mouth and good writing even had the power to launch nobodies into the best-selling list.

Polly saw pretty quickly that she didn’t have it in her to be on every single social media site, so in addition to the FB page she’s had since college, Polly added in blogging and Twitter. She also happened to read the brilliant, charming, selfless, and humble Kristen Lamb’s blog about building fan pages. Polly has a lovely page hidden, and every week she adds more pictures and blogs and links. The day she lands an agent she will unveil and invite all those FB friends she has been making over the past year to “like” her page…a page that looks seriously nifty by the way.  

Since Polly blogs three times a week, every week, people have had time to get to know her and like her voice. They also take her seriously as a writer, because she acts like a professional writer. Polly’s blog over the course of the year she has been posting has grown to where she has hits in the thousands. Last month her blog hits were 12,000 and climbing.  

Polly was careful to make sure she was also learning about craft. In fact she networked with other bloggers who were blogging on craft, and she used their insight to write a truly excellent manuscript. Ah, but Polly knows that she has solid writing to offer…and also a blog following in the thousands. She also has had time to befriend other bloggers with followings even larger than hers…and since they like her, they have agreed to help her promote once her book is released.

An agent can google Polly Prepared and see her name commands most of the first page. Additionally, they can pop by her site and see Polly has a regular following, because she has skads of interaction in her comments. There is a genuine dialogue with READERS! Agents dig that. They know it makes their job selling Polly’s manuscript to an editor WAY easier.

Now this agent sees a writer who can write, and whose marketing reach extends….exponentially.

Who looks like the best bet?

Feel free to ignore Ned. Most everyone else does.

Creative Caroline might get an agent. She might even be successful, but she doesn’t look like a good bet. Why? No one knows her. She didn’t lay the groundwork for her fan base, and she is starting from Ground Zero. She will be half-crazy trying to build a platform and market so the first book doesn’t fail, and this takes time away from writing her future books. That, and to be honest, there are too many other writers just as talented who come with a ready-made platform.

It’s sort of like thirty years ago, if you had a four-year degree, you could write your ticket to success. Now? That four-year degree might keep you from serving fries for a living…or not.

I know you guys are wise people…you read this blog😀. Seriously. You are professional writers. You have to own it, name it and claim it. If your family gives you a hard time, send them to this blog. And if they still give you a hard time, threaten to make them a character in your novel.

My book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media lays out a step-by-step plan that is:

  1. FREE—I appreciate that most writers are BROKE. Aside from the cost of the book, your home computer and Internet connection, every tactic in my book is completely FREE
  2. FAST—If you are super motivated, it will take you a day to build your platform’s foundation. This foundation will give you roots on the top social media sites and link them together to where they feed each other.
  3. EASY—I tested this book on my 60 year-old mother who was afraid she would delete the Internet if she hit the wrong button. She now rules Facebook. Befriend her at your peril.
  4. LOW MAINTENANCE—Aside from writing blogs, which I highly recommend that you blog, you can build and maintain a platform in less than a half hour a day. The way I teach you makes you work smarter, not harder. You have blogs and best-selling books to write!
  5. RECOMMENDED–I have built many successful platforms using the methods I teach in this book.  My book is recommended by literary agents.

Okay, so I hope you guys are PUMPED UP and ready to totally own this writing thing. I am stoked about helping you guys be 5%ers, the top of the heap, the Big Kahunas of the writing world. I am going to start a series next week to teach you how to blog effectively. Get started in January the RIGHT way and put together a query letter that will impress the socks off that agent.

Thanks for stopping by. You guys have any questions? Realizations? Feeling sick. Share here and I will make sure you get an e-group hug. This stuff is TERRIFYING. I didn’t always understand this stuff either. Look at the URL and you will see it ain’t “Kristen Lamb.” I made all the dumb mistakes so you don’t have to. So share your fears, your triumphs, your recipe for a margarita that’s 110% alcohol. I dig hearing from you guys. Let’s me know you are still alive and I haven’t given you a stroke😀.

Now for the Mash-Up of Awesomeness

All writers should follow these blogs:

Bob Mayer’s Write It Forward. A NY Times Best-Selling Author is taking time to help you guys succeed. Take notes.

Writer Unboxed brings together the best in the industry–authors, agents, editors–and the advice is priceless.

Author Jody Hedlund blogs three times a week, and often about writing and social media. She rocks.

Jane Friedman is an editor at Writers Digest Magazine and she takes the time to blog about all kinds of topics to help us be the best at our craft and build our career.

Chuck Wendig is as subtle as a sledgehammer. His blog is funny, irreverent and all true. Need a kick in the tush? Read Chuck.

Our job is lonely, underappreciated and can sometimes even suck. Need a laugh? Read a woman who understands. Author Tawna Fenske (Blogging Goddess) is a surefire way to reset your attitude.

Great Writing Book of the Week (Recommended by Moi)

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. This is a screenwriting book, but every fiction writer needs to read this book. It is funny, easy to read and will help you understand your craft in a unique way.

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  1. #1 by Tawna Fenske on December 1, 2010 - 3:54 pm

    Fabulous post, as always! I wanna be a Big Kahuna, I do🙂

    Tawna

  2. #2 by CMStewart on December 1, 2010 - 4:11 pm

    “You are a professional author the second you proclaim it to be.” Awesome advice!

    You need to take your own writing seriously before others will take your writing seriously.

  3. #3 by Alysa Wishingrad on December 1, 2010 - 5:00 pm

    Your posts always are perfectly timed in my world and I love the blog/book list too- Thanks

  4. #4 by Piper Bayard on December 1, 2010 - 5:40 pm

    Thanks for your post. Reminds me of a card I got once for my son. It’s a picture of a goldfish with a shark fin strapped to it’s back and the caption, “Attitude is everything.” Strapping on my author fin. All the best.

  5. #5 by Leo Godin on December 1, 2010 - 7:34 pm

    Fantastic article. I’ve been seriously writing for less than a year and most of my research points to building your own brand (or platform as you call it). What amazes me, are the writers who have skills, have been writing and researching for years, but can’t even conceptualize this. When I talk about building a community they just treat me like I’m stupid. It’s a shame, because there are good writers who may never be published.

    • #6 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 1, 2010 - 7:45 pm

      Thanks Leo. Yeah, I pride my teachings on basically being common sense. There is a lot of fear involved, which I can appreciate. Writers should love to write. Blogging is a great way to hone your skills and build habits that will make you successful in your writing career. Thanks for taking the time to comment,😀.

  6. #7 by Dr. Tom Bibey on December 1, 2010 - 9:47 pm

    Unique is the ticket. I am the world’s only physician bluegrass fiction writer. If people want to know mandolin music can find truth in medical practice, I’m their writer.

    Dr. B, author, “The Mandolin Case”

    • #8 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 1, 2010 - 9:50 pm

      Unique is a good start, but not quite the ticket. We have to write a great story and people need to know who we are. Being unique does help, though and should be considered when creating your brand. Thanks for taking the time to comment,😀.

  7. #9 by Jami Gold on December 1, 2010 - 10:44 pm

    Great article! I know too many writers who are scared to even call themselves an aspiring writer. *sigh* Love your advice to embrace the “author” title. Dream it, live it, be it.

  8. #10 by Marilag Lubag on December 1, 2010 - 11:38 pm

    Reading a lot of books, I learned that it does not matter how good of a writer you are. Authors who are not the best writers become great bestsellers. That’s what I’m trying to learn-how these authors did it. Afterwards, I figured that if that’s the case, I need to learn how to market my book better and not focus on perfecting my manuscript.

    It also means that although I should hone my craft, I shouldn’t bother making my manuscript perfect since it’s impossible. I should focus on reading everything I could and writing everyday. If I could make my writing presentable–as well as professional–enough, then I could submit it to the publisher.

    • #11 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 1, 2010 - 11:48 pm

      One thing I learned from reading Maass’s book (and it is true) writing and story-telling are two different things. You have authors like Grisham who are nothing special in the “writing prose” department, but they can tell a hell of a story. You are doing the right thing. I see waaaay too many authors holding on to that same first novle, shopping it year after year…after year. They tweak and adjust and never move forward. I say read A LOT and work hard and move forward. We can control the two Ps. Beyond that? It’s just a waste of time. Get in good writing habits. When you land an agent you can’t just write when you feel like it.

  9. #12 by Emily Harper on December 2, 2010 - 1:14 am

    Thanks for the wonderful post! I am trying to get into the blogging scene, building my social network. I think the hardest part is just getting started. My Mom asked me “What are you going to blog about?” and I had no idea. I am most comfortable when I am speaking through my characters so I started blogging in the voice of my protagonist and it has worked to get me started (and is also a good marketing tool for my manuscript)!

    • #13 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 2, 2010 - 1:30 am

      Emily, thanks for the wonderful compliment. Make sure you read the upcoming blog series. And as far as blogging from a character’s POV, there are better plans. Your goal is to market YOU, not the book. YOU are the brand. If this book tanks. You can’t get it published or–GASP–the editor makes you kill or change your protag, that’s a lot of wasted effort. Also, I want to help you lay groundwork for a CAREER. How many books did Crichton have? So keep the enthusiasm and I will help you craft a plan.

      I am really happy you are excited, but I highly recommend a copy of my book before you get too far so that your efforts are meaningful and pay off for the long-term😀.

  10. #14 by Jody Hedlund on December 2, 2010 - 1:23 am

    Love your posts, Kristen! I have to say, that in hindsight, I can TOTALLY see that having built up my web presence early really paid off for after my book was published. It gave my book an extra boost. So I can testify first hand that a platform certainly helped me. And I’m really glad that I didn’t have to start from scratch now, when I’ve been so busy with everything else that comes with a debut book.

    • #15 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 2, 2010 - 1:33 am

      Thanks, Jody. That means a lot from you. Yeah I watch what you are doing and think, “Oh my! She couldn’t so all this if she had to start from the BEGINNING!” God bless you and the blogs you write for us to make us better😀.

  11. #16 by timkeen40 on December 2, 2010 - 2:14 am

    Kirsten,
    Thanks for the advice. I have written my entire life and am just now seriously breaking into the realm of actually trying to get my works sold. Any advice I can get is golden.

    http://timkeen40.wordpress.com

    • #17 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 2, 2010 - 2:24 am

      Well, sorry for the self-promo ahead of time. My book is written in the same “voice” as this blog. Ask for a copy for Christmas or break down and invest 15 or less bucks on yourself. I also blog every Wednesday about social media for WRITERS😀. We are…different. If you have any pressing questions, just ask away in the comments and I will try to answer.

      Happy I can help!

  12. #18 by Amanda Hoving on December 2, 2010 - 2:59 am

    I always come away from your posts feeling pumped and ready to write — thanks, Kristen. I think building a platform is tough for a lot of writers, because many (myself included) are more of an introverted bunch. Well, except for Networking Ned…

    Looking forward to reading your book.

    • #19 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 2, 2010 - 3:34 am

      Thanks, Amanda. Networking Ned…yeah. Can we just shoot him? LOL. Actually social media is an introvert’s dream. It lets you go at your own speed and interact on your terms. If you even just made a habit of reposting information for others and putting trackbacks of their stuff in your blog, you would be SHOCKED how fast your platform would grow with that alone. In the book there is a chapter dedicated to what to say/do on social media, and it is written with introverts in mind. Thanks again for such a lovely compliment and I really hope I can help your career be a successful one😀.

  13. #20 by Saffina Desforges on December 2, 2010 - 8:25 am

    Hi Kristen,

    As always, your blog is insightful and inspiring and thankfully, brutally honest! I think we need that, it reminds us that you aren’t just sat there making all of this up, that we might actually have to put some effort into things other than writing! Greatly appreciated advice once again. Thank you.

  14. #21 by Terrell Mims on December 2, 2010 - 3:34 pm

    I definitely take the time to invest. Smart investing yeilds high returns.

  15. #22 by Jennifer McFadden on December 3, 2010 - 7:53 pm

    Hi Kristen,

    I just found your blog from Jan O’Hara on Facebook. Your blog is very informative and inspiring, I can tell that you put a lot of time and effort into helping authors.

    I am fairly new to blogging, and am not sure what I want to write about. I plan to buy your book before I post on my blog though!

    Thanks for the advice!

    • #23 by Author Kristen Lamb on December 3, 2010 - 7:58 pm

      Thanks Jennifer. Yes, the book will walk you through a detailed step-by-step and is written in the same voice as these blogs. It’s bad enough we have to learn about social media so it might as well be fun, right? I blog on social media every Wednesday and will be starting a series about blogging. How do you blog? what do you blog about? How often should you blog? etc. Writers keep hearing that they need to blog, but no one is telling them WHAT to blog about. So I am hopefully going to remedy that,😀. Jan is a peach and I am really happy you have found my blog. And yes I put a ton of work into these blogs, but it is a real treat to be able to genuinely help you guys.

  16. #24 by julietruekingsley on December 8, 2010 - 2:45 am

    That’s right, Social Media Sister! I used to think that blogging would take away from my writing but it’s given me the opportunity to play with voice and ideas. I’ve loved every minute of it, especially connecting with people from all over the world. My first comment was from Bovine Bob from Japan. How cool is that? Thanks for the post, I’ll check back for more great advice.

  17. #25 by bill hubiak on December 17, 2010 - 6:23 pm

    Thank you so much for your inspiring articles and for the kick-in the pants. The rest of this month I’m dedicating myself to getting into gear in the blogging world.

  18. #26 by Jessica Thomas on December 21, 2010 - 4:21 pm

    Great post. I’m glad I found your blog! I already took notes on your post about testing your story idea. Going to apply them to my WIP and blog about the process some time next week (if the six-week-old snuggly sleeping in my Moby wrap allows it.)🙂

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