Archive for category Business

Want to Sell More Books? Give Consumers What They WANT

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 10.07.29 AM

Consumers and business models have all changed drastically in the past ten years. This demands that we as authors change as well. There were many elements we never had to think about twenty years ago. It was an agent/editor’s job to think about the consumer climate and whether or not our book would be something readers would want to buy.

There have always been writers too clever for their own good, but in the old model, likely they met with enough rejection to 1) give up 2) rewrite or 3) try again. These days? The onus is on us to give readers what they want.

We have to remember whether it is the book or the blog or even social media, that WE are not important. It is all about the reader and what he/she wants to consume.

A Tale of Two Parsnips

I remember being in NYC for Thrillerfest. It was our final day in the city and we were celebrating a member of our group’s birthday. Since I have a bazillion food allergies, we made plans to eat at a ritzy Asian-Australian “fusion” restaurant and the woman on the phone assured me they could accommodate.

This was a super fancy restaurant and the chef had even once won Iron Chef, so I didn’t eat that day, preparing for my first experience with fine NYC dining.

We get to the ordering and…*screeching brakes*

The chef refused to modify any of the dishes.

He claimed that removing the mashed potatoes (which contained dairy) “ruined the aesthetics of the dish.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 10.13.24 AM

I wish I were joking.

The waitress kept continually offering me the parsnip soup. I was ravenous and, finally, after fifteen times being offered soup I didn’t want? I lost my temper, scared the waitress and someone somehow convinced the kitchen to create an aesthetically unbalanced plate before I came back there and made an aesthetically unbalanced chef.

Texans. Can dress them up. Can’t take them anywhere.

But this story illustrates my point. We shouldn’t keep trying to serve others something they don’t want to consume.

***Side note: The next year when I returned to NYC? That restaurant was out of business.

Give Customers What They Want to Consume

But I carefully craft all my automated, preprogrammed tweets.

Great, you dressed it up, but it is STILL SPAM.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Neil Motteram

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Neil Motteram

If I don’t want to talk to a robot? Why would other people? If I hate spam? Why serve it? If I loathe being force-added to groups and newsletters and it ticks me off? Might not be a good plan to do to others.

When I wrote my social media book, it was because all the books out there were highly technical, boring and made me want to throw myself in traffic. I knew I couldn’t be alone. Why not write a book that was useful and fun? Repackage a boring topic into something people enjoyed?

***That’s thinking like an entrepreneur, btw ;).

Same with fiction. I didn’t like being forced to read The Great Gatsby (three times too many), so why write books similar to so many of the classics most of us only read because we had to? Guess what? Entertainers are “real” writers, too.

And inevitably I get an intellectual who wants to argue and it’s fine. If we want to write a modern version of Moby Dick, no one will stop us. If we want to write perspicacious prose only a handful of intelligentcia “get”? Write away!

Just don’t complain about sales numbers.

Readers, by and large, don’t want us to show off how clever we are. They want a good story.

Give Readers What They Want In a WAY They Want

We writers can be a hopelessly romantic lot. I get it. We love bookstores and the feel of paper. We don’t mind toting around a hardback so thick we could brain mugger with it. But WE are not everyone. Humans are busy and distracted and they dig e-books and audio and that is a GOOD thing.

I still have no idea why writers are even taking sides on this issue. If my readers want my stories acted out in interpretive dance? They prefer jazz hands over paper? And that could be profitable enough to finance me continuing to write?

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 9.47.17 AM

Presentation Matters

Every Christmas, Spawn opens his new toys then we spend the next hour with scissors and kitchen knives trying to break past all the anti-theft crap.

This is how info-dump, fish heads, needless prologues and extraneous flashbacks feel to readers. We have to get past so much stuff to get to what we want, that we move on to novels that don’t make us work so hard to get to the STORY.

One of the reasons I emphasize understanding the craft of writing is that novel/story structure is mythic. There is actually evidence that narrative structure is hardwired into the human brain. Yes, we can break rules and deviate, but we do this too much? We confuse the reader. It’s like serving them a blue steak. Blue steak is certainly clever. And, it could taste great.

But our minds won’t let us eat and enjoy something so very wrong.

But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it's YUMMY.

But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it’s YUMMY.

Keep Writing

Good books are good books, but I’ll be blunt. There are outside factors we can never anticipate.

I actually have a theory that this is part of why 50 Shades of Grey took off when it did. It was racy, mindless junk food that put readers in a world where someone else told them what to do (allowing them to escape from a real world where they have NO idea what to do). Whether the book was good, bad, or terrible made little difference. It clearly filled a need and a market emerged.

E.L. James gave consumers what they wanted.

This is why writing more books is critical. Maybe Book One isn’t selling well today, but in a digital world where shelf space is infinite? Might do better next year. We get better the more we cook write, and odds are, if we do it enough, we’ll discover our readers and they’ll discover us.

Have you ever had someone try to keep giving you something you DIDN’T WANT? A book? Food at a restaurant, bad mojo at a clothing store? Two words. Skinny jeans. Any sociological theories about the success of 50 Shades? Come on! Let’s play armchair psychiatrist! I am not a doctor, but play one on the Internet :D.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?

***NOTE: DO NOT PUT GLITTER IN YOUR QUERY.

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Blogging for Authors

September 16th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

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

 

, , , , , , , ,

37 Comments

Want to Be a Successful Writer? Ten Ways to GO PRO!

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

We have done a lot of talking about FREE! in the past couple of months. And I will continue to boycott Huffington Post , because I believe they’re parasites who’ve helped set this industry-wide trend that writers only need to be paid with “exposure.” Owned by AOL (a.k.a. Verizon) they have the ability to pay, just don’t want to and unless writers start valuing what they do? They won’t pay.

Ever.

Not until we GO PRO.

To catch up on the rant, read No More Literary Booty Calls.

But back to this “valuing what we do.” I feel one of the reasons the arts are particularly vulnerable to plundering is many writers (artists) have a chronic case of low self-esteem.

Yes, society and pop culture are partly to blame.

It seems movies cast only two types of writers—The Starving Hack and the Bazillionaire Celebrity Author. Thus, if we aren’t flying off to Paris to fact-check? People assume that, by default, we’re writing bad haiku on Starbuck’s napkins in between shooting up and borrowing money from our mom.

We Do It To Ourselves

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.43.37 AM

First a little test. If you are reading this and are an aspiring author raise your hand. It’s okay. No one is around. You can do it.

Got your hand up?

NOW SLAP YOURSELF WITH THAT HAND AND NEVER DO THAT AGAIN!

I love you *smooch*.

There IS no “aspiring.” Aspiring is for the weak. It takes real guts to be an author. Feel free to call yourself pre-published, but use aspiring?

I. CAN. FIND. YOU. O_o

Do or do not, there is no try.

Understand Consumers WANT What We Do

Self-published book and now a major motion picture. BOO-YAH!

Self-published book and now a major motion picture. BOO-YAH!

In any business, the first thing one has to determine is:

Will consumers want this?

For some strange reason, whenever I rail about PAY THE WRITER there is this knee-jerk assumption we writers are foisting something fundamentally unwanted onto the unsuspecting public and if they read our stuff they’re doing us a favor.

Untrue.

People want good books. If people didn’t want good books, Amazon would not have invested God knows how much into swiping the industry from the legacy publishers.

But, aside from our insecurity, the other component that undermines authors is a failure to truly GO PRO. Note I said good books. A pro doesn’t sell crap. A pro doesn’t try to get people to pay for books rife with horrific plot problems, editing mistakes, shoddy grammar and formatting that looks like it was done by a detoxing drunk.

PRO comes from the word, professional. 

But saying we want to go PRO is easier than knowing what one actually looks like. To be blunt, there are far more people “playing writer” than “going pro.” Even those of us who write for a living? It is an everyday battle against entropy. It’s really easy to wake up one day and realize you’re lying to yourself.

So I made a list. For me. For you.

I’m a giver.

I would love to say that I always did these things, but I didn’t. For a long time I was a lazy, entitled, whining slacker more in love with the idea of being a writer than actually doing the work involved. Much of this I had to learn the hard way, so I hope to up your game with these TEN WAYS TO GO PRO!

1—Pros Get Our A$$es to WORK

Writers write. We don’t write when we feel like it or when the muse strikes. Truthfully, the muse is like that fun drunken cousin who passes through and gives us a good time, but there’s no way in hell we’d ever hire the guy because he’s about as dependable as Texas weather.

Almost every morning, I am up at 4:00 a.m. Most people don’t work well that early, but I do. Fewer distractions. I always at least check in at 4 a.m. if there are any early birds who need a partner.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 11.47.49 AM

This morning I had three thousand words written before 7:00 a.m. Every morning I hold writing sprints on W.A.N.A. Tribe. All morning long, we go in 40 minute bursts and there is a team for accountability and to drive and push you beyond your comfort zone. I know I am a lazy slacker so I created this to keep me accountable!

Duh.

But any guess how many writers actually show for the sprints?

Usually it’s the same group of ten people out of over 2700…and I am one of them. As a group, I bet we’ve easily written a million words since we started meeting back in November. Every member of the sprinting group finished NaNoWriMo in less than 20 days.

We are still there. Five days a week 9:00 CST. Every day.

The same few people.

A huge reason most writers never make it big is simple. They don’t write.

2—Pros Write No Matter WHAT

Kristen with Shingles…and YES I still wrote.

Kristen last year with Shingles…and YES I still wrote.

2012-2015 was a living nightmare for me. Our lives had SO much go wrong, I was seriously wondering if voodoo was somehow involved and despite enduring tragedy after tragedy? I still showed up.

Even with Shingles. Hey, I was going to be in pain anyway? Might as well channel it and distract myself.

Life will go wrong and sometimes the only thing we can control is simply showing up. There will never be an ideal time to write. If one comes our way? Fabulous! But don’t count on it. Never underestimate the power of simply showing up.

3—Pros Appreciate We Are Selling a PRODUCT

Writers don’t get a pass. We are a business. We are entrepreneurs bringing a product to market. This is true no matter which publishing path we take. Some writers frown on us indie/self-published folks, but what do y’all think that query is? It’s a business proposal.

An agent is inspecting our product (book) and our brand (platform) and determining potential market value. They are asking, Can we SELL this? And, if so, How many can we sell? 

That’s it.

We now have a choice to circumnavigate gatekeepers, but we still are responsible for bringing a solid product to the marketplace. Pros know that.

4—Pros INVEST

Via Flickr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

Via Flickr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

Since we appreciate we are a product and want to make it the best out there (because we KNOW there is a crap-ton of competition), we invest in ways to make our product the best and to stand out. Since we create the product, we invest time and money in training, conferences, and classes. Once we have a product, we invest in proper editing and cover design.

We invest in things that save us time. You can either spend five years figuring out your brand or hire a pro help you do it in days (yes, I am for hire 😉 ).

I suck at organization and detail so I outsource to an assistant. My new assistant Raidon cleaned out over 67K e-mails and organized them for me.  That was almost five hours I could do blogging, writing, teaching and consulting.

Trust me. Worth every penny.

5—Pros Study the Successful

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Seriously. Most people believe that success is tremendously elusive, but if we study successful people? Most of them did a lot of the same things. I am a HUGE, HUGE fan of Mark Cuban. Every writer needs THIS book; How to Win at the Sport of Business. It’s a short audio book and cost me $5, but WOW.

So much of what he talks about can be applied to writers.

6—Pros Get Paid to Learn

Meaning? They are never “too good” to accept a job. This one really applies to the newbies starting out. In the beginning we have to earn a reputation worth paying for. In the meantime? Take every opportunity you get and knock it outta the park!

When I realized I wanted to go pro with writing? I took every writing job I could get, figuring I was being paid to learn. Whether it was copy for a chiropractor’s web site or specs for software? I did it even though some of those jobs were so boring I wanted to hurl myself in traffic. They didn’t pay much in money (not at first) but I was being paid to learn.

Every one of those jobs paid off.

7—Pros FAIL…A LOT

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

We make bad calls, hire the wrong people, write bad blogs and even worse books. By failing a lot we learn what works and what is a waste of time. My failures taught me far more than “success” ever did.

Failure taught me humility and how to have staying power. It’s easy to be in the game when we’re winning, but to keep pressing after you’ve been sucker punched…then run over and then hit by lightning?

That is what separates the wanna-be’s from the pros.

8—Pros are Honest

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

We are only as strong as our greatest weakness. Pros are honest with where they’re failing. If the books aren’t selling and the feedback is about the writing? We take more classes and write more to put those lessons in action and hone those skills. Hire a rockstar editor.

Again, remember that I suck at organization? Took me a long time to admit that. I bought Daytimers and apps and gadgets and OH DEAR GOD I CANNOT SHOW MY FACE IN CONTAINER STORE…

THE SHAME!

I realized it ain’t gonna happen. Instead of trying to fit this round writer into a square hole? Outsource.

9—Pros Never Stop Training

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

How successful would a boxer be if he sat on the couch watching inspirational movies about boxing but never actually hauled his tail into a gym? Never worked with a coach to refine technique? Never studied other boxers and their moves? Never sparred to know his weaknesses?

inhale books. If I am not at my computer working, I am reading…everything. If I am driving or cleaning or cooking? I am also listening to an audiobook. I never watch TV or movies that I am not making notes, busting apart character, plot, dialogue. Where did the story shine? Where did it fail? How would I have improved it?

Pros generally have TWO speeds.

On.

Unconscious.

Even “rest” serves the goals and is active.

10—Pros Understand “Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail”

Most new businesses fail because of a lack of a solid business plan. Same with writers. Which publishing path are you choosing? Why? Do you even know why? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Seriously, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to publish, but how we are going to get our product to market is a big deal.

What are your goals? Do you have this mapped out? Do you have contingency plans? Have you done a S.W.O.T. analysis? What is your marketing plan? What is your branding plan? What is your sales plan?

Back to what we started with and the whole kerfluffle of FREE!

How and WHY are we using FREE!?

One of the reasons FREE! has gotten so out of hand is that writers are not using it strategically as part of a larger sales plan.

It’s why I am offering a new class, Making Money with FREE! As a bonus for this class, my friend Jack Patterson who’s so far sold over 150,000 books to come and teach us how to ROCK the newsletter. Sign up before March 7th for $20 off. This is in excess of two hours of training and the recording (as always) comes with purchase.

Just by doing this class, you get several makes of a pro—showing up, investing, training, and learning from people who’ve already done something successfully.  I will be learning too. Instead of me writing a terrible newsletter no one wants to open and spending the next three years figuring it out? I am paying Jack to help me teach this class.

I’m no dummy 😛 .

I am very proud of all of you for even being here and reading this blog. That is the mark of a pro. Instead of watching funny videos? You are here being yelled at inspired.

What are your thoughts? Did you fall for my trick and raise your hand? I hope you didn’t leave a mark. Do you struggle with taking yourself seriously? Do you put everyone and everything ahead of your writing? Does your writing take backseat to everyone else’s wants and needs? Did you change that and see results when you started doing things PROS do?

I really DO love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MARCH, 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.

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

, , , , , , , ,

74 Comments

Making Money in a World Addicted to FREE—What Do Writers DO?

Might I suggest one of these...

I think we need to renegotiate the terms…

One of the reasons I did such a detailed post about the pop culture and how it’s impacting artists (A Culture Addicted to FREE) is that for us to make any solid plan, we need to gain a good understanding of how things are being run and also grasp current consumer habits.

To fix any problem, we must be aware of what are called operational constraints.

Operational constraints are any real or potential roadblocks in the way of our goals. If you ever do a S.W.O.T. Analysis, which I strongly recommend, it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Any time we do business—which writing IS a business—we need an accurate picture of the terrain so we make wise business decisions and can plan ahead.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

The entire reason for me blogging about the impact streaming could have on our industry is because that is part of the S.W.O.T. matrix (under Threats). If we only look at what’s going on today, we’re reactive and have fewer options (if any) and we lack maneuverability. If, however, we do the projections and hypothesize about what likely could happen? We’re in a far stronger position and can gain massive advantage.

For instance, in 2007 I took MAJOR heat for saying social media and blogging was going to be a huge game-changer and vital for success.

I could have been wrong, but I planned accordingly and built a brand anyway (just in case).

For all those who felt all they needed was a good book? Who didn’t feel they needed to be on-line? It’s been an uphill battle and they missed out on a LOT of the crazy momentum generated by the initial BIG BANG of Web 2.0 expanding. They were also in a bad spot when literary agents came back with, “Great book. I’d love to rep it but you have no platform. Come back when you get one.”

Yes, Writers ARE Entrepreneurs

Craftfest

I get that the world often does not see what we do as a business, that for some reason when we tether money to our work then we are no longer doing “art.” Here’s the thing, haters hate for two reasons.

Either a) they benefit from the status quo or b) they believe they are unsuccessful solely because of a system they falsely think is set in stone. Anyone who changes the system can expose the delusion.

For instance, before self-publishing it was easy to believe we were rejected simply because NY only wanted commercial junk (not because we had no frigging clue how to actually write).

Ignore haters. They aren’t going to pay your bills so they don’t get a vote.

Before we talk more about the nitty gritty of the business of what we do, I am going to say this again.

Free is an excellent servant, but a horrible master.

I am all for FREE. I am against the rampant misuse of FREE. FREE will roll over and sit and fetch our slippers. Problem is? We have been letting FREE pee on the carpets and eat the couch cushions. FREE needs obedience training and we are the master. Us whining that FREE keeps embarrassing us by humping the mailman’s leg is not productive.

Writer up and tell FREE to SIT!

Businesses use FREE all the time…to generate business (as in PAID work). We need to do the same. But good businesses don’t just “make stuff FREE.” They get a good idea of the overall topography and then use FREE to maneuver advantage.

If we want to change things and make a good living doing what we do, then we must understand the market to use FREE effectively. Additionally, us looking at streaming and how other artists are being impacted negatively is not whining if we then take that knowledge and do something.

ALL business do this. But apparently when authors act like a business we are accused of whining…which is pissing me off more than a little.

We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate.

My family owns the top sign company in Fort Worth, TX. We do those huge monument signs, lighted signs (think Target, Home Depot, Chili’s, etc.). But we’ve had customers we had to fire. Doing business with them simply was not profitable. Were we whining? No, we were making a business decision.

We decided that the customer’s Pain in the Ass Factor far outweighed their Profit Factor and decided to part ways and find a situation that suited us better. Writers can do the same.

At this juncture, we as artists have two options when it comes to changing our situation in the marketplace. One is what we have been doing here lately.

Power of the Purse

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

We educate consumers and use consumer pressure to make the market equitable. That happens all the time. Nike got seriously bad PR for using sweatshops in Asia. The bad press did major damage to their brand and their sales. Feeling pressure from consumers, they had to change their ways unless they wanted to go out of business. Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes have come under scrutiny for exploiting artists.

Fearing consumer wrath? These companies will either change or the power of the purse will exact punishment.

It’s happened before in many other industries.

Food Lion never recovered from a scandal involving bleaching old meat. Taco Bell was hammered (and sued) over their use of Mystery Meat, which gave their brand and bottom line a beating. The chocolate industry was forever altered when consumers found out about the horrific practices and use of child labor. Many major chocolate manufacturers are now almost completely Fair Trade and this was all brought about by consumer pressure.

If shaming and purchasing power works for these other industries? Can work for ours too. But? It might not. So we need to prepare for that.

In the meantime, we are a business so we need to focus more on what we can control.

We Create Something of VALUE

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir...

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir…

Before we can talk at ALL about business I need you to get one thing through your head.

Writers create something of VALUE. We create what people WANT.

I get that folks are addicted to FREE, but they will pay for something they find value in. Our job is to create that value and stop abusing FREE. But why do we struggle with believing what we do has value? A lot of it comes from outside pressure.

One example that I keep seeing used over and over since I started all this with Pay The Writer is the idiot example of a ditch digger.

Just because you decided to dig a ditch doesn’t mean anyone owes you money for a ditch they never asked for.

This is a non sequitur being used to shame us. It is using a false assumption that no one wanted what we created in the first place.

To paraphrase what the Founding Fathers said to King George?

Bite me.

IF no one wanted stories, then why bother with bookstores, movies, television and non-stop streaming entertainment? If no one wanted to buy books then Amazon would have never set up the infrastructure to take business away from the Big Six and make them into the Spiffy Five. If no one wants books, then how the hell are so many selling? The Martian (which was self-published, btw) sold 750,000 copies just in the US and MATT FREAKING DAMON played the protagonist in a blockbuster movie.

I guess it’s a good thing Andy Weir dug that ditch no one asked for.

Basic rule of capitalism? We all create something people don’t want…yet. The thing is our customers simply don’t yet know they want it.

What if Henry Ford never bothered with figuring out how to manufacture automobiles because no one wanted them?

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

~Henry Ford

What if Edison hadn’t bothered with light bulbs? What if the Wright Brothers….

Y’all get the point.

People DO want books. They DO want an escape. They DO want information and entertainment. Trick is to make them want OUR book (that’s another post).

People WANT books, so anyone who uses that ditch digger analogy from now on can just pound sand because the analogy falls apart that writers creating books are anything like this ditch digger creating random holes.

A true parallel is that places like Amazon are acting as connectors/brokers. They know people who LIKE and WANT books and we MAKE books. We do business because every book Amazon moves and delivers for us? We get paid a portion of that.

This is like having a service that connects People in Desperate Need of a Ditch with People with Shovels and Ditch-Digging Skills. There’s an understood contract that if we dig a ditch someone wanted? The broker is paid, but WE ARE TOO.

And, as an owner of a sign company? We get paid really, really well for digging ditches.

Thus, to treat writers as if we are that weird guy who jumps out into traffic and squeegees windshields and then breaks windows if the customer victim doesn’t pay? It’s uncool and inaccurate.

But back to writers…

I don’t think any of us are asking to be paid on books we never sell. But if we do sell? Then whoever is acting as this middleman/connector needs to give us a rate we find to be a sound business decision or…

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 10.55.45 AM

Musicians are doing this. They are saying that getting paid $0.0006 every time a song is played and having to split that $0.0006 per song with everyone who produced the song is BS. They’re saying that if my song is played a million times, the royalty should be more than $17…so Pandora? BUH BYE.

Start With the PRODUCT

BLUE STEAK. But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it's YUMMY.

BLUE STEAK. But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it’s YUMMY.

Since we are a business, we have to create a product consumers want to buy. In my POV? A lot of authors are too busy being clever in their writing and ignoring substance.

We just want a good steak…no need to make it blue. That’s just weird.

And for all the Wanna Be Authors who are slapping up junk with crappy unedited writing, shoddy formatting and covers that look like they were done by a one-eye drunk? No one wants it. And if they do? I’m a huge fan of Economist F.A. Hayek. If people want to PAY for that? Then it is just.

If people want to pay $300 for a ticket to see Kanye West but won’t go to see a concert pianist even though it’s only $20? I question their taste, but it’s just because consumers have spoken with their dollars.

If people want 50 Shades and not the next great literary genius story? I don’t like it, but people vote with dollars.

Aaaahhhhhhhhh!

Aaaahhhhhhhhh!

But if the product isn’t selling? Then we’ve failed on some vector and the first one to scrutinize would be the actual product.

Code for try harder.

Write more books and better books. Remember we are not writing for US, but for the reader. We are in the entertainment industry and entertainment implies that more than one person is getting something out of the deal.

I’ve been in workshops where the author was the only one who understood what the hell was going on and when criticized by the audience? They argued. Okay, then be happy selling ONE book because you’ve written for an audience of one.

Invest in good editing, formatting, etc. Yada yada yada.

Create Your Own Economy

The trick of all of this is to create a product consumers want (and ALL businesses have to do this). If we do that and we build a strong enough brand? We don’t NEED iTunes, Amazon, B&N, etc. Thing is, they need us way more than we need them.

Trust me. Amazon does NOT want Andy Weir or Hugh Howey or Grant Cardone to go, You know what? It’s not you, it’s me. Wait, it IS YOU and I think I’ll do my own distribution. Thanks.

The Sword of Technology Cuts Both Ways

The same exact technological innovations that allowed Amazon to plunder the Big Six are the same advances we can use to walk away. We can do our own distribution, our own subscription services, streaming, etc. (there are services popping up to fill that vacuum). We will talk more about these options later, but the point I am making is that if we create a good product and combine it with a solid brand?

We are being a business and in being a business? We can choose how to do business and thereby set the terms of the relationship (or the grounds for terminating that relationship).

In coming posts we will delve more into FREE, how to use it and when to use it. We will talk a lot more about the business side of what we do. Remember we are in the entertainment business. If you don’t have a strong brand, then seriously, get a copy of Rise of the Machines. 

I wrote that book because a solid brand is absolutely the most essential component of success beyond the actual product. My methods have launched unknowns from obscurity into record books. So invest in your business and get in the know about your brand.

Okay, what are your thoughts? Are you tired of that ditch-digger analogy too? Do you struggle seeing yourself as having something of VALUE? Is it impacting the way you are running—or not running—your business? Are you overwhelmed? Are there other areas you’d like me to explore and discuss? Do you have additional business advice you’d add for all our benefice?

I really DO 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.

 

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

, , , , , , , , , ,

59 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

, , , , , , , , ,

86 Comments

Barnes & Noble, Dead Nooks, and Brave New Branding

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 6.12.56 AM

The big news in publishing this week is Barnes & Noble’s plan to ax the Nook. After losing over a billion dollars trying to make the Nook a contender, it seems B&N’s new CEO is ready to just cut bait. According to Michael Kozlowski over at Good E Reader:

The NOOK segment (including digital content, devices and accessories) had revenues of $52 million for the 4th quarter and $264 million for the full year, decreasing 39.8% for the quarter and 47.8% for the year. Device and accessories sales were $13 million for the quarter and $86 million for the full year, declining 48.2% and 66.7%, respectively, due to lower unit selling volume. Digital content sales were $40 million for the quarter and $177 million for the full year, declining 36.5% and 27.8%, respectively, due primarily to lower device unit sales.

All I have to say is…OUCH.

I’d like to say I find this news shocking, but I don’t. Of course the question will be, what happens next? As an expert, often others ask us to offer up some predictions. Back in 2009 the Nook was new and doing fairly well, so I gave Barnes & Noble ten years before it would be gone.

If B&N did survive, it was going to be through the Nook which I figured would probably just be bought out by Kobo or Sony or some bored Saudi American prince. I adjusted my prediction in 2012 to five years or less and with the recent news, sadly, I might be correct.

So why is B&N still hemorrhaging?

Understand Your Consumer

#PARTY

#PARTY

One reason many major brands have become casualties in the Digital Age is that they failed to understand that customers now expect business (products and services) to come to them, not the other way around. Consumers liked downloading a song instead of traipsing to a music store. Consumers preferred digital photos over dropping off film. Instead of Tower Records and Kodak leading the way to a new model of service, they became casualties.

We are either architects of the future or artifacts in the future.

Now books…

Before e-books, if we wanted to read a book, we made a trip to the bookstore (or library) because that’s where we could buy books.

Complicated stuff, right?

B&N was very predatory in the 90s until about 2007. They made sure to build fancy mega-structures on every corner complete with coffee shops and discounts as deep as their chairs and they didn’t lose sleep over the independents they drove into bankruptcy.

Yet, this was smart. Consumers of the time were fascinated with megastores and this was a good plan that worked for a while. But, business is organic. It grows and contracts and changes and shifts and anyone in business is wise to remember this.

Bigger is better…until it isn’t.

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

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Keith Nerdin…

What is REALLY an Advantage?

Malcolm Gladwell has a really cool book called David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants where he explores how elements we perceive as advantages are often serious disadvantages.

The bible story David and Goliath is the ultimate underdog story. Back in the day armies, in order to avoid suffering major casualties, would agree to simply pit their best fighters and winner took all.

Most of you know the story. Goliath the Philistine was highly trained, heavily armored and the size of a TRUCK, who also happened to be armed with a javelin, spear and sword. Yet, he was beaten by a shepherd boy with a slingshot. At first glance, this seems nothing short of miraculous, but if we dive a bit deeper?

Not so much.

If David had taken King Saul’s armor and sword and fought conventionally we likely would never heard this story. David would have been toast…or more like the jelly smeared across the toast. BUT, David refused to fight in a conventional way. A slingshot might not seem like that big of a deal but slingers were the precursors to our modern concept of an “artillery.”

In the Old Testament Book of Judges, slingers are described as being accurate within a “hair’s breadth”. An experienced slinger could kill or seriously injure a target at a distance of up to two hundred yards. ~Malcolm Gladwell, David & Goliath

This is a long way of saying that sure, Goliath was heavy infantry, but David’s sling and stone had the equivalent effect of Goliath being shot in the face with a fair-sized handgun. David refused to play by conventional rules and he won. Goliath’s fatal mistake was in assuming the conventional rules of engagement would apply.

In a marketplace governed by being leaner, meaner, faster and more convenient, propping up Goliath-sized stores was just a bad plan. Sure, Nook had the potential to rescue B&N out of their predicament, but it didn’t. Why?

Because the Nook was still acting like a Goliath.

B&N…HELLOOOOO?

B&N…HELLOOOOO?

The company had an identity crisis and failed to make the full transition away from being BIG. Instead of leading the charge to being small and lithe, they tried to use Nook only to prop up the same old way of doing business.

In my opinion, this is like a partial heart transplant. Either be fully committed or forget about it.

They remained married to Big Publishing and bloated price models, were less than supportive of indies (even though those were SALES), and they were still scope-locked on brick-and-mortar.

And before anyone laughs, I think it is pretty safe to bet that Blockbuster Video would still be among the land of the living had they introduced the Redbox technology first. But, instead they kept doing the same old same old and tried to use on-line video only to buttress the lackluster stores that were growing weaker by the day.

And now?

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 10.17.00 AM

Brave in a Brave New World

We live in amazing times where branding happens at the speed of light. We cannot afford to be idle. A lot of the big brands are feeling this in a major way. This is not limited to publishing. I know this because I work with a branding firm and most of our major accounts have been reinventing what one would think of as firmly established brands.

Sure, in a consumer market where there are only a handful of beer companies, it is safe to use the same kind of marketing. But what happens when the marketplace is deluged with microbreweries and boutique brands? When the young people prefer to enjoy an Ugly Pug Lager or a Buffalo Butt Amber instead of a Miller Lite? How do you not only remain relevant, but convert the youth into being the next generation of loyal consumers?

We have to be brave. We have to fight like a David.

Writers are the ultimate Davids. The indies are responsible for altering the publishing landscape. Writers have unimaginable creativity and resilience. Writers understood the business was about stories, not paper. We didn’t care how readers partook of our books (paper, digital, smoke signals, carrier pigeons), we only cared that they DID. Writers embraced the power of social media and a lot of folks in publishing are now eating the words, “You don’t need social media. All you need is a good book.”

When all the smoke has cleared and B&N either reignites or fizzles out, it won’t matter. Writers will still remain. It just seems funny to me that the very people the Book Goliaths so recently wrote off (writers) probably could have taught them a thing or two 😉 .

And what we can take away from all of this is that we writers have to stay frosty. Books are not about us, they are about the reader (code for consumer). We can look at what might appear to be a disadvantage and look at it in a new way. In the end, it takes grit to do what we do. So stay BRAVE.

What are your thoughts? You think B&N is just buying time until the end? Do you think they could rally back? How could B&N reinvent in a way to gain your loyalty?

Quick Announcement: Due to popular demand, I am rerunning my Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages at the end of the month and I am doing something different. Gold Level includes me looking (and shredding your first five) but I have added in some higher levels and will look at up to 20 pages. This can be really useful if you’re stuck. I can help you diagnose the problems. It’s also a great deal if you have to submit to an agent and want to make your work the best it can be.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

, , , , , , , ,

86 Comments

Against All Odds—What’s Our REAL Chance of Becoming a Successful Author?

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

Image and quote courtesy of SEAL of Honor on Facebook.

Many of you were here for last week’s discussion regarding What Makes a Real Writer? When we decide to become professional writers, we have a lot of work ahead of us and sadly, most will not make the cut.

I know it’s a grossly inaccurate movie, but I love G.I. Jane. I recall a scene during Hell Week (the first evolution of S.E.A.L. training) where Master Chief has everyone doing butterfly kicks in the rain. He yells at the recruits to look to their left and look to their right, that statistically, those people will quit.

Who will be the first to ring that bell? Who will be the first to quit?

Years ago, one of my mentors mentioned The 5% Rule. What’s The 5% Rule? So happy you asked. Statistically, only 5% of the population is capable of sustained change. This means of ALL the people who want to run marathons, 5% will. Of ALL the people who join a martial arts class, only 5% will ever reach black belt. Of ALL the people who have a dream of being a career author, only about 5% will ever reach that goal and maintain it.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 12.39.09 PM

At first, I was horrified when I heard this statistic. I want everyone to be successful! Surely if they had more tools, more chances, more affordable classes…

Human nature is a weird thing and, had I not seen this 5% rule play out countless times, I’d still be an unbeliever. Yet, like everyone is not meant to be a Navy S.E.A.L., not everyone is meant to be a career author. This is good news and bad news. Bad news is odds are against us. Good news is multi-fold. First, we control a lot of the factors that lead to success. Secondly, this job is NOT for everyone.

Believe it or not, what we do is excruciatingly HARD. Just like it is NOT normal for a human body to run long miles in freezing surf carrying a Zodiac filled with water, it is NOT normal to sit and write 100,000+ words. Most people—literate or not—cannot do what we do.

They like to believe they can…but they can’t.

One of the reasons regular people are so shocked to meet a “real” writer is that so few writers ever really reach the professional level. But, why? Why do so many give up the dream? What does the 5% writer do differently than hoi polloi 95%?

I’m an optimist. I believe all of us possess what it takes to be in that coveted 5%. Question is, can we overcome our natures?

Pros Like Validation But Don’t Require It 

Image via QuickMeme

Image via QuickMeme

Validation is different from feedback. We ALL love validation. We crave it. We adore it. But pros don’t require it.

When I first brought my glorious prose to a critique group, I said I wanted feedback. What I really wanted was for the group to tell me that my words were written in angel tears and that all the agents who rejected me must have been brain damaged.

I did not want to hear that I might not have a clue what I was doing. I did not want my pages handed back dripping in red ink. In fact, that hurt. A LOT. I had to learn to suck it up and press on. If one person had an opinion? Well, might just be a personal preference. When ten people gave the same opinion?

Houston, I had a problem.

Writers can work years without any hint of outside approval. Most people can’t sustain this and they give up. I found out last week that this blog has been named Writer’s Digest‘s Top 101 Websites for Writers for 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 10.37.39 AM

*happy dance*

But some of you might not know that I blogged for almost two years and no one cared. My biggest fans were the male-enhancement bots.

I so licked your blog. You make many grate poinsettias. Is it just me or are all your commenters brain dead?

Hmm, maybe he’s foreign? Or not *head desk*

How much do you LOVE the dream? Because I will tell you that if I went by outside approval, I would have quit YEARS ago. If I judged my future success by my beginning blog stats or early book sales?

*weeps*

I was starting to wonder if I’d made a serious error by leaving sales. Sales had a paycheck, a fancy title and a company car. No stranger ever asked me if I was a “real” salesperson.

I went a LONG, LONG, LOOOONG time when no one cared and worse, they thought I was a joke/lunatic/poseur/hack. We need rhino skin in this business.

When I started this blog seven years ago, there were all kinds of other bloggers who were bigger than me. Sadly, many of them are gone. Never underestimate the power of simply showing up.

Below is an image of my blog stats.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.10.51 AM

Can you tell when I made it past “The Dip”? What if I’d quit? In 2009, I had a little over 6,000 views for the year (and I’d been blogging about 18 months by this point). In 2013, I had almost 450,000 views. But how many people would have given up when staring at those 2009 numbers (which works out to about 15 views a day)?

Pros Don’t Find Time, They MAKE Time

Time isn’t hiding down in the couch cushions camouflaged in Cheerios. We don’t find time, we make time. Often new writers will bemoan how they wish they could find time. 

Yet, I will posit this.

If today, I could guarantee you hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and all you had to do was finish the novel, how many would stay up late or get up early? How many would decide the family can go to the movies alone? Or that the floors are clean enough?

Often we procrastinate because there is no guarantee of success. Procrastination and perfectionism are frequently driven by fear of failure. If we never finish, we can never really fail. Our work is never out there to be judged.

As I like to say, “If we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting.” So what if you write a blog and no one cares? Join the club. My first blogs were dreadful. So the crickets and spam bots can boo you 😛 ? Write a crappy first novel. Then move on. Learn. Keep writing!

No unpublished blog ever went viral. No unfinished novel ever became a runaway success.

Pros Focus on What They Can Control

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 7.38.15 AM

Show me a struggling author and I will show you someone spending too much time shopping the same book. Instead of writing more books and better books, these writers are worried about querying the same book over and over, or (if published) they fret over sales, marketing, blog tours, or algorithms.

We cannot control what will be the next hottest thing. We can’t control the marketplace or the tastes of readers or whether matte bookmarks sell more books than pink beer koozies. This means we shouldn’t waste precious time on things we cannot control at the expense of things we can.

When I gave the 5% statistic earlier, many of you were probably discouraged. But let’s take a closer look at that number.

It’s been said that as much as 75% of the literate population would love to one day write a book. Out of hundreds of millions of possible authors, how many do you think actually take the idea seriously?

5%

And of the tens of millions left over, how many sit down and write and finish a first draft?

5%

Of the millions remaining, how many actually read craft books, get critique and keep revising that first draft until they have a polished draft?

5%

Of those who finish that first novel then realize they have a train wreck and not a novel, how many suck it up and start over to write a better book that’s more likely to engage with readers?

5%

Of those who finally write a decent book, how many take time to also build a brand and platform? How many learn to blog effectively in ways that reach and cultivate readers?

5%

How many get in the regular habit of writing, researching and revising? They don’t just stop with the one book and keep on writing more books?

5%

Of those who publish the first book and don’t instantly become zillionaires, how many keep writing and improving?

5%

This profession is really hard. Toss a few hundred million people with a dream into one large funnel and most will not shake out at the end. Yet, if we look at the individual pieces of becoming “successful” it is astonishing how much we control.

Others whine, we work.

What are your thoughts? Does this 5% example make you feel a little better about your chances? Can you look at your own life and routine and maybe see some areas that you can come up higher? I am ALWAYS reevaluating how and where I am spending my time. Have you been allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by things beyond your control? Do you find that fear keeps you from finishing? Hey, I have been guilty of ALL of this, so we are friends here 😉 .

I love hearing from you!

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

***Congratulations to March’s WINNER of 20 Pages of Critique. Krystol Diggs, step into the arena! Please send me your 5000 word WORD document to kristen at wana intl dot com. I look forward to reading your work.

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form 😀 .

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

, , , , , , , , , ,

202 Comments

3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing & Increase Sales

Image from the movie "Office Space"

Image from the movie “Office Space”

Today, I’m going to give you three ways to instantly improve your writing and sell more books. I’m blessed to have a broad base of experience/expertise which includes corporate consulting and branding. I also spent years in sales and can honestly say, Coffee is for closers. 

What Do You DO?

Last year, I accepted a leviathan project to redo copy for a website and rebrand a struggling company. I first explained my plan and reasoning in a detailed SWOT analysis. The owner was on board and signed off. The existing copy was outdated, bloated, confusing, and failed to appreciate the vast changes in our millennial culture.

I hacked through, reduced as much as possible and reshaped until the site showcased a truly fabulous company. To my horror, the owner came back and wanted me to add a deluge of changes which included mass amounts of extraneous information, charts, etc. and all of this content grossly deviated from the agreed rebranding.

I politely declined and we parted ways.

***What’s funny is the owner never got around to changing the site from my version and was recently approached by a Richard Branson-type investor for potential partnership. Ironically, part of what piqued his interest was the site 😉 . Unlike the competition, the site I designed was visual, brief, and powerful, whereas the competition was like reading Wikipedia Articles from Hell.

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.37.39 AM

This desire to cough up too much and “oversell” is common (namely because regular people believe writing is easy and fail to hire a pro). Business owners are passionate and so they want to tell EVERYTHING about their services, industry, product, whatever. Also, overselling is a mark of the insecure. Think “padded resume.”

Attention spans are shrinking. The average time spent on a website is roughly 3.5 minutes. I’d wager most people give a website 3.5 seconds to catch their attention and that 3.5 minutes only applies to those browsers who happen to stay.

We can apply these business lessons to our writing, because we writers also have something to sell.

Our job is far tougher because 1) discoverability is a nightmare 2) less than 8% of the literate population are devoted readers 3) the remaining 92% equate reading with homework and a chore. Thus, we have the task of convincing 92% of the population to spend time they don’t have engaged in an activity they believe they dislike…and spend money to do it.

The other 8%? Sure they like to read books, but why yours?

Omit Needless Words

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. ”~ Strunk and White

Trust the reader. If a character opens a door, we know he “reached out his hand” to do it. We assume he isn’t blessed with telekinetic powers unless we’re told otherwise.

Resist the Urge to Explain

Image via "Office Space"

Image via “Office Space”

This tenet applies in a lot of areas. We don’t need flashbacks or lengthy details of why a character thinks or acts a certain way. The more we leave to the imagination, the better. Hubby and I have fallen in love with a new mini-series Defiance. We ate through Season One and began Season Two.

Interestingly, Episode Zero was a compilation of all the flashbacks cut from Season One—the explaining how and what and why…and it was painful. I just wanted to hit stop and move onto the new episodes. The flashbacks added nothing and only wasted my time. The series was better without backstory being spoon fed to me.

I got it.

This over explaining happens a lot with characterization, but sci-fi and fantasy can be particularly vulnerable. I recently had a client who took four hours to explain all her world building. Most of this information was for her, not the reader. She didn’t have to explain how this world had humans and elves.

It just did.

Think about cartoons. Kids accept that a group of dogs can be public servants, talk and operate heavy equipment (Paw Patrol) or that a sponge with tighty-whities can work a burger grill at the bottom of the ocean (Spongebob Square Pants).

Belief is already suspended.

Value the Reader’s TIME

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.51.29 AM

Get to the point quickly. The first sample pages of any book are our greatest selling tool. When I hear, “Oh, well the story really gets going by page 50″? My instincts tell me we probably need to cut 49 pages.

Remember earlier I mentioned that we’re artists, but we also have a product to sell. In fiction, we’re selling escape. So think of it this way. How are you helping your customer escape reality?

Route One

First, my dear (potential) reader, I need you to pack this list of gear, then sync this app on your smartphone. After that is downloaded, I’m going to text you coordinates for a geocache. Use the app to locate the cache, dig up the key, catch the L Train, wait for a guy with a blue hat and the code phrase is, “Duck, duck, goose.” He’ll then hail a cab and take you to a wonderful place you will enjoy.

Route Two

Open a wardrobe and step through.

Which would you choose?

What are some ways you refine your work? Are you guilty of overwriting? I know I’m working super hard to lean down all my writing. It is NOT easy. Are there areas you could condense? Stage action or explaining that could be chipped away?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

Going Pro Craft, Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding, Going Pro Business, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE).

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

, , , , , , , , ,

89 Comments

%d bloggers like this: