Archive for category Publishing

What Are the REAL Odds of Success? Extreme Ownership & the Best-Selling Author

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Many of us are doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). If you’ve been following this blog the last two weeks, then you probably know I’ve had a horrific case of the flu. While this does mean I’ve sidelined editing (have to have higher thinking skills) and teaching (kind of need a voice) this has not excused me from writing.

In fact, it’s been pretty good for my writing since Robotussin apparently chloroforms the internal editor and is like Skittles to the Lizard Brain who is now running around in my head with scissors.

Oh God! It has the glitter! Hold on! Back in a minute….

Where was I? Yes, Lizard Brain is great for creating, and if I keep my pace, I should finish my 50,000 words tomorrow. Right now I am at almost 41,000 words and have been averaging about 5K a day. I never could have done this alone. I have my teammates on W.A.N.A.Tribe. We have been doing word sprints every morning and every afternoon for the past week.

Like clockwork, no matter what is happening or how we feel, we meet. We sprint for 30 minutes at a time. We write as much as we can. No looking back. No word smithing. No editing. Just writing. These folks have been a huge blessing because if they didn’t take the time to be disciplined and show up? I doubt I would be so far along.

I kept referring to them as my 5%ers and they didn’t know what I was talking about. So today we are going to talk about…the 5%er.

W.A.N.A. Sprinters, this is for you ;) .


Success is a really weird thing. I used to think people just needed to be given opportunities. What I have found is that this is not actually as critical as I once believed. There are actually opportunities everywhere. Seriously…everywhere. The problem is that internal inertia.

We must overcome our natures. Will we take advantage of those opportunities? Will we make our own opportunities where none exist? Or, will we sink to average because it’s easy?

Beware the lollipop of mediocrity; lick it once and you’ll suck forever. 

Anyone who’s ever been successful will tell you that a big part of overcoming adversity is mental. I know it’s a grossly inaccurate movie, but I still love G.I. Jane. I recall a scene during Hell Week (the first evolution of SEAL 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.

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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 SEAL, 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 writers 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? What is the difference between the amateur and the pro?

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. One glance in my sidebar and you’ll see this blog was named Writer’s Digest‘s Top 101 Websites for Writers for 2015.

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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?


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 almost eight 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.

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By the way, I can’t show you my beginning stats because they were so small, they didn’t register on a bar chart. 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 and I bet half were from my mother)?

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 :P ? 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.

I read all the time. I inhale all kinds of books and my personal favorite are leadership and business books. I just finished Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and WinI love, love love this book. I opened a sticky note app on my phone just to take notes. One of my favorite lines was, “Discipline is freedom.” So remember this. Tape it somewhere.

Discipline is freedom.

This is something pros understand. It’s one of the reasons I am so hard on all of you to stop calling yourselves “aspiring writers.” Aspiring is for wimps. Writers write.

Pros understand that getting up early or staying up late and putting the words on the page every day, day after day after day no matter what is liberating. You get to eventually do what you love for a living. Discipline to write means more books get written.

Yes, building a platform can be the less fun part of the job (can be). But pros know it is necessary. Discipline is freedom. Do it and you sell more books. Sell more books eventually you have to do less of what you dislike and more of what you enjoy.

Excuses are free but they cost us everything.

Pros Focus on What They Can Control

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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.

I think this is one of the reasons I really loved the book Extreme Ownership, because if we take EXTREME OWNERSHIP, then THIS is what our careers CAN look like…

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?


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


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


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?


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?


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?


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


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. We can take ownership of much more than we might realize.

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 NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

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

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3 Myths Writers Need to Ditch Like a Bad Ex

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In the spirit of the upcoming holidays, today we are going to talk about something touchy and complicated. No, I am not going to tell you where babies come from.

Okay, fine.

Amazon. With Prime, you get free shipping.

Moving on…

The whole publishing paradigm makes me kinda twitch and we writers are often at the center of a lot of silly complaining. So I’d like to debunk some pretty myths we writers love to perpetuate.

It’s like that ex who we run into on Facebook and we get all nostalgic and remember all the loooove. But, if we took more than 30 seconds to think. Really THINK? We’d remember why we were combing Craig’s List for a hit man willing to be paid in unredeemed Starbucks gift cards to take that person OUT…O_o

Same situation. Let’s unpack this, shall we?

Fallacy #1—Old Books Are Awesome & We Should GO BACK

I just love the smell of old books. The feel of old paper. The nostalgia. I just miss browsing dusty shelves looking for a hidden treasure…

I can completely 1000% get on board with this. Books are foundational for any thriving society and the bedrock of any enduring culture. But this commentary does not belong in a business discussion about the publishing industry.


Because we (writers) are not being PAID off old dusty copies of our manuscripts unless we happen to be traveling the country selling them out of steamer trunks.

It’s a non sequitur.

In fact, and this is just ME. I will not buy books at secondhand stores or garage sales. And, if I do happen to buy a book this way and I like the title and I find out the book is still in print and the author who worked really, really hard to write that book can still be paid?

I buy a copy.

Often a digital copy to make sure that the writer got PAID for doing her job. It’s a professional courtesy.

Thing is, we have to be really, really careful that as artists we are not perpetuating the very behavior that pisses us off.

We like getting paid for our work. We work really really hard and expect (rightfully) that we should be rewarded for doing so.

Doctors work hard and they expect to get paid. No one gripes when the doctor gets paid. Heck, no one gripes when the UPS driver gets paid or the barista who makes the triple-shot espresso pumpkin soy cappuccino with half foam and vanilla sprinkles and does not commit MURDER gets paid.

Oh, but it is artsy and bohemian to rip writers off because old books are cool?

No. And again, let’s keep the debate clear here because I can already hear the blogs now, “Kristen Lamb hates old books!” No. Pay attention.

I love old books. Have stacks of them. Want to buy old copies of Moby Dick? Be my guest. I doubt Melville is counting on that Amazon royalty check to pay to upgrade his Scrivner or, I dunno, eat.

Want to support civilization? Buy old books. Want to support a writer and his/her family? Buy new ones or e-books.

I also get that paper is not going away, but what makes me a little cray-cray is why authors seem so resistant to e-books at all. I love e-books. First of all because I seriously DIG that giant old lady font.

How Kristen reads ALL her books…

Also, because that is another way readers can buy and consume my work. Want it on paper? Here. Audio? HERE. E-book? Here!

Heck, as writers, I think we should stand behind any kind of R&D that gets more stories into the hands of readers. I am 1000% behind Carrier Pigeon Technology, Smoke Signal Fiction, Books by Morse Code.

Granted, morally, I am on the fence about downloading my book directly into my readers’ brains, but hell the sci-fi folks can just run with that! If the royalties are fat enough? I’m game.

Heck, if there was good money behind me acting out my stories in interpretive dance?

I would so be there.


Who cares how readers get our books so long as we are being paid?

In case anyone was unclear? WE are the oldest profession ;) .

And this “How Readers Get Our Books” dovetails into my next point…

Fallacy #2 Barnes & Noble Supports All Authors

The whole B&N drama? I am verklempt. Calm down and hear me out. I don’t think Barnes & Noble is as good or even as bad as we believe.

Do I believe B& N is the devil? Of course not. I love B&N. In fact, there was a time I had a loan shark who met me in the hardbacks to front me some Benjamins to keep pace with my habit.

I think competition is GOOD. It is necessary and vital and it keeps everyone playing nice-nice. I even wrote a long piece about the dangers of Amazon becoming a monopoly in case you are worried I am being too biased.

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But, here is the deal. The second I write anything about how Amazon is doing something really brilliant, people love to jump all over Bezos for being predatory and helllooo?

Can we just go back about 15-20 years?

Barnes and Noble (and Borders) are almost singlehandedly responsible for wiping out the indie bookstore ecosystem. They deliberately placed megastores on every corner and willfully drove small bookstores out of business so I guess I am the only one who finds Borders extinction karmic and B&Ns current plight ironic.

Thing is, B&N reinvented the book industry and were rewarded for doing so. They got people really excited about bookstores again and it was bloody and brutal for the indies.

But now that another business has come along that is finally mean and lean enough to hit back comes along? I am not all, “Poor B&N.”

I have popcorn and Red Vines.

Genuine competition is good for them. They can either lay there and take it or they can use the pushback to reinvent the bookstore again. Markets aren’t supposed to remain static. And last I checked, their top officers get paid pretty well to figure this stuff out ;) .

Barnes & Noble is not good for most authors, lest we forget how they were able to get those rock-bottom prices that drove most of the indies out of business. They thrive off selling in volume and the only authors who are fairly guaranteed to sell in volume are already household names.

Nothing personal. It’s business.

So when Amazon comes along and its business is not driven by a scattergun approach and instead is driven off authentic interest as reflected in genuine buying habits?

We writers might want to take notice.

Yes, as I predicted, Amazon would need a brick-and-mortar store to sell its own imprints, but this is also good news for traditionally published authors who are new with lower print runs or whose last name doesn’t rhyme with Patterson.

Fallacy #3 Social Media is a Dismal Failure

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I’ve had a few comments regarding how so many authors ran to social media and they simply aren’t seeing any of that social media activity translate into sales. Thing is? Yep. Social media is not direct marketing, though the two are often confused.

See, in direct marketing, we can measure. We can put out an ad, measure click rates and see how many clicks led to a purchase. We can send out so many fliers and then measure quantitatively how many of those later translated into sales.

We can measure how many morons individuals were sent an e-mail telling them they had inherited $100,000,000 from some relative they never knew they had in Guana against how many deposits we get of $5000 to spring that “inheritance” from customs.

This gives us our ROI (return on investment). How many e-mails sent in comparison to how much cash is sent via Western Union.

Why it has been so vexing for marketers is they try to treat social media the same way as mass marketing…and they can’t. Because if we do social media correctly (keeping it social) there is no way to quantify it.

It becomes too obvious we are mixing social and market norms and that creeps people the hell out.


Market Norms are when a prostitute expects money in return for *wink wink nod nod* “favors.”

Social Norms are when a wife does those same “favors” for her beloved husband out of love because getting paid for it would be seriously strange.

That seems obvious, right?

But what if wife has a wonderful and romantic evening with her husband, but then before he leaves for work, asks him to fill out an on-line survey rating how he enjoyed his night and tells him that when he completes his survey, he will be texted a code that he can then redeem for free pancakes?

Yes, I just took that to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL of weird.

But y’all see what I mean when I say that you just can’t sneak that stuff in there! We SEE it. We can tell when we are being manipulated on social media and that is why this stuff cannot be directly measured and quantified.

Word of Mouth is Vital…But Can’t Be Measured

Zuckerberg didn’t invent social media. Social media has always been around. It was just called “word of mouth.” It was also the only thing next to a good book that ever sold books.

The only difference, was that until Web 2.0, it was almost impossible to ignite word of mouth on any level of magnitude. But to think we can measure and control it? Not happening.

As far as authors not seeing any “direct translation into sales”? I can tell you why. They are the same people we likely had to run off #MyWANA with digital pitchforks for book spam.

There are no shortcuts. Period.

Write good books. Work really hard. Make friends and enjoy yourself and hopefully it will pay off. It may not, but think of it this way?

Twenty years ago we could have all gone to our graves without ever getting to hold a copy of our own work in our hands. At least today we get a shot, and that is a heck of a lot more than countless writers in the past ever got.

E-books might take away from that nice quaint little shop on the corner (the ones not razed by B&N), but that little shop on the corner only had room for a handful of authors.

And, Amazon IS looking to reinvent that little shop on the corner. Algorithms, love them or hate them, will make it possible for independent bookstores to thrive since they can stock smartly, and less waste means more profit.

E-books have made it possible for countless writers to finally be paid to do what they love. My opinion? Every digital copy downloaded, should come with the sound of a link of iron breaking…one more link from the day job. You are setting a WRITER FREE!

B&N is great, but again, only helping so many of our brothers and sisters in the inky trenches. I want to help MORE!

Social media. Do it. Don’t do it. If you do it, please at least do it well. Don’t feed us spam and then b$#@ when we don’t want to consume it & reward laziness.

We are NOT stupid. It is STILL SPAM!

We are NOT stupid. It is STILL SPAM!

I hope you all will embrace that we live in a great time and we get to make the future better for ourselves and writers to come. Ditch the old and embrace the new.

Do you love that you at least get to HOLD your book? Would you be willing to act out your novel in interpretive dance if the pay was right? Are you for more ways to get stories into hands of readers? Carrier hamsters? Nah, plague always a concern. Hmmm. I’ll give the ideas over to you guys.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

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Move Over Barnes & Noble, Hello Amazon Brick-and-Mortar—Bringing Back the Bookstore Only Better

Okay, THIS guy no longer is replacing B&N

Okay, I have to close my bookstore. DANG IT!

Man, I SO love being right. Not to brag, but those who’ve followed me any amount of time know my tract record for predictions is pretty darn impressive. Back as early as 2006 I knew social media was going to be a game changer for novelists. Until social media, fiction authors had zero ability to build a platform of fans before the book was ever finished/published, unlike non-fiction authors (which probably explained our 96% failure rate).

The only way a novelist could build a platform or brand was through already published books. This was NOT the case for the non-fiction author.

Unlike novelists, NF authors weren’t trying to spin an audience from the ether and praying the stars aligned when their books hit shelves. Non-fiction writers exhibited some control—actually quite a lot of control—in creating a platform of fans who were ready and eager for a purchase before the product came to market. Often this was done through activities like public speaking, lecturing or writing articles.

When Web 2.0 came on the scene (a product of the implosion) and user-generated content began accelerating, the future seemed very clear to me. User-generated content WAS the future. Who was best at creating content? Helloooo? WRITERS! Finally we had a small stage of our own where we could at least make a dent in that nightmare known as discoverability.

In 2008, I pitched numerous agents a book about social media for authors. I was laughed at. They told me that Facebook was a fad and that e-books would never be statistically significant. That they’d weathered the great “books on tape” scare that was supposed to render all paper books extinct and e-books would soon go away along with social media.

I countered:

Hey, paper is never going away. There is always going to be a market for that, but it’s going to be utterly reinvented. The paper model can’t be sustained the way it’s going. It’s too wasteful.

Also, e-books are going to be bigger than you realize. The only reason they haven’t been a big deal so far is no one has come out with a tablet or e-reader that is affordable and user-friendly. That happens? Game over. You need to be ahead of this curve.

Who cares how people read so long as they are reading? And paying YOU?

*does Jerry Maguire face* Help ME, help YOU.

Aaaaaand then Steve Jobs came out with the iPad and the iPhone went mainstream. All phones became smartphones and life as we knew it imploded. Then the Nook and Kindle and yeah. E-books are kind of a BIG DEAL. So are audio books, btw. Ever heard of Audible? Whispersync?

A little thing called Twitter?

And that agent to this day walks the other direction when he sees me.

I’ve been blogging eight years telling writers that social media is critical. Granted, the first year people ignored me. The next year readers just called me a witch. Then, people went from pissy to borderline violent, which is odd because hey, I am just here to help.

Don’t want to do social media? Don’t. But we are no longer in a world with a Borders and a Barnes & Noble on every corner…and I mean every corner. 

But this brings up what I wanted to talk about today. Anyway, I was patting myself on the back about what a GENIUS I a—-OUCH!!! CRAMP! BREATHE! Walk it off…

For the most part I have been pretty accurate in my projections. I’d love to say that it is that it is I am really smart. Or even that it has to do with that deal I made with Satan junior year, only that deal involved me being able to eat all the pizza I wanted and never get fat.

Where was I?

Thing is, markets never stay the same. They shouldn’t. Stagnation is actually bad juju.

Anyway, in my POV humans really never outgrow being toddlers. We get really, really enamored with something and then either drop it like Season 7 of Lost or we find a new homeostasis. That thing just gets integrated into our lives, because we dig it, but we are no longer all cray-cray with it.

Yes, “cray-cray” IS a legitimate business term.

See, I’m an entrepreneur and entrepreneurs love fixing broken stuff. We also hate it when businesses continue to be epically STUPID. In my book Rise of the Machines I go into more detail about all this jazz, but here is the elevator version.

The traditional paper model worked for a hundred years because there was no better way. But, when the world handed Borders and B&N a better way on a silver platter? They ignored it.

In the traditional model, agents and editors bank on previous sales to project future sales. This is why so many of your bookstores are all stocked with the same authors. Most of them big-name heavy-hitters. For the new author? This made (makes) breaking out next to impossible.

Most writers who are fortunate enough to make it into a bookstore are spine-out on a shelf and have to hope their last name lands them at eye-level because if they have no platform? Browsing Roulette is the best one can hope for. This is not the publisher being mean. Big names make the most money. Money means they actually have the means to publish new authors.

The fact that Amazon was going to dominate the e-book industry was a given. Low-hanging fruit. But, in my mind, I knew at some point it only made sense for them to at least try going brick-and-mortar. BUT, I knew this would probably only happen once the giants were dead or close to.

Now? Borders is a memory and B&N is struggling. Last I visited, they are now selling vinyl records, which is cool…albeit weird.

Amazon has always had several factors in its favor. First, it doesn’t have all the bloated overhead. It didn’t have giant 35,000 square foot stores on every corner. Then, B&N catered far more to traditional publishing. But, as we have all witnessed in recent rears, many of the breakout runaway successes did not come from traditional. Hugh Howey is a big one that comes to mind.

And even the books that DID sell a lot of copies (meaning generated revenue) that might have originally been traditionally published were backlist published by the authors themselves. Thus these profit centers (books) wouldn’t have ever been stocked by a B&N anyway because B&N generally only carried current stuff.

Amazon, conversely, was smart and saw the MAJOR advantage of compounded sales.

For instance in 2009, B&N had one new Bob Mayer NF for sale, Who Dares Wins (excellent book, btw). Hello! On Amazon now you can get everything that man has penned since the 80s, books the publishers no longer wanted but that were excellent books. Books I had to track down in secondhand stores before Amazon came along.


Bob was a New York Times and USA Today Best Selling Author and a damn fine writer, but NY publishing was only interested in one book at a time and the old stuff was old news. It’s why they handed Bob back his rights.

They weren’t going to do anything with those old books. WTH? I read ONE Area 51 book and hunted through every secondhand book store in DFW to get the series and NY had no interest in at least trying to put those in e-book?

Those suckers sold millions of copies when they were released. The stories were still awesome. They weren’t like the spinach I forgot in my vegetable crisper that grew e-coli and that would KILL you if you ingested after they were no longer available in print.

Anyway, NY didn’t want to republish them but, to Amazon? Ka-CHING! Why sell one Bob book when you can sell 50?

Back to brick-and-mortar.

Remember I said humans go through cycles. I think in the 90s we grew enamored with BIG. We loved the mega-store. Bigger was better until, frankly, it just got ridiculous. Do we really need to be able to buy a tractor at the same place we order our kid’s birthday cake?

Bookstores did the same thing. But stocking all these books (the same books) was really wasteful and this led to a major market contraction.

Okay the market snapped with more force than Kim Kardashian’s Spanx.

We snapped back the other direction. I love shopping on-line. OMG, I need a 12 Step group for my book-buying habit. But, frankly, I miss browsing a bookstore. We need bookstores!

Here Comes Amazon ;) 

Because Amazon is smart. Amazon looks at where its competitors went wrong and it improves. That is the beating heart of true capitalism. Evolution. Amazon has every major component to make this work. I predicted they would do this back in 2012. Seriously, here is one of the posts.

And it was funny, because recently I was talking to my husband and wondering what was up. Amazon makes killer business decisions and deep down my gut told me I was right about them eventually opening a brick-and-mortar. I couldn’t be wrong about that. Everything about it made sense.

Then, *ANGELS SING* I saw THIS! Amazon opened its first REAL BOOKSTORE in Seattle YESTERDAY.

Amazon Has Algorithms

If they open more stores than the Seattle location, there is NO NEED to make a big store. The only reason for the megastore was because it was a scattergun effect. Stock enough titles and hope. Also stock BIG names and those probably would sell. If you had some weird outlier? An indie or self-pub that went viral? A new author who didn’t get a big enough print run? You missed it.

Not Amazon.

But Amazon knows who is selling. It has the data. It also knows not all areas have the same tastes in books. When the movie American Sniper came out, I guarantee you more copies sold in Texas. Probably more here in my town since I am right down the road from where Chris Kyle lived.

Also, Millennials love retro. Heck, most of us like retro. Retro is huge! Um, Star Wars? Sometimes an old book for reasons unknown could pop on the radar. Old Conan the Barbarian books or maybe early Ann Rice titles that suddenly lots of readers would love to have in PAPER.

What if you could strategically stock every store? Wait! Now, you can.

Amazon is Loyal to the Customer

They don’t care if we are indie, self-pub, traditional. Heck, Amazon doesn’t care if we can even write (a topic for another blog). But, if we publish a book of nothing but commas?


And people DIG THAT? Readers WANT that? Amazon will print copies of the book of nothing but commas and have plenty of them in stock to keep customers happy.

Amazon Gives Authors Advantage

In the old days, premium placement at a bookstore (or any placement for that matter) was negotiated beforehand by an agent. Now? If Amazon expands this brick-and-morter biz? They don’t care about politics. They care about profit.

We finally have a business model that is based off of merit. It rewards books that sell. Period.

Amazon IS Skynet

Amazon is omnifreakingpresent. They are everywhere and in everything and Hollywood is next on their radar. And yeah sure sure maybe their time will come if they rest on their laurels and get stupid, but for now? They are pretty hot stuff because they do smart stuff. And I hear we don’t have to take the mark of the Beast if we sign up for Amazon Prime :D

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They are bringing back a user-friendly bookstore. Small, efficient, and intimate like the B. Daltons of our youth, but customized to our tastes. We can buy paper books AND load up the Kindle. Also, I guarantee you there will eventually be kiosks in there to give us what we can’t find on shelves.

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Can find it? Heck, they will ship it to us for FREE with a Prime Membership.

In my mind, this is great news for authors. I never really worried. I always knew there would be a place for the bookstore. I figured Amazon was doing exactly what it was doing (gaining a stockpile of talented authors who sold a crap-ton of titles, signing up most of the global population to Amazon Prime, gathering data and perfecting algorithms).  The ridiculously large superstores? Not so much. That was just dumb business in my POV.

Yes, people love paper books. We love e-books. But the digital age has been a fascinating era of exploration. This new evolution of creating an actual bookstore is a boon for readers. They now have a browsing space where they can discover new books and physically touch them.

It also gives us writers a new goal to shoot for, because, frankly, making it onto the Amazon landing page was not in my “little girl” dreams when I envisioned my life as a successful writer.

Book signings are SUPER awkward when you break into people’s homes and it is really hard to personalize your signature when the cops are hauling you away in handcuffs.

Just saying…

What are your thoughts? Are you excited about the reinvention of the bookstore? Do you miss being able to walk through a small bookstore in your local mall?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

I will announce OCTOBER’S WINNER later. Hubby STILL has flu and I need more time to figure out who won…because I have not slept in a freaking WEEK. Sorry. I love you.

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

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Why Our Author Brand is More Important than Ever Before

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

For the past few months I’ve been focused on writing and not on social media. Hey, even the Social Media Jedi can get burnout ;) . But now we’re going to shift gears because, aside from writing the actual book, social media (branding) is the biggest part of our job. And I can hear the moaning and gnashing of teeth already.

Here’s the thing. We don’t have to do social media. No one will take us to writer jail if we don’t. So I will narrow this down. If you simply love the art of writing and don’t necessarily long to be paid for writing, social media is not that big of a priority. Social media is only important for those of us who like money.

Thus, for those of us who want to make a living as a professional author, we must take author branding seriously. We are a business. Want to be successful? Do what successful people do. Successful authors have a brand and use social media well.

When I first began blogging about social media, an on-line platform was an edge. Now? It is a lifeline.

Point of Sale Has Changed FOREVER

When Hubby and I first married seven years ago, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a bookstore. Barnes & Noble and Borders megastores crouched at every corner. They were large and fatted from all the small indie bookstores they’d devoured.

We would peruse the shelves and I’d dream of the day I’d see my books out on those display tables. But even then, I had a knot in my stomach. I knew these were halcyon days for the mega-store. We’d already seen what iTunes had done to Tower Records and logic dictated these mega-bookstores were already living on borrowed time.

And sometimes I hate it when I’m right.

Over the past seven years we’ve watched various evolutions of decay and decline. Borders consolidated and then finally went bankrupt. Barnes & Noble tried to launch the Nook. Instead of the front of the store being books, it was a display area for Nooks and Nook accessories. Then, when that didn’t ignite like the Kindle Fire, we saw a steady progression of more and more and more consolidation.

I am from Fort Worth. At one point, there were five Barnes and Nobles all within a couple miles of each other. They are now all gone.


Thing is, Borders and Barnes & Noble erased all the indies. Now they are gone. What does this mean for writers?

Fewer point of sale contacts.

There are fewer and fewer physical places to purchase books. For those authors who were counting on readers discovering their titles while browsing? This is bad juju. I live in a very metropolitan area and I know of only a handful of Barnes & Nobles for the entire DFW Area (a metroplex the size of Connecticut).

I just sent off one of my novels to an agent. Would I love to see my book in Barnes & Noble? PSHAW! Duh, YES! I’m a writer.

Like you guys, I’ve dreamed of that since I wrote my first novels in crayon. But I am not naive. Yes, being in a bookstore serves my vanity, but it is no longer the major driver of sales that it used to be.

Even if bookstores sold a LOT of books, frankly there aren’t that many bookstores left.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter all that much simply because there is a really good reason for this store shrinkage. And since I blogged about this until I was BLUE, I will only touch on this point.

We need consumers more than they need us.

Pay Attention to Consumer Behavior



Thing is, Barnes & Noble could have learned a thing or ten from iTunes and RedBox. Times have changed and so have consumer behaviors. We are an OnDemand world. In the old days, we had to go to the merchant. These days, the merchant comes to us.


When I finish one book, my Kindle magically delivers other books like the one I just read. Instead of having to wear pants, brave traffic, find a parking spot, wade through the mall, wander the store, on and on and on…

One click and done.

I just got a new Kindle and O…M…G. They have a new feature where instead of my Kindle simply hibernating with some blasé picture, it has an advertisement for a book. I have bought more books in the past week than in the past year because instead of me having to use a bunch of brainpower sifting through a gazillion choices?

Amazon has done my thinking for me.

We Buy What We KNOW

What happens with authors who don’t have that neat Amazon ad to direct purchases? In a marketplace with fewer and fewer points of sale with more competition than ever in human history, how do we sell books?

We have to create a brand.

We live in a time where we have more choices than ever. I don’t know about you guys, but I have a Love-Hate relationship with Central Market. Granted, it is AWESOME. Central Market is such a cool grocery store that tourists actually visit. Every aisle is a foodie’s dream. They don’t just have “olive oil”, they have 700 varieties of an olive oil “experience”.

And there I stand for 40 minutes just trying to make a freaking decision about WHICH olive oil to buy…and end up just buying plain old Bertolli that I could have purchased at the Kroger’s down the road and that I certainly didn’t need to dress up, drive to Central Market and nearly get run over by a soccer mom in a Mercedes SUV to purchase.

Now, the only time I go to Central Market is if I need something specific because with all the choices? It would take me a day and a half to shop…and I’d need sherpas and GPS and wine that I brought myself because I can’t even figure out what kind of freaking OLIVE OIL I want, you think aI could choose WINE…?????

*breathes in paper bag*

Yet, with books, this is what is going on with consumers, even those of us who are avid readers. Just like we will forgo the pasta sauce with truffles, a virgin sacrifice and the distilled souls of Italian grandmothers in favor of good old-fashioned Ragu…

We will shy away from authors we don’t know in favor of those we DO know.

This is where social media and branding become almost as important as the book we write and have for sale. We could have a book so brilliant it makes angels weep, but if no one knows it is there? We are left with Schrodinger’s Novel.

We Must Always Be Cultivating the Fans of the Future

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

It is incumbent upon us as authors to be in charge of our careers for the short-term as well as the long-term. If you plan on selling books in ten years realize that Millenials will be your audience and they practically teethed on a keyboard. They’ve grown up with social media, so if we aren’t there?

We do not exist.

Smart authors understand this. Don’t believe me, go check out Anne Rice on Facebook and Twitter. She is a social media rockstar and that’s why she continues to be a legend.

It’s All Good

Before anyone has a panic attack, author branding is not that hard. Also, done properly, it isn’t all that time-intensive either. But, I teach branding and social media very differently namely because I am a writer FIRST. I don’t imagine most of you are just doing this writing thing until your dream job in high pressure sales comes through.

Didn’t think so.

I will blog more on this in the weeks to come, but I do recommend picking up my book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World. Platforms take time to build so the sooner we start the better. Yes, I published the book a couple years ago, but unlike other “social media experts” I teach an approach that never changes because it is based on people and not technology.

Read Shakespeare. Humans don’t change. And, since humans don’t change, it only makes sense to build a platform based on people, not algorithms and “gaming” the system.

I also have zero interest in changing your personalities. I appreciate what it is like to be a creative introvert with severe social anxiety (I used to shop at 2 a.m. because crowds gave me panic attacks). My goal is to change your behavior, NOT your personality. I am also here to give you a way to create a powerful brand for FREE and still have plenty of time to do the most important part of the job.

Write more books.

So we will start chatting more about branding. What to do, what not to do. What’s a time suck and so forth.

What are your thoughts? Do you miss the small bookstores? I really miss B. Dalton. Do you still dream of seeing your book for sale on a table at B&N? Have you been powerless in the face of Kindle book ads? I had to sign up for a Kindle Unlimited membership before I had to go to a loan shark to pay for my habit. Are you overwhelmed by social media or has it given you a lifeline?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

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What to Do When You Absolutely, Positively NEED a Pen Name

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

Yesterday, we talked about reasons NOT to use a pen name. I will again be very clear about this. Ultimately, it is up to the writer. My job is to make sure you guys have time to write more books and that you aren’t inadvertently making more work than is necessary. Yes, there ARE good cases for having a nom de plume.

There are probably as many reasons TO have a pen name as not, but it will be extra work…which is why I don’t like them. I am LAZY. But that’s me :D .

If you are okay with that? Sally forth!

A Caveat…

I come at this from a different perspective than most writers, since often I am the one called in to help talk a writer off the ledge when pen names go bad. For instance, I recently spoke to a group of authors. One author was teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown trying to do social media. Yet, when we talked, this author had THREE pen names (with three different web sites) because she didn’t want readers “getting confused.”

The problem (in my POV) was she wrote thrillers, suspense and cozy mystery. These are genres with a lot of crossover. Usually from the cover, genre, story description, readers can figure out that one book is a hard-boiled thriller versus a cozy. She was running herself ragged trying to manage all these identities, when if she used ONE, she’d have more time to write and also readers from one genre likely would help sales for the others.

I actually get this a lot.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

In the pre-digital world, we didn’t have the ability to build an on-line presence, so readers would get confused. These days? That is not near the problem it used to be.

If we look at Jonathan Maberry, he writes adult books and YA and uses the same name. Often, those who like his adult books are drawn to his YA and the genre and story description is enough for those purchasing to know they are geared toward different ages. I’ve read most of his books and the adult books have profanity and more violence, the YA is zombie-lite. Most people can figure this out without Maberry adopting an entirely new name.

Same name, different target age groups

Same name, different target age groups

Patterson is also now writing books for young people. He’s using the power of his name (his brand) to sell for an entirely different age group and the titles and covers are enough for most people to understand that Public School Super Hero is probably a young reader’s book. Or this one ;) .

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In the pre-digital world, we would have viewed these genres differently. They would have been wildly divergent. The on-line world though has actually bundled a lot more than we might realize. Thus, if you already have a solidly branded name, you might not need an entirely new identity for another genre. Just think about it, then decide.

A Pen Name for Multiple Genres that DO Conflict

Many of those who chimed in on yesterday’s discussion in support of pen names write erotica or romance in combination with other genres that conflict. In this case? Yes, use a pen name for each genre. Have one name for steamy romance and another for YA. This case is an excellent candidate for a pen name.

Yet, I will say that if I write sexy erotica and kid’s books, I’m already aware that I will be in for building multiple platforms.

A Pen Name Because My Legal Name Would Cause Problems

There are instances where a writer is in genuine need of privacy. I stated this yesterday, but maybe was unclear. If I’m a nurse or doctor who writes medical thrillers? There is a concern with the day job. There are those who are still active in the intelligence community who NEED a pen name for safety reasons.

If I am a lawyer and write legal thrillers, maybe I don’t want to defend that I haven’t broken any confidentiality with my stories. Maybe I’ve been through a divorce and want to ditch my married name so I don’t have to deal with the ex.

So yes, these cases are good reasons for a pen name.

If you are a schoolteacher and write steamy romance, there is a real need to section off that writer persona. Maybe you are the black sheep in a fundamentalist family and the stress of dealing with drama overwhelms your ability to create. YES, use a pen name.

But, what I wanted to make clear is that in the early days of the Internet, simply signing up for a profile under a nom de plume WAS enough. Now, with search engines becoming far more advanced, there are additional steps we need to take to maintain the integrity of the pen name. Changing the name is no longer enough.

It would be irresponsible of me to not point this out. I KNOW there are teachers who have lost jobs over their fiction. I don’t want that happening to anyone, so it’s my job to let y’all know that if you do need a clear separation for these reasons, appreciate that it is more complicated than simply using another name.

I have had writers who didn’t realize this and ended up giving up writing altogether because a troll found them and the stress became overwhelming. I’ve had borderline suicidal writers e-mailing me who gave up their dream because of bullies, and that ticks me off and makes Kristen want to go on a troll-hunting spree. To me these situations are tragic namely because most of the time, they are preventable.

If you guys want to write erotica and YA and enjoy both without contending with haters? I am here to HELP. Yes, have a pen name, but do it properly.

A Pen Name Because I Want One

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Go for it! As Jami Gold mentioned in the comments yesterday, some writers need that alter ego to clear head space and to feel more in tuned with the writing. We are creative people and sometimes that “otherness” helps us step out or mentally separate from ordinary life.

While Maberry and Patterson are fine writing for kids and adults under the same name, maybe you require a different identity to get in tune with that particular audience. If I wrote steamy romance, I gotta be honest, I would probably want something a tad “sexier” than Kristen Lamb.

Ok, a LOT sexier than Kristen Lamb.

If you want that or need it? Rock on.

One of my followers, Heidi Cullinan, wrote a post exploring some excellent reasons to have a pen name, so I will send y’all there instead of belaboring it. The only points in the post I disagree with is that I made it clear that 1) I can’t make the decision for you and 2) romance/erotica genres are generally in need of a pen name. Actually any hot-button topic is. Sex, religion, politics? Probably gonna want a pen name.

It IS up to you. Also, yes, Heidi is right that it is your choice if you want four pen names or fourteen. I can’t stop you, though I will try ;) . And the reason is that if we are spread so thinly we can’t write or we aren’t selling books because we are trying to manage multiple pen names and diluting our readership, that is a formula for us to wear out and give up.

I Have a Branded Pen Name

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

If you have already created a pen name with a following and a brand, do not feel the need to go redo everything and use your legal name. You already HAVE a brand. There were some commenters who’d already spent years under a certain name. Stay there!

The advice of whether or not to have a pen name is different from whether or not to keep one. If you are a new writer starting out? I only ask you make the decision using current information. I see writers change names search engines would LOVE for something people can pronounce. That is old world.

If you are going to write in another genre, ask the tough questions then decide. Do you really need another identity or is this a case like Maberry where readers can figure out your books are different from the covers and titles? Would your current name possibly drive sales for you in another genre?

Would your current profession drive sales for your books? I see writers who have a successful career rebranding themselves for selling books when perhaps their success as a photographer, actor or surgeon could help book sales. People “get” we do more than one thing and we might be more inclined to pick up a thriller from our neighbor who’s a real estate agent. We understand she sells houses and writes books and we can adjust the Internet search terms accordingly.

If you already have four identities and are going nutso? Is it possible to pick one and then change the covers and retrain the audience? There are some authors who have been publishing since the days where multiple pen names were required. In the modern era, that is a formula to end up in a straight jacket. Thus, if you want to re-release works you have the rights to, you DO have the option of combining all those alter egos under one brand.

My Name is Boring

If you have a name like John Smith? Sure, a pen name is an option though not necessary. Tagging and generating content can mitigate this. The name Kristen Lamb is NOT terribly unique so a common name can work.

I Hate My Name

Get a pen name. If you don’t like your name and it makes you uncomfortable? Change it. Just understand it is more work, but that was probably already obvious ;) .

My Name is Stephen King and I am NOT Stephen King

If we happen to have a name that is exactly like a mega-branded author? Yes, get a pen name. If it is another popular personality like an actor? Consider keeping it. I said consider. It can make a name memorable. If I write mysteries and my name is Jessica Tandy? Most people with more than a half a brain know I am not the late film actress born in 1904. But, the name alone is memorable and all they have to do is put “writer” or “author” in the search to find me.

The Guts of This

In the end, all I can do is offer advice and get you guys to ask the right questions before you decide. Are we making the decision for the right reasons? Are we making our job tougher? Are we unintentionally watering down our brand? Will the pen name offer more advantages or disadvantages? Are we securing a pen name in a way that will maintain that “separateness” we require? If we think these things out ahead of time, we don’t set ourselves up for major headaches later.

So what are your thoughts? Aside from I am telling you you can’t have a pen name. I am NOT telling anyone they can’t have a pen name! :P For those who do use a pen name and enjoy it, what are says that you keep that separateness? Tips? Tricks? What does your pen name allow you to do creatively? For those who are having trouble with the pen name, what is vexing you?

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).

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 :D .

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

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The Art of Business & The Business of Art—Breaking Rules to Reveal Our Audience

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.43.37 AM

There are a lot of fabulous blogs and books on business, especially for writers. How to promote, do a tour, switch an algorithm, etc. But, I tend to be a broad strokes kind of gal. I dig simple. Simple works. Simple doesn’t have an expiration date.

ART is a Business & Business is an ART

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mark Roy.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mark Roy.

When companies forget they are servants and act in a way that makes consumers serve them? That’s when they get into trouble. Businesses are in business to…make money. NO. Businesses should be in the business to serve people.

Artists are in the business of “making and selling art.” NO. They should be in the business of serving the audience. It is a TWO-WAY dialogue driven by core needs.

This is where many writers need to breathe into a paper bag because they break out in hives at the mention of “business.” But, if we want to create anything that people want to PAY MONEY for? We are a business.

Be the Consumer

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

The power of empathy is particularly crucial. Humans are actually very simple. Most of our decisions are driven by the primal brain. We like to feel good about a purchase. We often can’t articulate WHY we made a decision because it is the non-verbal part of our brains at the steering wheel when we choose.

Also, the product is all about US.

Friday, when we talked about breaking rules in writing, there was a lot of mention about writers simply breaking rules to break them. Yet, I would challenge every artist (or business) to step back and feel. Think about the customer FIRST and ego second. Money LAST.

Case in Point

I never set out to be the social media expert for writers. Yet, as early as 2003, I knew social media would completely alter the publishing paradigm. Anyone who bought an MP3 and had an ounce of imagination could see the domino effect ahead.

Tower Records–>Kodak–> Big Six Publishing

I was very grateful for the computer and marketing people who attended conferences to teach social media, but I had a couple of problems.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

First of all, I knew writers would eventually HAVE to have a brand and social media platform or be dead in the water. The problem was that these computer people didn’t know how to talk to creative people who had trouble opening their e-mail. At the time, many writers (and editors and agents) refused to even USE e-mail.

Thus the presentations actually scared people because they didn’t empower them.

Writers mentally checked out because the computer people made “branding” and “platform-building” too time-consuming and complicated. 

The marketing people did the same thing (and, in my mind, many of their tactics were from a 20th century playbook). Their approach didn’t fit into a world where everyone was instantly connected and the flow of information was dynamic and light-speed.

I.e. Having a Facebook Fan Page for EVERY BOOK. Really? O_o When the heck would we have time to WRITE?

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Additionally, one thing I noticed (being a salesperson for many years) is these experts failed to consider their audience. They were talking code, algorithms, apps and technology to a group of people who averaged (at the time) over 50. Writing, when I started, was something people often did when they retired or the kids were out of the house.

Their CUSTOMER was my mother who was afraid she’d delete the Internet, yet they failed to connect with “her” in a meaningful way.

As far as the marketing and PR people? There was far too much high-pressure sales involved in their methods. Yet, NO WRITER in the room was thinking, “Hey, I am just going to write about dragons until my dream job in high-pressure SALES comes along.”

I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I noticed many of these early experts had “affordable packages” available. In my mind, they were scaring the audience into feeling powerless in order to sell them something.

That ticked me off.

Ticked me off enough to write my first book, We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I made it a point to think from the perspective of my customer. MY mission statement was to serve my customer, not the other way around.

I knew writers often were not able to write full-time. Many of us have spouses, kids, a day job, older family members we care for. We needed an approach that was simple and that didn’t have to be outsourced. Many new writers don’t have a lot of money. They couldn’t plunk down $10,000 for a PR guru.

Also, social media and the Internet shifts faster than any of us can keep up. Amazon is constantly changing and if our focus is on juking those changes, we will be like my cat who can never quite catch the red dot. That was WHY I wrote my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World. ONE book. One manual.

Thus, when we talk about breaking rules in business or in art, it MUST be to better serve our audience/customers. It must be SIMPLE and it MUST BE TIMELESS.

When we are being clever simply to be clever? Good luck.

The Reliant Robin: Image via "Top Gear"

The Reliant Robin: Image via “Top Gear”

I’ve read authors who were being artistic and decided they didn’t need quotation marks or tags. Yet, I ask: How does this help the reader consume the story with page-turning passion?

I could be super clever right now and write a novel in text speak, but who (now) wants the brain cramp of rdng 4 OMG hrs w/ppl txtng & LOL as u DYH or STHU?

Um, but it is my ART *sniffs and rearranges beret*

Why Should We Break Rules?

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Because it MIGHT just pay off! ~Johnny Cat

All rule-breaking (in my POV) must be to better serve the consumer not the creator. Though I am not particularly fond of Hemingway’s writing, he was a journalist. Fiction, at the time, was BLOATED.

Yet, people in Hemingway’s time finally had photographs, film and newspapers. They KNEW what a whale looked like, so why insult them with a 100 pages describing one?

I imagine this overwriting drove a journalist nutso, and it took a journalist to whittle fiction down to the bones and bare form story.

See, when Melville write Moby Dick he was serving the audience/consumer of his time. He didn’t make the assumption his potential readers were all world-travelers and had seen what he’d seen. Thus, all those details were important for HIS readers.

But, as technology and the world changed, that massive amount of description and exposition were no longer necessary and actually got in the way of the story. It insulted the reader’s intelligence. I feel this was probably a driving force behind Hemingway field-stripping prose.

Did everyone LOVE Hemingway? No. There are people like me who like more description. BUT, there was obviously an audience who appreciated that an author finally wasn’t wasting their time using every fancy adjective, adverb and metaphor they could stuff into a paragraph.

Breaking Rules Begins with a NEED and a Vacuum

When I started writing about social media it was because no one was saying the things I needed to hear. I needed something simple, timeless and effective. WANA methods worked in 2008 and they still work today because they are simple and functional.

Instead of trying to alter the authors’ personality and make them rely on all their weaknesses, I created a method that harnessed the writers’ personality and allowed them to play to their strengths.

This is why artists can be particularly good at business once the fear-factor is peeled away. We have great powers of empathy. Remember, in the last post, I said our goal is to write the book people don’t yet know they want.

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi wrote a FABULOUS series of craft books because there were none like the ones they as authors needed. They, themselves wanted simple and effective tools deepen characters, yet none were available…so these gals stepped in and WROTE them. I HIGHLY recommend just getting them all. The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus.

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If you are SERIOUS about writing a great book this year, just go use that gift card you got for Christmas and get these books, today.

Moving on…

Giving Consumers What They Don’t Know They Want

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Henry Ford once said if he’d have asked customers what they wanted, they’d have requested a faster horse.

When social media became a game-changer, my potential customers wanted the Internet to implode. They wanted things to remain the same, even though the paradigm of the time was highly unfavorable to writers. As of 2006, writers had a 93% failure rate. Yet writers (like all humans) feared change.

Here’s the thing, anyone literate can write. This means anyone literate could write a book, right? But what is different about us as artists? The world relies on our eyes. We see what others can’t.

I saw THIS in the future...

I saw THIS in the future…

saw that brick-and-mortar was crumbling and that social media would eventually empower authors. Though many writers kicked and screamed and begged for the Web to eat itself in a digital black hole, I knew in my heart that was BAD (and wouldn’t happen anyway). Time would prove what I believed. I merely had to stick to my guns no matter how many hateful comments I got on my blogs.

In my heart, I knew I was serving my audience.

Business & Art

Hemingway reinvented writing because he didn’t like all the fluff. He wrote the book he wanted to read and took a risk others would read his books and like them, too. Instead of doing what everyone else was doing, he did something different.

When we break rules, instead of “being different” we should “differentiate.” We need to follow our passion and look for the vacuum yet to be filled.

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

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

I’ve done business consulting and one of the first things I advise is for the company to pull the annual reports of their top five competitors. Annual reports are dreadfully boring but highly valuable.

What are these companies bragging about to their share-holders? Well, their strengths, duh. Is that where a new business/entrepreneur will find their niche? NO. And, btw, it is the DUMBEST place to try and compete.

The trick is to look at the reports and see where their competitors are struggling. What they are promising to improve (or even fail to mention but should be there)? Find that gap and there is your business plan (book idea).

Breaking Rules in Creating

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If we are simply writing retreads of everything already available, we aren’t differentiating.

Oh, but my vampires glitter, they don’t SPARKLE. 

Nooooo, that is being different, not differentiation.

Anne Rice is almost solely responsible for CREATING the vampire craze because she dared to write a book from the vampire’s perspective and stuck to her guns even when criticized.

Charlaine Harris asked a “What if?” with her Southern Vampire Mysteries.

What if vampires have always been around but hidden because they had to feed on human blood? What if that blood could be synthesized and vampires could “come out of the coffin”? What would the world be like with predator and prey trying to coexist? Could they?

POOF! Formula for best-selling books and the highly popular HBO series True Blood.

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T. Jefferson Parker broke the rules in his thrillers when he mixed first person and third person and he chose to write the ANTAGONIST’S perspective in first-person.

But, he didn’t do this to be clever.

When T. Jefferson Parker writes from the perspective of a car thief or a gun-runner in first-person, we (the reader) are more intimate with them. We understand their whys and become emotionally vested. This increases tension because we find ourselves often rooting for the bad guy even when we know we probably shouldn’t.

This literary device is unique. It stretches our empathy and our minds.

***Note, this is why understanding rules helps us effectively break rules.

J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter from inspiration, but she stuck to it despite rejection because, in spite of what she was being told, she believed a YA male protagonist would be popular. So did Jonathan Maberry in his Rot & Ruin series.

These authors not only soul-searched for the book they wanted to read but wasn’t there, but they looked to what books weren’t being written.

We can criticize 50 Shades of Grey all we want, but E.L. James wrote the books she wanted to read and the ones no one else was offering.

All these authors created the books readers didn’t yet know they wanted to read. They all broke rules, whether it was asking a new question, playing with POV, offering up a teenage boy protagonist when most readers are female, or even whips, chains and handcuffs.

This is to say, READ. Books are not so cost-prohibitive that we are really “competition” for each other. It’s why teamwork works so well in our world. People generally will buy/read more than one book.

When we read the genres we love (that we are writing in), look at the strengths, but take time to ponder what you might be able to do differently. What could you possibly combine that normally doesn’t go together? What audience has no voice?

Get in the head of your audience and look for what you have in common. What is the need your book can fill?  Write what scares you, because it probably scares your readers too.

Maybe it is a sexy 53 year-old spy, a vestige of the Cold War relegated to being invisible because of age….but she is fit and sexy and KICKS @$$.

From the movie "Red"

From the movie “Red”

Maybe the protagonist struggles with her weight or an eating disorder. Perhaps your male protagonist struggles with how to be strong in a world where strong males get a lot of pushback. Or maybe he has a learning disability but that turns out to be why he is the perfect hero.

Perhaps it is an underrepresented ethnic group or writing from the perspective of those most overlooked. Sure, we have dozens of Navy SEAL books because SEALS are “hot”, but what about the brand new Airman in Supply who uncovers a vast conspiracy but no one will listen?

Your audience wants to see a part of themselves in your work. How can you do this better?

Just getting the brain-gears moving :D .

We will continue to explore ways that art and business merge, how to be creative and how to better serve our customer (reader). Some ways to create an edge in this highly competitive world. Just remember that success is about simplicity and service. Stick to those? And that’s a great foundation.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Winner for DECEMBER is Chris Phillips. Please send your 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD DOCUMENT to kris teen at wan a intl dot com. Or you can send a query letter or five page synopsis (1250 words) in a WORD document. Congratulations!

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

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10 Tips to Organizing a Kick Ass Online Book Event

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Today, one of our WANA instructors is here to talk about a topic that makes most of us want to throw ourselves in traffic. BUT Angela Ackerman, our marketing maven is here to demystify Sasquatch the book launch party….

The Book Launch—WTH? What AM I THINKING?

The book launch. The discoverability blog hop. The big Christmas sale. You know you need to do it, that it will be good for your book, but the MOUNTAIN of work looming makes you want to run for Netflix and Big Bang Theory reruns.

After hosting many successful online events, I’ve learned a few tricks to making it through them alive. It involves a lot of coffee, frozen pizza for the family, and these ten steps.

1) Pick a Theme

Via Tumblr

Via Tumblr

Every event needs something jazzy to make it stand out. Pick a theme for your event that makes it fun and different. Think about your audience, and what they might find entertaining or valuable, and then pair it with a unique element from your book.

Is your book about pirates? Create an online treasure hunt. Is your hero a safe-cracking thief? Host a bank vault break in (Becca and I did something similar HERE.) The goal is to attract YOUR IDEAL AUDIENCE by tailoring your event to something they specifically will enjoy.

2) Marshall Your Forces



Put a call out using your blog, Facebook feed, twitter and email–anywhere you have a platform. If you want to run a successful event, you can’t do it alone–you need your friends and connections to build an Awesome Street Team. I find what works best is to blog about the event well in advance and request help (& share links to the post across my networks) and then to supply a simple Google Form for interested people to fill out so I can contact them with details.

This works well if you need a few different “types” of helpers…people can sign up for what they want to do. Here and here are some sample forms I have created in the past.

3) Outline How the Event Will Run

What needs to be done in advance? DO those things.

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Need a blog banner or badge for your event? Create one. Need to drum up prizes? Secure them. In advance, prepare the book launch/book event day post for your blog (and one for your street team to use on their blogs if needed). Gather any links you need (Goodreads, Amazon, Facebook page, etc.), craft tweets to use during the event, and create an event #hashtag. Doing these things now saves you time later.

4) Email Your Volunteers

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Send a group email, thanking them for stepping up to help–make it personal and genuine. Then, clearly describe how the event will run and what you would like them to do. Explain how long the event will run, when you need their blog posts up, and when you will announce winners or simply end the event.

Give people a chance to ask questions, so everyone understands what the plan is. I recommend creating a distribution list for your team so you can keep emails private. (I learned that lesson the hard way when my first event someone got upset that her email was exposed to other members of my street team.)

5) Stay in Touch

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Once it gets closer to the date, let everyone know you will soon be sending them an email package with “cheat sheet” instructions (to remind them of how the event will run and their role in it) and everything they need for the event. Tell your team that if something has changed and they can no longer participate, you understand but now’s the time to let you know.

You don’t want to be sending out a lot of email so people feel spammed, so try hard to be very organized. If you did get questions about the event from multiple parties and they are valid questions or concerns, answer them in a Q & A in this group email so everyone is on the same page.

6) Send Out the E-Mail Package

Setting Party Operational Tempo

Setting Party Operational Tempo

A week in advance of the event, give everyone a package that contains a “cheat sheet” of instructions, an image of your blog banner or badge you will be using, and an attachment “template post” that they can cut and paste onto their blog (short and sweet, so all they have to do is write up a quick intro). I send 2 versions: a Word document, and the HTML code that has the blog badge, pictures and formatting already in place.

Bloggers who can support HTML can just cut and paste, and the work is done. I always tell people they can write their own post if they prefer, but it’s my goal with events to make life as easy as possible for my team, so I give them everything they need to save time if they wish. (Here’s the blog post I sent to my street team for our event, The WHW Amazing Race.) Also, remember to tell them the event #hashtag you picked for their tweets.

7) Be Present



When your event launches, stuff might go wrong. Make sure you are available to help your team in any way they need. Tell them to email you if they need help and monitor your inbox. Check everyone’s blogs to make sure the posts are up and that links work.

If you can, interact in their comment sections as well as your own. On social media, drive traffic to your street team people. With a large group, I create a Pinterest board of participants (like this one), and then tweet links to it during and after the event, telling my followers that these are really great people & to check out their blogs. This is a nice way to say thank you to them for participating.

8) Be Enthusiastic

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For this event to be memorable, your energy needs to be up. Try to engage people, encourage them to participate, and make it super fun. (This is where having a kick ass theme comes in.) Make sure your high level of positivity is in every email you send to your team.

Be pumped, let them know how excited you are to be doing this event with them. They in turn will spread that high energy along.

9) Wrap It Up

Publish your closing post for the event (if there are winners to draw and announce, do this) and thank everyone for joining you in the event. Send out emails to winners, and distribute any prizes. Keep a list of the winners so if you don’t hear back from someone, you can try again.

10) Say a Heartfelt THANK YOU to Your Street Team

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Don’t be afraid to show your emotion–let them really know just what it meant to you that they shared time with you and made it so much fun. In the days ahead, remember to tweet them, and tweet or link to your Pinterest board from time to time. If you can help them get exposure in return, do! Some people offer a prize draw or give small gift to members of a street team. This might be something you may wish to do as well.

BONUS TIP: Buy a nice bottle of wine, or expensive box of chocolate (or both!) and take some “me time.” Relaxing and recharging after an event is important too!

Thank you ANGELA! I know this blog is a HUGE help, but need more? Angela and Becca are holding a WANA class The Marketing Marriage: Creative Social Media Solutions to Help Get Your Book Noticed. And all our instructors teach the WANA WAY, which is devoid of creepy, spammy, try to make you into a marketing Pod Person tactics.

Angela will be around for questions and I hope you guys show her some love. What are your greatest challenges? What makes you panic? Why? What have you tried that worked? What have you done that was in your comfort zone? What is keeping you from stepping out into the “unknown”?

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Angela Ackerman, MARKETING MAVEN




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