Archive for category Publishing

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

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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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*giggles*

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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46 Comments

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

#PARTY

#PARTY

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

WANAs RULE

WANAs RULE

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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59 Comments

Writer Victory!—Turn Over the Future & Focus on What We CAN Control

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Mr. Muggles.

We’ve been working through an Author Acrostic the past few posts. Why? Because a zillion craft books and workshops can’t do it. We can be the most talented writer the world has ever seen, yet go to our graves with no one ever knowing our names. How? This job is as much about our hearts and minds as it is our hands. This profession is largely mental. We’re athletes of the mind. We have to train our will along with our skill.

V was for Voluntarily Submit. I was for Identify Problem Areas. C was for Change Your Mind.

Today, we are on T.

T is for—Turn Over the Future. As professionals, it is key to cast our care and keep our responsibilities. Too many writers waste valuable time on crap they can’t control, all the while ignoring what they CAN. It’s an easy snare, which is why ALL of us have to remain vigilant. Even me. Maybe especially me.

Social Media Snare

Image via QuickMeme

Image via QuickMeme

This might sound bizarre coming from the Social Media Jedi for Writers, but social media does NOT SELL BOOKS. When I say, “social media” I mean, the book spam, the promos, the ads, the impersonal fluff we’d luuuuv to automate, outsource or measure with an algorithm. This stuff doesn’t work. I’ve said this approach would’t work since MySpace was around (and time has redeemed me).

This is why I created the WANA method. WANA methods have sold hundreds of thousands of books, have launched unknowns into the record books. But WANA methods can’t be automated or outsourced (Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World). We have to turn over our future and trust that, if we plant love and grow relationships, then pair those relationships with a clear brand and excellent writing? Harvest will come.

This traditional marketing-advertising behavior is a dinosaur. It’s responsible for an abysmal .001% of reasons people decide to buy a book.

Recently, I heard mega-agent Donald Maass speak and he’s the one who gave the statistic above (not sure where he found it) but he said essentially what I’d blogged about only a couple weeks previously in my post Social Media, Book Signings & Why Neither Directly Impact Overall Sales.

Social media is the human connection, and is taking the place of the traditional book signing. Book signings don’t sell books. Never did. BUT, they were the only place readers could come and get to know and connect with the author in a meaningful way. Book signings were the way to cultivate the long-term fans.

Social media now is a way we can easily do the same thing from home and all it costs is TIME. We can use social media to rise above the din in an age where discoverability is becoming a nightmare. Social media is far more effective than books signings because geography, status, and money are no longer limitations.

What Can the Pre-Published Author Control?

Virtually the same things we published ones can. Hone our craft. Write the book. Finish the book. Query. We can’t control getting an agent beyond the query (or networking). Even when we land an agent that doesn’t guarantee that agent can sell our work. Even if our work is sold and published, it might tank, or take off. We can’t tell.

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But, we can control writing more books and better books. In between, while taking a break? Build that platform.

The rest is trying to read chicken bones.

If we hope to be relevant in the Digital Age, then the question is not longer whether we will do social media, rather, how we will do it.

Look to those who are successful and who will remain successful. Look to Anne Rice. She’s on Facebook A LOT. Talking to her fans. Asking questions, sharing, discussing. Why? She’s an ICON! Exactly, and she is putting in the social sweat equity to remain that way. She understands the fans are EVERYTHING.

I was recently talking to Jonathan Maberry at a conference. This man practically lives on the NYTBS list. He turns out a novel every two and a half months and write columns, novellas, short stories and also is one of the lead writers for Marvel Comics. His novels have been optioned for Hollywood and his Rot & Ruin series is now being made into a television series.

He works an hour, then spends ten minutes on social media connecting.

Social media is something we can directly control. Sales? Forget it. I see so many authors running around like a wind-up toy. They check their algorithms and beat up stats on Amazon. They research another way to promote, send mailers, hunt for new and improved ways to do blog tours or hold contests. They futz with the price of their book more than Kim Kardashian posts selfies.

And the sales don’t budge.

Original image via NASA Blueshift courtesy of Flickr Commons

Original image via NASA Blueshift courtesy of Flickr Commons

Look to the Pros

Pros understand what they can control and focus there. They write. They finish. They ship. They study. They read. They know that cultivating an on-line community is key to relevance in The Digital Age. They also write more books instead of camping on top of ONE.

Pros know to start where you ARE.

Maberry didn’t always write full-time. He worked as a bouncer at a strip club and later as a bodyguard. He fit the writing in between crappy jobs because he knew a life getting beat up and stabbed was not his ideal career plan. James Rollins fit in writing after a long day working as a veterinarian. Tess Gerritsen began with a short story she wrote on maternity leave. Her next novels were penned while she was working as full-time doctor.

We will never have optimal working conditions. Accept that reality and this career will be far less frustrating. As I write this, I have a fever. I’m achy and miserable and would rather be in bed. But, I’m abysmally behind and I need work. While I am getting a cramp from kicking my own @$$, that isn’t very fruitful. I’ve dropped the ball, but I CAN pick it up and RUN.

It’s life :D .

I must remember to focus on what I can do NOW. In the present. What can I control? I can get my butt in my seat and do my job if I want to be like the legends I revere. Pros don’t worry and fret over how many Twitter followers they have or if the latest algorithm on Amazon is favorable to sales. They work. Hard. They work…smart ;) . They trust that incremental investments every day add up and that the future is uncertain. Cool thing is, we can do this too!

What are your thoughts?

I know when I am feeling like the world is crushing me, I am focusing too much on stuff that’s out of my hands. What about you? Do you drift into that territory? Do you often get overwhelmed and realize you’re spending too much time and worry on something you have no power to control? Does it feel better to know that it is okay to focus on the “little” things?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

 

 

 

 

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41 Comments

Writer Victory!—#1 Voluntarily Submit

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I learn through anecdotes, examples, illustrations, images and I LOVE acrostics. My husband and I like to go to the Thursday service at our church, namely because the week has usually pounded us soundly enough that we need some spiritual encouragement. The group we attend is small, but the point is to nurture us so we can serve as guides and be the light for others.

Anyway, this week, the lecture used an acrostic for VICTORY. I was taken aback how remarkably this acrostic applied to my own fifteen-year-journey as an author. I wanted to share an author variation with you guys, because, in a world of “instant success” it is easy to become lost, discouraged and want to give up.

Today, we will discuss V, which stands for “Voluntarily submit.”

“Submit” might be a word that raises your hackles. We’re writers. We march to the beat of our own kazoo. Ah, but do we? Maybe we do more conforming than we care to admit.

Can we be successful being rigid? Likely not. There’s a lot of power in submitting. As anyone who practices Aikido or Ju-Jitsu can tell you—bending beats breaking ;) .

So…

Voluntarily submit to who you are. Writers don’t write because it’s a hobby or fun. We write because we must. We aren’t happy when we aren’t putting words on a page. This is part of why I blog.

Our craft often involves other things than the actual writing. It could be research or revisions. Maybe it involves watching entire seasons of Battlestar Galactica or Breaking Bad in order to better understand plot, arc, or character.

I think these times can be uniquely hard for us because we aren’t writing. I know when I dropped down to blogging maybe once a week, I fell into a funk, a weird depression I couldn’t name. All that was wrong? I wasn’t writing.

I learned that blogging or even simply doing a daily writing exercise is vital to maintaining my joy, essential for creative homeostasis.

Voluntarily submit to the idea that you will be criticized. We are criticized by others too scared to be different, too chicken to follow their bliss. Conformity is more important than creativity.

For years, I worked corporate jobs I hated to please people I didn’t like and impress those who didn’t care. These people didn’t care about anything other than my validation that being safe was sane. Paychecks were paramount.

So long as my life testified that dental benefits were more important than dreaming, no one was bothered. Ah, but when I had the audacity to challenge the status quo, I no longer reinforced The Great Lie, the Social Soma that keeps the masses medicated, caffeinated and indoctrinated. When I sacrificed my joy on the altar of people-pleasing, I had no pushback.

And life was very, very empty.

When we understand criticism is usually a sign of doing something right? It’s easier to not take it personally and keep pressing.

Voluntarily submit to the process. Understand it’s okay to be new. It’s okay to write junk (though please don’t publish it). Often we’re afraid to write that crappy first draft. We can get paralysis of analysis.

We read more craft books (which is great and KEEP doing this) and go to more conferences (again, AWESOME), but we can do this at the expense of doing the work. We can get so afraid of failure we never begin. Or, if we do begin, we edit and edit and edit the magic right out of our prose and never finish.

WANA, Kristen Lamb, We Are Not Alone, WANA International, how to be successful writer

Image via Marie Loughin WANA Commons

Because Draft One doesn’t read like Cormac McCarthy, we feel like failures, forgetting that even McCarthy’s first draft doesn’t read like Cormac McCarthy (thank you Jonathan Maberry). We are absorbing works from all our author heroes and it’s easy to forget that what we open (whether in paper or on a Kindle) is something that has been rewritten, revised, and then edited countless times by the author and also outside professionals.

It is a fully-formed pearl…not the gelatinous goo inside an oyster pried open too soon.

Voluntarily submit to honest and brutal feedback. Granted, we don’t need to offer our manuscript to people who just want to shred our souls. But we can’t shelter our WIPs from the world if we’re professionals. Professionals ship, they publish. I would rather be gutted in private and be able to repair my weaknesses than to send and ill-formed work into the world for public slaughter.

Many a writer has become angry with me when I don’t tell them every word is a unicorn kiss, but that’s not life. We don’t all get first-place trophies for trying. We can get one-star rabid reviews from nasty people with nothing else better to do than to be jackasses.

And these will come no matter how good our work. There is no such thing as the perfect book. The flip-side is deep down we will die a little if 20 reviewers blast us about things we could have corrected if we would have been humble enough to listen to correction early.

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I’ve fallen victim, myself. When I wrote my first book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media peers told me including MySpace was a bad idea, that MySpace was making poor decisions. I hated Facebook at the time and was really rooting for MySpace to pull its digital head out of its digital butt. They didn’t. And virtually EVERY criticism I have ever had over that first book revolved around me mentioning MySpace.

I learned to listen.

Voluntarily submit that there are rules that govern our art. Yes we can break the rules, but we need to understand them first. If we don’t that is being an amateur and not a pro. Pros study the rules then bend them or even shatter them, but pros understand we write for ourselves and for others. If we get too weird, we can confuse and frustrate our audience.

The Wright Brothers appreciated the RULES of gravity and physics, thus were able to create ways to DEFY them.

Voluntarily submit to the notion that this job is WORK. A LOT of it. There are a million reasons this profession is not for everyone. In fact, most will give up. Pros don’t find time, we MAKE time. Time isn’t hiding in couch cushions with the remote. We have to do a lot of things we don’t feel like doing—research, writing, social media, etc.

We can have no gain without sacrifice.

Right now? It’s four in the morning. Spawn woke me at 3 a.m. after sneaking into bed with us. I awoke to his feet in my face because there is some scientific law that dictates that small children must sleep like a CLOCK.

I couldn’t go back off to sleep so I’m here. Writing. And yes, tomorrow…today??? I will be tired. I AM tired and I still have a company to run and a house to clean (on top of writing my books). But 1100 words have been given new life and hopeful they will give YOU new life as well.

What are your thoughts? Are there areas you find harder to submit to? Do criticism crater you? Do you find a million things to do—laundry, dishes, organizing—because you feel guilty for writing? Are you too hard on your first drafts instead of granting yourself permission to not be PERFECT? What creative exercises do you do to put words on the page daily to keep your writing mojo?

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

I will announce April’s winner on Monday. Sorry, didn’t see the whole Spawn School drama coming and I want to be fair.

If you want more help with plot problems, antagonists, structure, beginnings, then I have a FANTASTIC class TOMORROW to help you!

CLASS COMES WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

Understanding the Antagonist

If you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension.

Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . This is a GREAT class for streamlining a story and making it pitch-ready.

Additionally, why pay thousands for an editor or hundreds for a book doctor? This is a VERY affordable way to make sure your entire story is clear and interesting. Also, it will help you learn to plot far faster and cleaner in the future.

Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

I’ll be running the First Five Pages again at the end of May, so stay tuned.

And, if you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

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72 Comments

21st Century Publishing by the Grace of Gluten-Free Jesus

 

WANAs at DFWWWCon

WANAs at DFWWWCon

I shambled in from DFWWCon dirty, tired, with no voice, out of energy but filled with hope. It’s been such a privilege for me to stick with this job long enough to watch it evolve. I’ve even witnessed WANA grow from an acronym in e-mails from my original editor to whittle down typing OUT my first book title (We Are Not Alone) to a binding movement where writers of all levels refer to themselves as WANAs. All genres, all forms of publishing welcome.

We don’t make you dance with snakes until your third meeting *wink, wink* :D .

WANA has always been about love and service instead of self. I believe WANA is the connective tissue that makes writers stronger in craft and spirit—writers knowing they are stronger together than apart. WANA has always had this wonderful mix of sage pros mingling with bright-eyed newbies.

The pros help the new authors become more grounded and educated in the business or craft. Newbies refresh our spirits. They fill us with the wonder and magic of youth, the vigor that reminds us why we write.  I believe we share the same message from different points in a timeline. Keep pressing. Keep going. Keep loving what you do.

We are NOT alone.

Have You Heard of Gluten-Free Jesus?

Okay, I am not meaning to be irreverent but I am living proof God has a sense of humor. I’m from Texas and part of our culture is church (we go shooting after :D ). In other states they might ask where you work, we might inquire where you go to church. Vacation Bible School is a staple of childhood.

We’ve just been through the Easter season and I SO love where we go to church, namely because when we had communion on Maundy Thursday there were two baskets of communion wafers.

So I am standing in line with Hubby. Music’s playing. We are all feeling the love. I lean over to Hubby and whisper, “So do I just ask for the Gluten-Free Body of Christ?” ….and he ribs me and says something about how he can’t take me anywhere which is true so I don’t argue.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you my belief system hasn’t affected how I’ve developed WANA or helped writers. I believe love trumps all. Love of writing will overcome the nagging self-doubt and the legions of people telling us we are fools for trying. Love for each other is what keeps us going when we go through the wilderness, those withering empty times when we start reconsidering Aunt Thelma’s suggestion that medical billing might be a better career choice. WANAs bind together for more than book sales.

We are a family who will love you and be there even when it’s ugly.

But one of the core tenets of WANA has always been we are united by love. Love for each other as human beings and artists. WANA has never taken sides in writing or publishing.

It might have been easier or more sensational for me to blast NY and call for it to be burned to the ground. Conversely, maybe I’d have had more friends in traditional publishing if I labeled all of self-publishing a gaggle of hacks. But, blessedly I have friends I adore and admire in all realms of publishing because authentic love is always balanced with truth. What is the truth?

Stories will live on. Stories are like Mother Nature. We humans could nuke the planet into a shell of itself and I guarantee you something green will poke through a crack in an irradiated parking lot somewhere. Same with writing. The institutions that govern HOW our stories reach those who want to hear them are less important than the art. WANAs are blindly devoted to great stories, not business models.

A Tale of Two Siblings

My POV? Traditional NY publishing is the older child and self-pub/indie is the younger annoying sibling. I’ve loved both and seen the strengths and weaknesses each has offer. If you read my newest book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World I feel I’m even-handed. I praise and chastise both.

Bluntness is my superpower.

Not all artists are wired for indie. It is BRUTAL. The flip side? Not all artists are wired for traditional. It is BRUTAL.

They call me the WANA Mama and it SO fits. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to break up two kids fighting.

Traditional: He doesn’t even have a STORY and yet he can publish!

Self-Pub: She is SO full of herself and won’t let me even try!

Me: Knock it off before I hairlip both of you. Trad, let your brother try. He only learns by doing. Selfie, you have to learn the rules before you can break them.

Traditional: But he is publishing a Zombie-Self-Help!!!

Me: Okay, Trad. Selfie might have a point. Texting? Real Housewives of the OC? Selfie, Trad has a point. Don’t come crying to me when no one buys it. Now both of you go play Battleship before I make you pull weeds.

Dear Gluten-Free Jesus, give me strength to love both these kids and not kill them.

DFWWWCon

So the point of all this, other than being able to use the term “Gluten-Free Jesus” is I am finally, after years of playing referee, seeing both kids learn to play together and appreciate each other. Sure, Trad has convinced Selfie that he can jump off the roof using an umbrella because Penguin from Batman does it all the time. And Selfie still reads Trad’s diary and tells the neighborhood all the best dirt. But, all in all? They’re learning to see the GOOD each has to offer. Combine strengths and buffer each other’s weaknesses.

Selfie has taught Trad that social media is NOT a fad, rather a fundamental shift in human communication. He’s made Trad appreciate some newer and ways of doing things *cough e-books* and to remember writing is FUN. Try NEW THINGS. Trad, however, is the older kid and is teaching Selfie that quality can trump quantity. She tells him to listen to his teachers. Appreciate those who’ve gone before and be humble enough to learn something. Not every thought that flits across our brain makes a book others want to BUY.

Thankfully, Optimism is my other superpower. I’d longed for a day where the lines would blur and the kids would play well together. Trad would stop putting Selfie in a chokehold and Selfie would stop feeding the dog the game pieces in order to win.

This conference left me on such a high. I always believed “the kids” would finally see what they had in common. Love. Love for stories and telling those stories and getting them to people who wanted to enjoy those stories. I always believed this new era would weed out people who are in our industry for the wrong reasons.

Agents who loved great books and good writers would innovate and thrive. Publishers who appreciated great books would evolve. Writers in this for more than a get-rich-quick would endure and everyone would have a chance to prove he or she has the right stuff. With the right attitude, this is the best time in human history to be in this business.

It is still a tough industry and not everything is as clean or just as it could be. But, by the grace of Gluten-Free Jesus we’re getting there ;) .

What are your thoughts? Do you see traditional and nontraditional playing nicer, sharing, and learning from each other? Are you excited about the future? That you don’t have to choose which kid you love more?

I will announce April’s winner after waking from the conference coma in a couple days.

If you want more help with plot problems, antagonists, structure, beginnings, then I have a FANTASTIC class coming up to help you!

CLASS COMES WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

Understanding the Antagonist

If you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension.

Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . This is a GREAT class for streamlining a story and making it pitch-ready.

Additionally, why pay thousands for an editor or hundreds for a book doctor? This is a VERY affordable way to make sure your entire story is clear and interesting. Also, it will help you learn to plot far faster and cleaner in the future.

Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

I’ll be running the First Five Pages again at the end of May, so stay tuned.

 

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38 Comments

The Burst of the Social Media Bubble, Rise of the Indie Author & Why Coffee is to Blame

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(Original image courtesy of Matthew Pearce via Flikr Creative Commons.)

Many of you are old enough to remember the dot.com boom (then bust) of the 1990s. The Internet was growing in popularity. More people were owning PCs and commerce was shifting on-line. The Old Guard yelled “WITCHCRAFT!”, threw holy water and shorted out their keyboards. The New Guard dived in with the enthusiasm of a kid at Chuck E. Cheese hopped up on sugar.

Creativity abounded. What products or services could be offered on-line? How could we improve the on-line experience? How could we make purchasing faster, safer, more appealing?

Early Adopters jumped all over this because that’s what Early Adopters do. Hey, someone had to be the first to eat an oyster, right?

The Early Adopter Instigator

Most revolutions begin with other revolutions that set the stage. Case in point. For centuries, water was unsafe—okay deadly—to drink. Most workers actually brought beer to work (or some other fermented drink). Then Western society took a fancy to this new beverage from Asia called TEA and then later COFFEE from South America. When tea and coffee (um CAFFEINE) replaced alcohol as the beverage of choice, workers were more productive.

Image courtesy of Ryu1chia Miwa via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Ryu1chia Miwa via Flickr Creative Commons

I was skeptical too, so I tested beer then coffee to make sure the empirical data was sound. When I began my workday with beer? Much more napping and looking up exes on-line. A double Starbucks espresso improved word count.

Joking aside, three major developments 1) the invention of the clock/watch 2) the standardization of time and 3) the shift from alcoholic beverages to caffeinated ones laid the foundation for the Industrial Revolution.

The eight-hour workday was easier to implement once people understood what the heck “an hour” was. Also, laborers were able to focus better and be far more productive when sober.

Science :D .

Fast-Forward—How Coffee Transformed the Publishing Paradigm

Coffee not only fueled the Industrial Revolution, but apparently staying up all night unable to sleep led to the invention of the “computer,” “the Internet,” and later “iTunes.” The shift from “going to a physical store” commerce to more “e-commerce” set the stage for a number of unanticipated revolutions in the arts. If we think about it, when did the mega-bookstore enjoy its Golden Years?

Hint: Right about the time of the movie You’ve Got Mail, clearly marking the brief historical epoch when we actually enjoyed getting e-mails. 

In the 90s, the retailer was still king (and the Internet a novelty). Thus, the biggest store with the most bells and whistles and coffee shops won. Why? For centuries we’d been conditioned to going to a physical space to shop. Only the Early Adopters were thumping their legs at this notion of buying stuff without having to drive anywhere.

Granted, this was also the time when SUVs the size of a small semi were all the rage and gas was roughly $1.25 a gallon. Most of us were uncomfortable with the hoo-doo-voo-doo of electric lighting automobiles on-line shopping and still preferred to GO somewhere to buy what we wanted/needed.

Yet, despite initial skepticism, the tsunami of technological innovation decimated many types of businesses, some that had been asking to be smacked for a LONG time. Technology gave beating to the Old School phone companies (cell phones) and wiped out record stores (iTunes) and then later obliterated video stores.

Frankly, Blockbuster had it coming with those ridiculous late fees. Every time I see a Red Box I smile and think of the time Blockbuster refused to work with me on $128 in late fees. Apparently spending four days in the hospital was no excuse for not turning my movies in on time.

Jerks.

The Bursting of the Dot.Com Bubble

Of course, the problem was enthusiasm often has this way of trumping business sense. Once the dot.com fire caught light, everyone was a dot.com and many were nothing more than paper dragons with no business plan, no capital and frankly no idea what the heck they were doing.

We enjoyed a boom and then saw a BOOM. Dot.coms that had their act together became the vanguards for a new age of commerce and the digital wheat was separated from the virtual chaff.

In the wake of the Digital Tsunami, many industries crumbled. In my POV, the music industry is the only one that had a valid excuse not to reinvent. But, after Tower Records toppled, Kodak had time to rework their business model and yet didn’t—People will always want film!—which is why we now will talk of Kodak to our kids the way we talk about cassette tapes and Pet Rocks.

Viva la Revolution

We had to have the Alcoholic Beverage vs. Coffee Revolution to gain a viable and productive Industrial Revolution.

****Rumor has it that writers were equally divided Alcohol/Coffee Debate.

Then, we had to have affordable PCs and a viable Internet to have the On-Line Shopping vs. Retail Space Revolution in order to gain digital commerce. Once digital commerce shifted from Early Adopters to the Early then Late Majority, we witnessed yet even more revolutions spark to life, revolutions that had no way of happening until that particular time in history.

All started by coffee. See the cool stuff you learn here?

Many of these upheavals completely altered the business landscape, and the creative industries saw MAJOR shifts. Indie Bands, Indie Movies and yes, Indie Authors.

Word on the street is that Indie Authors are being supported by an underground resistance financed by Starbucks.

The Social Media Bubble

In roughly 2003-2004 I saw what a major game-changer social media would be for authors. Up until that point, only non-fiction authors had any practical way of building a platform before a book was finished. Novelists had to write a lot of books (and make it past NYC gatekeepers) to have a platform because books were the only way of having a platform/brand.

But with social media? Different story.

Of course when I pitched this idea of branding through social media to agents as late as 2008, they laughed in my face and called me a witch.

I just said we needed both good books and social media.

I just said we needed both good books and social media.

Alcohol vs. Coffee —> Industrial Revolution —> Internet —> Commerce Revolution/ Dot. Com Boom —> Tower Records Collapses —> Kodak Collapses —> iPad and Nook released —> Amazon gains publishing influence —> Early Adopters defect to go Indie —> Social Media Boom —> Indie Authors start seeing success —> Borders closes and Barnes & Noble starts bleeding out—> Big Six becomes Nifty Five —> Author Boom

Three components were critical to the success of the Indie Publishing Revolution:

1) Creation of the Product

Ten years ago, this was a pipe dream. Five years ago, self-published books looked self-published. They were also far more expensive and complicated to produce. Technology and the market has transformed this. Authors can now create a book that looks as good as anything purchased from the last remaining B&N in your city (without going broke).

2) Distribution

So long as major retailers had the upper hand, authors were limited in sales. As e-readers shifted from the Early Adopters to the Early and Late Majority (my GRANDFATHER having a Kindle), retailers lost their monopoly.

3) Visibility

Social media helped authors build a brand and platform that could drive book sales even as traditional retailers began to vanish. Social media BOOMED.

For those who want a paper copy to hold...

For those who want a paper copy to hold…

Social media experts came out of the woodwork to assist writers. It seemed that just about the time a social media site was AWESOME, it collapsed, so we did need guides to help.

Has the Social Media Bubble Burst? What Does This Mean for Authors?

My opinion is we’re seeing a bubble burst that looks a lot like what happened to the dot.coms. Social media has reached an asymptote (not many “drastically new” features to add). Unless Facebook does something EPICALLY STUPID, it will probably remain. Same with Twitter. Fad frenzy has normalized and this new way of interacting has integrated into our culture.

Yes, new sites will emerge, but the rules of the game will stay the same. Since it is social media, those who are authentic, offer value, and are good at creating community will do well. Algorithmic alchemy doesn’t work as well as it used to and never worked long-term.

The handful of writers who adopted social media early did reap rewards. Why? Most other authors didn’t want to go there. This limited competition and gave the Early Adopter Authors an advantage. Most people were on Facebook, yet many authors were NOT.

Then, authors saw the success of the Early Adopter Authors and many a social media guru promised get-rich-quick programs….thus flooding every social site with book spam and bad 20th century marketing retreads. Experts terrified and bedazzled authors with tech-speak and marketing plans.

Yet, in the end, technology is the means not the ends, and society has fundamentally shifted yet again. As I’ve said before, “If we wanted to buy more stuff, we’d be on the Home Shopping Network, not the social network.”

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Social media has become such a staple in modern culture we’re finally establishing concrete etiquette for using it. Kinda like, the “Don’t call people before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.” probably didn’t come about the instant the telephone was invented.

Yes, there were “rules” we knew intuitively, but it took a couple years of poor behavior for us to say, “ENOUGH. I’ve had four direct messages from you on Twitter thanking me for the follow and asking for me to buy a book….UNFOLLOW.”

Pop! Goes the Bubble

Is social media essential for author success? Of course it is. Just because a gazillion dot.coms went under doesn’t mean on-line shopping isn’t bigger than ever. As with any revolution, it takes a lot of people jumping in with new ideas to sort the stinkers from the stickers. Buying books on-line? YAY! Grocery shopping on-line? Eh.

We still want to squeeze the Charmin tomatoes.

What I love about the new paradigm is it will test our motivations. Those writing for the wrong reasons (getting RICH) will probably burn out and grumble away. But those of us writing because we LOVE writing will keep pressing, keep working, keep connecting, and trying new things. We will be the new generation of authors no matter the path we choose—traditional or non-traditional.

Social media training will be less about technology and more how to become expert connectors and community-builders, which is what my latest book Rise of the Machines-Human Authors in a Digital World teaches how to do. So long as people buy on-line, social media (and doing it WELL) will remain a key component to success.

But creating relationships has always been a solid business practice. Maybe buy them a coffee ;) .

I love hearing from you!

What are your thoughts? Did you underestimate the power of coffee to change the world? Do you think social media has normalized like on-line commerce? Do you think regular people are becoming more aware of an existing etiquette? Are you less permissive of “rude” behavior you might have forgiven three years ago?

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).

Upcoming Classes

BOTH CLASSES COME WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

A seasoned editor can tell a lot about your book with only five pages. Learn to hook hard and hook early. I am running the Your First Five Pages Class. Use WANA10 for $10 off. This is the perfect class for diagnosing bigger story issues or even getting a work agent-ready in time for conference season. This class is April 25th 6:00-8:30 PM NYC Time. Gold Level is available if you want me to critique your 5 pages.

Also, if you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different types of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension. Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ;) . Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

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64 Comments

Social Media, Book Signings & Why Neither Directly Impact Overall Sales

Original image via Rosaura Ochoa via Flikr Creative Commons

Original image via Rosaura Ochoa via Flikr Creative Commons

One of my AWESOME on-line pals posted something troublesome on my Facebook page. Apparently there is a recent article in a major writing magazine that declares social media does not sell books and, in a nutshell, isn’t worth the effort. I’ll warn you guys ahead of time that I went hunting for the article—at the last remaining Barnes & Noble within a 25 mile radius of my home—and couldn’t find said article (and have asked Kim to get me the specific issue). But, since this type of commentary is prevalent enough in the blogosphere, I feel I can address the overall thesis accurately enough.

Social Media Was NEVER About Selling Books Directly—Who KNEW?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

I’ve been saying this for about ten years, because the idea of using social circles for sales is NOT new. About ten years ago, I recognized that social media would soon be a vital tool for writers to be able to create a brand and a platform before the book was even finished. This would shift the power away from sole control of Big Publishing and give writers more freedom. But, I knew social media could not be used for direct sales successfully.

How?

When I was in college, every multi-level-marketing company in the known world tried to recruit me. I delivered papers and worked nights most of my college career. Needless to say, I was always on the lookout for a more flexible job that didn’t require lugging fifty pounds of paper up and down three flights of apartment stairs at four in the morning.

I’d answer Want Ads in the paper thinking I was being interviewed for a good-paying job where I could make my own hours. Inevitably it would be some MLM company selling water filters, diet pills, vitamins, prepaid legal services, or soap.

And if I sat through the presentation, they fed me. This meant I sat through most of them.

What always creeped me out was how these types of companies did business. First, “target” family and friends to buy said product (and hopefully either sign them up to sell with you or at least “spread the word” and give business referrals). Hmmmm. Sound familiar?

The business model wasn’t really about meeting people, connecting and actually liking them just because they were good people. There was an endgame…SELL STUFF (or manipulate others into helping you sell stuff).

Ick.

Hey, you go to the gym anyway. Strike up a conversation. Say nice things, then give the sucker friend target a FREE SAMPLE. People who work out need vitamins. That isn’t ookey AT ALL!

The Battle of the Experts

I recall being part of a panel in NYC three years ago and the other experts were all excited about applications that could tweet for authors “saving time” or even certain tools that could measure what days and times Twitter was most active and when people would be most likely to see our tweets. All I could think was:

1) Are these people tweeting or ovulating?

2) If everyone uses this same tool, then all they will do is crowd the feed and no one will see anything. Left long enough, these “Golden Hours” will shift so people can avoid the barrage of ME, ME, ME! MY BOOK!

The panel’s moderator (ironically) worked for the CIA and was tickled silly that there were all kinds of algorithms that could “predict human behaviors.” Of course, I made myself WAY popular when I said, “The only way to accurately predict human behavior is if we all have a chip in our heads and someone else has a joystick.”

Yes, I can be blunt. My mom is from New York. I blame it on her.

My assertion was that, if this was true, and we could accurately predict human behavior, then we wouldn’t be worrying about crime, war or terrorism and that these algorithms were a mirage that gave a false sense of us “being in control” of the uncontrollable.

Also, how would she still have a job at the CIA?

Oooh, But We Can MEASURE…um, NO

In the 90s and early 21st century most people weren’t on-line. Computers were still cost-prohibitive and Internet service was mind-bendingly slow (dial-up?) and expensive. Social media was in its infancy and only early adopters trusted buying on-line.

Companies could launch ads and measure click-throughs. How long did a visitor stay on a web site’s page? Did the visitor click the ad on the page? Did that ad then translate into a sale? Companies still do this. I’m pretty sure authors can do this, but why would we want to?

Could feel like THIS? Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

Could feel like THIS?
Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

Unlike Sephora, Gap or Walmart, most of us are a one-person operation. We don’t have a team of interns to do this stuff. We also don’t have a multi-million dollar corporate budget.

What IF an ad doesn’t work? How many of us have time and extra money to launch a new ad?

Also, there are SO many variables beyond our control. I’ve seen this with blogging. A holiday, time of year (kids getting out of school), a major world news event (Osama bin-Laden captured) can all affect traffic and click-throughs. To try and study our stats and juke them for advantage is a lot of time better used elsewhere (like writing more books).

Might I suggest one of these...

Might I suggest one of these…

Relationships are Key

Social media is social, meaning it’s about relationships. This means, 1) it will take time to build and 2) it cannot be outsourced 3) it cannot be automated.

Can you imagine trying to maintain relationships this way in the real world? Give your husband a call-in number:

For the location of clean socks, press 1. For a word of encouragement, press 2. For the item I need you to pick up from the store, press 3. For the real reason I haven’t talked to you since yesterday, please stay on the line and an operator will be with you shortly.

Your estimated call wait time is three days.

HINT: Anniversary.

Social media and author brands will sell books, just not directly and not in ways that can be measured looking at clicks and stats. Social media is essentially word-of-mouth which has been selling stuff books for centuries and no one can measure it. 

The Bottom Line

Since I don’t have the article (sorry), I am limited here. But I imagine that, aside from telling writers social media was a waste of time that doesn’t sell books, I assume there was no panacea offered to replace social media. If social media doesn’t sell books, then what does? Ads don’t. Never have. Promotions are time-consuming, expensive and have a dismal ROI (Return on Investment).

Also, if social media is so grossly ineffective, what explanation do we have for the MASSIVE power shift from BIG NYC publishing to indie and self-published authors now 1) making a reasonable second income 2) making a decent enough living to finally write full-time 3) nontraditional authors taking up an increasing portion of major bestseller lists like the New York Times and USA Today and 4) the major inflation of fiction writers now making six and seven figures?

All the ones I know of (and there are MANY) use social media to some extent. All of these authors would never have gained visibility, traction or sales without social media.How can we explain these trends without including social media as a variable?

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 1.17.53 PM

Notice I said social media as a variable. There is NO magic formula. Hard work, more books, good books and generating word of mouth (in part with a brand and on-line platform) is fundamental. Social media has been mistakenly touted as a formula to wealth and riches, but it isn’t. Neither is buying real estate using a proven program from an infomercial.

The Future

Bookstores are closing. Barnes & Noble is evaporating. Indie stores will have a resurgence, but they have limited space (and need to unless they want to go bankrupt like the megastores that tried to KILL them). THIS is the future of book sales. I saw this in the cosmetics section of my grocery store a few months ago. Insert a debit card and get a sample before you buy…

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. LOSS prevention?

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. Also, um LOSS prevention?

Oh, and these are popping up…

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 11.23.38 AM

Check your bank balance then BUY A BOOK!

For those who want a paper copy to hold...

For those who want a paper copy to hold…and get NACHOS!

These kiosks sound familiar. Reminds me of one of my posts from over two years ago. I wrote a lot of other blogs that said basically the same stuff, posts that are even older. But I’ve written over 800 blogs and I’m lazy and have to get back to writing books. And I am not alone in seeing this trend. I’m no great genius. Other people saw this coming.

Um, clearly since I can’t claim I invented any of these machines. Ok, I could, but I try to restrict lying to my fiction.

But, if THESE kiosks are down the pipeline, how can we reasonably come to the conclusion that social media is a total waste of time? Relying totally on social media is a waste of time, but I’ve been saying that for years. As authors, we are wise to think in terms of our careers. Think like a business, as in short-term and long-term. Platforms and careers need a wide base, deep roots, a community of support, time and a heck of a lot of sweat equity.

Also, there are effective ways to do social media and ways that make others want to stab us in the face (which was why I wrote Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World).WANA ways WORK but they take time. ROM has a step-by-step plan. Heck, don’t buy my book. Browse my blogs for free. I just care about your success.

The Future IS Bright for Writers

The future for authors is wonderful, but there is no Social Media Shake Weight. Sorry. I was bummed, too. But here’s the thing. The same articles that will discourage writers from social media because it doesn’t sell books aren’t also demanding we halt all book signings. Book signings are fun, they are social, and they’ve historically been a way to connect authors to an audience in a personal way.

Until social media they were the only way. 

But book signings were NEVER meant as a sole means to sell books. In fact, it was really never even the purpose of a signing. Rather it was connection with the author as a person.

Craftfest

Even if a writer has a line out the door, the most even a mega-author might sell is a thousand books. Let’s be generous. FIVE thousand books. A drop in the bucket if you’re Dan Brown. Is selling 5,000 books relevant when an author sells millions? When an author has to board a plane, stay in a hotel, sit in one spot signing for hours or even come up with a speech? And travel city to city to city for a month or more instead of writing?

Food for thought ;) .

We live in a wonderful time to be a writer. Yes, it’s work, but there are a lot of reasons why this job isn’t for everyone. Success in anything is about staying power, passion, and effective action (solid social media, building relationships, and writing MORE books and GOOD books).

What are your thoughts? Are too many authors banking too much on social media? Do you feel social media has been sold to writers as a get-rich-quick-scheme? Do you see other authors approaching social media in a way you know is going to burn them out? Do you know of any nontraditional authors who sold zillions of books yet didn’t use social media at all? What did they do?

…ALIENS.

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).

 

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