Posts Tagged how to sell more books

The Problem with Pen Names

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When I first became a writer, one of my favorite activities was dreaming what my pen name would be. I’d even practice signing it so that, you know, I didn’t accidentally scribble Kristen Lamb in my runaway best-selling book at my glamorous book signing.

Don’t judge me. Y’all did it too😛 .

Before anyone gets in a fluff, understand two things. First, I’m on your side. If you want or need a pen name? Rock on! If you already have one? Keep it! If a sexy exotic name makes you write better stories? Go for it!

This is only a decision the author can make. My only goal here is to make sure y’all are making educated business decisions. Thus, I won’t stop anyone from having a pen name, but about 95% of the time? They’re unnecessary.

The modern author already has to take on far more than simply writing, so why volunteer for more work?

In my opinion? Pen names are more hassle than they are worth and they’re a fast way to land in Crazyville. Pen names used to offer benefits, but most of those benefits have evaporated because the world is digital and connected. In fact, pen names can actually hurt book sales and stall a platform and brand.

Let’s look at some of the advantages pen names used to offer that no longer exist.

I Need a Pen Name for PRIVACY

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Here’s the thing. We are in The Digital Age. Privacy is an illusion. In fact, be too private and we fail to connect emotionally with others and thus the platform and brand never gain traction. Social media is social and being social requires a certain level of vulnerability and openness.

Being open and vulnerable doesn’t mean we post our Social Security Number and the names of all our kids. It can be something as simple as, “Hey, I totally dig Dr. Who” or “I like to crochet weapons of mass destruction.”

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Some writers don’t want to do social media at all or they want to hide behind a pen name and only post “writerly things” or “BUY MY BOOK!” because, yeah, that is SUPER creative and we don’t already get enough of that *rolls eyes*.

They don’t want to share anything personal and the pen name is there to help them gain emotional distance and keep their “lives separate.”

The problem with this thinking is that, in The Digital Age, WE ARE THE BRAND.

Before The Digital Age, gatekeepers stemmed the number of books that came to market. Readers only could buy what they discovered browsing a bookstore. Now that there are millions of titles and more being added every day? Those habits and hobbies no one cared about in 1995 are what’s going to help us cultivate our readership. Readers buy from who they know and who they like.

When we try to separate our personal persona from our writing persona, we create layers of friction and a lot of extra work for those trying to discover our books.

This means we can inadvertently undermine our own success seeking the illusion of anonymity/privacy.

I Need a Pen Name to HIDE

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Erotica authors generally run into this problem. If what you write might cost you your job? Then yes, I agree a pen name is probably a good idea. It will be extra work, but y’all probably already knew that. What I DON’T like is often writers believe that just using another name is enough.

No.

First, if you require a pen name for safety, security, etc. hire a pro. I recommend The Digital Dark Knight Jay Donovan at Tech Surgeons. Tell him I sent you and he will give you special rates. If we are just creating social sites under a made up name and thinking this keeps us “safe”? This is akin to locking the screen door to keep out serial killers.

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If someone is motivated to find us, they can (unless you hire a pro like Jay).

You will probably have to look into the legal aspects of using another name and will likely require a DBA (Doing Business As) because, if you have any amount of success, you will need to be able to cash the check under another name, do taxes, etc.

Also, I will say that having to hide an identity is very stressful. Sites like Facebook use facial recognition software for tagging photos and then those photos are searchable.

All it takes is a friend carelessly posting a photo and tagging with the wrong name to implode a carefully crafted alter ego.

As more social networks communicate across platforms and search engines become more ingrained and more advanced, hiding will get harder and harder.

I Need a Pen Name for Each Genre

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NO! For the love of all that is chocolate, NO!

Remember, WE ARE THE BRAND. You guys come to my blog and trust I will work hard and deliver enjoyable content. This means when I have a book out, there is less work or thinking on your part. You know me, hopefully like me and you trust my work.

My name holds a lot of power because it promises to deliver content you enjoy. I write social media books, but I also…wait for it…write fiction.

Did anyone’s reality just fracture?

People “get” we do more than one thing. In fact, those who like my blogs or social media books, might just decide to read my fiction simply because they already trust my non-fiction. With SO many choices out there, we find a writer we like and stick like glue. We don’t want the hassle of trying and testing an unknown.

Readers don’t only read one genre. In fact, I think that is probably fairly rare.

When we use a pen name for another genre, we are back at Ground Zero. We have to build another name without any help from the already existing platform.

I finally sent off my mystery-thriller to the publisher. When that sucker goes to market? I am NOT motivated enough to start ALL OVER. If my followers don’t like stories about murder and cartels? Don’t buy my book. Simple. But, there may be people who might just try a thriller because it’s written by me.

*cute face*

It Doesn’t Take Much to Implode an Identity

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I once had a writer in my branding class who was using a pen name because her family is less than supportive and they trolled her other sites when she tried to use her real name. But what if she becomes successful and crazy family member figures out the pen name and starts trolling that site? Eventually this writer will have to put down a boundary.

Troll my site one more time and you will die in a tragic blow-up doll accident in my next novel.

She is costing herself a TON of extra work to cater to a handful of bullies. She’s losing all those close connections—schoolmates, college friends, colleagues, etc.—who actually will be her best word of mouth sales. I have people who didn’t say three words to me in high school who are now avid fans because I’m the writer they KNOW.

My Name is Too Hard to Pronounce or Spell

NO! That name no one has gotten right since you were a kid is now your digital BFF. If you don’t believe me? Google Janet Evonnivich.

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I see authors with AWESOME names for the Digital Age change it to something utterly forgettable. If your name is Skjolsvik, I don’t have to know how to pronounce it, I just have to be able to recognize it in a lineup. Also, all I have to remember is it starts with Skj—.

Search engines will correct me if I goof it.

I Need a Pen Name Because There is Another Person With My Name

Again, search engines can help with this. Do y’all really think I am the ONLY Kristen Lamb? When I decided to set aside fiction to become the social media expert for writers, I began by googling my name. There was another Kristen Lamb who happens to be a media mogul.

But by producing a LOT of content and properly tagging that content, I now dominate the search for my name. And, even if I didn’t? If someone is searching my name for my blog/books and they get Kristen Lamb the Cake Decorator, all they have to do is add the word “writer” to narrow the search.

I Need a Pen Name Because Using My Name is Pretentious

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I hear new writers say this a lot. Why would anyone care what have to say? They don’t. When I was new, they didn’t care what I had to say, either. But being a writer is fundamentally pretentious and even narcissistic. We have to believe we have something to say that is worth not only reading, but PAYING to read.

Just own it.

And if we pan back, this entire argument is more than a tad ridiculous. So no one would care what Kristen Lamb has to say, but they WILL care what Kristen Lamb writing as an imaginary person and figment of her own imagination has to say? And that isn’t pretentious?

It is YOUR Decision

In the end, all I can do is give you branding and social media advice. Multiple names and pen names are a lot of work that is very often unnecessary. I see writers do this same thing with multiple blogs.

I blog about writing but I also blog movie reviews and funny anecdotes. What if my followers who like my writing posts don’t like kitten stories?

Um, they don’t read your post that day?

I write thrillers, but I also write cozy romance. What if my readers don’t like cozy romance?

Um, they don’t buy them?

If you require a pen name for safety issues, legal issues or even because it could endanger your job? TALK TO JAY. The rest of us? Our time is better spent writing more books😉 .

What are your thoughts? Questions? Experiences? Do you have a pen name and love it? How do you manage that pen name without going cray-cray? Did you start out with a pen name and now you regret it? Do you have multiple names you now need to merge? I can actually blog about ways to do that another time.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

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

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

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

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

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

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

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

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

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

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

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

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

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

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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62 Comments

Why Your Book Isn’t Selling

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Original image courtesy of Juhan Sonin via Flickr Creative commons.

The writer’s worst nightmare. You researched, you wrote, you finished, and then published your book. You wait for the sales and……….*crickets*. This is something that can happen to any kind of author, traditional or nontraditional. We think we have a hit on our hands only to later be checking it for a pulse.

What happened? Why is the book just not selling?

The Market

Remaindered Titles

Remaindered Titles

In the not so distant past, there was only one way to get published and that was traditional publishing. Though many authors cheered when they were finally able to cast off the chains of New York, let’s at least respect that agents and editors might have known a thing or three about the book business.

Writers would often get vexed at the stack of rejection letters, believing they couldn’t actually write well. This was not always the case. Agents make their living off books they know will sell, which means they just don’t have the bandwidth left over to take on pro bono work. Yes, the book might be lovely, but they are agents, not charities.

A large part of their expertise is predicting market changes and trends. They look at what is already out, what is to be released, what is selling, what isn’t, what is saturated, etc.

This is where it can get tricky for writers. Yes, write what you love. We shouldn’t write for the market…but we have to write for the market.

*bangs head on wall*

Sometimes a book might not be selling simply because there are too many titles that are too similar. Readers just don’t want yet another sparkly vampire.

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If you are traditionally published, this could still happen. Agents are making an educated guess and sometimes they miss the mark. For the self-published folks? If the book is good, just leave it alone and keep writing. The great part about the digital paradigm is the book can remain there indefinitely and when the trends change? So could the sales.

The Product

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Bad Pun Dog

I hate saying this, but sometimes it’s the book. Obviously this is more the case with indie and self-published books. The problem is that the market has just been inundated with amateur writing. I go into this in more detail in Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Writers, but here are the Spark Notes.

Bad Writing

No one wants to hear they are not ready. Worse still? No one wants to hear the words, “You just are not a good writer.” Too many newbies want to skip the unfun training and go right to the title, “Author.”

Sadly, the slush pile has been handed off to readers. I can’t count the number of times I have gotten pages for a contest win and absolutely slayed the writing, only to get an e-mail back that the book was already for sale.

Shoot…me…now.

Even more common is that the writing is not per se bad, it just isn’t anything remarkable. Folks these days have a lot of competition for their time and attention and they simply won’t devote 12-15 hours of undivided attention to a blasé book.

Bad (No) Editing

Our story might be the best thing since pumpkin spice lattes, but if it is rife with errors it won’t sell. Additionally, editing is not simply looking for typos. That is line-editing. A good content editor will be able to help you shape the overall flow of the novel.

When I edit I can tell writers if they are starting the book in the correct place. Are there scenes that need to be cut because they are bogging down the momentum? Are there redundant characters? Are there plot holes? Is the ending a knockout or a fizzle?

Great editing can take a book from mundane to magnificent.

Bad Cover

There really is no excuse for a bad cover these days. Technology has come a long way and many experts offer fabulous covers at affordable prices. I would love to say people don’t judge a book by its cover, but that is untrue. Of course we do.

One thing many new writers don’t appreciate is that when you hire an expert, you are gaining a lot more than that one skill. Yes a graphic artist knows how to use Photshop (or whatever) but they also have a knowledge of what sells. 

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For instance, I have seen authors post images of their new book cover and cringed. The cover itself was lovely, but we have to remember how we are selling. That book isn’t going to be on a shelf where a potential reader is seeing a full-sized version. Likely it will be on Amazon and that beautiful full-sized image, when shrunk to thumbnail size looks like a Rorschach ink blob.

Do you see a butterfly?

No, I see Satan eating kale chips.

If a writer tells me they can’t afford to hire an expert, my response is they cannot afford not to.

Boring Title

This goes along with a bad cover. New writers are notorious for titles that we have to read the book to “get” the title. NO. The title is the hook and we will move on to other writers who don’t make us think.

The Platform

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Discoverability is a nightmare. There is a lot of noise and part of our job description now entails branding. This is all writers.

I recently had a distraught writer contact me. The author was recently dropped by a well-known agent because the book simply wasn’t selling. Yet, I could tell with a quick google search what a big part of the problem was.

The author didn’t have platform/brand capable of driving sales. Simply puttering around on Facebook isn’t enough. That isn’t a brand.

My first royalty check would have covered dinner if no one super-sized anything. Why? My book came out before my platform could drive sales. Once my platform improved? My sales skyrocketed.

What does it say in front of every big author’s name? Best Selling Author. Not Best Writing Author.

The writing alone is not enough. Frankly, it never was. Before 2006, writers had a 93% failure rate. Most first books sold less than a thousand copies (even traditionally published books). Only one out of ten published authors ever saw a second book in print. Most were dropped.

In the old days, we just had no control over the brand and the platform. Now, we do. And authors want to complain that it is too hard. Yes, it is hard and there are many reasons this profession is not for everyone.

Less Marketing/More Writing

AHHHHHHH!

AHHHHHHH!

Traditional marketing does not sell books. Never has. For more on why, check out Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books. I have had to unfollow writers on Facebook who do nothing but promote one book over and over and over.

They tweet non-stop about their book.

They even dedicate their blogs to selling books (and that is never the direct objective of a blog).

They deluge us with newsletters we never signed up for and can’t figure out how to escape.

Thing is, we don’t care about you or your book. We didn’t want to see that crap in our feed, we sure aren’t going to subscribe to a blog/newsletter that is nothing but self-promotion.

Writers often become the equivalent of that sales clerk in the department store who ambushes us with perfume.

Here is the blunt truth. The odds of breaking out with our first book are about the same as being hijacked by a terrorist after we’ve been hit by lightning while holding a winning lottery ticket.

Most writers are not going to break out with one book. Or even two. An author might never break out, but the odds certainly improve the more titles we have. This was always true. It’s why you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a James Patterson title.

Marketing and building a platform/brand are two completely different activities. But writers believe they are the same. They aren’t. If you want to promote and market without a platform, I suggest piling money on the floor and setting it on fire. Same end result and you can get to the self-loathing and binge drinking far faster that way.

There are no shortcuts.

Obviously there are many many other factors to why a book might not be selling, but these are the top offenders. Good news is most of this, we can do something about. In fact, I have classes addressing most of these issues (listed below).

What are your thoughts?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

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

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that😉 .

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

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

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

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

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

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

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

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

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

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

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

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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62 Comments

Writing Career Stuck? Sales Mired? How to Get Your MOJO Back!

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Last time we all commiserated about feeling stuck. Lately, it’s been really bizarre. I’ve been at this writing thing since long before self-pub, but recently the feeling of author despondency seems to be heavy…everywhere. Maybe it’s the vastness of the internet, the fact that all the old ways and old rules are gone. Sales are stuck. We are stuck. We have this general feeling of anxiety and I do feel it’s worse now than ever.

So no, you were NOT imagining it.

Stuck happens, especially for those who choose to go pro. See, success in anything is not this straight line that shoots at a perfect angle ever upwards. It is fraught with setbacks. Some we can control, some we can’t.

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But as I said last post, the most critical step is to admit we have a problem lest we give up and OD on brownie batter and Game of Thrones.

What Do We Do?

The next step is to see exactly what kind of problem(s) we are having.

If we don’t stop and assess what precisely might be going sideways, we’re just going to sink ever deeper into despair because the right brain is terrible at planning. The right brain tells us we aren’t selling books because we are a fake, that our thighs are chubby and that ice cream solves all that ails us.

Right brain is a bit of a drama queen.

Typical day as a writer...

Typical day as a writer…

Left brain is better at problem-solving.

What If My Career Is Going Nowhere?

I always like to begin by looking at the actual product for sale. The writing is where we exercise the most control and why waste energy fixing marketing if the product needs help?

Good marketing sells good books faster.

It’s science😛 .

If the product is fine good great, then maybe we need to shift to the marketing end of things and stop editing the magic out of something that is actually good to go.

Do we have a brand? Really. An actual brand? Or are we unfocused? Is our message unclear? Is it failing to resonate? Why? Why aren’t people picking up on what we are putting out?

Perhaps our sales tactics are off. Now, there’s the word that makes almost all writers break out in hives—sales—but before we progress I want you to breathe and I am going to tell you that most people love a good salesperson. These days even more so.

Seriously.

THIS IS NOT AUTHENTIC SALES…

AHHHHHHH!

AHHHHHHH!

Unfortunately, though, this is what too many writers are doing.

You don’t believe me that people love a good salesperson? All right. Think about when you get a really excellent server at a restaurant. Don’t you return time and time again? And ask for that server?

I LOVE shopping at the stores where, if the pants don’t fit, a smiling friendly salesperson appears with the next two sizes so I don’t have to struggle back into clothes and pack up the Spawn to find a bigger pair. Or maybe she even brings the ones that I missed that were ON SALE and cut to fit me better.

*swoons*

Don’t you miss the bookstore where the staff had read every new title and could save you buying a real stinker?

AUTHOR MOJO KILLER—Mass Marketing and the RACE to FREE!

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In my opinion, mass marketing and well, mass “everything” ruined the art of sales. See, if you look at what a salesperson truly does, it looks absolutely nothing like all this spam crap we’ve seen.

With the advent of mass marketing and mass mailers in the 90s, we began to see the decline of the true salesperson. It became more about businesses flinging out a thousand coupons into the ether and hoping someone bit. It was far cheaper to send out mailers and coupons (and later e-mails) than it was to employ an actual sales staff who went out, in person and connected.

In the 90s and early 00s this shotgun tactic was pretty successful, namely because not everyone was doing it. But then our culture hit a saturation point and the actual structure of the human brain evolved to literally un-see all the crap being flung its way.

The only way (initially) to counter the ineffectiveness of mass mailings became a race to the bottom on PRICE. Who could give away the most stuff and the deepest discounts and the most FREE?

This has happened in publishing and writers are seriously hurting from the over reliance on mass marketing which breeds this unnecessary race to the bottom. But how do we avoid this, especially these days where there’s all this noise?

Refuse to Play By the Rules

BOO-YAH!

BOO-YAH!

There’s a saying, You can’t win if you don’t play. And this is the one a lot of writers bite….then get bitten.

Let me posit this instead.

You can’t lose if you don’t play.

Refuse to play the game by the “given” rules. History has proven time and again that the little guy who wins big refuses to play by the “rules.”

Think of one of the greatest underdog stories in history! David and Goliath. David, the little shepherd boy who killed the giant and saved Israel. On the surface it seems nothing short of a miracle that he won.

But upon closer inspection…

Back in the day, armies had a tradition of pitting their best warriors to combat. Winner took all. This minimized casualties. As the story goes the Philistines put out their best warrior, Goliath and he was the size of a semi. He was heavily armored and his sword was so massive regular men couldn’t lift it let alone wield it.

The Isrealites were all losing their mind. How can we beat this guy? We…are…doomed.

David steps up with some smooth stones from a river bed and puts Goliath down in one shot. Miracle! Perhaps but not totally.

Here’s the thing, David was a slinger. Slingers were projectile warriors (artillery). An experienced slinger could seriously injure or kill a target up to 200 yards and they were crazy accurate (precursor to modern snipers).

Goliath was challenging the Israelites to “single combat” and expected a hand-to-hand fight that relied on strength and armor. David understood he could not lose if he didn’t play. He refused to play Goliath’s game.

Instead, he used speed and maneuverability and hit Goliath between the eyes (only place not protected by armor) with a projectile that had the force of a modern handgun.

In layman’s terms? Goliath didn’t realize he was the first dude who brought a knife to a gunfight.

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What Does This Mean?

First of all, I advise losing the fear of sales because most of what is going on around us (book spam, free stuff, giveaways) is not sales. If we are in a modern world filled with overwhelmed and distracted people? They are going to gravitate to those who authentically connect them to what they want and need (brand built on relationships).

Secondly, we have to ask why we just don’t bring a GUN to the knife fight? If we can’t win this thing doing the same stuff as everyone else? Then how CAN we win?

Good question.

A Handy Checklist To Help

  • Am I spending too much time feeling instead of planning and doing?

  • Have I been really honest about where I need to improve?

  • Have I done everything I can to make my product appealing?

  • Is the writing really strong enough? Have I had enough good feedback to know? (Btw, ten members of a critique group and a handful of reviews might not be giving you the accurate picture you need).

  • If I am querying, do I have a good pitch? Am I shooting myself in the foot because my idea is not solid? Do I have enough feedback/information to repair it on my own?

  • Do I have enough books for sale? Am I resting too much on too little?

  • Am I too slow at plotting?

  • Am I marketing the same way as everyone else? Am I really being fresh or am I bringing a knife to a knife fight?

  • Do I have a brand? Really? Is my name alone a bankable asset?

  • What can I do differently that others are not?

  • Am I spending time in the right ways or even in the correct places?

I know some of this sounds “No, duh, Kristen” but really it isn’t. I edit SO many works where the prose is beautiful, but there is no plot or a weak plot. Or the story is all over. Or it needs some serious cutting. Or the author is new and has crammed what should be a five-book series into one book.

Same in marketing. A lot of big problems can be repaired with simple solutions.

So to get that mojo back, distract right brain with some free candy and sit down with left brain for an adult conversation. Then take heart that sales (real sales) is not the stuff turning people off. It is OKAY to sell your book.

Finally? We DO NOT have to play by the rules we are handed. Stop letting Goliath pick the battle plan!

Yes, I Brought a “Different” Battle Plan

To take this beyond the cheerleading for some practical stuff I am going to tell you about what I have coming up to specifically help you. If you’re cool with my pom-pom waving? Thanks for coming by for just the blog ((BEAR HUG)). See you in the comments😉 .

But for those who need a little more…

Kristen’s Battle Plan

I’m a solutions person and so I’m here to help.

We posited a lot of nagging questions Monday, so I put together ways to answer each of these nagging doubts. For those who follow my blog you know I NEVER do this, but time is of the essence. I’m not going to be able to space classes out like usual so I want to tell you about them now.

My tech guy is going to be taking vacation (slacker) so I won’t be able to offer classes in June and so we are going to barrel through this together and I am offering some seriously awesome stuff to help get your mojo back and get you cooking again!

And most of this costs less than dinner at Chili’s.

#1 Is my writing any good?

Good question.

The first five pages of any book are the best selling tool we have aside from the cover. We get a cool cover, it catches attention and then what is a reader going to do next? Look at sample pages. This is where we hook ’em or ‘lose ’em.

Yesterday, I talked about the question we all have of “Gee, am I any good? Is it that my writing sucks?”

Hard to know, but a good way is to get a pro like me who will be brutally honest with your work. I’m offering my First Five Pages class Saturday, May 14th 3:30-5:30 P.M. EST but I’m sweetening the deal.

Come on, the basic class is $40 and you get TWO HOURS with ME😀 .

Anyone who signs up gets double pages for that level.

Pay for the platinum that offers 20 pages and you get 40. Hey, summer is coming and Spawn will be home from school so take advantage while you can. I now have a PA who can help me make sure edits are returned within 15 business days from the time they are turned in and I seriously have NO idea when my schedule will let up next to do something like this.

I have only done it once before and that was almost a year ago.

Not only do you get the class where I’m going to go over dos and don’ts of hooking a reader (and the recording for free), I’m also offering a way to see if your stuff really is good (and you are imagining things) or maybe it needs more work.

I will give detailed content feedback on your pages. Tell you what to fix and how.

Conversely, if I am all “Yes, and angels where singing while I read!” you know maybe marketing or sales is the problem and you will stop over-editing your stuff.

I’ve also been known to pass that awesome work on to agent friends who love that I do some of the heavy lifting.

#2 Is my plot flawed?

If your plot seems like it is meh or it is falling apart? Take my antagonist class Bullies and Baddies Saturday, May 7th 3:00-5:00 P.M. EST. This is going to answer the BIG questions and the Basic class is $50 for TWO HOURS.

No antagonist? No plot. Weak antagonist? Weak plot.

This class will help make you a master plotter, meaning you can write leaner, meaner faster and cleaner and we all know that compounded sales (more books) is where we start making a good living.

#3 Does my idea stink? HOW is my plot flawed?

I am also rerunning my log-line class Your Story in a Sentence on Friday, May 6th 7:00-8:30 EST and the first ten signups are guaranteed to have their log-line shredded in class. We should be able to tell others (an agent/readers) what our story is about in ONE sentence. If we can’t? Probably a problem. I love this class because it is the best way to diagnose a major problem. This class is only $35.

#4 Is my sales plan (or lack of one) hurting me? Should I do a newsletter?

If you are fairly sure of your product and want other answers, then I highly recommend THIS SATURDAY’S class (3:00-5:00 P.M. EST)  Making Money with FREE. I am team-teaching with Jack Patterson who has sold over 150,000 books in less than four years.

We are going to talk about when and how and where to use free and address why sales might be going nowhere. Also, Jack is a master at the effective newsletter which is largely why I asked him to join me and as always, the recording is FREE.

#5 Do I have a brand? How can I build one?

I have a Branding for Authors class Monday, May 16 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST to help you learn how your name alone can drive sales. Again, only $35. Spend more time writing and less time marketing. This class is all about doing more with less. As always the recording it automatically included.

WHEW!

Thanks for spending time with me and letting me share that and now I love hearing from YOU! Where have you been stuck? Have you been hiding under the covers instead of focusing on a plan? Have you had no idea where to start? Do you think the vastness of the internet is making writers even MORE neurotic?

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).

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

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35 Comments

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

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

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

I would like to introduce, Britt Skrabanek!

****

Indie Author Britt Skrabanek

Indie Author Britt Skrabanek

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

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

I’m an indie author.

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Drew Coffman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

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

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

You know what? There is.

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

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

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

😀.

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

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

Quitting Is Easy, Not Savvy

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

Wallpaper image courtesy of David Turnbull via Flickr Creative Commons

Wallpaper image courtesy of David Turnbull via Flickr Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

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

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

Why Writing Isn’t Enough

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

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

Everyone's a critic...

Everyone’s a critic…

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

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

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

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

Knowing this will keep you from bailing on your dreams.

There Are No Short-Cuts in Marketing

Image courtesy of EpSos De via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of EpSos De via Flickr Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, How Do We Stand Out as Writers?

AHHHHHHH!

AHHHHHHH!

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

But good news is… We Are Not Alone.

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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

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

Also, I have one craft class listed.

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

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

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

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

 

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124 Comments

Brain Games—Are You Unwittingly Killing Your Book Biz?

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons via Cortto

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons via Cortto

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

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

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

THANK YOU Critics for Proving My Point

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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to the brain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s pretty much it.

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

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

What Went Sideways?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Steve and Shanon Lawson

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Steve and Shanon Lawson

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

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

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

Don’t promote used bookstores.

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

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

I got this on Facebook last night.

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Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.33.26 PM

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

Moving on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brain Business—ARE YOU KILLING YOUR BOOK BIZ?

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Frankeileon

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Frankeileon

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

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

Who cares if it is your book?

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

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

Ignore Outliers

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

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

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

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

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons and courtesy of Richard Fisher

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons and courtesy of Richard Fisher

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

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

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

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

Brown Deer Readers are the game-changers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS is OUR CUSTOMER.

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

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

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

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

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of coolio-claire

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of coolio-claire

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

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

Use Our Brains Other Places

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t forget to buy my book!

What did you just tell your audience?

Don’t forget to buy my book!

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter!

Don’t miss this promotion!

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

So what are y’all’s thoughts?

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

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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62 Comments

Selling Books in the Digital Age—We ALL Have an Image Problem & Here’s What To Do

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 11.30.47 AM

Original image courtesy of Phillip Capper Flickr Creative Commons

We live in a wonderful age to be a writer but a terrifying one as well. It’s wonderful because there was a time when we could have gone to our graves without ever seeing our work published and holding our work physically in our hands. Now? Good news is everyone gets a chance. Bad news is everyone gets a chance.

Before self-publishing took off, I was not a fan of the whole idea. The reason? I knew the problems it was going to create. We were opening a door we could never close.

When we had gatekeepers, there was an assumed standard. To say we were “published authors” actually meant something. Now? It means next to nothing.

Great you’re a published author. So is my cat.

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir...

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir…

With barriers to entry removed, we’ve created a problem with public perception when it comes to how they view our product—BOOKS and by association? Us (authors).

Perception is Reality

Ever heard the saying “Power perceived is power achieved”? Works for value too. “Value perceived is value achieved.” Therein is a lot of our problem. The sheer volume of books paired with the ability for everyone to be published has diminished the perceived value of our product. It is now up to authors to actively demonstrate value to the consumer.

See, in the “olden days” a book alone meant something. A book had inherent value. A book in and of itself represented more than just a story. A physical book in your hand represented countless other authors who tried and failed, but this author, this author got an agent, landed a contract and was…published. This author was worth a publisher’s investment. This book was worth shelf space at a bookstore.

Fast-forward into the digital age and now what is a book? Heck, what is a “real” author?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Since self-publishing was not a viable model until very recently, most of your average consumers really had no idea it existed…until now. These days, even regular people, if you say, “I am a published author.” The next question often will be, *weird face* “Yeah but are you self-published?”

This is because the very nature of the product has changed. Now in a world of infinite “shelf space” with no real barriers to entry, anyone can be published and the public has caught on to that. So “books” mean far less to them than ever before and for good reasons.

I am not here to pick on self-published authors because I am one. I have actually published all three ways (traditional, indie and self-pub). Sometimes, there are excellent business reasons to self-publish.

For me? I had one of the top agents in NYC. I was with Russ Galen. Love Russ. Great agent. But it turned out that a social media book just was not a good fit for traditional publishing. Russ worked his tail off because he saw a book like mine was necessary.

Though my agent loved my book, traditional publishing was at that time, simply not as open to the idea as Russ was. So? I published on my own. But Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World was guided and had the oversight of the best set of eyes in New York. I hired the best cover designer in the industry and the best interior designer and formatter money could buy.

Meaning? Not all self-published books are junk.

Problem is? Too many of them are.

What does all this mean? It means that twenty years ago selling a book was very different than selling a book today. Customers had a far different perception of the product twenty years ago.

Why the Struggle?

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

Image via Frank Selmo WANA Commons

One of the reasons writers are struggling and will continue to struggle is that everyone thinks they can write.

See, the arts have always been vulnerable to people, consumers, corporations, etc. taking advantage of us. There is nothing new about that. But, for musicians, it’s different. The average person at least recognizes that they can’t play a guitar like Slash, the piano like Billy Joel or sing like Beyonce. The regular consumer for the most part doesn’t believe they can do what the musician does.

Now? We writers are in a real pickle. A lot of people honestly believe that simply having command of your native tongue qualifies you to be a writer. I can’t count the number of times I have heard people say to me, “I’ve always wanted to write a book. I just never had the time.” As if TIME is the ONLY factor separating that person from George R.R. Martin.

Could you imagine us saying, “Yeah I have always wanted to cut open a person’s head and do surgery. But wow I just never had the time.”

Before self-publishing, sure folks believed they could write a book, but they didn’t all believe they had what it took to get published. So at least we had that in our favor.

But now that everyone has the ability to claim the title, “published author” let’s just say we have to approach our careers very differently because “When everyone is special then no one is.”

Books Are No Longer Enough

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Mikko Luntiala

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Mikko Luntiala

When I first started this blog years ago I said this would happen and here we are. We have to have a brand and a platform capable of driving sales. It is not enough to have a book. Even if you want to traditionally publish, it doesn’t matter. Agents won’t even look at you of you don’t have a platform and for good reasons.

Platform and Brand Aids in Discoverability

There are millions of books for sale. Millions of choices and this is overwhelming for consumers. Our greatest enemy is obscurity.

Before the digital age, shelf space was limited and finite. Thus, the infinite shelf space of the web is a double-edged sword for authors.

If you read my post The Ugly Truth About Publishing then you know that one of the major problems created by the arrival of the megastores like Borders and Barnes & Noble was that they didn’t leave authors on the shelves long enough to cultivate an audience. Also, since shelf space was limited, authors no longer had their backlists available and this seriously impacted the earning ability of many writers.

The Digital Age helped this tremendously. Now, a new writer can publish a good book and maybe it only sells a handful of copies. But, because there is no expiration date for it being on the shelf, the writer has time to cultivate an audience and be discovered.

I had this happen with a writing duo who bought my first social media book. Saffina Deforges and Mark Williams (her coauthor and silent partner) went from selling a couple of books a month to selling a hundred of thousand copies in only a few months and breaking all kinds of records. Sugar & Spice, a book no agent would rep and no one would publish went from complete obscurity to one of the biggest selling e-books in UK history.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 11.09.11 AM

Same book that sat at #1,372,760,092 on Amazon later shot to #1 in multiple categories. Same book that sold no copies later broke records. Only difference was they applied my methods and gained discoverability using social media.

What good is a book no one knows about?

Even traditional publishers appreciate discoverability is their problem too. Borders and B&N in their greed wiped out the indie bookstore ecosystem. Borders then imploded and B&N has experienced record contraction. Even if you go into one of the handful of remaining B&Ns it’s a lot of books to sift through and you want consumers to find your book, you will need a brand.

Books Have an Image Problem & Brands Can Fix That

Remember a book no longer holds inherent value.

Because the concept of “books” has been contaminated with so much bad writing, now the author also has to be part of the package. Told you guys we were really the oldest profession😉 .

I have my contest that I hold every month to encourage you guys to comment. It’s my way of giving something back and nudging you out of your shyness. But I’ve gotten 20 page samples that were so bad I nearly could not finish. But when I sent the pages back, dripping RED…the author responded with, “Well, my publisher loved it and it’s being released.”

…and the other half of that sentence is—being released into the world and onto the unsuspecting public.

There are ways to counter this with the product. We write better books. Seek people who will be truly critical. Hire real editors. Invest in good formatting, covers, etc. The problem is, no matter how good the book is? It won’t matter these days. Until that book is in someone’s hands, all that is moot.

Fortune Favors Those Who Hustle

So branding is going to aid your audience in finding your work (they can judge you later). It’s no longer a nice little extra. It is mandatory if you want to make it in this business. One of the reasons I am a huge fan of authors having a blog is that it helps develop trust. Readers need that because a lot of other writers (or “writers”) have betrayed that trust.

You can’t slap lipstick on a pig and call it a super model.

When we claim I am published readers assume a level of quality. Too many writers were so eager for the title they cut corners and didn’t earn the title and relationships with readers have suffered.

Thus, sadly, all of us now feel like we are dating someone who’s broken up with a psycho. We now have this additional burden of proving we are not out to boil their bunnies.

This is where social media comes in and where a blog is super helpful.

These days people are looking for the pros and when they find them they latch on something fierce.

Search engines deliver new fans to me daily, but why I keep fans is because I have content. I don’t just blog when I feel like it. Most of my competition however? Does. Thus, when people find my blog, there are vast archives for them to peruse and get to know me. They learn that I am not “playing author.”

I am doing this for real. I am a pro. I show up no matter what. Also, blogs play to a writer’s strengths. Writers write. People get a taste of your writing voice and can fall in love with it. Even though I blog on writing, social media, pop culture, humor, etc, the unifying feature is my voice. Right now I have a mystery thriller that has been accepted by a traditional publisher. I assume when it is for sale, y’all might give it a go because you enjoy the blog. It is far simpler to go with who you know and like.

By reading this blog you learn so much about me as an author. The writing is clean. It isn’t riddled with typos. It’s coherent. It’s fun. It’s engaging. I’m using my blog to earn your trust. If I earn your trust here? Far easier to then ask for the sale because I have actively demonstrated I am valuing your time. You spend time with me and TIME WITH LAMB = TIME WELL SPENT.

Those who come across my blog and don’t feel time with me is time well spent, well they are clearly brain damaged and have bad fashion sense not my audience. My blog has done us both a favor. My voice connected me with the unusually good-looking and intelligent people out there who are my audience and weeded out the secret nose-pickers who would have possibly left a bad review except Amazon doesn’t let them review in Crayons.

Anyway…

It’s a great time to be a writer. Focus on writing the best book possible no matter which way you publish. There is no bad way to publish, no wrong way to publish. But you do need a platform if you would like to make money. 

For those interested in learning how to create an author blog, I am holding a class on it this Saturday in my W.A.N.A. International virtual classroom so you can attend from home and at your computer #pantsoptional. The recording of the class comes with purchase. Yes blogging is a very unique form of writing especially when you are blogging to build a fan base for fiction. Also you are going to need time to actually write books. We cover all that. Feel free to peruse the old free archives or pick up my book if you would like to know more.

And for some EXTRA FUN! ME! Hey, don’t feel dumb. I did once write crap too!

What are your thoughts? Are you frustrated that everyone believes they can write a novel? They can’t. But whatever. Are you vexed with the hacks and amateurs? What are your thoughts? Questions? Suggestions for what you’d like to see in upcoming classes?

I love hearing from you!

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

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

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International.  Blogging for Authors THIS SATURDAY.

Branding for Authors (NEXT SATURDAY). This is your best way to get PAID in the digital age. We have to cultivate that 1000 die hard fans. 

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

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

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95 Comments

Hooking the Reader & Sticking the Sale—Formatting Matters

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For those who are considering self-publishing, there is an element almost as important as the writing itself, but it’s a bit of an unsung hero. Formatting.

Presentation is vital. Chefs get this. Fashion designers get this. Car dealers get this. So should we. This is our art, but what makes us professional is when we care enough to send the very best.

We live in the best time to be a writer. Paper is going away. Not all the way, of course. Yet, with digital devices taking over every aspect of our lives, we need to think like business people. In sales, we used to say, “Fish where the fish are.” With the mass influx of smart phones, tablets and e-readers, the most likely place a reader will consume our work is going to be via digital. Also, when one considers we now have entire generations where paper is an anomaly? Digital is critical.

Writers often make the mistake of believing readers (consumers) are like them. We can believe they love the smell of a bookstore, the feel of paper *shivers*. This is short-sighted considering that only roughly 8% of the literate population would list “reading” among the top ten hobbies.

In fact, every novel that’s ever broken records has managed to do the remarkable—hook people who normally believe they don’t like reading (interest the fat part of the bell curve). From Harry Potter to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, these books captured the attention of “non-readers” and that’s why they broke bank and made history.

We have a tough job as authors. We need to convince people to pay money and invest a minimum of twelve hours to do an activity they believe they do NOT enjoy. Yes, we can help this with a great story, but we must also remove what’s called friction.

Ah, friction. I’ll give an example. I loathe shopping for clothes with the power of a thousand suns. One time I saw a REALLY cute top on Facebook in my feed (one of those paid inserts). I did what I normally would NEVER do. I clicked. At this point, they’d pretty much made the sale.

But then, I had to create a log-in and then approve the password and then when I returned to the site? The shirt that captivated me was nowhere to be found and there were too many pages to search through. I deleted my account and will never return. Likely will never click on another clothing ad.

Why?

The retailer made the sale too HARD.

When it comes to our e-books, potential buyers will often look to the sample pages and, if the formatting looks like it was done by a one-eyed marsupial with a meth habit? Pass. Or maybe the consumer goes ahead and downloads or makes the purchase. Formatting is crucial.

In writing, anything that interrupts the fictive dream is BAD JUJUIf our formatting is a train wreck, odds are the reader won’t finish, let alone recommend. Also? People can give nasty reviews that have nothing to do with story, so why take the chance when that ticked off one-star review is completely avoidable?

This said, our job is to make sure everything goes as seamlessly as possible. We have two choices when we self-publish. Since we are taking on all the roles traditionally handled by a publisher, we can either learn to do it ourselves or hire a pro.

Even if we outsource, learning to do this on our own can help us be better at hiring good formatters since we understand the lingo and what to expect.

I rarely do this, but Kait Nolan is one of the most professional people I’ve ever worked with. She’s put together a fun list of 5 Things To Do Instead of Formatting EBooks. As a huge fan of outsourcing? I’m inclined to agree with her list and she is a PRO when it comes to formatting.

Take it away, Kait!

****

I have long been a proponent that formatting ebooks is not hard. I’ve talked at length elsewhere about why it’s important that you know how to do it (even if you hire out), and I even teach a class on exactly how to do it, step-by-step for those who have an industrious DIY spirit and want to learn. But despite all that, there is one incontrovertible truth about ebook formatting:

It’s a pain in the butt.

Formatting ebooks, particularly if you’re new to it, is a tedious and exacting process. Not HARD, but definitely time consuming. That’s where I come in. I format ebooks often, fast, and well–and you can hire me to take your manuscript and turn it into whatever form of ebook you want—from a basic “Meatgrinder” ready Smashwords file to every major file format available. Because I’m chained to a computer most days, I can generally offer quick turn around and ready answers to all your formatting questions. All that is to say that if you hire me, you can use your time for more important things.

  1. Instead of sorting out how you’re supposed to change out the 175,000 tab indents you used at the start of your paragraphs to correct paragraph styles, you can plot the demise of Julian Fellowes for daring to Do Something Horrible to the Adorable Bateses on Downton Abbey.

  2. Instead of digging into the code of the EPUB that Smashwords keeps rejecting to figure out what in the heck they’re talking about being wrong when the file clearly passes the IDPF validation test for EPUB 3, you can write a fanfic of the Olicity reunion that should TOTALLY happen in Season 3 of Arrow.
  3. Instead of beating your head against a wall trying to figure out why Kindle keeps indenting your block paragraphs even though they are set to block paragraphs, you can make a pie and enjoy it while watching the King of Pie Appreciation, Dean Winchester, in…pretty much any season of Supernatural (3 is my favorite).
  4. Instead of going through the whole nuking of your formatting to get rid of garbage code (and following that with tequila shooters because OMG), you can watch Pitch Perfect for the three hundredth time in preparation for getting Pitch Slapped in May. #AccaAwesome!
  5. Instead of getting an eye twitch trying to design an NCX table of contents from scratch, you can even be all responsible and stuff and use all the time you’ve saved to take care of the rest of your business concerns–promo, blog tours, writing the next book…or marathoning all of Firefly. Your call.

However you decide to spend all that freed up time, you won’t regret the investment in a professionally formatted product. So the next time you need a book formatted for publishing, look no further than The Forge Book Finishers for affordable ebook finishing.

~*~

headshot formal smallKait Nolan is stuck in an office all day, sometimes juggling all three of her jobs at once with the skill of a trained bear—sometimes with a similar temperament. After hours, she uses her powers for good, creating escapist fiction. This Mississippi native has something for everyone, from short and sweet to Southern contemporary romance to action-packed paranormal—all featuring heroes you’d want to sweep you off your feet and rescue you from work-day drudgery. When not working or writing, Kait’s hanging out in her kitchen cooking and wishing life were a Broadway musical.

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