Posts Tagged how to sell more books

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!

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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 :D .

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.

:D.

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.

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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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120 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 :P .

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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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 :P

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.

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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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28 Comments

Creating Dimensional Characters—The Blind Spot

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.27.43 AM

Last time, we talked about how to deepen characters and how EVERYBODY LIES (thank you Dr. House). Lies are critical for great fiction. To become excellent writers, we need to become great secret-keepers. Denial is more than a river in Africa ;) .

I’d started a series on this a few months ago and Shingles got in the way of the next posts I had planned. But, the first of the intended series was about THE WOUND.  Check it out if you have a bit of time.

Most of us don’t go around lying because we are pathological liars. We lie because of our wounds. And, if you read the post, wounds don’t have to be big to be BIG.

Newer writers sometimes think we have to have a rape or death for it to be “enough” but never underestimate “smaller” wounds. They are far more common, very damaging, and readers have a lot likelier time empathizing and thus connecting.

Though I had my fair share of big wounds in life, strangely enough, the small ones did just as much damage and maybe even more. It was the jokes about me being ugly or fat from family members or schoolmates. It was being teased that my clothes were from Kmart (had a single mom).

It was playing sports, competing in martial arts, or being first chair in clarinet and playing a key solo…yet every kid had a parent/family member in the audience but me.

These wounds drove me to being more of a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, and insecure about my body and looks. One can only be called “Thunder Thighs” so many times. To this day, I refuse to wear shorts even though, when people made these comments, I was 11% body fat. I just happen to be built for strength and “willowy” is an adjective that will never describe me.

Me at 5'3", 165 pounds and a Size 10.

Me at 5’3″, 165 pounds and a Size 10.

Yet, though the wounds did their fair share of damage, they also created a person who learned to be self-sufficient VERY early….which is a mixed bag. Also, I learned to ignore other people’s opinions. This helped A LOT when I was blogging about how social media would change the world and had others calling me a lunatic.

But, I can also say there are times I maybe should have been better at listening to counsel and opinions. Learning to discern when to listen and when to ignore is still a struggle for me…because of the WOUNDS.

Beyond “The Wound”

Today, we’re going to explore an extension of the WOUND. The BLIND SPOT. There are no perfect personalities. All great character traits possess a blind spot. The loyal person is a wonderful friend, but can be naive and taken advantage of.

The take-charge Alpha leader can make a team successful, but also inadvertently tromp over feelings or even fail to realize that others have great ideas, too. Maybe even BETTER ideas.

Often the antagonist (Big Boss Troublemaker) is a mirror of the protagonist, especially in the beginning of the story. In the first book of the series I am currently writing, Romi (my protagonist) is LOYAL. She believes everyone has some good and the world will reward you if you simply are good and work hard.

How she ends up in trouble and the number one suspect in an Enron-like scam is that she trusted the wrong people and they let her take the fall for the scheme.

Romi is VERY Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde."

Romi is VERY Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.”

To arc and be able to beat the antagonist and solve the core story problem—Find money and clear her name—she’s going to have to grow up. Her bright-eyed naiveté is an asset. Others (ALLIES) gravitate to her because she is such a Pollyanna. They are there to buttress her weaknesses and even mentor her growth.

Yet, by story’s end, she cannot be the same. She’s going to have to be more realistic and see truth about people in order to come out alive.

Conversely, the antagonist is betting that the original blind spot used to make Romi the sucker will remain. The antagonist is banking that she will refuse the call and thus not grow. The antagonist’s blind spot is pride and opportunism. Being able to manipulate.

Yet as Romi grows, she learns to see who people truly ARE, not what she simply wants to see and that is a large reason the antagonist fails.

Application

To use an example from a movie we have likely all seen. In Top Gun, what makes Maverick the best pilot is his complete lack of fear. He has the cajones to do what other pilots wouldn’t ever consider.

He’s driven by his wound, the lie about his father. This has made him one of the best pilots (trying to overcome his tainted history and impress a ghost) but he’s missed the lesson on how to be part of a team.

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Yes, maybe breaking all the rules makes you “the best”, but it can get others killed. It isn’t all about HIM.

This is why when I refer to “the antagonist” I prefer my made-up term Big Boss Troublemaker. The antagonist isn’t always “bad.” The antagonist is simply the person responsible for creating the core story problem.

Iceman isn’t a bad guy. He isn’t evil with a plan to take over the world or infiltrate the Top Gun school as a sleeper terrorist.

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He’s simply a by-the-book fighter pilot who believes Maverick shouldn’t be there. He loathes Maverick because he thinks he’s a danger to himself and others (and, frankly, he has a very valid point).

The plot provides the crucible. Maverick butts heads with Iceman over and over in a um, man-part-measuring contest. But what happens when Maverick loses Goose? Crisis.

A hard event (PLOT) has now forced Maverick to face the truth about himself. For the first time, he SEES the blind spot Iceman and others have been pointing out (which has been the core source of conflict). This loss forces him to go searching for answers deeper than buzzing the tower.

He finally recognizes others might actually have a point.

The beauty of this movie and why it’s remained so timeless (aside from hot guys in Navy dress) is it’s a movie exploring people. Real, broken, hurting people blind to who they really are. By story’s end? Everybody arcs.

Maverick learns there are other people in the sky besides HIM and that he is part of a TEAM. Iceman lightens up and recognizes that Maverick, too, has a point. Sometimes one just has to toss out the rulebook.

Thus, when creating characters in any story, to deepen them, we need to KNOW them. What DRIVES THEM? How would they react according to their past, their wounds and their blind spot?

As a writing exercise, take a scenario. Maybe an attempted mugging. How would different characters react?

For instance, when I was in college, I taught Jui-Jitsu during the day and sold papers in the evening. One dark winter night a drunk tried to mug me in a dark apartment complex and take my hard case briefcase.

Because of MY background, growing up powerless and determined to be in CONTROL, I’d taken years of martial arts. Also, when I was eight, I witnessed my 6’8″ male family member raise his hand to hit my mom while she was cooking….and she beat his ass out the front door wielding a mad hot cast iron skillet.

This left a mark (though likely more on said family member).

Thus, 12 years later when a MUCH larger drunk came up behind and tried to mug ME, he got beaten heartily with a briefcase and then chased until I lost him.

But why did I fight, not just hand over the briefcase?

I’d always been POOR. I was very poor in college and had worked long hours to buy a really nice briefcase in hopes of landing a better job than selling and delivering papers. There was no money in the case. I could have handed it over but because of MY wounds, the briefcase was more than a briefcase.

Clearly my BLIND SPOT is I have an alligator mouth and a pekinese @$$. I could have lost and ended up hurt or dead.

But what about a person with a different background? A different wound? A different blind spot?

What if the person mugged was a trust fund baby who could easily buy another briefcase? Or a person who’d been beaten badly in formative years and would do anything to avoid experiencing that pain? What if the person was elderly? There are a lot of variables that make a VERY rich palette to create characters with LIFE.

Think of your own life and personality? What is your greatest strength? How does it create your greatest weakness? What is YOUR blind spot. Play a little armchair psychiatrist and what you find might be really interesting ;) . Feel free to share about you or even your favorite characters you’ve read or even written.

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).

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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41 Comments

Social Media is a Waste of Time for Writers—Hmmm, Think Again

Image courtesy of cellardoorfilms WANA Commons...

Image courtesy of cellardoorfilms WANA Commons…

We’ve been talking a lot about social media lately and I am always grateful for your comments and thoughts. This kind of feedback not only helps me improve my blog, but my also books, because I get a glimpse of your worries, weaknesses, fears, loves, and strengths.

As a teacher/mentor/expert, it’s my job to address those fears and put you at ease or reinforce when you’re headed the right direction and give you tools and tips to take what you’re doing to another level.

There’ve been some comments that have piqued my attention lately. Namely this notion to give up on social media completely to write more books (out of vexation for the medium and the task).

Oh-kay….

Social Media is a TOTAL Waste of Time

Write more books instead of tweeting or blogging. Social media is a giant time-suck better spent writing great books.

I don’t know how to answer this besides, Er? *screeching breaks* Personally, I can think of no larger waste of time than researching and reading and spending countless hours crafting a wonderful book of 60,000-110,000 words and then?

No one knows the book exists so few people ever read it, enjoy it or are changed by the author’s story.

It’s like spending six months to a year on an oil painting to hang it in an attic.

 

These days, any agent worth their salt will not sign an author who doesn’t have a social media brand and presence. Rarely, they will take a book from an author who doesn’t…but usually it will come with the requirement the author get on-line and get to work.

I ADORE Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary and once shared a panel with her. She told the story of a book she LOVED and took even though the author wasn’t on social media. She was so impressed with the book she signed the author but told her she needed to get on social media and start building a platform.

After six months, the author refused. Dawn gave an ultimatum. Get your tail on social media or we drop the book and cancel the contract.

Myth-Busting

It used to be that an author who wanted to completely avoid social media went traditional. Well, traditional publishing has now seen the value of social media and almost all of them require it. They require it even if they allot budgeting for marketing. Why? Because social media helps them gain a FAR greater ROI on the marketing dollars spent.

How?

I’ll give an example. I once read a traditionally published craft book that changed my life. At the time, my platform had grown fairly large and I’ve worked very hard to create a solid reputation for recommending only the best resources. I tried to contact the author not only to promote the book, but to get this author to present our conference (which sells A LOT of books).

The web site was an outdated clumsy mess and the contact e-mail at the bottom was no longer any good. The author wasn’t on FB or Twitter and I think I finally located this writer—of all places—on LinkedIn. Four months later the author replied, but by then the window of opportunity had closed.

I was…vexed.

 

Additionally, since I’d had such a bear of a time connecting to the author, I wasn’t going to recommend this tedious experience to others.

Publishers have since recognized this problem and they want to remove as much friction from a potential sale as possible. Their goal is not only to sell a book but to captivate and cultivate a FAN who will buy that book, the next and the next. This is simply smart business.

Though I’m not a huge fan of ads, it makes sense that if a publisher (traditional or indie) is going to pay good money to create and launch one, that anyone interested should be able to easily connect with the author. Same with coveted AP reviews, interviews, or events. Even if we self-publish and pay for promotion, an existing platform will make the most of that investment.

A LOT of any sales is the follow up then the follow-through.

If social media is new, scary, overwhelming? Welcome to being NEW. Most of us start like this…

 

Social Media is for the CONSUMER

I come from a background in sales. Cardboard. Not glamourous but everyone uses it. Being the cheapest or mailing out flyers or calling non-stop was not what sold my product over other choices.

And trust me, we had BEAUTIFUL ads. I also had competition offering a far cheaper product. They also had products virtually IDENTICAL to ours. But ads and price and even selection weren’t the major driving factor in sales.

Rather, it was the customer’s ability to quickly and easily connect with ME.

Maybe the company didn’t need corner board the day they met me. But then, that purchaser I’d spoken to in the spring signed a contract with a client in the autumn who wanted to ship truckloads of water heaters STAT. Water heaters that needed protection during shipping.

Because that purchaser had my personal cell number (back in the days when most salespeople didn’t have one and I paid for my OWN), guess who closed the sale?

Most salespeople didn’t want to pay out of pocket for a cell phone. They liked the old ways, the way business had always been done. Call the office. Leave a message with the receptionist, and then they’d return the call when they got back in off the road (which could be DAYS).

Even if the salesperson got the message once they checked into their hotels, it would be late in the evening. The earliest a customer could get an answer would be the next day.

Me? They talked to the minute the idea flitted across their brains (or within the hour if I was in a meeting).

It cost me $400 a month of my own money to have a cell phone with enough minutes. Back then, 2000 minutes a month was the max one could buy in a package, but I had a nine-state territory and also all of northern Mexico and believed it was a wise investment.

Work smarter, not harder….

 

I put out my own effort and money to make it easier for a customer to find and connect with me instantly. I didn’t have to. But it sure made that $2.5 million a year quota a lot easier to meet. Of ALL the cardboard reps vying for the SAME SALE, I was the one who was Johnny on the Spot to solve a problem. I was the one they could dial and get an almost-instant response and solution.

Though cardboard and novels are different products, that tether of personal connection is powerful.

A large number of agents, especially those at the prestigious agencies, will not even consider a query if they can’t google our name and see we’ve been working to at least connect and begin cultivating a community that can become readers.

But now many authors are going indie or self-publishing. Indie houses I can guarantee will likely ignore anyone who doesn’t want to be on social media. Those who self-publish? WE ARE THE PUBLISHER. What responsible publisher with a hint of business acumen ignores any kind of interaction and follow-up with potential customers (readers)?

It reminds me of the cardboard salesmen who didn’t want a cell phone. They’d missed the point that their job was to serve the customer’s schedule and needs, not the other way around.

Golf is NOT Golf and Dinner is NOT Dinner

Hubby and I had an interesting debate a few days ago. He kinda turned his nose up about wining and dining and entertaining clients (we have two small businesses). But Hubby has spent most of his professional life as a procurement person and is a long-lost cousin of Mr. Spock.

But then I explained that those off-site relaxed endeavors were actually investments in relationships and even friendships. When I took customers to lunch, I never talked business. I wanted to know (genuinely) about their wives, kids, or hobbies and let them have some fun talking about the things they enjoyed. It was personal.

It’s far more important to be interested than interesting.

When I would call to follow up, I asked about how their son’s Little League game went or how the wife was and simply told them I’d be in the area during a certain time. Never asked for money or talked about cardboard.

I also never chastised them or was hurt if they bought from another source. I’d say, “Well, that was a smart business decision. Can’t blame you for being prudent. Just hope I am there to help you next time. You know how to reach me.”

Over time, because of the relaxed atmosphere, I found that customers gravitated to calling me because they knew me, could reach me, and rather enjoyed not being pitched to non-stop. They’d even pay more.

What was really cool was that certain customers eventually refused to deal with any other company but ours, no matter how cheap the competitor’s price. They would even recommend me (and my product) to other companies, because I ignored the ABCs (Always BE Closing) and trusted the power of relationships and consistency.

The same can be said for social media. Blasting spam and bargains and free stuff might work for a while and on a few people, but it doesn’t generate the long-term loyalty money can’t buy.

Sure, back in my cardboard days, it cost me time and money and effort. My hard work rarely paid off immediately and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t harshly criticized.

But, eventually, when customers had to choose between going to lunch with someone who jammed flyers and price lists in their faces, who never shut up talking about themselves and who insisted on a signature on the dotted line by the time the check came?

Versus me?

I was far less exhausting and annoying to deal with.

Social Media is NOT a Sales Pitch

Social media is like all those lunches or quick, relaxing trips to a driving range to just unwind and chat and become friends. People should know we have a book, just like all my cardboard customers had a fancy folder filled with all our products and a sample box.

But the product wasn’t my focus, people were.

To refuse to do social media would have been akin to me never traveling and sitting by the phone in my office hoping it would ring. That our cardboard would sell itself. I imagine I wouldn’t have lasted long.

To misuse social media is a formula for a customer (reader) to gravitate some place they don’t feel like prey. Social media used properly doesn’t take much time to do, but it will take time to grow roots.

Just like it only took five minutes for me to call a buyer, ask how his kids were and let him know I’d be in the area and ask if he and his receptionist would care to join me for a bite to eat. But, though it took minutes to make the invitation, it took months of care and authentic follow-up to build a foundation of trust that created a loyal customer.

Direct Sales is Almost Universally ANNOYING

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How many of you have gone to having a cell phone because the only people who called the landline were selling something? How many times have any of you said, “Sure, I’ll pay for that cruise right now” after getting a random phone call. Or, “Yes, sign my up for that credit protection plan. TAKE MY MONEY!”

How many times have you found a flyer on your windshield or front door and immediately called for that product or service? Or answered the spam in your e-mail with credit card in hand?

Think of this when using social media ;) . Relax, have fun and trust this is a process and a really fun one with the right attitude.

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).

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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137 Comments

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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