Posts Tagged how to sell more books

Mastering Conflict—Hook Readers & Never Let Them Go

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sharon Mollerus

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sharon Mollerus

Last time we talked about how, if we want to sell more books, we need to give readers what they want—an excellent story. Very often writers believe they need to be clever and deep and super different and while all of that is excellent, it must all be built around delivering a terrific story…not simply being clever for the sake of being clever.

This said, we must always remember the beating heart of every story. Conflict. No heart? The story flatlines.

Conflict is not simply a bad situation.

I often get pages where it is almost like, “And this bad thing happens then the next bad thing oh and another bad thing.” It makes me feel like I’m trapped in a bad action movie.

Oh there’s a fight scene, then a car chase, then another car chase and then another fight and OH! An explosion.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

If you have ever been to any family event, you have all you need for writing great fiction. Lots of personalities, baggage, history, and agendas all piled into one spot and BOOM!

Conflict.

Conflict is what hooks readers and keeps them turning pages. Every single scene needs conflict. Every page should have conflict. One of my personal mottos, is:

Bookmarks=DEATH

We should strive to never ever leave a logical spot to slip in a bookmark. No, we want to torture our readers and keep them up all night and sleep-deprived. We do this with conflict.

Humans don’t like unresolved problems. It is in our nature to want everything sorted out before we can relax. How do we keep readers up all night? Never let everything get completely sorted out.

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Conflict obviously will happen internally and externally. The internal conflict gets center stage in the sequel and external conflict steps up during scenes.

Scenes are defined by action (an outside tangible goal).

The protagonist wants X but then…

Sequels are the spaces between scenes where there is a bit of a breather and the character is internalizing what happened and making a plan of what to do next.

By eventually spacing out the sequels and then removing them altogether is how we as writers can control the pace and ratchet the tension as we careen into the third act. For more on scenes and sequels refer to Anatomy of a Best-Selling Story Part One.

But whether it is a scene or a sequel it must have conflict.

Situation

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Obviously the outside situation might generate conflict (and frankly should).

Example:

Fifi simply must get the deposit into the bank before end of day, but then she ends up trapped in a traffic snarl and gets there right as the motor bank closes.

Question: Are you making it too easy for your character to get from point A to point B? Can you dangle what she wants just beyond reach? Can you insert more misdirection/setbacks?

Personality

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Sure the situation can generate conflict, but our protagonist does not exist in a vacuum. His or her decisions will happen around other people and thus be influenced by them.

Example:

Fifi is a very plain, no-nonsense gal who is Type A and if she isn’t fifteen minutes early, in her mind she is already fifteen minutes late. Unfortunately she opened her cupcake bakery with her little sister who always looks like she fell out of a fashion magazine, who would never dream of going out not looking like a model and who, as a consequence is pathologically late.

Fifi loathes being late.

So not only did Fifi have to get to the bank, she was forced to take her sister because she needed something to be notarized with sister’s signature for the business. Sister was just going to “take a minute to freshen up.” Of course had Fifi’s sister just gotten in the damn car, they would have missed the fender bender that caused the traffic snarl and would have made it to the bank on time.

Question: Who have you cast with your protagonist? Are they too similar? Do they get on too well? Opposites often attract, so who could you cast against your protagonist to make life all that much messier?

Baggage/History

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Clearly you all have baggage (and I don’t mean carry-on only) or you wouldn’t be writers. Great characters have loads and loads of baggage and often that baggage appears during conflict.

Remember that sane and well adjusted people make for lousy fiction unless we cast one of those types and that becomes the source of conflict. But if both people disagree in healthy ways? Snoozefest.

Example:

Fifi: When you choose to do your makeup and hair when you are aware we need to be somewhere, it frustrates me. Your chronic tardiness makes me feel as if you don’t value me or my feelings.

Sister: Well I feel that when you insist on looking like a hopeless frump all the time that you don’t value me. Lord, I have to be seen with you and we could be seeing potential customers for God’s sakes. And for the record, I feel like throat-punching you when you use your therapy speak on me. Is this garbage what you pay all that money for?

Pretty clearly we see there is a lot of baggage here.

Question: In your scenes can you ramp up the tension with barbed mentions of any chronic behaviors? Unhealed psychic wounds? Most people don’t completely operate in the present, the past likes to bum a ride. Are your characters both dealing with disagreements like healthy well-adjusted people? If they are? Stop it!

Worldview

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Remember that there are all kinds of sources for conflict all around us that are natural and organic and don’t seem forced. Age can be a factor. A parent won’t see the world the same way as a child and won’t have the same priorities.

When I am trying to get out the door, my main priority is not whether or not I have packed enough Hot Wheels. For Spawn? That is critical and trust me it creates conflict.

I am a Type A control freak and I loathe being late with the power of a thousand suns. Yet my husband, when we are going somewhere? He has three speeds. Slow, slower, and DEAR FREAKING GOD ARE YOU EVEN ALIVE?

Granted he is good for me. He makes me slow down, pay attention to detail, maybe even *shudders* enjoy the ride…but in the meantime, he’s maddening.

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Yet there is some unspoken law that writers must marry engineers. Seriously, it is freaky.

Opposites attract and yet they also drive each other bonkers.

Question: Can you look at your cast then, using their worldview (age, personality, occupation) use that to create tension?

If you want a REALLY GOOD LAUGH???? Check out this quick video that perfectly illustrates differing world views.

I hope all of this has helped. Remember that yes, we must have a core antagonist who generates the singular story problem in need of resolution, but along the way we will need all kinds of micro-tensions and micro-aggressions to add depth to our story and keep readers riveted.

What are your thoughts? Are you a writer married to an engineer personality? Do you see all kinds of tensions flying about that you now can add to spice up your story? Are you leaving a lot of tension on the table?

If you want to become a master at plotting and tension, check out my Bullies & Baddies class below.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

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

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

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

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

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

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

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

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

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

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

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

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

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

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

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging for Authors

September 16th

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

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

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

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

 

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34 Comments

Want to Sell More Books? Give Consumers What They WANT

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

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

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

A Tale of Two Parsnips

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

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

We get to the ordering and…*screeching brakes*

The chef refused to modify any of the dishes.

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

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I wish I were joking.

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

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

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

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

Give Customers What They Want to Consume

But I carefully craft all my automated, preprogrammed tweets.

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

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Neil Motteram

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Neil Motteram

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

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

***That’s thinking like an entrepreneur, btw😉.

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

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

Just don’t complain about sales numbers.

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

Give Readers What They Want In a WAY They Want

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

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

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Presentation Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Writing

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

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

E.L. James gave consumers what they wanted.

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

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

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

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

Upcoming Classes

NEW CLASS!

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

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

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

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

Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

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

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

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

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

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

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

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

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging for Authors

September 16th

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

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

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

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

 

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37 Comments

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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74 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

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 10.06.20 AM

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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67 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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 5.32.46 PM

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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