Posts Tagged publishing

Making Money in a World Addicted to FREE—What Do Writers DO?

Might I suggest one of these...

I think we need to renegotiate the terms…

One of the reasons I did such a detailed post about the pop culture and how it’s impacting artists (A Culture Addicted to FREE) is that for us to make any solid plan, we need to gain a good understanding of how things are being run and also grasp current consumer habits.

To fix any problem, we must be aware of what are called operational constraints.

Operational constraints are any real or potential roadblocks in the way of our goals. If you ever do a S.W.O.T. Analysis, which I strongly recommend, it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Any time we do business—which writing IS a business—we need an accurate picture of the terrain so we make wise business decisions and can plan ahead.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

The entire reason for me blogging about the impact streaming could have on our industry is because that is part of the S.W.O.T. matrix (under Threats). If we only look at what’s going on today, we’re reactive and have fewer options (if any) and we lack maneuverability. If, however, we do the projections and hypothesize about what likely could happen? We’re in a far stronger position and can gain massive advantage.

For instance, in 2007 I took MAJOR heat for saying social media and blogging was going to be a huge game-changer and vital for success.

I could have been wrong, but I planned accordingly and built a brand anyway (just in case).

For all those who felt all they needed was a good book? Who didn’t feel they needed to be on-line? It’s been an uphill battle and they missed out on a LOT of the crazy momentum generated by the initial BIG BANG of Web 2.0 expanding. They were also in a bad spot when literary agents came back with, “Great book. I’d love to rep it but you have no platform. Come back when you get one.”

Yes, Writers ARE Entrepreneurs

Craftfest

I get that the world often does not see what we do as a business, that for some reason when we tether money to our work then we are no longer doing “art.” Here’s the thing, haters hate for two reasons.

Either a) they benefit from the status quo or b) they believe they are unsuccessful solely because of a system they falsely think is set in stone. Anyone who changes the system can expose the delusion.

For instance, before self-publishing it was easy to believe we were rejected simply because NY only wanted commercial junk (not because we had no frigging clue how to actually write).

Ignore haters. They aren’t going to pay your bills so they don’t get a vote.

Before we talk more about the nitty gritty of the business of what we do, I am going to say this again.

Free is an excellent servant, but a horrible master.

I am all for FREE. I am against the rampant misuse of FREE. FREE will roll over and sit and fetch our slippers. Problem is? We have been letting FREE pee on the carpets and eat the couch cushions. FREE needs obedience training and we are the master. Us whining that FREE keeps embarrassing us by humping the mailman’s leg is not productive.

Writer up and tell FREE to SIT!

Businesses use FREE all the time…to generate business (as in PAID work). We need to do the same. But good businesses don’t just “make stuff FREE.” They get a good idea of the overall topography and then use FREE to maneuver advantage.

If we want to change things and make a good living doing what we do, then we must understand the market to use FREE effectively. Additionally, us looking at streaming and how other artists are being impacted negatively is not whining if we then take that knowledge and do something.

ALL business do this. But apparently when authors act like a business we are accused of whining…which is pissing me off more than a little.

We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate.

My family owns the top sign company in Fort Worth, TX. We do those huge monument signs, lighted signs (think Target, Home Depot, Chili’s, etc.). But we’ve had customers we had to fire. Doing business with them simply was not profitable. Were we whining? No, we were making a business decision.

We decided that the customer’s Pain in the Ass Factor far outweighed their Profit Factor and decided to part ways and find a situation that suited us better. Writers can do the same.

At this juncture, we as artists have two options when it comes to changing our situation in the marketplace. One is what we have been doing here lately.

Power of the Purse

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

We educate consumers and use consumer pressure to make the market equitable. That happens all the time. Nike got seriously bad PR for using sweatshops in Asia. The bad press did major damage to their brand and their sales. Feeling pressure from consumers, they had to change their ways unless they wanted to go out of business. Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes have come under scrutiny for exploiting artists.

Fearing consumer wrath? These companies will either change or the power of the purse will exact punishment.

It’s happened before in many other industries.

Food Lion never recovered from a scandal involving bleaching old meat. Taco Bell was hammered (and sued) over their use of Mystery Meat, which gave their brand and bottom line a beating. The chocolate industry was forever altered when consumers found out about the horrific practices and use of child labor. Many major chocolate manufacturers are now almost completely Fair Trade and this was all brought about by consumer pressure.

If shaming and purchasing power works for these other industries? Can work for ours too. But? It might not. So we need to prepare for that.

In the meantime, we are a business so we need to focus more on what we can control.

We Create Something of VALUE

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir...

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir…

Before we can talk at ALL about business I need you to get one thing through your head.

Writers create something of VALUE. We create what people WANT.

I get that folks are addicted to FREE, but they will pay for something they find value in. Our job is to create that value and stop abusing FREE. But why do we struggle with believing what we do has value? A lot of it comes from outside pressure.

One example that I keep seeing used over and over since I started all this with Pay The Writer is the idiot example of a ditch digger.

Just because you decided to dig a ditch doesn’t mean anyone owes you money for a ditch they never asked for.

This is a non sequitur being used to shame us. It is using a false assumption that no one wanted what we created in the first place.

To paraphrase what the Founding Fathers said to King George?

Bite me.

IF no one wanted stories, then why bother with bookstores, movies, television and non-stop streaming entertainment? If no one wanted to buy books then Amazon would have never set up the infrastructure to take business away from the Big Six and make them into the Spiffy Five. If no one wants books, then how the hell are so many selling? The Martian (which was self-published, btw) sold 750,000 copies just in the US and MATT FREAKING DAMON played the protagonist in a blockbuster movie.

I guess it’s a good thing Andy Weir dug that ditch no one asked for.

Basic rule of capitalism? We all create something people don’t want…yet. The thing is our customers simply don’t yet know they want it.

What if Henry Ford never bothered with figuring out how to manufacture automobiles because no one wanted them?

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

~Henry Ford

What if Edison hadn’t bothered with light bulbs? What if the Wright Brothers….

Y’all get the point.

People DO want books. They DO want an escape. They DO want information and entertainment. Trick is to make them want OUR book (that’s another post).

People WANT books, so anyone who uses that ditch digger analogy from now on can just pound sand because the analogy falls apart that writers creating books are anything like this ditch digger creating random holes.

A true parallel is that places like Amazon are acting as connectors/brokers. They know people who LIKE and WANT books and we MAKE books. We do business because every book Amazon moves and delivers for us? We get paid a portion of that.

This is like having a service that connects People in Desperate Need of a Ditch with People with Shovels and Ditch-Digging Skills. There’s an understood contract that if we dig a ditch someone wanted? The broker is paid, but WE ARE TOO.

And, as an owner of a sign company? We get paid really, really well for digging ditches.

Thus, to treat writers as if we are that weird guy who jumps out into traffic and squeegees windshields and then breaks windows if the customer victim doesn’t pay? It’s uncool and inaccurate.

But back to writers…

I don’t think any of us are asking to be paid on books we never sell. But if we do sell? Then whoever is acting as this middleman/connector needs to give us a rate we find to be a sound business decision or…

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 10.55.45 AM

Musicians are doing this. They are saying that getting paid $0.0006 every time a song is played and having to split that $0.0006 per song with everyone who produced the song is BS. They’re saying that if my song is played a million times, the royalty should be more than $17…so Pandora? BUH BYE.

Start With the PRODUCT

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

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

Since we are a business, we have to create a product consumers want to buy. In my POV? A lot of authors are too busy being clever in their writing and ignoring substance.

We just want a good steak…no need to make it blue. That’s just weird.

And for all the Wanna Be Authors who are slapping up junk with crappy unedited writing, shoddy formatting and covers that look like they were done by a one-eye drunk? No one wants it. And if they do? I’m a huge fan of Economist F.A. Hayek. If people want to PAY for that? Then it is just.

If people want to pay $300 for a ticket to see Kanye West but won’t go to see a concert pianist even though it’s only $20? I question their taste, but it’s just because consumers have spoken with their dollars.

If people want 50 Shades and not the next great literary genius story? I don’t like it, but people vote with dollars.

Aaaahhhhhhhhh!

Aaaahhhhhhhhh!

But if the product isn’t selling? Then we’ve failed on some vector and the first one to scrutinize would be the actual product.

Code for try harder.

Write more books and better books. Remember we are not writing for US, but for the reader. We are in the entertainment industry and entertainment implies that more than one person is getting something out of the deal.

I’ve been in workshops where the author was the only one who understood what the hell was going on and when criticized by the audience? They argued. Okay, then be happy selling ONE book because you’ve written for an audience of one.

Invest in good editing, formatting, etc. Yada yada yada.

Create Your Own Economy

The trick of all of this is to create a product consumers want (and ALL businesses have to do this). If we do that and we build a strong enough brand? We don’t NEED iTunes, Amazon, B&N, etc. Thing is, they need us way more than we need them.

Trust me. Amazon does NOT want Andy Weir or Hugh Howey or Grant Cardone to go, You know what? It’s not you, it’s me. Wait, it IS YOU and I think I’ll do my own distribution. Thanks.

The Sword of Technology Cuts Both Ways

The same exact technological innovations that allowed Amazon to plunder the Big Six are the same advances we can use to walk away. We can do our own distribution, our own subscription services, streaming, etc. (there are services popping up to fill that vacuum). We will talk more about these options later, but the point I am making is that if we create a good product and combine it with a solid brand?

We are being a business and in being a business? We can choose how to do business and thereby set the terms of the relationship (or the grounds for terminating that relationship).

In coming posts we will delve more into FREE, how to use it and when to use it. We will talk a lot more about the business side of what we do. Remember we are in the entertainment business. If you don’t have a strong brand, then seriously, get a copy of Rise of the Machines. 

I wrote that book because a solid brand is absolutely the most essential component of success beyond the actual product. My methods have launched unknowns from obscurity into record books. So invest in your business and get in the know about your brand.

Okay, what are your thoughts? Are you tired of that ditch-digger analogy too? Do you struggle seeing yourself as having something of VALUE? Is it impacting the way you are running—or not running—your business? Are you overwhelmed? Are there other areas you’d like me to explore and discuss? Do you have additional business advice you’d add for all our benefice?

I really DO love hearing from you!

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

 

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

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55 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

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

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

W.A.N.A. Sprinters, this is for you😉 .

Success

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

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

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

Anyone who’s ever been successful will tell you that a big part of overcoming adversity is mental. I know it’s a grossly inaccurate movie, but I still love G.I. Jane. I recall a scene during Hell Week (the first evolution of SEAL training) where Master Chief has everyone doing butterfly kicks in the rain. He yells at the recruits to look to their left and look to their right, that statistically, those people will quit.

Who will be the first to ring that bell? Who will be the first to quit?

Years ago, one of my mentors mentioned The 5% Rule. What’s The 5% Rule? So happy you asked. Statistically, only 5% of the population is capable of sustained change. This means of ALL the people who want to run marathons, 5% will. Of ALL the people who join a martial arts class, only 5% will ever reach black belt. Of ALL the people who have a dream of being a career author, only about 5% will ever reach that goal and maintain it.

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At first, I was horrified when I heard this statistic. I want everyone to be successful! Surely if they had more tools, more chances, more affordable classes…

Human nature is a weird thing and, had I not seen this 5% rule play out countless times, I’d still be an unbeliever. Yet, like everyone is not meant to be a Navy SEAL, not everyone is meant to be a career author. This is good news and bad news. Bad news is odds are against us. Good news is multi-fold. First, we control a lot of the factors that lead to success. Secondly, this job is NOT for everyone.

Believe it or not, what we writers do is excruciatingly HARD. Just like it is NOT normal for a human body to run long miles in freezing surf carrying a Zodiac filled with water, it is NOT normal to sit and write 100,000+ words. Most people—literate or not—cannot do what we do.

They like to believe they can…but they can’t.

One of the reasons regular people are so shocked to meet a “real” writer is that so few writers ever really reach the professional level. But, why? Why do so many give up the dream? What does the 5% writer do differently than hoi polloi 95%?

I’m an optimist. I believe all of us possess what it takes to be in that coveted 5%. Question is, can we overcome our natures? What is the difference between the amateur and the pro?

Pros Like Validation But Don’t Require It 

Image via QuickMeme

Image via QuickMeme

Validation is different from feedback. We ALL love validation. We crave it. We adore it. But pros don’t require it.

When I first brought my glorious prose to a critique group, I said I wanted feedback. What I really wanted was for the group to tell me that my words were written in angel tears and that all the agents who rejected me must have been brain damaged.

I did not want to hear that I might not have a clue what I was doing. I did not want my pages handed back dripping in red ink. In fact, that hurt. A LOT. I had to learn to suck it up and press on. If one person had an opinion? Well, might just be a personal preference. When ten people gave the same opinion?

Houston, I had a problem.

Writers can work years without any hint of outside approval. Most people can’t sustain this and they give up. One glance in my sidebar and you’ll see this blog was named Writer’s Digest‘s Top 101 Websites for Writers for 2015.

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But some of you might not know that I blogged for almost two years and no one cared. My biggest fans were the male-enhancement bots.

I so licked your blog. You make many grate poinsettias. Is it just me or are all your commenters brain dead?

Hmm, maybe he’s foreign? Or not *head desk*

How much do you LOVE the dream? Because I will tell you that if I went by outside approval, I would have quit YEARS ago. If I judged my future success by my beginning blog stats or early book sales?

*weeps*

I was starting to wonder if I’d made a serious error by leaving sales. Sales had a paycheck, a fancy title and a company car. No stranger ever asked me if I was a “real” salesperson.

I went a LONG, LONG, LOOOONG time when no one cared and worse, they thought I was a joke/lunatic/poseur/hack. We need rhino skin in this business.

When I started this blog almost eight years ago, there were all kinds of other bloggers who were bigger than me. Sadly, many of them are gone. Never underestimate the power of simply showing up.

Below is an image of my blog stats.

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By the way, I can’t show you my beginning stats because they were so small, they didn’t register on a bar chart. Can you tell when I made it past “The Dip”? What if I’d quit? In 2009, I had a little over 6,000 views for the year (and I’d been blogging about 18 months by this point). In 2013, I had almost 450,000 views. But how many people would have given up when staring at those 2009 numbers (which works out to about 15 views a day and I bet half were from my mother)?

Pros Don’t Find Time, They MAKE Time

Time isn’t hiding down in the couch cushions camouflaged in Cheerios. We don’t find time, we make time. Often new writers will bemoan how they wish they could find time. 

Yet, I will posit this.

If today, I could guarantee you hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and all you had to do was finish the novel, how many would stay up late or get up early? How many would decide the family can go to the movies alone? Or that the floors are clean enough?

Often we procrastinate because there is no guarantee of success. Procrastination and perfectionism are frequently driven by fear of failure. If we never finish, we can never really fail. Our work is never out there to be judged.

As I like to say, “If we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting.” So what if you write a blog and no one cares? Join the club. My first blogs were dreadful. So the crickets and spam bots can boo you😛 ? Write a crappy first novel. Then move on. Learn. Keep writing!

No unpublished blog ever went viral. No unfinished novel ever became a runaway success.

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

Discipline is freedom.

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

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

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

Excuses are free but they cost us everything.

Pros Focus on What They Can Control

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Show me a struggling author and I will show you someone spending too much time shopping the same book. Instead of writing more books and better books, these writers are worried about querying the same book over and over, or (if published) they fret over sales, marketing, blog tours, or algorithms.

We cannot control what will be the next hottest thing. We can’t control the marketplace or the tastes of readers or whether matte bookmarks sell more books than pink beer koozies. This means we shouldn’t waste precious time on things we cannot control at the expense of things we can.

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

When I gave the 5% statistic earlier, many of you were probably discouraged. But let’s take a closer look at that number.

It’s been said that as much as 75% of the literate population would love to one day write a book. Out of hundreds of millions of possible authors, how many do you think actually take the idea seriously?

5%

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

5%

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

5%

Of those who finish that first novel then realize they have a train wreck and not a novel, how many suck it up and start over to write a better book that’s more likely to engage with readers?

5%

Of those who finally write a decent book, how many take time to also build a brand and platform? How many learn to blog effectively in ways that reach and cultivate readers?

5%

How many get in the regular habit of writing, researching and revising? They don’t just stop with the one book and keep on writing more books?

5%

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

5%

This profession is really hard. Toss a few hundred million people with a dream into one large funnel and most will not shake out at the end. Yet, if we look at the individual pieces of becoming “successful” it is astonishing how much we control. We can take ownership of much more than we might realize.

Others whine, we work.

What are your thoughts? Does this 5% example make you feel a little better about your chances? Can you look at your own life and routine and maybe see some areas that you can come up higher? I am ALWAYS reevaluating how and where I am spending my time. Have you been allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by things beyond your control? Do you find that fear keeps you from finishing? Hey, I have been guilty of ALL of this, so we are friends here😉 .

I love hearing from you!

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

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

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92 Comments

3 Myths Writers Need to Ditch Like a Bad Ex

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

Okay, fine.

Amazon. With Prime, you get free shipping.

Moving on…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

It’s a non sequitur.

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

I buy a copy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Kristen reads ALL her books…

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

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

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

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

I would so be there.

*JAZZ HANDS*

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

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

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

Fallacy #2 Barnes & Noble Supports All Authors

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

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

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

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

Can we just go back about 15-20 years?

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

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

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

I have popcorn and Red Vines.

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

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

Nothing personal. It’s business.

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

We writers might want to take notice.

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

Fallacy #3 Social Media is a Dismal Failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example:

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

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

That seems obvious, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are no shortcuts. Period.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are NOT stupid. It is STILL SPAM!

We are NOT stupid. It is STILL SPAM!

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

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

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

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92 Comments

Why Our Author Brand is More Important than Ever Before

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

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

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

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

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

Point of Sale Has Changed FOREVER

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

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

And sometimes I hate it when I’m right.

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

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

ALL.

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

Fewer point of sale contacts.

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

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

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

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

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

We need consumers more than they need us.

Pay Attention to Consumer Behavior

#FUTUREREADERS

#FUTUREREADERS

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

CLICK TO BUY!

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

One click and done.

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

Amazon has done my thinking for me.

We Buy What We KNOW

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

We have to create a brand.

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

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

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

*breathes in paper bag*

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

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

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

We Must Always Be Cultivating the Fans of the Future

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

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

We do not exist.

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

It’s All Good

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

Didn’t think so.

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

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

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

Write more books.

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

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

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

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

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83 Comments

Brave New Publishing—Amazon Testing Paying Authors by the Page

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

We live in a really strange time and technology has altered the publishing landscape into something we could never have imagined in 1999. The changes have been nothing short of science fiction. Well, buckle your seat belts because it is about to happen again. Just about the time we kind of get the knack of things, it seems there is yet another upheaval and we have to adapt.

This is why I wrote my social media branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.  My methods keep us from having to tear down and start over every time something in the tech world goes topsy-turvy and we can maintain brand momentum no matter what. But this time it isn’t social media throwing the curve ball.

It is Amazon.

I’ve worked hard to be balanced in all my opinions about publishing. Yes, New York had (has) its problems, but when many authors were railing to tear down traditional publishing, I worked hard to show that there are two sides. Amazon might favor authors and genuinely be on our side, but that could change so be wary. I detailed a lot of my concerns a couple years ago (2012!) in a post, Amazon—Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts.

Just so y’all know, sometimes I scare myself with my predictions because science fiction easily becomes dystopian fiction. Just a slice…

Amazon is the 500 pound gorilla in the room, only we can’t see it because it is hidden neatly inside a giant digital Trojan Horse. Don’t get me wrong, I buy plenty of stuff off Amazon, and they have done a lot to help shake up the industry and get New York hopping. Without them, I don’t believe we would have seen so many miraculous changes so quickly.

Ah, but every fairy tale has a dark side…

…once the competition falls away and Amazon burns New York to the ground? What happens to the writer? What happens when we fall asleep and it is safe for Amazon’s Trojan Horse to unleash the gorilla?

When NY is razed and Amazon has no real competition, do they have to keep giving us the same sweet royalty rate? And they already have a nasty reputation. They pulled that little stunt with a publisher who dared to cross them. Two years ago, they removed all the “Buy Buttons” off all the Macmillan titles. So, if Amazon will use the brass knuckles on a major publisher that crossed their path…what about us? The little guys? What happens when a writer miffs them and they unleash the gorilla?

Lord Acton so eloquently said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and that statement is as relevant today in 2012 as it was in 1887, because while industries change and technology changes, humans are timeless. So what happens when it’s Amazon’s turn to hold all the keys to the kingdom? Will they use them any differently than those they crushed to gain them?

Unlike NY, Amazon isn’t searching through all the millions of wanna-bes for a handful of investments. Anyone can publish quickly and cheaply. Writers are running to them! The problem with this is they get all the benefits of being a publisher without any real sacrifice.

A lawyer friend of mine noted that when writers publish on Amazon, we all agree to the same blanket contract. This gives Amazon all the perks of being a publisher without concerning itself with any of the traditional protections for the writer.

And, I understand that writers haven’t been treated all that great in the past, but we need to ask the tough question. Is this future better? Is trading one dictator for another a good plan?

When I wrote this, I had reservations about digital publishing. Granted I love it. When you write books on social media, traditional publishing just doesn’t fit and I would never have been able to publish at all without it. I also love the global distribution. But, the idea that our words are stored in the ether gives me pause. In this post I just cited, I mentioned the pace of expansion, how quickly Amazon was making money. Yes, a 57% gain in one quarter was awesome, but…

As a former salesperson, I knew there would come a time when that windfall would taper off.

What then?

I ran across this article yesterday on Gizmodo. Amazon is launching a new “idea.” They are experimenting with the notion of paying authors based off the number of pages actually read. Yes, it is a real thing. I had to look too. See HERE.

According to Gizmodo’s article:

“Beginning on July 1st, authors who self-publish through Amazon’s KDP Select Program will become part of a new publishing experiment. Currently, Amazon divvies up a pot of money to its native authors each month, based on the number of times their e-Books are “borrowed” through two separate Kindle services: Kindle Unlimited, a standalone, $9.99 / month subscription service, and the Kindle Lending Library, an Amazon Prime membership perk. In the new scheme, authors will be paid for each page that remains on the screen long enough to be parsed, the first time a customer reads the book.”

Before anyone thinks I am anti-Amazon or yelling “FIRE!”, I’m not. In fact, this is too new for me to even fully know how I feel. Right now this only affects books borrowed.

For all we know, this experiment remains in the realms of a narrow section of the overall Amazon model (the lending part) and the impact is not that large or might even work out well for authors. But I do think we have the responsibility to be watchful and if I am really honest? This trend scares me more than a little bit.

Why?

Because businesses are in the business of making money, not giving away money. If they can find a way to increase profit margin, they will. Sometimes this works in our favor. I.e. Efficient distribution. Sometimes? It gets a bit 1984 and paying us by the page seems way tempting to those who are in the business of running publishing empires.

Benefits of Being Paid by the Page

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Yes, I see the “benefits.” As it stands, a writer who publishes an awesome page-turner is paid the same per unit as someone who publishes a book unfit for human consumption. Additionally, writers who publish longer works are paid the same as authors of short works.

Under this plan, the author of a riveting 120,000 word epic fantasy will be paid more than an author of a riveting 50,000 word short. Authors of works so boring it would peel the paint from the walls will get paid the same, no matter the length.

To Amazon’s credit, this is actually a very fair way of doing business with writers.

But this notion of being paid by the page is concerning. Yes, it is all well and good when this “experiment” is part of a small slice of the Amazon publishing model, but what if this expands? What if the test “works so well” that it becomes part of the overall publishing model? In ten years, how will we be making our money? Off books sold? Pages read? A combination of both? Is this good or bad? I don’t know.

But, no matter what, we are wise to pay close attention. It is our future on the line.

Separating the Slush

I can see one major benefit from this notion of “paid by the page.” I think it might be the ultimate playing field leveler. Why? One of the largest problems that has faced the Digital Publishing Paradigm is the slush. In the traditional model, we had gatekeepers to separate “good books” from “bad books” or even simply delay “books that needed more work and weren’t ready”.

In the past few years, the slush pile has been offloaded to the readers. To combat this, we’ve seen the rise of sites like Goodreads to help guide readers to the good stuff. Book reviews and book reviewers have also tried to intervene. Yet, despite these noble efforts, we have also seen book reviews grossly abused (I.e. sock puppets inflating bad books and trolls tanking good books). We’ve also witnessed all kinds of algorithm abuse.

If we trace the trajectory of this idea, how long will potential readers rely on reviews? If I were Amazon, I would start promoting works based of rates of completion. Could we be witnessing the birth of an entirely new form of ranking?

My book has a 87% rate of completion instead of My book was #1 in Western Romance.

If we (readers) can judge off rate of completion, this could change everything. Sure Big Shot Mega Author with a gajillion-dollar marketing budget sold X books, but the book only had a 34% rate of completion. But Jane Newbie who has thus far only sold Y amount of books and has only her social media for marketing has a 97% rate of completion. Hmmm, this might impact my decision.

Ugh, but the dark side of this…

If rate of completion extends into BOOKS SOLD (not just borrowed) as a way of accurate promotion, how long until the world can see that no one made it past Page 50 of our book? Before, we simply had to sell copies of our book. Now? We also have to face another layer of judgement?

I mean, the good side is that trolls and sock puppets will no longer impact us the same and if we write really good books we are rewarded, but am I the only one feeling the need for a drink pressure?

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

The Writing Matters No Matter What

This is why for eight years I have worked very hard to train you guys for success in the new age of publishing. In the 21st century publishing world, we must have a brand and a viable platform. But, we also must write excellent books. It is why I have blogged and taught on all aspects of publishing. Social media is limited in power if the book is weak and vice versa. Our writing remains our greatest sales tool.

This first five pages are essential (and now it seems the rest of them are about to be PRETTY important as well).

As an editor, I can almost always tell all that is wrong in a book in 20 pages or less. Usually, within 5 pages I can spot all weaknesses and bad habits that are likely to repeat throughout the work.

I really don’t need to read the whole thing.

For instance, if a writer shifts P.O.V. so much I can’t keep up with who’s head I am supposed to be in? I am fairly sure this is going to continue. If a writer overwrites and drowns me in purple prose? Probably not going to start writing lean and clean after page 25. And, there are more red flags the book is weak, but we aren’t talking about those today. I HIGHLY recommend Les Edgerton’s book Hooked and I am also about to teach my First Five Pages class if you want some more hands-on instruction.

This is also why I have spent so much time discussing flashbacks lately and how to use them well. I know they are a legitimate literary device. I know they can be done well and are done wellBut, I also know that flashbacks used poorly are probably the single greatest reason a reader will stop reading. And, in a world where we are paid by the page? That becomes more than a big deal.

We will continue talking about “bending time” next post. We are going to explore non-linear plotting. My problem with the term “flashback” is we tend to use it to broadly and lump every instance of going back in time into one term. So we are going to unpack some works that seem to “flashback” all over the place, but we will see they really don’t. We will dissect this unique way of delivering story.

In the meantime, does this “paid by the page” freak you out too? Or do you think this might be the great playing field leveler we have all been waiting for? Sure, Big Shot Writer sold X books, but only has a 25% completion rate, where as Small Guy Writer sold fewer books, but has a 90% completion rate? Would this influence your purchasing?

Do you like the idea of being paid by the page? Do you think it rewards good writing? Do you think it is one more reason writers are going to need therapy?

I think it’s hard enough selling copies of books, but if I saw that those who bought only made it 50% through? It probably would depress me, but maybe I could look at the book more closely and fix WHY people weren’t finishing. Maybe it would be the world’s most accurate critique. Maybe I would be grateful. And maybe I am a Chinese jet pilot.

What do you think? This revelation is so new, I am unsure even what I think, so I would appreciate your opinions.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

Classes:

Before we go, y’all asked for it so here goes. I have two classes coming up. The class on log-lines Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line is $35 and as a BONUS, the first ten sign-ups get to be victims. IF YOU ARE QUERYING AN AGENT, YOU NEED A PITCH. I will pull apart and torture your log-line until it is agent-ready for FREE. 

Beyond the first ten folks? We will work out something super affordable as a bonus for being in the class so don’t fret. I’ll take good care of you. AND, it is two hours and on a Saturday (June 27th) and recorded so no excuses😛 .

I am also running Hooking the Reader–Your First Five Pages.  Class is on June 30th so let’s make Tuesdays interesting. General Admission is $40 and Gold Level is $55 but with Gold Level, you get the class, the recording and I look at your first five and give detailed edit.

Our first five pages are essential for trying to attract an agent or even selling BOOKS. Readers give us a page…maybe five. Can we hook them enough to part with cold hard CASH? Also, I can generally tell all bad habits in 5 pages so probably can save you a ton in content edit.

 

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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110 Comments

Going Pro—Earning Rhino Skin & Learning Which Opinions Matter

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I heard somewhere that, statistically speaking, 10% of people will simply not like us, no matter what we do or how much we try. Whenever we decide to do something remarkable or even just different, this is when we’re most likely to encounter push-back.

Also, if we enjoy any measure of success or achievement, expect to be knifed. This is reality. We cannot control others, only ourselves and how we respond and what we choose to internalize. As writers, we’ll experience this with friends, family and even strangers.

Ah, strangers…

If I met someone and told them I was an HR manager, most people likely wouldn’t reply, “No I meant, what is your real job?”

I wouldn’t have to give a resume of all my accomplishments and proof I made money as an HR manager or even a roster of how many people I had in my charge. Yet, no one seems to find this type of behavior rude to do to creative professionals.

Sometimes it’s more than a little hard not to take it personally. But roll with it. Will save wrinkles😉 .

Yet, I will say this kind of disrespect can derail us when we’re new, so we must learn to IGNORE IT. Maybe others won’t tell you this, but I will. I believe in you. You’re not Schrodinger’s Writer. You exist.

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Write words? You are a writer NOT an “aspiring writer.” Aspiring is for pansies. It takes guts to do this job. Feel free to be a pre-published writer, but leave aspiring to the amateurs where it belongs.

Doctors begin as pre-med and lawyers start out as pre-law. They aren’t aspiring doctors and aspiring lawyers so I recommend deleting that word from your lexicon. Ignore these toxic “opinions.”

Also? Blog any amount of time and someone will call you an idiot. I guarantee it. They will have all kinds of Monday Morning Quarterback opinions, but they often hide behind cutesy monikers and avatars and don’t have the stones to have their OWN blog.

Why? Because being critical is way easier than doing.

There are all kinds of theories as to why humans act or react the way they do, but truth is? I don’t really care. Bluntness is my superpower. I don’t care and most times? You shouldn’t either.

I feel there are some things we’ve been taught in the past twenty or thirty years that’s just plain bunk. If we believe these “truths”? Just save up for therapy.

Every Opinion is Valid

Meme from Facebook

Nope. Sorry. Not all opinions are valid. Yes, people have a right to an opinion, but they also have a right to be wrong. Learning to separate out junk and ignore it is going to help you (and me) maintain peace when criticism comes our way. Discernment is critical.

My mom and I often talk about how stories we gravitated to as children are very telling about our character weaknesses/struggles.

My favorite was Old Man Wicket’s Donkey. The poor old man sets out with his grandson, a donkey and a load of grain. Everyone they encounter on the road has an opinion and Wicket tries to accommodate.

You terrible man. How can you let the boy walk when there is a donkey he could ride?

You dreadful, selfish man. How can you load that poor donkey with all that grain and a boy? The boy can walk!

And on and on and by the end of the story, they are all in the river, the grain lost, and the donkey drowns. By trying to please everyone, Wicket lost everything. He (and the poor donkey) paid the consequences for the decision, not every stranger with an opinion. For them? Opinions are free.

Sometimes, we just have to draw a line and if people don’t like our decision? They can get over it.

Understand sometimes others might not have enough information, the wrong information, sun spots frying their critical thinking. Who knows? Who cares? They might even have kind or noble intentions. But we’re the ones left with a dead donkey for listening to too many voices.

Every Opinion has Authority

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Again? Nope. Some people are not only wrong, but they don’t have a say. I know we live in this touchy-feely world where we’re all friends and peers but that’s a ticket to Crazyville. One of the reasons I quit running a free on-line novel workshop is I spent too much time defending my lessons and critiques against newbies.

I had people who begged and pleaded and got on waiting lists to be in my class…just to argue with me non-freaking-stop in front of others. They’d been in the writing world all of a minute when I’d spent ten years in the field. It was exhausting for me and demoralizing for others in the class.

Looking back? I shouldn’t have indulged this behavior.

I never mind questions. I LOVE teaching the whys behind my methods and new people often think of things I don’t. I learn from everyone. I believe most professionals are open and even excited to share more details.

But that’s wholly different than some neophyte being disrespectful, challenging a professional’s competency in front of others, and refusing to listen and take instructions because we’re all pals. I’ve experienced this poor behavior on the blog, in the workplace, writing groups, family, and even martial arts.

Nothing like a white belt standing there and correcting an upper belt. Le sigh. Most of my injuries in martial arts came from White Belt Know-It-Alls who believed they could correct/ignore me in Jiu-Jitsu (because they once took Tae Kwon Do for a month).

Um, no. And I was the one with the torn rotator cuff, not the noob who didn’t want to listen to how to do a throw properly.

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I learned eventually to stop this early with a boundary. If someone is reckless in the dojo and won’t listen? I won’t work/spar with them.

As a current two-stripe white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I know my place. If I have a question or don’t understand something, I respect Coach’s instruction and don’t argue because, “I watched a YouTube video that said…”

No.

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Thing is, some people just don’t get a vote and they shouldn’t get one. There are places even MY opinions are better kept to myself.

One of my greatest vexations in the business/writing world has been dealing with people who go to just anyone for an opinion. This erodes confidence and creates confusion.

If I write romance, it is unwise to get a middle-aged male who likes techno-thrillers to beta read. He isn’t my market. If he doesn’t like it? Fine. But don’t go rewrite the book because one person made a constipated face. This person’s opinion shouldn’t have the same authority as a respected beta reader who’s a middle-aged female and huge fan of love stories.

I had family members who felt the need to give an opinion about me leaving sales and becoming a writer. People who hadn’t talked to me five times since childhood. Really? Just…reallyO_o .

Okay, when we’re finished talking about my career path, we’re going to have a little chat about your relationship record and child-rearing.

Or not.

Know WHO You Are

My favorite quote is, “Tigers do not lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.” People have opinions. A lot feel the need to share them. Go team! But we don’t have to listen and take these opinions to heart. We can consider the source.

Sometimes criticism or critique is valid, but it can also be manipulation and gas-lighting with a bow. A big red flag is when others don’t address a specific behavior, they’re content to condemn you (or me) as a person. When I was in my 20s and even 30s I used to play these Reindeer Games.

No mas.

Well, people don’t like you because you talk too much.

So I’d be quiet.

Well, people don’t like you because you don’t talk enough. They think you’re a snob.

Oh-kay.

Well, you really just need to watch your topics of conversation. You’re offending people.

Apparently not enough for them to come to me in person. Which people? Which topics?

Well, I don’t want to say. Just be careful what you talk about.

I’m gonna go back to the “not talking” thing.

People don’t like you.

Why? What am I doing? What can I change?

Well, just try harder so others will like you. 

Okay.

People don’t like you because you just try too hard.

I give up.

The mark of a secure person is we don’t need to be surrounded by yes-men and drones. But just because we are open to opinions, doesn’t mean they all should get equal weight.

When it comes to doing this writing thing, we cannot listen to everyone. When we do, we end up with a Book-by-Committee, Blog-by-Committee, Career-by-Committee, etc. And, last time I checked, committees are generally known for just mucking things up.

Sometimes life calls for a benevolent dictatorship😉 .

Yes, you likely will fail. If we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting. I fail. I fail a lot because I try a lot of new things others are too chicken to attempt. Own it. Be proud of it. Show me someone who’s never failed and I’ll show you someone who never did anything remarkable.

Rhino skin is earned by trials and we won’t last long in the world without it.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Guard your dreams and your heart. Be fierce. Set boundaries. Let go of the toxic stuff to make room for the good stuff, the stuff with merit.

What are your thoughts? Have you encountered this nonsense in the writing world or even maybe the workplace? Do you have family, friends or even strangers who’ve crossed a line? Do you find it hard to ignore wrong or bad opinions? Have you dealt with opinions that corroded your confidence and made you second-guess?

Do you have a litmus test for what opinions and ideas are worth time and mental energy? Have you felt torn apart by conflicting advice? Maybe even dealt with the “no one likes you” maneuver?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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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89 Comments

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