Author Nightmares–Product Trumps Promotion
Welcome to WANA Wednesday, the day I dedicate to teaching you guys how to rock it hard when it comes to social media and is based off my best-selling book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. My methods not only help you build a platform that can grow with your career, but they also leave time to write more books.
Speaking of writing more books, today I want to make something clear. I have always stated that I am a writer first, social media expert second. Why is that? Because the product is the most important. No social media platform can help us if our product is crap.
This past weekend I taught at the DFW Writers Workshop Conference, and I happened to sit in on a class with Colleen Lindsay who works in the business development department for Penguin Group (USA). She said something that really caught my attention, and, I must admit, she convicted me.
Blogging is probably THE best way to build a platform, but we must always be vigilant that it does not take over our main job…writing books. Blogging is instant gratification, whereas a novel or even a NF book might not give us warm fuzzies for months or even years. It is very easy to get so focused on the blogging, that the real writing never happens.
I love to watch Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, and have used his show as a parallel for the world of writing in numerous blogs. Every episode begins the same. A new restaurateur sits eagerly awaiting the great Chef Ramsay. Keep in mind that this restaurateur is only on the show in the first place because he sits on the verge of losing everything—business, house, car, kidneys, etc.
Most restaurant owners who participate have waited until the situation is so dire that Vinnie the Crowbar is only kept at bay because of the presence of Gordon’s camera crew. Gordon is there to sample the food, take a look around. Once he has enough information. Gordon then offers his professional opinion and a plan to turn things around (if that is even possible).
I’ve watched at least eight seasons of shows and almost every time, the problem is simple. The food sucks. No matter how pretty the décor or how clever the promotionals, all that matters in the end is good food. Not rocket science. Yet, time after time, Chef Ramsay discovers the chefs are serving frozen, old and even rotten food.
The owners have no idea why the dining room is empty, no clue that it might have to do with the spoiled crab and rancid chicken they are serving the customers. In 50 or so episodes I cannot recall a single episode where the restaurant was serving quality food. The problem always came back to the core…the food.
Good news spreads fast, but bad news spreads faster. Same with our books. This past weekend, one of my favorite quotes was from PR expert Rusty Shelton. He said, “Social media helps bad books fail faster.” One of the biggest reasons I blog about writing on Monday, is that the single best thing we can do for our image and to sell books is to write great stuff. That simple. No magic formula.
The best thing we can all do for our social media platform is to focus on the product—our writing—FIRST. Everything else is a supporting goal.
But back to blogging. Blogging is a two-edged sword. To a degree we need a little instant gratification. It keeps us encouraged and makes us work harder. It could be years before we get any sense of fulfillment from our novel. It is hard to stay on track without a little boost, and blogging is definitely good for that. We get rewarded almost instantly for good behavior, and blogging offers the validation and the encouragement we need.
Blogging can be masking our fear. I love to blog. You guys are the highlight of my day and you have no idea how your comments uplift my spirit. Yet, I have to make a deliberate effort to get back to the writing you guys can’t see (yet). Since I don’t get that instant validation on the other work, it is easy to become fearful of failure and use blogging as busy-work. I can be “productive” without being productive.
In Kitchen Nightmares it is very common for Gordon Ramsay to inspect the walk-in refrigerators and find something out of a horror movie—buckets of decaying meat and crates of vegetables that have rotted to ooze. In some cases, I find it amazing these establishments haven’t killed their customers.
Yet, despite the hot zone in the fridge, the owner is ordering more and more and more food. Crates of fresh food are perched on top of the putrid slime that once was chicken. Why? Because the owner is so afraid and so overwhelmed that all he knows to do is order more food. He is throwing away thousands of dollars to “feel” productive, and is too overwhelmed and terrified to get to the heart of the problem.
Blogging, if we aren’t careful, can be our way of throwing fresh food on top of rotten product. Writing is scary. Admitting we don’t know everything or even facing that we might not be as talented as our family thinks we are can be terrifying. But in the end, if we want to succeed at this writing thing, then the tough work must be done. We have to get rid of the rotten—the bad habits, the info dump, the POV problems—and that will take hard work.
Sometimes it will even require professional help. Ramsay has had restaurants with kitchens and refrigerators so filthy that he had to call in professional cleaning crews to handle the bio-hazards correctly. The owner was so overwhelmed that he simply could not dig himself out.
Our first novel might be that bad. Hey, we’re learning! I know my first novel (years ago) required professionals to properly dispose of the remains. My book just couldn’t be saved, and there I was, putting a halt to my writing future by holding on to something rotten.
I would love everyone to blog. I love blogs. But I want to make it clear that it is easier to be a great blogger if our bad novel isn’t clawing at the inside of our computer screen trying to escape and bite others.
Blogging can be a short-term high that can sabotage long-term success. There are few things that will make you feel better about your career than watching your following grow on your blog. But the point of all of this social media stuff is to eventually sell our books. Otherwise we are working for free and then we are right back where we started. We are hobbyists and not true professionals.
In the end, this is a tough job. There are many, many reasons this career is not for everyone. We are much like the restaurant owner. We must focus on content that is fresh, new, inviting and tasty. But, until we are an established name, good food will only take us so far. We need to market as well. It will take years of producing a great product (books) balanced with great marketing to give us a reputation that needs no introduction.
What do you guys think? Do you find your blogging distracting or does it help you focus? What are some things you struggle with? Tips? Suggestions? I love to hear from you. Here is a quick clip of Gordon at work. If you have a weak stomach, don’t watch. But think of this video every time you try to put off those edits ;). Details on how to win a free critique from moi below.
I love hearing from you guys, and to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end on March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Mash-Up of Awesomeness will resume next Wednesday.
Until next time…
In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.