Author Business 101: Books, Brand & Buds
Publishing is a business, and—SURPRISE—so is being an author. By definition, anyone who decides to go pro is automatically an author business. ‘Business’ is what separates the hobbyists, dabblers, amateurs and wanna-be’s from true professionals.
I can already hear the great gnashing of teeth. Calm down. *hands paper bag* Breathe.
One of the main reasons emerging writers fail to see any fruits from all their efforts is a lack of foundational knowledge. What does the author business actually entail?
Not nearly as much as one might be led to believe, which we talked about in my last post What Chef Ramsay Would Say About Writing.
Think LIKE a BUSINESS
When we add the word business to author our thinking shifts. To succeed in business it’s critical to first define it (known as a mission statement). What IS our business, and what does it DO?
Writers need to do the same. What kind of author do we want to be? It matters. As we mentioned last time, Louis L’amore had a very different operational tempo than Michael Crichton. So decide. It isn’t set in stone. We can change our minds, so relax 🙂 .
Suffice to say too many authors (I’m guilty too) get mission drift because we fail to focus and keep this SIMPLE.
These days it’s easy for emerging writers (actually all writers) to become confused and overwhelmed. Why? Digital age authors now have the ability to perform roles that were off-limits before Web 2.0.
Yet, just because we CAN perform these roles doesn’t automatically mean we MUST.
Feel free to learn formatting and cover design. Want to become a mega-marketer/promoter? Go for it. Is this all essential? Nope. All we need are the Three Bs—Books, Brand and Buds. Focus on these THREE first because all that extra stuff is a waste of time and resources without the Trinity of Success.
Fortune Favors the Prepared Not the Perfect
No matter what business we’re in—including the author business—education is critical. A quick caveat, though. We don’t need to know every single last little bit of everything before acting.
There’s a fine balance between diving head-first into a lake without testing if the water’s only three feet deep versus believing we need to map the world’s oceans before ever learning to swim.
A happy medium is all good.
Be wary of any expert who gives you a panic attack with all the stuff you ‘must know’ or ‘must do’ to succeed.
Any ‘expert’ who tells you (especially as a beginner) that the author business is so vastly labyrinthine we can’t possibly comprehend it has an agenda. Yes, there will come a point where there is far too much for us to manage (complexity)…which is why God created editors, and literary and film agents.
My training company offers classes from top professionals on the finer points of this business, but nothing we teach will work without the BIG THREE B’s—books, brand and buds.
All businesses have a service or a product. As authors, our products are BOOKS. Not spam. Please leave that to Hormel.
Our top priority is to write great stories people want to pay to read. That is all. Start simple. Every mega-author-success started SIMPLE. Begin with a great story and simple goal.
Began with a goal of writing young adult fantasy fiction with a boy as her core protagonist. At the time, this was crazy talk! Boys didn’t read books. Girls did. Yet, Rowling stuck to her core simple goal and look at what Harry Potter eventually evolved into.
She didn’t begin with a detailed plan for merchandising, fan fiction, and sketches for a theme park at Universal Studios. This all evolved from something inherently simple—the saga of a boy who was really a wizard.
For a more recent example, let’s look at Weir. After a string of failures and meh writing successes playing by the ‘rules’ Weir figured he had nothing to lose being different. His goal? Write a hard science book on his blog about an astronaut stranded on Mars. Then? Crowd-source experts for accuracy.
Every agent would have told him this was a dumb use of time and he’d never get a book deal. No reader would buy a book already posted for free on a blog.
Andy didn’t care and pressed on with a story and idea he was passionate about, and The Martian broke all the rules and the records (the book and the movie).
Brand is also super simple and you can do it yourself. In fact, ONLY you CAN do it. We’re in an age of authenticity, so outsource and pay people to ‘be you’ at your own peril. That’s called…cat-fishing.
Which just ticks people off.
Branding is not complicated. A brand is simply what comes to mind (impressions/emotions) at the mention of a name.
When I mention Tiffany’s no one thinks coupons and deep discounts. It evokes a specific color, the iconic Tiffany blue box with a white bow. Luxury, indulgence, special.
What about Walmart? Starbuck’s? Levis? Apple? Porsche? All these businesses and products evoke images and emotions. Celebrities are a brand. Samuel L. Jackson conjures up a very different impression/emotional response than Amy Pohler.
We Are the Brand
In life, all people have a personal brand—the jock, the tech geek, history buff, gym rat, Pinterest mom, etc. These will also come tethered to emotional impressions which can be good, bad or neutral.
We humans label people based on behavior/impressions. Maybe this is unfair, but fair is a weather condition.
There are people in life and on-line we can count on to make us smile, to laugh, to encourage, inspire, uplift, and generally make our day just a bit better.
Then there are those who are high-maintenance, manipulative, hotheaded, depressing, critical or nonstop complainers. They use the term ‘spreading awareness’ when we all know they’re really spreading poison. We don’t like these people in life OR on-line.
The only difference in a personal brand and an author brand is our name eventually should become a bankable asset driving book sales.
People won’t remember what we said, but WILL remember how we made them feel. Everyone has an off day but what are we consistently putting out there? When someone says our name, do others smile or reach for antacids? What is their experience?
Brand CAN Make or Break Us
Businesses are very careful about product and brand. A restaurant can have the most amazing food in the world, but if the experience/impression is a disaster, the restaurant as business is doomed.
In this post from a couple years ago, I relayed my experience at a hot NYC restaurant, owned and operated by a chef who’d won Iron Chef. We were stoked to eat at this place and called ahead for reservations and to make sure they could accommodate my food allergies (which they assured they could).
Problem was, this world-class chef forgot the business of his business. Yes, his food was ‘art’ but ultimately his job was to feed the people who showed up to fork over $300 to eat. He was charging those high prices not only for superlative cuisine…but for an incredible experience.
This chef refused to serve me just a steak with vegetables and kept instructing the waitress to push parsnip soup on me.
Because removing the potatoes (loaded with dairy I was allergic to) ‘….ruined the aesthetic balance of the plate.’
It was only after this hungry and highly pissed off Texan threatened to ruin the aesthetic balance of a pretentious chef …that I got my steak (probably dropped on the floor but I didn’t care because I was famished).
A year later when I returned to NYC, that restaurant was gone. The steak? Forgettable. A chef refusing to accommodate severe allergies because it impacted how the plating LOOKED? Killed his restaurant, his brand and his dream.
Takeaway here is that the book business is not about us, and ALWAYS about the reader. Feel free to never get on social media or talk to anyone. But how do you feel about people who never engage with you until they want something? 😉
Also, feel free to rant and rave and spout whatever on-line, but again, that’s placing ego over experience. Thus, if we use our on-line followers as a meat-shield for all that ticks us off…we should not be shocked when patrons ‘dine’ elsewhere 😉 .
Why Social Media?
Books used to be the strongest part of an author brand because there was no social media. Ah, but here’s where it can get sticky. Savvy authors are constantly engaging on-line and in person. Interaction with us ideally becomes a regular part of our fans’ days…which can eventually become a stronger component of our brand than the book.
Marketing and ads (alone) don’t sell books. Never have and never will. Word-of-mouth is what sells books, thus the idea of not engaging on-line is pretty much career suicide.
Readers of today discover who and what they love on-line and they’re far more likely to buy from authors they know and like. And, cumulatively, they’re spending a LOT more time with authors on-line than in the 12-15 hours required to read a novel.
Food for thought 😉 .
Even though I firmly believe the small, independent brick-and-mortar is making a MAJOR comeback, algorithms will be a critical determining factor of which books (authors) grace the shelves.
Bookstores need to SELL books to pay for overhead and make a profit. SHOCKING FACT: Bookstores will order boxes of a mediocre novel with a passionate fan base (and strong on-line sales) over a novel so glorious angels sing…only no one’s ever heard of the book (or the author).
If a book isn’t selling on-line, why would a bookstore risk shelving it? They won’t because it’s bad business.
Author Platform—A.K.A. ‘Buds’
True, novels are powerful for a brand (which is why we need an excellent product), but times are a changing. The reader of the digital age is far more likely to factor in how they feel about the author as a person before making a purchase. This is why platforms are vital to success.
What is a platform? Buds. Buddies, peeps, followers, fans, devotees, and friends. Real ones. Yes, it takes some time, but true fans/followers/friends are GOLD and worth every minute we invest in them.
True on-line friends are positively evangelical about our blogs and books. I’d take five hundred devotees over five-hundred-thousand purchased followers who don’t give a hoot.
You Be YOU
You be you…unless you’re a jerk. Then my advice is to fake it until you’re no longer a jerk. I had to, which I relayed in my Confessions of a Recovering Jerk. Social media forced me to learn emotional discipline, discernment, and revealed I was not a very nice person. Over time, my habits changed and with steady practice, eventually I changed.
This said, keep it simple.
The brand is simply YOU (and you’re more than a writer, FYI so talk about something other than writing, please). Social media is social, like a party. Just be present, be fun and be cool.
Yep, that’s pretty much it. Create a relationship. Talk to people. Give, listen, be interested in others. #MindBlown
Humans gravitate to authenticity…just don’t get crazy. It’s okay to have a rough day but followers a) don’t want to be regularly depressed b) dragged into needless drama and c) we aren’t stupid. We can spot manipulation and it ticks us off.
I’m cleaning up my Facebook friends. If you can see this, type in the comments how we met.
I bet no one will give this post even ONE share.
I can’t believe you would say that. You know who you are O_o. Just unfriend me.
The hell? What is this? Sixth grade?
We don’t like Vague-Booking, drama or having to jump through hoops. Authors who are that high-maintenance and we’ve not even MET in PERSON? Buh-bye.
Conversely, don’t feel the need to be super happy all the time. Followers don’t like Pod People fakes either. Folks who are constantly #blessed #blessedlife #keepingitreal #blessedandreal #reallyblessed. We see through it, which is why we are #gone #unfriending #RollingEyes #FeelingGagReflex.
Keeping It Real & Special
Contrary to what some ‘experts’ might proclaim, it’s unnecessary to be everywhere all the time. We can’t do this and also write excellent books. Social media omnipresence is the sloping road to hell. Being everywhere all the time inevitably requires automation to remain sane and also have time to write BOOKS.
Problem is, who wants to eat spam? I don’t. Why would I shovel that garbage onto my fans? I’m not on Twitter to be blasted with ads. If I want to gorge on unwanted spam I can open my Yahoo mail.
I know some people will defend automation to the death. Fine. Opinions vary. Yet, I find the same people with five Twitter identities barking out the same messages want to take MY time and attention, but rarely give of theirs.
Hmmm, once dated that guy in college. Wasn’t fun then either.
This goes for books, too. Other ‘experts’ claim we need to publish a book a month or a novella and have a newsletter and be on every social site and blog every day and get a book blurb and contests and guest posts and run promotions….
This reminds me of an old Country & Western song: How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go AWAY?
Books, brand and buds. Just because this is simple doesn’t mean it is easy. Writing novels readers want to pay retail for is hard work. Being on-line and engaging regularly requires discipline and robots cannot do it for us.
We can do a little a day, consistently and it all adds up.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Does this help the idea of the author as business seem more doable? For me, three BIG ideas to keep track of help keep me grounded. Trends and fads are exhausting. Great stories, fun and friends are ALWAYS popular. Publishing might change daily but humans don’t. So share those funny memes and cat videos because YES it is great for positive branding 😉 .
I love hearing from you and am not above bribery!
What do you WIN? For the month of JANUARY, for 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).
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST
Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.
There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.
This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?
We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:
- The Product
- Types of Publishing
- Platform and Brand
- Marketing and Promotion
- Making Money
- Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus
A recording of this class is also included with purchase.
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $99.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?
Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.
Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.
- Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
- Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
- Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
- Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
- Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
- Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
- How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)
Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.
The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!
Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.
BOTH classes for $129 (Save $25). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.