Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: author business

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

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

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

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.

Author Product—Books

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

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.

J.K. Rowling

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.

Andy Weir

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).

Author Business—Brand 

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

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

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

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

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

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.

Why?

Because removing the potatoes (loaded with dairy I was allergic to) ‘….ruined the aesthetic balance of the plate.’

Actual quote.

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?

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

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’

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

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

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

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

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

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?

See? SIMPLE

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).

CLASSES!

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

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
  • Agents/Editors
  • 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.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

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.

Topics include:

  • 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.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

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.

Too many choices!
Too many choices!

We’ve had an eventful week or so with my last couple of unplanned posts. In all fairness, I did expect to get some knickers in a twist (which I did) with my post Pay the Writer. As a quick recap, I love used bookstores. They get a lot more of my money than I like to admit *looks up number to 12 Step Sponsor*

You don’t understand. Half Price Books has books ZEN DOODLES. No frigging idea what those are…just that I need some.

I’m not against “discovering” an author there.

But writers? If we promote used bookstores, make sure to remind readers you don’t get paid that way. Discovery must serve a purpose. Exposure must have the follow-up to be effective.

Because if you don’t ever make any money, you have to go work retail. If you work retail, one day you will be asked one too many stupid questions. When you’re asked one too many stupid questions you snap. When you snap, you lose your job. When you lose your job, you can’t face your spouse. When you can’t face your spouse, you sell drugs for the cartel. When you sell drugs for the cartel, you get involved in a gunfight.

Don’t get involved in a gunfight for the cartel. Encourage readers to buy new if they LIKED it.

Readers, if you find a book you LOVE at that church thrift sale for 50 cents? ROCK ON! If you want MORE books like it? Try to buy new. That’s how capitalism works.

When no one buys new? Well go peruse pictures of Cuba.

By the way, if we buy NEW, the used bookstores make MONEY when we sell those suckers to fund our addiction. So anyone who is foolish enough to think that me encouraging people to buy new books is going to undermine the used book franchise doesn’t remember what used bookstores sell.

The Truth About Samples

Mmmmm…saaaaamples.
Mmmmm…saaaaamples.

Yes, I get that the used book is a sample. Just like at Costco they give out samples of pizza bites. But if no one ever BUYS pizza bites and instead use Pizza Bite Lady as a free buffet?

Pizza bites go away and tofurkey bites take their place and then the terrorists win.

*runs away from vegan friends*

That was the only point to the post that seemed to cause so much offense. Yes Mr. Konrath, I get NO ONE OWES the Pizza Bite Company writer anything, but still nothing wrong with the Pizza Bite Company writer asking for the sale.

When the Pizza Bite Company asks for a sale after we’ve laid waste to the sample table like an Old Testament plague? They’re selling not whining.

Nothing dirty about it when pizza bites sell stuff. Nothing dirty when writers sell stuff either 😉 .

Today we’re going to talk about reviews, because I do think that was the big shocker from my last post. I believe most folks have come to mistakenly assume that reviews are kind of this “extra” nicety that isn’t directly relevant to the author beyond ego and that’s patently false especially in the digital age where we writers live and die by algorithms.

Yes, in the digital age, our biggest challenge is discoverability. The defenders of the used bookstore have an excellent point. Obscurity=DEATH. That IS true. But I still say, discoverability means nothing to writers (or any business) without an eventual sale…somewhere.

And for those of you who are on that limited budget who inhale books by the dozen? You have no idea how much power you wield to truly help the writers you love but hopefully you are about to find out.

***Note I said the writers you love. Not ALL writerKIND. Just because I write a book does not entitle me to any review beyond what I EARN.

Why Reviews Are So Essential

Sheer Visibility

We’re all spoiled by Web 2.0 which is a user-generated web that is the offspring of the implosion of the doc.coms in the early 2000s. If you recall the 90s, web content was static. Content was mostly generated by sweaty geeks living in their grandmother’s basement (Okay, I was in a guest room). Anything Internet-related might as well have been Sanskrit for the average person.

Now? Everyone contributes to the web including  my sidekick Odin the Ridiculously Handsome Cat.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 7.45.13 PM

This is part of what makes the Internet so damn addictive and fun. Everyone contributes. But, with all this content, the web is a BIG place and it’s very dynamic.

Search engines use algorithms to keep everything organized. Algorithms in turn rely on certain favorable behaviors.

I teach this in my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. You want a website that gets more traffic? Blog off it! Want a blog that gets more traffic? Do the stuff search engines love. One thing search engines LOVE?

Fresh content.

Would you want a Coke that had been sitting out for days? It’s stagnant, flat…got floaties? Guess what? You and search engines have a lot in common. You like fresh stuff. So do search engines.

This is why regular reviews are very important. If my book hasn’t been reviewed on Amazon since 2013? Algorithms will figure my content is best ignored unless someone actively hunts for that molded cup of forgotten Coca Cola my book.

When a book is reviewed, however, Amazon (or Goodreads or wherever we review because they use the same basic programming) perks to life. Because any site that sells or recommends books wants to help guide customers to good/new content, it’s obviously going to favor the “happening” place.

Think of it this way.

You have out of town guests. Are you going to recommend they go hang out at that dive off the highway where the bartender is about to die from loneliness? Or that hot salsa club downtown with a line out the door?

Visibility & One-Click Shopping

When that review improves the algorithms, the algorithm then starts improving that book’s visibility. It shuffles that book out of the dusty back realms of Nowhereville and gets it in the sightline of a possible buyer. Why this is perhaps more valuable on-line is that Amazon (in particular) understands sales.

Why I’m not a fan of the “exposure” alone is that I come from a background in sales.

There’s this thing called inertia and it’s a bugger to overcome. When I worked in jewelry, if I let a person out of the store without making the sale? Odds we’re 99% that sale was as good as lost. It was better to sell something and make the person have to RETURN it because then inertia worked in MY favor.

Same with used books. Great, customer gets a good book, but most of the time? That’s just not going to translate into a new sale unless an outside factor intervenes.

Outside Factor #1—OMG! TAKE MY MONEY!

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

OMG! I SAW ANGELS! I MUST BUY! It happens.

All of us (writers) think we have written this book. Probably not. We keep at it though until we do.

Outside Factor #2—Consumers Voting With Purchases

We vote with consumer dollars all the time and often this is sparked when we are educated that we need to buy differently. Don’t believe me?

I’m highly allergic to gluten and have been all my life. Three years ago most people thought Gluten was a moon orbiting Pluto. Then writers started educating consumers about the food industry. Our food had gotten to where you needed a degree in organic chemistry to know what the hell was in it.

Consumers fought back.

They ignored cheap foods loaded in artificial ingredients and bought non-GMO, organic and gluten-free. As a consequence, prices dropped, selection improved and now General Mills has announced that this year it will be removing artificial ingredients from many of its most popular products.

I can…OMG…eat Cheerios again! *SOBS* Spawn can eat them!

Image vie Cheerios. WE LOVE YOU!!! Even though you are stuck to every piece of furniture I OWN! http://www.cheerios.com/GlutenFree/
Image vie Cheerios. WE LOVE YOU!!! Even though you are stuck to every piece of furniture I OWN!
http://www.cheerios.com/GlutenFree/

THAT is the power of educating consumers. Readers have the exact same power. Now that people know how writers they love make money, buying habits may be altered due to this factor and inertia overcome.

Hooked on a series from a used book? Perhaps buy the next one new.

Outside Factor #3—Our Nemesis, THE IMPULSE BUY

Most of the time price and seeing a new copy while shopping will spark a sale.

The main reason Amazon IS the new SkyNet is they’ve mastered the one-click impulse buy.

So when that algorithm shuffles your favorite author’s book into the sightline of other potential readers? Odds greatly improve that someone will impulse buy. More sales means that author’s odds of continuing to write more books like the one YOU liked have greatly improved.

How Else Do We Authors Improve?

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Peter Dutton
Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Peter Dutton

Believe it or not? Writers are omniscient…only in our fictional worlds. We just can’t know unless you tell us.

For the fiction writers, if ten people say our characters need more depth, then we won’t be wasting time doing more world-building. Feedback makes us better and saves us time.

And *draws a breath* I’m again about to possibly be unpopular.

We writers hear that you (readers) want excellent and professional covers, seamless interior design, professional editing, proofing and formatting…but that costs money. Please don’t rant that no one owes us a living and that you refuse to buy new books but then gripe about crappy covers.

We’re going to have to meet halfway.

Writers. We have a responsibility to put out the very BEST product possible. Refer to my post Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Writers.

Reviewers don’t owe us any review beyond what we earn and they shouldn’t pay for an inferior product.

The Deadly Silence

I think what’s killing many authors is that readers have come to believe that reviews are not important to us in any way beyond our ego or guiding other consumers (like reviewing a toaster).

Either readers will enjoy a book and never say anything, OR often they will say it in the “wrong” place.

I can’t count how many e-mails I get where a reader just gushes how my book changed their life. How awesome my book was. They loved it!

…then never write a review.

🙁

Reviewing Tips

Original image via Flickr Commons courtesy of Mark Coggins
Original image via Flickr Commons courtesy of Mark Coggins

It’s OKAY Not To Be a Pro

We’ve all made the book review WAY more complicated than necessary. Readers, you are not professional book reviewers and do NOT NEED TO BE. If a book kept you up until four in the morning and made you hate life as you slogged through your day job? Give it 4 or 5 stars and just write:

“Book kept me up until 4: 00 a.m. Writer is evil stealing sleep from innocent victims.”

If the book kept you interested and was fun and did its JOB? Reward it. Simple.

I know writers freak you out and you think we’re silently judging your prose. We’re actually too busy wetting ourselves that you liked our book and picking out artisan frames to put your review in….typos and all. They just make you extra adorable.

It’s all good.

Review According to the Book’s FUNCTION

Did the author do his/her job? If yes, great! Why was it great? If not? Why not?

If it’s brain candy then say, “Hey, great brain candy. Fun Saturday afternoon read.” Not all books are supposed to be contenders for the Pulitzer.

Recently I gave a good review to a NF but also left a criticism. The author had mission drift. He never delivered what the book promised (the THESIS). Now, I gave him four stars because I still got a lot out of it, learned a lot and enjoyed the writing…but he didn’t do his job. At least not all the way and he can’t do better unless I give feedback.

And I have the attention span of a meth-addicted ferret so if I finish a book? You get 4 stars just for that alone.

Kristen's Brain as acted by Spiffy the Hamster Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons
Kristen’s Brain as acted by Spiffy the Hamster
Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

NEVER Put Your Name on What You Don’t Believe In

This is to offer relief to reviewers. Don’t let writers guilt you and if they insist on guilting you, tell them you’re going to tell me *stern Mama face*.

You beloved reader, don’t owe us anything we don’t earn.

Yes, I want you to support writers with good reviews only because I do think a lot of you have enjoyed books and have never taken time to write a review because you simply didn’t understand how much they mattered. Beyond that?

You’re in the clear.

If you don’t want to write a review? Don’t. You don’t owe us anything.

If you’re a reader and choose to leave a bad review? All I ask is you remember a real breathing human is on the other side of that. A human who sacrificed many hours of free time for the sole purpose of wanting to bring YOU joy. 

If we failed, we failed. That’s fair. But, there’s a difference between giving us something we can work with to improve versus prompting us to contemplate suicide.

Writers, don’t guilt others into giving good reviews.

This is a big reason that it’s tough to get reviews. I hate to say it, but I’ve lost many “friendships” because I refused to write a stellar review on a piece that had not earned it. Pouting isn’t professional.

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons
Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

If you want to be paid, then you’re a pro but that comes with some hard knocks and sometimes that hard knock is the book sucked. I’m your colleague and will tell you in private.

Readers don’t owe you (or me) that courtesy.

Tips for Shopping

This is mainly for the readers.

Take One Star Reviews With a Grain of Salt

One of the reasons I am not a huge fan of Goodreads is that trolls tend to hang out there and GR has not done a lot protect authors from being abused. So, if you spot a book that suddenly has a weird cluster of one and two-star reviews and there is NO explanation? Could be troll-sign. Trolls also like to hide behind cutesy monikers and avatars (btw sock puppets do too).

Do NOT Be Spooked By All Good Reviews

I also heard a lot of people say they were suspicious if a book got all good reviews, but be careful.

If you see a gathering of all 4 & 5 stars and NO commentary, THEN be wary. That’s a good sign you have a cluster of sock puppets (fake reviews).

But if you’re looking at a book that’s getting mostly 4 and 5 stars and readers are detailing WHY, the book might just be THAT good and the writer earned those high marks. Don’t punish excellence.

For the writers.

DO NOT PAY FOR REVIEWS & DOWN WITH SOCK PUPPETS

Anyone who has a financial interest in reviewing our book already has a conflict of interest as far as I am concerned. Save your money.

One thing that has really burned my @$$ is authors banding together and reviewing each other’s books and that is all well and good if the reviews are genuine reviews. Sadly this has not always been the case. Being a sock puppet doesn’t help anyone.

It will wreck your friend’s brand and your brand because readers will lose confidence and colleagues will lose respect. I refuse to put my name on anything I don’t believe in. If I give a book a five star glowing review? It earned it.

Being a real friend is not easy. But I’d rather someone no longer hang out with me than I serve them up to the wolves on a platter with dipping sauce. In the digital age, we writers live and die by the value of our name.

Don’t let friends guilt you into reviews they haven’t earned. If they’re a real friend and a pro, they’ll  get over the hurt and thank you later.

I hope this has helped all of you better understand how reviews work in the digital age and maybe even taken some of the pressure to write The Great American Literary Review off your shoulders. Don’t let other writers give you a guilt trip. As I said, you can tattle on them to me 😛 . I’ll set them straight.

Does this help? Writers, don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed to ask for a sale. Now if you ask and they say no? Don’t be a pest.

Readers. Feel free to buy books any way and anywhere you want to, but please remember that we do vote with our dollars. That holds true for cars, pizza rolls, gluten-free bread and it holds true for good books.

For the savvy reviewers out there, are there any tips you’d like to add to help us out? Writers, I hope this is something you can reblog and share so your readers know how to help and support you if they so choose.

What are your thoughts? Feelings? Are your eyes wide open? Would you like to add anything?

I love hearing from you!

Remember to check out the new classes listed at W.A.N.A International. Your friends and family can get you something you need for Christmas. Social Media for Writers, Blogging for Writers, and Branding for Authors. 

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.

Enough of that…

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, 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

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 8.07.57 AM

For many writers (me included), we don’t start off with the confidence to yell to the world, “I’m going to be a professional author!” Heck, I wrote a 178,000 word “novel” and still didn’t believe I was a writer. Later, I had over a year and a half of consistent blogging under my belt, multiple short stories, and newbie novels that had been at least good enough to win prestigious contests and yet….

I was not a “real writer.”

Schrödinger Writer? If you put a writer in an office at a keyboard, is the writer alive or dead (real or fake) until the book is published?

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We’ve Come a LONG Way, Baby

The literary landscape has shifted dramatically. More avenues of publishing have opened and become appealing, thus this silly question of, “Are we a real writer?” holds far less power. Believe it or not, when I began blogging, I dedicated countless posts to answering this very question. In retrospect, I did it for me as much as for others.

I’ve always asserted that we are what we do. What is our primary career focus (beyond a necessary day job)? The second we sit at a keyboard and write, we are writers. Yet, as my first “novel” glaringly illustrates, we might not yet be a “good writer.”

To read it, you MUST first recite the sacred words! Klatu! Verata! N…. N-Noun? Nunchuk? Nutmeg? Definitely an “N’ word. 

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Changing Times

What’s fascinating for me was how much this opinion of being a “real writer” varied from 2008 to as late as 2013. I’d post and assert, “If you write, you’re a writer.” This then would spawn a flurry of Kristen Lamb is an Idiot-Hack blogs asserting that we didn’t deserve the title until 1) we had an agent 2) had a contract 3) were traditionally published.

Or whatever.

I see this debate far less, or maybe I’ve just learned to ignore it and my naysayers are smart enough to no longer hyperlink to me.

***By the way, being called an idiot is usually a good sign we’re doing something right. When we challenge the status quo, most won’t throw us a parade. We’re doing what they don’t have the guts to try.

Maybe we fail. I’ve failed A LOT and am very proud of that. Why?

If we aren’t failing we aren’t doing anything interesting.

Thank the Mushroom-Eaters

Change is frightening, but thanks to the mushroom-eaters there are more ways to get our books to readers than ever before in human historyWriters have more freedom, more flexibility than ever. They’re also being PAID.

Mushroom eaters? Yes. Come on. Haven’t you ever seen someone eat a raw oyster and you wondered, “Who was the first?” I guarantee you it was a group of cavemen, and someone lost a bet. Who ate the first sea cucumber? Or determined that snails actually were quite tasty with some butter and garlic? Live squid? Are you serious?

Chuy

Back to the mushrooms. There are 100,000 known species of mushrooms, and only 2000 of these are edible. In fact, many mushrooms are toxic, even deadly. How do we know which ones to eat? Risk. Someone, somewhere took a chance.

Mushroom-eaters are the ones brave enough to try a bite. Innovators are the ones who eat the poisonous mushroom and die, whereas early adopters are the ones who watch and learn. But, we must appreciate that someone had to be willing to take the first bite.

Perhaps we won’t die. Maybe, instead, we can take a bite, throw up and hallucinate and actually live to tell others…yeah, don’t eat the orange ones with the spots.

It’s great to be an early adopter, and there is nothing wrong with that. But, if there are no innovators (mushroom-eaters), then there is no one taking risks that pave the way for the early and late adopters to follow suit.

I was a mushroom-eater when it came to social media for authors. I did plenty of passing out and seeing spots, but continued to press no matter how often I was told social media was a fad. I was deeply convinced we were seeing a fundamental shift in human communication and society, one not seen since the invention of the Gutenberg Press.

***Great. Freaking Gutenberg. Now EVERYONE can be published *rolls eyes*.

Time redeemed me, though I had just as much chance of resembling the person who thought THIS was a great idea…

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Fortunately it all worked out *sigh of relief*. Now those agents who slayed me in comments won’t sign an author who doesn’t have a viable social media brand (no matter how good the book). Writers who believed social media was the Digital Pet Rock had good reason to believe that. Not everyone is an innovator/early adopter and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Even I waited for the third version if the X-Box 360 so they could work out the bugs.

How Are YOU a Mushroom-Eater?

This notion of whether or not we are “real” writers is intertwined with being a mushroom-eater. First, the decision to write and publish a book ALONE is mushroom-eating behavior. My father had a genius IQ (was FAR smarter than me), yet died working minimum wage at a bike shop. He’d always longed to be a writer, but that was “foolishness.” It wasn’t a real job.

Friends and family often offer the strongest resistance, partly because they love us and mean well. Don’t you want to learn medical billing? The pay is GREAT!

Writing professionally IS a tough job. We are entrepreneurs (authorpreneurs) and the failure rate is high. But no risk=no reward. Failing to at least try and give it all we have only leads to unanswered questions. Expect others will be jealous we had the guts to do what they could not.

Why is This SO IMPORTANT?

All businesses should begin with a mission statement of what precisely that business IS and what it specifically offers. Goals, objectives, education, planning, execution will ALL be flawed if not first defined.

I’ve done a lot of business consulting over the years. Show me a failing business and I’ll show you a business with an identity crisis. They’ve failed to do that first critical step of claiming what they ARE, defining what they DO, and understanding and communicating why their good/service is RELEVANT and better than the competition.

Fail to plan and plan to fail.

Writers who want to actually sell books are a small business. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s tough. But nothing worth having is easy. You guys can do this! Some of you are doing this. Doesn’t mean we don’t have moments of doubt. I do. All the time. But I no longer waste emotional energy wondering if I am a “real” writer and neither should any of you.

Write. That will answer the question 😉 .

What are your thoughts? Are you new and struggling with a writer-identity-crisis? Are you getting pushback from those close? Animosity from peers? For those who’ve been doing this a while, do you have days you wonder if you have what it takes? Are you reinventing a genre? Writing something outside the norm, but it scares you?

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, 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

Original image via Canned Muffins Flikr Creative Commons
Original image via Canned Muffins Flikr Creative Commons

We all cringe when we hear the words “being fired, and being fired does truly feel like “getting the ax.” Though this could be urban legend, the term “being fired” comes from very early human history. If a village no longer wanted a certain person to be part of the group? They torched their hut, “firing them.”

Slightly less brutal than a pink slip.

I’d love to say I’ve never been fired, but I have. A few times. And it sucked pretty much every time. As I get older, in retrospect, I realize my being fired was probably a good decision on the part of the organizations who let me go, and not nearly as personal as it felt at the time.

Part of that “pruning thing” we discussed.

But we are writers. Why do we need to talk about firing people?

Namely, because I mentioned firing people in yesterday’s post and someone privately messaged and asked I address the topic. I like to believe I’m here to make you laugh and learn, but sometimes we need to talk about the un-fun stuff, too. Dead weight can keep us from reaching our career goals, so here goes….

We ARE the Business

Writers are entrepreneurs, and no matter which publishing path we choose to take, we will (if we are smart) have to hire people to help us succeed. Doing everything ourselves and micromanaging and controlling is a formula for burnout and frustration. Learning to hire and fire well is a critical skill and one we will always be honing.

Firing will never be fun or pleasant unless we happen to be sadists (which I assume most of us are not).

Writers need web designers, cover artists, literary agents, personal assistants, formatters, accountants, publishers (especially for the indie authors), and even sometimes attorneys. These are just a handful of the types of people we as writers might employ.

If these individuals do their jobs well, we can rest assured that we can focus on what we do best…writing books. Yet, if we have “employees” who are dead weight or troublemakers, it can kill our creativity and triple our workload.

Confrontation isn’t All Bad

Confrontation isn’t fun. Most of us avoid it at all costs. Yet, confrontation is critical to healthy relationships (including work relationships).

There have been times in my past I feel I was unjustly fired.

I once worked for a technology firm as an admin. Originally there were two of us, but the other left for another job. For months, I did her work and mine while the company searched for her replacement. I was continually told how valuable I was and how appreciated, so imagine my surprise when one day I was being walked out the door.

To this day, I don’t know what I was doing wrong. I was getting mixed messages and was never confronted. Clearly I was doing or not doing something that was hindering progress, but I didn’t know what or how to correct.

This means if someone isn’t working out (too many delays, not delivering, not performing), we need to lovingly confront first and offer an outline for how to change. Be clear. Don’t hint. People can’t fix what they don’t know about and it’s poor leadership to expect others to read our minds.

When to Fire

So when do we fire? I believe in the Three Strikes and You’re Out. If by the third time we’ve talked, things aren’t changing, then it’s time to part ways.  Web people who don’t do perform, agents who don’t return e-mails, or editors who are taking too long need to go or it creates major problems that will take our valuable time to repair.

Why We Fire

When it comes to business, I am definitely a work in progress. Much of this I’ve learned from the experience of (for the first time) being on the other side of the operation. I also tend to be about as ruthless as a rose petal, but I’m learning to toughen up.

When it comes to running a business (like WANA International) not firing those who need to go hurts others in my organization. It sends a message I don’t care about those in my operation and that we don’t have standards for performance. It drags the company down.

As an individual author-entrpeneur, not firing can affect our career, our health and our intimate relationships. Endure the stress of an agent who doesn’t return e-mails for months at a time and you’ll understand. We need functional web sites to do our jobs well. Not having a web site, a bad web site or an ineffective web site hinders our performance and growth.

Who to Fire

Here is a list to help guide you in deciding when to confront and perhaps, eventually fire:

The Complainer

This person only sees problems and never solutions. This kind of negativity will adversely affect you and your organization. We are who we hang around and if we are around someone who only sees problems and obstacles, we can catch that like a virus.

People in our employ should always be able to come to us with what they see are potential problems. Open communication is vital. Many of the improvements we’ve made over the last year were because brave WANAs could come to me and say, “Hey, Kristen. This really needs to be fixed.”

But if all this person is doing is nitpicking and whining? Time to go.

The Uncommitted

People should do more than take up space, especially if we are paying them. I’ve had people who were hired to assist at certain events who just didn’t bother to show and never called to tell why. This placed me in a terrible and embarrassing position of explaining where this person was.

It negatively impacted how others saw ME as a professional. It also hurt my company and those depending on me because I didn’t have time to fill the position and this wasted precious time and energy. It also hurt my health because I was trying to do the job of two people and that just meant I did my job really poorly and wore myself out.

In fact, on one occasion, I was so exhausted and scattered from doing two people’s work, that I ended up whacked in the head with a trunk lid that gave me a nasty gash, a concussion and a near-miss to the ER before the main conference even began. Needless to say, I was not at my best that week.

Thousands of dollars in conference, hotel, travel went to waste because, without help, I was unable to mine the investment as I’d planned.

The Uncommitted can KILL a business.

The Inept

If we hire someone to do a job then realize they over promised and are out of their depth? Not our job to wait for them to learn what they were hired to do.

When we originally hired web designers for the WANA International site, it required a complicated shopping cart system to handle what WANA wanted to offer. The designer (though a lovely person) just did not possess the skill to design something so complicated. Me “being nice” cost us four months of delays.

Sometimes the person might be talented and capable of doing the job, but too many personal crises are getting in the way, rendering the person inept. “Letting someone go” doesn’t have to be permanent. It can go with an understanding that the person is eligible for rehire at a later point when life has calmed down.

The Misfit

Sometimes, firing really isn’t personal. The person/company just might not be a good fit for the job. This often happens with agents. They could be a fabulous agent for other works, but be terrible when it comes to our books (or genre).

The Rebel

My cover designer is fabulous. In the beginning, though, he kept insisting on using a cover model for the cyborg because it was easier and maybe even prettier since I am no Vogue fashion model. I gently and firmly said, “I want to be on the cover. I don’t care how it happens, but make it so or I will hire someone who can.” And he made it so and that’s why he’s a keeper and I send him all the business I can.

But sometimes, we get a rebel who just won’t listen to instructions.

When we hire someone for a job, we need to be clear what we want. On the other side, that person needs to listen. When you instruct a web designer to fix a shopping cart and “under no certain circumstances touch the look of the web site”, and they ignore you and change it to what they like?

Good-bye.

It’s our business, not theirs. You have a right to expect what you pay for.

The Seed of Discontent

This one, I feel, is the most critical, especially if you are running a larger organization (I.e. an indie press). Some people love drama and back-biting. They stir trouble often because, as long as there is drama, it masquerades that the person really a) is slacking off and not doing his/her job or b) is incompetent.

Seeds of Discontent are often also Complainers. They fracture solidarity and undermine morale. They create distrust and paralyze decision-making and thus need to go.

How to Fire

Promptly, privately and professionally. I’ve learned this the hard way (like a lot of stuff). I’ve worked with people I knew needed to go. Instead of acting, I whined, complained and groused while the situation grew steadily worse.

NOT a recommended action plan.

When we don’t fire, we think we are being kind to the other person, when in fact, we’re being selfish. We are putting off our own discomfort. We don’t want to be “the bad guy.” Maybe we’re prideful and don’t want to admit we made a mistake in choosing the person for the position.

Perhaps, we are afraid or uncertain. We have no clue how to fill that vacuum when the person leaves so we endure the bad instead of embracing the possibility of great.

We Can Hurt Others By NOT Firing Them

In retrospect, I am happy I was fired from those jobs of my youth. I hated working in admin and was terrible at sales. If I hadn’t been let go, would I have ever found my calling? Would I have ever had to face the character flaws that were holding me back? Firing is major pruning. It hurts, but sometimes great things blossom.

I hope this has been helpful for you. I know I am still learning by leaps and bounds and not always doing things perfectly. As writers, we can be enamored with having an agent, or we feel committed to the editor, but in the end, we are the only captains of our fate. If we hit the rocks, the blame is on us.

What are your thoughts? Have you had to fire someone, maybe an agent? What did you learn? Have you been fired from a job then later realized it was a blessing in disguise?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

ANNOUNCEMENT: I have a class coming up SOON, Creating Conflict and Tension on Every Page if you want to learn how to apply these tactics to your writing. Use WANA15 to get 15% off.

Also, my new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

I will announce July’s winner tomorrow.