Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: cultivating readers

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Anja Pietsch.

I asked you guys to tell me in the comments what you would like me to blog about, so today we are going to talk about the author platform. When do we start? When do we need a newsletter? How do we find time?

I think we have reached a point in the new publishing paradigm that I no longer have to beg and plead and make jazz hands for writers to realize they need to build a social media platform if they ever hope to SELL their books.

I hear a lot of this:

Well, why be on social media? I don’t yet have a book for sale. 

Because it is easier to talk to people when you don’t feel like you have an ulterior motive.

I just signed a contract for my book. Should I build a platform now?

*weeps and breathes into paper bag*

Facebook doesn’t sell books.

Sure it does.

I know I need to put together a newsletter but since I don’t have a book out yet, I don’t know what to say. 

Whoa! Slow down there partner! Dig the enthusiasm, but slow down.

Yes, we need to have a social media platform and ideally a blog and newsletter, but this is not something we can rush. This job is a LOT like farming. We buy the land, clear it, prepare it, seed it, wait, tend weeds, wait some more, pray for fair weather, root out pests (trolls) and even then? Most of the time what grows in the first few years isn’t ready for market. It still needs time to mature enough to bear fruit.

So we rotate crops (topics). Clear again, fertilize, weed, and it is a lot of small very unsexy activities that are done a little every…single…day.

We can’t rush a platform any more than we can rush a peach orchard.

Too many writers want to rent the peach stand to sell peaches but they never bothered planting any trees. In a panic, they go BUY peaches (followers) and hope that will be just as profitable.

Or they rush out after they’ve written the book and scrape together a platform and hope then people will buy their books when they’ve spent almost no time cultivating a relationship. This is akin to trying to harvest peaches from trees we planted three months ago. Doesn’t make sense with an orchard and makes even less sense on-line.

Thus my answer to when is the best time to start a platform? Um, yesterday.

Seriously, the second you think you maybe kind of sort of want to sell your books? That is the day you begin building a platform and brand. You do not want to have a book for sale and try to pull a following/platform out of the ether.

Conversely, everything in its season and all in its due time. If you are new and building that platform while you are writing the book, NO you don’t need a newsletter. A newsletter will only work if you’ve already cultivated the following who’d care to get it or even open it.

You are not yet in the harvest season, so pick weeds, water, fertilize and like farmers?

WAIT.

The Early Years

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Rene Schweitzke
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Rene Schweitzke

This is when we get our land and realize there are a ton of weeds, crappy soil and a zillion dead trees and trunks that need to be removed. There might even be some junk cars, scrap metal and old toilets that need to be hauled away. We need to form new habits. We need education, training and practice. We need to learn about branding and start building our platform.

When I left paper sales and decided to become a writer, I needed to learn the craft. I had bad habits. I put myself last on the list because writing wasn’t a “real job.” The early years is a lot of clearing away insecurity, fear, and even laziness. We learn to write even when we don’t “feel” like it and come to understand that simply showing up is a bigger deal than most people realize.

Sowing

This is when we start planting. We’ve cleared the fields and added missing nutrients to the soil. We took time to talk and listen to people on our social site of choice. To get to know them.

We put our butts in the seat and blogged even if the only comments we get are from the BuyPradaCheap sites:

“I so lick you’re blog. It changed my bruther’s life and bookmarking now.”

Blogging is my favorite form of social media. It is the most resilient (been here since the 90s), and it plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers WRITE. Blogs also train us to keep a professional pace. They trains us to show up and not be too dependent on others. Sure, it’s fun blogging now that I get a gazillion comments, but there were years I blogged to the ether. I didn’t do it for others. I did it for ME, to train me.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jim Evans
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jim Evans

When it comes to social media? Blogging is one of the best investments of time when it comes to ROI (return on investment). No search engine will direct people to your witty tweet or clever Facebook post. Search engines WILL, however, start sending readers to your blog (if done properly). Also blogs can be harvested for books that can be SOLD…for actual money.

No one taught HOW to blog back when I started so I had a metric crap ton of trial and error. Now? Folks like me have created classes. Have one coming up! (Blogging for Authors).

Blogs make excellent books. Far harder to compile a book of my Instagram pictures of food.

Sowing also involves research, plotting, writing, finishing then revising the actual novel(s).

The Silent Years

After we’ve planted a lot of good stuff, it’s easy to get discouraged. In fact, for a loooooong time, it will look like nothing is happening.

We need deep roots to make it in this business, because high-winds and storms don’t stop because we want to write books. Did you know that the root system of any tree needs to be as wide if not wider than the span of the branches? What is below (unseen) must match (or even outmatch) what is above, or the tree will fall over and die with the first bad storm.

The Silent Years can be brutal and this is why most writers don’t make it. They feel like failures because they aren’t instant runaway successes. It takes discipline and faith to trust the process, which is tough in a world addicted to instant gratification and an over-reliance on luck. Too many people want fruits with no roots.

Reaping

If we keep pressing and don’t dig up our seeds to check if they really are growing (which is highly tempting), eventually we can reap what we’ve sown. Ah, but here is the catch. Back to my peach example. After a long wait and tender, patient care, we get a tree. YAY! Eventually, we see little tiny fruits popping out. AWESOME.

Not so fast.

The smart grower plucks off all the tiny green peaches. OH NO! Why? So the tree will bear more fruit and better fruit. For us? This could mean writing two or three or ten bad books before we get a winner. It could mean multiple revisions. But, to gain more, we have to sacrifice.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Slgckgc
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Slgckgc

Harvest and Maintenance

In the beginning, we have a lot of back-breaking work (removing trash and dead stumps, tilling the soil, planting trees). But, if we are patient and consistent we can finally reach a maintenance phase. Once the grove of peach trees is producing, we keep fertilizing, tending, pruning and harvesting.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kathleen Dagostino
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kathleen Dagostino

An author platform is the same. In the beginning, we need to build traction. We are forced out of our comfort zones. It isn’t natural to strike up conversations on Facebook. It is uncomfortable to get out there when we prefer to lurk.

Blogs take longer to write because we’re learning and finding our voice. We may even be struggling with perfectionism. It takes time to realize that it is A BLOG. It really doesn’t need to be worthy of a Pultizer in Journalism.

SHIP!

There will come a time when the super hard work is done. Sure there will always be work, but not like in the beginning. After years of practice, I can knock out 1000 words in an hour. When I was new? It was not pretty. My blog was not fun when I was my only follower. I still remember being so excited to meet my first commenter Akismet.

Strange name. Is he foreign?

I KID YOU NOT, when this nice fellow Akismet welcomed me to WordPress, I actually commented back to try and start a conversation #YesIAmAMoron. (For those who don’t know, Akismet is the WordPress spam filter *face palm*)

But trust me, blogging with NO followers? Unfun. Blogging with 35K followers? LOADS of fun. But that didn’t happen overnight.

Same with platform and sales. J.K. Rowling finds it way easier to sell books in 2017 than she did in 1997. In 1997 she had not yet cultivated billions of fans. All she has now? Maintenance and enjoying harvest.

Slow and steady wins the race. Pace yourselves and realize there are no fruits without roots, no perks without the works. Trust the process, and in the meantime? I am here 😀 .

What are your thoughts?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

****The site is new, and I am sorry you have to enter your information all over again to comment, but I am still working out the kinks. Also your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Also know I love suggestions! After almost 1,100 blog posts? I dig inspiration. So what would you like me to blog about?

Talk to me!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

SIGN UP NOW FOR UPCOMING CLASSES!!! 

Remember that ALL CLASSES come with a FREE RECORDING so you can listen over and over. So even if you can’t make it in person? No excuses! All you need is an internet connection!

Be a Better Hooker (How to Write a Compelling Newsletter)

April 29th $45

In this class, learn how to compose a newsletter that is entertaining and compelling—and all without stealing most of your writing time. Learn how to get your hooks in your readers and keep them until the end.

With a mailing list of over 15K subscribers, mystery/thriller author Jack Patterson will share some of his tips that will spice up your newsletter and get your subscribers opening it up every time you send one out.

BUNDLE DEALS!!! 

Book Bootcamp  $99 ($130 VALUE)

Book Bootcamp GOLD $269 ($430 VALUE) This includes the log-line class, antagonist class, the character class AND a three-hour time slot working personally with ME. We will either plot your idea or, if your novel isn’t working? Fix it! Appointments are scheduled by email. Consults done by phone or in virtual classroom.

Individual Classes with MOI!!! 

Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter and Synopsis that SELLS! $45 May 25th, 2017

Blogging for Authors $50 April 27th, 2017

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-line $35 May 4th, 2017

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist $50/$200 (Gold) May11th, 2017

The Art of Character $45 May 18th, 2017

NEW CLASSES/INSTRUCTORS!!! 

Growing an Organic Platform on Facebook $40 May 6th, 2017 Lisa Hall-Wilson is BACK! She is an expert on Facebook so check out her class!

Method Acting for Writers: How to Write in Deep POV $85 for this TWO WEEK intensive workshop with editor and writing instructor Lisa Hall Wilson.

Shift Your Shifter Romance into HIGH Gear $35 May 19th with powerhouse editor Cait Reynolds.

Researching for Historical Romance (How to NOT Lost 6 Hours of Your Life on Pinterest) $35 May 20th

 

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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There are a lot of fabulous blogs and books on business, especially for writers. How to promote, do a tour, switch an algorithm, etc. But, I tend to be a broad strokes kind of gal. I dig simple. Simple works. Simple doesn’t have an expiration date.

ART is a Business & Business is an ART

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mark Roy.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mark Roy.

When companies forget they are servants and act in a way that makes consumers serve them? That’s when they get into trouble. Businesses are in business to…make money. NO. Businesses should be in the business to serve people.

Artists are in the business of “making and selling art.” NO. They should be in the business of serving the audience. It is a TWO-WAY dialogue driven by core needs.

This is where many writers need to breathe into a paper bag because they break out in hives at the mention of “business.” But, if we want to create anything that people want to PAY MONEY for? We are a business.

Be the Consumer

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons
Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

The power of empathy is particularly crucial. Humans are actually very simple. Most of our decisions are driven by the primal brain. We like to feel good about a purchase. We often can’t articulate WHY we made a decision because it is the non-verbal part of our brains at the steering wheel when we choose.

Also, the product is all about US.

Friday, when we talked about breaking rules in writing, there was a lot of mention about writers simply breaking rules to break them. Yet, I would challenge every artist (or business) to step back and feel. Think about the customer FIRST and ego second. Money LAST.

Case in Point

I never set out to be the social media expert for writers. Yet, as early as 2003, I knew social media would completely alter the publishing paradigm. Anyone who bought an MP3 and had an ounce of imagination could see the domino effect ahead.

Tower Records–>Kodak–> Big Six Publishing

I was very grateful for the computer and marketing people who attended conferences to teach social media, but I had a couple of problems.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

First of all, I knew writers would eventually HAVE to have a brand and social media platform or be dead in the water. The problem was that these computer people didn’t know how to talk to creative people who had trouble opening their e-mail. At the time, many writers (and editors and agents) refused to even USE e-mail.

Thus the presentations actually scared people because they didn’t empower them.

Writers mentally checked out because the computer people made “branding” and “platform-building” too time-consuming and complicated. 

The marketing people did the same thing (and, in my mind, many of their tactics were from a 20th century playbook). Their approach didn’t fit into a world where everyone was instantly connected and the flow of information was dynamic and light-speed.

I.e. Having a Facebook Fan Page for EVERY BOOK. Really? O_o When the heck would we have time to WRITE?

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 10.33.50 AM

Additionally, one thing I noticed (being a salesperson for many years) is these experts failed to consider their audience. They were talking code, algorithms, apps and technology to a group of people who averaged (at the time) over 50. Writing, when I started, was something people often did when they retired or the kids were out of the house.

Their CUSTOMER was my mother who was afraid she’d delete the Internet, yet they failed to connect with “her” in a meaningful way.

As far as the marketing and PR people? There was far too much high-pressure sales involved in their methods. Yet, NO WRITER in the room was thinking, “Hey, I am just going to write about dragons until my dream job in high-pressure SALES comes along.”

I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I noticed many of these early experts had “affordable packages” available. In my mind, they were scaring the audience into feeling powerless in order to sell them something.

That ticked me off.

Ticked me off enough to write my first book, We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I made it a point to think from the perspective of my customer. MY mission statement was to serve my customer, not the other way around.

I knew writers often were not able to write full-time. Many of us have spouses, kids, a day job, older family members we care for. We needed an approach that was simple and that didn’t have to be outsourced. Many new writers don’t have a lot of money. They couldn’t plunk down $10,000 for a PR guru.

Also, social media and the Internet shifts faster than any of us can keep up. Amazon is constantly changing and if our focus is on juking those changes, we will be like my cat who can never quite catch the red dot. That was WHY I wrote my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World. ONE book. One manual.

Thus, when we talk about breaking rules in business or in art, it MUST be to better serve our audience/customers. It must be SIMPLE and it MUST BE TIMELESS.

When we are being clever simply to be clever? Good luck.

The Reliant Robin: Image via "Top Gear"
The Reliant Robin: Image via “Top Gear”

I’ve read authors who were being artistic and decided they didn’t need quotation marks or tags. Yet, I ask: How does this help the reader consume the story with page-turning passion?

I could be super clever right now and write a novel in text speak, but who (now) wants the brain cramp of rdng 4 OMG hrs w/ppl txtng & LOL as u DYH or STHU?

Um, but it is my ART *sniffs and rearranges beret*

Why Should We Break Rules?

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Because it MIGHT just pay off! ~Johnny Cat

All rule-breaking (in my POV) must be to better serve the consumer not the creator. Though I am not particularly fond of Hemingway’s writing, he was a journalist. Fiction, at the time, was BLOATED.

Yet, people in Hemingway’s time finally had photographs, film and newspapers. They KNEW what a whale looked like, so why insult them with a 100 pages describing one?

I imagine this overwriting drove a journalist nutso, and it took a journalist to whittle fiction down to the bones and bare form story.

See, when Melville write Moby Dick he was serving the audience/consumer of his time. He didn’t make the assumption his potential readers were all world-travelers and had seen what he’d seen. Thus, all those details were important for HIS readers.

But, as technology and the world changed, that massive amount of description and exposition were no longer necessary and actually got in the way of the story. It insulted the reader’s intelligence. I feel this was probably a driving force behind Hemingway field-stripping prose.

Did everyone LOVE Hemingway? No. There are people like me who like more description. BUT, there was obviously an audience who appreciated that an author finally wasn’t wasting their time using every fancy adjective, adverb and metaphor they could stuff into a paragraph.

Breaking Rules Begins with a NEED and a Vacuum

When I started writing about social media it was because no one was saying the things I needed to hear. I needed something simple, timeless and effective. WANA methods worked in 2008 and they still work today because they are simple and functional.

Instead of trying to alter the authors’ personality and make them rely on all their weaknesses, I created a method that harnessed the writers’ personality and allowed them to play to their strengths.

This is why artists can be particularly good at business once the fear-factor is peeled away. We have great powers of empathy. Remember, in the last post, I said our goal is to write the book people don’t yet know they want.

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi wrote a FABULOUS series of craft books because there were none like the ones they as authors needed. They, themselves wanted simple and effective tools deepen characters, yet none were available…so these gals stepped in and WROTE them. I HIGHLY recommend just getting them all. The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus.

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If you are SERIOUS about writing a great book this year, just go use that gift card you got for Christmas and get these books, today.

Moving on…

Giving Consumers What They Don’t Know They Want

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Henry Ford once said if he’d have asked customers what they wanted, they’d have requested a faster horse.

When social media became a game-changer, my potential customers wanted the Internet to implode. They wanted things to remain the same, even though the paradigm of the time was highly unfavorable to writers. As of 2006, writers had a 93% failure rate. Yet writers (like all humans) feared change.

Here’s the thing, anyone literate can write. This means anyone literate could write a book, right? But what is different about us as artists? The world relies on our eyes. We see what others can’t.

I saw THIS in the future...
I saw THIS in the future…

saw that brick-and-mortar was crumbling and that social media would eventually empower authors. Though many writers kicked and screamed and begged for the Web to eat itself in a digital black hole, I knew in my heart that was BAD (and wouldn’t happen anyway). Time would prove what I believed. I merely had to stick to my guns no matter how many hateful comments I got on my blogs.

In my heart, I knew I was serving my audience.

Business & Art

Hemingway reinvented writing because he didn’t like all the fluff. He wrote the book he wanted to read and took a risk others would read his books and like them, too. Instead of doing what everyone else was doing, he did something different.

When we break rules, instead of “being different” we should “differentiate.” We need to follow our passion and look for the vacuum yet to be filled.

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

I’ve done business consulting and one of the first things I advise is for the company to pull the annual reports of their top five competitors. Annual reports are dreadfully boring but highly valuable.

What are these companies bragging about to their share-holders? Well, their strengths, duh. Is that where a new business/entrepreneur will find their niche? NO. And, btw, it is the DUMBEST place to try and compete.

The trick is to look at the reports and see where their competitors are struggling. What they are promising to improve (or even fail to mention but should be there)? Find that gap and there is your business plan (book idea).

Breaking Rules in Creating

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*giggles*

If we are simply writing retreads of everything already available, we aren’t differentiating.

Oh, but my vampires glitter, they don’t SPARKLE. 

Nooooo, that is being different, not differentiation.

Anne Rice is almost solely responsible for CREATING the vampire craze because she dared to write a book from the vampire’s perspective and stuck to her guns even when criticized.

Charlaine Harris asked a “What if?” with her Southern Vampire Mysteries.

What if vampires have always been around but hidden because they had to feed on human blood? What if that blood could be synthesized and vampires could “come out of the coffin”? What would the world be like with predator and prey trying to coexist? Could they?

POOF! Formula for best-selling books and the highly popular HBO series True Blood.

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T. Jefferson Parker broke the rules in his thrillers when he mixed first person and third person and he chose to write the ANTAGONIST’S perspective in first-person.

But, he didn’t do this to be clever.

When T. Jefferson Parker writes from the perspective of a car thief or a gun-runner in first-person, we (the reader) are more intimate with them. We understand their whys and become emotionally vested. This increases tension because we find ourselves often rooting for the bad guy even when we know we probably shouldn’t.

This literary device is unique. It stretches our empathy and our minds.

***Note, this is why understanding rules helps us effectively break rules.

J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter from inspiration, but she stuck to it despite rejection because, in spite of what she was being told, she believed a YA male protagonist would be popular. So did Jonathan Maberry in his Rot & Ruin series.

These authors not only soul-searched for the book they wanted to read but wasn’t there, but they looked to what books weren’t being written.

We can criticize 50 Shades of Grey all we want, but E.L. James wrote the books she wanted to read and the ones no one else was offering.

All these authors created the books readers didn’t yet know they wanted to read. They all broke rules, whether it was asking a new question, playing with POV, offering up a teenage boy protagonist when most readers are female, or even whips, chains and handcuffs.

This is to say, READ. Books are not so cost-prohibitive that we are really “competition” for each other. It’s why teamwork works so well in our world. People generally will buy/read more than one book.

When we read the genres we love (that we are writing in), look at the strengths, but take time to ponder what you might be able to do differently. What could you possibly combine that normally doesn’t go together? What audience has no voice?

Get in the head of your audience and look for what you have in common. What is the need your book can fill?  Write what scares you, because it probably scares your readers too.

Maybe it is a sexy 53 year-old spy, a vestige of the Cold War relegated to being invisible because of age….but she is fit and sexy and KICKS @$$.

From the movie "Red"
From the movie “Red”

Maybe the protagonist struggles with her weight or an eating disorder. Perhaps your male protagonist struggles with how to be strong in a world where strong males get a lot of pushback. Or maybe he has a learning disability but that turns out to be why he is the perfect hero.

Perhaps it is an underrepresented ethnic group or writing from the perspective of those most overlooked. Sure, we have dozens of Navy SEAL books because SEALS are “hot”, but what about the brand new Airman in Supply who uncovers a vast conspiracy but no one will listen?

Your audience wants to see a part of themselves in your work. How can you do this better?

Just getting the brain-gears moving 😀 .

We will continue to explore ways that art and business merge, how to be creative and how to better serve our customer (reader). Some ways to create an edge in this highly competitive world. Just remember that success is about simplicity and service. Stick to those? And that’s a great foundation.

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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Winner for DECEMBER is Chris Phillips. Please send your 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD DOCUMENT to kris teen at wan a intl dot com. Or you can send a query letter or five page synopsis (1250 words) in a WORD document. Congratulations!

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