Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: publishing business

Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, social media authors, Kristen Lamb, WANA, Rise of the Machines

All right, it’s about to be a brand new year and many of you are wanting to finally see your books published. ROCK ON! But, I am the friend who will tell you if there is toilet paper hanging out of your pants. Writing isn’t all glitter and unicorns and I want to warn you of the most common stumbling blocks, because I really DO want you to succeed.

When I began writing I was SO SURE agents would be fighting over my manuscript. Yeah. But after almost fourteen years in the industry, a lot of bloody noses, and even more lessons in humility, I hope that these tips will help you.

Self-publishing is AWESOME, and it’s a better fit for certain personalities and even content (um, social media?), but we must be educated before we publish. In fact, my last book Rise of the Machines (cover above) is much more than a social media book. I dedicate a large portion of the book explaining how the various forms of publishing work, because you need to make the best choice for YOU.

I want that decision to be an EDUCATED decision.

Moving on….

Mistake #1 Publishing Before We Are Ready

The problem with the ease of self-publishing is that it is, well, too easy. When we are new, frankly, most of us are too dumb to know what we don’t know. Just because we made As in English, does not automatically qualify us to write a work spanning 60,000-100,000 words. I cannot count how many writers I’ve met who refuse to read fiction, refuse to read craft books, and who only go to pitch agents when they attend conferences at the expense of attending the craft sessions.

Additionally, too many new writers I meet do not properly understand the antagonist. They don’t grasp three-act structure, and most don’t have any idea what I mean when I mention POV, Jungian archetypes, or the phrase, “scene and sequel.”

I see a lot of new writers who believe their story is the exception, that the rules make for “formulaic” writing. No, rules are there for a reason, and, if the writing is too formulaic, it has more to do with execution than the rules.

****And YES, we can and SHOULD break rules but that is another post. Every musician has to learn to play the instrument before reinventing music as we know it.*****

Three-act structure has been around since Aristotle, and there is a lot of evidence in neuroscience that suggests that three-act structure is actually hard-wired into the human brain. Thus, when we deviate too far from three-act structure, it confuses and frustrates readers.

Stories have clear beginnings, middles and ends. Without a clear story objective, it is impossible to generate dramatic tension, and what is left over is drama’s inbred cousin, melodrama. Yet, many writers start off writing a book without properly understanding the basic skeleton of story.

Heck, I didn’t and I deserved every rejection I got…

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Writing fiction is therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy. Yes, characters should struggle with inner demons, but that does not a plot make. Struggling with weakness, inner demons, insecurity, addictions are all character arc, not plot arc. There should be a core story problem that we can articulate in ONE sentence. The plot arc should serve to drive the character arc. If the character does not grow and change she will fail, but it is the core story problem that drives this change.

No problem, no crucible.

Yes, we are artists, but we need to understand the fundamentals. I played clarinet for years, and yes it was an art. But this didn’t excuse me from having to learn to read music, the finger positions and proper embouchure (the way to position the mouth to play).

The better we are at the basics, the better we know the rules, the more we become true artists.

I’ve received contest winners whose first pages were filled with newbie errors. Yet, when I sent them my critique filled with pages of corrections, I would then receive a reply telling me that the book had already been self-published.

OUCH.

Sometimes there are reasons we are being rejected and we need to take a hard look and be honest. Self-publishing is suffering a stigma from too many writers publishing before they are ready. If you really want to self-publish, I am here to support you and cheer you all the way. Heck, I did it. Will probably do it again.

But remember, though the stigma IS fading we have to write better than the traditional authors.

Mistake #2 Jumping in Before Understanding the Business Side to the Business

I see a lot of writers rushing into self-publishing without properly preparing to be a small business, yet that is exactly what we are. When we self-publish, we take on new roles and we need to understand them. We need to be willing to fork out money for proper editing, cover design and formatting.

One of the benefits to traditional publishing is they take on all the risk and do the editing, proofing, etc. When we go it alone, we need to prepare for some expenses and do our research.

We can be told a million times to not judge a book by its cover, yet that is exactly what readers do. Additionally, we may need to look into becoming an LLC. We need to set up proper accounting procedures and withhold the correct amount of taxes, unemployment, state taxes and on and on.

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Mistake #3 Believing that, “If We Write it They Will Come”

There are a lot of writers who mistakenly believe that self-publishing is an easier and faster way to fame and success. Yeah, um no. And those magic beans are really just beans. Sorry.

Self-publishing is A LOT of work, especially if we are starting out this way. If you didn’t defect from traditional publishing and can’t slap New York Times Best-Selling in front of your name? Prepare for a ton of work.

Not only do we need to write good books, but we need to write prolifically. When we self-publish, we need a much larger platform because we don’t have New York in our corner. This is one of the reasons self-publishing isn’t for everyone. We need to look at how badly we want the dream, and then ask how many hours are we willing to work? What are we willing to sacrifice?

Image from the movie "Office Space"
Image from the movie “Office Space”

Mistake #4 Misusing FREE!

There are a lot of problems with giving books away for FREE! We shouldn’t be giving away our work unless it serves some kind of a strategic advantage. There are ways to effectively harness the power of FREE! but too few writers understand how to do this and they just end up giving away their art for no tangible gain. This goes with my above point of us needing to understand the business side of our business. When we do choose to give away stuff for FREE! it needs to serve longer-term business goals.

Mistake #5 Shopping One Book to DEATH

One of the BIGGEST problems I see with self-published writers is that they publish one book and then they focus every bit of energy on selling THAT book.

They fill up all the writing hashtags with link spam promoting their books. They keep futzing with the cover, the web site, the promotions. They do blog tours until they drop, and they do everything except what is going to help that book sell a ton of copies…write more books.

Here’s the thing. Self-publishing, in many ways, just allows us to accelerate the career path of the author. Even in traditional publishing, it usually takes about three books to gain traction. In traditional publishing, this takes three years because we are dealing with a publisher’s schedule.

In self-publishing, we can make our own schedule, but it still takes THREE BOOKS MINIMUM. I know there are exceptions, but most self-published successes hit at about book three. The ability to offer multiple titles is a huge advantage.

Just make sure they are good books ;).

This is why it is critical to keep writing. Not only will writing more books make you a better writer, but once people discover they love your writing, they have a number of titles to purchase. Being able to offer multiple titles is how we make money at self-publishing. It also helps us maximize the whole FREE! tactic.

Even I am putting my nose to the grindstone to come out with more books in the next six months. I don’t tell you guys to do anything that, I myself, am unwilling to do. I have two books in a series already written, but I’ve made the decision not to give them to a publisher or publish myself until I have a minimum of THREE finished titles.

This is a profession, not a playpen.

Remember Why We Do This

Self-publishing is a wonderful alternative. Just because we self-publish doesn’t mean we cannot publish other ways, too. I’ve been saying this for a LONG time, but it bears repeating. I feel the author of the future will actually be a hybrid author, and I do believe that the ability to self-publish is challenging all of us to come up higher.

We are striving to be better writers, to be better entrepreneurs, to get better at organization and time-management and to write more books and better books. If we can learn from these mistakes and grow, then the future is ours for the taking.

A little humor from the fabulous David Kazzle

What have been some of your challenges with self-publishing? In what areas is it forcing you to grow? Have you had to outsource? What sacrifices have you made? Tell us your story!

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

Image from the movie "Office Space"
Image from the movie “Office Space”

Today, I’m going to give you three ways to instantly improve your writing and sell more books. I’m blessed to have a broad base of experience/expertise which includes corporate consulting and branding. I also spent years in sales and can honestly say, Coffee is for closers. 

What Do You DO?

Last year, I accepted a leviathan project to redo copy for a website and rebrand a struggling company. I first explained my plan and reasoning in a detailed SWOT analysis. The owner was on board and signed off. The existing copy was outdated, bloated, confusing, and failed to appreciate the vast changes in our millennial culture.

I hacked through, reduced as much as possible and reshaped until the site showcased a truly fabulous company. To my horror, the owner came back and wanted me to add a deluge of changes which included mass amounts of extraneous information, charts, etc. and all of this content grossly deviated from the agreed rebranding.

I politely declined and we parted ways.

***What’s funny is the owner never got around to changing the site from my version and was recently approached by a Richard Branson-type investor for potential partnership. Ironically, part of what piqued his interest was the site 😉 . Unlike the competition, the site I designed was visual, brief, and powerful, whereas the competition was like reading Wikipedia Articles from Hell.

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This desire to cough up too much and “oversell” is common (namely because regular people believe writing is easy and fail to hire a pro). Business owners are passionate and so they want to tell EVERYTHING about their services, industry, product, whatever. Also, overselling is a mark of the insecure. Think “padded resume.”

Attention spans are shrinking. The average time spent on a website is roughly 3.5 minutes. I’d wager most people give a website 3.5 seconds to catch their attention and that 3.5 minutes only applies to those browsers who happen to stay.

We can apply these business lessons to our writing, because we writers also have something to sell.

Our job is far tougher because 1) discoverability is a nightmare 2) less than 8% of the literate population are devoted readers 3) the remaining 92% equate reading with homework and a chore. Thus, we have the task of convincing 92% of the population to spend time they don’t have engaged in an activity they believe they dislike…and spend money to do it.

The other 8%? Sure they like to read books, but why yours?

Omit Needless Words

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. ”~ Strunk and White

Trust the reader. If a character opens a door, we know he “reached out his hand” to do it. We assume he isn’t blessed with telekinetic powers unless we’re told otherwise.

Resist the Urge to Explain

Image via "Office Space"
Image via “Office Space”

This tenet applies in a lot of areas. We don’t need flashbacks or lengthy details of why a character thinks or acts a certain way. The more we leave to the imagination, the better. Hubby and I have fallen in love with a new mini-series Defiance. We ate through Season One and began Season Two.

Interestingly, Episode Zero was a compilation of all the flashbacks cut from Season One—the explaining how and what and why…and it was painful. I just wanted to hit stop and move onto the new episodes. The flashbacks added nothing and only wasted my time. The series was better without backstory being spoon fed to me.

I got it.

This over explaining happens a lot with characterization, but sci-fi and fantasy can be particularly vulnerable. I recently had a client who took four hours to explain all her world building. Most of this information was for her, not the reader. She didn’t have to explain how this world had humans and elves.

It just did.

Think about cartoons. Kids accept that a group of dogs can be public servants, talk and operate heavy equipment (Paw Patrol) or that a sponge with tighty-whities can work a burger grill at the bottom of the ocean (Spongebob Square Pants).

Belief is already suspended.

Value the Reader’s TIME

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Get to the point quickly. The first sample pages of any book are our greatest selling tool. When I hear, “Oh, well the story really gets going by page 50″? My instincts tell me we probably need to cut 49 pages.

Remember earlier I mentioned that we’re artists, but we also have a product to sell. In fiction, we’re selling escape. So think of it this way. How are you helping your customer escape reality?

Route One

First, my dear (potential) reader, I need you to pack this list of gear, then sync this app on your smartphone. After that is downloaded, I’m going to text you coordinates for a geocache. Use the app to locate the cache, dig up the key, catch the L Train, wait for a guy with a blue hat and the code phrase is, “Duck, duck, goose.” He’ll then hail a cab and take you to a wonderful place you will enjoy.

Route Two

Open a wardrobe and step through.

Which would you choose?

What are some ways you refine your work? Are you guilty of overwriting? I know I’m working super hard to lean down all my writing. It is NOT easy. Are there areas you could condense? Stage action or explaining that could be chipped away?

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

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

Going Pro Craft, Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding, Going Pro Business, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE).

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

Image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller
Image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller

I read a lot of blogs, namely because I believe the best writers are 1) perpetual students, and 2) are stronger when they read a lot, particularly in other areas that might not be their genre or even directly related to writing.

One of my favorite bloggers (as some of you may already know) is successful CEO and leader in Silicon Valley, Steve Tobak. He had a really interesting post this week called Leadership Presence–Do You Have It?, which inspired me to write today’s post.

Successful Author Presence—Do You Have It?

All of us (writers) balance this fine line of complete narcissism, and profound insecurity/self-loathing. We have to believe that our ideas, opinions, stories are something others want to pay money to read in order to be successful. Yet, we are constantly plagued with self-doubt. Chronic doubt is possibly a built-in mechanism to bring balance to The Force.

Just my POV.

The Narcissist

If a writer is too full of what he believes he knows, he won’t grow and eventually will stall and burn out. That or his hubris eventually will just drive others away. This type of writer can’t forge strong relationships because everything is a competition. Eventually others just say, Okay, sure. You’re better than us. Bye.

In the current paradigm, we need a team more than ever. Also, likability didn’t matter fifteen years ago, yet now? Likability is getting to be a bigger and bigger deal. Readers will eventually just gravitate to writers who know how to tweet without putting others down.

The Emotional Vampire

On the other side, a writer who needs constant props and ego-stroking eventually wears out those around her. She can’t grow and mature either because she’s in the business for the wrong reasons. We writers should be here to teach/inform (NF) or entertain (NF/fiction), not to use our audience as emotional hostages.

The Author With “The Right Stuff”

Yet, there are those writers who have a “presence.” It’s a tough thing to explain. But, I think Steve’s list might help me try:

They’re Not Born with It

Talent is highly overrated. Character matters in this business. It’s why I dedicate so much time to talking about the writer as a human being. Without self-discipline, drive, humility and a certain work ethic, a writer won’t make it long-term.

The writer with successful author presence generally comes from a background that’s already fired out a lot of character impurities. Whether it’s a tough childhood, bad marriage, law school, or time as a police officer, this writer has a different je ne sais quoi that stands out.

Being Right A Lot

This writer is open to listening to a lot of people and processing a lot of information quickly. Rather than taking shortcuts, this writer knows where to funnel energy. If she makes a mistake, she readjusts and doesn’t waste time moaning over making a poor choice. She throws herself into the work knowing that, if we make enough wrong decisions, we grow enough to start making a lot of RIGHT decisions.

Hey, I’ve done literally EVERYTHING wrong. But I’m still here ;).

Knowing Your Stuff Cold

There are a lot of ways to train to be a good author, but great authors must read. The authors with presence study everything. Either they inhale craft books or they devour fiction. They watch movies and series, then break stories down to see what’s working, what isn’t and how to duplicate the magic.

Every time I meet a writer who says, “Well I want to be a best-selling author, but I don’t like to read.”

Yeah. Next.

The author with presence understands the basics of his craft and practices to perfection. As Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Confidence

Confidence is often birthed from hard work. One of the reasons I am a HUGE fan of writers blogging is it helps to build confidence. Confidence isn’t BS bravado, rather it’s a mindset that any problem can be solved if broken down into enough pieces.

When I used to run critique groups, I had too many writers who just wanted ego stroking, to be told every word/sentence/idea was a rainbow nugget of gold. If I tried to point out the problems, these types of writers would fly into a hissy-fit-rage.

Yeah, that would be NO confidence.

On the other hand, I’ve also been blessed enough to work with writers like Piper Bayard, who had enough confidence in themselves to take the criticism and then ask the tough questions. “How do I make it better?” “What do you need to me do/read?”

Writers like this have enough confidence to not be derailed every time they get feedback that doesn’t tell them they’re a unicorn-kitten-hug.

Piper now has a multi-book deal with a traditional publisher, btw :).

Thinking a Few Steps Ahead

Writers with presence regard writing as a career. They think strategically and long-term. These writers (even before they finish their first books) aren’t viewing publishing like a literary scratch-off ticket. They’re already planning the next book, the series, the next series, and which publisher(s)/publishing options might be the best fit, etc.

Too many writers have desperation coming off them in waves. Why? They have ONE book and market it TO DEATH. They aren’t playing Career Chess; they’re playing Publishing Tiddly Winks.

Adversity

Frequently, these writers are survivors. There is a reason we see a lot of lawyers, doctors and former military people become best-selling authors. These writers embrace pain and harness it for advantage.

Believing You’re Special

As we talked about in this week’s Boxing Series, there is a lot of resistance in this profession. The world will never be short of people who will call you a talentless hack/poseur/fake/amateur/nut.

It’s The Resistance.

The Resistance is made up of two types of people. Those too chicken $#!& to follow their own dreams, or those so full of themselves they can’t bear to share the spotlight. Both types of people build themselves up by putting others down.

Expect it.

The writer with presence holds fast to the internal knowledge she or he IS SPECIAL. She tunes out the haters and presses on. No matter the push-back, this writer has a calling and this calling is intimately tethered to the internal belief that she has something the world wants to read/hear/learn.

Just like no one is born with talent, none of us are born a “Writer with Presence,” but we can learn to be that writer. Just set down the ego, roll up the sleeves and WORK HARD.

What are your thoughts or opinions? What would you add to the list? What are your experiences? Have you dealt with the narcissists or even the emotional vampires? The jealous, the immature? Have you been that person and had an A-HA! moment?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner 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).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!