Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: the future of publishing

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

For the past few months I’ve been focused on writing and not on social media. Hey, even the Social Media Jedi can get burnout ūüėČ . But now we’re going to shift gears because, aside from writing the actual book, social media (branding) is the biggest part of our job. And I can hear the moaning and gnashing of teeth already.

Here’s the thing. We don’t have to do social media. No one will take us to writer jail if we don’t. So I will narrow this down. If you simply love the art of writing and don’t necessarily long to be paid for writing, social media is not that big of a priority. Social media is only important for those of us who like money.

Thus, for those of us who want to make a living as a professional author, we must take author branding seriously. We are a business. Want to be successful? Do what successful people do. Successful authors have a brand and use social media well.

When I first began blogging about social media, an on-line platform was an edge. Now? It is a lifeline.

Point of Sale Has Changed FOREVER

When Hubby and I first married seven years ago, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a bookstore. Barnes & Noble and Borders megastores crouched at every corner. They were large and fatted from all the small indie bookstores they’d devoured.

We would peruse the shelves and I’d dream of the day I’d see my books out on those display tables. But even then, I had a knot in my stomach. I knew these were halcyon days for the mega-store. We’d already seen what iTunes had done to Tower Records and logic dictated these mega-bookstores were already living on borrowed time.

And sometimes I hate it when I’m right.

Over the past seven years we’ve watched various evolutions of decay and decline. Borders consolidated and then finally went bankrupt. Barnes & Noble tried to launch the Nook. Instead of the front of the store being books, it was a display area for Nooks and Nook accessories. Then, when that didn’t ignite like the Kindle Fire, we saw a steady progression of more and more and more consolidation.

I am from Fort Worth. At one point, there were five Barnes and Nobles all within a couple miles of each other. They are now all gone.

ALL.

Thing is, Borders and Barnes & Noble erased all the indies. Now they are gone. What does this mean for writers?

Fewer point of sale contacts.

There are fewer and fewer physical places to purchase books. For those authors who were counting on readers discovering their titles while browsing? This is bad juju. I live in a very metropolitan area and I know of only a handful of Barnes & Nobles for the entire DFW Area (a metroplex the size of Connecticut).

I just sent off one of my novels to an agent. Would I love to see my book in Barnes & Noble? PSHAW! Duh, YES! I’m a writer.

Like you guys, I’ve dreamed of that since I wrote my first novels in crayon. But I am not naive. Yes, being in a bookstore serves my vanity, but it is no longer the major driver of sales that it used to be.

Even if bookstores sold a LOT of books, frankly there aren’t that many bookstores left.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter all that much simply because there is a really good reason for this store shrinkage. And since I blogged about this until I was BLUE, I will only touch on this point.

We need consumers more than they need us.

Pay Attention to Consumer Behavior

#FUTUREREADERS
#FUTUREREADERS

Thing is, Barnes & Noble could have learned a thing or ten from iTunes and RedBox. Times have changed and so have consumer behaviors. We are an OnDemand world. In the old days, we had to go to the merchant. These days, the merchant comes to us.

CLICK TO BUY!

When I finish one book, my Kindle magically delivers other books like the one I just read. Instead of having to wear pants, brave traffic, find a parking spot, wade through the mall, wander the store, on and on and on…

One click and done.

I just got a new Kindle and O…M…G. They have a new feature where instead of my Kindle simply hibernating with some blasé picture, it has an advertisement for a book. I have bought more books in the past week than in the past year because instead of me having to use a bunch of brainpower sifting through a gazillion choices?

Amazon has done my thinking for me.

We Buy What We KNOW

What happens with authors who don’t have that neat Amazon ad to direct purchases? In a marketplace with fewer and fewer points of sale with more competition than ever in human history, how do we sell books?

We have to create a brand.

We live in a time where we have more choices than ever. I don’t know about you guys, but I have a Love-Hate relationship with Central Market. Granted, it is AWESOME. Central Market is such a cool grocery store that tourists actually visit. Every aisle is a foodie’s dream. They don’t just have “olive oil”, they have 700 varieties of an olive oil “experience”.

And there I stand for 40 minutes just trying to make a freaking decision about WHICH olive oil to buy‚Ķand end up just buying plain old Bertolli that I could have purchased at the Kroger’s down the road and that I certainly didn’t need to dress up, drive to Central Market and nearly get run over by a soccer mom in a Mercedes SUV to purchase.

Now, the only time I go to Central Market is if I need something specific because with all the choices? It would take me a day and a half to shop‚Ķand I’d need sherpas and GPS and wine that I brought myself because I can’t even figure out what kind of freaking OLIVE OIL I want, you think aI could choose WINE‚Ķ?????

*breathes in paper bag*

Yet, with books, this is what is going on with consumers, even those of us who are avid readers. Just like we will forgo the pasta sauce with truffles, a virgin sacrifice and the distilled souls of Italian grandmothers in favor of good old-fashioned Ragu…

We will shy away from authors we don’t know in favor of those we DO know.

This is where social media and branding become almost as important as the book we write and have for sale. We could have a book so brilliant it makes angels weep, but if no one knows it is there? We are left with Schrodinger’s Novel.

We Must Always Be Cultivating the Fans of the Future

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons
Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

It is incumbent upon us as authors to be in charge of our careers for the short-term as well as the long-term. If you plan on selling books in ten years realize that Millenials will be your audience and they practically teethed on a keyboard. They’ve grown up with social media, so if we aren’t there?

We do not exist.

Smart authors understand this. Don’t believe me, go check out Anne Rice on Facebook and Twitter. She is a social media rockstar and that’s why she continues to be a legend.

It’s All Good

Before anyone has a panic attack, author branding is not that hard. Also, done properly, it isn’t all that time-intensive either. But, I teach branding and social media very differently namely because I am a writer FIRST. I don’t imagine most of you are just doing this writing thing until your dream job in high pressure sales comes through.

Didn’t think so.

I will blog more on this in the weeks to come, but I do recommend picking up my book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.¬†Platforms take time to build so the sooner we start the better. Yes, I published the book a couple years ago, but unlike other “social media experts” I teach an approach that never changes because it is based on people and not technology.

Read Shakespeare. Humans don’t change. And, since humans don’t change, it only makes sense to build a platform based on people, not algorithms and “gaming” the system.

I also have zero interest in changing your personalities. I appreciate what it is like to be a creative introvert with severe social anxiety (I used to shop at 2 a.m. because crowds gave me panic attacks). My goal is to change your behavior, NOT your personality. I am also here to give you a way to create a powerful brand for FREE and still have plenty of time to do the most important part of the job.

Write more books.

So we will start chatting more about branding. What to do, what not to do. What’s a time suck and so forth.

What are your thoughts? Do you miss the small bookstores? I really miss B. Dalton. Do you still dream of seeing your book for sale on a table at B&N? Have you been powerless in the face of Kindle book ads? I had to sign up for a Kindle Unlimited membership before I had to go to a loan shark to pay for my habit. Are you overwhelmed by social media or has it given you a lifeline?

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.

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.¬†

Craftfest

In The Digital Age, we seem to find a lot of extremes. Either articles or blogs ranting how social media doesn’t sell books, it’s too hard, there are too many rules,¬†whiiiiiiinnnnne. These folks might write books, maybe¬†even great books, but I suppose they think readers will find them using telepathy.¬†

Or, there are those who worship the Oracle of Automation and the Lord of Algorithms. Instead of writing MORE BOOKS, they tweet, FB, Instagram, buy flare, do blog tours, futz with the website, the cover, the algorithms…and then can later be witnessed crying in a corner with a pan of brownies and a half-finished bottle of rum.

Thus, I am here to bring some balance to The Force.

Social Media Was NEVER About Selling Books Directly—Who KNEW?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.
Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

I’ve been saying this for about ten years, because the idea of using social circles for sales is NOT new. About ten years ago, I recognized that social media would soon be a vital tool for writers to be able to create a brand and a platform before the book was even finished. This would shift the power away from sole control of Big Publishing and give writers more freedom. But, I knew social media could not be used for direct sales successfully.

How?

When I was in college, every multi-level-marketing company in the known world tried to recruit me. I delivered papers and worked nights most of my college career. Needless to say, I was always on the lookout for a more flexible job that didn’t require lugging fifty pounds of paper up and down three flights of apartment stairs at four in the morning.

I’d answer Want Ads in the paper thinking I was being interviewed for a good-paying job where I could make my own hours.¬†Inevitably it would be some MLM company selling water filters, diet pills, vitamins, prepaid legal services, or soap.

And if I sat through the presentation, they fed me. This meant I sat through most of them.

What always creeped me out was how these types of companies did business. First, “target” family and friends to buy said product (and hopefully either sign them up to sell with you or at least “spread the word” and give business referrals). Hmmmm. Sound familiar?

The business model wasn’t really about meeting people, connecting and actually liking them just because they were good people. There was an endgame‚ĶSELL STUFF (or manipulate others into helping you sell stuff).

Ick.

Hey, you go to the gym anyway. Strike up a conversation. Say¬†nice things, then give the sucker friend¬†target a FREE SAMPLE. People who work out need vitamins. That isn’t ookey AT ALL!

Hmmm, looks legit.
Hmmm, looks legit.

The Battle of the Experts

I recall being part of a panel in NYC at Thrillerfest and the other experts were all excited about applications that could tweet for authors “saving time” or even certain tools that could measure what days and times Twitter was most active and when people would be most likely to see our tweets. All I could think was:

1) Are these people tweeting or ovulating?

2) If everyone uses this same tool, then all they will do is crowd the feed and no one will see anything. Left long enough, these “Golden Hours” will shift so people can avoid the barrage of ME, ME, ME! MY BOOK!

The panel’s moderator (ironically) worked for the CIA and was tickled silly that there were all kinds of algorithms that could “predict human behaviors.” Of course, I made myself WAY popular when I said, “The only way to accurately predict human behavior is if we all have a chip in our heads and someone else has a joystick.”

Yes, I can be blunt. My mom is from New York. I blame it on her.

My assertion was that, if this was true, and we could accurately predict human behavior, then we wouldn’t be worrying about crime, war or terrorism and that these algorithms were a mirage that gave a false sense of us “being in control” of the uncontrollable.

Also, how would she still have a job at the CIA?

Oooh, But We Can MEASURE…um, NO

In the 90s and early 21st century most people weren’t on-line. Computers were still cost-prohibitive and Internet service was mind-bendingly slow (dial-up?) and expensive. Social media was in its infancy and only early adopters trusted buying on-line.

Companies could launch ads and measure click-throughs. How long did a visitor stay on a web site’s page? Did the visitor click the ad on the page? Did that ad then translate into a sale? Companies still do this. I’m pretty sure authors can do this, but why would we want to?

Could feel like THIS? Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons
Meet Spiffy the Algorithm Hamster. He is DEAD.

Unlike Sephora, Gap or Walmart, most of us are a one-person operation. We don’t have a team of interns to do this stuff. We also don’t have a multi-million dollar corporate budget.

What IF an ad doesn’t work? How many of us have time and extra money to launch a new ad?

Also, there are SO many variables beyond our control. I’ve seen this with blogging. A holiday, time of year (kids getting out of school), a major world news event (like Paris being attacked by terrorist cells) can all affect traffic and click-throughs. To try and study our stats and juke them for advantage is a lot of time better used elsewhere (like writing more books).

Might I suggest one of these...
Might I suggest one of these…

Relationships are Key

Social media is social, meaning it’s about¬†relationships.¬†This means, 1) it will take¬†time to build¬†and 2) it cannot be outsourced 3) it cannot be automated.

Can you imagine trying to maintain relationships this way in the real world? Give your husband a call-in number:

For the location of clean socks, press 1. For a word of encouragement, press 2. For the item I need you to pick up from the store, press 3. For the real reason I haven’t talked to you since yesterday, please stay on the line and an operator will be with you shortly.

Your estimated call wait time is three days.

HINT: Anniversary.

Social media and author brands will sell books, just not directly and not in ways that can be measured looking at clicks and stats. Social media is essentially word-of-mouth which has been selling stuff books for centuries and no one can measure it. 

The Bottom Line

Since I don’t have all the articles and blogs griping about social media, I am limited here. But I imagine that, aside from telling writers social media was a waste of time that doesn’t sell books, I assume not one of these complainers offered up some panacea replace social media.

See, it is a hell of a lot easier to complain than to offer a solution. Griping takes ZERO brainpower.

So, if social media doesn’t sell books, then what does? Ads don’t. Never have. Promotions (without an extant and vested platform) are time-consuming, expensive and have a dismal ROI (Return on Investment).

Also, if social media is so grossly ineffective, what explanation do we have for the MASSIVE power shift from BIG NYC publishing to indie and self-published authors now 1) making a reasonable second income 2) making a decent enough living to finally write full-time 3) nontraditional authors taking up an increasing portion of major bestseller lists like the New York Times and USA Today and 4) the major inflation of fiction writers now making six and seven figures?

All the ones I know of (and there are MANY) use social media to some extent. All of these authors would never have gained visibility, traction or sales without social media.How can we explain these trends without including social media as a variable?

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 1.17.53 PM

Notice I said social media as a variable.¬†There is NO magic formula. Hard work, more books, good books and generating word of mouth (in part with a brand and on-line platform) is fundamental. Social media has been mistakenly touted as a formula to wealth and riches, but it isn’t. Neither is buying real estate using a proven program from an infomercial.

The Future

Bookstores are closing. Barnes & Noble is evaporating. Indie stores are making a comeback, but they have limited space (and need to unless they want to go bankrupt like the megastores that tried to KILL them). THIS is the future of book sales. THIS is in the cosmetics section of my grocery store. Insert a debit card and get a sample before you buy…

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. LOSS prevention?
Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. Also, um LOSS prevention?

Oh, and these are popping up…

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 11.23.38 AM
Check your bank balance then BUY A BOOK!
For those who want a paper copy to hold...
For those who want a paper copy to hold…and get NACHOS!

These kiosks sound familiar. Reminds me of one of my posts from over three years ago. I wrote a lot of¬†other blogs that said basically the same stuff, posts that are even older. But I’ve written over 800 blogs and I’m lazy and have to get back to writing books. And I am not alone in seeing this trend. I’m no great genius. Other people saw this coming.

Um, clearly since I can’t claim I invented any of these machines. Ok, I could, but I try to restrict lying to my fiction.

But, if THESE kiosks are down the pipeline, how can we reasonably come to the conclusion that social media is a total waste of time?

Relying totally on social media is a waste of time, but I’ve been saying that for years. As authors, we are wise to think in terms of our careers. Think like a business, as in short-term and¬†long-term.¬†Platforms and careers need a wide base, deep roots, a community of support, time and a heck of a lot of sweat equity.

Also, there are effective ways to do social media and ways that make others want to stab us in the face¬†(which was why I wrote Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World).W.A.N.A. ways WORK. They’re responsible for selling millions of books. But they take time.

ROM has a simple step-by-step plan. Heck, don’t buy my book. Browse my blogs for free. I only care about your success.

The Future IS Bright for Writers

The future for authors is wonderful, but there is no Social Media Shake Weight. Sorry. I was bummed, too. But here’s the thing. The same articles/blogs that will discourage writers from social media because it doesn’t sell books aren’t also demanding we halt all book signings.

Book signings are fun, they are social, and they’ve historically been a way to connect authors to an audience in a personal way.

Until social media they were the only way. 

But book signings were NEVER meant as a sole means to sell books. In fact, it was really never even the purpose of a signing. Rather it was connection with the author as a person.

Craftfest

Even if a writer has a line out the door, the most even a mega-author might sell is a thousand books. Let’s be generous. FIVE thousand books. A drop in the bucket if you’re Dan Brown. Is selling 5,000 books relevant when an author sells millions? When an author has to board a plane, stay in a hotel, sit in one spot signing for¬†hours or even come up with a speech? And travel city to city to city for a month or more instead of writing?

Food for thought ūüėČ .

We live in a wonderful time to be a writer. Yes, it’s work, but there are a lot of reasons why this job isn’t for everyone. Success in anything is about staying power, passion, and effective action (solid social media, building relationships, and writing MORE books and GOOD books).

What are your thoughts? Are too many authors banking too much on social media? Do you feel social media has been sold to writers as a get-rich-quick-scheme? Do you see other authors approaching social media in a way you¬†know¬†is going to burn them out? Do you know of any nontraditional authors who sold zillions of books yet didn’t use social media at all? What did they do?

…ALIENS.

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).

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.¬†

 

WANAs at DFWWWCon
WANAs at DFWWWCon

I shambled in from DFWWCon dirty, tired, with no voice, out of energy but filled with hope. It’s been such a privilege for me to stick with this job long enough to watch it evolve. I’ve even witnessed WANA grow from an acronym in e-mails from my original editor to whittle down typing OUT my first book title (We Are Not Alone) to a binding movement where writers of all levels refer to themselves as WANAs. All genres, all forms of publishing welcome.

We don’t make you dance with snakes until your¬†third¬†meeting *wink, wink* ūüėÄ .

WANA has always been about love and service instead of self. I believe WANA is the connective tissue that makes writers stronger in craft and spirit—writers knowing they are stronger together than apart. WANA has always had this wonderful mix of sage pros mingling with bright-eyed newbies.

The pros help the new authors become more grounded and educated in the business or craft. Newbies refresh our spirits. They fill us with the wonder and magic of youth, the vigor that reminds us why we write.  I believe we share the same message from different points in a timeline. Keep pressing. Keep going. Keep loving what you do.

We are NOT alone.

Have You Heard of Gluten-Free Jesus?

Okay, I am not meaning to be irreverent but I am living proof God has a sense of humor. I’m from Texas and part of our culture is church (we go shooting after ūüėÄ ). In other states they might ask where you work, we might inquire where you go to church. Vacation Bible School is a staple of childhood.

We’ve just been through the Easter season and I SO love where we go to church, namely because when we had communion on Maundy Thursday there were two baskets of communion wafers.

So I am standing in line with Hubby. Music’s playing. We are all feeling the love. I lean over to Hubby and whisper, “So do I just ask for the Gluten-Free Body of Christ?” ‚Ķ.and he ribs me and says something about how he can’t take me anywhere which is true so I don’t argue.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you my belief system hasn’t affected how I’ve developed WANA or helped writers. I believe love trumps all. Love of writing will overcome the nagging self-doubt and the legions of people telling us we are fools for trying. Love for each other is what keeps us going when we go through the wilderness, those withering empty times when we start reconsidering Aunt Thelma’s suggestion that medical billing might be a better career choice. WANAs bind together for more than book sales.

We are a family who will love you and be there even when it’s ugly.

But one of the core tenets of WANA has always been we are united by love. Love for each other as human beings and artists. WANA has never taken sides in writing or publishing.

It might have been easier or more sensational for me to blast NY and call for it to be burned to the ground. Conversely, maybe I’d have had more friends in traditional publishing if I labeled all of self-publishing a gaggle of hacks. But, blessedly I have friends I adore and admire in all realms of publishing because authentic love is always balanced with truth. What is the truth?

Stories will live on. Stories are like Mother Nature. We humans could nuke the planet into a shell of itself and I guarantee you something green will poke through a crack in an irradiated parking lot somewhere. Same with writing. The institutions that govern HOW our stories reach those who want to hear them are less important than the art. WANAs are blindly devoted to great stories, not business models.

A Tale of Two Siblings

My POV? Traditional NY publishing is the older child and self-pub/indie is the younger annoying sibling. I’ve loved both and seen the strengths and weaknesses each has offer. If you read my newest book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World I feel I’m even-handed. I praise and chastise both.

Bluntness is my superpower.

Not all artists are wired for indie. It is BRUTAL. The flip side? Not all artists are wired for traditional. It is BRUTAL.

They call me the WANA Mama and it SO fits. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to break up two kids fighting.

Traditional: He doesn’t even have a STORY and yet he can¬†publish!

Self-Pub: She is SO full of herself and won’t let me even try!

Me: Knock it off before I hairlip both of you. Trad, let your brother try. He only learns by doing. Selfie, you have to learn the rules before you can break them.

Traditional: But he is publishing a Zombie-Self-Help!!!

Me: Okay, Trad. Selfie might have a point. Texting? Real Housewives of the OC? Selfie, Trad has a point. Don’t come crying to me when no one buys it. Now both of you go play Battleship before I make you pull weeds.

Dear Gluten-Free Jesus, give me strength to love both these kids and not kill them.

DFWWWCon

So the point of all this, other than being able to use the term “Gluten-Free Jesus” is I am finally, after years of playing referee, seeing both kids learn to play together and appreciate each other. Sure, Trad has convinced Selfie that he can jump off the roof using an umbrella because Penguin from Batman does it¬†all the time.¬†And Selfie still reads Trad’s diary and tells the neighborhood all the best dirt. But, all in all? They’re learning to see the GOOD each has to offer. Combine strengths and buffer each other’s weaknesses.

Selfie has taught Trad that social media is NOT a fad, rather a fundamental shift in human communication. He’s made Trad appreciate some newer and ways of doing things *cough e-books* and to remember writing is FUN. Try NEW THINGS. Trad, however, is the older kid and is teaching Selfie that quality can trump quantity. She tells him to listen to his teachers. Appreciate those who’ve gone before and be humble enough to learn something. Not every thought that flits across our brain makes a book others want to BUY.

Thankfully, Optimism is my other superpower. I’d longed for a day where the lines would blur and the kids would play well together. Trad would stop putting Selfie in a chokehold and Selfie would stop feeding the dog the game pieces in order to win.

This conference left me on such a high. I always believed “the kids” would finally see what they had in common. Love. Love for stories and telling those stories and getting them to people who wanted to¬†enjoy those stories. I always believed this new era would weed out people who are in our industry for the wrong reasons.

Agents who loved great books and good writers would innovate and thrive. Publishers who appreciated great books would evolve. Writers in this for more than a get-rich-quick would endure and everyone would have a chance to prove he or she has the right stuff. With the right attitude, this is the best time in human history to be in this business.

It is still a tough industry and not everything is as clean or just as it could be. But, by the grace of Gluten-Free Jesus we’re getting there ūüėČ .

What are your thoughts? Do you see traditional and nontraditional playing nicer, sharing, and learning from each other? Are you excited about the future? That you don’t have to choose which kid you love more?

I will announce April’s winner after waking from the conference coma in a couple days.

If you want more help with plot problems, antagonists, structure, beginnings, then I have a FANTASTIC class coming up to help you!

CLASS COMES WITH HANDOUTS AND FREE RECORDING.

Understanding the Antagonist

If you are struggling with plot or have a book that seems to be in the Never-Ending Hole of Chasing Your Tail or maybe you’d like to learn how to plot a series, I am also teaching my ever-popular Understanding the Antagonist Class on May 10th from NOON to 2:00 P.M. (A SATURDAY). This is a fabulous class for understanding all the different¬†types¬†of antagonists and how to use them to maintain and increase story tension.

Remember, a story is only as strong as its problem ūüėČ . This is a GREAT class for streamlining a story and making it pitch-ready.

Additionally, why pay thousands for an editor or hundreds for a book doctor? This is a VERY affordable way to make sure your entire story is clear and interesting. Also, it will help you learn to plot far faster and cleaner in the future.

Again, use WANA10 for $10 off.

I’ll be running the First Five Pages again at the end of May, so stay tuned.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 11.27.33 AM

Last post, I talked about the increasing popularity of series, novellas, shorts and “episodic” writing. Of course, this assertion probably stirred panic in those writers who simply aren’t wired to write series. Personally, I would like to try writing a series, but we’ll see. I might be a stand-alone gal, too.

Let me offer a bit of comfort. The rule that we shouldn’t write to the market still holds true in this case. Just like we shouldn’t decide to write a Vampire-Post-Apacolyptic-Self-Help because those are¬†hot, we shouldn’t take on shorts or series if they aren’t our thing.

Epics, Shorts, and Series are NOT New

What many people might miss is that epics and shorts are not new.¬†With the advent of the nifty thingamajig—the “printing press”—pamphlets were all the rage back in the 1800s. In fact, if we look at early writing, we see two very divergent sizes. On the end of brevity? Ben Franklin¬†Poor Man’s Almanac¬†or even Sir Author Conan Doyle’s short stories. The deep end? The breathtakingly-long-and-detailed-OMG¬†War and Peace¬†by Tolstoy—which demonstrates clearly that, when an author is paid by the word, he will pad that sucker more than a freshman term paper.

Even Charles Dickens danced both sides of the length-spectrum. A Christmas Carol versus A Tale of Two Cities.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

In the early 20th century, pulp fiction was extremely popular. People loved short works that fit in a pocket, ergo, the term “pocket books.” But, as the traditional publishing model evolved and books became bigger business, publishers realized they could charge more money for a longer book. This didn’t mean the audience for short stories and novellas suddenly went away. It had more to do with a business model than reader preferences.

We see the same with epic high fantasy and science fiction. When I was a kid, books big enough to brain a burglar were hot. Um, Clan of the Cave Bear? Ah, but the publishers realized that long books presented a couple of problems.

First, if the word count got too big, the font was so small readers needed a microscope to read it. Secondly, a big fat honkin’ book took up a LOT of shelf space. Why would a publisher bank on FIVE 140,000 word books when they could encourage writers to limit word count and be able to shelve and sell TEN 70,000 word books?

But again, shelf space, cost of paper/shipping/shelving, profit-models didn’t mean that readers who loved 140,000 book died off or evaporated.

The Digital Paradigm Revival

When I began as a writer, agents were quick to turn down short stories, novellas, epics, poetry, etc. It wasn’t because there weren’t readers for these types of writing; it was that the profit simply wasn’t there in a paper-based-brick-and-mortar model. And, to be blunt, I can’t blame New York. I remember being a young whipper snapper inhaling Tolkien, but my eyes were better.

By the time I reached my adult years, reading 1200 pages with 9 font was far too grueling.

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Christian Guthier
Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Christian Guthier

The e-reader has solved this problem. It’s made short works profitable. For those who are great at writing shorter works or serialized works, you can now access the audience that loves them and in a way that doesn’t automatically land you in the red.

For those who are strong at more epic fiction, now you can either publish one long book or break it into installments. I know I never would have been able to read Game of Thrones in paper without going BLIND. With my Kindle? I can now enjoy those super long adventures I adored in my youth.

Yes, there is a lot of chaos, confusion and growing pains as the publishing world shifts and grows and molts the old skin that no longer fits. In the midst of this, however, there is now room for more writers, more works, and more types of work, which should be very encouraging.

Also, writers can now enjoy far greater flexibility. Sure, if you want to publish traditionally, you can! But if you have the right contract, there is nothing stopping you from writing shorts or novellas or series or testing other genres in between books if you want to. Keep the fan fires burning in between.

There is ALWAYS an Audience

If you want to write stand-alones only? Great. Do it.¬†That¬†is your strength. Don’t feel that because series are hot you need to suddenly retool everything. There is just as much of an audience for the stand-alone as there is for the shorter or way longer stuff. The only difference is that publishing has been feeding your audience for the past couple decades, whereas those who liked super-short or uber-long had to read older books or look to magazines or e-zines.

If you DO, however, want to write a series, there are some fundamentals to ensure that your plot skeleton is strong and compelling. Plot is the delivery mechanism for character. Our characters can only be as strong as the problems they face.

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Last post I talked about loving¬†Battlestar Galactica.¬†I can SEE why this series is so iconic. Hubby and I went back and watched¬†Caprica¬†because we were interested in what happened before the Cylon revolt. How did the Cylons come to be? The first few episodes? LOVED them. Now? I can see why the series wasn’t renewed. The overall plot problem is¬†too small and too weak. There is no impending threat, so the series, for me, is fizzling.

Also, without a BIG and COMPELLING story problem, the individual characters aren’t as strong. The pressure is weak, thus the characters are too. Instead of truly heroic feats, I am seeing more and more melodrama and getting to where I hate almost everyone. Why? Because in¬†Battlestar Galactica¬†characters did awful, bad and stupid things, but we could forgive them. They were running for their lives and staring into the face of extinction. The story PROBLEM permitted us to give them grace.

In Caprica there is no large problem so this makes the characters petty and unlikable. Also, in Battlestar Galactica we knew the log-line. The human race must destroy or evade the Cylons and find Earth before they are rendered extinct by their own creation.

The audience in ONE SENTENCE knows the story, whether it is three episodes or thirty. GOAL: Find Earth. Every setback that keeps Earth out of reach or dashes hope of even finding Earth or any hint Earth might not exist makes us nervous. It is true dramatic tension.

Caprica?¬†Once I got an idea of how the Cylons came to be? I grew bored. There is NO imminent threat, no crucible, no idea of an overall problem in need of solving. Each episode is just “stuff happening.” It is breaking one of the core rules of a good series. Every episode should be able to stand alone. Every episode should have a clear¬†smaller goal that is a step toward reaching the larger goal.

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons
Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

And, to be blunt, Caprica might simply be facing the problem most prequels have.¬†We already know the end.¬†We already know the Cylons will rebel and wage war and nearly wipe out humans. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I watched Caprica because now I understand the Cylons more and the humans sorta deserved what they got. But, it is tough to have a ticking clock and a disaster to be averted when the audience already knows the humans will “lose.”

Whether we write short works, long works, in-between works, serialized or unserialized, the same “rules” apply. We’ll talk more later about how to write a strong series, but a great start no matter what kind of story—short, long, in-between, connected, unconnected—is to create a clear, compelling, story-worthy problem.

What are your thoughts? Do you have series that fizzled for you for the same reasons? There wasn’t a strong problem or a clear problem? Can you think of stories you loved versus ones that lost your interest because it devolved into confusion or melodrama? Are you contemplating a series? Why?

I love hearing from you!

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).

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines‚ÄďHuman Authors in a Digital World.

 

 

I’ve said many times before that it is an amazing time to be a writer. Yet, I think this age, this new Digital Renaissance might actually be more than we can imagine, and age of empowerment artists have never before experienced. We just need to be open to the future.

First, the Technology Problem

Many artists feel threatened by social media, computers, iPads and e-readers. I will admit that I used to be one of those people who refused to learn how to use e-mail. I used to write long, detailed letters to friends and family with stickers and pictures and pretty handwriting. I felt computers were too cold and impersonal, especially compared to expensive stationary from my Hallmark store.

Yet, now?

Now, I no longer send frilly messages to a handful of friends and family. I actually interact with them daily on Facebook…more of them. I see their kids grow up even though they live half a world away. ¬†I share the daily triumphs, and can be there to support them in the trials too. It isn’s as fancy as my letters, but it is very, very personal in a way I hadn’t imagined possible 15 years ago.

Digital books are not the first technological advance that has left artists feeling threatened. I’m sure the dude who was in charge of recording all the stories and history on the cave walls felt threatened by the smarty pants who invented papyrus paper. Then there were all those monks who got downsized when the printing press came along.

Great, thanks to that Gutenberg jerk, everyone can be published.

When the Lumiere brothers invented the first cameras, people believed that artists would be obsolete, that photographs would take the place of paintings. When moving pictures were invented, many thought stage actors would also fade away into history. As we have seen, paintings and plays have endured and actually the technology invented brand new forms of art—photography and cinematography.

What no one accounted for is that art is the very essence of creation. We can’t stop it. The technology isn’t responsible for making the art, it is a vehicle¬†for the art.¬†Art will always remain and will always find a way to be expressed. Humans have a guiding imperative to create.

And that is awesome news for us.

Artists have had a Rough Road

When I gave up my job in sales to become a writer, my family didn’t speak to me for three years. I might as well have come home with a handful of magic beans and a tale about a castle in the sky and my pet unicorn.

What I find interesting is that, since the Industrial Revolution, we increasingly became a society that valued the artist less and less and less. In the 50s during the Space Race, schools started valuing the children who excelled at math and science and the arts were seen as something fluffy and unsubstantial.

Schools were set up to create new generations of factory workers, engineers and scientists who could support the military-industrial complex. Schools taught neat skills like sitting still for eight hours, coloring in the lines, and listening to authority. I think this is one of the reasons that teachers rail against all this “teaching to the test.” Teaching is an art, and few things can steal that art like a standardized test.

Art is the Essence of Humanity

Children are natural artists. They color dance and sing with abandon. Yet, some time about the age of 9, we are told it is time to get serious. One day we will need to go to college so we can get a “real job.”

I spent 15 years trying to fit myself in that straight-jacket mold and it just made me ill, depressed and angry. I was a child who’d immersed herself in ballet. When I wasn’t dancing, I was drawing art and writing stories on every spare scrap of paper or playing a clarinet. This creative creature then grew into an adult trying to work in corporate sales. Was it any wonder I was chronically ill with a sickness no doctor could name?

When I started pursuing my art, I became more myself than I’d been since the age of ten. I went from being a misfit, an ill-fitting cog in an alien machine to feeling my life fall almost magically into place.

The Funny Thing About Artists

Yet, what I find interesting is that artists are the intuitives that birth the science. Mary Shelley envisioned the human body as a bioelectric system¬†before¬†the scientists. Proust intuited that taste and smell were hardwired to memory before science proved that he was correct; that those are the two senses are uniquely sentimental because they are connected to the hypothalamus, thus the most strongly tethered to memory. George Eliot understood that the brain was a regenerate organ a hundred years before Dr. Elizabeth Gould discovered that brain cells actually did renew themselves and pioneered neurogenesis. Jules Verne envisioned a man on the moon and even intuited almost every detail of how we could do it…of how we actually¬†did¬†do it.

When artists create wild fantasy we lay the groundwork for the future. Artists envisioned a world with equal rights, a world with women in leadership, a world where humans traveled through space.

Artists take the impossible and make it real.

A society that embraces art is at a distinctive advantage. We have been a society working on a half a brain. We have valued the rational logical left brain at the expense of the imaginative, intuitive right brain. With technology we finally have an opportunity to become a world using its brain…all of it.

Technology and the Digital Renaissance

Technology will bring a Digital Renaissance simply because it is adding value to the artist. We are the only job that can’t be downsized, outsourced or automated. Machines can’t create art. Legions of cheap labor in China will not replace us.

As more people own computers and e-readers, the demand for art will only increase. Also, each of us has an artist inside, and technology allows all of us to express that nature. What is wonderful about the new paradigm is it is finally possible to make a living—a good living—as an artist. Sure, it is a lot of work and hard work, but is being a doctor easier? Any profession that is lucrative is a lot of work…only now we can do what we LOVE, so it is never work. Give me a fifty hour work week of writing and I will be HAPPY!

I actually am typing this sentence at 3:59 in the morning. I woke up at 2:00 and could’t sleep so I am working…and I love every second of it because I am doing what I was born to do.

Vive la Revolution!

I call WANA the Love Revolution. WANA (We Are Not Alone) is based on service above self and community, but it is poised on the fulcrum of LOVE. Love for our art, love for each other, and love for the world we are serving and changing. WANA is bigger than writing, so please recruit all the creatives you know. Our time is NOW!

Every revolution needs a leader…someone rugged, handsome, and stylish. There are exciting things ahead for the WANAs, so today let me introduce you to the spearhead of our movement. Meet, Francis…

I met Francis early this past March and his story was heartbreaking, so I had to find the dust-covered art supplies, put marker to paper and bring him to life so his story could inspire all of you. But, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Francis will be starring in a feature film that shows how WANA changed his life, and I believe you will be moved, that you will see how all of us are Francis. His debut film will be released soon, so stay tuned for the date. His feature is going to be part of the surprise I have in store for all of you. It is too big to give you at once, so I am giving it to you a taste at a time.

WANNA Be a WANA?

If Egypt can have a revolution using Facebook, then why can’t artists? This is OUR time. The more art we create, the better we become. We can use social media to find our future patrons, those who are dying to hear a good story, listen to a new song, dance a new dance. We can cultivate the love for our art and our art only gets better with time. We won’t have to worry that our job will get replaced with a 20 year old intern willing to work for half the pay. We won’t be told we are too old, the we need to retire because some college kid can do what we do.

We are artists and we are indispensable, indomitable and immortal.

It is the 21st century, a Digital New World and it is an awesome time to be an artist. Grab your pens and paintbrushes, your books and easels, and join the WANAs for a Love Revolution! Currently we are hanging out at #MyWANA on Twitter, but I have another surprise in store. A land where the WANAs roam free to create and be themselves.

It’s gonna be like CHRISTMAS! …which means you have to wait to open your presents :D.

So what is your story? Are you an ill-fitting cog in an alien machine? Do you long to create, but you are chained to the day job? Have you broken free from the “real job” and are now living your passion? Tell us your story!

By the way, for a really fantastic book about how artists have defined science, I recommend Jonah Lehrer’s Proust was a Neuroscientist.

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of May, 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 every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

***IMPORTANT MESSAGE‚ÄďFor those who have not gotten back pages. My web site fiasco has been responsible for eating a lot of e-mails. Additionally I get about 400 e-mails a day and the spam folder has a healthy appetite too. It is hard to tell since some people never claim their prize, but I could have very well just not¬†seen¬†your entry. Feel free to e-mail it again and just put CONTEST WINNER in the header so I can spot you easily. (especially if your message is kidnapped by the spam filter).

I also¬†hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books¬†We Are Not Alone‚ÄďThe Writer‚Äôs Guide to Social Media¬†and¬†Are You There, Blog? It‚Äôs Me, Writer¬†.¬†And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.