Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: writing as a business

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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?

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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

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

I was not a “real writer.”

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

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We’ve Come a LONG Way, Baby

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

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

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

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Changing Times

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

Or whatever.

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

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

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

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

Thank the Mushroom-Eaters

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

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

Chuy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Are YOU a Mushroom-Eater?

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

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

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

Why is This SO IMPORTANT?

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

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

Fail to plan and plan to fail.

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

Write. That will answer the question 😉 .

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

I love hearing from you!

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

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

"Crap. Revisions tore my hose. But I need to sell more books and 'market myself'…"
“Crap. Revisions tore my hose. But I need to sell more books and get out and ‘market myself’…”
Image via Darwin Bell, Flickr Creative Commons.

All right, don’t stone me, but I feel some of the marketing “buzz words” range from terrifying to annoying to outright offensive. For instance, every time I read “target your demographic” or “target your readers” I wonder if this comes with a Predator Drone or at least a laser sight.

I don’t know about you guys, but I get creeped out being “targeted.” It makes it seem we (seller and consumer) are opponents—one the cunning victor and the other the hapless dupe who landed in the marketing crosshairs.

But the one that’s gotten my hackles up over the past week or so is when writers are beating themselves up. They write things in my comments like, “I know need to try harder to market myself” or “It’s no longer about marketing my books, I have to market ME.”

NO.

If I’ve in any way contributed to this feeling, my deepest apologies. I hope this post will clear things up.

The Difference Between Market Norms and Social Norms

Two norms guide all commerce. Market norms are cold, driven by data. We pay the price on the tag. There’s no emotion, and no relationship. All purchases and exchange of goods and services is simple. We don’t go to buy a computer then are hurt because we thought Best Buy was our BFF and could have made us a sweeter deal.

Social norms guide relationships. If I open the door for you, I don’t hold out my hand expecting a tip. When I make dinner for Hubby, I don’t bring him a check with 20% gratuity factored in because I have to clean the kitchen, too. If Hubby paid me after fooling around, he might suddenly go mysteriously missing.

Transition

In the 1990s, as the TV-Industrial complex began to crumble, we saw more and more businesses blending market and social norms.

Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

For corporations, using social norms can be beneficial. If we (consumers) like a company, we are willing to pay higher prices and can have greater loyalty. BUT, this company has a much steeper obligation. Don’t call us family then exploit us. Not only will we complain, we will raze your brand to the ground on-line. Companies can’t have the benefits that go with harnessing social norms, then forget the greater responsibility.

Evolution of Commerce

In the olden days, we didn’t have a lot of choices. When I was a kid, if you wanted to buy a new TV, there were about three brands to choose from. There were also three kinds of spaghetti sauce. Most household cleansers were manufactured by the same company. Ma Bell issued a phone when you activated a line in your home. If my parents wanted a different phone or a newer phone or a phone repaired? They called the phone company.

Image courtesy of Clemson via Flickr Creative Commons.
Image courtesy of Clemson via Flickr Creative Commons.

And had THREE colors to choose from 😀 .

Yet, as markets opened up bringing increased competition, this presented a problem to The Big Guys who’d enjoyed gouging consumers who had no other place to go. Cheaper and even better options came along and the pseudo-monopolies began to crumble.

For instance, my husband has this COOL remote control car that can do speeds in excess of 55 mph and is extraordinarily maneuverable. When I was growing up, if you wanted a remote control car, you went to Radio Shack and took out a second mortgage on your house to buy one…and generally it worked once then died.

Remote control cars were The Great Class Divider—those who could afford one and then the rest of us.

Image courtesy of Gazanfarulla Khan via Flickr Creative Commons.
Image courtesy of Gazanfarulla Khan via Flickr Creative Commons.

Now? In 2014? I can’t believe Radio Shack is still around. Sometimes I think it’s only because we still have a population over age 70 who still shops there. My grandfather, who is almost 90, still goes there to buy batteries, proving old habits die hard.

Yet, as the years passed, emerging markets offered newer, better and cheaper options. We could have all colors of phones. CORDLESS phones. Eventually phones with an answering machine built in and then Caller ID. More and more features and bells and whistles for less and less money.

When the Internet arrived, this only exacerbated the problem. And, as computers became more affordable, Internet service did too. E-Commerce arrived. Consumers no longer wanted to browse the window of an electronics store when they could purchase on-line cheaper and get free shipping.

Thus, with the explosion of options, market norms became highly problematic. To rely completely on market norms is a race to the bottom of who can give away the most stuff and the best stuff for free. How can companies mitigate this?

Let Me Introduce “Social Norms”

When we had only a handful of choices for coffee, we bought the one mom did. We chose between caffeinated, decaf, and instant. Fast-forward 20 years.

In an endless sea of coffee choices, manufacturers didn’t want to compete on price if they didn’t have to. Thus we now pay more than double if a coffee is “Rainforest Friendly” or “Organic.” Our purchases have come to reflect our values. Case in point, the new Follow the Frog campaign:

Is it non-GMO? Gluten-free? Environmentally friendly? Recycled? Does the manufacturer donate a portion of profits to charities we support?

Even large companies are realizing Facebook can be an asset and that people don’t want endless spam and promotion. We want a company that includes us and represents our values. We are willing to pay more to those kinds of companies. We want to like who we buy from.

We gravitate to companies with a real person behind the tweets and posts. Smart companies are recognizing they need to keep a finger on the pulse of their social platforms.

When I was ready to throw the first Mac I bought through the closest Apple Store window, I tweeted about my frustration. Guess who replied? Guess who worked tirelessly to make sure I was happy?

Guess who now uses Apple almost exclusively and has become a VERY good customer?

Kristen Lamb, writing teacher, WANA
Yes, Hubby even downloaded a game for the CAT.

I was willing to pay more for a company that not only solved my problem, but actually seemed to care about it. When the HP I owned had issues (and I’d had several HPs over the course of a decade), HP ran me through and endless maze of chasing my own @$$ with confusing and impersonal on-line forms that went unanswered. They used the information to spam me instead of solving my problem.

In the end? I knew I’d pay more with Apple (and wouldn’t have any new clothes for at least five years), but I chose the company that made me feel they were on my side, that I was more than a number.

Back to the Eternal Question—Do Authors Have to Market Themselves?

We have to remember the distinction between a business and a human being. When humans start “marketing themselves” it drifts into Creepy Land. Bluntly, it makes me feel like I need fishnets, heels and a red light that hides my smile lines. Or maybe I need to take up juggling fire while wearing a costume and swallowing swords.

We strongly suspected Earl had a book for sale… Image courtesy of Rafael-Castillio via Flickr Creative Commons.
We strongly suspected Earl had a book for sale…
Image courtesy of Rafael-Castillio via Flickr Creative Commons.

Granted, all of us on some level “market ourselves.” When we apply for a corporate job, we know that we have to wear the right suit, the right smile and have the right answers in an interview if we want to land the job or promotion.

But what if we had a plan for “marketing ourselves” to make friends? A bullet-point reference to make others like us. Worse still, how ookie does it get when we actively put together a plan for people to like us so they will buy something from us?

Hey, Baby, you wanna date book?

Writers are not Geiko. We are not AFLAC or P&G or Apple. We are people. A company is a non-living thing striving to connect and be personable. Companies have always been in the goods and services business filling needs. Companies have always been driven by market norms and that’s never been a question of ethics.

When human interactions are driven by market norms? That’s called slavery and prostitution.

Writers are people. A person is a person. When I actively make a plan for people to like me so they will buy my book? I need a shower and counseling.

All Humans Have a Brand

My brand. Spongebob, Green Lantern and NERF---oh, and I write books, too.
My brand. Spongebob, Green Lantern and NERF—oh, and I write books, too.

Brand is merely what comes to mind when we think of a name. When I think of AT&T, I see red. It brings to mind hours of runaround with customer service and the half zillion times they have screwed up our bill (where we live we have no other option).

When it comes to people? They also have a brand. They could be our vegan friend who competes in triathlons or our zany friend who collects action figures and goes to ComicCon.

I don’t call Such-and-Such in an emergency because he’s a notorious flake. If I have a bad day, I call Thus-And-Such, because I know she is kind and will set down everything to let me cry.

I avoid Uncle Burney because all he talks about is baseball and is utterly oblivious to the fact that I am chewing my leg off to escape the conversation. On the other hand, I love Uncle Olaf, because he invites me to play video games with him. He laughs a lot and asks me about my writing…and cares about my answer.

We unfriend people on social media because they might be rude bullies who rant or complain non-stop. We gravitate to others because they make us laugh or are always positive. These people may or may not have a good or service for sale, but they DO have a brand.

When it comes to creating a “marketable author brand” I have zero interest in changing you beyond what would need to change in any normal social situation. Name-calling, negativity, bragging, self-centeredness, putting others down are not great habits for us to have in LIFE. Thus, we all need to ixnay them with social media or it WILL create a negative brand.

I understand some writers will have to press beyond being shy. But, being shy in our personal lives limits how much we can connect as well. I know. I used to have such bad social anxiety, the thought of talking to someone I didn’t know was enough to make me throw up in my shoes.

I attended five years of high school and five years of college and had no friends. If I didn’t want to be a loner all my life, I had to press past my profound fear of people to grow as a human being.

Self-Promotion 

We don’t like people who promote themselves in person. Why would we like them on-line? Granted, writers do have to strike a balance. I find we generally end up gravitating to extremes. Either writers blast non-stop deals, specials, contests and tours to tout their latest book or, the fact they have a book for sale is a Top Secret.

We need to find that balance. I was in Rotary for almost seven years. I knew who was a dentist, a surgeon, an accountant, or a veterinarian. I did business with them first because I knew them as people. They didn’t need to show up to our weekly meetings with flyers and coupons. They didn’t need to sit at lunch an pitch me how they were the best surgeon for removing suspicious moles.

The Two Basic Differences in a Regular Person Brand and an Author Brand

All this said, I will admit our brand is slightly different and I am going to use the word marketable extremely carefully. WANA isn’t here to slap your on-line personality in a short dress and digital body glitter.

Don’t come back until you’ve sold some books.

Yes, regular people have a brand, but most regular people don’t want to use that brand to sell books. Aside from being a nice human being, the crucial differences in a regular person’s “brand” and our “author brand” are:

Community is Part of Our Job

If a regular person disappears off Facebook for six months, it doesn’t matter. We as writers should have a goal of creating an authentic community, of creating relationships with those in our circles. Then, we are tasked with maintaining that community and hopefully growing it. If we only appear out of the ether when we have a book for sale, we become about as appealing as that cousin who never calls unless he needs bail money.

Authentic relationships will help us personally and professionally. We need a system of support. We also can be that support for others. Service is good for the soul and sound relationships are a two-way street. Book sales may or may not directly evolve from this, but it’s a better use of time than spamming victims from a purchased e-mail list.

Clarity is KEY

If a regular person wants to tweet using @I_LuvPandas, @LovelyKisses99 or @CarolinaChik, that’s fine. No one needs to know their name. Writers? If we are tweeting, blogging, whatever under a cutesy moniker? We’re wasting time. People cannot find our book if they don’t have OUR NAME.

The more layers of friction we add for others trying to find us/our books, the less likely we are to eventually make a sale. If I blog as Unicorn Fairy Hugs, tweet under @FairyGurl, am on Facebook under two or three different pen names, who can keep up with that?

People (readers) are pressed for time and will gravitate to those who don’t waste it.

When we use social media properly, our names become tied to our “brand.” In my case—social media for writers, craft, blogging, Star Wars, green juice, yoga, Gluten-Free, Lord of the Rings, The Spawn, zombies (notice my “author brand” is who I AM as a person as well).

But I’m not sitting around thinking, “Wow, I need a marketing strategy to market ME. I have to promote ME.” I’m simply doing what’s necessary to create genuine relationships. Beyond that? As a writer I have only two more necessities that distinguish my brand a) attendance b) coherence.

Same with you guys. Be present, be vested and be you. There will never be another 😉 .

What are your thoughts? Does this notion of “marketing yourself” make you feel ookie, too? Does self-promotion give you hives? The creeps? Am I making too big a deal out of it? Have you bought books simply because you liked the author? Maybe it was even a book in a genre you never read? On the other side, have you avoided buying books from an author because you didn’t like them as a person? Have you ever had a business make you feel so good you were ever-loyal? Have you have a company you were loyal to take advantage of you and now you’re their best-worst advertising?

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. 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)

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

Original image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin
Original image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

When we begin this dream of writing, there are a number of hurdles we must pass if we hope to become successful. Some of those obstacles are on the outside, yet many are internal battles. If we waste precious energy fretting over the things we have no way to change? That’s valuable creative energy that can be focused on what’s within the domain of our responsibility.

Schrodinger’s Cat Writer—Who is a “Real Writer”?

I see blogs about this all the time, and I’ve been through this myself. We fall into existential thinking. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it fall? Or, if a writer writes a bazillion words and no one reads them, is the writer a “real writer?” Personally, I am into practicality, not philosophy.

I don’t believe it is a case of “real writer” or “fake/poseur/hobbyist writer.”

Oh, I’m not a “real writer” until I’m published, making money and have a three-book deal.

Many of us are asking the wrong question. Real Writer? Hobbyist?

The question has nothing to do with a finished book, a published book, or even hitting a best-seller list. If we use these questions as a litmus test for our success, we will always feel we don’t measure up no matter how much we attain.

I’ve put boundaries on my family and write an hour a day, but since I am not published, I am not a “real writer” yet.

Oh, sure, well I finished a full novel and even published it, but I only sold a few copies. Not a “real writer” yet.” When I hit a best-seller list, then I’ll be a real writer.

Well, I hit the best-seller list on Amazon, but I’ll be a REAL writer when I hit the New York Times list.

We are all “real writers” (if we are putting words on a page) but this is a fruitless pursuit that generally leads nowhere because it’s the wrong question. The question isn’t whether having a finished book, an agent, a three-book deal, high sales numbers and best-selling lists make us “real.”

There is a Difference in the “Real Writer” and the “Professional Writer”

Why? Because I’ve seen many writers attend writing groups for five, ten fifteen years and I know they likely won’t make it in the business. Are they “real”? Sure, there are pages to critique and they do have that novel they’ve been perfecting since the Bush Administration.

Yet, are they going anywhere?

Being a professional writer is a shift in mind-set and how we view ourselves. We begin to look at our art as our profession even if that profession is the second job next to the day job.

Screw “Aspiring.” “Aspiring is for pansies. Takes guts to be a writer.

I’ve attended conferences where attendees easily forked out a thousand dollars or more to learn business and craft. When I ask who in the room is an aspiring writer? Always hands raised. Trust me, anyone willing to put money on the line? That is a “real” writer. In fact, that is part of being a “professional” writer.

“Aspiring writers” are the people who say things like, “Yeah, my life would make a GREAT story. Hey, maybe you could write it. I give you the idea and you write it and we split 50/50.”

Sure, after I go bathe my pet unicorn.

Now, of course, there is the difference between a “professional writer” and a “published professional writer”  and then even a “successful professional writer.” Yet, I assure you if you learn to view yourself first as a professional writer then making your way to the next two levels will come far faster. It’s why I loathe the term “aspiring writer” and encourage titles like “pre-published writer.” Aspiring Writer is fruity-tooty and gives permission for us to be hobbyists and dabblers.

Professional Writer assumes the victory.

The mind is the battlefield, and we have to master how we view ourselves and what we do in order to reach that final tier we long to be part of “successful professional writer.”

When I began, I was an “aspiring writer” too. I spun my wheels, allowed family to walk all over me, and believed my writing time wasn’t valuable (because it was really just a cute hobby since no one could yet buy my book). When my mother wanted to go to lunch or shopping, I stepped away from my work. When my brother needed a last-minute babysitter? Okay, I was only writing.

Transitioning to Professional Writer Gives Us:

Permission to value what we are doing.

We can’t reach our goals if we believe they’re unworthy, or that we are unworthy of attaining them.

Permission to set boundaries.

I remember when I finally put a boundary on my mom. She meant well and wanted to spend time with me. But I finally stood up and said, “I don’t show up in the middle of your shift at the hospital and then give you attitude when you can’t walk away from your job to go shoe shopping with me. This is my job. And no, I am not published yet, but I never will be unless I do the work. I love you and am happy to go to lunch, after I make my word count for the day. You are just going to have to wait.”

Permission to Invest in Our Business

Writing books, craft classes and conferences are now business investments. Yet, some people claim, “Yeah, well anyone can write.” No, you have to be literate and have a desire first. I counter with this. Anyone can be a salesperson (provided you don’t have social phobias and aren’t mute). But not everyone can be a successful salesperson.

There is no licensing or college degrees in “sales” only results. But salespeople have no problem claiming the title and then investing time and money into getting better at SALES, because the good ones embrace the professional status.

Social media isn’t a frivolity, it’s a necessity. How can we learn the dangers in our business, discover great agents, the right publisher, understand the climate of our industry, and network with people who can help us do better (discover great formatters, reviewers, book cover designers, beta readers, editors) if we are an island of one?

Without social media, how can we create a platform that will eventually support and drive book sales if we don’t invest the time in laying the foundation? Blogging isn’t an indulgence, it’s training to become a stronger, faster, leaner writer who makes self-imposed deadlines. It’s also the most stable form of social media and plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers WRITE.

This job requires self-discipline. Trust me, we learn self-discipline when we write no matter what, even if we are blogging to the ether. Yet, keep going and growing? And eventually that won’t be the case.

Blog like I teach you in Rise of the Machines and eventually your future readers WILL find you, but they can’t find you if there is nothing to discover.

Professionals see value in all of this. They read books, listen to audio books, go to conferences, network, place boundaries (on themselves and others) and they do the WORK.

Permission to Embrace Small Beginnings

There are hair stylists with 6 month waiting lists filled with A-List Hollywood clientele. Guarantee you they didn’t start that way. But what if they gave up when they first began doing hair because only one or two people a day sat in their chair? Followings for blogs and books start slowly and grow with guided, intelligent, persistence.

Permission to Get the Work DONE

The world doesn’t reward perfection, it rewards finishers. Once we shift our view to “professional writers” we innately understand professionals don’t work when they feel like it or are inspired. Professionals have goals and a drive to meet deadlines and benchmarks. They get the butt in chair and work.

So instead of debating the issue of what makes a “real writer”? Which is all opinion and everyone has a different one. I say focus on being a professional writer, because those are far easier to spot :D.

Thus the question I want you to ask yourselves daily (and I do it too) is: Am I being a professional writer? This will make it far clearer to praise what we’re doing right and come up higher in areas where we fall short.

What are your thoughts? Questions? Have you called yourself an aspiring writer and had friends, family, pets and needy houseplants wall all over your writing time? Have you made the mental transition and found greater focus? Have you had to invest in a meth-addicted Tasmanian Devil with a gun to guard your office?

I LOVE hearing from you!

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

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU. If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

***I have a class coming up TOMORROW, I am running a Your First Five Pages webinar. Bronze is $40 and Gold is $55 (I look at your first five pages) and use WANA15 for 15% off.