Play to win. For me, this is a tough phrase. Maybe it’s culture or society or sunspots, but ‘winning’ feels like a suit cut for someone else. No, worse.
Playing to win feels more like the pants I once wore to a conference. Even though they were too tight, I wore them anyway believing they’d ‘stretch out’ once I moved around a bit.
But they didn’t, and after a while they were uncomfortable…no, they were cutting me in HALF.
I couldn’t breathe, my kidneys hurt, and my lower back ached so much I didn’t hear a single word of the lecture.
All I wanted was to rush to the restroom, unbutton the pants and use my hair tie for some give so I could breathe (women know what I’m talking about).
I didn’t feel pretty in those pants I’d worked so hard to ‘fit’ into. Didn’t feel confident or sassy. No, I was miserable and beating myself up for not choosing the stretchy pants I usually wore.
Stretchy pants would never betray me like this. Lycra doesn’t judge. Spandex understands.
We’ll get to Amazon, Legacy NYC publishing, the book industry, etc. But, we can’t understand why any organization is failing (or winning) unless we take time to understand the people who comprise that organization.
***Fair warning. This is a longer post, but a vital one. Creatives are at a critical turning point in our industry where we must make tough and educated decisions if we hope to make it.
Too many of us want to remain comfortable because fitting into something new is uncomfortable…no, excrutiating. Often it will take a lot more work, work we don’t want to do. Perhaps work we feel we shouldn’t have to do.
Maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe it’s unfair, but sadly fair is a weather condition and guess what?
A storm is coming.
Play to Win (at Letting Others Win)
I can’t speak for men, but as a female the whole ‘play to win’ thing was almost always discouraged when I was growing up. First, I was the oldest and thus almost always in charge of entertaining a little brother and (usually) three smaller cousins. Mainly keeping them alive.
Standards for childcare were far lower in the 80s. Thank GOD.
Anyway, being far older, it was kind of a dirtbag move to go all aggro on a six-year-old during a game of Candy Land.
Not that I didn’t try.
I joke I’m NOT Type A. I’m Type A+, because I did the extra credit unlike all y’all other slackers 😛 .
***’All y’all’ is correct grammar in Texas, FYI.
This said, my competitive nature was not always appreciated. There were plenty of times some adult figure chided me, instructed me to let the younger ones win once in a while.
Kristen’s Brain Even at 10: *LET them win? This…is…SPARTA!*
School wasn’t much better. I was reading Tolkien by fourth grade. I’d finish my work in a fraction of the time it took my classmates, and apparently that was not a good thing.
If I tried to read or draw, I got in trouble even though I was being quiet. Apparently, I was supposed to sit still and do nothing instead of cracking open the Heinlein book I’d swiped off my dad.
One time, I worked my entire reading workbook during the forty-five minutes allotted for a single assignment. My teacher, upon discovering my infraction, sent me to the place I would spend most of my growing up years…the hall.
True Story: I don’t even recall what my 3rd grade classroom looked like, but I DID figure out innumerable ways to entertain myself by making out patterns carpet.
It didn’t take long to figure out that I needed to wait a certain amount of time before I turned in my test. If I turned in my test when I actually finished, there was hell to pay from the teacher.
Teacher: Stop showing off. You are making the other kids feel bad.
Me: No, I am not showing off, I was finished. Also, for the record, ‘I am making the other kids feel BADLY.’ It’s an ADVERB. You JUST taught this. How are you a teacher?
*just heads to hall to my spot*
I was terrible at the whole inside words staying inside back then, too.
Play to Win (at Your Own Risk)
School taught me to hide any academic excellence. If I wanted to learn at the speed I craved, I had to work around the system. Learn on my time, not school time. Makes total sense.
And I did. I had all kinds of hobbies growing up—reading encyclopedias, reading the dictionary, playing with my microscope, using my chemistry set.
Sorry about that chlorine gas.
Being a complete nerd, I was socially awkward (and not much has changed). I never understood the nuanced ways of girl tribes, only that they generally required an outcast (usually me).
Since I didn’t fit in with the girls, I tried sports. Very confusing. Apparently when a boy nailed someone in the face in a ‘game’ of Dodgeball that was winning.
If I did it? I was being ‘mean.’
The only team sport I was any good at was soccer. Problem was, there was no girl’s team. Much to the coach’s chagrin, he had to let me try out for the boy’s team, and it was brutal.
Those boys tossed everything they could at me. I was bruised, bleeding, and even knocked out once when I blocked the opposing team’s shot into the net…with my face (NOT intentional, but hey it worked). Yet, I pressed on through tryouts.
When it came time to see who made the team, however, the coach cut only one player.
On the bright side, the boys on the team nearly mutinied over me being cut. They’d thrown everything at me and I was one of them, part of the team. I’d earned the spot because I was someone who played to win no matter what. The boys tried to protest, but it was 8th grade and—again—the 80s.
I’d like to say it got better in the 90s, but not really. In college, I encountered several professors who chastised me for being the only one to answer questions in class.
Me? I fired back that they really should have been shaming the rest of the class who didn’t respect them enough to do the assigned reading.
When I graduated, I went to work in sales (as much of a meritocracy as one can find in the workforce…usually). However, I once stepped up to present our product line to an audience of waiting (and agitated) clients because the manager in charge no-showed.
Afterwards, even though the customers were thrilled, another manager (female) pulled me into a back office. She informed me I was never to do that again if I wanted to remain at the company.
Me: Never again do what? Sell a lot of stuff?
Her: Women aren’t taken seriously in business, especially in the South. Leave the corporate stuff to the men. In the meantime, you’re pretty. Be affable and make others feel at ease and leave the presentations to the guys.
Horrified, I told her she needed to get out of her time machine. It was the 90s not the 50s, and quit that day.
Play to Win vs. Play to ‘Not Lose’
My mom was and is a hardcore Scandinavian woman (tough). When I was seven, a male visitor didn’t get his way. He raised his hand to slap her (big mistake)…
…while she was cooking.
Good way to DIE mistake.
Without blinking, she swung that hot cast iron frying pan into him like she was going for a grand slam. Whooped him with that pan THROUGH the screen door and all the way to the street. He never returned and my mom was my hero forever and ever.
My father loved strong females. He enrolled me in martial arts when I was four, was the one to rig his old Navy sea bag for me to use to train to fight and toughen my hands. Being former military, he believed I needed to be able to protect myself. That and…we’re from Texas.
According to my parents, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do or be. Thus, the world was a very confusing place when it kept putting me in the penalty box for doing my best.
Odd message. Playing to win is for others. If you play to win, expect to pay a price.
Be nice. Be sweet. Share. Winning is not nice to others.
And you know what? I bought that pile of bull sprinkles until very recently.
But no more.
We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate.
Death by Nice
Notice I used the word nice. Nice and kind are different. Kind has a spine. It IS possible to play to win and not be a jerk, bully, thief, etc. In fact, when we diminish our own light so as not to ‘outshine others’ everyone suffers.
Nice snuffs out the light so others don’t notice they are in darkness. Kind lends a flame so everyone can live in the glow.
Playing to WIN is good and you want to know how I know this?
Amazon is damn near taking over the globe in almost every arena from movie-making to groceries to music.
Personally, I’m fairly sure Amazon IS actually the foretold SkyNet. Good news is when Amazon finally assimilates the human race, I have Prime, so I get free shipping.
Meanwhile, the Big Six have steadily become the Not-So-Big-Five and I believe might even be down to the Spiffy Four.
While Amazon is expanding at a record-breaking pace, NY Publishers are condensing, shrinking, reorganizing, and living on the grace and passion of those sainted professionals who will work UNGODLY hours for crap pay solely because they love books.
***Bless you agents and editors.
Meanwhile, Amazon isn’t having to rely on volunteers willing to give up their lives, work for a fraction of what they’re worth for ‘the cause.’
Wanna know why?
Business has been in a cage match since the rise of Web 2.0., and while Steve Jobs (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and Bill Gates (Microsoft) and others have been throwing punches, the former contenders have been too busy shaking 20th century snow globe, too mesmerized by the past to even protect their face.
While bloggers like me have shouted warnings for over a decade, the industries we love have refused to get in the fight and play to WIN.
We kept begging for someone to step up and get into the 21st century, for publishers to recognize they were (are) in the story and information business…not the PAPER business.
Play to win. Better, still?
Play to Win in the Business You’re Actually IN
Amazon didn’t care HOW consumers wanted to consume a book: print, hard-cover, soft-cover, digital, used, new, audio….JAZZ HANDS. If the customer wanted a story acted out by mimes and was willing to PAY for it? And it could be profitable?
Amazon was ON it.
All the while, the big publishers clung to the Big Box model even as Borders was collapsing. After it died, not much changed. I detailed a lot of this in a post in January of 2018 when I AGAIN laid it all out:
From 2008 to 2017 B&N was forced to close an average of 21 stores a year. In 2008, they had 798 stores and as of September 2017 B&N was down to 634 stores, according to Forbes.
The latest CEO in a string of failures has come up at least one answer to what ails them. Barnes & Noble needs…smaller stores.
*sounds of Kristen railing at the heavens*
Excuse, me. Did I stutter?
So in 2016, Barnes & Noble hired the former C.E.O. of the office supply giant Staples (Demos Parneros) even though he had ZERO book industry experience. This was also the guy whose business expertise launched Staples to unprecedented success….
…wait, no that’s wrong.
No, Staples had to hire another C.E.O. to save the company upon Parneros’ departure, because according to The Street:
As of May 17, 2017, Staples held $526 million in long-term debt and had total liabilities of $3.2 billion, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
Sounds like JUST the kind of business visionary B&N needed to hire; one with the skills to lead an already flailing company(Staples) billions more into the red.
In all fairness, these numbers are a year after the C.E.O. left, but I feel it’s reasonable to extrapolate that the company didn’t go from raging success to the 8th Circle of Business Hell in less than a year.
Oh, but there’s more….
Granted, Parneros did have the bright idea that B&N needed smaller stores. Points for him.
But these days, instead of B&N planning how to WIN in the book BUSINESS (or any business), they’re embroiled in so much drama they should have their own reality show Big (Box Store) Brother.
Hmm, kinda catchy.
B&N fired Parneros for ‘alleged sexual misconduct.’ Sighs. Parneros claims this is all a smear campaign and untrue and the only reason B&N wanted to oust him was for something I’ve already forgotten.
Anyway, according to an August 2018 article in The New York Times explicating the Parneros drama of ‘alleged sexual misconduct,’ the mudslinging and lawsuits over wrongful termination…THIS is what stood out to ME (and probably SHOULD have stood out to B&N, too):
Barnes & Noble’s stock price has fallen 60 percent over the last three years, and the chain has struggled to reverse years of declining sales and foot traffic. In the last decade, the company has closed more than 150 stores, leaving it with a base of 633. It waged a losing battle with Amazon, losing more than a billion dollars on its Nook e-book business.
Even as independent bookstores have bounced back and Amazon has expanded into brick-and-mortar retail (which, incidentally, I predicted would happen in multiple 2012 blogs), Barnes & Noble has still failed to recover ground.
After ALL this, Barnes & Noble is considering just selling itself.
Doesn’t sound like playing to WIN at all.
Playing to ‘Not Lose’
In my not-very-humble opinion, NYC was so accustomed to being THE Publishing Pantheon, that they didn’t do so well when the rise of e-commerce and Web 2.0 cast them down to Earth.
Instead of being on the offense, sticking and moving and learning how to play the new game and dominate it?
They wasted precious time trying to rekindle ‘The Good Old Days’ and protect their besties Borders and Barnes & Noble at all costs. They couldn’t fathom a world where they weren’t the leviathans…and Amazon used their Big Box BFFs’ bulk to crush the life from all of them.
How ironic that the movie You’ve Got Mail has now come full circle.
Hollywood…I mean Amazon (or Netflix) should make a You’ve Got Mail 2.
In it, Kathleen Kelly reopens her indie bookstore Shop Around the Corner. She stocks the new store by buying the (ironically) bankrupted Fox Books’ store inventory for pennies on the dollar. But she is NOT a jerk.
She’s thoughtful enough to offer Joe a job purchasing office supplies, furniture, decor and specially requested books for her shop…from AMAZON.
Back to US
Anyone who’s read my blog over the years knows I have ranted, raved, offered suggestions and ideas to help legacy publishing and even big box bookstores. I’ve begged NYC to play to WIN.
Yet, here we are, the business landscape eerily similar to the late 19th century and early 20th century (when we transitioned from the agricultural age to the industrial age).
Once again we teeter on the edge, risk falling into the grip of ‘New and Improved’ trust giants and robber barons (as we transition now from the industrial age into the digital age).
From my post in 2012, Amazon: Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts:
Amazon right now is in the courting phase with writers, and it is using us (writers) as a weapon to kill our former masters. Ah, but if Amazon really gets its way…what then?
When NY is razed and Amazon has no real competition, do they have to keep giving us the same sweet royalty rate? And they already have a nasty reputation. They pulled that little stunt with a publisher who dared to cross them. Two years ago, they removed all the ‘Buy Buttons’ off all the Macmillan titles.
So, if Amazon will use the brass knuckles on a major publisher that crossed their path…what about us? The little guys? What happens when a writer miffs them and they unleash the gorilla?
The giants are rising and why? Because they play to win. Or as Joe fox would have said, they’re willing to…
Go to the Mattresses
As writers, do we play to win or play to ‘not lose?’ Tell me any game, any sport where one can WIN playing strictly defense.
We’ve got to start taking this seriously. If you’re a writer, then you are a business. Trust me, Apple doesn’t work for exposure dollars and neither does Amazon.
Why should we?
Writers PAY to hear marketing experts tell them that, to be successful and make money, they should give away free bookmarks, free bags, free flair, free downloads, and free books. Give a FREE prize for someone giving them a free email.
They should speak for free, blog for free, give interviews for free, and work for free. Oh, one suggestion and I actually heard this from a promotion expert.
Give a FREE bottle of wine with your book.
I wish I were making this up.
In what universe do ANY of these ideas make mathematical sense?
Last I checked 0 + 0= 0. And 0 + 0 + 0 + 0 + 0= 0.
And zero is the least of our problems since bookmarks and prizes and books and time all have a cost. If these folks can’t grasp that no matter how many zeros one adds together, the SUM is STILL ZERO?
I can’t even broach the concept of how one adds negative numbers.
Besides, isn’t that how 21st century Apple became the mega giant it is? It gave away iPods and iPads for enough exposure and THEN consumers suddenly were willing to stand in line for ten hours and drop $900 for a new iPhone?
FREE Should Never Really Be FREE
Some free is fine, even necessary. FREE can be an amazing business strategy when used properly. When we play to win, FREE is NEVER actually FREE. It’s built into the price, or it’s actually a quid pro quo (something for something).
FREE can be a way the seller rewards the consumer in exchange for the consumer’s willingness to agree to a greater financial commitment (e.g. all purchases over $100 and shipping is FREE).
FREE is also something used to entice consumers into a longterm financial commitment. Apps do this all the time. Get a week free of all the meditations you could ever want, and after that FREE week, the app will be $7.99 a month (charged via iTunes). Cancel when you no longer want the service.
Your first trial month of Netflix is free, but after that Netflix costs money every month. On and on.
These are examples of FREE with a plan, FREE with dignity and design and a goal toward a profit.
Free without strategy is just begging sans the obvious tin cup.
Y’all are SO MUCH better than that kind of free.
We Have a Write to WIN
Yes, creating art takes time, work, training, tears and a lot of hard work. It takes love that surpasses reason along with stretching ourselves and learning new things.
Sacrifice, self-discipline and all the tough stuff. Pretty much like it’s always been. Only we now have new roles, roles we are wise to learn either so we can a) do them ourselves or b) be educated enough to spot talented teammates from smooth-talking cons.
We’ll be able to discern experts from “experts” (those folks still pushing marketing and social media strategies older than my favorite yoga pants).
This is how we play to WIN.
And yes, maybe this seems all doom and gloom, but I’m not in the candy business. It’s a Brave New World where artists (currently) have little to no protection.
But, good news is—as is usually the case—the pendulum is swinging back the other way with some things moving in our favor (I’ll talk about these in some of my upcoming classes, not my blogs).
Other good news? Legacy publishing still has a pulse and a place, but they have got to start playing offense. Play to WIN. PLEASE!
***Seriously, call me.
There are new business models emerging where creative professionals are being paid. Additionally, there are ways to Amazon-proof ourselves. Again, not bashing Amazon. Yet, while Amazon is great for the moment, but we need to have a structure in place that does not rely on us needing Amazon (or any ONE entity).
If Amazon fails to remain a good business partner/decision, we should be in a position to move on and have a plan for exactly when and how to do that.
For the traditional publishers, this IS your Rocky IV.
Amazon is Drago. Drago killed Creed (Borders) and you’re down. I get it, and totes understand. And Drago has the advantage of all this scientific equipment and super high-tech training, but suck it up, get in the snow and drag some logs.
Y’all didn’t rule the world for a century for nothing. Remember who you were.
As for the writers. Excellent authors (creatives) deserve an audience of givers, fans, and die-hard supporters. We deserve better than a race to the bottom of who can give away the most for the least. To do this, though?
Play to win. I know you can do it. It’s going to be uncomfortable and possibly scary, terrifying and painful. For a lot of us, this is new or not new but still terrifying. But we can change, grow and train how to be in it to win it.
Now, go play some Eye of the Tiger and get back to writing that book.
MARCH’S AWESOMENESS (CLASSES)
ON DEMAND: A Ripple in Time: Mastering Non-Linear Plotting
Taught by Kristen Lamb, $55 Delivered to YOUR computer to enjoy at your leisure.
SALES: For Those Who’d Rather Be In Witness Protection
Taught by Kristen Lamb, Thursday, March 12th 7-9 PM EST $99
Social Schizophrenia: Building a Brand Without Losing Your Mind
Too many voices telling ALL THE THINGS! AHHHHHHHH!
Taught by Kristen Lamb, Friday, March 15th, 7-9 PM EST ($55 General Admission/ $195 GOLD)
***Yes, I will be teaching about Instagram among OTHER new business developments in this class.
Harnessing Our Writing Power: THE BLOG
Taught by Kristen Lamb Saturday, March 16th 2-4 PM EST $55 General Admission/ $165 GOLD)
Story Master: From Dream to Done
Taught by Kristen Lamb, March 28th, 7-9 PM EST ($55/$349 GOLD)
Fiction ADDICTION: The Secret Ingredient to the Books Readers CRAVE
Taught by Kristen Lamb, Saturday, March 30th 2-4 PM EST $55
Reading your post while in a Barnes & Noble 😛
Tell them I have smelling salts 😛 .
Love Eye of the Tiger for writing music 🙂
It is interesting. I would love to see someone actually put up a serious fight to Amazon. Not sure about non-indie authors, but for indie authors, the decision to “go wide” is still fraught. No other platform has the audience Amazon does. I can’t remember the numbers off hand, but I believe Amazon has close to 80% of the ebook market. We need others to come take a bite of Amazon’s market.
I know my genre, in particular, is fraught with scandals on Amazon. Last week’s was an Amazon best selling author (so being generously paid through KU) being called out for plagiarism, at which point she blamed her ghostwriter.
So, yeah, not even writing her own stuff.
But as you’ve noted before, Amazon rewards you for quantity published, and rewards you in a big way. Amazon already sets rules that lead to scammers. Amazon knows about the scammers and does nothing. It is very frustrating. I keep hoping Apple or Kobo will get serious about ebook and indie authors.
They have some catching up to do, but its a rich market.
Love it, and I want to thank you for sharing so much. I’ve been following you since 201X and really appreciate what you share.
You are important to me, in the sense that I import your thoughts and they really make a difference in my everyday.
Your way to set crumbs and “storytell” PoVs and news are peerless.
The only way I found to pay you back was by buying Rise of the Machine. Yet, I ended up feeling I got the better end of the deal, because the book is mind-blowing and stimulating.
Well, that is it. I’m glad we share the same spinning rock.
Kristen, our school experiences were scary similar. After years of taking crap and wondering why, I came across a business article explaining that there two different kinds of people–from birth and never changing. “Process” people are about creating processes to live by. They need to fit in, to go with the flow, to find their place, and never be different. “Product” people (which, I believe, includes you) have ideas, see connections where others don’t, don’t worry about fitting in, etc. Process people see product people as uncouth, unpredictable trouble-makers, while product people keep their eye on the prize. This is so fundamental, you’d think everybody would know, but it seems to be a secret. The world needs both types, but if you want success, put a product person in charge.
Timing is everything. I needed this NOW.
And I just might need to steal that meme of a skeleton writer ‘waiting’ to be noticed. YIKES except for the lack of extra flesh that so much is me!
Let’s get back to playing to win THANK YOU
It’s amazing, and books aren’t the only place. Places like Sears and JC Penney had all the warehousing and shipping mechanisms in place. They were like the frog in the pan watching while Amazon boiled them to death.
I read this, reread it, and then printed it off. Thanks for all the information and the way you presented it. Just what I’ve been longing to hear – the truth.
Great information. I’ve always been amazed that the big publishers didn’t open their own stores. E-books are so easy to send out, they’d have kept Amazon from getting so much power in the book market. Too bad they didn’t have anyone in their companies who know the power of the Internet. Seemed they were too afraid to move forward.
Thanks for the great article.
I did a double-take when I opened this post – because the very first image is the one I used for the cover of Restoration Day, my first novel.
Strategy, I admit, is not my strong point. I don’t have all my eggs in one Amazon basket, true, but I don’t have many eggs, either. My basic strategy is “Write another one, better than the last.”
It’s scary how much control Amazon has over everything, you’re right they are Sky-net.
Authors need to protect themselves, and whether traditionally published or self published, ensure their books are available on multiple platforms.
Good to know it wasn’t just me. I was muzzled in my sophomore English class for being the only one that knew anything about Greek Mythology. This was of course right as I was pushing out of the “shy and quiet” shell. In college, I had to remind myself to let other people answer sometimes, especially when I knew that I was the only person in class with a different opinion. And, if I remember correctly, I read Tolkien in middle school. I’m still learning to be able to have an opinion without being a jerk.
Beautifully written and wise post, Kristen! One stop shopping, ease of doing business is still so popular that people are willing to pay Prime, Costco and B&N “memberships” in order to shop there and get the “good” deals. I worked at Borders, where the biggest seller was the “Saw” movies, not books. Then Borders decided to focus on paper products(cards,wrapping,bows etc) and more movies and then the book sections got smaller and smaller. I see the same at B&N as they keep expanding the toy section! Are they even selling toys? Now they looking more like a mini toysrus inside a book store. Perhaps authors need to develop a membership fee (guaranteed income and part of the “service industry” mentality) with a snappy selling tool of how this will absolutely benefit the reader to come on board??!! Don’t think it will happen unless it’s in some sort of creative collective. Maybe. Bottom line: Amazon continues to make it too darn easy. That being said, I still love to hold (physically) and glance through a book before I buy it. But then I loved doing the same thing at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video every Friday night with the family! And we know how that turned out – but I still miss those days!!
I worked at B&N for 7 years, the only decent retailer I’d ever work for. It was the heyday of the book business, the store was gorgeous, most of the employees loved books, and people congregated not just in the cafe but in the aisles. As the e-reading dragon took over, B&N tried to compete, even hiring tech specialists to assist customers in the store with the Nook. All seven years I was employed by them, I kept noting that they never advertised – they believed there was no competition. We outlasted Borders, Crown, and lots of independents. And if you saw the lines of people lined up outside the store on the evenings before the newest Harry Potter became available, you’d believe it too. Finally B&N was getting outdone not only in the e-reader market, but in every market. Amazon sold the same books at a discount while B&N continued to promote a membership program that gave little return for its purchase. Still, as company practice goes, B&N was a decent model. We employees were treated fairly and trained competently. I loved my seven-year, part time, seasonal job with them, just wish they’d seen the dawn rising over the horizon. Glad to see the independents returning. Thanks for a thoughtful article.
Oh trust me, I wish B&N would HIRE ME. I feel like Jerry MacGuire…”HELP ME HELP YOU.” I had a friend who worked for B&N and I know they were a good company which is why this is all the more tragic.
Crazy idea: Maybe a writer should make a search engine that only brings up results for other writers websites, blogs and such. So we are all linked together? and maybe each website can link to other writers websites that they like? Or maybe that’s done already? and readers looking for something new to read can go search this search for books and buy directly from the authors? Sorry if that’s a bad idea.
Frankly amazon is starting to become a pain for searching for new books as it’s too big at times.
We used to do that in the early days on line. But so many of the good writing bloggers no longer post and have moved onto other things. Twitter used to be a really great resource for me to find other posts to link to, but it’s just been overrun with spam and I just only have so much time.