The winning edge is what all humans crave, whether it’s at work, love, life, or even just for that spot at the front of the line in Starbuck’s. People go to CRAZY lengths to gain that winning edge, especially when margins are razor-thin and stakes are sky high.
A long list of ‘doping’ scandals’ shook professional sports not too long ago, reducing rock solid reputations to dust. Corporate giants have fallen, their leaders thrown in jail because they chose shortcuts over creativity and ingenuity.
Insider trading. Backroom deals. Brokering in secrets.
Writing and publishing, sadly, aren’t much different. There are folks out there who sell packages that guarantee to make you (or me) or anyone with the cash or the card that clears a New York Times Best-Selling Author.
Wish I were kidding.
Ever since our profession has gone digital, it’s been far easier to game the system. Now, make no mistake. It was certainly NO meritocracy before. I merely said digitization has made it easier to game.
Though why anyone would feel proud of a ‘trophy’ they’d bought is beyond me. This said, just because some people are engaging in algorithmic alchemy doesn’t mean everyone is.
Plenty of room to earn our titles the good old-fashioned way.
We Are What We SAY We Are
I pull this trick on every conference I speak at. It’s a whole lot more fun (for me) if the audience isn’t filled with longtime followers of my blog.
The single largest hurdle many writers have to overcome—serious writer, not entrepreneurs using my professions as some scratch-off ticket to fame and fortune—is to actually CALL themselves writers.
I will ask for all the aspiring writers in the room to raise their hands. Then, once they do, I tell them to use that hand and slap themselves HARD and never call themselves that again.
Feel free to use the term ‘pre-published’ or if you’re an overachiever like me? ‘Pre-legend’ will work too. But for the love of all that is chocolate, ditch the aspiring.
This is a brutal profession and apologists will get eaten for breakfast. I’ve seen writers who’ve penned tens of thousands of words who still refuse to call themselves writers.
To be perfectly blunt, I am seeing a lot less of this than I used to with self-publishing as an option. But, that cloying insecurity is still there.
So long as we cling to the aspiring then we don’t have to write every day. Investing in training and classes is an option not a mandate. Reading books is a frivolity, not business training.
Aspiring writers will always be just that…aspiring. There is not implied action in that word. Pre-published presupposes a promise.
Additionally, we are what we do.
If I told you I was a doctor, but then you found out I never went to med school, didn’t have an office, had never treated a patient, you’d think I was a lunatic.
Winning Edge: Preparation
Also, the day you decide you maybe want to make money doing this writing thing professionally, you need to invest in YOU and your business.
This means you need a website, to start building a brand, cultivating a platform (which is code for just keep talking to people and make friends on social media).
Yes, I hear the protest. But I haven’t even finished a book! All right. So you DO finish a book. Say you run into an agent who LOVES it. Do you REALLY want to try and pull a website/platform out of the ether?
Look in my eyes. The answer is no.
You’ll thank me later.
If you query traditional or a good indie and don’t have a website and platform, I can tell you right now that’s almost always an automatic trip to the slush pile. Also, if you publish yourself, where are you going to sell your book(s)? And to whom?
Trust me. I have done all the dumb stuff so you don’t have to.
Branding and building a platform is a) something only YOU can do b) you cannot buy one or outsource this task, either c) it can be fun d) it’s way easier and a lot less stressful when you don’t yet have anything for sale.
My book, Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World was written to be evergreen (meaning the content never gets old).
It works on any platform in any time period because my approach focuses on PEOPLE. Technology changes. People don’t. Don’t believe me? Look up your ex on Faceook.
I teach how to locate your future fans. Why do they like what they like? WHY? How can you find them, connect and cultivate a relationship that will endure?
If you want a winning edge, then building a strong cadre of people who care about YOU, your book and success will launch you light years ahead of those who believe they can simply throw money at a bunch of ads and buy email lists.
Winning Edge: The ‘Competition’
Here’s where I’ll probably sound like a jerk but I have no figs to give. Barnes & Noble is on life-support. It might survive, but will likely never again be a baller. Big Publishing hasn’t had a breakout novel in nearly EIGHT years now.
The glut in the market has become unmanageable. In the early days of self-publishing and indie publishing readers could discover the gems, but now it’s too much. As I’ve mentioned more than a few times, there are now over a million self-published books launched per year.
It doesn’t take a mathlete or an economist to appreciate that, if only 3-5% of the population considers reading to be a favorite past-time, that they simply cannot make it through over a million books a year to discover the gems.
But, good entrepreneurs are problem solvers. How can WE solve this problem of over a million books added to the market per year?
Well, the entities that allow self-publishing won’t likely do anything because even if a really dreadful book sells ten copies they’re still making a lot of money.
That, and I loathe handing power over to other people. I’m a tad of a control freak. Yes, I see your shocked faces.
The winning edge we have here is that most of those million plus books are unreadable GARBAGE.
Winning Edge: Quality Beats Price
Yes, in the beginning of the e-reader, we wanted cheap books because they were novel (*bada bump snare*). We still do, to a degree. I still believe that a digital book shouldn’t cost the same as a hard cover.
A hard cover costs in paper, shipping, it can be damaged and is perishable. This said, I am happy to pay a reasonable price for a digital book, just not $27.00.
Back to cheap books. We were enamored with .99 cent books and FREE books largely because NY was staffed with Luddites who didn’t realize the Titanic was sinking.
Instead of changing business plans…the band played on.
Amazon was more than happy to accommodate. But, after a while, the novelty wore off. Especially once we realized that so many of these books were unreadable junk—unedited, first-draft, digitized offal.
Much of what’s out there still is. And, traditional publishing, in trying to up their speed, has compromised a lot of quality as well. I’ve found myself reading a lot of older books (pre-digital era) because I can’t stand modern books.
If readers discover we put out QUALITY books, we will automatically be at the leading edge of the pack. The reason is readers don’t have time to sift through Hell’s Slush Pile.
Value the Readers’ TIME
Publishing has ALWAYS complained people didn’t read enough.
Those stupid radio programs are stealing readers.
That silly new television is taking readers.
Twenty-four hour news and cable! Stealing our readers!
Publishers have griped and groused that people didn’t read books and that was back when there sure as Shineola wasn’t over a MILLION friggin’ books hitting the market per year…most UNEDITED.
Most of the books for sale today? Forget passing a gatekeeper. Most couldn’t pass fifth grade English. But here’s the thing.
People are BUSY.
We are wanting them to READ. If we want them to read, the we need to make sure we’re valuing their limited time by offering them an escape…not a migraine.
I hate saying this, and honestly never believed I ever would. But if writers would do these three things, you would outpace probably 95% of what is for sale.
First, read A LOT of books. This would give you a vast vocabulary and you’d be able to study how masters of what we do use words to create emotions, atmosphere, effect, tension, etc.
Secondly, invest in training, conferences and/or read and study the top craft blogs and books. I gave a GIANT list on this post.
Thirdly, write A LOT. I was going to end the Plot Boss ON DEMAND tomorrow night, but since I am mentioning it here, I’ll go ahead and end it MONDAY. Because if you don’t take any other craft class take this one.
***If we don’t understand the structure of stories we’re DOOMED. This is a $55 class I’m offering for $25. You can get it HERE.
After years writing myself in corners, I dedicated to learning EVERYTHING about plotting because it confused the bejeezus out of me. Once I reverse engineered what I’d been doing all wrong, I devised a way to teach it where even me—a plotting dimwit—could understand.
You guys having seventy-six half-finished ideas in your computer doesn’t make you a stronger author. It makes you want to cry into a tub of ice cream and buy crap you don’t want or need on Amazon Prime.
Finishing books makes you better (and improves your confidence). Finishing sucky books leads to finishing good books and that leads to finishing incredible books…and THAT is the winning edge.
A caveat of finishing. I’m going to reiterate the importance of study. Reading is vastly important. I cannot tell you how many ‘writers’ tell me they want to be a ‘New York Times Best-Selling Author’ but then in the same sentence claim they don’t have the time to read.
If you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have time to be an author. Initially, I wasn’t keen on audio books. I had to train my brain.
I’m a writer, blogger, teacher, and a mom who homeschools. That, and, judging from the piles of laundry in my house, there might be people living here I don’t know about.
Sure, I had to get used to it. The books I particularly love, I buy again in paper. But, I can do laundry, dishes, clean, or stand in lines and listen to books.
I just want to be very clear on the finishing thing. There are plenty of writers churning out finished ‘books.’ But they aren’t books, they are 50,000-110,000 words with a cover.
What we practice is what improves.
If we don’t read great books and take classes from those who can improve our skills, what we are doing is practicing bad writing. We’re getting better and being terrible writers.
***Btw, it doesn’t have to be me. Look to that link and the GIANT LIST I gave y’all of incredible teachers and blogs.
And I am not picking on anyone. Every artist who desires mastery brings in an expert. I played clarinet from grade school into high school. Starting in 6th grade, I met with a top clarinetist from the Dallas Symphony once a week and she ran me through grueling drills.
No matter the art—painting, dance, music, sculpting, etc.—even if a person is self-taught most seek out masters to help them improve in some area (at least the ones who want to be the BEST do).
Winning Edge and Finding Your Pace
Some books are like fine wine, and need time. They require a certain climate, fine weather, nurturing and an aging process. Michael Crichton, Larry McMurtry, Ken Follet, Amy Tan, etc. didn’t churn out books every two months and no one expected them to so.
Granted, some of the greatest works of literature were actually written VERY quickly (as I pointed out in my tongue-in-cheek post ‘Real Writers Don’t Self-Publish). Not all writers have the same pace. Not all stories require the same operational tempo.
Stephen King has written works that took eighteen months and others that took only a few days.
Publishing isn’t One-Size-Fits-All, or at least it shouldn’t be. But we are still enduring the birthing pains.
This said. With this drive for writers to push out content faster than a cartel meth lab, quality has taken a major hit. It’s also deluding a lot of people into believing they can take shortcuts.
That what we writers do is not an art, an artisan craft, a skill that requires YEARS and DECADES of training, learning, practice, classes, reading, and training to refine.
I believe we’ve gone far enough down this digital highway to come to a crossroad where we’ll need to choose.
When I began my journey years ago, the greatest hurdle I had was to get authors to understand we were in the entertainment business and that half of that word was business.
Now that has flipped.
We are still in the entertainment business, entertainment being half of that word. And I am actually excited about that, because I LOVE teaching craft.
Granted I love teaching branding and social media but my methods are beyond unorthodox and actually use your creativity.
Others might want to lobotomize your imagination, whereas I want you to let your muse out of the classroom and so she/he can have Field Day every day. Lord, all this algorithm, dashboard, metrics…
Is it me, or does it feel like our poor muses have been trapped in a standardized test since 2012?
Summing Up the Winning Edge
We can look at this bloated, dreadful market and see doom, or opportunity. For those ready to seize advantage, it’s pretty simple.
- Own being an author. You’re an artist and an artisan.
- Start building your space. Plan for success. For discounted web-hosting with white-glove treatment, go HERE and tell them I sent you for a special author rate. TechSurgeons caters to a lot of authors. The big web hosts won’t necessarily care if your site gets hacked at three in the morning, six hours before before your book launch, but TechSurgeons WILL. If you’re already with a different host, they can move you over easy-peasy.
- Get a copy of Rise of the Machines or take the On Demand Branding Class. You can also go through my archives for free to learn all you need to know. What I teach is very simple and VERY effective…oh and FUN.
- Read, A LOT. Watch a lot of movies, television, series. Take notes. Study dialogue, characterization, vocabulary, subtext.
- Go to that list I provided and treat yourself to some of those resources. Read those blogs and take their classes, too.
- Take some Bad Lamb Academy Classes. They’re designed to give you the winning edge. I have a couple of SWEET specials listed below (and ALL our classes come with recordings). It’s going to take more than one or two classes to train y’all into any semblance of mastery, which is why we work hard to make these affordable. Recordings allow you to go back over material.
- Once you’ve read the books and blogs and taken the classes, write A LOT. Practice is a whetstone that sharpens the winning edge.
- And finish. Then repeat. Be a FINISHER.
What Are Your Thoughts?
I believe the pendulum is swinging back the other way. The glut of everyone wanting to market and advertise their way into best-selling author status just isn’t panning out like it used to.
I feel we are getting back to the basics of ‘Can you tell a GOOD story?’
Does that make you excited? What are some of the areas you find yourself neglecting? Do you struggle claiming that you are a ‘real’ writer and so you put everyone and everything ahead of writing and honing your craft?
I love hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, 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). Will announce October’s soon. Finally back to feeling ‘normal-ish’ from the bronchitis.
In the meantime, PLEASE treat yourself to a class!
So the BIG SPECIALS
Usually $55 and now only $30. This is a THREE-HOUR class on guns, knives, weapons, fighting, law enforcement (from local cops to international espionage) and more. Everything you need to build a bad@$$—male OR female—and get the details CORRECT.
Sale on this class ENDS Monday.
THIS FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22nd, 2019. Use New20 for $20 off.
Tuesday, November 26th 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST (NYC TIME). Use New20 for $20 off.
NEW ON DEMAND CLASSES
Use New20 for $20 off. Discount good until November 28th.
Popular On Demand Classes
Use Binge10 for $10 off.
How do we create characters that readers will fall in love with, characters strong enough to go the distance? Find out in this THREE-HOUR class that also comes with detailed notes and a character-building template.
This class dovetails with my previous class: