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The Winning Edge: In a Glutted Market, How Can Authors Stand Apart?

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

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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.

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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.

Writers WRITE.

Winning Edge: Preparation

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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.

You’re welcome.

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’

Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Season Eight, GoT, Game of Thrones Finale, writing tips, Kristen Lamb

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

cutting edge, publishing, self-publishing, readers, books, bookstores, book sales, Kristen Lamb, Amazon books

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.

Remember QUALITY

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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.

*primal screams*

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.

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My recent reading stats. Works out to 3-4 hours a day every day.

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

Me driving my mother…

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.

*throws glitter*

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?

*gagging sounds*

Summing Up the Winning Edge

I KNOW! I’m a terrible person for laughing.

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

On Demand: Beyond Bulletproof HOLIDAY Barbie

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.

On Demand Plot Boss: Writing Books Readers Want to BUY

Sale on this class ENDS Monday.

New Classes

Why Are We HERE? Scenes that HOOK

THIS FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22nd, 2019Use New20 for $20 off.

Tick Tock: How to Plot Mystery Suspense Series

Tuesday, November 26th  7:00-9:00 p.m. EST (NYC TIME)Use New20 for $20 off.

NEW ON DEMAND CLASSES

On Demand Dark Arts: Building Your Villain

Use New20 for $20 off. Discount good until November 28th.

On Demand Bite-Sized Fiction: How to Plot the Novella

Popular On Demand Classes

The Art of Character: Writing Characters for a SERIES ON DEMAND

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:

Bring on the Binge: How to Plot and Write a Series (ON DEMAND). Use Binge10 for $10 off.

Need some help with platform and branding?

Branding: WHEN YOUR NAME ALONE Can Sell (ON DEMAND)

Use brand10 for $10 off.

For the complete list, go to the OnDemand Section.

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  1. I’m a methodical writer. I like to form, shape and properly finish my stories and hate the ‘get it done in a week’ pressures I get from potential agents. One guy told me to make all these changes (I was okay with most of them), then send me six more like this in a month. Don’t know how? Take my speed writing class… (I was at a conference at the time).

    Maybe I should have gone for it, but the guy rubbed me the wrong way. I like my stories (these were for kids) to have multiple levels to learn from- like the bearenstein bear books. I want to be prolific- just quality prolific, not the kind of ‘quick buck and chuck’ writer he was looking for. Ugh.

    Signed up for the Plot Boss class. Looking forward to it! Been having life issues and have NOT been doing what good writers should, but working my way back to writing and reading regularly once again! Keep on inspiring people Kristen! Love your posts!

    1. Plot Boss will improve speed simply because you’ll understand the fundamentals of story and get a FEEL for writing MUCH faster. Once I understood what should be where and why, plotting was much easier and I am not a detailed outlining sort of gal.

      But you get to a point where you ‘KNOW” that ‘Hey, I am this far in, my MC should be further along’ or ‘Whoa! This is too far too fast! She can’t evolve that quickly. She needs to struggle more. I’m making this too easy, the opposition too weak and I’m wrecking my tension (story).”

      Once you get that ingrained, then you can practice finishing and THEn that is when you start picking up speed. Sort of like practicing different scales on an instrument. No, I never took the stage and played the scales on my clarinet, but by practicing scales over and over, I was able to play increasingly more difficult pieces with more and more ease.

      I REALLY hope you enjoy the class and that it helps. Once you listen to the class, watch a bunch of movies, series and read and think about what you learned. Look for what I teach in the class 😉 . You will never see story the same again.

    • Linda on November 21, 2019 at 8:25 pm
    • Reply

    I always enjoy reading your blog Kristen. I was wondering what you think of the current trend to include multiple voices in books for children and young adults? Wonder by R.J. Palacio was the first such book that I read, and I’ve seen several more since then. Is this style of writing here to stay or just a passing fad?

    1. Writing styles always evolve. I recently tried reading Faulkner. I’m still gutting my way through ‘Absolom, Absolom’ but it’s en exercise in . brain-bending tedium. Yet, back then? Probably was the norm. A few centuries ago the distant omniscient narrator was common, and no one had ever used (let alone heard of) this idea of ‘First-person POV.’

      I don’t believe any writing form ever stays forever. We can’t read anything from Shakespeare’s time and see it’s still here other than the basic concepts of human behavior and story. That humans never change. But that has nothing to do with the STYLE.

      I’d say try it out. If you like it, roll with it. If not, improve on it or make a variation of it that’s your own. But nothing last forever. Just read Ecclesiastes or listen to ‘Dust in the Wind’ 😛 .

      1. Edith Wharton wrote in 1925 that “The use of dialogue in fiction seems to be one of the few things about which a fairly definite rule may be laid down. It should be reserved for the culminating moments, and regarded as the spray into which the great wave of narrative breaks in curving toward the watcher on the shore.”

        I remember my shock on reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and finding not a single word of direct speech in the whole thing. How times change! These days anything which was dialogue-free save in the “culminating moments” would be regarded as unutterably dull. On which note, I don’t think I’ve read any Wharton, and thanks to your description, I’m not likely to read any Faulkener either 😀 .

    • Kathy on November 21, 2019 at 11:19 pm
    • Reply

    I laughed so hard at your sentence that based on your laundry pile, there may be more people living in your house. Why is there so much laundry? I want a magic chute that brings it to the laundry machine. And I’ve told my kids they need to invent a machine that folds (although there are apparently some people working on such inventions – hurray!). Anyway I am building my website now after your branding class. Thanks so much!

  2. I love your blog, it’s always entertaining and educational. I’ve never taken one of your classes before, but I’ve decided that’s going to change. Next paycheck, I’m budgeting for your ‘Bulletproof’ class. Next pay after that, your ‘Plotting’ class. Thank you for giving us the ambition and resources to be better writers, and cut down on the crap out there.

    1. Email me for the plotting class if it isn’t available once you have the money (at kristen @ wanaintl dot com), and I will see what I can do for you. Very proud of you (((HUGS))).

      1. Very kind of you, thank you!

    • Bob on November 22, 2019 at 11:28 am
    • Reply

    Hey Kristen, Thanks for this post. Some time ago you had a post regarding the use of “aspiring” in reference to an un-published author and I immediately took your advice and dropped it from my blogs, etc. I’ve been following your blog for what seems like a long time and have read your Rise of the Machines book. Recalling your advice I recently created a website for my WIP, https://theimplantbook.wordpress.com/ even though I’m 10K+ words in I still don’t know if it will turn out to be a novel, novella or just a short story. I guess part of my concern is that the theme has been overdone. But I forge ahead with difficulty.

    BTW I just signed up for your plot boss course. Good price.

    1. Wonderful! I really hope the class helps you. I know plot was a real brain-bender for me for ages. It would seem so simple in a class or a book then I would try to apply it and BOOM! I felt like the black, singed, Wile E. Coyote.

        • Bob on November 22, 2019 at 2:42 pm
        • Reply

        Just finished your excellent course. Like others commented I will probably have to revisit it again. I’m really struggling with plot in my WIP b/c I see it as speculative fiction along the lines of Orwell’s 1984 where the antagonist is technology at the hands of an oligarchy.

        1. You will need a ‘face’ who represents the ‘culture gone wrong.’ And the more conflicted the MC can be the better. For instance, in Fahrenheit 451, Montag has to face off with Chief. This was a man he’d idolized and viewed as a father figure and he comes to realize he represents a world of lies.

            • Bob on November 23, 2019 at 9:14 am

            Thanks so much, that helps.

    • Debbie Johansson on November 23, 2019 at 12:26 am
    • Reply

    Thanks for this post Kristen. Being a perfectionist, I’ve been thinking about quality vs quantity for a while now. I admire those authors who can manage both. As I’ve just published my first short story, I have a long way to go! But it confirms my belief that we need to keep the focus on our writing and tell good stories.

    I’ve just signed up for your Plot Boss class, as well as the class on writing novellas and on writing a series, so I’m looking forward to those. They will certainly keep me busy! Now I’ll check out that list of recommended books and blogs. 😉

  3. Hi Kristin-
    Trying to purchase an on demand class but keep getting an error code saying “Invalid API Key Provided”. Trying to buy the Bring on the Binge: How to Plot and Write a Series.
    Thanks for any help-

  4. As always, Kristen, amazing stuff! (Just a quick aside: you misspelled “hurdle” in its first mention in the post.) This is why I’ve been reading your posts for ages. Thank you!

    1. I proofread these over and over and read them aloud to colleagues to see if I have the typos, and those suckers STILL sneak through. Thanks for having my back. I think I fixed it.

      1. You’re welcome! Sometimes I swear the stories about gremlins in our computers are real. ? Thanks for all you do for writers!

  5. Hey there, when is your next class on plotting for mysteries? I need a refresher. 🙂

    1. This coming Thursday. Mystery suspense series. It will apply to standalone as well.

  6. Do a blog on how to promote without internet social media.

    1. There’s a challenge. Sure.

  7. I would LOVE to purchase your Bring on the Binge On-Demand class, but I’m getting an “Invalid API Key” error and I cannot find a contact/support link to request help. Please tell me how to fix this so I can gobble up this course!

    1. Lemme see what the problem is. I’ll check it out.

  8. Hmmm…

  1. […] excellent article by Kristen Lamb for writers old and new. In a glutted market, how can authors stand apart? Go read it. Now. Don’t be like me! ? […]

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