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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: new publishing paradigm

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The Wright Brothers. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

You want to know my favorite part about the new publishing paradigm? It allows us to fail. I know you might think I’m crazy, but failure is the most vital ingredient to success. When I was researching for my new book, I studied the Wright Brothers and this is a story I feel every writer needs to hear.

The Wright brothers were not engineers and held no fancy degrees. They actually got their start in the bicycle business. At the turn of the century, bicycles were all the rage, but a lot of the designs were flat out dangerous. The bikes were difficult for the rider to control and accidents were frequently fatal.

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“Ordinary” Bicycle from late 1800s. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Wright brothers were determined to build a bicycle that was safer and easier to maneuver and maintain control, and after many attempts, they were successful. In fact, the bicycle design used today? We can thank the Wright brothers for that.

At the time, there was another race going on. Man wanted to take flight. Most people believed that the fancy Ivy League engineers would be the first in flight. These scientists were educated and had state-of-the-art equipment and laboratories. They also had loads of cash from government and private funding.

The problem, however, was two-fold. First, the “smart” folks of the day envisioned navigating the medium of air to be the same as navigating water. They designed machines that were sturdy, stable and bulky (patterned off ships). The problem was that all of these designs never could get off the ground, so it was impossible to gather data to make necessary changes.

The Wright brothers were inspired with the idea of creating a machine that could fly, but it was their experience making bicycles that offered them a very different perspective. When it came to bicycles, they’d learned that focusing on a sturdy build ended in crashes. Instead, they sought to design in ways that allowed the rider to rapidly use shifts in body weight and balance to maintain control. They believed that airplanes needed to be the same.

The problem? They needed a way to test the theory.

The brothers decided to risk it all and take their operation to Kittyhawk, North Carolina because of the large areas of sand dunes. They believed, contrary to “expert” opinion, that a “flying machine” needed to be light so that it could actually get into the air. They knew they were in for a lot of crashes, but they also understood those crashes were vital to success.

Every time they launched a new prototype, they could gather important information as to why the airplane failed to remain in the air. Eventually, their design won out and that’s why they’re credited with inventing the airplane.

Their theories had been correct.

Lighter construction was better and emphasis on pilot control and maneuverability was paramount. No one believed these underdogs would win the race to control the air, but no one counted on their tenacity, their ability to ignore the “experts” and their positive relationship with failure.

We can learn a lot from them. In the old paradigm, writers wrote and failed in private. Since we were lucky to have one book out a year, we didn’t have a lot of opportunities to launch our prototypes and see what worked. We had to rely on “experts” to determine what readers wanted. Still do.

The new paradigm has a lot in common with the medium of air. There are unseen updrafts, weather changes, and the wind shifts direction constantly. Indie authors, in many respects, have similar advantages to the Wright brothers. We can change, adapt and try new things. Is a cover working? No. Change it. Is the book too long? Try cutting it into smaller books and see what happens.

We can write more books and if the first one fails, we can read the reviews and know exactly what to change. We can write more books and better books until we eventually take flight.

Traditional authors don’t have an insider’s view of the market. They see the sales reports only a couple times a year and have no control over any changes. If people don’t like the formatting or there are errors in the text, the book can’t be changed. The cover is all but set in stone.

And this isn’t to bash traditional publishing. Rather, it is to show you guys that failure is necessary. Many writers who go traditional are no longer in a situation of sink or swim. If it works out?

Great!

But if it doesn’t, you can take to the sand dunes of Amazon and see what works and what flops. If you are persistent, committed and open to learning, then the only reason for complete failure is giving up.

We now have a way of launching our prototypes (books) into the market, maneuvering (maybe going with KDP select for a time), and changing (swapping book covers or pulling a book for major rewrite).

This is one of the reasons I am such a fan of writers blogging. It allows us to get our voice out there and see what connects. What falls flat? When I first started blogging, I was insecure. I took a lot of advice from the “experts.” Thus my writing was more rigid, academic and less emotionally accessible.

Then I embraced my ability to write humor. People started subscribing with greater frequency, but I’d gotten so fascinated with my own comedic schtick, that people frequently didn’t catch when I was just joking.

I once wrote a post making fun of Facebook. Feeling pressure from the new Google +, Facebook had decided to New and Improve and added feeds in the sidebar to look like Twitter. They also allowed people the option to “subscribe” (again, knocking off Twitter’s “follow”). I jokingly named this move Twit+. I fielded e-mails for weeks from writers in a panic because they didn’t know how to use Twit+.

Note to Self: Reign in the stand-up comedy.

The lesson in all of this? I failed. A lot. I could try new things. What happened if I posted once a week? Three times? Five times? What length was best? What tone? By trying and failing, I was able to adjust and change.

Too many writers want a thousand hits a day in the first month of blogging. They want the first book to be a mega-best-seller, and to do this, they beat us all half to death with marketing.

STOP!

If you aren’t to the level of success you want, go do some more failing. It’s good for you :D.

What are your thoughts? Are you warming up to the idea of failing? Are you excited or terrified of the new paradigm? Why?

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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner 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).

PajamaCon Winners were announced via e-mail, so no need to do it here.

February’s Winner for My Blog Contest is: Yolanda Renee. Please send your 5000 word Word document to kristen at wana intl dot com. Or your query (one page) or synopsis) max 5 pages (1000 words).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

 

Wednesday’s post, Big Six Publishing is Dead made me sad to write. Yes, I am an indie author, but I never have held any malice for New York publishing. I’ve liberally offered ideas, suggestions and help. Still do. I think competition in the market is good for everyone. Yet, the current situation does make me wonder. What went wrong? Why didn’t New York act quickly enough? They saw what happened to music. They saw what happened to Kodak. How could they fall victim to the same problem when they had so much warning?

Actually, it is simple. They were a victim of pride and fear. Why am I writing about this today? Not to beat a dead paradigm, but I think we all can take a huge lesson from this in our own lives. History repeats itself only when we fail to listen.

The same thing that happened to NY publishing can happen to you. It can happen to me. Every day we must really challenge ourselves and be unafraid to ask the hard questions.

Beware of the Defense

I can debate with the best of them. I used to be like trying to have an argument with an attorney. For many years I excelled at being “right.” But I didn’t grow. I didn’t learn. I was a lousy leader and had very few friends.

Oh, but I was “right.”

What I’ve learned through years of hard work and failure and criticism is that being “right” is highly overrated. These days, the second I hear myself defending my position…I know I am wrong. When we have to explain and defend, that is a HUGE sign of trouble. We are all wise to listen for this. Will save a lot of headache.

When NY started having to defend the paper-based paradigm, that was a red flag. So why didn’t they see the red flag? Why is it still SO important to be right?

People will always want paper.

Target Fixation Trouble

What we believe is true is not always true. It takes humility to ask others their opinion because we risk not being seen as “smart.” Pride leads us into believing we know everything.

Years ago, I was in paper sales (a tad bit of irony here). I recall being in a corporate meeting and they were putting together the core marketing plan for 2000. They were going to get the customers lower prices.

I was the only female in the room and about 20 years younger than most of the attendees. They were all older men who’d been in the paper business for decades. I was afraid, but I raised my hand and asked:

“Is this what the customer wants?”

“Of course everyone wants lower prices!”

“Um, well, uh, no Sir. Not always. There are other factors we might be overlooking, like lead-times, customer service, quality, etc.”

So I challenged them to table the marketing plan for two weeks. I would write a survey, and, if all the customers wanted lower prices, then at least we would know “lower prices” was where we needed to be putting our efforts.

Turns out price was rated #4 on the list of what customers felt was important. #1 Lead-Time. They wanted their product as fast as humanly possible.

See, the people who ran my company just assumed they knew what the customer wanted. They never bothered asking and it cost them dearly. Even though the customers almost unilaterally said they wanted faster lead times, my bosses would not approve a second production line that I proposed, and it would have only cost a few thousand dollars. They refused to rent a warehouse in Houston (my other idea) where we could have stored the most popular products and it would have given us the ability to have same-day service.

I even suggested that we get away from filling out orders by hand. Do it on a computer. We could digitize the catalogue to make ordering faster. If we used computers for ordering, it would have synced beautifully with the new SAP system that our customers were integrating.

Nope. Fill out the order sheet by hand. Make everything slooooooooww.

And they lost millions in business. I watched my territory hemorrhage customers. I feel it is part of why my health finally suffered to the point that I had to resign.

Granted the company beating our tails was actually cheaper, but time and time again customers told me they wanted to stay with us. They liked us and had done business with us for years. They preferred our quality. But, time and time again they needed our product FAST and we couldn’t get there. Eventually the customers preferred a less-than-stellar product NOW over a better product in a week.

My company never understood that. They had target fixation…price. It kept them from being innovative.

NY believes it can charge the same price for an e-book as for a hard cover and that people will pay it because of stellar quality. Yet, I might suggest learning from my paper parable. Sometimes a customer will take less quality NOW and CHEAPER over later and better quality. (And, the indies and self-pubs are closing in on having as good of quality if not better).

Can’t See the Stories for the Books

NY has had target fixation–protect the paper book–and it has hindered creativity and innovation. Instead of leading the charge into the Digital Renaissance, they’ve been protecting the Dark Ages with agency pricing and grabbing of author backlists. They were so focused on paper, they failed to see they were in the story and information business…no matter what medium.

The Outsider

New York is suffering from what I call “intellectual inbreeding.” This isn’t an insult. All of us will suffer this and we must take action to bring in outsiders and fresh perspectives in order to keep this syndrome at bay.

When people spend too much time together, they begin to think alike. At first this is really wonderful because it is easier to work as a team and there is a surge in creativity. But, after a while, the creativity begins to taper off. As a group, it is easier to get tunnel-vision and target-fixation.

The Trouble with Being an “Expert”

Experts run into this problem a lot. It is why we need to be willing to ask potentially embarrassing questions. It’s why, ironically and quite paradoxically we need to admit we don’t know everything.

Hey, we’re experts not omnipotent.

We need to be willing to leave the safe shores of our expertise. It is why, at the end of every post I ask for reader opinions. Alone, I can’t know everything. With your help? I can get pretty close, :D.

My opinion? New York thinks too much alike. They have too many “experts.” Publishing is centered in New York and has been for over a century. Everyone knows everyone and they all work closely together. It is why we writers must always be kind and respectful (aside from it being the right thing to do). Why? Because that agent we blast in an e-mail because she rejected us might one day be the editor at the house of our dreams. NY publishing is a close-knit community, to say the least.

Which is why it is at a disadvantage.

It isn’t that the folks in New York aren’t brilliant, wonderful people, but their very environment leads to group think. It is easy to become more interested in defending what is, than to think of what could be. I can appreciate the conundrum. How would I feel if I had to envision a world where my colleagues would be out of a job?

The Future is Ours to Shape

Yet, the sad part is they didn’t have to be out of a job. When we are brave enough to face the future, even the scary parts, we can make a plan. We have more power when we face fear and kick it out of the driver’s seat.

The folks in New York could have been retooling personnel. Teach them how to format and be the best dang digital formatters in the business. If e-books were in the future, then by gum, NY would lead the charge.

But they didn’t and I don’t know how steep the consequences will be. They started making fear-based decisions, which never work out well. They may be making some changes now, but the problem is those changes are three years too late.

Many of those in New York are feeling the way many Americans are feeling. In the factory model, we are replaceable, usually by machines or people in other countries willing to worker harder, longer and for less pay. This why it is SO critical now of all times to be proactive, innovative, creative and remarkable.

Top-down decision-making is a dead paradigm. Regular people have a hand in shaping our future.

Creativity Needs Fresh Blood and Brutal Honesty

Creativity and innovation are easier when we bring in those with a fresh perspective who have nothing to lose by offering us honesty. I feel New York can’t see the forest for the trees, and they have underestimated the intelligence of “outsiders.” Has happened to me on Twitter quite a few times. I’m not in NY so I don’t understand. *shrugs* Okay.

I think that publishing could benefit greatly by giving their toughest problems to outsiders. Eli Lilly did it with InnoCentive. Heck, I do it with the WANAs. Some of the best solutions come from everyday people. Sometimes us “experts” get a little blinded by our “expertness.”

It is a remarkable time we live in. We are in the Digital Renaissance. But as the world grows more and more complex, so do the problems. It is taking more than one mind to solve the present problems. All the low-hanging fruit is gone and we need to reach higher. Even writers. We can take a lesson. We need each other.

The 20th century was the Age of the Individual. The Digital Age is the Age of the Collective. We must form teams and work together or we are toast. We are in a global economy with global problems, so we need global solutions. We need each other. We need to be more creative than ever in human history. To do this, we have to be humble enough to admit we don’t know everything and open to outside help.

As this world changes and grows and presents challenges never seen, we have to remember We Are Not Alone. Even you, New York.

So what do you guys think? I think the Big Six is dead, but Madonna, Britney Spears and Robert Downey Jr prove resurrection is possible. Industries have been known to reinvent and come back stronger. Do you think this is possible? Or is it too far gone?

What about your own lives? How do you keep creativity and innovation fresh? Have you been the victim of your own tunnel-vision and need to be right? What are your thoughts?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Winner of last week 5 page critique–Mona Karel. Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com.

Winner of 15 page critique for April is Heidi Thomas. Please send your 3250 word Word document to the same e-mail.

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

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