Business Musings: What Kind of Writer Are You?
I’m posting the missing pieces of the Discoverability blog in prep for the Discoverability book. I posted one missing chapter/blog on Thursday, and promised two more. After writing both of them, however, only one is standalone. The other truly is a bridge chapter between two parts of the book. So this is the last post for a while, at least on business. I probably won’t add another until I finish the final Anniversary Day saga novel.
This chapter is a lot more general than the previous chapter I posted, and so, doesn’t need all those assumptions and stuff at the end. I do encourage you to look at the Discoverability posts online, though, so you can see a lot of the topics mentioned here in more depth.
I’m going to keep the words “chapter” and “book” instead of “blog” and “blog series” here, primarily because I’m lazy, and don’t have time to change everything.
Here’s the missing post:
Chapter Two: Who Are You?
Generally speaking, a good publicity campaign starts by defining the campaign’s target audience.
Here, however, instead of figuring out your campaign’s audience, we’re going to figure out who you are. Because until you know your strengths and limitations, you can’t do any planning well.
What I know about you is that you’re a writer. I hope that you’re an established fiction writer, because established fiction writers are this book’s target audience.
I also know that you want as many readers as possible to find your books. In a perfect world, the readers would find your work without anyone doing anything.
But the world’s not perfect, and to get attention for your book, you’ll have to do a few things. I’ve outlined a lot of those things in the chapters of this book.
Some of those things are passive marketing, which I define as a one-and-done type of marketing. (Many of the tricks of passive marketing form the invisible marketing that I mentioned in Chapter One.)
Other things that I’ll discuss in future chapters are active marketing, which means that you’ll have to do something on a regular basis.
As I wrote about all of these things on my website, I heard from my regular readers. They were frightened or upset, worried that they couldn’t do anything I suggested for a variety of reasons.
Some writers lacked the funds.
Many writers lacked the time.
But mostly, the writers lacked the will.
Believe me, I understand.
I’m very good at marketing. But that doesn’t mean I like all of it. In fact, I hate some of it. I know how to do it, and I would rather have someone else help me than do it myself.
However, I also know there are some things that will take me five minutes and take someone else hours. I do those things, and maybe, someday, I’ll train the other person.
Part of my attitude toward marketing comes from the fact that I have done it since I was a teenager. I learned to write ad copy in junior high (yes, in the days before those years were called “middle school”). I learned to write good ad copy in college. I did a lot of PR and marketing for various companies in my twenties.
And, for my sins, I did countless on-air pledge drives for the non-profit radio station I worked at. When you do on-air pledging, you know immediately when your pitch is working and when it isn’t. The phones ring in the studio if you’re doing well, and they’re silent if you’re not doing well.
(By the way, on-air pledge drives are all call-to-action (See Chapter One). Literally. And just as annoying as any other call-to-action.)
I have trained myself to do most of my marketing as a matter of course.
I don’t even notice most of the passive marketing that I do. But throw me into active marketing, and I’ll do it very well.
I’ll also bitch about it to my friends.
Before I do any active marketing these days, I also weigh it’s importance compared against the time I spend writing.
Award-winning writer, Scott William Carter, has actually come up with an acronym for this weighing. He calls it the WIBBOW test. The acronym stands for this:
Would I Be Better Off Writing?
Usually, the answer is yes.
As I say throughout this book, the most important commodity you have is time. And the best thing you can do with that time, my writerly friends, is to write.
Finish the next book and the next book and the next.
The more product you have on the market, the greater the chance that readers will find you. It’s the simplest way to market your work and the one most suited to writers.
But we’re all different.
Which is a real bummer. Because what most writers look for is one-size-fits-all marketing.
If the marketing strategy used by Writer John put his first novel on the bestseller list, then clearly that marketing strategy will work for every writer. Right?
Sorry. Nope. It doesn’t work that way.
Marketing follows a standard statistical model. The outliers are complete opposites. The successful outliers are the handful of people who invented the strategy. The complete failure outliers are the handful of people who are the very last people ever to try that strategy.
The packed middle is filled with all the writer-lemmings who follow the one-size-fits-all marketing crowd. They have some success, but mostly, the strategy gives them just enough traction to disappoint them—because those writers didn’t make millions like the successful outliers.
Writers get the idea for one-size-fits-all marketing from a couple of places.
First, the writers want easy marketing strategies because most writers would rather write than market their work. I get that. So would I. You have to do minimal marketing (most of it passive), but there are marketing models that allow more time for writing and less time for active marketing.
We’ll discuss those in this book.
The idea that each book is the exact same product, the way that each jar of peanut butter is the same product, is hard-wired into the conventional publishing wisdom.
As readers, we know that’s wrong. What Huckleberry Finn has in common with The Goldfinch is that they’re both novels. But they are not the same book or even the same kind of book.
They appeal to different readers.
Sure, you could do a Venn diagram of the readers for each book, and find a overlapping subset of readers who like both books (that subset includes me), but most of the readers only like (or have read or want to read) one of those two books.
The books are dramatically different. The way that peanut butter and hummus are different. Peanut butter and hummus are both food. They’re (usually) both brown. They can both be spreads for bread or crackers. But peanut butter and hummus don’t provide the same eating experience.
They’re not even close.
Just like Huckleberry Finn and The Goldfinch aren’t even close.
So why market those two books the same way?
We’ll talk about how to market different titles in different ways later. I’ll give you lots to think about on that topic.
But right now, we’re discussing you, and your writerly expectations. You expect, indeed you probably hope, that you can just do what other writers have done when it comes to marketing, and your books will automatically sell.
Hell, I hope for that each and every day, but in my nearly forty-years in publishing, I have never seen any plug-and-play marketing that actually works.
(And right now, I’m feeling a bit stunned that I’ve been in the business forty years, and must remind myself that I started publishing professionally at sixteen. [Breathe, Kris. Breathe. Before your ancient lungs explode…])
Writers tend to form communities, and in those communities, you meet all types.
We know the “writers” who talk a great game but have never committed a word to the page. We know the writers who write a lot, but can’t publish or mail anything. They put every word in a drawer and never let their writing see the light of day.
We know the writers who produce a lot; writers who never talk about what they write ever; writers who publish more than anyone else combined; writers who made a million dollars with their very first book; and writers who promote every single thing they write so heavily that you avoid them so you don’t have to buy their latest because you feel forced into it.
Sometimes one person embodies several of those types.
There are the sales-enthusiast writers who hit the New York Times bestseller list, they say, because they flogged the hell out of their latest book. They’re intimidating.
(They combine the promotion writers with the production writers.)
And then the writers who seem like lottery winners. They also hit the New York Times bestseller list, but they rarely leave their house, and they hate to talk on the phone, and they really don’t want to go into public ever.
(Those writers are usually a combination of the writes-a-lot writer and the never-talks-about-it writer)
We define the lottery-winner writers as “lucky,” and the sales-enthusiast writers as “hacks.”
We say that the stars aligned for the “lucky” writers. They hit the cultural zeitgeist with the right book.
We say that the “hacks” conned the unwashed masses into buying a subpar book because the unwashed masses wouldn’t know quality if they saw it.
We’re wrong about both types of writers.
Both are excellent storytellers whose books caught the national attention. Each part of that sentence is important. The books wouldn’t have sold at all if their stories were bad. And they wouldn’t have sold well if the books hadn’t (somehow) caught the national attention.
(Please note that I didn’t say the books were well-written. We’re not writers, folks. We’re storytellers. I explain the difference in my blog in these posts which you can see for free and also in a book called The Pursuit of Perfection.)
The thing you must remember throughout this book is that we’re talking about marketing. We’re not talking craft, except that we assume you (the established writer) knows your craft so well that readers enjoy your books.
When we discuss marketing, you need to remember that all we’re talking about is informing the consumer that a book (or an author or a series of books) exists, so that the consumer can purchase that book.
Bestsellers share something in common besides a well-told story. They share the fact that somehow a mass of consumers discovered the book at the same time.
Bestsellers in America (and most countries I’m familiar with) are based on velocity—a lot of copies have sold in a short period of time. A bestseller will hit a list by selling thousands of copies in a week. If that book stops selling the next week, the book still gets the bestseller label.
If a book sells tens of thousands of copies over the space of a year, but never more than 600 or 700 copies per week, that book will never hit a traditional bestseller list—yet it’ll sell more copies than a bestselling book.
We’ll discuss this more in the section titled “The Old Ways,” but I will repeat it a lot, because it’s important. Traditional publishing is not set up to handle the slow-selling book that will eventually outsell the bestseller.
But as an indie publisher, you can nurture those books and let them form the basis for your entire business.
I’m telling you all this here, because marketing, particularly in entertainment (books, games, movies, comics) is velocity-based, geared toward the sales that spike and then trail off.
The books that hit traditional bestseller lists have had great informational marketing—the active kind, the kind we all notice.
The books that sell tens of thousands of copies, but at a much slower rate? They often have little more than passive marketing. They’re word-of-mouth books. The readers end up promoting those books more than the writer ever does.
We discuss that in the section marked “Passive Marketing” and in Chapter Twenty-One, Word of Mouth.
Most writers would rather have the slow-selling book than the velocity book, not because of the numbers, but because most writers would rather be writing.
For my promotion of most of my books, I would rather let those books speak for themselves, and let the readers determine which books sell well and which ones poke along.
However, every once in a while, I finish a book that I want to have shouted to the rooftops. I want active marketing and a lot of it. I’ll spend the funds to buy ads and I’ll go out in public to flog that book, if I believe the flogging necessary.
Everything I mention in this book is something I have done.
I just don’t do those things for every book. And some of the things I mention I’ll never do again.
But that’s me.
I’ve learned over decades what works for me the writer-person and what doesn’t.
Now, you need to start figuring out what works for you.
How do you do that?
Writers are great at imagining themselves in other people’s shoes. That’s what we do for a living. So imagine what it would be like to be the Hottest Literary Figure In The World. Do you want J.K. Rowling kind of attention? Do you want to be on every TV book show, attend conventions every weekend, speak at libraries?
How would that impact your writing?
Think about it before choosing it.
Writers are lucky. Our various communities share information. Some of those communities are online, and some are in person. They’re all subject to horrid infighting (I think writers love to fight more than they like to write), but they can also be very supportive as well.
Observant writers will note that we all seem to “grow up” with the same types of writers. And by “grow up,” I mean that new writers will find communities of other new writers and befriend those writers. You might be different ages, but your careers will start at the same time.
The careers will never go in the same direction. Some writers will fade, others will rise. Some writers will quit, some writers will seem unstoppable.
But we’ll all encounter the intimidating go-getter writer. That writer is a promotions maven. If there’s a trick to promoting a book, that writer will do it. In fact, that writer will do it while producing a lot of good work.
When I was in high school, I was the intimidating go-getter writer. Then, in college, I met Kevin J. Anderson, and realized I was an amateur when it came to going-and-getting. Kev is a marketing and promotions maven and he manages to write as many (or more!) words than I do per month.
I don’t have that kind of energy. I never have.
As my community of writers broadened, I realized that there are writers in the world who make Kevin’s go-getter nature seem like he’s standing still.
These writers rocket into the consciousness of a genre or of the entire literary world. Some of these writers rocket into the cultural consciousness in the United States. Others (a handful every year) rocket into the international consciousness.
Sometimes the rest of us think we have to be just like the go-getter writer to succeed. And we don’t.
I tried to be like Kevin for a few years, before I met Dean and he helped me figure out how to use my own talents to promote (or not promote) my work. I relaxed when I realized I didn’t have to follow Kevin’s model to writerly success.
What I didn’t know for years was that Kevin worried he had to follow my model to writerly success. I intimidated him just like he intimidated me. We both knew that the other person was better at some things, and not as good at others. And we wanted it all.
Stephen King was the big hot international writer when I was getting my start, so imagine my surprise when I found out that King hadn’t achieved his vision of writerly success. His was based on his English major roots—good reviews in The New York Times Book Review, awards, and recognition as a good writer, not a hack.
He got that in the last fifteen years, as the “hack” label moved to other good writers like J.K. Rowling (because of her phenomenal sales).
We all watch, learn, and envy a little. And we’re always feeling like we should do more.
We need to understand how different we all are.
We have different work habits. We write in different genres. And we have a different level of tolerance for promoting ourselves and our work.
For example, I’m an introvert, although I present as an extrovert.
The different between introverts and extroverts is that introverts get exhausted by their interactions with others, and extroverts draw energy from being around others.
Introverts don’t hate other people. I love watching and listening to others. I like people a lot. They just tire me out.
Conversely, extroverts might not love other people. Extroverts just draw energy from others. I’ve known a few extroverts who are true misanthropes.
Extroverts aren’t necessarily the best at promoting their work. Extroverts often forget that other people in the room have valuable opinions. But extroverts often know how to work a crowd.
There are extroverted writers. I know several of them, some with a lot of success, some with none.
The danger for the successful extroverted writer is that the in-person promotion becomes an addiction. Getting the rock star treatment is wonderful—the massive hotel rooms, the fantastic meals in fantastic restaurants, every move profiled (positively) by the entertainment media.
The problem with that isn’t what you think I’m going to say—that the media will turn on the rock-star writer. (It will, but writers are smart; they’re aware of that.)
The problem is that the extroverted writer will stop writing. You’ll often see comments about celebrity writers (sometimes in their obituaries) that their best work came early. That’s because most celebrity writers stop writing and become celebrities instead.
Introverts have the opposite initial problem, but the danger is the same: the introvert also stops writing.
Traditional publishing forces all its bestselling writers to go on book tours to promote their work. Those writers often get minor celebrity treatment (and sometimes get rock-star treatment)—the same lovely hotel rooms, the same fantastic meals, the same media coverage.
Only all of that drains the introverted writer, and brings a crowd into her workspace. I don’t know for certain if Harper Lee stopped publishing because she stopped writing; I do know that she was an introvert who became a celebrity writer, and she hated it. Just like J.D. Salinger.
Both of those writers withdrew from the public.
And because their only choice fifty years ago was to publish traditionally, they had only one way to withdraw. They stopped publishing.
Indie writers can choose what kind of marketing campaign we use for our work. We can be very public in our promotion or we can be very quiet about it.
We can hire people to do a lot of the targeted marketing for us, or we can save the money and do it ourselves. By hiring people, I am not talking about hiring a publicist. (Publicists charge and arm and a leg and most of them do—you guessed it—one-size-fits-all marketing.)
We can write a lot or write a little.
We can choose.
And so, now, can traditional writers. The introverts can say no to the book tours and the big press coverage. If publishers don’t like it, then the introverts can move to another publisher or they can indie publish their own work.
They don’t have to do what their publisher demands, if that doesn’t work for them.
Choice is the watchword for the modern era of publishing.
Or, to be more specific, we have a watch-phrase: Writers Can Choose.
As you read this book, think about what you want from your marketing efforts on your own titles. Then think about the assets you have.
Those assets are:
- How much time you can devote to marketing
- How much money you can devote to marketing
- How creative you can be about marketing—without taking away from your writing creativity
Then figure out what your limitations are.
The limitations are similar to the assets:
- How much time you have for marketing
- How much money you have for marketing
- How much creativity you can spare for marketing
Most importantly, you need to figure out what you want from that marketing. (See the Chapter Four, How To Measure Success)
Then you marshal your assets and your limitations, and figure out the plan that’s best for you.
Your plan will not be right for me.
Nor will it be right for other people in your writing community.
This is your plan—and it might vary from book to book.
Realize that one-size-fits-all marketing is the worst way to market. Put some thought into marketing, and then do it your way.
If that way doesn’t succeed, try again.
But always keep your eye on that WIBBOW test—and write the next book.
The Discoverability book will come out in the fall, and you’ll be able to see how all the posts fit together to make a cohesive whole. Thank you, everyone, who has commented or pointed me in the direction of various links or donated to keep me writing as the topic of promotion/marketing/discoverability started kicking my butt.
I couldn’t have done this without you.
If this post has been valuable to you, please leave a tip on the way out.
“The Business Rusch: “What Kind of Writer Are You?” copyright © 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.