Business Musings: The Curse of Early Adopters
I had a fantastic time last week. We conducted our annual Business Master Class here on the Oregon Coast , designed to help indie writers negotiate the new world of publishing in all of its glories. We’ve done this for about six years now, and every year, we keep our notes for the previous year for planning purposes. And every year so far, without fail, we throw away 80-90% of what we taught the year before.
In fact, we didn’t even do the final planning until two months or so beforehand. Everything is in constant flux in this industry right now, and has been since 2009. Some things do remain the same. Every year we remind the writers (and ourselves) that none of the stuff we teach means a damn thing if you’re not writing, and constantly producing new material.
If you expect to get rich and famous—and sustain that model—off one book, then you’re hoping you win the multimillion-dollar lottery and keep all the earnings, something most lottery winners never do.
But if you want this to be a career, well, then, the update we do every year is for you.
The people in the class are as knowledgeable and sometimes more knowledgeable than the people up front. We learned a lot from each other. I suspect the attendees learned more than I did because they started networking at breakfast (sometimes cooked by the marvelous Kip Ward!), through the hours of class, through the business lunch, through dinner, and on into the night afterward.
Sleep was for wimps (like me) rather than for the die-hard attendees. They made new friends, ended up with new contacts, and—it looks like—will end up with an expertise Wiki for knowledge-sharing by the time the month is out.
A lot of what I learned will trickle into this blog in the next few weeks/months as I implement the changes I’m going to be making in my career because of this month’s class.
But this week, because I’m still tired and my voice is still hoarse three days after I stopped talking and my inner introvert is still reeling from all the contact, I’m going to focus on a realization I had in the middle of the workshop.
We’ve come far enough in this new model to create problems for the early adopters. Those of us who heard about the new epublishing model and adopted it right after the innovators were significantly ahead of the curve. We were doing things ourselves, sometimes using spit and glue, adopting imperfect technology to our own uses.
Let’s take a step back here. The term “early adopter” is about as old as I am (no, that does not mean ancient). It landed on the American consciousness in 1962 with a book by Everett Rogers called Diffusion of Innovations. Rogers was studying the way that technological advances spread throughout a social system.
He divided people who responded to that system in five ways. The terms are his, but some of the interpretation of those terms is mine:
Innovators: those who create and/or significantly modify the technology. They might also be close to the actual innovators and adopt the tech quickly because of advanced knowledge.
Early Adopters: They adopt the tech after the innovators but generally well before the rest of the culture. One feature of the early adopters is that they’re often taste-makers, the kind of people who inform or change opinions about things.
Early Majority: These folks adopt the tech after someone else has tested it out for them. If the early majority rejects the tech after a little use, then the tech dies.
Late Majority: These folks come to the technology after the bugs have (mostly) been worked out and “everyone” has the technology. The late majority might have limited resources so they have to wait until the tech is affordable—either in time or money.
Laggards: These folks are risk-averse, and generally speaking hate change. They are usually dragged kicking and screaming into adopting “new” (now normal) tech. These are the people you give the latest tech for their birthday only to discover months later that the tech never moved from the drawer it got shoved into.
On a marketing website, I found a breakdown of the percentage of consumers in each category.
2.5% are innovators.
13.5 % are early adopters.
34% are early majority.
34% are late majority.
16% are laggards.
In the early years of our Business Master Class, the attendees were mostly early adopters. Three years in, we had a number in the early majority. This year, we had someone from each group except the laggards. I personally think the laggards are the traditionally published writers who want nothing to do with indie publishing at all—who even refuse to learn about it. But that’s a point for another blog.
What was fascinating about this year, though, wasn’t the spread of people who had come to the workshop. What was most fascinating to me was the level of enthusiasm, even among those new to the indie publishing world. They’re excited about the possibilities, which isn’t always the case as technology moves into the Late Majority phase.
I also noticed a fascinating phenomenon among the early adopters. We all had a place where we had gotten stuck.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
First, from a conversation a few years ago (maybe a few months ago) on The Passive Voice website (which I am not going to search for the link on). Someone wanted to know why most science fiction writers had really clunky websites. You’d think, that person opined, that sf writers would have the newest, shiniest, best websites.
Here’s the thing: We sf writers did have the newest, shiniest, best websites—in the 20th century. Many of us paid thousands to have someone design the site for us. Others of us learned code so we could code our own sites. And a few of us, like me, got help from fans, readers, friends to get a website.
The cost, the unwieldiness, and the strangeness of those pre-2000 websites has created problems for those of us who continue to use our sites, even now.
I’m still revising my website, trying to figure out how to make it better for 2017. I’ll be doing more after this workshop, because I really need to improve a few things.
For me, though, the biggest thing I need to resolve in the short-term is my Facebook presence. I’ve known that for years, but never had a real reason to fix my presence on Facebook—until now. Marketing tools have developed that make it essential to have a Facebook page. (I’ll deal with this more as I delve into it.)
Joanna Penn—fiction writer and the host of the Creative Penn Podcast—did a presentation on marketing at our workshop that was mind-blowing. She finally pushed my Facebook repair from “someday” to “next month.” (For a hint of the things she was talking about, take a look at this post.)
Why do I need to fix my Facebook presence? Because I joined Facebook years ago, when it was impossible for a writer to start a page for her own business. Back then, those pages were called “fan pages” and had to be run by someone else.
A lot of writers partnered with fans or others to create those pages. A few fans created some pages for me.
But now, the pages have become business pages, and they can be run by the owner of the business. And there’s tons of marketing opportunities on those pages.
I knew about some of them because WMG Publishing has a page (as do our various retail businesses), but I wasn’t ready to make the switch. I’d been using my personal page as a professional business page from the start, and I knew it would take work to cross over.
It will take work, but the time has come…
I wasn’t the only long-time indie at the workshop who had holes in the new career because of adopting the tech early. Every single one of us who had started back in 2009 or 2010 had areas that we knew we had to get to Real Soon Now.
Or we had to be convinced that what exists now is sooooo much better than it was when we first tried it.
Last week, a bunch of writers finally saw Vellum for the first time, and extolled its virtues for days, even though all had heard about it before. Why change when you have something that works for you? Because the new something might be better, easier, and will enable you to do something completely cool with or for your writing business.
Years ago, another writer showed Dean some really clunky website systems for webinars, classes, and lectures. Dean did the math and figured out it would take him more time to use that weird system than it would to design one on his own for the WMG online workshops.
Fast forward three years, and websites for webinars, classes, and lectures have improved so much they are unrecognizable from the website systems that Dean saw three years ago. Moving our classes from the website he designed to one of the other sites will take a lot of time, but in this case, that time is absolutely worthwhile. Yet another thing learned at the workshop.
The sharing of tools and the ways to do things, uploading tips, blurbs, sales copy, cover designs, all kinds of shorthand, ways to hire copy editors, the value (or not) of podcasting, discussions (again) of Patreon—all of those things surfaced at one time or another during the week.
And finally, long about Wednesday, someone (I forget who, but it wasn’t me) blurted with great surprise, Everything is getting so easy! And when it comes to tools for the job that we all want to do, that’s absolutely true.
The reason for it lies in the math.
Why design a system for 16% of the writer population (innovators and early adopters)? There isn’t a lot of return on doing so. The return on investment in a new design system is better when you’re dealing with 50% of the writer population (add in the early majority). But now, the tech change is steaming forward toward that 84% number (adding in the late majority). I don’t think we’re at 60% of all writers who are hybrid or indie, but we’re getting close.
And with the chopping of the book lists at Random Penguin and other major publishers, we’ll see even more writers jump to the hybrid/indie bandwagon.
When you’re creating systems that can be used by 50 to 80% of the people in your field, then there’s definitely incentive to design the best (easiest) system possible.
I find that all very, very exciting. And more than a little frustrating. Because this indie publishing stuff is moving very, very fast. Only seven years ago, Dean was designing covers in Power Point because InDesign was prohibitively expensive. We were saving up to get the program when InDesign changed its pricing and became much more affordable. Back then, there was no easy way to make an ebook—most places had to use PDF files.
I could go on and on about the way things were less than ten years ago (or 1,000 years in new world of publishing terms), but you get the idea.
All of us who indie publish our work are pressed for time. And even if we’re early adopters, we don’t adopt every change. We can’t. We make a cost-benefit analysis of each innovation to see if it’s worth our time to upgrade.
Usually we early adopters jump in with both feet, and then wait until the late majority stage to redo whatever it was we adopted early. Some of that wait is the Oh-Shiny! thing that makes us early adopters in the first place. Always moving on to the next new thing, rather than looking backwards.
Some of it is that redoing the old tech might be difficult or downright impossible. Sometimes you have to dump the old system for the new, which feels a little like wasted time. (I know it’s not. But that’s what it feels like.)
And some of it is simply that we’re all overwhelmed by all the new things, so it’s just easier to focus forward than looking backward.
I have to admit, though. Going into this conference (as well as last year’s), I was mildly embarrassed that I was behind on essential things. No matter what I could say in my defense—I was doing that before you all were even aware it needed to be done!—it didn’t change the fact that Early (or Late) Majority folks were way ahead of me on implementing many, many important systems.
It was a bit of a relief, then, to realize that all of the early adopters had the same problem. We were all behind on something—seriously, horribly behind. It just wasn’t the same something.
I think that’s the best part about gatherings like the one last week. It helps put this new world into perspective. I like the annual touchstone, a way of gauging what happened in the past year, and looking forward to the new one.
I leave the Business Master Class each year with my eye on the future, feeling like I have new tools to move forward. I also have a community that has my back.
And that’s a great feeling.
The readers of this blog are another community that has my back. Thank you all! I couldn’t do this blog without you. You help me learn all kinds of things I would never have found on my own.
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“Business Musings: The Curse of Early Adopters,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.