Business Musings: Shifting Attitudes (Planning For 2019 Part 7)
This is my final post in the series, because otherwise I’ll be spending the rest of my life reviewing 2018 and looking toward 2019—while 2019 is passing me by.
2018 marked the crossover moment in the disruption in publishing where we firmly left the old model and accept the new model as normal. Old industries (like traditional publishing) are still grappling with the new, but they’re making changes as well. And the folks who’ve been in the new for a long time are either leaving (because they can’t handle the actual business) or settling in.
But what about the newbies coming into publishing for the first time?
Many still believe all the old traditional publishing myths, and I fear for those writers. They’ll get scammed, lose their copyrights, and lose their money. They’re the future victims of the things that traditional publishing has moved toward, which I discussed in past posts. Many of these writers have been warned away from traditional publishing for novels, and most of those writers aren’t listening.
It’s the indies who have, are, and will continue to change the future.
And the coolest part about indie is the attitude. Even though there are a lot of myths and “have-to”s in the indie movement, there’s a lot of good in it as well.
I’m going to highlight two attitudinal shifts that have already trickled into other industries and will alter this one greatly. The change will continue into 2019, 2020, and beyond, because the new writers coming in are being raised in this system, so it’s what they know.
That’s true of readers as well. Their attitudes are shifting along with the rest of the culture.
So what are those two attitudinal shifts?
- Being prolific is good. It’s not only good, but desirable.
- Micro influencers are more important than one-fits-all curation.
Let’s start with the second one, because I’m not going to go into too much depth on it.
Yeah, yeah, the trendy buzz phrase of 2018. But an accurate one.
I went to the Consumer Electronics Show here in Vegas at the beginning of January. (And I blogged about it on my Patreon page at the time.) I think one of the main reasons I got into the show, which heavily vets its attendees, is because the organizers see me as a micro influencer.
For those of you who haven’t been following the trends (welcome to my 2018), here’s SnapApp blog’s definition of micro influencer (I love this of all the definitions I found):
Micro-influencers are brand advocates who have a deeply engaged, niche audience. They generally have between 1,000 and 10,000 followers, and while they don’t boast Kardashian levels of stock-affecting social influence, they do offer opinions that are deeply trusted by their followers, who are generally like-minded folks looking for real talk.
If you want to see a good analysis of how micro influencing works, read the entire article that quote comes from.
Why do I think micro influencers are important for writers? Because when I talk about building a fan base one reader at a time, I’m talking about you—the writer—becoming your own little micro influencer. You have your readers who love what you do, the worlds you create, the characters you invent, and those people then go out and influence their friends and family.
We make small networks, and finally, finally! the marketing gurus have come to accept that’s how marketing gets done.
This is a sea change in marketing, and it reflects our noise-driven society. It’s rare for someone to cut through all of the noise. It used to be easier when everything was curated by the same people—three TV channels, two newspapers in major cities, only a handful of critically acclaimed book journals, and of course, the traditional publishers, who hired editors not for their book savvy, but for their connections to The People Who Matter.
Unfortunately, the People Who Matter were mostly white, mostly male, mostly (in the U.S.) from the East Coast, and mostly country club wealthy. The rest of us had to read what they read, whether we liked it or not. (We also had to watch their movies and TV shows.)
If you want to see how pervasive this was (and still is), look at this Twitter thread from mystery writer Laura Lippman which she wrote the day after the marvelous director Penny Marshall died. I’m not going to summarize it here. You get the full impact only if you read it.
Micro influencers have been an important part of marketing all along. They’ve been an important part of life, really. We just didn’t have a buzz word for it.
Writers need to figure out two things. First, they are micro influencers (with their worlds and their brands and their newsletters and all of that fun stuff). Second, writers should value the micro influencers who already love their work. If writers do those two things, then they won’t chase those pipe dreams of instant fame and success. Those pipe dreams are the most deadly dreams of all, because they make writers give up important things like copyright in order to make those dreams come true.
That’s like spending your entire salary on a lottery ticket, folks. Better to build up a nest egg, which is what acknowledging and working with micro influencers is.
So study this trend, understand it, and figure out how to apply it to your writing business. Because this one is here to stay.
And frankly, I’m thrilled about that.
The other trend I’m thrilled about is…
Being Prolific Is Good
The corollary to that is “writing fast is good.” Remember when writing fast was bad? Remember when writers suffered through that hogwash of 10 or 20 rewrites and one book every five years?
No one could make a living at that, but it sure worked well for traditional publishers, because they didn’t have the attention span, marketing budget, or ability to publish writers quickly. Professors, who also shoveled that BS, didn’t have to grade as many papers if they made their students rewrite things to death.
But now the world has turned, and the attitude is shifting. Not just in writing, but everywhere.
First, let’s look at writing.
Indie writers learned early that a lot of product equaled a lot of sales. Indies might not sell 100,000 copies of a novel in the first week of publication, but indies learned that a new release spiked the sales of previous books as well. So cumulatively, all of the indies’ books in a series might sell 100,000 copies over three months.
When the indie earns 70% within 60 days of publication, as opposed to 8% against an advance that was already paid, then the indie has a financial incentive to write more books. And more. And more.
Readers keep an eye on quality. If the quality drops off or wasn’t really there in the first place, sales drop precipitously. Readers determine what works and what doesn’t, not some country club martini swilling white guy who doesn’t know anyone outside of his New York enclave.
Readers have come to expect a lot of content, because readers like to binge.
Readers are modern consumers, and binging is what we do now. I wrote this post during the holiday season where all of the media was abuzz with articles about TV viewers binging on Hallmark Christmas movies. (Hallmark has a boatload of content on that front.)
Consumers can be patient, though. They know it takes time to create content. So they’re willing to wait for the next installment—as long as that installment drops completely. (All of season 2 arrives at the same time, for instance.)
We have moved from appointment entertainment to on demand. When I was growing up, and there were only three TV channels (and we walked uphill in the snow both ways just to see a TV set), we had to be home to watch our favorite shows, because we might miss the episode forever otherwise (or so we thought. Who anticipated the return of all of those shows in the 1990s on Nick at Night? Or streaming now?). Except for soap operas, most shows did not have linked storylines because no one could guarantee that viewers saw the previous week’s episode.
Now, you can watch the entire run of some show in a weekend. You can catch up on the hot thing that you missed.
And in fact, you might choose not to watch that hot thing in first run because you don’t have time, figuring you can see it later.
We’re doing this with movies, TV, games—and now books, particularly if those books are indie published. (As I mentioned last time, traditional publishers are only just starting to understand the importance of backlist).
But, the other major attitudinal shift related to this, is that it is finally acceptable to work hard at your art. I know that sounds weird, but the three-martini-lunch curator folks looked down their noses at prolific writers. When I came into the field in the 1980s, the romance genre was in a fight for acceptability—partly because it was geared toward women (and we all “know” that women didn’t read quality fiction. Sigh) and partly because the authors wrote fast. The RWA conference every year had at least one panel on how to be prolific and justify that work ethic to friends and family. Double sigh.
Stephen King even made a plot point out of his prolificness in Bag of Bones. His writer protagonist wrote too fast for the (then) market, and would put books in drawers for those times when the writer got ill and couldn’t meet a deadline. Clearly, that’s what King—who is prolific—did back in the day.
But now, writers can write a lot and not worry about what “others” will think. Readers don’t really care how the writer finished the story. Readers just want the next book.
What made me realize that the attitude shift had become baked in was this article in Entertainment Weekly. It’s about music producer Mike Dean, who put in a heck of a nine-month period in 2018, producing some high profile albums while working on other projects. Entertainment Weekly didn’t suggest that his work was inferior because he worked hard; instead, they were in awe that he did as much as he did. The expectation of quality threads through the article. No mention at all about fast equals bad.
That’s when I realized that I hadn’t seen fast equals bad in the entertainment trade press for years now—except in the old bastions like The New York Times Book Review. And those folks are a company publication in a traditional publishing town.
In fact, being prolific has become a goal state. That was one of the things I liked about being at the 20BooksTo50K conference in November. We didn’t have to justify our writing speed. We could talk about writing a lot without someone looking down their long nose and worrying about “quality.”
There was a lot of talk about quality, but it was about maintaining storytelling quality and interest while doing all the other things connected to publishing.
Traditional publishing can’t publish a lot of books from the same author fast. The economics of the traditional book publishing system doesn’t allow it. Even James Patterson has to partner with other writers, and he’s got his own little minipublisher in his major publishing house. (They set that up so they could accommodate his schedule—and his books earn enough to justify it.) He’s considered a rarity—and he is in traditional. He’s just one of the crowd in indie.
What Does all this mean?
It means that writers can write their books, in their own micro influencing category at whatever pace they want to write those books. They can get all of that old curated attitude out of their heads.
Consumers are already ahead of us on all of this. So let’s just go with it and enjoy this part of the future.
We can relax and have fun telling our stories to the people who want to read that type of tale.
And, if we’re indie, we can make a lot of money doing so.
I binge-wrote these blog posts because I didn’t want to talk about 2018 in 2019. So I finished before the new year, and then put them up on Patreon first.
I’m able to write more because my health has returned, so I’m working hard and enjoying the heck out of it. Because I’m doing a lot better, I’m putting up some Patreon-only content now. For example, I blogged about CES while attending it, and will mine some of those blogs for a future post. But that content is exclusive to Patreon.
I’m also enjoying the interaction with all of you here on the website. Thank you so much for your support in the past year. I hope you stick with me going forward. It’s going to be a fascinating year, with a focus on conferences and licensing and learning.
Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch to go to PayPal.
“Business Musings: Shifting Attitudes (Planning For 2019 Part 7),” copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © © Can Stock Photo / andrewgenn.