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Overwhelmed by all the well-meaning advice given by experts, industry professionals and even other authors? Tired of hearing the exact opposite things spouted by different experts as to what we should do as authors?

Closely monitoring the publishing business I see many different paths and approaches suggested to aspiring authors regarding everything from writing the book to publishing the book to promoting and building platform and brand.

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There’s a lot of advice out there, much of it contradicting other advice.  My Write It Forward program focuses on the author.  As part of that, I’m going to sort this out for you with a template you can use to develop and continue your own career path.

There’s a simple reason for all the conflicting advice:  no two authors are exactly the same.  We all approach our careers with different goals. How we define those goals plays a key role in the questions we need to ask ourselves up front. Do I want traditional publishing? Is self-publishing a viable option for me? What other options are there? Or should I pack up and go home?  Making an educated decision on our publishing path leads the author into this mass confusion of varying opinions on the subject. In an effort to bring some clarity to the issue, I offer up three variables and examine how they affect the way a writer should view getting published and, more importantly, their writing career.

The variables are:

Platform

Product

Promotion

Quick definitions:

Platform:  Name recognition is what people think of, but there’s more to platform than that.  Are you an expert in your field?  Do you have a special background that makes you unique?  Everyone has some sort of platform, even if it’s just your emotions, exemplified Johnny Cash in Walk The Line, mining his anger into art.  I use the film clip of his audition at the beginning of my Write It Forward workshop, book and presentation, and show how quickly he changed, mined his ‘platform’, and was on his way to becoming a star.  All within three minutes.

So don’t get close-minded on platform.  However, for traditional publishers, they immediately are looking at name recognition (brand) and ability to reach a market (which ties into promoting).

However, with the explosion of eBooks, there are other paths to take, I’ve really changed my views on how to approach getting published. While some disagree, I think traditional publishing is probably the best option to pursue for a new author, rather than self-publishing, unless the writer has a unique set of skills at marketing, or has designed a unique approach that will make their product stand out from the other roughly half a million self-published books flooding the market every year. Remember that most of the successes in the indie world came out of the traditional publishing world and had backlist they could use to establish themselves with.

Product:  The book.  Or at least a proposal for a book for nonfiction.  This is your content.  Most authors become totally fixated on content, while ignoring platform and promotion.  Do so at your peril. But also understand that the best possible marketing is a good book. Then more good books.

Promotion:  The ability to do it.  The access to promotional outlets.  Unique hook or angle that gets attention.

If you consider three variables, with a sliding scale from ‘none’ to ‘the best’, you end up with an infinite variety of authors.  To simplify matters, let’s go with ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ although it is a sliding scale.  This gets us down to eight possible types of writers.

  • Strong Platform            Strong Product            Strong Promotion
  • Strong Platform            Strong Product            Weak Promotion
  • Strong Platform            Weak Product              Strong Promotion
  • Strong Platform            Weak Product              Weak Promotion
  • Weak Platform              Strong Product            Strong Promotion
  • Weak Platform              Strong Product            Weak Promotion
  • Weak Platform             Weak Product              Strong Promotion
  • Weak Platform             Weak Product              Weak Promotion

If you’re in the bottom line, fughhedaboutit as we used to say in the Bronx.

But for  the other combination of the three P’s, we can  see a different type of author.  Where do you fall? Where do you want to fall? Yes, we all want to be the top line, but that’s rare, especially for someone new to both writing and publishing.

Plus, these are not discrete entities.  They all rely on each other.  You have to consider that promotion is based on platform and product.

Product is often based on the platform.  If you have a platform you will most likely write a book mining that platform (if you don’t, well, that’s okay too, but it is a limitation).

There’s a degree of luck involved in promotion.  Going viral.  But luck goes to the person who climbs the mountain to wave the lightning rod about.  It’s called hard work.  One key lesson we’ve learned at the Cool Gus Author-Author-Centric Team is that consistency and repetition of message are key.  Slack off for a week, and fughhedaboutit. When I say repetition, though, don’t think it’s spamming; it’s says the same core message, but varying the method by which you spread it.

Product is the one you can improve the most by working on your craft.  However, you can improve both platform and promotion, which many authors ignore.  Become known as THE writer of that type of book.  That’s platform.

Promotion is often hard as the Myers-Brigg INFJ is labeled ‘author’ while the exact opposite, ESTP, is labeled ‘promoter’.  We HAVE to get out of our comfort zones as authors.  In Write It Forward I emphasize practicing and working on the opposite of our Myers-Brigs personality types, because it is our greatest weakness. For example, I’ve just begun a policy of having copies of my books with me at all times; in my Jeep, in my bag when traveling, etc. and making sure I give away a copy every chance I get. If someone asks me what I do, they get a copy. Even if they don’t. My goal is to give away several books per day. It’s a seed of viral marketing. Personally handing a book to someone makes them share in your process. Is it hard for me to talk to complete strangers and give them a book? Certainly. But if I don’t do it, who will? I know an author, Andrew Peterson, who has been doing this for years and it has yielded great results for him; on top of writing damn good thrillers.

The advent of social media is a boon to writers.  We can actually do promoting from the safety of our offices, although I do truly accept it is not as strong as the personal touch, face to face. Too many authors leap blindly into social media and I watch 95% of them wasting their time and energy flailing about inefficiently.  Also we tend to market to other authors, instead of readers.

imagesThe bottom line is, as a writer, we have to evaluate ourselves on the three P variables and figure out what type we are.  Then approach the business accordingly, while at the same time, working hard to improve in those areas where you are weak. This morning I was at a business and ended up talking to the guy who does their financing. I had a copy of one of my books in hand and gave it to him. We ended up talking a while and he mentioned Area 51, and I said, wow, one of my bestselling series is titled Area 51. And we moved forward from there.

Just like in What About Bobbaby steps. Enough baby steps and we end up getting where we want to be.

 

King fear writingActually, fear is the root of most failure.  When I was talking to a CEO about using some of my Special Forces strategies and tactics to help her company, I asked her what was the #1 problem, not only in her company, but overall in the business world.  She said fear. Regardless of the business, it was the one thing that carried over.  It’s insidious and tears away at people and is the main obstacle to success.  This works on many levels.

For writers, we’re afraid our abilities aren’t good enough to get published.  We’re afraid our voice isn’t strong enough to write what we really should be writing.  We’re afraid to take chances, to break rules, to break out of the norm.

WDW_B&N copyWhen I turned my Who Dares Wins concepts to writing and developed Write It Forward, my goal was to look back on my 25 year career as an author and combine that with my 20 years of experience in Special Forces.  I mainly blundered my way through my writing career, like many of us do.  In today’s world, we can’t afford such inefficiency.

Write It Forward focuses on educating writers how to be authors and conquer their fears. Write It Forward is a holistic approach encompassing goals, intent, environment, personality, change, courage, communication and leadership that gives the writer a road map to become a successful author. Many writers become focused on either the writing or the business end; we have to integrate the two.

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Write It Forward fills a critical gap in the publishing industry paradigm. While there are numerous books and workshops focused on just the writing, this one focuses on the strategies, tactics and mindset a writer needs to develop in order to be a successful author.

Under the current publishing business model, authors learn by trial and error and networking with other authors; sometimes it is the blind leading the blind. The learning curve to become a successful author is a steep one. In the past, the author might have had years to learn, and when needed, re-invent one’s self, but the business is now moving at a much faster pace. It is expected that authors not only have to write the books, but also become promoters of their books. Interestingly enough, promoter (ESTP) is the complete opposite of author (INFJ) on the Myer-Briggs personality indicator. It is difficult to go from one mindset to the other.

With more authors becoming hybrid or indie, this is even more important, because we are now wearing two hats: author and publisher. I believe that most authors can’t do both by themselves if they have more than a few books, since eBooks are organic, not static. The skill required is just too broad. Especially for a traditional published author going hybrid. In any new business endeavor it takes roughly three years to begin to master the necessary skill set. An author can’t afford to spend the time doing that.

Authors are the producer of the product in publishing. Agents, editors, publishers and bookstores are the primary contractors, processors, and sellers of that product in traditional publishing. While most agents and editors normally get educated in a career path starting at the bottom of an agency/publishing house, writers, from the moment they sign a contract, are thrust immediately into the role of author as well as promoter. For the new author it is sink or swim. Unfortunately, with the lack of author training, most sink. First novels have a 90% failure rate, which is simply foolhardy. For indie authors, a first novel is a complete shot in the dark, while trying to master all those skill sets.

Stephen King is correct. Fear is at the root of many things. Interestingly, I think for many writers what they most need to write is the book they’re afraid to write. The point of view they need to write in, is the one they like the least. But more on that in craft posts.

Here is a key question we must all answer: I’ll do whatever it takes to succeed as a writer, except don’t ask me to do XXXX.

I’m not talking about sacrificing our first born or something like that. I’m talking about something we know we need to do, but are afraid of doing. It could be a writing issue, a business issue, a promotion issue, whatever. Over the years I’ve had to conquer quite a few fears and still have some lurking out there. I had to learn how to network positively. To not be contrarian. To drop my introvert ways. What is it you just don’t want to do, but know you need to do?

 

 

I received a couple of “rejections” the other day.  As a professional writer with over 20 years experience, I’ve had more than my share of rejections.  In this case one was from Amazon regarding publishing with their Encore program and something else.  The other was for a book we’ve already published but I was looking to see if a major publisher would pick it up considering the success I’ve had the last two years.

My reaction, as is normal for most when they get a “rejection”, was negative.  But as I teach in Write It Forward I didn’t respond.  I sat on it, thought about it and talked it out with my wife and business partner.

Then, the following morning, I had a moment of enlightenment, while working out in the fitness center in the hotel in Melbourne where I was presenting at the Australian RWA Conference.

Re-reading Amazon’s response, I realized they weren’t rejecting me. They were complimenting me.  They basically were saying the royalty cuts and exclusivity they wanted in exchange for their Encore program were for a long list of things they would do for me; except we’re already doing all those things at Who Dares Publishing.  So it made no sense and they understood that.

Jen Talty and I formed the company in November 2009, not long after Amazon had launched their Encore program (and most people hadn’t even heard of it—I hadn’t) and long before there was a Thomas and Mercer.  Even before Borders went down the drain.  Before eBooks took the publishing world by storm.  When people were laughing at eBooks at the January 2010 Digital Book World Conference, saying “Why should we worry about something that’s only 3% of our income?”

I formed it because my experience as a Green Beret A-Team taught me that a small, highly efficient team can do things which larger, more cumbersome, and less efficient organizations couldn’t.  An A-Team is a force multiplier, which can have an effect far beyond the scope of most teams.  It’s the most formidable military organization in the world.

Jen worked full time for all of  2010 and neither of us were able to take even a single dollar out of the business. We had to put every hard-earned dime right back into it.  In essence, working for nothing.  Very few people would have worked as hard as Jen did for as long as she did, with little reward and no guarantee it would work.

The first author we brought on board besides my books was Kristen Lamb with We Are Not Alone: The Writers’ Guide to Social Media.  I think that’s telling.  We knew back then that the key to success in the electronic world was promoting via social media, and it’s the first thing we published.  And we incorporated the things she espouses in the book; the primary one is have your content first, before you start blasting things out on social media. The fact Jen and I were able to evolve into the Write It Forward blog we now have here and the new Write It Forward book that was just published last week is a key part of our success.

Slowly, we brought other authors on board. Amy Shojai, a well known multi-published pet expert and speaker. Natalie C. Markey, expert in special needs dogs and also teaches Writing Mom’s. Victoria Martinez, an expert in unique and unusual tidbits of Royal History. Marius Gabriel, best-selling author of Romantic Thrillers.  What we were looking for, besides great content, were authors who were willing to promote, to be part of a team.

We also had some authors shy away, not willing to take a chance with us.  Some ran back to their traditional publishers and signed deals with very low e-royalty rates, but they were going for the known, rather than be willing to take a chance.  I’ve seen none of those author’s books doing much of anything on Kindle or PubIt, so I’m not sure how that worked out for them.  In fact, I haven’t seen any of the backlist titles we’d already have available for sale even published yet in eBook.  I imagine those titles are sitting somewhere in that publisher’s queue waiting for it’s chance.  Meanwhile, they are earning nothing.

In the space of 24 hours I went from feeling bummed over a rejection to feeling very excited with the realization that we did it right at Who Dares Wins Publishing and we’re continuing to do it right.  That a rejection is actually a blessing, that frees me once more to focus on taking Who Dares Wins to the next level.  The key is that we can move to the next level because we’re not reacting to try to achieve what others are scrambling to do right now, because we already did all those things that publishers and authors are trying to comprehend.  We’re moving into the future because we’re acting, not reacting.

Write It Forward!

Time Patrol: Ides of March

15 March 2016

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