After a bit of a hiatus, I’m doing yet another video blog. This one is for the writers in the house! I’ve written all kinds of stuff (movies, books, tv pilots, articles, reviews, etc.) and these are just some thoughts that have been rattling in my head for a while. Hopefully it’s helpful to some other writer out there!
Like all indie authors, in addition to actually going through the labor-intensive process of writing books that people hopefully love and rave about, I also have to market those books. That is a much less pleasant process than writing (which can also be unpleasant at times), and most authors are horrible marketers. We spend hours at a time locked up in a room, pecking out words on a keyboard, and trying to make the stories in our head make sense to everyone else. Writing is done alone, and it is mostly done by people who would rather spend their non-writing time with their cats, playing Dungeons & Dragons, or just reading books that other people wrote. That’s why it’s hard for most authors to make the switch to being gregarious marketing people.
But authors are also people who do well with challenges. You have to be a certain kind of stubborn to have the resolve to complete a novel and, like all artists, authors also need to have a special kind of fearlessness. When you put your work out there for all to see, you’re exposing a raw part of yourself to criticism and ridicule. But we still have the guts to say, “this is mine and I want you to look at it.” That stubbornness and fearlessness comes in handy when you’re forced to switch from book writer to book seller.
I’ve been gradually making that switch myself, and making some hilariously bad mistakes in the process. But my suffering and embarrassment can be your gain! In this first installment of my marketing series, here are a few lessons learned from my epic fail adventures in getting people to care about indie authors:
- Don’t be afraid to be just a little annoying. The most effective sales people are persistent without being pushy. Know where the line is, but get as close as you can to that line without crossing it. Be like an asymptote, my friend (and yes, I did break out the high school math on ya).
- Be genuine. Nobody likes fake people. Say what you mean and mean what you say. A short-term sale is not worth your long-term credibility.
- Focus your efforts on a target audience. Yes, Facebook has eleventy bajillion people on it. But the vast majority of them aren’t there to find new books to read. Go where the readers are: book blogs, GoodReads, book forums, etc.
- Help others. Think of it as promotional karma. You may not see an immediate return, but your kindness will be repaid in ways you never could have imagined.
- Start conversations. I know this can be hard for the aforementioned socially-awkward wordsmiths, but it’s important. Show people interesting things to see, learn, or talk about and they’ll be more likely to listen when you start promoting your own stuff.
- Be funny. “If you can make a woman laugh, you can make her do anything.” ― Marilyn Monroe
As an author, I often hear the inevitable question: “Where do you get your ideas?” Inspiration can be found everywhere, but there are a few idea sources that work particularly well for me. Maybe they’ll work for you too.
1.) Educational shows – Discovery Channel, Science Channel, and History Channel can be your best friends. The world is full of fascinating facts, large and small. Any one of them can be the inspiration for a new scene in a story, a plot device, or a whole new project.
2.) Excellent photography – Sometimes when I’m feeling in a creative funk, I just load up Flickr and browse random photos. Again, the world is a fascinating place and there are countless amateur and professional photographers out there capturing inspiring moments and places.
3.) Reading – I read a lot of novels, but I also read blogs, news articles, scientific journals, etc. The more you know, the more creative you can be. Each bit of knowledge is like a new color in your palette, allowing you to add more vibrancy and variance to your work.
4.) The shower – Yes, the shower! One of the few luxuries I allow myself is hot, long showers. In the shower my muscles relax, the soil of the previous day washes away, and my soothed mind inexplicably finds ways to work out plot problems that had been vexing me for days. Some of my greatest “A ha!” moments have hit me in the middle of a shower. It’s kind of similar to the famous “Eureka” moment Archimedes had in his bath tub.
The items I listed above honestly account for the vast majority of the fantastical stuff I’ve put in my writing, but I’m always looking for new sources of creative energy. What works for you? Let me know in the comments. 🙂
Relationships. We all know how challenging the love game can be. The initial honeymoon period is all ice cream and candy, but all too often it gives way to fights and hurt feelings. Time and time again I see people falling victim to the same, avoidable mistake of getting involved with someone too quickly. If you want to avoid this fate, follow this simple rule:
Know them before you love them
The rule above is deceptively simple. You would think it would be obvious, but far too many of us become Prisoners of the Moment, and abandon logic and common sense for the tantalizing allure of love and consistent casual sex. Then months, weeks, or even days later we realize that this cute person with the smile that makes us melt and the charming personality isn’t who we thought they were.
Well, no shit.
In general, people are rarely who we think they are the first time we meet them. This applies to everyone — from the new coworker you meet on your first day on the job, to the neighbor across the hall, to the hot guy/girl you met at that party one time when you were a little drunk and brave enough to talk to them. People rarely give you 100% of their personality and history all at once. You have to learn who they are in a variety of different situations, over time, slowly.
Here’s the mistake people make: they decide they like someone for whatever reason, then after an all too brief courting period they believe the best way to get to know this person better is to get in a relationship with them. They invite these virtual strangers into their lives, hearts, and bedrooms as a work in progress — confident that they’ll just love this person more as they get to know them better. It’s the exact opposite of what they should do, and a short time later it all ends in shouts and/or tears. It may take a week. It may take a year. But more often than not it does happen, and when it does, it’s messy. Wouldn’t you prefer to avoid all that in the first place?
Think of it this way. Let’s say you meet someone new at a party. They seem cool, stable, sane. Likable. After a couple weeks of hanging out, your new acquaintance asks if they can borrow your most valued possession. Just for a little while. What do you say?
If you’re not an idiot, you say “Hell No!”. Why? Because you don’t really know this person. Which means you can’t trust them. Trust is to be earned, not given, and a couple of weeks is not nearly enough time to earn enough trust to warrant risking your most valuable possessions. You wouldn’t let a mere acquaintance borrow your car, or your jewelry, or your social security number (hell, most guys probably wouldn’t even let ’em borrow their Xbox). But somehow it’s okay to give them access to your friends, your home, and your heart?
Material possessions can be easily replaced. A bad relationship can hurt you physically, emotionally, and financially for years.
So the next time you meet someone new who gives you those butterflies in your stomach, remember that they’re still a stranger. Find out more about them. Learn their hopes, fears, vices, and virtues. Work on this before you make the emotional commitment to them. Know them before you love them.
I know what you’re thinking — “I can’t know everything before I start dating somebody!”. And that’s true. You’ll never be 100% sure about anyone. The love game always has risks, and even if you’re extra careful, people can always fool you. But that’s just another reason to take it slow. The more time you give it, the more opportunities you’ll have to see this person’s true nature. If they’re hiding behind lies and deception, give it enough time and you’ll start to see cracks in their story. If they have ulterior motives, your insistence that you take things slowly will piss them off and they’ll lose interest. And that’s not a bad thing. The person who is right for you will respect your patience, and if they’re smart they will also be taking things slowly to get to know you. If you go into each new relationship with your brain guiding your heart, you’ll greatly increase your chances of finding the right one, and waste less time on the wrong ones.
For the last few years I’ve done a lot of consultation work with more startups than I even care to keep track of. More recently, I’ve been working in business development and product management roles and helping company founders and CEOs move their business to the next level via technology and good strategy. As you probably know, most startups fail. Companies go under for many reasons, but one thing I’ve seen consistently in those that do fail is this: they stop questioning what they’re doing.
Now, the traditional American business advice you’ll hear from many says, “Have a go get ’em attitude! Never look back! Pick a path and don’t stray from it! Confidence is the number one thing!” That’s all bullshit. If you want to succeed, especially in the fast-moving tech business, you have to constantly question what you’re doing and where you fit in your market. You have to ask the right questions, so you can find the right answers that will lead your company forward. If you’re not questioning what you’re doing, you’re not thinking about what you’re doing.
Years ago, I read a Forbes article targeted to company leaders called, The 10 Questions You Should Never Stop Asking. One of the key questions the author points out is:
Why does anyone need what we’re selling? All too often we fall into the trap that people want something because we like it. This is the road to perdition.
Far too often, company leaders fall into that trap and fail to create true value in what they’re offering. You have to be your toughest critic, and ask the tough, objective questions that expose weakness and lead to real solutions.