On Monday, I asked a question about marketing and talent and skill. Today, however, let's focus on writing. Does writing take more talent or more skill? As stated before, talent is something you are born with that just comes naturally to you. Skill is something developed over time through study and practice.
When people find out I'm a novelist, I am always surprised when they give me an unsolicited comment about their lack of writing talent. They insist they could never write a book. "Sure you could," I usually say, "if it's something you really want to do." That's when they usually tell me they just don't have the discipline.
And that's the core of the matter. Writing a book takes discipline. Since no one is forcing us to write a book, the discipline authors invoke usually stems from one thing: desire. We have a deep and burning desire to write. It drives us to write, even if there is little to no external reward for our efforts.
My desire to write has made me a better writer over time. The first thing I wrote was horrible. If you had the pleasure of reading it hot off the presses, you probably wouldn't have seen any talent for writing whatsoever. You may have even advised me to pursue another line of work. The last book I wrote was far superior to my earlier work. Why? Did I get more talented or did I increase my skill in the craft?
Clearly, there are talented writers out there. Harper Lee wrote the perfect book the first time out of the gate, but she's an exception to the rule. The desire to write drives us to improve our craft by practicing. Writing skill is bound to develop as a result. There are so many ways to develop your skill as a writer -reading the greats, taking writing classes, participating in workshops, etc. - but I believe the best way to develop your skill as a writer is to simply write. Keep your head down and fingers on the keyboard and just write until you find your voice. Feed your desire. So, perhaps the answer is that writing isn't strictly a talent or a skill. It's a desire to produce the best possible work we can.
Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.
Talent is something you are born with. It just comes naturally to you. Skill implies something that is developed over time. You learn the process, practice it, and may even fail many times before you master it. That brings us to our question: Is marketing more talent than skill, or is it the other way around?
Now I realize there are several components to marketing. You must develop a message for your marketing campaign. You have to select the media through which to deliver your message, and in our independent publishing world, you have to be the messenger. Certainly education and experience help you raise your game in these arenas, but will they help if you have no talent for marketing?
Marketing professionals like Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin are considered gurus. Vaynerchuk is a whirlwind of personality who approaches marketing like the Allies storming the beaches of Normandy. He hosts an active blog, records frequent personal videos, and makes numerous appearances. He basically saturates the web with his presence and personality. Godin, on the other hand, takes the low-key approach. He hosts an active blog and makes several high-profile appearances every year. He is all about the information. Two different gurus with two different styles; they may have been born with a certain talent for marketing, but it's more likely something they've developed as a skill over time through practice and study.
This is encouraging to those of us who aren't born marketers. Marketing is a skill you can develop and hone. It takes a keen sense of observation and a lot of hard work to master the ins and outs of marketing. Given that there so many things to know about marketing - demographics, media outlets, effective messaging, branding, etc. - it just makes sense that skill has a bigger impact than talent. If you apply yourself, you can succeed. Who knows? You may even become a guru like Vaynerchuk and Godin.
Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.
Thanks to an article by Meghan Cox Gurdon in The Wall Street Journal, a debate is percolating on the internet about the dark nature of today's young adult fiction. Gurdon makes the argument that today's offerings for young adults subject their young minds to disorders and pathologies that were too sensitive to mention just a generation ago, and she's not happy about it. She believes things have gone too far.
Yet it is also possible - indeed, likely - that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.
J.J. Abrams has a reputation for keeping secrets. In fact, his style is to surprise the audiences that watch his TV shows and come to his movies. He doesn't like to reveal the payoff until it's absolutely necessary. That works great for storytelling, but wreaks havoc on your marketing efforts. How do you get people to come to a movie if they don't really know what it's about? The marketing team for Abrams' new movie, Super 8, has had a time generating blockbuster-type interest for the film.
Audience tracking surveys show that though older moviegoers, particularly men, are interested in seeing the picture, younger ticket buyers - historically, the drivers of summer smashes - so far have been slow to warm to the film. In other words, people who remember 1979 are more likely to want to see "Super 8" than those for whom it's ancient history. There's some evidence this week that moviegoers' enthusiasm has ticked up, giving the studio hope that buzz is building in the last few days before release. But still, people who have analyzed the data say "Super 8" likely will take in a little less than $30 million on its first weekend - a solid start given the film's budget but a relative shrimp in the summer tent-pole season.
Getting a record deal depends on the number of Twitter followers and Facebook friends you have, right? It's insane to think you can create a following, sell CDs and catch the attention of a major label and booking agency just by performing on the street, right? I mean, this is 2011, where social media is king. The current line of thought is that you have to conquer the virtual world in order to take over the real world. Not so fast. John West is making it on the streets of Santa Monica.
For the last four years, the 28-year-old Baton Rouge, La., native has been a mainstay on the promenade, where he's fine-tuned his brand of acoustic/urban alternative pop that suggests Justin Timberlake and Jack Johnson. West has sold more than 35,000 copies of three independently released EPs while performing twice each Saturday and Sunday. Those impressive sales recently landed West a booking deal with Creative Artists Agency and a record deal with Mercury/Island Def Jam records, where he is at work on his as-yet-untitled debut.
When I decided to write a series, I didn't realize the enormity of what I had committed to. In essence, you're writing a book in stages over a period of years that will, in my case, be about 360,000 words. It is sometimes a daunting case that has me wondering if I made the right decision. Each time I complete a manuscript in the series, I breathe a heavy sigh of relief, and every time I start a new manuscript, I have a deep sense of doubt that I will be able to pull it off.
I wrote the first book relying on a single plot for that particular title. I then signed with an agent, and she requested that I provide a synopsis for every book in the series. After gasping in horror, I asked her to give me a week to have them in her inbox. A week later, I delivered them to her has promised. How did I do it? This is the basic blueprint I followed to plot the series, which I think most aspiring series writers can follow:
I wrote a one sentence description of the whole series. What was the series about? The details of it didn't concern me; I just wanted to explain the essence of the series.
What are the rules of the series? This series has some sci-fi/fantasy elements to it, so I had established some "if this, then that" scenarios for the first book. Those became the rules of the series. No book thereafter in the series could violate those rules.
I came up with the titles of the six books in my series. With the titles established, I had a sense of each story.
I wrote one-sentence descriptions of each of the six books. Again, I wasn't concerned with the details at this point. I just wanted to know what each book was about in the simplest terms.
I wrote a one-page synopsis for each of the six books. Here's where the details came into play, and I started focusing on character arcs. How would I establish the opportunity for each of my characters to change over the course of each book? This was by far the hardest part of the process. Character arcs for a single book are fairly straightforward, but character arcs for the same characters over six books is like juggling knives. You have to make sure you don't become repetitive or radical. The growth should be organic and subtle.
Presently, I'm two books away from finishing my series. I don't know if I'll ever tackle a series again, but I'm glad I did it. I've learned a lot from the process. The lesson that has stuck with me the most that I'll pass on to you is the importance of preparation. Knowing where I'm going and what needs to be done has given me solace on those days when writer's dread taps on my shoulder and tries to convince me that I should be watching television instead.
Are there any writers out there who can comment on their experience preparing for a book series?
Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.
When I dreamed of being a writer, I never thought I would have the patience and follow-through to ever finish a novel. They're so long! When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, I turned to a shorter format: screenplays. A final screenplay is usually no more than 120 pages and it consists largely of dialogue. Easy, right? I know it's not the most ambitious way to make a career choice, but I was an 18-year-old kid with very little confidence in my writing. I figured the less I wrote, the less chance I had to demonstrate my lack of writing talent.
I devoured books on writing screenplays. I read as many screenplays as I could find. I attended film festivals that had writer's workshops. I learned everything I could before I wrote my first word in a screenplay. Six months and 120 pages later, I had my first screenplay. I'm sure it was terrible, and probably completely unoriginal. It's long since disappeared within the virtual world of evolving data storage devices.
It was bad, but I learned so much from the experience. The most important lesson I learned was to create a very well-defined story structure. Screenplays are divided into three acts. Normally, act one occurs on pages 1-30, act two takes place between pages 31-90 and the final act happens from pages 91-120. These page numbers are somewhat fluid, but the basic rule of thumb is that one page equals one minute of screen time. I also learned that act one should end with an event that catapults the story into the second act, where all the major conflict takes place. In addition, act two should end with an event that pushes the story to a conclusion.
Eventually, I moved into the world of novels. And I've often thought about the "laws" of structure in screenplays. Do I subconsciously apply them to my novel writing? Can you break a book down into three acts (beyond the basic beginning, middle and end concept)? Obviously, you can't apply the 30-90-120 rule in the strictest sense, but are the catalysts for change in place at the same rhythmic pace? I have to say the answer is most likely yes. I wrote 12 screenplays before I attempted my first novel, so the story structure of the screenplay is deeply ingrained in my writing fiber. I don't think that's a bad thing. In fact, I would recommend writing a screenplay if you've never done it before. It's a story at its simplest. It may help you see novel writing from an entirely different perspective.
Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.
I'm going to throw an idea out there about developing your brand. It's wild, yet basic, and it's something I developed from my years of experience dieting (I told you it was wild, but bear with me because I think it can add value to your brand).
I have been overweight many times in my life, and I have dieted every time I got to the point I outgrew my fat pants. I've tried almost every diet plan you can think of, and I've failed at almost all of them. Since March, I've tried something I've never done before, and I've lost 30 pounds and kept them off. I've been keeping a food diary. For the first time in my life, I'm paying attention to what I eat.
It occurred to me the same tool could be applied to marketing. Call it a "brand journal." My theory is that we don't actually know we're marketing when we're marketing. Marketing boils down to creating and maintaining relationships. Finding connectors (influential people) and making them aware of your brand.
The journal will keep you engaged in marketing. If you commit to writing down how many times you post something or participate on your social networks every day, you can properly gauge your level of activity. Track your blogging, the personal videos you produce, the conferences/fairs you attend, etc. Track every instance where you take the opportunity to build a relationship.
If you pay attention to these relationships, you can build on them and accurately evaluate the time and effort you're putting into building your brand awareness. Over time, it can serve as a guide to help you strengthen your relationships and in turn, your brand. The thing about committing to keeping a journal like this is that you'll actually look for ways to add to the journal. Your marketing activity should pick up and your brand can only benefit.
Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.
Are you ready for novels on Broadway? Okay, so it's not Broadway exactly, but it is the theatre. A troupe of actors has gotten together in New York to do dramatic readings of some classic novels. They recite a chapter or two with the book in hand and read it with the passion and aplomb a classic American novel deserves. They call themselves Elevator Repair, and they've performed to some acclaim.
Over the weekend, as part of the centennial celebration of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the Fifth Avenue headquarters of the New York Public Library, the troupe presented a simultaneous mash-up of all three novels in brief performances in the library's periodical room. "The Sound and the Fury," "The Sun Also Rises" and "The Great Gatsby" in just 22 minutes? Why not? We all have short attention spans these days.
Does the Palme d'Or Translate into Box Office Success?
Being a filmmaker and getting accepted into Cannes must be an exhilarating feeling. I mean, besides the idyllic Mediterranean coast scenery, there are industry professionals galore and celebrity hobnobbing to be had at every champagne-catered affair. But does winning the grand prize at Cannes do anything for a film at the box office?
Over the last 20 years, it's helped set the table for box-office hits such as "Secrets & Lies," "Fahrenheit 911" and "Pulp Fiction" - at minimum facilitating momentum the movie already had, and in some cases actively putting it on the map. The average filmgoer may not know a Palme d'Or from a palm reader, but he or she is certainly acquainted with the media that respond to one. On the other hand, the Cannes prize did almost nothing for "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" and "Elephant," both of which failed to break out of an art-house ghetto.
What do you get the folk rock legend that has everything? Apparently, endless tributes make the perfect birthday gift. Bob Dylan turned 70 recently, and musicians all across the land stepped up to the mic and belted out his songs that shaped American music in 1960s and 70s. They may have not been able to match his rare vocal style, but their hearts were in it. In some cases their hearts were in it for hours.
In India, rocker Lou Majaw be doing what he does every year - a 10-hour-long tribute concert, dedicated to Mr. Zimmerman (Dylan's original last name). Majaw started this ritual on Dylan's birthday back in 1972 as a way to honor the legendary folk artist and has continued every May 24 since. Majaw has since pushed to make the artist's birthday a national holiday but, to no avail. Now that's some dedication.
I recently had some trouble with the title of my new book. I picked one before I started writing, but I wasn't completely happy with it. The title was a literal description of the book. It was too "on the nose," if you will. Halfway through the writing process, I came up with a different title. It wasn't as literal, but it still fit the story. When I typed the last line of the book, I was struck with another idea for the title. I felt like it was the best choice, and I was happy with it.
But just because I was happy doesn't mean I was confident it was the right choice. What is a writer to do? I turned to my friends on Facebook and asked for their advice. They gladly offered their opinions and a few even wanted to know more about the book. Two of them are now reading the first draft. By reaching out to my social network for a little help, they came through for me in more ways than one. They confirmed that the last title was the best of the three. They provided me with my first opportunity to pitch the book and refine my description, and finally, they are providing me with feedback on the actual book.
By involving your community, you can plant the first seeds of buzz. Engaging your blog readers and friends on social networks in the writing process makes them aware that you have a new book coming soon. Most likely, they'll then expect updates on the book's progress from that point on, which can start building your readership early and also hold you accountable to finish that manuscript. When it comes to raising awareness about your newest title, it's never too early to get a little help from your friends.
Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.
The last day of BEA is always a little bittersweet. The energy at the show is charged about the week's excitement and success, but many conversations are sprinkled with goodbyes and laments about the show's end. My feeling about our final BEA Recap mirrors those bittersweet sentiments! To round out our week, I attended a final session about how authors can develop business models to achieve greater success. Below are the key takeaways from our final session on the last day of BEA.
Tapping Technology to Build a Digital Enterprise
Jonathan Fields, a well-known book marketing expert, shared his tips about how authors should build business models for themselves and their books. The below takeaways include suggested tools to develop your brand and pointers to extend your marketing beyond the book.
Some authors only want to do what they love: write. They have faith in the market and want to rely on others to sell their work. Others believe in the effectiveness of building an enterprise in which they create a business and their own marketing engine. These authors take control and own their success.
Fun quote from hip-hop artist Jay-Z: "I'm not a businessman; I'm a business, man."
Enterprising authors typically use one of two business models: focus on book sales or multiple streams. With the book sales focus, you write a really good book and intend make money only off the sales of your book. You're willing to build a community to accomplish this goal. If your model focuses on multiple streams, you plan to simultaneously use several areas to build your brand (blogs, websites, speaking, consulting, etc.). Writing is not your only channel of income and the book is just one piece of the puzzle.
To build out your business model, start with doing things to gain attention in the marketplace and engage your audience through active communication.
"For an enterprising author, a blog is essential. It will make you more powerful, as it's where you establish leadership, trust, and credibility. You build the content around your subject matter, which positions you as an expert."
It's also important to have a Twitter page. It can be difficult to establish thought-leadership in 140 characters, so focus on conversation, sharing content with others, and building relationships.
Create a Facebook fan page, where you can have threaded conversations. The fan page doesn't have a cap on the number of "likes" you can get, it's public, and it's easily searchable. The more people engage, the more your content is shared out into others' communities.
Find a content-relevant hub. For business-related topics, this will normally be a LinkedIn page. Get engaged in a group about the content of your book. If you write fiction, there are online communities out there for just about every genre.
To capture the attention of your audience, try these things: host webinars full of useful information people will want to share with others (just be sure it's not a sales pitch). Also, people will provide email addresses to register, which will allow you to reach them later. Consider bringing other products to market or writing a manifesto. Manifestos must be provocative, identify a deep problem, and offer intelligent solutions and ideas. If it is provocative enough, it can drive attention to you and your book.
Ask yourself, are you selling the book or is the book an entry point for a much bigger X? What experience can you create beyond the book? Position the book as one element of an irresistible offer. If you buy a book for $10 and get access to something that has value far beyond that, customers will be more compelled to buy. Build buzz around the bigger thing, and let the book ride along. "In the world of social media, talking about the big ideas that are part of your book tends to work better than just pushing the book. You're not selling the book, but engaging people in an idea. When they get excited about the idea, the purchase will follow naturally."
This brings us to the end of our educational adventure at BEA. To all the authors and publishing professionals we met this week, we enjoyed spending time with you; thanks for making this a great show! I hope some of the information in these recaps has armed you with tools you can apply to achieve greater publishing and marketing success. Thanks for going with me on this journey. It's been a pleasure, and I hope you've learned as much as I have! I wish you great success with all of your publishing endeavors.
We met many more talented authors, publishers and marketers on our second day of Book Expo America (BEA) and BlogWorld. The opportunities for education abounded in the form of several sessions hosted by leading experts. From the latest social media statistics to book stunts to book reviews, we now report what we learned back to you. Below are the key takeaways from each session we attended.
The Social Habit
Tom Webster, vice president of strategy at Edison Research, shared his firm's new research data about how people are using social media. Some of these stats may help you decide which social media channels to target in your marketing plan. The key data:
88% of Americans have internet access. 84% of Americans have a mobile phone, and 31% have a smartphone.
More than half of all Americans ages 12+ have a profile on one or more social networking sites. Social networking saw marked year-over-year growth amongst people ages 35-54.
Facebook now reaches the majority of Americans; 98% of people are familiar with Facebook, which is more than have access to the internet (88%). Facebook user demographics essentially mirror the U.S. population with regard to male vs. female, ages, and ethnicity. 26% of Facebook users are over the age of 45.
8% of Americans ages 12+ use Twitter (that's approximately 20 million people). Three out of 10 Twitter users access the site daily. Twitter users appear to be growing more engaged: 70% of monthly Twitter users now post updates to Twitter, compared to 47% in 2010. Twitter users tend to be a bit younger than Facebook users, with 18% over the age of 45.
Many people, defined as frequent users, are developing a "social habit," meaning social networking has become a part of everyday life. One third of social networkers use social sites several times per day (that's about 46 million people in the U.S. alone), and 56% use them at least once each day.
43% of frequent social networkers follow brands in social networks; 80% of those say they use Facebook most to connect with brands.
More Relevant Blogging Through SEO
Ric Dragon, CEO of DragonSearch and SEO expert, shared his knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO). While often considered one of the more intricate (and sometimes confusing) aspects of maintaining an online presence, the right applications of SEO can lead to more traffic from search engines like Google. Some highlights from Ric's presentation:
There are three types of SEO usage: no SEO, where you make no effort to improve your position in online searches; bad SEO, where you use so many titles and keywords that your blog or site reads like it was written for search engines and not for readers; and good SEO, which is a balance between the two and is about becoming more relevant in search engines.
The three parts to SEO are research, doing things the right way, and building connections.
Free tools to aid your research: In Google AdWords, you enter a keyword or phrase, and it tells you what similar terms people are searching for and how many are searching. Google's Wonder Wheel shows associations with your keyword or phrase to give you ideas. Google Insights is a brainstorming tool that gives you top searching terms and other phrases.
Think in terms of keyword neighborhoods. When you write, you create "sets" of related words. For example, the set of words you create for a blog about "food" will be different from a set of words about "kitchen," even though they're related. Searches will pick up these word sets to determine what topic you're talking about.
Doing things the right waydoesn't necessarily add extra work, but involves best practices you should learn when optimizing for search engines. Here, a basic knowledge of HTML is useful, as the title, description of content, and keywords you use are important for SEO. A webpage built on good structure will tell search engines what is most important.
Connecting and linking:The text on Page A that hyperlinks to Page B - called "anchor text" - on your website can have a big SEO impact. Building links in places that aren't relevant to your site won't create SEO value in the long run, so focus on making relevant connections.
Try copying and pasting a blog you've written into Wordle.net. It will show you the commonality of the words and phrases you've used, which is a great way to see if your words are rich and balanced.
Book Stunts: Surprising Marketing Practices from Around the World and What We Can Learn from Them
Ed Nawotka, editor-in-chief of popular industry journal Publishing Perspectives, Erin Cox, literary agent and business development manager for Publishing Perspectives, and Ramy Habeeb, co-founder of Kotobarabia.com, led a lively discussion about the impact of successful book stunts. Trying to think of some out-of-the-box ideas to market your book? Check out the highlights from this session:
A book stunt is any activity that comes from outside-the-box thinking when promoting a book. It should be fun and have a playful element. It typically allows the author's personality to shine; if the author is willing to laugh at himself, most readers find it endearing. Ultimately, that's your goal with a stunt: to connect with readers.
Examples of effective stunts include Jennifer Belle, a novelist who last year hired several dozen actresses to sit on the NYC subway system and at city landmarks for hours, reading and laughing heartily at her book. The stunt earned her press in The New York Times and The New York Post, among others. Brad Meltzer is a thriller writer whose campaign for his nonfiction book included posting several YouTube videos to evoke different emotions. In one of the funniest videos, he pokes fun at himself through a series of "negative reviews."
Entertaining someone far exceeds getting a review in some cases, and you can make a bigger impression. It shocks people into paying attention.
There are risks involved with stunts. Be careful not to cross any lines; if you do humor, watch the kind of humor you're using, as it should be relevant and not hurt the perception the audience has of the author. Positive word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to sell a book, but it can also turn into gossip if you don't manage your brand. Be genuine, and make sure you research and have a reality check before doing it, as you don't want to do anything destructive or illegal.
Book stunts aren't necessarily physical events in the real world. The internet is a great place for stunts, so experiment with film and audio.
A book stunt isn't about selling books; it's about showing the reader who you are, whether it's in a funny or emotional way. It shouldn't be about the bottom line.
When brainstorming a book stunt, try to manifest the subject matter of the book and make it real so it's relevant. Marrying the content with the promotion is imperative, as you could lose your message by doing something so outrageous that it doesn't fit.
Book Reviews Online
Respected book reviewers were on hand from The New York Times Book Review, The Daily Beast, Publishers Weekly, and The New Republic. Each critic gave his or her impression on the state of the book review industry, as well as predictions for the future. Read on to get their perspectives on the changing landscape of book reviews.
What is the current state of the review industry?
The New Republic:Print coverage for books has been declining due to cuts in the media industry. Online book reviews are attractive to critics because they are not limited by space as they would be in a print publication, and it gives them the opportunity to review more books. Also, reviewers are establishing a presence in social media channels.
New York Times Book Review:The "Paper Cuts" blog has been folded into the "Arts Beat" blog. They are embracing new media, such as podcasts, video, and social media (especially Twitter). They recently began introducing content exclusively online for the first time, and they launched their first-ever eBook bestseller list this year.
The Daily Beast:Its book section was launched within a few months of the site's launch, even before other entertainment sections. They do weekly reviews, but also have essays, interviews with writers, quizzes, and other content. Their main goal is to show that books are part of the news and part of the conversation, so they cover mostly nonfiction, but they do review fiction, poetry, and other genres as well.
Publishers Weekly:They are making an aggressive push to create a community via social media. They have many different, specialized blogs with small readerships and several social media accounts. In all, PW provides approximately 6,000 reviews per year anonymously; social media allows people to get to know the publication on a more personal level.
What does the future of book reviews look like?
The New Republic:They are working on mobile applications for smartphones. Since space is not limited online, they are devising ways to encourage readers to read longer pieces online.
New York Times Book Review:They are a part of a smartphone application and will continue to be involved in social media to get more people participating in the book review. Regardless of the online or print format, they are still reviewing books the same as they always have.
The Daily Beast:They have been finding a balance between the short pieces people read online and longer print versions with eBook essays and will be reviewing more eBooks moving forward.
Publishers Weekly:Big reviewers and self-published books are coming together. PW has started a quarterly review of the best self-published books. "We are getting more and more book submissions during these times from self-published authors, and they are getting better and better."
As the show comes to a close, watch for the final edition of our BEA 2011 daily recap tomorrow (the show ends early, so the recap will likely be shorter, which I'm sure you're relieved to hear!). If you're attending BEA and haven't yet stopped by the CreateSpace booth #2538 (or if you'd just like to say hello again), we hope to see you!
You have a right to want to make money from your writing. Even better, you have a right to want to make a fortune from your writing. You deserve nothing less. J.K. Rowling has, why shouldn't you?
But (I bet you saw that "but" coming from a mile away), I implore you to not make it your primary focus.It's no secret that writing for a living is a long, hard road to riches full of gigantic potholes. If you speed down that road, you're likely to crash and burn. Navigate the terrain carefully and keep your focus on what matters: the writing.
I know too many first-time authors who give up on writing and publishing because fame and fortune wasn't the inevitable result of having a book on the market. Years ago, I consulted with an author on his marketing strategy, and he told me he planned to sell a million copies in the first year. I hid my skepticism and asked him what his budget was. He answered that he was willing to spend a couple of thousand on advertising. I bit my lip and asked him why he thought he'd sell a million copies in the first year. He said that there wasn't a book on the market like his. It was an idea so original that it would blow people away. I tried to rein him in and reset his expectations, but he got angry with me. He refused to be discouraged, and I have to say I admired his tenacity. I wished him well and checked on his sales ranking from time to time over the year and it never got lower than the high six figures. He probably managed to sell a handful of books, but fell far short of his goal of one million. As of this writing, he's abandoned all marketing efforts and hasn't published a second book.
What this example shows us is that the author focused on the wrong thing. He wasn't in it for the writing. He was in it for the riches. To make it as an author, you have to put your head down and barrel forward. The craft has to come first. As long as you're managing your online presence and doing everything you can to become a better writer, success will come in one of its various forms. Watch the potholes, and you'll enjoy the ride.
Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.
Today marked the first official day of Book Expo America (BEA). The largest publishing event in North America, BEA is a place where all different kinds of industry players - authors, publishers, agents, and marketers, to name just a few - congregate to network, learn, reflect on history, and look forward to the future in the world of publishing.
Happening concurrently with BEA this year is BlogWorld & New Media Expo. Since online marketing and building your personal brand is an integral part of marketing, we are attending several BlogWorld sessions and reporting our learnings to you. Ready to get started learning how to best manage your online presence? Read on for some key takeaways from each session.
365 Days to a Household Name: Leveraging Conversation Wherever It Happens
Srinivas Rao, the host and co-founder of podcast BlogcastFM, talked this morning about how to build a brand and connect with people online using blogs and other media. He placed much emphasis on relationship-building and the various ways to reach your audience. Some highlights from the session:
"In today's world, your success is not just about you anymore. You can no longer operate in a vacuum. Your ability to connect with people is essential to your success. Relationships are what let you spread your influence."
Participating in the conversation: Conversation appears everywhere, not just in social media. Your readers spend their time on you, so you owe them your attention.
Because you're limited to 140 characters, you can't get very intimate with readers in Twitter, but this is a great place to start relationships. You can engage with them more in blog comments, both on your own and interacting in other blog conversations. Commenting on other blogs and adding value to the conversation can lead to reciprocation.
"Comment on blogs the same way you'd want readers to comment on yours. Be thoughtful, be yourself, and reply in kind. Converse with the community." - Ingrid Abboud
In addition to blog comments, other ways to reach your audience are email ("Email is not dead. It allows you to have a one-on-one, personal conversation."), social media ("It's a great starting point for conversation."), direct mail ("Snail mail stands out. We live in a world full of tweets and status updates - things that take seconds - so when someone takes the time to send you a physical letter, it makes an impact."), and Skype/Chat/Phone to create the most intimate conversation.
"When conversation evolves into relationships, relationships evolve into opportunities."
To build your brand, consider doing guest posts with emerging bloggers. Interviews and podcasts are also great, since multimedia content increases the authenticity of the relationships we build online. Also, make introductions and referrals. You build your brand reputation and influence by introducing people who can benefit from one another.
When it comes to social media followers, quality trumps quantity. "One person who shows up every day is better than 17,000 who show up once and never again." Plus, heavier engagement with less people usually will result in growth and "true fans."
"There is no formula for blogging success, so don't be afraid to break rules. Just enjoy yourself!"
Breaking the Bell Curve: Standing Out in a Sea of Same
Tamsen McMahon, director of strategic initiatives at Sametz Blackstone Associates, provided tips for how authors can use their uniqueness to break through the online noise. She talked about how to differentiate yourself by going against the grain when building your personal brand.
Ask yourself: who is my target audience? Speak to them in words they'll understand and pay attention to them, because you don't want them to get bored. Avoid vague generalities you use in an effort to appeal to everyone, and focus on those who are really interested in you or your subject.
Find out what makes you distinct and different and establish your own niche. It's possible to differentiate yourself by what you do (what's your main focus?), your specific product or service (what do you offer that's different from everyone else?), how you do something (the subject matter might be common, but the way you do it is not), who you are (can take a while to define), where you are (does your geographic location differentiate you, or do you offer something unique to your area?), and who your customers are (ex. reader testimonials, partnerships).
You have many dimensions. The more you show off those varied dimensions, the more opportunities people have to connect with you. This helps you find out how what you offer intersects with what your audience wants.
Every interaction counts - are you delivering a similar experience for your audience across all your marketing platforms (social media, blog, website, etc.)?
Why an Authentic Voice Rings True
Jodi Beck, co-founder and president of Womensforum.com shared her experience as the creator of a Top 5 destination website for women and offered a few tips about what having an authentic voice online really means.
Having an authentic voice is important when building your personal brand. What is an authentic voice? You (the real you), only in print. It's honest, transparent, first person, relatable, and relevant. Help people make an emotional connection with you. An authentic voice is not preachy, arrogant, perfection-oriented, or manufactured.
Rules to Blog By: Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience by talking down to readers, create stories that are relatable, be comfortable opening up and sharing valuable information, show your personality (flaws and all), and speak up and out about the things that matter to you.
To get more online traffic, be relevant. Tell everyone you know about your online presence. Use social media, network in person at events, join local groups, and find like-minded bloggers to work with for mutual benefit.
Zero to One Million
Jared Polin created a website that now receives more than a million pageviews per month, and he did it in less than 10 months by building his personal brand. Some highlights about how he did it:
Take what you're great at and turn it into a blog rather than trying to "be a blogger."
To get in the right mentality to create a successful online presence, seek out encouragement from people in your field, surround yourself with successful people, cut out negativity, and become open to sharing information about yourself.
Before launching a website, determine if you have enough content to launch and know how often you will update it. If you take too long of a break from updating content, you risk losing the attention of your audience. Always have backup material for when you're pressed for time.
YouTube: Create a video presence here. It's one of the most-trafficked sites, it's free, your content can be shared, people can sign up for notifications for your channel, it has good visibility in Google search results, it gives you more multimedia content, and your videos will live online forever.
Suggestions for getting more online traffic include social media channels, hosting contests with free giveaways, repurposing your content on other sites, and using the right keywords in your content.
The New "About Me": Why Every Blogger Needs a Bigger Story
Author, consultant and speaker Michael Margolis specializes in storytelling and has helped create stories for brands like NASA and Marriott. The author of "Believe Me: Why Your Vision, Brand, and Leadership Need a Bigger Story," Michael shared some invaluable advice for creating bios that resonate with readers of both your blog and your book. Some highlights:
On blogs, the "About" page is the #1 page people visit after the homepage. Is it connecting with people, and better, converting them to start a relationship with you? Your perceived worth, value, and compensation is determined by your personal story. You need to tell it in a way people can connect with it.
Unless you're a celebrity or a big-time CEO, people will know you wrote your own bio, so it's important to minimize things that come off as bragging. In the past, people wrote bios with a competitive mindset, but our world now is based on relationships; your bio should reflect that.
On your blog, use first-person for your bio, but use third-person for your book.
Approach your bio like a story: Have a beginning, middle, and end, and paint yourself as a sympathetic character. Also include creative tension in the form of a dilemma, challenge, or mystery (i.e. what defines your work?).
Your bio should make your audience the hero. You're telling the story so you can connect with your reader. It also should show that you've been on a journey and learned stuff, that you have something to share based on that journey, and that you don't want others to suffer the same pain. It should remind your audience you're more similar to them than different, that you share something in common. Ultimately, you're helping people locate themselves in your story.
When developing your back-story, think about what forces shaped you, where you were born/raised, who your parents are, what you studied in life, and why you see the world as you do. As a storyteller, you also have to self-edit; what's important to include and what isn't?
Use these 7 steps to write a bio like a story:
1.WWW (who you are, what you do, who you serve)
2.Superhero Origins (superheroes have back-stories that made them who they are - what's yours?)
3.Point of View (what are you curious about? what's your perspective on the world?)
4.Twists and turns (what was character-building in your past?)
5.External Validators (don't lead with this, but note your accomplishments)
6.Humanize (share real, personal stuff)
7.Invitation (call to action to learn more about you, like your Twitter handle or website)
That wraps up today's sessions - we hope you're now on your way to creating an authentic personal brand. We'll be blogging again tomorrow with information from the second day of BEA and updating Facebook and Twitter. If you're attending BEA this week, remember to stop by booth #2538 to meet our CreateSpace staffers!
Today was another exciting and educational day at the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) Publishing University. We talked with many authors, publishers and industry leaders who demonstrated tremendous passion for the work in our industry. Enthusiastic attendees came hungry for information as well as inspiration, which they seemed to receive from the diverse organizations and leaders in attendance. The sessions we attended today focused on the editorial process and book design. Below are some key takeaways from each session.
Roy Carlisle of The Independent Institute, Deb Werksman, fiction editor for Sourcebooks, and Cynthia Frank of Cypress House led this discussion about what it means to be an editor in publishing. Designed to educate attendees on how these editors made decisions, they offered some candid advice about how they screen books and how authors should work with editors.
You know there's a market for your book if it's on a subject that has been a part of the media cycles of immediate, daily, weekly, and monthly news outlets. There are also many relevant topics always in the background of consumer consciousness that come in and out of the mainstream.
Roy: "People usually won't buy a book unless it feels important to them."
In order to produce a credible and logical novel, you need to understand what others are saying about the topic of your book in the real world - in the media, online, and general consumer perception.
Today, many people read fiction not just for entertainment, but to learn something. Learning something is also often a byproduct of the entertainment they were originally seeking.
Deb: "It's imperative for self-published authors to take as professional an approach as possible. Self-publishing allows for total control, but it's important to reflect on markets and get your books professionally designed and edited."
If you're thinking like an editor, you're thinking in terms of your career as an author and being consistent with your brand. Your book should deliver on the experience the reader is purchasing.
Editors can get 200-250 submissions per month. Check out editors' submission guidelines and abide by those when submitting your book for editorial review - it will set you apart.
Cynthia: "What is your definition of success? There are a million valid reasons for publishing; just make sure you know what you're going after and always keep that goal in mind."
For a seamless reader experience, understand the physical elements and linear quality of fiction books. The length of chapters and chapter titles/headings should be consistent in length and style, and you should use boldface and italics sparingly. Anything you do differently structurally may jar the reader out of the story.
Authors can self-edit before working with a professional editor to ensure they're submitting the cleanest version. Spell check, read your book out loud, workshop it with a good writer's group, ask another writer in the same genre to edit for you, and figure out what your bad writing habits are so you can watch out for them.
Book Design That Gets Buzz
Tom Dever of TLC Graphics and Ilene Barth of Narrow Gate Books shared design methods that get books noticed in a sea of competition, or, in their words, "methods to help your book break through the madness." Below are highlights from their session, including overall best practices and tactical tips to ensure your book design results in the most professional product possible.
Tom: "A cover is a billboard that must grab someone's attention in less than 10 seconds. Design is a sales tool. It conveys information, gets buyers" attention, and reflects and elevates your message. Book design matters to booksellers, distributors, reviewers, and readers."
Start thinking of design ideas while you're writing your book; the packaging will help you keep in mind the book's intended audience.
Ilene: "All art has an owner, a person who created the art. Art has the same copyright laws as text. Something does not enter the public domain until its creator has been dead for 70 years. Ask yourself: 'Do I have the right to digitally produce this? Can I use it for promotion in addition to the cover? Do I have the right to use the art internationally?' It also should be properly attributed."
Your cover art should be true to what's on the inside of the book, so ensure the impression you give on your cover matches your book's content and tone. Before developing a cover, consider your target reader's age and gender, your genre, which covers in your genre you like and which you don't.
Why hire a professional designer? A professional has expertise in software and experience in handling printer and electronic files. Hiring a professional also allows you to spend more time marketing and writing.
5 ways to get attention with design: typeface, image usage, color, size of elements, and space usage. For typeface, consider your target audience (age level, male vs. female) and the formality of the content. Your image should be striking and reflect the content of the book. Consider the different emotions color evokes to choose an appropriate one. For size and space, ensure images are neither too small nor so overbearing they take away from the title. Try to draw the reader's eyes to the lower right-hand corner of the book (that can lead people to open the book).
If you have a number on your cover, use numerals instead of spelling it out. It will come up faster in searches this way.
For interior design, your book must first and foremost be readable. You also can bring some of the elements from the cover into the interior design to make the reader more comfortable.
For eBook design, pull elements from the actual designed book into the eBook itself. Also, make sure any special fonts translate properly in the eBook version and don't turn into other characters.
And so ends this year's IBPA Publishing University! Thanks to everyone who stopped by our table with questions or to share their publishing stories.
Come back tomorrow for our blog from the first official day of Book Expo America. We'll continue updatingFacebookandTwitterthroughout the show with tidbits from the sessions, so you may want to give us a follow. If you're attending BEA this week, stop by our booth - #2538 - tomorrow through Thursday and introduce yourself!
The key word in marketing today is "community." We are a community. That's why sites like Facebook and Twitter are doing so amazingly well. They provide us with the ability to join and build communities that bypass geographical hurdles. Our communities can expand around the globe.
Why is that important? Because ultimately, we are a community of savvy consumers. We don't trust advertising like we used to, since we've been surrounded by ads since the day we were born. We've grown wary of over-hyped products and services. So what is today's consumer to do? We turn to our communities for recommendations and reviews.
As an author, you should be doing more than selling your own books to your community. In fact, you will probably lose their trust if that's all you're using your community for. You should be selling other authors to your community. I'm asked all the time for book recommendations from people in my community, and I'm more than happy to tell them. I actually get excited by the prospect of recommending a good book.It's fun.
When you become a source of good books for the members of your community, you become a trusted authority. You gain gravitas in the eyes of your community. And, while I have no scientific proof or studies to support me on this, you may fill your literary karma coffers with all kinds of wholesome goodness that could eventually lead to an in-kind recommendation from another author. If you have a blog (and if you don't, why not?), let the author write a post about their book on your blog. Give them some space to sell their books and they may return the favor. Even if they don't, you have nothing to lose.
In short, serve your community and other authors at the same time. It can only benefit you.
Richard Ridley is an award-winning author and paid CreateSpace contributor.
Our second day in New York was spent at the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) Publishing University. In addition to publishers of all shapes and sizes, entrepreneurial authors made up a large part of the attendees. Some of the most enlightening sessions we attended focused on book promotion and marketing in today's digital world. Below are some key takeaways from each session.
Marketing 101 in the Digital Age
In this session, we heard from savvy book marketers Dave Marx, Todd Bottorff, and Brian Jud (fun fact: Brian hosts CreateSpace's monthly webinars). Some highlights from their session:
Marketing is all about awareness and availability. Word of mouth is a great way to increase awareness; for readers, a recommendation from someone they know is immensely valuable. For availability, make it easy for readers to buy the book and have it available in multiple formats.
Brian: "I always say authors will make more money when they stop selling books. People don't buy books, they buy the information and content within them. Remember, you're selling a product."
Spend time developing a good, 30-second pitch. It also pays to fill in the blanks in this sentence to briefly describe your book: "I help [target audience] who want [problem your book solves] get [results your book delivers]."
Brian: "Book marketing is as simple as PIE: Plan, Implement, and Evaluate."
Todd: "You need to develop and communicate value to your end customer."
The 4 Ps of marketing that are being revolutionized by the digital age: product, price, placement, and promotion. These should affect the way you think about your book from creation to sale. In these digital times, you can communicate the value of your product to anyone in the world because of the internet. Prices are lowering and becoming more efficient to the end consumer. The placement of a product has shifted from a store rack to a digital presentation on a screen. And there has been a mass democratization of the promotion of books, because there are no gatekeepers and everyone has access to the same information. Also, all consumers are now potential book reviewers.
Set aside some time to do at least one thing every day. Deciding what that thing is will depend on your resources, but the most important thing is to do something to get your book out there.
Book Promotion in an E-World
Book promotion experts Marika Flatt, Mary Agnes Antonopoulos, and Kate Bandos shared some invaluable publicity tips and ideas for authors and publishers looking to increase visibility of their titles online. Some takeaways from this session include:
Types of news outlets where you may want to look for reviews: Trade magazines (ex. Publishers Weekly, ForeWord, Library Journal), regional magazines, regional and local newspapers, and online outlets (ex. blogs and topical websites).
Besides reviews, other ways to get coverage for you and your book might be to develop an article on a topic specific to your book and offer it to media outlets, including blogs. Consider offering an excerpt from the book to the media, or crafting your press release in article format. If you have a particularly unique or interesting story, a media outlet may want to do a feature story on you, the author. Also, offer yourself up as an expert.
Mary Agnes: "With publicity and promotion, the end game is not the media coverage, it's that somebody sees you. Book promotion is all about audience building. What you're really selling is yourself. The book is just your calling card. Instead of publicity bringing the audience, the audience can bring the publicity."
BlogTalkRadio.comis streaming online radio that can be very effective for author promotion. With this channel, you brand a channel to yourself and start broadcasting. You will create a library of radio shows that live online and are searchable forever. Some tips on broadcasting include reading excerpts of your books or blogs and positioning yourself as an expert, keeping shows brief (approx. 20 minutes) to retain listener attention, including a solid intro and exit and putting your shows on YouTube with slides. You can also invite guests who compliment your subject matter to take advantage of reaching both their audience and your own. You can even do private shows and sell them as teleseminars.
Meetup.comis a social network that revolves around setting up live, in-person events. You can use this site to plan meet-and-greets, book signings, or book launches. You also can go to other Meetup groups that have an interest in your book's subject matter.
LinkedIn: Join groups specific to the readers you're trying to reach. Don't actively sell your title to these groups, but create useful discussions and include your book title in your signature.
At the beginning of a publicity campaign, create a press kit and make it available as an electronic PDF. Make sure you have a professional headshot.
The relationship you build with the media is extremely important. Be respectful, knowing who each journalist you contact is and what he or she covers. It's also important to understand you might not be the right fit for every media outlet. Keeping good media relationships may lead to additional publicity opportunities in the future.
Remember to follow us onFacebookandTwitterfor tidbits from BEA, and come back tomorrow for takeaways from our second day at the IBPA Publishing University.