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.
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: 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.
The 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 Bob: baby steps. Enough baby steps and we end up getting where we want to be.