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We Are Authors, Not Competitors

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Look, I’ve been in competition for years, selling all sorts of things from toe nail clippers to complicate computer systems to expensive automobiles. I know the best and worst practices of the sales process. having studied marketing and promotion, I also know the difference between strategy and tactics.

Some of things authors post online in an effort to gain attention of their recently published books cause me to shake my head. You see, as a rule, writers are not great strategic marketers or tactical salespeople. Some are and those tend to be best selling authors. We all aspire to being successful but to do that we must promote and sell effectively even if we have little or no direct experience. The good news is that you don’t have to be a professional marketer or salesperson to be a nest selling authors. You only need to be yourself and attract fans.

What most writers do wrong is focus on the book not the author’s brand. That is the major disconnect. It is like trying of sell someone a generic brand cf something with which they have no experience. Would you buy a car without knowing the manufacturer’s reputation?

Most writers who fail in becoming successful authors approach the marketplace as if it is a dog-eat-dog competitive environment with authors competing against one another for the exact same valued readers. Here’s what you need to realize that makes all the difference. You are not in competition with anyone except you.

The key is not your book. That is not as important as your author’s brand. Why? Readers could not care less about your book. As its writer, you are the only one who cares about your story until you persuade someone else to try it on as an alternate reality for the span it takes them to read it. Until a eager belies you can entertain them, he or she will not buy your book.

From a reader’s perspective they have already heard every possible pitch you are gong to use to promote your book. They are skeptical because they have bought books before and not been satisfied wight he content. This is especially true of indie books where it is more common to find errors and the perceives quality of the work is lower. Let’s set aside the fact that many books from major publishers that have spent upwards of two years editing and designing a book have errors in the finished product. It happens. But when it happens to an indie author, it is almost always blamed on self publishing.

How you gain a readers attention depends on how well you communicate one essential thing to the reader. What makes your book different. The answer is as obvious as your nose or anything else about your face. YOU are the only reason someone will want to buy your book.

Unlike other products, books don’t really have a set life cycle. Yes, I know the conventional wisdom that has come from traditional publishing, but in this modern age of eBooks those rules no longer apply. A book doesn’t need to generate all its sales in thirty or sixty days. Amazon and other eBook sellers do not have a limited number of shelves. Each virtual bookstore continues to add new publications everyday and each new offering has its own shelf. However, you want your book to be noticed, so you need to ensure it is displayed closer to the front of the virtual store. How? You need to establish your authors brand giving readers a reason to come looking for your book. That in turn will increase its likelihood.of your book being displayed near the to front of search engines.

So, how are you not in competition with every other author out there? It’s fundamental marketing. You are only in competition with other authors of any specific genre that you may target. If a product is unique enough, it will have no competition. That needs to be your goal in establishing your brand distinction as an author. It will also increase the universal appeal beyond any specific genre categorization The singularity of your book will attract the attention of readers who are always looking for the newest thing. It almost seems silly having to say it again, but the difference between your book and everyone else’s book is that you wrote it. Sell the reader on you as a writer and they will buy your book.

Since there cannot be anyone else in the universe exactly like you, you have no specific competition. That’s great news. Feel free to promote other authors and their brands because the overall goal is to grow the aggregate market of readers. Give everyone a reason to cuddle up with a new novel, whether eBook or printed page instead of allowing their minds to rot watching the inane drivel of a reality TV show on cable or satellite TV.

You’re the only one who can attract your fans. And yes, you may share fans with other authors because readers don’t read just one book. They do not follow only one author. The world of opportunity is large enough for every one to prosper and succeed if you first establish your particular brand.

 

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From a Misread Headline to a Manuscript and Beyond

There’s a new book coming-out soon. Nothing new about that – there are millions published each year. What’s different about this one is the odd title, Fried Windows (In a Light White Sauce) and the by line – it’s mine.

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Like every book I have written it was a labor of love though the creative impulse came unexpectedly. The core of the overall story – sixteen chapters really – were composed in less than a month in the early spring of 2012. I left a dead-end retail management job after more than four years and I had pretty much decided to pursue writing as a career. As is so often the case, it wasn’t the best of times to make such a choice.

The quirky title of the book fits the unusual story. It came from a misread news headline that, of course, drew me right in. I wondered what Fried Windows were and immediately pondered how one would serve them. In a light white sauce! – yeah, it was one of those days.

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Somewhere along the way I was sidetracked, deviating far from my personal goals. Some of that I did because of three kids I believed in and a marriage I no longer did. I took that one last job in order to continue supporting my youngest while she finished high school. She lived with me for a couple of years afterwards before moving away, joining her older sister who was beginning graduate school up north. That event triggered something of a midlife crisis for me. Immediately after hugging her and her sister goodbye, I felt like I was left pretty much alone.

Certainly, I was not alone. My son still lived about fifteen miles away; he was also in graduate school. My ex-wife with whom I still communicated occasionally was on the east coast about an hour and a half away from where I was. My sister and brother-in-law lived on the west coast and my great niece was in the greater Miami area. Still, for all intents and purposes I was alone.

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My job frustrated me. I don’t know whether I had ever been satisfied though at first I believed a lot of the bull about being promoted, being given my own store, and the company’s desire to change its ways to become more modern and competitive. At first it seemed like that was happening, albeit slowly. Later on it became clear that it was a district effort that was not aligned with the corporate direction. The district manager was replaced. A company man took over and word went out that there would be changes. Foremost was an antithetical concept for me that I hadn’t had to deal with since leaving the military: we were being paid not to think but to execute on directions from above. That predisposes that upper management is always right and has an unambiguous direction in its policies – which was not the case at all. Ignoring feedback from the front lines is the formula for disaster in any campaign.

Anyway, there were other reasons for my eventual resignation. Many of those related to my unhealthy lifestyle that had evolved form working crazy house, making time to write trying to write, which was something I enjoyed, and dealing with the stress of working a job in which there did not seem to be any progress. A lot of what I was experiencing related to my desire to do what I always wanted to be before getting married and going to college. A little over two years ago it seemed like the last chance I might ever have to become a professional writer – a sort of now or never proposition.

Almost a month after quitting by job, I wrote a short story under the Fried Windows title. At the time I belonged to a writer’s group. I posted the story in two installments with the break roughly where the chapter breaks are now in the book. It received favorable reviews and some suggested I continue writing about the characters. Over the next few weeks I continued writing what I believed were related short stories. Afterwards, I shelved the project and continued working on revisions of The Wolfcat Chronicles, a ten book series I began seriously working on in 2002 though, honestly, the story has roots back to a character profile I created in a writing course at Purdue University in 1977.

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For the next year what was left of my personal life pretty much fell apart. I experienced the worst parts of economic demise and personal embarrassment. I was essentially homeless by choice doing some couch surfing among my relatives. One can only do that for so long. The experience afforded me some time to finish revisions. One of the last things I worked on was Fried Windows. I wanted to submit the initial short story to a magazine. I always believed the story was good enough to be published somewhere.

A friend who lives a short train ride away from Toronto consented to editing the piece for me. Afterwards, I figured it was in pretty good shape for critical scrutiny. So, I submitted it, sincerely expecting that it would be published. My next concern was having something to submit as a follow up, envisioning the sixteen original stories as installments that the magazine would want after all the positive feedback they would receive my first short story. Yeah, I live in my own world a lot.

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While revising the pieces I found some continuity of story line. I wrote a couple of bridging pieces and what was a collection of short stories took shape as a novel – one starting with chapter three of the present book because, after all, the first two chapters were a short story that I expected fully to be published in a magazine.

The same day the rejection notification from the magazine came I finished revisions to what had grown into a twenty-eight-chapter novel. The story connected well into the overall Brent Woods universe of my other unpublished fiction ventures. I was disappointed, of course, but at the same time elated because now I had an excuse to include the short story that began it all as the first two chapters of the book. I repackaged it, renumbered the chapters and prepared it for self-publishing.

In the background I had been working on building a fan base through social media. Part of that was building up my Facebook and Twitter following. Already I had many friends who were authors and some who were publicists and small publishers as well as a couple of smaller houses with affiliations with the major publishers. Those were not really great connections for getting a book published but you start with what you have. Also, I had been seeking a literary agent for the past three or four years, discovering that finding a good one was probably the only thing harder than landing a publishing contract with one of majors which is something more difficult the gaining admission into an Ivy League school.

Somewhere in the few moments between finishing the revision of Fried Windows and setting it up for eBook publishing I receive a tweet from a small publisher based in my favorite city, Austin, asking for new manuscripts. The name of the house intrigued me enough to check them out. In the process I discovered they were a traditional publisher with a very different mission statement that focused on building author brand rather than selling books alone. Deciding that I liked their ideas for growing their business, I read and followed the submission guidelines and reformatted my manuscript accordingly. I sent it to them instead of self-publishing it. I figured I could wait a few weeks for the rejection I’d come to expect. In the meanwhile I could move on to other projects.

There’s a funny thing that happens in most author’s lives surrounding rejection. Eventually you do grow numb to it. You warp the universe around you to actually set a goal of receiving the maximum number or rejections possible for any submission. It makes sense in a way. If you try every avenue you might find that one yes. You get to the point that when you don’t receive another rejection letter to add to your growing collection you’re almost pissed-off. But then, in the next moment of disbelief, you re-read the acceptance letter as the surprise turns more toward suspicion that 1) you must have read the thing wrong or 2) there must be some catch – start looking for the fine print. Paraphrasing the immortal Grocho Marx, you wonder if you want to belong to any club that would have someone like you as a member. You’re so accustomed to hearing that your baby is ugly you disbelieve that anyone could actually like it. Even more surreal was that it had been less than two weeks from submission to acceptance. That’s unheard of in an industry that routinely takes a week to decide to get around to thinking about doing anything and several months to actual years to finally produce a novel. So, I remained guardedly optimistic going into a conference call regarding the acquisition of my book.

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Although I had experience in self-publishing I didn’t have good results. The failure was not necessarily the quality of the material but the lack of promotion behind my releases. After all I was still growing my network of followers and establishing my author’s brand. That takes time. I didn’t lack from material to publish, though. At that point, I had twenty manuscripts ready to go. It was just that when I was working sixty to seventy hours a week. I had plenty of excuses for why I didn’t have the time or energy to put forth in becoming successful. I had been stuck in the trying stage of reaching my goal for so long I had grown roots and settled comfortably in obscurity. With the successful negotiation and signing of a publishing contract all that ended. Someone else believed in one of my books. Together we were going to embark on a journey toward producing a novel. A publisher was committing to provide professional editing, cover design and marketing. And so, the long journey of taking a raw manuscript through to a finished novel began.

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Fried Windows (In A Light White Sauce) launches May 30, 2014 from Pandamoon Publishing. Sharing the dream begins then.

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Interview Today

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It’s been a while since I did one of those interviews for a job, not my books. Usually I’ve been on the other side of the desk, asking the questions. Anyway, I need income more than anything else. Also having a job again will focus my attentions and ration time which is always a positive thing for a writer. Discipline of sticking to a writing schedule is one of the keys I have found to overcoming what others refer to as writer’s block.

The position is overnight which would work out perfectly for me. I usually write in the early morning. So I could do that after work. Then take a nap and do promotional things in the late afternoon and evening before going back to work. Since I usually sleep for four to six hours, it won’t be bad. Also having something physical to do will help me shed a few pounds.

I’m also looking in the longer term. Usually it takes a while, and several books in print to make a living as a novelist. Establishing a brand is really what being a professional author is about. People don’t buy James Patterson’s books based on the title – at least most don’t. They expect a certain type of story and level of quality based on past experiences with the author’s work. Not saying I’m in his league but I write a lot and have a number of manuscripts to publish. I’ll get there.

My passion is writing; it has been for a while. It doesn’t mean I can’t do other things. But my goal is to do nothing but write. Of course promoting books is the necessary evil of being a writer. It’s the unfortunate linkage that drives everything else and I don’t know many authors who actually enjoy that part of the publishing game. Writing is a lot more fun. That doesn’t mean authors want to live as hermits – however attractive that might seem when one is beset by kids, pets, significant others and everything else that is all lumped together into the ‘reality box’ in which we exist. Also, I think most writers enjoy meeting the people who read their books. I know we love talking about our books, our stories and our ideas for new stories. It’s our passion, after all. So, that aspect of promoting books isn’t evil at all, even though it is necessary.

We all have to get over the concepts and notions others have about what it means to have a book published. It doesn’t mean it will be sold for movie rights and suddenly you’ll be a bazillionaire. It only means what it means: you’ve put a part of yourself into print for others to read and hopefully enjoy. A lot of people do that, most people don’t. Some who do do it better than others. A few do it quite well. Writing is not a lucrative enterprise but the reward is something quite apart from any crass monetary consideration. Sometimes I think the only reason I attempt to publish anything is just to have other people read it. Other times my stomach growls and suddenly I have another reason, too.