Am I Any Good at This?

It’s a Sunday night, and I’m going through my e-mail, checking out some of the offers for free courses that would turn into paid premium courses that I can’t afford if I go deep enough down the rabbit hole (I think this is how cults work, but I digress), and one 2:16 video I just finished watching is about branding and determining your brand, and watching it has given me introspective questions I figured I’d ask publicly.

The speaker is a pleasant middle-aged dude who says that he “built and sold two businesses” and wrote a book about branding to help entrepreneurs and authors launch their brands, and at a recent speaking engagement he had sold out of these books and managed to double his post-conference sales without having listed them on his site or on Amazon.

My first thought is that it must be nice to have so many people want to read something that he wrote. But my other thought is that most authors with audience support have to build that audience through products that they want. Branding is part of establishing an identity, but that identity only works if the attached products are products people want to invest time and money into, and that puts a big question mark on the kind of time it takes to produce these things.

The hard reality about branding is that it limits experimentation. Creativity can still come into play under certain conditions, but with limitations. Experimentation, however, is much more difficult. Imagine, to the dismay of thriller fans, Lee Child writing Jack Reacher: The Musical. Not sure that would please most of his fans. He might do an awesome job with it, good enough to attract anyone who likes a good musical (I myself don’t understand them, but that’s me). But the people who enjoyed Jack Reacher: The Musical may not enjoy The Midnight Line (the most recent Jack Reacher novel) quite as much. Even though Lee Child is a millionaire author with a millionaire brand, his ability to stretch that brand is still pretty limited, it seems.

So, one of the advantages of being an unknown is that I still have time to craft my brand and figure out who my core readers are. The disadvantage is that once I find that core, I’m probably stuck writing for them, and only them, unless I want to come up with a pen name and write all of my other stuff under that name even though I kinda like my regular name. I like seeing it on book covers, at any rate.

Then I think about writers who are successful with every book they write, like Carl Hiaasen, who has his weird Florida thrillers like Lucky You and Nature Girl, and his kids’ books like Hoot and Chomp, and I realize that they can still write in multiple genres and not lose an audience (with Hiaasen, we are talking adult thrillers vs. middle grade environmental stories), and that branding is a general idea and not a concrete rule. And then I remember that all of Hiaasen’s stories take place in Florida (pretty sure that’s true), and I’m back to thinking, oh….

Branding doesn’t scare me, though, because I see myself as a quirky writer who writes in the thriller and/or coming of age genres, and I have a few series books in the making or in mind that keep to these genres and styles closely, so finding my audience doesn’t have to be a challenge.

The problem I face, in reality, is that I just don’t know if I’m actually any good at this. People say I am, but those same people haven’t bought any of my e-books. They read snippets, or they’ll read printed manuscripts I happen to have with me when I see them, and they’ll say, “Hey, this is good.” But will they spend their money to support me? Very few have. And, that’s what makes me ask the question.

I’m at a point in my life where I have to start evaluating my resources for generating traffic, interest, and sales for my stories. That means figuring out where to cast my net of investments. I don’t really want to buy any more books or courses on the topic of success (or related fields), as those are just educational resources and not practical applications. I want to start spending it on the tools that will actually allow me to convert these casual travelers into readers and fans. That means getting an official website, and an official emailing list, and an official delivery system for bonuses to subscribers, all of which go beyond the scope and freeality (made-up word alert) of Drinking Café Latte at 1pm and its free WordPress host. Without a professional presence, I can’t expect to have readers take me seriously.

Investing in my future is scary because I don’t know if mine is the kind of work that people would want to pay money for or come back for seconds. I think it is, but I haven’t heard from any readers who agree. Doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, of course. One of the problems with having no official point of contact is that I can’t really know how people perceive the stories I write. I have no way of knowing how they feel about it, or if it’s even something they’d want to read. Investing in these tools of contact and advertisement is vital now.

There is a service that opened this week called Author Cats that would actually be helpful for my brand, if I had the $497 to spend on it between now and December 5th. If I wait until after, then I have to spend that each year. If I get it before then, I only have to spend that once. But, I still have to tie it into a website I own (which could cost me up to $25 a month), and link it to an outside mailing list I port in from elsewhere (which can also cost me a monthly fee if I go with anyone other than the unwieldy MailChimp). Is it worth it? Well, it doesn’t matter because my author career has so far prevented me from affording the tools that will help me make it better.

Brings me back to the question: Am I any good? Specifically, am I good enough to support these costs?

This is what every author struggles with, even those who have been doing it for a long time, and even those who have managed to attract a few fans. Every new work is a reset button waiting to happen. The poor opening of Justice League proves that even tried and true brands aren’t guaranteed success, at least not right away. Of course, critics say that the movie is made for fans and fans think it’s “pretty good.” I don’t know. I haven’t seen it myself, and I’m a fan of superhero movies. Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad, while both enjoyably bad movies, have made me not care much about this franchise, at least not enough to spend $15 on the theater ticket and $22 on the Blu-ray in a few months. I’d rather just get the Blu-ray.

The question, then, I guess becomes, “What do readers want?”

I hope my answer to that question is both true and proves profitable soon. I have stories in the works that I want to share, and stories past that I’m updating for 2017-2018, and I want to start adding price tags to each of them in the next month or two.

But more on that later.

For this point in time, I’m still doing what I can to tell a good story, and then follow that up with another good story. That’s the best I can do for today.

That said, I finished NaNoWriMo at nearly 34,000 words, and I’m working on a Christmas story that I started last year (and had intended to finish, but couldn’t due to reasons I’ve since forgotten), and hope to release it in time for Christmas this year. I’ll talk more about both my NaNoWriMo and Christmas stories soon. I think they’ll be good.

P.S. I will be creating my mailing list soon, with or without an official website, so if you would like to receive a more focused letter about writing topics, book topics, reviews, and offers, including freebies and exclusive freebies, please send me a private message at zippywings[at]hotmail[dotcom] with the subject line “Put me on your mailing list, please,” or something similar, and I’ll add you to the list. I want to send the first newsletter out around the third week in January. The free stuff will have to come later, as I still need to create a delivery system and a plan. Again, more on that later.

Cover Image: Pixabay

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