Tag Archives: nanowrimo

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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Patience Is a Virtue, but so Is Intelligence (The Marketing Author 001, Part 9)

Missed an article from this series? Look for it here.

“Patience Is a Virtue, but so Is Intelligence”

At some point, we’re going to send our work to a place where the public eye may see it. It’s inevitable, if we don’t lock our darlings in a file somewhere among the dark recesses of our hard drives first. If we care anything about learning from our own lessons, we’ll share what we’ve learned with complete strangers who have identifiable experiences and compare notes. By that, I mean, we’ll write what’s on our minds, and somebody we don’t know will likely criticize our thoughts in the form of a review on Amazon. It’s all fair in the game of knowledge trade.

But the inevitable has a maturation point, and we shouldn’t rush anything that isn’t ready for show. Just like that green banana that we await for ripeness, we can eat it now, if we really want to, but it won’t quite be full of its expected nutrients, and it certainly won’t taste very good. Likewise, we don’t want to delay something so long that we rob it of its best opportunity to put a strong foot forward. If we wait until the banana is brown and mushy, we, nor anybody, will no longer want to consume it.

When we think of marketing, we think of releasing products at the exact right time when they can gain the best traction in the marketplace, and sometimes that means anticipating what the market will want ahead of time. Major corporations plan for this cycle of desire annually, and create products according to a schedule that will satisfy this expected demand best. For example, if you turn on your TV tonight, you’ll probably see an ad or two for Samsung’s next great invention, the Galaxy S8, and you’ll likely salivate at its exclusive new features, like the expanded window that makes it look like an infinity pool. I know I think it’s cool, and I know I kind of want one. It’s good marketing, for sure. But more importantly, its upcoming release is timely: the Galaxy S7 was released about this time last year, and in the world of cellphones, you better have the next update ready within a year. If Samsung releases the S8 too soon after the S7, its customers will feel cheated. If it waits too long, its customers will buy whatever Apple is releasing this summer. Samsung knows its window for release is narrow, and if it wants to keep its customers happy, it better hit that window, and it better do so with as few snags or misfires as possible.

We can see the same needs and issues in writing. Biopics, for example, are timely if we’re hitting an anniversary of a major event. A year and five days ago, Prince died. Earlier this week, tributes to Prince appeared all over the place. If these tributes had surfaced two months ago, or two months from now, they’d still hold value, but they wouldn’t be as timely, and ultimately not as popular. Magazine sales might not spike as well as the publications might like. Radio stations might not hold a listener’s attention for as long as they could if they were to air a marathon of the artist’s hits on the day of the anniversary. A televised tribute might not have as many viewers if held on any other day. These tributes are all subject to timeliness, and releasing them any other time would yield a lesser result, and, inevitably, a lesser profit.

As a marketing author, we should consider what our product contains, and what type of release schedule would maximize its exposure. Is it better to release a book on a Tuesday or a Saturday? Should a young adult fantasy book come out the same weekend as a major Hollywood movie of a similar theme, or should it be deliberately delayed to capture anyone still champing at the bit for more of the same? Or should it be released ahead of time in anticipation of the movie sucking so badly that it destroys the genre? These are important considerations to make before releasing a title.

But, these considerations are also important for deciding how long it takes us to formulate our ideas and create our products, and even for deciding when to start working on them. If we know we want to release a blockbuster action thriller during the summer beach-reading season (incidentally the same season that Hollywood releases most of its blockbuster action thrillers), then we should probably start writing that book by NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) if we want to ensure that we’ll have a finished product with sound editing and cover art and a decent amount of marketing behind it by May. Or, if we can crank it out faster, then we can start later, but we still need to anticipate those snags that might delay our productivity, so earlier is better. We can always delay release of a finished product until the hour of maturation (when it will perform best), but it’s hard to successfully launch a product that isn’t ready for our discerning and unforgiving readers. Remember, nobody wants to eat a green banana.

When we write something we’re proud of, we want to share it with the world immediately. But pushing it out the door before it has its pants on might not be the best plan. To successfully market anything, we need a schedule, and that means marketing smart. Before we launch anything, we need to remember the old cliché, “Fools rush in.” If we wouldn’t marry somebody we don’t yet know well, then why would we throw our baby into a pool of sharks without first giving it a flashlight and a shotgun, or a party of cool people without some kind of beacon that says, “Hey, I’m cool, too!”? We’d want to give it the best chance against the opposition as we can. Sending our books out unprepared is as bad of an idea as sending them out in a season when nobody is interested in that topic. We don’t need just a schedule; we need smarts to plan effectively.

So, my advice today is to get smart. If you’re not smart, figure out how to become smart. Then use that newfound smartness to plan a properly structured and timed release. And make sure that banana is ripe and ready for consumption before you ask people to eat it.

Next week we’ll go over more planning, so plan to be here! (See what I did there?)

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