Sunday, July 12, 2015

For Fellow Writers, and Readers Who Like to Peek Behind the Curtain

As an author, I'm very reader-centric, so I rarely post entries geared toward other writers. Every now and then, however, I get the urge. Like today. This little missive started out as a response to a question I saw on a Facebook group but by the end, it had grown enough to qualify as a blog post, so here we are.

The author asked for input on getting established, finding a fan base as a new author: How do you do it? What works? What doesn't?

These questions get asked a lot. I'm not yet to the point that I consider myself established, but having been published a couple years now, I'm making substantive progress. Most of the time my books are well ranked in multiple categories. I have a steady stream of email coming in from kind and excited readers. My fan base is growing steadily and there's a real clamor for the return of Sam Flatt. (Huge thanks to my readers!) So while I'm not yet where I want to be, I'm making real progress and I do have some observations that I hope new authors will take to heart.

There is no magic bullet, but there is an indispensable foundation: You must have the talent, honed craft, and stamina to write books that people want to read. If you don't have that, all the rest is meaningless. Be sure this is taken care of, and accept that this is a years-long process the overwhelming majority of the time. Ignore the stories about such and such whose first book sold a million copies, because those are extreme outliers. Chasing that is literally and exactly like chasing a lottery win.

I could literally whip out a dozen blog posts elaborating on the details of the above paragraph, but I shan't. There's a staggering amount of info already out there that will help you build that foundation. Use it. I do recommend starting with the greatest book I've found on the craft of writing, Stein on Writing.

Once you've shored up the foundation described above, you really do move into no-magic-bullet land, but here are some of my observations:

1. If you've written a book that people will want to read, repeat that process as soon and as often as possible. If you please a reader, the very first thing they do when they finish your book is look to see what other books you have available. Write more books that people will want to read. You don't have to be as impossibly prolific as my friend Russell Blake, who spits out exciting thrillers that lots of people want to read at the the rate of about one a month, but you do need to always be seriously working on the next book.

2. Do everything you can to score BookBub promos. I've been a businessman my entire adult life and have spent countless dollars on marketing and advertising, and I've never once seen anything remotely like BookBub. The notion of an ad venue consistently returning a profit in the very short term is unheard of, but that's what BookBub does. (Readers, I highly recommend you check out BookBub, too. They generate great exposure for authors because they take care of their readers. They're very selective in what they promote and this has led to a whole lot of readers who trust them to find good books.)

3. Never, ever stop honing your craft, and write more books that people will want to read.

4. Understand that social media It's not called "commerce media" or "ad media" or "marketing media." If you want results from social media, be social. Make friends, not customers. Talk to those friends as friends, not as potential customers. Talk about life, about sad things, funny things, frustrating things, good things, bad things. Get to know people. Care about them. If you build real relationships, these people will care on the rare occasion you have something meaningful to share about your books. You wouldn't go to a party or a football game or to church and walk around screaming, "BUY MY BOOK!" Would you? (If your answer is 'yes,' I'm guessing you don't get invited to a lot of social gatherings.)

5. Never, ever stop honing your craft, and write more books that people will want to read.

6. Do exactly what the author did in the Facebook group I mentioned up top: Ask those who have gone before for insight, and pay attention to what they say.

7. Do not get caught up in the vortex of endlessly analyzing Amazon algorithms and looking for a way to exploit them. Those algos will change, because Amazon is in endless pursuit of being the most customer-centric business ever formed. How do you please customers who read? You provide books they want to read, and *that* is what Amazon will keep evolving toward. Be ahead of the algos by continually honing your craft and writing more books that people will want to read.

I try to avoid cliches, but sometimes they're the best way to communicate an idea, so I'll wrap this up with one: This is a marathon, not a sprint. Never forget that.

Until next time!