Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Guest Author - Bob Mayer

This month's guest author is NY Times best selling author Bob Mayer. Bob's written over 45 books - both fiction and non-fiction and this piece is about evaluating yourself as a writer:

Where Do You Stand As An Author: 3 Variables to Figure It Out:

A writer can easily be overwhelmed by all the well-meaning advice given by experts, industry professionals and even other authors.  The reason for this is that every single writer is in a different place and has to figure out their own position and point of view with which to boil down all the information into intelligence (useable information).

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.  It’s a very confusing time for publishing in general and many authors are finding themselves caught in the crossfire.

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 determine your own personal 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 play 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 personally? 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
  • Product
  • Promotion

Quick definitions:

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 by 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 from being completely rejected, mined his ‘platform’, changed 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.  After 20 years in traditional publishing I went 100% indie at the beginning of this year.  I sold 347 eBooks in January.  I’m currently selling over 100,000 eBooks a month.  In September I hit #2 overall bestseller on Nook with a brand new title, The Jefferson Allegiance. I’ve really changed my views on how to approach getting published and blog about it consistently at Write It Forward.

Product:  The book.  Yes, you need a book.  This is your content.  Most authors become totally fixated on content, while ignoring platform and promotion.  Do so at your peril.  My Area 51 books sold over a million copies in mass market paperback.  What I’ve found is eBook sales are almost opposite traditional sales.  In print, you have to explode out the gate.  With eBooks you can start slow, and slowly build as more readers find you and the eBook is always available.

Promotion:  The ability to do it.  The access to promotional outlets.  Unique hook or angle that gets attention.  The ability to be consistent which is the #1 trait I’ve learned counts in promoting.

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’.  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 latter line, fughhedaboutit as we used to say in the Bronx. But for all the other combination of the three P’s, we can all see a type of writer.  Where do you belong? Where do you want to belong?  What do you need to work on, because your entire package as an author is only as strong as your weakest area.

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.

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 Who Dares Wins Publishing is consistency and repetition of message is key.  Slack off for a week, and fughhedaboutit.

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 doing the opposite of your Myers-Brigs personality type.  Get out of your comfort zone and into your courage zone.

Ultimately the best promotion is a good book.  Better promotion is more good books.

The advent of social media is a boon to writers.  We can actually do promoting from the safety of our offices.  We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide To Social Media lays out an excellent plan for that, but, as the author, Kristen Lamb, clearly writes, figure out your platform and your product (content) first.  Too many authors leap blindly into social media and I watch 95% of them wasting their time and energy flailing about inefficiently.  Small point she makes:  do you have your book cover as your avatar on twitter?  A picture of your cat? Fughhedaboutit.  Read the book.  Your head shot is your avatar because you are your brand.

The bottom line is, as a writer, you have to evaluate yourself on the three P variables and figure out what type you are.  Then approach the business accordingly, while at the same time, working hard to improve in those areas where you are weak.

Write It Forward!

4 comments:

Dan Holloway said...

It's always great to read what Bob has to say - thank you for coming over!

Interesting about the Myers-Briggs point. I'm an ENFP, which is kind of a hybrid (I was intrigued why you thought the P was key to a marketing type given what you later say about consistency - it's the blooming P part of my make-up that makes keeping my blog up to date a nightmare but means I thrive on the pressure of one-off article deadline or giving a reading. I would have thought writers and marketers shared a J). I'm very lucky having the E in there (though I'm bipolar and when I'm in a down that gets completely suppressed - that said, as a natural E, what I'm like when I'm "up" is pretty hairy!). It's one of the reasons I'm attracted to performance poetry and live shows in general - that part of the marketing process I find very easy, but the NF part means I struggle with more clinical "hard sell" (the fact I think of it as hard sell, and in a sense a bit grubby comes from the NF of course).

I think it's worth pointing out to NFs just how much the 1000 true fans model, based on emotional engagement with a small audience, fits their personality type. No use if you want to be J K Rowling or James Patterson of course, but if you want to make a modest living from niche fiction, then very useful.

Whcih brings me to the question I have for this post, which is that I don't think you adequately bridge your initial question about people's writing goals to the "three variables". I agree that one of the key lessons we need to learn on day one is that we will need to spend a lot of time getting used to the demand of working against our Myers-Briggs type (an essential lesson, as understanding it helps writers to cope with many of the feelings of disappointment that reality brings). On the other hand, that type may well affect our goals, and the variety of those goals is what I didn't think you addressed - the suggestion is that examining the variables will help a writer to assess the viability of and approach to their goals, but that connection wasn't made and I think could have been - does a writer want to nestle comfortably in a niche? OK, then what they really need to work at is platform. Does a writer want to be a bestseller? OK, then focus on promotion and product (I wonder if you might have added a fourth "p" - productivity). Does a writer want a tiny but devoted following? OK, put product first.

I guess my point is you talk about different goals, but then assume everyone's goal is to make a regular living. Very very few writers will ever achieve that and a lot of writers who are most serious about their writing don't even want it, and I think this already excellent advice could be given more nuance to address these issues as well.

Delighted to read something to get my brain awake at this time of the morning - thank you, Bob!!

Andrew Crofts said...

Brilliant piece. The only point I might debate is the one about not using a book cover as an avatar on Twitter etc. I think headshots are great if you have a particularly interesting one, - Lady Gaga is good at this sort of thing of course - but on the whole they are very forgetable, - just another blonde lady fresh from the hairdressers or another grey haired gent in serious glasses and his best Christmas jumper.

Katherine Roberts said...

Aiee, I am buried! I have a UNICORN as my avatar...

Lots to think about here, and I'm still trying to find myself in your "platform, product, promotion" list. Promotion changes accrding to publisher of course. Product should be strong and getting stronger if you keep working at it (got to believe that, or might as well give up now!)... but platform? Not sure. That might be where I am going wrong... unless you count the unicorn, of course.

Thank you for a very interesting guest post, Bob. My unicorn is tweeting it.

Lee said...

It's an interesting if rather simplistic paradigm which leaves out the elements of chance - luck isn't limited to promotion - and genius, amongst others. Markets are a lot more complex and unpredictable than this (witness the failure of most economic theories). In other words, if it were as straightforward as you make it out to be, we'd all be billionaires like Steve Jobs.