What does it take to write a break-out book? Something that excites the masses? That makes people feel that your book – and your book alone – should be read? That makes others want to buy the book?
If I knew the answer – I’d probably be well on my way.
You hear all the time that Indie books never sell beyond two hundred copies. In fact, asking an Indie author about the number of books they’ve sold is tantamount to asking how much they pay in taxes. They’d answer the question, but there might be a sour look on their face. And why not? We say we write because we love it. Because we have to do it. But in that small corner in the back of our brain, we also write to be read. To share a point of view. To explore a story that has troubled us, that is nagging to be told, even if it is only our family and friends who are destined to read it.
Okay I admit it. I want to be a best seller.
I want to be invited on with Charlie Rose to discuss how my book literally came out of nowhere. To explore what it is like to have discovered a second career so late in life. To have impacted so many lives with my witty repartee. I imagine myself empowered, insightful, the words and ideas flowing gracefully. I’m fully self-actualized as my writing is compared to the best of Steinbeck, Dreiser, Hemmingway, blushing now and then with due modesty as Charlie insists that I’m brilliant.
Hmm. That does seem a bit lofty. Perhaps out of my league.
Frankly, I’d welcome comparison to the lesser lights. Jacqueline Suzanne, Sidney Sheldon – both very successful. Or – now that I think of it – really any hack just making a buck.
It took me three years to get my novel completed, and now I realize, the trick to success isn’t just writing a great book but getting the book read. So in many ways, I’m starting all over again. Looking around and trying to figure it all out. And yes, writing that next book. Hoping that maybe two books might do the trick. It’s possible. Anything’s possible. Ah – spoken just like an Indie author.
Sometimes I think that I am too much of an open book. Too willing to share an opinion. Too happy to reveal what I am thinking. Too vulnerable to the criticism of others. And then I wonder, isn’t that what being a writer is all about? Letting people look inside, know what you’re thinking so that they get another viewpoint?
I have a friend who tends to feel sorry for himself. He is a bit brash and opinionated, and fairly self-centered. We love him because he is fun, and at times, amazingly vulnerable. Willing to say anything probably because he has few boundaries. Of course this friend happens to be a therapist. I’ve heard him say things like, “when will it be my turn?” or “why can’t that be me?” He’s very demanding, and frankly, his all-consuming energy can suck the life right out of a room. Friends come and go, but he remains unfazed. Certain of his point of view. Clinically righteous. It’s his way or the highway. Now that I think of it, we haven’t seen him in a while. Like a comet in the sky, he’s all flash and fire. You don’t want to get too close.
I, on the other hand, whither under too much scrutiny. I tend to be shaken by criticism. I don’t like being judged or analyzed, unless of course, I am paying for the privilege. But when friends jump to conclusions about who I am based on what I’ve written, I don’t particularly like it. I’m not that easily categorized. If I knew exactly what I was doing, I probably wouldn’t be a writer. Being a writer helps me get to clarity. For me, nothing can be assumed. I am a man of nuance. Subtlety. It’s all about discernment.
I’m not sure any of us are all that knowable. If we are alive, we’re changing, and sometimes, A doesn’t equal B doesn’t equal C. I’m not a mathematical problem that can be easily solved or even understood. And though I might write from one point of view with passion, that doesn’t mean I’m mired in that opinion exclusively. Things change. Things always change.
I have moments of regret when someone who has read my novel assumes that they know me well. I tend to be a private person. I do not wear my heart on my sleeve. If it appears so, that is because I have deliberately let my guard down. Writing is about the process of letting down your guard. Allowing others to look inside. Maybe there is no way around. To write, is to be judged.
Perhaps it’s time to grow a thicker skin.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the things that make me angry are the reasons why I write.
Injustice, prejudice or inconsistency … all drive me insane.
As I go through the world, my radar seems to be laser focused on those matters and when I capture a hint of it, whether among friends, family, or out in the general public, there is a bell that goes off. I call it the John Quiñones “What Would You Do” effect.
Let’s face it. Writing is hard. It requires commitment, attention to detail, and the ability to sit down and concentrate. Somehow, anger adds wind to that sail, giving me a purpose beyond merely telling a story. It highlights the angle that I want to explore. For my characters, regardless of point of view, I crave to understand what makes people tick. Why they behave the way they do? What is brewing just beneath the surface?
I’ve often fantasized that David Sedaris might agree to provide a blurb for my book because – well – he’s David Sedaris – an extremely successful author with a legion of fans – and – um – I’m not.
He’s such a clever, witty, sophisticated guy – I know he’d enjoy following my characters as they struggle with the issues of ageism, immigration reform and homophobia. I can almost hear him warmly saying “Brad, your book is brilliant. I wish I’d written it.”
Overnight, my sales would sky rocket.
But getting someone famous like Sedaris in my corner might prove a real challenge.
How many other authors must be competing for his endorsement? I’d bet his home in the Hamptons (I just made that up – I have no idea where he lives) is overrun with unsolicited manuscripts. Stacks everywhere. From cookbooks to modern fiction. Voices crying out to be heard. READ ME. PLEASE READ ME.
So how to get his attention?
If you want to sell more books, you have to extend your reach beyond family and friends. You need to grow your author platform so that people know who you are. You need to stretch, get your name out there, and become an influencer.
We live in an instant world. The Internet offers news at our finger tips. We click – we read. Our photos are virtual – snap – no developing – we share. At every turn, we seek the quick fix. We don’t have time to absorb too much. We’re on the move. So give it to me fast. Make it simple. Headlines please. USA Today format. Sure the Sunday edition of the New York Times is great – but I have a life.
Okay. We get it. Authors need to package their books into sound bites. Witty snapshots that encapsulate the emotion and plot while stimulating immediate recognition. We want our customers to associate with our work. To know instantly that this is their genre – or their favorite TV show. We want them to say, “Oh yeah. I loved that movie. I bet I’d love your book.”Continue reading . . .
Being a new author, I’ve learned late in the process that we should be writing for a target audience. If you don’t know your reader, how can you know how to reach them?
Okay. That makes sense. It’s marketing 101.
You can’t provide someone what they need unless you know what they want. And you can’t know what they want unless you know who they are. And if you know who they are and what they want, you won’t have to sell — because what you create — is what they’ll want.
Now — what to do when you’ve already written the book?
Well — you can look in the mirror.
I grew up in NYC in a high-rise building, living on the 6th floor, so you’d think it would be a no-brainer for me to come up with an elevator pitch for my book.
I’ve spent countless hours riding up and down – not to mention stuck between floors – hearing bits and pieces of stories – adults quickly recapping the visit of a relative, the illness of a child, the death of a parent, all in under a minute. Usually the juiciest bit.
And yet, every time someone asks me what my book is about – I freeze. My tongue swells – and I struggle to muster the excitement that I should have when talking about something I love. I mean, how could you possibly spend all those hours, years in fact, writing something that you don’t love? Impossible.
Let’s face it. I’m just inherently shy – and also reluctant to be judged.
Ever think of using beta readers for that new book that you’re about to self-publish?
Beta testing is a “best-practice” approach in healthcare to confirm that IT technology is “clean” ahead of widespread adoption.
So why should you think about beta readers?
You’ve worked hard with a professional literary service to edit your book. They’ve counseled you on structure, point-of-view, character development and plot-line. You’ve reworked and reworked the manuscript. Hours and hours of writing and rewriting to get “to done.”
You’ve spent nights tossing and turning. How will your book be received by your intended audience? Is it engaging? Are there core objections that you should be aware of before publication? Are there opportunities to still tweak the work? Important changes yet to be made?
Enter beta readers.
It makes good sense to have someone other than yourself, your spouse, or your best friend, read through the final manuscript.
Patience is a Virtue
You’ve just published your book on Amazon and you’re getting nervous. You’ve read all the tips from the self-help gurus. You need to be out there connecting with your audience. Promoting, selling, and marketing. You’ve sent off an announcement to your list of 250 friends and associates. Posted on Facebook. Asked friends to share the link. You’ve heard most books barely break 250 in sales. Heck – at this moment in time – you’d do a jig if you could get to 250.
Don’t Give Up
Hey – you’re finally on your way. You’ve done the really hard work. Remember when you’d walk into a library and look around at all the books. Or when you cruised through Barnes & Noble and thought it was all so hopeless. Well it isn’t. You did it. And even though you still feel stressed about getting the book out there, there is good news. You did do it. Yeah for you.
So, as you face the next few months, remember this:
1. There is no deadline for marketing. As long as the book is available in print, and you remain alive, that’s how long you have to get that book in front of a reading audience. Don’t feel pressured by all the gurus circling asking for money to promote your baby. Instead, take a calm, thoughtful approach. You didn’t write the book in a day – you won’t be selling it in a day. Hire only true experts to help you. If you’re unsure of who is legit, ask your writer friends for recommendations. And understand that what might work for one person, might not work for you. Trial and error is the key.
2. Social media is a great way to build an audience, but it takes time. It can be frustrating to spend time on social media in an effort to build an audience that seems impossible to find. How can you know what to offer readers when you don’t know who your readers are? Take a pause. Experts say it can take up to three years to build an audience. You will find them. Just like that book that you’ve just written took time to develop, understand that social media requires the same steady commitment. You will connect with your audience. It just takes tenacity and persistence.