Deborah Riley-Magnus, Writeaholic

November 15, 2012

5 Things I’ve Learned About Writers

For over six years now, I’ve been coaching authors and working with writers in live and online workshops. I teach them how to be more successful, how to gain more book sales and how to negotiate the world of marketing, promotions and public relations. I know, I know, the thought of marketing is like having to eat vegetable you don’t like or do 20 minutes on the treadmill – all necessary, but oh how we hate it. Unfortunately, I sometimes get the brunt of an author’s frustrations over having to do what they don’t like.

Over these years I’ve noted patterns that appear in every place I speak, in every workshop I teach and with every author I coach. I thought it might be helpful to share them with all the writers I know. Here are the 5 things I’ve learned about writers.

WRITERS WANT TO KNOW WHY – No matter where I am or what kind of writer I’m talking to, this question always comes up. Why do I need to blog? Why do I have to tweet? Why do I need a website? This list can go on forever, but only a clear understanding of how marketing works helps them understand. What I’ve come to realize, is that the question WHY is usually an umbrella covering a plethora of other things, some related to writing and being successful, some completely unrelated. We writers are a stubborn bunch. We have to be. This is a tough industry to break into, survive within and ultimately find success. When a writer desperately wants to have great book sales, it’s often time to set our stubbornness aside so we look for the solutions. As a coach and workshop instructor, it’s my job to discover what that WHY is all about. Usually the question isn’t so much WHY but more like “Why do I have to do it?” The author in question may be working two jobs, meeting publishing deadlines, dealing with kids or well, simply stubborn. The answer to the big WHY question is painfully simple – because EVERYONE has to do it. The basic techniques of marketing are tried and true and have been for centuries. They are as true for you as they were for Andrew Carnegie.

  • You have a product
  • Your are in a competitive industry
  • You must make your product stand apart from that competition
  • You must make the public aware of your product
  • You must promote your product
  • And you must grow and maintain sales for that product

No one writes a book in hopes that no one will know about it or buy it. The basics of marketing are important and everyone with a product to sell must use them.

WRITERS WANT TO KNOW IF THERE’S A SHORTCUT – Oh what a great question and I totally understand why a writer would ask. A shortcut to work gets us there faster or helps us avoid traffic jams. A shortcut at dinnertime, like prepared foods, take-out and a dishwasher, saves us valuable time in the evenings. We are programmed to look for shortcuts. Time is finite and everyone on the planet gets the same 24 hours in any given day. Looking for shortcuts is expected … but shortcuts -  like auto twitter and auto Facbook post programs, and blogs that announce themselves on every other social media you use – not so much save time as limit your capacity for creating impact. Short cuts don’t work when marketing, in fact I’d go so far as to say they never work best when marketing. So many times an author will write to me after taking a workshop and say that they’ve done all the things recommended but received little to no response. After some exploration I always unscover that they’ve taken these handy-dandy shortcuts. Yes, they’ve saved time but what they’ve unfortunately done is become so automated, their tweets, Facebook posts, and blog announcements LOOK like a machine did them. All those sparks in their social media circles are flat, without personality and unfortunately, without true marketing impact. Because marketing is a living, breathing thing, it lends itself to being brilliant … but only when backed by a human being. By all means test all the shortcuts. I suggest you test them one at a time then take a breath and do it all again without the shortcuts, using your personality and style. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes! Using shortcuts and saving time but gaining little to no sales is just … foolish.

WRITERS WANT TO KNOW HOW TO FIND THE TIME – This one too is painfully simple. There are so many things a writer does in life, everything from taking care of family to valiantly protecting their valuable writing time. Finding the time to do everything means biting the bullet and making a plan, a schedule, a check list, a reminder buzzer on your cell phone, a kitchen timer … ANYTHING IT TAKES to be efficient. This requires good time management skills and discipline, but have you ever known a successful person in any field who doesn’t have good time management skills and discipline? Everyone’s time management style is different, but only those who master it actually get everything done.

WRITERS WANT TO KNOW HOW TO STAND APART – It’s a dog-eat-dog publishing world out there, crowded with books and shouting authors and dwindling distribution points. Whether you are published by a big, small or medium publisher or self published, and even if you’re a writer just finishing your first book, the question has always been, “How do I stand apart from everyone else?” You did it with your writing and wrote a book that no one else could write because it came from your unique mind. Now it’s time to take that powerful creative gift and use it for marketing. So what happens? So many authors find themselves moving with the crowd they had hoped to stand apart from. This happens ALL THE TIME. Take a look at any author’s twitter following or Facebook friends and you’ll discover that the majority (and sometimes ALL) of them are other authors. I think this is based in fear – fear of tooting our own horn, fear that without other authors around us we’ll falter, fear of … well … success. It makes sense to have lots of authors around us, but it doesn’t make sense to completely surround ourselves with our competition. Shuck off the fear and reach out to readers. Who are the people who would buy your book? Time to make twitter followers, Facebook friends, and Goodreads friends with them. I always tell writers that the best ratio is 2 fellow authors for every 8 prospective book buyers. This is how to stand apart, take steps away from the competition and market to your fans and prospective book buyers.

WRITERS WANT TO KNOW HOW TO TAKE THIS FURTHER – Once an author strategically reaches out to prospective book buyers and creates fans and sales, something wonderful happens. It clicks. Fireworks go off. The light has come on for them. One small taste of success makes them hungry for more! They discover that this marketing thing DOES WORK and it doesn’t take all that much time, especially if it’s carefully targeted and efficiently implemented. There’s basic marketing and there’s advanced marketing. Taking an author’s marketing to the next level with cross marketing techniques and platform expansion skills becomes easy. Having reached this part of the success adventure, authors are starting to think like marketing people by revisiting their back list to build sales, creating promotions that other authors never think about, in venues other authors don’t use, and speaking to book buyer in places other authors never dreamed of. Taking it further really only take one thing … eliminating the very first WHY hurdle.

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4 Comments »

  1. “[...] it doesn’t make sense to completely surround ourselves with our competition”
    Never seen it put quite this way, but you’re right, it sometimes feels like that. All those wonderful writers that support us and empathize from a digital distance are not necessarily our customers, and most of them turn away when there are disagreements or discrepancies (what? you’re writing YA fantasy now? what a sell out…), whereas readers normally care more about the books than the authors. That’s what we should also primarily focus on, writing quality books, not just making friends.

    Great post, Deborah. Clear perspective, I like that. ;)

    Comment by Vero — November 15, 2012 @ 10:53 pm | Reply

    • Welcome, Vero!
      Of course we need other authors around us, but thinking like a marketing person and finding unique ways to connect with READERS and BOOK BUYERS are how book sales happen. They are the ones who really care about the books!
      Thanks so much for your comment,
      Deb

      Comment by Deborah Riley-Magnus — November 16, 2012 @ 11:15 am | Reply

  2. Very interesting observations, Deborah. It’s funny how universal our concerns out, no matter what type of writer we are, or which publishing path we follow.

    Comment by jennymilch — November 16, 2012 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

    • Thanks so much, Jenny. We’re all trying to make a mark as writers, and hopefully earn some cash and sell books along the way. Our goals can’t help but be the same, it’s just the route we take to achieve them that has to be different.
      Deb

      Comment by Deborah Riley-Magnus — November 17, 2012 @ 7:32 am | Reply


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