Tactics v. Strategy

man-73499_640So I was listening to the Selfpublished Podcast last week (love those guys!) and in addition to smiling every time Sean repeated my mantra of: write a great book, let your readers connect with it, repeat, I also caught something he said that was very important but often overlooked.

 

He said: tactics are different than strategy.

 

(you can listen to it yourself HERE)

 

Amen! What a wonderful way to put it! I get so tired of authors fretting and fussing about how to game the system, deploring the end of publishing or cursing the evil giant for changing the game and cutting into their profits…they really, really need to understand the difference between tactics and strategy.

 

But I fear they don’t. Because clearly they’re putting all their time and energy into playing the short game. They’re missing the big picture, the long tail that means true, lasting success as a ProWriter.

 

That’s not you, right? Of course not, my readers are too smart for falling for those short-term gimmicks!

 

That’s what TACTICS are. Short term methods that you try, experimental techniques you measure for effectiveness, opportunities for a quick bump in sales…

 

In other words, they’re trial and error:
*A short term price drop
*Free giveaways
*Contests
*Advertising
*Paid blog mentions

 

Strategies, on the other hand, are the path to long term success. They’re not about trial and error, they’re about do-ing…over and over again. You don’t have to measure that they work, you know they do because your readers respond to them in ways that show you that your vision and theirs are aligned and they’ve connected with your material.

 

Strategies include:
*Timing your new releases to have the most synergy with your backlist
*Engaging your audience via a newsletter, blog, or social media—not because you “have” to, but because they’re interested in connecting with you for the long term
*Partnerships with fellow professionals: editors, cover artists, formatters, financial advisors, etc.
*Building your brand so that every thing you do communicates your promise to your audience
*Writing more great books
*Organizing your finances and business to give you more time to write more great books
*Managing your time so that you can write more great books (sensing a pattern here?)

 

Tactics come and go. Don’t sweat it.

 

Instead, look ahead to what will thrill and excite your readers. Answering that need with your unique stories is the key.

 

Now, that’s strategizing!

Everything I know…

…on how to sell a million books…well, at least as much as Joanna Penn and I can talk about in an hour!

 

(If you’re reading this in email, click HERE to see the video)

 

Enjoy!

 

Three Game Changers to Launch Your Career

As I prepare for what’s coming next for me (more on that in a future post), I took a look back to see what really helped to launch my career as a ProWriter and what propelled it to the level of selling a million books and hitting the major bestseller lists.

 

Before I tell you the three things I did that really moved the needle, let’s be clear. A lot of this business is totally out of your control. Luck helps, timing helps, sometimes world events help (or not).

 

But as the Chinese say, Luck favors the prepared, so why not take control of the things you can control?

 

Action #1: Be a Writer.

 

I’m not talking in any mystic mumbo-jumbo, positive thinking, zen kind of way. I mean act like a professional writer NOW. No matter where you are in your career.

 

Learn the business. Educate yourself about contracts and both NYC publishing as well as small presses and indy options. What works–and what doesn’t. Learn how to write sales copy, what makes for a great cover, how to plan your finances. Like it or not, every professional writer is a small business owner. Think like you’re CEO of You, Inc.

 

Read everything in your genre to learn who your comparisons are–and a whole lot outside of your genre to learn even more about where your genre may be headed. Often a popular theme in one genre (YA vampires anyone?) will start to bleed into other genres as popular culture embraces it.

 

Besides, reading in other genres refills the creativity well as you see how authors pull you into their stories, which conventions work, and you can more easily admire their wordplay.

 

My agent has a rule for successful writers: Write 2k, Read 2k, every day.

 

The biggest game-changer for me came on the day I told my partners at my medical practice that I was cutting back to forty hours a week (considered part time when you are a community pediatrician) to focus on my writing.

 

Until then, no one (not even my family) knew I was writing or had dreams of someday becoming published.

 

If you want to be a ProWriter, own it! When you’re introduced at parties and someone asks what you do, say: I am a Writer.

 

Don’t just dream it…BE IT!

 

Action #2: Dig deep and find your theme.

 

No, not English composition type of theme. YOUR theme. What emotional promise do you make readers with everything you write?

 

(Yes, there’s another word for this. Your Theme IS your BRAND. Once you find it, it will influence everything you do!)

 

Once I declared myself a writer and began pursuing publication, I stumbled with how to pitch my books to agents and editors.

 

Clearly there was a crime at the center of each plot, but they weren’t whodunnits. Instead, they focus on the relationships and the impact of the crime on the people. Probably because that was the reason I left SF/F to write thrillers: I was trying to heal myself after a close friend was murdered.

 

I looked closely at all my work–even the half-baked ideas and stories from high school. Including those fantasy and science fiction novels I’d written in college and med school.

 

Reading my “body of work” all together over one weekend, I realized no matter the genre, I had a common element running through the stories: the main characters were ordinary people finding the courage to face the evil in their worlds.

 

At first I labeled this as: Heroes are born every day.

 

But I realized that wasn’t really describing the other aspect that ran through all of my work: the fast-paced, adrenalin-rush, high stakes pacing.

 

So I came up with: Thrillers with Heart.

 

And everything clicked into place. How to pitch my books, who my readers would be, what kind of visuals to use on my website…even what genres I could explore without losing my core readers.

 

As long as I kept the promise of a Thriller (breathtakingly fast-paced) with Heart (a strong emotional relationship and character-driven plot at the center of the story), my audience would enjoy them.

 

Dig deep, deep, deep! What do your stories past, present, and future all have in common?

 

Love conquers all? Home and hearth? Betrayal and revenge?

 

Finding your theme is like finding the path out of a dark forest on a moonless night. Follow it and it will lead you home, every time.

 

Action #3: Trust your readers.

 

This has been the biggest game changer for me. It was my readers who put me on the NYT list at #2. They’re the ones who helped raise $12,000 and six forensic scholarships this year through the Buy a Book, Make a Difference program. It’s their fan mail that makes me laugh and cry as they write to thank me for entertaining, inspiring, empowering them or helping them to overcome adversity.

 

Without them, I’d be lost.

 

With them, I have an answer to every question: Will it delight and excite and make my readers jump for joy?

 

It doesn’t matter if you’re unpublished–invent your ideal reader. Who is he or she? How old? Why are they drawn to your books? What are they looking for: escapism? empowerment? excitement?

 

Fulfill their needs and they will come back for more.

 

(And don’t forget if you’re just starting out: agents, editors, reviewers are all readers, too! They want to be transported and enchanted by your writing. Give them what they want!)

 

I always tell people the best piece of writing advice I ever received came from Jeffery Deaver when he told me: Never forget, the reader is god.

 

Once I understood what he meant, everything else about this business became easy.

 

Find your readers. Understand what they want. Give them that and they’ll come back for more.

 

There you go. Three game changing actions you can do today to launch your career to the next level.

 

Happy writing!
CJ

 

Ready to share your stories with the world as a ProWriter? Check out the courses created by myself and Joanna Penn on The Secrets of a ProWriter, Breaking into Publishing , Secrets of Indy Publishing, and How to Reach Readers and Market Your Novel.

 

Click HERE for more info.

A Million Books Sold–What’s Next?

Photo Credit: Don Buciak

Sometime in July, I passed one million indy books sold. Don’t ask me when; I was busy writing the next book (see, I do practice what I preach).

 

But here’s the real kicker: that means in one year I’ve outsold what traditional publishing has been able to sell of my books in the past four years.

 

I now make more in a month than I do in a year from traditional publishing.

 

If you’ve been reading this blog, you already know how I’ve done it and what my “secret” is.

 

(If not, check out these resources on Indy Publishing HERE and my secret recipe to success HERE)

 

So let’s focus on the what comes next rather than the what happened to get us here. After all, that’s what you really need to know–how to plan for the future while you’re getting started and building your audience in the here and now.

 

Which means taking a look into a crystal ball and envisioning where the future of publishing is going. Here are my thoughts:

 

Prediction 1: As more traditionally published authors enter indy publishing with their extensive backlists, it will be harder and harder to be discovered.

 

CJ’s Solution: Start building your tribe now. This means connecting to the people who will love everything you write, not just this one book. Start building a mailing list or at the very least a group of followers via social media (but far, far better that you own your own list). Engage with them. Don’t treat them as customers, treat them as people whose opinion matters to you.

 

And, most importantly, write the next book that will delight and excite them!

 

Prediction 2: As traditional publishers relinquish Agency pricing, there will be greater competition than ever for spots on the bestseller lists. As much as we want to treat our books as “art” we are in the business of selling them, and let’s face it, people love finding a great value.

 

CJ’s Solution: Be creative about price points. Experiment, see what works for your readers. And be generous. Sometimes a free book or 0.99 price point is a better investment than any promotional tool when it comes to finding new readers or rewarding the ones you already have.

 

Prediction 3: More authors will turn down traditional contracts once they start treating their writing as a business. Also, more traditional publishers will be offering contracts to indy authors.

 

CJ’s Solution: Do the math. If you have several indy books out there and are earning a living wage from them, the only thing traditional publishing has to offer you is increased distribution for your print books. That can be extremely valuable and help you reach new readers. After all, 70% of readers still prefer print.

 

BUT tread carefully. Publishing contracts now are almost always for life. So those big bucks they offer need to be divided over years, often decades. A fifty thousand dollar advance over ten years is only five thousand a year or around $400 a month….not exactly a living wage.

 

I’m a firm believer in a hybrid model as the best way to reach as many readers as possible for the near future. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for less. Weigh the pros of that extended distribution: how much money is it worth to you over the life of a book?

 

Of course, the best solution is to write more books. Your traditionally published ones promoting your indy ones, and vice-versa. Creating a powerful synergy that will grow your audience.

 

There you have it. My top three predictions after selling a million books in a year.

 

The ultimate message? Write more great books and focus on your readers.

 

Happy writing!
CJ
Ready to share your stories with the world as a ProWriter? Check out the courses created by myself and Joanna Penn on The Secrets of a ProWriter, Breaking into Publishing , Secrets of Indy Publishing, and How to Reach Readers and Market Your Novel.

 

Click HERE for more info.

Guest Blog: How You Can Use Book Reviews

NOTE from CJ: This is a guest post from an enterprising author, Xavier Morrison, who is forging his path to becoming published and building a platform. Today he will share one of his strategies: Writing book reviews. 

 

On the surface there’s nothing startling or new in what I’m proposing here, writing book reviews and posting them online as a marketing strategy. Many authors have developed and expanded their following blogging about books (Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, David Montgomery, or Jeff Ayers are all great examples in the thriller genre). But there may be a tendency for the aspiring author to discount the approach at first glance. It seems so obvious, it’s been done, yawn, easy to overlook benefits hidden within, to overlook it as a potential element of getting your work noticed and improving your craft at the same time.

 

Reading is regimen for any serious (read aspiring) author, so if you’ve got the book in front of you why not jot down a few hundred words explaining what you think the message was, and what you got out of it. It isn’t a book report with specific items to be covered. Reviews are loosey goosey touchy feely animals, they adhere to no rigid structure, no hard and fast rules.

 

Why bother with it? Writing reviews has helped me examine the author’s message more closely, expanding and crystallizing the lessons in my head. When asked weeks later what the book was about I’m able to answer with greater clarity and shorter delay. Something significant is going on in my brain, I’m sure of it… something positive.

 

It’s great cross training for the storyteller – fiction or nonfiction.  Our minds grasp concepts more easily by constructing stories around them. We treat fiction as real life experience; the same areas of the brain are excited as if actually going through the physical activity described.

 

We need stories to learn.  Even physics problems are best explained in allegory – Einstein’s riding on the train analogy to illustrate the relativity of time.

 

Book reviews are opportunity for an intimate study of story and theme, a chance to smash the atoms of composition together and poke at what’s strewn about. (Technical tidbit- Kindle offers some neat features to highlight and notate. It beats the blank out of scribbling in the margins.)

 

Publishing “thoughtful and honest” book reviews also establishes you as having some authority on the material. The criticism should be unbridled, all original and upbeat whenever possible, considerate and constructive, even if to say you were disappointed. It is an opportunity to define your values and nurture trust with your reader.

 

It’s really easy to post them (and edit them at any time – if they suck you can delete) on Amazon and Goodreads e.g., and more importantly, and to me more surprisingly, people truly read them! I’m not kidding. They make purchasing decisions based on them more frequently than you might think. I know this because my reviews generated notices from Amazon saying as much.

 

I published three reviews, on serious titles, and twice they helped someone make up their mind. My review among dozens and the reader appreciated it enough to take the time to acknowledge them!  I thought about that, and it made me feel good. It’s a small thing, I know, but it matters, a taste of recognition to keep me plugging, as good as a rub on the shoulder to hold my joy, never feeling obscure.

 

Of note, I sent one of the lesser known authors a message on Facebook telling him I enjoyed his book, and had stated as much in review on Amazon and Goodreads. He sent back a “Really appreciated!”, and a link to get his first two books for free.  The strategy’s paying dividends already. And My Amazon Top Reviewer Rank went from over 3.2mil, to number 896,686!  I’m not certain what that means yet, but I’m moving up!

 

My goal is to write one review per week for a year, quality sworn over quantity.  To read and, ah, report back on a cross section of contemporary and classic literature, nonfiction and fiction alike, genre optional.

 

The Book Review Strategy is not a standalone, but it’s more than a supplement, it’s an enrichment to your author platform.

 

Feed the muse, nourish her in story. Never chase her, she will hide. And don’t ignore her, she’ll lose interest, guaranteed.  You are the muse, she is inside you.   Welcome her home, listen to her with a smile…

Xavier Morrison – 9/3/12

5 Commandments to Build Your Email List

This is a follow up to Tivi Jones’ wonderful guest post from last week. If you missed it, you can read it HERE

 

Not a day goes by without some well-meaning author sending me an unsolicited email update. They seem to think that because we were at the same event together (along with 500 other people) or we exchanged business cards or we made eye contact that that gives them permission to invade my email inbox.

 

Yes, they are achieving name recognition with me. But not as an author but a spammer. Think I will ever buy one of their books after that?

 

We’re not just talking new authors either. I’ve had this happen after appearing on panels with NYT Bestsellers who should know better.

 

Want to avoid being labeled as a spammer? Want to achieve significant interaction with true potential fans instead?

 

Here are the 5 things you need to do:

 

Commandment 1. Thou shalt respect every person on your email list and honor them by acting like a professional, not a sales person.

 

Don’t make every email you send all about you. Actually, don’t make ANY of your emails about you. Honor your audience and make them the center of attention.

 

Offer them a little something special with each email. Surprise them, delight them. Make them FEEL something about you and your content (just like you do with your books). Make them cry, make them laugh, make them smile.

 

All of which will make them want to open your emails.

 

Commandment 2.Thou shalt embrace permission based email list building.

 

Before you add anyone to your mailing list, make sure you have their permission. (No, eye contact and a polite smile as you pass them in the hallway at a conference does not count!)

 

Have a system in place where they can sign up. If you are signing them up as part of a contest or promotion, make it very clear that by entering they will become part of your mailing list and are granting you permission to send them periodic notices. Often a check box or note will suffice.

 

Commandment 3: Thou shalt use a professional mailing service.

 

This means no more of those blind cc emails to everyone on your personal email contact list. And especially no more of those email where you don’t even bother to hide the names and email addresses of everyone you’re sending it to.

 

Can you think of anything that looks more amateurish? Seriously, let’s at least try to act like professionals!

 

Not to mention, it’s against the law.

 

There are great services out there that are compliant with the anti-spamming laws. Mail Chimp is a great one to start with and is free for the first 2,000 subscribers.

 

Aweber, iContact, and others provide inexpensive introductory prices that increase as your list grows. All provide professional templates that are customizable as well as campaign statistics to help you know what’s working and what’s not.

 

Commandment 4: Thou shalt embrace the unsubscribe button.

 

Another problem with those blind mass emails? There’s no way to unsubscribe. It’s asking way too much to require that someone email you to ask you to stop spamming them!

 

(Heck, if I’m going to all that trouble, it’s just as easy to report you for breaking the spamming laws…another reason to embrace the idea of unsubscribing!)

 

I love my unsub button! In fact, I usually point folks to it at the beginning of every other email when I send to my larger Thrillers with Heart list which has had over 14,000 subscribers.

 

Why point out to folks how easy it is for them to leave?

 

First, it shows that you value their time. Even if they leave, they’ll remember you as a polite, considerate professional…not a scammy, slimey spammer who’s just out to make a buck.

 

Second, when you’re paying for each email sent (not each one opened) you really want to be sending to folks who want to open your emails and read what you have to say. Not only is it saving money, it also increases engagement and the likelihood that the people who are opening your emails want to hear from you and will take action when you ask.

 

Commandment 5: Thou shalt not abuse your power…or your mailing list.

 

Some marketing pros would argue with this last–you know the ones, they’re sending you twenty emails a week, figuring that your attention span is short and you probably aren’t opening them all.

 

They don’t trust you. They don’t respect you. They don’t care about you.

 

They care about whatever they’re selling. Period.

 

If you have a new book, of course your permission based mailing list wants to hear about it: that’s why they signed up.

 

But you don’t need to send them a new email trumpeting every new review or blog post or interview. That’s what websites, blogs, tweets, and facebook are for.

 

Save your email power for when you have something Important to say. Or even better, when you have something Valuable to give your audience.

 

Which brings us full circle back to Commandment 1. Honor your audience, make them the center of your email universe.

 

An engaged mailing list of a few dozen people is a thousand times more valuable than a bored list of a thousand.

 

Go forth and happy list building!
CJ

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