Category Archives: developing your author platform

why writing a manifesta can help you develop a creative vision (and sell more books and maybe even change the world)

(note: I’m using ‘manifesta’ instead of ‘manifesto’ because I like the womanly sound of it. indulge me.)

One of my favorite bloggers, Kelly Diels writes a bang-up post about what she would do if she was a new writer named Dorothy who’d just published a book about her adventures on the yellow brick road:

So this book should sell. It needs to sell. Dorothy wants it to sell.

Even more than that, Dorothy wants it to be read, to land, to take root, to grow, to inhabit, fertilize and animate our popular imagination.

If I was Dorothy – and I am – I would start a blog before I even started writing the book. I’d go all Seth Godin and build a tribe on Twitter. I’d find my people. I’d give them somewhere to find me. I’d get on the cluetrain. I’d Oprah. I’d firestart. I’d listen to Leo Babauta when he says he doesn’t believe in SEO. I’d make friends. I’d work the aich-ee-double-hockey-sticks out of ProBlogger and spend serious time with Outspoken Media. I’d figure out the lessons learned by our pantheon of blog gods and best-selling writers. I’d figure out the mechanics of demand and distribution and audience and I’d build it and they would come. And if they didn’t come, I’d go get them and then hug and pet and feed them because that is the purpose of promotional tricks and lassos and rodeo ponies and hoopla.

But I would only do that if, like Dorothy, I had something wizardly to offer: the journey. The passion. The learning. The love. The living. The lessons. The magic. The really, really great content. Please.

Often, when we talk about writing, we talk about how to write and go about the business:  how to structure a novel and frame a scene and create characters and dialogue and find our theme and write our query letter and approach agents, etc.  And now, with the shifting digitalscape of publishing, we talk about platform and brand and how to blog and Facebook and Twitter and hang out in forums and make book apps and podcasts and video trailers and ebooks. We talk about giving stuff away for free and generating multiple streams of revenue.  We talk about True Fans.

We talk about what to do with the content.

We don’t often talk about the content itself.

It’s not enough to know how to say it.  You have to have something to say.

Writers now have to market their content (their books) with more content (everything else they do online).  Nonfiction writers have a clear advantage over fiction writers: if I’m marketing — or more specifically, unmarketing— a book about the Civil War, or how to develop your psychic powers, or how to breed and care for purple hamsters, then I can blog and tweet about things related to the Civil War or psychics or hamsters.

This is why nonfiction has always been easier to promote than fiction: a nonfiction writer could go on talk shows and radio shows and discuss the book with hosts who hadn’t read the book by providing intriguing and educational information about the subject matter that would make listeners with similar interests want to buy the book.  That’s ‘content marketing’ in action.  The marketing is done through content that in and of itself provides value: it entertains and informs.  The listener takes away some informational nuggets about purple hamsters and is a better person for it.

So great content has to be promoted with more great content.

But what should fiction writers blog, tweet, and content-market about?  Or what happens when that nonfiction writer comes out with a book that falls outside her established ‘brand’ (and never wants to look at purple hamsters again)?

This is where a manifesta comes in handy.

A manifesta is “a public declaration of principles, policies or intentions.”  In this case, it’s not of a political nature but an artistic one.  It is what you stand for and want to accomplish as a writer and blogger.  It is your creative vision presented as a set of ideas that will attract like-minded people (a.k.a. your “ideal readers”) and power the conversations that you have with them and they have with each other (since you won’t always be around).

REASONS TO HAVE A MANIFESTA

1. It forces you to soul-search and think strategically.

Media coach Susan Harrow said, “Words are the ambassadors of our intentions.”  Just the act of composing your manifesta forces you to examine what those intentions actually are…and how you want to make them manifest.

There is a real power in writing things down.  (Here’s an entire book about it.)  It orients your mind to the future and acts as a filter for incoming stimuli so that you zero in on the things and events and people that can help you move forward.  Suddenly you’re writing and working with purpose and strategy.

And this includes your time online.  As anyone who engages with it quickly learns, social media can be a massive timesuck with little to show for it if you don’t know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.  To be truly effective, social media requires a strategy. Your manifesta helps you look beyond the tools and technologies to the principles behind them and how they might serve your vision.  Your manifesta cuts a path through the social media jungle. This makes social media itself less overwhelming.

2. It establishes your brand in your own mind and in the minds of others.

A few words about ‘brand’.  You might be thinking, This is the kind of thing that makes me despair utterly because you, after all, are you.  You are not a pair of sneakers.

But in the online world, a brand is your identity.  It is the shared mental imprint that others have of you.  It is their sense of your personality and set of values. Picture a much more complex and sophisticated version of your icon or gravatar that walks around the ‘Net and grows or shrinks according to the conversations that people have about you (or if they’re having conversations at all).

A good brand allows people to feel that they know you, and online, this is a good thing.  After all, anybody can say they’re anybody on the ‘Net — at least initially (you can only hide behind another identity for so long).  The more you reveal yourself online — with care and intelligence, of course — and the more transparent your brand becomes, the more people will trust that you are who you say you are and do what you say you do.  If they trust you, they pay attention to you.  If they pay attention to you, you have influence.  This is a very good thing.

In the old, offline world, a brand was a fixed controlled message beamed out to the masses in a one-way direction from the television and the radio.  In the new, online world, the ‘message’ of a brand is neither fixed nor controlled.  You can’t control the conversation that other people have about you.  You can only hope to steer it in a certain direction….

3. It steers the conversation

…and a manifesta helps you do this. When you know your manifesta, you’ll know what you want to write about and the kinds of conversations you want to have.

4. It helps you develop your brand in a natural and organic way.

Conversations are not static, so your brand isn’t either.  Through engaging and interacting with people — and through listening, listening, listening — you can ‘grow’ your brand in new dimensions. This is the idea of the brand molecule: one idea growing naturally from another idea. The brand molecule can become complex and multifaceted while still retaining that core sense of identity or ‘message’ that unifies everything into a whole greater than the sum of its parts — instead of just a random collection of parts.

For example, a key part of my own manifesta (which I’m still working on) involves making the world a better place for girls and women (which makes the world a better place for everybody).  I plan to one day fund a school for girls in Cambodia (and write and blog about the experience).  This might not seem like it has anything to do with my published novels and short stories, except one thing I hope to accomplish in my fiction is the creation of strong, complex female characters who wrestle with issues that other girls and women can relate to (even if their own lives don’t involve magic and fallen angels and the god of the underworld and that kind of thing). So my manifesta connects these two different ideas — my dark fantasy novels and the education of girls in developing countries — and shows the relationship between them.  My writing, my activism, and my use of social media, my ‘unmarketing’, can all be different parts of my brand molecule and work toward the same overarching goal.

5. It galvanizes you and pulls you forward.

Developing a successful writing career is a long and arduous process with no guarantee of success (far from it).  You’re required to develop your craft and your platform.  Both these elements demand a heavy investment of time, emotion and energy.

You will get rejected.

You will make mistakes.

Not everyone will like your work or your ‘brand’ — some might even loathe you and everything they think you stand for.  You’ll get bad reviews.  You’ll find negative comments on your blog.  There will be moments when you’ll want to say “to hell with it all” and curl up in a fetal position.  You might start to think about law school.

So how to stay motivated?

In his book DRIVE: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Daniel H Pink states that we are actually not all that motivated by external awards (the whole carrot and stick approach).  Sure, we want that raise, but what powers us in the long-term and is the real key to high performance and satisfaction

is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

You’ll know your manifesta is on target when you feel that deep sense of excitement in your core.  Your manifesta is ultimately a statement about passion.  Reviewing it when you’re low or discouraged can help you reconnect to that sense of passion and purpose that compelled you to start doing what you’re doing in the first place.  It can remind you that Rome wasn’t built in a day — or a year — but the damn thing did get built.

After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination (or not just the destination).  Your manifesta keeps your eyes on that magical skyline in the distance.  It gives you energy to navigate the roadblocks.  It helps you find your way back to the road if you should wander off somewhere (or get lured in the wrong direction).

6. It turns a random audience into a genuine tribe.

The Internet has changed the idea of what an audience is. No longer a passive vessel for the entertainment that you provide (or at least attempt to), the people formerly known as the audience expect to have a voice of their own.  It is their right to talk back to you and to each other.  Your content becomes the great connection point.  But it has to be a connection point: something that is worth their time and conversation.  The most powerful content of all is content that inspires people and impacts their sense of the world and their own place within it.  No small task, I know, but the good news is that if your manifesta inspires you — and if it doesn’t, it’s the wrong manifesta — then it will likely inspire others.

7. It organizes all your content into a unifying whole greater than the sum of its parts.

see #4

8. It just might change the world.

— next up: how to write a manifesta —

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why strong author branding = passion & soul (and should not be cause for despair)

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A writer’s idea of a writing career has to change.

Jane Friedman said this in a webinar I attended recently, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.

I’m also wondering if a writer’s idea of a brand has to change.

I wrote about the importance of developing your author brand in my last post. Jane retweeted it (thank you Jane, you’re fabulous) and I noticed that one of the responses was a tweet that said, This kind of thing makes me despair utterly.

So I wanted to stress that I write about brands not as a marketing tactic, but as unmarketing. And unmarketing means that your brand is so remarkable that you don’t have to market it; it markets itself.

And you develop a remarkable brand by being a remarkable writer.

Online, you are your content. You are your voice. And your voice and your content combine to form your brand.

So great, well-written content = great brand.

Mediocre content = mediocre brand.

2

The reason why a brand is necessary for survival is because it doesn’t just promote, it filters and curates. As the distribution barriers collapse and more and more people publish online, readers need to know where to go and who to trust in order to find great material without sorting through all the crap. If readers trust you, and your well-defined creative vision, they will go to you to find cool stuff to read, and also to share and recommend to their friends.

(This doesn’t just apply to writers, by the way, but also to publishers and editors. These brands can “riff off each other” and bring different kinds of benefits to the writer/editor/publisher relationships. Which makes me wonder if, in the future, we’ll see prominent and recurring author-editor partnerships the way we see director-actor partnerships in the movies.)

Your brand stands for who you are and what you write about. It stands for a personality and set of values that readers can identify with. In the new, still-emerging model of publishing, your brand is no longer solely defined by your books. It is defined more and more by your online presence – your blogging and microblogging and interaction with your community – and supported by your books.

This gives your brand the opportunity to grow and evolve, because your readers can share that process with you. In the old model, a writer switching genres also had to change names, so as not to confuse the reader. Readers did not want to pick up a Stephen King novel and discover that it was a romance. As a result, writers got trapped in a ‘box’: expected to deliver a certain type of novel each time. Once a horror writer, always a horror writer (or secretly a romance writer under a different name).

In the new model, things will work a little differently. You can’t hide who you are online (and if you’re not willing to be online in the first place, editors and publishers will be much less enthused about working with you). So a pseudonym will work not to disguise a writer’s identity but to signal a different type of novel (for example: it’s a well-known “secret” that John Banville and Benjamin Black are the same guy, but Banville novels are literary novels and Black novels are mystery-thrillers). And since, as Dean Koontz once observed, “readers will follow you anywhere” – because readers become addicted at least partly to your voice, your worldview – readers will have the chance to follow the writer into a genre they might not have considered otherwise. So instead of being trapped in a box – or two or three boxes separated from each other – writers can use pseudonyms to develop different dimensions of the same central, defining brand. The box disappears, and the “brand molecule” takes its place: one aspect, idea or message gradually developing out of another aspect, idea or message.

What holds the brand together will no longer be a specific type of book, but the voice and worldview of the author herself.

3

A writing career will no longer present itself to the audience as a succession of books with long gaps of silence in-between.

A writing career will be more like an ongoing and steadily evolving process, shared online and interacting with readers….with few, if any, gaps of silence at all. The process won’t be so easily divided into writing and marketing; the writing is the marketing.

Writers should no longer think of themselves as just one type of writer – just a novelist, or a poet, or a short-story writer. Writing on and for the Web will demand different manifestations of your talent.

And if you’re going to be online on a near-daily basis, it’s not just about socializing and chatting people up. It’s about having something to say, consistently, that will attract the right type of reader (who will go on to pay money for your work).

Which means you have to be passionate about whatever it is that you’re blogging and filtering day-in and day-out for the people formerly known as your audience. Otherwise you won’t be motivated enough to put in the work and time that the process requires, and your writing won’t be charged with the kind of electricity that draws in new readers or keeps old ones hanging around.

Because you have to love the process. You have to embrace it – all aspects of it – as an expression of your soul.

In other words, you develop your brand by writing close to your soul.

Which means that, over time, your brand has the chance to take you — and your readers — to some unexpected places.

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the online art of developing your author brand molecule global microbrand thing

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People don’t respond to marketing. They respond to vision.

2

In this engaging and well-written post, blogger Siddhartha states that “authors shouldn’t have to be social media experts”.

Writing and marketing are different, require different skillsets, and most artists just want to do their art anyway. So let the writers do the writing and the marketers do the marketing of it. The ideal would be a partnership between a writer and a social media expert.

And it makes a lot of sense.

And writers can hire cutting edge PR agencies like this one to help them do the stuff they likely don’t want to do in the first place.

But leaving aside the whole notion of ‘social media expert’, which is kind of problematic to begin with, I think what writers need to remember is that there’s a difference between marketing your book and marketing yourself as a (for lack of a better term) ‘brand’, or ‘author brand’ or ‘global microbrand’ (I love that latter term, the pleasing contradiction between ‘micro’ and ‘global’).

When a key element to survival on the Web is authenticity, and when a key element to a successful brand is its level of engagement, can anybody else ultimately be responsible for defining (to the extent that it can be defined) and marketing (to the extent that it can be marketed) the brand of…you?

3

The Web is about unmarketing. People don’t want to be spammed, marketed or sold to (they’ll promptly click away from you). They want to be intrigued, attracted and engaged. The idea of unmarketing – at least as I understand it – is that the marketing is built in to the brand itself. In other words, the brand is so engaging and remarkable that people talk about it, share it, feed it forward, etcetera.

People don’t listen to marketers – they listen to each other.

I don’t want some brand promising me that their coffee will transform me into a sexy beast with bouncy glorious hair and charisma to spare.

I want the brand to to offer consistent value in my near-daily life. I want the brand to have a purpose…and possibly to connect me to a sense of larger purpose.

So how to apply this to the idea of an author brand?

3

A brand used to be a fixed, controlled, one-dimensional message that was beamed out from radios, televisions and billboards to the masses, who passively received it. A brand meant one thing, and one thing only, because to step outside the message would only confuse the audience and dilute the impact of the brand.

An ‘author brand’ conveyed– and still does – the type of book you could expect to get, the type of reading experience you would have, from a certain author. If a writer dared to step outside that ‘message’ – that genre – he or she was told to use a pseudonym so as not to confuse the reader. Dean Koontz used a multiciplicity of pseudonyms before he became just Dean Koontz. Literary writers like Joyce Carol Oates and John Banville write more ‘commercial’ fiction under nom be plumes like Rosamund Smith and Benjamin Black.

Now, however, a successful brand is interactive, organic, and multi-dimensional. THE BRAND INNOVATION MANIFESTO teaches the idea of the brand molecule, where a brand grows through its interaction with the people formerly known as its audience. The brand goes out into the audience, who adapt it or ignore it in whatever way they see fit, and then talk back (via the Internet) so that the brand senses what works and what doesn’t. And the brand evolves accordingly. It still has a central, coherent identity, but it explores new cultural ideas that can grow naturally out of that identity.

For better or worse, an ‘author brand’ – that shared mental imprint people think of when thinking of a certain author – is no longer defined by the books she releases every now and then and the interviews she gives (when she chooses to give them, or when people care enough to pay attention), but also by the writer’s online presence. And that presence is constant, and constantly accessible, because whatever you do on the Web tends to stay on the Web.

I still remember when the president of a dot.com company told me, years ago, how he had advised a (now very successful) nonfiction author that “his books support his blog, and not vice-versa.” At the time I found it a radical and slightly dubious concept, but now I think I see what he means.

Your books come out intermittently.

Your blog (or tweetstream or Youtube channel or whatever you decide to use) is always there, always discoverable, always conveying a sense of who you are and what you care about. It doesn’t mean that the books themselves are any less important – in today’s cluttered chaotic marketplace, it’s more important than ever to be as kick-ass as possible.

It does mean that the personality of the author is front and center in a way that perhaps suggests that the whole idea of a ‘writing career’ has to be re-envisioned. Neil Gaiman’s fans can experience him everyday – through his blog and Tweets – in a way that Stephen King’s fans, when I was growing up, could not (except by reading his books). And Neil doesn’t engage his fans by bleeting “buy my books”; he provides them with stuff they find interesting.

It doesn’t mean that a fan can expect to have a personal connection with Neil himself (although that sometimes happens), anymore than I can expect to have a personal interaction with the CEO of Starbucks (even though I go there everyday). But fans can expect to have a personal experience of the ‘brand’ of Neil, and if they want they can connect with other fans and talk about Neil’s work and become a part of the community that’s grown up around it (and him). And this experience could prove so positive that a casual reader soon turns into a fan (and future purchaser of Neil’s book) and perhaps even a ‘brand’ loyalist and evangelist who turns other people onto Neil and continues to expand his already staggering audience.

3

I like this definition of brand as a “driving force” with: “a sense of purpose so compelling that it will move customers and employees to action.”

So for writers, maybe it’s “a compelling sense of artistic mission that compels readers and the writer herself, to action.”

That sense of mission extends to what you do on the Web (and how often you do it), and forms the core of who you are (or become) in the minds of others.

Rather than thinking of socialmedia or blogging as the marketing element that is separate from yourself and your work, perhaps it is more helpful (and inspiring) to think of it as the opportunity to explore and grow your brand – your brand molecule – in a way that wasn’t possible before.

Which ties into your own evolution as a person and an artist.

Because it’s all connected.

Online, you have the chance to ‘own’ your audience and develop a level of artistic freedom that isn’t restricted to one genre or one central defining ‘message’ about what readers should expect from you.

Online, you have the chance to build out your vision in a myriad of ways that aren’t interrupted by the long stretches of silence between novels. Readers can see how everything weaves together (whether or not they choose to read all your books) into the bigger picture of…you, your brand, your body of work.

4

In my last post I wrote about the writer as “creative entrepreneur”. I also think writers are what the book KARMA QUEENS, GEEK GODS AND INNERPRENEURS refer to as “innerpreneurs”:

Innerpreneurs let their moral compass and passion for exploration guide their lives. Innerpreneurs have an inborn need to be creative, challenge assumptions, seek new pathways, and define new horizons….Work and life are inextricably tied together for [them]…Innerpreneurs have recognized that which makes their heart sing and have followed its siren song [and are] translating that passion into a career.

It’s that kind of authenticity and passion that makes for a compelling online presence. So while writers can (and probably should) seek out advice and coaching when it comes to marketing (and unmarketing), I suspect the real key is to figure out how social media can help you explore, refine and expand your creative vision through regular interaction with the people formerly known as your audience. This transforms social media from a marketing chore (and likely an unsuccessful one) into another opportunity for personal and artistic growth which can’t help but feed back into your ‘real’ writing.

It’s through your vision that you differentiate yourself, that you specialize, that you “rise to the top of the Google list by sounding one, clear, strong note” as Christina Katz put it.

But you have to know what your vision is, what your passion is: you have to “let love burn away the inessentials” (to quote from from THE CULTURAL CREATIVES).

Which means that the question isn’t necessarily, “How do I get on Twitter?” or “Should I have a blog?”

But rather: “Who am I and what do I want to accomplish as an artist? What do I stand for? What is my mission? What are my passions? What is the experience that I can provide for people? What can I contribute?”

(And then you can figure out how to get on Twitter. In fact, you can read this article here!)

It’s not easy to figure out those questions. It’s hard, challenging work.

But it’s work that we’re uniquely cut out for.

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pave your way to creative domination: the writer as creative entrepreneur

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I was speaking on a panel at the Literary Orange writer’s conference the other weekend and heard myself say, “Writers are creative entrepreneurs now.”

To which the guy sitting next to me responded, “That sounds hard.”

I’m not sure it’s any harder than writing an actual publishable novel. But it requires a flexibility of thinking and a different way of perceiving yourself and your work. (I for one am still working on it.)

What is creative entrepreneurship anyway?

From Wikipedia:

Creative entrepreneurship is the practice of setting up a business – or setting yourself up as self-employed – in one of the creative industries. The focus of the creative entrepreneur differs from that of the typical business entrepreneur or, indeed, the social entrepreneur in that s/he is concerned first and foremost with the creation and exploitation of creative or intellectual capital. Essentially, creative entrepreneurs are investors in talent – their own and/or other people’s.

John Howkins defines creative entrepreneurs as people who “use creativity to unlock the wealth that lies within themselves”.

Mark McGuinness at the great blog Lateral Action elaborates:

The value they create lies not in their physical products (if any) but in intangible assets such as their brand, reputation, network and intellectual property. They are adept at projecting a desired image and creating a personal brand, both online and offline. They also understand the principles of intellectual property law and use copyrights, trademarks, patents and licenses to exploit the full potential of their ideas.

This falls in line with what writers are expected to do now. In the era of the long tail, writers are advised to find their niche and dominate it. This enables you to create an author brand: a focused set of ideas, values and associations that symbolize the ‘you’ of you.

Which means that, before anything else, you have to have the chops. You have to put in the time and deliberate practice to become an excellent writer and storyteller.

Then you start developing your author platform. This includes your network, your community, your tribe: the friends, fans and followers who will be glad for the opportunity to support you and pay money for your work.

2

It used to be that there was a nice, neat division of labor: the gatekeepers who published and promoted you, and the creatives who did the creative stuff. As the world goes digital that division starts to disappear: creatives can bring their work directly to their audience and no longer require a middleman to negotiate access.

But this means the role of writer is also changing, and writers have to adapt, engage, or (quite possibly) die.

This involves a new way of thinking about content. Used to be that content was inseparable from the medium that delivered it, otherwise known as a book. The end goal and ultimate dream for aspiring writers was to have a novel published by one the major publishers who could get your book in bookstores all across America (and perhaps the world).

Now content gets delivered in different ways through different devices that create different kinds of reading experiences. Writers need to think of content as fluid and shifting, something that can be developed or repackaged across different platforms.

Your book is no longer just a book; it can also be serial installments delivered through a blog or an iPhone app or a podcast. Create a rich, compelling storyworld and your content could expand into other forms of storytelling such as video games or comic books or episodes of a web series (otherwise known as transmedia storytelling).

At her blog There Are No Rules Jane Friedman emphasizes

the need for writers to think beyond the book when envisioning their careers. If writers desire to spread a message, have an impact on a readership, and be heard, then there are many ways to do that aside from publishing a book.

Sometimes a book, or a book traditionally published, is not a smart or efficient way to spread a intemessage or to gain a readership. A book is just one form, one component, of a larger career.

In his post The Reality of Digital ContentSeth Godin compares traditional publishing to fortune cookies. Writers got paid for writing the messages you put inside the fortune cookies. But what happens when you take away the cookie? Writers need to find new ways to generate streams of revenue, which includes capitalizing on the thing that can’t be turned into a shareable digital file: the writer herself.

It’s time to think beyond the cookie:

What happens when the people with great ideas start organizing for themselves, start leading online tribes, start creating micro products and seminars and interactions that people are actually willing to pay for? It’s possible that someone like (nsfw) writer Susie Bright is never again going to make a good living just writing. Instead, she could make a great living coordinating, organizing, introducing and leading a thousand or ten thousand true fans. Each of them will gladly pay for the privilege, because the connections and insights and benefits she brings are worth it. She didn’t wake up this morning thinking of herself as a coach or a tour leader or a concierge or a leader, but that’s the niche available to her.

The Grateful Dead spent thirty years without a record label that understood them, thirty years being their own boss, leading their own tribe, connecting people who wanted to be there instead of shilling for their tiny share of record sales.

If you want to write the fortunes for the cookies that don’t exist any more, you may need to make your own organization, lead your own tribe and hire yourself.

3

Content also becomes a form of marketing, or rather unmarketing. When you’re online, blogging or microblogging, you are selling yourself (or not) through what you say and how you say it: through your content.

You are your content.

Your content is your ‘pull’: it has the power to invoke what Shama Kabani (The Zen of Social Media Marketing) calls her ACT Methodology: it Attracts people to your site, Converts them into consumers and Transforms them into fans (hopefully True Fans).

Which means your content needs to be so remarkable that it markets itself. It has to be what people genuinely need and want (even if they don’t know they want it yet). A writer (at least when online) shouldn’t have to ‘sell’ her work: she just has to make sure that the right readers can find it.

Which means she has to be everywhere: living in the niches and communities where her potential readers congregate and attracting them back to her website.

The sum of all this content – the accumulated impression the reader has of you, the mental thumbprint you leave behind – helps to naturally grow your brand, which over time becomes multi-faceted.

Tom Peters first introduced the idea of “Brand You” pointing out that a great personal brand transcends any company or organization you work for – or publisher who puts out your books.

A great brand gives you power and freedom.

Hugh MacLeod talks about building a global microbrand which he describes as

A small, tiny brand, that “sells” all over the world.

The Global Microbrand is nothing new; they’ve existed for a while, long before the internet was invented. Imagine a well-known author or painter, selling his work all over the world. Or a small whisky distillery in Scotland. Or a small cheese maker in rural France, whose produce is exported to Paris, London, Tokyo etc. Ditto with a violin maker in Italy. A classical guitar maker in Spain. Or a small English firm making $50,000 shotguns.

…. With it you are not beholden to one boss, one company, one customer, one local economy or even one industry. Your brand develops relationships in enough different places to where your permanent address becomes almost irrelevant.

Blogging and giving away your writing for free plays a crucial role in establishing your brand. Once you have people believing in your brand, and loyal to it, you have people who will pay for your work.

In his article in Writer’s Digest, Chris Guillebeau talks about the “three main models” for making money once you’ve attracted people to your ‘hub’ – your home base, usually your blog – and converted them. There’s the donation model, the advertising model, and the products and services model.

Chris is an excellent example of the latter.

I publish most of my writing for free, but enough people are willing to pay for the additional content that I can support myself well. I don’t lack for anything, and I’m building strong relationships with readers that will continue for a long time.

When writers grumble about “all the writing we’re now supposed to give away for free” I often think about my years in Silicon Valley and the work ethic I witnessed there.

To be an entrepreneur means you work your ass off. You sleep under your desk (when you sleep at all). You sacrifice your social life (or blend it with your working life so that the line between work and play disappears altogether). You understand that you have to build something that people actually want and are willing to pay money for, before you can expect to see profit. You learn to live with risk and ambiguity. You listen closely to the world so that you can recognize and stay open to opportunities.

And you do it because you’re one of the lucky few who discovered your passion in life. You do it because the process itself is what rewards you, and the prize – the freedom to own your time and live a creative and remarkable life – is worth it.

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the three key parts of your author platform framework

One of my goals is to learn about author platform through study, trial and error so that you don’t have to.

If your tactics involve the actual tools you use (blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), your strategy involves an overarching sense of how everything fits together: what Chris Brogan calls a simple presence framework or Michael Hyatt calls a social media strategy or many others refer to as a social media framework…and what you might come to think of as “that freaking platform thing.”

I’ve been playing around with my own sense of visualizing the different components of a social media framework/strategy and how you move through it.

Because you do have to move. If one of the first things you need to do is identify who your potential readers are, the second thing is to identify where they like to hang out…so you can go there and win them over. Your goal is to discover your Tribe — those people most likely to develop into your True Fans who will make a writing career possible — and gather them to you. And discover is an active verb: it doesn’t mean you can sit on your ass on your blog and expect magic to happen.

It also doesn’t mean you can spam people with invites to be your Facebook fan or push yourself at them in any way. It’s a slow and long-term process of seduction. The first issue is knowing who to seduce. Not everyone will respond to your charms, and that’s fine; you’re not interested in everyone. You want those with the magnificent taste to appreciate your work, your style, your voice, your content, all of which adds up to the experience of you online (otherwise known as your brand). Let it be a self-selected group. Show up, say interesting things, give people stuff that they actually want, be witty and attractive. Don’t be pushy. Pull them to you through the dazzling power of your charisma, your ability to engage and entertain (otherwise known as “offering value”).

Your strategy has three different layers. I am going to refer to them as your house, your downtown, and your suburbs.

YOUR HOUSE.

This is where you live on the Web and offer your books and services. It is your lair. It is where you wish to lure the hotties. Usually it’s your blog…preferably your self-hosted blog which no one owns but you.

You build and furnish your house with excellent content that is frequently updated and keeps people coming back. You must aim for quality and quantity. Your home then becomes the “meaningful social object” that people gather round, in what hopefully becomes a growing little community.

A blog is different from a novel, and the blogger plays a different role than a novelist. A blog becomes something that is co-created by you and the readers who extend your blog post and burnish it with their own insights through their comments. Comments increase the value of the blog post, which increases the “value of meaning” for the community, which increases the value for you. It’s like the circle of life. You enrich them, and they enrich you, which allows you to enrich them more, which enables them to enrich you more…and so on.

In other words, the more you give, the more you get (but you should not give just to get, because people see through that, and as soon as they think they’re being manipulated or marketed or sold to, they’re gone).

Give your face off.

So content creation leads to community which leads to collaboration which, hopefully, leads to collective action: your community supports your work, buys your books, and creates that awesome white magic known as “word-of-mouth”.

Yes, it’s easier said than done. And yes, it takes the kind of time that nobody has (I am writing this at 3 am while my kids sleep next door and downstairs). Which is why you have to genuinely want to do this. Passion finds a way.

YOUR DOWNTOWN

These are the places, the microsites or social networking sites, that are like the favorite cafes and bars where you go all the time. You become a regular and strike up conversations with the other regulars and soon everybody knows your name (okay, maybe not everybody…)

You go to these places to discover new potential tribe members and deepen connections with existing ones. Chris Brogan refers to these places as “outposts” and Jon Dale calls them “embassies”. (My downtown, for example, is my Twitter and Facebook and Livejournal). If people like you enough, are intrigued by you, and curious to know more about you, they’ll click on a link that you thoughtfully and conveniently provide in your profile that takes them to your house. If they really like you, they’ll keep going back to your house, and maybe bring a friend or two. They might even crash on your couch.

YOUR SUBURBS

These are the places on the outer edges of your involvement: you might not be a fully participating member, but you show up now and then and look around and listen to what’s going on.

You set up profiles.

These profiles do two things: they allow other people to stumble across you, and they allow you to join in on conversations you might discover while you’re there, or follow from another site. Some of these suburban areas might eventually get incorporated into your downtown (for example, I aspire to be more active on Goodreads and Youtube).

Evolving and developing a social media strategy allows you to be there before the sale: when your book comes out, you’ll have established enough of a (hopefully) influential and trusted presence that people will be willing to buy it. In its crudest definition, an “author platform” is the number of people willing to buy your book at any given time. It doesn’t happen overnight, or in a month, or in three months (Seth Godin puts the process at three years). It involves enthusiasm, exploration, and a hell of a lot of listening, which is so important it deserves its own blog post.

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the quality that makes your stories (and you) go viral

What makes a story go viral? In his blog post The Elements of Awe (check it out) Donald Maass draws your attention to a piece in the New York Times that describes how sociologists “have been studying data provided by The New York Times showing which of the paper’s articles are the most often e-mailed”.

Says Maass:

Their conclusions have some relevance for fiction writers because they reveal what it is about stories that probably generate word of mouth.

In his post (which promises to be the first of a very interesting series), Maass looks at one quality in particular — emotion — and how writers can (and can’t) invoke that in their fiction.

I think this study has relevance for writers in another way as well: building ‘author platform’ (particularly when it comes to blogging).

The articles that seem to generate the most word-of-mouth are, quite literally, awesome.

As in: they inspire a sense of awe.

The sociologists define this quality as an “emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self.” In order for a story to achieve this status of awesomeness, its scale must be “large” and it must “force the reader to view the world in a different way.”

“It involves the opening and broadening of the mind,” write Dr. Berger and Dr. Milkman, who is a behavioral economist at Wharton.

“Seeing the Grand Canyon, standing in front of a beautiful piece of art, hearing a grand theory or listening to a beautiful symphony may all inspire awe. So may the revelation of something profound and important in something you may have once seen as ordinary or routine, or seeing a causal connection between important things and seemingly remote causes.”

What motivates people to share these stories?

“Emotion in general leads to transmission, and awe is quite a strong emotion,” he said. “If I’ve just read this story that changes the way I understand the world and myself, I want to talk to others about what it means. I want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe. If you read the article and feel the same emotion, it will bring us closer together.”

So people want to be moved and inspired. They want to feel part of something bigger than themselves. They want to connect. If you can find ways of engaging those desires, you can capture — and maintain — their attention.

What’s more, you can generate some private awesomeness for yourself…if you can reframe the idea of ‘author platform’ to mean more than the selling of books.

The challenge is to make your author platform part of a much larger vision that includes — but is possibly not limited to — your creative work. To find within your platform a cause and a message.

Writer, traveler and entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau doesn’t blog just to promote himself or his upcoming book. He’s waging a war against conformity. His landing page doesn’t hit you with a press release or a sales pitch, but an invitation to join what he calls “a small army of remarkable people”: If you’re dissatisfied with conventional beliefs and want to do something remarkable with your life, I’d love to welcome you to the revolution. This is more than clever copy; it’s a sincere and passionate declaration, and everything he does — his “brand” — reflects his desire to teach others how to lead an unconventional life through instruction and example.

Chris became a rockstar blogger with a book deal in a relatively short time.

But even when he started out, he was never just a dude with a blog. He was a dude with something to say and a message to spread (and an excellent work ethic). People respond to him — and will buy his book as soon as it comes out, just as I plan to — because he stimulates and inspires.

He connects you to something bigger than yourself. He provides not just value, but vision.

Granted, Chris doesn’t write fiction. But if you take a close look at your fiction — and yourself — and think about the kinds of books you plan to write in the future, you will identify recurring themes and obsessions. Every writer has them.

From those, you can draw the answers to some different kinds of questions. In your wildest dreams, what kind of impact do you want your fiction to have on the world? Who do you most want to reach? Who are you writing for, and why?

Take these answers and see if you can organize them into your own personal mission statement. Make sure it resonates with who you are at the core (you’ll know this if it excites and galvanizes you). Suddenly writing is no longer about — or just about — getting published. It’s about having an impact, enriching lives, making change. Your author platform is no longer about — or just about — selling books. It’s about creating your own “small army of remarkable people” to help you share and spread your message (as well as buy your books).

Yes, it sounds ambitious, perhaps grandiose. But socialmedia works when you have something to say, a message that goes beyond ‘buy my books’. Small dreams, small words, small messages won’t get you anywhere. Think awesomeness. Think of ways to make people part of that. In return, they could make you a rockstar.

If you could create a social movement with your writing, what kind of social movement would it be?

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online audience development “crucial” to your future as a writer: not to worry about it is “bad advice”

In her blog, one writer urges other aspiring writers not to worry about establishing an online presence or building an author platform until they actually have a book to sell.

Jane Friedman, who is the “community director” for the Writer’s Digest brand (the online community, the magazine, the books), thought it was so important to contradict this advice that she dedicated an entire blog post to it.

Jane doesn’t use the term ‘author platform’ — and this is refreshing — but ‘audience development’. I’m not sure this term is entirely accurate, since ‘audience’ implies a passive group of people who do nothing but receive what you give them. Social media has forever changed this, since readers now have the ability, and the expectation, to connect with writers online, give feedback, comment on their blog posts, etc. Instead of being passive, readers interact, contribute, and participate.

So you’re not just developing an audience; you’re developing a community that grows up around your work — and you.

In their new website, publishing giant Simon & Schuster dedicates an entire section to teaching writers about social media, blogs and blogging, videos and podcasts. Their message is clear: we expect you to do this. we need you to do this. you need to do this.

Because we’re living in the age of the long tail.

Which means that a very small number of books will explode into massive, mega-selling entities….and the rest will appeal to niche audiences. To survive, you need to dominate your niche…or, even better, invent your own. Even if you do want to ‘write for the market’, the safer idea is to invent your own market. You can do this through differentiating yourself with a distinct style and point of view, becoming such a remarkable writer that they can’t ignore you and developing your audience through a series of consistent actions over time.

But do you have to do it before you get published?

In the aforementioned blog post, the aspiring writer says:

After you sell a book it generally takes a year for it to be published. For the sake of argument let’s say your book only takes six months to get sold and published. That’s still plenty of time to attend conferences, start a blog, and hit Twitter and Facebook every day if that’s what you want to do.

Oh, no. No no no. It takes way longer than that (remember, you’re not just bouncing around, you’re growing a community). Accomplished speaker and bestselling author Seth Godin says the best time to start promoting a book is three years before it comes out. When you submit a manuscript to an agent or an editor, they want to know that the process is in progress. They want to hear: “I have a blog that has x number of subscribers and gets x number of unique visits a day; between my blog, Twitter, Facebook and Friendfeed, I reach so many thousands of people per day, and that number keeps growing.”

You also need to give yourself time to climb the learning curve. It’s not enough to learn how to get on Facebook or Twitter, or how to set up a blog; you need to learn how to make your chosen forms of social media work for you, and how to leverage them off each other. This involves figuring out your own special cocktail of social media sites that play to your strengths (blogging and tweeting? engaging with people in various forums? podcasting? making videos?) and fit your personality.

You need to play around and experiment. You need to make some mistakes and have a few failures.

You need to figure out how to incorporate social media into your daily life in a way that you can live with. In a way that complements and helps to develop your creative life.

If you resent the time you have to spend online, it will show. You’ll put in a half-assed effort, or you’ll move around with an obvious agenda, and this will turn people off. In social media, passion, consistency and authenticity rule the day. Without passion, you won’t be able to update your blog as often as you need to; without authenticity, people won’t trust you; without trust, you won’t have influence…and influence is the cold hard cash of the Web.

Here’s the thing. An online author platform is about creating cool content and connecting with people. Does that really sound so horrible? Does that sound like a waste of time?

A blog can be the ultimate teaching tool — not just for your readers, but for you. Blog not just what you know about, but what you want to know about. Blogging about a particular topic forces you to read and research it, not just to keep up with the conversation but to add to it…and maybe lead it (at least sometimes).

Remember, you’re not bombarding the masses; you’re seeking to connect with people who are like you, who care about the things you care about, who want to read about the things you write about. Conversing with them, building a community with them — discovering your tribe members and calling them to you — can be stimulating, thought-provoking, and deeply rewarding in and of itself. It can be an invaluable source of support and encouragement. It can be a process of self-discovery.

Who knows — you might start out to sell a few books and end up building your own digital empire and/or leading a social movement.

The middlemen, the gatekeepers, are disappearing. The channels of distribution are blown wide open. You are in direct contact with your audience. Give them love, and they’ll love you back. And more.

What are the elements of social media that appeal to you? How can you use them not just to develop your audience, but deepen your abilities as an artist? How can you use social media to actually help you with the project you’re developing right now?

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