Friday, December 7, 2012

What Writers, Editors, and Publishers Should Worry About

This recent article on tablet readers got me thinking about the publishing/media industry and writers in general, especially what we should all be worried about when we're writing our manuscripts, making our print and digital products, and then trying to sell them. My first thoughts were kind of wide-ranging and complicated, but then, it occurred to me that this is really simple stuff: Deliver what your audience wants and needs.

A former F&W Publications VP by the name of David Lewis used to be huge into customer surveys and focus groups, and here's why: He was always wary of us trying to tell customers what they want, instead of the other way around. Even though, many of us were the target audience, he wanted to avoid having two or three decision makers speak for the entire group.

Of course, I know there are times when customers don't know they want something, or they can't imagine something ever existing. For instance, it wasn't long ago that I'd have scoffed at the idea of owning a phone that allowed me to take (and store) images and video while checking e-mail, surfing the Internet, playing video games, and whatever else my phone can do. That said, all content doesn't have to be a smartphone.

Audience Needs
Just because readers prefer to consume their novels, magazines, and how-to books on Kindles, Nooks, etc., it doesn't mean they want every other word to link to some subplot, back story, or e-commerce page.  Often times, readers just want to read.

This doesn't mean the bells and whistles are meaningless, but most people would rather own an ugly car that works over a beautiful car that doesn't start. If you can make something beautiful and interactive, that's great. Just don't compromise the functionality of what your audience really wants: in this case, excellent content.

Another issue brought up in this article was how products are discovered in the storefronts. Hearst President David Carey basically says that products have to land in the upper carousel of the storefront to sell well. I'm sure most sales on Amazon have to rank well too. So, does that mean all publishers and writers are held at the mercy of Apple, Amazon, and other booksellers?

Umm, it shouldn't. This merely underscores how important it is for publishers and writers to have a direct line to their audience. It underscores the importance of an author platform. Publishers and writers can't just call it a day after a book gets in the bookstores; they have to shine a spotlight on their creations.

While fulfilling an audience's needs should always be priority one, working on discoverability (and yes, I know it's not a real word) is priority one-A.

As I mentioned above, discoverability should be a close second priority for writers, editors, and publishers--if they want to sell books. But it's one thing to talk about promotion, and anyone can just start throwing up links like crazy after a book is published. That doesn't mean anyone is going to pay attention. No, what writers, editors, and publishers need is to create platforms and make meaningful connections with their target audience and the influencers of their target audience.

This means you connect with bloggers, program directors, and editors of magazines and websites related to your writing and that in turn connect with your target audience. These are the gatekeepers to your target audience (your potential readers and book buyers).

For writers, editors, and publishers to find the most success in the future, it is imperative that they work to combine these three elements. They need to figure out what their audience needs and then deliver it in a way that their target audience knows that it exists and that it is exactly what they want. If the content really is great, this is the recipe that creates bestselling products and earns writers, editors, and publishers adoring fans, which ultimately leads to more fun projects in the future.


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Lara Schiffbauer said...

I pretty much agree with everything you said. At this point in my writing life (still can't call it a career!) the discoverability is what concerns me.

My social media reach, while better, still remains limited,especially when compared to some. I want to connect with potential readers, but trying to find them is kind of hard.

Maybe it will be easier when I actually have a book out there for them to read. But, it really is a chicken and egg kind of question - can you cultivate connections eith potential readers before you have a book out (so someone will buy your book), or do you have to have a book out so you can develop connections with readers. Sigh...

Amanda Socci said...

Very interesting as always. Good perspectives Rober, thank you. I like the idea of focus groups in order to determine the true needs of the audience that is purchasing the books. I also agree that not every single publication must be converted into e-formats to satisfy the growing number of kindle, nook, tablet readers.

Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but I still prefer a print book and magazine over the same in e-format. I do not have perfect vision to begin with, so adding add'l e-books to my repertoire is not even within my line of thinking.

You've also correctly identified the real issue within the debate of print vs. e-book format, and that is the necessity of having an author format. I'm sure the rest of my April PLatform Challenger colleagues will agree with me on this, but after having participated in your April 2012 challenge, I think all of us have been transformed in our professional lives. We not only understand the importance of having an author platform, but we actually live it and are working towards improving it every day. All thanks to you.

Craig said...

Interesting post. The industry is definitely in transition, and as a reader I'm already shying away from self-published work that isn't already popular, even when the price is super low. Why? Super low quality. Often unreadable. I also don't see how these writers can engage in the self-promotion required to get a following...I don't mind blogging and trying to get people to follow my blog, but I'm going to have a hard time with all the "please my book stuff" I'll have to do if I ever decide to self-publish. Painful. However, it does seem to be the future. And maybe the future is always painful to those of us who thought the past wasn't so bad.

Ernie J. Zelinski said...

Great article:

Fact is, social media is not even necessary to promote a book, even though so-called social media experts will be in total denial about this.

I am very successful as a self-published author. I have been in this game since 1989 (a true pioneer and not like a lot of the impostors out there) and making decent money at it ever since my first book was self-published.

My "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free" will sell about 9,000 copies on Amazon in its print edition this year. In fact, this title will likely sell the most copies this year in its print edition since it was first self-published in 2004. It has already sold a total of 15,000 copies and should reach 17,000 copies by the end of the year. (This proves that people who say "print is dead" are either lying of just plain brain dead).

Yet my three Kindle titles have only sold 12 copies this month.
Why does my How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free sell so well? Because I don't rely on social media.

As marketing guru John Reese (who was the first person ever to make $1 million dollars in one day marketing on the Internet) says, social media is vastly overrated.
I notice that true best-selling authors like Brendon Burchard, whose "The Charge" has sold 80,000 copies in its print edition in the last 8 months, don't rely on social media. They have much better and more creative ways to sell books. So do I.

I am amazed at the lack of true creativity and ingenuity in this world. People use the word "creativity" because it sounds nice. They have no sense of the meaning of the word, however. They certainly don't show it in their actions.

Years ago I cut copies of one of my books in half and mailed either the top half or the bottom half of to corporations with a creative letter that said if they wanted to purchase the book, they had to purchase a minimum of 10. This promotion led to revenues of over $15,000.

I can give several more examples of my own "unique" creative book-marketing tactics that I have used to have my books sell over 750,000 copies worldwide but I won't simply because consultants such as Brendon Burchard and Joe Polish charge up to $3,500 an hour for their consulting and coaching.

Here is a quotation about creativity that also applies to creativity in book marketing:

"What Is Your WOW Factor?
This applies to both the service
that you provide to the world
and the way you market it.
Make it edgy, make it snappy,
and make it punchy.
Even make it raunchy — but
make it different!
Real different!"
— from "Life's Secret Handbook"

In short, a great author platform does not require any social media at all. You don't heve to be on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to be more successful than 99.9 perent of authors regardless of what social media and book marketing experts tell you.

As John Reese said, "RSS, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, BLAH BLAH BLAH. Yes, those methods can generate leads. Yes, those methods can generate some sales. But time and time again little old email marketing kicks their butts — by
a long shot"

Ernie J. Zelinski
International Best-Selling Author
"Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free"
Author of the Bestseller "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free"
(Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
and the International Bestseller "The Joy of Not Working'
(Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Ernie!

I believe in treating your career just as creatively as your writing (if not more).