2016 Top Ten Posts

“[Sparkler]”
Photo courtesy of Evan Long via Creative Commons

Personally, I won’t be sorry to see 2016 go. Good riddance, I say. Rather than dwell on all the bad news from the past year, though, I thought I would list my top ten articles instead. Here’s to a better 2017!

 

 

 

Damn You, Netflix—Another Distracted Writer
Fiction and Profanity—F-Bombs Away!
Free Fiction—Something to Hold
Free Fiction—The Traveler’s Tale
Getting Away with Murder
How to Write Better Dialogue ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Style
I Used to Write Poetry
Pulp or Poet?
What in the World Is “Family Fiction”?
Writers, Your Cell Phone Is out to Get You!

And if these aren’t enough to put you in a better mood, check out this Bruce Willis mashup. Seriously, the man just won’t die!

Writers, Start Building Your Brand Early!

Photo Courtesy of Tony Harrison via Creative Commons
[Race Car]One of the great challenges for an indie author is dividing time between actual writing and marketing. And I would argue that the same goes for writers who are as yet unpublished. Sometimes, I like to think about giants like Joyce, Fitzgerald and Nabokov. How did those guys do it? Most likely, not at all—or very little. The work spoke for itself. But, hey, we’re talking about us. What are we supposed to do?

If I had to pick one person from history to travel forward in time and demonstrate how it’s done, it would have to be Mark Twain. That guy knew brand, and I’m sure he would do very well using Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Can you imagine? Here are a few of his most famous quotes. And look—they fit so nicely into 140 characters!

All right, then, I’ll go to hell.
I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.
There are lies, damned lies and statistics.

Truman Capote was another famous author who truly understood brand. How about this tweetable quote:

Fame is only good for one thing—they will cash your check in a small town.

Getting It Right
Okay, back to Twain. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the first thing he did was to fix his name. Mark Twain has a nice resonance, doesn’t it? It’s easy to remember and it fits nicely on a book cover. I’m not sure that’s what he was going for, but it certainly turned out well for him. Stephen King is another one. And he was lucky enough to come into the world with that moniker. Yay, Steve!

We all know Mark Twain as a writer, humorist, traveler, public speaker and general troublemaker. He had an amazing wit, and could really lay into someone around topics he was passionate about. I don’t know that he had a publicist, but it seems to me he was very conscious of his image—I don’t believe they called it “brand” in those days. We are all familiar with the wild shock of white hair, the white linen suit and the ever-present cigar. In my opinion, Mark Twain was a marketing genius.

Shy Will Get You Bupkes
I’ve met many writers over the years, and I will tell you that most are not comfortable in the spotlight. They are card-carrying introverts who love working behind the scenes, writing great stories which—if they’re lucky—get turned into movies.

If you ask my wife, she will tell you that I am an extrovert. I like being out and about, meeting people and engaging in interesting discussions. That’s just me. But I don’t think I would be comfortable being on the talk show circuit, delivering pithy one-liners in front of a studio audience. I’m better in small groups.

Which leads me to Brand. Many of the more seasoned authors out there know all about this. But there are those like you who are just getting started—who want to understand what it takes to not only write well but market well. As an aside, I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’m happy to share what I know.

What is Brand Anyway?
Brand is rather a hard thing to define. I’ll use this definition from Merriam-Webster:

A class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer.

Now let’s modify the definition to apply to authors:

A collection of writings identified by name as the product of a single author.

How about James Patterson? You have only to utter his name, and book titles and scenes play out in your head. Never mind that he has a writer factory churning out books, he definitely gets brand, my friend.

When you do it right, here is what happens. Not only is your name recognizable but the name itself becomes embedded in the culture on a global scale. Kind of like Kleenex. How many people say, “Can you hand me a tissue?” More often it’s, “Have you got a Kleenex?” The same can be said for Xerox and Coke.

There’s a huge responsibility that comes with this identification, though. Call me crazy but I think the Kleenex Corporation wants to ensure that when you think of their products, you picture nice, soft little squares of heaven—scented and unscented—that will make you feel better, especially when you have a cold.

Getting back to authors. When you think of horror, what is the first name that comes to mind? Stephen King, right? Of course. He has spent decades building his brand. His name is synonymous with horror. Can we all hope to achieve that kind of brand recognition? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a nice living. People who love Stephen King don’t just read him. They read H. P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub and many others. It’s a huge playground.

Being Vigilant 24×7
So what does building your brand mean? For me, it’s awareness. I try to be thoughtful about everything I post. I don’t always succeed. But being aware is important because what gets out into the Internet stays forever. So no drunk tweeting, no profanity and no mean-spirited troll attacks on others. A good general rule is to always take the high road.

Linking your digital assets is important as well. There should be a synergy among the various digital destinations you have out there. Make sure your bio and headshot are uniform across the various social media sites. And use hyperlinks to cross-reference the other sites. This also helps with SEO, which is another topic entirely.

Here’s a quick tip to get you started. Want to know what not to do on Twitter? Don’t create a Twitter account, leave the default image and expect to get followers. I mean, seriously? Who in the world is going to follow an egg? Also don’t create some arcane Twitter handle with no description. People want to know something about you. Tell them. Remember, you are building your brand, and it’s supposed to stand out from everything else out there. More importantly, it’s supposed to mean something.

I’ll leave you with this post by Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia.com, “Branding for Writers: An Essential Step to Building Your Author Platform.” In it, he states:

This may sound basic, but many writers have a hard time embracing [their] identity. They see themselves as a writer only after the definitions of their day job, role in their family, etc. When speaking about your work, own that identity of being a writer.

Can’t get any clearer than that. You can write and publish all you want, but if you don’t pay attention to your brand you will have a tough time convincing people to buy your books. Best of luck in all your endeavors.

And Now A Word About Professionalism

Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Haslam via Creative Commons
[Pro Yo Buff Professional Volleyball]Well, kiddies, it’s almost time for Dead Is All You Get: Book Two of THE DEAD SERIES to go live. And it’s been a journey, let me tell you. Recently, I did a cover reveal, signaling the approaching publishing date. Now, we’re really close. I’m getting the manuscript back from the proofreader and, once the book is formatted by the amazing and inimitable JW Manus, it’s saving humanity one book at a time. Okay, that’s overstated. But, hey, I’m excited!

In the meantime, I wanted to talk a little about the publishing process from the point-of-view of a moderately experienced indie author. Because I write, I read. A lot. And I have to say that indie publishing is a blessing and a curse. First, let’s talk about the blessing part.

Amazon and the Masses
Like Gutenberg, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others have brought publishing to the masses. If you’ve paid any attention to the debate raging now between Amazon and Hachette, you’ll understand that this is a pretty big deal. No longer must authors be at the mercy of powerful literary agents and publishers. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can publish a book. Anyone.

This new reality has brought about a titanic transformation of publishing—with the reader at the center. New voices—authors who for the most part would never have gotten a shot—are now able to be read. All good stuff. But, as in most things in life, there’s a downside.

Up to Our Necks in Dreck
It’s precisely because anyone can hit the “Publish” button that there’s a lot of garbage out there. I’m talking bad writing, bad covers, no editing and no formatting. So what does this mean for the reader? Well, they have to wade through the dreck to get to the good stuff. And with way more than a million titles, that’s not easy. “What about reviews?” you say. Ever heard of sock puppets?

The major publishers have put forth this argument for years—implying that the only way to get your hands on quality books is to purchase them from The Big Five. Well, I’m here to tell you that this is a load of crap. Don’t believe me? Check out Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings site sometime and you’ll find that indie publishing is growing at a pace that’s alarming to The Big Five.

But enough of this. Let’s talk about making your indie book the best it can be.

The Cover Matters
Whether or not you like my book cover, it’s professional. I not only hired an artist to create it, but I used a professional cover designer. As many others have said ad nauseam, at least when it comes to eBooks, you can judge a book by its cover. And if the thing is rubbish, readers can probably assume the book is as well.

Editors Matter
You cannot hope to build an audience without entrusting your book to a professional editor and proofreader (often not the same person). Editors see things you don’t—gaps in logic, klunky language and bad grammar, to name a few. And a proofreader sees things editors don’t—missing commas, extra spaces after periods, etc.

Again, you may find that you don’t care for THE DEAD SERIES—I hope you do, though—but it’s professional. Unfortunately, typos will always make their way through. And I can tell you that I’ve found plenty of them in books from The Big Five. Nothing against these guys. It’s because we’re human—we miss things. What’s nice about eBooks is, you can easily fix the typo and republish.

Formatting Matters
I’m talking strictly about eBooks here. Yes, you can leave it to the Smashwords Meatgrinder to handle the formatting. Mark Coker has done an amazing job with that program, doing his best to automate the process of self-publishing. But it’s still a program. I prefer to work with a human.

The point is, don’t just upload your Microsoft Word document to KDP and hope for the best. You’ll be disappointed—and so will your readers.

A Good Synopsis Matters
When I say “synopsis,” I am also referring to the book blurb that appears under your book’s title on Amazon. It should be as professional as your book. And if you don’t know how to write an effective one, seek the help of other writers. You won’t be sorry.

Brand Matters
So what am I really talking about? Brand. This is all about your brand, people. Get the book wrong and readers will be done with you. And it will be hard to get them back. And I didn’t mean to imply that doing all of the above is cheap—it’s not. But if you’re serious about your work, you must do everything you can to produce a professional-looking product.

Of course, I am assuming that your writing rocks. That’s a given. All the more reason you should give it the respect it deserves.

Macy’s or Wal-Mart—Which Are You?

By Khalid Muhammad

[Khalid Muhammad]In this second in an occasional series, Khalid Muhammad, author of Agency Rules—Never an Easy Day at the Office, talks about something as important as writing your book—marketing it. Brand is crucial to an author’s success, and so is how you price your book. So who do you want to be?

Macy’s or Wal-Mart—which are you?

There is a reason that marketers get paid the big bucks—we know how to position and market your product for the highest return. There is also a reason that 99% of us hate to compete based on price—because the next guy that comes along at 10 cents cheaper is going to steal our customer. That is capitalism at its finest. It doesn’t matter if the product is better or not, if the price fits, the consumer will buy.

Why do they buy? Because you haven’t given them a reason to stay with your product, in this case your book. And therein lies the rub …

When we spend months writing our book, detached from family, losing sleep, and inhaling more caffeine and nicotine than our bodies know what to do with, we are doing it because we have a story to tell. We want the readers to be absorbed, engaged and interwoven into the words that we put on the page. We want them to escape into the lands that we create, feel the emotions of our characters, and savor the experience until our next book comes to market. So why do we price our books so low that real readers don’t touch them?

For most authors, they never think of the marketing side because they are too busy working on writing the actual book, which is much more important, nor do they have the capital to go out and hire someone to do the marketing for them. So they take on the task and find themselves competing for the Wal-Mart customer rather than catering to the Macy’s loyalists. Let’s stop for a second and talk about what that means.

I am a big fan of Wal-Mart. It’s a great place to shop, and wonderful people work there, but we all need to be clear—we don’t shop there because of the great quality, we shop there for the price. Because Wal-Mart buys in indecent quantity, they are able to offer a significantly lower price to the consumer so they don’t need to worry about quality. They just need to keep the shelves full. Now, look at Macy’s. They don’t care about price. They focus on quality and the experience of the consumer. The Macy’s shopper doesn’t spend their time waiting for the flyer, they just go and buy. Price is not the decision point for them, it’s quality and experience. So, you have to ask yourself, which one are you? Are you a price point or do you give the reader a fantastic experience? That’s a tough question because it affects your entire marketing strategy, book positioning, and sadly, your book sales. So let’s ask the question.

As an author, do you deliver a fantastic experience to the reader? Do you want to have loyal readers that send you emails, post on your Facebook page and hound you on twitter wanting to know when your next book will be out? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then you need to think about the experience and forget the price.

Now, I’m not saying that you should jump your price to over $8 an e-book like the traditionally published authors, because you don’t carry the same expenses nor do you have a publisher that is hungry to generate obscene revenue from your hard work. This is your baby. This is your money and only you know how best to price it, so price it that way.

I know there are a bunch of authors out there who believe the best way to sell their books is to drop to a .99 price. But can I ask you a question—what do you think when you walk into a dollar store? Are you there because you want the best quality or are you there because you want to get some inexpensive things? Yeah, I thought so. The same applies to when you give something away for free. You got something for nothing, so what is it really worth to you? I should be clear this does not apply to the books you give away for reviews because that is also a marketing activity and good reviews sell books. But if the reviewer sees that the price of the book is below the price of a McDonald’s meal, they don’t take it with much value.

So I leave you this week with this question—as an author, are you Wal-Mart or Macy’s?

[Agency Rules Cover]

eBook
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

About the Author
When people talk about Khalid Muhammad, they talk about an entrepreneur who has helped others build their dreams and businesses. They talk about a teacher, who is dedicated to his students, both inside and outside the classroom, and they return the dedication tenfold. Now, they talk about the author, who has written a fast-paced, action-packed spy thriller about Pakistan, the politics, the Army and terrorism.

Born in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, educated and raised in the United States, Khalid returned to Pakistan almost 17 years ago and fell in love with his country.

You can find more information about Khalid and his novel at agencyrules.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.

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