Is there anything better than leaving the library with a big ol’ stack of reading material? Free books, so magical! As a reader, I love the library. As an author, I was unsure how to get my book into the system. I knew I wanted to make it available to check out, but how?
In July, I attended a presentation at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association conference that answered this question for me! Different libraries have slightly different ways of doing things, but there are basically two tracks.
1. Print books: First, check your library’s website. Many allow you to request to add a book to the catalog. For instance, I went into the Seattle Public Library system and requested that Moonburner be added. I fessed up that I was the author, and let them know that I thought that family and friends in the area would appreciate being able to access the book through the library system. Voila! They ordered four copies.
Alternately, your library might have a staff-person who handles acquisitions. If this is the case, check on the website or give them a call to see who you should send your request to, and what materials they would like. For instance, I sent the King County Library System a request to add my book, which included the pertinent details (title, publisher, publication date, genre, ISBN, distributor), sell sheet, and links to a few professional reviews. That was all it took for the system to order five copies to add to the collection. Woot!
Libraries will be much more likely to add your book if you are distributed through one of the main distributors (Ingram or Baker & Taylor) and if you have at least one review from a trade publication like Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, or Publisher’s Weekly. They rely on these reviews to know that your book is worth adding, so if you can snag at least one and include it with your materials, it will make a big difference.
You might think it will just be easier to donate a few copies of your book. Not so! It turns out that these folks don’t really want you to donate your book. Especially if you qualify under the criteria I just mentioned, they want to buy it! It’s much easier for them to process. If you are self-published, reach out to the acquistions folks before you donate to see how to make their life easier. They might want particular format or materials from you.
2. eBooks: What about eBooks? There are two main systems libraries are using to bring ebooks to their patrons. The first is Overdrive, the second is Self-e. Overdrive is definitely the bigger player. Getting into Overdrive is largely up to your publisher. However, if you self-publish through Smashwords, you may be able to get into this system thanks to a recent partnership. Check out this article for more info.
Some libraries, like the King County Library System here in Seattle, also supply patrons access to a service called Self-e (you may also see it called BiblioBoard on the library website). Self-e has different state collections that allow users in those states to access eBooks. If you upload your book to Self-e (it’s super easy) readers in your state can borrow as many copies of your book as they want. Unlike Overdrive, that gives a library a license for one copy (and if the copy is checked out, everyone else has to wait in the hold line), Self-e allows an unlimited number of readers to borrow your book at the same time. So, if there is a lot of demand, your readers won’t have to wait!
Here are some other great articles detailing how to get your books into libraries:
The Book Designer
While we’re on the subject of libraries, did you know that Saturday, October 8 is Indie Author Day? Libraries all across the country will be hosting author events featuring local indie authors! I will be at the King County Service Center at 960 Newport Way NW, Issaquah, WA 98027, from 10-3, along with other awesome local authors! Get all the details here.
Featured image by Thomas Hawk, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/
Moonburner has been out for a little over a month now, and I thought it was time to do a round-up post summarizing a few of my book launch efforts. Over the last month, a lot of friends have asked me: “How do you get people to read your book?” That question makes me chuckle. Because you see, there’s the rub. It’s not easy!
There are a LOT of books out there. A lot of crappy ones, but a lot of great ones, too. People are busy. They may only have time to read one book in a month (many people don’t even have that much time). So how do you get your book to stand out from the crowd?
Well, I don’t have any magic answers, but I’ve done a lot of research, and it seems that a combination approach works best.
I based my launch off of the program Launch a Bestseller, by Tim Grahl, and the Book Launch Toolkit, by Joel Friedlander and Kimberly Grabas. Both of these were super helpful in giving me the lay of the land in what types of efforts I should even be making to launch my book!
Here’s what I focused on:
- Influencer outreach
Tim’s Launch a Bestseller course talked a lot about influencer outreach. Influencers are people within the publishing industry or blog-o-sphere who have an audience you want to reach. Tim recommended classifying these people into three tiers, which helps you allocate your time. Tier 1s individuals are the folks with the mailing list you would KILL for. While you might spend 10 hours on a guest course for a Tier 1 person, you might only be willing to write a 1 hour guest post for a Tier 2. For a Tier 3, all you’ll do is send them the book to review. Since your time is finite, this helps you spend your time on those influencers who have the best chance of selling a lot of books for you.
For me, I spent a lot of time identifying BookTubers, bloggers, and individuals with some minor celebrity that I know. I reached out especially to a LOT of book bloggers. And for the most part, because these were essentially cold calls, I didn’t hear much back.
My Number 1 goal for my next launch is to spend the interim time developing some relationship with well-respected book bloggers. Following them, commenting, being more engaged and supportive of their efforts. This is in the hope that when I approach them next time, they will recognize me and be more inclined to give my book a chance.
2. Reviewer outreach
I also did some direct reviewer outreach, based on a webinar that Tim Grahl did a few years back (Tim’s my go-to book launch guy, obviously)! The gist of it was: Reach out to 75 people to ask them if they’ll review your book and put up a review on the day it launches. 50 will say yes, and 25 will actually put up the review. This way, you can leap out of the gate with a respectable number of reviews. This was a great exercise and got some more friends and family invested in my launch. It didn’t all go to plan, because Amazon mysteriously decided to release my book 5 days before the launch date, screwing up the timing of things, but it was still effective in getting a good number of reviews up there early on.
My publisher also put my book up on Netgalley, which I would totally recommend. Netgalley is a site where book reviewers can download a free copy in exchange for a review. It was ridiculously easy to get almost 100 people to download it (rather than my time-consuming individual emails). If you have the money to spend on it, I would say Netgalley is 100% worth it.
3. Blog tour
I am doing a 20 stop blog tour through Chapter by Chapter, which starts July 18 and runs for two weeks. I will be doing a giveaway as part of the blog tour, as well as author interviews, guest posts, and reviews. This is another way to get in front of new audiences, and while I can’t speak to the results yet, I am optimistic that it will be very helpful. Again, I spent hours and hours trying to get bloggers to review my book with no success, and by paying $50 to a well-respected tour organizer, I ended up with 20 stops with no more trouble than signing up on their website. Again, my take-away from this (like Netgalley) is that some well-placed investments will save you a SIGNIFICANT amount of time and energy.
4. Email Campaign
This is another approach from the Launch a Bestseller course, and due to time constraints, I didn’t do much here. The idea is that you create a pre-order incentive, like some free chapters, or a free resource to accompany your book. You tell your email list that if they pre-order the book, they get the freebie. This way, people are incentivized to actually buy your book, instead of just putting it on the To Read shelf on Goodreads. And, your book will have a nice spike on its first day, and hopefully show up on some of the Amazon ranking lists and such.
I had been busy writing a prequel novella to give to my email list as an opt-in incentive, and my email list is still fairly new, so I wanted to build some loyalty before I started selling too hard to them. I ended up just giving away the novella for free to those on the list on the day of the launch. For my next book, I will create some deleted chapters or perhaps a map of the world to give away for free if you buy the book.
Anyway, I think this is a great approach, I just didn’t quite have my act together to take advantage of it this time around!
5. Social media
This is one of the more obvious launch strategies. Share, share, share on your social media sites! Build some buzz. And ask your followers and friends to share with their friends, too. Tim suggests in his course that you make it easy for people by creating up some preset Tweets, images that can be pinned, etc., so all your followers have to do to share is click a button.
These are the main approaches I took for my launch. There are some other things I did, like hosting a book launch party (so fun), paying for a professional Kirkus Review, and doing a lot of guest posting and interviews on other blogs. My publisher also set up a press release and sent out ARCs for me to reviewers I identified. These are just a few of many types of efforts to take to launch your book.
So what will I do differently next time?
First, I will give myself a longer lead time. I gave myself two months for the launch, but it really wasn’t enough time. The ARC copies of Moonburner ended up going out only three weeks before launch, which wasn’t enough time for the reviewers who had said yes to read and post around the launch date.
Second, I will focus on building up my email list, and run a pre-order campaign with a pre-order incentive.
Third, I will focus this year on connecting with some popular book bloggers and other authors whose work is similar to mine. One thing Tim mentioned in one of the interviews I listened to illustrated why connecting with influencers, rather than individual readers, is so beneficial (of course, you still want to connect with readers!) You could spend the time it takes to connect with 100 readers, or you could connect with one influencer who could influence 100 of their followers to read your book. Clearly, the second option is vastly more efficient, and for a busy author, time is at a premium.
Finally, I’ll spend some well-placed dollars to save myself some time and effort, allowing me to spend those hours on more fruitful efforts (like writing my next book!)
Overall, I’m pleased with how the launch went, as a total newbie author with no experience launching a book. Becoming a published author is a learning process every step of the way, and the launch was no exception!
Featured photo by e.c. johnson, CC license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Check out my post on the Book Marketing Tools blog on How to Read and Negotiate Author Contracts! It was pretty fun combining my two areas of interest and expertise to write this article! Article reprinted below.
The opinions and information contained in this article do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.
The modern author wears many hats: writer, editor, task-master, networker, marketer, business-person, and even, sometimes, lawyer. Whether you traditionally publish or go the self-publishing route, you will have contracts to sign. And chances are, if you’re starting out, you won’t have an agent or lawyer to negotiate for you. So short of curling up in the fetal position and ignoring the problem, how do you navigate through that complex legal jargon and sign a contract you feel good about?
I faced the same question as I started out. I have the benefit of being a lawyer by day, and so this comes much more easily to me. But I don’t do copyright or media law in my daily practice, and I certainly didn’t take those classes in law school. So as far as the ins and outs of the types of contracts authors face, I know just as much as the Average Joe. What I do know, however, is how to read and understand the contract, where to look for information, and then how to ask for changes.
Here is how you do it.
Step one. Get over your jitters or feelings of being overwhelmed. You are most likely contracting for a service. You are the customer. You have the right to understand and educate yourself about the transaction you are entering into. Even if you are staring at a publishing contract from the hottest Big 5 publisher and you’d sign away your first-born child if they asked you to…there is no harm in reading the contract, understanding it, and asking questions. They are not going to pull their offer because you asked questions.
Step two. Print the contract out. This is not negotiable. There is no substitute for looking at a physical document with a pen in your hand.
Step three. Read the contract. There are some key parts of the contract, and then most of the rest will be what we lawyers call boilerplate. Stuff that their lawyers threw in at the end, but that isn’t necessarily specific to your contract. Your job is to identify the key terms, understand them, and make sure they are correct.
Key terms to keep an eye out for (highlight these when you find them in the contract):
-Who are the parties to the contract? It may seem simple, but are they correct? If you have set up a business entity, is it the entity signing the contract, or you personally?
-What is the term of the contract? In other words, how long does it last? Does it say? If not, it probably should.
-Pricing terms: If you are buying a service, how much are you paying? This should be specific. What does your money get you?
-Payment terms: When are you required to pay? How does the provider bill you? It they are required to pay you (like royalties), when and how often do you get paid?
-Your and their duties under the contract: What are you required to do? What is the time frame for you to perform? Are their obligations clear? Do they reflect your understanding of the deal?
-Default terms: A default under the contract is where one of the parties doesn’t perform their obligations. The default terms will usually say what the other party’s remedy is. If you fail to live up to your end of the bargain, what does the other side get to do? And vice versa.
-Termination: Can you terminate the contract at any time? Can the other party terminate? If so, when and how? Is that something you can live with?
Side Note: If I only looked for two items of the boilerplate language, it would be to find whether there is an attorney’s fee provision and venue/arbitration provision. In the United States, generally each party pays their own attorneys fees. But some contracts say that that if you breach the contract and the other side has to sue, you have to pay your fees andtheirs. Ouch. The venue and/or arbitration clauses will tell you whether you are agreeing to submit any dispute to arbitration (and where), and what court will get to hear the dispute if you go to court. If the contract says you have to arbitrate in Florida and you live in Oregon, that is important to know.
Step four: Figure out what the heck it says. Maybe you don’t totally understand those key terms you have highlighted. Even I often have to read contract terms several times to truly understand what the legalese is saying. This is a great time to do some research. Google it. Often someone out there has struggled with the same question or term, and you can get a better sense of what the contract is saying based on the resources available.
There is one more important exercise at this stage. Think about your worst-case scenario. If you entered into this contract, and the other side totally failed to live up to their end of the bargain, what would it look like? Let’s say your cover designer creates a design that is so terrible it makes you want to cry. What would your remedy be under the contract? Can you withhold payment? Can you demand they fix it? Or did you agree to pay no matter what? Running through your worst-case scenario can help you see the gaps that need filling.
Now that you’ve highlighted the key terms, maybe the terms look great. If so, congratulations! Sign that contract and pat yourself on the back for understanding it and educating yourself about your rights and how the relationship will work.
Maybe the terms don’t look great. If that’s the case, move on to…
Step Five: Prepare for your negotiation. A key element of this stage is understanding the respective bargaining power between you and the other party. The bigger they are, and the more you need them, the less power you have. Amazon? Not much bargaining power, if any. Indie publisher? Some. Freelance editor? More. Based on this evaluation, I would pick your most important changes to present. The more bargaining power you have, the more changes you can ask for. But only ask for changes that matter. What do you really care about?
I would also do some more googling about what is common in the industry. Lots of authors have shared their contracts online. If you are asking the other party to change something that every publisher/editor/publicist since the dawn of time has had in their contracts, it is unlikely you’ll get it. If they are out of line with the industry, that is a strong point in your favor.
Step Six: Negotiate. Send the other party an email, and ask if they have time to have a quick phone call discuss some changes you would like to the contract. Ask them if they would like to see a summary list (or redlined version if you feel comfortable suggesting alternate language) of your suggested changes in advance of this call, so they are prepared to have a meaningful discussion. Be prepared to explain why each change matters to you and present any information you’ve gathered about industry standards.
Please don’t worry that the other party will refuse to contract with you at all just because you suggested some changes. If someone does that, then he or she is not a person you want to be in business with.
But maybe the other side won’t agree to make the change. It is at that point that you decide how important that change is to you. Either it is so important that you don’t want to be in business with them, or you agree to sign the contract as it was originally proposed. Either way, you have done your due diligence, become fully informed, and impressed them with your dedication and conscientiousness.
I hope this has helped pull back the curtain and reveal some of the mysteries of contract interpretation and negotiation. With a few tools in your toolkit, it is something that every author can tackle.
Congratulations to Lily Cooper of Tempe, Arizona, who is the winner of my first YA book giveaway! She’ll have some awesome summer reading to do!
This was my first attempt at a giveaway, and overall I’m pleased with the results. Doing something the first time always takes way longer than you think it will, so I’m doing this wrap-up post to compile my own lessons learned for next time, and to help you authors or internet entrepreneurs who might be thinking about doing your own giveaway.
So, without further ado, here’s my quick and dirty list of five steps to giveaway success!
1. Identify your objective
The first step is figuring out what you are trying to accomplish with your giveaway. Is it to drive traffic to your website? Is it to gain exposure to a certain audience? To grow your mailing list? Increase your following on Twitter or some other social media? You can’t be all things to all people, so identify your top priority for this giveaway and tailor your approach to that outcome.
My primary objective for my giveaway was to build my email list, and any additional traffic to my site or social media platforms would be a nice bonus.
2. Procure your giveaway item
Select your giveaway item based on what type of audience you want to attract. Giveaways do attract some folks who are in it just for the free stuff, so you want your prize to be tailored enough to weed out some of those people. If you give away a generic item like an Amazon gift card, you’ll get more of entries from people who aren’t even remotely interested in the industry you’re in or what you’re selling down the line.
I chose five trending YA books for my giveaway item. I write YA fantasy, and I wanted the people entering and signing up to my email list to be potential readers of my book. When I was putting together the plan for this giveaway, I read through Derek Murphy’s great post on how he used giveaways to build his mailing list to 8500+. In that post, he also recommends contacting author’s reps to buy signed copies of their books to give away. I wasn’t sure I would have time for that, because I wanted to conduct this giveaway before my book launches next month, but I will probably try that next time and see if it garners more interest.
3. Find your platform and select your rules
Now that you have your giveaway item procured, you have to choose which company to run your giveaway through. The main ones are Rafflecopter, King Sumo, and Gleam. Rafflecopter has a free version and the least functionality, and King Sumo seemed like the most expensive, but with more than I needed, and so this Goldilocks picked Gleam. Since I wanted to focus on growing my email list, I liked that the Pro version of Gleam allowed me to have people sign up for my email list as one of their entry actions. The Pro version is $39/month, but you sign up month to month, and since my competition has ended I downgraded my account to the free version. I found Gleam very easy to use, and the code was easy to install on my wordpress site.
Gleam allows for all sorts of entry types. To enter, I selected “sign up for my email list” as a required action. Then, people could share, follow me on twitter or facebook, visit my website, etc. for more entries. (You cannot require people to like your Facebook page for an entry though, as this is no longer permitted by Facebook). Allowing people to gain more entries by sharing is great because it gets the word out beyond your own social media reach, and drives further traffic to your giveaway and website.
A note on how long to run your contest. I ran mine for 12 days. I definitely would not do longer than this, and I might do shorter next time. I probably could have run it for a week with about the same results. Most of the activity happened right in the beginning, and then in the last few days, when I was tweeting and posting that people only had one day left to enter. The middle seemed to lag, and I was worried about oversaturating my social media following with posts about my giveaway, so I wasn’t advertising it much. You will have to figure out what is best for you, but 1-2 weeks seems right.
4. Advertise your giveaway
The most important part! If you’re going to the time and expense of hosting a giveaway, you want it to get the results you hope for! So advertising is key. Here is what I did to advertise my giveaway:
First day I did a blog post which went out to my Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Google + pages. I went into the Google + communities, Goodreads groups, and Facebook author groups that I am a member of and posted the info for the giveaway (where it was allowed by the rules).
I then posted my giveaway on the following sites: Contest Girl, Just Sweep, Online Sweepstakes, as well as a subreddit on Reddit about Gleam giveaways. I also paid $4.95 to post on Free Book Friday, and $14.95 for one week of premium advertising on Giveaway Promote. I could tell from my site statistics on wordpress that I was getting daily traffic from all of these sites, so I think these were worthwhile to list on.
I also Tweeted daily about my giveaway, using the giveaway hashtag. Once each time in the giveaway, I added the handle for each one of the authors whose book I was giving away, in the hopes that they would retweet to their followers. This would probably work even better if you had arranged with their reps to buy a signed book, so you were already on their radar.
The second to last day of my giveaway, I sent an email to my email list encouraging them to enter or share for more entries. I also republished my post indicating there were only two days left, which refreshed it to all my social media. The last day, I tweeted about the giveaway ending, and used the handles of all five of the authors whose books I was giving away. Two of them retweeted and I got a ton of new entries that last day!
5. Pick a winner and evaluate results
Picking a winner with Gleam is easy, you just press a button and it selects someone. Make sure to contact the winner and send out the prize in a timely manner!
Overall, I was pleased with the giveaway process. I had never done this before so it was a bit of an experiment for me. I spent about $110 on the whole thing ($50 for the prizes, $39 for one month of Gleam Pro, $20 for advertising), and I got about 250 new email subscribers. Sure, it’s no 8,500 like Derek Murphy, but I am basically starting from scratch, so it’s better than nothing! I got the most page visits I have ever gotten on my blog, and a lot of new followers on all of my social media platforms.
Next time, I think I would partner with other bloggers and authors ahead of time so I could gain more exposure and reach. Partnering with five to ten other authors and each promoting each other’s giveaways would allow for a lot more engagement and entries. (Anyone interested in partnering with me next time?)
As a last thought, giveaways are great to drive traffic, but they don’t convert this traffic into fans. You have to take the next step to convert that name on your email list into someone who is engaged and excited about your work. That can be through providing great content to your subscribers, or giving them a piece of your work like a sample chapter or novella for free to get them exposed. I am just finishing up a novella, and I will be offering a free e-book copy to everyone on my email list in a few weeks in the hopes of getting some of those people to start reading my work and becoming fans. The giveaway is just the beginning!
Check out my guest post on the Book Marketing Tools blog: Five Ways to Market your Book Daily (that Don’t feel like Marketing)! These are some of the small things I do on a weekly basis to feel like I’m making positive efforts on my book marketing efforts, while still working full time!
Here is the full article, reprinted below:
For a lucky few, writing is a full time gig. But for the rest of us, Monday through Friday is taken up by our day job and our writing side-hustle is squeezed into the remaining few moments not taken up by family, social activities, volunteer obligations, and maybe (if we’re lucky,) a little down time.
When it comes time to market your book, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes to just learn how to market, let alone actually do the marketing. Marketing your book could easily be a full time job, so how do you fit it in when you already work full time? I know in my case, despite my best laid intentions to be up at 5 am to devote some much needed time to marketing efforts, Monday through Friday become a whirlwind and the weekend arrives with the guilt of knowing I haven’t gotten anything writing-related accomplished all week.
To tackle this vicious cycle, I started finding little ways to market and feel productive that could fit into the nooks and crannies of my work day—my commute, my lunch break, my 20 minutes on the elliptical machine. The easiest way to build a habit is to start small. Below are some easy ways to move the needle on your author efforts without a total a life overhaul.
Mondays are hard, but hopefully you are a little bit refreshed from the weekend. Use some of those creative juices and write a little. Maybe it’s 250 words or maybe it’s 15 minutes. Maybe you’ll just brainstorm about your plot or characters. Driving to work? Use your phone’s dictate feature to record ideas to explore later. Author after author will tell you that the best way to market your book and find ultimate success is to write more books. Having a lot of products in the market makes it more likely that someone will find you and fall in love with your writing. So keep at it!
Engage on social media. This is probably what you think of when someone mentions “author marketing,” and it is certainly critical. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. I try to connect with one new person on each of my social media sites each week. It’s not too tough to find one person that shares your interests and like or comment on one of their posts. Bonus: Look to connect with folks who have a following that would be interested in your book. Start developing the relationship so you can ask for their support down the road.
You’ve made it to hump day. Give yourself a break. Maybe you’re worn out from all of that social media engagement yesterday. Read a little bit (or listen to an audiobook if your commute is your only free time). Something fun. Something you’d want to write. Reading is a critical part of your continued author education! If you find yourself liking something (or not), ask yourself why? Make a mental note for your next work. Bonus: When you’ve finished the book, write a review and share it on your blog. Now you’ve generated content that is of interest to your potential readers. Share the review with the author, who will likely share it with their followers, and get some nice links back to your own page.
Work on a blog post. Notice I didn’t say: complete or post a blog post. We have all heard how important author blogs are, but it can be hard to find the time to actively maintain your blog. But just because you don’t have time to sit down and write a 1000 word post doesn’t mean you can’t make some progress. Even if you only have 15 minutes, you have time to brainstorm an idea for a future post, write a first paragraph, or find a featured image for that post that has been sitting in draft status for two weeks. With an idea or a start, you won’t be facing the blinking cursor of doom when you sit down to blog next time.
Learn something new (about marketing or writing, your choice). By subscribing to relevant blogs (like Book Marketing Tools) you can get great informative content delivered strait to your inbox. It’s so easy to click through your email and take 5 minutes to learn something you can apply down the road. No time to read? Subscribe to podcasts you can listen to on your commute or while you’re cooking dinner (like the Author Hangout). Bonus: Click the Twitter or Facebook share link on a post you find interesting, and voila, you’ve engaged in social media twice this week!
Featured image by chintermeyer, CC License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Thanks to Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine for this great article that applies to so much more than book marketing…
Anyone will tell you marketing is hard. Your odds of writing a best-seller are tiny. In any given year, more than a million books get published. A handful of those, sometimes as many as ten, will sell more than a million copies. Most books sell far fewer copies.
It’s very hard to predict all the books that’ll be the big winners, because every year, a few blockbuster books come out of nowhere. But some of the winners are very easy to predict. Certain authors write best-sellers time after time. Any book by Stephen King or Nora Roberts is going to do very well.
What this means is that the real trick is not to predict which BOOKS will be big winners. It’s to predict which AUTHORS will be big winners.
There are hundreds of thousands of authors. Only a few hundred of them are very successful. So the odds of being very successful, even if you get published, are about one in a thousand.
Only a few thousand writers earn their living as a writer. So the odds of earning a living as a writer, once you get published, are about one in a hundred.
And let’s remember that not all writers get published, although indie publishing makes it a lot easer than it used to be. To get indie-published, you have to at least finish your book, and not all writers do that. To get traditionally published, you also have to run a long gauntlet of rejection by agents and editors, and very few writers do that.
How can you improve your odds? I came across an idea recently that I think has some merit. I was reading Scott Adams’s book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.
Adams is the creator of the blockbuster comic strip Dilbert. He’s made a huge success as a cartoonist and he’s also made a success as an author and public speaker. But he’s failed at a lot of other things, which he details in his book.
Why did he succeed with Dilbert? You can read his book if you want his opinion on that. Luck is involved, but luck is not the only factor. Many people will tell you that you make your own luck. What surprised me is that Adams offers a plausible explanation of how to increase your luck.
In chapter 20 of his book, one of the section headings is titled “The Success Formula: Every Skill You Acquire Doubles Your Odds of Success.”
That caught my attention. Could that possibly be true? If so, then why? Is that automatically true about any skill, or are certain skills better than others?
Let’s start with the brute fact that your odds of success are very low. Why should that be? It isn’t just that there are a lot of authors out there. There are also a lot of plumbers out there, and a lot of dentists, and a lot of accountants. I’d be willing to bet that more than one in a hundred plumbers earn a living as a plumber. Ditto for dentists and accountants.
If you’re an author, there are a number of things you need to do, and their effects MULTIPLY each other.
That’s the key thing—the multiplication.
In January of last year, I wrote an article in this e-zine on my “Success Equation.” It goes like this:
Success = (Target Audience Size) x Quality x Discoverability x Production
So if you doubled your target audience size, doubled your quality, doubled your discoverability, and doubled your production, you’d earn 16 times as much money.
And discoverability is itself the product of several factors.
So the reason your odds against success are long is because you need to be good in each of these success factors. If any of them is zero, then your results are zero.
Assuming my Success Equation is true, then by changing any one factor, you could double your odds of success.
So what Scott Adams claims could conceivably be true: By adding a new skill, you double your odds of success. And the reason it could be true is that your success is the result of multiplying a number of factors.
Scott lists 13 skills that he considers critical for success. My thinking is that those are all fine skills to have, but not all of them matter for success as an author. (They might be very important in some other career.) Here are his 13 skills, as listed in chapter 21 of his book:
- Public speaking
- Business writing
- Overcoming shyness
- Second language
- Proper grammar
- Proper voice technique
He makes a case for each of these. My opinion is that some of these are highly useful to the novelist and some are irrelevant. I can’t see that golf matters at all to the novelist, for example. Or having a second language. Those are invaluable for certain career paths, but novelists get a pass on those.
After thinking a bit, I’ve come up with my own list of essential novelist skills, based on Scott’s list, with some additions and some deletions:
- Fiction writing craft
- Accounting/business thinking
If your marketing strategy depends on public speaking, then you can add that to your list. But you can do very well as a novelist without ever giving a speech or going on radio or TV or doing a book-signing at a bookstore, so I don’t consider it essential.
There are 8 items on my list above, and let’s pretend that you tackled each skill in turn and improved just enough to double your odds of success. After doing that for all 8 skills, your overall odds would increase by a factor of 256.
If your skills were “typical” before, then that would boost you up into the ranks of authors earning a living as a writer. You’d need more of a boost if you wanted to reach the super-achieving authors.
Yes, in theory all this sounds great, but is it really practical? Could you really get twice as effective by learning technology better, or persuasion, or life-management?
A writer on a modern computer can type a lot faster than a writer on an old manual typewriter. But I’ve noticed that most writers don’t use their tools nearly as effectively as they could. Many writers don’t use Microsoft Word effectively. There are any number of software tools that could make a writer more effective. Very few writers come anywhere close to their potential in using technology.
As for persuasion, I’ve also noticed that writing ad copy is an area where most writers are weak. One good course on copywriting could boost your effectiveness by a factor of ten.
And as for life-management, my observation is that most writers are overwhelmed by life. It’s certainly something I’ve struggled with. Modern life is massively more complicated than it was even twenty years ago, much less a thousand years ago. We aren’t evolved to handle modern life. If we don’t study how it’s done, we’re almost certain to be overwhelmed.
Here’s the thing. You don’t have to become world-class in order to double your effectiveness at most of these skills. For most of them, one good course or book would be enough. If you’re “typical” in a given skill, then you’re at the 50th percentile, which means half of all people are better at the skill and half are worse. One good course would get you ahead of most of those people. If you got to the 90th percentile, then you’d be ahead of 9 out of every 10 people.
Let’s suppose you work hard at each of the critical skills and you reach the 90thpercentile in each one. You won’t be amazing at any one thing, but you’ll be amazing as an overall writer. Because success is the multiplication of all those skills.
Remember that you have natural talents and abilities, and you also have natural weaknesses. Everybody does. There are some skills you may never be able to do even as well as the average person. There are some skills you might have the talent to become world champion at. The key thing to remember is that you can almost always improve in any skill, so the question is which skills will give you the most bang for the buck.
How good would you rate yourself at the 8 critical skills I listed above? And how good would you rate your favorite famous author at those skills?
Which skill are you weakest in? (This is probably due to some natural weakness in you, which means you could never be world-class in this skill. But it’s entirely possibly you could get better if you worked at it.) Is your weakness in that skill causing you serious problems in your life? Is there a book you could read or a course you could take that would boost your skills in that? Is there somebody you could hire to help make up your deficit? What value would you get from hiring out that skill? How does that compare to the cost?
Which skill are you strongest in? (This is probably due to some natural talent you have, which means you might possibly be able to reach world-class status in that one skill.) If you made that skill a key part of your strategy and worked hard, could you become amazing in that one area? How hard would you have to work? Would you love working hard on that skill? Would it make a difference in your life?
Balance is critical here. You only have so much time, energy, and money, so you can’t do everything at once. The key questions to ask about any skill are:
- How much is it worth to improve in that skill?
- What would it cost you in time, energy, and money?
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 14,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
Featured photo by iamthealphamale, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/