September 13 , 2019
"Turning Pro" as a writer
I can’t believe it is the end of summer and kids are getting ready to go back to school while others have already started. As I sit at my desk, juggling new books at various stages of completion and publication, I’m excited to take time out to discuss book marketing.
I had a conversation with an author last week and she described how she felt like peddling her own books felt a little like a ‘snake-oil salesman.’ Don’t judge, I know many of you feel this way and I commend her for the courage to say so. In this latest edition of Book Marketing, we’re going to talk about what it means to be a professional writer and how to talk about yourself and your work.
The truth is, being a professional writer isn’t that much different from being a professional at any other type of business or vocation. In the book, Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield discusses the differences from being an amateur and turning professional. If you haven’t read Steven’s work. I highly recommend both The War of Art and Turning Pro.
The first sign that you are beginning to think like a professional author is when someone asks you, “what do you do?” and you can immediately respond, “I am a writer.” When asked what you write, you have no difficulty launching into the ‘ins and outs’ of your latest manuscript. Just like your day job or your past line of work, you can rattle off your title, area of expertise, and the company’s focus at the drop of a hat.
More signs of Turning Pro as a writer: you have business cards made where your profession is stated as ‘writer’ or ‘novelist.’ You have a website in your branded name. You are taking classes, reading books, and/or generally always looking for ways to improve your craft, as well as your latest book. You have a copy and have ready Dreyer’s English. Your Pinterest boards are full of blogs on things like, ‘the master list of physical descriptions,’ or ‘how to write a killer plot twist,’ or ‘Stephen King’s Tips for Writers.’
Educating yourself about your craft and the business of writing should be a full-time endeavor. If you have a day job, you’re expected to put in a certain number of hours and level of dedication to keep it and receive the paycheck. Why would being a writer be any different? Part of the business of writing is selling books. So, you have to learn how to talk to others about your work. Artists often have difficulty with this part of the job. No one wants to convince others that their art is worthy of the dollars charged and therefore, we have a whole subculture of ‘starving artists’ who are always needing the generosity of others to survive. This is because they just don’t have confidence in their work. It’s an identity, a vocation, and a mindset.
The underlying reason writers don’t do well is lack of commitment which breads lack of confidence. How can you be confident if you are a first-time writer? Maybe this isn’t your first book, but your other books didn’t sell so well. It’s hard, no doubt. But as in every profession in the world, it is the confident ones who are successful, not the other way around. If you are not confident enough in your book or yourself as a writer, then buckle down and learn what you’re missing. Get help. Because if you’re a Pro and you’re confident in your work, you won’t feel like you’re selling someone something substandard. You’ll want to share the work you are committed to and excites you. Ultimately, you have to decide your work is good enough for the intended audience.
Intended audience? That’s another issue. Many authors get a bad review and all of a sudden they feel like their work is not good enough and their confidence dives. When, in reality, maybe they weren’t the right audience for your book. (for more on this: http://sunburypress.com/
Okay, so you know your audience. You are improving. You are a Pro and your confidence is high, but you still don’t know how to talk about your latest book. Did you write about something you are passionate about? Did you spend a lot of time researching and fretting over your subject? Do you care about your characters? Are they interesting? The answers to these questions should obviously be 'yes' and if that is the case, you should be able to talk about them. I was driving my mother to the beach to visit her sister the other day, and, by the way, – she is not my target audience, but I had no problem regaling her for over an hour on Irish mythology which is the backdrop to my latest book series. Now maybe she had to act interested, she is my mother after all, but I think she was actually intrigued. The point is, I’ve devoted countless hours to these books and I’m not afraid to talk about them with anyone who shows even a little interest. Don’t talk around your work, dive in. Pick one aspect that is particularly exciting or challenging and chat it up. If people are interested, they’ll ask questions. And then you’ll see it’s not so hard.
So, maybe some of you don’t have any issues with talking about your work, but you still haven’t seen your book sales climb high enough to satisfy. I recommend you ask! Talk to some of your intended audience and ask questions. What did they like? Did they have any feelings of dissatisfaction with the story or the premise? Who was their favorite character, or least favorite? Put together a list of five or six questions. Then listen to the answers for clues on how to improve. Don’t ask critics and don’t ask people who aren’t your intended audience. There are people out there who will search for something on which to criticize, that won’t be useful. Stay in the safety zone, but then ask for feedback. If they loved it, ask them if they would write a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Ask them if they would share it on whatever social media platforms they use (make it easy for them, give them graphics and links. More on this to come.) Ask them to recommend it to their friends. If sales are low, you might not be asking enough. If they didn’t love it, your questions will change.
So, don’t talk around, dive in. Don’t sell, share. You are sharing what is important to you, who you are and what turns you on. Turn Pro, it’s scary but worth it.