Friday, October 25, 2013

Author as Entrepreneur

You sign the contract. Release date: next fall. You tell all your friends that soon you'll be published. Your dream of bringing your manuscript to life, of seeing your name in print, of being a author is soon going to be a reality.

The big day comes. You've got all the energy going. Blog tours, a twitter party, an article in the local newspaper, a signing. 5 people show up, even though 200 people on Facebook "liked" your events. No one comments on your blog tour, and no one jumps on your free giveaway copy. What's going on? You're published now! Shouldn't that mean people will come running to buy your book?

Can you relate? I certainly can. It's a hard way to learn that being published and being a top-seller are not the same thing. It's also a great way to learn what it truly means to be an author.

Ideal world author: Authors are artists, crafting prose for their publishers. Their publishers are the entrepreneurs, selling their goods. The authors only have to write, to perfect their stories and deliver the best possible books for their readers. Publishers take care of all the marketing headaches, including the thousands—or sometimes tens of thousands—of dollars required to place their books in front of target buyers. Authors go to events, attend signings, do interviews as coordinated by their publisher's public relations team, and lots of people show up to these because a publicist has determined who their book's target audience is and has made sure they know about the event.

Real world author: Authors are artists AND entrepreneurs. While their publisher opens many doors for them, this publisher is not one of the Big 5 (formerly known as the Big 6), which means their reach and budget has a limit. Being an author is a joint business endeavor, which means it's up to the author to discover what makes a formula for successful sales.

Here are some tips, for my kindred real-world authors out there:

1) Don't spend promotional money until you know your target audience

It's tempting to set up book blog tours or to pay to put your ad up in calendars and magazines, but without thinking about who your target audience is this can be a lot of money thrown away. Whatever your budget is, spend some time thinking about who will enjoy your books, then figure out how you can reach them. If you find this difficult, try a Google search for, "finding my target audience" (One great article: here). If you are willing to invest the overhead, it might even be worth your while to hire a publicist. (Again, Google search, but you can read a good article about publicists here). A publicist will help you to optimize your blurbs and advertising messages in addition to helping you figure out your target audience.

2) Work on ways to expand your sphere

What is it that you do? Are you on Twitter? Facebook? Both? Neither? Do you have a blog? Do you have a website? Do you contribute to other blogs? Think of everything you do. Make a list so you have it right in front of you. Now, think about how those activities are drawing people to you and making them aware of your book.

I was shocked when I did this exercise and realized very little that I do actually draws people to my book. I have tried various things, from author interviews to word of the day to free flash fiction. So, what went wrong?

There are millions of writers doing exactly the same thing, that's what went wrong. Whatever it is you do on your platform, no matter how attractive and compelling it is, you won't stand out unless you can find a way to get your target audience into your cozy Internet corner.

Book blog tours can be helpful (for some tips on effective blog touring, read a great article, here). Paid advertising is another. In fact, paid advertising is a fundamental step to getting your product in front of potential buyers. How you do this can vary vary widely, which is where investing in a publicist and/or digital consultant might be very helpful.

3) Discover your weaknesses

Where are you weak? Be honest, and brutal. This is not a self-destruct exercise. It's a chance for you to remove all shades of rose from your spectacles and focus your energy where it belongs. Being an artist AND an entrepreneur takes lots of energy, which means you simply can't do everything you want to do. Instead, you do what you need to, and that means you have no time to spin your wheels. If your website is a mess, or if your blurb has a typo, then the hours on end you're spending promoting your book are potentially wasted.

I did this exercise and realized first off that my website was a dreadful labyrinth. Visitors who come to my site leave within a click or two. I decided to take the bull by the horns. Within a week, I redesigned my site to minimize confusion and optimize visibility of my book (you can check it out here), and am still implementing some changes to further improve it.

4) It's a work in progress

It's also important to realize that, as a (real world) author, you are building your own business. Like any business, you must put in overhead and have faith in your product and your plan to sell your product. You take risks, but you do this because you believe in what you're doing. And, like any business that succeeds, these risks eventually bring you to the place where your profit exceeds your costs and your business grows.

Eventually, you cross the bridge from real world author to ideal world author and realize that while the paths may be different, any writer who forms a concrete plan and sees it through will end up in the same place.

Graeme Brown is a Winnipeg fantasy writer and artist, and a junior editor for Champagne Books. His first story, The Pact, is now available.

To find out more about Graeme and his book, visit his website:


Big Mike said...

Well done. Many newbie authors drop out of the profession 2 or 3 years after they learn the different between the ideal and real author's world.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Laurie Temple said...

Great tips, Graeme. Those initial forays into marketing are tough to take, especially in this industry.

Anonymous said...

They definitely are! Here's to perseverance.

Liz Fountain said...

Building anything worthwhile takes time. I remember one of my favorite (successful) authors giving a talk and sharing that it took him seven books and ten years to "break out." We've got to be in this for the long haul, and for the joy of creating.

Thanks, Liz