Things an Author should never, ever do, and a few things they should always do.
I’ve written this post at least five different times and each time I just never felt I was getting the right tone. I’m going to try yet again and I hope it comes across right this time. We’ll see how it goes. I may delete it again just for the sake of deleting it.
EDIT: I decided I finally got it right this time. Enjoy!
This list is a simple list of do’s and don’ts, but I’m going to try and go a little deeper than do this cuz I say do this. I’m going to try and give a little background and examples as to why these are a good idea and how they’ve worked out for others (both good and bad).
1) Don’t misreport your numbers:
I’ve been around the podcasting community since before podcasting was a term. I was listening live when the term podiobooks was coined. I recorded promos for many podcasts over the years and I’ve seen its ups and downs. I know a large core of the earliest podcasters and I saw much of what was happening.
There was an author that saw some other podcasters get published by a small press and he wanted to be the first with a big six publishing deal. So he took his podcasting downloads and convinced an editor that each download represented a potential reader that would buy his book. Sadly, that’s not how podcasting works.
If I download each episode of a podcast, I’m one person even though I may download the same episode from 3 different devices across 30 episodes. That’s not 90 potential readers, that’s 1. So by inflating his numbers to make it look as if he had 70,000 plus listeners, there were high expectations as well there should have been. Even if 10% buy a copy, that’s 7,000 books sold which is pretty good for a first time author.
Now I can’t fault this person for trying. He pushed and pushed and pushed to try and sell more copies, but sadly there just weren’t enough people that had already listened to the podcast that wanted to buy the book (I bought one). So this author was rejected to publish the sequel through the big publisher. The backlash was pretty sever by the author and he vanished from the podcasting community burning his bridges as he went. It was sad to see because he really was a talented author.
So a simple lesson, don’t pump those numbers. I’ve had over 100,000 downloads of V&A Shipping episodes, but have only sold a handful of copies of the ebook and print book. I had no expectation that it would explode out of the gate. That’s just not reality.
What you should do is one of two things. Either tell them your numbers and accurately what they represent, or leave them out all together. For the most part they’re unimportant and could only raise unrealistic expectations. Let your work speak for itself.
Author Scott Sigler did this the correct way. He had a publisher approach him because of his podcasting. They released his first books and they were a moderate success. He kept podcasting books and publishing books. He grew his audience slowly by giving away content to the point where he had enough people buying his books to support him keeping content out. At no time did he try to be more than he was (well, not personally, but his online persona he was HUGE, but that’s another story). Scott did things right by allowing things to grow at their own pace and used real numbers (book sales) to propel him to a big 6 publishing deal.
Not only that, he’s got an audience NAY! A community of junkies out there that cannot get enough of his work and have no trouble telling everyone they know about Scott’s work. He didn’t force a community, it just grew up around him. I’m not sure that was even his plan to start with, but it was incredible to watch him posting his first episodes on the Dragon Page to where he’s now pretty much a machine pumping out content left and right and the quality just keeps getting better and better.
2) Don’t artificially inflate your numbers:
But Jay, isn’t that the same thing?
NO! NO! IT’S NOT! Let me explain before you jump all over me. Sheesh. I mean, it’s similar, but different.
So I saw a Google+ posting by an author pleading for people to ‘click the link to visit her home page’. Well, that’s fine. I’ve seen that before. I’ve posted links to my site for people to visit. I get the desire for traffic. This author went about 20 steps too far. The next lines in her post caused me some concern. “Hit refresh a few times and if you can, please do this every day. I have a few friends hitting refresh on my site about a dozen times a day each because I need to get at least 4000 hits on my site a day so I can go back to a publisher that said if I get 400,000 hits on my site in 6 months, they’ll give me a publishing contract.”
I wanted to cry. I really did. Why? Did you read #1? This author is setting herself up for FAILURE! Failure in a major way. The publisher will have expectations. If they think you’re getting 400,000 real hits in six months, they’re going to translate that into sales numbers and set a target. If you miss, you lose. You will never again get a publishing contract. You will have lied your way in and fall flat. I cannot express how bad of an idea this is.
Want my numbers? I get about 3 hits a day to my site. On a crazy busy day I’ll see 30, some days I won’t see any. I know people are reading via email and with rss readers, and a few even follow via wordpress.com. I get that. I know there are more people reading what I post than visit the actual site. I understand that. Really, I do, but I’m not about to start asking people to pump up my numbers just for the sake of pumping up my numbers.
Author John Scalzi has done this right, in my opinion. Sure, it’s taken him fifteen years, but he’s getting on average around 50,000 visitors per day. He gave away content, posted his views, played nice, and built a community around his website. Yes, because of this he was able to sell his novels and make a good living. Like his work or not, he’s done well and did things right with how he got his community going. There’s that word again, community. We’ll talk more about this later. For now, just don’t bother telling people your numbers or try to get people to help get your numbers higher. It’ll happen. Don’t force it. You can’t force a community to grow up around you just like you can’t fool a publisher with unrealistic numbers more than once. Sales will point you out as a fraud.
3) Don’t be afraid to offend people:
Now I’m not talking about going all Orson Scott Card and spewing hatred disguised as an opinion. That’s just plain wrong and you will burn in your own personal hell of your own design.
I’m talking about people like Chuck Wendig. Chuck has no problem speaking his mind, using offensive language, and get all up in your grill about what he thinks. He’s very passionate about writing and has no trouble telling you that some writing is crap while other writing is brilliant. He comes across as a cross old grandfather that sits at the end of a bar with a scruffy beard, a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other telling the kids how much things sucked when he was a kid.
The thing is, at no point, does Chuck go off the deep end and attack people personally. I’d love to meet Chuck one day because I have the feeling he’s really a great guy. He’s funny as hell and his blog is a blast to read (if you go there, be aware there’s lots of offensive language). But you can’t be afraid to be who you are. Or build up a persona that you can hide behind and spew things that are offensive, but not hate-fueled. You need to find that line, dance on it, but don’t cross it. Like I said, check out Chuck. He’s doing things right.
4) Don’t be a dick:
Many things will get you far in life. Being a jerk to people won’t. Now I’m not saying you need to be a saint out there (you saw the above post, right?) but you need to mind your Ps and Qs. I’ve seen authors do some pretty crappy things to each other. Using sock puppets to leave negative reviews, starting flame wars, blogging about untrue information, using their community to try and trash another author, and just plain being jerks. This could be from denouncing women as inferior, to claiming that minorities aren’t as good as ‘whites’, or any number of things. I don’t care even if you feel this way, not all press is good press. Just because you’re a misogynistic butthead doesn’t mean you need to spread hate to try and build a community. You attract more flies with honey than $#!+ my mother always used to say.
I would give an example of how this has been done, but i don’t want to give the person any more traffic than they deserve.
5) Do Be nice and give back:
John Scalzi does this with does this with his “Big Idea”. Chuck does this with his Terrible Minds interviews with other authors. Scott Roche did this last year when he gave away an indie book a week! There are many ways to do this. I’ve never done much of anything and in the coming weeks, that’s all going to change. I’m going to start a series of posts about authors that are close, personal friends of mine that I think you should be reading. Be they indie, pro, or just giving away work on WATTPAD (or any combination of the three). This will be just a little way to give back. I know I don’t have a massive audience, but I feel I should share those authors that I enjoy.
6) Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there:
I’m going to mention the first two bloggers that come to mind: Mur Lafferty and Jenny the Bloggess. Both of these women are AWESOME in totally different ways. I’ve met Mur and she is a wonderful human being. I haven’t met Jenny and I’m not sure my brain could handle meeting her, but I do have a beaver skull to protect me should I run across her one day and her army of taxidermy animals.
Mur has had issues over the years with confidence. She’s spoken publicly about this and she’s also suffered with depression. She’s put all that out there in her struggle about writing and how difficult it is at times for her to get past her demons and just sit and write and not feel like a fraud (Mur, you’re the real deal and you’re awesome #justsaying). Much of the time she’s filled with wit and is highly entertaining, other times she’s just Mur being Mur and keeping it real.
Jenny has also had similar struggles. She’s blogged about them on some rather serious posts, and other times she posts things that get you inside her head and make you wonder what makes her tick.
Both of them are terrific people and even though they’ve mentioned they have trouble talking about their issues in public, they’ve gone ahead and do so anyway. Much to their surprise, people weren’t frightened away and many rallied to them to try and boost them up in times of need. They didn’t shy away from those ‘bad’ days and they didn’t sugar coat things either. To watch them over a length of time and read their blogs has given me a profound respect for what each of them has gone through over the years and each of them has been successful in their own way.
So what does this little list give you? It gives you ways to get yourself out there and grow a community. Like I said, I’ve watched, I’ve learned, I’ve not followed through. Hence, I didn’t grow a community around me. I know how to do it and I know it’s not something that can be forced or done artificially. It just happens and usually to the surprise of the person the community forms around. I don’t think any of these people set out with a plan of “I’ll build a community and sell tons of books.” They just did what came naturally and what felt right and it worked. They were entertaining enough to attract people to them and real enough to keep people around them. They also interacted with their audience and be part of their own audience rather than be put up on a pedestal to be admired.
I respect each of the authors I’ve mentioned. I’ve read works by each of them and I’ve been thoroughly entertained by their books, but more than that, I’ve been entertained by what they do beyond the books. I read each of their blog posts, I listen to those that have podcasts. I don’t always leave feedback or join in the conversations, but I do enjoy what they have done, are doing, and will continue to do. Each of them has, in their own way, made me a life-long fan of them, not just of their books.
I’m off to go do things right.
Until Next Time!