Less Platform, More Sanity

notebook-pen

I’m posting less on my blog these days, but I may be writing just as much compared to times past. The difference is that over half of my posts stay on my computer where no one else will ever read them.

I don’t feel bad about these unread posts. I needed to write them. Otherwise they would continue to buzz around in my head, demanding my attention and trumpeting their worth and, at times, “genius.”

In truth, I suspect that I would have posted almost all of them in the past. Such has been the pressure to pump up my blog numbers, to keep people engaged on social media, and to, let’s be honest, stir the post just a bit from time to time.

Now that I’ve stepped out of the traditional publishing platform rat race for the foreseeable future, I’m letting posts develop at their own pace and evaluating them with a far more critical eye. Some need a few weeks to settle into themselves. Others are ready to go after a bit of tweaking. And still far many more are done after the writing. The latter is a good thing.

I didn’t realize how badly I needed to just write things down and end it there. I often have an idea or the kernel of an idea bouncing around in my brain, and it can be such a relief to finally see it appear on a page. Once it lands there, I can make a sound judgment about its merits.

This has come into focus for me as I started praying with the Examen. Just writing out the good and the bad parts of my day on the “Examine” app provided clarity and a simple chance to vent a little. I have a moment of bracing honesty each day where I can tell myself, “There, I said it!”

I found that processing my issues in a private way via the Examen provided just as much if not more relief than a more public processing on my blog.

I still believe that blog posts are an important first draft of my ideas. I still think that blogging can be a helpful way to process ideas in public. I still love the idea of writing the best piece of short form content possible and then immediately finding out what readers think. As an author who develops book ideas for years, this immediacy is a blessed relief.

Every person who leaves his twenties behind and starts to stare down middle age or “old” age, whatever that is now, likes to think that some wisdom and gentleness has been added to the mix over time. Whether you call that moving from the first half of life to the second half of life, mellowing with age, or simply realizing that you were a bit of a jerk in the past, a bit of evolution on our parts strikes me as appropriate. I hope that I write differently ten years, twenty years, and even, gasp, thirty years from now.

At this point in my life, sacrificing a bit of consistency for the sake of picking only my best thoughts, rather than sharing ALL of my thoughts, feels like either a wise or a “less dumb” shift. I truly do need to write a lot, but it doesn’t all necessarily need to be shared.

Removing myself from the race to keep growing my blogging platform in order to catch a publisher’s eye finally gave me permission to let up a bit. I still care deeply about reaching more readers with my writing, but my higher priority is letting my work evolve at its own pace and recognizing that oftentimes my writing is only for my own eyes.

Perhaps it would be easier to write for others if I could first learn to write for myself.

What You Need to Know About Self-Publishing: Get Known First

In conjunction with the release of my self-published book A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book, I’m offering this series of posts on what you need to know about self-publishing.

When you’re self-publishing all of the work falls on you, the author. No matter how much published authors complain about the lack of marketing support provided by their publishers, which can be spotty at times, the worst publicist will do more than upload a file to a web site, which is all you’re doing when self-publishing.

The Basic Ways Publishers Market

Publishers have established lists of contacts who receive their catalogues, e-mail newsletters, and browse their web sites. They represent authors at book stores and can send releases out to major press services—something that can be quite costly to do on your own.

The staff at publishers generally have social media accounts and blogs, and they may even generate some buzz for your book through these tools. At the very least these publishing professionals will tell potential readers about your book. You’ll at least have a few warm bodies with a measure of interest in selling your book.

Any way you slice it, the least that a publisher provides still puts their authors way ahead of the self-published ones.

What Self-Published Authors Need to Do

While it’s important to seek out some reputable endorsers and reviewers who have a large group of readers, I don’t think self-published authors realize the number of readers they need to pull off a self-published book that sells more than 25-50 copies. Simply put, self-published authors need a massive number of connections with potential readers.

The “potential reader” part of this is crucial. Authors may have lots of “connections” through social media, their blogs, or more traditional means, but many of these connections may not view their books as something they’ll want to purchase.

I’ve done quite a bit of networking, but I have been reading Crush It! by social media expert and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, and he’s been blowing my mind. I usually drop by some blogs to leave comments and contribute to writing forums, but he advocates a scale of networking that few would ever consider.

I sure didn’t!

I could try to describe it to you, but to be honest, I’d be doing you a disservice because I can’t do his methods justice. Crush It! is available at a pretty low price as a Video Book, which I highly recommend, though it’s also available in print. You may not do everything Vaynerchuk suggests, but I think he’ll give self-published authors the reality check they need about how involved the marketing process will be for their books.

An author who is new to the publishing process will underestimate the amount of work necessary for marketing. Count on it. As a published author I still underestimate the amount of work I need to do. Before you invest heavily into a book, begin marketing yourself and making connections today. It’s a worthwhile investment you won’t regret.   

Next Steps

Two Things that Sell a Lot of Books: #2 A Trusted Name with an Extensive Platform

Whether you have a popular web site, a radio show, an informative newsletter, or professional credentials, selling a book requires a personal connection. Selling a lot of books requires this level of personal trust on a large scale.

While reviews, social media, and web sites are all part of extending a marketing platform, these pieces should not be confused with making very personal connections with readers. Twitter and blogs are great, but they have their limits.

The Kind of Connections Authors Need

From what I can tell, my greatest success in selling books has come from personally talking with readers whether through personal conversations, events, e-mail, or interaction on web sites.

When I have a chance to share my passion for my book, I have a much greater chance of convincing readers to spend their hard-earned money on it. However, reaching potential readers with your personal message and creating enough trust for them to spend money on your book requires a fairly significant number of connections with readers.

I personally would not endorse every method used by authors out there to sell books and some will be more difficult for new authors to use effectively, especially radio and television, but there are lots of ideas out there about building a platform that will help you speak directly with readers and develop a level of trust for you and your book from a monthly newsletter with valuable information to a niche-focused public event.

How to Connect with Readers

Building a platform begins with the question, “How can I effectively connect with readers interested in my topic?” Keep in mind, this isn’t the same as advertising, and posting to a web site is probably the least personal way to do this, making it generally less effective.

I’m building my e-mail newsletter, working on some videos, leading workshops with local community and arts organizations, and connecting with various podcasts, but the possibilities are endless. I’ve been encouraged to hear from a respected author and friend that he finds my newsletter very valuable, and many of those who attend my workshops give me positive feedback. It’s good to know I’m doing a few things right, even if there’s always a lot more to do.

The hardest part about building these connections with readers is starting small. You may begin with twenty newsletter subscribers and workshops with only five attendees. However, if you continue to make connections, to help people with your material, and to build on those relationships, you should be able to connect with enough readers who will not only trust you enough to buy your book, they may also recommend it to others.

Previously in this Series:

Two Things That Sell a Lot of Books: #1

Also in this series: Five Great Things That Don’t Sell a Lot of Books

Great Endorsements

A Great Forward

Great Reviews

Social Media

A Web Site