Even Writing is a Results-Oriented Business
By Bruce Wawrzyniak
Podcasters want followers, YouTubers want views, both want followers (a.k.a. subscribers), indie music artists want downloads, and you as a writer want to see people consuming your creations too.
You publish something, you celebrate, you exhale, and now it’s time to activate the next phase so that you can see the fruits of your labor. After all, you’ve put lots and lots of time and effort and late nights (or, for some, early mornings) into your work, so now that it’s out, you want to see interest in your writing coming back.
On the surface that might just look like sales. And I don’t blame you because ultimately, sure, you want readers to purchase whatever you’ve put out. I’m here to tell you, however, that there’s a “but.”
The tendency is to only measure your success by how many books you’ve sold. However, the good news is that there are other indicators that you can and should take away to reassure you that people are noticing what you’re doing.
As a publicist, I know that writers will hire agencies like mine (Now Hear This) to aid them in getting more notice, but whether you take that or the DIY approach, it’s important to keep in mind what I’m sharing here so as to not get discouraged and think, “No one cares. I might as well just be writing for myself and putting this in my desk drawer.”
A respected PR colleague of mine has said (to clients), “I can’t guarantee you results, but I can definitely guarantee you the effort.” I like that because, with the possible exception of, say, a paid campaign (Facebook ad, for example), it’s a challenge to tell someone that one hundred percent, you will get them something. (Pro tip: Beware – someone can tell you that, only to have the “something” be that they interview you on their own podcast, for example, just so that you can’t say they didn’t get you anything.)
So then the next (fair) question to ask is, can I see the effort? With my Now Hear This clients, their monthly invoice includes a very detailed, bullet-pointed list of the work done on their behalf in the month that just concluded. If you have a publicist who sends you an invoice that simply says, “Monthly PR retainer,” be careful because if you aren’t in regular contact with them and AREN’T seeing results, then what did they do all month for that retainer you’re about to pay?
Let me re-state that yes, absolutely, at the end of the day your goal is sales. However, if you’re currently getting zero or one of the following, wouldn’t you feel a whole lot better if you were able to get results that looked like these?
- In-store book signings or readings
- Getting your book(s) onto shelves in bookstores, whether “big box” or indie booksellers
- Book reviews
- Posts being done on your social media accounts that aren’t just “buy my book.”
- Speaking at events
- Email marketing efforts
And yes, I’ll say it one more time, louder, for the people sitting in the back, ARE people buying your book. (Sidenote: podcasters often get accused of checking their download stats over and over and over. If all you’re doing is waiting by the mailbox to see if you get a check from the publisher, you could be getting yourself worked up and disappointed in between checks without reason. Meaning, I have a client who gives me access to Ingram Spark so I can log in and look to see the data on her book sales anytime. 😉)
At the time I’m writing this blog, I have one of my author clients booked four days in a row: first for an in-store book signing event at a Barnes & Noble, and then being interviewed each of the next three days. If you had four consecutive days of exposure opportunities but chose to only focus on the number of books you have or haven’t sold so far, I’d challenge you to take a step back and remember that, as we say in my business, with public relations you’re playing the long game. Just like you can’t expect to hire a publicist and at the end of the first month already see significant movement of the needle, you shouldn’t set yourself up for disappointment if you publish something and aren’t a New York Times bestseller by the end of the first week. I believe I even mentioned something along these lines in the last guest blog I wrote for SFWC. (As a speaker client of mine used to say to audiences, “I’m going to say that again for emphasis.” 😉)
Knowing your audience is key as you look for results. As someone who has been podcasting every week since February 2014, I’ve often preached that podcasters should not be going into Facebook groups (where their peers hang out) and drop links to their show. Why would other podcasters be interested in listening to your show unless it’s about podcasting? Similarly, an auto mechanic could go on “The Drew Barrymore Show” and talk about his new book that focuses on doing your own transmission repair at home. However, when he sees little to no jump in sales that week, it’s because he went somewhere that his audience doesn’t hang out. So, if you write in the self-help category but go set up a table to sell your book at a convention for anime fans, why would you be upset when you walked out having sold only one book?
So, when you look for results of something you tried, make sure you were in the right position first to set yourself up for seeing sales. If you say, “Wow, I set up a table at my church’s annual family bazaar and sat there for three hours and only sold one book,” it’s probably because you’re writing in a genre that doesn’t match with that audience. Just because you all go to the same church doesn’t mean that they all are eager to read the latest slasher book in your horror novel series. (And before you say, “Yeah, but they should buy it to support me as a fellow church member,” I’ll say, “Okay, and in return you’ll go around and buy one of everything that every other vendor is selling? After all, YOU should be supporting THEM too, right?” “Well, yes, but I don’t need a handmade bedspread that says, Proud to Be an American.” Exactly!)
Managing your expectations is a big part of the equation. There are a lot of cliches that, as overused as they might be, are actually relevant to this process, such as, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
If you simply publish your work and sit back waiting for the checks (or direct deposits) to roll in, I encourage you to look at all the other books you’re competing against through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, Bookshop.org, and the countless other retailers, be they online or brick and mortar.
If you’re not seeing results, ask yourself if you’re only defining that as sales and give yourself an opportunity to see that you are, in fact, making strides.
I look forward to seeing you in February at the San Francisco Writers Conference and helping you with your questions and challenges!