Becoming a Writer: The Opportunity Is Out There
A massive shift in the publishing business is empowering today’s writers in ways that were simply not possible in years past. Reaching readers directly has never been easier, and the writers who know how to take advantage of the new strategies and tools are charting new paths to success.
As the publishing industry churns and struggles to find a new equilibrium, writers have gained more power than ever before. Writers who used to feel constrained by the old system are now are liberated to build their writing careers on their own terms.
Get started immediately! This eBook gives you a quick overview of the basics of content marketing for writers. Download it here: A Guide to Marketing Your Creative Work.
How Publishing Has Changed
In the past, getting picked by a publisher was the only option. If you couldn’t convince an editor to validate your work, you had little hope of being a “real” author. The Shift to Digital has opened up a ton of new opportunities for writers to become authors. There are two monumental changes that directly impact you as a writer in today’s world:
- You don’t need to wait to get picked by a Gatekeeper.
- You can reach your audience directly.
Publishing used to be a services industry. If you got past the Gatekeeper, you were promised precious access to the key channels: proper catalog listings, placement in bookstores, book reviews in reputable outlets, and author events. Unfortunately, most authors were quickly relegated to the mid-list, as publishers spent their limited resources on their “tentpole” authors. The channels listed above used to be scarce, so writers had no other option but to accept their fate.
But digital eschews scarcity, and the Web created infinite shelf space and virtually limitless outlets. It also created a lot more noise. The old methods of marketing don’t work anymore – they amount to shouting. “Getting the message out” used to be about buying space in controlled and well-protected channels. Once everyone rushed into these channels, you couldn’t shout loud enough to get heard anymore. So, new methods emerged.
That’s where word-of-mouth marketing comes in. It’s something that’s always been there, but now it’s of primary importance in running your marketing campaigns. Word-of-mouth marketing is your own readers recommending your book to other readers. Sounds simple, and it can even happen by itself. But it won’t start that way.
You have to roll up your sleeves and do the work of connecting. No more shouting – it won’t work anyway. You have to have real conversations with real readers. The channels to connect are numerous. You have to get to know your readers in order to ask for their support. It will be worth it, though. All it takes is to convert a few readers into advocates, and they will become your best marketers. They will bring you more readers, and some of them, in turn, will become advocates too.
This is a lot of “new” responsibility for writers, and I still see a lot of resistance to the concept. But it’s absolutely required now. The secret is that it’s not as hard as you think, though. Readers want to connect with you – they crave proximity to people who create valuable work. In the digital world, you’re going to be connecting around content, and – good news! – you’re a writer. You can do this.
Here’s a grossly over-simplified summary of what you need to do to make word-of-mouth marketing work for you:
- Write a really good book. It needs to be a compelling story, obviously. But you won’t get a chance to prove that it’s compelling if it’s not a professionally-produced final product. Get some help with this. Hire a copyeditor and cover designer, at the very minimum. It will be worth it.
- Build an audience. Success as a writer in today’s world requires that you forge a real connection with your audience. There’s no shortcut here; you have to do the work. Start small with social channels and don’t get overwhelmed. It’s just a conversation, talking about a topic you know well – your book!
- Empower them to share. They need to like you, trust you, and be willing to spend their social capital on you. Make sure that you provide them a good story, and plenty of sharable content about that story.
If it’s that simple, why are so many writers still stuck? It comes down to a basic shift in mindset.
Financial Freedom for Writers: Today, It’s Possible
As a writer, you are a startup and your book is the product. It helps to think of it as its own business. You will be more successful if you think of it as an entrepreneurial endeavor. You’re not just writing books – you’re an entrepreneur who’s running a business.
Your business needs two basic things:
- You need a good product.
- You need a good brand.
Let’s examine why. First, you have to build a good product. Without a good product (your book), your startup is going nowhere. It’s the primary means of connecting with your audience, and may be even a profit center too.
Let’s be realistic, though. It’s very difficult to make money from a book itself, especially as a new writer. There are two pathways in how to make money writing, with two separate strategies:
Strategies for Writing Fiction
For fiction writers, the book is the revenue source – it’s the product you’re selling. And given the low price point, you have to sell a lot of books in order to be successful. If you do the math, you realize pretty quickly that your strategy is not just to write a book. Your strategy is to write many books.
For you to get to the point of financial freedom, you really do need to be thinking about multiple books. The simplest way to do this is to start thinking in terms of a series, not just one book. You can start planning on this right from the initial concept. Start storyboarding your plot beyond one book – how can you extend it over 3 books? Or 5? Or 12?
Aside from the functional benefits – having more than one product to sell – this strategy also helps you build up anticipation as well. My friend Satin (a successful author herself!) even advises to hold off on publishing your first book until you have the next one ready.
Strategies for Writing Non-Fiction
For non-fiction writers, perhaps the book is not intended to be a direct revenue source. Perhaps you use the book as a means to get other work. Many authors think of their book as content marketing for consulting work or speaking gigs. For professional speakers, consultants, and other practitioners, the book is a way to “extend” their sessions and cement their ideas, post-engagement. They might sell it at speaking gigs or simply give it away after a consultation.
That’s where your brand comes in. Your brand as an author is really important, just like any company’s brand is really important. A consumer is less likely to trust the product if they don’t trust the company. The same goes for an author and his/her book. As a non-fiction writer, what you’re really selling is yourself. People have to trust you.
Your product will contribute to your brand, but there is a lot more to it than just your book. It’s all of the supporting content around your book, plus the conversation that happens around you and your book by others as well.
Your Word-of-Mouth Marketing Strategy
In either case, for your product to take off, you need to have other people recommending it to their own network – and they have to do this willingly. It’s very hard to see significant growth without this. When selling your book or your brand, others are far more credible than you are. I call this C2C (for “customer to customer”), and though it’s the most difficult to achieve, it’s the most effective growth engine.
As a professional writer, you are running your own small business. It doesn’t matter whether you are published or not. That’s because traditional marketing doesn’t work anymore. You need to develop and foster word-of-mouth marketing – real people talking to one another about your book.
How do you achieve this? Real word-of-mouth marketing starts with a good product experience. That’s more than just your book – it’s other content you produce, too, plus the connections you make via social channels. Each of these contributes to your brand. Good book + good brand = good product experience.
The better you get as a writer, your product experience will deliver more value to your audience. Then you will be in a position to hand the marketing over to your advocates. An advocate knows her network better than any marketer can. There’s a matching process – content to consumer. “You would get something out of this.” Connection.
Produce really good work, consistently. Make connections and develop your brand, continuously. It’s essential to your small business as a professional writer.
Writing Careers: The New Skill Set
If you want to make money writing fiction, non-fiction, or as a freelancer – the opportunity is yours for the taking. It’s going to take a lot of work, and you’ll have to hone your skills. Here’s a quick roadmap for writing your own ticket.
First, establish your goals, because it will help you make better business decisions. Don’t settle for anything less than a professional product. And while you’re building the product, forge meaningful bi-directional connections with your audience. It’s your business, your choices, and your effort. Do the work and don’t leave anything to chance.
The 21st century is the best time to be a writer. The Shift to Digital (for writers and readers) has opened a ton of new opportunities that just weren’t possible before. But take your craft seriously – being a professional writer is difficult. Why? It requires a ridiculously broad skill set. You are required to:
- Be a good thinker. Have a good idea.
- Be a good writer. Execute on the idea.
- Be disciplined. Completing a large project is hard.
- Be a good editor. It’s ok to get help with this.
- Be open to criticism. Your work is better for it.
- Be entrepreneurial. Produce and maintain your own brand.
- Be a good planner. No schedule = no product.
- Be a producer. A professional product, nothing less.
- Be connected. Talk to your audience. No hiding.
- Be professional. This is your job, not a hobby.
All these are within reach. With a little practice and persistence, you can do it. If you have to, take one skill at a time and develop each one. Pick a current weakness and do everything you can to get up to speed on that skill.
You are more than “just” a writer. You are a startup. Your book is your business – it’s time for you to think of it that way.
Yes, you can learn all this on YouTube and on various blogs by some excellent entrepreneurial authors. If you want some direct help so you can accelerate the process, I have two ways to help you:
CreateBiz: Content Marketing for Creatives (Online Course)
Many writers dread marketing, because it feels “icky” and self-promotional. CreateBiz teaches a more soft-touch approach instead, which is more effective in growing a devoted following.
The course is 42 video modules, with dozens of worksheets, templates, and strategic assignments to help creatives get focused and efficient in building an audience.
See for yourself – have a look at the first module here and see if you think this would help. Then sign up for a free set of email lessons to “try it on.” No obligation, just the hope that you’ll learn something new that you can start applying immediately.
- Taking control of your creative business as a writer
- Amplifying your reach to “fill the top of your funnel”
- Finding the right customer – not just random readers
- Email strategy: Tailored messages and automation sequences
- Segmenting your list into Leads, Fans, and Buyers
- Nurturing Leads into Buyers, and encouraging people to advocate for you
- 3 separate strategies for earning recurring revenue
With an 8-point plan of attack to get you started.
There are 3 specific issues that hold writers back from achieving their goals. Which one is holding you back? Start here to find out your roadblock so you can bust through it. We’ll help you with a set of free email lessons – again, no obligation. Just good, sound content marketing strategies that are specific to creatives like you and me.
Also published on Medium.