Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Way I See It: Lottery Mentality

Anyone who knows me knows I tend to see things differently than others. It's just the way I am wired. So I have decided to start a column called The Way I See It. If you are a new writer or an author trying to make it in the digital age, it may offer a new perspective you haven't thought of. If you like it, cool. Leave a comment and I will write more. If you don't, that's cool, too. It's not meant to be the gospel according to E. It's just the way I see it.

I have real qualifications as a writer. For the last twenty plus years I have earned my living (and a very good one, I might add) as a writer. I have nothing against people who have cobbled together careers as writers but had to do many other jobs to survive. It's tough out there. I'm just saying I feel I am more qualified than most to talk about a career as a writer since writing (and producing what I've written) is my only career, and has been for a very long time. I know what it takes to have a full time writing career.
I entitled this post Lottery Mentality because most people I know—my friends included—have what I call a lottery mentality.  Let me state right here that I am not an elitist who is above the lottery.  I’d love to win the lottery.  Whenever there’s a huge jackpot I buy a ticket.  I never win, but at least I am in the running.  I want to win like everyone else, but my hopes and dreams aren’t tied to winning the lottery.  The lottery is not a part of my life plan.  If I win great, but if I don’t, my life plan is still in-tact.  So what does this have to do with writing, and more importantly, what does this have to do with you?
There’s something wonderful happening in publishing these days.  As the days go by, the role of the so-called gate keepers is diminishing. This is a good thing for writers. The barriers to publishing are coming down.   A writer can now connect directly to the audience.  They don’t need the approval of the Big Six publishers.  They can publish their books or short stories themselves.  All they need is a book, a book cover, a twitter account and a blog, and they are good to go.  Let the readers line up, and the money flow.
This is what many writers think when they are deciding to self-publish.  If you are self-published and that’s what has happened for you—you put your book out there and the money flowed—great.  But for the majority of us that’s not what will happen.  Publishing a book (self-published or not) and thinking you are now ready to begin to earn a living is like buying a lottery ticket and believing all your money problems are solved.  Somebody hits the lottery every week, but chances are it won’t be me, and in the lottery of book publishing, it probably won’t be you.  I hope it is you.  I really do.  But if this has not been your experience with your books, I want to tell you why, and give you some food for thought as to how you can turn things around.  A little background first.

About a year ago, a little known author named Amanda Hocking started having a windfall in sales for her Trylle Trilogy.  She was written up in the Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post.  She sold over a million books.  And guess what? She was self-published.  A lot of people started thinking.  “I am as good a writer as she is—better!  If I sell just 100,000 books, even if I only earn 33 cents a book (Amazon pays a smaller royalty if you sell your book for ninety-nine cents) I will earn $33,000 dollars.”  If you thought that, or anything like it, you were using lottery mentality. 
I am not even going to get into all the years and number of manuscripts Amanda Hocking tried to get to major publishers only to be turned down.  That’s not my focus here. (But if you’d like to know more about it go HERE.)  My focus is to let you know that each and everyone of you can make a living as a writer or an author.  You can make a good living, but do not expect it to happen over-night.  Do not expect to win the lottery.

Here’s how I see it.  You ever notice how many times movie trailers run on TV just before a new movie comes out?  That’s because it takes three to six impressions for us to even notice the trailer.  Once we notice the trailer, we still need to see it at least one more time before we say “I want to see that movie.”  It doesn’t mean you’re actually going to see the movie; it just means you want to see it.  The movie has made an impression on you.
So the first thing we need to do before we start raking in the dough as authors is get “impressions.”  And remember, one impression isn’t enough. People need to see and hear about our books between three and six times for the impression to stick.
When my YA paranormal novel Boyfriend From Hell first came out, I gave one away on Goodreads.  It was a week long giveaway. My publisher told me the big publishers were giving away 10 or more at a time.  He was giving away 3 of his.  I told him one was enough.  I wasn’t interested in giving a book to someone to review.  I wasn’t interested in reviews. I was interested in impressions.  If 1000 people said they wanted the book I just made 1000 first impressions.  Yes, I wanted to sell a ton of books.  Yes, I wanted to hit the lottery.  But if I didn’t hit the lottery, I needed a solid plan as to how I was going to find sales. 
As some of you may know I spent most of my career in the movie and TV business. I want us to all take a lesson from all the great movie and TV marketing machines.  No one does marketing better than Hollywood. They believe impressions first, and then sales.  Politicians are now also following this model.
In addition to my Goodreads giveaway I went on two blog tours back-to-back.  Redundant?  Of course it was redundant.  But isn’t seeing the same ad for a movie five times in one night redundant?  Impressions.
My sales started slowly—less than a book a day.  Now (four months later) I am averaging 100 books a week without any promotion.  When I do a promotion (like Kindle Daily Nation) it’s a lot more.  Boyfriend From Hell spent nine consecutive days on the Amazon Top 100 seller list in the Girls & Women category in early January.  This did not happen over-night.  Boyfriend From Hell came out in September.  That month I sold around 69 books.  50 of those were at my launch party. As January ends I am closing in on 1000 books for the month.  Why the increase?  Because instead of fretting over the lack of sales, I went after impressions.

I am going to stop here 1) because I want you to digest this 2) because I hate being long-winded.  But I want to ask you indie authors or would-be authors something: how many marketing posts have you read that mentioned impressions?  I’m guessing none.  Spend any Thursday night watching TV and you will see how the big movie companies practice this. Shouldn’t we be doing the same thing? Copy success is what I’ve been told.
The good news is you don’t need to spend a fortune to get impressions.  In my next The Way I See It post I will discuss ways to get impressions and also start a new subject while I am it. 
And hey, if what I am saying here isn’t holding up for you—cool.  Don’t read the next post.  But if you have been struggling trying to make a career as a writer, and this has touched a nerve, please come back, please leave a comment, and please tell your friends about the post.  I’d love to hear from them, too. And remember, I am not trying to create a controversy here; this is not the gospel according to E.  I don’t have an axe to grind or anything to prove.  This is not an expert's hypothesis on how to make it as a writer. It’s just the way I see it.

Peace.

28 comments:

  1. Okay. I'm impressed. I shall rejoin your next post.

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  2. As someone editing my book and trying to get published, this is really helpful information. As I'm writing my book, I'm trying to build impressions and get people to know about it in hopes it will help me when I'm trying to get published. I'm definitely looking forward to your next post. As a starving artist I want to know as many tips as possible.

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  3. I've always been bothered by the lottery mentality, particularly when I realize that I've fallen victim to it myself. I think you made a great point, and you made it well. i'll definitely be back. And I'll be ready to take notes. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

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  4. A great insight to a challenging process. I am looking forward to the next in the series.

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  5. Definitely refreshing and insightful. All of this needed to be said. Thank you and see you soon E!!

    xoxo
    stacey jo

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    1. I second Stacey Jo's comments.. Great and invigorating thoughts.

      Anya

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  6. Excellent post, E! Look forward to your next (as always)...:-)

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  7. Very, very interesting. All my author groups spend reams of words on how to increased sales/get your name out there etc. & you're right--until now I haven't heard the word "impression." I spend a couple of hours a day promoting on yahoo groups etc., ask for reviews, do guest blogs--all of which everyone recommends. Sales? nada, zip or almost zip. I've been wondering about giveaways or markdowns (I'm indie published) as a route--like Hocking did. How helpful is that? M. S. Spencer

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    1. Hi Ms. Ellsworth, thanks for responding. You may be making an impression and it hasn't yet turned into sales. In my next post I will talk about how to get impressions without spending any money. It should be in a week or so. Do not despair over weak sales. Please stay tuned.
      -E

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  8. Nice post! I definitely agree about this. You can't focus too much on one thing...you just gotta keep trying to get the word out and making more and more impressions (good word!!)

    -lauren

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  9. Good advice. My first book, "Diana's Dreams" sold pretty well the first two months, then it kind of deflated. Instead of being stressed, I am working hard to get the second one done. If the second one does well, it will probably encourage people to try the first one.

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  10. Wow! You have blown me away. Thank you so much for writing this. Out of all the books and articles I have read about writing and publishing, this is the first time I've heard anything like this and I believe it. I will definitely be reading your future posts. Thanks again!

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  11. Fascinating post. I was published by a big house first (Random House,) then went on to self-publish, and am now being published traditionally again next year (Penguin), and I agree that impressions count. I liken it to the way I had to put carrots in front of my toddlers at least ten times before they started thinking of those orange things as food. In self publishing, there is less of the hard launch than there is in traditional publishing, but the nice thing about that is that you can continue building a readership without worrying about somebody pulling the rug out from under you, whereas in traditional publishing, they'll back your publicity for only so long. (And believe me: it's not very long!) Either way you're published, your own marketing efforts count not just for now, but for the future.

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    1. Thanks, Holly. I agree. My traditional publisher backs my books for four months. My Indie publisher works with me to keep sales strong as long as it takes. But like you said, either way, at the end of the day, marketing is on US.
      -E

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  12. Excellent Post. Chris Meeks told me to read it. Glad I did and I'm looking forward to learning about impressions.

    Kevin Gerard

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  13. Wow, first of all thanks for the post on Book Blogs, without that I would have never read this. To be honest, this reminded me of something my father would say (even though he's not at all an author). I'm really impressed. Thank you! I'm currently writing my first full length novel (in lieu of my short stories) and this really helped me. I'll be coming back for more definitely!
    ~Kristy

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  14. Good column. Great perspective: The Way I See It. Without some interest in your writings you get no progress in those goals for readership and sales. Very helpful; Write more.

    Lynn

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  15. E - This is my first time on your blog and I find your post very interesting. I never really thought about it that way before. I am blogging my books and poetry right now and I doubt that I will make any money off of it, but like you, I would love to make an impression on people. In my view, if you make an impression on someone and they will pick up your book when they have the opportunity. Reading a review of someone's work does not really work for me...kind of like movie reviews; how do I know that you and I share the same tastes?

    Is there a way to follow your blog via email or RSS?

    Thanks for the share
    Words-In-Motion

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    1. Hi Words-in-Motion, thank you so much for your comments. You can go to my website and sign up for my newsletter. I only email when I have a contest or one of these posts. Both are rare, so I won't clog up your in box. My next post is tomorrow, Tuesday. I hope you get something out of it. Please leave a commnet if you do.
      -E

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    2. Web address http://evanlowe.com/

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  16. Wow...lots of great info with this post! I shall stay tuned in. :)

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  17. I really appreciate this fresh perspective of what is really important to focus on. I will be applying this as I strive towards my goals of editing and publishing my own work in the future. Thank you for a great post!

    bookwormcastlegirl @ http://bookwormcastle.wordpress.com

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  18. When I first read "Lottery Mentality," I thought you meant that there was a certain amount of luck involved in success (in addition to determination and of course, talent). I had a little chuckle when I realized what you meant. In fact, I had several little chuckles throughout.

    If anyone deserves the success, I have a feeling you are one of them. Glad to have seen your post at BookBlogs (my time spent there has unfortunately dwindled by necessity). I thought, "Hey, I need to see what E. is up to." Am heading to check out your other post (and to tweet this one).

    Paul D. Dail
    www.pauldail.com- A horror writer's not necessarily horrific blog

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  19. Well, the clouds are beginning to roll back! I have found out that I hate letting others make decisions about my work! I guess what I am disappointed in as a writer is not being able to move at my own pace. I have great ideas for promotion if my Publisher would follow through. I believe in my work and know it was meant to be published. I just wish I had went the self published route. Thank you for your post. I can't wait to read more.
    "DJ"

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  20. Thank you for a wonderful post. I completely agree. I don't think many readers go out to buy 'just that book' anymore. They browse. Impressions create familiarity, and a lot of times when scrolling through the thousands and thousands of Amazon options a familiar cover or title is enough of a reason to choose one book over another.

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  21. I don;t think I have a lottery mentality, in that the writing came first and the publishing much much later. I've entered the world of publishing on the premise that lots of people will read my words rather than that lots of people will give me money for doing it. However, since having books published, the being paid becomes a lot more relevant and I've started to work for it. I've always believed in impressions but didn't think to join up the thinking so to speak. That was a very thought provoking article.

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