Author Mission Statements and Strategic Plans

Businesses have mission statements and strategic plans. As a writer, shouldn’t you have them also? After all, writing is your business. Let’s see if these tools are right for you.

First, what are they? A mission statement is different from a strategic plan. A mission statement is a written declaration of what your business is striving to be, a vision of its intended future. It embodies the goal and vision of what the business seeks to become. It is bold, imaginative, and inspiring.

author-mission-statementA strategic plan is a detailed blueprint of how to achieve that mission. It assigns intermediate actions to complete, and dates when each action is to be done. It is a logical progression of steps toward the goal. It is achievable and actionable.

Why are these things useful to businesses? Sometimes, in the rush of things, it’s possible for someone in a company to make a decision or take an action contrary to what the company is all about. A mission statement focuses everyone in the company on the single goal. In the moment of decision, a glance at the mission statement might keep an employee from taking the wrong path.

The strategic plan takes employees out of the lofty, pretty world of grand visions and gives them a practical, measurable way to work toward the goal. It breaks down the seemingly impossible vision into concrete tasks they can accomplish.

Fine so far. It’s easy to see why businesses find mission statements and strategic plans useful. For one thing, most businesses have more than one person in them, often hundreds or thousands, and sometimes millions of employees. A mission statement helps to keep all these people focused on a single goal, and the strategic plan helps them all achieve it.

Still, one person can have a mission statement. Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, advocated personal mission statements for individuals.

But, as a writer, do you need these tools? Authors such as Shannon from Duolit, Allen Watson, and Joanne Phillips cite good reasons why you do.

I don’t know.

If we were to ask the most successful authors today (use whatever definition of ‘successful’ you like), I bet few of them bother with mission statements or strategic plans. They might tell you their credo from memory or come up with one on the spot, but they haven’t written it down, let alone tacked it to the wall above their computer.

Still, just because they achieved success without these tools doesn’t mean you will. Perhaps you’d find them useful, even necessary.

Particularly if you’re the kind of writer who just wants to write, and detests the messy business side of it. Perhaps you don’t even like the word, ‘business.’ Sorry, but if you want to sell your work to readers, then your writing is a business.

Realizing that still doesn’t mean you like the idea, though. For you, a well-crafted mission statement could connect the fun writing side of it to the imagined best-seller/movie-deal/mansion-and-sports-car side of things, and remind you that dealing with the business part is your path to achieving that future.

For you, a strategic plan might be just the thing to break down all that intimidating business stuff into manageable chunks. Even though you have no staff, no other employees, a list of small tasks to accomplish can make those unpleasant business goals more achievable.

Depending on your attitude toward business, marketing, and sales, a mission statement and strategic plan could be beneficial to you. Just a couple more items in your writer toolbox, courtesy of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 18, 2016Permalink

Of Brands and Platforms

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned ‘author branding’ a few times in passing, and wrote a post on ‘author platforms.’ But what’s the difference between the two, and is one more important than the other?

First, let’s define both terms. In Brian Niemeier’s post on the subject, he quotes Jane Friedman’s definition:

Author Platform = the proven ability to reach a target audience with visibility and authority

Niemeier then cites Joe Konrath’s definition of brand:

Author Brand = the reader’s linkage of author name with a positive reading experience

Author BrandTo understand branding, think of the effort major corporations put into getting customers to associate the corporations’ products and logo with a happy experience.

Philip Martin has listed the ways author branding is akin to religious faith, though I wouldn’t go that far, and the analogy with religions quickly breaks down. In my view, it’s better to think of branding in the context of corporations, such as those marketing fast food or soft drinks.

Even better, think of your favorite authors. Just the act of recalling each of their names evokes the linked memories of your satisfaction with their books. For each author, you form the mental gestalt of their genre, writing style, typical settings, and common character types. The whole pleasurable reading experience comes flooding back to you upon the mere mention of a name.

That’s the effect you want to create in your readers. How do you do that? First, write great fiction. Ensure some commonality between your stories, in genre, style, settings, or character types. The more of these that are in common between your books, the more effective your branding will be, since readers will better know what to expect. You’ll achieve the consistency necessary for closer linkage of your name with your body of work. Lastly, you’ll have to do the marketing necessary to keep reinforcing that mental connection of name to experience.

Once you achieve effective branding, where a tribe of loyal readers associates your name with a great reading experience, then they will spread the word about you, and through them you’ll reach new readers. It’s that ability to reach new readers that is your platform.

Having defined and described platform and branding, what is the relationship between the two? Obviously, they’re related and intertwined. If you have a recognizable brand, you’ll have constructed a platform, which further establishes and cements your brand.

Think of platform as being from the point of view of a major publisher. Traditional publishers don’t often risk publishing works by authors who don’t already have a platform. Think of brand as being from the point of view of the reader. It’s in the reader’s mind where the desired linkage of name and experience occurs.

In my view, brand comes first, then it builds your platform, which then reinforces your brand and they snowball together after that.

That’s it, pardner. I reckon you better stop readin’ this an’ start heatin’ up your brandin’ iron. You got a heap o’ work to do, and so does—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Writing Success, Thanks to Mr. Pareto

All things being equal, no two things really are equal, are they? That strange little fact, along with a rule thought up by an Italian economist, could improve your fiction writing, or at least allow you to manage your fiction-writing time and other resources better.

220px-Vilfredo_ParetoVilfredo Pareto came up with a principle now named for him—the Pareto Principle. It’s also called the “80-20 Rule” and the “Law of the Vital Few.” Pareto noted the following inequalities, or uneven distributions: only 20% of the Italian people owned 80% of the land, and in his garden, 20% of the peapods contained 80% of the peas.

It’s surprising how often this rule applies in everyday life, and it could even apply to your writing. Let’s say you’ve written ten stories and had them published, and over a given period, here were the number of sales:

Title Sales
The Wind-Sphere Ship 12
Within Victorian Mists 40
Alexander’s Odyssey 8
Leonardo’s Lion 4
A Steampunk Carol 9
The Six Hundred Dollar Man 6
A Tale More True 1
Rallying Cry / Last Vessel of Atlantis 2
To Be First/Wheels of Heaven 1
Time’s Deforméd Hand 4

If I sort the data in order from most to least, make a bar chart, and add a line representing the cumulative percentage, I get a Pareto Chart, like this:

Pareto chart

If these really were my sales numbers, I’d note it’s not quite true that 20% of my stories were getting 80% of the sales, but this graph still illustrates the concept of the vital few.

Seeing this data, you might be tempted to shift all your marketing efforts to the three or four books currently selling well. Not a bad idea, but I’d caution you to continue monitoring the books out at the ‘tail’ of the curve. Watch for a book that’s trending leftward and increasing in popularity.

If you had enough data on your (and others’) writing efforts, you might find:

  • 80% of your writing time is spent on 20% of your writing product. Thanks to Bob Parnell for this one, and the next two.
  • 20% of all writers achieve 80% of the sales income.
  • 20% of writers are sending 80% of the submissions to publishers.
  • 20% of your science fiction world-building will be enough to satisfy 80% of your story’s needs. Thanks to Veronica Sicoe for that.
  • 80% of your sales come from 20% of your marketing efforts.
  • 20% of your blog posts get 80% of the hits.
  • 80% of all fiction book sales occur in 20% of the genres.

I’d caution you not to take a strict interpretation of the Pareto Principle. It’s just a guide to show you the outputs of your efforts are not uniform, and give you ideas about where to focus. There’s a good critique of the Pareto Principle written in a guest post by author Debbi Mack.

For now, I think we’d all agree that 80% of the best fiction out there is written by 20% of the authors, especially that one who calls himself—

Poseidon’s Scribe

8-Fold Approach to Marketing Fiction

You’ve spent innumerable hours all alone writing your book. That’s done; the book is published. All you have to do now is switch personalities, become an extreme extrovert, and market your book. For some, that’s easy and fun. For others, not so much. This post is for those who are confused by, and a bit scared of, marketing their fiction.

Marketing Your BookThere’s plenty of advice out there, both online and in excellent books, about marketing your stories. Many websites provide long lists with scores of tasks for you to do. It’s a bit intimidating.

My intent today is not to make marketing easy, but rather to break down the problem into chunks. Specifically, just eight chunks. I encourage you to explore the subject further. Read the long-list blog posts. Read the books. Watch the videos. But go into it knowing you won’t be doing everything they suggest. Nobody does that (because nobody can).

Your marketing campaign will be different from that of all other authors. Uniquely yours. You’ll do the things you can, the things you’re comfortable with. In time, you’ll stop doing the things that don’t work, and you’ll experiment creatively with new things.

What follows is my attempt to organize the marketing process into parts. There’s some overlap between them, because the process is interconnected as an integral whole, all focused on getting readers to buy your books.

  1. Plan the Campaign. Here’s where you do the advance thinking, figuring out your target audience, your approach, and your budget. You’ll study how others have done it. You’ll write out a marketing plan. You’ll consider timing your book launch for maximum effect, and create your launch strategy.
  1. Brand Yourself. In this step, you craft the picture of you that you want potential readers to have. This is about you, not your book, though your book must be a consistent part of the story, or image, that is you. Through your website, social media, author photo, e-mail signature, and practiced elevator speech, you’ll convey your intended brand.
  1. Explode Outward and Reach People. The goal here is to seem to be everywhere your potential fans are. Not in an annoying way, but suddenly they can’t stop noticing you. Wherever they are, you are, on podcasts, at conferences, book signings, social media, e-mail newsletters, interviews, etc.
  1. Think Like a Potential Fan. You need to put yourself into a reader’s place and make it easy to buy your book. Test out all the links and all your promotional material to ensure they aim toward the sale. You want every interested person to be able to buy your book with ease and without frustration.
  1. Tempt Future Readers. Work on your “curb appeal.” Ensure your website, book cover, author photo, book trailer, etc., are irresistible. Run contests, offer coupons, provide giveaways, show free book excerpts, and hand out swag.
  1. Create Buzz. The idea behind this might seem identical to Step 3, but this one is intended to leave others talking about you and your book. This involves book reviews, blog tours, press releases, entering contests, etc.
  1. Maintain Reader Connections. Here we think long-term and work on retaining your fan base, once initially established. Keep contact with loyal readers via newsletters, e-mail social media, etc.
  1. Manage Your Time. As I said earlier, you can’t do it all. You’ll have to budget your time; stop doing what isn’t working; schedule some time for each part of your marketing plan, and balance that with writing your next book.

This is just the start of your marketing journey. Read these excellent posts by Kimberley Grabas and Caitlin Muir for more in-depth information. By grouping the overall process into eight chunks, I hope this post has simplified and de-mystified the marketing game for you.

Oh, yeah. And buy all the books you can find by Steven R. Southard, also known as—

Poseidon’s Scribe

February 21, 2016Permalink

Dividing Your Time

A long time ago, in a writing and publishing galaxy far, far away, authors could write all the time and the publisher would do all the marketing. Not any more. These days, authors must do their own marketing.

But who has time for that?

Dividing timeWell, you’d better make time for it. Somehow. Sure, you want to spend your precious time writing and you don’t like marketing. That’s why you became a writer. Still, it turns out that your preferences don’t really enter into this—you must do most of your own marketing (or pay someone to do it for you).

Let’s assume you’re done grumbling about that fact and have reached acceptance. You know you must spend some time marketing, and now it’s just a question of how much.

After all, marketing does consume time. Book marketing activities include blogging, blog tours, author interviews, arranging for reviews, book signings, podcasts, social media, and making promotional videos.

How are you going to balance all that with your writing? Let’s take two extreme examples, those of authors Ty Prighter and Mark Etter.

  • Ty Prighter wrote all the time. He disdained marketing and refused to devote any time to it. After all, he said, that’s the publisher’s business. Ty believed the more he wrote the better author he’d become; if he became skilled enough, readers would find his books and want more. His books would market themselves.
  • Mark Etter wrote one book. He got so busy marketing it, he had no time to write another. He enjoyed the social interaction of marketing. Mark discovered which marketing methods worked best for him, and ceased the ineffective ones and focused on those that increased sales.

Which of these authors was more successful? Actually, neither writer practiced a good time management strategy.

It was a long time before readers noticed Ty’s books. He did improve his writing, thanks to the time he spent doing it, but improvement was slow due to the lack of reader feedback. He missed out on a lot of sales he could have had if he’d reached out to readers early.

As for Mark, his book did sell, but some of his readers wanted more. He had no more. Popularity of his one book didn’t rise as high as it might have, had there been a sequel, or at least other books written by that author.

Ty and Mark are fictitious examples, of course. For you, in the real world, it’s going to take a balance. More than that, you’ll have to experiment to find the optimal split of time for you between writing and marketing. You may have to force yourself to do the marketing activities, or you may learn to enjoy them.

I wish I could offer you a numerical percentage of time that has worked for me. However, I’m much closer to the Ty Prighter end of the scale. I don’t spend much time marketing, other than blogging. I do enjoy that, but the effect of blogging on sales of my books has been lackluster. I’m working toward a better balance of marketing and writing time, but it’s difficult.

May the force be with you as you figure out your proper time balance. Once you do, consider sharing your wisdom, and leave a comment for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

December 27, 2015Permalink

Dimonstrazione

We’re continuing today with my series of blog posts discussing the principles of How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci, by Michael J. Gelb, and how they relate to writing fiction. Today’s principle is Dimonstrazione, a commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.

DimonstrazioneIt’s not enough just to be curious about people and the world, as the first principle of Curiosità advocated. You must add to your knowledge and seek truth by testing and experimentation.

In our current Age of Information, it’s so easy to accept the word of experts, to trust Wikipedia, etc. But Leonardo da Vinci didn’t put his faith in the word of others. He put things to the test. He experimented and tried things for himself.

How does this apply to your fiction writing efforts? The world, the web, and even my own website are all full of advice for beginning writers. But no one knows what novels will catch on next year. Your ideas about what might become a bestseller may conflict with every bit of common knowledge out there, but you might be right.

You have to be willing to try things, different things, bizarre things. If they work, ride that wave and keep doing them, even if the professionals advise against it. If they don’t work, stop doing them, even if it means disregarding every expert in the world.

Here are several ways you can employ Dimonstrazione in your writing life:

  • If you’re trying to find out writing habits that work the best for you, try writing at different hours of the day, in different locations, for different lengths of time, using different word processors (or even pen and paper), etc. Find what works best and stick with that.
  • Realizing that some people accept the principle of Dimonstrazione and others don’t, make that a contrasting trait between two characters in a story—one who won’t accept authority and puts established knowledge to the test, and the other who accepts the word of authority as fact.
  • To determine what your ‘voice’ is, try different voices. See which one your readers respond to best.
  • If money or fame are not important to you and you only write for enjoyment, find those genres, plot types, themes, settings, and character types that give you the greatest pleasure to write about.
  • If you’re trying to increase your readership, experiment with the various elements of fiction (plot, character, setting, theme, and style) and see which stories sell the most copies.
  • What are the best conferences for you to speak at? Try several, and see which one causes the biggest uptick in sales.
  • If you don’t know what type of free book giveaway will result in the largest e-mail list, try different types of giveaways—different rules, etc.
  • Study the market and see what’s working for other authors. Don’t copy everything they do, but consider changing your methods to get a little closer to their way of doing things.

The important thing about Dimonstrazione is its philosophy, its approach to understanding knowledge. When you read or hear the advice of an authority, be skeptical and apply some critical thinking. If you believe the truth is different than what the authority says, test it for yourself. If the experiment proves you wrong, admit your error and adjust your beliefs.

Through persistent application of Dimonstrazione, you’ll start to think more like Leonardo da Vinci, or at least more like—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 6, 2015Permalink

Writing Blurbs

Whether readers buy books online or in a bookstore, they look at the cover first and the blurb second. If the blurb doesn’t grab them, they move on. Don’t kill that sale with a bad blurb.

BlurbA blurb is defined as a short description of your book, written for promotional purposes and appearing on the back cover. That definition sucks all the life out of the word, though. Scratch out “written for promotional purposes” and substitute “written to seize the prospective reader’s attention and imbed an irresistible desire to possess the book and read every word.”

My primary publisher, Gypsy Shadow Publishing, asks for two blurbs for each book—a long one that’s less than 150 words, and a short one no longer than 25 words. Both of these are difficult for me to write, but the short blurb is the toughest.

What should be in a blurb?

  • Hint at the plot or main conflict.
  • Name and mention distinguishing trait of main character(s).
  • Describe the setting or ‘world.’ This is vital in science fiction and fantasy.
  • If available, include quotes about this book or your previous books.
  • If space available, include an author bio.

How do you write one?

  • Study other book blurbs in your genre. Learn the common words and language.
  • Write a summary of your book (if not done already), then shorten it down to its essence. What’s the book’s “elevator speech?”
  • Use image-laden words, those powerful words that speak to readers of the book’s genre.
  • Ensure the tone of the blurb matches that of the book.
  • Write several blurbs and combine the best features.
  • Set it aside for a few days, then read it again. If meh, rewrite.
  • Ask your critique group to comment on it. You are in a critique group, right?

Further Reading

You can find out even more about blurbs from Amy Wilkins, Marilynn Byerly, and the master of writer advice, Joanna Penn. I’ve shamelessly stolen from them in writing this post.

Examples

Here are three of the 25-word blurbs from my most recent books. These don’t contain all the elements noted above, but the 150-word, lengthier versions do:

  • Ripper’s Ring:” The ancient Ring of Gyges grants the power of invisibility to Jack the Ripper. A Scotland Yard detective tracks a killer who can’t be seen.
  • Time’s Deformèd Hand:” Time for zany mix-ups in a clock-obsessed village. Long-separated twins, giant automatons, and Shakespeare add to the madcap comedy. Read it before it’s too late!
  • The Cometeers:” A comet threatens Earth…in 1897! Of the six men launched by cannon to deflect it, one is a saboteur. It’s steampunk Armageddon!

With some practice and creativity, your blurbs should be even better than any written by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Writing and the Black Swan

My question is, once you understand how the Black Swan relates to writing fiction, will you be so dejected that you’ll abandon any idea of becoming an author?

black swanNassim Nicholas Taleb wrote The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and it was published in 2007. A statistician, the author was trying to get readers to think about low-probability events and our estimation of their risk.

He defined a black swan event as having three properties: (1) it is very rare, to the point of being almost impossible; (2) it has a huge impact on people, either positively or negatively; and (3) people do not (or cannot) predict it in advance, but after it occurs, everyone sees that it should have been predicted since it was obvious all the time.

By the way, Taleb chose the metaphor of a black swan because most swans are white, and black ones are very rare. In fact, people were convinced that all swans were white, until proven wrong. That’s part of Taleb’s point. If a rare event hasn’t occurred today, or yesterday, or for your entire life, you come to believe it cannot happen. Since black swans have a massive impact when they do occur, there is a huge difference between impossible and improbable.

I read the book about two and a half years ago, but I recall Taleb discussing success in writing as a black swan event. For our purposes, let us define success by the amount of money earned from writing. Success in writing, therefore, is rare, has a huge impact on a few writers, and is difficult to predict in advance but obvious afterward.

Taleb would conclude that if we could compile the relevant accurate statistics, the resulting graph would look like this:

black swan and writingThe vast majority of authors earn very little money, while very few earn a large income from writing.

Why is that? I believe Taleb would say that an author’s income is related to the popularity of his or her books. That popularity is determined by readers when they hear about the book, learn that their friends like it, and when they read it and recommend it to others.

People hear about books from various media outlets, so the media plays into book popularity. Luck has a role too, since poorly written books sometimes become bestsellers despite the writing quality.

Let’s say you’re an aspiring author, and let’s assume all the above is true. Does it depress you to know how much the odds are stacked against your success? Does it make you want to give up on your dream?

If you truly are writing for the money, there are things you can do to position yourself for the black swan. You can become really good at marketing; you can seek out (or pay for) media attention. You can practice your writing until you become more skilled at it.

No guarantees come with any of that, but your odds of success will improve a bit. The trouble is, you could strive for years, doing everything right, and still not achieve success because that intangible luck eludes you. That’s disheartening.

Alternatively, you could redefine what success means for you. You could decide you’re not after money, but seeking the pure enjoyment of writing, or the thrill of seeing your name in print. That’s a much more probable event, not a black swan at all.

Still, it’s my hope that the black swan of financial success from writing pays a visit soon, to both you and—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Join Me at BALTICON this Weekend

b49_banner_1

All right, Poseidon’s Scribe fans, here’s an opportunity for you. I’ll be speaking, and generally causing trouble, at BALTICON this weekend. BALTICON is the major science fiction and fantasy convention near Baltimore, Maryland.

Here’s my schedule (subject to change):

Date Time Topic
Friday 10:00 PM Being Out in Fandom
Saturday 10:00 AM Engineers Can’t Write? Some Known Counter-Examples
Saturday 1:00 PM Do You Want Pulp with That?
Sunday 11:00 AM Readings
Sunday 4:00 PM Autograph session
Sunday 8:00 PM Bars, Inns, and Taverns: Fiction and Reality
Sunday 9:15 PM Book Launch: Ripper’s Ring
Sunday 10:00 PM Knowing That I Know That You Know: Xanatos Gambits and Chessmasters
Monday 12:00 PM Long YA, Short YA
Monday 1:00 PM Tropes In Young Adult SF/F

For some of the panels I’m the moderator and for others a panelist. After years of sitting in the audience at these events, now I’ll be one of the authors doing the yakking. A new experience for me.

Stop by, say hi, and listen to the wit and wisdom of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Video Trailer for Avast, Ye Airships!

Here’s a marvelous video trailer for the anthology Avast, Ye Airships! 

 

The trailer was made by d chang, and the original music composed and performed by Dan Bernardo.

The music and video have a nice, ethereal quality. I love the sounds of—well, it sounds like rope tightening, or planks creaking—interspersed with the rush of wind. You really feel like you’re aboard a steampunk pirate airship. You may even be overcome by an urge to drop everything and buy the book.

I hope you do, and that you enjoy one story in particular, “A Clouded Affair,” by—

Poseidon’s Scribe