"I like to think of sales as the ability to gracefully persuade, not manipulate, a person or persons into a win-win situation.”
- Bo Bennett
Self-publishing has been around for a long time, but the ease that technology adds to the process has changed the face of publishing forever, and the business of writing is filled with new opportunities and more challenges than ever before.
It’s also brought out something--different. There are two different camps of authors, with two distinct approaches to the industry. The groups have probably always been there, but as the number of people who can and do publish has risen, the divide has become more obvious and pronounced.
The first group ascribes to the quote “The reading of books is growing arithmetically; the writing of books is growing exponentially,” by Gabriel Zaid in his 2003 work, So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance. There are plenty of readers out there but the problems of inattention, saturated genre categories, and poor user experiences with self-published work create a problem of discoverability.
While the “ideal reader” for each author might be an avid consumer of their genre, there is an untapped and largely unknown audience for each book. The trick is determining how to reach them and convert the non-reader or infrequent reader into your reader.
Those who see other authors as competition have a scarcity mindset: they imagine there are only so many readers in each genre, a small pie so to speak, and if i give you some of my pie, I have less. So their perception is that authors are battling for the same readers, and there will be only one victor: the one who sells that reader a book.
But is this really true? Can’t the reader buy, read, and review more than one book? Aren’t there plenty of readers out there for all of us? Shouldn’t we all be striving to enlarge the pool of readers?
There are three premises each writer must understand before moving into collaboration:
- Writing is a business, and books are a product.
- Business involves both collaboration and competition.
- Collaborative innovation is the key to expanding reader audiences and solving discoverability issues.
Watching the evolution of the publishing industry from Big Five publishers producing print books in various forms to the rise of ebooks, self-publishing, and small presses has proven these premises.
Writing is a Business, Books are Your Product
You can be as literary about your work while you are writing as you want to be, but once it is edited, has a cover, has been formatted, and you have decided how to distribute it, you now have a product to sell. The author is the number one authority and spokesperson for their work, and must take on that role.
The marketing part of the business is the one authors struggle with the most. This is because most often on social media and their blogs they have focused on connecting with other authors and blogging about writing (write what you know, right?) rather than focusing on readers. But other authors are not their audience.
Authors get free books all the time, and requests to review. Between book trades and giveaways they seldom buy books. However, if they have developed a reader following of their own, they can introduce them to new material.
Business Involves Collaboration and Competition
Google sells ads for e-commerce sites and wants to be the first place you search for items you are looking for. However, Google also wants to provide you with the best search results possible. Amazon, their rival in many areas, still shows up in their search results often. Amazon buys ads and is also a go-to place for many shoppers to purchase items.
Just because they compete does not mean Google delists Amazon, or Amazon does not buy ads on Google. Both understand that although in many areas they compete, in the end they also work together to provide a variety of shoppers with exactly what they are looking for.
Authors promoting and supporting each other has the same effect. Some people will like one author’s work more than another’s, but both can share the same group of readers and introduce them to each other’s work.
The publishing industry has evolved due to several disruptive factors, yet earning a living as a writer is just as hard as it was before the disruption. There are those doing it, but what sets them apart from the rest? They are engaged in both innovation and collaboration.
“What do you get out of innovation?” asks Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University in a community conversation titled What is Innovation? “You get improved value, greater efficiency, all those things. Better outcomes, beneficial partnerships.” Collaboration is a necessary part of innovation he further states. “You cannot innovate by yourself. It's a group process, and it's built around teaching and learning.”
A spokesman for innovation in education, Crow is right. You can’t create a novel by yourself: you need a team including an editor, cover designer, interior formatter, and others. Nor can you market by yourself, and learning from the mistakes of others will serve you well. This is the heart of collaboration.
Teaching is simply sharing what you have learned so others do not have to repeat your errors. There’s no reason to take on the daunting tasks involved in being an author today without helping others and receiving their help in return. Artists freely sharing information, such as that created by Author Earnings, helps the publishing industry as a whole.
Those making a living writing are on the edge of innovation. They are creating new content, finding new ways to put their work in front of readers from audio to video to interactive games and contests, chats, and the use of social media in new and exciting ways.
They also understand the science behind Google and other search engines as well as optimizing their content on sites like Amazon.
They also gather in groups, like the authors that formed The Twelve, a group of authors that combine works for sale in bundles, create new work around central themes, and even allow fans to collaborate with them to create stories and characters.
Their initial work quickly hit bestseller lists, while at the same time exposing them to each other’s set of fans and followers. It continues to be an experiment in innovative collaboration.
There are tons of writers out there, and hundreds of books both good and bad are being uploaded every day. But those hundreds of books are not your problem. You can rise above the crowd and get noticed. To do so, you’ll have to collaborate with other authors and stop looking at them as your competition.
After all, it’s not dog eat dog if we work together to make the changing and challenging publishing industry a win-win situation.