I saw a Tweet this morning that got me all fired up, something along the lines of '...a professional is somebody who doesn't give his work away.' (I suppose I could find the offending Tweet and just paste it here, but I gots points to make.)
It probably wasn't directed at me (paranoia forced me to type probably) but I took it personally because that's kind of my game right now--getting books to readers. From personal experience I know that thousands of published writers die on the shelf without ever seeing a royalty check. They jumped through the publication hurdles like they were Carl Lewis, but never built a fan base. Second or third books in their series never got published because the first book didn't sell like Snuggies. Maybe some of these guys were pubbed through a smaller press without publicists or marketers telling them what to do at every turn, and maybe some of these were writers who just didn't have the foresight or confidence to grow a fan base ("I'm a writer, not a salesman.")
Now I don't have too many people holding my hand, telling me what works and what doesn't. And a lot of new writers are in the same boat. That's why we hang out on forums and read blogs. I started looking for models from other fields, and this is how I stumbled upon a model that worked.
This time last year, I decided to give a thousand books away because this is similar to what the Grateful Dead did with recordings of their shows. They figured after they played a show it wasn't theirs anymore--it belonged to the fans.And I figured I wasn't selling books. I was selling myself.
In building support for my model I stumbled upon The Grateful Dead and the Tapers: A Distribution Lesson for the Arts where blogger Louise K. Stevens writes, "Face to face interaction with content is what builds audiences far more than all the PR and marketing in the world. Face to face interaction – sure, including via digitized media – that is facilitated by people just like you and me, who think enough of the content to pass it along, is even more likely to build audiences. Too bad that 99.9% of the artists out there have contracts forbidding the very thing that, as Kowasaki puts it, is totally enchanting in the simplicity of methods to build and keep thousands of happy fans. Think of it – a taper section at the concert hall. A taper section at the theatre, the opera. YouTube content that never stops, that is fundamental to audience growth. Encourage distribution, facilitate it, champion it. And watch the line at the box office grow and grow, just as it did for the Dead."
Think she's full of BS too? Then check out Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan. They talk about specific concepts that have made the Dead who they are.
Here's what the Dead have taught me:
The Dead have taught me stay away from the flock. Otherwise I'd still be querying agents. Of course, it can be argued that the new wave of publishing is just another type of flock, which I suppose it is. But since it's a flock of independents, it's more like a flock of mountain lions than a flock of ducks.
The Dead were prolific experimenters (both legal and illegally.) Experimentation yields innovation and keeps the flock on their toes. Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling were both genre outsiders. Maybe that's why Stephen King hates Stephenie Meyer so much? She didn't follow genre rules and play the games that you're supposed to play ("Publish a thousand short stories before you even think about querying...")
The Dead realized that the fans defined them, and didn't have a problem with trying to keep tight control over their music, imagery, iconography. They rewarded loyalty and innovation within the community, especially when it came to merchandise.
The Dead taught me that content belonged to the fans. This is a tough one for some writers to grasp. You can complete the best novel ever written and keep it in a drawer and charge one person a million dollars to read it. Or you can rely on hundreds (then thousands) of people to fall in love with what you do and hope that (and encourage) them to get a few friends to buy the book. This is Marketing 101. Word of mouth, and all that? (Some writers who haven't attempted marketing yet need to keep an eye on what you're posting and those scathing reviews on Goodreads, lest those words come back to bite you square in the ass.)
Most of all the Dead have taught me to do what I love. Don't write to market. Don't follow trends. Don't play it safe. One of the first things I heard as a writer was "..write the book YOU want to read." I took it as the writer saying my stuff would never get read, so I have to write for personal enjoyment only. And now that my stuff is being read I know he meant that you STILL have to write for yourself, first and foremost. Since I put my stuff out there for the world to read I have not had one miserable minute writing. I do not have to be reminded to 'get my ass in the chair' and do not have to be coaxed to keep up word counts. This is fun. Would I do it for free, as a hobby, the way I'm doing it now? Yes. I honestly would. But the fan interaction and checks and the opportunity to work with Raw Dog Screaming Press and Hatch Show Print make so much sweeter.
A friend from Seton Hill posted a link to Seth Godin's blog this morning. It was a short post if you want to check it out for yourself:
Building a job vs. building a business
He talks about the mentality of workers vs. entrepreneurs and it totally validated the way I felt this morning. And I guess what I would've said, if I would've replied to the Tweet was, "I'm not trying to sell books for a few bucks here and there. I'm trying to build something that's going to exist beyond this book, and the next, and the book after that."
And I guess I just did that here.