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I listen so you don’t have to

Before the “But”

I’m a huge fan of Create Space. Though as a cooperative publisher my main squeeze is LSI, as a freelance editor I am happy to recommend CS to writers who want to self-publish quickly. I find the CS website remarkably intuitive and free of extraneous crap. The CS Interior reviewer makes my heart sing, and its cover templates, with the automatic bar-code insertion, are easy to use and well documented. Their phone help is incredible: you call, you get through immediately, the people on the other end of the phone know everything you need to know. Their distribution channels are useful if not all-inclusive (and I expect that all-inclusiveness is right around the corner). And it’s all free, if you want it to be. It all works.

So I was excited to read that CS was hosting a free webinar about marketing. I signed up. I marked my calendar. I phoned in at the appropriate time.

But

Unfortunately this webinar was a waste of an hour for me. Admittedly, most of the problem had to do with the expectation I had built up, based on the erroneous title, but then who would sign-up for a webinar titled “Create an Outline for Business Plan that is so Generic You Can Use it for Anything from Ashtrays to 03-13_PlanningFlowChartZucchini”?

Mr. Jud, author and marketing strategist, could have been talking about selling coffee mugs or acne cream. His approach in this webinar was that of the entrepreneurial business person, with literally nothing that is specific to writing or publishing. He came across as a business man who chose writing as his business. I view myself as a fiction writer who embraces the challenges of marketing. As such, I found it impossible to identify with what Mr. Jud was saying on any level. Strike one.

Strike two was the lack of marketing specifics. Jr. Jud said he was going to describe a plan. What he did was provide the bullet points for a plan (a generic right that would do for any product, right?), then left it at that. See “What He Actually Said” below.

Poor Mr. Jud, you were undermined by CS and never stood a chance. Or possibly you really do not know the difference between facts and relevant facts. Your webinar was remarkably generic and full of buzz works with zero—and I mean zero—ideas specific to book marketing.

The Fiction v Non-fiction Dynamic

Despite the generic nature of the webinar, Mr. Jud did frequently mention the words book marketing, particularly with reference to his own books, which he markets, all of which appear to be non-fiction. Including the one on how to market books.

I admit to a prejudice. I am sick and beyond tired of being promised information on book marketing only to discover that the information provided is ninety-five percent about non-fiction books. Which are much easier to market than fiction, particularly if you are self-publishing. My prejudice began with the estimable Dan Poynter, whose book was vaunted as _the_ book for self-publishing authors some twelve years ago when POD first made the concept financially viable. I diligently scoured Mr. Poynter’s book and on-line writings, in search of the same information Mr. Jud promises: solid business advice on how to sell books. And I got exactly what I got from Mr. Jud: the occasional bone thrown to those of us in the fiction wilderness in the form of: “this also works for fiction.” Mr. Jud even mentioned Dan Poynter (in a sort of “he got there first” competitive way). But in fact the sorts of things Mr. Jud was talking about (the “sell yourself” approach as outlined below under “What Was Actually Said) really don’t apply to fiction, or to most fiction writers. A fact that the tales of ebook and online-marketing successes have illustrated. Most fiction writers do not aspire to become consultants or public speakers to moderate their own TV shows. They mostly bloody well mostly just want to write fiction, which takes immense amounts of time.

Early on in his presentation, Mr. Jud stated that mystery writers need to define their target audience and figure out ways to reach them. I’m not paraphrasing, that’s as far as it went. You have to take it as read that there were no specifics in this webinar, remember? That was his first mention of fiction. At minute 49 in the 60 minute webinar, during his bullet points how to grow a publishing business, he said the magic words “This also works for fiction” and then spent two minutes lauding an author he is promoting, a doctor who writes mysteries and has successfully used his doctor status to speak publicly about deaths in mysteries.

Now as we know, it is a great thing for a fiction writer to be an expert in something; expertise gives authority and makes the best possible foundation for promotion. I think warmly of noted mystery author, Martina Navratilova. But what about those fiction writers whose expertise is, y’know, writing? What about those of us in the same expertiseless boat? But I digress. At 51 minutes into the webinar, Mr. Jud ended his discussion of applications for fiction writers. Strike three.

Do I Hear a Counterpoint?

“You are being negative,” I hear you say. “That is the problem with you fiction writers; you have no business sense; you are unwilling to do the grinding work of promotion.” Not true. The distinction I am making is one of approach. I am driven to write; writing fiction defines who I am; it is the thing I do best. I don’t choose what I write because it might (accent on the “might”) lead to the most opportunities to consult, or line up the most and best speaking engagements, or getting a TV show. I might do those things because they sold books, but they are not an end unto themselves for me.

Marketing for fiction writers, from what I understand, needs to be approached from exactly the opposite direction; you look inside, at what you create, and figure out the best ways to market it to the audience you decide your work will most appeal to. Yes, you look for opportunities while writing that will help with your later promotion, and yes, if you have the wonderful expertise, you focus on that. Yes, you market like a fiend and as creatively as possible. And above all you manage your time as both a writer and a marketer—a struggle that Mr. Jud does not seem to be aware of.

So What Did He Actually Say?

If you’ve ever taken Business 101, you will have heard everything Mr. Jud talked about before on the first day. Now it happens I’ve never taken Business 101, but I’ve organized conferences at which it was taught, so I’ve heard this stuff a number of times. I will post one small graphic from the webinar (just as proof), and summarize a few others. For example:

Did you know that if you set aside an hour before work in the morning, an hour at lunch, two hours each evening, and ten hours over the weekend, you can have 30 hours to devote to your publishing business and still keep a full-time job? Of course you can’t have kids, or a social life, or, y’know, write, but that doesn’t seem to have occurred to Mr. Jud.

Did you know that 95 percent of all new business fail? But that 95 percent of all successful business are founded by people who have previously failed with a new business. Now you do.

Did you know that you have to have a plan for distribution channels, including retailers and ecommerce?

Did you know that you should try to interest a venture capitalist in your publishing business (I am not kidding!). And do you know what you have to have to do that? If not, here is your answer:

  • Mission statement
  • Executive Summary
  • Company description
  • Market Analysis
  • Internet Plan
  • Financial Plan
  • Marketing plan — objective, strategies, action

And finally, did you know that you should “have fun with plan”. This apparently to Mr. Jud involves putting cutsy graphics in your flow chart (still not kidding).

I had the great pleasure of listening to the wisdom of mystery author and speaker Christine Kling at a recent conference in Sarasota FL run by the Florida chapter of the MWA. May I say that there was more useful content in once of Ms Kling’s sentences than in the hour I spent with Mr. Jud? She never talked about writing process; she only talked about sales and marketing, but it was clear that she was a writer and was coming from the same place I come from, which made her business approach To be sure, her experiences and creative ideas were wholly fiction oriented, but no doubt they could be applied to non-fiction as well.

Come on, Create Space! You’re better than this. Figure out how many of your users are publishing non-fiction and how many are publishing fiction and plan accordingly. You only embarrass the estimable Mr. Jud by promoting him as something he is not. Take his advise and know your audience.

The webinar and power-point charts are available free from Create Space here.

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