Here we go!
Part 1 in the For Writers! program is a fundamental concept for all authors. It requires a brutal and difficult look at ourselves by ourselves and from the perspective of others. It honestly doesn’t get much more terrifying or difficult than that. It’s a step that must be taken if we are to step out of our comfort zone and become the author and live the life that we want.
You can’t just claim to want it here. You have to be open to and willing to take the steps necessary, no matter what. This survey is meant to be difficult and get to a place of deep perspective and understanding of yourself as an author, and the people who become your readers. If you can’t take this step, you can’t be surprised when you fail, and it isn’t anyone’s fault but your own. If you think this is harsh, you might want to reconsider your decision to be an author. You can make all of the excuses that you want, but if writing your life into what you always wanted it to be is really what you want, this is a big part of the process. You can’t just skip it. It will always come down to this.
The back story
I’m not immune to the lesson I’m giving you here. I learned it the hard way and it wasn’t all that long ago. I gave up some control of my books in exchange for some marketing help, and it didn’t go according to plan. Quite the opposite really. Things went south and resulted in me pulling my contracts 30 days in. In the process of getting all of my rights back, some damage was done to my reputation. I went from being labeled as a bully publicly right to being compared to Faleena Hopkins (the girl that tried to trademark the word Cocky). Things escalated for weeks with broken links being sent out on social media to having to threaten to sue before the damaging posts stopped and I could get my books fully under my own control again.
It wasn’t easy to deal with. It came about because I had a strong belief against something controversial. Trigger warnings. I felt strongly enough about it that to me it was worth cancelling 5 contracts and enduring the mayhem that ensued. It was directly impacting my reputation as an author in a way that I did not want.
After all of that settled, I still had to work extra hard to repair the damage that was done and republish everything from scratch. I lost at least 7,000 potential followers and fans in that ordeal and more than a few friends. I knew I had to handle the situation in a way that wouldn’t cause more damage for myself, and I had to do it in a way that didn’t do any damage to the others that were involved. Deserving of it or not, I want to be known as the author that helps people. You can’t do that by publicly tearing other people and businesses down.
That was what it took for me to realize just how important the reputation of the person with the name on the cover of a book really is, regardless of who published it. Don’t let that become your nightmare.
The author listed on the cover of a book, is who is blamed when things don’t go right with a book. Take full responsibility for how it looks, what it contains, and what happens with it from day 1.
That is a hard lesson. The fact that everything that happened, from the missed release date through the bad links being shared publicly wasn’t my doing is irrelevant. I am the author. It will always be my fault/responsibility.
It doesn’t matter if a book is self or traditionally published and it doesn’t matter who’s fault whatever did the damage might have been. When something negative happens with a book, the name on the cover is the responsible party in the eyes of the buyer. Period.
You have to plan and act accordingly or someone who doesn’t like you, someone not as competent as you thought they were, or even someone meaning well but saying the wrong thing, can build a reputation you don’t want to have, for you. This technically applies to everything, but when you are an author intent on selling written works, reputation really is everything.
Build the reputation you want from the beginning.
When you give some thought to your reputation from the get go, you build everything you do around what you want people to think when they see your name somewhere. You understand why it’s important and you protect it at all cost. When you build it in the way you want it to be at the beginning, it is much harder for something external to damage it as you move forward through a tough and cut-throat industry like book publishing.
It might seem like a daunting task, especially when you are still figuring out how everything in the writing and publishing world works, but I assure you, taking the time, at any point, is worth it in the long run. It just makes it easier if you build it into everything from the beginning.
I know first hand how difficult it is. I also know how much you have probably already heard other writers tell you to make sure you do this thing and don’t forget to do that. What they don’t do is tell you how to do it. They don’t give you any guidance other than don’t do this or that.
So, I took some time to do some research and then do some deep, dark, soul searching to come up with something I think you will find tremendously helpful. It’s helped me. It’s these 3 simple questions, but it really isn’t easy if you do it right. Nor should it be.
Here are the questions. Go ahead and write down your answers to them now before reading on.
1) Am I trustworthy?
2) Am I respectable?
3) Am I sharable?
There are a ton of other questions that you could ask yourself, but when it comes to being an author that sells, these three are the basest and most important ones. If you can’t honestly answer yes to all three of them, your success will be limited, you will struggle to find your tribe, and selling will be difficult at best. Figuring out and fixing why you answered no is where the work comes in. Don’t be afraid of it. See what it takes, do those things, and you will become a better author because of it.
Now, after you wrote down the off the cuff answers to the questions above, read through this next part. Then come back here and answer these 3 questions again, with brutal honesty. The insight you gain from this process will be priceless.
Am I trustworthy?
This isn’t about whether or not you are the only person in the family with a key to Grandma’s house or can be left alone with a ton of money without taking any. This is about whether or not a reader can invest their time in you and your work and believe they get their money’s worth. A quality cover, professional edits, and a genuine care that a reader will enjoy the time spent with your story speak volumes to readers. What they know about you ahead of time, when your name comes up as they are looking for new books to read, tells them whether or not to buy yours. If you haven’t published yet, they have to search for information about you without a book. What are they going to find and will it convince them to buy your book?
Am I respectable?
Do you handle yourself in situations that strangers can respect? What do strangers see when they come across your social media pages? Do they nod their heads and go, “yeah, I can respect that”? They don’t have to agree with it, but if you handle all of it with integrity and an air of dignity (not simply ranting, fit throwing, or whining), they will respect and support you for it. One off situations can be overlooked, but even with those, the way a situation is handled publicly can make or break an author’s reputation and help or hinder book sales.
Am I sharable?
You might want to think that if you answered “yes” to the first two questions, that this one is irrelevant or an automatic yes, but it isn’t. There are 7.7 billion people on the planet, and 70 million of them will buy something from you. They have to have seen it a minimum of 6 times or you have to connect with each of them personally at least once and be memorable. Do you have the energy to connect with and sell a copy to each and every one of 70 million or a good sized advertising budget to do the reach for you?
The answer is probably an astounding no. That’s why you are here. So, what are you doing that is creating an author persona and platform that is easily and happily sharable by others. Are people reading and leaving reviews? Why not? Are people that you know have read your work telling other people about it? Why not? What can you do differently that would turn that around.
Now that you have read through the whys, go back and answer the questions honestly based on the new information.
Remember that brutal honesty is crucial in this process. Don’t let you convince yourself that a handful of reviews out of 100 people that you know have read your work means they are telling other people about it. If you aren’t where you really want to be, the brutally honest answer is no, and you have some serious work to do.
Did you survive that ok? Great! Now comes the hard part. Take that exact same 3 questions and your readers. Get them to answer brutally honestly and read their answers with a tough skin, a grain of salt, and a whole lot of humility. Their feedback is a crucial part of the process, especially if it is not what you expected to hear. Good and bad. Use it to learn where you need to improve.
It is my sincere hope that this survey provides you with fundamental insights that provide the information that you truly need to succeed. I’ve built a lot around it because while my ultimate goal is to succeed as a writer, I’m nothing if I’m not helping someone else get there too. This survey is the first step. There is a full, in depth course on professionalism for writers and bite sized workshops for those that need more hands on, step by step assistance under the For Writers section of the site. Check them out here.