Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Serious Authors Put Customers First.

Think like an author: I make a point of trying to turn writers into authors. You can be both, of course, but there is a difference. Writers do the introverted, creative work. Authors do the extroverted, outreach work. If writers are comfortable in an ivory tower, authors are comfortable on the street. 

If forced to make a choice, I prefer my own customers to be authors. Two reasons. First, if an author can't write, I can help. If I writer can't reach out to readers, I can do nothing. Second, the author who can't write will always be more successful than the writer who can't think like an author. (One of my favorite projects was a book by a man who couldn't write. He couldn't spell, punctuate, or produce a grammatical sentence. On the other hand, he knew who his customers were and what he wanted from a book. And he had hilarious stories. Despite his lack of writing talent, his manuscript was an easy edit. The result: he has sold several thousand copies of his book.)

So, think like an author. And act like one. This means the following:
  • First, you start a book project with specific customers in mind. For most books, your customer will be your reader. In some cases, notably regarding a children's book, your customer will be your reader (a child of a certain age and description) and your buyer (parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, teacher, therapist, etc.). Doesn't matter. In  both cases, to borrow an idea from the late business and nonprofit consultant Peter Drucker, your aim is to change your customer's life. 
  • Second, you start interacting with your intended customers immediately. For those who already have identified customers, perhaps because they have been working in a particular business or ministry for some time, this will not be a problem. For those starting from scratch, it might be news. However, it should be common sense. If your aim is to change someone's life, why would you even think of waiting. Your work is your work. Your purpose is your purpose. Neither depend on having a book in hand. On the other hand, when you do get a book in hand, your ability to sell a copy depends on you doing things consistent with your work and your purpose. Why wait? 
  • Third, you spend the bulk of your time and energy on understanding and meeting your customer's needsfor information, inspiration, and entertainmentthan on polishing your work. As above, you can hire someone to dot the i's and cross the t's. It's harder to find someone with your passion and conviction who can carry your message to your customers. If they could do that well, they'd write their own books.  
Putting customers first does not mean you pander to them. This is not about giving them what they already have, know, or can do for themselves. It's about giving them your vision, your ideas, and your energy in a way that will change their lives for the better. It's about understanding that your book is not about you but about your relationship with your reader. If it's only about you, no one will buy it. The Publishing Pro

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Ephemeral Character of 21st-Century Publishing

No stopping: Not so long ago, books had a permanent quality about them. It was built into the beast. You had to print more than you needed, almost always, and you wouldn't go back to the printer until you needed more, almost never. Revisions, big or small, were too expensive. You lived with the odd mistake and went onto the next project.

Not so anymore. Books seem no more permanent than magazines, even newspapers, used to be. Newspapers themselves are in the process of going digital, which means they no longer have even the overnight "permanence" that they used to have. Photos have become ephemeral, taken on smart phones and posted on Snapchat for seconds, less record of an event than syllables in a jabbering conversation.

In any case, technology has made books easy to change, so much so that author-publishers have no idea where to stop. Publishing appears to be about constant changesconstant improvement for those who enjoy the process, constant correction for those who don't. Doesn't matter. Nowadays, it is hard to stop.

I'm going to suggest three approaches.
  • The first is to lean into the ephemeral world. If books are ephemeral today, so be it. Do them and move on. G.K. Chesterton might have had this wisdom in mind when he said that "anything worth doing is worth doing badly." His many fans have a tendency to turn this quote into a sort of high-minded spirituality, something to do with the spirit of play, but it probably originated from a more practical place. At various points in his career, he worked as a journalist and had firm deadlines. In this world, you do the best you can in the time allotted, and you hand in what you have. If you don't, you won't get published. If you don't often enough, you get fired. So ... do it, and don't look back.
  • The second is to lean away from the ephemeral world. Books—at least the printed kind—are still the medium of permanence. While ebooks go into the digital ether, the printed book goes on the shelf. You can pick it up, hold it in your hand, sniff the pages. Scrapbookers of the world, unite! Your one-offs are more likely to get passed on to the next generation—and the next, and the next—than a digital book that is likely to become obsolete as the technology changes. (Think of all the Super 8 family film that you can't view any more, the old audio on wire recorders that you can't hear any more, and the computer files on 8-inch disks that you can't read any more.) And then realize that if you don't get your book printed, you won't have anything to show for your work. 
  • The third is to find the creative synthesis between the ephemeral and the permanent world. For that, you need only to look at story, which can pass from medium to medium into memory and has the capacity to survive changes in technology.
Remember the story.The Publishing Pro.