Jay-Z, rapper turned multi-millionaire, has this lyrical statement on branding, “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man.” He is, and so are you.
New writers are easily stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place: publishers invest in authors who sell well, but you need to be published to sell. My first manuscript is collecting dust because first-time authors (I don’t want to self-publish this one) usually need a sizeable following to mitigate the risk of investment. That means in the business of books, if you’re not a minor celebrity before you publish, take a hike. Thankfully, I enjoy a good hike, and although a seven figure advance and monthly royalty cheques worth more than a nice lunch may be out of my reach, there’s plenty of opportunity to write as career. Full disclosure, writing as career takes considerable work, and at times you will feel like a used car salesman, BUT you have the necessary tools to make it happen with or without a big publisher.
I would like to share one particular focus referencing my experience not as a writer, but a businessman who’s operated a marketing consulting firm for over a decade: the foundation to any marketing venture is your BRAND. Writers, of all professions, are potential experts in branding. How so? Brand is the story why someone should believe in you (or your book). (Your brand is most likely your name.) Writers are storytellers. We have the capability to build captivating narratives. A powerful brand opens the door to develop connection with readers, cultivate relationship, and ultimately grow a tribe that will not only buy your stuff, but evangelize for you as well. The payoff is huge. Established tribes (read Seth Godin, 'Tribes’) may not be massive in number, but together they offer longevity necessary to continue writing/producing without the need to hit anybody’s best seller list.
Building the story is the easy part. The hard part? Growing your brand into a platform. If brand is the story of ‘why’, platform is the equity you generate from it. Thankfully, there are a plethora of tools to help build platform. Unfortunately, there are a plethora of tools to build platform, so many in fact, that it can become tiresome sifting through the noise. Building platform is a lot of work, especially when your market is especially niche. (The pro and con when writing to a specific niche is you can build an effective tribe quickly, but it may not be big enough to support your craft. It doesn’t hurt to conduct market research for particular projects to see if the audience is enough to justify the time investment.) It’s time consuming to post content to your blog, write on your Facebook page, and send out some tweets. The advent of social media increases the opportunities for exposure, but you have to be certain your time is worth the effort, and you’re reflecting your voice. For example, the single most important aspect for blog posts is the title (headline). But how far do you go? Should you use gimmicky click-bait titles? Would it reflect your voice or will it only cheapen your content? (My initial title for this post was, "15 Ways First Time Authors Can Hit the Best Seller List…or not” simply as an exercise in clickbait.)
We look to build platform because the allure for our work to 'go viral', hit the best sellers list, increase market share, etc., is appealing, but it also means means learning how you 'sell'. That might mean putting on your greasy car salesman jacket and using tactics learned from that newsletter of some marketer turned writer promising ‘killer tactics’ to write the best 'top ten lists' that will produce 'incredible results'…. To be honest, although I’ve never seen any of these bloggers produce seminal work, they certainly attract an eager tribe, and here's the thing: so can you. The question becomes, “what sized tribe will I be content with?"
Writers write because we can’t think straight without putting pen to paper, and most of us, dare I say, want to change the world we live in. Who better to lead the charge than storytellers beckoning readers to confront their tensions and leap into an unknown? It’s funny in a way, the business of writing has a goal for more, which inevitably leads to a struggle with discontent. But if writing is about changing the world in our world, we can do that, it’s achievable, attainable, but perhaps only for a chosen few—that tribe ready for adventure, and you.
Rohadi is currently completing a Christian adult coloring book slated for release this June. He blogs on church innovation, particularly topics on the missional church, and can be found on Twitter.