Author as Leader – 5 Tips to Position Yourself for Success

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The other day I was reading an article about a certain health care executive for my day job (which is in health care marketing) and I realized the exact same advice she gives for developing leadership skills in that industry could be applied to authors.

What’s her advice? I’m going to outline it and then talk about how I think it applies to us.

Build a network of great colleagues that represent a variety of connections in [the industry] – I think we writers do some of this without really thinking about it because we are so happy to be with our tribe, to meet people who understand what it’s like to have characters talk in your head, or conversely, to suddenly stop talking, and all of the other oddities that make us writers.  I met all of my fellow Spellbound Scribes on Twitter several years ago when we were all trying really hard to finish books by the end of the year. I think we were maybe connected by the #amwriting conversation. (Do any of you remember for sure? I remember we called ourselves #teamawesome for quite a while.) Sometimes, it’s just that easy.

Join professional organizations/volunteer – Networking should also be something we do consciously. Almost every major writing genre from horror and mystery, to romance, historical fiction and women’s fiction has at least one (if not multiple) professional associations. Join up. It’s okay if you don’t do much at first while you get the lay of the land, but then get active. Go to conferences. Join a committee. Volunteer to write or run something for them. The more you get out there, the better your chance of making friends and getting more out of your membership.

Identify leaders you want to be mentored by. Don’t be afraid to make a list of the top authors in your genre and make a concerted effort to meet them. Got to their signings or to conferences where they will be attending. Say hello. In the meantime, create lists on Twitter of the hot authors your genres and slowly get to know them through social media. That way, when you finally do get to meet them at a conference or signing, they will hopefully remember your name or at least an interaction we’ve had.

I’ll give you a brief example of how this has actually worked for me. A few years ago, I fell in love with Patricia Bracewell’s writing. I tweeted her and told her how much I loved her debut novel Shadow on the Crown. She wrote back and was very gracious, so I started following her. We’d tweet from time to time. Then about a year or two later, I got to meet her at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver. I told her my name and reminded her of our conversations. I was fortunate that we got to talk for a bit there. Then the following year, I asked her for a blurb for my book. She wasn’t able to give one, but she did tell her fans about my book’s publication. Now, next month, I’m going to be on a panel with her at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Portland. All because we stayed in touch via social media.

Mentor those just starting out. This is key in any industry, and it’s just a nice thing to do. Think about when you were a green newbie. Chances are good that someone took you under their wing, or at least took the time to answer your questions. Now, you are that expert, so it’s your turn to give back. Whenever I speak at an event, I make sure to hang around after to answer questions and I always let the audience know they can email me anytime (and I give out my business card). When they do email, I respond quickly. I may not always have the answer, but at least I can try to point them in the right direction. If you’re in a local chapter of a bigger organization, seek out the new members and do your best to make them feel welcome. Even if you don’t believe in karma, helping those who are new is the right thing to do.

Think big – We should all be planning our publishing empires. How many plot lines are in your head? How many series can you envision writing? Do you plan to branch out into other genres? Who might you want to team up with to co-author a book? If you write fiction, what non-fiction topics could you tie in and write about? Have you considered writing a companion book to one of your series? What about opening your copyrighted world for development by other authors, like Kindle Worlds allows?

Why stop with ebooks when print and audio are reasonable to produce? Have you thought about boxed sets (either producing your own from your books or joining with other authors)? What steps can you take to get into foreign markets in English? What about translations? Who can you talk to about merchandising or TV/film rights? Even if you know these things won’t happen for years, be thinking about them now. Cultivate contacts and learn new skills. That way, you’ll be ready when the time comes.

Anticipate changes – This is easier said than done unless you are a natural futurist, which I am not. I’m sure we all wish we could have foreseen the advent of self-publishing, but we can do our best to look for trends within the bigger industry or at least stay informed of what visionaries are thinking. Join newsletter lists, follow blogs, join Facebook groups. That is how you’ll know what’s going on, and over time, you’ll start to notice trends. Here’s one that’s been going on for a while, but is popping up all over again lately: traditional publishers (especially the Big 5) devoting fewer and fewer marketing dollars to mid-list and emerging writers. If you can recognize trends like this, you’ll be able to do something about them. In this case, maybe you set aside a percentage of your next advance to hire a publicist, or maybe you learn how to design your own ads.

No matter how you are published, you’re your own best advocate, and you always will be. By taking that leader’s advice and incorporating these thing into your career as best you can at the moment, you’ll be positioning yourself for success. Our industry is tough, but if we can demonstrate the same qualities that make a good business leader, we will attract positive attention. Like anything else, you get out of your writing career what you put into it.

Does any of this resonate with you? Why or why not? What other advice would you give? What have you done to be a good leader in the writing community?

We Get By With A Little Help From Our (Writer) Friends

I took the first step in this journey as a writer alone.

The only person who knew I was writing my first manuscript was The Missus. No one else. I had this strange fear back then, that if I told a bunch of people I was writing a book and it was never finished, never published, never sold any copies or whatever, I would be be considered a failure. It was a silly fear, I can admit that now, as my friends and family aren’t horrible people and wouldn’t look down on me for trying something that didn’t ultimately work out, but that’s how I felt at the time. And if I’m being honest, I was probably more worried about failing and disappointing myself.

And thus, I wrote my first manuscript pretty much in a vacuum. I had no idea about the publishing industry, about trends in genre, about the appropriate word count for a first time manuscript (hey this story is kinda like Game of Thrones, those books are super long and they’re super popular, surely this can be as long as I want it too!)

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But most unfortunately, I had no idea there was a community of writers on Internet that were in the same boat as me. In hindsight, I probably should have gone out searching for these folks, but I was so insulated and focused on JUST GETTING IT DONE, I didn’t think there was a need to find other writers until I actually had a book finished I could share. A bit of social anxiety had something to do with it too. I’ve actually met a few of my now Writer Buddies in real life (which was AMAZING) but starting out, there was (and still is) something uniquely terrifying about putting yourself out there – you and your creative work – to strangers on – even on THE INTERNET – for the first time.

It was only after I had the first draft of my manuscript done that I told anyone I’d been writing a book. The response from all friends and family were very positive and most of the questions were “Are you going to get it published?” Well of course I was! That’s why I wrote this damn thing!

And it’s just that easy isn’t it?

Franco Interview WTF

So after typing “how to publish a novel” into the ol’ Google Machine and reading about one hundred million articles about getting an agent, and how the industry works and just how unimaginably difficult it is to get a book published the traditional way, I was just a weeeeeeeee bit overwhelmed.

One of the things that really stood out to me in all these articles, was the emphasis on building a presence on social media and network of folks in and around the industry. The best way to do this, by all accounts, was through Twitter. This was completely foreign to me, a guy who has a sparsely populated Facebook and thought Twitter was just a tool for people to show off what kind of latte they got at Starbucks on a particular morning. But I was in it to win it, so I signed up and started searching out other writers.

The first real immersion into the Twitter writing community was through a little hashtag called #WriteClub (you may have heard of it), a sprint club hosted by a rotating group of writers on Friday nights. This is where I found my first real Writer Buddies. These folks had been through all the same things was me while writing my manuscript and many were much further along in the journey than I was. It was inspiring and comforting to find people I could share my experiences with and learn from theirs.

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And it only built from there. I was finding new people to connect with every day and I still am. I just entered my first Pitch Madness contest ever this past weekend, and have already met a whole bunch of new and exciting writers to follow. And the community just keeps growing too. I had a wonderful conversation with a writer from the Pitch Madness hashtag who is where I was just a couple of years ago and I hope sharing my experiences helped her as much as so many others helped me.

I’ve met so many amazing people over the last few years, almost exclusively through the Twitter writing community. So many great voices, so many great stories – some already told, some still waiting to be. There is so much talent – discovered and undiscovered – out there, it’s astounding. So many funny, brilliant, caring minds out there that are going to be writing so many amazing stories for years and years to come.

These relationships have been priceless to me and my development as writer and developing my craft, but beyond all that, these relationships have meant so much to me as a person too. I’ve met folks in this community I consider to be real friends, not just people on the Internet I share a common interest or career goal with. They’ve become an important part of my life and I hope I have for some of them too.

Most important of all, I’ve learned that if you want to make it in the publishing business, you have to let go of your social anxiety, you have to let go of the fear someone isn’t going to like your work. You have to let go of the fear of failure. You will fail, and spectacularly in some cases, but you will have people there to pick you back up when you’re down.

Your friends.

Dang, this post got mushy.

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So how about you, dear readers? How did you go about finding your kindred spirits in the writing world? How has the community impacted you and your work? Who’s a little misty-eyed right now? C’mon, be honest.

We’re all friends here.