Finding Success as an Author-Entrepreneur: 4 Lessons from the Startup World
Authors often like to think of themselves as pure artists, and writing as solely a creative exercise, but the reality is that in today's marketplace writing is a business. If authors embrace the business mindset, and even some of the tools from the world of business, they can save time and money, and gain the freedom to write without so many economic pressures. Specifically, there are four lessons from the world of entrepreneurship that can help you on your quest to success as an author-preneur: do things that don’t scale, validate your ideas, use data to measure outcomes, and get to know your customers (or in this case, your readers).
Do Things That Don’t Scale
Entrepreneurs, more than most small business owners, are focused on the idea of scaling quickly. In this case, scaling means adding users or customers rapidly, so that the business (in theory) grows exponentially. Entrepreneurs spend a lot of time building the ability to scale into their every day business operations - from automating processes, to using social media to advertise, to outsourcing small parts of the business to specialty apps or companies.
So why would you do something that doesn’t scale? One reason is that if someone knows that you’ve done something for them that can’t be easily repeated for the masses, they’ll appreciate your actions even more. You’ve created a human connection with someone, and that human will be more likely to speak highly of you to their friends.
You can take advantage of this technique by doing small, thoughtful things for your readers. Take the time to have a conversation with one reader on Twitter about how one of your characters has affected her. Send a small prize to the first 100 people to buy your book. Talk to your local book club about your process for writing your novel. No one has time to do any of these things on a massive scale, but if you put in the time and effort to do them on a small scale you could still see big rewards.
Validate Your Ideas
In order to decide which ideas might help people and grow into successful ventures, entrepreneurs use validation. Validation, in this case, means finding data to support the assumptions you have about your audience. As an author-preneur, you can use validation to understand your audience and test different aspects of your book marketing.
How do you know if your audience will connect with your plot or characters? You can ask specific questions on sites like Facebook, Quora, and Twitter to see whether your audience connects to the ideas that you’ll be discussing. What kind of engagement do you get? How many people are interested? If you can start a lively discussion about your character’s multiple personality one woman vaudeville show, then you’ve got yourself a start!
Another powerful tool for gauging audience interest is to set up a landing page for your book, with an email subscription or pre-order button. This should be a simple one page website with a cover image (or another image if you don’t have a cover yet), and a short teaser for the book. If you’re done with the book and have ordering information you can set up a pre-order button, but don’t worry if you’re not there yet. If you’re still writing, include a button to be added to your email list. Then, make sure to update your audience on how your writing is going! This way, when it comes time to publish you’ll already have a list of engaged people ready to read your work.
Use Data to Measure Outcomes
A data driven approach to your business as an authorpreneur will be the difference between wandering through a pitch black room looking for a door, and turning on the light.
Joanna Penn recently did a wonderful podcast with book marketer extraordinaire Tim Grahl on using data to decide on your book title. The approach suggested (namely asking your current audience what they think using online tools) can also be used for things like cover image, the book blurb, book trailers, and even some aspects of the plot. Now, before you all accuse me of asking you to completely sell out, I’m not recommending that you source everything from your character’s hair color to the end-of-book plot twist from your audience - that isn’t why you became an author. Instead, I’m suggesting that you understand how important things like the cover of your book and the title can be for your overall sales, and act accordingly.
Get To Know Your Readers
The barriers separating authors and readers have vanished with social media, blogs, and other sources of online engagement. There is now (mostly) effective, direct communication between writers, readers, publishers, marketers, book designers, agents, and other professionals involved in the writing and publishing community. This means that you can get to know your customers in ways you never could before!
You can target directly the unique set of people in this world who will most closely connect with you, your story, your style, your interests, and ultimately your work as a writer. Find these people and form authentic relationships with them. Talk with people about your real interests, profess your actual opinions, and let people know what you're passionate about. You're not trying to bump up the numbers of anonymous “readers”, you're trying to connect with real humans that want to have real human conversations.
Hopefully all of these tools will help you to approach your business in a new way, and will ultimately help you find the perfect audience for your work. Let us know what techniques you use as an author-preneur in the comments below!
Laura Fredericks is the founder and CEO of Describli, an online prompts-based writing community where writers and readers interact and form genuine connections. You can get in touch with her on Twitter @describli or at http://facebook.com/describli.
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