How in the Hell Can We Writers Stand Out?

laundry cats

On a cold fall day in Portland recently, my two lazy ass cats were cuddled down in the laundry on the bed. It was fresh out of the dryer…can you blame them?

I was rehearsing the ole “I’m failing as a writer” dramatic play in my head. It’s not my favorite. I’d rather be in a cheeky musical.

Anyway, as usual the cats seemed to be onto something—looking cute, while I was pacing and questioning my creative existence. They’re smarter than us silly humans, they get life.

Being the silly human that I am, I was pondering something that’s been assaulting my writerly mind…everybody’s putting out content.

THESE DAYS…EVERYBODY HAS AN ONLINE PRESENCE

Just this past week I saw two people I know come out with blogs—people I never would have thought of as “writers.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for them. It’s awesome that they’re taking this leap, expressing their thoughts through writing.

However, this also demonstrates my point. Everyone’s blogging now.

It’s true. I know this from my almost four years of blogging, and my career as a Content Manager at a B2B marketing agency.

We’re experiencing the same conundrum, because every business has a blog. So we have to work diligently within our niche, we have to provide unbeatable value to our audience, and we have to be consistent and tactical.

These are the must-haves of producing content to bring awareness to your brand. I’m only talking about awareness, which is at the very tip-top of the buying cycle. Those people still have a long way to go before they make a decision to buy.

Are you still with me, or did I lose my writer friends with the B2B talk?

The thing is we’re trying to do the exact same thing. We’re trying to build awareness for our author brand. Because like it or not—and believe me, I know how hard it is to self-promote—if we’re trying to sell something (like our books)…we’re running a business.

You know, sometimes you think a blog post is going to rock and it bombs. Other times a post takes off and you’re staring at your ridiculously high stats, wondering if WordPress is malfunctioning.

I had this happen with my post, 10 Years of Marriage…We Never Saw it Coming.

britt and hugh

It was my best post ever, with over 500 views in one day. Somehow it was a massive hit on Facebook.

Hey, for my little blog, that was a big deal. Did the extra attention on my blog achieve any book sales? A few people checked me out—my About page and my book links. I got one new follower on my blog, and nobody bought a single book.

Will someone buy a book after finding you from one blog post? Probably not.

Writers, dry your eyes.

I once used to think that a viral blog post would help launch my writing career too. At the very least, I figured I would see an increase in blog subscribers—a little bump in my social media followers perhaps?

Nope. People just swooped in and swooped out.

So, back to our business talk for a moment.

All of these blogging and social media tactics serve as touch points. That wildly successful blog post was just one touch—to my existing readers and new readers. But one touch point with a customer or buyer rarely leads to a sale, if ever.

Think about the research you habitually do before you buy something. Unless you’re an impulse shopper, you think about a product before you make a decision. Depending on the cost and need, that might be a few days, weeks, months—maybe years.

You can say what you want about social media, but it’s a golden opportunity to make connections with people. Every conversation is a touch point.

Just this morning I found out on Twitter that my good friend, Carrie Rubin, ended up on BuzzFeed. This is ridiculously awesome exposure, because as we all know, their audience is well up in the millions. That’s right…millions.

How did she get through the almighty BuzzFeed door? A single tweet.

barnes and noble buzzfeedSure, it was BuzzFeed’s usual click-bait genius in a piece called 23 Secrets Barnes and Noble Employees Will Never Tell You.

But my girl Carrie got a nice little spot on the page, with an amazing opportunity to grow her Twitter audience through that cute little follow button in the embedded Tweet.

This is great exposure for Carrie, especially because her latest book, Eating Bull, is releasing soon. So rather than just checking out the BuzzFeed piece, head on over to Amazon to preorder Carrie’s magnificent new release.

Because we all know that running a creative business is that much harder. And for us hard-working authors, the brutal truth is…nobody needs more books.

THESE DAYS…EVERYBODY HAS A BOOK

Three years ago was a different story for indie authors too. Because another thing everyone’s doing? They’re self-publishing.

It was bizarre to see the book release performances for my first book, Beneath the Satin Gloves, and my third book.

Way back then I had just started my blog and had a small but lovely handful of followers. My social media channels mainly consisted of family, friends, and pornographic spammers. Last year when Nola Fran Evie came out, I had a much bigger following.

Guess what, kiddos? My first book release somehow did better than my third book. Yep, back when I had just started my online presence…back when I was a nobody.

I came up with the following theories:

  1. More of my family and friends purchased my first book. By the time my third came out, the excitement and curiosity about me coming out as a writer had fizzled out.
  2. Subject matter. Beneath the Satin Gloves was a WWII spy novel with a time travel element, while Nola Fran Evie (though a more solid work, in my opinion) was about social issues in the 1950s and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League—a feel-good book where nobody was killed.

Nola Fran Evie Cover Large

What I really think happened? More noise. More competition. Everyone’s moms, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and dogs are coming out with books.

Again, I love seeing people expressing themselves artistically—taking a risk, sharing their story.

But, where does that leave us? The writers trying to make it out there. The indie/small-time authors throwing every ounce of creativity into their books, while holding down blogs and social channels to feed the marketing cog.

I’ve been a fan of Kristen Lamb’s blog for some time. A post from a couple of months back stayed with me, Why Our Author Brand is More Important Than Ever, in which Kristen said this about author branding:

In a marketplace with fewer and fewer points of sale with more competition than ever in human history, how do we sell books?

We have to create a brand.

We live in a time where we have more choices than ever. I don’t know about you guys, but I have a Love-Hate relationship with Central Market. Granted, it is AWESOME. Central Market is such a cool grocery store that tourists actually visit. Every aisle is a foodie’s dream. They don’t just have “olive oil”, they have 700 varieties of an olive oil “experience”.

So, how in the hell can we writers stand out?

I wish I knew the answer, but I don’t.

Like many of you, I work hard. As a one-woman show, I do my best to create quality content. Does everyone like my shit? Of course not. Does everyone understand my shit? Probably not.

As trivial as it sounds, all we can do is keep going. I’ve said this many times, but I’ll keep saying it because it’s so important. Do it for the love.

When you write a blog post, don’t worry about its success—number of shares, views, likes. Write what you want to write from a beautiful place inside, then release it into the world.

When you write a novel, don’t worry about its success—number of units, sales, dollars. Write what you want to write, not what you think others want to read.

Remember when the vampire and zombie thing was super popular? Somebody, who shall remain nameless, said I should write a book about these creepy things. I explained to them that I had no desire to hang out with blood-sucking, boil-faced creatures in my mind.

Because when you write a novel, it’s a commitment like nothing else. The amount of time you spend in this fictitious world can take a toll on your sanity. You live in that world, become the characters and wear their clothes. You can taste, smell, and touch the words on the pages.

Maybe I’d be a full-time author had I took that person’s advice, but I guarantee I would have ended up in a loony bin. So, I continue doing it for the love. I write what I want to write.

That’s the best intention to hold close to your heart in this noisy world where everybody’s churning out content.

57 thoughts on “How in the Hell Can We Writers Stand Out?

  1. A very good post, Britt. We, writers, start out just writing and somewhere along the way we get the “I want to be on Oprah” syndrome. Yes, it happened to me too. Marketing, blogging, twitter and on and on got in the way of my writing. And then I realized it’s a must. But I still hate it. I still haven’t learned the trick, but at least I still enjoy writing. I read your blog for a feel good moment in my day. I want you to make it– so you’ll mention me, lol.

    1. Yeah, I think we all go through it. And I really do love writing just to write, but like you said, we have to commit to the marketing side too. Mixing creativity and business is tough, especially when it’s our own artistic flags we’re waving out there.

  2. So interesting to see this post now, because over the past week I’ve been thinking about this very thing. A lot. There are so many books out there that it seems near impossible to get any attention for one’s own unless there’s a bigwig publisher behind it. So I think you’re absolutely right–we have to write what we enjoy. We can certainly tailor it to a genre to try and please fans of that type of novel, but if we’re not having a good time with the subject material, it will be agony to write.

    And when it gets down to it, I think the biggest and best (and really the only) way to get a book noticed is word of mouth. Which is why I give you a huge thank you for mentioning me in your post today! Very nice of you to do and such a nice surprise to stumble upon. It’s so weird BuzzFeed used my tweet. I suppose because of the hashtag I used. (Note to self: use more hashtags.) But even though the tweet is more popular than my usual, it’s still not bringing lots of tweeps to the yard. But that’s okay. I’ve got my circle of tweeps (which includes you!) and we have a blast. 🙂

    Thank you again! Wonderful post that sums up what so many of us experience.

    1. Book release time will ALWAYS bring up these crazy thoughts, because you’re right in the middle of it. It would be absolute agony to write something we didn’t love. I know writers do it, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many books in the same popular genre. I have no idea how they pull it off though!

      Word of mouth is the best, and I am thankful to friends like you who have supported me for so long.

      Hashtags are searchable with all of the social automation out there too. BuzzFeed probably had alerts set up for that hashtag and grabbed your tweet. Exposure never hurts though! Hope more people find wonderful you this way.

  3. Yes, the thing is anyone can do it and so everyone is doing it. I worked as a reporter for years and now that doesn’t even matter these days because it was back when people actually used paper. It can be so frustrating too when you feel like you’ve written a good post and then no followers come through – or maybe one if you’re lucky. Believe me, I feel your pain.

    There are some things that can be done to stand out but they cost money – I think reviews through Kirkus or Reader’s Favorite can help. You can also pay for a Publisher’s Weekly listing. And of course, anyone publishing a book should hire an editor (preferably someone they don’t know). If there’s a local writer’s group around that can help too. The one here has events where they put members’ books on display. Other than that, I have no idea. But yes – keep writing for the love of it and one day you’ll go viral! 🙂

    1. Oh and enter your novels into any contests you can find. I know Writer’s Digest had one and probably still does. Your novels would have a great chance in any contest. I’m sure you know all this already. I’m just spouting it out because I’ve been researching it lately since I wrote my novel five years ago and it’s still not out there yet. So you are a success! Keep it up and keep doing it for the love.

      1. Thanks for your input, honey! I should try some contests just to mix it up. I’ve never done anything like that before. I guess I thought I would never have a chance in them, but I should give it a shot. What the hell, right?! 🙂

    1. Nice piece, thanks for sharing Kevin. You just keep on keepin’ on, a different kind of busking perhaps.

  4. It’s great, the best advice, and you can apply it to cooking, any kind of job you do, anything really, to love it, and do it for the love. Can’t go wrong. Nice piece, thanks Britt – found this from Kevin B.

  5. I have a confession to make here, Britt. I’ve actually stopped following a few bloggers recently because every time I get an email regarding a new blog post from them it’s usually ‘Buy my book!’ But it’s not just that, it’s ‘buy my book and make sure you write a great review!’. I don’t follow bloggers who give the hard sell (another thing I’ve noticed is that other bloggers have dropped off from these people as well so I’m not the only one). Blogging is a great way to introduce yourself to the world. People get to know you for who you really are and not some fanatical want-to-be writer who is not interested in anything other than themselves. This is why “ten years of marriage we never saw it coming” probably got huge hits, because people are interested in you – not something you want them to buy from you. Word of mouth (or word of blog) will build over time. As someone famous once said, “it took me 25 years to become an overnight success”.
    Writing for the love of writing is the only way to go. People often ask me when my next book is coming out, but it won’t be any time soon. I’ll write when I’m ready and if it sells, that’s just the icing on the cake for me, if it doesn’t, it’ll make no difference because I will have written something from my heart for myself and for my sanity – no other reason 😉
    I was lucky enough to get an early reading of Carrie’s book Eating Bull and it’s excellent 😀

    1. Well said, Dianne doll! It’s so rare that I even talk about my books, unless I have an upcoming release, a review, or a sale to share. It’s just tacky to talk about it constantly. There are some bloggers I really respect, who write great things about life on their blogs, then they just spam tweet their books all day on Twitter. They never do anything else except that and I just don’t understand it.

      Yeah, I know you’ve been exploring some other creative endeavors. I’ve definitely slowed things down with my current WIP—partially because of work, but also because there is no rush. Might as well build that suspense, right? 🙂

      I’m starting Eating Bull tomorrow!

  6. Reblogged this on curtisbaussebooks and commented:
    Which of course is an excellent question… If you’re hoping for an answer, don’t hold your breath, but the conclusion is spot on. Thanks, Britt, it’s useful to be reminded of that every so often.

  7. So true, Britt. It’s a world of noise, and I have no answers. I just read a post about how hardcore you have to be to really succeed on Twitter. Like you’re supposed to spend a lot of time following people so they follow you back and then you dump them. Can’t do it. Not my style. That’s not building community, it’s building a mailing list. Unnerved me. If I have to do that to succeed, I’ll figure out a different way to succeed. Anyway, time for bed. Sweet dreams…..

    1. Eww, I know. Totally not my Twitter style either. I monitor an unfollow tool from time to time to clean-up my Twitter audience, because there are so many people who are just in it for the numbers. So silly!

      I’m not into follower numbers. It’s WAY more important to have a strong community.

  8. Such a fascinating piece and I loved reading the comments too. It was exciting to see Carrie’s tweet in BuzzFeed (“Hey, I know her!”) – and perhaps in the end it’s a mix of chance and the little community we form online. And in the meantime, we sit in warm fresh laundry like cats.

    1. Thanks, hon. Something I’ve been thinking about, and I know there are plenty of other writers out there in the same boat.

      Yeah, the BuzzFeed news was pretty crazy. You never know where exposure like that might lead, so it’s very awesome for our lovely Carrie.

      I’m with you. Fresh warm laundry sounds better than anything.

  9. Great post, also came to it from Kevin Brennan. I’m not hawking any books (yet), but I’ve been closely watching my fellow writers who are published (self- and otherwise). The task of successfully marketing oneself seems more daunting with every day that passes. And what I really struggle with is the concept of “branding.” I’ve had to promise myself to be the kind of writer you’re describing here: the one who writes and publishes just because she loves it and wants to share, never mind if she never makes any $$ from it. I’ve had to make this promise because I don’t like to/want to think of myself as a commodity, a product, something to be branded, marketed and sold. I know some people may shake their heads and say then I’ll never be successful. Well, I just want success on my own terms, where I can just be myself and not think of how I need to “package” myself. And part of that is because I don’t think there’s one perfect way to do it. A writer can spend loads of time and $ to research and develop a great brand, but that doesn’t mean it’ll result in sales and celebrity. Better to be true to oneself.

    1. Lovely, thanks for stopping by from Kevin’s place. You’re most welcome anytime. 🙂

      Well said! Though marketing is a necessary part of getting our books in front of people, it is so much more important to focus on our writing. Really the best thing we can do is build relationships, and that is the key lesson I have learned over the years. Through my blog and social channels, I have met some amazing people. And though it doesn’t happen all the time, this is how I have sold books. It takes time and patience. But again…keep on writing!

      Good luck to you out there!

  10. Please, please, keep doing it for the love! I still have to read Beneath the Satin Gloves, but I truly enjoyed your books; I love when you tell us about authors you enjoy so we can go and check them out too.
    But, your books are yours because you write about what you like, what you want. Writing following a trend is not interesting.
    And it’s hard but you’re doing great! (ah, if more of my friends read English, I could advise them your books too…)
    Smiles up; creativity ready; imagination to the fullest; ready! set! go!!!!

    1. Awww…thanks, honey. I really do love writing, as you know. It’s hard to find time to squeeze that passion into my weekends, but I still keep doing it. My biggest fear is missing out on life experiences, because I’m constantly staring at my laptop. Any time I feel this way, I get on my mat or out to the woods!

      Love the pep talk…need that before I dive back into this second draft today. xo

      1. Even though I don’t write books myself, I can relate to the feeling of missing out on life experiences outside of our Internet life.
        Your advantage at staring at your screen is that it’s for a good cause: writing an awesome book for us to enjoy, it’s way more fulfilling than any other activity in front of our computer 😊

  11. Great post, love! We have SO been sharing the same thoughts. Matter of fact, the past couple or three months I’ve been barely managing a post or two a month.

    I’m ultimately coming to the conclusion that it’s our works that matter and really not much else. Books get people talking and if we’re lucky enough to stumble upon something decent, then readers will share them. And if we don’t, we keep honing our skills as we write the next. Rinse. Repeat, right?

    And you’re so right about writing what you love. That way, in the end, it’ll work out no matter what.

    1. I know you’ve been busy, Stan. That’s so awesome! I’m easing up on the blog posting myself, because I find it’s too stressful to post religiously while I’m knee deep in my WIP. That full-time job doesn’t get done by itself!

      Totally, Stan. Any time I feel anxiety coming on, I think about the characters from my stories and smile.

  12. I absolutely agree that writing whatever you’re writing (be it a novel or blog post) has to come from the heart. Sincerity I’ve found, connects with people like nothing else does and they are also quick to sniff out when your sincerity starts wavering. Of course, I think the way consumers consume nowadays has much more to do with branding than actual product if I’m being honest, so that’s something else that is becoming increasingly important. Writers and creative people are no different and establishing yourself as a brand that people can trust in takes that much more effort and time than just purely putting out quality work. So all this to say that I sympathize and when it comes down to it, you’re doing it because you want to and because it satisfies a part of your soul that nothing else does.

    1. Nailed it, love! Branding is expected nowadays, and people totally see through gimmicks. So, sincerity? It’s a must-have.

      Getting creative work out there is more difficult, because art is so subjective. When you have a product or service, it’s much easier to figure out your target audience. But if you asked me who my audience is today, I would tell you it’s all over the map—men, women, age range 30-60 (from what I can tell). 🙂

  13. Well you got that off your chest then Britt 🙂 Really you wouldn’t like it if you sold a million and suddenly came under all sorts of pressures to write more stuff. You have three classy books out there, and one popular blog. In my view you’re coming to the right conclusion and one that will leave you content in spirit.

    I hate it that writing is treated as a product to be marketing, looking for an angle, a USP. It ought to be done for one reason only, the selfish reason of producing something you, the author, loves. I’m feeling guilty about pricing up a couple of my books for a Jersey Writers’ Christmas market stall – I’d as soon give them away.

    Good luck to those that treat writing as a business but after 5.30 it’s hobby time.

    1. Haha, I know! I’m always getting stuff off my chest on this blog, Roy. You guys are my therapists. 🙂

      I absolutely agree. I think about the opposite too…if my first book had taken off randomly then I would have had to deal with the pressure of writing more. If it ever happens down the road, I’d rather have a happy little backlist for people to turn to.

      I definitely don’t get too business-minded with my writing. There’s a lot more that I could do (social ads, PR, networking) but it just zaps the fun out of it. I’m a super organized person, but when it comes to my personal writing, I can’t apply those skills. I keep things pretty free-flowing—no book writing schedule (except some time on the weekend), no writing blogs a month ahead (I tried that once, and I hated it).

  14. Great post, Britt, and true. It is a different world for authors now. I do think that writing what you love is key. Sometimes all it takes is for one book to take off, and all the earlier publications fly with it. Best wishes for success.

  15. I’ve been pondering this very thing off and on for months and I haven’t come up with any magical answers.

    I’m a slow writer and it feels like everyone around me is producing content so quickly – one new release after another, I feel as if I’m lost in all the dust. It’s sort of depressing. I’m happy that friends can crank out content like there’s no tomorrow, but that’s them, not me.

    I think the conclusion I came to is similar to yours: write what you want and do it because you love it. And go at your own pace – that one is for me.

    Social media is a necessary evil, but I’ve learned (the hard way) not to let it consume me.

    Excellent post.
    xoxo

    1. Yeah, I hear ya on that, doll! I’ve cranked out some books these past few years, but I’m slowing down to try to enjoy the experience more. My job is more demanding than in the past as well, so I don’t have as much time or energy to devote to writing.

      This makes it even more important for me to keep the love in mind, and not let writing become a stressful part of my already busy life. If it takes a couple of years to get this next work done, so be it.

      Keep going your own way, Casey love!

  16. As Carrie said above, I think ultimately word of mouth is the best and most sustainable promotion we can have. In a world where we’re overwhelmed by recommendations and reviews, I think a “You should check out this book” from a good friend will carry real weight. I know that kind of recommendation will more likely result in a purchase from me. And then if I pass that on, and another friend passes that on…. Well, an arithmetic series doesn’t need long to reach some seriously big numbers. 😉

    Over this last year or so, I’ve been working on retraining my expectations for when I do finally have a book ready to publish. If a few hundred people enjoyed it, I’d consider that a success. Anything more would be another layer of frosting on the cake.

    1. Totally agree, hon. The conversations I have with people are unbeatable in the realm of marketing.

      Retraining expectations is really smart. I’ve learned a lot over the past few years, and three books later, I certainly don’t want to be a Debbie Downer with aspiring authors, but I feel it’s important to share the journey honestly. I feel like I didn’t see enough of that when I was starting out, then I felt disappointed with myself. But at the end of the day, writing a book is such an achievement in life. That’s the win.

  17. I just love this post, Britt. You echo my thoughts and dread and questions that I’ve been experiencing for a long time. It feels like a vicious circle. You need to take a long time to build your online presence (if you want to do it properly and not be all “buy my stuff”), but because this field is so saturated, the longer we take trying to build our brands, more and more people are coming in and making a name for themselves, and doing what we want to do.

    Brand-building is a lot of work, yet another full-time job, and I don’t know how people do it. I see Carrie becoming more and more successful, and I am thrilled for her, because I know how hard she has worked to get to this point. I love seeing one of my blogging friends make it in this field — it does give me hope.

    So I keep trucking along, trying to do my thing. But, I don’t lie when I say that I feel like I spend more time spinning my wheels than making any true forward-moving progress. I don’t know how to get out of my rut.

    Thanks for writing this Britt. Let’s go drown our sorrows in a bottle of beer. Or two.

    1. You nailed it, love! It does take time and it’s easy to get anxious as more and more content/blogs/books release every day. Brand-building is a TON of work. Our agency has been rebranding this past year, with a new website releasing next month. I’ve been a key player in the rebrand, helping solidify our new mission, values, voice, and website content.

      It’s very difficult, and time-consuming. And writers who are holding down jobs while writing books don’t have that kind of time.

      I’ve been focusing on something unusual for me these past months—not to try so hard. When I can, I write. It’s more important to enjoy and experience life, instead of stressing about the unknown. Otherwise our creativity will suffer.

      I’m having a beer right now. Prost! 🙂

    1. Well said, as always, dear Gallivanta. I have a full-time job that I do enjoy. I’ll keep on working, just so I can write the things I want to write. If I never make more than a handful of change on my books, it doesn’t matter.

  18. I love this post so much. We can only be us. We can’t care about what the outside world thinks. Most will either support us or be oblivious. Some are so caught up in their own business, some don’t want us to succeed. Forget them. All we can do is spread love and be happy! And spread happiness!

  19. Great post Britt! You so nailed it and even though I’m not a writer I feel you cause I believe you can apply it to almost any self-employed job for which there is a high demand. I just happened to watch a webinar about the importance of branding and marketing if you really want to stand out and be successful. And maybe that is one of the reasons why I seem to struggle with this part .. However, I do want to be successful. It’s hard to be noticed in such a crowded and noisy world. Technology has never made it so easy these days, which is a good thing too of course.
    I guess in the end – and I agree with a lot of the above comments – it all comes down to who you want to be, finding your uniqueness and despite of it all keep doing what you love to do the most, because that is where you’ll find your greatest happiness and fulfillment. And those with ‘eyes to see and ears to hear’ will respond.

    1. Agreed, honey! This can certainly apply to anything we’re aiming for personally. The availability of technology today has been amazing, but there is definitely more noise out there. Uniqueness is key, as is dedication and love.

      You’re doing great out there. Never worried about you. ; )

  20. Dear Britt, I think this is really insightful, a sort of key: “I write what I want to write.”

    I’m glad I clicked the link from Kevin Brennan’s and then read this whole post. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Melisa! Writing what we want to write is the key to our writerly happiness. When we do anything in life—writing, cooking, working, whatever—if the love is missing, it will not be fulfilling.

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