Friday 17th March 2017
If you’re trying to understand what I’m trying to do in this window between rewrites and submission, I think today’s issue gives some real depth.
Many years ago I worked for a youth voluntary organisation. I had some great times, met people who are some of my closest friends even to this day, and we also did a lot of good. In many ways, I think a lot of my love for crazy ideas comes from this time.
At one point I was in charge of recruitment and retention for the United Kingdom and Ireland. Getting young people interested in voluntary work was hard back them and so I felt it needed something a bit more radical than the standard five bullet points you’d create from googling “how to recruit more members to your club.” Not that we had Google back then… but you catch my drift!
Instead I went about looking at sports teams. I was interested in how to maximise camaraderie and getting a team to work together and so sports teams seemed the logical place to look.
When I was really trying to find the cadence for Action-Figure, I didn’t look to the big toy websites of the time but to the popular film website Ain’t It Cool News. I ended up going in a very different direction to a lot of the other collectible sites. Whilst they craved respectability from the industry, I instead looked to connect with fans by proving myself as big a nerd as them.
In both those cases, I got amazing results. There were plenty of people back then who thought it was just arrogance, about wanting to be different to have my ego stand out, to say look at me. Instead, it was about getting people to give me their attention and then their support for my goals.
It’s only in recent weeks that I’ve realised this was all possible because I can see patterns.
What do I mean by patterns? The easiest way to describe it to a writer is a metaphor. When we write we often try and create interesting metaphors, comparing one thing to something completely different. Great writers can even use metaphors to describe the most complex of ideas by comparing it to something everyday that people already understand.
I’m not saying I’m the best with my metaphors as a writer, but I do understand pattern recognition. And so when I want to achieve something, I’ll look elsewhere for inspiration rather than follow tried and trusted results within my industry.
There’s an argument that writing a great book is enough to get you noticed, and on paper I’d agree with that. Word of mouth advertising is the best out there. But we all know fantastic books that have sunk without a trace. Maybe it wasn’t the right time, maybe it just never found its audience. Likewise, we all know terrible books that have made millions. Rather than trash those, I prefer to try and understand why they sold.
The point is that, marketing budgets are shrinking, and as writers you are being required more and more to be your book’s biggest advocate. The demands are only going to increase over the next few years. And not only do you have to compete for attention with video games and Netflix series, but you also have to make your book stand out from the thousands that get published traditionally and independently each month.
So whilst everyone is busy tweeting and building an email list just to keep up, I’ve used this time before anyone gives a crap about me and my writing to go and look elsewhere. I’ve looked at Youtube Stars, I’ve looked at social media influencers, I’ve looked at anyone who is doing radical and disruptive things within marketing.
And then I look for patterns. It’s never my intention to copy someone’s entire marketing strategy but to adapt it to my strengths. So the inspiration for The Climb came from watching daily vlogs.
Of course, there’s always danger with doing this. First you could have misunderstood why someone else’s strategy was working. It may be that the strategy doesn’t work for your target audience. There’s a lot of trying and an equal amount of failure.
But I can also see pattern recognition in this. As I did for the voluntary organisation, as I did for Action-Figure, so I’m doing for my writing career. I knuckle down and do it a little differently. I get plenty of people criticise and sneer but I really don’t care, instead focusing on my work and pushing that forward until suddenly I’m succeeding and everyone is wondering how I did it.
So I’m really pushing the personal brand angle at the moment. I think that’s the way that the world is going. Authors as brands sometimes gets talked about but most think it a bit crass. Even I’ve felt pretty uncomfortable with it. Yet, I assure you, in 5 years time it’ll seem more natural than having a twitter account does now (I remember when that was considered cutting edge). Given that I really don’t have anything to sell right now, it’s the perfect time for me to figure all this stuff out.
And of course, I’ve started to get a few comments here and there. Who do I think I am? The honest answer at the moment is that I’m no-one which means I can afford to try these things. Once the book gets picked up and heads towards publication I’m going to have less room to play.
Which is why, today, I started work on another big thing I want to accomplish this year. I have no idea if it’ll work and in some ways it is duplicating effort… but I believe the marketing world calls this split testing so I’m going with that.
I had conversations with a friend who I thought might be interested to help me and they’ve said yes and made some suggestions. I can’t tell you how excited I am by this. I’m also equal measures of scared. This again means stepping outside my comfort zone.
This is partly born out of the Youtube videos I’ve been watching this week but it’s also an idea I’ve had rumbling around in the back of my head for a year or so. I never could work out how to make it work, but by bringing a friend in who should get a lot of their own value out of the venture, I think I can make it into a win for both of us.
You’re not going to see anything for months but when it happens I’ll point you back here and you can all go “Ahhh!” Yeah, Vagueblogging sucks, I hate me too!
Of course, one the dangers with all this marketing work is that it can so easily distract from the important stuff of writing. I’ve tried to keep a close eye on this and if I’ve found that it’s coming at the expense of actual work on the novel then I reprioritise. This week it has come close, but mainly because after being ill it’s easier for me to watch a video that concentrate to write.
As a result I stayed up very late tonight working. I got distracted by some drunken Facebook ramblings from someone trash talking a friend that was very amusing. But it meant that I didn’t get s many words done on this new chapter as I would have liked. By the time it got to 3:30am I was shattered and so I’ve decided to call it for the night and get some sleep. I have a fairly empty weekend the next couple of days so I’m going to try and use the extra time for writing.
If you want to follow more of my journey, then be sure to check me on my social channels. Likewise, if you’d like me to expand on any point mentioned above, please say so in the comments.
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