Arielle Eckstut Interview – Why Author Platform is Essential

I was thrilled to be able to speak with Arielle Eckstut, chatting about the value of author platform, and how writers can grow their audience and create a writing career.

Arielle is one half of The Book Doctors, which she runs with her husband David Henry Sterry. They are the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Arielle is an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. You can find The Book Doctors on Twitter: @TheBookDoctors.

Some topics we cover:

  • Why “author platform” is essential.
  • Why it’s so hard to get attention to one’s book, and how writers are now empowered to connect with readers via the web. We also discuss how most authors are not leveraging many of the tools at their disposal.
  • What branding is, and why it is so important.
  • Why when she publishes a book, she looks at it like a business. She creates a business plan, a publicity and marketing plan, she creates a calendar from the inception of the idea through well after publication. That authors who are entrepreneurs are those who have a better chance of finding an audience.
  • How she and her husband come up with ideas for books – often choosing from a list of a dozen, and testing each out before committing to just one. That it’s all about considering things from the audience’s perspective from the very beginning.
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The Dials, Levers and Buttons of Building Your Author Platform

The difference between a traditional book launch and building an author platform

Dan Blank If you are a writer and want to build a successful career, what options do you have? The above image is an example of how one could look at a traditional book launch vs a writer developing their own platform and marketing channels. There are two ways to look at this:

The good:
That if you choose the bottom box – to build an author platform – you have more levers to pull, buttons to push, dials to tune, and this means you have more options, more chances for success. That you are not waiting for someone else to validate you in order to have the chance to be published, that you don’t just have one 6 week window in which to promote a book that you spent years writing and bringing to publication. The above image looks ‘good’ because a traditional book launch can look like this:

A traditional book launch

That timeline here can be weeks or a couple of months. It has taken years to get to this point – you have slaved over writing the book, worked hard to find an agent, a publisher, and get to the culmination of a long process. At that point, you have a few weeks to try to get good reviews, get the media to notice your book, get placement with book retailers, and find your readership.

For most books, that spike does not represent tens of thousands of books sold. Often it is just hundreds of books, or maybe in the low thousands. Does that spike meet your expectations? If you worked on your book for 5 years, and sold 1,100 books before sales trailed off – is that building the type of career you want?

The bad:
Another way to view the image up top is that when you have more levers to pull, buttons to push, dials to tune – that it’s more work. Most people don’t like that. Most people are already swamped – juggling their writing, their career, family, home, hobbies, and other responsibilities. Maybe they struggled to find time to write, and don’t understand how they can find time to engage with potential readers and build their author platform.

To them, having all of these levers, dials and buttons means that your work becomes scattershot. They prefer a simple, elegant, and powerful solution. They want that first box up top – just flip the one toggle switch, and have magical things happen.

So which side is right here? The one that views an author platform as a wonderful opportunity, empowering writers, or the side that views it as a confusing road that takes one away from their writing?

Honestly, I don’t think either side is right, I think there is merely a difference in attitude. That the writer who sees the opportunity in how the web has empowered them – is one who will do the work to find a way to connect with readers. That they don’t find excuses to avoid connecting with readers and finding an audience. That one’s desire is a primary factor in the outcome – that one has a passion to reach their goals and will leverage any opportunity to do so. That these buttons, dials and levers all represent opportunities that did not exist in the old publishing world. That waiting for a phone call from an agent or publisher is not their entire strategy for the success of their writing career.

Don’t get me wrong – I love agents and publishers – enablers of sharing writing with the world, and connecting people through it. But in a world where LOTS of books are published each year, where nearly everyone is a writer and potential author – having your own writing career depend on a single switch is akin to making a bet.

A bet that in that one moment, that one short time frame in which you flip that switch, that your dreams will come true. This, instead of slowly building your dreams – doing things every week to build your audience and your career over the course of months and years.

A reality for writers is that many people are trying to fill a certain niche with books. There is lots of “competition” – although I hate to think of that word in terms of creative work. But the fact is: you are not the only person writing in your genre or on a specific topic. You may feel that fiddling with all of those dials is not for you. The problem is that – other writers in your field or genre WILL make the time. That they might look at those dials, feel confused and overwhelmed and begin fiddling anyway. Because in fiddling with something new, you learn. This is how you find connections that matter. Sure, you will do some things poorly, but you will also unlock opportunities that propels your career forward.

Overall, this is about expanding the number of options at your disposal. More options to build an audience and connect with others.

This is why I am relaunching my online course: Build Your Author Platform. It’s an 8-week course I will be teaching this summer that takes writers through a structured curriculum, but also offers personalized help to grow their writing career. Click here to sign up for updates as I move towards launch.

Have a great day!

-Dan
973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com

The Creative Process: Not Everything Needs to be Shared

yearbook

My wife bought a college yearbook from 1927. We were astounded by it’s craftsmanship – it’s weight, depth, and overall quality.

It had me considering the difference between this book and Facebook.

The difference between eBooks and traditional books.

Between art and commerce.

Between experience and documentation.

I work with writers to help them connect with those in their community, with readers, with like-minded individuals. And there has been a lot said about the expectations upon authors – about whether they must now be marketers, constantly promoting – or if they should focus solely on writing.

But I think there is a distinction.

That our creative work need not be shared.
That our creative work need not earn a profit.
That our creative work can be a slow and personal process, and it’s effect internal, not external.

And that this is a choice. A writer does not need to share their creation. They can write it in perfect solitude, and never spend a moment on marketing. And that is absolutely fine.

But what if the goals of the writer or creator is that they DO want their work shared? That they want to do everything possible to connect to others through their work. How do they find the time to do both – to create, and to connect?

In the 1990’s, I spent three years creating a series of pop up books. These were born in the midnight hours as I worked three jobs to pay the rent. I went through revision after revision, exploring the story, the words, the illustration, and how they related to the paper engineering of the book.

I spend months experimenting with materials and styles.

I went through x-acto blades by the dozen.

I would wander around New York City taking photos of everyone and everything that inspired me, infusing them into the work I was creating.

These books represented an entire world to me. They pushed me further and further, trying to become what they knew they needed to be.

After three years of work, my time with that story was done. In the end, there were three books, and a story that pushed my vision further than I thought possible.

And then, at the culmination of the creative process, I carefully packed them away in boxes, and that is where they have been ever since. And that is where they will remain.

Those stories did not need to be shared in order for me to fulfill my vision for them. They didn’t need an agent, a publisher, a Twitter feed, a book tour, a line of related merchandising products, or a royalty check in the mail. They didn’t need an audience.

Their purpose was served in their creation alone. Not everything needs to be shared.

So if you are a writer, trying to understand the role you play in finding an audience; if you are a creator, summoning a world that never existed before, and putting it on paper: it is your choice.

Your work does not need to be shared.
It does not need to earn revenue.
The process of creation alone is enough.

A world has been created, and an identity has been explored. And that does not need to be validated by attention or praise or money.

But…

If you choose that your work needs to have an effect outside of yourself to be relevant; That it must be read; That your skills must have an audience; That your time must be supported my monetary benefit; That it has an inherent value, and an industry such as the publishing industry can assist you in exchanging it for its approximate financial value.

If any of these things are true for you, then we must move beyond the romantic vision of publishing. That the world will magically find your work. That an industry will expend its precious resources to share it, to promote it, to give it a chance to grow. That this happens naturally, easily, and within a reasonable timeframe.

Publishing is hard work. And that hard work does not guarantee you an audience, validation or financial gain. It is no one’s RIGHT to have those things, it is something that is earned.

That is why I work with writers to help them connect with others. Because it’s not easy. Because it’s hard to do it alone. Because it can be an inherent part of realizing the vision of the creative process.

These writers have goals, and that includes extending the value of the work beyond themselves. And they are willing to invest in the vision. They are willing to work for it.

You don’t have to do that. Every song does not need to be published by a music label and played on the radio. For some songs, it is enough for the singer to sing it alone in a cabin in the woods, never shared. It is enough for a song to be written and sung from one person to another, never resonating in the eardrums of another person.

But for those songs that need to spread – that is a choice. It is a choice to share – to work hard to do so – to give it wings beyond the creator.

Should Bob Dylan focus his musical genius by only sitting home and writing songs, exploring his craft? Regardless of what you or I think, he spent most of his career touring hundreds of days each year.

Should U2 have never released and promoted their material under a tight deadline, even though some band members felt it wasn’t ready? Regardless of what you or I think, they did, and found success doing so.

In fact, I think that the promotion of a work can be integral in developing it. That you learn to explore it from outside of yourself. You learn what it does or doesn’t mean to others. You see it in a new light, outside of the confines of your head. You give it a chance to breathe, to grow on it’s own. This is why bands tour. This is why Jack White will spend a day recording an album, and a year touring it.

It’s not always ideal. Many popular bands are sick and tired of playing their hits – they have done so hundreds of times already. They watch crowds rush to the bathroom when they play their newest material – the material that as an artist, they are most proud of personally. And they work to share these songs, to give them meaning and context in people’s lives.

My pop up books sit in the dark corners of a storage space, packed deeply away. That story does not need to be shared, and that is my choice as a writer and artist, as a creator.

And for the work that you create, that choice is your own.

-Dan

How to Successfully Promote Your Book: The Kevin Smokler Interview

This week, I chatted with Kevin Smokler, co-founder and CEO of BookTour.com. You can find Kevin on Twitter at @WeeGee.

My goal is to share conversations with those doing interesting things in the world of publishing, media, and the web.

Click ‘play’ below to hear Kevin’s thoughts on:

  • How authors can promote their books
  • Why authors need to be entrepreneurial
  • How an author should set their expectations for the success of their book
  • Why the author is the right person to market a book

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Create and Connect: The Justine Musk Interview

This week, I chatted with Justine Musk, author of dark urban fantasy novels, and blogger at TribalWriter.com who “explores what it means and how to be a soulful & savvy creative in the digital age.” You can find Justine on Twitter at @JustineMusk.

My goal is to share conversations with those doing interesting things in the world of publishing, media, and the web.

Click ‘play’ below to hear Justine’s thoughts on:

  • Why it is essential for writers to develop their online presence.
  • Why smart authors connect directly with their readers.
  • How to balance the emotional side of writing.
  • How blogging has helped her career.

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