The Two-Sided Life of a Fiction Writer

    By Matthew R. Horn

    The gorilla in the room for any new writer is that if they want to sell even one copy of their book, then they must do the selling on their own. Rarely, if ever, are new writers free to simply write. They must spend a portion of their time writing and the rest of their time building their platform.

    A platform is like a fingerprint. It's different for every writer, and every writer goes through the learning process of what their platform means to them. Will you have a larger presence in social media or in person? If you choose social media, what venues will you choose, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Pinterest, Shelfari, Anobii, Bebo, Flickr, etc.? Those are only a few of the options.

    If you choose the real world to have a larger presence in, will you do a lot of book signings, appearances, and talks? Some authors may even try to do it all, but of course this leaves zero time to continue doing what all writers actually want to be doing, writing.

    An author has to find a true balance between doing what he/she loves and doing what he/she must. This is where the fingerprint comes in. I find that some social media sites are simply more "my style" than others. For example, Twitter and its 140 character entries are simpler and less time consuming. I love that I can post 2-3 sentences and get out. I find with other sites that I tend to linger and wonder if what I'm writing is too long or should be changed.

    Goodreads and LinkedIn are wonderful for making connections by getting into groups and talking about topics that we all have in common. I've met lots of wonderful people by getting into groups like these and the connections are invaluable. However, once I've joined 3 or 4 groups per site it can get tough to follow them all. It requires time, time I would rather spend writing.

    The toughest question any author faces is what to do and how much of it? How is it possible to sell a lot of books while not risking your day job because of the hours and still finding time to write? Frankly, there is no good answer.

    This elusive platform that I've been searching for has only recently started to show itself and I've been working at if for a year. How do I get more followers, friends, likes, etc.? It's a mess, but I can share one thing that has significantly changed my perception and tactics.

    In October 2010 when Brighton Publishing signed me to publish The Good Fight they told me that authors make terrible salesman. I didn't believe them. The proof that they were right is that I have only just discovered that there is software that exists that can allow you to manage several social media sites from one page. Many of you probably knew about this long before I did. However, finding it has helped me immensely. However, what it truly taught me was to see the value of where I was putting my time. A salesman can't afford to waste time on targets that don't offer some type of encouraging response. I have a horrible time trying to inject The Good Fight into conversations with people for fear that they'll feel it was the only reason I spoke with them in the first place. I have a horrible time hearing that someone isn't interested in reading my book. As a result, I either don't talk to people at all or I talk to them for long periods of time and never get a word in about being an author.

    Once I discovered this software, I sat down with my wife to show her how neat it was. She has worked in sales since 2008 bringing half-million dollar accounts to our small family business. She pointed out to me my obvious failures. After my horrible initial reaction, I actually started to listen to her.

    "You need to engage them, but don't waste so much time on someone who has already told you that their not interested," she said after looking at some of my Twitter conversations. "You need to move on to the next target, and quit chatting with everyone so much. Once they start talking with you, let them know you're an author. Ask them if they want to read your book."

    "But won't they be insulted?" I asked. "Won't they be frustrated that I'm only talking to them to see if they'll buy my book?"

    "Why would they be? You're selling your book. If they aren't interested, then move on. There are something like 50 million people on Twitter. You've got your work cut out for you anyway if you're going to try and get to all of them."

    Listening to my wife and remembering the words of my publisher seemed to create a new vision for me. I started to be able to see what on earth a platform was to me. I needed more confidence, a thicker skin, and some nifty software to help me manage it all. Since then I may have sold only 5 more books than normal, but its 5 books that I earned and my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. groups are actually growing in numbers.

    I'm still a new author and as such I cannot look back over a full career and tell everyone how to sell a lot of books. However, the advice that I can give is that you have to turn yourself into a salesman. Maybe none of us can do it by simply hearing the words. Maybe I don't even know what it means yet. I'm not selling as many books as John Grisham, but maybe I'm on my way. Either way, I think all authors would do very well to quit worrying so much about what one person thinks about us or our work. Ask people if they want to buy a copy and if they say no, simply move on to the next. As my wife would say, "With billions of potential customers out there, it's silly to care so much about what one thinks."