The romanticism of being an author is the very thing that’s keeping us from achieving independence from the prestige effect; as long as writers continue to think of their work as anything more romantic than a meaningful product competing in the free-market, countless brilliant minds with potentially highly influential works will continue to be ignored, rejected, and prevented from getting the recognition they deserve.
Your Name Is Your Business
To be an independent author is to be a sole-proprietor, or, if you have a team behind you, even to be the owner of a corporation. Think about it. What’s the difference between Tom Clancy and Apple Computers? Look beyond the fact that the former produces books while the latter produces technology; take a step back and observe from a more neutral bird’s eye perspective.
- “Apple” is a name; “Tom Clancy” is a name (we’ll refer to him as “Clancy” for short).
- “Apple” produces a product; “Clancy” produced a product.
- Customers have a certain expectation when they hear that “Apple” is releasing a new product; customers had a certain expectation when they heard that “Clancy” was going to release a product.
- “Apple’s” product is associated with innovation; “Clancy’s” products were associated with innovation.
The only difference is the physical form of each company’s products—how they’re utilized by consumers. What I’ve done here is dehumanize a world-renown author in order to put it into perspective for you that names like Anne Rice, J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, etc. aren’t truly people, but sole-proprietors in the free-market; they’re brands.
Most people don’t think of them that way because they’re the names of actual people, but understand the reason why pennames are able to be used: the name is actually nothing more than a construct that consumers associate memories, emotions, thoughts, visions, ideals, or ideas with in their minds.
People don’t expect to find a vampire novel written by Tom Clancy because that’s not his brand. When consumers hear Tom Clancy’s name, they think of modern warfare and super-technical descriptiveness. The opposite is true in Anne Rice’s case. People don’t expect to see a super-technical war novel from Anne Rice; they expect blood and seduction in the form of super-sharp canine teeth.
Through the repeated premium quality of work and the respective author’s signature writing style over time, the name of an author holds the same exact power in the market as a Fortune 500 company, which is why all some authors have to do is fart on a book and they’ll sell, because of the evangelical fan-base they’ve established over time.
Your Book Is A Product
The key is in understanding the psychology of a publisher. In the midst of all of the rejection letters you’ve received, have you ever stopped to think about why traditional publishers are so selective? Why they reject 99% of pitches made by aspiring authors?
Then I challenge you to attempt starting your own. That’s right. Start your own publishing business.
Imagine it. What would you need to be successful?
You’d need capital, for one—money to pay printers, marketing the company, marketing your books, and money for distributors.
Now of course, you can’t just pluck money from the ground like you can blades of grass; therefore, if you were an average Joe with average credit trying to start your own publisher, let’s hypothetically say that you’d take out a business loan for $80,000.
Let’s say that you have a plan to spend $20,000 for printing a book, $6,000 to ship it all to the distributors and Amazon.com warehouses, and $4,000 for their listing and other miscellaneous expenses. You use $3,000 for a sexy professional and custom website, and outsource content writing for social media marketing for your website (to let writers know that your company exists so that you can start getting pitches) for $7,000.
You now have $40,000 left, from which you take $24,000 to live off of while you run your business, because it takes time to market your business effectively; it’s your full-time job—including the overhead of your rent and amenities, because you’ve got a three-bedroom apartment with two kids, a dog, and a spouse. This is supposed to last you six months, and everyone’s got to eat, so you rely on food stamps and yell at the kids to stop leaving the water dripping in the bathroom sink and to turn the lights off in the hallway to keep the bills down.
You now have only $16,000 left to work with, remaining from the total capital you borrowed from the bank. Your email inbox is overflowing with over six thousand pitches from varying writers from all over the globe. You’re in $80,000 worth of debt that you have two years to pay off, yet you have only $16,000 left, you’ve made $0 in returns thus far, and you’ve got to make sure that the book(s) you choose sell enough to turn a positive profit to reinvest in another book, and another, until you’ve paid off your debt and can live peacefully with your business.
$16,000 is no small sum of money to most people, but you have to spend it very wisely as investment capital for the product that each writer is pitching to you—because that’s essentially what a publisher is, an investment company.
As you open each and every individual email of the 6,000 that are all equally screaming for your attention, you realize that if you had a nickel for every time a writer said something along the lines of, “I put my heart into this!” you’d be able to pay your debt off and feed your kids just off of the hearts that each desperate author puts into their work, but…
….unfortunately, the laws of economics don’t work that way.
You don’t enjoy hurting other writers’ feelings, but the work of the writer you choose has got to sell, because your family’s livelihood is riding on this. You’re afraid your significant other will divorce you if you drag them down with failure, because your wife chose you for the sake of your inspirationally charismatic personality which meant more to her than the stunningly good looks and successful career of her ex, named John Doe (who still loves her and will take her back at any time, kids and all) that she chose you over.
So which book do you choose? …because you’ve only got one shot. Suddenly, you stop looking at each writer’s books with the emotional attachment that their writers do.
You find yourself developing a cold, analytical and brusquely honest manner of being, speaking, and thinking for the greater good of selecting the best product that you predict will make the best return on your investment. After assessing your debt and the stability of your family, you stop caring about the cute wittle’ hawts’ that you’re breaking when you reject them; you start caring more about what actually matters to you: the bills you have to pay, and how to put food on the table.
You could split the funds you have left in half and choose two authors out of the six-thousand hopefuls, but then marketing would be weak for both of them, bringing on too few sales—which equates to failure.
You could just choose one out of the six-thousand, but then you’d be putting all of your eggs in one basket; if the one book you choose to invest the full remainder of your funding into doesn’t sell—that also equates to failure.
…and failure is not an option, because you are not going to give your wife a reason to run back to John; your family is staying with you.
Ah, here we go! A story about genetically engineered mutants with super powers. Wait a second…what’s the difference between this and X-men? The X-men is a huge name with a raving fan base that’s been growing ever since the 1950s; if you choose to invest in this one, the audience of millions that know and love X-men will criticize the book before even buying it.
Once they simply read the book’s description, they won’t respect it. Word will spread, and the book will crash before it even gets off the ground, and you’ll lose everything you’ve ever worked for!
Not having it! Next!
…So…ah! How about this one…ah, wait…another romance novel about a human and a vampire…
How does this compete with Meyer or Rice? Either this book is going to be dark and for adults, like Rice…or it’s going to be cheesed down with rainbow sprinkles and unicorn dung like Meyer, for tweenagers.
…oh LOOK AT THAT! We FINALLY have a REAL winner! Yes, you’re absolutely POSITIVE that a school that trains children from a young age to be powerful wielders of mana didn’t steal ANYTHING from Harry Potter at all…NOPE! You got it! How about you just tell your wife that if she just believes in magic, that you’ll be able to generate the money you need as a family from this masterpiece by utilizing alchemy to transmute the ejaculatory excretions of orangutans and the pubic hairs protruding from the moles on a whale’s scrotum! Then, she can call you one hell of a magical dude!
Independent Authors Need To Be Innovators Of Thought And Style
The fundamental premise of every story has, for the most part, already been told (Campbell, 1972). The rise, climax, and resolution of any given story utilizing the Aristotelian 3-act story structure that’s used in virtually every tale today (whether modern writers realize it or not) has been synthesized to such a science that one could write their own algorithms and draw their own diagrams predicting what readers will emotionally experience precisely down to the page number and word that causes it (Schmidt, 2005).
Therefore, writers should not seek to reinvent the story; that’d be tantamount to the absurdity of reinventing the wheel. Instead, they should seek to understand the genre that they’re writing for, know intensively the work of the influential greats that have come before them in their genre, who their major and relevant competitors are, and how to innovate ideas or a vision having not quite been seen before by their target audience.
At the very least, they should retell a story in a way or from a perspective that’s not yet been considered (e.g. Aladdin from Jafar’s perspective, or something).
This process is called “analyzing the market,” because you’d be surprised at how many authors don’t realize or acknowledge that yes, they have competitors.
Yes, the moment they publish, they’re competing on the same territory as the big publishers and big name writers for the attention and money of consumers.
And that no, the free-market does not care about their feelings; the free-market only cares about truly beneficial innovative and inventive products, coupled with good marketing. This is because writers don’t typically think of their work as “products” before they think of them as their babies—extensions of their heart and identity.
Whenever an author wants to write a book, before they even start, they should ask what the audience will benefit or take from the book upon reading it; why would/should a customer give you their money and take the risk of investing the time, attention, and finances it would take to read their work? What separates their story from others in their respective genre?
An author should be able to answer, like any entrepreneur in any industry, how their product will benefit the lives of their consumers, their target audience. That will be the foundation of the copywriting that will sell the product in the marketing plan, and the hook that will reel people in. If a writer can’t answer those questions…then they’re not good enough yet, and the free-market will brutally and unforgivingly determine, on its own, that their work has no right to exist.
Writers must work brutally hard to innovate with their products in the same way that Apple or Microsoft has to with their computers, in order to stay relevant in the market. For computer companies, innovation comes in the form of faster processors and such; for the writer, it comes in the form of unique thinking—which is why so many of the greats tend to go insane.
If you’re a writer and you don’t, at some point in your life, lose touch with reality and go completely and utterly, eccentrically insane—you’re not trying hard enough.
Nevertheless, if writers merely change the way they look at themselves and their own work—their books as products and their names as brands, competing in the free-market: that will revolutionize the way writing is approached, and such competitiveness will implore authors to produce products that, by their high quality and professional nature, will be easy to market on their own, generating buzz on social media easily, and thus selling effortlessly to their target audience.
The only question that remains is, now that you think of your name as more than just a human’s name, but as a company’s name: what is the signature association that you want to make fused in the consumers’ minds? What shall the world associate with your brand?
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- Campbell, J. (1972). The hero with a thousand faces (Second ed.). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
- Schmidt, V. (2005). Story structure architect a writer’s guide to building dramatic situations & compelling characters. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.