The film clip in this blog is from Glengarry Glenrose, featuring Alec Baldwin (in an academy-awarded nominated role) giving his infamous ‘Coffee is for Closers’ speech in a David Mamet movie. If you haven’t seen it, it’s enlightening (be warned: plenty of profanity).
How did you react? Most people react negatively to Baldwin (plus got nominated for an Oscar). But he makes quite a few good points:
If they don’t want to hear what he has to say to him, they shouldn’t be in that room.
If they want to make money, they have to close.
If you want to succeed, follow:
In Warrior Writer I teach the three steps of change: Moment of Enlightenment (Attention and Interest), make a Decision, and then have Sustained Action.
What do you want to do with your book? If you’re happy you wrote 50,000 words or so and you’re done with it, then you’ve closed. Congratulations. Go get a cup of tea. But if you want to get published, then put down that cup of coffee. Coffee is for Closers.
Most aspiring writers aren’t closers. And most lament it’s because getting an agent is so hard, the odds are terrible, publishing is contracting, no one really reads, etc. etc. etc. Except here’s the deal: Agents, publishers, readers, all exist to consume books. They’re the given. They’re the lead. YOU have to be the closer.
You have to be the Closer with great material. By constantly improving your craft of writing. You have to Close by studying and following the business, by being a professional who wants to be employed in the world of writing. By following up every possible opportunity you get with determination and professionalism. By shutting up about the unfairness of it all and doing everything in your power to Close the deal.
I was amazing, stunned, when I heard that less than 10% of writers who were told to follow up a one-on-one at a conference actually sent in the follow up material. Essentially, those writers called a client who had expressed interest, talked about the interest, then hung up without closing. The got the Attention, had the Interest, then made the Decision to quit. To not take Action.
Publishing is a very hard business. It’s tough to get published. Then it’s tough to succeed once you’ve been published. But people do it. They’re called Closers.
Did you ever think you’d pay 5 bucks for a cup of coffee?
Last year at the New Jersey Romance Writers I heard an editor use the comparison of instant coffee versus brewed coffee when discussing eBooks and print books. She pointed out that when instant coffee first appeared everyone thought brewed coffee was dead. Brewed coffee is still around. Her point: print won’t die because eBooks are here. I agree. But I take it a step further. Not only is brewed coffee still here, Starbucks appeared. They made buying a cup of coffee an ‘experience’. Really, is a cup of coffee at Starbucks that much better than McDonald’s? But you can’t get that extra-mocha, whatever, whatever, whatever (I get decaf, black, I’m boring) at McDonalds. And it’s like, way cool, to be able to stand there and say all those words, like I really know what it means and really like this stuff. I’m too intimidated. We used to chew the instant coffee from our LRRP meals when I was in Special Forces while we were deployed to stay awake. I think I might order some grounds next time I’m at a Starbucks. Of course, I never go there and there’s isn’t one here on the island so . . .
I digress. So Starbucks blossomed across the country, like zombies with aprons. You can’t cross a street without hitting one. But then the economy, like, collapsed. Bummer. And people have had to cut back. And, well, $5 for a cup of coffee, started to seem like, of all things, an extravagance. So Starbucks has been hurting (join the club).
Let’s talk bookstores. First there was Amazon. Mail order book retailer. There were grumbles when it first appeared on the horizon back in the days when men were men and the sheep ran scared. It took a slice of the market. B&N also opened an on-line store. Overall, though, the brick and mortar stores and the on-line stores co-existed, much like, well, the Borg and the human race.
But then came eBooks. A murmur in the distance as long ago as, well, January 2010. Now it’s a roar. Borders isn’t solvent. B&N is for sale. Indies, first besieged by the chains, then the on-line retailers, are now attacked on all fronts and those hardy few who have survived so far, must feel like: Can’t a human get a break?
Back to Starbucks. Some smart people over there, right? So what do they have planned to combat their eroding sales? They’ve come up with a two-pronged approach, which has a single concept at its core: go local.
It seems counter-intuitive for a national chain to go local. But what is becoming apparent in retail is that niche is the future. For Starbucks, they’re going to serve alcohol. But not Bud or wine in the carton. They’re serving local brews and local wines. And the décor of each store, rather than being cookie-cutter same, is going to feature local artists and furniture. They’re going to cater to, well, the local people. They’re reinventing the ‘experience’.
I submit where goes Starbucks, there might be a path for bookstores to survive. Serve plenty of alcohol. Well, no. Well, actually, why not? Become a gathering place for like-minded people. But the real thing is: Niche is the future. Not only will indies have to adapt to their area, but for chains like B&N to survive, they must specialize and localize. One size does not fit all. All books do not fit all.
The Espresso machine is a lifeline. Books will be printed in the stores. So anyone can walk in with a thumb drive and print out their Great American Novel and give it to mom and pop and sell three copies to friends who really like them and put up with them. But it’s a money maker. Rack local authors. People who would come in and hang out in the store every so often and talk to readers and interact. Rack books about the area. So if someone wants to know about kayaking in Puget Sound, because they happen to be in a bookstore in a town on the edge of Puget Sound, they can find a book about it. We have to break away from the single buyer in NY determining what goes in every bookstore around the country. We have to get back to local buyers, who have the pulse of the area, who know the readers, determining what goes on the shelves. Make apps where you can sell eBooks by local authors and about the local area. Mirror your physical store on-line.
Let’s continue with motivation from last week’s post.
Three ways to increase motivation which we used in Special Forces:
Offer a rationale why the job/task is necessary. As writers, we have to promote our work even though we don’t want. It is indeed necessary. No one else will do it for you.
Acknowledge that a task is boring, if it is. Editing is boring for me. Yet I know I have to do it. I’ve got Warrior Writer sitting here in a binder on my desk and later today I’ve got to get the red pen out and go through it word for word.
Allow people to complete the task their own way. This was key in Special Forces. I had to trust my demo men with their plans; the weapons men with the weapons; the commo sergeant to keep our radio link up, etc. And they had to trust me to command. In writing, you do have to place a degree of trust in your agent and in your editor. Ultimately though, you are the commander of your career. No one else cares about it as much.
Going back to the Harvard Business School study from the last post: where the artists on commission produced ‘less’ artistic work: when they interviewed those artists, they said they felt themselves constrained by the commission. That they were working toward a goal they didn’t control. This is key for a writer. Because once you are under contract, you have a specified product you have to deliver. It goes back to making sure you are writing what you really want to write. Or else you could be forced into writing something that becomes a boring chore.
Remember Type I and Type X? Intrinsic versus Extrinsic motivated? Here is some more:
Type I behavior is made, not born. That’s good news for us writers. We can discipline ourselves to do this. We’re not born with the skill to finish a book; we grow it.
Type I almost always outperforms Type X in the long run. All those people who write because they want to see their name on a book in the bookstore—they don’t make it. It’s the desire to create that is key.
Type I doesn’t ignore money or recognition. While our goal is not solely to see our name on that cover, it is nice. So are checks. I look at Who Dares Wins Publishing’s Kindle, Lightning, Smashwords, etc. income reports every day. Each time it creeps up a couple of dollars I feel better. Every time it stays the same for hours, I wonder what I’m doing wrong.
Type I behavior is renewable. With extrinsic rewards you can get to the point where there’s nothing more you can give. Internally, you can always reward yourself.
And last, but not least:
Type I behavior promotes greater physical and mental well-being. So, for us depressed and dark writers, it helps. Type I depends on three key elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. As a writer, I love working for myself. Same with being a publisher. Of course, sometimes I’m a hard boss to work for.
I think this is a key topic for writers. In Warrior Writer, I note that only 5% of people are capable of internally motivated change. And to be a successful author, you have to be in that 5%.
I also discussed that one of the seven characters traits of the elite was balancing contentment and desire. Too much of either is dangerous. They feed off of each other. For many years I’ve joked that I never take a day off, but, unfortunately, it’s true. And it’s burned me out. It’s hard to change habits, as we all know, but it is one area I’m working on.
So let’s talk about motivation a bit.
First, the carrot and stick method doesn’t really work any more. The old maxim was: reward an activity and you’ll get more of it. Punish an activity and you’ll get less of it.
That’s wrong. Studies have proved that often, linking a reward to an activity, dampens enthusiasm for it. It can go from being a creative, fun experience, to becoming work. This often happens to the midlist writer who is under contract. Instead of creating, they’re working. An experiment with artists by the Harvard Business School found that those artists working on commission produced less ‘artistic’ work than those artists not working on commission. The pure joy of creating was lost to a degree when there was a positive outcome attached to it.
Not only is creativity hurt. The desire to do good can be diminished with rewards. Paying people to donate blood has proven to lower the number of people donating blood. People prefer to volunteer to do that. Thus internal motivation is more important than external.
On the good news front, researchers have found that goals we set for ourselves are beneficial, but goals set for us by others, are not. This is why I try not to listen to agent and editor panels at conferences. Their lists of ‘do’ and ‘don’t do’ are irritating. An author’s job is not to make their life easier. An author’s job is to create.
Researchers have also found two types of people: Type X and Type I. Type X are indeed motivated by external things. Type I are motivated by internal things. A writer must focus on Type I. Because in publishing, you don’t control many of the external factors. Whether a traditional publisher picks you up or not, is not in your control other than by the quality of what you write. What I’m finding interesting is that by founding my own publishing company, it reduces my stress level as I write. Because I know that even if my agent can’t sell a book, I can still publish it. True, I won’t have a many thousands of copy print run, but I can put it out there. Also, I’ve had thousands of copies print runs and watched books die a slow, agonizing death of neglect.
If you get a $10,000 advance for a mass market paperback, you need to sell (at $6.99, 8% royalty) 17,882 copies to earn out. But what if the print run is only 25,000 copies in today’s tough economic times? And average sell through is 50%? Let’s say you do very well, sell through at 70%. You’ve sold 17,500 copies. And not earned out.
But every day I check my Kindle account, my Smashwords account, my Lightning Account, my pdf account, and money is coming in. Even though I’m making less, it’s more satisfying to see progress.
In Warrior Writer we learn that in the Myers-Briggs INFJ= author and ESTP= promoter. That’s not saying you have to be an INFJ to be an author, but the trend is that authors tend to be pretty poor at ‘selling’ themselves.
The trend also is for publishers to push more and more of the promotion for a book onto the author. That might lead one to ask what exactly do publishers do any more? They distribute books, sure. But even that is going to go by the wayside. It’s time for publishers to rethink their business paradigm, but that’s for another day. Right now, let’s focus on us, the authors.
Some people view self-promotion as dirty. Yet, at the same time, if our book doesn’t sell, we get upset and tend to blame others.
A hard lesson I’ve learned over the years. While content is important, it’s not all important. Frankly, I’ve had thrillers published that were as good, if not better, than many on the bestseller list. I’ve read bestseller that were poorly written. So content isn’t king. The ability to promote that content is just as important.
It’s the same way I learned about how to do good keynote talks: I used to focus on what I was going to say and not so much on how I was going to say it. In fact, I used to say that ‘motivational’ speakers were a waste. Yes, you felt good in the room but when you walked out, what did you have? They key thing I was missing was: you felt good in the room. There is something to be said for the moment. And taking that a step further, I learned that if someone didn’t buy a book now, they weren’t going home and ordering it off Amazon. So the now is important.
So why do we have a hard time self-promoting:
We don’t want to be considered arrogant.
We don’t want to get confronted by people telling us we’re self-promoting.
We’re not sure what we’re promoting is really worth it.
We don’t want to be wrong.
The first key is, paradoxically, having good content. I’m promoting my new publishing company, Who Dares Wins, by promoting my Atlantis books heavily. I’m following the #LOST hashtag on twitter and posting on it about the books. I have no problem doing that because there are numerous similarities between Lost and my books, and my books came out five years before the TV series. To the point, during the first season of Lost, I actually talked to a lawyer, believing I had been ripped off. Whether I had been or not (very hard to protect intellectual property), I know the books are good and will appeal to fans of Lost.
I also know there are probably some people who hate seeing my posts on twitter. I try to keep it reasonable, but if I don’t do it, who will?
Some of you have seen how reluctant I am to place my books out for sale when I’m presenting. That’s an attitude I have to change. Particularly now that I’m wearing two hats: author and publisher. One of our goals with Who Dares Wins Publishing is to create synergy among the brand by having our authors all promote. In fact, we’re going to make that one of the selling points that makes us stand out from all the other ‘publishers’ who can get a book up on kindle. The future of publishing is changing and the days of sitting in a dark room, knocking out a book, and then expecting it to sell itself are over.
Your patrol is walking along a trail and suddenly you are fired upon from the right. Your fear wants you to jump in the convenient ditch to the left—to avoid the ambush.
However, if the ambush is set up correctly—that ditch is mined and you’ll die if you do that. In life, avoiding problems by running from them doesn’t solve the problem.
Your next fear-driven instinct is to just hit the ground. Stay where you’re at and do nothing. Except you’re in the kill zone and if you stay there, well, you’ll get killed. We all want to ignore problems. Because that’s the inherent nature of a problem. But ignoring your greatest problem will keep you in the kill zone and the result is inevitable.
The third thing you want to do is run forward or back on the trail to get out of the kill zone– escape. Except, if the ambush is done right, the heaviest weapons are firing on either end of the kill zone. And you’ll die. We want to avoid problems by going back to the past or imaging it will get better in the future even if we don’t change anything.
The correct solution is the hardest choice because it requires courage: you must conquer your fear, turn right and assault into the ambushing force. It is the best way to not only survive, but win. To tackle problems, you must face them.
So if you think about last week’s, what was your answer to the question: I’ll do whatever it takes to succeed except don’t ask me to do ?????.
Write what you know—maybe write what you are afraid to know. I see many writers who avoid writing what they should be writing because it would mean confronting their fears. Be curious about your fear—it’s a cave, but instead of a monster inside treasure could be inside.
Remember fear is an emotion. Action can occur even when your emotions are fighting it. Taking action is the key to conquering fear.
How do you expand your comfort zone by venturing into your courage zone?
Every day try to do something that you dislike doing, but need to do.
If you’re introverted, talk to a stranger every day.
If you’re a practical person, do something intuitive every day.
Many people are expressing dismay at the rapidly changing landscape of publishing. As writers, we just want to write.
My first book came out in 1991 in hardcover. I was clueless. Most writers were and still are. I’m not even sure there was an internet then. Joking. There was, but not like today, and I didn’t get on it until around 1997 or so. No social media. There were writers conferences. If you knew there were writers conferences, which I didn’t. I did my first conference in 1995 and only found out about it because I was in grad school and someone I knew in the English department knew I had been published and suggested I might present.
I had naïve thoughts my book would immediately make the bestseller list and I’d be famous. Wrong. If I’d have known, simply the print run number would had told me there was no way I could make any bestseller list.
For several years I thought I was making royalty off cover price, only to find out it was off what the publisher received which was 50% of cover price. I also didn’t know royalty should be off cover price, but with this publisher my agent had settled for the other without telling me the difference.
My title was Eyes of the Hammer. Incredibly dumb. Meant nothing. My agent and editor didn’t say a word about it.
I didn’t do a single book-signing. Since the publisher wasn’t sending me on book tour, why should I do one myself? Plus, I didn’t want to do booksignings. I didn’t want to talk to people.
The print run was 10,000 copies hardcover. Which, actually, was pretty decent. I had no idea if it was good or bad. It sold around 7,500. Which is very good sell-through. But the publisher switched distributors and I went to the bottom of their list for the sales force. Over the course of six books I died the slow, agonizing death most mid-list authors do.
Except, of course, I was always a manuscript and a publisher ahead. That was one thing I did do right. (Because of all this I eventually wrote Warrior Writer, to educate writers how to be successful authors, along with many other reasons).
My point? In the good old days, promotion and marketing was as important as they are now. In fact, I submit, things are better today, because you actually can promote and market as an author much more easily than back than. You have social media now, which we didn’t have then.
Once I woke up and realized my publishers were doing no promoting or marketing, but were just distributors, I tried just about everything. Direct mailings, media, articles, contacting every independent bookstore in the country, driving 40,000 miles a year to do booksignings, doing conferences, teaching, etc. etc. Did any of it work? No idea. I’m still making a living writing.
Does social media work? We’ve switched web site providers over the past few days and updated the site. Because of that, I couldn’t tweet about our books because the URLs for the pages were changing. Our Kindle sales dropped 50% during those few days. Consistently for 3 straight days. I’m back to tweeting those key hashtags (#Lost, #SDCC for San Diego Comic Con, and other TV shows.) I anticipate our sales will get back up to where they were. Our new book, We Are Not Alone: The Writers’ Guide to Social Media is a good resource to learn content and procedure and an example of how publishing is changing. It would have taken a traditional publisher a year to produce the book. We did it in two weeks after delivery.
I saw authors 20 years ago who felt all they had to do was write. While a few of them might have broken out and become huge successes, there are none I met. Every single author I met in my first 10 years as an author who
a) Thought they had it made because they were published.
b) Didn’t think they had to promote.
Is now not published.
eBooks, Social Media, etc. has not changed being an author other than to actually make it easier in some ways, which means it’s still incredibly difficult.
Way back in the days of Faulkner, Hemmingway, the Algonquin Round Table, etc. it was just as hard, but different. Then you had to schmooze, make contacts, get known. Gee. It’s kind of the same now too.
In all these eras you still needed a good book at the base of it all, but on top, all that has changed is the medium. It’s still an integral part of an author’s job to promote and market.
There were no good old days for authors. There’s just now.