10.29.15 - On Trying To Be All Things To All People

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On Friday mornings, when I go to the coffee house with some writer friends to socialize myself, I’m only supposed to be writing blogs. 

But once again, my day got away from me and here I am, with nothing to show for it except a wad of business done.

No fiction words, no worthwhile non-fiction words. Nothing but sheer annoyance at myself for letting this happen — again — and a vague unease that permeates everything I’m doing these days. 

I have a lot on my plate right now. This is not a surprise to anyone who knows me. I usually function well in this construct. The pressure works for me, most of the time. It keeps me focused, and allows me the freedom to do what I long to do most: say No to things.

Saying No is very, very hard for an author.

There is a so much more to writing now than simply writing a book. You must wear a million hats: writer, marketer, bookseller, social networker, publicist, travel agent. I’m not complaining (well, maybe a little) because the hats I wear outside of being a writer are fun for me. I am a small business owner; my business being my writing, and there are things that must happen outside of story to help that business grow and flourish.

In the course of helping my business flourish, I read a lot of marketing and promotion tips. I read this article last week. The headline grabbed me, as it was meant to do: 4 Ways to Market Yourself As A Writer and Author

When I decide to read something, my thought process is affected by short, pithy pitches. (Let’s not even talk about the 140 unread articles in my Instapaper.) This particular pitch sounded quick and exciting. I clicked on the link, read the article. There were some excellent ideas in it. Things I’m not doing. Ways I can reach more people. 

I immediately tried to figure out where these new options could fit into my retinue of social media outreach. The train of thought made it all the way to “I could have Amy do . . . ” when I cut myself off with a resounding NO!

Amy is my assistant. She’s extraordinary. She’s helping me with things that take a huge amount of my time — like editing, formatting, and self-publishing my short stories (more news on this next week), handling requests from three publishers, updating my websites, keeping me sane . . . all the awesome things great author assistants do to leave writers more time for writing. 

Amy has a lot on her plate, too. My business schematic is something of a hydra right now, and Lord knows SHE doesn’t need more work. I don’t need more work, either.

But these are great new ways to reach readers . . . 

And it hit me, yet again.

*You can’t do everything, JT. You don’t WANT to do everything. Why in the world would you add in MORE?* 

Because, like all writers I know, I am trying to be all things to all people. 

Do you know why publishers have been encouraging writers to engage in the social media arena? They figured out early on that personality sells books. (Some people call this a "platform.")

That’s why they send authors out on tour — so they can make a personal connection with booksellers and readers. That’s why the author website became so important. Why the Facebook likes and Twitter follows and the Instagram clicks and the Pinterest pins and the Tumblr reblogs became such an integral part of the marketing plan. 

Only one thing: there’s a B.I.G. problem with this approach. 

An author has a single job: write books. Write kick-ass, unputdownable books. But now that the author’s personality is being used to sell books, I’m worried the writing isn’t as important anymore.

It’s readily apparent in the writing world, where a kick-ass Twitter feed can outshine the quality of the work, or finding a cool kid on YouTube channel with a huge following, somehow means that having them write a book is appropriate and worth doing. It’s happening in YA, leaking into the thriller world, and finding it’s way into romance. Sci-Fi is overrun with it. Literary — well, there seems to be a modicum of "FU" going around there — sometimes, the more people think you're a jerk, the better the books do. Not sure I get that one . . . 

For so many years, the story was paramount. The voice, the story, the characters: that was how a reader judged the author’s personality. Visually, at most, you got a photo on a jacket cover to go on, though many didn’t bother, and those that did had photos that were sometimes decades out of date. And those small things used to be more than enough to hook a reader. 

Now, authors are expected to do a lot of their own marketing. We have indie publishing, which uses a huge amount of author personality to drive the success or failure of book. Social media has gone from being a great tool to spread news about your latest novel to a way for readers to decide if they actually like the author as a person. And if they like the author, then they’ll buy the book. This worries me greatly.

As more and more of my time is spent trying to make sure readers like me as a person, fewer and fewer words are being written that will hook them for life.

(Don't worry, I am remedying the word count situation. Never, ever will I take off three months from writing again.)

I don’t know the solution, or that there is a real problem here. I love my social media feeds. I love that I can talk to my readers directly. I've had a great time building this network, and it sure as heck helps me sell books. All I know is I won’t be adding in anything more to how I market my books to readers. And there’s a certain relief in that. 

Am I crazy? Is it just me who sees this happening?

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JT Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen critically acclaimed thrillers and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. She is also the co-host of A Word on Words, Nashville's premier literary TV series, which airs on Nashville Public Television. She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville. Visit JTEllison.com, and follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or at Facebook.com/JTEllison14.