Last Friday, I launched an ebook called The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat, and I wanted to let you inside exactly what happened over the course of the week, because I think it will be very instructive to anyone writing something that they hope will one day reach readers.
Whether you know it or not, you are actually a key player in this story, simply by virtue of being a reader of my newsletter. You were, in fact, my target audience, and also a test case. I didn’t tell anyone else I was launching this ebook. I wanted to see what would happen if I only announced it to the people who are my “followers.”
Agents and editors and publishers and platform-building experts are constantly telling us that we have to work long and hard to gain a readership and I know how this news often hits a writers’ brain because I am a writer and I know how it hits my brain. I say to myself, “Yes, okay, I know, I get it, but MY book will be so good that I don’t need to do all that stuff. MY book will be different.” The voice sounds very similar to the one that says that while other people shouldn’t text and drive, I can certainly get away with a little text just before the light turns green. It is not, in other words, my most rational voice.
I have been burned once before by this hubris, with my last novel, Perfect Red. That book’s entry into the world did not go well, to say the least. My agent set an auction date, we had six editors poised to bid, and then on the morning of the auction, none of them bid. It was a very bad day. I decided to self publish and was convinced I would show them all the folly of their ways. I thought that having published six books gave me some sort of free pass to the head of the line. I thought every bookstore where I had held a signing would remember me, and every reader who had written me about one book would want to read another. I thought I had it made in the shade. I did not have it made in the shade because I hadn’t done anything to serve that audience, to engage them, to entice them, to connect with them.
I learned my lesson. And so I set about doing what the experts say you should do. I started this newsletter almost exactly a year ago and have written something every week since. My goal was to be relentlessly helpful, to offer the best of what I have to offer in terms of writing, publishing, creative strategy and how to survive the writing life. I wanted to be generous, to be authentic, to be present – and not just because it’s a good way to be in the world, but because I want my coaching business to continue to thrive and I want readers for my books.
In the year since starting the newsletter, I have amassed 340 followers. You are one of them, and I am really glad about that. I did not have any goals for how many people I would “get” – but I have to say that since I am getting close to 500, I would love to have 500. They say that with 1000 raving fans, you can do anything, and 500 is halfway there. So hey, if you know someone you think would benefit from hearing what I have to say each week, invite them to be part of the fun!
But raving fans? That’s another story.
I made the announcement about my ebook only to my newsletter readers, as I said, above. I wrote this book for you guys and for people like you. I wanted to share some of my coaching wisdom, to give it to you in what I think is a clever package. As an incentive, I even committed to giving away a $500 coaching session in a contest open to all book buyers. Check it out HERE.
So how many books did I sell? 14.
OK so on the one hand that’s like UGH -- only 14? Seriously? Out of 340 people? That’s about 3%. I have to admit that there was a moment before I hit SEND last week when I convinced myself I would sell 150 copies– or about 50% -- so 3% felt like a giant failure. I mean, I thought I had 340 raving fans!! Turns out I only have 14, which means that I better work harder and smarter. If I want 1000 raving fans (and I really do!), I probably need more like 30,000 followers. I have all kinds of plans and schemes for how to get them, and I am deep into the work of executing those plans, which is good and satisfying work.
So yes, it was a gut punch, but on the other hand, I have 14 raving fans!! Hear are some of the lovely things they said about my book:
"I'm laughing so hard right now. I just glanced down the table of contents of Jennie Nash's new book, "The Writer's Guide to Agony and Defeat" and of the 43 agonies she lists, I'm currently (I mean right this second) experiencing 19 of them. Guess what I'll be buying and reading this
lunchtime? -- Lisa Manterfield
I gobbled up Writer's Guide! I relate to every single fear at each stage, and just seeing them staring back at me on the page in your e-book makes me feel not only less alone, but also more confident that I, too, could forge ahead. Thank you for that, Jennie! -- Sarahlyn Bruck
I love these 14 readers and am so grateful for their happy feedback. Having even ONE reader who likes your work is truly a blessing.
If you didn’t buy a copy of The Writers’ Guide to Agony and Defeat , I want you to stop and think about why you didn’t – not because I want you to feel guilty, oh my goodness no. There are a million reasons not to buy a book -- which is the point. I want you to think about it because I want you to think about what hooks a reader, what grabs them, what causes them to put down $5.99 (or $12.99 or $25.99.) You didn’t do it – so why not? Think about that, and then take a minute to think about YOUR future reader. Why might she buy your book? Why might she NOT? What can you do to delight her, and to FIND her, and to convince her to be among the buyers?
This is the work that writers must do. It has nothing to do with writing itself, which is why so many of us balk at it. It’s so much more fun to create stuff, to work on structure and character and tone and emotional payoff. It’s so much easier to fuss with a sentence until it sings, or to dream about how Reese Witherspoon is going to option your book for the movies and star as you on the silver screen. But the truth is that reaching readers is really hard. Writing a book people want to read is really hard. We both better get back to it…
Photo by Liz West, Flikr