Think Outside the Box in 2014

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

As 2014 commences there is evidence the operative word in the publishing industry continues to be change. Publishers, authors, and agents must be willing to adapt. With change comes opportunity for those who are willing to take a risk and think outside the box. Status quo will be left behind.

Two industry announcements this very first week of the new year are evidence of publishing efforts to success-failure-change-riskacclimate: Steve Laube’s purchase of Marcher Lord Press and HarperCollins’ decision to expand Thomas Nelson’s self-publishing arm, Westbow Press, to serve Zondervan as well.

If you feel like you are aiming at a moving target as a writer, you have good reason. Whether you are an established author or working toward your debut, you can utilize the same things affecting change in the industry to your own advantage:

·      Technology. Michelle Ule filled in for Wendy Lawton on her blog Tuesday while Wendy is traveling. If you read her post, “A Decade of Reflection,” you have a sense of how electronic advances have affected the industry in the last ten years. With these advances come opportunities to think outside the box to prepare for different writing formats, like apps, and new trends in publishing, like micro-publishing (short books, published quickly), which is a viable option for established authors. It may help to take a class, learn online, or sign up for a workshop at a writers conference every year to stay current on new technologies.

·      Social Media. I confess I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I recognize the benefits and ease for authors to connect with thousands of potential readers of your books (the love part). Several business savvy clients have found legitimate ways to increase their following exponentially through timed posts, building relationships with friends and followers who can become influencers, and strategic use of ads. Don’t let your approach to social media become stagnant. As the year begins invest some time strategizing new ways you can optimize your efforts. Of course, the downside of social media is the interaction can become consuming, even addicting (the hate part) if you aren’t disciplined. Authors, and agents, have very little time to waste.

Two things that remain constant:

1.     A breathtaking manuscript still moves agents and editors to take action. For a novelist it’s the surest way to get an agent because agents know editors will make room in their publishing slots for a sublimely written story with a fresh slant. Platforms and topics being equally strong, the author of a nonfiction book superbly written to its target audience in a voice that best appeals to them will win the contract.

2.    Staying true to your brand and what readers expect from your genre will help sales. If readers feel they are getting what they expected, they’ll be happy and will be more likely to recommend your book to others. That word of mouth is still the most effective marketing tool. When J.K. Rowling’s novel for adults, Casual Vacancy, released last July, readers didn’t anticipate how vastly different it would be from the Harry Potter books that propelled her to fame. Loyal HP readers didn’t get what they expected from the super-author and were disappointed, as many the book’s reviews indicate. J.K. Rowling will survive because readers who can separate from the HP books praise her superb writing in the adult book. She now has a new audience to feed. If you are not at super-author status, don’t try this at home. 

Agents, too, have to think outside the box. At Books & Such we continually look for new opportunities to benefit our clients in this changing, morphing, transitioning industry. Industry change isn’t a new concept. Successful businesses and manufacturers have reinvented themselves over the years to adapt to cultural preferences and technological advances. Microwave ovens entered the market as more homemakers went to work. And so it is in publishing. Thinking outside the box has become the normal modus operandi. Embrace it!

What out of the box approach can you see yourself undertaking this year? How have your career efforts changed to keep up with new technologies and industry change?

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37 Comments

  • My main publicity effort in the short term will be increasing my Pinterest presence.

    There are two compelling reasons -

    1) Pinterest has a largely female participant pool, with demographics similar to those of my target audience

    2) More speculatively, it seems that there is a growing desire to have books ‘visualized’; author websites seem to include more setting-specific photos, and there have been companion books published for some novels series (such as Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries) detailing setting and background.

    Beyond that, I have a feeling that we’re going to be faced with an eventual demand for multimedia novels, with visuals and even a musical score. Anyone have John Williams’ phone number? (Okay…more realistically, Youtube links.)

    The future looks pretty exciting.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      You’re on the right track in your personal strategy, Andrew. I think your speculations for the future of books is indeed exciting, and I believe quite plausible. The technology is already heading in that direction because, as you said, our culture is becoming more visual. The technology industry is eager to capitalize on trends like the huge popularity of video games. Surely they are thinking outside the box as well. It’s only a matter of time until we see them apply the impressive quality they were able to develop from the lucrative video game market to new areas…such as visual books.

    • John Williams’ phone number? From your house? The way you and B’s signals cut out, if you stand the wrong way, it will sound like you’re calling him from Alderaan.

      I do have playlists on my iPod for my books, and I know many authors do. Wouldn’t it be great if that was included in a ebook download?

    • I’m with you, Andrew. Pinterest and Instagram are huge. I don’t know why I haven’t used my Pinterest account more. I am thankful that I have young kids to keep me in touch a bit with things.

    • I’d love to see them go multimedia. I already have a score for my manuscripts. They are often inspired by songs. Now, if I could only get the music labels to allow me to use them :o/.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      Pinterest actually is an excellent tool for research. I’ve discovered photos of things I could not turn up after scouring the ENTIRE Internet looking for a specific location. A half-dozen photos of it were on Pinterest when I typed the name into the search engine.

      I scoffed a year ago, but I’m sold now. Whether it’s sold any books, is another story, but for research purposes, it’s been exemplary. Here are my WWI shots, for example: http://www.pinterest.com/michelleule/world-war-i-shots/

  • I am looking forward to others’ comments today. I am not tech savvy. And I could definitely use some new marketing ideas. I may have to go to Pinterest, as well.

    But I have taken on a new approach to writing my current tween/young teen novel. My 13 year old is an avid reader, MUCH more than I, and she is helping me write “our” book. Though I freely take the reigns, she gives input to where she’d like to see it go. She is even helping edit it. So, I’m partially a ghost writer. Instead of using my experience to try to help my target audience, my target audience is helping me! And considering she is a cancer survivor and incorporating that experience in our book, this is a gold moment in time for me.

  • It’s comforting to know that even when the mode of delivery and the interaction with readers may change, the essentials — having a well-written book that touches readers, and a brand people can trust — have not changed and probably will never really change. That, at least, gives us a target of some sort. :) Thanks for the information and the challenge to keep pursuing excellence and bettering our own knowledge.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Yes, those two constants are every author’s solid foundation, no matter what shifts the industry undergoes. I hope this is a great year in your writing career, Lindsay.

  • Norma Horton says:

    Golly, Mary, some of this post sounds familiar. You know I couldn’t agree more.

    It’s safe to assume more agented authors will self-publish (SP) because the traditional publishing (TP) window is getting smaller as TP continues to become more risk-averse. Decisions with an eye for the industry as a whole, and not just based on the TP rubric, are very important in an evolving business landscape.

    With a strong manuscript that veers slightly outside of the categories that have made money for (CBA) TP in the past, and with a large, engaged following, the ability to position author and product in the marketplace — knowing what to keep and respect from both SP and TP piles — has become more critical. (Then there’s the further TP split between CBA and ABA, categories an author needs to analyze, IMHO.)

    The publishing evolution is forcing the vast majority of authors to escape “artiste” mode and enter business mode, treating the manuscript/s as commodity rather than work of art. Personally, I think it’s thrilling because it places responsibility for the product, and it’s delivery, firmly in the author’s hands. And I am very thankful that you’re by my side in this ever-changing environment.

    Great post as always, and best in 2014 to the Books&Such family.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Norma, thanks for your business-savvy contribution to the discussion. So true that authors today need to develop both sides of their brain: growing in craft as well as in business acumen.

      Regarding agented authors, particularly those who are as yet unpublished, I want to emphasize the qualifier you mentioned in your third paragraph. We Books & Such agents would not recommend jumping to self-publishing until the author has “a large, engaged following [committed purchasers of your book] and the ability to position [yourself] and product in the marketplace [extensive marketing engine].” That is a bigger hill to climb than many non-business savvy authors realize. Perhaps in the future this will change as new out-of-the-box avenues of distribution arise.

      • Norma Horton says:

        Without question, Mary, I agree that an aspiring author needs the foundation of a strong, committed following. And marketing is a career unto itself, so the thought of creating such a following could be overwhelming. I do believe, however, that there’s much to learn by pushing out the boundaries as we think about positioning our author brand, and finding the competitive point of difference in our work. As always, you and I are running in parallel tracks. No surprise there.

  • I doubt anyone will ever accuse me of living INside the box, Nope.
    I don’t like boxes. Unless little ones, they’re full of bling.

    Since I’ve only been writing for two years, I do feel like I’m in a constant state of catching up. Year One was all about learning the hard way, about online etiquette, unspoken no-no’s, basically, ‘how to look stupid without even trying’. I still spend a chunk of time each day just schooling myself in the industry, watching, observing and learning. It’s taken me 2 years to figure out the authors with whom I have a kinship, and which ones are great, but just not my style. I started buying craft books based on the recommendations I found here, on the Books and Such blog. There is A HEAP of stuff to learn. But, one thing I discovered is that when I read certain authors, I start to translate their words into my voice, which is as fun as it is creepy. I mean, seriously, who in their right mind re-words Laura Frantz or Lori Benton??? Can I get a “DUH!”? I look at it this way, I am confident enough that I know my writer’s voice, which is good.
    Unless it’s terrible…confidence? Yeah, about that…

    I will keep reading, keep studying and learn what I can, whether online, ebook or on paper because I have this secret (no longer) desire to do a rather lighthearted seminar at ACFW entitled “So, you’re a Newb?”
    Oh, but before that? I’m going to own the M shelf. ;)

    • Jennifer, this is my/our first shot at writing fiction. Lately, when I’m watching movies, I find myself wondering: “How did they word that scene in the book?!!” And it makes me eager to read the book to learn. I am enjoying the learning process.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      “…when I read certain authors, I start to translate their words into my voice…” Reading other authors is a great way to observe craft being applied and a beneficial exercise in translating to one’s own developing voice, Jennifer. Nothing creepy about that at all. It’s a helpful contribution to today’s discussion. As is your model of confidence and determination and your injection of lightheartedness, which is a reminder to have fun in the writing and publishing process. A happy heart unleashes creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

  • It’s wonderful that you know your voice, Jennifer. I think part of my issue is I am hiding mine for adult fiction and ended up writing for kids. Part of me feels like a Christian mom shouldn’t be as snarky as I feel.

    • If I had a crown? It would have “SNARKZILLA” written in diamonds. Thankfully, I have completely hidden this part of my magnetic personality from everyone online.

      As for hiding your voice, I was reading a craft book on DPOV and at one point, I was tipping my head, because I cannot imagine my characters speaking like the examples. It just did NOT sound like them, at all.

    • This tickled me, Cheryl! Yes, I had to look up the word “snarky”!!

  • Happy New Year, Mary!

    This past year was a learning one for me on social media. I learned Hootsuite which is wonderful for having a presence without having to be present. I still don’t use it as much as I could, but it’s good for days when I’m going to be out of touch with social media. I think I’ve also finally accepted that my photos just aren’t going to and, in fact, can never look like the professional photos that float around Pinterest. Admitting that has freed me to post all my blog posts there, even my weekly homeschool wrap-ups. From what I’ve seen in the past several weeks, others are experiencing the same epiphany. Pinterest is no longer solely for professional designers.

    Thanks, as always, for the great post and the encouragement of what remains constant.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Great start for 2014, Meghan. Congratulations on learning Hootsuite. Have fun thinking outside the box with Pinterest and finding ways to attract those connections to your blog and other social media.

  • Jaime Wright says:

    Someone asked me the other day about a new concept of sending a “video promo” along with book proposals to editors. Not a trailer, but a brief 30-90 sec author interview/pitch about their project. Thoughts? Is this something attractive to editors/publishing houses or just extra fluff?

    • Not nerve wracking at all!
      You’d be great at it, though.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jaime, a quick introductory video could be useful for authors like you, who would be comfortable, confident, and engaging. Putting it on your website would serve a dual purpose. Editors who are considering your manuscript will always visit the author’s website to learn more about them. Accessing the video there would be easy. And visitors to your website will be able to “meet” you there as well.

      Good idea, Jaime.

  • Mary, thanks for an insightful post of what is changing and what’s constant. I take comfort in the constant of quality writing. I know I need to be more involved in social media, to branch out as well as to use what I’m on more effectively. So far this year, I’ve not even had time to write, much less research how to position myself better on social media. I want to do it all, I just don’t have the time right now. :)

    So for now, I am going to focus writing a quality book, and then add in social media research and implementation when I have a bit more time. :)

    I love reading all the ideas though. I’m making a list so I have a jumping off point when I am ready to step outside the box, so to speak.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Interestingly, I received a telemarketing call from Westbow Press this week and was surprised when she said Westbow was affiliated with Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.

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