blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
You’re in a writing food truck race. Were you aware of that already? If you are, how’s it going? Sales good? Lines of customers waiting for your burgers? Media attention? Images of your food truck and burgers popping up all over social media?
As a writer, you’re selling burgers (novels or nonfiction books). And so is every other food truck in the parking lot. You’re looking to entice customers to purchase what you’ve created. So is every other food truck. People could make their own burgers at home. Why should they choose to buy what you’re selling?
Some great analogies start out looking like lame analogies, so hang in there with me for a few more minutes.
If everyone in the great food truck race of publishing is selling burgers, why should an editor–or a reader–buy yours?
Yes, I well remember in college when low price, accessibility, and greasy spoon/fork/knife/fingers/shirt won out over quality ingredients. But when your burgers are competing against hundreds or thousands of other entrees (or entries, or submissions), starting with quality ingredients is always going to yield a product that will draw crowds. A strong, not old and moldy premise. Fresh, not canned or previously frozen. With even just two food trucks side by side, you can tell by the aroma which one is using quality ingredients.
And quality ingredients always affect flavor. But a burger is a burger, right? What distinguishes yours? What is it about the flavor you’ve added to your work that causes it to rise above all the other burgers sold by all the other food trucks? Well-seasoned, but not over-seasoned? Grilled versus fried? What have you added to make it stand out from the rest? Avocado? Brie (yes, please)? A fried egg? Pickled onions? Smashed barbecue potato chips?
It’s a romance. (It’s a burger.) Oh, but not an ordinary romance. It’s the story of two people (pretty standard) who set out on a quest (also as standard as cheese or bacon) with an eleven-year-old foster boy (Ooh! Caramelized bacon) to discover (seen it) if it’s possible (medium rare) or even advisable (jalapenos) to repair the relationships they thought beyond hope (soggy bun) in an era when keeping six feet between you at all times is the norm (watercress).
I made that last parenthetical response up, just because I love watercress. But we digress. The point is that SOMETHING has to make your burger better, better tasting, exceptional if you hope to have repeat customers. Burger joints abound. Why should people line up in front of your food truck?
Which leads to branding. If all the burgers from all the food trucks were lined up on a picnic table in the park, how would a passerby be able to pick out which one was yours? What identifies the burger as the product of your imagination, your skills with seasoning, your signature food?
It’s a little more complex than that, but the business of producing a recognizable burger (Who can’t tell the difference between a Big Mac and a Whopper?) is what makes both of them legitimate players in their field. This isn’t a treatise on fast food versus, say, a Guy Fieri burger. But you get the idea.
Does a clear vision carry over into all the products (books) you sell? Do people know what to expect when they approach your food truck during the writing food truck race? “Well, we have a cajun seafood risotto and a real popular dim sum and a bacon double cheeseburger and then we can switch out the flattop for a grill and make killer grilled chicken sandwiches, but our specialty is desserts.” Huh? “We make health-forward versions of your favorite diner foods,” or “We serve gourmet fast food that tastes delicious but steers clear of most food allergy triggers.” Oh. I get it.
Is your food truck parked where there’s lots of foot traffic in the writing food truck race? Or on a side road, out of sight?
Does your truck accurately reflect your brand and appeal to people who eat the kind of burgers you’re laying down? How are you letting people know about your food truck? Word of mouth only? Carefully placed online ads? Megaphone? You wear a sandwich board with your menu on it and stand in front of your truck…between flipping burgers?
Do you expect that if you make a good burger and you’ve got a great cover for your truck, customers should just come find you?
Or are you giving out tasting samples, going where burger-loving people hang out, connecting with them on social media, conversing with them to find out their eating habits and preferences?
Did you accidentally park your food truck next to Martha Stewart’s or Beth Moore’s and expect you could share the same space with similar sales results? Are you determined to sell your Heart Attack Mile-High burgers outside the cardiac rehab facility?
You’re in a writing food truck race. What’s within your power to change to make sure you create the best burger and best food truck possible, it’s reaching its intended audience, and it’s distinctly different from all the others in the parking lot?
Conversation overheard in the parking lot.
Editor: This is a salmon patty.
You: Isn’t it delicious?
Editor: I asked for a pork slider with Asian cole slaw.
You: I thought you’d like the salmon patty better. Did you try it?
Editor: I’m allergic to salmon.
You: Not THIS salmon. Just try it.
Editor: I can’t. Like I said…
You: Tell you what. I’ll throw in a kale smoothie for free.
Editor: Your truck says, “Kale smoothies free with every pork slider order.”
You: There you go.
Editor: But, this is salmon.
You: Look. I created a beautiful salmon burger. I’ve been working on it for twelve years. You’re turning it down?”
Editor: Afraid so.
You: Some people just have no taste.