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.
Ha! I love this analogy. And it’s all, oh so true.
Thanks, Casey! You’re up early this morning!
You made me smile, Cynthia, and you’re right. A couple we vaguely know opened a deli in our neighborhood. We wanted to support them, so we popped in for lunch. Our sandwiches were . . . ordinary. To succeed in our area, a deli must excel with at least one of these three things: speedy service, low price or great food. They were none of the above. Sadly, they were soon out of business.
I don’t want to be “none of the above.” Thanks for the imaginative reminder.
Shirlee, that’s a great supporting story! Thanks for sharing it!
I may have grinned at the closing “conversation.” Point taken, Cynthia.
I never thought about the food truck analogy, but it certainly works for the writing journey. Thanks for giving me so much good food for thought.
I definitely don’t want to be “run of the mill.” I guess some of the added flavor in writing comes through practice and trying new things until we master voice/flavor. And, you’ve got me thinking about if there are other places online where I should be connecting. Thanks for this!
Glad if it can help, Jeanne.
Perhaps it is not finger-lickin’
good, and no fries come with these;
but, behold, for your pickin’:
your choice of MREs.
Yes, chili with beans are here,
and maple sausage too,
for your breakfast morning cheer;
it’s really cordon bleu!
Just tear the foil and chow on down,
and trade stuff with each other,
laughing, sitting on the ground
brother by hard brother,
to share in cheerful harmony
what was packed back in 2003.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ha ha! The Salmon Burger! But this analogy really does shock the system into realizing what our stories must accomplish. We have all gone to the fair and stood in front of all the food trucks, trying to decide which line to join. It takes time, and sometimes someone else pointing it out, to show us what unique things we have to offer. I live off-grid (since before off-grid was even a term) at a remote Bible camp. I wrote for 13 years before it occurred to me that my situation was unique and interesting to others. It is simply normal for me to go out and turn the generator on when I want power or to check the battery system when the lights suddenly go dark. Or to keep tabs on the water pressure and give my husband a call, “Can you turn on the pump at the well?” when we begin to run out of water. Keeping an ear open for bull elk fighting when I’m on a walk in the fall is also normal. Hint, you just turn around and walk back if they are determined and standing in the middle of the road, ha! But apparently, this is less normal and more interesting to others. It took someone else to point it out to me. So yes, I see that my food truck needs to reflect something that only I can offer. Perhaps elk burgers with sliced Camas root (yes, my sons dig the bulbs in the spring and we cook them up in butter after getting a lesson from some lovely native ladies who came up to dig in their ancestral stomping grounds) crisp spring beauties piled on top (another edible flower) and a side of bear sausage fried with potatoes. I’m not sure, but it does make a writer think!
Fun to read, Kristen.
I love this analogy and know I’ll remember it. One of my favorite things is seeing clever mash-ups and combinations on the Food Network. I’ve even thought of using it as a character career, so this is a great spark!
Thank you, Tonya!
Oh, what the heck.
Come and taste my writing;
sales may not be brisk,
for the sign is not inviting:
“Consume at your own risk.”
If you don’t want challenge-burgers,
I can well understand;
just go and eat your Gerber’s
while holding Mommy’s hand.
This food makes no apology,
and it is not forgiving
soft feel-ye-good theology;
they’re dishes for hard living.
But if you can dispense with plaicd,
my meals include some free antacids.
This was sooo good, Cynthia! Thank you for sharing this. You gave some good points for us to keep in mind!
Love this at a time when Food Trucks are very popular and we are longing for food we didn’t have to cook ourselves.
Great analogy. There is so much more to selling books (or food) than a pretty cover. Lots of good info here.
When my husband finished Pharmacy School we moved to the capital and a family friend needed help in his new Soda Shop located in the high rise where a major energy company housed their corporate office.
It was a temp job before I eventually settled with a major Insurance Company. One of the executives with the energy company decided no one could make his hotdogs except me. The others were capable but my process was more to his liking because I would provide ample toppings but prepared in a way that he didn’t have to be concerned that mustard or chili would end on on his suit or white shirt.
I considered it a big compliment that he would seek me out even if it meant waiting till I was available. Product, quality, presentation, branding, customer relationship add up to success.
Ooh. Great story!