Friday, February 10, 2012

Your Idea Garden: First you have to dig it

The brilliant and weird Seth Godin is something of the outlier's outlier, the weird "thought leader" who is about 20 years ahead of his time. While he wrote an entire book on being weird, a brief online interview summarizes his point.

I have revolutionized my thinking and acting since Christmas. I had great success last year with my ebooks, largely due to luck--circumstance, the explosion of the digital market, a stack of content built over 15 years of often unrewarding effort (besides the satisfaction of complete commitment to craft and story). All that culminated in a book deal with Amazon's new publishing imprint.

I thought I could sit back and not worry any longer, or pay attention to the things that had helped my success. It was more than laziness, it was the notion that I had arrived at some plateau and could now coast a while. Amazon patiently coaxed me up the charts with their marketing plan, and Chronic Fear was ranked #83 on the Christmas Eve Kindle list. I went to bed with dreams of rock stardom and awoke to a book ranked #140 and sliding rapidly--the market had become extremely volatile, indies who hadn't been resting on their smugness had paid attention to the new Select program and played the system to claim that Christmas bestseller list, and I had basically surrendered any power I might have had.

To apply my gardening metaphor, I had cast all my seeds into someone else's garden and hoped they would bring me back a bumper crop at the end of the season, without getting my own hands dirty. I instantly took action, put together the Epic Kindle Giveaway and gave away more than 100,000 books in three days, and recently followed that up with the Big Kindle Boogie, with 118,000 downloads in three days. Combined with the other participating writers, that was about 750,000 free books in a few weeks. While the sowing didn't spring full-grown into blossoms and produce, more than a quarter million of my books have been loaded onto Kindles in the last six weeks.

I am not concerned about whether that is the right "long-term strategy." There is no long-term strategy in a digital era, because there are no long terms, merely fleeting mini-eras, short seasons where certain crops will thrive and others will wither. This is the "free book era," and the advent of the lending library and wholesale bulk delivery. Since digital content is free or cheap, it makes sense to deliver that content in grand quantities. After all, the best blog posts are shared thousands of times in a day and then become yesterday's news. And when the content is delivered with what I call "generosity marketing" (although it is really not marketing at all), you have an unbeatable value-added combination. Everyone is served, and all involved gain something of value. The garden, with seeds to spare, and a crop to keep me and others alive until the next planting season.

But you have to get your hands dirty first. If you aren't smelling the mud, you don't have a foundation. No place for roots. Nothing to stick your seeds in. Find your dirt and cram your fingers into the soil, feel it, smell it, taste it, absorb it through osmosis. I am glad Chronic Fear didn't end up a Top 10 bestseller, or I would have missed my return to my roots and all I have learned in these past six weeks. My hands are filthy and I am grinning.

Free for Amazon Feb. 10-12:
MAD STACKS: Story Collection Box Set

LITTLEFIELD: Two Supernatural Thrillers


Reminder that Robert Shane Wilson laid down a poignant audio rendition of my international Writers of the Future award-winning story "The Vampire Shortstop" at Dark Audio. Grab the mp3 for your commute or listen to the 43 minutes on the blog.


JL Bryan said...

This is one reason I'm (sort of) glad I never got a huge boost from the algorithm lottery. I usually know why my books are up or down, and I feel like promotion is always an ongoing thing, because my sales can easily slip. I'm constantly building my network of book bloggers, doing events, etc.

I know writers who had multiple bestsellers purely from the algorithms, and now they're confused and not sure what went wrong.

Generally, I think some people have treated it like mountain climbing--you get to the top, then you're done. When actually it's like surfing. You're up, you're down, you're up...just keep watching for the next wave (and for sharks...)

Epic Kindle Giveaway said...

Good analogy, Jeff. I apply it to more than just Amazon-- it is the entire notion of gardening and the mini-seasons. I never count on anything being the same from day to day, but persistent belief in the highest intention seems to keep me moving in the right direction.