When it comes to craft, the subject of “planner” vs. “pantser” comes up when discussing the best strategy for plotting or mapping your story. Planners tend to meticulously (or perhaps even loosely) outline or create a story arc before writing a single word. Pantsers, on the other hand, write as they go, trusting that the story will come to them along the way, perhaps having a general idea of its direction. There’s no right or wrong way, and one is not better than the other. I’m all pantser—I tend to at least know what the next scene will be. I feel more constrained if I try to plot or plan beforehand.
I like being a pantser.
What I have learned this past month—and forgive me if this is a well, duh revelation—is that the pantser strategy doesn’t work when it comes to selling books.
In The Writer’s Habit book, I talked about the importance of knowing what you want and then making a plan to attain it. I used such examples as whether you wanted to independently publish as opposed to finding a literary agent and seeking a contract with one of the Big Five, or setting a goal to write a dystopian series that would be so popular they’d get movie and merchandising deals.
In some ways I think I missed the obvious. Because once the desire to “get there” is fulfilled, a new desire takes its place: stay there.
I think it’s long been understood that the work of an author doesn’t end when the book is written and published. In fact, the work has just begun, because now comes the marketing, promoting, and networking, and it never ends. I have known this. I have lived this.
What I have learned upon reflection, however, is that I haven’t done it very well.
I could chalk it up to my pantser nature. I could also chalk it up to underestimating the scope of what’s truly involved in staying on the mountain after you’ve gotten there. One thing I had taken for granted is that indie authors are ferocious when it comes to this work. And I bow down to them for that. I think I had been once. And I think complacency set in after I had a run of good fortune, first as an indie, and then as a contracted author. It’s not that I thought the work was done; it’s that I thought more of it would be on autopilot.
Man, was I wrong.
The hard truth is that when it comes to selling your books, regardless of whether you are independently or traditionally published, your success or failure is in your hands. It’s totally on you. And if you want success (in this case, I mean if you want your books to sell, and sell well), then you’ve got to make a plan. Plot it out. Outline. Use your calendar. Set goals.
I feel foolish for having realized this so late, but the good news is that it’s never too late to start.
Everyone’s plan is different of course because everyone’s goals and desires differ. But here are three areas in which you can begin to assess what you want or need and plan from there:
Your mailing list
I’m going to be writing about this more extensively in the near future, but your mailing list is like a valuable piece of real estate that needs to be used properly. Think if you owned a corner lot and built a store on it but then didn’t stock it, or stocked it with the wrong kind of product, used the wrong signage… you get the idea. It took me way too long to realize how much of an asset a mailing list is, and it’s only these past few weeks that I’m learning how to make it work for me. It’s not enough to have a list and send out messages here and there with no consistency or purpose or strategy. As I start to apply the tools I’m learning and am able to measure results, I’ll share them with you.
In my early years as an author, I had thought a bunch of social media blasts and bookstore readings/signings were enough to drive a successful launch. When my novel The Second First Time launched, I had completely dropped the ball and focused solely on setting up and promoting in-store appearances. Part of my thinking was that, as a new Montana resident, I wanted to cultivate relationships with the local independent bookstores and community. On that level, my strategy was successful. However, I ignored the ebook side of things, which is where 98% of my readership and sales are. There were also personal factors involved in my failure to properly plan, which I mention not as justification, but explanation. I take responsibility for the consequences of that launch’s many shortcomings and disappointments.
We put so much time and effort into launches that we sometimes forget about our back catalogue day in and day out, mentioning them only if there’s a price break. A successful marriage is all about the maintenance. The same can be said for a successful author career. It’s important to plan strategies for maintaining a healthy sales quota of your catalogue that don’t involve pushy selling (a goal to aspire to no matter where your book is in its life cycle). I hope to be sharing some ideas in the near future.
Discussion: What has worked for you in any/all of these areas? What do you struggle with? I would love to hear from you.