This post may seem somewhat contradictory to my “Control Your First Impression” post, but it is not. As a writer you will, if successful, face a duality. At some point you will be faced with having to walk away from one of your children. That point may come too soon in its life or it may come too late.
My father used to like “Shark Tank.” I was never a fan of the show, but he liked it and I was spending time with him so I watched it with him. My main issue with the show, given the few episodes I watched, was that everyone seemed intent on making the cheapest piece of doo-doo possible for a Wal-Mart shelf. I really got upset when “Mr. Personality” said products made in China weren’t low quality. I get upset about that every time I buy something and find out it was made there.
Case in point. I recently decided to get rid of DirecTV in at least one room of the house. Ordered an HD-2605 Ultra outdoor rated antenna to put up. I had a tripod tower from back when an antenna was the only way to get television so I really only needed the antenna. Naturally it arrives “some assembly required.” The vendor didn’t tell me it was made in China or I wouldn’t have bought it. The phillips head screws only had a mark which “looked” like a phillips head. There was no actual impression in the metal. Not only that, but the entire antenna is made of plastic and some form of metal so weak it bends at the slightest touch. The first time a starling sits on it the entire thing will curl up like a pretzel. Such quality!
One of the things which struck me is there was at least one person begging for money on the show who was obviously the problem with their product. I remember one guy who was trying to work his full time job building some truck bed product on the side. He was having trouble filling orders and doing marketing. Duh! I forget exactly what his “plan” was, but he was completely against taking a payout from one of the sharks and letting some manufacturing company build the needed quantity as well as letting them market it into other retail chains while he continued to get a cut of sales.
This is a classic tale, from what I can tell, for people seeking funding on the show. They are trying to both “own the child” and serve two masters. You simply cannot do it. Something has to give.
We as writers have this problem, usually when we have just become successful or are on the cusp of it. Many will tell you they have the dream of being a full time writer, but that is just it, a dream. They don’t have a plan to achieve it and few are willing to take the gamble of trying it. Living down and giving up the security of a regular pay check is too big of a sacrifice so they will never achieve the dream. They want to be a full time writer _after_ they have that mega seller, but, the level of marketing required for a mega seller is a full time capital intensive job. Even if you magically found a top notch PR person who could book you on every trendy talk show around the globe, the cost of travel and hotel for all of those appearances will run you many tens of thousands of dollars. Thankfully, no such mythical PR person exists.
Assuming you read all of my “Challenge Your Beliefs” posts and you actually followed the legwork I laid out for cutting your teeth marketing, you now have some idea just how time intensive Web and Post Office only marketing can be. If you happen to do everything right and find your perfect niche and magically push your reported sales into the sweet spot of 5-10K, you will find yourself facing the first of these “love it enough to leave it” situations.
Read carefully, I said REPORTED sales. There are various sales tracking entities out there. The chain book stores normally report sales to the larger ones. (They may have pushed this back to the distributors, been a bit since I looked into it.) When you sell one out of your trunk, the reporting agencies don’t know about it. Being a professional I do absolutely no business with Amazon so I do not know if they report to the agencies or not. Given how secretive they are with other sales information I would severely doubt it.
What this means is you have to research the sales channels you allow your work to sell through so all sales are reported. You at least have to identify a token few which report all sales so you can direct the bulk of your marketing efforts to/through those retail outlets. While you may get a higher margin via some other channel, you will not get credit for it.
Let us assume for the sake of argument that you have achieved the sweet spot threshold. A goodly number of wanna-be agents (and a few legitimate ones) somehow subscribe to reports from those reporting agencies. You will start getting offers of representation. Be __very__ careful when an agent contacts you without you having contacted them. Make certain you check them out in all of the usual places.
There was an article in “the Writer” magazine some time ago which I will never forget. They were interviewing a self-published author who hit this sweet spot. Actually, he was starting to shoot past it. He related a story about an “agent” calling him claiming he could get him a $5000 advance and a contract in less than a month. The author replied “I made more than that last week.” Which, it turns out, was completely true.
Some authors decide they love it enough to leave it too soon. Case in point “The Game of Thrones” television show. Yes, the show may be wildly popular, but, the author wasn’t done with the series when the publisher struck the deal. People who loved the early books (myself included) were really offended by the show. Huge sections and critical dialogue seem to have ended up on the cutting room floor. More importantly the writing for the series hit the toilet and the Tidy Bowl man pulled the chain. The author was obviously padding out when he wrote “A Dance With Dragons.” Now there are reports the television show will decouple from the book series completely but, in theory, end up in the same place. There is also talk the television show will be up before the last book in the series comes out. Nice train wreck.
If you really do love it enough to leave it, you both have to walk completely away AND protect the fan base. My earlier posts about “Starship Troopers” is a shining example of what happens when one walks away without protecting the fan base.