Seduction and the New Writer

If you followed “seduction” looking for “sexy stuff,” I am afraid that I will have to disappoint you. Here “seduction” is the gentile, step-by-step persuasion that leads you down an unplanned path. Here, “seduction” plays upon your desires with the assurance that “this won’t hurt a bit.” Whether the end result is good or bad is always a matter of judgment.

I’m trying to become a writer. The pragmatist in me wants other people to read what I have written. I believe I have something to say. Having people read and react is the best way to confirm that belief. For me, such writing is to enter into a conversation. This post is more of a “thinking out loud” conversation with myself along my journey to becoming a writer.

As I have noted earlier, I am retired. My finances are in order. I have no expectation that “this writing thing” will make any “serious” money. But I also do not want to lose “serious” money. Like any hobby, and I think it is safest to think of what I am doing as a hobby, there are certain expenses. The trick for me is to limit those expenses to stay in my financial “comfort zone.”

This is the 21st century and a writer needs more than a quill pen and sheets of paper to write upon. I have a nice laptop, but I would have had a laptop no matter what I was planning on doing after I retired. I cannot in good faith attribute the costs of the laptop to my writing hobby. I have purchased several software products that I can tie to my writing. I use Scrapple to organize my thoughts before dictation. I use Dragon Naturally Speak to dictate the first draft of all the materials that I produce. I use Scrivener to organize the various piece parts of the novel. I use Aeon to manage the time line of the novel. I use Hemmingway to check on grammar and usage. I have Microsoft Office 365, but that came with the laptop. Each of these whispers, “I will make you a better writer.”  I am much too lazy to add up all the details but I estimate that so far I have spent well under $500 for my hobby. None of these “to be a better writer” seductions has taken me out of my financial comfort zone. Yet.

Where it gets interesting is when we get into the area of services. There are only so many things that I can do for myself with any degree of skill. I need cover art. I need an edited manuscript. I need a copy of the book to submit to online publishers in the proper format. I need marketing to connect readers to the book. Then there are legal, accounting, and tax issues to resolve. Each of these services mummers, “I will make you a more successful writer.” Who would not want such success?  The seduction continues.

But I am uncertain if the success each of these services would enable would pay for their costs. I saw an email that talked about spending tens of thousands of dollars on these services each year. The writer characterized the expenditures as “what a successful author needs to do.”

Ouch! I struggle to reconcile “minimal income” with “large expenses.” I am determined to go forward. And, thus, I search for ways to control the costs.

As a “general contractor,” I could hire people to take care of these tasks. I could hire someone to create a cover for my e-book. I could hire someone to edit my prose in a half-dozen ways. I could hire someone to format the book for publication. I could pay for advertising. I could pay for legal services. I could, if I were optimistic about how many copies I would sell, pay for accounting services. I could build an email list and pay someone to maintain it for me.

If I am not willing to be a “general contractor,” there are folks out there who will provide me package deals. I show up with the manuscript. They take care of everything else for me: formatting, publication, and promotion. All I have to do is wait for the money to roll in. These services target a population of people have more money than time. If the pundits are correct, these services also target the folks that have more money than sense

In any case, I have serious objections against using such packaging services. First, I’m retired and have the time to explore all the various aspects of writing. Second, I actually want to learn new things. Third, I believe that I will lose control of the book when dealing with these packaged solutions. All in all, these package do not smell particularly good to me.

Thus, I am going down the “general contractor” path. I have been busy trying to learn about all the various things I need to do. The biggest lesson I have learned is that there’s an enormous amount that I don’t know. This is a glorious opportunity for a lifelong learner. This is a formidable obstacle for someone who wants to get their book published and read widely.

The only way that I know how to deal with this situation is to break the problem down into smaller problems. What I learn solving one of these smaller problems will guide me in solving the next challenge.

This is a lesson that I learned over fifty years ago. I was a college student at Purdue University. I had a job as a programmer for a research group on campus. At that time, computer time was a precious commodity. I was responsible for setting up a series of jobs on the computer to analyze experimental data. I had gotten too clever and perhaps more than a little sloppy. The details do not matter but the consequence of my actions was that a couple of days of processing had to be redone.

There was a weekly status meeting which we all attended. There was no way to avoid informing the director of the research group of the problem. The director was tall, Germanic, and had a temper. I sat in the status meeting, trying to be as small and inconspicuous as I could, waiting for the dressing down. The anticipation of pain is the worst kind of torture. My team leader explained the mistake. There was a silence that stretched out. The director looked at me across the length of the conference table. He got up and slowly walked to where I was sitting. He stood there in silence, towering over me. He leaned down and said, “Stonecash, small steps for small minds!” Fifty years later, it still stings. But lessons, well learned, are like that.

My first “small step” is to publish the book on Amazon KDP Select. In return for an exclusive access to the book, Amazon will promote my book to some extent. This is a “moving forward” decision. This is a “not stupid” decision, especially for a first-time author. I have some notions about how to market the book during the 90-day exclusive period. I assume that in the future, I will expand the distribution of the novel to other channels.

The trick in all these activities is to not make any kind of decisions that are binding for long periods of time. I will make some mistakes. I come from a world in which the mantra is “fail fast!” Do the smallest “next thing” that is useful. Recognize what works and what does not. Resolve the mistakes as quickly as possible. Repeat until successful.

The decision to use Amazon KDP Select gives me an outline of what I need. I need an e-book cover. I need a manuscript formatted such that I can uploaded it into Amazon. I need categories and keywords that describe the book and make it searchable. I need a book description that entices the reader to buy the book. I have to have each of these items in hand before I can load anything into Amazon. After the upload, I need reviews.

Scrivener will produce a file suitable for uploading into Amazon in minutes of effort. I understand how to define the categories and keywords. I have a book description. I designed the cover for my e-book and it was nice but not nice enough to do the job.

I buy a lot of books on Amazon and on its sister site Audible. I have a sense of how that buying process works. The cover of the book is critical. Prospective readers will give cover thumbnails no more than two seconds of attention. The cover has to sell the book within that time. The prospective reader either clicks on the image to load the web page or goes on to the next thumbnail. No click means no sale. The cover is a really big deal.

I am running a contest on 99 Designs to produce a cover for the book. This is going to cost me somewhere around $500 to $600 but it is an expense that I understand. An inadequate cover can doom the most brilliant of works. If nobody buys the book, then nobody reads the book. This cover will make me a “more successful writer!” I am seduced yet again.

In turn, I have to seduce the prospective reader.  The starting point is a list of titles with thumbnails of the covers. This might be from a promotional email sent out by Amazon or Audible. It might be from a keyword search on their respective web sites. The categories and keywords for the book determines who might buy it.

Thus the first step in the seduction is to classify the book so that it shows up on the right lists. The second step is to create a cover which entices the prospective reader to load the web page on Amazon for the book. The third step is describe the book and include reviews to induce the prospective reader to buy the book. The fourth step is to have a book worthy of the reading. The fifth step is to invite the reader to be a part of the author’s mailing list; that list is the basis of a conversation between the author and his readers. The sixth step is to write another book and repeat the whole dance again.

So far none of these expenses have taken me out of my comfort zone. But there is a black cloud called “professional editing” looming on the horizon. The current draft of my book is over 200,000 words. It is quite possible that the book is too long. A topflight editor might guide me to squeeze the novel down to a smaller, more enjoyable work. Here’s the problem. From what I can see, a topflight editor will charge me anywhere between four or five cents a word. Doing the arithmetic, that is $8,000 to $10,000. We are now well outside my comfort zone.

With such an editing expense, I could be losing some serious money on this first book. I’m certain that editing would improve the quality of my book. The question is whether it would improve the quality of the book enough to pay back the cost of the editing.

I am holding off any kind of decision on professional editing for the manuscript. I have a broad spectrum of beta readers lined up, including a published author. My plan right now is to wait until I get the feedback from these beta readers. If I get a lot of “too big” feedback, I will take a look at getting an editor. If I decide to use a professional editor, I understand that I’m going to have to put my book in the queue. That might delay the process by several months but I’m in no hurry. I am prepared to take the time it takes to put out a quality book, even if I’m the only one who knows that it is a quality book.

Such is the consequence of a seduction well executed.