Friday, March 6, 2015

Inertia

Spencer Dryden

I never was very good at Physics. My undergrad advisor told me 'physics is something you should have had to have known.'  Newton told us that a body at rest tends to remain at rest. Newton didn't have to observe the motion of the planets to discover the principal. All he had to do was become an author. Wait, he was, and in fact he sold pretty well. Okay, a fiction author in the 21st century.
Is there anything out there with  that requires overcoming more inertia than trying to move a book? Newton provides us with an answer.  Newton's formula reduced to algebra is P= M x V, where P is momentum, M is mass of the object and V, its velocity. Once again, employing Spencer's wacky science if we solve for M where V (rate of sales) is nearly zero the equation is M=P/V. Mass approaches infinity when there are no sales (V). The book therefore is too heavy to move. The key is raising sales velocity (V) but we all know that. (And you're wondering why I didn't do to well in Physics?)
I have been in several careers where overcoming inertia is a big struggle. I was miscast as a salesman for many years. In my last sales job I went from zero to over $100,000 in annualized commissions in slightly more than a year's time-during a time when commercial insurance rates were falling and commissions were being cut. (Sound familiar?)
Then there was my foray personal services.  I became a handyman for hire. I started with widowed friends of my mother-in-law. I never advertised. All my business came by referral. I have more work now than I want. I am trying to ease my way down to a few hours per week so I'll have more time for writing. It's been a great gig. People don't know how to fix things anymore. As long as I can fix toilets I'll never starve.
Then there was my long time interest in TV/video. I started making little  'how to' videos of fixes I encountered on the job. I used  a little video camera and a PC compatible consumer version of a commercial editing  suite. Frankly my videos were terrible next to the slick productions done by manufacturers and other HGTV wannabees. The difference was that I showed things as they actually looked in real life because it was real life repairs. With only few tags I put my videos out in the ocean of alternatives. Not much happened at first but several of my videos have crossed the magic 100,000 view threshold. People had to be looking hard to find my stuff. Many have raved in the comments about how helpful my video was to their quest.  I even have a motto for DIYers, "If you do it yourself, the tools are free." There was no way to 'monetize' my efforts so I quit producing videos a few years ago.
Thankfully I don't need the revenue from writing. It's an inexpensive, entertaining and engaging past time to take into retirement. I never imagined it would be as difficult to get  traction as it has proved to be. I have spent the last year flapping my arms as hard as I can trying to get this thing to lift off. My fifth book will be released later year. Aside from purchases by few friends I have barely registered any sales. Yet I have put far more marketing effort into the venture than anything I have done in my life. There's always another angle that someone is pitching—mostly things that worked ten years ago— but frankly most of our efforts only fall into the field of vision of other writers. And for me, it reduces the creative energy I need to write.
I realize time was a factor in my other 'successes' and in time my efforts may prove successful. On the other hand, guys my age have this nasty habit of waking up in the morning feeling fine and by five o'clock they're on a slab at the funeral home or in a wheel chair with a drool cup at the nursing home. I only have today and I cherish it.
I like the flip side of Newton's observation much better, that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Sir Isaac, can you give a bro a little push here?

11 comments:

  1. Promo can be daunting for sure. You and I are from a time where business cards, the Yellow Pages and mailing lists were considered sophisticated forms of promotion. Word of mouth was my biggest promotion venue, and that's hard to predict. I never had the resources for TV or radio ads. In fact, it wasn't *that* long ago when I was doing paste-up for my mailers in the antiques business. That was *actual* paste-up with glue and photos I had to have developed first.

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    1. Remember like yesterday. Oh and the hoops you had to jump through with a commercial printer to get a three fold glossy brochure.

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  2. I feel you. There's some other equation that could be mocked up that has to do with the low investment required to make a bunch of noise on social media, which leads to cacophonous general noise in which nothing is heard. Then there may also be an equation for what it means to be flapping one's wings when there are only other birds around (my clumsy attempt to describe the way a lot of authors seem to be marketing...to other authors).

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    1. I guess we could go to Bernoulli to explain the flight thing. Actually I'd like Dumbo's magic feather. The problem with the Facebook and Twitter algorithm is they feed you "friends" with similar professions. I should have said I was a brain surgeon when completing the registration. (After all isn't that what we do as writers-try to get inside reader's heads?) My Facebook and Twitter are entirely other writers all of us marketing to each other.

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  3. How timely your musings are. My husband just informed me that due to the paltry royalties I keep making after 6 years of being published and 15 books, that next year he's going to call my writing "a hobby" on the income tax, instead of a job. Sigh. He says a hobby is defined as something you do whether or not you make any money. I guess that's accurate, then.

    Unfortunately, unlike you, I still need the income. When I started writing, I had ideas of being able to quit my second job from the income I thought I'd make. Instead I've had to add a third job, and that leaves precious little time to write...let alone promote. We're all in the same bind. I describe it as a room full of authors, all jumping up and down, waving signs that say, "Read me!" There are readers walking around the room on the second floor, watching all of us make fools of ourselves. Once in a while someone will get noticed and their book will be read, then others will read it, then it will take off. But the rest of us labor in obscurity.

    Are my musings on love and human nature worth that much less than those of the best-selling authors? Apparently so. Yet I keep on writing, because "the voices in my head tell me to." Could I write clones of the books that are best-sellers? Possibly, but my heart wouldn't be in it, so I'd be bored...I think that would show in my writing, but then, to readers who like those kinds of book, maybe it wouldn't matter.

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    1. This is where I'm skeptical of free market values, though. Yes, money is a significant issue, but it bothers me when we allow it to take up the entire meaning of the word "worth." Are your books "worth" less than those of a best-selling author? From a monetary perspective, yes, but isn't there more to worth than that? (And believe me, I know it's hard to hold onto that perspective when looking at a depressing royalty statement.)

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  4. Fiona:
    You've said it better than I could. My royalties are zip, nada, zilch. Honestly, that's not as humiliating to me as the foolishness I (we) have to embrace in 'building a platform' which is only seen by other writers, most of whom are far more creative at promotional stuff than I am. I'm so grateful to the publishers who have invested in me, but I find myself asking quietly, "What the hell are they thinking?"

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  5. It occurs to me that one of the reasons we write is to reach out to people, maybe even make a difference in their lives. You're way ahead of the rest of us in that respect, Spencer, with your do-it-yourself videos. I don't have a particular point to make, except that I know my writing will never matter as much to anyone as your videos have. But writing still makes a difference in my own life, and it's a lot of fun to keep trying.

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    1. Thanks Sacchi:
      Would you believe there are trolls hanging out on YouTube as well? I have given some serious thought to try and figure out how I could combine fiction with instructional video. My erotic content would run afoul of YouTube's prohibition on erotica in the 'instructional' category.

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  6. Hey, Spencer,

    I'd say you underestimate your physics acumen. I've never seen Newton so expertly applied.

    I'm no marketing expert - my royalties have been on a downward slide for the past two years - but I do know you have to find the channels that work for you personally. If FB, Twitter and Linked In are not connecting you with potential readers, try something else. You seem to be doing fabulously well on The Good Men Project, for instance. And lest you say that isn't selling books - remember there's a lag. That kind of exposure is worth a lot.

    A career in writing is a long-haul endeavor. I'd say you're doing very well indeed, to have published five books in - what? - a year? A year and a half?

    Another thing: you can't succeed as a writer if you don't write. So don't let the marketing crowd out the time you need to bring your visions onto the page.

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    1. Another thing: you can't succeed as a writer if you don't write. Exactly!

      The Good Men Project has been a good find for me. As you say I'm using it as a way to pass on some of the knowledge I've gained as an at-home dad and for direct exposure to potential readers.

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