Tuesday, November 18, 2014

5 Things Every Author Can Learn From Taylor Swift

The people that are closest to me can tell you that when it comes to pop culture, I live in a bit of a bubble. Up until recently, I rarely ventured out of the rock music genre, and I still don’t quite understand the hoopla over a naked Kardashian.

But a few months ago, that changed over a conversation at dinner with my friend and his wife that went something like this:

Friend’s wife: You know who you should date?
Me: Who?
Friend’s wife: Taylor Swift! It would be perfect!
Me: Who?
Friend’s wife: Of course you know! The singer! You would be perfect for her.
Me: Okay, I’ll bite. Why?
Friend’s wife: Because you’re tall.
Me: ….
Friend’s wife: And she’s tall.
Me: ….
Friend’s wife: And you have blue eyes.
Me: Let me guess, she has blue eyes too?
Friend’s wife: Exactly! Perfect match.
Me: Are you using drugs?
Friend’s wife: No, check her out! I’m telling you.

So over dinner that evening, I used my phone to Google the most famous singer in the world, signaling to my Google Android overlords that I had become a Swifty and therefore needed daily updates pushed to my phone on a regular basis.

As the updates continued, I learned that Taylor was in the process of promoting an upcoming album called 1989. And the more I learned, the more fascinated I became with the process.

The results are in, and the album has been wildly successful. Aside from her unusual love of teenage hipster boy bands, it’s apparent that when it comes to marketing and promoting, independent and rookie authors stand to learn a lot from her genius. So without further ado, I give you the 5 Things We Can Learn From Taylor Swift:

1.      Shake it off.

Although Google told me everything I ever wanted to know about the pop icon, the first song that caught my attention was a song called “Shake it off.”

It happened after a particularly bad sortie in which everything just seemed to go wrong – from maintenance issues to weather to my own lack of proficiency. As I got in my truck that day to go home, “Shake it off” started playing on the radio.

My initial urge was to change stations. I was way outside of my comfort zone and needed the soothing sounds of Metallica or Five Finger Death Punch, but as I noticed it was one of the hyped new songs, I decided to take a listen. And in that moment, the twenty five year old singer taught me something that is applicable in both flying and writing – “Shake it off.”

I won’t get into quoting lyrics, but the general gist of the song is that no matter what you do, you will always have people out to criticize or demean you. The only thing you can truly control is how you react and whether you “just keep dancing.”

In flying, we call that compartmentalization. Dwelling on mistakes, what people will say in the debrief, or whatever trivial thing that’s made it to the front of your mind can be deadly in the cockpit. The only valid answer is to shake it off, keep flying, and focus on the task at hand.

In writing, that’s just as important. One of the many truths I’ve learned in becoming an author is that not everyone will love your work. Almost every author gets rejection letters from agents and publishers. Every author gets one and two star reviews. There will be fans and there will be “haters.”
But what we can learn from the record breaking artist is that no matter what they say, the only correct answer is to shake it off. 

As a fighter pilot, arguing in the debrief will get you nowhere. Instead, you will lose the respect of your peers and instructors. And as an author, the same holds true. The best way to torpedo a promising book campaign is to argue with a reviewer, thus inviting the wrath of the internet upon you to pile on more negative reviews.

From a girl that’s had as many haters as fans, I think that’s pretty sage and sound advice, regardless of the medium.

2.      Appreciate your fan base.

I was surprised to learn that Swift had actually invited fans to her house on numerous occasions in the weeks leading up to the release of her new album. I was even more surprised that she invited them there to get a sneak preview of the full album before its release, and that no new restraining orders had to be filed as a result.

Although the idea of an author doing that brings back images of Stephen King’s psychological thriller MISERY, the concept can be easily adapted. We just call them beta readers.

Inviting people to read your yet-to-be-released work is the best way to not only reward your fan base for sticking it out with you, but also to get feedback in the last days before release. Even editors can miss things that stand out to the untrained eye, and the feedback you get can be both rewarding and useful in putting the finishing touches on your novel.

But hey, if you want to have people go to your house to read your book in front of you, knock your socks off. It worked for Taylor Swift.

3.      Put your heart into it.

Although any woman dating a skinny jean wearing teenage hipster elicits an eye roll and head shake from me, the experience(s) obviously gave the woman something to write and sing about. It doesn’t matter how painfully obvious the pending train wreck was to the rest of the world. (Although if she were to take up dating real men that have at least hit puberty, she might not have as many songs to write).

The pain, feeling, and realness of the feelings were exactly what her fans craved. It gave the words realness as people scrambled to figure out which lover she was singing about and how she really felt. 

Realness makes for good art.

In AVOID. NEGOTIATE. KILL., I left a piece of myself in the funeral chapter. Sometimes the truth is more compelling than fiction, and in that chapter, I took something that happened to me just over a year ago and made one of my characters go through the same thing.

I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but the eulogy Cal “Spectre” Martin gives in that chapter and the final salute he gives at the end really happened. Not as a loss after a terror attack, but in my life as I lost my best friend, hero, and father. Putting that to paper was therapeutic, but also made for better writing.

4.      Your work has value, don’t just give it away.

One of the more recent scandals to hit my phone was Taylor Swift’s withdrawal from Spotify and her refusal to give her work away for free. Despite the criticism she’s received for that decision, I say kudos. And every independent author should take note.

Far too often, I see new authors on the Kindle Direct Publishing forums register and post their first thread, asking what the best way to give their work away for free is. Despite the hundreds of threads already started, it invariably creates the great debate – why?

People often argue that they do it for love. They write because they enjoy it and charging feels wrong. But who are they to devalue their work? Why is it ok to tell someone that they should pay (because publishing is expensive if you do it right with an editor, cover designer, etc.) for people to read their work?

It’s not, and it never serves that purpose. People love to download freebies, but they rarely read them because they see “free” or even “bargain” and think it lacks quality. So at the end of the day, all you did was pay someone to not read your work. It just doesn’t work.

Be proud of your work, present it proudly at a reasonable price, and you’ll get just as many real fans.

5.      Work the ground game.

The only reason I know anything about Taylor Swift right now, despite my bubble, is that her ground game leading up to her new album was unsurpassed. She put herself out there and made people aware and excited about its release.

People who write books usually aren’t pop stars. We generally aren’t extroverts that want to get on stage in front of millions of screaming fans. We want to be left alone, with our faithful furry friends, to create a world that people will want to escape to. Putting yourself out there is just not a natural thing.

But that’s exactly what separates a “Writer” from an “Author.”  Writers are comfortable living in the shadows, having their work seen, read, and enjoyed without all the fanfare. Authors, on the other hand, sell not only their writing, but themselves. They have to build an image – a brand. When people buy novels, they’re not just buying them for the characters, they’re buying them for the author. Authors need that exposure, through book tours, media events, blogs, and other media.

I am absolutely guilty of this, and this blog post and my new website are my first steps into the limelight. It’s infinitely more terrifying than anything I’ve ever done (including flying in combat.)

 I think it’s fair to say that most authors would rather let someone else do the leg work so they can focus on writing, but that’s only half the game. The other half – the half that Swift is a complete genius at doing – is building the buzz, getting the word out, and making people excited to click BUY as they countdown the days until release.

Well, it’s not quite a mega list, but in my brief exposure, I’ve been impressed by the effectiveness of it all. She seems to have struck the perfect balance of talent and marketing genius, and by taking just a few pointers from her, even small time writers can find success.

Above all, though, it really is important just to “Shake it off.” As Shakespeare wrote, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt."

Don’t let the fear of criticism, bad reviews, and failing stop you from putting forth your best effort and putting yourself out there. Just keep writing and everything will fall into place. I know I will try to just keep writing.

Okay, that’s enough time outside the bubble. Now someone please pass me a Sevendust CD while I go shoot paper targets at the range.

In other news, I’m finishing up the editing/publishing process of ARCHANGEL FALLEN and I’ve started working on Book 4. I plan on making more regular posts to this blog (Next up – Why Krav Maga?) and taking my own advice to work the ground game and reach out to fans more.

Until next time!

1 comment:

  1. I am both entertained and oddly frightened by this post.


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