Last week's post addressed the effects that an increasingly commoditized and leveraged publishing industry is having on the stories that are being produced and sold via the "all-you-can-read" buffet for readers and the ad-spend driven battle-dome for writers. As promised, this week we're gonna drill down more on what the heck we can do about it. How can Pirate Authors successfully sail our narratives amidst the rising tide?
The first task of a Pirate Author is to assemble a pirate crew.
The current "battle-dome" climate of publishing has an isolating and competition-generating effect. Even those of us whose natural inclination is to share and cooperate find ourselves being driven toward taking our ball and going home.
Unfortunately, this kind of isolation and division panders to the Information Dealers. People with moral complexity will never beat the Info. Dealers at their own game. Instead, we have to come together. We have to band together as pirate crews who are able to pool skill sets, production capacity, and audience.
This can happen on several different levels. But honestly, I don't know how authors can expect to go it alone anymore. At the bare bones, authors needs a talented team of freelancers who are more than just mercenaries. An editor and a designer who know the brand and care about it's success seem like the bare minimum for sailing the high seas of publishing.
Then there are the super fans or the inner circle. A few years ago, these people were called "Street Teams" or what have you. The more that these readers who are passionate about your brand are brought onto the pirate crew, the better. Establish them in a Facebook group if you must. I prefer organizing everyone on a Slack team. I think it promotes better collaboration and sense of purpose. It is a step further for people, and thus winnows the group to the faithful.
Collaboration can remain at a marketing level and find some success. For maximum results as a Pirate Author, I recommend involving a pirate crew in the creation of the stories. From the ground up, recruit a crew that shares in the ownership of the brand(s).
For those of you who think this sounds crazy, give it a moment to settle in. Author teams are emerging across all genres. Different author tribes are finding this path independently and simultaneously. James Patterson has been doing this at the highest level for several years. Assemble a crew. Collaborate on the brand. Share the booty. This leads directly into the next keystone level of owning your assets.
Pirate Authors own their assets on as many levels as possible.
Pirate Authors have to build long-term assets for themselves, whenever possible, rather than building them for others. The key for Pirate Authors attempting to maintain ownership and control over their brand is to understand that there are three distinct levels of asset ownership. The first is intellectual property (IP)/rights ownership. This is the most obvious level for us content creators, but it still needs to be said.
Wait a second, some of you are thinking. I know I just told you to collaborate at the IP level. That means giving up aspects of ownership and control right from the beginning! Yes, this will often be the case. And sharing Intellectual Property can get tricky. But there are an increasing number of solutions emerging to help with this.
PublishDrive has released a service called Abacus that helps authors split up royalties. My company, StoryShop, has by far the best collaborative fiction writing platform available. We've combined some of the best aspects of Google Docs with powerful world-building and story-planning features.
This leads into the second level of asset ownership. The first is IP/rights ownership. The second is the distribution/discovery process. For readers, this is recognized as discovery. For the writers it is distribution.
The easiest way to think of this second level of asset ownership is "access to eyeballs."
This is where Pirate Authors run into real problems on the current high seas of Publishing. When it comes to markets, the value has always been at the bottlenecks. If a company or industry can create bottlenecks and then control them, then those access points become extremely profitable for the companies that own them.
This is the main driving force behind the massive energy large Information Dealers are putting into abolishing net neutrality. Net neutrality would largely hinder profitable bottlenecks within the largest information distribution network on earth. Info. Dealers stand to lose billions upon billions of dollars.
To best envision this problem, and to hopefully see our way to a solution, we need to approach the bottleneck as a reader. The problem for readers is not distribution. The problem for readers is discovery. The digital revolution and self-publishing movement have led to the opening up of the narrative oceans. Content is covering most of the planet! "Stories stories everywhere, but nothing to read." Much like cable television, the current platforms for discovering fiction leave readers adrift and befuddled by the shear number of options.
At the same time, readers know whatever it is they want to read next, they can find it on Amazon. Amazon has it all. While Amazon's discovery engine is far from perfect, it utilizes reviews, past purchasing behavior, and targeting advertising to help users discover the next thing to read or buy. The cost for access to all this is, ultimately, platform loyalty to Amazon via convenience and the cunning temptation of Amazon Prime membership.
This transitions us to the third level of asset ownership.
Pirate Authors own their audience as directly as possible.
This is different from owning access to eyeballs. Level two of asset ownership is more about the means of finding your audience and them finding you. Level three of asset ownership is about brand loyalty. This is so frickin' critical, and yet is exactly the level of asset ownership that is being undermined the most in the current publishing structure.
If we remain dependent on platforms such as Amazon to reach our audience, we will continue to suffer the loss of brand loyalty as readers shift their loyalty from our author brand to Amazon's brand. Increasingly, when readers find our stories through services like Kindle Unlimited, their loyalty is to Kindle Unlimited, not to our story nor to our author brand.
This is a problem. The ultimate solution doesn't exist...yet. Someone needs to build a new platform that helps readers discover the content they want to read without stooping to paid advertising, and sales driven rankings. The technology to do this one-hundred percent exists. But the insight, fortitude, and resources will need to unite in a corporate trifecta for this new platform to emerge.
In the meantime, there are things Pirate Authors can do to ease the pain. Most of them are tried and true methods of developing reader loyalty. Things like an email marketing, content marketing, social media connectivity. Do these together with your pirate crew to magnify the impact.
The key is to remember that reader loyalty is more readily built for an author brand, not a book or even a series. Don't divide your efforts among each book. Even if you have to create stories in multiple genres, consider creating multiple author brands. Or find a way to connect the genres into a single brand.
This is where the right pirate crew is essential. Unite your efforts under a single pirate flag and create awesome stories that force reader loyalty to remain with your brand, rather than with the platform that spoon feeds them at the buffet.
Next week's post will dive even deeper into finding or joining the right pirate crew. This first level of asset creation and ownership is the one we writers have most control over, and thus it has been the first to experience radical transformation. We'll also discuss how we can equip our pirate crews to create positive change within the system of level two and level three of asset ownership.