Thursdays with Amanda: When Platform Isn’t Enough
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
The market is really tough these days. Books that would have been snatched up right away are seeing rejections. Authors with decent followings are being told they aren’t marketable enough. It’s tough out there. Especially on the fiction side, but also the nonfiction side. And it’s easy to let it all get to you. To throw in the towel and pout in the corner and chant It’s not fair, it’s not fair.
I could tell you that a better use of your time would be to work on that platform or grow that readership or add more speaking engagements or fix that website or do any number of things that might make you a bit more appealing. A bit closer to the goal. But here’s the truth…and it’s a truth I’ve shared with numerous clients over the years:
Your calling in this life is not dependent upon a published book.
If you feel compelled to help people with their finances or counsel couples through loss or help teens make the right choices or bring scripture to light or make people laugh or even if you feel compelled to write about the characters and stories in your head, remember…Doing those things, achieving those things, is not dependent upon a book deal.
You can help people without a book.
You can make people laugh without a book.
You can lead people through tough times without a book.
You can be the person you feel you’re supposed to be and never ever publish a book.
We forget this. But the truth is that nothing is holding you back from realizing your calling except for this false belief that a book is necessary for you to do X, Y, or Z.
A book isn’t necessary. In fact, a book detracts from your goal, because a book requires marketing and editing and freaking out over sales statements and all of these things that take time away from the thing you originally felt called to do.
I share this with you because it’s really been on my mind lately. All of us in this industry tend to validate our callings by whether or not a publisher says yes. But the calling was never to do a BOOK. The calling was to simply write. Or to help. Or to serve. And our callings get confused when we try to commercialize them. When we feel we need to commercialize them in order to convince ourselves they’re worth our time.
I don’t usually tout my authors’ books on this blog, because I don’t want to single any one of them out at the risk of ignoring the rest, but Ryan Pemberton is a very special author whom I worked with for YEARS to try and get a book deal. And there were times in that process in which we needed this reminder. There were times when we needed to step back and say Okay, even if a book deal doesn’t happen, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road.
He did end up getting a book deal, but it wasn’t for the book that we originally shopped.
Funny how that is.
If you need encouragement today. If you feel it’s the end of the road because this or that hasn’t happened in your author career, REMEMBER. Your calling isn’t to publish a book. Rather, publishing a book is one of the many possible results of you following your calling.
Your calling is to ____ . Fill in that blank, and chase after it. Not the book deal.
Perfect timing on this post! I’ve recently shelved a book idea because the ministry is growing so rapidly I could no longer work on both projects. Great post.
Beautiful and poignant, Amanda 🙂 Thank you…
Thanks for the reality check – you are so right!!
I needed this today. That touch for the timing and for following your calling.
Yours is an important, brave message, Amanda, especially coming from someone who gets paid from selling book contracts. Like Racelhauk, writing is my only job so I don’t want to classify it as a “calling” for me. Other people may feel differently.
I’ve often said that if I didn’t get paid for nonfiction, I would quit nonfiction. When I started years ago, I bought a K-Mart Blue Light Special computer (Seriously! It had the logo embedded on the monitor.) I vowed not to spend another dime on anything writing-related until I had earned enough to pay for that computer. I paid it off and much more, but not as much as I would like. I want to be in bigger markets that pay better.
Since I haven’t gotten financial compensation for fiction, I sometimes feel that it is an indulgence. I’ve spent way too much trying to learn it, too. 🙁
This may be a controversial statement but if no one outside of friends are reading what I’m writing, as is the case with my fiction, how can it be a calling? Writing is communication, a two-way street. But I continue to work on my fiction and have had encouraging comments from editors. The day I feel there is no hope of publishing in fiction, either because I have given up on a traditional contract, or I have decided against self-publishing, is the day I will quit. Something that isn’t flourishing can’t be a calling, in my mind.
For 2015, I decided to stop focusing on the end results I desire and have little to no control over. I simply give every writing opportunity my very best effort–a “Bloom Where You’re Planted” kind of thing. The result? I’m happier and more creative. Plus, two nonfiction editors gave me raises without my asking, and they’re making some nice comments on my work. Maybe I’ll get that book contract one day or maybe I won’t, but I’m enjoying the journey much more now. Is being a happy person in a struggling world a calling? 🙂 Cathy Shouse
Fantastic, Amanda! Too many times I’ve kept focusing on the book deal and how to get one, forgetting that there are people out there that listen to my posts on my pages, tweets and blogs. I can teach and make people laugh more though these venues than I can with a book- at least for now..lol!
One of the new venues I want to try is vlogging. My personality shines through on video, and it also opens the doors to invite others in for a laugh or a lesson- or both. The books will be consequential- not the main focus- and I’ll be able to help a lot of people in the meantime! 🙂
Thank you. Needed to be said.
Thanks so much, Amanda. This is an especially timely message for me today. Really appreciate the encouragement and insight you’ve shared. And now, as ever, I’m pressing on!
That’s lovely, Amanda. And so very true. Thanks for saying it. 🙂
So, are you saying we should not want to have a career in writing? To me, writing is my job. And while it’s not an easy job, my goal is to earn a living. When I worked in the corporate world, I didn’t go to the office saying my calling is to help people so I don’t care if my employer pays me.
Yes, I see the ministry side of writing. Absolutely and Amanda, you nailed it when you said we can’t let the book deal derail us! Amen. Or even puff us up!
But I also think we have to expect to grow.
I saw the ministry side in my corp job. I started a prayer meeting once a week. It went on for eleven years, even after I left.
I made my office a gathering place, for people to talk if they needed, all while focusing on work.
I also tried to grow in my position. Get raises, get promoted. Please my bosses. I never expected who I AM as a follower of Christ to diminish because I worked in a day-job. Nor did I expect them to want “free” things from me because I was good at… whatever. 🙂
I feel the same about writing. Yes, I’m called to write and there are a gazillion things out of my control with this vocation, but I also want it as a career. A way to earn money.
It seems so much of the language in our business is for authors NOT to expect to earn money. And that we’re “bad” for even wanting to.
I know it’s hard to earn $$. It takes years of work, but where is the line of “I want to build a $$ earning career in publishing” with the “not basing my gifts and calling on a book contract?”
Thanks for this discussion!
I really appreciate these thoughts, because I do want this to be clear…
From my standpoint, there is nothing wrong with pursing a career and with wanting success in that field.
The problem comes when we view that career and its success (or lack thereof) as the embodiment of our calling.
In my opinion, people aren’t called to specifically write books. Books are just the result of a larger calling to be communicators or story tellers or people helpers (which falls more on the nonfiction side).
I have talked to numerous writers who feel like they can’t speak in churches unless they have a book. Or they can’t do much with their blog unless they have a book. Or there’s no point in them writing fiction unless they have a publisher lined up. For them, their calling is on hold because they don’t have what they view is the reason for their calling.
But the reality is if they would just pursue the core of their calling (whatever that may be), then the book and the career and everything else is more likely to fall into place. OR other things would pop up. Things they haven’t yet dreamed of.
For you, Rachel, if the book deals stopped, you’d still write, right? It may take awhile for you to get back at it, but you’re a writer. And the fact that you get to be a successful, published author is the result of you pursuing your calling to its utmost.
I think we’re on the same page here? Saying the same things. But let me know. You’re right that I needed to bring clarity to the whole “is it okay to think of this as a career?” aspect of this topic.
I think we are on the same page. Amanda. Your post is a wise, well said.
I agree 100% that if someone believes they cannot “do” something because they don’t have a book, then their perspective and expectation is a bit skewed. Or perhaps they are using it as an excuse to NOT move forward. not to face their fears.
However I see a lot of writers shrink back, even me, from the business side because they’re afraid to put on the business hat.
We’re afraid to ask for more money. We’re afraid to ask how we an advance our sales. We’re afraid to ask the publisher their vision for us.
There is the reality some authors or books are chosen to promote over others. That’s a fact of the publishing life, but it doesn’t mean that one day “my” book won’t be selected. We have to stay with it.
We are 25 or 30 year over night successes!
On the publishing side, it is about $$. Publishers want to and have to make money. An author who doesn’t sell well loses their slot at X publisher.
But authors seem timid to think the same way, to talk about income and advancement.
On the other side, there’s reputation. An author with acclaim and awards might not have great sales but all the publishers want to work with her.
We have to balance it all.
Again, I hear too many authors with low expectations of their publisher, of God, of themselves.
Raise the bar, believe, and if you don’t end up with another book deal or if you never get a book deal, do what God has called you to do. So amen to that message.
As a fiction writer, however, I do feel like the book deal is critical. Otherwise, I’m writing stories for the closet, Not very rewarding.
Last weekend, I watched an interview that Chip did with Alton Gansky back in September. Chip used the word convergence in their discussion; this concept is so very important in today’s world. With so many options available to the consumers, we are challenged not only with getting their attention, but keeping it. This is what publishers (and filmmakers) are finding–names are not that important anymore. It’s all about the experience the consumer has.
When I first started thinking about taking my languishing stories out of the drawer, I decided to approach them as screenplays (a really good decision for me because I hate writing descriptions). As I have worked on them and honed the craft of screenwriting, I have realized success is writing stories that are meaningful and memorable. The meaningful part seems fairly self-explanatory, but the memorable part is slightly harder.
This is where the word convergence comes in. As a retired educator, I’ve learned that repetition and presenting material in several different formats is necessary for memory to be activated. This is why publishers and other arms of conglomerates want more than one product–it’s all about making content memorable. For example, Amazon Studios recently said one of their goals in producing movies is to find ones that are memorable–ones that people will still talking about two years after their release. This will probably take more than just a film.
What does that mean for us as writers? We need to look at ways to present our content in more than one format. (Here’s a huge hint for novelists–if you want your story to be made into a film, concentrate on visual actions, not only on feelings.) I’ve begun to look at myself as an individual conglomerate with franchises and trademarks.
There is so much new technology and it’s exciting to think that content that was once limited to the printed page can be expressed in multitudes of formats to masses of people. We just have to figure out the best ways to monetize content.
Oh, I hear you. And CBA houses don’t help this “let’s think like missionaries” epidemic. It’s funny…CBA houses are more likely to be personally offended if I as an agent push back on contract details. Whereas general market houses don’t get as bent out of shape. So yes…a business mind is absolutely necessary.
Awesome words Amanda.
Thanks for this reminder. I agree. My calling is not to publish a book. My calling is to show others how to survive and even thrive in a relationship with the good Lord. That may come about through a book. It may not. Either way I agree a book is simply a by-product of embracing my calling. God will use whatever means necessary to reach the many people He intends to help through me. Great post!
Amanda, this is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. Seriously. I want every writer I know to read it. I actually got to the point at the end of last year when I really had to redefine why I’m even writing in the first place and it hit me SO strongly that seeing a book on a shelf in a store was never the point. I realized I could give up publishing. I really could and I’d still be whole and called and useful. The especially cool and random and yet probably not all that surprising part is that once I finally got to that point, I rediscovered my joy of writing and this fourth book has been the most fun to write.
So, all that to say, best. post. ever. And I want all my writer friends to read it.
And Ryan’s book was beyond amazing!
Great post. A few friends and I were discussing this very thing. Thanks for talking about it.