Fledgling authors and small, start-up business faces similar challenges. Both are brand new in existing markets and struggling to get noticed among established names. While on the surface they may seem different, both writers and businesses employs tactics that the other can use: authors can learn some business savvy from small start-ups, and fledging business can learn a thing or two from authors on how to get noticed and connect with potential customers.
In this three part series, I’ll first cover what authors can learn from small businesses. In the second part, I’ll describe things that authors do which small business should take note of. In the third part, I’ll discuss activities both small businesses and authors should be undertaking.

What Aspiring Authors Can Learn from Small Business

When seeking publication—from a multi-volume epic to a flash story—an author stops being an artist and becomes a businessperson. That is, someone is paying you for a service, and that service is to provide entertainment. Unlike a good, that service can’t be returned if someone is unsatisfied—a magazine can’t say “We want your payment back because no one liked your story.” So an editor is taking a financial chance in buying your story, and readers are taking a chance in buying your book or a magazine with your story in it.
To encourage editors, agents and readers to take that chance, take some examples from small business.
First Impressions & Professionalism
Knowing first impressions count, small businesses invest in their websites and business collateral (e.g., business cards) to convey professionalism and success. No matter your skills, few people will be impressed if their first exposure to you is a crappy-looking website or business cards printed on tear-off sheets.
For authors, show you are more than an artist—you are also a businessperson that agents and editors can do business with:

  • Be professional in your presentation, be it written or face-to-face. Know what standard manuscript format is and how to write a cover or query letter. Leave your artistic vision aside in what you hope your story says, and focus on why your book will sell well and your professional credentials.
  • Know that everyone in publishing is over-worked, so on a first meeting get to the point. As above, editors and agents are rarely interested in your artistic vision; they want to know if your book is sellable. Treat their time as more valuable than your own (but still be polite).
  • Learn about the business of writing to give the impression you’ve been around a while, even if you’re brand new. Editors with little time to spare gravitate toward writers who demonstrate professionalism and industry savvy because they know they can do business with them, not get hung up by the expressive whims of an artist.

Demonstrate You Can Be Trusted By What Others Have Said
Small businesses use client testimonials to build trust via “social proof”—others think something, so you should too. If you saw two plumbers identical in every way except one had a list of testimonials, including names and phone numbers you could call, while the other did not, whom would you pick?
For authors, show that people like your work as a way to encourage others to invest time and money to read your story:

  • Put reviews or blurbs about your work on your website or social media profile. Don’t be shy: brag!
  • Encourage readers to send you comments. Better yet, encourage them to write reviews on their blogs, on Goodreads or Amazon. Come up with a contest to encourage this.

Discount Codes
To measure just how broad a reach a communications channel has, businesses will run ads with some kind of promotional code: Mention the newspaper where you saw an ad and get 10% off; give the code “PDK” at the check out for a free gift; visit www.something.com/giveaway for more information.
If the PDK code is only mentioned in radio spots and no one uses it, those radio spots are ineffective. If the /giveaway URL only appears in an advertisement run in a single newspaper and there’s over 10,000 hits in the first day, that newspaper is a marketing goldmine.
As writers, you can measure the same thing.

  • If you are on Twitter, put out a request to fans with some reward. Tweet “If 100 people @ message me with ‘Show us the first!’ before Sunday I’ll post the 1st chapter of my new book.” Since it’s Twitter, you can see how many re-tweets there are as well as how many people follow your instructions. The results will show how far your reach is and how invested your fans are.
  • If you have a blog, put up a similar challenge for comments to a post. This should demonstrate how many readers your blog has (versus simple “hits” that a web stats package will show you).
  • For Facebook, promise to release a word or sentence of an exclusive short story for every fan you get (depending on how many fans you realistically can get and the length of the story). If there’s 200 sentences and you get 180 fans, it’s not unlikely those 180 will lobby others to become fans just so they can get to the end of the story, showing the loyalty and commitment of your fans.

In Part Two…

I’ll turn this around and show what small businesses can learn from authors in how to get noticed, attract first-time  customers and turn those first-time customers into repeat, loyal clients.