The MTV/American Idol Effect in Writing

A Guest Post by Rhonda Eudaly

This essay will appear in my forthcoming book Publishing & Marketing Realities for the Emerging Author.

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Once upon a time it was enough for authors to write a brilliant story, have it published, and be exalted all without leaving their homes. It was, once, “sexy” for an author to be a hermit or to sit in cafes in exotic places and commune with other artistic types. Those days are over.

MTV and American Idol (depending on your generation) changed everything. It was no longer enough to be talented. The musician now had to be “beautiful” and buff. Music videos meant singing, dancing, and entertaining on levels not previously seen before. American Idol reinforces the idea of having the “whole package” as a performer, and not just killer chops – a musician now has to put on a show instead of simply singing/playing.

This is the same for writers – and more. Many new writers think they can emulate the “classic” authors, write in a cave, and all will be well. This is no longer true. Smaller author lists, dwindling marketing budgets, and fewer marketplaces now require authors to be “Whole Package Writers”. We must do so much more than write brilliantly. The project is just the beginning – regardless of size – or type – of publisher.

Writers – both new and established – are required to be marketers, promoters, editors, and entertainers. More and more books are sold online or in person. Publishers now look for writers who can create their own demand for their books by an active and entertaining online and in person presence, by being on the convention circuits, and doing whatever it takes to create more demand for the books.

I have a lot of short stories with small presses – I sell 85% of all my books in person at conventions. This means I have to be a performer. The other 15% is online or OTHER AUTHORS selling the books at conventions. I have to be charming, personable, and ready to talk to complete strangers at a drop of a hat. I also have to sometimes do things – like improv – to help make readings or panels more fun and exciting.

It’s not always easy. I can get intent on what I’m doing and be a bit impatient and snappy – but I’m getting better (I hope). There’s an expectation of approachability when I’m at a convention that I have to respect and accept and deal with gracefully. The same applies to online behavior.

Facebook and Twitter have made it so much easier to reach a lot of people quickly and inexpensively. A smart writer has a presence on all the social networks, as well as having a website/blog. A wise writer knows how to not tick people off by over-promoting your books or engaging in offensive online behavior. It’s okay to mention your books, stories and interviews – in fact it would be foolish not to mention them, and include links – just NOT multiple times a day without anything else to buffer it. Readers want to know more about the author than just pitches to buy something – but they also don’t need to know what you’re eating for every meal. Just keep a nice balance between posts. It’s really all about common sense. Think in terms of what bugs you about social networking, and don’t do that.

Social networking has boomed as a marketing tool because it’s free. Most writers – and let’s face it, a lot of publishers – don’t have the skills, time, or budget for a large scale marketing. It’s important to come up with cost-conscious ways to market our work. Online is pretty much the most budget-savvy way, but there are ways to put out the “gimme” stuff – bookmarks, pens, postcards, etc – without having to eat ramen to pay for it. For the severely budget-constrained, you can make a lot of your own marketing materials with a decent color printer.
Bookmarks, postcards, and business cards are easy to do on your own. There are some ways to get those in perforated forms so the heavy lifting of cutting is done for you. In the past, I made pens with clear return address labels and packing tape. We built notebooks from small spiral bound memo books and stickers.

They’re not sexy, but they get the job done. Then as your budget increases, so does the quality – shop around and you can get really good deals. I had pens screen printed for 80% off – which netted me good, professional looking ink pens for under $100. It takes time to do the research and the comparison shopping, but the payoff is worth the effort.

It’s not easy, but it is necessary. This is something now required of all writers across the board. We are the whole package now. If we don’t do it, no one else will. Besides, who has more to gain from the effort of your book than you?

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Rhonda Eudaly lives in Arlington, Texas with her husband, and stepdog. She’s worked in offices, banking, radio, live sound production, and education to support her writing.  She has a varied publication history in both fiction and non-fiction many of which can be found on www.RhondaEudaly.com.

Connect with Rhonda online.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Jim Beckman says:

    This a wonderful comment on the modern and ever-changing world of writing books.
    A writer has to do it all herself.

    If I can figure out how to forward this to my other writer friends, I plan to.

    1. christinerose says:

      Thank you for the reminder, Jim! I’ve just enabled the share buttons at the bottom of the post. You can email it, share on Facebook, Tweet it, etc.

      Rhonda certainly knows what it means to be a working author. No doubt.

  2. Helen Ginger says:

    It’s a whole new world for writers. You’re right, writers have to be the whole package – writers, promoters, tour organizers, editors, even publishers.

    1. christinerose says:

      You know it, girl.

  3. CL Stegall says:

    I think the newest and best adjective for “working writer” has to be “multifaceted.” If ou are not multifacted (or cannot learn to be) your slim chances in this industry just decreased astronomically. Rhonda has it right when stating we must be performers. We must always be “on” in case we are suddenly presented with an opportunity. God knows we can never turn away from an opportunity if we want to succeed!

    “Today I am your champion.
    I may have won your hearts.
    But I know the game,
    You will forget my name,
    And I won’t be here
    In another year,
    If I don’t stay on the charts.” – B. Joel

    1. christinerose says:

      Multifaceted. Perfect word. *LOVE* that you quoted Billy! xo

  4. christinaesdon says:

    Thanks for a great article. I agree with CL Stegall. We need to be multifaceted – even if we do get picked up by a publisher, we need to still be a marketer, PR rep, and brand manager. Regardless of our representation through agents, or publishing houses, we are our best advocate for our writing.

    1. christinerose says:

      Perfectly put. Indeed we are.

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