Everyone’s a Winner!

We live in a society – or most of us do, since I’m sure there are a few readers who hail from distant shores that aren’t the US of A – which fosters the idea that everyone will win. Whatever the game is. From reading contests at school (I was perma-banned from them in high school, since I would always win, and it didn’t hurt my feelings a bit) to getting a job, everyone wants to come out on top. Reality, as the adults among us know, is a rather different beast.

Writers will not always win. If you’re submitting a story, over and over, and it’s being rejected over and over, it’s hard to hear ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ but in reality, that’s what it is. Your story might not have been what was needed right at that moment, so it didn’t make the cut. Not that it’s a bad story, but there was bad timing. Now, I am predicating this prep talk on you having done your due diligence. Finding a beta reader or six that has given you objective feedback (feel free to trade stories in the comments) and knowing the story you are sending out is the best it can be. That brave little story all dressed up in it’s Sunday finest may still come home with head hanging and a lovely shiner that Billy-Sue gave him.

‘Cause you don’t always win, and Billy-Sue has learned to fight like h*ll because of that name his parents saddled him with. And sometimes that’s what it takes. Learning how to fight for your victories. Look, life isn’t handing anything to you on a silver platter, unless there is polish and a buffing cloth in the other hand and you aren’t to leave a speck o’tarnish on that, y’hear? Someone is going to sell their story, and someone isn’t. Until recently. Because now, you have options. You don’t have to play the rigged game. You can become truly independent. You have victory in your grasp…!

Until you don’t. The story all togged up in a super-duper cover that doesn’t make it look like it’s wearing a burlap sack to Sunday School, it’s not selling. You don’t know why. It’s gotten decent reviews, but then, it just petered out. Once more, you aren’t a winner. There’s only one thing to do when this happens. Write more.

I was, once upon a time (no comments from the peanut gallery), a runner. I was never terribly fast, but wind me up and let me go and I wouldn’t quit. I’d just keep chugging along until I was told to stop. You aren’t going to win the race on your first try. It takes practice, and it takes work. I think I mentioned that already… and that’s the four-letter word that no-one wants to hear. Words do not fall like pearls from your fingertips onto the page. Rather, they are accumulated like a pearl growing around a grain of sand, until the itch that started that story, that process, is assuaged and you can finish it off with a final swipe of that buffing cloth (belay the silver polish). It’s a painful process, and the modern author, looking through the golden haze at yesteryear, is tempted to believe the stories that are told of huge advances, superb editors, and *coff* ethical agents. Today, when you finish up your pearl, you will still need to market it in a shiny box, put it well-formatted into just the right setting, and then flag down interested connoisseurs to talk about your wares.

We’ve talked about many of those steps on this blog. If you look up at the top of the page, to the ‘Navigating…’ link, you’ll find resources on problems you need to solve. But today, I’m here to tell you about how everyone can be a winner.

You only win if you play the game. The story that sits on your hard drive or in your drawer will never win acclaim, fans, and applause. The only way that will happen is if you put it out there, with hard work and persistence. If you entered a certain Baen contest, and didn’t make the final cut, then take a minute to dissolve your sorrows in chocolate before contemplating that story and what you can do with it next. You can look for markets here, at the Submission Grinder, or you can develop it into a full novel, or you can collect it and friends together with a spiffy cover to dress them up or… The options exist. Losing is not the end.

Cedar Sanderson
photo taken by Oleg Volk (unedited)

And for an idea on how to spice up your lonely story with no sales, perhaps a contest? Better limit the winners, though, giving out prizes to everyone could break you. Although, yes, it would be nice to know that people were reading your story. But that’s not what this is about, or you would simply have put the thing up on a blog somewhere. No, this is about winning. In order to run a semi-successful contest, you need to keep a couple of things in mind.

  • Make it short
  • Make it simple to enter
  • Give incentives beyond the prizes
  • Make it advantageous for the players to promote you
  • Keep the costs in mind.

You don’t want to be running the contest for months. The one I am running currently started on Wednesday and will end on a Sunday. A few days, no more than a week, is best. Attention spans are not long, and people like instant rewards.

I set up the contest originally on facebook (see that here), where an entry would be possible with a mere comment, and a bonus entry with the click of a button. Keep it simple for people to play, or they won’t. I then set it up on my blog, too, but again, nothing more than asking people to comment, and share.

I gave a further incentive by offering a second entry to ‘the hat’ by sharing my contest posts on social media. On facebook, I can see who’s shared what. On google + you also get a notification, as with Twitter. Elsewhere, you may need to ask them for a link proving they earned it. This had the dual purpose of spreading my information and my contest further, but it gave the players a reason to do so, in that it made their chances somewhat better.

Keep the cost in mind, not just materials gifted as prizes and the shipping (if a physical item), but the time. It does take time to keep track of the entries. This time, I’m not requiring a comment on my blog to enter, but allowing some flexibility in entering on facebook, twitter, and Google +. Which means I have to keep track of all that. I’ve got a spreadsheet I enter names in, and on Sunday morning, I will use a random number generator to pick two numbers that match up to names, and voila! Winners!

If this goes well, I will do it again. Not too often, lest I bore people, and I won’t always make the prizes books. I have a beautiful chainmaille dragon perched on my desk, Inktail, and he is looking forward to finding a new home in a month or two when I run another contest (yes, I made him, so I’m biased. He’s cute).

Cedar Sanderson
You’re a celebrity now. I know you’d rather hide behind your desk, but building a relationship with your fans will pay off. (photo by Oleg Volk)

The idea here is to boost your name recognition, your branding. You may see a small spike in sales, but more likely, you’ll just see some buzz about you. However, this is a long game. You win it when you release your next book, and the readers recognize your name, and pick it up based on the trust you have built through entertaining and amusing them already. This is also not something to do with your first book/story, unless you have an existing fanbase for some other reason. With the first, it’s best to wait a while, until you have a backlist, and then you can work on whipping up interest. Readers are voracious, they will want more. If you can give them that, then everyone wins.



33 thoughts on “Everyone’s a Winner!

    1. Now that I’ve had that explained to me (I’m dreadful with pop culture references) yes, it is! Also, the snarky man in my life laughed when he saw my headline and said ‘hold onto your wallet!’ which about sums it up.

        1. Oh, that makes me feel so much better. Heh – I grew up largely without television. There were a few exceptions, but by the time I was married with kids, I could count on the fingers of one hand the movies I had seen in theatre. So I pick up a lot by allusion, not direct reference.

          1. Sounds like a better excuse than being locked in ice for 70 years. 😉

  1. The unintended (at least, I hope it’s unintended) consequence of the “Everyone’s A Winner!” mindset is to foster a pathological fear of being a “loser”. I grew up expecting that most of the time, in most things, I wouldn’t be the winner, and I was okay with that. It’s just the way the world works–not everyone is number one.

    I have a coworker who is considerably younger than I am who has a pathological and paralyzing fear of being wrong. His upbringing gave him an expectation that the gold star was normative, and in the real world gold stars are few and far between. So he thinks that there must be something wrong with him because he doesn’t get “You’re The Best!” feedback on everything he does at work.

    Right now I have the first novel of my self-published series in the slush pile at Baen. When I submitted it I knew it was a longshot because it doesn’t fit any particular genre. I expect it to be rejected.

    But, you know, it won’t be the end of the world. I would love someday to sell enough books to make a living from writing, but that’s also a longshot–it probably won’t happen. Not everybody wins.

    And that’s okay. That’s just the way the world works.

    1. I’ve noted that at school, the kids are afraid to raise their hands and answer questions, because they just can’t bear it when they are wrong. Me? I don’t care. My mistakes can be learned from in a classroom, where nothing more than my dignity is on the line.

      And with writing, unless you are relying on it for everything (an unwise decision, IMO) then make a few mistakes, try some new things to see what works. Winning in this game is relative, not a concrete object.

    2. Yep; the fear of failure drives people to far greater paroxysms than actually failing ever would.

      Once I actually completely, totally, and utterly failed at life, it was actually very liberating to sit in the wreckage of all my “I need to” and “Mom and Dad will kill me if I don’t” and “I’ll die if anyone doesn’t think” and “But everyone always” and such.

      I now know two things that are very, very powerful: Failure is not the end of the world as we know it, and a life with goals chosen on the interest in success, or on the journey, is infinitely more satisfying than a life with goals and paths chosen due to fear of failure.

      I failed out of engineering school. I flunked my first checkride. I actually failed my first driving test, too. I lost jobs. I lost the ability to walk. I’ve been broke.

      I also graduated college, learned to fly airplanes in Alaska, bought and restored my own airplane, climbed a mountain (several, actually) after relearning how to walk, met and married my husband, and have had an interesting variety of jobs that have taught me a lot and helped me grow to a wiser, better person. Failure isn’t the end, it’s the beginning of the next set of choices.

  2. It’s funny. I’m watching the Tour de France as I type, and at least every other day the commentators will mention that so-and-so, or team thus-n-such, “would like to get a stage win, but they really just want to stay within the top four today” or in some cases, just to finish the stage. Survival can be its own gold star (to borrow from Misha).

    I wish more people loved my books. I wish that I could write like Larry C, or Barbara Tuchmann. And I wish that I was 5′ 8″ at the same weight I am at 5′ 0″. I know which of those three I can get closer to achieving, and that’s what I need to focus on.

  3. 1) Great post, and yeah, you’re right. Can’t be licking wounds when there’s words to write. 2) Hehehe, I recognize that picture. My plan to stay behind cameras because Oleg would busy photographing authors failed horribly 🙂

  4. However, is this the appeal of Indy? Nobody can declare you a loser. Nobody can reject you (except, perhaps, the market). There is no bar to clear, and no editor to impress….

    1. Unfortunately, the market can and does reject people. Even more unfortunately, many people lash out at the market, enraged that they didn’t win whatever arbitrary level of sales means “gold star” to them.

      Look at how many authors, mostly Indies (but not all, and some of the trad published are among the worst) write ill-considered (to say the least) responses to critical reviews. Or else decide that the reason they aren’t selling is because of some -ism or other.

      Because obviously they deserve to win, so somebody must be taking from them the success that is theirs by right.

      1. Which is sad. It’s one thing to tell yourself that the editors rejecting your manuscripts are wrong; quite another to tell yourself your customers are wrong in what they like.

        1. Yes, and that way lies madness, and a thousand comments on a book review… You have to listen, in this business. Not to every criticism, or you’ll curl up and die. But if there is a repeated theme, it’s time to take note and change how you’re playing.

  5. Much as I’l like a signed hardback with your name on it my true burning question is when exactly might I expect the next seven Pixie books? See, I think ten is a nice round number.
    Honeymoon’s over kiddo. You have a dirty old man to support, and another one here to entertain. Men may work from sun to sun but a woman’s work is never done.

      1. Just trying to ease her into the idea. Of course what I really want is one a month for the next ten years. After that we’ll renegotiate.

  6. Some folks have a natural gift, others have determination ; and the results will usually show that hard work and determination triumphs over skill.
    For example, I am not going to say ANYTHING that relates to the above sentence, but I still don’t understand what the words to “Stairway to Heaven ” mean.
    Now, Dave Freer, a marine biologist, and Eric Flint, a truck driver and machinist, both have ties to South Africa. So, when they collaborate, what do they write about? Pirates. At least, that’s what they wrote about in “Pirates of the Suara Sea, ” which I have just reviewed on Amazon.
    Hint: that means you can find my Amazon review and see if it is helpful, and if it is, then give it a ‘helpful’ vote. The helpful votes I have received in the past week have moved my reviewer ranking from 45,000 to 29,203. I’m going to check with an author to see if my review of a new book moves her standing up by an unusual amount.

    1. I think that review of “Ranger Ask Not” you did has three “helpful” votes, one of them mine. I did find it helpful.

  7. My “experiences” in certain areas are more like. “Don’t bother. Even though we say we want men who . . . it’s not really true for most of us. We want someone: handsome, well off, ‘reformable,’ and treats us badly sometimes/often.” Whereas, I read Don Quixote at a _young_ age (he’s even better in the original Spanish), and was *raised* to be a “gentleman.” (Back when being one still meant something.)
    Now, I’m old, and “broken,” so I know there is no point looking.

  8. Speaking as one of those folks who entered a certain Baen contest and didn’t make the cut, I dusted myself off and kept on working on more stuff in the same setting. Because sitting around moping doesn’t get you anywhere.

    And for those who haven’t heard yet, I have an anthology story coming later this year. More details when they become available.

  9. Sometimes this winning business is “take what you can get”. As a new indie author, it doesn’t take much for me to feel good.

    I think it was John Wright that made the comment about publishing a book, that it would be someone’s favorite story, even if it sold less than ten copies.

    Well, I have three reviews on that first book, published three weeks ago. One review is by our Pat Patterson, and I really appreciate his efforts.

    The third just went up today. It was by a fellow that learned about it {the novel} from a post on SBG Sword Forum. The funny thing is he agreed with the critique Pat gave it, but still gave if five stars. What he appreciated was the realistic swordplay, the setting, and the action.

    I won today. I feel validation and feel like dancing {I tried a few minutes ago, then stumbled and landed on my nose}.

    Yes, its nice to know someone likes your work, and has enough knowledge to recognize your knowledge of any given topic.

  10. I think my big thing is, I want someone whose opinion “matters” to tell me I’m good enough. Until I get some sort of feedback besides no, I’m afraid to put anything out on the market myself.

    1. I want a unicorn and a Pegasus and a pony, but I am not staying home until I get one of the above. You have to start walking (or in this case, publishing stories) if you want to get anywhere. Unicorns are a lot more likely if you are out in the woods already.

      If you need a mental help, tell yourself that you are self-pubbing this one particular story “as an experiment.”

    2. Ask for a review pre,-publication. If your work doesn’t get read, it can’t be evaluated.
      I don’t know what your criteria are for “an opinion that matters”. If that means you need a best selling author, editor, or publisher to weigh in, then sign up for one of those workshops.

  11. Reblogged this on amiecus curiae and commented:
    I love this post 1) because it’s so relevant to all of us who are seeking approval of the publishing community until we finally grow a backbone and go indie, and 2) because Cedar used the picture with me and has the caption starting, “You’re a celebrity now,” which just made me laugh because I’m like, “There’s a picture of me! I’m famous!” 🙂

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