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Tips for Surviving Professionally in a Time of Catastrophic Change

It's all about the personal connection. It's all about the personal connection.

To the extent those work, they’re often the only publicity a writer has and they’re very much a thing of the new media.  Peter Grant’s Take the Star Road definitely owes part of its very good showing to the fact that Peter runs a popular blog and has a lot of blogging friends.  (Yes, yours truly included.)

But I thought I was being so daring putting links to all my other works at the end of my indie published stories – and most of my colleagues don’t even do that.  Instead, for very little more cost (time is cost) I could add a couple hundred words about how story x came to be written, how I felt about it then, how I feel about it now, and how the reader who liked it might enjoy story y, z or p.

It’s a brilliant strategy, particularly for someone like me whose back list extends 20 years, through several changes of style and a couple of changes of political orientation.  (Nothing extreme.  I was always anti-Marxist. But when I was young I was often a starry-eyed idealist with strange delusions about what would work in the real world.)

It not only establishes a connection with the customers I already have – i.e. the fans-of-Hoyt and the completists (yes, there are some) -- who buy the old stuff out of curiosity, but also with new fans who might find my story-behind-the-story interesting, or my point of view refreshing and try another story, and another.

So, when your field is caught up in catastrophic change, to distinguish yourself, often you need to do something more.  It’s amazing how often that “something more” is a personal connection with the customer, whatever form that takes in your field.  For instance, given two identically priced restaurants, my family and I will drive the extra mile to go to the one where the servers remember our name and pause to talk to us.  Since catastrophic changes often means casualties particularly amid the struggling-to-establish-oneself ranks, being able to get that edge can be the difference between surviving and going under.

Think of novel ways to ingratiate yourself.  It could be that letter, at the end of a book, telling everyone how you wrote the story two days after giving birth.  This gives a fan a chance to brag of insider knowledge at a meeting of fans, and it makes others hear your name and consider you.  It could also be fun giveaways that aren’t particularly expensive.  Anything that makes a connection and convinces someone else to do your publicity for you.  For a while there were very expensive “contests” authors ran -- I don’t know if they still go on -- for things like ipads and kindles.  I also don’t know how much they help, since I knew tons of people just entered these contests but didn’t read the authors.  And I don’t think in the long run it’s needed. I think making the connection and giving your “true-fans” – the ones who’ll evangelize – is as important and perhaps more effective.  T-shirts or even signed post cards are things fans can treasure forever.  Being a zany character in your book seems to make fans very happy.  It’s all about the connection.  How does that apply in your field?  (For instance, my dad had a wine named for him at his favorite restaurant.  Of course he would take the family there every chance he got, as well as out of town friends, acquaintances and people who gave him half a chance to tell them about it.)

Then I listened to James A. Owen's story of how he broke in. I’m not going to reproduce his talk, which is called “Drawing Dragons.”  In the same way I’m not going to talk of the other authors’ break-in stories.  Tracy Hickman’s echoed both James A. Owen’s and Joan Johnston’s.

I’m just going to say these people all took extraordinary risks: they worked while on their last dime, when the lights might go out; they made appointments with editors who didn’t know them from Adam; they believed in their work and stuck it out for bigger advances/better terms, even when the alternative was upsetting the editor and never publishing.