Why Do Authors Still Approach Traditional Media Outlets?
Roger Sutton made waves this past week for writing “An open letter to the self-published author feeling dissed,” which begat “No, I don’t want to read your self-published books” by Ron Charles, itself a G-rated echo of Josh Olson’s “I will not read your fucking script.”
If you care about my thoughts on Sutton’s and Charles’ pieces, read “Dearest Writer: Nobody Owes You Shit” by Chuck Wendig, who said exactly what I would have if I had his writing chops and wasn’t too lazy to write something myself.
There’s one thing about Charles’ piece that I would like to discuss here. It’s a question Sutton asked after Charles contacted him:
“And if old media is so passe, why do they care so much about what we think?”
We talk all the time about traditional media, how they aren’t relevant and don’t push sales as in days of yore. Blah, blah, blah, and more blah… But . . . .
We still go to them.
Why? Follow-the-Leader (a.k.a. The Domino Effect), Following and Conversation.
Follow-the-Leader (a.k.a. The Domino Effect)
The traditional media outlets feed Ego, but they also can initiate the Domino Effect. One example: When Ann Scott Tyson’s book American Spartan (which shares the work of Jim Gant, whose work Steve shared in 2009) was released earlier this year, there was interest,but not as much as expected, and I was told some journalists didn’t like Ann’s story. Some press, but not a ton. Then, after a Nightline producer worked for what felt like years digging into the story, a piece from Nightline appeared. After that? Domino effect. Outlets from around the world asked for interviews with Ann and/or Jim—or in the rush to not be left behind, wrote their own stories without interviewing them (instead pulling information from other blogs and sites which also relied on outside, unconfirmed information instead of interviews, thus leading to the spread of misinformation). This included outlets and journalists contacted upon the release of the book, who didn’t write/report on anything to do with it until it felt like everyone else was . . . At that point, their actions indicated that they couldn’t be left out. Someone else started the Domino Effect and they followed.
So, the justified thinking is, if I can just get that one major media outlet, everyone else will follow. It happens all the time. More followers than leaders, but . . . If you connect with that one leader . . . Jackpot.
Those in it for the follow-the-leader category don’t often have a following of their own—or, they have a following but lack the direct connect. For example, they could be a well-known author who has always relied on his publisher for press and doesn’t have his own site or e-mail list. As with the just-starting out author, he doesn’t have the vehicle to just post or e-mail an article or announcement in order to reach his audience. Instead, he has to rely on the middle men.
This is just because it feels good to talk to someone smart.
I saw the image to the right on a friend’s Facebook page via Grammarly this week. I’m not saying authors or media outlets are sexually attracted to each other, but there is an intellectual attraction in some cases. It’s refreshing to speak with someone who takes the conversation to a level that teaches us something about ourselves, during which we learn in addition to share. It’s why Steve has visited Hugh Hewitt in-studio a number of times (yesterday being the most recent visit, with Giora Romm, author of Solitary). Hugh takes the time to read the book (you’d be surprised how often this step is skipped) and goes beyond the book. He understands the topic at a deeper level and wants to discuss it at that level. There are a few other outlets/individuals that do the same. Charlie Rose comes to mind. (And this holds true for print, too. Conversation isn’t sitting solo in video or radio worlds.)
If Old Media Is So Passe . . .
So do we need the traditional media outlets? No.
Should we continue going to them? For the conversation, yes. There’s value in it because the author and host benefit from sharing such a conversation—and that conversation will frame a book or other work/topic for listeners/readers in a way that a review or blurb or article won’t.
But the rest? If you build your following, follow-the-leader becomes less and less necessary. It’s like weaning a baby from the bottle. The bottle is good in the beginning, but at some point you’ve got to get off it and going it alone. It offers a set amount of nourishment for a certain amount of time. If you stay with it as a long-term strategy, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.
Bottom line: Get thee a following and a good conversation.
In my eyes, traditional media is still relevant due to the fact that a large chunk of the population still gets most of their information that way. So if you’re looking to hit as many eyeballs as possible in a quick hit then it’s the way to go.
Writers want to give themselves the best chance by appealing to old media, but like you’ve always said, a great product and a direct connection to their audience are ultimately the key to longevity.
Not only do most people still get their news from traditional media, the aforementioned “follow the leader” pack mentality of “lesser” media holds true because they are NOT actually journalists.
We’re forgetting that one of the favored methods of doing news on the cheap is aggregating, linking out, and outright stealing content. That means once a traditional media outlet reports a relevant story, it will probably be repeated a few hundred times in online publications and blogs. Newsgathering is expensive. Hiring actual journalists is expensive.
When I was a reporter for one of the last great, big-circulation, Pulitzer-winning newspapers, I did a quick story on a college kid who had gone viral because of some video or something. Our interest was that the kid was a New Yorker, and so “local” to our readership.
And when I called him, I apologized and said he must have been fielding calls from dozens of reporters already. You know what he said? I was only the second reporter to call him.
Out of dozens and dozens of stories about this kid, only TWO reporters (including me) bothered to call him to hear it directly from his mouth. The rest all aggregated from the original “traditional media” story.
So tell me, when all the “traditional” media outlets are destroyed and buried under a pile of discarded SEO tricks, who will be left to steal content from? Who will write those first stories that everyone else copies and aggregates?
And does anyone think it’s a good thing that the vast majority of “journalists” working at online publications don’t ever pick up the phone and verify facts for themselves? If the first reporter gets the story wrong, that means potentially hundreds of other “reporters” will repeat that mistake, and suddenly the error becomes truth. What a mess.
Deal with traditional media because, as Steve likes to say, they’re professionals.
Alex, Thanks for your comment. The outlets/individuals that provide good conversations make sense but there are far too many authors and musicians and actors and businessmen and so on vying for their attention. I’m for trying to connect with specific traditional media outlets/individuals, but in the end, the effort/care invested in direct connecting with readers/listeners/etc will provide the greatest return over time. It’s similar to monetary investments. Investing for the long-term rather is a better bet than trying for the get-rich-quick route. Some make it on the latter, but the majority make it on the former. Callie
Good point Callie, and totally agree. A tailored approach is best. You can create noise, or rather try to cut through it the generic way, but going for the RIGHT media is the smart way to do it. When you build and cater to your own tribe then you’re in an EVEN BETTER position. Us smart ones in THIS SP tribe know the deal…
Thanks for the thoughtful, insightful post Callie. Building a following over the long-haul takes commitment, sustained effort and the discipline to believe that there will be some kind of pay-off down the road. Having conversations and hoping to generate interest in one’s work should be part of the process, but without the focus on hitting that elusive “jackpot.” In the end, I believe we learn more than we can possibly anticipate from the process itself, and come out all the better for it, despite the frustrations and false starts we make along the way.
Traditional media outlets are just another gatekeeper. If you’re going to self-publish, why do all that work taking control of your art only to wait to be picked…again?
I’m working hard to earn the attention of my audience, and this site is a great example of how to do it right.
Huzzah, bingo, amen and h’ray!
I’m with you, Jeremy.
Thanks, Jeremy. My gut is that this race to traditional media also has to do with lack of a business plan. A book should be treated like a business. What is the plan for every step? How will it go into play? Instead, the plan often looks like “Write book. Send book to reviewer. Make millions.” That’s not a business plan. It’s a pipe dream. Callie
Talented Author writes great book (after overcoming resistance with the help of Steven Pressfield, and putting it through the sifter of Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid).
That’s all of us, right? Now what?
Callie says “direct connect” with readers. Which, of course, requires a web site and blog and activity on Facebook and Twitter and participating in other discussion groups without overt selling (see Callie’s “Focus on the Person” piece a couple of weeks ago) and marketing marketing marketing without seeming to…
Most of us solitary, introverted, observant, and sensitive Talented Authors are not equipped for such activity. Some of us despise it.
Once upon a time, we were protected from all that by Traditional Media which would invest in the best of us. Once upon a time, far fewer writers could get past the gatekeepers and achieve big media’s contractual blessing.
It may have been an ivory tower, but books were expensive to produce and TM had the money and knowledge to survive behind the walls. They created success.
Then came digital. It is a law of economics that when barriers to entry come down, there will be a flood.
So here we are, 30 million or more of us trying to get attention. The noise we make in the courtyard, those of us who’ve overcome our quiet nature, howling and shaking our manuscripts to capture the attention of Fickle Market, makes it all but impossible for one voice to stand out.
There is value in quality. At some point, a mechanism will evolve so that Reader and Talented Author will more easily connect. But right now, write now.
Well said Erik!
For what it’s worth, I have received some great author/book marketing information from Tim Grahl and his team at Out:Think.
Some of us despise it.
And those who succeed in the long run will be those who learn to love sharing their work with others rather than finding yet another dependency, another person (the curator) to pick them.
I’m a huge fan of the idea of curation, of connecting the right authors and the right readers and letting ’em go to town on each other.
But the right authors will be the ones who love sharing their art. This is a communication age, and even though it was created by geeks in dark basements, it is the death knell for authors who won’t leave those same dark basements to meet and greet readers in the light of day.
And I’ll second Jeremy’s hat tip to Tim Grahl. Good stuff from a guy who knows.
A while ago, Steve asked me how someone like J.D. Salinger would have fared in today’s world. Not well. If they stay inside, my gut is that the end will be similar to Arthur Pinajian and his work. I wrote a bit about him here. From the NYTimes: “14 years after his death, he has fans who mention him in the same sentence as Gauguin and Cezanne” – just after someone saved his work from being thrown in a dump truck.
So the question is, is the art for you or your contribution to the world? Your answer determined your outreach (or lack thereof).
Once in a while someone will tell me he saw a spike in book sales as a result of being on my show, but I never pitch people by using that as an incentive. It’s out of my control.
Instead I might say, “Only do it if it sounds fun.” Which is, I’ve decided, a good way to do life — throwing yourself into it with abandon, and trying to detach from the results.
Your value is in your conversation, Maureen. Rich with value. C
The squeaks and the squawks about everyone being a writer. I love it! Seth Godin has it right when he says “we are all weird.” Everyone is a writer or should be a writer (story teller). It is a catharsis. The idea of having a published work in hardbound sitting in a Barnes and Noble is an ego driving endeavor. So you can go to your friends and say you are a “writer”. The last large book retailer I went into looked more like a toy store/stationary shop. This is great news!
If you write good stuff, people will read it. Sometimes people get to busy counting their nickels. Don’t quit your day job and write like you have an eternity!!!!
Awesome. Just awesome. Devoured it and all the links. Thanks for this, Callie.
Callie – a few thoughts:
1-It’s ego. A big publisher gets us into B&N, some booksignings, an advance – and a PR team that lets the author do as much or as little marketing as we choose – which often isn’t very much.
2-Self-publishing has come a long way reputation-wise from iUniverse and the other vanity presses; they the last possibility for often lousy writers to get themselves published.
3-Amazon and e-books have made self-publishing far more respectable and profitable. On the other hand, your success is up to you, so the writer has to be as much businessman and marketer as a writer.
That’s a stretch for many, but in today’s wired world, the ability to write is half the battle; the other half is using websites, twitter, FB, radio, podcasts, and god forbid, shaking hands and talking with strangers. But how cool to be able to earn $$ while doing all that!!
Hi, Andy! Always good to see your mug show up here! In hindsight, I should have ended the post with an answer to Mr. Sutton, too. No, we don’t need traditional media, Mr. Sutton. Some of us just want traditional media and don’t know why or what else to do. C
Wow, some fantastic insight. Thank you Steve for hosting! Books are business but books are also art. And dare I say in my world I prefer them to be more art. It is truly a great way of making a living but I am a bit more inclined to still be in the world as a personality and an observer.
If that wasn’t the case I would be inclined to produce the most commercial piece imaginable. Your business plan would be to hit the center point of the bell shaped curve for a target demographic. You would use the phrases and slang that most resonate. In the end your work would look something like Mylie Cyrus.
Would Salinger be around today……absolutely!! He would be self published or have a blog from some far off log cabin.
In fact, traditional media needs us.
If we look at the history of publishing, we see that traditional publsihing is fairly recent. We don’t need to go all the way back to the invention of the printing press. Let’s just look at the 18th century when the middle class was on the rise, thanks to a lot of trade. Women were the first audience for fiction – they had time.
The first publishers were actually printers. They paid a flat sum for the book. They took all the risk. The author got paid whether the book sold or not. A lot of writers were self-publishing because either they were printers (Franklin, Willian Blake) or because it was the only way to get their work out. Pamphlets were popular and easy to hawk.
Books were also published when there was a patron. (See Samuel Johnson’s caustic lines about patrons in one of his poems.) This was a holdover from earlier centuries when the aristocrats had the money and patronizing the arts was a “one up on the Joneses.” (Shakespeare had a patron.)
The other way books got pubished was by subscription. Similar to crowdfunding, authors got people to support their work, listing the name of subscribers in the work. They found people who either liked what they were writing or like them, and began building an audience.
What we need from traditional publishing – or rather, what TM shoud be offering – is curation. The editing process. Steve has talked about the importance of an editor, and a good, competent editor is the single most important support an independent writer needs.
A lot of good editors are going independent. As are cover artists. As far as distribution and building an audience, it’s as it always was – word-of-mouth. Just ask J.K. Rowling.
Or those of us who follow this blog. Grand Slam walk offs winning the World Series are nice but bunts and singles and good defense win a lot more often. How’s that old ad go? A book will not find its audience before its time.
“Women were the first audience for fiction – they had time.”
How did women get more than the usual 24 hours back then? Or are you speaking of billionaire Oprah and her book club? She seems to also have lot’s of time to read.
“Traditional” publishers are indeed catching on that the olden days are gone, while the number of books read increases due to improved global accessibility. For example “XPrize” has a project to leave tablets with small children that teach them to read. In beta tests tablets were left for 5-year-olds in an African village with no instructions. The kids figured out how to use them. XPrize is helping innovate literacy via devices.
There’s ground in publishing for everyone who want to play.
It might also depend on who your target audience is. Certainly older generations pay more attention to traditional media than younger generations.