Becoming Visible as a Writer

Visibility is one of the most important issues for any writer. In the past visibility meant getting reviewed in a print media and getting on the shelves of bookstores. Now it means getting seen in digital media. Email lists are one means. Coming in near the top of search engine results is another.

There are ways to make yourself seen in a system that tends to favor the well-connected and already famous. One is to specialize on themes no one else has taken up. I’ve done that with my 'hospital series" based on when I worked at Seattle Children’s Hospital on this very unit:

I spent hundreds of hours walking down the halls you see there. Each of those books is unique or almost so. If you’re looking for a book on their topics, they’re almost the only books in print. Illustrations:

Children with cancer. There are numerous books on what it is like to be a teen with cancer or to be the parent of a child battling cancer. There aren’t many on what it’s like to be on the nursing staff of a Hem-Onc unit knowing, when you go to work, that as many as a third of the adorable children you’re caring for will die. That’s My Nights with Leukemia. The topic is grim, but I do my best to point out the positives.

Embarrassment. Many hospitalized people fear embarrassment almost as much as they do the pain, yet little is said much less done about embarrassment. Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments is a how-to-avoid-it guide for patients, especially teen girls. The almost complete Embarrass Less is a 'how-to-avoid-doing-it guide for hospital staff.

Nursing morale. Nursing morale is bad and getting worse. There are numerous books describing how put-upon nurses can fight back. Unfortunately, some nurses and particularly new nurses find taking a stand difficult. Senior Nurse Mentor shifts the blame for that bad morale to where it belongs, on the hospital administration. It offers a practical solution that’s remarkably similar to that the U.S. military adopted in the mid-1990s to keep morale high in an all-volunteer military. The suggestion I offer seems obvious, but as far as I know no one else is offering it. If you want good morale, have a position whose reason for existing is good morale.

Can I keep up that ‘make it unique’ approach? I don’t know. I do have some unique ideas that might become books and I’ve realized that being the first to write on a topic has its downside—people don’t even realize that such books exist. Still I will try. I’d like to see my writing income go up a bit.

What about the poor souls who’s interest lies in genres that are filled to overflowing with books? True, if you enter those fields, you’ve got a ready-made market unlike my pioneering hospital series. But you’ve also got a heck of a lot of competition. What can you do to stand out from the crowd?

Free or cheap is one option, particularly for the first book in a series. But free means you earn nothing for what may be a year or more of work. Cheap, which typically means pricing that book at $0.99, means the dour Scrounge of publishing, Amazon, is only going to pay your 35 cents for that book (versus twice that from Apple). If you’re going that little on each sale, you might as well make it free. But then you face that same ‘nothing for all your work’ dilemma.

Become famous. Yeah, that’s hard to do at the celebrity level and I’d rather be dead that do what many such people do to keep their names in the news. But you can create a podcast or a blog on a topic you know well enough to attract a crowd. Having done that, you can then use that platform to promote your books among people who already like what you’re saying. Grammar Girl is a good illustration of how that works.

Would you believe she even has a well-rated grammar game for iPads? … d666851934

Note though that you’re got to primarily focused on what your readers or listeners want and only secondarily on hyping your books. You don’t want to sound like an ad for yourself.

The downside is that you’ve got to be disciplined and better-than-most on a particular topic. But if that’s you, that’s an opportunity.

Patience and focus matter and can be used by any writer. Here’s where I miss the boat. Go here:

and you’ll see that I’ve written or edited books on a host of topics. But alas, people who develop an interest in what I say in one area—say war history—aren’t likely to be interested in what I say on embarrassment in hospitals and vice-versa.

That why for many authors the key to success may lie in focusing on one genre and even one particular spin within it, i.e. not just sci-fi but steampunk sci-fi about a Sherlock Holmes-like detective. People who like one of your books will be far more likely to read the others if they’re similar. That was the key to Conan Doyle’s success with Holmes. He couldn’t get people to quit demanding new stories about his detective.

Feel free to add to my remarks your own suggestions about becoming visible in a literary world where getting noticed seems to be mostly for those who’re already well-connected.

–Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books