Monday, April 11, 2011

TUESDAY TIPS AND TIDBITS - What's on your menu?


Suppose you’re opening a restaurant. (Just go with it. Hopefully, I’ll make a valid point by paragraph three or four...) Besides location and where you’re going to get your start-up capital, the most important decision you’ll have to make is what to put on your menu. And how do you decide?

Authors are like restaurateurs in many ways. As an author, when you write books, you should be thinking about your menu – what you’re offering your customers, and how you intend to serve it to them. As in running a restaurant, you, the author, must make some important decisions about your writing.

Will you offer your own specialties – favorite personal dishes that are new to just about everyone else? Or elegant cuisine that’s time-consuming to prepare and an expensive luxury for your diners? Or maybe just the standard tried-and-true burgers and fries?

What about in a couple months? Will you offer new entrées on your menu to attract new people and ensure your loyal diners won’t get tired of the same old thing? Will your new entrées be the same food type, or will you indulge your sudden whim to try serving some kind of ethnic menu and completely scrap what you used to serve? (If you do that, imagine how your loyal diners will react...)

Below are some typical eatery types and their menus, that compare to writers and their book offerings...

The KIOSK writer writes only one book – ever – which is akin to opening a funnel cake stand. The problem with that is, your one offering may only be suitable for the traveling carnival season, and your sales will be sporadic at best. You’ll have nothing else to offer your readers except one sticky, calorie-laden item that many may pass up in favor of the nearby burger grill, where they can get a slightly more substantial list of offerings.

The BURGER GRILL writer is a fast-food machine than manufactures quick, high-calorie, fat-laden food that is not really nutritious but is great for people on the go who want a tasty favorite they’re familiar with. The problem with this kind of writing menu is that there are literally thousands more out there, available on every corner. So, no matter how fast you churn out those burger combo meals, and no matter how many different condiments, dressings, and sides you offer to mix things up a bit, you’re still only going to attract a few customers who are ready to consume more of the same old thing already out there. So what you need to do is make your fast food stand out from the rest by giving it a new twist – like, maybe, pita burgers with soy meat, or something really unique that still has a great taste. (I’m not too sure about the soy meat – it doesn’t sound tasty to me.)

The HAUTE CUISINE writer attracts a very slim audience indeed. The time and skill required to prepare meals in a fine-dining atmosphere are often overwhelming, limiting the number of meals served. You may be showered with awards for your cooking skill, but only the snooty and wealthy will bother sampling what you have to offer. The regular-Joe populace will go for fare that’s cheaper and easier to digest.

The FAMILY DINER writer offers a menu of just about everything for everybody, oftentimes with a kid’s menu too. There won’t be any trendy quiches or spinach salads on this writer’s menu. The cuisine might not be the best around, but there’s a lot to choose from. The only problem is, sometimes it’s so hard to categorize this kind of restaurant tucked away among other businesses, it goes largely unnoticed, because it tries to cater to everyone, but no one in particular.

The ECLECTIC WINE BISTRO writer offers everything from wine and cheese and elite sandwiches for discriminating adults, to hotdogs for kids – a difficult sell when you consider that most wine connoisseurs aren’t going to be dragging kids into this hard-to-classify eatery to sample the hotdogs. People who walk by may stop for a moment to stare though the window and try to figure out what is really the focus of this bistro bar, but few will actually walk through the door and order something.

The FRANCHISE EATERY writer, whether offering high-class dinner fare or fast food, always seems to know the best way to attract customers. The name is branded and well-known across the nation – and sometimes worldwide. Customers don’t really ask what’s in the newest creation on the menu ... they just buy it because it comes from a franchise they know and trust. They recommend it to all their friends, and that’s why the franchise is the most successful eatery of them all – it serves the masses and stays true to its brand without trying to reinvent itself with every new entrée it puts on the menu.

The restaurant business is high-risk, as well as labor- and time-intensive. The same could be said of being an author. The risk comes in putting yourself into your work, exposing your thoughts and feelings in your writing, and then laying it out for others to read and judge. Many authors toil years without ever reaching the point of becoming published. However, many have bypassed the publishing route by choosing to self-publish. With either choice, the result is the same. They still have to sell their books.

Not every writer is the same, nor are the books writers write the same. What kind of writer do you want to be – a one-book wonder, or a steady producer of generic fare in a genre that pleases but doesn’t necessarily wow readers? Or are you the type that writes on a whim, producing a children’s storybook here, and an erotic romance there? If you don’t have what it takes to pick a popular genre and make your mark in it (or create a new one), and stick with that genre to develop your franchise so people instantly recognize your name and buy your books on name-recognition alone – then forget about becoming a bestseller.

What kind of customers do you want to attract? Do you know what kind of books they like? Do you know where they hang out so you can chat with them and show them what you’ve got? Despite everything else you’ve been told, books are sold one reader at a time. When many readers buy your book at the same time, over and over again, then you’ll become part of that successful writer phenomenon known as the bestseller.

Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking writing is easy, because selling is part of that profession. You must either sell your writing to a publisher, who will then sell it to the reader, or you must sell it to the reader yourself. If you want to succeed at it, you have to treat it like running an eatery – as a business. It requires planning, hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Once you recognize that and accept it, you’re one step closer to being the writer you want to be. So, get started on your menu now – and bring my order. I’m hungry!

Pat Morrison, Penumbra Publishing

1 comment:

Natasha Larry said...

I want too many things on that list, lol.

Great post