Why You Need to Ignore the EZ Button if You Want to Succeed

Difficulty

Once, in the span of 2 months, I did four major endurance events. The reason wasn’t to win them (I didn’t come close) or to get in shape. It was “to see if I can.” I wanted to try what seemed impossible, to push my limits.

I’m not a masochist, but the idea of taking the harder path in life has come around so often that I’ve started paying attention, to see if I can figure out what’s behind my own thinking. Meeting Sean didn’t help, though, because he’s exactly the same way. With long-term thinking versus short-term gains, he’s actually even worse than I am. There have been times where he’s practically starving and someone has opened an obvious door for him, but he won’t walk through it. Instead he just kept saying, “No way. I can’t pause to staunch that bleeding because ten years from now, I just know I’m going to need that gauze.”

I take the hard path. Sean takes the long path. Put us together and you have two guys who would walk by a glass of water in the desert because the closer you are to dying when you finally get a drink, the better it tastes. Time and time again, we’ll do things the hard way when just about anyone else would yell at us, screaming, “THERE’S A SHORTCUT RIGHT THERE, IDIOT!”

Why?

We have a theory, and we think the answer holds a lesson that all smart artists, if they want to get what they want from their careers and lives, need to learn:

We seem to have decided that if you want the results everyone else has, you should do what everyone else does.

Look around you. Do you want what everyone else has?

Well, guess what? Almost nobody likes things to be difficult. “Easy” is what “everyone else” out there is doing, because … wait for it … it’s easy.

And that means that more often than not, “difficult” is where you need to be.

Difficulty Can Be Opportunity

Once, on the Self-Publishing Podcast, we and a guest were talking about the changes in Amazon’s book-ranking algorithms. As happens often, Amazon had once again closed a loophole, taking away an EZ button that a lot of indie publishers had been using.

Now, I’ve overstated myself a bit above; we actually don’t mind tactics that make things easy so long as they don’t conflict with our long-term aims. So we didn’t fault anyone who’d been exploiting the loophole (a way to “game” Amazon a bit) and would have liked to use it ourselves. But now the loophole was closing, and things were about to get harder for everyone.

But it wasn’t “harder” in terms of Amazon pulling a bunch of books or anything like that. It merely closed a loophole. Publishers who wrote and published in the way that sensible, logical, long-term-minded publishers would normally publish would be just fine.

And still a lot of people were bitching, crying, “But it’s now so damned difficult!”

But I said, “Things getting more difficult is always a good thing for people who aren’t deterred by difficulty.”

See, the fact that something is hard should only bother you if you aren’t willing to do the work. If you are, “hard” just becomes “how it is.” Frankly, I kind of hope everyone gives up when something gets hard. That means it’s going to be easier for me, without all that competition in the water.

Look, guys and gals: being an artist is hard.

Not once, anywhere, have we said or implied otherwise. You can publish 100 damn books this year and still not make rent. You can struggle to find readers. You can slave all day and night, then get nothing but bad reviews. Trolls can attack you. You can do everything right and get nothing. If you want to be an artist, you’d better be in this thing because you love it. If you’re in your art — writing, painting, singing, whatever — to make a quick buck, you’d better quit now. And again, if you can be deterred by our saying it’s going to be hard, then I hope you do quit.

That just means more rewards for those of us who are willing to do the work and put in the time. More spoils for the artists who are in it for love, and hence have the strength to keep going even when the going is rough.

Difficulty, in art, is your friend.

So please, please, PLEASE remember that you chose this, thus embracing the idea that you’d be pushing your own creative limits, testing boundaries, and doing things others didn’t have the guts to do.

And when you move from just being an ordinary artist to one of the Smarter Artists we talk to in our Smarter Artist series, please, please, PLEASE keep something in mind about the business side of your art, too:

A lot of people are going to take the easy route.

But if the easy route today will have entrenched you in the stupid route five or ten years from now, we hope you’ll be smart enough to avoid it.

Easy ButtonOur Own Ez Button

Time and time and time again, the three of us here have faced a choice between a very easy path and a very hard one.

Sean and I have this particular choice the hardest. We both got our start online in marketing circles, and if I could be totally blunt, we know how to make money. We know exactly how we could, today as I write this, while Sterling & Stone is still new, turn our fledgling publishing company into an 8-figure business within a year or two. That’s not hyperbole. That’s fact. Sean has been in two separate masterminds filled with people who make several times that much, and both of us know all the tricks.

If we wanted to make literal millions within months, here’s what we’d do:

We’d milk the crap out of The Smarter Artist line. We’d charge top-dollar for the products we have, turning the information in our $5 nonfiction books into $997 info products. We’d craft long sales letters and masterful email campaigns that sold promises. We’d tell you how, if you follow our advice, you’ll be a full-time writer in no time, raking in the big bucks.

Ironically, the biggest EZ button in our business would be us promising other people an EZ button.

But we wouldn’t even have to be sleazy to do it. We could just make more instructional products, keeping the prices lower and the sales tactics tasteful. We know how to buy Facebook and Google ads to drive sales to those products. We’d just need to make more. And more. And more. In this case, we could even sleep at night and look ourselves in the mirror. In this latter, less sleazy and more ethical instance of our own EZ button, we’d just be teaching, nothing more.

There’s just one little problem.

The more we do here at The Smarter Artist — by far the easiest moneymaker we have here at Sterling & Stone, if we chose to maximally develop and exploit it — the less we’d have to do on our other five lines.

In order to make room for more nonfiction, we’d have to turn away from our fiction — five lines that, thanks to our long-term focus, aren’t yet as profitable, but that have much larger long-term potential … as long as we’re willing to keep watering their seeds before they’re large enough to bear as much fruit.

We face that decision every day. We could ride our nonfiction pony to the finish line right now, and we know it.

But then we’d be the guys who teach without actually doing, and we’d be salesmen instead of storytellers.

We try to remember that when temptation raises its ugly, inevitable head.

Tactics vs. Strategies

It’s really, really frustrating when we know we could be doing better today … but that in order to do better today, we’d need to make choices that would hurt us tomorrow.

You’ll face the same decisions in your career as a smart artist, and we suggest that when you do, you ask the question that we ask ourselves:

“Am I in this to make a quick buck, or am I in it for the long haul?”

It’s not always easy to answer that question. We face it in the way I described above, and our answer is that while huge profits today would be nice, that road wouldn’t lead us to being well-known, bestselling fiction authors. People wouldn’t read our novels. We wouldn’t one day make movies, graphic novels … you name it.

But in addition to our big temptation, we also face a bevy of smaller temptations that you may face yourself. And when that happens, we always return to the question of tactics vs. strategies.

A tactic is something you do, here and now, to get a result.

Strategies, on the other hand, aren’t based on transactional results: this action in, this result out. Strategies are outcome driven. They focus on ends, not means, and employ some sort of tactics as means to achieve those ends. So in other words, a tactic might say, “Sell on Kobo.” But the strategy behind that tactic — the strategy that makes that tactic sensible — is something like “reach readers in foreign markets where Amazon doesn’t have a dominant presence.” You start with the strategy. And then you may say, yep, selling on Kobo sounds like a good way to make that strategy happen.

Focus on strategies, not tactics. Don’t fall into the trap of choosing to employ a tactic today because it will result in short-term gain if that tactic ultimately conflicts with your long-term outcomes or goals.

In other words, don’t leap for the EZ button. Think before you act. Don’t grasp for the shiny penny — if, in leaping for it and taking your eyes off the road, you’re bound to end up driving your car into a tree.

Strategy

Tactics are totally fine, as long as they line up with your strategies. Another temptation we run into all the time is the exclusivity question.

For us, the idea of being exclusive on one and only one bookselling platform with more than just a few of our titles is absolutely the worst decision we could make … if we’re thinking about long-term strategy. We want to be in this game for decades, not years. We want to reach readers everywhere, not just on Amazon. Right now, Amazon is the big dog, and yes, most of the buyers for indies like us are on Amazon. But that’s not true of all readers, and we doubt it’ll be true of Amazon (that they’re pretty much the only game in town) forever.

For other writers, exclusivity might make sense. And for a third group of writers, it doesn’t make sense to be exclusive, but they do it anyway because the short-term gains are there. And what’s frustrating, if you’re a long-term thinker, is that sometimes those people will lap you. They’ll do better than you today, and it’s harder than ever not to press the EZ button yourself.

Know what you want from your long-term future as a writer, then be true to your strategies. Do what will advance those strategies and resist the urge to employ tactics that would contradict those strategies.

For us, that means we have to resist the easy money that would come with spending more time on our nonfiction than on our fiction — not because nonfiction is bad, but because what we want, when all is said and done, is to be known for our fiction first.

For us, it also means resisting the lure of exclusivity’s benefits (KDP Select, if you’re exclusive to Amazon, keeps throwing more and more promotional benefits at its exclusive authors) in favor of building a diverse base of fans on all platforms, even if it means fewer sales today.

And really, really for us (NOT for most authors, but for us), it means writing in many different genres. Sticking to only one genre and writing book after book for those fans would, without question, grow us faster. And that’s fine for many (probably most) authors, but not for us. Because speaking at least for Platt and Truant, we want to be known as storytellers who can speak in any genre rather than being pigeonholed by our readers.

What would be easiest for you? What shortcut could you take?

And if you look at it honestly, would taking that shortcut help you in the long term … or would it take you somewhere you don’t want to end up, even if it brings you more benefit today?

Weigh those EZ button choices carefully.

We think you’ll know what to do.

Here’s an EZ Button that you should should push: PLEASE SHARE THIS POST NOW. Thank you. 🙂 

 

About Johnny B. Truant

Johnny started out as the writing everyman, barely managing a novel a decade. From there, he has become a storytelling superstar, pounding out a novel a month. He's the co-founder of Realm & Sands, as well as the host of the Self Publishing Podcast.

Comments

  1. This post is epic and I love it.

  2. Ronnie Pelletier says:

    Well, didn’t you just nail it on the head. Why do what we do? Who is our master? At the end of the day, where is the joy, the true benefit? Love this post.
    So easy to be led away from your path by pretty lights full of external promise …

  3. Greg Thomas says:

    *shared. Great post. Have you guys shifted on what author names to post for genres? Obviously you are using the Lexi line for the more erotic, but are you guys shifting to different author names for LOL, R&S, etc.? I’m still not quite clear on the erotic versus pure romance fiction markets and need to learn the difference between the two. I’m not quite sure I “get” the lines that may be crossed between certain genres and what and (more importantly) who I might lose writing to different people with the same author name.

    • LOL is now Max Power. Realm & Sands is and always will be Platt & Truant. Lexi, and I think this is the first time we’ve said this publicly, will be starting the new year with yet another pen name. The Lexi name will stand for any work where story comes before sex, and her new pen name Autumn Cole will be used for anything where sex comes before the story. Her old single serving fantasies are all an example of this. Sterling & Stone will promote Lexi, but not Autumn.

  4. robert bucchianeri says:

    Excellent post. I know all this, but it’s good to be reminded.
    For right now I’m on KDP Select because after a couple of years I still developed no traction on the other book sites and was losing out at Amazon. It’s a short term decision and ultimately I will move back wide and start selling on my own website.

    • Johnny B. Truant says:

      For the record, we’re NOT totally ignoring all exclusivity. We’re just not jumping to exclusivity for all titles or existing popular franchises, and we’re not remaining exclusive forever for anything right now. The beauty of our large catalog is that we can experiment. So we’ll be trying Select for some stuff coming up, but would never try it with everything or to the detriment of our bigger strategy.

  5. Really needed to read this today. Coming up on a month since launching my first novel, and while the reaction has been fantastic (even slightly AHEAD of my thought out marketing plan), the process has been glaciel compared to my secret fantasies of overnight stardom.

    This post reminds me that the way to get where I want to be is to simply worry about putting one foot in front of the other.

    It greatly eases the frustration and impatience when I know y’all are in the trenches too.

  6. Tom Donahue says:

    This reminds me a lot of the quote by Calvin Coolidge:
    “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

    There is no EZ button, just hard work and a refusal to give up. Thanks for the post!

  7. I’ll I’m gonna say is – Ain’t that the truth!

    When I quit looking for the easy way, good things happened, including my contentment.

  8. Pam Laricchia says:

    Great post! What really resonated for me at this point was “We could ride our nonfiction pony to the finish line right now, and we know it. But then we’d be the guys who teach without actually doing, and we’d be salesmen instead of storytellers.”

    I have published some nonfiction books the last few years that are doing pretty well, on a topic that I am passionate about, but in doing so I’ve discovered I love the writing itself and I really want to dive into fiction.

    Yet I keep feeling pulled back into the “EZ” of my nonfiction niche–I could translate my audience of a few thousand into a membership site, some info products and coaching, do more speaking, and even host my own conferences (I used to do that). As you say, the temptation is that it would increase my income more quickly, and I know the audience would appreciate it—it wouldn’t be sleazy at all.

    Then after a few weeks of planning I bounce away from it again, realizing that the motivation is more about the short-term money—the EZ path—not wanting to do those activities themselves. I love *writing* about the topic, not all that other stuff. I don’t want to wear that “teaching” hat.

    Of course, then there’s the unknown of fiction. Definitely the more challenging path to choose, but where I want to be long-term.

    Thanks for the reminder that it’s okay to keep our focus on the long-term goals. And for the opportunity to clarify this a bit more for myself. 🙂

  9. Monica Leonelle says:

    For me (and I think for you guys too) I think the biggest long-term strategy that you guys didn’t call out explicitly is not dropping to $0.99 on all my titles. Some of my novellas are $3.99 and still sell, just less than they would if I dropped prices. My thought is I’d rather attract readers who really love the books that I’m writing—it seems to me that they are more likely to be true fans someday, while bargain buyers easily switch between lots of authors and won’t necessarily remember you.

    It’s hard to take the longer road, and there are so many things I know would be better strategy for me (especially writing $0.99 billionaire romances in KDP Select, which I could do in my sleep), but… hmm, it just doesn’t feel right. I’ll probably keep working on books in varied genres and pricing them where a traditional publisher would.

    And I have to agree with you guys that I really don’t think you should expand Smarter Artist beyond a few big projects a year, because it just plummets credibility. Having full-time incomes from fiction means a lot to those of us who follow you and are trying to do the same things with fiction. I actually like that you guys are still hungry because it’s relatable.

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