Wednesday, October 24, 2018

What Is the Easy Path to Publishing Riches Overnight? A Delusion

Dead Tree Edition: the early days
When I started this blog a decade ago this month, the Get Rich By Blogging Hype Machine was just getting revved up.

Within a few years, pundits declared that blogging is dead, just as they had declared that “Print is dead” a few years earlier. (Both media have shown an annoying tendency to flash a giant middle finger at the pundits, adapting rather than extincting.)

Meanwhile, the bloggers who had been trying to make money from consulting to other bloggers had moved on – to become, I suppose, black-hat SEO experts, then white-hat SEO consultants, then social-media marketers, content marketers, or whatever the current shiny new title is for the buzzards who feed on greed and insecurity in the online world. (Other than “Facebook executives”, that is.)

So when I looked back over the biggest publishing delusions of the past decade for my recent “Decade of Delusions” article for Publishing Executive, the easy-money-from-blogging delusion didn’t make the cut. The blogosphere’s version of the sock puppet no longer seemed relevant to the publishing world in general.

People eat this stuff up
(Note to other publishers: It turns out that people love reading about how self-appointed experts got it wrong.. I’ve been amazed by the overwhelmingly favorable, and insightful, reactions to the “Decade of Delusions” article. Whatever your beat, consider publishing a list of recently exposed delusions and false prophecies on the subject.)

But I subsequently realized that the delusion hasn’t died, just morphed into other forms that can generally be categorized as “Just put it out there and watch it go viral.” For example, "Follow the secret formula for getting on the first page of Google." Or "Make a fortune by pivoting to video because no one wants to, like, read words any more."

And "Put your messages on Facebook because everyone’s on Facebook." (I know a store owner who literally drove her business into the ground by following this strategy. She put all of her limited marketing budget into creating Facebook promotions when she would have been better off with a bit of advertising and using her email list properly. Turns out “everyone” on Facebook avoids self-serving promotions like the plague.)

Book-publishing guru Jane Friedman recently advised fellow authors to stop trying to turn their books into best sellers: “It seems counterintuitive, but rather than seeking a broad audience, you should focus on a narrow one.”

Building your tribe
That’s good advice for anyone trying to build an audience. Unless you have a huge following or huger financial resources, the path to success usually starts with focusing on an under-served niche and finding, or building, a “tribe” of people with similar passions. Create a book, blog, magazine, web site, video, podcast, or whatever that serves your tribe's needs better than anyone else does. The tribe will decide if you're ready for a larger audience -- and will help you get there.

LinkedIn has done more for Dead Tree Edition than Facebook has. Sure, every once in a while someone with a big Facebook following posts a link to one of my articles, and it goes viral. But that doesn’t build a sustainable audience.

The page views from posts on LinkedIn groups are typically anemic. And God knows LinkedIn keeps revamping its groups in ways that seem designed to discourage participation. But much of the Dead Tree Edition tribe discovered this blog via relevant LinkedIn groups. They keep coming back, keep recommending my articles to others, and sometimes complain that I’m not publishing as often as I used to do. Twitter has worked similarly, doing more to build the tribe than to drive clicks.

Good old-fashioned email has been my most effective social medium -- not email blasts but rather personal emails to editors and other influencers pointing out a particular article that might interest their audience. And sometimes exchanging information with them. Getting referrals from them has brought new followers and has enabled Dead Tree Edition to do pretty well on search engines despite zero focus on search-engine optimization.

Fortunately, I started blogging not to get rich but because I wanted to understand better how the web works and because some topics weren’t getting the coverage they needed. Blogging can demonstrate your expertise, gain you new friends and business contacts, boost your personal brand, and lead to writing and speaking engagements (unless you stubbornly insist on remaining anonymous).

But if you’re just looking for a way to make money in your spare time, you’ll find that delivering pizzas is more lucrative.

Other recent Dead Tree Edition articles about publishing include: