Jane Friedman on Strategy vs. Tactics

First, a weather update: as predicted, I will not be flying to NYC on Thursday. (Both Chicago and NYC are experiencing EXTREME WEATHER — as is Cedar Rapids, for that matter — and the flights have already been canceled.) Depending on how all this rescheduling goes I may still make it there on Friday, which should give me plenty of time to make it to the Maggie Stiefvater writing seminar on Saturday.

We’ll see.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to suggest you read Jane Friedman’s article “How to Reduce Marketing Anxiety and Confusion” at Publishers Weekly, because even if you don’t plan to self-publish your book you’re still going to need to think about the marketing component, and even if you aren’t ready to think about marketing right now this advice also applies to the work you are currently doing on your creative project.

In short: there is strategy, and there are tactics.

Tactics are the steps you take to achieve results, and strategy is why you take those steps.

Why you make those particular choices, knowing that any individual choice both limits and shapes your remaining choices.

Friedman argues that most people launch into tactics without first creating a strategy, and I agree with her.

Some tactics may seem essential—because everyone is using them and thus they are required to play the game. But always question and assess. Is Amazon advertising going to be effective for the book you’re trying to sell (factoring in your book’s pricing, packaging, and positioning)? Is social media a suitable tool for your genre/category, given the amount of time that you have to wait to see results? Do you know enough about your target readers to understand how they discover books to read?

For example, I’m repeatedly told that I should get into podcasting because it’s big and growing. But should I adopt that tactic when it would require me to stop accepting paid work or stop other activities that are effective and even growing? Possibly—but only an evaluation of my strategy would lead to an informed answer.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever, like, try things just to see what happens. TRY ENERGY can be a powerful thing, and you’ll learn a lot from putting a harebrained scheme into action.

Sometimes your TRY ENERGY is inspired by what a specific audience needs at that very moment — I’m thinking of Twitter user @leftistthot420, for example, who made a joke about how someone would create a Twitter account featuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing to every song and then immediately created the @aoc_dances account herself.

Sometimes it’s just something you really want to do, and you can’t not do it.

So do it!

But if you’re thinking about taking on some best practices (whether for the novel you’re writing or the marketing campaign you’re creating) simply because you’ve heard they yield certain results, it’s best to consider your overall strategy, and how each tactic might help or hurt that strategy, first.

As Jason Fried of Basecamp (one of my favorite productivity softwares) wrote about the myth of low-hanging fruit:

In my mind, declaring that an unfamiliar task will yield low-hanging fruit is almost always an admission that you have little insight about what you’re setting out to do. And any estimate of how much work it’ll take to do something you’ve never tried before is likely to be off by degrees of magnitude.

In other words, don’t start a podcast just because you’ve heard that podcasting might get you an audience for your next book. You have to get a whole separate audience for that podcast first,* and that takes time away from the work of building the audience for your book (unless your readers are the type who are likely to try out new podcasts).

But go read Jane Friedman’s post on strategy vs. tactics, because she’s got more to say on the subject than what I just summarized, and then go read her blog because it is full of excellent information about both writing and publishing.

*This comes after the work of learning how to create a podcast that doesn’t sound like amateur hour. One of the reasons I stopped doing my Writing & Money podcast was because I wasn’t able to get my kitchen-table recording to sound professional enough, and I knew that taking the time and money to create a better podcast would take away from the bigger goals I wanted to accomplish.

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