The playbook is changing

And if you’re like so many authors I’ve talked with lately, you can feel it.

If you’re following the traditionally published route, you’ve probably been told the path to success is: write a great book, craft a killer query letter, land an agent, get a deal, then launch your book to critical acclaim (with your publisher’s support, of course).

If you’re following the indie path, you’ve probably been told that readers will start pouring in if you write awesome books at a fast enough pace — while mastering social media and reinvesting your royalties into advertising.

But no matter what path you’re on — on intending to take — every author is facing the same uncomfortable truth.

The playbooks that helped authors find success five, ten, or twenty years ago are obsolete today.

And the playbooks that are working this year (Kickstarter, Patreon, viral TikTok dances) will become obsolete even faster.

We can blame reader attention spans, or e-readers, or publisher consolidation, or AI — but pointing fingers doesn’t get us any closer to having a satisfying author career.

And I believe there’s plenty to get excited about.

Because even as the “standard” publishing roadmap becomes a confusing jumble of mixed messages, one line remains crystal clear.

Have you met our pal The Void?

An author friend asked me something over coffee recently, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

“Does it ever feel like you’re just flinging words into the void?”

Does it?

I mean, yeah.

Sometimes it does. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like I’m flinging words into the void…

The void of agent and editor inboxes. The void of Kindle Unlimited. The void of Twitter and TikTok and blog posts.

We’re all flinging words out there — and not just any words, either! Words we’re proud of, that are written from the heart.

Let’s face it — most of us got into writing because we loved it so much. We’d do it even if we never got the big deal contracts and successes a lot of us hope for.

Writing is awesome.

It’s the publishing process that can be a soul killer.

Enough of that!

I keep hearing from authors who are worn down to the bone from flinging words into the uncaring void. I’ve heard from those who are on the edge of giving up, exhausted by and resentful of the thing that once brought them joy.

But then…

You send out a newsletter and get a response from someone who says they just bought your book and are excited to read it.

You get a review from a reader who can’t wait for the next book.

A stranger on social media tags you to with a photo of your book sitting next to your hero’s book on their self-help shelf.

You get a text from a writer friend congratulating you on your launch, and saying they shared your book in their newsletter.

Your words aren’t vanishing into the void — they’re landing. They’re connecting with the people that need them.

You’ve forged strong bonds with your readers.

That, my friend, is the part of the author playbook that still leads to success — even as the rest of the tactics start to crumble.

That’s what we’re talking about.

A unique conference with a single focus…

…and a secret ulterior motive.

Forging direct connections with readers is one of two most important things I’ve done over my author career.

(We’ll talk about Thing Two in a sec.)

You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 Principle, or Pareto’s Principle, that the majority of the results you want will come from a surprisingly small percentage of the actions you take.

In his book, The One Thing, Gary Keller challenges us to go farther. To identify the top 20 percent of the 20 percent — and then the top 20% of that.

In other words, the One Thing that moves the needle the most in the Hundred Things you could be doing.

“There will always be just a few things that matter more than the rest,” he writes, “and out of those, one will matter most. Internalizing this concept is like being handed a magic compass.”

Connecting with readers is the 20% of the 20% of the 20% of the work that brings results — which is awesome, because it’s also the most satisfying part.

And that’s why the Author Alchemy Summit is structured around a single question:

“How can we connect directly with our readers?”

We’ll explore that question in terms of:

  • sales channels (e.g. direct sales, publishing wide, Kickstarter, in-person events, bookstores)
  • communication channels (e.g. newsletter, Patreon, podcast, social media, video)
  • author persona (e.g. branding, online presence, reader-facing vibe)
  • craft (e.g. themes, subject, character development, genre)

We’re asking this One Question not just because it’ll help us make more sales, or grow our audiences — though of course it will. But that’s not the only reason.

My secret ulterior motive?

(Insert villain cackle here.)

To help us all find more joy.

WTF, Joy?

Yeah. Joy.

Why did you get started writing? Because you loved telling stories? You got satisfaction out of helping others? You appreciated the way writing helped you clarify your thoughts?

Follow up question: What currently gives you the most joy in the writing process?

I bet it’s still the same things that got you into it. Not just because it’s satisfying to nail a character arc or philosophical argument.

Those parts of the writing process are also the parts you have the most control over.

And if you’re like most authors I talk to, the things tarnishing that joy are the things you can’t control.

The agent-query grind.

The rapid-release grind.

The social media grind.

It can feel like the success of your author career (however you define that) is at the mercy of things you can’t control — but that doesn’t have to be the case.

You can create a resilient, joyful career instead by focusing on the things you can control:

Building those connections with readers we were just talking about, and building Thing Two, which I teased earlier…

Your network with other authors.

That, friend, is what we’re doing here.