Jonathan Fields Reveals the Ass-Kicking Truth About the Business of Books and State of Publishing

Editor’s Note: I’m pleased to feature this interview with author and book marketing pro Jonathan Fields as part of the Winning Edits Expert Interview Series.

Fields is an accomplished blogger, speaker, entrepreneur and author of two popular books: Career Renegade and Uncertainty.

He’s also the founder of Tribal Author, an elite book marketing training program built for the most determined authors who want access to the smartest strategies and sharpest tactics for launching books, building author platforms and more.

Follow Fields on Twitter: @JonathanFields

Matt Gartland: Besides being an accomplished writer and speaker, you’re widely recognized as a book marketing thought leader. With so much experimentation and transformation taking place in the publishing industry, what guiding principles remain firm and trustworthy?

Jonathan Fields: Not many. We are in a time of MASS disruption! The good news is – if you’re an author or aspiring author, there’s never been a better time in the history of publishing to reclaim a huge amount of power, control, freedom and, gulp, even money. But…you’ve got to be willing to be not just an author, but an enterprise. If you’re not willing to do that, you are very likely in for a very tough road ahead.

One big constant through all of the disruption – You still need to write a seriously kick-ass book. No amount of platform-building, marketing, advertising, or outreach will turn a bad book good!

MG: You channel much of your book marketing expertise into your Tribal Author program, which teaches the launch strategies and next-gen publishing tactics needed to have your book stand out, get noticed and sell well. Considering the many elements authors must manage, which is their weakest link and how do smart authors reinforce it?

JF: It’s not so much a weak link as it is a disconnect. Many writers consider themselves artists and, in the world of art, there’s always been a huge tension between creating something simply because “it’s the thing you can’t not do” and creating something that is “commercially viable.”

Newsflash, the moment you seek someone else to exchange value for the things you create, what they think matters. You may not like that. You may not want it. But that doesn’t change the the truth of it. Nor does it mean you have to bastardize your creative process to earn a living from what you create.

It does mean that if you want to earn enough to live well in the world, you may want to explore finding the sweet spot between your authentic voice and what readers are willing to pay for.

Either that, or just create because you need to create and own the reality that you may hit it big, but it’s far more likely that you’ll always have to spend far less time creating than you want, because you had to work a full-time job to cover your bills.

I am someone who believes you can create great work, be true to your art AND create words, stories and ideas that people value enough to pay for.

MG: In your article A Modest Proposal for Publishers and Authors, you wrote that “Most authors haven’t done and don’t want to do what’s necessary to leverage this new dawn.” You were speaking of the discipline and effort required to capitalize on the opportunities rising from the publishing revolution.

A year and a half later, do you sense that this attitude and work ethic is improving, or are the authors of today still lacking to take full responsibility for their potential?

JF: Sadly, I don’t. The opportunity to reclaim control has expanded exponentially. But, truth is, most writers still just want to be left alone to write, hand over the manuscript and let someone else do the work of bringing their book to market.

If you happen to be capable of writing one of those one-in-a-million books that catches fire and rides the zeitgeist into massive sales, rock on. But, the “write and pray” approach is a pretty tough way to live and support a family. Especially when the tools and strategies needed to build a serious, portable power base are at your fingertips, and largely free. Ones that let you launch everything you write into a big, hungry community of raving fans.

Yes, it takes work to build the platform and the bigger enterprise around it, if your author’s business model is bigger than book sales (and, for most, it SHOULD be). But, the control, power and freedom are worth the investment.

MG: You wrote once about the value of brevity and deletion in which you honor Hemingway’s six-word story. How do you continue to challenge yourself to ‘say more by writing less,’ and what’s your opinion on the role of editors in today’s shifting publishing industry?

JF: Editors are as critical as they’ve always been. And, I’m always looking at ways to find the right blend between painting with words and erasing words. Editors, while I’ve not always enjoyed the process, have made me think, made me work harder and create better books.

BUT, the big shift is that you no longer need to go to a traditional publisher to work with a great editor. You can hire them yourself. In fact, I know a number of traditionally-published authors who have hired freelance editors to help get a manuscript into great shape, so that it moves more speedily through the “in-house” editing process at their publishers.

As authors and aspiring authors, we still need every piece of the puzzle (except, potentially distribution, with the rapid shift to digital). The big change is that those functions are no longer the exclusive province of publishers.

MG: What’s the #1 piece of actionable advice you’d give to writers that seek the first true and substantive stepping stone in a smart 80/20 book marketing strategy?

JF: You mean beyond “write the hell out of your book?” 😉

Learn how to tap the digital world to build the right relationships in the right way with the right people. Do that right and you’ll be be in the power position to then craft highly-effective tactical launch campaigns that sell a lot of books and let you feel great about “how” you’re selling them.

And, along every step of the process, focus on giving more than you get and giving not just as a way to prime the reciprocity pump, but because you genuinely connect with people and you want to see them flourish.

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Postscript: Tribal Author delivers on its promise of teaching you the launch strategies and next-gen publishing tactics needed to have your book stand out, get noticed and sell well. I can say that because I’m a proud graduate of the program. I’ve channeled that wisdom into helping authors prepare for launch while editing. You can channel it into your own book projects, or however else you like.

Bottom-line: you’ll graduate the program vastly smarter than your peers about all things book marketing. That’s one heck of a competitive advantage.

Disclaimer: Winning Edits is a proud affiliate of Tribal Author. That means we’ll earn a small commission if you proceed to enroll in the program from a link in this article. We only recommend resources we know, use and love. And the small commissions go to feeding our bellies. That said, you can easily bypass this link. However, the price you pay will remain the same, and our bellies will rumble.

Images used with permission from the interviewee.