Does This Make You Mad? (Why What Others Are Doing Isn’t Working for You)

From Jeff: This is a guest article from Kimanzi Constable. Kimanzi is an author who self-published two books that have sold over 80,000 copies. His new book, Are You Living or Existing?, just came out.

Ever seen someone succeed at something and then try it yourself — only to utterly fail? Doesn’t that make you mad? What was so different from what you did? Why did they see success, and you didn’t? Maybe you failed to ask one important, but often overlooked, question.

Photo of a wall with the question, "Why?"
Photo Credit: bitzcelt via Compfight cc

Two years ago, I got serious about leaving a job I absolutely hated in pursuit of becoming a full-time writer.

For the first year, I messed around, not taking the work seriously enough. I self-published a book that completely flopped, selling five copies in the first three months — and those were to friends.

After this disaster, I thought about not ever using the Internet or social media again. I was done.

After two weeks of crying myself to sleep, I got back online and decided to figure out what went wrong. After much research, and some strategic planning I was able to crack the code. I realized what I’d been doing wrong and quickly corrected the problem.

Then, I put a plan into practice to ensure success, and in no time, both of my self-published books were a success, selling over 80,000 copies. They did so well, in fact, that I was able to get a book deal with a major publisher without an agent or submitting a book proposal.

And it all had to do with one question I wasn’t answering.

What you do isn’t as important as why you do it

Two years ago I ran across the story of Amanda Hocking and was completely inspired by her success in self-publishing. I thought if Amanda could sell over a million ebooks, then I could probably sell at least 10,000.

That would give me more then enough income to quit my job and live out my dream of writing. So I studied the game plan Amanda used and copied it. I figured if it worked for her, why wouldn’t it work for me?

But I was wrong. I fell on my face when I tried to do what someone else had done. And here’s the reason:

I failed because I couldn’t answer the “why” of what I was doing.

After that initial failure, I looked at my plan and thought about the “why” of every part. If I couldn’t answer why I would do a certain something, I cut it.

And guess what? I started to succeed where I had failed before. All because I understood the reason behind the strategy.

Where most people miss the mark

Lots of people ask me about using the Kindle Select Free promotion, a strategy I’ve implemented with some success. And I always ask why they want to use it.

Most of the time, they want to do it because somebody told them they should. They heard it’s something you do to get the word out about your book, and that sounds pretty good.

The problem? There’s no strategy behind why they want to use it. They don’t have a plan. And here’s the truth: Exposure for exposure’s sake isn’t worth much.

Using the KDP Select program, I did a free promotion for five days and my ebook was download over 15,000 times. Which is great, but if I left it at that, I wouldn’t have benefited much from those downloads.

This is where most people miss the mark. They do a promotion for the exposure but don’t have a plan for what comes next.

The ebook I gave away was a manifesto I created to release two weeks before my second self-published book came out. In the back of the manifesto was an ad for the second book.

Those who read the manifesto and liked it got a chance to buy my next book, which they didn’t have to wait long for. That’s how I answered my “why” for the free promotion. It wasn’t about the manifesto; it was about what came next.

The million-dollar question: Who are you trying to reach?

The reason most writers fail is they don’t know who they’re talking to. They don’t know their target audience. So they do what most of us do when we aren’t sure of ourselves: they over-communicate.

Out of fear, we say too many things instead of focusing on what we should say, what will get results. We don’t know what will work, so we just run our mouths, which only further confuses our audience.

In any message you communicate, you have to know who you’re talking to, what will get through to them, and why you’re talking to them in the first place.

In addition, asking what you want people to take away from your message will help narrow your focus and define the audience. The more someone takes away from your message, the more they will help it spread. And that’s the ultimate goal in sharing anything: getting others to spread the word for you.

As Chris Brogan says:

Be yourself, not the echo of someone else.

Which brings us back to imitation. People want to read your blog and listen to your podcast and buy your book to hear your voice, not someone else’s.

So, please take advantage of this wonderful Information Age and use all that great content you read everyday. See the strategy behind it, but understand that the implementation has to be uniquely yours. And you can make it yours by asking one simple question.

How has asking “why?” prevented you from failure? How could it have? Share in the comments.

Kimanzi is an author who self-published two books that have sold over 80,000 copies. His new book is Are You Living or Existing?,. You can follow him online at his blog or via Twitter @KimanziC.

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