3 Things a Nine-Hour Drive Taught Me About Writing

Over the weekend, I went to Fan Expo in Toronto, which required a nine-hour drive up from Maryland. The drive wasn’t bad and, over the course of the weekend, I made some observations about writing that are going to be worthwhile.

They Did It First, We Do It Better

We drove through Buffalo, New York, which meant that we simply had to stop for wings. On the way to Toronto, we stopped at Duff’s Famous Wings and noticed the wait staff wearing shirts that read “They did it first. We do it better.” It didn’t make sense until our drive home, when we stopped at the Anchor Bar on our way home.

The Anchor Bar proudly proclaims itself the home of the original Buffalo chicken wing. The two restaurants are considered the best in Buffalo for wings and have something of a rivalry going. And, as far as my opinion goes, Duff’s has it right. The Anchor Bar may have invented the Buffalo chicken wing, but Duff’s does it better.

It’s a good lesson to keep in mind in the hustle and bustle of writing online. There always seems to be some new strategy coming out for SEO or social media, which some enterprising individual is pioneering in order to make a name for herself. But just because someone else got to a strategy first, you shouldn’t write it off. Looking for the next newest thing can be a tough way to build a writing business. Rather, picking up the strategies that you can be the best at — whether or not you were first — makes sense.

Creativity is Easy, Money is Hard

At the FanExpo, I met some incredibly creative and passionate people, but several people told me that while they’re willing to shell out $500 bucks just for a booth at FanExpo, it’s not something that they expect to ever make money at. Being the consummate networker I am, I started asking about the promotion strategies they use (especially whether they use content to promote themselves).

For a surprising number, their promotional efforts amounted to building a website and showing up at FanExpo. They would love to take their projects full-time, but they’re focusing entirely on the creative aspects. That’s okay if it’s going to remain a hobby, but if you’re serious about something like that, you’ve got to give a fair amount of time to marketing. It’s hard (especially if you’re also working full-time), but if you want to make a living writing fantasy novels, putting together an online television show or pursuing some other creative venture, your only option is to push hard.

It’s been done before and it will be done again, but it will never be easy.

Warm Audiences Are Always Easier

There were big name draws at FanExpo — William Shatner and Stan Lee were both there. But there were also attendees who came specifically because their favorite vendor or their favorite web comic had announced they’d be attending. An email newsletter was enough to bring out fifty committed buyers for one vendor I talked with. He sees the same truly excited fans at every convention he goes to and those fans always buy something.

In comparison, he has to work hard to get cold audiences to come to him. He spends three days straight yelling, cajoling and tempting people who have never heard of him to come to his booth and look at what he’s selling, while taking the money of the fans already on his mailing list.

It’s a good comparison of what happens when a writer wants to sell a product or land a new client. The more we can do to warm up an audience ahead of time, the more likely we are to walk away with money at the end of the day. Maybe we run blogs that cater to our target clients so that they’re already warm to our names and ideas before we ever start talking about money. Maybe we warm up a cold audience at a convention by using social media to see who is going to be there ahead of time — then we can reach out and make sure that an introduction in person is simply a matter of continuing an online conversation.

FanExpo is one of the first events in a while that I didn’t have an idea (beyond the speakers) of who would be there and who I wanted to talk to. It wasn’t a conference I wanted to work, but honestly, since I knew so few people ahead of time, it was harder to get into the swing of things. I do wish I’d at least looked a little bit online before heading up there.

Image by Flickr user Benson Kua

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