I spent the week thinking about The Lean Startup method and how it applies to publishing. I’m curious about whether books maintain that peculiar spot that’s not quite art, but doesn’t apply the same lessons that most businesses do. In other words, can authors use The Lean Startup method to test their product with consumers? Or would that be a marketing gimmick? And how can an author tell if they should pursue a particular type of writing or switch to something more popular or conventional?
You have to consider what The Lean Startup is seeking to do. The core belief is for the business owner to take their idea and expose it to a small group of people. Before you do that you have to understand who these people should be. It won’t help for you to write a short story suitable for the romance market, but don’t have a set group of romance readers who want to read and/or buy it. It will help to have your core audience, romance readers, attracted to your listing on Amazon or Smashwords and agreeing to purchase it for a small fee or download for free. You’d then follow up with them (where possible) about their purchase. What did they like? What didn’t they like? Is it readable? Did they feel the writing reminded them of a well-known author? Would they read a full length novel with the same characters?
The next step is key because it seems to be the core of The Learn Startup philosophy. You don’t change your product with each survey or bit of feedback you receive. Instead, you improve on your core product. For a writer this means writing a great book (the books subject or focus doesn’t have to be the same since the product is the book itself). Was the feedback pointing to dull characters or the excruciatingly slow pace? Those are things you can take into consideration with the next story. But if feedback showed that one person didn’t like a character’s name, another didn’t like the city it was set in, and another thought it needed more action, those aren’t things you need to necessarily change. The identifying pieces of the story (who the characters are, their quirks, the setting, etc) aren’t ones you mess with because these are the brand you’re creating for your books.
I think The Lean Startup method works well for today’s author because it pushes the writer from passive worker (creating content that a publisher deems publishable) to becoming a business owner selling a product (to a publisher or directly to readers). The difference is that when an author can demonstrate to a publisher that their work already has an audience looking for their work, they stand a better chance of getting a book contract. [Caveat on that last statement–that can only be applied in the broadest sense since the variables will always have an effect on the outcome.]
Join me next week in discussing ways that a writer can use The Lean Startup method to jump start their writing career. I’ll look at short stories, blogs, and first chapters and how these can be used to attract and build your audience before you write your book.