5 Things Every Author Can Learn From Taylor Swift

The people that are closest to me can tell you that when it
comes to pop culture, I live in a bit of a bubble. Up until recently, I rarely
ventured out of the rock music genre, and I still don’t quite understand the
hoopla over a naked Kardashian.
But a few months ago, that changed over a conversation at
dinner with my friend and his wife that went something like this:

Friend’s wife: You
know who you should date?
Me: Who?
Friend’s wife: Taylor
Swift! It would be perfect!
Me: Who?
Friend’s wife: Of
course you know! The singer! You would be perfect for her.
Me: Okay, I’ll bite.
Friend’s wife: Because
you’re tall.
Me: ….
Friend’s wife: And
she’s tall.
Me: ….
Friend’s wife: And you
have blue eyes.
Me: Let me guess, she
has blue eyes too?
Friend’s wife: Exactly!
Perfect match.
Me: Are you using
Friend’s wife: No,
check her out! I’m telling you.

So over dinner that evening, I used my phone to Google the
most famous singer in the world, signaling to my Google Android overlords that
I had become a Swifty and therefore needed daily updates pushed to my phone on
a regular basis.
As the updates continued, I learned that Taylor was in the
process of promoting an upcoming album called 1989. And the more I learned, the
more fascinated I became with the process.
The results are in, and the album has been wildly
successful. Aside from her unusual love of teenage hipster boy bands, it’s
apparent that when it comes to marketing and promoting, independent and rookie
authors stand to learn a lot from her genius. So without further ado, I give
you the 5 Things We Can Learn From Taylor Swift:

Shake it off.

Although Google told me everything I ever wanted to know
about the pop icon, the first song that caught my attention was a song called
“Shake it off.”
It happened after a particularly bad sortie in which
everything just seemed to go wrong – from maintenance issues to weather to my
own lack of proficiency. As I got in my truck that day to go home, “Shake it
off” started playing on the radio.
My initial urge was to change stations. I was way outside of
my comfort zone and needed the soothing sounds of Metallica or Five Finger
Death Punch, but as I noticed it was one of the hyped new songs, I decided to
take a listen. And in that moment, the twenty five year old singer taught me
something that is applicable in both flying and writing – “Shake it off.”
I won’t get into quoting lyrics, but the general gist of the
song is that no matter what you do, you will always have people out to
criticize or demean you. The only thing you can truly control is how you react
and whether you “just keep dancing.”
In flying, we call that compartmentalization. Dwelling on
mistakes, what people will say in the debrief, or whatever trivial thing that’s
made it to the front of your mind can be deadly in the cockpit. The only valid
answer is to shake it off, keep flying, and focus on the task at hand.
In writing, that’s just as important. One of the many
truths I’ve learned in becoming an author is that not everyone will love your
work. Almost every author gets rejection letters from agents and publishers.
Every author gets one and two star reviews. There will be fans and there will
be “haters.”
But what we can learn from the record breaking artist is
that no matter what they say, the only correct answer is to shake it off. 
As a
fighter pilot, arguing in the debrief will get you nowhere. Instead, you will
lose the respect of your peers and instructors. And as an author, the same
holds true. The best way to torpedo a promising book campaign is to argue with
a reviewer, thus inviting the wrath of the internet upon you to pile on more
negative reviews.
From a girl that’s had as many haters as fans, I think
that’s pretty sage and sound advice, regardless of the medium.

Appreciate your fan base.

I was surprised to learn that Swift had actually invited
fans to her house on numerous occasions in the weeks leading up to the release
of her new album. I was even more surprised that she invited them there to get
a sneak preview of the full album before its release, and that no new
restraining orders had to be filed as a result.
Although the idea of an author doing that brings back images
of Stephen King’s psychological thriller MISERY, the concept can be easily
adapted. We just call them beta readers.
Inviting people to read your yet-to-be-released work is the
best way to not only reward your fan base for sticking it out with you, but
also to get feedback in the last days before release. Even editors can miss
things that stand out to the untrained eye, and the feedback you get can be
both rewarding and useful in putting the finishing touches on your novel.
But hey, if you want to have people go to your house to read
your book in front of you, knock your socks off. It worked for Taylor Swift.

Put your heart into it.

Although any woman dating a skinny jean wearing teenage
hipster elicits an eye roll and head shake from me, the experience(s) obviously
gave the woman something to write and sing about. It doesn’t matter how
painfully obvious the pending train wreck was to the rest of the world. (Although if she were to take up dating real men that have at least hit puberty, she might not have as many songs to write).
The pain, feeling, and realness of the feelings were exactly
what her fans craved. It gave the words realness as people scrambled to figure
out which lover she was singing about and how she really felt. 
Realness makes for
good art.
In AVOID. NEGOTIATE. KILL., I left a piece of myself in the
funeral chapter. Sometimes the truth is more compelling than fiction, and in
that chapter, I took something that happened to me just over a year ago and
made one of my characters go through the same thing.
I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it yet,
but the eulogy Cal “Spectre” Martin gives in that chapter and the final salute
he gives at the end really happened. Not as a loss after a terror attack, but
in my life as I lost my best friend, hero, and father. Putting that to paper
was therapeutic, but also made for better writing.

Your work has value, don’t just give it away.

One of the more recent scandals to hit my phone was Taylor
Swift’s withdrawal from Spotify and her refusal to give her work away for free.
Despite the criticism she’s received for that decision, I say kudos. And every
independent author should take note.
Far too often, I see new authors on the Kindle Direct
Publishing forums register and post their first thread, asking what the best
way to give their work away for free is. Despite the hundreds of threads
already started, it invariably creates the great debate – why?
People often argue that they do it for love. They write
because they enjoy it and charging feels wrong. But who are they to devalue
their work? Why is it ok to tell someone that they should pay (because
publishing is expensive if you do it right with an editor, cover designer,
etc.) for people to read their work?
It’s not, and it never serves that purpose. People love to
download freebies, but they rarely read them because they see “free” or even
“bargain” and think it lacks quality. So at the end of the day, all you did was
pay someone to not read your work. It just doesn’t work.
Be proud of your work, present it proudly at a reasonable
price, and you’ll get just as many real fans.

Work the ground game.

The only reason I know anything about Taylor Swift right
now, despite my bubble, is that her ground game leading up to her new album was
unsurpassed. She put herself out there and made people aware and excited about
its release.
People who write books usually aren’t pop stars. We generally aren’t
extroverts that want to get on stage in front of millions of screaming fans. We
want to be left alone, with our faithful furry friends, to create a world that
people will want to escape to. Putting yourself out there is just
not a natural thing.
that’s exactly what separates a “Writer” from an “Author.” 
Writers are comfortable living in the shadows, having their work seen, read,
and enjoyed without all the fanfare. Authors, on the other hand, sell not only
their writing, but themselves. They have to build an image – a brand. When people buy novels, they’re not just buying them for the
characters, they’re buying them for the author. Authors need that exposure,
through book tours, media events, blogs, and other media.
I am absolutely guilty of this, and this blog post and my
new website are my first steps into the limelight. It’s infinitely more
terrifying than anything I’ve ever done (including flying in combat.)
 I think it’s fair to say that most authors would rather let
someone else do the leg work so they can focus on writing, but that’s only half
the game. The other half – the half that Swift is a complete genius at doing –
is building the buzz, getting the word out, and making people excited to click
BUY as they countdown the days until release.
Well, it’s not quite a mega list, but in my brief exposure,
I’ve been impressed by the effectiveness of it all. She seems to have struck
the perfect balance of talent and marketing genius, and by taking just a few
pointers from her, even small time writers can find success.
Above all, though, it really is important just to “Shake it
off.” As Shakespeare wrote, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to
Don’t let the fear of criticism, bad
reviews, and failing stop you from putting forth your best effort and putting
yourself out there. Just keep writing and everything will fall into place. I
know I will try to just keep writing.
Okay, that’s enough time outside the bubble.
Now someone please pass me a Sevendust CD while I go shoot paper targets at the
In other news, I’m finishing up the editing/publishing process of ARCHANGEL
and I’ve started working on Book 4. I plan on making more regular posts
to this blog (Next up – Why Krav Maga?) and taking my own advice to work the
ground game and reach out to fans more.
Until next time!