Lessons Indie Authors Can Learn From Single-Estate Winemakers | Ian Sutherland

Lessons Indie Authors Can Learn From Single-Estate Winemakers

I just bought a bottle of wine solely based on its label. According to old guard wine connoisseurs I’ve just committed a major faux pas.

produits_photo1_51Apparently, I should have made sure the producer was of high regard, the region was known for producing quality wine and the appellation offered consistency of quality and and style. Now I had one of those three down pat: I was in the Languedoc region of France at the time and, I know from experience, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. Which gave me the confidence to make my choice solely based on its wonderful packaging. I mean, look at it: it’s a wonderful, unusual looking bottle of wine.

The wine industry ranges from major producers, wine cooperatives and small single estate vineyards. The big guys have the reach. They work with the major distributors and their bottles are available everywhere, from independent wine shops to international supermarkets and major ecommerce sites. The small producers either rely on being discovered by a distributor or picked up by a specialist wine retailer. Without either of those, they’re stuck with selling to people who stumble across their vineyard.

sweepstake_tastingAnd as an indie author, I realised all this seemed so familiar. The independents in both industries face very similar challenges. It’s all about being discovered. Yes, like a vigneron trying to get picked up my a major distributor, you can try to find a publisher. But the odds are stacked against both. And yes, like a vigneron trying to win wine tasting competitions to get noticed, you can submit your work to loads of writing competitions. For both the odds are pretty small and success is out of your control, no matter how high the quality of the product is.

There are two major things that are absolutely in your control. The first is the quality of the what’s inside the packaging. For winemakers, its all about the grape and the harvesting process. For authors, its all about the writing and the editing process. The second is the look. In the wine industry, its the shape of the bottle, the label and the blurb on the back. In the book industry, it’s cover design. And in both cases, differentiation can occur through fantastic presentation of the product. It can lead to people assuming that because of the professionalism and creativity that’s gone into the packaging that the contents are worthy of making a gamble on the unknown. And, if you’ve also got the first aspect right, the quality of the wine/writing (delete as applicable!) will speak for itself and hopefully net you word-of-mouth referrals, reviews on web sites, and slowly build a following based on your brand as a winemaker/author.

And, over time, with additional vintages/sequels being released, a following will grow. The trust will build. You are here to stay.

Was price a factor in choosing the wine? Yes, of course. It was priced appropriately. It’s easier to take a gamble when the price is low enough. Too high and I would have moved on to the next bottle on the shelf, probably with more conservative labelling. It’s no different for books.

The only difference was that I found this bottle in a local French supermarket. I had no idea how much reach this particular bottle of wine has within its industry. I’m unlikely to ever see my novel in a local supermarket in the UK, unless I leave a copy there myself! However, I do have the Internet. Without too much effort, I have the ability to market my novels all over the world in a much easier way than any winemaker can ever achieve. This is probably the first of two major advantages indie authors have over independent wine makers. The second is that there’s no limit to the amount that can be sold. A winemaker will always be contained by the yield of its crop (unless they start packing other vineyards’ crops under its own brand – no, please don’t get me started on comparisons to James Patterson!)

And, if you’ve made it this far, you probably want to know if the bottle of wine that prompted this whole blog post was actually any good. Well, for the record it was wonderful! And I’ll be buying it again. I’m here in France for a whole week! You see, that’s the one advantage winemakers have over authors: if consumers like their product they’re likely to many more bottles of the same. Authors need to write something different. No one buys multiple copies of the same book!

Hmm, maybe I should become a winemaker….! No, stop it, finish that damn book, Ian – that’s why you came to France after all, not to drink all the wine!

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