I recently read an article by Author Media called: Are You a Purple Cow? They described the purple cow principle this way: “In business, a purple cow is a product that is so revolutionary and different that people think of it as a novelty.” It’s unique and innovative and therefore grabs attention.
On the flip side, something can lose its ability to stand out when everyone begins to do the same thing. As everyone else reinvents himself or herself into a purple cow, the herd blends together into a mass of boringness. No one stands out anymore.
In the writing industry, with the millions of books hitting virtual shelves, it’s very difficult to be a purple cow. We work to build our brands and our online presences, but are we really doing the right things that can help us stand out? Are our efforts unique and innovative enough to help us grab attention?
Or are our efforts mimicking what everyone else is already doing? Are we jumping into the herd and doing the same old tried-and-true methods?
With thousands of writers on Twitter and Facebook clamoring to be heard, have we become a mass in which no one really stands out anymore? With so many bloggers, how can we hope to be unique from all the others tooting their horns?
What about those contests that we authors have in order to be a purple cow? At first, we were giving away gift cards. When that got boring, we had to make the giveaway more glamorous so we started giving away Kindles and iphones. But of course, that lasted until the ipad and Kindle Fire craze. What’s next?
And what about our books? How wild and crazy are we going with our stories in order to make them different? Are we willing to compromise our values or literary conscience to find that break-in book, and commercially viable, bestseller?
We’re always searching for the next best thing that can help us generate buzz and draw attention to ourselves and books. But where will we stop in our efforts to be a purple cow? How far is too far? And what really works to help us stand out anyway?
As I thought about the whole concept of trying to be a purple cow writer here are a few things I concluded:
1. Be willing to think outside-the-box. We don’t have to try to imitate or keep up with what everyone else is doing. Why not try something different? Why not use our creativity to think deeper for fresh ideas? (This is something I'm always trying to do, but I admit, it's hard to come up with new ideas!)
2. Don’t get stuck in old, comfortable ways of doing things. In these rapidly changing times, just when we finally get comfortable with something, there will likely be a new and more effective way of doing things. The modern writer has to remain flexible, adaptable, and willing to change. It’s easy to stagnate, grow stale, and keep on doing something just because.
3. Then again, know what’s working, and if it’s not broke don’t fix it. If something is working for us, then continue to give it time to grow. Sometimes we get impatient with our good efforts and think we should reinvent ourselves, when perhaps we need to persist and allow the organic growth that comes when we keep working hard.
4. Ultimately, pour our best energy into our stories. Even though it’s harder for our books to become purple cows in today’s industry, we can give our books a much bigger chance at standing out if we craft compelling stories that readers can fall in love with.
My final thoughts: In spite of the above ideas for becoming a purple cow, I can’t help wondering if it’s okay NOT to be a purple cow. If we’re doing what we love and finding joy in writing, then we’re far ahead of most people who have yet to find their passion.
And if our readers are deriving satisfaction in what we’re writing, perhaps that’s enough. If we’re reaching our audience and making them happy, why do we need to strive after the whole world?
Maybe we have to learn to be content where we’re at and be a good steward with what we’re given before we can take on more.
What do you think? Do you ever get discouraged about how hard it is to stand out? And do you ever think it’s okay to give ourselves permission not to have to be a purple cow?
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