Are Your Efforts Unique? Or Do You Blend In?

Sometimes I get discouraged at how hard it is to stand out in today’s crowded book market. And finding innovative ways to stand out seems to be getting harder.

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?


  1. Great post Jody, I loved your last one too. I think it's great to try new things that suit your personality but chasing purple cows sounds a bit hairy.

  2. You know I love this post, Jody!

    I think there might be such a thing as seasons of purple cowdum (dum, not dung). ;)

    #1 & #2 seem to be part of my wiring. I'm adventurous that way, and unafraid to fail.

    It's exciting to try new things. But I think you raise a valid point here. Are we painting ourselves purple for the sheer need of attention or are we doing it because we have something of legitimate value to share?

    Makes a difference--that's why your #4 is so important.

    Are you proud of me using so many #s today? ;)

    ~ Wendy

  3. Thank you for this:

    "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."

    I think writers who've entered the social media scene before a book has been published are in danger of burning out before they're even 'lit' so to speak. There's way too much pressure to stand out in bazillions of other areas besides writing the best story we can. And since most of it involves self-marketing (which I'm quickly becoming annoyed with), it takes away from the joy of actually writing. I know... I know... people will come on and say it is a mixture of both, and you have to combine the business side with the creative, but seriously, when I read these articles (like the one you linked to) and they ask 'how many shares or likes do you have?' UGH.. it's starting to make my skin crawl. It's like a high school clique combined with a used car salesman mentality.

    Thus... for now, I'm going to stick with what I quoted from you above and work on your #4. As far as determining whether or not I'm a purple cow... to quote Scarlett O'Hara: I'll think about that tomorrow.

    (Sorry to sound rant-ish, but just being real.)

  4. If writers get inspired with a great way to be that purple cow, terrific. But for contests to stick out now you have to offer at least 100 dollars worth of prizes or more. I'd say it has almost run it's course.

    I don't think we should spend too much time chasing cows but more on our writing. Slow and steady and stay the course.

    I could blog about sensational topics happening right now, but I don't think that will draw people who will actually be interested in my fiction. As bloggers, we have to choose what we're known for.

  5. Yes, Wendy I'm very proud of you for the number of #'s you used in your comments! Great job! ;-)

    Barb, I ranted a bit too! But sometimes we just gotta rant with each other! :-)

  6. My biggest social media/writing fear is that I will be boring. And of course, to some segment of the population my posts will be boring because they are not my target audience. I'm constantly trying to figure out ways to make myself relevant. That's my strategy for standing out, though I'm not where I want to be yet. But I'm learning and as you say, it takes practice and determination to improve and move forward. Thanks for the post!

  7. Those purple cows can get tipped over so fast, I hear. I try and stick to what I'd like to read. And I find my ideas are a bit unique anyway, though hopefully not so much that they keep me from getting published.

  8. I love this post! Some of us may not feel like purple cows - but I believe there is one hiding in everyone waiting to be discovered when we are ready.

    I think the best way to be a purple cow is to be yourself and be comfortable with that. Most insecurities are born from caring too much what other think. Feeling comfident comes from knowing who you are standing by it.

  9. Oh, I am so hoping that your fourth point is right. It seems that so many people are jumping on the band wagon because they think they will be writing what sells. How about write something that "speaks." Then I'd like to think, the sales would follow.

  10. Like Wendy said, it's probably more likely going to happen only at certain times. We can't ALWAYS be innovative and creative. I think it might be too exhausting to try to stay ahead of the curve in that way. For me, I'm happy right now just learning how to write a novel. I'm not worried about standing out, but I will think about it in much more depth once I start to try to find an agent. But I love this post! It's so encouraging to know that everyone feels the same pressure and, at times, discouragement (not that I'm glad others feel just reminds me that everyone goes through the same slumps as me!).

  11. Which contests have iPhones as the prize? I want to enter them! Just kidding. Well, sort of, because I kind of do want an iPhone. But I think that it is easy to be a purple cow, especially because as writers we see what sells and we think that it might be easier to get published if we wrote the same kind of stuff. But I've heard that it can actually be harder to get published if we just imitate other people, because it's already been done.

  12. Jody,
    If you ever think about doing something else besides writing novels, you realize you could easily have a career as an ... agent ... or a publisher ... or a mentor -- someone who dispenses wisdom to writers. A guru -- there! That works!
    One thought struck me: the whole author contest shtick. First it was gift cards. Now it's Kindles or Nooks. With a FB launch coming up, I'm trying to think outside the box on that one.

  13. You raise some great points, Jody. There's a vast difference between painting ourselves purple verses being purple. I've noticed that when God runs purple in people's veins they continue to produce profound streams of thought or writing. If we simply paint ourselves purple, eventually our spots begin to show.

  14. Great post. It does get frustrating to try to stand out. I think that if we're true to ourselves and have the courage to follow through on the things that make us unique, we will stand out. Not everyone can be the loudest (especially me :)), but if we have the courage to be authentic, I think that will shine through.

  15. Great post. It does get frustrating to try to stand out. I think that if we're true to ourselves and have the courage to follow through on the things that make us unique, we will stand out. Not everyone can be the loudest (especially me :)), but if we have the courage to be authentic, I think that will shine through.

  16. So much nodding going on over here, Jody! I don't have the energy anymore to be on the lookout for purple cows. Don't get me wrong, I still love trying new things, but I'm sticking with what I've established and just adding on to it.

    We don't have a ton of control over how far our reach extends. All we can do is do our best to put ourselves out there. Plus, it's always a good idea to at least understand the trends. Whether we try them or not? Well, that's up to us!

  17. Jody, what an interesting post! Did you happen to see the latest Infiniti advertisement? It's a purple background with the caption "REFUSE TO BLEND IN".

    But to answer your questions: Yes, I get discouraged about how hard it is to stand out, especially since I write contemporary MG--a not-so-hot genre right now.
    And, yes, it's okay to give ourselves permission not to be a purple cow--sometimes--because we have to LIVE, too.

  18. Very encouraging post!

    I try not to let the trends in the market get to me. I think it depends on the genre you write in. For instance, in Romance there seems to be a following no matter what is put out there! Women love to read love stories.

    In YA, however, there seems to be pressure to find that next BIG TREND that will make teens run out and stand in line for hours to get your book. Same thing for middle school fiction.

    But I am confident I have a good idea because I thought outside the box. I thought about what Christians teens NEED to be reading and mixed it with what they want to read. It can be challenging, but worth it to me.

  19. It's such a fine balance. Be too much of a purple cow (esp. for that debut novel), and agents might not look at your stuff twice, knowing there's not a "niche" for it yet. But writing YA vampire romance, just because it was selling three years ago...also probably not the right path.

    I struggle with trying tame down my "purple cowness," in all honesty. I hate copying anyone, in any way. I know there's nothing new under the sun, but I truly love finding those unique angles and time periods and issues to write about. I have to think that readers want that, too. Yesterday, vampires, today, Downton Abbey, tomorrow...who knows? Grin.

    Thanks for the helpful thoughts!

  20. Hey everyone! I'm enjoying all of your comments and thoughts today! Thanks for a great discussion!

    And Linda, that's really funny! I had no idea that latest Infiniti ad was playing off the purple cow idea! Just shows how important the concept is to businesses!

  21. Wow. I'm honored that the purple cow post resonated so well with you!

    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.

    That's a huge point that I hope more authors start understanding. By knowing (and doing) what you love (and created to do), you are bringing a razor-sharp focus to your project that most people envy. Just keep refining it!

    And if our readers are deriving satisfaction in what we’re writing, perhaps that’s enough.

    Not everyone will change lives through penning best-sellers. My life has been enriched through bloggers who will never have a book in a store. Don't fall into the trap of believing your worth is tied up with your book sales.

  22. Very thought provoking post, Jody. Thanks for starting the wheels turning.

    There is something hidden deep inside most writers, I think, that whispers of a hidden uniqueness. Hey, we are all creatures of God Himself, the Maker of Unique. We sense it is there, and hope that one day it will tap us on the shoulder and shout loudly. "Here I am! Follow me!"

    Remembering that we have a Helper and a Guide, and stopping to hear His voice, is sometimes the biggest challenge of all.

    I mean, when their are so many Voices to listen to, it's a challenge to step away into the quietness and wait.

    I'm just realizing that is my challenge to myself for the remainder of this day....

  23. What a thought provoking post. I'm just starting out-on my own. I want to stand out, but in a way that will get me remembered by my audience who will connect with and recommend my work. It's crowded out here! I hope through it all, if my cow becomes purple it's due to the fact I write with passion and from my heart and touch readers with encouragement and hope.

  24. Fantastic post, and very interesting things to think about. It's rare to see a writer talk about reaching our audience the best we can, and not stressing to much about getting the world. I think you're right, creating the best books we can and giving them to our loyal readers is the number one thing.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  25. Thanks for bringing this up, Jody. I always appreciate your perspective on things.

    You know me--I try to listen to the Lord's leading for my own life, regardless of what every other cow is doing. I figure He'll know what will help me produce th best cheese--wait, that sounds like I'm cheesy...

  26. I try to remember that I am not trying to appeal to everyone but rather a select target audience who likes the type/genre of book I write.

    One thing I am curious about and have not been able to find out is this: When I go to the subject type of a book I have out under a pen name (in this case dystopian fiction) the same book always comes up first. I've noticed Amazon defaults to 'relevance' as opposed to publication date or popularity. Why is one particular book more relevant in that category than another. And no, the words 'dystopian fiction' don't appear in the title. Any ideas?

    I can't help but think that appearing first consistently (as opposed to the tenth page) is valuable.

  27. Jody, I think you really hit the nail on the head when you talk about discouragement. The constant uphill struggle to stand out is discouraging, and it pulls away our precious writing time. But I also think that the desire to write a good book and to please our readers is worth something as well, even if we don't achieve that ultimate 'purple cow' goal. Once again, it's likely all about balance. It's just that finding that balance can be tricky sometimes.

  28. Want to be a real purple cow....FOREVER? I hold the WANA secret. Do what 5%ers do. They endure, persist and are committed to excellence 7 days a week. They are authentic, kind, and have a servant's heart.

    I don't think we have to be flashy or give away expensive gifts. I believe that is a flash in the pan approach that might spike some sales, but it cannot ever be maintained.

    Most writers are not committed. They get excited about social media/blogging and do it for three months and then, when the shiny wears off they blog when they feel like it and check in on Twitter when they want something.

    The real purple cow then is the writer with persistent reliable excellence...on social media on her blog and even in her books.

    Authenticity is another purple cow. Genuinely care about others and serve others and you will always stand apart form a crowd clamoring to sign up for Facebook only because they want to make a sale.

    Using the WANA litmus test, you, my dear Jody, will always be a purple cow.

  29. Aw, Kristen, thank you for the sweet words! You brought a smile to my heart! :-) And thanks for chiming in with your thoughts and wisdom. You're right. So many writers fall away and give up. Persistent perseverance in excellence brings out the purple cow writers. And authenticity does too.

  30. Caitlin,

    Thanks for swinging by and adding to the discussion! You guys are doing a fabulous job on Author Media! Thank you for all of your advice! I've appreciated it! And thank you to for your wise statements in your comment above. I love this: "Don't fall into the trap of believing your worth is tied up with your book sales."

  31. Ida, I'm not sure that I'm qualified to answer your question about how Amazon determines what shows up top in lists. I *think* it's based on numerous factors--sales figures, numbers of ratings along with the types of ratings. Some of it may have to do with Amazon knowing what your past "likes," purchases, and browsing history is. From what I've heard, no one really knows the "inner secret" workings of Amazon's ranking system!

  32. Nice post. I often wonder if the twitterverse is filled with authors madly tweeting each other with never a reader to be found.

    Drawing satisfaction from writing is the key for me. Anything else that comes from it is a bonus.

  33. Lots of great comments and suggestions by Jody and everyone. I just sold my debut novel (yay!) and it releases in November, but I'm already thinking of how to market and stand out. Frankly, it's more intimidating than querying.

    Thanks for the ideas!

  34. Great post! Enjoyed the comments. Refreshing advice for anyone trying to figure out what's important and what's not in this ever-changing world of writing and marketing.

  35. Nice pointers. I don't think I want to be a purple cow, though. I'd rather be the albino cow. I'd be a rarity, but created by nature, so in essence I'd be a natural creature and not some odd-colored creature created in a lab to stick out like a sore thumb. Does that make any sense?

    It's been a long day!

  36. I think it's okay to be a purple cow if that's how God made you, but I don't think we need to dye ourselves purple in order to get sales.
    Personally, I KNOW I'm the standard grade black and white cow. My goal is to eat the best grass (learning and applying) so that I produce some sweet milk that will have peeps coming back for more.
    Basically, use what I got, make it the best I can, and be content in that. :-)
    This is such an interesting post though.
    And while I may not be a purple cow, it is very possible that someday I'll produce purple milk. *grin* As in, our products do not define us.
    Now I'm rambling...LOL
    Thanks for a post that made me think. :-)

  37. I LOVE how you ended this article! I'm constantly reminding myself that if I've written the book God wanted me to write, then its His job to get the word out and I need to be patient to work within His timing. But it's so hard!!

  38. Oh, I read that article at Author Media, too. It is a little overwhelming to try to invent the next great thing. But I don't really think that's what I need to do. My favorite types of books aren't always easy to find. Whether they are popular or not doesn't really matter, I still like to read them. That doesn't mean I shouldn't strive to find new ways to share and express myself, though. That's the meat of a creative job, right?

  39. Hi Jody, glad to discover your blog, thanks to Kirsten Lamb. Great post.

  40. Maybe it's better to be a prime specimen of a brown cow?

    Many of my favourite writers stand out not because they have crazy ideas or an attention-grabbing style, but because they write to an extremely high standard. Some have carved a niche for themselves, through quietly developing their own style rather than jumping around shouting 'look at me - I'm different!' Purple cows are often fads, whereas pedigree is always popular.

    As for myself, I will keep working on developing my style and finding my own voice. I hope I will become a good writer and that, if I work hard, cream will rise to the top. I don't want to be a purple cow: I want to be a glossy red Devon cow whose quality is plain to see!

  41. Hey everyone! Thanks for chiming in! Glad you found my blog, Naomi! And Hayley, I really like your analogy about being a prime specimen!

  42. Hi Jody,
    Thank you for this:
    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.

    English is not my primary language and I need to explain all the time why I am writing my stories in English when - obviously - I can never be a purple cow :)
    Well, because it is a bigger challenge and more fun. And because I love doing it.

    Thank you for your blog!


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