The other day my two elementary school-age children brought home their report cards. They both met or exceeded their standard grade level capabilities, and at times, excelled beyond our expectations. As a parent, I praised their hard work and told them I was proud of them. I also highlighted areas where they were exceptionally good or underperforming. The report card is a useful tool for giving a snapshot of where they each are, allowing me to compare their work to their past performances and to their contemporaries. It occurred to me that authors would benefit from a report card, even if it’s a self-grading system.
The school grading system originated in Europe, at Oxford and Cambridge. At Yale in 1785 the beginning of rating students began, though the use of letter grades didn’t come about until a century later, reportedly at either Harvard or Mount Holyoke College. Other schools experimented with numerical grades. I had trouble locating the history of elementary school grades, but suffice to say, it’s been around for many generations. Could authors devise their own system of identifying the areas they should rate and then sufficiently assign a grade that honestly reflects their performance?
If we develop a standard or metric for which we should strive to reach, we will work harder to achieve success. When we quantify something we give it form and purpose, a way to measure our role in things. Grades help us strive for more.
Further, by identifying all of the areas that need to be judged, we start to track what needs attention. The report card becomes a blueprint or business plan.
By giving ourselves a grade we are forced to confront our performance in a given area and specifically identify what needs improvement.
Some areas may not warrant a grade other than pass/fail. Other areas may not be eligible for a grade simply because it’s not something you’ve worked on at all.
By grading yourself periodically you can chart what spots need improvement while praising yourself for areas you have continually improved in or excelled at.
I would consider a two-tier grading system – one for effort, and one for results. Now, one may say it’s the results that matter the most. You are graded by the bottom line – book sales. Or, is there more to grade?
What about branding? Did you do a good job of raising your media profile and enhancing your resume so that when you look to get a job, apply for a promotion, seek to get a higher consultation fee, or earn a speaking gig you’ll be able to present a portfolio of third-party endorsements?
What about impacting others? Did your positive message come across well through the media and reach your targeted readership in a way that influences their behavior, attitude, or lives? Did you contribute something to society?
Did you gain other things from your PR? Did you end up building your network of followers so you can have a pipeline to sell future books, products, and services? Did you open doors to establish ties with those who may hire you down the road as a speaker or consultant? Did you build up enough exposure to win the attention of a literary agent or publisher for a new book?
Did you sell other rights? PR, when done well, can help win foreign rights deals, maybe even a deal for a movie, a TV show, or an audiobook.
So, you can grade yourself on the big things such as number of books sold, number of rights deals secured, number of speaking gigs arranged, etc. You can also judge yourself on how many media placements you got, how many people they were circulated to, and how much your social media or web traffic numbers increased. Or you can grade yourself on specific things, such as how good your press release is, how your site compares to others, how many calls you made, how many free appearances you participated in, etc.
However you choose to grade yourself on whatever standard you employ, the main thing is that you use a report card not only to see where you’ve been, but to map where you’ll go.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015
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