A book idea, as it emerges through the ethers of inspiration, is underdeveloped and untested. For business, a salable concept means the book idea has a specific purpose. It speaks directly to your ideal client, and it helps you stand out as an impactful thought leader in your field.
Performance anxiety in writing is a universal theme, as it is experienced by writers at every level of mastery and in every genre. While the expressions may vary from the "deer in the headlights" freeze, to avoidance, to cynicism and resignation, it all comes down to the same fundamental concerns–will the work will be “good enough?” and does writing make a difference?
As the author, it’s easy to imagine that “everyone” is a potential reader for your book. Just like, as a parent, it’s easy to imagine that “everyone” would fall in love with your child if they ever met. But, alas, neither is true, and if you want your book to sell, you must define your target audience as specifically and clearly as possible.
Q: William Nona writes: "So, like, really, how do I find an agent?" A: This question has vexed aspiring authors for decades, and continues to pose a mystery to most. I have friends who are literary agents, and they are just as perplexed as to why people approach them in the manner they do and expect to receive representation. In the interest of making life easier for you and the agents, let's cover 9 fundamentals that you must do to have any hope of success.
Here are 9 keys to make yourself and your book irresistible to literary agents:
1) Author Platform--this is a make or break point for non-fiction writers, but can be significant to fiction writers as well. Everyone in publishing has figured out by now that the #1 predictor of book sales is the size and strength of the author's platform.
That means you have some or all of the following: (you don't have to have them all, but the more of these you have, the easier it will be.)
- A large list of opted in subscribers who have given you their contact info.
- Large numbers of followers in social media (like over 100,000 "likes" and "views" and around 30,000 unique visitors to your blog each month.)
- Guest blogging spots on high profile websites (such as hit daytime talk shows' sites, Huffington Post, etc)
- Strong relationships with affiliate partners with even larger lists than yours
- Regular and widespread media coverage in which you are quoted or featured
- Speaking bookings for groups that came to hear you
- A solid, growing client base of raving fans who already are purchasing products from you
- A previous book you wrote that has sold well.
2) A salable concept--If you have a book concept that agents can sell, they will get a lot more excited about it and you. A salable concept has three main traits:
- Authentic to you and what you want to say
- Relevant to your target audience
- Unique and fills a need/want in the marketplace
3) Show them you can write--believe it or not, quality of writing still matters. Agents and publishers got into the business at least in part because they appreciate a good read more than most. Especially for those writing novels and memoir, the quality of the storytelling can overcome at least some of the shortcomings you may have in author platform. Still, anyone who wants an agent is best served submitting a well-written work, even those with mega-platforms.
4) Look with persistence: some of the most successful authors of all time had trouble finding representation for their work. This is the main difference between the ones that make it and the ones who don't. The ones who don't stop. If you want an agent, you must commit to having one. Commitment looks like the remaining 5 points...
5 ) Have your work professionally critiqued and edited before you contact any agent at all. You can improve the work and avoid burning a bridge because you sent something that appeared unprofessional.
6) Find out how agents like to be pitched. Get a book, get a coach, but don't make it up or reinvent the wheel here. Certain things work, and most everything else doesn't.
7) Query and pitch: find agents you think are a match for your work, send queries, and/or go to writers conferences and pitch them in person.
8) Listen to the feedback: if you're fortunate enough to receive feedback or suggestions from agents as you query, pay attention. Don't just dismiss it. Take an honest look at their comments and what you sent and look for opportunities to improve.
9) Be polite and gracious: publishing is a small, small, tight-knit world. Be courteous to everyone. Say thank you. Never bad mouth an agent, a publisher, or another author's book. You never know who's listening.
This week's Ask Robin Question: Warren Peary writes, "I want to start a blog to promote myself as a science fiction author and gain a following. How do I get started? How is a blog different than a website? How do I get people to follow my blog? Who should I use to help set up the blog? Thank you."
Answer: Thanks for your question. Lots of questions, actually, so let's take them one by one. A blog is different than a website because it is more dynamic. For blogging to be most effective in helping you grow your platform, you should publish a new post at least twice a week. Daily is great if you can get to it.
I find the best way to start and manage a blog is to build your website through Wordpress and create your blog as one of the tabs on the site. Like I've done on GetPublishedCoach.com. You can research various "plug ins" that will allow you to do this, or if you're not tech savvy, hire a website developer who can help you set it up. (I'm a firm believer in paying the right expert vs. giving myself brain damage, but to each his or her own.)
Here are 10 tips to promote your blog and gain followers...
1. Blog consistently. At least twice a week for best results.
2. Guest blog for others who have a bigger following than yours and ask that they include a link back to your website with a short bio at the end of your post.
3. Post reviews of newly released books in your genre on your blog. (This is especially helpful to fiction writers, since it's harder to sort out people who enjoy a specific genre of fiction than it is to find people who have an interest in a particular non-fiction topic.)
4. When you write a blog post, notify your followers on social media with an announcement.
5. Include a link to your blog on all your social media profiles.
6. Add share buttons (again, a plug in) on the blog site, so people who like your blog posts can share them on social media.
7. Promote your blog to your list, either by announcing articles, include partial blog posts in an email that links to the rest, or both.
8. Be entertaining. Be brief. If your blog is fun and engaging to read, more people will read it. Besides reviews, you also can write about your writing process. Not necessary to post entire chapters or long excerpts.
9. Invite comments. Don't just write at people. Invite them to contribute their thoughts.
10. Be authentic. Always. Everywhere. Blog is no exception.
Thanks for your question! Hope this helps.
All the best,
This week's Ask Robin Question:
Robert Frost writes: “I prefer traditional (publishing) and am sending queries. Difficult to find 'war' agents. Have 2013 writers market and guide to agents plus web search. Suggestions?"
Answer: Dear Robert,
Finding the right agent to represent you and your work can be an arduous task. Even without much detail on your manuscript's content, I believe I can give some guidance that will help you (and our other readers).
Of course, you should seek agents most likely to favor your book's topic, but agents who might like your manuscript won’t necessarily list every topic of interest. Unless the specifically say, "No (insert topic) books," you can assume that they might be open to it. Many agents would consider representing books on a topic, but they don’t want to represent those works exclusively or be inundated with queries.
You’ll find a bigger field to hunt in when you take a step back from the topic and look at the genre. I can’t tell from your question whether your book is historical non-fiction, creative non-fiction, literary fiction, or some other genre. Regardless, you can look for and query agents who represent works in your genre. Agents can be open to a broad range topics if the writing is good and the content is strong.
Good resources to find agents besides the ones you mentioned include: The directory for the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR); Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents; Agents Directory; and The Writer’s Handbook. I pulled much of this list from one of my favorite references, Michael Larsen’s How to Get a Literary Agent. A must read for anyone who wants to go the traditional route.
This week's Ask Robin Question: Suzen Fiskin writes: 'You speak of 'Hybrid publishing' How do I dig deeper to learn about it and what are the names of some of these publishers so that I can explore it?"
Answer: A hybrid press is a company that publishes authors with a shared risk/shared profits model. Some of these companies are selective, others are merely “pay-to-play” and will publish anyone who can write a check.
Traditional publishing has a long history of being slow moving and highly selective with publishers taking 100% of the risk and keeping the lion’s share of the proceeds from book sales. Over the past 20 years, self-publishing has grown in popularity, mainly because anyone can publish and publish fast, authors maintain full creative control, and they keep all of the profits.
One of the main challenges self-published authors have faced is using service providers who don’t know what they’re doing and ending up with shoddily edited books with covers that look homemade. The other common difficulty is getting bookstores to carry their books.
Thus the hybrid press has emerged as a middle-ground alternative.
The advantages to going through a hybrid press over self-publishing are mainly project management and distribution. With a hybrid press, all the services that go into producing a book are in-house, so you don’t have to shop around for service providers—editorial, cover design, interior design, printing, etc.
On the distribution side, many hybrid presses have access to distributors who sell to bookstores, similar to the major publishing houses. This means your book goes into the catalogs the hybrid press puts out to book buyers, and you don’t have to shop your book to stores yourself.
Generally, the overall costs of using a hybrid press are higher than if you self publish, and more books are sold online these days than in bookstores, but taking the project management off your plate may make it worth it.
As to specific companies, I know of a few where people I know have had good experiences. They include Archway Publishing, Motivational Press, and Morgan James Publishing.
With so many hybrid presses now in business, it’s impossible to name them all, but I can advise you to look for the following characteristics. (Again, by no means an exhaustive list, but a good place to start.)
- Books in their catalog look professionally done and are done to standards set by traditional houses.
- Use a publishing rights contract that you can easily end and keep your file if the publisher is not doing their job, the company folds, or if you want to pursue another option for any reason.
- You always keep the copyright to your own work. (This is true no matter who publishes it.)
- The publisher has and uses their distribution channels on your behalf.
- Publisher gives you an easy way to order more of your own books at a reasonable (no more than 50% of cover price) cost.
- Ensures that your book is available on Amazon.com and in Kindle format as well as other electronic platforms
- Typically, I say don’t purchase their marketing packages, as they usually are overpriced and ineffective, but I'm not familiar with all of the offerings, and offerings change, so I can't say with certainty never to do it. Just remember, marketing is on the author. Period.
Anything you care to add? Please leave your comments.
By Robin Colucci When I worked in Washington, D.C., I rode the Metro from my apartment in Northern Virginia and walked the few blocks along Connecticut Avenue on my way to and from work. Every day, I checked the parking meters at occupied spaces and added pocket change to the ones that were expired or nearly expired. I didn't own a car at the time, but I had compassion for the person who gets delayed at a meeting or on an errand just long enough to end up with a ticket. I enjoyed playing "Parking Meter Fairy" and giving them a little extra time.
Ever since I got a car, I've had astounding "luck" finding the perfect parking spot. Most times, when I pull up to the curb on a street that appears to be bumper to bumper full of cars, a space opens up right in front of my destination just as I arrive.
This went on for awhile before I thought to ask myself why I have such good luck finding a great parking space. When I remembered my good deeds toward probably hundreds of strangers at the D.C. parking meters, I thought perhaps that was the cause. My "parking karma" was good, thus limited frustration with parking was assured.
Over the years, I've asked myself, "Well, if my parking karma is so great, I wonder how I can have great relationship karma, or great money karma! What do I need to do to add that?"
Recently, I've come to see a possible "in." What if my "parking karma" isn't so good because I did all those good deeds? What if it's good because I have a positive expectation that it will be good?
When I'm in a situation that requires parking, I never question IF I will find a great space. I'm just on the lookout to see WHEN a great space will present itself. It never occurs to me that I might not find a great parking space. I picture myself finding one, and I already feel the joy of it and the gratitude for it even before I've found it.
When I think about looking for a parking space, I don't pay attention to all the spaces that are full, or ask why they are full, or why there can't be more spaces, or how long until one finally opens up. I just keep looking for the opportunity. I keep looking for the space that will open up right where I want it, when I want it, and it always does.
Now the experiment--if I look at manifesting a loving romantic partnership and wealth the same way, might I experience similar results?
Requirements are simple. Positive imagination. Positive expectation. And, of course, I've got to be in the metaphorical car.
I notice that in the past it's been harder to imagine having a great love or great wealth than a great parking spot. But are they so different, really? If I spent as much energy telling myself all the reasons I can't have a great parking spot, I bet I wouldn't find those very often either.
Positive imagination. Positive expectation. Eyes open. Stay in the car. Check. Wish me "luck."
By Robin Colucci My book, How to Write a Book That Sells You is out and it's now available on Amazon.com.
After helping so many people make that transition to author-hood, I'm surprised to note that it doesn't feel all that different announcing my own book. I'm just as aware of all the hard work that went into it, all the ups, downs, and narrowly averted disasters. I'm keenly aware of still seeing little things I'd improve. But I know this never ends. At some point, all authors have to give their books the "good enough" stamp and get it on the press.
I'm noticing that other books are lining up in my consciousness, "Me next! Pick me!" they shout, competing for the new spot in the batter's box. And isn't it interesting that now that my book is out, I'm looking to the next horizon, the next evolution of my own work?
Getting my book complete and out has allowed me to understand where I am in my own conversation. Now that it's done, I can see more clearly where I am to focus next. That my work is with thought leaders--coaches, consultants, speakers, researchers, and public figures who have a powerful message to share and need to find a way to get it to the mass market. People who want to shake things up, challenge our assumptions, and change our ways of thinking.
The people who are geniuses at what they do, who excel in all areas of who they are, often having levels of understanding so sophisticated, their ideas may seem beyond the grasp of the mass market, and the dilemma becomes, "How do I connect this message to the reader and bring it home?" Up close. Personal. Palpable. My specialty.
I'm looking forward to the next chapter and seeing what else unfolds in my journey and yours.
Go here to get the book. :)
By Robin Colucci Yesterday, I woke up in a dark and foul mood. Just one of those days when all I could see was what I didn't want, and I struggled to find a positive focus. On days like that, I know the best cure for me is to take a walk around the park. So I hitched up my pug to his harness and we stepped out for an hour-long stroll.
On the walk, I made a point to thank myself for all of my efforts. I offered up gratitude for my life and everyone in it and by the time I got home, I'd once again found that motivating spark that keeps me going each day, whether I'm experiencing the results I want or not.
I had a call with my coach, and I told her about how the day had started, and then added, "I had to pull my ass out of my head." Of course, I had meant to say, "Pull my head out of my ass," but then I thought about it again.
Pull my ass out of my head was exactly what I had done. I mean, what part of me focuses on what's not happening, what I don't have, what I am upset at or annoyed about? The jack-ass!
I had allowed my inner jack-ass into my head, and it had to go. I pulled the jack-ass out when I shifted my focus to what I am grateful for.
So, next time you're in a funk, "Pull your ass out of your head!"
And make room for what you want.
By Robin Colucci The days of the “tell all” memoir are over. No one wants to read about how you were abused as a child, struggled with depression and drug addiction, got married too young, got divorced too old, and ultimately found God…unless you happen to be a celebrity. The public’s appetite for celebrity self-revelation appears still to be insatiable.
The main problem with the “tell all” is that it’s all been told. Since the 1970′s, we’ve read about the suicidal tendencies, terminal illnesses, miracle recoveries, and the redemptions of hundreds of story tellers. It’s still possible to be an unknown and get your memoir published, but it had better have a broader context than you.
If you look at the best selling memoirs, most are authored by celebrities and politicians. The ones that aren’t are written by ordinary people who made it into the news through extraordinary events, a great fairly recent example is Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger who safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson river after losing the plane’s engines to a collision with a flock of birds.
The rest are gems. Compelling, entertaining real-life stories that read like fiction written by people who were not household names before their books came out, and many still aren’t, but they are outstanding story tellers, and their stories give us more than just their experience. They provide access to realities most of us will never know, or a broader view of the world we think we know.
Agents are so sick of hearing how every up-and-coming writer’s memoir is the next Eat Pray Love that I’m not even going to use it is an example. (And yes, that means you shouldn’t mention it either when you pitch to agents).
Books I believe exemplify this include: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, by Susan Jane Gilman, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, by Neil White, and The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore. Each of these books shares the author’s journey, but within the context of a larger story, a story with an impact that ripples outward, beyond one writer, and touches each of us in a profound, inescapable way.
I’d like to read your comments. What do you think characterizes great memoir?
To write a book that stands up to time, you'll want to take a little more time to write it.
By Robin Colucci
I’ve learned that to author a book is a whole lot more than spewing out ideas on to a page and slapping a cover on it. The path to authorship is a transformational one. You cannot author a salable book and be the same person when it’s published that you were when you started writing. The very act of writing it changes you.
Most people aren’t aware of this, so they feel blind-sided when their natural resistance to the change appears. Many panic and stop. Others settle for the ‘spew and slap’ model of writing and put out a book that makes them sound like everyone else. But if you go into it knowing that the process of authoring your book will alter who you are for good, you could see it as an exciting proposition.
It’s no accident that the title ‘author’ generates a sense of authority. Authors who make more money, have more clients, and get attention and accolades do not have those results just because they compiled a stack of papers with a bunch of words and their name on it, but because of the shift that occurred inside as they wrote it. To author a book that sells, you must own and accept that you are an authority. Bring forth your insight. Take your seat at the table. Stand in your power.
I know all of these ideas sound great, but probably feel about as comfortable as sliding into a wet wool suit—at first. But once you surrender to the idea that you are stepping up, you are willing to accept your mission, you are here to serve, and you are going to become an author no matter what, you can begin to feel at home inside of the discomfort and embrace it.
As a book development and writing coach, I’ve helped hundreds of people make that transformation, and I'm about to make it myself. I just sent the last revision of the final proofs for my book, How to Write a Book that Sells You, to my publisher today.
I didn't write it in a weekend. I didn't even write it in 90 days. But it has substance, and I'm proud of it.
This blog entry is an excerpt from a chapter in my book, How to Write a Book That Sells YOU, coming out Fall 2013.
In writing, every rule has been broken by an author who did it so well you may wonder if it should be a rule. Unfortunately, most writers fall into these holes unconsciously, and the work suffers. Overall, if you can avoid these pitfalls, or at least have the savvy to spot and correct most of them, you will enjoy quick and painless edits. One caveat: please note that none of these rules apply to dialog. Perfectly polished dialog sounds phony and stilted.
- Weak beginnings and endings: Don’t wait to build up to a sentence that will grab the reader’s attention. Come out with it upfront and early. Give your reader a reason to keep reading. Use a compelling opening statement to hook them in and keep them hanging on. Good techniques include: start with a personal story (or a client’s story), a bold statement, or a dangerous or odd situation. Novelists often use cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. You can apply this effectively to non-fiction as well as fiction. Provide an enticing thought that makes the reader want to go to the next one. Make the reader hate to put your book down.
- Verb-tense hopping and other inconsistencies: Writing affords many options. Present tense, past tense, first person narration, omniscient narrator, you can write OK or okay to mean “it’s cool,” and abbreviate United States with U.S. or US and be correct both ways. Just be consistent! Before the book goes to the editor, decide how you want to treat these style items and make sure you do it the same way each time.
- Clichés: Let’s throw caution to the wind, summon every ounce of courage we can muster, to look a gift horse in the mouth, and discover the light at the end of the tunnel as we brainstorm clichés. Good. Now go to your manuscript and take them out. Clichés indicate lazy writing. Come up with your own way to say it. If you must, you may include one or two clichés in your entire book―but it’s better you didn’t. However, I encourage you to sprinkle in a clever twist on a cliché where appropriate. For example: “Arriving late to meditation class, I went tip toeing through the devotees to claim the only remaining space at the front of the room.”
- Passive verbs: To be, or not to be. That is the question. Okay, so the greatest writer in history’s most famous line is made up entirely of passive verbs. Call it the exception that proves the rule. “To be” verbs, and any conjunction of “to be” (is, was, were, been, being, etc.) should be used with discretion. Why? Two reasons: passive and vague. For example: It is often the case that writers who use a lot of ‘to be’ verbs are coming across as remote and superior, and the reader is left confused and sleepy. See how the ‘to be’ verb distances both writer and reader from the sentence and makes reading hard work? Here’s the same information in a sentence without any conjunctions of the “to be” verb. Writers who use a lot of ‘to be’ verbs make it hard for the reader to stay awake or find the point.
- Pesky prepositions: Prepositional phrases can provide detail, clarity, and add color to your work. Unfortunately, including too many prepositional phrases can bog down your writing faster than parking a Porsche on quicksand will end a Sunday drive. To keep it moving, avoid the irrelevant and the redundant. Extraneous prepositional phrases slow the flow of ideas and wear out your reader while redundancy insults your reader’s intelligence. Examples:
- I like that one in particular. Do we need to say “in particular”? Try I like that one.
- In a manner of saying, yes. Try Yes.
- In the event of… Try If…
- I need for you to…Try I need you to…
- In other words…Try saying it clearly the first time.
- The CEO of the company. Trust that your reader can figure out the title CEO is intrinsic to having an affiliation with a company.
- Let’s try to do it differently in the future…when else would we do it differently? In the past? Try Let’s do it differently next time.
- General nouns: General nouns, such as there, that, and it, remind me of the blank tile in a Scrabble game. They fit with everything, but you don’t gain any points for using them. They do the job, sort of, but when you use them you are missing opportunities to engage your reader’s imagination and senses.
- It lasted an hour leaves the reader blank with no imagery.
- The rain lasted an hour is better, at least we know what “it” is. Two points for that one.
- The downpour lasted an hour. With this, we finally see something specific and clear. Give yourself ten points.
- Really, more, very: In speaking, we often use non-specific adjectives and adverbs such as really, more, and very for emphasis. In writing, these words can convey a wishy-washy vagueness that weakens the work. Why would you say “it’s really hot”? It’s either hot, or it’s not. If you feel tempted to add a qualifier, trust there’s a better verb or adjective you could find that would eliminate the need to say very, or any of its lame counterparts. For example: It’s very hot in here. Could be stated as, It’s sweltering or I’m burning up in here. Other similar words to hunt down and remove from your manuscript include: quite, actually, somewhat, usually, fairly, particularly, and a bit. Can you leave a few here and there? Sure. But most people exhibit extreme overuse of these words, so be ruthless. Cut them. Really.
- Verbal tics: Every writer has a tic. If you haven’t noticed it in others’ works, it’s because they have a good editor or some writing instructor has already beaten it out of them. By tic, I mean a word or phrase that you repeat over and over because your mind finds it pleasing. Examples of common tics, in addition to every one of the words listed in pitfall #7, are: awesome, suddenly, surprisingly, overwhelmed, keep in mind, in other words, in reality, and in fact. I tend to overuse certain words, and before I turn in my work for editing, I go on a hunt and destroy mission and take out most of them. You can do the same. Figure out your ‘tic’ and go through and delete most uses.
- Adverb Abuse: Adverb abuse is a terrible addiction that has ruined many a promising writing career. “Adverbs are a part of speech that changes the meaning or modifies any part of speech other than nouns.” (Wikipedia) While they have a use, adverbs too often become a crutch for writers who haven’t yet figured out the value of a Thesaurus. Think about it. If adverbs change the meaning of verbs and such, why not just pick a word that already has the meaning you want? For example: The directors were extremely happy! Try: The directors were ecstatic! That’s an easy one, because we can tell what the writer means by ‘extremely happy,’ but what if the adverb is so incredibly vague, we can’t tell? In those instances, look at the context of the rest of the sentence or paragraph to discern the essence of the meaning intended.
- Wordiness: Be concise. If the extra words add to the reader’s experience, leave them in. If not, they’ve got to go. Example: Keep in mind that if you initiated the call, it is proper etiquette for you to end the call. Be sure not to do it in an abrupt manner, as it may disappoint or annoy the caller, can be simplified down to: If you initiated the call, etiquette dictates that you end it―gracefully.
Dear Jane, Are you hiding? I know it’s not easy to go back to that draft for, what is it the fourth time? Cursing me, or that voice in your head, (or maybe we are now one voice), telling you to re-work it again.
"I just want to finish this book and go on to something else.”
Of course you do.
Isn’t that what we all want when we are close to a breakthrough--to avert it? When we veer dangerously close to that twist in the road where, once we turn the corner, we will see a new horizon and never again perceive our world the same?
When you read a piece of writing that moves you, there’s blood on the page. The author did not leave you traces of paper cuts. That’s blood from the heart. Well-oxygenated, nutrient rich, and it feeds your spirit to read it.
Our best writing impulses urge us to go beyond the superficial, obvious choices that our ego wants to make, “Please, please, reach for an image that’s honest and true," and, for the first time, have the courage to stay with the image and excavate the words to describe it—dig like you seek a buried treasure hidden for millennia deep under Egyptian sands…unless you would rather settle for surface rocks?
I have faith in you. I believe you will get out your shovel and dig.
I know, in the movies, they make it seem so easy. The writer bangs away at a keyboard. We perceive the elapse of time as a montage runs over meaningful background music.
And here you sit alone. No music. No montage except the slide show of images running in front of your mind’s eye, asking to be chosen for this next line, and you, rejecting one after another. Like a director seeking the perfect lead actor for a debut play, you think it’s make or break.
It is and it isn’t.
Know this. It matters not which book you are writing. You can dig for your best now, or you can wait for later and find your treasure then. But I can tell you, wherever you retreat now, at whichever point you let yourself off, you will reach this same crossroads on the next one, and the next, and the next, until you push through.
And once again, you will have a choice, hide or dig in.
Welcome to a new feature on my blog called Dear Jane…letters to an aspiring writer. The concept came to me in a moment of inspiration while making toast. I hope you will find it insightful and encouraging as you develop your writing gifts.
When writing non-fiction, don't skip or delay these 4 important steps to help you position your book for greater success. Do these before you write, or at least early in the process.
- Share the content—The notion that withholding information until the ‘big day’ when you publish will help make a bigger splash is dead wrong. Look at New York Times bestsellers Julie & Julia, The Four Hour Workweek, and Sh*t My Dad Says, the ideas in these books were blogged or tweeted well before they were bound and published. Sharing your content helps. Don’t hold back. You have nothing to gain by being the world’s best-kept secret. When people ask me, “When should I start promoting my book?” I always answer, “As soon as you commit to the idea.” Promote immediately.
- Develop the Book Idea into a Book Concept—an idea is a spark--a moment of inspiration and excitement. To develop an idea into a concept means you've got clarity about why you are writing the book, who it's for, and what makes it special. If you know these things going in, you will end up with a stronger, more relevant book.
- Choose a Sound Structure that Suits Your Style and Material— Pick one genre and rock it. Books that blend structures and styles are painful to read and hard to distinguish, thus impossible for buyers to find and enjoy. For example, if you write a memoir/how-to, people who enjoy reading memoir will be turned off by the "how-to" interruptions in the narrative, and people who want a "how-to" will be frustrated by all the backstory and wish you would get to the point. While a 'how-to' author should include some brief examples of their own personal experiences to back up their steps, this is not the same as writing an entire memoir as a chosen genre and then inserting little "how-to" steps throughout.
- Create an Outline—Winging it is no way to write a book. In my experience as an editor, I've seen that authors who write without an outline leave out crucial information, yet repeat other tidbits ad nauseam. Especially for experts writing non-fiction, do an outline to plot the flow of information. It’s impossible to teach effectively or make a point when then material is disorganized.
I hope this helps you kick off the new year's writing efforts with ease.
When people come to me frustrated and confused, it's often because in their quest to write a book, they did things out of order. Put the ol' chariot before the dragon as we say in Fairyland. Here are 3 common errors of order for you to consider. If you are fretting over any of these and your book isn't yet written, stop it. Leave them alone and write the dang book.
- Write the Introduction—Maybe because it’s the first thing to read when you open a book, I don’t know, but for some reason, novices tend to want to go straight to writing the book's introduction. In the order of writing content, this step should be dead last. You cannot properly introduce a book until you know it, and you cannot know it until it’s written. Ever try to describe today someone you won't meet until tomorrow? That's a head scratcher.
- Choose a book title and sub-title—similar to the introduction, a book’s title is likely to need adjusting once the book is done. Don't expect to finalize a title until you can see the book for what it is. This is why the publishing industry uses the term “working title.” You choose a temporary title for the book while you are working on it, but don’t settle on one until it’s finished. And never, ever let it distract you from writing. If the book never gets written, you'll never need the title, even if it's a clever one.
- Decide on a publishing route—With so many publishing options these days, all you need to know now is that you will complete the project and publish. As you develop the book, you also will be growing your career, and your desires and needs may change between now and when the book is ready to publish. It’s fine to have an inkling of which direction you want to go, but you don’t need to make a final decision until the manuscript is done.
Next post..3 Write a Book Steps Most put off that Should Be First
Welcome to a new feature on my blog called Dear Jane...letters to an aspiring writer. The concept came to me in a moment of inspiration while making toast. I hope you will find it insightful and encouraging as you develop your writing gifts. Dear Jane,
As you sit and type the first tentative lines of your earliest attempt at writing a book, if you’ve got one iota of sense in you, there’s one thing you’ve realized already—you suck at it.
Congratulations and welcome to your first breakthrough. Horrifying as this moment can be, it is one that all the best and worst writers have faced, the main differentiator being that the worst ignore the realization and proceed ‘as if’ their writing is great, the best fall into some combination of insanity and obsession that urges them to pursue literary excellence like a hungry wolf chases a rabbit, and the rest (who don't chicken out and quit) settle for a level in the middle--competence.
All I ask of you is that you seek that place of competence somewhere near the upper middle of the writer’s hierarchy. For I could no more coach you to be an obsessed literary genius than I could train you to be a wolf. Some writers are born with extraordinary gifts and possess the will to devote their lives developing them. But for most, mere competence will buy you a ticket to take your writing wherever you want it to take you.
What is competence? Competence is more than the ability to produce works free of grammatical errors, although, for an editor, such a manuscript is nice if you can get it.
A competent author:
• Picks a structure for the book and follows it.
• Chooses language that’s both easy-to-follow and surprising.
• Writes with the reader in mind and
• Wastes no words.
That, in my opinion, is all it takes. Simple, but not always easy.
Think about that for a bit, and I’ll explain more in my next letter.
All my best,
PS: Any Questions? Post them in comments.
Robin Colucci-Hoffman, the Get Published Coach helps coaches, speakers, and consultants write their books and get published by Random House, Doubleday, J. Wiley & Sons, Hay House, and others, many of which won awards and/or became bestsellers.
Robin has researched and/or written freelance articles for The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine and Newsweek to name a few. She has a BA in Journalism from The George Washington University and an MA in Spiritual Psychology from The University of Santa Monica.
Look for her book: From Expert to Author: How to Write a Book that Sells coming soon.
Can you turn a blog into a book? How does it work? Today’s #1 power tool for smart, market-savvy authors, your blog can help you develop content for your book and also creates a venue to test ideas and generate a buzz. A blog enables you to establish and deepen a relationship with your audience and to generate a demand for your book. Don’t hold back material thinking you need to protect it or worry that no one will want to read your book if you have already been blogging the same or similar content. The evidence reveals the opposite. The more people you get engaged in your blog, the more buyers you will have for your book--which is one reason why literary agents value blog readership as much or more than national media exposure as a predictor of an author’s ability to sell books.
When you blog, be brief. Rather than post entire chapters to your blog, use it as an opening to the conversation. Cover the main points in your book, but deliver your information in a concise, condensed format. When you go to write your book, choose the posts most relevant to your topic, elaborate on and expand the ideas–provide examples or whatever will deepen readers’ understanding. You also can go the other way. Write the book and then comb through it to find excerpts to post to your blog.
One caution: Don't put out a book that is only a compilation of blog posts. I believe it's better to expand on the ideas, check the writing, polish the work, and give it a clear context to make you shine.
Here are a few more thoughts…
5 Ways to use your blog to help your book.
Content Development: You can blog your main ideas and re-purpose the work to use in your book, products, and public speaking.
Testing ideas: You can experiment with different ideas and ways of communicating and see how your audience responds. Notice the questions they ask. Notice what stimulates the most conversation.
Tracking traffic: Sign up for Google Analytics and see what’s happening with your blog traffic. Do certain headlines stimulate more response? Should any of those headlines become chapter titles?
Get to know and target your audience: Ask for comments and invite people to your conversation. How does your audience respond? What information do they seek from you? How do they connect?
Create a buzz: Nothing wrong with generating a little controversy or posting something that gets people talking. You can also generate a buzz through humor or being creative. Whichever you choose, make sure it’s authentic, or it will blow up in your face.
Your thoughts? Anything I missed? Leave your comments.
Have you ever read a book that changed your life? I want to hear from you. What book made a difference for you and how did it make a difference? Tell me about it in a video and post it here. It may make you famous. :)
I got inspired today thinking about how powerful it is to write a book. The role books have played (and still play) in changing the world. How all of our lives have been made better because someone had the guts to step up and write a book.
In this video, I share about the book that had the most impact on me.
I invite you to make your own video and post the link here, in the comments, or just leave me a note, so I can hear about the book that changed your life.
Thanks for playing.
In this video, I share about the first book I remember that changed my life, All the President's Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
People who want to write a book often ask me about book length. How long, or how short should it be? The current trend is toward shorter books to match the shrinking attention span of an audience overwhelmed by information. A publisher is not inclined to publish a 600 page “how-to” opus from a first-time, unknown author. A good length for a non-fiction “how to” book is 45,000 to 65,000 words, or 180 to 280 pages in print. For a memoir or novel, 50,000 to 90,000 words is the sweet spot.
If you find yourself feeling limited by these ranges, here are some ideas to help you keep it brief without compromising on content.
Build a career: You can (and should) write more than one book in your lifetime. Think of your authoring aims long-term. Agents and editors hope for an on-going relationship with an author, not a one night stand. You are more attractive when you have a list of three to five follow up books you could write to go with the one you are writing.
Don’t try to say it all in one book: One of the most common mistakes I see first-time authors make is trying to share everything they know in one book. Not only does this confuse the reader, a book chock-full of general information is harder to market than a clear, simple book written to a well-targeted niche.
Look for opportunities to beak up the information: If you find yourself throwing in new tidbits every time you open the manuscript, take a step back and see what your book actually covers. Are there multiple themes that could be broken down and explored in more depth in future books? Usually, the answer is “yes.”
Make every word count: Unfortunately, most writers say in 100 words what could be said in 20, thus books are often heavy on fluff and light on content. Have your manuscript edited by a wordsmith who has mastered brevity.