Archive for April, 2009

The Importance of Author Photos

We publish people who are experts or want to position themselves as experts to create additional income.

Author photos are important for all authors, but they are even more important when the reader is looking at buying a book for the author’s expertise.

Both my husband, Harry, and I are members of the National Speakers Association.  Members of that organization are professional speakers and experts in their fields. It’s important they look, act, and live the part.

So often we see photos of authors either in or on their newest book and the photo looks like a prom picture (I’ve also heard them called graduation pictures, so you get the idea). There’s at least a decade or two time gap between the photo and the person’s appearance today.

I’ve also seen photos of authors in casual attire standing or sitting in a natural setting. Then there are the photos of authors doing some hobby.

While I don’t believe prom pictures serve the author well (because they send a message of dishonesty or unwillingness to spend money on current photos), I can see some merit to the other examples. If your book is about nature, you may want a natural setting. If it’s about your hobby, why not show yourself engaged in it?

For the most part, however, author photos should show the author in professional attire and in current times. Spend a little and get a lot of credibility with your author photo!


Book Cover Copy is Important

You’ve writtten your book.

You”ve got a publisher (either yourself or an equity publisher like Expert Publishing or some other type of  publisher).

You’re in the design phase and need to write your cover copy.

What should you write? A synopsis of the book? Accolades from those you’ve asked for endorsements? Both?

Your first question should ask how much room you have. The back cover is your prime real estate, but there are some things that need to be on the back cover if you want to look professionally published.

  • Book category (this helps librarians, store clerks, and book reviewers)
  • Barcode (contains embedded ISBN and price)
  • Price (readily visible to potential buyer)
  • Publisher

After you have those things, the rest of the turf is yours.

Your next question should be about the reader: What would entice the reader to pick this book up and look inside?

If, for your audience, endorsements are important, you’ll want to put one or two on the back cover. If, on the other hand, your audience is more interested in your book’s content, you’ll want that foremost on your cover.

Nonfiction typically uses a combination of the two, while fiction doesn’t usually post endorsements on the cover, but rather on the first few inside pages.

As long as you keep in mind your audience and the purpose of your cover, you should do fine.  Remember the front cover is supposed to attract the reader visually and invite the reader to pick the book up. The back cover is supposed to invite your reader to open the book and look inside.

You’re much closer to a sale if your content and price match what the reader wants. And, selling books, after all is what publishing is really all about.

You Have a Responsibility to Your Readers

Writers write. Sometimes writers get published, which means they have readers.

It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or nonfiction, if you have readers, you have a responsibility to your readers.

At Expert Publishing, we publish business, self-help, and inspirational books. At our imprint, et al. Publishing, we publish other worthy work.

And in both cases, we are ever mindful of the reader because the reader doesn’t have the opportunity to ask the author for clarification on what’s written.

Writers know what they mean, they know what they see in their minds’ eyes, and they know the intent of their words. Unfortunately, readers don’t share the same experience viewpoint as the authors, which means there’s lots of room for misunderstanding.

It’s the writer’s responsibility to write as clearly as possible so the reader doesn’t have to guess the writer’s intention.

One tip to make your writing more clear is to watch your use of words such as this, that, and it. You may know exactly what you’re referring to with those words, but your reader won’t necessarily know.

Example: Joey and Christina looked forward to spending the weekend together. Between the party on Saturday and the boating on Sunday, this weekend promised nonstop fun with friends. This felt like heaven.

Okay, the first this refers to the weekend, no problem. But the second “this” isn’t as clear. Does it also refer to the weekend? Or does it refer to Joey and Christina’s anticipation? Or does it refer to the party? Or does it refer to the boating? Or does it refer to nonstop fun with friends?

Your reader shouldn’t have to guess.

Granted, this is a small example, but if your writing includes overuse of this, that, and it, your reader will give up out of frustration and find someone else to read–not what you want if you’re trying to create a buzz about your book.

Take your responsibility to your readers seriously and you’ll have much better success selling your work.

Lazy Writers are Politically Correct

The overuse of third person plural pronouns (they, them, their) is a sure sign of a lazy writer. Take a look at your own writing and you’ll see whether you take the easy way out or not. If you do, you shortchange your reader.

Pronouns refer to antecedents (nouns). A noun names a person, place, or thing. When a noun names a person, it makes sense to employ a pronoun to offer some variety. How awful it would be to read something like “A teacher teaches writing to the teacher’s class.” Much better to say “A teacher teaches writing to her class.”

But we’ve become so afraid of being politically incorrect that we no longer follow the rule of agreement between pronoun and antcedent. In the example above, teacher is singular and so is the pronoun she.The problem is “she” doesn’t include male teachers, thus it is politically incorrect.

Lazy writers decide to simply write “A teacher teaches writing to their class.” Their is plural, which means it doesn’t agree with the noun (antcedent), but it is politically correct. Who cares if the only one offended is the reader?

All it would take to rewrite the example to reflect agreement is “Teachers teach writing to their classes.” BOOM! Problem solved–pronoun and antecedent agree and no one gets offended.

The next time you’re reading a book and it’s riddled with politically correct pronouns that don’t agree with their antecedents, you’ll see how lazy the writer was.

Passive Voice

Whether I’m reading a book proposal, working with a client to improve his or her writing, or editing a manuscript, I come across the same issue–passive voice.

Passive voice is the voice of government, business, and academia. Why? Passive voice shows no ownership, thus no accountability. When’s the last time you got excited about reading the tax code, employment policies, or your professor’s latest position paper?

If you’re wondering whether your own writing falls into the passive voice abyss, check your verbs. Do you use verbs such as is, are, was, were,  have, had (forms of “to be”)? These verbs offer the best clue that you need to revisit your writing if you want your book (or other writing) professionally published.

Think back to your grammar training. Recall what verbs do–they show action done by the subject. Passive verbs are, as labeled, passive–no action.

See the difference between active and passive voice in this example:

  1. I noticed you came back from lunch a little late today.
  2. It was noticed you were late coming back from lunch.

In the first sentence, we clearly see who noticed what. In the second, there’s no ownership. The first sentence shows action, while the second sentence is not only boring, it’s not easy to read.

Most word processing programs offer a tool to help you determine your use of passive voice. I’m not saying you should never use passive voice. In fact, you should use it at times. Too much action and your reader may feel too much energy and chaos in your writing.

I am suggesting you go back through your writing and determine how many passive verbs you use. Then, see how many of them you can change to active verbs. Once you’ve made the changes, re-read your writing and you’ll find it more enjoyable to read (as, I suspect, your readers will too).

Ideas for Writers Groups Success

My last post introduced the importance of writers groups.

This post offers some ideas on how to operate a successful writers group.

You may look for an existing group–you can look on the bulletin boards of your library, book stores, or educational centers. Always look online as well.

If you can’t find a writers group that seems to fit your needs, you can start one. Solicit interest from writers who are like-minded in what they read and write.  This helps assure the quality of the feedback because those offering critique understand your reader and your market better than those who don’t read what you write.

Where do you find these writers? Take classes. Call literary centers. Ask friends and family and neighbors and coworkers. Post notices on bulletin boards. Blog.

What about when and where to meet?

You get to decide when to meet–weekly, bi-weekly, monthly. You get to decide where to meet–coffeshops, bookstores, meeting rooms, homes, anywhere fairly quiet where you can talk and not be disturbed or disturb others.

What about rules for reading?

You can have the person who wrote read his/her own work to the group. You can bring a copy of the writing for everyone, then either have it read aloud by the writer or have it read silently before coming back together for oral feedback. You can have someone other than the writer read the writing. This can be very effective since the writer knows what was intended, but someone else reading does not.

You can have the feedback provided in writing (create a feedback form and have group members fill it out and hand it to the writer). Another option is if everyone gets a copy of the writing, they can write their feedback directly on it and give that back to the writer. You can have oral feedback so everyone in the group can benefit. You can use a combination of any of these.

The writer should not debate the feedback, but rather should simply say thanks. That doesn’t mean the writer must accept or embrace all feedback, but it does mean the meeting doesn’t get confrontational or personal.

Feedback guidelines should be somewhat codified–no personal attacks; feedback should pertain to the writing, not the writer; feedback should be presented in a positive and constructive fashion; feedback should be useful (the purpose is to help the writer improve the writing).

You may want to limit how much is read per writer (4 to 6 pages is about as long as you can hold someone’s attention). You can impose time limits depending upon how many readers you have (15 minutes reading time and 5 minutes critique time eats up an hour pretty quickly).

If your group is large, you can have sign-up sheets to pass around and have writers  sign up to read at the next group meeting.

Be mindful there’s a risk of turning the group into a social rather than a writers group. If you ‘re spending a lot of time catching up on everyone’s family, health, job search, etc., you’re not using the time set aside to help with improving each other’s writing. Better to use the time before or after the set aside time for socializing. You can also build in a 10-minute break at the half-way point of a two-hour writers group meeting for such a purpose.

I’m sure there are many ways to add to your writers group success. I’ve experienced all of these ideas and found value in each one.  You just need to find which ones work best for your group.

How Important are Writers Groups?

When I do my workshops on writing for fun and profit, one of the questions I often get asks about the importance of writers groups.

I think writers groups are very important, but not just any writers group will do. You’ll want to join (or start) a writers group of writers who read what you write. For example, if you write romances, but the people in your writers group don’t read them, their feedback won’t be very helpful. They won’t know, for example, that romance readers carry certain expectations for the storyline and characters.

My first writers group formed out of a writing class when I was a university student. We met monthly in agreed-to locations (sometimes a home, sometimes a library meeting room) and read and critiqued each other’s work.

Graduation saw us all heading in different directions, so I joined the Minneapolis Writers Workshop-established in 1937.

The Minneapolis Writer’s Workshop meets every Wednesday night except Christmas, I believe. I went every week for years.

Visit their website for an idea about how a successful writers group works.

I learned so much by attending–the workshop is too large to have everyone attending read, but to hear the feedback was extremely helpful for my own writing.

When I started teaching college in the evening, I had to find another writers group. Some of us interested in nonfiction writing started a Friday afternoon writers group and we met faithfully every Friday (except after Thanksgiving and  holidays) for ten years.

We disbanded when our members started getting jobs and working during the day.

My current writers group meets every third Thursday evening. We originally were students in a writing center. The center closed when its founder died of brain cancer, but some students kept her vision going and still meet to read and critique each other’s work.

How important are writers groups? Extremely important if you want to improve your writing. My next post will offer some ideas on how to organize and run a successful writing group.