Archive for July, 2009

Marketing Your Book

When I teach my class on the business of book publishing at the local colleges (yes, plural), I watch my students’ expressions of surprise to learn the marketing of their book is up to them, the author, not the publisher.

Oh, yes, the cash cows like Stephen King, Danielle Steele, and the Chicken Soup guys–Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield–get marketing help, but only after these authors have proven to the publisher they can make money for the publisher. It just makes good business sense for the publisher to put some support behind authors who are proven income streams.

For the unknown author like you (I presume), IF you can even get a royalty publisher to consider your work, the book marketing lands squarely on your shoulders. Let’s say you get a $5,000 cash advance against sales on your book. Do you know what you’re supposed to do with that money? That’s seed money for your marketing effort, not reward money for selling your manuscript.

You need to create the buzz about your book so people will buy it. You need a website for the book and one for you, the author. You need to schedule book events–start with the publish party, then move on to book signings, speaking to book groups, etc. You need to blog. You need to comment on other blogs. You need to do the social networking stuff with Twitter, Facebook, etc. In other words, you need to be everywhere talking about your book and getting people excited about it.

But, you say, I don’t like to get in front of people. I’m a writer and writers tend to be solitary. I agree that most writers like to be alone, but if you want to make money as a writer, you need readers! Readers won’t know about you unless you tell them.

I had the pleasure of meeting Literary Agent Michael Larsen at the National Speakers annual convention one year and sitting at his table.  He wrote the book, How to Write a Book Proposal.  I asked him what one piece of advice I should give my students. He said, “Tell us what you’re willing to do to market your book.”

Remember, book publishing is business. Business means making money. You make money by generating sales. You generate sales by letting people know about your book. Who can do it better than the author? The truth is, people buy the author, so get out there and let people know who you are and what your book is about.

Happy writing!

Can You Be Proud of Your Book?

It’s easier than ever publish your own book. All you need is a word processing program, a few graphics for the cover, and an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), right? Well, that’s right if you aren’t particularly interested in publishing a book you’ll be proud of in five years.

Books are in print a long time. I recently saw a book that was obviously a do-it-yourself-without-much-research job. The book was hard cover, had a catchy title, and intrigued me enough to open it up. GASP! Only the pages facing right were printed. The left-facing pages were all blank.

I began to read to see if it was a printer error. It was not! The text flowed without any missing words.

I looked at the publisher’s name and yep! it was a do-it-yourself book. I looked at the details (I know most people wouldn’t, but, hey, I’m a publisher) and it lacked conventions the professionally published books have. I began to  wonder how proud this author was of this book after a few years. I have no doubt the author was excited at first, but I wonder how long it took before the major flaws became embarrassing, if not humiliating. (Kind of reminded me of actors who made those “B” movies before becoming stars.)

But, back to the topic. Notice I said major flaws in the book. At Expert Publishing, we strive to create as perfect a book as possible, yet, in spite of all the proofreading by us and the author, there have been typos in some of our books. We missed them, the author missed them, and the author’s family/friends missed them.

I tell our authors we hope the “baby” doesn’t have any birthmarks, but sometimes there are some just because everyone involved is human.

I’ve also seen typos, missing words, etc. in books published by the major publishers, and most people don’t expect that.

Astute authors know what they don’t know and they do research to fill in the holes. I encourage you to look at various publishers and examine and compare what they offer before deciding which publishing option is best for you. You may want to see my post on Coming to Terms with Publishers.

The time to ask yourself, “Will I be proud of my book in five years?” is before you decide which way to publish your book–self-publish, royalty publish, subsidy publish, or equity publish. The cliche about a little knowledge being dangerous rings true when entering the book publishing world, so do your research and make a good choice for you.

Happy writing!

Tighten Up Your Prose

During your writing process, you probably free write, then go back and self edit.

One of the things you can look for when you edit your writing is wordiness. Look for redundancy. A common redundancy is “very unique.” I wonder if something can be sort of unique or a little unique. Probably not.

Another example of redundancy is “last January during the winter.” During the winter doesn’t pin down the time the way last January does, but you don’t need both in the same sentence.

Another thing you can look for when you edit your writing is word choice. If you like big words, but your reader has to keep a dictionary handy to understand your writing, you should consider substituting shorter words.

Finally, when you self-edit, make sure you’re not babbling–using vague words that you think sound intellectual or professional. You won’t impress your reader and you may blow your chance to be published.

The place to be wordy is your first draft. After that, get rid of the redundancy, the big words, and anything that erodes your clarity to your reader. Self-editing isn’t easy, but worth the effort.

Happy writing!

Use Transitions

My previous post looked at the importance of the topic sentence to a paragraph.

Now it’s time to string those paragraphs together to get your manuscript going.

My first piece of advice is to write short paragraphs. Your writing will be more reader-friendly, faster, more alive, and have more clarity. I think every reader sees white space on a page as a welcome break from all that black text.

My second piece of advice is to build bridges (use transitions) between your paragraphs so your reader can move along your writing with you.

Transitions should be quiet, quick, and logical. That means they should be so  smooth that the reader doesn’t realize he or she is being carried along from one idea to the next.

Some transitions use time:

  • After the storm
  • Ten years later
  • The following week
  • In April
  • By the time Sally got home

Some transitions use place:

  • Meanwhile
  • Across town
  • From my window I could see
  • When we got to the murder scene
  • In Minneapolis

Some transitions use adverbs or prepositional phrases:

  • Subsequently
  • On the other hand
  • Despite all she meant to him
  • In comparing the two opportunities

Some transitions use devices instead of words:

  • Chapters
  • Break lines
  • Headers/subheaders

Your reader made a decision to read what you have to say. You owe it to your reader to make it easy to follow you. Use transitions and you’ll do just that.

Happy writing!

Topic Sentences Still Work

I realize schools don’t teach much in the way of basic writing and grammar these days. Add the whole new world of text messaging shortcuts and it’s any wonder people can write at all.

There’s an often quoted, never attributed statistic that says that 81 percent of the people (I have to assume people really means adults rather than entire population) want to write a book.

If  the majority of the people want to write a book, but we’re not teaching writing basics any longer, there’s every reason to expect when an editor sees good writing, that writing really stands out.

Here’s a little something you can do to help your writing stand out:  Use topic sentences in your paragraphs. A topic sentence lets the reader know what to expect the paragraph to cover. A topic sentence also helps the writer know what to include and what to leave out of a paragraph.

If you find yourself struggling to write a topic sentence, ask yourself these questions.

  • What do I really want to say?
  • What’s the point I want to make (my purpose)?
  • What idea do I want to create for my reader?
  • What question to I want the reader to consider?

Then limit the answer to your question to one sentence. And there you have it–your topic sentence for your paragraph. If it doesn’t quite fit, you can use your answer as a guide to help you write a topic sentence that does.

Of course you’ll have rewrites and you may decide your paragraphs don’t go with your topic sentences as well as they should. If the content doesn’t support the topic sentence, you have two choices. You can rewrite the content or you can delete it.

You should also know your topic sentence doesn’t always have to be the first sentence in every paragraph. Sometimes it’s the last sentence that wraps the paragraph up.

Bottom line is your paragraphs need content that supports your topic sentence. If you can do that, you’re way ahead of many people who claim to be writers.

Happy writing!

You Can’t Include Everything

One of the mistakes new writers make is thinking they have to include all their research and everything they know in their books.

Perhaps they think they need to show their expertise, but they’re really showing their ignorance. Why? Because all subjects are inexhaustible if you spend a little time thinking of the different angles you can use. Trying to cover them all in one piece of work  leads to rambling.

You’re much better off to focus on one specific aspect or idea about your topic so you can keep your content manageable.

I happen to like history, and I like the Civil War era. I just finished reading a book called The Last Lincolns.  Can you imagine a topic that’s been covered more than Abraham Lincoln (well, besides baseball that is)? Yet, someone found another angle on the subject of Lincoln and wrote a book.

If you research your topic thoroughly, you’ll find several angles to write from. Choose which angle interests you the most and go for it.

Save the rest of your research for your second book or for those articles you’re going to write to get your name out there as an expert on your topic.

When I teach my “writing for periodicals” class, I tell my students they should get three different viewpoints out of every topic they research. For example, I interviewed a woman who owned an antiquarian bookstore once and sold her four times–once was about her bookstore as a destination, once was about what she looks for in buying antiquarian books, once was about a Victorian event she was holding at her store, and once was a profile about her! And all those sales to well-paying magazines came from one one-hour interview (of course, I asked open-ended questions to get that much good stuff).

So, go ahead and do your complete research. Then realize you can’t include everything in one book or one article. Create your various slants and get going!

Happy writing!

The Hardest Part of Writing is Getting Started

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you know the hardest part of writing is getting started.

You probably get to your computer, look at the blank screen and your eyes start to glaze over or you get that tired feeling.  You’re not alone.

So what can you do about it? Here are some tips:

  • Figure out when you’re able to write–day? night? evening? lunchtime? before work? after work? weekends?
  • Get out your calendar and schedule the time the same way you would schedule any other commitment.
  • Look at your writing set up. Are you writing in the middle of family chaos or did you carve out a writer’s cubby hole or office for yourself where you can focus on your writing undisturbed? HINT: The latter is better.
  • Unplug the phone, turn off the television, create quiet. You may want to play some sort of instrumental music to encourage your muse to join you, but make it something that feeds your creativity rather than drains your energy.
  • If you can’t create quiet, invest in earplugs and use them.
  • When the blank screen intimidates you, begin writing something–anything. Keep typing something like this:  “I’m going to sit here and write anything until something I want to write comes along. I’m going to sit here and write anything until something I want to write comes along.” Repeat for as long as it takes until something else starts to flow.  (It usually doesn’t take very long before you move onto something else.) The beauty of computers is you can always delete the evidence that you were stuck and no one will be the wiser.

Of course, once you get started, often the second hardest part of writing is stopping. Sometimes you need to set an alarm or listen to your body’s aching shoulders. Other times you can write to your heart’s content. The point is you’re working and that’s the first step to getting your book published.

Happy writing!