How to Write a Nonfiction Book that Sells — Pt. 2

Good NewsIn Part One, I talked about the importance of subject, title, and content for writing nonfiction books that sell. All of these are key elements. Missing just one could mean the difference between a publisher’s bite on your bait, or their swimming away.

Equally, if you neglect the power of your marketing strategy, including future books you can write, a publisher might say no instead of yes. Short-cutting is not worth the risk of losing a book deal.

So let’s talk specifics.

  • Intriguing marketing strategies are an integral piece of your non-fiction book proposal. Every author’s heard it, “You must help promote your own book.” But most, even those of us with sales and marketing backgrounds from other industries, can feel overwhelmed at how to effectively boost book sales on paper or in application. So what’s an author to do?

Think outside the industry. How do movies and TV programs promote their wares? What are the big producers doing to move sales? Think Coke, Wal-Mart, Apple, Under Armor, Cabelas, or others you see frequenting the air and radio waves, or filling store shelves. Learn from the big boys while creatively using your small budget.

For instance:

  • Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverBuild human curiosity into the heart of your sales tactics and specify samples in your book proposal. i.e. Six Secrets to…, How to…, What ______ Want, Three Things Most People Forget that Could Cost You Sales. See the pattern?
  • List all of your speaking events, including those you volunteer for, or that may feel more like family than a professional gig. Any exposure to a potential buying public counts — and those with built-in fans increase the odds of book sales.
  • Look at conferences, organizations, businesses, that don’t immediately seem like a fit for your message. Is there a way to connect your book to their needs? For Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, I’m promoting the impact personal issues have on the workplace and vice-versa. I’ve booked new speaking opportunities as a result.
  • Include something unique. *Talk about the psychology of color and how you can use it in your marketing materials. Note your intent to attract those looking for peace through shades of green, your strategy to pursue passionate responses with strokes of red, or your ability to stir deeper thinking by adding blue.

*After you’ve made the sale, don’t forget to work with your publisher on appropriate colors when considering cover art for your book.

  • Future books you’d like to write are like adding scent to the lure for a publisher ready to bite. After writing your proposal on a subject matter readers are interested in, brainstorming a dynamite title, writing clear content, and adding unique marketing flavors, offer a list of intriguing future titles, true to your brand. This shows the publisher you are more than a one-hit-wonder. You are an author readers will follow for a long time to come.

In conclusion, I must stress the need for a teachable attitude and patient demeanor. Two common challenges we must overcome if we want to succeed. There is no place for arrogance or impatience in any professional venue. Be a turtle, not a hare, and in time, you will write a nonfiction book that sells.

Have you sold books and if so, can you offer insights I missed?

How a Non-Writer Like Me Got Published (Part II)

(Continued from Part I)

I began writing my memoir by starting near the end. That first night, while sitting in front of a blank computer screen, I tapped out the images closest to memory, and likely closest to my heart. It was the account of a remarkable day… the day I delivered my daughter, Annie, to a drug treatment center in California.

 “It wasn’t at all the institutional setting I’d expected for detox… At that late hour, the street was quiet and still. A woman emerged from the far side of the darkened house, brushing by a wall of hydrangeas that cast an eerie glow of amethyst and silver in partial moonlight. Her hushed tones made it seem a clandestine transfer as she took hold of the pull handle on Annie’s bag and turned to escort her inside… Just before both disappeared into the darkness of an open gate, Annie turned around to me and mouthed the words, ‘Thanks Mom.’ I thought I might burst. “

Within a week, I had one, full chapter completed. “Not bad,” my college-aged son reported after a quick read. He showed all the enthusiasm of dry cement. My husband refused to read it at all.Image, post-its and pens

My brother, Paul, on the other hand, provided terrific support for my intentions with the book. He had been the smart one, the accomplished student. While I was sunbathing and reading Cliff Notes during our college years, Paul studied Comparative Literature as a graduate fellow at a top university. “So Goose,” he asked (yes, he calls me Goose), “are you going to write this sequentially or thematically? You also need to pay close attention to your voice.

My what?

I struggled with how to continue. What was a “voice” and where could I get one? Was I really capable of writing a book? What initially had seemed nothing more than a quick chronicle of a story I already knew, the magnitude of the task ahead started to overwhelm me.

Image, Book binder

I decided equipment would help. A lover of bins and boxes and anything organizational, I ventured into Office Max and filled my cart with a large black binder, numbered dividers, a year’s supply of yellow sticky notes, white 3×5 cards, and multi-colored mechanical pencils. Once home, I affixed a sticker to the spine of the binder with the word “Book” written on it in blue felt tip marker.

I placed my new materials throughout the house: at my desk, on the coffee table in the great room, at my bedside table, near the bathroom sink, and in both cars. Ultimately finding it perilous to jot notes while driving, I purchased a small recording device. “Don’t forget to tell them what happened in the garage,” I recorded into the mic.

Each night before I sat to write, I filed the day’s sticky note inspirations onto the dividers throughout the binder. Then I prayed. “This was your idea, God. Help, please!”

Six months later I had an outline and about six chapters written. This feat coincided with the weekend visit of a close friend, and one of the smartest people I know. Bright, articulate, and extremely well read, my friend-who-shares-the-same-name-as-me, demanded to read what I’d written. She in fact seemed hurt that I hadn’t yet asked for her input and advice. I knew better than to share my work so early in the process, and especially with someone who tends to be critical, but I yielded to her insistence. I really hoped for some encouragement.

You see it coming, don’t you?

My friend emerged from our guest room the next morning, with the “Book” binder in hand, avoiding eye contact as she headed to the coffee pot. Oh boy, I thought.

“So Barb,” she finally said, once settled in at the breakfast bar, “I, uh, think, uh, this is an important story for, uh, people to read. It’s not, uhhhhh, gonna be a best seller or anything, but it’s, uh, good.” She then looked up at me and added enthusiastically, “You sure have a great memory!”

I laughed. Kind of. “Memory isn’t exactly what I was going for. But I guess that’s something. Thanks for reading.”

Unable to leave well enough alone, she added, “You sure didn’t use many big words, did you?”

At that point my heart went “thunk”… and I stopped writing.

(Stay tuned for Part III when I share how the Jordan River helped me start writing again… and how A Very Fine House got its name.)

Have You Heard a Good Book Lately?

The WordServe Water Cooler is please to host Becky Doughty again as she shares her experience in creating audio books.

Welcome back, Becky!

AudioBookFrom as far back as I can remember, I have had a TBR (to be read) pile stacked beside my bed, books waiting for me to lose myself in them. As a child, my favorite time of year was summer, because it meant endless hours of uninterrupted reading time. As an adult, my days are now consumed with working for a living. My non-work hours are filled to overflowing with the joys and responsibilities of my family. Family meals, homework, laundry. Bathrooms to clean, dogs to walk, gardens to plant…. I have replaced my TBR pile with a TBD (to be done) pile. Well, actually, I haven’t replaced it. My TBR pile collects dust by my bedside and I stare at it longingly as I lay my head on my pillow, unable to keep my eyes open a moment longer.

Then I discovered audiobooks. No, they don’t replace hands-on reading, but they DO offer an alternative method of consumption, one that allows me to “read” while I cook, fold laundry, clean bathrooms, walk dogs, plant gardens, commute. They make standing in line at the DMV and waiting for an oil change a pleasure. And when a good narrator brings a book to life, it can be a really wonderful literary experience!

Three Tips for Audiobook Enjoyment:

  1. becky-doughy-braveheart-audiobooks-1Narrators can make or break a story. Thankfully, most audiobook resources, such as Amazon, Audible, iTunes, etc., give up to a 5-minute sample to listen to before purchasing. Take advantage of those samples, considering you’ll be listening to him or her for 8-10 hours.
  2. That being said, don’t pass over a wonderful book just because the narrator doesn’t read in a style you’re accustomed to. We humans have the innate capacity to adapt, so give your ears the chance to hear past the extraneous stuff. More often than not, by the end of the audiobook, all those little things that bugged you at the beginning no longer will.
  3. Audiobooks can be expensive. However, there are lots of ways to enjoy audiobooks on a budget. Look for subscriptions that include special offers and discounts like Audible. iBooks (iTunes) always has package deals and special sales on audiobooks . Amazon has their WhisperSync program that gives you a DEEP discount on the audiobooks of many ebooks you purchase. Audiobooks on this program can run as low as $1.99 when you purchase the ebook!

For authors, turning your book into an audiobook can also be a rewarding experience on many levels. Not only is it another format in which to get your story into the hands—or ears!—of readers, but it’s a little like giving your words a third dimension. And it’s a bit of a thrill to hear your book professionally narrated!

Five tips for a turning your book into an audiobook:

  1. Narrators can make or break a story. There are many, many wonderful voice actors in this industry who can breathe new scope into your words. Don’t settle. Be selective.
  2. Make a list of anything important your narrator needs to know up front –pronunciations, dialect, personality traits, etc.—before production begins.
  3. 99% of your listeners will not follow along with the text. Minor narration errors, such as making two words into a contraction, as long as they do not change the meaning or tone of the book, should not be reason to send an audio file back to production.
  4. Although there are many narrators who work on royalty contracts that require little or no money up front, these contracts usually have a term of 7-10 years. Consider paying for the service up front. It can seem costly, however, paying up front gives you a much broader pool of narrators to choose from, and it immediately frees you from any ties to a third party.
  5. Be knowledgeable about the service you’re requesting. If a narrator charges $200 per finished hour, along with their narration expertise and voice acting talent, this is what you’re paying for:
    • Approximately 9000 words = 1 finished hour of audio.
    • 1 finished hour of audio = approximately 6-8 hours of prep and studio time.
    • A 90,000 word novel = approximately 10 finished hours of audio.

6. A 10-hour audiobook = approximately 60-80 hours to produce.

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becky-doughty-author1Becky Doughty is the author of the best-selling Elderberry Croft series, the controversial Waters Fall, and the voice behind BraveHeart Audiobooks. Raised on the mission field among the indigenous tribes of West Papua, Indonesia, Becky’s ministry is through the written word. Her heart is for people living on the edge–that fine line where grace becomes truly amazing. Married to her champion of more than 25 years, they have three children, two of whom are starting families of their own, and they all live within a few miles of each other in Southern California. You can connect with Becky via her website, Facebook,Twitter and Pinterest.

 

Rock Bottom

Who we are as writers is a direct result of who we are deep, deep down inside as people.

CliffWSOf course, a lot goes into making us who we are. For me, it’s the entirety of those life experiences that cause me to strive to be a better person tomorrow and vow never to return to the circumstances in which I found myself during those long ago yesterdays.

One night in particular changed everything for me. It was the night I hit rock bottom, the end of my rope, the worst night out of many, many bad ones. It was late Friday, October 2 and the earliest-morning hours of the following day in 1992, and I was in the media parking lot of North Wilkesboro Speedway.

I’d gone through the agony of a divorce back home in Nashville, and after my ex-wife remarried, my son Richard was calling another man Daddy. That was a pain unlike anything I’d ever experienced, even more than the breakup of my marriage.

I’d moved to North Carolina a few weeks before, trying to find my way into the wondrous world of NASCAR. I had no real job, no money and very nearly no home. I was being paid nothing for the stringer work I was doing — nothing for the stories I filed, no expenses, no nothing. The only thing I received was a press pass.

Having covered a race in Martinsville, Virginia the week before, I wound up sneaking food out of the press box for dinner and sleeping in my car. The plan was to do the same the next weekend in North Wilkesboro, but when I arrived, it didn’t take long to figure out that meals wouldn’t be provided to the media until race day on Sunday.

It was Friday morning, and I had not a cent to my name. Panic set in. I was devastated. Scared. Hungry. And worst of all, completely alone. There was nowhere to turn. More than two decades have passed since that day, and even now, I can smell the personal-sized pizzas other reporters were able to buy from the concession stands.

After practice and qualifying that day, I waited until every other media member left the grassy parking lot behind the frontstretch grandstands. No way did I want them to see me setting up shop for the night in my car, and in that car in particular.

The next twelve hours or so were the longest — and emptiest — of my life. I cried that night, not knowing how things were going to turn out. I was more than 400 miles away from anybody I knew well enough to ask for help. I tried to pray, but had no eloquent words. There weren’t even any complete thoughts … all I could manage was the same basic phrase, over and over again.

Oh, God … 

I was scared and saw no way out of the fix I was in.

Oh, God …

Oh, God, please … 

Oh, God …

Sleep was next to impossible. As soon as day broke, I washed off, changed shirts and walked to the garage. Not long afterward, I ran into Deb Williams, the editor of Winston Cup Scene. 

In the NASCAR world, Winston Cup Scene reigned supreme. It was The New York Times, Washington Post and Sports Illustrated of NASCAR, and its writers were the best of the best. Deb let me know a story I’d written was going to run in the next week’s issue. It wasn’t a full time job, but it was at the very least an opening. Maybe I did belong. Maybe.

I headed to the press box overlooking the track, and it was there that I encountered Jerry Lankford, a reporter for the local newspaper in Wilkes County.

“Rick, I don’t know why I didn’t tell you about this yesterday,” he began. “The family that owns the paper I work for owns another one not far from here, and they need a sports editor. Would you be interested?”

Before I could stop myself, I bellowed, “YES!!!” I didn’t ask about the details, because they didn’t matter in the  least. I didn’t ask where the paper was located — it turned out to be in a little town in the mountains of North Carolina called Sparta — or how much it paid. All I cared about was that it was a job, and even better, it was a job with an established newspaper.

Just a few days later, I had my interview. By the time I made it back “home” to the motel where I was staying, I had a call that I’d gotten the job. I was officially the sports editor for The Alleghany News. I started on October 15, 1992 and almost exactly two years later, I landed my dream gig when I was hired as a full-time staff writer for Winston Cup Scene.

Amen … amen … and amen!

Some would call it a simple coincidence that I’d learned of my story running in Winston Cup Scene and the job possibility on the morning after such a terrible, dark, lonely night. No. No way. God heard the simple prayers I prayed that night, and He honored them.

I’ve never forgotten that night. I certainly never want to go back to those kinds of circumstances again, but I don’t want them to slip entirely from my mind, either. I want to remember the bad times so I can rejoice all the more in the good. I want that kind of raw emotion to be present when I write.

Always.

How I Discover New Books– Hint, Not in a Bookstore

It’s been said that the reason an author should stick to traditional publishing is book discoverability and distribution by way of a publisher’s marketing budget and sales staff.

bookstore-482970_1280I was fortunate to get a three-book deal with a mid-size Christian publisher who did get behind my book generously with marketing dollars. They even landed me in Sam’s Club with my first two books in hundreds of stores nationwide.

Just, why, didn’t I hit the bestseller lists? I think the books are good. Proof and Poison got starred reviews from Library Journal. Both were nominated (though never won) for awards. Lots of favorable reviews.

In fact, I might even say that landing in Sam’s Club hurt me a little. Why? The issue with Sam’s club is it’s a BIG order. It’s a risk for the publisher. If you’re not a well-known name who can move those novels many are going to get returned and your royalty report is going to look like a defaulted home loan and the bank is knocking on your door.

I began to analyze how I discover books, and does it match with the way a traditional publisher markets novels?

Sure, your best chance of getting into a bookstore is partnering with a traditional publisher but how often are you going to bookstores anymore? I used to go weekly, when they were close. There aren’t any close ones anymore. The one at the mall I would stop in while shopping for other things . . . gone . . . both of them. The closest bookstore is a 15-20 minute drive. And as NYT’s bestselling author Jamie McGuire blogs here— even she wasn’t seeing her novels in bookstores during release week.

Here is a list of how I now discover books.

1. Goodreads Reviews. Goodreads is the place for people who LOVE books and where book lovers leave reviews. I find I have more Goodreads reviews than Amazon reviews. I have close to 2,500 friends on Goodreads. Every day, I get an e-mail of their reviews. I’ve come to know whose reading tastes are similar to mine. A good review of a book will cause me to look further on Amazon. Plus, since I’m friends with so many, I get exposed to a wide variety of books outside my general reading genre (suspense) that I probably wouldn’t have heard about– even browsing bookstore aisles.

2. Amazon Lists. Amazon lists are fun to browse. Of course, there is always the 100 top paid and free Kindle lists but I also look at genre specific top 100 lists. I also pay attention to novels getting a crazy number of reviews and try and read those to see what is catching the reader’s eye. So, from my first two examples, I don’t think any author can say that reviews don’t matter . . . they do.

3. Advertising Lists. There are a couple of advertising lists that I belong to– BookBub and Inspired Reads. On these sites, you can narrow down the types of e-mails you receive to genres you like. Every day you’ll get an e-mail about books that are on sale. Bookbub lists are the primary way I’m buying books. If I see an interesting book cover then I click the buy link for Amazon and check out reviews. Based on the number of reviews, I make a decision about whether or not to buy the novel. BookBub has a very good reputation among authors that though pricey– is generally a good investment of your marketing dollars. I think the same is true with Inspired Reads for their reach/price ratio.

4. Word of Mouth. I’m like every other human being. If a good friend says, “You must read this book.” it will climb up to the top of my TBR list. The more people that say it– the more likely I am to read it. One author I’d almost given up on until a good friend said, “Just read this one. If you don’t like it, I give you permission to never read this author again.” Reading that novel changed my opinion of the author and their work.

What I find is that I’m rarely in a bookstore anymore but I’m discovering a lot more books because these things are available to me every day.

For my fall release, this is how I’m spending my marketing money. I’ll likely not be arranging bookstore book signings, but that’s a topic for another time.

How are you discovering books? Does that determine your marketing plan?

Writing With Style

All writers want to write with style. However, your publisher thinks of style less in terms of crafting words with fashion and flair and more in terms of communicating with good grammar and consistency. iStock_000003403361MediumHere are a few resources you will need as you polish your prose for publication:

1. Manual of Style:
A manual of style (MOS or MoS) is a comprehensive guide to editorial style and publishing practices. These thick books cover industry-wide or profession-wide guidelines for writing. If you are writing a book for general readership, you probably need to follow The Chicago Manual of Style. For both UK and US usage, you can turn to the New Oxford Style Manual.

If you are writing articles for newspapers or magazines, you may need The Associated Press Stylebook. If you are writing for a scientific or medical audience, you will need to use the AMA Manual of Style. Other academic fields and professions have specific manuals of style. I keep several manuals of style handy on a bookshelf near my writing desk. All of these reference books provide guidelines for grammar, citing sources and use of terms specific to that writing style. They also help you better understand the publishing process and the final layout you can expect for the piece you are writing.

2. Publisher’s Style Guide

The publishing house for your book may have its own style guide that serves as a supplement to an industry-wide manual of style. InterVarsity Press, the publisher of my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, provided me with an editorial style guide that addressed how they format parts of a book and answered specific questions about grammar, punctuation, word usage and appropriate choice of abbreviations. Remember that your publisher’s style guide can overrule a more general manual of style, so always follow your publisher’s editorial direction.

3. Style Sheet

While writing a book or an article, you might find that certain words or phrases could be spelled, capitalized, punctuated, abbreviated or used in more than one way. To keep your writing consistent, create a style sheet that tracks your own or your editor’s rules for these words and phrases. This style sheet will take precedence over the more general publisher’s style guide and the industry-wide manual of style. Make a simple template with two columns: one that lists each word or rule and one that defines the style. Fill in the template as you write or receive comments from your editor.

A style sheet also can help you achieve consistency across a series of articles for the same magazine or for each book in a trilogy. It can save you time when editing your final draft by eliminating the need to look up a given rule in a larger reference work or trying to locate a particular email from your editor. With style sheets, guides and manuals helping you handle the mechanics of writing, you will have creative energy left over for the fun part of writing, such as choosing great literary devices and playing with the rhythm of a sentence. Within the constraints of proper style, your own writing voice will emerge.

Which resources have you found most helpful for keeping your writing in style?

How to Write a Nonfiction Book that Sells — Part 1

Nonfiction Readers Want in a BookYou can have the greatest book idea in the world, but if it won’t sell, what’s the point in writing it? Unless you simply want to leave a legacy for your family and friends with no concern for sharing the message with anyone else.

As a Christian author, I’m driven to offer lasting hope to those who might read my words. So it’s important I wisely choose the subjects, the titles, the content, the marketing plan, and the future books listed in my proposals. There’s a lot I still don’t know about this process, why some titles are purchased while others languish, but I’ve certainly picked up a few secrets. Some of them, I wish I’d known earlier. Maybe what I’ve learned will help someone else in the place I was a short time in the past.

  • The first and most important thing is choose your subject(s) wisely. But with so many books in existence, and a plethora of authors scrambling for attention, how do you find a fresh subject to write about? Here’s one of my secrets. I listen to others, but I also listen to myself. Both of my initial book titles came about that way. With First Hired, Last Fired, someone said to me, “Anyone can be replaced.” I automatically replied, “Is that really true?” Voila, the subtitle, How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market was born as Greg’s variation from my first take on the idea of being irreplaceable at work. My second title happened when I heard myself say to someone, “You know, there are things in life we learn to get through, but no matter what anyone says, we just won’t get over.” A little tweaking and tightening later, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over became a book that a lot of people say they or someone else needs to read.Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book Cover

Listen to your own conversations. What scares us? What are we complaining about? What confuses us? What aha moments do we encounter and why? What works and what doesn’t? How have we discovered hope and healing? For Christian authors, what does the Bible say that’s relevant to 21st century issues, in the here and now?

  • The second most important thing is titling. I’d say the process you use to choose a topic works as well for picking a title. What grabs you? Can you turn a cliché upside down? Is there a pithy quote you can tweak to make your own and spread the message in your topic? What do you hear yourself and others say?

For subtitling, follow the advice of Alice Crider, my former coach and agent with WordServe, “Make a promise you can keep to the readers in every subtitle.” Anytime someone offers us a solution to a big problem, we’re interested. Right?

  • For this segment, I’d conclude with the power of valuable content. Slapping a few words together will not provide opportunities to grow your career as a professional author. Do your homework by reading books on writing well. Hone your craft constantly. Connect with other professionals and barter for editing/critiquing services; look for that rare mix of honesty and encouragement. Karen Barnes Jordan deserves credit for every book of mine that’s sold. You can have the best concept in the world, but if you can’t communicate it clearly, it’s lost on potential readers and they will tune you out.

In part two, I’ll share insights about marketing and future books. No proposal worth its words will sell without showing you have great message promotions in the hopper. There’s a basic formula to writing a non-fiction book that sells, the key is in following it all the way through.

What obstacles are you hitting in your efforts to sell your projects?