Marketing With A New Mindset

 

If you’re like me, sometimes the best thing in life is a little change of perspective.

perspective

Last July I got my first taste of publication. After months of hard work, I held the finished product in my hand. Countless drafts had transformed into orderly pages and endless edits changed into final words. It was beautiful. And then came the real work—marketing.

For many of us, the idea of marketing our books makes us a little queasy. Peddling wares and pushing books is not an exciting notion. After all, we are writers. Our gift is with words not a megaphone. In fact, most writers fear the aspect of marketing their own book. Yet, in today’s publishing world self-promotion and book marketing are a must.

If you have written a book, part of your purpose is to bring something meaningful to the reader. How can that reader be reached if there is no one to share it?

Think of the passage in Matthew 25:14-30

In this parable, a rich man who was going on a journey called his three servants together. He told them to take care of his property while he was gone. The master gave five talents to one servant, two to another, and one to the third. Then the master left.

The servant who had received five talents made five more. The servant who received two made two more. But the servant who received one buried his talent in the ground. Later, the master returned to settle his accounts. The master praised the first and second servant. But the master’s response to the third was harsh. He stripped the talent from the lazy servant and gave it to the first servant.

In the parable, the master expected his servants to invest and be proactive, to use and expand their talent instead of passively preserving it. With the first servant, courage to face the unknown was rewarded, and we can see God expects us to use our talents toward productive ends, not only was the first servant allowed to keep what he earned, he was invited to rejoice with his master.

This is such a beautiful illustration of what we should do with our God given gifts.

So, is there a cure for marketing anxiety? Maybe. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and gain a new perspective. Maybe it’s time to stop looking at it as MARKETING and instead, look at it as ADVOCATING Your God Given Gifts.

gifts

You are your work’s greatest advocate. So who better to promote it than you? It’s up to you to reach your audience. Invest yourself. When we share our talents lives are changed!

With the same passion that drove you to write your project in the first place, look at your book marketing plan in a new sense. Instead of marketing, advocate. Use whatever is available to you and proudly declare yourself, your message, and your book. Move forward with certainty that you have something important to share and what you share has the power to change the world.

3 Ways to Build Your Writing Career

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As a pre-teen with literary dreams, I was blessed to have a newspaper editor for an uncle. During a visit to his house, he introduced me to a Writer’s Market and demonstrated how to submit poems and short stories to magazines. That nudge helped me sail my ship. After a few dozen submissions, I received my first byline. I still have the $8 check. :)

I’m thankful for my uncle’s mentoring, and I try to help other writers get started and stay motivated. As a result, I’m often asked by excited beginners, “how do I get published?” That’s a good question. But it may be the wrong question. I believe a person who’s serious about writing should instead ask, “How do I build a career?”

As I’ve pondered what that process entails, I’ve uncovered three important steps to building a career as a professional writer. They comprise the chart for navigating the murky waters of publishing.

First–Build Confidence

Confidence is the anchor of a writer’s craft. Repeat after me: “I am a writer.” Now say it again. Then repeat this exercise until you believe what you’re saying.

Another way to build confidence is to join a writer’s group, either locally or online.file0001814083365

Your belief in yourself will also improve as you learn about the ocean that is publishing. Like a fisherman trolling unchartered waters, be adventurous—by attending conferences and by subscribing to unfamiliar online and print newsletters and magazines.

There are two reasons to navigate new territory often: first, markets rapidly change, and second, editors and agents repeatedly change positions. The writer with the advantage is the one who stays abreast of people, publications, and trends.

Case in point: recently, a magazine accepted an article of mine (which they had previously rejected) because I re-submitted it when a new editor came on board. I found out about the opportunity through the “market news” section of a writer’s newsletter.

Second–Build Credits

How do you get those all-important first credits? Author Sarah Stockton, says she took two approaches to building her clip file: “First, I targeted online publications that didn’t pay. These are often easier to break into. Secondly, I queried places where I felt I had something to contribute that I felt passionate about, with an idea directly related to their content and an angle that I hadn’t seen from them before.”

Sand your boat often, by reworking old material. Also, don’t forget to revise your new bread several times before casting it on the waters.

Reprints are another way to beef up your resume. After you have a few excellent articles, try selling them over and over again. Each time, you’ll receive a new credit, as well as payment (whether it be in money or in publicity) for old work.

Third—Build Your Craft

Developing your craft takes perseverance, patience and prayer. Picture Noah, slowly putting the ark together under blue skies.Then feel God smiling on you as you obey Him, even when the rest of the world points and laughs.

Other ways to build your craft: attending a writer’s conference every year, entering contests, listening/reading books on areas in which you’re weak, and completing writing courses, whether in person or online.

Now grab that hammer and a few nails and start building your craft. I’ll see you in the water!

Winning Writing Contests

I’ve both entered and judged several writing contests over the last four years. Not only that, but have been asked to review a myriad of early manuscripts for newer writers.

award-152042_1280Most recently, I entered the Blurb to Book contest sponsored by Love Inspired. I’m happy to report that I made it to Round Two (Go Team LIS!) What I thought was interesting about this particular contest is that the sponsoring editors sent out an e-mail to all the participants before they released the round two results that outlined several reasons why you may not have progressed in the contest.

I found this information highly valuable and also found it to be consistent with entries and early manuscripts I’ve judged/read that didn’t fair too well. So, I thought this list would be interesting to you because it speaks to universal problems among writers. The LI editors should receive credit for these items and I’ll be expanding on their list with thoughts of my own.

1. No strong hook. For this contest, we had to write a blurb (something akin to back cover copy) and were limited to only one hundred words. You realize very quickly how few words that really is. But this comment of the blurb or hook not being strong enough can be carried over into other things. Your cover letter didn’t have enough punch. Each word has to be powerful. A short blurb like this is easy enough for other people to read and critique.

2. Too much back story in the first page. This is so common I almost gave the editors a standing ovation when I read it. This is a very common mishap in writing. In round one of this contest, we submitted the blurb as noted above and just the first page of a first chapter. That’s it. Imagine how strikingly engaging this first page must be! My professional writing opinion is that it takes authors time to “warm up” to their stories and this is a lot of what’s happening in those first pages. It’s really character profiling. My suggestion is to look at page five of your first chapter. The first event that happens is really the start of your story. Back story can be dropped in as the story progresses.

3. Not following the guidelines. Every time you submit something as a writer, there’s likely a document that covers the submission process–whether it be for an agent, an editor or a contest. Read them. Double check them. Even if your writing is fabulous, if you haven’t “followed the rules” you can be kicked out of the contest just for formatting issues. Seriously, don’t let the wrong font drop you from a contest. You also cannot “break the rules” in the sense that if a publisher says a character cannot do such and such–they really mean it. If you don’t like the guidelines of that particular publisher–don’t write for them.

4. No conflict. Every story, regardless of genre, must have tension/conflict. It’s why we read story. Readers don’t want to read about happy people in happy places where nothing ever happens. Even the sweetest romance story has conflict. James Scott Bell has a whole book about it called Conflict and Suspense. Check it out.

5. Telling rather than showing. A common issue for writers. I’ve written a blog post on showing versus telling here that will better illustrate this point.

6. Confusing. Have another writer read your entry. If it’s not clear to a reader, clean it up regardless of how you feel about the passage.

7. Writing . . . not quite there. As the editors said in their e-mail– everyone has to start somewhere. Writing is a craft that must be learned and honed. Did you know just learning a craft takes 6-10 years? Think about musicians, dancers, or painters. Did they succeed at their first attempt? I think people don’t give learning the craft of writing enough credit in the sense that because we know English and can craft a sentence since grade school– we should be able to write a great novel the first time out of the gate.

Have you ever watched The Voice? We can all sing, right? Of course, some better than others. But if you listen to the mentors work with these young singers, you’ll hear them talk a lot about practice, about craft, about emotion in singing. “Come back next year when you practice these things.” You know what? The singers that take this to heart do practice, they do come back, and often times they do better the next time around.

So… keep writing! Keep entering those contests regardless of the result. Take the information from the judges as a learning opportunity to grow.

Have you ever entered a writing contest?

Cutting Out the Frivolous Stuff

song sparrow singingLast week, during a series of presentations on writing-related discoveries, which I always make first-year composition students do at the end of the year, one student said, “I learned that writing shorter is harder than writing longer.”

“Why’s that, do you think?” I asked.

He thought before answering.White-crowned-Sparrow

“Because to make something shorter, you have to make all these decisions. Like, what’s important and what to get rid of. And then, after you take stuff out, you have to change other stuff to make it sound right.”

“You mean, you have to revise—like, you know, re-see it,” another student chimed in.

“Yeah. It is like that,” he said. “Like seeing that it could be a different way and still be what I wanted to say. Maybe even better. I never thought of that. I always used to think revision was just fixing stuff.” The two students grinned with that mixture of embarrassment and pride students always have when using the language of the course.White-Throated_Sparrow

That night I led a professional development session for graduate faculty on the subject of assessing final projects.

“Everything students hand in is a draft,” I remarked in passing, “and drafts are hard to grade. If you want your students to revise, you have to trick them into it.”

Field_Sparrow“How?” one professor asked.

“Lots of ways,” I said, “but the most successful way for me is to give maximum word limits on assignments rather than minimum word limits.”

“How does that make them revise?” she persisted.

I knew that being made to write short did force students to revise, but it took me a second to come up with a reason why on the spot. “I guess it’s like when you fill out an online application and have to answer a question in a little box that limits you to only so many characters, including spaces,” I told them. “What you write is always way too long. So you have to keep paring it down, getting rid of unnecessary stuff, often the parts you’re Harris's Sparrowproudest of, so you can get down to what’s essential. And, in the end, it’s not only shorter but better. Or, anyway, I always think it is. In my experience, the same thing happens with students when I give them word limits. I get all these emails, begging me to let them go longer. But I never do. Not one word. So they have to revise. And what they turn in is lots better than what they turn in when they’re just trying to fill pages.”

Everyone wrote that down—the most useful grading takeaway, even though it wouldn’t be relevant until they started building assignments the next semester.

The next day, at an end-of-year luncheon of honors English students, my department chair asked those about to graduate to share the moment they realized they wanted to study English, and two women talked about learning to write short.

lark sparrow“Being forced to cut made my writing so much better,” one said. “I knew how to improve my writing after learning that.”

“I had this revelation that every sentence matters,” said another. “That was the moment for me.”

Finally, yesterday, my novel workshop students were talking about their revision strategies for the three chapters I’d be grading at the end of the semester.

“I’m cutting out a lot of frivolous stuff,” one said. “That’s the main thing I learned in this class: You don’t need half the stuff you write.”Chipping_Sparrow

As always, whenever I have one of these clumps of similar messages, I figured it wasn’t just coincidence—or the more obvious reality that people were saying back to me what I’d been preaching all semester—but the Holy Spirit weighing in on the ssavannah sparrowubject. It seemed strange, though, that the Holy Spirit was interested in revision.

Then it occurred to me that I’m the one who needed the cutting message I’d been preaching. My own novel is a frivolous (and practically unpublishable for a first novel) 130,000 words.

There’s no getting around it, I told myself. You need to cut another 30,000 words.

That doesn’t begin to answer the question—if you’re still wondering—of why cutting words from my pages might interest the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it’s that, as I like to tell my students, revision is a key part of the creative process, and God has always been into that. Separating light from dark, water from land. Fiddling with it, examining it, considering, until it’s good, or very good.

Or maybe God’s interested in revision for the same reason he pays attention to sparrows: namely, all of his creation—birds, us, our minds, words, our little improvement plans—fascinates and delights him.

(PS: To whatever fellow birdlovers are out there, I saw all the sparrows pictured this morning: song, white-crowned, white-throated, field, Harris’s, lark, chipping, and savannah. I feel so blessed!)

My Indie Story (And Why I still *Heart* My Agent)

myindiestoryThere are a gazillion reasons why authors choose to go the “indie” route. (Wanting to use the word gazillion to the chagrin of every publisher out there might be one of them…. :-))

They want more control over covers and editing, more share of the profit, quicker publication. They may be tired of waiting and/or writing in a niche market that isn’t served by traditional publishers… the reasons are as wide and varied as the genres they write in.

I thought I’d share my story and my motivations, and why I still want, value, and love my agent.

IMG_5199My story is a complicated one. When I signed with my first agent and got that coveted first publishing contract, I was in the throes of a personal trial that was, to say the very least, difficult. My fourth daughter was born in 2010 with half of a heart and spent her first 308 days in the hospital.

About three weeks after she came home from the hospital, on oxygen and twenty different medications, and after four open heart surgeries including a heart transplant, an editor offered me a contract. I was also offered representation by an agent, all in the same week.

On one hand, I was ecstatic. This was my dream come true. And considering I’d given up my pay-the-bills day job to take care of my daughter, it felt like amazing timing.

What I didn’t factor in was a fun case of stress induced depression, ongoing medical issues with my daughter (including one very scary helicopter ride which included CPR… Boo!) and the immense stress of editing on a deadline and trying to market a book–all the while dealing with those deeply difficult, personal trials.

SandwichOnce my book came out, I kinda collapsed. I was exhausted and needed a timeout. I took the next year to recharge and focus on my family. Writing was almost laughable during that time.

When I finally emerged during the fall of 2013 and felt God nudging me to write again, I was met with a few stark and depressing realities regarding my writing career.

1.) Releasing a novel without a follow-up anytime soon does not make for grand sales history.

2.) Trying to market a book well during such a difficult time also doesn’t breed super quality sales either. While my book didn’t totally bomb, it fell much below my expectations, which probably didn’t help my depression either!

3.) Even if I polished up my finished manuscript and had my agent immediately submit it, due to publishing schedules, it’d probably be at least two years or more before it would actually be published, thus making a span of close to three years between book releases. The business side of me knows that isn’t ideal for marketing purposes.

So what to do?Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00095]

I needed a book release sooner than later, and a way to build back up the platform I lost during my mental-health break. I looked at all those indie authors and wrinkled my nose. No. I’m a writer, not a publisher. That is not what I want at all.

But the more I rejected the idea, the more God pushed me toward it. Then ideas started flowing… what if I did some followups to the first book? Maybe some novellas, then finish out the series with a full-length?

The thought blossomed over a few months. God gave me some fun ideas for books and titles and put some amazing indie-authors in my path to teach me the ropes. I am forever thankful to them!

And you know what?

I don’t regret it for a moment. My sales haven’t been astronomical. My “grand plan” is to release three novellas then a final “full length” to wrap up the series, while my fabulous agent works her magic with a new series.

I’m using the three novellas as trial books, trying different marketing strategies on each to see what works, what doesn’t, and what I can do better. The first book, A Side of Faith, came out in August, 2014, and the second, A Side of Hope, came out March of this year.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00095]A Side of Love will release later this year, and the full length, The Greatest is Love, will release in 2016.

It’s been a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I’d originally dreaded every single step in the process, but the idea of being a hybrid author is intriguing.

At this point, I don’t see myself going “full” indie. I LOVE my agent (waving to Sarah) and LOVE working on a team with a publisher. I know this idea isn’t embraced by all indies, and that’s super okay. What is good for one is not for another.

But this is my Indie story, and I’m very thankful I followed God’s leading and stepped out of my comfort zone. In the end, my hope and prayer is that my indie books and my traditional books can work hand-in-hand to help each other.

What about you? Have you ever thought of indie publishing? Why or why not? While I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m happy to answer what questions I can!

Following the Story to a Different Market

All readers of this blog may not be writing for the CBA market and others may be contemplating writing for the general market when they’ve been in the CBA market for a while.

booksI thought it would be interesting to get the opinion of an author who changed from the Christian market to the general market and what her reasons were for doing so. She brought along two other friends to share their insight as well.

Welcome back, Charise!

Last year, I began to write my first non-Christian marketplace fiction project. It was a kind of one-off idea that I just wanted to try. It was a serial. It was historical fiction; I normally write contemporary. And it was for the general market. It started as a sort of experiment while I plotted my next contemporary novel for the CBA market (as were my first two).

But then something happened. I loved the freedom. The internal editor that kept me from writing what my characters really felt, thought, did and said was silent. And it all felt better. It read better. Frankly, it was better. And I decided I would no longer write with a CBA editor— or CBA reader— in mind.

Instead of being a Christian writer of fiction primarily for Christian readers, I am a writer who is a Christian. It now feels as I am writing with more truth than less; and the struggle with being “Christian enough” is over.

I know two other writers who have made this same switch: Katherine Bolger Hyde and Wendy Paine Miller.

Charise: What made you decide to move toward the general market from the Christian reader market?

Katherine: Even with an agent who believed in my work, I was not able to sell a novel to a CBA publisher. I had the choice of adapting my writing to that market or moving to a different market. Because I felt the adaptations being asked of me would have compromised the artistic integrity of my work, I chose to move.

Wendy: I’ve been honored to be invited to dozens of book clubs, and as I joined in the discussions, it became abundantly clear to me that Christians weren’t the only ones reading and enjoying my books. That was the strongest reason for me. But there’s more. My stories touch upon emotions and depth that reach beyond the Christian market—that are not exclusive to the CBA. When I write I don’t set out to work the gospel into my story arc or I don’t purposefully include a hopeful message. I just follow the story. I trust my faith enough to let it lead where it will.

Charise: I love that, Wendy, “I just follow the story. I trust my faith enough to lead where it will.” I felt the general market would let me be as dark as I needed to be in order to then show how much more blinding the light was when it broke through. And like Katherine, I was not selling in CBA nor entirely comfortable with the editorial limits.

What was the response from your writing network to that decision?

Katherine: My network was mostly supportive—probably because it was pretty obvious to anyone who read my work that it didn’t belong in CBA!

Wendy: So far, so good. As with any change, some have embraced it…

Charise: I think some were surprised and probably a few were relieved. Though I have had longer conversations than I expected about the new content and my choices.

What have been the greatest challenges?

Katherine: Honestly? Almost the minute I made the move, most of my challenges disappeared! The first novel I wrote deliberately for the general market sold to the first agent and the first editor who looked at it. I also got a better advance than I could have hoped for in CBA.

Wendy: Sometimes I feel like I’m straddling an invisible fence. Or quite frankly, I feel too Christian for the ABA market and not Christian enough for the CBA. It’s a strange place to be but more and more I’m feeling I’m on this exact road for a reason.

Charise: Katherine, that is a powerful affirmation! For me, the challenge has been to “sit out” on certain events and conversations because my stories will not fit in with CBA-oriented material. I’m still friends, of course, but there have been challenges.

What have been the rewards?

Katherine: I feel much more free to write what and how I am naturally inclined to do. I found CBA limiting not only in its evangelical worldview (which does not match my Orthodox Christian worldview) but also in its mission-driven approach to fiction. I see fiction as an art form; CBA seems to view it as a tool for evangelism, which can be crippling artistically. As a bonus, I’ve been fortunate enough to land with a publisher who doesn’t object to a little subtle spiritual content in their books.

Wendy: Understanding who I am as an author and establishing a grounded sense of what I want to write. Also, a wider reach. I’m a huge fan of engaging in enriching conversations and this happens at book clubs. When the topic of faith comes up doors open. It’s natural. There’s no budging involved. I learned to trust my voice, to filter through all the ideas of where I thought I’d be and who I thought I was becoming. I took risks. I paid attention, then did things that didn’t feel as safe but ultimately helped me to become a more authentic author.

Charise: I really just want to say “ditto” to Katherine and Wendy’s comments. Having readers who never would have found me in CBA contact me to say “that’s just how I felt!”  The rewards have been to be able tell the story the way I believed it was meant to be told.

Anything else to add on the subject?

Katherine: I have to thank all the people I met in the Christian fiction world for their kindness, generosity, and support. I made many friends there who still put up with me now that I’ve left. I’m not sure I would have had the courage to leap out into the general market if I hadn’t built up my confidence through several years in CBA.

Wendy: I’ll always come alongside other authors no matter who their audience is. This is a crazy calling. And we’d all benefit from doling out more support.

Charise: It can be a hard change, but if it’s the right change for your story and your career and your readers— then it’s the right change to make.

How did you choose your reading market?

Have you changed markets? How did it go?

Have you considered doing so? What’s holding you back?

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Katherine Hyde is an editor by day and a mystery writer by  night. Arsenic with Austen, the first in her mystery series, Crime With the Classics, will launch in 2016. Find out more about Katherine at http://kbhyde.com

Wendy Paine Miller writes women’s fiction and suspense. Her latest release is The Delicate Nature of Love. Meet Wendy and her books at http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com

Charise Olson writes historical fiction under the pen name Leo Colson. The first episode in her serial The Roaring Redwoods is free! For more details and her blog visithttp://chariseolson.com

Crafting a Business Plan

Only a couple weeks ago, I closed the chapter on a significant season in my life – the completion of my first three-book series. I feel as if the last three years of my life have passed in a blur of deadlines, beautiful character adventures, and growing pains. As I celebrate the ending of this season and the potential of the next, I also need to reevaluate what I want this writing gig to look like going forward.

But that’s the thing. It’s more than a writing gig. It’s a business, a ministry. As with all businesses, it requires strategy, planning, and much prayer. When I first began this adventure, I wish someone had told me to look ahead, to dream but to do so in detail. As I reflect on all God has done, I am hitting “pause”–as I pray about contracts and direction and stories–to craft a business plan, one that gives me direction for the years (I hope) that loom with possibility before me.

Kariss Lynch Shakespeare quote

Creating Your Own Business Plan:

1) Craft a mission statement.

What is the purpose of your writing ministry? We all want to reach and impact readers. Be more specific. What unique calling/gifting/direction do you bring to the table?

2) Identify your audience.

If you have worked with publishers or are working to break into the field, you are aware that you must define your audience for your proposals. Be more specific than the age range. Do you write for those who have lost hope? Are your stories for the courageous at heart who want to change the world?

3) Set long-term and short-term goals.

This is where I am crafting financial, spiritual, physical, intellectual, family, social, and career goals. If every area of my life feeds my writing, and I believe it does, then it is important I take all of this into account. I’ve noticed I write better in deadline season when I am taking time to eat healthy and exercise. On the nights I don’t sleep much in favor of finishing a project, my health routine gives me energy to keep pushing. When I don’t set time aside to invest in family and friends or have fun, I write from a drained tank. If I don’t attend at least one conference a year, I miss out on building relationships and gaining valuable training. Goals help me account for these moments, and tackle them with more gusto.

4) Formulate a guideline for the unknown.

I have lingering questions that I want to answer that will help me as this career hopefully grows. Do I want to limit myself to my current genre or do I have other story styles burning on my heart? If so, what do I need to do to incorporate those stories? How do I respond to speaking opportunities? How am I going to interact with readers? How do I answer those who ask my advice on writing? How will I handle endorsements and judging writing competitions? I am working on answers to all these questions. I believe having an idea in place will help me to respond well when these situations arise.

5) Share your vision.

I have a small group of people in my life who will gather to give me feedback on my business plan. They will respond as readers, but they will also respond from a place of knowing my heart. They will be my encouragers in the months and years ahead, my accountability if I get off track, and the ones with wisdom to help me reevaluate this business plan when the need arises. They are the ones who challenged me to identify my direction in the first place.

I am still working to finalize this business plan and would love to hear from you! What goals have you set for your writing career? Do you have a business plan that helps keep you on track, or do you use another method?