The Cheater’s Guide to Building Your Author Platform – part 2

Building Your Author Platform

As a Mennonite farm girl growing up in Indiana, I learned the Mennonite philosophy of “being the quiet in the land.”  I was taught that it was important not to stand out or draw attention to myself. I never fit in.

You may not have grown up Mennonite, but likely you have been taught to fit in. In subtle and not so subtle ways you have been told “not to rock the boat.” If you write and market a book that looks like every other book, it won’t sell.

Be a Purple Cow - MarketingBe a Purple Cow 

Seth Godin lauded as a leading marketing expert, describes what it means to find your purple cow and market your message. Watch this interview.

In todays market with so many books, you will not make a lasting impact with an average book written to average people. Marketing today has changed. We have so many choices.

As you are marketing your book, you are really marketing you. You are the “brand.” So as you determine how to market your message as yourself these questions:

1. What is remarkable about you?

What is the 2-3% about your message that makes you unique? Rather than aiming at the giant target to make yourself look like every other author/speaker, aim at the bulls eye of being authentic. What about your message and life makes other people make “remarks.”

When I considered which book to write first, I settled in on the thing that people remarked about me the most: I am the mom of 6 children. I struggled with this decision to enter into this market. You see, I am not a mommy-blogger. I don’t like Pinterest and I don’t have ideas for how to have fun play dates with your children.

I am a mom, who never pictured herself being a mom. My first born daughter and I were rescued from a burning house when she was only 5 weeks old. Although we were saved from the fire, she developed colic and screamed for hours at a time. When I finally got her enrolled in Mother’s Day Out, she was “kicked” out for biting another baby and drawing blood.

Yet, with all of this struggle of imperfect motherhood, I have 6 beautiful children. 2 of my children are special needs boys adopted from Brazil at ages 12 and 8. Just surviving motherhood is remarkable.

What is remarkable about you and your message? What makes you stand out. Tell your story in such a way that your uniqueness stands out.

2. Are you willing to be vulnerable?

Marketing - overcome writer's blockTo be a purple cow that stands out from all the white and black cows you have to be vulnerable. You have to wrestle with the fact that what you are trying to do might not work. You have to overcome all the noise in your head that pushes you to be “normal.” The best way to overcome “writer’s block” is to find the “sweet spot” of your message.

When I first began writing 9 Traits of a Life-Giving Mom, I started using other people’s lives to tell the story. My editor would read it and say, “I want to hear your story.” I was afraid to tell my story. I didn’t want to be rejected for my flaws and I saw myself as ordinary.

When I began writing the second draft, I began exposing all my faults. I exposed my internal thoughts about being the worst mom in the world.

That’s when I hit my “sweet spot” of my niche. I’m not writing to the moms who feel like they have-it-all-together. I’m writing to the moms that are hanging by their fingernails. I found that every mom in the world wants to be the best mom in the world for her child, but often she feels like the worst.

What is the “sweet spot” of your message? Where does your message meet a felt need? That becomes your marketing message.

Find your Tribe of People and they will be begging you for more. When you write, you are writing their thoughts. This is not only true in your book but in every other way that you chose to communicate to get your message out. Such as:

  • blog
  • podcast
  • social media
  • radio interviews
  • tv interviews

Memorize short segments of your material that makes your message memorable. Capitalize on the felt need of your tribe. Validate their personal situation. Become a friend to walk on the path together.

Next week we are going to talk about being a risk taker. We will also talk about more specific marketing ideas that you can employ right away. This week as you go through your day, be willing to be a “purple cow.” Make your message stand out.

Revising Aloud

Tihamér_Margitay_Exciting_story“Reading aloud,” I’m always telling my writing students, “is the best way to revise.”

I encourage them—sometimes require them—to find read-aloud partners or start writing groups in which they take turns reading their work aloud.

“Hearing your sentences spoken lets you know whether they’re clear and natural-sounding—whether someone actually could speak them,” I explain. “And it doesn’t work to read to an empty room. You need a warm body, a listener, to complete the communication. Speaking is, after all, a collaborative act.”

Finding that read-aloud partner is easy at college, where everyone’s engaged in writing all the time. Outside the college setting, though, finding someone willing to listen can be a challenge.800px-Anker_Sonntagnachmittag_1861 People are busy. Few have time to sit still for an hour while some verbose writer drones on. That’s how they’ll imagine it when you propose reading to them. We Americans have lost—or never had—the habit of listening to people read. We had only the shallowest tradition of serial novels, released chapter by chapter as Dickens’ novels were and read to the whole family at fireside. And no comfy pubs—without blaring TVs—like the one where C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and their writer buddies hung out, drank beer, and read their work to one another. Writers who give public readings these days will tell you it’s hard to get even close friends to attend. Our lives are too busy for read-alouds.

I often recommend to writer friends that they make use of the lonely people in their lives: shut-in relatives, kid-imprisoned friends who wish they had a grownup to talk to, recently retired colleagues with time on their hands. 1280px-Anker-_Die_Andacht_des_Grossvaters_1893It sounds terrible, this “making use” of others, taking advantage of their neediness to assuage your own, but in my experience such mutual exchanges not only helped my writing but also transformed intended acts of mercy—“I should spend more time with my mother-in-law,” I was always telling myself—into pleasurable time together, which we both looked forward to. My mother-in-law not only got longed-for company but also felt needed; I got my warm body but also genuine enjoyment, without having to chide myselfHugo_Bürkner_Lesestunde (usually in vain) to, as Paul recommends, “give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9.7 NRSV). The mutual benefit, I found, guaranteed that cheerfulness, for both of us—because attentive listening and being listened to can’t help but nurture relationships.

My daughter Lulu has been on semester break from college for the past month, with a couple more weeks to go. It’s tricky having a grown daughter home that long. We’ve long since put our Christmas CDs away, but I’m still in the throes of Bing Crosby’s parental prophecy for the season: “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again!”

Luckily, Lulu’s engrossed in the final revision stages of her senior project—a hundred-Amédée_Guérard_Bibelstundepage translation of and critical introduction to an East German book—and I’m busy trying to cut 30,000 words from a novel before sending it out, so we have tasks to distract us from the inevitable mother-daughter combat. Also, since we’re in about the same place in our revisions—where what we need most is to hear them aloud and find out if they work—we’ve established a read-aloud schedule: I read her a couple short chapters during her late breakfast, and she reads me one long chapter while I trim vegetables for dinner.

I can’t say it’s the perfect exchange my mother-in-law and I had. Lulu doesn’t end my readings, as my mother-in-law always did, with “That’s the best thing you’ve ever written!” And, as a writer and teacher of writing, I give more critical feedback than Lulu really wants. But our reading fills two hours of our day with mostly pleasurable, mutually beneficial work. More importantly, the listening involved gives us both practice, at this complex juncture of our parental-filial journey, in navigating our new relationship as related but separate adults. As peers, in other words. Equals. Reciprocally heard, appreciated, and loved.

Troubles, Many and Bitter

sail-boat-508183_640 troubles many and bitter post pixabay“Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things. Who is like You, God? Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter, You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.” Psalm 71:19-21

When the world mourned the passing of Princess Diana, I heard a pastor say, “There is no earthly sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.” In the midst of the darkest days – or even the ones that just don’t measure up to our expectations or hopes – we can be absolutely certain that our Heavenly Father is already, right now in fact, restoring everything.

Everything.

Troubles, though many and bitter, come into our lives; yet these circumstances cannot touch or change the beauty God is already weaving through it all. When you’re walking an unfamiliar pathway, and there doesn’t seem to be any hope in sight, remember that God often does His best work behind the scenes. A better day is coming. Hang onto the promises in His word; remember His faithfulness in the past; and simply breathe in His grace while you exhale whatever prayers you can. Your Heavenly Father has you and He isn’t about to let go of you.

And then, to add grace upon His already extravagant grace, God increases the honor of the one who chooses to praise Him anyway -through the storms and challenges of life. May He find us trusting Him and relying upon Him more and more, regardless of the storm clouds blocking our view of the sun.

The Unfastened Safety Harness

Working on my most recent book, Wheels Stop: The Tragedies and Triumphs of the Space Shuttle Program (University of Nebraska Press 2013), changed my life forever.

The date was June 22, 2010, and research for Wheels Stop had led me to Johnson Space Center in Houston. Astronaut Doug Hurley was kind enough to invite me to do a run on the Space Shuttle’s motion-base simulator, an ultra-high-tech contraption that tilted upward to simulate the launch position, and then shook and rattled to prepare astronauts for the ride uphill.

IMG_0280

Although I was smiling alongside astronaut Doug Hurley (left) in the Space Shuttle’s motion-base simulator, my heart was broken. A major life change was already beginning to take place.

I couldn’t wait to take him up on it. I have dreamed of being an astronaut my entire life — my last name is Houston for crying out loud — and this was as close as I would ever get. Slowly, I fastened four of the five safety harnesses as we prepared for the run. The fifth belt refused to buckle due to the size of my belly. It still hurts to think about that fifth seat belt even four years later.

This wasn’t happening. I’d been embarrassed many, many times by my size, but never with an honest-to-goodness astronaut standing over me, trying to figure out a way to help. Doug never said anything ugly, but he didn’t need to. I was devastated, and becoming more and more so as I desperately tried to force the issue. My ribs hurt so badly, I could barely breathe.

SLIDE THREE

My before …

Fortunately, we proceeded with the simulation of two launches and five landings. It should have been one of the most memorable moments of my career, and it was, but inside my heart was absolutely broken. I had to change something, and I had to do it quickly. My wife needs a husband, and my sons need a daddy. Heading the way I was headed, I wasn’t going to survive.

Rather than going on some crazy diet when I got back from Houston, I simply started eating like I had some sense. Chinese buffets were my absolute favorite, but they had to go.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were were like my crack cocaine. No more. Not even half of one. Oreo cookies … country fried steak … it was once nothing to eat nearly two pounds worth of bacon and tomato sandwiches. I’ve never been drunk or high, but I know full well what it means to be addicted.

I could do one lap of a half-mile track near our local YMCA without feeling like I was going to break. Then, I could do two … and then four. I signed up to walk in my first 5k, and then I signed up for another. I took a class at the Y on how to actually train for a 5k, and ever since then, I’ve been running. More than four years later I’ve run seventeen 5ks, four 10ks, and three half-marathons. I’ve lost approximately 110 pounds.

houston5k1

… and after photos.

Today, I’m satisfied with my weight. I’m not skinny by any means, but I’m happy with where I am. There’s nothing all that special about my story. Yes, I’ve been able to drop a significant amount of weight, but it wasn’t some super-secret diet or workout routine that did the trick. I was a writer who was almost completely sedentary behind a keyboard and computer monitor, and once I started moving, I haven’t stopped.

Trust me. If I can do it, anybody can. Working on your latest project is important, yes, but not at the expense of your quality of life. Hang in there. You can do it. I promise!

The Cheater’s Guide to Building Your Author Platform – Part 1

With a glazed look on my face, I obediently handed my phone over to “the expert” sitting beside me. As she looked up my twitter account which had an oval egg shape for my picture, I couldn’t help feeling intimidated by the task of building an author platform.

I had spent my entire life serving in pastoral ministry. When social media first came on the scene, I was suspect of the enemy’s evil intent to use the media to entrap our children.

Now here I was, listening to Michael Hyatt talk about the power and necessity of every author building a platform to launch their book. Much of what he was saying went over myplatform head. Yet as I listened for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit to guide me, I simply heard this word: engage.

As I engaged in the social media platform beginning that day two years ago, I grew from 4 twitter followers to over 21,000. I joined the social conversation and found a whole new world of influence.

Since my first book, 9 Traits of a Life-Giving Mom, hit #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Christian Women’s Issues, I regularly have authors seeking my advice on how to build their own platforms.

Let’s Begin at the Beginning

Watch Michael Hyatt’s simple video on Platform Building.

1. Start with a Blog

Begin to build a following. Give people an opportunity to get to know your heart. Use your blog as a spring board to all of your other social media engagement.

If you are an author of a number of books, you are probably your brand. You may write on a number of blogs. A foundational part of your strategy is your own blog where you can share your passion and build a loyal following. I chose to use my own name for my primary blog at SueDetweiler.com.

2. Develop a Social Media Strategy

You are unique. Social media needs to work for you. As you begin to see the power of social media, use these principles as a guide: 12-28-14 Social Media

  • Use Time Management Tools
  • Link Social Media Posts
  • Strategically Post Throughout the Day

The key to social media is to see it as an ongoing conversation with a friend. You are sharing about all the things that you care about. People who read your tweets will know what you enjoy. Don’t be afraid to share your personal story and pictures. Provide your tribe with ongoing helpful resources.

3. Be Real

Don’t try to appear to be anyone else than who you truly are. You don’t have to be perfect. In fact, one of the ways that people will be drawn to you is when they sense you are transparent. Don’t try to be Barbie or Ken; just be who God made you to be. Let your quirks come through in your social media platform.

Don’t be tripped up by your own perfectionism and fail to launch into a new thing. Allow yourself the freedom to try something new. Stoke the fires of your own adventurous spirit.

4. Use Video

Video can be really simple. The technology on your smart phone will allow you to do video in minutes. As an author, you can use the power of video to sell your book. Here’s a simple book trailer that was created for me on Fiverr.com. Video doesn’t have to cost you a fortune to be effective in telling your story.

I also used simple video introductions of each chapter of my book as an additionalbuilding your author platform resource. At the end of each chapter a simple code invites the readers to watch the video or download a printable of written prayers that enhance each chapter.

5. A Gateway to Traditional Media

As you build your platform as an author, others will become excited about your message and help get the word out about your book. Build relationships with other authors, radio hosts, and television hosts. Two events that I think are helpful to connect authors to traditional media are National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) and The International Christian Retail Show (ICRS). There may be other events that your publisher encourages you to attend to build relationships with the media.

Next Week

We are just scratching the surface of things that you can do to build your platform as an author. Join me here at The WordServeWaterCooler for part 2 of The Cheater’s Guide to Building Your Author Platform.

Also connect with me on social media! Let’s start a conversation. Let me know if there is any way I can help you get your message out.

Mastering the Essential Query Letter for Writers

Outlier's The Story of SuccessI finally read the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. As I devoured the first few chapters, I thought about my quest as a professional writer. And my impatience in the early days. I wrote about it on my personal blog back in 2009.

But reading Gladwell’s research, I realized that even in 2009, I was well on my way to achieving my goals. I simply needed to take every necessary step.

According to studies cited in Outliers, it takes an average of 10,000 hours to master anything. I figure it took approximately five years of incessant practice, posts, and projects for me to near the 10,000 hour mark. Although I haven’t mastered the art, I’m certainly much better than I was six years ago.

And one of the most critical areas of improvement comes in my creation of query letters. Let’s face it, if you can’t write a strong query, you won’t arrest the attention of any agent, editor, or publisher. Early on, I spent a lot of time studying and honing the elements of this crucial piece.

1. Research

Writer's Digest Query Letter

Image Credit with Permission Writer’s Digest
http://www.writersdigestshop.com

  • Who specifically should you address your inquiry to? Name. Title.
  • Where should you send your query? Do they accept email only? Content as an attachment, or in the body of your email? Are they snail mail lovers? Do you have the correct address?
  • What are they looking for? Does your topic or slant match their needs? Have you formatted your submission according to their guidelines?
  • When are they accepting submissions, and do they have themes tied to calendars?
  • Why did you chose them? Did you read something that made you think you would connect? Are you familiar with their needs and believe your work can support them in their mission? If possible, find a common bond or at least prove you’ve studied what’s important to them.
  • How do they want queries packaged? Some prefer a simple one page letter, clearly stating your concept as it fits within their guidelines. If interested, they’ll ask for a proposal or manuscript later. Others request a proposal or manuscript at the same time you send the letter. Make sure you know what the person you are querying prefers.

2. Hook

No matter how well you’ve written your article or book content, without something to snatch the reader out of their doldrums on the average of the first seven seconds, your work will go no further. Ask that stirring question to make them think. Make a bold statement that flies in the face of an old cliché. Provide a heart-wrenching statistic, forcing them out of the skin of self. Make their belly shake with laughter.

3.  Double Check

Writer's DigestOnce you’ve written what you believe is a strong query letter, I suggest you run it through the Writer’s Digest Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter. This brief but powerful list will show you how to write a query letter in the most effective way possible. Also have someone who knows something about professional writing read it.

A family member, or even a high school English teacher, are not going to provide the insights you need when it comes to publishing in the real world. As long as it’s a short, one-time read, many professional writers are willing to do this for someone else who’s starting out. We remember those days. Just respect their time, and if one writer can’t help, try someone else.

10,000 hours sounds like forever when you are starting out as a writer. But with patient and consistent practice, this important landmark will arrive faster than you think. Start small. Master the query letter first. Then one day, you’ll have the honor of mentoring someone else.

How many hours would you estimate you’ve invested in writing so far?

Do You Think I’m Insecure?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI usually feel pretty good about myself when I wake up—for the five minutes I refrain from looking in the mirror. That’s when the voices start: “Your thighs have more dimples than a Shirley Temple look-alike convention!” they say, or “What kind of eighties-wannabe haircut is that?”

Then I take my older son to school and notice the work-outside-the-home moms, all coiffed and stylish. The voices deride my writer’s wardrobe of jeans and T-shirts. Later, my fingers poised at the keyboard while my trusty cup of java grows cold beside me, I hear the little demons again: “That paragraph stinks. How are you ever going to keep getting published if you write stuff like that?”

When I pass through the living room and kitchen to go to the bathroom, the hisses continue: “The kitchen counter is filthy. And when was the last time you dusted?” By the time I grab a mid-morning snack, I’m already defeated, and it’s only 9:30 a.m.

Sigh.

I don’t know who said it, but I believe it’s true: Insecurity is the devil’s playground. Or maybe battleground is a better word. His weapons attack from every side and inevitably leave a wound.

file3991282945508Those of us who struggle with perfectionism find it especially difficult to remember that we are wholly loved by our infallible Heavenly Father. It’s a constant war to not let the “How do I measure up as a parent/writer/Christian?” questions run away with my emotions—and my peace.

Maybe you can relate. If my hunch is right, a lack of security is epidemic. And let’s face it: We have plenty to be concerned about. There are our figures, finances, future, and families—just to name a few.

Recently, while at the grocery checkout line, I noticed the headline on a women’s magazine: “Eat right, get fit, get organized, and relax.” Who are they kidding? I barely have time to take a decent shower each day, let alone have a perfect body or a spotless house. And relax while trying to keep it all together? Ha!

So I’ve decided to go on the offensive in this war on my thoughts and emotions. First, I’m going to stop letting the world’s standards rule my mind. With God’s help, I will tune into His Word and turn off the chatter from social media, print media, and television. I will bathe myself in His approval and love, knowing that while pursuing good health is wise, Jesus cares more about the size of my heart than the size of my jeans (can I get an AMEN?).

Second, I’m going to remind myself regularly that the career I have is God-given, and He controls the future. I don’t need to compulsively check my Amazon stats or fret about future book contracts. Instead, I must focus on fine-tuning my craft and being a good steward of the gift of words with which God has entrusted me.

Similarly, I can rest assured that God knows I am doing the best I can as a mother to two strong-willed, energetic boys. He’s the only perfect parent, and I can turn to Him in my frustrations and foibles. I can lean on Him and learn from Him, trusting that He will fill in the gaps my husband and I will ultimately leave.

The bottom line is this: when I focus on His kingdom, He takes care of the rest. 

Bit by bit, the whispers of doubt and defeat fade. Peace overtakes insecurity, and I can concentrate on living moment-by-moment in His grace. Microsoft Word - Grace_Race-v2.docx

You know what else? I’m betting that since Jesus was a carpenter, He doesn’t mind a little dust.

(This post was adapted from “Grace for the Race: Meditations for Busy Moms,” published by Patheos Press.)