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?

Creative Marketing Ideas

The WordServe Water Cooler would like to welcome guest blogger Charise Olson sharing some of her unique marketing ideas for her novel.

Welcome, Charise!

LC_TheRoaringRedwoods_compressedOne Saturday over two decades ago, I straggled into a church clutching my Diet Coke because it was way too early to do such a thing on a Saturday and I didn’t drink coffee yet. I was there for a marketing workshop. The audience members were all folks like me— working in social services and non profits, needing to promote our services.

Marketing isn’t what I went to school for and I saw it as something that had to be done, rather than a true essential part of my real work.

Sound familiar?

But that workshop all those years ago, gave me a great foundation to further serve my clients and now, as a writer, my readers.

The presenters talked about creativity and making natural connections—more than worrying about strategy or manipulation. They talked about using your passion for your cause as a launching point for your campaign. Here are two key points and some specific applications to our books:

Focus on Adding Value: Try to think about what you can offer, as opposed to what you hope to receive.

Application:

1.  I approached a local historical museum and suggested we cosponsor a book event for The Roaring Redwoods (my historical fiction set in the area). This appealed to them because it was no cost/work for them and offered something different on their calendar. This appealed to me because my event would get out to their extensive mailing list.

2. I belong to a Facebook group celebrating the time period of my project (1920s). These are all people who love my time period. Instead of posting links (“buy my book!”), I have posted pictures from my research to share. For Christmas, at my fictional Riverwood Lodge, I invited group members to suggest menu items. My project got “out there,” but in a way that was engaging and fun for the whole group. Bonus: one of the group members provided invaluable help with a plot line involving race cars.

3. Newspapers now have fewer reporters, shorter deadlines, and a need for more content. However, many are cutting their book columns. When I contact a paper, I have an article ready for print. I write the article as a feature, not an ad. Find the unique angle (local author, clever research, entrepreneur spirit) and help make their job easier.

Go to Where Your Target Audience Goes: The example from the workshop was for a group finding it impossible to reach people about good nutrition. The suggestion was to go to Farmer’s Markets and Food Banks to find people already seeking food and then share the nutritional project info.

Application:

1. Any time I see readers, I spend time trying to find a way I could market my writing in that venue. I noticed that a local coffee shop chain displays art work by local artists on a rotating basis. I asked how artists are selected, and the process was easy. I suggested that I and other local authors use our covers as an exhibit. It was then suggested we could have a reception or related event at the shop, too. Um, okay, if you insist . . .

2. My book’s setting is near a high tourist area, and what do we do on vacation? Read. So, in seeking those reading vacationers, I am placing business cards and, where possible, copies for sale at gift shops and hotel lobbies.

While these ideas may not work precisely for you and your books, I hope they illustrate how we can use our creativity and powers of observation to find new and interesting opportunities to share our work with readers. All in a way that might not feel like quite so much work for us.

What have you learned about marketing that made it easier? What unique/creative efforts have you tried? Anything you’ve wanted to try, but haven’t yet?

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Olsen-Image-56Charise Olson writes California fiction. It’s a lot like Southern Fiction, but without all the humidity. Her historical fiction is published under the pen name Leo Colson. The Roaring Redwoods* is now available in episodes. A collection of the first five episodes will be released March 2015. It is set in 1920s California with an ensemble of characters. Love, Honor, Money…and the laws we break to keep all three.

Olson’s contemporary fiction (under her own name) will release in Spring 2015. More info and her blog Prayers and Cocktails can be found at chariseolson.com

*The Roaring Redwoods is written for the general market and does contain strong language and adult situations.

Let’s Get Serious About Serials

The WordServe Water Cooler is pleased to host guest blogger Becky Doughty.

Welcome, Becky!

When I finally decided to “get serious” about my writing, I quickly discovered I had to have a platform. As so many new authors learn, platforms are hard to build, especially with fiction.

I created a website and started a blog. I found a small circle of authors who opened their ranks and let me squeeze in. We traded guest posts and gained a few more followers from each other. I blogged about my family, about my writing. I blogged about my past sins—you know, the good stuff, like witchcraft and broken marriages. That should have brought them flocking, right? I blogged about gardening and chickens and making bread and home schooling and prayer and whether or not one should blog….

EC-Collection-Cover1I created a Facebook Author page and set up my blog to automatically post there. I linked everything to Twitter, too, and created Pinterest pages with images of what my characters might look and dress like, where they might live and work.

But because I had no books published at that point, I was essentially inviting people to my fancy new restaurant and handing them menus of what they could expect to order on some ambiguous day in the future…. Then I wondered why they didn’t come back every time I announced a new dish being added to the menu.

I needed a way for my visitors to actually “sample” my wares. A serial novel.

For one year, around the 10th of each month, I blogged a 10,000 word episode of my serial novel, Elderberry Croft. Readers could “taste” my fiction for free, with a promise of more to come every time they visited.

Well, Elderberry Croft has turned out to be more than just a sampler platter on my website. It has remained one of my bestselling series and books (it now comes in a complete collection and there’s a holiday sequel, Elderberry Days) since I began publishing the episodes. It’s been my most productive method to building an eager and faithful readership.

Six Suggestions for Serious Serialists:

  1. A serial novel is not simply a novel broken up into parts. That often frustrates readers. A serial novel should be written like television episodes, each episode essentially a short story with a beginning and an end, but linked to the other episodes by a foundational storyline told over the duration of the serial, one that culminates in the final episode.
  2. Your serial novel should be the same genre in which you primarily write. It’s an excellent way to gain readers, but if you usually write historical romance and your serial novel is a dystopian sci-fi thriller, you’re going to have some disgruntled readers who come looking for more Katniss and only find Sir Liam Drake and the White Rose of Kilarney County.
  3. Write ahead. I did not always do this. Translate: There were many months I lost sleep and suffered great anguish over how I was going to pull it off.
  4. Create memorable characters and storylines, especially the main characters whose stories link the episodes. If your readers don’t care about the foundational story, one “off” episode will send them running.
  5. Post a few “extras” in between episodes to keep readers happy. In Elderberry Croft, Willow Goodhope has a thing for elderberries (imagine that!). I posted elderberry recipes and home remedies, elderberry body care products, crafts, and elderberry lore.
  6. Listen to your readers’ comments. I’m of the mindset that authors should steer clear of reviews. Reviews typically tell us more about the reader than they do about the author’s work. However, in the case of serial novels, this is a perfect opportunity to get to know what your readers like, what they want to read about, and then adjust your story accordingly!

This is a great way to publish a book. When you’ve written the final episode, gather them all up and release them in one complete collection. Voila! You have a full-length novel!

And don’t forget to take a break from “serious” now and then, and simply enjoy the journey!

What are your thoughts on serial novels? Have you ever tried to write one?

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becky-doughty-author1 Becky 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.

 

Dig it Up

Dig it outThere is a verse in the Psalms that expresses this priceless bit of wisdom and truth. It says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14) If you study the Hebrew here in this verse, the word for wonderfully carries with it an undertone of “separated” or “distinct.” In other words, this can be read as, “I am wonderfully different, separated, distinct, set apart.” Or another way of saying this: “God, I praise you, because I was made to wonderfully not blend in – you made me to stand out.”

The word fearfully means your uniqueness was designed so well it could produce fear or reverence or awe. Think about this. Think about a time when you saw something so amazing that it scared you. I think of times when I’ve been on a wild ocean, or rafting in white water through the Grand Canyon, or on looking over the edge at the top of Half Dome, or being caught in a blinding snow storm…So what this word “fearfully” means is that you were made in such a way that it should inspire awe and wonder.

The point is, when you choose to blend in, you are robbing us from the wonder and awe we would get from seeing a unique you. Imagine the Mona Lisa being put in a closet forever because she didn’t have the same smile as everyone else. Or like a Beethoven Symphony being thrown away because there was too much passion in it. The truth is that when you to try to blend in, trying to be someone you’re not, that is far weirder than to be who God created you to be.

The bigger tragedy of losing who you truly are is that your heart starts to feel numb, and your life feels less and less alive because you’ve buried the uniqueness that God made you to be—and that is a soul-killer. So, if I may do a little digging around, even a little prying into your soul—what do you think you’ve buried in terms of the amazing person that you are? What talents, desires, dreams, passions, interests or pursuits have you given up on because someone discouraged you, or said you couldn’t do that, or be that? Or how have you decided that conforming and blending in is better than being true to your unique God-fashioned self?

For Reflection: In what way has your passion for life been reduced to a mundane routine of conformity that you hate more than you love? What needs to be dug up, woken from its slumber, and come alive in you again?

Previously published on John Merritt’s blog: this day

Writing Off The Leash

11021249_10205885141785471_6207685168227967330_nToday was the first day above 32 degrees Indiana has seen in forever, so I went gallivanting with my gaggle of golden retrievers. They haven’t had a real walk since the extreme cold came around, so they were giddy. The oldest one (the darkest brown) literally skipped down the street and back. They held their noses high and curled their tails and could hardly keep from tearing themselves from their leashes and running free.

Prior to the walk I’d been at my women’s Bible Study where we talked about 1 Thessalonians 2 and how Paul, Silas and Timothy had to press on with their mission and message despite often overwhelming suffering and odds. In verse 2:2 Paul writes, “Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition.”

While not necessarily a Paul-worthy struggle, writing novels does not come easy to me. I write, delete, and rewrite several times over before I get a scene–let alone a plot–to come out right. I question my calling, my ability, my gumption. I call my agent and freak out. I call my husband and freak out. I freak out to my friends on Facebook. But the longer I write, the more I realize that often what hinders me are my own doubts and hang-ups and attempts to write something perfect instead of just…

…writing.

Ray Bradbury, in his book, Zen and the Art of Writing, says as writers, “What we are trying to do is find a way to release the truth that lies in all of us.”

Truth is hard to find. We have to dig for it in the places of our hearts which would rather be left alone. We have to hack through icy corridors of our soul which would rather remain frozen shut. We have to distance, if not remove ourselves, from a world which begs us to tidy up, straighten up, and shut up. Because we can’t release truth into our writing unless we allow ourselves the permission to write poorly, the wisdom to write something wrong, the unencumbered freedom to write the worst thing the world has ever seen.

Beautiful writing, like truth, only emerges when we allow words to roam unhindered across our screens, when we throw off the baggage of perfection and tune out the voices which tell us we are not capable of the task before us.

If you’re called to write, you probably already know the process is a battle, and that you have to be prepared to stay the course despite the worst of odds, the cynicism of the marketplace, and the opposition–whether self-inflicted doubt or another rejection.

My challenge to you is to write off the leash.

Don’t give up.

Spring is coming.

And the words will, too.

Marketing a New Novel

Thanks to the WordServe Water Cooler for the opportunity to post about marketing efforts. I’ll touch on group marketing. My caveat to the readers: how you promote is highly personal. I was a psychologist for 25 years and many business professional principles apply to writing, e.g., you must do excellent work to continue to get referrals, or purchases in this case.

fruitcake-challenge-cover-jpgThis post is tailored to budget conscious, hybrid, and newer authors with a few releases already out. One of the advantages of having recently Indie published my novella, The Fruitcake Challenge, was that I got to see what seemed to work for me and what didn’t.

I recently posted on ACFW’s blog about cross promotional marketing and why that’s a good idea. Cross promoting should be built into your own marketing efforts. For instance, in a group publishing effort, include links to the other authors’ books in the series.

I’ve also posted about marketing for three different types of ventures including group.

Set up blog tours: Why I believe this is important (and I’d direct you to read the recent RWA RWR article about promotion.)

  1. You want to create a buzz.
  2. Readers will see if their favorite bloggers are picking up your book to read.
  3. Keeps your name in front of potential readers.
  4. May help you get on the Hot New Releases list for Amazon, which can be important.

    Blog tours also let your reading audience ENGAGE with you, which can be important. So suit up, show up, promote, and respond to commenters! If you have your own blogs  (I’m blessed to have two group blogs OvercomingwithGod.com and www.ColonialQuills.org) don’t overschedule yourself when your book launches. One to two blog visits a week works for me, for three to four months and tapering off after that. Giveaways usually help drive traffic so be prepared to give away a copy at each blog stop.

Set up a promo group: This has been the most beneficial thing I’ve been blessed with. But you have to have engaged with enough wonderful readers, reviewers, and influencers that they’d want to participate. Writing is often a lonely life. The benefits of these groups go WELL beyond any promotional efforts. These people believe in your writing and want to help you continue to do God’s work. How wonderful and humbling is that? I’ve been a member of such groups in the past for different authors and I’m grateful to now have my own bunch of pals supporting my writing efforts. Cautionary note for groups: Be fair to your fellow participants and be sure to bring in your own reader/reviewers to the group promotional page. Also, if you use Facebook, be sure to set controls so only you can approve new members.

Facebook Parties: These are a lot of FUN and help you engage with readers. You may not get you an immediate bunch of sales, but could. Don’t do this unless you can get into the spirit of things!

Radio interviews: I’m not keen on this. I can’t ever be sure, with my arthritis, how I’ll be feeling at a particular time. But if you’re able to get some spots, radio allows readers to hear your voice and your personality.

Book Signings: Another thing I dread for same reason as radio. Multi-author events do better. I do two a year—one near Christmas and another in the summer.  Paired with an event at your book’s location, this can be a blast! Last summer, I was able to do a signing at Tahquamenon Lumber Museum’s Lumberjack Festival. My “Snowed In” story in Guidepost Books, A Cup of Christmas Cheer (2013), was set in my great-grandparents log cabin, located at the museum!

Set up a private Facebook Page for the group authors. This way things that your influencers don’t really need to be bothered with are posted there.

Newsletters: These can be highly effective and reach your own primary readers to inform them of your new releases. I think a multi-author newsletter release could be amazing. Coordinating it might be a nightmare, though!

Ads: Spirit Filled Kindle is very affordable and good to use for early promotion. Book Bub is the one most hybrid authors like to use because they have an excellent rate of return, in general, but you have to do a sale in order to get the lowest price possible for their promotion. Ereader News Today is another great place for advertising with a good return on investment and with multiple options for ads.

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Carrie pro headshot B&W pm Carrie Fancett Pagels, Ph.D. served as a psychologist for twenty-five years. She is the author of the forthcoming publications Saving the Marquise’s Granddaughter (White Rose, 2015) and The Lumberjack Ball (April, 2015). Carrie was the 2014 Family Fiction winner for short story in the Historical Genre. The Quilting Contest is now published in an anthology. The Fruitcake Challenge and Return to Shirley Plantation: A Civil War Romance were Amazon bestselling novels. Carrie also authored the short story “Snowed In” (Guidepost Books, 2013) in A Cup of Christmas Cheer. God’s Provision in Tough Times (Lighthouse of the Carolinas, July 2013) was a Selah award finalist. Carrie gives back to the writing community by serving as blog administrator for www.OvercomingWithGod.com and www.ColonialQuills.com. You can connect with Carrie via her website at www.carriefancettpagels.com.

 

All. Those. Books.

Princess in a Bubble: Sander van der Wel from Netherlands

Princess in a Bubble: Sander van der Wel from Netherlands

Recently I totted up that, of the eighty or so college students I’ve taught this year (only about a half of whom were creative-writing-emphasis English majors), a good dozen have written novels. That’s a fifteen percent. They’ve completed novels, they tell me. A couple of them have written more than one.

I haven’t read any of these novels, so I can’t say if they’re any good. Judging from the student-novelists’ writing in other contexts, they’re probably not much worse than a lot of what gets published these days, but they’re probably not masterpieces.

Whether their novels are good or not, though, it seems important that there’s all this fiction-writing going on these days beside and beneath and perhaps instead of all the assignments and tests and papers and other writing that comprise a college education. I certainly wasn’t completing novels—not even short stories—back when I was their age, and I can’t think of a single classmate who was. I’ve been speculating what all these budding—nay, blossoming—young writers might mean for the state of literature in our time and for the writing community at large.

One thing that occurs to me right off is that young people these days must feel more invited and encouraged and empowered to write and publish novels than I ever was. That’s perhaps to be expected of the self-esteem building curriculum promoted in the generations between mine and theirs. I once had my seventh grade teacher’s Little Brown Handbook thrown across the room at me for chewing gum. They, on the other hand, were told they could do pretty much anything they wanted. Consequently, not a few of them went ahead and did that—which is sort of exciting, when you think about it.

Students these days are also very motivated to write. By what? one wonders. One incentive would surely be the myriad publishing opportunities available to writers these days. Several of my students have published their work online and two have paid to have their work published by what we used to call a vanity presses. Publishing has become something anyone can do, at any stage of life, often with little or no investment of resources beyond the time it took stole from a few games of online poker.

Due_sportelli_di_libreria_con_scaffali_di_libri_di_musicaAnother motivation could be the greater variety of subgenres popular with kids nowadays. When I was young, girls read Nancy Drew as tweens, then progressed directly to the classics (Austen, the Brontës, for me Defoe and Dickens); boys who read mostly read adventure or sci-fi then stopped; and everyone liked the odd fantasy stand out like J. R. R. Tolkien. Nowadays, bookstores and libraries have separate young adult sections with whole shelves of mystery/thrillers, even more shelves of fantasies, plus equally popular subgenres we never heard of in my day: apocalyptic, dystopian, historical fiction, alternative historical fiction, cyberpunk, steampunk, contemporary, Christian contemporary, romance, LGBT romance, Amish teen romance. . . The world of fiction these days is like a map of the brain: so much stuff going on, so much new vocabulary you need to even talk about it.

Then there are the novel-writing success stories: J. K. Rowling and her napkin, Christopher Paolini writing Eragon at fifteen, the almost immediate transformation of their and other books popular with young people into big screen movies. It looks so easy nowadays, writing a book. A flick of the pen and you’re there.

I guess the thing that fascinates me most about the novelists among my students is not their license and motivation to write or even the astounding investment of time involved but the enthusiasm they must bring to the fiction-writing enterprise: to prefer it over other more age-appropriate entertainments—such as, for me at their age, hanging out with friends, cooking, reading, learning aikido, making ceramic pots, scavenging my natural and suburban surroundings for sea urchins and kumquats, sewing.

(For them, playing video games, watching YouTube, poking their cellphones? Maybe it’s that. The screen-squinching narrowness of their entertainment alternatives. Writing has become their life before they’ve even had lives, I’m supposing. Although I’d have to read their books to know for sure.)

From everything I’ve heard in the news lately, reading’s on the wane, but writing sure isn’t. Either that or the students at Christian universities like mine are way different—more creative and prolific, harder working, more hip to the possibilities out there—than their secular peers. I’m guessing they’re not all that different, though. I’m guessing my anecdotal fifteen percent of kids these days—perhaps more!—are writing books in lieu of reading them (or maybe in addition to reading them, since somebody’s got to be reading all those cyberEpiscopalian dystopian romances) and will soon be filling the shelves and movie marquees with their opuses.

It’s becoming my new writerly nightmare. Used to, bookstores scared me. All. Those. Books! All that competition for readers. Now it’s them. My students. Our kids. Our kids’ kids.

This isn’t a very encouraging post, I fear, for fellow writers—especially those of a certain age—so let me just close with a little remediation in the self-esteem training some of us missed out on: Don’t. Give. Up. If they can do it, we can too!