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?

WordServe News: March 2015

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

Anita Agers-Brooks released her second book, Getting Through What You Can’t Get 9781616264185_p0_v1_s260x420Over with Shiloh Run Press.

*************************************************************************************************Sandra Bricker released another title with Abingdon Press, On a Ring and a Prayer. 

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Jonathan McKee released his latest nonfiction book with Bethany House, More than Just 9780764212949_p0_v2_s260x420the Talk along with Sex Matters. 

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Sarah Parshall Perry released her book with Revell Publishers, Sand in My Sandwich.9780800724108_p0_v1_s260x420 

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New Contracts

Marcus Brotherton will be working with Robert Morris on a collaboration project in partnership with Thomas Nelson. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

Rick Lawrence signed a new contract with Group Publishing for his 2016 release, The Jesus-Centered Life. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

Mike Yorkey will be working with Ken Verheyen on a collaboration project for his book Crazy Success. Greg Johnson, agent of record.

What We’re Celebrating!!

Steve Addison’s book Movements was released in German!

AFFIRM Films and Mass Hysteria Entertainment Inc. have announced their partnership to develop a motion picture based on the book, The Devil In Pew Number Seven written by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo with Bob DeMoss

Hugh Halter’s book Flesh was named Missional Living book of the year by Outreach Magazine!

Lauren Scruggs was interviewed on The Today Show on 3/6/15!

Tricia Williford’s And Life Comes Back is a finalist for the 2015 Christian Book Award in the category of New Authors!

4 Powerful Strategies for Claiming Your Promised Land

” … Now you and all the people prepare to cross over the Jordan to the land I am giving …” (Joshua 1:1)

Photo/AnitaBrooks

Photo/AnitaBrooks

Standing on the banks of the Jordan, I look across to the other side, gazing at my “promised land.”

Perhaps you’ve been here, too. You’ve been given a vision. And you’re waiting to see your dream become a reality.

I remember the years that I spent wandering through the wilderness on the road to publication, wrestling with my doubt, fear, and unbelief. I recall the first time that I considered writing a book. It seemed impossible, doubting that I would ever see my dream fulfilled. Now, I find myself on the shore, looking across to my promised land.

But wait! How can I navigate the rough waters in front of me? The manuscript deadline? The marketing? The on-going platform challenges? What other obstacles will I face as I try to ford the river to my promised land?

I sense the enemy of my soul preparing for another onslaught of roadblocks and dead ends.

Lord, help me!

I inhale slowly—one, two, three, four. Then, I exhale, counting to seven. I inhale again, counting to eight. As I repeat this focused breathing, trying to avoid another panic attack, I relax.

An encouraging promise from God’s Word dispels my fears, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous …” (Josh. 1:5-6 NIV).

When I read through this passage, Joshua affirms the promise of the Lord’s presence. He also repeats an exhortation: “Be strong and very courageous.”

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (7-9)

Joshua calls attention to four powerful strategies for claiming our promised land.

  1. Obey God’s Word. After the Lord assured Joshua of His faithful presence, He also instructed him to warn the people of the importance of obeying everything He had commanded them to do.
  2. Meditate on God’s Promises. The LORD also reminded Joshua of the importance of lifting up His Word—meditating on His truths and confessing His promises day and night.
  3. Surrender fears to God. The LORD instructs Joshua to encourage the people to surrender their fears and discouragement to Him, promising to always be with them.
  4. Prepare for battle. As I look across the deep waters of the Jordan into my promised land, I read another warning about impending warfare.

Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own … the Lord your God will give you rest … but get ready for battle … (11-14).

Will I still have battles in my promised land of rest? I think this scripture gives me a clear answer to this question.

We must always be aware of our weaknesses, vulnerability, and dependence upon God. As Christian writers, we are called to lead others to claim God’s promised land, too.

So, get “ready for battle … You are to help them until the LORD gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them” (14-15).

Are you prepared to claim your promised land?

Photo/AnitaBrooks

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?

The Secret to Page Turning Non-Fiction Writing

I couldn’t take it anymore. It was driving me mad. Why were kids who chronically complained about their hatred of reading, devouring these books?

Twilight by Stephenie MeyerBeing the mission-minded gal I am, I decided to find out for myself. So I started reading the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. She grabbed me in the first two sentences.

“I’d never given much thought to how I would die — though I’d had reason enough in the last few months — but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.
I stared without breathing across the long room, into the dark eyes of the hunter, and he looked pleasantly back at me.”

Bam! She hooked me — and reeled me right in. A few short pages later, I knew Ms. Meyer’s secret to writing for people who rarely read.

Next, I decided to go back and study another series that played the Pied Piper’s flute to many a reader, young and mature, who previously stated their distaste for the written word. Sure enough, J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, used the same secret strategy as Stephenie Meyer. Both of their method’s are right out in the open, even though they’re hidden in mysterious passages. Rowling begins her first book with this intriguing statement.Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone

”Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

Very different style from Meyer’s, but effective all the same. So what is this magical thread both authors weave so carefully into their books? And how can we emulate the process without plagiarizing their work or voices?

It’s easy. I’ve done it all the way through this post. Are you screaming at the screen yet? “Enough all ready, quit messing with my mind and tell me.”

Meyer and Rowling artfully created cliff-hangers in paragraph after paragraph, culminating in page-turning chapters. Some were so tiny they were nearly imperceptible, while others were breathtakingly obvious. There was no doubt, tapping into simple human curiosity accounted for the multitude of readers desperate for each new release these authors offered.

But both authors were also wise enough to provide the answers to the questions they created, while they simultaneously raised new inquisitive scenarios. They didn’t leave the reader hanging too long.

Unbroken by Laura HillenbrandAnd this made me realize, I can follow the same method while writing non-fiction. My style isn’t the same. My genre different. My content, theme, and messages often polar opposite to the fictional creations of Meyer and Rowling, but I can still use human curiosity to my advantage.

Who says you can’t build cliff-hangers into true tales and exposition? Look at Laura Hillenbrand’s masterful biography, Unbroken, now a major motion picture. She hooked me when the first scene opened with blazing bullets and circling sharks.

I realized, the best authors of any genre tap into the powerful force that makes inquiring minds want to know. When a book gets slow, the author has failed to make us wait, or has made us wait so long we give up and move onto something else that satisfies our curiosity.

Getting Through

Releasing, April, 2015 through Barbour Publishing

The answer to creating page turning non-fiction is to use the element of anticipation to your advantage. And like me, consider starting your own clandestine words list. I’ve kept one for over two years now, where every intriguing word I hear, read, or think about is added. I used many in my latest book, and plan to use even more as I continue to hone my craft as an author.

Here’s the thing: whisper, allude, hint, or disguise — the secret hides in the use of secrets. This is an author’s hidden weapon.

Are you curious to know what’s on my top-secret words list

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?

The Art in Writing

Strange and wonderful things happen when we keep our eyes peeled, our ears sharp, our hearts welcoming, and our minds creative. This year, I met someone who at first glance was not an obvious fit with my writing life. But first glances are often wrong.

Mary Young Zog the DogI am a Christian non-fiction author. The woman I met at a local women’s expo is a children’s book author. She launched as a self-publisher via Pucky Huddle Books — I have chosen the traditional route as my foundation. I’m a business coach, she married a rock star. Literally.

But we both live in the same tiny county.

Mary Young is married to Rusty Young of country rock group Poco fame. They still play for exclusive events, and tour around the country. But in their desire to escape the crazy life of frenzied fans and intense concert schedules, they built a beautiful cabin nestled about twenty minutes from where I live. On a serene hill overlooking the stunning Huzzah Creek, Rusty gets to relax with his music and Mary peacefully plays with her muse.

RC Woods What Lies BeneathDue to Mary’s prompting, she and I, along with local Indie author RC Woods, have pooled our talents. Recently, the Crawford County Author’s Group held our first event, called The Art in Writing. Three diverse but driven authors determined to learn from, promote, and support each other.

Until recently, in our small region, we each felt alone. Let’s face it, those of us who put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard are a strange breed to normal folks — most people don’t get the weird ways our minds work. Or sometimes, the strange hours we keep.

When my brain fries, when my creative juices dry, when I’m too tired to think of new ways to market my books, a couple of hours with fellow writers revives my brainstorming abilities. The art in writing is not magical — it’s intentional. It’s not competitive — it’s cooperative. No matter how similarly or differently we write.

I have other author friends who equally stir my creative brew. They don’t live close, but because of twenty-first century technology, we can call, text, private message, Facetime, or Skype. We can schedule retreats with each other, (my favorite). We can compare marketing efforts, research, and new ideas.

Getting Through

Releasing, April, 2015 through Barbour Publishing

The WordServe Water Cooler is another way to stay in touch with those who get the crazy business of writing. Sharing and learning with folks like you keeps my energy up when it threatens to flag. I often write about difficult subjects, so I need an occasional boost.

No matter whether other writers live near or far, I’ve discovered I don’t do as well without them. For me, the real art in writing is community. A brother/sisterhood of folks who will pick you up when you feel down. An encouraging message, a timely quote, a pertinent fact, a social media shout-out, even insights to help you market like a rock star. The writing community is the magic behind my words.

What infuses the art in your writing?