Is Multi-Genre Writing Right For You?

to do list (2)One of the ongoing debates in the writing world is about the wisdom of writing in more than one genre. The reality, I think, is that most writers want to write in several genres and, in fact, may be quite good at it. My first projects were poetry, and then I moved on to magazine articles. Think pieces followed, as did newspaper humor columns. My first published book was a small volume about practical Christian spirituality, but then I found my stride in humorous murder mysteries (#6 is out in September, with #7 currently taking shape on my laptop).

Last but not least, a few months ago, my first memoir was published.

So, for me, the big debate about writing in multiple genres is a no-brainer, because I already do.

My experience of doing so, however, has made me recast the debate from a writing perspective to a publishing perspective, and, as a writer who wants to build a career as a published author, I offer my own pluses and minuses of working in a multi-genre career.

  1. Minus: If you think it’s demanding to build one platform, try building several at once. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but in my experience, it can’t happen simultaneously (unless you have clones of yourself ready to go – and in that case, please drop me a note at my website, because I could use a couple of clones these days). To launch a book, you have to be single-minded to make the best of marketing opportunities: appearances, talks, media, book clubs, etc. Your new book/baby needs attention 24/7, and if you leave it for a day or two to nurse along another genre, you find yourself playing catch-up when you get back to the newborn. I’m guessing it’s like having twins-one person can’t really hold two babies equally well, so there’s always some juggling going on. Same thing with two genres: you end up feeling like you haven’t been as successful as you could have been with just one book. At the very least, you don’t sleep much, because you’re trying to do the work of two marketing departments in one body.
  2. Plus: Working in two genres is exhilarating! You get to double the people you meet and the interests you cultivate. Your horizons expand and life is so rich with new experiences, it takes your breath away. It’s wonderful to be a writer!
  3. Minus: Publishers are very hesitant to take a chance on you in a new genre. The more you’ve established yourself in one genre, the less a publisher wants to take the risk of launching you in a different direction. Publishing is a business, and publishers have to respect the bottom line.
  4. Plus: If your genres share something in common (mine share humor and a love of nature), your fans of one genre are more likely to follow you into new territory, giving you a base readership on which to build and a headstart on creating a new platform.

Have you had any experience in multi-genre writing? Any insights to share?

Sing it, Lamb Chop!

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This is the song that doesn’t end. Yes, it goes on and on, my friend.”

If you never watched the fabulous Shari Lewis perform with her puppet Lamb Chop, you might not know this delightful ditty from her Emmy-winning show that ran on PBS from 1992-1997. My youngest daughter enjoyed watching it as a toddler, and since I got to join her in front of the television, this song found its way into my permanent recall bank.

For better or worse, the tune takes over my head every time I have a task that seems never-ending.

Which is my way of introducing my topic today: platform building.

You see, platform building for a writer doesn’t end when your book is published. Instead of thinking of platform building as the first step toward publication, I now see it as the task that underlies the entire creative, marketing, and career development process. As long as you write, it doesn’t end.

But instead of looking at that task as an overwhelming, time-consuming responsibility, I’ve chosen to see it as the lifeblood of what I do.

My platform is my path to accomplishing the work that gives my life meaning. In my case, I want to bring people into closer communion with God’s creation, and I do that through the written word, telling entertaining stories about nature, and in particular, about birding and dogs.

Using this perspective motivates me to continue, and expand, my platform-building. Here’s a quick snapshot of what that looks like for me.

My first book – a small treatise about finding meaning in life – led me to discover my own passion: writing about engagement with nature. To market that first book, I gave retreats and workshops about identifying what you love and what God calls you to; as a result, I added speaking opportunities to my platform. Then I began writing my Birder Murder Mysteries, a light-hearted series about a birder who finds bodies (incorporating my own passion for birding and mystery). To sell books, I began reaching out to birders around the country (and the world!), connecting with them online, attending birding events, sharing information and becoming interested in conservation issues. That influenced additional books in the series, and led to more interaction with like-minded nature-lovers, which has both enriched my writing and my life with speaking/marketing opportunities and new friends. Six years after my first Birder Murder was published, I now have plenty of ideas for future books and venues to market them, as well as a list of birding hotspots to add to my bucket list of personal adventure.

My memoir about my dog is building a new addition to my original platform, giving me more places to talk about nature and to sell all of my books. I’ve begun volunteering with my local Humane Society because of it, and I now see all my writing as advocacy work for improving the human-nature connection. Yes, I know that my platform building doesn’t end, but neither do the rewards I’m finding when it comes to new experiences, learning interesting things, and contributing to my world.

What joys are you finding in the never-ending task of platform building?

Writing Inspiration from Anne Rice

Sometimes, what you need is a little inspiration from those that have braved the path before you. That’s really what this blog was designed to be– a way to help those who are a bit behind on the publishing path. To offer knowledge, encouragement . . . a helping hand.

Regardless of what you think of Anne Rice, she has “been there, done that.” I came across this interview on You Tube and found the information pretty interesting.

Hope it inspires you today.

What authors inspire you to keep perfecting your writing craft? What words of advice have kept you going?

5 Things the Theater Taught Me About Writing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe smell of popcorn takes me back…backstage, that is. From 1998 to 2007, my husband and I, along with several other talented individuals, performed thousands of shows to enthusiastic crowds in two small-town Texas theaters. The experience taught me enduring lessons about creativity, professionalism, and making a living through the arts. These tenets apply to your writing life and other creative endeavors, as well. Here are five things the theater taught me about writing, in no particular order:

1. Word of mouth is the best publicity

Our audiences, though small, were passionate. We provided quality entertainment and our most ardent supporters talked about us…a lot. They brought groups, gave their friends tickets, and sometimes drove hours to see us. Though we bought print ads, paid a few publicists, and had a large email newsletter, the theater’s best advertisement was—without a doubt—word of mouth. 

It’s the same with promoting your writing. Today’s readers are consumers, just as our season ticket holders were. They long for quality and consistency. They’re busy, and they need a reason to keep reading past the first few lines. And when they are delighted by what they’ve read? They’re the most loyal, vocal folks around. Because we live in an instant-communication society, bad word-of-mouth spreads fast. Make sure your writing product is stellar, and great publicity will follow.

2. Give the audience what they want

One of the owners of the first theater in which I performed often said, “Give ‘em hamburgers!” He meant that we shouldn’t mess with success. If tickets sold quickly for a 1950s music revue, we wrote another similar show. Of course, we also experimented and pushed boundaries (otherwise, all of us would have grown bored). However, we changed our product in small increments. We also created special experiences—behind-the-scenes tours, holiday packages, giveaways—for avid supporters. Cast members even called our VIPs (those folks who came to the theater over and over) on their birthdays and anniversaries, which the VIPs greatly appreciated.

In your writing, think about creating a memorable experience for the reader. How can you provide extra value (giveaways, incentives, free resources) in a professional, winsome file3691295046962manner? In what ways could you creatively and tangibly thank those who willingly support you and talk about your books?

3. Leave your ego at home

Most of the performers I worked with over the years have been gracious, humble, and diligent. A few, however, turned me off with their arrogance, over-the-top demands, or lack of discretion. The most successful artists, long term, are those who go out of their way to thank people and who treat the sound technician as well as the venue’s owner. Those are the performers who are offered more opportunities.

Ask yourself: am I approachable, warm, and thankful for the opportunities life has given me? Or I am on a mission to impress everyone I meet, in order to “build my brand”?

4. There are no small parts, only small actors

So said Constantin Stanislavski. When you perform a small role with professionalism and excellence, the people in charge notice–and they’ll eventually give you more responsibility.

The same goes for becoming a better writer. If an editor asks for a 400-word piece, I’ve learned to take it seriously and do my best work. In this age of instant access, anyone can read your work at any time, from anywhere. Who knows what small beginnings might lead to larger opportunities?

And, finally, in related wisdom…

5. Know when to stop

On stage and in writing, creatives need to develop an important skill: how to bring a something to a close. In the theater, we say that last line, spin on our heels, and exit, stage left. In writing, we find the right moment, the right phrase, the right word, and that’s it. The end.

This post is a reprint from Tweetspeak Poetry.

Two Writers Walk Into This Bar . . .

Celebratory drinkWhat happens when two writers unexpectedly find themselves with a free evening together?

A nice dinner and a glass of wine? Laughter and bonding? Sharing experiences from both on and off the author trail?

Yes. All that, and new marketing ideas, too.

At least that was my experience two weeks ago when my agency colleague Anita Agers-Brooks made a short-notice trip my way and we were able to spend a few hours together – hours that had no agenda other than getting to know each other. And even though we write in different genres (Anita is a leadership guru, while I write humorous mysteries and memoir), we had much to offer each other in the way of marketing and business ideas. Here are a few nuggets from our impromptu party to spark your own ideas:

  1. Writing is a business. Do you treat it that way? Anita reminded me that I needed to file paperwork to become an LLC (limited liability company) as legal protection of my assets. We live in a litigious world, and a writer must be a good steward of her assets both spiritually and financially. As Anita pointed out, if you wait to protect your business till someone sues you (yes, it can happen!), you’re already too late. (And be sure to include Errors & Omissions insurance while you’re at it.)
  2. Goodreads.com is a publicity goldmine. Are you on it? For my new book release, 658 people entered my giveaway drawing for 3 free copies. That’s a lot of eyes on my book the day it released. And giveaways are just the tip of what you can accomplish on Goodreads. (Read this marketing tutorial on using Goodreads.)
  3. Pay attention to casual comments. After a pastor told Anita her book would be a good topic for a sermon, she found a template online for sermons. She plans to fill it out using her book and then share the template with pastors. She’ll get her message presented by pastors, and she won’t even have to be present! (Does that qualify as bilocation – being in two places at the same time?) I’m going to take her idea and see if I can make it work for me.
  4. Take ownership for your promotional campaign, because ultimately, the book is your baby. Both Anita and I have been surprised by the limitations even large publishers can have when it comes to marketing; our publishers can pull some big coups for us (Anita spoke to a filled college auditorium thanks to her publisher, and I’m getting phone-in radio interviews thanks to mine), but the local press and on-going events calendar that make up the bulk of your PR efforts remain in your own lap, not to mention getting your launch team recruited and equipped to spread the word.
  5. Learn from each other’s experiences. After spending an evening with a writer in the same phase of our careers, I feel like I may still be in the same boat. But now I know there are other boats traveling along beside me, happy to share their own tips and advice. In fact, maybe a small-group marketing retreat would be a good idea. Hmmm….

(FYI – I was kidding about the walking into a bar. Anita and I did walk around a golf course, however. The air was much fresher.)

5 Ways to Drive an Editor Crazy

13761150586648bAs an aspiring writer, I thought editors had horns on their head and pitchforks perched beside their desks. After all, they sent me form “no thanks” letters after I’d slaved over an obviously brilliant manuscript. They ignored my letters and phone calls, and seemed to take joy in waiting months before replying to my oh-so-urgent emails.

Now, as both a seasoned writer and an editor for a large faith-based website, I’ve learned that editors are people, too. We love finding new voices to publish, and we try to be gentle when doling out rejections. Sure, we have our quirks, and we make mistakes. But mostly, we’re word-loving, gentle souls who find joy in a well-placed modifier.

When provoked, however, we can lose our literary minds. Several habits don’t just rub us the wrong way—they make us want to run down the street while still in our bathrobes, shouting Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” until we puke.

Here’s how you can speed that process along:

1) Treat Guidelines as Optional.

      Don’t bother reading writing guidelines; don’t even visit websites or read back issues of magazines. Send a totally inappropriate submission. In your cover letter, tell the editor that while you’ve never taken the time to familiarize yourself with their publication, you’re sure that your work is perfect for them. file3781288474089

       2) Respond viciously to rejection letters.

      When you receive a letter stating that “your submission doesn’t meet our current needs,” fire off a hateful email, chastising the editor for his lack of taste. Even better: use bad language and post your vitriolic thoughts all over social media. (This habit works well if you never want to see your work in print. Those bridges are so pretty when they burn!)

      3) Never turn in an assignment by the deadline.

Deadlines aren’t set in stone; therefore, ask for repeated extensions, paying no attention to the panicked tone of your editor’s responses. Don’t worry that you are one of several dozen moving parts in the publishing of a website, magazine or compilation book. Take all the time you want—the world does, in fact, revolve around you.

       4) Take up all your editor’s time.

Ask repeated questions about the contract or terms of your publishing agreement. Don’t get an agent or other professionals to weigh in on your questions. Don’t network with other writers so that you can learn from their experiences. Pester the editor with texts (preferably to her personal cell phone, if you can dig up the number) about when your piece will be printed, how many readers you’ll get, etc.

And finally:

5) Refuse to accept changes in your manuscript.

Since you have received your talent from God, treat every word as His direct quote. Don’t let an editor make changes to your beautiful masterpiece. Fight over each letter and punctuation mark. Don’t choose your battles. Take offense at questions. Die on every single hill.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a nasty email to delete…and I need to look up the lyrics to a certain parody song.

The Journey from Idea to Bookstore

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Someday I’d like to write a book. 

Book on the beachHaving spent most of my adult life as a research scientist affiliated with Harvard University, I like to break down goals into doable steps and analyze the process needed to achieve a certain result. While the publishing process is more art than science, here are some basic steps you will need to take to move from dreaming about writing a book to holding the finished product in your hands.

What’s the big idea?

Your nonfiction book of tens of thousands of words starts with one sentence that captures the main idea, or theme, of your book. Ernest Hemingway talked about writing one true sentence, and this goal is your first task. While this sentence may never appear in the book itself, you will need it in the book proposal your literary agent will send to publishers. Crystallizing the big idea of your book also will help you write a working title.

For my first book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2014), I started the process by writing down a list of words and short phrases that captured the essence of my message. A cluster of these words became the working title. Once I had a working title, I was ready to write the outline for the book.

Who is the audience?

Books are for readers, not the writers. Publishers want books to sell, not collect dust on bookstore shelves. Accordingly, once you have your big idea, you need to determine who will desire to read the book. These readers are your audience. Perhaps your book is for a general audience, and you hope everyone will read it. However, publishers will require that you define your audience more clearly.

Is there an age group more likely to read your book? Will the book appeal to certain specialists or professionals, like pastors or counselors? What interests do your potential readers have that would make them likely to buy your book? Will your readers use the book in a group setting such as a Bible study or classroom, or will they tuck it into a carry-on bag for entertainment on an airplane ride or while soaking up the sun on a distant beach?

Think in terms of primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences. These categories will help you define who is most likely to buy the book as well as the wider audiences that may express interest. You will need to describe your audience in your nonfiction book proposal. Knowing your audience also will shape your writing style for the book. For example, a book for teens will use a different vocabulary than a book for seminary professors. A book useful for a specialist may need to include references and an index, while a book used in a church setting may benefit from a discussion guide.

 Why write this book?

The journey from idea to bookstore usually measures in years not months, so knowing why you are writing this book will fuel your motivation early in the morning or late at night as you face publication deadlines. The answer to this question will come in handy when family members and friends wonder why you are spending your free time in your office instead of having fun anywhere else.

Understanding what need your book will meet in the marketplace of ideas will provide direction as you decide what material you need to cover in your chapters and what falls outside the scope of this book. Ultimately, focusing on the purpose for writing this book will keep you connected to your calling as an author and the original dream that has moved from someday to today.

Want to Write a Book? The Next Patch of Light

file6041243276582I was privileged to attend my former advanced memoir workshop a few weeks ago to share my publishing journey, both with my first memoir that came out in August of 2013, and the news about recently signing a book deal for a second memoir. As I talked through the six years it took to publish my first book, as my fellow writers threw questions at me left and right, “How did you find an agent?, what did you do to build a platform?, how do you plan to structure your current project?, how do you even go about writing a book?, a thought occurred to me.

If you want to write a book…If you really want to do this…

Step into the next patch of light.

That, my friends, is the best writing advice I have to date.

I’ll let you in on an author secret. We all started at the beginning. And I think most of us make this life up as we go along. Even New York Times best-selling authors, at one point, stared at the cursor on a blank page.

Still afraid?

Step into the next patch of light.

Are you already a writer, a person who has honed her craft and has literary muscles? Have you always been interested in memoir and look!, your uncle gave you a book on writing memoir for Christmas? Were you walking down the street when you stepped in a mud puddle, and while stopping to shake off the mud you happen to notice an ad on the flag pole in front of you for a writing class in your neighborhood?

Any of those instances may be your next patch of light.

You have to start somewhere, so look around and see where you stand. Stephen King said, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

If you hope to publish a book, than do what’s in front of you today. Don’t worry about a two-year plan complete with a detailed description of how you’ll construct your book while you also build your platform and research literary agents. (If you are naturally a person like that, email me, OK? I may need a little help.)

No, do what is in front of you right now. And when it’s time (and you’ll know it is time because you’ll itch for something else, or get bored, or curious), look ahead for the next little patch of light. Pay attention to your surroundings: follow authors on Twitter, look out for workshops, read blog posts for fun, pick up a book at your local independent book store on a Saturday afternoon that might apply to your writing journey. Any of these things could be your next patch of light. And before you know it, (and trust me, if you follow the patches of light, you will move in this direction and it is crazy and cool at the same time) you will be writing a book.

But for today, resolve yourself to take it one step at a time, and pay attention to the writer light in your life.

Your Friends in the Book Marketing Business

Book marketing can be rather overwhelming, especially here in the middle of the publishing revolution. The good news is that there are more and more emerging companies out there who bring a lot of light to this dark arena. Whether you are an author looking for assistance or a reader trying to find the best deals available, this post is to create a compilation of resources you may find helpful.

Pubslush: A global, crowd funding and analytics platform for books only. This platform allows authors to raise money and gauge the initial audience for new book ideas, and for readers to pledge their financial support to bring books to life. Pubslush is entirely about giving: giving an opportunity to authors, giving a voice to readers, and giving books to children without access to literature. http://www.pubslush.com 

Businessman Midair in a Business Meeting

Author Marketing ClubAn author member can submit books for promotional opportunities, as well as access free online training and resources related to book marketing. A reader member will get notified about new and discounted books, and can discover new authors. This service is free for both authors and readers. You can upgrade to the Premium program if you wish for additional benefits, but it is not required for you to do so. Some of the options offered under a Premium membership include an Amazon book reviewer tool that can help you find reviewers who focus on your literary genre.  http://authormarketingclub.com/

BookBub: The best marketing dollars I have ever spent have been with BookBub. BookBub is a free daily email that notifies you about deep discounts on acclaimed ebooks. You choose the types you’d like to get notified about — with categories ranging from mysteries to cookbooks — and they email you great deals in those genres. BookBub features ebooks ranging from top-tier publishers to critically acclaimed independent authors. During my last campaign with BookBub, I spent about $260.00 and yielded thousands of downloads as a result. If you are looking for new readers, do yourself a favor and check out BookBub: http://www.bookbub.com/home/

Other great resources for readers:

Pixel of Ink: A website which features daily publishing of Free Kindle Books and Hot Deals. On any given day, there are thousands of Free Kindle Books available.  http://www.pixelofink.com/

Inspired Reads: The best Christian Kindle books on a budget. http://www.inspiredreads.com/

Kindle Daily Deal: The best deals available for Kindle. http://amzn.to/KindleDailyDeal

What are your favorite book marketing resources, websites, and venues?

Publishing Day

The day my book releases is an odd day for me. Inside, I am screaming, “My book is out! Everybody, my book is out! Are you going to untitledread it, or what?!” I walk into the bookstore and pretend to only casually check that it’s on the front table. If it’s not, I pretend not to be bothered. I decrease my expectations. I walk towards the women’s section and just hope to see it on the shelf. If it’s not, I pretend to understand, but inside, I don’t understand at all.

Because it’s my heart on the page.

I went through this with my first book, Girl Perfect, and I just went through it again with Beautiful Lies. In the days of the release, something in me wants people to stop and take notice, and that part of me wrestles with the part that knows the act of creating is worth it, whether anyone notices or not.

I hope the late nights, the honest tears, and the sweet victories of finding just the right words to speak my soul’s hunger will result in profundity for the reader. I want my efforts to matter. In fact, I’m tempted to tell you how I crawled through the thickest mud of my adult life to bear this book. But Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, scolded me about this, warning me never to tell anyone how much a book cost me personally – for it is impolite to do so.

So with the release of a book, three tragic flaws in the self must die. First, the part of us that hungers for recognition has to die to the Spirit in us that is compelled to speak honestly and truthfully into a world that needs our voices.  Second, the humanity in us that wants millions to hear the book’s message must die to the Spirit in us that rejoices if one life is purely changed by our words.

Finally, we have to let go of “perfect” and embrace gratitude instead. The perfectionistic questions that circle on publishing day – “Is it enough?” “Did I say everything I wanted to?” “Will the reader understand my heart’s lineage?”  and “Is this as beautiful an offering as I dreamed?” – all of these questions must yield to gratitude.

untitledSo here is mine: Thank you, God, that I had the opportunity to bleed truth on these pages. Thank you for the healing it brought to me. Thank you that you love me so much as to give my heart’s desire wings, and I commit these books to you, trusting your winds will carry their words wherever they need to flutter. Beautiful Lies is my offering. My alabaster jar. And when I poured its oil, it was all for you.

What about you? What do you have to embrace and let go of on publishing day? What are the needs for recognition or perfection that you battle? What does your gratitude sound like?