Crowd Source Marketing

finger-769300_1280There’s an old adage in marketing that says in order to get a consumer to pull the trigger and buy something, they have to hear about the product three times. There was a time when the blueprint to accomplish that was pretty straightforward. Get reviews from newspapers or magazines and get interviewed on television or radio. Then, go make public appearances at bookstores or book fairs or local meetings, and don’t forget to keep writing.

None of those were easy to accomplish and they all took a lot of work to hit the magic three, but at least there was a path to follow that thousands of authors from decades past had taken with some success.

Times have changed. Not only have they changed, they keep changing at an ever-increasing pace.

The internet opened up the world and made it so much easier for authors to reach the public directly. That’s the good news. The flip side is there are hundreds of different ways to do it and a lot of them are really good, but may not be right for you.

So, the goal becomes finding the right tools for your genre and your personality and staying up to date about everything that’s new, while still finding time to write, and then have a life.

This is where just a little organization can funnel the hive mind of social media down to the essentials. Look for groups, particularly on Facebook, that are not only devoted to marketing books but are also in your genre. If you’re in traditional publishing, include that on your checklist. If you’re going the indie route, make sure the group is too.

A few other things to add to your checklist are:

  • The group is devoted most of the time to marketing – not selling, not writing
  • It’s invitation-only, so that it’s a safe place to share and there’s some control over the postings
  • There’s a monitor who shows trolls (people who complain or bully) the door and kicks them out of the group
  • Active members who are sharing information and are willing to answer questions – lots of questions
  • Be one of those people and share when you can – admit when you don’t know enough to add to the conversation. In other words, participate.

Some of the benefits you can reap from joining together are:

  • Doing cross-promotions with others in your genre. There’s power in numbers.
  • Getting a heads up about a new site that’s working for someone. And getting a thumbs down for a site that would only waste your time and your dollars.
  • Sharing each other’s ads or promotions on each other’s social media sites. Again, it’s that power in numbers.
  • Gaining a realistic view of how well you’re doing. It’s the equivalent of your water cooler.
  • Getting applause when things go well and getting some inspirational chitchat when they don’t.
  • Testing out new blurbs for your book or, if you’re indie, testing out new covers and getting early feedback.

Everything is easier when we work in cooperation with others and come together as a team, building on the information, adding in a post to what’s already there. That’s the definition of crowd sourcing.

Since I’ve found my own peeps I’ve been able to course correct a lot of mistakes I didn’t know I was even making and I’ve come up with a streamlined ad campaign that is even more in line with my budget. Best of all, though, I’m having a lot more fun sharing ideas and cheering on my fellow authors.

The Good Editor

typewriter-584696_640 Every writer needs a good editor. There are no exceptions. Typing away at the computer may be a solitary adventure, but bringing a well-rounded story to readers is a collaborative effort with a lot of players on the team. One of the most necessary players is a good editor. This is so much more than catching a typo or fixing a sentence that ends in a preposition or realizing you meant effect and not affect. It’s more than knowing what AP Style or Chicago Style is and when to use what, where.

Keely Boeving, a freelance editor who has worked with me on one of my novels, said, “I consider myself an advocate for the reader. My goal is not to change a writer’s style or intent, but rather to draw it out—to help them say what they truly want to say in a way that resonates with readers. Translating what a writer conceives in their creative mind into words on a page can be tricky, and an external observer—an editor—can help facilitate the translation in order to help writers achieve their intent.”

A good editor gets you and can see where the story is going without the need to add in their own two cents’ worth. The really good ones are part fan who write notes about the parts they really like, part brave hero who can tell a writer they need to take out that beloved chapter, and part mind reader who can ask just the right question about that part you thought was clear.

Taking the time and investing the money in an editor can help you get an agent or a publisher to read past that first page. Not taking that step may mean a lot of rejections for a good story that just needed a little more work.

Some tips when looking for the right editor:

  1. Gather information. Ask for the editor’s background and do they specialize in your type of work. Ask them for names/emails of writers they’ve worked with before. Write a short email to the writers asking them about their experience. See if the editor has ever worked with your genre. Keely worked in New York for over four years and is now a part of the WordServe family, as well as working as a freelance editor.
  2. Be clear about your expectations. Talk about cost and when payment is expected. Be true to your budget and keep searching if someone is out of your price range. Talk about your timeline and whether the fee includes second or third rounds of edits. If you have a deadline that can’t be missed, say so up front and take no for an answer if you hear ‘maybe’.
  3. Talk about how you expect to receive the edits. Some editors and some writers still use the printed page. I prefer Track Changes and comments but I still run into people who don’t and prefer mailing that manuscript back and forth.
  4. When you get the edits back, read over them briefly and put the manuscript down. Go find something fun to do and let it go for a day. On my initial read there’s always one or two things that I don’t agree with at all… until the next day. Often, those are the changes that fixed something that would have tripped up a lot of readers but was pretty easy to fix. Don’t let that become the reason you don’t sell a work.
  5. Take what you like and be willing to leave the rest. There will be moments when a suggested edit changes the intention of a scene or the voice of a character. Have some confidence in your idea and know when to say no. Reason it out with the editor, as well. It could also be that the setup isn’t fully there but with some tweaking, your story gets stronger. If you don’t feel like you’re being heard, you have the wrong editor.

One last thing. Celebrate every part of the journey as a writer, including this one. You took an idea from your mind and put it down on paper. That’s a big accomplishment. Now on to the next step.

Just Keep Writing

Photo by Lord Marmalade

There’s a reason I keep writing even though monetary success hasn’t found me, yet. Words strung together in books have always given me the ability to dream of bigger things and even the courage to go out and try.

I’ve been blessed to have three books published and each time there have been plenty of readers who have said that I helped them let go of what no longer worked for them and dream, too.

We talk a lot about our purpose for being here in this life and I’ve come to believe mine is to be of service in whatever ways I can figure out. So far, translating the common man’s dream into something worthwhile, something doable and something that’s even full of a little God-magic has been mine. Not the big, change a country, build a corporation dreams. The smaller moments that stay in your heart.

It’s a message that I took in from the very start.

My first experiences with books and stories are three of the strongest memories I have as a child. The very first one was the first time I walked into a library, the Philadelphia library and found out they let you check out as many as you could carry, my father’s rule, read them all and bring them back for more. My world opened up that day and I found out there were a thousand possibilities when it came to living a life.

The second has to be explained a little bit. We were so poor when I was growing up that my father talked a friend of his who worked at a local bank to lend him a hundred dollars so he could buy us a used black and white television. We screamed with delight when Dad brought the set home. So, when a Reading is Fundamental bookmobile came through our neighborhood and the driver told us we could pick out any new book and keep it, I felt like a little big of magic had settled over us that day. I took my time and tried to choose a book that I could read over and over again. I still have it and read it to my son when he was little.

The third memory is my brother, Jeff and myself when we taught ourselves to read, Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. We had the book read to us so many times we knew what part of the story went with what pictures and on our own figured out which words went with the sounds. That’s when I understood a secret about books. They have their own power to transform. They don’t know if you’re rich or poor, beautiful or an ugly duckling, a wealthy doctor or a poor cabdriver, and they don’t care. A book will take you on an adventure whenever you’re ready, regardless of how you see yourself and as a bonus may even change the definitions.

Books made it possible for me to envision a way to become someone I couldn’t even define yet. They gave me the faith to set out when I couldn’t find it anywhere else and the hope that somehow things would all work out.

I’ve seen it happen just often enough. A lost human being feels like they’re the only one who has ever felt this much pain. They don’t know how to reach out for help but then, inside of a story some writer concocted out of whole cloth they see every emotion or secret or hope-for happy ending that they’ve kept bottled up inside, acted out, and they start to believe – maybe there’s more to this world.

That’s why I keep writing and that’s why I’m so grateful for every writer out there who struggles to tell a good tale. I’m one of your biggest fans, whoever you are, so keep writing. We need every single exciting, cliffhanger, romance, potboiler, science fiction, political thriller that we can get our hands on because even now, sometimes my dreams need a kick start. So please, just keep writing.

Stuck in a Corner

Photo by Keith Lyndaker Schlabach

There’s a kind of fear most writers have that can inspire a clammy feeling even faster than waiting to hear if a book’s been accepted by an agent or a publisher. It’s the blank mind, particularly when there’s a deadline looming just ahead. Some people call it writer’s block, as if there’s something sitting in our heads that stands between our keyboard and creative brilliance.

It happens to all of us, no matter how long we’ve been writing or how successful we’ve become in our writing careers. However, I have learned a few tricks to remove the blocks and get going so that I don’t go sliding past a deadline and just make myself, and everyone else, feel worse. Even better, occasionally a reader will point out that very spot in a book as their favorite, and I marvel, once again, at how important it is to just keep going without expectations or attachments.

First Tip: Be gentle with yourself. Berating, digging around in your past for reasons, imagining a bleak future, or even waiting for the muse are not helpful. A walk might be, though. Also follow the HALT rule. Are you hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Take care of those first and then get back to work.

Second Tip: Pull out your character descriptions you hopefully wrote out before you started the book, whether it’s fiction, nonfiction or a memoir. Reintroduce yourself to all the idiosyncrasies, some of which you’re not even using on paper, and even add a few if you feel so moved. If you haven’t done this, do it now. We’re the driver on this literary trip, and we need to know all of the passengers in order to see where it’s going.

Third Tip: This one has gotten me out of more than one corner. Write the words, “Once upon a time,” and then let your imagination go. Write whatever comes up and follow the trail. You can delete those four little words later along with anything else you needed in order to get the left side of your brain going again. Most of us were read a fairy tale or two as a child, and those words can often create a sense of wonderful anticipation of what might be coming next. Our brain recognizes that too.

Fourth Tip: Pull out the description you have, however brief, for the arc in the story. That’s the place that’s most climatic, where everything changes. Is the arc still satisfying? Does it need beefing up, more research, more details? Is everything still pointing to that arc? That may be why you’re stuck. You’ve gone a little off course and need to delete some, add some more, so that you’re once again heading toward a big moment. Stories usually have several smaller arcs on both sides that can be used as places to aim toward as well till you’re driving for the ending.

Fifth Tip: Read the last portion you got down on paper to a trusted friend, preferably another writer that you respect. Hearing it out loud may help you hear what comes next. A brief conversation about what you’re writing and where it’s headed next may do the same. If you have to call more than one or two friends, though, you’re serial dialing as a distraction and not to help the writing. That usually leaves me overwhelmed.

Keep in mind that every job has its down days, and even though we love being writers, some days we’re bored or anxious or frustrated. That’s okay, but we have to also keep going because this is a business as well as an art form and someone’s made plans with that deadline in mind. So do your best, hammer out what you can and come back tomorrow. This too shall pass.

Q: What do you do to get out of a literary corner?

Happy Thanksgiving from the Water Cooler Family to Yours

Photo by Tom Gill

Thanksgiving has always been a great time for Americans to reflect on what is going right in their lives.

There are other moments throughout the year like our birthday or the upcoming New Year’s holiday that lend themselves to the same moment of gratitude.  However, this holiday asks the same question with a wonderful twist.

Instead of what might be the usual, what-about-me, we’re asked to remember others, especially those who can’t be with their families like our servicemen and women stationed all over the world and in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan. That gives all of us a moment to step out of ourselves and remember what really matters to us.

For many of us it’s the people seated at the table right around us, and we get to say directly to them on Thanksgiving day just how much they mean to us. But there are also many others who touch our lives every day, and mean so much to us for their unflagging support and cheers of encouragements, who are scattered all over the world.

For the writers at the Water Cooler that includes you.

All of us at the WordServe Water Cooler want to take a moment to say thank you to everyone who has joined in our fun. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and feelings here at the blog on the rollicking, fast-paced world of writing, publishing and marketing. We have all grown to feel like one big family.

For writers, who spend a lot of their career waiting to hear from editors or critics or booksellers, it’s a very special and sometimes rare gift to create such a supportive community. We look forward to all of the great conversations, book news, writing tips, and platform building to come.

A great big thank you as well to our agents at the WordServe Literary Agency, Greg, Rachelle and Barbara for all of your guidance, hard work and for always going that extra mile. We are all very grateful. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

The Long View of Getting Published

Photo by Michael Hirst

There are two distinct parts to my career as an author. Part one, when I saw myself as more of a lone wolf and part two, when I finally started admitting I don’t know everything.

The second half where humility has played a lot bigger part has been more rewarding in every way, particularly financially and spiritually.

Funny little thing I’m learning about life is that when I stop trying to force my will and realize I may not get what I want but I can still be of service, more of what I wanted all along shows up. However, to head down that path the first few times took a lot of courage and hope because I didn’t have any personal proof. Fortunately, I had worn myself out trying things my way. I became willing.

To be an author, whether it’s as an independent or through the traditional venues takes more people and therefore a lot more willingness. The independent route sounds like it would be easier to stick to your own common sense and that would be more than enough, except for the occasional question. But publishing a book is a process that requires a lot of hands.

Besides, I was more arrogant than that anyway, running down the traditional path and still telling everyone how I saw things.

However, when I stopped listening for just the small kernel I wanted and expected to hear, dropped any agenda and not only took in the information but gave it time to sink in, things really began to move in a better direction. That opened things up even more.

What if I even followed through on some of the suggestions to see if other people who are actually the professionals in their slice of the publishing game were right? Perhaps my part in the entire process is to be a team player, be open to all of the information that’s coming in and just do what’s been suggested.

Some wrong turns are to be expected and even that’s okay because  the last tool I keep close by is the one that makes all of it okay.

I am powerless over the outcome but there is One who has His hand on everything, loves all of us beyond our ability to understand and has a plan that includes everyone. This is the most important part to me and makes it possible to relax and go back to the day I’m in when I’m worried about how book sales will go or if a book will get published at all.

The answer is, maybe it will, maybe it won’t.

In the past I couldn’t live with that answer so I tried harder to fix things. That just didn’t work and I wore out others as well as myself. Doors closed.

Now, I ask myself if I’ve done my part? Do I trust the professionals I’m working with on this book? What’s in front of me to do? How can I go be of service?

I know, all of that sounded really contrary to becoming published to me too, at first. But I had tried the lone wolf gig and only gotten mediocre results, at best.

I became willing to try a new tack. God is everything or God is nothing and I wanted, maybe even needed God to be everything so I started listening with a new ear. I asked for help and admitted when I didn’t know something. I grew more patient and less ‘helpful’ with suggestions. I did what was asked of me, on time and nothing more, allowing others to do their job without my interference. I became willing to change structure or style and see what happened.

And on the days when my anxiety still sits on my chest like an angry gorilla, I go pray, turn it all over to God and ask for peace of mind and heart. Then I get back to my day, do what’s right in front of me and keep going. As a result, more of my publishing life has fallen into place and my relationships in that area are a lot stronger.


Let's all celebrate! (Pic by Photobunny)

Today is both my birthday and my agent, Rachelle Gardner’s birthday. Reason enough to start a party!

As if that weren’t enough, as a bonus to really get in the mood to celebrate I have a few words of wisdom from Rachelle about building a career rather than just selling a book.

I was one of Rachelle’s first clients and right from the start I knew there was the potential for something special. It started with the way Rachelle chooses her clients, the writers.

Rachelle has never been afraid to take on a new author. She now has about 50 clients, 90 percent of whom are new authors, which says something wonderful about her approach to the publishing business. Her intention is to build a strong roster of credible writers rather than make the quick sale. That takes time and talent on both the author and the agent’s part and can be just as rare in an agent as it is in a writer.

“It’s great for me because as agents go, I’m still one of the newer agents, coming up on four years, and it’s kind of neat for me to help build writers from the ground up,” said Rachelle. “Now, keep in mind, I’m making very intentional decisions,” she added, as she looks for writers who have something to say and are willing to work with her.

I’ve had agents before, good agents who quickly sold my work but I’d never had anyone speak to me in terms of a career. Not only in general terms but specific steps I could take if I was interested in making a decent living. Rachelle was doing that from the start even while we were talking about the project at hand. She was taking the long view of me as a writer.

That approach was going to take more work and a lot more patience but has the potential to payoff with steadily rising book sales.

That’s like gold in this business. Continue reading “Celebrate!”

Becoming a Nationally Syndicated Columnist

I am fortunate enough to be both a national columnist on politics and world events through Cagle Cartoons, Inc. and a blogger at on writing, faith, and whatever wild adventure is going on in my life. This weekend that means a 5K followed by a second jump out of a plane. Don’t tell my agent. I’m celebrating learning to walk, and then run again after a whopper of a bout with cancer.

However, there has to be a question in everyone’s mind these days whether it’s worthwhile for writers to still strive to become nationally syndicated columnists. The decline of newspapers and the rise of blogs (like this fabulous one) must make people wonder if there’s a place for the journalist who provides content through a clearing house.

Both a column and a blog can become a source of income and it takes time for that to be true in both instances. There’s really no shortcuts, so that’s the same.

But despite all of the advantages to having a blog, and there are many, there are still some pretty big benefits to writing for others for a living.

  • Accountability – there’s a constant weekly deadline with a required word count. No longer and no shorter than 700 to 750 words. The grammar has to be correct, which means AP Style and the facts have to be checked and sourced. An occasional mistake is okay – it’s bound to happen – like the time I mistakenly wrote interred instead of interned. Just one letter off and I accidentally buried two people.
  • Editor – my column appears in about a thousand small town newspapers and some pretty big websites such as MSNBC, Politicus and Moderate Voice and so that means about a thousand editors are combing through the piece to make sure I’m not going to make them look bad. There’s also an editor at Cagle Cartoons that is reading the piece as well. Occasionally that means a conversation about a statement I’ve made, to make sure it’s correct and can I back it up with facts. That’s always in the back of my mind and keeps me rigorously honest. It also means I’m not going to reprint something I heard from friends, saw on the internet or even read in another publication if I can’t find original, reliable sources. Great training for every other kind of writing as well, including fiction. As writers, we want to get it right but knowing when to even ask a question or where to go takes practice.
  • Size of the Audience – These days a lot of syndicates, like Cagle, are going to a subscriber format instead of making their customers, the newspapers and websites, pay for each piece individually. They pay one flat fee and can use as much of the content as they want on any given day. That means I’m under someone else’s established banner and it immediately translated to a million new readers for me when I started three years ago, and now translates to four million readers a month in four different countries. I’m very big in India. Also at the bottom of every column, every week there sits my web address, an email address and the name of any recent book. It’s even better than a paid ad because all of these people already know me.
  • More Profitable Book Tour – Unlike a blog, my audiences are concentrated in large numbers in specific towns and I can design a book tour around that information. I choose to speak as fundraisers for nonprofits such as United Way and sell books afterward in partnership with a local bookstore as a way to raise funds. That also gives the newspaper that runs my column an opportunity to promote it for free, for me, and do some good work for their community as well.

If you are interested in getting started as a columnist, start by going local. That’s how I got started, at the Brunswick Times-Gazette, home of the world famous Brunswick Stew in Virginia. I still get the paper here in Chicago. They need your content and you in turn, can learn how to tell a concise story on a wide variety of topics while getting used to a constant deadline. Then after a year or more, take all of those clippings and start shopping larger newspapers individually and at the same time the big syndicates. Those clippings will tell them you can handle the basics and that you have a few things to say that are worth reading. If you want to know more on the topic, send me your questions at and let’s talk.

Q: Do you still read newspapers? If so, do you read a print copy or view the paper online?
Have you ever considered writing for your local paper? If so, what topics might you cover?
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