Seven Steps to Guaranteed Success as a Writer

Every author seems to have a different idea of what “success” in their field means to him or her. For some, selling at least five thousand (in Canada) or ten thousand (in the States) books, thereby qualifying them to claim the lofty title of “Bestselling Author” is the goal on which they set their sights. For others, maybe it’s a hundred thousand copies, or a million.

For some, it isn’t about the numbers, but about awards. But which award is the one that will make them feel as though they have finally arrived? Is it the Carol? The Christie? The Pulitzer? I’ve noticed several big-name authors who have won awards in the past entering the contests again, so maybe one award isn’t enough. What, then, is the magic number?

Or maybe it’s a certain amount of positive feedback, a sufficient number of glowing reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, recognition at conferences or even on the streets, enough followers on social media.

You see the problem. Success is a wildly ambiguous and deeply personal concept. Chasing that elusive label can be and, I suspect, is in most cases, a discouraging, disheartening, and depressing endeavor. The intended audience for our work can be mind-numbingly uncooperative when it comes to providing us with the accolades, reviews, purchases, and general awestruck-ness in our presence that would finally push us up to that mountain peak we are continually scrambling to reach. So too, for that matter, can agents, publishers, editors, and judges of contests.

Success1

A month ago I posted on this site about my love-hate relationship with Christian writing awards. I have to admit I am coming down a little harder on the side of love these days as my books are currently finalists for five awards. Am I encouraged? Definitely. Am I grateful, honored, and excited? Absolutely. Am I able to bring myself to claim that I am now a successful author as a result of these affirmations? Not even close.

So what is the solution? To continue to blindly stumble along, attempting to achieve some random number of readers or books sold or reviews in order to feel that I am now a success? Or is it possible that I, as a Christian author, need to look at the whole success thing from an entirely different perspective? If so, the perspective that is inevitably the best one to try to view things from is that of Jesus. During his time on earth, Jesus said some radical, countercultural things about success. He suggested that “making it to the top” in the eyes of the world was not only a poor measure of success, but could, in fact, be considered spiritually detrimental because it is those who are the least in the eyes of the world who are the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

Not that we should refuse to work hard or strive for excellence. Quite the contrary. Working diligently and doing our best honors God. The difference is in the motivation. The Bible teachers that everything we do should be done as to the Lord, and not unto man. By that standard, our success cannot truly be measured by sales, awards, or accolades bestowed on us by other human beings.

For an author who believes, then, success can only be defined by whether or not our work accomplishes the purpose God has for it. So here, in my humble opinion, are seven steps to follow in order to be guaranteed success in your writing:

1)      Listen for and receive the words God has for you to write

2)      Study the craft so that you can write those words in a way that honors the one who gave them to you

3)      Humbly accept feedback and editing that makes the work better and stronger

4)      Pray about the best platform for your work to appear on

5)      When the story or teaching God has given you does come out in written form and become available to others, seek His guidance as to the best way to use the resources of time, money, and connections he has gifted you with in order to market and promote that work

6)      Pray that God’s will may be done through the words you have written

7)      Leave the results to him

If I follow the above steps and don’t find success in the eyes of the world—however I or other people may define that—I can still trust that the plans God has for my work have been or will be fulfilled, whether or not he ever reveals those plans to me. And I can let go of all my strivings, and rest in the sure and certain knowledge that my work is a resounding success.

Are We Authors or Salespeople?

bookI’ve been in a quandary lately. I’ve been writing for 6½ years on my blog, self-published my first book in 2013, and came out with my best book, Hot, Holy & Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design, through WordServe and BroadStreet Publishing last year. And I’m still not making much income.

Yes, I wholly appreciate the deal my agency made for me, and it was a solid entry into the traditional publishing market. But the truth is, while we’re happy for the Max Lucados and Francine Riverses of the publishing world, the majority of working authors don’t make a huge income.

Other than good timing and a spat of luck (or is it?), what can we do to increase our income?

Thankfully, I have two close friends with marketing backgrounds. Not so thankfully, they recently told me everything they think I’m doing wrong in marketing myself and my books. Okay, I’m actually thankful for that too, but it was tough to hear them chide me for not pushing my product more.

Why have I struggled with effectively advertising my book? With talking up my writing and speaking? With marketing my brand?

Part of it is that I’m by nature not much of a salesperson. I was that introverted kid who, when asked to fund-raise for whatever activity I was involved in, barely made her quota because selling to people was such a painful experience.

Another part is this sense that I’m in ministry, and shouldn’t my primary goal be helping people rather than making a buck? Yet Romans 4:4 says, “When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.” Even people in helping professions deserve to be paid. And you and I both know that writing a book isn’t an easy task: You earned a paycheck.

Practically speaking, I need to fund my ministry. I could get a job doing something else that promises a specific and consistent income, but then I wouldn’t be able to keep writing—at least not at my current rate. Some of you are currently working jobs you’d love to quit so that you could focus on your writing and your godly message. Increasing our income means we can pay our bills, build a nest egg, and still write. We don’t need million-dollar mansions, but we do need enough to take care of our families. As 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

One more challenge is that while it can be hard to sell generally, it’s even harder to sell yourself. Sure, we sell our content and our stories, but our name is emblazoned on the book cover. And as Christians, we might wonder if it smacks of pride to be pushing our brand — our brand being ME.

However, I’ve realized that it’s not about me, J. Parker, being a success. Rather, I’m passionate about my message. That message reflects what I believe about God’s design for marriage, and it’s a message I want to get out to as many wives as possible. Spreading a godly message or theme is a worthy goal, one many Christian authors have.

Thus, I’m trying to make a mental shift to talking more about my book, to seeking out advertising opportunities, to promoting my writing and speaking in new formats and forums.

In short, I’m becoming a salesperson.

Because when my book sells, my family benefits from more income, but my reader also benefits from reading my book and God’s message is spread even further. That sale is a win-win-win.

Perfect Pitch

Last month, I spent a day at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference in Estes Park. It was a beautiful setting, and I got to hear a wide range of pitches from new and accomplished authors. Some of them really impressed me, leaving me eager to hear more. Some of them… weren’t quite as successful.

What accounts for the difference between a good pitch and a bad pitch? Well, some of it simply depends on the project, but I found that I was willing to listen to a pitch for just about any kind of book if it was done well. The difference between pitches really came down to a few things: preparation; knowledge; engagement with the agent; enthusiasm for your project; and avoiding a few simple mistakes. Let me elaborate.

1. Preparation

When you’ve only got 15 minutes to pitch your book to an agent and convince them they need to know more, preparation is king. You have to know what you want to say, how you’re going to say it, and have all the necessary materials at hand. Now, I’m not saying you won’t forget some of it or flub a few things because you’re nervous—everyone is!—but preparing beforehand what you want to say and how will really help ensure that your pitch is smooth, organized, and leaves the agent with a clear idea of the project.

This doesn’t mean that you have to memorize a script, but write down a few bullet points. Do you want to lead with the book’s hook? Do you want to establish your credentials? The conversation may take a different path once you and the agent start chatting, but having some points in the back of your mind that you know you want to cover will help you to steer the conversation if it flags.

I’d also recommend having a one-sheet to hand to the agent at the beginning of the pitch. This includes information such as the book’s one-line hook, a brief synopsis, word count,  intended audience, and a brief biography of your writing credentials. Having a full proposal is great, but by starting with a one-sheet you can give the agent a quick overview of the project without losing too much time. I’d rather hear you talk about the project and then review the proposal on my own time than spend the whole 15 minutes wading through a 50-page proposal.

2. Knowledge

It may seem obvious, but you’ve got to know what you’re talking about. You need to know your project back to front. If it’s fiction, be able to explain the plot in a few sentences. Have a ready answer for the important themes and what you want the reader to take away. And be able to demonstrate knowledge about the world of the book—if it’s a medical thriller, have you researched the medical topics involved, interviewed a nurse, done background reading? If it’s a non-fiction book, be able to demonstrate your expertise on the topic. Point to the research you’ve done, experts you’ve consulted with. Be prepared for the kinds of questions a novice might ask about the topic. And don’t be afraid to show your smarts—that’s what we want to see.

3. Engagement with the Agent

You need to be able to set yourself apart from the tens or even hundreds of other pitches, and one way of doing that is by making a connection with the agent. Know who you’re pitching to before you approach them. Explain why you wanted to pitch to them—“I know you’re interested in historical fiction” or “I see that your agency represents So-and-So, and I’m writing in the same field.” By demonstrating that you’ve put in the time to prepare for this meeting and that you respect the agent’s time, you’ll make a great impression and start things off on the right note. That personal connection may make them more likely to remember your project among the many others they heard, and increases the chance that they’ll see you as someone they’d like to work with.

4. Enthusiasm for Your Project

I’m not saying go over the top here—you can be too enthusiastic about your work—but it’s important to show that you care deeply about your book. Agents want to see commitment: someone who believes in what they’re doing and who is willing to work really hard to get their message out there. Emphasize why you’re so passionate about this project, and explain to the agent what you’re willing to do in order to see it in print. Enthusiasm is infectious. If an agent can see how dedicated you are to a topic—that you eat, breathe, and sleep it—they’ll realize that you’re an author worth getting behind. We want high-energy, motivated, excited people who won’t let the difficulties of the publishing industry dissuade them from seeing their project all the way through.

5. Mistakes to Avoid

I’d rather focus on dos than don’ts, but there are a few tips that I’d recommend avoiding when you’re pitching your work.

  • Don’t give an overly lengthy, extremely descriptive synopsis of your novel that includes every event that occurs in every chapter. You’ve got 15 minutes; at the most, five of those should be spent talking about the plot.
  • Don’t begin by asking the agent what they want to hear about. Take control of the meeting, deliver your opening line, and be active in steering the conversation.
  • Don’t show up without materials. You’ve got to have at least a one-sheet to hand over, if not a full proposal.
  • Don’t take it personally if the agent expresses that they’re not interested. You are not your work, and each agent is looking for something different. It’s a better use of both of your time if agents are upfront about projects that simply aren’t a fit for them.
  • Don’t forget to thank the agent for their consideration, leave your business card, and if they’ve asked you to, follow up with them afterwards. The onus may be on you to get in touch; make sure you do so within the week if they express interest!

There are a lot of things that go into a good pitch, but perhaps the most important is this: don’t be afraid. Agents are excited to hear about new projects, and they want you to succeed as much as you do. We wouldn’t be in this industry if we didn’t love authors and books, and we really are on your side. Our greatest hope is that these pitches turn into lasting client relationships, exciting new projects, and great book deals. So keep ‘em coming!

Is it time for a marketing tune-up?

Remember all those things you were going to do this year to update and enhance your online presence, like upload recent photos, add new publication credits, revise your bio? With 2017 approaching the half-way point, here’s a checklist to remind you to take the time now to tackle that list and mark off the tasks. Not only will it make you look active and engaged, but many social media platforms automatically post to your networks the changes you make to your profile, which means you get a boost in exposure. And that’s always a score for a writer…as long as it’s good exposure, that is!

Do the following for every site you use. And if you don’t already use a particular platform, maybe it’s time to try it: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Goodreads Author (https://www.goodreads.com/author/program), amazon author (https://authorcentral.amazon.com/), various genre sites (I’m listed on mystery sites like http://www.stopyourekillingme.com/ and https://www.cozy-mystery.com/ ). As the graphic above demonstrates, there are lots more than my short list, but I’m only human, so I’ve tried to focus on just a few. All I can say is “choose wisely.” And don’t forget your own website…but you already routinely update that, right? (If you haven’t, I bet you will now…)

  • Upload new profile picture. If you don’t have a professional head shot, you need to get one. Nothing builds credibility like a polished photo on your profiles. (And yes, you need something more current than your high school graduation photo.)
  • Update bio. Have you changed your state of residence? Become a grandparent? Won awards for your work? All of these items are important, as they can attract new readers who now feel you have more in common with them, or are geographically closer (which means they could reach out to you for an event!)
  • Add publication credits (books, articles, online blogs).
  • Upload the covers of new books.
  • Update events schedule: add new, delete old. If your last event was a year ago, don’t keep it there as a placeholder. If you have to have some copy, say ‘New events coming soon!’ and then get to work planning those new activities!
  • Switch out banner backgrounds for a fresh and/or seasonal look.
  • Upload new videos.
  • Make a video to say hi to your fans. It can be super simple. Make it fun and your fans will love it.
  • Make a series of photo posts using quotes from your books for fresh content you can use and re-use. (My go-to site for this is https://www.picmonkey.com/.)
  • Enter your name in the search engine of your choice and see where it pops up. You may be listed on sites you don’t know about; until I did this search, I didn’t know my books had been entered on several mystery listing sites, which prompted me to be sure to contact those site administrators to keep my publications current. Do you write romance? Self-help? Enter your name with those keywords and see what results. You might discover a whole new audience for your work, and with a timely tune-up, you’ll be ready to roll!

How to make your publisher happy!

Hurray! You’ve got a publisher for your book! Congratulations! Cross another task off your writing to-do list!

And add another one: Make your publisher happy.

Turning in your manuscript is just the beginning of your relationship with your publisher, and if you hope to make it a long and happy connection, you need to nurture and nourish it, just as you would with any important relationship in your life. Here are a few tips I’ve gleaned from my experience with regional, national, and international publishers:

  1. Give your publisher priority. If she says she needs you to come up with back cover copy, send it to her by the end of the day. If she needs a revision, put everything else on hold to meet her deadline. Your prompt response to her requests makes her job easier, and she will appreciate you as a team player she can count on.
  2. Keep your publisher informed about what you’re doing to market your book in real time. Yes, in your book proposal, you listed marketing tasks you would do, but be sure to let your publisher know as you complete them. Keeping your publisher updated assures him that you are holding up your end of the project (and it reminds you to be accountable for your marketing responsibility). If you add marketing opportunities to your original plan, be sure to share those with your publisher, too, as they occur. The fact that you’re investing more time and effort than you initially proposed will impress your publisher and maybe even encourage him to extend additional marketing support/resources.
  3. Send a thank-you note, flowers, or small gift to express your gratitude for your publisher’s confidence in you. Everyone likes to feel appreciated, even your publisher. (Maybe ESPECIALLY your publisher!)
  4. Ask yourself how you can help your publisher be successful. Of course, you want your book to become an overnight bestseller, which would go a long way towards making your publisher both successful and happy, but chances are slim that’s going to happen. Instead, consider other ways you can contribute to your publisher’s success, like promoting the company’s other authors’ books on your social networks, posting your reviews of those books, and sharing promotion strategies that have worked for you.
  5. Ask your publisher how you can help her meet her goals. Offer to contact bookstores and set up your own signings and events. Many small or regional publishers don’t have the staff to manage marketing projects, so whatever you can do will be appreciated. Offer to share your publisher’s book list with shops you frequent either as a customer or an author and encourage the store buyer to review the list for ‘finds’ of books they might want to add to inventory.
  6. Always include the name of your publisher in any press release or promotional pieces you produce. You’re giving your publisher free publicity they might not otherwise get.

Do you have any tips for making your publisher happy?

The Magic of Collaborative Marketing for Writers

Zig Ziglar Motivational Quotes“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Zig Ziglar, the ultimate motivator, knew that when we authentically and unselfishly support other people, great things happen. I’ve experienced the truth of this principle many times in my life, but especially recently, when I joined forces with two other WordServe authors.

Karen Jordan, Kathryn Graves, and myself decided to collaborate on writing a non-fiction book for women. By doing so, we discovered some surprising side benefits. We’ve found the magic of the collaborative process for writers improves marketing, increases our income potential, and adds a fun element to the author’s journey.

The pressures seems lighter, because we’re in it together.

Untangled A Women's ConfereneceOne of our most exciting accomplishments came from developing a women’s conference based on our book’s title and message. We outlined options for a one-day conference as well as a two-day event. We came up with a suggested ticket price and estimated income from the event based on a variety of attendance number ranges. We brainstormed ideas for other creative ways to support the Untangled Women’s Conference. And we reviewed different expense scenarios, weighing convenience against cost.

Then we formalized our thoughts.Untangled A Women's Conference

We created an Event Planner’s Kit to make it easier for churches and organizations to host Untangled. (I found it much more efficient and thorough to generate resources as a team versus what I might accomplish on my own.) We created a marketing flyer, and put it on our speaking tables at events, mentioned it in passing conversations, and posted it on social media. One of the most important actions we took was praying for and with each other.

We didn’t wait long before seeing results.

The response amazed us. Within a week, we had a conference scheduled and on the calendar in one state, while two other states began serious talks with us. Within three weeks, we had sent out four more conference kits to other states by request. Because of our collaborative marketing efforts, this coming fall/winter/spring should fill up fast with paid speaking gigs and greater book sales.

As we traverse this new world of collaborative marketing, we are learning many things. But the truth of Zig’s words is already evident — by helping each other through the collaborative process, we are all winning. This is what we can tell you so far:

8 Reasons the Magic of Collaborative Marketing for Writers Works:Collaboration Works

  • You build off of each other’s ideas — growing creative efforts.
  • You share the expenses, reducing costs for each individual.
  • You expand the message reach further than one individual can accomplish on their own.
  • Your mind moves from thinking of your efforts as self-promotion, to that of helping your fellow writer(s).
  • You enrich the lives of readers, event planners, and audiences by offering them a diverse experience through multiple voices.
  • You sell more books as an author by increasing your opportunities to speak and participate in other cooperative public events.
  • You feel more courageous to step out and try new things.
  • You have people to support and celebrate with, who really understand the emotional highs and lows of writing and marketing.

Have you collaborated with other WordServe authors? If so, what did you do, and how did it affect your book sales as well as your morale? Would you be interested in brainstorming and collaborating together?

So You Want to Be on Television

So you want to be on television? What outfit should you select? What should you avoid wearing?

Dangling earrings or studs? And how about that red lipstick?

Recently, I was interviewed on our city’s cable station for an upcoming event that involved a non profit where I volunteer. Before the show was taped, I received some helpful hints from the production staff.

1.  Know Your Material.  Interviewers dislike blank air space. If you struggle with speaking extemporaneously, ask if you can have a list of questions ahead of time. If necessary, offer a list of questions of your own.  Practice your answers. If you are talking about your book, look again at your media kit, because interviewers might not read your book, but probably will glance at your press materials.

2. No Plaids and Stripes. Avoid busy patterns or anything that can detract from the message of what you are saying. Are you considering that botanical print covered in roses, chrysanthemums, and daisies? Save that for your next garden party and choose something else from your closet.

3. No to Pastels. White, ivory and pastel fabrics will wash the color right out of you and reflect too much light. Our city’s production staff did not want me to wear black and white together, either, as it presented a contrast problem for the camera. Best colors: medium to bright solids in blue, brown or green.

4. How about footwear? I have filmed at this location several times. At the first filming, my feet were not visible, so at my next filming, I came in flip flops, unaware that the set had been remodeled. I was glad I hadn’t come in pajama bottoms, thinking only my top half would be visible! I have learned my lesson and  I now come prepared from top to bottom!

5. Professional attire? As the saying goes, dress for success. Simple classic styles are best and a jacket or collared shirt helps hide the microphone. For my recent taping, they requested I wear a shirt from the organization I represented. Thankfully, I had one with a collar.

6. How about those dangling earrings? If the necklace, bracelet or earrings are too noisy or too sparkly, leave them at home. Anything that might reflect the lights should not be worn.

7. That favorite red lipstick? Again, no. Red tends to look like it is bleeding on camera (not the look you are going for). Natural makeup is best, but remember that the lights will wash out complexions, so you can wear more makeup than normal. (Just be cautious. Bozo the clown is not the look you are going for either.) The staff will apply powder, if necessary, to reduce shine for men and for women.

8. Cell phone? Ask if someone can take a photo of you on the set and then turn the phone off until after the filming.

9. Body Posture. When the production staff sent me a recording of a recent taping, I noticed that I had sat too comfortably back in my seat. I was also seated between the interviewer and another guest and had turned my head to the left and right, rather than my entire body. Both of these mannerisms added weight to my face and to my middle. For a slenderizing look, it is best to lean forward slightly and, if possible, to turn your upper body (and not just your head) during the interview.

10. Enjoy yourself. You’ve got this! For authors who are more comfortable with the written word, it can be a bit daunting to speak without notes. Remind yourself that you have a message you want heard and be thankful for an open door to a wider audience.

Lynne Hartke’s first book, Under a Desert Sky, releases on May 2 with Revell/Baker Pub.