Stepping Stones to Writing Success

Stepping stones

Along the journey from staring out the window thinking of a marketable idea for a new book to unpacking the box of freshly printed books sent by the publisher, a writer needs to set small goals to serve as stepping stones to writing success. While each person will have a unique approach to setting project milestones, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Conduct market research: Stroll through several local bookstores, flip through the pages of catalogs, and browse the websites of online book retailers to see what books are on the market now in the category of your book proposal. You will need to find about five comparable books to discuss in the Comparable Titles section of your book proposal. However, marketing research is helpful for you as you define what you hope to accomplish and cover within the pages of your potential book. You do not want to duplicate the work of another author. By reading what has been said by other writers about your topic, you can better understand what you have to contribute to the topic. Do not be discouraged from writing a book in a popular category. The existence of many books on the topic indicates a market for that subject.
  2. Set realistic deadlines: As you prepare to publish your book, you will encounter many deadlines. Within your book proposal, you will specify how long it will take you from signing a new contract with your publisher to handing in the first draft of the manuscript to the editor. A time period between five to six months is a good goal for completing a nonfiction manuscript. Make sure that you are confident you can complete the manuscript on time. Once you sign the book contract, break down the goal of writing the book content into smaller deadlines for yourself. Be sure to allow some margin for the interruptions and distractions that arise in the life of all writers. The sooner you finish your first draft, the sooner you can move on to the other tasks necessary for publishing your book. Set ambitious but achievable deadlines.
  3. Connect with key influencers: As I wrote about in an earlier post, “Finding Champions for Your Book,” many people will contribute to the future success of your book. Hopefully, you already have strong relationships with many of these key influencers. Use the time from the beginning stages of book proposal preparation to the completion of the manuscript to strengthen existing relationships with champions for your book and forge new ones. Connecting with people will provide a welcome break from the tedium of writing. You will remember the purpose for your pursuit of your writing goals. You can sharpen your ideas by discussing them with a few trusted advisors. You will prepare yourself for the upcoming transition from writer to marketer of your own book. The sooner you prepare to connect with potential readers, the better for everyone involved in publishing your book.

What do you consider as important stepping stones to writing success?

How to make Amazon work for you

grand-central-stationAre you using your Amazon Author Page to increase your visibility and grow your audience?

You DO have a page, right?

If not, then drop everything else this very minute, and set up your free Author Page by visiting https://authorcentral.amazon.com. Seriously, you need to do this. It’s easy. It’s good publicity. And did I mention it’s FREE?

Basically, your Author Page is like a personal Grand Central Station that showcases your work and acts as a hub for your writing, providing links for fans to follow. Here’s a short list of some of the key benefits you’ll get from your Author Page:

  1. You can link to your blog here, making it readily available to a browsing reader who may have never heard about you or your blog before. In fact, you can enter multiple blog feeds for even more exposure; I link to my website blog and my Goodreads blog, for example.
  2. You can post videos in the Author Updates section. I’ve used it for a place to run book trailers and interviews. There’s no limit on how long you keep material on the page, so that means you get forever use from the marketing pieces you’ve created.
  3. You can list every book you’ve written, and all your book covers will show up on your page, along with links to each book’s buying page on amazon.com. It’s like having your own little store.
  4. Readers can ‘follow’ you right on the page and they’ll get notice whenever you post a blog or update or add a book. In addition, Amazon offers a variety of marketing options for authors if you’ve got a small budget; one example is here at http://indie.kindlenationdaily.com/?page_id=5460
  5. You can list your events schedule to maximize exposure.

Like every social media site, your Author Page also has a spot for your bio and photos. This is a prime place to list your other social media contact information for your website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. In fact, be sure to update this bio (and your book listings) on a regular basis, since Amazon won’t automatically add your new books to your page as they are published.  You are the curator for this little store, so be sure your material is current. In fact, after checking on my own Amazon Author page just now, I realized my newest release Heart and Soul (Archangels #2) wasn’t included. You can be sure that from now on, I’m doing a monthly check-in to see what needs to be updated or revised!

A final cool feature of your Author Page is that you can click on the Sales Info tab to get a feel for how your book is selling. My favorite BookScan data on the page is the Sales by Geography item; by studying that map, I can tell where my books have sold and it gives me ideas for localized sale pushes or event planning.

Are you using your Amazon Author Page for smart marketing?

Podcasting: Another Way to Reach Readers?

Discoverability. We know that’s the key to selling books—getting your title in front of your intended audience. Your old faithfuls, God bless ’em, will stick with you when you publish. But you want your message, your story, your ministry to gain ground by finding new readers. You want to reach out to folks who didn’t know about you before or have been dragging their feet to buy your book.

So you strive for marketing plans that work, SEO that brings people to your website, favorable algorithms that make your book show up in Amazon recommendations, and the always-valuable Word of Mouth.

I have a website and a blog. I’ve done interviews and guest posts on other websites. I’ve promoted through social media sites Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. But if someone doesn’t come to me on the internet, how can I get to them?

Microphone in the old studio with on air signEnter three colleagues, women who also write about sexual intimacy in marriage on their blogs. This past year, we sprouted the idea to put together a group podcast. Call it a round table, but we prefer kitchen table. Because that’s what it feels like to us—sitting around a kitchen table with our cups of coffee and talking about one of our favorite subjects, God’s gift of sex in marriage.

As a podcast listener myself, I immediately saw the potential for reaching a new audience. As busy as people are today, it’s often easier for them to plug in earphones, click on an app, and listen to a podcast than to peruse a bookstore, read blog posts, or even follow social media. And listening week after week, they begin to feel that they know the hosts. They’re sitting around that proverbial kitchen table with them and at some point think, I really want to read their book.

Now I’m not involving myself in this podcast merely to sell books. Our main purpose is to spread the good news of God’s gift of sexual intimacy in marriage and to help wives address issues that prevent them from fully embracing that gift. But I’m not oblivious to the fact that this new medium will get my name and title in front of a new batch of potential readers.

In case you’re interested, here’s a summary of what we’ve learned (so far) about podcasting:

You’ll have upfront costs. They include a professionally designed logo, the podcast hosting service, sound equipment, and editing software. Michael Hyatt offers a great breakdown of options for getting started at different tiers. We took the medium-route, with hopes of later adding better recording equipment and a professional voice-over introduction.

There’s a big learning curve. At least for four women with no audio-visual experience. We have spent months researching podcasting, discussing our launch and marketing plans, recording episodes in advance, and learning how to use editing software.

Treat it like a book launch. Remember how you had to write your bio, back cover copy, schedule blog tours, make sure your website was ready, etc.? A podcast launch also requires preparation. We designed a website, set up social media accounts, brainstormed topics, and recorded three episodes before we said boo to anyone else about our plans. And by the time that we launch, we’ll have up to 10 episodes already recorded.

Consider partnering with others. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” Yes, it’s required more flexibility with our schedules to get all four of us together to record, but it’s been lovely to share the work and the costs and to have the encouragement of other Christian women. On the business side, we’re able to cross-promote, with each of us getting access to the other threes’ audiences.

Our brand-new podcast, Sex Chat for Christian Wives, will first air on February 14 and every other week thereafter. We’ll see what God does with this project. But I hope to be able to report this time next year that this endeavor not only sold more of my books, but helped many marriages and marriage beds.

10 Words That Change Everything

Image/KarenJordanWhat was your “One Word” for 2016?

This year, 10 words changed everything for me. I focused on these words because they were the titles to several chapters in my book, Words That Change Everything, published this year by Leafwood Publishers.

I shared a little about the power of these words during an interview that Anita Brooks and I had on Bridges with Monica Schmelter on WHTN Christian Television Network.

I refocused on these 10 powerful words as I compiled the FREE 15-day devotional guide to Words That Change Everything: RESTNotes.

BookCover/WordsThatChangeEverythingBookCover/RESTNotesMy 10-word focus continued as I prepared to teach a Bible study based on my book at my church every week this fall.

I never imagined how a few words could change everything for me.

So for my last WordServe Water Cooler post for the year, I offer these 10 powerful words to you.

  1. REST. “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:5-7 NIV). This scripture offers an effective prayer strategy for speaking truth to the warning signs of worry, symbolized by the acronym REST: Remember. Exalt. Surrender. Trust.
  2. Remember. “The Lord is near” (Phil. 4:5 NIV). We take the first step in overcoming our negative thoughts by seeking the powerful presence of God in our lives.
  3. Exalt. “In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving . . .” (Phil 4:6 NIV). Praise can be a powerful weapon for us in our battle with worry. We can enter into God’s presence through praising Him (Ps. 100:4-5).
  4. Surrender. “Present your requests to God” (Phil 4: 6). In our day, the term “surrender” often means being taken into captivity. But in God’s kingdom, “surrender” suggests a renewed freedom from the enemy of our souls.
  5. Trust. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). God promises to guard our hearts and minds with His peace. God gives us specific instructions about how to embrace His peace—by changing our mental focus and exercising our faith.
  6. Solitude. “When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear” (Lam. 3:28-29 The Message). This scripture offers a powerful prayer strategy for stressful days. My writing life requires that I spend time alone without distractions. But at times, the isolation becomes my distraction.
  7. Silence. “Enter the silence” (Lam. 3:28). As we seek God in silence, the accuser (Rev. 12:10) always dangles threats and accusations.
  8. Prayer. “Bow in prayer” (Lam. 3:28). Prayer can be as natural as speaking with a good friend or as intimate as a whispered secret. It can occur at any time, no matter the circumstances. And God promises to listen when we call on His name: “And if we’re confident that he’s listening, we know that what we’ve asked for is as good as ours” (1 Jn. 5:15 MSG).
  9. Listen. “Don’t ask questions” (Lam. 3:29). How do you respond when someone won’t listen to you? Anger, rejection, or frustration? When Jesus instructed His disciples, He asked them on several occasions, “Are you listening to this? Really listening?” (Matt.11:15).
  10. Wait. “Wait for hope to appear” (Lam. 3:29). Waiting rooms can bring out the worst in us. Long periods of waiting hoist all kinds of emotional red flags—from impatience and worry to full-blown panic attacks. Reminders of past pain, traumas, and personal loss make our present trouble seem intolerable. The dark clouds roll in, and we can’t see the light of spiritual truth. However, waiting does not need to produce hopelessness for Christ-followers.

Do you have any “Words” that have changed everything for you?

How to survive the book review blues

roses I have a love-hate relationship with book reviews.

Every time I get a good review, I’m happy. When I get a stellar review, I’m ecstatic. I feel like I’ve done what I hoped to do: I’ve connected with a reader and given them a journey they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. When dog-lovers tell me they laughed, cried, and were inspired by my memoir Saved by Gracie: How a rough-and-tumble rescue dog dragged me back to health, happiness, and God, I feel blessed that my story reached and touched them. When reviewers rave that my supernatural thriller Heaven’s Gate: Archangels Book I made them want to stand up and cheer, I get goosebumps of joy.

All those multi-starred reviews on my books’ pages at amazon.com, Goodreads, or barnesandnoble.com reassure me that the hours I pour into my writing are worth it: my books entertain, educate, and illuminate, and, gosh darn, people like them.

wilted-roseAnd then there is the flip side of my love-hate relationship with book reviews.

When I get a review that says “this book wasn’t what I thought it would be about, so I stopped reading it after the first two chapters,” and therefore receives the lowest rating possible, I want to bang my head against a wall. “Then why did you bother to post a review?” I want to ask the disappointed reader, and then explain that because she mistook the book for something it wasn’t, my overall rating has plummeted, which will dissuade some readers from even reading the synopsis, let alone buying and reading the whole book.

I’ve also seen reviews that rate books poorly because the author’s basic premise contradicts what a particular reader-reviewer believes. Again, those low ratings may prevent the book from reaching the hands of readers who would appreciate and greatly benefit from it; because many people (and I’m one of them!) choose books based on others’ reviews, authors are at the mercy of those published reviews, even when they make no sense at all, or are based on the personal bias of the reviewer.

So what’s an author to do about that oh-so-necessary-but-can-be-disastrous need for reviews?

My answer can be summed up in one word: relax.

Then remind yourself of these three things:

  1. You wrote a book! So many people say they want to write a book, but you actually did it! AND it got published. Congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment!
  2. You can’t please all the people all the time, and that’s especially true of readers. Some people just won’t ‘get’ it; others won’t like your writing style or your treatment of plot or subject. Some readers might be experiencing difficult life situations while they were reading your book and some of that negativity gets transferred to their reviewing. Bottom line: reviews are subjective, even when they intend to be objective.
  3. Your words will reach at least some of the people who need to read them, and they will bless you for it, whether or not you ever know it.

What do you do when you get the review blues?

Finding Champions for Your Book

Euphoric winner friends using a with a tablet

A winning team has dedicated fans. A successful candidate has loyal supporters. Artists and museums have influential patrons. No one flourishes alone. You and your book will not be exceptions to this rule. You will need champions who will promote your book within their circle of influence, open doors for interviews and speaking engagements, and remain loyal fans when you release your next book.

Let’s consider some of the qualities that make an ideal champion:

Dedicated: You will find a great champion for your book in a person who is dedicated. Publishing and marketing a book is a long process. Six months before the book is available, Amazon and other bookstores with an online presence will make the book available for pre-release order. A dedicated champion is someone whose interest in your book will last from reading an early manuscript to attending a book release party. It’s great to have all kinds of people interested in your book, even those who will only join you for part of the publishing journey. However, your inner circle as an author should be populated with people who have a reputation for following through on their commitments, finishing the projects they start, and sustaining interest in your topic for many years.

Loyal: Writing a book is an exciting process. Many people will enjoy knowing someone who is a published author. Who knows if they will appear in the book dedication, inspire a character within the story, or benefit in their chosen career from knowing an expert on the subject of your book (you)? Again, it’s great to have all kinds of people interested in your book, even those whose interest in your book may arise from dubious motivations. However, if you are to succeed as an author, you will need to sort out the loyal champions of your book from those who will be quick to jump to the next project that promises more rewards. Include everyone in your publishing process if you can, but invest in those who have demonstrated loyalty to you in the past.

Influential: A dedicated and loyal friend is a priceless treasure. However, when you search for potential champions for your book, you will need to look for someone who is influential as well. Influencers exist in many different spheres, and a person influential in one setting may not be influential in others. A person influential within his or her field who knows top leaders within an organization may lack an online presence. A person in the early stages of his or her career may have gathered a great social media following. Both the senior leader with contacts in the field but a negligible online presence and the upcoming leader with the great social media following are influencers. You need all kinds of influencers. Look for potential champions for your book at various stages of career development. Show appreciation for the young blogger along with the radio host, the conference organizer, and the bookstore owner.

How do you spot a potential champion for your book?

Bad News for Good Writers

audience

Dear Gifted Not-Yet-Published Writer Who Has a Timely Message Audiences Need,

I think your writing is fantastic. You’ve allowed me to peek and I think that you have an important message and that you can deliver it well. I wish that was enough. It should be, right?!

It’s not enough.

In today’s publishing world, publishers who want nothing more than to publish great writing aren’t able to say “yes” to every book with a great message that’s written well if the writer has not worked diligently to build an audience. Some publishers do take that risk on a book they believe in, knowing that it might not pay out for them.

And if you’re like me—with way more confidence than might be merited—you believe that your awesome book will be the rare shining exception. Once the first reader reads it and tells all her friends, you figure, it’ll start selling like…a bestseller. And possibly it will. Much more likely, though, you’ll not find an audience for your writing unless you work to build one.

So—momentarily abandoning my signature irrational optimism—I’m just going to outline the bad news so that you have access to the facts you need.

1. Agents and publishers need to sell books.

Every agent and publisher I know loves great writing. In order to stay in business, though, they must publish and sell books that sell. It would be great if these two were synonymous, and sometimes they are. Not always.

2. Writers with audiences sell books.

Whether you publish with a traditional publisher or decide to self-publish, you must have access to an audience that trusts you in order to sell books.

3. Demonstrating an audience is requisite to securing an agent or publisher.

For an agent or publisher to consider representing you or publishing your work, you need to demonstrate that you’re reaching an audience.

4. Building an audience takes hard work.

Occasionally someone will build an audience with seemingly little effort—because they win an Olympic gold or are elected as President of the United States. (Okay…there was some effort.) The rest of us have to work REALLY HARD to grow an audience. Smarties, like @jeffgoins, with much more experience than I have can teach you how to do this. (Mention other smarties in the comments, below.)

5. Selling books is really hard.

Whether you publish with a traditional publisher or self-publish, selling books takes work.

Now start at the top of the list and read them all again. Congratulations, you now have a handle on the bad news.

The Good News

The good news is that there’s always something you can be doing to build your audience:

  • Pitch article after article to editors.
  • Speak to audiences, for free at first, about your subject.
  • Offer a freebie download at your site to build your mailing list.
  • Guest post on blogs of folks you know.
  • Make friends online by sharing their great stuff. (They will love you for this. And owe you.)

If you were bummed out by all the bad news, do one thing today to build your audience.

Cheering you on,

Margot

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, http://wordmelonblog.blogspot.com/.