Want to Get Published? A Publisher Needs to See an Author Who Can Write and Promote

Note: This is the last post in a series of four posts: 3 Things a Publisher Must See.

3 things

Let’s say your proposal has convinced an editor that your project has a wildly unique premise. You’ve even demonstrated a viable audience with a felt need.

There’s just one more thing…

You.

The questions a publisher is asking about you, very possibly in this order:

  • Does she have a platform?
  • Can she write?

A publisher needs both.

And this is the difficult bind of many editors—who love great writing, and want to publish great writing—today. It’s not to say that editors don’t ever stick out their necks for someone nobody’s ever heard of who can write really well. They do sometimes.

I’m saying that a publisher’s decision is always a complex one, and the more you can convince them that you have a platform to influence others, the more consideration your proposal will receive.

If you can write compelling sentences that make people laugh and cry, and string those together into a fabulous manuscript, and if your platform is so big that Oprah, Donald Trump and Diane Sawyer want to be your bestie, congratulations.

If one or both of these is not the case, then…

  1. Improve Your Writing
  • Read great books
  • Write every single day, and then write some more
  • Join a manuscript critique group, locally or online
  • Attend a writer’s conference (See one you like from 2015? Google it!)
  1. Build Your Platform
  • Pitch articles to the publications your target reader is reading
  • Develop an audience for your blog by writing consistently and meeting readers’ needs
  • Pursue speaking opportunities—at church, MOPs groups, etc.—in the community
  • Be a great friend on social media by celebrating others’ work

And…be patient.

Very few writers have fairytale stories of wild success with little effort. (Honestly, that was my plan when I started writing. It didn’t work out that way.) Most writers invest time and energy to improve their writing and build an audience.

Cheering you on,

Margot

 

 

How to Know ForSureForSureForSure You’re Ready for an Agent

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Do you have that first novel completed? Have you been staying up late and getting up early to study and write about a topic you’re passionate about telling the world?

Then it might be time to query a few agents to see if you have what it takes to get their attention. But keep your expectations realistic. New authors are harder to break out than they’ve ever been. And please, don’t blame the agent. We’re just the messenger of what publishers keep telling us.

You’ll need some criteria to go by to determine if you’re ready. Here are a few dozen hints.

First: Know who you truly are…

  1. Someone who has always wanted to write
  2. Someone with a message you feel God is asking you to put to paper
  3. Someone with a message that others have said needs to be put to paper
  4. Someone who can’t wait to get to your computer to create the stories in your head
  5. Someone who reads a lot, both within the genre they write as well as others.

Second: Understand what the book publishing industry is looking for…

  1. The 80/20 principle is alive and well in publishing. Publishers must have the big sellers to stay in business. So 80% of their advance and marketing money will always go to 20% of the authors and books. And if you’re a new author, unless you’re a pastor of a mega-church or you can write like Hemmingway (or better), you’re likely not going to be amongst the 20%.
  2. Because of the loss of browsing retail, publishers can’t find readers, so they expect authors to find them. They want authors with built-in audiences ready to buy. That’s why they are less willing to take risks on unknown/debut authors, preferring known quantities instead of new voices. If I had 200 new authors to speak to, there would be perhaps 5% who will ever get published traditionally. Not because they can’t write. Not because they don’t have a compelling message. It’s because they still have an information gap about what it takes to get published and be successful at it.
  3. Great writing. They want authors who are sold out to getting honest critique. They want a book with a clear vision/message, and an obvious audience (felt need). They hope authors are willing to study the craft of writing, attend conferences, willing to join and participate in critique groups or have a critique partner. Most of all, they want authors who have “come to play.” They’re working on building audiences; they’re invested in their own marketing and they have a plan to grow. Publishers and agents want more than one book. They want to grow with you and your career.

Third, what motivates you…

  1. Money. Okay, that’s not terrible. Would C.S. Lewis have written The Chronicles of Narnia for free? Provision—whether it’s today’s manna or retirement’s manna–motivates us, and it’s not evil. However, if this is your ONLY motivation, you have to ponder whether God will bless it. You also have to recognize that it’s harder than ever to make a living as a writer today, and that the days of six and seven-figure advances (with a few exceptions) are largely gone.
  2. Legacy. Publishers don’t care about this unless you’re already famous. Legacy projects get self-published, and that is perfectly fine.
  3. This does not include “ax to grind” books. Please, self-publish those. We can’t sell them.
  4. “I can’t help myself.” Obsession is a good place to be, but not if you’re sacrificing your health, family, bank account and soul to do it. Your obsession should pass the “sniff test” by those who know you best. Just because you feel “God has told me” to do this, doesn’t make that statement true. Obsessions MUST be confirmed by several people in your life before you give them wings in a big way.

So, with all of this in mind, here’s how to know “forsure-forsure-forsure” you’re ready for an agent.

For sure…

  • You have something inside of you that must get out. A novel, a message, a memoir, a brand. When I started FaithHappenings.com two years ago, I was like a dog with a bone. My excitement did border on obsession.
  • You’ve put at least half of the book on paper–the whole book if you’re a novelist. (With novels, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.)
  • You understand that traditional publishing is a business and you won’t question their motives if they reject your work. People DO know more than you.
  • You feel God’s pleasure in your efforts to communicate what you want to share.
  • You can’t wait to get to your computer.

For sure, for sure…

  • You know your motivation. It doesn’t have to be pristine, you just have to know what it is.
  • You know your book will get published no matter what. You are going to do this! Start traditionally if that is a goal, but not let that stop you from doing what’s needed to publish independently, if you have to.
  • Someone has said that your message, life story or writing is above the curve. But even so, remember this: Perhaps one person per state ever makes it to the major leagues in each year. The pyramid is very small at the top in any professional endeavor.
  • You are patient with the process and want to trust an industry professional to help guide your book/career. Once you think you know more than they do, turn off the tap on traditional publishing. And this is fine. Some are wired to be control freaks. Go with it. Don’t drive yourself and an agent/publisher crazy if you want to control every step in the process.

For sure, for sure, for sure…

  • You have 5,000 to 10,000 “followers” (blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) Further, you are convinced—and you hereby solemnly swear to not complain—that you must help any publisher you go with—traditional or your own efforts—FIND READERS.
  • Twenty people who don’t know you well have seen your book/writing and they’re not adding much more to it. You hear the term “great writer” from several different people.
  • You know your genre, your audience, your message—you have FOCUS!!!
  • You have a great proposal that answers the publisher/agent questions. If you don’t, get the agent’s proposal template. We all have one. Work hard on it. Don’t have typos, and follow directions! There are too many other people vying for an agent or editor’s attention for them to waste time on a proposal that doesn’t meet the basic requirements listed.
  • Read three book marketing books. And then in your proposal, give the agent five pages of marketing ideas you KNOW you can do.
  • You have counted the cost:
    • Family/Time
    • Money
    • Inevitable rejection and bad reviews, perhaps even the “ten mean church ladies” who write scathing letters and reviews on nearly every book they see.
  • You know you have “come to play.”
  • You know what five agents/agencies you want to be with. Get to know what they have represented. (You aren’t sending your proposal out en masse to every agent whose email address you can find.) Of these five, take the first one who says yes. Realize that you may not get the top guy, but the reputation of the agency is what you’re after.

If you can check off nearly all of these criteria, you’re forsure, forsure, forsure ready.

12 Do’s and Don’ts for a Successful Long-Term Writing Career

1. Do have something in the hopper to pitch at all times. While you’re querying your next book or series, keep your creative mind active by brainstorming, jotting down notes, and organizing research.

Share Your Gifts2. Don’t try to write like someone else. No one else thinks like you, has your life experiences, your collective information, your communication style, or your voice. Copying someone else’s approach means your unique offering is lost—and the world misses out.

3. Do share yourself authentically with the public. Masks don’t work. Allow the truth of who you are to resonate with readers and listeners as you speak from the page and the stage.

4. Don’t let someone else’s negative opinion of your writing stop you. No published piece is loved by everyone. Editors, agents, and readers will often view your work differently. Accept positive encouragement when it’s helpful and honest, but don’t disregard unbiased criticism—it will make you a better writer.

5. Do get out and live life on a regular basis—otherwise you’ll have nothing fresh to write about.

6. Don’t let resentment over another writer’s success distract you from your own work. Instead, celebrate their achievements with them. Not only will you feel better, but human beings are drawn to help positive people, not those who are jealous, jaded, or jerks.

7. Do focus on improving your writing—constantly. Read and re-read books on honing your craft until you develop a master’s degree worth of knowledge on writing well.

Round Hole Square Peg8. Don’t be afraid to let a word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, or even an entire project go. Sometimes, a piece doesn’t work, and you shouldn’t waste time and energy trying to force a square concept into a round career. Allow yourself to move on if you feel like you’re pulling splinters to make things fit.

9. Do take care of the people who support, encourage, and follow you. We are all in this world together, and readers are more than people we get something from, (sales), they are people who need the same things from us that they give—support, encouragement, and attention.

10. Don’t expect publication to heal all your hurts and provide lasting happiness. The real you will always hide behind the public persona. Learn to like him/her, then no matter what happens with your writing, you will be okay.

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Endorsement11. Do understand the power of influence. The greater the number of people who like your book(s) and are willing to say so publicly, the more other people will like what you write.

12. Don’t nit-pick, condescend, attack, grumble, or fight with others on social media forums. Followers don’t forget, and often their memory shapes future decisions to support you or not. Breaking the Golden Rule can become a deal-breaker for some of our readers.

Which of these twelve points are the most difficult for you? The easiest? 

 

Want to Get Published? A Publisher Needs to See a Viable Audience

Note: This is the third post in a series of four posts: 3 Things a Publisher Must See.

3 things

Let’s say you do find yourself on an elevator face to face with an acquisitions editor from your dream publisher. She’s heard your pitch, is interested and asks you who will buy your book.

Do you know the very worst answer you can give her?

“Everyone.”

While you think it might be what she wants to hear, it isn’t. It really isn’t.

Jonathan Merritt, a savvy friend of Margot’s, explains, “If you aim to write a book for everyone, you’ll write a book for no one. But if you write a book for someone, then you’ve written a book for everyone.” Your book will be most effective if, as you write, you are imagining one person—Reading Rita or Literary Lou—and write to the heart and mind, questions and concerns, of that one person.

Know your audience. Editors want to see that you know who is reading your book and are writing to them. So you need to be able to describe your audience demographic: How old are they? Male or female? Education? Married Parents? Church attenders? Listen to Christian Radio? Etc.

Most often, people don’t buy books they think they should read. ($16 to learn that the best way to lose weight is exercising more and eating less? No thanks.) Books that sell are ones that meet a reader’s felt need. ($16 to learn that the best way to lose weight is by eating pizza every hour on the hour. LOL. Just kidding. But not really. #bestseller.)

In your proposal, you demonstrate that there is an audience for your book by letting a publisher know that it is meeting a real need for readers.

There are all kinds of creative ways to communicate readers’ felt needs to a publisher:

  • Description, “In the last month, five of my friends have had this problem…”
  • Statistics show that….
  • The top-selling books of 2015 were…
  • Etc.

In the writing, of course, your book must actually meet the readers’ felt needs. There needs to be a benefit to the reader who reads your book. (This is what makes readers rave to their friends about your book over coffee and on GoodReads!)

Here’s how: On every page, be asking, “What is the reader feeling? What is the reader thinking? How can I serve the reader with this story, page, chapter?”

To convince a publisher that there’s an audience for your book, you must communicate clearly that it offers value by meeting a need readers really have.

Exercise: Draft a character sketch of your book’s target reader, Reading Rita or Literary Lou. What keeps this reader up at night? What does this reader care about? What concerns does this reader have? Tape this list to your computer screen so that you remember to write every page with Rita or Lou in mind.

Cheering you on,

Margot

 

Want to Get Published? A Publisher Needs to See a Compelling Project

Note: This is the second post in a series of 4 posts: 3 Things a Publisher Must See.

3 thingsYou’re heard of the fabled “elevator pitch”? You’re in an elevator and are suddenly given the opportunity to pitch your idea to someone who could make it a reality. You have a few sentences to communicate clearly the nature of your project.

Pressure’s on.

And this really is a Goldilocks and the 3 Bears situation:

  1. If you say too little—either the number of words or the impact of those words—you lose.
  2. If you say too much—either the number of words or the impact of those words—you lose.
  3. The way you present your project needs to be “just right”

You could say….

  • “I’m writing a book.” (yawn, check phone) Four words is probably not enough.
  • Or you might spit out, “I’m writing a book on marriage” (There’s no impact, nothing memorable, nothing distinctive.)
  • Or you might go with, “I’m writing an in-depth treatise on the common misperceptions about the mating rituals of married white American evangelical females between the ages of twenty-eight and twenty-nine occurring in suburbs within twelve miles of six major U.S. cities after nine pm…” (Just wrong on so many levels.)

Nothing about any of those makes a publisher want to know more.

  • But what about: “The Singular Secret To a Vibrant Marriage”?

Now the editor is curious to know more. What is it?!

A book proposal is really just an expanded elevator pitch. You need to communicate very clearly and efficiently what your book is about so that publisher will want to know more. Don’t make them work hard to figure it out.

Exercise: Right now, give the two-sentence pitch for the book that’s in your heart. Out loud. To the walls. Write it down. Then, when there’s a human within range, give them the pitch. Then ask them:

  1. Do you feel like you know what the book is about? Could you communicate it to someone else?
  2. Is it unique? Are there other books like it?
  3. Based just on the hook/pitch, does it engage you to want to know more? Do you want to buy and read it? Why or why not?

With this feedback, work further to articulate what is unique and compelling about your book.

Cheering you on,

Margot

 

The Importance of Dreaming

Ever feel like your writing time has slipped into a series of tasks you are struggling to check off?

1500 hundred words and counting? Check.
Edits? Check.
Social media graphics for the week? Check.
Blog posts written and turned in? Check.
Responded to readers and answered emails? Check.
Laundry, grocery shopping, life things? Maybe check. Kinda.
Maintain sanity? In process.

If we aren’t careful our writing routine turns into a list that can drain our creativity and make us forget why we are writing. I am the queen of time management and boundaries. I have to be in order to prioritize and get things done. But sometimes in the midst of trying to be disciplined and organized, I miss out on the creativity that comes with dreaming. I actually plan time to dream. It’s vitally important to the rest of my list.

Dream a little bigger

Dreaming rejuvenates me.
One of my favorite questions to ask when it comes to writing is “what if.” What if my characters decided to do something totally unexpected? What if my villain surprises everyone? What if I create a setting that puts a unique spin on a scene? What if I created a character that absolutely fascinated my reader? Then how do I do all this?

“What if” is a powerful question, one I don’t ask nearly enough. But when I do, my writing sings more than normal and my creative juices flow.

I also like to story board. I may love words, but I am attracted to powerful visuals. It’s fun to create the scene and cast my characters by scouring the internet for photos that jog my creativity in a greater way. I pin them on a corkboard so that I can see and move them to help craft the story. This helps dream about possibilities. Possibilities are endless in our writing. We just have to seize them.

Dreaming rejuvenates the story.
I like to set a timer and see how many words I can spill on the page before time runs out, but occasionally this depletes my creativity instead of inspiring it. However, when I take time to dream before I start writing, even if I just spend fifteen minutes on a writing prompt, my writing carries a different kind of power and creativity. When I race the timer, my story has quality and quantity. My characters are also deeper and my settings more vivid.

Dreaming rejuvenates the reader.
Letting readers into my brainstorming and dreaming is fun to share with readers. This makes great social media content to excite them and help them invest in the story before they ever hold it in their hands. Inviting them into the dreaming helps them feel like part of the team and part of the journey. If you do this, be prepared to write faster to satisfy their growing curiosity.

Tasks and deadlines are part of writing, but dreaming and enjoying the writing…that’s the most vital part of the journey, for it informs everything else. If you are feeling overwhelmed or stuck, grab a pen and fun notepad, and don’t be afraid to dream a little, darling. I have a feeling you will like the results.

Debut Novels, Reprint Rights, and Movie Deal Dreams

I didn’t know how blessed I was to get my first book deal. Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho came out in 2010. It was part of the Love Finds You series. And because the books were written by a bunch of different well-known authors and set across the United States, my book got swept along with the marketing current.

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I got to do a television interview.

I had a Costco book-signing.

The novel was featured in the magazines for a Christian bookstore chain.

It was sold in airports.

The hardback edition came out for book clubs.

And now It’s being considered for a MOVIE. When I found this out, I was so excited my husband thought someone had died. Not that I get excited when people die, but I was crying and could barely speak, and he assumed the worst.

Three movies have already been made for the UPtv network. I had a premier party with my writer friends for Love Finds You in Charm, including homemade Amish pastries. Love Finds You in Valentine comes out this month.

I can’t keep from mentally casting actors to play my characters Tracen Lake and Emily Van Arsdale. Especially since Emily Van Arsdale is supposed to be the actress who plays Wonder Woman, and Wonder Woman is releasing in the theaters soon.

The idea of having my debut novel considered for a movie made me want to revisit the story. Then it made me want to write sequels like many of my readers requested. So I got my rights back, and I’m rereleasing the book as the first in my new series titled Resort to Love.

Finding Love in Sun Valley Cover

 

Finding Love in Sun Valley, Idaho comes out this month. I updated a few things—like how the characters now all have smart phones. And I gave it an epilogue that leads into the following books.

Finding Love in Big Sky, Montana comes out in November. I’m currently writing this one and wish I could throw my responsibilities to the wind so I could go write in a cave until it’s done because the ending is going to be so good!

Finding Love in Park City, Utah comes out in the spring of 2017. This one I’ve plotted, but I’m still researching the location. I’m spending the end of January in the mountain town and attending the Sundance Film Festival. Remember how I said my main character in Sun Valley is an actress? It fits.

I didn’t know anything about getting my rights back, but I ran into Miralee Ferrell at the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference last summer, and she’d already done it for a couple of her own Love Finds You books. With her help. I was able to find out that my book had been out of print for a couple years. From there I simply had to make my request. Once I got my PDF files, I not-so-simply converted them to a Word document and edited out about a million exclamation points—among other newbie mistakes.

Miralee had been able to get her cover files, but mine weren’t available, so we hired a designer. When I say we, I mean Miralee. She’s releasing my series through her new publishing company, Mountain Brook Ink. But she let me have creative reign over my cover. I especially like the scrollwork around the Finding Love label. That symbol will go on all her Finding Love titles. Another cool thing is that I’ve remarried since my first book came out, so I get to add the name Strong to this cover.

I’m currently getting ready for my Books and Beverages Blog Tour. Check my website for details and the chance to win a Kindle Fire.

Books and Beverages

Even if my book never makes it to the big screen TV, I’m still glad I get to enjoy my debut novel a little longer. And I’m honored to get to share my dreams with you.

What’s a book you’ve read that you think would make a good movie?