3 Questions to find your “value added”

Value-added describes the enhancement a company gives its product or service before offering the product to customers. Value-added applies to instances where a firm takes a product that may be considered a homogeneous product, with few differences (if any) from that of a competitor, and provides potential customers with a feature or add-on that gives it a greater sense of value….Investopedia.com

There you have it, folks – a clear definition of “value added,” a key concept in today’s marketing strategies. If you’re a hotel, your “value added” may be a free breakfast, or bonus loyalty points. If you’re a tire dealership, your “value added” may be a discounted  fourth tire after the purchase of three. If you’re a writer…..ah….if you’re a writer….what if you’re a writer?

I’ve been grappling for years with the idea of my “added value,” and I’ve finally come up with a few guidelines that might help you work on your own. As the definition above points out, we writers offer a fairly homogeneous product – writing – so our challenge is to distinguish ourselves from other writers by offering readers something in our work that makes it stand out as having more ‘value’ than other similar products of writing. To identify your “added value”, consider these questions:

  1. What do my readers want from me that they won’t get from someone else? In the case of my murder mysteries, I relied on detailed accurate information about birds to appeal to my readers, so that reading my novels was like a virtual birding trip. Readers often told me they knew the restaurants where my characters ate, or that they had actually visited the real locations named in my books. That familiarity made the books personal for readers, and even inspired a few vacations for readers who wanted to add bird sightings to their life lists. That’s added value.
  2. Do I provide unique extras along with my book? A common extra is a Reader’s Guide at the end of your book for book club discussion. If you are tech-savvy, you can even offer to “attend” book clubs via Skype or other online meeting platforms. That’s a valuable benefit for many readers! Other extras include links to online journaling or videos that supplement your text. Even questions for personal reflection (and the space to answer them) is a nice extra used by many nonfiction writers in their books.
  3. What does my reader need? Ultimately, “value added” is about giving your readers more of what they value. To do that, you have to know your audience and consider what they would regard as additional benefit from reading your work. When I wrote my memoir about overcoming anxiety thanks to our adopted rescue dog, I included endnotes to refer readers to research into depression and anxiety; I’d found those resources helpful in my own recovery and wanted to share that with readers. I also invited readers to email me about their own healing experiences with adopted pets to broaden the conversation about the therapeutic effects of animals (and three years after the book’s publication, I still get wonderful emails from readers about it).

Have you identified your “value added” yet?



Crafting Compelling Titles and Subtitles

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Great advice for human interactions. Less useful for actual books.

Not only do we judge books by their covers, but when we read a book’s title we decide in an instant whether the book is for us or not.

As you’re crafting a title for your own book, keep in mind this general rule of thumb:

1. The title communicates the book’s “premise.”

2. The subtitle communicates the book’s “promise.”

Now that I’ve put it out there, I’m sure you’re scrolling through all your favorite titles that break this rule. Fine, be that way.

What can be learned from the thumb-rule, is that the best titles communicate to a distracted book browser something of what is inside the book.

The title lets the reader know the general premise of the book:

And the subtitle lets the reader know what the book promises they’ll get from it:

So as you craft your title, you want to be sure that the reader knows what the book is about (premise) and what’s in it for them (promise.)

Of course there will be those bestsellers that no one can account for, like Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, but it’s more likely that you’ll serve your readers and your book if a reader who’s scrolling through titles on Amazon, or flipping through pages at Barnes & Noble, can know—in an instant—that your book is for her or him.

I learned this rule about titles and subtitles from my savvy friend Jonathan Merritt a few years ago…after I’d published a bunch of books.

Here are my titles (excluding collaborations/ghost writing). If the title is a win, credit goes to the publisher. If it’s a fail, probably mine. So judge me…

Which of my titles communicates what you’ll find inside and meets a need readers actually have? Too late to change ’em, so hit me with your best shot…

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, Wordmelon

Before You Release Your Words Into the World…

If you’re writing a book you hope to see published, your words must serve the reader.

  • Maybe it’s a memoir.
  • Maybe it’s self-help book.
  • Maybe it’s the story of a remarkable relationship.
  • Maybe it’s tips about gardening.

No matter what you are writing, it has to have value for the reader.

So before you send your proposal or manuscript to an agent or editor (or before you send it to me to review!) imagine that the agent/editor/publisher will be reading your words with one question in her heart: What’s in it for the reader?

Questions I want you to ask, of your proposal/manuscript, before you release your words into the wild…

  • What is the value, for the reader, in this book?
  • When she finishes the first chapter, does she want to keep reading?
  • When she’s really tired, is there a reason for her to keep turning pages?
  • Does every sentence, every page, every chapter serve the reader?
  • When she finishes, can she articulate the single important takeaway of the book?
  • When the reader sets this book down, has she gained something from it that she wants to share with a friend over coffee?
  • Does she want to buy a copy for her sister because the book had so much value?
  • ls she able to apply what she’s learned to her own life?

If the answer to some of these questions is either “no” or “I don’t know,” I want you to return to your word-baby and review it one more time through the spectacles of an agent or editor. Name the value–write it out–that the reader gleans from each chapter.

If you can’t identify the takeaway value for the reader–the “payoff” for purchasing your book–then work at it until you can.

Ultimately, “your” book is not about you. It’s about the reader.

Serve the reader.

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, Wordmelon

Defining Real Writing Success

The new year has come and gone, and we’re in the full throes of fresh starts, new goals, and updated resolutions. This has me thinking about the definition of success — and more specifically, defining real writing success.

Most authors would say success is selling thousands of books, which means reaching thousands of people. It’s a worthy goal and necessary if you want to write professionally, long-term. But lately, as I’ve considered the time and energy required from an author, I realize the importance of balance. I’ll explain.

The more contracts I sign, as speaking engagements multiply, and because I’m selling more books, I’ve gotten a glimpse of the future. And it can go in one of two ways.

I don’t struggle with self-discipline as some do; instead, lately I’ve noticed my struggle to relax. When I can’t unwind, it’s time to make a change.

I have a choice. I can pour even more of my time and energy into my writing and speaking career, and to a degree, I need to, but I must exercise caution. As a natural workaholic, I could slip into a regular routine of fourteen to seventeen-hour work days. Because of deadlines, commitments, and special opportunities, there are times when I need to pull a writing day like that, but if it becomes the norm, I’m in danger. There’s a fine line between protecting your writing/speaking time and neglecting your family and close friends.

Life is Better with Friends

Recently, I imagined what it might look like to work myself into a frenzy, reaching success as many would define it, only to realize I might stand alone at the top. If we don’t have friends and family to share and celebrate with, what are we working so hard for?

This epiphany has put me on a mission to usher some balance back into my life. I adore the days I get to sequester and write, but I equally love spending down time with my family and friends. Both are valued activities to me, and they deserve equal time.

My work ethics and integrity are intact, but I am choosing to slow down enough to breathe  deeply, while on this crazy, thrilling, and daunting writing ride. To me, defining real writing success is simple.

I have goals to write and sell many more books, but part of my planning strategies now include more time set aside to enjoy walks with friends, cups of coffee with people I respect, and to laugh often with my family. I want to catch up on life, and I believe by doing so, I’ll have even more to write about. I don’t want to “make it” as a writer, only to look around and discover I’m perched in a precarious position — standing all alone.

How do you maintain balance between your writing and real life? 

How to write a GREAT book

What makes a book a great read?

If someone asked me to name the best books I read in 2017, four immediately come to mind: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore, Be Strong in the Lord: Praying for the Armor of God for Your Children by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, and Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.

But if you asked me why they were the best books of the year for me, I would have specific reasons for each. I choose Walker’s book because it literally changed my behavior in two ways: I now try to get more sleep to improve my health, and I refuse to drive a car if I’m in the least bit tired (yes, he scared the heck out of me with statistics!). Moore’s book impressed me deeply with its story of women who suffered terribly, yet fought industry to make it responsible for employees’ health on the job. Be Strong in the Lord deepened my faith for both my children and myself, and Picoult’s novel gave me new eyes and a new heart to confront racism in America.

These books changed my behavior and attitudes in specific, concrete ways. I am a different person because I read them.

And that is ultimately what makes a book a great read: it meets the reader where she lives, and changes her.

Book design, reviews, buzz, brilliant writing, thorough research, perfect plotting – authors dream that all those things will come together in their books to make it a bestseller, but the key to every book’s success, I believe, is in how the author connects to the reader about something important to that same reader. This means, naturally, that there exists a myriad of topics a writer can address (and they do!), which also means many – actually, probably MOST – books will never appeal to every reader, and because of that, every author needs to be mindful of the particular audience for whom they write. To best serve that audience, however, the successful author has to dig deep into his own wants and desires, unearth the most compelling, most universal, needs he can share with his readers, and then translate that into the written word.

The words “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone” are attributed to Ronald Reagan. Likewise, every book can’t be a great read for every reader, but for some reader, some book can be a great read. As you set forth on your writing journey in 2018, I hope you write that great book for some reader.

Who knows? You might even change my life.

4 Things You Can’t Not Know Before You Self-Publish

This post first appeared on Margot’s blog, Wordmelon

Whenever I have a client who’s self-publishing, especially those who are just dipping their toe into the world of publishing for the first time, there is a host of information I want them to know. I can’t communicate all of it, but here’s what you can’t not know:

  1. Editing Process

When a contracted manuscript is submitted to a traditional publisher, the process will typically involve:

  • One or two rounds of developmental editing
  • A round of copy editing
  • Several meticulous rounds of proofreading, looking for the tiniest errors: an extra space after a period, a “zero” that’s really a capital “O,” or a “there” instead of a “their.”

Readers have been trained to expect an error-free product, and even a few errors can cause the reader to lose confidence in the book, and set it down. While this rigorous level of precision isn’t always possible when self-publishing, your readers will be best-served if you put this important work into your book up front.

  1. Book Cover

Whether readers will be browsing through a bookstore, scrolling through thumbnail images on Amazon, or buying from a merch table, the cover matters. It both signals what’s inside and whether what’s inside has value for the reader. Even if you have the technical skills to create a cover using your photo editing software, don’t. Resist the urge. There are tried and true principles relating to images, colors, font styles, and font sizes that make for great covers. Let a professional design the cover of your book.

  1. Book Design

Have you ever noticed that the inside of a traditionally published book, all the pages of content, have been designed? Care and attention have been given to the precise measurements of margins, as well as the size and shape of fonts in the text, chapter titles, headers and subheads. None of this is accidental. Each choice was made to serve the book and serve the reader. Although certain independent publishing options might aid you with book design, it’s up to you to ensure that nothing about the design creates a barrier to a reader reading your book.

  1. Books Are Hard to Sell

Before you sink your own dollars into publishing a book, have a plan for how you will market and distribute the book to your target audience. Don’t just throw it up at Amazon with millions of other books and hope for the best. You’ve been warned.

The purpose of your book is to serve the reader, and a well-written book with a sharp design does that. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

Preparing for Your Next Book Launch

Past and Future

Whether you are about to launch your second book or your twelfth book, you have a valuable opportunity to learn from your past publishing experience and prepare for future success. Some aspects of your previous book launch may be worth repeating, while others may need enhanced and upgraded. Consider the following ways to learn from the past and prepare for the future in the publishing world:

  1. Your book launch team: Ultimately, your overall book sales will be as good as the people you recruit to your book launch team. Are they passionate about your topic, committed to spreading enthusiasm about your new book, and connected to other potential readers? Send early copies of your book to those who will take the time to read it and write a thoughtful review. To differentiate between those who will politely accept a book but are unlikely to follow through on writing a review or spreading enthusiasm about your book within their circle of influence and those who will help your book succeed, ask yourself if this person has ever reviewed or promoted anyone else’s book before. The people who have an established track record of reading, reviewing, and promoting books will be most likely to do the same for you and your book. Help the marketing director for your book locate thriving publications in which to place ads for your book. These publications should connect with readers interested in your topic and have wide circulation. Try to time the ads to coincide with any articles you are publishing in a given magazine.
  2. Your publicity team: People need to know that your book exists before they can read it, enjoy it, and benefit from it. The people who serve on your publicity team help people learn about your book. Think of your publicity team as comprised of both formal and informal members. Formal members include the group of publicists at your publishing house. They will set up radio interviews, create press releases, and coordinate dissemination of books to potential reviewers. Work closely with these publicists to make sure the opportunities they send your way are a good fit for your overall goals as a writer. Informal members of your publicity team include anyone who can coordinate speaking engagements in the six months leading up to your book release and in the first year following your book release. They also include anyone who helps you design a newsletter or other promotional materials suitable for emailing or for distribution at conferences or bookstore events. As the author, you will need to coordinate the efforts of both formal and informal publicists for maximum impact on book sales. Give everyone enough advanced notice before a speaking engagement or promotional event so that they can do quality work. Your publicists want to help your book get in the hands of readers, but you are the one responsible for increasing your own book sales.

What have you learned from publishing your previous book that can help your new book succeed?