Seven Essential Tips Every Successful Writer Must Apply

Fresh StartsI think every published author wishes they could go back in time to whisper in their younger self’s ear. Doing so would certainly save volumes of time and energy. I’m sure five years from now, I’d wish for the opportunity to tell today’s me something I need to know right now.

These are the thoughts rolling through my mind this new year, clean with the possibility of fresh starts. I think it’s important to slow down sometimes.

We need to reflect on the past in order to improve on the future. So I’m reminding myself of the tips I’d give my younger self, knowing I’ve let some slack, and resolving to begin again. I believe the seven following tips are essential, things every writer must know.

  1. Ray BradburyRead as much as you can. Phrases such as, “Great writers are great readers,” hold a wealth of truth. The more we study, the more prepared we are to succeed. Reading teaches us the subliminal art of sentence flow, heart tugs, and scene staging. It also shows us what to avoid, as we learn from the mistakes of others. It’s the best motivator I know.
  2. Eavesdrop. Most of my best dialogue came from listening in on someone else’s conversation in restaurants, conferences, stores, airplanes, etc. I write non-fiction, and I tell true stories or compilations based on real people, but even if I wrote fiction, I would use this technique for writing believable and fascinating statements.
  3. Listen to outsiders. The more detached someone is from you, the more objective their writing feedback is going to be. Family and friends tend to fall into two camps: they either gush over everything you write, even your sloppy first drafts, or they nitpick, make digs, or outright blast anything you pen. Make it your mission to interact with people on social media, critique groups, or professional advance readers who are willing to respond honestly.
  4. Pull on your thick skin. You might want to consider whale shark skin for this one, (estimated at 6″ thick). Just like “there’s no crying in baseball,” professional writers soon learn, no one’s handing out Kleenex around here either. When rejection stings, stiffen your spine, and pitch again.
  5. Douse distractions. It’s going to happen. Ten people want five different things from you at once. You’re working on one project, when the siren call of another beckons. But professionals know the power of tenacity — grinding your behind into the seat, tuning out the voices trying to break your focus, and writing through to the finish line.
  6. motivational quotesSet time-stamped writing goals. I’ve really let this one slip lately, and my work is showing it. But my One Word is Reset, so I am resetting my goals. The difference between a dream and a goal is a measurement. So my refreshed writing goals include a minimum of 5,000 words per week. This reasonable number allows for flexibility, while pushing me beyond a normal comfort zone. It’s doable.
  7. Touch your own heart. If I’m not passionate about what I’m writing on, why would anyone else be interested? If I’m bored, my readers will feel boredom. If I’m thrilled, my readers will feel a flutter of excitement driving them to turn the page.

The more I write, the more I question myself at times, and yet, when I go back to the basics, I find the truth, the way, and a successful writer’s life. Which brings me to a bonus secret.

Pages in a Thousand BooksI can write until my fingers are numb. I can start writing at dawn’s break, pushing until the wee hours of the next morn, but if I am not inspired, it’s all for nothing. My personal inspiration come from prayer, provision, and praise for my Maker. He’s the one who gifted and called me. This is my most powerful secret.

What inspires you to write? Do you have any tips you would whisper to your younger self?

New Possibilities for a New Year

Empty road to upcoming 2017 at sunrise

The sunrise of a new year.

  1. Your future is not limited by the past. While past successes and experiences can inspire the future, as I wrote about in my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, the future does not need to be limited by the past. New scientific discoveries can build on past knowledge, but they also can disrupt old paradigms. For example, the microprocessor made computing available to nearly everyone, with a modern laptop more powerful that a computer that once took up an entire room. Thanks to this invention, most writers prepare their manuscripts using convenient word processors instead of typewriters, and keep their contact list of agents, editors, and publishers on their smartphone in place of their Rolodex. In the not-so-distant future, writers might conference with editors and other writers in virtual reality, skipping the long lines at airports and time spent traveling. As a writer, your next fresh idea can define the future. Your past projects may influence your future goals, but feel free to try something new and even disruptive. Progress happens when people dream new dreams. Let the start of the New Year serve as your excuse to pursue a great new project.
  2. New friendships are waiting to be discovered by you. Writers quickly learn the value of relationships in their profession. After all, writing is all about communicating and collaborating. Even when writers spent quiet hours alone putting their thoughts on the page, the needs and interests of their readers shape their work. The audience of readers is always present when a writer expresses ideas with words. By the time a book reaches the shelves of a bookstore or the warehouse of an online retailer, the writer has collaborated with many people – literary agents, editors, illustrators, cover designers, copy editors, reviewers, publicists, and marketing directors. These colleagues as well as radio interviewers, blog readers, online reviewers, customers, and conference coordinators become new friends in the life of a writer. Resolve to maintain the friendships you have formed as a writer in years past, while staying open to the possibilities of accepting the input, advice, and encouragement of new friendships in the year to come.
  3. To accomplish your goal, break it down into discrete, doable steps. Whether you are planning to write a blog post in one evening or a book in six months, if you have a plan divided into measurable and actionable steps, you are well on your way to getting the job done. Fit your plan into your lifestyle and your current schedule to keep it realistic and achievable. Can you envision setting aside two hours every evening to complete a new manuscript? Should you schedule a vacation in a secluded and beautiful setting surrounded by nature in order to disconnect from everything and make your writing deadline? Having a plan that matches your working habits and the needs of your family and other responsibilities increases the likelihood of reaching your goal. Great new projects need to-do lists and new friendships need time set aside to develop the relationships. Make a plan that fits your life so your dreams can come to fruition in the New Year.

What do you plan to do to prepare for the new possibilities awaiting you in the New Year?

Overachieving Your Platform: Best of the Water Cooler Series Book #2!

overachieving-your-platform-coverMany years ago, a good friend went into a coma after giving birth. She was on life support for nearly four months. We all prayed and wondered if she would pull through to see her baby girl and live a full life.

By her side was her husband. Every day he was at the hospital talking with doctors and nurses, making sure medication was properly being administered, asking questions . . . basically, being every doctor’s worst nightmare when it came to patient care. But you know, on several occasions, he insisted on something that actually saved his wife’s life. The third leading cause of death in America is medical care accidents and misdiagnoses. He needed to care for his wife because if he didn’t, the worst could happen.

I mention this story because I think it can be illustrative of some of the realities of book publishing today. Sometimes, your book is the one on life support, often from the moment of publication. Standing by are publishers and PR folks who are tasked and paid to keep your book alive. They’re busy, they have other patients (authors), and are generally overworked and understaffed.

The point is you cannot leave your book’s marketing and PR ONLY in the hands of publishers. They’ll do their best (usually), but they’re not perfect. And sadly, they have the 80/20 principle that is always screaming at them from the higher-ups. In publishing, it’s true: 80 percent of the money goes to 20 percent of the books. It’s a reality that won’t change, so we have to learn to deal with it.

So what should you do, then, as the author standing by your baby, trying to keep it alive?

You’ve got to tend to it diligently.

With your publisher: ask questions, say thank you a lot (gift cards and flowers are nice) when they do a job well done, give them ideas, don’t mention a problem unless you have a solution, tell them what you’ll do to help, keep track of everyone who helps (radio stations, bloggers, author friends). Work WITH them as much as they will let you.

What else can you do?

Well, we at the Water Cooler have just released a book that will help answer that question. Overachieving Your Platform: 95 Ideas to Embrace Your Inner Sales Marketing Genius is now available from FaithHappenings Publishers, and it offers the tools you need to break out and connect with large audiences. Adapted from the best writing of the WordServe Water Cooler, these doable, practical and affordable ideas will transform your platform and expand your audience if you put them into practice. No, you can’t do them all. But you can certainly go through this book with your highlighter and mark everything you actually could do. Then make a plan. What will you do during your first month from publication, second month, third? Write the plan out . . . and then work it.

Publishers, agents, and retailers agree: you’re only as good as your last book. So if your last book flops in the marketplace, it may very well indeed be your last book!

Don’t let that happen. Stay on guard by your book for the first six months to a year after launch, and you’re far more likely to get that second book contract. You may even get a royalty check.

I’m so proud of all of the authors who contributed to Overachieving Your Platform. They’ve done the hard work in the trenches and have learned from their successes and failures. All they know they’ve shared with you.

Grab a copy today—and take that first step toward creating a platform and brand that will serve you for the rest of your writing career.

Excelling-at-the-Craft-of-Writing-CoverAnd if you haven’t checked out the first book in the series, Excelling at the Craft of Writing: 101 Ways to Move Your Prose to the Next Level, make sure to do that as well. Craft and marketing go hand in hand when it comes to a writing career—you won’t find success unless you’ve got both!

This post was adapted from the Introduction of Overachieving Your Platform: 95 Ideas to Embrace Your Inner Sales Marketing Genius (available now!).

Crowd Source Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few other things to add to your checklist are:

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

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

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

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

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

The 15-Minute Writer: Book Marketing in Life’s Margins

woman writer

Photo by Bench Accounting via Unsplash.com.

We writers wear many hats these days. In addition to writing proposals, queries, and manuscripts, we’re expected to market and promote our books through social media, speaking, radio/television interviews, and book-related events. Whew! What’s a busy author to do?

First, don’t get too overwhelmed. No one can do everything, so take that expectation off your shoulders. Take deep breaths. Now…don’t you feel better? Let’s do our part, and leave the rest in the hands of the Author of our life stories.

Second, after you write it but before your book releases, experiment with different marketing ideas to find out what you enjoy and are good at naturally—Facebook parties? Speaking engagements? Library visits?—and concentrate on those things. The fun you experience will come through, and you’ll sell more books (and even if you don’t, you’ll have more joy. And who doesn’t want that?).

Third, pray for wisdom, discipline, and creativity. After all, God gave us the idea and the opportunity to write a book, and He cares about the people who will read the message we’re sharing.

Finally, clear a few minutes in your schedule and write “marketing” on your calendar in a small window of time. This way, you’ll do a little bit every day. (It’s like the old question, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!)

To help you get started, here are a few book marketing tasks that take 15 or 20 minutes, tops (just make sure each is related in some way—via a hashtag, link, or text—to the volume you’re promoting):

  • Write a short blog post
  • Draft a newsletter for your email list
  • Brainstorm a free resource to offer your list
  • Update a social media profile to reflect your new release details
  • Write a Facebook status or Twitter update
  • Take an Instagram picture and upload it
  • Read a blog post on another author’s site and comment on it (thanks to Michele Niefert for this idea)

    A photo by Alejandro Escamilla. unsplash.com/photos/N7XodRrbzS0

    Picture by Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash.com.

  • Rate/review a similar book you’ve read on one of the major bookseller’s sites
  • Ask friends on Facebook or Twitter to review your book for you
  • Share another author’s book, which is related in some way to yours, on a social media platform
  • Update your website or blog in some way
  • Draft a query letter to a magazine on a subject related to your book
  • Ask other bloggers to review your book (Elizabeth Evans shared this tip with me)
  • Create an image on Canva or PicMonkey with a reviewer’s blurb on it and Tweet it (a terrific idea from journalist and author Simran Sethi)
  • Write a thank-you note to a book reviewer, librarian or bookseller
  • Follow-up with a meeting planner or editor you pitched but haven’t heard back from
  • Set up an Eventbrite page for a future workshop or seminar you’ll lead on the book topic
  • Read a book marketing article on line or in The Writer, Poets and Writers or Writer’s Digest

Now it’s your turn: share in the comments. What are your favorite—or most effective—quick marketing tasks?

“I Want to Write a Book”: Five First Steps For Aspiring Writers

When folks contact me because they want to write a book, especially someone who hasn’t been writing, I’m often pessimistic. I want to be able to encourage them, but I know this:  An agent or publisher needs to see that a communicator is reaching an audience. So what’s a first-time writer to do?

1. WRITE

Write an article. Online magazines usually have writer’s guidelines available at their sites. (Also google-able)

Pitch articles to magazines that are already reaching the audience who will read your book. If you don’t know what publications those are, ask among your friends on social media: “Moms, what blogs do you read?” “Business people, what magazines do you read?”

Your pitch to an editor—explaining what you want to write, how it will serve his/her audience, and why you’re the best person to write it—needs a hook. No editor will respond well to a pitch from you offering to write on “parenting,” but if they might be interested if your hook is, “What I Learned About Parenting During My Time in Prison.” Give your pitch a strong hook.

Having a number of articles that appear in print or online communicates to an agent or publisher that you’re reaching audiences.

2. SPEAK

Drum up speaking gigs. Ask folks you know to help you find venues where you can share the message you’re passionate about. Start by speaking for free to build your resume.

Speaking builds your audience and helps you hone your message.

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3. BUILD

Build a website. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.  Before you pitch one article or seek one speaking gig, build a simple site to let others know who you are and what you’re about. Include experience and endorsements to give editors, agents, organizers, and publishers confidence that you have something to say and that others want to hear it.

A website legitimizes your credibility as a communicator.

4. GROW

Grow your audience. Beyond building your website, be intentional about your online presence. If blogging feels manageable—and it might not!—consider blogging regularly. Guest post on other writers’ blogs. Post quotes or memes on social mediate that relate to your message. Don’t always be self-promoting, though: share relevant content, from other worthwhile sources, with your followers.

Providing valuable content builds your audience.

5. LEARN

Attend a writer’s conference. Even if you’ve never considered it, the chance to grow in your craft and network with other writers and folks in the publishing industry will serve you well.

 

Bottom line: If you’re not willing to start building with one or more of these building blocks, it’s unlikely that an agent or publisher will consider the book you’re holding in your heart.

The exception, of course, is if you are: the President of the United States, the MVP of the NBA, or someone whose face has graced the cover of People magazine. If you are any of these, disregard this post. The rest of us, though, need to be hustling to build an audience.

Your future agent or publisher will thank you.

Reflect: Which one of these 5 made you balk? How willing/unwilling are you to move forward on any of these? What can you learn from your response?

How I boosted my book to 30x more people

ebookI finally bit the bullet. I boosted a post on Facebook.

For years, I’ve seen that annoying little message you get on your author page about paying to boost your posts. Because I’m cheap (and still suspicious of social media’s REAL intent, i.e. who needs to know what I buy, who I connect with, and what I like? Creepy…), I refused to give it a try. If my books can’t make it on their own merits, so be it – I’ll be content with small audiences, extremely limited financial reward, and the personal gratification that I haven’t caved to crass commercialism.

And then last month after I started getting consistent raves about my new thriller “Heaven’s Gate,” I thought, “What the heck. It’s only $20.”

Actually, it ended up being $60, since I decided if I was going to experiment, I wanted to see what a week of boosted posts could do rather than one day, which is what $20 will buy. Knowing that most buyers need to be exposed to a product seven times before they buy (do you know the Rule of Seven?), I figured one day of boosting was throwing away cash, but seven days might just convert into some sales. I can now tell you, without reservation, that $60 worth of boosting on Facebook can go a long way in giving your book exposure and building your audience, and now I can’t wait to give my other books the same treatment.

Here are the numbers from my week-long experiment:

  1. Organic reach peaked at 305 on Day 7, while paid reach was 9045. That’s 30x more people reached than my normal posting! Not only that, but thanks to my OCD tendencies, I checked one last time on Day 10 (remember I only paid for 7 days of boosting) and was happy to see a new total of 9432. The post was still being shared after my paid boosting! Score!
  2. I monitored my book’s print and ebook rankings on my amazon Author Central page (you do have one of these, right?) for the boosting’s duration. By Day 6, my ebook ranking had reached 924 in the Paranormal category after starting on Day 1 at 3366; the biggest jump was from Day 1 to Day 2, which tells me that first burst of posting made an impact that powered the rest of the week. Recalling the Rule of Seven and the impact of repeated impressions, though, I looked again on Day 18, only to find my ebook ranking better than ever at 831!
  3. As for print, my book moved from its initial 76,331 ranking to 8535 on Day 5. Clearly, somebody was paying attention.

Even knowing that rankings are a superficial measure (rankings don’t equal sale units), I decided that post boosting may not be such a bad idea for marketing after all. While the actual sales numbers are still in question, I know for a fact that more people have seen my book’s cover thanks to post boosting than would have otherwise. And that’s one step closer to buying my book.

Have you tried Facebook post boosting? What was your experience?