Put a dog on it: How to craft a bestseller

Every writer wants to believe that he or she can write a bestselling book.

I’m here to tell you there’s nothing wrong with believing that. I have no doubt that many times, my belief in that idea is the only thing that keeps me pounding out words on my laptop. To be completely transparent, I’ve never had a book reach the NYT bestseller list; the closest I came was learning that my memoir of dog adoption, Saved by Gracie: How a Rough-and-Tumble Rescue Dog Dragged Me Back to Health, Happiness and God, was a bestseller – at one point in time – for my publisher. Whether that one point in time was a week or a month, or even three hours, I honestly don’t know. And actually, it doesn’t matter, because the terrible truth of best-selling-ness is that it’s truly a transitory thing, as well as completely unpredictable.

As a reader, I also find that “bestseller” doesn’t necessarily predict my own evaluation or enjoyment of a book. I read plenty of books on the bestseller lists that leave me cold, to say the least. Other books I stumble across are amazing, but languish forever in No One’s Heard of It Land.

As a result, I’ve decided that I probably know as much as anyone about writing a bestseller, which is to say, no one really does know why some books win the lottery and others don’t. So the next time you’re struggling with your belief in your ability to write a bestseller, here are my tips(laughs?) to keep you moving forward:

  1. Sit down and write. Or you can stand up and write (I’ve been reading a lot lately about the health benefits of sit/stand desks). Either way, actually writing seems to be an uncontested avenue to producing a bestselling book. (Caveat: unless you’re famous, in which case you can pay someone else to do the writing and still put your name on it and get even more famous, although I think that’s kind of cheating, don’t you?)
  2. Write short sentences. Really. Bestsellers have short sentences. Like this one. If you want to write a literary novel, though, you can make the sentences as long as you like because the people who read literary novels generally read at a higher reading level and more assuredly appreciate the sheer beauty of the written language, even if they don’t have the market clout to send your book’s rating skyhigh.
  3. Use active verbs. (They even tell you this in graduate writing programs. I just saved you a ton of money and two years of your life. You’re welcome.)
  4. Put a dog on the cover of your book. Even if it’s not about a dog. Books with a dog on the cover sell better. Even the latest statistics show that dogs get more internet time than any other animal. Want attention? I’m telling you, put a dog on it.

In closing, I want to share with you the writing advice of a bestselling author named W. Somerset Maugham: “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Happy writing!

Advertisements

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?

 

Marketing Beyond Your Book Launch

Now that I’ve submitted my latest book to my publisher, marketing is on my mind. I know from past experience with my other titles, the book launch will arrive sooner than I’ll ever feel ready for.

Some authors seem to think marketing fits in a neat little window of time, however, this limited view can inhibit opportunities to move more books for a longer period. Like a “new to you” car, if your title is new to book reviewers, book clubs, libraries, organizations and associations, churches, or book sellers, you have an untapped market potential.

For almost four years now, I’ve researched, accumulated, and culled lists of those who can influence more book sales. Many nights, I’ve stayed up an extra hour or two, so I could add to my lists. To date, I have over 1,200 relevant reviewers, book clubs, libraries, associations, churches, and book sellers organized by genres and specific interests. (I ultimately invested money into training and paying people who could help me organize my lists faster.) I’m now developing relationships with many of these reviewers.

You can do this for yourself, but it does require a lot of dedication and persistence. And there are some important things I’ve learned a long the way. Maybe by sharing, I can save you a few expectation headaches.

Important things to remember about influencers:

  1. It takes time — getting your book noticed by influencers is not a microwave process; it requires crock pot patience. But the good news is, you can put your ingredients in place and let them simmer while you attend to other things. Come back and stir on occasion, and eventually, your efforts can reach a rolling boil if you have quality content. (No matter what you try, if the content is not of interest to readers, marketing will not get you very far.)
  2. There are a lot of reviewers and other influencers out there, but not all are still actively writing reviews, many are not a good fit for your title, and some with smaller followings are actually more effective in their reader reach. Literary matchmaking is one part art and one part due diligence.
  3. Many influencers have a back log of commitments, so it can take months before they are able to get to yours. But just because you don’t hear anything right away, does not mean they are not interested. I recently got this great review from a query I sent over a year and a half ago.

My years of hard work have widened the sphere of influence for my latest book, and my sales definitely reflect it. The foundation and process for generating interest are now in place, and something I can easily duplicate.

Connecting Authors and ReadersRecently, I also realized this was something I could duplicate for others. From my desire to help fellow authors and the publishing industry at large, bookinfluencers.com was born. It bugs me that the closure of book stores has left many readers challenged to discover “new to them” great books. So I’ve created an online community to bring authors, publishers, influencers, and readers together. We put our clients’ books in front of those who can reach more people on their behalf.

I’m not trying to sell you a service, frankly you can do this on your own. But if you are an author who wants to save time and energy while widening your reach, help is available. Check out bookinfluencers.com to find out more.

The important point here is not so much how you connect with influencers, but that you do. Long after that 30-90 day book launch window closes, there are many readers who won’t have heard of you or your title. So don’t give up. Keep at it. Get your book in front of influencers who can help market your book beyond the launch. You never know what one person with a spotlight can do a year and a half later.

Have you had success in getting book reviewers and other influencers to help spread the word about your book?

People’s Stories Belong To Them

I remember the day I had to apologize to my daughter. I broke one of my personal rules as a writer and a leader:

People’s stories belong to them.

This is especially true in regard to pastor’s children who already feel like everyone knows their business.

My husband and I have been on staff at the same church for thirty-two years. Many of the members have known my children since the day they were born. When our children were little, it was not an issue to talk about my struggles with discipline or potty training or bad grades in math, but now our children are adults living grown-up lives and to their dismay, their mom, who is still a pastor’s wife, is now a writer! A writer who one day forgot the rule:

People’s stories belong to them.

When I was going through cancer treatment, along with both of my parents, the lines became blurred about whose story belonged to whom. Although my parents had given me carte blanche to talk about their stories, this permission did not trickle down to include our children. One daughter was struggling with difficult circumstances at the time and I shared some of my concerns with friends in church. Okay, okay, it was over the microphone. In front of the entire congregation.

Major stepping across the line. In army boots. Stomping through the mud.

The writer and pastor’s wife in me didn’t show up in church that Sunday. The mom inside me did. The mom who was overwhelmed.

But that didn’t give me any “get out of jail free” cards. I still screwed up.

I had to apologize, even though in my mind I wanted to justify it, saying “how can people pray if they don’t know?”

Let me ask you–do you want to be known as a prayer project?

Earlier that year I had been chatting in a circle of people, a mix of friends and strangers. A friend had started asking me pointed questions about my cancer treatment, questions I wouldn’t have minded sharing with her personally, but suddenly I felt I had a spotlight on the personal details of my life.

You know that saying, that if you are nervous in giving a speech, that you should picture the audience in their underwear and you won’t be nervous anymore?  That’s fine when you are the speech-giver, but in this situation I was the audience and all eyes were on me and I didn’t like feeling exposed. Vulnerable.

In regard to my daughter, it was a lesson I had forgotten and needed to remember–as a mom, as a pastor’s wife, and as a writer.

Have you ever felt exposed when someone shared parts of your personal story? Have you ever shared someone else’s story and regretted it?

(And yes, I had my daughter’s permission to post this story. In case you were wondering.)

 

Against the backdrop of the Sonoran Desert, Lynne Hartke writes stories of courage, beauty and belonging–belonging to family, to community and to a loving God. Her book, Under a Desert Sky, was released in May 2017 with Revell/Baker Publishing. She blogs at www.lynnehartke.com. You can find Lynne on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Navigating Your Negative Self-Talk and Overwhelming Anxiety

Is59 19How do you respond to overwhelming emotions? Positive or negative self-talk?

Fearful thoughts escalated into a full-blown panic attack as I faced a crisis with my mother over a decade ago. As I waited for the doctors to diagnose her medical condition, I began to do some research of my own. And everywhere I turned, the facts were grim.

I knew my mother was facing a battle for her life. And my emotional red flags were rippling high overhead. I had many questions but very few answers.

But I remembered seemingly impossible situations where God had intervened. And I knew who I needed to turn to in a battle. I also knew my emotions and logic are always unreliable in a tough situation.

Jesus warned his disciples that there would be a day coming when they would endure difficult times. “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world” (John 16:33 The Message).

What is Jesus saying here? I believe he’s reminding his disciples to turn to him when they find themselves in trouble. But how do we seek the Lord during difficult days? I believe the answer lies in prayer and meditating on God’s Word.

RedFlags

How do you respond to overwhelming emotions? What are you worried about today? Are you anxious about something beyond your control? How would you describe your emotional reactions when you are worried?

  • Past. List some of your past worries. How did you deal with them?
  • Present. List the issues that worry you today. Are you anxious, fearful, or in a panic about them now? How are you responding to them?
  • Future. What fears do you have about the future? Are you worried about things that you have no control over right now?

GraceTalk

Which scriptures help you seek God in a crisis? Which verses help you manage your emotional reactions?

Reflection

Do you recall some of the struggles you’ve been through involving your faith?

This excerpt taken from my eBook, RESTNotes. Be sure to get your FREE copy today!

10 Powerful Ways to Increase Your Writing Productivity

I’m nearly finished writing my fifth book, but I quickly discovered one thing has remained consistent with every title I’ve penned: the pull of distractions, threatening to hamper my work.

I’ve had to exercise intentional practices to help me maintain momentum. And through dedication and determination, I’ve discovered the following 10 powerful ways to increase your writing productivity. 

  1. Schedule writing as an event on your calendar. If it’s a priority, formalize your intent by putting it in black and white with a time stamp.
  2. Prepare in advance. The evening before, fix energizing food and drink that will provide convenient and easy sustenance. Lay out comfortable clothes to help you get right to work. Make sure all of your tools are organized and ready. Then get a good night’s rest. (I use a touch of lavender essential oil to help me sleep deeply.)
  3. Keep your word. Often, we are mindful to keep our promises to others, but don’t think anything of breaking the vows we make to ourselves. When you tell yourself you are going to write — just do it!
  4. Create your own writer’s cave. When I started out, this was a very specific place in my house. For me, the word cave fit, because my writing room was first located in a basement bedroom. There were no windows, it felt isolated, and frankly, I had to force myself to stay in what often felt like a dungeon. But by practicing discipline, I learned something important — I can write anywhere.
  5. Clearly communicate writing rules to family and close friends. When I started writing passionately, my loving peeps did not consider it a serious endeavor. To some, working from home meant I was available for them to pop in for extended visits, to call or text about random things, or to pressure me to participate in endeavors I had neither the time or inclination for. Didn’t they know I needed to write? I fought frustration until I remembered a rule I had incorporated for my business coaching. So, I told family and friends that when I closed the door to my office or posted cave-dwelling on social media, that this was a Do Not Disturb symbol. I asked my peeps not to bother me, unless it was important enough that they would call me out of a meeting 500 miles away. It took a couple of weeks for training, but now it works beautifully.
  6. Protect your writing time fiercely. Beware of interruptions — especially from yourself. I love the J.K. Rowling quote above, but I would have to add, sometimes the endless requests come from an internal voice. Guard yourself against distraction through unnecessary activities like television, social media, or scrubbing the toilet.
  7. Turn off the tube. This may sound silly and simple, but how many of us have lost volumes of time to mindless television shows. If it isn’t feeding what you are writing about, flip the switch to off.
  8. What's on Your Bucket ListGet up and move on a regular basis. I do one-minute intervals at least hourly when writing. Running in place, jumping jacks, leg kicks, and air boxing all keep my blood pumping and my mind working.
  9. Don’t fall prey to overwhelm. Break your work into chunk-sized fragments. Instead of focusing on the entire chapter you need to write, just set a goal to write the next paragraph. If a whole paragraph still throws you into a tailspin, pen your next sentence.
  10. Enjoy the experience. Remind yourself of that younger version of you who dreamed of this opportunity. Most people never get to mark this off their bucket list. Relish these moments — they’re what you were made for.

How do you protect your productivity?

Claiming Your Promised Land

Phil 4 7As I compiled RESTNotes, the devotional guide to my book, Words That Change Everything, other commitments and obligations kept getting in the way.

Plus, I was exhausted because I had just completed my book. And that process birthed more challenges than I’d like to admit.

Also, my husband, Dan, had just retired. And I was ready for some REST and time off, too.

Lord, I’ll never keep up with all my commitments!

I thought of the story in Matthew where the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. After that trial, “the devil left him, and angels came and attended him” (Matt. 4:11 NIV).

Even Jesus grew weary in his battles. And he called on his heavenly Father to give him the words to defeat his accuser. But he also experienced the spiritual comfort provided by his Father.

I’m thankful that I can trust the Lord to provide that same kind of comfort for me.

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too. (2 Cor. 1:3–5 The Message)

Red Flags

Where do you go for REST when you’re tired or worried? What do you tend to turn to for comfort?

GraceTalk

What promises from God’s Word have helped you as you have stepped out in faith to trust the Lord?

Reflection

Consider some of the times you trusted God with an impossible situation. Describe the dates and details?

This excerpt taken from my eBook, RESTNotes. Be sure to get your FREE copy today!