One Surprising Thing I Learned About Marketing

I recently participated in a marketing class taught by my former WordServe agent, Alice Crider. She gave us the tools needed to take control of our careers and the motivation to create opportunities.

Release Day

There was, however, one thing about the class that shocked me. In fact, if more writers knew about this before they got started, then they might have reconsidered their career choice. Here it is:

To sell your books, you need to be a likable character, and one of the requirements for becoming a likable character is to be polarizing.

Polarizing: to cause (people, opinions, etc.) to separate into opposing groups.

This means that if I am polarizing, then there will be people who don’t agree with me, or they could, gasp, even dislike me.

I hate conflict though. Can’t we all just be friends?

The problem with this wish is that as a writer, if I want anyone to stand with me, I have to first stand for something. I have to know who I am. I have to believe wholeheartedly in what I’m saying. And while this may push some people away, it’s going to draw those who agree with me even closer. They will become my true supporters.

For example, Jen Hatmaker recently claimed that gay marriage can be holy. You can’t get more polarizing than that in the church. She was attacked, and her books have since been banned from certain stores. But here’s the interesting part. She has endeared herself to her audience so completely that her latest book is now in the running for Goodreads Best Book of the Year.

Once I understood this, I decided to not only keep yoga in my next novel, but to use it in promotion. My editor was afraid some Christians would be offended, but I explained why I teach yoga and how it is both permissible and beneficial for me. She accepted with the stipulation that I write a reader letter for the beginning of the book.

beach yoga

I shared that letter yesterday online, and it was definitely polarizing. I received a personal message saying that I’ve been warned, and now they were going to wipe the dust from their feet and leave me behind. But I also got messages from people wanting to review the book. Besides that, one yogi reviewer told me Finding Love in Eureka is one of the best books she’s ever read. I’ve found my audience.

My point here isn’t to argue who is right or wrong. It’s to encourage writers to be strong. Of course, that’s going to include being knowledgeable and respectful. (You’re goal isn’t to tick people off but to say the hard things that you might not want to say for fear of ticking people off.)

You’re the expert. You’ve been given your passions and desires for a reason. Don’t let your message be watered down when trying to please people. You have something unique to offer that won’t resonate with everyone.

In fact, Jesus said, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” There’s probably never been a more polarizing man in all of history. And His book, you know, is a number one best-seller.

 

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What Writers Want

Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt

Photo Credit: YesMovies

In December 2000, Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt starred in the movie What Women Want. Like many women, I appreciated the sensitivity displayed by Gibson’s character, Nick Marshall, when he finally connected with the  female lead’s innermost desires. Reflecting on this chick flick, I think we writers share similar longings — in our relationships with readers.

For instance, most of the non-fiction writers I know want the following:Henry Van Dyke

  • To be heard. Non-fiction writers want to know readers are not only listening to what we are saying through the written word, but are finding our content valuable enough to actually apply to their lives.
  • To be accepted and understood. Non-fiction writers want to gather readers who are unified in their search for answers, support, and encouragement.
  • To be desired. Non-fiction writers want readers to want our books, our messages, and the unique way we express ourselves.
  • To make a difference. Non-fiction writers want to know readers are influenced to spread their words so that more people are impacted in positive ways.

But fiction authors want these same things in their own right: A Reader Finishes Books

  • To be heard. Fiction writers want to know readers are drawn into our worlds, where conflict, setting, dialogue, intrigue, and resolution come from the depth of our imaginations and transform into a tale we tell.
  • To be accepted and understood. Fiction writers want to gather readers who are unified in their search for escape, entertainment, and thought-provoking plots.
  • To be desired. Fiction writers want readers who fall in love with our characters, our creative environments, and our page-turning stories.
  • To make a difference. Fiction writers want to know readers are influenced by the nuances of our novels, allowing educational tidbits to seep organically into their brains as they devour each page of our prose.

But regardless of our preferred writing genre, we writers must guard ourselves against wanting so much that we allow the joy of our chosen craft to be stolen away. In a single word, we must protect ourselves against dissatisfaction.

Any of us can fall into the trap of feeling dissatisfied, no matter what we’ve achieved.

  • There are authors who make bestseller lists who feel disappointed and frustrated because they don’t receive literary prizes.
  • Some achieve great commercial success, only to pine over a lack of respect from professional critics and other publishing insiders.
  • While others are appreciated all around the country, but not in their own home communities.
  • Most feel as if what they’ve written is never quite good enough.

Forget All the RulesNo matter what we accomplish, many in the writing profession cannot help hoping for more. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting more — within reason. But if we aren’t careful, we will miss out on the best of our own experiences if we focus solely on what we don’t have, versus celebrating what we do.

I imagine any writer would agree that our ultimate desire is not only to achieve, but as we walk the writing path, to milk every ounce of pleasure from the journey. If we allow ourselves, we might even dance in celebration. That’s what I want.

How do you exercise intentional appreciation for your writing successes?

 

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7 Reasons To Consider a Study Group for Your Next Book Project

Image/karen jordan.net

In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one. (John Steinbeck)

 

Need help writing your next book proposal? Try this.

To help me with the research of my most recent nonfiction book proposal, I recruited a group of ladies at my church to walk through each chapter as I developed it. Since it’s been surprisingly helpful, I thought I’d share a few reasons to consider it.

  1. Helps with book launch. This group started meeting during my first book launch. I had just taken them through a study of my book, Words That Change Everything, this past fall. Each week they read a chapter of the book, downloading a copy of my RESTNotes as a guide for our weekly discussions. This meant I added every member to my mailing list, an important step in the platform-building process.
  2. Offers encouragement for book projects. After we finished the book study, the ladies asked me to lead them in another. I told them that I wanted to use material for a book that I’m currently working on. They happily agreed. In fact, they were excited to be part of the writing process with me.
  3. Produces insights from primary audience. Want to understand how to meet the needs of your audience? What better way to do this than to invite them into your writing process? I’ve learned invaluable insights from these wonderful ladies as we brainstormed questions and issues pertinent to my project.
  4. Keeps you on task and organized. Not only has the weekly agenda kept me on task with my book project, this study has been one of the most productive ideas I’ve ever employed as a writer. Each week, I prepared our session using a template that I developed for each chapter. And I did my outside research for each chapter with this class in mind.
  5. Supplies ongoing research in your absence. During the weeks I’ve been out of town for a speaking event or to help my grandkids, I recruited one of the class members to facilitate a discussion of some of the questions that we may have skipped in an earlier class.
  6. Meets fellowship needs of the group. When I returned from a recent speaking event, the group shared what an engaging experience they had getting to know each other even better, as they focused specifically on the questions I had prepared for them. I’ve also created a private Facebook group for our class to help us stay in touch and share insights on our topic with each other between meetings.
  7. Provides potential help with future projects. We still have a few weeks before we complete our current study. But several of the ladies have already asked me which book project we will use next. And I have several to choose from, since I’m working on a few personal and collaborative projects.

In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser observed, “Ultimately every writer must follow the path that feels most comfortable.”

Right now, while I’m researching my next book proposal, using the help of a study group works for me. So, I want to offer this idea to you, because I love to share lessons I’ve learned and the stories that matter most to me.

Have you ever recruited a study group for one of your works in progress? If so, what did you glean from that experience? Any tips?

 

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/.

Use Less Scripture in Your Manuscript (And…I love Jesus.)

bible-1031288_960_720One of my pet peeves—as an editor, as a writer, as a reader—is when authors use long passages of Scripture in their manuscripts, or pepper it with too many verses.

And, of course, now that it’s out there, I feel like I need to defend myself. So let the record show:

  1. I love Jesus.
  2. I believe that Scripture is God-breathed and has the power to transform lives.
  3. I earned a Master’s of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. (Sorry if that makes me seem like a show-off. It had to be said.)

Also:

  1. I don’t want to see too much Scripture in the manuscript you’ve sent me to edit.

I’m actually delighted to announce this grumpy thing publicly, for the first time, because I finally figured out why it gets under my skin:

Cutting and pasting large portions of Scripture into your manuscript, or peppering way too many verses into it, DOES NOT SERVE READERS.

Overusing Scripture is problematic for two reasons: it’s either too much or too little.

1. It’s too Much: Avoid Including Lengthy Scripture Passages

Problem: When readers—and I mean Christian readers—encounter long passages of Scripture in a manuscript, they tend to skim over them. From the cursory glance at keywords—“Moses,” “praise,” “sanctify,” “Jesus”—the reader determines that she’s already read this before and keeps reading (if you’re lucky) beyond the Scripture-brick to discover what he or she does not yet know.

Solution: Use a shorter passage of Scripture. When you crop the text down to the most salient verse or verses, the reader can better glean what you most want to communicate.

Example: In lieu of including the entire text of Psalm 119, which has 176 verses, give the reader a bite and tell them enough to make them hungry for more…

Every verse of Psalm 119 describes the good way God’s designed us to live. In verses 9-12, notice the words the Psalmist uses to point the reader to the good way:

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. (Psalm 119:9-12)

Path, commands, word and decrees all point reader toward the good way God’s designed. And If you read all of Psalm 119, you’ll find lots of other synonyms for this path that leads to life.

2. It’s too Little: Avoid Including Too Many Scripture Passages

Problem: When you pepper too many verses of Scripture into a manuscript, you might assume that lots of Scripture is benefiting the reader. But there actually might be more value in including less! Too many verses of Scripture can feel like being pelted by a rapid-fire Nerf gun. If the reader can’t make a meaningful connection to each passage, the verses will bounce off the reader and fall to the floor.

Solution: When you do weave Scripture into your manuscript, it’s your job to help the reader find fresh spiritual nourishment from the passage by demonstrating the connection to your message. Here are a few ways to help the reader glean as much as possible from the biblical text:

  • Provide historical context, noting time, place, speaker, culture, audience, etc.
  • Provide literary context, helping reader understand why what comes before or after this passage illumines its meaning
  • Offer practical application, demonstrating how this passage was vivified in your life of someone else’s
  • Strengthen the connection between the passage and the reason you’ve shared it

Example: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14)…

When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world,” he’s making a radical claim! Did you know that, in the ancient near east, a nation’s king was said to be the “light” who reigned on behalf of a deity?! Jesus is saying something pretty bold, then, about the kingdom of God and about your role in it by announcing that you are the light of the world.

Finally, Scripture was never intended to become a quantity to be used, cropped, leveraged or wielded. I know that and you probably do, too. Being thoughtful about presenting Scripture in a way that it can be tasted and digested, to offer real nourishment, is a gift to your reader.

 

 

Enjoying Variety in Writing

Mixed fruits and vegetables at organic fair

Mixed fruits and vegetables at organic fair

Just as a wide selection of fruits and vegetables makes for a nutritionally balanced diet that promotes good health, variety in writing can improve the quality of prose a person produces. While specializing in one type of writing allows a person to focus, I believe a writer can benefit from tackling different lengths and styles of writing assignments. Here are three ways that writing articles helps an author of a book:

  1. Article writing teaches clarity. The limited word count of an article trains an author to think clearly and write concisely. While an author of a book can define and develop his or her message across many chapters, a writer preparing an article must get the job done in less than a few pages. I found that article writing for journals and magazines helped me winnow my words and learn to support my key ideas with only the strongest illustrations from the most reliable sources. Article writing also honed my ability to write an outline – a skill useful for writing book proposals.
  2. Article writing permits creativity. If you want to test an idea or a style, find a suitable publication and write a query to the editor. If you succeed, you will probably have between 1000 and 2500 words to try out your concept. If you discover a great new topic that deserves further exploration, you can follow up by writing a book proposal. If you find that you can express all your thoughts on the topic within an article or two, you have broadened your horizons without the long commitment that book writing entails. Move on and try another topic until you find your niche. Working with a variety of editors will improve your writing career. You will gain insights and learn new techniques from each editor.
  3. Article writing expands an author’s audience. To be granted the privilege of publishing a book, you need a platform. To maintain book sales, you need to connect with readers. Article writing creates the platform a novice writer needs in order to obtain that first book contract. Article writing also helps a seasoned author keep in touch with readers. Choose publications most likely to interest your potential readers, but, remember, if you write for new publications, you will expand your audience. Online publications or print publications with an online presence create opportunities to share your work across social media, a bonus for an author trying to reach more people.

I have learned to enjoy variety in writing, appreciating the different approaches to communicating to the specific audience for a given publication. Article writing gives me the opportunity to address a wider variety of issues than I could cover through book writing alone. What types of writing have shaped your writing career? What have you learned from writing beyond the pages of a book?

Trends in Book Discovery

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What is publishing all about these days?

  • Writing?
  • Editing?
  • Packaging?
  • Posting an ebook?

Nope. None of the above.

It’s about FINDING READERS!

The loss of retail, magazines, religion sections in newspapers… the discoverability factor has greatly decreased. Which is why publishers are so dependent on authors to find readers (through author tribes) and on their ability to social network their way to a best seller. Which, in case you haven’t already experienced, happens about .01% of the time.

So when I saw some data about my favorite topic—FINDING READERS—I thought you ought to see it.

The following is based on data compiled by the Penguin Random House consumer insights team, which polled more than 40,000 readers about their reading and buying choices.

  • When asked what is most influential to readers when deciding what book to read next, 81% said recommendations from friends and family. Word of mouth, whether about movies, agents, or book sales, is always the key deal.
  • How do readers discover books? 70% said they use Goodreads; 49% said newspaper/magazine reviews; 46% said Facebook; 38% said author interviews/appearances; 37% said blog reviews; 23% said print ads; 15% said Twitter; and 14% said another form of social media. I’m wondering if the 40,000 readers they polled were from Goodreads. Still, this was more eye-opening than I would have guessed.
  • The survey found that as readers age, blogs and social media become less relevant as a way to discover books. Among survey participants under the age of 40, more than 80% use Goodreads and more than 60% read blog or web reviews. This steadily decreases with age; for readers in their 50s, 75% use Goodreads and 40% read blog and web reviews; for those in their 70s, the numbers drop to under 60% for Goodreads and only 20% for blog and web reviews. I guess we realize with age that there isn’t much time to read all of those books we bought but haven’t read, so we don’t need anyone else telling us what to read.
  • Conversely, print reviews and advertisements become more relevant with age. For readers under 40, 40% read newspaper and magazine reviews; for those in their 50s, the number is closer to 60%, and for those over 70, the number who read newspaper and magazine reviews is 70%. Print advertising follows a similar trajectory, with 20% of those under 40 relying on print ads to discover books, as opposed to 30% of those in their 50s and nearly 50% of those in their 70s. It must be the fact that there are pictures and not very many words. Easier on the eyes.
  • When it comes to gender, women are more likely than men to trust recommendations from friends and family (79% of women trust the recommendations, while only 66% of men do). The same is true of recommendations from Goodreads, 70% of which women trust, compared to only 57% of men. Men don’t gravitate toward asking for directions when driving, and evidently on book buying. What’s wrong with us?
  • Men are, however, more likely to read newspaper and magazine reviews; 54% of men trust such reviews, as compared to 49% of women. When it comes to print advertising, 26% of men trust it compared to 23% of women.
  • When asked what most influences them to pick up a book if they are not familiar with the author or series, readers said that they are likely to do so if they like the subject (88%), read a good book review (87%), or get a friend’s recommendation (86%). Slightly less influential are reading an excerpt (76%) or an online review (76%). Least influential are the recommendations of a salesperson (38%); the publisher’s reputation (34%); seeing an ad (30%), recommendation by media/personality (26%); and needing a book for school or work (25%).

As Mark Twain once lamented, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” While I applaud Penguin Random House for spending the money on this survey, some of which was eye-opening, I’m not sure what it all means for authors except they will be even more encouraged to do their own marketing than ever.

Here is the one truth that everyone agrees with when it comes to author marketing: email addresses.

If you have them, you’re golden. How many? 5,000 is nice, 10,000 is better. Time to check out MailChimp, time to offer free stuff, time to really focus your brand and what felt need you’re meeting, and time to become an expert in direct mail to your audience.