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.

Build Your Platform and Expand Your Reach… with FaithHappenings.com

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Building a platform is essential for writers today. Publishers are busier than ever, and they have less resources to devote to helping authors spread the word about their books, speaking events, and tours. Even more difficult, agents and publishers are often unwilling to take on new writers who don’t already have an established platform, social media presence, and dedicated followers. So what’s a writer to do?

FaithHappenings.com has the answer.

FaithHappenings.com is an online Christian resource with 454 local websites serving more than 31,000 cities and towns. It offers tailored, faith-enriching content for members. Along with a few dozen other benefits—both locally and nationally—it connects people of faith to information about books, blogs, speaking events, and other resources that interest them most. As a writer or speaker, it will allow you to connect with people specifically interested in your genre, subject, or brand!

Just what can FaithHappenings.com offer you?

On FaithHappenings.com You Can…

  1. List yourself as a speaker both locally and regionally, for free! FaithHappenings allows you to highlight your speaking in the local areas where you have upcoming events, targeting people who live there through requested emails. We also link to your author website, driving people back to your site.
  2. Announce upcoming book signings in your local area for free! Information about book signings and other author events are emailed out to members who have requested to be notified of new book releases and book signings near them. Emails go out weekly, and members will also find your events by going to their local FaithHappenings page and checking out the Events Calendar.
  3. List your books—both traditionally and self-published—in up to five genre categories. These book listings will then be promoted to members across the country who have requested to hear about new books in your genre.
  4. Announce special e-book promotions the day they happen. E-book promos are sent out to our members via email and listed on the site daily! The more people who hear about your e-book deal, the more sales you’re likely to see.
  5. Build your blog traffic by posting your blog on FaithHappenings.com. You can then be listed as a “Featured Blogger” on our Home Page.
  6. Post a Top-10 List from your book! If you can create it, FH Daily—our page of daily inspiration, humor, encouragement, and current events—will post the content and link to your book (and it stays on our site forever). Content is king when it comes to generating buzz for your book, and posts on FH Daily are easily shareable via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more.
  7. Be a highlighted “Author Interview.” FH Daily runs author interviews several times a week. Readers can learn more about you, and links will connect them to your website and your book’s buy page. Just email fhdaily@faithhappenings.com to see if you qualify.
  8. Create more awareness for your book with advertising! An ad on the global site or on FH Daily is affordable for any author.
  9. As a free member yourself, you can receive e-mail announcements for any book in more than 70 genres.

What are you waiting for? Get started today by signing up in your local area to become a member at www.faithhappenings.com.

For more information about the benefits of FaithHappenings.com for writers and speakers, click here.

 

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.

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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