Stepping Stones to Writing Success

Stepping stones

Along the journey from staring out the window thinking of a marketable idea for a new book to unpacking the box of freshly printed books sent by the publisher, a writer needs to set small goals to serve as stepping stones to writing success. While each person will have a unique approach to setting project milestones, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Conduct market research: Stroll through several local bookstores, flip through the pages of catalogs, and browse the websites of online book retailers to see what books are on the market now in the category of your book proposal. You will need to find about five comparable books to discuss in the Comparable Titles section of your book proposal. However, marketing research is helpful for you as you define what you hope to accomplish and cover within the pages of your potential book. You do not want to duplicate the work of another author. By reading what has been said by other writers about your topic, you can better understand what you have to contribute to the topic. Do not be discouraged from writing a book in a popular category. The existence of many books on the topic indicates a market for that subject.
  2. Set realistic deadlines: As you prepare to publish your book, you will encounter many deadlines. Within your book proposal, you will specify how long it will take you from signing a new contract with your publisher to handing in the first draft of the manuscript to the editor. A time period between five to six months is a good goal for completing a nonfiction manuscript. Make sure that you are confident you can complete the manuscript on time. Once you sign the book contract, break down the goal of writing the book content into smaller deadlines for yourself. Be sure to allow some margin for the interruptions and distractions that arise in the life of all writers. The sooner you finish your first draft, the sooner you can move on to the other tasks necessary for publishing your book. Set ambitious but achievable deadlines.
  3. Connect with key influencers: As I wrote about in an earlier post, “Finding Champions for Your Book,” many people will contribute to the future success of your book. Hopefully, you already have strong relationships with many of these key influencers. Use the time from the beginning stages of book proposal preparation to the completion of the manuscript to strengthen existing relationships with champions for your book and forge new ones. Connecting with people will provide a welcome break from the tedium of writing. You will remember the purpose for your pursuit of your writing goals. You can sharpen your ideas by discussing them with a few trusted advisors. You will prepare yourself for the upcoming transition from writer to marketer of your own book. The sooner you prepare to connect with potential readers, the better for everyone involved in publishing your book.

What do you consider as important stepping stones to writing success?

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10 Tips For Crafting Your Book Proposal

10 proposal tips

Every sentence of your book proposal should have one person in mind: the reader. Whether you’re submitting it to an agent or an editor, that “first reader” will be holding the “ultimate reader” in her heart and mind as she reads. Your job is to meet the reader’s needs—both that first reader and the eventual one—by communicating efficiently and effectively.

1. Don’t get visually fancy.

Elaborate fonts, colors and graphics distract. Use Times New Roman 12 pt font in a Microsoft Word doc or PDF. Rule of thumb? Keep it simple.

2. Employ plain language.

High-fallutin’ intellectual language is only appropriate for academic books. More often, communicate using a conversational voice.

3. Write in the third person.

Compose your proposal in the third person, as if your agent or a professional collaborator has prepared it—allowing you to brag a bit.

4. Be clear and concise.

When a reader sets down your proposal, he or she can easily identify the premise of your book. Make the reader’s job easy; don’t use more words than are necessary to communicate effectively.

5. Avoid extremes.

Claiming every person always feels a certain way distracts reader by challenging her to search for an exception. “Most” and “often” are more effective.

6. Communicate value for the reader.

Throughout your proposal, make explicit the takeaway value for the reader who purchases and reads your book.

7. Title effectively.

Your working title suggests the book’s premise and the subtitle its promise. Avoid titles that are either too generic or too clever—both making the premise difficult to identify.

8. Prove you will market your book.

Don’t just say you’ll help with promotion. Offer concrete plans you will put into effect.

9. Practice Humility

Don’t oversell, insisting Oprah will return to daytime TV just to promote this book. And be cautious, even with faith-based publishers, about claiming that God told you to write it. #redflag

10. Offer an error-free proposal.

If you’re not paying for a professional critique, have a word-loving friend scour your final draft for grammatical or typographical errors.

Cheering you on,
Margot

Marketing Book #3 in a Series – Part Three

Three months into this marketing plan, I’ve been able to avoid a nervous breakdown, work on the edits for The Aleppo Code, and Kregel Publications is about to launch its spring marketing for the fall releases. Now is the time to pick up the pace.

SocialMediaI’m still working the basic plan:

Social Media:

  • Twitter – Daily
  • Facebook Page Posts – Daily
  • Blog Posts – Weekly
  • LinkedIn – Change Profile Monthly

Newsletter – Send out at least one Newsletter each month:

(One of my goals for the newsletter as we get closer to the launch is to use contests or other vehicles to tie the three books together as THE JERUSALEM PROPHECIES series … accelerate the idea of people thinking of them as a series.)

 

March – Contest: Guess two of the main scene locations used in The Aleppo Code. Some of the scenes in the first two books were The Collector’s Club and the Humanities and Social Science Library on Bryant Park, NYC; The Western Wall and Zechariah’s Tomb, Jerusalem; St. Anthony’s Monastery, Egypt; Cairn T, Loughcrew, County Meath, Ireland.

April/May – Tie in with Kregel Back List promotions.

June – Contest: What is The Most Powerful Weapon the world has ever seen?

July/August – Unveil the cover of The Aleppo Code.Aleppo Code Cover

September – Promote the coming E-Book promotion from Kregel.

October – Launch date for The Aleppo Code – create some tie in to ‘Midnight Madness’ … at midnight of launch day, the first 12 people who send me an email get a free autographed copy of The Aleppo Code.

Tasks For Me to Tackle:

  • Keep my website and Facebook Author page active and current.
  • Schedule out-of-town speaking engagements for May through December, particularly in those areas where I show higher readership; (This one is a reach, but it’s worth a try.)
  • Engage services of a marketing consultant to increase my standing and visibility as an ‘expert’ speaker on events in the Middle East.
  • In the summer, begin purchasing advertising on Facebook (Goodreads? Other outlets?) and discuss with Kregel and marketing consultant how to get the most impact and best results from these ads.
  • As the launch date gets closer, recreate some of the Guerilla Marketing that I did in New York City prior to the launch of The Sacred Cipher … plaster subways and Metro North trains with The Aleppo Code postcards … when the books show up, visit every B&N in New York City area, hand out post cards, autograph the in-store books, talk to store staff about placement.
  • In September/October schedule local speaking engagements/book signings including local libraries, churches, etc.
  • Arrange in advance for on-line interviews and any other interaction I can have with bloggers, reviewers, podcast producers, etc.
  • Tasks For Kregel to Tackle:
  • Continue to actively market the new series title – THE JERUSALEM PROPHECIES – in all possible outlets.
  • A place we stumbled during the launch of The Brotherhood Conspiracy is that the reviewers on the blog tour were different than the ones used for The Sacred Cipher. Many of the early reviews started “I wish I had known this was a sequel …” For that reason, setting up an effective blog tour for The Aleppo Code is critical.

(One of the great commitments Kregel has agreed to is to strengthen the blog tour for the Aleppo Code. Under consideration is a blog tour that provides all three books for the reviewers, so they can follow the story arc of the series.)

 

  • Implement a Back-List promotion to drive people to book stores.
    • Create E-Book promotion for both The Sacred Cipher and The Brotherhood Conspiracy prior to the launch of The Aleppo Code.

I’ve learned a few things from creating this marketing plan and then trying to implement it. One, this marketing stuff takes a real commitment – and a lot of time. Two, it’s worth it. And, three, the work doesn’t end once the book is launched. Great … when do I get some sleep?

Have you ever developed a marketing strategy like this? What was the most successful thing you did?

Marketing Book #3 in a Series – Part Two

How to Breathe Life Into A Back-List

MarketingI’ve never been much at the marketing side of this writing business … and I was born in the wrong generation to be adept at social media.

But I knew I had to do something out of my comfort zone. My first book, The Sacred Cipher, is still going strong after five years. Sales for its sequel, The Brotherhood Conspiracy, are disappointing. With the third and last book of the series, The Aleppo Code, due for an October launch, I needed to get to work.

So I proposed a year-long marketing plan to my publisher, Kregel Publications, and asked for their support and participation. This is what I proposed for the first three months:

The Marketing Plan – December thru February:

  • Social Media:
    • Twitter – Daily
    • Facebook Page Posts – Daily
    • Blog Posts – Weekly
    • LinkedIn – Change Profile Monthly
  • Newsletter – Send out at least one Newsletter each month (I currently have over 1,000 active email addresses in my mailing list and cull it after every mailing). A regular newsletter proved to be very valuable in creating buzz for the first book:
    • December – Announce the name of the series – THE JERUSALEM PROPHECIES series; Promote the October launch of the third installment; create a giveaway offer for Conspiracy and promote it in Facebook posts and on website.
    • January – Run a contest – What will be the section titles for The Aleppo Code?
      • Put all contests up on my website and on my Facebook Page – blog post and Tweet about them;
    • February – Additional clues for the section titles contest; Promote Kregel’s month-long Book Giveaway promotion on Goodreads.com.

What Was I Willing to Do?

  • Tasks for me to tackle:
    • Look for ways to expand my marketing reach – Connect with other CBA thriller writers to cross-promote … Follow 10 journalists on Twitter … Follow 10 thriller writers on Facebook – friend them and follow them (all in progress).
    • Begin sending personal messages to my 500-plus Facebook “Friends”.
      • Ask them to “Like” my Facebook Author page and be a follower on Twitter.
      • Write 50 posts per month for 10 months leading up to Aleppo Code launch.
      • Get them all done at least 30 days prior to Aleppo launch, if possible.

Authors on Facebook

(As of January 27, I have written personal Facebook messages to 186 of my 507 Facebook “friends”, asking them to click on the link and “Like” my Facebook Author page. My “Likes” have increased from 134 to 209, up 71 in the last week – 545% from the previous week )

 

What Was I Asking Kregel to Do?

  • Tasks for Kregel to tackle:
    • There is no obvious link connecting the first two books into a series. I asked a lot from Kregel to help create that linkage.
      • Redesign the E-Book covers to add THE JERUSALEM PROPHECIES to the cover … or add a tag line under my name on the cover, “Author of …”
      • Create “Back Ads” in each book promoting the others … or add thumbnails of the book covers to the bottom of the back cover.

(A lot of these requests were not practical. The marketing staff at Kregel explained that it would be too confusing to make changes to the covers of the E-Books on Amazon or Barnes & Noble but not be able to make any changes to the printed books already in circulation. But they did agree to create Back Ads (pages inside the books promoting the other books in the series) in The Aleppo Code and – if it goes to another printing – in The Sacred Cipher. – Terry)

 

  • I also asked Kregel to implement an E-Book promotion in February for both The Sacred Cipher and The Brotherhood Conspiracy. During an E-Book promotion in January of 2014, Cipher hit #2 and Brotherhood hit #6 in all E-Book sales on Amazon for that week. Wow! Let’s do it again.

(The entire E-Book promotion I asked for in February has been moved back to coincide with the launch of The Aleppo Code. The marketing staff at Kregel explained that there is a law of diminishing returns with E-Book promotions. They did one a year ago for both books and believe postponing the E-Book promotion until the fall will benefit all three books.)

February 6th: Accelerating the Pace Down the Stretch.

Marketing Book #3 in a Series – Part One

When I saw the marketing plan that Terry Brennan had put together for book #3 in his series, I knew others had to give it a long look. This plan has some remarkable forethought to it. It’s aggressive, thorough and … I think it’s going to work to help create awareness of his new book, as well as move copies of his previous book. If you’re a traditional or independently published author who has or will have a trilogy, keep this post handy.

–Greg Johnson, President, WordServe Literary

When a Series Didn’t Start That Way

Sacred Cipher CoverI’ve been fortunate and blessed to have two novels published and a third one on the way. The Sacred Cipher, published in 2009, has done well. It appears the book may soon go to a third printing and today, five years later, people are still picking it up – and posting their reviews on Amazon. The sequel, The Brotherhood Conspiracy, was released in 2013. It got a great review in Publisher’s Weekly and better reviews on Amazon than Cipher. But sales have lagged.

One reason is that I was very ill at the time of Brotherhood’s launch (I’m fine now, thanks). Another is that neither I, nor Kregel Publishing, knew this would be a three-novel series. It just started out as one book. So it wasn’t marketed as a series and Brotherhood hasn’t benefited from the “pull” that Sacred Cipher generated.

Since I have a personal stake in the success of these books, and a lot of years invested in them, I want to do everything I possibly can to promote the increased sales of The Sacred Cipher and The Brotherhood Conspiracy, particularly in anticipation of the launch of The Aleppo Code in October – the third and last book of the series.

 

How Do I Connect These Books?

Brotherhood ConspiracyI created for myself an aggressive one-year marketing plan starting in December, 2014. The plan includes a month-by-month listing of what I will do to help accelerate the sales of the first two books, including a commitment to create a consistent social media presence, to produce a monthly newsletter (I have over 1,000 active email addresses in my mailing list) and to personally undertake a series of other marketing initiatives over the next year.

I included in that plan some requests for Kregel to join in this marketing effort. The team at Kregel has been wonderful to work with over the past several years and I deeply appreciate all they have done to support and promote my books. It’s been a great partnership and, because of that relationship, I believed it was acceptable to include some requests for additional support from Kregel.

Essentially, the requests of Kregel fell into two buckets:

  1. What can we do to link the books together as a series to create some momentum and expectation in the short-term for The Aleppo Code launch next fall?
  2. And what additional promotional effort is realistic for Kregel to invest in marketing the first two books over the next twelve months?

There’s No Harm in Asking!

I was thrilled when Kregel responded to this marketing plan, and my requests, with four major initiatives they were willing to undertake:

  1. The Jerusalem Prophecies series title has been added to the ONIX data feed that Kregel provides to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. for the book’s online pages and will be used in all promotions.
  2. Kregel will create an E-Book promotion for both The Sacred Cipher and The Brotherhood Conspiracy just prior to the launch of The Aleppo Code.
  3. Kregel will implement a blog-tour for The Aleppo Code launch – but they are also considering a blog tour that provides all three books for the reviewers, so they can follow the story arc of the series.
  4. Kregel will also run a “back-list” sales special for the first two books during the October launch.

I’m told this is an unusual step for a publisher to take to invest promotional resources into back-list titles. Bless them that they did. Now it’s up to me to implement and fulfill the elements of the marketing plan.

Yikes!

February 4th: What the first three months of the plan look like.

Crafting a Writing Goal

Book Proposal Image

Words aspiring writers want to hear.

“Send me a proposal on your idea.”

When it happened for me, at a writers conference, I first went off to a private place and cried happy tears. Then reality set in.

I hadn’t written a thing. I only had an abstract idea, a desire to write, and a nudge from God. The publisher didn’t offer any guidance on how to format a book proposal; he simply told me to send one.

When I got home, I got to work. The situation called for a marriage between prayer and practical actions. Shortly after I said, “Amen,” inspiration hit.

I wrote my goal on a piece of lined notebook paper. “I Will Read 100 Books on the Craft and Business of Writing.”

I practiced while I studied. It took me almost two years to accomplish the task, but when I finished the one hundredth book, I was able to look back and see the transformation in my work. Only then did I gather enough courage to submit a few queries for articles. And though there were rejections, there was also success.

Article Queries

After focusing on the craft of writing, I invested in the business of writing. If I wanted to author books, I needed help. I networked with other professionals and listened to their advice. I attended more conferences. I hired an editor to critque my work. And I continued reading beyond my first 100 books.

Michael Hyatt

How to Write a Winning Book Proposal

I wanted to create a stellar proposal. After gleaning the best information, I practiced on my first topic numerous times. By the time I ran across Michael Hyatt’s e-books on Writing a Winning Book Proposal for fiction and non-fiction, I was ready to finalize my project.

It took another year before I harvested any fruit from my labors, but harvest I did. WordServe Literary signed me based on that original topic. The hard work of crafting a writing goal and meeting it helped my agent sell my first book, scheduled for release in 2013.

I’ve now lost count of the number of writing books I’ve read. But there are a few I refer back to time and again:

10. On Writing Well — William Zinsser

9. Story — Robert McKee

8. The Art of War for Writers — James Scott Bell

7. Bird by Bird — Anne Lamott

6. Stein on Writing — Sol Stein

5. Writing Down the Bones — Natalie Goldberg

4. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers — Renni Browne & Dave King

3. Finding Your Voice — Les Edgerton

2. Writing for Story — Jon Franklin

1. Screenplay — Syd Field

I’m a lifetime learner. Without the help of many willing to share what they learned through their books, I probably wouldn’t be writing today.

What are your goals, and what are you doing to meet them?

Who is My Reader?

Marketing Your Debut Novel Part III

I’ve been doing a series on marketing your debut novel. You can find Part I and Part II by clicking the links.

Briefly, Part I focused on growing your tribe/social media and Part II was about the comparable books section of your book proposal.

In this installment, I’m going to continue on the pre-contract phase of the writer’s life by focusing on another troublesome aspect of the book proposal–the AUDIENCE SECTION. (Cue your choice of scary music.) This section goes before the overall marketing plan that you will design to help the publisher get the word out about your book.

A publisher wants to see that you know who your potential reader is. Are you savvy enough to figure it out? This audience section will help your publisher know how to market your book and how to best reach the reader you’ve identified.

For instance, a novice book proposal writer would say something like: “Proof will be loved by ALL people ages 18-102.”

Really? Everyone? That’s not very discerning. You may not understand your potential readers very well and this will be troubling for the publisher.

EVERYONE is not going to like your book. That’s just fact. And you will waste time trying to market the book to everyone. Did you know the largest group of Christian fiction buyers is women, mostly between the ages of 30-50? In fact, this morsel of truth may translate to the general fiction market as well which are those books published by the ABA. You can watch this fascinating interview with CJ Lyons and Lee Child as they discuss that women purchase most books.

So, when you’re working on this section of your book proposal, think hard about who will be attracted to buying your book. Are they men or women? College educated? What age are they? What do they watch on TV? How popular are those TV shows?

What follows in quotes is my audience section in the book proposal for Proof. For those of you who are not aware, Proof is a medical thriller/police procedural. Equal parts of both. Some romance but not 50/50 romance like a true romantic suspense novel should be.

“Those likely to buy Proof are career men and women age 25-45 who are fans of medical/police procedural television shows and novels. ER ran for 15 seasons and during its first ten years was consistently a top ten show. House, currently in its seventh season, averages 10 million viewers. The DNA mystery in Proof will attract people who watch CSI, as well. CSI has three television shows in its franchise.

Suspense novels with a heavy medical edge do well in fiction markets. Mainstream writers like Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen, Michael Palmer, and Kathy Reichs consistently hit the New York Times bestseller list. Furthermore, Lethal Harvest by Cutrer and Glahn was a Christy Award finalist. Candace Calvert’s Critical Care was a 2010 Carol Award Finalist. Proof will appeal to these readers.”

What’s been interesting in hindsight is that Library Journal suggested my novel to those who were fans of Robin Cook. Several reviews have specifically mentioned the show CSI as well as Law and Order SVU and Grey’s Anatomy. I carefully marketed the book to those I thought it would appeal to, and ultimately they are indeed the ones who’ve loved the book.

What do you think? Have you tried to write an audience section of a book proposal? How easy or hard was it? What advice helped you write this section?