Three Things I Wish I Would Have Known When I Started Writing

I still remember sitting in that very first session at my first writer’s conference. Nervous. Insecure. Excited. Then the instructor shared that dreaded statistic. It wasn’t good news.

“About one percent of writers succeed in getting published. Because most give up and drop out of the race.”

I felt liking running out of the room into the brisk autumn air. But instead of following my instincts, I stayed — and made a vow to become one of the one percent. I tell that story here.

Extra ExtraSeven years later, I can report good news. I have two published books, First Hired, Last Fired: How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market by Leafwood Publishing, and Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over by Barbour Publishing. A third, (one I was hired to write for someone else), will release in the spring of 2016, a new proposal is on the market, and I’ve contributed in two others. No one is more surprised than me.

Sometimes I still shake my head and give myself a pinch. Am I really a professional author and speaker now? Those dreams I journaled, those goals I put in black and white — are they truly my reality? Why, yes, they are.

It’s hard to believe only a few short years ago I seriously began to pursue my most secret desire. When I started this journey, I didn’t believe in my abilities. If I had, I wouldn’t have waited so long to get serious.

  1. What you have to contribute is just as valuable as what anyone else has to offer. Trust God’s call to write more than you trust your fears and comparisons. Dare to believe.
  2. Do something in regard to writing every day, (except your Sabbath). Research, blog, write articles, outline new proposals, brainstorm titles, interview someone, whatever it is, make sure that six days a week you are making forward motion in your writing career. But don’t discount any of it. Sometimes you will feel as if you didn’t accomplish anything because you didn’t type words into your computer, but if you conducted a new interview, or outlined a proposal, you were productive in your writing. So quit beating yourself up!
  3. Analyze all of the things you learned in past career fields, much of it will transfer to your writing career. I’m amazed at how my background in banking, accounting, marketing, and even manufacturing have given me insights and understanding about the business of professional writing. Nothing is wasted — including the time you spent doing those things. Don’t begrudge your past, express gratitude for its benefits.

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverEach day that passes I become more comfortable in my own writing skin. I realize what I am compelled to put on a page can really help others. For instance, we’re now in the most depressing three months of the year, November through January. Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over will make an ideal gift for those who don’t know what to get someone suffering from anxiety, grief, PTSD, or depression. I can now make that statement with confidence, whereas three years ago, I wouldn’t have dared.

I guess what it all drills down to is something we hear many times as authors. It takes perseverance, tenacity, and determination to make it. If I could go back to the beginning of my career, I would encourage my newbie self to keep on keeping on every day. And there’s one particular thing I would add. I’d lean in close, cup my hand over her ear, and then I would whisper, “Never give up, buttercup. In the end, you’re going to make it. You become one of the one.”

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How to Write a Nonfiction Book that Sells — Pt. 2

Good NewsIn Part One, I talked about the importance of subject, title, and content for writing nonfiction books that sell. All of these are key elements. Missing just one could mean the difference between a publisher’s bite on your bait, or their swimming away.

Equally, if you neglect the power of your marketing strategy, including future books you can write, a publisher might say no instead of yes. Short-cutting is not worth the risk of losing a book deal.

So let’s talk specifics.

  • Intriguing marketing strategies are an integral piece of your non-fiction book proposal. Every author’s heard it, “You must help promote your own book.” But most, even those of us with sales and marketing backgrounds from other industries, can feel overwhelmed at how to effectively boost book sales on paper or in application. So what’s an author to do?

Think outside the industry. How do movies and TV programs promote their wares? What are the big producers doing to move sales? Think Coke, Wal-Mart, Apple, Under Armor, Cabelas, or others you see frequenting the air and radio waves, or filling store shelves. Learn from the big boys while creatively using your small budget.

For instance:

  • Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverBuild human curiosity into the heart of your sales tactics and specify samples in your book proposal. i.e. Six Secrets to…, How to…, What ______ Want, Three Things Most People Forget that Could Cost You Sales. See the pattern?
  • List all of your speaking events, including those you volunteer for, or that may feel more like family than a professional gig. Any exposure to a potential buying public counts — and those with built-in fans increase the odds of book sales.
  • Look at conferences, organizations, businesses, that don’t immediately seem like a fit for your message. Is there a way to connect your book to their needs? For Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, I’m promoting the impact personal issues have on the workplace and vice-versa. I’ve booked new speaking opportunities as a result.
  • Include something unique. *Talk about the psychology of color and how you can use it in your marketing materials. Note your intent to attract those looking for peace through shades of green, your strategy to pursue passionate responses with strokes of red, or your ability to stir deeper thinking by adding blue.

*After you’ve made the sale, don’t forget to work with your publisher on appropriate colors when considering cover art for your book.

  • Future books you’d like to write are like adding scent to the lure for a publisher ready to bite. After writing your proposal on a subject matter readers are interested in, brainstorming a dynamite title, writing clear content, and adding unique marketing flavors, offer a list of intriguing future titles, true to your brand. This shows the publisher you are more than a one-hit-wonder. You are an author readers will follow for a long time to come.

In conclusion, I must stress the need for a teachable attitude and patient demeanor. Two common challenges we must overcome if we want to succeed. There is no place for arrogance or impatience in any professional venue. Be a turtle, not a hare, and in time, you will write a nonfiction book that sells.

Have you sold books and if so, can you offer insights I missed?

How to Write a Nonfiction Book that Sells — Part 1

Nonfiction Readers Want in a BookYou can have the greatest book idea in the world, but if it won’t sell, what’s the point in writing it? Unless you simply want to leave a legacy for your family and friends with no concern for sharing the message with anyone else.

As a Christian author, I’m driven to offer lasting hope to those who might read my words. So it’s important I wisely choose the subjects, the titles, the content, the marketing plan, and the future books listed in my proposals. There’s a lot I still don’t know about this process, why some titles are purchased while others languish, but I’ve certainly picked up a few secrets. Some of them, I wish I’d known earlier. Maybe what I’ve learned will help someone else in the place I was a short time in the past.

  • The first and most important thing is choose your subject(s) wisely. But with so many books in existence, and a plethora of authors scrambling for attention, how do you find a fresh subject to write about? Here’s one of my secrets. I listen to others, but I also listen to myself. Both of my initial book titles came about that way. With First Hired, Last Fired, someone said to me, “Anyone can be replaced.” I automatically replied, “Is that really true?” Voila, the subtitle, How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market was born as Greg’s variation from my first take on the idea of being irreplaceable at work. My second title happened when I heard myself say to someone, “You know, there are things in life we learn to get through, but no matter what anyone says, we just won’t get over.” A little tweaking and tightening later, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over became a book that a lot of people say they or someone else needs to read.Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book Cover

Listen to your own conversations. What scares us? What are we complaining about? What confuses us? What aha moments do we encounter and why? What works and what doesn’t? How have we discovered hope and healing? For Christian authors, what does the Bible say that’s relevant to 21st century issues, in the here and now?

  • The second most important thing is titling. I’d say the process you use to choose a topic works as well for picking a title. What grabs you? Can you turn a cliché upside down? Is there a pithy quote you can tweak to make your own and spread the message in your topic? What do you hear yourself and others say?

For subtitling, follow the advice of Alice Crider, my former coach and agent with WordServe, “Make a promise you can keep to the readers in every subtitle.” Anytime someone offers us a solution to a big problem, we’re interested. Right?

  • For this segment, I’d conclude with the power of valuable content. Slapping a few words together will not provide opportunities to grow your career as a professional author. Do your homework by reading books on writing well. Hone your craft constantly. Connect with other professionals and barter for editing/critiquing services; look for that rare mix of honesty and encouragement. Karen Barnes Jordan deserves credit for every book of mine that’s sold. You can have the best concept in the world, but if you can’t communicate it clearly, it’s lost on potential readers and they will tune you out.

In part two, I’ll share insights about marketing and future books. No proposal worth its words will sell without showing you have great message promotions in the hopper. There’s a basic formula to writing a non-fiction book that sells, the key is in following it all the way through.

What obstacles are you hitting in your efforts to sell your projects?

After You Sign the Contract

You did it! You succeeded in acquiring an agent, your book sold, and you just signed your contract. Ahhh. Life is amazing.

But…

There’s more work to do. Maybe the hardest work of all. This is where an author truly needs encouragement, practical ideas, and inner strength. But it all starts with thoughts.

Magic of Thinking Big Book

Little Thoughts Keep Your Writing Small

“Success is determined not so much by the size of one’s brain as it is by the size of one’s thinking.” The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz

Allowing any task to become daunting can deter us from doing all we are capable of. Especially when there’s a lot at stake — like the completion of a life’s dream. I know, I almost let it happen to me.

I was approximately 85% finished with my final manuscript and three weeks from deadline. Then I froze. There’s no reasonable explanation I can offer as to why. My outline was solid, and until that morning, my words flowed smoothly.

At first, I attributed it to exhaustion. After all, I was still working over sixty hours a week as the general manager of a large river resort, and it was early September. But after taking a couple of extra days off, catching up on rest, and trying again, still no go.

I panicked. A swell of fear felt like it was swamping over me. In a choked voice, I told my husband, “I guess I’ll send the advance money back.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t finish.” I felt my chin quiver. “I don’t know why I ever thought I could write a book. It isn’t good enough to send in, and I can’t get any new words on the page.”

“I thought you wanted this.”

I ran out of the room. My husband meant well, and he was right. It was what I wanted, but in that moment, I didn’t know how to get it done.

First Hired Last Fired

Available in Major Bookstores and Online

The next morning, I awoke feeling no less anguished, but one thing had changed. My determination not to give up. My husband’s final words on the subject resonated in my heart. I did want this. So I got on my knees and thanked God for helping me finish what He had started. Then I took advice from my own book, First Hired, Last Fired — How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market, and resolved to get the job done, regardless of how I felt.

I won’t lie and tell you things suddenly got easy. Those final pages were excruciating, and to this day, I can pick them out of my book by the weakness I see in the sentences forced into existence. But I did it. Exactly on my deadline date, I submitted the full manuscript according to contract. And I learned something.

Michael HyattI’m not the first author to experience soul-crushing panic deep into the book writing journey. Many have relayed similar experiences, including best-seller Michael Hyatt.

But I also learned how to push past my fears, and whether the world likes it or not, to put the message out there. It was hard, but the satisfaction is sweeter than my earlier efforts and emotions.

I’m not sure where you are on the path to publication. But if you’re new to the process, be prepared for some emotional bumps after you sign the contract. And remember — sometimes we need to do what we love, versus what feels safe.

Have you ever panicked in the middle of a big accomplishment? It’s never too late to start again.

Anita Fresh Faith

Growing a Writing Garden

We writers are pioneers — with the opportunity to become heroes. 

“Do what?” you say.

Here’s how I connect the dots, or the rows, in this case.

Country Vegetable Garden

Preparing the Soil is Critical to a Bountiful Harvest

I now realize how much writing is like gardening. I grew up in the country, with parents who toiled under hot sun and long days. There were eight of us in the family, so we gardened to survive.

I can still see my mother making mud when she swiped her saturated forehead with a soil encrusted hand. “Break the ground up until all the chunks are gone, and the dirt feathers through your fingers.” Then she’d demonstrate, watching streams of brown flow into the wind.

After softening the soil, we fertilized with a mix designed to enhance growing power, making sure we didn’t scorch the tender seeds we hid beneath a blanket of dust.

Every seed looked different. We placed pods, beans, tiny black dots, and flaky wisps into the ground, then covered them according to the depth of their needs, before watering. The scent of earthy musk was strong, as wet and dry mingled.

But still, the work wasn’t done between planting and harvest. It took several days before the first fledgling shoots peeked into daylight. We hunkered over the dirt, waiting to glimpse the sprouts. The first took the longest, but when it popped, the landscape was soon covered in bright green, fragile plants, all groping higher for the sun.

Kentucky Tobacco

Are You Nearing Harvest Time?

Once we saw progress, even harder work began. Hoeing, weeding, continual watering, fighting the heat of radiating summer days. Sleep. Repeat. Sleep. Repeat. While the plants slowly grew taller and thicker.

For weeks, we followed this pattern. The newness had long since worn off. We were hot. Tired. Bored. And ready for the monotony and harsh elements to end.

Until finally. Harvest time. Though it was still too early for the soothing calm of autumn winds, gleaning fruits and vegetables energized our dry spirits. We plucked juicy tomatoes, and ate them like candy. Fresh cucumbers refreshed our hot lips. We shucked silk from raw corn and popped it in our mouths. Life was good, and we wallowed in its glory. Until canning and freezing time.

Green Cornfield

What Does Your Writing Garden Look Like?

I won’t go into plucking, shucking, de-stringing, pressure-cookers, mason jars, freezer bags, or the other finger-numbing parts of putting food away for the winter. I think you get the picture. We couldn’t rush the process.

And writing connects with this scenario. So do pioneers and heroes.

Think about it. When you write, don’t you have to prepare the soil? Deal with fertilizer, but then realize it adds fodder to your crops? Don’t we seed devotions, articles, webzines, copy-writing, books, and speaking platforms?

We water, hoe, weed, and care for our tender publishing shoots.

Then we finally harvest. And we wallow in the glory of it — until we realize how much more work must be done.

Pioneer Wagon

You Are a Pioneer Who Could Be a Hero

This is where I think of pioneers. Many of us dare new territories with our messages. We explore and discover. And like the pioneers who founded America, we stake claims, work hard, protect, and we pray. Sometimes all manner of crisis, like harsh winters, droughts, prairie fires, tornadoes, and hail, threaten to destroy what we’ve built.

But like the sturdy pioneer, we must determine not to give up. This is where heroes are born. Those hardy souls who will not be moved from the place they are called. Who refuse to buckle under the bellows of the wind.

Those who know growing a writing garden is not something everyone can do. But who believe in their message, the impact, the harvest — and don’t give up. Because the honor of feeding a multitude makes dealing with every clump of dirt worthwhile. And so they hoe.

How does your writing garden grow?

Preparing for a Radio or Podcast Interview, Pt. 1

I’m not sure where you are on your writing journey, but if it hasn’t happened yet, hopefully it will one day soon. Your invitation to guest on a radio program.

First Hired by Anita BrooksWith the release of my book, First Hired, Last Fired — How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job MarketI’ve done several interviews now, while working to line up numerous others. (If you want to listen in, I’ve got links to those who provided them.)

Imagine my surprise when the podcast host for Engaging Life and Leadership called. Podcasts are Internet radio shows, so they enable you to reach global listeners versus a regional audience. Think of it like this: Podcasts are the big-city landscape of audio, while most traditional radio programs have a home-town community feel. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each reaches different wants and needs.

Engaging Life and LeadershipSince my guest spot on Engaging Life and Leadership went over so well, I was asked to return — again and again. It didn’t take long until the unexpected happened.

“Will you join the show as a permanent co-host?” Darren Dake asked.

We’ve now recorded over twenty episodes as a male/female team, discussing relevant answers for Christian men AND women in 21st century leadership. At last count, we are reaching 17 countries.

But why did I just tell you all of this? For a few reasons actually.

  1. As authors, there’s constant pressure to build your platform. From the beginning, I’ve trusted God to design mine, and partnered with Him in the building. He continues to do more than I could possibly have imagined.
  2. My heart beats to help others, especially my writing brothers and sisters. Consider this an open invitation to be our guest on the show. Regardless of your book’s genre, there’s a place for you. All authors and speakers run their own businesses. You are thought-leaders. We can help you find a topic relevant to our program that will enable us to promote your project. Email me if you’re interested. anita@anitabrooks.com.
  3. The nail-biting prospect of guesting can terrify the most confident of men or women. So I want to share what has helped me survive small, nationally syndicated, and global radio programs.

Here’s my pre-show routine:

Radio Interview Mic

Have You Interviewed Yet? Prepare Yourself.

  • In Michael Hyatt‘s awemazing Get Published! program, he advises the creation of a briefing book as a guide during your interview. I created a PDF synopsis of my book, including the questions sent to the host in the media release. If you’d like a copy of mine as a sample, feel free to email me at anita@anitabrooks.com. (Half of the hosts never asked the arranged questions, but my briefing book kept me on track when they strayed.)
  • Double-check dates and times, (accurate time zones especially) to ensure I don’t experience a faux pas, and either scramble last minute or extend my nerves and frustration from a longer wait. My worst fear? Missing the opportunity altogether.
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before. I’ve discovered half a Melatonin is a great way to enhance my natural sleep rhythm, providing deeper rest.
  • Walk or exercise prior to my interview, making sure I finish an hour before show time.
  • I take a shower about forty-five minutes before to freshen up.
  • Share my prayer need on social media. Friends and family appreciate the chance to support me in advance. (Plus it reminds some who want to listen in.)
  • About fifteen minutes before, I get prostrate in prayer. Literally. I lay on my living room floor, as flat as possible, and humble myself before God. I ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words and still my tongue when appropriate. He hasn’t failed me yet.

There’s more I’d like to share, but I’ve run out of room. Next month, I’ll list the things I do during the interview to help me spread the message in a more effective way. Some are plain old common sense, but a couple will surprise you. See you then.

Have you interviewed? If so, what do you do to prepare?

Risky Moves, But Not Like Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears

Miley CyrusSome risks are worth taking, some are not so smart. Authors aren’t typically in the same celebrity category as Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears. But just as these young artists turned off many product purchasing fans with crazy antics, so can an author’s choices affect book sales. Taking a risk is one thing, taking an in-your-face attitude is not wise.

But unless you fall off the cliff of common sense, some risks can bring happy results.

First Hired Last Fired BookAuthors take risks when they try a new style. I did this with my nonfiction book, First Hired, Last Fired — How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market. I patterned short stories in each chapter, using strong fictional elements to demonstrate my hypothesis. It wasn’t something I’d seen done in exactly that way before, but I decided to take the risk. So far, it’s working well.

Into the Free

Many WordServe authors have taken their own style risks suited to particular genres. Reading their books infused me with courage when I battled fear.

It’s a risk when authors write about difficult subjects. Our own Julie Perkins Cantrell did this in her amazing novel, Into the FreeWhy is it an award-winning best seller? Because it hits the heart with readers. Even if they don’t relate to the circumstances in the story line, they can relate to the gut-wrenching feelings Millie experiences. I expect much of the same in the sequel, When Mountains Move

Authors risk when they get out of bed at 4:00 a.m., versus sleeping until 7:00. Who wouldn’t prefer a few extra Zz’s, but trusting the rewards will outweigh the sacrifice keeps dreams alive.

Investing time and energy in the elements that make up your writing business is a risk. After all, you can’t recycle either one. But every web page, blog post, article, social media blast, and book proposal are like laying pieces down in a jigsaw puzzle. Not until you’ve placed a string together, does the picture of your writing career finally start to look appealing. The key is not to give up before the last piece is in place.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some risky moves that don’t typically work for authors. 

  • Avoiding education and research, in hopes you’ll get lucky, and success will come with little effort on your part.
  • Assuming you know how your writing comes across without getting feedback from unbiased sources.
  • Joining negative media frenzies on social media when they involve putting others down for political views, personal choices, or religious beliefs.
  • Reacting to professional guidance with an unteachable spirit.
  • Giving up on writing, and spending the rest of your life wondering, what if . . .

There are many risky writing moves, but envisioning worst case and best case scenarios can help you decide which ones are worth taking. Most are reasonable, and even if you don’t get the outcome you hope for, be willing to brush yourself off and dream again.

After all, if you risk and fail, are you any worse off than you are now?