ACFW 2014 Wrap-Up

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation.Fall brings not only great weather (autumn is my favorite season!) but also several big-name writers conferences. The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) gather every September to celebrate great inspirational fiction (in the culmination of the Carol Awards) but also to inspire and teach the craft of fiction writing.

Here are a few of the things I took away . . .

1. Indie is IN! It used to be the scourge of writing to even breathe that you might publish your own book either through a vanity press (paying a company to process your book) or indie publishing (or self-publishing) where you become your own publisher and own all aspects of book production while fronting the costs yourself. This can take several forms. Established authors indie publishing their backlist once rights revert back to them. Traditional authors using indie publishing to supplement their income. I even heard one indie author say her traditional publishing contracts offer her a “bonus” but she mostly depends on her indie books to meet living expenses. Then there are those going solely indie because they enjoy the process, the control, and/or may be using it to catch the eye of a traditional publisher if they can hit a certain number of sales. The only cautionary note was, if you have a traditional contract, to ensure that your publisher is okay with the content of the indie book and that release dates don’t compete.

2. Effective marketing campaigns may not be realized until later. Last year, my third novel Peril was a newborn. To ACFW, I brought full-size Hershey bars with a sticker attached to each one that had photos of all my books together and a link to my newsletter. I definitely got some additional newsletter subscribers but this year, several people commented to me about those chocolate bars. I think a good marketing campaign is something memorable that lasts long after the item is gone. Trust me, bookmarks get lost in a sea of other bookmarks and postcards. Take the time and maybe spend a little extra money for something unique. Honestly, this year, there weren’t a lot of interesting giveaways.

3. Networking is important. Even if you’re not pitching, you need a network of other writing peeps to help keep you sane. They understand that it’s normal to talk out loud while arguing with a character. They’ll help you in the writing valleys and celebrate those writing highs. Always go into a conversation open to the possibilities of new friendships. Sit with people you’ve never met before. Introduce yourself to those of the other gender (men might feel a little lost in a sea of mostly women they don’t know!). Make face-to-face contact with an editor who rejected you and say a sincere thanks for any feedback they offered.

4. Professionalism is key. Everything you put out there speaks about you as a writing professional. It’s probably not too far-fetched to say that you’re in one long job interview. The way you dress. The way you treat others waiting for appointments. Are you on time for your appointment? If you yell at an appointment coordinator over some perceived slight, it’s not going to come back to you in a positive way. When you submit your work for a paid critique, format it correctly with no typos. Always be helpful to someone else first; this reaps large rewards in the end.

What have you learned recently from a writers conference?

10 Strategies to Keep You Afloat in the Treacherous Social Media Waters

Image of a ship at seaWhat’s a writer to do? Publishers expect you to connect with readers online, but new networks spring up before you can learn what to do with the old ones. New invitations arrive daily in the various inboxes you don’t have time to check. You’re tweeted, emailed, and updated out, and never mind all the invitations you have no time to decline. It’s a slow-drip torture.

If the treacherous waters of social networking are swamping your ship, you’re not alone. A wise writer fights back with a strategy. Here are ten strategies to help you:

  1. Pick your battles. Decide where to focus your energy online. Although Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have a greater share of traffic, your results may vary, depending on the audience you want to reach, your brand, and your particular style of networking. Pay attention to where your visitors come from, and you’ll be able to make an informed decision about where to focus your efforts.
  2. Set aside specific times or a time limit for social networking. Decide where and when and how you’ll interact online and stick to your guns. Failing to approach the Internet with this mindset makes it far too easy to lose track of time. If you have trouble adhering to a set time, use an egg timer or other alarm to warn you when your time is up.
  3. Manage your social networks from one dashboard. I use and recommend http://hootsuite.com for posting to and tracking my social sites. With Hootsuite, I can post the same update to more than one site simultaneously and pre-schedule or auto-schedule updates. Another popular option is Tweetdeck.
  4. Use browser extensions to shortcut social tasks. I favor Google Chrome because of the extensions I can add to my browser. I use Silver Bird to post to Twitter, check my tweet stream, follow search terms and hashtags, and for alerts when I’m mentioned on Twitter–all from my browser. I use Hootsuite’s Hootlet, Bitly (a link shortener that tracks stats), Google+ FacebookLinkedIn, and Stumbleupon extensions as well. Pinterest’s Pin It button is a big time-saver. All of these tools operate from small icons embedded at the top of my browser. This cuts down my visits to the social sites themselves, saving a tremendous amount of time.
  5. Understand your brand and how it applies to your social networking efforts. If you don’t know who you are and what you have to offer, you won’t know what to build and can spend a lot of time investing in the wrong thing. Watch for my next post, which will be all about finding your brand. (If you want to make sure you don’t miss it, sign up in the sidebar to receive the blog’s email updates.)
  6. Know your audience. Understanding who you’re writing for and what they care about is an essential step in developing an effective social media strategy. Make the effort to discover and develop your target audience. If you’re not sure how to do that, this post for novelists can help nonfiction writers as well: How to Find an Audience for Your Novel.
  7. Develop tunnel-vision and wear blinders. When you log into a social site, distractions abound. Keep your focus. It can help to follow a simple list. Here’s an example for Facebook: respond to comments and post to my wall, post to three friends’ walls, upload a picture, check emails, accept or decline new friends, respond to event invitations, and log off (30 minutes).
  8. Adhere to a social media schedule. I’ve programmed Google Calendar to send me email reminders to pay more attention to one social site over others on a specific schedule. During these visits, which occur weekly, I do maintenance tasks like revamp my bio, check that my links are current, swap out my profile picture, upload videos, make sure my site adheres to my brand, and the like.
  9. Count the opportunity costs. Time spent on social sites is time not spent doing other things. It’s easy to get caught up by online friendships to the detriment of real-life relationships. Reminding yourself of your priorities helps you switch activities or power down the computer.
  10. Track yourself online. Install Rescue Time to track you online and send you productivity reports. If you lack discipline, this software can help you find it again. There are even options you can set to restrict your Internet access at certain times.

I rarely spend more than half an hour a day on social networking, and often considerably less, but for the most part I cover the bases. I hope you can glean from the strategies that have kept me sailing away on SS Social Media.

Taming the Marketing Monster

When my daughters were little, they were convinced that a scary monster was waiting in the bedroom closet at night. Our solution was an easy one: I gave them a small hammer to put under their pillow, so when the monster came out, they could conk it on the head. Oddly enough, the monster never showed up, and my daughters slept soundly through the nights.

Empowerment is a wonderful thing.

Now that I’ve become a published novelist, I’ve discovered that most authors have a similar problem: there’s a scary monster in our closets named Marketing, and it will come out of hiding even if you keep a hammer under your pillow. Not only that, but if you ignore it, Marketing will sneak out when you’re not looking to destroy all your hard work to become published.

On the other hand, if you learn to tame it, Marketing will become your faithful friend, bringing you exposure, opportunities, and book sales.  So instead of the hammer, here are a few empowering ideas to stick under your pillow tonight to help you begin the taming of your marketing monster.

  1. It’s YOUR monster. No one else is going to take responsibility for it, so you need to learn as much as possible about the feeding and care of it. Read blogs and books about book marketing. Create a list of media contacts in your area that includes radio stations, televisions, newspapers, magazines and even bulletin boards (find out who gives approval to use them!).  Add the names of librarians, book store managers, and book club contacts. Make a roster of blogs that relate to your topic/novel where you can visit and leave comments. By creating your own database of ideas and contacts, the question of “what do I do?” becomes “where do I start?”
  2. Feed your monster every day. Choose one marketing activity. Do it. Today. Write an announcement/press release of your book’s publication and email it to your contact list. Visit five blogs and mention your book. Donate a copy to the library. Get a Facebook page. Don’t worry about results at this point; just get the word out that you’ve got a book published. Tomorrow, choose another marketing task and do it. The next day, do the same thing. Feeding your monster a steady diet of small marketing activities will keep it content and much less scary. Over time, all those tidbits of publicity you’ve done will add up and begin to yield the bigger results you want: a growing readership.
  3. Take your monster out to play on a regular basis. Meet other authors and network with them on marketing ideas and contacts. Plan joint events. Share experiences. Commiserate over the failures. Celebrate the triumphs. Laugh. Create your own marketing support group.

Most of all, don’t let Marketing scare you. All it really wants is your attention…and to get out of that closet. You just have to open the door.

What scares you the most about Marketing? Has your monster brought you unexpected gifts?

Linking Arms

Talk about lousy timing! After accepting the position of president for my local writer’s group, HIS Writers, I was shocked when the Lord asked me to stop pursuing book publication. “Why are you asking me to work for writers if you won’t let me write?” I whined.

His answer was tender, “This is for you–a gift.”

And so it was. As chaos swirled in my life friends in HIS Writers linked arms with me and kept me sane. Though multiple family crises didn’t allow much writing time, staying involved kept me learning, growing, and networking as a writer. As the difficult season drew to a close, HIS Writers cheered as I received my first book contract.

There are many practical reasons to get involved in a writing group. Below are some reasons to connect–and also things to look for as you choose where to belong.

Networking

HIS Writers in 2010

There’s great value in finding support among your peers, but there’s also the business aspect of networking. Because of networking in HIS Writers, I received my first free-lance editing job. I’ve also been in the position to sub-contract part of my free-lance writing, and I looked to the people in my group when it came time to hire. It was a joy to offer a first publishing opportunity to some gifted writers. My first fiction book contract came about through a friend in the group. Never underestimate the power of peer relationships.

In many vibrant writing groups, you don’t only network with peers. Through HIS Writers I’ve met people from across the publishing world–authors, editors, even a publisher! Two agents from WordServe Literary spoke to our group. I also networked with the store manager where we meet. He’s promised me a prime spot during the next holiday season for a book signing!

Education

Good writing groups offer you a chance to develop professionally. Advanced writers and speakers teach craft. Critique groups help members develop. Strong groups also educate  about the business of writing.

HIS Writers board with the speaker of our first Novel Crafters Seminar of the Rockies. Left to right: Donna Schlachter, Susan May Warren, Paula Moldenhauer, Linda Abels, and Jill Hups

Cheerleaders

We’ve all watched eyes glaze over when non-writer family and friends are no longer tracking with us. As excited as our loved ones get as they watch us succeed, they often don’t understand the journey. We need cheerleaders who’ve felt the sting of rejection and know how to get up and try again. We need wise counsel from people who’ve been there.

A Chance to Give Back

As Christian writers we’re on the same team, working toward eternal impact. There are many ways to serve in a writing group. While getting involved with a local leadership team is rewarding, giving back can be as simple as cheering on the person seated next to you.

I recently accepted the position of Colorado Coordinator for the American Christian Fiction Writers. My passion is to see others benefit as I have from strong local chapters. How about you? Have writing groups helped you? How have you given back? What do you wish your local group had to offer?

Tips for Landing an Agent

Why hello, there. Welcome to the official launch of our blog, The WordServe Water Cooler. A place where WordServe clients gather to build community and help writers move forward in their careers.

Let’s get this party started, shall we?

For our first post, we wanted to offer some tangible tips for anyone searching for an agent. Here’s what helped us. We hope it helps you!

Seek professional feedback on your work before submitting.

Rosslyn Elliott – After I finished my first novel, I had a funny feeling there might be a technical flaw in the novel’s opening. Instead of wondering, I hired a pro editor to look over my first three chapters. Sure enough, the queasy feeling was justified. I fixed the problem, and Rachelle signed me that summer.

Jordyn Redwood – I met Greg during an agent appointment at ACFW in 2009. I had a polished one sheet and the first three chapters of my novel. Next step, he wanted a book proposal. I asked for examples from other authors and paid to have it freelance edited. Keeping my word and presenting professional work tipped the scales in my favor. Greg might say it was my use of dialogue but everything you do counts.

A pass on one project doesn’t mean you can’t try again with others.

Olivia Newport – Years ago I was invited to join a brand new book group. When the dust settled, a group of freelance writers and editors were the core. A couple years later, one of them invited Rachelle to join. We got to know each other long before she became an agent. Three other agents took a pass on what I was pitching. So did Rachelle! But we had a good basis for deciding we wanted to work together and just needed the right project.

The road to representation and publication isn’t usually a fast one.

Anne Lang Bundy – 25 years of composing documents, lessons, and essays developed my writing gift. A passion for all things Bible turned my pen to biblical fiction. After several months of connecting with Rachelle via “Rants and Ramblings” comments, I crafted individual queries for just two agents and obtained representation from WordServe. Three years’ study of fiction craft, five conferences, Rachelle’s encouragement, and the Lord’s grace now bring me to publication’s threshold.

Persevere through rejections.

Deborah Vogts – After a year of representation, my first agent dropped me as a client. Months later, I found the courage to submit my proposal to three more agents. Two doors closed, and Rachelle was Door #3. She liked my work and signed me as a client. Two months after that, we had an offer from Zondervan on my Seasons of the Tallgrass series. I like to think perseverance paid off, but it was also God’s timing.

If you mess up, all is not lost. But even so, learning how to query is good.

Lucille Zimmerman – I wanted to send my book idea to an agent but I didn’t know where to start. I Googled a writer’s conference and found a list of agents to contact. Greg Johnson wrote back and said he passed my email on to Rachelle. I did everything the wrong way, but she still wrote back and told me how to do a real query. Months later we met in person and she agreed to represent me.

Erin MacPherson – If there were an award for the worst query letter ever, I’d win it. When I decided to query, I had no clue what I was doing and no knowledge of the publishing world and it showed. Even worse, when Rachelle wrote me back and asked for a proposal, my response was “What’s a proposal?” Yikes. The good news? God is bigger than my stupidity. After some (okay, a lot of) coaching, Rachelle was nice enough to overlook my terrible first impression and sign me as a client anyway.

When it comes to representation, the right fit is of utmost importance.

Sandie Bricker – All the lunch tables in all the world, and she had to sit down at mine! I’ve had some awesome agents in the past, but I never seemed to find that right fit. Sitting down with Rachelle over lunch at the ACFW conference in Denver cemented the idea that it’s so important to have that “right fit” with your agent. Before they poured the coffee, I knew she and I were on the same page.

Erica Vetsch – At a workshop I attended, Rachelle presented her take on agent-author relationships and described exactly what I was looking for. At that time, I wrote only category romance, something Rachelle didn’t represent, but only a few weeks after that workshop she opened her client list to category romance authors looking to grow their careers. I contacted her, we agreed to work together, and since then we’ve sold several projects.

Marla Taviano – I already had four books traditionally published, then hit a wall. I reached out to Rachelle, and bless her wonderful heart, she threw me a lifeline. I can’t wait to be worth her while! Soon!

Attend a conference when you’re ready and when you’re stuck.

Maureen Lang – Conferences are helpful to writers at all levels, but if finances are an issue it’s wise to attend after you have a fully developed project. I met Greg at an ACFW conference, where we talked about my writing aspirations, our faith, and which publishers would be a good fit for me. It was quickly obvious he knew so much about the industry and that I could trust him.

Katie Ganshert – After devouring every craft book known to man, I reached a point where I couldn’t go any further on my own. I needed an agent. The query system wasn’t working for me, so I saved the money and went to the ACFW conference in 2009 where I pitched to Rachelle, garnered her interest, promptly submitted my manuscript, and received The Call two months later.

Amy K. Sorrells – Oozing with self-confidence after receiving 30+ rejection letters, I hopped on a plane and traveled the farthest I’d ever gone from home on my own, to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in 2009. After learning volumes from my “Leave it to Chance” roomate and WordServe client, Sherri Sand, as well as spending a week under the tutelage of Mary DeMuth, it’s no accident I came home, revised my manuscript (again), submitted three more proposals, and received “The Call” from Rachelle in January, 2010.

Enter contests. Finals are a great way to get an agent’s attention.

Keli Gwyn – Rachelle served as a final-round judge in a Romance Writers of America® chapter-level contest and requested my full. After completing my self-edit two weeks later, I sent the manuscript. The following day she emailed saying she wanted to “discuss the possibility of representation.” Four days later I was her client.

Jody Hedlund – While we don’t want to be obnoxious, we should be savvy in staying connected to agents who have our manuscripts. Rachelle had my full in her slush pile. After I finaled in a contest, I contacted her to update her. That email spurred her to pull my manuscript out and read it. She offered me representation a couple days later.

Richard Mabry – A door isn’t closed until God closes it. I’d given up writing when, on a whim, I entered a contest on Rachelle’s blog. I won a critique of the first chapter of my book, and when I sent my chapter, she emailed back, “Send me something that needs editing.” That led to a query, representation, and eventually a publishing contract. I thought I was through. God didn’t.

Take advantage of requests from editors.

Karen Witemeyer – At the 2007 ACFW conference, I met with a Bethany House editor who invited me to submit. That manuscript was rejected, but I was encouraged to submit another project. At ACFW in 2008, I visited with editors from Bethany House again, and they showed interest. I also met with Rachelle. Being able to say I had a nibble from a publisher was huge. Rachelle offered representation following that conference and negotiated my deal with Bethany House three months later.

Lisa Jordan – When I met Rachelle at ACFW, I wanted her as an agent. I pitched, but didn’t follow through on her invite to submit. After finaling in the Genesis and receiving a full request from an editor, I pitched to Rachelle again. She asked to see the full first. Once I submitted, she offered representation a week later. Don’t give up on pitching to a specific agent, even if you pitched to him or her in the past.

Ramp it up and embrace the 3 C’s – Conferences, Contacts, and Contests

Camille Eide – Conferences, Contacts and Contests all contributed to landing my agent. At a writing conference, I was encouraged to seek representation. I asked a writing mentor (contact) for a referral. She sent an intro letter and my query to Rachelle, who requested the full. While I waited, I entered a novel contest. The book placed as a finalist, sending it to the top of Rachelle’s pile. She read the full and called to offer representation.

Dineen Miller – I knew of Rachelle by her amazing reputation as an editor, so when I heard she’d become an agent, I put her on my list as one of two top picks. I made an appointment with her at the 2008 ACFW Conference and showed her my work. We clicked. Later I found out that two colleagues had recommended me too. The week after the conference, I happily signed on and am so glad I did!

Network. Participate in the publishing community. Relationships matter.

Alexis Grant – I connected over Twitter with a writer who, unbeknownst to me, was friends with Rachelle. My Twitter friend knew I was working on a travel memoir about backpacking solo through Africa, and she happened to hear Rachelle say she wanted to rep a book about Africa. That Twitter friend — who had by then become an email-and-phone friend — called me and asked, “Have you thought about querying Rachelle Gardner?”

Katy McKenna – For several years, while writing my first novel, I got to know many wonderful authors (and soon-to-be authors) through blogging. We’d exchange comments on each other’s sites and I happily hosted many author interviews on my blog. When one dear friend learned my novel was complete, she forwarded my proposal (without me asking) to Rachelle with a note of recommendation. That was on a Friday. Four days later, I had an agent.

Megan DiMaria – It’s important to participate in the publishing community and attend gatherings of writers, agents, and publishers. In July of 2009 the ICRS was in Denver, where I live. My publisher got me a pass to attend, but there was a problem at the front desk. Rachelle saw my dilemma and kindly escorted me to the publisher’s office. We struck up a conversation and decided to meet to discuss representation. Obviously, it worked out!

Catherine West – I first ‘met’ Rachelle in 2008. She was a blogging mom who loved books and dogs. She became one of my ‘blogging buddies’ and I enjoyed her posts. I then learned she was a freelance editor. I had a new story idea brewing, asked for her opinion, and when the manuscript was finished, she asked to read it. Around that time she became a literary agent, and a few months afterward, I became her client.

Michelle DeRusha – I connected with writers online, not simply to attract more blog readers but to create mutually beneficial online friendships. One author read my book proposal and then graciously offered to refer me to her agent, Rachelle, who emailed me within a day to request my manuscript. I hope to be able to pass on the favor to another new writer someday.

Martha Carr – I was working on a true story about a possessed house in Pittsburgh and a mutual writer friend, who was represented by Greg, introduced me to Rachelle. I sent her a sample of my work and in less than a day I got a return email asking if I wanted to talk about representation.

Krista Phillips – I’m very new to the Wordserve Group. I signed with Rachelle about a month ago! And really, it came down to the fruits of networking. When an editor was potentially interested in my book (from my networking)  I contacted two friends I’d networked with (clients of Rachelle’s) and one of them e-mailed Rachelle a referral. Spoke with Rachelle, who noted she was familiar with me because of my networking on Twitter, and she offered representation!

Beth Vogt – My first book about late-in-life motherhood partly resulted from my established relationships at MOPS International. I was not represented by an agent at that time. I’d connected with Beth Jusino, first as the editor of MomSense, and then as friends when she was an agent at Alive Communications. She gave me invaluable advice as I wrote my book. When Beth suggested I contact Rachelle, I knew I could trust her judgment and endorsement.

Joanne Kraft – Sharing my contract news with a writer-friend, she said, “Now you need an agent. And I know just the perfect fit for you…Rachelle Gardner!”

“Oh yeah? There’s just one problem, I don’t know Rachelle Gardner.”

“No, but I do.” She laughed.

Within minutes, three chapters of my manuscript launched into cyberspace. My girlfriend, who I’d originally met through blogging, became mine and Rachelle’s matchmaker.

Never underestimate the power of girlfriends, blogging, or networking!

Above all else, write well.

In the wise words of Camille Eide, you can do all these things we offer plus stand on your head and gargle, but if you aren’t writing well, following these tips won’t get you agented. So make sure to give attention where attention is due. Good writing must come first.

Do you have an agent? If so, what advice do you have for those who are looking? If not, where are you in the process? Please join in the conversation! Introduce yourself. We’d love to get to know you.