3 Questions to find your “value added”

Value-added describes the enhancement a company gives its product or service before offering the product to customers. Value-added applies to instances where a firm takes a product that may be considered a homogeneous product, with few differences (if any) from that of a competitor, and provides potential customers with a feature or add-on that gives it a greater sense of value….Investopedia.com

There you have it, folks – a clear definition of “value added,” a key concept in today’s marketing strategies. If you’re a hotel, your “value added” may be a free breakfast, or bonus loyalty points. If you’re a tire dealership, your “value added” may be a discounted  fourth tire after the purchase of three. If you’re a writer…..ah….if you’re a writer….what if you’re a writer?

I’ve been grappling for years with the idea of my “added value,” and I’ve finally come up with a few guidelines that might help you work on your own. As the definition above points out, we writers offer a fairly homogeneous product – writing – so our challenge is to distinguish ourselves from other writers by offering readers something in our work that makes it stand out as having more ‘value’ than other similar products of writing. To identify your “added value”, consider these questions:

  1. What do my readers want from me that they won’t get from someone else? In the case of my murder mysteries, I relied on detailed accurate information about birds to appeal to my readers, so that reading my novels was like a virtual birding trip. Readers often told me they knew the restaurants where my characters ate, or that they had actually visited the real locations named in my books. That familiarity made the books personal for readers, and even inspired a few vacations for readers who wanted to add bird sightings to their life lists. That’s added value.
  2. Do I provide unique extras along with my book? A common extra is a Reader’s Guide at the end of your book for book club discussion. If you are tech-savvy, you can even offer to “attend” book clubs via Skype or other online meeting platforms. That’s a valuable benefit for many readers! Other extras include links to online journaling or videos that supplement your text. Even questions for personal reflection (and the space to answer them) is a nice extra used by many nonfiction writers in their books.
  3. What does my reader need? Ultimately, “value added” is about giving your readers more of what they value. To do that, you have to know your audience and consider what they would regard as additional benefit from reading your work. When I wrote my memoir about overcoming anxiety thanks to our adopted rescue dog, I included endnotes to refer readers to research into depression and anxiety; I’d found those resources helpful in my own recovery and wanted to share that with readers. I also invited readers to email me about their own healing experiences with adopted pets to broaden the conversation about the therapeutic effects of animals (and three years after the book’s publication, I still get wonderful emails from readers about it).

Have you identified your “value added” yet?

 

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How to write a GREAT book

What makes a book a great read?

If someone asked me to name the best books I read in 2017, four immediately come to mind: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore, Be Strong in the Lord: Praying for the Armor of God for Your Children by Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, and Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.

But if you asked me why they were the best books of the year for me, I would have specific reasons for each. I choose Walker’s book because it literally changed my behavior in two ways: I now try to get more sleep to improve my health, and I refuse to drive a car if I’m in the least bit tired (yes, he scared the heck out of me with statistics!). Moore’s book impressed me deeply with its story of women who suffered terribly, yet fought industry to make it responsible for employees’ health on the job. Be Strong in the Lord deepened my faith for both my children and myself, and Picoult’s novel gave me new eyes and a new heart to confront racism in America.

These books changed my behavior and attitudes in specific, concrete ways. I am a different person because I read them.

And that is ultimately what makes a book a great read: it meets the reader where she lives, and changes her.

Book design, reviews, buzz, brilliant writing, thorough research, perfect plotting – authors dream that all those things will come together in their books to make it a bestseller, but the key to every book’s success, I believe, is in how the author connects to the reader about something important to that same reader. This means, naturally, that there exists a myriad of topics a writer can address (and they do!), which also means many – actually, probably MOST – books will never appeal to every reader, and because of that, every author needs to be mindful of the particular audience for whom they write. To best serve that audience, however, the successful author has to dig deep into his own wants and desires, unearth the most compelling, most universal, needs he can share with his readers, and then translate that into the written word.

The words “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone” are attributed to Ronald Reagan. Likewise, every book can’t be a great read for every reader, but for some reader, some book can be a great read. As you set forth on your writing journey in 2018, I hope you write that great book for some reader.

Who knows? You might even change my life.

Is it time for a marketing tune-up?

Remember all those things you were going to do this year to update and enhance your online presence, like upload recent photos, add new publication credits, revise your bio? With 2017 approaching the half-way point, here’s a checklist to remind you to take the time now to tackle that list and mark off the tasks. Not only will it make you look active and engaged, but many social media platforms automatically post to your networks the changes you make to your profile, which means you get a boost in exposure. And that’s always a score for a writer…as long as it’s good exposure, that is!

Do the following for every site you use. And if you don’t already use a particular platform, maybe it’s time to try it: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Goodreads Author (https://www.goodreads.com/author/program), amazon author (https://authorcentral.amazon.com/), various genre sites (I’m listed on mystery sites like http://www.stopyourekillingme.com/ and https://www.cozy-mystery.com/ ). As the graphic above demonstrates, there are lots more than my short list, but I’m only human, so I’ve tried to focus on just a few. All I can say is “choose wisely.” And don’t forget your own website…but you already routinely update that, right? (If you haven’t, I bet you will now…)

  • Upload new profile picture. If you don’t have a professional head shot, you need to get one. Nothing builds credibility like a polished photo on your profiles. (And yes, you need something more current than your high school graduation photo.)
  • Update bio. Have you changed your state of residence? Become a grandparent? Won awards for your work? All of these items are important, as they can attract new readers who now feel you have more in common with them, or are geographically closer (which means they could reach out to you for an event!)
  • Add publication credits (books, articles, online blogs).
  • Upload the covers of new books.
  • Update events schedule: add new, delete old. If your last event was a year ago, don’t keep it there as a placeholder. If you have to have some copy, say ‘New events coming soon!’ and then get to work planning those new activities!
  • Switch out banner backgrounds for a fresh and/or seasonal look.
  • Upload new videos.
  • Make a video to say hi to your fans. It can be super simple. Make it fun and your fans will love it.
  • Make a series of photo posts using quotes from your books for fresh content you can use and re-use. (My go-to site for this is https://www.picmonkey.com/.)
  • Enter your name in the search engine of your choice and see where it pops up. You may be listed on sites you don’t know about; until I did this search, I didn’t know my books had been entered on several mystery listing sites, which prompted me to be sure to contact those site administrators to keep my publications current. Do you write romance? Self-help? Enter your name with those keywords and see what results. You might discover a whole new audience for your work, and with a timely tune-up, you’ll be ready to roll!

How to survive the book review blues

roses I have a love-hate relationship with book reviews.

Every time I get a good review, I’m happy. When I get a stellar review, I’m ecstatic. I feel like I’ve done what I hoped to do: I’ve connected with a reader and given them a journey they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. When dog-lovers tell me they laughed, cried, and were inspired by my memoir Saved by Gracie: How a rough-and-tumble rescue dog dragged me back to health, happiness, and God, I feel blessed that my story reached and touched them. When reviewers rave that my supernatural thriller Heaven’s Gate: Archangels Book I made them want to stand up and cheer, I get goosebumps of joy.

All those multi-starred reviews on my books’ pages at amazon.com, Goodreads, or barnesandnoble.com reassure me that the hours I pour into my writing are worth it: my books entertain, educate, and illuminate, and, gosh darn, people like them.

wilted-roseAnd then there is the flip side of my love-hate relationship with book reviews.

When I get a review that says “this book wasn’t what I thought it would be about, so I stopped reading it after the first two chapters,” and therefore receives the lowest rating possible, I want to bang my head against a wall. “Then why did you bother to post a review?” I want to ask the disappointed reader, and then explain that because she mistook the book for something it wasn’t, my overall rating has plummeted, which will dissuade some readers from even reading the synopsis, let alone buying and reading the whole book.

I’ve also seen reviews that rate books poorly because the author’s basic premise contradicts what a particular reader-reviewer believes. Again, those low ratings may prevent the book from reaching the hands of readers who would appreciate and greatly benefit from it; because many people (and I’m one of them!) choose books based on others’ reviews, authors are at the mercy of those published reviews, even when they make no sense at all, or are based on the personal bias of the reviewer.

So what’s an author to do about that oh-so-necessary-but-can-be-disastrous need for reviews?

My answer can be summed up in one word: relax.

Then remind yourself of these three things:

  1. You wrote a book! So many people say they want to write a book, but you actually did it! AND it got published. Congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment!
  2. You can’t please all the people all the time, and that’s especially true of readers. Some people just won’t ‘get’ it; others won’t like your writing style or your treatment of plot or subject. Some readers might be experiencing difficult life situations while they were reading your book and some of that negativity gets transferred to their reviewing. Bottom line: reviews are subjective, even when they intend to be objective.
  3. Your words will reach at least some of the people who need to read them, and they will bless you for it, whether or not you ever know it.

What do you do when you get the review blues?

Crowd Source Marketing

finger-769300_1280There’s an old adage in marketing that says in order to get a consumer to pull the trigger and buy something, they have to hear about the product three times. There was a time when the blueprint to accomplish that was pretty straightforward. Get reviews from newspapers or magazines and get interviewed on television or radio. Then, go make public appearances at bookstores or book fairs or local meetings, and don’t forget to keep writing.

None of those were easy to accomplish and they all took a lot of work to hit the magic three, but at least there was a path to follow that thousands of authors from decades past had taken with some success.

Times have changed. Not only have they changed, they keep changing at an ever-increasing pace.

The internet opened up the world and made it so much easier for authors to reach the public directly. That’s the good news. The flip side is there are hundreds of different ways to do it and a lot of them are really good, but may not be right for you.

So, the goal becomes finding the right tools for your genre and your personality and staying up to date about everything that’s new, while still finding time to write, and then have a life.

This is where just a little organization can funnel the hive mind of social media down to the essentials. Look for groups, particularly on Facebook, that are not only devoted to marketing books but are also in your genre. If you’re in traditional publishing, include that on your checklist. If you’re going the indie route, make sure the group is too.

A few other things to add to your checklist are:

  • The group is devoted most of the time to marketing – not selling, not writing
  • It’s invitation-only, so that it’s a safe place to share and there’s some control over the postings
  • There’s a monitor who shows trolls (people who complain or bully) the door and kicks them out of the group
  • Active members who are sharing information and are willing to answer questions – lots of questions
  • Be one of those people and share when you can – admit when you don’t know enough to add to the conversation. In other words, participate.

Some of the benefits you can reap from joining together are:

  • Doing cross-promotions with others in your genre. There’s power in numbers.
  • Getting a heads up about a new site that’s working for someone. And getting a thumbs down for a site that would only waste your time and your dollars.
  • Sharing each other’s ads or promotions on each other’s social media sites. Again, it’s that power in numbers.
  • Gaining a realistic view of how well you’re doing. It’s the equivalent of your water cooler.
  • Getting applause when things go well and getting some inspirational chitchat when they don’t.
  • Testing out new blurbs for your book or, if you’re indie, testing out new covers and getting early feedback.

Everything is easier when we work in cooperation with others and come together as a team, building on the information, adding in a post to what’s already there. That’s the definition of crowd sourcing.

Since I’ve found my own peeps I’ve been able to course correct a lot of mistakes I didn’t know I was even making and I’ve come up with a streamlined ad campaign that is even more in line with my budget. Best of all, though, I’m having a lot more fun sharing ideas and cheering on my fellow authors.

The Good Editor

typewriter-584696_640 Every writer needs a good editor. There are no exceptions. Typing away at the computer may be a solitary adventure, but bringing a well-rounded story to readers is a collaborative effort with a lot of players on the team. One of the most necessary players is a good editor. This is so much more than catching a typo or fixing a sentence that ends in a preposition or realizing you meant effect and not affect. It’s more than knowing what AP Style or Chicago Style is and when to use what, where.

Keely Boeving, a freelance editor who has worked with me on one of my novels, said, “I consider myself an advocate for the reader. My goal is not to change a writer’s style or intent, but rather to draw it out—to help them say what they truly want to say in a way that resonates with readers. Translating what a writer conceives in their creative mind into words on a page can be tricky, and an external observer—an editor—can help facilitate the translation in order to help writers achieve their intent.”

A good editor gets you and can see where the story is going without the need to add in their own two cents’ worth. The really good ones are part fan who write notes about the parts they really like, part brave hero who can tell a writer they need to take out that beloved chapter, and part mind reader who can ask just the right question about that part you thought was clear.

Taking the time and investing the money in an editor can help you get an agent or a publisher to read past that first page. Not taking that step may mean a lot of rejections for a good story that just needed a little more work.

Some tips when looking for the right editor:

  1. Gather information. Ask for the editor’s background and do they specialize in your type of work. Ask them for names/emails of writers they’ve worked with before. Write a short email to the writers asking them about their experience. See if the editor has ever worked with your genre. Keely worked in New York for over four years and is now a part of the WordServe family, as well as working as a freelance editor.
  2. Be clear about your expectations. Talk about cost and when payment is expected. Be true to your budget and keep searching if someone is out of your price range. Talk about your timeline and whether the fee includes second or third rounds of edits. If you have a deadline that can’t be missed, say so up front and take no for an answer if you hear ‘maybe’.
  3. Talk about how you expect to receive the edits. Some editors and some writers still use the printed page. I prefer Track Changes and comments but I still run into people who don’t and prefer mailing that manuscript back and forth.
  4. When you get the edits back, read over them briefly and put the manuscript down. Go find something fun to do and let it go for a day. On my initial read there’s always one or two things that I don’t agree with at all… until the next day. Often, those are the changes that fixed something that would have tripped up a lot of readers but was pretty easy to fix. Don’t let that become the reason you don’t sell a work.
  5. Take what you like and be willing to leave the rest. There will be moments when a suggested edit changes the intention of a scene or the voice of a character. Have some confidence in your idea and know when to say no. Reason it out with the editor, as well. It could also be that the setup isn’t fully there but with some tweaking, your story gets stronger. If you don’t feel like you’re being heard, you have the wrong editor.

One last thing. Celebrate every part of the journey as a writer, including this one. You took an idea from your mind and put it down on paper. That’s a big accomplishment. Now on to the next step.

Becoming Social Media Savvy

Social Media Sign Web Globe

The World of Social Media

If you want to become a published author in today’s world, you need to embrace social media. Some aspiring authors may be very comfortable with social media and already have a large and successful online platform. However, many people preparing to write their first book may have a platform established in another way, such as through teaching, speaking, or published articles, and the world of social media may be foreign to them.

Here are a few tips for new authors looking to expand their social media presence:

  1. Consider your overall social media needs. Most new authors have careers in addition to their writing. While in many cases your writing may be an outgrowth of your career, sometimes the social media needs of your career may conflict with the social media needs of your writing platform. Consider how you can achieve a workable compromise between the two. Perhaps you work in a career where a limited social media presence based solely on professional accomplishments would be ideal. However, your writing platform may thrive if you develop a more personable social media presence that lets your readers share in some details from your daily life. Maybe you can connect with work colleagues on a platform such as LinkedIn, while using Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, and Google+ to connect with readers. Find what works for you, and modify your social media presence as necessary.
  2. Create layers of social media connection. Before deciding to become an author, you may have used social media as a means of connecting with friends and family. Now you find that your literary agent and your publishing house want you to connect with readers through social media. Connecting with readers requires a public social media presence. However, privacy controls on social media sites such as Facebook allow you to keep your posts to friends and family private while creating new posts for the general public. Using privacy controls, you can create layers of social media connection, sharing photos of your children with close friends and family members while sharing photos of book-signing events with the whole world. You might want to create a Facebook page with all posts public to connect with readers, while using your Facebook profile to connect with friends. However, consider leaving some posts from your Facebook profile public for readers who find you through a Facebook search.
  3. Adapt your social media strategy to stay current. All social media sites are constantly changing, especially platforms such as Facebook, where signs around the company’s campus remind employees that “this journey is only 1% finished”. After a major update on one of your social media sites, check privacy settings, and revisit your approach to social media. Is there a great new feature that you should start using? Should you publish more videos, or schedule posts for a different time of day? As an author, your journey in the world of social media is only 1% finished. Learn from your past experiences on social media and the wisdom of other writers, and create fresh content using new tools and the latest technology.

What tips do you have to share with other writers on becoming social media savvy?