Overachieving Your Platform: Best of the Water Cooler Series Book #2!

overachieving-your-platform-coverMany years ago, a good friend went into a coma after giving birth. She was on life support for nearly four months. We all prayed and wondered if she would pull through to see her baby girl and live a full life.

By her side was her husband. Every day he was at the hospital talking with doctors and nurses, making sure medication was properly being administered, asking questions . . . basically, being every doctor’s worst nightmare when it came to patient care. But you know, on several occasions, he insisted on something that actually saved his wife’s life. The third leading cause of death in America is medical care accidents and misdiagnoses. He needed to care for his wife because if he didn’t, the worst could happen.

I mention this story because I think it can be illustrative of some of the realities of book publishing today. Sometimes, your book is the one on life support, often from the moment of publication. Standing by are publishers and PR folks who are tasked and paid to keep your book alive. They’re busy, they have other patients (authors), and are generally overworked and understaffed.

The point is you cannot leave your book’s marketing and PR ONLY in the hands of publishers. They’ll do their best (usually), but they’re not perfect. And sadly, they have the 80/20 principle that is always screaming at them from the higher-ups. In publishing, it’s true: 80 percent of the money goes to 20 percent of the books. It’s a reality that won’t change, so we have to learn to deal with it.

So what should you do, then, as the author standing by your baby, trying to keep it alive?

You’ve got to tend to it diligently.

With your publisher: ask questions, say thank you a lot (gift cards and flowers are nice) when they do a job well done, give them ideas, don’t mention a problem unless you have a solution, tell them what you’ll do to help, keep track of everyone who helps (radio stations, bloggers, author friends). Work WITH them as much as they will let you.

What else can you do?

Well, we at the Water Cooler have just released a book that will help answer that question. Overachieving Your Platform: 95 Ideas to Embrace Your Inner Sales Marketing Genius is now available from FaithHappenings Publishers, and it offers the tools you need to break out and connect with large audiences. Adapted from the best writing of the WordServe Water Cooler, these doable, practical and affordable ideas will transform your platform and expand your audience if you put them into practice. No, you can’t do them all. But you can certainly go through this book with your highlighter and mark everything you actually could do. Then make a plan. What will you do during your first month from publication, second month, third? Write the plan out . . . and then work it.

Publishers, agents, and retailers agree: you’re only as good as your last book. So if your last book flops in the marketplace, it may very well indeed be your last book!

Don’t let that happen. Stay on guard by your book for the first six months to a year after launch, and you’re far more likely to get that second book contract. You may even get a royalty check.

I’m so proud of all of the authors who contributed to Overachieving Your Platform. They’ve done the hard work in the trenches and have learned from their successes and failures. All they know they’ve shared with you.

Grab a copy today—and take that first step toward creating a platform and brand that will serve you for the rest of your writing career.

Excelling-at-the-Craft-of-Writing-CoverAnd if you haven’t checked out the first book in the series, Excelling at the Craft of Writing: 101 Ways to Move Your Prose to the Next Level, make sure to do that as well. Craft and marketing go hand in hand when it comes to a writing career—you won’t find success unless you’ve got both!

This post was adapted from the Introduction of Overachieving Your Platform: 95 Ideas to Embrace Your Inner Sales Marketing Genius (available now!).

Advertisements

Enjoying Variety in Writing

Mixed fruits and vegetables at organic fair

Mixed fruits and vegetables at organic fair

Just as a wide selection of fruits and vegetables makes for a nutritionally balanced diet that promotes good health, variety in writing can improve the quality of prose a person produces. While specializing in one type of writing allows a person to focus, I believe a writer can benefit from tackling different lengths and styles of writing assignments. Here are three ways that writing articles helps an author of a book:

  1. Article writing teaches clarity. The limited word count of an article trains an author to think clearly and write concisely. While an author of a book can define and develop his or her message across many chapters, a writer preparing an article must get the job done in less than a few pages. I found that article writing for journals and magazines helped me winnow my words and learn to support my key ideas with only the strongest illustrations from the most reliable sources. Article writing also honed my ability to write an outline – a skill useful for writing book proposals.
  2. Article writing permits creativity. If you want to test an idea or a style, find a suitable publication and write a query to the editor. If you succeed, you will probably have between 1000 and 2500 words to try out your concept. If you discover a great new topic that deserves further exploration, you can follow up by writing a book proposal. If you find that you can express all your thoughts on the topic within an article or two, you have broadened your horizons without the long commitment that book writing entails. Move on and try another topic until you find your niche. Working with a variety of editors will improve your writing career. You will gain insights and learn new techniques from each editor.
  3. Article writing expands an author’s audience. To be granted the privilege of publishing a book, you need a platform. To maintain book sales, you need to connect with readers. Article writing creates the platform a novice writer needs in order to obtain that first book contract. Article writing also helps a seasoned author keep in touch with readers. Choose publications most likely to interest your potential readers, but, remember, if you write for new publications, you will expand your audience. Online publications or print publications with an online presence create opportunities to share your work across social media, a bonus for an author trying to reach more people.

I have learned to enjoy variety in writing, appreciating the different approaches to communicating to the specific audience for a given publication. Article writing gives me the opportunity to address a wider variety of issues than I could cover through book writing alone. What types of writing have shaped your writing career? What have you learned from writing beyond the pages of a book?

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

Business card back

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

FaithHappenings.com has the answer.

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

Just what can FaithHappenings.com offer you?

On FaithHappenings.com You Can…

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

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

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

 

Want to Get Published? A Publisher Needs to See an Author Who Can Write and Promote

Note: This is the last post in a series of four posts: 3 Things a Publisher Must See.

3 things

Let’s say your proposal has convinced an editor that your project has a wildly unique premise. You’ve even demonstrated a viable audience with a felt need.

There’s just one more thing…

You.

The questions a publisher is asking about you, very possibly in this order:

  • Does she have a platform?
  • Can she write?

A publisher needs both.

And this is the difficult bind of many editors—who love great writing, and want to publish great writing—today. It’s not to say that editors don’t ever stick out their necks for someone nobody’s ever heard of who can write really well. They do sometimes.

I’m saying that a publisher’s decision is always a complex one, and the more you can convince them that you have a platform to influence others, the more consideration your proposal will receive.

If you can write compelling sentences that make people laugh and cry, and string those together into a fabulous manuscript, and if your platform is so big that Oprah, Donald Trump and Diane Sawyer want to be your bestie, congratulations.

If one or both of these is not the case, then…

  1. Improve Your Writing
  • Read great books
  • Write every single day, and then write some more
  • Join a manuscript critique group, locally or online
  • Attend a writer’s conference (See one you like from 2015? Google it!)
  1. Build Your Platform
  • Pitch articles to the publications your target reader is reading
  • Develop an audience for your blog by writing consistently and meeting readers’ needs
  • Pursue speaking opportunities—at church, MOPs groups, etc.—in the community
  • Be a great friend on social media by celebrating others’ work

And…be patient.

Very few writers have fairytale stories of wild success with little effort. (Honestly, that was my plan when I started writing. It didn’t work out that way.) Most writers invest time and energy to improve their writing and build an audience.

Cheering you on,

Margot

 

 

How to Know ForSureForSureForSure You’re Ready for an Agent

coffee-1128140_960_720

Do you have that first novel completed? Have you been staying up late and getting up early to study and write about a topic you’re passionate about telling the world?

Then it might be time to query a few agents to see if you have what it takes to get their attention. But keep your expectations realistic. New authors are harder to break out than they’ve ever been. And please, don’t blame the agent. We’re just the messenger of what publishers keep telling us.

You’ll need some criteria to go by to determine if you’re ready. Here are a few dozen hints.

First: Know who you truly are…

  1. Someone who has always wanted to write
  2. Someone with a message you feel God is asking you to put to paper
  3. Someone with a message that others have said needs to be put to paper
  4. Someone who can’t wait to get to your computer to create the stories in your head
  5. Someone who reads a lot, both within the genre they write as well as others.

Second: Understand what the book publishing industry is looking for…

  1. The 80/20 principle is alive and well in publishing. Publishers must have the big sellers to stay in business. So 80% of their advance and marketing money will always go to 20% of the authors and books. And if you’re a new author, unless you’re a pastor of a mega-church or you can write like Hemmingway (or better), you’re likely not going to be amongst the 20%.
  2. Because of the loss of browsing retail, publishers can’t find readers, so they expect authors to find them. They want authors with built-in audiences ready to buy. That’s why they are less willing to take risks on unknown/debut authors, preferring known quantities instead of new voices. If I had 200 new authors to speak to, there would be perhaps 5% who will ever get published traditionally. Not because they can’t write. Not because they don’t have a compelling message. It’s because they still have an information gap about what it takes to get published and be successful at it.
  3. Great writing. They want authors who are sold out to getting honest critique. They want a book with a clear vision/message, and an obvious audience (felt need). They hope authors are willing to study the craft of writing, attend conferences, willing to join and participate in critique groups or have a critique partner. Most of all, they want authors who have “come to play.” They’re working on building audiences; they’re invested in their own marketing and they have a plan to grow. Publishers and agents want more than one book. They want to grow with you and your career.

Third, what motivates you…

  1. Money. Okay, that’s not terrible. Would C.S. Lewis have written The Chronicles of Narnia for free? Provision—whether it’s today’s manna or retirement’s manna–motivates us, and it’s not evil. However, if this is your ONLY motivation, you have to ponder whether God will bless it. You also have to recognize that it’s harder than ever to make a living as a writer today, and that the days of six and seven-figure advances (with a few exceptions) are largely gone.
  2. Legacy. Publishers don’t care about this unless you’re already famous. Legacy projects get self-published, and that is perfectly fine.
  3. This does not include “ax to grind” books. Please, self-publish those. We can’t sell them.
  4. “I can’t help myself.” Obsession is a good place to be, but not if you’re sacrificing your health, family, bank account and soul to do it. Your obsession should pass the “sniff test” by those who know you best. Just because you feel “God has told me” to do this, doesn’t make that statement true. Obsessions MUST be confirmed by several people in your life before you give them wings in a big way.

So, with all of this in mind, here’s how to know “forsure-forsure-forsure” you’re ready for an agent.

For sure…

  • You have something inside of you that must get out. A novel, a message, a memoir, a brand. When I started FaithHappenings.com two years ago, I was like a dog with a bone. My excitement did border on obsession.
  • You’ve put at least half of the book on paper–the whole book if you’re a novelist. (With novels, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.)
  • You understand that traditional publishing is a business and you won’t question their motives if they reject your work. People DO know more than you.
  • You feel God’s pleasure in your efforts to communicate what you want to share.
  • You can’t wait to get to your computer.

For sure, for sure…

  • You know your motivation. It doesn’t have to be pristine, you just have to know what it is.
  • You know your book will get published no matter what. You are going to do this! Start traditionally if that is a goal, but not let that stop you from doing what’s needed to publish independently, if you have to.
  • Someone has said that your message, life story or writing is above the curve. But even so, remember this: Perhaps one person per state ever makes it to the major leagues in each year. The pyramid is very small at the top in any professional endeavor.
  • You are patient with the process and want to trust an industry professional to help guide your book/career. Once you think you know more than they do, turn off the tap on traditional publishing. And this is fine. Some are wired to be control freaks. Go with it. Don’t drive yourself and an agent/publisher crazy if you want to control every step in the process.

For sure, for sure, for sure…

  • You have 5,000 to 10,000 “followers” (blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) Further, you are convinced—and you hereby solemnly swear to not complain—that you must help any publisher you go with—traditional or your own efforts—FIND READERS.
  • Twenty people who don’t know you well have seen your book/writing and they’re not adding much more to it. You hear the term “great writer” from several different people.
  • You know your genre, your audience, your message—you have FOCUS!!!
  • You have a great proposal that answers the publisher/agent questions. If you don’t, get the agent’s proposal template. We all have one. Work hard on it. Don’t have typos, and follow directions! There are too many other people vying for an agent or editor’s attention for them to waste time on a proposal that doesn’t meet the basic requirements listed.
  • Read three book marketing books. And then in your proposal, give the agent five pages of marketing ideas you KNOW you can do.
  • You have counted the cost:
    • Family/Time
    • Money
    • Inevitable rejection and bad reviews, perhaps even the “ten mean church ladies” who write scathing letters and reviews on nearly every book they see.
  • You know you have “come to play.”
  • You know what five agents/agencies you want to be with. Get to know what they have represented. (You aren’t sending your proposal out en masse to every agent whose email address you can find.) Of these five, take the first one who says yes. Realize that you may not get the top guy, but the reputation of the agency is what you’re after.

If you can check off nearly all of these criteria, you’re forsure, forsure, forsure ready.

Building a Platform? Finding Helpful Resources

Photo/CCWC

“If you want to be a nonfiction author, you’ve GOT to work on building your platform?”

I perked up when I heard the word “platform” mentioned for the umpteenth time at my first writing conference.

Building my what? I didn’t expect this advice at a “Christian” writing conference. In fact, I didn’t even know what the workshop leader meant by “platform.”

Hands popped up all over the conference room, asking questions about “building a platform.”

“Can you give us more information?” Another frenzied writer whined.

A few seats down from me, an older lady with a wrinkled brow whispered to the person next to her, “What does she mean by ‘platform’?”

“I didn’t think ‘Christian’ writers should focus on building a platform,” someone mumbled. “Is that even scriptural?”

The murmurings continued…

I felt my blood pressure rise as I listened to all of the questions and observed the body language of the writers all around me.

I shook my head in disbelief as I considered all that I had done to prepare for this moment—particularly the last five years of academic writing. Is she saying that I need to study marketing now? Oh, great!

A few days later, I abandoned my first writing conference early due to a family crisis. So I didn’t get a chance to hear more about platform building.

Overwhelmed, my thoughts about building a platform and my mother’s untimely death left me dazed and confused. Should I even go forward with “writing for publication” now?

One workshop leader warned us against “quitting your day job.”

Great! I just quit my day job, I whispered under my breath. I had just turned down the offer to teach writing as an adjunct instructor again that semester. Why? I needed to help with our ongoing family needs, and I wanted to focus what time I did find on writing for publication.

After the conference, if someone even mentioned the word platform, I would voice my frustration with a favorite quote from Gone with the Wind, “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

What’s a writer to do? Where can we go for information on building a platform? Back when I started, I had to dig deep for information. Now, you can find more resources than ever before now on that topic.

Michael Hyatt is one of the best resources I’ve found on platform building. I started following Hyatt’s blog on the advice of other writers several years ago. A few years later,  when he published his book, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, I ordered my copy hoping to improve my own platform. I still recommend this book to other writers who ask me for help in that area. I’ve even led my own writing workshop on platform building based on what I’ve learned.

New Year’s plans. As I await my first book publication this spring, I’m still struggling with all the details of platform building—blogging, social networking, speaking, and writing. With all the advances in technology and social media, I’m always seeking new resources and ways to stay up-to-date with publishing info.

What are your plans for the New Year? What have been your strategies? What’s your secret? Did you quit your day job? Do you have any platform building tips that you would be willing to share with other writers?

I’m hoping this blog post will initiate a conversation about platform building. So, I hope to hear from you. Be sure to share your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below.

What resources have helped you build your platform?

Want to Get Published? 3 Things a Publisher Must See

Note: This is the first post in a series of 4 posts: 3 Things a Publisher Must See.

3 things

You have a book in your heart that you’d love to see published. It may even be a great book. A publisher and her editing board need to see three things to say the “yes” you’re hoping for. They need to see: a unique project, a viable market and the right author.

1. A Publisher Needs to See a Unique Project

Although what you’re writing may seem fresh to you, know that publishers have already received countless pitches for “My Cancer Journey,” “My Eating Disorder Journey,” “My Spiritual Memoir.” Does this mean you scrap your project? No. But it does mean that you need to demonstrate how yours is unique. For example, these might catch a publisher’s attention:

  • Why Cancer Was The Best Thing To Happen to Me This Year
  • How My Eating Disorder Was Cured When I Won “The Biggest Loser”
  • I Was a Satanist High Priest and Now I Love Jesus

Make an editor curious enough to open your proposal!

One baby step toward publication: Read other books in your genre and identify what, if anything, makes yours unique.

2. A Publisher Needs to See a Viable Market

The publisher also needs to see that there is a market for this book. Who are the readers who will buy your book? What is the felt-need they have that will cause them to purchase your book, read it and rave about it to their friends? Research the market so that you can demonstrate that there are book-buying readers who need your book.

One baby step toward publication: Develop a one- or two-sentence “elevator pitch” that succinctly communicates the substance of your book, who will read it and what distinguishes it from similar books.

3. A Publisher Needs to See an Author Who Can Write and Promote This Book

A publisher is looking for authors who can write and who can also get that writing before an audience.

You’ve probably heard that author platform—your ability to reach readers—is the most important thing to a publisher. (And it’s pretty important.) But hear this: every publisher wants to publish great writing.

Chapters and pages and paragraphs and sentences and phrases need to engage readers. Your goal is to get a publisher (aka “reader”) to read the first sentence of your proposal and want to read the next one and the next one. You may think it’s an editor’s job to give your proposal a thorough reading, but it’s not. Her job is to find quality books to publish. When she is perusing your proposal, she can check out—and check facebook—at any point in the process. Develop your craft so that you can write prose that a reader does not want to put down.

And there’s also that platform business…

Who has platform? Oprah. Rick Warren. Francis Chan.

Intimidated? You don’t need to be. You can be building your platform right now by:

  • pitching and writing articles for publications
  • developing an audience for your blog
  • building your speaking resume by speaking places for free: MOPs groups, churches, etc.

The key is finding what works for you and sticking with it.

One baby step toward becoming a great writer: Sign up for a local writing class, sometimes available at city colleges, or attend a writer’s conference in your area.

One baby step toward building platform: Set a goal to publish one article or story, with a reputable national publication that appeals to the eventual audience for your book, in the next three months.

Cheering you on,

Margot