Stepping Stones to Writing Success

Stepping stones

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

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

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

New Possibilities for a New Year

Empty road to upcoming 2017 at sunrise

The sunrise of a new year.

  1. Your future is not limited by the past. While past successes and experiences can inspire the future, as I wrote about in my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, the future does not need to be limited by the past. New scientific discoveries can build on past knowledge, but they also can disrupt old paradigms. For example, the microprocessor made computing available to nearly everyone, with a modern laptop more powerful that a computer that once took up an entire room. Thanks to this invention, most writers prepare their manuscripts using convenient word processors instead of typewriters, and keep their contact list of agents, editors, and publishers on their smartphone in place of their Rolodex. In the not-so-distant future, writers might conference with editors and other writers in virtual reality, skipping the long lines at airports and time spent traveling. As a writer, your next fresh idea can define the future. Your past projects may influence your future goals, but feel free to try something new and even disruptive. Progress happens when people dream new dreams. Let the start of the New Year serve as your excuse to pursue a great new project.
  2. New friendships are waiting to be discovered by you. Writers quickly learn the value of relationships in their profession. After all, writing is all about communicating and collaborating. Even when writers spent quiet hours alone putting their thoughts on the page, the needs and interests of their readers shape their work. The audience of readers is always present when a writer expresses ideas with words. By the time a book reaches the shelves of a bookstore or the warehouse of an online retailer, the writer has collaborated with many people – literary agents, editors, illustrators, cover designers, copy editors, reviewers, publicists, and marketing directors. These colleagues as well as radio interviewers, blog readers, online reviewers, customers, and conference coordinators become new friends in the life of a writer. Resolve to maintain the friendships you have formed as a writer in years past, while staying open to the possibilities of accepting the input, advice, and encouragement of new friendships in the year to come.
  3. To accomplish your goal, break it down into discrete, doable steps. Whether you are planning to write a blog post in one evening or a book in six months, if you have a plan divided into measurable and actionable steps, you are well on your way to getting the job done. Fit your plan into your lifestyle and your current schedule to keep it realistic and achievable. Can you envision setting aside two hours every evening to complete a new manuscript? Should you schedule a vacation in a secluded and beautiful setting surrounded by nature in order to disconnect from everything and make your writing deadline? Having a plan that matches your working habits and the needs of your family and other responsibilities increases the likelihood of reaching your goal. Great new projects need to-do lists and new friendships need time set aside to develop the relationships. Make a plan that fits your life so your dreams can come to fruition in the New Year.

What do you plan to do to prepare for the new possibilities awaiting you in the New Year?

Finding Your Voice as a Writer

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Speaking with a Microphone

At a writer’s conference or in an exchange with your literary agent, you might hear the admonition to find your voice as a writer. You will quickly recognize that locating this important item is the key to defining yourself as a professional writer, launching a successful writing career, and attracting readers.

As you seek to differentiate yourself from other writers and find your own style, your voice might feel elusive. Unsure of how to proceed, you may be tempted to echo the style of your favorite author, or try on a variety of writing styles in an attempt to find the best fit for you. However, your voice is an extension of who you are as a person. To a certain extent, your voice finds you as much as you find your voice. Consider how your voice as a writer arises naturally from your unique perspective, your particular audience, and your principal message.

1. Your unique perspective: Every writer brings a special blend of skills, life experience and creative ideas to each writing task. If a group of five writers sat around a table working on an article for a magazine using the same requirements and editorial guidance, I would expect five very different finished articles to emerge. For example, a writer with a science background might take a logical, structured approach to a subject, where a writer with a theatrical background might add more emotion. A writer who spent many years teaching history at the college level would probably include background material to give a historical context to the subject matter.

2. Your particular audience: A novice writer might dream of his or her words reaching a wide general audience, such as anyone passing by the best-selling books display in a Barnes & Noble store. However, most writers appeal to a certain segment of the book-reading population, often to people who are similar to the writer. A naturalist will likely attract readers who love spending time outdoors. Beyond simply thinking about the marketing of your books, think about who you are most likely to influence with your work. Will your writing reach young parents, new retirees, or college students? Is your writing complex or easily accessible? As a Christian writer, are you writing for someone new to the faith or a lifelong believer? Once you understand your particular audience, you can choose words and illustrations most effective for your readers, thus defining an aspect of your writing voice.

3. Your principal message: At the intersection of your passion and your experience, your principal message develops. You will feel most fulfilled as a writer when you write about topics that matter the most to you. Your readers, in turn, will sense your interest and excitement. You will produce your highest quality work when you write in your area of expertise. When writing articles for publications to augment your work as an author, try to choose topics that complement the messages that readers take away from your books. This focus will help you build a loyal base of readers and maintain a consistent writing voice.

What has helped you find your voice as a writer?

 

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?

Starting Your Writing Project 

It’s a new year, so it is time to set some new goals. For many of us, one of those goals may be writing our next book. As with most goals, the hardest part is getting started. So, let’s consider some ways to overcome writing inertia.

Find your topic: Whether you are writing your first book, or your hundredth book, the first step is determining the focus of the book.

For your first book, your possibilities are the greatest. Of course, you are confined by your areas of knowledge and interest, but you have considerable freedom in choosing a genre, subject and style.

For your second and subsequent books, you are limited by your previous writing decisions. Of course, some authors successfully jump from nonfiction to fiction or children’s books to historical novels, but usually your literary agent will encourage you to write your next book in a category similar to your previous work. Your readers will be looking forward to a new book that builds on what they have read in your previous books.

Prepare a schedule: You are more likely to complete your writing project if you plan the time for the task in your schedule. If you have written a book already, you will have a good idea of how many hours it takes you to write a certain number of words. If you are writing your first book, you can estimate the time by using how long it takes you to write an article with a given word count.

Realistically determine how many times per week you can devote time to writing. Next, figure how long each writing session should last–one hour or half the day? How many words do you expect to write during a typical writing session? Given these calculations, you should have a good idea of how long you need to complete your writing project.

Factor in time for disruptions and delays so you do not become discouraged by an overly optimistic plan. You want to reach your goal, but writing is not a race.

Gather resources: Prepare for success by thinking ahead. What research materials will you need for your project? Will you need to spend time in a library or travel to a certain destination? Do you need to schedule interviews with people?

Add time for these tasks to your writing schedule. Contact people you need to interview well in advance of your writing deadline. Consider if you will want photos or illustrations in your book. If so, plan on acquiring the necessary permissions. As you gather your resources, your goal of completing your writing project will become real to you, increasing your likelihood of finishing the project.

Of course, each writer has a unique way of preparing to write a book. How do you get ready for your next writing project?

Writing: Dreamers, Please Apply

Writers are dreamers. The two activities – dreaming and writing – work together. Of course, writers can be incredibly practical, churning out how-to manuals or crafting detailed textbooks. Writers can plan, strategize and develop logical plots within their stories. At their best, dreamers are innovators and so are writers. They are grounded in reality, even as they reach for what could be. Consider the following three characteristics of writers, and you’ll understand why dreamers need to apply for this job.


1. Idealistic – Even the cynical writer spewing a critique of society on the page is an idealist at heart. If you desire to express your ideas to change the world in some way, if you hope to educate or inspire your readers, if you think you have an insight to share, then you possess at least a touch of idealism.

When you hope to capture the attention of people with the force of your ideas without the benefit of the sound of your voice or the expression on your face, you must be a little idealistic or else you would not bother to try.

2. Futuristic – Writers look to the future even when they write about the past. Of course, science fiction writers take us to the future we have yet to create, often inspiring inventions once technology catches up with their imagination.

However, all writers reach into the future, crafting words to entertain and exhort readers years after the ink is dry on the page. Words can live on as text on the screens of tomorrow and as quotes on social media platforms not yet developed.

If you dream of a better tomorrow and believe you have a positive contribution to make, you just might be a writer.

3. Optimistic – You need faith to be a writer. You must believe that your manuscript will find a publisher, and your book will find an audience. You need to believe you are making a difference when you are spending quality time typing words in solitude.

Writers stay motivated with little feedback, persevering against the odds for the privilege of spreading their thoughts, beliefs and knowledge with others. Writers concern themselves less with making a living than with sharing their life with others.

Writers find the ray of sunshine on the cloudiest of days. They keep a spring in their step even when they feel at a loss for words. They believe in their dreams and the best of writers help others believe in their own dreams, too.

Are you ready to become a writer?

Five Reasons to Write a Book 

Writing a book takes time and effort. Since everyone works with a mere twenty-four hours in a given day, the decision to invest resources into writing a book is a choice to diminish the time and energy available for other pursuits in a writer’s life.

Not every book will soar to the top of the bestseller’s list. Most authors will need to keep their day jobs. However, writing a book is a worthwhile pursuit. While each person will have a different motive for stringing words together to create a published work, here are five good reasons to write a book:

1. Reach more people. Before I launched into the lengthy process of preparing a book-length manuscript, I wrote articles for magazines and journals. These publications often had circulations of more than 200,000 readers. However, a book can reach people worldwide. An article in a magazine reaches a targeted audience, but a book can journey into the hands of varied and unexpected readers.

2. Speak to future generations. A book that lives in the carefully controlled environment of a university library can delight readers who are the contemporaries of your great grandchildren. You preserve your knowledge, insights and ideas when you publish a sturdy book printed on alkaline paper.

3. Offer a resource for your audience. If you are a speaker, you probably have fielded questions from audience members wanting to dig deeper and learn more after your talk, message or sermon. Perhaps you have given people a list of books written by others as reference material. Publishing a book provides you with a perfect resource to recommend–one that agrees with your views in all areas.

4. Organize your knowledge. If you teach, speak or write articles, you probably have amassed a body of knowledge in a given area. Writing a book allows you to integrate and organize your knowledge around a theme. Your book can become a starting point for creating new talks, lectures, or sermons or a focus for interviews and future articles.

5. Develop and clarify your ideas. Nothing forces you to clarify your thinking like writing. You may understand a concept so well that your knowledge feels automatic. However, when you need to break an idea down and explain it to others, you often discover gaps in your own knowledge and weaknesses in your logic. The discipline of writing will make you better understand your field and help you define your values and opinions. You will become your own first reader and beneficiary of the content within your book. In turn, you will have the satisfaction of having shared your best ideas with others.

What additional reasons motivate you to write a book?