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?

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How to Write a Book in 3 Months

The following post comes from WordServe author Cassandra Soars. 

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The first book I wrote (Love Like Fire: The Story of Heidi Baker) was a ten-year process, from the day I started my research to the day it was published in April 2016. But I’ve recently discovered that writing a book doesn’t have to take that long. When a filmmaker hired me to write a book for him, I discovered some helpful tips for writing a book in draft-form in three months.

  1. Write what you know. If your project involves a lot of research, do your research first, then put it away. There will always be more to learn, and you will never feel like an expert. At some point, you need to put away the research and write from what you have learned and what you do know. Writing what you know is always easier than writing what you don’t know.
  1. Don’t try to write and edit at the same time. I have one friend who constantly studies plot and form while she’s writing, and needless to say, her process takes much longer and is much more complicated since she’s always analyzing and second-guessing her first draft. I’ve found that writing and editing are two completely different processes that use different parts of the brain, and it’s best to keep them separate. If you try to edit while you’re writing that first draft, your process will take much longer.
  1. Don’t be afraid of a bad first draft. A first draft is not going to be your best work. It probably won’t even be good. Don’t worry. Give yourself the freedom and permission to get the story down on the page, no matter how bad you think it is. After you have an entire first draft, then you can start editing. This is where you can make it shine.
  1. Give yourself deadlines. If you want to write a book in three months, give yourself a daily word count. For a longer book of around 90,000 words, set yourself a daily goal of writing 1500 words a day, 5 days a week. This will give you 30,000 words a month, and within 3 months, you’ll have written your book. For a shorter book of 60,000 words, your daily deadline is a word count of 1,000 words a day, 5 days a week.
  1. Be consistent. You don’t need to wait until inspiration strikes. If you make it a routine to sit down at your desk daily, even it’s only for an hour, you will find that there is always something that you will feel like writing about. Go with that—and give yourself permission to not follow your writing outline. Write about what you can connect with emotionally that day. Your emotion is transferred through your writing; if you feel it, so will your reader.

The best writing advice I ever got was from a college writing professor who told me that he writes a book by writing one chapter at a time. He showed me his file folders, individually marked by chapters. When he finishes writing one chapter, he puts it away in a file folder, and then starts the next chapter. Take it a chapter at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking about the entire book at once.

cassandrasoars-201x300Cassandra Soars has published various national magazine articles on a wide range of topics, including life in Mozambique, Africa, where she lived for five years. She has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She also earned a master’s degree in international development from the University of London’s prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies. Cassandra and her husband Steve recently founded a social media site for couples called iheartus.com.

The 15-Minute Writer: Book Marketing in Life’s Margins

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Photo by Bench Accounting via Unsplash.com.

We writers wear many hats these days. In addition to writing proposals, queries, and manuscripts, we’re expected to market and promote our books through social media, speaking, radio/television interviews, and book-related events. Whew! What’s a busy author to do?

First, don’t get too overwhelmed. No one can do everything, so take that expectation off your shoulders. Take deep breaths. Now…don’t you feel better? Let’s do our part, and leave the rest in the hands of the Author of our life stories.

Second, after you write it but before your book releases, experiment with different marketing ideas to find out what you enjoy and are good at naturally—Facebook parties? Speaking engagements? Library visits?—and concentrate on those things. The fun you experience will come through, and you’ll sell more books (and even if you don’t, you’ll have more joy. And who doesn’t want that?).

Third, pray for wisdom, discipline, and creativity. After all, God gave us the idea and the opportunity to write a book, and He cares about the people who will read the message we’re sharing.

Finally, clear a few minutes in your schedule and write “marketing” on your calendar in a small window of time. This way, you’ll do a little bit every day. (It’s like the old question, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!)

To help you get started, here are a few book marketing tasks that take 15 or 20 minutes, tops (just make sure each is related in some way—via a hashtag, link, or text—to the volume you’re promoting):

  • Write a short blog post
  • Draft a newsletter for your email list
  • Brainstorm a free resource to offer your list
  • Update a social media profile to reflect your new release details
  • Write a Facebook status or Twitter update
  • Take an Instagram picture and upload it
  • Read a blog post on another author’s site and comment on it (thanks to Michele Niefert for this idea)

    A photo by Alejandro Escamilla. unsplash.com/photos/N7XodRrbzS0

    Picture by Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash.com.

  • Rate/review a similar book you’ve read on one of the major bookseller’s sites
  • Ask friends on Facebook or Twitter to review your book for you
  • Share another author’s book, which is related in some way to yours, on a social media platform
  • Update your website or blog in some way
  • Draft a query letter to a magazine on a subject related to your book
  • Ask other bloggers to review your book (Elizabeth Evans shared this tip with me)
  • Create an image on Canva or PicMonkey with a reviewer’s blurb on it and Tweet it (a terrific idea from journalist and author Simran Sethi)
  • Write a thank-you note to a book reviewer, librarian or bookseller
  • Follow-up with a meeting planner or editor you pitched but haven’t heard back from
  • Set up an Eventbrite page for a future workshop or seminar you’ll lead on the book topic
  • Read a book marketing article on line or in The Writer, Poets and Writers or Writer’s Digest

Now it’s your turn: share in the comments. What are your favorite—or most effective—quick marketing tasks?

The 15-Minute Writer: Tips for Creatives Who Parent

 

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Photo source: https://unsplash.com/giuvicente

I began writing before God blessed me with children, and in the last eighteen years, I’ve birthed two boys and eight books. Being an author has been a grand adventure. It’s also kept me sane.

Seriously.

After having my oldest, who was a very high-needs baby, I suffered severe depression and stopped writing. One day, my counselor asked me, “Why aren’t you doing something that makes you light up whenever you talk about it?” Her question helped me realize God had called me to writing not only as a ministry to others, but also for my own growth and happiness.

Combining parenthood with a creative passion can be challenging, but I believe it’s worth the effort. If you’re a parent who longs to create, here are a few tips from the trenches:

Make the most of your kids’ sleep times.  When Jordan and Jackson were small, I used nap times to write instead of clean. Hiring a once-a-month housekeeper was well worth the expense…even when I didn’t get paid for writing. If you work full-time, dedicate a few moments after bedtime (or before your children wake up) to your art. A Netflix binge won’t feel as good as creating something–I promise.

Apply your creativity to time management. Once my sons were old enough, I enrolled them in Mother’s Day Out (two days a week) and dedicated those twelve hours a week to my art. On days we were together, I did household chores and errands with them in tow. I’ve also written by hiring a temporary sitter or working when my husband was at home. When my husband and I both worked full-time, we made one Saturday a month “guy time.” The boys enjoyed days with Dad while I worked on upcoming deadlines.

Work away from home. If you can swing it, try to write at a coffee shop or restaurant with free wifi. Another helpful habit is to participate, at least once a year, in a writing conference or retreat. For me, the expense of travel has paid off in contacts, clarity, and opportunities. (It also helps my family realize all that I do, and they appreciate me more when I get back. Talk about a win-win!)

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Photo source: https://unsplash.com/impatrickt

Say “no” to distractions. Every artist who makes time for their passion has to say “no” to social events, book club meetings, and various distractions (such as Facebook posts about organizing closets). On the days I set aside to write–first proposals and queries, now articles and books–I worked. Even if I set self-imposed deadlines, I tried (and still try) to meet them if at all possible. Take yourself seriously, or no one else will.

Be patient with yourself and your goals. I found this very difficult at first, because I began writing before my kids were born, and I’m a very goal-oriented person. However, I found contentment when I surrendered my dreams and accepted that the kids needed me now, while the writing could often wait. Try to picture your artistic pursuits as a marathon, rather than a sprint.

Pay it forward. God gave me a supportive spouse who’s also creative, so he understands my calling. I don’t take that for granted, and I try to let him have space to pursue his own passions. I also have a heart full of gratitude for the precious relatives, friends, and colleagues who’ve encouraged me along the way.

Today, I hope I’ve given you a bit of that same encouragement.

Your turn: if you’ve combined parenthood with a passion, share your tips in the comments. (Hurry, before the kids wake up!)

Tips for Managing Time as a Writer

You’ve heard the age-old story: Creative individual decides to write a book. They sit down with paper and pen or keyboard, and painstakingly write that heart story. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes it takes years. When talking with their friends, you often hear them say, “Something came up. It isn’t quite right yet. I just haven’t had the time.”

It’s pretty clear that time is precious. In fact, outside of my loved ones, my time is my most treasured possession. Since signing my first contract in January 2013, I have learned an important writing tip, probably the most important tip.

There is NEVER time, unless you choose to make it.

In fact, I’ve noticed one common trait among the published: They make time to finish. Once you sign that dotted line and make a commitment, “I didn’t have time” doesn’t fly with the publisher. Neither does “it’s just not ready yet.” You better make time and make it ready fast or risk losing your credibility.

After signing that contract, time to market becomes important. And time to edit. And time to promote. And time to interact with readers. Lots of time. So it’s important to figure out how to manage it.

My friends hear me say that I’m overwhelmed more than anything else. But I’m learning how to carve out time, discipline myself to finish, and not miss out on the world around me. We aren’t only writers. We are marketers, publicists, graphic designers, speakers, and more. So I’ve learned a few tricks to maximize my time in every area of this writing journey.

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I am a night owl and can write and create relevant marketing content easier when my checklist for the day is accomplished. It clears my mind to be creative. Determine your best time of day to write or create, and maximize those short windows.

Set a timer.

Write every day. Set the timer on your phone for an hour, then put your phone on silent and put it on the other side of the room. Clear your mind and write. I found when I did this, I could easily write close to two thousand words if not more in an hour! When the timer goes off, I feel accomplished, satisfied, and ready to write even more.

Carve out marketing time for social media.

I work full time as a writer for my company, so in the middle of the day I am tired of writing. I’ve started taking thirty minutes of my lunch break or fifteen minutes in the morning or afternoon to create social media graphics that I then pre-schedule so I don’t have to think about them. Think about content that is relevant to your brand, then have fun with those designs.

Strategize for online interaction.

The internet is a wonderful tool, but managing our online interaction can eat our time if not handled correctly. Block out thirty minutes every few days to catch up on emails. Take a few minutes to respond to every person who comments on social media (within reason of course). Know your brand, what you are passionate about, and have character and author interviews on hand for guest blog posts. Don’t overthink. Just do.

Know your audience and limits for speaking engagements.

My favorite interviews and speaking engagements are via Skype since it helps me conserve my time, but I’ve also enjoyed those in person speaking engagements with small groups or crowds. Determine your price (if you have one), the size of the group you are willing to speak for, if it is wise to travel or Skype in (this is great for book clubs and classes that may not be close). Bottom line, know your options and then plan accordingly. Don’t forget you still need to write and market and live life, so carefully plan the weekends you will be gone.

Managing time is as much mental as it is physical. At the end of the day, be satisfied with what you accomplished and leave the rest for tomorrow. What tips have you found effective in managing your time?

A Time for Every Purpose

MP900289709-300x197Many times, people come up to me and say they want to write a book but can’t find the time. Aspiring writers, people who are making an effort to write, often say the same thing.

Both groups cite full time jobs, church obligations, family responsibilities and activities that prevent or hinder them from pursuing their desire to write. These are all legitimate undertakings that must be accomplished if we’re to support ourselves, raise God-centered children and contribute to our faith communities and neighborhoods.

I want to share one insight I’ve gained over the last ten years of pursuing this writing dream: You’ll never find the time to write. You make the time to write.

When I whined to my mentor, DiAnn Mills, that I couldn’t find the time to write, her simple, straight-forward advice: GET UP EARLIER. Not what I wanted to hear but it took root in my heart and God nurtured it. Okay, he nagged me. I started getting up at 4:00 a.m. to write. This gave me one-and-a-half hours of solid, productive writing time every morning before I went to my day job.

Jerry B. Jenkins wrote between 9:00 p.m. and Midnight so as not to take time away from his family.

One of my close writing buddies negotiated with her children (she has 6) and husband for a certain amount of undisturbed writing time each week.

A soccer-mom friend uses soccer practice to write.

Need to make time to write? Take a couple of weeks and track your time. Make a simple MP900385402-214x300chart that blocks out the hours of the day and then note what you’re doing during those hours. After two weeks, you’ll be able to identify at least five hours in your present schedule for writing without having to get up earlier or stay up later. Start with your television and internet time and go from there. Set a schedule, negotiate with your family, find a writing spot and do it.

And pray. If writing is the desire of your heart, God will give you the insight into how to make the time to live out His call, His plan, for you.

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.