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

Surviving the Valley

You hear a lot on the writing journey that it’s filled with highs and lows—probably more so in publishing because it’s rapidly changing and I personally wouldn’t consider any part of the industry stable or predictable.

valley-of-fire-1390258_1920The problem is the valley is hard. What exactly do you do? Do you give up writing? How do you readjust to keep your writing career moving forward when seemingly no one wants the words you’re putting on the page?

My writing valley (really—the deep dark hole of despair) started after my first trilogy was published. I worked really hard marketing those books, had great reviews, and two out of three of the books were each nominated for multiple awards. I was even told by my publisher that I was (at one point) their second-bestselling fiction author.

I thought there was no way my next proposal wouldn’t be picked up—by somebody. Well, it wasn’t and to be honest it put me in a psychological funk. I was pretty convinced that my envisioned bestselling author status dreams were rapidly crumbling in front of my eyes.

I’ve come through my first major valley (I’m sure one of many to come) and I thought I’d share what I did to survive it without throwing my writing career in the trash and lighting it on fire.

  1. Grieve. It’s okay to be sad about it. The writing life is unpredictable—even that’s a pretty generous understatement. Your writing life didn’t go as planned and it’s hard to readjust dreams sometime—but do readjust.
  2. Help other authors. Help them promote their books. Read books for endorsement. Review novels. Keep your name in the reader’s mind by having your name on their books.
  3. Stay active on social media. Even if you’re not publishing, keep engaging with your readers and other authors.
  4. Keep writing and learning the writing craft. Above all else—don’t stop writing. Journal. Blog. Write a new book proposal. Use this time to brush up on the areas of your writing that aren’t strong. Read those numerous writing craft books that have been piling up beside your bed (come on, I know you have them!) Learn those pesky computer things you’ve been putting off. Scrivner. Newsletter distribution sites. Take an on-line writing course. Even James Patterson has one now that’s very reasonably priced.
  5. Write outside your genre. During my valley, an editor from Guideposts reached out to me and asked me to audition for a cozy mystery series they were putting together. Hmm. Cozy mystery? I write thrillers. Straight up thrillers. I honestly didn’t think I could write gentle enough for a cozy mystery, but what else was I really doing? So I tried it. My first submission, well, you could probably predict the feedback I received. Too dark. The heroine’s not cheery enough. By the way, this surprised no one that knew me. But I resubmitted—and they loved it! And then the series didn’t move forward. I auditioned for a different Guideposts series and washed out again. Maybe cozy mystery wasn’t for me, but it did prove I could write something other than thrillers and I built bridges to editors at Guideposts even if they didn’t take me on for those projects.
  6. Fractured MemoryListen to God’s nudgings. Looking back with perfect vision, I felt that God used the Guideposts experience to get me to write outside my comfort zone. During this process, I started thinking about a contest called Blurb to Book that Love Inspired was hosting. Never did I imagine I would write for them. I didn’t think I was a good fit, but I found myself obsessing about this contest to the point where I couldn’t sleep. So I entered, and I ended up winning a contract for Fractured Memory, my novel releasing this month from Love Inspired Suspense. Suddenly, I was clawing my way out of that dark writing well.
  7. Go indie. In this writing age, there is literally no reason to not have content out for readers. Don’t quit your day job and scrap and save every penny you can to hire a good editor, proofreader, and book cover designer. I do say this with some caution—be sure you put out a good book! Don’t sabotage yourself into another pit.

Overall, take the valley as a place that can provide rest, rejuvenation, and growth. Perhaps you will need to go back to a paying job or postpone the plans that you had of quitting or reducing your hours. Just know that the valley is survivable and it doesn’t have to mean the demise of your writing career.

Tell me, how have you survived low points in your writing career?

 

 

Take Heed!

This month marks the eighth anniversary of my writer’s blog: A Writer’s Way of Seeing. At this time last year, I offered writers advice for the coming year. I was going to offer a new list for 2016, but in reading what I wrote last year, I really think the same advice applies. Also, now that I’m an agent with WordServe Literary, I’ve picked up numerous new readers. So for new readers, and as a refresher for my regular readers, here’s a slightly edited version of last year’s blog called “Take Charge!” Maybe for this year the title should be “Take Heed!” because we’re all a year closer to our real deadline when we no longer will be writing.

new-years-eve-1036513_960_720

As we’re in the opening weeks of 2016 I want to offer my yearly exhortation for the new year. We’re all getting older and time’s a’ wasting, folks. If we want to succeed as writers, we need to take charge of our writing career. In fact, that will be my rally cry for you in 2016: “Take charge of your writing career!”

Here are seven suggestions on how to do that.

  1. Stay prayed up. Presumably by now you’ve confirmed in your own mind that God has called you to be a writer. Part of that calling is, of course, to write. But for a Christian, that’s only half the calling. The other half is knowing what to write. Mostly we find that out through prayer and discerning the needs of readers and our ability to write to those needs. As you pray, ask God to guide you in your writing pursuits. Make that a year-long (life-long, actually) commitment to yourself. If you stay prayed up about your writing, you’ll stay pumped up too.
  2. Improve your craft. Each year I urge all of us who write to find a way to keep improving our craft. Take classes, read magazines such as The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and The Christian Communicator.  Join a critique group. Read the blogs of other successful writers, agents, and editors. Write, write, write. Commit to writing at least three (and probably more) drafts of each project, with each draft an improvement from the preceding draft.  Always have a good writing book on hand. I recommend any of James Scott Bell’s books on the writing craft, particularly How to Make a Living As a Writer.
  3. writerWrite out specific goals for each month. Make each goal realistic, but then stick to them. Daily, weekly, and monthly goals are good, but also write out in some detail what you hope to have accomplished by December 31. To stay on track, consider finding a writing accountability partner. Share your writing goals with each other and meet in person or by internet every week or two to encourage one another.
  4. If possible, have two or three projects/proposals/manuscripts in some stage of progress. Perhaps you’re working on just a one-sheet for Project A, while on Project B, you’re at the full proposal stage. Project C might be your work-in-progress—the actual manuscript you’re working on. For a successful writing career, you must always be thinking ahead.
  5. Pick one or two writer’s conferences and plan to attend. If money is a problem start saving now. Come up with creative fund-raising ideas. Perhaps ask your church to chip in with the fees. Most conferences have some scholarship money. See if you qualify or if you can do some conference work in exchange for part of your tuition.
  6. Stay up to date with the publishing world—including self-publishing. Know what the bestsellers are. Know which authors are writing successfully in the same genre in which you write. Read Publisher’s Weekly or Publisher’s Marketplace online. More and more writers are finding their entry into publishing through self-publishing. Sadly, many are making very serious mistakes. Although I encourage self-publishing as an option, I do not recommend it if you’re going to do a poor job of it. Last year at one writer’s conference I picked up a self-published book and found three major errors on the first page, including the misspelling of the name of a famous world leader. Who would buy such a book? Not me.
  7. Work on your platform. I know very few authors who like platform-building. I don’t like it either. I’d much rather just write. But a platform is important. Starting small is fine. Just do what small thing you can do now and build from there. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

The crucial thing in all this is to keep your commitment red-hot. Rest assured, there will be discouragements, distractions, and even rejections in 2016. That’s life. It’s also another reason to plan ahead and to indeed “take charge of your writing career” in 2016. Start planning now!

One of the One

Unseen Journey to Publication

Curves Ahead

It was not an encouraging statistic.

On a cool fall day, the speaker stood at the front of the seminar class and eroded my confidence with his authoritative words, “About one percent of writers succeed in getting published. Because most give up and drop out of the race.”

I’d waited until my forties to do anything with a secret desire to become a writer, so his gloomy prophecy almost made me run from the room. Thankfully, I didn’t let his statistical shadows deter me.

A Shadowy Path

Shadows Crowd the Writing Road

Instead, I silently inquired of God, whom I believed had brought me to this place, and asked what He thought about the publisher’s statement. The answer came as a whisper, “With Me, all things are possible.”

At that starting line in my writing career, I vowed, “I will allow God to make me one of the one percent who succeed.” Little did I know how I’d need my early resolve to navigate past future bumps in the writing road.

Writing Path with Obstacles

Obstacles Litter the Road

Practical applications were required to pave the way.

  • I devoured books on the craft of writing, the business of publication, the magic of marketing, and the art of building a loyal readership. (I’m still studying these necessary parts of the process.)
  • I turned off my television, powered up my computer, and started practicing what I learned.
  • I created a Writer’s Cave and pursued my passion.
  • I faced my Fears and wrote in spite of them.
  • I followed God’s lead when I wasn’t sure where to invest my talents.

    Hard to Know Where Your Writing is Going

    The Road to Writing is Often Unclear

I determined to follow and not race ahead of God.

  • When impatience threatened to devour my energy and time with tangled emotions, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that God controls my dream.
  • I sought God’s kingdom first, before the allure of writing success. Each day, I committed to read my Bible before I wrote anything.
  • I submitted my desires and said, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
  • I trusted God, as the Creator of Time, instead of sweating it when I couldn’t accomplish as much as I believed I should.
  • I wrote down encouragements, so when hardships threatened to swallow me, I had factual reminders that God created me to write. I kept the list close and read His positive reinforcements as needed.

Over time, the hours of study, priority-driven choices and submission to God smoothed the course. But I endured many personal trials along the way.

One shocking revelation brought the news that my dad isn’t my biological father. My youngest sister faced life-threatening illness. My grandson was hurt. Every day, circumstances fought to distract, but in between the upsets, I tenaciously wrote one word at a time. While I traveled tough terrain, I held onto my God-given mantra — I will be one of the one.

Cloudy Writing Days

A Straighter Road Under Cloudy Days

Eventually, the road to becoming one of the one straightened. My portfolio of articles grew, my speaking platform rose, and my writing improved. As I obeyed His voice, God cleared the way.

I’m steering toward my goal of being in the one percent of writers who succeed at their craft. My first book releases in 2013. Growth will span my lifetime, but I refuse to give up. If God says I can be one of the one, then who am I to argue? After all, He put me on the road to writing.

What gives you the gumption to speed ahead in pursuit of your dreams?

Stewarding Your Career and Your Agent

Good agents take the privilege of shepherding authors and projects very seriously. We’re hugely selective and typically only make a “yes” decision on a client if we love (not just like) their project, and then see them as a good potential relational fit.  Life is too short to work with people if they’re demanding or mean…no matter what the potential payoff.

But make no mistake, agents work FOR their authors, not the other way around. Yet with the lightning-fast changes in publishing still happening, nearly every agent I know is telling me, “It feels like I’m working harder than I ever have before, and still closing fewer—and smaller—deals.”

Welcome to the new normal in publishing.

What this means for the client/author is potentially less time interacting with their agent because the agent is trying to stay in business. What’s an author to do in this new normal to make sure their own projects still receive a high level of attention?

  1. Take more control of your career.  The path to finding readers has never been clearer—or more time-consuming. “Get involved with Facebook Fan Pages, blogging, tweeting, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, and networking with other authors (such as this Water Cooler),” is the familiar mantra from publishers and agents alike.  In this new world where social media IS the most influential advertising resource,  if you’re not selling books and finding new readers, it’s no longer your publisher’s (or agent’s) fault.  If you don’t feel you can come to play in marketing your own creative blood, sweat and tears, don’t even ponder a career as a writer. Look in the mirror: You are your publisher’s best PR agent.
  2. Craft, craft, craft. I tell new novelists that I don’t want to see their manuscript until 5 to 10 “non friends and family” have read and critically appraised their work.  I’d rather authors take a full year to rewrite their manuscripts than almost anything else.  If you write nonfiction and you have a strong message and a good regional platform, then be relentless on making every paragraph zing. Don’ tell me “it picks up in chapter three.” It better engage me from paragraph one or you’ll be getting the dreaded “not for me” letter. If you’re a seasoned writer, be diligent in making your prose as professional and engaging as possible.   Constantly read books on writing craft; find a mentor or critique group. Be a lifelong learner on writing well and you’ll have a good chance at being a lifelong author.

Along with taking control of your own career and staying committed to the craft, here’s how to help your agent help you.

  1. Respect his or her time.  Since you want them to stay in business, bunch questions for a once-a-week email.  If possible, use clear bullet points with clear simple questions to make it easy for us to see and answer, rather than lots of loaded, dense text.  Mondays are good. If your questions are more complex, better to talk by phone than email.  But do set a phone appointment (by email) instead of calling with hope that we will answer.  The agent is there to serve you, very true, but time is the coin of the realm. Be judicious in how you spend their precious minutes and hours because ultimately you want us out there pitching your projects!
  2. Press the panic button. I spend a good portion of my week fighting fires for authors. Bad covers, wrong titles, heavy-handed editors, proposals that MUST be out the door this week, family or personal crisis…all of these and more are what I’m here for.  When you really need me to jump on something or lend an ear, this is absolutely what I want to do. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone or send me a “call me ASAP” email.  You’re not “bothering me” (ever); I work for you and love (almost) every minute.
  3. Pray. It’s not trite, it’s essential. Really. If I’m distracted, off task, ill or in a personal crisis myself, what am I not doing? I’m not tending to the details of what I should be doing for you. The very thing I want to do most is often what the enemy doesn’t want me to accomplish. I need to stay spiritually sharp and steady for you to feel fully supported.  And I’m not bashful to say I need your help in doing it. I covet and appreciate your prayers for me, my work and family.  I also love to pray for you, so never hesitate to zip me a prayer request during a rough patch.
  4. Share the goodies!  I love hearing how your work has impacted others in the world, or a great opportunity that has come up for you to share your book.  Forward me one or two of your best notes from readers every month and any news that is exciting to you concerning the marketing of your project.  We love to hear how the end result, your book, is impacting the world.  It is why we do what we do.

What more can you do to serve your own career? How would you feel even more supported by your agent?

Write With Realistic Expectations

Aspiring or first-time authors sometimes hold the misconception that they will hit it big with their first book. Visions of bestsellers dance in their heads.

It’s time for a reality check from The Agent’s Desk. One of our jobs is to manage your expectations through every stage of this long process called publishing.

The statistics have not changed much in the years that I’ve been involved in the book industry. In the entire Kingdom of Books, which includes every title sold in every category—not just Christian—only ten percent of authors make a living solely by writing books.

The authors you meet at conferences may still have day jobs, or if they freelance, they edit manuscripts, ghostwrite books, or conduct their own writing workshops. Or they still have day jobs. They work all day and then come home and write their novels at night. Or if they’re early birds like me, they hop out of bed at 4 a.m. and sit down at the keyboard before rushing out the door to make it to work on time. Some pound out two or three pages every day while riding a commuter train.

Another group of writers may be blessed with a spouse who is the sole breadwinner of the family. Mothers who are writers take care of the kids and write during nap time. I’ve known stay-at-home writer dads as well. The whole family tightens the purse strings and lives on a budget.

Of course, a few authors inherited their fortunes and live on Fantasy Island.

Here’s the reality. The average Christian novel sells about 5,000 copies. Some sell less; some sell more. You notice I didn’t say that the first-time author only sells about 5,000 copies. No, that includes experienced and newbie authors as well. Do the math.

A smaller percentage may sell 10,000 to 15,000 books each time. This is our hope for you because it will assure you a place at the table and a long-term career. Now we enter more rarefied air.

A much smaller group sells 20,000 or 25,000 books, but those are usually long-time authors or a new author who happens to write a book that hits a nerve with readers. We hope you are the exception and will publish books in this range.

Only a handful of authors sell in the 50,000 to 100,000 or more range consistently. You know their names. They live on the bestseller lists. You see their names month after month and year after year on the CBA or ECPA bestseller lists.

Then, once in awhile, an author catches lightning in a bottle, and you have a series such as Left Behind or a single book title like The Shack.

So please, if you are a newcomer to publishing, adjust your expectations, and if you knock it out of the ballpark, you’ll be as ecstatic as your agent and your publisher. We pray for bestsellers!

Image: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot / FreeDigitalPhotos.net