Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tap Into the Power of Asking

Mega-promoter P.T. Barnum said, “Without promotion, something terrible happens. Nothing.” This statement is true for promotion and marketing but it is also true for almost every aspect of the publishing business. If you are not tapping into the power of asking, you are not having opportunities for your writing to be published and sold.

For example, if you want more reviews on Amazon for your books, are you consistently asking people if they are willing to read your book and write a review? It's been proven that a steady stream of reviews on Amazon (even if your book has been out a while) helps your book to sell even more copies. I understand it is important to get over 20 Amazon reviews (if possible) and 50 reviews is another benchmark. And when it comes to these reviews, I've often found willing people—but they haven't posted their review. Part of the process is to return to these individuals and make sure they have the book and remind them about the review. I understand there is a lot to read and write about since new books are being released into the market every day.

If you want to do more publishing in the world of print magazines, are you creating article ideas and pitching them to editors? I'm not talking about doing it once but over and over on a regular basis. You need to learn how to write a query letter then write your ideas and send them out to editors. I'd love for more editors to approach me with their ideas—but that is not my reality—even though I've written for over 50 magazines. Instead I have to ask editors to write for their publication.

If you want to get a literary agent, are you crafting your proposals then consistently pitching agents? Every agent receives numerous pitches every day and you have to be part of those pitches. As another strategy, are you going to conferences to meet agents and editors face to face and make your pitches? As editors (and a former literary agent), we work with people that we know, like and trust. Nothing happens if you sit back and do not actively pitch editors and agent.

Are you writing a book and need someone with a high profile to write the foreword for the book? Or does your book need some endorsements? Readers buy books every day because of endorsements and the foreword for the book—even if behind the scenes you had to write these endorsements. You will have to ask others for these endorsements, then probably give them a deadline, follow-up and even offer to write them a “draft” endorsement for it to happen. See how you have to be actively involved in this process and be asking for something to transpire?

While we depend on email, know that email can often not deliver—so make sure your pitch is reaching the right person and they are able to read it—even with a quick follow-up call or follow-up email to see if they got it.

If you don't have enough writing work or your books aren't selling, then I encourage you to become more active in asking others to buy your book or publish your work. Every writer (including me) would love to not have to ask others and have editors and agents clamor for their writing and work. In an extreme few cases, these writers exist—but for the bulk of us, we have to continue to pitch our work, promote our writing and get in front of new audiences.

How are you tapping into the power of asking in your writing work? Let me know in the comments below.


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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Writers Study their Craft

One of the ways we can grow as a writer in the knowledge of our craft is to read how-to books. Even though I have an undergraduate degree in journalism and have shelves of how-to write books, I continue to read books on the craft of writing. For years I've read at least one of these types of books every month. New how-to books continue to be created and published—and I learn something from each of them.

In fact, I'm on the lookout for notices about new how-to books and I enjoy reading them and writing reviews about the books. In this article, I want to highlight two new books that I've recently read and reviewed. I don't recall where I found out about these books but in each case, I looked the book on Amazon and noticed the book had one or no reviews. From my experience I know other readers are making buying decisions all the time based on these reviews. I know they are important to the author. Most authors are easy to find their website and contact information. I reached out to each of these two authors, Ann Byle and Carolyn Scheidies. I expressed my interest in reading and reviewing their book.

As a way to support other writers, I encourage you to take similar action. Reach out to these writers and offer to read their book if they will send you a review copy. Yes you get a book but this book comes with some responsibility: that you read the book and write your review.

First, CHRISTIAN PUBLISHING 101 by Ann Byle:

Journalist Ann Byle has compiled and edited a wide-ranging look at Christian Publishing from her years in this business.  As she explains in the opening pages of the book, “Most chapters are based on interviews I did with the professional or about his or her area of expertise.” The 45 chapters are broken into seven sections: Creating a Writing Life, The Craft of Writing, Exploring the Depths of Nonfiction, Discovering the Breath of Fiction, Writing for Children, Tweens, and Teens, Reaching Your Readers, and the Business of Writing. Each chapter includes an “Assignments” section with a series of questions for the reader to dig deeper into that particular topic. Some chapters include sidebars with additional resources and insight.

For a couple of the chapters, Byle writes from her detailed experience in the Christian market such as Chapter 16 Contents Is King: Article Writing for Magazines, Websites, and More or Chapter 42 Book Proposals: Whys and Hows of Creating a Great Overview of Your Book.

For almost any area of the field, reading CHRISTIAN PUBLISHING 101 will give you the basics and insights you need to start in this area.  Byle has compiled a book of experts in each area that the book explores for example: Jerry B. Jenkins, Nancy Rue, Bill Myers, or James Scott Bell. Many will want to read this book over and over as a valuable resource. I highly recommend it.


Whenever I learn from another writer or editor, I want to learn from someone with experience in what they are teaching. Carolyn Scheidies is just such a person. In ESPECIALLY FOR THE CHRISTIAN WRITER, Scheidies teaches about writing letters to the editor, queries to magazines, articles, news releases and much more. You will gain insights for your own writing as you study the pages of this well-written book.

In the opening pages, Scheidies gives critical information saying, “Want to get published? Then you need three things in great abundance: passion, persistence and patience. Without these, you will never persevere as a published writer. If you don’t care about your subject, how will you make your reader care? And if you give up, you’ll never know how far you could have gone.” (Page 10)

ESPECIALLY FOR THE CHRISTIAN WRITER is full of practical insights for every writers.  I recommend this book.

I hope you will check out these two books about the craft of writing and they will help your writing life. Do you regularly read books about the craft of writing? Let me know in the comments below. 


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Sunday, February 04, 2018

How to Move When Feeling Overwhelmed

Whether we acknowledge it or not, it is easy to feel overwhelmed as an author. The realities of the publishing world can be daunting. 

Every day thousands of new books enter the market. In addition, authors and publishers are promoting existing books to consumers. Every consumer has to hear about your book seven or eight or more times before they reach into their wallet and purchase your book. The average self-published book sells less than 100 copies and the average traditional book sells about 1,000 copies.

Yet as an author you have a much bigger vision than selling 100 or 1000 books. When it comes to book marketing, there are dozens of books—and each is filled with great ideas. Maybe you have read a few of these books and are stuck in the “shiny object” syndrome where you are buying the latest and greatest tool for marketing your book. While it may be good to purchase that tool, are you using it and then measuring to see if it is working for you?

If you are feeling overwhelmed (and everyone has these feelings from time to time), here's several ideas for you:

1. Change gears to a different type of writing project. If you have been writing a novel, switch to a nonfiction magazine article or writing a blog post or an Ebook or some other type of writing. The experience can get you moving again.

2. Plan a series of social media posts using Hootsuite or some other schedule tool. When you put these posts into your tool, you are doing something active—building your platform and presence in the marketplace.

3. Follow some new people on Twitter or Facebook. Why? With the idea that some of those people will follow you back and you will grow your social media following—a good thing to do if overwhelmed.

4. Get more friends on Goodreads. There are 55 million registered readers on Goodreads. As an author, you need to be spending a little time there on a regular basis. Use the friends section (see this link) to get more friends. Many authors only have a few hundred friends. I used these tools and built up to the maximum (which I learned when I hit it) of 5,000 friends. Now everytime I write a review on Goodreads (for a book that I've read or heard), it shows up on all these pages. You can have many friends if you faithfully use the tools from Goodreads.

5. Look for someone to review your latest book. Maybe it is someone you are corresponding with on email.Ask them if they are interested or willing to write an honest review and get their commitment. Then mail them your book. It's part of the publishing world to continually look for new reviews and feedback about your book.

6. Write a query letter to a magazine editor and pitch an article idea.

7. Read a marketing book like Online Marketing for Busy Authors and take one idea from the book and put it into practice.

My key point with this article is to take a small yet measured step in the direction of action. The worst thing you can do when feeling overwhelmed is nothing.


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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Pitch Magazine Editors for Exposure

For many years I've been writing for print magazines. Also I've been a magazine editor and know from the perspective of an editor the competitive nature of this business. I've written for many publications which no longer exist. Yet I contend writers need to include writing for magazines as a part of your writing life. For several reasons:

1. You Gain Broad Exposure in Print Publications. For a minute, let's talk realistic numbers. Yes you “may” write a book which becomes a bestseller but that is extremely rare. Your lifetime book sales are somewhat tied to the way you publish. The average self-published book sells about 100 copies during the lifetime of sales cycle. The average traditionally published book sells about 1,000 copies during the lifetime of the book. Every author “hopes” to exceed the numbers but understanding them gives you a bit of a reality check on the publishing world. In contrast, the circulation numbers for print publications are much larger. It's fairly easy to reach 100,000 or 200,000 people through a magazine—whether a large publication or small. Admittedly books are more permanent than magazines but the reach is broad with print publications.

2. You Increase Your Platform. In the early days of my writing life before my first book, I wrote for magazines. Book editors and literary agents read magazines looking for writers. It is a lot easier to write a 1500 word magazine article (or shorter) than to craft a 60,000 word book manuscript whether fiction or nonfiction. Every magazine includes a short bio of the writer at the end where you can list a book and a website. The exposure is helpful to you as a writer.  Marketing studies have shown that someone needs to hear about your book six or seven times before they actually purchase it. Your magazine writing can be a part of the exposure for your writing to new audiences. I have a lot more detail in my free, 43 page Ebook, Platform Building Ideas for Every Author.

3. You Practice Your Storytelling and Professionalism. Writing for magazines teaches some basic skills for every writer. You learn how to write interesting headlines and first paragraphs. You learn how to tell a focused story with a beginning,middle and ending. You learn how to write for a particular word count and deadline. Recently one of my Morgan James authors snagged one of his first magazine assignments. He could not reduce his manuscript from 2,700 words to the editor's request of 2,600 words. It was rare for me to help someone with this detail but I took a few minutes and made some suggested cuts for his article. It is a skill that I've practiced for years but learned in the world of magazine journalism.

I continue to write for several publications on a regular basis. With every submission, I show my professionalism and express my willingness to revise or fix any issues. While I work hard on meeting their expectations, I'm always willing to fix any issues. I recommend you take the same actions with your own submissions to publications.

4. You Must Be Pitching to Start the Editorial Process. I've given some reasons for being involved in print publications but how do you get started? You need to be select a publication, follow the guidelines and be pitching the editor with either a query letter or a full manuscript. The process begins with making that connection. 

Recently I reached out to a local editor where I've never written for the publication. I've known this editor for years from teaching at writer's conferences. We exchanged some emails about writing for this publication. Unexpectedly, this editor wrote asking if I had a short article on the topic of hope. She gave a short deadline for this need. I searched for the word “hope” in a folder of articles on my computer and found a couple of possibilities. One article looked like it “could” work so I revised my short bio then read through the article one more time, and emailed it off to this editor. Within a short amount of time, she responded that the article was exactly what she needed and would go in the next issue. Some of my ability to pull off this article was my experience but also my organization skills. You can do the same thing but you need to be pitching these editors to get on their radar. Do they have an editorial calendar and can you pitch an idea for a forthcoming issue? You will not be published in magazines without taking regular action.

Are you writing for magazines? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below.


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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Protect Your Good Name

I enjoy reading memoirs. About four years ago, I noticed a memoir at my library called Molly's Game. I brought it home and read it cover to cover. The story began with a competitive skier in Colorado. Molly Bloom. Ultimately Bloom began to run a high stakes poker game in Los Angeles. While I know little about poker, the story and writing held my interest. At the end of the book, the FBI had arrested Bloom and the story was not finished or resolved. While I enjoyed and appreciated the book, I went on to reading other books and didn't think much more about the story—until last month when the movie Molly's Game was released.

Prolific screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay. While in general, I do not go to many R rated films, I was eager to watch Molly's Game. The movie picks up where her memoir stopped and tells the rest of Molly Bloom's story. Repeatedly throughout the movie, Bloom is pressed to give the government the details of her high stakes poker clients and she refused. If she gave in, she would get all of her funds back from the government and much more but she did not.Why?  She didn't want the release of this information to destroy or hurt the lives of her clients. Also she was protecting her own name. One of the themes of the movie is how Bloom was firm on protecting her own name. It is a well-crafted story and worth seeing.

This film started my thinking about what steps am I taking to protect my own good name? I've written many books and magazine articles and worked as an editor for several publishers. In this era of social media,  stories can spread rapidly on networks—whether they are true or not. What steps are you taking to monitor and protect your own name?

Here's a couple of action points:

1. Be aware of the necessity for every writer to be cautious about what they put out on social media. Those posts are there forever.

2. Be actively monitoring your own name and how it is used with free tools like Google Alerts, TalkWalker and others. I use several of these tools and I find each one finds different sites and are easy to use and monitor.

I have been on Twitter since July 2008 and posted over 40,000 times. No one else is making these posts. Each time I type something on Facebook or Twitter, I'm aware of the longevity of such actions. These posts are searchable and long-lasting as in forever.

What actions are you taking to protect your name online? Let me know in the comments below.


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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Good Follow-up Is Important In Publishing

Good communication is important in the publishing world. As an acquisitions editor, I spend a lot of time every day answering emails, returning phone calls, texts and other forms of communication. Yet some emails go unanswered and phone calls are not returned. There are many possible reasons. Maybe it is the sheer volume of email. Maybe you are using the wrong email address or possibly you are trying to text someone whose phone line doesn't receive a text message. I've written about this topic before on The Writing Life. You can use this link to see some of these articles and read them.

When you approach a literary agent or editor, I encourage you to understand these publishing professionals are facing a torrent of such communication.  If your questions and emails do not, get answered in several days, I encourage you to send another email and follow-up.

Recently I could not reach an author for some additional information about his submission. If an author does not send their mailing address, I can't get their submission into our system at Morgan James.  We acknowledge every submission with a letter in the mail—and we receive over 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 books. These numbers show the massive volume and potential for missing some details. With this particular author, I tried several times on email and could not get a response. It turned out my emails were landing in his SPAM folder.

A different author filled out a submission form on the Morgan James website located in the lower right corner when you go to the site. I contacted this author as soon as I received the information. She wanted a phone call back. I returned her call but did not get her on the phone and left a voice mail message. We did not speak but this exchange had some red flags in the communication process.  With each exchange she never gave her last name nor any specifics about what type of book she was writing (despite my specific requests for this information). 

Next this author didn't feel like she was getting in touch with me, so she filled out another submission form complaining to my colleague (another red flag). This colleague checked with me (see the internal communication which goes on?) and learned the details of our exchanges from my perspective. 

Finally this author called me again and we actually spoke to each other a few minutes on the phone instead of exchanging voice mail messages. She wanted to inform me how we had missed out on a great publishing opportunity (admittedly never explained) through my lack of follow-up. I listen and attempted to clarify but each time, she refused to give additional information (another red flag).

Our publishing house has worked with thousands of authors over the last fifteen years. Besides my work at this publisher, I've worked at two other houses and reviewed thousands of submissions. Whenever we publish a book, our company invests thousands of dollars in the creation and promotion of this book. Good and clear communication from the author is important—and something we learn and evaluate with every exchange. Here's some basic principles for you:

1. Follow-up when you don't hear back or get the information you need—in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe the person you are trying to reach is on a deadline, ill, traveling or any number of other reasons.

2. Be clear and forthcoming in your communication with the editor or agent. There are no “secret” books or problems with giving the editor your complete information including your last name and details about your book. Without the author, the idea has no value—zero.

3. As publishing professionals, we are looking for great ideas and clear communication. Because Morgan James is not a self-publisher but works as a team, I can not look at your submission and offer you a contract. Yes I have influence on the decision and champion the author and the book to my colleagues. If we are able to offer a contract, that offer comes from the group. The best publishing in my view is a consensus-building process. Individuals have blind spots and miss critical elements in this process where the group can help each other and produce excellent work. Authors have to take their own responsibility to market and promote their own book—yet working with their publisher in this process.

I wrote this article to help every writer understand the importance of good follow-up in the publishing community.  

Is follow-up one of your skills? If not, how can you improve in this area? Tell me your experiences in the comments below.


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Sunday, January 07, 2018

Time for a Reboot

I love January and the fresh beginnings of a new year.  Whether you are reading this article in January when I wrote it or in the middle of the year, any time is a great time for a reboot or a new start. 

As I consider last year, I know some great accomplishments happened with new authors and my own writing life. 

Yet some of my goals were not met and some projects were not completed. Do you have some of these projects? Here's my good news: you can reboot those projects and push them into the marketplace. Maybe your book didn't sell as many copies as you wanted. Then take a reboot and begin reaching new readers. As the author, you are the person with the passion for your book. Maybe your publisher has pressed on to other books and other authors—but you still love your book and want to reach more readers. My encouragement is you can do it so make your plans and push forward. When your old book generates some new sales and new momentum, then your publisher will notice and join you in the push. As the author, you are in the drivers seat of this passion and momentum. 

Book publishing is not a sprint but more like a marathon. Some books shoot out into the marketplace and succeed while others are more of a slow burn and take time. If the author continues with their passion, these slow burn books can pick up momentum and begin to sell thousands of copies every month—but the author has to keep going on the marketing. My friend Sandra Beckwith has an inexpensive tool (yes 99 cents) called 365 Daily Book Marketing Tips. These insights come every day via email. Sandy sends you the full listing of the tips in a single PDF but I like the regular reminders through these daily emails. I do not take action on all of them but I read them and follow a number of the suggestions. Why?

As I've written about in the past, there is no single path to becoming a bestseller or achieving success with your book. If there were such a path, then every book would sell many copies and become a bestseller. Instead every author and every book has to find their own path. The author has to continually experiment and use tested methods to reach their readers.
Another resource is 5–Minute Book Marketing for Authors by Penny Sansevieri. Last year I wrote more details about this book (use this link). While I read this book last year, I marked my own book with numerous tags for action. As I look through them, I see more actions that I can take. I suspect each of us are in the same category. It's never too late to take action and get started. Make your plans and do it today.

For example, my biography of Billy Graham released over two years ago. In November, the audiobook version of the book released. At 99 years old, Mr. Graham is in his 100th year on the planet and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Decision magazine are celebrating this milestone. One of my marketing ideas for my book was to create a study guide. Small groups and book clubs are always looking for these study guides to enhance their group. I began to write the guide for my book in 2015 or two and a half years ago. Last week, I dusted off that file and decided now was the time to write this study guide. I've written study guides for other books plus I've used numerous study guides for books. I have the background and skills to pull together this study guide.  When completed and launched, it will give me a new tool to promote related to my book.

Does your book have a study guide with it? It doesn't matter whether your book is nonfiction like my Billy Graham biography or fiction? You can still write and launch a study guide. Maybe you need this tool for your own book. It is never too late to write it and get it out into the marketplace.

Do you have a project that you can reboot? Tell me about your action steps in the comments below.


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