Thursday, February 28, 2008

For Your Marketing Questions

Where do you go when you have marketing questions about the Christian market? It's hard to know where to turn and get a direct, straightforward answer.

If you have one of these questions, I've got the perfect resource for you--but you can't wait around and have to take advantage of it immediately. Next Wednesday, March 5th, I will be grilling Sally E. Stuart with marketing questions from the Christian writer. For the last 23 years, Sally has been compiling and publishing marketing information about the Christian market in the Christian Writers' Market Guide. In the last few weeks, the 2008 edition was released.

I'd encourage you to take your best shot and put in your burning marketing questions at http://www.asksallystuart.com/. You can either call into the teleseminar and listen on your telephone or you can listen to it on your computer. If you have a conflict and can't make the teleseminar, you are still covered because the teleseminar will be recorded. Everyone who registers for the teleseminar will receive the replay links.

Beyond the valuable teleseminar with Sally E. Stuart, I've got an extra special offering for you. Several years ago, Sally wrote an excellent book called Getting Published. I believe this book is no longer in print but it has a terrific marketing chapter. I asked Sally (and she agreed) to give a FREE copy of this chapter to everyone who registers for this teleseminar.

Don't delay but while you are thinking about it, go to http://www.asksallystuart.com/ and sign up for this teleseminar. On the confirmation page (where you will hear my voice) you can immediately download this marketing chapter. I look forward to talking with you next week during this live teleseminar with Sally Stuart.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Your Memoir On Your Nametag

It was an unusual book launch from Smith's magazine for a book called, "Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs By Writers Famous and Obscure."

The article, "Say It All In Six Words" in The New Yorker is where I learned about this book. The economy of words is a valuable lesson for any writer and something I recommend. I have written hundreds of book reviews for example over the years. It's a challenge to say anything of depth yet cover a lot of ground in about 300 words or less. It is great training.

For fun, this book launch includes a short video on Amazon.

It's interesting to me that this book is getting some fairly high-profile buzz from these sources. If you have a new book that is about to come into the market or maybe it is already in the market, can you learn something from this example and do it with your book?

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Friday, February 22, 2008

A Window to the Publisher's Thinking

Book publishing is subjective. One publisher or editor will love a concept and book project or manuscript and build the consensus inside the publishing house so that title appears in print. Hopefully this same editor will rally the publicity and marketing and sales area so the public learns of this book and the buzz begins to transpire.

It's not often that the average writer can get much insight into the current mindset of these publishers. Where are they headed? What trends do they see in the marketplace? What are their concerns or worries about the future of book publishing? While these are good questions, I wanted to point to a place where I got a bit of insight to the answers. Also I wanted to point to how I got this information in hopes it will help you see where you too can follow this type of information. I subscribed to Christian E-Tailing (a free twice a week newsletter). Yesterday's newsletter included a release from the Christian Trade Association about their January meeting in Toronto, Ontario. According to the release, they did not record audios of the presentations. Yet they are providing downloads of the publisher's papers. I was intrigued with this quote: "Our prayer is that by offering these papers for free they will be a significant resource for the many that can benefit from them," CTAI President Jim Powell said. The free papers cover several topics, including "Christian Publishing International Initiatives," "The Future of Christian Publishing," "Developing Authors," "Opening a Christian Bookstore," "Christian Trade and the Global South" and "Christian Publishing Trends From the Perspective of a Developing World Publisher."

I'm always interested to read anything about trends in the marketplace and gain a window into their thinking. You may look at the page and wonder what I read. These two papers in particular were fascinating to me: The Future of Christian Publishing with contributions from Greg Thornton, Director, Moody Publishers (USA), Tessie DeVore, Executive Vice President, Book Group, Strang Communications (USA), Chris Johnsen, President, Christian Art (South Africa), and Bob Hawkins, Jr., President, Harvest House Publishers Developing Authors with contributions from Scott Bolinder, Executive Vice President and Publisher, Zondervan (USA), Phoebe Mugo, General Manager, Uzimo Publishers (Kenya), and Mark Taylor, President, Tyndale House Publishers (USA)

Included in these papers is that these leaders within their publishing houses rarely communicate with the public. If you download and study this material, it will help give you a realistic perspective about their viewpoint. Why do you care as a writer or book author? As an author you need to consider and write to your readers. Yet to be able to reach that audience, you need to connect with the gatekeepers of the publishing houses and tap their needs and/or calm their concerns and fears. You get some hints in this material.

Before you head over there and download this material, it needs a bit of a warning. You "could" find it discouraging. There are many places where you could grow concerned as an author. I'll give one example--out of context--from Tessie DeVore who leads the book group at Strang, "Christian publishers will find it even harder to start up new authors...This means "riskier" titles by newer authors will not be adequately featured..." Don't allow your self talk to say something like "Well, that does it for my book idea. It's over." It's not. One of the keys is your own attitude.

I love what Cynthia Kersey at Unstoppable wrote about this area. "How you deal with challenges will determine whether you achieve your goal or give up and settle for less than you deserve. If we really want to create different results in our lives, we must become aware of how we interpret the "facts" or "events" of our lives and understand that our explanations often do not represent the "truth" of what's possible for us. In a very real sense, facts are an objective account of the event that occurred. No interpretation or meaning is attached. For example: "I was rejected by a potential investor for my project," "My husband left me," "I lost my job," "I was diagnosed with an illness," "I can't get pregnant."

Truth represents what's possible in any situation. "Each rejection brings me one step closer to an investor for my project," "I will find a new, better relationship," "I can find a better and more fulfilling career," "My health will improve," "I can adopt," and so on.

Many people believe that events control their lives and that their circumstances have shaped who they are today. It's not true. It's not the events of our lives that shape us, but how we respond to those events, what we think they mean, and whether challenges trigger the "giving up" reflex in us or motivate us to hang tough and keep fighting." I can't recommend strongly enough to go over to Cynthia's site and sign up for her Unstoppable Insights.

Notice what Scott Bolinder, EVP and Publisher at Zondervan says in his paper about Developing Authors At Home, "Publishing is a very relational enterprise and you have to cultivate lots of relationships in order to acquire content." Later he writes, "Keeping strong authors is often more challenging than acquiring them, so it must be treated with the utmost importance. Number one factor in caring for one another-- effective communication! Nothing will discourage an author more than a breakdown in communication with their publisher." Finally Scott writes, "Authors and readers are the lifeblood of publishing."

Ever wonder what publishers think about authors moving from publisher to publisher and the whole concept of "stealing" authors? Check out what Mark Taylor, President of Tyndale House Publishers says about this topic in his excellent paper on Author Development. I found it fascinating.

You will see there are many concerns that publishers have about the future of book publishing and their own role. I didn't mention anything about digital rights and Print On Demand (POD) and many other interesting things woven into these papers.

As a writer, it will be key for you to write your own passion--yet write it in such a way that it will reach into the heart and demand a "gotta-have-this-one" response from the gatekeepers within the publishing community. Then they will give you that opportunity to reach your readers.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Free Link-Maker Resource

The search engines on the Internet love active links which go into your website and links which point to your website. It takes some effort on your part to create these links. Maybe it comes from making comments on various blogs and pointing back to your own site.

Here's a new tool that I've started using called Real Link Finder. It's easy to use and the creator Neil Shearing has created some excellent brief instructional videos to show you exactly how to use this tool.

free blog commenting software

I've been using this free tool and it works well. It was simple to download, install and use which amounts to an unbeatable combination.

With a few clicks, you can change the website address that you are leaving with your relevant comment. Whether you have a new book or a new website or are simply trying to build your newsletter list, tools like Real Link Finder are valuable to put into your marketing arsenal.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why Clickable PDFs Are Important

Have you ever been listening to teleseminar or reading a new book, when the author or speaker casually throws in a bit of information which startles you with the significance? I had one of those experiences this week.

I was listening to an information packed teleseminar from Ellen Violette, the Ebook Coach called The Top 12 Ebook Questions (follow the link if you want to listen to it). For one of her early points, Ellen mentioned that many people use PDF995 to create PDF files yet this program strips out the hyperlinks so they are not clickable.

Now if you have never made a PDF from a Microsoft Word document that little fact might not be significant to you. It was significant to me. I have been using this little free program for many years to create PDF files. In fact, I used it to create all of the downloadable transcripts for Proposal Secrets. Each transcript included a number of hyperlinks to additional resources--yet with this information from Ellen Violette, I returned to check my links to see if they were working. She was exactly right. They did not work (here's an example of the old file). Yes the links show up in blue--but they are not functional.

I used google and searched for an economical solution for a program which would take Word documents and change them into PDF files yet maintain the hyperlinks. I found a free resource in Open Office from Sun Systems.

OK, now I have a program which performs for me yet I still had to rework each of the 50 Secrets for Proposal Secrets. Here's the sample audio postcard on the Proposal Secrets page. Notice the downloadable transcript on this sample--and the difference from the one above. The links are clickable. Instantly readers can access a resource from a PDF which they can't do if you are using the wrong program. It's another lesson I learned in the school of hard knocks. It also shows me again the value of continuing to learn new skills and new insights. You never know where you will discover that relevant bit of information for your writing.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Pesky Book Sales Numbers

Last August, I wrote about the challenge that anyone who works on the outside of a particular publishing house has to get sales numbers for a competitor. We look for these numbers as you write the competition section of your book proposal and just work in general to understand the marketplace. If you didn't read this post from last August, please do so and follow the links in it which give some additional instruction.

In the general marketplace, in my opinion often too much emphasis is placed on Nielsen Bookscan. I can think of a missed opportunity that I was involved in a couple of years ago. Our publishing house missed the opportunity and didn't make a high enough offer for a project because the leader based their projected sales figures on information from Bookscan. In general you can't do that with the Christian marketplace because many sales do not show up on Bookscan.

While the information is a couple of months old, last weekend I found this post on Galley Cat at Media Bistro. It points out some places that Bookscan doesn't report like Walmart/ Sam's Club and the Christian Booksellers Association. Why does anyone care about the exact sales figures of Become A Better You? The rumor within the book circles was Joel Osteen received a $13 million advance for this book. If it is true, you have to sell a lot of books to make back that $13 million.

I found this discussion interesting--and hopefully you will as well.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Book Buying Decisions

How do people make decisions about buying books? I'm always looking for this type of information. In 2006, Global Market Insight, Inc. conducted a survey among African-American readers. The results appeared in the February 11,2008 issue of Publishers Weekly in an article called Word-of-Mouth Top Book-Buying Decisions.

While this result isn't unexpected, it continues to show the power of getting other people talking about your book. What can you do to stir this word-of-mouth for your particular book--whether it is old or new?

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Know Your Competition

It's a common missing element in many book proposals. The writer contends they have created something unique which "has no competition." When someone writes this statement, they are not considering the larger sense of the book market. Every book has competition in the marketplace. It's the responsibility of the writer to understand and describe that competition in their book proposal. It is not the responsibility of your editor or literary agent to create this competition but the author's responsibility who should intimately know their topic and area of expertise.

Publishers need this information throughout the internal process within publishing houses. For one publisher, when they complete their internal paperwork to secure a book contract for an author, they are required to list the ISBNs of competitive titles.

Some of you reading these entries are familiar with Book Proposals That Sell. In the final pages of this book, I include a sample of one of my book proposals which sold for a six-figure advance. This proposal is exactly what was submitted to the various publishers. The missing ingredient in my proposal (despite its success) is the lack of specific competitive titles. I wrote this proposal over ten years ago and in today's market it would need to have those competitive titles before it would go out into the marketplace. Hopefully I've learned (and continue to learn) a few things about book proposal creation over the last few years.

When I started as an acquisitions editor, the president of the company (no longer there) sat down and went through the various topic areas where I would be acquiring books. One of these areas was parenting books. I raised a question about this area since within several miles of our offices was a major marketing force in this area of parenting called Focus on the Family. "Oh yes, Terry, we will continue to publish parenting books," he said with passion. "Marriages continue to fall apart in record numbers and children are leaving the church in droves." With my marching orders, I continued to acquire parenting books but silently I wondered whether a book can solve those two explicit issues about the family.

Each week Publishers Weekly tackles a different area of the market. In the February 11th issue, they cover parenting books which is highly competitive with loads of successful titles in print. The article, "Spare the Rod and..." gives a rundown of several forthcoming parenting books. Here's what is interesting to me (and hopefully for you): Notice the sub-categories for each title in the article: publisher, first printing, target audience, author's credentials, why the book is needed, and what distinguishes it from the competition. The final four categories are what every author needs to include in their book proposal when it is submitted to a literary agent or an editor.

The actual language for the competition section is tricky. The author needs to point out the competition and how their book takes a different slant on the subject or deeper or some improvement--without slamming the competitive title. Why? Because the publisher of that competitive title may be the perfect location for your book. You don't want to offend that publisher with how you've written about their title. Like many aspects of the publishing world, when you write your competition section, it calls for education, understanding and some sense of diplomacy because the relationship will often be the distinction.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Find The Right Puzzle Pieces

It's been years since I've put together a complicated board puzzle. As a teen, it was something we did on some rainy summer afternoons. The time disappeared as we twisted the different pieces and attempted to fit the right piece into the right place.

It's the same sort of process with our writing and communication. It is often a matter of putting together the right combination of pieces to form the completed picture. Are you looking for the right combination or stuck trying to put two pieces together which are not destined to fit?

For example, over the last few weeks, I've been pulling together another book project. For this particular book, I have a wealth of raw material yet I want to make sure I put it together in the "right" package. The big structure of the book needs to be in place as well as the details of the paragraphs and the chapter construction. In many regards, it is like a giant puzzle that I'm constructing. In some ways, I need to be careful and not mix in some pieces from a completely different puzzle so the overall picture is complete. I've enjoyed this fitting process yet one of the keys is to continually focus on the reader. Who is the target market and what does that reader need? How will the words on the page meet the needs of the reader? When it comes to nonfiction, it's the consistent focus on these questions which will keep the book on track.

When I write a nonfiction book, it starts with a solid outline for the book. If I'm writing a book proposal, then I need this outline for the proposal and the chapter by chapter summary section. If I'm writing the book, then this outline will still be critical to the creation process. The outline provides the map of where the book is headed. It keeps me focused on the overall target audience. Plus the outline helps determine the sequential flow of the contents. If I'm writing a shorter magazine article, I still need this outline to know the beginning and end of my article.

Your writing situation and life will be different from mine. I have a mixture of work in the print realm and in the Internet space. It's again like a giant puzzle where you have the big picture in mind (or the end result) and you need to constantly fit the various pieces together into the right mixture. What is the right mixture for your writing life? For some people, they will be strict children's writers or young adult writers while others will be able to write stirring copy for a brochure one hour and a chapter of their current book project the next hour.

My encouragement today is to keep looking for that perfect mixture for your writing life. And don't be surprised if it changes from year to year. It's part of our ever evolving world of publishing.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

An Unusual Place for Courage

I find courage and inspiration in unusual places. In a small way, I try and point you toward those unusual places. I was fascinated to read the comments about my post from a couple of days ago where people wonder what you use to continue to be proactive and positive. It is not easy--for anyone--yet in the face of setbacks and discouragement, each of us need courage to keep going.

Several times in these entries, I've mentioned Cynthia Kersey, the author of Unstoppable for Women (an encouraging book). This morning I received an email that Kersey sent to her list with the link to her appearance on the Big Idea at CNBC talking about Millionaire Secrets. Before you roll your eyes at the title and discount it, I'd encourage you to take less than five minutes and watch this little segment.

I found it so encouraging and inspirational that I watched it twice--and may even go back for a third time. In case you don't watch Kersey's clip, here's the five unusual points she makes then quickly illustrates with great stories:

1. Facts Are the Enemy of the Truth

2. Don't Fight a Problem, Solve it.

3. Don't mistake success for failure. You have to be able to bear setbacks.

4. Develop your inner circle. Find people to support you.

5. Awaken your inner optimist. Don't listen to the nay sayers.

I love these truths. Whether you listen to the voices in your head or the people around you, each of us have the little messages in our heads and hearts. Look for inspiration and courage in unusual places. It's definitely available if you are looking.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Beginning and Ending of Marketing

When a writer want to write a book, they will ask at what point to begin their marketing efforts. In traditional publishing, books often take months to get through the system before they are published. While there is no universal starting point for your marketing efforts, it is hard to begin too soon.

In Steve Weber's Plug Your Book!, he includes a relevant quote from bestselling author Seth Godin who says, "The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility, and build the connections you'll need later."

It doesn't take much for me to imagine all of the authors who moan, "Three years!" As the author, you have the greatest vision and passion for your book--no matter how you publish it. The publisher's attention will be divided with other titles and matters where you can steadily focus on your book. Potential readers need continual reminders about the availability of your book and why it is relevant to their needs. In the case of Book Proposals That Sell, I've seen a steady increase in the sales of this book since it released several years ago. At first the more experienced writers would tell me that they knew how to write a book proposal and had read other books on the topic so they didn't purchase my book until later. When they finally got around to reading it, they realized my unique perspective and the valuable information which it contained--even if they had read other books.

If you are looking for the end point to your marketing efforts for a book, again as the author you will have the greatest passion for your book. If your book goes out of print and your passion for the book has failed, then you can stop marketing your book. Otherwise I would encourage you to continue your efforts--even if it is only once a week or once a month. You never know which one of your efforts will be the tipping point to move your sales rapidly ahead. I continue working to let new audiences know about Book Proposals That Sell and the sales continue to be steady for it.

And if you wonder about the wisdom of giving away your novel online before it appears in print, just check out what happened with Paul Coelho's The Alchemist and this recent post from Book Marketing Guru John Kremer. Possibly it will encourage your efforts.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Case For Blogging Book Authors

In yesterday's entry on The Writing Life, I told you about Steve Weber's Plug Your Book! Today I take the rare step for these entries. I turn over the bulk of the words to Steve Weber and an excerpt from his book. He answers one of the questions that many writers have asked me, "Is it important for authors to blog?"

I recommend you read this entry carefully and you will discover a wealth of information--and you will see firsthand why I'm enthused about Weber's book. Here's the excerpt:

Blogging for authors

By Steve Weber from Plug Your Book!

Julie Powell moved to New York to become an actress. A few years later, she realized she was 30 years old, working a dead-end job to pay the bills, and still had no acting prospects. Then, on a visit to Texas, she borrowed her mother's copy of Julia Child's landmark 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1. Back in her cramped kitchen on Long Island, Powell cooked one of the recipes for her husband, who enjoyed it so much he urged her to attend culinary school and become a professional cook.

Instead, Powell decided to teach herself, and let the whole world watch. She vowed to cook each of the book's 524 recipes during the following year, and write a diary about it on a Web log, or blog. Powell wrote about killing lobsters, boiling calves hooves, and making homemade mayonnaise, but she didn't confine herself to cooking. For good measure, she heaped on details of her sex life, recipes for reviving a romance, and snide remarks about her backstabbing coworkers.

As Powell began one entry: "My husband almost divorced me last night, and it was all because of the sauce tartar." Her storytelling was so good, word got around fast and thousands began reading her blog--regardless of whether they cared about French cuisine. A write-up in the New York Times brought thousands more readers.

By the time Powell was winding down her project, publishers were knocking on the door with book contracts, and her blog turned into the bestseller Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. More than 100,000 copies sold its first year, a monster success for any memoir, let alone a book by an unknown, chronically unemployed actress. Here's a humorous online trailer featuring Powell chatting about the book and how it happened:


Blogging is a relatively easy way for you to publicize your book and even improve your writing while you're at it. If you can write an e-mail, you can write a blog--it's the easiest, cheapest, and perhaps best way for authors to find an audience and connect with readers. Blogging is an informal, intimate form of communication that inspires trust among your readers.

For the same reasons that traditional advertising is usually ineffective for selling books, a blog can be highly effective for book promotion. People interested in your topic seek out your message.

What is a blog?

Put simply, a blog is a Web site with a few interactive features. You don't have to call it a blog unless you want to. It's possible that within a few years, nearly every Web site will have interactive features, and people simply won't call them blogs anymore.

You needn't know anything about computers to blog. Simply type into a form, and presto--the whole world can see it. Your blog is a content management system--a painless way to build and maintain a platform where readers can discover and enjoy your writing.

A blog can be a part of your Web site, or it can be the Web site. The main thing that distinguishes a blog from a plain old Web site is that a blog is frequently updated with short messages, or posts. Readers often chime in with their own comments at the bottom of each post. This free exchange of ideas is what makes blogs a revolutionary tool for authors: A successful blog is a constant stream of ideas, inspiration, perspective, and advice--it's a real-time, global focus group.

Why blogs are better

Some authors who already have a book for sale resist the idea of blogging and the "extra work" it entails. Their reasoning is, "Why create more deadlines when your book is already finished?" Well, blogging can help you maximize the effectiveness of things you're probably already doing, like answering e-mails from your readers.

Compared with other types of Internet publicity content such as static Web sites or e-mail newsletters, blogs provide three big advantages:

-- Blogs are easy to start and maintain.

-- The short, serialized content of blogs encourages regular readership, repeated exposure to your books, and more sales.

-- Blogs rank high in search-engine results from Google and other providers, making them easy to find.

Why do blogs get so much traffic from search engines? First, blogs are topical. When you're writing about the same topics and ideas day in and day out, your site becomes packed with the keywords your audience is searching for. Stay at it awhile, and it becomes nearly impossible for your target audience to miss you, thanks to Google and the other search engines. Most new visitors will find your site by using a search engine, after looking for words and topics contained in your Web pages.

Another reason blogs are so easy to find is that search engines usually rank them higher than other types of Web sites. Thus your links can show up at the top of search results, which is where most people click.

Google and the other search engines give extra credit to blogs for a couple of reasons:

-- Blogs are updated frequently, and the assumption is "fresh" content is more valuable.

-- Blogs tend to have many links from other Web pages with similar content. The assumption is that because other bloggers and Webmasters have decided to link to your content, it's probably valuable.

Your visibility in search results is key, since about 40 percent of your new visitors will likely arrive via a Web search. If your site ranks highly in Web searches for the keywords related to your book, you'll have a constant source of well-qualified visitors and likely book buyers.

Breathing the blogosphere

Step 1 in becoming a blogger is to consume some blogs yourself. Reading other blogs gives you a quick feel for what works, what doesn't, and the techniques you'll want to apply to your own blog.

There are millions of blogs, and finding ones that suit you can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. There's no easy way to filter out low-quality blogs--you've just got to sample what's out there.

A good place to begin is by browsing for blogs about your hobbies, pastimes and passions. You can find a list of the most popular blogs here:


You can drill down into niche territory by browsing www.Technorati.com/blogs, where you'll find a menu of subjects on the left. You can also search blogs by keyword at these sites:

http://www.blogsearch.google.com/ http://www.feedster.com/ http://www.icerocket.com/

Once you've found a few blogs of interest, it's easy to find more. Bloggers tend to link to one another, both within their blog posts, and often within a side menu of links known as a blogroll.

A handy tool for keeping track of all your blogs is a newsreader or aggregator, which saves you the trouble of poking around the Web, looking for new blog posts. Instead, your newsreader gathers and displays updates for you. One free, easy-to-use reader is:


You'll quickly learn which blogs you've subscribed to are must-reads, and which can be ignored or deleted.

Connecting with readers

It's natural to be apprehensive about starting a blog. When you first begin, it may feels like being on stage without a script or a view of the audience. Don't worry, feedback will come soon enough. Remember, there's no right or wrong way to blog. The only rule is your target audience must find something worthwhile.

One way to ease into blogging is to start with a temporary practice blog at http://www.blogger.com/, where you can set up a free practice blog in five minutes. Take a dry run for a week or two, then make your blog public when you're ready.

Good blogs are addictive, which is one reason they're so effective for authors. Many book buyers must be exposed to a title six or seven times before deciding to buy. With a good blog, getting repeated exposure won't be a problem.

A lively blog is like a focus group and writing laboratory rolled into one: It provides you with constant feedback, criticism, and new ideas. Your blog readers will pepper you with comments and e-mails. When you've struck a chord, you'll know immediately from the response. When you lay an egg, you'll know that too, from the silence.

Just as theater companies try out new productions in the hinterlands before storming Broadway, authors can fine tune their material on their blog, says technology writer Clive Thompson:

"Ask writers who blog regularly--like me--and they'll tell you how exciting it is to be wired in directly to your audience. They correspond with you, pass you tips, correct your factual blunders, and introduce you to brilliant new ideas and people. The Internet isn't just an audience, it's an auxiliary brain. But you have to turn it on, and it takes work. You can't fake participation and authenticity online."

Indeed, the true power of blogging is the momentum created by your audience. Once your blog has 100 frequent readers, it has critical mass. It may take six months or a year to get there, but from there it's all downhill. Members of your core audience begin competing to hand you the most useful, compelling ideas--by writing comments on your blog and e-mailing you directly. That's when your blog becomes electric, a magnet attracting new readers. Your core audience swells as word of mouth goes viral.

Blog comments: pros and cons

Most blogs include space below the author's posts for readers to add their own views. These comments can take the conversation in a totally new direction, and become the most interesting material on your blog, thanks purely to your readers' efforts.

For the blogger, comments bring three key benefits:

-- Instant feedback on your ideas and writing, and a sense of what your audience finds valuable.

-- Feeling of participation and loyalty among your audience.

-- Adding valuable keyword density to your site, making it much more visible in search-engine results.

Like any tool, however, comments can be abused. It's not unusual to see rude or off-topic comments on some blogs, and even "spam comments" written solely to plant links back to the spammer's site. The worst spammers even use software robots, which scour the Web for target blogs and insert their junk links. Spam comments are usually along the lines of, "Hey, great blog. Come see us at http://www.cheap-viagra.com/."

Fortunately, most problem comments can be prevented by using countermeasures like comment moderation: you review and approve new comments before they appear on your blog. Another option is to allow readers to post comments immediately, and you review them later. The advantage is your readers get immediate gratification in seeing their comments posted as they submit them.

Most spam comments can be prevented by using word verification, requiring comment writers to type a short series of characters displayed in an image. This stops spam comments from software robots.

To be sure, some popular authors don't allow blog comments at all, such as marketing guru Seth Godin. Simply because they're well known, famous writers attract a certain number of crackpots and sycophants, and perhaps it's easier to avoid them by allowing no comments.

Blog style

Just as every book and author is unique, there's an endless variety of blog styles and flavors. All the blogging services have page templates, allowing you to start with a basic design and add a few personal elements.

Don't get bogged down looking for the "perfect" design. You'll always be free to tweak your design later, or do a complete overhaul. The most important thing is to get started adding content and building your audience.

The main design requirement is readability. Plain vanilla blogs are fine, and are actually preferred by most readers--it's the words that count. Black text on a white background might seem uninspired, but it's much easier on the eyes than white text on a black background or some other color. A plain masthead, simply your blog title in capital letters, is fine to start. The important thing is to get started.

Your blog's angle

A nonfiction author's blog can approach the topic from several directions:

-- New developments.

-- New products or services.

-- Hot-button issues of the day.

-- What other blogs or media are saying.

-- Reviews of new books in the field.

You can publish a blog in the style of a perpetual newsletter, an aggregation of interesting tidbits about your book's topic. As you notice new things and write about them, each post is stacked on top, and with each new post added on top, one of the older posts is bumped from the bottom and sent to your archives.

Let's imagine you're writing a blog on the topic Organic Strawberries. Your blog could serve as an information clearinghouse covering every conceivable angle and trend of organic strawberry growing, cooking, and consuming. You'll constantly monitor consumer and trade media for the latest news on organic growing, interpret this material for your audience, and link to the source material, adding your own commentary.

Your blog could include:

-- Questions from your blog readers on organic fruit, along with your answers.

-- Guest articles from experts on organic strawberry gardening.

-- New books and magazines on the topic.

-- Strawberry dessert recipes.

-- The best places to grow organic strawberries.

-- Listings and maps of markets offering organic strawberries.

-- Reviews of cookbooks addressing natural, organic, fruit and dessert preparation.

Fiction authors have even more freedom, but a bigger creative burden. They can write about themselves, or even from the point of view of a fictional character. A story from their book can continue on the blog, veering off in new directions, experimentally, in response to suggestions from readers and other writers.

Raw materials for posts

A free, easy way to find new raw material for your blog is to create a Google Alert, which will automatically scour thousands of media sources for any keywords you specify. You'll be alerted via e-mail when something containing your keywords appears in newspapers, magazines, Web sites, or other sources. Sign up at:


Google Alerts are also a handy way to monitor mentions of your blog title, book titles, and even your name or the names of other authors.

Your blog's title

A blog title usually spans the top portion of each page like a newspaper masthead. Titles are usually short and catchy--perhaps just a couple of nonsense words like Boing Boing, or a made-up compound word like RocketBoom or BuzzMachine. The name could be a non sequitur or double-entendre like PostSecret. Sometimes a title is just a title, like The Official Google Weblog.

Try to include in your title the most critical keyword related to your niche. Joe's Organic Strawberry Growing, Baking and Eating Guide is a good title. A poor title would be Joe's Thoughts and Ideas about Fruit because nobody would search for something like that, and if they saw it, they couldn't guess what it's about. Be obvious. Pick a few words that will be easy for people to remember and to repeat in conversation and e-mails.

Writing your blog posts

The essential ingredient of a blog is its short entries, or posts. They're arranged in reverse chronological order, with the newest at top. Posts can be a few sentences long, or many paragraphs long, and often link to outside information like blogs, newspaper stories, or multimedia clips hosted elsewhere on the Web.

Nearly any tidbit of information relevant to your audience can be spun into a blog post of some type:

-- Informational. A news-oriented blurb. A new development.

-- Question/Answer. Easy to write, and fun to read. Reliable material, even if you have to make up the question.

-- Instructional. Can be a longer post, a tutorial that explains how to do something related to your niche.

-- Link posts. Find an interesting blog post elsewhere. Link to it and add your own spin.

-- Rant. Let off some steam, and let it rip. Interesting blogs don't play it safe, they take sides.

-- Book review. Review a book related to your field. It can be a new book or a classic that newcomers haven't heard of.

-- Product reviews. The word "review" is a popular search term. Give your frank opinion, and encourage your readers to chime in with their own views.

-- Lists. Write about the "Top 5 Ways" to do a task, or the "Top 10 Reasons" for such-and-such. Readers love lists. If someone else publishes a list, you can summarize it or critique it on your own blog.

-- Interviews. Chat with someone in your field. Provide a text summary on your blog. You can also add a transcript or even an audio file.

-- Case studies. Report on how so-and-so does such-and-such. You don't have to call it a "case study," just tell the story.

-- Profiles. Profiles focus on a particular person, a personality. The person profiled can be someone well known in your field, or perhaps a newcomer nobody's heard of.

Most blogs are conversational and informal, but that doesn't give authors a license to be sloppy. Readers expect clear writing from an author, and that requires attention to detail--not to mention beginning your sentences with capital letters and ending them with periods. It's worth proofreading and spell-checking your posts before publishing. Keeping your paragraphs short will minimize your rewriting chores.

Blogging categories

One helpful feature for you and your readers is blog categories. Assign each post to one or more categories, such as "technology," "marketing," "features," "reviews," or however you can best divide your material. Category headings can be listed on your blog's margin, and are especially valuable for new readers.

Assigning your posts to category headings can be especially handy later for your own writing tasks -- you'll have material already divided into chapter topics.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sound Online Marketing Advice For Authors

Steve Weber is a seasoned author and over the years has learned a great deal about marketing online. In Plug Your Book! Online Book Marketing for Authors, you gain the benefit of his years of trial and error. In the early portion of this book he "explains the basics of online book promotion techniques that provide the most bang for your effort."

I love the realistic counsel in Plug Your Book! such as when Weber says, "Perhaps not everything discussed in here will be practical for your book. Your job is to select which promotional techniques might work best with your audience, and then use them aggressively and tirelessly. Online publicity works particularly well with nonfiction, but can be applied to fiction too. The more techniques you try, the better your chances of success. A single strategy won't work, but a combined effort will produce results, and the effect will be cumulative."

Many authors ignore online publicity for their books (and reap the poor sales results). Or they try one or two techniques and give up quickly (and again wonder why their book has few sales). Throughout this book, Weber gives clear examples of online marketing success then points the reader to how they too can use the same technique for their book. Whether you want to know more about effective word of mouth campaigns, Amazon Bestseller Campaigns, Blogging and Blog Tours, the merits of social networking with places like MySpace, or many more techniques, you can gain valuable insight from this book.

I like what Weber says in the early pages where he encourages the reader to quickly read the book once, then to read it again "selecting and prioritizing what you'll tackle first."

Finally, this book has wisdom scattered throughout the pages. For example, "This book is not a quick-fix plan; there is no such thing as overnight success. It might require a year or more of steady work to see appreciable results. If that seems like a gamble and lots of work, it is. But I assure you, it's nothing compared with what it took to write your book."

I learned a great deal from these pages and believe any author (new or experienced) will also gain from this title. From Weber's experience, I selected a few key techniques that I'm eager to try with my own books in the coming days. I recommend every author get this title, study it, then apply it to their own online book marketing efforts.

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