Friday, August 29, 2008

Principles To Help Any Writer

Over the last couple of days, I've been writing about the children's book market. While this portion of the marketplace continues to be highly competitive, there is opportunity for writers. Let me draw several principles to help you in your efforts.

1. Get acquainted with the various nuances of the children's market. The books are targeted for specific age categories and you should become familiar with these ranges. You need to have a specific target market for your book manuscript. The vocabulary and topics will be different for each age group and your manuscript will have a better reception if you understand these rules.

2. Be flexible in your goals and dreams. Show your writing talent by writing for the children's magazine market. If you don't have opportunity with books, then try in a different area such as magazines. Also be flexible and be willing to take any opportunity. For example, many writers are only looking for a royalty book deal arrangement or where they earn a percentage of the sales from each book. Many children's publishers only offer the writer a work made for hire agreement or a flat fee for the writing. Are you willing to write under these conditions? I have written a number of books with a work made for hire agreement.

3. Join children's organizations. One of the best for children's writers is the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. You don't have to be published to become a member and they have an extensive array of resources and helps to teach you more about the children's marketplace.

4. Take training such as courses from the Institute of Children's Literature. The ICL has been training writers for many years. I love their course materials and their style of instruction. For over two years, I taught at the ICL and had many students which I mentored through the process of writing children's books. As an instructor, I critiqued their lessons and returned them to the students encouraging them to move ahead with their dreams and plans for children's writing.

5. Continue to build your relationships with editors and explore their needs. Can you write to one of their needs? Many writers are only focused on writing what they want to write. In general these writers ignore the marketplace and the needs of an editor. In the process, they are missing many opportunities for their children's writing to be published and to hone their craft.

6. Be persistent and keep working at it. You never know where you will find the open door for your next opportunity to write a children's book.

Are you open to new possibilities?

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

I've Written Children's Books

Because the bulk of my work over the last fifteen years has been in adult books, many people don't recall that I've published a number of children's books with traditional publishers. I've written anything from full-color 32-page simple stories targeted for three to five year olds to older 32-page books for four to seven year olds. Also I've written more than half a dozen biographies targeted to 8 to 12 year old readers.

Why biographies? I have always been fascinated stories about other people. The summers of my youth were often spent living several months with my granny in Frankfort, Kentucky. I made frequent trips to the local library and carried home stacks of biographies about various leaders throughout American history and others. With this background, I was a natural to write stories about other people and write a variety of youth biographies.

While I wanted to write books in the early days of my writing, I did not jump immediately into books. I honed my writing craft in magazine articles and other shorter forms of writing. I learned to write a query letter to pitch my idea then when I got an assignment, I wrote the article and sent it into the publication. Throughout those early years of my writing, I was building a reputation for excellence in the magazine area and learning about books through writing book reviews. I was the original book review columnist for Christian Parenting Today (which went out of business a few years ago but originally had a circulation of about 150,000 each month). I reviewed books for a number of other publications. I read a broad sweep of children's books, teenage books--fiction and nonfiction.

In general, writers do not get much pay for writing book reviews, but you do get free books from the publishers. I read and considered many more books than the ones I ended up writing about for the various publications. At that time several publishers added my name to their list of media who received review copies of all of their new releases. It amounted to hundreds of children's books which came to my mailbox and taught me a great deal about the marketplace in the process of reading that material.

Besides reading children's books and writing magazine articles, I was also starting to attend writer's conferences and meet book editors. It is a critical part of the process to form relationships with different editors. Why? As you get acquainted with these editors, they will tell you more details about what they need for their particular publishing house. One of those conversations gave me the opportunity to write my first book--a children's book.

While talking with the editor during a writers' conference, she said to me, "Terry, as a part of our company mission statement, we are to challenge children with the needs of the world. Yet in our full array of children's books, we don't have a single book which addresses this issue. What types of ideas do you have?"

I had never heard or thought about this question before--but unknowingly through my writing and reading, I had been preparing an answer. At the time, Lion Books had a popular series of children's books from author Stephen Lawhead which combined real pictures with a cartoon character. This imaginative series evolved around a character named Howard and the books included: Howard Had A Hot Air Balloon or Howard Had A Space Ship by Steve Lawhead.

After thinking for a few minutes about what to pitch to this editor for her need, I suggested, "What if we combined pictures from around the world with a cartoon character to show children they could grow up and go anywhere in the world?"

Instantly the editor resonated with the idea and said, "That's a good idea, Terry. Please write that up and send it to me." I made a little notation about the idea and in the subsequent weeks I wrote a manuscript with the idea and sent it to the editor. While we went through a number of different versions, eventually that publisher offered me a book contract--my first. In 1992, a hardcover full-color children's book for children ages 4 to 7 was released. It combined real photographs from around the world with a cartoon character who moved into different occupations or jobs and was called, When I Grow Up, I Can Go Anywhere for Jesus. A long-time jungle pilot told me once, "We fly everything from pigs to Presidents." That phrase ended up as one of the occupations and panels in the printed book.

This title marked my entrance into the world of book publishing.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I Could Have Written That Book

When my sons were small, I made almost weekly treks to the local library. In the children's area, we checked out stacks of books together. Some of them I carried home and others I read to the boys right on the spot in the library. Every now and then as I read through the pages, I thought, "Well, I could have written that book." Or "I could have told a better story that this one."

If you've said this statement (or even thought it), keep reading because I want to give you some insight about the children's book market.

Many of those authors will go to their computers, open a blank file and write this story, then go to a market guide and fire that manuscript off to a publisher and earn their first rejection form letter. While their enthusiasm for the children's book market is admirable, these writers have violated one of the first principles to getting published. They have not studied the market.

Until I worked inside a publisher who made children's books and acquired them for the publisher, I never understood the huge expense related to producing simple 24-page or 32-page full-color books. While the advances for these books to the writer are often in the modest $1,000 to $2,000 range, the actual cost can easily reach over $100,000. You can see how the decision to publishing a children's book is not made lightly--at least if the publisher wants to remain in business.

Did you notice in the previous paragraph where I mentioned 24-page and 32-page children's books that the books have standard lengths? Even this type of detail is important to understand about the market if you want to write children's books.

Understanding and insight into the current marketplace will put you way ahead of the other submissions for a children's book editor.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

The Unexpected Role Model

I loved to come into my California office on a Sunday afternoon. At the time, I had small children at home and I found it hard to write and meet some of my freelance deadlines. So I would often slip off to the office for a few afternoon hours. To give you the right timeframe, it was in the mid-80s and I rode a Honda Scooter back and forth from home to the office.

On one of these Sunday afternoons, when I came into the building, I noticed the lights were on at the director's office and since everything else was still, I walked past to see what was happening. A friend of the director, Jamie Buckingham, was sitting at the keyboard. He looked up and greeted me and said, "I'm a jungle pilot today flying planes in the Amazon." The writer of such bestsellers as Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz, Jamie was a prolific writer and yet a couple of times a year, he wrote some material that never held his by-line and he didn't earn a dime. As a pure ghostwriting ministry, Jamie wrote all of the public material from our director.

When readers would rave to me about the director's engaging storytelling, I would always smile and say, "Yes the writing is terrific." I knew the director didn't write any of it but the words came from Jamie's pen.

Many readers of these entries might not remember Jamie Buckingham but millions of people are still reading his writing and his ghostwriting. He was a favorite columnist for Charisma magazine and died of liver cancer in 1992. I learned a great deal from his life and his teaching about writing--through his words and through his actions.

Here's a story that few people remember about Jamie but I write it to encourage you about second chances. Dean Merrill wrote this story about Jamie in a little book from Zondervan published in 1981 called Another Chance, How God Overrides Our Big Mistakes (long out of print but you can get as an inexpensive used book). On page 59, Merrill includes an excerpt from Buckingham's Where Eagles Soar, "Well-known author and speaker Jamie Buckingham describes how God painfully confronted him with a sin--not once but twice. He was a successful pastor in his mid-thirties at the time, but only after this canyon of embarrassment did his wider ministry as a writer emerge."

In October 1965, a group of 20 deacons in a large Baptist church in South Carolina confronted him with stern faces. They forced his resignation and he writes about calling his wife and asking her to come get him at the church. "She found me, the shepherd of the flock, crouched in a fetal position in a basement hallway, huddled against the landing of the stairs. 'It would be better for you, for this church if I were dead,' I sobbed." She comforted. She smoothed. She never asked for details. There was no need."..."There was a desperate reaching out for friends, only to find they had all deserted. I was like a leper. Unclean. I wrote letters--more than 90 of them--to pastoral and denominational friends. Only one man dared respond and that was with a curt, 'I received your letter and shall be praying for you.'"

The Buckinghams returned to his home state of Florida and led a small but growing church. "But as Vance Havner once remarked. It doesn't do any good to change labels on an empty bottle.Nothing inside me had changed. I was still the magnificent manipulator, the master of control, the defender of my position. I was still pushing people around. I was far more politician than a man of God."...:"Soon echoes from the past began drifting down to Florida...I continued to fight, to brave the growing onslaught of fact that kept building against me. It took 15 months of a stormy relationship before the Florida church cast me into the waves to calm the sea--just like Jonah."..."I had no choice but once again to slink home and huddle with my wife and children while the fire of God continued its purging work. Often, I have discovered, we can not hear God when we are busy. Hearing comes only when we have taken--or are forced to take--times of quietness."

In his idleness, Jamie picked up a copy of Guideposts and learned about their first contest for writers. He submitted a first-person 1,500 word story about a young man who prepared to go to South America as a missionary pilot. "Since I had nothing else to do. I wrote the story and sent it in. On October 1, 1967, "I was stretched out on the bed in the back room of our little rented house when the phone rang. It was the Western Union telegraph office. Jackie took the call and copied the message on a scrap of paper. It was from Leonard LeSourd, editor of Guideposts, stating I was one of the 20 winners--out of more than 2,000 submissions."

At that workshop, Jamie learned more about how to write the stories of others and met the publisher who was looking for someone to write Run Baby Run for Nicky Cruz. His career as a ghostwriter and co-author was born.

It was my privilege for those few years to see Jamie on a regular basis and watch him work. He even taught a several day writer's workshop for our staff during the early days of my own writing life. It was way before I co-authored any books with anyone. In many ways looking back, Jamie served as the unexpected role model for this part of my writing life.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Forgotten Path

The blonde-haired writer sat across from me at a small table during a writers' conference, leaned into the table and poured out her frustration. She had a journalism degree, spent her season working for newspapers and now had published a series of magazine articles. At first the publications had modest pay but now this writer was beginning to write for higher paying and more well-known publications.

Yet her book ideas were rejected and she understood the reasons. In the nonfiction areas, she had no "platform" or market visibility. While her standing was rising among magazine editors, she recognized that few readers knew her and her work.

This writer had dreams of writing a novel but had realistically looked at the market and understood the huge hurdles that she faced to get a novel published. While she could spin an excellent tale, she wondered how she could devote the time and energy to writing a 80,000 to 100,000 word novel with the speculation that some publisher "might" bring it into print. She had no interest in self-publishing and producing a garage filled with books which never reached readers.

Now during our brief session, this writer was searching for answers about how to break into book publishing. She wanted to write longer works than magazine articles and was unsure where to turn.

If the story sounds familiar to you, then keep reading because I'm going to show you a forgotten path for book publishing. This path has endless possibilities and can provide financial security and a lifetime of publishing.

If you don't have a platform, one of the quickest ways to gain a platform is to use the platform of someone else. Some of you are wondering how you get attached to another person's platform. It's called co-authoring or ghostwriting. If you don't personally lead a large organization, can you write for someone who already leads a large organization? I call it the forgotten path because many of these busy people have aspirations of writing a book but will never get it done because of their own schedule. Yet they could make time to meet with a writer on a regular basis, tell you the stories then you could write the book for them. The writer doesn't have to have the platform but the writer brings the skill of crafting words and storytelling to the project.

Many years ago I discovered that I have a finite number of books that I want to write during my lifetime yet there are an infinite number of books that I can co-author or ghostwrite for someone else.

If you have never tried co-authoring or ghostwriting, I suggest you try a shorter magazine article for your first experience. It is better to experiment with a shorter assignment than a longer book project. Can you capture another person's stories and voice? Are you willing to be a co-author or a ghostwriter as a long as you are fairly compensated for your work?

Often you can find these longer book projects when you write a shorter magazine article. I've started my relationship with someone through a magazine article then it has developed into a longer book project. Also I've seen many other writers have this experience where they get with someone who is high profile to write a magazine article and start their relationship. Then that relationship takes a leap to a new level and they are co-authors for a longer book project.

From my experience, it is rare for an agent or an editor to put a writer with an inexperienced co-author or ghostwriter. You can gain the necessary experience collaborating on some shorter magazine articles.

Through my collaboration and co-author experiences, I've been able to write about some remarkable people who are now my friends. It has enriched my life and provided work. I hope you will consider this forgotten path.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Problematic Incomplete Package

As I read the queries and pitches that come to me as a literary agent, I'm continually amazed at the incomplete submissions--whether it is a one page query letter or a book proposal and sample chapters or a fiction submission.

Why is it a problem for these writers? They want to get their book idea published yet because they don't present a thorough, professional and complete submission (query or proposal), then it is like they stand there and beg for rejection. Because of the volume of these submissions, I can almost guarantee they will receive a form rejection letter and nothing that explains their idea was never fully considered because they were missing a piece of the puzzle.

For example, let's look at a query which I received from a writer. After I read the pitch, I could not tell if it was fiction or nonfiction. So I asked--effort on my part to send a message. I learned it was fiction.I asked again--what type of fiction, young adult or adult? What was the length (the word count--because if I'm not specific it is almost inevitable they will respond with the number of pages and cause more correspondence)? Through a series of emails (which almost no acquisitions editor or literary agent will do), I learned this writer was pitching a 31,000 word novel.

Do you see the problem? It's not a full-length novel and this writer needs to return to her manuscript and add at least 20,000 additional words. Ironically she first pitched a bunch of publishers who told her they only took work from literary agents. Now she's pitching a bunch of literary agents--and in reality, doesn't have anything to pitch because it is too short.

And you may be one of those writers who has sent a submission and haven't received an answer or you wonder why it takes so long to receive a response. It's because of this problematic incomplete packages which are jammed right next to your submission.

Here's one of the keys: Are you pitching a nonfiction book or a fiction book? If nonfiction, then you need a book proposal and several sample chapters before anyone will seriously consider your pitch. If you are pitching a novel, then you need to have written the complete novel before you approach anyone about it. And you need to be enough of a student of the craft to understand the typical word count for your type of novel--and have written your novel within this word count.

If you don't have any idea of the typical word count, then follow this link--and in particular look at the material that I reference in this entry of The Writing Life. Keep that word count front and center because it is one of the easiest way to get a three-second rejection. You want to rejection-proof your submissions.

For your fiction to stand out from the other submissions (always a good thing if you stand out from a positive perspective), you will need to send a page-turning story (always key), a well-crafted synopsis, a short biography of the author and if you really want to show you understand the business of publishing--then I recommend you also include a realistic marketing plan which shows how you plan to sell books. Selling books means doing newspaper, magazine and other media like radio interviews and understanding the journalists will need a nonfiction angle from your novel to talk with you. Otherwise they are stuck and don't know what to ask you about your story. You want to show you understand their dilemma and are prepared for it.

I've rejected a great deal of fiction in recent months--poorly crafted, poorly pitched and the reality is there are less places to sell that fiction than a nonfiction book. While we're talking about sales, the Author's Guild says a typical nonfiction book will sell 5,000 copies in the first year and a fiction book will sell 7,500 copies. These modest numbers may surprise you--especially when you realize you can write a much shorter magazine article of about 1,500 words and easily reach 150,000 readers with many different print magazines.

Now let's turn to a nonfiction package. The key element with nonfiction is the visibility of the author to sell books, which is also called "the author's platform." Do you have this visibility and also is this visibility in the area that you are pitching with this new project? For example, I recently read a women's leadership book where as I looked at the proposal and sample, the author had almost no visibility in the marketplace. She was trying to use her husband's platform as her platform yet her husband was not a co-author in the book and his voice didn't appear in any of the chapters. In other words it was a stretch and took seconds for me to spot. To me that means that it would take seconds for any other editor or literary agent to spot and this person needs to build their platform before they pitch the book idea. Publishers use author's platforms but do not build platforms for authors.

What is in a nonfiction book proposal? Most book proposals range from 15 to 30 pages. These proposals are always 100% typo-free with generous margins. Most frequently a book proposal is double-spaced. The proposal takes many forms and the writer inevitably dictates the shape of the proposal. The common elements include:

Overview. This area could be the most important part of your proposal and should be 1 to 3 pages long. In clear and succinct style it covers: What is the book about? Why the book is important, useful and necessary? Who is the audience? Who will buy this book? What makes the book different or better than any other book in on this subject? What is the book’s marketing handle? This is a twenty word or less description. What can you do to help the book in terms of promotion?

About the Author. Don’t be shy. Why should the editor give you this project? Of everyone in the world why you? Specifically show how you are the most qualified individual for this project.

The Competition. Everyone believes their book is unique. It’s not unique so please detail what other titles would be in direct competition. In fact, if you say there is no competition, you are practically begging for instant rejection.

Manuscript Delivery and Length. In the majority of cases, nonfiction books are not completed so when can you deliver your manuscript and what will be the length (word count) of your manuscript?

Promotion/ Special Markets/ Volume Buy Backs (anything over 5,000 copies). This portion of the proposal may be one of the most important because you will emphasize your ability to sell books.

Chapter Summaries. These summaries are an outline of the book. They can be as long as you desire but no less than 150 words for each chapter. Select the format, which works best for you such as outline, narrative or a bulleted list of key points.

Sample Chapters. You will need at least one sample chapter and probably two or three chapters (if a chapter is less than ten pages). These chapters should give the reader a strong sense of the book’s tone and style. Many editors read the sample first so make sure you show your best work.

I've gone into much greater detail about these elements in Book Proposals That Sell.

Make sure you have thought through the various key elements in your query and your longer submission--whether it is fiction or nonfiction. If you submit a complete package, then your project will receive the deserved consideration rather than instant rejection. It is only through the consideration process that you have any possibility of receiving the joyous email or phone call that says you have a book offer from a publisher.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Some You Do, Some You Don't

The sports news is dominated with the results from the Summer Olympics in China. I have a slim writing connection to those events through the Running On Ice book which I wrote for Vonetta Flowers, the first African American to win a Gold Medal in the Winter Olympics (the 2002 Games in Salt Lake). Vonetta was a much decorated collegiate track and field athlete.

Several years ago, my phone rang and I met a two-time Olympian in the track and field area who had read Running On Ice. She loved the Vonetta's book and wanted me to write her book. I often explore these writing opportunities with people. From hard earned experience, I've learned there is a certain amount of education which I can do about the dynamics and competition in the world of book publishing. After I give this information, each party has to make a decision about whether they want to work together or not. Sometimes I move ahead and work with the person and other times I don't.

In this case, I explained to this track and field star that I write some books but that 80 to 90% of nonfiction books are contracted on the basis of a nonfiction book proposal and a sample chapter (or two). Publishers read book proposals and not book manuscripts.

This athlete said the 2008 games in China would be her last Olympics. We were discussing this possibility in a timeframe where the book proposal and sample chapter would have to be created in a short time period then sent to various publishers so the book could be released before the Summer Games. It's hard for people to understand the short window of sales opportunity to market this specific type of book.

I write the book proposal and sample chapter for a negotiated fee. Another part of the negotiation is my role as the writer or ghostwriter for the book when a publisher contracts for the book. Despite my experience and explanations about book publishing, this athlete balked at my fees for the project.

At that point in the process, I could have caved in and lowered my fees and probably gotten the work. Whenever I have taken that step, I usually regret the results. Hard-earned experience again told me to give the financial arrangements and if they worked, they worked. And if not, then I was not the right writer for this particular project.

Ultimately with this athlete, I wished her well with her book project and ended our back and forth communication. Several months ago, I receive an email from her which announced her new book. I have no idea if she wrote it herself or found another writer. Ironically the book was self-published through Publish America. It takes about two minutes on Google to understand why Publish America has one of the worst reputations in the publishing marketplace. They have no presence in the bookstores.

With the arrival of the Summer Olympic Games in China, I wondered about this athlete and if she made it on the Olympic team. If she had, I wanted to cheer for her next week when the track and field events begin. She did not make the 2008 Olympic team. My search affirmed that my decision not to write this book was a good one and would have been full of challenges. I've learned to go with my instincts about certain projects and if the door opens, I walk through it. If there are communications challenges from the beginning (as with this project over the financials), then it's best to press on.

With the various opportunities that come your direction for writing, you make the best possible decision at the time with the information that you have, then move ahead. It's the way I have been operating for years. The book publishing world is complex and there are many ways a simple wrong decision can lead you down the wrong path wasting much valuable time and energy. The challenge for each writer is to look at the decisions, get good experienced wisdom then try and make the best possible decision. It is not easy for anyone.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Worthy Read In An Election Year

As a young journalist in college, I wondered what would make a good second major for my studies. Political Science was a natural fit since my emphasis was in new editorial (newspaper journalism). Many newspaper reporters spend at least a stint of their time in city hall and writing about politics. Ironically one of my classes was African Political Systems where we looked in-depth at the politics of Africa. Because I went to college in the 1970s, almost every single African nation has changed names and politics since I took that course. I double majored in journalism and political science.

When I learned about The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield, I wanted to read the book and I recently reviewed the book on Amazon (follow this link to reach the permanent link of the review).

No matter where you stand in the political spectrum, each of us need to be as informed as possible about the candidates so we can make a thoughtful decision. It's an exercise in our freedom to vote in an election year and I always encourage people to vote.

Some things that I did not include in my review relate to the promotion of this book and will interest readers of these entries about The Writing Life. Some publishers offer a sample chapter of the book for readers to try out the book and often that is a few pages. Thomas Nelson is offering a 60-page sample of The Faith of Barack Obama. Click this link to download the PDF sample. Why is that significant? The printed book before the acknowledgments and footnotes is only 144 pages so the sample is a significant portion of the overall book.

I recommend this book as a worthy read during this election season in our country.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

10 Blog Traffic Tips

By Yaro Starak

In every bloggers life comes a special day - the day they first launch a new blog. Now unless you went out and purchased someone else's blog chances are your blog launched with only one very loyal reader - you. Maybe a few days later you received a few hits when you told your sister, father, girlfriend and best friend about your new blog but that's about as far you went when it comes to finding readers.

Here are the top 10 techniques new bloggers can use to find readers. These are tips specifically for new bloggers, those people who have next-to-no audience at the moment and want to get the ball rolling.

It helps if you work on this list from top to bottom as each technique builds on the previous step to help you create momentum. Eventually once you establish enough momentum you gain what is called "traction", which is a large enough audience base (about 500 readers a day is good) that you no longer have to work too hard on finding new readers. Instead your current loyal readers do the work for you through word of mouth.

Top 10 Tips

10. Write at least five major "pillar" articles. A pillar article is a tutorial style article aimed to teach your audience something. Generally they are longer than 500 words and have lots of very practical tips or advice. This article you are currently reading could be considered a pillar article since it is very practical and a good "how-to" lesson. This style of article has long term appeal, stays current (it isn't news or time dependent) and offers real value and insight. The more pillars you have on your blog the better.

9. Write one new blog post per day minimum. Not every post has to be a pillar, but you should work on getting those five pillars done at the same time as you keep your blog fresh with a daily news or short article style post. The important thing here is to demonstrate to first time visitors that your blog is updated all the time so they feel that if they come back tomorrow they will likely find something new. This causes them to bookmark your site or subscribe to your blog feed.

You don't have to produce one post per day all the time but it is important you do when your blog is brand new. Once you get traction you still need to keep the fresh content coming but your loyal audience will be more forgiving if you slow down to a few per week instead. The first few months are critical so the more content you can produce at this time the better.

8. Use a proper domain name. If you are serious about blogging be serious about what you call your blog. In order for people to easily spread the word about your blog you need a easily rememberable domain name. People often talk about blogs they like when they are speaking to friends in the real world (that's the offline world, you remember that place right?) so you need to make it easy for them to spread the word and pass on your URL. Try and get a .com if you can and focus on small easy to remember domains rather than worry about having the correct keywords (of course if you can get great keywords and easy to remember then you’ve done a good job!).

7. Start commenting on other blogs. Once you have your pillar articles and your daily fresh smaller articles your blog is ready to be exposed to the world. One of the best ways to find the right type of reader for your blog is to comment on other people's blogs. You should aim to comment on blogs focused on a similar niche topic to yours since the readers there will be more likely to be interested in your blog.

Most blog commenting systems allow you to have your name/title linked to your blog when you leave a comment. This is how people find your blog. If you are a prolific commenter and always have something valuable to say then people will be interested to read more of your work and hence click through to visit your blog.

6. Trackback and link to other blogs in your blog posts. A trackback is sort of like a blog conversation. When you write a new article to your blog and it links or references another blogger's article you can do a trackback to their entry. What this does is leave a truncated summary of your blog post on their blog entry - it's sort of like your blog telling someone else’s blog that you wrote an article mentioning them. Trackbacks often appear like comments.

This is a good technique because like leaving comments a trackback leaves a link from another blog back to yours for readers to follow, but it also does something very important - it gets the attention of another blogger. The other blogger will likely come and read your post eager to see what you wrote about them. They may then become a loyal reader of yours or at least monitor you and if you are lucky some time down the road they may do a post linking to your blog bringing in more new readers.

5. Encourage comments on your own blog. One of the most powerful ways to convince someone to become a loyal reader is to show there are other loyal readers already following your work. If they see people commenting on your blog then they infer that your content must be good since you have readers so they should stick around and see what all the fuss is about. To encourage comments you can simply pose a question in a blog post. Be sure to always respond to comments as well so you can keep the conversation going.

4. Submit your latest pillar article to a blog carnival. A blog carnival is a post in a blog that summarizes a collection of articles from many different blogs on a specific topic. The idea is to collect some of the best content on a topic in a given week. Often many other blogs link back to a carnival host and as such the people that have articles featured in the carnival often enjoy a spike in new readers.

To find the right blog carnival for your blog, do a search at blogcarnival.com.

3. Submit your blog to blogtopsites.com. To be honest this tip is not going to bring in a flood of new readers but it's so easy to do and only takes five minutes so it's worth the effort. Go to Blog Top Sites, find the appropriate category for your blog and submit it. You have to copy and paste a couple of lines of code on to your blog so you can rank and then sit back and watch the traffic come in. You will probably only get 1-10 incoming readers per day with this technique but over time it can build up as you climb the rankings. It all helps!

2. Submit your articles to EzineArticles.com. This is another tip that doesn’t bring in hundreds of new visitors immediately (although it can if you keep doing it) but it's worthwhile because you simply leverage what you already have - your pillar articles. Once a week or so take one of your pillar articles and submit it to Ezine Articles. Your article then becomes available to other people who can republish your article on their website or in their newsletter.

How you benefit is through what is called your "Resource Box". You create your own resource box which is like a signature file where you include one to two sentences and link back to your website (or blog in this case). Anyone who publishes your article has to include your resource box so you get incoming links. If someone with a large newsletter publishes your article you can get a lot of new readers at once.

1. Write more pillar articles. Everything you do above will help you to find blog readers however all of the techniques I've listed only work when you have strong pillars in place. Without them if you do everything above you may bring in readers but they won’t stay or bother to come back. Aim for one solid pillar article per week and by the end of the year you will have a database of over 50 fantastic feature articles that will work hard for you to bring in more and more readers.

I hope you enjoyed my list of traffic tips. Everything listed above are techniques I've put into place myself for my blogs and have worked for me, however it's certainly not a comprehensive list. There are many more things you can do. Finding readers is all about testing to see what works best for you and your audience and I have no doubt if you put your mind to it you will find a balance that works for you.


Yaro Starak, a professional blogger wrote this article. He is the leader of the Blog Mastermind mentoring program designed to teach bloggers how to earn a full time income blogging part time.

To get more information about Blog Mastermind click this link:

Click here to get The Blog Profits Blueprint

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ways To Begin Your Web Presence

I remember the feelings and my fears when I wanted to launch my first website. It was several years ago and I didn't know the first thing about where to go and what to do.

So I took the most logical step and asked around within my network of friends and acquaintances and found someone. A web designer in another part of the country was happy to work with me. I looked at her work and liked what I saw then we negotiated a reasonable price that I could handle and deadlines.

I worked intensively on that first website, the contents of what it said about my writing and my work, the articles that it displayed along with a bookstore section for my various books in print. There were several weeks of intense back and forth email conversations. I constantly checked the website and it's development and finally everything was in place. I had a well-designed, practical website which was a static brochure of my writing work.

Then after several weeks, I wanted to change something. No problem because the designer changed it. Then I received the bills for these minor changes--and that's when I began to have a strong desire to learn everything I could learn about web design and some basic HTML skills.

As you launch your website, you have to make a basic choice whether you are going to have someone else do it (out source is the big buzz word for it) or do it yourself. From my hard earned experience, I decided to do it myself. It puts the control firmly in my hands and is a lot less expensive in many ways but it is a choice on your part.

During the last few years, tools like blogs and other simple ways to launch a web presence have been developed. It's easier than ever for an individual to launch quality work online.

Determine Your Topic

No one can be all things to all people. Some authors launch a hodge-podge of material which is a mixture of things only their immediate family would care about, writing for the broader public and maybe a hobby or two thrown into the mix. Because that material is not targeted to a specific audience, it hits the target--no one. It's important when you launch your web presence that you determine your topic and stick with that topic.

Select a topic which is broad enough and something you have plenty of passion and things to say about it--or at least you can find other things online to quote and point out about that topic. If you stick to your topic and consistently build good content into your website--and promote it to everyone who crosses your path using simple tools like a link in your email signature line--then your audience will find you and come back to read what you have to say.

If you notice on these entries about The Writing Life, they are focused on writing and publishing. I've had other writers comment that they are amazed I don't veer from the topic but each one ties back into something about writing. That focus is intentional on my part and the consistency builds the audience. Readers know what they will find when they come to read my articles and content. It's important to select a theme and stay with that theme--no matter what other things you think you want to include on the site.

Three Places To Begin

When you want to launch a website, it may seem daunting to do it yourself. Here's different ways to begin and I've used each of these tools and know they are effective to build a presence online.

SiteBuildIt is one of the best values online. You can build unlimited pages and use a huge user guide. This system does much more than build pages but automatically gives you the ability to build your audience through the creation of a newsletter. Everything you need is in one economical price. I've built thousands of pages online with this system and it does not require that you know anything about the technical side of producing a website. It's where I built all of the pages in Right-Writing.com. Periodically I can change the design of the entire website--with one command. It's remarkable so I recommend you give serious consideration to this system.

Site Build It!

Homestead is another inexpensive system to consider for your website building needs. They have simple template tools which are all point and click. You don't have to be a technical wizard or know much about computers to use these tools. In a short amount of time, you can create a professional website.

3 mo. Half-off Gold & Platinum

XsitePro is an inexpensive yet powerful website design program. Once again you don't have to have any technical computer know-how to begin to design well-crafted and professional websites. With XsitePro, you need a hosting location such as Hostgator, which gives you a place on the Internet to put these professionally designed pages.

These tools are just a few of the easy-to-use systems that I recommend for building a web presence. It is important for you to begin some place and these three possibilities will give you a starting point.

If you don't have a topic to launch your web presence, then launch your own name as a website. Focus just on having some web pages that tell about you and your passion for writing and doing what you are doing. You never know when your name will pop into an editor's head, they will go to google and what will they find. Give them something to discover about you. If you take control of the information and create it, it will be there.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Why Authors Need A Web Presence

One of my writer friends does not have a website or a blog or any presence online. I've talked with her several times and encouraged her to start something but she's not interested. If you google her name, you will learn in the first entry that she has written over 90 books with over three million books in print among other things. Yes, her publishers display her books online but you will be challenged to find anything personal about this author.

Times Have Changed

Several years ago, it was OK for an author not to have a website. In fact, there was a great deal of skepticism about anything online and whether it was true or not. There were many examples of people who built complete false identities online through websites which stretched the truth. The pendulum has swung the other direction. While it's a good idea to have some degree of skepticism about the information you find online, in today's publishing climate, the Internet is often the first place that people turn for information about anything and anyone.

When I call an editor or literary agent and talk about an author, I can often hear them clicking their keyboard and searching for information as we speak. Normally they use Google or another common search tool to locate information about an author or would-be author.

As literary agent Richard Curtis explains, "When I pitch authors to editors over the phone, I can actually hear them typing on the keyboard as we speak. I know that while we're talking, they are going on Google or Amazon and checking out the author. They'll say, 'I see, oh yeah, I see the author's picture or the cover of his last five books.'" BTW, Curtis has a fascinating blog well worth reading.

What do you find?

Open a new tab or window in your Internet browser and go to Google.com. Type your own name into the search window and see what you find. From time to time, it's a good habit for anyone in publishing to check this information. This exercise will give you some idea of your level of presence online.

At a recent writers' conference, I heard Rick Frishman, founder of Planned Television Arts, tell the audience about the importance of every would-be author knowing their own reputation online. He described a situation where a major book was canceled over something that an editorial assistant found about the author on the 25th or 26th page of Google. You may not think that a publisher will go to that level of vetting for an author. Be aware some publishers will invest this level of checking your public information online because when you become one of their authors, their reputation is hooked to your background.

Because of the ease of accessibility and many other factors, every writer needs to have visibility on the Internet. In my post tomorrow, I'm going to provide some specific ideas about how to begin and resources to use in that process.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Rejection Frustration

As a writer, I was sure my story idea held fascination--yet I could not find any magazine to publish it. I had worked carefully on my pitch or query letter and sent it out to the major magazines in the category of the article. All I received in response to my efforts were form rejections. With the arrival of each response, my frustration increased. I was certain the story had an audience and my only question was where.

I was not asking the right question or looking at it from the right perspective. I needed help and insight beyond my own resources. I had shown the story to my local critique group. They thought my writing was good and they liked the story. Why couldn't I get a printed magazine editor to like it?

My query was well-written and pitched my idea in a precise manner and then I sent it to multiple magazines at the same time so I could get varied responses from the editors. Some times a publication will only want 1,000 words while other times they will only want 500 words on the topic--no matter how long you've proposed in your query letter.

At the time, I was writing many articles for the magazines I was pitching so I was a known writer yet the only response from my pitches were these printed letters which essentially said, "Thank you but no thank you." There was no information or insight about the real reasons behind the rejection and with each response my frustration increased.

I was pitching the story of a transformed (changed) life. A former pastor had two fronts to his marriage relationship--one that showed in public which was kind and gentle, then another one in private which was locked into consistent verbal combat with his wife. This couple would be verbal sparring on the way to Sunday morning church, then arrive and he would deliver a dynamic message to his large congregation.

One night he insisted on climbing on his roof in the rain to fix his television antenna. It doesn't take much common sense to see the foolishness of such an action. He fell off his roof and hit his concrete patio on his head. In the hospital the doctors told him that he would never walk again. This pastor pleaded with God that if he was healed, he would spend the rest of his life loving his wife and change his behavior. God responded and while medically it could not be explained, the pastor's health was restored and he changed his life. Together with his wife, they formed a marriage ministry which has transformed thousands of couples.

I called my story, Shocked Into Service, and searched for a magazine to publish it yet I was getting repeatedly rejected with no answer about the reasons.

That spring I attended a writers' conference and signed up for a brief meeting with one editor who had rejected my pitch. My agenda during the meeting was simple: I wanted to understand the reasons why I could not find a publication for my story.

During my meeting with the editor, I asked for honest feedback. Even face to face, the editors are often trying to be gentle and diplomatic because people have paid in time and money to be able to attend these writers' conferences. The editor leveled with me. At that time, the PTL scandal with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker had predominated the press.

"People do not want to know their pastor fights with their wife, then arrives at the church like nothing is wrong and delivers their sermon," he explained. "While the changes in his life are admirable, this duality in his life is keeping your story from getting published."

With this editor's insight, my frustration was erased and I understood why my idea had been rejected. Unless I had met with this long-time editor and asked for his specific feedback, I would have never understood the reasons.

Editors and literary agents do not give such specific feedback when they reject writer's ideas, queries, book proposals and other submissions. Why? That is not their role. Instead they are tasked to see if the idea is a fit for their publication or publishing house which is a yes or a no decision. They don't critique the idea or give detailed feedback. Yes, there are critique services where you can pay for such feedback but one of the best places to get it is in a one on one session with an experienced professional at a writer's conference.

There are many other reasons to attend a writers' conference. Your attendance can cut years off the learning curve to getting published.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Is Giving Away Content Valuable?

It is completely counter-intuitive to give away valuable content. Often new or unpublished writers will ask whether they lose their rights or will be hurt or hindered if they give away their written material online.

While I understand their fears of their idea being stolen, I reassure them from my personal experience of years in publishing, I have never seen it happen. Yes, I've seen people pitch similar ideas but I've never had one of my exact ideas stolen from either my work online or my printed writing. I've actually been too busy writing and producing new material to spend a lot of time thinking about it, guarding my work and even worrying about it. In many ways, it's the complete wrong focus for a would-be writer.

Instead, I'd encourage them to be focused on learning the craft of storytelling and how to shape their words into compelling prose. It's a better use of their time and energy. If you have written something that is excellent and valuable--whether fiction or nonfiction, you can give that information away--and attract readers. For example, I'm giving away my Straight Talk From the Editor Ebook in exchange for giving me your first name and email address. Or I'm giving away a 90 page Ebook about book proposal creation with the same exchange.

Or maybe you've written an excellent novel and are trying to figure out how to get attention for it. Could you achieve that attention through giving it away?

Book Marketing Expert John Kremer tells the story of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho who for years has been an apostle of free Internet distribution. "He figures they sell more books this way. In 1999, best-selling author Paulo Coelho, who wrote The Alchemist, was failing in Russia. That year he sold only about 1,000 books, and his Russian publisher dropped him. But after he found another, Coelho took a radical step. On his own website, launched in 1996, he posted a digital Russian copy of The Alchemist."

"With no additional promotion, print sales picked up immediately. Within a year he sold 10,000 copies; the next year around 100,000. By 2002 he was selling a total of a million copies of multiple titles. Today, Coelho's sales in Russian are over 10 million and growing. "I'm convinced it was putting it up for free on the Internet that made the difference," he said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos."

"Coelho explained why he thinks giving books away online leads to selling more copies in print: "It's very difficult to read a book on your computer. People start printing out their own copies. But if they like the book, after reading 30-40 pages they just go out and buy it." By last year Coelho's total print sales worldwide surpassed 100 million books. "Publishing is in a kind of Jurassic age," Coelho continues. "Publishers see free downloads as threatening the sales of the book. But this should make them rethink their entire business model." Now Coelho is a convert to the Internet way of doing things. His online e-mail newsletter, published since 2000, has 200,000 subscribers."

While this story about Coelho is a great success story in the publishing world, make sure you see one of the keys--brilliant storytelling is foundational and understanding the needs of the audience or market--then meeting that need with excellent writing. All too often, I've seen people attempt to give away material which does not fall into this excellent category and does little to help them in their audience building intent.

As I've often cautioned in these entries on The Writing Life, it's a tricky balance between learning the marketing skills and learning the craft of writing.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Danger of A Single Focus

"Focus, focus, focus," one of my friends said when I told her about the diverse efforts in my writing life. And she's right in that to complete anything successfully--and especially something the length of a book project--you will need to have a consistent focus on the project for days on end.

Yet in this entry on The Writing Life, I want to point of the danger of a single focus for your writing. I've met many writers who have only focused on their lengthy fiction project and never considered writing anything smaller like a short story or a nonfiction magazine article. Because of their single-minded focus, they have never experimented with the other writing forms to their own detriment. Why? They have failed one of the key ingredients for any successful writer and not built a body of work.

When someone looks into the volume of writing that I've done over the years, they often approach me wide-eyed and some times even say, "How in the world did you do it?" Yes, I've written for more than 50 printed magazines and published more than 60 books with traditional publishers--and my first book was released in 1992. I compare all of that writing to the way that you eat an elephant. You do it one bite at a time and you write the words one page at a time.

Almost 20 years ago, I was on the faculty of an East Coast writer's conference because of my role as a magazine editor. I flew into the Philadelphia airport. I had a couple hours of riding in a van to reach this facility and I sat in the back with one other faculty member--a literary agent. I had never met this person and we spent the time getting acquainted and talking about long-term goals for our publishing dreams.

During our conversation, this agent pointed out something that has become somewhat of a mantra for my own writing life. He said, "Every writer needs to build a body of work and just look at Jerry B. Jenkins." Both of us knew Jerry personally, the author of the bestselling Left Behind series. At that time, I believe Jerry had written 60 or 70 books or a large volume of material in print. His fiction writing was just getting started in those days. His specialty at that time was writing books for well-known people like Meadowlark Lemon from the Harlem Globe Trotters or the Evangelist Luis Palau. We marveled at the volume of writing which Jerry had in print--and it's much greater today.

"Jerry didn't just wake up one day and decide to write 60 books," the agent explained. "For years, he has been actively building a body of work."

It was a lesson that I've never forgotten and has driven the diversity of my own writing life. While I've written longer projects like books, I've also focused on writing shorter magazine articles and online Ebooks and many other types of writing. Each type of writing builds that body of work.

Throughout the publishing world--whether magazine or book or online--your experience weighs into the consideration process with the editor. The buzz or consistent phrase says, "Writers need to build a platform." Whether you write nonfiction or fiction, the platform or visibility in the marketplace is important because that's how you attract--and keep--readers.

What are you doing today to build your platform or your body of work? Are you balanced in your approach to your writing or have you fallen into the danger of a single focus without looking at the big picture?

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Monday, August 04, 2008

My Bonus Newspaper

Almost three years ago, I wrote something in these entries about my habit of reading the newspaper. It's a regular part of my day and unless I'm at some remote conference, I usually find a newspaper to keep up on current events and many other things that I gain from reading it.

Today instead of one newspaper, I found two or a bonus newspaper. My carrier must be trying to stir up business for USA Today because he included that paper in the same bag as my Arizona Republic.

I breezed through two newspapers instead of one this morning. One bit of news that you have probably read was about Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer which broke a record for the publishing house. The story was in the Publishers Weekly Enews as well as on the front of the Life section of USA Today.

I've read a number of stories about Stephanie Meyer because she is a local Arizona author. I have never read any of her books but notice Breaking Dawn is the third and final title in a vampire teen series. Also notice that it has been a year since the second book in this series released--which gives pressure and enthusiasm to build for this third book.

As I pointed out recently, scarcity about a product can drive sales higher and higher. I've been enjoying meeting some members of the Triiibe and that membership has grown to over 2,400 people who are networking and learning from each other in a private setting before the public release of Seth Godin's book.

If you are a writer or someone who wants to get published. Here's my question for you today. What are you doing to expand your network and build anticipation about your forthcoming book? Are you actively working on building the network for your newsletter and your audience? That one on one connection to your customer base is important--and can start right away--no matter where you are in the publishing process. Here's a couple of examples that I have created and you could do likewise to help you build your audience:

1. Straight Talk From the Editor, 18 Keys To A Rejection-Proof Submission

2. Where Do You Find A Literary Agent? Use this link to get a list of over 400 literary agents--their names, addresses, phone numbers, email and websites--FREE.

3. Book Proposals That Sell--Extra Special Report. Use this link to get a 90-page free Ebook.

Can you create something that you can give away and help build your audience. The world of possibilities are there.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Common Unasked Question

It is not a question that I am asked very often and I've been asked many questions from writers. I suspect more people think about this question than actually have the boldness to ask it. Here's the question: How much money do editors make?

I'm talking about their actual salaries. I've met individuals who are interested in becoming an editor and joining a publishing company. It's not difficult information to locate because each year Publishers Weekly makes an annual salary survey then published the results. In their July 28th issue, they published the latest article about it called "Measuring the Salary Divide."

If you know nothing about this area, the first sentence of Jim Milliot's article will be a bit startling to you: "In an industry where 93% of the workforce holds college degrees, the average salary in publishing remains relatively meager compared to other professions, especially for women."

Milliot also hit me with the beginning of his second paragraph: "Indeed, if content is king, then the editors who help create it are being paid pauperly wages; no matter how you slice it, editorial spots tend to be the lowest-paying in publishing."

With these numbers, why are we not surprised the leading figure under "major gripes" was low salary (59%)? And if you wonder why your editor goes into management, if they want to stay in publishing and gain a better salary, management is where the higher salaries are located in this survey.

While you may not have asked about the editor's salary, if you want to get a book published, I recommend that you be aware of this information as another bit of data about the inside scoop on publishing.

The editors may not make a lot of money at the publisher but they do have considerable power to sway others on the inside of the company and champion your cause. It's why you want to continually work at building and strengthening your relationships with these editors.

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