Friday, December 02, 2016

Why You Have to Market Your Own Book

I was at a book festival a few weeks ago when I was approached by a woman wanting to sell her book to a publishing house.

"I just don't have the time to market." She explained. "I just want to hand you the book and forget about it until the royalty checks come."

I had the good grace not to let my jaw actually fall to the floor, but I took note of her name and made myself a mental note to reject the manuscript if it came across my desk.

Even if it's amazing?

Even if it's amazing.

The publishing world has changed a bit (and by "a bit", I mean a LOT), especially when it comes to marketing. In the days before social media, books were advertised via the regular media: in newspapers, magazines, and morning talk shows. This still happens, of course, especially if you are represented by one of the larger houses. The advent of social media, however, has changed the advertising game. Authors have unprecedented access to their potential audience via Facebook and Twitter, and have reach that no marketing department can replicate.

Believe me, I understand that authors are an artistic bunch. The business side of publishing is tedious, and marketing gets in the way of writing time. I understand. I truly do. However, Readers want to interact with authors on a more personal level than in the past. They expect to be engaged, to know the name on the cover and attach it to a face and a voice. When readers feel like they "know" the author, they are more likely to recommend the book to friends. Social media engagement = better word of mouth sales.

What are the three best ways to do this?

1. Facebook - Facebook is a great place to really interact with your fanbase. This is where you can hold online parties to create buzz, promote other authors, and place ads.

2. Twitter - This is where you can find those fans and funnel them to Facebook. Using hashtags and mentions strategically helps you grow an audience with which to engage

3. Email - According to a 2014 study bMcKinsey Consulting, you are 40% more likely to sell a book via email than by social media alone. Surprised? We were. So grow that email list. 

For more on these methods, check out our post here.

The point is, publishing is more about author/reader interaction than ever before, and authors must be willing to put in the time and effort to publicize their own work, even if they are with a publishing house. 
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Friday, November 04, 2016

3 Reasons your Manuscript was Rejected

There is a myth that permeates the writing community. It's an unfortunate myth, and I truly wish it would die, because it is the cause of many a shattered dream in the publishing industry. The myth is this:

If I write a good book, it is sure to get published

If only, if only, dear writer. I have rejected many manuscripts, some quite good. I once nearly cried while writing a rejection letter because the work was SO GOOD. 

The truth is, in as much as writing is an art, publication is a business. A book can't be contracted that won't sell, and "what won't sell?" is a complicated question. If all it took was good writing, it would be a much easier business. 

Manuscripts get rejected for many reasons. Occasionally, the writing is just bad, or poorly edited. Sometimes, the publishing house already has too much of a certain type of work, or your work doesn't fit with their brand. These are the kinds of rejections for which I will take the time to write a rejection email, informing them of why I am not contracting their work. Usually however, rejections come from one of three places, all three of which will gain a swift delete when they arrive in my inbox. 

1. No social media presence

This is the most common offender. You must have a social media presence. YOU MUST HAVE A SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE. When I receive a manuscript, before I read the synopsis, before I read a single line of the work itself, I google the author. If I don't see a website and at least an active Twitter account, the manuscript is rejected immediately. 
Even with a big publishing house, authors are expected to do at least some of their own marketing (more on that next week), and if it isn't evident that you have put in the work to build a platform prior to publication, it reads as though you are the kind of author who wants to hand their work off to a publisher, forget about it, and wait until the royalties start rolling in. Unfortunately for writers, the publishing world doesn't work that way anymore. At minimum, you need a website (not even a blog. Just a website) and a Twitter account that you are actively using. 

2. No attention to industry guidelines

Several weeks ago, I received a children's chapter book that was 80K words. For reference, the first Harry Potter book clocked in 76K, and I would be willing to wager that the reason she kept getting rejected in the beginning is because her book was too dang long. The children's book industry, especially, has strict guidelines about book length. There is a good reference here, but no category comes in at over 40K words. 
Adult books have a little more wiggle room, but it is still a good idea to google what industry guidelines are and try not to stray too far from them. If I receive a children's chapter book that is only 5K over industry standards, I can work with that. We can trim it in editing. But I can't turn an 80K book into a 10K book, and I can't sell an 80K children's book. 

3. Didn't follow submission guidelines

Every publishing house has its own set of submission guidelines. Some want the manuscript in the body of the email, some want it in an attachment. Some want partials, some want fulls. Sometimes different editors within a company will have different submission guidelines. Don't make the mistake of assuming that one size fits all. Read submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. If a company doesn't accept erotica, don't send them erotica. If they only want the first fifty pages, don't send the full. Taking the time to read guidelines and follow them shows attention to detail and that you are willing to do whatever you need to do to get your work published. 

I beg of you, dear writer, don't make these mistakes. Many an exemplary work has been sent to the Trash folder because of these blunders. Don't let yours be one of them.
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Friday, October 28, 2016

5 Ways to Rock a Conference...and 2 Ways to Not.

I just got back from the Florida Writers Conference, and I am stoked. I am ready to throw Facebook Parties promoting my awesome authors, ready to contract ALL the illustrators, acquire ALL the speculative fiction!
Conferences and other networking events are wonderful tools for the author, but they can be overwhelming, and the rules get confusing. Bring business cards? Bring promotional swag? How much can you promote yourself before it becomes too much? I've gone to several conferences over the years, and learned a few things about how to make it more than just a getaway weekend.

1. Practice your Pitch 

You are going to hear "What is your book about?" A LOT. So many authors don't ever see a need to practice this, because you've been writing the book for a year, of course you know what it's about. But you have to be able to sell it in under three minutes, which is a lot harder than just telling what it's about. Before you ever set foot in a conference center, know exactly how to describe your book in five sentences or less. Distill it down, get rid of extraneous detail, and polish that hook. Say it over and over until you can rattle it off more naturally than you say your phone number. You will run into fellow authors, who are often great to bounce your pitch off of, but you will also find yourself seated with acquisitions editors and agents from time to time who might be in the market for something like your book. Don't  be the poor author "Umm"-ing their way through when an industry professional expresses interest in your work.

2. Find your Tribe

Every time I go to a conference, I find a group of people I naturally fall in with. They are a stasis point in the midst of the constantly shifting conference current. They are the people with whom you compare notes, and they offer a friendly face during conference meals, so you avoid standing in the full dining room with your loaded plate, looking for an empty seat. These folks become your cheerleading section, and you theirs, and often provide useful contacts and opportunities after conference ends. Don't allow yourself to be a loner. These people are not your competition, they are your peers. Learn to love them.

3. Push your Limits

Guys, this year I went to a poetry class. I don't particularly like poetry, I usually don't get poetry, and it doesn't invoke in me the emotion that is supposed to make poetry what it is. But I went to a poetry class this year, and it offered me new insights and new appreciation for the form. Am I a changed woman? Probably not. I still don't really understand why you need to write an Ode to an Onion. But I am better informed.
Whatever your genre, give yourself a block or two to step out of that bubble and into something that might not normally pique your interest. This not only provides networking opportunities, but it grows your writer's toolkit, and gives you a deeper well of experience to draw from, providing your work with richness it might not have otherwise possessed.

4. Make yourself Useful

One of the biggest mistakes you can make at any networking event, like a conference, is to be the person who hands out their business cards immediately upon meeting someone. This year, I stopped to compliment a fellow writers hair (which was a truly stunning shade of turquoise), and she handed me her promotional cards in lieu of a thank you. I cannot stress this enough, but DON'T DO THIS. Have your cards, and have them ready to hand out, but don't make it the primary point of your interaction.
Networking is not just about advancing your career. There is a give and take, a "what can I do for you?" that is so vital to the process. Be constantly asking yourself what you can offer to the person you are talking to. What do you bring to the table? How can you help them? This fosters a community and gives you a web of people who are more willing and likely to want to work with you in the future.
A good rule of thumb for cards is to have them available and to give them when they are requested or when it is natural to do so, and don't predicate the success of an interaction on whether or not you got your card in their pocket. In other words, don't pass them out immediately upon sitting down for lunch.

5. Save your Notes

I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in a workshop and thought "That is an amazing point. I should write it down." and then didn't write it down, or did, but didn't save my notes. As cumbersome as it sounds, spend the time after a conference to go over connections made (email or message them on social media, just to mention how great it was to meet them), and to go back over your notes and save the ones that are really helpful. Save the information of presenters whose workshops were particularly relevant or helpful to you. While this is not universal, many industry experts are happy to answer questions, especially if you mention how much you loved their presentation (feed the narcissism. Always)

The Two Big No-Nos

Firstly, listen more than you talk. While you may sell a book or two, the people at conference are your peers, not your customer base.
Secondly, be nice to the staff. Conferences are often volunteer run, and these are people who give up a ton of their own personal time to make the experience a good one. Give them coffee, or at the very least, don't be rude.

How have your conference experiences been? What advice would you give new conference-goers? Let us know in the comments!

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Friday, July 08, 2016

Writing through the Block

Every writer suffers occasionally from the dreaded writers block. This blog, itself, came from sitting at the keyboard and wondering "What will this weeks blog be about? I have literally no idea." Presto! Instant blog topic.

Staring at an empty screen is frustrating for every writer, from the first-timer just trying to get a story onto paper, to the seasoned veteran working on an impending deadline. Writers block whispers that you are not, will never be, a good enough writer. Clearly, if you were more talented, this wouldn't happen. This is obviously not true, as evidenced by the great Lin-Manuel Miranda:

This man has won a Tony, guys. For his writing. The man is a genius, and if he stares at a blank page trying to figure out what in the heck he is going to write down, there is hope for us all.

Before anything, close the window, or the notebook, or whatever you are using to get your thoughts out. Just close it. I know it seems counterproductive. After all, you're supposed to be writing. But stay with me, here. Window closed? Good. Now, let's beat the block.

1. Read...This is good advice for any writer, but especially one in the grip of mental meltdown. Aspiring writers have the worst tendency to forget that reading is one of the best ways to hone the craft. Reading forces the mind to work, shoves it firmly out of the box and into another life. It gets your brain whirring, and helps burn out all the extra that clogs up the creative process. Besides that, it forces you to relax. How many of us became writers because we were inspired by an amazing book? There is something inherently calming about taking a book from a shelf and just reading for the sake of it, for the pure pleasure of watching a story unfold. Let yourself be lost in it, and you may come back refreshed, with brand new ideas about where your story should go next.

2. Write...about something else. Sometimes the well, as it were, needs priming. We itch to write and occasionally, though the spirit is willing, the brain is spongy and empty of creative thought. So put away your WIP and write something else. Journal, freewrite, or find a writing prompt and just allow your thoughts to flow without the stress of worrying how it will fit into your plot. Need some help with what to write? We've got you covered.

3. Do...literally anything else. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Exercise. Heck, watch an episode or two of that Netflix show you've heard so much about. Just let your mind take a break from the fictional (or non-fictional) world you've been immersing it in. Let yourself come up for air, and breathe in the inspiration of the world around you. One of the best methods is to find a place with natural beauty. A beach, a national park, a regular park. Just find a place where the calm of nature can wash over you, and see if the thoughts don't begin to flow again.

4. Confession: I made the above graphic, completely forgetting that I only had three points in this list. BUT, I did include a few extra places to look for inspiration in squashing writer's block. So, if you need more help, here, here, and also here are a few extra tips from some genius bloggers to get your juices flowing and your brain back to that brilliant WIP.

Writer's block happens to the best of us. The good news is, it doesn't have to get the best of us.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Promoting Your Work Without Being Obnoxious

We all have that friend. Maybe they sell essential oils, or bags, or beauty products. Maybe they are a local craftsman, or, like many of our readers, maybe they are an author.

And do you know how you know they are that thing? Because it is literally ALL they talk about online. Every single post is a reference to the product they are hawking, and lets be honest, we've all unfollowed that person at one point or another.

Does that mean that promoting on social media is a lost cause? Doomed to failure?

Of course not. Social media is probably your best tool in your promotional toolbox. But, as with most things, moderation and balance are key. So here are three tips to help you promote your work without being obnoxious.

Don't be spammy

Have you ever been added to a group or online sales party without your permission? And then you see the updates over and over again? Who added you? This guy? You haven't seen this guy in twenty years, why is he adding you to things? Invite people to like your page, but don't seek out old relationships for the purpose of selling to them. People can sniff out when you're being hollow.

Half of networking is forming relationships. Care about your audience, not just about whether or not they are going to buy your book.

Involve them in the process

Your social media presence should begin long before you publish. Posting that you have written a book and it is AVAILABLE NOW may get you a few purchases, but if you have been posting for months that you are writing a book, and updating your platform on your progress, you will already have a built-in audience dying to see what you've been doing all this time.

As you write, take your platform on the journey with you. They will feel invested and less like you are simply trying to get their money.

Remember the rule of 80/20

This is so important, and something many people forget. Before you are a writer (or Direct Salesperson, or candlemaker or whatever), you are a person, with a life. Post about that life. 80% of your posts should be unrelated (or only sort of related) to your book. People relate to other people, and the whole reason behind social media is that we love getting peeks into other peoples lives. Give your audience something to peak at (Sorry, phrasing). By following the 80/20 rule, you will be able to promote without your audience feeling like they are inundated with sales pitches.
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