“You Oughta Write a Book!”

October 20, 2015

Many of the query letters I receive have this exclamation in it – meaning that friends and family who’ve heard the author’s personal journey punctuate their excitement and support by prodding the author to write about their experiences. On the surface it seems a great idea.

However.

And yes, there’s always a “however.” It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of having people around you insist that your story is amazing enough take up residence on store shelves. But it may not be the reality, and it’s important that you know the difference.

The Friends and Family Bias

Your friends and family will love you even if you have spinach stuck in your front teeth, so they’re far from being unbiased. And that’s a good thing. You want to have good people surrounding you. However…agh, there’s that dreaded word again…they’re too close to you and not educated in the ways of all things publishy.

This is precisely why I receive an overabundance of addiction/cancer/midlife crisis/I-was-a-child-of-war queries. The author is pumped by their friends and family and they dig right in without realizing there is A LOT of ground to cover from, “Hey, you oughta write a book!” to actually being convinced you have a marketable story…and thy name is Research.

Research

Competition: How many stories like yours are already on store shelves? If there are a gajillion cancer stories out there (and there are), then you need to know that. You need to be prepared if you’re writing in a crowded category, such as cancer, divorce, grieving, etc.

Why do you need to know? ‘Cos I’m gonna ask, for one. I want to know the three titles that compare most closely to your book – how they compare and contrast. Why? ‘Cos my sales and marketing teams are going to ask. Why? ‘Cos the genre buyers are going to ask. Whee! Dominoes.

READ: It’s not enough to look at store shelves to see how many other books like yours are in the marketplace; you gotta READ them. Why? ‘Cos you need to be able to speak to the unique elements of YOUR book. And this is where many queries/submissions fall down. I can tell whether an author has read her competition or not in the way she writes her query letter. She may use short examples to offer a frame of reference:

My Inverted Belly Button is reminiscent of the popular 2014 adventure Inverted Belly Button Blues, however my story is specifically geared to college students, who are much more sensitive to having an inverted belly button than the general public.”

This is helpful to me because I can quickly recognize an expansive and identifiable readership. This is a savvy author who understands the unique elements of their story compared to a popular book in the same category. This helps our sales and marketing teams a great deal.

Platform: Memoir/nonfiction is a tough nut, and authors need to have a platform in which to swim to the top. Ask yourself not how many people you know…but how many people know you? Are you the airline pilot who wrote about her cockpit experiences? Are you the mother of a desperately sick child who has done countless talks and seminars about this subject matter? Are you an expert in the topic you’ve written about to the point where media would call you for your input?

Platform wears many different faces, but I can tell you that authors who have a large footprint sell a lot of books. Those who sit on their hands either don’t get a good publishing contract, or they make their publishers very grouchy.

Writing Quality/Beta Readers: It sounds elementary, but it’s so often overlooked that it bears discussing. Your writing has to be solid, meaning an excellent command of the English language, artfully constructed, and engaging. Of course, writing style is subjective, so it’s tough to gauge. But this is where beta readers come in handy. These aren’t your friends and family (because they’ll never be honest), but instead, your writing group, or writing class. People who will be able to honestly tell you what did and didn’t work for them, and why.

Ask Yourself These Questions

  1. What is the message/what am I trying to say/impart? There are plenty memoirs that are simply a “I did this, then I did that,” and they sell very well. However, they’re usually written by famous people, and readers may not give a rat’s patootie whether there’s a message in there or not. I look for stories that not only have an amazing journey, but that the author comes through that journey transformed in some way. That creates depth.
  2. What are the unique elements of my story as compared to what’s already out there? If you can’t name them, then it’s possible you’re not saying anything new. If you’re not saying anything new, then it’s going to be difficult to market and promote the book.
  3. Who cares? We already know your friends and family care, but what about the reading public? They don’t know you, so what is it about your story that instantly makes readers care about it enough to plunk down their hard-earned cash? What are the Who Cares? factors of your story? Are you an airline pilot whose life became so immersed with being in the cockpit that your life hit the ground at 600 miles an hour? Are you a desperate mother looking for answers to her dying son, whose only comfort is in his unusual chicken? These are things that make me sit up and say, “Tell me more!”
  4. Is there enough red meat? I’ve run across many queries that would have made excellent magazine articles, but didn’t have enough gas to sustain a book. These might be stories of bizarre diseases or experiences – like rescuing a dog in the desert or being hit by a car, and there wasn’t enough going on in the author’s life to create a compelling book-length story. A story with red meat has many layers where the author is appreciably transformed. Is your story one-dimensional, or is there a lot of food for thought?
  5. Do I have a solid platform? This isn’t a case of “I’ll work on establishing my platform once I get a contract.” By that time, it’s too late. Establishing a platform takes oodles of time. Same for establishing yourself on social media.

As you can see, thar be lots to consider after some darling relative or friends yelps, “You oughta write a book!” The idea is to set yourself up for success, and that means having the ability to determine whether you really have a great story in your heart, or that your friends and family need to be committed.


Online Presence: Now Is Too-Late Thirty

November 22, 2013

late clockI hate being late. I think it’s a leftover from my childhood when Mom kept insisting I had plenty of time before school. The clocks were wrong, and I was late for school one morning, which nearly made my intestines invert because my first grade teacher was a beast who loved to scream. It didn’t stop there. My brothers were slaggers when it came time for going to church, so I’d always arrive late to Sunday school. There I was, tromping through the door, all eyes scooped up and staried at me as the teacher brought out paper and crayons so I could catch up and draw my own version of Baby Jesus – which always looked more like Elvis riding bareback on a camel.

Every Sunday, as Dad broke all the laws of physics by getting us to church in 5.5 seconds on what in the real world would take 15 minutes, I would sit back in the car plotting my brothers’ painful demise while thinking, “Here we go again, it’s Too-Late Thirty.”

So I’ll readily admit that I have some issues with being late, which means that I recognize it as easily as the Rescue Beagles recognize a fresh margarita at 50 paces.

I see Too-Late Thirty in a lot of query letters and book proposals when they discuss promotion plans, and it sends chills up my spine – and not in a good way. It usually starts like this:

“Once my book is published, I’ll start a blog/Twitter/Facebook page to promote my book.”

No, no, no, no, a gabajillion times no. It’s too late. The prevailing thought is, “If I put up a FB page, Tweet, blog, they will come.” No. They. Won’t. You have to work your Times New Roman off to attract a readership, and it takes a lot of time. The time to be thinking about your online presence as a promotional tool is before your book even sells to a publisher. Preferably while you’re still writing your book. Yah, it takes that long.

And let’s face it, the internet is a huge behemoth that contains gynormous amounts of information, so not only do you need to establish your online presence in plenty of time, but you have to figure out “Who Am I?”

Intent/Message/Tone

You wrote your book with a particular intent, and your online presence is no different. The most popular blogs have a message/tone/intent. They’re consistent in the kind of content they put out.

Humor: Humor is always a great way to capture an audience. Don’t be afraid to use it. The more you make people chuckle over their morning cuppa, the more they’ll look forward to reading your posts. And when your book does come out, your readers will rush to support you. Cha-ching!

Don’t Clash: When I was 10, Mom told me I couldn’t wear my plaid skirt with a polka dot blouse because they didn’t go together. I thought she was daft. As I’ve grown up (ostensibly), Mom can still run circles around me when it comes to knowing fashion. It’s the same with your blog/FB/Tweets. If your writing style of your book is vastly different to your blog/Tweets/FB page, then you’re creating a disconnect. Of course, I’m talking in generalities.

Boring: An author I met awhile back has a brilliant book – it hits all the emotional highs with a delicious balance of humor and throat-grabby “holy crap” moments. His blog is about the most boring thing I’ve ever seen because all he ever does is talk about statistics and quoting other articles. Predictably, his blog has icicles on its little nose because he’s regurgitating boring stuff. He’s not sharing his own amazing story. I told him if he talked about his personal experiences, he’d have something to work with. Equally predictably, his sales are quite low.

Self-effacing: Is there anything more attractive than someone who’s not afraid to poke fun at their sillier moments? Let’s face it, we all have them, right? What you’re accomplishing by being self-effacing is that you’re showing your human side and allowing your readers to say, “Oh yeah, totally been there, done that.”

Create a Community Feel

There’s nothing more attractive than blogs that say, “Hey, you’re not alone.” Regardless of the tone/theme – be it writing woes, dependence, health issues, slogging through school, or romance – there are a lot of other people who’ve traveled the same road. Include your readers and ask them to share their experiences. For instance, there’s a great Facebook page called “I Love Beagles,” and it’s wildly popular because beagle lovers (not known for being particularly normal) love sharing their stories about this insane breed.

What elements of your book can create a community feel? The idea is to present material that has your readers itching to leave a comment. This means they’re engaged. Engaged = good.

Branching Out/Capturing Attention

Now that you’ve figured out how you want to project your online presence, you’re wondering how to get readers. Easiest way is to google other blogs that compare to yours. Get active on those blogs by giving thoughtful comments. People will link on your name and see your blog – and will mosey on over to see what you have to say. Now you see why this all takes time.

Also, be sure to use tags and do the rss feed thingy. When people google, your blog may show up.

The long and short of this is, if you’re going to go to the trouble of establishing an online presence (and I think it’s a good idea), then it makes sense to do it right, and do it early. Too-Late Thirty puts you constantly behind, and you’re forever playing catch-up…and your book won’t wait. In short, have fun with your online presence. Be you.


Jimmy Fallon – You Rock (I think)

September 6, 2013

TesticlesOk, so I have to tell you about my wild week. I awoke to my beautiful author, Melissa Haynes, telling me about Jimmy Fallon’s show Tuesday night and his segment about THE 10 TITLES NOT TO READ. WTF, sez I. Well, guess who was #1? LEARNING TO PLAY WITH A LION’S TESTICLES.

Ok, a little about the  title.  We made a very conscious decision with this title – even after long barky discussions with our distributor about changing it. They were afraid we may offend someone. Huh? This coming from the same fabo distributor who distributes GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP? Hello? Long story short, I held my ground because it’s the very heart and soul of the book. and it’s a South African saying that means to take foolhardy chances. And hey, isn’t better to take foolhardy chances than to take no chances at all?

Ok, so that’s exactly what we did here. Talk about playing with a lion’s testicles…

So now we have Jimmy Fallon mentioning the #1 title to millions of viewers. Holy sweetbreads. Can we make lemonade out of this? Well, I guess I shouldn’t have worried. The book apparently sold out on Amazon/ Canada, and Amazon/US. Melissa’s blog blew up and she’s inundated with people emailing her to say how fabulous it is.

Our site has blown up as well, with LEARNING TO PLAY WITH A LION’S TESTICLES being the #1 search. Additionally, Becky Mushko’s Peevish Pen site blew up with her review of Melissa’s book. So lotsa people have inquiring minds…

So I contacted the producers on Jimmy Fallon Show with a very tongue in cheek email about how we all had a huge giggle over it all, and prompted all sorts of attention, and that it only seemed fitting to have our author (who is freaking drop dead gorgeous) on the show to redeem herself. I explained the title’s origin and how it was obvious that everyone connected with the show had mastered the art of playing with a lion’s testicles, given the popularity of the show.

The show’s booking agent contacted me and said my email was one of the most entertaining of the day, and we’re now in discussions about having her on the show! OMG. Holy pickle livers!

So here’s the segment in all its glory. I can’t help but wince a bit because Melissa’s book is so amazing. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to laugh because life is too short to get your Vickie Secrets in a twist. That said, I hope we kick ass with this.

Let this be a lesson to all you wonderful authors out there – life is stranger than fiction, and you have to be ready to ride the big wave. Yes yes, I’m mixing metaphors. So sue me. Or better yet, send my name to Jimmy Fallon…


The Great Procrastination Escapade: Establishing Yourself

July 11, 2013

procrastination

My last blog post talked about making sure that you present a united front between you and your book – meaning that your platform and promo plan is consistent with the content of your book. It’s hard to make lemonade with a book about the joys of gardening if the author’s platform is that of a blood researcher, and his promo plan is to give talks to his co-workers at the hospital.

If that isn’t hard enough, I run into many cases where authors wait too long to establish their platform in the belief they can work on that after they secure a book deal. So instead of seeing a book proposal that says, “I have done/am doing…”, I see “I’m gonna…”

Après le Book Deal – Coming From Behind

First thing I gotta ask is, what’s holding you back? It takes a long time to establish a platform. If you wait for that book deal to get cracking, your book will be out long before you barely hit your stride. And the terrain is completely different because you’re constantly playing catch up. The book is out and needs to sell, yet you’re not known by many people, so everyone has to work a lot harder to propel your book out there.

The pressure is on, and you’re worried about making sales. It’s forced. What’s worse is that you’re may be facing a lot of rejection from those whom you’d hoped would interview you, book you for a speaking gig, accept your magazine article, or host your book signing. That’s a lot of pressure, and it’s all because you’re coming from behind.

Avant le Book Deal

#1 thing I see in query letters and book proposals: “I’m going to start a blog, get a FB page, start tweeting.”

Why haven’t you started working on establishing yourself before going for the book deal? If you planned on having a blog, then why didn’t you establish it eons ago? I know of a number of authors who got nice book deals based on the fact that their long-standing blogs were wildly popular. Editors knew these folks had a built-in target audience.

One blog that comes to mind is The Underwear Drawer. I’ve been reading Michele Au’s blog for years because I adore all things medical (and I write medical fiction). I used to look forward to her ScutMonkey comics, which were based when she was a resident. I used to scream with laughter at her unique analysis of residency and all the scut jobs doctors and nurses foisted upon her. Michele’s blog became insanely popular, so it was no surprise when she announced her book deal for THIS WON’T HURT A BIT.

I can’t help but wonder if Michelle would have been as attractive a target to her publisher had she not had a very well-established, active blog. After all, there are a ton of doctor memoirs already crowding the marketplace.

So you see that I’m gonna means nothing because It. Takes. Time. Lots and lots of time to become established.

Don’t wait for that book deal to begin establishing yourself because you’re already too late.

Thoughtful Planning

Let’s get back to my make-believe knitting friend from my previous blog post. She’s written a manuscript about how knitting is a great stress buster, so let’s consider how can she establish a platform.

Let’s say she works in a bank and decides that her fellow workmates would love to hear her talk about knitting as a great stress reliever because she knows banking is stressful. I went through college working as a teller, and it was long hours, crap pay, angry grumpy patrons…but I digress.

So she’s trying to create a target audience with her fellow workmates – possibly a tough road to hoe. But let’s say her little talk to her workmates is a rousing success because she, surprisingly enough, discovered she’s a hambone and loves talking to audiences. She’s put together a thoughtful and entertaining talk that engages both men and women…who all believed they have ten thumbs.

Let’s say she’s so successful that she ends up traveling to other bank branches after hours and teaches a rousing class that she’s titled Smokin’ Hot Knitting Needles. Let’s say word travels (as it usually does), and other groups begin asking if she’d talk to their groups. Over time, this knitter realizes she’s establishing herself among a larger populace of people. And the more talks she gives, the larger her audiences becomes, and the more groups want her to speak to their members as well, until one day, a corporation asks her to give a talk. Word spreads and other corporations want her to come speak as well. Maybe the local newspaper is intrigued and does an article on her in their Local section. And the speaking offers keep coming in.

Guess what? Now she has a platform. Now she has bragging rights that back up the premise of her book – that knitting is a stress buster. Now she has defined her audience (which is basically anyone who lives with stress) and has the ability to reach them. This is what excites editors, their sales teams, and corporate genre book buyers. This is what results in book deals and nice sales.

Don’t Rush the Process

This the one thought I wish authors would tattoo on their foreheads: You’ve worked so hard on your manuscript, doesn’t it make sense to give it and you the very best chances possible?

I realize that rushing the process normally comes from lack of knowledge about the industry, and this is why it’s so important that authors research the biz before they take their first step. The breathless gasp of “I had no idea it would be this hard,” is something I hear all the time. Believe me, it’s so much easier to book an event or interview with an author who has established their platform.

I have an acquaintance who wrote a wonderful manuscript. It’s very unique and caught my attention immediately because I could see women loving this book. But she has zero platform, so I knew that no matter how lovely her book is, it probably wouldn’t sell well because the subject matter is a bit quirky. Luckily, she’s working with a marketing/branding expert who is helping the author focus on establishing her platform, even though the manuscript is complete and ready to query out. Smart, smart, smart. Because of this specialized focus, she’ll be a much more attractive target for agents and editors, thus giving sales teams a lot more meat to work with.

Publishing isn’t a matter of “if you write it, they will come.” They won’t. You won’t even be a blip on a anyone’s radar screen. A lack of platform and thoughtful promo plan is the #1 complaint I hear from authors who self-publish. They had no idea how hard it would be, and they become defeated within a few months of their books coming out. Avoid this. If you value yourself and your writing, don’t be in a rush to get a book out to market before you’re ready to properly promote it. That is what helps get you a solid book deal and sales.

Now go out and rock the world.


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