We might have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen in a story when we pick up a new book. Most of the time, we can judge that book by its cover – or if not, then by its reviews or word-of-mouth from friends.
Even if nobody else has read it yet, we feel fairly certain that a book showing a rancher and a schoolmarm in a chaste embrace will likely end with the couple getting married. Or a book showing a police badge and some crime-scene tape will likely end with the detective taking the killer to jail.
So if we already know the ending, how can there possibly be any page-turning tension along the way?
The very phrase “self-advocacy” in the context of my writing gives me shivers of trepidation. Will you follow me on social media? Read my latest essay? Blurb my book? Buy my memoir (someday), and then please, oh please, write a review?
I’ve never been good at asking for help, for anything. When my husband and I were dating in college in Washington, D.C., he had a car and I didn’t. Once, I told him I took a very inconvenient bus ride somewhere.
“Why didn’t you tell me you needed a ride? he asked.
“I didn’t want to bother you,” I answered.
“Karen, it’s me, Michael,” he said, looking at me incredulously. “Just tell me where you need to go and I’ll take you.”
So you want to write for magazines and websites…great! Writing articles can be an excellent way for authors to promote their work, build a platform, hone their skills, and get paid. How do you start? With a pitch, of course. But how do you make sure your pitches will land the way you want them to? Allow me to share with you some of the wisdom I have gleaned from over twenty years working in media and publishing, most recently as Editor-in-Chief of Writer’s Digest magazine.
After so much time on both sides of the editor’s desk—as a full-time freelancer, and as an acquiring editor – I’m confident I’ve seen the best pitches, and the worst ones. I’ve sentout both kinds of pitches in my own career too!
Here’s a list of some of the biggest OOFs! I’ve seen writers make (myself included). This list isn’t intended to shame anyone—I’m giving it to you so you can avoid making these mistakes in your career.
It’s a cliché that becoming a published author is like becoming a parent. The astonishing reality of this new creation, after all the months—or even years—of preparation. The swift change of identity. The joy and vulnerability.
As a parent by adoption, I’ve always been sensitive to this metaphor, finding it both illuminating and constraining. Unlike some who choose to adopt, I didn’t try every available means to conceive a biological child but switched paths fairly quickly because I believed—and still do—that raising a child was far more important to me than how that child arrived in my arms.
Even so, there were plenty of moments, especially in the beginning, when I heard myself grow defensive—“explaining” and justifying my choice, even though no one had asked.
It was a bit like that when I decided—after a single agent query that seemed destined to be the “one-in-a-thousand” exception to all the stories I’d heard, until it wasn’t— to publish with a hybrid press. As with motherhood, I had the means and the temperament to take this path.
Bringing my book to life felt more important than how, exactly, it got there. Once out in the world, its fate would depend on its merits and reception, not on its pedigree. Kind of like my kids, now that they’re grown.
My journey has been immensely rewarding, a lot of work and a lot of fun. Still, I couldn’t help wondering if my experience was like that of other new authors. Being a former researcher, I did what comes naturally. I asked.
Have you heard of the Aesop fable titled, “The Peasant and the Apple Tree?”
It goes like this:
“A peasant was cutting down an apple tree despite pleas from animals living in it. He stopped when he found a hive with honey. The Tree is now doing fine!”
All of us are very much like that peasant. When we see something that interests us, we stop and pay attention.
We need to remember this when building our author platforms. I’ve found there’s one question that helps me gain readers perhaps more than any other:
“How can I benefit my readers’ lives?”
When you can answer that question succinctly and clearly, you have the key to a successful author platform that will draw readers your way.
Selling Books is Hard and Only Getting Harder
Marketing remains the most difficult part of the writing life for most writers. The odds are against us. In 2018, Bowker reported that for the first time, more than one million books were self-published, which was an over 40 percent increase from the year before. That’s in just one year. And it doesn’t include the traditionally published books.
There isn’t a secret formula for executing the perfect book launch. There are numerous factors in play that are constantly changing, from news and popular culture, to the publishing industry, to what just plain work in marketing and promotion. But the real “secret success strategy” to book sales is very straightforward: give readers what they want! The challenges arise because reader expectations are a moving target.
As authors, it’s important to be flexible and adaptive to these changes and have a clear idea of how they play into our own marketing plan.
But while change is inevitable, there are still some key strategies I’ve tested and one, in particular, I want to share today. Though it won’t guarantee success, it has worked well for me and the authors I collaborate with, and I hope it can help you too.
Much of my workday at Bublish is spent talking with authors about the intersection of creativity and commerce—how to be true to one’s artistic intentions while writing work that is commercially viable.
Early on in these conversations, I encourage authors to take some time to articulate both their artistic and commercial aspirations—no matter where they are in their writing career. To me, this is very important work for all writers to do as early as possible. It’s an exercise that should kick off every writing career and every new writing project.
A writer should ask themselves: Why do I write? Where do I hope this creative journey will take me? And they should be as honest and thorough as possible in answering these questions.
Often I learn that this is the first-time the writer on the other end of the phone has engaged in such self-reflection. Up to our call, they explain, the story has led. They may have a vague sense of what they hope to achieve, but they haven’t taken the time to fully explore their intentions, motivations or desires when it comes to balancing creative and commercial interests. They are simply swimming in story ideas.
Writing emotional triggers, while optional, will take your writing to all-new levels of emotional connection for readers. This is a shortened sample lesson from my 5-week masterclass on writing in deep point of view.
In my book Method Acting For Writers, I talk about writing emotions in four layers: primary emotions (instinctive, knee-jerk, unthinking emotional responses), emotional triggers (optional), secondary emotions (thinking emotional responses to primary emotions), and behavior (what those emotions force the character to DO).
Don’t Google primary and secondary emotions—the clinical definitions are too nebulous to be a helpful template. In the context of fiction writing, whether an emotion is a primary or secondary emotion has more to do with what’s fueling the emotion.
Anger is almost always a secondary emotion—we’re angry because of/or in response to something.
But take attraction for instance; this can an instinctive response the character has no control over (a primary emotion), but it can also be a feeling that develops over time with familiarity (a secondary emotion). Thinking of emotions this way ensures the WHY is built-in for readers.
Yes, the holidays are upon us, but that doesn’t mean you’ve missed all your opportunities to sell a few more books before 2020.
I’ve collected a list of important dates and strategies that work really well with the amount of time we have left and I encourage you to work in as many as you can—you’ll be glad you did when you’re relaxing, happily sipping eggnog and sales keep coming in!
Offer Free Holiday Shipping
Amazon has spoiled most consumers for shipping charges. Customers flat-out don’t like to pay shipping charges anymore. Because shipping costs have increased, it’s become increasingly important for every other online store to follow suit.
If you do sell books from your site, I encourage you to eliminate shipping costs during December. If you temporarily eliminate shipping costs, announce the start and stop dates to your email list and on social media.
To add sparkle to this offer, let buyers know that you personally autograph books for recipients, which makes wonderfully personalized holiday gifts!
Elevator pitches–not just for marketing… Today, Beth Barany provides us with a different perspective on elevator pitches, those one paragraph synopses we should all be writing for our books, how to write them and how to use them. Lots of great information. I think you’ll enjoy it.
When I was starting on my path as a novelist, I just dove right in, but I had no idea what I was doing. It was scary but I was determined to stick with it, no matter what.
Soon I found roadmaps of sorts to guide me along my way. I didn’t know if these “how to” guides would get me to The End but I persisted.
My roadmap for my first novel was The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray. Divided into 52 lessons, I was able to go through this book, complete the assignments, and make progress on my novel.
By the time I finished my first novel, I was determined to find a better way to write a novel. It took me 5 years to get to The End.
5 years, really? I mean, there had to be more direct routes to get to my destination of a finished first draft. (Though I know it took the time it took because learning, and life.)