Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Life's Milestones are the Markers for Success: An Interview with Melissa Soldani-Lemon

When did you start your blog, Stories for Invisible Friends?

I officially started in Summer 2005 when I was moving from South Florida to take a faculty position as a history professor in Tallahassee.  Before that I had a website where I published the articles I wrote for parenting magazines.

Why did you start your blog?

The first time I heard the word "blog" and became aware of their existence was in Summer 2005 when I read about a New York Beauty editor/blogger losing her job for writing about work while at work.

Minutes after I read that article I followed a few links and had my own blog up.  I had no specific intentions, no desired audience. It felt very much like buying a new leather journal - exciting, inspiring, fresh and new.

What is the significance of turning 40 and posting your 1000th blog entry on the same day for you?

About two months ago when I logged on to Blogger,  I saw that I was at post 950, and decided to pace myself to hit 1,000 on my 40th birthday.

Honestly, I'm amazed at how effortlessly the stories have come, and how they show how my perspective and voice have evolved over the past three years.  One thousand sounds like a huge number, but really, it works out to less than a story a day, reflecting only a tiny corner of my life.

At first I thought I would write about turning 40, but I have a bigger story to write --  one that doesn't involve me at all. It's called "Hearts: Broken and Hopeful."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My book on iPhone

Back in October Forbes reported that iPhone had stolen the lead over Kindle. And just last week, Random House and Penguin announced mobile phone initiatives, with an emphasis particularly on the Apple iPhone and the App Store. Neither publishing house offers new titles on iPhone, however. Random House is offering older titles for download and Penguin is offering only promotional material for new titles.

Visual Impressions Publishing is proud to take a leading position in the world of publishers and bring its titles to iPhone. 4Ps to Publishing Success: Get Your Manuscript Off Your Desk & Into Print, is our first title available for download on your iPhone.

Wondering what a book will look like on your iPhone? Check it out: vertical or horizontal (widescreen) orientation. (Press the carat symbol to start the presentation, then sit back and watch.) The book can be purchased on iTunes or via the web.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cover the basics with your Internet book marketing

Learning the tips and tricks of today's technology is a big part of what a successful author needs to do. If you're just getting started with Internet promotion, here are some very basic tips. 

  1. Create an email signature. How many emails do you send out a day? Every one should have your contact info below your signature...that's just a professional courtesy. Add the name of your book or product, your blog or web address or just an interesting quote. Think of your emails as an electronic business card.

  2. Use an email delivery program such as Constant Contact or Aweber to manage your email lists for your newsletter. Whether you use html design or text-only format, your newsletter will appear much more professional coming from this type of delivery system. The other benefits include: unsubscribe and bounced emails deleted automatically, sign-up box for your site provided and reports on who opened the emails and which links were clicked.

  3. If you're haven't started your own blog, read blogs by other people in your industry and comment on them. You can link back to your site, and at the very least, get your name out there. This can be very helpful if you comment on blogs with high readership. Lots of eyes get used to your name. Of course, it's most beneficial when you can link to your own site or blog, but don't wait to begin--just do it!

  4. Join some social networking sites. Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, GoodReads and Book Marketing Network are just a few. Don't panic if you are new and don't know what you're doing. Just set up a profile to begin, browse and join some groups and watch what others do. Before you know it, you'll be addicted to making "friends" and posting your information. (See my Facebook and LinkedInprofiles, or follow me on Twitter.)

If any or all of this sounds foreign, scary or just plain overwhelming, you may want to consider getting some assistance. Having a mentor to guide you step by step through the process can be reassuring when navigating new and unfamiliar territory. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what you can and need to be doing to build your audience. (And you know you need to do this before and while you're writing the book, right?)

As the new year approaches and you write "get my book published" to yet another year's resolution list, do something for yourself that can truly help you reach your goal. Don't let another go by without taking real action.

VIP Authors Inner Circle is a group mentoring program for serious writers who have the vision but need the insider know-how to make their dreams reality. Inner Circle members receive a stream of valuable publishing information and have an opportunity to get personal feedback during live coaching and teleseminar calls with publishing experts. Join in December and save $30. Program description and full list of benefits here>>>


Thursday, December 11, 2008

The end of publishing marks the beginning for authors

More articles and blog posts about the future of the publishing industry have been written in the past two weeks than I can ever remember reading (and I spend 2-3 hours per day reading industry news). The massive layoffs at the major houses, cutbacks or freezes on manuscript acquisitions and gloomy sales reports have many predicting the fall of the industry and the end of books.

Considering that I have been in this industry over 30 years and love books, these gloomy forecasts might have made me sad, but I'm not. Not at all. I am JUICED at the prospect of some real change in an industry that has operated in an outdated model for years. (Of course, I am compassionate for those who lost jobs, but there are other jobs, and much work to do for those who are committed to their own success and the future of book publishing.)

Looking to other creative industries, we have the models for change. I believe the salvation of the industry lies with the creators of the written word, not the publishers. Publishing has been slow to recognize the value of independent authors, unlike the music and film industries where indie artists are revered. I've attended writers conferences for decades and the message was always that it's hard to get published, but follow our rules, even though we probably won't accept your work anyway.

Faced with that bleak advice, many authors looked to other outlets for their message and found them in the form of self-publishing via print on demand, ebooks, blogs, spoken word, podcasts and books on cell phones. Yes, in the beginning quality was shaky and not of comparable quality to what the big houses put out, but all that has changed.  "Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come," said Victor Hugo. The technology has made it possible and now authors finally have the opportunity to connect directly with their readers, a strategy that has been hugely successful in the music industry.

When I look ahead my vision is clear and hopeful about the direction of the industry and the future of publishing. We are entering the Age of the Author. Whoohoo!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Is your blog creating a buzz or just Z's?

You probably started your blog as a way to communicate with your audience, perhaps hoping that an Internet presence would help increase your readership and ultimately sell your book or service.

How's it working out for you so far? Do you sometimes feel you are pouring your heart out on the page (or onto the computer) and you've no idea if anyone even knows you exist? Do you ask yourself if you're wasting your time when you could be writing your book instead? If you're not getting any feedback in the form of reader comments or trackbacks from other blog writers, it may be time to ask yourself, "Is my blog creating a buzz or putting people to sleep?"

Like books, blogs are meant to educate and entertain. To be successful with your blog (or your book), ask yourself these three questions before beginning:

  1. Who will read what I write? Identifying your audience before you begin will get you focused on communicating your message and help eliminate writer's block. Having a clear picture of your reader will also help you figure out how and where to reach them in the real and virtual worlds. 

  2. What new information or solution am I bringing to the marketplace? This may be the single-most important factor in determining whether you will keep and grow your blog readership. Certainly a pleasant design and good writing helps, but if you're not educating, offering new information or providing a solution to a problem, then there's little reason for readers to follow your blog.

  3. How can I balance creating value for my readers with marketing my book, product or service? Readers understand that you have a book or service that may help them; that's why they read your blog or newsletter. They appreciate hearing about your new offerings, especially if there's a special reward, such a discount, bonus or gift. The key is balance your promotion with real value to the customer. If ever in doubt, go with this maxim: The more you give, the more you will receive.

Blogging can be an effective and fun way to spread your news and your views. The most popular blogs are the ones where the author keeps a clear and authentic voice. So be who you are: funny,chatty,  radical, serious, intense--just don't be boring and your readership (and sales) will grow.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What's your story?

Have you been to a book signing lately or read an author interview in a magazine or heard a book talk show on the radio? Chances are you remember more about the story behind the book (what inspired the author) than the book topic. That's because the most effective way to get people talking about you and your book is to create a memorable story.

Think about it. How many self-help books are out in the marketplace? Financial or investment advice books? How about fantasy novels? Yet, some authors are very successful at spinning their stories so that their books stand out in overcrowded genres and make the bestseller lists.

Rhonda Byrne describes how she was at a personal low in her life--her father died and her business was failing--when she was given a book that revealed the secret to turning her life around. Her desire to share her new-found knowledge with the world was the impetus that led first to the movie, "The Secret," and then to the book, which still remains on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list after several years.

Robert Kiyosaki told the story of his life lessons learned in his how-to-get-and-stay-rich book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Originally self-published, this memoir-style account of how two powerful role models in his life shaped his approach to building successful businesses topped The New York Times bestseller lists for more than 100 weeks.

JK Rowling was a single mom on welfare writing during her children's nap time when she began the Harry Potter series. Today she is the richest woman in Great Britain due to the books' successes.

It's a long road from humble beginnings to successful author. Just having a good book is not enough. So, how do you get started on the path?

Dramatize your story. What inspired you to write the book? It could be as simple as a passing comment from your partner or child or it could have been a milestone event in your life. Laura Duksta, author of The New York Times bestselling children's book I Love You More, says the story was inspired while she was praying for her sister and nephew. Deborah Sharp, author of the newly released murder mystery, Mama Does Time, says after 9/11 she turned from reporting the news as a USA Today journalist to fiction writing so she could write about happy endings for change.

Here are some tips on how use your packaged story as a base to to build your audience while you are writing your book:
1.Position yourself as an expert. Write articles for trade publications. Teach classes, seminars or workshops. Offer yourself as a guest for local radio or television shows.
2. Connect with your target audience. Start a newsletter. Write a blog. Be a guest speaker for professional or civic groups. Join groups or associations connected to your topic and take a leadership role or volunteer for committees.
3. Publicize your work. Write press releases, post your events on community calendars and participate in social networking sites.
4. Once the book is out, arrange book signings at bookstores or businesses related to your topic. One author I know sold her mystery novel set amid the fast-paced NASCAR racing scene at racetrack events.
5. Virtual book tours via blogs are sweeping the Internet. If you don't know what I'm talking about and you're still in the writing process, this is the perfect time to learn about how blogging can help skyrocket book sales.

Whether your story is about how you came to write your book or the circumstances behind your unique message, it is what your audience will remember long after reading your book or hearing you speak. This is the fine art of communicating at the core level. People who learn to do this well make lasting connections that translate to bestsellers and high demand for their services, where they get to tell their story again and again and again and... .

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Do you need an agent?

Do you need an agent? And what do they want, anyway?
From the feedback I receive from writers, contacting an agent or editor to submit your work is much harder than writing the book! Do you need these mysterious gatekeepers? And what should you send them? Here are some answers to the questions that keep popping up in my email and at the classes and seminars I teach.

Do I need an agent if I'm not planning to self-publish?
No, it's not necessary to have an agent to get your work published, although it is true that most large publishing houses will only review manuscript submitted by agents. However, many small to mid-size publishers will review your work without an agent. Submitting to a publisher who accepts queries directly from writers can cut down on the length of time it will take to get your work published, since finding an agent can be a lengthly process. In general, however, you can expect much smaller (or no) advance against royalties when working with small to mid-size publishing houses.

What should I send to an agent (editor or publisher) when I am submitting my work?
The answer is to follow the submission guidelines. Every agency, publication and publishing house has specific submission policies. What you should send depends on whether you are seeking publication of an article or a book, and whether your book is fiction or nonfiction. Typically, you will be asked to submit a query letter to explain your work and provide some information about yourself and writing qualifications.

You may also be asked to provide clips, a synopsis or outline, a book proposal and/or sample chapters, depending on the nature of your work.

Do I send my whole manuscript to an agent, and do I need to include a cover letter?
Include a cover letter with every correspondence, even if it is by email. Don't ever send a complete manuscript unless requested.

When submitting your work, format your manuscript properly. Use these guidelines to format your manuscript. (If submitting electronically, ignore the references to paper.)

--Use white bond paper (20 lb. stock minimum)
--Use Times Roman or Courier 12 pt. type only
--Type on one side of the paper only
--Double space (single space poetry)
--Use paragraph indents
--Use paper clips only to secure your manuscript
--At the top each page (except page 1), put the page number, your last name, book or article title

--Justify the right margin
--Add extra space between paragraphs
--Bind or staple your manuscript
--Put your manuscript in a folder
--Try to be cute or flashy with your presentation

Remember, agents and editors receive thousands of submissions and are looking for excuses to discard most of them. They will dump anything that doesn't follow guidelines. Don't let your hard work end up in the slush pile or circular file on looks alone.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

HARO you doing?

HARO (Help a Reporter Out), the brainchild of publicist Peter Shankman, is a must-have free subscription for any author or business person who wants easy access to fabulous publicity opportunities. Delivered by email three times per day, with anywhere from 15 to 40+ queries from journalists (which include print, Internet and broadcast media), HARO provides a seemingly unending supply of editors, bloggers and broadcasters looking for sources for their stories. In other words, they are looking for YOU.

Since the first time I mentioned this service in my newsletter about 6 weeks ago, I've had feedback from readers on their HARO successes. I've had a few of my own, too.

I submitted writing tips in response to queries from blogger Laurie Kienlen and my material, my book title plus links to my site were included in 3 blog posts: Best Writing Advice, Best Leads and Tips for Staying Motivated.

Feng Shui expert Pat Heydlauff responded to several queries and has scored a radio interview. Just this week she received an immediate positive response to a submission she sent to a New York-based magazine looking for Feng Shui experts to interview regarding "how harmonizing your bedroom/house will help relationship dynamics" for an article that will appear on its website, which gets over 400,000 unique hits monthly.

And the Queen of HARO award goes to survivor coach Paula Holland De Long, who has been quoted in Aventura Magazine, featured in a story on and interviewed by a national magazine and is awaiting confirmation that her segment will be used.

Have you had HARO success? Email me with your success and I'll extend your coverage by mentioning it in this newsletter and on my blog. I've even posted tips on how to pitch or respond to a journalist's query for those of you who need some help with your pitches. It doesn't get much better than that. What are you waiting for? Let me know HARO you doing!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Are you just one sheet away from publishing success?

I'll admit to using the title question as a play on words. The "one sheet" I'm referring to is a marketing tool, not a single page of manuscript. Speakers have been using one sheets for years, but it's a relatively new item for writers who traditionally have relied on bios, summaries, reviews and press releases to promote their work. If you're not getting the results you want from your promotional efforts, you may want to try a new format for presenting your material.

A one sheet can actually be two-sided, but essentially it's a brief summary that encapsules the essence of the author, book and topic or message. It's a handy-dandy item that can be faxed (least desirable), emailed or downloaded from your website. You can mail or email one sheets to introduce yourself to the media, bookstores and/or any audience that you want target.

The content you include in your one sheet will vary according to your specific purpose, but it should contain the following:
1. Book cover image, ISBN number, retail price and ordering information.
2. Short synopsis or summary of the book.
3. Your photo, brief bio relevant to the book and contact information (website, email, phone number, publicist's or agent's info, etc)
4. Quotes or excerpts from reviews, testimonials or endorsements.

Additionally, you can tailor the one sheet to represent your other functions. Are you a coach, speaker or consultant? Add a section with the titles and descriptions of services, seminars or presentations you offer.

One sheets can be created in Microsoft Word or in graphic programs such as Adobe Photoshop or InDesign. The final document must be converted to pdf so it can be easily be read online, downloaded or emailed. Making a pdf also preserves your fonts so that even when the document is opened on someone else's computer, it will still look the same as you intended. (A pdf is read online in Adobe Reader, a program that anyone can download for free and most people already have installed on their computers.)

Adair Cates, author of Live Your Intention: Ten Steps to Creating the Life of Your Dreams, has three one-sheets, each tailored to a specific audience. Adair has become a master at promotion on a shoe-string budget, doing much of the work herself. It's paid off in a big way for her and the response she has garnered has paved the way to creating a video featuring her book and speaking. She has also posted video clip and photos from the many media interviews she has arranged.

Adair is not trained as a graphic designer or media specialist, so she invested the time to find out what other successful authors and speakers were doing and then did what she needed to do to get the same results. More often than not, publishing success requires learning new skills, stepping out of comfort zones and experimenting with new strategies. If you need assistance with the graphic presentation, hire a graphic designer to help you produce a document with a professional flair.

So, spice up your presentation with a new look. One sheets are a simple, inexpensive and effective way to transmit your message. And you may find that the new approach can make a big difference in the response you receive.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What's in your press release?

If you're not using press releases to spread the news about your book and related activities, you're missing out on reaching a big potential audience. Press releases are not just for the press anymore, either. I see authors and publishers posting press releases on websites and media services where anyone can access the release on the Internet.

To be effective as a publicity tool, a press release should follow these guidelines:
1. The purpose of a press release is to notify the media and your target audience about an event or important story. The goal is provide enough enticing information to have someone call you to find out more, so keep the release to one or two pages.

2.Follow the accepted standard format (samples are in provided in 4Ps to Publishing Success, or available by googling "press release format"). You can and should use your letterhead for the release, but don't deviate from the format.

3. Write your press release like an article (which is what you want a journalist to turn it into!). Develop an interesting headline. The first paragraph is your hook. What is new or special about your book? What problem does it solve? Who is your audience? The second paragraph can explain what inspired the story or book, why you are an expert and a personal quote related to the information. The third paragraph gives a directive, or call to action. Why should they call you? Are you available for interviews? Will you be holding a book signing in the area? Give your contact information here.

What can you send as part of a media kit?
Include an image of your book cover (postcard, bookmark, etc.) In your cover letter, offer to send a copy of your book. Tell them if you are available for telephone or radio interviews and why you would be an interesting guest. You can even include suggested interview questions on a separate sheet of paper.

When should you follow up with the media?
You can call to follow up with a magazine editor or news reporter about the information you've sent. Rule number one: ask if they are available to talk for a few minutes when they answer the phone. Busy editors/reporters on deadline don't like to be interrupted and will tell you so if you just start talking. Rule number two: Never ask, "Did you receive my press release?" Always offer some new information--preferably something that will be interesting or beneficial to their readers. Ask what you can do to help them and then pitch yourself as a guest or someone they can call upon for information.

It may seem a little uncomfortable if you've never done this before, but after one or two times, you'll feel more at ease with the process. And once you get a response, you'll be juiced to write them all the time.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

People are talking about Author Talks

The debut of the teleclass series "Author Talks" with author Deborah Sharp on October 7 was a huge success. Her new book, MAMA DOES TIME (Midnight Ink), was released October 1.Here's some of the feedback we've gotten so far:

"Hi Shelley! Really enjoyed the teleconference last night. I thought Deb (and you!) were very informative and entertaining. This is a great idea." -- Joyce Sweeney

"I picked up some tips from last night's conference with Deb Sharp. Thank you, it was very interesting. You're a good moderator. "--Joey Naudic

"Just wanted to thank you for that informative and entertaining teleconference. Deb answered my "dinosaur" questions very nicely, and generally gave out oodles of useful information. I really enjoyed tonight's session, and Deborah was a wonderful choice to launch your author interviews. She'll be a hard act to follow."--Barbara Dinerman

Hi Shelley, I really enjoyed the conference last night, thanks! (I was listening while working.) Deb was fantastically entertaining, and she gave many good tips. You did a fabulous job too :-)" --Pascale Mackey

"It was fantastic. Deborah was informative, entertaining and inspiring. The only thing is I wish that Mace or Mama had joined in the teleconference and talked about eating butterscotch pie." --Mel Antonen

"I was able to listen in to most of the conversation, but missed the beginning. I will use your information to do that now. I enjoyed the session very much. I know Deb Sharp; she is as excellent a writer as she spoke last night. The session was so informative and I did learn excellent new techniques. What a wonderful idea!" --Stephanie Krulik

If you missed the call and want to hear a replay of the teleclass, you can call (641) 715-3412 and enter Access Code 171279# when prompted.

The audio recording will be available for you to call at your convenience for a limited time only. Please try to listen in soon to make sure you don't miss out in getting this valuable information.

Here's how to listen to the recorded call:

Dial - (641) 715-3412
Enter Access Code - 171279#

Friday, October 10, 2008

Art Biz Coach Book Tour

As part of her book tour, Alyson Stanfield came to Asheville for some double duty. Her three-hour workshop, titled the same as her book, was held in the very cool studio of photographer Marilyn Sholin. Marlyn's book, "The Art of Digital Photo Painting" (Lark Books) will be released soon.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

AWE is AWEsome!

I spent Saturday morning with the Asheville Writer Enthusiasts (AWE), and we had a great time. This very talented group had lots of questions and were totally interested in learning how to get their manuscripts off their desks and into print with the 4Ps to Publishing Success.

Here's what some of the members had to say:
"First of all I hope you are aware just how good you are at what you do. Thank you for that. Of the speakers we have had in the last few months, you were the most informative in the time allotted, and the most inspiring." --Phil Sherlock

"I enjoyed your presentation to Asheville Writing Enthusiasts on Saturday. Thanks so much for sharing your time and talents." --Susan Blexrud

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Listen in on Author Talks

"Author Talks" telephone interview series debuts Tuesday, October 7, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET with Deborah Sharp, author of the Mace Bauer Mystery series. Her first book, Mama Does Time (Midnight Ink), has an October 1, 2008 release date. So we are very fortunate to catch up with her just as she begins her whirlwind book tour and activity. Deb will share valuable writing and publishing tips and will take questions from those on the call. This is a don't-miss opportunity to learn insider secrets and get answers from someone who has been there and done that. Deb is a former USA Today reporter who gave up the daily newspaper grind to pursue her dream of writing novels, and after some trial and error (which she'll share with you), landed a two-book contract for her Mace Bauer Mystery series.

The event is free (long distance charges apply), but you must register for the call. Do it now because "seating" is limited to 90 people. If you sign up for the call and can't make it, you will be mailed a link to the audio recording the following day. No excuses! Register now!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wake Up and Start Dreaming

Who doesn't like to hear the story of an individual succeeding in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds? Some like to call it The American Dream, but truly such accomplishments are examples of The Universal Dream, because the spirit that enables unlikely dreams to come true knows no geographical boundaries.

Next to author interviews, my favorite articles to clip and save (although today it's more like print and save--or bookmark and save) are author success stories. I have real-time and virtual folders stuffed full of great things that have happened to writers and literature lovers.

Sometimes I flip through the articles and wonder, "Why them?" or "How are they different?" as I try to find the common denominator for success. I know from years of writing advertising and marketing copy that the key to success is tied to making yourself or your work stand out in the crowd.

One way to stand out is to start believing in your dream. Most people give up before they even begin. Don't buy into the naysayer "wisdom" and "facts" that run rampant in publishing. Learn the difference between facts and truth.

Facts: Less people are reading books. Less people are buying books. Newspapers are eliminating book review sections. Small, independent booksellers are being swallowed up by the chains.

Truth: This is the best time to open an independent book store. As reported in The New York Times, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo graduated with an English degree from New York University in 2001 and went to work for a publishing company. Not feeling the joy she hoped the publishing position would bring, she went back to work part-time at an indie bookstore in the West Village where she had worked during college. Realizing that she was happier there than in her full-time position, Jessica decided to open her own bookstore.

But, in addition to all the facts stated above, Jessica also had no funds or connections that could help her raise the money she would need. So she took a class from the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation. While researching how to write business plans at the Brooklyn Public Library, Jessica saw a Citibank-sponsored contest for business plans. She entered and took first prize--$15,000.

Unbeknownst to Jessica, a business group in another part of Brooklyn surveyed their residents and discovered what people wanted most in their neighborhood was a bookstore. When the group read of Jessica's contest win in The Daily News, they contacted her and the meeting led to a fundraising party in the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Food and drink were donated by local merchants and the party was staffed by volunteers from the neighborhood as well as celebrities who read about the event and wanted to offer support. During the celebration, Jessica announced that she had a new business partner, a sales rep for Random House, who was making a sizable personal donation to the cause.

Perhaps Jessica was referring to "the facts" when she said, "Maybe I'm an optimist, but I see the other side of it. Which is that only a bookstore can inspire this kind of passion."

Why does everyone love a bookstore? Because it's filled with good stories! Love stories, adventure stories, how-to stories, fantasy stories, life stories and success stories. Support your local bookstore. Attend a book signing and buy the book. Then go home and write. Read in your genre and take time to learn about publishing. And if you believe (remember Tinker Bell), before long I'll be cutting out the article about you and putting it my success folder.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The value of good copy writing

Lessons learned:
1. Hire a professional copy writer to pen your cover copy.
2. A powerful message can be delivered in a very short format.
3. Be grateful for all that you have.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Creativity and the Successful Author

Back in the days when I toiled in advertising, those people who were locked in their offices, hunched over desks either writing copy or designing the layouts for the ads were called "creatives." The "beautiful people" were the account execs who got to wine and dine the clients as part of their job to sign and keep the accounts.

And that is how "creative" can be perceived: The starving artist, reclusive writer and temperamental actor.

I don't like clich├ęs or stereotypes, so today's myth-busting message is that authors can be both creative and entertaining. Here are three examples of writers who extended their imaginations past the page to the public's eye.

The first two were clever enough to tie their work to the event foremost in most Americans' minds right now--the presidential election.

Mark LaFlamme, author of the novel, Dirt: An American Campaign, put his protagonist, Frank Cotton, in the race with a website and blog for the fictitious character. Those who want to help promote Frank Cotton and the book can download a banner to post on their own websites or blogs and get the good deed reciprocated with their links listed on the "candidate's" site as a Friend of Frank Cotton.

My client, Feng Shui expert Pat Heydlauff, wrote and posted a press release/article analyzing the colors worn by First Lady Laura Bush, Senator Hillary Clinton, Cindy McCain and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin during their presentations at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. This was not a fashion article, but a commentary on how color helped deliver the speakers' messages with respect to both the outfit and the contrast against the background. The article was picked up by newspapers around the country, with Pat's short bio, website link and mention of her upcoming book, Feng Shui: So Easy a Child Can Do It.

Author Deb Sharp overcame her resistance to what she calls "shameless promotion" by poking fun of herself both in her personal blog and in Ask Mama, the blog she created for her title character in Mama Does Time and Mama Rides Shotgun. Deb has even created some radio essays for Tampa's National Public Radio station WUSF-FM that detail the "horrors" she has faced getting ready to be a published author.

I could write a book (and maybe I will) about clever ways to promote yourself. But, you're a writer, too, so you don't need me to tell you how to be creative. Just get in the shower, take a walk, drive your car or whatever gets your muse working and think of ways to get your work in front of readers. And then send me your story so I can tell everyone here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Can you handle the truth?

Remember Jack Nicholson's famous line in the movie A Few Good Men, where he explodes on the stand while being interrogated by Tom Cruise. "You can't handle the truth!" he delivered with the voice and power only Nicholson can muster, to the cross examination directive that he tell the truth.

Although most viewers would be on the side of Cruise's character, rather than the manipulative character played by Nicholson, I have to say that sometimes that's how I want to respond to people who ask me questions and then don't like the answers they receive.

I truly enjoy receiving writers' questions by email. I usually reply directly to the individual if my schedule permits. However, aside from time constraints, one reason I'm considering ceasing my personal replies and only responding in my blog or newsletter is because people sometimes get angry when they receive information they don't like and then get indignant and even arrogant about my reply. Worse are the ones who ask my advice and then go ahead and do it their way, only to experience what could have been avoided if they had followed the advice they sought.

The reason that I continue to answer questions is for the people who are serious about learning how to achieve their publishing goals and are willing to do whatever is necessary.

When Nancy Kaiser first contacted me last January, she said she wanted to self-publish her book, Letting Go: An Ordinary Woman's Extraordinary Journey of Healing & Transformation, but wanted the assistance of someone who could guide her through the process, something most POD services don't offer. When she sent me her manuscript to review, it was 180,000 words. I told her that was about twice as long as it should be for a first-time author writing a memoir. She replied it had just been cut down by half from its original size. I offered to send her a sample edit that would indicate how she could cut even more.

Nancy wasn't pleased with my suggestion, but she went back to her editor and together they managed to reduce the manuscript to a more manageable and cost-effective size. Through the entire publishing process, Nancy listened to the advice of the professional designer and editors she hired to help her. She held firm to the vision she had for the cover and the integrity of the contents, but she was willing to revise and improvise whenever necessary. She never argued or refused to comply, and often a compromise was possible.

The result? A book that tells a remarkable story cased in an absolutely beautiful cover that is receiving rave reviews from readers all over the world.

Whether you ask questions by email or in person at a writers' conference or author presentation, accept that the answer is given from the person's experience. We're not making the rules or inventing the process, so don't shoot the messenger. There's lots of things about this business that are frustrating, but I've found that many of the silliest-seeming procedures are there for a good reason, whether I like it or not. Publishing is not for the feint of heart or those easily discouraged. I'm reminded of one of my mother's favorite expressions: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." And for goodness sake, "Don't get saucy with me, Bearnaise." (Harvey Korman, History of the World, Part I)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Can you help a reporter out?

I recently discovered a website that offers a terrific service for free. Whether you are a freelance writer or book author, I believe you'll be interested in checking out, or HARO. The site belongs to Peter Shankman, who heads his own PR agency. The service serves two purposes: journalists (e.g., freelance writers) can submit requests for sources, or individuals (e.g., authors) can subscribe to read the queries and send their info in response.

So whether you're writing an article or want to be cited as an expert in someone's article, this service is an amazing tool to get what you want. Once you've signed up as subscriber, you'll receive three emails a day with anywhere from 15-40+ queries from journalists (which include print, Internet and broadcast media) looking for people to interview for a variety of assignments, and if you're a match you can submit. If you're a journalist looking for a source, you can post a query. He already has over 25,000 subscribers, so getting your request in front of thousands of eyes can beat spending hours on the Internet and phone trying to find someone who meets your needs.

I subscribed to this service about a month ago and found myself emailing clients and friends who I thought were right for various stories. It got too overwhelming to read for myself and others and get any work done, so I directed interested parties to subscribe themselves and sent a tip sheet on how to respond to queries. My original intention was to share the sheet with my clients only, but then I had a "I could've had a V-8" moment and realized everyone could benefit from the tips. So read on if you want to know the right way to respond to a journalist's query or make a blind pitch. (If you need an incentive, my client, Paula Holland De Long, was recently interviewed by Aventura Magazine as a result of replying to a query using these tips.)

How to Respond to a Journalist's Query or Request for Expert Sources
It's very exciting and a good opportunity to reply to a journalist's query or request for expert sources. However, there are conventional rules of procedure to follow, or you risk being labeled a pest rather than a valuable resource! Here's how to submit your expertise, book or product to a media request. (These rules apply to "blind" pitching, too.)
Only respond or pitch if you are an appropriate match for the topic. Don't try to stretch the truth, present yourself to be something you're not or promise what you can't deliver.

Give the request serious thought before dashing out your information. Read the request carefully. What is the angle of the story? Who is the audience? Then present your material in a manner that is consistent with the needs of the story and the audience.

Open with an introduction about why you are writing (I'm writing in response to... or to suggest...). Indicate why you are an expert, but keep to a sentence. "As a licensed physical therapist with Such and Such Medical Group, ...."

Present your information and specify how it is relevant to the subject of the article or show. Make your presentation to the journalist very clear; don't assume that he or she will connect the dots between what you are sending and what they need. If this is a blind pitch, then it's even more important to establish how your information can benefit or be of interest to the audience.

Put your short bio at the end, with your contact information. If you have a book, include "[your name], author of..." Always end with "I'd be happy to provide additional information for this or any other article (show, etc.) that you are preparing about (the subject). Please let me know how else I can help you."

Keep it short. This is not the time to submit your media kit, photo or any self-serving attachments. The purpose of your response is to feed enough information to the journalist to prompt a call or email for more information. If you are contacted, remember that the goal is to serve the press, not to get free publicity. If you help the journalist, your name or product may be cited in the newspaper, magazine or media broadcast. Although that's the ultimate payoff for you, your purpose in replying to requests or sending pitches is to help the journalist do his or her job, which is serving the needs of the audience.

Be mindful of deadlines.

Be realistic. You may think you're the perfect source or match for the journalist's needs, but you won't get a call every time you submit. However, if you establish a pattern of consistent quality and reliability (they can call you for a quote when their deadline is in 15 minutes), then you'll develop a valuable relationship that will pay off for you many times over.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Should you pay others to publish your work?

I had a new writer contact me about an article she had written for a photo-editorial fashion spread. Here's what she wanted to know:

"A photographer friend and I recently did a fashion shoot as a part of a fashion and environment awareness idea that we came up with. The images are beautiful and the story is relevant to the 'going green' movement showing how. Because it is not your typical fashion magazine spread that's trying to sell a specific product, but is more of an informative approach, I am trying to figure out which publication it is best suited for. Possibly a magazine that's in need of content? Should I expect to pay to have this first item published? and if so, how much should I expect to pay?"

Here's my response:

Sounds like a great concept and very timely, too. You should not pay to have your work used; you should be paid. I'm guessing that the photographer has either given you the rights to the images or you will be submitting the work as a photo editorial. You both should be paid for your contributions. What you can get depends on the quality of the work and the publication's budget. Small, regional magazines don't have big budgets, but typically would be interested because they lack the staff to do it on their own. Many fashion spreads are shot and written by freelance contributors. What about the fashions featured? The designer or the store that supplied the clothes should be credited.

Paying to have your work published in a magazine or other print publication is advertising. Do not confuse it with self-publishing a book, where the author assumes the production costs but receives all the profits from book sales.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How much is your time worth?

If you are a consultant, coach or freelance writer, your fee is probably based on your time. Most likely you have an hourly rate or you base a project fee on the amount of time you estimate it will take you to do the work. I've been working as a freelance writer, editor and consultant since the late 80s, and I can say I've yet to find a great formula. So this blog post will not be about how to set your fees. Something came up this week that opened my eyes to the value of my time.

I had an unhappy client. That was distressing to me, but it got even worse. The client complained to someone else who is well known in the community and whose opinion is highly valued. I cannot deny that my client had a valid complaint. However, to my knowledge all that was mentioned was the mistake without acknowledgment of the months of good service.

While I lived in Florida, I went to the same hairdresser for over 20 years. We often talked about business and he had a great attitude about customer service. "You're only as good as your last haircut," he told me many times. I'm just now realizing how well that applies to any service.

In my mind, I had served my client well, giving far more hours worth of service than I billed. Yet from her perspective, the one bad "haircut" was what she remembered. It was a good wake-up call for me. Now I understand that it's not about what my time is worth or how I set my fees; it's about how my time is spent delivering what I promise--because good customer service is all any of us have to offer. It's really never about the money.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Are you ready to submit your manuscript?

You've done it! You've finally gotten that story or nonfiction book idea down on paper (or computer file). Now what? How do you know when your manuscript is ready to submit?

Many first-time authors write to me, asking me to review their work. Here's a portion of a letter that is representative of what I receive. (I've eliminated the portions that contain the confidential descriptions of plot, etc.)

"I have completed my first manuscript. Briefly it is a fictional story of approximately 43,500 words, single space, which describes the lives of various characters who become intertwined with each other.

[The author described the characters, summarized the plot and suggested potenial genres where the story might fit.]

I would like to send you a complete copy of the manuscript for your honest opinion and critique. Can I mail it to you as my file on the computer was lost due to computer crashing."

I applaud writers who seek a professional opinion before taking the next step. This writer was on the right track by including the word count, genre, character and plot description. However, I did notice some things that would cause an agent or editor to reject the manuscript.

Here are some tips that can serve as checklist for manuscript readiness before you submit:

The copy should be double spaced. Additionally, use one-inch margins all around, and paragraphs should be indented with no extra space between paragraphs. Bonus tip: Use only one space after a period.

Adult novels are generally 75,000-100,000 words. However, some small publishers will accept short novels, called novellas. Nonfiction should be in the 65,000-85,000 word range.

To identify your genre, ask yourself--where would this book fit in the bookstore (what shelf/section)? What other books (that sell well) are like it? To identify your potential market, ask: Who will read my book?
As far as plot and character development, ask yourself:
Does the plot follow an arc pattern? Are your characters (especially the main character) different at the end than the beginning? Does every scene move the story forward? Does each chapter end with a page-turner? Is the dialogue natural?

Do not lose your work! Always backup on CD or an external drive. You will need both digital and hard copies of your manuscript.

In my seminars, I always offer this advice: Writing is a passion. Publishing is a business. Educate yourself about the publishing process the same as you would when entering any new business.

Where can you get the information you need? You can attend writers' conferences, seminars and workshops. Subscribe to writers' magazines. Read books on the topic. I recommend my book for both fiction and nonfiction writers, and so do a number of my readers. Here's a review from someone who took my teleseminar last April, which used 4Ps to Publishing Success as the text for the course:

"As an aspiring author I have looked at various books on publishing, many of which left me feeling overwhelmed. 4Ps to Publishing Success is a great find because it inspires you to take action. The information is clearly presented and the exercises get you moving in the direction of completing your book. Thanks for helping me move forward towards accomplishing my goal!"
--Laura Baylor, Physical Education Teacher

The addendum to that endorsement is that Laura has just let me know to expect her completed manuscript at the end of this week. From manuscript notes to completed manuscript in four months! Much can be accomplished when you have a guideline to help you complete the task.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What does your email say about you?

I'm hardly the Emily Post of the Internet, but I can give you some pointers on how to communicate with people you don't know via email. Why am I qualified? I receive hundreds of emails from people I don't know. Some are trying to sell me something; others have a question or want information from me.

I love hearing from my readers, but I do delete some emails without responding based simply on the presentation. My logic is that I'm in the communication business and I want to work with people who take all forms of communication seriously. I can overlook an occasional misspelling and word left out--we all make mistakes. But I truly do not have time to decipher emails that are riddled with errors and can barely be understood because of poor organization and format.

If you are sending an email to someone you don't know, you certainly want to make them feel you are someone worthy of their time and attention. Here's what I (and most people) love to see:

My name spelled correctly
Minimal typos and no "shorthand" spellings (u for you, LOL, etc.)
Use of paragraphs rather than one large block of type with sentences all running together
An introductory connection such as, "I was recommended by,..., "I read your article in..." or "I'm writing to you because..."
No slow-loading graphics or blinking icons
No large attachments
The writer signs his or her full name
The writer provides contact information in an email signature

An email signature can be set up in any email program. Check your program's Preferences menu. Information to put in your signature can include your full name, title, company name, website and/or blog address and phone number. If you have a book or program, include the title. Providing these items identifies you and advertises for you at the same time, so it is in your best interest to use this feature. You can elect to have your signature in all your outgoing mail, so you don't have to type it out each time.

Most of these tips are simple to apply, yet many writers send out a query or email in haste as if they were dashing off a note to a friend. Good business practice still dictates a degree of etiquette and protocol, even in the fast-paced, instant-gratification, seemingly identity-less atmosphere of the Internet. You may not be doing business face to face anymore, but that's all the more reason to set yourself apart from the crowd and make a good first impression with your email correspondence.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Writing to Your Target Audience

Before you write even one word of your novel or nonfiction book, your first step should be to identify your target audience. Ask yourself, "Who will read my book?" (BTW, the answer is NOT "Anyone who can fog a mirror.")

Marketing experts, literary agents and book editors all agree that the more specific you can be about your audience, the more likely that your work will be saleable. Guidelines for defining your readership include the answers to these basic questions:

What is their gender?
What is their age range?
What is their economic bracket?
What is their level of education?
Where do they live?
What do they want and need?
What do magazines/newspapers do they read?
What are their favorite TV shows and/or radio programs?
What Internet sites do they visit?
What social networking sites do they use?

Armed with this knowledge, you can target your writing by "talking" directly to your audience. For example, you would use different tone and words when writing to a senior audience than to teens; women rather than men; techno-savvy vs. computer newbies, etc. Highly targeted writing with idioms and phrases the audience wll recognize is far more effective than bland, "this has to appeal to everyone" writing.

In addition, knowing the habits and haunts of your readers enables you to find them and market your work! A previous post highlighted how one author googled three words that described his target audience, found and joined the discussion groups where his would-be readers chatted, and drove enough traffic to his website to secure a publishing contract for his novel. Other steps you might take include writing articles for the publications your audience reads, commenting on popular blogs about your topic or subject, speaking at professional associations or memberships groups where your readers are found, and so on.

A last, but not final, reason to know your readers is so you can position yourself and your work to provide new/different information, solution to a problem or entertaining material for their enjoyment. Writing that caters to the readers' interests and needs is an almost sure winner in any market.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Start Spreading Your News with an Ezine

The publishing world is being turned upside down by innovative and empowered authors whose messages are just too timely and important to wait for those old traditional avenues to give them the nod of approval. Are you ready to join the ranks of the "I'm in charge" authors? If so, then you can learn something from authors who are taking their futures into their own hands.

Here are just two success stories.Faced with burgeoning businesses and a desire to position themselves as experts, these two women took charge of connecting with their audiences.

Feng Shui expert and artist Pat Heydlauff has been writing a weekly article for a Palm Beach newspaper for years and sending it out to her email list via her personal email program as well. When we began working together, I suggested she use an Internet-based email delivery program to manage her list as well as put the information in a more attractive and easier-to-read format. Pat was driving traffic to her site in a number of ways: speaking engagements, her column, articles in national publications and art classes, but wasn't getting many new subscribers as a result. I also suggested she include a highly visible sign-up box on her home page and include a bonus report as incentive for subscribing. Her subscriptions skyrocketed. Just a week ago, Pat mailed out the premiere issue of Chaos Busters(TM), her biweekly ezine, in an attractive new html format with expanded content. In addition to an article, she now answers readers' questions and also has an opportunity to showcase her artwork and upcoming new book, Feng Shui, So Easy Even a Child Can Do It (The Lotus Circle). You can learn a lot about Feng Shui and see how to package yourself effectively by visiting her website, Energy By Design.

Life coach and cancer survivor Paula Holland De Long took a folder full of notes about article and book ideas and decided to put them to work for her. When we started working together, Paula was long on great ideas and short on organization. After separating, categorizing and prioritizing her list of ideas for writing projects, giving seminars and leading support groups, Paula went to work on her list. In just eight short months, Paula has generated some amazing results. She has started a very successful program to help cancer survivors adjust when treatment ends, given at two major medical venues in South Florida as well as a teleconference action group for women. She recently had an article published in a national magazine and her monthly ezine newsletter, Thrive! debuted two months ago. Paula also uses a prominent subscription box on her home page with a bonus incentive for joining her mailing list. You can find great information for cancer patients and their families and observe how to present professional services and products at her website, Coach for Living Online.

Neither Pat nor Paula are graphic designers or technology experts, and they prefer to apply their time and skills to the best use in their professional work. They both use Constant Contact to manage their lists and deliver their newsletters. I use Aweber to deliver this newsletter. Aweber offers additional features that I wanted such as autoresponders and a "hover" subscription box. There are many other services available as well. The ones mentioned here are the ones I have used, so I feel comfortable recommending them.

One more tip about starting an ezine. If you have not published a regular newsletter before, start with a monthly issue. You may love it and want to increase frequency later on. However, a weekly issue is a big commitment. It's always better to increase your frequency than to decrease from weekly to monthly distribution.

Most services offer a free trial period, so get started today!

Friday, August 01, 2008

What are your key words?

Sometime back when you were in middle school or high school, some English teacher probably taught you about the concept of the main idea and how to use it to develop a paragraph and ultimately, an essay or composition. Like everything else in today's fast-paced techno-society, the main idea has been abbreviated to single words or short phrases now known as "key words."

Your attention to this detail may have begun when some techie told you that no one would find your website without good key words. SEO (search engine optimization) experts seemed to have developed a whole industry around the use of key words. While I've yet to master the concepts of SEO, I have found one great use for key words, thanks to Google.

Just like being able to identify the main idea or key phrases to bring your audience to your website, you can use these same words to bring your audience to your email box with Google Key Word Alerts. By setting up a free account and identifying a series of words or phrases, you can register to receive hourly, daily or weekly notification about articles or blog posts on the Internet that contain your key words. The "alerts" are delivered directly to your email box, for you to read at your leisure.

For example, my key words for the Alerts are book publishing, self-publishing, book marketing, my name, my book title, my publishing company's authors' names and book titles and my husband's name and company. I receive my alerts daily (hourly was too intense and distracting and weekly was too overwhelming). I know when someone mentions our names or books/products in a blog, article or press release posted on the Internet. I'm also informed when someone writes about any of the topics I've identified.

Why would I want this information? In the case of the industry-related key words, it helps keep me current on trends and important events and relieves me of the task of having to scour dozens of publications for the information. If I'm following a story in the news, I receive timely updates.

By receiving alerts for name, book title and company as well as key words, I know when someone is talking or writing about people and/or subjects relevant to me. It gives me an opportunity to review the information, and in the case of blogs, comment if it is appropriate.

For example, I recently received an alert for Adair Cates' Live with Intention, a book published by my company, Visual Impressions Publishing. The alert linked to a discussion board called Live with Intention, and all the members were people seeking the kind of information that Cates covers in her book. I forwarded her the information so that she could join the discussion group and talk with her potential audience. (See previous post that mentioned how Jeff Rivera built his readership through discussion groups, and eventually landed a publishing contract?)

Blogs are heavily monitored by the search engines, and posts and comments to posts show up almost immediately. I have found my name turn up in a search for a key word simply because I made a comment on someone else's blog post--so you don't even have to have your own blog or website for this to work for you. Of course, it is better to have somewhere to link your name so you can take advantage of the traffic, but having just your name in print in the subject area helps to build your platform.

If you haven't identified your key words yet, do it now. Then sign up for Google Key Word Alerts and try it out. The beauty of it is that besides being free, you can add and delete words and phrases at any time and the changes are effective immediately. You may have to experiment until you find the right combination of words, but it's fun and illuminating. And so cool.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Can You Google Yourself to Publishing Success?

If you're interested in making substantial and immediate headway into gaining exposure and what agents and publishers term a "platform," then the Internet should be your weapon of choice.

Here are just two stories making headlines this week that illustrate the power of the Internet.

A recent commentary on by Sramana Mitra reported that Elle Newmark, 56, a former advertising professional who had gone through four different agents on four separate book projects, decided that she "didn't have time for this anymore" and self-published her new book, a historical novel. Once the book came out, she "looked to the Internet to build a readership." Newmark decided to throw a virtual book launch party and sent out 500,000 email invites to agents, editors and reviewers. (The article did not say how she did this without spamming, but that must be another story.) The result? Her book became an Amazon bestseller the day of the virtual book launch, and she secured a William Morris agent and a contract with Simon & Schuster within two weeks.

If you're thinking that Newmark was an advertising exec who probably had a lot of insider friends and experience with Internet marketing, consider the story of Jeff Rivera, as told to Jim via a podcast on Kukral's blog.

Rivera, with no writing or marketing experience, self-published his book and set his mind to building a readership via the Internet. He googled three words that described his target audience and discovered bulletin boards where his potential readers would talk to each other. He joined the discussion groups and with only an email signature, jpeg of his book cover and a link to his website, he was able to drive so much traffic to his site, he convinced an agent and publisher that he had a strong enough following (platform) to ensure a successful book.

A few years ago, I attended a Mystery Writers local chapter meeting and met MJ Rose, the first author to use the Internet to successfully market her self-published book and garner an agent and publisher. She used the same strategy, but she did it by chance. Shortly after she published her book, she adopted a puppy and was having difficulty housebreaking him. She joined an online group for new dog owners and used her name and book title in her email signature. One day, someone asked about it and the rest is history. Rose is considered the poster girl of Internet marketing. Check out her blog, too.

In her commentary for Forbes, Mitra observed, "The trend also tells me that in today's world, aspiring authors stand a higher chance of success if they take more of their destiny in their own hands... Indeed, rules of engagement with agents and publishers are changing because of the power of print-on-demand and online marketing, and in that changing landscape, authors need to reinvent themselves as Internet entrepreneurs."

But you read it here first.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Follow the Trends to Publishing Success

Consider the following headlines from recent trade and consumer publications and see if you can spot the trend:
F+W Publications is Now F+W Media
Young Authors Turn Online Collaboration into Book Deal
Unbound: Publishers worry as new technologies transform their industry
Bowker Reports U.S. Book Production Flat in 2007: Traditional publishing steady, but "on demand" publishing soars as new technologies reduce barriers to entry
Authors Find Their Voice, and Audience, in Podcasts
Book Not Ready for Print? Whip Up an Audiobook for Now
Use Podcasts to Promote Your Books
Why Blog? Reason No. 92: Book Deal
Thumbs Race as Japan's Best Sellers Go Cellular
Penguin Sees Major e-Book Sales Spike

I'm sure by now you get the gist. Technology advances have played havoc on the staid publishing industry and now even the most conservative of the big houses are shifting their focus to include ebooks, interactive media and audio-visual formats. Well, it's about time, considering innovative authors and communicators have been doing it for years.

The good news for aspiring authors is that today you don't need someone's approval to present your message to your intended audience. I believe there will always be the place for the big publishing houses and literary agents, but it's not the only game in town anymore. Please understand that this is not an invitation to put out poor quality work; doing so will result in failure in any market. What this means is that now your voice has a choice.

Don't let age or lack of knowledge stop you. I wasn't born cable-ready (like my children), either. It's no harder to find out how to blog, build a website, start an ezine or create a podcast than it is to learn how to write a query letter, find and agent or prepare a book proposal. If you are open and receptive to the fabulous world that technology is making available to us, you can see your writing career soar.

If you're still intent on securing a traditional publishing contract, remember that today's big houses consider the value of a prospective author's platform as a huge portion of the acceptance criteria. There's no better and quicker way to build your platform than a blog, YouTube and social media. If you don't know what I'm talking about, hire an intern or assistant from your local college, ask your kids or grandkids--but learn how to do it. Do it now.

You can start by subscribing to some of the print and online resources I used to get the headlines quoted in this article. Most of these publications offer free online versions or ezines. They are: The New York Times, Publishers Weekly [PW Daily],,, Communications Solutions, Globe and Mail,, Bowker and Writer's Digest.

Many of the articles I read come to my attention through the use of Google key word alerts. In an upcoming post, I'll cover how I use this free service to track the industry trends and my own progress.

Friday, July 18, 2008

5 Traits of Successful Authors

Do you have a publishing dream? Have you written it down? Articulated and visualized what publishing success means to you? Good! (I'm envisioning you all nodding your heads, "yes.")

So, how's it going? Are you closer than you were a year ago, or do you feel you're spinning your wheels? (My guess is that my reading audience just split into two groups: one group is smiling, the other group is frowning.)

My "guess" is not a random supposition. After 30+ years of working with writers as an editor, consultant and publisher, I've seen many writers succeed while others fail. The difference between the groups is rarely due to talent alone. Successful authors share five traits that separate them from the wannabes. And, here they are:

The 5 Traits of All Successful Authors
1. Successful authors have a personal mission. Their writing stems from a deep need to share their personal passion with the world.

2. Successful authors are persistent. They do not let setbacks or rejection stop them. They develop an attitude of persistence rather than resistance.

3. Successful authors make educating themselves about their craft and the publishing industry part of their plan for success. They subscribe to trade magazines and ezines, attend writers' conferences and workshops, and take writing classes or join writers' critique groups.

4. Successful authors invest in coaching and other programs to get professional feedback on their work. They understand that critique is not criticism and are open to the feedback they receive.

5. Successful authors have an upbeat attitude. They don't have a laundry list of excuses (circumstances) to explain why they are not successful. They understand they have to figure out a way around the obstacles and turn them into opportunities.

No one is born with these traits, but anyone can develop the characteristics of a successful author. It's up to you to decide if you want to do the work. Choosing to put your efforts into other endeavors and enjoy your writing just for the pleasure of it is a perfectly acceptable decision. But, if you are driven to see your name in print or on a book cover, then start developing these traits and you will see your dreams come true.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Busting through Self-Publishing Myths-Part 2

Here are 6.5 Self-Publishing Myths that Need Busting:
(Read Myths 1-3 here. )

4. Self-published books look unprofessional and have many errors. This can easily be avoided by becoming knowledgeable about the publishing process, working with a professional editor and book designer on your own, or by working with a reputable POD provider who supplies these services. Many of today's self-published books are indistinguishable from those published by the big publishing houses.
5. A self-published book will help you get a traditional publisher. Although many self-publishers have experienced this success, don't self-publish for this reason alone. Many publishers won't publish previously published material. And many agents advise writers not to even mention self-published works in their query letters unless thousands of copies have sold.
6. Self-published books don't sell. Self-published books that are marketed properly sell as well as traditional books that are marketed properly. Do you know that most first-time authors published by a traditional company don't make back their advances? Or that most titles by new authors don't sell 5,000 copies, despite their New York publishing house labels? Having a traditional publisher is no guarantee of sales. And, if your book doesn't sell enough copies to cover your advance, what do you think your chances of garnering another publishing contract will be?
6.5. You can't make money self-publishing. In general, most authors, self-published or traditionally published, don't support themselves on book sales alone. Unless your book is an Oprah Book Club selection (or picked for the Richard & Judy Book Club if you're in the UK) or you have a long list of bestsellers like Steven King or JK Rowling, you will have to supplement your income from book sales. Many authors use their books as a stepping stone to consulting and speaking or sell rights to their work to be produced as movies or TV programs. Self-published authors have as much of a chance to these sources of income as traditionally published authors and many earn thousands of dollars each year from their self-published works.

Publishing is a business, and like any business, there's no one right way to do it. When you keep an open mind to all possibilities, you will find the right answer for you.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Self-Publishing in the 21st Century

"No army can stop an idea whose time has come." --Victor Hugo

Despite naysayers and criticism from those entrenched in traditional publishing bureaucracy, self-publishing is here to stay as a viable publishing option. The technology is here, the desire is fueling the revolution and this industry is experiencing a wake-up call in a big way. Last year, 400,000 books were published (up from 300,000 in 2006). The industry saw approximately 195,000 new titles and between 8,000 and 11,000 new publishers, mostly self-publishers. Does this sound like a passing fancy to you?

My husband saw the same resistance in his photography business when digital technology started replacing film. Some photographers he knew dug in their heels and refused to learn about the new equipment. Most of them are out of business now, of course. I don't understand why people are so resistant to change.

For those of us who write, the digital print-on-demand (POD) technology is like a birthday present. Don't refuse the gift before you've had a chance to try it on for size. The beauty of POD printing is that you can economically print one book at a time, so now people who just want to publish a cookbook as a fundraiser for their organizations or a memoir for their families can do so and still have money left to donate to charity or leave to the grandkids.

On a larger scale, POD technology provides an opportunity for millions of people who feel they have an important message they want to share with the world to do it without waiting the two to four years it typically takes an author to move through idea to published book via traditional methods. This doesn't mean self-publishers should run roughshod over all rules and practices that traditional publishing has forged in the process or--as the saying goes--throw the baby out with the bath water.

Success in any business requires an education. To help you learn more about your options, I'm going to be focusing on self-publishing and POD technology in upcoming weeks. I began last week with an article written to dispel some of the popular misconceptions about self-publishing. My next post will contain Part 2 of busting through the myths.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Busting through Self-Publishing Myths-Part 1

If you're considering self-publishing, you are probably confused by the conflicting information that's available to writers on the Internet, in newsletters, blogs, magazines and the general "word of mouth" that gets spread around at writers groups. There is no simple, right-or-wrong answer to the question, "Should I self-publish? " However, the answer to your question lies in getting getting the facts straight before you make a decision.

Here are 6.5 Self-Publishing Myths that Need Busting:

1. You should self-publish if you keep getting rejections from agents and publishers. I have to say this the worst reason to self-publish and the best reason not to. This is advice is commonly seen on the websites of the less-scrupulous POD (print on demand) publishers who only want you to pay them to publish your work. The other place I see this reasoning is on the blogs of writers who act like 7th-graders with a substitute. (Yay, the teacher's not here. Let's do whatever we want!) Do not give up if you have received only a handful of rejections; every writer receives these. However, if you've been sending out the same manuscript to no avail for over a year, or have racked up over 100 rejections, it's time to rethink the work. Bring it to a writer's group or hire an editor to get some feedback. Take writing classes and attend conferences to find out how to improve your writing and package your work professionally in your submissions. After you have reviewed and improved the manuscript, then self-publish if you wish.

2. Self-publishing is vanity press. This is commonly espoused by smug literary snobs and people who haven't paid attention to the technology boom of the past 10 years. In the past, "vanity press" was the term used to describe the subsidy publishers who would print anything anyone brought in. Despite the high price, the quality of the work and the book was typically poor, and unwitting authors would end up with a garage or storage room full of books that couldn't be sold, not even to their mothers. With the advent of POD technology and more widely available publishing how-to information, however, self-publishing has become a more cost-effective and timely option for writers. The publishing industry is light-years behind other creative fields, such as film and music where indie performers are encouraged, praised and even revered. There are many reasons why an author might legitimately decide to self-publish that have everything to with talent and nothing to do with vanity.

3. You have to market yourself if you self-publish. Actually this is true. It's the presumption that if you have a traditional publisher, you don't have to market yourself that is the myth. People who give this as a reason not to self-publish have not read anything written by industry professionals or attended a writers' conference in the last 20 years. Every agent, editor and publisher in the business advises writers to build a platform and be prepared to be actively involved in their own book promotion. The Hollywood-enhanced notion of the author spending long days writing, evenings drinking and editors cleaning up their work while publicists scrambled to arrange book tours died decades ago. Today's successful authors treat their writing careers as a business that combines many talents and skills. And when did marketing become a four-letter word, anyway? Isn't the point of writing to communicate with your audience? There's no better way to do that than to talk about your book. So get into it, and spread your message!

Part 2 of this article busts through myths 4 through 6.5 and reveals the real information you need to know about self-publishing.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Should I self-publish my book?

I regularly receive many questions about self-publishing, but the question posed to the publishing panel in my June 5 Wordy Woman Publishing Success newsletter article seemed to ignite a rash of responses.

I can't say I'm surprised. I read three daily online publishing ezines, two weekly writer's ezines, daily blogs and three monthly writers' magazines and most of what is written about self-publishing is often wrong or, at best, misleading. No wonder writers are confused about what to do.

Your questions (and confusion) have prompted me to take action. In upcoming weeks, I will be focusing on self-publishing on this blog and in my newsletter. If you have specific questions you'd like to see addressed, please email me or leave a comment here. I will post a Q&A for everyone's benefit.. .

Much of the information I see touted as "truth" is based on myth. Now I am a big fan of ancient mythology as far as literature, but I like my nonfiction based on reality. Before you move forward based on widely held opinions spouted on the Internet, think about the fate of the great ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, which were rooted in mythology.

If you prefer a happy ending for your hard work, stay tuned. Upcoming posts will be about exposing some of the most commonly held myths about self-publishing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

An English teacher is not an editor

I congratulate all writers who submit their work to proofreaders and editors for a final polish before submitting. A review by a professional is especially important for book manuscripts. Yet, more often than not, when pressed as to who was the editor or proofreader, a writer will respond that the manuscript was read by a friend or relative who was an English teacher, majored in English in college, or got As in English while in school. I would bet the vast majority of literary agents and editors would back me up on this statement.

An English teacher or major is not a professional editor nor a proofreader. I was an English major who got As in English. That gave me the natural inclination to seek employment in the publishing industry. My first job was editorial assistant. My first day I was given a sheet with proofreader's marks to learn and a style book, Words Into Type. I spent one year learning the basics of copy editing before becoming an assistant editor, at which point I was assigned a few minor titles to work on under the supervision of another more experienced staff member. I learned how to move a book through the various stages of the publishing process from manuscript to bound book. After another year, I was promoted to associate editor and became responsible for more titles and more in-depth analysis of what it takes to create a successful book in terms of content, organization, ancillary products and marketing. Then I became an editor and my last position at that publishing house (after 5 years) was senior editor and I supervised 16 titles, 2 staff editors and a host of freelance editors.

I'm bringing this up to point out the difference between an editor and an English teacher or someone who is gifted with language. We have the same basic talents, but very different training. There is much more to fine tuning a manuscript than finding spelling and grammatical errors. I have reviewed manuscripts submitted to me that were edited by English teachers. I find errors. It's not that the teachers are not good in the classroom, but they are not trained in print production. I have a two-page checklist of things to review in a manuscript. An English teacher who is editing your work is looking for spelling and grammatical errors, which is last on my list—not unimportant, but it's the final step, not the only one.

An editor's job isn't limited to finding errors; an editor can make suggestions for better organization, presentation and flow. Everyone needs an editor, including editors. Two pairs of eyes are a must [period]. Make your second pair of eyes a professional editor. Yes, it is an expense. Publishing is a business. If you're serious about seeing work published, then investing in a good editor is a cost of doing business.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

"Truth" turns out to be fiction

In the Boston Globe article, "Liar, liar, bestseller on fire," author Steve Almond examines the possible reasoning behind the recent "I made it up" memoir confessions of Margaret Seltzer (Love and Consequences) and Misha Defonseca (Misa: A Memoire of the Haulocaust Years). Almond examines the validity behind Seltzer's statement to The New York Times that she was driven to deceit. She said, "I just felt that there was good that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to it."

Almond suggests there's truth to Seltzer's seemingly ridiculous statement because today's declining book readership demands "ripped from the headlines" memoirs and editors are pressured to respond by supplying readers with what they want. According to Almond, editors don't believe fiction can supply the sensationalism of a "true" story, hence they jump to print author survival stories because "such books are 100 times more likely to get reviewed and featured on National Public Radio and anoited by Oprah."

Was nothing learned when thousands of readers returned their copies of "A Million Little Pieces," after author James Frey admitted that he made up portions of his bestselling memoir. Some readers went as far as to initiate legal action. Doesn't that tell the publishing community and memoir fakers that people want to support a tragic hero, not a liar?

I don't buy into the rationale that it's necessary to turn fiction into fact in order to get noticed or as Ms. Seltzer said, "do good." (The irony of that statement could launch a novel itself.) I also don't buy into the popular notion that sensationalism for profit is an excuse to tolerate subterfuge and downright dishonesty. The publishers get little sympathy from me for not checking facts before racing to get the next bestselling survival story on shelves.

My previous post discussed the power we hold as writers. With that power comes responsibility. In 4Ps to Publishing Success, I devote an entire chapter to developing an authentic voice and establishing a bond of trust with the audience. Authentic writing stems from the desire to share the insights we've gleaned with others and leave the world a slightly better place for our efforts.

Let's wield the power of the pen, but do it responsibly. Our purpose is connect and make a difference, not just a profit at any cost.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Inspired by Oprah

I've been intending to get back to blogging and make it part of my writing life for weeks. I advise others to blog when they consult with me. So why haven't I done it? Poor excuses mostly and I won't bore you with them.

I read some incredible statistics on Friday in Publisher's Lunch about what has happened to A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle since being selected as an Oprah Book Club title. In advance of the announcement, the publisher, Penguin, shipped an initial order of 775,000 books. Then, Oprah and Tolle announced a free 10-week online webinar for readers. In the past four weeks, Penguin has shipped an additional 3.34 million books, "the record for the most copies ever shipped by Penguin Group USA in a four-week period."

Four million books in slightly over a month. Because Oprah endorsed it. That's power. Not only of the woman, but of her words. Now millions of people are reading Tolle that never read him before and never would have. (Think some of them might even buy his previous titles?) Do you think he will influence lives?

You and I have the same power. Every time we speak or write, we send out messages. As writers, our words have lasting power. And so, I am once again inspired to write in my blog as well as in my weekly newsletter The Wordy Woman because I, too, have a mission and I believe in the power of the pen.