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.