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!