Write what you know, and what you don’t know

It’s a known saying to “write what you know.” And it’s true, your very best writing will come from areas of your life that you’re most familiar with. I’ve followed this advice in my own books – from writing about child loss and poverty in The Road to Hope,  to actual stories of my life in Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows.

But if you only wrote about stuff you knew, your book topics would be severely limited. How would books like Harry Potter come about, where the magical world of wizards is completely made up? Or Twilight, where humans fall in love with vampires and befriend shape-shifting wolves? Or my novel, A Symphony of Cicadas, where the majority of it takes place in the afterlife – a place I don’t plan on going for a very long time…

albert-einstein-imagination

While it’s important to use familiar themes in your writing, it’s probably a fair assessment that your story will include stuff you know nothing about. And that’s okay. That’s more than okay, that’s fantastic!

That’s where you get the opportunity to learn something new.

For instance, in The Road to Hope, one of the characters ends up at a winery in Sonoma County where she must learn the ins and outs of working in the vineyards. I grew up down the road from the winery I described in the book, and adding it in was like writing a love letter to my childhood.

However, I don’t know the first thing about working in a vineyard.

To compensate, I researched my patootie off. I studied what happened at each part of the season, how to graft vines…everything I could to learn what it would be like to work the fields at a winery. I think that was my favorite part about writing that novel, learning something I might never have known about before.

As you write, don’t be afraid to throw in a few interesting things you’re not an expert on. But follow a few rules when doing so:

Find an expert – You might not know much about that particular topic, but someone else does. Buy them a cup of coffee, and then have them tell you everything they know about the subject you’re writing on.

Read books – Become the expert on what you’re researching by taking from other people’s personal experience.

Search the net – This is my favorite, and easiest, way to find out information. Of course, be careful when you do use the internet to learn about your topic. Sometimes information can be a bit…wrong. Make sure you find several notable sources on your topic to ensure the information is correct.

Do it yourself – While you can’t exactly enter a world of wizardry to learn the ins and outs of attending a school like Hogwarts, you can work the fields at a vineyard when writing about being a winery worker. Take a class on your subject, grow something, travel, do whatever you can to get closer to knowledge on whatever it is you’re writing about. Don’t quote me, but you might even be able to get a tax write-off for your “research” expenses (so you should probably explore what it would be like to travel to Bali).

If you go off the cuff and write about something you don’t know anything about, someone who DOES know something about your subject will read your book and call you on your ignorance. Your whole book will be discredited just by stating misinformation as fact. So make sure all of your facts are in sync with what the reality would be through detailed research.

Have you learned about something new when writing your novel? Share in the comments!

Advertisements

Should authors self-publish or seek a traditional publisher?

typing

It is said that everyone has a book inside them just waiting to get out, and thanks to advances in self-publishing, getting that book out is easier now than ever. Authors who have previously experienced slammed doors from the gatekeepers (agents, editors, publishers, etc.) are skirting around these middlemen by going indie. By doing this, they are experiencing a multitude of benefits. Authors who self-publish can:

– write about whatever they want instead of what a publisher deems marketable.
– own complete control over the book process from start to finish.
– keep up to 70% of their royalties instead of paying the majority of the book’s profits to the gatekeepers.
– can publish as fast or as slow as they want.
– aren’t under contract.

Of course there are plenty of downfalls to being a self-published author, as well. An author who goes indie is in charge of making sure their book is formatted properly, has an enticing cover and title, is professionally edited, and so on. As you can imagine, this process can be quite costly. Producing just one book can cost more than $1,000. On top of that, the majority of self-published authors, especially those just starting out, won’t make back that amount…often not even close. 

Then there’s the purpose of those gatekeepers — there are many self-published books that should be edited and rewritten several times, but are still being published. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many self-published books that are wonderful reads. But there are also many that are, well, NOT. These books are the ones with the bad covers, the odd titles, contain spelling and grammar mistakes, and could probably use a few cuts.

Plus, self-published authors must do all of their own marketing, which is something that’s completely unnatural for writers. Often this can look like “Buy my book!” in a series of Tweets.

Finally, there are those who just believe self-publishing is an insult to the written word, as author Laurie Gough wrote on The Huffington Post in a controversial article that has since been shared thousands of times by irate self-published authors.

So what if you go traditional? The reasons to find a publisher are solid. With the backing of these book professionals, you get the golden stamp of approval that your book is quality. While a few lemons still squeeze by, in general terms, a traditionally published book has a good storyline, is free (or mostly free) of errors, and is an enjoyable read for those in its demographic. A traditionally published author doesn’t have to deal with much more than writing the book, as a team of professionals will edit it, format it, and give it a gorgeous cover. These authors have a straight shot to book stores and libraries, and they also land some pretty awesome speaking gigs, depending on the awesomeness of their agent. They have a team of professionals who want their book to succeed, as they all have a vested interest in this book.

However, traditional authors are not free of some of the harder aspects of the book business — namely, marketing. Both traditional and self-published authors must market their own books, and it’s in their best interest to have a solid platform (mailing list, social media followers, etc.). For traditionally published authors, this is even more important. I’ve heard some publishers refusing to even talk to an author unless they have at least 50,000 fans on Facebook. That’s a hard number just to get in the door, especially for an author who is just trying to get discovered.

A traditionally published author may find they have less control over their books than they want. They may be on contract to write a certain number of books, or to slow down their publishing process. They may be told they can’t write a certain book because it’s in direct competition with one of the publisher’s other authors. They may be told the story needs to lean in a different direction to match the market, even if the author disagrees. They may not even be able to write what they want at all, just to be able to continue working with that publisher.

Finally, there’s the money thing. Sure, there might be an advance, but it’s usually small. Plus, selling enough books to make up that advance is no easy feat. Once the gatekeepers have been paid, there really isn’t much left over for the author.

So which is better? As a self-published author myself, I still lean in that direction. Sure, I’ve yet to hit the big time. However, I love the control I have over my own books, and I can still see the possibilities. If I go traditional, I might make more money. But I just can’t fathom giving up that control.

But maybe I’m wrong. Whether you publish indie or traditional, share your triumphs and gripes in the comments below.

Note: This post is also published at crissilangwell.com.

If you’re looking for help with formatting, editing, proofreading, or other indie author services, I can help. Visit northcoaststories.com/about for more information. 

 

Save

Create a rocking press release for your book

newspaper extraIf you’re getting ready to publish a book, you have to spread the word about it. You can email everyone you know that you’re writing a book, contact every blogger you’ve ever heard of, or even post a sign on your car so that drivers will be compelled to look you up (yes, I’ve considered this!). But the truth is, no one will even notice these efforts if you can’t get them to care about your book.

This is where a press release comes in. A press release is a short, to-the-point introduction to your book in an effort to get a reporter or the like to care about covering your book. Because reporters are busy and on deadline, a press release should quickly nail why readers would want to hear about this book, and should make writing an article about your book as easy as possible.

There are numerous ways to write a good press release. Personally, I like to follow a formula:

  1. Start with a compelling headline. You can be quirky or straightforward, but it should grab the reporter’s attention. If necessary, save this part and write it after the rest of the press release is complete.
  2. First paragraph: The hook. This is the who, what, and why of your book, and why an audience would want to hear about your book.
  3. Second to third paragraph: Interesting information about your book and yourself.
  4. Next paragraph: A testimony about your book. This is a great place a quote by you, or to put someone else’s quote or review about your book. Think about what a reporter would want to use as a quote in their article. If you are quoting someone else, it’s helpful if it’s someone the audience might recognize.
  5. Final paragraph: Sum up who you are and link back to your website.

Ideally, a press release should be just one page long, and should be simple to read. Here’s an example using my own press release for Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

Of course, you can follow any formula and still have your press release ignored. Here are some prime reasons why a press release will end up in the slush pile:

  • It’s full of grammar issues or typos.
  • It isn’t clear who the audience is.
  • It’s not clear what the point is.
  • It fails to be interesting.
  • A reporter can’t find an easy way to write about it.

That last point sums up everything a press release should do. The #1 thing you should think about when writing a press release is, how can this make it easy for a reporter to write about your book? Reporters are on deadline, and they are too busy to unravel why they should write an article about you or your book. You need to give them a clear reason why an audience would care about your book, and offer easy quotes they can insert into an article. Pretend like you’re writing the article yourself in a limited amount of space. Whose attention do you want to grab? What should this audience understand about your book? Include that info, and nix any extra info that’s not relevant to the point you are making.

Finally, and probably the most important part, make sure to personalize your email when you are sending your press release. This means, DO NOT send a mass email with your press release. This is the #1 mistake some authors make, and a sure way to be ignored. Instead, take the time to send the email personally to the editor or reporter you hope to cover your book. After all, you want them to take the time to write about your book. Extend them the same courtesy and take the time to get to know who you’re writing to. Address them by name, and maybe even offer a reason why you thought to send your press release to them, specifically. And because reporters might be sketchy about opening attachments, copy and paste your press release into the body of the email.

Here’s an example of what you can write:

Hi Sally! I am sending you information about my upcoming book that releases on March 15. I thought you might be interested since you wrote about books on creativity last year, and it seemed to gather a great response. I think you will find this book just as compelling, if not more. I’ve attached the press release to this email, and have also copied it in the space below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Ready to craft your own? Here are some sites that offer more information on writing a rocking press release.

___

Are you having a hard time finding time for your writing? Are the mundane parts of your full-time life eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Learn how to fully engage in your creativity without quitting your day job in Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

Pre-order now to receive this book on March 15th.

12 steps toward seeing results in your book stats

book stats

Hi, my name is Crissi, and I’m a stats-aholic.

You might also be a stats-aholic if you do the following things:

  • Check your book stats numerous times a day, whether it’s reviews or sales.
  • Obsess about whether it’s moving or not.
  • Spam your social media accounts to create movement in your stats.
  • Repeat.

So why doesn’t this work? Let’s put it in terms of dieting.

You want to lose weight, and so you purchase a scale. You then proceed to eat the food you always eat, and spend the majority of the day enjoying sedentary activity. The next day, you check your weight to see if there were any changes, and are surprised that the number hasn’t decreased. The rest of the day, you continue your regular routine. Except this time, you weigh yourself several times a day. Still, nothing is happening!

Why? Because you’ve done nothing to actually lose weight.

It’s going to take more than checking your stats obsessively to actually sell your books. And no, spamming your social media accounts won’t help.

So how can you stop the obsessive stats checking and use your energy to actually spread the word about your book? Here are 12 things you can do now.

    1. First, make a vow to stop the stats obsession NOW. The least you can do is to refrain from checking your stats more than once a day. If you’re not doing anything proactive to make that number move, it’s akin to checking your weight when you know you’re not eating well. It’s an ego boost or an ego deflater – nothing more, nothing less. By checking your stats repeatedly, you are placing your worth on your findings. But the honest to goodness truth is, you’re worth more than whatever those stats will tell you. So just stop, okay?
      ***
    2. Limit the mentions of your book on social media. The reason to have social media is to be social with others. But if you’re constantly shouting about your book, no one is going to want to interact with you. Think about it as if it was a dinner party. The people who are the most fun to talk with are those who shine the spotlight on everyone around them. They are the people who make others feel good about themselves, who ask questions, who are genuinely interested in what others have to say. But those who can’t stop talking about themselves? They are the ones everyone avoids. Be the first guy. You can mention your book now and then. But focus more on drawing people in by putting the spotlight on others, sharing something that makes people feel good, and shedding light on who YOU are instead of what you wrote. Need an example? Go to the pages of your favorite authors and see what they’re doing to draw people in.
      ***
    3. Create a website. It doesn’t even need to be anything fancy. I prefer WordPress, but there are many different platforms you can create a website on, even for free! Your website should have information about you, your books and where to find them, how to contact you, and links to your social media. (If you need help creating a website, this is just one of the services I offer. Let me know how I can help)
      I also recommend hosting a blog on your website, which brings me to step #4.
      ***
    4. Start blogging! First off, if you blog regularly on your website, it helps you with your Google rankings. It also gives people a reason to keep visiting your website (where all your book links are!). Blogging gives potential readers a glimpse at your writing style. It allows you to shed light on a topic you’re passionate about. It’s another form of connecting with others. It helps people to get to know you, and entice them to want to read the books you have for sale. Need ideas on what to blog about? Here are 50 ideas.
      ***
    5. Start a newsletter. The best way to reach readers is directly to their inbox. Social media and blog posts work, but kind of in the same way as posting an ad on a billboard. However, emailing a reader is like knocking on their door. It’s more personal. What can you include in your newsletter? I’ve posted blog posts, or excerpts from the last several blog posts. I’ve shared book news and events. I’ve offered a tip of the week. The topics are endless. How often should you send out a newsletter? That’s up to you. I suggest not sending out more than 1 a week so you don’t overwhelm people’s inboxes or make them feel like you’re spamming them. And I suggest sending at least 1 newsletter a month so that people don’t forget about you. The ideal method is to send newsletters on a schedule, like every other Thursday or on the 2nd Tuesday of each month. Need some inspiration? Join my newsletter here.
      ***
    6. Reach readers through their ears. Consider starting a podcast, or a video series on YouTube. These don’t have to be complicated at all, and they offer you something else to share on your website or social media to help potential readers become more interested in you. This blog post offers a few great pointers on vlogging, aka video blogging.
      ***
    7. Team up with other authors. Many hands make light work, especially in the way of marketing. If you want news about your book to spread, enlist the help of other authors. In exchange, share news about their book. Another benefit of teaming up with other authors is that you can help each other with otherwise-costly book services, like book formatting, proofreading, etc.
      ***
    8. Offer your services on the things you know how to do. This is how North Coast Stories came about. I am a writer at heart. But I also love editing and book formatting. Being an author, I quickly learned how expensive these services were for authors just starting out. This is why I keep my prices low, because I want other authors to have a chance to get their books published without spending money they don’t have on getting it ready for publication. I’ve even accepted trades in offer of services. If you are an expert in a certain area of book writing or publishing, share the wealth with others. After all, Karma goes a long way.
      ***
    9. Add a link to your website or books to your email signature. Every time you send an email, the recipient will automatically learn about your books.
      ***
    10. Let someone else market your books for you – specifically other company’s email lists. Author Marketing Club has a nifty list of websites where you can enter your book when it’s free or discounted, and they will email potential readers about it. It takes a little bit of time to enter them all, but it’s well worth it. Access this list here, and then scroll to the bottom of the page.
      ***
    11. Do just one thing at a time. This is serious. Know that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you don’t have to do everything at once. First off, that’s overwhelming. Second, trying to wrap your mind around too many marketing ideas can petrify you into doing nothing. However, doing one thing at a time will offer you baby steps forward to real results. So make a list of all the things you’d like to do in spreading news about your book, and then vow to do one thing every day. Even the smallest steps will move you in the right direction.
      ***
    12. Need more ideas? Here are 98 of them from Bookbub.

Whether your book does well or not ultimately depends on the energy you are spending toward its potential success. Checking your book stats obsessively won’t help you sell more books. But if you focus on methods to get your books in more readers’ hands, you will start experiencing more satisfaction from your efforts than any worth you place on a silly graph of sales numbers.

___

Are you having a hard time finding time for your writing? Are the mundane parts of your full-time life eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Learn how to fully engage in your creativity without quitting your day job in Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

Pre-order now to receive this book on March 15th.

How will readers find you?

I was searching through Amazon today for an interesting book to read, and came across one with a great cover and intriguing title. I clicked on it and read the description of the book. It sounded good, but I wanted to know what other people thought about this author’s writing. The book had just recently been published, so it still had no reviews, so I clicked on the author’s name to see what other books he had written.

This is where I discovered two things. First, there were a lot of books under this author’s name. Second, this author didn’t have an author page set up on Amazon, so it was unclear how many of these books actually belonged to him, or if they were from another author of the same name.

Still curious, I did a Google search of this author’s name. The only thing that came up was a Goodreads list, and it wasn’t even created by this author. There was no website, no social media, nothing to help a reader find our more about this author and how they can read more books this author wrote.

How are your readers finding you?

Every author needs the following:

Website/blog: This is the part of the internet that you own. Here is where you can create a page for all of your books (complete with what they’re about and where to buy), share a little bit about yourself, and list every place readers can find you on the web. With a blog, you can draw readers in with occasional essays, thoughts, and stories. A blog also makes your website more searchable, and helps new readers to discover you.

Online retailer author page: If you sell your books on Amazon, you must create your own author page there. Same goes for other online retailers where your book is for sale. Readers who enjoy your books are going to want to know a little more about you and what other books you have written. Wouldn’t you like to control the information they find? Creating an online retailer author page is very simple, and is an absolute must.

Goodreads author page: Goodreads is where the readers are. Give them an easy way to find your books, and also to share news about your books to other potential readers by owning your author page and making sure all your correct books are listed under your name.

Social media: Having a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. helps you to brand your name as an author. It’s incredibly important for these social media channels to be under your author name, and not as a book. You are branding your name. You want people to read everything you wrote, not just a particular book. Also, having social media is just one more way for your name to be near the top of online searches. With social media, think about which ones you will honestly update, and go from there. At the very least, you should have a Facebook page, which you should try to update regularly.

What are some ways you’ve made it easy for readers to find you? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

What should you post to Facebook?

FacebookThis post is for authors just starting out with a Facebook page.

Welcome to Facebook Fan Pages! I know it’s a bit daunting to look at that blank page, the status bar telling you to write something, but you don’t know what. It’s especially hard when you don’t have many fans who will even read what you write.

Don’t give in before you’ve even started. I’d like to give you a crash course on using your Facebook page as effectively as you can, even if you feel awkward in the beginning.

First things first, make sure you have a profile picture and a cover photo. Your profile can be you, or it can be your book. On my own author Facebook page, I like to use my own photo most of the time. But when I’m getting ready to release a new book, I will change it to show my book cover. For the cover photo, you can choose scenery, a collage of your books, or anything that gives readers another clue as to who you are. But make sure the cover image is big enough to fit in that space. Nothing looks more unprofessional on a Facebook page than a pixelated image for the cover photo. The exact dimensions are 851X315 pixels.

Next, make sure your Facebook page URL is the exact name you want it to be. In your “About” section, go to Facebook Web Address and change it to the desired name. Otherwise, your URL will add a bunch of numbers to the address, making it look clunky.

Finally, fill out your “About” section with your bio, your website, and anything else you want readers to know about you. This section is checked more often than you think, and can be your readers’ first impression of you.

Now, what to post!

First, the rules.

  • Be authentic. Be yourself.
  • Don’t spam your readers with “buy my book” posts
  • Refrain from politics or hot button issues (unless your books are about politics or hot button issues)
  • Post at least once a day, if possible.
  • But don’t over-post, or you’ll lose readers.

With that out of the way, here are 10 things you can post about on your Facebook page:

  1. A blog post you’ve written.
  2. A quote from your book.
  3. What you’re reading now (NOT your own book).
  4. Something funny that happened today.
  5. Something inspirational that you saw online or in your Facebook newsfeed.
  6. A  quote from another author or influential person. (hint: go to canva.com and  create an image out of it!)
  7. A top 10 list of books your readers would enjoy if they like yours.
  8. News of an event or reading that you’ll be presenting at.
  9. News about your book release, or a sale on your book.
  10. A photo of you writing, living life, or just plain having fun.

Please note, only two of these ten items are about YOUR book. A good rule of thumb is to follow the 80-20 rule: 80% of your posts are NOT about your book, and 20% of your posts are.

Another thing to note: your page views will be small in the beginning. Don’t stress about that number. Keep posting content that people will want to like, comment on, or share, and that number will go up. You just need to   be consistent.

Have questions? Or do you have other ideas on things an author can post to Facebook? Leave a note in the comments!

P.S. Follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/northcoaststories.