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…

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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!

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Should authors self-publish or seek a traditional publisher?

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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. 

 

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5 reasons the newspaper isn’t covering your book

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It happened again today. Two books were placed on my desk in our busy newspaper newsroom, sent by a hopeful author.

“Do you think you can do anything with these?” my editor asked.

I thumbed through them, my face surely revealing the doubt I was feeling.

“I’ll try,” I said, and I placed them on my growing to-do list.

I revisited these books by this mysterious author the next day. There was no press release included with them. There were no pages that told anything about the author. The book description on the back cover didn’t tell me anything remarkable about the books at all. There wasn’t even a link pointing me to the author’s website. Googling his name didn’t come up with much else, as he had a very common moniker. I finally found his books on Amazon and Google Play, but there was no author page on either of these sites, nor anything that pointed me toward any kind of website.

Now, had I been just a regular writer at the newspaper, I probably would have tossed this author’s books in a pile of other books by hopeful authors, and that would end his chance of any kind of coverage. However, I, too, am an author who is struggling to make my books known to others. I know how much blood, sweat, and tears go into these books. I know that any kind of mention by a newspaper can be worth its weight in gold to an author. So I gathered all the information I could find from the Amazon book page and what I could gather through a quick scan of the book, and I created a small web item that pointed to where you could find the book online. It was meager at best, but still offered a chance for readers to find this author’s books and purchase them.

In my last two posts, I covered how to take advantage of the media spotlight, and how to write a rocking press release. Today I want to reveal 5 possible reasons why I or any other writer at the newspaper isn’t covering your book.

1. We don’t have time to read your book. I’m sorry. I wish we did. As an avid reader, I want to read every book that crosses my desk. As an author, I especially want to read books by other local authors. Unfortunately, the dozens of books I see every week are only a small portion of my job in the newsroom. So if I’m handed a book with no other information, it’s highly unlikely it will ever get any press.

2. A press release can make or break your chance for coverage. Consider this kind of like the first page of your novel. The information you present on this sheet of paper or personal email tells us whether or not we want to cover you, or whether we’re intrigued enough to find out more about you. If we find you interesting, then so will our readers.

3.You don’t have a website.  This is especially true if I need to know more about you in a hurry, or want a place to point readers so they can purchase your books. I’d much rather point readers to an author’s website than to some other bookseller’s website. You deserve that traffic much more than they do. Also, you have more control over what’s shown on your website than some third-party seller’s website. Think about it this way—if you decide to stop selling on a third-party website, that link becomes dead. But if readers are directed to your own website, you can change the buy links at any time, allowing readers to always be able to find your books. Wouldn’t you rather have readers pointed to your own website from a media article?

4. Your book is your only selling point for an article. It’s not enough that you wrote a book. Lots of people have written books. Even if your book is excellent—and I’m sure that it is—it may not be enough to garner attention. Authors that share something beyond just their book are easier to cover. If you will be at a signing event, or you plan to take part in a writer’s conference, or you will be reading at an open mic, that gives us an interesting event to share with our readers, plus a chance to mention your book. If you are helping the community—either through your book’s subject, sales from your books, or as a side project on top of being an author—that gives us a chance to tug at our reader’s heartstrings. Give us something to share with our readers that is beyond just the book you’ve written, and we will be more likely to cover you.

5. The harder it is to find out about you, the more likely it is that we’ll just give up. It’s not because we’re lazy. It’s because the workload inside a newsroom has grown exponentially in the past few years. Our assignments have increased. We are being introduced to new, innovative ways to reach readers. And the shrinking number of newsroom employees has increased the responsibilities of those of us left covering their work plus our own. So when a book is placed on my desk with no press release, no author bio, no website, and not even an email, there’s really no way to gauge whether this is worth our limited time or not. If we’re handed only a book, it’s more than likely it will end up on the slush pile.

I cannot stress this enough. If you want your book to be covered by the media, you MUST make it as easy as possible for your book to be covered.

To close, here’s your checklist of bare minimum items you must do as an author:

  • Create a website with an author bio, pages about your books and links to where you can purchase, and great photos of you and your books.
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  • Write a press release for each one of your books that tells about why your book is a must-read, and describes the interesting person you are. When you send it, be sure to address your recipient by name and why you thought they, personally, would be interested in your book.
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  • Join local author events, like open mics or signing events. Tell the media when this happens in hopes that they’ll cover the event and you as an author. Bonus: The more times they see your name, the more familiar they will be with you as an author. The more familiar they are with you, the more likely you’ll be covered.

Other things you can do to increase your chance of being covered by the media:

  • Create a following via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media outlets. (I’ll go more in depth on this at a later date)
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  • Become an expert in a specific field of writing careers, and share your expertise through seminars or essays. The more the community recognizes you, the more the media will, too.
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  • Become somewhat of a philanthropist. Focus your passion of being an author toward helping your community. You can organize a book drive to raise funds for the homeless. You can use the skills you’ve gained to help authors who are just starting out. Find a way to use your love of writing, marketing, or some other aspect of being an author to benefit others. In doing so, more and more people will want to help you, as well. And the media will be clamoring to write about all you are doing in your community.

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Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

Newly released, this book will change your life.

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.

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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.

4 ways to take advantage of the media spotlight as an author

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For an indie author, very little is sweeter than having someone else mention your book in a positive light. One of the favored ways for this to happen is for the media to catch wind of it, and then share the information with their readers.

However, the media won’t exactly “catch wind” of your book organically. Your publicist (or, more likely, you) has to be the one to let media sources know that your book even exists, generally through a rocking PR letter (which I plan to discuss at a later date). And even then, your book may still be ignored.

Should you manage to get your foot in the media door, make sure you don’t waste the momentary spotlight! Here’s how to make the most of this temporary attention.

  1. Request that a website hyperlink is mentioned in the article.
    A smart news source will ensure that every article they post will include easy-to-access hyperlinks, when applicable. This includes articles about books or authors. However, sometimes news sources may inadvertently omit this detail. If you are mentioned in an online article, check to see if there are any links to your website (more on this in Tip #3), or at least to where a reader can purchase your book. If an interested reader can’t simply click on a link to your book, it’s likely they won’t try to find it by any other means, as well. This leads to a missed opportunity for a book sale.
    If the article author accidentally skips adding a link that points back to you, it doesn’t hurt to send them a note requesting they include this information. Most likely, they will oblige.
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  2. Price your book for maximum sales.
    Recently, a man was covered by our local newspaper about a book he had written on a harrowing experience he had endured. His story sounded incredible! When I went to go check out his book, however, I was really confused by his pricing. His print book was $14.95, which is a tiny bit high for a 180-page book, but still on the side of average. His Kindle eBook price, however, was also $14.95. A glimpse at who was listed as his publisher, and my confusion increased. He had self-published this book, made evident by the fact that his name was listed as the publisher. That means he probably had no middle men who would be paid before he could collect his royalty. Second, Kindle offers 70% royalty for books $9.99 and lower, but only 30% for books over $9.99. That means he is only getting about $4.50 for each Kindle book he sells at $14.95.  He would actually make more money if his book was priced at $6.99! Finally, I don’t know anyone who would buy a Kindle book at a price that high.
    If your book ends up being covered by the media, the best thing you can do is lower the price, even just slightly, to try and entice the maximum amount of buyers. After all, the more people who get their hands on your book, the more readers you will gain. And the more readers you gain, the more potential there is for word about your book to spread.
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  3. Make sure your website and author profiles are up to date.
    I hate to throw the above-mentioned author under the bus, but this is where he failed, as well. As far as I could tell, this author had NO website. That means that the coverage about his book ended with the article about him. He hadn’t even set up an author profile on Amazon, which meant that anyone who clicked on his name under his book title ended up in a generic search for any author with his name. Unfortunately, he holds a very common name, and his book wasn’t even on the first page of this search.
    Before your book is ever covered by the media, make sure you have some sort of website in place, and that it has an up-to-date profile on you (with a great photo!), and a list of all your books and where to find them. This step is a must to ensure your readers have a way of connecting with you and learning more about your books.
    Other important steps are to create an Amazon authors page and link all of your books to it, a Goodreads profile, and a Facebook business page. You can learn more about how to help readers find you at this recent blog article.
    ***
  4. SHARE THE NEWS!
    If your book is mentioned by someone else, by all means, crow about it! This is the one time it’s perfectly acceptable to post about yourself, because you’re really sharing the spotlight with the source that wrote the article. By saying, “Check out this great article about My Best Book Ever,” you are pointing the attention toward the media source, and not your own usual words about your book. Besides, readers will not just happen across this particular article. You have to let them know so they can find it (and hopefully share the news, as well!). So, if someone else writes about your book, let your readers know through any and all social media you own.

Have you been covered by the media? What are some ways you’ve made the most of the spotlight?

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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.