Monthly Archives: February 2010

Author Success: A Well “Business Planned” Future, part 1

PART ONE: But … but … I’m a writer, not a businessperson!

Boy, if I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a hundred times.

I’ve just completed a blog series on Author Platform Building, and having received several comments regarding the Book Business Plan, I’ve decided to take some time to elaborate a bit.

Yes you’re a writer, an author, a creative problem solver for your plot and characters and boy you are good at it. So why is it when you’re faced with the challenge of plotting your own success as an author you crumble and quake? There’s no need, you know. Whether you gauge your success in the amount of money you make, the fact that your book is on a bookstore shelf, or that your long lost friends and foes from high school are forced to notice your success because your name is in the newspaper, it’s important to you.

Guess what? It will not happen without planning (plotting), identifying your competition (the antagonist) and creating the perfect strategy (adventure).

Creative minds find the elemental properties of self promotion either beneath them or terrifying but that’s just silly. Done correctly, you can take your real power – that problem solving genius for your characters – and simply apply it to yourself. That book is your baby. You suffered for it, coped with morning sickness and back pains, walked the floors with insomnia over it and cleaned it up a hundred times to make it presentable. In return, that child has rewarded you with hours of entertainment and beautiful misery. You have a bond with it, a connection that can’t be broken. My questions are: Why would you send it off into the world without your support? Why would you trust others to promote and encourage it to success?

I wouldn’t. And neither should you. You have invested your passion and time, your energy and sleep for this book and whether you’re new at this or a seasoned veteran, it is always vital to not only participate, but hold the reigns for your own success. Okay, off my soapbox and down to business.

Writing a Book Business Plan is as important as writing your book. Why? Simple.

  • Writing is a business
  • Writing is YOUR business
  • Nothing reminds a business person about the importance of their business more than a business plan

With a strong plan – a living, breathing plan that organically grows with your manuscript – you will not believe how far ahead of the game you really can get.

In this 12 part Author Success series, we will cover:

  1. But … I’m a writer, not a businessperson!
  2. Your Unique Subject Hooks and Selling Handles
  3. Length of Book
  4. Target Markets
  5. Author Platform and Book Platform
  6. Your Exposure Plan
  7. Your Promotional Plan
  8. Your Competition
  9. Resources Required
  10. Bio and Photo
  11. Book Outline Requirements
  12. Show & Tell

Later we will explore a few subjects that expand on the above elements. For example:

  • Subsidiary Rights
  • International Publishing
  • The Inner Working of Power Promotions
  • Finding Marketing Leverage

Next Thursday, we’ll get down and dirty into what makes you and your book stand apart and the best way to hook in those illusive readers.

Author Success, A Well “Business Planned” Future

Note: I’ll be teaching a five day seminar on Creating an Effective Book Business Plan for Savvy Authors from May 31 to June 4 (scroll down to register) … and I’m currently putting together a non-fiction book proposal covering the subject.

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Recipes for Every Writing Project: Happy Dance Bites

You’ve sent out your queries and enjoyed the satisfaction of meeting a goal then BAMMM, an agent pops into your email box asks to see your full manuscript!

There are few words for how to describe the feeling. Hopeful? Excited? Validated? Ecstatic? Terrified? Well, maybe there are a lot of words to describe it, but the overall emotion is pretty darn good!

My suggestion? Invite your loyal supportive friends and readers over for a tiny celebration. It’s not winning the Super Bowl but it’s a milestone that deserves recognition. There’s nothing like a few snacks and glasses of wine or beer to get yourself ready to hunker down for the nail-biting wait ahead.

This recipe comes from a snack so old I can hardly remember the first time I tasted it. A friend’s great-grandmother used to make these in the old country (someplace in Europe, I honestly don’t think I ever knew but havarti is such a luscious Danish cheese, I suspect she was from somewhere in the Netherlands). My friend’s mother never cooked so when he became a chef, he liked to whip up Havarti Bacon Bites for the staff every now and again. Really delicious in an indulging yourself and gotta get to the gym that evening kinda way … but hey, getting a request for a full manuscript deserves a few unhealthy calories in my book!

Cheesy Havarti and Bacon Bites

1 Fresh Baguette

1 Onion, Diced

½ lb. Sliced Smoked Bacon (5-6 slices)

1 lb. Havarti Cheese

1 tsp. Fresh Rosemary, minced

Black Pepper to taste

1 T butter

Melt butter in sauté pan. Sauté onions until soft. Slice Baguette in half, long ways. Spread sautéd onions and slices of havarti cheese then sprinkle with black pepper and minced rosemary. Replace top of bread and place loaded loaf on baking sheet. Drape bacon slices at an angel over the top and around the sides of the baguette. Place in oven under medium broiler until bacon is crispy and cheese is melted.

Slice into 2” pieces and serve with a nice white wine!

Cheesy Bites Variations

  • Toss ½ lb salad shrimp inside with the Havardi before broiling and substitute Old Bay seasoning for the minced rosemary
  • Use Cheddar instead of Havardi
  • Try Swiss instead of Havardi and add ½ diced red pepper to the sautéd onions then wrap the baguettes in Pastrami instead of bacon

Enjoy!

Now, return to the keyboard and start writing your next book because something truly wonderful just may happen very soon!


Author Platform Building, One Plank at a Time, part 9

PART NINE: Time is on Your Side!

YES IT IS!

The Winter Olympics are well under way in Vancouver and event after event, we’re seeing athletes win or lose by mere fractions of a second. Making your book a success is a little different, but the route to winning the gold is pretty much the same. You’ll need intricate strategy, intimate knowledge of the course, honed athleticism (maybe not on a snowboard but with your mind) and strength. It takes a ton of commitment and effort and like those Olympians, if you’ve prepared, focused, warmed up and run the good race, you get your shot at a medal.

No matter when you start your author platform building efforts, time really is on your side. The major difference between you and Apalo Ohno (aside from his ability to dance the Flamenco and fly on the ice), is that having a successful book is a marathon that doesn’t start or end until you say it does, and the only real competitor you have is yourself.

If you are at the end of your process, have chosen to self publish and are looking at a garage full of books to sell, the strategy is the same as it is if you’re just starting to think and plan your success while plotting your unwritten novel.

The key to this or any success of Olympian proportions is to decide to be successful, begin the process and be as tenacious as hell. So whether you already have a book or are thinking about writing a book, there are things you’ll need to know before you plan your journey toward victory. Just because time is on your side, doesn’t mean time should be wasted.

  • Know Your Competition

Technically you don’t actually have a competitor, but you will be trying to sell yourself and your book in a competitive market. Your book must justify its price for a buyer, fulfill an interest they have in your genre, and be visible enough for them to know it exists.

  • You Must Plan

Strategy works way better than hope and wishful thinking. Get your Book Business Plan together as soon as possible. Organize your schedules for exposure, your venues and your target audience in the social networking world (and please don’t forget that real, breathing people not on the internet are part of your social networking too). Build your Author Platform carefully and with timing that reaches a crescendo exactly when you want it to.

  • Just Do It!

Implement, implement, implement. A plan is worthless if it isn’t put into action. Keep in mind, a plan can go dull if it’s not kept alive and growing. Good Book Business Plans and Author Platforms are living, breathing things that will constantly vacillate to accommodate the industry and the marketplace. The key is to keep the waggle within limitations and under control, keep your eyes on the prize and let the plan become a moving vehicle that can alter when necessary to help reach any given goal.

Be careful not to over plan. I’ve known authors who can write entire mega novels, edit smoothly and begin the next book in the saga without a hitch. Unfortunately, those same whiz kids tend to over plot their promotional strategy. If you are careful in your planning, most efforts are fairly inexpensive, so what if it doesn’t work quite right? Try again or try something else. Success can’t happen without growth. Back when I skied the black diamond slopes, I learned early (and often) that if I didn’t fall, I wasn’t improving. Take a few chances. You instinctively know which ones are too critical to screw around with and which ones are worth a shot. Follow those instincts.

  • Record Your Findings

Trust me, later, after this whole experience is over, you will not remember everything about every promotional or marketing effort you made. All you’ll know is that you’ve sold your target number of books – whether that number is 100,000 or 1,000 – or didn’t. As you begin your next project, you will want to know all the details of your prior success or fall. Unlike the athletes, there is no video tape to replay, only your full or empty wallet to gauge from. Take voracious notes. Keep a running daily journal of ideas and strategies implemented, when and if they succeeded, what they cost and write your opinion of them right that moment. Time heals all wounds, and if you made an effort to, for example, plaster a monster banner of your book title across a hot air balloon and it proved to create no additional sales, it’s important to record your frustrations at the time. If you adore hot air balloons, you may be blinded by that love and try again, wasting investment dollars that could be better spent elsewhere.

  • Target, Target, Target

Let’s revisit the hot air balloon fiasco above. If your novel is about a coal miner from 1800’s West Virginia, or three young men traveling to Nepal to seek the secrets of the universe, using a hot air balloon as a marketing vehicle has little relevance … except that you like them.

If your book is a non fiction about reaching for the sky to find happiness, you probably should hire an entire flock of hot air balloons (and the Goodyear blimp) to promote it. If your novel is about a woman witnessing a back yard murder as she silently passes overhead, or the story of a paraplegic who dreams of flying, the hot air balloon may just kick butt in the marketing exposure category. You can take it further; you can be visible at hot air balloon gatherings, do speaking events, sign and sell books.

Always target your strategies. Find that hook that connects you to a reader. Too many authors think that marketing their book is about using a tried and true process that can be followed by numbers and in some ways it is. Do you want to be just another author? Or do you want to stand apart? You are creative. Make connections and watch your efforts succeed.

  • Time Really is on Your Side

As long as you take responsibility for pressing the envelope and making things happen for your own success, you can’t help but reach the gold. Looking at the athletes in Vancouver, some are older, some are practically children. Some made decisions to try one more time, others are so new they’re probably just feeling things out to see if they really want to give their lives to earning medals. Most are extraordinary, all are heroes.

So are you. The most courageous people I know are authors and writers who put their heart, soul and knowledge on paper for the world to see.

Timing is everything but no one can decide for you. If you didn’t realize that a strong platform would help your book rocket, I’m sure your agent or author friends will inform you quick enough. If you know that a good Book Business Plan is important but haven’t written one yet because you’ve been busy writing the book, now is the time to plan. If you haven’t strategized your success yet, it isn’t too late.

‘Now’ is when you say it is … although I can’t let the opportunity pass to remind you about the early bird and the worm. If you’re a skier with hopes of competing in the 2012 Winter Olympics downhill races and never show up to practice until a hour before the slopes close for the day, your training and input will be lacking.

Good luck. Take your time, but use that time wisely.

This concludes the series on Author Platform Building. I’ve had a blast and hope you got something out of it. The next series is in development, but next Tuesday, I will be interviewing authors and publishers regarding the subjects touched on in this series.

Platform Building, One Plank at a Time

Lesson one, The Rhyme and Reason

Lesson two, Creating Your Book Business Plan

Lesson three, Developing Your Unique Hooks

Lesson four, Getting Attention

Lesson five, Knowing Your Market

Lesson six, Planning an Effective Pre-Launch

Lesson seven, Understanding and Using Professionals to Help Build Your Career

Lesson eight, Estimating and Limiting Expenses


Recipes for Every Writing Project: The Query Dance Empanadas

Query time! And here we all are, our faces shiny, big smiles, proud as peacocks and showing our stuff! It’s a tough process, getting ready to query. You have to rock out a fantastic book and rock it really well. You have to do all your homework to find not only the right agency to query for your particular genre or non-fic proposal, but the perfect agent to approach. You have to craft a flawless query letter, prepare all the variations of your pitch/synopsis imaginable then read every single agent’s submission requirements.

Whew, lots to think about, but when you’ve done it all, prepared everything perfectly and actually completed the process … there’s no way you won’t be starving.

You’ve done the dance, now reward yourself with a wonderful Mexican Empanada or three. Go sweet or go savory. Both are easy, quick to make and bake. I like short cuts occasionally, especially when a store bought product meets top standards, so I don’t make pastry crust dough, I buy it.

Now, appreciate your courage at taking the query step and enjoy something muy delicioso!

Sweet Cherry Banana Empanadas

2 pkg Pillsbury Pie Crust Dough (in the refrigerated section of the grocery store)

½ C Dried Cherries

½ C Chopped Pecans

4 Large Ripe Bananas

½ tsp ground cardamom

1 egg white plus 1 tsp cold water, whisked

Rest pie dough at room temperature for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Unroll pie crust on floured surface. Mix together mashed bananas, cherries, pecans and cardamom.

Cut pie dough into 4” rounds (use large round cookie cutter or a glass tumbler, whatever works). Place 2 T mixture onto each dough circle, fold dough over into half moon shape then seal by pressing fork tines at the edges. Place empanadas on baking sheet, brush lightly with egg/water mixture and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown

Cheesy Chicken Empanadas

2 pkg Pillsbury Pie Crust Dough (in the refrigerated section of the grocery store)

1 C Mexican Blend Shredded Cheese

1 C Shredded and Chopped Cooked Chicken

1 T Chopped Green Chilis

½ tsp Minced Garlic

1 T Minced Onion

½ tsp Ground Cumin

S&P to taste

1 egg white plus 1 tsp cold water, whisked

Rest pie dough at room temperature for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Unroll pie crust on floured surface. Mix together cheese, chicken, chilis, garlic, onions, cumin, S&P.

Cut pie dough into 4” rounds (use large round cookie cutter or a glass tumbler, whatever works). Place 2 T mixture onto each dough circle, fold dough over into half moon shape then seal by pressing fork tines at the edges. Place empanadas on baking sheet, brush lightly with egg/water mixture and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown

Enjoy!

Now, return to the keyboard and start writing your next book.


Author Platform Building, One Plank at a Time, part 8

PART EIGHT: Estimating and Limiting Expenses

 

If you’re anything like most writers, when you reach into your pocket, moths flitter out. Empty, nada, poor. You have responsibilities. Perhaps you have children, maybe you’re single, between relationships or worse yet, between jobs.  You’ve figured out the time management thing so the dog is walked and the cat is fed, hell, even the laundry occasionally gets done. Your primary focus has been to get your book written. For whatever reason, it looms and demands and you follow the call of characters and plot, nuance and surprise. So here you are, finally thinking about putting together a marketing budget and you realize … there is no budget. This is especially the case if you haven’t taken a serious look at lesson 2 in this series, the one that taught you to treat your writing like a business.

Yes, a business. Writing is a business and your book is the product your business has produced. We want to sell our products and it does take investment to do that, but before you begin to hyperventilate, there’s investment, and there’s investment – investments of time and creativity as well as investments of cash.

Things to Watch Out For

If you’ve crossed into the circle of writers who’ve finished a book, fiction or non-fiction, and begun to discuss this within various universes – writing and critique groups, online author groups and social networking venues – you will notice that suddenly you’ve become very popular. You’re receiving emails from businesses and professionals you never heard of. They’re offering free workshops and seminars, as well as workshops and seminars that cost a few (or more than a few) bucks. Someone has a plan, a system that can catapult you to the top, whether it’s a self publisher with a shiny, mesmerizing website, or a person with the right contacts to get you seen. Some are selling services they themselves implement, and others are selling a package of techniques that, though not complicated, are extremely difficult for the novice to use. No, they’re not all scams and I don’t want you to think everything that pops into your email box is a scam. Just be careful of the short cuts because guess what? THERE ARE NO SHORT CUTS.

Be careful to avoid the luring bells and whistles, at least at first. The key to this part of the process is to be like a choosy shopper, read every label, think about the “value” over the “cost” and be smart.

How to Avoid the Bad Juggling Act

Your book is written and you’re about to move ahead onto the next phase of the journey. Whether it’s to choose an e-publisher, a self-publisher or traditional publishing process by going the query route, you still must begin your campaign toward success NOW. Just as you wouldn’t query or submit a badly written manuscript laden with typos, you shouldn’t assume marketing solutions will magically become visible and work for you. Don’t think it’s not your responsibility to plan or implement marketing strategies until after your book is represented, printed or sold to a well known publishing house. You must think and do NOW.

Publishers want to see that you are on top of your game, that you have taken the reigns and begun the journey toward being noticed, recognized and desired as an author and for the book you wrote. This is how you get noticed in the first place. If you don’t think the first thing an agent you’ve queried does is Google, go on, send out your queries and set up Google alerts for your name. You’ll be amazed. The bottom line? Goggle only recognizes you if you’ve been active. Active represents seeds of marketing. Marketing represents visibility and voila! Now you have shown the big boys who control your destiny that you are not only ahead of your game, you’re in control of it.

Avoid juggling, it can go bad. Bad juggling is when you vacillate. When you choose one path or image for your plan then change gears halfway through. It’s like shifting lines in the grocery store because the other one seems to be moving faster and damned if it’s not going slower and slower. This is why your plan must be solid and clear. Waffling is a no-no. Be sure of your path and walk it. You can’t be dropping all your balls.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that new and exciting possibilities will never tempt you. Being tempted is okay, just remember to be careful.

How to be Tempted the Smart Way

You must set a budget for several reasons, if nothing else, to control your trajectory. At most, to control your cash flow as it goes out the door. Here are a few words that should be burned into your brain as cool, exciting and tempting promotional concepts cross your eyes.

  • Free
  • Cheap
  • Reasonable
  • Effective, High Visibility
  • Effective, Target Visibility

Free – First of all, nothing is ever really free, so always be watchful. Everyone wants something and if a professional or friend offers you something for free – time, a reading eye, suggestions or contact names – they will always want (and deserve) something in return. Field these opportunities carefully. Obviously you can’t get every service you need to market your book for free, but you can make good use of those offerings of free help, as long as you have something of value to the person doing the offering. Are they secretly writing a book too and might they want your good eye as a reader? If they’re stepping up to help with a book event, don’t forget to ask what special events they might have coming up and offer to help. There’s a mutual give-and-take that makes free services work. Never totally discount an offer of free service, but always look closely and consider the returned favor.

Cheap – Ouch, there is no uglier word in the budget language. Think about it. When something is cheap, it obviously is only a semblance of what it should be. It has holes or only works a short time, it functions only during the full moon or it only for left-handed users. When the price for a service looks too good, it usually is. Bait and switch is firmly planted into these offers too. Of course, you get what you pay for but hey, you can get so much more if you just pay so much more. If the service is significantly cheaper than the others, be a detective and find out why before you chance losing some of your precious budget.

Reasonable – Good word, reasonable. But what is a reasonable price for a promotional service? Let’s take book videos. Your genre and following have qualified this as a viable avenue for promoting your book. How do you know the best price? Think value. Look at every sight offering the service, write to the contacts at those companies, ask questions and never forget to inquire what additional services they offer that makes them better than the competition. Making a book video is cool, but what about marketing it? Does the company offer proven effective strategies for exposure of your book video? What is the added cost? How does it compare with other similar companies? Can you negotiate? Mix and match production packages? Does it fit in the budget? This takes some time but think about every element of this process the way you’d think about buying a house or a car. Reasonable is only reasonable if it has value.

 

Effective, High Visibility – Okay, this one gets a little complicated but let me simplify it for you. You have determined a budget. Let’s imagine the overall marketing and promotional budget is say, $2,000 and not a penny more. How you use and distribute that budget should depend on your strategy. A high visibility strategy is very different from a targeted strategy. It’s like shooting a bunch of pellets from a shotgun and watching them spray everywhere … or shooting an arrow aimed for the center bull’s eye target. Both approaches work for their specific goal, but what is your goal?

If you’ve chosen high visibility as your strategy, you’ll need to be very creative and careful with your pennies. Look for and at every free exposure you can get from book reviews to setting yourself up as an expert on something within your book. Connect with groups focusing on that subject of expertise, be willing to get on a plane where ever you need to go and speak to these people. Promote yourself online, use your strong platform then … and only then … start spending your budget wisely. Press campaigns can be free or they can be expensive. Release services rage from $25 to thousands. Be aware of when, how and where these services distribute your release. Choose one that allows attachments (i.e. book cover, author photo, etc.) for when you need them. Only use a service that reports that the press release did in fact go out and how many targets received them. Keep track of responses. Aside from a press campaign, budget for promo campaigns. Is your book one that should have tee shirts and mugs? What will you do with them? Will you sell them on your website? Give them away at events? Are they creative enough to be successful? Will you advertise and purchase ads?

High visibility means big exposure and while your book is waiting for publication, you need to be very vigilant about assuring that you are building a following that is waiting for the book. Keep in mind, you may need to expand your budget and hire a professional to assure your bucks get all the bang possible.

Effective, Target Visibility – Big difference here, and sometimes this is the most powerful way to build your following as it begins early and in your own back yard. You will focus your energies in your local exposure and expand it out. Speak at local book stores and libraries on your subject hook, and belong to local related groups you can easily participate in (i.e. vampire and fantasy lovers groups, foodie groups, gardening groups, whatever relates to your book will work). Create your own “completely” free press release contact list by calling local newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations and finding the correct contact. Make sure they know your name, so that when you email press releases, they recognize you. Get visible everywhere. If your book is coming out soon, announce it on a simple flyer posted at your dentist’s office, your vet’s office, your insurance man’s office, even on those local market and grocery store bulletin boards. Reach into your community and get some face time by helping with trash cleanup days or gardening days or even holiday local parades and picnics. It’s the original social marketing and it still works. Now you’re all friends and it’s no big deal to tell them you have a book coming out. Plan a big launch party and make sure you invite all your new friends in addition to the media. Celebrate the old fashioned way.

Now, combine this with online social marketing. Reach your fingers out further and further with a really powerful blog (updated at least twice a week), strong facebook and twitter presence and all along, keep building an email list. Notify all your subscribers of any news. Keep the excitement growing.

All this and you have yet to spend a penny, so plan your $2,000 strategically. Expand into purchasing broader press release services as you get closer to your book launch. Use your budget wisely. Choose the perfect professional to help you push through.

The Bottom Line and the Budget

Now, time to dust off that Excel program and get down and dirty. You have determined a realistic overall budget figure, now break it down.

Don’t forget the obvious. Your general expenses count too. Phone, postage, printer ink, internet service fees and phone expenses all count.  Next comes the professional services you are willing to contract for, this includes an attorney, editor, webmaster, publicist or assistant to help make everything happen. Now on to the PR, marketing and promotional expenses, book videos, advertising in book publications, audio books, book signing events and launch party. Also in this category would be banners and signage you may want for your book events, book plates or even posters. Next, travel expenses. Yes, travel expenses, even if you are targeting your promotions primarily to a local or statewide market, you must include travel expenses. Gas, meals, tolls, parking and the occasional hotel room. Don’t forget gifts and gratuities, for example, if someone is kind enough to reach out and invite you onto their talk show, nothing makes a better impression than a small gift. Chocolate works every time. Let’s talk about Donations. Will you be purchasing or ordering books to donate to an organization to help raise money for a charity? Remember to add the cost of those books or at least the postage into your budget. Yes, it will be tax deductible but you must pay first, right? Now we should consider education. As part of your budget and your book business plan, you should always be open to ongoing education. When there’s an author your love coming to speak at a conference, you will want to attend and learn what you can from him/her. Not only have you seen an excellent speaker, but the other attendees have seen you. Budget for it. And finally, the all important slush fund. This is a little bit of budget set aside for the absolute perfect service or promo that has tempted you and passed the “great value” tests.

Now, this obviously represents a full budget, not just your $2,000 for promotion, but do not be intimidated by all this. A well planned budget works within the parameters of reality and stretches things a bit. Naturally, you shouldn’t create a budget for $100,000 when you only have $500, but a dream budget as an addendum to the real budget is a perfect way to open your imagination to creative thinking. For example, if there’s no way you can afford a professional publicist, surely you can afford a few wonderful books to teach you. If hiring a book video company is too far out of budget, you can learn how to make a video yourself.

Be smart. Budget not only your money but your time. Create a timeline that will take you from finished book to book launch date and beyond. Know you’ll get there and just put one step in front of the other!

Last and most important, watch and monitor you budget like a hawk. Be honest, be realistic and get value from every penny.

Next week is the final in this Platform Building Series: Time is on Your Side (Go on, sing along with the Rolling Stones in your head. I know you want to.)


Platform Building, One Plank at a Time



Lesson one, The Rhyme and Reason

Lesson two, Creating Your Book Business Plan

Lesson three, Developing Your Unique Hooks

Lesson four, Getting Attention

Lesson five, Knowing Your Market

Lesson six, Planning an Effective Pre-Launch

Lesson seven, Understanding and Using Professionals to Help Build Your Career


Snacks for Every Writing Project: Plotting Polenta Diamonds


Woo hoo, life is grand! My plan was to do comfort food recipes to help survive those rejection letters but I’m in too good a mood today!

Last week I finished a heavy duty Paranormal Romance rewrite. Of course, this doesn’t mean things are quiet and calm, not by a long shot. This week I’ve begun a number of new projects. I’m querying the finished book and researching a series of non-fiction books while plotting a new Woman’s Literature novel I’ve been antsy to write. This can make a girl exhausted and I need to keep up my strength, right?

I love wonderful homemade things that I can just pop in my mouth while working at the computer. Yes, cookies and candies are easy but sometimes I just want something savory.

This is a recipe I developed when I was a chef in a country club back east. We were looking for a substitute for fresh made crackers or bread to accompany some of our signature luncheon salads and I remembered my mom always pushing polenta on us. My siblings and I hated the stuff, we called it “mush”, but it had the starchy qualities I needed to fill the bill. Polenta is like a blank canvas too, it lends itself to any flavor profile I needed so I started making savory Polenta Diamonds and they were a hit.

Of course now that I’m no longer slaving in a hot professional kitchen and get to sit at this keyboard to create, problem solve and write all day, I like to call these my Plotting Polenta Diamonds. I make them when I’m beginning the plotting process, season them to match the genre I’m working on, and like comfort food, they instantly put me in the mood to rock and roll with a plot to die for! Hope they do the same for you!

Savory “Plotting” Polenta Diamonds

2 C Milk

1 C Water

1 ½ C Yellow Cornmeal

½ tsp Salt

½ C Parmesan Cheese

¼ tsp Garlic Powder

1 tsp Minced Fresh Rosemary

¼ C Olive Oil

Bring milk and water just to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Slowly add cornmeal, stirring constantly. Add salt and lower heat. Continue stirring until polenta thickens, (this is kinda like roasting a turkey, it can be done quickly, or take a while). Stir in the parmesan cheese, garlic powder and rosemary.  Remove from heat.

Cool for a few moments then spread mixture ½ inch thick into a baking tray with a spatula and your fingers. Chill overnight. Slice into diamonds about 1 ½ ” wide by 2 ½” long.  Brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with S&P. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, turning the diamonds over halfway through. YUM!

Variations

For plotting a YA adventure, Lemon Garlic Plotting Polenta Diamondssubstitute ½ tsp lemon zest for rosemary.

For plotting a Spicy Romance, Caliente Plotting Polenta Diamondssubstitute ½ tsp chili powder for the rosemary and dip the Diamonds in picante sauce.

For plotting a Romantic Comedy, Counterpoint Plotting Polenta Diamondseliminate the Parmesan and substitute ½ tsp dried tarragon for rosemary.

For plotting a Historic Romance, Mama Mia Plotting Polenta Diamondseliminate the rosemary, and add 1 minced roasted red pepper plus an additional ¼ C parmesan cheese.

For plotting a Murder Mystery, Red Herring Plotting Polenta Diamondssubstitute Old Bay Seasoning for the rosemary and sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese on top before baking.

Enjoy! Next week: Comfort food snacks to survive the rejections … maybe … if I’m in the mood.


Author Platform Building, One Plank at a Time, part 7

PART SEVEN: Understanding and Using Professionals to Help Build Your Career

Here they come! The Professionals. You know who they are, they’re all over the place, on your Google searches, in your email inbox, in the grocery store, your church, writing class and even in your friendships, because someone always knows someone who knows someone who can – you fill in the blank. Some are pounding at you on twitter either to get your business or tell you how hard their job really is.

They’re recommended by your critique group, your writing/author group and often they pop up when you least expect it. (You mean you didn’t know that the woman who walks her dog past your house every morning is a marketing expert? The paperboy heard from the neighbor’s kid who baby-sits your niece that you’re writing a book and told his auntie, Margie Marketing.) News travels and there are days when these connections seem opportune. At times these professionals seem like gods, at other times, we imagine them to be money-sucking monsters. One thing is sure, there is a need for them. Gird your loins, here they come!

  • Literary Agents
  • Author’s Liaisons
  • Promotional Agents
  • Publicists
  • Marketing Experts
  • Consultants and Advisers
  • Editors
  • Published Authors

All experts, all professionals … and all over the place. How can you, the author who’s just about to be either published or discovered, really and truly know who to use, who not to use, who you need and how to control your project through all the craziness ahead? How much of their services are strategic enough to make or break your success? What does YOUR career require, as opposed to that other writer over there with a different book in a different genre? How much can you really do on your own and how do you know it’s time to hire a professional?

Instinct. Sorry, but it’s true. Let’s take the above list of wonderful professionals and run through their benefits or downfalls.

  • Literary Agents – if you’re seeking traditional publishing you need one, unless you’ve chosen an independent publisher. You don’t hire an agent, you sort of woo them with your query, then they woo you back with their interest and it isn’t until they say they’d like the represent you that it’s time to take a serious look at their services and success rate. Literary agents are the backbone for the traditional publishing industry as it has been for a very long time, but as you know, the industry is changing and so is this particular part of it. Be sharp, keep an eye out for scams and never pay a literary agent a dime for any service. An agent earns their payment through a percentage of your success … this is why they’re so careful about the authors and books they choose to represent. Only with success will they be financially rewarded, thus, only the cream of the crop get represented – those genres or styles the particular agent has seen success with. These professionals need to back the right horse. Don’t forget – just because you weren’t Agent X, Y or Z’s right horse doesn’t mean you can’t be represented by a literary agent. Seeking out, contacting and connecting with the perfect agent for you is a challenge and takes serious, committed effort. Do your homework, be realistic about your work, never give up. When you’ve made the perfect bond, they’re ready and you’re ready, then you’ve made a major step toward your success. Read contracts carefully and ask questions.
  • Author Liaison – This is something new and exciting for those seeking self-publishing. These professionals know the self-publishing arena and can connect you with the perfect publisher for you and your project. There are things you need to know. Author Liaisons often will charge for services, and in most cases, they will also contract for a percentage of book sales. The Hiring Professionals Strategies below is vital here.
  • Promotional Agents – Do you know what these people are? Often even I’m not sure, this kind of service often smears in with Publicists, Marketing Experts, Consultants and Advisers. You seriously need the Hiring Professionals Strategies below to field through this group of pros.
  • Editors – Don’t even think twice – you need editors. Don’t wonder, don’t look back and don’t pinch pennies. Often the editing is part of a publisher’s standard service. A good author’s liaison will recommend one or more. Many writers hire editors to do an edit on a manuscript about to go to a literary agent, and all self-published authors must have a full edit or risk looking like a fool. If you find yourself in a position where you will choose or hire an editor, the Hiring Professionals Strategies below is for you.
  • Published Authors – How wonderful is it when a successful, published author is willing to share his/her trials and tribulations with you? These are the warriors who have conquered the dragons, found their way and continue to venture onto the battlefield! It’s not easy to find, you can’t just walk up to a successful author and ask for advice, but if you find yourself in a situation that smoothes that path, don’t be shy, slip and slide along. At a writer’s conference, sitting at the bar, munching peanuts and Mr. Author is sipping a beer on the next bar stool? By all means, smile and talk. Don’t bombard him, just be friendly. Another place to learn amazing, valuable information about the process and life of an author is on twitter, by following author blogs, or friending and following authors on facebook. Don’t be a nuisance, just absorb. An author won’t be charging you for his or her advice, but you do need to take it all with a grain of salt. Be smart about your choices because your time is valuable too. Follow or chat with authors who write the same genre you’re writing or authors who have approached the market with interesting twists or bold strokes. Be inspired or seek someone else.

Now that we’ve covered the professionals, it’s time to talk about how and when to use them.

SERIOUSLY GOOD HIRING PROFESSIONALS STRATEGIES

  • The “Hope is Not a Good Strategy” Strategy – Authors are writers who love writing and in most cases, don’t want to do anything but write. Hoping the perfect champion will simply come along and stumble onto your doorstep to whisk you to success is lame. If you build your author’s platform early and reinforce it all along your journey, you have inadvertently pushed the tentacles of your project out into the world and now you have a better shot at grasping the interest of the right professionals. I have a client who caught the eye of an independent publisher simply by chattering on twitter and having his novel excerpts on his author site. The indie-publisher Googled the author, found his website, liked the concept and, voila. That’s not hope, that’s action, and a strong author’s platform is the flip side of just wishing victory into being.
  • The “Just Like Magic Doesn’t Mean Real Magic” Strategy – Wow, I’ve heard a hundred of these stories. Authors have met author liaisons in grocery stores and publicists at the dry cleaners. They’ve discovered cool promotional avenues over a glass of wine at a club or overheard an editor talking on the train and struck up a conversation. How serendipitous! Or is it? Serendipity is a twist of fate, but is it destiny? I’m not saying that the publicist you met over cocktails is a fraud or incompetent at all, what I’m suggesting is to step back, take a breath and think it through. Too many writers just finish a manuscript and suddenly have a chance meeting with a professional perfectly poised to catapult them to heaven. It could be a golden opportunity or just a red herring. Be a writer, if this plot twist came into your character’s life, what would they do? A little research at the least. Take some time and learn all you can about the professional, be sure they’re right for you. Ask to talk to their other clients. Have them do a presentation and explain what they can do for you.
  • The “Comparing Apples to Apples” Strategy – Now that you are finished with your novel or non-fic book proposal, maybe you’re ready to hire a professional to help get you to the next level. It may be an editor, it may be a marketing expert who can assist in building your platform, it might be a publicist who knows what you should be doing now to assure a serious attention later. You might be at the point where you want to hire a consultant to guide you toward which steps to take next. Be sure to look deep when hiring anyone. After all, you don’t hire a plumber who arrives without his tools, or a doctor without a diploma. Your lawyer and dentist have credentials and so should your career professionals. Compare value for your buck, and compare quality based on success rate.
  • The “Do I Really Need that?” Strategy – Oh the bells and whistles are so exciting! Everything calls to you from fancy-dancy book-videos to imprinted tee shirts. Time to be logical. 1) Do you really need it? 2) Does your budget allow for it? And 3) will it advance your visibility or make you look like a goof. Sorry, but I laughed my butt off when I saw that an author with a serious novel about addictions had his book cover printed onto a massive coffee mug. One the other side it said, “Coffee, my addiction of choice”. I am certainly not saying you should ignore all the bright sparklies out there that might get your book the attention it deserves, I’m just suggesting you think it through first.
  • The “Down and Dirty” Strategy – So maybe these magical appearances of professionals everywhere hasn’t happened to you, so you have to plan, think and choose for yourself whether you need a professional and what kind will serve best. Do your homework. Check out websites, compare expertise and price. Know what’s out there and understand what kind of professional can truly guide YOU. There are a lot of cookie-cutter plans and services available and a hundred how-to books on the subject, but remember … the industry is changing. You need to determine the kind of professional you need for this shifting landscape. Locate one who moves with the changes and sees these vacillations as opportunities. It’s a lucky time. Just because things have been done one way or another way for years does not mean it’s the only way to do it from now on. Look for professionals who are willing to break new ground and personalize their service to YOU and YOUR BOOK.
  • The “Careful, Careful, Careful” Strategy – It’s one thing to look at websites, but another thing altogether to really get a grasp on a professional. These are people. Some of them have amazing websites and work out of their small home office. Some have large staffs and corner offices in high-rise buildings. Is one better than the other? You will need to keep one thing in mind at all times. This process isn’t about getting the absolute best of the best, word renowned “name” professional to handle your progress to success … this is about getting the absolute best professional FOR YOU. After checking out all the online information you can get and asking around about a particular professional, it’s time to take the next step. Contact that person and ask for a phone chat. Yes … a phone chat. A conversation where you can hear that person’s voice and they can hear yours. A thousand things can be learned by the inflections in their voice, the passion in their words and the questions that they ask. Don’t forget to have your questions ready too, because this isn’t a one-way road, it’s a relationship where both parties will benefit. Trust your instincts and know when the discussion is over. Don’t get railroaded into agreeing to anything until you’ve had time to think. And above all … do not ignore your pocketbook. No matter how great a professional and their service sound, if you don’t have the budget for it, it’s not a good match.
  • The “Follow Your Gut” Strategy – Okay, you found the perfect pro to get you where you want to go. They have the right attitude and your instincts tell you that you can work well with this person. You like them and they like you. Now, take a day or two, set it all aside and see what happens next. If you’re still sure, explore any concerns. Is the cost a bit pricy? Perhaps you can negotiate. Is the timing perfect but the market soft for your particular book? Toss it out as a challenge for answers. Test yourself and the pro to assure everything is up front and clear. Your gut knows more than you think.
  • Avoiding The “Wannabe” Strategy – Dan Brown’s last book was released in the American and the European markets at the same time. You want that. Barbara Kingsolver was interviewed in several cities and spoke live in Los Angeles when The Lacuna was released recently. Oh, you want that too. Charlaine Harris makes appearances at many conventions that features supernatural or paranormal stories in print, television and film. Yes! You want to do that too! An aspiring author you met online has created a dynamic, powerful and exciting website with all the bells and whistles to expose her work-in-progress and … you want that too. Let’s take a moment and look in the mirror. You’re not Dan Brown or even the hopeful writer with the fancy website. You are YOU and you can’t lose track of it. How and where and when you get your exposure simply can’t be based on what another author is doing. Be sure you’ve outlined your goals and the path to attaining them is purely based on you and your book.
  • The “Back Up and Punt” Strategy – Everyone has setbacks. Not every professional we think will be perfect for us, is. Sometimes we just have to bite the bullet, say “uncle” and move on. Be careful. As you move along in this visible world, many people will come out of the woodwork to give you advice, free or for a cost, and that unsolicited advice isn’t always necessarily right for you. If a person states that your author’s liaison, agent or publicist should have done “this or that” for you, take a moment to think on it. Was “this or that” considered and determined not the correct strategy for your project? Has your pro never suggested “this or that” and why? Ask. You’ve been working with this pro for a while and should be on the same page, should have gained respect for each other and found a comfort zone for exploring things … even “this or that”. If in that exploration it’s determined that there’s no longer a good match, shake hands, share a hug and move on. Burn no bridges because now you’re back where you started and the last thing you need is a reputation for being too difficult or hardheaded to work with. Use a line I use about one of my ex-husbands (and yes, I have two, long story). Simply say that the professional was really a good publicist (or marketing expert or author’s liaison or whatever), just not good for you. This way, no one looks bad. This time you should be armed with even more important questions to ask as you search out a new professional relationship.
  • The “Track Record” Strategy – This one is just a warning, it should help raise a red flag. Keep a sharp eye on your track record for success with any professional you hire. Set up a monthly telephone conversation to discuss performance (in fact, if your pro is a good one, they may have already begun this practice as a standard performance check with you, the client). This is an honest, up front way of keeping an eye on your path toward success. Things should be moving ahead in increments acceptable to both you and your professional. Another track record to keep track of is your own. How are you doing with the professionals you’re working with? Are you meeting they’re requests for information or materials? Are you compromising their efforts by implementing suggestions some of those unsolicited experts gave you? Are you firing and hiring a new editor or marketing expert again and again? Are you imagining you are the victim? Or can you do what it takes to streamline your focus and truly move to success. What’s your track record?

Which strategy works best? Sorry … all of them. Together. Print this out and tape it on the wall. Remind yourself to seek out and hire professionals who listen to you AND who you are ready and willing to listen to in return.

But don’t forget, there are many things you can do without professional help … but that’s another blog series altogether. *wink* Stay tuned, same time, same channel.

Platform Building, One Plank at a Time

Lesson one, The Rhyme and Reason

Lesson two, Creating Your Book Business Plan

Lesson three, Developing Your Unique Hooks

Lesson four, Getting Attention

Lesson five, Knowing Your Market

Lesson six, Planning an Effective Pre-Launch