Monthly Archives: March 2010

Author Success: A Well “Business Planned” Future, part 3

PART THREE: How Long?

Imagine for a moment that you’re a building contractor and talking with a homeowner about redesigning their kitchen. You’d be required to listen to their desires then explain how you plan to make those dreams come true. You’d be expected to come up with a few bells and whistles and cost cutting suggestions they hadn’t thought about and you’d be responsible for assuring that the project got done. Then what? The home owners will ask a series of “How” questions. “How much will it cost?” “How disrupted will my life be?” “How soon can I expect this to be finished?” If you answer all those questions to the customer’s satisfaction, they just may hire you for the job.

Now, put down the hammer and pick up your keyboard. You’re writing a book. For the purpose of this brief exercise, let’s imagine it’s a non-fiction book about kitchen herb gardening. You’re a closet foodie and an expert at it: your backyard rosemary bush is as big and wide and fragrant as a pine. Neighbors for blocks comment on the scent of your sweet basil. Every day you cook with freshly picked chives and thyme, cilantro and peppery parsley. It’s a hobby you love and you just know you can write a book that will make everyone else fall in love with it too.

To do a non-fiction book, the author is required to put together a proposal. It’s easier than you think. Imagine planting your garden or planning your kitchen renovation. All you need is to compile all then details in a clear fashion and cover all the bases. In the case of the gardening book, you are the contractor. Before you even start the project (write the words), you need to propose the plan and hope the homeowner (agent/publisher) chooses you. Now, for your book you’ll be gathering all the information that makes you an expert at kitchen herb gardening, from the first time you cooked with your grandma, to how you discovered that simple household vinegar sprayed along the fence kept certain pests away. You’ll decide on specific sections for the book and what you want in it. Then you’ll answer a series of “How” questions.

This is the exact same process used to build your Book Business Plan. And one of the most important “How” questions you must answer is, “How long?”

Yes, you’re writing fiction. No, you almost never need to write a proposal for fiction, although I have heard tell of how a few agents may require a proposal for a book series from first time authors. Putting together a proposal is a wise practice for any kind of writing. If nothing else, it compiles everything you need to know about your book, your plot, your marketing plan, your platform and your vision for the book.

Today though, all we need to talk about is … How long?

If your book was to be non-fiction, how long, or how many pages is vital for the publisher to determine the cost of producing the book. How many illustration? Color? Black and white? How many pages of reference information? Is there a bibliography?

But hey, for fiction, it doesn’t work that way. But oh … how long your book is or will be is very, very important. Word count places your book into specific categories, formulates genre specifications and helps publishers determine which imprint is most suited for the book. Here are a few notes.

According to Wikipedia

7,500 words and under – Short Story

7,500 to 17,500 words – Novelette

17,500 – 40,000 words – Novella

40,000 and up – Novel

Now, let’s explore further. These particular word counts seem to fit fine with traditional publishing,  self publishing, independent publishing and vanity presses. E-publishing may look at these word counts differently, possibly because of the screen reading nature of their product. For example, just yesterday I learned that Wild Child Publishing has temporarily capped the word count at 70,000 until July 1, 2010.

Traditional publishing looks at the word counts to further define where a book fits in its genre. Romance (most categories) can flow from 60,000 to 100,000, but Literary is traditionally on the higher end, from 100,000 +.

About now you’re thinking, “Why the hell do I need to know this? Isn’t that an editor’s responsibility? I’m a writer, I just want to let my story bloom, how many words it takes to get there is not my problem.”

Really?

Here’s my theory on this (and a few other topics we’ll be exploring in the Author Success Series). It’s a really good theory, so stick around just a few more minutes, okay. Here goes.

My theory, part 1 – If you want to be a competitive anything (swimmer, baker, ice dancer) you do specific things. You learn the skill, perfect it, research everything about it, know where, and when the competitions are, what’s required to compete, and who your competition is.

My theory, part 2 – If you’re a writer, author, or hopeful author and you don’t know your’re in competition, it might be a good time to open your eyes. Seriously. Just sayin’.

Any number of people can conceptualizing a great story. Far fewer can drum up the discipline to get it down on paper. Even fewer have the balls to show it to anyone, much less endure the difficulties of receiving and using criticism, determining which advice is good and choosing to take it, or plowing in for the next steps. If you get that far, you now need to hear the rejections (from rude and blunt to kind and helpful), hold your armor together, continue to dig into your manuscript to discover how to make it better then try again … and again … and again.

AND, the whole time you’re doing this, thousands of other author hopefuls are doing the exact same thing. THOUSANDS! What makes you stand apart? What makes you the one someone will take a second look at? Maybe your manuscript is better and that’s cool … but what say we polish your armor, boost your strength with the right weapons for battle (knowledge of the industry) and put you in the best light possible. If you understand one tiny bit more about a particular genre than the next hopeful author, you could get that boost up.

Agents and publishers are professionals. They want to work with professionals. Knowing how long your novel is tells them you are clearly aware of the requirements for your particular genre, their needs under that category, and (here’s the biggie) that you respect that knowledge. It tells them you’re competing for a coveted spot, that even if your manuscript might need a little tweaking and editing, as a professional, you don’t. It says you know the playing field and are ready to let the games begin.

My theory may seem silly, but what can it hurt? Have you ever hired an employee? What do you look for? What do you think your targeted agent or publisher is looking for. Figure it out and be that author.

How long is your book? I suppose I could really ask … How committed are you to reaching the top of your game? Being an author is a business, whether your goals are to break even, have more fans than God, or make a living. The publishing world is made up of professionals, and you are one of them. You can do this! I’m in the cheering section!

Any questions, just let me know.

Author Success, A Well “Business Planned” Future

Lesson 1, But … I’m a Writer, Not a Businessperson

Lesson 2, Your Subject Hooks and Selling Handles

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. But for here and now, I’d like to address your requests for a little more.


Tweet Success!

The Following is a wonderful guest blog by The Email Doctor, Jane Dominguez, CPA and owner of The Write Business Advantage. This is information we all need!

Twitter? Me? I resisted the recommendations of friends and business associates to try Twitter for as long as I could. Finally, decided that maybe they couldn’t all be wrong, so last spring I cautiously dipped my toe into the unknown. Less than a year later more than 8,000 people are following me.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started, no clue what I would find. Would anyone follow me? Why would anyone follow me?  I understand that people that like to follow celebrities, well-known experts, but why would they follow me? The first time someone retweeted (repeated and shared with the people who follow them), and someone else complimented one of my business writing tips, I was thrilled, and hooked.

Why are more than 8,000 people following me? Thanks to people sharing information on Twitter, I found many good articles in my early days of tweeting to help me get started.  I followed the advice to create my own persona, establish my area of expertise, and to share useful information. I began to develop ways to deliver my writing tips in 140 characters or less. One of my most popular recurring posts are: fat-free business writing tips: Fat-free business writing. Replace this: despite the fact that, with this: although. These tips are so popular that if I don’t post one for a few days I will get messages from followers asking where they are.

The second good bit of advice was to find people to follow that you were interested in, that have something in common with you, or perhaps tweet about a topic that intrigues you. Usually, when you follow them, they will follow you back. Now you have access to another expert, someone sharing useful information, or someone who makes you laugh. The lists that people can create on Twitter have made this even easier. Look at the lists that some of your favorite Twitter folks are included on, and you will find many other experts or people interested in the same subjects.

Develop relationships with the people you are connected with on Twitter. Engage them with a comment on their post, ask a question, compliment their website or Twitter profile. I am quick to retweet other people’s information, and usually stick to posts related to business writing, speaking, and training. Although a few people haven’t gotten the message, most people aren’t interested in what you had for breakfast, or what line you are standing in, but they do enjoy learning more about you, they want to know the person too. I’m always happy to join a conversation about chocolate. I remember one tweet that drew a lot of reaction, mainly people asking for my address: Puppy napping, quail strutting, lizards sunning, hummingbirds feeding, butterflies visiting, birds singing, pool sparkling—work, what work?

Courtesy is one of the first things I noticed and continue to appreciate on Twitter. People are quick to say thank you for repeating one of their tips, a link to useful article, or their latest blog post. When one person recommends another person to their group, a thank you usually follows.

My real success on Twitter is not the number of people following me, but the amazing people I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet any other way. I have made terrific business connections, and am currently collaborating with a software trainer to deliver better business writing webinars for her clients. A company that creates business-writing manuals asked me to provide consulting services as they update and revise their material. I have booked numerous speaking engagements simply because people found my information useful. The resources I have found from what other people share is material I wouldn’t have found on my own, or had time to find. If I need information or help with something, people are quick to provide assistance. Feedback on tweets provide instant market research. The number of comments or retweets of a particular post let me know what topics people are interested in, and was a great help when creating my business email tip booklet. The number of people reading my blog articles has sky-rocketed thanks to Twitter. Twitter associates tell me they print the articles to save, share them with their office teams, and even use them as the basis of staff training meetings.

Create your own persona. Tweet about something useful, of interest. Share your passions, share good information, share your frustrations and successes, or make us laugh. Nurture your Twitter relationships, you will be rewarded with more than you gave.

Jane Dominguez, CPA

jane@writebusinessadvantage.com

www.writebusinessadvantage.com

http://betterbusinesswritingadvantage.wordpress.com/ (blog)

www.twitter.com/WriteAdvantage


Author Success: A Well “Business Planned” Future, part 2

PART TWO: Your Subject Hooks and Selling Handles

I know, I know. I know what you’re thinking. “Sheesh, I haven’t even finished writing my book and this crazy woman is asking me to think about subject hooks and selling handles? Gimme a break!”

Nope, no breaks for you, simply because if you don’t think about these things now, you will be way behind the game when you need them. As I’ve said before (and will probably say a hundred more times), your success is completely pinged on growing the plan as you grow your book. Sounds strange, I’m sure, as many authors are not really positive what their book will be until it’s finished. Genres have split into as many species as arachnids (shiver). Even non-fiction subjects require extremely targeted making, for example, “sales” focuses are based on specific, very pinpointed situations, markets, products or services.

To begin, I’d like to refer you to Author Platform Building lesson 3, “What Makes you so Special?” There’s a creative thinking process (The Six Thinking Hats) there you should try. In that lesson, we touched on how to find unique subject hooks and selling handles. Today we’ll talk about how to implement what you discover.

In Author Platform Building, lesson 3, we explored three different kinds of books, a murder mystery, a nonfiction and a paranormal romance. For today, we’ll take the murder mystery, Tropical Murder, a little further with our exploration.

Tropical Murder represented a novel in need of a platform. Now, after reviewing what we discovered in Author Platform Building lesson 3, we know that it’s a book about a murder in the tropics and that the location and many scenes feature tropical fish, so the author has decided to pitch their hopeful (perhaps even unfinished as yet) book to pet stores that sell beautiful tropical fish. This is a very aggressive idea designed to break a whole new venue for the book. The author has established that people who love tropical fish would enjoy h/her novel, and that the pet stores already sell books, so why not novels. In the lesson, the author moved into creative solutions for making this happen. Here, we’ll break down the project into practical steps.

Getting your book into a pet store may or may not be breaking an untapped market, but it may at least serve as a double bump for your book. After the book is published, maybe the prospective readers has heard about Tropical Murder on twitter, from a friend or on Amazon – but seeing it where they buy their tank supplies (a place they never expected to see it) just may tip the scales. Our goal with creating unique hooks and selling handles is to always seek ways to tip those scales in our favor.

The first step is to put on your walking shoes and go look around. Explore every pet and tropical fish store you can find, independent and chains. Chat with the sales people and even the managers about what books they are carrying, why, and who they get them from. No need to seriously pitch your idea now, in fact, this would be a great time to say something like, “You know, when I sit in front of my tropical fish tank, it’s so relaxing I love to read.” Just let it lie there for now.

Next, you research further. If the pet store is an independent, who owns it? Who makes purchasing decisions? If it’s a chain, how do you contact the decision makers? Would this be a purchasing decision made by each manager or only through headquarters? Emails are as effective as phone calls for learning this information. No need to be cryptic, people are always requesting this kind of information and answers are always given.

If the store in question already carries fiction on their limited bookshelves, ask the decision maker how he/she chooses a book to offer their customers. Some questions you may not even have to ask, once you’ve opened the conversation, the contact my just pour out what you need to know.

If the store or chain does not and has never carried fiction with their books, don’t get afraid or defensive, simply ask why and let them explain. The answer may be as simple as they’ve never tried it before and that’s the perfect in for talking about your book.

Next, now that you’ve made friends with owners, managers and large chain pet store personnel, begin to brainstorm an event. It could be a book launch event complete with press releases naming the particular store. There could be joint advertising themes, like a discount on angelfish for everyone who buys a book or attends the reading/signing book event. Let your imagination run wild. Start thinking about creating connections between your book and the store. Perhaps you can have fish tank skimmers placed inside the book as a free bookmarker. Maybe you can go as far as have some tropical fish food imprinted with the title of the book. Have large posters for the store windows and a banner (which you will need anyway for future events) featuring the book title.

Everything else would fall under the category of creating an effective book event, and we will cover that in another blog lesson. The focus today is to help you understand that no matter how odd or off the wall an idea is, it can be done. Imagine a major book event at the local pet store? The author sells and signs books, does a reading and gets exposure because this will catch the local media’s attention and of course, the author has sent out press releases with details of the event. Imagine the happy pet store owner? He’s gotten more customers into his store on one Saturday afternoon than ever before and his sales staff has a chance to sell more pets and fish. And imagine his competition? Now they’d like the author to come do the same thing for them. Now the pet store business owners and managers are notifying their customers that the author will be there. Now the author has an image connecting Tropical Murder and its subsequent books with an all new venue.

One more thing to imagine … your book is now being ordered by pet and tropical fish stores all over the country. Neat, huh?

New, yes, that’s fantastic, but never forget, everything other author’s do is just as important as the crazy pet store promotions. You still must connect with libraries and bookstores, must seek out reviews, have an active blog and website for your book, be present at writing, authors and book shows with books in trunk to continue to promote, promote, promote … and maybe this particular author should bring the star of the show everywhere he/she goes and have a fish bowl on the signing table with a beautiful tropical fish to greet everyone.

Being successful in this shifting publication and sales landscape isn’t about doing what everyone else does, better than they do. It’s about doing what everyone else does, better than they do … and doing something really interesting above and beyond.

The unique subject hook for Tropical Murder – tropical fish taken to the Nth degree.

The selling handle for Tropical Murder – the only murder/mystery novel tropical fish lovers (a proven large target market you’ve already researched) can buy in their favorite pet store.

Tropical Murder might be just as successful as any other book coming out this year without the added difficulty of finding a new market but hey … we don’t want to be just as successful, we want to stand tall and be more successful.

Author Success: A Well “Business Planned” Future

Lesson 1, But … I’m a Writer, Not a Businessperson

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). A lot will be covered there I can’t fit into a blog. Hope to see you!


10 Things to do … now that I no longer need to query

Yesterday morning I signed a contract with my (yippee!) wonderful new best friend and literary agent. At last, I have a champion! A knight in shining armor to do amazing things to help me reach the Holy Grail – PUBLICATION.

It seems like a dream come true, me and my book, Cold in California , are represented!

Cool huh? But … it sure didn’t happen over night. It took many more than 50 queries (that means more than 49 rejections and they’re still coming, lol), a complete deconstruction and rewrite of the entire novel, sleepless nights, genre exploration (is it an urban fantasy with a little romance or a paranormal romance with a little adventure?), massive agency and agent research, weeks of thinking and planning, writing and rewriting the query letter and seeking the courage to open returned mail from the agents I already queried.

This wasn’t my first time at the rodeo, either. Before Cold in California, I wrote, rewrote and queried a different novel. That process took two years but nothing about the experience was discouraging. Suggestions and rejections taught me to be tough and learn how to tighten my craft.

Now, it’s a strange and bizarre feeling, like suddenly the house has dropped in Oz. “Oh!” and stillness … not even the chirp of a bird or rumble of distant Los Angeles traffic. It’s a euphoric feeling that seems fragile. All day today I sat at the computer and had to push away feelings that I should research one more possible agent, tighten one more passage in the manuscript, find one more hour in the day to focus on getting representation. It’s done. It happened. But what am I to do now that I no longer need to query?

Well …

  1. I can banish the whole wheat penicillin growing in my refrigerator.
  2. I can plan meals and actually take time to cook them.
  3. I can collect the sock balls and dust bunnies and send them off to their own heaven or hell.
  4. I can focus on friends, socializing and enjoying myself, even spend more time talking on the phone with family back east.
  5. I can seriously look into the promotional ideas in my notebook (because as we all know we should have an ever handy notebook for promotional ideas as we write our book, right? See, I practice what I preach.)
  6. I can take Belly Dancing classes, since spending so much time at the computer has not only made me wider, but stiffer
  7. I can watch television. Really, there was a time I never watched TV, then I found I loved certain shows and over the past year, I discovered that even while watching those favorite programs, I was thinking of the book and querying. Now I can just relax and enjoy.
  8. I can sit in a chair other than my creaky old desk chair which has been trying to kill me … honest … I swear.
  9. I can take a weekend off! See, I almost never take a weekend. Ever. Saturdays and Sundays are just another work day for me. This weekend? Celebration in San Diego. Even though the weather prediction is rain, I’m excited to be getting out of traffic choked Los Angeles and visiting my less stressed friends down there.
  10. And finally … I can feel better. Less fearful. More confident as a writer.

The culture shock is mind boggling! I’ll enjoy this few days of  R&R then back to the grindstone. I can attack my the other writing projects, the next book in the Cold in California series and proposals for my non-fiction books. And of course, I’ll be back to totally enjoy working with my publicity clients who are all authors.

Just … not quite yet. For now I smile a lot, even laugh.

And when I look in the mirror I actually wonder if I look different, like a writer with an agent, a writer that much closer to just maybe becoming an author.


Recipes for Every Writing Project: The OMG it Happened Salsa!

Today I’m shouting on the mountain stops – well the tops of the Hollywood Hills – because something I’ve worked six long years to see has finally happened! To me! ME!

Last week I told you all that a literary agent had requested the full manuscript for my Paranormal Romance, Cold in California. I just got off the phone with that agent and he offered representation!

I have a champion! A knight in shining armor taking my book through doors I can’t get into! I have an agent!

THIS calls for something special and spicy and ubber celebratory! This is a wonderful recipe for those with a quirky sense of humor and adventurous pallet. It works beautifully with unsalted blue corn chips, a great dip for chilled large cooked shrimp and one of my favorite ways to enjoy this Grilled Grape Salsa, is to serve it warm over pan seared scallops or tilapia. Deeeeelish!

Grilled Grape Salsa

1 C Green Grapes, sliced in half long ways

1 C Red Grapes, sliced in half long ways

1 tsp. Olive Oil

½ C Pecans, rough chopped

3 Tbs. Cilantro, rough chopped

½ Large Red Onion, small diced

½ Large Red Bell Pepper, small diced

1-2 Jalapeño Peppers, seeded and small diced

1 Clove Garlic, minced

¼ tsp. Cumin

1 tsp. Sugar

2 Tbs. Cider Vinegar

1 Tbs. Lemon Juice

S&P to taste

Toss sliced grapes in olive oil and grill over medium heat on stove top grill or griddle (or in a large heavy pan) until skins are marked but grapes are still firm.

Place grapes in large mixing bowl and add all remaining ingredients. Mix and chill. Serve cold with chips or chilled cooked shrimp or heated over grilled chicken, pork or pan seared scallops or fish.

Variations

  • Substitute small chunks of grilled, fresh pineapple instead of grapes
  • Toss in ½ can black beans and ½ cup thawed frozen corn kernels
  • Add 1 cup shredded fresh carrots

Have some friends over and celebrate, because as they tell me … the real waiting starts now, LOL.