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Some time ago a guest attended our local writers’ group meeting. She hadn’t come seeking editing or opinion for her life-changing book, but a fast track to publication. However, she couldn’t seem to tell us what her book was actually about.

Later, I talked with her on the phone and suggested she write up a two-sentence summary for the next meeting. I told her, as gently as I could, that if she couldn’t tell us what it was about, how would she tell and editor. And if she couldn’t tell an editor, the book would not be published. She never returned to our group.

The point of my anecdote is that we need to be able to condense our stories to the bare bones in order to interest an editor, and, I would add, our potential readers.

There are several levels of summary required in marketing our stories.

  1. I discussed synopsis in a previous post. Quick review: a synopsis is a concise overview of the story from beginning to end, as a selling tool for an editor. (My book synopses are usually two pages single-spaced.)
  2. Another level is a summary of the main characters and story question for the back cover of the book. Length can vary, but it usually consists of a couple of brief paragraphs.
  3. A third level of summary is the pitch. Boil down the essence of the story into one or two strong sentences. Reduce it to its essential flavors. What does your book promise to deliver? What is the story question? What is at risk? Why should I care? These are all questions to ask ourselves as we craft our pitch.file000595720150

The pitch must first of all be brief and concise. It should also stir emotion, and it should throw out a question that begs to be answered in the course of the story.

I’m currently reading a book called Thorns of Rosewood by G.M. Barlean. I’m at about the halfway point in the story, and would say the essence is this: “Journalist Gloria Larsen interviews four elderly women in hopes of finding the truth about a 40-year old, unsolved murder. Could these octogenarians really be guilty of murder, and could one of them be her biological mother?”

I just now looked it up on amazon, and the one-liner is: “Gloria Larsen knows only three things about her birth mother: she was over forty, she lived in Rosewood, Nebraska, and she was accused of murder in 1974.”

Examples work well for me, so I’ll share a couple more with you:

The amazon product description for Angela Hunt’s biblical story, Esther, Royal Beauty, says, “When an ambitious tyrant threatens genocide against the Jews, an inexperienced young queen must take a stand for her people.”

Here’s the product description pitch for When Sparrows Fall by Meg Moseley: “Freedom. Safety. Love. Miranda vows to reclaim them—for herself and for her children.”

As you can see, amazon product descriptions offer some good pitches (remember you’re aiming at one or two sentences). A book catalogue is another great way to study pitches, since by necessity they must be brief.

So set aside some time to analyze your story and come up with a riveting pitch. I guarantee it will prove to be a great marketing tool.

 

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When I wrote my first book, I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t even know if I could write enough of a story to warrant a book with actual covers. However, as time progressed, I realized I’d have not one book but two, and eventually three, in the series.

I was an absolute newbie when I submitted the manuscript for my first book, and the smaller press I contracted with didn’t always use the pattern I’d heard about from other royalty published authors. It was a learning experience, but we managed it.

Then, through a series of events that would sound like coincidence if I didn’t believe in the leading of God, I emailed an agent and he agreed to look over my second book contract, for a reasonable fee. I received some good advice, as well as his willingness to represent me to my publisher.shaking hands

One result of this alliance was a somewhat better contract for books two and three, but another was the fact that I can always contact him when I need advice, or an intermediary between my current publisher and me. The world of book publishing is changing so quickly I can’t keep up, but my agent is in the thick of it and gives me information as well as advice and support. Over the years, I’ve been most thankful that I have an agent, and that he is approachable and willing to share.

So back to the question: Do I need an agent?

I suggest the benefits are very good. Many of the existing publishing houses do not accept un-agented author submissions, so that cuts out quite a number of options. Also, having someone “in the know” offers protection and confidence. He or she may also know the reputation of smaller, newer publishers and be able to advise.

Even if you don’t need an agent, it’s helpful to have one, and very beneficial for most authors. Remember, although you will be sharing a percentage of the royalties from the book sales (usually about 15%), you don’t pay an agent until he or she sells your book. A bona fide agent will never require fees for services outside of your royalty agreement.

The acquisition of an agent is another matter. As I said earlier, it was a series of God-nudges that brought me to my agent. The usual process is to submit a request for representation, much like submitting a manuscript, and find out which agents are seeking/accepting clients, and if you would be a good fit. I can’t say too much on this because I haven’t experienced it, but check the world wide web, make a list of agencies that appeal to you, and write up your agent-query email. Then send it out and see what comes up. Nothing will happen unless you step out and make the first move. Here are a few suggestions…

All the best in your search.

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Voice is, essentially, the sound of a story. It’s an innate, recognizable part of who we are. We can’t create it or force it. Our voice just is. Of course, we can temper or encourage it, but only as far as our experience and personality allows.

Author Lisa Carter, in a recent blog for Novel Rocket, suggests that “Your voice is defined by what you have to say and how you choose to say it.”

About six years ago now, I wrote a blog on the subject of voice. Here’s the essence of the article:

“While visiting my newly born grandchild back in 2009, I snuck away to the bedroom with him so we could talk privately. After all, a grandma has to get to know her little ones. I lay on the bed with six-week old Jordy and began to talk to him. He fixed his eyes on mine, connecting with my soul. He watched my face, and my mouth, and then his mouth began to move. He struggled to make a sound, and when he did, we celebrated. He had found his voice.IMG_0080

I made a similar connection with my granddaughter, Sydney, born two weeks after Jord. She also wanted to express herself to me, and when she was successful she wiggled with pleasure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs writers, we talk about “voice” and wonder what it is. Is voice something we create or something we discover? Jordy and Sydney taught me that “voice” is who we are. Jordy’s cry was squeaky and pitiful (it has since developed into a confident and continual chatter). Sydney’s was loud and demanding (I now interpret it as determined. She is the fourth sibling in her family, after all.). Neither baby decided what he or she would sound like. They are who they are. We each have our own voice, are born with it in its raw form. This is the voice we eventually use for speaking and writing.

Voice is not something we create; it’s in all of us. It’s who we are, expressed in words, or the equivalent of words for the pre-speech set. We all have thoughts and feelings and ideas that long to be expressed, but they do not always come easily. Consider how varied the stages of development are from baby to baby. Some, very early in their lives, jabber in an alien tongue. Others refrain from speaking until they are older and then launch out in full sentences. Neither is right nor wrong; each is unique.

Once we discover our voice, we are responsible for developing it by using it. Find some of your earliest writings and read them over. Unless you were especially gifted, the early writings seem weak and unformed. As you grow and experience life, as you struggle to express yourself, your voice, both spoken and written, grows stronger.”

Just as I will not mistake Sydney for Jordy when I hear their voices, so we would not confuse writing by Mark Twain with that of Edgar Allen Poe. Not only are their content and method vastly different, but their approach to life and writing, their “worldview,” if you will, is at polar opposites.

As Lisa Carter states in the above-cited article, there are several considerations that affect voice, including our chosen genre, our expected audience, and the culture/country we have grown up in.

Authors open themselves up to vulnerability when they write. Our voice will be revealed as our story unfolds. Allen Arnold, in an article written for Novel Rocket, suggests that we need to remember to live in order to write, and I believe our voice will change and grow as we adapt to our circumstances, just as Jordy’s voice will someday break as he adjusts to adolescence.

I find that as I continue to read and become aware of other voices, my own writing voice may take on the accent of an author whose work I especially admire. Then, as I write, that voice will blend with mine. It’s not copying; it’s emulation, and that’s perfectly acceptable. We must allow ourselves to be who we are, to write what we are passionate about, to discover and develop our own recognizable and distinctive voice.

 

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Why do you write what you write? Read what you read? How do you sort your ideas and decide what your focus will be?

Each of us has a set of filters through which we see the world. It depends where we come from, what our childhood was like, pleasant or traumatic experiences we may have lived through and what we have learned of life. This is called our worldview.

KNOW THYSELF

Our worldview also affects our voice, our style of writing, even the mood of our story. Our personality shows through our characters, through their responses to obstacles and challenges in their fictitious lives. Life-experiences color our composition.

Wikipedia says “A comprehensive worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society’s knowledge and point of view.”

When we identify what we believe and why, our writing will reflect this understanding of the world around us. Who am I? What do I believe? What difference has my set of beliefs made in my life?

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As writers, we put ourselves out there for the world to see, in fact, we want as many people as possible to read our work. If we look at writers who have had a major impact on society, they are people who have /had strong beliefs (not necessarily positive or uplifting but personally affirmed).

For example, study this quote by Ernest Hemingway [1929 – A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner’s]: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” Hemingway’s words give us a good idea of what he believed based on his experiences as a war correspondent.

Mark Twain wrote humorous stories colored increasingly by sarcasm and satire. One of his famous quotes is: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE

Besides having your own worldview set in your mind, you must also make sure your characters know what they stand for. This will strongly affect their development. I recently forced myself to read more than half a light romance before giving it up for lost. The problem: the characters’ actions and responses were inconsistent. Why? Because, in my opinion, the author didn’t know them well enough to guide them in consistent behavior in the world she had created for them.

Whatever your experiences in life, make sure you contemplate how they affect your worldview and that of your characters. It may make the difference between being read or being set aside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marketing requires research. In order to put together a publication package (which I recommend for traditional or independent publication), we need to categorize our stories.my library photo

Comparison

What other books or writers does your writing resemble? I’m talking style more than genre here. Do you write like Stephen King? Or perhaps Kate Morton? Or Alice Munroe? Is your style flowing and epic or minimalist? Is it straightforward or flowery, filled with figurative language? What is your worldview? Is this book a stand alone or part of a series?

Here are a few key questions that might help in finding comparative stories:

* Genre

The concept of genre, while not specifically under scrutiny here, helps us to make these choices. For example, if you have written a cozy mystery from a Christian worldview, what other authors have done the same?

* Mood

If you read Stephen King, you know the writing is full of tension, fear and dread. If you read Kate Morton, you will need to unravel layers and layers of backstory and motivation to find the heart of the story, rather like a treasure hunt. Is your story lighthearted or serious? Witty or sober? What other authors write in a similar mood to what you write?

* Worldview (this will be examined in more detail next month)

We all see our world through a unique set of filters. It’s unavoidable. It’s who we are. For example, because I’m a Christian I write from a Christian worldview. Also, since my home life was loving and nurturing, that filter finds its way into my worldview. As writers, we are vulnerable people, and we allow our vulnerabilities to show in our writing. What other authors write from a worldview similar to your own?

* Purpose

Do we write to entertain, to inspire, to teach (through story), to motivate? What other authors do the same?

While our publisher, or our readers, want to know where our book falls in with others, they also want to know how it stands out among these others.

Contrast

Perhaps my book resembles Jan Karon’s Mitford Series. That gives readers a comparison. But what makes mine stand out? Why should they buy my book in addition to or instead of Karon’s?Unknown-1

Does my book offer more or less of a spiritual focus? Are the characters more or less quirky? Is the ending of my story sometimes sad instead of happy? Is my setting in another country instead of the U.S.?

I suppose the most telling questions to ask regarding contrast are:

* Can I identify a subgenre that extends the categorization?

* Is my book witty rather than just silly? (I’ve started reading a few of those silly ones)

* Is my series chronological or is it a Nancy Drew it-all-happened-when-she-was-sixteen idea?Unknown

* Is my setting unique yet believable?

Once you’ve answered these further questions, you can make a shortlist of books that compare to yours as well as a list of those that contrast. This will also help you focus on your marketing tactics. Every refining of category, style and purpose helps us as authors to define our ideal target market.

Note: Although this topic came up late in this series of blogposts, it is something that can and should be considered at all times from the novel’s conception to the final marketing stage.

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CASE STUDY #1

Geoffrey Deschambeau* is the author of a recently published children’s book that the teacher of a dance class discovered and used to encourage and inspire her young students. However, when parents asked where they could buy the book, no one knew. They couldn’t trace the author or the book title.

CASE STUDY #2

Rebeka McElroy* has written a riveting historical novel set during World War II. It’s titled The Cost of Courage*. Apparently, it’s a great read and well-written. But how would you know that if I hadn’t told you, or if you didn’t believe me?

(*names have been changed)

Case in point: if we want people to read our books, we must make them available through whatever means of promotion are within our reach.

How can we do this?

My short answer: through social media.

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Yes, there may be a steep learning curve involved. If you’re tempted to skip this blog because you don’t want to put the effort into learning social media, please don’t. My expertise is also limited, but I can learn. My age might well be against me, but I can learn. And if I can learn and benefit from social media, so can you.

Step One — Who Are You?

* Create an author bio –where you were born/lived, early writing inspiration, education/professional experience, publishing credits if any, genre, etc. Write it in third person.

– Begin with a longer version, about 250 words (for website, interviews, social media profiles)

– Whittle it down to 30-50 words (for back cover book bio)

– Edit out everything but the essential facts, to 140 characters (for Twitter)

Step Two — What do you have?

* What is your book about? Write a summary (this is not a synopsis) in three lengths (short, medium, long) for various posting purposes. Check back covers of other books, especially those in the same genre as yours. Try the template in Appendix B of Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell if you need a more structured approach.

Step Three — Where Are You?

You must be traceable. How can people find you?

* Join writing groups, both locally and online

* Attend writing workshops, conferences, readings, launches

* Network with other writers and readers whenever possible

* Create an online presence for you and your books. This is what Social Media is for.

Step Four — Website, etc.

* Ask for help from friends who already have an online presence. Google to learn more.

* Create a website using WordPress or Blogger (my preferences). They provide easy-to-use templates for setting up a simple website. If you have the extra cash, you can hire someone to do this for you.

* Create accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Amazon Author Page, and any others you hear about. Take it one step at a time and practice using each site before moving to another

* Use the book summaries and author bios you prepared earlier for your profile on these sites. Here’s an example from the back cover of my most recent novel:

back cover copy

 

CASE STUDIES

In CASE STUDY #1, Deschambeau’s book found an extremely limited audience willing to buy if the buying was simple. However, at the time of this writing, the author has no website, and the book has not found a home on any social media sites. If we don’t know about it, we can’t buy it.

In CASE STUDY #2, I’m happy to say the author did her legwork and sent out emails, Facebook ads and tweets. She also hosted a book launch to spread the word of her newly released novel. She requested, received and posted positive reviews that followed the book’s appearance on the major bookselling sites. I believe it’s selling well and the actual title and author are Threaten to Undo Us by Rose Seiler Scott.

To conclude, our writing careers require balance. We must be traceable. Our product must be available for purchase. BUT, if we spend all our time on social media, we won’t have time to write. Many prolific authors have people to tend their social media sites, but those of us who can’t afford that must maximize our online time. The matter of greatest importance is to keep producing quality fiction. Otherwise, we will have nothing to promote.

I recently discovered an article online that offers a strong note of caution regarding social media book promotion. I will leave it to you to read and consider HERE. Go for balance.

 

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Up to several years ago, I would easily have been able to outline the best method of submission for your manuscript. My suggestions would have looked something like this:

  1. Categorize your completed, edited manuscript
  2. Research markets, guidelines
  3. Acquire an agent (many traditional houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts)
  4. Query the publisher through the agent or on your own, depending on their guidelines
  5. A concise outline of submission format is available on The Editor’s Blog.
  6. Upon request, send a synopsis, the first three chapters of your manuscript, and a cover letter including a few things about yourself as a writer, your target audience, your qualifications for writing this story, marketing ideas and contact information.
  7. Wait, repeat if necessary.

But times have changed. Attitudes and actions have changed. Writers are no longer willing to wait endlessly at the whims or time constraints of editors and publishers. Readers are unwilling to wait, or to drive to brick and mortar stores to buy books. They want instant access. Everyone, including the writer, wants immediate turnaround of product.

Yes, there are still traditional publishers out there, but their bottom line is tighter because of the many options available to readers, and the publishers are less willing to take risks on new and unproven talent. It’s not impossible to be traditionally published, but it’s definitely more difficult than it used to be.

Besides the large traditional publishers, there are many small houses that have sprung up around the globe. Many of these are reputable, but you must research and discern. If you have to pay a fee, it’s not a royalty publisher. If it’s is a glorified book printer, you might do better on your own (see below).

If you are willing and able to pay, there are many publishing businesses with options for everything from editing to cover supply to printing and distribution, but count the cost first.

So what happens if you’ve tried the round of traditional royalty publishers to no effect? First consideration: why was the book rejected by trad publishers? Does it need editing? It may prove worthwhile to hire an editor. There are editors available everywhere, but know what you expect and how much you can pay for the service. Some writing organizations offer quality editing at very reasonable cost. Some groups swap editing for other writing skills. Ask around.

If you are confident your book is worthy of publication, consider publishing it yourself. In the past, self-publication carried a negative connotation, but with the increase of indie (independent) publishing and simplified templates, many authors who formerly published in the traditional method have branched out to take charge of their own publication. Technology has made the process easier, as long as we remember quality. With perseverance, most of us can learn to format our own digital or print books, choose (or hire out) a professional cover, and produce a quality finished product.

Then we’re stuck with marketing on our own, you say, but in most cases on the traditional route, we have to do most of our own marketing anyway.

If you decide to go indie, it’s important to become at least moderately comfortable with social media (I will be discussing this next month). This requires a fine balance. On one hand, if you want to sell your book, readers must be able to find you. On the other hand, you shouldn’t sacrifice all your writing time for social media time.

Back to the original intent of this post: submission and publication.

If you go trad, follow the instructions at the beginning of this post.

If you go indie, go to Google or to a friend or indie group and start learning.

  1. Edit your manuscript or have it professionally edited. This step is essential to a quality book.
  2. Compile a publication kit: author info – bio (short, medium, long), photo, writing credits, etc.; book info – summaries (back cover, short, long), synopsis (for agent or publisher only)
  3. Decide whether to find/buy a cover or to hire it out. Please don’t ask your friend’s sister’s niece to paint a cover. 99% of the time it will look unprofessional and hinder sales.
  4. Create or purchase a template to set up your book for digital / print format. I would suggest putting it up digitally first. They are different processes, and you will save yourself a lot of time and grief if you recognize this. A concise how-to book that I recomend is Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors by Carla King.Unknown

*Remember that if you go the indie route, you remove several layers of filters (agent, editor, publication group), so you need to be advised and professional in all areas of publication.

  1. Ask people who have traveled this road to give you pointers. Most of the time, writers are very willing to help each other. They’ve been helped along the way too. And make sure you help others who are following a few steps behind you.

P.S. I welcome feedback from other authors who are a step or three ahead of me. If you differ in opinion in some point, let me know. If you have additional tips to pass on, send your email and I’ll be glad to publish it here or direct writers to your site.

**Don’t forget to read the comments below for tips and experiences shared by other authors. One reply came from clfergusonblog.wordpress.com. Lots to see on her website. Also check out  the story gal at http://www.carolynwilker.ca.

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