Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Five Things I Wish I Knew About Writing…

Kaye Manro featured me on her blog last week (Thanks again, Kaye!) discussing the Five Things I Wish I Knew About Writing…but the post was edited to a much shorter version.  Yeah, it was long, and of course I added my own advice.  Nonetheless, I’ve decided to post it here just in case I’ve said something which might help someone else.

Please comment and let me know what you think.

Five Things I Wish I Knew About Writing Before I Got Started

1. Selling books is a commercial occupation. If I wanted to be published, I needed to focus on the end product.

That probably sounded like a business pitch, but I’ve learned that if I wanted an agent or editor to consider my manuscripts, I needed to get serious about the business of writing, rather than the process of it.

I recently heard someone say, “Writing is a journey, but publishing is a goal.” I agree completely. I could have saved years on my writer’s journey if I’d established goals from the beginning, and planned the way to achieve those goals.

My advice: Set specific, achievable goals. Take the time to detail the steps needed to achieve those goals. Set a deadline and start crossing the steps off your list.

2. I’m Not Just a Writer, I’m a Marketer, and …

I’m a publicist, and a webmaster and a researcher, and a bookkeeper, and a teacher, and I wear a slew of other hats, too. I used to think that as a writer, I could write the story, polish it, and then mail the manuscript off to my agent or editor. He or she would then take care of the business of the book and leave me alone to write my next manuscript.

Gone are the days of the author existing in his garret–if they ever existed at all.

The job doesn’t end when you hand off the manuscript. You’ve got to market it, publicize it and keep records about it. If you write short fiction or non-fiction pieces, you’ll have to track submissions and queries. You have to make sure you’re paid on time, the agreed upon amount, and pay your taxes quarterly.

My advice: First, get organized, using whatever system works for you. You won’t be able to do all these tasks well, but you’ll be able to do them competently if you’re organized. Second, see if you can trade or split some of these tasks (book-keeping, anyone?) with another writer friend who has just such a knack. Also: publicity costs are less if you split them with someone else, and you’ll draw crowds larger than you can on your own.

3. Marketing A Book is a Whole Lot Tougher Than It Sounds…

…especially if you don’t know anything about marketing. (I didn’t, especially how time consuming it would be.) I did know that I would have to market my own book, and I knew that would be true even if my book were published by a large, traditional publishing house. But I didn’t think that there would be some days, in fact –some weeks– where I would do nothing but marketing, and not be able to write.

I recently read that a writer should expect to spend two hours a day just on marketing. Techno-Marketer Matt Dickman (http://technomarketer.typepad.com/technomarketer/) breaks it down into three phases:

∙ Listening: reading your feeds, checking your Google alerts, watching your twitter, etc.
∙ Engaging: monitoring conversations on the Web which you may be involved in, and answering/commenting in as real time as possible.
∙ Discovering: finding new blogs to read, new twitter feeds to follow, etc.

And Dickman’s advice doesn’t address traditional marketing venues: press releases to newspapers, radio spots, etc.

My Advice: When you’ve finished your book and you’re ready to send it to agents, do some research on marketing. Make a plan (sound familiar?) for how and where you’re going to market–do your research here. Be thorough. Once the contract is signed (earlier, if you can!), begin marketing. Lay the groundwork for a huge marketing push in the weeks before your book debuts. Starting early saves time in the long run, and will allow you to keep writing during the process. In the beginning, expect to spend more than two hours a day marketing.

4. I Need a Platform (Yes: Fiction Writers, Too)

Two years ago, I’d never even heard the word platform. Now, I know that a platform is a writer’s ability to promote his book. It’s a level of credibility that resonates with the buying public.

It used to be that publishers only looked for platforms from authors of non-fiction, whose platforms are relatively easy to build. For example, a registered-dietician has a built-in platform to write a diet book. She’s got an education and work experience in the field.
If you write fiction, platform may be harder to determine unless, for example, you really are a vampire and you write vampire novels.

My Advice: Your online presence will be a large part of your platform. Start a Web site or a blog, join some social networks, begin building a community. Strong platforms are built on niches. Explore your talents for something you can capitalize on. An excellent resource on platform creation is “Get Known before the Book Deal” by Christina Katz.

5. I Need to Be Able to Tell My Story in 30 Seconds or Less

A plethora of information exists on the web about how to prepare a manuscript for submission, how to write query letters, how to write a synopsis. How to write.

But there’s not much to be found about pitching your novel.

Yet, if you’re serious about getting published, I believe you’ll find more opportunities to speak about your novel, then you will to mail it away for review. You could sign up for a pitch session during a conference, or bump into an agent at a convention. You could, very literally, find yourself in an elevator with a bonafide editor, who wants to hear your elevator pitch.

Once, I was introduced to an agent by someone in my critique group. “What do you write?” he asked. Here was the perfect opportunity for a pitch…and I wasn’t ready.

My Advice: Be prepared to briefly describe the plot and the main characters of your story. Make certain it’s succinct. Rehearse it out loud and be prepared to make changes: some things sound differently when spoken aloud.

Pitch it to your family, your peers and your critique group–anyone who will listen– and ask for criticism–not just on how you presented, but on the content of the pitch. Have you hit the high points? Are you adding too much detail? Work it out until you’re satisfied it’s perfect.

Practice until you can make the pitch without mistakes.

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