When Kim Staflund, whose ‘How to Publish a Bestselling Book’ is a mini-masterpiece of useful information on the topic, invites you to do a blog for her pages, then you know you have a problem: what could you possibly write that could add to her readers’ knowledge or skill-set that is not already contained in her volume? There is so much she has done already; so perhaps my first piece of advice would be to go back and read her book! But the initial panic subsides when one realises that one isn’t trying to be Kim Staflund; on the contrary, everyone can become truly helpful to others when we just simply become authentic. What does that mean? It means in the first instance we need to address our own experience, and not try to come up with all the regular solutions that everyone else does. On that basis, then, I’d like to share with you some of my publishing experiences over a 35-year period, and to see whether this of use to you, dear reader.
First, so what are my publishing credentials for speaking at all on this matter? I am pleased to tell you that I have been both self-published, and also published by minor and major publishing houses. All my poetry collections (as opposed to individual poems, which have appeared in many magazines in the UK and the USA) have been self-published (check my The Lyre Speaks True: http://amzn.to/2t5L7iy), as have some management booklets, which have been done for marketing purposes within my core consultancy business (www.motivationalmaps.com). But alongside these, going back to 1984 when a 3-volume educational series of books were published by Macmillans, I have had over 30 books published by the likes of Nelson, Hodder and Stoughton, Longmans Folens, Stanley Thornes, Pearson, Courseware Publications, Gower and most latterly, Routledge. My book, York Notes: Macbeth (Pearson: http://amzn.to/2sdZQvu ) has been (and still is, though currently when I looked, ranked #2) an ongoing bestseller, and I have written 4 versions of the book over a 20-year span. Currently, following the sales success of my Mapping Motivation book for Gower (http://amzn.to/2s7iL6H ), I am under contract to Routledge to write 6 more book on aspects of motivation. So it is true to say that, whilst I am not a full-time professional writer, like many readers here perhaps aspire to be, I am a serious writer with a track record to match.
So what can I advise people? How can I help you become a better, more effective writer? I think the first thing I would say, and which is counter-intuitive to what many readers want, and even reasons for reading Kim’s magisterial work, is this: be really clear about why you are writing! This may sound obvious, but in my experience it is not. The trouble is, I think, that people see writing as an easy way to make money, or worse: simply they do it for money. And that – with many honourable exceptions – leads to dire writing; disposable writing; writing that is here today and gone tomorrow, even when it succeeds in its objective of making money.
You see, once you get on the treadmill of I need to make money writing, then the marketing takes over the writing process; the writing for the market becomes more important than discovering yourself; the ‘it’s good enough’ attitude supplants the desire to – in that wonderful Eagles’ phrase – ‘take it to the limit’. What I am saying is, of course, very difficult in today’s world where the market dominates everything. But for me, writing is a special calling, and in two special ways.
The first is that writing is a process of discovery, self-discovery. We may intend to write a book about a particular topic, but true writing always reveals more than we thought we knew. In fact, it could truly be said that we don’t know what we think until we come to write it down. Second, the content and the writing itself are both forms of expertise – and becoming expert in both is what is critical. In this expertise there is a deep joy – one, in the element of words, is like a prime dolphin in the element of water, how wonderful to experience that mastery!
And here – as a seasoned consultant and business person – I can bring in my first true marketing point to help you. Namely, what the great American marketer Jay Abraham called the principle of ‘Pre-eminence’. I don’t write to make money; I write to become pre-eminent in the disciplines that I know and exercise. I want to be in the top 4% of poets, in the top 4% of management and motivation writers; these are my playing fields, and these are my objectives. So to establish this is not about simply how many copies of a book can I sell, and what percentage of the turnover do I keep (typically 100% in self-publication and 10% with major publishers); it is much more about my reputation and the collateral benefits that book writing provides. These collateral benefits are considerable; and have always been there in my life: ranging from giving me the edge in job interviews (in ye olden days before self-employment), attracting invitations to speak as prestigious events, facilitating consultancy assignments and etc. To give an example, only last week I was at Regents University in London at a conference called ‘5 Great Minds’, organised by The Chartered Institute of Marketing; it was a day conference (https://www.cim.co.uk/event/83890/ ) with – guess what? – 5 speakers, all ‘great minds’ speaking, and I was one of them. Hype aside, that – THAT – is what is so valuable to my business and career, and writing enables it. And to be clear, I am all for making money – it’s just that writing books can lead to it indirectly (as well as directly), which is why clarity of purpose is so important.
Thus, given the above context, what do I recommend you do to develop your own writing business? What things have I done that have helped boost my reputation as a writer?
First, let’s deal with getting a publishing deal with a major publisher. What is my number one piece of advice? You need to go and find a way to meet the editor personally. That’s it. Like you, I have had hundreds of rejections from submitted manuscripts and proposals. But I have found that when I get out and go for it, and meet the relevant person at some event, and I don’t try to ‘sell’, but simply have a great chat and find out their interests and what they are doing, then – THEN – there is every chance the magic sentence can almost casually come out: “You know, I think I have something you might like’. Boom! And they say, “Send me it – I can’t promise, but –”
Can you do that? Can you get out and meet that someone? And keep in mind, when you meet them, meeting per se is not enough. For the transaction to take place they need to: know you (hence you turn up), like you (are they going to, or are you going to be a pain?), and trust you (do you listen to them carefully, and are you going to follow through and do what you say?). My key books with Macmillan, Pearson, Gower and Routledge all occurred because I went out to meet the key decision maker, enjoyed their company, and as they liked me, so good books were born.
The question you might ask is: well, how do I meet them? Where will they be? The answer to that question is not as opaque as it might seem. In ye olden days of the ‘80s, things were trickier, but now you find on Twitter especially, but also Facebook and Linkedin, editors going on about conferences, book signings, writers events that they are going to attend all the time. They, too, remember, are in the market.
This leads on to my third point: developing expertise. In Kim’s wonderful book she has a great tip on overcoming writer’s block, but actually the tip is much more important than just writer’s block. She says, “The writers who spend even as little as half an hour per day reading another author’s work often find they are more creative …” Yes, and often more expert too. We need to find not only authors who inspire us, but also what I call ‘home-bases’ – people or sites who share your values, who are aligned with what you do (Kim’s website is just such a place for writers generally) at the ‘field’ level. Learning and expertise through this can become so much deeper.
What does this mean? It means that being a writer can be a lonely business and we need deep encouragement from others, and others who can support us on the way. Take my own ‘field’ of poetry for example. This is an extremely fragmented and disputatious field. One could never get published if one kept sending one’s work to ideologically-opposed magazine editors. So I identify ‘home bases’ where people are in sync with me, where I share values, and this is like a watering hole (one brilliant home for me is The Society of Classical Poets: http://classicalpoets.org. This is a place that values, especially, form and beauty; it doesn’t want poetry that says the world is a hellhole, there’s no hope, no form, and – hey, subtext coming up – aren’t I a clever little monster for observing all this rubbish; where’s my Pulizter?) So the question for you becomes: where are the value-friendly and vision-aligned publications where you can expect – if they know, like and trust you – to find a receptive audience? Go to work and project there!
My fourth point would be the importance of those two twins: reviewing and blogging. In between writing your actual books, and sometimes mining them for articles as ‘sneak peaks’ or ‘tasty teaser’ copy, there is the importance of contributing back. I really cannot emphasise this enough. Indeed, a subsidiary point arises: namely, it is better to engage in 2 or 3 marketing activities that you really understand and enjoy and ‘work’, rather than trying to deploy 25 techniques and tools from a dozen different marketing experts promising outstanding success if you just only do this … No, really getting behind one or two great ideas is where the meat is; or is the 80/20 Rule in action.
Reviewing is so important because you learn from the books you review, you alert others to them, and critically you demonstrate your expertise. Finally, reviewing can also lead to your making invaluable and prestigious contacts. This is so important. I myself through this process have only just this week been contacted by a leading academic at a top-notch New York university about a project. This is someone I could not have accessed, probably, through any other mechanism, but now it’s happening. And remember, when you support others, they are much more likely to support you; and if they don’t, no matter, move on, and be a moving target. So where are you reviewing? And there’s the thing; it’s rather like publication – think of the self-publication where anyone can start, and also think of the more prestigious magazines where one might gain a foothold. So, to use myself as an example, I regularly review on spiritual and healing matters for the Quaker print magazine, Towards Wholeness (http://bit.ly/2t6busx) and also have now become an official poetry reviewer for The Society of Classical Poets. On top of this I am an active re-purposer! My management blogs I present first on my Linkedin page (http://bit.ly/2t6busx) but then I re-use them on my personal blogging site on Typepad (http://bit.ly/2t6jGZA), so that they can appear fresh a week or a month later; also, I have spent a long time building up credibility on ezine.com, so that now I am a ‘Diamond’ author for them and get top priority with my posts (http://bit.ly/2s6vBC4). There are so many outlets out there, and here’s the thing; they really are desperate for high quality content because – why? – there is so much low quality content around! This is either because the writer cannot really write, or because they are simply peddling clichés and jargon, the sort of stuff you can find anywhere. But if you are a real writer, if you have followed Kim Staflund’s advice, if you are adopting the strategy of ‘pre-eminence’ as I mentioned earlier, then you are exactly the kind of person that editors are looking for: your writing can be a game changer for so many other people, and in the end quality counts. So to return to my earlier point, it’s counting the quality first, and then the money follows, rather than trying to count the money, never mind the quality.
So what is true of reviews is true of blog and blogging: you demonstrate what you know. And here again is another important principle in action that needs to be fully grasped, embraced even. Namely, the key point of blogging is to give away free and significant information – note, to give away. This means, then, what not to do: not to act like some consultant who has key information regarding a solution to a pressing problem, but only hints that they have the solution, and that you will have to contact them – and pay – to get the full works. People hate this niggardly sort of transaction; and not only that it always reveals, in my view, that the author has a very limited set of ideas, which is why they are so parsimoniously doling them out. When you are a deep-knowledge worker/writer you can give away a 100, a 1000 ideas for free, why? Because you really do have the abundance mentality; you understand that in the world of ideas, everything is limitless – there are 10,000 more and that the human mind the more expert it becomes, the more it realises the more there is to comprehend, and the more driven it is to encompass just such further knowledge. Thus, there will always be more! As the Dalai Lama said: “Generosity gives rise to a creative mind”. You are fueling yourself when you give to others: awesome or what?
These, then, are some core ideas that have emerged for me as I have pursued my writing career and am now a senior in the digital age! But I don’t yearn for the good old days. Yes, they were good, but I think things are even better now precisely because of the ability of writers to determine more of their own destinies; we can produce, we can distribute, we can market, much more easily; and we can keep the rewards of our labours. But that doesn’t mean self-publication is the only choice. As I said at the beginning, be clear about what you want to achieve from your writing. Be open, then, and be flexible; look for opportunities, especially in the form of good contacts. Give to others and commit to the work. There is a deep joy and calling in being a writer, so now seize that moment and get your stuff out there! I hope some of you may let me know how successful you have been following some of these ideas.
MAPPING MOTIVATION by James Sale for Routledge on Amazon
The Lyre Speaks True by James Sale
© James Sale 2017