Tag Archives: self-publishing

How to Be Your Own Best Writer You Can Be

James Sale

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

www.jamessale.co.uk

www.motivationalmaps.com

James Sale on Linkedin

© James Sale 2017

How Liz Schulte Failed Her Way to Massive Success as an Independent Author

Best Seller Liz Schulte

Since starting my publishing career about seven years ago, I have been fortunate enough to speak with and learn from many other authors. These individuals come from a variety of backgrounds, writing styles and professional careers. One thing that we all have in common is that we wrote a book. It doesn’t matter if the book is insanely successful or still looking for its market, writing a book is a major accomplishment. At the risk of sounding cliché, writing is a journey. A journey that is a little different for everyone, but not one you have to do alone.

This journey is the reason I am talking to you today. You see, I found myself traveling down this road to becoming an author without ever knowing it was where I wanted to be. A lot of writers knew they always wanted to be an author—I am not one of them. I wanted to be a lawyer then I was toying with the idea of forensic psychology. I never considered writing because it wasn’t a “real” career.

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However, after a fair amount of prodding I set out to write a book. Little by little I wrote bits and pieces as I had time, never breathing a word to anyone about what I was doing. The book wasn’t for other people, it was for me. I used every single idea that came to me. I remember thinking I would never be able to write another book because I used every good idea I had. In the mornings, the book was the first thing I thought about and it was my last thought as I fell asleep at night. Finally, I made it to the end. I was overwhelmed by the immediate sense of accomplishment that was quickly followed by sadness. My journey had ended.

After a few days, I started to read this book that I had poured so much of myself into and it was … awful. It was slap in the face. I grew up reading twelve books a week. How could I have written something so horrible? My first thought was to delete it, but something stopped me. Maybe it was the countless hours I poured into it or maybe I knew I couldn’t simply delete an accomplishment because it didn’t fit the narrow definition of what I wanted it to be. I finally decided I needed a second opinion. I confessed to my best friend that I had written a book and it wasn’t very good. She wanted to read it and I kind of wanted to hide under a rock. However, I did the brave thing and let the book go. A few days later, she finished reading it and told me something I wasn’t prepared to hear. She liked the story.

The next several months I devoted to making the book better, more like it was in my head. I tweaked and fussed until it was something that resembled what I wanted it to be, though it still hadn’t quite gotten there. By this point, I had already started another novel in a completely different genre. I made a folder for the first book and tucked it away as I fell in love with a new group of characters.

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I had no clue what to do with the first book. The extent of my plan was to write a book. I hadn’t thought beyond that. After much discussion, I agreed to query some agents. I sent out ten letters and received ten blandly polite form letters in return—though one did have a nice hand written note directing me to someone else, but I didn’t contact him. You see I loved writing and no one was going to steal that joy from me by telling me they didn’t like my books. I was happy just writing them.

This attitude brought me to a crossroads in the journey. I could keep writing just for myself, or I could find a way to share my stories. That’s when I received my first eReader as a gift. I promptly downloaded several books and read one that was really cute. I went in search of who her agent was only to discover she had self-published. It was an option I didn’t even know I had. I sent her a nervous email asking about self-publishing and what it required. In less than a day, she responded with a very long email telling me about her journey as a self-published author. Though I had no idea at the time, the woman I contacted just so happened to be one of the early Kindle millionaires.

I chose my path. I was going self-publish my books.

However, being a reader didn’t help me when it came to marketing or even the finer writing points. I began to devour as much information as I could. I saved my money and went to conferences, joined online writing groups and indiscriminately read everything my Google searches brought me to on the subject. Those early times were fraught with floundering blog posts trying to figure out what in the hell a brand was and whether or not I had one already.

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The first book released to lukewarm sales. I determined it was because I had done everything wrong. At one conference, they told me that flashbacks were bad—my book had them. At another conference, I was told that dreams were the worst—yep had those, too. It didn’t matter though because I had another book and this one was going to be different. This time I would do everything right. The new genre was hot and surely everyone would immediately snatch it up and Joss Whedon would want to buy the movie rights.

The second book came out, and much to my horror, it did worse than the first. What was I doing wrong? Marketing. Obviously, marketing was the answer. I would just market the hell out of the first book and then they would read my second book, never mind that I had written in two different genres. I set up blog tours, bought advertisements, set up some free days and did absolutely everything anyone had ever suggested about marketing. The first book started to sell. It had momentum, but guess what? The sales never transferred over to my other book. Instead people wanted to know when the next one would be out. I didn’t have another mystery. I was in the midst of writing a paranormal romance trilogy that wasn’t selling. I hit yet another crossroads in my journey: should I throw over my trilogy to write another mystery?

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Part of me wanted to follow the money, but I followed my gut. I wanted to write the trilogy so I did. And I couldn’t have made a better decision. After a fairly mediocre year, I released the third book in the trilogy and I used what I had learned marketing that first book to market the first book in the trilogy. The month of the release I made $12,000 and realized for the first time that maybe writing really could be a career.

I did a lot of things wrong along my journey, but I also did a lot things right. If I had to narrow it down, I would say these were the more influential decisions I made:

  1. I believed in myself.
    No one has ever told me I don’t have confidence in myself. I wrote a book and never once thought that I shouldn’t try it or it might be too hard. I simply wrote it because that’s what I wanted to do. That same confidence gave me the courage to undertake the overwhelming task of self-publishing and it helped me believe in my stories enough that I didn’t give up on them.
  2. I never stopped learning.
    Twenty-four books later, I am still learning. I still read about the industry, writing and marketing. Now, I am a bit more discerning about who I take advice from, but I still actively seek out new information. Recently, I heard the term influencer marketing. I didn’t know what it was so I read every article I could find on it until I started getting ideas about how I could apply it to what I do.
  3. I treated writing like a business.
    Yes, writing is a creative pursuit, but publishing is a business. I set deadlines and went through hell to keep them. I made professional connections and respected other people’s expertise and time like I would my own. To be a good self-publisher you have to be prepared for both aspects of the business.
  4. I did everything wrong.
    This is my favorite point to make. I didn’t do any of the things the blogs and speakers told me to do. I listened to them and respected what they had to say and where they were coming from, but this journey was my journey, not theirs. All the well-meaning advice in the world will not get you further down the road. If you are writing a book and you want a prologue in it, then put it in. You are the writer. Even if I rewrote my first book today, I wouldn’t touch a single one of the flashback scenes. They are just the way I wanted them to be. It is a part of that story and just because someone else got sick of them, doesn’t mean that I can’t use them. Always be true to your creative vision first. If it doesn’t work, cut it in editing, but trust your characters and let them have their own voice.
  5. I didn’t listen to the fear.
    I didn’t tell people I knew in my daily life that I was writing and publishing books until I had multiple books released. Even then, the thought of people I knew reading my books made me feel sick. It was ice-cold fear. I still have it. When people I know read my books I wait for them to tell me how much they hate it or everything I did wrong. I feel sick to my stomach when I send each book to editing, always fairly certain this is the book when they take away my laptop and tell me no more writing. The fear is everywhere and all authors have it. Had I listened to the fear I would have deleted my first book. I would never have let my friend read it. I wouldn’t have emailed that first author. I wouldn’t have joined and been active in author groups. I wouldn’t have tried self-publishing. I wouldn’t have put so much into promoting a book that wasn’t selling. I wouldn’t have finished my trilogy. I wouldn’t left my day job. The list can go on and on. Fear has long been the killer of dreams and I simply wasn’t willing to place mine on the chopping block.

So that’s my story about how I got to this place where I can be a self-supported self-published author. Kim also asked me to tell you about my marketing plan. I am going to do this as a bulleted list in the order of importance:

  • The book
    Great marketing might sell one book, but it doesn’t make a career. The story, especially the ending, is what makes loyal readers. This is part of the reason why I am always learning. Each book is a chance to hone my craft and tell a better story so I always try to produce novels I can be proud of—stories I would like as a reader.
  • The quantity of product
    This was a mistake I made, but it was a lesson well learned. I focused a large amount of money and time on marketing one novel when I didn’t have a backlist. It worked, the book sold, but there wasn’t the return on investment that I should have had. If one book is all you ever plan on writing, then market it as much as you want. But if you are planning a series, wait until you are at least three books in to start ramping up marketing efforts. You will get more return on your investment.
  • Advertisement
    The best way I have found to get word out about my books isn’t plastering social media with “please buy my book” posts. It is forming a strategic marketing plan for each book. First, I submit my book that will be on sale to Bookbub. If they choose my book, I will then form a strategy around that post. Bookbub still has the best reach of any of the book mailing lists, but they are also very selective, so don’t get discouraged. If I don’t get that ad, I select my sale period and will systematically go through the various sites stacking as many ads as I can for a period of a week to two weeks. The more exposure I can get the better. I will also set up targeted Facebook advertising for the period and send out my newsletter.
  • Networking
    Writing can be solitary, but don’t shut yourself off too much. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience out there from your fellow authors. Make friends, help others and accept their help. The indie community is kind and embraces new authors. Be respectful of other people’s time, but don’t be scared to ask your questions. Also, attend conferences. Meet authors, writers and publishers. Talk to them and share about your own experiences. Those connections will come back to reward you.
  • Social engagement
    I love social media — maybe a little too much. However, keeping in contact with your readers helps you, as an author, stay on their mind. Remember that you are there to be social, not to sell. Be yourself and only do the platforms you like. If you don’t like any social media, then don’t use it. Set up an email and website where readers can reach you. The idea is to make a direct connection between you and your readers.

That’s it. That’s my entire marketing strategy. There aren’t simple answers or easy solutions. Working hard and believing in yourself is the only way I know how to make a book series successful. I wish each of you the best of luck and would love to hear from you.

Liz

Liz Schulte is a self-published author in mystery and paranormal romance with more than twenty novels, multiple short stories and audiobooks. She is a member of RWA and her local guilds in Missouri, the Missouri Writer’s Guild, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers of America.

Though success in publishing didn’t happen overnight, like she envisioned it would, the journey has been worth the trials along the way. Liz became a self-supported full time author in 2013 and wouldn’t trade her hard begotten knowledge or the wonderful friends she has made along the way for anything.

Liz has a degree in psychology from the University of Missouri and a minor in philosophy. She has taken numerous forensic courses and writing classes as well as attended several symposiums on writing. She speaks on subjects ranging from self-publishing to marketing and social media.

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© Liz Schulte 2017