Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Looking for updates?

Looking for recent posts by Deb? You'll find them at www.coastwriting.org. She's also a regular contributor on publishing at the IBPA Independent and on the craft of writing at www.49writers.blogspot.com.

For exclusive offers and the latest on Deb's writing, sign up for Deb's Book News.

For writing and publishing advice, see Write Your Best Book and What Every Author Should Know.

Have a question for Deb? Email her at info (at) debvanasse.com.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beyond the Book Launch: How an Author Exchange Can Expand Your Audience

Exchange Authors: Front row, L to R: Kitty Morse, Kenna Jones. Middle row, L to R: Susan McBeth, Debbie Moderow, Marivi Solivan, Marybeth Holleman, Deb Vanasse. Back row, L to R: Kaylene Johnson, Kathi Diamant. Camel is a longstanding fixture at the Moroccan-style home of Kitty Morse.

Does there exist anywhere an author who suffers from too many readers? Um, no. One of the primary difficulties of making your way as a writer comes in expanding your audience, especially after the launch buzz for your book fades.

With the idea of creating novel opportunities for authors to connect with their readers, Susan McBeth founded Adventures by the Book. In addition to hosting “Meet the Author” events and book-themed travel adventures, she’s piloting an author exchange opportunity as a potential component of her AuthorPreneurs™ program.

For the pilot, Susan chose three authors from San Diego to host three authors from Anchorage, with her and I acting as event coordinators and liaisons. From April 3 to April 8, the Alaska contingent descended on San Diego, where they reached new readers through unique events that Susan tailored for their books.

Of equal value were the home stay experiences and social gatherings. In the company of their hosts, visiting authors Marybeth Holleman, Kaylene Johnson, and Debbie Moderow enjoyed warm hospitality, enthusiastic conversations, culinary delights prepared by an acclaimed food writer, and California sunshine.

A sampling of the outside-the-box events Susan arranged for the visiting authors, with the help of her assistant, Kenna Jones:

·         Welcome dinner of Moroccan cuisine prepared by food writer Kitty Morse

·         “Among Wolves” San Diego State University Osher Institute of Higher Learning at the California Wolf Center, including an on-foot observation walk and an author talk by Marybeth Holleman 

·         Qualcomm (San Diego’s largest employer) International Women’s Day event featuring Debbie Moderow and her book Fast into the Night

·         “Our Wild Alaska” author panels at the Coronado City Library and the Carlsbad Library. In Coronado, attendees bought stacks of books; in Carlsbad, the room was full!
·         “Striking It Rich,” a San Diego State University Osher Institute of Higher Learning at Mission Trails Park, featuring a one hour presentation by yours truly, followed by a gold-panning activity hosted by the Southwestern Miners & Prospectors Association.
·         Invitation-only networking reception with San Diego authors at Susan’s home
·         Lunch event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service at Kahala Travel, featuring a presentation by Kaylene Johnson
Judging by the response of the authors and readers involved in these events, this first portion of the pilot was an overwhelming success. Here's hoping there's an author exchange in your future!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Vulnerable Writer

Image from www.monahaydar.com

Don’t get me wrong—I love writing. But in nearly twenty years of writing and publishing, I’m also well aware of the pitfalls of a writer’s existence, the cumulative effect of which results in discouragement and thoughts of quitting, even for the cheeriest types.

On many fronts, writers are vulnerable. But this isn’t all bad. Yes, Maslow identifies safety and security as primary human needs. But risk is inherent to creativity, and when you put yourself out there, you’re going to feel vulnerable. Vulnerability also has much to do with why we travel, putting ourselves outside our so-called comfort zones. It also has much to do with why we read—on the page, we experience vicarious vulnerability without compromising our safety.

 Safety and security benefit with individual, but vulnerability furthers us collectively, as a culture and as a society. It certainly enhances our creative work. “A big part of writing is developing the capacity to expose yourself on the page,” says Steve Almond. Where we feel most ashamed, most vulnerable, we are also most likely to connect with our readers.

In “You and Your Characters,” literary agent Donald Maass urges authors to find the points of connection between themselves and their protagonists—and to delve deep into these parallels by probing shared vulnerabilities. “What fear is closest to your own darkest dread?” he prompts writers to ask. “What decision has an impossible cost, a cost you’ve paid yourself?”

In a talk I gave yesterday at Beach Books, I spoke of how vulnerability works into two titles that, on the surface, appear to be quite different. In the novel Cold Spell, a husband leaves his wife and young daughters. Vulnerable and exposed, the wife becomes obsessed with a glacier and the latent power bound up in ice, while the daughter struggles with the vulnerability and power in her sexual coming of age.

Because I write less from ideas than from voice and character, I wasn’t thinking of any connecting points from this novel to Wealth Woman, the biography of a nineteenth century Native woman, Kate Carmack. In subsistence cultures like Kate’s, hunting and foraging involve more inherent vulnerability than in well-established agrarian or industrial societies. 

The stories Kate grew up with were thus more about avoiding risks than taking them. When we live in relative safety, we can afford to be attracted to risk. Yet Kate made herself vulnerable for the sake of her community, and her community in turn became vulnerable as outsiders stampeded in search of wealth—wealth that on the surface would appear to bring safety and security but which in many ways makes us more vulnerable.

In my writing—and I trust in yours—these ideas reveal themselves after the fact, as the characters, real or fictional, spin themselves out on the page. If you want depth in your work, you can’t afford to go easy on your characters. You can’t coddle them.

“I want characters at the end of their ropes,” Almond says. “It’s far too late in the history of our species for sophisticated poses.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Keep Writing or Quit?

Or not?  Image from www.henryharbor.com 

Discouraged by a year’s worth of manuscript circulation, revisions, and rejections by the A-list of editors selected by her literary agent, a friend is pondering whether to abandon what has been up until now her life’s pursuit. She’s already had success with one book and scores of short-length work, but the strain of trying to break through with a second title is taking a toll.

There are practical, logistical ways of addressing her quandary—she could try smaller publishers, work on other manuscripts, self-publish. But her larger dilemma presents itself to most of us at one time or another: Do I keep writing or quit?

I’ve been at this a long time—next year marks the 20th anniversary of the release my first major title, A Distant Enemy. As is the case with most writing careers, it’s been an up-and-down journey of successes, discouragement, breakthroughs, and missteps. I can’t claim easy ways to decide how long any of us should continue to do what we do, but there are important questions to consider:

Why are you writing? For authors such as Marilyn Sewell, writing is a calling. Others have a single project that needs to come out, and once it’s released, they don’t feel compelled to continue.

What does success mean to you? To address this question, I suggest you write for a few minutes about the fantasies connected with your writing life If in five years, each and every one of your writer’s dreams were fulfilled, how would it all look, in terms of income, recognition, your body of work, and how you spend their time. Then take a few minutes to consider each of those areas—income, recognition, body of work, and how you’d be spending time—in terms of what you realistically think you can achieve within five years. Through this exercise, you can learn a lot about what defines success for you: money, fame, awards, the work itself, the creative life. You may also find that some of your ideas about what would make you feel successful are misguided—either internalized from others or skewed toward factors over which you have no control. When measured in terms of what actually matters to you, your writing may be delivering success in ways you’re failing to recognize.

Business or art? Where you place yourself on the continuum between business and art affects your level of satisfaction with your work. Some writers love the business angle and insist that to be successful, all must embrace it. But while it may be impossible to publish and get away from the business part altogether, who says writers must publish at all? Some of the happiest writers I know are those who don’t care about sharing their work beyond a small circle of friends.

Which stories need to be told? If your passion for a particular project is strong, get it out in the world when you’re certain it’s ready. But remain open to the possibilities for sharing it—the process by which readers find it may be different from what you first envisioned, or the timing may be at odds with what you’d hoped.

How would your life change if you didn’t write? If your days would fill with other passions that bring you more joy, your decision is easy. And bear in mind that no matter how long you’ve pursued it, writing isn’t your identity if you can happily embrace the prospect of a life without it. There’s no shame in abandoning a pursuit without having achieved every goal you’d hoped for—that’s simply a fact of life.

Deb Vanasse is the author of seventeen books with six different presses. For more on the writing life, see Write Your Best Book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Twitter for Writers

When it comes to social media, I’m a big believer in doing what’s useful, helpful, and enjoyable for you—and that’s it. But I’m also an advocate for keeping an open mind about which platforms will fit the bill.

In what seems like another lifetime, I once vowed never to text. If I had something to say to someone, we’d have a conversation. Then my son told me about some great photos he’d taken, photos he would have shared with me if I texted.

Photos? I was so dumb about texting that I didn’t realize they were part of the package. I redrew the proverbial line. I’d text, but I’d never tweet.

Before long, I again proved the truth of that old adage never say never. A fellow writer convinced me to try Twitter, and I discovered it’s a great fit for me. In five or ten minutes a day, I stay informed about what’s going on with friends, fans, fellow writers, and publishing news. Unlike certain other platforms (are you listening, Mark Zuckerberg?), what I see isn’t controlled by algorithms—I make those choices myself. I can have multiple accounts under one email address. And Twitter cleans up now and then, casting out scammy followers.

But to have a good Twitter experience, you have to do it right. Here, some tips:

Getting started: Go to twitter.com. Open your account, choose your handle, which is the equivalent of your Twitter address. For most of us the best handle is first and last name, or whatever variation of that isn’t already taken. For instance, my handle is @debvanasse. In your profile, describe yourself in 140 characters or less (and don’t worry – Twitter will tell you when you’re over the limit, so you can adjust). Upload a photo of yourself (lest you literally look like an egghead) and a background photo.

Follow and get followed: The best way to get followers on Twitter is to follow like-minded people. That’s because if you’re an average person using Twitter—not a celebrity, not a scam artist—there’s follow-back etiquette, meaning that when you follow a person like yourself (not a celebrity, not a scam artist), that person will likely follow you back. To find people to follow, visit the account of someone whose interests are similar to yours, and follow the people whom that person follows. You can do this quickly and easily by using the “copy followers” feature at Crowdfire (www.crowdfireapp.com). Also use Crowdfire to unfollow people who don't follow you—some spammy-types follow and then unfollow as a way of ratcheting up their numbers.

Know the basics: When you post on Twitter, that’s tweeting (not twittering, as you might hear others say, or twerking, which is something entirely different, which we won’t go into here). You can put a hashtag (#) in front of any word in a tweet to create a searchable term, and in turn you can use the search icon (the magnifying glass), to search for what others are saying about a topic that interests you, say #gardening or #publishing. Your search results will show you which hashtags are most popular; for instance, #gardenchat is more popular than #gardening, and #amwriting is more popular than #writing. When you read a post you like, tap the heart. Twitter is all about sharing, so when you read a post you want to share, you can retweet (RT) it by clicking the icon with arrows. Everything you tweet and retweet will show up in your feed, which others will see if they look at your Twitter page. To send a direct message (DM) to someone, start the tweet with his or her handle (@). When you mention someone (MT) anyplace but at the beginning of a tweet (or with a period in front of the @ at the beginning – that’s a sneaky what to share what otherwise appears to be private), everyone will see.

Use lists: If you learn only one thing about Twitter, let it be this: disregard your feed. Instead, make private topical lists based on your interests, and only include in those lists people whose tweets you really want to see. To make a list, go to settings (the gear icon) and click on lists. Create your lists and then edit, manage members. Add and subtract from your lists as you like; as long as you remember to make the list private, no one will know.

Post only value-added information: Posts are for sharing information and thoughts that will actually interest people. Include links to relevant sites and articles. Add photos for visual interest. If you want to chat with a group, agree on a hashtag and include it in your posts.

If you like to post regularly, use a free app to schedule your posts: I use both Hootsuite and Buffer, each for a different handle.

Author of seventeen books published by six different presses, Deb Vanasse teaches on topics related to writing and publishing. She also edits and coaches writers of fiction and nonfiction. After thirty-six years in Alaska, she now lives on the north coast of Oregon. For more social media tips, see this popular post

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

When—and How—Should You Publish?

from http://2-infinity-and-beyondxx.tumblr.com/

A short story by a relatively unknown author gets top billing with a major urban news outlet. Sounds like fantasy, right?

Last week, KGW Portland, opened 6 pm news with an author reading from his recently published speculative fiction, an unconventional short story set in the moments following a big Cascadia earthquake.

Disasters—even fictional ones—tend to pique interest, and people in Portland are understandably interested in a seismic event that could potentially destroy their city, but there’s more behind how this particular story got noticed. Author Adam Rothstein opted to publish “Five Minutes” on Motherboard, an online magazine and video channel. The first of a five-part series, the story opens on a page featuring an image that undulates the way the land does during a major quake, an effect you can’t achieve in traditional print or even in e-book format.

For the IBPA Independent, I’m working on an article called “Updates from the Digital Frontier.” As I interview publishing experts, it’s clear that much conventional thinking about when and how to publish needs to be refreshed.

When the meteoric rise in e-book sales slowed, sighs of relief sounded from many corners of the industry. Revolution over, frontier closed. We could all go back to business as usual.

According to digital publishing experts, nothing could be further from the truth. When pondering how to publish, these experts say, we should be thinking beyond the traditional book, either print or digital. We should be thinking beyond containers. We should be thinking instead about purpose and audience, and then about seeking the best means of reaching these, regardless of how unconventional. Rothstein, it seems, did exactly that.

What Marshall McLuhan asserted decades ago—that the medium is the message—applies now more than ever. But even as options expand, certain aspects of when to publish—and how—remain evergreen. The ability to view your work with a certain degree of objectivity is one indicator that you’re ready to think about publishing. Another is that you have a good understanding of your audience and purpose, allowing you to assess which formats and approaches to publishing will be most appropriate for your project.

Long ago, we used to say that when you could envision your book on a shelf, you might be ready to pursue publication. These days, that visioning might not involve a shelf at all. Instead, the best way to reach your audience and achieve your purpose might be via an app or an enhanced website. It might even be a short story that turns up on the evening news.

For authors who want to know more about their publishing options and how they can know when their projects are ready, Deb has written What Every Author Should Know and Write Your Best Book. She hasn’t yet figured out how to get these projects top billing on the 6 o’clock news, but she’s working on it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Author Success: The E-Newsletter

Last week, I wrote about how successful authors handle website development and maintenance. This week, I’m following up with tips about the e-newsletter.

Authors don’t have to have newsletters—or websites, for that matter. The only thing authors absolutely have to have is a book. But if you want readers—well, there’s the rub.

An e-newsletter does for your fans what a Facebook post does for your friends—it lets them know what’s happening with you that’s of interest and value to them. Social media is great for sharing news, but you have no control over which of your friends or followers will actually see your posts. In contrast, e-newsletters arrive via the inbox of each of your fans. If the news isn’t of value or interest, those folks will let you know by unsubscribing, a feature that by law must be included in every e-newsletter (and for that matter, in every promotional email that’s sent to a group).

Among the best practices for e-newsletters:

Professional platform: When you create and send your e-newsletters via a platform such as MailChimp or Constant Contact, you’ll minimize design time and maximize the benefits. Analytics embedded in the platform will help you tweak your campaigns, and your lists will be automatically culled of unsubscribers.

Sign-ups: By law, you must tell subscribers why they’re receiving the e-newsletter. The best reason is that they’ve asked to receive it, by signing up at an author event or on your website. The next best is that they’ve indicated an interest in your work. Don’t inflate your list by adding every person on your contact list. Keep in mind that the ripple effect from a negative impression is ten times greater than from a positive interaction. And don’t require a sign-up in order for someone to access your website. That’s bad form, plain and simple. A sign-up tied to a free offer for something of value works only if the content of the free offer is closely tied to the sort of information you’ll be providing in the e-newsletter.

Content: All of us are drowning in information, so make so yours is relevant to your reader. The key is to make sure it’s value-added—that the recipient actually benefits in multiple ways from opening and reading your e-news. Less is more. Embed links (to your website, preferably) for those who want to read more. And while social proof is great, your fans will quickly tire if your “news” is just bragging.

Frequency: In general, recipients don’t care whether your newsletter arrives on a particular day of the week or month, or even whether you send one each week or each month. The exception: if you’re reaching a particular audience with particular information that might otherwise be posted in a blog—in which case, you’re better off just offering an RSS feed option on your blog. A big reason for sending a newsletter is to remind your fans that you’re out there doing what you love—writing books that they’ll love. If your newsletter’s hitting the mark, you’ll receive personal correspondence from a few of your fans each time it goes out.

Author of seventeen books published by six different presses, Deb Vanasse teaches on topics related to writing and publishing. She also edits and coaches writers of fiction and nonfiction. After thirty-six years in Alaska, she now lives on the north coast of Oregon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Websites: What Writers Need to Know

Writers are business people too! Infographic from SCORE

The internet offers incredible resources for building an audience and promoting your work. Without spending loads of time and money, you’d love to tap into those that best fit your skills and purposes. But with so many options—and so much confusing tech-speak—it’s hard to know where to start.

This week, I’m slated to teach a workshop on websites and electronic newsletters, two foundational strategies for every artist and writer. Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to refresh your web presence, here are some of the tips and strategies for enhancing your web presence:

  • Evaluate: In terms of aesthetics, traffic, content, and investment of money and time, take a considered look at your current web presence and practices versus the presence and practices you desire.
  • Purpose: Whom do you most hope to reach? What outcomes would you most like to achieve? The answers to these questions should be the foundation of your web strategies.
  • Best Practices: Design your website and newsletter with users in mind. With regard to text and special effects, the “less is more” adage prevails. Choose a smart URL, link wisely, make sure you’ve got good mobile optimization, and attend to SEO and SERP concerns. Develop content that you can tap for multiple purposes. Make sure everything is clean, correct, and up-to-date.
  • Guard your investment: Don’t let a website or newsletter consume inordinate amounts of time and/or money. Secure your site against hackers. Avoid scams by never clicking through on links embedded in emails, even those that arrive via your website.
  • Evaluate: Don’t obsess over your analytics, but study them periodically to determine which web practices you should continue and which you should modify or cut.

Author of seventeen books published by six different presses, Deb Vanasse teaches on topics related to writing and publishing. She also edits and coaches writers of fiction and nonfiction. After thirty-six years in Alaska, she now lives on the north coast of Oregon between Astoria and Seaside.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Romancing the Book: What Writers Should Expect

Source: Digital Book World, Jan. 15, 2016

A comedian quipped that romance can be a lot like school—eager, bright-eyed anticipation succumbs to mundane and sometimes dissatisfying realities. Which is not to say that romance—or school—should be avoided, only that a person eventually needs to adjust her expectations.

A significant subset of the population, writers somehow are wooed into the intense and potentially frustrating enterprise of creating books. Seduced by the idea of how wonderful it must be to publish, they can end up shattered by the results.

Cling to your initial expectations, and in all likelihood you’ll be disappointed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just as you adjust to the realities of school and of marriage, you can adjust to the realities of publishing:

Book sales won’t make you rich: Don’t take my word for it—check out the results of the most recent author survey by Digital Book World. Of those who responded, traditionally published authors who earned an advance on their last book reported the highest net proceeds from the sales of that book: $5,000 to $10,000. Publishing through their own companies, indie authors saw the next highest median returns from their latest book: $500 - $1,000. Bumping bottom: solo authors, who reported median returns of $0 - $500 on their latest book.

Discoverability is difficult: Even when publishers invest big bucks, there’s no guarantee a book will be discovered. There’s a whole lot of noise out there, and shouting doesn’t mean you’ll be heard.

Effort is required: Writing may be joyful, but it’s not easy, especially if you intend to do it well.

Writers support one another: Though the competition for readers is fierce, writers are a supportive bunch. They’re also smart, and a lot of fun to hang out with.

For intrinsic rewards, writing is tough to beat: Analogies of romance and education again come to mind. Money aside, the rewards are beyond measure—new understandings of yourself and the world, deep satisfaction, contributions that endure.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored sixteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Her next book, Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold, comes out in April, 2016. She is also a staff writer for the IBPA Independent.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How Writers Improve

Writers are forever learning, which means we’ll forever be hitting plateaus.

Eventually, we get past them. We get better—not as quickly as we like, but we do improve. Here’s how:

Ganas: A term popularized among English speakers by math teacher Jaime Escalante, ganas is a desire so strong that giving up is out of the question. You get better because you want it, badly. You’re desperate—so desperate that, paradoxically, despair is out of the question.

Generosity: We get better when we’re generous with ourselves—and with others. Who says a journey must be fast—or easy? Who says progress must be linear? Who says we have to compare ourselves with anyone else? The fruit of generosity is patience.

Wholemindedness: Okay, that’s not really a word. But what I mean is this—when you feel stuck, it’s often because you’ve ceded too much to the analytical parts of your brain. Those parts of the brain are useful—really useful—but given too much control, they stifle the more intuitive parts, where insights and breakthroughs happen.

Openness: All around, we have teachers—books we love, authors we admire. As we’re open, as we pay attention, we learn from them, both by osmosis and by analysis.

Resilience: It’s my first spring in a place where the planting season begins in February, and I admit to being a bit plant-obsessed. But honestly, the most ordinary plant has a tremendous amount to teach us about resilience. The pretty green parts may be up top, but the real work happens below the surface, in the dirt, where roots reach and reach till they get what they’re after. Pruning (in reasoned amounts) only makes the plant stronger. And under stress, it blooms and blooms and blooms.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Five Habits for Writers to Avoid

“Much that is learned is bound to be bad habits. You’re always beginning again.” W.S. Merwin

We have this mistaken idea that bad habits are the result of some weakness, some character flaw. But our least helpful writing habits are more likely to result from things we’ve inadvertently learned. That means there’s this good news—once we’ve identified these learned behaviors for what they are, we can unlearn them.

Here, five habits we writers would do well to banish:

Comparing our progress with others: As writers, we’re each on our own journeys. None of us will move along exactly the same trajectory toward exactly the same end. So while it’s fine to be inspired by the success of other authors, it’s silly—and potentially demoralizing—to expect our successes to follow theirs. In truth, some of our most significant accomplishments happen on the page, in relation to our craft, and these may happen in ways that aren’t immediately acknowledged by anyone but ourselves.

Making excuses: You want to write, but you don’t have the time. Or you don’t know how to start. Or your kids keep interrupting. Writing doesn’t have to be your top priority, but should it really be your last? Alice Munro, one of the most brilliant authors of our era, wrote her early stories while her children were napping. Even if you can only write for ten minutes a day, that’s a start.

Getting in a rut: You keep at your work, but you sense it’s flatlining—characters languish, story lines run on and on, language sounds wooden. While persevering is admirable, it’s also helpful to do a reality check every now and then. If you’re in a rut, come at your project from another angle. Take a workshop. Get some coaching or editing advice. Study a craft book.

Sharing too soon: Agents and editors see this problem all the time—writers have a good concept, but it’s poorly executed. Or they have nice execution, but the concept’s not fully developed. In either case, the problem is the same—the work went out before it was ready. When you think you’re finished, wait. Days, weeks, even months. When you return to the project, you’ll see the flaws, and you’ll have new perspectives on how to correct them.

Losing touch with the joy: Beneath the hard work of what we do, there’s the joy of discovery, of creating beauty on the page, of engaging readers. If you find yourself losing touch with that joy, take a step back. Allow yourself to write something just for fun. It’s not the destination that matters so much as the journey.

For more on becoming the writer you hope to be, see Deb’s Write Your Best Book.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Successful Author: Proposing a Book

In a pursuit—and an industry—that can be incredibly inefficient, book proposals cut to the proverbial chase. They’re tidy and focused. They get straight to the point—with millions of books competing for a reader’s attention, is your project strong enough to stand out?  

In traditional publishing, book proposals are how you pitch your nonfiction projects to agents and editors. But parts of the proposal process can be incredibly helpful to authors of fiction as well, and they can also be helpful to authors who publish on their own.

A proposal forces you to think about how your book fits in the marketplace. You shouldn’t do this sort of thinking too early in your project—it can potentially stifle your best creative impulses. But at some point, the market will bring itself to bear on the success of your book. A proposal is a vehicle that allows you to successfully navigate the market.

Even if developed strictly for your own purposes, a proposal makes you see your book as readers will see it. It’s your game plan for wooing your readers, for courting them, for convincing them t how beautiful their lives would be if only they gave themselves over to you and your book.
If you’re writing to submit to an agent or editor, there are lots of resources to guide you through drafting the components of a convincing proposal. Here, I’ll focus the three aspects of a proposal that every writer would benefit from addressing. Much of this information comes from literary agent Jeff Kleinman, who’s one of the best in the business.

Positioning: In a book proposal, Kleinman suggests devoting one or two pages to showing how your book fits in the big world of publishing. Search for hugely successful books by authors whose credentials, marketing reach, and style/angle/worldview are similar to yours. When positioning your book, don’t concern yourself with the subject matter. Positioning is about the ways in which authors like you connect with their readers, regardless of topic. If you’re unknown, if you’re up and coming, seek out authors whose careers have been catapulted by breakout books and discuss (briefly) the ways in which you and your work are similar to them and their (incredibly successful) work.

Market: This section of the proposal (2-8 pages if you’re actually writing a proposal) is where you prove that you know the audience for your book—and you know how to reach them. You might think of this as the Research and Development (R & D) phase, not for the book itself but for the book as a project. Your goal is to prove that you're the best person to write this book, not so much from the standpoint of knowledge or craft but because you'll be its strongest advocate. Maybe you have a blog following, or you give lectures, or your cousin who writes for a Big Name Newspaper likes to consult you for articles that relate to the book you’re writing. This is not the place to be modest. If you have no connections, no platform, then think of your readership in terms of an author whose work is similar to yours. Hoping to reach readers who love Jane Bestseller’s books? Figure out who those readers are and how Jane reaches them, then lay out a marketing plan in which you’ll do the same.

Competing Works: Where will your book be shelved in a bookstore? On those shelves, which titles will be its closest competitors? You want to show how the book fits and, at the same time, how it stands out from the rest. Without disparaging another author or book, explain why a reader would buy your book instead of a similar title. Kleinman suggests completing this sentence: “My book is the first book that…”

For more on how to write and publish your book, check out Deb’s What Every Author Should Know and Write Your Best Book.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Promotion: Who’s Your Audience? (And How Do You Reach Them?)

Beginning in the 1990s, two essential questions became central in public school writing curricula. All over the country, young writers were asked to consider them with every piece of writing they generated:

What’s your purpose?

Who’s your audience?

These are fundamental questions for every writer—so fundamental that they tend to be overlooked by those of us who write professionally. Somehow, we think success should be more complicated. But ask any agent, editor, or publisher. Though they may use different language when they speak of these factors, they evaluate and market projects according to audience and purpose.

There are nuanced ways to answer the question of purpose, but there’s one overarching purpose that agents, editors, publishers, and readers seek—they want authors who write the best book they can possibly write. Yes, reading is a matter of taste, but within various categories of taste (we call them genres), readers recognize best books—those that stand out from the rest.

Writing your best book is so important that I’ve written a whole book about it. Claim it as your overriding purpose and you won’t go wrong.

Let’s consider the question of audience. You’re writing because there’s joy in the journey (no matter how crazy), because you love the discovery, because you celebrate language and story. But you’re also writing to be read, and that means you need an audience.

When pressed, many authors will say their audience is everyone. It might sound smart to claim the broadest possible audience—everyone will buy this book! But that’s not how it works. When agents, editors, and publishers evaluate a book, they think exactly like everyone else in retail industries that can only sustain themselves when they connect consumers with products. They think in terms of target markets.

So the question boils down to this: Who exactly are your potential readers, and how can you best reach them?

When you don’t take the time to address this two-pronged question and build strategies around the answers, you’re going to waste a lot of time and energy on all sorts of wrong-headed marketing. So grab a pen and paper—right now—and take a few minutes to identify your potential readers—your audience strands—and the best ways to reach them.

By way of example, here are the results of the most recent audience strand analysis I did for myself and my books. Note that in addition to identifying each strand, I also consider the ways to most readily reach these readers. Note, too, the benefits of looking at the strands in reverse. Certain outreach activities may be targeting strands you don’t intend to reach—readers who’ll never buy your books:

Friends and fans: The easiest audience to reach, these are also likely to be the strongest and most consistent advocates for your work. They’re loyal, they love you, they love your work—as long as you’ve achieved your purpose of writing your best books. You cultivate personal connections with this audience—some are already within your circles of friends and family, and the rest come into the broader circle of fans as a result of meeting you at events, workshops, and conferences. But let’s be honest here: it’s not just about meeting you; it’s about genuine relationships and respect. To reach this audience, get out and about, but make sure your interactions are ones that allow people to get to know you and your work in meaningful ways. Simply pitching your books and passing out swag to every reader you can nab at an event isn’t target marketing—it’s human spamming.

Emerging writers: I blog about writing because I teach writers, I coach writers, and I write books for writers. But there are lots and lots (read tens of thousands) of writers who blog about writing because they heard somewhere that they should blog and they guess (hope) that maybe their readers will want to know how they do what they do. Truth is, it’s only when you’ve got a large fan base that you’ll have a subset of readers who care about how what you do what you do. And even then, most of them won’t be looking for how to become writers, so they won’t be interested in generic how-to posts on developing characters or adding tension to a plot. If writers aren’t your target audience, don’t waste your time marketing your work to them.

Frugal readers: E-book discounting has grown this subset of readers into a gigantic industry. Many are voracious readers, often of genre fiction, who don’t like paying full price for books because they read so many. Among frugal readers are also people who live for getting deals on anything and everything—for them, half the fun of shopping is getting a great deal, whether or not they’ll ever use (read) their purchase. By reaching frugal readers through well-orchestrated promotions of your discounted titles, you stand to gain social proof in the form of (temporarily) elevated sales rankings with online vendors. Thus, outreach to frugal readers may help you get noticed, however briefly. It might even build friends and fans base—but only if you’ve written a stand-out book. Self-published writers in particular make the mistake of pouring all of their energies into reaching this audience strand, which is a fickle submarket at best.

Regional readers: Lots of us like to read about the places where we live and the places we visit. Far and away, my bestselling titles are with a publisher that markets very, very effectively to this market. To expand this readership even more, I stay active in regional events and use regional hashtags in some of my social media posts.

Like-minded readers: Considering both the content and style of your best work, how would you describe your ideal readers?  Mine are culturally and environmentally conscious. They’re concerned about what’s potentially lost if we don’t have the sense to preserve it, and conversely, they value the lessons we learn from history. They value love in all its complexities, compassion, joy, and nature. They embrace books that shine in terms of language, story, and concept. I connect with these readers primarily through organizations, associations, and publications that cater to these interests and encourage these sensibilities.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Sustainable Writer: What’s Your Return?

“It strikes me that in America we don’t much have a ‘sacred’ place or role for the isolate artist any longer. Everything has been sucked up into marketing and celebrity and the almighty commodity—so if you are a writer, you are meant to sell something. If it sells, it has worth. But in my heart of hearts I just want to sneak individual books into the pockets of sad people. Or stuff pews with them! Because writing gave me a place to go and be and grow when I wanted to give up. And I’d like to put my foot in the doorway so that others might find this place too.”

~ Lidia Yuknavitch, interviewed by editor Rhonda Hughes

Gig is Geoff Nunberg’s choice for Word of the Year for 2015. In his commentary on the word, he notes that our job-based economy is disintegrating into a series of gigs that represent not so much freedom as instability. Juggling gigs is a fact of life to those of us who make our living with the written word—those of us who, like Lidia Yuknavitch, long to sneak our work into the pockets of sad people. 

The gigs are relentless—demands made by an industry, by a culture, that can’t accommodate the sneak-to-pocket method of connecting writers and readers. They come courtesy of your agent, your publisher, your publicist, and your own oh-my-god-I’m-an-author-what-now research. Social media gigs. E-newsletter gigs. Website gigs. Book launch gigs. The demands of wish-and-star gigs that offer little of substance to sustain an author are among the reasons so many give up the pursuit of their craft.  

A radical alternative: Embrace the role of isolate artist, expectations be damned. This makes for short-term bliss, the kind you get from a stint at a retreat or a residency. Sadly, it’s not especially sustainable. If you want your work to be read, the gigs keep on coming. 

Another radical alternative: Take a cue from the business folks. You know, like your publisher, who annoys you to no end with concern about Return on Investment (ROI)—because your publisher is fearless about the fact without ROI, you can’t stay in business.

I know—we artists aren’t supposed to muck up our creative brains with business-y concepts like ROI. But if we don’t, gigs get way, way out of hand, and our writing life becomes unsustainable.
Evaluating ROI is quick, easy, and potentially life-changing for anyone who has (or wants) a career as a writer. Start by listing all of your gigs—those you’ve undertaken and those you’re contemplating. Social media, blogging, producing an e-newsletter, maintaining a website, engaging with other writers, that sort of thing. 

Then consider what each gig costs (or would cost) in terms of money, time, and (this one’s important) joy. Because if we don’t do this for joy, what’s left?

After estimating the costs of each gig—on paper, not just in your head—evaluate the return, in terms of the things that contribute to your own personal measures of success—money, joy, growth, prestige.
Your ROI analysis will yield surprises. We’re creatures of habit, so we keep at gigs even when the results aren’t that great—especially when we hear that you “have to _____” in order to succeed as a writer.

When you factor joy as well as time and money into your ROI analysis, you’ll make your own smart choices about each of your gigs. Activities that yield little return for the investment will be trimmed back, modified, or phased out. 

And don’t worry—you can evaluate ROI and still be an artist. A smart artist, whose gigs are more about freedom than instability. A sustainable artist.

For writers looking for a good Return on Investment, author Deb Vanasse is teaching Craft Intensive: Masterful Writing, an online workshop that begins January 25.