Book Baby Blog | How To Write, Self Publish, & Promote Your Book
Founded in 2011, BookBaby has grown to become the nation’s leading self-publishing company. Led by a crew of authors, poets, bloggers, and artists, BookBaby is dedicated to helping all writers publish successfully. How to self-publish your book, distribute your book, and promote your book. Professional writing tips from BookBaby.com to guide you through how to make a book.
If you’re writing a romance novel, don’t look for ideas in other romance novels. Look to thrillers, chaos theory, or the building of the Flavian amphitheater. If you’re struggling for inspiration, try looking in the unlikeliest places.
When writing the script for a coming-of-age film about Beverly Hills High School students set in the mid-’90s, Amy Heckerling didn’t look to other teen comedies for inspiration. Instead, she based her story on Jane Austen’s 1815 comedy of manners, Emma. This was a rather bold choice at the time. Most other teen-comedy writers were being inspired either by actual experiences or by other high school films (including Heckerling’s own Fast Times at Ridgemont High). But Heckerling’s instincts proved correct and Clueless went on to be a box office hit that would launch a TV series and 21 novels, fuel a plaid-skirt and knee-high sock fashion craze, and feature a gold-record-certified soundtrack.
The wrong lesson — the one Hollywood glommed on to for a while — was to create the “set X in high school” formula. (Most of those films were regrettable. One notable exception, however, was 2006’s Brick, in which first-time director Rian Johnson set Dashiell Hammett in high school, creating a unique film that made Johnson, who has since directed Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a star.)
So what’s the right lesson to learn from Amy Heckerling? It’s this: if you’re struggling for inspiration for your next book/movie/play/whatever, you should look for it in the unlikeliest places.
There was nothing about the modest joys of a story from Regency-era England that inherently suggested it would be ripe for updating to 1995 California. But Heckerling loved Austen’s character. She saw something at the heart of the story that she knew could freshen up the tired high-school comedy genre.
This brings to mind another success story based on an unlikely source. In the mid-50s, few would have thought that reimagining violent New York City street gangs as the Capulets and Montagues from Romeo and Juliet would be a suitable concept for a romantic Broadway musical, but that’s exactly what Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and Arthur Laurents set their minds to with West Side Story. Had it solely been about disaffected youth, juvenile delinquency, and racism, the play would have been way too heavy for a musical. But grounding it in the most beloved love story of all time created a palatable tale that also gave us some of the most bizarre and iconic visuals in history (gangs dance-fighting through the streets of Manhattan) and a love story with serious bite.
Looking, as I put it, in all the wrong places for ideas isn’t just for your big concept. It can also provide your story with rich details that readers/viewers can latch on to, and it can set your work above that of your peers.
Star Wars offers a great example of this. Originally, George Lucas wanted to remake the old Flash Gordon serials. Unable to secure the rights, he set about writing something new, but rather than grabbing ideas from existing sci-fi stories (John Carter of Mars, Buck Rogers, etc.) Lucas looked to the samurai movies of Akira Kurosawa. Those movies inspired the look of his villains, the weapons his elite warriors would use, the code they would operate by, their name (Jedi comes from Jidaigeki, the Japanese word for period drama, aka samurai films), and the character traits for his droids (modeled after the bickering peasants in The Hidden Fortress) and Han Solo (Yojimbo). But Star Wars is not merely samurais in space. Lucas also mined John Ford’s westerns, which inspired many of the scenes on Tatooine; Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which inspired Luke’s story arc; the fighter plane scenes from various World War II movies; along with other sources to create a rich universe that has generations of audiences coming back for more.
Science fiction, in general, seems to really benefit from oddball mashups: Willian Gibson’s Neuromancer gets a lot of its atmosphere from Jamaican dub music and Rastafarian culture; Philip K. Dick used the I Ching, not just as a plot and thematic device, but even to help him make plot decisions when writing The Man in the High Castle; Alien was inspired by horror films like Jaws and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the art of H. R. Geiger; and Frank Herbert’s Dune was as much inspired by Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Lesley Blanch’s biography of Imam Shamyl (The Sabres of Paradise) as it was Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Perhaps it’s because world-building is such a huge part of the science fiction genre, mining numerous influences can help a writer create details that will resonate on a subconscious level.
One of my secrets to writing children’s books is to draw from sources that would definitely be deemed inappropriate for kids. For example, some of the things that have inspired my Mr. Pants series include Seinfeld, Dawn of the Dead, If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler, What’s Up Tiger Lily?, The Wire, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, The Shining, bar tricks, and the Firesign Theatre. I tend to gravitate toward such inappropriate fare because I feel like it gives my children’s books an edge. I don’t want to write (or read) sweet stories. I want stories that feel slightly dangerous.
Of course, they’re still kid’s books. As I detailed in “Panic For Fun And Profit: Submission Deadlines And My Book Series,” I took the idea of being trapped in a mall with flesh-eating zombies and turned it into an airport-wide game of zombie tag. No child is going to know that Mr. Pants: Trick or Feet was inspired by the gore-fest that is Dawn of the Dead, but I like to think that movie’s DNA radiates through in my book.
I’m not saying you need to borrow anything from anyone. If you have an original story that owes its ideas to no one, more power to you. But if you’re looking for ideas for your romance novel, don’t look to other romance novels. Look to thrillers, chiptunes, car manuals, Kabbalah, Half-Life 3, chaos theory, aquaponics, jazzercise, and/or the building of the Flavian amphitheater. You never know what’s going to inspire you or how some extraneous detail might flesh out your subplot into the most memorable part of your story.
Don’t be afraid to borrow. Everyone borrows from everyone else. As much as George Lucas stole from Akira Kurosawa, Kurosawa stole from John Ford. Or, as screenwriter Dan O’Bannon said, “I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!” Steal. Then make it your own.
Open a book you love to a random page and read one isolated sentence. Can you hear the author’s voice? Does it evoke an emotion? Does it draw you in? Now open your own work. How does it fare?
There are so many things that go into writing an enjoyable book. Chief among them is the ability to make stellar word choices and form beautiful sentences.
Much has been written about sentences. Lists of favorite sentences abound, including the longest and shortest, with opening and closing lines getting special attention. But in a great book, every sentence carries its own weight. Each is a stepping stone on a wondrous path.
The overarching factor that contributes to good sentences is the writer’s voice. Great writing flows from voice. A strong voice means every word is well-considered. Logic flows. You’ll find no unnecessary extras and the content is interesting. While it’s hard to achieve, it’s easy to recognize when a book isn’t there yet.
The isolated sentence test
Try this on a book you really like. Open to a random page and read one sentence. Chances are it will stand well by itself. It certainly should.
You might not know all the details it describes, but you won’t be confused by it. It won’t be broken or have unclear antecedents. You will be able to make good sense of it grammatically. It won’t be fragmented, it won’t be rambling or tangential. It won’t look like a piece of fluff clinging to a new suit that someone neglected to pluck off. It will be the fabric of the suit, and if really special, perhaps an ornate button.
A quality sentence will describe concrete detail and actions. It will be relevant. You’ll immediately get your bearings and be able to proceed into the story. It will put an image in your mind or evoke an emotion. It will impart an essential fact or reveal more of the plot. At its best, it will make you stop and think or read it again and again to enjoy its beauty.
In a well-written work, you might get a feel for what the entire book is about from a single sentence. Sentence-testing is often the way we browse books in a bookstore, looking for something that draws us in. We know very quickly if we like the style and tone of the author.
Open the book again and repeat. Every sentence should sing.
What you are really doing is testing for the writer’s voice. It is set at the opening line and continues to the end. It works to make all sentences feel like they belong. Finding your voice will substantially improve all your sentences and how they flow.
You are also testing for polish. Do it as many time as you need to to prove how strong all the sentences in a well-crafted, fully-imagined book can be.
Now pick up your draft. How does it fare? Does it pass the isolated sentence test?
If yes, great! If not, you have places to fix.
Learning to write great sentences requires a range of skills. Are your selected sentences limp, plain, or lacking interesting words or thoughts? Do you have to skim other sentences to glean meaning?
Test a range of books, including your own. Test early drafts and the works-in-progress of others. This comparative effort can be a great way to intuitively gain an understanding of good sentence structure and form. When a sentence hits you right, consider its features. When it hits you wrong, look even more closely.
This reading habit, done enough, will give you the comparative basis to craft better and better sentences. In the end, each sentence should be a masterpiece on its own.
Here’s a quick case study of former Saturday Night Live writer Patricia Marx using book excerpts to promote her book. Why not use the same tactic in your book publicity?
In the second edition of The Frugal Book Promoter, I suggest that authors write articles and sell them (or give them away) to blogs and publications, print and online. It is an especially good way to get exposure for authors who are shy, don’t want to speak or do appearances, or think they’ll hate marketing but just love to write. So I was pleased to see an op-ed piece in the LA Times written by Patricia Marx, a former Saturday Night Live writer and a staff writer for The New Yorker using book excerpts for promotion.
The little credit at the end of her piece explains that it’s an essay excerpted from her 2015 book, Let’s Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties. Her Saturday Night Live voice is evident and leaves readers hungering for more. She adds a quiz on “how to be brainier” that works to engage the reader (and make them remember it longer!). The essay includes a nice byline and was originally illustrated with a brain-map of the worries we tend to have as our brain ages — in color no less. It all added up to being a huge attention getter!
This kind of marketing is pure genius because:
The piece is a marketing time-saver. Marx didn’t have to write anything she hadn’t already written. She probably only tweaked the excerpt a bit to suit space requirements. The sidebar may have been adapted from her book or she may have written it exclusively for the Times. In either case, it too could be recycled for more exposure.
She carefully slants the article to related topics that are in the news right now. Think: aging population and the fear of Alzheimer’s and dementia. These are topics news outlets from CNN to the Wall Street Journal are covering these days.
Her humorous voice immediately captures readers who then want to know more about her expertise and about her personally. Thus, a huge percentage of readers probably do what I did — read all the way through to that little bio/credit line to get that information. (It doesn’t include a link, but that is probably because a URL or link goes against the LA Times’s stylebook.) Never fear. You may not write humor, but I trust you have developed an appealing voice!
Marx can repeat this particular marketing approach with every paper in the nation. She has a whole book of chapters and subheads to choose from, so she could accommodate papers that require an exclusive.
If her credentials had not been quite so stellar, she might have done the same thing by submitting guest posts to blogs that may not be as hard to impress as the major newspapers. Stephanie Meyer of Twilight fame used blogs effectively to propel her young adult zombie series to best-seller status.
And, because this was op-ed for a major newspaper, Marx probably got paid (and pretty well, too). That money could be put toward a great marketing budget for her book.
You can do the same thing. Yes, you may have to adjust your technique or approach to fit your title, your writing style, and whatever happens to be news at the moment (or you can wait until a topic that complements your book becomes an in-the-moment subject — and I promise if you keep your marketing hat on, you’ll recognize something related to some aspect of your book when it comes up).
If you write fiction, you can use book excerpts, too. It will take more thought to find current events related in some way to your fiction, but it’s possible. You may be able to work a quotation from your book (even a longer excerpt) into your op-ed piece or article. Maybe a first-person essay about your writing process or path to becoming an author would work just as well.
Writing enough prose to fill a book is one thing, but weaving it all together into a story with a strong arc, purpose, and impact is another. Here are some lessons that might help you in your writing process — whether your own book is an “accident” or not.
That process includes thumb-typing chunks of text on my phone whenever and wherever I have a minute and an idea, and building my story piecemeal. One reader, Anonymole, commented that if writers create this way, they will need to step back at some point and consolidate their written fragments, no matter how inspired, into a cohesive and consistent story. I recently hit such a point, with roughly 64,000 words written.
Writing that much prose is one thing, but weaving it all together into a story with a strong arc, purpose, and impact is another entirely. Here are some lessons I’m learning along the way that might help you in your writing process — whether your own writing is an “accident” or not.
When I made the decision to pause my preliminary writing and start stitching the pieces together, I had a total of twelve files that I had emailed to myself from my phone as backup, each containing between 2,000 and 12,000 words. First, I copied and pasted everything into a single word processor document, in the best narrative order I could determine at the time. Having all of my prose in one place felt like an important milestone — my work seemed more like a cohesive novel-in-progress and less like a collection of fragments, scenes, and vignettes.
Edit at will
As with the initial drafting of my novel, I use what minutes I can find in between other activities to clarify the language, put pieces together, or review something I wrote months ago. Sometimes that means searching for a particular scene that’s been caught in my memory and reexamining how it fits into the overall story. Other times, it means scrolling randomly through the document and working on whatever paragraph my eyes and mouse fall on. I focus my time on what I can do right now to get myself closer to the finish line, knowing I’ll get to it all eventually.
Label and shuffle
With tens of thousands of words and dozens of narrative episodes, keeping track of everything can be a challenge. To help, I started labeling significant portions of my story with unsexy and utilitarian titles like, “Argument about green vs. black tea” and “Weird surveillance grocery store encounter.”
Will the chunks I’m currently defining end up as chapter partitions in the final novel? Probably not. But for now, functional titles help me know, quickly and efficiently, what the landscape of my work-in-progress looks like.
Having well-labeled portions of text also helps me put things in the best order for my narrative. Does a certain scene play better in the second third of the book? Does a character’s backstory suddenly become more resonant when presented after a traumatic incident involving an ex-lover? Cut-and-paste is a wonderful thing, and I use it to experiment with all sorts of structures and event orders.
After significant editing sessions, I save a new version of my document with a title like “Draft_v2.0,” Draft _v2.1,” and so on. This way, I can always go back and see previous manifestations of my ideas, as well as what I originally wrote on my phone. Having copious backups makes me more comfortable experimenting — I always know I can revert to a previous version if a creative risk I take doesn’t work in the end.
Fill in the gaps
If I discover that additional text is needed to make the story flow (and this has been happening quite often), it’s always fun to return to writing mode. Either on the spot with my laptop or on my phone the next time I have a free minute, I add the words, sentences, or paragraphs the story needs to smoothly flow and then go right back to editing mode.
Be patient and stay focused
It can be overwhelming to look at a 60,000-plus-word document, completely unedited, and realize it’s up to you alone to get it all in order. I try to stay micro-focused as I work, polishing only whatever sections are in front of my eyes at the moment and losing myself in the task at hand. Just as the crafting of the original text happened gradually and organically, so too will the acts of compiling, editing, and revising.
Keep the big picture in mind
At this point, I know where my characters begin, the struggles and triumphs they go through, and where they will end up physically, circumstantially, and emotionally when the story concludes. I keep this whole arc in mind as I’m editing, compiling, and reordering. In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, the big picture influences everything from word choice to plot adjustments and acts like glue, helping to stick the entire story together as a cohesive narrative.
Do you have any tips for turning inspired chunks of text into a cohesive narrative? Tell us in the comments below.
Bad players in our industry prey upon unsuspecting independent authors by disguising themselves as traditional publishing houses and using deceptive marketing tactics. Here are four ways to identify self-publishing scams.
Looking for a service to help you self-publish your book can be tough. I’m happy to report that BookBaby is just one of a number of reputable self-publishing companies in the industry. But there are also a few bad players that are only interested in one thing: scamming you out of your money.
Take, for example, the “Hollywood” package offered by one of these less-than-reputable companies. They promised to send authors’ books to prominent Hollywood agents upon publication with the idea that those books would then get optioned for movies. But of the 300 books sent in by self-published authors — who paid over $11,500 each for the privilege — two got optioned. Meanwhile, this company took in $3.5 million. This is just one example of the unscrupulous tactics being used against indie authors.
Companies like this prey upon unsuspecting independent authors by disguising themselves as traditional publishing houses and using deceptive marketing tactics. They hound and harass authors with high-pressure sales tactics. They take advantage of new authors’ naïveté, peddle false promises, sometimes even swindling them into signing away the rights to their manuscripts. Then, they leave the author with a fat bill.
As an independent author, you need to be aware that companies like this exist. Sometimes they can be hard to spot, but there are tell-tale signs you can look for to help identify them.
#1 They manage several different imprints offering the same services
If after reading this you were to do a quick Google search of “Publish my book,” you would likely see a handful of sites pop up that look the same and offer the same things. These sites could be imprints of the same company.
These companies do this to fool you. The thinking is that if you pass on a package offered by one brand, you might purchase a similar package from one of its other imprints.
But that’s just where the scamming starts. After one of their multiple self-publishing websites obtains your contact information, they will call you and harass you with intense, high-pressure sales techniques. Even if you tell them, “I’m not interested,” they will simply hand your name off to the next imprint, and one of their reps will call.
They want to make you believe you’re dealing with somebody brand new each time, but they all share the same resources, the same people, and the same goal: getting your money.
#2 They make big sales guarantees
Another hallmark of scamming companies is that they make promises they can’t keep. For example, these companies will often promise that if you pay for their expensive promotional packages, they will make your book a New York Times or Amazon best seller.
Reliable self-publishing service companies help you put out the best book possible. They don’t make sales guarantees or promises related to popularity because it’s impossible to guarantee success, and the scammers know it.
#3 They make outlandish discount offers
Similar to making promises they can’t keep, scamming companies often make offers that sound too good to be true. That’s because they usually are.
If you come across a company offering you 50–75% discounts on their package of services, as opposed to a more reasonable 10–15%, you can be confident they are after your money. That discounted rate is still expensive when you don’t get anything meaningful in return.
Here’s another tactic to watch out for: Some companies will host faux writing or book contests for big cash prizes or the chance of a lucrative publishing contract. These contests are usually a front for piracy or for trying to get their marketing hooks into you. Don’t buy into them.
#4 They offer packages that are not customizable
When you go to buy a car and the salesperson on the other side of the empty-coffee-cup-and-sandwich-colored desk is offering you things like a rust-proof undercoat or steering wheel polish, you can be certain he or she is simply trying to squeeze more money out of you.
Self-publishing scams try to do the same thing. They’ll pack on extra fees for things that sound fantastic but that you don’t really need.
A package of services can be great, but reliable companies allow you to pick and choose if you want. At BookBaby, if you just want help with cover design, we’ll offer that alone. If you just want to publish eBooks, we’ll set you up to do that.
Scammers, on the other hand, actively try to tie you up in a confusing tangle of commitments and extras that are usually unhelpful. It’s a sign they’re not looking out for your best interests.
It might seem like a daunting reality, that the waters of the self-publishing world are riddled with sharks. But there are plenty of ways to avoid a bite.
Associations like The Alliance of Independent Authors rate, review, and compare self-publishing companies to help authors identify which are scams and which are reliable. There are also reputable firms like Trustpilot that review companies and allow independent authors to do the same based on their experience.
At the end of the day, you have to be aware of scammers and learn how to avoid them. Like everything else, it’s buyer beware, so do research on any company you’re considering before signing any sort of contract.
Make sure your self-publishing service provider guarantees every one of its products and services — and puts it in writing. At BookBaby, we work with far too many authors who come to us after negative experiences with self-publishing scams. Don’t let yourself be another cautionary tale.
Humans are highly visual creatures, and this holds true when we are reading. We don’t see the images in the book, we form them in our minds. Pack in brilliant verbal imagery and your readers will enjoy and remember your book.
Drawing powerful verbal imagery is a skill that defines natural-born writers, but it can also be learned. Here are five things to think about with respect to using the power of the pen to draw images.
1. Be aware of visual imagery
The first step is heightening your awareness of verbal imagery and how it works. When you read a new book, or write, take note.
We think of words as words – black ink on a white page. But they are more: they paint colorful pictures from the action, people, and settings of a story world. Check it out for yourself. Take a paragraph from any book you are reading and do an image “density test.” Count all the images that form in your mind as you read along. Is it a large and diverse number?
It depends on what you are reading, but in many books, it’ll be each sentence, or even each phrase — e.g. “Silent, he nodded and looked out the window at the windmill by the still lake.” That sentence evokes four images – a man nodding, a window, a windmill, and a lake scene.
Here’s the opening sentence of Ransom Riggs’ Library of Souls:
The monster stood not a tongue’s length away, eyes fixed on our throats, shriveled brain crowded with fantasies of murder.
How many images do you get from that? Almost every word is a new one. How does the image density of your writing compare?
2. Actively write in images
Many authors say they see events unfold in their own minds and then they write them down. This is a great way to get visual writing. You can heighten this by purposefully engineering memorable images into your work.
Whether or not you remember the details of any of the Godzilla movies, you know what Godzilla looks like. What’s the single most memorable image from the Jurassic Park movie franchise? Is it the T. Rex sniffing out the kids in the car?
Often, it’s a useful technique to render an abstract idea into symbolic imagery to give it punch or make it easily understood and memorable. The scar on Harry Potter’s forehead is a brilliant example. It represents his past, his link with Voldemort, and his fate. Harry just has to show it or touch it in pain for readers to know something big is about to happen.
3. Keep the quality of your visual imagery in mind when you edit
If you can’t form an image about what is being described, likelihood is you probably don’t know exactly what is going on. So how would a reader know?
Have you ever tried editing expressly for visual content? Doing so can bring surprising rewards. You might find new ways to express abstract ideas. You might clean up some fluffy or confusing text. You might be inspired to add creative details.
If you read a phrase or sentence and fail to clock an image, you might find that it wasn’t fully imagined. Editing to improve visual interest is often about making abstract things more concrete. This is ubiquitously thought of as a good thing in terms of writing advice. Why say “his car got keyed,” when you can say “his usually pristine black Porsche 911 had an ugly, uneven scar that stretched from the driver’s side mirror to the tail light.” The second one is not only a stronger image, you wince harder. Why say “I fell in love” when you can give a few examples of blushing, tripping because you’re distracted, and sitting with your head in your hands daydreaming and get your “show don’t tell” out of the way too?
Great writing is about giving a reader enough detail to let them see the world you are presenting – without overdoing it. At best, they need some wiggle room to see your story world as they want to.
4. Understand why key types of information work better as a picture
Some things just work better visually. This is because they depend on having all the knowledge at once, on some form of complex structure in space or time, or the linkages between entities. Such information clusters are hard to render in words – no matter how many you use or how artfully you arrange them on the page.
Think about a map or a family tree. These are common images printed in books – words just can’t do them justice – or fit into equal space. If you do need to describe difficult images, it’s about getting out the most important information first – the structure and the types of connection. Then come the relevant details, which a reader can now map onto a visual framework they are holding in their head.
On a map, it’s about how features are related to each other in space that matters. A mountain pass leads to a valley with a river that flows to the sea upon which sits City A, and between that and City B lies a desert. Same with dynastic or familial relationships, and the whys and wheres different characters appear in the timeline can be critical to your story.
5. Use imagery to your best advantage
We all know the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The trick of images is that they present all their information simultaneously. You might want to linger over The Mona Lisa to take in her finer details and soak in the mood, but it’s all there as you lay eyes on her.
Now imagine the many words it would take to describe The Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile to give detail equivalent to seeing her in person. It’s likely not possible, no matter how meticulously you picked your words, how artfully you ordered them, or how many you allowed yourself.
So, flip this and use the power of visual imagery to your advantage. Humans have a huge range of cultural images. Save 1,000 words every time you use an apt image. Think of a man who builds his wife somewhere to live. If you say, “he built her a Taj Mahal,” you have an image that cost only two words and you’ll know loads about their lifestyle and tastes: opulent and privileged and over the top. It’s 1,000 words of worth for only two – using an image. “She smiled as enigmatically as the Mona Lisa.”
Purposefully pack your writing with attention-grabbing visuals and your writing will be memorable. There won’t be any incomplete ideas or passages full of filler. It will be more fully realized and accessible to the reader.
Before you publish your book, figure out what you want being a published author to mean to you. Then build your author platform with your post-published future in mind.
There’s a monthly writer’s club in my area called the Liar’s Club, probably because it was started by fiction writers. It is quite a large group featuring writers from all genres, many of whom are published, just like me. Some are self-published, others are traditionally published, and some have done both — because there are a lot of good reasons to self-publish.
Two important reasons self-publishing is valuable are 1) being an author of a book can help open doors; and 2) it allows you to create a platform for yourself, a springboard to launch your career, whether it be for writing assignments, being seen and sought as an expert on a topic, or a variety of other things.
Who do you want to be?
Being able to say you’re a published author is a big deal, but before you publish your book, you need to explore what you want being a “published author” to mean. What I mean is, if you are looking to launch a career — whether it’s writing or something else — by self-publishing a book, you have an opportunity to “create yourself” through your book’s content, your platform, and your bio.
If you are self-publishing, you’ll probably be doing all the marketing, which means you get to create your own image. This can start in the pre-launch phase of publishing your book. So the question is, “Who do you want to be?”
Your author bio gives you a platform and you get to decide what your extended author’s platform will be. By extended I mean that, aside from your book, what are you promoting about yourself? It could be beliefs about management or life, personal philosophies, business knowledge, or even the direction you want your career to go.
The book I wrote is a memoir about the practice of spiritual journaling and how it helped me during an uncertain transition from corporate America into a solo massage practice. As I was writing the book, I was also meditating with a sangha (Buddhist community) and being asked to lead the group in the founder’s absence. That gave me the confidence to search for and become an instructor of meditation with another organization. At the same time, I began teaching spiritual journaling.
As a result, I decided my platform would be that I am a teacher of holistic practices and meditation, including spiritual journaling and channeling creativity that comes from gratitude. “Teacher” is a broad enough term to include writing as well as speaking, so that’s also part of my platform.
Not sure what your platform would be? Ask yourself, “What is my area of expertise?” For example, if you write historical fiction and have expertise in wars of the twentieth century, maybe you want to make that proclamation. If you are an author of a cookbook and a registered dietitian with a knack for making quick, healthy meals and can help working moms who want to change their family’s eating habits, make that your platform.
Before my book launched, I was already teaching holistic practices that have helped me to lead a simpler life. Now I’m doing even more of it. It’s because I set it up that way. Currently, I teach classes to students who are in front of me, and soon I will offer an online course as independent study. This happened because I knew that to create these types of opportunities, I had to put myself “out there.”
In the world of self-publishing, this means I need to take advantage of promotions that get my book into reader’s hands. For me, this meant some post-launch spending that got me read and rated (repeatedly at five out of five stars), and even one request to be interviewed for a magazine. Because I knew what I wanted my platform to be, I was comfortable asking the interviewer how she got into freelance writing, which led to a recommendation to her senior editor. As a result, I now write articles, squarely in my wheelhouse, for an international magazine, specifically in the columns of “Body, Mind and Soul,” “A Writer’s Life,” and “Poetry.”
In terms of post-launch spending, I paid for a short subscription to NetGalley through Smith Publicity. I also purchased three reviews through Reader’s Write, so I could have language and a reviewer’s name to include on book cards, a marketing tool used by traditional publishing houses, which I co-designed through a local FastSigns agency.
All of this has augmented my author platform because I have professionally-created materials and reviews that showcase my work. This has led to my speaking at writer’s clubs, women’s groups, and even a book panel at the Pyramid Club in Philadelphia, sometimes receiving stipends and always getting to showcase my book.
My latest expenditure, supported by the monthly royalties I have received from my book sales, is paying for an advertisement in a magazine geared towards creatives. I’m so excited because I know I’ll reach the right people and that my book will be read (one of the greatest gifts to an author) and will help people.
What’s so terrific about this is that it’s putting me in contact with the people who enjoy spiritual self-help books. This is my genre. This is where I need to be! Helping people find their inner spirit wisdom where simplicity and creativity lives. But this is me — where you need to be is with your own people, on your own platform!
If not, you’ll be trying to push your book to followers on your personal social media accounts. That’s not where your readers are, unless you pick your friends by the books they read. You’ll still be sympathetic when you hear the published author on the panel at your local writer’s club say, “My dad doesn’t like my books.” But you’ll also rally with her as she explains she has a very targeted audience and a platform because she did leg the work. She focused on herself and what she was offering and her audience found her!
For business leaders, writers, and everyone in between, allowing yourself to be human, and vulnerable, goes a long way toward establishing trust. That doesn’t make it easy.
You’ve been a business professional for quite a while now and have learned a lot in your time as a leader in various organizations. Your years of experience and education and your expertise and innovative ideas are what other impassioned leaders need to attain the success you’ve achieved. But do the people you serve know who you really are? They know you are a leader, but do they realize you’re human and no different from them when the veil is pulled back? Have you ever considered that the only way to establish a genuine connection with others is to be vulnerable?
As a nonfiction book coach, I speak from experience. It wasn’t until I got real about my true self and who I really am that I began to attract a sustained influx of clients. Because I chose to be vulnerable, it encourages my clients to do the same and it’s one reason they want to work with me. It isn’t easy, but I propose it could be necessary to the success of your business — and your book.
As Brené Brown teaches in her TEDx talk, “The Power Of Vulnerability,” the gateway to intimacy is via being vulnerable about your imperfections. If you try to sugar coat your story, you miss out on the sense of connection with another human being that you can only attain when you’re letting someone see your warts and your big ugly tail. Every time you expose those imperfections — even because of those imperfections — you gain trust (or as Brown calls it, you “put marbles in the jar”). Over time, the intimacy you feel with other people depends on how many marbles are in your jar.
What business leader doesn’t want to establish trust amongst her staff and the customers her business serves? When trust is established with your subordinates and counterparts, success in all of your departments is guaranteed. People want to work with and for someone they trust and can relate to. The beauty of vulnerability is its ability to establish a connection with people from all different walks of life. People can connect with someone who knows how to get real.
David K. Williams, author of The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning: Tying Soft Traits to Hard Results, describes vulnerability in business in this Forbes magazine article: “Vulnerability is a natural condition of the work that we do — it isn’t a choice but a consequence. To declare oneself ‘not vulnerable’ would be inauthentic and would leave a leader living in a perpetual state of denial and stress. So it’s better and more courageous for every leader to acknowledge the fact that vulnerability is there.”
As a business leader, you don’t need added stress to your life. Let go of your pride and expose your vulnerability.
Showcase your vulnerability through writing
You know deep down that you are a true leader. Writing a book not only helps to establish yourself as an expert, but it’s another way to expose your vulnerable side. Business leaders write books for a number of reasons:
They have something to share that will benefit others.
They want to leave a legacy that will impact the future.
They see others struggle and have learned how to overcome obstacles.
They want to showcase their businesses and their paths to success.
They want to expose themselves as “real people” to their audiences.
Here is what author/business leader/entrepreneur David. J.P. Fisher had to say after writing Networking in the 21st Century: Why Your Network Sucks and What to Do About It: “Writing the first book was definitely a big hurdle, but I found that it was like running a marathon. Once you do one, you look back and want to do it again. I’ve published three shorter books in the ten months after publishing my first book, and there are more on the way. It’s definitely helped build my professional credibility and stature as an expert in my field.”
What do you have to lose? When will there ever be a better moment than now? It’s time to build your personal brand and establish yourself as an expert and show people who you really are.
Your discovery is the solution someone else needs
We have so many problems in our world, and the top-down approaches don’t always work. I believe the answers are trapped inside of people like you. Whether your discovery is about a new business process that can save time and money, a memoir about overcoming pain and suffering, or reflections on how to connect on a soul-level with your dog, if you are passionate about a solution, someone else needs it. People don’t buy books, they buy solutions. Someone is looking for what’s trapped inside you.
Do you have an idea for a book, but don’t know how to get started? Is your idea a passion that continues to grow? Could your discovery change the way we do things? Is it something that’s been percolating for some time, and it’s time to release it? You do not have to be a professional writer to publish a powerful book. You just need an idea and the commitment to see the process through. Someone needs your discovery.
Discoveries need to be shared
When you look at a clock, do you ever wonder how we learned to quantify time and who built the first clock? Or what about that glass of milk, wine, or beer many of us consume on a regular basis without an afterthought. You know the term pasteurization, but have you ever thought about who created that process to make these beverages safe for us to drink?
Like you, I take these modern day conveniences for granted and expect them to be available when I need them. I am forever grateful that Louis Pasteur not only discovered his heat-treatment process that destroys pathogenic microorganisms in certain foods, but that he took the time to share it with the rest of us! And we can’t forget Chinese monk and mathematician I-Hsing for creating the first mechanical clock. What if these scientists — and countless others — decided to keep their discoveries to themselves? Talk about being selfish.
What discoveries have you made that you’ve yet to share with the world?
You’ve finished writing your book! Well, hold on tight because you’re on a wild roller coaster, and while that ride takes you to remarkable highs, it plummets to lows you never imagined. Welcome to the emotional stages of publishing a book.
You’ve edited your book so many times you can recite it by heart. You’re almost sick of it, but not really, because what’s coming next is what you’ve dreamed of for months, even years. Publication!
Self-publishing, hybrid publishing, traditional publishing… it doesn’t matter which. They all excite writers. You’ve weathered all that research, writing, rewriting, rewriting again, editing, and more editing. This book is a miracle, a pinnacle! You’re beside yourself with joy!
Well, honey, hold on tight because the ride isn’t over. You’ve just paid your ticket for the emotional roller coaster of your life, and while that ride takes you to remarkable highs, it likewise plummets to lows you never imagined.
Prepare yourself. Here it comes. Step in and belt up.
Stage One: Excitement
You cannot believe you finally finished writing a book. You cannot wait to see that cover on Amazon, and the dream has your adrenaline pumping and heart aflutter. And your name listed as an author? Wow. It took an incredible amount of work to reach this point, and you couldn’t be prouder. Of course, you are. It takes remarkable focus and dedication to write a book. Your beta readers, maybe the editor you hired, all think the story is remarkable. Hugs all around.
Stage Two: Trepidation
Which way do you publish? What if you make the wrong choice? Gracious, you never realized a book needed formatting so how the heck are you supposed to know how to do it? Or tell if someone else did it right — or wrong? There are so many decisions, from eBook to paperback, book size, cover graphics, even paper color. You’d consider querying agents, but you hear they barely read one percent of the queries they receive. That doesn’t even count the odds of landing a traditional press. And how does this hybrid combination of the two work?
Dang it. You didn’t bank on this when that story took root in your head, and you can’t sleep for fear of making a wrong move. So much for all that earlier excitement. You’re now paralyzed with fear and afraid to take the first step into publishing.
Stage Three: Frustration
You finally stepped into the fray, and you’re so sick of this book! How many more times do you have to reread and restudy the darn thing? How many books, blogs, videos, and podcasts are there, and how many should you listen to about doing it right? If you had the money, you’d pay someone to just take it off your hands and email you when it’s done. You just want someone to tell you where to go to sign books, for goodness sake. Honestly, people ought to be making a killing doing this sort of thing. You’d almost mortgage your house to dump it on someone who actually likes doing this stuff.
Stage Four: Exhilaration
Well, you trudged through the muck and managed to get the book published. Isn’t that baby in your hands the most wonderful thing you ever saw? Like holding a newborn for the first time, only you have to admit your book just might be prettier than ninety percent of the infants you’ve held. All those ideas, late night writing, editing. The cursing, the tears, the self-pats on the back when a sentence came together just so. What started as a simple concept has come to fruition, with your name on the cover.
Who said you couldn’t write a book? Take that, naysayers. Proof positive right here in these boxes . . . and on Amazon for the world to see. Can’t wipe the stupid smile off your face, huh?
And down comes the roller coaster.
Stage Five: What the heck do you do with your book now?
So, being on Amazon doesn’t mean the book sells. Crap. Now what? Scouting around online, searching for answers, you learn words like platform, branding, niche, and marketing. How do the books get into bookstores? Who’d have thought that part was tricky? Books – bookstores – duh!
Or maybe you already researched those words and did your homework, but now that you’re physically having to ask for reviews, maintain social media, scout for appearances, and coax libraries, bookstores, and book clubs to consider you, it’s not what you expected. It’s hard!
This is not what you signed up for. You’re a writer, not a salesperson. Back comes the anxiety. Back comes the frustration. And there isn’t one place with all the answers.
Hey, it’s okay. There isn’t one way to sell a book. No two authors follow the same path of book promotion and sales. Take some time, there’s no rush, and study what other authors have done. You don’t have to do it all. Instead, select the methods and avenues that suit your personality, genre, and pocketbook.
Of course, do the basics, like have a solid website designed and participate in at least two social media platforms. Make sure your free Amazon Author Central page is populated thoroughly. After that, it’s whatever you want to do.
Do you love to speak? Then join speakers’ bureaus and knock it out of the park.
Do you love schools? There’s no end to those in terms of libraries, PTAs, presentations, and even grant residencies to get paid to teach (and include book sales).
Want to focus on libraries? Each state has a list. Start making the rounds.
Love the sensory fun of fairs, markets, exhibitions, expositions, and shows? Create signage and a display and contact counties, states, and conference centers, asking for the schedules.
Too shy to stand in front of people? Then pitch blogs and ask to be a guest online.
Housebound? There’s Skype, but don’t rule out podcasts. They’re hot now, and what a way to establish a fresh brand.
Don’t become an emotional wreck over publishing because you aren’t sure how to pull it off. While the world is rife with how-to material, the over-abundance can drive you nuts. Instead, think of your likes, what makes you happy, and design a promotional journey that suits you, appeases you, maybe even makes you enjoy the process well enough to write another book!
That’s how you turn this emotional roller coaster into one smooth ride. By being true to yourself and finding the path that makes you happiest.
C. Hope Clark’s newest release is Newberry Sin, the fourth in the Carolina Slade Mysteries, set in an idyllic small Southern town where blackmail and sex are hush-hush until they become murder.
Visualizing how your words will present on the page as you write your book can make you aware of what you need to create the piece you’re envisioning and devise strategies to get there.
At the start of my first real job out of college — working as an assistant editor at a music magazine in California — my editor-in-chief told me something that has stuck with me throughout my career. When he interviewed artists for cover stories or researched trends and topics for coverage, from the very beginning of each process, he would constantly visualize how his final words would look, printed on the page, in finished article form.
I was skeptical. How could he know, only minutes into an interview or hours into information gathering, what words he would end up writing? How could he have any idea how the design and layout of the piece would manifest?
As time passed, I began to understand.
I became the go-to feature writer for the magazine, regularly boarding planes to conduct interview after interview. Without even realizing I was doing it, I found myself starting to picture the final article on the magazine page, just as my editor had said. And once I had several dozen interviews for the magazine written and edited, filed and printed, I started to see why visualizing the final, finished work can be such a valuable exercise.
Imagine the future, write in the present
Of course, a writer can’t predict exactly what a finished work will consist of at the very beginning of the creative process, or what a designer will ultimately choose for layout. But imagining and visualizing your own finished product as you go can help you see the beginning, middle, and end of the writing process — and not just a snapshot of what you’re experiencing at the moment. Many writers, me included, will argue that writing done right is a process of discovery. Visualizing your final printed or published page periodically as you go can provide a floodlight to help illuminate that search.
In those early editorial days, I began to internalize what sorts of quotes I would like to use in each section of my articles, what flavors of information would make compelling introductions and strong conclusions, what types of questions I would need to ask mid-interview in order to guide my interviewee in fruitful directions. All of this was in service of making the imagined finished pages, floating behind my eyes, become real.
In no way did I feel that I was writing by formula. Rather, visualizing as I went simply helped me become aware of what I needed to create the piece I wanted to write and devise strategies, as needed, to get me there.
Currently, I write for a diverse group of clients and publications. The better I know them and the longer we’ve worked together, the more I am able to visualize my final piece printed or published. When I’m researching an article on cutting-edge malaria detection techniques for SPAN Magazine in India, I see the sort of spread their designers favor and how the paragraphs flow from introduction to body to conclusion. When an assignment comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, I picture their inspiring website and magazine in layout and proceed accordingly.
This sort of visualization has helped me write countless articles. I recently discovered that the same principle can help with book writing as well.
Picture the book
Browsing at my favorite bookstore in New York City on a recent Sunday, I flipped through a few of the staff’s recommended titles and imagined what it would feel like to see a novel of my own on those shelves. The novel-in-progress I wrote about in “The Accidental Novelist — How Stolen Moments Can Make A Book” is now up to 63,000 words and I’m excited to be entering what I hope is the final stage of drafting — so such a dream feels closer to potential reality that it ever has before.
Skimming through the recommended novels, I thought about my own work-in-progress in different ways. Moments in my story came to light where I could tighten language or better lubricate major plot transitions. Staring at the text of these already-published works made me visualize my own words in a similar context and identify some key changes that would need to happen in order for me to maximize my chances of getting there.
As you write, I encourage you to regularly take time and picture what your final product could look like, how the words might meld with the page, even the font and texture and flow of layout. Doing so inspired me in unexpected ways and, as with my article writing, gave me a powerful floodlight with which to illuminate dark patches during my search. I hope it will do the same for you.