At Books & Such, we help authors to build careers. From the smallest detail of the next book idea, to the big picture of the writer’s lifelong dreams, we work strategically to help each author reach his or her writing and publishing goals.
I was looking back at some old December blog posts for inspiration, and came across one about favorite Christmas ornaments. I previously posted about this ornament from Yellowstone National Park. Back in 2011, my husband and I took a vacation to Yellowstone, a favorite place of mine and now his. That’s when we got this ornament. We were determined to take our kids to Yellowstone–and this year we did! It was a dream trip and we had so much fun. This ornament is on our tree now and this year it holds meaning for the entire family.
Our kids loved the trip to Yellowstone and I do hope we will continue to go back there through the years.
My parents instilled a love of adventure and nature in me and my kids totally take after me. I am so glad we got to enjoy this trip together–and my parents were there, too! It was amazing.
Do you have any ornaments from favorite vacations? What souvenir, if any, do you collect on trips? Have any of your ornaments gained new meaning as the years pass?
Here are a few pictures taken in Yellowstone. One is from 1991, one from 2011, and the last two from 2018. I have been to Yellowstone two other times. Once with my sisters, too! Those pictures are buried somewhere in my parents’ house.
Have you been washing your hands like a writer? Like a food service worker? Like a doctor?
During our weekly agent meeting online, the Books & Such agents have been reading and discussing Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant. They’ve been lively discussions as we’ve examined his theories, his excellence in storytelling, and how his observations can apply to the world of publishing–to publishers, editors, marketing people, content creators.
One of Adam Grant’s stories (no relation to Janet Grant) lingered with us weeks after the book discussion on that chapter.
He and frequent co-author David A. Hoffman observed that although diseases are often spread in hospitals and clinics because health care providers fail to wash their hands, signage reminding health care workers to wash their hands is not a strong enough motivator. And the reason may surprise you.
WASH YOUR HANDS BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK
By nature, health care workers volunteer to risk their own well-being and safety for the needs of others. They’re constantly putting themselves in harm’s way. They lose sleep for their patients, risk infection, pour themselves out for other people’s health needs. So a sign reminding them “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases” was far less effective than one that tapped into their empathy and compassion: “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.”
Only one word was changed in each sign: from you to patients. That’s a concept with which the caregivers could identify. Research reflected a significant uptick in thorough and frequent hand-washing when the emphasis was on the consequence to patients.
WASH YOUR HANDS LIKE A WRITER
Where’s the connection to us? Other than removing the evidence of deadline-week M&Ms or Cheetos, what does the writing world and hand-washing have in common?
You may have heard the phrase, “Good enough for who it’s for.” In addition to its rebellion against the principle of not ending a sentence with a preposition, the phrase always irks me, as it may you. It insinuates it’s okay to do the bare minimum, just enough to get by. It supports a quality of work that’s barely sufficient because the person on the receiving end doesn’t really know or care. Or worse–the worker doesn’t care enough about the recipient to do excellent work.
It’s sometimes the equivalent of phoning it in. Idiom dictionaries describe that phrase as doing something with low effort or enthusiasm.
Wise writers can’t afford to phone it in.
Even if the writer is personally satisfied with a “good enough” attitude, it’s not the writer’s risk that matters. Editors, agents, and readers are at risk of catching the fallout of insufficient effort.
WRITE LIKE YOU CARE
How does phoning it in (insufficient hand-washing) show up in a writer’s life?
Queries that say nothing about the book but provide a link to the author’s website so the agent or editor can go searching for themselves if they want to. (They don’t.)
Refer to a social media presence without actual numbers. (Do the work. Show you respect the agent’s or editor’s time.)
Determine to write the story as it originally came to them in a dream rather than spending time honing and polishing the dream.
Stubbornly refuse agent or editor counsel about writing for the reader.
Cheat on research.
Consider deadlines as suggestions.
Independently publish prematurely, before the project has matured, been professionally edited, and the author understands both the publishing process and readers. As Robin Lee Hatcher says, “Don’t put your mistakes into print.”
Fail to consider that poor sales of your book, or an awkward relationship with your publishing house, or your ho-hum attitude about your role in cooperative marketing efforts may affect someone else’s job. Some authors are only conscious of how a book’s success affects them personally. But editors’ positions within their publishing house may be on the line.
WRITE WITH EXCELLENCE
Excellence always. Because we care about others. Out of consideration for others. Because if we ignore the hand-washing sign, we’re not the only ones affected. Knowing that what we write will lose its ability to inspire, influence, and impact others if concern for others is not our strongest motivation.
(Note the difference between perfectionism–which can paralyze an author–and excellence.)
What are your thoughts? What motivates you to consistently make the choices that benefit the “health” of others through your writing?
With 2019 fast approaching, I imagine I’m not the only one reviewing the last year and setting some new goals. I’ve been thinking a lot about goal-setting and reading different sources on the psychology of it. I want to share some insights that have changed the way I do things. These thoughts have helped me reach more goals, and more importantly, find more satisfaction in the pursuit of the goals as well as the fulfillment of them.
1. Bigger isn’t necessarily better.
I don’t know about you, but I get weary of the rhetoric out there, always screaming at us to choose “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” and to “Shoot for the moon because if you miss, at least you’ll land among the stars.” Yeah, I get it. We need goals worthy of us. We need big goals to inspire us to work hard toward them.
But I’ve come to believe that most of us are already great at setting big goals. We just don’t know how to be realistic about them. We are all familiar with setting big goals and the disappointment of not reaching them, or giving up after a short time. The best way to ensure you’ll give up quickly is to set an overwhelming goal.
So I want to suggest that you look at whatever goals you’re planning, and ask yourself whether you can scale them back. I guarantee it won’t make you work less hard. In fact, if you can realistically see yourself reaching a goal, you’ll work all the harder toward it. And if you beat your goal, or reach it much sooner than expected… you can just set another goal!
2. Everything is an experiment.
I went into 2018 with this as my mantra. The idea of everything being an experiment helped me adopt a mindset that I can try anything and it doesn’t matter if it works or not because after all, it’s an experiment. I’m looking to see what works, and the only way I can do that is to try different things.
One of my (laughable) goals this year was to have a “zero inbox” at the end of every work day. Ha! After one week, I knew it was an impossible goal. But I didn’t have to slap a big “F” on my forehead for failure—because it was an experiment! The experiment was a huge success: it allowed me to identify that this was a silly goal, and helped me to formulate a better one.
3. Incremental is magical.
Related to the idea of avoiding goals that are too big and overwhelming, this one is about understanding that our goals can be reached a tiny step at a time. It’s hard—we want to overhaul everything! But it can be effective.
I might look at my daily productivity and say, “I’m spending too much time on Facebook! That’s it—no more Facebook until after 8pm!” Well, if I’m currently checking in to Facebook every hour (don’t worry—I’m not), then I’m probably going to fail at that goal very quickly. But if I were to say, “I’m going to set a timer and limit myself to a ten-minute Facebook check-in every two hours,” that might be a place to start. Once that becomes comfortable, I could cut it back even more. Setting incremental goals can be a key to actually reaching the “big goals” we have.
4. Data is key.
I’m probably not the only person who sets the same goals every year in the area of health, diet, and weight. While I’ve made progress at various times in my life, and on different aspects of this goal, I never quite got there. I never reached that nirvana—a “permanent healthy lifestyle” in which I could effortlessly stay healthy and fit for the rest of my life.
But guess what? This year, I did. Well, I’m on my way anyway. I’m much closer than I’ve ever been in my life. The difference was in the things I wrote above—smaller goals, experimenting, and setting incremental goals. But the thing that has made the biggest difference has been collecting data.
What does this mean? It means trying new things, and keeping track of what happens when you try those things. Using the Facebook example above, I could write down the results of my new plan to check it only ten minutes every two hours. If I can’t seem to stick to it, I’d write down what happened. “Got sucked into a conversation about politics, spent 15 minutes responding.” If a couple weeks’ of data shows that happening multiple times, I’d know I need to address this stumbling block. Maybe I’d make a new plan: “No engaging on political posts until after the work day.”
You get the picture. I used data collecting to help me with my health goals, tracking everything I ate (on about 75% of the days in 2018), my exercise, my quality of sleep, my grams of sugar and protein, how much water I drank (and more). I’ve been able to identify what makes it harder for me to follow my good habits and what makes it easier; what makes me feel healthier and what doesn’t; what makes me feel more full and satisfied and what leaves me hungry. The data has changed everything for me.
5. If it doesn’t bring you joy, it won’t happen.
This might surprise you: my new approach to diet & health actually became fun. I’ve enjoyed it so much, I’m excited to continue the journey. The experimental mindset and the amazing insights that came from collecting data have made the whole process exciting. Yes, it brings me joy to eat healthy now!
And finally I realized: I wouldn’t be excited to continue if it wasn’t bringing me joy.
So whatever your goal is, I think you have to find some aspect of pursuing it that will make you happy. And it can’t be the result that you assume will make you happy. If I set a sales goal for the year as an agent, I know the happiness in hitting that number will be momentary at best. The joy needs to come in the process—the daily habits that are leading toward accomplishing the goal. For me, there is joy in doing the work with my clients that will lead to selling their book to a publisher. Focusing on the joy in the journey is what eventually (incrementally) gets me to my goal.
I recently started reading the book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff. While I’ve been following these five principles all throughout 2018, I realized that Jon’s book talks about all of it. I highly recommend this book if you’re setting goals for the new year!
What principles have you found helpful in setting and reaching goals?
Our newly revised website goes live today. We’re calling it a “soft” launch, meaning we’re not going to announce it widely in case things go sideways– you know, wonky. But if you are a regular follower of our blog, and if things go as planned, you will already notice the different look. It’s only part of the website revamp.
Of course, you may have tried to log on to get the blog and a message popped up to tell you we are offline or the server is down. Wonky stuff. That’s because the old website has to be taken down before the new website goes up, so we’ll go dark for a few hours. Of course, if you’ve tried to connect and can’t, this explanation will not be any help, right?
We’ve all experienced wonky technical issues. I got a frantic text last week from one of my clients. She’s in the last few days of her deadline and has been pushing so hard, she hasn’t taken time to save everything to the cloud or to a different hard drive. (Don’t ever do this!) She opened her computer and got a message that she’d had a fatal error and that she needed to call a certain number in the next thirty minutes for help. I can’t remember if she called the number or not (it’s a scam, folks) but she was wise enough to call Apple directly. They explained the scam to her and reassured her that her files were not corrupted. But that kind of wonky has happened to many a writer, especially in the rush to finish a book.
If our comments section works (no guarantees, friends) share with us the wonky technical glitches you’ve experienced. And if the website happens to go up– after all, we have a topnotch web designer– let us know what you think of the new look and the new content.
“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”
― William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade
William Goldman was one of the greats, as both a novelist and screenwriter. His screenplay credits include…
The Princess Bride (based on his novel)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Marathon Man (based on his novel)
All the President’s Men
…and many more.
In honor of Goldman’s passing this week, I wanted to repeat this post I wrote several years ago. His book Adventures in the Screen Trade was originally published in 1984 and has always been one of my favorites because it’s so full of wisdom. The quote at the top of this post is from that book, and I love it because it’s so true—and it applies to publishing, too. Nobody knows anything. We don’t know how a book will do until it goes on sale, or sometimes, until it’s been on sale several months or even years.
Publishing companies and Hollywood studios routinely produce works they predict will sell based on past success of similar works. It’s a flawed method of decision making, but it’s the best we’ve got.
Besides analyzing past experience, what can we do to predict future success of a book or movie?
We watch the market; we pay attention to the cultural zeitgeist; we look at what’s going on in the world and think about how that might affect people’s choices in how to spend their leisure time; we look at what people are enjoying in the other arts.
But predicting the future based on the past is an inexact science.
Not really a science, even, but an art. Anytime we’re trying to predict future success of an individual project, we are making an educated guess, no more.
“The audience is fickle.”
A corollary to “nobody knows anything” is this famous quip from legendary writer/director Billy Wilder about the unpredictability of the audience. Sure, last year they may have gone crazy over vampire novels, but will they still be so enthralled next year? Nobody knows.
It takes the same effort and money to create a movie or a book that’s going to bomb as one that’s going to do well.
This underscores the truth of “nobody knows anything” because if we knew—if we were able to make accurate predictions—then perhaps in the pursuit of the bottom line, we’d only publish bestsellers and only make blockbuster movies.
Instead, we have thousands of non-bestselling books published every year, which is a great thing. We have so many great choices. The fact that nobody knows anything works in your favor if you’re a writer, and even if you’re a reader.
It’s pointless to try and follow the trends.
Anytime you ask an industry professional a question that has to do with predicting the future (Will Amish fiction ever go away? Is paranormal going out of style or will it still be hot next year?) just remember that the answer they give you is not gospel, it is simply their informed opinion based on what they see around them. It could be completely accurate… or dead wrong.
Only time will tell, because nobody knows anything.
One thing we do know is that William Goldman was a brilliant writer, and we’d all do well to study his screenplays. Mr. Goldman, I salute you.
Based on what’s happening in books and movies today, what predictions can YOU make about the future?
Several times recently I found myself having the same conversation with various Books & Such clients, and I realized what often seems obvious to me isn’t obvious to everyone: Every author has two audiences.
An Author’s First Audience
The first audience really is obvious–your readers. Many authors forget to consider who their audience is when they write their manuscripts; it can be especially problematic for novelists. As I conversed with a novelist, I asked him who his audience was. He found the question baffling. “People who like my books,” he finally answered.
“Yes, but what sort of books do those readers like?” I pressed.
He didn’t know.
I suggested he give more thought to the idea that his readers do fall into a specific category.
Figuring Out Your Audience
Sometimes it helps to think about other authors these readers are likely to enjoy.
Ask yourself: What genre do they write in? What are the similarities between their writing and yours? When you think about their audience, whom do you picture?
A look at Amazon’s “Frequently bought together” offerings on one of that author’s book pages offers clues. (Or one of your title’s pages, if you’re already published.) Also, “Customers who bought this item also bought” helps.
An Author’s Second Audience
The second audience is your publisher. Yup, your publisher.
Authors often don’t know when they should communicate with their publisher. They don’t want to be pests, but this reluctance to communicate can cause serious repercussions.
A few years ago I started to represent a multi-published author. When I met with her current publisher to find out how the publisher saw the relationship, I was dismayed that the author (whom I’ll call Teresa) was viewed as reluctant to promote her books.
When I told Teresa that was the perception, she presented me with an impressive litany of regular promotional activities she had engaged in for her most recent title.
“Did you communicate any of that to your publisher?” I asked.
“No, I just thought they’d see on my website and social media what I was doing.”
Why You Need to Keep the Communication Channel Open
Think about that assumption. How many titles does your publisher produce each year? How many authors do the staff work with each year? How much time do they have to track what each author is doing to promote his or her projects? (Especially since an author will continue to promote titles years after they’ve been released.)
Note: You should be sure that you’re connected to your publisher on all the social media sites you’re active on, whether that’s following their account or befriending them. That way the marketing department is much more likely to see your posts. And the publicist might well share your posts. Since most publishers have significant social media connections, they can help to broadcast your message.
I suggested that Teresa keep a log of everything she did to promote her writing and then to send that log once a month to the marketing and editorial personnel she regularly worked with. That small communication changed the publisher’s view of Teresa.
Soon I was hearing, “We can’t imagine anyone working harder than Teresa to promote her books.” What had changed? Teresa started to think of her publisher as an audience she needed to stay in touch with.
What she did wasn’t intrusive or even frequent. But it was informative. It told her “audience” what it needed to hear: That she was hard at work fulfilling her job as an author.
What You Should Communicate
Other items publishing personnel want to hear include: letters, emails, etc., you receive from readers, showing that individuals appreciate what you’ve written and are being moved by it–sometimes in life-changing ways; ideas of ways you could promote your title that the publisher might coordinate its marketing/publicity efforts with (be realistic; talk to your agent; send a list, not a scattering of ideas every week); pics of book signings and speaking engagements, especially if a nice crowd shows up. And especially if the signing is at, say, a Barnes & Noble. The B&N sales rep might well show that photo to the B&N buyer to underscore that the author is supporting B&N in his/her own way.
The main points to keep in mind when communicating with your publisher are:
Make the communication regular but not frequent (monthly is about right)
Send one email rather than a smattering of thoughts each time something occurs to you
When in doubt, talk to your agent
Make sure the communication is respectful and enthusiastic rather than whining or demanding
What would you add to the idea of each author having two audiences?
How did you figure out who your readers were?
What have you done in communicating with your publisher that has worked for you?
Every author has two audiences. Are you paying attention to both of yours? Click to tweet.
How authors can effectively communicate with their two audiences. Click to tweet.