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One of the biggest challenges for many writers is being able to separate the artist self from the business self, and figuring out ways to nurture both.

I find this to be an issue for unpublished authors more than those who are published. Once a writer is published, they seem highly motivated to stay published, and therefore more open to considering ways to increase the commercial appeal of their work.

But for some new or unpublished authors, there seems to be a resistance to “commercializing” their art. That’s fine, if you want to write for yourself, your family and your friends. But if the goal is to ask strangers to pay money to read your work, then it deserves a different approach.

It recently occurred to me that writers might benefit by taking a break from reading books on writing, and occasionally read some business-related books.

All the specifics in a business book might not apply to the writing life, but the overall message can be helpful in learning how to approach writing as a business or even a career. It can help you adopt the mindset of running a successful business and teach you to ask the right questions as you consider what kinds of books to write, and how to write them. These books can open your eyes to everything from how consumers make buying decisions, to how to create a successful brand, to how to organize your time for maximum effectiveness.

As I’ve spoken with several of my clients who have multiple books published, it’s been interesting to see how they approach the constant necessity to keep drawing in readers: rather than feeling like they’re “selling out,” they savor the challenge of getting better and better at crafting words into books that people want to read. They are able to see the art in running a successful business. They look for the stories or topics that interest them, and then ask themselves where their own interests meet the demands of the marketplace.

Are you comfortable with approaching writing as a business? What helps you nurture this mindset? How do you balance your artistic self with your business self?

Below are some good business-related books to consider. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink
Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée A. Mauborgne
Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg
The Everything Store by Brad Stone
Getting Things Done by David Allen
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Daniel Lapin
The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
Purple Cow by Seth Godin
Making Work Work by Julie Morgenstern

The post Your Artist Self and Your Business Self appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

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I just finished reading a self-published book on a topic I’m passionate about, by an author whose blog I occasionally read. As I’ve mentioned before, I regularly read indie-pubbed books, and the fact that I work in traditional publishing doesn’t mean I’m biased against them.

It does, however, mean I’m aware of the ways a book could have been better, had the author availed themselves of the best assistance available, whether in design, writing, editing, cover, or even title.

I was excited to read this book—a memoir—and it started out promising. But it quickly devolved into a self-focused, rambling hodgepodge of preaching interspersed with bragging. I did finish the book (luckily it was rather short) but I ended up with strongly negative feelings toward the author. Since this was a memoir, I doubt that’s what the author was going for.

I think the author got some friends to edit the book, maybe even somebody with writing experience. But it’s clear he never consulted a professional book editor, especially not one with expertise in memoir. This is a genre that is notoriously difficult to pull off. The author needed a strong memoir editor, but since he didn’t have one, I can’t recommend the book to anyone.

So, how could an editor have improved the book? Here are my thoughts:

A good editor would have coached the author to find his main theme, and to focus tightly on it, cutting out rabbit trails and eliminating entertaining stories that didn’t fit in this book. The editor could have helped decide which stories should stay and which should go (often difficult for a memoirist, because they’re so close to the material).

An editor would have conveyed that teaching and preaching don’t belong in a memoir. Save that for another book — a how-to or self-help. The memoir is your story and your reflections on your story, but should avoid the self-help vibe.

An editor would have eliminated bragging, and suggested ways to convey moments of success or triumph without sounding arrogant.

An editor would have brought out the importance of a humble tone, of admitting the journey isn’t over and you’re still learning, a sort of “fellow pilgrim” approach. When your story is nothing but triumph and “look what a great thing I did,” real people don’t tend to relate to your message.

An editor would have challenged the author to truly let the reader in. Authenticity and vulnerability are hallmarks of powerful memoirs, and this one has neither. I had the feeling of skimming over the surface, never quite being allowed in.

An editor would have ensured readers didn’t feel like complete losers if they don’t currently share the author’s lifestyle.

An editor would have protected the author’s reputation.  The author conveyed a message he may not have intended by including certain observations and behaviors unrelated to the theme of the book, but which made him seem like a womanizer and a bit of a sexist. A savvy editor would have gently inquired if this was really what the author wanted readers to take away.

* * *

With regard to editors, it boils down to the importance of objective, qualified feedback. Businesses spent over $1oo billion on leadership development last year. Why? Because it’s really hard to see yourself clearly and commit to change, and companies want their leaders to learn and grow and be the best they can be. This requires coaching and objective feedback. Authors are no different. A good editor has the courage to give you the feedback your buddies won’t. It’s their job. And they make your writing better as a result.

Have you ever had the experience of working with an editor who improved your work and helped you say exactly what you wanted to say?

Image copyright: lamaip / 123RF Stock Photo

The post Trust Me, You Need a Good Editor appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

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I spend a lot of time working with my clients to edit and revise their proposals and manuscripts. I give notes and suggestions for improvements. Sometimes I take them through draft after draft, until everything seems just right.

I know it’s tiring for them, and sometimes frustrating to be pushed to go over it again and again, especially when they know they’ll go through more edits with their publisher. I admire every writer who does whatever is necessary, who keeps pushing through, who remains dedicated to making the work the best it can be.

This is what it takes to be good. When an editor pushes you to be your best, or when you push yourself, you’re doing exactly what’s necessary to rise above the hordes of regular writers to become a good writer. Along those lines, I read this powerful piece in the book Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.*

No one, not even the greatest writers, creates good first drafts. “I have to write crap before I can write anything that is not crap,” says Walt Harrington, who has been writing well for thirty years. “Writing is thinking. It is an extension of the reporting process.” A first draft might have promising sentences or paragraphs, a brilliant conceptualization, a few surprising turns of phrase, or a sturdy framework. All that, however, will probably be barely visible, entangled in the general messiness of half-formed ideas. Those promising elements will reveal themselves as the writer begins to tease apart the mess with the next draft and the one after that.

Still, as you read through a flawed first draft, remember that the hardest work is behind you. You have moved closer to defining the topic and developed strategies for explaining it…. You have stared down the blank page and begun building something on it.

Good writing is far too complex to get right in one draft or two or five. Good writers are most often plain ol’ writers who go the extra mile and then a few more.

If you are struggling through draft after draft, trying to get it right, take heart. You’re going the extra mile, and then a few more. Keep putting in the work, and you will become a good writer.

Are you pushing yourself hard enough? Are you going through enough drafts to push yourself to be a good writer?

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

*Quote from Telling True Stories, p. 97, by Mark Kramer & Wendy Call.

The post The First Draft is Just the Beginning appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

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Sometimes it’s hard to believe how difficult it can be to write about yourself in a bio—after all, you’re a writer! But I understand it’s not as simple as that, so here are a few tips to make it easier.

Write your bio in first person for query letters, third person for most other purposes including proposals, book jackets, article bylines. Memoir writers can write the bio in first person if appropriate.

Make it professional but you also need to convey personality and writing style. Don’t try too hard to be funny, but include something that makes you seem like a real person.

What gives you credibility? What makes you interesting? What helps people connect with you? (When you’re on Twitter, Facebook or your blog, what kinds of posts seem to get the most comments?) These are things you can briefly include.

If your book centers on something specific—the Civil War, for example—are you a member of a Civil War society? Have you published any articles in historical journals? Include that.

Try not to include too much “resumé” type information–education, job history, etc. because it tends to be boring. Only include what’s relevant to the book you’re pitching.

As you write a bio, consider carefully the purpose of the bio – who is the audience? Is it agents and editors? Is it your blog readers? Tailor it to this audience.

How to write a bio if you have no publishing credits:
  • If you’re a member of a writers’ organization such as SCBWI, ACFW or ASJA, you can mention it.
  • You can mention if you’re a member of critique group or if you have a degree in literature or writing.
  • Don’t say something like “I’ve been writing stories since I was two years old.”
  • Keep it short and sweet, i.e. “Jane Smith is a fifth grade teacher in Bellingham, Washington, and is a member of RWA.”
A bio for a query letter:
  • For FICTION, if you’re unpublished, it should be one to two sentences—about 50 words or fewer.
  • For NON-FICTION, it should be longer, enough sentences to establish your credits, credentials, and/or platform in the subject matter of your book.
Some tips for the process of writing a bio:
  • Read author bios in a dozen different books. Note what you like and don’t like.
  • Make a list of things you MIGHT want to say about yourself. Try to list 20 to 30 things—don’t self-edit, because you don’t want to leave anything out. Later you can choose the best elements to include.
  • Write two or three bios of different lengths and keep them on file so that you have them ready when you need them.
  • Trade author bios with a writer friend and help each other make them interesting.
What has worked for you? Comment to this post and share!

Photo by Alina Miroshnichenko on Unsplash

The post Write an Author Bio They’ll Remember appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

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The whole idea of “building a platform” and “marketing your book” is to get people to read what you’ve written. Whether you’re traditionally or self-published, connecting with potential readers is crucial. There are many good ways to do this (although it’s not necessarily easy), and plenty of resources to  help you. Today I want to point out the most common mistakes I see authors making in the effort to connect with readers.

1. Not creating a plan or strategy for connecting with readers, but remaining completely haphazard.

2. Not understanding who your reading audience is.

3. Trying too hard to “sell” rather than gather a reading community.

4. Spending too much time on the blog, when that might not be the most effective way to gather a community. (Many author blogs are read by other authors.)

5. Trying to do it all yourself, i.e. failing to crowd-source.

6. Focusing on places authors hang out online, rather than readers.

7. Not getting any social media coaching or doing any serious study of it.

8. One-sided communication on social media: failing to engage with fans and respond to them.

9. Not using social media to its fullest potential, i.e. neglecting Facebook campaigns, Goodreads promotions, Pinterest engagement, Twitter chats, Instagram stories.

10. Trying to do too many things in the attempt to connect with readers, rather than choosing a couple of avenues that suit you, and becoming expert at them.

11. Not using the special topic, era, genre and content of your book to locate and engage readers.

12. Ignoring opportunities for local, in-person appearances (book signings, book clubs, writing groups, school visits, workshops, library readings and local area meet-ups.).

Are any of these areas problematic for you? If you haven’t marketed a book yet, what do you anticipate will be the hardest part?

Photo by Rémi Walle on Unsplash

The post 12 Mistakes Authors Make in Connecting with Readers appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

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People in and around this business have long used the word “gatekeeper” when referring to those in publishing tasked with choosing which books to publish or represent.

Since the rise of self-publishing, it has become a debate—often heated:

Down with the gatekeepers!

Hooray for the gatekeepers!

But gatekeepers are not what you think.

There is nobody in publishing whose job is to “keep you out.” Are we watching the gate? Yes!—to identify authors we’d like to see published.

Each person who has a so-called “gatekeeping” role is tasked with finding authors to bring in, not authors to keep out. Anyone who acquires authors for an agency or for a publisher is totally 100% focused on bringing in books they believe they can sell.

That’s IT.

You wouldn’t call the women’s wear buyer at Nordstrom a gatekeeper, because you know her job is to bring in clothes she believes her customers will like. Her job is not to keep out the bad, but to bring in the good.

Some publishers, librarians, agents, and acquisitions editors call themselves gatekeepers. Maybe they relish that role because they feel it gives them power. But regardless of what they say or how they refer to themselves, they’re not gatekeepers. They’re selectors. Choosers. They’re salespeople. They’re looking for books they can sell. Period.

Some are also looking for books and authors they personally believe in. That’s typically a good indicator of whether you’ll be able to sell something—you believe in it. But you’re not going to acquire the book or take on the author if you can’t sell them.

There is joy in bringing in a book your customers want. My customers are publishers, so I’m looking for books I think they’ll want to publish. Librarians are looking for the books their community members will want. Publishers are looking for books their sales and marketing teams believe they can sell.

There is NO joy in saying “no” to any books or authors, and the “saying no” part of our jobs is purely incidental. It’s just something we have to do, on the way to finding the books we want to say “yes” to.

As a literary agent, I am in business to say YES to writers, not to say no. I’m constantly looking for books and authors I can believe in, and I can sell. I am not a gatekeeper. And I never want to be.

What are your thoughts on gatekeepers? Do you think it’s just an issue of semantics? Do you think agents & editors ARE gatekeepers by virtue of their function in publishing?

The post I Am Not a Gatekeeper appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

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It’s always exciting to hear from your agent that a publisher is interested in your story and is considering offering you a contract. Right? Of course it is! Once you hear those cherished words, it’s hard to wait for the next step.

An unpublished author recently wrote me:

I have an agent who has always responded to my emails within a few minutes. Recently, he let me know that a publisher would be making an offer soon. Now he isn’t answering my emails. I’ve emailed him a couple of times this week, and there’s no response. This is unusual for him. Why would he stop communication now when he’s always been so good to answer me promptly? I contacted his assistant, and she said he’s been in the office and is fine. She forwarded my email to him, and I still haven’t heard from him. I am nervous the deal will fall through. How long is the process from a “verbal” to something in writing? 

My answer:

Try not to stress out, it’s only been a week. Publishing moves slowly. Often the time between “we’re planning to make an offer” and the offer actually coming is several weeks.

Could they change their mind? Sure. But it can’t “fall through” because there’s nothing to fall through yet. In any case, there’s nothing you can do or not do to affect whether the offer comes, or when it comes. Your agent was notifying you of the publisher’s intent to make an offer so that you’d be pleased and encouraged—and wait patiently to hear from him again. You can be sure he will contact you when there is something to say. Continuing to contact him is probably not helpful. There’s no reason for you to suddenly be in panic mode, when he has proven that he will communicate with you when necessary.

So take a few deep breaths and turn your attention elsewhere. Don’t email him again until he contacts you.

Hope that helps!

The post When Will My Agent Contact Me About My Book Deal? appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

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Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us, all we ask is that you let us… serve it your way.

If you were born much later than, say, 1970, then you may have missed that tasty morsel of a Burger King commercial. But for the rest of us, it lives on in our memories, no matter how desperately we try to excise it. Oh well, today it serves as a delicious metaphor for writers.

I’m sure you’ve read countless books and blog posts on methods of writing your book. Perhaps you’ve been advised to write a sh***y first draft, a la the incomparable Anne Lamott. Alternatively, you may have heard the advice, edit as you go, so that your revisions are not so overwhelming.

Hmm. Which method to choose?

And what about the “plotters vs. pantsers” debate? Some writers prefer to plot out their whole novel and work from an outline. Others call themselves “seat of the pants” writers — they have a rough idea of where the story is going but they don’t really know until it unfolds itself as they write it. (Sounds scary to me, but whatever.)

Is one way better than another?

And if you happen to be a plotter… well, do you use the sticky note method, or the outlining method, or the chapter summary method, or… well, what’s it gonna be?

Perhaps you like to use specific techniques. My friend Randy Ingermanson has developed the Snowflake Method for writing a novel, and even has software available to help. But others have their own methods… there’s the Kiser Method, the Baby Steps Method, the NaNoWriMo method, the 90-Day Novel method, and more.

Which to choose?

And novel writing software! Well, of course there’s the above-mentioned Snowflake software. There’s also Scrivener, the popular software package that many authors absolutely love. There are others (just Google “novel writing software.”) Which is best?

Then there’s the whole “time of day” issue. Some folks swear you’re at your most creative in the early hours, and insist that you should get up before dawn and hit the computer. But others are aware that they’re most creative late at night.

Critique groups, anyone? Many people swear by them. I recommend them all the time. But… critique groups don’t actually work for everyone.

So many choices! Here’s my point:

Don’t let anyone talk you into “one right way” of writing your books.

Ask people for their input and recommendations, try different things, and make up your own mind. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If something’s not working, try something else.

Do what works for you! Don’t apologize for it, don’t feel the need to justify yourself, and don’t feel like you have to try and fit in.

Just like at Burger King… have it your way.

So… what’s your way?  Comment below!

For those of you who never saw the commercial, or if you just want to take a trip down memory lane…

Burger King Have it Your Way 1974 Commercial - YouTube

The post Have it Your Way appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

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Sometimes it’s hard to believe how difficult it can be to write about yourself in a bio—after all, you’re a writer! But I understand it’s not as simple as that, so here are a few tips to make it easier.

  • Write your bio in first person for query letters, third person for most other purposes including proposals, book jackets, article bylines.
  • Make it professional but you also need to convey personality and writing style. Don’t try too hard to be funny, but include something that makes you seem like a real person.
  • What gives you credibility? What makes you interesting? What helps people connect with you? (When you’re on Twitter, Facebook or your blog, what kinds of posts seem to get the most comments?) These are things you can briefly include.
  • If your book centers on something specific—the Civil War, for example—are you a member of a Civil War society? Have you published any articles in historical journals? Include that.
  • Try not to include too much “resumé” type information–education, job history, etc. because it tends to be boring. Only include what’s relevant to the book you’re pitching.
  • As you write a bio, consider carefully the purpose of the bio – who is the audience? Is it agents and editors? Is it your blog readers? Tailor it to this audience.
How to write a bio if you have no publishing credits:
  • If you’re a member of a writers’ organization such as SCBWI, ACFW or ASJA, you can mention it.
  • You can mention if you’re a member of critique group or if you have a degree in literature or writing.
  • Don’t say something like “I’ve been writing stories since I was two years old.”
  • Keep it short and sweet, i.e. “Jane Smith is a fifth grade teacher in Bellingham, Washington, and is a member of RWA.”
A bio for a query letter:
  • For FICTION, if you’re unpublished, it should be one to two sentences—about 50 words or fewer.
  • For NON-FICTION, it should be longer, enough sentences to establish your credits, credentials, and/or platform in the subject matter of your book.
Some tips for the process of writing a bio:
  • Read author bios in a dozen different books. Note what you like and don’t like.
  • Make a list of things you MIGHT want to say about yourself. Try to list 20 to 30 things—don’t self-edit, because you don’t want to leave anything out. Later you can choose the best elements to include.
  • Write two or three bios of different lengths and keep them on file so that you have them ready when you need them.
  • Trade author bios with a writer friend and help each other make them interesting.

The post How to Write a Terrific Author Bio appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.

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