Writing as a Business

Being More Efficient

I recently read a magazine article that said people who are successful in various fields spend no more than 4-5 hours a day doing their work.*  The idea is not how much you work, but how focused you are when you work.  This got me thinking about what we do as writers.  The most important thing we can do is write.  Without a book, we won’t have a product.

While I think social networking is good for building up a platform, establishing a brand, and making connections, I don’t think it’s the way you will sell the most books.  For more on why I believe this, read Kristen Lamb’s blog post “Social Media, Book Signings & Why Neither Directly Impact Overall Sales”.  I see no reason to restate her main points.  Social networking in all its forms is about connecting with people.  I do think it’s important, but writing is way more important.  If all you’re doing is social networking, you’re missing out on the most crucial component of making money: your next book.   I see a lot of authors who write a book and all they do is promote that book.  They spend very little time writing their next one.  That is a huge mistake.

So in wondering, “How can we work more efficiently (instead of more) to get more books out there?” This is what I came up with after doing some research over the past couple months:

1.  Make a list of your priorities.

The things that are most important need to be first on the list.  I suggest making the daily list short.  That way, it’s not overwhelming.

You can make a list of things you want to do for the month and break that down across the days in the month.  For example, let’s say I want to edit my book.  I know some people are able to do this in 1-2 days.  I can only do 2 chapters a day.  So one of my monthly projects would be “edit Book X”.  Book X is 20 chapters.  What I’ll do is break down this task by marking down 2 chapters each day that I’ll edit.  (By the way, I do have other people edit my book, too.  To do it only by myself would drive me insane.)

A s a writer, the most important thing on your list should be writing one of your current projects.  Whatever the word count is, try to get something written that day.  Some people write on specific days.  Like, “I’ll write for 2 hours on Wednesday and Saturday”.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Just make sure that is the priority for those days so it gets done before the other stuff.

I don’t write every single day.  I find if I push myself too hard, I end up shutting down, so I let myself take a break.  But I usually write six days a week.  If there’s a writer’s conference or family vacation, I obviously don’t write for longer spurts of time.  You need to find the best fit for you.  The key is to be consistent.  Train your mind to get into the writing zone at certain times.

I find it’s best to write first then do other things on my list (write a blog post, edit, answer emails, etc) come after I’m done writing. Why?  Because writing is the most important thing I’m doing. :D

2.  Learn to say no.

We can’t be everywhere and do everything.  This includes social networking.  We have to pick the most important things that will get us toward our goals.  I’m assuming people reading this post have writing as one of their prime goals.  So you need to say yes to writing your stories.  Things you might have to say no to could be stuff like making your house spic and span clean 24-7, watching TV, critiquing another person’s book, spending time on a forum, or playing a game.  This is where the list of priorities come in handy.  Anything that isn’t on that priority list are things you could say no to.

Regarding critiques, I have gotten emails requesting critiques.  The best way to handle this is by telling the person wanting a critique that there are local writing groups, online writing groups, and editors who do this for a living.  It’s in a writer’s best interest to find people who are qualified to do critiques.  Contacting a stranger is not in their best interest.  The best thing is to develop relationships with other writers so they can form groups and/or get referrals to quality editors.  Now, I have done edits for people I’m super-duper close to (that’s a very small list), and they have returned the favor.  This is a cooperative arrangement, not one where I do all the work all the time.  Sharing is wonderful.  But share with people you trust to give you honest input, and give them honest input in return.  Be nice but share your honest opinion.  Both is possible.

Another big area is strangers requesting reviews.  This is a no-win situation.  First, you’d have to give up time writing (making money) in order to read someone else’s book (one you might not even like).  I’m fine with reviewing books you want to review.  I still review books.  But there’s no reason to review books you don’t want to review.  This is a time suck.

Yes, it’s not a fun feeling saying no when someone wants us to do something, but it’s absolutely necessary at times.   And yes, there will be people who will be mad at us for not doing what they want.  But hey, you can’t please everyone all the time.  You have a right and a responsibility to do write your books.

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I was going to write more, but I’m almost at 1,000 words so I’ll end this post here. :D

*Article: “Do More, Faster!” from SUCCESS magazine, April 2014.

Categories: Business Plan, Schedules & Routines, Writing as a Business | Tags: | 20 Comments

Doing An Excerpt

Have you ever been excited for a new book and gone on an Internet search when you hear there’s an excerpt of it online? Or have you ever just finished reading a book, really enjoyed it, and found the first chapter of the sequel near the end?

Excerpts are great ways to get people interested in your upcoming work as well as work that’s already out there. For each of my books, I make sure to put up an excerpt on my blog prior to publication so that people can see what they’ll be getting should they decide to buy the book. And depending on what portion of your book you use for your manuscript, you can possibly increase your sales tremendously.

But which portions do you pick for your excerpts? Here’s some tips that might help:

1. Should you use the first chapter? Some writers out there reading this will say “Of course you use the first chapter! What else would you use?” That might not always be the best option, though. Take a Stephen King novel: sometimes it takes several pages (occasionally several hundred pages) before things get interesting. And an excerpt is supposed to be interesting. So if your novel is about a haunted house and your first chapter just involves your main character sipping coffee in an outdoor café in Paris and meting one of his fans, it might not be the best choice for an excerpt. (It would be how King might open a novel of his, knowing him).

But if your first chapter is interesting enough that it will entice the reader into reading the story, go for it and use it for an excerpt. If not, then you’ll have to choose a different section of the novel. Now how do you choose that section?

2. Find a section that’s the right level of interesting. What do I mean by this? If you ever watch a late-night talk show (The Daily Show comes first to my mind) and an actor is one of the guests, they will usually play a clip from their latest film. If it’s an action film, then they’ll play a clip with the actor’s character in a bit of a jam. It won’t be a clip from the climax or something that reveals too much about the plot, but it’ll be enough to make viewers wonder what the heck led to this situation, how the character will get out of it, and what will happen after that. If it’s a romance, then it’ll be right as something juicy is about to happen but the clip will end before that juicy thing can happen. If it’s a horror story, the clip will depict a tense moment right before something happens and will end right before the biggest scare yet occurs.

I guess one could call this method “feeding the fans a little bit and making them want more.” It’s quite effective and marketers use it all the time for movies and TV (you should have seen me when I saw a clip from an upcoming episode of this show I like. I freaked out and couldn’t wait to see it on Sunday). And if you can translate the above concept into literature, you can have a wonderful recipe for choosing excerpts.

Now just two more items to recommend:

3. Brevity is sometimes better. I find the best length is somewhere between two-thousand and five-thousand words. Remember, you want to give the readers just enough to get them very interested and make them want to read even more. The best reaction you can get from a reader is “Wait, that’s the end? I want more!” So having a short excerpt can work very well for getting that sort of reaction, especially if the scene in the excerpt is very well-written and has a good hook to it.

And finally…

4. Wait for the final draft to give out an excerpt. The final draft is the stage of the novel when you’ve done all the edits you can and can’t do any more. What you have is the final product and changing anything might be doing the work a disservice. It’s the perfect draft to draw an excerpt from as well. And it’s better than doing an excerpt from a draft with plenty of grammatical or spelling errors or something. Am I right?

Do you have any tips for creating an excerpt? What are they?

Categories: Author Platform & Branding, Book Promotion, Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Taglines

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

“In space, nobody can hear you scream.”

“Who you gonna call?”

Hopefully not the grammar police. Especially not for that last one. That’s a class-A spelling felony.

The statements above are recognizable to plenty of fans of science fiction and comedy-horror. They are the taglines for famous franchises: Star Wars, Alien, and Ghostbusters. And just saying them brings to mind billions of images, along with associations with and overwhelming emotions of heroism, friendship, screwball comedy, terror beyond imagination, and the possibility that anything is possible.

Based on all that, one could say that taglines are a great promotional tool. and if you aren’t lucky enough to have a publicist, coming up with the tagline for your novel or other creative work usually falls to the author. And it’s important to come up with a great, memorable tagline for your story. Doing so accomplishes two things.

  1. Before the book is even read, it intrigues the reader enough to find out more. Hopefully their investigation to find out more means they’ll ultimately read your book.
  2. After the book is read, the tagline (hopefully) evokes memories of flipping through the pages, wanting to know what happens next; of heroics and romance and terror and joy and characters so vivid, you’d swear they were real.

So with that goal in mind, here are some tips to creating a great tagline that will (hopefully) pull in more readers and create great associations with the book for the fans. And if nobody objects, I’ll use the tagline for my upcoming novel Snake: “How far will you go for love and revenge?”

Short, simple statements are the best. The tagline for Snake, as well as the ones I used at the beginning of the article, are all one sentence. This works to the advantage of the book, because it is easy to remember and easy to repeat. And if it’s easy to remember and easy to repeat, it’ll be more likely to be remembered and repeated. Look no further than “Who you gonna call?” for proof.

The statement evokes something in the mind of a reader. When I was writing the back cover blurb and the tagline for Snake, I wanted it to at least get potential readers interested. However, a novel where the serial killer is the main character can be…a little frightening. Somewhat off-putting. I wanted to emphasize that the main character had good intentions, even if his methods were reprehensible. So I asked myself what would I want to emphasize about the Snake in just a single statement? Well, he’s doing what he not out of any awful desires for murder. He’s doing it to save the love of his life, as well as get revenge on the ones who kidnapped her. How can I use that? Well…maybe I can phrase it as a question.

It worked. “How far will you go for love and revenge?” struck me as thought-provoking. It makes you think, “Well, I might go so far. Is the novel about someone who will go farther?” It’s why it’s the first sentence in the back cover blurb, the first image you see in the book trailer I created for it, and what I’ve been using in most of the advertising I’ve done for Snake. Hopefully it entices a few people to read it.

Get a feel for taglines. Most of all, one has to get a feel for taglines, see what works and what doesn’t work. What taglines make you excited, scared, weepy? What just make you feel disappointed? Ultimately, coming up with a tagline, just like creating a story and everything else in the business of writing and publishing, is taking in the work of those before us, and practicing and practicing until you get a feel for what works for you.

Now, you don’t need to have a tagline for your novel. As far as I’m aware, Harry Potter, anything by Stephen King, and the Bible never needed taglines. Their names and authors are enough to get their stories to millions and millions of people. But taglines are helpful. They’re great marketing tools and in some cases they can become a part of our culture and part of our fondest memories (ask any Trekkie about the phrase “Boldly go where no one’s gone before”). And the best part of being a self-published author is that you, as the author, get to create your very own tagline.

What is your favorite tagline? What are some you’ve created for your own stories?

Categories: Author Platform & Branding, Book Promotion, Business Plan, General Writing, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Self-Publishing, The Writer & Author, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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