I read a lot of blogs and I write a lot of posts. I’m certainly not perfect when it comes to the articles I write but most of the problems I see on other blogs or websites (especially news and information websites) are things that are easily avoidable… things I don’t tend to do myself.
Since I haven’t talked about writing issues in a long time, I thought it was time to offer some tips and critiques about writing, blog writing in particular, since this is an article on a blog. Continue reading →
Let’s get this out of the way first: I’ve just released my newest book on leadership, Leadership Is/Isn’t Easy, as part of a big package deal of goodies and such, and for the next two weeks that’s the only way it’s going to be sold. If you’re into leadership, or even if you’re only interested in marketing, go see the types of things I’m offering. This is one of the ways of internet marketers these days; instead of just selling one thing, package a bunch of things in there, set a big discount price off its value, and see where it goes. I just launched yesterday, so I have no news to share with you as far as sales and such. 🙂
This is my second book on leadership. I finished writing my first one in 2002, Embrace The Lead, which is over there to the left, and in the first link I talked a little bit about the process of writing it. At this link I gave the outline points of the book (it’s on my business blog) in case you’re interested in seeing what it’s all about.
Back to this book. I first thought about putting it together in 2012, after I’d been sitting at home for a long time, making my living as a writer for hire and just feeling kind of bored. At that time I had two newsletters I was writing, one on leadership and one on health care. I gave up the health care newsletter around the time I started thinking about putting the leadership book together and hadn’t thought about giving up the leadership newsletter then, which I eventually did in 2013 before I started traveling again.
My idea… take some of my earliest newsletters and some of my earliest blog posts from my business blog, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this past December, and create a book out of them. I ran the idea by a few people they all liked it, and off I went.
I had a lot of articles to go through on both fronts. Luckily, not every newsletter was specifically on leadership, but I still had to look at all of them, and all of them were in HTML format so I had to keep pulling up files online instead of just keeping articles on my computer; I still haven’t learned that lesson with blog posts. At least the blog posts were fairly easy to go through.
I worked a list of 65 posts down to 31, based on the topics I wanted to show. At that point I actually thought I was 90% done; oh, I was so wrong!
What I discovered, at least on the newsletter, is that my writing style had drastically changed, luckily for the better. My early newsletters were all over the place. I found myself with a nice idea and then spent a lot of time trying to make it a long newsletter instead of getting to a point and then leaving it. These days I call it the “Mozart Principle”; write until you’ve said all you wanted to say.
Now I knew this was going to be a daunting project; or was it? I thought about putting it out the way it was, telling my hoped-for audience that I wanted them to see the progression of my writing from the early days until 2008, which is where I stopped; I figured 5 years worth of articles was enough. I shared it with my buddy Mitchell Allen and he told me what I’d already figured out: if I couldn’t stand to read them what made me think anyone else could stand reading them? Ugh!
Thus, I had plans to rewrite… and then I didn’t… and didn’t…
I just couldn’t get myself to start on it. This was around March 2013 and my mind wasn’t into it. However, it turns out I should have started when I had the chance.
Because in April of 2013 I started negotiating what eventually turned out to be a long term gig in Memphis, TN; 18 months in fact. Suddenly, flying back and forth from New York to Tennessee and then working as I was pushed almost all thoughts of the book into the background.
It sat in Dropbox for a year, then additional months. Every once in a while I’d open it up, change a few words, and close it back up. I was a mess! lol
Then I had an ending date for my gig and realized I had to get back to it. Thus, I finally opened it in early September while I was in Memphis and finally went to work. Man, those early posts were depressing, and I just wanted to write every person who’d ever subscribed to that newsletter and apologize for all those horridly written early newsletters.
In essence, it was like how some people take an article off the internet and rewrite it to make it seem like an original. I didn’t quite have to do that… but the new versions looked nothing like the originals. Heck, two of the articles were so unwieldy that I ended up turning them into two articles, and each one was over 1,000 words.
I finally finished the entire book last November, the first week I was home for good. Luckily, since my style had gotten better, the last 10 or 11 articles hardly needed any work at all; whew! Then it was time for the first edit, then the second edit… I’m not saying it’s perfect even now, but I tried.
When I had it set, then I sent out a request for readers. I had 7 people say they’d read it and let me know if they understood the concepts. This is something I’ve written in the past; if you ever ask people to review something you’ve written tell them what you want them to look at. I didn’t want people arguing with me on my concepts of leadership; I wanted to know if they understood the language I was using, if any sentences were confusing… grammar!
Then I waited… and waited… by New Years Day, all of them had said they would be done. Not one of them got back to me. I followed up with all of them via email; nope, nada zip. Sigh…
What to do? Nothing. I did nothing.
Once again, it was sitting on the computer as I worked on getting my next contract. I had lots of nibbles but wasn’t landing anything. It was another cold winter and I just rolled with it.
A few weeks ago I lost out on another contract that would have paid exquisitely; I was irked. And then I remembered I had the book sitting there in Word and decided it was time to put it out. One night, just before I fell asleep, I remembered an article I read back in 2002 by Paul Myers talking about “thud factor”, that being to pack a lot of related things into a package to show how much value was there, then market it at a price higher than the product would go as a standalone because of all the extra stuff, and at a later date you could offer the product on its own for the normal rate.
First, I ended up having to reformat the book twice because there was some kind of error in the original file. When I tried a trick that normally works, copying the book into Notepad and then into a new Word document… it taunted me for my stupidity. What finally worked was copying each article individually into Notepad and then copying the entire thing into another Word document.
Then I had to reformat the entire thing, but I’d messed up and forgotten what I’d done the first time around. Suddenly, the book went from 157 pages down to 127 pages, and I couldn’t tell you how. Still, I printed a few pages to see what it looked like in print, because at some point I hope to have it in print also, and it looked… like a book. 🙂
I don’t want to tell you everything that’s in the package because I want you to go check out the product page. However, I put all the files into one folder so I could compress them into a .zip file. That bad boy still came out to 442MB; ouch! But it’s the best I could do; value is big!
Next, I had to write the sales copy. I wrote 3 different versions of it, then ran it by my friend Kelvin because he had some knowledge of how to market via sales copy. He made a few suggestions, I implemented them, then created the sales page, coding the entire thing; yeah, some of us still write code.
Next, I tried to get it to fit under Google’s stupid mobile friendly rules… oy! I spent about 90 minutes on that, going back and forth with numbers. At one point it looked like it was pretty close to Google’s standard on mobile but it looked horrible on a browser. That wasn’t going to work for me so I decided to just format it so it looked good to me. I got that, and when I checked Google gave me 87 out of 100 for user experience and 97 out of 100 for speed; good enough for government work.
Once I set up Paypal, which also meant creating a “thank you” page with a link so people could download the file, I was set. All I had to do was wait until my business blog’s post went live Tuesday; whew!
I’ll save how I’ve worked on marketing it for the next post, which will probably be on Friday. Normally I only have two posts a week but since this is for a special event you’re getting three; how special you must feel! 😀 I hope you’ve stuck around to read this, and I hope you check out the product page. More on Friday!
Last night I interviewed Cairn Rodrigues, a fantasy writer who’s actually written 3 1/2 books at this point but only self published one so far, called The Last Prospector. I thought she’d be fascinating to interview because I’ve talked to her a few times before, including a long Hangout she hosted with Holly Jahangiri, who I also interviewed both on this blog and on the video channel.
click on the book to buy
What’s fascinating about her is that she was actually a professionally trained chef, went to culinary school, owned a restaurant, had that dream snatched away, and eventually came to this story that was swimming in her mind that she absolutely had to write down. She wrote 900 pages in a month… let me say that again, 900 pages in a month!!! And some people complain that they can’t write a 400 word blog post even once a week. 🙂
We talked about a lot of things during the interview, including something called “marzipan”, and I’m not going to give away everything we talked about because I believe you should go and watch the video, and then think about buying the book (which I have an electronic version of).
Instead, I’m going to give you 5 takeaways from the interview, things she said and didn’t say and how you can apply the lessons to your life. Yup, one of those motivational posts. Ready? Here we go:
1. Don’t let setbacks keep you from pushing forward. She had a biggie, which she mentions in the interview, and it took her a couple of years to find her way back. But she came back and with a vengeance, finding a renewed passion she never saw coming.
2. Who says you need experience at something? Cairn admitted in the interview that, other than school papers, she’d never written anything before, including her blog. Once the bug hit her, after reading a fantasy novel that left her frustrated, she decided she could do a better job, and based on the reviews on the Amazon page it seems she succeeded.
3. It’s okay to let things flow. I asked Cairn if she had an outline for the book series and she said no. I asked her if her characters all had bios and she said only a few of them, because she never thought the story would go where it went once she started writing. She introduced a great many number of characters she hadn’t envisioned before writing the story, and overall she keeps them all in her head. She’s proof that you don’t have to start with a perfect beginning to produce a quality product.
4. Sometimes you have to step back and take another look at what you’ve done. I mentioned those 900 pages above. Well, she wrote it all, then realized that it was too long for a first book, as well as actually having a point where it became a second story. So she edited things a bit and it’s become two books, although she still only has one out right now. This isn’t something I do often but it’s not a bad idea, especially if you have a feeling that you might not have gotten your words quite right.
5. You can’t wait for people you know to discover you. Just like a blog post I wrote many years ago lamenting how none of my family members and few of my friends actually read any of my stuff, she said that she had hoped to get some family support as well as local friends. We all must realize that sometimes the people we know see us as one thing and only that one thing, and if we wait for them to acknowledge us we’ll never accomplish anything in life. So get out there and do it, become successful, and show them you were more than just a pretty face! 🙂
The Last Prospector is the book; buy it by clicking on the book above or clicking on this link. With that said, here’s the video; enjoy!
This is the final part of the book writing series, and today we’re going to talk about the process of trying to get your book published by someone else, as well as self publishing your book. Before we get there, though, let’s do a quick recap of what I’ve talked about thus far.
Part one talked about coming up with the concept for whatever it is you want to write about. Part two discussed how to plan the steps you want to take before writing your book. Part three talked about determining when you wanted to write and what method you were going to take. Part four talked about ways to tell your story, no matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. And part five talked about the editing process.
Now we’re up to the publishing part of the story, which is the final piece of it all. This presumes that you’re looking to try to do something with what you’ve written; if not, you can skip this part.
You’ve now edited your book and it’s time to find a publisher, or an agent. There are a few things you need to know before you try. Publishers don’t have any idea how to promote your book; plain and simple. Sure, if you’re already a big time writer, or a famous person, they’ve got a clue. But don’t expect any publisher to even look at your book unless you can sell them on what your book is all about. Not only that, but you have to try to convince them why your book is worth their attention, who the market will be, and how they should market it. You’ll need to have a catchy title, which can be a major problem for some, and it has to make some kind of sense to the rest of the story. You’ll need to have an outline of what the book is all about. You may need to send either the first few chapters of the book or even the entire book. And you’ll need to have a killer cover letter that’s not too long, or not too short.
Yes, that’s confusing, but here’s how you end some of that confusion. There’s a book called the Writer’s Market, and it’s where you’re going to find the list of publishers of all types of books or magazines and the genre’s they cover. Each publisher lists their guidelines for how they want you to submit your book to them. Some of them are going to say they don’t take any original manuscripts directly from the writers. This always means they only work with agents; some publishers will tell you that directly. You can either buy this book, or go to the library, as every library in the country probably has this book in circulation.
Either way, you’re still going to have prep work to do, whether you’re trying to pitch to an agent or a publisher. There’s a debate as to whether you should send your book to only one publisher or agent at a time; some say yes, some say no. I tend to go with the side that says it’s okay to submit your book to more than one publisher at a time, for two reasons. One, if you’re a new writer, you’re probably going to have difficulties cracking through in the first place, so why not get as much early feedback as possible. Two, if you’re lucky enough to hear from more than one publisher, you get to pick which one to go to, and it will probably be the last time you get to make a decision for yourself for a long time.
My tale is that I sent my book out to ten publishers at a time. Some of them accepted email submissions, which made it easy. I started at the beginning of the alphabet, which made it easy to keep track of. Sometimes you might have to submit something more than once to a publisher after the time they say they’ll take in the book, but you get to make that decision for yourself. When I’d heard from at least five publishers, I’d try again. All in all, I sent my book to 67 publishers, and heard back from 47 of them. Of course, every one of them rejected my book, but not all of them rejected it without a reason. About half of them rejected it saying they weren’t publishing anything of that particular genre “this season”; this was back in 2002, and remember, the genre was leadership and management, which hadn’t quite grown at that point.
Just over half of the rest of them said they didn’t know how they’d market the book; that was purely my fault, because I didn’t know at the time how to tell them to market it. Truthfully, before I’d written my book, I had never read any other books on the topic, because I didn’t want to be influenced by anyone else’s process. If I’d done it properly, I should have checked out the market after I’d written my book so I’d have had a better understanding of how to promote my book. I also had a problem with the title; I didn’t have the title Embrace The Lead until over two years after I’d written it, so I really hadn’t given anyone much to go on. Some of these people must have actually read whatever I’d sent them, because they said some nice things about it while saying they didn’t know what to do with it. The last bunch just rejected it outright, with the standard “no thank you” letter, and left it at that.
At that point, I could have considered myself at a crossroads. Instead, I decided I would self publish my book. Now, there are four options one can decide upon when it comes to publishing one’s own book. The first option is to go the ebook route, which I started out with. I began by selling my book off my website in two forms. One could purchase the entire ebook, or one could purchase the book in three individual sections, since it’s broken out that way.
The second option is to go to a vanity publisher of some type. There are multiple types of vanity publishers, and you’re going to end up paying some kind of money for all of them. The one I know the best is Publish America, but I’ve also heard some fairly nice things about Lulu. Each of these offers the opportunity to pay someone to help edit the book, which you might want to take advantage of if you decided not to spend all the time I did in self editing mine. What they both offer are custom made covers, print on demand books (this means you pay them if you want more books to sell for whatever reason), assistance in obtaining an ISBN number (International Standard Book Number; this is the publisher number which allows you to sell your book on sites such as Amazon and Google Books), and so many “free” copies initially for however you choose to use them. This isn’t such a bad way to go, but I decided it wasn’t how I wanted to go.
The third option is to go to a copy center such as Kinko’s and have your book made by them. The problem I had there is that they’re not really book binders, so they would have created my book with a spiral binder, and that was unacceptable to me. It would have been very cost effective, but it would have looked more like a manual than a book.
I wanted it to look like a book, so I chose the fourth option, which was taking it to a printing company. The costs associated with doing this will vary based on what you ask for. In my case, I decided that the only color I wanted on the cover was having the title and my name printed in blue ink. Color gets very expensive, and had I wanted every page of my book in color, the cost would have jumped. If I’d chosen a color background it would have gone up a little bit, and if I’d chosen more than one color, the cost would have gone up drastically. That would apply if you decided to put any pictures in your book also; black and white images cost nothing extra. What surprised me is that they wanted the book in a .pdf format instead of a Word document; I gave it to them both ways, just in case.
I decided I wanted an initial run of 300 books. That cost me around $1,300, and I was happy with that price. That came to $4.33 a book, which was well worth doing it. At that rate, I would have to sell 52 books to make my money back if I sold it at $25, which is the price I sell it at now off my website. However, when I take it with me on speaking engagements, which was the reason I wanted so many books, I usually reduce the price to either $20 or, every once in awhile, $10 a book, depending on who I’m speaking in front of. I have easily made back my initial investment; thank goodness. I still have about 150 books left, though, in case anyone wishes to buy one, and I even autograph it if requested. The most important thing for me, though, is that it looks like a book. Sure, a pure white book with no frills, but still a book.
As for the ISBN number, I purchased my own at the link above, paying for 10 ISBN numbers, which means that I can write nine more books and already have a publisher number for them. I didn’t have the publisher number when I published the first book, but when I write my next books, I’m going to be sure that number is on the book. It adds extra credibility to your book to have that number on there, even if you don’t decide to sell it anywhere other than on your own website, or with the assistance from other places.
My book is listed on 10 other sites, none of them paid for, and only one of them asked for a reciprocal link, that being Published.com, and I’m happy to give them that link. Basically, it’s like any other internet marketing venture; the more you can get the word out, the better the opportunities you’ll have to sell your book.
I want to mention this one point, if I may. There are different benefits between getting your book published by someone else and doing it yourself. Big time publishers will give you an advance on your sales, but if your book doesn’t end up selling some request the difference back, though most will just cut your contract and move on with life. Most books that are published by new writers don’t make a lot of money, even some of those that gain nice publicity. There’s a lot of work involved, as publishers expect their writers to travel to support the publicity of the book, but if you’re not a big name, you’re going to pay for your own publicity tour. Therefore, though you got an advance on future sales, you could end up eating some of that while on some kind of tour. And, the amount a writer gets from each sale isn’t all that much; sometimes not even 5% of whatever the book is selling for. If you end up being popular, that’s not a bad deal because your next contract will be much better; if not, the publisher may never recoup their money, and you’ll never make another dime.
By self publishing, if you know how to market, you get full profits from your book sales. That’s how I made my money back. In today’s world, many musicians are finding that they’ll make more money from fewer sales than they did with bigger sales. Prince was the first big time musician to realize that when he sold 350,000 copies of one of his albums online at $15 a copy as compared to how much money he made when Purple Rain sold 18 million copies. When you self publish, you can cross genre’s, because at that point it’s all about the writing and however you decide to market, not the whim of some publisher who wants you to make a lot of changes so that it will fit into a category of their choosing.
And that’s the conclusion of this series on writing a book. Within a week or so it will appear as a headline topic in the header. I hope I’ve given some valuable information to most of you. As always, I encourage your comments and your questions.
Now you’ve written your book, or you’re almost done with it; congratulations! At this point, you’ve finished the second hardest part of your overall project, and you’ve done something that the overwhelming number of people in the world have never done. That warrants kudos on its own; but you’re not even close to being done.
The next step is the editing step, and it’s the hardest step of the entire process. It’s the hardest process because if you’re going to do it right, it’s going to take longer to edit your book than it took you to write it. First, you have to confront your own demons while editing it. This is when the gut check takes place, where your confidence is tested, because now you’re revisiting your own words, and some of them are going to look and sound alien to you. If you make it through the first edit, you’re going to be fine. But the first edit is crucial.
I know, you’re saying “first edit”? Yes, I’m saying first edit, because when you edit your book, you’re going to have to go through it more than once. I’m going to describe what I went through, so you can see what I’m talking about. I’m going to tell you my story; sound a little familiar?
After I wrote my book, Embrace The Lead, I knew I had to go through the entire thing again. Luckily, I had written it in Word, which checks your spelling as you go along, so I knew that all the regular words were going to be spelled properly. However, I had also used voice recognition software, so I knew there were going to be some alien-looking phrases that were going to stand out. And I knew one more thing; I was going to rewrite as I went along. Everyone rewrites, unless they can hammer something out in one piece and feel fairly comfortable with it. When it comes to something large, though, you’re probably going to rewrite something; it’s perfectly normal.
The first edit was painstakingly long. I’m a speed reader, so I had to change my own mode of reading and actually study my own text. I have to say that I did a pretty good job with the first edit. Word is a great program to use because it allows you to make some mass changes whenever you need to. For instance, there were many instances in the book when I used my wife’s first name by mistake. So, I was able to mass change the entire book from her name to “my wife” with one keystroke; that was great. I also noticed a consistent typo, where my fingers just wouldn’t let me spell this one word correctly, and I was able to make that change all at once.
The first edit of my book took me 5 days. I didn’t end up rewriting all that much, but I did end up adding more to many areas, trying to explain myself better. Still, after the first edit of my book, I felt fairly comfortable with it; but I knew I wasn’t done.
The next edit is something that couldn’t have been done in the past, but in 2002 it was something available to me, and it’s probably available now. I had downloaded a program where I could paste blocks of text into it and it would read them to me. As odd as this sounds, I felt it was important to hear what the book sounded like if it was being read aloud. This didn’t take as long as one might think, but I’m glad I did it because there were some parts where even I got confused, and I was able to fix those areas so that it would read smoother. I belong to a writer’s group that meets once a month, and whenever it’s my turn to present something, I always ask someone else to read it aloud so I can hear if it’s flowing properly. It’s also a rush to hear someone else reading your material, even if it is just a program on your computer.
Another thing Word can do for you, which became my third edit, is check your grammar. Although Word and I don’t always agree, I decided to change the settings and let it highlight what I’d written, just to make sure there were no major faux pas. It highlighted many areas, which I expected, but it also found some things that I decided to change, so I didn’t mind doing it.
The final part for me was asking some of my friends, those who I knew would read it and look for something critical, to read it for me and point out things they didn’t understand. I specifically told them I didn’t want them to critique the content, only the grammar, and whether they understood what I was saying or not. Debate can be for another time; what I needed was a critical eye only.
I have found that point to be one of the most important things I’ve ever had to do whenever I’ve asked someone for a critique. You have to tell people what you want from them. If you ask someone to read something and tell you what they think, you never know where they’re going to go, and you lose any value you might have been able to get out of it.
When I wrote my first business newsletter, I sent it to about 20 people and asked them what they thought. I didn’t get a single person who gave me anything that I could use. Instead, they wanted to talk about writing style, the layout, the word justification, the concepts I was talking about in the first article, and some just said “nice job”. That wasn’t helpful at all, but it taught me a valuable lesson; it’s one you should learn also.
Of course, at some point you’re going to want some people to actually read it and give you an honest appraisal, something you hope will come out sounding like a testimonial if they actually liked it, but not during the editing process. If you need to, tell the people you’ve asked to edit to write any other comments down and save them for when you’re ready for publication.
As I indicated, the editing process is where you grow up, where your book has its opportunity to mature, and where you’ll find out what you’re made of. If you’re actually lucky enough to get either an agent or a publisher to accept your book, they’re going to pick it apart even further, and you may not like it. But at that point, it means they’re serious about your book, and that may or may not be a good thing. I wouldn’t know, as you’ll learn in the next part of this series when I talk about trying to get published. See you next time.