• October 29, 2012

    How can a writer create a purpose statement?


    Someone wrote and asked, “Chip, can you help me create a purpose statement for me as a writer? I think I need to clarify my purpose statement. I’m a literary novelist… can you assist me in moving forward?” 

    If you’re thinking about creating a mission statement or a life purpose statement, here are some questions to think through:

    1. If I could sum up the purpose of my life in one word, what word would I choose? 

    2. What if I were to sum it up in three words? 

    3. How would I want my epitaph to read? If I were to live to be 100, what would I want people to say about me at my 100th birthday party? [And kudos to Bobb Biehl for these questions. Bobb is the president of Masterplanning Group International, and was thinking and writing on these topics long before anyone else in the business. You can find him at www.bobbbiehl.com –and yes, he spells it “Bobb.”]

    You may also find it helpful to ask yourself some questions like these:

    4. Over the course of my life, what do I want to do? 

    5. What do I really want to be? How do I want to describe myself? 

    6. Who are the people or groups I most want to help? 

    7. What sort of things would I like to accomplish in my writing over the next three to ten years?

    8. As you look back over your writing career, what are the themes that are evident? Who have you written to? What have you written about? What are the timeless questions you continue to speak to? 

    As you look at your answers, you’ll start to see some themes. Once you have a feel for those, consider creating one non-technical sentence that can be sort of umbrella statement for your work life. Don’t think of this as art, even though you’re a writer –

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  • October 28, 2012

    How does an author stay on top?


    Someone wrote to say, “A while back, you blogged about the lack of staying power authors have in today’s market. In your opinion, how do novelists like James Patterson, Karen Kingsbury, and Debbie Macomber stay on top?”

    Publishing has always suffered from the “what’s new” syndrome. Every generation (which, in our culture, means every 3-to-7 years) needs it’s own voices — its own rock stars, its own TV shows, its own authors. So names will come and go. Take a look at who did big publishing deals 6 or 7 years ago, and you’ll find names you’ve never heard of. And yet… at the same time, the market has a tendency to fall in love with some people. James Patterson may not write the best books of all time, but he’s been around for 15 years, and he never has anything sell less than 100,000 copies. John Grisham has routinely been on the bestseller lists with his novels. Karen Kingsbury hits readers’ emotions with every book, and that drives her work to the bestseller lists.

    I would argue that most successful authors share several characteristics: They know their own writing voice, and it’s a voice that appeals to a wide audience. (I’ve talked on this blog about “voice” quite a bit. I think it’s the #1 reason an author succeeds or fails.) They deliver a consistently good story that carries the reader along (even though successful authors may get hammered for poor craft, their stories are always interesting). There is almost always a protagonist I want to root for, and I’m generally drawn into the story emotionally. I usually get to know the inner life of the characters, not just the outer life. There is easy-to-understand conflict. And there’s generally some sort of transcendent theme to the book — reading it offers an emotional or educational experience, not just a way to spend a couple hours. When readers approach one

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  • October 26, 2012

    What should I do for my book signing?


    Someone wrote to say, “My publisher has scheduled me for a booksigning, but I don’t know the first thing about doing a booksigning, and what I’ve heard isn’t very positive. Can you help? What do I need to know?”

    Sure. Let me offer some wisdom on book signings and other pieces of information you can’t live without…

    1. Remember that the FIRST rule of marketing is that “YOU are responsible for marketing your book.” So don’t leave the marketing up to the store manager, the publisher, the shipping clerks, or your publicist. Instead, take the initiative. Call people and invite them. Turn it into a party. Let everybody know about it. Contact the local newspapers, radio shows, and tv stations. Send promotional announcements. Get it announced in your church, and in other organizations who know you or have had you as a speaker. Make sure it gets placed in more than one spot in the paper — for example, in the “calendar” section, the “entertainment” section, and the “book” section. Talk with the bookstore management about using their marketing to promote the event.

    2. If you want to get more people there, offer to give away free books. I know an author who once got a radio station to do a remote broadcast from a bookstore just by offering to let them give away a few copies of the book. Free books bring people in, and that’s the key to having a successful signing event.

    3. Learn to work a crowd… even if there’s a handful of people there. Take the time to talk with people, ask questions, and listen to answers. Tell them about your book, and express appreciation for their coming. Have a couple stories from the book (or a scene from the book, or some wisdom from the book, or something) at the ready so you can share part of your work with the people who come

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  • October 25, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Social Media Critiques, Part 5


    Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.

    A few weeks ago, I offered free social media critiques to those who replied before the 14th. You see, social media is a specialty of mine. Before becoming an agent, I worked for some years as a social media marketer at a marketing agency outside of Chicago. I worked with clients such as Vera Bradley, Peg Perego, Benjamin Moore and more. A somewhat longer description of what I did can be found in the first critique post.

    (Picture tweaks provided by Paula at www.yourvervemagazineonline.info )

    1) The Glitter Globe is a blog by Stephanie Pazicni Karfelt

    • The bit of text under your blog’s title is much too long. It should be one sentence at most–a tagline. If you feel this description of your blog is important, move it to a separate ABOUT page, complete with a close up picture of you.
    • For the best SEO (search engine optimization), you should tag your links to actual words instead of dropping the link into the text. See how I did this in my byline at the top of this post?
    • Consider the order of your right nav. Place the things that you most want readers to interact with at the top. So, the Followers and Network Blogs widgets should be at or close to the top.
    • It’s great that you use pictures, but rarely do I see a picture of you. Try to include yourself more in your photos. It will help readers feel a stronger connection.

    RECOMMENDATIONS: Think about how your blog comes across visually. Where does the eye go? What is the call to action? With that big block of text at the top and

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  • October 24, 2012

    If the publisher has said "no" to my book, can I try again?


    Someone wrote to ask,  “If a book publisher turns down my proposal or manuscript, does that mean everyone at the publishing house rejected my proposal? Can I try with a different editor? And how long do you have to let it cool with this publisher before I try again?”

    A writer needs to understand the entire decision-making process at most publishing houses. First, your work is more than likely getting into the building by way of an acquisitions editor — often a friend of your agent, somebody you met at a writer’s conference, or the person who lost a bet. They’ll read through it, maybe make some suggestions, and eventually make a decision on whether or not they think it is worth pursuing. (And a note on the process: more and more acquisitions editors are relying on agents to do the filtering out of junk, so the slush pile has largely moved from publishing house to literary agency… which means you may have to sell it to an agent first, therefore adding one more step to this process.)

    Second, the acquisitions editor will generally take it to some sort of editorial committee, where they sit around and make literary jokes (“I’m having a DICKENS of a time with this one!” “Yeah, let’s take a TWAIN out of town!” Editorial types love this sort of stuff… that’s why they’re editors and not writers). Eventually they’ll be forced to talk about the merits of your proposal. If it passes muster, it then moves on to the next step.

    Third, the ack editor takes it on to the publishing committee. This is a group of people generally made up of someone from editorial, marketing, sales, and house administration. The sales people will research how many copies their accounts might buy, the administrative people will explore what the hard costs of producing the book will be, and the marketing people will complain that

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  • October 23, 2012

    Should I negotiate my own book contract?


    I’ve had a number of people write to me and ask something along the lines of,“How can I negotiate my own contract?”

    Okay, let’s get something straight right off the bat: You probably aren’t ready to talk contracts with a publisher. Just admit it right now. You spend your time plunking away at a keyboard, and most of what you learned about publishing contracts came in a 45-minute workshop at some writer’s conference, or possibly in a book you barely understood, entitled something like Understanding Publishing Agreements in 6 Easy Lessons. If that’s the case, let me help educate you: When you start discussing contracts with a publisher, you might want to remember that he (or she) has a team of professionals backing him (or her) up. There’s an entire group of people whose professional existence is to make mincemeat out of you. Lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers — even the assistants probably know more about contracts than you do. Have I scared you yet? I hope so. Because I’m not trying to sound superior — I’m trying to get you to understand how important a contract is in your life. A publishing contract is a legal document governing everything about your book for as long as it’s in print… so you don’t want to sign something without having read it carefully, and without knowing what you are signing. There are going to be clauses that sound like they were created by lawyers for whom English isn’t their first language. There’s fine print. There are terms used that are completely foreign to you. And while the publisher isn’t necessarily trying to force you into signing a bad deal, he (or she) is in business to get the best deal possible and to make as much money as they can.

    Think of it as going to a garage sale and finding a great book — a leather-bound, first edition. Maybe it’s

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  • October 18, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: 10% OFF BLOG DESIGN!


    Amanda Luedeke Literary AgentAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent.

    This week, for readers of Thursdays with Amanda, we have a SUPER SPECIAL OFFER FROM ELEGANT CUSTOM BLOGS!

    Melanie from ElegantCustomBLogs.com has offered a 10% discount on her blog design services to readers of this blog. Just head over to ElegantCustomerBlogs.com and mention Thursdays with Amanda.(Melanie works on the Blogger platform only).

    Melanie does a great job, and she even designed the website for an author I represent, Melissa Tagg. When Bethany House offered a 2-book deal to Melissa, they specifically mentioned how impressed they were by her web presences. And Melanie can certainly take some of the credit for that! So go check her out.

    Sorry to cut things short today, but I have a conference in DC this weekend and a million deadlines. So I’ll leave you with this thought…

    We talk a lot about putting the right content in our blogs…about catering to the reader, and knowing your audience, and flooding it with links and keywords and yada yada yada. But at the end of the day, a great blog VOICE trumps content every single time.

    In doing your social media critiques, I’ve found this to be truer than ever. When I come across a great blog voice that draws me in and keeps me reading, I don’t think much about whether they’re connecting with the right audience or whether their topics are appropriate. I forget all that and get lost in the beauty of words.

    So while you’re tweaking your content to hit the right reader with the right information that’s searchable and all that stuff, keep voice at the top of your blog’s to-do list. It really is the best way to

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  • October 17, 2012

    How can I get the most out of my writing group?


    A reader wrote to say, “I’m going to a big writing conference that encourages us to join a critique group. You’ve talked before about the benefit of being in a critique group, but I was in a critique group that didn’t work. What I’m wondering is how to make a critique group actually WORK. Can you help?”

    I’m a huge fan of critique groups, and have participated in several until I moved or they wised up and threw me out. The experience has taught me a few principles for getting the most out of the group. Here are my Ten Laws of Critique Groups:

    1. Ask yourself why you want a critique group. What do you hope to get out of it? You ought to have clear expectations going in, so that you’ve got something to evaluate the benefits later. Some people basically want to hang out with other writers — more or less the same reason they attend writers conferences. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if that’s your reason for joining, you should easily find a group that fits your needs. Others really want a dedicated group of professional writers to take a careful and thoughtful look at their material. If that’s what you’re after, you’re going to need to put a lot more thought into your group.

    2. The value of a critique group is based almost entirely on the membership. So look for people who are AT YOUR LEVEL or maybe just a bit better than you (if your ego can take it) and talk to them about the group. Basically, people want to know what the commitment will be (a weekly or maybe twice a month meeting that lasts a couple hours), what the expectations are (that members will actually READ the other member’s writings before coming to the meeting), and what the benefit is to them (you’ll hear advice for improving your writing).


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  • October 16, 2012

    How can I improve my online writing group?


    Someone wrote to say, “I signed up for an online writing group. The first meeting was great. Then… nothing. There’s no direction. I don’t know what to do. Help!”

    I know what you mean: You sign up for a writing group, and you’re excited when you receive an email telling you who else is in your group. You introduce yourself to the others. Maybe you go back to check out the things these folks have said on recent topics. One morning you sit down at your computer, log on, and can’t wait to start emailing back and forth with your writing buddies. Then something deflating happens…nobody has much to say. You’re not sure where to start. There’s not really a “leader,” so you don’t want to be the one pushing the group toward a topic, but everybody just seems to be sitting there, waiting for someone else to DO SOMETHING. You start to wonder if this group is a bit off the mark…or if it’s you. Instead of participating in the group, you start thinking of spending your time at something considerably more helpful — like online mah jong.

    If that describes you and your online writing group, may I offer a handful of helpful thoughts?

    First, some perspectives regarding a writing group…

    -The group should be a SUPPORTIVE experience. So keep it positive.

    -The group should be an EDUCATIONAL experience. Share your thoughts openly.

    -The group should be a CHALLENGING experience. Learn to listen.

    -The group should be a FOCUSED experience. The others are there to critique your work, not your character.

    -The group should be a FUN experience. Let people vent, say stupid things, poke fun, make jokes…and you do the same.

    Next, let me offer some ideas to get the most out of your group:

    1. Everybody read an article (maybe an online article) and discuss the writing.

    2. Ditto with a book…but this is considerably

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  • October 15, 2012

    Is social media really all that helpful?


    I’m of the opinion that internet marketing by authors is not only helpful, it’s essential in the new publishing economy. An author needs to engage with people in online communities in order to generate exposure and, hopefully, sales of his or her book. But I don’t think a lot of writers understand how to access it. They start a blog, but don’t understand how to make it successful. They’re on twitter, but it’s about nothing more than “what I had for dinner” and “kids are sick with the flu.” Who cares? And how is that helping to sell books? May I offer ten thoughts on the effective use of social media?

    1. Know why you’re doing social marketing. You should have a purpose in mind when you join Twitter, post on Facebook, or connect with people on LinkedIn. You are trying to connect with friends, introduce yourself to people, and share your passion and message. You’re not just trying to sell copies of your book, though certainly any book you’ve written that falls within the boundaries of your interests and personality will doubtless reflect who you are and what you think. Here’s the key: Don’t promote — participate. 

    2. Study the social media market. Take a look at who is going where, what’s being said, and what the response is. Get involved with forums and discussion boards, participate on consumer review sites, and stay on top of your online communities. Make sure to Google your name, and check out things like BlogTalkRadio. You should know about bookmarking and tagging, as well as content aggregation.

    3. Target your audience. The core of author marketing still comes down to this: Figure out where your potential readers are gathered, then go stand in front of them. If you discover people interested in your topic are all reading The Ooze, then by all means start going there yourself. Find a way to get

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