Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stop the Fraidy Cat from Blocking Your Writing

What stops many writers from completing their books?  Fear.
  • Fear of having enough of a story to tell.
  • Fear of being able to get it all out once they start.
  • Fear of exposing their thoughts and secrets.
  • Fear of exposing their knowledge or conversely, their lack of expertise.
  • Fear of hurting someone.
  • Fear of people not getting or liking their writing.
  • Fear of nobody taking out $15 to buy it.
  • Fear of exposing their grammar and writing skills.
  • Not to mention the fear of the publishing world in general 

I can sense one or more of these things in nearly every writer. I tell my clients that it's very common to have these fears, but the most important piece of advice I can give them is to get the story out of themselves in some way.  If you can see that you have one of these fears, stop the Fraidy Cat, and get the book out of your head and on to paper, computer or recorded.

Writers Edit. Write. Edit your writing. Step away from your writing for a moment and edit some more. Writing is rewriting.

Writers Read. Read Stephen King's On Writing or Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Contract Between the Writer and the Reader

As I was listening to the 15th of 25 hours of the Steve Jobs Biography by Walter Issacson audiobook, I realized the depth of the promise the writer must make to the reader, and the trust the reader gives the writer. It doesn't have anything to do with the retail price, or how I downloaded the book, or how pretty the cover is -- those are publishing issues. Who in their right mind would choose to listen to 25 hours of an author reading his book? Who has 25 hours to listen to any audiobook?  What is the "reader" going to get out of this book?  At that moment, I thought this book better deliver what it promises for that much of my time.

We ask all new authors:  What is your intended goal? What do you want the reader to come away with from your writing?  Then we use that stated goal as our Reader Contract for all decisions throughout the publishing process.  If something about the book does not fit within the stated goal, it needs to be changed, added to or deleted.

Walter Issacson's work is nothing short of genius in this contract, and I appreciate that he never wavers from his promise that each reader is experiencing his books in a way that he has visualized.

Are you visualizing your reader while you are writing your book?  What do you want your reader to get from your book?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sample the Grapes Before You Buy the Four Pound Bag

About once a week, I hear of another author who was "helped" through the publishing process by an acquaintance who said they could help them publish. Not surprisingly, they ended up being disappointed in the process. Many times, it's not a publishing novice either, but a former literary agent or publishing professional from New York exploiting their former employer's name to get the work. It can sure sound impressive, but do they have the know-how to go through the whole process and have they actually ever done it?

There is a simple test you can administer if someone tells you they can help you publish your baby (That book you have been dreaming about for five years. You know, the one.). Ask the person to show you the books they have done and what processes they performed to publish those books, start to finish. While you are interviewing them, ask how long they have been helping authors through the entire publishing process. Things are very different now than they were three, five, ten, twenty years ago, and they are changing literally every month!  Historical perspective can be valuable when paired with up-to-date savvy.

Make sure you taste the grapes. Ask to see samples. The proof will be right in front of your eyes. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Setting Up Your Micro-Publishing Company

You've decided to publish a book!  Congratulations! Now get off on the right foot by acting like a real business. Decide who will be your accountant, your attorney, your insurance agent and your banker. I'm none of those things, but this is the basic order I tell my clients they will need to set up their business.  Consult professionals to make sure you are protected and legal.

Establishing your micro-publishing company is the first step in the self-publishing process that most self published authors don't consider until later. Setting up a proper company not only legitimizes you as a business and sets you on the right track to thinking like a business, but it also provides a safety net in more than one way.

1. Name your company
Your company name should be related to your area of expertise or topic area in some way. However, don't make it hyper-focused on what you do or who you are, as that will flag you as a self publisher immediately.

2. Establish a business structure - LLC, S-Corp, Partnership or Sole Proprietor
Consult your accountant or an attorney to determine what is best for your particular business. Based on your structure, you'll have tax implications and expense considerations as you are creating your book. Apply for a business license in your state, and a reseller permit (different states call these different things. Always check with the State Treasury.

3. Open a PO Box or some other address (other than your home)
You will receive mail, packages and possibly even visitors -- don't give them your home address in your book. Mail Boxes Etc. and places like them can accept packages for you. They also call your box a Suite # rather than a PO Box, giving the illusion of an office space.

4. Purchase QuickBooks and Create a Basic Chart of Accounts
To understand basic business accounting, attend the SBA's SCORE business start up class: You have to have a Chart of Accounts for your business dealings as well as for filing your taxes. You can do it with Excel too, however a program like QuickBooks walks you through how to do it. With Excel, you need to know what you are doing and why.

5. Get your Federal EIN and a License from Your State
You must have your business structure already set up to get a Federal EIN, which is basically your company's Social Security Number.  Every bookseller or retailer that sells your book will ask for it when they pay you. Your checking account will be tied to your business name and this number.

6. Open a Bank Account
Sign up for the simplest business checking account you can get, with the lowest fees attached. Call the bank before you head out, because you will probably need to bring in your business papers, such as your Federal EIN letter, your Operating Agreement, Articles of Organization, photo ID, etc.

7. Design Your Company logo and business identity items
You can have a logo created by any graphic artist, but keep these things in mind:
  • Logo should be no wider than it is tall-equal height and width. 
  • Logo or a portion of your logo should be able to fit on the spine of your book
  • Logo should be designed so it's identifiable in a small size
  • Logo should look good in black and white and color; stay away from drop shadows and gradients 
These 7 things don't take a long time to set up, but they would take a long time to fix or create after the fact. You could potentially set up #1-5 plus #7 in one day, and then get #6 done when the paperwork comes in. Your new best friends are your accountant, your attorney, insurance guy, and your banker. Use them now to prevent bigger expenses and potential legal issues later.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Every stone is a step...

I produced books for an architectural firm for 6 years...  
I learned that every business has its own language and culture. I learned that a building is more about the people inside and a building's contribution to the community both visually and functionally than it is about bricks and mortar. I learned that building something has a lot to do with listening.

I went to school for 9 years...
I learned that I just have to know what I don't know, and how important common sense and resourcefulness were going to be in my life. I learned that there are some people who are in it for themselves, and others who really do care about others.

I published the first book for someone else...
I learned that a book is more than ink on a page, that to complete a book takes more than one person alone, and that publishing is the truest test of marketing there is.

I worked as a waitress for 15 years...
I learned sales, customer service, wine, listening, the difference between appreciation and gratitude, and that every plate has a history and every guest has a story.

I worked for an ad agency for 8 years...
I learned that people can be divas about their work. I learned that true creative geniuses are born that way, and they see the world from a completely different perspective, and that balancing creativity with common sense is important. I learned that the fax machine took the approval/rejection process from 2 days to about 5 minutes.

I worked for a non-profit publishing company for 9 years...
I learned that independent publishers are spirited, creative, passionate; they are the ones that want to change the world. I learned that publishing is collaborative, cooperative and one of the only businesses where a direct competitor is the first person I call. I learned what email was, and as a result, I could have a worldwide network of other publishers who had "been there, done that."

I published the second and third indie books...
I learned that authors sometimes work for 10 to 15 years on a book they have been dreaming of for 30. I learned that demographics are not as important as psychographics in marketing books. I learned what an awesome responsibility it is to be a surrogate for another person's dreams, as well as how fun and rewarding it can be.

I worked for a for 3 years (that's actually 10 in years)...
I learned that I can be motivated and inspired by hard-working, talented coworkers and leaders. I learned how to call upon my inner resourcefulness to get the impossible done. I learned how to present my case and how to tackle an overwhelming number of tasks for a project.

I worked for a custom jewelry company for 3 years...
I learned that everything is negotiable in advertising. I learned that competition for the ring finger is much more death-defying than the competition for a reader's commitment of a few dollars, a few hours, and some change in thinking.

Publishing recruited me, for good...
I love how publishers and authors can work together for the greater good. I learned that when someone decides to self publish, it is a commitment to the author's dreams, a solid contract with a reader, and an absolutely mind-boggling algorithm of marketing challenges.  I learned that everyone has a story. I learned that most publishers, whether traditional, micro, self, niche or independent are fair-minded people. I learned how to set realistic goals and how to help others do the same.  I learned how most independent publishers support one another in solidarity to create books that provide value to their buyers while they entertain, educate or inform their readers.

Each stone in my career path, while they often overlapped one another, has led me to the knowledge that we are all part of something bigger and what we do affects others. 

Write something that can change someone, make them think, or entertain them for a moment or two.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Get Organized and Start Writing

It's the second week of January and you are sitting there this morning wishing you could get to writing your nonfiction book. Here are some lessons I have learned from working with writers for three decades:

  • First, remember that fiction is made up, non-fiction is "not made up". Interestingly, 70% of first-time authors are not able to identify which is which!
  • Do give your project a working title. Don't put pressure on yourself to create the perfect title. Your working title is a destination - make it precise enough to give you a path to reach it and if something doesn't get you to that destination, don't put it in your book.
  • Do set aside a place for your writing.
  • Do set aside time for writing. Tell yourself  "I will write two paragraphs today," and then do it. (Notice I didn't say "I will write two perfect paragraphs today," nor did I say "I will write a chapter."
  • Do write out a table of contents on index cards with suggested points bulleted underneath.(Hint: don't call it an outline.) I like index cards because you can rearrange their order. Don't expect to have your table of contents complete in one sitting -- it's a dynamic and fluid guide at this point.
  • Do buy a three-ring binder and a bunch of plastic pockets and start gathering photos or other items you want to include or write about in your book.
  • Do write the low-hanging fruit stories first ... and in the words of Anne Lamott, "Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft."
  • Don't try to write the first paragraph or the last line first. 
  • Do be yourself in your writing -- One of each Tolstoy, Hemingway or Dr. Seuss is enough
  • Do take a class on writing -- any and all types of writing classes. If you were going to try yoga, you would go to a class to learn and perfect your technique. Works the same for your writing.
  • Do read a book in your genre. 
Today is day one.  Two paragraphs.  Go.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Is this the year you will become a published author?

This could be your year!  There are more alternatives, more opportunities and more distribution channels than ever to share your story.  Brush off those beginning chapters you started but didn't know how to finish and what to do next, and stay tuned...

  1. Define what success is to YOU. Be specific!  Why are you writing a book?
  2. Who will want to read your book. Be specific - Everybody is NOT an answer.
  3. Decide who will BUY your book. If you are self publishing, your marketing dollars go here.
  4. Don't spend a dime until you fully understand 1-3.
  5. Be realistic, positive and get informed. Realize that no matter what your budget is, there IS a way to get you published.
My 2013 resolution is to complete a useful blog post every week of this year with lots of great tips and things to think about as you embark on your exciting journey.
Want to get the info in condensed form?  
We have classes at Metro Community College in the Omaha area.

How to Write Your Book:  January 12, 9:00am to noon, Sarpy campus (Course COMM-005N-70)
How to Publish Your Book: February 16, 9:00am to noon, Sarpy campus (Course COMM-525N-70)
How to Market Your Book: March 2, 8:45am to 11:45, Sarpy Campus (Course COMM-530N-70)

Register: All classes are $29 (senior discounts are available) or call 402-457-5231