5 Changes in My Approach to Book Publishing

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Authors all around me are giving up on book publishing, shifting to new careers, or radically rethinking how they approach publishing. Some authors, such as Phillip Yancey, are lamenting the changes to publishing and counting themselves lucky that they got in while the getting is good.

Many active authors make the bulk of their money through speaking, online courses, coaching, and more need-based, how-to projects.

The reality is that very few writers can actually survive as authors alone—especially Christian authors. I’ve seen many bestselling Christian authors who have greater success than I could ever hope for switch to corporate clients, business writing, self-help books, event planning, and the list goes on. There’s a trend where many of the people I’ve looked up to have peered ahead to the future and decided that they at least needed a better side source of financial support, if not an altogether different career.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about the path of my career. At one point I tried to supplement book publishing with magazine writing. I’ve also tried to play the traditional author game by landing speaking gigs. Both have their advantages for other people, but I can see that neither are a particularly good fit for me, especially at this season in my life.

Having commercially published five books and self-published several short projects and one full-length book, I’m also rethinking my path as an author, but not quite like them. I’d like to share five shifts I’m making in order to help other authors consider their own futures and, let’s be honest here, to hold myself accountable.

 

1. I’m Writing Books. Period.

I’ve spent too much time dividing myself over too many different kinds of projects. I’d been trying to write for magazines and very particular websites that called for a specific kind of short-form writing and I’m simply terrible at it.

I’m sticking with this blog, my newsletter, my book projects, and some select freelancing projects. I used to really fret about getting magazine credits and invested so much time in pitching article ideas that were either shot down on the spot or written on spec before being shot down. The few articles that did make it into publication brought very little by way of return for my publishing career.

I’m not saying that other people can’t or shouldn’t do that. I just know I’ve tried really hard to make it work, and I’m not seeing any kind of meaningful return. I’d much rather write eBooks, something I know how to do, and give them away in exchange for email addresses or sell them for a discounted price—which adds up if you can sell enough eBooks.

 

2. It’s All about Email

Writers write for an audience, right?

Right.

I used to divide my attention between writing for an audience and writing to get noticed by publishers—hence my wasted time trying to write for magazines when I really had no business doing that.

There’s a simple, tried and true way to build relationships with readers on your own terms that every book marketing expert praises: email. And here’s the thing, I love jotting down little notes to my e-newsletter readers, keeping them in the loop on projects, and sending them free books whenever I can.

It’s like having a secret club.

So my publishing plan is something like this:

  • Write for my blog regularly, testing out book ideas and collecting new email subscribers.
  • Send updates, recommendations, and new books to email subscribers.
  • Publish and self-publish books, asking my newsletter readers to help spread the word.
  • Then I’ll start posting new ideas on my blog and begin the process again.

 

3. I’m Crossing Genres, Not Topics.

It made sense to write my Path to Publishing book in 2010. It helped me land publishing workshop gigs. It also saved me a ton of time writing emails to people asking first-time publishing questions. I wouldn’t say it’s made a ton of money, but it at least paid for itself.

However, I’m not interested in becoming a publishing guru as so many authors have done. I’m more interested in publishing books related to religion and then sharing what I’ve learned about publishing along the way. I see A Path to Publishing as a departure from my central writing topic: religion.

Having said that, I am finally taking fiction seriously. I’ve dabbled in fiction on and off over the years, always scrapping novels at the halfway point because I just wanted to run the main character over with a bus. I finally have an idea for a series that is exciting and strikes me as sustainable for the long term.

The novel I’m working on has a main character who is a Christian and he’ll be interacting with Christian stuff, but there’s no single moralistic lesson or point to the book beyond telling a good story. So I’m sticking to religion as my topic, but I’ll keep writing nonfiction while adding some fiction to the mix.

 

4. I’m Committing to a Hybrid Approach… for Now

There was a time when I saw the amount of work required to go indie as an author, and I rightly decided that it was simply too time-consuming.

Now there are better tools and better methods available. It’s far more viable for authors to self-publish today. I also have way more experience with publishing, so I should, in theory, be able to write books that require less editing than if I’d started self-publishing full time in 2010. I’ve already dabbled in self-publishing for a few book projects as a kind of experiment. I was hesitant to jump in with both feet until I had a better grasp of what it took to be successful—not I have a “great” grasp, just a better grasp.

I’m not giving up on commercial publishing. I’m simply becoming more intentional about both.

I have a list of publishers in mind for my projects, and if I can’t work with the right publisher(s) for the right project, I’ll either drop it or self-publish it.

I’m also intentionally developing a series of eBooks that I can self-publish.

 

5. I’m Selectively Publishing

I admit that I saw a publisher as a way to legitimize myself. Perhaps I still do. I’m not sure I would strike out into self-publishing without a few commercial books that at least turned a few heads.

I used to think that publishers validate you. I was wrong. Readers validate you. If readers want your books, then you’re valid.

I heard an agent talking about that bestselling book Heaven Is for Real. Someone insightfully asked him if he would have represented the author. He laughed and said, “Well, I’d represent him now!” Exactly, as long as Burpo is selling books to people, he’s a valid author.

Validating yourself as an author is really just a matter of connecting with readers. That’s it.

Today I see publishers as partners who should help you do two things:

  • Improve your book.
  • Reach more readers.

While authors understand that the best editors should improve the content of a book, most fail to fully grasp just how much rests with the author for book promotion. A publisher can do a lot. They can buy some ads, print marketing materials, organize price promotions, create graphics, send copies to reviewers, advocate for authors with book buyers, and promote books to their mailing lists, but none of those tactics are necessarily guarantee sales.

Few authors are prepared to successfully convince people to buy their books. I’ve also learned that publicists at a variety of publishers are divided in their opinions on how to release a new book, which is a whole other post.

In some cases a savvy publicist makes all of the difference in the sale of a book, in some cases the publicist holds back an author who has innovative ideas, and in other cases the book is DOA regardless of what a publicist or author does. I’ve talked to authors who have been all across the spectrum on this.

 

So that’s it. I’m going to keep publishing books. I’m not here to get cover stories on magazines, to be the headliner at a conference, or to change the course of evangelical Christianity for the next 50 years or whatever. I have some stories to tell, some ideas to share, and an itch in my fingers to write.

I have books to write, blog posts to draft, and emails to send. If you want to keep in touch throughout this journey, pick up my new books, learn from my mistakes, and get some off the record thoughts on it all, sign up for my e-newsletter. You’ll also receive two free eBooks!

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Is NoiseTrade Books a Viable Book Marketing Tool? A Guest Post

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I’m guest posting today for one of my favorite publishing experts: Jane Friedman, a former Writer’s Digest editor and current social media professor and founder of Scratch Magazine, a new publication for artists and writers. This post is a bit of a departure from my usual stuff, but if you’re one of the many people who ask me about how to market a book, you may want to check out how I’m connecting my books with new readers: 

 

In 2012 I was in-between book projects, and I had an idea for a short eBook on creativity, so I decided on a whim to write it, put a cover together with a high quality image, and release it for free during a 3-day KDP select offer. I even guest posted on this blog about it.

Thanks to several generous shares of the eBook by folks like Joanna Penn and the momentum of the Kindle bestseller lists, Creating Space landed on the “Creativity” and “Writing” bestseller lists (which, by the way, used to be listed next to the paid bestseller list) and spent a two days in the Kindle top 100 free eBooks. About 4,800 readers downloaded the eBook in three days (I didn’t know then that I should have probably used all five days at once).

After the promotion, I kept the price at $.99 since it’s short, and readers kept downloading it, typically noting its brevity as a virtue in reviews. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about those 4,800 downloads. Despite my ads and author information in the back of the book, I still didn’t have any way to contact any of those readers again.

While authors have successfully used free promotions to sell other books or to gain temporary exposure on bestseller lists (see Let’s Get Visible for more on that), I really wanted to find a way to offer at least a few of my books in a “pay what you want” model that relies on collecting email addresses as the primary form of payment.

That model existed—it just didn’t offer eBooks.

Read the Rest at www.janefriedman.com. 

Download the Kindle Bestseller-Creating Space

creating-space-angled-250Creating Space: The Case for Everyday Creativity

Download this Kindle Bestseller today for $.99.

“Ed’s writing is clear, engaging, and enjoyable to read. I highly recommend it, especially for people who don’t think they have a lot of creative energy to offer.”
– Matt Appling, Art Teacher and Blogger

Creativity is a gift everyone has been given to share, but doubt, discouragement, and distractions hinder the ability of many to pursue their creative passions. Creating Space advocates for the creative gifts in every person, arguing that…

– Creativity is not a mistake.
– Creativity can be developed.
– Creativity is a vitally important gift for others.

This brief manifesto on creativity is for everyone. Whether you doodle, sing in the shower, knit scarves, or scribble poems, Creating Space will encourage you to make space in your life in order to fulfill your creative calling, using your gifts to their fullest extent.

“This book is a much-needed resource for anyone who has lost the artist within due to the hurriedness of life.”
– Ben Arment, Founder of STORY

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A Special Offer for E-Newsletter Subscribers

Path to Publishing Nonfiction Book

Update: E-Newsletter subscribers now receive my eBook Become a Better Faith Blogger as one of their two free eBook downloads. But don’t worry, A Path to Publishing is only $2.99!

I continue to hear from writers who have landed book deals that my book A Path to Publishing has been incredibly helpful for them as they sorted out the nonfiction book publishing process. One very talented writer even wrote, “This would not have happened without you!”

I don’t know about that, but I do know that publishing is a tough business where you need a lot of advice and a ton more planning if you’re going to succeed. If you’re thinking about publishing a nonfiction book, you’ll want to check out A Path to Publishing and learn more about how it can help you.

I also provide a monthly e-newsletter with updates, free E-books, writing tips, and my favorite writing and productivity links.

I’ve already been offering e-newsletter subscribers a free E-book download of my book Divided We Unite: Practical Christian Unity and the introduction of A Path to Publishing. However, I decided it’s time to help new writers a bit more.

I am now offering the first half of A Path to Publishing as an additional free E-book download to E-newsletter subscribers. Just sign up in the right column, and your “Thank You E-mail” will send you links to both E-books.

Around the middle of each month I’ll send out my e-newsletter with links, tips, book discounts, and exclusive updates about my latest projects. If you want to learn a bit more about my previous book projects, check out my page with everything you could ever want to know.

Thanks for stopping by!

Are You Creating Something?

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“Are you creating something?”

The news screams about scandals.

Facebook promises an easy laugh.

NHL.com makes my heart skip a beat.

Lost in the midst of the noise is my calling to write.

Are you creating something?

That is a question that came to mind a few weeks ago. I wrote it down in a few places, and it has helped me cut through the distractions and focus on my work.

I used to tell myself that checking my e-mail or Twitter was important for networking and staying organized. This question has forced me to face the truth: I seek distractions in order to avoid creating.

In addition, there are two kinds of creating I do: one is for business clients and one is for my own projects. The faster I accomplish my business work, the more time I can devote to writing and editing the books, book proposals, articles, and blog posts that I long to create full time.

Last week I had a really productive run where I knocked out my freelance business work quickly and editing work was scarce. For a few blissful afternoons, I created ideas for future book projects.

As two new projects took shape in my mind, I felt something come alive inside of me. It was like some force within me started shouting, “This is what you were made to do!”

When I ask myself, “Are you creating something?” I’m driving myself back to that centered place where I’m tapping into my calling—the stuff God made me to do.

“Are you creating something?” isn’t a guilt trip. It’s about freeing myself to focus on what I care about most. It’s a reminder that I was made to do something important and that distractions can send us off course if we don’t stop them with the truth: we were made to create something.

3 Reasons Why Writers Should Never Go Over Word Count

redpenLast week I made the mistake of going over word count for a magazine I haven’t written for in a while. It devastated me, as I believe that going over word count is one of the worst mistakes a writer can make—in part because it’s one of the easiest mistakes to correct.

Thankfully the editor took it well and understood that I’d simply gotten the number wrong. However, the failure of a writer to stick to a word count sets off a few red flags that you need to know about if you write professionally.

Can a Writer Follow Instructions?

Much like Van Halen’s “Brown M&M clause” in their contracts, a word count provides a simple metric for determining whether an author is able to follow instructions. Word counts aside, I’ve struggled plenty of times to follow guidelines, so if I can’t even nail a word count, I may have bigger problems.

Can a Writer Edit?

If I keep going over word count, that may indicate that I don’t edit and proofread my work carefully. A word count is a simple number to check. What else is a writer missing during the writing process?

Can a Writer Simplify and Distill Ideas?

A writer unable to go below a word count may have bigger problems with distilling ideas and simplifying concepts. Economical and effective writing is the mark of a good writer. In fact, my greatest growth as a writer has been figuring out how to delete, not necessarily what to write.

How to Claim You Are a Rock Star When You Are Not a Rock Star

There are all kinds of people today on social media who call themselves “rock stars” who are most decidedly NOT rock stars. This can be confusing.

How does one arrive at such a position without having accomplished any of the required “rocking” or “stardom” that is typically associated with rock stars?

Don’t worry, I’m a professional writer, and I’m here to help. While I am not a rock star in either the literal or self-proclaimed sense, I have observed enough self-proclaimed rock stars to cobble together a handy little guide that will show you the can’t-fail path to self-proclaimed rock stardom:

Step 1: Choose A Non-Rock Career

Choose a career path that is most certainly not related to rock music—the more boring and technical, the better. For example, marketing, website design, or social media consulting are particularly fertile careers for non-rock stars to claim rock star status.

Step 2: Adopt a Peppy Tone

Rock stars are passionate, off the chain characters who defy bland copywriting. Jazz up your website’s about me pages and social media profiles with peppy descriptions of how awesome you are. You’re really living on the edge if you can also claim you’re a ninja while weighing over your recommended body mass index.

Step 3: Crown Yourself a Rock Star

Peppy copy alone does not make you a rock star. Rock stars are self-confident and cocky enough to call themselves “rock stars,” critics be damned. Claiming rock star status for yourself, even if you’re hardly a social media maven or a blogging guru, is about going out there and taking what’s yours.

You know you’re a rock star already, so go out there and type it into your profile now, you… you… rock star.

What Should Writers Charge for Freelance Writing?

Setting freelance writing rates is one of the most difficult parts of launching a writing business. Writers can find plenty of work if they’re willing to work for $5 per article or $8 per hour, but for those of us who are professionals doing this full time, we need to earn a living wage.

It’s tricky to figure out an ideal freelance writing rate since every client and project is quite different. One potential client had a 200 page double-spaced document that she wanted me to edit for $50—total. I didn’t take that project on.

Here are a few guidelines I follow in setting my price:

What is the nature of the freelance writing work?

Am I researching, development editing, blogging, proofreading, writing from scratch, or developing an entire plan for communication and marketing? Certain kinds of projects are more demanding, and therefore the price goes up. My lower prices are reserved for research and proofreading with development editing and communications work hit the higher range.

Who is the client?

Depending on the situation, I sometimes give clients price breaks. In the case of self-publishing authors, I’ll try to aim lower since all of the expenses are coming out of their pockets, and they can’t possibly understand how difficult and costly it will be to market their books! In the case of business clients, I may consider discounts for regular clients who consistently provide me with work.

What are the industry price guidelines for freelance writing?

Industry standards vary according to regions and segment of the writing business. The Writer’s Market guide has an extensive pricing list that puts my kind of work in the $15-$60 per hour price range depending on what it is. I try to aim somewhere in the middle to low middle of that price range, with $15 being my lowest rate for very specific projects and situations.

The number of clients who have balked at my prices are roughly equal number to those who have signed me on. I hope that enables me to focus on serving clients who truly value my services, rather than having to work at minimum wage for clients who don’t appreciate what a writer can do.

Why Hire a Professional Writer? 5 Reasons to Hire a Writer

Perhaps you’re running a business, and you’re considering whether it’s really worth hiring a writer to put together a communications piece. Or perhaps you’re a writer hoping to be hired by a company, but you aren’t quite sure how to quantify the value you bring.

Based on my experiences as a freelance writer over the past five years, here are some reasons why it’s worth hiring a professional writer:

  • Writers offer an outside perspective and feedback that add clarity to a message.
  • Writers choose stronger and fewer words in the pursuit of clarity.
  • Writers know how to delete the parts of a message that aren’t working.
  • Writers have experience quickly recognizing problems in a book, article, or communications piece.
  • Writers with experience know techniques and forms that work for particular writing pieces.

Whether editing a book or writing copy for a web site, I find that my clients usually hire me because I can quickly write something clear and concise. Most of my clients feel lost in a forest of words and ideas, and I chop out the non-essentials that are obscuring the path forward, leaving the sturdy trees and adding blazes so they know which way to go.

In fact, my book A Path to Publishing does something quite similar for prospective authors.

Ironically, even the most talented authors need talented editors, who are also skilled writers by another name, to eliminate rabbit trails and dead ends. That’s because no matter how good you are, when it’s your own book, article, press release, web site, newsletter, or whatever else, you’re often too close to the material to effectively evaluate its clarity.

That’s where writers can prove invaluable. Every author and business has something to communicate, and writers help send that message out quickly and effectively.

However, the monetary value of a writer’s work is quite another matter, even if we can all appreciate the need for writers today. A fair wage for writers is where we’re going next, though I can’t promise to be completely objective on that one.

10 Lessons from a Year of Magazine Writing

A year ago I started sending magazine queries to editors on a regular basis. Just the other day I looked over some old queries from last August and September. Man, they were awful.

I should have just followed up my query with a plea to not even read them.

You could say I’ve learned something over the past year, especially since my number of accepted and published articles has significantly increased over the past three months. Here are some lessons that may help you as you query magazine editors:

  1. Brevity. Lead your query with two sentences—three maximum. Check a Writer’s Market for sample letters.
  2. Ask about theme lists before querying. If the guidelines are not listed online, e-mail about them too. Make your first contact with an editor a positive one.
  3. Scan the magazine and read a bit of it to get an idea of the tone and the departments. Most editors say, “Read several editions of our magazine.” Most published freelancers say, “Yeah, whatever.”
  4. Query often. Get so many queries out there that you practically lose track of them.
  5. “No” is not the same as a ban from sending future queries. Try something else.
  6. Feedback in a rejection letter is a good sign. Send another query within two weeks.
  7. Focus on practical, how-to articles in the beginning. Ask yourself, “What do readers of this magazine need to know about?” “What are the problems they’re trying to solve?”
  8. Don’t pitch 3,000 word feature articles right off the bat. Query short, 200-500 word pieces.
  9. Proof read query letters 3 times, with an hour break in between your second and third reading.
  10. Work from small to large. Aim for smaller magazines with less circulation and lower pay before shooting for the big guys. You have a lot to learn if you’re starting off. When you do shoot for the big guys, write on spec. It will eventually pay off, but you need to work your way up.

As with any tips in writing, these are not hard and fast rules. The rules of writing are made to be broken. However, these ten lessons are often on my mind as I send out queries to magazines. Good luck!