Archive for the ‘Book Marketing’ Category

Wonder how to get a book published? Don’t do THIS.

by Laurie Winslow Sargent

Are you a beginning writer, thinking about self-publishing? Please wait:

Ready Wait computer image by Photo by Stuart Miles FDPh net

Lately I’ve wanted to pull my hair out, seeing many aspiring but not-yet-professional writers, talking (especially on Twitter) about flinging themselves headlong into self-publishing. Yikes.There are so many things wrong with this picture that I will try to calm down and attempt to explain a few things.

I want you to know:

Traditional, royalty publishing is still alive and well.

They pay you, you don’t pay them. That includes NOT being required to buy copies of your own book (often at an exorbitant price) to be “accepted for publication”.  Yes, it is competitive. But there are ways to break into royalty publishing if you take time to learn how the industry works, connect with people in the writing field, hone great writing skills, create a marketable topic or story, and build an audience (before publication). All that takes time, patience, and not letting rejections get you down, because no manuscript is a one-size-fits-all. It can take diligence to find a good fit for your work.

Self-publication goes by various names, and many self-publishing companies prey on writers.

Many have no real interest in promoting books as long as they get money up front from the authors. They often make promises they don’t keep, leaving authors stuck with stacks of unprofessionally written/produced books that don’t sell.

A more honest type of publishing has emerged recently, called hybrid, or partner publishing, where the publisher and writer share costs. However, the level of professionalism is higher, on both sides. This type of publisher can be a  good fit for an already-professional writer who clearly understands how the book industry works and how critical editing is. That writer will already have a large reader audience, funds set aside for editing and marketing, plus a well-developed marketing plan. (But look out — unscrupulous groups posing as hybrid publishers are sure to follow.) Yet even with a good company, any author who rushes into a contract to pay for book printing with nothing left for editing or marketing is shooting themselves in the foot from the start.

It takes time and energy to learn the craft and the industry.

I compare this to earning a bachelor’s degree vs. taking a one-day community college workshop. There are so many facets to both learning the craft of writing and all the in-and-outs of the business of writing. That’s not to say any highly motivated writer can’t learn both! But know too it is a continuous journey. There is always more to learn. You learn from books on writing (try Writer’s Digest books and magazine, even at your library), writing workshops and conferences, and critique groups. You write like crazy AND you develop an author platform. (More on that, later.)

Editing is a MUST.

And I mean professional editing. If you go with a traditional publisher, they provide both content (organizational) and copy editors (to make sure text fits style manuals) but you still must be able to send them writing that is as clean as possible of grammatical errors/misspellings/punctuation errors. I have been truly horrified by self-published books that are not just disorganized but also sloppy in ways any Word spelling/grammar checker would catch. Often I will see errors within the first two pages of a book and I just can’t bear to go on unless that writer is paying me to edit it and truly wants feedback.

But quite frankly, you can also teach yourself how to do that kind of basic self-editing — websites abound with free lessons on improving grammar, spelling and punctuation. (For example, I had a brain glitch and forgot whether I should use vs. or Vs, and found a tip online.) There is really no excuse to sending manuscripts with common errors to editors, let alone publishing them. Of course, typos happen. You may even spot a few in this article! (Perhaps I’m rushing too quickly to get this online 🙂 )  But typos should obviously be the exception, not the norm.

By the way, I’m begging you not to ask people to “BETA” read your book and expect it to replace professional editing. Friends, even fellow authors, might be nice about reading your book, yet hesitant to say what they really think, or be fine writers in their own genre yet not have the best editing skills. It may be awkward or terribly time-consuming for them to write down comments. And professional editors will have no patience being expected to go through your story with a fine-toothed comb (which can take hours, including writing review comments) for free. It can be particularly agonizing when it’s clear the writer never took time to learn to write well.

BETA readers are appropriate if you have already had highly professional editing done and you have close friends who would love to read your book and let you know if they spot a rare error while reading for pleasure. If they say no to that, it may be an indication previous works of yours were not their cup of tea or your friends may simply lack time, so take a “no” graciously. Same goes for reviews you hope friends will write for you.

Don’t ask readers to pay you to learn.

I also will have no hair left if I see many more writers on the web asking potential readers to fund their writing projects.  It’s critical for writers to put in the time and energy to learn the craft and industry well. This is especially aggravating to writers who have taken years to do that.

OK, enough of my ranting. I don’t mean to frustrate you if you are eager for step-by-step how-to in getting started. I promise I will give you more nuts and bolts on working toward book publishing, just as I have in my magazine article writing/marketing series. If you don’t want to miss any posts, sign up for blog update notices. I usually post updates about once a month. But if you read the magazine writing advice in Laurie’s Lessons you will find much of that also applies to book publishing.

l will also share a bit more in the future about my own path to publication, in case that is helpful to you. But as a teaser, let it be known that I never nursed my babies or took a long car ride without having a book in my hand teaching me how to write, or edit, or market my writing.

From the start I set out to be a professional, learning everything I could about query and proposal writing, professional formatting, and appropriate ways to contact people in the writing industry —  in addition to practicing all aspects of the craft of writing. I also learned to start small — so although I was selling my writing within a year of getting serious about it, I began by selling short stuff — articles and personal experience stories to national magazines. It paid well, and I was able to build my reputation as a professional writer, so when it came time to writing my books, publishers were already aware of my work.

Don’t rush, but don’t give up!

For now, I’m simply pleading with you to STOP THE TRAIN if you are rushing headlong into self-publication, especially if you are paying to have books produced, then have no funds for editing. Asking others to volunteer free editing time because you have overextended yourself financially is discouraging to those who have pinched pennies themselves to learn how to write and edit well.

Writers have a wonderful opportunity in this day and age to be able to create beautiful websites for free, place excellent writing on it, and connect directly with readers and potential readers! Rejoice in that! But don’t let all that lead you to take shortcuts professionally, including rushing to publication.

If you love to write, and consistently get good feedback on your writing, you can indeed learn how to do it professionally.

Write on!


[Image by Stuart Miles,]


How Authors Lose Book Sales by Distracting and Annoying Potential Book Buyers

By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

CLICK HERE . . . NO, HERE . . . NO, HERE . . .

Do you really want me to buy your book, or are you just teasing me?

If someone asked you as an author, “Do you want book sales?” you would answer, “Of course!”

Yet many authors these days lead potential book buyers down multiple rabbit trails . . . to the point that readers finally become annoyed or distracted from buying that book that originally caught their attention.

At least that’s the case for one voracious reader: me.

Last year I actually purchased more books (including Kindle books) than I have in years past. But this is how it usually works for me:

I see on Twitter a book title–with a clear topic–linked directly to the Amazon (or other bookseller’s page) where it is sold. Or within the text of an article I see a hyperlinked book title or cover image I can click.

Click 1 and I’m to Amazon. Click 2 and I’ve bought your book. Maybe a bit impulsively, but if priced well, I’ve rarely regretted that.

Sometimes I do take time to read reviews, or even open another browser tab to visit the author’s website. But at this point the Amazon sales page is already open for me to make a decision on — one way or another.

Sadly, there are too many other great-looking books I ALMOST bought. Was so very close to buying. And never did.

Did you ask me to click from Twitter, to Pinterest? Then to your website to find out more about you? Then make me hunt on your website for your book tab? Then make me hunt within that book webpage full of lovely images and text about your book for an actual link to buy it?

Sorry, but I am WAY too easily distracted to hop from social media to blogs or websites without losing track of my original goal — to possibly buy that one book. Please remember, I’m a reader. I love to read. That means if you keep giving me new things to read, and click, and read, and click,  I will forget what I was doing in the first place.

Call me flaky, but I end up thinking: Oh, my, what an interesting author! And this article is fascinating. (Read through article.) Wait . . . why am I here?

Oh yeah. Her book. What was that title again? (Hunt on the blog or website for the Books link.) Ahah. Here it is. Oh, look at all her interesting titles! Hmm. Maybe I want that one instead.

Suddenly I’m temporarily distracted by new mail in my Outlook folder, so I stop to check that. An hour later I realize I still have the author’s website page open on my desktop, with all her books.

Hmm. She looks so interesting, but I can’t decide which book I want. I’ll bookmark this site, check it out later…  I fully intend to, but never do.

Authors, I’m begging you . . . although Pinterest itself may be great for book sales, please don’t lead me from one teaser to another. A teaser on Twitter to a teaser on Pinterest. With a click to a teaser on Facebook.  Call me impatient, but at that point I often think, Good grief, I don’t feel like logging into Facebook right now.  If I do log on, but am led at that point to a blurb about your book on Facebook with no link to where to buy it, I’m just frustrated.

Even when potential readers want your book, they don’t necessarily have time to explore all your sites. Value their time. Get them to your book sales page with 1-2 simple mouse clicks.

Many authors who are timid about book marketing fear pushing what they think is a hard sell. Other authors use so much automation, connecting their social networks, that it just creates a maze of confusion.

Are book sales your goal? It’s OK to be honest about that. Readers know it anyway, and if they’ve clicked at least one link they are already interested.

Tweak with Caution: Editing true stories from others for your books or articles

Do you enjoy compiling and editing true stories from others, for use in your own books or articles? Here’s a word of caution.

caution sign used to illustrate caution when editing true storiesToday I grabbed a neat book off my shelf to re-read – then realized I’d never read it to begin with. Nor promoted it, as I’d originally intended.

Then I remembered why.

Before the book was published, I was pleased to be asked by the author to contribute a mother-daughter story to it. The author and publisher were highly respectable, and I believed our story would glorify God and hopefully encourage parents.  So I’d emailed a brief version of the story to the author. I fully expected it to be edited to fit the context and style of the author’s book. As a writer for magazines for many years I am used to being edited, so have no problem with that.

However, I also assumed that if the author had any questions related to the story, or had any major additions she wanted to make to it, she would email me.

The day our gift copy arrived in the mail, I was all set to buy a bunch of copies to give to family, friends, and my daughter’s friends. They all knew about or had been part of that story of answered prayer and were excited to see it in print. It was a completely positive story with no bad-guy scenarios, so all involved would have been proud to share it via their social networks. My daughter and her friends loved any excuse to spread the word about how God can work in everyday circumstances. (And who doesn’t like to say they are mentioned in a book?)

Sadly, it didn’t play out that way. Instead, the resulting story made us both feel just awkward enough that we didn’t feel compelled to widely share it. Not upset, nor angry, just  . . . awkward. So it sat on our shelf until now — nearly seven years later.

In retrospect, as I now spend a lot of time in the marketing arena, I simply see this as an unnecessarily  lost marketing opportunity for the author.


The actual result of answered prayer in the story was accurate. My own quotes and thoughts were portrayed accurately. But here’s where the author missed the boat:

1) To make the story more readable and creative, she inserted dialogue and thoughts as if from my daughter, but not provided by her nor me.  The resulting dialogue flowed well and enhanced the story, but didn’t actually reflect what my daughter would have said or felt. It just didn’t quite ring true with her personality. And since it felt awkward to both of us and would have seemed odd to her friends too, it made the resulting story feel less true, so less of a ministry opportunity. Had the author emailed us her additional quotes, it would have been about a ten minute fix to make sure those quotes were closer to the conversation my daughter and I actually had.

2) Not knowing the name of one key person in the story, she made one up. This would have been fine had all our names been made up, but with only one fake name, it was awkward because my daughter’s friends knew she had no friend by that name. On Facebook, she would have had to explain that the story was mostly true, especially the answer to prayer, even if some things were changed. However, it would have taken the author less than a minute to ask me via email the name of the friend in the story. Such a tiny detail, but so important to the person whose name had been changed, and to her friends, and to show the story as fully true.

The book still turned out great, and I’m actually enjoying reading it now. It’s neat to be reminded of God’s love and the way He encouraged us as a family. So truly, no harm, no foul. It just turned into a marketing blunder for the author way back then — and could for another well-meaning author now.

As an author myself, I nearly experienced a much worse-case scenario with an embarrassing misuse of words.

I had briefly offended a story contributor (for one of my own books) by the way I’d phrased a few sentences relating to her child. I thought I was being encouraging but the way I had phrased it came out wrong. I had made an assumption related to special needs that wasn’t accurate, and you know about that word ASSUME: it can make an (first three letters of that word) out of U and ME. In this case it was just ME.

To my great relief I learned this BEFORE I send in my manuscript, so had time to correct it. Thankfully, too, I learned this as soon as I sent my changes to my contributor to ask if there was anything at all I hadn’t gotten right, saying I’m always open to changes. Hopefully that kept the contributor from needlessly agonizing over how to contact me to tell me she was unhappy, and she seemed pleased with my revision.

Sometimes a word or two in the wrong place carries a nuance with it that is unintended and easily corrected.

Giving contributors a chance to review their edited stories or comments is not what’s typically done in the journalism field. Newspaper writers are discouraged from doing this. Time for corrections can push back deadlines or may cause unnecessary challenges, especially when someone quoted accurately doesn’t like the way that appeared in print. (I think this happens most when a quote is taken out of context.)

However, I’ve never quite had the stomach for hard-hitting investigative journalism. I prefer to get my contributors to share their thoughts and have me reflect them as accurately as possible, even if they need extra time to clarify that a bit more. And at least in the book industry, and even with magazine articles with deadlines months out, we have the luxury of a bit more time for fact-checking than something going in tomorrow’s newspaper. However, those of you under tight book deadlines I hope will build in enough time to be able to email edits to your contributors.

None of this may be necessary if you’ve only edited for grammar, clarity, or to condense a story — although condensing may leave out crucial elements, subtly changing a story.  But if you want to add elements to a story to bring it more to life, it would be a great courtesy to your contributors –and a good marketing strategy too — to make sure you got things right. It also goes a long way in building long-term relationships with your contributors, friends, and even family if you dare to quote them!

Your contributor will not only thank you profusely, but is more likely to eagerly and enthusiastically Tweet, Pin, Facebook and email shout-outs about your book that they are so pleased to be a part of!

Your thoughts?

%d bloggers like this: