Monthly Archives: July 2009

Rejected – or not?

For many years I didn’t write for publication.

I wrote in lots of other contexts and produced training programmes, assessment frameworks, guides, handbooks, advertising copy . . . and so on.

I hesitated about publication because I had heard so much about the rejections that writers receive. The accepted wisdom seems to be that writers get rejected, and that rejection is just part of a writer’s life.

Some of the tales that writers tell about their struggles to get published are horror stories. They tell of years and years of trying to get published, plus rejection after rejection. Writers make approaches to agents, which are turned down. Publishers say no. It all sounds very depressing.

I chose not to put myself in this sort of situation because I really didn’t want those experiences.

However, when I finally decided to broaden my writing activities to include publication, I didn’t find myself facing rejection.

My first book proposal was accepted. The contract was with me three weeks after I had submitted my proposal.

My second book proposal was also accepted.

The first feature articles I submitted were published in magazines that can be found on news stands.

Yes, I have had a book proposal turned down. I have also been in a situation where an editor did not respond to my query.

However, the vast majority of proposals I have made to editors  have been accepted.  The material has been published and paid for.

So why is my experience different from that of many writers?

I’m convinced that my success in getting published – which must stand at over 90% of my proposals – is the result of my being a businessperson who writes rather than a writer.

I write for real audiences. I make sure I understand who the readers of a publication are before I think about what I might want to say to them. I find out what their issues and concerns are. I think about them as real people. I follow themes and trends in their magazines. I do all of this before I consider what, if anything, I might want to write.

When I contact the relevant editor the conversation is about the readership of the publication and its interests. I only offer what I think will be of interest to the readership once I am sure, as a result of speaking to the editor, I have judged the mood of the readership correctly.

I probably have at least half a dozen themes and treatments I could offer before the telephone conversation begins. I refine what I will offer as a result of the first part of the conversation with the editor.

What I’m doing here is what successful businesspeople do. I’m segmenting the market before I take action. I’m getting to understand my prospects. I’m doing my best to qualify the audience in terms of their characteristics, interests and concerns.

I’m also sounding out the editor of the relevant publication and discussing possibilities.

What I’m not doing is trying to find a market for an idea that I already have. I’m not trying to sell a commodity – an article or a feature that is already fully formed in my mind. I’m discussing what will be of interest to a readership. Then I make a proposal.

As a result, when I make an approach to an editor, I tend not to be rejected.

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Getting Published

As a writer you want to be published.

As a writer you also know that getting published can be difficult, but there are ways of making the task easier.

Recently I spoke to Alison Baverstock, a successful publisher, trainer and writer, who teaches publishing studies at Kingston University, about the problems writers face when they start to think about how to get their work into print. She has valuable advice to offer writers everywhere.

What’s the biggest mistake writers looking to be published make?
Quite a few writers try to get their work published too soon. They long for their book to be solid and real. They send it off to a publisher or agent before it’s ready to be published.

Writers need to gain a sense of themselves as writers before they submit their work. They need to develop the ability to structure their work well. They also need to seek feedback, and make their work as good as they can make it, before they send it to a publisher.

What do all writers need to know about the publishing industry?
They need to remember that publishing is a business. Publishers must make a profit from the works they publish. They are responsible for the money they spend and they must make good use of it.

Some writers think that if they just keep trying to get published, their turn will come. It’s not like that.

To succeed, writers must study the market.

They should read The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Keep track of current bestsellers. Find out what’s popular in bookshops. Look for trends. Find out what people are talking about, and what they’re interested in.

What advice would you offer to writers about the task of writing?
Develop respect for the writing process.

Make sure you finish what you set out to do. Lots of people start books but don’t finish them. Starting a book is the easy bit. Completing the task is more difficult.

When you’re writing you need a structure to your day, if you’re going to write successfully. You need to set aside time to write.

You also need to remember that the world can be very unkind to writers, so you must believe in yourself and what you’re doing.

What would you advise writers who want to be published do to improve their chances of publication?
Read more.

Get used to reading. Look at how other people write. Look for the structures in their writing. Reinforce this on the brain. Learn from others.

Take time to find out what other people find fascinating. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, do this. It will help you to decide what to write about.

Also, these days, it’s necessary to do more than write. You need to be able to speak coherently. You need to be ready to do television interviews or go on the radio. You need to speak with confidence as well as write well.

Alison is the author of a number of books for writers. One of her most recent works is: Marketing Your Book: How to Target Agents, Publishers and Readers  – Alison Baverstock, (A & C Black, 2007). This book offers writers guidance on all aspects of marketing their books before and after publication.

“How to get published: a conference for writers” is a two day conference being led by Alison Baverstock at Kingston University on September 11th and 12th 2009. 

Click here to learn more or telephone 020 8417 7790 for information.

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Faster Learning

Tips and hints are always useful when you want to develop your skills and abilities.

Learning from an expert is also a good way of learning quickly.

With the next post I’m starting a new thread of support on this blog. 

It’s all about learning from the experts.

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Promoting yourself as a fiction writer and as a non-fiction writer . . .

The promotional challenges you face are quite different when you write fiction from those you face when you write non-fiction. Yet, in both cases you need to think about your image and your personal brand as well as your writing.

When you promote yourself as a writer of non-fiction the chances are you’re promoting yourself as an expert in something. Perhaps you have written articles about aspects of your book or books. Maybe you write a blog about your subject, or speak at conferences, or work in the relevant industry.

Your key messages are likely to be:

“I know the answers.”
“You’ll be interested in what I have to say on this subject.”
“I can help you to solve your problems.”

And that’s what you need to do through your books.

When you promote yourself as a writer of fiction, you’re selling something else.

You’re trying to sell to someone the idea that you’re a good storyteller.

There is a problem here. There is no agreed definition of what makes a good story, let alone a clear statement about what makes a good storyteller. There are also lots and lots and lots of novels out there, so how can you differentiate your novel from all the rest?

Don’t think you can just talk about your book. Every one has great things to say about their books. You need to give people other reasons for taking an interest in you.

If you start to say that you’re a good storyteller or a great writer of romance, it’s more difficult to prove your case. Of course, track record is important, but every one has to start somewhere, so think about other ways of enticing people to read your work.

Maybe your messages about yourself are to do with your age and your experiences. Maybe you live in the same area as your target readership or where your novel is set. Maybe your background is similar to that of your target readers. Maybe you have an interesting personal story to tell.

And lots more of the same.

In order to succeed you need to think about your image and the personal brand you are creating whatever you write, because this is part of your sales message.

What’s more, it’s never too soon to think about this aspect of your work, so don’t neglect it whilst you are writing your great work.

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Promoting yourself

Most writers don’t like the idea of promoting themselves.

They don’t want to tell the world how good they are at anything.
If someone else tells them they do something well, they are often uncomfortable about accepting the praise.

In business you need to adopt a different tack.

  • If you don’t say that you do a good job, why should anyone else?
  • If you don’t say your work is excellent, why should anyone else?

If you don’t write that press release or agree to do that interview for the local radio station to let the world know about your personal success and your vision and your passions . . . will anyone else?

Most writers don’t go in for self-promotion. They are somehow embarrassed at the prospect of doing so. Many writers prefer to stay in the shadows and to let their works speak for them.

They don’t like to think about promoting themselves and they assume their publishers will promote their books.

Well, publishers have limited funds to promote books and authors – as noted in the previous post.

Additionally, you know best what image you want to present to the world. You know how you wish to project yourself into your marketplace – or if you don’t, it’s time to get started.

Here are two questions to help you to know yourself better.

  1. If I didn’t do what I do, what would be missing in the world?
  2. If a journalist asked me to define myself in a single sentence, what would I say?

We ask these questions – and quite a few more – in our workshop for writers looking to build their business.

Try them out for yourself now.

Next time: what’s the difference between promoting yourself as a writer of fiction and as a writer on non-fiction?

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Selling your books

Assuming you’ve already had some of your work published, then you will know that publishers, these days, have limited resource to promote their titles.

It’s important you build a relationship with the marketing manager at your publisher’s headquarters pretty quickly so that you will know what your publisher can do to help to sell your work.

You will probably find that he or she has a limited budget and a big list of books to promote. It won’t surprise you – at least it shouldn’t, if you’re in business – to learn that marketing people will spend their precious resource where they think it will produce the best results.

This means that established writers with a track record and a following are more likely to get a bigger slice of that resource than you are. Therefore, you need to help to market your book.

Why?

There are two very important reasons.

The first is all to do with your royalties. If you help to sell some of your books, then you will get a monetary return on your investment.

There’s an even more important reason.

If you want to stand a chance of a publisher taking on your next book, then you need to be able to prove that your work sells.

This is all about being in business.

So you need to learn about self-promotion. This means you need a website. You need a blog. You also need to learn how to write web copy that your potential readers might like to read.

You need  to think about why people should buy your book and you need to promote that message.

You need to write articles about the subject matter of your book, especially if you write non-fiction.

You need to write articles, even if you write fiction, because you want to promote your work.  You want more and more people to know about your work.  People need to be aware of you and your work before they will buy what you have written.

You need to how to link your book’s content to topics of interest to specific groups of people. Is your novel set in a specific location? Could you write about that location and why you chose it as your setting? Could you write in a local paper or magazine in that area?

Could you write articles about the topics in your book for a range of audiences? I write books on self-help and personal development and growth. I also write features about continuous professional development specifically for teachers in the magazines that they read.

You need to allocate time and a budget to this activity because promoting your works and yourself is what a businessperson who writes will do.

Learn the basics of promotion and do something to promote your work every week.

Whenever your book was published, it needs you to take an interest in its success.

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Fast Learning?

People who know my work and my background know that I am from the world of learning. My business is built around training. When I was employed I worked in the learning “industry”. I still write for a number of journals in the education world.

Learning is the key to successful business.

Successful business is built around one of the key action learning premises.

You need to ensure that your personal learning keeps pace with the rate of change in the environment in which you are working.

Every one talks about changes in the world of technology and communications.

Some people just accept that change is taking place but don’t, themselves, take action to keep up with the change.

In all business areas – including the world of writing – those changes mean that people who write also need to spend an amount of time on their learning. I’m not talking about learning about how to write. I’m talking about learning how to run your business successfully.

The next few posts will deal with some of the issues and some of the things you need to keep up with, if you’re going to improve your chances of success.

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