Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Overselling Yourself

(This post by literary agent Dan Balow is excerpted from an article that first appeared on The Steve Laube Agency blog. It is used with his permission.)

The desire to be noticed can lead to overselling yourself.

The emphasis on marketing platforms tempts authors to oversell themselves in an attempt to gain more attention. (I define overselling as a series of activities made to make you appear smarter, better, or more qualified and famous than you are in reality.)

And this is partly my fault, along with everyone else in publishing. We demand you spend a lot of time proclaiming, “Look at me” in social media, then we are appalled when someone overstates their credentials and status.

Some things to remember:

You are not a bestselling author if the sum total of your publishing is free downloads. (Note the word is bestselling, not bestgiving.)

You are not an internationally known writer if someone in another country reads your book. The description indicates a deeper kind of connection to those in other lands.

You are not an award-winning author if you won an award anyone can get. There are no awards for participation in publishing. There’s an expectation of the term “award-winning” which includes a level of objectivity and importance.

You do not have an impressive author platform if the way you get 50,000 Twitter followers is to follow 75,000.

You don’t become a “scholar” for self-study. Scholar is a term bestowed by respected institutions of higher learning, not yourself.

You don’t become an expert in something because you wrote a book. You write a book because you are an expert in something. And you can write.

Agents, publishers, and readers easily spot overselling credentials and experience. We would rather someone be transparent and honest than push something they are not, by overstatement.

When authors don’t oversell themselves, an amazing transformation occurs.

Authors become real people, flawed-but-redeemed men and women. Once overselling ceases, the real person comes through and is far more attractive to “follow” or “like” in social media.

Overselling yourself creates a gap (more of a canyon really) between you and your readers, which will be difficult to cross in either direction. If an author wants to maintain an oversold persona, they will come across as aloof and isolated. In turn, the readers view them as distant and are not drawn to them.

Overselling yourself is a result of trying too hard to impress. It rarely works to accomplish the intended goal. In fact, most often it is counter-productive to achieving the purpose for overselling in the first place.

Sometimes very famous and successful authors can be quite lovely people to be around. They don’t have to oversell; they can be themselves and readers like it. It’s “the bigger they are the nicer they are” principle. The reason? They let their work and success speak for itself.

Just be real in everything you do, and write a great book people will buy and want to read.

Everyone loves real.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Being in Print Doesn’t Make It Good Writing

As we grow in our writing skill, we also grow in noticing weakness and errors in print. Not always wrong as much as careless is the author using the same word twice in the same paragraph or (worse) in the same sentence.

Mary Higgins Clark’s The Melody Lingers On has this awkward sentence on page 91: “At least you have to give him credit for being a thoughtful son, Jon thought.”

Two things hit me. First, the cliché you have to give him credit, but worse, she uses thoughtful, and three words later in the same sentence, she uses thought.

I haven’t liked reading The Message because of the abundance of clichés, but I determined to read it from Genesis through Revelation. This morning I hit this sentence in 1 Thessalonians 1: “Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were to take great joy from the Holy Spirit—taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.” I can overlook the triple use of joy because it flows. But he wrote take and then taking. It would have been easy for him to substitute receive, derive, or experience, which would have made the prose smoother and not changed the meaning.

What weaknesses have you noticed in print?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Send Simultaneous Submissions or Not?

(This article is written by literary agent Steve Laube and first appeared on his agency blog. It's reprinted here with his permission.)

Bryan Mitchell asked, “What is the max number of submissions you should send at a given time? I’ve heard ten but that sounds off; to me, it seems it should be less than that if you are carefully considering the agents you reach out to.”

When approaching agents I encourage simultaneous submissions, as long as you let us know you are doing so. But, as Bryan answered his own question, there is no magic number. The number should include those you think are the best fit for your project based on what you’ve discovered in your research.

Please do not ever send your proposal to multiple agents in the same agency at the same time. This happens to our agency nearly a half dozen times a week and it is annoying. It is almost guaranteed to receive a rejection.

There are some services on the Internet who will sell you a list of agents and make it simple to hit them all at once. We can often tell when this happens and it is not a good thing for the author.

Why Simultaneous Submissions to Agents?

Since each agent has a backlog of proposals to review it can take time to properly evaluate them all. If you send it to Agent ABC and it takes two months to get a “no thanks,” then you send it to Agent DEF and it takes two months… By the time you get to Agent XYZ it could be a few years.

Better to target your first group of choice agents and send to them all. That way within a couple months you can find out if any have interest. If they all say no or let your proposal languish in the inbox (a form of benign rejection) then you can move to the next group of agents that you have researched.

A simple sentence at the end of your letter can say “This is a simultaneous submission.”

Where Do You Start Looking?

The Christian Writers Market Guide has nearly 60 agencies listed with around 100 agents from which to choose. That is a good place to start your research.

You can also go to any number of quality writers conferences and meet with the agents who attend. I was at a conference at the end of July and there were six agents in attendance.

If you are a part of a writers group or a larger association like RWA or ACFW or AWSA, you can ask for referrals from those who you trust in that network.

Do Your Research, Please

I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating. A book proposal is like a job application. If you are looking for employment, I suspect you would research the company to which you are applying and would customize your application to that organization.

The same thing applies when approaching an agent. We try to make it relatively easy to contact us and we do not hide our names. Why then does the occasional writer think they can get away with the salutation “to whom it may concern” or “dear agent”?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Lifeblood of a Million Dollar List

(This article was written by Rob Eagar of Wildfire Marketing and is reprinted with his permission.)

If you're new to the idea of building a million dollar email list, here's a principle that is crucial to success regardless of whether you're an author, business, or non-profit: List revenue follows list growth.

You must constantly add new subscribers to grow revenue. There are constant forces at work against your list that will reduce the size of your list size and its performance—unless you actively combat it. The industry term is sometimes called the "churn rate," which refers to the amount of people who stop responding to your emails. Every list naturally decreases over time for various reasons beyond your control:
  • People may decide your emails are no longer a good fit and unsubscribe. 
  • People may change their email and forget to tell you the new address. 
  • People may get enamored with other newsletters and ignore your emails. 
  • People may forget to whitelist your emails and your stuff goes into a junk folder. 
Since you can't control this natural attrition, how do you keep your email list and revenue growing over time? Maintain a focus on constantly adding new subscribers. Your list always needs new blood.

This principle was proven by ground-breaking research from Dr. Byron Sharp, the world's leading authority on brand growth and the author of "How Brands Grow." Through exhaustive studies, Dr. Sharp found that the world's top brands, such as Coke, Proctor & Gamble, and Apple, are successful due to a little-known secret. They are superior at expanding their reach and attracting larger amounts of all types of buyers. But it's not the heavy buyers who make the difference. Sure, they have lots of loyal customers. But those companies are #1 because they attract the most light, infrequent customers. They live by the principle of always adding new blood to their customer base.

This same dynamic applies to building a million dollar list. Your success hinges upon how well you add new subscribers. Always make this focus your top priority. Attracting new subscribers is based on creating and promoting irresistible incentives. Be ruthless about your incentives. Don't stick with something that isn't working. If you offer a new incentive for 14 days and it doesn't get a strong response, kill it quickly and try something else. Continually experiment with new incentive ideas to find what entices your audience the most.

Give yourself a minimum goal to add at least 1,000 new subscribers per month. Otherwise, your list will stagnate over time. In contrast, growing your list creates a chain reaction of these positive results:
  • More people to open your emails. 
  • More people to click on purchase links in your emails. 
  • More people to forward and share your emails. 
  • More people to provide helpful research and feedback you conduct by email. 
  • More people to test new and buy new products. 
  • More people to build a larger list that creates greater passive income. 
Your car won't run without adding new fuel. Your body won't function without adding new food. Keep feeding your list with new subscribers, and you'll provide the lifeblood to build a million dollar list.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 16 of 16)

May and Can. We might as well give up on this rule because the can-ites won the war. No one seems to have trouble with can, but my guess is that the use of may sounds too formal.

In school, most of us learned that may referred to authorization or permission while can denoted physical or mental ability.

“May I have this dance?” asks permission. But if you asked, “Can I have this dance?” you inquired about the potential partner’s physical ability.

Strict grammarians still insist on may as the polite way to ask for permission; however, for as long as most of us have been alive, either is now acceptable, except in formal situations.

This is a case where usage overturned rules.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 15 of 16)

Dropping or keeping the final e in words can be troublesome. Many words end with a silent e— brave, move, late, rinse. The general rule is to drop the final e when you add endings that begin with a vowel.

Advise + able = advisable.

Guide + ance = guidance.

Force + able = forcible.

If the final silent e is followed by an ending that begins with a consonant, keep the e.

Like + ness = likeness.

Accurate + ly = accurately.

Care + ful = careful.

In English, we seem to have exceptions for every rule, so here they are.

Sometimes, we retain the silent e before an ending beginning with a vowel to avoid confusion with another word.

Dye + ing = dyeing. (Otherwise it looks like dying.)

Another reason is to prevent mispronunciation of words, like mile + age to become mileage.

To further complicate the rule, we sometimes retain the silent e after a soft c or g. That’s to show that those two letters aren’t pronounced with a hard sound.

Courage to courageous, and the list includes changeable, noticeable, manageable, embraceable.

One more exception. We often drop the silent e before an ending that begins with a consonant, if it’s preceded by another vowel.

True + ly = truly.

Argue + ment = argument.

Due + ly = duly.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Those Nagging Little Problems (Part 14 of 16)

Let’s look at sentences that begin with there is or there was. I suggest you avoid using that construction for three reasons.

1. It adds nothing to the value of the sentence.

2. It makes sentences longer. (And today, the rule is short sentences, or bite-sized.)

3. Using that construction means you put the verb before the subject, which is normally not the way we write or speak in English.

Here are examples of ways to make your sentences better.

There are your keys on the desk. 
Better: Your keys (subject) are (verb) on the desk.

There will be 500 people attending the meeting. 
Better: Five hundred people will attend the meeting.

It was disappointing that Elsa wasn’t nominated. 
Better: Elsa’s not being nominated was disappointing.

Here’s an example of wordiness. 

There were delays and cost overruns that troubled the tunnel’s builders. 
Try this: Delays and costs troubled the tunnel’s builders.

How about this one?

It was the fear of investors they wouldn’t earn profits once the tunnel opened. 
Change it to: Investors feared they wouldn’t earn profits once the tunnel opened.