Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Why This Blog?

When I first began selling books in the early 1980s, I promised God that I would do whatever I could to help new writers. I had once been where they were. Even though I knew several professional writers, none of them responded to my questions or pleas for help.

I’m a self-starter and worked diligently to do anything I could to improve my writing. As I published more widely, tyros frequently contacted me, asking for help. I can honestly say that I did what I could.

Many of you emailed and expressed your appreciation—and I’ve enjoyed receiving your feedback.

Things have now changed for me. For more than two years, I’ve been trying to retire.

Then I realized it had to be done in incremental steps, stopping one thing and then another. In May of 2017, I quit speaking at writers conferences, which was a big step. Since early 2018, I no longer accept new writing projects.

Closing this blog is my next step. I’ll try to be available to answer questions about writing. Contact me at c.murphey@comcast.net.

I also write a monthly newsletter, and, as a means of staying in touch, I’ve added your names to that list. (You can easily unsubscribe.) I have no idea how long I’ll continue to write the newsletter. I see that as my final step before full retirement.

Thank you for supporting this ministry.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Learn from a Marketing Expert's Email Mistake

(This post is used with permission from Rob Eagar of WildFire Marketing.)*

Recently, I gave two presentations to editors and marketing professionals at a publishing conference. After my sessions were over, I realized that I had made a big blunder.

I forgot to ask people to join my email list.

Even a seasoned marketing expert like me sometimes makes basic mistakes. I blew the chance to add over 100 people to my email list who were a perfect fit. I got so caught up in the short-term focus of delivering my presentations that I forgot my long-term marketing focus.

A growing email list puts you in the driver's seat to control sales of all your products—both new and old. Live events, such as speaking engagements, book signings, podcast appearances, and radio interviews, offer a quick way to grow your list for free. You're in a room with people where an emotional connection and a quick response is the easiest to generate.

When I began my author career in 2002, I was dedicated to building my email list. At live events, I used to give away a giant, 5-pound, Hershey's chocolate bar as part of my presentation to encourage signups. In most cases, I got over 80% of the room to respond. Within a couple of years, I amassed over 8,000 subscribers.

You don't have to give away candy to get email signups. But, there are numerous steps any author can take to increase the size of your list, especially when appearing in public or giving interviews:
  • Tell the listeners you have a special incentive to join your email list, such as a free ebook, novella, video course, etc.
  • Pass around an email signup sheet to the people in the room at live events.
  • Display a link to join your email list on the video screen at events.
  • After your presentation, pass out a one-sheet of notes that includes a mention of your signup incentive and a website link to join your list.
  • Mention your email signup incentive and website link to listeners during a podcast or radio interview. 
An email list doesn't grow by itself. You must take command of the process and be intentional about adding new subscribers.

My bestselling author clients who have over 100,000 email subscribers didn't accrue that number overnight. They remained devoted to building their list over several years.

Learn from my recent mistake. No matter how long you've been writing and marketing your books, keep the main goal in focus. Whenever you speak or get interviewed in public, don't overlook the opportunity to build your email list.

* Rob is the author of The Author's Guide to Email Marketing and other helpful books for writers.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Start to Finish (Part 10 of 10)

Stop. Let go.

When I finished the eighteenth draft of my first article, I knew I couldn’t improve it. Today I could, but that was the best I could do then. An editor or someone else might make it better, or in another year I might have developed my skills enough to make it better. But not then.

To myself I said aloud, "This is the best I can do at this stage of my development." I still repeat those words before I send in a manuscript. It’s my way to let it go.

When you say, "This is the best I can do at this stage of my development," you give yourself permission to stop.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Start to Finish (Part 9 of 10)

Polish the article again.

You've edited once and you're finished.

I doubt it.

Keep editing and revising it until you know you can’t make it better. The first article I ever wrote for publication (and it was accepted the first time out), I wrote eighteen full drafts—and that was in the typewriter days. My first draft was slightly more than 900 words. I tend to be a skinny writer (physically and professionally), and each time I revised I added information and illustrations. When I finished, I had about 2,000 words, which was the right length for periodicals in the 1970s.

Look for redundancies. Most writers tend to overwrite and to say the same thing three or four times with different words. In print, you need to say something only once (unless you're using it as a literary device). Therefore, when you polish, aim for brief articles and short chapters.

Today, articles run 800 to 1800 words, and if you stay below 1200 words, you're probably about right. Chapters have also gotten shorter. Look at the novels of James Patterson for example. None of his chapters takes up more than five pages. Each is one scene, and a decade ago editors would have combined several of them into a single chapter. Patterson caters to the byte-size generation, and his books consistently hit the best-seller lists.

Your writing may not hit the best-seller lists, but you can make it the best writing you're capable of producing. And if it's your best, that's good enough—for now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Start to Finish (Part 8 of 10)

Ignore the manuscript for a time.

Many writers feel exhilarated or relieved when they write the final word and want to get it to the editor or agent. Resist that urge. Look at it again critically. Does this sentence make sense? Did I explain it thoroughly? Did I over-explain?

After I close the file on a manuscript and leave it a few days, perhaps as long as a month, I've always improved it. I use the absolute always because I mean without exception.

When I return to the material, I read it with new insight because the material has been churning in my unconscious mind. (I intentionally put the previous sentence in the passive voice. I could have written: My unconscious mind churned the material, but the emphasis was on the action (churning) and not on the actor (my mind). This is an extra tip.

Write to get the story written; rewrite to improve the quality.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Start to Finish (Part 7 of 10)

Shorten those sentences.

Grumble if you like, but terse-and-clear is the mark of good writing. Whether or not you think a sentence is too short, in order to write well, it probably isn't too short at all.

Read that 15-word sentence again. You can cut words. Whether implies or notAt all is redundant and you can cut in order. I'd suggest you make the sentence read this way: If you think a sentence is too short, it probably isn't.

When I first started to write, the late Charlie Shedd taught, "Never make a sentence longer than 15 words." His words were a bit arbitrary, but in those days 50 words wasn't too long a sentence. Yet vigilantly limited to no more than 15 makes choppy writing.

Here's how I say it: "Let your sentences average no more than 20 words." Good writing doesn't demand a word limit on a sentence. Take as long as you need to express a thought. Afterward, go back and ask if you can eliminate words or perhaps make a long sentence into two.

If you write succinctly and clearly, you're one rung higher on the good-writer ladder. You can figure out the antithesis of that statement. Antithesis is a good word, but it may be beyond the vocabulary of some readers. Why not say the opposite? That's another tip.

Good writers cut ruthlessly.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Start to Finish (Part 6 of 10)

Polish your writing.

I like to rewrite. Sound crazy? Not to me, because I enjoy finding ways to make my writing better. Below are some of the things I look for when I get into Serious Mode Editing.

I scrutinize for clichés, fuzzy thoughts, grammatical problems, poor word choice, and favorite words I've used too often. I ask myself if I've written with a logical progression. Too many writers touch on a topic and four paragraphs later go back to the same point.

Another thing, I read the final sentence of a paragraph and the first of the next to see if I've made good transitions. If you read the two previous sentences, you'll see that by starting this paragraph with "another thing," I made a transition. You had no trouble following my thoughts.

I get rid of clutter, such as redundancies and laborious phrases. A good rule is that if I can think of a simpler word, I use it in place of a long word. We write to communicate, not to impress.

Check sentence length. When you get above 20 words in a sentence with no commas or semicolons, you're already straining the grasp of some.

I especially look for clichés. I'm weary of reading those overused phrases. At Christmas, for example, I read numerous ads that tout the perfect Christmas gift. Not only is nothing perfect, but the word has become meaningless.

I'll deal with clichés another time, but think of it this way. If it's an expression you've heard before, it's probably a cliché. Find a different-but-clear way to say it.

Revise that article. Then do it again.
There is no magic number of revisions, but it's always more than one.