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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

4 Things You Can't Not Know Before You Self-Publish

Whenever I have a client who’s self-publishing, especially those who are just dipping their toe into the world of publishing for the first time, there is a host of information I want them to know. I can’t communicate all of it, but here’s what you can’t not know:

1.    Editing Process
When a contracted manuscript is submitted to a traditional publisher, the process will typically involve:
·      One or two rounds of developmental editing
·      A round of copy editing
·      Several meticulous rounds of proofreading, looking for the tiniest errors: an extra space after a period, a “zero” that’s really a capital “O,” or a “there” instead of a “their.”
Readers have been trained to expect an error-free product, and even a few errors can cause the reader to lose confidence in the book, and set it down. While this rigorous level of precision isn’t always possible when self-publishing, your readers will be best-served if you put this important work into your book up front.

2.    Book Cover
Whether readers will be browsing through a bookstore, scrolling through thumbnail images on Amazon, or buying from a merch table, the cover matters. It both signals what’s inside and whether what’s inside has value for the reader. Even if you have the technical skills to create a cover using your photo editing software, don’t. Resist the urge. There are tried and true principles relating to images, colors, font styles, and font sizes that make for great covers. Let a professional design the cover of your book.

3.    Book Design
Have you ever noticed that the inside of a traditionally published book, all the pages of content, have been designed? Care and attention have been given to the precise measurements of margins, as well as the size and shape of fonts in the text, chapter titles, headers and subheads. None of this is accidental. Each choice was made to serve the book and serve the reader. Although certain independent publishing options might aid you with book design, it’s up to you to ensure that nothing about the design creates a barrier to a reader reading your book.

4.    Books Are Hard to Sell
Before you sink your own dollars into publishing a book, have a plan for how you will market and distribute the book to your target audience. Don’t just throw it up at Amazon with millions of other books and hope for the best. You’ve been warned.

The purpose of your book is to serve the reader, and a well-written book with a sharp design does that. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

I am for you,

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Before You Release Your Words Into the World...

If you're writing a book you hope to see published, your words must serve the reader.
  • Maybe it's a memoir.
  • Maybe it's self-help book.
  • Maybe it's the story of a remarkable relationship.
  • Maybe it's tips about gardening.

No matter what you are writing, it has to have value for the reader.

So before you send your proposal or manuscript to an agent or editor (or before you send it to me to review!) imagine that the agent/editor/publisher will be reading your words with one question in her heart: What's in it for the reader?

Questions I want you to ask, of your proposal/manuscript, before you release your words into the wild...
  • What is the value, for the reader, in this book?
  • When she finishes the first chapter, does she want to keep reading?
  • When she's really tired, is there a reason for her to keep turning pages?
  • Does every sentence, every page, every chapter serve the reader?
  • When she finishes, can she articulate the single important takeaway of the book?
  • When the reader sets this book down, has she gained something from it that she wants to share with a friend over coffee?
  • Does she want to buy a copy for her sister because the book had so much value?
  • ls she able to apply what she's learned to her own life?
If the answer to some of these questions is either "no" or "I don't know," I want you to return to your word-baby and review it one more time through the spectacles of an agent or editor. Name the value--write it out--that the reader gleans from each chapter.

If you can't identify the takeaway value for the reader--the "payoff" for purchasing your book--then work at it until you can.

Ultimately, "your" book is not about you. It's about the reader.

Serve the reader.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

8 Reasons I'm Cautious About Recommending Self-Publishing to Clients

While some folks have great success self-publishing, many do not. Because I feel protective of my editing/writing clients, I want to make sure they know some of the reasons why I am cautious about pushing them toward self-publishing.

1. Dollars

You are investing your own money into producing a product that you will sell. I don't take that lightly. When you self-publish you (should) pay for developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, cover design, book design, and other publishing essentials that I don't even know about.

2. Sales

As a creative, I've become aware that creating art and selling art are two different skill sets. Self-evident to many, but I had to learn the hard way. (Selling beautiful cards, magnets, puppets, beads, and even toilet plungers. Fer reals.)

When you publish with a traditional publisher, sales and marketing teams partner with the author to sell books. When you self-publish, you become responsible for selling every single copy of books stored in your closet, attic, basement, or trunk. (Worth considering as you decide how many copies you will buy.)

3. Opportunity

Folks who do well selling their self-published books are folks with lots of opportunities to sell in-person to audiences. These are folks who speak 30-60 times per year.

4. Strategy

Other folks who do well selling self-published books are those who have a smart clear calculated strategy. This may include speaking gigs, facebook advertising, print advertising, publicity, inviting Amazon reviews, etc. Publishing a book and hoping it will sell, or believing it is so great that it will catch on like wildfire, is naive.

5. Advertising

People need to learn about your book. One of the ways that happens is through advertising. I know that there are smartie geniuses out there who have mastered effective advertising--let's say...advertising on social media. They understand how to implement advertising that produces sales. If you plan to invest in advertising, don't drop the cash and hope for the best.

6. Quality Content

As a self-respecting writer and editor, I probably should have led with this one. Traditional publishers have many rounds of edits to ensure they're producing the best possible product. On the front end these include, but are not limited to, one or more rounds of developmental (or content) editing. In this early stage of editing, an editor is thinking about the reader: her felt need, her experience, her life circumstance, etc.  He or she gives the writer feedback, to improve the first draft, that serves the reader.

7. Quality Experience

Further down the line in the book production process, a traditional publisher employs folks who do line editing, and several rounds of proofreading. These latter steps are critical to delivering a book to readers that is as close to error-free as it can be. A reader who finds several errors in a self-published book quickly loses confidence in the book, and may abandon it altogether.

8. Quality Design

While few of us give much thought to the aesthetic of the books we're reading, we are drawn to attractive covers before we buy a book, and we appreciate attractive interior design while we're reading it. When some element of design is "off"--style of font, size of font, space between paragraphs, etc.--our experience of the book suffers.

If you're considering self-publishing, and these don't feel like insurmountable hurdles to you, I commend you. And envy you.

Best wishes as you pursue your publishing dreams!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

10 Tips for Building Your Platform With Less Pain

Working on a book?

Yes, it’s true. You have to build your platform to catch the eye of a publisher. And, yes, most of us agree it can be a pain in the patootee, when what we really want to be doing is writing.

Here’s the one thing I know about effective platform-building:

When purposing to build a platform, do what works for you.

You’ll be most successful if you invest your energies in a way that’s live-giving for you.

Your platform-building efforts should align with who you are.
Pay attention to how you’re wired and situated…
  • Are you an introvert or extrovert?
  • Do you enjoy speaking or dread it?
  • Are you free to travel or chained to your home?
  • Do you have the freedom to post on your blog every day, or once a week? 

To the extent that you’ll be driving this bus, building platform is about you. But to the extent that you’re inviting others into what you’re doing, it’s not about you! Is your writing and speaking meeting the real needs of the audience you’re building? Are you creating content that has value for them? Are you building relationships and promoting the work of others?

Build your audience by creating great content that has value for them.

…but back to you!

Here’s a list of 10 possibilities—among zillions—to stimulate your imagination for building your platform. Do one or two stand out? What has your name on it? What other ideas do these trigger?

1.    Old School Article Writing
Create a list of 20 publications for which you’d like to write and begin pitching! If you have friends who’ve written for these mags, get a good contact name.

2.    Easy Social Media Opps
The hard part was  getting the gig and writing the thoughtful article for the online publication.  The easy part will be posting the link on facebook and Twitter. Remember to capitalize on all that work you put into crafting the article. Tweet it 3 or 4 times over several weeks.

2.    Go Live on Facebook
Got something to say? Start communicating with your audience. (Yeah...this isn't for everyone.)

4.    Ask For Help
Extend a personal invitation to friends to share something you’ve written. Don’t be all mass-email about. Ask personally.

5.    Speak Locally
Volunteer to speak to your local MOPs group, or other gathering that regularly invites speakers. (The venues that don't pay--like MOPs and many churches--are a great place to build your speaking resume!)

6.    Engage Online Communities
Comment on good content you’re reading. Promote the work of others in your field (and make virtual friends!) by sharing valuable links…comment on relevant articles…become strategically involved!

7.    Email Signature Line
Make every email count by linking to your site, blog or product at bottom.

8.    Make Friends (aka “networking”)
When I read something I enjoy, I often do a quick search online for the writer's email to send a note about why I liked their work & “friend” them as well. (Note: these are sincere.)

9.    Piggyback
If I know I’ll be speaking someplace, I might get in touch with a local church or friend or school that might also need a speaker. (And save $ on travel, too!) Also fair game to have an assistant—or a friend who will do this for you!—make these contacts.

10. Vlogging
When I was blogging, I had a quickie question that I’d ask folks, and they’d answer for about 1 minute while I filmed with my pocket-size flipcam.  These got posted to social media and each one meant one more happy day I didn’t have to write a blog post.

These are jumping-off points. What feels life-giving? What feels death-dealing?

Remember why you’re building your platform.

You are building your platform for the privilege of continuing to be able to communicate with audiences.

That big-picture view is what keeps me tweeting. (Rarely…don’t count them.)

Remember, you don’t have to do everything. Just the next thing.


2 must-see resources if you’re a writer who’s serious about building platform…

1. Michael Hyatt’s book, aptly named Platform.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Crafting Compelling Titles and Subtitles

Don't judge a book by its cover.

Great advice for human interactions. Less useful for actual books.

Not only do we judge books by their covers, but when we read a book's title we decide in an instant whether the book is for us or not.

As you're crafting a title for your own book, keep in mind this general rule of thumb:

1. The title communicates the book's "premise."

2. The subtitle communicates the book's "promise."

Now that I've put it out there, I'm sure you're scrolling through all your favorite titles that break this rule. Fine, be that way.

What can be learned from the thumb-rule, is that the best titles communicate to a distracted book browser something of what is inside the book.

The title lets the reader know the general premise of the book:

And the subtitle lets the reader know what the book promises they'll get from it:

So as you craft your title, you want to be sure that the reader knows what the book is about (premise) and what's in it for them (promise.)

Of course there will be those bestsellers that no one can account for, like Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz, but it's more likely that you'll serve your readers and your book if a reader who's scrolling through titles on Amazon, or flipping through pages at Barnes & Noble, can know--in an instant--that your book is for her or him.

I learned this rule about titles and subtitles from my savvy friend Jonathan Merritt a few years ago...after I'd published a bunch of books.

Here are my titles (excluding collaborations/ghost writing). If the title is a win, credit goes to the publisher. If it's a fail, probably mine. So judge me...

Which of my titles communicates what you'll find inside and meets a need readers actually have? Too late to change 'em, so hit me with your best shot...

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Four Things Every Publisher Must See

I used to say there were 3 things publishers look for: project, market, and person (author).

Those things haven't changed.

But, in addition to a compelling project and a strong market, there are really two important things that publishers need to see from authors.


A publisher is looking for a book with a unique and compelling concept. The best books serve readers by presenting a timeless truth with a vibrant fresh angle. When publishers read these proposals, they say, "Hmmm...I haven't heard it put quite this way before."


An author needs to demonstrate that there is an audience with a felt need for this book. This book meets readers' felt needs, offering valuable takeaway. These readers can't not buy this book.


Author is building a solid platform and is already reaching audiences.

This might be reflected in social media numbers. It might mean the writer is reaching thousands of individuals annually as a speaker. He or she might have a wildly popular podcast or is a growing an audience on youtube. She might have a popular column in an online magazine.

Although there is no magic formula, the author does need to be reaching readers.


Author captures reader's attention by engaging readers with beautiful writing.

Could missing one of these four be a deal breaker for a publisher? Unfortunately, yes. In fact, absolutely. While a publisher will occasionally take a chance on a brilliant writer with very little platform, that happens infrequently.

If your proposal has all four of these elements, it will be hard for a publisher to say no.

If your proposal lacks one or more of these, it will be hard for a publisher to say yes.

*Download FREE RESOURCES that will help your book proposal be as strong as it can be!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"I Want to Write a Book..."

Occasionally I’ll connect with someone who’s itchy to write. Maybe he wants to start a blog. Maybe she wants to write a book. And this potential writer is itchy to take the right next-steps to do this. 

Maybe you’re that potential writer.

Without yet knowing you or your story, here’s what’s in my heart for you and other eager potential writers…


Start. Begin. String words together. Gather your sentences into a meaningful whole.

It’s estimated that 81% of Americans feel they have a book in them and should write it. I don’t know the stat for people who go on to actually write them. I feel fairly confident guessing it’s not 81%.
So by sitting down at your laptop and writing, you’re well on your way.

The thing that makes any legit is…writing.

Work at Your Craft

The best writers work at their craft. There are a number of good ways to do that:
  • Attend a writer’s conference.Writer’s conferences offer great workshops to help you improve your writing. And they often offer opps to network with writers, editors, publishers, and agents. (Here’s a good listing of Christian writer’s conferences, if that’s your bag.) I’m not a conference junkie, but I do believe that there are a host of rich resources available at most writers’ conferences.
  • Join a writer’s group. Gather with writers in your area. Meet face to face to share and critique one another’s work. Or, find an online critique group. Others’ feedback—noticing strengths and offering areas for improvement—is extremely valuable in growing as a writer.

Before You Publish...Publish

If you’re anything like me, you may secretly hope and believe that the first draft of the book that’s in your heart will become a New York Times bestseller.
Psychological professionals call this “magical thinking.”
If you’re serious about writing, begin to develop an audience.
  • Guest post on a friend’s blog.
  • Start your own blog.
  • Pitch articles to online magazines.
  • Enter a contest.
Though it can be tempting to want to dazzle audiences with that first book, either traditionally published or self-published, there’s a lot to be learned on the journey. Good writing is worth the wait.

Don’t rush.

But do start.

 If you've had a book in your heart for awhile, what's kept you from launching?

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