Write Great Leads in Nonfiction Articles

July 21, 2017

One of the best things about being a writer is the variety of choices you have in deciding what to write–articles, books, short stories, etc.

One of the hardest things about being a writer is writing a lead that entices the reader to consider reading your article, then keeps the reader reading past the first paragraph.

Two obvious ways to write leads are (1) offer an anecdote that makes the point of your article, and ( 2) use a quote that grabs your reader and highlights the focus of your article.

When you don’t have either of those options, use these steps to help you write a great lead.

  • Imagine your reader and why he/she might be looking for in an article on the topic you’re writing.
  • Ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” from the reader’s perspective.
  • Answer the question by showing the reader in plain language what he/she will learn from reading your article.
  • Keep a conversational approach in your writing. Remember that your reader is looking for information, but not necessarily a class or complete education on the subject.
  • Respect the reader’s time by delivering meaningful information the reader can use.

You may find you have to write the first draft of your article before you can use the steps above to actually come up with the lead that will work for you. But that’s okay. You’ll know from the first draft what you can offer the reader, then you can write the lead to entice them and deliver what you promise. Happy writing!

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Rejection Means You’re Working

June 22, 2016

If you’ve ever submitted a query letter or book proposal to a publisher, chances are you understand what it means to get a rejection letter. If you get one of those, don’t despair or think you’ve failed. Instead, remind yourself rejection means you’re working. You can’t get rejected if you don’t submit your query or proposal, so give yourself credit for pursuing your writing career and send your query or proposal to the next publisher on your list.

Here are some tips to help you remember that failure doesn’t mean your writing journey is done. It just means you’ve taken a detour.

  • Take chances. Doing nothing assures you won’t succeed at reaching your goal of being published.
  • Accept that you (like everyone) will make mistakes. Learn from those mistakes instead of trying to hide them.
  • Learn to endure temporary defeat. And I do mean temporary. Every time we fail, we earn another opportunity to succeed because we gain information, learn what doesn’t work, and get to try again. Every defeat helps us work toward a future victory.
  • Prepare to fail. By that I mean you’re better off to create both best-case and worst-case scenarios, then determine whether or not you can live with the worst case. If you can, push forward. If you can’t, work on a new plan that you can live with.
  • Be open to new possibilities. You may have a particular end result in mind, but another opportunity you hadn’t considered could pop up. Allow yourself to consider the new option.
  • Learn from your failures. If you get a rejection notice, try to figure out why. For example, how well did you research the types of articles or books the publisher publishes? Did you verify you’re sending your query to the correct person? Well, you get the idea.
  • Avoid blaming others for your failures. Taking responsibility for your mistakes isn’t always easy, but if you honestly exam why you didn’t succeed, you might find you dropped the ball or didn’t do everything you could have to get what you hoped for.
  • Fix what went wrong. Going through these tips is helpful, but nothing will change unless you do something to change what went wrong. Start by giving yourself credit to trying, create your plan to correct what went wrong, then move forward by doing something.

Failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Always be aware that you are not a failure, only the effort you put forth failed. You will eventually succeed as long as you keep moving forward. You will most likely fail if you give up. I say most likely because you may make the decision to stop. That’s not failure. That’s a decision. Happy writing!


Write Something Every Day

August 18, 2015

Summer got away from me as I expect it did for many. But a quick glance at the calendar shows school starting soon, fall colors appearing after that, and holidays and year-end coming.

This is a good time to get your new writing routine established, and here are some tips to help you do just that.

  • Writers write and sometimes get published. If you’re not writing, you’re waiting. If you’re waiting, you’re losing time and denying others the beauty of your insights, your observations, and your talent. The best way to hone your writing skills is to practice by writing something every day.
  • Put forth your best effort every time you write. I didn’t say you had to write perfectly. I simply said do your best. Athletes practice to get better at what they do. So do dancers, singers, musicians, quilters, etc. No one practices to get worse. As long as you’re writing anyway, give it your best. You can always go back and work on your project again if you decide to.
  • Keep your faith in yourself and in your writing. Everything you write won’t be stellar, so if your support system loves everything you do, expand your support to include those who will make suggestions for improvement. Those suggestions are meant to show you that you can write and you should keep going.
  • Listen to yourself. If your imagination is taking you someplace you hadn’t expected, instead of fighting the urge to move in that direction, go with it for a while. One mystery author told me she had to rewrite her novel because the character she intended to be the murderer wouldn’t do it, so she had to change murderers and ended up with a better story.
  • Have realistic goals. You may get published (or you may not). You may write literary fiction (but commercial/genre fiction offers a better opportunity for being published). You may write poetry (but poetry is extremely hard to sell). If you’re writing simply to write, that’s wonderful. But, if you’re writing to publish and earn money, study the marketplace and learn what it takes to get your book published and what it takes to sell books once you are published. If you’re writing for the periodical market, learn what the publication publishes, how much of the publication is freelance versus staff written, how payment works, etc. Dreams are super, but have realistic goals.

I hope these few tips help you figure out how to make writing something every day part of your fall routine. Remember that no one else writes what you write, so get busy. Happy writing!


Ten Commandments for Getting Published

August 27, 2014

Authors enjoy more publishing options today than ever. Still, the thinking that being royalty published is the ultimate goal remains for many authors. It is with that in mind that I write this post.

I. Thou Shalt Write. It’s amazing how many authors dream of being published but don’t find time to write. Begin with a writing goal in mind (could be time, pages, character sketches, or whatever), then commit to working on reaching the goal.

II. Thou Shalt Write Well. Like it or not, the English language has standards. Learn them, then apply them to your writing.

III. Thou Shalt Revise. Most things created by humans are not perfect. So it goes with writing. Revision means taking a critical look at the writing flow, the consistency of detail, the word choice, etc., and doing it sentence by sentence.

IV. Thou Shalt Understand the Publishing Business. Publishing is business, not dream fulfillment. As in any business venture, the axiom that one must spend money to make money holds. You may have to invest in yourself as a business by attending workshops, researching, etc. If you expect publishers to invest in your writing, why wouldn’t you do the same?

V. Thou Shalt Understand Submission Rules. If the agent or publisher’s submission guidelines say to submit only query letters, do not send sample chapters. If they say to also submit sample chapters, do not submit only a single-page query letter.

VI. Thou Shalt Take Rejection in Stride. One of my writing professors in college told me that rejections mean one thing–I’m working. How right she was. She taught me to create a list of possible markets, then send off my query to the first one on the list. If my offer (NOTE: I said offer, not me personally) was rejected, check off that name, say, “Next,” then send to the next name on the list. Repeat as necessary.

VII. Thou Shalt Learn Patience. Publishing can be a slow process. If you’ve submitted your offer, instead of waiting by the mailbox every day, get busy. I hope you get busy writing, but get busy doing something.

VIII. Thou Shalt Work Positively with Editors. Join a writers group if you want feedback while writing. Then, after you’ve finished your article or book, find an editor. Editors are there to help you improve your writing, so strive to work positively with that person. Granted, not all editors are good fits for all writers, but when you find one you can work with, you’ve struck writing gold.

IX. Thou Shalt Not Frustrate Publishers. When you’re selling something to someone, that person becomes your customer. Irritating customers is not good business. If your primary contact at your publisher is your editor, that person becomes your customer.

X. Thou Shalt Manage Expectations. Few things in life go exactly as expected. So it is with publishing. Learn to manage your expectations and reduce your frustrations.

Above all, remember that you cannot be published if you don’t write. Happy writing!


Make Better Decisions

June 19, 2014

Writers constantly make decisions as they write. They decide what to include, when they’ve done enough research, who their characters are, what their characters do and when, etc. Perhaps the hardest decision is deciding when an article, story, or novel is finished.

When the writing is done, writers make decisions about whether to self-publish, royalty publish, or subsidy publish. If they decide to self-publish, they also decide what type of book to publish–hard cover, soft cover, audio, e-book. Then there are decisions about editing, cover design, interior layout, pricing, etc.

Once published (and it doesn’t matter whether an author is royalty published or published some other way), marketing the book is totally up to the author. That means more decisions about publicity, book signings, publish parties, media coverage, web presence, etc.

Here are some questions to help you make better decisions.

  • Is this something you want, or is it something you need? Life is full of wants, but you’re better off to take care of deciding the things you need first. It might help you distinguish between wants and needs if you try to imagine life a year from now and the impact your decision will have on your writing, publishing, marketing, budget, income, etc. in a year.
  • Have you investigated all your options? It’s easy to justify a bad decision with “I had no choice.” As a friend told me at lunch this week, “You always have a choice, but every choice has a consequence. You have to decide if you can live with the consequence.” For example, if you decide to pay to publish, there are consequences involving budget and  decisions on editing and design, etc. But if you decide to find a royalty publisher, there are consequences involving ownership of your intellectual property (you no longer own it) and basic decisions about your book.
  • Are you being honest with yourself? If you’re telling yourself what you want to hear, you may not be completely honest with you. I’ve often told the story about a member of a writing group my husband and I belonged to. It was hard to follow this writer’s writing because it was disjointed, angry, and venting. Finally, after this writer was done with a reading and the room was silent because it was hard to comment on what we had just heard, my husband  asked the writer, “What are you trying to say?” As if really thinking before answering, the writer looked at my husband and said, “Good question.” The writer never came back, but he and I happened upon each other during a business call a few years later. Since we were on the phone, I didn’t recognize his voice, but when he heard my name, he introduced himself and told me to thank my husband for asking the question years earlier. It made him really think about his writing, and he was happier because he moved on to other things in his life.
  • How “right” does your decision feel? It’s hard to define what feels right, but you know it when you feel it. If you’re struggling with a decision, tune into your body. Does the option you’re considering make you feel energized or drained? The answer is a good beginning for determining how right a decision feels.
  • What would you do if you weren’t afraid? If you’re afraid of something, that fear will hold you back whether it’s a realistic fear or not. Just because an option instills fear into you doesn’t mean it’s a wrong option. Do your best to avoid letting fear make your decisions.

Consider the idea that most decisions can be changed with another decision. If you’re a writer, you’ve got lots of decisions to make. Today’s as good a day as any to start making them. Happy writing!

 


Marketing Your Writing is a Journey, not a Sprint

May 12, 2014

I encourage you to increase your awareness of how many radio and television guests are pushing books. I also encourage you to be honest with yourself about how well you retain the book’s title, author’s name, etc. Most of us won’t recall either one shortly after the guest moves on.

Yet, there are some books and authors we do remember, so what did they do to make themselves “famous”? One word sets those we remember apart from those we don’t–repetition.

Steps to getting famous:

  • Work up a plan for getting your name out everywhere. Consider venues that are both large and small–local shows, local print, local events can serve you, as can national opportunities.
  • Consider all the different types of media available to you in your campaign to be famous. Get quoted in print. Become a guest on radio or television. Write a guest blog post or article for online opportunities. Speak to groups. Appear at events.
  • Expand so you reach beyond your niche. Romance writers cross over into mysteries. Sales experts expand into marketing. Even Stephen King wrote a book outside the horror genre. Maybe something in your personal life will move you into new arenas you never thought of before.
  • Timing is everything. If you’re writing an article, make sure it’s relevant for when it’s being published. I’m writing this the day after Mothers Day, which means I shouldn’t be wasting your time writing about what flowers to get Mom for her day.
  • Expect you, not the media, to reach your audience. Think of the media as vehicles, but you are the driver. Fame is fleeting, but if you keep working at it, readers and editors will recognize your name, and recognition can turn into book sales, article sales, etc.

Start by brainstorming the things you’re willing to do to market your writing, whether marketing your book or selling articles. Avoid being a “also-ran” television or radio guest with a book. Work up a plan and follow it. Happy writing!


5 Tips to Writing Copy to Sell Your Book

April 28, 2014

One of the biggest lessons authors learn is writing their books is the easy part.

Authors who publish their books independently soon learn that today’s technology and resources make publishing easier than it’s ever been, but publishing is only one step in getting the book to the customer.

Perhaps the most difficult thing authors learn about book publishing is that authors (whether published by a royalty house or published independently) are responsible for selling their books once published.

Here are five tips to help you write copy that can turn your book into a best seller.

  1. Think like the customer, not the author/publisher/seller. Most authors write their marketing materials from their point of view instead of thinking about what the customer wants. To think like a customer, answer these questions. What does my customer need? Entertainment? Information? How would I describe my customer? What issues could my customer face? How can my book help my customer face those issues? When you start to think like the customer, you can begin drafting ideas on what to include in your marketing materials.
  2. Offer benefits, not features. Benefits help while features describe. Customers are interested in getting help and solving problems. People buy groceries because they need food. They buy gas so they can drive their cars. They buy books to be entertained, to discover answers to problems, to pursue interests, to escape the rigors of a hectic world. Think of how your book can benefit your customer and focus your marketing materials on benefits, not features.
  3. Grab attention with benefit-oriented headlines. Effective headlines typically come in three varieties: (1) Ask a question, (2) Create a list (typically with numbers in the headline), (3) Appeal to emotions. For this post, I could have written “Do You Want to Sell More Books?” or “5 Tips to Writing Copy to Sell Your Book” or “Write Great Marketing Materials and Sell More Books.” All of the choices are oriented toward the benefit of reading my post.
  4. Tell a story. People love stories, especially stories that engage them emotionally. What kind of story works in marketing your book? Offer an example of success of someone applying the principles in your book. Provide a testimonial. If you’re marketing a novel, write your story synopsis so your reader simply has to read your book.
  5. Research articles and books on copy writing and book marketing. The Internet provides more resources and information than you’d get in a college course, but you need to be the self-starter and do your own research, then practice. Hey, you’re a writer, so you’re used to research!

There you have five tips for writing copy to sell more books. Remember, people buy the author, not the publisher, so no matter who your publisher is, selling your book is your responsibility. Happy writing!