Considering writing a series? Some food for thought…

Success.Bobby Unser

I’ve written my entire life, in one form or another, but drafting anything over a page or two was something I shied from until my late 40’s.  Honestly, life got in the way, as it tends to do, and so decades came and went while I worked a kaleidoscope of careers and raised my family. Now that I am older, I have more “me time” and I choose to spend it on what feeds my creative soul. While I wouldn’t trade the feeling of holding two years of my life in my hands (in a colorful bound version from Create Space), I am starting to wonder what was I thinking?

The idea came to me in a flash, on a girls weekend and at (what will continue to be) an undisclosed location. What I didn’t realize, when plotting my story all those years ago, was just how much time and passion it took to bring one book into the world. I also had no clue just how much creative energy I would need to parcel out between writing articles, marketing, social media, sales events and juggling new projects.  We won’t even go into working full-time and spending time with family and friends, that goes without saying for now. Looking back, why I ever decided to write a series first is beyond me!

I am so close to launching book 2 that I can taste it (just ordered my proof today) and Winds of Change should be available June 2017 as intended. But I’ve had my fair share of learning curves along the way, most of which had to do with taking on a series in the first place. I would like to share some ideas for those who are considering planning and plotting more than one book as one of their first projects:

  1. Think of the project as a whole – It is only about the first book until you have two, and then it is about the series. Be sure that when you are working on the first book, you plot out the balance of the series. This in no way commits you to those outlines once you get into the writing, but it does allow you to have a bird’s eye view of the project, which is helpful later when you need to tie it all together.
  2. Work out back stories for your main characters – You don’t have to work them into your story, unless they serve a purpose, but it is helpful to know what happened to a character in the past so you understand what motivates them to act the way they do in the present. I spend a lot of time fleshing out even the most minor character, using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of characteristics and habits, so I can be sure to have them consistent over the span of the series. Back stories can also spin off into prequels or other series, so keep those notes!
  3. Think of the series when developing artwork – I feel that this is extremely important, since no one wants to have to redo a cover on book 1 during the release of book 3 in the series. While I will agree that tastes can change, and you can find an alternate cover that could work better once the series is established, I do feel that it is always better to have a consistent and matching marketing image presented at the start. I spent a lot of time thinking about the series as a whole, and have elements in the books that tie them together in an artistic way. The elemental symbols on the spine of my printed book is just one example.
  4. Spend time building your brand – What I mean by this is take some time to develop the image you want to present as an author. Spend a little money and get some professional headshots, trust me they will really come in handy! If you can’t afford a graphic designer, then do marketing images and slides yourself using a program like Pablo by Buffer, just be sure that the images you use are consistent with the theme you are shooting for. And lastly, get out on social media!  Each one of the products attracts different demographics so knowing your target market is key. If you are just starting out like me, Facebook and Twitter are probably the first two you want to get comfortable with. I also recommend setting up your profile on Google + and popping on there at least weekly to stay active.

Planning a series is a daunting task but taking time to do some overall project planning will save you stress and heartache in the long run.  Trust someone who knows, and who plans pretty much everything in her life! If you want to know what I am using or what is working best for me, please be sure to follow me either on this site or on any of my social media channels. I always share products that I have come across that I find helpful!  Happy writing!

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Writing a pitch for your novel

So you wrote a book, had it painstakingly edited, a gorgeous cover created and convinced everyone you knew (and even some that you didn’t) to give it a read. Congratulations!  And I mean that sincerely.  Giving birth to an idea and putting thoughts to paper is something that no one can understand or appreciate unless they have been through it. But now what?  Well, if you do happen to get out of the house, and mention to anyone in passing that you have written a book, you need to be prepared to give an answer when they ask you what it’s about. And trust me they will. Your answer shouldn’t be a blow-by-blow of the 300 pages you just finished reading through yourself for the 10th time, if it is they’ll have no reason to buy your book.  Your description, or “elevator pitch” needs to be concise and descriptive yet brief, giving them just enough of a tease, but leaving them wanting more. In other words, you need to condense your 300 page novel down to less than 2 sentences.

Okay, so I know what you are thinking (since I was thinking the same thing just recently) but it can be done.  And the exercise can be very beneficial to those who take the time to go through it, even if you already have your agent lined up or a publishing house that is taking you to print. Because in my mind, the author always needs to be prepared to talk about their work, and so here are the things I focused on when developing my pitch for my series, The Power of Four.

  1. Think about the overall theme of your story – At its core, what is the end result that your protagonist is striving for?  Even in romances the plot isn’t just about the two people getting together, it is about the conflict that rises to meet them and the struggle that the characters go through to achieve it. Are the challenges related to societal issues, environment, perhaps even a struggle for control?  Pull way back and think of your story in a big picture kind of way.
  2. Think of a question the book needs to answer – “What if” scenarios can be very effective not only for your pitch but for marketing advertisements as well. For example, for my series I used: “If the Fates were unable to maintain universal balance on their own, and were required to gift four unsuspecting women with the powers of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, how would it impact the world as we know it?”
  3. Look at the back of your favorite books – The top edge of the book is prime real estate, and is generally the first place the reader looks when checking out a book. What line has special formatting, or has something that draws attention to it?  For Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, the very first line on the paperback summarizes the tone of the book beautifully, and teases us with more to learn about his character Dan Torrance. “The Overlook Hotel was where his boyhood gift for shining opened a door to hell.”

Once you have done some research, and thought about the overall idea you wish to focus on, you can draft your pitches.  In my mind you will need two of them, one that is 1-2 sentences long that takes a few seconds to deliver, and one that is a bit longer and takes just less than a minute to present.  The idea is that the 1-2 sentence pitch, also known as an “elevator pitch,” whets the appetite, and has the person asking for more information. When they do, you have the second, bit longer pitch that gets them interested in your story.

I found that developing a “one-sheet” was extremely helpful for this process. I included the pitch, a short summary, bullet points of why my books are marketable or unique, and an author bio all on one sheet.  Even if I never use this when speaking to an agent, it provides me with a script to follow that keeps me focused on the points I wish to make when ever anyone asks me about my product. This is extremely helpful when the nerves start to kick in, and the rambling begins (or at least in my case).  This sheet can also be used as  flyer when marketing yourself to bookstores, libraries or as a handout when doing speaking engagements.

I found a number of very helpful articles and videos when developing my pitch which I link to below.  I hope that these help you to streamline your thoughts into a bright and shiny pitch that attracts the book deal of your dreams. At the end of the day, it is about selling books, and a well crafted pitch can help you do just that!

Additional Resources:

Craft an Exceptional Elevator Pitch – by: Penn C. Sansevieri

http://www.selfpublishedauthor.com/content/craft-exceptional-elevator-pitch

7 Tips for Pitching to an Agent or Editor at a Conference – by: Chuck Sambuchino

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/7-tips-for-pitching-to-an-agent-or-editor-at-a-conference

What not to say when pitching an Agent (or Editor) – by: Guest Author

http://authorunlimited.com/pitching-an-agent/

Why Your Book Pitch Matters (Even If You’re Self-Published) – by: Joel Friedlander

https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2013/10/book-pitch/

How to Pitch Agents and Editors at Conferences by Writer’s Coach Teresa Funke

Writer’s Toolbox Find

I am participating in the 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge, which is a wonderful resource I came across by author Rachel Thompson, and while working through the challenge, I found a great new tool!  I thought it would be fun to share a “homework assignment” with you from Week 1.

The primary focus last week was to develop a Twitter presence. Even though I already had an account, there were a ton of tweaks that were suggested. At first they seemed minor, but they ended up making a huge impact. The biggest one that comes to mind, was changing my profile bio to include hashtags and a link to my Amazon page. Within the first 2 days my activity jumped substantially. There will be more on my results in a later post.

The book also suggests various digital tools to help streamline processes, which makes it easier to market as a one woman show (and still find time to write).  Pablo by Buffer, is one of the tools that I had fun with. It allows you to create beautiful slides using royalty-free images and lets you either download them to your computer for future use, or upload them directly to your various social media sites. For anyone who has a Buffer account (for scheduling your media posts), even better! The slides can be scheduled right from the Pablo site to post to your various medias at a later date and time!

Here are some of the images I had fun with this last week:

We are never too old to learn something new, and I am having a blast doing just that!  With the internet, the opportunity to expand your knowledge base is endless, and I have been fortunate to come across some really great products which help me work smarter. I would like to thank all the creatives who paved the way before me, and passed on their knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. It has been extremely helpful, and I hope one day the products I mention are able to help someone who is just starting out. That is what life is all about right? Paying it forward?

I am excited to see what next week brings! In the meantime, if you have found a great product that assists with book marketing or publishing please feel free to leave a comment. I would love to see what everyone else has in their toolbox!

Happy writing!

A post a day for the first quarter; what I learned about myself

cropped-cropped-journey-image-blog.jpgOne of my New Year’s resolutions, besides travelling more, was to concentrate on marketing and producing more content. This was on top of finishing Book 2 in The Power of Four series, starting Book 3, working a full-time job and spending time with family and friends. Good God!  I’m exhausted just thinking about it! Time to plan a vacation for sure!

Part of the promise to myself, had me posting faithfully to my blog at least once a week, posting daily to all social media channels, and producing content for the blog my writing group operates: www.muse-crew.com.  So what did I find out about myself?  A lot!

  1. I work well under pressure – I have always known this about myself, however it can (and has) come at cost. I have found that scheduling my tasks out in chunks of time in my Google calendar is invaluable for keeping me on track. Not only do I list appointments and events, but I also reserve blocks of time for writing, working on social media posts, and catching up on emails. While it is possible to not get to everything I have on my list for the day, I am way more likely to achieve it if I have my day plotted out in advance.
  2. Life gets in the way – So yeah, there is that, and it can’t be helped.  I may have my entire day planned out in my calendar and then have something (or someone) throw a wrench in my entire day. First and foremost, I have had to learn to cut myself some slack. It isn’t always possible to get absolutely everything done and often times you have to let some stuff go. I have also learned to take advantage of days when I have a big chunk of time (Sundays) to plan and schedule out my writing. I have found that on a Sunday afternoon, I can block posts for the entire next month by following themes for the day such as “Monday Motivation” or “Sunday Funnys.”
  3. There is always something new to learn – This has been huge for me, and while learning new things has been stressful, it has also opened my eyes to a world of possibilities for a one-woman-show. I have my fingers in every aspect of the production and marketing of my product. What this means is that I need to learn how to use tools that can help me work smarter, not harder. My Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter feed brings me interesting articles, podcasts and advice that I have taken note of.  One of the most recent items is a 30-day Marketing Challenge which I started May 1st and is already showing results. I will be sharing my experience in a later post, but my point is that you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, since in the long run they can result in big payoffs.
  4. Tools are the way of the future – I agree that the tools available on the internet are endless and overwhelming, but they are also crucial to anyone trying to start or operate a business in today’s culture. I am still figuring out what works best for my particular platform, but I can tell you that I have had great success and a relatively easy learning curve with the following products:
    1. Facebook Pages – I have an author page as well as character page and can schedule posts right from Facebook without use of a scheduling program (even though I don’t very often).
    2. Twitter – I follow other writers, pod-casters, bloggers and readers, and am still learning the lingo. What I have found is that engaging in conversation is something that you can’t be afraid of and is fun once you try it.
    3. Google Plus – I follow other writers, bloggers and readers and have found that posting here helps with my overall visibility in the Google search engine. If you don’t use the Google products, I highly recommend checking them out.
    4. Pinterest – I have fun with this one and maintain “inspiration” boards which I share with readers during book launch. I also have boards that I pin research topics to, or that provide inspiration for my social media posts.
    5. Instagram – I post a lot of the same images as I do on Pinterest such as quote slides, motivational memes and event photos. Similar to Twitter, use of hashtags are key here to attract new followers.
    6. Word Press – This is my website provider, and the site allows me to schedule posts and create drafts. I have my blog linked to both my Amazon author’s page and my Goodreads page, neither of which should be ignored if you are an author.  Make sure you have all of your fields filled out!
    7. Buffer – I honestly can’t say enough about this program, it has been an amazing company to work with!  I started out last year with the free trial, which gave me the opportunity to learn how it worked and if it would suit my needs.  Just this year I increased to the paid version, and I am in love! The program allows me to keep all of the above organized and schedule posts simultaneously for weeks or months in advance.
    8. Pablo by Buffer – This is an awesome new tool I came across that allows me to make beautiful slides for advertising, quotes, etc. with royalty free photos! What is great about this product is you can schedule your posts right to buffer from the Pablo page! You can also download the slides right to your computer for future use!

If you are interested in seeing any of my sites in action, check out my how about a follow page. Before I go, I would like to mention that the scheduling tools, and blog sites allow you to track your stats, giving you a picture of how your traffic is increasing, and what is working and what isn’t.  This is valuable data that should not be ignored!  You can find out a ton about your audience by tracking these figures, and it allows you to tailor promotions to your particular customers. At the very least, write your numbers down once a month in a journal, so you can easily see your growth. Tracking what is being responded to, and what isn’t, will allow you to know the types of posts to increase and the things you shouldn’t be wasting your time on.

Happy posting!