Nearly every event I had planned for 2020 was either cancelled or moved online. For 2021, we have all hopped on to the virtual bandwagon, and that’s a good thing.
I have a number of speaking engagements and workshops planned for January to April on a range of topics. I hope you will be able to attend at least one. Most are free and open to the public, and all are virtual.
January 21, 2021: Nonfiction Authors Panel with Valarie Austin (moderator), Phil Padget, and myself. Howard County Chapter of the Maryland Writers Association. 7-9 p.m. Find out what it’s like to be a published nonfiction author. You must register on the MWA-HoCo website to receive the link.
February 9, 2021: Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing, or Hybrid?: A discussion of pros and cons. Midwest Publishers Association. 7:30-9:30 p.m. Learn more about MiPA here.
February 20, 2021: Is Your Writing Mojo MIA? Panel discussion with Valarie Austin, B. Morrison, and myself (moderator). Montgomery and Frederick County chapters of the MWA. 1-3 p.m. Get innovative strategies for restarting your writing. You must register on the MWA-Montgomery website to receive the link.
March 20, 2021: Crafting a Marketable Manuscript. Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. 10:30-11:30 a.m. Learn more about CAPA here.
April 15, 2021: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process (a perennial favorite). Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. 7-8:30 p.m. Learn more about UPPAA here.
Want to know more? You will find descriptions and all the details on the Events page on my website.
In June 2019 I had a poem published in a neat little online poetry mag that specializes in women’s poetry. It is the first poem I wrote as an adult, and getting it published was a real treat—but also a total fluke. See, I’m not a poet. I’m not even a writer. I’m an editor, born and raised, and that’s that.
At least, that’s what I have been telling myself.
As an editor, I have worked with great writers and terrible writers. Based on that, I thought I knew what it took to be a writer. I also knew I didn’t have it. When I put pen to paper, everything I did seemed to fall just short of making me a full-fledged writer. And the closer I got to meeting my perception of a writer, the higher my expectations became.
For example, I began keeping a journal at age 17 and haven’t stopped. But I rarely revise, and it has never been published, so in my mind, that doesn’t make me a writer. Anyone can keep a journal.
In my twenties, I had some personal essays published on a friend’s ezine. Yes, I wrote and refined the essays, and they were published, but it wasn’t like my friend was not going to publish them. She said so herself. Again, not a writer.
In 2010, the now-acclaimed Lowestoft Chronicle accepted my humorous essay “Dented”—another fluke!—and then selected it for its anthology. I was thrilled. Maybe I was a writer after all.
But no. That was the first year of publication for Lowestoft, so I could be pretty sure they threw me in because they needed material.
Then December 2012 rolled around. I had been freelance editing for about 8 years by then, and my work had been steady for most of that time. But wouldn’t you know it, two big editing projects were postponed for December and January. At the same time, I had been tossing around the idea of writing a book (still not a writer!) based on the workshops I had been leading. I thought it would be a good business move. Now that I had the time, why not see what I could do?
Twenty months later, I self-published a two-time book-of-the-year award winner. I knew in my heart I still wasn’t a writer, however, because I had published it myself. Real writers are published by strangers. But I felt I was getting closer. (To celebrate the book launch, my husband gave me an engraved business card case. It reads: “Katherine Pickett, Editor and Author.” He said he ordered it that way because he knew I identified as an editor first.)
For several months surrounding the release of my book, I pitched
about a dozen articles that were published across the internet and in print. This time strangers were publishing my work, and not first-year publications like I was used to. Some were blogs I had read and admired for a while.
Hey,I may be on to something, I thought. My confidence was building.
I went on to do some journalistic writing—I was assigned a topic, interviewed some folks, wrote it up. This time I was being paid to write. That makes me a professional writer, doesn’t it? But here I stumbled again. Ask anybody: You’re not a real writer if it isn’t a creative work.
Notice how I keep moving the goal posts?
But now—now I have this poem, a lyrical creative work published by strangers. It fits. I fit! So this is it. I’m officially an editor and a writer. And it only took 20 publications for me to get here.
Of course, I’m not alone in my angst. Psychology Today defines imposter syndrome as “a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”1
Although imposter syndrome is not considered a real illness, it does affect our lives and our livelihoods. Because of the multitude of job descriptions for “writer,” I think writers may be particularly susceptible to it. It is precisely what I experienced over the course of my writing life.
In fact, you can find evidence of my insecurity in the first sentence of this essay.
Did you notice the way I diminished the significance of the magazine that published my poem, calling it “little” and “neat”? Apparently it doesn’t even deserve the full name of “magazine.” It’s an “online mag.” I don’t want anyone to think I am taking myself too seriously. It takes much more than one publication to make a person a writer.
Or does it? Does it require publication at all?
Looking back at my struggle, I believe I have been missing a larger point about who gets to call themselves a writer. I’m not a writer just because I finally reached the highest bar I set for myself. I have always had the drive to write down my thoughts and share them with the people around me, and to me, that drive to write is the definition of a writer.
So, no, publication is not required. The writing—that’s what makes a person a writer. If you also have a drive to write, I invite you to claim the title. It is yours for the taking.
I recently had an email exchange with someone who is making the switch from writing feature articles to blogging for his company. He asked me to read his latest blog post before he published it. I was happy to oblige. After I read it, I had some advice about his writing tone.
Me: “I think you are missing an opportunity to engage your readers more by talking directly to them.”
Blogger: “Well, this is important, so how do I do this?”
He’s right, this is very important. Striking the right tone is an essential part of marketing. It can be the difference between reaching your target audience with your blog and reaching no one at all.
As to his second point — how to engage readers with a blog — I can think of several ways. Continue reading →
A friend said, “Never write chapter summaries. They suck the life out of the story.” I believe that’s only true if you hold yourself hostage to the summaries. In fact, I believe they are crucial. Let me tell you why.
This fall and winter I began writing a chapter book with my six-year-old. It’s called Carla and Lola Go to School, But Where Is Miss Quimby?, which gives you a good idea of what it’s about. As with many books, the concept is sound. It’s the execution that will make the difference.
Before we attempted to write the book, I made sure we did what I tell all of my authors they must do:
First we jotted down general ideas about what we wanted our book to be about, who the characters would be, and what the setting would be. We also set down what the four main obstacles would be, the general structure of the book, and how it would end. (Spoiler alert: They find Miss Quimby.)
At that point, my daughter was ready to dive in. We opened a new document and started to type. And that’s when I truly learned why writers need chapter summaries.
Amending the Plan
In our initial plan, we had agreed on one opening for the book, but once that first paragraph was written, we didn’t know where to go. My daughter, being six, forgot what we had planned and wanted Miss Quimby to be at school. To my daughter’s dismay, I put on the brakes. We had forgotten to write our chapter summaries!
Using paper and pen, we jotted down who the characters were in each chapter, what the obstacle or action would be, and how they would overcome it or carry it out. We also noted the setting for that chapter and made sure the timeline worked with what would come before and after.
Team Writing vs. Going It Alone
Because we were writing as a team, the summaries were even more important than for a solo writer. We needed to agree on what would happen before it was written or we would spend all of our writing time arguing it out. We would never finish.
However, even a solo writer needs to know where they want their story to go. And if you are like many writers, you might have to take a few days or even weeks away from your writing. How do you remember where you wanted to go if you didn’t record it somewhere? Based on what I’ve seen in my editing, writers’ memories may not be as good as they think.
In the case of my daughter’s book, as we were writing the summary for chapter 9, we realized chapters 8 and 9 needed to come sooner. That would tie the story line together much more neatly. How much easier it was to make that change when the “chapters” were only a paragraph instead of the full shebang! How much time and heartache we saved by making this decision now rather than after we had sweated over the writing!
The book has a long way to go. The chapter summaries are going to guide us on the journey.
Check out these resources to help you find your own way with chapter summaries:
You as a writer can draw in your readers by demonstrating that you have given your book the thought, time, and care it deserves. When readers see that you respect your own work, they are more likely to return the feeling.
Indeed, this thoughtfulness shows you respect your readers, and that can go miles in building the trust needed to win over a reader.
One way you can demonstrate this respect is by putting forth a complete package. By that I mean you have not simply written the bare bones of a book. You have put meat on those bones through front matter, back matter, multiple formats, and more.
How It Works
Building a complete package for a nonfiction book begins with crafting a solid preface and introduction. These are what is known as front matter, and they set the tone for the book. They also serve as important marketing copy.
Back matter includes reference sections, resource list, and appendixes. These can establish your reputation as a thorough and careful researcher.
In the case of memoir, the goal for these pieces may be to share a deeper understanding of the context of your story.
Other elements that enhance a nonfiction book include:
Photos or illustrations
Charts and graphs
Sidebars that present case studies, tips, or further information
Nonfiction books also benefit from well-developed ancillary materials—workbooks, videos, websites, and so on—as appropriate for the book. All of these pieces together allow your reader to get inside the topic you are writing about and learn more.
Fiction requires a different approach to the idea of a complete package. Nevertheless, you have likely experienced the novel that implemented this concept to its fullest. For example, a complete fiction package may include:
A note to the reader
A note to parents
A call to action
A glossary of terms
Maps and illustrations
Audiobooks, videos, and other ancillaries also appeal to readers and encourage them to buy your book as well as these additional materials.
Did the video cause the consumer to buy the book, or did they watch the video because they had read the book?
In either case, you are building a relationship with that reader that can lead to further sales and readership.
As you plan your book, you must study the competition and think through your reader’s needs and desires. When you create a complete package around your book, you have, to the best of your ability, filled those needs and desires.
As I was working with a self-publishing author recently, we started to discuss the publication date for his book and just how long it would be before he had a bound book ready to sell. It looked like he might not have his books in time for the start of his ideal selling period. Anxious to get his book on the market, this author had an idea:
Why not put the ebook out now, since that takes very little time, and continue with the editing for the printed book!
Here’s why not:
You only have one chance to make a first impression. If you put out a book that still has a lot of errors in it, you have burned bridges with all the people who bought the inferior product. Particularly as a self-publisher, you can’t afford to risk your reputation.
Creating an ebook has become so easy, many authors are tempted to jump right in before completing the editing process. In fact, some traditional publishers do the same thing; although the printed book receives a proofread, the e-book may not. However, if it is up to you, do not succumb to this temptation.
For years I didn’t believe that bad editing would sink a book (this from a committed and passionate editor), but with the advent of reader reviews on Amazon and other online sites, I have learned that lesson. And once those bad reviews are up, they don’t come down and you have to work twice as hard to get your reputation back.
Traditional authors may be able to negotiate this point in their contracts. For self-publishers, the decision is theirs to make. Whatever path you choose, don’t waste your money and all your hard work by taking shortcuts.
In this post, Tom answers that question and many more about what it means to have an expert marketer in your corner.
Do You Really Need a Marketing Expert on Your Team?
By Dr. Thomas M. Caulfield
Do you need a marketing expert on your publishing team? This was a looming question for me as an author. That is, until I began to better understand the multitude of elements that contribute favorably to the book-publishing process. For me, there was a baseline theme, if you will, continuously swirling in my head, and that was this notion of always working with the most competent professionals you can to get your book published.
Always work with the most competent professionals you can.
It seemed that the workshops, seminars, and publication guidebooks were loaded with examples of why not to go with a novice for all the critical aspects of your book. Rather, authors should isolate those distinct pros or an esoteric group that understands this area most completely.
My experience might be unique in that I toiled away for two decades keeping a secret journal chronicling the journey of our only son, who was born profoundly Deaf. Applying the esoteric group selection theory, I immediately sought out a meeting with a friend, the president of a nationally known and highly respected book-publishing company.
I suppose working with a friend was a violation of the esoteric theory in that there was a chance, given our relationship, that he had no choice but to help me. My question was simple, though. Who was the best independent editor he knew of?
My question was simple: Who was the best independent editor he knew of?
What came back was the name of an editor working in the Washington, DC, area: Katherine Pickett. One call to her and a lunch meeting was arranged. The bottom line for me again was clear. It’s probably not a good idea to go with the neighbor down the block who may have been an English major in college with no other credentials, but instead, get with a seasoned professional for sure.
It only took that one lunch meeting for me to learn that the esoteric theory was valid. Katherine had forgotten more than I would ever know about editing – and I graduated from grade 20.
I made an important decision that day to get a critical, unbiased evaluation of the merit of our book. If it weighed in at the “great” level – and it did – then I would be foolish not to match it with the best ongoing service support.
From there I was fortunate to be able to select a Dream Team in the areas of interior design, video presentation, audiobook narration, and website production.
With all those professionals working like a combine going through the Midwest during harvest season, the question of our need for a marketing expert remained. After a thorough literature review, it became clear that these services were not inexpensive. Further, questions remained regarding whether this service would actually be worth the money.
Questions remained regarding whether this service would actually be worth the money.
Given the costs, I elected to research a half dozen reputable groups and then interviewed three. Candidly, I thought I would be the one doing the interviewing, but in reality they were trying to figure out our potential as well. It all seemed like asking someone to the Homecoming dance, as I hoped our top pick would accept.
To be clear, I believe the good author marketing groups really have this concept of a campaign down, with the main goal being quality targeted exposure. The best ones also have the area of pitching to the media figured out as a science.
Who would have thought there were so many levels to pitching?
We had the prepublication pitching to reviewers, bloggers, and the media.
Then there was the local and national media group pitching.
The marketing team also surfaced numerous opportunities for speaking engagements.
Finally, I received thorough guidance regarding advertising with Amazon.
I would have to say it was worth it.
In the end, being fortunate to have an award-winning book on my hands, I would have to say hiring a marketing firm was worth it. I would hate to have not selected a marketing expert and then always look back wondering if we could have done better.
Essentially, it takes me back to all the chatter regarding, do you select the friend down the street to do what really is work in an esoteric domain? It seems easy and definitely less expensive to do just that. But you never want to look back and say, “What if?”
Do you have what it takes to be a good author? This is not the same as being a good writer, at least not from an editor’s vantage point. No, although working with authors who are skilled with the pen does make an editor’s job more enjoyable, it is only one of many factors to be considered. Rather, it is the writer’s ability to maintain a good business relationship with his or her editor that makes one a good or bad author in an editor’s eyes.
Lucky for you, it isn’t hard to be a good author. You can keep your relationship with your editor on solid ground—and reap the many benefits of that relationship—by following this simple advice.
Some authors approach the editing process as a battle, with their editor being their greatest adversary. This attitude can result in yelling, angry e-mails, and nasty comments directed at the editor—the very person who has been entrusted with the precious manuscript.
Rude behavior does nothing to encourage your editor to do his or her best work. An attitude of collaboration and mutual respect, on the other hand, will get you much closer to your goal of a high-quality book and will rarely lead to the hurt feelings so common with the opposite approach.
If you have put much time and effort into your manuscript, you are likely anxious to hear back from your editor to find out what he or she thought of it. Truly good editing can take some time, however, and most editors have multiple clients, so be prepared to wait.
If you are at a loss for how to fill your time, get started on your marketing campaign. It is never too early to gather the names of influential people and publications that may be willing to review your book.
If you have agreed to a deadline, do your best to meet it. If you are unable to meet a deadline, do not go to ground and avoid your editor’s calls. Communicate your needs and work hard to make the adjusted deadline. Having to track down an AWOL author is a major pet peeve of all editors and is, frankly, a waste of time.
Good organization can save many hours of work for you and your editor.
Label your electronic files in such a way that you can always find the most recent version of your manuscript.
If you have photos, use a numbering system that indicates which chapter the photo goes with.
Finally, keep meticulous research notes so that you can answer the inevitable requests from your editor for more information on where you found your materials.
A systematic approach to research will also help you if you decide to publish a revised edition in the future and need to return to your original sources.
Many authors become rigid when an outsider attempts to make changes to their writing. Yet, fighting every change makes the editing process a drudgery for both author and editor. Yes, it is your book, but you have called in professional help for a reason. Your editor is working to make it the best, most marketable book it can be.
If you are willing to collaborate, listen to your editor’s feedback, and potentially tweak your initial vision for the project to one that satisfies both of your concerns, you will likely find yourself with an even better book than you ever thought possible!
Be a good communicator.
In an age when most communication is done over the Internet, confusion and miscommunication run rampant. Take your time when responding to e-mails and make sure you have answered the questions that were asked. If you have questions for your editor, compile them into one message rather than sending four or five e-mails, each with a separate question.
You will save time for yourself and your editor, and you will avoid much of the confusion, wasted effort, and frustration that result from miscommunication.
At times the road to publication has grown so long that authors lose all enthusiasm for their books. When the author is no longer engaged, editing can become a tiresome and boring task. If you want a good, thorough edit, show your enthusiasm for the project. Be open to ideas, and be willing to put in the effort needed to create a compelling piece of writing. Your editor will respond in kind.
When each party is fully engaged in the project, the editing process is a fun and rewarding time, and the result is a book both author and editor can be proud of.
It doesn’t take much to be a good author. Remember a few common courtesies and you will always be on your editor’s good side. That can mean great things for you as an author. Most important, you will receive your editor’s best work. You will also likely benefit from his or her extra effort to promote you and your book. What’s more, your reputation as a good author could even help you get that next book published, and isn’t that what being a good author is all about?
This article originally appeared on Walrus Publishing on September 4, 2014.
In October I attended my old writers’ group after being away for close to two years. The speaker, Sarah Kaufman, was not scheduled to talk about my area of writing, but I went anyway. Sometimes you just have to get up and go.
Of all the information Kaufman presented, one small comment sparked my interest the most. She explained that as she was writing her book, The Art of Grace, her publisher noted, “It could be like Quiet!”
At that moment, Sarah was not using her competition, but her comparables as inspiration for her book.
This is an often overlooked way to better your writing.
Normally we look for books on our same topic, targeted to our same audience, to see what’s what. How can we do what they did, only better?
But when you have a topic and aren’t sure how you want to approach it, a close look at books that do the same thing as yours but on a different topic — what are known as comparables — now that can be a source of real inspiration.
Inspiration can be funny. We never know when it will come or where we will find it:
A friend recently moved to Germany and said he was surprised by how uninspired he felt by his new surroundings. This feeling then inspired him to write a novel about a character who felt the same way.
I went to a writing group to connect with old friends, and I found inspiration to write this post about inspiration. How meta is that?
The feeling of being uninspired is a drain on our writing lives.
Often, this feeling keeps us inside and away from our bookish pals. We unsubscribe from newsletters and blogs about writing, and we avoid being alone with the computer. Who wants to be reminded of how much they aren’t writing?
But what I learned from all of this is threefold:
Putting yourself in public spaces can trigger new ideas.
Reading widely, not just in your genre or about your main topic of interest, can improve your writing and lead you in new directions.
Sometimes you have to open your mind to accept the inspiration that comes.
So get up and go. See, do, and read new things, and follow wherever it leads you.
Do you have a story about inspiration sneaking up on you? Leave it in the comments!