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Writing is an Adventure

June 30, 2011

It was never my intention to become an author. Over the years I have written a number of magazine articles and found it gratifying and enjoyable. In 2007 I was hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia, in the southern United States, to Maine in the upper-northeast United States, a distance of over 2176 miles (3502 km). After finishing just over 600 miles (966 km) a serious heart condition sent me home.

After a six-artery heart bypass operation I was ready to finish the trail and did so. All along the way I encountered other hikers that eventually convinced me that I had a story to tell and that story should be a book.

After making numerous mistakes and simultaneously having some good luck, I managed to publish my first book. After several months there are several thousand copies in circulation.

What works? What can you, as an author, do to get your book into print and, as you will see, more importantly, what can you do to get the word out about your book and encourage readers to actually buy a copy?

First, some background.

Write your book

Everybody has a book in them. Too often we see our ordinary lives as just that, ordinary. I just finished reading WITHOUT A MAP, by Meredith Hall. I had never heard of her and found the book in a used bookstore. She is not a celebrity, she is a college professor at the University of New Hampshire. Her story was amazing and I couldn’t put the book down. Ordinary people can have extraordinary stories and most of us do.

If you are reading this, you are here because something in you tells you there is a book deep inside. So, how do we get that book into the light of day?

Don’t Worry About the Medium

The best way to write a book is to write it. Most authors today write on a computer, but there is no rule that says you have to. If the typewriter is your weapon, bang away. If you prefer longhand with a quill pen; do it. How you get the story onto the paper is irrelevant. However you write it, it can be transposed to a computer later.

Get an Editor

You can’t edit your book too much; it is impossible. Then again, you do have to let it go to print sometime. I had a number of people read my book before it went to print, some I knew well, some hardly at all. The book is about hiking and some number of those readers have never hiked and were not even interested in it, but, they did like a good story.

First, I had a humor editor go over the story to re-work the funny stuff and that was well worth it. Then, I hired an editor to go over the book and following that I suffered the ultimate humiliation: I had my wife, Jane, go over it. You see, she is not an editor per se, but is a technical writer and she caught a bunch of stuff that nobody else did. She is especially good at story and assembling a story. After suffering that, the book was ready for a proof copy.

Jane then brought the proof copy to her co-worker technical writers and they in turn also found things. The good news in all of this was that some of them loved it and couldn’t wait to buy a copy.

Publish your book

In a subsequent blog I will cover publishing options that are available today. The good news is, it is easier than ever to get your book into print.

Finally on a glorious day in February of 2010, I released the book to print, after three proof copies. I’d like to say that it has made me millions and I’m ready to retire to Florida; well, I’m in Florida, but the millions part has fallen a bit shy so far.

I am happy to tell you that there are 1000′s of copies in print at the moment and sales are fair. How fair, I’m averaging about 10 per day, but that will soon change, and here is why I think so:

Market your book

  • I have NOT made a serious effort to get the book into the big-box bookstores. There are so many hurdles in place to keep Indie writers from getting their books on those shelves that I just can’t justify the effort. I have prepared the cover of the book to meet those specific store requirements -, should that time come, but it may never. As you will see, there are many other venues to get books to readers. I will also cover that in later blogs in even greater detail.
  • Join Yahoo Groups, Google Groups, LiveJournal groups, blogs and so on. Search all the groups and blogs. Note, the groups often show how many members each group has. Since it is time consuming, pick a lower limit of members that you won’t bother with, at least not now. There are tens of thousands of groups and blogs, you don’t have that much time. Join. Participate honestly. Caution: If you are not a social animal, if you don’t enjoy dialog with others, if you have a chip on your shoulder, if you cannot take criticism, then you may want to avoid any social networking in regards to your writing career. Today, the writer is the product. Your readers identify you with your writing. Take Stephen King, his stuff is eerie, spooky, and well written. His fans have come to see him as an eerie, spooky writer. He is identified with his product. He rose to prominence in a business model (agents and publishing houses) that is dying rapidly. Today’s Indie authors can, and do, communicate directly with their readers. Social networking sites are perfect for this match. You need to be able to navigate them. To do that, direct communications with readers, and potential readers is inevitable.

Joining a social networking group means being a participant. It means being involved, relating to issues of importance in that group. Do not go into a group, or page with the attitude that it will be a tool to sell books; it won’t work and the results can be devastating. Approach these groups as a place to grow relationships, demonstrate your knowledge of related topics and to learn more from your readers and network family. It needs to be a two-way street. I’m finding that I get far more from these groups than I could ever offer. Yes, along the way I have picked up new readers, but I’m learning so much about writing that, even if I didn’t have a book, the experience would be worth every minute.

Scope out the various groups and identify the leadership, their hierarchy, their acceptance of newbies, how they communicate, what sort of content is of interest, the rules for engagement, etc. You need to be familiar with their standard operating procedures  so that you know how to interact and don’t end up stepping on people’s toes or burning your bridges before you even start. Every community operates differently so try to blend in.

Offer to help with group leadership. I recently offered to help moderate a Yahoo Group. There is no moderator and the group is constantly peppered with spam. Even though I offered to moderate, the group decided to fore-go having a moderator for fear a moderator would be a “power grab.” I wasn’t offended, that was the decision of a long-standing group of folks that were not bothered by the spam. So be it. I did offer, and that was the important thing.

  • Develop a signature with your name, author of…, available at… and paste this signature into everything, such as email, groups, and blogs. You may need to create several signatures, some blogs and comment spaces limit how many characters you can enter, a long signature won’t fit well.
  • Build several introductory letters. Save them with different file names. Build them according to the audience you’re addressing: other writers, friends, professional interest groups etc. When you think you’re ready to do an intro posting, use one of these finely tuned intros. In Yahoo Groups you can use the optional editor (the default is text only) to put in web links, I haven’t found that ability in Google groups yet. Shorten your Web address. I use tinyurl.com to make the URL short and easy to use.
  • Keep records. Enter in your log (you are keeping a daily log?) that you posted it to a group or blog; you don’t want to be the dummy that posts it more than once because you forgot you had already posted it. You should create the posting in a word processor, check the spelling and grammar and then copy and paste it. After you post it, edit the file so you have that note right at the top of the file to remind you where it was posted. Do this everywhere you can.
  • Monitor for responses to the posting. RSS feeds are great for this, as are daily bulk mailings.
  • Twitter: I’m new to Twitter. I was a babe in the wood when I signed on. I sent out my very first tweet, “Hello world, this is my first tweet.” Then I waited, figuring someone would respond. I waited three days–nothing! I then figured out that, since I didn’t have any followers, nobody received the message. Twitter is unique. The longest message can only be 140 characters, so U need 2 B creative and economical with words, (translated: so You need to be creative). Using a URL translator becomes a must. See tinyurl.com for one example, there are others. Once you shrink a 200 character web URL to just a few, you can stick it in the tweets. Just like the other social media, you need to have followers (friends) that share your interests. I suspect that I may have had more readers pick up a copy of my book as a result of a tweet than from any other social network posting. Once you become proficient with Twitter, I recommend using an app like Tweetdeck.com to enhance your Twitter experience. Follow me on Twitter: @k1ypp (see link on right side of this page) and I promise I will follow back. Tell me you read about it here.

Lectures/Book Signings/Radio/Internet/TV interviews.

  • There are many local/national media outlets that are always looking for material, you’re their material. I’ve already been on a dozen podcasts and several local radio stations. Just let them know your available with an intro email. I have not yet paid for advertising with one exception: $25 for a years worth on an internet channel.
  • Get the word out. Do you belong to an organization that has lots of members? Not hundreds, but hundreds of thousands? Do they have a journal, magazine, on-line newsletter? How about your college/high school? Do they have an alumni magazine? Publishing in these an opportunity to get paid for writing about your book and how it came about. You can all do this, everyone reading this. You’re writers. Local magazines, Parade Magazine, the Sunday paper inserts, Airline Magazines, fraternity newsletters, national club publications are all looking for material.
  • Now, for my other “Secret Weapon.” I belong to Toastmasters International, and I highly recommend that you become a member to learn how to talk to an audience, but I digress. Toastmasters International has 250,000 members and each member gets a copy of the Toastmasters Magazine. This is a flashy, high-quality publication that is read cover to cover by most of the members. I wrote an article for the magazine about how my Toastmasters experience led me to writing my book. I submitted it and it was rejected. Most of their submittals are rejected, they have many submitting articles and the magazine is a real challenge to be published in. Recall I mentioned someone called “Jane” earlier? Recall that I said she was really good with story? I went to her with my piece and she worked her magic and made the story REALLY work. I waited a few months and submitted the new version and immediately received an acceptance letter, and not only that, the editor was thrilled about it and wanted to know more, requesting a copy of the book. -.

Okay, you’re thinking, “Yeah, sure, you wrote a non-fiction, try that with fiction.” Think about it, fiction is just the opposite of non-fiction. In many cases your story “COULD” happen. What if, in 2000, you had written a story about a terrorist flying a plane into a building, especially the towers or Pentagon, what would have happened to that story? It would have gone viral, but and this is a big BUT, only if it was a well written, powerful piece and that goes back to my comments about getting a good product out there. Okay, so you didn’t have them crashing into the Pentagon, but maybe your mystery has to do with a cruise ship. You take that story and link it to other possibilities, you get people thinking about the what-ifs. If you’re writing for your college alumni magazine perhaps you write about how your education there led to your writing career. There is always an angle that will work, just think about it.

  • Design a business card. You MUST have business cards printed and carry some with you at all times. They can be simple: web address, email address, Twitter address and a phone number. Of course include the book or your publisher title if there is more than one book.  Keep it simple. Give them to everyone. Don’t forget to drop them off in public areas.
  • Create a book trailer: There are those that claim success with Book Trailers. I’ve looked at hundreds and I have come to one conclusion that until I can do it right, I’m not going to do it at all!!! Most of them are abysmal and a waste of time. Search “book trailer” on YouTube and see what I mean.  I can’t see how they would motivate anyone to look into the book. They mostly follow the same format: soft music (or wild music) leading into a few stills of something vaguely related to the book topic, then more music, then more stills, then credits and a link to where to get the book. I’ve seen maybe five that have been outstanding. No thank you, it needs to be far better than that. You need to give them something, a reason for watching. Think about your own viewing experiences. The ones that “reach” you are the ones that give you either, a laugh, a Wow!, or move you. The book is almost secondary to the message. They need a reason to want to know more.
  • I did create a video and put it on Youtube and thus far it has had 13,548 (update: as of 17 Oct, 2012 it has 69,755) views! It isn’t really a book trailer, but it is humorous and I get a plug in for the book at the end of the video. I can’t say how many readers it has brought me, but with 13K+ viewers?
  • Some of the best I’ve seen are the trailers author Seth Greenland has. His is not a genre that I would normally read, but his trailers absolutely convince me his books would be a fun read. The best part is, they look like they were really low budget, he didn’t break the bank.

As time goes on I will try to get more specific about what it takes for you, the Indie writer, to get your book into the hands of readers. I’ve quickly put this page together in answer to the many folks that have asked me “what works?” I have to get back to work. If you have suggestions for topics, or questions, let me know.

Dennis “K1″ Blanchard

Author of THREE HUNDRED ZEROES: Lessons of the Heart on the Appalachian Trail


3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2011 14:42

    I really like this web page. Lots of good info. Thanks for sharing it.

    Gary S Crawford, author of “Voices Over The Moon”

    http://garyscrawford.com
    Crawsat@Twitter

  2. October 11, 2011 16:42

    Hi Dennis, I bet you and Jane are hiking right now. I am taking a blogging class. The homework is to go to a few sites that have something to do w/writing and post a comment. So here I am and here’s my comment: Last weekend I was Keynote Speaker at an Inspirational Writers Retreat in Brandon, FL. I spoke on goal-setting, some elements of Story, and the writing life, in general. The audience enjoyed it.
    Take care, C-U in class!
    Diane E. Robertson
    author of ADVENTURES IN WRITING… and THE MADCAP MISADVENTURES OF MONICA MAYO

  3. October 18, 2012 05:37

    Thanks for the motivational article. You’re right about trying every avenue to get to your goal. Most important is enjoying the sheer pleasure of creative writing for oneself.
    Lilian Gafni
    Author of Flower from Castile Trilogy: The Alhambra Decree
    http://www.flowerfromcastile.com
    Please go to the above website to see the book trailer, or click here.

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