Finding Your “Strategic Space” in the Market

An important part of building a following for your writing is your ability to get noticed online – to rise above “the noise”. From a strategic perspective, you would ideally like to find an area of focus for your writing that is not already saturated with writers.  Marketing guru Mark Schaefer, in his book “Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age”, describes this as “an uncontested or under-occupied niche with enough people to matter”. His experience has shown that this is the area where most people fail.

Here are some methods for you to consider that might allow you to narrow your focus and find your “under-occupied niche with enough people to matter”.

  1. Choose the intersection of Area A and Area B
  2. Focus on a specific demographic
    • Example: Rachel Held Evans’ primary audience started as post-evangelical women in their 20’s and 30’s
  3. Geographical focus
  4. Interest focus
    • Example: Holy Spokes by Rev. Laura Everett – “…tells the story of Everett’s unlikely conversion to urban cycling. As she pedaled her way into a new way of life, Everett discovered that her year-round bicycle commuting wasn’t just benefiting her body, her wallet, and her environment. It was enriching her soul.”
  5. Leverage a platform in addition to writing
  6. Partnership and curation
    • Example: Writing for Your Life – A fundamental strategy of Writing for Your Life is to partner with leading experts
      • Online and in-person conferences featuring talented authors and industry experts
      • Blog articles from numerous guests
      • Reselling writing support services

Where is your “Strategic Space”? Feel free to contact us if you would like to work on this further.

The New Rules of Brand Awareness

Many prospective clients come to me asking for help to tell their story so that they can attract customers and create brand experience.

For decades, businesses have created brand awareness by following four rules – which no longer work:

1. Make something for everyone.
2. Tell our story.
3. Attract customers.
4. Build brand awareness.

The brands that succeed today have flipped things around:

New rules of brand awareness:

1. Understand the customers’ story.
2. Make something they want.
3. Give them a story to tell.
4. Create brand affinity.

While we are scurrying around employing this tactic and that one in order to get more people to notice us, we are overlooking the greatest opportunity we have to drive the growth and success of our businesses.

Awareness of our products and services is not what spreads our stories.

Our stories spread when we are aware of our customers.

– from “Meaningful” by Bernadette Jiwa

Looking Back

Though The Liars’ Club rang true to me when I wrote it, from this juncture it seems to have sprung from a state of loving delusion about my family. In those days, I still enjoyed a child’s desperate tendency to put sparkles on my whole tribe. Were I writing that story today, I’d be less generous to them while perhaps shining more empathy on my younger self. Whether age has granted me more wholesome care for the girl I was, or whether life’s ravages have ground down my heart so I’m more self-centered, I can’t say. Am I healthily less codependent or a bigger bitch? You could argue either way. Although I’d fix a wrong date or point of fact for the book to correct it as written record, I couldn’t alter any major take on the past without redoing the whole tome. The self who penned that book formed the filter for those events, I didn’t fabricate stuff, but today, other scenes I’d add might tell a less forgiving story.

– from “The Art of Memoir” by Mary Karr

Can I Make a Living as a Writer?

– by Christopher Ferebee

This question is a common one. Especially for people new to writing and wondering if there’s any real money in it. Unfortunately, to truly answer this question, there are all kinds of other issues that come into play that agents can’t speak to, such as, what is your standard of living? How much do you really need to earn to support yourself or your family?

But there is some basic information we can provide to help people understand how money works in the industry. First, publishers do typically pay authors an advance in exchange for the publishing rights to their book. This amount can vary widely, but is typically based on the publisher’s estimate of how many copies they could sell of your book in the first 9-12 months of publication. Obviously, the more reason they have to believe they will sell a lot of copies, the higher this number will be.

This advance amount is typically broken up into two, and sometimes as many as four, payments. You get a percentage on signing the agreement, and then a percentage on the publisher’s acceptance of the manuscript for your book. If the advance is broken up into additional payments, typically at higher dollar levels, then a third payment would be made on the publication of your book, and a fourth anywhere between 6-12 months following the publication of your book. So even if you were to be offered a significant amount of money for your book, it’s likely you would be paid that money over the course of 1-3 years. After that and assuming your book sells really well, any additional royalty amounts are paid by the publishers on a quarterly or semi-annual basis.

In short, even if you’re a successful author, you need to have good cash flow and money management skills.

But there are other ways to supplement income besides authoring your own books. Many of our clients also speak, write for other people, provide proposal coaching, write for news outlets, offer workshops and consulting services, or have developed a significant enough blog following to earn income from advertising and the sale of resources off their website.

In short, there is a small percentage of people who are successful enough to truly earn a living simply by authoring their own books. But there are ample opportunities to make a living as a writer if you’re willing to look for those opportunities, practice your craft in multiple ways and work hard.

The Writer in Me

by Maya Gaines

When I was a young girl my grandmother Anna Delores Freeman would often take time to talk to me about life. My grandma was a very sweet woman who believed in pointing out the good in everyone. She was the type of woman who would not only give her last to help others but would also borrow from what ever you had just to make sure that a need didn’t go unmet. Her generosity was inspired by her love for Jesus Christ. Her talks were so powerful and profound that even someone with the lowest self-esteem could walk away from a conversation with Mother Freeman feeling like the most valuable person in the room. Seeing her example inspired me to want to be the best person that I could be.

She had this way of encouraging and disciplining me all at the same time. She would say to me “Stay sweet in your soul baby. Stay sweet in your soul.” Most times when I heard these words it was because my conversation and actions were not in line with what I was being taught. I didn’t realize it then, but she was like a Shepherd taking her staff and guiding me her little lost sheep safely back to green pastures.

At the age of fifteen I became pregnant with my oldest son. At that time there was a lot of fear and concern that I would end up quitting school if I were to go through with the pregnancy. I was a freshman in high school with at least a 3.0 G.PA and was taking all college prep classes. My mother was devasted she couldn’t imagine her youngest baby having a baby. I was terrified I couldn’t bear the thought of taking the life of another human being. I came up with this plan I would go to my grandma because I knew that she would never approve of this decision to end the life of an unborn child.

To my surprise she didn’t respond quite the way I thought she didn’t start a war with my parents and come to my defense. Instead she upheld her beliefs with a spirit of peace. She corrected me in a way that she hadn’t before. She said may we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly Not she said God forbid it. In that moment she taught me that you don’t cover sin with more sin. She held me accountable for my actions and covered me with an unconditional love while restoring me through prayer.

Although my grandma had made it very clear that abortion wasn’t nor should it had ever been an option. She still didn’t have the final say. I will never forget the instructions I was given at the clinic. They said make sure that you do not eat anything after midnight if you do you could die during the procedure. An appointment was scheduled for me to come back first thing the next morning. I didn’t sleep at all that night. Around 6am I ate me some breakfast and then went back to my room and laid down.

I told myself that if my mother wouldn’t allow me to have my child then she would also know what it was like to lose a child. I grabbed my stomach and told my unborn child that I wasn’t going to let him leave here alone. I almost didn’t have my son and if it weren’t for what I now believe to have been an angel I probably wouldn’t be here today. While I was lying on the table saying what I thought would be my last prayer. The nurse looked at me and said why are you here. I believe I started crying that’s when she told me to get up and get dressed. She escorted me back to my mother and we left. This wasn’t the first time I had attempted to end my life, but after that day I knew that surely God had to have a purpose and plan for me.

There were a lot of things from my childhood that I was warned not to talk about when I was growing up. What I couldn’t say I wrote down in diaries and in poems. Although I knew that I didn’t have the power to go back and change the past I thought that maybe I would be able to write me a better future. Life for me became much like a script being acted out by a bunch of characters. Growing up I wasn’t very good at handling sad situations. I found them to be awkward because I never knew the write words to say, so I would write letters to express my thoughts with the hope that something I wrote would make someone feel better.

It was in high school that I really begin to see how my passion for writing was helping others. I would have friends come to me after reading something that I had written and ask me how I knew what they were thinking or how they were feeling. The truth is I didn’t know I was just writing what was in my heart at that time. I didn’t realize at the time that I was already being used by God as an instrument of healing for many of my hurting peers.

I know what it’s like to feel pain that can’t always be expressed out loud. I know what it is to want to cry out but for the sake of not wanting to be judged, misunderstood or even worse blamed you remain silent, trapped by your own opinion of how others may react. Because of the example of my parents who supported and stood by me I also know firsthand what God’s grace and mercy looks like. I write because writing for me is freedom. It’s that powerful voice that speaks for us when we have no words to say.

The More Experiments You Run

Good things come to those who wait, and for experimentalists, it’s never too late to become original. After Frank Lloyd Wright received the contract for Fallingwater, his most celebrated architectural work, he procrastinated for nearly a year while making sporadic drawings before finally completing the design at age sixty-eight. Raymond Davis shared the Nobel Prize in physics for research that he started at fifty-one and finished at the tender age of eighty. The more experiments you run, the less constrained you become by your ideas from the past. You learn from what you discover in your audience, on the canvas, or in the data. Instead of getting mired in the tunnel vision of your imagination, by looking out into the world you improve the acuity of your peripheral vision.

– from “Originals” by Adam Grant

A Contribution to the Literary World – by Robert Benson

At the beginning of a new book, I find it easier to write if I do not think about the fact that I am attempting to write a book.

Who in the world needs another book anyway? There are thousands of good ones already, and some of the best ones have not been read by very many people at all.

A day spent reading Annie Dillard or Graham Greene or John LeCarre or Thomas Merton of Doris Grumbach or Frederick Buechner can convince anyone who wants to write that the good stuff has already been written and, in fact, so marvelously written that anything else by anyone else, including me, borders on being audacious at best and pretentious the rest of the time. Last week while reading Buechner, I realized that if I wanted to make a contribution to the literary world, I should do his laundry and mow his grass so that he would have more time to write.

– from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

Creative Work is Soul Work

Creative work is soul work; it happens in that interior place where spiritual life forms the rest of life. Your spiritual beliefs and your creative drive reside in the same place-deep within you where everything important is stored. Doesn’t matter if you call this your spirit or something else. I call it the soul, because that’s nice and general and people can attach whatever meaning they want. It’s that interior location where the real you lives. The real you involves your drives, your beliefs, your desires, even your reactions to the physical world. This is where your stories happen, if you’re a writer. It’s where your visions appear, if you’re a painter. It’s where your curiosity and tenacity live, if you are a scientist or inventor. The work that evolves from you begins in that very honest, private place that I call the soul. So it cannot be separated easily from those other residents of the soul, which include your collection of beliefs, religious and otherwise.

 

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

We Don’t Have the Option of Doing Nothing – by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

 
When we are angry about the things that make God angry, that is a righteous, not a self-centered, anger. Moses was angry about all of the right things: slavery, injustice, abuse of power, mistreatment of women, and his own people’s disobedience toward God. Once we are awakened to injustices, it’s time to put this righteous anger to good use.
 
The question the faithful servant of God must face is: What do we do with the anger that so deeply plagues us? For years I have been wrestling with God about the right actions to take in the face of so much injustice. Do I write? Do I protest? Do I leave or stick with a ministry, relationship, or community? Do I withhold funds? Do I speak up? Do I lobby or advocate? Do I vote or educate? Do I use social media? Do I lead or submit to local grassroots efforts?
 
Our responses to injustice and anger may vary from day to day, but one thing is for sure: we don’t have the option of doing nothing. The first righteous step is repenting for our part in injustice, and then we work toward righteous action. At a conference I once had the privilege of sitting at the feet of civil rights activist Rev. Dr. C. T. Vivian. When discussing action and advocacy he said, “It is in the action we find out who we are.” If we don’t take action in the face of injustice, we prove ourselves to be cowards. We must act!
 
*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
 

Rule #2: Answering and Insights

Here is Mark Schaefer’s second of the three rules for creating effective social media content, from his book “Known”:

 

Rule #2: Answering and Insights

 

A great way to begin your content journey is to start with an­swers and end with insights. Let’s unpack that idea.

If you’re in a niche without much competition, an easy way to begin creating content is to brainstorm every question you can dream of related to your sustainable interest, and then an­swer them through a blog, video, or podcast. This is an effec­tive way to dominate an uncontested niche and possibly attract search engine attention through “hygiene” content, which I ex­plain in the previous chapter.

Here’s a trick to get you going: Go to a website called An­swerThePublic.com. On this site, you enter keywords and it delivers questions people are typing into Google about that topic. Essentially, it’s a content idea generator!

Answering customer questions is a solid strategy for begin­ners, but it’s not ideal in every situation, especially in a more crowded content niche. In that situation, you need to focus on insights instead of just answers.

For example, I often write on the topic of marketing strat­egy. I consulted with AnswerThePublic.com and found that a popular topic for me would be “Why Social Media is Impor­tant.” I Googled this phrase and got 255 million results. That’s an incredibly saturated topic. If I were to write a blog post to answer that question, I would only be contributing to the noise!

For me to become known in that information-dense envi­ronment, I’d have to do something bold, like offer “hub” con­tent – case studies, opinion pieces, research insights, and strat­egies you won’t find anywhere else.

An advantage of hub content is that it’s more likely to keep readers (or viewers) on your site. With hygiene content, after people get an answer to their question, they leave your site and go back to their lives. Hub content is more likely to attract readers who will stay and look around to learn more. Here are three individuals becoming known by pushing be­yond the ordinary question/answer format:

  • Mimi Thorisson became a celebrity in the highly com­petitive world of food blogging by combining astonish­ing photography, art, and recipes in a blog called Man­ger (French for “to eat”). Her consistent and beautiful work has led to a television show, book, and speaking appearances.
  • On the site IQuantNY, statistician Ben Wellington tells stories of what public data means to citizens of New York. His blog provides fascinating revelations about the city’s budget, sewage, parks, and nightlife, among other topics. The popular blog has helped propel his career as an edu­cator and analyst.
  • Momastery is a mommy blog about “unleashing the sis­ter warrior.” Blogger Glennon Doyle Melton brings her extraordinary heart, humor, and bravery to her storytell­ing, which she has leveraged into best-selling books and a successful speaking career.

Answering questions is a great place to start, but consider adding bolder and more insightful types of content over time to grow your actionable audience.

 

 

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