Flowing

The Internet is the world’s largest copy machine. At its most fundamental level this machine copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the Internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied dozens of times in an ordinary day as the cycle through memory, cache, server, routers, and back. Tech companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. If something can be copied – a song, a movie, a book – and it touches the Internet, it will be copied.

 

– Kevin Kelly “The Inevitable”

How to Pitch an Agent/Editor in 15 Minutes or Less

– by Christopher Ferebee

Often times when you attend a writers conference, you have an opportunity to sit down, speed dating style, for 3-15 minutes with various editors and agents. A common question is, what do I have to do to convince someone in a short pitch to represent or publish my work?

The short answer is, you can’t. Except for exceedingly rare circumstances, no editor or agent worth their salt is going to make a snap decision in that setting. You have to realize that the agents and editors are trying to provide a service more than they’re expecting to actually find a diamond in the rough. They’re going to give you pointers, what’s working, what isn’t, and talk to you about your big idea or try and help you figure out how to explain it if you even have one. They’re not really expecting to meet new clients or authors. It happens, but again, that’s not the expectation.

But before you get discouraged and decide to blow off the meetings, let me tell you why I think this actually opens the door for you to get serious attention.

If an author sits down in front of you, has actually done their homework, polished their pitch, and presents a compelling idea, that won’t be the norm. You have a chance to stand out from the crowd by being prepared to do your very best. If you accomplish this, then the editor or agent may actually invite you to formally submit your material for consideration. So what do you need to do?

Whatever you do, do not bring a 50 page document with the expectation that the editor or agent is going to take this from you. They may be polite, but it will not make it out of the hotel room. You should have a 1-3 page, easy-to-read and cleanly styled document with your name, contact information, a short bio, the title of your work, a 2-3 sentence hook, and 5-6 paragraph description of your main thesis or idea. And that’s it. If you do a good job in the pitch, they will take this document from you and it will have the information they need to follow up with you. If you cannot boil down your idea to a compelling presentation in this format, you’re not ready to present your idea.

You should also prepare a ninety-second pitch that you are going to deliver verbally. When you first sit down, you’ll introduce yourself, the agent or editor will do the same, and there may be some small talk. But the whole point is for you to make your pitch. Be prepared. Again, if you can’t tell me in 90 seconds or less what your big idea is, why it’s important, and why you’re the right person to write it, you’re not ready to present your idea.

If you really want to stand out, research the editor(s) or agent(s) you’re going to be meeting with. If your opening ice breaker is a statement about why you are excited to meet with this person because you know they work with a specific author or have published a specific book or set of books that are similar to you or what you’re working on, you’ll have their undivided attention. Again, be prepared. This isn’t a must, but it will go a long way toward helping you stand out. If you begin this way, nail your 90-second pitch, and have a solid 1-3 page document you can leave behind that is equally compelling, you will get positive feedback, and just might land yourself an editor or agent.

Finally, I’d practice your pitch and let a few friends read and respond to your document. Let them ask you questions, poke holes in your presentation, press you a little bit. An editor or agent asking you questions and engaging you with your idea can’t rattle you. You need to be prepared to answer questions. Think through specific questions someone might have about your project. Some obvious questions you should be able to respond to: Are there other books similar to yours already in the market? If so, what is your unique contribution to the topic? What other writing have you done similar to this? Have you built an audience and is this the type of work they’d expect from you?

I’ve said it a few times now, but I can’t over stress this: Be prepared. If you follow the above advice, you will be ready to make the most of your short window of time, and you will leave a good impression. That’s the most you can hope for from these meetings. Most editors and agents will be happy to meet with one person that is worth following up with. This will help you be that person.

Good luck!

5 Tips to a Great Book Proposal – by Angela Scheff

When putting together your proposal, please put as much care into it as if it were going to be published itself. There are some things that immediately stand out to agents and publishers alike that may make them think twice about continuing to read (as there is no lack of proposal submissions). Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you craft your perfect proposal.

1. Address the cover letter appropriately.

Do not be generic (“Dear Sirs” is the worst offender in my opinion). Do your research. Find out who you’re querying, what types of books/authors they’re looking for, and let them know why you chose to query them. Just because they’re an agent is not a good enough reason. Read here for more tips on this topic.

2. Make sure your proposal is error-free.

There is no reason for typos, auto-correct mistakes, or missing words in your proposal. Spell check is a beautiful thing, but so is the simple act of reading it aloud to yourself, and hiring a proofreader (even if “hiring” entails buying your English teacher friend coffee). You’re a writer so even if your specialty is story and not necessarily knowing the difference between their/there and it’s/its, you need to make sure these types of errors don’t make an appearance in your proposal.

3. Create a proposal compatible with your writing style.

While having a perfect proposal is the goal, make sure it’s not at the expense of your personality and writing style. A good writer knows all grammatical rules—and knows when to break them. Your proposal is an agent’s first introduction to your writing, so make sure it’s aligned with your style. More info on this point can be found here.

4. Be realistic yet cast a vision.

This point is especially apparent in the competing titles section. No, your book is probably not the next Hunger Games trilogy, but what could it be like? Spend some time thinking about the market—what’s on the front table at your local bookstore? What’s on the NY Times Bestseller lists? What books do people who follow your blog read? Who’s your favorite author? There are a lot of different ways to think about this, so include how your book fits with the current landscape and illustrate a need for it.

5. Set yourself apart.

The main question you can ask yourself as you’re putting your proposal together is, what makes me different? Why am I the person who needs to write on this topic? Then make sure this is communicated in some way in your proposal. Some authors may choose to design their proposal because it’s part of who they are. Others may choose to include a short video about their book idea as being a good communicator is what sets them apart. Whatever sets you apart, make sure it makes sense and stays true to who you are and what you’re topic/idea/message is.

Overall, proposals don’t need to be stuffy but do keep it professional.

Finding Your Blue Ocean

In previous articles we’ve discussed the advantage of finding your own unique space in the market, which makes it easier for you to become “known” and build your following.  Today I would like to share insights from another of my favorite business books on this topic – it is called “Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant”.  The idea of the book is that red oceans represent all the industries in existence today, and blue oceans denote all the industries that currently do not exist.  Most companies operate only in red oceans and do not know how to find blue oceans. They simply try to outperform their rivals. As it gets crowded, profits and growth are reduced.

Blue Oceans are defined by untapped market space, demand creation, and opportunity for profitable growth. Competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are yet to be set. Characteristics of blue oceans include:

  • They define new markets
  • They create a leap in value
  • They are the result of value innovation – when innovation is aligned with utility and price
  • Examples:
    • Cirque du Soleil
    • iTunes
    • iPhone
    • Starbucks

So how can you find your own blue ocean? As a spiritual writer, what leaps in value can you potentially offer? Here are some ideas:

    • Insight
    • Saying what others are thinking (but no one is saying)
    • Dealing with pain
    • Incredible writing
    • Relatability
    • Asking questions that others would ask too
    • Edginess
    • Talent not contained in a book

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

Trust

Over the years, the concept of trust and how crucial it is for business success has evolved in my mind and grown in importance. The mental model I’ve chosen to use is that there are two types of trust that matter: (1) trust that someone is competent, and (2) trust that someone will do the right thing. I realize these are somewhat vague and certainly subjective qualities. But their importance cannot be underestimated. If you feel that your employee or business partner is strong in both areas, it makes all the difference in the world. If you feel otherwise, you are best off finding someone else.

More generally speaking, a high degree of trust in a company or in a society is incredibly valuable. Our culture is built on an assumption that most people are trustworthy. When that is the case, everything moves more quickly and costs less. There is less “friction” in the economy. When trust is lacking, a company or individual is forced to spend more money on protecting themselves – through lawyers, technology, physical security, contingency plans, etc.

What are you doing to foster a greater degree of trust?

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.

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.

Finding Your “Place” as a Writer

Many people talk about finding your “voice” as a writer, and this is very important.  But what about finding your “place”? Think of this as your identity.

Marketing guru Mark Schaefer, in his book “Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age”, describes your place as “a sustainable interest and something you want to be known for”.  He recommends that it:

    • Be aligned with your strengths
    • Provide purpose by benefitting others
    • Offer a distinctive topic
    • Is inexhaustibly fascinating to you

Here are 3 tools Mark recommends for you to help find your “place”:

  1. Finish the statement “Only I…” – what is it that only you can uniquely offer?
  2. Take the Gallup company’s Strength Finder Test
  3. Write your first 35 blog article headlines – kind of a test to see how broad and deep your expertise in the area is, and how much you are able to “stick with it”

Another approach comes from Jonathan Merritt*. He suggests picking 3 adjectives that describe who you are.  Jonathan writes at the intersection of faith and culture, and his 3 adjectives for himself are proactive, thoughtful, and brave.

How would you describe yourself? What is your “place”?

 

 

* From “How to Become a Power Blogger” – Princeton Seminary presentation, June 2016

How Important Is Your Platform?

– by Jana Burson

We are often asked: how important is my platform as an author?

The quick answer is that your platform is just as important as the quality of your content and concept, especially in the crowded world of book publishing today.

Most publishing houses take a three-pronged approach when reviewing proposals:

  1. strong and fresh concept
  2. stellar content and writing
  3. platform

If one of these three are weak or missing, it’s not likely that the proposal is going to make it through the process.

There was a time, even a decade ago, when an author’s platform didn’t carry as much weight as the quality of their concept and writing. This was before the power of social media, the change in the way people get news, and the rise of online shopping. Now publishing houses need to know there’s a proven way to reach the core buyer for an author’s message.

WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT WHEN WE USE THE TERM PLATFORM?

Platform refers to your level of visibility or influence, expertise or authority on the subject matter, proof of engagement and your target audience. Editors and agents alike are looking for answers to these questions when reviewing the platform section of your proposal.

So often I hear writers say they are overwhelmed when it comes to their platform because they aren’t marketers by nature. The truth is, you don’t have to have a degree in marketing to put in the time and consistent effort to build and enhance your platform. You simply have to be true to your message and consistent in providing quality content for your followers/readers.

A WRITER SHOULD PUT AS MUCH CREATIVE EFFORT INTO DEVELOPING THEIR PLATFORM AS THEY DO IN THEIR WRITING, BECAUSE IT’S A NATURAL EXTENSION OF THEIR OVERALL MESSAGE.

Platform building is not the same for everyone and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that involves long-term strategic work and planning … much like writing!

The question is: are you willing to engage the process?

 

When Your Calling and the Market Collide – by John Backman

I am writing a book on self-denial.

Go ahead, laugh it up. I do. In Brian’s recent interview, Susan Salley of Abingdon Press asked us to consider why someone would pick up our book. Can you imagine someone picking up a book with self-denial in the title? Me neither.

And yet, in the depths of my deepest self, there’s a decided push to see the project through. The push has all the earmarks of—to use an unfashionable word—a calling.

This dilemma, I suspect, comes with the territory of spiritual writing. There’s what the market wants: what will sell, what readers will read, what will grow our platforms and our careers. And then there’s what God (the Universe, the One, Ultimate Reality, etc.) is asking us to do. Unless we meet the market, our writing goes nowhere; unless we follow the divine nudge, we go nowhere.

Can you do both? What happens when you can’t?

The obvious solution is to find the place where your calling and your market meet. That’s good advice on many fronts, and there are usually several ways to connect the two. Maybe, for instance, you recast your language for broader appeal without sacrificing the integrity of your message. Maybe you hone your definition of market.

With the self-denial book, I’ve had to do both. Since the title couldn’t include self-denial, I’m using the term giving your life away, which is actually more precise and maybe a shade more palatable. As to market, most readers will turn off at any whiff of self-denial, but you know who may not? Catholics. Self-denial, especially in service to others, is part of the Catholic tradition.

But this isn’t just about one book. The tension between calling and market can extend to every corner of our spiritual writing. Consider:

  • What if your calling lands you in a tiny market segment, writing books that a few people find life-changing but many others ignore?
  • What if your spiritual practice calls you to model a slower, more reflective way of life even as the blogosphere demands you post weekly? (It’s why contemplatives make lousy bloggers—well, this contemplative anyway.)
  • If your writing touches on current events, how do you fill your blog with deep spiritual insight into the news of the day when that insight can take weeks to develop?
  • What happens when your heart prompts you to write about wildly divergent topics, yet a clearer focus to your writing would strengthen your brand?
  • What if you must speak some hard truths into the world even though half your readership won’t appreciate it?

Here too there are workarounds. In terms of social media frequency, for instance, Brian has mentioned building an inventory of tweets and blog posts to maintain a regular publishing schedule. But sometimes the workarounds don’t quite work, and we are left with the tension.

The bright spot, perhaps, is that we spiritual folks are good at living in tension. We know that sometimes tension spawns insights we never would have expected. Those insights can eventually make our writing—and our lives—richer.

So maybe we use the workarounds, but don’t default to them too fast. Maybe we live with the tension until the tension yields something. What about you? Have you experienced the tension? How do you live with it, or into it?

 

 

About the Author

A spiritual director, contributor to Huffington Post Religion, and associate of an Episcopal monastery, John Backman writes and speaks about contemplative spirituality and its surprising relevance for today’s deepest issues. He authored Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (SkyLight Paths) and his articles have appeared in numerous faith-based publications. He has presented at a range of conferences, including the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

 

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