Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chapter 12: No platform? Then don't give up!

Rejection as a Standard Part of the Business

One chapter in "Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul" is entitled:

"No One Faces Rejection More than an Author."

Most would-be authors don't understand this. If you write for personal pleasure, just enjoy the experience. If you decide to seek publication, brace yourself for rejection after rejection. This should come as good news to those who've already tried to get published and gotten slapped down at every turn. It doesn't mean you're a bad writer. It just means you're in the writing business.

All writers, but particularly early writers, face rejection as a way of life. Even seasoned, successful writers understand that they'll have to submit articles and books to several publishers before finding a home for them.

May I put it bluntly? If you can't take getting hit in the face, don't become a boxer. If you can't take getting wet, don't become a swimmer. If you can't take rejection, don't become a writer.

Easing the Pain of Rejection

Many aspiring authors are unnecessarily devastated by rejection. Rejections wouldn't hurt so badly if writers simply understood the way things work in the publishing industry. Normally, publishers hand out a standard rejection letter rather than tell you why they're turning you down. The uninitiated misconstrue the rejection letter to mean, "your writing is not good enough for publication." Bad assumption. Let's look at common reasons that great manuscripts get rejected.

  • The publisher had a bad experience with a book on your topic. One publisher told me this recently. They hadn't had much success with financial books, so they didn't want to try another one. (The only reason I get specific reasons for rejections is that my agent has relationships with these people and goes back to ask them.) This didn't reflect at all upon my writing.
  • The publisher doesn't sell successfully to the age-group you're targeting. Again, another reason that I was rejected by another publisher.
  • The publisher already has another book on the topic and doesn't want to publish competition for the other author. This makes sense. I heard this from a publisher concerning my music book.
  • The acquisitions editor has a firm deadline the week your manuscript lands on her table. On Friday, her boss demands: "These twenty proposals have been sitting on your table for days. Go through them and see if any have potential before our 3:00 editor's meeting." She gets several calls from important authors and gets behind even further, so that at 2:00 she has to either frantically narrow things down or risk being labeled a slacker by the big cheese.

    She throws out five proposals because they each have a misspelled word, eight because she doesn't readily understand the market, and disses your manuscript because it's in pica font, which was the font of her last recommendation - the one that the big cheese shot down. She rejects all pica font these days. It's a bad omen. Do you think things like this really happen at publishing houses? Hint: They're human institutions.
  • The editor doesn't appreciate your style. He may have a more literary bent or a more homey bent than you. He may like more big words, more smaller words, more analogies or quotes or description or dialogue. He may like animal stories better than people stories, talking animals better than mute animals, wild animals better than domestic animals. Well, you get the picture. So much judgment on writing is simply a matter of taste.
  • The manuscript simply doesn't meet their current needs. I know that it sounds like the trite rejection letter, but often that's literally the entire problem. Their board demanded last year that they limit their novels to 10% of the books they publish in any given year. They just met the 10% quota for next year and aren't currently looking at any more novels. Once they read far enough in your query to realize it's a novel, they put it in the reject pile. They don't have time to explain this to everyone who submits a novel, so they get the standard rejection letter.
  • The acquisitions editor doesn't get it. I understood that style of music was a growing issue in the church because of my work with teens. If the editor hadn't worked with teens or been raising a teen in the late 1980's and the early 1990's, she might not sense the urgency of the topic. Publishing houses are staffed by people with limited experience and limited knowledge and limited interests. It's no surprise that they don't understand why a niche of southern farmers are waiting anxiously to read your illustrated history of Boll Weevils.
My point? Many factors go into a publisher's decision-making process that have nothing to do with the quality of your manuscript. So don't expect the first publisher, or even the first twenty, to take your manuscript. Politely ask each rejector for a reason, so that you may learn something to improve future submissions. See below for how many rejections some of the most successful books had to endure.

Publishers' Dilemmas

It's not easy being an acquisitions editor. There's no objective formula for spotting a best-selling book. Therefore, choosing from among several well-written manuscripts is often more art than science. That's why well over 100 publishers rejected the original "Chicken Soup" manuscript. In their professional opinion, books of short stories simply didn't sell. Now they're kicking themselves.

In part, here's the publishers' dilemma: On the one hand, they want a book that's unique - not something that's already been done over and over. On the other hand, they want proof that this unique book will sell - although nothing quite like it has been published before. So how can they know if books like these will sell?

They also have a bias toward published authors, knowing that they are gathering followings. Yet, they have to pay published authors more. Wouldn't it be great to find that new author who turns out to be a best-seller, with your publishing house getting a higher percentage of the royalties? As the one who "found" the new author, you'd be a hero! So, do you stay with the safe, reliable, published authors, or take a risk on a new author?

Again, you can see why publishers may not see the genius of your manuscript.

Great Books That Were Repeatly Rejected (Or, Embarrassing Moments in the Acquisitions Department)

Yesterday I read a wonderful chapter in Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul, listing authors who were rejected repeatedly by publishers. Here are a few.

  • Louis L'Amour, with over 200 million of his 100 western novels in print, suffered 350 rejections before a publisher first took a chance on him.
  • Dr. Seuss' first manuscript, And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was jilted by twenty-seven publishers.
  • Jack London, author of 22 books, including Call of the Wild, was initially rejected 600 times.
  • Best-selling author John Grisham (over 60 million of his novels in print), was originally rejected by thirty agents and fifteen publishers.
  • Mary Higgins Clark (over 30 million copies in print) was passed over by publishers forty times.
  • Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book and Captains Courageous among his 45 books) was told, in a rejection letter from the San Francisco Examiner, "I'm sorry , Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language."
  • Alex Haley (Roots and The Autobiography of Malcomb X) received a rejection slip every week for four years as a young writer.
  • The "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series grew to thirty-two books and has been translated into thirty-one languages and sold over 53 million copies. But if it weren't for Canfield and Hansen's ability to handle rejection, the first book would have never made it to publication. It was rejected by 123 publishers. The major New York publishers said that "Nobody wants to read a book of short little stories." Nobody indeed.

    These are not oddities in the publishing world - the few writing geniuses who somehow got slighted in a normally stellar selection process. Canfield, Hansen and Gardner list twenty nine great authors who suffered rejection after rejection. My impression is that their experience is more the rule than the exception.

    An interesting test of the publishing industry demonstrates the difficulty of recognizing greatness in writing. Eight years prior, Jerzy Kosinski won the National Book Award for his novel Steps. Someone wanted to change his name and title and resubmit it. He sent it out to thirteen agents and fourteen publishers. "They all rejected it, including Random House, which had published it."

    So today someone is pronouncing your first manuscript "unsellable." Cool! Now you've got something in common with the greatest of writers. Just make sure you share their persistence as well.

Chapter 11: No Platform? Then consider sharing someone else's platform by co-authoring

Before I acquired a publisher for my book on music, a high-profile author urged me to co-author the book with him. "If we publish it together," he said, "you'll get a much wider reading."

I agreed that simply by putting his name on the cover, I'd have a much broader appeal and gain a much broader reading. It was a hard decision. Maybe I should have gone that route. But I didn't. Today I'm happy with my decision. Here's why:

#1 - I thought credit should be given where credit was due. I felt that if the book cover read:

The Contemporary Christian Music Debate

By Big Name

With Steve Miller

the average reader would think, "So 'Big Name' did the research and wrote the book. Miller must be a professional writer who tidied things up a bit to get it ready for publication." I didn't think that was giving me proper credit.

#2 - It seemed unethical. I'd already researched and written the entire book. So what was "Big Name" going to do - write a forward and add a few of his own insights to several of the chapters? I know that insiders to the publishing industry would say, "Everybody knows what's going on here. The no-name author doesn't have the platform, so he writes the book, then we have the big- name guy give enough input to justify putting both of your names on it."

Of course, that's not the only way co-authoring works. Often it's truly a collaboration from start to finish. On the other end of the spectrum lie those books that just have a rubber stamp put on them by the high profile author. In my case, I didn't think it was legit to come across to the general public like someone else had written the book when I'd done it myself.

#3 - Co-authoring might hurt my chances for future book deals. Write the book myself and I'm truly a "published author" the next time I go knocking on publishers' doors. If I were "just a co-author," would they take the time to find out if I had actually written the book or not? Even if they knew I was the primary writer, wouldn't they wonder if it would have ever sold without the high profile "co-author?" I believe that leaving it in my name helped to establish me as an author in my own right.

On the other hand, other book projects aren't like mine. Co-authoring may be the best way to go in many cases.

#1 - By collaborating from start to finish with an established author, you might come out with a better product.

#2 - Even if your co-author isn't a big name author, if the person has fascinating experience in the field or a strong platform, you stand to gain by working together.

#3 - You're more likely to get a publisher, who knows that "Big Name" or "Big Platform" has a following who will buy the book.

#4 - You'll probably sell more books, which impacts more readers (isn't that what you're trying to do?) than selling no books or few books under your own name.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Chapter 10: No platform? Then consider self-publishing

Self-Publishing is not necessarily second best, especially in today’s market. Why?

I don’t think I’m exaggerating to suggest that the combination of print on demand and social networking via the Web (see chapter 8) have revolutionized publishing. But it hasn’t struck me just how revolutionary the changes are until the last few months.

The “Print on Demand” Revolution

So my book on music was out of print and all but one used copy was gone from Amazon. Someone was selling the last copy for $500. Was that you Cherie? Trying to republish with a traditional publisher didn’t seem like an option.

So why would a publisher quit printing a book that’s still selling? Because if they’re printing 5,000 copies at a time to keep the costs low, they’re taking a big risk in reprinting. If it sells too slowly, they’ve got to store those babies and take a loss.

But Cherie and I felt that my book could be a good backlist seller for a long time – that it still met a niche need.

So Cherie called a Print on Demand publisher, BookSurge, and had them call me to get me moving on it. I wasn’t that interested because the last time I’d checked out self-publishing in small quantities, you’d have to sell each book for such high prices that

a. nobody would buy it and
b. you couldn’t tack on enough above the selling price to make a profit

But after Cherie enlightened me about the print on demand revolution, I felt like it was the best fit for my book at this stage. I still say I’m glad I went with Tyndale House first and got the respect of being with a respected, traditional publisher. I doubt I could have landed those radio interview or gotten it out to near as many people without them.

But at this stage in the book’s life I couldn’t be more thrilled with Booksurge. For future books, I’m 50/50 as to whether to self-publish or go traditional. There are benefits to each. I may decline the offer on my Money book and self-publish through Booksurge. Let’s brainstorm a bit about self-publishing versus traditional publishing. I’d like to harvest some collective wisdom.

How many of you have self-published (that is, you paid to have your book published)? How many have published with a traditional publisher (that is, the publisher paid you an advance for the privilege of publishing your book)?

Let’s list the pros for each type of publishing.

The Case for Traditional Publishing

1. I’m much more likely to get it into bookstores. (I’m in their catalog that goes to bookstores and distributed through traditional channels.)

2. They will do some free publicity. Tyndale House had connections with radio and TV that I didn’t have. They arranged the thirty or so radio interviews.

3. I get more respect.
  • For future publishing.
  • From bookstores.
  • From schools and libraries.
  • From magazine reviewers and major reviewers.
4. There’s no up-front monetary risk on my part.

5. I get up-front money.

The Case for Self-Publishing

I'm heavily considering self-publishing my next book at this point. Here are some of my reasons:

1) I Can Do a Lot More Marketing Myself Than in the Past. As I study social networking and marketing via the Web, I'm more and more convinced that I can reach my customers pretty effectively via these methods. I couldn't have done this 10 years ago, but so many possibilities exist today.

2) More Long-Term Profits (possibly). My traditional publisher gave me 15% of their net (what distributors pay them for the book), which probably meant about 15% of half of the retail price. For an $18.00 book, that would mean I'd receive $1.35 per book. With BookSurge (print on demand, subsidiary of Amazon) I'd receive 35% of retail (the price it sells for on Amazon), which is $6.30 per book. That's a huge amount over time! Example: If I sold 10,000 books through Booksurge at $6.30 per book, I’d have to sell over 4.5 times as many books (over 45,000) at $1.3 per book to net the same amount of money. Can the traditional publisher generate that many more sales because of their connections and publicity channels. Certainly, in some cases. But probably not in others. If a traditional publisher is offering you a contract, make sure that they are doing a super job of marketing their books.

3) Sure, I'd love to receive a $10,000 advance and the clout and the marketing to traditional bookstores that comes through a traditional publisher, but that $10,000 would be taken back by the publisher with my royalties until it was paid back. (An “advance” is an “advance against future royalties").

Since in my case I've already been promised an early purchase in bulk, I could pay back the printing costs quickly and begin making a profit.

4) I get to retain all rights and offer it as an e-book, parts of it as articles, etc.

5) I get more control over the graphics and the final editing.

6) Speed: Published in a couple of months versus a year.

7) Flexibility: It's so cheap to publish that I don't have to think of my original publication as final. I can use it to test the waters, get input and make a revision based on that input in a year or two.

If you choose print on demand, you haven't burned your bridges to a traditional publisher. has a service which allows publishers to see your sales and consider picking you up. BookSurge just gave me a raise, from 25% to 35% of the selling price on my book. They didn’t have to do this. My contract was for 25%. This makes me think they’re willing, like their parent company, to lose money or make very little in order to eventually own the market. If so, that’s good news for authors. My contact at BookSurge is John Schuster. He's been very helpful in answering my questions and leading me through the self-publishing process.

The Web (Web 1.0) and Social Networking (Web 2.0) Revolutions

So Print on Demand has revolutionized our ability to get our books into print 1) with quality printing 2) quickly 3) at reasonable prices and 4) in small or large quantities. The Web revolution allows those who can’t hit the road or do bubbly radio interviews a plethora of new avenues for cheap and effective marketing. It’s a move from “interruption marketing” to helping those already looking for our products to find us. It allows everyone to learn the new tools (blogs, online press releases, forums, etc.) and market effectively and cheaply.

Questions or input about Self-Publishing versus Traditional Publishing? Feel free to comment!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Chapter 9: No platform? Then build a platform that suits your personality and strengths. Recommendation: Utilize the Web

Platform as Service

Guy Kawasaki was one of the original Apple employees responsible for marketing of the Macintosh computer in 1984. Today he works as a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, listening to people’s upstart ideas and deciding who to help fund. In an interview, Kawasaki observed an important differentiator among business start-ups. From his vast experience, if a person raves about how his venture will make tons of money, he doubts it will succeed. But if someone describes in glowing terms how his venture will help lots of people, Kawasaki is all ears. Here’s one that’s likely to fly.

I think this applies to authors building platforms to publish and market their books. So let’s rephrase this chapter title. “Building a Platform” sounds like I’m doing everything I can to put myself on a pedestal. But I think the best way to build a platform is to find ways to serve. In a real sense, you don’t build a platform at all. Instead, you find ways to serve people and one day you’re rather surprised to find yourself standing on the platform that sprung up as a byproduct. So let's call this chapter, "Find Ways to Serve."

Are you familiar with the Maui Writer’s Conference? It's one of, if not the most respected writers conferences in existence. Go to Maui and you'll meet top editors, Hollywood script writers, etc.

Do you know its history? John Tullius had made it as a writer, pulling in a secure six-figure income from his articles and ten books. Then it came to a screeching halt. Mysteriously, for a three-year period, he couldn't sell anything. And he couldn't write. Maybe his muse had jilted him. Maybe he'd contracted acute writers' block. Whatever the case, the result was devastating. According to Tullius, "I lost everything - the car, the home, my self-respect."

But then a letter arrived from his uncle Frank, his successful writing mentor who'd turned Buddhist monk after a losing battle with alcohol. Frank invited him to come visit at his Thailand monastery. Enclosed was a round trip ticket. What did he have to lose? He went.

Upon arriving, Frank led him to a view of a couple of dozen children, playing in a courtyard. "They are my students," he explained. "I came to teach them."

Tullius was confused. "I thought you came here to be a monk."

Frank replied that after sitting around for about a month, they introduced him to his students. He'd discovered what everyone there discovers, that they're way to wrapped up on themselves and need to instead find ways to serve others.

Then he sent Tullius away. "You want me to leave?" he complained. I've only been here a few hours." But Frank had passed on his message, and Tullius took it to heart, starting with taking invitations to speak to writers groups about their writing. He saw writer's hunger to learn the trade and get into print. He knew the industry well and had found a way to serve.

With the help of some friends, he pulled together the first Maui Writers Conference, which eventually became the largest writers' conference in the world.

As an added bonus, his muse returned, restoring his love for writing and allowing him to write two best-selling novels. Each morning he wakes up dreaming about how to serve other writers. The more he serves, the more he receives. (Summarized from Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul, pp. 152-158).

[Add later: Book on shameless self-promoting – used to be called “caring.” On using social media – go out to serve. Meet people’s needs.]

Benjamin Franklin ended up with one of the largest platforms ever. He was one of the most famous men of his time and will probably remain famous forever. I think one of the main keys to his success was that he woke up every morning asking, “What good shall I do today?" At the end of each day he asked himself, “What good did I do today.” No wonder he impacted the world as few before or since.

When he wanted to help the common people benefit from the wisdom he collected, he didn’t put it in a book form. He put it in a calendar called “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” It both met a need for wisdom among the common folk and contributed greatly to his ability to retire in his early 40’s to devote himself to his inventions, starting a pretty neat country, etc.

So how can you serve others with your expertise? Speak at a school? Write an article for a charity? Answer people's questions on forums? Respond to someone's blog entries?

The Traditional Speaking Platform

Today, there are many ways to build a platform. The traditional way is to brush up on your speaking skills and speak everywhere you can: classrooms, business meetings, seminars, radio, TV, business meetings, etc. Today you can start meeting people in your specialty area through and branch out from there.

This is how Mark Twain publicized his books. He was an entertaining speaker and he hit the speaker’s circuit.

Most of us know something about this type of platform. But many can’t take advantage of it because either the thought of speaking to a group makes them nauseous or they’ve got responsibilities that keep them from getting out. The latter has been my case, as I care for my elderly father who has cancer, my grandmom who’s 102, and my own children. This has forced me to build a different kind of platform. I couldn’t have done it fifteen years ago. The technology wasn’t in place. But fortunately, we can all take advantage of it today.

The Web Platform

Benjamin Franklin never considered himself a great speaker. But he found other ways to get out his ideas. I think that today he would have included blogging and other Web tools in his arsenal.

Not all of us are speakers, but we are writers, which means we are the most strategically qualified people to take advantage of the tools available on the Web. “But I’m not a techie!” you may complain.

Listen, I’m not a techie. I’ve never taken a computer class. Not one. I don’t know any programing languages. Not one. But I’ve got several websites, two blogs, a forum and a couple of e-zines going out to about 8,000 people who’ve signed-up on my sites.

I know enough of Microsoft Frontpage to write my content and design a basic Web page. That’s about 1/1000 of what Frontpage can do, but it’s all I need. I know about 1/10,000 of what PhotoShop can do. But it’s all I need to edit pictures for my sites.
I’m the Webmaster, content editor and primary designer.

Most sites and blogs today can be designed with user-friendly tools that are getting more user-friendly all the time. When tasks are beyond my skills, such as adding a database or setting up e-commerce, I pay reasonably priced programmers one-time fees to set things up for me so that I can use them.

I set up a forum last month that cost me about $200 in programming. It’s a free, open-source program that he needed to customize a little. I built the pages for the character site, but paid a KSU programming student under $1000 to add e-commerce and all the back-end stuff I’d need to have a members section, automatically process credit cards, keep up with subscriptions, send out an automatic welcome e-mail, etc.

Listen, we hear about Bill Gates and the original Google programmers and their great success. But I’m convinced that it’s not the techies who have the most to gain from this revolution. It’s the writers. I’ll tell you why.

If you read any book on having a successful Web site, blog, etc., they’ll say something like this:

“The three most important words in real estate are ‘location, location, location.’ The three most important words in Web site success are ‘content, content, content.’ And who, may I ask, writes the content?

So let’s say some geek has put together a site that has all the latest gadgets, all the latest technology and is designed to perfection. If it doesn’t have any content that you’d want to come back for, will you ever revisit the site? No. When it comes to successful Web marketing, content reigns supreme. And we, the writers, are the content masters. Can we all stand, hold hands and break out into a rousing chorus of “We are the Champions!?!.”

Now seriously, let me ask you this. When you decided to go see Kite Runner at the Theater and you searched the Web to find where it was showing, did you see one movie site and go, “Wow! What ugly colors! And there’s not even a flash presentation or podcast. That’s so Web 1.0!”

No. You went to the site for the information – the content. If it gave you what you were looking for and made the content easy to access, you were happy and may have even bookmarked the site to visit before your next movie hunt. The Web is all about finding great content.

How does this work for building a platform for your book? Imagine you’re writing a novel set in the North Georgia Mountains in the early 1900’s. You’re doing tons of research about the location and period and decide to set up a Web site for people interested in that time and place. You’ve got much more cool content than you could ever use in your novel. Why not put it somewhere? So you put it in a well-organized way on a site and people begin to come.

How the Web Revolutionizes Marketing

Note how this revolutionizes marketing. We used to be stuck with “interruption marketing,” where advertisers interrupt your favorite TV show to try to sell you such essential items as mood rings and Ginsu knives. But with social networking, we allow people who are already looking for products to find us. People out there are already searching for help with their finances or a solution to their style of worship problem or a novel set in the North Georgia mountains or materials for character education. With a well-positioned blog or Web site, I simply allow those people who are already searching to find me.

How many of you already have an author site? Another site besides the author site? A blog? Okay, so let’s start from scratch for those who have nothing.

Baby Step 1: Start Interacting on Existing Blogs and Forums

The best first step is not to set up either a blog or a Web site. Rather, go exploring what other people are writing about North Georgia mountain life on blogs and Web sites and forums. Click the thingy at the bottom of someone’s blog entry and comment on their blog. Enter a discussion of North Georgia moon shining on somebody’s forum. Now congratulate yourself! You’ve just entered the new world of social networking on the Web!

I read this “how to get your feet wet” approach in my current read, The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing & Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly, by David Meerman Scott. I had it confirmed at SoCon, the techie conference.

Two good places to search blogs are:
Caution! Don’t fall to the temptation to just look around for discussions that allow you to push your book. Social networkers can smell shameless marketing a mile away. If you find yourself doing this, go back to How to Win Friends and Influence People, part 2, section 1:

“You can make more friends in two months of becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” (Carnegie, p. 54)

Forget “building your platform.” Remember “helping others.” Social networking on the Web is about entering into thoughtful discussions and helping people find what they’re looking for. Bring up your book or articles only when they flow naturally in the conversation and meet expressed interests and needs. Eventually, you establish yourself as a trusted expert and become the go-to person for those needing information on the topic. As a by-product, you look around and discover that, to your surprise, you’re standing on a platform.

Baby Step #2: Create a Blog

Why a blog? First, it’s super easy. I set up my first two blogs in about an hour. Second, it gives you an easy place to collect your writing and thoughts that might later become articles and books. I started late with blogging because I didn’t get it.

Note: Don't be afraid of new technology! Learn it the way my middle school twins do it: fooling around and asking friends. A friend (Trey) shows them his Myspace page. They're impressed and absolutely must have their own. "How did you do that?" they ask. "Just go here and punch this" he replies. They do it and, after a few missteps, have a Myspace page.

"Look David, Trey's got his favorite song and a Youtube video connected to his page. Let's see where you click to set that up!" After a few mis-clicks, they figure it out.

They didn't have to take a continuing education class or read a book. I call it "learning by fooling around and asking dumb questions."

We adults get overwhelmed with new technologies because we're afraid to fool around and embarrassed to ask dumb questions. It's like we fear that in setting up a personal blog, we'll click the wrong combination of buttons and bring the Web to a screeching halt. Tomorrows' Wall Street Journal will announce to the world, "Idiot blogger Steve Miller broke the internet yesterday, causing the Internet to crash, and subsequently the entire U.S. Economy."

Get over it. When you start setting up your blog and come to something that doesn't seem to work, blame the idiot programmers who were supposed to make it user friendly. Poke around. Look in the help files or the help forum. If you can't find the answer in under five minutes, ask your 12-year-old for help or call your friend who already has a blog. The entire Web is being built by people asking stupid questions and fooling around. So get your blog started now so that in a week or two your blogless friends will come to you, timidly asking how to set up a blog. Suddenly, you're the expert!

My blog's at It's free. I set up two blogs in about two hours without reading a book on blogging or taking a class on it. In fact, I've never taken a computer class. I don't know any programming languages. Yet, I excel at asking dumb questions and fearlessly fooling around.

With so many useful technologies coming at us writers so quickly, we simply must keep learning. As Al Rogers of the Global Schoolhouse Network said, "In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." (Al Rogers, Global Schoolhouse Network)

Baby Step #3: Get a Host and a Web Address (URL)

Pay $5.00 to $10.00 a month for a site that allows me to have more space than I'll ever need and runs every feature I'm likely to ever need. If you don’t have $5.00 per month to spend, start with a free Web space. Some Web hosts allow beginners to choose from thousands of templates and build your site without having to use additional software. Additionally, you’ll need to pay about $1 per month for a distinct URL, like You can probably get your url through your Web host, or buy it from places like .

Side note: Don’t overpay for a site! We see people paying thousands for something their middle school son could have put up on a free server. Sites like [click “reviews” , then “all categories”, then “web hosting”] review and compare hosts for price and quality. As I write (3/6/08), is very popular, starting at $4.95 per month for more space and bandwidth than you’ll probably ever need. Search cnet’s forum also for people’s experiences with various hosts. Check with other Georgia writers to see what hosts they use.

How do you choose a name for your blog or forum? Consider choosing, not just something memorable, but a word or phrase that people are already searching in search engines. But more on that later.

Baby Step #4: Create a Simple Site That’s Easy to Navigate

I’d start with an author site. First, look at a bunch of other author sites. Decide what features and organizational structure you like. Second, get it out there. Third, ask your children, husband and friends to try to find something on the site and see if it makes sense to them. Ask everybody to give their honest opinion and revise.

(Recommended reading: Don’t Make Me Think)

Baby Step #5: Make It Easy for People to Find You on Search Engines (Learn to Think Like a Search Engine)

Google spiders crawl the web to determine whether your site gets on page one or page 170 of a search. Now, try to think like a search engine. If you were Google, what characteristics of sites would you try to bring to the first page of a search? (This is a very important step, which may lead to innovations that you never see the experts recommend.)

The technical term for this area of study is “Search Engine Optimization,” or SEO. I was forced into studying it because I had more content than almost anyone at the time on youth ministry, but I couldn’t get my site positioned any closer than the fifth page of a google search (which might as well have been Outer Mongolia) for the all important term “youth ministry.”

Here are some of the basics of helping people find your site. This is the outline I use when I’ve been a guest lecturer on search engine optimization in a KSU New Media class.

1. Use a good host. (Assume free sites might not be as professional?)

2. Offer great content that people want to return for and link to.

3. Brainstorm all the words and phrases people might use to look for your material.

4. Discover which of these words and phrases are searched significantly. ( )

5. Determine which searches (words and phrases) you want to attract with each page. (Many don’t enter your site from the home page.) Some terms may be searched less, but are more targeted. (“Character Education Lessons” rather than “Character Education”)

6. Offer lots of free content out in the open (not in a database or locked away in a members’ section.) Use the word “free.”

7. Use your key words generously (but don’t get crazy: eight times in a content page might look good; fifty times may look like you’re trying to spam the system.

8. Use your key words in different ways and on different parts of the page (top and bottom, in naming links, names of images, as a “heading” [see font type in MS Word], in bold).

9. Use key words in meta tags (not visible to site visitors, but to spiders).

10. Put appropriate tags below your blog entries.

11. GET INBOUND LINKS (from other sites and blogs) and word them with the appropriate key words. This is key!

12. If you have problems attracting certain key terms, and if you legitimately consider yourself having top content, consider starting a separate portal site (Like: “Top Sites on North Georgia Mountains”) for your topic, recommending your site as one to go to.

13. Experiment with “pay per click” with Google Ad Words and Yahoo Marketing Solutions.

Warning! Don’t attempt unethical tricks like hiding key words in the same color as your background. There are many tricks out there, but search engines typically find them out and ban them. Also, don’t submit your site to places claiming, “We submit your site to 100 search engines.” Studies show it doesn’t work.

Note: When you begin to think like a search engine, you’ll have to deal with two sets of tensions:

  • Writing for people versus writing for search engines. Your titles, links, etc., can no longer be just cutesy, creative phrases. You need to consider what searches you want to find you. Since your book will be searched by topic in Amazon, consider search engines when naming your books. Example: “The Contemporary Christian Music Debate” versus “The Redemption of Rock”
  • Designing for people versus designing for search engines. (Content in an image or flash presentation may look great but won’t be seen at all by search engines.)
It’s been awhile since I researched this topic and I’m sure that I’m way behind the curve. But here’s a site I found yesterday that has some free tools and articles to help you learn more about search engine optimization.

Baby step #6: Start Putting Up Regular, Excellent Content

A good place to start is to have a Home page, another section for Articles, another for Recommended Reading and another for Links. You’re researching anyway. If nothing else, it gives you a good place to keep up with your research. Don’t try to start something like a forum unless you’ve already got a good many people coming to your site.

An ambitious goal would be to become the portal for all things about your niche. You become sort of like the trade association, the place to find the best articles and enter the best discussions and the place to discover the best-recommended books in the field or the best set of links to the most helpful sites.

Now there’s no way I could do that for personal money management in general. I can’t compete with the excellent sites of the huge mutual fund companies or Money magazine or the Microsoft Network. But I can aspire to have the go-to site for those teaching personal money management in the schools or in service agencies or to your children. You could have the go-to site for….

How I Developed My Web-Based Platform

In about 1995 I decided to serve youth workers globally. (Actually, after my wife was diagnosed with cancer and we had to return to the States from Slovakia, this was the only way I could conceive of keeping my ministry alive and supplementing my income while caring for my wife and four boys. In the former Communist block, most of these guys wanted lesson plans that had been formerly been banned by the Communists. So I began writing lessons that were translated and distributed to youth workers via CD’s. I met a need.

When I discovered how to use the Web in the mid 1990’s, I began putting the lessons on a site to reach a more global audience. Today, I offer over 150 articles on how to do youth ministry, over 3500 speakers illustrations searchable by topic or as a database, over 1000 pages of lessons and articles on how to study and how to teach. So it’s no shock that, for a time, around 700 unique visitors were coming to the site per day. (Now I’ve had to start over after a friendly parting with the organization I was with, so that today we’re still in the rebuilding stage.)

On the Character site I’ve collected scores of articles on character education by educators, experts in developmental psychology, etc.

Where do I get these articles?

1) I ask permission for any great article I read. Most authors let me reprint them on my site, as long as I give proper credit and a link back to their site.
2) Out of print books that are still the best.
3) In print books that allow a chapter for use.

Why would they give them away free? Because they want exposure and to get links back to their sites. I’m doing them a favor!

“That’s overwhelming!” you object. “How could I ever develop such a vast resource?” Well, for me it’s the same way I’d eat an elephant - one little bite at a time. Start with reading other people’s blogs in your area of interest. Comment on them. Start your own blog. Ask your friends how they did this and that on their blog.

Ask your friends about their Web sites. Start yours. Get permission to put somebody’s article on it. Keep adding great content a little bit at a time and commit yourself to never stop learning. Ask at least one stupid question every day. That’s how you learn the Web.

Our character site, providing character education resources to public schools gets from 500 to 700 individual visitors per day. That’s about 1000 people per day coming to those two sites.

It all started and progressed with serving people and one day I looked around and, what do you know, I was standing on a platform.

A Note on Containing Costs

Sam Walton’s brother, Bud, says that they made money at Wal-Mart by saving money. Sam drove around his old truck. Their early offices were shabby. By containing our monthly costs, we can make it as writers!

Each of these sites costs me $5 per month to have the site hosted (cost for the servers that host it) and about $1 per month for each Web address (url). And as hard as I write and add new material, I’m still only using about 5% of the space I could use for that amount.

I work at home, so I don’t have to pay for an office or gas. I can’t emphasize enough – contain your costs. If your platform and publishing expenses get out of hand, you’ll never make any money selling your writing.

Sources of Revenue

My involvement with the Web has slowly morphed my thinking on books and magazines. While they’re still important, they’re certainly not the only way to disseminate ideas and support my family with my writing. In other words, these Web-based tools aren’t just a platform for my book-writing. They are worthy enterprises in themselves and in a real sense my books become platforms for my Web-writing. Here are some ways I can generate income from my sites:

1. Selling memberships to my members’ areas. On the character site I sell a membership to its members section (lesson plans, stories, activities, etc.) to individuals for $14.75 for a year or $24.75 for four years. An entire school can use it for $99.00 for one year or $199.00 for four years. Generally, this all happens automatically from my end. They find it on the Web, subscribe by credit card or request to pay by check. I check my e-mail and answer occasional questions. Otherwise, it flies on auto-pilot. I may be making sales as I speak to you today. Nobody has to wrap books and take them to the post office. It’s all online.

2. Selling advertising through Google Adsense and other services. If you start getting a lot of traffic, you can make money from ads, just like a magazine. (But please, no annoying pop-ups!) It’s easy to set up and experiment with. You can do it on your blogs as well as your sites.

3. Selling recommended books and getting a referral fee from As I researched finances, I began to write book summaries as a free service to those who would like to know the gist of some great books on personal finance. This is different from Amazon book reviews. I just summarize the advice of each book. That helps me to retain more from my reading. But it helps people studying finance to compare, for example, what Suze Orman recommends for investing as opposed to Dave Ramsey. Once you set up an Associates Account with Amazon, you can copy and paste some code into your html (You don’t have to know html code. I don’t.) that links the book to Amazon. If someone buys the book, or simply goes to Amazon from my site and ends up buying any book, I get a cut. And it all happens silently in the background without me having to fill orders, flowing into my bank account each month.

4. Selling e-books. Although I have no present motivation to read books on hand-held devices (1. I mark up books for future research. 2. I’m not on the road a lot.) I know that they’re valuable to many others. Why not make it available when it’s free? I’m working on a Kindle book and may also sell one as a pdf.

All of these products produce multiple streams of income for an author. None of these avenues were available before the Web revolutionized everything.

The End Product

As you get your blog and site set up, you can spend your time writing. If you can’t sell your article to a magazine, you can put it on your blog and your collection of articles. (In fact, I never write an article that they won’t allow to be put on my site after their publication.) If I can continue to increase the revenue from my writing, I can work from anywhere in the world that I can access the internet.

The result? I’m offering people something of value, something they’ll come back for. In my books, I’ll refer readers to my sites. On my sites, I’ll refer readers to my books. If you love to write, it’s a really fulfilling way to live!

By the way, we can all help each other out as Georgia Writers by linking to one another’s sites and blogs. It’s in all of our interest to increase our traffic by getting better positioned with search engines. Search engines strongly favor sites with many incoming links. If the thirty people here linked to your site, don’t you think that would help? So everyone get on Crowdvine, type in your author site, then ask the other authors if they’d set up a section on their site for “Author Links.” This is a no-brainer. Let’s do it.

Other ideas on utilizing the Web or on other types of platforms that work? Respond below!

Chapter 8: No platform? Then convince publishers that you can and will market the book.

Actor Johnny Depp once said in an interview that beyond learning his part, he tries to add “that little something extra.” You can see that in his films. Captain Jack Sparrow was outrageous!

Let me suggest that, in order to get your manuscript noticed, you need to “add that little something extra.”

So the acquisitions editor has narrowed down that pile of 30 queries to five. But, what’s this? One author claims that he’s put together a 30-page marketing plan that he will forward upon your request. Now that’s “something extra.” That shows initiative. That shows that this author plans to help market the book. It shows that he understands something about marketing. And that will be your answer to the marketing department’s question: “Yes, but how will we market it?”

(Note: The acquisitions editor at Baker Books wanted my music book, but the marketing department shot it down, saying they didn’t think they could market it. If I’d offered a marketing plan upon request, I could have overcome that hurdle for them, because I knew ways to market it that they wouldn’t have thought of.)

Selling a book by an unknown author without a platform is a huge roadblock. A marketing plan can overcome it.

Show some initiative with your commitment to marketing. Every publisher’s dream is to get some writers with the marketing motivation and savvy of Canfield and Hansen on board.

I don’t think there’s a standard format for a marketing plan. Mine is pretty informal, with a bunch of ideas divided into appropriate sections. One publisher that rejected me did read my marketing plan and say it was “over the top.”

Section One: Secure Blurbs

Section Two: Get Media Coverage

Section Three: Write Related Articles

Section Four: Partner With Organizations; Piggy-Back on Movements

Section Five: Utilize the Web

Section Six: Get It Into Classrooms

Section Seven: Take Advantage of Gifts for Graduation

Section Eight: Use Other Proven Methods

Where do you come up with marketing ideas? Read a book or two on book marketing, indexing them in the back with the ideas that pertain to your book. Then, put them into your plan. Two of my favorites are:

1001 Ways to Market Your Books
Book Marketing 101

Other ideas on marketing and platforms? Respond below!

Chapter 7: No platform? Then follow the standard rules for submitting to publishers.

Most don't. The temptation is this. You’ve spent all this time and energy on your manuscript. So you type up this query letter in a day and fling it out there.

An acquisitions editor told me recently, “Most submissions are worthless.” So, to separate yourself from the herd:

1. Know what the publisher is looking for. (See the current edition of Writers Market.)
2. Find how to write a query (refer to one from agent’s site).
3. Polish it and get input and polish it again.

Polish, Polish, Polish

Beware of the Writing Witch, the virus that infects Microsoft Word, who messes up your writing. I know she exists, because when I reopen a document that I self-pronounced “brilliant” the previous day, to my shock and amazement, it often sucks the next morning. I know I don’t write that poorly. The only explanation is that the Writing Witch opened into my document during the night and misspelled words, deleted periods, put ¾ of the sentences in passive tense and threw in prepositions at the end of sentences. Only time and further revision chases her away.

Remember, today that acquisitions editor has taken home 30 query letters to try to go through over the weekend. She’s looking for reasons to narrow them down. A misspelled word might be just the excuse she’s looking for.

Cherie just took a grant-writing seminar. In it, the speaker told of someone who lost a multi-million dollar grant because of misspellings in the proposal. Yes, perfection matters in a query and proposal.

Give Publishers What They Ask for in the Format They Request

Because of not paying attention to what publishers want, textbook publishers get proposals for novels and children’s books.

“How to Write a Query Letter and Proposal” goes beyond the scope of this workshop, so I’ll just refer you to a couple of helpful resources if you want more.

The Thomas Nelson Guide to Writing a Winning Book Proposal, by Michael S. Hyatt. Read it free at:

Book Proposals That Sell, highly recommended book by W. Terry Whalin.

Do you have other ideas or questions concerning book proposals and queries?

Chapter 6: No platform? Then find raving fans and top-notch blurbs.

The Power of Blurbs

The word “blurbs” is marketing speak for quotes from people about your book. Most “How to Get Published” books that I’ve read mention getting great blurbs as a sort of “Duh” and quickly move on to the next point. But I think that top-notch blurbs are critical and there’s an art to acquiring them. They’re particularly critical for those of us who don’t have great platforms, since they allow us to leverage the platforms of others.

If you’re Albert Einstein, you don’t need a quote from the head of the Physics Department at KSU saying you’re smart. But if you’re the head of the Physics Department, you could have used a quote by Einstein. But I should revise that statement. Even Einstein needs quotes of others to say that his book’s relevant, helpful, readable, impactful, etc.

I'm currently reading a Chicken Soup book for writers. With over 30 books to the series and worldwide sales of 50 million copies in 30 languages, it’s nothing less than a publishing phenomenon. You'd think they'd be beyond needing blurbs. Yet, a full third of the back cover is devoted to blurbs. Open the cover and you’ll find two full pages of blurbs.

If Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (the Chicken Soup authors/compilers) still need blurbs, how much more do we? So let’s camp here for a minute.

When you’re considering a book by an author you don’t know, don't you look seriously at the blurbs? Let’s say you like Sue Grafton’s style and you’re looking for other novels of her type. You find a novel with a blurb by Sue Grafton saying, “I wish I’d written this book!” Does this endorsement help sway you? Of course! If you’re looking for a book on, do you typically read some of the reader reviews before purchasing? I do. I want to know what others are saying.

I hit a local library sale last weekend, particularly looking for books on “persuasion,” for some future research. I found one book that looked like it might fit the bill, but

1) I didn’t know the author.
2) I saw no bio telling me why this author was worth reading. I started thinking, “Come on! Convince me that I should read your book!”
3) There were no blurbs, either by experts in the field or even just general readers. She failed to establish her authority and I put it back, not even willing to pay $1.00 for it! One enthusiastic blurb might have sold me.

For the low- or no-profile writer, a blurb can grant you instant authority. It’s as if someone on a higher platform took you by the hand, lifted you up and allowed you to share her platform.

Getting Your Passion into Print is a wonderful book on getting published. The authors work for a New York publisher and understand the publishing industry intimately. Understanding the power of blurbs, they put them on the front cover and even the binding, so that browsers could see a blurb without even taking the book out of the rack. Brilliant!

Why are blurbs so critical? Praise yourself and you’re bragging; let another praise you and it’s authority.

As King Solomon put it,

"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
someone else, and not your own lips."

Blurbs for Agents and Publishers

Don’t view blurbs as only for potential buyers. Think earlier in the process. I see them as huge for acquiring an agent and a publisher. Imagine the state of one of my early manuscripts as it sat on the desk of an acquisitions editor who has thirty manuscripts piled on her desk, of which she she can choose one. She’s looking for reasons to narrow down the list. So she sees this no-name author (me) with no publishing record and no platform. She’s ready to shove it into the return envelope with the standard rejection letter ("Doesn’t meet our present publishing needs.”) when she notices a blurb on my one page query from prolific author Josh McDowell saying that every mom dad and child needs to read it. So she reads further into the proposal and finds that Robertson McQuilkin, respected author and president of Columbia International University, calls it the best manuscript he’s read on a much-needed subject. Barry St. Clair, a noted authority on youth work and prolific author, says it’s critical for our times.

Now it’s one thing for an author to tout his manuscript as the start of the next Chicken Soup phenomenon. But when a respected authority in the field says it’s good, the acquisitions folks just have to take it seriously.

Blurbs as Platform

For Enjoy Your Money, I first got blurbs from those who gave me early input on the book. Those blurbs give me a platform from which I can pitch ideas to the media and to bigger reviewers. Example: As I write this, I've been e-mailing book reviewers to find some willing to review my book. One wrote me back today saying,

"I usually don't review books on finances, but your book has amazingly good reviews so far...." sometimes it takes good reviews to get more good reviews. My early reviews by friends and acquaintances made me look good enough to get the attention of higher level reviewers. The higher level reviewers will hopefully open up opportunities with even higher level reviewers.

On Getting Blurbs

How did I find Josh McDowell and get him to slow down enough to look at my manuscript? I knew he was traveling with the rock band Petra and would be speaking at Atlanta Fest at the Six Flags theme park. I also knew he was getting flack from traditional pastors for traveling with a rock band. So I volunteered to give him a ride from the airport to Six Flags. I picked him up, gave him my elevator speech, and put the manuscript in his lap. He started reading it on the way to Six Flags and was hooked.

Robertson McQuilkin? I graduated from the school where he served as president. Barry St. Clair? I would soon be working for his organization, training youth leaders in Eastern Europe just after the fall of Communism. I plopped it into Barry’s lap as we were flying to Europe. By the time we landed in Vienna, he’d finished it and written a blurb.

The author of a novel who spoke at Georgia Writers a couple of months ago met popular speaker and author Andy Stanley where their kids were playing baseball. He took an interest in her book and gave a great blurb that she says helped greatly in launching her book.

For my present book, here is a list of my blurbs. Blurbs are usually an afterthought to writers. But I put these together before I even had an agent or a publisher. Study these for a moment. Make a couple of notes. Circle something of interest. Note which is the most powerful to you personally. Which do you think would be the most powerful to a publisher? Note carefully the variety of takes on the book and how they might appeal to different people.

Advance Praise For
Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It, and Give It

"A fast, fun read with practical and often remarkable insights. Should be required reading for every high school senior and every young adult who's landed his or her first full-time job. I'm incorporating parts of the book into my lectures." (Robert A. Martin, MBA, CPA, Lecturer of Accounting in the prestigious Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University, founder of a tax and consulting firm.)

“Had I read this book in my 20’s, I’d be financially independent today. It’s a remarkable blend of fabulous research with clear and lively writing. You’d pay an expert quite a sum for this caliber of counsel. That’s why I say that the best investment you make this year just might be this book. Your second best investment will be the copies you buy for your children.” (Dr. Dwight “Ike” Reighard, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, HomeBanc – One of Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work, four years in a row.)

“As a practicing CPA and financial counselor for the past 35 years, I've read scores of books and periodicals on personal finance. Just when you think you've heard it all, something like this comes along. It's rare and refreshing to find a book so enjoyable, so accurate, and so life-changing. I’m purchasing hundreds of copies to give away to graduating seniors.” (Larry Winter, Winter & Scoggins CPA's ; Certified Valuation Analyst, Certified Fraud Examiner, Personal Financial Planning Specialist)

"Financial responsibility has reached a state of crisis. This book attacks the problem in a common sense, refreshing manner that anyone can understand and apply to real life. It should be required reading for all young people, before they find themselves broke, deeply in debt and miserable." (William C. Lusk, Jr., Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, Retired, Shaw Industries, a Fortune 500 company and the world’s largest manufacturer of carpet.)

“A very entertaining, engaging book! The characters are appealing and aid the reader in interacting with the principles taught. Although especially geared to older teens and young adults, all ages will enjoy it and benefit. Meticulously researched and documented. Chock full of financial and lifestyle wisdom. I’ll keep plenty of copies in my office to hand out to clients.” (Dr. Ken Walker, Psychologist with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice and Director of Dalton Counseling Service. Former regional credit manager.)

"A comprehensive look at managing your money. For me, the genius of this book is that it gathers wisdom from top financial gurus and uses it to explain clearly and practically how average folks can apply it to everyday living." (Alan Buckler - Allstate Insurance)

"I loved the story and the characters! Read this book and you'll get the practical tools and wisdom to chart your own course toward financial freedom." (Jamie Maddox, former Senior Business Analyst, The Coca Cola Company, present Pastor of Stewardship, NorthStar Church)

"For me, the section on savings was worth the price of the book, detailing scores of hidden ways to save a fortune over a lifetime. Then, unlike many books, it goes beyond 'having more' to 'doing more with what you have.' (Bryan McIntosh, Ph.D., Dalyn Corporation)

"I really liked the format! The dramatic layout used a totally different part of my brain when I read's like watching a movie or reading a novel. The story line kept my interest so that I got through it quickly. The content was very inspiring. "Living differently" and "starting a financial counterculture" hits home to me. And it was SO PRACTICAL! I think it will also appeal to most of my generation and the one coming up behind me." (Anthony Daniel, age 28, Chemist, Tiarco Chemical)

"Clever! The movie script format pulled me into the story and endeared me to the characters. Before I knew it, I found myself thinking about money strategies that I'd have never learned from traditional finance books. Teaching finance through people stories works for me. Rather than staring at obscure charts, I just followed the lives of successful people. Finally! A readable book on personal finance for people who don't want to read a book on personal finance...which of course is me and just about everybody else!" (Mark Hannah, Film Producer)

In my opinion, the Larry Winter quote should be the most persuasive to publishers. It’s guaranteed money. Also, here’s a person who believes in the book enough to put his money behind it. So I put his quote in my one page query and scattered others throughout my proposal.

Use Your Early Blurbs to Leverage More Blurbs

Once you’ve got a few people saying your book is great, even if it's just people in your writer's group, use those quotes to get other people’s attention. The book review guys at Money magazine probably get wheelbarrows full of financial books that authors want them to review. But if I send my one page proposal to them with a quote from the CFO of Shaw Industries, they might actually take it seriously.

I really like football running back Warrick Dunn. Off the field, he helps people get a home who could never afford one on their own. I think a blurb from him would help me to reach athletes with my book. Also, he could give copies to the people he helps. Armed with this set of blurbs. I think he would consider reading it and commenting.

Standing on the platform provided by early blurbs, you should be able to attract higher profile people to read your manuscript and provide more blurbs.

Consider Your Target Audiences and Acquire Blurbs Targeting Them

Brainstorm a variety of blurbers (is that a word?) who might appeal to different groups of potential purchasers. The 29-year-old chemist could appeal to the under 30 crowd. A public school principal appeals to educators. The CPA’s and financial advisers let the publisher know that this isn’t hokey advice; it’s got a stamp of approval from people who work in this field every day. The businessmen appeal to other businessmen and those who respect business successes.

Now you may assume that I’m unusually well connected. But I consider myself the opposite. After my tenure at Flat Creek Baptist as minister of youth, I continued to climb down the corporate ladder. I moved with my family to Slovakia where we served other youth workers. After my wife was diagnosed with cancer, we moved to Acworth, Georgia, where I cared for my wife and seldom ventured past the mailbox. After she died, I raised my boys and wrote from my home. Then I married Cherie, blending my four boys with her three, giving us seven boys. Now I care for my parents and 102-year-old grandmom.

The point is, I haven't been able to get out much in ten years and don't consider myself well-connected at all. To find blurbs, I simply started thinking about people I’ve known and my parents have known through the years, people Cherie knows at work, any people who might have an interest in the topic, and asked them politely if they were interested.

Begin by asking for help in the form of honest input

Many are honored to give input on a manuscript. After each of my readers gave me constructive criticism, I asked if they could tell me briefly what they liked about the book and how they might recommend it to others. I took notes, then asked if they’d mind if I tried to word them a quote from what they said. I promised to come back with the final wording to make sure they felt it accurately expressed their feelings.

Tip: don’t necessarily give out your entire book to a person at first. That can be daunting. Start with one chapter; then ask if they want more.

Write Your Own Blurbs as You’d Like People to Say Them

This sounds just plain weird, but hear me out. Most of your readers probably aren’t professional writers. Besides feeling self-conscious about their writing, they're busy. Even if they are writers, their writing is on the line with their blurb and they want it to look good. So why not offer your assistance?

With your niche audiences in mind, write out your dream blurbs. I usually come up with stuff like this while I’m driving. Carry around a recorder to avoid wrecks.

As early readers try to express what they feel about your book, you’ll see that parts of your pre-written blurbs express what they’re saying and make them look better in print.

After one person read the manuscript, I looked over my pre-worded blurbs and said, “Is this what you’re saying?” He saw what I was doing, looked over my list, pointed to his favorite blurb and said, “I want that one!”

You see, blurbs aren’t just about me. They’re about making the blurber look good as well. For some, it’s free marketing that gets their names in print. It’s free advertising. It helps them with their platform. No wonder it’s not too difficult to get people to offer blurbs for an informative, interesting book.

Where to Find People to Give You Blurbs

Preexisting Connections

So I began to think through my connections and their connections. At this stage, I wanted honest input on making the manuscript better from a variety of people. Getting blurbs was secondary. They were honored that I would want their expertise.

Bill Lusk was a friend of my family when I was growing up on Dalton. Ike Reighard was at one time my pastor. Bryan McIntosh was in a small youth group I once led in Dalton, just after college.

Alan Buckler sells us car insurance. His wife Julie studied journalism. (With seven boys in our family and at least seven cars, do you think our insurance provider is willing to do us favors?)

How did the “Putting Your Passion into Print” folks land the blurb from the successful author of The Kite Runner? They were in the same writing group together before The Kite Runner was written. So network with authors wherever you are. You never know….

Friends of Friends

Do you have either a famous relative or decent connection to somebody famous? Do your friends have connections with someone famous, or someone important in the field you're writing? Ask around and you might be surprised.

Example: Wouldn’t it be cool if I could get a blurb from Warren Buffett, the wealthiest man in America and arguably the best investor to ever walk the face of the earth? Impossible? Maybe not. Warren Buffett bought Shaw Industries, of which William Lusk (the friend of the family who read my manuscript and gave me a nice blurb) was CFO when Buffett bought them. Mr. Lusk has a picture in his house of himself standing next to Warren Buffett, holding Buffett's wallet. Amazingly, I'm one step removed from Warren Buffett!

Activity for Your Next Writer's Meeting: If you got to know the thirty people at the next Georgia Writers Association meeting, your second level contacts could easily number in the tens of thousands. So make it a point to arrive early, stay late, and get to know as many as you can, exchanging business cards.

Here’s my challenge. Since it's often more who you know than what you know, make a habit of meeting new people wherever you are and finding out a little more about them every time you rub shoulders. A waitress I met at Waffle House had written two historical novels. The guy who changes your oil might have a brother who’s famous. A rocket builder in California told us at a social networking conference that although the welders in his organization work at the bottom rung of their business, he often gets his best contacts through them.

Listen: THERE ARE NO SMALL PEOPLE. Everyone is your intellectual superior in some way. Everyone has contacts that you don't have. Everyone is the gateway to someone else. So treat people with the importance they deserve. They’ve had experiences you’ve never had, gone places you’ve never been, know people you’ve never met.

Looking back to my high school classmates in early 1970’s, growing up in the little north Georgia town of Dalton, that hippie/counterculture kid now designs helicopters for NASA; the biggest goof-off now speaks four languages and serves the poor in Burkina Faso, the stereotypical nerd is a big-time lawyer and one of the flag twirlers in the marching band is Deborah Norville, two time EMMY award winner and host of INSIDE EDITION. Listen, there are no small people here today and you never know what your next door neighbor may become. So get to know them and treat them with respect.

People Who Owe You One

So much of success in publishing and marketing is about connecting. It’s about helping others, not in order to get something in return, but in order to simply serve. But as you serve, watch out as that good you’ve done boomerangs back to you

So don’t be afraid to ask those you've served to help you. Others benefit from the joy of sharing when you give them the opportunity.

That’s why a month ago I opened up a new file labeled “People Who Owe Me One”. I thought, “I’ve given away free advice and free resources to hundreds of people over the years. Some of them would love the opportunity to give back. Why aren’t I keeping up with those folks?” Now I am.

Give and it will be given to you!

Social Networking Via the Web

Some writers aren't comfortable getting to know new people face to face. Fortunately, we now have many excellent, free, Web-based social networking tools that writes can exploit. LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool. It’s basically a personal Web page where you invite your friends, associates and acquaintances to link to you. That’s level one. But once you link, you can also see your friends’ connections, which is level two. You can’t e-mail your friend’s friends without your level one friend’s okay, which protects everyone from spam.

I believe LinkedIn started among techies in Silicon Valley to connect with others in high tech. Now it’s everywhere. Journalists use it to get introductions to people they need to interview; job seekers find openings and insiders to find the real scoop on a business; you can use it to find people who might give you a blurb for your book.

So let’s say you need a blurb from somebody in PetSmart about your book on pets. There’s a good chance that somebody you know has a connection who's with PetSmart.

Example 1: Someone sent me an article showing that the Sprint Foundation was handing out grants for character education. I thought, “I wonder if any of my contacts work with Sprint?” I didn’t find any on the first or second level, but on the third level I found over 500!

Example 2: A week after I set up my LinkedIn account, a recent graduate of MIT asked me to connect, due to our mutual interest in youth ministry. He runs a site that’s a portal to inner city ministries. That’s perfect for getting the word out about my finance book and character materials, both of which work well in urban settings. Also, this guy has a contact who works at Fidelity, one of the largest investment firms. Do investment firms want to encourage young people to save and invest rather than spend. You bet! What a great contact! But I’d have never had an in to Fidelity without LinkedIn.

Members of Georgia Writers can join the Georgia Writers Group at Linkedin, giving you many ready-made connections. Check the Georgia Writers Website for more information.

Blogs, forums and other free social networking sites such as MySpace, Crowdvine, Ning, and FaceBook allow us to connect with many, many people who are already interested in the specific topics we’re writing about. Some of them may read an advance copy and give you a blurb.

Take a class on social networking or read a good book about it if you can. Or, just do what the young people do - play around with the tools until they start making sense to you. If you get lost, ask a neighborhood middle schooler.

Start connecting by going to or finding it on the Georgia Writers Web site. Sign in. Then, throw caution to the wind! Be bold! Randomly invite people to be your friends. Ask questions. Put up a funny picture of yourself (or of your cat, if you don’t want to be identified). Suggest solutions to others’ questions. Make some mistakes by randomly clicking obscure buttons. Sit back and see what happens. We’re all new at this because the technology is so new. I just learned Crowdvine a month ago. It’s really fun and useful!

And it can make connections that lead to great relationships and blurbs and publicity for your books.

Once You've Acquired Some Blurbs, Use Them Everywhere!

1) In your query and proposal.
2) In your marketing plan.
3) Scattered throughout your Web sites. (Example:
4) Collected on a special page on your site. (Example: )
5) In Amazon reviews.
6) For targeted marketing.

To sum up the importance of blurbs to those without platforms. You’re at a bookstore looking for a book on personal finance. You first notice the high platform authors. “Ahhh…Dave Ramsay…I’ve heard him on the radio and seen his billboards. Hmmm…Suzie Orman…I’ve seen her on Oprah. “J. Steve Miller…who the heck is J. Steve Miller?…hmmm…these business leaders say it’s the most innovative, readable and accurate financial book on the market…that’s exactly what I’m looking for…I wonder what others are saying (as he flips to the first page to find ten other blurbs).

Your ideas or questions concerning blurbs? Post them below!

Chapter 5: No platform? Then out-write the competition.

Imitate the Masters of Your Preferred Style

You don’t have to study great musicians very long to discover that they start by imitating the techniques of their heroes. I recall an early interview with Eddie Van Halen where he challenged the interviewer: “Name me any song by Cream and I’ll play it for you.” Who was the guitarist for Cream? Eric Clapton. Well, Eddie certainly developed his own unique style, but he began by imitating the masters.

Before I acquired a publisher for my music book, I gave the manuscript to Josh McDowell, one of the most popular writers in Christian evidences and Christian issues. He also had a huge platform, having spoken on more university campuses than probably any living person.

Now why would Josh McDowell be interested in the youth minister at Flat Creek Baptist? Because he was currently traveling with the Christian rock band, Petra, and was getting flack from traditional pastors. I knew he was into the subject and would be interested in my manuscript.

One of his comments on my manuscript was that I needed to declare war on any academic language, editing it down for the common reader. “If you write for academics,” McDowell told me, “only academics will read it. If you write for a broader audience and everyone begins to read it, then the academics will have to read it to be in the know.” Wise advice.

Thus, my mantra became “well-researched, simply written.” Is there a place for academic writing? Certainly. But it’s not my chosen style for the audiences I’m targeting and the subjects I’m tackling.

Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) mastered the nonfiction style I imitate. It’s not “great literature” as most would define it. Rather, he wrote plainly and simply, similar to how he spoke. I prefer that type of writing for most non-fiction that I read, although some would snub it as "dumbed down" or "journalese." (And those who snub his style, I might add, are generally not consistently ranked in the top 125 sales of Amazon 70 years after their publication, as is the case for Carnegie.)

You can’t write for everybody. Choose what style works for you and your audience and simply ignore the critics who don’t like it.

Carnegie did extensive research, but presented his research as fascinating stories. In his book on public speaking, Carnegie notes,

“The rules from How to Win Friends and Influence People can be listed on one and a half pages. The other two hundred and thirty pages of the book are filled with stories and illustrations to pint up how others have used these rules with wholesome effect.”

It’s not easy to do this style well. To say this style is breezy doesn’t mean it’s easy. Carnegie was a master organizer and story-teller.

Your chosen style may be different from mine. That’s fine. Whatever your style, study authors who have mastered it. (2)

Get Lots of Honest Feedback

It’s one thing to know the principles of great writing in your genre, quite another to be able to objectively evaluate your own writing.

I want to emphasize “lots of” in this subtitle. (I could have entitled it “a plethora of,” but remember, I’m the simple writer.)

Three thousand years ago, Solomon wisely wrote:

“In the abundance of counselors there is safety.”

The Hebrew word for “abundance” here means “lots of.” Why not get input from just a few? Simply because those few may not appreciate your style or might not share your passion for the subject matter. I suppose Solomon could have also written, "In just a few counselors, there might be lots of b.s."

Before I decided to write the music book, I sent an early, thirty-page manuscript on the music issue to some people I respected - the president of a college and a couple of musicians. Not “lots of.” Just three. Since I never heard anything back I assumed that I wasn’t saying anything important.

Then, years later, I heard back from the college president: “Our music department is in turmoil over the music issue and your manuscript was the best thing I’ve ever seen on the subject. But I’ve lost it. Could you send me another copy?” That reply let me know that I was onto something. As a result, I began writing the book.

Now doesn’t it give you the creeps to realize that I took the silence of three people as rejection and wouldn’t have written the book at all had this academic not lost my manuscript?

Catherine Lanigan grew up dreaming of becoming a writer. Pursuing her dream, she took a creative writing seminar in her first year of college, led by a traveling Harvard professor. One of the assignments was to write a short story. But the day before she was to read it to the class, the professor called her to his office, telling her that her writing stunk. Among other things, he said,

“You have absolutely no idea about plot structure or characterization. How you were ever recommended for this class is beyond me. You have no business being here. One thing’s for sure, you’ll never earn a dime as a writer.”

But this pompous twit of a pseudo-professor (my characterization) encouraged her that the good news was that he’d caught her at this cross-roads of life so that she wouldn’t waste her time and money studying something she wasn’t suited for. So he worked a bargain with her: “I will get you through my class and give you a B if you promise never to write anything ever again.”

She didn’t write again for fourteen years. Fortunately, after those wasted years she mentioned her story to a journalist who said, “Why, I’m ashamed of you. You never even tried. Here’s my card. If you ever write anything, give me a call. “ She immediately went home, wrote her first novel, and sent it to the journalist. A month after receiving it he called her, pronounced it good and asked if he could send a copy to his agent. The agent called her from New York, referred to her as “startlingly talented," and immediately starting asking whether she thought soft cover, hard cover or trade would work best. A publisher snatched it up by Christmas.

She went on to write twenty novels in twenty years, including Romancing the Stone, Jewel of the Nile and Wings of Destiny. But what kills me is that she might have written 37 novels had she not trusted in the counsel of one supposed authority who just happened to be an imbecile disguised as a scholar with his professional degrees and tweed jackets. (From Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul. Yes, you should read it.)

My point? Don’t base your opinion on one person’s input or a few people’s lack of enthusiasm. The fourth person may rave over it, or have one suggestion to fix the problem that turned off the first three. Get lots of input. A writers' group is a great place to start.

Great Businesses Are Idea-Driven

Cherie and I read a good deal on great businesses, looking for the characteristics that distinguish them from losers. One common characteristic we’ve found is that they are idea-driven, searching constantly for the best ideas for direction and improvement. Rather than just listening to the MBA’s with their formal training, the leadership listens to people at all levels of their organizations. They also listen to their competition and their customers.

So we find Michael Dell listening intently to his computer customers, Jack Welch at GE finding creative ways to get everyone sharing ideas openly, Sam Walton waking up early on Saturday mornings to buy donuts for his truckers to get their insights on the stores they visit.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not very objective about my own writing. One day I’m overconfident, thinking I’ve come up with a brilliant angle that’s never been explored in the entire history of ideas. The next day I wonder why anyone would ever buy this crap of a manuscript from such a low profile amateur. That’s why, after doing some initial edits with my wife and mom, I put my Enjoy Your Money! manuscript into as many hands as I could, including my children, experts in the field, and anyone who owes me one or might be remotely interested in the subject. I even got input from an 8th grade writing class. They were honored to meet a real live author. Their input was unique and led to several important changes.

After getting input from well over thirty people (not counting the writing class) I can say pretty confidently that there’s a niche of people who would love my book on finance. I also know what others won’t like about it, but I’m okay with that. It’s not for everybody. I’ve found my audience.

Another case in point: Steven King’s wife found her husband’s first book manuscript in the trashcan, read it, and encouraged him to seek publication. Apparently, even though King was a college English professor, it was hard for him to see his manuscript objectively. He went on to publish it and see it made into a film: Carrie.

And don’t just ask writers for their opinion. We’re not normal. Writers look for cool turns of phrases, complex sub-plots, etc. Normal people will tell you the important stuff, like if it makes sense and entices them to read the next chapter.

What to Do with All that Advice

Take it seriously, because each opinion probably represents a group of people. But also take it with a grain of salt. You can’t please everyone. Concerning my book on money, some tired of the story angle and just wanted me to tell them what to do with their money. Others loved the story angle, saying it was what kept them reading.

Several said that the mild cussing by some characters in my book was a deterrent and that they couldn’t recommend the book in its present state. I had no idea that they would react so strongly to it. The opposite opinion came from a chemist in his late 20’s who helps lead worship at a church. He said, “you’ll never know how much it means to younger people to include those cuss words.” I’ve got to make the final decision on this issue, but I’m glad to know where both sides stand.

A Writer’s Group and the Georgia Writers Association

Benjamin Franklin met with Junto, a varied group of people whom he described as ingenious and lovers of reading. They would write papers, have each other read them, then critique them in the group, thus improving their writing. C.S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien met regularly with The Inklings, a group of writers who gave input on each others’ writing. It’s doubtful whether Einstein could have figured out e=mc2 without the collaboration of The Olympia Academy, an informal group of thinkers who would go for long walks in the mountains and talk about subjects of import and interest.

Sometimes writers can be private folks. But I can’t urge you enough: FORCE YOURSELF OUT OF YOUR SHELL AND SPEND TIME WITH OTHER WRITERS.

Listen, you don’t have to be good at every aspect of writing. My mom never got a four-year degree, but loves to read and is a stickler for grammar. She and Cherie (my wife) are my two, frontline editors. I don’t care how much I polish something, they almost always find multiple goof-ups that should have been obvious to me. George Lucas never learned how to spell well. But he's a great story-teller. You may never be a great speller, and spell check on your computer won’t solve all of your problems. But you can work around that. Just pull people around you who are great spellers.

Study and Apply Great “How to Write” Books

Although I had to do a lot of writing in college and graduate school, I never took a class specifically on writing. I did study public speaking and applied those communication concepts to my writing.

So when I began writing books, I did my own self-study on writing. One of the most important books for me was The Elements of Style, which is about sixty pages. Read it and digest it. I read it again recently and was shocked to discover how many grammatical mistakes I've been making. An acquisitions editor at InterVarsity Press suggested that anyone writing for publication should read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and do what he says. I read it and made a little checklist for self-editing, such as, “Am I using active rather than passive voice?"

(Word to the wise: Don’t go to the bookstore manager and ask for “On Writing Good.” He won’t find it and you will be embarrassed.)

I’ve continued to read writers on writing and find that there’s always more to learn. Cherie and I listened to Steven King’s book on writing via CD in the car. Fun, fun, fun!

Professional Courses of Study

Cherie completed her undergrad degree in Communications and Masters in Professional Writing at Kennesaw State University over the past five years. I bugged her relentlessly each week to tell me what she was learning, so that I benefited from her experience as well. One of her texts on writing stories gave the most wonderful synopsis of a great story. I put it on my pin-up board beside my desk:

"According to Rubie and Provost, the following is the plot for 90 percent of the stories you’ve ever read, 90 percent of the films you’ve ever seen…in fact, 90 percent of all stories ever told in all the world in all time."

“Once upon a time, something happened to someone, and he decided that he would pursue a goal. So he devised a plan of action, and even though there were forces trying to stop him, he moved forward because there was a lot at stake. And just as things seemed as bad as they could get, he learned an important lesson, and when offered the prize he had sought so strenuously, he had to decide whether or not to take it, and in making that decision he satisfied a need that had been created by something in his past.”

In one brilliant paragraph, the author gave me a template to compare my stories to. It’s not that I want to always follow it to the letter. But I typically find that if I’ve missed an element, my story will be better by adding it.

This little tip helped me in a way that none of my 30+ readers ever mentioned. Comparing my book to this template, I decided that there was not enough at stake for my characters. So these high school seniors wanted to do better than their parents with their finances. Let’s do a collective yawn. It’s not exactly Luke Skywalker longing to get off the farming planet and save the universe from the evil emperor with the beautiful Princess Leia.

So how can we up the ante, making the stakes higher? Let’s make Akashi, my oriental character, the intellectual black sheep of her high achieving family. Her older siblings are studying at Georgia Tech and MIT, while she struggles to eek out “C’s” in high school. Her problem? She has undiagnosed learning disabilities. Her nonchalant and counter-cultural attitude towards school hides a relentless fear that her C average will result in a C career and a C life. She desperately needs someone to tell her that she can make it in life.

With that small addition, I’ve made the stakes higher. Now readers are identifying with Akashi and pulling for her. Now I’m interested in where she goes in life and care about what she becomes.

Learning the Craft as Platform

In an earlier article, I mentioned the literary agent who soundly snooted me. One of the questions she asked to size me up concerned what writer’s conferences I had attended. At the time, I hadn’t attended any. I’m sure that she took it that I wasn’t serious about my craft. So in your proposal and author site, include information about your writer’s group, your membership in the Georgia Writers’ Association, your attendance at the Georgia Writers conference, etc., to establish that you’re a serious writer.

Even better, get into a good writing program.

So keep growing as a writer. The better your write, the better your odds of getting published. There's always more to learn!

Input: What do you do to improve your writing? What are the best books on writing that you would recommend?