Monday, April 21, 2008

Recovering from English 101 Trauma

Think back to your early English and Writing Classes. How have those experiences shaped your writer image? Maybe more than you think.

So Cherie and I were listening to some tapes on writing by seasoned writers Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg. One of them described a former student who was perhaps the best writer she had ever taught. Yet, the student couldn't believe that she was actually a good writer. Why? Because her English teachers in high school commented solely on grammatical errors.

Imagined example: she pours her heart into a story and eagerly awaits a morsel of praise from her teacher. Instead, she sees, scrawled in red, "You still don't understand the proper usage of the semicolon."

OK. Useful point. But beyond the semicolon travesty, was the paper interesting, funny, creative, heart-felt? In the final analysis, aren't those aspects more predictive of a great writer than proper semicolon placement? Why then aren't those aspects more often pointed out and rewarded?

I suppose it's easier and more objective to count up the grammatical mistakes, subtract from 100 and assign a grade. But editors can provide semi-colon assistance. And no acquisitions editor ever, in the history of publishing, excitedly presented a manuscript to her superiors with the glowing remark, "this author's semicolon placement is unsurpassed."

I typically hated writing in school. It was all about not making mistakes; seldom, if ever, about being funny or informative (did I use that semicolon correctly?). So let's try to get over the damage done to our writing esteem by the grammar police.

Some of the most creative and entertaining writing I see these days are in newspaper vents, unedited blogs, and informal movie and book reviews. I applaud their daring. Writing with no editor is akin to streaking - running with no clothes. Scary, but strangely freeing.

Go ahead. Blog, e-mail, write movie reviews on Amazon, express your opinions, just for the fun of writing. Let the grammar police cringe, grind their teeth and rail against the rampant unprofessionalism. I'm just excited that so many people are writing their thoughts, their jokes, their stories, their passions.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Secrets of Millionaire Authors

"How can I make enough money with my writing that I can dump the 8:00 to 5:00 job and write full-time?" That's a much-asked question among those of us who are seriously addicted to writing.

So Cherie and I listened to a free telephone seminar by Steve Harrison on the topic, "What Millionaire Authors Do That Others Don't." He wasn't talking about the Stephen Kings, who write a popular book, which gives him a fan base to write more popular books. He was talking about nonfiction writers who pull in millions with their marketing savvy.

98% of all books won't sell 50,000 copies in their lifetime. What do the 2% do differently? Traditional thinking says that they simply wrote better books, or wrote to a greater niche. Harrison says that sure, you've got to write a good book. But it's much more than that.

Harrison comes with credentials. He interviews successful authors and has helped in the promotion of very successful books, such as Rich Dad Poor Dad and Chicken Soup.

Here are my takeaways from Harrison:

1. Plan on spending time and effort marketing. One successful author said, "My job is promoting. I just happen to write books."

2. Use your book to sell other goods and services. Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, once held up his book and asked what it was. Most see it as a book. He sees it as a brochure to sell his board game and seminars. In your book, offer seminars, audio seminars, a personal coaching program, etc. The successful fitness book, Body for Life, sells his supplements, a company which he later sold for millions.

J. Conrad Levinson, the author of Guerrilla Marketing, says that he made $9 million off his book. But the great portion of that came from seminars, not book sales, for which he made only $35,000.

Millionaire authors seem to have an "unfair advantage." They can lose money in special promotion book sales because they're making money selling other items. Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) will do a seminar with a part of the price of the seminar being for the seminar leaders to purchase copies of his book for attendees through the local bookstore. In this way, the book stays on bestseller lists.

When they buy the book, what else can they buy? That's where the money is.

3. Use your book to build your contact/e-mail list. "You're in the business of building a list, a fan base." Once you have a list of people who love your products, you can keep meeting their needs through new products.

Once, his brother Bill needed to buy a new car. Rather than pull from his savings, he said, "Let's do what we're telling others to do." So he came up with a new product and sent out a post card and e-mail to his list and received $83,000 within a few weeks.

So put an order form in the back of your book. Offer an incentive to get back in touch. The goal is to get their contact information.

4. Discover ways to sell in bulk.
Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, first published The Purpose-Driven Church. This built a base of ministers and churches who respected him. When he did The Purpose-Driven Life, he could suggest that churches buy a copy for every attendee and have a campaign called "Forty Days of Purpose," or something like that.

Could you sell to a pharmaceutical company, or businesses, or other groups?

5. Use articles, blogs, Websites, teleseminars, promote to other lists, etc.

Your goal is to sell outside of the bookstore. Find non-traditional outlets.

6. Poor authors do everything alone. Pull a team of people around you: publicists, bloggers, Web Designers, etc.

7. Focus on the critical things you can do now.

F - focused plan - "What can I do in the next 90 days?"
A - a lot more exposure - TV, radio, etc.
M - models that are proven to work. There are right ways to do press releases, right ways to contact radio, etc.
E - Execute!

My Reflections on This Seminar

  • This is excellent material. Keep doing free webinars and reading books on book marketing. Every time I learn a lot of new stuff. It's not just about writing; it's about learning how to market. There's a ton of information that I need to know. I'll be learning it the rest of my life.
  • This seminar turns a lot of traditional thinking on its head. In order to get a publisher, I've had to think of marketing solely in terms of "How can I sell more books?" This seminar forces me to think, "How can I sell more products with my books?"
  • I need to brainstorm what "products" I should push. Perhaps I'm ultimately trying to get people and schools to sign up for my character education materials. But maybe there's also a follow-up product, like an e-book on teaching your children about finance or "Putting it All Together," or something that convinces them to give me their e-mail address for a newsletter or something.
  • If Levinson truly made only $35,000 off the sale of his best-selling book, then truly, in general, the way to make money in books is through spin-offs.
  • Compare this to the Damn! Why Didn't I Write That?! book, where he simply studies the niches, writes to the niches, and makes a decent living solely through the sale of his books. I didn't get the impression that he was running around doing seminars to promote his books, or was selling books to promote his seminars. I think we can take elements of both approaches. We need to decide what we want to do with our lives. If we want to be running around the globe doing seminars, that's one kind of life. Doing occasional seminars is another. Researching and writing a sharp, helpful newsletter each month is another life. Writing lots of books to niches is another. But I think they are all possible lives that we could choose to live.