Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How To Hook Your Readers

Have you ever read a book that seemed to take forever to get to the exciting part? You read a few pages of dry prose and think, "Okay, it'll get better in the next few pages." You continue reading through the first chapter and you presume the worst is over and things will really start to heat up. Before you know it, you're midway through the book; it pains you to keep reading, but you've come this far already, yet still there's no action, no key points, no drama, no ... nothing.

It takes skill to start off a book in a way that will keep readers interested. Oftentimes, writing the beginning of your book is the most difficult part of the process. You want to hook your readers with the very first sentence, draw them in with the first paragraph, and cause them to turn each page hungry for more of your story. Your opening is key, so take your time to develop it. You can hook your readers in the first paragraph with a comedic, dramatic, or tragic story.

As you develop your content and your writing skill, master the art of storytelling and use this to hook your readers, and to keep them hooked throughout your book. How do you do that? One way is to get down to the least common denominator; in other words ... get to the point. What is the main thing you're writing about in this scene, this section, this chapter? Define that, and then work backwards from there. For example, if chapter one of your book explains how you began what would become an outrageously successful career as a sports agent, you could hook readers a few ways:

  • Tell a story about one of the biggest successes you've had in your career.
  • Describe one of the greatest failures you've experienced and what you learned from it.
  • Explain how an early nemesis suggested that you'd never succeed in the business and how that motivated you to continue.
  • Set the scene for the day you made the decision to become a sports agent.
With your main point defined and the basic story for your opening chosen, it's time to hang out your hook. Set the scene, introduce characters, develop believable dialogue, give examples, and wrap it up to prepare for the next chapter. In the beginning, don't get caught in the technical aspects of writing; those can be incorporated later. Of course, you will want to use proper grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation. However, allow yourself the freedom of freestyle writing when you begin. In this way, you release the pressure to write in a literary manner, and instead, just be yourself. You are a storyteller, so tap into that part of yourself. 

If you find that you're having difficulty explaining concepts or describing scenes, people, or conversations in writing, record yourself describing them verbally. After you have transcribed the recording word for word, go through the transcript correcting and clarifying where needed. During the process, you can add your literary style, always keeping your readers in mind.

Want to learn more about hooking your readers? Sign up for my free teleseminar, Wednesday, August 31st at 8:00 p.m. EST

My special guest and I will review:
- How to create attention-grabbing openings for your book.
- Why knowing where you want to end up is a key strategy for starting well.
- When to use flashback in the opening of your book.
- What your readers want from you as an author.

Click here to register. Simply state "Hook My Readers" in the email.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I'm Not Famous ... Why Would Anyone Read My Book?

People have long had a fascination with the famous among us. From the early days of moving pictures, broadway shows, and sold-out baseball games or concerts, the “regular” people -- meaning those who paid to see others perform -- have always wondered what it would be like to be famous. You remember how the popular TV show, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” gave us a glimpse into the daily activities of celebrities. That morphed into “Cribs,” “Real Housewives,” and other shows we now call “Reality TV,” where we get to see how famous folks live. 

Often, these celebrities write tell-all books that become bestsellers. And that causes would-be authors -- the regular people -- to believe that if they aren’t famous, their book will be a flop and end up on the shelves of their local Goodwill store with a $.25 cent price sticker. Bummer! Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be famous to be a successful author. What you need is a story, a hook, a platform, and a plan. 

Fame doesn’t guarantee the success of your book. Many a celebrity book has met with less than enthusiastic reception. HuffingtonPost has a roundup of some of the recent flops ... and trust me, there have been many, many more. So how does fame figure into your book project? Think about it this way, if writing a book was critical to being famous, the book would come first, right. We all knew of Paris Hilton before she wrote her tell-all flop, “Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic Peak Behind the Pose.” I bet you’ve never heard of her book. Celebrities don’t become famous because they write a book. They’re famous first, and then they write the book in hopes of staying in the spotlight. 

Of course there are many famous authors. For real authors like Dean Koonz, Amy Tan, David Baldacci, Alice Walker, Anne Rice, Deepak Chopra, or John Grisham, fame came as a result of their books, not the other way around.  

People don’t buy your book because you’re famous. People buy your book because you can help them solve a problem, feel better, escape from reality, be more efficient, get rid of their “baggage,” live healthier, envision a better life, become more successful, learn something, get outside their comfort zone, etc. You get the picture. Your book is the answer to the question some people have asked themselves for years, or the answer to the question many never thought to ask, but now that you’ve brought it up in your book, hmmmm, that’s pretty interesting!

Although people are drawn to books by famous authors and celebrities, remember that bookshelves in libraries and bookstores, and listings on the websites of online booksellers are filled with books by lesser-known authors. And these are some great books! Well-known authors may have the advantage of name and fame, but there’s always room for more good books. 

So what’s my point? Get over the idea that you have to be famous to be a successful author. Get over the idea that your book will make you famous. If you want to be famous, learn to twist your body into a weird pose and then go on “America’s Got Talent.” If you want to be a great author, write ... don’t whine! 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Leverage Your Book By Giving It Away

We’ve all heard the saying that it’s better to give than to receive. Well, when it comes to your book, giving is one of the best ways to capitalize on your expertise. Hold your horses ... I’m not suggesting you scrap the idea of book sales and just give all of your books away. But giving away your book can mean extreme exposure, especially when you can leverage that giving to help achieve your ultimate goal. 

I tell authors all the time that book sales is but one measure of the success of your book. Ultimately, you should seek to leverage your book to achieve a broader goal, such as positioning yourself as an expert, promoting a cause, building your “A” list of prospects, or selling a higher priced product or service package. But you must be strategic in your giving. The whole idea behind giving your book away is to get to the next level. 

Here are four things to consider when giving away your book:

Sample: Everyone loves a sample, a taste, or a preview. Think about when you go to the big-box store for that one item that’s located way in the back of the building. You inevitably have to pass several sampling stations. It’s hard to resist: cheese, salsa, meatballs ... yummy! By the time you reach the item you came for, your basket is full of the other items you sampled. Sampling is a great way to earn followers, readers, clients, or buyers. As with any form of sampling, you are giving your audience a tidbit, a taste, an idea of what your book is all about. Sample your book by sharing excerpts on your website, reading from it at speaking engagements, turning sections into blog posts for your blog or for other popular industry blogs.  

Share: Give your book to industry icons and experts. When you read about a public figure who expresses an interest in the topic your book covers, send that person an autographed copy of your book. Perhaps you know of potential business partners who could add value to your business offering, or whose products or services are a good fit with yours. Send them a book as an introduction. Do you know of an event that needs “goodies” for their guests? Share your book with them, but make sure the audience is reflective of your ideal readers. Remember, you are being strategic with your giving.

Donate: There are hundreds of thousands of charitable and non-profit organizations that seek creative fundraising strategies. Why not make your book one of them? Select a time -- maybe around a specific national observance or a time of year -- and donate a portion (or all) of the proceeds from your book sales to a charity. Promote this on your website, blog, social media sites, and during your presentations. People generally feel good when they know they are contributing to a worthy cause, and this often spurs them to buy the book. One caveat: be sure to discuss this with and get permission from the organization before you begin this fundraising venture.

Distribute: Use creative distribution methods to get your book out. One great way is how you package your book. The Happy Meal is one of the best known package deals around. People like having things packaged together rather than sold separately, especially when there’s a nice little “goody” included. Make your book the goodie. Package your book with other products (yours or those of a partner who is an industry expert). Perhaps when potential customers or clients purchase a mid- or high-priced item, they get your book for free. Maybe when people respond to a query or survey, your book is their reward. Or perhaps, those who purchase your book are entered for a chance to win a valuable package. In this way, you can sell your book and upsell clients on your higher priced products and services. 

Beyond the bookstore appearances, book fairs and festivals, or listing with an online bookseller, there are so many other ways to gain visibility for your book. Be open to giving your book away. You might find that giving is one of the most strategic and effective forms of gaining exposure.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Do I Need A Literary Agent?

Self-publishing may be easy and affordable, and it’s certainly gaining respect within the publishing industry. With a good story, practically any author can have her book published and begin the process of marketing and promoting the book and the author. But there is another publishing option that authors might consider. 

If you believe your manuscript has what it takes to gain the attention of traditional publishers – you know, the big guys you hear about who operate from the hi-rise office buildings in New York City and force writers to produce under unbelievably tight deadlines with the promise of a sales and marketing dream team to help you make millions in the big leagues among the ranks of Michael Creighton, Toni Morrison, J. K. Rowling, and Stephen King (yeah, those guys) – you might consider hiring a literary agent. 

What is a literary agent? These are the people who represent authors to big publishers. They are often former authors themselves, who have been in the publishing business for years. Many have worked for large publishing houses, they know the marketplace and know what makes a successful book. They know what publishers are looking for, how to pitch manuscripts to publishers, and how to negotiate contracts for the benefit of the author and the publisher. Before you get too haughty and think, “heck, I could do that myself,” think again.

Oh sure, you could try pitching your manuscript to the big publishers with an immaculately produced book proposal. And then you could try your hand at negotiating a contract that ensures you, as the author, get every bit of what’s owed you, no strings attached – from a seven-figure advance to a whirlwind international book tour to film and foreign rights, and royalties that’ll keep you writing from your vacation villa in Tuscany for years to come. You do have the skill to pull that off, don’t you? Most likely you do not, and that’s okay; most authors don’t. That’s why those who aspire to be represented by a traditional publishing house typically use a literary agent.

Anyone can claim to be an agent, and there is no watchdog service to monitor potential scammers. A good agent will not need to advertise, will have a client list with recognizable author’s names that have been published through large traditional publishers (not with a vanity or subsidy press), will want a manuscript that has been professionally edited and is ready to go to press, and will not require payment from you. The agent’s job is to represent you and to find a publisher that will publish your book and pay the highest advance and royalties possible. After all, it is in the agent’s interest to find the best deal for you. The agent is your ally and a knowledgeable, experienced force to have on your team.

A literary agent has relationships with many large publishers, and will know the best company to publish your book. A good agent is well known and trusted by publishers and any book they recommend will often jump to the front of the line for the publisher’s attention. The agent acts as project manager for your book – negotiating contracts, managing the schedule, and earning anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the royalties on the sale of your book. Before you gasp in horror, consider the work that a literary agent does on your behalf and you’ll realize that your gaining 80 percent of royalties is well worth having a literary advocate on your side.

Guide to Literary Agents