In this article I’m focusing on tools for anyone who wants to be an author. Many ask me how to get started so here a few simple ways to begin. I personally believe everyone has a story to tell, minimally your own life story. You have a story and someone out there needs your story.
Tool #1 Who’s Your Reader?
Who are you writing to? Imagine that person sitting down, reading your words. How are they moved? What takes place in their heart as they hear your stories? Do you want them to DO something in response, i.e. change their mind, try something different, look at the world with new perspectives?
Answering these questions helps you aim your words and take the focus off of you, putting it on your reader. Writing for the reader is a crucial exercise, and it IS an exercise, something you practice and over time, get better at doing.
The publisher told me when I wrote my first book, “Climbing the Ladder in Stilettos,” to “write the book you wish someone had given you while starting your career.” It helped me picture my target woman and what her needs might be. I imagined the two of us sitting on my front porch, sharing a glass of iced tea, talking about life, struggles, career challenges. What would I tell her? Those were the words I wrote.
It’s a real joy when a reader writes to me now, saying, “I felt like you were telling MY story,” since that’s exactly what I was aiming to do!
Being an author is less about the author and more about the reader, moving them, compelling their ideas and heart toward a desired end.
Once you know your target reader, study that demographic. What else are they reading? What are their pain points, struggles, needs, desires, preferences? What other books are reaching them and how can yours fill a void or target a niche?
As you get to know your reader while writing, later when it’s time to market your book to that same audience, you’ll be better prepared to aim there with confidence.
TOOL #2 WRITE AND DON’T STOP
Ever heard of “writer’s block?” It’s that paralysis-inducing-voice that shouts, “Be quiet, you have nothing to say.”
I’ve battled this voice countless times writing my first book (and many times since, including writing my blogs) But now I know the voice well enough to ignore it and write anyway.
My good friend, Alice Rhee, an Emmy Award-winning producer for NBC news in New York, offered some excellent advice. She shared about a class she had in the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, where students write without lifting their pen off the paper for 30 straight minutes. It’s an exercise in writing their stream of consciousness, without editing themselves.
I gave this technique a try and boy was it liberating! Beyond the thrill of the drill, what a treat to read how good some of my unedited stuff really was. I practice this exercise (via laptop) regularly now, and it always seems to unlock the flow.
Speaking of flow, the more you write, the more you’ll have to write. It’s like opening up new tributaries in a river. Writing literally PULLS from what’s inside. Conversely, keeping it all locked up somewhere in your mind or on a few random journals, won’t get you going.
A boat in motion is easier to steer, so get in motion. Every author knows that what you start out writing is seldom what you end up publishing anyway, so get in the flow and let the rush of the river take you where you’re meant to go, NOW, not “Someday when I start writing.”
All of us deal with self-doubt, especially when embarking on something as personal as writing. When you’re pulling from inner experiences, viewpoints, and stories in order to share them with the world, you’ll be forced to overcome self-doubt, time and again.
But consider this….if you never offer it, or in this case write it, how can your reader be helped, make a change, laugh, feel hope, or follow your lead in sharing their own gift with the world?
One day on my front porch trying desperately to meet a deadline with my editor, I was exasperated, feeling zero flow. I started praying…”I feel so inadequate. It’s all been said before. I’m no former CEO or big-name executive. Who really wants to hear what I have to say?”
Then, in that familiar Voice I’ve grown to love and cherish, I heard….”Lynette, when a new voice sings an old familiar song, people will pay money to hear it. I’ve called you to be a voice…SING!”
Wow! Sing, share my song, belt it out, get on the stage and let ‘er rip. What a novel concept! It freed me from the need to be uniquely different, extra-skilled, or supremely qualified. Just one more voice in a choir of many, but responsible to SING.
You have a song too, and someone needs your story. So write and don’t stop. Your Conductor, among others, is waiting.
TOOL #3 PUBLISH CREATIVELY
Publishing as an industry has changed so dramatically in the last few years, which is good news for writers.
My number one suggestion for emerging writers is to publish your work online first. It’s a great way to test your voice, learn to know your audience, find those who resonate with your writings, and perhaps attract a publisher in the process.
Blogs are a great way to actually write a book online. Many bloggers have turned their popular blog content into books, or have attracted a publishing deal for new material.
Decorating mom/daughter duo Suzanne and Lauren McGrath’s book, Good Bones Great Pieces (and their blog of the same name) are an example. Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond turned her popular blog into several book deals and a Food Network TV show. Heather Clawson’s recent book, “Creativity at Work,” is another example, I’ve followed her blog Habitually Chic for several years.
A website called Publetariat — People Who Publish, has a good article on how to publish to eReaders.
You might consider offering your book entirely for free. Best-selling author, Seth Godin, in the documentary PressPausePlay, describes making more money releasing his book for free.
Something known as “hybrid publishing” offers a mix of traditional publishing where their sales team markets your books into stores, and self-publishing when you put the money up front and own more of the process.
My point here is you don’t need a traditional publishing deal or formal stamp of approval to validate your book’s worthiness or viability. In fact, under-the-radar methods can be a whole lot more fun and rewarding, without the pressure of finding a publisher (which usually requires a literary agent), then pleasing the publisher.
Plus, every author knows that publishers publish books and leave most of the marketing (if not all of it) up to the author who must do all they can to sell the books through their own established platforms. My next tool is about building a platform, but in short, the above-mentioned ideas are proving effective for many new writers.
Be an innovator when it comes to getting your book published. Do your research, read about those who have successfully done it via new methods. Copy and steal every marketing idea you can find (credit anyone who deserves it) and put your story out there. The timeline has shortened and opportunities are opening up for a broader demographic of authors, more than ever before.
Go for it!
TOOL #4 BUILD YOUR PLATFORM
Many authors share a similar experience the first time out of the writing gate. You’re so excited about your book, the one you’ve poured blood, sweat, tears, and hope into, then you find out…the publisher expects YOU to sell it.
Granted, their sales team is selling too, but typically only for one sales cycle, maybe two if it’s released later in paperback.
Most days it’s you, the author, doing the marketing, selling, and promotion of your book. Which is why you need a platform, and why most literary agents and publishers will not invest in a first-time author if they don’t already have one.
What is a platform? It’s your position of influence, your reach. Your platform represents audiences you can get in front of and market to, potential buyers. Your platform positions you to influence others, and in this case influence them to purchase your book.
Everyone has a platform and can grow it. I use platform shoes to illustrate this when I speak at various Saks Fifth Avenue stores. I’ll take a shoe with a small platform, one with a medium, and then a really high one, explaining how to build a platform, one incremental stage at a time.
These few suggestions may be useful…
Speaking is perhaps the best way to grow a platform. You may speak once, but lots of ears hear you and subsequently you’ve added new friends and followers.
Reaching out to associations and established networks can prove fruitful, since local chapters in various regions can recommend you and your book to others. The Network of Executive Women has been a great example of this for me, and attendees represent a vast array of companies who in turn become potential clients.
Proactively follow experts on social media platforms and invite them to be part of your online efforts. This can link your platform to theirs and vice versa.
Don’t be shy about experimenting, try a video blog, give away one chapter of your book for free, interview someone with a large platform via a webinar, hold your own conference or a seminar at your church or civic organization. Be bold and try a variety of strategies.
Women can sometimes feel reluctant about self-promotion efforts. We don’t want to be seen as arrogant, too forward, or aggressive. Still, if our voice is to be heard via writing, we have to let it be heard.
One way I’ve overcome “promotion reluctance” is to view it as stewardship vs. promotion. If I don’t steward the message I’ve written, who will? Holding back is cheating others out of the gift I’m entrusted to give. This viewpoint helps me feel responsible and compelled, vs. reluctant and apologetic.
Michael Hyatt, who was Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers when they published my first book, is one of my favorite experts to follow on all things platform-related. His book,“Platform — Get Noticed in a Noisy World” is truly a must-read.
Put your name out there, enlist the help of influencers, and watch your platform grow!
These tools can help jump-start your writing and get you in motion, which is really the largest hurdle to overcome. You’ll never have the time, energy, gumption, or confidence to overcome every resistance, so just get in motion and DO IT. I for one, am cheering you on!