From Content to Contentpreneuring: 6 Cs for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age—Part 2

The second c word in the new model for becoming a successful author in the Digital Age is clarity.

2. Clarity

Models

There are more books and authors for you to base your books and career on than ever. You don’t have to figure out how to write a business book or a mystery or how to become a successful author. Use the books you love and the authors you admire as models. Telling agents, editors, and readers your models will enable them to understand your literary and financial goals instantly.

Goals

You need to be clear about your goals. Life, like art, should be the celebration of a vision. Sue Grafton believes that “Writing isn’t something you do, it’s something you are.” To be a successful writer, you must know who you are and what you want.

When a friend of Dorothy Parker’s had a baby, Parker sent her this telegram: “Dear Mary: Good work. We all knew you had it in you.” Well, what have you got in you?

You must have literary, publishing, and personal short- and long-term goals that are in harmony and motivate you to do whatever it takes to achieve them.

 You need to choose literary goals:

  • what you want to write
  • how you want the book to affect readers
  • the position in your field you want for your books

You need publishing goals:

  • how you want your book published
  • the size of your advance
  • how many copies you want it to sell
  • how much money you want to earn a year as a writer

You need to balance these goals with your personal goals of how and where you want to live and with whom, and the quality of life that will enable you to thrive.

One goal that clarifies your other goals is how much money you want to earn a year, because it determines what you write, and how you write and promote it. The smaller the number, the more freedom you have. So pick any number and write to that number. But if you want to be a successful author, make sure that your number strikes a realistic balance between writing for yourself and writing for the marketplace. I mean if you want to earn a million dollars a year writing haiku, you’ve got a problem.

Mission

Make writing and communicating about your work your calling. Imbue what you do with a sense of mission. As my mother used to say, “The world always steps aside for people who know where they’re going.”

A Plan

Create a plan for your future. Sue Grafton advises writers to have a five-year plan. Once you decide where you’d like to be in five years, figure how to get from where you are to where you want to go. Find out how authors of books like yours succeed. Ask them and other members of the publishing community for advice.

Next: the third c word in the model: communication.

I write the blog to help you understand what you need to know about writing, publishing, promotion, and agents. Rants, comments, and questions welcome.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / 1029 Jones Street / San Francisco, 94109 /  www.facebook.com/SanFranciscoWritersConference / 415-673-0939 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

 

 

 

From Author to Contentpreneur: A New Model for Becoming a Successful Author in the Digital Age

Here is an updated compilation of five previous posts.

Now is the best time ever to be a writer, and what follows is a new model for what it will take for you to build a successful writing career in the digital age. Every part of the model is essential. You need to use the whole model to succeed.

Passion

Writing begins with a boundless enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, communicating about your work, and serving your readers.

Reading

Writing starts with reading. You can only write as well as you read. Read what you love to read and write what you love to read. An acquaintance once came up to me all excited and said: “I just finished my first novel!”

“That’s great!” I said.

Then he asked: “What should I read next?”

Well, if you’re a novelist, you should read as many novels as you can, and read like a writer. What works for you in the books you love will work for your readers. Reading enables you to establish criteria for style, length, content, illustrations, and back matter.

Models

Reading will also enable you to choose books and authors to use as models for your books and career. Telling agents, editors, and readers your models will enable them to understand what your book is instantly.

Goals

It’s been said that goals are dreams with a deadline. You must have literary, publishing, and personal short- and long-term goals that are in harmony and motivate you to do whatever it takes to achieve them. One goal that clarifies your other goals is how much money you want to earn a year, because it determines what you write, and how you write and promote it.

A Plan

Sue Grafton advises writers to have a five-year plan. Once you decide where you’d like to be in five years, you can figure how to get from where you are to where you want to go. Read about how authors of books like yours succeeded and ask them for advice.

Discipline

You must have goals for what you want to accomplish every workday and the discipline to make sure you accomplish them. William Faulkner once said: “I write when the spirit moves, and I make sure it moves every day.” Even a page a day is a book a year. Balance your goals, and choose the most productive way for you to spend your time. Take care of the minutes, hours, and days, and the years will take care of themselves.

Creativity

How can you make you and your work stand out in the growing explosion of books and authors? Creativity. In a world awash with media, creativity is essential for making you and your work memorable. There was a New Yorker cartoon showing a man standing over a cat, next to a litter box, and saying: “Never think outside the box.” To be creative today, it’s not enough to think outside the box, you have to think outside the room the box is in.

Service

To succeed, you have to serve, not sell. There are more ways to serve your readers than ever, and the better you serve them, the better they’ll serve you.

Faith

You must have faith in yourself, your idea, your book, and your ability to make it succeed and build a career.

Courage

To face a blank screen and dare to believe you have something worth writing takes courage. To persevere despite rejections from publishers and the media, negative responses from readers and critics, and perhaps poor sales, takes courage. Overcoming obstacles takes courage. But you have more than enough courage to meet the challenges that await you. All you have to do is summon it, and the harder your struggle, the sweeter your success.

Knowledge

Writers need to know more about more areas of expertise than ever. Besides the things on this list, 

  • You have to have a positive but realistic perspective about publishing that balances the challenges and opportunities. The information at www.larsenpomada.com will help you.
  • If you want an agent, you have to know what they do, and how to find, contact, and work with them.
  • You have to know about using technology, especially social media. You don’t have to be a techie, but you do have to maximize the tremendous power of technology to help you.

However, you are blessed with more free resources than ever to learn what you need to know without leaving your desk.

Craft

There was once a cartoon showing one writer saying confidently to another: “I’ve got all the pages numbered. Now all I have to do is fill in the rest.” That’s where craft comes in. Besides reading, writing has five essential elements:

1. Coming up with an idea—There’s a New Yorker cartoon that shows two women nursing cocktails, and one is saying to the other: “I’m marrying Marvin. I think there’s a book in it.” There’s a book in just about anything and more subjects to write about than ever before. If you create an idea that lends itself to a series of books that you are passionate about writing and promoting, you can carve a career out of it.

2. Research–finding the information you need to write your book.

3. A workstyle–choosing the time, place, and tools that enable you to produce your best work. Ray Bradbury summarized the art of writing in two verbs: throw up and clean up. You have to decide whether it’s more effective for you to outline your book or go ahead and write your manuscript, and then massage it until it’s ready.

4. Writing–a combination of art and craft, poetry and carpentry, vision and revision. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, said, “The art of writing is rewriting.” There’s a cartoon showing two mice sitting on a writer’s desk in the middle of the night reading his manuscript, and one is saying: “We’d do him a big favor if we ate chapter four.” If you don’t want rodents criticizing your work, be your own editor. Keep revising your work until it’s 100%, as well-conceived and crafted as you can make it.

5. Sharing–the great ballet dancer Nijinsky once said: “I merely leap and pause.” After you take your creative leaps, it’s time to pause and get feedback on your work. It’s been said that if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you, but writing is a forgiving craft. Only your last draft counts. You can’t get your writing right by yourself, but you don’t have to. Build a community of knowledgeable readers to give you feedback.

This section on craft is adapted from a chapter about developing your craft in my book How to Get a Literary Agent.

Test-Marketing

There are more ways to test-market your book than ever. Test-marketing your book gives you the chance to prove it works and to get testimonials yu can use to sell and promote your work.

A Platform

Your platform is your continuing visibility with book buyers, online and off, on your subject or the kind of book you’re writing. Building your platform by test-marketing your book enables you to maximize the value of your book before you sell it, which, for most  nonfiction, is the only way to get the best editor, publisher, and deal for your book.

Communities

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing two disreputable guys sitting a bar talking, and one is saying: “I tried victimless crime, but I’m a people person.” If you want to be a successful author, you have to be a people person. Writing is a solitary profession, but it’s the only part of the process you have to do alone. Create communities of fans, writers, and other publishing professionals to help you with your writing, promotion, using technology, and getting reviews and cover quotes.

Promotion

Two cannibals are having dinner and one says to the other: “You know, I don’t like your publisher.”

“OK,” the other cannibal says, “then just eat the noodles.”

The most common reason authors become disenchanted with their publishers is lack of promotion. If you’re writing a promotion-driven nonfiction book, the promotion plan you include in your proposal will determine the editor, publisher, and deal for your book.  Novelists are also as well. A plan is a list, in descending order of impressiveness, of what you will do to promote your book, including, when possible, how many of them. Exaggerate nothing, but submit the strongest plan you can.

Chicken souperman Jack Canfield says a book is like an iceberg: writing is 10%, marketing is 90%. If this is true for the kind of book you’re writing, you will need to spend nine times more effort promoting your book than you do writing it. But there are more ways to promote your book at less cost than ever with just your fingertips.

Contentpreneuring

You have to be a contentpreneur.

  • Your content has to be scalable from a tweet to a book, and your promotion from a one-line pitch to a one-hour radio interview.
  • You have to make your laptop and your smartphone your office and be able to work and to respond to your communities wherever you are.
  • You have to keep writing and publishing a steady stream of work for free and for fees that maximizes your pleasure, income, and visibility.
  • You have to focus on writing work that you can re-purpose in as many forms, media, and countries as you can.
  • There’s a cartoon showing two guys sitting in a bar talking, and one of them is saying to the other: “Since I started freelancing full time, I’ve made quite a few sales…my house, my car, my furniture.”

If you don’t want to be like him, you have to take entrepreneurial responsibility for the promotion and sales of your book.

  • You also have to be resourceful in figuring out how to solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities.
  • You have to build a community of professionals and virtual assistants with whom you can collaborate to create new products and services.

Commitment

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing a man and a woman, sitting on a couch talking, and the man is saying: “Look, I’m not talking about a lifetime commitment. I’m talking about marriage.”

Being a successful author requires a lifetime commitment, and I hope that you will commit yourself to becoming the best writer you can be, not just for yourself, but for all of us.

Patience

Marketing guru Seth Godin says that the best time to start promoting a book is three years before it comes out, because it may take that long to build a platform,  create the strongest promotion plan for your book, and have the ability to carry it out.

You have to have patience to take the long view as well as the short view in writing and promoting your books, and building your career. You can’t look at your career as one book but ten or twenty—each new book being better and more lucrative than the previous one.

Love

To be the best writer and author you can be, you must love the process. You have to believe that using this model is what you were born to do. You have to

  • love to read and write
  • write out of love for serving your readers
  • love the challenges of devoting yourself to becoming a better writer and communicator about your work

The love you send into the world through your work and your relationships with your readers will come back to you many times over and provide a profoundly satisfying life, regardless of how much income you earn doing it.

The Best Piece of Advice
Add luck to this list, and your books will be failproof. After forty-four years in the business, I’m convinced that every part of this list is essential. I may have left something out—and please tell me if I have–but you will need all of what’s here to succeed. I end the model with the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard about becoming a writer:

“If anything can stop you from becoming a writer, let it. If nothing can stop you, do it and you’ll make it.”

A Bonus

You can adapt this model for other professions and in your personal life. 

My partner Elizabeth Pomada and I do a presentation about the model.

From Passion to Patience: A New Model for Becoming a Successful Author, Part 1

Now is the best time ever to be a writer, and what follows in the next five posts is a new model for what it will take for you to build a successful writing career in the digital age. I may have left something out, and I hope you will tell me if I have, but every one of the nineteen necessities you will be reading about is essential, and you can’t make it without all of them.

Passion

Writing begins with passion—a passion for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, communicating about your work, and serving your readers.

Reading

Writing starts with reading. Read what you love to read and write what you love to read.

An acquaintance once came up to me all excited and said: “I just finished my first novel!”

“That’s great!” I said.

Then he asked: “What should I read next?”

Well, if you’re a novelist, you should read as many novels as you can, and read like a writer. What works for you in the books you love will work for your readers.

Models

Reading will also enable you to choose books and authors to use as models for your books and career. Telling agents, editors, and readers your models will enable them to understand what your book is instantly.

Goals

It’s been said that goals are dreams with a deadline. You must have literary, publishing, and personal short- and long-term goals that are in harmony and motivate you to do whatever it takes to achieve them. One goal that clarifies your other goals is how much money you want to earn a year, because it determines what you write, and how you write and promote it.

A Plan

Sue Grafton advises writers to have a five-year plan. Once you decide where you’d like to be in five years, you can figure how to get from where you are to where you want to go. Read about how authors of books like yours succeeded and ask them for advice.

Discipline

You must have goals for what you want to accomplish every workday and the discipline to make sure you accomplish them. William Faulkner once said: “I write when the spirit moves, and I make sure it moves every day.” Even a page a day is a book a year. Balance your goals, and choose the most productive way for you to spend your time. Take care of the minutes, hours, and days, and the years will take care of themselves.

In the next post on “From Passion to Patience” are creativity, a plan, discipline, creativity, service, faith, courage, and knowledge.  After the overview of the model, future posts will discuss more about each part of it.

“From Passion to Patience” was adapted it from a talk for a panel Elizabeth and I were on at the wonderful Mechanics’ Institute Library in San Francisco, which has critique groups and other events and resources for writers and is worth joining, www.milibrary.org.

The 9th San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / February 16-20, 2012 / www.sfwriters.org / [email protected] / 415-673-0939 / https://sfwriters.info/blog / @SFWC / http://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Francisco-Writers-Conference/112732798786104 / 1029 Jones St. / San Francisco, CA 94109 / San Francisco Writers University / Where Writers Meet and You Learn / Laurie McLean, Dean / free classes / www.sfwritersu.com / [email protected] / @SFWritersU

Courting Lady Luck: Writing for Your Dream

Madison, WI

The harder I work, the luckier I get.

–(tc)

With my patient mentor Phil Neumark leading the way, I bicycled 54 miles yesterday, the last leg of my Midwest tour. Hot, a few hills but good shoulders and a bike path part of the way, altogether a fine ride. After biking 73, 60, and more than 90 miles on previous days, it was relatively easy. Arriving on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin, made me appreciate how Lady Luck had smiled on me: I had biked more than 270 miles in four days of riding and arrived safely.

(Riding a bike makes you appreciate things like seamless, light-colored pavement, a rare combination.  A national bike path is in the works, adapting unused railroad tracks when possible. Wouldn’t it be great if it was covered symbolically yet practically in light green pavement?) 

Madison is a very nice, beautifully situated city surrounded by lakes. Although it’s the state capitol–with a beautiful, art-filled building to attest to it–more than 50,000 UW students—Go Badgers!–make it more gown than town. And the first six, tree-lined blocks of State Street are college-town central: a collection of shops, restaurants, bookstores, and Yellow Jersey, an excellent bike shop from which I Fed-Exed my bike back to Citizen Chain, another fine bike shop, in San Francisco.

Courting Lady Luck

To have the best chance for maximum sales, your book needs a lot of luck:

* The right idea 

* Writing that makes every reader a salesperson

* A passionate agent who can

  • Make sure your book is as strong as it can be before submitting it
  • Get the best editor, publisher, and deal for it

* An editor who can 

  • Help you improve your book even more
  • Be a passionate in-house agent for it

* The publisher that can do the best job 

  • Copy-editing, designing, producing, selling distributing, and reprinting your book
  • Selling subsidiary rights
  • Collaborating with you to market your book to the trade and consumers with the right promotion plan

 * The right response from booksellers

 * The right time for your book to be published

* Selling reviews in the right places

* The right media breaks

* Word of mouth and mouse from readers

This magical combination of elements rarely coalesces on first books. Authors usually reach the bestseller list by writing a series of related books that build an audience for their work. Then they write the breakout book that lands them on the list, and by that time, they have enough fans to keep them there. Sue Grafton’s first hardcover bestseller was H is for Homicide, the eighth book in the series. (Part of the price she paid to get there: five of her first seven books were never published.)

A bonus: once you’re a best-selling author, you can write other kinds of books, and your fans will make them bestsellers too.

Eight Steps for Seducing Lady Luck 

* Use books you love like yours and their authors as models for your books and career. 

* Learn about writing, publishing and promotion, and from your mistakes. 

* Have a dream:  a clear, motivating vision of the success you want. 

* Create a plan for achieving it. 

* Dedicate yourself to producing your best work. 

* Be passionate about your books. 

* Get the help you need with writing and promotion. 

* Let nothing stop you. 

New writers succeed every day, and you don’t have to hit the list to be one of them. I hope you have all the luck you need to become as successful as you want to be. You can do it! Make it happen!