Archive for the 'Platform Development 101' Category

Platform Development 101: The Village People

cmkwritermama.gifBy Christina Katz

If you have just signed a book contract or an agent agreement, congratulations! Now is the time to connect with your book’s “Village People” and start creating excitement for your book immediately inside your publishing house.

I bet you’d agree that the best books you have ever read draw on the widest number of resources. I’m talking about research, interviews with experts, polls, studies, statistics and connecting with current trends. So why wouldn’t you want as many real live supporters for your book inside your publishing house? What works on the page also works in the world.

Here’s a line-up of the people you’re likely to meet after you sign your contract as part of the Publisher’s Team:

The Acquisitions Editor
The editor who offers you a contract is your first ally inside the publishing company. No doubt this is the person who went to bat for your proposal and helped get your book concept through the approval process so you could sign a book contract in the first place. Keep in touch with your acquisitions editor, even after he’s handed you off to your book editor to go in search of other promising writers.

Tip: If you are friendly with your acquisitions editor, why not ask if he can suggest an agent whom he respects for you? With a book deal in your pocket and the recommendation of your editor, you can likely connect with agents who might not otherwise be available.

The Agent
You may have landed a book deal on your own or through an agent. If you don’t have an agent, I highly recommend that you get one. Not only can an agent negotiate a better contract for you than you can negotiate on your own, she can also advise you through the first-book process and help you envision a bright, future writing career. And remember, just like writers, agents are a pretty diverse bunch.

Tip: Just because an agent is the right agent for a writer friend, she may not be the right one for you. Be sure to interview both your friend and her agent to determine if she is a fit for your project and personality. Trust your instincts.

The Book Editor
Chances are good that your acquisitions editor will hand you off to another editor, your book editor. A book editor is likely to be the project manager of your book also. But don’t be surprised if your acquisitions editor is still involved in major decisions like cover art, formatting, and how to structure the book (at least this was my experience).

Tip: Your book editor is your friend for the long haul, so go out of your way to get to know her. I had a great experience with my book editor, even though she is quite a bit younger than I am (as is commonplace in this industry).

The Cover Designer
Cover designers may work in-house for publishers or as freelancers. The cover designer for Writer Mama was a member of the in-house team for Writer’s Digest Books. I was fortunate that my agent negotiated to include me in the cover review process. Working closely with your acquisitions editor and book editor can only help when it comes time for cover art reviews.

Tip: Be sure your agent inserts a clause in your contract that you will be “consulted” on your book’s cover. Otherwise you may find yourself unhappy and without a vote.

The Copy Editor
You will interact with your copy editor after you have completed your final manuscript. The copy editor assigned to you may work in-house or be a freelancer. You will likely receive a series of suggestions from your copy editor that further refine your manuscript and help prepare it for publication. However, you will both miss typos and that is just life. (Don’t worry. All your writer friends will let you know all about the typos that they find when they get their copies.)

Tip: Your book editor and acquisitions editor will also likely sign off on the draft of your book that goes to the printer. (If not, invite them for a final read because you won’t be able to catch anything at that point.)

The Publicity Director

Whoever manages book promotion and book events for your publisher is definitely a person you want to get to know. That is, if you want to be invited to literary conferences and get support publicizing your book. I am fortunate that the publicity and trade show manager at Writer’s Digest Book is such a charming and organized guy.

Tip: If you make an effort to get to know your publicity director, everything related to your book is bound to go better. Try to reserve judgment and be friendly and proactive. That’s a win-win-win attitude.

The Sales Team
I dropped the ball on this one. It never occurred to me that the sales team would care to meet me, so I didn’t initiate anything. When I finally met the two sales team leaders at a conference, I kicked myself for not getting to know them sooner. My bad.

Tip: Ask your acquisitions editor for a list of suggested contacts within the company whom she thinks you should meet. If you’re unsure about timing (and every company is different), just call when you get the contract to introduce yourself. No harm in that!

Lest we forget, it takes a village to write a book. Writing a book is not an event; it’s a journey, similar to ascending a mountain. (A mountain that you create as you climb!) Don’t go it alone. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t create an antagonistic dynamic with the folks who can be your allies and help you champion your book into the world.

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.

Platform Development 101: A Winning Attitude

cmkwritermama.gifBy Christina Katz

I’ll get right to the point: Writers with a winning attitude achieve professional status and writers with a poor attitude don’t. Or if they do, I’ve noticed, their success doesn’t last because a poor attitude eventually rears its ugly head and takes a writer down with it.

Which raises the question: What is a winning attitude?

While working on Writer Mama and (somewhat) inspired by Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, I examined the attitudes and habits of my writing mentors and discovered twelve qualities of highly successful writers. Here they are:

1. Determination. Natalie Goldberg is famous for saying that it takes great determination to be a writer, and she could not be more right. Most who have persevered as writers over time have done so because of resolve; some might even say stubbornness. Think about the areas of your life in which you possess great determination.

2. Consistency. Writing is a regular task when you’re a professional. Writing success happens when effort meets opportunity steadily over time, but it takes effort to create opportunity. At the end of the day, it is consistency that sets the flash-in-the-pan successes apart from the lifetime achievement award-winners. Sure, the flash-in-the-pan writer might get some temporary glory, but the writer with staying power is the one who reaps the most satisfaction.
3. Ability to Prioritize. Prioritizing speaks to your ability to know where you are and what needs to happen next. It means you can ask the question, “What is the most important thing I need to do next in order to complete this project?” And then do it. This way, you don’t need to know the future as much as you must navigate your way through your work day by day.
4. Discernment. Discernment comes from taking time for reflection to get a clear “read” on the situation (and remembering to trust your instincts). It’s the ability to consider options you may not have planned for—the ability to say, “Hmm, that’s an interesting proposition. What would happen if I took this assignment?” It’s weighing and measuring options and going with the one that feels the most promising in the moment, which sometimes requires saying, “No thanks” to other opportunities.
5. Creative Thinking. Your capacity for circular, as well as linear, thinking is an asset, not a liability. The key is to know when to go non-linear and when to proceed in a good, orderly direction. A balance between the two is your best bet. If you easily switch back and forth between inspiration and logic, your writing career will surely benefit.
6. Self-Directedness. You are self-directed when you don’t need some¬one else telling you what to do in order to accomplish your goals. You determine on your own what needs to be done and how to proceed. Intuition is definitely an important part of the self-directed writer’s decision-making process. Responding to your internal compass is how writers get from where they are today to where they’d like to be in the future.
7. Responsiveness. Successful writers are a pretty communicative bunch. In order to join their ranks, practice being available, on a reasonable basis, to the outside world. Of course, you can’t be available 24/7, or you would never be able to concentrate on and complete important tasks. But there’s no need to be a hermit—unless you have a deadline looming—then you might want to think of yourself as a hermit-in-training (who still keeps in touch regularly with the family).
8. Detachment. In the writing life there are plenty of opportunities to take things personally—or not. On tough days, when things start to close in around you, take a deep breath—and pull back. Another rejection? They happen. An editor’s comment on your work feels like a zinger. Are you sure? Let it go, or ask for a second opinion. Editors usually go out of their way not to step on a writer’s toes. Once you let the annoying stuff go and get busy again, you’ll realize that you can’t spare the time to obsess about the slight stuff (or at least the stuff that feels like a slight). Remember that you can’t control others. So don’t dwell on it. Be respectful and you’ll get respect.
9. Resilience. Just like daily life, the writing life is full of ups and downs. Writers need to learn how to hit bottom and bounce back. Sometimes you are going to be up, and sometimes you are going to be down. Sometimes you may be both within one day or even one hour. The pros learn to ride the ebb and flow without hanging out too long in either extreme.
10. A positive attitude. Seasoned writers have a natural exuberance that comes from hard-earned success. Why shouldn’t they have something to smile about? And, even if you aren’t a success yet, which writer would editors rather work with again: the one who meets every challenge with an upbeat attitude or the one who meets them grumbling and making excuses?
11. Composure. A little different from detachment, composure isn’t about pulling back; it’s about staying sturdy and riding the waves. This one gets easier over time. In fact, composure is often gained from persevering through trying experiences. It’s about responding to success as well as to disappointment by staying somewhere in the middle. Exuberance is great. Venting frustrations feels good—true. But composure is grand.
12. Conscientiousness. Show me a professional writer and I will show you a person who takes quiet pride in her work, with the patience to go over her words again and again until they are polished just right, until—as one of my students once said—“It sounds like a song with every word exactly right.” On the flip side, a lack of conscientiousness will lead to a lack of opportunities, dissatisfied editors and a hollow feeling inside. Don’t be hard on yourself. Just do the best you can and keep on striving for personal excellence.
Here’s one final conclusion that I’ve drawn from observation over the past six-plus years of working with writers: Those who jump on opportunities to publish achieve publication and those who don’t…well, they don’t, at least not that I hear about.

The bottom line on a winning attitude is that the folks who are ready and willing to work at their writing career and all that it entails quickly reap the benefits. And a winning attitude also helps when facing a learning curve that goes straight up, up, up with no end in sight. I hope this bit of shared research will help you join the ranks of successful writers, whatever that means to you.

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.

What a platform is vs. what a platform isn’t

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101

By Christina Katz

Pitching at a conference this year? Be sure to take this multiple-choice quiz as a refresher on what a platform is vs. what a platform isn’t.

Through the eyes of an agent or editor, your platform boils down to:
a) Your credentials
b) Your potential as an author
c) The story of how and why you came up with your book concept
d) Your already published work (a.k.a. your clips)
e) The readership / following / network / fan base you have already cultivated
f) All of the above

Before I reveal the answer, let me explain why it’s not obvious. For years now, publishing industry insiders have been buzzing among themselves about platform-platform-platform, whereas half the folks attending writer’s conferences are just getting wind of the concept for the first time. This explains why publishing insiders are so weary of hearing about platform that the mere mention of the word makes them cringe, whereas so many writers are scratching our heads and saying, “Platform? What the heck is that?”

But just because industry insiders don’t want to talk to you about what a platform is doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear about the platform you already have.

Okay, now for the answer to the quiz. We need to get crystal clear about what a platform is vs. what a platform isn’t. The answer is e. Did you get it? I’ll break down each choice in detail.

a) Your credentials
No doubt you will have a section about your credentials in your book proposal, but this is not your platform. Your credentials are all of the indicators of your expertise on a particular topic. Your credentials qualify you, but they do not get you known. For example, if your book topic were how to save sea lions from extinction, then your credentials would include everything on your resume that authenticates your knowledge and experience on this subject.

Possibly you have a master’s degree in marine biology. Perhaps, you have had jobs in the past where you worked with sea lions. Maybe you have lived in the Pacific Northwest all your life and have been a sea lion activist. Generally speaking, credentials come straight from your résumé. But remember, writers don’t rely on their résumés. More often we pick and choose what is relevant from our experience and include it in a short bio paragraph to match an assignment. You will need to do the same in your book proposal. But that’s not your platform; it’s typically called your bio.

b) Your potential as an author
Though strong identification with published authors may have led many of us to await our literary discovery with baited breath, our potential as authors is not part of our platform. Neither is the comparison of our unpublished writing to successful authors. Saying your book echoes the style or voice of a bestselling author is a strategy likely to lead agents and editors to wonder why you write like someone else and not yourself. Planting the seed in the first place creates an automatic comparison—possibly one that will not measure out in your favor.

Instead of describing your own writing in glowing terms, simply write and pitch your idea clearly and concisely. Like your credentials, your readiness (and eagerness) to become an author is not part of your platform and no amount of well-turned phrases, disclosed praise or author identification will change this. In fact, I recommend that you avoid referring to your potential altogether, both in your pitch and in your proposal. A better approach is just the facts, ma’m.

c) The story of how and why you came up with your book concept
I encourage anyone who is pitching or writing a book proposal to reflect on how they got from where they once were to being exactly the right person to write their proposed book today. However, being the right person to get the job done and having a platform are not the same things. So, while this story may be included in your proposal or briefly summarized in your verbal pitch, this tale is not your platform. Even if the timing is absolutely perfect for your book, and I hope this is true, this fact is not your platform.

d) Your already published work (a.k.a. your clips)
If you have been writing a column for your local paper for five years, this is a genuine accomplishment, and hopefully you feel proud. However, what your local column lacks, through the eyes of agents and editors, is reach. If the publication you write for is not a household name, agents and editors are not likely to be impressed. But if you’ve written for or currently write for O Magazine, The New York Times, or iParenting.com, your clout as a future author goes up along with the size of the audience you serve, especially if your work reaches readers on a regular basis.

Strictly speaking, your clips fall under your credentials. A lot of people have them; it’s what you do with your credentials that makes up your platform. And remember, the bigger the readership and the better the reputation of the publication, the more oomph your clips carry. So mention your best clips, but only emphasize those likely to impress.

e) The readership / following / network / fan base you have already cultivated
The number of people you currently reach and influence is the sum total of your current platform. This explains why agents and editors usually offer book deals to writers who also already teach, speak, and self-promote themselves or who have created a following through traditional media or the Internet. If your following associates you with the book topic you are pitching, even better. Agents and editors prefer a self-producing writer to a totally unknown writer any day of the week.

Why? Because a self-producing writer has a proven track record of getting known that insures he or she will not balk when the time comes to get out there and promote the published book. And previously developed networks, readers, and fans are all potential future readers of the book in which publishers, editors and agents are going to invest their time, money and energy. So when you pitch, try to volunteer the facts about your platform in a concise, targeted manner rather than as a laundry list of incidental experience that doesn’t position you as an authority any publisher would want as a partner.

You may feel that an emphasis on platform is unfair and that your book idea should only be assessed based on a-d above. But remember, the onus to develop a platform does not just affect writers; it also affects every single person involved in the publishing business today (including fellow writers, and yes, even agents, editors and publishers). So don’t waste one more minute feeling sorry for yourself, when you could be channeling that same energy into building a solid platform that will serve you and your growing readership––today and the day your future book hits the shelves.

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.

Show Up at a Conference Prepared to Pitch!

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101

By Christina Katz

Agents and editors are flying to a conference near you just to scout out talented writers to author books. If you’d like to be one of them, get your-self signed up to make as many pitches as you can with whichever agents and editors would be the most appropriate for your book concept.

So how do you get ready? Here are seven tips that will help you show up prepared to pitch but not over-prepared or locked into an idea that you can’t sell:

Tip Number 1: Don’t Go It Alone
Plan to prepare your book pitch with the help of experienced others. Not only is getting help on your pitch less stressful, it’s just plain more fun to work on your book concept with a practice audience. In fact, getting input is crucial to your pitching success if you’ve never pitched before.

Tip Number 2: Get Help from Experienced Industry Players

Gather together a small group of Book Concept Advisors. Your Book Concept Advisors (BCAs) are writer-friends who will help you pre-pare a viable book concept and a pitch to go with it. If you are already part of a writing group, the other mem-bers may be the perfect place to start. But don’t stop there. Contact anyone you can think of who might have a seasoned perspective on book pitching and ask for feedback. After all, pitches are short and sweet (unlike book proposals, for example) so it’s not hard to ask for quick input on your pitch.

Your BCAs should include:

  • Potential readers of your book (friends, fellow writers, friends of friends)
  • Published author friends

Your BCAs should not include:

  • Your mother, father or siblings
  • Your very best friend in the whole wide world
  • Your spouse and kids (unless they are 110% supportive)
  • Anyone else who will tell you it is “great” without offering constructive feedback

Tip Number 3: Write More Dramatically Than You Normally Would
Remind yourself that agents and editors have heard hundreds, if not thousands, of pitches over the course of their careers. So don’t low-ball your pitch thinking that being understated is a strategy. It isn’t! The early drafts of your pitch should have rising and falling action, like the plotline of a story. That’s a sure way to hook your listener and draw them in. And, naturally, you’ll want to hook them from the first sentence. So don’t build up to your punch line, launch right into it, and hit the climax within one minute. Your pitch should be no longer than three minutes, and that’s considered long.

Tip Number 4: Get at Least One of These Books
There are three books I recommend that you read, or at least skim, before you show up at a Writer’s Conference armed to pitch your book concept. Any of these will help you understand the scope of what will ultimately go into your book proposal—the one you will pull together quickly after you have garnered interest from agents and editors.

  • Michael Larsen, How to Write a Book Propos-al, 3rd ed. (Writer’s Digest Books, 2003)
  • Elizabeth Lyon, Nonfiction Book Proposals Anyone Can Write (Perigree, 2002)
  • Pam Brodowsky and Eric Neuhaus, Bul-letproof Book Proposals (Writer’s Digest Books, 2006)

Tip Number 5: But Don’t Write the Proposal Yet
You don’t need to bring a full book proposal to the conference. In fact, many agents and editors will not take a proposal from you even if they like your pitch. Instead, why not collect as much feedback as you can from agents and editors and apply what you learn to improving your book concept before you submit your proposal? On the rare occasion that an agent does want the proposal on the spot, simply offer to mail or e-mail it to them right after the conference (as soon as you have finished polishing it).

Tip Number 6: What You Do Need to Bring

1. Mock Sales Copy for your Book Concept
Answers the question: “Why this book now?”
When you read about a book before you decide to purchase it, you are probably reading sales copy. Sales copy always ac-companies a book in a catalog or on Amazon.com. Imagine your book as a final product clearly enough that you can generate sales copy to go with your book concept. Write your mock sales copy as though the book is already complete and for sale. For hints about how to write it, take a peek at the sales copy on other books by the same publisher and try to emulate the form as best you can.
2. A One-Page Bio Synopsis
Answers the question: “Why are you the best person to write the book?”
Create two columns on the page separated by a half-inch gutter. On the right-hand side, list your platform credentials as they specifically support this book concept (including such information as relevant expertise, platform high-lights, big media appearances, and which reputable publications your work has appeared in). On the left-hand side use photos to illustrate your platform points (logos, images, your headshot, etc.). Limit the information and photos you provide to those that support you as the best person to write this book.
3. Market Notes That Prove an Audience and Need for Your Book
Answers the question: “Who is the market for this book?”
Do research and make a one-page synopsis of the statistics and facts about the target audience for your book. Here are some questions you want to answer.

  • What’s the size of the potential market for this book? How could it be broadened or narrowed? What organizations exist for this market and how many members do they have?
  • What indicators forecast a need for this book? (This includes blurbs from articles in national magazines and daily newspapers that relate to the topic.)
  • What other books already exist on shelves that are similar to this book, yet not quite the same angle as this book? (Go to your local bookstore or check online retailers for ideas.)

Tip Number 7: Plan to Listen
Have a few more tidbits to offer as far as why this book, why this book is perfect right now, or why you are the best person to write the book that you can mention if there is a spark of interest. But don’t try to cram in so much information that you forget to perk up your ears and listen to the most informed feedback you’re going to hear on your book concept.

So type up just three pages for your book concept, polish them, and be-come conversant on all of your key points. Because if you can treat your idea as a concept and not “your baby,” chances are very good that you will walk out of a conference with everything you need to know to revise your book concept into a book proposal that will sell. Good luck!
Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.

Set Yourself Apart From the Crowd: Pitch!

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101

By Christina Katz

In the pitching room at the annual conference, the ensuing seconds after a not-as-strong-as-it-could-be pitch are uncomfortable. The pitcher stands expectantly waiting while the agents and editors on the panel pause in an effort to choose just the right words to critique the pitch in the most educational way for all involved. For reasons not known to this writer, one of them usually opts—Simon Cowell-like—for brutal honesty to get his points across.

This scenario may explain why some of the most confident people I know balk at the prospect of pitching a book at a writer’s conference, while others get bitten swiftly by the pitching bug as soon as they give the idea consideration. Whether you feel nervous or brimming with bravado, take some wise advice from Edna ‘E’ Mode in the animated film The Incredibles, “Luck,” she says, “favors the prepared.”

Often the first person who needs convincing that you have a good idea to pitch is you. And often, you need to keep convincing yourself right up until the moment that you arrive at the conference and pitch…and pitch…and pitch some more. But seriously, what have you got to lose? And couldn’t you stand to gain quite a lot from the experience?

If you do your due diligence, you will feel more on a par with the agents and editors who come from all over the country to attend the conference. You will feel a lot less like give-me-a-book-deal-please (wince along with me, if you know the quiet desperation of which I speak) and a lot more like a writer-teetering-on-the-edge-of-author.

Of course, the only way to confidently project what sets you apart is to know what sets you apart so that you can leverage it and make the best impression possible. I have attended the open pitching session and heard writers offer up good ideas to the panel of agents and editors (though not all ideas were as well developed as others). In some cases, the writer was not as polished in her delivery or as poised as she could have been. In other cases, the writer was not prepared to explain why she was the best person to write and sell the book. Other writers could not explain why now was the right time for their idea. All of these bases will be covered briefly in a thorough pitch.

Scared yet? Or tempted to try pitching? Well, here is the good news: you (and only you) can control how prepared or unprepared you will be when and if you stand up in front of the small crowd in a conference room and pitch. (Thank goodness, right?) How much help will you solicit to get ready? How many friends-in-the-know will you run your pitch by? How many times will you polish it? Practice it? Rehearse it? The answer is until you have it down…and down flat.

Here are the three concepts your pitch must nail:

Why this book?
Why this book now?
Why this book by you now?

Your pitch will answer all three of these questions, not necessarily in this order.

Sue Lick, author of the forthcoming book Freelancing for Newspapers (Quill Driver Books, July 2007), complimented me for the pitch I gave at the 2005 conference that helped me capture Jane Friedman’s attention and eventually landed me a book deal with Writer’s Digest. So I figured why not share that pitch here? Elaura Niles and her husband Mark Renie helped me craft and polish this pitch in preparation for the conference:

Hi, I’m Christina Katz, a freelance writer for The Oregonian and mother of a toddler.

Three years ago I experienced the happiest moment of my life, fol-lowed by the most creativity-zapping, soul-sucking months from hell. I gave birth to my daughter, Samantha Rose, and my writing career, that I had spent years developing, disappeared into a black hole of diaper chang-es, marathon feedings, and sleep deprivation.

Since then I’ve learned how to balance motherhood and writing, pub-lishing hundreds of articles in daily newspapers, periodicals, and online magazines.

Last year my piece on working moms was one of the most popular on the Web and resulted in an interview with Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America.”

I teach other moms how to do what I did and continue to do on a daily basis. My book proposal is titled “The Busy Mom’s Guide to Free-lance: 24 Steps to a Profitable, Part-Time Writing Career.”

Pitching is nerve-wracking and perhaps that’s how the conference planners intend it. The prospect of pitching certainly gets folks pumped up to get in there and give it a try. But how do you make sure that you are the writer with the saleable idea delivered with enough poise that makes the panelists smile, nod their heads, and lean forward…and not the negative example that has them sharpening their critical cutlery?

You show up prepared. Be like the Mounties, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, Smokey the Bear and Scar in The Lion King. BE PREPARED. This means you not only know why you stand out in a crowd of experts with similar experience as you, you also know how and why your topic fills a void that has not yet been filled both in the world and on the bookshelves.

Another way to say this is that you are the right person with the right idea at the right time for a very specific readership. Or, at the very least, you have an old idea that has been out of print for some time and is ready to make a swift and sure comeback.

This is the beginning of finding your niche in the publishing landscape. If you can do it, you are probably going to land a book deal,––if not at the conference, then eventually. The only thing standing between you and a possible deal is research—something every writer knows how to do. Hallelujah!

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007). She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.

Ready, Set, Get Online!

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101
By Christina Katz

The Internet is a boon to your writing career, offering an infinite blank billboard upon which to shout your message from the metaphorical rooftops. But many writers balk at the prospect of developing an online presence. Some feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Internet vehicles like Web sites, blogs, forums, chat rooms, and electronic zines, just to mention a few. Others shy away from electronic innovations that pop up daily like YouTube, MySpace, podcasting, and goodness-knows-what’s-coming-next. How’s a busy writer to keep up?

Getting your name known online a little bit every day really adds up over the course of a year. You can get your name out there using both new and tried-and-true methods that anyone can master after only an hour or two of time invested. If you can dedicate fifteen minutes to a half hour a day to online platform development, you will be truly amazed at the trail of “online shingles” you’ll leave behind. Try a gradual approach and watch your influence and reputation ripple out across the ether over time.

And remember to have fun getting known, as we discussed last month. Internet vehicles are neutral. It’s the intention behind the expertise you offer—your sincerity, authenticity, and integrity that make the biggest impact. When you bring your unique personality, flair and mission to the virtual playing field, that’s what folks are going to remember.

When you begin with the easiest-to-build Internet vehicles and progress to more complex vehicles as you go, you will learn quickly and be able to apply what you learn from one experience to the next. Jump in and try these tools! I bet you’ll find yourself enjoying the process in no time.

Build a Squidoo Lens
Go to http://www.squidoo.com/member/registration and register to build a Squidoo “lens.” You can’t learn to swim without getting in the water and this is especially true for “Squids” (a name for Squidoo members). At Squidoo you can build what is called a “lens,” which is one page of information about the topic of your expertise. As you go along your merry lens-building way, you can add cool stuff like photos, text blocks, polls, Amazon recommendations, café press products, links, Google Maps, iTunes, and even eBay modules (that’s how you build a lens, with “modules”). Squidoo is not only free; your lens can actually make a little money for you and a good cause of your choice. Check out my Squidoo page as an example: http://www.squidoo.com/getnonfictionpublished and soon, you’ll be swimming with the Squids.

Claim Your Space
Go to http://signup.myspace.com. Don’t think of a laundry list of reasons why you don’t want to be on MySpace. It’s for everyone these days, not just teenagers. For example, visit my “Writer Mama” page at http://myspace.com/thewritermama. Also see my publisher’s page at www.myspace.com/wdbooks. See? Everyone else is doing it. Just be sure to put your professional face forward, otherwise you might be mistaken for someone who is there to hook up. Also MySpace may have some questionable copyright rules, so don’t put all of your best writing up there. It’s simply another billboard for the topic of your expertise and a great way to make lots of “friends” (you befriend them and they befriend you), whom you probably wouldn’t otherwise meet.

Start Blogging
I recommend WordPress.com for new bloggers because it has nice templates, many of which are customizable, and––best of all––allow you to categorize (tag) your blogs easily as you post. Compared to other blogging platforms, this makes the tagging process a relative joy. When you utilize tags in your blog, search engines like Google can find you that much more easily, which means folks searching for your topic on the Web can find you within twenty-four hours. And with WordPress, you can start blogging and probably blog for quite a while free, since payments are based on how much memory your blog uses. Here’s my wordpress blog: http://thewritermama.wordpress.com/. Also check out the Writer’s Digest Editor’s blog, which is a good example of a blog that feels more like a Web site: http://www.wdeditors.com/wordpress/.

Attract an Audience Through an E-zine
There are many e-zine communities that invite you to join, create, and send your own customized zine in either text or html formats. Though some of the old text formats used to be fine, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that when you are ready to launch an e-zine on your topic, it’s worth going with html format, which includes images. For example, by using a blog and an e-zine together, you’d hardly have a reason to have a Web site at all. This is good news, because most nice-looking Web sites are either labor-intensive or expensive to hire out. When you are ready to splurge for an html format newsletter, check out Constant Contact (http://www.constantcontact.com). Their online control panels are easy to use and they offer a free sixty-day trial. Willamette Writers uses Constant Contact for their announcements and now I use them for both of my zines, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama.

Use e-mail signatures like mini-press releases
E-mail signatures are a few lines that appear at the end of e-mails you send out. You can usually set them under the “Preferences” panel of your mail software. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to update them frequently, say once a month, in order to keep them brief while highlighting the most newsworthy things you have going on at any time. For example, I usually mention my upcoming classes, appearances, and a testimonial or two about Writer Mama in mine. I also typically list the link to Writers on the Rise, my blog, and whichever of my sites I am promoting most.

Try not to get distracted by the latest technological advances. A good place to keep tabs on what’s new is Suzanne Falter Barnes’ blog, Painless Self-Promotion (http://selfhelpsalon.typepad.com/painless_self_promo/). But don’t feel like you have to jump right on the latest online tools bandwagon just because everyone else is doing it. Give Web innovations some time to get the bugs out—usually a month or two—before you try the latest-greatest online gadgets.

Off you go, now! Have fun playing online.

Christina Katz is the author of Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writer’s Digest Books, March 2007).  She is a featured presenter at the Writer’s Digest/BEA Writer’s Conference, The Whidbey Island Writers Association MFA Residency, and the Willamette Writers Conference. She’s been teaching writing-for-publication classes for six years and has appeared on Good Morning America. She is also publisher and editor of this e-zine and another called The Writer Mama. Christina blogs daily at http://www.thewritermama.wordpress.com/. For more about Writer Mama, visit Christina’s website at http://www.thewritermama.com/.

Milk Your Expertise

cmkwritermama.gifPlatform Development 101
By Christina Katz

If you’ve been reading this column, you will not be surprised when I say that developing your platform can be a labor of love. In fact, developing your platform can almost feel like play. As ice cream entrepreneurs Ben and Jerry said, “If it’s not fun, why do it?”

I definitely second that emotion. Why? Because your audience can feel where you are coming from, so why not come from somewhere positive that adds more good to the world? If you choose a sustainable passion and act with gradually increasing momentum, your audience will feel like they are participating in something special and unique. But if you just “get a platform” because you intellectually know that you should, you may as well not even bother.

Did you know that before they were world-famous, Ben & Jerry started off selling ice cream cones in a converted gas station in Vermont, of all places? If they can build the kind of brand recognition and feel-good reputation they did, then I’m thinking that you and I should have a decent shot at identifying and delivering our expertise in a similarly serious yet lighthearted manner. No matter what your topic is, as long as there is a demand for it (even if your “demand” is as fleeting as a hot summer day in Vermont, and there aren’t too many of these every year), you can carve out a niche that will support your platform and help you reach potential readers.

So how can you test-drive this platform fun? Just rev your sustainable passion engines, identify the needs of your audience and begin filling those needs with what you already have. That’s an easy way to start. And then you can let your efforts evolve from there.

I’m going to list some platform-builders here. Don’t take any of them too seriously. Put a check beside every endeavor that sounds fun:

__ Public speaking
__ Manuscript evaluation
__ Teaching
__ Editing
__ Consulting
__ Copywriting
__ Co-authoring
__ Ghostwriting
__ Self-publishing

Here are a few examples from Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writers Digest Books, 2007):

Kelly James-Enger gives presentations on writing and fitness topics at colleges, libraries, and conferences. In addition to a successful writing career that has resulted in four non-fiction books and two fiction books, Kelly is a certified personal trainer and has been published in over fifty national magazines. (www.becomebodywise.com)

Manuscript evaluation: Elizabeth Lyon offers editing services and manuscript evaluation as part of her platform. She runs Editing International, which offers ser-vices including editing, coaching, group instruction, outsourcing, and writing, pro-vided by herself and her associate editors. Elizabeth has written five non-fiction books and presents at writers conferences around the country. (www.4-edit.com)

Teaching workshops or classes: You can teach classes independently, through an institution or organization or online. I teach e-mail classes through my Web site Writers on the Rise. I’ve taught adults live at a community college and indepen-dently via e-mail, each for three years. Last year, I branched out into conference presentations and speaking. This is my first book. (www.writersontherise.com)

Editing (freelance, contract basis, or as employee): Wendy Burt offers freelance editing to custom magazines along with her writing. The two services complement each other, so clients can hire Wendy to both generate content and manage it as well. Wendy’s experience as an author of two books has led her to edit books for other authors and to counsel authors on everything from book proposals to agents and foreign rights. Since she is used to soliciting work as a freelancer, she doesn’t maintain a Web site. She pitches her editing/writing services instead.

Consulting in your area of expertise: Jennifer Louden, the comfort expert, offers consulting services to companies like Proctor & Gamble, Johnny Rockets, and Spandex Fiber. She has also worked with associations like the National Council of the State Boards of Nursing. She has appeared on the Oprah Show, CNN, and CNBC and is the author of six books. (www.jenniferlouden.com)

Copywriting for businesses: In addition to writing for national magazines and teaching a writing class via e-mail, Linda Formichelli offers copywriting services to corporations. She’s penned brochures, newsletters, press releases, ad copy, radio scripts, and slogans for companies around the country. (www.lindaformichelli.com)

Co-authoring/Ghostwriting: Jenna Glatzer offers ghostwriting (writing for another person) and co-writing (working with another author) services. She’s written three non-fiction books for writers and one children’s book of her own. She has ghostwritten/co-authored five additional books (which sometimes carry “With Jenna Glatzer” and sometimes don’t carry her name at all). (www.jennaglatzer.com)

Self-Publishing (newsletters, e-books, and self-published books): C. Hope Clark publishes four newsletters for writers (paid and free). She has also published eleven e-books to help writers find funds and a self-published book, The Shy Writer. She also offers online chat sessions and writing contests for writers. (www.fundsforwriters.com)

But how are you going to get started? By starting small, that’s how. If you want to teach, write up a class synopsis and contact your local community college. If you want to consult, take a working consultant out for coffee and do an informational interview. Not sure if you’d like copywriting? Visit someone’s business writing site and check out the samples. Think you could have fun doing any of these things? Then why not try?

Once you’ve determined the direction or directions you would like to move in, simply take one step a day until you’re doing it. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can go from conception to manifestation when you have the energy of enthusiasm behind your intention. And once you get started, remind yourself to have fun, have fun, have fun!

Because if it’s not fun, why do it?

Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids teaches, speaks, coaches, and inspires writers to new career heights. She is publisher and editor of two e-mail newsletters, Writers on the Rise and The Writer Mama. Christina strives to balance her roles as a wife, mother, and multiple pet-owner with her calling as a writer and writing career synergizer. She cherishes the reflective moments cultivated in the corners of an otherwise busy life, preferably with a cup of tea, pen and pad of paper handy.


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  • This Blog Moving to ChristinaKatz.com as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: http://christinakatz.com. And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
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