Sunday, August 8, 2010

Let's Get Clear: The Business of Writing

First off, a warm welcome and hello to those who’re newly joining us internationally from the U.K., Australia, Belgium, Mexico and Portugal! I’m thrilled you’ve stopped by – thanks for reading! I’d love to hear about what you’re working on.

Ok, back to why we’re here…

Clarity in a writer’s life is a multi-faceted and precious commodity. Last week I discussed with you why that is and gave you action steps toward gaining Clarity – in body, mind, soul and creative space, for the best possible writer’s life. If you haven’t yet read last week’s blogshop, please do so and commit to at least one Clarity Action Step. You’ll see and feel the difference!

This week, we’re focusing on being clear about the business of writing – what you’re really getting into and how to best prepare yourself for your own success.

This week’s blogshop isn’t going to cover the nuts and bolts about how to get a book published – there are plenty of books on the market that cover the topic thoroughly. What I'm going to share with you is publishing world reality – the stuff they don’t teach you in MFA programs (and I have absolutely nothing against MFA programs). The reality of publishing today is one where the writer must wear many hats – not to mention handle all their daily responsibilities as well as raise a family, hold down a job, etc. Today’s writer can’t afford to just write and let their publisher handle the rest. It just doesn’t happen anymore. They research, write, edit, negotiate deals, promote, and let’s not forget, sell! It’s a lot of work – but FUN work! What else would you rather do with all that talent?!

Let’s begin with the three pillars of the most successful writing career possible: Researching, Writing and Connecting, which all take time, energy and effort. Literary Agent, Arielle Eckstut, writes about these three pillars in her book, Putting Your Passion Into Print: Get Your Book Published Successfully – an absolute must read. To thrive in today’s super competitive and quickly changing publishing climate, plan on spending most of your time on these three things:

Research. Research can mean anything from looking into subject matter you’re not well versed in to looking up facts that will back up the message of your nonfiction how-to book. Research in this context means searching for and finding the right facts and material you need to beef up your book. Research also means learning about the literary agent you want to represent your work; start with the books you love that have been recently published – read the acknowledgement section to see if the author thanked their agent. If you loved the book and found it similar to the one you’re working on, put that agent’s name down on your “Agents to Research” list and start doing your homework. You can also find out more about agents on several websites: Publishers Marketplace; Chuck Sambuchinos’s Guide to Literary Agents; Publishers Weekly and many books at your local bookseller, library or I’m sure, now downloadable on your e-reader of choice.

Research also means knowing which publisher would be right for your book. Which publisher’s stamp do you see branded on your book’s spine? This is helpful information to share with the agent you’re pitching. Also, you must research your rights as a writer – yes, you have them! Don’t forget this step, my dears. Check out AAR, the industry standard in outlining ethical agent/author relationships and contractual agreements. While many good agents are not paid members of AAR, most agents are aware of AAR and follow their guidelines. Don’t miss this step. Did you know it’s unethical for an agent to charge reading fees or other a la carte services, such as editing or proposal crafting? If you didn’t, spend some good quality time on the AAR site.

Without research in all areas, you’re building your writing career on sand. Know your craft, know who you’re dealing with and know your rights.

Writing. It’s what you do best – this is the easy, no-brainer pillar to build, right? Writing is like exercise, though; you’ve got to work the craft regularly in order to grow stronger as a writer. But you’re not just working on what you love to write, you need to practice writing one page synopses and one page cover letters as well. These one page wonders are just as important as your book – executed well, it’s what gets you in the agent or editor’s door. I can’t stress this enough – learning how to craft a killer one page cover letter and synopsis is an art form in and of itself. Think of these as the best commercial ad you've ever seen. Consider this skill just as important as writing the book itself. Even if you’ve already landed an agent, keep working on your synopsis…because you’ll still have to write one even once you’re with a great agent.

Connecting. This seems to be a tough step for some writers, but a very necessary one. While one writer may have several hundred friends on their various social networking sites, another may have a hard time putting him or herself out there to meet others. While this may be just an education issue – knowing where and how to start reaching out to other writers, your audience, experts who could help, agents and editors, lack of confidence is usually the root of the problem. You don’t want to put yourself in a place where you may be rejected because rejection equals failure and that hurts. It’s never fun to be turned down and it’s totally frustrating to just not hear back from the person you contacted, which makes you think all kinds of silly things are happening that aren’t. But you must learn not to take it personally. As a writer you MUST connect with others to workshop, research, seek guidance, find opportunities, promote, sell and thrive. Consider this all a part of making new friends.

When in doubt, email. I confess, I didn’t particularly like to hear from writers just calling out of the blue when I was in the middle of putting a proposal together or pitching to editors. As long as your approach is polished, professional and concise, you’ll be in great shape! Here’s where writing outside your genre comes in handy – learn how to write a stellar can’t-refuse-to-get-to-know-me email. Start putting yourself out there. Start connecting, if you haven’t already. Consider rejection or lack of communication as just another part of the business. After all, if you plan on sending your work out to agents and/or editors, chances are your work will be turned down and you know what? You’ll be fine! Just say, "Next!" and move on. You're too busy to get caught up in a pity party. If you’ve already begun connecting like a literary pro, excellent work! Keep going! You can never have enough friends who know about your book and what else you’ve got cooking. Plus, you may learn a thing or two. Know a writer who could use a little help connecting? Reach out to THEM and invite them to join an event or workshop.

If you’re still stumped with how to get out of your shell and connect, let me know. I’m happy to offer more tips that suit your situation.

If you’re in this career for the long haul, you need an abundance energy and effort. Time is limited, so manage it well. Agents look for writers who will put in the extra effort and go the extra mile to make their book and their career a success. Leave your excuses at the door. Know this dream can’t succeed without your muscle. I spoke with a writer this weekend who self-published his book several months ago and is in the middle of his self-funded and promoted book tour. While he’s not attracting a John Grisham crowd just yet, he’s selling an average of 20 books per signing – to strangers – did I mention it’s a novel?! He’s got a goal in mind – he wants to sell 5,000 copies of his novel in the next six months and he’ll stop at nothing. He knows what he wants – he’s clear about his goal. Bravo! I have no doubt he’ll reach it.

Are you ready to start building your pillars?

Your exercise this week: Take out a sheet of paper and make three columns. Write Research, Writing and Connecting across the top of the paper, over the columns. Think of several ways you can take action in all three areas and write them down. Highlight one in each column you plan to do this week and get started building your pillars for a successful writing career. Let me know how it goes!

Have any Research, Writing or Connecting tips or stories you’d like to share? Post them here!

Have a fruitful week, writers!



  1. Thanks for posting this on WD!

    I am writing a book with a friend, and our research shows that the angle of our book's topic is quite original. The topic itself, personalities, has been written about numerous times though.We are writing our book in a humorous and conversational way, and do not want it to get bogged down in physcology babble.

    Should we include some notable books on personalities in our competitive analysis?

    Thanks in advance!

  2. Thanks for the question and stay tuned on Monday for the answer.


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