Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Big Goal: An Installation in Parts

When I stood below this massive Dave Chiluly glass installation at The Joslyn Art Museum, I wondered how in the world he managed such graceful execution with all these very unique and intricate pieces of blown glass. Looking at it from a distance, it's breathtaking. Standing directly underneath with your eyes turned upward, a nose away from the smoothness of one of his curly, balloon-like pieces of Technicolor glass, it feels like you're about to be swallowed by a most bizarre tidal wave.

Looking at publishing from a distance is pretty cool, too. Getting nose close to the reality of all you need to do to be a successful writer can be, well, overwhelming.

Ok, let's be honest. Who here feels like the proverbial frightened babe in the woods after researching all the trade how-to-sign-with-an-agent or how-to-get-published articles and blogs (ahem...) to find that this gig you're so passionate about is so totally time consuming and hard! There's tons of advice to follow (some good, some bad), everybody's suggesting helpful webinars (some worth checking out), weekend literary conferences (again, worth your time)....there's just so much advice to follow and stuff to remember! And you feel like you need to do it all! And then...somehow you lose sight of why you're doing this exactly because you're focused on the mountain of work that's piled ahead of you instead of your big dream.

Step back from the big picture. Give yourself some distance. Turn off your computer, my dears, and take a breather from your feeds (after you read this, that is!). Relax a minute and reconnect to why you're on this path and where you see yourself going...don't concern yourself with all the how-to stuff. Don't get me wrong...there's lots of really great information and resources out there, but sometimes, one can become overloaded and overwhelmed with this well-meaning stuff.

We're talking about goals in the writer's life all month. As I wrote in my previous post, when I chat with new clients, our initial conversation is usually filled with me getting a good sense about where they want to go with their writing. I ask a lot of questions. Some writers know exactly what they want and just need someone to help keep them focused and on track. Others know what genre they want to become well-known within but don't know how to approach the publishing industry, while others still are finding their unique voices. Whatever the stage, the method of creating the goal is the same. Take the big picture goal and break it down into bite sized pieces. Then, go after your goal one piece at a time. Nothing new here, writers, but it's worth repeating.

What does that look like for you?

Nonfiction writers, listen up!

Before you dive into writing your how-to (prescriptive) book, look at the big picture from a distance. What does your ideal how-to book writing career look like? Traditionally, the portrait of a nonfiction writer looks like a very busy professional expert who has written a book based on their years of research and professional practice. Usually this writer began their career as X expert and eventually added a blog, a slew of magazine pieces on their subject of specialization, maybe even a regular column. They're not afraid to get in front of a crowd and preach their message or share their stories to roomfuls of people. This breed of writer usually comes to publishing after already establishing their professional base.

Now step closer to this picture and answer these questions: What makes me an expert in my field and am I recognized as such? Am I communicating to my core audience effectively? Do I have a book-buying following? Can I fill a room with those who will care to listen to my message and will they line up to buy my book? Am I professionally, emotionally and financially prepared to fulfill a publisher's contract should a publisher make me an offer?

If you answered in the affirmative to these questions and/or were able spit out some impressive numbers and stats about your core audience you've already built a relationship with, skip to the next paragraph and read on. For those of you unsure of how to answer, start with square one: Are you expert enough to write the book you want to write? Are you a credible source? Do you have special training, years of expertise in your field, advanced degrees and/or other endorsements? Most authors who approach the publishing world need to build this very important piece of their publishing goal - their platform. If your overall training and platform are in need of development, put your book on the backburner for now. Focus on your development in your field, then focus on gathering a following. When you've done that, then start thinking about your book proposal. No traditional publisher will invest in an author lacking in professional credibility and following.

Your task of creating a nonfiction book proposal and sample chapters is pretty formulaic. Get the books you need or hire a professional to help craft this formula. Get familiar with the formula and then most importantly, insert your voice and personality into your proposal. It's an agent and editor's preview of your book's voice and how you'll present in person at your events. Keep your voice consistent to the message of the book and ultimately authentic to you...while remaining polished and professional, of course.

Let the Research Begin!

Now it's time to decide what avenue you want to explore in getting your book published. Not every writer is sold on the benefit of having an agent but many feel having an educated advocate for their book is the only way to go. Research the possibilities and do what feels right to you. Can you sell your book to a publisher without the help of an agent? Yes, but it's up to you to really do your research to make sure you're approaching editors appropriately and getting the best possible deal for your work. Will an agent help this process of finding a publisher move along more quickly and help make the whole process a lot less overwhelming? Maybe and yes. A reputable agent will do their best to sell your work no matter how long it takes. Obviously they want to sell it as soon as possible because that's how they earn their supper, but it could take a week to two years or more to sell a work depending on many variables outside their control. Will they make the process less overwhelming for you? If you find a good one, yes.

But maybe you want to self-publish or only have your book available as an e-book. My goodness, the trade news is flooded with success stories about authors taking their publishing dream in their own hands and self-publishing their book. This avenue will work well if you're willing to hire additional experts to help shape you and your work into bestselling material and a PR team who will get your book noticed. If you go this route, be ready to invest financially in your publishing success. Plan wisely.

All You Fiction Writers in The House!

The question I'm often met with varying degrees of "ummms" and "weeellls" is who do you want to write for? Knowing your audience is the second most important thing to know after the Why do I want to write? soul searching question. Who is your audience? What books do they buy? What are their interests? What moves them? How do they buy books? Time to think like a marketer for a bit, my dears. I know, it's so icky, but guess what...that's publishing. If you're unsure, look at your favorite authors for guidance. What's the common thread holding their work together? Do they skip around from genre to genre? Not usually. If they do, they've already built a name for themselves and have a huge following. Talk to your local bookseller. Ask them what sells and what doesn't.

Next, create authentically for your audience. Craft and revise until the work you have is as perfect as you're going to get it. Set deadlines for yourself all along the way and stick to them! Then, craft your pitch letter and ONE PAGE synopsis you'll eventually send to the right agents, if you so choose. Have these two pieces read and critiqued by several well-read, professional people you trust. Nothing is more of a turn-off for an agent or editor to get a revised synopsis or sample pages after they've already received these drafts once. Suzy Vitello Soule, a TLCG contributor, told me her approach to writing and pitching is measure twice, cut once. Wise advice. You only get one shot with an agent or editor, unless they see real promise in your work and are willing to take another look after you've revised your work based on their recommendations...but that's rare. So be like Suzy, measure twice, cut once.

Or maybe you'd like to self-publish or e-book it. Like I said above to the nonfiction writers, this route can really work in your favor if you're willing to bring on additional pros to help shape your book into something truly polished and compelling. Bring on that PR agent to start talking you and your book up before the book pubs and that short window of time after. Or, research how to do this yourself and successfully publish and promote your work solo.

Altogether Now!

No matter what kind of writer you are, step back from your big dream long enough to see how all the pieces fit together. Then step forward and take it apart. Work on putting this big goal of yours together one piece at a time.

Look at that amazing structure above. It was put together piece by piece by an artist who knew everything about his craft and where he was going with it. What a stunning accomplishment!

Your Action: Today, take apart your goal. Write down what steps you'll need to take to achieve that goal giving yourself deadlines along the way. Commit to taking the necessary action to achieve those mini-goals. Throw just as much passion and energy into achieving these small goals as you would your writing. Most importantly, when you've achieved these mini-goals, REWARD YOURSELF however you see fit. Tell somebody about it! Be proud of what you've accomplished! This is not an easy path, writers, you need all the positive reinforcement you can get.

Remember, you'll reach your BIG goal only through reaching all your little goals.

Have an absolutely wonderful, fruitful weekend, writers!



  1. This is incredibly good stuff! I plan to dissect it bit by bit this weekend. Thanks for a comprehensive break-down! I find your blog extremely useful!

  2. Thanks, Jill! I'm glad you do. Good luck!


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