Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran

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Gaughran’s earlier book, LET’S GET DIGITAL, taught writers how to publish an ebook. But what then? Books won’t get discovered by readers without some work by the author. Overwhelmed with the urge to do something, many writers resort to cheap, easy, but ultimately ineffective ways to promote books. Let’s face it, tweeting “Buy my book!” every day won’t win anyone new fans. In LET’S GET VISIBLE, Gaughran offers true promotion plans that show writers how to connect with readers, not annoy them.

Gaughran begins by dissecting the kindle ecosystem. Amazon has many ways to connect readers with the books they are most likely to buy, but the algorithms are confusing for authors. Gaughran discusses the various list (bestseller, popularity, movers and shakers, hot new releases) and shows how to give your book its best shot at hitting a list. He also breaks down some of the myths that surround Amazon and its recommendation engine.

Next, he covers pricing, and how to change prices for maximum sales. Self-publishers, especially those whose books are exclusive to Amazon, have a great deal of flexibility about pricing, and the price you set today doesn’t have to be the price you charge tomorrow. Gaughran advises “pulsing” the price up and down depending on a variety of factors. Everyone loves a bargain, and putting your book on sale–when done correctly–can give it a real boost. He follows up with a chapter on advertising. After all, what good is a sale if no one knows about it?

It all comes together with a final chapter on launch strategy. Gaughran shows writers what to do in those crucial few days when a book is brand new. He suggests a slow approach, rolling out news and promotion over several days (or weeks) to make sure a book doesn’t shoot up the charts too quickly. A slower climb means a slower fall and is better in the long run.

LET’S GET VISIBLE is an ambitious book, and reading it, one might think that every writer who follows Gaughran’s advice is destined for the bestseller list. (He signs off with, “No more excuses. See you at the top of the charts!”) Simple math tells us that’s not true, since there are more books than bestseller spots. However, by following Gaughran’s advice, your book will do much better than it otherwise would, and is a far, far better option than chasing down readers through ineffective promotion or annoying them on social media. In fact, Gaughran doesn’t want you to chase readers at all. LET’S GET VISIBLE is all about helping readers find you.

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LET’S GET VISIBLE can be found here.

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rating: 4 stars

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This book is best for: advanced writers

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I recommend this book.

Rock your Query by Cathy Yardley

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ROCK YOUR QUERY is my favorite kind of ebook. It’s short, to the point, with all the information a writer needs and none that she doesn’t. I appreciate Yardley’s straightforward approach. The only drawback to the short-and-sweet style is that Yardley doesn’t include many examples. Even so, beginning writers should have no problem writing their own queries using her method.

A query (a one-page letter introducing your novel to agents and editors) is not a complicated document. It has three parts: an introduction, a mini synopsis, and a closing paragraph. Of the three, the introduction is the hardest to get right. Yardley shows writers how to use that first paragraph to hook an agent or editor. She suggests a very, very brief middle paragraph, as short as three sentences. Although I personally think a writer has a bit more room than that, I can’t argue with Yardley, since she shows how to make those three sentences say it all. The closing paragraph is where the writer gives her credentials, showing that she is a pro, or at least has pro work habits.

Yardley also helps with other parts of a query package, since some editors or agents also want a full synopsis and/or sample pages. She does a superior job helping writers figure out what to leave in and (more importantly) what to leave out of their synopses. ROCK YOUR QUERY ends with a bit about the sample pages, helping writers overcome common problems.

There is a lot of information in books and on the internet about query writing, some of it useful, some of it fluff. I’d put ROCK YOUR QUERY in the useful category. It has everything a new writer needs to know to write this maddening document. Making the query rock? Well, that’s up to you.

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ROCK YOUR QUERY can be found here.

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rating: 4 stars

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This book is best for: beginning writers

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I recommend this book

The Order of Things by Barbara Ann Kipfer

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Like most writers, I love lists. I love to know the relationship of one thing to another. THE ORDER OF THINGS is a fat book full of lists that is supposed to show the structure, hierarchy and pecking order of everything.  While some of the lists do just that, most of them do not.

The lists range from the interesting (boat and ship classification) to the silly (all the answers from a magic 8 ball). The problem is, Kipfer tries to impose an order where none exists. For example, there is a list of the eleven brightest stars in the night sky. However, knowing that Sirius is brighter than Vega doesn’t really tell you anything. Likewise, knowing that a tuba has 13-14 inches of tubing while a trumpet has 4-5 inches doesn’t put them into any kind of hierarchy. And I really don’t know why anyone except a McDonald’s line cook would need to know the order of assembly for a Big Mac. It’s as if Kipfer is trying to jazz up a dry list of lists. The result is a mishmash that is too dull to be truly entertaining, while also too lightweight to be truly useful.

As expected, the most thorough chapters were those on the military, government and sports. Those are places where the hierarchy is strict, confusing, and crucial to know. Kipfer’s lists would be helpful to anyone trying to sort out a chief warrant officer from a chief master sergeant, or a judo yellow belt from a judo green belt.

But none of this information is difficult to find. When looking for facts like this, my first instinct is to run for the computer, not the bookshelf. THE ORDER OF THINGS may be interesting at times, but in this age of Google, it’s hardly necessary. There is nothing here that I couldn’t find on my own with a few clicks of the mouse.

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THE ORDER OF THINGS can be found here.

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rating: 2 stars

 

Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds by Michael Hague

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SELLING YOUR STORY IN 60 SECONDS is a book about pitching, which is the art of briefly describing your book/screenplay/story in such a compelling way that the listener wants to read your work. Screenwriters have always given verbal pitches, but more and more novelists are getting into the act. At most writer’s conferences and some genre conferences, pitching to literary agents and book editors is the centerpiece of the weekend. It seems awkward to describe a written work with spoken words, but it’s a great skill to have. At some point, every author will be asked, “What is your book about?” It’s important to be able to sum up a story quickly.

SELLING YOUR STORY IN 60 SECONDS has incredible focus. Hague is only telling readers how to pitch. Not how to write a screenplay or novel, not how to find an agent, not how to work with people in the business. Hague zeroes in on those ten minutes of a writer’s life when he’s sitting across from an agent or movie executive.

Hague outlines the ten key components of a story, then shows how they can be mixed and matched into an effective pitch. He also covers what to bring to a pitch, how to begin, how to end, and how to maintain confidence in the scariest moment of a writer’s life.

After a solid start full of useful information on pitch construction, the second half of SELLING YOUR STORY IN 60 SECONDS felt flimsy in comparison. Hague gives lip service to novels, but it’s clear that he’s only talking to screenwriters. He goes into great details about where to find opportunities to pitch, but many of his ideas seem like a stretch. (Video stores? Telephone research? Really?)

The book ends with forty pages of quotes from movie executives and literary agents. Hague asked all of them the same two questions: what are some common weaknesses in pitching and what was the best pitch they’d ever heard. The answers, as expected, are similar. Since Hague already spent the previous chapters telling writers what does and does not work, there is no need to repeat that same information. Hague is padding what would otherwise be a too-short book, with the added benefit of sucking up to the “experts.”

Even so, the first half of this slim volume is well worth the price. With Hague’s information, a writer can learn to pitch a story in person, or use his tips to write an extremely effective query letter.

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SELLING YOUR STORY IN 60 SECONDS can be found here.

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rating: 4 stars

 

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This book is best for: advanced writers

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I recommend this book

Platform: Get Noticed In a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt

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“Platform” has become the buzzword in publishing circles. Every agent and editor tells writers they need one, but few tell them how to build one. PLATFORM is a straightforward guide to building a solid platform. This is the book for people who don’t know where to begin (read: most novelists). There are a lot of things a writer can do to increase visibility and Hyatt details every single one. I took two pages of notes and have only begun to implement Hyatt’s suggestions. PLATFORM is firmly new media, telling writers how to set up a blog and maintain an active presence online. There is no information here about older forms of marketing, such as ads or book signings–a refreshing change from other marketing books.

Platform building starts all the way back at the product itself. If your product doesn’t have what Hyatt calls the “wow factor,” then no amount of hype will elevate it. As authors, we should always start with our books. If they aren’t the absolute best books we can envision, we shouldn’t even try to market them.

Hyatt goes on to explain some behind-the-scenes basics, like head shots and elevator pitches. These are things a writer needs before launching into any kind of online presence. From there, Hyatt tackles the online world, with an emphasis on blogging. He also covers the basics of Twitter and Facebook, but mainly as vehicles to drive traffic to a writer’s blog.

Ironically, I did not pick up PLATFORM because of Hyatt’s platform. Before buying the book, I had never read Hyatt’s blog, did not follow him on social media, and had no idea he was the chairman of a large publishing company. So what made me buy PLATFORM? I spotted it on a “recommended for you” page on Amazon. Does that mean Hyatt’s platform didn’t work? Not necessarily. Hyatt gave away hundreds of advanced-review copies to generate good endorsements and a successful book launch. As all writers know, when it comes to books, being visible on Amazon is the best platform of all.

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PLATFORM can be found here.

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rating: 4 stars

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This book is best for: advanced writers

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I recommend this book.

The Author’s Marketing Handbook by Claire Ryan

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Claire Ryan markets books for a living, so she seems the ideal person to write a how-to guide on the topic. I’ve read dozens of books about marketing for writers. THE AUTHOR’S MARKETING HANDBOOK is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s full of straightforward advice without a bit of fluff or self-praise. Too many authors of these kinds of books want to trumpet their own success as if it can be perfectly duplicated by another writer. Ryan never falls into this trap. She never gives “case studies.” She never uses her own clients as examples. She simply tells what works, and why.

Ryan’s focus is on new-media marketing. She knows that old-school methods like book signings or press releases are irrelevant today. THE AUTHOR’S MARKETING HANDBOOK is focused on what’s effective right now.

The best chapters teach authors how to set up a website or blog and how to use social media. Ryan gives practical, step-by-step instruction. She does not go into the nuts and bolts of creating a website because that information is available everywhere and it’s different for each platform. Instead, she explains the things a website should include and why. What are readers looking for when they visit your site? Are you giving it to them?

I really liked Ryan’s take on social media. Too many writers treat social media like a promotional bullhorn. Ryan’s approach is low-key all the way. Rather than spamming your friends, you should barely mention your book unless you have a special promotion going on. In other words, only mention it when there is something in it for the reader, not the author. The same thing goes for blogging and commenting on other people’s blogs. The key is to become a good citizen of the online writing community. Readers want to buy books from writers they like, not from writers who treat them as nothing more than an open wallet.

A person will need a good amount of tech smarts to implement all of Ryan’s suggestions. I’m tech-savvy and I still needed to re-read several sections. Still, with a little patience and some smart googling, a writer shouldn’t have too much trouble.

If all this seems like it takes a lot of time and effort, that’s because it does. There are no shortcuts. It’s always been difficult to market books effectively, and it’s getting harder every day. But with the help of THE AUTHOR’S MARKETING HANDBOOK, a writer can be assured that all the effort is worth it.

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THE AUTHOR’S MARKETING HANDBOOK can be found here.

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rating: 5 stars

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This book is best for: advanced writers

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I recommend this book

The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

Betsy Lerner won me over on page seven of THE FOREST FOR THE TREES with these words: “As far as I’m concerned, writers have very little choice in what they write. Nor will I Strunk you over the head with rules about style.” I immediately knew this would be a different kind of how-to book, one more concerned with how people write than what they write. Instead of rules, Lerner discusses two very important things in this book. The first half is about writers’ personalities, and how those personalities intersect with the page. The second half is about the publishing business from an editor’s point of view. It seems like the two topics are incompatible, but it works. THE FOREST FOR THE TREES is a wise guide, helping writers get a clear-eyed look at the whole process, from pen to bookshelf.

According to Lerner, there are six kinds of writers. The ambivalent writer flits from project to project, rarely finishing anything. The natural has tons of talent and writes easily, but unless it’s married to a hearty work ethic, all the ability in the world will not help. The wicked child delights in exposing secrets, especially family secrets. The self-promoter seeks fame through good writing, but can easily seek fame instead of good writing. The neurotic worries about everything; most develop elaborate rituals (called their “process”) to cope with the anxiety. Then there’s the most difficult type of all–the addicted and/or depressed. Alcohol and drug use is legendary among writers, and many live with depression.

Lerner is careful not to condemn writers for any of these behaviors. Neither good nor bad, they simply are. But understanding the pitfalls of each type can help writers avoid the most damaging of aspects of them. One could even learn to thrive within them.

Part two covers the machinations and intrigues of the publishing business. Publishing has changed radically since 2000, when THE FOREST FOR THE TREES was written, yet it’s still relevant for writers who seek a big New York contract. If anything, things are more intense now. So, when Lerner discusses the slowness of agent responses or the fact that real editing has become a luxury, writers should not only pay attention, but read every sentence as if it’s in bold type.

Yet Lerner never takes herself, or her craft, too seriously. Her love for writing and writers shows through on every page. She calls books “the brilliant conspiracy between author and reader.” She also says, “All people write what they know, for God’s sake. It’s the air you breathe.” I’m glad that Lerner wrote what she knew in THE FOREST FOR THE TREES, so that we could all benefit from her eloquence and wisdom.

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THE FOREST FOR THE TREES is available here.

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rating: 4 stars

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This book is best for: intermediate writers

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I recommend this book.