listen to the customer


 

An author platform is a means of bringing your book, work, and brand to the attention of potential book buyers.

 

Building an author platform means figuring out how what you have to say fits in with the needs of book buyers—and figuring out how to get the word out to those book buyers via a platform. To start building an author platform, follow these 7 steps and begin to create a following for your book now, regardless of where you are in the process of writing it.

 

Step 1: Begin speaking and writing about your story and the topic of your book if you haven’t already. If you’re writing a memoir to inspire other women to take control of their finances after a financial crisis, get your thoughts together and try them out on a Facebook page or a blog attached to a simple website. If you want to write a memoir based on your experiences, start writing—and start talking about your experience with others online and in person. Discover where people interested in what you want to say congregate in the real world and in the virtual world. Summarize your topic in a few words and do a Google search. What pages come up? Where are people finding information about your topic?

 

Step 2: Analyze the market.  What are others with messages and stories like yours doing to get the word out? What social media do they use? How do they connect with their followers? Women over 40 are the biggest book buying demographic. They love Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube. LinkedIn and Instagram are options, too, as is Twitter. Figure out where people are talking about your topic and get active on that social media site. You don’t have to have accounts on all of them or be active on all of them, but you do have to be out there and see what people are saying.

 

Step 3: Put down the megaphone for a minute. Communication is a two-way street. Yes, you have something to say, but you also need to listen to your followers and potential book buyers. How are you going to connect with them in such a way that you aren’t just talking AT them but WITH them? How can you use social media or a blog to hear from them? How can you do a workshop with them to hear their questions for you? What do THEY need from you, your work, and your book?

 

Step 4: Brand yourself, your story, and your work. If you do public speaking on a topic, or have a professional reputation that’s integral to the book you wish to write, you already have a brand, although it may need some tweaking. A brand is an identity or image. What is your public image? How do you get it across on your Facebook page, YouTube Channel, or website and blog that you showcase you to people outside of family and friends? If you have no brand and no public image that strangers who would be interested in your work and your book can access online, you need to get one—now.

 

Step 5: Find or tweak your tagline, hook, or title. If you write on parenting, what type of parent are you? What is your message to other parents? How can you sum it up in a few words that will resonate emotionally for other parents who would be interested in your work and your book? If you have a hook already, is it working for you? Did you outgrow it? Is it hard for people to remember? Too much like someone else’s trademark? Play with it! Get a great tagline, hook, or title.

 

Step 6: Develop an online presence. It’s not enough to be out and about in the real world talking about your story and your ideas. You must have an online presence that includes social media accounts. Join the conversation about your topic that is unfolding online. Social media not only allows you to express yourself but also allows you to get feedback and questions from others. Your fans can easily share your posts and videos with others and do publicity work for you. Don’t delay creating an online presence just because you’re not sure how to go about it. You can get started with a website and blog and begin blogging. Go to WordPress.com and begin WordPress blog. Or, start with a public Facebook page for your work or idea, and ask people you know are interested in the topic to follow it and like, share, and comment on your posts. (You’ll find practical tips for making that happen in my eBook 25 Powerful Ways to Get Engagement on Facebook.) YouTube is now the #2 search engine on the web (behind Google), so create some videos and a YouTube Channel. (Here is my own YouTube channel for Nancy Peske, the Sensory Smart Parent, if you want to get some ideas.) Do a browser search for tips on how to blog, how to make a video blog, how to upload a video to YouTube, and how to use Facebook. Ask a friend to help you. Take a webinar or teleseminar. Buy a book on social media. Or hire me to help you strategize your social media and online presence. I’ll get you started!

 

Step 7: Pay close attention to what other, similar authors are doing. Check out some of the social media pages, websites, and blogs you follow for ideas. And take a look at these examples of hooks and brands some of my clients have created, and created an online presence for:

 

Author Victoria Treadwell has a website that will tell you all about her marvelous 30,000-word memoir of helping her husband triumph over brain cancer, called Love & Grit.

 

When Mama Can’t Kiss It Better: A Journey of Unconditional Love, Loss, and Acceptance by Lori Gertz has a Facebook page.  Her blog, where she writes pieces about her experience having to un-adopt the daughter she dearly loves, can be found at www.lorigertz.com

Intuitive counselor Tara Taylor, whose tagline is Be the Master of Your Life, has a website at http://www.tarataylor.ca and public Facebook page for herself as an author.  Tara’s personal life, which led to the coaching and counseling work she does, was fictionalized into a paranormal YA series beginning with the book Through Indigo’s Eyes which was cowritten with Lorna Nicholson Schultz.

 

Kathi Casey, The Healthy Boomer Body Expert, has a website at www.kathicasey.com  Her Facebook page is Kathy Casey, Your Healthy Boomer Body Expert.  And she has a YouTube channel featuring videos demonstrating her work. Her book is Stop Back Pain! and its website is www.kissbackpaingoodbye.com

 

Debbie Magids, psychologist, uses The Total Health Prescription as her tagline and her name as her website, www.drdebbie.com  Her Facebook page is Dr. Debbie Magids Her book, available in bookstores, in online bookstores, and through her site, is All the Good Ones AREN’T Taken. 

 

Elena Mannes, Mannes Productions, wrote the book The Music Instinct, available in bookstores, online, and through her website: She has a website for her work as a documentarian at www.mannesproductions.com

 

Carl Greer, author of Change Your Story, Change Your Life and Change the Story of Your Health from Findhorn Press, has a website at www.carlgreer.com and a Facebook page for Carl Greer, Author  as well as a Twitter account. Carl Greer began his website, blog, and Facebook page after writing his book and before creating and sending out his first book proposal.

 

I began creating my website, www.nancypeske.com, and this blog  in 2009 in order to help people learn about my work and get guidance on how to write a book, get it published, and market it. I have a Facebook page for my work as a ghostwriter and developmental editor, called Nancy Peske, Literary Editor.  I  love to hear what people have to say, and I solicit feedback to help me become better at serving their needs and doing what I do.

Nancy Peske Developmental Editor

Developmental editing, ghostwriting, and book publishing consultation are key to my brand.

 

Your platform won’t build itself, and you don’t have to wait to get your book written to start creating it. Take action now to build your platform! And follow this blog, as well as my Facebook page, for more helpful tips on building a platform, writing a book, and getting your book published. Just sign up at www.NancyPeske.com AND you’ll get a free report on how to find the right publisher for YOU! And check out my ebook 25 Powerful Ways to Get Engagement on Facebook.

 

Any other questions on platform building? Feel free to ask a question here in the comments!

Wrapping up a book project is always bittersweet for me. As a developmental editor, I’m like a book’s “midwife”: I’m happy to see the baby born into the world, but sad that my role in helping the author go from a book idea to a book is over. After a book is completed, I try to take some time to revel in the pleasure of having helped yet another author get that book written and ready for publication. Then, I take some time to ponder what I learned from the experience. One of my most recent projects yielded the following testimonial, which hints at five keys to making your self-help book a huge success:

 

“I have longed dreamed of the day when writing a book wouldn’t be so difficult. When I discovered Nancy, that dream became a reality. She is a treasure whose organizational, research, and editorial skills are unmatched. Plus she’s fun!!” Christiane Northrup, MD, author of Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being 

 

What a marvelous endorsement! I’m deeply grateful to Dr. Christiane Northrup for her enthusiastic words. She’s always been a cultural innovator and knows how to connect her message with a book-buying audience.

 

So what are the five keys to making YOUR self-help book a huge success?

 

1. Have fun. Seriously, have fun. Don’t believe all those quotations by writers who talk about the agony of writing. If writing is agony for you, you need to look at why you’re doing it and what you need to heal in yourself to make the process a joy. Does your inner critic need to pipe down? Maybe you need to say, “Thank you for your concern, but I’m an excellent writer, and I need you to go away right now.” (Do a little “goblin work,” as Colette Baron-Reid describes in her book The Map, and see if that inner critic that intimidates you can be tamed!)

2. Don’t be afraid to break with your brand if your followers have given you clear signals they’re with you. Dr. Northrup was willing to take the risk of making her latest book incorporate more spirituality and metaphysics. She is in touch with her loyal followers on a daily basis through social media (she’s very active on Facebook) and tries out ideas to see how her followers react. She notices what resonates for them. That’s what gave her the courage to shift her brand in a new direction. Yes, it’s a risk, but it’s a risk based on her knowing her “peeps”!

 

self-help books developmental editor

Writing a self-help book? Don’t skip the research and outlining! Hire a developmental editor & make the process pleasant and FUN!

3. Be in touch with your followers and treat them like treasured friends. Yes, it’s time consuming to post on social media and interact with those who contact you, and heaven knows Facebook can be a time suck! But if your followers are willing to spread the word about your work, share announcements, and enthusiastically endorse you, take the time to acknowledge them when they contact you. You don’t have to respond to every single comment, but you do have to INTERACT with your fans. On Facebook, even big bestselling authors like Dr. Northrup and Marianne Williamson will reply to their followers. Do the same and when your book comes out, your fans will be eager to spread the word.

4. Do your research. It’s easier than ever to do research thanks to the internet. Check the original source of any quote by using Google Books and Amazon’s “search inside this book” feature. Use Google Scholar to locate original studies (and use ScienceDaily.com to get a sense of what’s out there and read a layman’s version of the research findings). If you want to check a fact or quote and find that the excerpts online are too short to allow you to see the context, order the book from your library using their website. Don’t just rely on your memory about something you “read somewhere.” Check your facts and see if there’s new research, too.

5. Organize and structure your book before you get too far into writing it. I can’t emphasize this enough: Don’t just write and write and then try to figure out how to structure what you’ve written. Get clear on your chapter outline first. Know what goes within each chapter. Work off outlines for each chapter. Writing an expanded chapter outline for a book proposal, even if you end up self-publishing the book, is a great way to start organizing and structuring your material.

 

Are you inspired to get help with structuring and conceptualizing your book? Are you ready for a vision plan call with me?

Many aspiring authors contact me about help with writing a book based on what they’ve learned as a result of their experiences. They want to help others by sharing their story, wisdom, and advice in a book but don’t know how to start to write a memoir, novelization, or self-help book based on their experiences. I help them by consulting and coaching them (learn more HERE), ghostwriting their book (learn more HERE), or doing developmental editing on their manuscript (details HERE). The work often starts with a one-hour consultation call.

Now, I am all for writing your book solely for the sake of catharsis and self-expression. I think more people who are in a healing process should write about their experiences, as an act of self-empowerment. That said, writing for an audience that has its own needs is different from writing for yourself. Don’t confuse the two. Your needs and desires have value, but they are not always the same as a reader’s needs and desires.

Maybe you already are certain that you want to write a self-help book and weave your story, and other stories, into the book and use it as a sort of credibility card for your work but also as a key tool for your clients and followers. Maybe you feel strongly that a memoir is the best way to get your story out there and inspire and educate others.  If you’d rather not use real names, or you would like to explore what might have happened instead of just what did happen, you can think about turning your story into a novel. You can also consider writing a book of life lessons, with advice based on your story, and don’t offer any specific advice to readers.

If you’re struggling to conceptualize your book, here is how to get started.

* Write. Notice I didn’t say “write your book.” Some people free write until they reach hundreds of pages of material and there’s nothing wrong with doing that, but it’s easy to get attached to what you’ve written, and what’s on the page may not work as the basis of your book. Start small. Write a blog piece, a scene, or a chapter. Play around with it: Write it in first person, then second, then third. Write it as fiction or as a memoir, or as an anecdote illustrating a point, like you would find in a self-help book. Explore your story and your message from various angles to get a feel for how you want to tell it.

* Look at your goals. What audience would you like to reach, and why? What other types of books are they reading? Where do they hear about those books? Do they buy books based on advertisements, word-of-mouth recommendations, Facebook posts, bookstore displays–what is the main way of reaching them? Why do they trust the authors of those books? Are they drawn in by the power of the author’s personal story? Are they impressed by the author’s work as a therapist or coach? These are the kinds of questions that will help you to put yourself in the shoes of your potential reader and know how to write for that individual and how to get him or her to know about your book. You’ve thought about what you want to write. Now think about who wants to read it.

* Look at comparative books. Know what other books and information are out there. What is your fresh idea, take, or spin? If you know you want to write a self-help book on a particular topic, be aware that your idea probably isn’t completely unique but that’s okay. Give it your own take.

* Check in with your gut. Does it feel right to do a memoir, or even a novelization, of your story? Do you want to share life lessons, or give advice? Do you want to create exercises that will help the reader to learn what you learned, only in a more pleasant way? Get in touch with your instincts about the book you are meant to write–and think about whether you might be meant to write more than one book!

How do you get started writing your story?

* Consider collaborating or procuring a foreword. I knew I wanted to write a practical guide for parents whose children had sensory processing disorder because it was incredibly difficult to access that information back when my son who has SPD was two years old and newly diagnosed. There were NO practical books that could help me figure out how to brush his teeth or calm him when he was having a sudden tantrum. I teamed up with my son’s occupational therapist, who was not only treating him for SPD but who had also done some writing herself, to create Raising a Sensory Smart Child, a book that offered two valuable perspectives and appealed to parents and professionals. If you’re thinking you don’t have the right credentials to write your self-help book, find someone to team up with as a collaborator, or ask this person to write a valuable foreword for your book. I ended up with both a collaborator and a foreword writer with an important name in the special needs community (Temple Grandin).

* Start your outreach now. Begin building your author platform. Get a Facebook page and a blog if you’re going to create a memoir or a nonfiction book. If you want to write a novel, start writing regularly and working with a writer’s group to receive and give feedback and support (your fellow writers may well become your loyal readers!). If you’re blogging or on Facebook, ask your followers for feedback. Ask them questions to get them involved in a conversation, and respond to their answers. Encourage them to subscribe to your blog, like your page, and give you their email addresses so you can contact them in the future (you should offer a free gift, or a just a promise to send them information but never to sell their email address to anyone). Think about building a community of followers who talk among themselves and to you about your topic. These followers will not only buy your book when it’s ready, but they will also spread the word about the book or any other products or services you want to promote–not because you pay them but because they believe in you and your work and message. You can learn more details about starting to build your author platform on Facebook in my new eBook 25 Powerful Ways to Get Engagement on Facebook.

* Make a habit of learning a little more every week. Notice I didn’t say make this a goal: I said make this a habit! Every week, schedule time to learn more about your topic and your audience and more about using social media, creating webinars and teleseminars, marketing, doing workshops and lectures, and getting the word out about your work and your message. If you don’t make time to do it, you will become overwhelmed by all there is to learn once your book is actually written. Set some boundaries so you don’t get sucked in to using social media so often that you don’t get any writing done–it can be addictive!

* Talk to a book publishing consultant or developmental editor early on in the process. It can be invaluable to toss ideas around with a knowledgeable publishing insider. It’s energizing to have a clear picture of your overall strategy and clarity about what you can do write now to get started creating your book. If you are going to contact me, do give me some details about your book project and whether you’re leaning toward self-publishing or building your platform then aiming to get a book deal. We can schedule a brainstorming session and focus in on your brand, your plan, and your action steps for getting closer to your goal right now. Email me at Nancy at nancypeske dot com and check out the services page on my website, www.nancypeske.com.

As part of my research for a book proposal I’m working on, I’ve been looking at a bestselling self-help book that was recently featured on Oprah’s show. I see from the acknowledgements that I know the acquiring editor well; she is a talented structural and line editor and has a good eye for commercial material, strong hooks, and great platforms. The book has hit the bestseller lists and has a high number of stars (average ratings from reviewers) on Amazon.com/ Yet the number of one- and two-star reviews is very high as well—and to me, the book is unreadable and a waste of $15 in paperback, much less $25 in hardcover. I can’t even recommend it as a $10 eBook. So what are the lessons here?

  1. A book does NOT have to be good or even readable to be highly successful IF it’s from an established author. Platform is king these days. But, the big question is, has this author tarnished her brand by going out in a big way with a book that’s mediocre at best? The bad reviews are mostly focused on how little information is contained in these pages, the book’s repetitiveness, the book’s lack of originality, and the lack of value. There is no way an author with a modest platform could have sold this book to a publisher, in my professional opinion.
  2. Publishers are stuck in the old business model. The book began as a hardcover selling for nearly $25. It is 224 pages and by my count, about 50,000 words. When I began in book publishing in the late 1980s, a standard self-help book was 10,000 words. Now, they usually run 60-80,000 words. Why charge $25 for 50,000 words? The publisher needs to justify a big advance to the name-brand author and money spent on advertising (they advertise only the handful of books they think have a chance at bestsellerdom), paying bookstores to display the book, and paying the publicist. For publishers, an overpriced hardcover is crucial to make the numbers work. Now that eBooks are outselling hardcovers, and eBook prices are being jacked up to make up for the lost revenue, the $25/hardcover-first model is in serious danger. Depending on the timing of the hardcover and the eBook releases, the eBook revolution may have erased this book’s profit margin for the publisher. So while it may be a bestseller, it’s possible it lost money for the publisher. Selling her next book may be VERY difficult for this author regardless of how low an advance she is willing to take.
  3. Grammar, mechanics, and structure matter. Although the book has a standard self-help book structure, the chapters meander and have no headers, just design elements to break up text here and there. On the surface, this disguises the meandering, unstructured text. In reality, the reader notices that we’re flitting from this thought to the next in a disorienting path that circles back in on itself. What’s more, there are several sentence fragments on each page. Knowing that the editor is perfectly well aware that a sentence must contain a subject and verb, and with some verbs, a direct object as well, I have to assume this was a stylistic choice. It was a poor one. The text is disjointed and tiresome to read. You see, discussion of all those commas and semicolons, parallelism in clauses, and careful choices regarding sentence length and placement of subordinate clauses may bore anyone but a Latin or English Grammar major, but when they’re missing, the casual reader recognizes that something is “off.” It takes work to slow down and put the thoughts together in your mind to understand the ideas. When the reader discovers the ideas are overly familiar, she loses interest (many reviewers reported not finishing the book).
  4. Define your audience. The title was designed to play off another bestselling book’s title that appeals to the same demographic—a wise editorial choice. The problem is that the book doesn’t deliver on the title. This frustrated readers. Remember, you have a title AND a subtitle with which to summarize the book. People buy books on titles and short descriptions. If yours is misleading, your readers will be very unhappy and post negative reviews.
  5. Define your audience’s problem. One aspect of defining your audience is clearly defining their problem that your book promises to solve. If they buy your book to solve a different problem, thinking you’ll address it, they’ll be disappointed. Is yours a book of parenting advice for all parents, parents of children with special needs, or both? A book can straddle both audiences, but don’t mislead people by implying that it’s for the wider audience when it’s not. (In fact, I had this problem with another book I bought this week—at some point, I may blog in more detail about this particular problem!)
  6. Know your audience’s sensitivities. Is your audience women from 18 to 80, women who attend Bible classes and go to church every Sunday as well as women who are atheists, women who find Sarah Silverman offensive and women who find her hilarious? If you want to cast that wide a net, you will have to pay close attention to tone and voice. The bestselling book I’m describing in this blog uses the word “God” to describe a New Age/New Thought concept of divinity, ignoring the fact that many women have a very different idea about “God.” It also uses the F word liberally, including in a chapter title. That may fly with a certain generation; to another it is considered offensive and a sign of lazy writing. When I work with clients or cowrite books of my own, I may not agree 100 percent with the final choices the team of authors, editor, agent, and publisher’s sales force representatives makes, but I know how important these decisions are. I have seen books shut out of bookstores due to poor decisions about title, tone, and voice that caused the bookstore buyers to be unclear about the intended audience.
  7. Deliver what you promise your readers. A self-help book is supposed to do more than just define the reader’s problem and give insight into its origin. It must have takeaway: an action plan for solving the problem. This may include exercises, a recipe for activities to be carried out over a specific period of time (such as a 21-day diet plan), tips, resources that will help the reader further tailor the takeaway material to her specific needs, and so on. Reviewers complained that the entire book is summarized in the few pages and that the suggestions for how to solve the problem were stale, the sort of ideas we’ve all heard a million times. Today, authors are competing with free information on the Internet available in seconds to anyone using a search engine. If there’s nothing special or fresh about your information, and your advice can be summed up in a page of bulletpoint tips, you aren’t ready to write a self-help book.

By now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Yeah, but the author got a big advance, a bestseller, and a place on Oprah’s couch.” Yes….but only because the author had built up credibility with previous books over the years and a solid brand she’d worked hard to build. Will her next book see success? Will it yield a hefty advance? I doubt it. Over the years, I’ve seen many authors destroy their brands by making bad choices in conjunction with their advisors who are too often contemptuous of book buyers. I will never forget the day one of the bigwigs in the editorial department of a publishing house told me, “We don’t have to spend the time and money cutting out those two hundred pages in the middle of the book that weigh it down. People won’t realize it sags in the middle until after they’ve bought it!” She chuckled; I made a mental note that I did NOT belong in a company that held contempt for their customers. To me, the story I’m telling here is a cautionary tale for publishers, editors, and authors. You can only fool people so long before they catch on to the fact that you don’t provide quality products and don’t respect and value them.

If you as an author or aspiring author aren’t comfortable with a suggestion your social media expert makes regarding how to build your brand, if you don’t feel ready to write your book just yet because your platform’s solid but you’re still unsure if your ideas are well-formed enough to work into a book, listen to your instincts. Maybe you need to try out your ideas in workshops and with real-life clients. That’s easier than ever to do thanks to webinar and teleseminar software. Maybe you need to mull over your brand and your hook a little more because something’s not right about it. These investments of time and creative energy will pay off in a book that you can be proud of for years to come, and they give you greater potential for establishing your career and a loyal audience.

Have you ever felt torn between rushing forward with writing a book and slowing down to get it right? What pressures did you feel, and why? Would you have benefitted from spending time with book publishing consultant to talk through your concerns and strategies? Please share your stories with me!

Does your self-help book deliver on its title and promise? Does it solve a problem? Does it offer "takeaway" for readers that they can apply to their own lives?

The New York Times reports that Google is now selling and offering free eBooks through their site, readable on smart phones and eReaders (although for now, only the free books can be read on Kindle–boy, that Amazon is determined to keep its grip on the market). They can team up with bookstores so that you can buy Google books through an actual brick-and-mortar store. So, if you’re loyal to the corner bookstore, you no longer have to “betray” them by buying eBooks through the online retailers.

To me, this signals a move toward a greater emphasis on guiding readers to the books they might like in order to distinguish yourself as a retailer. If I go into bookstore A and they carry a paltry number of books in my favorite genre, I’m unlikely to feel the desire to patronize them over any other bookstore or online retailer (especially if they don’t carry books I’ve written!). However, if I go into bookstore B and they carry a good selection of books in my favorite genre, host author appearances and discussion groups that appeal to me, and offer great recommendations that go beyond simple software generation of related titles (“If you bought Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you will love Diary of a Wimpy Kid II and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid trivia book”–gee, I coulda figured that out by myself!)–that’s where I’ll be buying my books. For now, Amazon.com and BN.com have the software that many readers rely on for recommendations, as well as helpful reviews from actual readers, while independent bookstores have the advantage of creating a sense of community, with handwritten “shelf talkers” that provide recommendations by employees (helpful if you happen to have similar tastes, not helpful if you don’t.

Of course, many of the books we buy are gifts for others. Now we have some choices. If I want to buy, say, the new Mark Twain autobiography and wrap it up to place under the Christmas tree for someone I love, I purchase it in a brick-and-mortar bookstore or order it to be shipped to me, or to my loved one (in wrapping paper if I pay extra). Or, I can “gift” it to them using their email address attached to their eReader device (a new service from Amazon.com for Kindle)–not nearly as much fun to receive but still, an option. What if I could wrap up a “look in your Kindle” or “look in your Nook!” card in a box and send the book to the person’s device? Again, all are options–but where do I buy the book if there’s no big price difference? (There probably wouldn’t be a price difference on eBooks). Where do my loyalties lie?

In the future, I think we’ll see improved recommendation software combined with personal recommendations offered through online or brick-and-mortar stores that create a sense of community for the people who love a certain type of book (Christian books, mystery novels, children’s books, New Age books, etc.). We love to support our community, however we define that community, and retailers can capitalize on this. If I can buy my favorite New Age/Spirituality books from one main retailer yet still use that retailer to access helpful guidance on buying y.a. and children’s books for the kids in my life, that would be my ideal.

It’ll be interesting to see how general bookstores, chain or independent, will find a better way to reach out to niche customers. “It’s politically correct to support us” just isn’t enough when it’s clear they won’t help you find books you’re likely to love–or make up for it by offering cheaper prices and better service than Amazon.com or BN.com.

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