Friday, July 25, 2014

Marketing without a product

Here's the problem: You know you need a platform (though if you're honest with yourself, you're only about 50% sure you know what a platform is), but you don't know how to get one or what you're supposed to do with it because you don't actually have a novel out there yet.

Sound about right?

I have three things to say about the early years of building your platform, so stick with me.

1. I feel you.
Honestly, I do. While I am an agent, I'm also a pre-published author (in the fact that I don't yet have a book published, but come hell or high water, I will one of these days). If you go back to the beginning of this humble little blog, you'll see a lot of bumbling about, almost no comments, and very few visitors.

Like many in my shoes, I decided to create a blog with little to no thought as to what I wanted it to be. So I dabbled in this and that for about a year before I saw the light. I figured out what it was that I had that other people wanted. For me, it was a background in marketing that let me help other writers learn how to be more strategic in their marketing efforts. For you, it's probably something else and you may not know what that is yet. 

I don't have an answer for you, since only you know what you have to offer. Just know that you're not alone. Most authors struggle with how to focus their platform. Just keep at it.

2. No, you don't have to have a massive platform
If given the choice between a good manuscript with an amazing platform or an outstanding manuscript with absolutely zero platform, I'll take the amazing manuscript every day and twice on Sunday.

I can help you create a platform when the time comes for you to really need one. Trust me when I say that some of my clients probably wish I didn't offer so many tips. And I'm not the only agent who can do this. Most agents who've been in the business a while know what an author needs when it really comes time to get your name out there.

What I can't do is rework your book to superior levels. First, even though I consider myself an editorial agent, I'm not all that and a Jamocha shake (seriously, those things are awesome). Second, I don't have enough hours in the day to commit that much effort into every manuscript from all of my clients. I need you to have the awesome product, with or without a platform.

3. Everyone has a platform unless you live in a cave (and even then...)
In really basic terms, your platform is just the sum total of all the ways you present yourself to the general public. So unless you never answer emails, avoid all social media, and rarely interact with people in person, you have a platform. But if you've never sat down and actually thought through what your focus is, your platform is probably a little scattered.

To reiterate, this is okay (before your books sells). But if you are going to do the whole social media, blogging, human interaction thing, shouldn't you make it work to your advantage?

I'm not saying you need to hire a publicist and a marketing analyst to decide what your platform message is. You're not running for congress, here. All I'm saying is, if you are going to spend a significant amount of time interacting with other writers and readers, it would behoove you to come up with some kind of strategy or focus that starts to create the brand of you. 

This can be as basic as the tone of your tweets or wall posts. Are you funny, sarcastic, info driven, silly, etc. Are you the kind of person who shares cat vines or pie charts? Figure out who you are and how you want to be seen (hint: these should be the same) and then consistently be that person when you interact with others. 

I hope this helps alleviate some of your "I don't have a platform so no one will ever publish me" fears.

For more info on creating your pre-published platform, I really like this article from Rate Your Story on the DOs and DON'Ts of it all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Getting it all done

I'm officially back from vacation which means I now have a backlog of tasks to complete in addition to the regular day to day items that always need to be done. I'm often asked about how I handle my workload, so I thought I'd share my process.

I've tried apps for my phone, online tasks programs and a fancy Franklin Covey planner. None of those systems worked for me. They might for you though, so if you are using one of these with success, that's great.

For me, I use a composition book. A regular notebook would work too, but I like that the pages of a composition book are hard to pull out. Everything goes in this book. Everything. Tasks to complete, notes from a workshop, random ideas that pop into my head. All of it.

Here's how it works. I always have one page that is dedicated to all the current tasks I need to work on. I cross these items off as they are done until they are all complete or the page gets too messy. If that happens, I copy over the incomplete tasks to a new page and fold over the old page. I never tear out a page just in case something gets missed. Folding the page is my visual indication that there is nothing active on that page and I can skip it. This makes it easier to find my list.

For the list, items are written down in their most broken down version. Here's an example for you. I need to buy a plane ticket for an upcoming conference, but I'll be reimbursed for the cost. So I could just write "buy plan ticket", but that's not really all I need to do. I need to buy the ticket, send the purchase info to the right person for my reimbursement, and send my flight info to the person coordinating transportation. So I write each of those steps down on my list.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, I like to cross items off the list. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, so the more little lines across the page, the better I feel. Second, I often work in snippets of time. So I might be able to book my flight, but then have to run somewhere else before I can send my information to the right people. If I only have "buy ticket" on my list I either don't cross it off which can cause confusion later or cross it off and forget about the other associated tasks. Neither of those is a good outcome.

I keep everything else in my notebook as well. It's easy for me to take notes during a meeting in my book. When the meeting is done, I flip over to my task list and add in my new items from the meeting. Once I've got everything transferred, I can fold that page over. Easy.

Same thing goes for conference notes. At the end of a seminar or conference, I add "Type conference notes" to my task list. I keep all these in a handy file on my computer for later reference. Once the notes are typed, the pages get folded and the item gets crossed off my list.

Is this a perfect system? No. One time I left my notebook at a thrift store. It had my list of items I needed for my kids. There were several hours of panic until I tracked it down and had it back in my hot little hands. Of course, I've misplaced my cell phone a number of times, too. And my glasses...and my keys...this could be just a getting older issue.

Anyway, this is what works for me, but I'd love to hear how you keep all your tasks organized.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Agency Lessons: Not right for my list

I've been sending this rejection a lot lately so I thought now would be a good time to explain what this means.

For me, this is not a form rejection. I try really hard not to send those. What this means is that I didn't find anything wrong with your submission. The query was intriguing, the pages read well, the synopsis shows you have a well-developed plot. In essence, you get an A+ on your submission.

But...I'm not requesting more pages. Why?

Because a big part of the projects an agent takes on is personal taste. I see a lot of good queries. In fact, I see a lot of great queries. But I only request pages from a small percentage of them. Not because there is anything wrong with them, but because it simply isn't a story I want to read.

It's like browsing the shelves at the library when you really aren't looking for anything in particular. Or maybe you've narrowed it down to one topic, like Alien SciFi. Do you have any idea how many of those there are at any given library? A lot. You can't read all of them. There aren't enough hours in the day. You still have to go to work, do the laundry, talk to your family. So you pick only one or two that sound the best to you.

Does that mean the ones you don't take home didn't sound good? No, they could have really piqued your interest. You probably read the back cover and thought "Hey, this could be good." You might have flipped to the front pages, read a paragraph or two, and still thought "Yep, sounds interesting". But you still put the tentacle alien story down and opted for the alien pirate book.


Because on that day, at that moment, you wanted to read about alien pirates.

I'd love to take on all the projects that sound great, but I have to be realistic. I have to keep in mind what I have going on with my current clients. How many of them are on submission? How many have projects that will be ready soon? What releases are coming up that will need my attention? All of this factors into the number of new clients I take on each year. This year my clients have been sending me tons of wonderful new projects, so I've only taken on a couple new clients. It's a constant game of see-saw where I'm measuring how much time I have against how much I need to do.

And let's be honest, it doesn't do you any good to have an agent who doesn't have time for you.

So, I'll continue to send out rejections where my only feedback is that the project just isn't quite right for me. If you get one, know that I'm not brushing you off. Keep going and you will find an agent who wants what you're selling.

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