Happy New Year!

Hey there, you gracious, forgiving, enthusiastic, and slightly crazy people I call my tribe!
I hope each of you had a fantastic holiday season filled with joy, laughter, and family. As we head into the new year (how in the world is it almost 2016), I wanted to take a minute to say Thank you!

This little blog started way back in 2011 as nothing more than an outlet for me. I was moving half-way across the country to a place where I knew no one and the extrovert in me was screaming at the sudden loss of people. Never in a million years did I ever imagine it would turn into such a crucial part of my life or how much this little slice of the interwebs would impact me.

The past four years have been such an amazing journey from out-of-work marketer to author/agent. Having you all with me for that rocky path to where I am has been a blessing, and I can't wait to keep traveling together to see what is in store for all of us in the future. You guys inspire me to keep going, pushing further and doing more and for that I am eternally grateful.

It is my hope that coming here provides each of you with knowledge, inspiration and the occasional kick in the pants (served with a healthy side of humor). But even more than that, I hope this blog is a place you can come and know that you are never alone in this sometimes scary world of books. Because even though it is fun, exciting and fulfilling, it can also be terrifying. But even though we are all separated by miles and oceans, none of us ever have to be alone. Thank you for being here with me.

I have so many exciting plans for 2016, both for me personally and for the blog. So here's to 2015. Thanks for the journey with all of its highs and lows. And cheers to 2016, for the wild adventure you are sure to ring in!

Agency Lessons: What makes a good manuscript

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

Today's post comes from the mail bag. Don't forget, if you have questions for me, you can submit them here.

Q: "What is the most important thing you look for in a manuscript?"
Well, this is a bit like asking for the magical compound in unicorn blood. But then again, it's not. Because the number one, most important thing I look for when evaluating a manuscript is a good story that I want to read from start to finish.
Before I start thinking about market position, genre comparisons, and fit, I want to be told a great story. This means a cohesive plot, with strong, fully developed characters, and comprehensive world-building.
But I have a feeling this reader was looking for something a little more concrete, so let's give this a try. Instead of a list of must-haves, which I think is not as useful, here's a list of things I don't want to see in manuscripts.
1. Distancing narration
This is one of those little details I look for that usually tells me if someone has taken the time to really study the craft of writing. Distance is created with the use of filtering phrases such as I heard, she saw, he felt, I knew, etc. This is the difference between I hope he knows what he's doing and Please, let him know what he's doing.
Here's another example: She felt the cool wind against her sun burned skin. Versus. A cool wind provided a small relief to her sun burned skin. 
It's a small difference in wording, but it makes a huge difference in how connected your reader is to your story.
2. Telling
I feel like this has been beaten to death and then kicked around for fun, but telling is a story killer. There are tons of resources for telling out there that give better information than I can put into a paragraph. You can find a few great articles here, here and here.
I will say one thing about telling. It isn't always bad. There are times when telling is exactly what a scene needs. It's mostly a judgement call, but knowing the right and wrong time takes your manuscript to the next level.  

3. Convenience
Sometimes, our life problems can be solved by convenience, but that doesn't make for an interesting story. Convenience in stories comes in many forms. It can be the handy gun on a table right when the MC needs to get away from the bad guy or even a skill set the MC needs that we've never heard of before.

For an example of this, I recently read a book where one of the characters needed to do a lot of sneaking around in order to gather info. The character pretty much says "good thing I'm so good at sneaking around'. This was a second book in the series and at no point prior to this had we been given any indication that the character was skilled in this way. But she needed to be right then, so the author made her skilled. That's convenient. And I won't be reading any more of this series (this was only one issue that makes me want to stop).

To avoid creating a convenient situation for your characters, you have to seed your story. The gun on the table isn't convenient if another character who is known for being forgetful and easily distracted was given the task to put the gun away last chapter. Because you seeded the story with a reasonable explanation for the gun's location. The great news with writing is that if you discover you need a character to have a certain skill halfway through, you can go back into the earlier parts and seed that skill in so it isn't a surprise. 

4. Weak motivations
This can come in many forms, but where I see it the most is with the villain. Which means that the whole story can fall apart. If your bad guy is after world domination via enslaving everyone, he needs to have a strong motivation. So, not just because he's a bad person. In essence, what is your bad guy's end game?

Here's a secret for you when it comes to bad guys. Bad guys don't see themselves as bad guys. The very best ones honestly think they are doing the right thing. They can be motivated by the same principles guiding your MC: helping the people around them, fulfilling their purpose, honoring their morality/religion. They just interpret this differently. 

5. Too close for comfort
They say that you could give five authors the exact same story idea and end up with five completely different stories. And there is a lot of truth to that. But there is also a point where two stories can be just too similar to both be viable. This is tricky, because you have to give readers of your genre what they are expecting from that type of book, but still keep your story original. 

The only way to know if you story is too similar to others is by reading widely. Read in your genre. Read outside your genre. Read stories you love. Read stories that make you want to hurl the book at the wall. READ. And before you say that you don't have time to read, let's have chat with my good buddy, Stephen King. Yo, Stevo! What are your thoughts on writers making time to read?
There you have it. Are you really going to argue with Stephen King? Look, Mr. King and I aren't suggesting you need a seven book a week habit. But you need to read. If you need a number, let's go with one new release a month. And by new release, I mean something published in the last two years. By all means, read older books, but you can't know what's on the market right now unless you are reading new books. 

Well, that's it. I hope this helps to at least give you a few ideas of areas of your own manuscript to take a hard look at before sending it off to agents/editors. What do you guys think is crucial for a good novel? What are your big turn offs?

You don't have to do it all

I love social media. It helps me feel connected to the rest of the writing world and not so isolated all the way out here in west Texas. I learn, I connect, I help, and get motivated with my tribe.

But it also has a way of making me feel like I'm missing the boat.

That's right. Social media is giving me a serious case of Fear Of Missing Out. FOMO has hit me hard lately in the form of conferences. I'm seeing lots of my author friends post about all these really fun conferences and reader events they are attending. And my desire to try to attend all the conferences rears its ugly head.
Accurate representation of me thinking I can do everything
 Last week I was half-way through Googling at least a dozen different conferences before I finally knocked some sense into myself.

Hard truth coming at you: You don't have to do all the things.

Yes, conferences and other events can be fun. But they can also be expensive and draining on your creative juices and writing time. They also strongly reward authors with lots of books out. That is not where I am right now. And even if I did sport a big back list, I still couldn't attend every conference that sounds good.

And the list doesn't stop at conferences. I feel like we, as authors, put a lot of pressure on ourselves to hit other goals like getting short listed for awards, getting into libraries, having your book qualify for AR readers, attending reader lists or getting on Goodreads lists. The number of  ways we try to make ourselves relevant goes on and on.

I'm here today, proudly declaring that it is okay to miss out on some things. While you should definitely do what you can to market yourself and your books, you don't have to do it all. All you absolutely shouldn't compare what you are doing for marketing to other authors. We can use social media to learn from each other, but we need to stop using it as a measuring stick.

There's probably nothing I can do about my case of FOMO, but I am going to go into 2016 trying to focus on my own personal journey instead of aiming for another author's accomplishments. I hope you'll do the same.

Reasons your book isn't selling: Targeting the Wrong Audience

Welcome back to Reasons your book isn't selling, where every Wednesday I discuss common mistakes I see authors make that are hurting their book sales. Last week I talked about poor author packaging. 

Today's reason your book isn't selling: Targeting the wrong audience

A sure fire way to get me to not buy your book it to tell me it's for everyone. Because we all know that's not true. There has never been (and never will be) a universally loved book. If you ever get it into your head that you have written a book for everyone, please go read all the one-star reviews for Harry Potter. You'll get a crash course in just how wrong that idea is.

If you're going to market your book, you absolutely MUST know who you are marketing to. This is so much more than knowing your genre. Targeting the right audience means know who reads your genre, sub-genre, style, etc. If you don't know who your readers are, how in the world will you reach them.

A few things to keep in mind.

Forget the outliers. My 65 yr-old father-in-law (who happens to have Rite of Revelation dedicated to him) loves my books. And not in the, Oh, my daughter-in-law wrote this kind of way, but in the calls me up mid book because he can't believe I killed off so-and-so way. And that's great. But I'm not going to start a marketing campaign targeting male retirees. Because, while it's possible they might like my book, they aren't my target audience.

Marketing to outliers is a gigantic waste of time. You don't want to spin your wheels in the hopes of reaching people who might like your book. Go straight for the jugular and target those you know will like your book.

Be specific. While it may feel like it, you really can't get too granular when it comes to identifying your target audience. In the marketing world, companies often craft a fictional ideal consumer. This person gets a name (like Sally) and companies assign characteristics based on what they know about their customers. When it comes time to create a new product or marketing campaign, they will ask what Sally thinks about it. This is a gut check to see if they are on the right path.

We need to do the same when deciding on our marketing efforts. Book trailers may be trendy and eye catchy, but do your readers watch videos online? Swag is great, but those temporary tattoos might not go over well with the target audience for a cozy mystery. The more specific you get with your audience, the better equipped you are to make decisions about your marketing efforts. 

Trim where needed. It can be tempting to cast a wide net when you are just getting started in your path to publication. But I promise, this is a waste of your time and money. For me, I love the idea of getting my books in front of book clubs. They are full of people who love to read AND talk about books. Hi there! But the reality is that my books aren't typical book club fair. So instead of trying to get into any book club, I've focused on introducing my books to teen clubs or ones with adults who read YA. While it sounds like it would benefit me to get into more book clubs, the truth is that I would end up spending a lot of time for very little pay off.

Who are you writing for? If you don't know, marketing your work is bound to be a colossal waste of time. Instead, take the time to figure out who the fans are of novels similar to yours. Figure out where they hang out online, offline and what they do while they are there. Understanding your audience is crucial when it comes to selling your books.

Agency Lessons: Client marketing

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

Today's post comes from the mail bag. Don't forget, if you have questions for me, you can submit them here.
Q: "What kind of marketing do you have your authors focus on?"

This question actually has two answers and it depends on where my clients are in their publishing journey. Before I get into it though, I just want to point out that not every agent is going to be engaged in marketing for their clients. Of course, every agent wants to help their authors sell more books (that's how we make our money as well), but not every agent has the time or ability to be hands on when it comes to marketing their clients' books. So keep in mind that your mileage may vary when working with your own agent.

Okay, now let's break this on down:

New Authors
This can include debut authors or anyone still working to build up their readership. For example, I would lump myself into this category, even though my second book just came out. With these authors, I think the focus should be on discoverability.

This can come in a lot of different forms, but the focused outcome is getting your book in front of as many eyes as possible. When you're new, the biggest struggle is letting people know your book even exists.
As a new author, your goal should be introducing your book to as many potential readers as you can. There are a couple great ways to do this. Blog/Review tours is always my first suggestion. Bloggers love finding new authors, and if you take the time to find reviewers who you think will genuinely like your book, most of them are more than happy to help out. Giveaways can be great, but are hard for a new author. If you can, try finding a more established author in your genre and asking them to do a joint giveaway. That way, you can get your book in front of an audience that has already identified themselves as potential readers of your book. Check out this post for my thoughts on what to use for your giveaway.

There are tons of other ways to spread the word about your book such as a Goodreads contest or a Thunderclap, but the effectiveness of these tactics varies greatly. The undisputed best way to find new readers is through word-of-mouth. Too bad that's one of the few things we can't order on the internet. To get this going, I suggest asking the people you already know. Yes, you can over-promote and drive your friends batty. But in my experience, my real-world friends were more than happy to help me spread the word about my book. I asked them to share my Facebook posts, tell their friends, suggest my book to readers and (gasp) buy my book. This sort of generosity probably has a shelf life (your friends are not interested in turning into a walking billboard for your books), but in those early days of being an author, this can be a huge help.

Established Authors

Once you've got a few books under your belt and an established readership, the focus changes as bit. Not that you can ever stop working on discoverability, but now you have existing readers to work with. Out in the non-book world, it is widely agreed that it is much cheaper to keep an existing customer than to bring in a new one. Now, imagine that money is time (which it is) and it makes sense that you need to show the love to your tried and true fans. It's time for engagement.

Once again, this comes in several forms, but you can look at several authors who are doing this well to get an idea. In the YA world, I don't think anyone does this better than Jennifer L. Armentrout. Here's what I've seen that she does really well.
1. She understands her audience. Her blog posts are absolutely littered with Supernatural GIFs and her Facebook posts this year  include lots of shots of "Four on a shelf". Neither of those have anything to do with her books, but she enjoys them and so does her audience. So no surprise, there is tons of interaction going on.
2. She gives constantly. Jennifer's biggest series is the Lux series, which she finished writing several years ago. But even though she's writing new projects right now, she recognizes that her fans aren't done with those characters yet. So she regularly writes little scenes of them and gives them to her fans completely free. Jennifer also randomly gives away books and gift cards to her readers without making them jump through hoops (a regular entry method is commenting on a post).

3. She listens. Jennifer recently re-released the first three books of her series told from her male MCs POV, because her fans asked her to. And even though she could have charged big bucks, she made them super affordable so her fans could all read it.

The key takeaway her is to figure out what it is that your fans want (go ahead and ask them) and then do your best to give it to them. This isn't rocket science.

Marketing can be a big, scary word for a lot of authors, but it doesn't have to be. At the end of the day, you have what readers want (hint: it's books). So go out and give it to them.

Goals without a plan are just wishes

It's that time of year again. Time to set some goals for 2016! Woohoo! Break out your day planners, because this is happening.

2015 was a bit hit or miss for me when it came to my goals. I actually managed to achieve five out of six, which sounds awesome on paper. But not so much when you look at it considering the goal I missed was publishing book three in the Acceptance series. Also, the goal for book two was to have it published by the summer and since it just came out last week, clearly that one was delayed.

I had big plans, but they came apart due to a failure to plan on my part. Because goals without a plan are just wishes. Things we hope to accomplish, but at least on my part, thought would come to fruition as a natural course of action.

Yeah, that doesn't work.

So this year, I'm going to do thing a little differently.

In regards to output, I've got some lofty goals this year. I'm currently working on a stand-alone to give my brain time to ferment book three of the Acceptance series. But I can't let it ferment too long because I have a hard core publication date that I really want to meet. My goal is to have book three release by the end of June 2016. I'll be attending UtopiaCon again this year and I really want to have all three books out and ready to go. Paired with the stand-alone, that is two books written and polished by mid-year. Then, ideally, I'd like to get one more book written that I have somewhat plotted already. If you're keeping score, that's three books in one year where this year I only managed to crank out one.

In order to make that happen, I know I have to change what I'm doing now. Because more of the same won't produce different results. My number one priority is to get in a better habit of daily writing. In the past I've been a sporadic sprinter. Instead of writing daily, I go for weeks without writing and then write for several weeks to the exclusion of everything else. Not only is this not really a viable long-term plan for me or my family, it is hard to stay consistently in my stories. In short, I was publishing as professionally as I could, but still writing like a hobbyist. That's not going to cut it if I want to take my writing to the next level.

I also need to do a better job of planning out my mini-goals on a real calendar. I tend to wait until I have my first draft finished before I map out the actual publication process. That's not going to work anymore. Instead, I need to decide on my publication date and then work backward, deciding when I need to meet certain goals (first draft complete, beta version ready, etc.) in order to stay with my deadlines. I also need to stop delaying the process. I waited until I had my draft back from my Beta readers before I reached out to my cover designer. Why? Because in the back of my head I was convinced they would all hate it and then I would just can the whole project, so why waste money on a cover design. Well, that's defeatist thinking and it needs to stop. Which is why I'll be reaching out to my cover designer at the beginning of the year to get cranking on book three.

In short, I need to treat the process of writing more professionally. It's not enough to look like a professional and put out professional books. This year I claimed author as my profession on my taxes. According to the US Government, I am an author, so it's about time I started acting like it.

This is a big mind shift for me, and I'm sure it's that way for many of you. You may be thinking, I don't make enough money to act like a real author. Or, I don't have any books published, so I'm not a real author. Whatever the reason, you might not feel like an author yet and that mental aspect of the job might be holding you back from hitting your goals. I know it is for me. It's a big switch to go from "writing for fun because I love it" and "writing as my job and I still get to love it".  I don't think it will be easy. Not by a long shot. But I know it will be worth it.

I'd love to hear from you guys. How do you schedule your writing time to make it a habit or part of your work day? When did you mentally make the switch from hobby writer to professional author and what helped you do it?

Reasons your book isn't selling: Poor Author Packaging

Welcome back to Reasons your book isn't selling, where every Wednesday I discuss common mistakes I see authors make that are hurting their book sales. Last week I talked about poor book packaging.

Today's reason your book isn't selling: Poor Author Packaging
As authors we are super focused on our books, and we should be. But the downside is that we tend to forget that we aren't just selling books. We are selling a reader experience, and we are part of that whether we want to be or not.

Before we talk about author packaging I just want to dispel this notion that authors don't need to worry about this. We do. Let me give two modern examples of authors doing this right. Jennifer Armentrout and JK Rowling. Both of them have amazing fan interaction for their series (Lux and Harry Potter respectively), even though those series ended a while ago. Yet, they both actively engage on social media AND continue to provide their readers with new content so they can keep existing readers engaged and pull in new readers. They are both doing it right and because of that, their series continue to see amazing success even though both authors have moved on to other projects. Your author package absolutely matters. Now, let's talk about what that means for you.

1. Photo time
Look, I get that professional photos can be expensive and getting your picture taken is akin to stabbing yourself in the eyeball with a blunt pencil. But your online photo matters. I see a lot of authors who use pictures of their kids, their cats, their 'fill in the blank'. And that's fine, if you're a big name author that has already built up amazing fan engagement. If you're JK Rowling, feel free to use your cat as your image. But since none of us are JK (unless you are, and then "Hi, I'm a huge fan"), we should be using a good photo of ourselves. This allows readers to see that we are real people and literally puts a face to the name. You can fight me on this one if you want to, but you won't be doing yourself any favors. Just get a good photo and use it.

2. Be consistent
This is more than just using the same photo everywhere. This is about creating a brand that encompasses you as an author and sticking with it. In addition to your photo, this is your color choices, images you use, and the tone of your interactions. Chuck Wendig is a sarcastic, potty-mouthed, truth-teller. It's what he does. When I visit his blog or follow his tweets, I know exactly what I'm going to get and that's okay. That doesn't mean Chuck can't sometimes be serious or sentimental, but those are exceptions to the norm. And that's good. Because even though I've never met Chuck (though I'd love to, so if you're reading this "Hi"), I feel like I know him. And I feel like I know what I'm getting with his books. And that's the kicker.

If you aren't sure what you're doing with your platform/brand, check out my Platform Pick-Up Series for tips on getting your platform into shape.

3. Woeful Website
Your website is your home base and is the place you hope readers come to learn more about you and your books. Sadly, too many authors treat this website as a second thought. Slapping something up and hoping anyone reads it. The thing is, you can't expect readers to take you seriously and see you as a professional worth reading if you don't show them you are a professional.

I'm not suggesting you need to go out and spend a ton of money on your website/blog. There are a ton of free tools out there. I think my site looks great (totally biased opinion) and the whole thing is done on the free Blogger platform. The only exception is my domain name and if you have books out there, I highly suggest you spend the cash to buy your domain name. I reserved mine for five years and I think it cost me less than $50. Totally worth it.

A professional site shows clearly who you are and what you are doing. It uses professional looking fonts and images and isn't overly cluttered with a million add-ons and all those little extras you can throw on a site. In short, it looks like someone took time to craft it, because you did take time to craft it. If you aren't sure what to do here, go do some stalking of your favorite authors and then copy what they are doing. No sense in reinventing the wheel.

4. Tell me about your books
A lot of authors make the mistake of going overboard on promotion and spamming the world with their book links (more on this in another post). But there are just as many authors who take it too far in the other direction. They never mention their books on social media. A visit to their site takes a multitude of clicks to discover that they actually have books out there to read.

Don't make your job any harder than it has to be. You don't have to shove your books down everyone's throat. But if I go to your website, I should be able to tell from the first page that you have books available to buy and read. It's hard enough to get eyeballs on your website and social media posts, don't waste the opportunity when they finally make it there.

5. You must engage
Gone are the days of writing in obscurity in a cabin by a lake. If you choose obscurity, don't be surprised when your books follow you there. Thousands of new books are published every week. Every Week! My newest book is less than a week old and it's already old news. And the unfortunate news is that your books aren't going to sell themselves. That means it's up to you, regardless of how you are published. You the author need to engage with fans and potential new readers if you want your books to be found.

I'm not saying you need to spend 40 hours a week pumping out tweets, blog posts and Tumblr updates. But you do need to have a presence and it needs to be a positive one. This should go without saying, but I've seen it one too many times. Readers don't want to engage with an author who is constantly whining about book sales, or Amazon, or big publishers, or life in general. I'm not saying you can never complain or that you need to be a false little chipper blue bird. But you can't be an Eeyore and expect readers to flock to you. Be genuine and you'll be fine.

Obviously there is so much more to the whole package of you, but that could be a month's worth of blog posts. The long and short of it is, if you want readers to see you as an author worth reader, then that's the image you need to show them.

Agency Lessons: first rights

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.
Today's question comes from the mail bag.
Q: I've heard that you shouldn't post any content online because you'll want to save "first online publication rights" for your publisher (once you're signed). Is that true, and if so, how far does it go? I'd like to get online forum critique of my WIP and enter contests like the ones on Miss Snark's First Victim without being concerned about the legal fine print.

This is a question I get a lot, and I understand why. The internet offers writers all kinds of opportunities, but it also creates questions about whether those opportunities open writers up to liabilities and problems on down the road.

So there are really two issues here, what constitutes "published" and what exactly are "first rights".

Let's talk about published. First, what I'm talking about here pertains to novels. The rules and guidelines for articles and other types of writing are going to be different because their end product is different. For our purposes, published means you have assigned an ISBN to your novel and made your work available for purchase via a retailer.

So a book you put into Createspace or Smashwords and sold on Amazon: published. Even if you only sold five copies. A family history book you printed and bound at Staples and gave to your family for Christmas: not published.

That means that first chapter you enter into an online contest is not published. Neither are the chapters you share with your online critique group (though I would advise you to do this with a private group and not a completely open to the public group). So go ahead and enter those contests if you want to.

What about Wattpad? This is a site I am asked about all the time. It's not really publishing, but it kinda is. You don't assign an ISBN or sell your work, but the site is meant for public distribution. While posting to this site doesn't stop you from publishing in the future, it is something you'll want to disclose to any potential agents/publishers.

Now, let's talk about first rights. This is something that writers like to worry about...a lot. And they shouldn't. Because first rights are something that almost no one deals with when it comes to novels. Basically, first rights means that your publisher can sell the right to another publication (like a magazine) to print an excerpt of your novel BEFORE your novel is published.

The chances of a magazine paying money to be the first to print a portion of an unpublished novel for a debut novelist are pretty low.  I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but... it's hard enough to get a debut contract, let alone have it be such a big deal that you'll need to be concerned about first rights.

And let's just go down that what-if path and say that you do happen to land that massive debut book deal where publishers are fighting for your book and Teen Vogue is dying to publish first rights. Either Teen Vogue will be okay that an old version of your book was once published to a contest page or they won't. Big Name Publishing House is not going to pass on your book because you posted two pages to a critique group. See why this isn't something you need to fret about right now?

I'm referring a lot to debut authors here, because once you've got your first book out, you do need to avoid this. You should be working directly with your agent and/or publisher when it comes to all your future books to make sure you are following your contract. That means you don't post teasers, first pages or any of that online without checking in first.

The long and short of it is that this isn't something you need to worry about. Just focus on your work. Get critiques from others, enter contests and share your work in reasonable amounts. Then let your agent worry about the rest.
Guys, Big News!

I have another book out.
There it is. It's a real thing, that actual live humans can buy and read.

So, from an author perspective, book two feels different. With book one, everything was exciting and new and SOOOOOOOO important. I celebrated the whole day and just reveled in my obvious genius. With book two, the entire day is planned as business as usual. I do have a signing, but the timing is purely coincidence. That said, I feel more legit now. Probably because my book has an "Also by" section. Granted, there's only one book listed there. But something about having a second book makes this whole author gig feel more permanent.

Is that weird? As if the first book was some kind of a fluke, and I somehow accidentally wrote and published a book. But accidentally doing it a second time is statistically improbably, so this time it's for real. It's thoughts like these that convince the rest of the world that authors are all neurotic.

If you're so inclined and happen to enjoy a good YA dystopian, go check it out. If you're new here, go check out Rite of Rejection, book one in the Acceptance series. It's on sale right now for only $.99, so you know, good time to give it a try.

Also, if you haven't signed up for my newsletter yet, you should get on that. Now, when you sign up you get a free ebook, HALF ACCEPTED. It covers the twenty-four hours in between books one and two, and subscribing to my newsletter is the only way to get it.

Reasons your book isn't selling: Poor Book Packaging

Welcome back to Reasons your book isn't selling, where every Wednesday I discuss common mistakes I see authors make that are hurting their book sales. Last week I talked about paid reviews.

Today's reason your book isn't selling: Poor Book Packaging

Packaging is one of those areas that is more relevant for the indie author. For the traditional author, the final product of your book is mostly determined by your publisher. That said, I am seeing more and more publishers ask for, and utilize, input from authors when it comes to book packaging. So, this is something everyone should be paying attention to.

Many authors equate book packaging to the cover. And while the cover is a crucial element, the reality is that there are several aspects to a book's package. Everything from the cover font to the retailer description.

So let's talk book packaging.

1. Covers
Honestly, so much has been said about covers that you'd think this is a dead horse, but apparently, bad book covers still have a bit of life in them. Every week I see another obviously homemade cover pop up on an book site. Bread, quilts, and Grandma's Toot's spaghetti sauce. All things that are wonderful homemade. You'll note that book covers were not on that list.

Look, unless your day job is book cover designer, you should not be in charge of your books cover. The cover is the most visible part of a book's package and can turn your book into an automatic pass if done poorly. Please, please, for the love of all things holy, don't design your own book cover.

2. Formatting
Formatting is actually one of those things that most indie authors can handle on their own. It's tedious and if you don't have an eye for detail, it can make you want to rip your hair out. But, with a little effort, you can DIY this part of the package.

Where I see authors heading straight for the cliff is when normal people seem to think they are God's gift to clip art. Then, instead of a normal, basic book interior, we have a runway show of fonts, odd formatting and random pictures that have no place inside your book. When it comes to formatting, less is more. Keep it simple. Your interior format should make it easier for a reader, not get in the way of the words. And if you absolutely must have drop caps and fancy scene breaks, consider paying for a professional.

3. Retailer description
There are some really great books out there, with some really bad book descriptions. I mean, really bad. Length is often a culprit, with the book description going on for paragraph after paragraph. You don't need that long to give us a snapshot of your book. Keep in mind, this isn't a summary. Reader's don't need to be instructed, just enticed.

Another frequent offender is the convoluted description. We've all seen the one that names half a dozen character, at least three fictional locations, and multiple words that don't currently exist in the English language. By the time we get to the end, we have no idea what we've read. You're book might have more plot lines than a George RR Martin novel, but your description should be laser focused.

Your book description has only one goal. Get a reader to plunk down their hard earned money to read more.

4. Format options
This is another critical mistake that make me want to scream, "It's almost 2016, people. Get it together." There is no reason why your book should be only ebook or print. There is no rule that says you have to pick one and only one. Here's the fun part, you can put your book out in multiple formats. And no your book is not an exception. I actually saw an adult coloring book last week that had an ebook option. If they can figure out a way to make it work, so can you.

And don't stop with just ebook and print. Audio is become much more popular and is growing substantially in some genres. If you don't have an audio book up yet, I highly suggest looking into this option.

5. A crappy book
Look, you can have the best cover design and a killer Amazon description, and none of that will be worth a hill of beans if your book isn't up to snuff. Traditional publishing isn't immune to cranking out some stinkers, but this is much more common among indies. Don't be that indie that rushes to publication instead of taking your time to put out a great book.

Rite of Revelation was originally scheduled for a November 5th release. But I pushed it back. Not because I couldn't have made it work, but because I knew rushing it would result in mistakes and a book that wasn't my best. This extra month has allowed me to take my time to make sure I get quality editing and a book I can be proud of.

All the packaging in the world can't help you, if your book doesn't deliver on its promise to readers. So take your time, invest in your book, and package your book right. Cutting corners here is likely to cost you big time in the long run.

Agency Lessons: Querying post publication

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

Today's post comes from the mailbag. It's a doozy, so let's jump right into it.
Q: I have an eBook that has gotten great reviews from book bloggers. Would it be useful or useless to query agents to see if they might be interested in seeking print publication? I don't want to spend a lot of writing time querying agents if they immediately reject because it's an eBook.

There is a lot going on here, so let's break this one down.

First, let's talk about querying after you have published a book. I see this more often that I care too, and it makes me sad every time. People take the plunge into self-publishing for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, a lot of authors find that the road to success if bumpier than they expected and decide maybe they should take a different course. That's when I get queries for books that are already published. Usually the author uses phrases like "hope to reach a larger audience" or "find a publisher who can get this book the attention it deserves". 

Here's the problem with these queries. It honestly doesn't matter how good your book is. And it's not going to make a difference if you have a hundred 5-star reviews. Unless you're selling books by the truckload, publishers aren't going to be interested. And I don't blame them. Publishers have thousands of books to pick from when deciding what to publish. Why would they pick one that they can already see isn't selling over one that still has the potential to sell? 

A lot of authors will say that they didn't know what they were doing when it came to marketing and selling their books. They are convinced that with the help of a big publisher, their book would fly off the shelves. And maybe it would. But now they are asking a publisher to take a book that isn't selling, analyze what has and hasn't been done for marketing, come up with a plan that fills in those holes, and re-market a book that already has a poor track record. Let's be honest, that isn't going to happen.

So unless your book is already doing smashing sales, publishers aren't going to be interested. As an agent, I can't take on a book that I know going in is going to be nearly impossible to sell. That's a huge waste of everyone's time.

Now, let's address a second aspect of this question. The author in this case has only published the book as an ebook and is looking to get a print deal. This is another one of those 'not gonna happen' scenarios. Unless you're name is Hugh Howey, you can forget it.

Ebooks are currently dominating the market and the profit margin for a publisher is much higher on an ebook. By only offering up the print rights to a publisher, you are basically taking away the most profitable portion of a book's sales. There have been a handful of deal like this that I've heard of. A Handful. I'm talking less than five. And those were all for authors who managed to get on lists like the NYT Bestseller's and USA Today. These people were selling books the way apple sells overpriced phones. Publishers were happy to get any piece of the pie because the pie was big enough to be a balloon in the Macy's parade. 

For the other 99.99% of authors, publishers are not going to be willing to give up ebook rights. Other rights, such as audio, foreign sales and film/tv are always negotiable. Ebooks. Not so much.

The long and short of it is this. Publishers aren't lacking for submissions. There isn't a shortage of authors hoping to catch a big break and land a Big 5 publishing deal. And so long as that continues, publishers will have to be extremely picky about what they sign. Which means they aren't going to be interested in any already published works unless that author can show a very strong readership.

This is why I always preach that authors should be certain about their decision to self-publish. If you aren't going to be happy as an indie, don't put your book out there in the hope that a publisher will swoop down and offer you big bucks. Self-publish only if that's the path you really want to be on.

Reasons your book isn't selling: Paid Reviews

Last week I kicked off a brand new series here on the blog: Reasons your book isn't selling. Every Wednesday I'll discuss common mistakes I see authors make that are hurting their book sales (except this is Friday because Wednesday was Thanksgiving Eve). Last week I talked about bad review requests.

Today's reason your book isn't selling: Paid Reviews
So, we know how important reviews are and now you've got a handle on how to write a request letter that might actually get reviewers interested in your book. But even with a great letter, you may still find it difficult to get reviewers on board, especially if you are a new author without a track record.

And that's when paid reviews start looking mighty tempting.

Let's break down two types of paid reviews you should definitely avoid.

#1 - Fiver Style
We've all seen the ads on Fiver and various other sites advertising paid reviews for cheap. For as little as five buckeroos someone you don't know will "read" your book and write a review for Amazon or B&N or wherever. And you may be thinking that this is a much better option than spending all that time researching legitimate reviewers, sending them requests, sending them books and then waiting on reviews. And you'd be wrong. Here's why.

First, the people who advertise these review type services make their money with volume. That means, they need to pump out a ton of reviews every week in order to pay the bills. Think about it. At $5 a pop, a reviewer needs to turn around 58 reviews per week just to make minimum wage. Do you think they are reading all those books? And if they aren't reading them, how are they reviewing them? They aren't, they are pumping out generic paragraphs that will basically be worthless to you. And if that's all you've got, readers are going to be wise to the gig and your sales will suffer.

Second, when you reach out to legitimate blogger/reviewers, you start building relationships. And this means each time you have a new book release, it gets easier and easier to contact reviewers and get reviews. You aren't building relationships on Fiver, because it's a business transaction, plain and simple.

Trust me on this one. Don't do it.

#2 - Kirkus Style
In the world of reviews, there are some paid services which are considered "above board" within in the industry. Several industry publications sell reviews and Kirkus is considered the gold standard for paid review services. While it gives me a bit of the ick factor, paid reviews of this nature are part of the biz for traditional publishing. If you are with a traditional house, they will generally cover this cost if they feel it is worth it.

Most of these publications offer an option for indie authors to get in on the deal as well. And this is where I say run. These options are usually very expensive and I can think of a hundred better ways to spend your marketing dollars. Seriously, hundreds. Also, for an indie author there really isn't a payoff. These types of reviews are not going to attract readers and that's not what they are designed for. These are the reviews for the industry, librarians, booksellers, etc. They consider these reviews when deciding what books to put on their shelves. While there are plenty of ways for indies to get into bookstores and libraries, I don't think a Kirkus review is your golden ticket.

While a review of this nature isn't going to hurt your book the way a Fiver review will, the cost is so high, it is likely to be the only marketing effort you can afford which will result in an inability to use that money toward more effective marketing. And that will hurt your book.

When it comes to paid reviews, you really are better off keeping your money in your pocket. I know how tempting it is, trust me, I know. But the reality is that buying reviews can cost you a lot of money, and, more importantly, your reputation.

Finding joy in the midst of unholy chaos

This past week has been...well, let's just put it out there...it's been hell. Without going into a lot of detail, I'll just say that one of the cogs in the publishing process for Rite of Revelation crumbled into tiny pieces and started messing up all the other little gears and the publication machine came to a screeching halt. I should also mention that all of this was going down as I was trying to celebrate my birthday, even though I'm not excited about how close to 40 I'm getting.

cake and crying, pretty much nails it

As I write this, I am about 24 hours away from getting back my final edits. Yep, you read that right. Two weeks until publication, still don't have a finalized book. Did I mention week from hell? This weekend will be dedicated to getting that finished and getting books out to bloggers who graciously agreed to review the book, even though I was super late in asking them. Yep, it's been that awesome.

I was talking to my writing group, some of whom are published and others who haven't taken that step yet. Because these are my people (and margaritas were involved) I sobbed my whole story to them and spazzed about all the looming deadlines that I'm paranoid I'll miss.

Those who have trod this trail, nodded with sympathetic eyes that said they'd been there before. The non-published of the group just stared at me, slack jawed as if I had killed their beloved family pet. I didn't even apologize, just said that I would give up any percentage of royalty fees right now to have a publisher swoop in and clean up the disastrous, poo-covered mess that is this book release.

But in the midst of my writing world spinning in a fiery tornado of failure, I stopped to find some bright spots. While everything else fell down, my husband and I finally signed on the dotted line for a new house. This is after five months of house hunting and two failed contracts. I'm feeling good that this one is going to stick since we've already passed the inspection stage. Woohoo! My family is healthy and kiddo #1 has started asking me to help her write little stories. So far, she's really into this one fat rat. Hello, series potential. Also, due to the madness, I made a new online writer friend, and after only a few days, I can tell she's awesome.

The point is, even though it would be easy to just curl up and woe myself to sleep, I can't. Being an author is fun. Most of the time. But there are going to be times when it sucks. And not just for self-publishers. Every author, at every stage of their path is going to have times when the whole thing sucks. It doesn't matter if you are still knocking out the first draft of book one, querying your third project, or publishing your fifth book. You are going to have some sucky times.

We all live in this very socially connected, but mostly isolated world. So it would be really easy to let the bad times overwhelm you and suck you into a whirlpool of misery. To fight that, we have to find the joy. We have to intentionally seek out the parts of our lives that make us happy. It can be another aspect of writing or something completely unrelated, but we all need happy.

At the risk of sounding like a middle-aged, suburban mom (which I totally am) I've decided to start a gratitude journal. Nothing fancy. But I've realized that it's too easy to let all the piles of problems stack up so high that I can't see the good things anymore. And that's not cool. Not cool at all. I like being happy.

I don't know what's going on in your world. I hope it's sprinkled with magical rainbow unicorns who edit your pages into gold while you sleep. But just on the off chance that the unicorns are on a break, I'm giving you permission to find joy. Even if it feels like the world has rolled off its axis, you are allowed to be happy. Maybe a journal works for you. Maybe a thanks jar or prayer or just a morning pep talk. Find a way to stick your head up above the chaos and be happy. We'll have to dive right back into the deep, but at least we can go down with a smile on our faces.

Have a great weekend, all! Also, two weeks until Rite of Revelation releases!!!!!!

Reasons your book isn't selling: Review Requests

Hello, fantastic readers! I am so excited to launch a new series of posts today. Woohoo! This new series will focus on the common mistakes I see authors make that hurt their book sales. Check in every Wednesday for tips and tricks to take your books out of the lost land of book sales.

Today's reason your book isn't selling: Review Requests

It's no secret that reviews sell books. I've already given my two cents on the importance of reviews. Readers use them to vet new authors and retailers use them to fire up their algorithms. But getting those crucial reviews can be easier said than done if you are making these two crucial mistakes.

Mistake #1: Disrespecting the reviewer

I see this A LOT and it gets my blood boiling every time. Too many authors think that book bloggers are there only to be a conduit for writer's to sell books. And they are wrong. Book bloggers serve the important role of helping other readers find books they will love. It is not their job to sell your book for you. They are unpaid, unsung heroes of the book world and they deserve to be treated with respect from authors.

This means taking the time to find their names, read their submission guidelines, and check out the kind of reviews they write. Sadly, too many authors fire of an email to any warm body they can find. And this is a waste of everyone's time. The romance blogger is not going to review your WWII adventure novel. The paranormal blogger has no interest in your MG mystery. Sending them requests is more than an act of futility. It can also hurt your chances to get other reviews. Bloggers talk to each other. They have a fantastic community that supports each other. The last thing you want is to end up being the talk of the town because no one wants to work with you.

Not sure if you're doing it right? Check out this blog post from a blogger on the exact type of request that will get you in trouble. For tips on what to put in your review request, check out this article.

Mistake #2: Stopping too early

I was able to get a huge number of bloggers to review Rite of Rejection, but that's not only because of a strong request letter. It's mostly due to the fact that I asked a ton of bloggers to review it. I started with a list of over 300 bloggers. From there I culled it down to 140 who were open and good match for my book. That earned me 51 accepting bloggers.

If those numbers seem big to you, it's because they are. You can't expect to send out 10 review requests and be good to go. I had a 34% acceptance rate and that is considered very high. 20% is probably more on par with normal. So if you only send out 10 requests, you'll be lucky to get 2 or 3 reviews. Plain and simple, that's not enough.

You need to send out a lot of requests. A LOT. But you still have to do your due diligence and investigate each one. That probably sounds like a ton of work and that's because it is. Marketing your book is not an easy feat. It can be fun and energizing, but it is also a commitment. It's you saying "Hey, I worked my butt off to create this amazing book, but if I don't put in the time to market it, no one will ever even know it exists."

If you send out a bunch of requests and don't have a great response, research some more blogs and send out more requests. There is no expiration date on when you can request reviews. While most bloggers like to post reviews on books when they are new, plenty of bloggers are open to reviewing projects that are a bit older. It's never too late to ask and you can never have too many reviews.

Come back next week for more "Reasons your book isn't selling" where I'll be talking about paid reviews.

Agency Lessons: Not a good fit

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

Today's post comes from a reader question. If you have questions of your own, you can submit them with this simple form. Now, on to the question:

"What does it mean when an agent says "it's not a good fit for me" when it was exactly what they were requesting?"

Good question. I think the best way to answer this is to imagine a library. Just stick with me on this, I promise it makes sense in a minute.

So let's say I'm a reader and I head into the library to pick out my next good read. There are hundreds of thousands of books to pick from, but the good news is that I already know what I want. That's is, I don't know the exact title, but I know what kind of book I want.

I head straight to the fantasy section because I'm in the mood for a good dragon story. I know I want one with a female main character and a cool magic system. So I search through the catalog. Know what I find? No less than a dozen books that meet this criteria.

Now, I want to read a good story, but I don't want to read a dozen of them. So I scan the back cover blurb and discover that while all of them have dragons and magic and daring ladies, these stories are all vastly different. Some of them will sound great. Some of them will miss the mark. Others will sound a little too much like another dragon story I've already read. I take a look at the contenders and pick one or two that sound promising and put the rest back on the shelf.

Sound familiar? It should, because this is how most of us pick our next book to read. You might love science fiction space stories, but you know they aren't all created equal and not every author's writing style is going to work for you. You read some, you ignore the others.

As agents, we do the exact same thing. There is so much more to a story than it's subject matter. That is only one part of the equation. Even if a query has all the components of the type of story we are looking for, it can miss in other areas and that means it's a pass. Also, your dragon story might show up at the same time as another similar story and the other one is simply stronger.

There are lots of reasons an agent might pass on a story that sounds like exactly what they are looking for. And there's nothing you can do about that. So much of this industry is subjective. Because readers are subjective. Not a good fit simply means that...not a good fit. As an author, mark that agent as a pass and keep querying. You never know when your perfect fit is right around the corner.

Mistakes I'm planning to make

Hey there, book fans. Long time, no see. That's because I'm currently up to my eyeballs in pre-publication madness. In true author fashion, I thought I was better prepared for this.

Seriously, my promotion spreadsheets for book one have made more than one blogger drop their jaw in shock. I thought I was meticulous in my record keeping. I had lists for everything. Or so I thought. Until I started working on my blogger sheets for book two. That's when I realized just how shoddy my record keeping was.
A rare glimpse inside my computer

Here are just a few missteps I made:

1. Several bloggers have contact forms instead of email addresses on their websites. Which is fine. But once I contacted them and they agreed to review my book, I never went back to the spreadsheet and updated their contact information. So, now I have to sort through hundreds of emails to find them. Joy.

2. Overall, blogger feedback on book one was positive, but I know there were some who weren't as impressed. Do I know which bloggers those were? Nope. Because I didn't update my spreadsheets after their reviews posted. I should have, because now I'm going back to find all those all posts and figure out if any bloggers indicated they didn't want to read book two.

3. What's in a name? Tons. Just like authors have pen names, some bloggers use one name for their social media, but another for their correspondence. So even though the initial contact with them was addressed to their public blogger name, I learned their real name and used it in their emails. Did I update my information with this name? If you guessed no, you'd be right.

4. My biggest wish is that I would have added a comments section to all my data. I had a ton of really positive interactions with some fantastic bloggers, but a year later, I can't remember who went with what. Because apparently I'm getting old. I wish I had captured this so I could be more personal with bloggers this time around.

So, what have I learned from this? Other than correcting these mistakes (which are just the ones I'm aware of so far. I'm sure there will be more), I'm trying to grant myself more grace. The first time out of the gate, I was so paranoid that I would fail in the most public and humiliating way possible. I didn't know what that would look like, but it still kept me up at night. This fear drove me to try to be perfect.

This time around I know better. I know I won't be perfect. I know I made mistakes and I'm confident I'll make a ton more on this release. I can also pretty much guarantee that there will never come a day when I sit back and say "Yep, totally have this whole author thing nailed down. Flawless."

I'm going to make mistakes. Lots of them. And so are you. And you over that. And that guy who's been sitting in the corner for three months. Yep, we're all going to make mistakes. That's not going to stop me from trying to do my very best and to strive toward perfection. But knowing the mistakes are coming will hopefully let me feel less anxious when they do arrive.

Now, go make your own mistakes.

And speaking of working with bloggers, did you know you get a free copy of my eBook "DIY Blog Tour" when you sign up for my mailing list? Yep, it's chock full of mostly helpful advice from me and tips from real, live book bloggers. I'll be putting out a revised edition next year and mailing list subscribers will automatically get a new copy.

Publishing: not for the faint of heart

For the most part, I love being a part of the world of publishing. Seriously, how lucky am I that I get to have regular conversations with authors, editors and book bloggers. I can jump online and chat any time of the day or night with people who are just as passionate about books as I am.

And I know many of you are hopefuls. So many of you who work hard and dream big about breaking into the publishing scene. You've got inspiration boards in your office and affirmations stuck to your mirror. You know exactly what you'll say to Oprah when she asks you about your book and you're pretty sure what color dress you want to wear to your movie premier.

To you, the beautifully hopeful, I say to keep holding on to those dreams.

But know this.

Publishing is not a path for those who get a little squeamish at the site of blood. It is a grueling trip that can be the often touted uphill in the snow, both ways walk all our grandparents took to school. There are days when I want to pull my hair out or punch someone right in the gut. There are days when I cry and days when I laugh and eat chocolate so I can keep from crying.

Like everything else in the world, publishing is both beautiful and painful.

I say this not to dissuade you from running at your dreams full steam ahead. Go for it and rally all the others with your battle cry.

But be certain that you know what you are running toward. Because no one is immune to the process. Every author of every book in every book store in every country all over the world has felt the miraculous highs and the momentous lows that come as part and parcel of the publishing journey. And in order to achieve those futures you dream of, you'll have to fight for them.

Everyone knows you'll have to work hard. That should be a long gone conclusion. But don't doubt that your hard will not be enough. You will have to fight and there will be injuries and possibly blood loss. And if that sounds like too much, then publishing may not be the right road for you. Write on, for sure, write your words and share them with the people you love who love you back. But understand that to publish means to pour all of you out, and like a tube of toothpaste, once it's out, it can't be squeezed back in.

The world of books is wonderful and marvelous and it brings me joy on a daily basis. But it also brings challenge in the way that builds character in the people we write onto the page. So before you decide on where you're going, figure out how hard you're willing to fight to get there. Then go fight.

Finding success with an accountability partner

NaNoWriMo starts super soon. Regardless of whether you plan to participate or not, there's no denying that there's something magical in the air of November that keeps writers in their chairs and pounding words onto the paper. One part of the formula that makes NaNoWriMo work is the accountability.

There's something about knowing you have to put your word count in front of other people that keeps you writing a little bit longer when you would normally just grab a Snuggie and watch a movie. But not all accountability partners are created equally.

I happened to luck out and snag an amazing partner who held my feet to the fire while finishing the drafts for RITE OF REVELATION. Seriously, I'm not sure when this book would have been finished without her. So here are my five tips for finding success with an accountability partner.

1. Find a partner who cares about you the person
Sure, you can find any random Joe to agree to be your person, but what happens when life gets in the way for them and they stop checking in on you? You need to find a person who cares about you and genuinely wants to see you succeed. Not only will they be more likely to stay with your for the long haul, you'll know that their sometimes tough love comes from a place of genuine caring.

2. Choose someone you speak to regularly
You can artificially create this sort of relationship, but I've found that finding a person you already have regular contact with can be a big benefit. This allows for extra, natural check-ins outside of the normal agreed upon check in times. If you run into this person several times a week or regularly speak on the phone, they will be able to give you more support and more reminders to get back to work.

3. Commit to daily check-ins
Even if you regularly talk to your partner, you should set up a daily check-in time. I work late at night (I'm writing this post at 12:30 am and have no plans for bed anytime soon). So for me, I made the commitment to sending my partner a FB message every night with my stats before I went to bed. I knew she would see them first thing when she woke up so I had better get my word count in, every day.

4. Set small goals
It's good to have big goals and you should definitely share those with your partner. But you should set smaller goals along the way. While editing, I would set goals for when I needed to be done with certain parts of my edit. I set time lines for when I wanted to have different aspects of my manuscript done. Having these little goals not only helped me to manage my time, but also allowed my partner to adjust my daily goals when I sometimes didn't hit my numbers.

5. Be honest
Accountability only works if you are honest with your partner. It can be tempting to just tell your partner what they need to hear to get off your back, but that is only going to hurt you. Not only does it defeat the purpose of having a partner, eventually, it will be obvious that you've been fudging the numbers and your partner will start phoning it in as well.

There are a lot of tools, tips and tricks out there to help you be more productive as a writer, but an accountability partner can be the helping hand that finally gets that manuscript finished.

Agency Lessons: How much should I edit before querying?

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

One thing that writers tend to struggle with is when to put the red pen down and call your book good enough. Because the truth is that every book ever published is simply good enough. No book will ever be perfect.

If you are planning to query agents, you may be wondering how to find your own good enough. So I thought I'd share my own process for editing and a few tips for determining when you're ready.

1. Ignore everything
After you've finished the rough draft, hide your file and ignore it. A month is a good solid length of time, though I personally never last that long. When you let your manuscript sit, two important changes happen.

First, you forget what you wrote. This is important because when we know what should be on the page, our brains tend to fill it in for us, even if it's not really there. For example, you may want your character to be a jokester. In your head, that's who he is, even if he only every tells a handful of jokes in the actual story. By forgetting what you wrote, you allow your brain time to say, "Hey, this guy isn't actually funny." That allows you the space to determine what direction you need to go.

Second, you let your brain have some fun. When I'm editing a book for a client, I always sleep on my edits. I find that my subconscious brain allows me to analyze a book better. I've found inconsistent characters, plot holes and all kinds of little issues that poke my brain in the middle of the night that I never thought of when reading. These are exactly the little things that will drive your reader crazy and hold them back from recommending your book. Taking time away gives your brain a chance to think of all those little things you never thought of while you were in the creating stage.

2. Read and rough edit
Once I'm ready to go, I set aside an entire day to read back through the manuscript in a single sitting and mark anything that stands out to me. These can be inconsistencies, aspects I want to double check, clunky writing, bad scenes or even details that need to be corrected due to changes I made during the drafting process.

I don't fix anything yet. This is simply the discover process. I don't want to make changes yet because I may find that those changes don't work by the end of the story.

3. Fix the rough edits
After I've done the read through and made notes, I read back through all my notes and start editing. This is the most time consuming part of the edit. I often have to flip back and forth between scenes to make sure I am staying consistent. Also, one small change can impact the whole manuscript, so a single edit could encompass half a dozen scenes.

4. Line edit time
This is when I read through the manuscript slowly, analyzing every sentence to see if it is written to the best of my ability. Notice, I didn't say perfectly. That's not going to happen and the sooner you let go of trying to achieve perfection, the easier your edit will go.

5. Proofread
This can be combined with the line edit, though I recommend doing it separately so you can be completely focused on each objective. Either way, you'll want to do a proofread to make sure you don't have any typos, homophones or formatting issues that will make it harder for someone else to read your work. Because that's where your baby is headed next.

6. Beta Readers
Beta readers are volunteers who read your manuscript and give you feedback. Notice, I didn't say edit your manuscript. These readers are going to tell you about plot holes, character inconsistencies and other parts that just aren't working. They will often also tell you what is working so you don't delete their favorite line. Beta readers work best when you give them specific issues to look out for such as a scene you are questioning or a plot line that has you concerned.

7. More edits
As my betas send me their notes, I add them all as comments to the manuscript. I don't make edits until they are all in since a line that one reader hates could be another reader's favorite. Also, there may be something that several readers mention so I'll want to give that aspect extra attention. Once I have all the notes in, I make a plan for additional edits and work the plan.

8. One more read through
After you've completed all these edits, I recommend one more read of the manuscript to make sure you aren't missing anything and that you caught as many of the typos, etc. that you can. Don't fret about catching everything. No agent expects your work to be perfect (since that's impossible), but we do expect you to have caught the basic things that spell check and a thorough read will correct.

If you are querying, this is where I would tell you to stop. Of course, you're welcome to do another round of beta readers or workshop your opening chapter to death, but I doubt you'll make huge improvements to your work. At this point, you've done several rounds of edits and gotten outside feedback on your work (a must do before sending your manuscript to agents). You should have worked through anything that still feels week.

If there are places that still need work, work them. Don't query if you aren't sure that your manuscript is the best you can make it right now. If you query with doubts, they will drive you nuts while you wait for responses. But don't delay because you want to do just one more check. There will always be something else that you could fix and then you'll never query.

For more advice on editing I would highly recommend SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Browne and King. Also, check out this self-editing article from the lovely Joanna Penn.

Blogging as a marketing strategy

On Wednesday, I weighed in to state that blogging is not dead. Personally, I love it and I know a lot of other authors do as well. But blogging is more than a place to share our opinions and talk about the books we love. If done well, blogging can be a viable marketing strategy.

However, blogging is not a place to set up a virtual advertisement for your book and then shove it 24/7 at your readers. There are a few things to keep in mind if you want your blog to be a productive part of your book marketing. Here are five important tips.

1. Marketing on your blog is not an overnight venture.
There are some exceptions to the rule, but in general, it takes years to build up an audience that is big (and loyal) enough to make a difference to your book marketing. You can't throw up a blog, post your intro blog and then immediately start pimping your book. I started blogging (poorly) in December 2011 and didn't launch my first book until three years later.

2. You must build an audience.
Your blog can't market for you if no one is reading, so you have to figure out a way to get readers. This can feel swarmy if you do it the wrong way. The wrong way to build an audience is post a bunch of click bait, spam everyone you know with constant links to your blog, run big ticket item giveaways that will never earn you back money. The right way is to get your content in front of the people who will want to see it. Guest blog for bloggers with a similar audience, promote your blog appropriately to your social media audience, and participate in contests that provide value to your audience and don't cost you an arm and a leg.

3. Create a connection.
Because if your blog is going to be a marketing strategy, you need to form a relationship with your readers.Creating a connection with the good folks who tune in here is something I love about blogging. My goal is create a happy place where we can all learn and have fun together. Even though my posts are meant to be super informative, I try to be conversational, and I attempt to be humorous. Which is pretty much exactly how I am in real life. In fact, if you've ever spoken to me in person or on the phone, this is pretty much exactly what I sound like. 

4. You have to give, give and give some more.
Too many blogs make the mistake of constantly asking their readers for something. Buy my book, review my book, like my FB page, check me out on GR, follow me on Twitter, and on and on and on. But you can't see your blog as a chance to get from your readers. It will be most successful when your blog is constantly striving to give to your readers. You do that with solid content, personal insight and valuable references. When you focus 95% of your effort to giving your readers what they need, they won't mind at all when #5 finally rolls around.

5. Then you have to ask.
If you've done the four things above, you'll be fine when you take time to ask your readers for something. By building a lasting audience, who you've developed a connection with by becoming a valuable resource, you've earned their trust to sometimes ask when you need to.  So long as you do it politely and occasionally, you'll be fine and your readers won't mind taking the time to give back to you after all the value you've given them.

So, creating a blog two months before your book launch and then spamming any poor soul who happens to stumble by with all things MY BOOK. Is not a marketing strategy. But done right, your blog can be a big player in your next book launch. So go get started.

Is Blogging Dead

Hint: it's not

Since the day the internet came into our lives (and yes, I'm old enough that the internet was not in my home until high school) people have been finding ways to connect with each other online.

First we had GeoCities, Yahoo groups and AIM. And blogs. And like all things new and shiny, everyone wanted to get one. So they did.

Shoot, so did I. And every author on the planet ran out and got a blog. Put up their first post of "Hi, this is who I am" and then stared at the screen and wondered what they should do next.

But not everyone needs to have a blog, though I happen to be fairly partial to them.

Before deciding if you should have a blog, you need to determine if you have something to say. Which seems like that would be obvious, but isn't. A lot of authors have blogs because they think they should. And those are the blogs with random updates that leave readers guessing what the topic of the day will be. A blog that doesn't have a clear message will discover that no one is tuning in.

So what should you say?

Heck if I know. Because I have no idea what you know.

It took me a while t0 find my voice here. If you go back and read my early blog posts (please don't do this) you'll see that I'm all over the place. And my blog stats reflected that. Readers were sporadic and far from numerous.

But then I took a step back and asked myself "what do I have to say?" I really took some time to think about what I knew that other people would want to know. It didn't take long to realize that my degree in Marketing and years of experience in Marketing could easily translate into a blog about Marketing books.

But there is one other step outside of having something to say. And that's having something to say that other people want to hear. It's great if you know everything about the history of thimbles, but I don't think there's a huge audience for that. So make sure that what you have to say is reasonably interesting. That said, you'd be surprised what others find interesting.

So, is blogging dead? I don't think so. I think blogging about nothing Seinfeld style out into the webisphere and expecting thousands of people to tune in is not going to happen. But if you have something to say that other people want to hear, blogging can (and is) a great way to grow your platform.

And speaking of a platform (because this blog is part of mine), I'm asking for your help this week with my Thunderclap campaign. It only takes a minute, costs nothing, and helps me spread the word for the cover reveal of Rite of Revelation, coming up on 10/28. Signing up earns you a big virtual hug from yours truly. Thanks in advance! Now go have a great Back to the Future day!