Category Archives: Writing/Publishing Tips

5 tips to building an author platform—without being an author

authorz-platform.jpgIn our experience, there are two words that strike the most fear into the heart of any aspiring author: AUTHOR PLATFORM. [Cue creepy organ music.] Our clients know they need to sell themselves when they sell their book. They know that it’s not just their craft being evaluated by an agent or publisher, but their personal story, credentials, and potential reach to the book’s target market. All of this is rolled up into an individual writer’s author platform, and it must be highlighted persuasively in the proposal and query letter. After all, it’s a job application: When you think about it, every writer is applying for the job of author at that particular house. You have to show why you’re worth their investment.

“But I’ve never been published before!” our clients moan. “How can I build my author platform when I’m not even an author yet?”

Good question. We’ll tell you how. (And by the way, whether you have a glimmer of a book idea or a polished draft, the time to start bulking up your author platform is now.)

  1. Begin offering your services. If you have a kids book, offer to read it at schools, libraries, or kids bookstores. Could you do a demo at a cooking store, or offer to help party-plan a high-profile charity event? Could you get on a local radio show or panel during a discussion that your book might pertain to? Does your expertise lend itself to a conference, charity organization, or event, where you could speak and get publicity in return? All this shows you are making a name for yourself on your topic. (If you have great ideas of things you could do, but haven’t yet, include those in your proposal, too.)
  1. Start a blog. If it makes sense for your book, start an on-point and well-crafted blog, and start subscribing and commenting on other, more high-profile blogs on the same subject. You don’t need a giant audience here. A simple, nicely written blog and/or author website shows you’re committed to your topic and showcases your writing. (Because trust us, the first thing an agent or publisher will do is Google you.
  1. Tweet. Especially for nonfiction writers, start following folks in your field or subject area, and they’ll follow you back. And try to tweet, respond, and retweet a couple of times a day.
  1. Reach out to the writing community. Jump into the writer’s community, both where you live and online. Not only will you find your tribe, but those same people can be really supportive when it comes time to promote your book.
  1. Be a media whore. Yep, we said it. Get your name out there, any way you can. Who is covering a subject that you can speak to? (Ideally this is also your books’ subject, but not necessarily.) When you’re positioning yourself as an author, it’s no time to be shy. Contact local radio stations and print media to offer yourself as an expert. Register for HARO (Help a Reporter Out), where reporters contact experts on a wide variety subjects. A few minutes of your time could mean you’re quoted in a national publication and will come up in searches on that topic.

Now, once you start making inroads, use that info for your book proposal or query letter. It’s a huge selling point of your book these days. Incorporate all of this into a compelling picture of you as an author, someone who can both deliver the goods and be comfortable telling their story to the media.


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5 Things You Need to Know to Get a Book Deal

During our six years of publishing consulting and 40-plus years of combined publishing experience, we’ve culled some tips that might seem obvious at first blush but are often overlooked in the rush to submit what you are sure is a guaranteed best seller.

Slow down there, boss, and take a breath.

Review our tips and strengthen your submission and chances of a book deal.

1.      Do your homework.
Research other books that could be considered competion, become an expert in your genre and on your topic, visit bookstores or libraries (yes, in person!), and learn which publishing houses and agents specialize in your particular genre or subject matter.

2.      Do think of publishing as a business.
Your book is your baby, yes, but it’s also a product to be bought and sold in a marketplace filled not only with books but other forms of entertainment (apps, movies, music, etc.). It’s critical to be business savvy and approach a publisher with a compelling pitch and attitude that conveys that you are ready to partner with them on a lucrative business venture (i.e. your book).

3.      Do have confidence.
You have got to believe in your idea and your vision! Don’t be shy. Sell it. If you are not absolutely committed to your book project, why would anyone else be? But a note of caution: being confident is terrific, being cocky is not. Don’t claim it’s a “guaranteed best-seller that will outsell The Lord of the Rings Trilogy/50 Shades of Grey/The DaVinci Code;” rather, explain with specifics why your book will perform well for a particular publisher. Is it similar to another book on their list that has done well? Will it appeal to a demographic that the publisher already dominates? The more specific you can get about why you are approaching them in particular, the better.

4.      Do persevere!
Every famous author from Dr. Seuss to J.K. Rowling to F. Scott Fitzgerald has had multiple rejections. Keep going. This is where that confidence and unwavering belief in your project comes into play. We always remind writers that publishers and agents are looking for you, too, and first-time authors get book deals every single day. We have the success stories to prove it—our clients have killer book deals in a variety of genres, ranging from children’s picture books to memoir to fiction to coffee table books to nonfiction.
5.      Do write a killer book proposal.
Your proposal is your business plan. Creating a great one is vital to selling your book in today’s market. Contact us at to learn about upcoming events, 2-on-1 proposal reviews, our Publishing Toolkit, and other services we offer to help you write the best possible proposal. We’re here to help your publishing dreams become a reality!


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6 Ways You Should Be Stealing from Your Favorite Author

Chris Madden illustration of a burglar stealing a book on ethicsIf you want to get published, look to those writers who have come before you. In other words, be a book thief.

While we would never, ever suggest you plagiarize other authors, there are other ways to steal from them—and feel good doing it. The writers you admire have a lot of wisdom to impart, both directly and indirectly. Here’s how to leverage the career, advice, and published works of your favorite authors to get a publishing deal of your own.

  1. Check their acknowledgments.
    Doing your research is key to getting a sweet book deal. By checking the acknowledgments pages of your favorite authors, you will quickly compile a list of editors and agents to whom you might want to submit your project. In our Business of Books classes, we always recommend this bit of old-school sleuthing because it’s a much easier way to get a targeted submission list together than slogging through lists of agents and editors.
  1. Reach out and touch them.
    There are more avenues than ever to engage your favorite author, and we’ve seen more than one client make a personal connection with a writer. Follow and converse with writers you admire on social media; Susan Orlean, for example, is very active on Twitter, as is Judy Blume. You can also seek out writers who teach and take a class from them. Pam Houston, Andre Dubus III, and Maria Semple, for example, all teach at writers’ conferences and retreats. Many workshops allow serious interaction and review of your work. What better way to have your work noticed than to workshop it with a writer/teacher you admire? Who knows? They might even blurb your book when it goes to print!
  1. Learn from their successes and mistakes.
    Don’t reinvent the publishing wheel. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge out there already about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to writing and publishing a book successfully. In print interviews, podcasts, and TED Talks, authors impart lots of useful insider information about both their experiences. They also often write books about writing. Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Elizabeth George, and now Mary Karr, among others, have all written books that share their insight into the writing process. Sherman Alexie and Jess Walters teamed up to host a weekly podcast, A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment, where they share new work and talk about the bumps in the literary road. We’re personally excited to hear from some of our favorite authors—Joyce Carol Oates, come on!—at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference in February 2016, where we’ll also be teaching a workshop. NPR’s Scott Simon is giving a keynote, called “Napping, Drinking, and Other Writing Tips I’ve Learned From Great Authors from Phillip Roth to Judith Krantz to Mickey Mantle.” Great minds think alike, or so we’d like to believe. Glean all you can. And there’s almost nothing more encouraging than hearing how many times a wildly successful author has been rejected. 2015 Man Booker Award winner Marlon James persevered after his first novel was rejected 78 times by various publishers.
  1. Compare yourself to the authors you love.
    When you think about pitching your book (and yourself) to an agent or publisher, what authors might you compare yourself to? Give this question some thought. In your book proposal, it’s always a smart idea to align your writing with another writer or two. It helps agents immediately get a fix on your writing and an idea of how to position you and your project in the marketplace. This is not to say that your voice and writing isn’t completely original, it’s more that you are directing the conversation and putting yourself in the literary company you want to keep. As a case in point, Jen’s agent will always respond to an author who indicates why they reached out to her, which usually is because they believe their writing to be similar in some way to one of the authors in her stable. So, who is your literary dopplegänger?
  1. Study their writing practices.
    At events and in interviews, authors are always asked if they have any rituals or routines. When, where, and how do they write, and can you apply these tips to move your own project forward? Kerry just went to a reading where National Book Award Finalist Lauren Groff discussed how she needs the physicality of writing longhand for her creative process. If you feel stuck in front of a blank computer screen, this might be just the thing to get your creative juices flowing again, in the direction of a publishing deal.
  1. Find out who they admire.
    What and who do your favorite authors read? To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader as well. Finding out who an author reaches for or is influenced by might expose you to a whole new world. If you are experiencing writer’s block in some form, don’t fret. Consider it as a fallow period and use it as a time to read something great that a respected author recommended. It will make you a better writer and might offer up some additional comparisons when pitching your book.

To move your project forward in just two days, join us for Get Published!: A Writers Retreat at Willows Lodge on January 23–24, 2016.


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Start your book proposal before you finish your manuscript

It’s true. It’s a smart idea to start your book proposal even while your manuscript is still in progress.

To that end, join us for Get Published!, an intensive and results-oriented weekend workshop for aspiring authors on January 23 & 24, 2016! In just 36 hours, writers will leave with all the tools they need to craft a successful proposal and pitch their book to agents and publishers with confidence. For more information on the retreat, check out this video:

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4 Reasons Aspiring Authors Should Get to a Bookstore

elliottbaybooksWe were thrilled to write a guest post for the Hedgebrook blog. We love this magical writers’ residency for women on Whidbey Island and wanted to share some publishing intel to help aspiring authors create compelling proposals and targeted submission lists. Going to a bookstore can help. We promise. Read the post here.

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Join us at the Chuckanut Writers Conference June 25-28!

Jen & Kerry at the 2013 Whidbey Island Writers Conference

Jen & Kerry at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference

To paraphrase Shakespeare, get thee to a writers conference! Conferences are an excellent way to reinvigorate your writing and meet like-minded literary types, and they are offered throughout the year and in various geographic locations—including charming Bellingham, WA, home to the Chuckanut Writers Conference. We’ll be there June 25-27 as part of an amazing lineup of authors (Erik Larson! Stephanie Kallos! Molly Wizenberg! So many more!), as well as agents, publishing pros, and other wonderful folks. Our “master class,” Secrets of a Successful Proposal, (June 25) is a great way to get our core curriculum in one mind-bending afternoon.

Note: Early-bird registration ends May 28! Register now for the best rates.

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Give the gift of publication with our January publishing retreat

We’ve got the perfect gift for you or the writer in your life!

With the holidays behind you, refocus on you and your book proposal in the new year. We are hosting a publishing/writing retreat at Willows Lodge in Woodinville, WA from January 31-February 1, 2015. Whether you have a glimmer of a book idea or a polished draft ready to send to an agent, this weekend retreat will be both practical and motivational. Attendees will be treated to insightful, hands on workshops to move their book project forward, as well as time to put new ideas into action and onto the page. Find out more here.


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Publishing tip o’ the week: What is a book proposal?

Your path to publication all starts with a solid book proposal. Here, we offer our manifesto on the importance of a book proposal, the roadmap for your publishing journey.

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Publishing tip o’ the week: Creating a submission list

We are rolling out weekly video tips to guide you on your path to publication. First up, an insider tip on how to develop a targeted submission list! How do you go about targeting agents and editors?

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6 Ways to Effectively Crowdfund Your Book

As more and more authors are turning to crowdfunding to bring their book project to market, we asked Justine Schofield, development director of Pubslush, a global pre-publication platform, to offer some tips on how to make the most of this resource.

Pubslush-LOGOCrowdfunding is a tool that authors now use to raise funds, collect pre-orders and market their book before publication. The number of authors, both self-publishing and established, who want to create a more personal connection with their audiences is rising and crowdfunding is the perfect solution to create and foster this connection between authors and readers.

Deciding to crowdfund your book is a big decision. Crowdfunding is not an easy task and it takes serious commitment to conduct a successful campaign, but luckily there are a lot of resources available to help authors throughout the process. For starters, here are some ways to make sure you get everything that you need out of your crowdfunding campaign, and then some.

  1. Create a marketing plan.
    This can be seen as the starting point for your campaign that will outline your plan of attack. Research and establish who it is that you will reach out to about your campaign, how to get in touch with them and when you will do so. Developing a marketing plan takes a lot of research and planning, but it makes effective crowdfunding not only more attainable but also more manageable. You should be able to refer to your plan throughout the campaign as a guideline and reference point.
  2. Research other successful campaigns.
    Check out campaigns that have already had success. See what they are doing that seems effective to you and notice what you don’t like so you can avoid or improve these points on your own campaign. It also never hurts to reach out to those who have already had success. Generally, people are very open to sharing their crowdfunding experiences.
  3. Create really amazing and enticing rewards.
    To effectively crowdfund your book, you have to offer rewards that will make supporters want to pledge their financial support. Again, research other successful campaigns to see what they offered their supporters. Although offering a copy of the book is always a great reward (hello pre-orders!), authors have the opportunity to create other rewards that supporters will love. Reward levels are your chance to get creative and generally, the more creative, the better!
  4. Secure “inner circle” supporters that will pledge to your campaign right away to kick it off.
    Before the campaign even starts, you should secure your “inner circle,” (mom, dad, grandma, your best friend…you get it) to pledge to your campaign as soon as it starts. This way your campaign funding will be boosted above $0 and other people will see that there’s interest in your campaign out of the gate. This is an essential way to build your momentum on the first day of your campaign.
  5. Execute your marketing plan.
    You’ve already carefully constructed your marketing plan and now it’s time to make it happen. It’s best to build your base of supporters from your own network before branching out. People in your own network are more likely to support you while your numbers may still be low. However, once you build momentum from your own network, other people in your targeted audience will see that your fan base (and book) is really impressive and will want to join in the movement.
  6. Thank supporters and provide updates during and after the campaign.
    One of the keys to successful crowdfunding is staying in touch with your audience and keeping them informed. During the campaign, you should be thanking supporters as they pledge and asking them to spread the word to their network as well. It’s also a nice touch to send out a newsletter or email that highlights the activity and success of the campaign. After the campaign, thank supporters again for their contributions and keep them updated on the progress of the project and the fulfillment of the rewards. Showing appreciation and communicating is necessary when you are trying to build a large and loyal fan base for your book.

Crowdfunding can be really rewarding and effective when one puts thought, time, and effort into it. With these tips and a dedicated state of mind, effectively crowdfunding your book is definitely attainable.

Justine Schofield is the development director of Pubslush, a global pre-publication platform that allows authors and publishers to raise funds, collect pre-orders and tangibly market their upcoming book project. A writer at heart, Justine has received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. She has become a prominent voice in the publishing industry and an advocate for educating authors and publishers about crowdfunding. She has contributed to IBPA’s Independent magazine, Self-Publishers Monthly, Book Marketing Magazine, Business Banter and many more online publications. She tweets for @pubslush.Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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