Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book

A new week following a holiday and a new opportunity to read and learn from an author about the writing process - and another opportunity to ask the author a writing related question and win a book! Today, I have Patricia Fry, who has authored 28 titles, 10 of them on the writing process. Patricia talks about how to get published and about SPAWN. Hit the word "comments" below and ask Patricia a question by 5 p.m. today. If I randomly draw your question, Patricia will answer your question on the blog on Thursday - and you'll win a copy of her book, "The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book." It's easy and if you win, you don't even pay s&h!

Please tell us about yourself.

I’ve been writing for publication since 1973, when I set up a borrowed manual typewriter in a corner of my bedroom and pounded out my first article. I had been studying the article-writing market for 8 or 10 years by then and had an idea about how to proceed. I had learned that it is important to write about what you know. Our family (husband and 3 daughters) were involved with horses, at the time, so I started out writing for horse magazines. The first article I wrote sold because I had taken the time to study the market, study the magazine I wanted to write for and follow the submission guidelines. (This has always been important, but is enormously more vital in today’s competitive writing/publishing climate.) In 1978, I wrote my first book, “Hints for the Backyard Rider.” The first publisher I sent the manuscript to issued a contract and I became a published author.

I established my own publishing company, Matilija Press, in 1983 when I produced a comprehensive local history book. This was before self-publishing was fashionable or even convenient.

I’ve been writing for publication since—having actually supported myself with my article-writing and book publishing, etc. for the last 20 years. I still write articles, but mostly for writing/publishing-related magazines, ezines and newsletters. I have 28 books to my credit. Ten of them relate to writing and publishing. I am also the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network). I travel and speak to writers and hopeful authors throughout the U.S., I teach online courses for writers and authors and I work with other writers and authors on their projects through my editorial and consulting business.

What titles do you have out there to help writers?

My hallmark title is “The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book,” which is designed to guide the hopeful and struggling author successfully through the publishing process. This book addresses every publishing option and helps the author to make the best choices for his or her particular project. This book points out the possible consequences of poor choices and it clarifies the published author’s responsibilities. Many hopeful authors don’t know, for example, that, no matter what publishing option they choose (traditional publisher, fee-based POD self-publishing service or true self-publishing, which means to establish your own publishing company), it is his/her responsibility to promote his or her book. This book covers the writing, publishing and marketing of a book and everything in between for a newbie or even a seasoned author.

This year, I came out with “The Author’s Workbook”—a companion to “The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book.”

Other writing/publishing-related titles are, “How to Write a Successful Book Proposal in 8 Days or Less,” “Over 75 Good Ideas for Promoting Your Book,” “A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles,” and “The Successful Writer’s Handbook.”

My newest book is an ebook called, “The Author’s Repair Kit.” This book features my invention—the post-publication book proposal. It’s for authors whose books are struggling in the marketplace or stalled—folks who probably did not write a book proposal before completing their books.

What made you want to help aspiring writers with the craft?

I’m not so much about helping writers with the craft as I am about helping freelance writers and authors through the publishing process. As the president of SPAWN and in my travels to writers’ conferences and book festivals throughout the U.S., I meet a lot of disillusioned, disappointed and broke authors who have made some poor decisions with regard to their publishing projects. Because I’ve paid my dues in this profession and I’ve learned a lot along the way, I feel a need to reach out and give others a hand up. My mission—my passion, if you will—is to inform and educate authors and freelance writers before they start making costly and heart-breaking mistakes.

I do this through my countless articles published in magazines and newsletters such as Writer’s Digest, Angela Hoy’s Writer’s Weekly, Moira Allen’s Writing World Newsletter, Publishing Basics, SPAWNews, SPAN Connection, PMA Independent and many others. I also write the monthly SPAWN Market Update for the member area of the SPAWN Website. This meaty newsletter is one of this industry’s most valuable resources. Of course, I also help others through my books, my online, on-demand courses for freelance writers and authors (www.matilijapress.com/courses.htm), the many workshops I present every year and my editorial and consulting services. (www.matilijapress.com/consulting.html)

Tell us about SPAWN.

SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) is a networking organization and resource center for anyone interested in publishing. We offer a free newsletter and free access to many countless resources at our website, www.spawn.org. The member area of the website features access to the monthly SPAWN Market Update and 6 years worth of archived issues. We provide a member forum and a discussion group for networking purposes among members. Members also have the opportunity to have their book displayed in our SPAWN Catalog of Members’ Books and Services as well as at book festivals throughout Southern and Central California.

Mary Embree started SPAWN in 1997 as a face-to-face networking organization with 3 Chapters in 3 Counties of Southern California. In 2001, we shifted to an online organization only. I’ve been actively involved with SPAWN from the beginning.

In your opinion, what is the most common mistake that writers make when starting out?

I assume you are talking about writers who want to be published. In this case, the most common and most disastrous mistake they make is not studying the industry—not taking time to become somewhat knowledgeable in the area of their publishing interest. Freelance article or story writers need to learn something about the submission process, the need to study the magazines for which they want to write and, despite what their heart tells them, they really must listen to their head. When Submission Guidelines say “We want factual articles on the positive aspects of adoption—no more than 1,500 words,” don’t send a 3,000-word fiction piece focusing on an adoption gone bad.

Hopeful authors are even more vulnerable than freelance writers because they have more at stake—more emotion, more money and more time invested. It is crucial that authors study the publishing industry before getting involved. I tell audiences that publishing is not an extension of your writing. Writing is a craft, a creative endeavor, a heart-thing. Publishing is a business and must be approached as such.

I tell audiences that there are two secrets to publishing success. First, study the publishing industry so that you know your options, the possible consequences of your choices and your responsibility as a published author. Second, write a book proposal. A book proposal is your business plan and you need this whether you are writing a novel, a nonfiction book, a children’s book or even a book or poetry. Most traditional royalty publishers are requesting some form of a book proposal for manuscripts of every type, these days.

But there’s an even more important reason for writing a book proposal—for you! Even before you start writing that book, you need to know whether or not this is a viable product. Is there a market for this book? What is your competition? What makes your book different, better—more desirable than what’s out there on your topic or in your genre? You must define your target audience and determine where they are and how to approach them. And you really must develop a platform.

These are all necessary to authorship success and they can all be accomplished through the diligent and thoughtful execution of a book proposal.

Many writers are fretting over the economy. I know even some of my regular gigs have cut back due to ad revenue loss already. What's your advice for making it through a downturn in the economy?

This is a very real aspect of a writer’s life, isn’t it? I’ve experienced (and lived through) several economic downturns throughout my career, as you can imagine. And, of course, I’ve written articles on the subject. I recall one in particular called, “How to Recession-proof Your Writing Business.” If anyone is interested in this article, have them contact me at PLFry620@yahoo.com and I’ll send it to them. I have many other articles posted at my site: www.matilijapress.com/articles.htm.

I tell freelance writers to step up their promotional activities when times grow lean. Contact those editors for whom you’ve done writing work before and ask for an assignment. You might also have some ideas in mind to present. Try something new—approach companies and organizations in your area and offer to rewrite their company brochures, employee manuals or take over the companies newsletters, for example. Go surfing on the web and locate sites that could use your writing expertise. You won’t have to look far to find misspelled words and grammatical problems. Contact the webmaster with an offer they can’t refuse. One year, when things were going slow for me, I sent letters out to local companies with my list of credentials and tasks I could handle for them. Three out of 10 contacted me with jobs. Of course, you’ll also want to contact new magazines, newsletters, websites, etc. with your credentials and ideas in hopes of landing paying work.

It’s a matter of reaching out with hope and confidence rather than shrinking back in fear and a sense of doom.

You've been writing for over 30 years. What's the biggest change you've seen in the industry?

I tell audiences that the publishing industry is constantly in a state of flux and I’ve never seen so many changes occurring at such a fast rate as within the last 6 or 8 years. Naturally, technology is one reason. In fact, it is probably the major reason. There’s an old standard that says 81 percent of the American adult public believe they have a book in them. More and more of those people are actually writing their books. Why? Because they can. Technology has made it possible. Not only that, there are something like 89 companies that will produce your book for a fee. They call it “self-publishing”—“Let us help you self-publish your book.” I call them fee-based POD self-publishing services. Self-publishing means establishing your own publishing company.

Okay, so what is the biggest change I’ve seen in the industry—the increase in competition for the author. There are more people approaching publishers with their manuscripts and there are more books being marketed. The competition in this industry is fierce, which is why authors MUST lead with their heads instead of their emotions.

You write on many different topics. Do you think it is really that important to develop a platform in one specific niche?

I believe an author should develop a platform for any and every topic or genre he writes on or in. What is your platform, after all, but your following—your way of attracting readers. It is your responsibility to promote your book, so you’d better have some background or credibility or experience in that subject or genre. If you are writing or wish to write novels in more than one genre—a romance, an adventure and a suspense, for example, you can write short stories in each of these genres, submit them to numbers of publications along with your byline and start NOW developing a platform—becoming known—in each of these genres. If you’ve done as I have and you’ve written nonfiction books on a variety of topics—grandparenting, youth mentoring, horse ownership, presenting a Hawaiian luau on the mainland, journaling, a metaphysical adventure, local history and writing/publishing, you’d better have some background or credibility in each of these subjects.

I do not recommend writing on a variety of topics. It is just too hard to spread yourself thin enough to promote effectively. Of course, some of your titles are going to suffer. I recommend, instead, choosing a topic, write a book, booklets, spin off books and articles, for example, related to that topic. Work to build credibility in that one area. Spend at least a couple of years promoting these books exclusively. If you must write on other topics, wait until the original topic is fairly well established (probably 2 or 3 years) before committing your efforts to another topic.

What's next for you?

I can only imagine. I have a book of true cat stories that I’d like to produce one day. I have vowed that I’m going to try my hand at fiction someday. In the meantime, I will continue teaching, coaching, mentoring other writers and authors through my writing courses: www.matilijapress.com/courses.htm, my informative blog (I add to it daily) www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog, my books www.matilijapress.com and my appearances www.matilijapress.com/activities.htm (for my calendar of events). I’ll keep promoting my books through articles in appropriate publications far and wide. If you want to read some of my articles, just Google my name. And I hope to continue as President of SPAWN which has become a great venue for helping hopeful and struggling authors.

And now Patricia is awaiting your question!


Blogger Kerry Dexter said...

what is the most important thing you have learned from the students in your classes?

8:35 AM CDT  
Blogger Mollie Cox Bryan said...

Hi Patricia,
Great interview!
I'd like to know what the difference is between what we used to call vanity presses and pod publishing services. Is it the same thing?
Mollie Bryan

10:30 AM CDT  
Blogger Life's Beautiful Path said...

With loads of how-to-information on the enternet for writers, do you find it difficult to promote or sell your books?
Thank you.

11:58 AM CDT  
Blogger Computer Clarity © 2004 said...

Hello Patricia,
I am a SPAWN member and remain in awe of your productivity, visibility, and longevity as a writer.

What percent of your time would you say is spent in online promotion and revenue generation, either with articles or book marketing? I see many people who poke around the web and see no gain, but my sense is you are more committed and thorough in your online exposure.

Helen Gallagher

6:48 AM CDT  

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