Writing Contests

For my final post in 2016, I’m honored, once again, to have Ed Abell, author of the award-winning My Father’s Keep, to guest post. Writing contests are a commendable avenue for authors to build their platform and their writing résumé, and Ed’s experience shows how gratifying they can be after all those years of toil and tears.

 

I chose to self-publish because I wanted to be on Amazon and Kindle. That’s the marketplace. These days, even if a publisher did pick my book, I’d still have to show them a marketing plan and self-promote the book. The print-on-demand strategy worked for me.

The bad rap on self-publishing is that anyone can do it and so much of it is crap. So the question becomes, how do you differentiate yourself in that arena? Five-star reviews on Amazon help, but those are mostly friends (bless their hearts). Finishing well in writing contests meant validation from peers and recognition beyond my circle of friends and family. That’s, of course, if I won anything at all.

Between ads in Writer’s Digest, surfing the Internet, and Diana Schramer flagging opportunities for me, I chose fourteen different contests to enter. Each one had different costs and categories. They encompassed regional, national, and international. My book is a creative nonfiction memoir. It was entered as nonfiction, memoir, relationships, and sometimes the contest categorized it themselves. One was even mountain-specific because my story is told during a trek to Mount Everest Base Camp. (Just being included in the twenty-two books under consideration for the Boardman Tasker Prize was a victory.)

All had different rules for application and timing. Some wanted several printed books, some a gifted e-book, and some a PDF file. I made a chart to follow all the instructions and, most importantly, the timing of the contest results.

I had no idea about my chances. What I did know is the process of writing had taken four years and thirty-eight rewrites. I had used beta readers (people who didn’t know me to read the book and comment) and Diana Schramer as my professional editor—the last being so very important in producing a quality product amongst the self-publishing mob.

Months later I’m at our cabin. No Internet and undependable 3G. My phone beeps; an e-mail had arrived through the pine trees:

“Congratulations, Mr. Abell. The Paris International Book Festival is happy to inform you that you have received an Honorable Mention in the General Non-fiction category for your book ‘My Father’s Keep.’”

Fourth in the world in that broad category still busts by buttons. In all, I’d win two international and two national awards for both the paperback and the e-book. One of the gold medallions proudly decorates my book cover.

Did my sales skyrocket? No. But my mission all along was to write a good book, now an award-winning book.

I have included a review from a losing effort. I did not place in this contest. Please note the scores and comments about the editing. Good luck to all.

Judge, 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding.”

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 4

Plot and Story Appeal: 4

Character Appeal and Development: 0 (Non Fiction)

Voice and Writing Style: 4

Judge’s Commentary:

‘My Father’s Keep’ is beautifully written, well structured, and well edited, a professional and worthy book on every level.

The author tells his story without delving into pathos or cliché and the framework of the trip through the Himalaya works beautifully with the subject matter. The fact that, in the end, he got his dad’s ashes to the summit of Everest really hits it home. And it’s a great testament to the book that the author realizes and portrays what a good conclusion this was for him without any hand wringing about not making it to the summit himself. A lot of writers would have fallen into that trap.

The author weaves in scenes from his boyhood, and it works well as he makes his journey. Despite his family’s challenges and the damage it did, many of those scenes are fond memories and as the book progresses, have much more of an impact in the context of the rest of the material. Both the short scene where the author climbs the cliff near Lake Michigan and the one where his dad drives him back to college after his girlfriend have broken up with him hit the reader in the heart. The author’s skill at selling a scene without overwriting it really works here.

The cover, font and interior structure are all professionally done. The fine and professional editing of the book are also a big plus and a rare find in self-published work.

Overall, it is a beautifully done, professional book that would be at home on any bookstore shelf.

 

 

 

 

 

Guest-Posting Trifecta

In my September 2014 post, I stressed the importance of having a storefront, which for authors (and freelance copy editors, proofreaders, cover designers, and web designers) means a website. Next to an engaging, meticulously edited book, this is your first order of business. But once you’ve done so, how do you let people know you’ve set up shop in cyberspace? Can’t you just “build it and they will come”? Ah, if only that were so.

But don’t despair, for there is the most effective and quite simple strategy that benefits not only your business or blog or both but also that of other industry-related businesses. This strategy is called guest posting.

Guest posting is just what it sounds like—you post an article as a guest on another’s blog. In my case, I saw an invitation on Twitter from a self-publishing company for authors, editors, and cover designers to post an article on the company’s blog. I contacted them, pitched my idea for an article, and received the green light. From that one guest post (April 13, 2011, “Don’t Bypass the Copy Editor”), I have received business from clients I might not have met otherwise. But there’s no need to wait for an invitation. Just contact the owner of the blog on which you would like to post and ask if he or she welcomes guest posts and go from there!

The beauty of guest posting is not only its ease and simplicity but also what I call the guest-posting trifecta: publication, marketing, and goodwill.

1. Publication

This is the dream and goal of every writer, even those who may not be concerned with book sales, such as freelance editors, proofreaders, cover designers, bloggers, etc. Writers are communicators and connectors, but in order to so, they need readers. I have writer friends who tell me they aren’t interested in publication, yet they are prolific bloggers. Guess what? Without realizing it, they are already published! And there is no better way to increase readership and thus communicate and connect with even more people than guest posting on another’s blog.

2. Marketing

Ugh. Just the word, along with its sister “networking,” strikes dread if not terror in the hearts of most writers. Yet guest posting is a fabulous way to market yourself and your work, all through the written word—your chosen medium—and from the comfort of your own computer. Music to your ears, right?

3. Goodwill

All business is competitive, and book sales and blogging, as well as the business of freelance publishing professionals, are no exception. But it doesn’t need to be adversarial. Guest posting actually inspires goodwill between the site owner and the guest rather than pitting them against each other. And this goodwill is paid forward when the guest then welcomes another to post on his or her blog. As I see it, we are all on this journey, so why not help one another succeed?

The best part of guest posting is that it’s a win-win. You and your book, business, and/or blog gain exposure, as does that of the site owner when you promote your post through word of mouth, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. So don’t be afraid to reach out to other site owners (including yours truly!). Many of them would love new content and, like all savvy business people, the opportunity to expand their readership.

Marketing

Last month, I wrote about the importance of writers having their own storefront, or website. So this month, I want to address how to drive traffic to your website. In a word, marketing.

I confess that marketing felt dry and impersonal to me, as it tends to be data driven, which is not my forte. I am a words and people person, not a numbers person. However, while attending the Wisconsin Book Festival last week, I had an epiphany that led to a new perspective: Marketing is about making connections with people and attracting those who are the right fit for you and your work. With that in mind, four elements are key.

Key #1: Know Your Market

Market research is vital or you will end up trying to appeal to everyone, which is impossible, or you will turn yourself inside out trying to connect with readers who are not the right fit for your work. Writers of horror will most likely not appeal to readers of romance. And chances are memoirists will not draw a following from the sci-fi crowd, no matter how moving and well written the story. And be specific. Are your readers men, women? Or does your writing speak to both? What is the age group? Children? Young adults? Middle-agers? Octogenarians? Are they professionals, blue-collar workers? Are they retired? Married? Single? Divorced? Empty nesters? Parents of young children or teenagers?

Key #2: Find Your Market

Where do readers hang out?

  1. Book festivals
  2. Indie bookstores and coffee shops–Introduce yourself to the owners and ask if they would be willing to allow you to give a reading/book signing at their store or shop. Also ask if they would be willing to stock your books.
  3. Libraries–Ask if you could do a reading/book signing or presentation.
  4. Writers’ conferences–Offer to be involved in a panel discussion, give a presentation, lead a workshop, and/or have a table at its book fair.

At all of the above, be sure to hand out business cards that includes your web address and have a sign-up sheet to gather e-mail addresses of attendees.

Key #3: Maintain Contact with Your Market

Options abound: print and e-newsletters, blogs, and social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google +. But don’t overwhelm yourself thinking you have to do them all. Choose one, two, or however many you can sanely manage. But whether it’s one or four, be consistent. Using only one platform regularly is far more effective than using four occasionally. Try whichever platform(s) appeals to you to find your own comfort level. The more comfortable you are, the more likely you will use it consistently.

Key #4: Grow Your Market

In addition to the suggestions in #2 and #3, follow blogs of agents and other writers in your genre. Make comments on their blogs and ask if you could write a guest post on their blog. And, of course, offer the same to them. This promotes goodwill and helps increase exposure for you both. It’s a win-win, the best kind of exchange there is.

Marketing is not only a business strategy for those who want to sell books or a service. Marketing is also a connecting tool for those who have a message they want to get out into the world or stories they long to share. And be creative in your marketing. Come up with your own ways to connect with people.

Author Website: Your Storefront

Two weeks ago, I was chatting with an acquaintance who is also self-employed. A massage therapist, she rents space in a salon on Main Street in her city. We discussed the perks and perils of self-employment, and then the subject turned to marketing.

“In order for people to remember you, you have to be in front of them all the time,” she said, slapping her hands as punctuation. “How do people know about your business?” When I told her online, she said, “Eeuwww! Then you can’t use your personality! With me, people can see me!”

The next morning, I had a phone conversation with a business development manager of a regional publication who remarked, “You really don’t have a business.” My hackles raised, and I said, a bit steely, “Yes. I do have a business.” “Well, I mean you don’t have a retail business with an actual physical location.” “You’re right,” I told her. “I don’t have an actual storefront, but I do have a business.”

These back-to-back conversations got me thinking. Frankly, I was shocked that in our cyber-digital world that these two businesswomen held the apparent notion that physical presence is everything; that real businesses have an actual brick-and-mortar storefront with the owner’s physical body inside. To me, this smacks of “Build it, and they will come.”

Authors, editors, and web designers—those whose business is intellectual property rather than the sale of tangible products or services—often do not set up shop in the mall, a business park, or even a quaint artsy district. But to believe that they do not have a viable business is pure baloney (actually, its more colorful counterpart). First of all, renting space, and the overhead that goes along with that, would not be financially wise for these types of businesses. And all savvy business owners must be financially wise, especially in the early years, or they won’t be in business for long.

But both of these women did make a good point: all businesses need to be visible. And that includes yours, Authors. So what is your storefront? Your website. And it is vital that you have one.

I told my acquaintance that I do use my personality online—through my words. But it’s more than that. Everything from the colors, the font, the graphics, the pictures, the design, and all the bells and whistles we choose to have on our website reflects our personality and speaks of who we are. Our website not only tells the world what we do and have to offer, it also tells the world who we are as a real, live, in-the-flesh human being. And that is whom people connect and want to do business with and buy books from.

Setting up shop in cyberspace is the first step in becoming a business owner as an author. And don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have a real business!