Vlog #2: I’ve Got GREAT News!!!!!

Y’all, I’ve got fabulous news! Like epic, come through Jesus type news! I’ve been saying that #Sweet2016 is going to by my year, and so far, that life I’ve been speaking is coming to pass. More on the power of speaking things into existence later (like that husband and babies I’ve been claiming too) but for now, check out the short vid below. ūüėČ

I have NO idea why it’s frozen on such an unflattering still pic, but hey, it be’s like that sometimes. I feel like I look exactly like Eddie Murphy in Big Mama’s House! #TheShade

And as promised in the vlog, here are the selfies I took at work when I signed the contract!

Pub pic

I’m so excited about what God is doing in my life and I’m truly grateful for each of you. Your encouragement and the community we’ve created here keep me going. I’m looking forward to all the wonderful things that the future holds for us! Let’s get it.

What are you believing for in 2016? Say it out loud!

Who Else Wants to Be a REAL Writer?

My blogger buddy and fellow writer M. Simone Boyd of My Family Fantastic is here today to dish on everything you ever wanted to know about attending a writer’s conference! She attended one for the first time this year, and she kindly agreed to share her experience. Get ready to take notes and/or bookmark this page because, I’m telling you, this information is GOLD. Enjoy!


Who Else Wants to Be a REAL Writer?

‚ÄúYou should go to a writer‚Äôs conference.‚ÄĚ That‚Äôs what my writing mentor said to me about four years ago. ¬†Until that point, I had implemented every piece of advice she‚Äôd given me with great fervor because she‚Äôs a REAL writer.

I, on the other hand, always felt like an impostor…kind of like I was faking this whole writing thing. Yes, I write a blog. Yes, I’ve had a few freelance pieces published.  Yes, my Twitter bio says writer.

But, secretly, I lived in fear that one day I would be found out as a fraud. And the thought of a writer’s conference gave me the heebie-jeebies.

My First Writer’s Conference…

That all changed at the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference a few weeks ago. There is just something powerful about being with a community of people who are reaching for the same goals, and it was a life-changing experience for me.

I found out about ACFW by internet stalking my dream literary agency, Books & Such. They mentioned in Writer’s Market that they accepted few debut authors. However, the best way to seek representation from their agents was to meet them at a conference.

So, I looked at their conference calendar and selected one. This was my first conference and initially I was a little overwhelmed by reading the bazillion things I needed to do to prepare.

Pre-Conference Preparation

A writer‚Äôs conference is VERY different from most other conferences. Because you are going with the intention of ‚Äúselling‚ÄĚ your manuscript. (Some people go just to learn, but most folks go to get something i.e. an agent, an editor, a publisher, etc.)

At ACFW there were editors from Harper Collins, Revell, Howard, Bethany House, Love Inspired, Guideposts, Tyndale House, and a host of others. As a registered attendee, you choose your top four picks for appointments. However, you are guaranteed only one 15-minute appointment with an agent, editor, or mentor.

Editor and Agent Appointments

At that 15-minute appointment, you can pitch your story idea to an editor with the hopes they’ll express interest in seeing your full manuscript. The thing is, a tremendous amount of research goes into learning what interests each editor or agent.

For example, you wouldn’t pitch a suspense novel to a Love Inspired editor…because they generally look for historical romance. The same general rule applies to agents and each agent is looking for something different.

What Editors and Agents Want to See…

Additionally, each editor or agent wants to see different documents during the appointment. As far as I can tell, it boils down to a combination of one of four items:

  • One Sheet ‚Äď includes an author bio, tagline, and back-cover copy.
  • Book Proposal ‚Äďa business plan for your book and how you plan to ensure sales success
  • Three Sample Chapters ‚Äďfirst three chapters of your finished manuscript
  • Verbal Elevator Pitch ‚Äďthree sentence explanation of book

These materials take a TON of time to write. The great thing about ACFW, is that when you register you can sign up as a first-time attendee and receive emails via the First Timer’s Loop.

Beginning in July, you‚Äôll receive almost daily emails on how to prepare the suggested materials and helpful links. Best-selling author, Brandilyn Collins critiqued each of the first-timers elevator pitches and gave us great feedback on how to make them ‚Äúpunchy.‚ÄĚ

Conference

The conference is basically three days. Workshops are organized based on where you are situated in your career:

  • Freshman Courses – some writing experience, little to no conference attendance
  • Sophomore Course – novelists with moderate writing experience, making progress on a novel
  • Junior Course ‚Äď significant writing experience, benefits those previously published
  • Senior Course ‚Äďestablished writers who are contracted

But, attendees can select any workshop they choose.

On Thursday night, there were agent and publishing house panels. Agents discussed what they look for in clients. Publishers discussed what types of manuscripts they are currently seeking. Attendees get to ask questions.

Saturday night there is an awards gala for titles in different genres. Francine Rivers won a lifetime achievement award, and she sat two tables over from me at lunch one day. (But, I was too scared to say howdy to Mrs. Redeeming Love.) The ACFW 2016 conference is August 25 Р28th in Nashville, TN.

The Definition of Success Differs…

I learned that the definition of successful book sales vary at different houses. For example, at Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) 25 thousand copies sold in one year is successful, at Waterbrook/Multnomah 10 thousand sold is the benchmark, and for Lion Fiction its 5 thousand copies sold over a period of two years.

Indie Author Support

There also seemed to be lots of support for indie authors. Both of the authors I met, told me they’ve made more money on their indie published books than their traditional published books. Also, indie authors can submit their books for the Carol Awards if the author has earned $4000 from a single novel in a twelve-month period.

Post-Conference

Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.

I’m currently following up with contacts. One of the agents said she’s amazed at how many people she invites to submit full manuscripts that never do.

This doesn’t surprise me, because maybe they suffered from the same impostor syndrome as me and simply couldn’t risk being rejected.

My Main Takeaway…

In the workshop ‚ÄúThe Wildness of Writing with God‚ÄĚ the speaker explained that ‚Äúour enemy loves to keep changing the definition of success‚Ķso that it never quite arrives.‚ÄĚ

That was life-changing for me.

Because I realized, my identity as a writer comes from within and it is not based on some external measure of success that is forever elusive.


M Simone Boyd - Head ShotBio: Last year, M. Simone Boyd quit her job as an energy analyst to research what makes relationships thrive or die. She interviewed 10 Christian Black Men to get their advice on relationships and wrote a free guide. Simone is one of eight kids, and her awesome husband is an only child. She leads workshops, writes, and goes to the gym at least once a month. But only because she likes to eat gluten-free cupcakes.

Keep up with Simone via her website: MyFamilyFantastic.com


HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO A WRITER’S CONFERENCE? IF SO, WHAT WAS YOUR NUMBER ONE TAKEAWAY? IF NOT, DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT ACFW?

 

I’ma Give You a Piece of My Mind…(Then I’m going to need that back)

I’m feeling some type of way y’all. One of my pet peeves is being put in a box. No, not literally. I out-of-the-boxwish somebody would try that mess. I’m speaking figuratively. I don’t like when people assume that the girl raised in Compton, CA and Long Beach, CA is automatically hood (although I can be ’bout that life if necessary). I don’t like when people assume that, as a woman past a certain age and unmarried (especially a Black woman) I must be ready to walk down the aisle with any chump, whether he’s unemployed or toothless or batting for the other team. I don’t like when people assume that being overweight, fat, thick’ums or whatever you want to call it, means I¬†spend my¬†days curled up in a fetal position moaning about my cursed life.

That’s that ish I don’t like.

But you know what gets my goat more than any of that? It’s when someone tries to tell me what I can and cannot write. I consider myself to be a Christian Fiction writer. I’m learning more and more that identifying myself as such¬†comes with a huge set of rules that I know nothing about! Not only that, but there’s an undeniable stigma attached to the title as well.

ChristianFiction

On the one hand, you have people in the Christian publishing industry up in arms about authors who are using the Christian Fiction title without following the strict guidelines set forth, which include no explicit anything. On the other hand, you have readers who are unfamiliar with the genre¬†who look at you sideways when you identify as a Christian Fiction writer; like¬†you’re going to beat them over the head with a Bible, take their lunch money, and then tell them that they have to forgive you ‘cuz Jesus said so. ¬†Needless to say, they often run in the other direction without giving your book a second glance.

Which is why I’m over here in my feelings, wondering what kind of writer am I? I don’t want to mislead readers. I want readers to be satisfied that what they thought my book was, and what they actually¬†received was pretty much on the money. I also want to attract readers who might have never considered reading faith-based fiction.¬†How do I best present myself in the most accurate and authentic way?

I’m not going to pretend that I have all of the answers. I not even going to pretend like I have some of the answers. But there’s a few things that I do know. I know that I want to be the kind of writer who writes what I’m passionate about. I want to be the kind of writer who writes what I know to be true. For me, that means that I’m a Christian who writes fiction about life. Life as I see it.

Whether all of this ever falls into a neat little box is yet to be determined.

What do you think of when you hear “Christian Fiction”? What do you think about genre specific guidelines?¬†Do you think genre lines are blurring? Do you think the publishing industry is evolving when it comes to genre specifications?

Book Marketing for Dummies

So yeah, if you read the title and immediately clicked on the link to read this post, you’ve come to the right place. You’re obviously slightly desperate and probably equally clueless, which is why you thought, “Book marketing for dummies? Sign me up!”. The idea for this post came about due to a text message from my cousin and fellow writer Inilya Spencer. She’s a new author and wanted to know if I had any advice regarding marketing. I was all, ummmmmm…nope.

2015-06-10 09.25.20

 

Then I thought about it for a few days and realized that I have learned a thing or two about book marketing over the last year. I’ve mastered the art of ballin’ on a budget.


Start a Blog or Website– To me this seems like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many authors are out in these streets without a web presence. As in, you go to Google them and all that pulls up is their Amazon book page. For real? Let me check my calendar real quick; yep, it’s 2015. As a legitimate author, you must have ¬†web presence. Whether it’s a blog or website is up to you. But if a reader cares enough to seek you out, you should care enough to make it easy for you to be found. Plus, that blog or website creates a one stop shop for said reader to find all of your books in one place. Winning.

Join Goodreads–This is seriously the single best thing you can do for yourself as an author. In case you live under a rock, and are not privy to Goodreads, it’s a social network similar to Facebook dedicated solely to people who love books! I’ll admit that I slept on Goodreads for a while because I didn’t want the headache of managing another social media platform. I was stupid, but you don’t have to be. Even if your book is nothing but an idea at this point, you should still get on Goodreads quick and in a hurry. Once you’re there, join as many groups within your genre as possible and interact with them. You can use Goodreads to solicit book reviews from readers who actually have an interest in your genre, promote giveaways, drive traffic to your blog, and create ad campaigns, which we’ll talk more about later. Goodreads is so important that I’ll wait while you go there now. Seriously. (Add this to your shelf while you’re there.)

Work Your Social Media Jelly– Again, this seems pretty obvious, but you should have a few social media platforms that you’re comfortable using and are actively engaged in. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or whatever. Pick your poison and promote yourself. Notice I said promote yourself, not your books. Social media is meant to be, well, social. As in readers follow you in an effort to get to know you, not just your books. Engage regularly. Post about random thoughts, family events, cute bunnies, that delicious burger you made or whatever. If you’re doing it right, it should be fun. If you’re doing it wrong, it becomes a chore and you get blocked for being a spammer. I’ve stalked the pros and I’ve noticed that most of them only post about their books when they have a new release or event coming up. Keep it classy and keep it moving.

Postcard Anyone?–As you can see in the text message pic above, I love a good postcard or bookmark. These are oldie’s but goodies in the marketing game. They’re an inexpensive way to promote your book. Get some great ones designed with your basic information and pass them out like candy. I carry a stack in my purse. You can give them away at the hair salon, grocery store, book store, library,¬†gym or wherever. They’re like over sized business cards that you should never leave home without.

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Ad Campaigns–This is one marketing strategy that’s going to cost you a little more than time. Ad campaigns are targeted ads that run for a specific period of time on a particular platform. You pay-per-click on your ad. The good thing about these types of campaigns are that you get to choose your budget, the length of time the ad will run and your target demographics. Some platforms that offer per click ads are Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter. I’ve only run one ad campaign and I used Goodreads. So far I like it. Using a $25.00 budget I designed an ad that will only be shown to readers that previously rated books by similar authors in my genre at 3 stars and up. This is an awesome feature. I write in Christian Fiction and I listed about 20 other authors in that genre. It’s great that I know my ad is being seen by people who are fans of the genre and who also take the time to rate books they read.

Put Your Book on Sale–Fluctuating the price of your book is a great way to draw attention to it. Make it 99 cents for a period of time and hashtag the mess out of it on Twitter and other platforms. Contact promotional book sites to have them list it during your sales period. List it under the Kindle Count Down Deals. ¬†If you’re only selling your book on Amazon, you can also enroll it in the KDP Select for maximum exposure. ¬†One of the best tried and true strategies is to offer one of your older books for free to help boost the sales of your newer books.

Show Up and Show Out–One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a super popular author who said that new authors should focus on becoming well-known where they live. She admonished authors to keep their efforts local because it’s cheaper, easier and just makes good business sense. Go to every local book related event you hear about. Call up local bookstores and ask them to order copies of your books. Contact your local libraries and offer to host a reading or donate copies of your books. Join local book clubs. ¬†Look for opportunities to showcase your books through speaking engagements and community events. Get out there and strut your literary stuff!

The American Way– Last, but certainly not least, you can always pay someone to market for you. I’m in cahoots with my blogger friend Quanie Miller who has just started her own business which assists writers with all things publishing related. You can pay someone to do the leg work for you and do what we all would rather be doing anyway: write!


I hope this helped get the wheels turning for those of you who don’t have a clue where to start when it comes to marketing. With a lot of effort and patience, you can sell your books. Once I stepped up my marketing game, I’ve watched that little graph on my sales report steadily climb over the last month. As long as I’m selling at least one book a day, I count it a success.

By the way, you can get my cousin’s new release here! Can you tell I’m excited for her in this pic? Excuse the treadmill and random suitcase in the background. I guess we stay ready to go ’round my way.

20150603_185048

What kinds of marketing advice do you have to offer? Don’t leave us hanging! Tell us all about how you get down in the comments below!

Indie Publishing: The Perks of Being A Boss

Like a bossEveryone wants to be a boss these days.¬†Pop culture is inundated with phrases like “boss chick”, “all eyes on me”, “poppin’ bottles” and my personal favorite “like a boss”. You can use it to describe doing anything with excellence: I ate that whole piece of chicken (like a boss), I paid my taxes (like a boss), I sawed that bunion off (like a boss). You get my point. But when you decide to self publish, you really are a boss. And like I promised last week, I’m going to list the many benefits of independently publishing your books (like a boss). Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


 ********5 Perks to Indie Publishing********

You don’t have answer to anyone but yourself. Didn’t get those proofs approved yet? Feel like changing the cover on a book already in print? Changed your mind about the release date? ¬†Want to release your book in three parts over the course of a year? No problem. There won’t be a marketing exec telling you that you’ve lost your mind. The only person you need to run it by is you.¬†No one will reprimand you. There won’t be a big meeting or conference call where you’re treated like a temperamental writer with threats of re-negotiating your contract. Unless you decide to hold said meeting with yourself. Which is entirely your prerogative. #JudgementFreeZone

You have full creative control. You have the final say on everything from your typeset font to your cover design. Want to make a plot change that’s eons away from your original synopsis/proposal? Go for it. Feel like writing a sci-fi self-help historical romance? Who cares if it’s never been done.¬†Do you, kid. There’s no team of experts stifling your creativity with marketing trends, focus group data, and comparative sales reports. But in all your creativity, don’t forget¬†that you do want to eventually sell your book and keeping a specific fan base in mind is probably a good idea.

Full return on your investments. There’s no team to split the pot with. All profit¬†belongs solely to you. Now, I’m speaking of money made after you’ve deducted the cost of an editor, cover designer, promotional material, etc. Because what you don’t want to produce is some certifiable junk. But once you’ve paid for that initial investment, every cent that comes in belongs to you. You don’t have to worry about paying back an advance from a publishing house if your sales don’t meet their projections.

The complete success or failure of your book is entirely in your hands. Some may view this as a negative, but you’ve got to have a boss mentality about it. I feel totally empowered this fact. No one is going to work harder for me than me. Whether I sell 10 or 10,000 copies of my book is entirely up to me. It’s all dependent upon how much time and effort I’m willing to put into marketing, promoting, and writing. The same is true of traditionally published authors. Publishing houses allot only so much for book promotion, and the less of a name you have for yourself in the industry, the less of a budget you get. So, no matter what, hustling is the name of the game. Suddenly I’m feeling all, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

The world is your office. Literally. You can work anywhere, at anytime, and do most of it in your pajamas. I love modern technology and the fact that I can network, market, promote, write, email, conference call and connect with business associates from anywhere in the world. Being an indie author (especially once you’ve hit your stride) means freedom from conventional schedules and constraints. You can handle your business and write anywhere. That sense of freedom and discovery is part of what keeps me going down this indie publishing road. I can’t wait to see where it takes us!


Tell me about your indie publishing perks below. Nothing is too small. Whether it’s getting to hang out and drink coffee at Starbucks all day, or the amazing tax write-offs for hosting parties to discuss your book, I want to hear about it!

**Bonus**¬†Check out my take on signs that confirm you’re a writer. Lots of strange behaviors and quirkiness ahead! (Click here.)

 Photo credit: savvysmilinginlove / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

5 Truths Every New Indie Author Should Know

Although my first instinct is to pour my heart out about my sister’s illness, I’m going to resist using y’all as a form of therapy and actually talk about something I haven’t covered in a while: independent publishing. Here are 5 things every new independent publisher should know. I’m going to go ahead and warn you that it ain’t pretty! But I’ll follow up at a later date with some independent publishing positivity.


1. You will feel overwhelmed.– That’s an understatement. You’ll feel so discombobulated that you’ll question your sanity and then answer back with something like, “You passed crazy a long time ago.” There’s so much to be done and there’s no one else to do it. Hence the term “independent”. You’re it kid.

2. You’re a jack of all trades, master of none.– Well, let’s hope you’ve at least mastered the art of writing. But other than that, be prepared to become a business tax¬†professional, an accountant, publicist, marketer, spokesperson, sales person, tech geek, secretary, and the list goes one. You’ll need to know a little bit about several roles in order to maintain some semblance of organization and control.

Frustration

3. You will be disappointed.– Overnight success shouldn’t even be a phrase because it just doesn’t happen. Building a brand and a readership takes time. And for an independently published author it usually takes even longer than most traditionally published authors. If you’re expecting to launch your book at the top of the Amazon bestseller list, then it better be because you’ve spent the last few years building a following that is engaged and ready to support your efforts. Otherwise, be prepared to watch that sales graph move like a little old guy climbing a hill. Using¬†a walker. While stopping to smell the roses and shoot the breeze with every person he see’s. But as long as he’s steadily climbing that hill, things are going in the right direction.

4. More time in a day will be something you’d willingly trade¬†blood, your two front teeth or your first born child for.– Seriously, no matter how organized you are, as an independent publisher your to-do list will always be longer than your completed list. There will always be something to add, something to remember, something to do. No matter how much sleep you sacrifice (and you will sacrifice sleep) there never seems to be enough¬†time.¬†Make your peace with it. I like saying this little mantra, “God has given me all the time I need to fulfill the destiny He has for me.” This is extremely helpful if you view your talent of writing as a calling.

5. Sleep will be something you remember fondly.– This is especially true if you have a 9-5 job in addition to running your publishing company. We’ve already established that time is a sneaky little¬†commodity (some thief called Netflix comes and steals mine on the regular), and trading sleep for a few hours of business dealings and writing will probably happen more often than is healthy. There was actually a point in which I was so tired that I experienced a true life mirage. I…well I…I won’t get into all the details, but it happened. It was crazy weird and the mess freaked me all the way out. Let’s just say I’ve recommitted myself to getting the necessary Z’s.

**Bonus** People will randomly¬†solicit¬†you for services you can easily perform yourself.- I had one chick in-box me on Facebook offering a one day only ‘sale’ to advertise my book on her website. She claimed to have 2,500¬†followers specifically interested in my often overlooked genre of Christian fiction. But guess what? The access to her website was blocked, the ‘sale’ ended at midnight and there was a pre-requisite $49 set up fee. Oh and let’s not forget that I had to do all of it immediately¬†or the ‘service’ would revert back to it’s original price of $319. I almost cussed! Child please.


This list is in no way meant to discourage a new author from pursuing independent publishing. It’s just me venting about some of the frustrations I’ve experienced since my first self publishing venture. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to occasionally pull my hair out. (I won’t do it. I’m waayyy too into my hair to do something like that!) Tell me about your indie publishing angst in the comments below!

P.S. For those of you that have been praying and believing with me for my sister Tiffany’s full recovery, I have good news. She’s talking! And¬†soon, the¬†feeding tube will be removed. Things are on an upward spiral and I couldn’t be more grateful. God is good!

Photo credit: Pablo Municio / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

You’ve Got 30 Seconds to Sell Your Dream…Go!

Would you be ready if the opportunity to pitch your book came along? In a perfect world, all of us¬†would get ready and stay ready to sing the praises of our completed manuscripts or works in progress. We could spout off an intriguing hook and give a concise synopsis all in the same breath. But, this world is far from perfect and I have to say, in my observations,¬†a lot of writers downplay their work. Whether out of a misguided sense of modesty or the natural social awkwardness all writers seem to possess, I couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is that there’s a solution to this conundrum. It’s called an elevator pitch. An elevator speech is a catch phrase for being able to pitch your product or service within the span of 30 seconds to two minutes– about the average time of an elevator ride. In our case, our products are our books and our skills as writers.

THE TYPICAL ELEVATOR PITCH AS IT RELATES TO THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY CONSISTS OF FOUR PARTS: 

Part 1– Your book title and genreElevator

Part 2– The main character’s ultimate goal

Part 3– The conflict he or she experiences

Part 4–The moral or ‘take away’ for the story

I’ll give you an example. I’m going to use my currently unpublished manuscript. Keep in mind that this is very much a work in progress!

Part 1: When the Real Thing Comes Along is a Christian fiction romance novel.

Part 2: Jacelynn’s ultimate goal is to let go of past emotional trauma and open her heart to the possibility of falling in love.

Part 3: Jacelynn’s biggest problem is that the man who¬†broke¬†her heart in the first place, ¬†pops back into her life after 10 years of estrangement requesting a second chance. He continues to pursue her despite her obvious disinterest and the fact that she has been dating someone else exclusively for over a year.¬†She’s practically engaged, but¬†Jacelynn soon discovers that the past has a grip on her that won’t easily let go. Is she truly over her ex? Will she let go of a sure thing to take a chance on her first love?

Part 4: The take away for Jacelynn’s story is that romantic relationships may come and go, but the love of God remains through it all. He’s the real thing, and all else is secondary.

Taking the time to craft an elevator pitch is time well spent. You can use your elevator speech in conversation with potential customers, agents, publishing houses and the random people who ask you what you’re working on when you tell them you’re a writer. Practice makes perfect, so never miss an opportunity to give your speech! Personally, I found the act of writing my elevator pitch super helpful, and I expect¬†that it will¬†assist me with writing my query letters in the future.

Have you already crafted a killer elevator pitch? Feel free to give some pointers in the comments below!

Check out these articles for more detailed information on elevator pitches:

http://michaelhyatt.com/the-4-components-of-a-compelling-elevator-pitch.html

http://www.elevatorpitchexamples.com/

Photo credit: Foter / Public Domain Mark 1.0