In the last few days, via emails, many of you have expressed interest in learning how best to use your writing skills to build a business and/or get a book deal. In keeping with your passion for the subject, I interviewed the person who turns unpublished amateurs to published professionals. Her name is Christina Katz, and she is the author of three books from Writer’s Digest: The Writer’s Workout, Get Known Before the Book Deal, and Writer Mama. You may have either read her writing career tips in national, regional, and online publications, or heard her speak at writing conferences, literary events, MFA writing programs, and libraries. Yes, she is the real deal. So, without further ado, let’s start the Q&A session with her.
Your book, Get Known Before The Book Deal, talks about using our personal strengths to become visible. What kind of strengths are we talking about here?
In Get Known, I talk about leveraging your writing skills in the world in order to land a book deal and partner with a publisher. These skills still matter, for those who are ready for a traditional book deal. Today, these skills include, getting published in established publications that can broaden your reach, becoming viewed as a go-to media source or media expert in your field, being a popular speaker at conferences and events where your readers gather, having a high-traffic blog, maintaining a consistent e-newsletter with a growing fan base, being a successful teacher, coach, consultant or trainer, earning appropriate continuing education credentials that allow you to stay on the cutting edge in your field, and successfully micro-publishing your own work in addition to being traditionally published. Social media skills also come into play, but these skills become more important once a writer has a specialty, niche and something specific to offer.
How do we discover ourselves and begin to take ourselves seriously as professionals before others do?
If you want to be taken seriously by others, treat what you do as a business and treat the people you serve with genuine concern and care. However, if you have covered all of your platform basics, and you still feel like no one cares about what you are doing, then the problem is likely not them; it’s you. When you care and you offer genuine value to others, you are going to make an impact. But if you are just going through the motions or trying to fake it until you make it, people are going to sense it and they are not going to get behind you.
Writers need to be psyched about their own missions before they can expect others to get excited about them. If you are not excited about what you do and offer, it’s time to head back to the drawing board.
How do we build an audience? Is there are a formula to that?
Building an audience is directly connected to knowing what you are about, having something to offer that is unique, being excited about what you offer, being effective and creative about what you offer, and offering your best on a consistent basis.
You want to build an audience? For what? What do you do? What are you about? What do you offer? How do you offer it? Why should anyone care? What is the dynamic that is going on here? I like to use Starbucks as an example. They started with strong coffee. But when they started customizing those coffee drinks any way the customer wanted them, then they just exploded. Because we all really want our strong coffee just the way we want it.
As a writer, you offer something too. It’s probably not strong coffee, although you probably drink plenty of it. But if it’s not coffee, what is it? Once you figure out what it is and consider how you can best offer what you offer to your fans, then you are building a business. Most writers don’t want to build a business. They want a miracle or overnight success. I can’t work with writers like that because they don’t work hard enough. The first thing you have to understand if you are an unknown writer is that every known writer in existence worked long and vigorously to get known. Nobody just hands you success. So here’s my formula: learn skills and apply them. That’s what successful writers do.
In the crowded online space, how does a writer stand out from all the rest? And, how does a writer earn credibility when every other person is a self-proclaimed expert, ninja, guru, etc.?
You stand out by being the real deal. You stand out by resisting the temptation to become just another cheesy mass marketer. You stand out by building alliances one quality relationship at a time.
I suggest you steer clear of anyone who is a self-proclaimed anything. Those are the last examples you need to follow. And don’t proclaim yourself anything either, until someone else says it first. If you don’t know what other people are saying about you, then you are either not asking for feedback or you are not listening to the feedback you are getting.
Be real. Grow slowly. Do your own thing without stepping on other people’s toes. Lose the impatience. One quality professionals who make it in the long haul posses is patience. Patience doesn’t come from out there. It comes from digging deep, working hard and sticking with it until you make some waves.
What, in your opinion, attracts agents and publishers — in newbie authors?
I think the phrase “newbie author” is an oxymoron. Nobody is getting a book deal these days unless they have worked long and hard to get to that point. Those writers have platform with a capital P. Nobody is landing a traditional book deal unless they are already a success. Publishers can’t afford to work with anyone who is not already successful.
Agents and publishers are always attracted to the right idea at the right time written by the right person. So long as a project is executed with excellence and curated over an appropriate time, agents and publishers can and will wait for the stars to align perfectly before green-lighting a project.
Waiting for all the pieces to come together is all the insurance agents and publishers have against a bungled deadline or insufficient manuscript. And they can’t afford to gamble in this economy. They need authors who are sure things.
In today’s day and age, there are authors by the dozen, but very few are successful. In your opinion, what is the difference between those who succeed and the rest?
I live near Portland, Oregon area, where I am literally surrounded by successful writers. Everywhere I go, I meet writers who are either already successful or who are on their way to becoming successful. I speak on panels with successful writers. I see successful writers everywhere. And I see myself as one of them.
Currently, I have students contacting me about their first published articles, students meeting their goals of publishing twelve original articles in five months, and students publishing their first and second e-books to the tune of thousands of dollars of income a year. I have a student who got a very nice first traditional deal, and that book is coming out this spring. While she has been waiting for her book to come out, she has micro-published two e-books. I call all of this success.
Just because it’s harder to get a traditionally published book deal than it used to be doesn’t mean that there is less success to be had. Maybe there is less success for writers the way it used to be measured but there are a million ways to measure success. For example, micro-publishing has entered the publishing scene full force and we are really starting to see examples of micro-publishing success everywhere, since micro-publishing is available to every writer. Micro-publishing lowers the rope for every writer, and gives more writers something to succeed at now instead of waiting for their next shot at the big time.
You mentioned micro-publishing – what is micro-publishing?
Micro-publishing means publishing an e-book in short, digital form first, and publishing it through multiple digital platforms, before publishing it in short, printed form, or before including it in a longer work, like a traditionally published book. Micro-publishing means breaking out big, complicated ideas, whether they have appeared before in books or not, into short, digital forms first.
Micro-publishing is not limited to non-fiction. Micro-publishing strategies can be used to publish work in any genre. The primary thrust of the word micro- refers to shorter than usual works. Micro- also refers to the size of the publisher. A micro-publisher can be one person, a partnership, or a small company, but the primary emphasis in micro-publishing is low overhead and an approach so straightforward that a large staff is not needed, though contract workers may be employed in the process of micro-publishing.
Micro-publishing means that a nonfiction writer can produce works of any length. A fiction writer can produce works of any length. A narrative writer can produce works of any length. A service writer can produce works of any length. A literary writer can produce works of any length. So long as a writer has eager readers, even a poet can produce works of any length to serve his audience directly.
Talking about eager readers, what are some of the recommended and your preferred online promotion strategies, and why?
Being direct is my best online promotion strategy. I see the Internet as composed of a bunch of neutral tools. If I do nothing with them, they do nothing for me. The key to being successful, for me, is waiting until I feel inspired before I communicate. Luckily I am inspired much of the time.
But if I’m not feeling inspired, I don’t do anything. I don’t do things because I should or because someone put them into a formula for success. I do things that make sense for me, when it makes sense for me to do them. I tune in. I listen. I follow my instincts.
E-mail is my secret weapon. Every successful person in the world has a huge e-mail list of loyal fans and spends more time on e-mail than they will ever admit. So I’d suggest you hop on a newsletter service like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp and start communicating regularly with your peeps. I don’t care who says e-mail is passé. I don’t care how many times they say it. They are wrong.
Years ago, when blogging became popular, the Internet was flooded with warnings that e-mail was passé. You have to be strong enough to ignore baloney like this. I hear this rumor still sometimes. It was ridiculous then and it’s ridiculous now. Communicating clearly and directly with your fans is the best-kept secret of any successful writer—or of any successful person in any field.
If you want to inspire others, inspire yourself first. And then reach out and connect with the people you serve. What could possibly be simpler or easier? Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
What are some of the mistakes you made along the way?
Any mistakes I’ve ever made in my life, not just in writing, have arisen from acting on emotions rather than waiting for the storm clouds to pass and for the sun to come back out.
I’d say the biggest mistakes writers make is confusing emotion for intuition. Emotions are feelings that need to be experienced fully but that doesn’t mean I should act on every single one. Instincts are what kicks in after emotions pass through. Intuition is like the gold in the bottom of the pan when the miner is panning for gold in the river. The silt and rocks and all the rest of that junk are emotions that need to be flushed out.
When you are a writer, you can’t afford to spend a day or half a day or even an hour feeling worked up. So if I get upset about something, I have learned to just walk away from my computer and go exercise or do something else that helps me shake whatever it is off. Then later, when I come back to work, I feel better and everything looks rosier. It’s a pretty simple practice.