Monday, November 12, 2018

Gloves on a fence post

Sometimes writing seems to make as much sense as gloves on a fencepost. Yet, we keep on putting words down on paper, keep on weaving dreams, keep on telling our stories. Why?

Because, for the writer, writing is like breathing. It's natural, necessary, and if we stop, we no longer live.

NaNoWriMo is a writer's marathon, a high-speed endurance race that can test the limits of our discipline. Why enter? Why push ourselves to write a 50,000 word novel in only 30 days, especially the 30 days preceding a major holiday season for most of us? Why write a book at all? Why put a glove on a fencepost?

Right now, there are 172,000 people running the NaNo marathon. So far, we've cranked out nearly 200,000,000 words. No, that's not a typo. Two hundred million words, words no one's read in the particular order they're laid down in before. 172,000 new books by 172,000 authors, each with a different reason for why they write what they do, each adding a new voice to the literary chorus.

The farmer who picked up an old leather glove from the side of his road and stuck it up on a fencepost was aware of the value of the pair and he hoped the owner would come along and find it. He put it out there in hopes of helping someone else. Pointless? Perhaps. Unless you happen to be the owner of the other half of this expensive pair.

Why do we put our books out there? In hopes of reaching someone, in hopes of giving them something they need? Perhaps we just like the look and feel of what we've written and want to show it off a bit. Maybe someone will come along and retrieve our offering, and maybe not, but we'll keep putting those gloves on the fence posts, and hoping, one day, they find their way home.

For those brave souls working toward the finish line, here is a daily total word-count goal guide to help you know if you're on track for 50,000 by the end of November:

Nov. 1: 1667 words
Day 2: 3334 words
Day 3: 5001 words
Day 4: 6668 words
Day 5: 8335 words
Day 6: 10,002 words
Look that, six days in and you're over 10,000 words!! GO YOU!

Day 7: 11,669 words
Day 8: 13,336 words
Day 9: 15,003 words
Day 10: 16,670 words
Day 11: 18,337 words
Day 12: 20,004
And now you've broken 20,000! You're really rocking now!

Nov. 13: 21, 671 words
Nov. 14: 23, 338 words
Nov. 15: 25,005 words
Half way there! Way to go!!
Nov. 16: 26,672 words
Nov. 17: 28,339 words
Nov. 18: 30,006 words
Another 10,000 words gone... you're in the home-stretch!
Nov. 19: 31,673 words
Nov. 20: 33,340 words
Nov. 21: 35,007 words
Nov. 22: 36,674 words
Nov. 23: 38,341 words
Nov. 24: 40,008 words
Look how far you've come! 40,000! There's no stopping you now!
Nov. 25: 41,675 words
Nov. 26: 43, 342 words
Nov. 27: 45,009 words
Nov. 28: 46,676 words
Nov. 29: 48,343
Nov. 30: 50,000
Fireworks! Light show! Chocolate martini toasts! High-fives all around! It's time to celebrate, you've DONE IT! It's been a long, hard 30 days, but here you are, with your book in hand. Congratulations, AUTHOR! You made it to the finish line.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Real World Optimization Boosts Sales

Google’s algorithms are regularly updated in attempts to improve the efficiency of bringing clickable content to the audience. For marketers, that means constantly chasing the shifting shadows of SEO advice and mythology. The race can be exhausting until you shift your focus to what really matters.

Running after SEO myths doesn't drive sales. So what strategies DO work?
Running after SEO myths doesn't drive sales.
So, what strategies DO work?

Perfecting SEO

Although perfecting SEO is about as exact a science as catching fog in a butterfly net, it is possible to bring your content to the audience and increase your visits, click-throughs, and sales. By offering your audience what they really want- well-researched, clear information and engaging content, you can truly optimize your site and drive your sales.

“High Quality” Content

First, it’s important to understand how Google’s latest algorithm works. Google is constantly working to bring higher quality content to the audience. But what, exactly, is “high-quality content?”
Simply put, it is content that brings value to the customer. It is content that the audience reads and shares. It is content that entices the audience to buy- because, after all, sales support advertising by providing the means of payment for ad space- companies with no sales don’t have money to advertise. Google’s algorithms aren’t based on some lofty idea of creating the perfect Internet. They’re designed to drive sales.
You don't need to be this guy to figure out Google's algorithms.
You don't need to be this guy to figure out Google's algorithm goals.

Google’s goals are also your goals- Google wants to get a product that the audience wants to buy in front of those individuals who are most likely to open their wallets and purchase the products. You want to get your products in front of those individuals who are most likely to purchase your products. You’re not working to trick the system with SEO- you’re working the system.

Tags, Images, and SEO, Oh My!

The advice you’ll find from most “SEO Experts” focuses on optimizing tags, using specific keywords and search terms, and link backs. While these are all important concepts in optimizing your content, if you’re focusing on optimization, you’re missing the mark! You’re focusing on the wrong strategy. Why? Because optimization is not about manipulating the algorithm. It’s not about tricking Google into showing customers your page and products- it’s about presenting the content that provides the most value to your customers, which in turn, ranks highest in the Google search.
Some SEO "experts" try to turn you into a used car salesman
Some SEO "experts" try to turn you into a used car salesman.
Rise up. Offer quality content that engages the audience.
Quality ranks higher in Google. Offer your customers quality content, and start building the industry reputation and the relationships with your customers based on trust and respect. That’s real optimization, and it translates into sales. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Making a Living Part 3- Finding Balance

Most aspiring freelancers tend to err toward one of two extremes: The over-achiever or the slacker.

 The over-achiever allows themselves to be pulled in too many directions at once, immersing themselves in work and rarely coming up for air, until their friends vanish and their family threatens to disown them. This type of freelancer tends to burn out quickly and find themselves sinking into a depression. They may be successful financially for a time, but when the pressure becomes too much, they blow up, losing precious time to an emotional meltdown or worse, to depression and torpor, which can be very difficult to break out of once it takes hold.
The freelancer who tries to be everything to everyone will burn out fast.
Photo by Arron Jacobs
Most freelancers start out as this type, burning the midnight oil, convinced they must accept every single job that comes along, applying to every available entry on job sites. In my first few months of freelancing, this was me. In the span of about three months, I wrote three lengthy e-books, about 500 "descriptions" for a jewelry sales site, and wrote about 120 blog entries.

I attempted all of this while attending college full time. Then it caught up with me. The third e-book fell apart, and I lost the contract because I simply couldn't keep up with the client's deadlines. I got a lower grade than I wanted in my foreign-language class because I couldn't stuff one more syllable of Spanish into my over-crowded brain. I had to ask for an extension in another class. I learned the lessons of moderation and focus the hard way, by nearly burning out entirely.

 The Slacker is at the other extreme. This is the freelancer who assumes the work will magically get done while they go out for a long lunch with friends or an impromptu shopping trip. This type of freelancer might make a few half-hearted attempts before deciding that freelancing is a scam after all, and that no one makes a real living as a freelancer. They leave clients in the lurch and let everyone down, including themselves.
This type of freelancer needs to recognize their own tendencies toward slacking off, and take the time to closely examine their commitment to freelancing.

Remember, freelancing is a marathon, not a sprint.
 The successful freelancer will recognize his or her own tendencies. It's important to make a firm commitment to keeping a reasonable schedule, which includes breaks and time to socialize, as well as a reasonable number of hours for client work. The beginning freelancer should consider focusing on one or two types of jobs, and play to his or her strengths. Early successes build confidence, and in turn, confidence builds success.

Never forget that freelancing is a job, not an identity. Success or failure of a business can become a burden for some. While commitment to one's work is commendable and important to success, businesses fail every single day, by no fault of their owners. If your ego is too caught up in your work, it will be difficult to take the inevitable criticism from clients in a constructive light, or to make sound decisions regarding which jobs to accept and which to turn down.

Your time is valuable. In your quest to establish your freelance career, don't overlook this important concept!
 All this talk of finding balance and focus is well and good, but how do you do it? How do you choose which jobs to accept, which to turn down, and which to run from screaming as if they were the zombie apocalypse?
Here's a quick guideline:

1) Choose jobs that you know you can accomplish. Do you have experience with research? Blog entries and articles often require seeking out information. The ability to gather research and turn it into original writing is critical to bloggers. Data entry will usually require experience working in Excel, Access or other data-management programs. It's wise to inquire about the program you'll be expected to use as part of the application process.

2) Choose an hourly rate and stick to it. Don't allow yourself to get roped into a low-paying job unless the project is one you are very passionate about, or if it furthers your career somehow.  It might take some time to figure out your average turn-around time on a job. Consider starting out accepting fixed-price jobs, but keep close track of how long each one takes you, so that you have a good baseline for estimating prices. It won't take long to get a feel for your speed.

So there you have it, the very bare-bones basics of making a go at freelancing as a career. I hope this information helps you avoid a few of the steeper pitfalls as you begin this journey toward success!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Making a Living Part 2- Where to Find Jobs

Being a freelancer is great, but it's also one of the hardest jobs I've ever held. Like all writing jobs, freelancing means putting myself out there and becoming an expert marketer as well as a writer. I'm the boss, but I'm also the secretary, accountant, collections department and day laborer. I wear all the hats and juggle all the acts. It's thrilling and challenging... and at times it's frustrating beyond belief, yet I keep going, because I am a writer and I can't imagine making a living any other way. And besides, I like working in my pajamas.

Working in one's PJs is a major attraction of freelancing, but it's not all coffee and cream.
If you want to succeed, you'll need to work hard.
Welcome to part 2 of my series on how to make a living as a freelance writer. You can find Part 1: Finding Time, here.  Today I'm going to focus on two things: Where to find jobs, and how a business plan can make freelancing work for you. 

For most freelancers, finding jobs means going online. Job clearinghouses like E-Lance and oDesk are the most popular sites. Some freelancers also use social media to gather jobs. Creating a Facebook "Page", LinkedIn or Twitter account to advertise your writing and editing services may help funnel some work your way, IF you take the time to maintain a solid social network. This strategy may work best for those transitioning from some type of editing or writing office job into a home freelancing business. In other words- for social media to be an effective job-hunting tool, you need to have connections with people who will potentially be interested in your services. If you don't already have those connections, you'll have to put a lot of time and effort into cultivating them.

For the rest of us, job clearinghouse sites are the best places to search. I recommend oDesk and E-Lance because I'm most familiar with these services and most of my work comes through those two portals. Other freelancers have found success through searching Craigslist and even newspaper listings, as well as other job-listings sites.

A caveat: Wherever you search for jobs, try to use a platform that offers at least some protection to the freelancer in terms of payment. oDesk, for example, guarantees payment for freelancers on "hourly" jobs. E-lance has a similar guarantee. The "guarantee" is somewhat flimsy in practice, but better than being completely on your own, as you are with contacts made through Craigslist. Legitimate employers who hire through oDesk at very least have the motivation of not wanting to be blacklisted for non-payment. 

So, now you know a little about where to find jobs. The second part of the equation is how to manage jobs once you have them. A solid business plan, including goals, a regular daily schedule and record keeping, will turn your freelance writing career from a hobby into a viable career.

Always remember, a business plan is your key to success, not a fence to limit your progress. 
For those of us who did not major in business, and to whom a budget represents The All-Consuming Vortex of Boring-ness and Death of Fun, a business plan can seem like an overly-formal and fussy approach to the lighthearted world of freelancing. The truth is, a business plan doesn't need to be formal, boring or enclosing. A few lines on a piece of notebook paper is sufficient, as long as it details your goals and how you intend to achieve them.

For example, my business plan looks something like this:

Goal # 1: I would like to make enough in 2013 to cover my household and business expenses.
(A tip: Keep the goals accessible. Stating a goal of "I want to make $100,000 in my first year of freelancing" might be a little bit of a stretch.)

Goal # 2: I would like to establish a diverse enough client base to maintain a steady income.

In order to reach goal #1, it needs a little more definition. How do I know how much I need to make in 2013, unless I have a fair idea of what I can expect my household and business expenses to be?

I sat down and worked out the math. My basic household expenses, PLUS what I need to factor in for business expenses, averages out to around $1200 a month. For me, business expenses basically means paying my internet bill. Your business expenses depend on what type of freelancing you're doing. Some freelancers maintain professional memberships and so on.

I need to make an average of $300 each week to cover my expenses. With my current rate for most work at around $10 an hour (I charge a little more for writing jobs that require heavy research or academic language, and for heavy editing projects), I need to work an average of 30 hours a week to meet my goals. Now that I have those numbers in mind, I can apply them to my schedule and make sure I allot 30 hours a week to paid work for clients.

Finding work as a freelancer can be challenging. 

My second goal, establishing a diverse client base, requires looking at the way I find jobs and categorize clients. Scheduling time for perusing job boards like  and  is as necessary as finding time to work. While it might seem fool-hardy to be searching for more jobs while I'm already working at capacity, that's just what I do. A freelancer who fails to diversify their income stream will fail to last long in this business. Seeking out different avenues for creating revenue is critical to success.

My clients tend to fall into one of three categories: 1 time clients, who need a single project completed, (usually a large job that pays well but is on a tight deadline), sporadic clients who contact me when they have work, but who I may not hear from for weeks at a time, and steady clients who have regular work for me and who make up the bread-and-butter of my income. While the last type, the steady client, are the foundation of my business, the other two types are the ones who make freelancing... interesting.

As soon as possible, it's advisable to make the steady clients the bulk of your income. That steady paycheck comes in very handy when bill collectors require their payments on a regular schedule, even if your income stream sometimes slows to a trickle. Rely on the one-time clients and the sporadic clients to help build up a buffer of savings- critical for closing the gap between losing income if a steady client goes elsewhere or runs out of projects for you to do, and the time it takes you to replace that income stream.

By having a plan, and setting goals, freelancing can be a viable way to make a living. Next week, I'll talk a little about that happy problem of keeping your balance when your career begins to get off the ground.

Happy writing!

I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”
  ~Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Making a Living Part 1- Finding Time

The "happy housewife" is the ultimate dream of many aspiring freelancers.
Photo by Victor
When I opened my Facebook account this morning, I found a message from a friend: "How do you make a living?"

It's a good question, and one I intend to begin to address today. How does a writer make a living?
Well, for many aspiring fiction writers, the answer is; they don't.

Very, very few writers make a living by writing fiction exclusively. Stephen King, James Patterson and JK Rowling might have bank accounts which allow them to write at their leisure every day, but for the rest of us in the ranks of the as-yet unpublished (but hopefully washed) masses, large royalty checks are the holy grail, the dream that we pursue every time we send out another query or submission.
Even for published authors, the checks are often too small, and too far between, to be considered full-time income. The vast majority of fiction writers hold jobs in other areas. Many are experts in a particular field, and draw upon their knowledge to enrich their writing.

For most of us, making a living as a writer means freelancing. For those who aspire to write full-time, or who want to earn a living working from home, it's important to understand how freelancing works, and how the dream differs from the reality. If you're interested in making a living as a freelance writer, this series of blog entries is for you. I intend to cover the basics here, to let you in on the secrets that might make your entry into freelancing a little easier. I'll talk first about the hours that go into freelancing, and give you some practical tips on how to find time to freelance. I'll also talk about where to find jobs, and finally how to run your business while balancing the writing life with everything else. 

My office is a chair in the corner of my bedroom where I sit with my laptop, cats and fish. Yes, really.

I can't tell you how everyone who works from home makes a living, or how to make a million in your spare time, but I can tell you how I make a living and what I have found works, and doesn't work, for me. If you're determined to make a living at writing, read on, young grasshopper. It's not easy, and it's not for everyone, but it can be done.

Scheduling is the most critical, and often the most difficult, part of being a freelancer. Most people seem to think they can freelance in their "spare time", without realizing the importance of relaxation. The truth is, freelancing is a job. It requires time, commitment and energy. My personal schedule is relatively simple:

7-8:30 AM Personal writing. This is my time for writing fiction. Starting the day this way allows me to feel productive and reduces my frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed.

8:30-10 AM Morning chores, including caring for our numerous pets and getting my own breakfast.

10AM-1PM This is the first chunk of my freelancing day, in which I focus on actual writing, editing or other client work.

1-2PM I take an hour for lunch, before coming back to work.

2-5:30PM I dedicate these hours to project work before taking a break for making and eating supper, and hanging out with my kids.

7PM-10PM (or later, depending on how my week is going)- Working or seeking out more work.(A topic I'll address later when I discuss how and where to find jobs.)

I follow this schedule, in general, from Monday through Friday,, with exceptions for the days my kids have appointments and lessons. I tend to work in 3-hour stretches. Some people can work longer at a time with fewer breaks, others might need to stop to get up and stretch their legs more frequently. The important thing is not to follow the same schedule as someone else, but to discover what works for you.

My schedule is wide-open... at least until I start adding in everything I need to get done in a day.
Each of those squares represents a half-hour of possibilities.

  In order to make my schedule, I sat down and blocked out the hours of my day in a grid, and entered all my activities into the blocks. Although I don't follow the schedule religiously, having it on paper allows me to keep better track of which project I'm working on in a particular day, so that no one client gets neglected because I'm too immersed in another project. It's a good way for a freelancer to discover their "time sucks" (one of my big ones is Facebook), and where they need to adjust their expectations of just what is possible to get done in a single day.

Controlling one's time is the most critical aspect of freelancing. Freelancing is a job, like any other. It requires self-discipline and focus, as well as determination and a high tolerance for risk, disappointment and isolation. It's not for everyone, and it's not a get-rich-quick scheme. It can, however, be a viable way to make a living.

Still think you want to try making a living as a freelancer? Look for the upcoming installments in this blog: Where to find jobs, which will cover not only where to look for clients, but how to land jobs and manage your business, and Finding Balance, which will discuss in more detail how and when to accept jobs, how to balance your personal and professional life, and how and when to say "no".

Happy writing!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fifteen Fictional Characters

A friend recently posted a note on Facebook with a challenge:

"Don't take too long to think about it. List fifteen fictional characters (television, films, plays, books) who've influenced you and that will always stick with you."

I smiled, reading her list, as I nodded to old acquaintances and wondered about those unfamiliar to me.

Presumably, if you're reading this blog, you've chosen writing as a career, or at least an obsessive pursuit. While making lists like this has become almost cliched in our information-saturated digital world, the exercise has a deeper value for writers.

Recalling the characters who influenced your decision, your calling to become a writer can help you discover the qualities within those characters that made them so appealing. Characterization is the creation of memorable characters, and melds with word choice and sentence structure to form the elusive quality of writing known as "voice". Like art students studying the masters, writers can learn the craft by examining the characters who left the pages and took up residence in their imaginations and memories.

My own list could stretch far past the required fifteen, but for brevity's sake, I'll limit myself to three examples.

1) Frodo Baggins J.R. Tolkien's famous Hobbit.

Frodo traveled into the darkest parts of his world, carrying the token that could destroy all he loved and held dear, with one purpose in mind: destroy the Ring.

What impresses me about Frodo is not his courage or his tenacity, though those qualities are part of his character, but his simple, practical understanding of himself and his place within the Fellowship. He never thought himself a great Hero, rushing off on his white horse to single-handedly slay the dragon, or in this case, the evil wizard bent on taking over the world. In fact, he would laugh at the very thought.

He assessed his strengths, faced his weaknesses squarely, and was content to allow others to fulfill their roles while he did his best to carry his own burden. He was loyal, brave, and had a deep understanding of what was at stake. His practicality and humility gave him depth and made him a memorable, lovable character. He was... is, a true Hero.

2) Leonardo Hamato, Ninja Turtle.

Anyone growing up in the '80's through the early 2000's might remember the corny, goofy, pizza-guzzling Green Machine known as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While the iconic '80's Turtles were typical of cartoon characters at that time, joking, talking to the audience and battling comical villains, the 2003 incarnations were older, wiser, and far more aware of the very real dangers lurking in their fictional version of New York City.

They still battled evil. Donatello still created incredible inventions from junk-yard scraps, but in the 2k3 version (as it's known among fans), characters suffered injury, and in one infamous alternate-universe episode, the beloved heroes died in a final battle against their nemesis, giving their lives in order to save a world which had rejected them.

Leonardo, in particular, stands out to me for his loyalty, his strong sense of honor, and his single-mindedness. While the Turtles actually die in the alternate reality of "Same As It Never Was", in another episode Leonardo makes a decision that, save for a last-instant miraculous rescue, would have resulted in the deaths of himself and the entire family. In the aftermath, Leonardo faces his own decision with guilt, frustration and a depth of rage that is rarely examined in children's programming. Because Leonardo's reactions to trauma are real, he is believable. The devil, as always, is in the details, and so is the characterization.

3) The Tao "TJ" Jones, from the book Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher.

Chris Crutcher remains one of my favorite authors for teens. He tackles issues of social justice head-on with the unapologetic, clear-eyed voices of his teenage characters. What makes his creations so unique is their passion. Each of his characters has something they hold dear, whether it is social justice, as in the case of TJ Jones, or loyalty to a friend like Eric "Mobe" Calhoun from his book Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.

TJ's self-admitted pigheaded refusal to back down from a fight, combined with his calm acceptance of his tragic past and his constant pursuit of justice, not for himself, but for those around him who are weaker or less able to defend themselves, make him a character the reader cannot ignore. He is stubborn to a fault, angry and often impulsive. Some of his testosterone-fueled teenage follies may seem outrageous to more sensitive readers, but above all, he is memorable. Love him or hate him, you will never forget TJ Jones.

TJ is a great character because he's passionate. Never, dear writer, back down from what your character believes in for fear of offending delicate readers. A character without passion, whether hero or villain, is a character without motivation, without fire, without the necessary fuel to drive the plot forward to it's full, heart-pounding potential. Without TJ's passion for justice and family, the book's conclusion would have been gutted of its intensity and power.

When I look back at the characters who have stayed with me over the years, I see three recurring traits:

1) Each character was involved in a larger story. Something was at stake, whether it was the fate of the world, the safety of family, or justice for the victims of small-town bullies. If the character had made a different choice, in each case, something precious would have been lost. Each character was needed, and each responded to the need, answered the Call.

2) Each character answered a call that forced them to press beyond their limits. Each lost something precious and had to respond to that loss, either by continuing with the Hero's Journey or by giving up. All good stories involve seemingly-insurmountable challenges. All good stories include the loss of something the character cares about, and all good stories result in the growth of the character through the journey.

3) Finally, each of these characters had unique traits that made them the only one who could answer the Call. Each had particular passions. For Frodo, carrying the Ring meant defending his beloved Shire, even if it cost him his life. For Leonardo, his honor bound him to protect the people of Earth, sacrificing everything he loved. TJ Jones risked everything in the defense of the helpless, and in the end had to learn to live with enormous loss.

A Treasure worth sacrificing for, a Journey of challenges, failures and triumphs, and a Passion. Those are the three ingredients to creating characters your readers will never forget.


"For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day."

2 Timothy 1:12 KJV

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Keys to Successful Submissions

Where To Begin

You've come far, Writer. You've overcome that initial fear of beginning. You've sailed past the euphoria of those first chapters, overcome the solid wall of uninspired drivel that tried to impede your progress through the central climax of your novel, you've agonized, sweated and slaved over the shocking finale. In short, you've written a book.

Now what? Now, dear Writer, the revisions can begin. The re-reading, the editing, the sharing with a critique group (You DO have a critique group, don't you? If not, here's an Article from Harold Underdown's site, The Purple Crayon that can help.) The re-reading until you're certain every single word, every phrase, every scrap of dialogue and poignant look between your characters has earned its place, is worthy of inclusion in your epic narrative.

You’ve revised, you say? You’ve polished until your manuscript shines with life and freshness? You’ve banished the stray apostrophes and whipped your passive verbs into frantic activity? You’re certain that this… THIS is the story you wish to send out into the world, to submit to an editor’s critical eye? You’re certain you’re offering your absolute best work, and you’re ready to take the publishing world by storm?

Congratulations, Writer! It’s time to submit your work.

But where? And how? And to whom? How can you be certain your manuscript will land on the desk of the editor who will take your baby lovingly into her arms and lead it as it grows into your first blockbuster?

Marketing Secret: Conferences

Hopefully if you’re dedicated enough to have completed a novel, you’ve already begun attending writer’s conferences. Conferences are amazing places for networking, for meeting the people who will become friends and allies as you travel through your writing career. Remember that not all allies will become friends, nor will all friends become allies, but it’s important to have both in this often-lonely industry.

The first, and perhaps most important place to seek out markets for your work is through personal contacts. As a new writer, you have a far greater chance of selling your first book to an editor who has met you and invited you to submit work to his or her publishing house. Common sense dictates that it’s harder to say “no” to someone you’ve met than to a total stranger.

I must, however, disclaim the above advice with one warning: Do not presume too much. If your book is not polished within millimeters of its life, if it is not your absolute best work, or worse, if it is not a novel the editor in question’s house is in the market for, don’t submit.

A writer essentially has a two-part job. First, you must write the book. Second, and of equal importance, is the marketing of your book. Send your gothic vampire romance to an editor or agent who’s publicly proclaimed she’s not in the market for gothic romances and is sick and tired of the myriad of vampire novels landing on her desk, and you’re marking yourself as a rank amateur.

A tip: Search the editor's name. Does she have a personal blog? A search revealed one agent's dislike for prologues: Elaine English's comments on prologues.

Market research is essential if you intend to find success as a writer. Submitting without first studying your intended market is like firing a shotgun at a moving target with the faint hope that one of the tiny pellets might connect. Chances are, your shot will go far wide of the mark unless you take careful aim and plan your shot.

Research leads me to the next potential source for markets:

Writer’s Guides

The most common and well known is, of course, The Writer’s Market, produced annually by Writer’s Digest Books. For those who prefer a search-able online database to paging through endless listings on paper, there is For about $6 a month, you can subscribe to the online database, or if you’re unwilling to give up the comforting weight of an actual book, consider purchasing the Deluxe addition of Writer’s Market. It comes with a free 1-year subscription to the online database.

Once you’ve found your potential markets, study the guidelines carefully. Some publishing houses are region-specific. For example, Thistledown Press is open only to Canadian writers. Writers residing elsewhere in the world would do well to save themselves the postage.

The Internet has streamlined the writer’s once-arduous task of market research. Almost all publishing houses now have websites, and and others offer summaries and cover-copy of the books the house has published, all available within a few clicks. Study the books the house has published in the past. Sample a few pages (Amazon offers the opportunity to browse the insides of most new books in their listings.) Will your book line up on the shelves with the novels the house currently offers, or would it be out of step, out of place, out of tune? It’s important that you understand how your book fits in with the publisher’s other titles. Otherwise, you’re wasting their, and your, time submitting.

Let’s Review

In conclusion, dear Writer, the steps to publishing are simple:

1) Write the book.
2) Revise
3) Revise
4) Revise again
5) Consider having a professional edit your work. Be sure you’re offering your absolute best to the reader.
6) Begin collecting names of potential publishers
7) Study the markets
8) Once you’re certain you’ve found the place, the perfect home for your book, you’ve studied the market, you’re familiar with their list, perhaps you’ve met the editor at a conference…
9) Submit
10) And, dear Writer, when you receive the first of what are sure to be many rejection letters, return to Step One and begin the process again.

Because the final, and most important step to publication success is:

11) Persist.

Happy writing!

Rejoicing in the day,