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“It’s Too Nichy”^

Sylvia Cary to Get an IRWIN AWARD from the Book Publicists of Southern California Sylvia Cary, psychotherapist and author of 5 books, is to get an award for "Best Niche Campaign" for her book, "The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published" (Timberlake Press) The IRWIN Award, named for the Book Publicists of Southern California founder, Irwin Zucker, was introduced in 1995 as a way to formally and publicly recognize BPSC members who conduct the best book sales/ promotion campaigns. The Honorees present will share with the BPSC audience the steps they took that led to the success of their book promotion campaigns. The event takes place at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City on Thursday Oct. 15th. Contact at: sylvia@sylviacary.com OR visit newly tweaked and updated website, www.sylviacary.com.

Sylvia Cary, LMFT, received an IRWIN AWARD from the Book Publicists of Southern California (BPSC)  for “Best Niche Campaign” for her book, The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published (Timberlake Press). The award is named for the group’s founder, Irwin Zucker, and was introduced in 1995 as a way to formally and publicly recognize BPSC members who conduct the best book promotion campaigns. Each honoree shared with the audience the steps they took that led to the success of their book promotion campaign. (See video clip of Sylvia’s acceptance remarks below.) The event took place October 15th, 2015, at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, California, http://www.sylviacary.com.

Nailing Your Niche*

Definition of niche:  A French word meaning “a situation or activity suited to a person’s interests, ability, or nature.” 

“Nail your niche and own it.”   — Dan Poynter

In the old days of publishing, before digital, before the Internet, before Amazon, before Google, and before Kindle, big publishers didn’t want to touch books on small topics because most didn’t sell . Publishing them just didn’t pay off. Authors of books in niche areas were more likely to find homes with academic or university presses or with little publishers with no money for publicity or marketing.  The readers of these books often had to find out about them through obscure newsletters, specialty bookstores, or by word-of-mouth from other folks interested in the same subjects.

I went that route myself “back in the day” when I was researching my book called Jolted Sober: Getting to the Moment of Clarity in the Recovery of Addiction. I became a long-distance member of the Alister Hardy Research Centre in the U.K. (Oxford) in order to receive their snail-mailed newsletter which contained information of interest to me for my book. They were studying spontaneous healings and religious experiences. My book contained numerous stories about sudden “Aha!” moments of clarity in the addiction recovery. What they were researching was right up my alley. Today, niche publications like this one are easy to find. In fact, I Googled the Centre to see if it still exists — and it does, but with a new name. Now it’s the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre.

What all this means for you is that, as an author, you no longer have to be afraid that your topic or specialty is too narrowly focused (i.e. “too nichy”)  to write about. There are people out there looking for what you have to say. And while it’s unlikely that you’ll get a contract with a mainstream publisher where “No Niches Need Apply,” you may be accepted by a small press or you can self-publish on Amazon’s CreateSpace for free. You’ll find some buyers. Or they’ll find you. And they’ll be thrilled.

Tofu Takes Off

Here’s one of my favorite stories about writing a book for a niche market: For many years I’ve been running a free drop-in writers group at a bookstore in Woodland Hills, California. It is sponsored by the Independent Writers of Southern California (iwosc.org). One of our regular members, Lisa, told us how years earlier she’d accidentally stumbled upon an idea for a niche book while waiting in the check-out line at a local market. In her shopping cart she had a couple of packages of tofu. “How do you cook that stuff?” the woman behind her in line asked her. “Tofu is so tasteless.” Because Lisa really knows her tofu, she answered, “”It picks up the flavor of what you cook it in.” The woman was intrigued: “I didn’t know that.”  Lisa shared a few recipes with her; the woman was delighted.

This little conversation triggered an “Aha!” moment in Lisa’s brain. She went home and put together a cookbook on tofu, which included family cooking stories and, on each page, she placed a thought-provoking quote. She had copies made and sold them to friends, family and neighbors. She got requests for more. She had additional copies printed, this time bound with a plastic spiral. She took some of these to a local health food store. They bought a few, sold them, and ordered more. Then they ordered even more. By the end of the year the health food store had sold a total of 250 of Lisa’s tofu cookbook.

The following year, Lisa branched out to other health food stores and even a few pharmacies and it was the same story. They bought books, sold out, and ordered more. Next, Lisa bought her own spiral machine and printed copies at home for less money, and started doing a little local advertising. This resulted in a total of 5,000 cookbook sales, a decent number–  even if it had been a traditionally published book. But it was a lot of work! Had self-publishing on Amazon’s CreateSpace been available at the time Lisa started this project, who knows how many sales she’d have made as the result of people typing “cooking tofu” into their search engines!

Weightier Subjects

While it may still be possible to put everything that’s known about cooking tofu inside a single book, the body of knowledge in other fields is too vast for that. If you are, say,  a mental health professional and want to write a book on your specialty, you are probably going to have to “niche it down” so it’s not too broad and so it doesn’t repeat what’s already been done. In other words, you can’t just write “about alcoholism.” However, a book on alcoholism and the elderly is another story. By “niching it down,” you’ll be appealing to a few specific audiences, such as physicians, mental health professionals working with this population, and family members.  Try to think of another audience or two.

Here are just some of the subjects therapists have picked as specialties. Any one of them could be developed into a book:  Abuse, addiction, adoption, aging, anger management, ADHD, animal assisted therapy, anxiety, art therapy, Aspergers, autism, biofeedback, bipolar disorder, children/adolescents/teens, Christian counseling, cognitive behavioral, couples, creativity, depression, divorce and custody, eating disorders,  employee assistance (EAP), gay / lesbian/transgender issues, HIV/AIDS, Jungian analysis, Gestalt, grief recovery, learning disabilities, life coaching, meditation, mental illness, men’s issues, metaphysics, military culture, neuroscience, online counseling, parenting, phobias, play therapy, postpartum, private practice marketing, psychoanalysis, relationships, religious counseling, retirement counseling, rockstar therapy (yes, really!), short-term therapy, sex therapy, singles, sleep disorders, special needs – and hundreds more!

Start thinking about how you might give your special topic that special twist to make it different and unique. That’s how you get literary agents interested in representing you, publishers interesting in publishing you, and readers interested in buying you, whether it’s a traditionally or self-published book. Readers don’t care. They just want the information. The trick is to jump on a niche when it is still fairly new so, as the late publishing guru Dan Poynter said, you “own” it.

Finding a Home for The Therapist Writer

When I first came up with the idea for The Therapist Writer, I wrote a standard book proposal and started sending it out to literary agents. I kept getting back the same response: “It’s too nichy.” The agents didn’t think  there were enough mental health professionals who wanted to write who’d be interested in buying a book on the subject.  In fact, well-known literary agent Michael Larsen from San Francisco even phoned me to tell me this, and added that if I’d expand the focus from therapists to include other professions, he might consider it. That was tempting, but it wasn’t the book I wanted to write or felt capable of writing. I know my “tribe,” my fellow mental health professionals, very well, but I don’t know about other professional “tribes,” so I didn’t think I’d sound like I knew what I was talking about. I said no.

The Therapist Writer by Sylvia Cary, LMFT

The Therapist Writer by Sylvia Cary, LMFT

That’s when I realized I didn’t have a clue how big my market was. How many mental health professionals are there are in this country, anyhow, and how many of them want to write a book? I consulted the Occupational Outlook Handbook and came up with 750,000 mental health professionals, so I figured that if I could sell The Therapist Writer to just 1% of these therapists, that would end up being 7,500 books.  I also realized that while this figure might make me happy, it wouldn’t make me rich, and it wouldn’t impress a mainstream publisher.

I gave up on the idea of traditional publishing and self-published through Lightning Source (after first becoming a publisher — their rule at the time), and once the paper version was up on Amazon, I published it as a Kindle E-book.

Doc, What’s Your Line?

The conversation with agent Larsen made me really clear on the fact that I didn’t want to give up my niche audience (mental health professionals who want to write) and write for all writers. There were already plenty of books on writing and publishing for the general public. I also felt it was a plus that I was a licensed psychotherapist because I had chapters in the book on special issues that therapist-writers face, such as the important issue of patient confidentiality: How can a therapist write about a client’s case without getting sued? I talk in the book about “the art of disguise” in writing about others, which means a lot more than just changing names.

I now understood that by “niching down” my book I was probably limiting my readership and profits, but that’s just one of the many decisions an author must make. I also knew that when I started marketing my book, I’d have a chance to point out the benefits in the book for all writers, not just therapist writers. One big marketing shift I had to make was to treat therapist-writers as therapists, not writers. Most therapists don’t want to be writers, which is why they haven’t bought books on writing, and why they know less about the writing business than the average bear. They just want to keep on being therapists who have written a book. My book, I point out in my marketing, understands this and works with it so the therapists can reach their publishing goals in spite of their discomfort. The therapists who do want to be writers (and there are some!) already act like writers, and have read books and know about publishing trends. They are ripe and ready to press on.

The majority of the time, in marketing to therapists, I stress therapy careers, not writing careers. I  list the perks for therapists in being “the author of ” a book. It means instant credibility; being seen as an “expert in the field.” They might even become the “go-to” shrink for colleagues to refer to for specific psychological issues, like one therapist I know whose self-published book on his personal bipolar struggle has made him the therapist that other therapists think of as a referral resource. When I’d speak at therapy-related events and meetings, I’d take the same approach. I’d  talk to the audience as “therapists,” not “writers,”  and stress the career perks of getting published.

Becoming Niche Savvy

It’s important to know why your niche audience wants your book. For my niche audience, my book is business, not pleasure. Some therapists want to publish in order to have a carton of books in the trunk of their car to sell when they give talks or give workshops, or to have on hand for clients, clients’ families, and colleagues. Nothing more. They hate marketing.

I learned how to market The Therapist Writer (and I’m still learning) and how deal with a niche audience on the job, mostly by correcting mistakes —  such as starting out with no idea of the size, or whereabouts, of my audience! Next time out, I’ll know.

I didn’t get rich or famous marketing my book, but I learned a bunch and I got this award for my efforts. Cool experience. And the award  is pretty, isn’t it?

The IRWIN Award for "Best Niche Campaign"

The IRWIN Award for “Best Niche Campaign”

Below, FYI, is a video clip of my award acceptance remarks:

 

*Copyright 2015  Sylvia Cary, LMFT.  Portions of this blog post are taken from the chapter on “Nailing Your Niche” in The Therapist Writer.

Authors Love Being Top Dog

Authors Are Top Dogs in Self-Publishing
-- Photo by Sylvia Cary

So here I am, waiting patiently in the car while my owner trots inside to buy a book.  How quaint is that!  How old-school. She’s the only dog owner I know who still buys the real thing.  (Guess there’s one in every crowd).  Much as I love chewing on traditional  books, self-publishing is way more cool. Self-publishing has  chased away all the gate-keepers (and do I hate gate-keepers) down the street.  Self-publishing has made them “redundant,” as the Brits say. And guess who’s in the driver’s seat now?  Guess who’s free to roam?  Guess who doesn’t have anybody yelling “no!” at them or, worse yet, “not for us?” Ya got it, pally! Self-published authors!  And if you think for one moment that self-published authors are going to give up all that fun without a fight, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

If only I could talk.

When I think about how my owner could self-publish her own story (and she’s got one, believe me!) or do an e-book instead of paying money to read someone else’s story, it kills me. Doesn’t she get it? Doesn’t she see the fun she’s missing? And don’t even breathe on me about what those naysayers are bow-wowing about, trying to scare off indie authors by telling them  that self-publishing is  a house of cards about to tumble down.  I’d like to take a rolled-up newspaper to those party-poopers  (excuse the pun).  The good news is that author Nathan Bransford barked right back at them in his March 7th blog (www.nathanbransford.com) when he told them, “Get used to the self-publishing boom. We’re just getting started.” Go, Nathan! (He’s just got to be a dog owner).

If only I could talk.

Obviously, Nathan got a good whiff of the self-publisher’s spirit. He knows being a Top Dog author is just too damn much fun, along with the hard work, to pass up. When self-publishing guru Dan Poynter says 81% of people feel they’ve got a book inside them, well I say it’s the same thing for dogs.

If only I could talk.

But it won’t be long. This is strictly on the QT, but I’ve been working on this little project out back in my dog-house.  It’s  called “the iPaw.”  Someday every dog will be able to tap out his or her story. Someday every dog will have his day.

Someday this car will be mine.

copyright Sylvia Cary, LMFT

The Ebooks Are Coming! The Ebooks Are Coming!

A Lovely Little Local Book & Author Fair. Will These Still Exist When Ebooks Take Over the World?

“Ebooks are the future.” —  Dan Poynter, self publishing guru

Dan Poynter has been predicting that ebooks are the future for years. He has compared hanging onto the idea of paper-only publishing to still manufacturing buggy whips. It’s so yesterday. “Every paper book has to be an ebook,” one insider said at a meeting I attended on book promotion, “and to argue against it you are shooting yourself in the foot.” Another added: “Ebooks! That’s where the industry is going. You can’t stop it!”  Harsh? Maybe. But probably true.

So last week, with all these warnings and predictions dancing around my head, I drove  north from Los Angeles to Camarillo to attend what I’m sure will one day be regarded as just another relic of the past — the Ventura County Book & Author Fair, a delightful all-day event with speakers, panels, and authors at tables selling books and handing out chocolates. And, of course, exchanging publishing and self-publishing stories with humor and enthusiasm.

Touching Books

The minute I walked across the patio from the Senior Center and entered the exhibit hall, I felt a surge of relief. The book fair looked like every other book fair I’d ever been to and I liked it. Nothing had changed. Buggy whips galore! And what I was most struck with was how everybody loves to touch books.  And so do I. I saw people picking up books, caressing books, flipping through books, rubbing the spines of books, smelling books, looking at the tables of contents, studying the front covers, reading the back covers. And even buying books.

Touching Books -- So Hard to Resist!

A Book Fair Without Books?

Then a question popped into my head:  If things are going all-digital, can you have a book and author fair with just ebooks? What will it look like?  What will it feel like?  Will it look like Brookstones or Comdex? I went around to different book display tables and asked authors how they felt about the idea of an all-ebook book fair. Most had the same response:  “Oh, the horror.”  The idea of a world without touchable books seems unthinkable. I asked myself, would I be willing to drive an hour to a book fair just to touch the latest hardware? Sniff a power cord? Scroll through words on a screen instead of flipping through a real book? And leave my fingerprints on somebody else’s ebook reader? Are we having fun yet?

After returning from the book fair I emailed a therapist colleague of mine in Bakersfield, Sue Speake, LMFT, who has almost finished writing her own book — and has her heart set on seeing it in print — the traditional way. When I asked her what she thought about an all-digital publishing world, she had the same reaction — resistance: “What about colleges or public libraries, bookshelves at home, book markets and peeking at the end of the book to see what happens? What about trading books with a friend? What about donating the book you’ve finished reading to the senior home or schools? We must have real books…WE must!”

“Panic Nook”

Somehow I suspect that those of us who are book lovers and book touchers will manage to stash away a supply of books in a nook or cranny somewhere for that fatal day when you just can’t buy a real book anywhere. We can pull up a standing lamp, screw in an incandescent light bulb from our secret stash under the kitchen sink, pull an afghan over our knees and enjoy caressing our way through one of our favorite relics of the past, keeping our place with an actual paper bookmark, and we can take comfort in the fact that as long as we have our own little panic nook — at least total ebookgeddon isn’t today.

Looking for the Perfect Organizing System for Writing Projects

The late, great C.C. (for Calico Cat), contemplating her owner's latest attempt to organize a writing project, wondering, "Is this supposed to be a substitute for kitty litter?"

Keeping all my writing projects organized is like herding cats. They are hard to keep track of. What should my priorities be? Finish my book? Screenplay rewrites? Research for a new script for my screenwriting group? This blog? Article queries?  Essay submissions? Website updates? Writing a proposal for a possible teaching gig? Writing a new speech for my Toastmasters group? Jumping on the e-book and social networking bandwagons? Drumming up new clients for my editorial business? Marketing my little publishing company’s first book? And, oh yeah, I have a family. People. And a cat.

Back in high school I hated “writing tools,” such as the A, B, C, a,b,c outlines that were supposed to help me plan out my term papers.  I resisted them. Now I’m the opposite. Now I’m always on the lookout for new and improved lists, forms, tools, hints, tips or techniques to help me organize my work. I love lists. I love calendars, agendas and notebooks of all sizes, from cheap spirals to expensive Moleskins. ™ Now that Moleskins come in so many great colors, not just black, they are sooo hard to resist. Trouble is, once I write down all my projects in a notebook and close it, I don’t open it again. I thought I’d solved this problem when I bought a stack of little sticky “To Do” lists so I can stick an abbreviated “To Do” list on the cover of the notebook to remind me that there’s more stuff “to do” written down inside. This helps. Sometimes.

I’ve tried clipboards in different colors, too, one for each current project. I even tried hanging them on the wall near my desk. But then I’d forget which was which. Is the blue one for my blog? Or I’d get too lazy to take the clipboard down off the nail to add something else, so papers would end up in a stack on my desk. I dropped that system. Now I have a dozen nail holes in the wall.

I have a friend who keeps telling me to organize it all online, but I know me and I know if it’s not in front of my face, I’ll forget it exists. And don’t even mention using 3 x 5-inch file cards. I use them by the thousands. I have boxes of them. I use them for research notes, for filing “ideas,” and for planning out chapters in books and scenes in a scripts. For a 115-page movie script, I’ll write out the beats on the cards and then lay them out in rows–one file card for each minute of film. I’ll do the very same thing on sheets of paper using the smallest size Post-Its ™, one Post-It for each minute of the story. You can move them around nicely. Or I’ll print out the draft of my script, divide it up and move scenes around on the dining room table (see photo above).

Since you can buy 3×5-inch file cards in different colors, I’ve used colors, too – maybe green for the protagonist, blue for the antagonist, etc., but then I’ll run out of one of the colors and it throws off my whole system. You can also get the Post-It versions of 3 X 5 inch file cards, but when you gather them up they stick together, so that ends that for me. I’ve tried cork bulletin boards and push pins to tack up the file cards, but I have an aversion to cork (it squeaks and feels funny) and I usually end up stepping on a tack barefoot. So forgetaboutit! Recently, I read about an author who swears by 5 x 8-inch file cards for outlining book projects. I tried that too, but I find the cards too big and when I make a mistake on a card and throw it away, it seems wasteful.

Then there’s organizing the old-fashioned way–file cabinets.In my case, that’s gotten out of hand. I have three 4-drawer file cabinets in the garage, one in my office, one in my bedroom closet, a couple of two-drawer file cabinets in the kitchen, and a couple of singles on wheels that I can roll around depending on where I’m sitting. So now which file cabinet is it that contains the material on book proposals? I haven’t a clue. Guess it’s time to re-organize them again.

Just two days ago–for $2.99 on the Red Tag table at Office Depot–I found a cool 9 1/2  x 11 1/2-inch dark blue folder with “Project Organizer” stamped in the cover. Music to my ears! Inside it are ten pocketed sections. I bought it, heart pounding, and rushed home and spent the next two hours slipping papers for ten of my projects into their respective, labeled sections, then I stuck a sticky “To Do” list on each section for tasks I need to attend to in order to complete the job. I love this folder/notebook! I just know it will get me organized. It’s my new toy. I carry it around with me, even to Starbucks..

Recently somebody oh so casually mentioned to me that maybe, just maybe, I should consider that my obsession with finding the perfect way to organize my writing is actually a way of avoiding my writing—and that the impulse I’d had back in high school to skip the outline and just jump in was the right one. But I don’t know…

You think?

Celebrating Writer Independence!

It’s Independence Day! July 4th. A Big Day here in the U.S.  What a perfect  time to launch my blog (The Therapist Writer), aimed at scribes who also happen to be mental health professionals. The purpose of this blog is to celebrate (and benefit from) the many changes that have taken place in the book business over the past decade, making it easier than ever  for writers of all stripes (including therapist writers) to get published.

Some of the factors that have combined to bring about this perfect storm favoring writers include:  The economic downturn of the traditional (New York) publishing industry; the explosion of the Internet; the digital revolution;  the diminishing powers of the gatekeepers (agents, publishers, publicists, reviewers); the ease and affordability of indie authorship; the lessening of the stigma about being self-publishing; the success of eBooks and the expanding opportunities for online book distribution and marketing.

All these things have freed writers to achieve their mission of getting their work out into the world.  There’s also a wealth of material (including other blogs!) to  guide, teach and encourage writers through this process. Because I’m a psychotherapist as well as a published author (see my profile), my focus in this blog  will be helping my fellow mental health professionals get published. But even if you’re not a therapist, I can promise you that the information, advice, hints, tips, stories, resources and others goodies you’ll find here will facilitate your creative independence so you can continue to practice (and hopefully profit from) your craft.  So, writers — start your computers! I hope you enjoy this blog. Happy Independence Day!