Tag Archives: self-publishing

15 Ways to Let the World Know Your Book Exists?*

My Favorite Bookshelf which contains my 5 books, books I've published through my publishing company, and book that I've edited for others -- each one with a separate and specialized marketing challenge.   Photo: Sylvia Cary

My Favorite Bookshelf  contains books I’ve published through my publishing company, books I’ve edited, books I’ve written and had published, and books I’ve read or used to find critical information about the business of books. Each book here no doubt presented the author or publisher with huge marketing challenges.    Photo: Sylvia Cary

The Challenges

* Have you had a book published and don’t know how to market it?

* Have you been surprised to learn that today even traditional publishers expect authors to market their own books?

*Have you finally realized that nobody is going to buy your book if they’ve never heard of it?

The Overwhelm

I know lots of authors. I grew up amongst authors. I know authors who have been published every which way, from traditional to indie to Ebooks. And for most of them, unless they’re seasoned, it has come as a shock to realize that finally getting to hold their published book in their hands isn’t the end of the story. Next comes the hard part — book marketing. That’s when the overwhelm sets in. Even if you’ve been lucky enough to have a major publisher and an assigned publicist (a rare luxury these days), marketing is still a chore.  One of the hardest working writers I know is a woman who was published by a big publishing house and did the full (often exhausting) book tour throughout the US and Canada. So there’s no escaping the reality of marketing. As Former President Bill Clinton is said to have commented about his first book: “I didn’t sell it because I didn’t promote it.” So you gotta promote your tail off.

To market, to market, to market.

Book marketing can be overwhelming. Even though my own book, The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published, contains forty-five pages of mostly DIY marketing ideas from A-Z, when I was faced with actually doing the things I wrote about, I didn’t know where to start.  Soon after the book came out, I’d been widowed. I’d grieved. I’d moved. I’d adopted a needy and difficult feral kitten. And whenever I reminded myself that I “should” be marketing my book, I’d freeze. Where to begin?

When it comes right down to it, there are entirely too many things you can do to market a book!  Well-known book marketer, Penny Sansevieri, author of Red Hot Internet Publicity, recently wrote a guest post on an agent’s blog called “50 Thing Under $50 Bucks to Promote Your Book.”  Then there’s the huge book called 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, edited by John Kremer. Yikes. That book always reminds me of why I like small food markets: Fewer choices.

Focus, focus

I knew I needed to zero in, so I decided to focus on only 15 ways to market a book — and that’s it.  And, since they say the best way to learn is to teach, I scheduled a workshop for next (as of this writing) Saturday Oct. 26th called DIY Yourself Book Marketing: 15 Ways to Let the World Know Your Book Exists. During this workshop I shall attempt to teach authors and wanna-be authors how to market their books. Ha! What the planning of this workshop has forced me to do is to concentrate on 15 marketing technique and put blinders on for the rest. I’ll get to them, or some of them, another day.

The Top 15

If I were to go into each of my 15 top book marketing methods in detail, this blog post would scroll down to the floor. So I’ll list them and then you should Google them and determine which book, blog, article,  website, or YouTube video gives you the best information. For example, my top pick in this list of 15 is Amazon.com because it’s the largest online bookseller, because it’s global, and because it offers authors a wide range of great marketing opportunities. Consider buying Penny Sansevieri’s Ebook, How to Sell Your Book by the Truckload on Amazon.com. Do this kind of research for each item on this list. It shouldn’t be that overwhelming if you keep in mind that it’s just 15 — not 1001. So here are my picks:

1) Amazon; 2) Blogging; 3) Bookstores; 4) Contests; 5) Elevator pitch; 6) Handouts; 7) Emailings; 8) Traditional Media; 9) Networking; 10) Press Releases; 11) Reviews; 12) Social Media; 13) Speaking 14) Videos; 15) Website.

You’ve Got to Start Somewhere with Something

Obviously, each item on my Top 15 list has sub-categories, and I know I’ve left things out, but you’ve got to start somewhere in order to get unstuck or unfrozen when it comes to book marketing. By keeping your focus on 15 instead of hundreds, you’ll see how one action can be used for multiple purposes (like your 30-second elevator pitch which you’ll end up using in many ways.)

Let me give/show you an example. Under #14, “Video,” videotape any talk or presentation you make, or set up an “interview” situation, and email it (or use Dropbox if the file is big) to a video editor and have them cut up your video into 3 or 4 short segments (under two minutes) and post the clip on Amazon, your website, your blog,  your email newsletter, or put it up on YouTube, perhaps on your own  channel. It sounds complex, but a good video editor can do it in a jiffy.

The clip below is one of five from a TV interview on I did on “Book Beat” about my book. It was swiftly edited, complete with titles and music, by L.A. area video editor,  Mallory Jackson (Jackson.Mallory@yahoo.com). But of course these days where a talent lives often doesn’t matter since most things can be done by email. I’ve edited books for people I’ve never met.  Here’s the clip:

*Workshop for Locals

If you live in the LA area and you want more details on these Top 15 marketing tools, you can sign up for my workshop on Saturday Oct. 26th, 9:30 am to 12:30 pm in Sherman Oaks, only $60.00.  Sigh up at: http://www.therapistwriter.eventbrite.com.

(c) 2013 by Sylvia Cary, LMFT

Video editor Mallory Jackson

When that Little Bundle Arrives on Your Doorstep

What a special day when “the box” containing your books finally arrives at your front door! Photos by Sylvia Cary

When you get that first box of books from the printer, your books, and you take one out and hold it — it’s like bringing home the new baby from the hospital. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying. What do I do with it now? Well, if it’s a baby, you bring it up. If it’s a book, you market it. If it’s a proof copy of your book (as in my case), you read through it for typos and mistakes and then you upload the corrected version to the printer ASAP so you can get that baby out into the big world at last.

Whether you’re a therapist writer or a non-therapist who writes, here’s what you’ll find inside The Therapist Writer:

  • Why therapists should get published
  • The benefits of getting published
  • What’s going on in the publishing world
  • What have e-books got to do with it?
  • Special issues for therapist writers (confidentiality)
  • Legal issues for therapist writers (copyright, trademarking, piracy)
  • Building a beginner’s platform
  • Nailing your niche
  • Figuring out your audience
  • “Content on the Couch”
  • Hints and tips
  • Best publishing options for you
  • Writing book proposals
  • Getting an agent
  • Marketing Like Mad – A-Z
  • The future of publishing for therapist writers

Hopefully, in a few weeks, The Therapist Writer will be available. It’s a year overdue!  Can’t wait to share it with you!

Copyright (C) Sylvia Cary, LMFT

  • Anybody remember galleys? Back in the old days,  advance copies were long, slimy sheets of paper. Authors had to make corrections and snail mail the slimy galleys back to the publisher. Today, proof copies look like real book. They’re great for sending out to people for blurbs and testimonials, and you get to see what your book will look like — in advance. Amazon’s CreateSpace lets you order five proofs for under $25.00, including mailing. Such a deal!.

Finishing a Book is So Nice and Relaxing

My Favorite Pin-Up Cat, Diamond, Hanging Out Enjoying the July 4th Holiday — Photo Sylvia Cary

My favorite day is always the day I finish a big project. I’ve been working on my book called The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published for two years, which is a year longer than I thought it would take, and it’s finally finished. Yay! It should be available as soon as it is professionally proofed and printed, then it will go up online and the mad marketing begins!  Today, the 4th of July, is also the first anniversary of starting this blog. Exactly a year ago I wrote about “writer independence” and I’m still writing about writer independence because it’s still my favorite topic. I love the excitement I see in the many self- and indie published authors I know. They’re crazy about the feeling of being in charge of their own creative projects.

I could go on, but not today. Today, while my husband is visiting with his adult sons, I’m just hanging out with Diamond and cleaning out desk drawers, a treat I allow myself as a reward for finishing something.

But we live near a park and soon the official July 4th fireworks will start, so Diamond will most likely jump up and run under the bed. I’ll need to comfort her until the big noise is over, perhaps even give her a little talk about cat independence.

Happy 4th to all.

“Indie” Energized

When Writers Are Unleashed, You Can Feel the Energy in the Room -- Google Images

“When Writers Are Unleashed…”   Photo: Google Images

Last week I went to two Los Angeles writing events. Two very different kinds of writing events. The first was a panel of literary agents and managers, some of whom had snarky things to say about self-publishing: “Self-publishing produces so much dreck”… “You still can’t sell a book to a mainstream publisher without an agent”…”People in New York think people in LA don’t read”…”Before you self-publish, have you even thought about how you’re going to promote it?”…”99 percent of self-published books end up selling one hundred copies,” and, “A self-published book will never re-sell to a real publisher unless it has three zeroes after it.”

Ouch! Bummer. I left with my shoulders drooping.

I was in that other world once, the traditional publishing world (back when my first books were published), but for the past three years, self-publishing has been my life. I started my own publishing company in 2010, published and marketed a friend’s memoir, am completing the last chapter of my own book called The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published (I’m a licensed psychotherapist), and I plan on “indie” publishing it within weeks. I love self-publishing. But it is a very different world indeed.

It’s not that the agent folks on the panel were wrong. They made valid points. But they weren’t inspiring. They were disheartening. They were just another set of book industry gatekeepers explaining to the great unwashed how the rules of the ivory towers work, translated as “only one percent of writers today have a chance of breaking through the first gate and having their work read by one of the agents on that panel.”

Ah, if only this panel of agents had been able to Skype the second writing event I attended that week, the monthly drop-in writers group that I run at a local Barnes & Noble. No drooping shoulders there. Instead, there were fifteen excited, highly energized writers, many of them older, some traditionally published in the past, a few still trying that route, talking eagerly and with hope about their future projects, their creativity suddenly released anew — all thanks to the Internet, the digital revolution and the self publishing phenomenon.

One group member, an actor as well as a writer, picked up his Kindle and read from the first of his self-published family fiction trilogy. Meanwhile, he passed around copies of his newly designed book covers, done by a graphic artist friend. When he finished reading, we applauded — right there in Barnes & Noble. (Remember when you had to be quiet in bookstores?) Then a woman read one of her hilarious senior romance short stories. She is turning one into a screenplay and is contemplating self-published others as a collection.

A fellow psychotherapist, new to the writing group, told us she was there because she realized that after many years of working in her specialty, she is now considered an “expert” with a lot to say, so she wants to write a book. We brainstormed fresh angles on her topic which has already been written about a lot. Then there was the retired vet, a group regular, who has written 19 novels and finally dared (with much prodding from the rest of us) to upload one of them to Smashwords. He sold three copies the first day — his first ever sales. More applause.

And you ask, “Have these writers even thought about how they are going to market these books?” Are you kidding! They are laser focused on marketing. Take, for example, the woman who wrote a tofu cookbook which also includes a family story and inspirational quotes. She spiral bound copies (buying her own spiral machine) and sold 5000 copies to various health food stores, pharmacies and about twenty other kinds of stores. How’s that for “three zeroes” after the number, Mr. Agent Man?

And as for exhibiting creative “outside the box” marketing ideas, look again at the above-mentioned senior romance writer who has done a series of readings in lingerie shops?  Or the retired teacher and poet who recently gave a talk on his writings and was approached later by a man in the audience who exclaimed, “Gee, I wish my father did stuff like that.”

Towards the end of the meeting, a shy woman reached into her purse and pulled out a  copy of her children’s mystery book. As she passed it around the group, she told us: “The cover of the sequel is in the same style, just a different color. And here’s the bookmark that goes with it,” she added. She looked wonderfully happy. When our meeting time was up, we all stood up — but people kept on talking, getting referrals from each other for editors, proof-readers, book cover designers, and suggestions for clever marketing approaches.  As we were finally dispersing, a woman ran up: “I saw your sign. I couldn’t help eavesdropping. I’ll be here next time! I wish you met every week!”

Now, which meeting would you attend for a little zap of inspiration?

Copyright (c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT

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

Middleworld — Where the Publishers are Neither Too Big Nor Too Small

Miniature Story Book -- photo by alphadeltago's photostream, Flickr

Okay, so here’s the situation. You’re a therapist writer. You’ve decided to write a book. Maybe it’s on a mental health topic; maybe it’s on something else. You’ve done your homework. You know your subject matter, your genre, your angle, your goals, your audience. You may even have completed a few chapters. That’s all good.

Then somebody comes along and throws you a curve by asking you a simple question: “How many actual books are you going to be able to sell to your primary audience?” Gee. I didn’t expect that question.  In my case, I know that the primary audience for the book I’m writing (The Therapist Writer) is mental health professionals who want to write. But exact numbers?  I realized I needed to get my numbers act together.  As my GPS says…

Calculating… Calculating…

After a lot of Googling (which wasn’t helpful), and some phone calls to mental health organizations (many refuse to disclose membership numbers), I finally consulted a copy of the Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-2011 (the new edition covering 2012 is due out soon), and I came up with a total of “700,000” mental health professionals in the U.S. with an expected growth rate of 15% by 2018, bringing the total number of therapists to 805,000 by 2018. And since I’ve always heard that in the fund-raising world a 1% response to a fund-raising letter is average, I threw that number into the mix…

Calculating… Calculating…

The number I came up with (1% of 805,000 mental health professionals) was 8,500 potential book sales over the next couple of years. (Anyone with a better set of numbers please let me know!)  In my world, 8,500 sales isn’t bad.  But in the world of traditional publishing (think New York), 8,500 is lousy. It’s small potatoes. Without at least 25,000 fans panting to buy my book, my chances of getting a New York agent to broker a book deal with a big time trade publisher are slim to none. So forgetaboutit. It’s just never going to happen. My book is far “too nichy” for that world. Now what?

As a therapist writer, this could happen to you. Not to be mean, but I’m afraid that book you’re working on about Sandtray Therapy just isn’t going to be a hot item at Random House. Then, is your only alternative self-publishing? That’s certainly an option, maybe even a good one in some cases, but don’t throw in the towel just yet. There’s a whole middleworld of publishing houses out there known as “the independents,” or “small presses,” or “academic publishers” or “university presses” that are still considered traditional publishers, same business model, and they might be just perfect for you.

According to Los Angeles literary agent Paul S. Levine, the publishing world is roughly divided into two parts. Half of the book business is controlled by the “Big Six” global publishing conglomerates (Random House, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Hachette (and a slew of imprints under the umbrella of each). The other half, Levine states, is made up of some 56,000 smaller publishers or “independents” which he defines as “those who publish three or more books in one calendar year.”

Also mixed in here are the academic/university presses, some 100 of them that publish anywhere from a few book to 100 books a year, many on specialty topics (archeology, history, music, biographies, politics, music, theater, dance, art, baseball, gardening, health, sports, travel, school texts, nature, interior design, pop culture, writing —  and many areas of  psychology.) Because everything is topsy-turvy in the publishing world these days, some of the university and academic presses have had to go mainstream and put out commercial books, so they’re not just printers for stuffy books anymore. If you’re afraid your book isn’t stuffy enough for them, this should come as good news. You may have a shot.

Why Are the Independent Presses Worth Looking Into?

For today’s writers, one of the best things about the small, independent presses is that many of them don’t insist that you have an agent, which is rare in the “Big Six” world. That’s one huge gatekeeper out of the way! You can send in material (such as a book proposal) unsolicited, without prior permission. These publishers are more open to niche topics and if you do hook up with one of them, they’ll give you more personal attention and help you make your book “perfect.” On the downside is time and money. This all takes time and there’s not much money for advances or marketing. If you’re in a big hurry to get your book out there for upcoming workshops, seminars and conventions, then self-publishing, using print-on-demand technology, might work better for you.

Best Resources

The two best resources for finding out about the independents, small presses, academic publishers and university presses are these annuals: 1) the 2012 Writer’s Market (check out their “Family Tree” chart showing the conglomerates and their imprints), and, 2) Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents 2012. Writer’s Market refers to these houses as “small publishers” and defines them as those publishing ten books or less a year; Herman calls his list of 500 or so presses the “independents” and defines them as publishing one book a year on up. He has a separate section for “university presses,” whereas Writer’s Market mixes the academic and university presses in along with other publishers, but has a separate section for the “ten and under” small presses. There’s a lot of cross-over so it can be confusing. Writer’s Market also highlights “new listings” which might be worth looking into because they may be less inundated with material from other writers — so far.

What to do in Middleworld

If your book is “too nichy” for an agent and the “Big Six,” but you’re not up to self-publishing (which is exciting but a lot of work), look at the publishers in Middleworld:

  • Look through the two directories mentioned above;
  • Read the sections for “small,” “independent” and “university/academic” presses;
  • Put checks by the publishers that don’t require agents (Basic Books and WW Norton do require agents; Adams Media and Guilford don’t);
  • Come up with a list of about 15 publishers that appeal to you and seem to have a strong presence in your subject area;
  • Check out each pick with http://www.writerbeware.com and http://www.preditorsandeditors.com just to be safe and make sure they’re not flakes;
  • Go on each of the 15 web sites and see what their writer guidelines say. You may have to hunt for them — try “Contact Us” or “Submission Guidelines” or “Authors” or “Writer Guidelines;” or “Submissions;”
  • Don’t deal with any so-called “publishers” (vanity presses in disguise) that use words like “subsidy,” “co-publishing,” “joint venture.”  That’s the dark side of  self-publishing which is another conversation;
  • Send off whatever the publisher asks for — and don’t wait by the mailbox. They’ll answer eventually. In the meantime, keep educating yourself about publishing; keep networking with other writers, and keep writing.

A Panel of One: Dan Poynter Updates Writers on Latest Publishing Changes & Opportunities

Self-Publishing Guru, Dan Poynter, Updates a Southern California Writers Group on the Latest Publishing Industry Changes -- Photo: Sylvia Cary

Whether you’re a therapist writer or any other kind of writer, you know it’s important to  keep up with what’s going on in the ever-changing publishing industry.  Since we can’t all be at every writing-related event in our area, I thought I’d share some things I learned at the latest meeting of IWOSC (Independent Writers of Southern California) in my own area.

Now usually on the last Monday night of the month, IWOSC presents a panel of four to six experts on topics related to writing and publishing, but this time things were different. This time it was a panel of only one — that one being Dan Poynter, a man who probably knows more about the publishing game than anyone else on earth. He flies 6000 miles a week, speaking to book-writing hopefuls and conversing with publishing experts in every nook and cranny of the globe. He spends 40% of his time in the air, at airports, and in other countries. It’s no wonder that whenever he opens his mouth to speak about publishing, writers listen.

Poynter opened his talk with a catchy little definition of self-publishing that you might want to put up on your fridge to inspire you:  “Self-publishing, when you’re doing it right, is when your passion center meets your profit center.”

But publishing wasn’t originally Dan Poynter’s primary passion. Sky-diving was his first love. One day in 1972 somebody took him for his first sky dive “and I was hooked,” he says. If he hadn’t been taken on that jaunt, he never would have known how much he liked it — and he might never have ended up in the publishing field. Today, he advises parents to “do something new every weekend with your kids; open them up to different kinds of experiences and eventually they’ll find something they want to pursue.”

After Poynter got into sky-diving (including a  jump into the north pole), he realized that there were no parachute manuals. He wrote one, became a publisher, published it and sold it through parachute schools, parachute shops, parachute catalogs, and parachute magazines — but not through bookstores. Even back then he realized, “Sell to your own tribe. You have to go where your audience hangs out.” Marketing a book was harder in those days.  “Today, because of the Internet and search engines, we can find our customers and our customers can find us.”

In 1973, Poynter discovered hang gliding. He fell in love again. And again, when he realized that there were no manuals on the subject, he spent four months researching it and came out with the first book on hang gliding. The book took off. “It was the right book at the right time, just when everybody was crazy about hang gliding and there were articles on it in every magazine.” He marketed this book the same way he’d marketed his parachuting book — he sold them in hang gliding stores, hang gliding schools, hang gliding magazines and hang gliding catalogs. “Your book has to be the first one,” he says. “If you have the second book you’re out of luck.” Initially, when he left copies in stores on consignment, management was skeptical. Then, when the books sold out, he started to get calls for more: “You have to show them there’s a market.”  Also, thanks to his naïveté at the time, he sent a copy of his hang-gliding book to the Library Journal and asked them to review it.  He had no idea that getting a book reviewed in the Library Journal is a feat the equivalent of parachuting into the North Pole. But the Library Journal actually did review the book and as a result of that review he sold copies to 1200 libraries.

By 1974 Poynter had earned enough money to move back to California from a colder clime (he’d come to hate cold) to a big house on a hill in Santa Barbara. He has since authored over one hundred additional books.

Publishing is changing so fast it’s hard to keep up. The large publishers are downsizing, the traditional brick and mortar stores are going out of business, readers have fallen in love with ebooks, “and we’ve been losing three independent bookstores a week for the last twenty years.” Publishing industry professionals who are still resisting all these changes are, in Poynter’s words,  “in denial,” And the changes are having a huge impact on every facet of book publishing — literary agents,  distributors, book printers, book reviewers — just about everyone that the industry touches. Even the area of “foreign rights” is changing. Someday, authors will have their books translated into other languages on their own and sell them on Amazon or on their own Web sites. “Tolerate books stores, but don’t pursue them,” Poynter says. “Bookstores are lousy places to sell books. New York publishing still thinks it’s all about bookstores, but they’re wrong. The winners are going to be authors and small publishers who go with the flow and adapt to what’s inevitable and embrace the changes. In the past, everyone followed the Big Six publishing conglomerates. Now, the Big Six are following us!”

Poynter predicts that the abandonment of the “New York” publishers and gatekeepers will continue, and magazines (and along with them book review space) will continue to disappear. “1989 was the peak year for the magazine industry. Magazines were thick with ads. Now they’re getting skinnier and skinnier. Look at Newsweek. It’s losing millions. Most newspapers will disappear in five years. The only four likely to survive are the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. Most book reviews will be done online by book bloggers.”

While these changes are opening up all kinds of exciting opportunities for writers, Poynter warns that writers also need to be wary of scammers. “Avoid Vanity presses. Do your due diligence. And if you are about to do business with a company, first go online and type in Google + the name of the company + scam (or rip-off) and see what comes up.

Poynter ended his presentation with a reminder: “87% of people don’t like their job. One million people call in sick every day. But we, as authors and publishers, are respected and have a passion for what we do. There will be a growing need for entertainment (fiction) and information (non-fiction)…” – and that means work we love! So for the hundreds of  writers, publishers and guests sitting in the audience listening to this most impressive “panel of one,” the future is looking pretty good.

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?

The Two Main Publishing Options for Therapist Writers

Mental health professionals are out there trying to make a living like everyone else. Most of them agree that getting a book published, which builds a therapist’s credibility, is good for business. But with all the publishing options available today, which is best?

Basically, you have two choices:  Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing. With traditional publishing (also called “New York,” trade, mainstream, or commercial), they pay you. With Self-Publishing (also called “subsidy,” “author service” companies, or “indie” publishing — all using print-on-demand [POD] digital technology), you pay them.

Gutenberg struggles with his printing press in the 15th Century. Today, self-publishing is a tad less strenuous.

Are you with me so far?

Now, if all you had to do was choose between “They pay you” and “You pay them,” then your decision would be obvious, right? Duh! But not so fast. Picking one of the “They pay you” options isn’t as easy or doable as it sounds. Nor is it necessarily the best choice for you financially.

Consider this: In today’s publishing environment, a new, non-celeb author’s chances of getting a book contract with a top “New York” publisher or one of their many imprints are slim — maybe 1-2%. Plus in most cases (not all) you have to get an agent first to arrange the introduction, which is a challenge in itself. It may be wiser to move on to one of the hundreds of small, independent (i.e., not under the umbrella of one of the majors) houses. But here again you still may need an agent. Ugh.

If this is what’s holding you back, then consider one of the specialty,  academic or university presses (listed in annual directories such as Writer’s Market or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2011).  Some of these don’t require an agent, which is great. It cuts out a major gatekeeper. And, being smaller and publishing fewer books, they can give their author/experts more time and attention. But they can take ages to get back to you and be slow about putting your book out. This is frustrating if you have a timely topic or depend upon workshops and speaking engagements to make a living. You want your book available now for those back of the room sales.

All the more reason to start investigating the fascinating world of self-publishing – the option that many authors are going for first these days because they have more control, because there are no gatekeepers, and because they can make more money if they market their book well (which is the biggest challenge of all).

One option is to become your own publishing company and publish your book yourself (making you “indie” published rather than self published, a nice little distinction when it comes to any remaining stigma). In my state, California, becoming a publisher involves filing for a DBA and putting a notice in a local newspaper for four weeks. To publish, you can upload to a printer (such as Lightning Source) or sign up with an “author service” company, such as Amazon’s Create Space. Just be careful  not to buy expensive packages that contain things you don’t need. There are scams out there, so do your homework.

The more you DIY, the cheaper it will be. With Create Space, authors can buy their own ISBN number (www.bowker.com), keep ownership of their files, and do (or farm out) their own editing, interior design, covers, proofing and marketing. And finally, don’t forget to arrange for an e-book version of your paper book. E-Books are hot and it’s another “income stream.” So therapists, do it. Publish that book. Just think — what if Freud had never published a book, where would we therapists be then?

(copyright 2011 by Sylvia Cary, LMFT)

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!