Archive for category Non-Fiction

Tips to Make Us Stronger Authors—Both Fiction & Non-Fiction—Part 2

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sin Amigos.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sin Amigos.

Yesterday, WordPress (for some reason—I suspect evil elves) published my notes and many of you were sent my “Blog Haiku.” For those who missed it? Here it is:

Fill a Need

Go Niche

Get a Thick Skin

***

Now to expound…

Non-Fiction and Fiction Authors Have Similar Goals

Good non-fiction informs and entertains. Fiction entertains and fills an emotional vacuum.

Fill a Need

If we are writing non-fiction, the first thing we need to ask, is “What need is this filling?” Do people need to learn how to eat healthy, heal from divorce, manage time, balance their checkbooks? Do they want to understand and explore information left out of the history books? Do they want an informed opinion about economics, politics, or disease? Do they have a need to be intellectually stimulated?

Maybe readers want to learn about a subject that is beyond their intellectual grasp. I love documentaries about astrophysics, but whenever the alphabet (particularly the GREEK alphabet) enters MATH? I’m lost.

Doesn’t mean I might not be interested in sub-atomic particles and The Big Bang. I love writers skilled enough to take an unintelligible subject and then (through their writing) enable me to connect, understand, and appreciate something so complex.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of NASA.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of NASA.

Whenever we contemplate a subject, we must remember we are selling a product.

Secret Deodorant fills my need to smell nice at the gym and not offend those close (or sweat through my blouse and embarrass myself). A nifty car fills my need to travel from point A to point B, pay less for gas and have a sensor that tells me I’m about to run over the neighbor kid’s bike.

Insurance fills a need to prepare and feel secure that, if and when disaster strikes, I have a company watching my six and promising to make things right. Febreeze fills a need to make my home smell like autumn leaves. In Texas, this is an important need because in September, it is still 100 degrees and I need some promise it is REALLY fall.

With fiction, we are filling emotional needs. A need for excitement, adventure, love, intimacy, triumph, closure, healing, or even escape.

Go Niche

In non-fiction, this is particularly important, especially in the beginning. When we go niche, we minimize competition. We can establish expertise, grow deep roots and gain authority. Eventually, if we desire, we can use the niche success to broaden our platform.

For instance, when I started blogging about social media, I was trying to be like other experts because I was new and insecure.

Then I noticed the tactics other experts were teaching weren’t very author-friendly. Most of us aren’t IT people or power-marketers. Also, many of the experts were speaking to businesses who could simply employ someone to do their social media.

The owner of the business wasn’t in charge of creating the product, too.

Thus, I went niche. I made my content different and for a very specific audience—writers. Sure, WANA methods actually work for any small business. They are ideal for artists, photographers, stylists, lawyers, and any profession where the owner is required to also produce the product/service and lacks a department to delegate social media duties.

Yet, I remained focused on writers. One day I might expand. That’s the plan. But if I’d tried to compete with Guy Kawasaki in the beginning, I’d have been in a losing battle. I picked a field I could cultivate.

I defined my audience and dedicated everything I had into serving, informing, preparing and entertaining THEM.

If I want to write a diet book, a diet “that works” is a lot of competition. But what about a diet book for the woman who is breast-feeding and wants to lose weight, feel better, combat post-partum depression naturally and have a waistline again?

Niche.

This same principle applies to fiction. Many new writers are hesitant to pick a genre. We want to write a book everyone loves. In trying to please everyone, we please no one. Focus is key with fiction. Ask what you want your readers to feel and then focus on that. It will make your writing tighter and it will give it a greater chance of connecting to a willing audience.

We all recognize pizza in all its amazing and varied forms. Some weird casserole with a fancy name? Might taste better, but the pizza is an easier sell. Pizza CAN be creative. Yes, we can blend genres and use artistic abilities to offer “same but different” yet there needs to be a grounding point or audiences are left scratching their heads saying, “I know you SAY it’s good…but what IS it?”

Look for the vacuums. Demographics not being served. This is why I am so excited about Baby Boomer Romance. Still fills a need (love, excitement), it’s recognizable (romance), but it’s different. It can appeal to the 58 year-old who wants to read about a woman in her age group finding love.

Get a Thick Skin

Whether we are writing non-fiction or fiction, this is imperative. There are people out there who have nothing better to do than tear others down. Yes, I’m excited to now be blogging for The Huffington Post. It was a wonderful promotion as NF expert. Yet, a new level, new devil. I can’t moderate comments, and it didn’t take long to get the comment bashing me for using the word “Awesome.”

Um...thanks.

Um…thanks.

I used the word “awesome” ONCE, so I am guessing this is now a word banned from the English language? And I wonder if the commenter realizes she doesn’t look smart, just like a jerk. It took practically duct-taping myself in another room not to respond:

Awesome comment. It’s awesome you could take the time to make such an awesome observation. It’s awesome feedback like this that makes future blogs even MORE AWESOME. Thanks for being AWESOME.

But this goes with the territory *shrugs*.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Fiction authors? You cannot please everyone and if you try to? You start wearing your underwear on the outside of your clothes and take up collecting beer cans in a stolen Wal Mart cart as a hobby. Just don’t go there.

Fiction is subjective, so probably far more vulnerable.

One person LOVES description, and another hates it. One person LOVES lots of subplots, and others are confused. Just hone your craft, put out the best work you can and keep moving. Many of the bullies out there have been bullies since they were in fourth grade teasing the poor kid with the KMart clothes and a lisp.

Look at the bright side, we could be THEM.

What are your thoughts? Have you been on the other end of a bully? A Goodreads bully? Did you use duct tape to keep from hunting them down and burning dog poo on their porch? In your writing, has going niche offered focus? Do you have a clear vision of the “needs” your works should be filling?

I love hearing from you!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Winner of 20 page edit. Troy Lambert. Please send your 5000 word Word Document to kristen at wana intl dot com.

Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.

My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton. 

If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

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NF Part 2–Using Your Uniqueness to Become an Expert

Welcome to NF Part 2. Yes, you are a special unique snowflake. There, I said it. You do have a unique background and perception that is unlike any other human on the planet. Today we will talk about how to use that to your advantage.

One of the largest stumbling blocks I see for all writers—NF and fiction alike—is that we all fear being a fraud. Fearing that we really have nothing special to offer the world, we try and reinvent the wheel. We try to write the story that has never been told, failing to appreciate that plot, in and of itself, is not unique. The “telling” is where stories become unique. The Hero’s Journey is just as popular today as it was back in ancient Greece. The difference is in the details.

NF writers often suffer from the same malaise. We feel we have to become experts like none other on subjects no one has heard about.  Yeah…um, no.

If you think about it, it is extremely rare (if not impossible) to come up with a totally unique idea. Inventors, engineers, scientists and even writers all must stand on the shoulders of others and use them as the source code for innovation. In fiction, we do not need to reinvent plot as humans understand it to tell a great story. In fact, that would likely be counterproductive. People need grounding in what they know. To prove my point, go flip through a sci-fi or fantasy novel. If the writer was being truly “authentic” the book wouldn’t be in English, but in some alien tongue. Of course, then no one would buy it because we aren’t aliens… well, most of us anyway. In fantasy novels, they drink from cups and fight with weapons that at least resemble some object we can mentally tether to our world/experience. Light saber.

Thus, if you really want to write non-fiction, you do not have to look for a subject that has never been discussed. Even as an armchair “expert” you have a unique perception that might have the potential to resonate with a large audience…so don’t sell yourself short. Your voice might be just what others will finally understand.

For instance, I failed Chemistry FOUR times. The teachers I had just confused me and didn’t speak “my language.” I finally got a teacher who taught Chemistry using a lot of analogies and suddenly it was like tumblers in a lock. Oh! I exclaimed. I’ve been making this too hard! I suddenly went from failing student to the top of the class. I ended up tutoring Chemistry to TCU football players in danger of failing. Not only did I tutor them, but I turned most of them into A and B students. Can you imagine how wonderful I felt being able to pass on that gift that had been given to me?

Did I have a degree in Chemistry? Not even close. I was a political science student. Did I have a unique perspective? Yes. I knew what it was like to feel like an idiot and like I was sitting in a room where everyone knew what was going on but me. I offered these athletes empathy, which was important. I also was more aware of areas that were likely giving them trouble, because I had been there. So I was more efficient at teaching because I knew what areas were going to be the largest obstacles.

My role as “social media expert” has been a similar experience.

Sometimes, what we will offer others has less to do with a degree or a certification, and more to do with what we uniquely bring to the table. You can become an expert on almost anything you set your mind to.  Maybe you never finished college or even high school. Nothing can stop you but you.

If you want to become an expert, here are some good ways.

1. Passion

Make sure the subject you choose is one you are truly passionate about. Don’t just pick something because you want to make money. That never works. But, if you are truly passionate about something, that will shine through. For example, if you love Civil War History, likely you will read books, watch movies, and surround yourself with all things Civil War. My father eeked through two years of junior college before dropping out, but he knew more about history than anyone I have ever met. How? He read all the time. Hundreds and hundreds of books.

So you think you have passion? Well, passion alone is not enough. Time to put that passion to work.

2. Blog

Start a blog. Blog weekly about your topic (Robert E. Lee, the Civil War, the Confederacy, etc.). A blog can help you grow a following of people who look to you to instruct them about your topic in a way that is interesting, informative and entertaining. Over time, you will eventually grow to being an expert. How? You can tangibly demonstrate that people want to read what you have to say.

3. Join Organizations

Are there organizations you could join to help support your resume? If you want to write about General Lee, then are there any historical societies, book clubs, reenactment organizations that you could participate in?

Joining organizations and even networking with people who love the same subject you do can open up a lot of doors to help you on your way to becoming an expert. I have been a Rotarian for almost 7 years. When I was in the early stages of becoming a social media expert, I gave talks to Rotary clubs to demystify social media. I gave presentations showing them how FB could help non-profit clubs communicate, recruit new members, etc. I joined all kinds of writing groups and did the same.

4. Do A Lot of Stuff for Free

Yeah, this one can sting, but it is an excellent way to build a reputation when you are starting with nothing.  Write, speak, do anything you can to add to your c.v.

Going with the Civil War example. Contribute articles, web content, or even help the historical organizations put together a newsletter. Be their “go to” guy or gal.

In the beginning of my career, I offered to build MySpace pages for people, build blogs, write articles, teach classes, build platforms…all so I could have a list of success stories that established me as a person worth listening to.

And I did it all for free. I had to, at least in the beginning. How could I possibly charge? I didn’t have a degree or certification in technology. Heck, I didn’t have proof I knew what I was doing. Many times I didn’t know what I was doing, because I was LEARNING. But, the cool part was that I always offered to refund double what they were paying me :D.

FREE X 2=um, FREE

I say we can look at this one of two ways. One way is that we are giving stuff away for free. I, personally, like to look at it as an investment. I am investing my time and talents with the faith that it will pay off in the end. For me, it has. I paid my dues and now others are paying my fees.

Be grateful for all the grunt work you can get.

Eventually, your resume with have enough “stuff” that you will be able to charge money. When you think you’ve crossed that threshold, you can command a fee for your services/time. I recommend that you look at current Writer’s Market to see a list of standard rates.

Non-fiction can be a great source of income while you are working on that novel. You also never know how the experience might pay off down the road. I paid my way for years as a technical writer. I wrote instructions in software. Ack! At the time, I was so bummed that the paid writing was so far off what I longed to do. For those who don’t know, writing software instructions is akin to getting dental work while doing your taxes…every day. But, I grunted it through with a grateful heart, asking for all the work they were willing to send my way…even though every bit of work made my head hurt.

Yet, years later I would write a social media book so simple even my mother (who was afraid of the Internet) could build a platform. She now rules Facebook. Befriend her at your peril. But would I have written as good of a book had I not had all that experience breaking down highly technical concepts for the average Joe?

When I wrote, We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, did I understand every technical aspect of social media? No. Did I know every detail about Squidoo, You Tube, LinkdIn, Tumblr and Facebook? No (I still don’t). But I could take my unique experience of 1) being a technical writer and 2) failing…a lot and help a lot of people understand a very overwhelming subject. I could help them understand that one didn’t need to be on 40 platforms with pod-casts and vid-casts to build a worldwide platform. I have built a fan following that touches every continent using FB, Twitter and a blog.

Additionally, my background allowed me to peel away the fear factor to technology, just as I did years ago with football players failing Chemistry. I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. I just had to apply my unique perspective and voice.

Use your uniqueness to your advantage. No one is just like you!

Get excited! There are plenty of topics out there just waiting for your singularly unique perspective. You might just be the one voice that helps others understand. I think I read ten books on novel structure and was still lost. Then I picked up James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure and it was a huge Ah ha! This book is not the ONLY book to ever talk about this subject, but it has helped a lot of people like me who were struggling.

Our culture is addicted to information and entertainment. This is the Age of the Writer. Embrace opportunities. You never know where they might lead.

What do you guys think? What are your opinions? Can you guys think of additional ways to reach that “expert” status? Something I missed?

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

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21 Comments

Non-Fiction–The Road to Becoming an “Expert”

Today I decided to do things a little differently. Yes, Mondays are still dedicated to learning about the craft of writing, but it recently struck me that I had exclusively focused on novels. The lion’s share of beginning writers definitely lean to wanting to write novels, but there are other kinds of writers out there, and they need some attention too.

Today we are going to talk a bit about the realm of non-fiction. What are the advantages of writing non-fiction? How do you become an expert?

If you want to have a career as a writer and make money writing, I gotta say that non-fiction is an easier path. Note I wrote “easier” not “easy.” Nothing about being a writer is easy, which is why you will never make it if you don’t LOVE writing with every fiber of your being.

After almost ten years in this business, I believe I have earned enough experience points to say that writing non-fiction has a number of advantages. For those of you who follow this blog regularly, but happen to be born-fiction people, read on. Non-fiction holds some advantages for all writers.

1. It’s easier to get an agent/published in non-fiction.

I can hear the groans and boos, but it is true. Non-fiction isn’t subjective like fiction is. It is easier to fill tangible needs, target an audience, gain a following and build a platform. Face it. If you have a blog about how eating nothing but Spam and mangos helped you lose 50 pounds in three months–the Spamango Diet–and you can add a list of testimonials and show how ten thousand people a week click on your Spamango Blog…it’s going to be a pretty easy sell (and generate contraversy to boot, :D).

Tosca Reno (pictured above) was a 200 pound, depressed, unhealthy housewife who became a competitive fitness athlete after the age of 40. Tosca busted all the misconceptions of women and age. She took her experience and wrote a weekly column In Oxygen Magazine and then later wrote a book. Her Eat Clean Diet is a popular phenomenon.

Your Inner NF Author

Are you a whiz at balancing your checkbook and saving every penny? Possess superior organizational skills? Are you a Toddler Whisperer who can calm even the most hot-tempered three-year-old? Then you may have the makings of a non-fiction platform.

2. NF does well being self-published.

Say you have a knack for matchmaking. You are the go-to gal for those who want to be set up on a great date. All your single friends rely on you for the best love advice. In fact, a number of the friends you’ve set up on dates have even gotten married, all because of you.

You have a popular blog and do regular community TV interviews, radio interviews and talks at local Rotary clubs teaching others your unique insight into romance. You decide to write a book with all the best tools and tactics for successful dating. Do you have to land an agent or get a publishing deal? In my opinion, no. Not right away.

If you have built a platform, then you can likely move a decent amount of copies on your own. Sell your own books for six months or a year and then add it to your agent pitch. Now you are able to show that your self-published NF has a market.

Nontraditional publishing works really well for areas that are a tad gray. For instance, back in the day when I was pitching agents about a social media book, I consistently got the same answer. “Kristen, this is the book everyone wants and needs, but no one wants to be first.” Every agent knew that a social media book was needed, but none of them could wrap their minds around how to write one that would have any kind of longevity. Social media simply changed too quickly and traditional publishing is…slooooow.

They recommended that I self-publish the book first. I didn’t self-publish. I happened to go with a new non-traditional publisher Who Dares Wins Publishing, and that has been an excellent decision. My book has been tremendously successful and has a growing worldwide fan base.

What advantages did I gain?

Now it is far easier for me to show a larger publisher that I am worth their time and money for future books. Also, because I had already finished a book, it was very easy to get an agent. I had a product and a platform. Gina knew I had the stick-to-it to finish, and not only finish, but have an excellent product. Also, the first book has given me scores of testimonials from people who applied my methods. That gives statistical proof that my methods do work. I am no longer a theoretical success, I am a proven commodity.

3. NF naturally lends itself to other endeavors that generate income.

Being a NF author can open doors of additional revenue aside from the book. Can fiction authors do this? Sure, but NF lends itself better to paid workshops, speaking engagements, television, conferences, etc. NF authors are much more likely to be interviewed on big shows like Ellen, The View, or The O’Reilly Factor. These appearances sell a lot of books. Yes, sometimes fiction authors will make appearances, but they are small in proportion to the NF experts.

Fiction can eventually pay money, but think of that as your long-term investment. It takes years to write the book, get the agent, get the book on the shelves, and then almost an additional year to receive a check. It’s gonna be a loooong time before you get paid.

What do you do in the meantime? How can you be viewed as a legitimate writer? Heck, how can you pay some bills? Non-fiction is a great option. Whether you are writing articles, paid blogs, reviews or even web content, that practical side of your brain can help you make ends meet.

Great, Kristen. But who would listen to me?

As you can see, there are a number of advantages to writing non-fiction. The pickle with non-fiction, however, is getting people to care about what we have to say. Hey, everyone has an opinion. Why should we pay attention to yours?

How do we become an expert?

Get a Piece of Paper

This is probably a “no duh,” but those individuals who grace the halls of academia long enough to get extra letters added to their names already have an advantage. If a pediatric neurologist decides to write a book about autism, it is likely readers will trust what she has to say.

Do we have to have to have an advanced degree for people to take us seriously? No.

Experience

Do you have something in your background that makes you uniquely qualified to talk on a certain subject? Above we talked about the neurologist who writes about autism, but what about the mother of an autistic child? Isn’t she also an expert? Yes! She is just an expert of a different sort.

This is mainly how I became a social media expert. First, it was because I spent far too much time on social media :D. I also happened to be one of the early people who saw what social media could do for authors. I find it funny that four years ago I was asking agents what they thought of social media for writers, and they looked at me like I had sprouted another head. Now many of these agents won’t take on a new author unless she can demonstrate a viable social media platform.

So how did I become an expert? I tried and tested every method the other “experts” of the time happened to be touting. What worked? What went BOOM!? I am infinitely grateful for the DFW Writers Conference and Bob Mayer for being my early guinea pigs. I didn’t get paid, but they gave me free reign to try different stuff, and that freedom was invaluable.

Actual Photo of Social Media Expert Kristen Lamb–The Early Years

We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media was birthed out of those years of trying different things, failing, then trying again. I always joke that the title of the book should have been I Made All the Dumb Mistakes So You Don’t Have To. In short? I became an expert based on my experience.

What if you want to write a NF book, but you don’t have a specialized degree/certification and you have no real experience? How do we start from ground zero, nada, nothing? Good questions, and we will answer them next week ;).

In the meantime, how do you guys feel about NF? What do you think someone has to do for you to consider them an expert? Suggestions? Advice?

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

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27 Comments

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