I love writers and publishers guides. They’re on my Christmas list every year. But this is the first one I’ve read cover to cover and come back for more. And that’s saying something.
Laid out like any other writers guide, there are essays and articles on writing advice, publishing information, and an introduction to planet literary agent before getting to the good stuff. The listings. Who’s buying, who’s selling, who’s looking for what and when. It’s all good stuff, and I can’t get enough.
Jeff Herman has a wonderful sense of humour, which helps make typical writing and publishing advice come alive and keeps the reader engaged. The listings follow an interesting format, with the agency or agent answering a series of questions. It gives you a good sense of who they are and what they do and each get equal space in the book.
Describe the kinds of works you want to represent
Describe what you definitely don’t want to represent
How do you want writers to pitch to you?
Describe your education and professional history
How did you become an agent?
Knowing what you do now, would you do it again? If not, what might you do instead?
Do you charge fees? If yes, please explain
When and where were you born, and where have you lived?
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
List some of the titles you have recently placed with publishers
Describe your personality
What do you like reading/watching/listening to on your own time?
Do you think the business has changed a lot over the past few years? If yes, please explain
What do the “Big 5” mean to you?
How do you feel about independent/small presses?
What are your feelings about self-publishing?
Do you think Amazon is good or bad—or both—for the book business?
What do you like and dislike about your job?
What are ways prospective clients can impress you, and what are ways they can turn you off?
How would you describe the “writer from hell”?
Describe a book you would like to write
Do you believe in a higher and/or lower “power”?
There’s also a section dedicated to Canadian publishers, which I heart.
Jeff Herman’s Guide To Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents synopsis
The Writer’s Best Friend and Bible!
Writers, agents, and editors all agree that Jeff Herman’s Guide is the must have, go-to reference for everyone who writes. This book will get you past the slush piles and into the hands of the people who have the power to publish.
With Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents you will learn the names and contact information for hundreds of agents and editors, and will be given the “code” for how to win them over. More comprehensive than ever, this 21st edition will give you all the insider information you need to get published, including how to write knockout pitch letters and proposals, as well as an expanded Canadian section.
No matter if you’re a freelance writer or an author, knowing who your ideal reader is will make a huge difference to your writing career.
What is an Ideal Reader?
This is a fictional persona to whom your writing will most appeal. While this is not a scientific process, creating a profile helps you write with purpose and enables you to craft elements into your writing that surprises and delights this person.
Your ideal reader represents who you are writing to. It’s one person, not many people. This is a specific process and if you do it right, your ideal reader will come alive in your mind.
What this means is you need to figure out who your ideal reader is, what his or her interests are, and why your ideal reader reads. Your most important question is why will your ideal reader be interested in your book? Whatever the why, all readers have one and it’s your job to discover it for your ideal reader.
Your Ideal Reader is Your Biggest Fan
When you know who you’re writing to it gives your writing purpose and direction. This may seem like a strange exercise to go through but trust me, it’s a key step. Even if it’s a loose definition, think about the person (real or fictional) who would most be interested in reading your work.
ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS
What does this person tend to focus on?
On social media, what does your ideal reader like sharing about?
From what you can gather, what does he/she most need/want/desire?
Once you know the answers to those initial questions answer this one: what problem are you solving for your ideal reader through your writing?
Through thinking about your ideal reader you should have a few words and phrases jotted down. Take a look and add a few more words to the page. This time, write down things about your ideal reader. Noting things like hopes, dreams, challenges or family dynamics can help you paint a picture. It can be vague or specific, long or short. Just jot down as much as you can think of in a five-minute period.
Look at the list you came up with and compare it to your first one—are you seeing a character emerge? Write a biography for this person—whatever comes to mind with as much detail as you can include. Remember, this is a creative exercise. You’re trying to imagine who the person is who can’t wait to read what you write. The more human you can make this person, the better.
Here are a few marketing applications
In essence, marketing your writing is simple—put your writing in front of the people who will love it. If you have an idea of who your ideal reader is then finding those (real life) people is a lot easier. The more you know, the better.
What stores do they shop in? Now you know where to sell your work
Where do they hang out? Now you know where to hold workshops or readings
What is their favourite social media platform? Now you know where you need to be online
What are their biggest fears? Now you know how to help them
What do they care most about? Now you know how to relate to them
What type of marketing will they best respond to? Now you know what you need to do
There are a lot of ways you can find your ideal reader (or book buyer, or ideal client, etc.) so it’s important not just to parrot what you see others doing online but to find something that works for you and feels natural.
This last year I approached blogging in a new way, even though this blog is not new. So I wanted to do a little blogging year in review in order to capture my progress as well as set public goals.
My journey up until now
My blogging journey (if you’ll indulge me) has gone from online journal to travelogue to lifestyle blog to what it is now…somewhat less random and hopefully helpful insights into content marketing for freelance writers. Or, at least, that’s the direction I’m trying to point everything.
Hence the new approach.
While I am strolling down memory lane for a moment I don’t want this to be too self-serving. I want to do a quick overview of what I did and why, how it worked, and what I will do moving into 2018.
Robyn Roste’s Blogging Year in Review
Before the official review I’ll give you some context. For 10 weeks in the summer of 2016 I took a blogging course from Fizzle called Start a Blog that Matters. Now, we already know my blog isn’t new. But I was stuck. I’ve been on a meandering journey for many years and have never known where my blog was going (if anywhere). Was it for fun? Did it have a career purpose? What did I want it to be? I needed a fresh start. So I took this course and dreamed of creating something that matters. From the dreaming, brainstorming, and research I came out with a couple directions I could go: keep the blog casual and let it peter out like so many other lifestyle blogs I see getting retired (a fine decision btw, no judgment) or plot out a course and give my blog a vision and purpose.
It wasn’t an easy decision to be honest. First, because it’s hard to put yourself out there. You worry about so many things like what if you have nothing to say, what if people don’t like you, what if people don’t even notice you, what if it doesn’t work out and you just waste your time, etc. Second, because it’s hard work. And I’m pretty busy. I have my regular day job, I have my freelance writing and marketing clients, and I have all my other activities and hobbies plus boring things like housework and trying to have a social life. So I had to decide if this was important enough to me to put time and effort into even if it didn’t go anywhere.
I pondered this for a while. A few months. And then in January 2017, I went for it. I built a content calendar, a publishing schedule, set goals, and committed to give it a shot.
Blogging Year in Review: Goal 1—Post once per week
Through the blogging course I learned the importance of setting goals within your control. Publishing a blog once per week is something I can control so it’s a good goal. Increasing my traffic by 1,000 per cent is not something I can control so it is not a good goal.
How did it go?
Before I had a plan and a system I thought this would be difficult but it turns out when you have everything plotted out ahead of time, most of the guesswork disappears and you just sit down and write. My goal was to publish once per week and I did that, every Tuesday from January 10 till today, December 26. I also published extra posts here and there when inspired, I think it was to prove to myself I could do it.
Here’s the breakdown
40 posts on content marketing, blogging, and freelance writing
32 posts on book, movie, or product reviews
6 sponsored posts or brand collaborations
The final analysis
Although I focused my content plan on marketing and freelance writing, I allowed for other types of posts as well. I think part of me was nervous about running out of things to say and part of me still can’t let go of the lifestyle blogger in me. But when I see 40 posts on theme, I’m pretty happy.
Blogging Year in Review: Goal 2—Set a regular writing time and stick to it
I’m not a routine person but I’ve learned the importance of routines if you want to do good work on deadline. Talent isn’t enough and inspiration doesn’t strike on command. So unless you don’t need money you have to figure out how to set aside creative idealism and just do the work.
I knew there was no way I could achieve my weekly blogging goal unless I got blog writing into my schedule. Otherwise I would melt in stress and make life miserable for everyone around me. I know this because this has happened before, which is why I stepped back from blogging once my freelance career picked up. So how to add it back in…after much pondering I realized I had to get up earlier. So I did. I can’t say it was easy but I can say I decided to do it, did it, and stuck with it. I prioritized morning writing time and it got done. Simple as that.
Blogging Year in Review: Goal 3—Grow email list to 1,000 subscribers
I’m putting this here even though I’ve already explained a goal like this is not a good goal because it’s not in my control. It was something I thought I had to do after going through Jeff Goins’ The Writer’s Roadmap: 12 Steps to Making a Living Writing and I spent a lot of time stressing over it when it wasn’t happening. So I’ll admit it here because I’m thinking some of you also have this type of goal in your mind and are disappointed when you don’t hit your numbers. I can relate.
Here’s how I’m re-framing this goal for 2018
Produce high quality content that will help my target readers
Offer valuable opt-ins to encourage my target readers to sign up for my email list
Write high-quality emails to my readers to make it worth being on my email list
Get my content in front of my target readers as often as possible
Listen to feedback and tweak as necessary
What this looks like is still wanting 1,000 people on my email list, but doing more to earn those email addresses rather than just hoping and wishing they’ll find me and sign up for my list. It means working a bit harder on creating the right offers, making more connections with people who already speak to my ideal readers, and putting myself out there even more. Gah.
Blogging Year in Review: Goal 4—Get an agent
This is by far the scariest goal to admit. Because saying you want to get an agent and then that you have these bigger goals of writing books and, you know, publishing them, when it’s not a sure thing or even an achievable thing means you might not reach your goals. And then everyone will know you failed.
But here I am, telling you the truth. This is what I’m reaching for and what all my work is moving towards. I have my idea, I have my direction, and I’m going to give it my best shot. And if I don’t make it? Well, I guess we’ll see how I feel. Maybe I’ll keep trying, maybe I’ll regroup and make a new plan…it’s difficult to say without knowing where I’ll be at.
How did it go?
I gave myself a goal of coming up with three book ideas by October 2017. This was a strategic date because I also purchased a weekend pass to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (which was way outside my price comfort zone so I knew it would push me to make the most out of the weekend) and had the chance to pitch my book idea to an agent. And you know what, I did it. I came up with ideas, put together my pitch, and pitched. And I didn’t just pitch to one agent, I pitched to three. And it was hard and scary and amazing. I got a hard no, I got a not right now, and I got a request for a book proposal. So there you go. You can see where my 2018 goal is going, right? Finish that book proposal and get it IN!
Blogging Year in Review—Top 5 Posts of 2017
In case you missed it, in case you’re interested, in case you want to know what other people paid attention to this year
I love that this is my top post from 2017 because it was what made all of this work. It was my biggest challenge, my biggest success, and thing thing I’m still most proud of from this year. I prioritized my writing by getting up at a ridiculous hour and have seen the fruit of my efforts. I’m filled to the brim with gratitude for this experience and hope others can have this experience as well.
Second on the list is a book I contributed to, which was published in February 2017. I wrote about the publishing experience and hope it gives people some perspective on just how little control you have over the process when it’s not your book but also how exciting and fulfilling it is to see your hard work in print. Such a rush.
I put this together in October to try something I’ve heard a lot of Mom Bloggers do—gift guides. I asked a few writers in my circle what they would like for Christmas and built a list of 32 pretty cool writer-related gift ideas. Although I thought they were good hints, I will say I didn’t receive a single item on the list from my family for Christmas. So perhaps it hasn’t permeated quite that far yet.
This is a case study I wrote after working with photographer JenniMarie on a launch strategy for her last-ditch effort to get her wedding photography business up and running before giving up on the business once and for all. It’s an incredible story and one I think you should read if you doubt the importance (or power) of marketing. You just need the right strategy.
I LOVE that this is in my top five because I treated it like a throwaway post. It’s a review of a trendy water bottle my husband bought me, which I put on the blog because I found it interesting on a personal level. What I didn’t know was other people would think so too. It went viral on Facebook and I’ve heard from MORE than a few friends that they’ve purchased a similar bottle because of that post. It wasn’t sponsored or connected to an affiliate commission at all so this was all for free. And I’m happy about that, I was trying to connect and am pleased it did just that.
So there we go. I hope this blogging year in review demonstrates what a little planning and goal-setting does for your blog. Maybe you’re one step closer to reworking your blog? Or getting it up and running again? Are you up for the challenge?
Over the past couple months I’ve tested Write! App to see if I could adjust to a distraction-free writing with a distraction-free text editor. And by test I should be upfront. I stared at the shortcut on my desktop and thought of reasons why I didn’t need to use it. Because I’m a writer with a writing process and being distracted is integral to my creative process.
All writers have a process I suppose. But my process (slash super power) seems to turn writing 800-word articles into weeklong exercises if I let it. And often I do. And deep down I know I need help in the form of distraction-free writing software. I don’t want help (I love my process!) but I’m under constant duress deadline and my process doesn’t *get* deadlines.
Because here’s the thing. I’m trying to move the needle forward, trying to go pro-pro. You know, like I’m a professional writer but I am ready for the next level and I have a 10-step plan to get there. (If you’re curious, I’m on step seven and I started at the beginning of the year by getting up at 4:30 a.m. to do the hard work.) In order to reach my goals I have to be more prolific. And to be more prolific? Well, honey, ya need a new process.
Distraction-free writing is the minimalist’s approach to getting things done. And I have trouble getting rid of stuff
Distraction-free text editors, also known as distraction-free writing apps, distraction-free writing tools, and professional text editors, have a fancy way of making all the features, badges, notifications, icons, etc. disappear from your computer so all you can do is write.
Scary, I know. Like I said, I came up with some VERY creative reasons why I didn’t need to use distraction-free writing software.
But then I tried it…AND I LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT IT!
There are lots of these tools out there, some free, some paid, some hybrid. By my estimations they all do more or less the same thing. Why did I test Write! App? They asked me to (thanks Daniel!). Because I was looking for reasons to hate the tool I combed through the FAQs, features, and blog. All that did was end up teaching me how to use the app and clued me in to how powerful it could be for my writing.
So I stopped stalling and started writing, and it was awesome. Because it’s cloud-based I can use it on whichever computer I feel like (in my house it’s whatever computer has the best relationship with the Internet that day), and I can set up writing sessions with grouped tabs and keep my projects separate. I’m seeing SO many useful applications. My biggest complaint was having to use an exclamation point after Write! because I felt like it made me seem excited about the tool when really it was part of the name…but turns out I’m excited about Write!(!).
Why I need this in my life
Like I said, I’ve got writing goals. And I have two hours per day set aside for achieving them. Yes, that’s significant but it’s not a lot of time. So I need to optimize my time and use it sans distractions. I need this, even though change is scary.
Write! App—The Only Text Editor You Need For Distraction-Free Writing product description
This one is important too. Even if you went to a mountaintop where there is literally nothing else to do but write, there is still the matter of the tool you’re using. Namely, your text editing software. Fancy-pants all-purpose text editing programs are overabundant with features, badges, icons, templates, options, and a ton of other stuff that only takes up screen space and RAM.
To truly immerse yourself in your process, try using a distraction-free text editor like Write! It’s a great solution for any kind of writing from Tweets to short stories to novels. It’s as functional as it is beautiful with a minimalist design and a specialized focus mode for concentrating on one paragraph at a time.
It now even has a publishing feature. In just a few clicks, your writing can be up online for anyone you’d like to see it, whether your editor or your Twitter followers.
Write! is a distraction-free writing text editor for Windows, macOS and Linux. It has a multitude of features that help focus only on what matters.
Do you have a favourite distraction-free writing tool? Tell me about it. I’ll try it.
If you’re a writer then perhaps you know the term “pantser.” It was new to me. Pantser is a type of writer—one who writes by the seat of his pants. Right? The other type of writer is an outliner. Now that one’s a bit more familiar to me. In my heart I’m an outliner. I like having a plan and making it come alive. I like knowing where I’m going rather than discovering it along the way. And I don’t believe outlines cut off creativity—which is why I’m advocating for outlines and showing you how to write an outline for anything.
What is an outline?
In case you didn’t have to write an outline in school for some reason, this is a formal way of arranging and developing your ideas. Don’t let the word “formal” trip you up—this isn’t rigid, it can be adjusted at any point in your writing. An outline can be broad strokes of big/main ideas or detailed and in-depth, depending on your approach. There’s no right or wrong way to outline, and it can be added to and changed as you go.
Why write an outline?
I sat in a workshop with author Anne Perry (by the way…you should read her bio, I had no idea when I went to the workshop. Wow!) who has written like 100 books or something in her career. It was a fascinating argument for outlining from a prolific author. Here are the benefits of writing an outline. Keep in mind she’s giving advice for book outlining, but I think it can be applied to any type of writing.
You own the plan
It helps with plot clarity
Outlining gives your story structure
Outlining helps the reasons your characters do things make sense
You know your character growth/development from the beginning rather than figuring it out as you go
Outlining prevents your story from sagging in the middle
Outlining cuts down on the amount of rewrites
What’s the purpose of an outline?
An outline helps you organize your project (article/blog post/book/anything) by helping you check how your ideas connect to each other and discover if anything’s missing. No matter how long your writing project is, outlines help you see the big picture.
How to write an outline for anything
If you’ve read anything I have to say about content strategy, you may find this a bit familiar. The bones are the same but you get a bit more meta when you write an outline.
Here are the broad strokes in five steps.
Identify your topic
List your main points
Structure your argument (put your points in order)
Add sub-points (make connections between main points)
Evaluate and adjust as necessary
See? Not so intimidating or limiting. You’re just getting it down on paper and making sure what you have to say makes sense.
A few tips for when you write an outline
Identify your topic. This should be short but still a complete sentence. This will be your anchor throughout the writing process, keeping you on topic.
List your main points. Your main points are the things you want your audience to know after reading your work. All the main points should be a building block towards your thesis.
Structure your argument. This needs to both flow and make sense to your reader. What do they need to understand first? Second? Third? As you get into writing you may need to change the order of your points, this is normal.
Add sub-points. Sub-points go under the main points—makes sense, right? To have a balanced work, the sub-points for each main point should be somewhat equal. If you have seven sub-points for one main point and two for another, it might be time to reconsider your main points as the one with only a couple sub-points may not be a strong enough argument for your overall topic.
Evaluate and adjust as necessary. Read through your outline. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Is it missing anything? Are there gaps in logic? Is there extra stuff?
I hope this is clarifying and will help with your next project.
Remember, outlining is your friend!
It take the guesswork out of what to write
It keeps your project on track with relevant content
Outlining sets you on a strategic plan that moves you forward
It helps you avoid burning out
It keeps your project on topic
Thoughts? More tips? Pantser push back? Let me know!