Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ten Questions to Test My Book Idea

I will never again make light of my suggestion to potential authors that they begin by answering ten short questions about their books. If I am going to write a book of my own, I have no choice but to accept the same challenge. The questions may be short, but the process of answering them has been longer and tougher than I realized. The good news is that the answers will take me a long way toward a completed book proposal.

1. Why are you writing this book?
  • To reflect on my life as a writer which began with little more than a vague goal—to write—and developed into a successful career as a feature writer, editor, corporate communicator, author, and book coach
  • To show aspiring writers that if they really want to make writing their life’s work, with a little talent and a lot of determination, they can achieve any goal they set for themselves
  • To illustrate the process outlined in my previous book, How to Write a Nonfiction Book; From Concept to Completion in 6 Months by planning and writing a book on my blog.
2. What is your book about?
This book is a memoir of my life as a writer—40 years of learning, growing, and reinventing myself to meet the changing needs of the marketplace.

3. How are you qualified to write this book?
I am an editor, ghostwriter, teacher, writing coach, and the author of 14 books, including How to Write a Nonfiction Book: From Concept to Completion in 6 Months, Going Solo: How To Survive & Thrive as a Freelance Writer, and The Invisible Author: Confessions of a Ghostwriter.

My passion is working with writers at all levels to convey their messages through books. In addition to coaching prospective authors, I have taught classes in nonfiction book writing at local universities and community colleges. My articles have been published in corporate and university publications, the trade and national business press, and on 25 online article sites. I have also written audio, video, and print training programs on a wide variety of topics.

As the owner of a creative consulting firm for the past 20 years, I have worked with organizations in both the private and public sectors on projects ranging from annual reports to websites. My 40-year career has included marketing communications, public relations, training, magazine writing and editing, and lecturing.

4. Why is this an appropriate and timely topic? Why this book, now?
This past year has been rough in terms of the recession, thousands of layoffs, a staggering jobless rate, people losing their homes, and a general feeling that the American dream is not as bright or shiny as it once was. Yet, my unlikely career is a Cinderella story of knowing that I wanted to be a writer and going for it, one step at a time. There seems no better time than this to tell that story.

5. Who are your target readers?
Someone asked me years ago what I wanted to do and my answer was help writers write. The answer hasn’t changed. My target audience comprises writers, no matter where they are in their careers —learning, aspiring, working, or succeeding. This is not a book aimed particularly at women, but it is one woman’s story of what it takes to “make it” before, during, and after the women’s movement.

6. How will they benefit? Why should they read it? What will they learn?
This is a writer’s chronicle of a career that began modestly and developed in ways the author could never have predicted. The lessons the book teaches through its reminiscences and humor include the following:
  • If you know what you want to do, don’t let anything or anyone stop you from doing it.
  • With a little talent and a lot of moxie, you can be whatever you choose to be.
  • Set attainable goals that stretch you; as you achieve each one, set another one immediately.
  • Writing is not a competitive sport; don’t be threatened by other people’s success
  • Seek mentors; then become one.
  • Be generous with your talent; remember that it’s a gift; pass it on.
  • Know what your values are; let your writing reflect them.
  • Don’t lose your sense of humor.
  • Ask yourself from time to time if there is something else you would rather do; if you can’t think of anything, keep writing.
7. How will you reach them? Where are they likely to buy this book?
At Borders or Barnes & Noble? On line? In the grocery store? Those all sound good to me. It will be available on my own website, on and Kindle, in major and independently owned bookstores, possibly book catalogs, at the “back of the room” during presentations, and any specialty store I can convince to sell it.

8. How big is the market? How many potential readers are there?
Aspiring and working writers read …
  • Writers magazines (Total circulation: 166,460)
  • Articles on writing at the major online article websites
  • Writers blogs
  • Women's magazines (Total circulation: 30,510,960 )
  • Social networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn [WritersWorld], Twitter, Gather)
9. What else is out there on this subject? How is this book unique, special, important?
  • Six autobiographies by Maya Angelou
  • The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman
  • The Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds by Peter Bowerman
  • A Dangerous Profession: A Book About the Writing Life by Frederick Busch
  • The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
  • Memoirs of a Delta Favorite by Ellen Gilchrist
  • The Writing Life by Ellen Gilchrest
  • The Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg
  • Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life by Bell Hooks
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Bird By Bird by Annie Lamott
  • Writing About Your Life: a Journey Into the Past by William Zinsser
What sets this book apart from these and many other memoirs is that it is by and about a working writer who spent the first half her career in magazine journalism and corporate communications and the second half trying to master running a one-woman business. It is not about being a novelist or a poet; it is not on how to write or to make a lot of money as a freelancer. Rather, it is a light look at a long love affair with the unglamorous side of the writing life.

10. How will you help to promote your book?
  • Dedicated website (
  • Online articles (,,,,, and others)
  • Social networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn [WritersWorld], Twitter, Gather)
  • Articles in writers' magazines (The Writer, Writers' Digest, Writers' Journal)
  • The Writing Life blog
  • News & Views (monthly newsletter)
  • Presentations on all aspects of nonfiction writing
  • Writers blogs (request link exchange or guest blogging opportunity on,,,, etc.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Writing Out Loud

I am sitting in my office staring at my desk. Well actually, I can’t see my desk. All I can see are file folders, opened mail, unopened mail, projects in various stages of completion, scribbled notes to myself, books, and computer equipment. It’s a mess, and I am on overwhelm. No doubt about it; I have a few too many plates in the air.

Yet, instead of trying to figure out what I can eliminate, I am musing over the impossible, completely irrational notion of trying to juggle one more plate, and not just any plate. This one is more like a platter. I have been struck by the desire to write another book—not a ghostwritten book for someone else, but a book for me. I have obviously lost my mind, but that doesn’t make me banish the idea to the recycle bin so I can concentrate on earning a living and managing my life.

The problem with wanting to write a book is that it’s like an itch that will drive me crazy until I finally give in and scratch, which in this case, means thinking through the questions I ask every would-be author who tells me he has a great idea for a book. Like my students and coaching clients, I don’t want to suffer through the preliminaries. I don’t want to complete the mandatory sentence, “My book is about …” I don’t want to answer ten questions that will tell me whether my idea is viable. I don’t want to organize little file folders on my hard drive before I do anything else. I just want to plunge in and start writing. What that tells me is, if nothing else, this could turn into a great exercise in empathy.

Why is the itch so persistent? What is so enticing about this particular idea that I must write it? And who am I hoping will read it? I don’t know the answer to the first question. Perhaps it is just the right time to do it. The right time, of course, has nothing to do with having time; it is more about knowing I am ready to write and making time. What I have discovered over the course of my writing career is that when I’m ready, there simply is no stopping it from pouring out.

I’ve been playing around the edges of this idea for what seems like years. My book will be a memoir of my life as a writer—40 years of learning, growing, and, reinventing myself to meet the changing needs of the marketplace. (OK, that takes care of the dreaded sentence!)

Every time one of my students says, “I want to write about my life or my unique experience,” I take a deep breath and wonder who will read it and why they would want to. I have to ask the same question of myself. Who is the audience, and what is the benefit? It’s a tough question, but so are the other nine I ask every student and potential client. When we add up the answers, we have an abbreviated book proposal. Besides being able to explain what their books are about, most of my students really resist the whole idea of writing a proposal. They argue, they stall, but eventually they realize they are going to need it for at least a dozen reasons.

I seem to be addicted to writing about writing. My last two were on how to survive and thrive as a freelance writer and how to write nonfiction book in six months. In the first case, I have survived (and pretty much thrived) for four decades; in the second, I honestly have written books within that six-month window. But I’ve never done it in public, so to speak, with people looking over my shoulder.

So, this will be a first-time experiment in which I will try to “talk the talk and walk the walk” (I’ve never liked that saying). I am going to sit here with my book next to the computer and go through the process of planning, writing, publishing, and promoting my nonfiction book just as I teach others to do it. And I am going to do it on my blog, The Writing Life.

Why in heaven’s name would I do something so crazy? First, because I can’t figure any way to juggle one more plate, so I’m going to combine book-writing time with blog-writing time. Second, if I am going to keep telling people to trust this process because it works, I have to prove it. Well, I don’t have to, but, frankly, I find it irresistible to try. And, third, every author needs a support system, and I am hoping you will be mine as I venture into the uncharted territory of writing out loud.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How to Create, Develop, Test, Produce, Market, and Sell a Unique Product

I would like to welcome "guest blogger"—Bobette Kyle—whom I have mentioned many times in The Writing Life as a marketing and Web guru, among the many hats she wears. If you are interested in "living your best day, every day," read on.

Four St. Louis women recently started Daysteps LLC, where our mission is to help women live more balanced and fulfilled lives. The company is very nontraditional in that all four of us balance work and personal time independently--and very differently--according to what works best for each of us. Additionally, our "office location" changes continually; meetings are held wherever our lives intersect (whether that be at one of their homes, online, or a local restaurant).

• How this day planner for women is different from other's in the market today

In a broad sense, Daysteps is a lifestyle. It is the personal desire to become more accepting of life right now while achieving life balance, self-improvement, and personal fulfillment. It is the process of making these changes part of a daily routine and integrating them one day at a time, one step at a time.

Our first product--the Daysteps Personal Lifestyle Planner--helps women do this. This planner is different because it combines lifestyle, appointment tracking, and goal setting features. It encompasses many key aspects of life and is designed to motivate the user to become the person she wants to be.

• The target market for Daysteps

Our ideal customers are women who run households and have significant other responsibilities (a home business, for example). Yet, it is flexible enough that each woman can "make it her own" by using each section as she prefers.

Daysteps empowers women by giving them tangible ways to move toward their own goals on their own terms each day. We recognize that each woman has a unique set of values that should define her personal vision of success.

• How Daysteps came about

The concept began when Kelly Wagner recognized an unmet need: a lack of tools to easily integrate positive life changes on a daily basis. Kelly knew each of us from different parts of her life and recognized that our different strengths could contribute differently to this project.

• The main challenges we faced in creating Daysteps

Creating a unique product, then getting the message across. We literally began with blank paper and built this planner from the ground up. The iterations, rewrites, and testing took more than a year.

• How we are marketing Daysteps

Our marketing plan includes a combination of strategies for reaching our ideal customers; both short- and long-term activities, plus different distribution channels. We are focusing on direct distribution channels (local shows and direct, face-to-face sales through our individual networks), online ordering (through our Website,, and other sellers), and sales through independent retail stores or professionals. Longer term, we are beginning the process of gaining distribution in retail chains, who have a longer decision-making time frame for planners.

Our marketing programs are primarily social media and public relations related. We issued a launch press release, are offering opportunities for reviews, sponsoring several giveaways, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

• Our plans for Daysteps in the next five years

We're planning to roll out new versions for different user types, if surveys and market research indicate a need. We also plan to continue publishing our Personal Lifestyle Planner (current offered in 2010 Full-Year, Jan-June 2010, and July-December 2010 editions).

• Lessons we can share other entrepreneurs

There will always be more to do than you can physically accomplish. That's why prioritization is critical. Every second spent on one activity is a second *not* spent on another. If the latter activities are more profitable than the ones you are doing, that has a direct impact on the bottom line. To prioritize marketing and sales activities, ask yourself if that activity has a direct, positive impact on reaching or satisfying your ideal customer. If not, there are more profitable ways to spend your time.

A misconception held by many entrepreneurs is that successful businesses run smoothly. In reality, being in business comes with bumps and challenges along the way. Keep in mind that implementing a business and marketing plan is an ongoing process--implement, evaluate, adjust, implement, evaluate, adjust, etc.--and success does not require perfection.

Another lesson is to believe in you. Many times others will not "get" your vision, especially if it involves a completely unique product or new way of thinking. That's OK. Continue to focus on your ideal customers, and understand how your company meets their needs, and you will be successful.

Your Best Day, Every Day

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why can't I get organized?

My friend Peggy Nehmen just sent me the best article by Chris Brogan on how to blog (almost) every day, Frankly, I find that pretty hard to do. However, Chris began his post by stomping all over my excuses.

“I put up a blog post (almost) every day, and sometimes, I put up more than one a day,” he wrote. “On top of this, I write for clients, write for other projects, work on books, and other things.”

So much for how busy I am. He had 16 suggestions for how to do it, which I will let you read for yourself. Chris must be a very organized guy. The funny thing is everyone thinks I am an organized gal.

I can’t count how many books I’ve bought on this subject, including my favorite, Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui by Karen Kingston; Unclutter Your Life In One Week by Erin R. Dolan, which I just downloaded to my Kindle; and Get Organized, which I actually co-wrote years ago with Renee Richards. (Renee wrote the section on organization).

My dear friend Pam Vaccaro, owner of Designs On Time, is an “attention management” guru. Despite her very demanding life, she somehow found time to come to my office and walk me through every step of setting up my space. She even gave me the tools to do it. Did it take? Obviously, not. Forgive me Pam; I need a refresher course.

What is attention management?

attention |əˈten sh ən|: regarding someone or something as interesting or important
management |ˈmanijmənt|: the process of dealing with or controlling things or people

So, the issue is not so much about how to write a blog post every day; it is about how to effectively manage my attention.

I have two choices here: I can either (1) blather on or (2) stop and contemplate how this concept will help me blog (almost) every day. I think I’ll try door number two.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Friends of Bobbi Bookshelf

I have a shelf in my bookcase for books written by friends, with a special section for those I played a role in bringing to fruition. In some cases, I was a book coach; in others, an editor; and in a few, a ghostwriter. The number of books on my shelf is growing, which thrills me. When there were only a few, I would pack them all up and take them to my classes to use as examples of everything from great design to self-publishing disasters. These days I have to spend a lot of time choosing the perfect books from my growing stash.

I am so proud of the authors who took their wonderful books from concept to completion and would like to introduce some of them to you.

Kim Wolterman (pictured above at her book launch) is the author of Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed(room)? Researching a St. Louis County Missouri Home*, which is hot off the press. This book is a step-by-step guide to removing the frustration and putting the fun into researching the history of any home. An indefatigable researcher, house historian, and multi-talented quilter and artist, Kim is also an expert author on house history research.

Dressing Nifty After Fifty: The Definitive Guide to a Simple, Stylish Wardrobe* is the brainchild of Corinne Richardson, a retired attorney who writes extensively, consults with clients, and hosts workshops on the many ways to simplify and organize one’s life and possessions. Dressing Nifty After Fifty shows women how to create the ideal, quintessential wardrobe that works 24-7.

From Red Star To Spangled Banner: My Journey to Become a True American* by Dale Attila Fogarasi is a 30-year odyssey that takes the author of this moving memoir from Communist-ruled Hungary to Mark Twain’s America. Retired after a 50-year career at Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, Dale’s intensely personal saga chronicles his life between the ages of 17 and 47, when he became a citizen of his adopted country.

* Just a coincidence or uniformly good taste? Whatever the reason, these three books were all designed by book designer extraordinaire, Peggy Nehmen.

Pamela J. Vaccaro, MA, CSP, is a professional speaker, former history teacher, and nationally recognized resource on managing time and attention. Beyond The Ice Cream Cone: The Whole Scoop on Food at the 1904 World’s Fair combines Pam's love of food history with culinary memorabilia and showcases her talent as a researcher and writer.

It’s Your Life, Choose Well: Thoughts on living a happier, healthier, saner life now—not someday, by Kathleen Keller Passanisi, is a collection of gentle, mental nudges designed to help readers make simple, pleasurable choices that can improve their physical, mental, emotional, social, vocational, and spiritual health. Kathy is a seasoned health care professional, an internationally recognized speaker and humorist, and a lifetime achievement award winner in therapeutic humor.

There are more books in the works by my friends and favorite writers. As soon as the ink is dry, there will be a follow up to this blog post.