Profit tips for authors in the content age by Michael Larsen

Posted August 3rd @ 1:01 am by Roger C. ParkerPrint

Authors listen when Michael Larsen talks! A partner in Larsen-Pomada, Northern California’s oldest literary agency, Michael Larsen has been helping authors and writers launch successful careers since 1972.

Jay Conrad Levinson’s 100-title Guerrilla Marketing book series is just one example of Michael Larsen’s ability to mentor authors to the pinnacles of writing success.

Michael Larsen is a co-director of the San Francisco Writer’s Conference.

He’s also the author of 2 classic writing handbooks, How to Write a Book Proposal, now in its 4th edition, and How to Get a Literary Agent.

Michael’s blog was voted #4 on the Top Ten Agent Blogs of 2011 by Writers Digest:

Michael recently granted me permission to reproduce his From Content to Contenpreneuring, a carefully-considered manifesto for change for authors writing in the content age. The minute I saw it on his blog, I knew I wanted to share it.

From Content to Contentpreneuring:

6 Cs for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age

The following six words starting with the letter c are a new model for building a writing career in the the best time ever to be a writer. – Michael Larsen, AAR

1. Content

Writing begins with boundless enthusiasm for words, ideas, writing, books, people, publishing, collaboration, communicating about your work, and serving your readers. To transform passion into profit, you must believe that what you love to do is what you were born to do. Your passion will help you triumph over difficulties.

Writing starts with reading. You can only write as well as you read. Read what you love to read and write what you love to read.

An acquaintance once came up to me all excited and said: “I just finished my first novel!”

“That’s great!” I said.

Then he asked: “What should I read next?”

Well, if you’re a novelist, read as many novels as you can, and read like a writer. What works for you in the books you love will work for your readers. Reading enables you to establish criteria for style, subject, length, content, illustrations, and back matter.

How can you make you, your work, and your promotion stand out in the growing explosion of books, authors, and media?

Creativity: the secret sauce that only you can bring to every aspect of your work.

There was a New Yorker cartoon showing a man standing over a cat, next to a litter box, and saying: “Never think outside the box.” To be creative today, you have to think outside the room the box is in.

There was once a cartoon showing one writer saying confidently to another: “I’ve got all the pages numbered. Now all I have to do is fill in the rest.” That’s where craft comes in.

Besides reading, writing has five essential elements:

  • Coming up with ideas—There’s a New Yorker cartoon that shows two women nursing cocktails, and one is saying to the other: “I’m marrying Marvin. I think there’s a book in it.” There’s a book in just about anything and more subjects to write about than ever. If you practice niche craft, create an idea that lends itself to a series of books that you are passionate about writing and promoting, you may be able to build your career with it.
  • Research: finding the information you need to write your book.
  • Workstyle: choosing the time, place, and tools that enable you to produce your best work. Ray Bradbury summarized the art of writing in two verbs: throw up and clean up.  Decide whether it’s better to outline your book or write your manuscript and then massage it until it’s ready.
  • Writing: a combination of art and craft, poetry and carpentry, vision and revision. Don’t be guilty of premature submission. Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, said, “The art of writing is rewriting.” There’s a cartoon showing two mice sitting on a writer’s desk in the middle of the night reading his manuscript, and one is saying: “We’d do him a big favor if we ate chapter four.”

No amount of marketing prevent a book that doesn’t deliver from failing. If you don’t want rodents criticizing your work, be your own editor. Keep revising your work until it’s 100%, as well-conceived and crafted as you can make it. The fate of your book hinges on the response of its first group of readers. Viral word of mouse is the best promotion your book can have. But it starts with your words.

  • Sharing. The great ballet dancer Nijinsky once said: “I merely leap and pause.” After you take your creative leap, it’s time to pause and get feedback on your work. It’s been said that if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you, but writing is a forgiving craft. Only your last draft counts. You can’t get your writing right by yourself, but you don’t have to. Build a community of knowledgeable readers to give you feedback. Consider hiring a freelance editor.

2. Clarity

Reading will enable you to choose books and authors to use as models for your books and career. Telling agents, editors, and readers your models will enable them to understand what your book is instantly.

It’s been said that goals are dreams with a deadline. You must have literary, publishing, and personal short- and long-term goals that are in harmony and motivate you to do whatever it takes to achieve them.

One goal that clarifies your other goals is how much money you want to earn a year, because it determines what you write, and how you write and promote it. The smaller the number, the freedom you have. So pick any number and write to that number.

A Sense of Mission
Regard writing and communicating about your work, not as a job, but as a calling. Imbue what you do with a sense of mission.

As my mother used to say, “The world always steps aside for people who know where they’re going.”

A Plan
Sue Grafton advises writers to have a five-year plan. Once you decide where you’d like to be in five years, figure how to get from where you are to where you want to go. Read about how authors of books like yours succeeded and ask them for advice.

3. Communication

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing two disreputable guys sitting a bar talking, and one is saying: “I tried victimless crime, but I’m a people person.”

If you want to be a successful author, you have to be a people person. Writing is a solitary profession, but it’s the only part of the process you have to do alone.

Create communities of fans, writers, mentors, and other professionals to help you with your writing, promotion, technology, and reviews, and cover quotes. Reciprocate.

Marketing guru Seth Godin once said: “The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out.” There are more ways to test-market your book than ever, including a blog and other social media, podcasting, video, media interviews, articles, and speaking.

Test-marketing your book in as many ways as you can enables you to:

  • Prove it works
  • Get testimonials you can use to sell and promote your work
  • Maximize the value of your book before you sell it, which for most  nonfiction, is the only way to get the best editor, publisher, and deal for it

A Platform
Your platform is your continuing visibility with book buyers, online and off, on your subject or the kind of book you’re writing. Test-marketing your book enables you to build a platform and an ever-growing legion of fans who will buy whatever you create.

Two cannibals are having dinner and one says to the other: “You know, I don’t like your publisher.”
“OK,” the other cannibal says, “then just eat the noodles.”

The most common reason authors become disenchanted with their publishers is lack of promotion. If you’re writing a promotion-driven nonfiction book, the promotion plan you include in your proposal will determine the editor, publisher, and deal for your book. If editors have to choose between two publishable novels, and one includes a promotion plan, that writer has an edge.

A plan is a list, in descending order of impressiveness, of the things you will do to promote your book, and when possible, how many of them. Exaggerate nothing, but submit the strongest plan you can.

Chicken Souperman Jack Canfield says: “A book is like an iceberg: writing is 10%, marketing is 90%.

If this is true for the kind of book you’re writing, you will need to spend nine times more effort building your platform and promoting your book than you do writing it. But there are more ways than ever to promote your book for free.

To be continued

The second part of Michael Larsen’s From Content to Contentpreneuring: 6 Cs for Becoming a Successful Writer in the Digital Age, will appear in Friday’s Published & Profitable blog. Special thanks to Michael Larsen for sharing his observations and suggestions based on 40 years of experience working with authors and the book publishing community. You’re invited to comment below, or on Michael’s blog,

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