The One Word That Should Guide All Your Marketing

We’re having rain after rain after rain here, and that’s led to a lot of staying in and cooking and gin rummy playing. We recently got addicted to gin rummy after finally figuring out that we could play just the two of us, and now the competition has become fierce. Pepper has had to referee a few “disagreements” about the rules. I think that makes her the level-headed adult in the house.

(In unrelated news, here’s Pepper ready to hit the pavement for some job interviews. We had to stage an intervention last week and tell her that her free ride is up, and it’s time to start paying rent. Let’s hope someone else finds her more employable than we do!)

literary agent blog

We also spent a few days in Michigan this past weekend, and all the rain there brought up a crop of morels on the farm. We picked nearly 7 pounds of them, and now we’re going to cook them every which way we can think of.

literary agent blog

literary agent blog

Speaking of windfalls, I wanted to chat today about a word we don’t hear too often in the world of blogging and publishing:

Generosity.

Generosity doesn’t get talked about much, but it’s really the business we’re in as book people.

It’s the train car that’s pushed along by the engine of purpose—it’s essentially the outward expression of inward compassion for readers.

Generosity in writing means keeping a single-minded focus on bringing joy to others and feeling deeply, monumentally grateful that they’ve given a few precious minutes of their lives to your words. As Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in Big Magic:

“Learn to share things with an open heart and no expectations. Live out the existence that best suits your nature.”

There’s a magic that happens when you push all your cells in the direction of serving others, even if you haven’t had nearly enough coffee yet, even if you can only eke out a few moments of big-heartedness each day, even if nobody will notice or appreciate it.

That, I think, is one of the most important traits all successful bloggers and writers have: they start with giving and they end with giving, and in between they give a little more.

Effective Book Marketing for Authors

I am so, so lucky that my authors start there. They’re already at the top of their fields, running successful businesses, and well-known for the quality of their work. They have it all, and they want to share it all. That’s the kind of heart I look for when signing an author.

Which brings me to a related and important point that few people talk about: marketing is not one-size fits all.

It just isn’t. Modern marketing is too often focused on spurring action, and the importance of giving generously back to readers has been buried beneath a pile of call-to-actions and marketing scripts. And yes, there are best practices and strategies and plans that are proven to work well, but they are utterly worthless until they’re adapted to you. Marketing has to start with your voice, and it has to start with a mindset of generosity.

Why Sharing Your Work Has to Start with Knowing Your Voice

I hear this anxiety from authors all the time: “I don’t want to sound like X person because they’re just so sales-y.” And I 100% get it. Nobody wants to suddenly switch on an infomercial announcer voice when it comes time to promote their book.

What I tell authors is: you don’t have to. What you do have to do is share your story, in your voice, and be confident in one simple fact: that the book you created is going to be a ray of sunshine in people’s lives, and it’s simply your job to guide them to the window and open the blinds for them.

We’re now in an era where everyone is trying to sell you something or other online. And there are about one trillion blogs about how to blog and blogs about how to sell. Those are helpful, definitely—it’s important to educate yourself and act on the learnings of others, rather than reinvent the wheel yourself. Yet the loudness of the Internet makes it more important than ever to speak to your audience just as you are, not as a marketing script.

Because as soon as you lose your voice and your stories and your personality online, you become just another marketer, convinced that with the right scripts, right sales copy, and right funnel you’ll sell a trillion copies of your course/book/product.

So if you ever feel that little twinge of uncertainty about sharing your book or product with the world, remember that you don’t have to do it how everyone else does it. Learn everything you can, then adapt those concepts so they feel authentic to you, and always, always start from a place of generosity and gratitude.

And if you need a real world example of someone who does this stunningly, go spend some time at my sweet author Robyn’s blog, Add a Pinch. Robyn’s first cookbook, Add a Pinch, was just released by Clarkson Potter last month, and she’s been lavishing her readers with all the love in the world in celebration of it.

Robyn has been running spectacular giveaways, sweepstakes, and more to celebrate the release of her cookbook, and it’s been such a delight for us all to see how very delighted her readers are. Not only did she create a book that’s going to be a spot of sunshine and a true workhorse in her readers’ kitchens, but she’s also generously stocking those same kitchens with great giveaways like KitchenAid stand mixers, Lodge skillets, and Wusthof knives.

Her readers are being spoiled rotten, and not just with kitchenware: Robyn also always takes the extra time to thoughtfully and graciously respond to all her reader emails, comments, and questions, and to be a voice of encouragement alongside readers as they cook.

And no, I won’t go on and on about how wonderful her book is and not give you one! That would be very rude.

Giveaway of the Add a Pinch cookbook by Robyn Stone

add a pinch cookbook book deal robyn stone

Today I’m giving away one copy of Add a Pinch: Easier, Faster, Fresher Southern Classics by Robyn Stone.

Reply to this email or send an email directly to maria @ cooksplusbooks . com by tomorrow (Friday, May 5th at 5 EST), and tell me what your favorite Southern dish is. I’ll pick one winner at random to receive Robyn’s gorgeous book.

And for those of you who don’t have your copy yet (get it here!), or who just need something to make for dinner tonight and you’re at your wit’s end (me!), here’s one of my very favorite recipes from Robyn’s book.

Robyn cooked us this shrimp and grits recipe when the photography team + me + her editor were out at her beautiful Georgia farm last August, and it was incredible. My stomach is growling just thinking about it.

So if you need a little bit of Southern home cooking to look forward to this week, add this to your dinner list. I’m hoping it fills your kitchen and your day with all the warmth and love Robyn put into it!

Creole Shrimp and Grits

Creole Shrimp & Grits Recipe
Photo by Helene Dujardin from the Add a Pinch cookbook by Robyn Stone (Clarkson Potter).

Serves 6

For the shrimp:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
6 medium plum tomatoes, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
For the creamy grits:
6 cups water or chicken stock
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1½ cups quick-cooking grits
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the shrimp:
In a medium skillet set over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, and celery and cook, stirring, until tender but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 5 more minutes. Add the shrimp. Cover and cook until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through, 5 minutes.
For the creamy grits:
In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the liquid (chicken stock or water) and the salt to a boil. While whisking constantly, slowly pour the grits into the boiling water. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until the grits become thick and creamy, about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan from the heat, stir in the cheese.
Divide the grits among serving dishes. Spoon the shrimp over the grits and drizzle with the pan sauce.

Enjoy!


What I’m Reading This Week:

Annie Dillard on What It Takes to Be a Writer and Why Generosity Is the Most Powerful Animating Force of Art (Maria Popova on Brain Pickings): To stay on today’s theme, here are some heartening words from Annie Dillard on the power of generosity.

The Magic Wand of Generosity (Dan Blank on Writer Unboxed): And one more on-theme piece: here’s a great article about how we should “Be insanely generous, instead of insanely promotional.”

4 Methods for Developing Any Idea Into a Great Story (Elizabeth Sims for JaneFriedman.com): “‘Look,’ he said impatiently, ‘ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s the development that puts you over the top. Do what you have to do to make it real and get it to market.'” Amen.

Cookbook Update! (Jenn Segal of Once Upon a Chef): Since we’re already talking spring cookbooks today, mark your calendars for Spring 2018 when Jenn’s wonderful cookbook comes out! Here she shares a great behind-the-scenes look at the cookbook process, which right now for us means poring over interior design concepts and getting every last detail just right.

Cookbook Progress: The First Pass (Polly and Rachel of Thriving Home): Just as Jenn and I are looking at interior concepts for her Spring 2018 cookbook, Polly and Rachel are hard at work on the first pass for their Fall 2017 cookbook. First pass is the first time an author will see the fully designed pages of her book, and it’s when things really start to feel real. Take a look at this video if you want to see how the pages look!

Damn Right: I Do Make a Living Writing About Food (Naomi Tomky on DianneJacob.com): “It’s easy to romanticize the writing life. But to do this for a living, I must take that starry-eyed dreamer and lock her in the closet, while I get down to business.”


What We’re Eating This Week

We’re off to our honeymoon in Greece in two weeks, and so I’m on what I’m fondly referring to as The Greece Diet. Here’s how it works: tell everyone that you have to eat healthy because you’re about to go on your honeymoon, drink a lot of red wine and eat carbs anyway, remain stupidly optimistic that you’ll do better tomorrow. Tomorrow’s always the best day to start a diet anyway, right?

Monday: Out to dinner, where I promise myself I won’t touch the bread basket (and therefore I deserve an extra glass of wine).

Tuesday: On the road, and we know how that goes…

Wednesday: A salad! I am so good. Extra tortilla chips on the burrito bowl salad for me.

Thursday: Pasta…with salami…but also cabbage. So we’ll call this a net neutral day.

Friday: Well, it is Cinco de Mayo. It would be a little weird not to eat a dozen tacos and a dozen margaritas. #TheGreeceDiet

Cheers!

The Hidden Advantage Novelists Have in the Online World

We’re gearing up for a move in two weeks (just to nearby Alexandria, VA) and so I’m savoring these last few days in our apartment before it becomes a wasteland of boxes and messiness.

Whenever Jarrett rolls his eyes at me for being finicky about keeping the house neat, I have to remind him that it’s my authors that are to blame. (Rule #1 of Marriage: Outsource Blame.) I’ve learned so much from the home design and organizing books I’ve worked on over the years that it just tears me to pieces to have the house in disarray for weeks at a time during a move. I like everything in its place, okay? Order is good. Very, very good. And it keeps me from spending all day mentally editing what’s out of place and how I would revise it. (Occupational hazard…)

How I wished the house always looked:

literary agent home tour

And I’ll spare you the shot of how it looks mid-move…just imagine boxes to the ceiling and me whimpering under them.

Anyway, as most of you know, I’ve always specialized in nonfiction (except for an early foray into novels at the start of my career!), and so it’s been fascinating to see how rapidly the publishing landscape has evolved.

Early on, having a platform and a direct connection to readers mattered only in the nonfiction world. So us nonfiction folks got an early start on figuring out what the heck an online platform is, how it grows, and how it actually converts into book sales.  We’ve been tapping our little hammers at this platform mine for years, and we’ve seen where the gold lies and where it’s just coal.

But now that platform and audience-building is also becoming so important to novelists,  I wanted to let you guys know one important thing:

As a novelist, you have a hidden advantage in the online world.

the most important social media for novelists and writers

It’s an advantage I try to teach my nonfiction authors, but it’s one that’s already so deeply ingrained in novelists that it’s almost silly how easy it would be to capitalize on it and how much you would benefit from it.

That’s why I wrote a whole post about it at Writer Unboxed, who so generously hosted me in front of their wonderful community of fiction writers.

But nonfiction writers (and anyone looking to build a platform!), this applies to you, too! It’s easily the most common weakness I see in nonfiction authors, yet it’s not hard at all to train yourself to have this same advantage.

And chances are, if we were having a one-on-one coaching call, it’s one of the main things I would tell you to focus on!

Click here to read the full article at Writer Unboxed!


What I’m Reading

The Gone Girl With The Dragon Tattoo On The Train (Emily St. John Mandel for FiveThirtyEight): Why on earth does every book these days seem to have “girl” in the title? Answers lie on the other side of this door. Um, link.

Is “Best” Now the Worst Way to Describe a Recipe? (Sarah Jampel for Food52): It’s 2 p.m. on a Saturday, and you decide to make banana bread. So you Google “best banana bread” (because, of course, you don’t want to make mediocre banana bread, right?). Over 2 million results pop up. Why are there so many results, and which one is really the best? Sarah Jampel investigates (with a great cameo from Stonesong client, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen!).

How to Automate Your Book Marketing (Tim Grahl): Because the point of all these online tools is to help you sell books, even while you sleep, right? Here’s a fantastic step-by-step method for setting up a hands-off system for getting more email subscribers and selling more books.

Simon & Schuster Latches onto Podcast Trend With Launch of “Paper Donkey” (Ellen Harvey for Book Business Magazine): “The podcast launch is part of a larger movement among book publishers to develop original content about the books they create and the authors who write them. This original content can help publishers build a captive audience that they can then market and sell books to directly.”

New bookstore-cafe from Spike Gjerde, Ivy Bookshop owners to open Nov. 7 in Charles Village (Sarah Meehan for The Baltimore Sun): I’m always thrilled to see chef and bookstore collaborations, especially from one of my favorite Mid-Atlantic chefs. Congrats, Spike!

Thinking about NaNoWriMo? Read these two pieces first:

Have Trouble Getting That Book Done? Try Doing Less. (Ginger Moran on JaneFriedman.com): I know that it’s only week 1 of NaNoWriMo and everyone’s gearing up to do MUCH MORE, rather than less. But it’s worth reflecting on whether pressure and panic really lead to your most productive hours.

How NaNoWriMo Can Backfire (Kristen Kieffer of She’s Novel): Kristen–who chatted with us about why fiction writers should build platforms–shared in her email newsletter this week how she’d run herself so ragged preparing for NaNoWriMo that she’d fully burned out by the time November 1 rolled around. NaNo can be so much fun and a fantastic way to write alongside millions of people, but let’s not forget that we’re still aiming for quality output, and that that can only come from a rested and relaxed mind! (This post is only available to her email list, but I highly recommend signing up here–her newsletters are always a lot of fun!)

What We’re Eating

I’m off to NYC for a few days of meetings this week, so pickin’s are slim:

Monday: My favorite weekday pasta recipe with sausage, white wine, and kale. I’ll share the recipe with you all soon!

Tuesday: The Stonesong crew and I are off to see one of our authors, Doug the Pug, signing books at The Strand. Here’s his adorable Good Morning America appearance, or become one of his 5,000,000 (!) friends on Facebook.

Wednesday: Dinner at my grandma’s house usually means tortilla de patata. Happy sigh.

Thursday: Maybe Peruvian chicken from El Pollo Rico? It’s absolutely the most delicious roast chicken I’ve ever had. No ifs, ands, or buts. But here’s a great recipe for making your own peruvian chicken at home, from my lovely author Jenn of Once Upon a Chef.

Friday: Dinner at Virtue Feed & Grain with friends–happy Friday!

Saturday: I’m thinking of rolling up some fresh pasta dough this weekend and tossing it with a simple pesto. What are you thinking of cooking this weekend?

Cheers!

 

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4 Ways Introverts Can Get Comfortable with Video

instagram stories video for writers

But first, the publishing news worth reading this week:

Pete Wells Has His Knives Out (Ian Parker for The New Yorker): This is a fun and fascinating profile of Pete Wells, “the restaurant critic of the Times, who writes a review every week—and who occasionally writes one that creates a national hubbub about class, money, and soup.” It’s a great inside look at the massive influence traditional media still holds, and it’ll also make you hungry.

Instagram Stories: Your New Favorite Way to Engage With Readers? (Martine Ellis for The Write Life): “If Instagram Stories disappear after 24 hours, what’s the point? Authenticity, engagement, and exposure. Unpolished snapshots of someone’s day are far more interesting than a carefully crafted flat lay featuring scattered rose petals and a strategically placed — albeit irrelevant — pair of vintage scissors.”

How to Be Active on Social Media without Losing Your Mind (Kirsten Oliphant on Jane Friedman.com): “The biggest issue I hear from people struggling with online marketing is TIME. Many writers struggle to balance social media and writing or creative work. Since we don’t have the option to go back before the age of Twitter, we are left with a few options…”

Jennifer Egan on Writing, the Trap of Approval, and the Most Important Discipline for Aspiring Writers (Brain Pickings): “You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”

4 Ways Introverts Can Get Comfortable with Video (And Happy Pub Day to Damn Delicious!)

Hey everyone!

I’m baaaccckkk. After two magical weeks of being away for our wedding and mini-honeymoon, Jarrett and I are both back at it.

First things first: yes, I will be sharing wedding photos with you all here! I’ve had a few requests for them already, and I can’t wait to see them myself the very second they hit my inbox. With any luck, we’ll all see them by next week.

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The One Piece of Advice I Give Every Single Aspiring Author

literary agent advice for writers to get published

But first, the book publishing stories worth reading this week:

Your Biggest Book Marketing or Platform Building Roadblocks – And How to Overcome Them (The Book Designer): This is a wonderfully detailed guide that tackles the 5 biggest obstacles writers face when trying to get their books out into the world. If you’re having trouble reaching your “dream readers,” feel like you don’t have enough time or money for a platform, or are struggling to see engagement on your platform, this is a great place to start.

J.K. Rowling posts letters of rejection on Twitter to help budding authors (The Guardian): “When she pitched under the name Galbraith without revealing her true identity, she faced many more snubs. Since then, Galbraith has published three successful novels but the first was rejected by several publishers, and Rowling was even advised to take a writing course.”

The Art of Influence: Who’s an Influencer, Who’s an Endorser, and How Do I Talk to Them? (Chadwick Cannon): “People don’t trust brands. They rarely trust strangers. But they do trust familiar people.”

The Charming Doodles Charles Darwin’s Children Left All Over the Manuscript of ‘On the Origin of Species’ (Brain Pickings): “In contemplating family, work, and happiness, Charles Darwin proclaimed: ‘Children are one’s greatest happiness, but often & often a still greater misery. A man of science ought to have none.’ And yet he and Emma had ten.”

Relevant (Literary Agent Donald Maass on Writer Unboxed): “Being relevant is not the same as being topical. Nor is it the same as being resonant. Topical stories have the quality of being current, ripped out of the headlines, a take on what is happening right now. Resonant stories are less immediate. They echo in the mind. They cause us to reflect and ponder. ”

The One Piece of Advice I Give Every Single Aspiring Author

The weather is gorgeous here in DC, submissions to publishers are in full swing, and the spring publishing season is chockfull of wonderful books. (Try this gorgeous cookbook, or this personal favorite.)

And today I’m on Kirsten Oliphant’s podcast, Create If Writing, chatting about everything from how the traditional publishing process works to what I look for when signing clients. Kirsten is incredibly savvy and hard-working–she writes books, hosts a podcast, leads online courses, and writes a blog, all while being a mom and wife. I actually think she may be the Beyoncé of our little writing blog community. All signs point to yes.

We were able to get in deep and talk about some of the most important topics that plague aspiring writers today:

  • How to get excited about building a platform (even when you really, really don’t want to)
  • Why you don’t need to be a used car salesman for your book
  • What a typical day in the life of a Literary Agent looks like (spoiler alert: a lot less glamor than you’d think)
  • How to avoid a lie-awake-at-night-in-fear book launch
  • How focusing on your own personal development can also help you in your writing career
  • Why you should buy your name as a domain (and how I failed at this)
  • The one piece of advice I give to every single aspiring author

Click here to listen to the full interview!

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