Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Advocate, part one: Persuade me

I’m breaking this into two separate posts because there are two very different ways of looking at this role. This week I’ll take it from the persuasive side, next week from the call-to-action side.

Writing to convince or persuade

You remember the persuasive essay. Opening paragraph, concession paragraph with three arguments against followed by three paragraphs showing why you’re right and they’re wrong (the “set ‘em up and knock ‘em down” structure of essay writing), and finishing with a strong conclusion.

Persuasive speech is all around us. Madison Avenue has taken it to an art form and made billions of dollars getting us to buy things we don’t need. Politicians use persuasive speech in getting us to vote for them, heck, our children use it when they want something from us.

Notice the key concept in the above paragraph: party one wants something from party two.

A distinction, however, needs to be made between the two words: convince and persuade. Convincing someone simply gets them to agree with you. Persuading them implies action. You might convince someone it’s necessary to take out the trash, if you persuade them, however, they actually do it.

I’m going to let you in on a big secret: for an author, this skill comes less in the writing of stories and more in the promoting of them.

I’ve heard authors speak of the “golden age” of being an author where all a mid-list author had to do was write a good story, send it off to your publisher (because, of course, you already had one), and then sit back and watch the book climb the charts and the money roll in. We have that mythology, but I’m not really sure how true it ever was.

In any case, it isn’t true today. Today an author is 100% responsible for his/her own publicity. Even when you’re lucky enough to have a publicist, you still need to be actively engaged in what goes out with your name on it.

I don’t know about you, but I never took a class in writing copy. Creative writing, yes. Grammar, yes. Writing ads? Not so much. Learning how to promote myself without sounding like I’m bragging is the hardest part of being a writer.

Wait. Realizing I had to do it myself was the hardest. I railed, I cried, I threw little temper tantrums (okay, not really), but it did take me a while to accept that life wasn’t fair and I was going to have to find the time not only to write the book but promote it as well. Once I did, I discovered I write terrible copy.

I do. Blurbs on the backs of books should be fewer than 100 words, 150 words tops. It needs to entice the reader to open the book (if paperback) or click through to the excerpt (if ebook). Better yet, the blurb alone should be enough to make the reader purchase the book on the spot!

In blurb writing, however, I get conflicting advice: readers hate blurbs that end with a question/ readers love blurbs that end with a question; character names should be mentioned, no, they shouldn’t. The author’s bio belongs on the back page, no wait, what are you thinking. putting that there?

The best advice I can tell you is to find someone’s blurb that you really, really like and then model yours after it. Don’t just change the names…that’s tacky. And it doesn’t really work because your book isn’t their book. But get the idea for the general feel of blurbs for your genre and go from there. And keep them short. That much I do know. J

But blurbs are only one small part of the whole promotion package. There are list groups and Facebook (neither of which I do. I just can’t think of anything to say! Which, I know, for a writer, is ironic). There are blogs and Twitter (which I do use). Some say you need a social presence, others say just write and they’ll find you (although personally, I think “if you write it, they will come” only works for baseball fields).

Whatever media you choose, remember: you are convincing readers they like your book and then you are persuading them to buy it.


1. Choose a work you’ve completed or nearly completed.
2. Determine the target audience (who do you think would actually enjoy it?)
3. Determine a secondary target audience (women who enjoy sex, for example, is my primary; their husbands/lovers are my secondary as they are the ones who 1) get my book read to them or 2) buy the book for their wives/ lovers)
4. Write  a blurb that specifically addresses that audience. Write a second blurb for the second audience. THEY SHOULD NOT BE THE SAME. Your audiences are different, your tack is going to be different.

REMEMBER: you are convincing readers they like your book and then you are persuading them to buy it. You may not, however, use such phrases as “You should buy my book because,” or “You’ll like my book because.” That makes you sound like you’re in grammar school.

5. Determine your best avenue (social media, an ad in the newspaper or sports magazine).
6. Go for it!

Next week I'll talk about being an Advocate for your work, which is slightly different than persuading others to purchase your books!

Play safe, and drop a nickle in the jar on your way out!

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