Lessons from the 2017 OWFI Conference

I attended the 2017 Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. conference in Oklahoma City from May 4-6 this year. I’ve attended this conference in the past (though the last time was in 2014), and I always learn something. This year, I probably spent about two-thirds of my time in marketing sessions, with the rest devoted to aspects of the writing craft.

Here’s what I learned this year, with the presenter’s name following each major bullet point:

On Craft:

  • There is no one way to write a book. Every writer’s process is unique, and that process may change from book to book. (Sonia Gensler)
    • One possibility for plotting a novel is to use a 4-act structure, with 17 plot steps.  (Ally Robertson of Wild Rose Press)
    • Write scenes under each plot step—17 points x 3 scenes for each at about 1000 words/scene will give you a 48,000-word novella (because the opening hook and the final image will only have one scene)
    • For longer novels, weave in subplots to add to scene count and complexity.
  • Every book contains a problem, a cause, an effect, and a solution — both fiction & nonfiction books have these elements. Make sure your book does. (Judith Briles, The Book Shepherd)
  • Agents and editors read page 1, then page 2, etc., and they’ll stop after each page. So each page needs to hook them through about the first ten pages, or you will lose them and they won’t take your book. (Kelly Armstrong)
    • The opening scene establishes what the book will be like—genre, voice, and narrative style. It makes a promise to readers that they’ll get more of this.
  • To tell a writer “I couldn’t put your book down” is the greatest compliment a reader can give (Kelly Armstrong)
  • For writers interested in learning about Scrivener, try watching Jason Hough’s YouTube video on Scrivener Boot Camp.

On Marketing:

  • Writing is a business. Even if you want to pursue traditional publishing (through an agent), you should have a Plan B in mind—self-publishing or small presses (Judith Briles, The Book Shepherd)
    • Writers must know how to market
  • Know your ideal reader before deciding how to market your book (Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound)
  • You need to move people from simple awareness of your books to considering a purchase to actually buying your book to becoming an advocate for your books. (David Christopher)
    • Superfans who help you sell your work are your biggest asset.
  • Email marketing is the best book marketing tool because it puts everyone you know into one receptacle (Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound)
    • Email newsletters are the most profitable marketing tool for writers. They are inexpensive, fast, efficient, and build a relationship with your readers.
    • Segment your email lists to send different content to different people on your list.
    • Newsletters should be targeted toward your ideal reader, and should contain interesting content that turns followers into fans and fans into superfans,
    • Be consistent, ethical, and NOT boring in your newsletters—like a letter from an old friend
  • Your Amazon ranking depends on searchability. (Amy Collins, New Shelves Books)
    • To make your book rise in the Amazon rankings, you need consistent sales over 30 days, so plan your launch to have some sales each of your 30 days after publication.
    • Then strive for some surges after that, with price promotions and other tools.
    • The more you touch your bio, description, keywords, the more you rise to the top—keep tweaking your Amazon listing to improve your search results.
  • Strive for lots of reviews—85 reviews is the current magic number on Amazon to move your book higher on its algorithm (Amy Collins, New Shelves Books)
    • Amazon changes something every month
  • Video is big — Google owns YouTube, so Google puts YouTube hits near the top of search results (Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound)
  • Writers want to get into bookstores, but you need to ask yourself whether you belong there. Can you make money by getting your books into retail outlets? (Amy Collins, New Shelves Books)
    • Bookstores require returnable books. Other retail outlets require a lot of legwork.
    • Determine where your readers shop and sell your books there
    • You will need to spend 20 minutes/day, 5 days/week selling—or pay someone else to do it for you
    • Respect the store buyers’ time
    • Know how far you can go in offering discounts and promotions and still make a profit
    • Your job is to show how your book fits the need of the store, not vice versa
  • Writers can develop multiple income streams—speaking fees, serving as a spokesperson, royalties, direct book sales, consulting, publishing company income (Judith Briles, The Book Shepherd)
  • Querying a publisher is like applying for a job—be professional, query letter like your résumé (Rhonda Penders, Wild Rose Press)
  • There are tax and estate planning advantages for writers to forming a Limited Liability Corporation. But it’s a myth that having an LCC means you can never be sued. (Marty Ludlum, University of Central Oklahoma)

Theresa Hupp at OWFI Banquet, May 2017

Oh, and I also received a little recognition for my writing at the OWFI conference.

Writers, what have you learned recently about the craft or about marketing?

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