Kathi and Niki Hardy, author of Breathe Again are back in part 3 of How to Get a Book Deal on a Small Platform series. In the first two episodes, you learned: what publishers are looking for and how to maximize your small but mighty platform. Today, the topic is common mistakes new authors make.
In this episode you will learn about:
Eleven mistakes that first-time authors make
The bullseye authors should aim for
Self-focused writing vs reader-focused writing
The two questions that readers are always asking
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Meet Your Hosts
Author, Speaker, Communicator Academy Creator and CEO
Niki Hardy is pastor’s wife, cancer survivor, and teller of terrible jokes. As the author of Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart she’s all about helping you discover that with God, life doesn’t have to be pain-free to be full, then living it. You can find her at www.nikiHardy.com and https://www.instagram.com/niki.hardy/
Transcript of this Episode
Read along with the Podcast!
Writing at The Red House Podcast # 201
Common Mistakes of First Time Authors
Welcome to the Writing at The Red House Podcast, where we gather at the table to break
bread, and tell tales with some of our favorite writers and speakers.
Kathi – Well, hey friends. Welcome to Writing at The Red House Podcast, where our heart
is to equip and encourage men and women to become the communicators God has created
them to be. I am here for the third of four talks with my friend, Niki Hardy. Niki was a first
time author and she is the author of Breathe Again. She was able to do this on not a huge
platform, so that’s what we’re talking about today. How to Get a Book Deal on a Small
Platform. Today’s topic is Common Mistakes of First Time Authors. Niki, welcome back to
Writing at The Red House.
Niki – Thanks, Kathi. It’s so great to be here.
Kathi – Okay, so we’re going to go through these pretty quickly, ‘cause we’ve made a lot of
mistakes, let’s just be super clear. So tell me, what is the first mistake that new authors
Niki – Well, I think the first two points are closely related. That is, Not Knowing Your Target
Audience, or your reader. Then, Not Embracing Your Niche.
Kathi – Can I just tell you? This is the passion of my life. Helping people understand that
they can niche down and still find their audience. They feel like they have to talk to
everybody, and not their audience. So, talk more about that. I’m a little passionate. I’m
jumping up and down in my seat.
Niki – If it’s any consolation, I’ve always resisted. I want to talk to everybody who’s going
through a hard time. My book Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart. I’m
like, “Life falls apart for so many different reasons. Just because my story is a family’s
journey with cancer, I don’t want to be That Cancer Woman.” So, I resisted it and resisted it.
The way I learned to, kind of, hone in was to say, “People with cancer are the very center.
The bullseye. I’m aiming for the bullseye. But the next ring will be the people that their
diagnosis has impacted.” The next ring might be other people. Friends and family who are
also struggling with things. All the different stories that I share, from other people with pain,
or whatever, are going through. So, it does come out, but you have to niche down until it
Kathi – Here’s the thing we need to recognize, and I love your idea of a bullseye. People
suffering from cancer are in the middle, but you’ve got the rings. If you’re not aiming for the
bullseye, you’re not even going to hit the target. So, aim for the bullseye. My bullseye are
cluttery women who are between the ages of 35 and 65, (which is a huge spread. I need to
niche down more) who are working outside the home at least part of the time. I’ve got all
that. Does that mean that men don’t read my books? No! Men read my books. 22 year olds
read my books. 75 year olds read my books, but I know who I’m aiming for. Really, if I was
aiming for one person, it would probably be the fifty year old who has some of their kids’
stuff, but also some of their parents’ stuff. That’s not the case for everybody, but people find
me through those people. They find me through the target audience.
Niki – Exactly. I think it’s a myth that we have to aim for everyone. When we aim for
everyone, we get no one. It’s not like we can say, “Oh, look! That book’s for me!” or “That’s
for my friend Susan.” I don’t know who that book’s for.
Kathi – When you’re writing it so generally that it can apply to anybody, there’s already
information out there. They can already Google that and get the information they need.
When you say, “I’m going to help you declutter, ‘cause I know your fear. Your fear is, ‘What
if I need it someday?’”. People go, “Oh, yeah. That’s me.”
Niki – Yeah, and maybe for you, having shared your story about being a hoarder’s
daughter, maybe your very center, that’s a pinprick is a hoarder’s daughter. “What if I turn
out like my parents?”
Kathi – Yes. Which is a bigger category than anybody realized. It’s absolutely true. I love
this. So, what is the third mistake authors make?
Niki – We have a topic that’s been talked about before, there is obviously a need for it, but
we are not coming at it from an angle that has a strong hook. We Have a Weak Hook; a
weak way of talking about it that’s not different, that’s not unique. So, if you look out there at
books that have done well. I love Myquillyn Smith, the Nester. She’s talking about interior
design, but her latest book, Cozy Minimalist. It’s a fantastic way of thinking, “Well, I want to
be minimal, but I don’t want to be boring and stark and empty and echo-y. I want to be cozy
without having the clutter.” So, she’s got this unique angle on the interior design market. So,
whether you’re talking about mom stuff, or pain, or clutter, what’s your unique angle and
how are you going to talk about it, and lead the reader through?
Kathi – With a unique hook, there’s almost always an ‘and’. Cozy AND minimalist. Prepper
AND not crazy. It’s not the ten years of canned beans, but I’m still prepared for an
emergency. It’s the cancer AND living an amazing life, even when this harbinger is hanging
over you. It’s the yes-and.
Niki – I totally agree. I love that.
Kathi – I love it, too. Okay, I love this next point. Writing from Your Pain, Not Your Purpose.
Talk about that, because a lot of people go through a hard story and everybody says, “I
should write a book.” And I’m like, “No, no! You absolutely shouldn’t because you’re still in
the midst of all of it.” Talk about what is the purpose versus the pain.
Niki – For me, and I can say this is a first time author mistake, ‘cause my first book proposal
was all written from my pain. So, therefore, when we write from our pain, we’re very self-
focused. When we write from our purpose, we’re reader-focused. How can we love and
serve them? How can we lead them through? Even if we’re only six months ahead of them
in the journey, we don’t have to be all the way out through the other side. We’re writing with
the purpose of showing them a way, and encouraging them, and helping them through it, as
opposed to writing from our pain, where we’re just like, “This is the pain that I went through,
and I just need to tell you about it.”
Kathi – I love it. I think about this. So much of what we do, we want to have a purpose in our
pain, but we think that just sharing out pain story is going to be enough and it’s not. People
are looking for tangible, actionable hope out of that pain. So, what are you going to give
them? If you have nothing to give them, you don’t have a story yet. Yes, keep the journals.
Yes, write the story, but you have to go back and say, “Where is my purpose coming from in
all of this pain?” Having a painful story, sadly, is not enough.
Niki – Exactly.
Kathi – On that subject, very closely, you talk about reader benefit. Talk about how do you
discover your reader benefit out of your story, and how do you communicate that to your
editor, to your reader, to everybody?
Niki – So, what I was talking about here is, when you come to write your proposal, it’s really
necessary to say, “This is what they’re going through. This is what they’re feeling. This is
what I’m going to provide so they can feel xyz.” That then translates from the overview to
the book chapter summaries. Again, as I said in the previous podcast, I’m a scientist at
heart. My chapter summaries had a formula to how I would write about them. There was a
little introductory sentence, then it was, “Looking at this story, this chapter would
encourage…this would demonstrate…this would teach…or illustrate.” So, I had this list of
words up on my notice board. What’s this chapter doing? “This will give the reader
permission to…”, “This will help them do xyz.” So, from the hook of the book, to the
overview, to the chapter summaries, to everything, knowing what your reader is going to get
out of it. I know you’ve got a download that we’re giving away. The reader is always asking,
“So what?” and “Now what?” So, what do we want them to know and to do and to feel? Do
we know that?
Kathi – I love it. So here is what I love about that. You’re saying, “Here are the gifts I’m
putting in this book. Here is everything that you’re going to be able to take away and use.” I
just think it’s amazing. Also, each of these podcasts, I’ve had to point out all these little
English things that you do and how you talk, because it makes me so happy. So, there were
two things in that last part.
Niki – What have I done?
Kathi – No! It makes me so happy, I can’t even stand it. “Zed.”
Niki – Oh, “Zee”, yes. Okay.
Kathi – Am I saying that right?
Niki – Zed. We say ‘zed’ and you say ‘zee’.
Kathi – Yeah, and ‘notice board’. Bulletin board.
Niki – Bulletin board. Ah!
Kathi – Please do not change a thing. Now I want to say notice board for the rest of my life.
I really do.
Niki – We’ll need to give away a glossary of terms after.
Kathi – Please. This makes me so happy, I can’t even stand it. Guys, I just soak up all the
anglophile happiness I’m experiencing now. Okay, Niki, we are checking them off. Common
mistakes of first time authors. The next one is about your synopsis. So, tell me, you think
there’s a sweet spot about how long a synopsis should be, so tell me about that.
Niki – Well, this has been handpicked from my editor. She’s with Revell and when we spoke
about this together at an event, she said she gets synopsis that are either far too long and
rambling, or so short that she can’t get the gist of what the book is about and how it’s going
to help the reader. So, I think there is a sweet spot. I don’t know whether I can give you a
formula for what that is, even though I love a good formula, but I think testing it out on some
people would be a great idea. Are you bored? Am I giving you too much information? Am I
not even piquing your interest because it’s so short? So, I think there is a sweet spot.
Kathi – I think, for me, for my synopses, I try to do them the same as what back cover copy
would be. If I need more, do I need to work on that? Do I need to make it tighter? Do I need
to use more powerful words? What is it? To me, that feels like a sweet spot, at least, to aim
for. It may not be perfect. You may need to go longer. You may be able to go shorter, but
something along those lines. Okay, I love that. You say that one of the mistakes first time
authors make is, Not Practicing Your Pitch. So, are you talking about standing in front of a
mirror and saying, “You are powerful. You are beautiful. Here’s the pitch for my book.”?
How do you practice your pitch?
Niki – I think it’s a great idea to write it down. There might be that time where you’re sitting
in a room with an editor and she says, “So tell me, what is your book about?” But even if it’s
not with an editor, people will ask you, when you say you’re writing a book, “What’s your
book about?” and that’s a great moment to practice. I love Donald Miller. He wrote
Storybrand. He has a little formula for how to talk about it. He says, “Talk about the
problem, then say what you’re producing, whether it’s a product or, in our case, a book, how
it’s going to fix it, and how it’s going to make them feel.” So, for me, my pitch is, using that
formula would be something along the lines of, “Well, you know how, when you get a
diagnosis, or when something terrible happens, life falls apart and you find yourself in
survival mode? Well, I’ve written a book to help you break free of survival mode, live life to
the full, no matter what, so that you can find abundance, no matter what life chucks at you.”
So, it’s this three part. That was just off the top of my head, but that’s the kind of thing that
we’re talking about here.
Kathi – I absolutely love that. Okay, so you say Listing Dream Endorsers Rather than Real
Connections. Isn’t that the truth? Now, I’m not a dream endorser for anybody, but I am
aspirational. If you’ve never met me, and you’ve put my name down, because you’ve written
a book on household management or clutter? That’s not okay, actually. People have
actually told editors that I have said I would do it. When you’re proposing, especially a
Christian book? Best not to lie on that proposal. How do you get endorsers if you’re a first
time author? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Niki – Again, I think it goes back to building a writing community. There will be people in
there. You don’t just want endorsers who are authors. It’s great to have endorsers who
might be leading ministries in the area into which you’re speaking. So, if you’re writing a
book on mental health, what about having a licensed psychologist who runs a ministry for
mental health? What I did, and again, most of my proposal is learned from other people, so
I didn’t come up with all of this, but I would put an endorser and then say, “Confirmed.” Like,
I’ve spoken to them in advance and said, “Would you be willing?” Yes. Confirmed. Then it
would be “friend” or “possible”. I’m connected to them through somebody else. Or
something like that. So, not everybody who writes a book on abundance is putting Ann
Voskamp on it.
Kathi – Yeah, that’s probably not your best thing. Okay, so I want to talk about these two.
You’ve got three more. Let’s talk about Doing it Alone. Agreed. The people who do it alone,
oftentimes don’t want input into their ideas, and you need to have input early and often so
that you can shape it into something that an editor would actually like. So, why do you feel
like doing it alone is not your best resource?
Niki – Well, I’m a people person, so being in community and learning from other people, and
seeing what’s out there, and building connections, and getting encouragement for when it’s
hard. I’m in Voxer groups with other authors and nobody is much further along than me.
We’re all first time authors, but it’s like, “Oh, okay, I want to do a little Lent devotion. What
do you think of this idea?” and we’re all giving each other feedback. It’s so encouraging to
know were not alone. I’d also add, don’t do it without your reader. It’s very tempting to go,
“Well, I’m now the expert, so I can’t get into the mess with them.” But actually, being in
constant conversation, asking how they feel, what annoys them about certain things, or
what they need, really helps.
Kathi – Yeah. Okay. You also say, don’t give up. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory. If this
is something you want to do, just be in a position of learning. Don’t think that the first time
you talk to an editor is going to be your big break. Sometimes you need a hundred breaks,
and that’s okay. You don’t want your first project to be something that sneaks by and is a
failure, you want to be able to do it and do it well. Finally, Feeling You have to Do
Everything. I think this is where people get completely overwhelmed and shut down. So
your advice is to pick one or two things. So, tell me what you picked in order to concentrate
on, in order to not be the author who’s making all the mistakes?
Niki – So, I would pick one thing at a time and go for it. It is so easy to look at all the should-
dos, “I should be running a Facebook group, and I should be podcasting, and I should be
guest posting, and I should be reaching out, and I should be ARG!” So, I would pick one
thing at a time. “Okay, I’m going to work on my Instagram for the next few months.” Then,
“I’m going to try to do some guest posting.” So, it wasn’t that I didn’t try numerous things,
but I needed one of them at a time, and I still got many more to do.
Kathi – We all do. Right now, my whole thing is being consistent on Facebook Live. Being in
self-isolation, this could be a great opportunity to really buckle down with a purpose and do
it. Such a great list. We are going to have this list available for you, online, so that you can
download that. Niki, thanks again for being here at Writing at The Red House podcast.
Niki – You’re welcome. It’s a joy to be here.
Kathi – And friends, thank you for joining us. You’ve been listening to Writing at The Red
House podcast. I’m Kathi Lipp. You’ve been given the best message in the world. Now, go
You’ve been listening to The Writing at The Red House podcast. Thank you for spending a
little time getting better at what God has called you to do.
*see show notes in podcast post above for any mentioned items