Twenty-Five Ways for Writers to Take Action

by Joel Friedlander on June 3, 2011 · 24 comments

Post image for Twenty-Five Ways for Writers to Take Action

by Mary Tod

I’m glad to welcome Mary Tod back for another visit to The Book Designer. Mary, a novelist and blogger, wrote about How Self-Publishing Changes the Bond Between Readers and Writers in January.

Today she accepts a challenge I made to her and meets it with grace. This is an informative article that can stand as a great example to other writers of one way to approach establishing themselves online. Enjoy.

Joel has kindly invited me to guest post again, this time with a focus on how I have used, or plan to use, the industry analysis I’ve done to change the way I work. A kind of ‘physician, heal thyself’ challenge.

For those unfamiliar with One Writer’s Voice—most of you, I suspect—I’ve been posting about authors as entrepreneurs. Many writers are on this path implementing blogs, self-publishing, doing virtual book tours and so on but when I began, I was a total neophyte with only a smattering of industry knowledge. I had written two books and been rejected by many agents. The path seemed steep, rocky and full of unexpected crevasses.

My son said, you need a blog. A friend who’d been in publishing said, you need a blog. The agent who took me on said, you need a blog. Who was I to argue? I decided to post on the business of writing because it gave me a way to use my consulting background to explore an industry in profound change.

Below are titles for various posts and the main diagrams I’ve developed to date. Alongside each diagram are actions I have taken or plan to take – in other words, implications for my own little writing business. (PA) indicates planned actions.

Old World – New World

writing business

Click to enlarge

1. Put six chapters of each novel on my blog as a way for readers to sample my writing and for agents and potential publishers to check me out.

2. Develop a blog of my own. I began with two blogs, One Writer’s Voice ( and another called FoundDiary. However, maintaining two very distinct blogs was more difficult than I expected. FoundDiary is in hiatus with the possibility of reviving it in concert with a publisher for Lies Told in Silence.

3. Provide an electronic version of my novel to any friend who asks for it. Initially I gave printed copies and the written feedback was extremely helpful. Electronic copies are one way to build readership and future recommenders.

So Many Options – What’s a Writer to do?

writing business

Click to enlarge

4. Buy a Kindle to understand more about the selection process, the reading experience and options for authors.

No Writer is an Island

5. Find an agent with a forward thinking business model.

6. Last year I joined two Facebook groups, one focused on expat writers (because I lived in Hong Kong for three years and wrote about the experience), the other focused on e-books and the changing world of publishing. My participation has been close to zero. Going forward I need to find effective ways to participate in Facebook. (PA)

Six Pixels of Separation

7. After reading his book, I signed up for Mitch Joel’s blog feed which I read quite regularly and occasionally muster up the courage to comment. I follow and comment on four or five other blogs.

8. Create more ‘snackable’ content for readers by varying the size of my posts. I have a habit of writing long posts particularly on the business of writing. (PA)

9. Use visuals to attract interest and questions at the end of posts to solicit feedback and an opportunity for conversation.

Smart Investors Require a Business Plan

10. I have read lots of competitive fiction to understand what works and consider how to position my novels. This is an ongoing process. I also watch movies in my genre, both fiction and non-fiction.

11. Create a focus on historical fiction, specifically WWI and WWII. I have stopped two other book projects because they were not historical fiction.

12. Develop an overall strategy and an annual plan for my writing. Choose where to allocate time. Create weekly ‘to do’ lists. Update plans as required.

13. Measure my progress both monthly and annually. (PA)

Follow the Money

14. Develop a relationship with my agent that creates value for both parties.

15. Look for an opportunity to engage with a younger audience and understand their interests. (PA)

To Market, To Market

writing business

Click to enlarge

16.  Plan a series/sequence of books. My first two books have intersecting characters and I have a plan for two or three more. I want agents and publishers to believe I am worth the investment of their time.

It’s Not Just E-Books, It’s Technology

17.  Because I do so much historical research, I plan to investigate web annotation software and consider other technology solutions to make writing and research more productive. (PA)

Interpreting Mike Shatzkin and Mitch Joel

writing business

Click to enlarge

18.  Find ways for my blog to be meaningful to an audience of potential readers. I believe my posts on the business of writing are useful to other writers but not relevant to general readers. I also post on historical fiction. These two topics are incompatible so I need to decide how to adjust. (PA)

19.  Develop a strategy for audiences beyond North America. (PA)

New Writer-Reader Relationships

writing business

Click to enlarge

20.  Figure out a way to survey readers of historical fiction in order to understand and engage with potential buyers. (PA)

21.  Increase my activity in the communities surrounding WWI and historical fiction. (PA)

Tracking an Author’s Career Path

writing business

Click to enlarge

22.  I have signed up for a summer writing school, the first writing course I will take.

23.  I am also looking for a writer’s conference to attend. (PA)

Writers and the Long Tail

writing business

Click to enlarge

24.  Explore reader forums like Goodreads and determine one or two to engage with. (PA)

25.  Find a curated niche willing to feature my writing. (PA)


Is there a conclusion, you might ask.

This past year of blogging, analyzing the industry and thinking about writers as entrepreneurs has changed my thinking and prompted me to take action on many fronts I might otherwise have ignored. Developing this post made me step back to examine what I’ve accomplished as well as consider the many tasks ahead. And I think the thesis—writers need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs—stands up to scrutiny and, for me at least, provides a way to plan what I do and how I work more comprehensively.

I’ve worked with diagrams for most of my business career. They help me see the interconnected bits as well as the dilemmas more clearly. I hope that a few of the twenty-five points might spark an idea or two for you. Tod writes historical fiction with a focus on WWI and WWII. Her novel, Lies Told in Silence is under active agent representation. While The Secret Sits is a completed companion novel with intersecting characters. A third novel, Blind Regret is in progress. Mary posts frequently on the topics of historical fiction and the business of writing on her blog, One Writer’s Voice.

Photo by spaceamoeba

Be Sociable, Share!

    { 23 comments… read them below or add one }

    JLOakley October 4, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Hi Mary,

    I write historical fiction too. I enjoy the research and love the writing process. Better yet, the response from readers. I’ve self-pubbed one novel that is doing well, even winning awards.

    I think your list is very effective. That first chart is very interesting. For me, selfpubbed, many things for traditional are also on my list. I have my book in several libraries, indie stores and book clubs are reading it in all forms.

    There is nothing wrong in wanting to make some money. You have to put out a bit for that money-wise (ads, lit contests), but it’s worth it.

    I don’t know about airfare in Canada, but you should look into Surrey International Writers Conference in BC. I live close to the border in WA state and have gone several times. It’s a lot of fun and excellent agents, speakers from the US and all over attend.

    I think NA is interested in WW I and especially WW II (thought Downton Abbey fans have been exposed to WW I) I have a novel set in WW II that I’m pitching now.

    Anyway, good luck with your writerly efforts. And enjoy.


    Mary Tod October 4, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Thanks, JL. Good to see that something I wrote a while back is still helpful! I didn’t know about the Surrey Writers conference and will have to look into it. Perhaps we’ll meet. Our interests in WWI and WWII give us lots in common!


    Mary Tod October 4, 2012 at 10:23 am

    By the way, my new blog is called A Writer of History :)


    Anthony StClair June 8, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    Some good tasks in here, they will serve you well! Re “23. I am also looking for a writer’s conference to attend. (PA)” — I’m a big fan of the Willamette Writers Conference, held every year in Portland, Oregon.

    Re “19. Develop a strategy for audiences beyond North America. (PA)”, is this due to how you feel that will match with book audience? I’m pondering similar, as I’m expecting my book to have appeal outside the U.S. (probably more than it will get in the U.S., really).


    Mary Tod June 9, 2011 at 5:23 am

    Hi Anthony .. I’ve heard other speak positively about the Willamette conference. My only problem is that I live in Toronto so a bit of a hike! Regarding audiences – I did a post on the Indian market after seeing a wonderful article about a publishing conference held in Jaipur and thinking about how huge their English readership is. For my own books (WWI fiction), I have a feeling that British and European audiences might be more interested than NA audiences. No data to back that up though. What are you writing that makes you feel similarly?


    Anthony StClair June 13, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    A bit of a hike indeed! My wife and I have similar — there’s some Suzuki violin training she wants to do around Ontario at some point…

    I think you and I have hit similar in regards to audience. The novel I’m working on plays off backpacker/independent travel culture. Given most Americans don’t even have passports, I’m expecting there to be more interest outside the U.S., given there’s more backpacker culture in other developed nations.

    In your case, though, I don’t know that I’d downplay the US audience for WWI fiction. WWII is always a big topic of interest, especially in documentaries, and interest in WWI probably isn’t far behind.


    Natalie Wright June 4, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Great post Mary! You’ve done some great homework for us and I appreciate your organization of these ideas. Best wishes on your projects and thanks for sharing your information.


    Mary Tod June 9, 2011 at 5:16 am

    Thanks, Natalie. Great to hear from other writers. If you have a similar list I would love to see it :)


    Roemer McPhee June 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Joel, I am so glad to have just crossed the divide between book creation and book marketing. Mktg. is a very different preoccupation, and is really keeping my interest up. Variety is the spice!


    Downith June 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Another great post Mary. You certainly have a lot of insight into the industry and your own writing path.


    Mary Tod June 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Thanks, Downith. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the ideas have merit in the cold, grey light of dawn. I’ll keep you posted :)


    Mary Tod June 3, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Not sure I agree that the prime and only reason is PROFIT, but I don’t at all think profit is a dirty word :) Author-entrepreneurs need to balance writing and creativity with good business sense. With luck and attention, out of all that will come profit.
    It’s fair to point out that many authors write out of passion for the work they do; some say that they don’t care about making money from their efforts.


    Gold June 3, 2011 at 9:59 am

    How can you do any of the other things without profit? Are you independently wealth?


    Mary Tod June 3, 2011 at 10:15 am

    Not independently wealthy … worked long and hard in the consulting and technology worlds before beginning to write.


    Gold June 3, 2011 at 9:28 am

    An interesting perspective but I feel that on the business side that more stress should be given to the fact the the prime and only reason for the activity is (what some consider as a dirty word) is PROFIT.


    Joel Friedlander June 3, 2011 at 10:09 am

    I would have to agree with Mary. Most of the authors I deal with do not go into self-publishing with profit as their primary motive. Or if they do, the book is a method for leveraging their expertise in other ways that will result in profitable activity. These authors are driven by other motives, and the fact that books can now be published with very little up front investment is one of the reasons so many have moved into self-publishing.


    Gold June 3, 2011 at 10:52 am

    I was writing about the business side and remember the only reason is profit. In my mind I divide the business into separate departments. In the writing side I write for passion about what I want to write about (just like the other authors). On the business side I consider that is an activity to make profit. You don’t agree about the profit. Ask you accountant or bookkeeper.
    You really can’t do anything without the profit.


    Arlene Miller June 3, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Great words of advice on merging the artistic and the business senses — a definite necessity for success!


    Mary Tod June 3, 2011 at 9:18 am

    How are you doing this in your business, Arlene? I’m always looking for new tips!


    Arlene Miller June 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Mary — Well, the book I wrote isn’t real artistic and is pretty much for profit….I am pretty stuck as of the moment in its marketing. I am overwhelmed with the possibilities and don’t know where to start!


    Sylvia June 3, 2011 at 5:39 am

    I enjoyed this article greatly and I felt the research was in depth and excellent.

    Being in the writing career professionally for over ten years, I have seen so many changes and I know there is more to come.

    I’m looking forward to the horizon, but I’m sure enjoying the time for authors now.


    Mary Tod June 3, 2011 at 6:30 am

    Looks like you have a very productive business going, Sylvia. Would love to hear your suggestions and experience on what you do to build brand and market your work.


    Mary Tod March 28, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Hi Mileidys … I pursued traditional publishing, even had an agent for three years. However, I eventually self-published my first novel last fall and I’m about to do a second one. VERY difficult in today’s world to get published by any of the mainstream publishers. TX for your comment.


    Leave a Comment

    { 1 trackback }