In this episode, Laura Gale, formerly of Hatchette Publishing, shares tips on how to become a better writer, what to do if you lack confidence as a writer, plus her best tips for marketing your books.
3 Key Points
If you want to be a writer, read a lot and model other authors until you find your own voice.
If you lack confidence, never face a blank page, just start writing anything (i.e. The Artist’s Way Way)
Start marketing your book when you start writing it.
The video version is also available. Click Here.
[00:51] Ellen: Hi, and welcome to Episode 73. Today, my guest is Laura Gale. Laura got her start as a publicist for Hatchette, a global publishing company and worked on projects like the Twilight phenomenon, JK Rowling’s post Harry Potter publications, and the personal memoirs of Michael Palin, Nelson Mandela, and Tina Fey. Very impressive.
She helps entrepreneurs write their books and get them published. And she has ghost written over 15 books and has helped dozens of authors edit and market their books.
Laura is also the author of How to Write this Book, Write, Publish, and Market your Business Bestseller and Content that Converts, How to Build a Profitable and Predictable Business to Business Content Marketing Strategy. Both books were bestsellers on Amazon in the marketing category for several months. She’s also the co-host of the Business of Writing podcast. and very interesting, she was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, but she lives in Lisbon Portugal. So welcome to the call, Laura,
Laura: Thank you so much for having me.
[02:01] Ellen: Well, you have quite an impressive resume. First of all, what got you to leave from Hatchette?
Laura: So, as there for a few years, and I had a really amazing time there. Obviously, I got to work on some really fantastic projects.
Laura: But it was kind of around the time that Amazon was starting to really pick up speed and the traditional publishing world just wasn’t keeping up. And I just thought, “We’re seeing layoffs left and right; the industry is just really not coping with how quickly all this has changed.
Laura: And I can see a future where I might not have a job.” So…
[02:42] Ellen: That was really smart.
Laura: Well, I think I got a pretty serious warning sign. About two-thirds of my team got laid off at one point and I kept my job. I was very fortunate, but I thought, that’s certainly a matter of time before comes around again.
Ellen: Right, right.
[2:58] Laura: So, I sort of thought, I need to figure out how to take what I’ve learned and figure out a different way of making some money and hopefully get a little bit more flexibility into the schedule and the work style into the bargain.
Ellen: So, were you always a writer or was it something that you grew into?
[03:18] Laura: I’ve always been a reader, which I think is kind of a precursor to becoming a writer, but I wrote a lot as a kid, writing little stories and whatever, and I really thrived in the writing-based subjects at school, but it wasn’t really until afterwards that I sort of thought I know how to do this, then something that I’m naturally interested in and that flies by without me noticing the time. So, maybe it’s something I should be investing a little bit more strategically in.
[03:47] Ellen: Right. Well, you focus a lot on writing and you said you’ve ghost- written fifteen books. So, how does working with the ghostwriter? What does that involve?
[04:00] Laura: So, for me, the process is very driven by interviews. I really want to make sure that I spend a lot of time getting to know the person and building a lot of rapport and trust, because you’re going into one of the most difficult things in their life. And for me, that’s building their business. I specifically work with entrepreneurs. And so, they’ve maybe spent the better part of their adult life building this thing, often, with a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hard, hard labor along the way.
And so, I really want them to trust me with those stories and to be a safe pair of hands to tell the story in the way that they want it told. So, for me, it’s a lot about making sure that we’re aligned in terms of what the strategic intent of the book is, understanding what they want it to do for their business and for them personally into the future. And then, we do a lot of interviewing. So, we just talk and talk and talk until I’ve got all of their stories, I’ve got your voice, and you can go away and confidently turn that into a cohesive narrative. And then, once that’s done, then we get back together and go through the editing process just to make sure it’s perfect and polished and ready for publication.
[05:08] Ellen: And how long does that take when you work with somebody?
Laura: Usually about six months.
Ellen: Well, how can listeners improve their writing skills?
[05:19] Laura: Read a lot, I think is a really important element. There’s a saying that kind of gets kicked around in the publishing world, that if you’re writing, you should read 2000 and write 2000. So, you read 2000 words or so, the better part of a chapter of a book in the genre that you’re writing in or in a style that you really love, so that you can kind of absorb that into your mind.
And then, when it comes time to actually do the writing yourself, you’ve got the cadence and you’ve got the rhythm and the, sort of the momentum of the style you want to write in sort of in your brain already. So, that’s the big strategy, but also just practicing. It takes a lot of repetition to get really good and to kind of polish your skills to a point where you’re happy with them.
[5:58]: Ira Glass, the NPR host, and he’s a great journalist, talks about the gap, sort of the gap between your taste and what you can imagine producing and wanting to produce, and the gap between what you’re actually able to produce and what actually comes out onto the page. And the work is kind of closing that gap and getting as close, getting your output as close to your expectation as possible. So, that when it comes to…
[06:23] Ellen: Are you saying that you should model other people or how did they find their own voice? How do you think they find the right one?
Laura: I do think that’s a question of practice as well. So, I think definitely modeling other people is a great place to start. But over time, I think you will start to think,” I wouldn’t really say it like that,” or “I want to follow this thread. I want to kind of see where that thought leads,” and you start to trust yourself a little bit over time.
[6:49] Ellen: So, why do you think writing is critical and an underrated tool for entrepreneurs?
Laura: I think that a lot of people think, “Well, I speak the language so, therefore, I can communicate well and clearly,” and I think that writing is often missed as a skillset, because it’s not enough just to be able to put words on a page, to be able to take what is in your mind and what you want someone else to understand and communicate that clearly takes a lot of practice. And I think all of us have had incidents where we’ve said something or written an email and it’s been received completely the wrong way.
Ellen: Oh yeah.
[7:25] Laura: That’s a result of unclear writing or unpolished writing. And again, it takes a lot of practice and a lot of really focused attention to get it right. But in business where you’re constantly in communication with people, where you’re trying to get an idea out of your brain, into someone else’s, it’s such an important skill. And I think it is not a glamorous skill. It’s not something sexy; it’s not going to give you an immediate ROI on the time that you spend necessarily, but…
[7:56] Ellen: Actually, a lot of people think it is going to though. That’s why they get all enamored.
Laura: Yeah, it might do. But probably what’s more likely is that it builds great rapport and great goodwill with the people that you deal with. And that’s going to pay dividends over the long-term.
[08:11] Ellen: So, you were in publicity, that was where you started. So, what are some tips that you can give authors about getting publicity?
Laura: One thing I think a lot of people don’t really understand about publishing a book is that the process of getting media coverage or any kind of attention starts long before publication day. If you wait until the day that your book hits shelves, or it goes on sale, you’ve missed months and months of opportunity. And so, whenever I start working with somebody or working on a book of my own, I start working on the marketing the same day that I start on the writing. And most of the time, I’ll spend the morning on the writing and the afternoon on the marketing, because it requires as much work; getting the book done is only half the job. So…
[09:00] Ellen: Yeah, so, when you’re just starting a book and you’re starting the publicity, what are the first things that you do publicity-wise?
Laura: So, personally, I think email marketing is a really great option because it gives you an audience that has opted in to hear from you. They’re much more engaged than they might be on other platforms. It’s a much more personal form of connection. You can measure it a lot better than you can with a lot of other platforms.
Also, podcasts are a great option. I think, getting on podcasts to talk about,” I’ve got this book coming up, make sure you get on my email list.” It’s a good way to kind of feed both sides there. Obviously social media, if that’s something that has been effective for you and that you’ve got kind of an engaged audience with, that’s a great opportunity as well. But it’s just making sure that you’re sort of front of mind for people and that people will know that you’re doing this thing, and it’s something they should be looking out for, and something for them to look forward to.
[9:53] And if you can involve people along the way, I think that’s also really valuable because then if they’ve voted on the cover, or they’ve given you some ideas for a title, or they’ve kind of said, “Oh, I have a question about this thing. Are you going to cover that?” Maybe by the time the book actually comes out, they have a sense of ownership of it. They’re engaged with it. They’re going to tell their friends, “Oh, I helped with this.” It’s exciting for them to see it come out.
[10:16] Ellen: Yeah. That’s, Jeff Walker is the godfather of launching. And that’s one of the things that he says that the more people are engaged in the process of feeling like they had some say in it, or that they helped in some way, that they definitely then feel more connected to it and more apt to buy it, share it, yeah.
Ellen: And just get involved. Yeah, so, that’s, that’s really good advice. So, when you’re doing your email marketing, like you said before, it’s not making you money yet, your book isn’t making you money yet. So, when you say you’re, you’re doing the book writing in the morning and marketing in the afternoon, when are you making money? (Laugh)
[11:02] Laura: If I’m working on a client book, they are doing the marketing in the afternoons.
Ellen: Oh, I see.
Laura: So, I will be making my own marketing at that time. Obviously, the balance is to deliver what you’ve promised to clients, but also to keep your business running and future clients coming in. So, I do a lot of… if I’m not working on a book of my own, I’ll spend the morning on the client book and then, the afternoon is usually more my business stuff.
[11:33] Ellen: Oh, I see, okay. This is important because that’s one of the things that stops people from getting their book done.
Ellen: … is that if they’re savvy enough to know it’s not going to make them money right away, then they’re like, “Well, I’ll put it off because I got to make money. I got to make money. I got to make money.” And then, they’re not writing the book or “I don’t have the money to finish it,” the editing and formatting and all that kind of stuff, so…
[11:51] Laura: Yeah, it’s a bit of a juggle. For sure.
Ellen: Yeah. Well, one of the things that’s lucky for me is that I pioneered a workshop that only takes seven days. And obviously not everybody writes a book in seven days, but a lot of them do, or at least get their first draft done. And so, for busy entrepreneurs that really makes a difference. Other people, maybe they have a job and they need that long time to get it done, or they need to work with someone like you where they’re going to only spend the time with the interviews, and then you’re going to take it over from there.
So, my hats really offer you for doing that. I’m actually doing a ghost-writing project for a partner of mine, and I really wanted to do it to see how I would do it I mean I know I can write a book anytime, but to do it for somebody else, and it’s quite an undertaking. (I have done a short one for a client, but never a long one before.)
Laura: It is, yeah. You’ve got to be pretty patient; and it just takes time. A lot of the people I work with are running really sizable businesses. They’ve got families; they’ve got kids; they’re trying to stay healthy; they’re trying to get enough sleep. Like it’s just not that much time.
Ellen: They’re trying to not get COVID.
[13:04] Laura: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So, it does mean, you’re sort of fitting the project into the spare hour or two they might have in the week. So, it does take a lot of time, but because they’re super successful people. So, they understand the value of having a book that’s out there working on their behalf, nonstop. It’s a great ambassador for your brand and your business. It’s not going to take days off like your salespeople might.
[13:33] Laura: So, it’s really out there working on your behalf. And so, they understand the value of putting in all of the time and the work, but they also know like they don’t have the time to do the work.
Laura: That’s kind of where I come in. Yeah.
[13:44] Ellen: So, I’d love to hear about your ins and outs of marketing timelines.
Laura: So, this is kind of what we were talking about just a little bit before,
Laura: …that you really do need to stop marketing…
Ellen: But what’s after that? So, you start with the emails, but then what’s your timeline?
[13:59] Laura: So, leading up to the launch, you mentioned Jeff Walker. I think you can follow his launch formula more or less to the letter. It’s a very effective strategy for a book, because the book ultimately is a product, right? It’s something…
Ellen: Right, ultimately yeah.
Laura: It can be sold, like a product.
Ellen: So, is that how you’ve done it. Is that how you’ve done it using PLF?
Laura: Yeah. I’ve taken bits and pieces. I think for me personally, following it to the letter gets overwhelming and I start to feel like” I can’t do any of this.”
[14:30] Ellen: Guess what? A lot of people feel that way. In the alumni group, or even in the group (program). Cause I’m in it now again for the second time, because they gave it to us twice cause of COVID. If you bought it in the spring, you got it again. But somebody raised their hand and they said, “I’m overwhelmed, and I can’t get started, and I’m just stuck,” and feeling like they’re the only one. And then, you’ll just see the thing, “me too, me to!”
[14:56] And then on the live coaching call, “How many people feel like she feels?”
“See there’s like thirty people who feel the way you do.” So, yeah. and I’ve done just on my book-writing boot camp, I have done it thirty times and I have done thirty launches with that program. And after taking Jeff’s, I still feel a little overwhelmed, right?
[15:21]: Ellen: Going through his, so yeah, it’s definitely takes a motivation and commitment, but I think that once you get good at it or you at least get started, and you allow yourself to try to do it, at least, some people do get frustrated that it doesn’t always work the first time, or it doesn’t work as well as people want it to because there are other people who have these just amazing stories of making hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars.
[15:49] Laura: Sorry. Yeah. It depends. I think a lot on what their product is as well. You’ve got to have accurate expectations about market demand and all of that kind of thing. But I think also the advice I would give is do the stuff that you’re good at already and that you know how to do already.
Ellen: I agree.
[16:05] Laura: if you’ve never done Facebook ads before, don’t try and learn it on a launch; do this stuff that you know how to do…
Ellen: Unless you hire somebody who knows how to do it.
Laura: Yeah, of course, of course. But yeah, if you’re doing it yourself, do the stuff that comes easy, honestly.
Ellen: What do you think is easiest?
Laura: For me, it’s the emails, email marketing, podcast interviews.
Ellen: Yeah, me too.
[16:31] Laura: It’s very easy for me to write a lot of content and have that shared. And I use Facebook for some (inaudible). I try to stay away from the other platforms because they’re not good for my health.
Ellen: Yeah, we’re a lot of like for a while.
[16:44] Laura: Like there’s a lot of value there, and I know for a lot of people, that’s a really natural platform as well. So, that’s great. But I get a lot of momentum, I think out of just connecting with my network as well. It’s a lot of heavy lifting to email all of your contacts, everybody that you know and say, “Hey, I’ve got a new book coming out. I’d love you to take a look and maybe share it.” But that kind of hand/sell approach is really effective.
[17:09] Ellen: But how do you keep it sustained if you’re saying, if you started, as soon as you start writing your book, and if your book takes you six months or a year, I don’t know, whatever, how do you sustain that over that long period of time? How do you sustain the interest with your list and with your community?
Laura: If I’m doing a specific outreach like that, so specifically like “I’ve gotten this new book,” I would do that on launch day. And then, you sort of create a whole lot of buzz like that day. And probably in the few weeks following. In the lead up though, you want to be into spacing it with other stuff. People will get sick of just hearing about “I have an ebook coming, I have an ebook coming,” especially if it’s every day for months on end.
Ellen: Right, right.
Laura: You’ve got to do something that serves them as well. Maybe that’s sharing possibly working on what you’re thinking about, what you’re working on. There’s a lot of different ways that you can create kind of extra content and make sure that people are really getting as much out of that process as you are.
[18:11] Ellen: Well, usually I ask people, do you have any final tips, but I got to ask you, you were born and raised in Sydney, Australia, and you live in Lisbon Portugal. How did that happen?
Laura: Well, when I left the publishing house, I decided that if I was going to build a business, Sydney was a very expensive place to do it.
Laura: So, I up stakes and I went to Asia. I lived in Asia for a couple of years and then moved to Germany for a while, and have kind of just bounced around quite a lot. Obviously writing is a very flexible job, and most of my clients are based in the U. S. so, it’s worked really well for me to be a few hours ahead of my clients every day. I have that window in the morning to work and write quietly. And then, sort of after lunch emails start coming in and things started getting a bit more interactive. So, it’s worked very nicely for me. And Lisbon is just a beautiful city. I had a few friends who kind of ended up here.
Ellen: Ah, it is a beautiful city, I’ve been there.
Laura: Yeah. It’s really fabulous. The food’s amazing. The wine’s amazing. It’s right on the beach, right along the coastline…
Ellen: A lot of seafood.
Laura: …and beautiful. They have a lot of amazing seafood. Yeah. So yeah,
Ellen: And pottery. They have beautiful pottery.
Laura: Yeah. It’s a pretty interesting place to live, and it certainly quality of life is very good. So yeah.
[19:30] Ellen: We actually thought about moving there one time. My husband, now, he got too old, and we didn’t do it. So, what are you going to do? But what about your family?
Laura: They’re still in Australia. So, I’m one of four kids and all of us have lived overseas at some point. So, my poor parents have been sort of empty nesting on and off for a long time. But my sisters all live in Australia now, and so they’re in pretty constant contact. COVID has certainly meant everybody kind of moved closer to home and hanging out together. So, I’ve missed out on quite a lot of family time, unfortunately, but life’s pretty good here too.
[20:10] Ellen: Yeah. Well, let me tell you, it goes fast and then you wish you’d spent more time with them, so just a word of caution. But anyway, is there anything else that you want to tell us, any final tips or anything we didn’t cover that you think is important?
Laura: I think, like we talked about a little bit, the main thing in developing really great writing is to get a sense of the kind of writing you like to read and then modeling it until you think, “Okay, I’ve practiced that enough. I can go out a bit on my own.” And then, just to trust yourself to experiment take on projects that you think are a little bit beyond your reach and kind of stretch yourself there. And no one writes perfect stuff first time around.
[20:53] Laura: It always takes multiple rounds of fiddling with it until it feels right. And that just is the work. And so, I think if you’re feeling like, “My writing’s not good enough,” or “I don’t want to show this to anyone,” or “I’ll never get to being as good as insert favorite author here,”
Ellen: Yeah, yeah.
[21:11] Laura: It’s going to take time and no one started out great. So, don’t put too much pressure on me.
Ellen: I always laugh when people say that, because when I wrote my first book, I thought I was fabulous.
Laura: (Laugh) I had a bit of practice in the lead-up.
Ellen: Then when I came back to it, I was like, “Oh, this is terrible.”
Laura: Yeah, it’s just a process.
Ellen: Oh, that’s funny because if you think you’re good at it actually is a lot easier to get started.
Laura: Yeah, for sure.
Ellen: Or, at least that you’re competent, you know.
[21:44] Laura: Yeah. I think the thing when you’re not feeling confident about your skills is never to let yourself start with a blank page. That’s I think the worst thing that you can do.
Ellen: Oh, what do you do instead?
Laura: Instead of staring at a page. Just start writing what’s in your head. “I had some coffee this morning.”
“My (inaudible) was really naughty.” Just get something down because eventually, you’ll end up kind of in a rhythm with what you actually want to write about. And then you can just delete all of the stuff that came before.
[22:11] Ellen: Right. Well, that’s kind of how the Artist’s Way works, so Iike you just start writing.
Laura: Yeah, exactly. It doesn’t have to be good if you’re the only one that’s getting to see it and you can just get rid of it when you’re ready.
Ellen: Yeah. And if you’re afraid to write, I highly suggest getting The Artist Way.
Ellen: Because it’s really about just writing. You’re not thinking about writing a book or it has to be a certain way or anything. It’s just getting you in the habit of writing.
[22:37] Ellen: Yeah. Okay. Good stuff. Good stuff. So, how can people reach you?
Laura: My website is Lauraiswriting.com and all of my services, all of my writing, it’s all up there.
[22:54] Ellen: Okay, great. Well, that’s it for today to get the transcript go to https://booksopendoors.com/podcast. You’re also welcome to join our Facebook group. That link is on the podcast page. I’ve consolidated my two groups and it’s very cool now. There’s a lot of great people, there’s a lot of engagement, networking support. You get the first notices of the new podcast, promotional opportunities and more.
And when you’re on the podcast page, be sure to grab a copy of the Book Planning Secrets, A Simple 4-Step Guide to Writing a Bestseller. If you like to write your own book or if you’re already writing books, but you want to write them faster and easier, be sure to grab your copy. So, until next time. Bye-bye.
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