Start Collecting People

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

At a recent writer’s conference a not-yet-published writer asked me, “Aside from writing the perfect book, what’s the most important thing I can do at this stage?” The most important. Hmmm. So many things come to mind. Like start a blog to get used to writing on deadline and to begin to build a following. Or begin the process to get an agent. What about start showing your work to editors at writing conferences? Build a website. And those are only the tip of the iceberg. But the most important thing. . .

I would have to say, start collecting people. Let me explain. There are a number of ways you are going to begin collecting people:

Resource People. From the very beginning of your writing career you are going to want to create a contact file for everyone who has helped you on your journey, in your research, helped you with your manuscript or assisted in connecting you to those people who can help you get published. Why? For one thing, many of these people will be mentioned in your acknowledgements. When you do, you’ll want their contact information to send them a copy of the book. Those people on this list will become enthusiastic marketing mavens for you and your book. Also, you may want want to circle back to these resource people in the future for further help. Don’t leave it to memory.

Influencers. When your book is ready to release, your publisher is going to ask for your list of influencers. Don’t be caught unaware. Begin now to build this list. An influencer is that person who has a following. He is the person who can hold your book up and say, “gotta read this book,” and it will mean a sharp uptick in sales. When you meet these movers and shakers tell them a little about your book. And then put their name on your influencer list. Your publisher will send them a complimentary book when the time is right, thanking them for any influencing they can do on your behalf. You are going to want to keep building and refining this list over the years. When Angelina Jolie sends you a little note saying, “Loved this book,” put her on the list. If one of your state senators is a cousin, put him on the list. Keep growing this list.

Readers: It’s never too early to develop your data base of readers or potential readers. If you speak, always have a door prize so you can collect names and addresses– both home addresses and email addresses, if possible. If you have a website, see if you can offer a place to sign-up for a quarterly newsletter. If you meet someone who loves the topic you are writing on, get their contact info. This list will grow as your career grows and it is one of your most valuable collections. Later, as readers write you, always enter their names in the database. You’ll use this list to send out bookmarks and tell of coming releases.

Characters: It doesn’t matter if you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you need to collect interesting characters and their stories. You’ll want to set up files for these. Again, don’t rely on memory. Trust me, it won’t be there when you go to retrieve if it isn’t written down.

Those are just a few of the people you’ll want to collect. Why is it important to start even before you are published? I’ve worked with a number of authors who’ve written for decades and never collected names. It’s impossible to go back and try to recreate. All those potential people are forever lost to them. If you set up these systems from the get-go, you’ll build that all-imortant readership with the very first name. You’ll have all your systems set and ready to go.

Someday you’ll thank me. In fact, you can put me on the acknowledgement list right now. πŸ˜‰

Your turn. What do YOU think is the most important thing a writer can do pre-publication?


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82 Responses

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  1. lisa says:

    These are great suggestions. Thank you so much. I’m glad that I’m going to ready when the day comes. It takes a lot of patience and sometimes frustration, but it’s so worth keeping on it.

    I have such beautiful friends I would have never had otherwise through blogging and social media. That is a true gift.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Remember, you will never have as much time to work on your infrastructure once you are published as you have now. so many writers wish they had used used their pre-pub time more wisely.

      And yes, Lisa, I feel the same way about online friends.

      • Anne Love says:

        Right Lisa. “online friends” makes “pen pal” look like yesterday’s cold cereal. Some of my real-life friends poo-poo time spent online as if it’s not real. Perhaps their online friends are not as genuine as those I’ve discovered in the writing world. Perhaps, we’re just extra lucky that way–blessed for certain! πŸ™‚

  2. Sarah Thomas says:

    People! My very favorite thing to collect.

    “Don’t leave it to memory.” THAT’S the advice I need to take to heart. I trust my memory FAR too much. Off to make lists even now.

  3. Norma Horton says:

    This is an incredibly important blog for me, Wendy. Yesterday, I discovered one of my most frequent retweeters is the book reviewer for The Jerusalem Post. This morning, one of my frequent twits (I love that) sent a photo from The British Museum of a watch with a cuneiform dial. (My blog is called The Cuneiform.)

    I am surrounded by all these amazing people, pulling hard for my work, and this is the perfect way to consolidate their interest to repay their kindness later.

    Now if I could just figure out how to answer the question I get at least twice weekly: “when can I buy your books?” My stock response is, “only God knows, but hopefully 2015.”

    Thank you for this important blog, and if you have any thoughts about maintaining momentum and interest within a 20,000-strong fan base, I’d love to hear about it.


    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Norma, isn’t waiting one of the toughest things we do? But it’s like I keep telling my job-seeking kids: Don’t obsess about the results, just be faithful to do the work. With them it’s sending out resumes (or as they tell me, that’s now passΓ© and it’s doing online applications), a set number each day.

      With writers, if your book is ready (really fabulous and ready) then you need to be proactive about seeking representation. Canvass the industry. Pay attention to comments if they come but just the query and/or proposal out there, over and over again. Just as in the job search, you don’t send one and wait for an answer. (But you knew that.)

  4. Jill Kemerer says:

    Looks like I’m creating another OneNote folder titled “Resource People” today! I never thought to track them. Thanks!

  5. Jeanne T says:

    This is fabulous, Wendy. Believe it or not, when I began writing my first story, I started a list of people who helped me for my acknowledgement section of my book.Though I have thought of some of your categories, I have a lot more thinking to do! πŸ™‚ I am going to create some more people lists, and broaden my categories. I hadn’t even thought, really, about influencers. I’m so glad you mentioned this!

  6. Now don’t get all ‘Dr. Phil’ on me, but I’m a bit un-nerved by the whole networking thing, mostly because I spent decades as a wall-flower.
    A few of my friends who are reading this are thinking “Riiiiiiiiight, sure ya did.”
    I have got a special file for people who annoy me, but I let my un-named helpers who eat EPO for breakfast deal with those special cases.

    I have no problem cold-calling or emailing a perfect stranger to ask for information, advice or a blog interview, but I’m always wary that any new writer friends think I’m only talking with them to gain something. Once I get to know them and relax, I’m fine and am happy to help them in any way I can…and yet part of me is still nervous to ask for help.

    Fine, call Dr. Phil, but he’ll just diagnose me with a full blown case of Canadian.

  7. Excellent post, Wendy. I’m a firm believer in starting early. It definitely helped me to have a solid database of bloggers to reach out to by the time my first book was released.

  8. Lori says:

    Thank you for being a GREAT influencer for my eventual novel. (If and) When it is released, I’ll make sure I send an autograph copy to you.

    Great blog today Wendy. Also, Jill’s suggestion about One Note is good. I’ve have to start doing that.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I need to look up One Note. I’m not familiar.

      • Judy Gann says:

        Wendy, One Note is part of the Microsoft Office Suite. I’m using it for my novel: folders for each chapter with scenes & notes, research, comparative titles, resources (including people), folders for each character, setting, etc. You can insert “pages” like sub folders within each folder. Easy to insert photos too.

      • Wendy Lawton says:

        Thanks, Judy. I guess I need to update my Microsoft Office. I wonder if it is available in the Apple version? (Could that be why I don’t recognize it?)

  9. Lori says:

    Also, forgot to add what is the most important thing a writer (at least this one) can do for pre-publication:

    Sit back and learn to observe people, place, and things. People are always in a rush these days they really don’t observe what is going on around them.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      So true, Lori. As writers, we have a responsibility to see with fresh eyes– otherwise we have nothing worthwhile to say to readers.

  10. Amanda Dykes says:

    Oh, how I love a good list! Wonderful advice, Wendy; thank you. Hmmm… important things to do pre-publication… one of the main things I’ve been learning is to simply “show up.” Do the work. Even during the seasons of waiting, with no tangible reason to keep working, it’s so important to keep plugging away. (a) It keeps the momentum of the story going. (b) How else can we work on our craft? (c) It cultivates habits of consistency and diligence for the pure and simple motivation of obedience to our calling, in a way that hopefully will also someday bless any publisher and readers who may offer a chance. (d) For me, it helps remove some of the dross of other motivations — prideful or selfish ones– that tend to sneak in to my heart. Boy, am I ever a work in progress! But I’m so thankful to have an Author who’s diligent and faithful to my life’s story. And I want to be ready and working on whatever He sets before me.

  11. I’ll thank you now, Wendy. Thank you! I’m just pleased that I have people already to collect. I’m always interested in the acknowledgements of any book I read, so I’ve been collecting those names from the get-go. I’ve also thought of making my own list of e-mail subscribers to my blog, just in case Feedblitz goes wonky. Thanks to your nudge, I’ll get started on that right away.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      I never thought about that, Meghan, but you are right. We need to plan for back-up of our lists as well.

  12. Like Amanda, I love lists. I’ve noticed that lists always seem to take longer than I planned. They also seem to carry over to the next day and the next. . .

  13. JJ Landis says:

    I spent the weekend camping with my family and eight other families (we slept in tents in 35 degree weather. Ugh.) It takes me about a week to prepare for a camping trip (buying the food, finding all the supplies, packing the van) and then two or three days to recover and unpack. All that behind the scenes work is not usually noted when people talk of camping – the fire, the smores, the hikes – it all sounds so simple. It’s like writing a book – there is so much more involved in publishing a book than the actual writing.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Great analogy, JJ!

      I laugh when people tell of the magical times they had on vacation as kids. all the fun. I always picture the mom, planning for days and doing laundry for days afterward. Rest up! The memories last far longer than the laundry.

  14. Andrea Cox says:

    Wendy, thank you for the informative article. I’ve already begun writing a blog, but I didn’t really think about that helping me keep to a deadline. So glad you mentioned that!

    Also, it’s good to know I can begin collecting people and writing down their contact info for future use. Planning for the future is a great idea, and I’ll be implementing some of your ideas!


  15. 1. Pray without ceasing.
    2. Learn to turn off or tune out the voice of The Critic.
    3. Appreciate your critique partners and their comments, but learn to discern where changes need to be made in your ms and what you should keep as is.
    4. Grab willing family members to act out story scenes with. πŸ™‚

  16. Micky Wolf says:

    Wow, Wendy, this a wonderful post! πŸ™‚ Have thought about the importance of people-resources but you describe the who and the how in a way that is sooo helpful. Thank you!

  17. Sue Harrison says:

    People collecting! What great advice, Wendy!!

  18. Kiersti says:

    Such good tips, Wendy–thank you! I just went and compiled a potential influencers list right now before I forgot. πŸ™‚ And added to my “thanks” list. As for important steps to take pre-publication–the first thing that pops into my head is attend a writers conference, but it sounds like the writer you talked to was already doing that. πŸ™‚

    • Kiersti,I echo your suggestion to attend a writers conference. A plethora of contacts are made and a more realistic view of the publishing world unfolds.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Absolutely! Don’t you feel like your first writer’s conference propelled you from newbie to knowledgeable faster than any other thing you could have done?

  19. What a great idea. I’ll start my list now.

    I’ve made some good friends through the ACFW critique loop and some blogs I follow. It’s amazing when you help others with their stories how close you can grow.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Be sure to have more than other writers on your lists. We can become too ingrown– it’s so natural. The list of avid readers may be your most valuable list as the years go by.

  20. kath says:

    Have been slowly building a following on my blog, collecting people through a free give away manifesto on my site. Building relationships with other writers and agree totally with everything you wrote. The one thing I had forgotten from the writing course I completed was the influencers it was mentioned and I had forgotten it. Also am a member of a vast growing group of Authors doing the hard work to get published on a Facebook group. I am happy reading this today…that I am the right track and when my children’s picture book comes out I have many people to thank and cheer me onwards. Thank you

  21. Susi Lovell says:

    Thanks, Wendy, for such a terrific post. I sat down to start my list as soon as I finished reading. I am really uncomfortable with networking so was surprised and delighted to find so many people on my list that I’d enjoy contacting. I hadn’t realized I knew so many people in the writing world, and so many who are always ready to be supportive and helpful.

  22. Tehila says:

    Thanks so much, Wendy! This is super helpful, and wise to think ahead! My blog is growing at a steady pace, and I have already been encouraged by several of my readers to write a book! So, your advice at this early stage is invaluable.

    God bless you!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      It’s nice when you already have readers even before you are published. Social media can be a powerful thing.

  23. A great tool for this is an email marketing account. Constant Contact is probably the most well known, though I use a local one run by a Christian businessman.

    Having the option of people opting in (or out, or changing subscriptions) may seem overkill if you’re at 10 or 20 people, but as your list grows it will more than pay for itself in time saved.

    I started using it when my men’s ministry communications got to about 200 and managed over 2 or 3 groups in my email program.

    That list is now over 500 and our movie ministry list is nearly 450. The great power is that once you have the account you can have multiple lists set up. About a month after I got my account I was asked to serve as the Assistant Event Director for a Promise Keepers event – so I had lists set up for the leadership team, volunteers, people seeking housing, you name it.

    The program also helps you understand that an email sent to “200 people” is likely never read by all 200. A 30-40% response rate is pretty good.

  24. Laurie Evans says:

    Great blog post. I’ve set up a file of editors, agents, book bloggers, etc so I can keep track of info that applies to me. I’m also building my social media presence. I’ve had people who read my blog say they can’t wait to read my book, but I hope they have patience! It’s a long journey.

  25. Wow, great conversation today!
    Thank you, Wendy.
    Conferences and my readers and critique groups have been most helpful to me. To give back to those that have supported me, I hostess an annual tea in my home. I serve them a meal and we share ideas, talk books, films, and I listen to their interests. I have a sign-up sheet that I add to every year. This is my inner core group that networks out online for me too. Last year they suggested I branch out with an online tea this year, so I’m having my first one.
    But as Jenni mentioned earlier today, when I was dealing with a crashed computer, pray without ceasing!

  26. What’s the most important thing a new writer can invest in? Skin thickening cream, Kendall Jackson makes a nice one. πŸ˜‰

  27. Great information in this post. And as far as needing to write it down, that was so true. While I have my first book launched and am moving closer to having amy second one launched, I see what areas I need to grow and my people list is one of them. Want to do it without dehumanizing the people to being numbers.

  28. Larry says:

    I’d say the best thing a writer could do pre-publication is learn more about the industry, so that when one does have a published novel, they’d know what to do with it! πŸ™‚

  29. Great information here, Wendy! Thanks for dividing ‘people collecting’ into categories – very helpful. And yes, I’m adding you to my ‘acknowledgement’ list!! πŸ™‚

  30. Yvonne Brown says:

    Thanks for the pearls of wisdom! I don’t have to wait til later to know that this is rich information that you are giving us.

  31. Grace says:

    As a freelance writer starting with literary fiction/nonfiction, should I still be doing this even though I’m not looking to get my novel published yet?

  32. What truly WONDERUL advice! Thank you so very much!

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