Life Post-Publication

Over the holidays, I received a great question from Jenny. She makes the very valid point that there’s so much focus on life before publication, because so many writers are striving to take that crucial step, and then there’s, perhaps, a dearth of information about what happens after. Here’s her question:

There is much information out there about the “publishing process,” what happens if/when you get “The Call,” and the time line of events that follow from contract to publication. I often find myself wondering what happens AFTER that. Should I be so lucky as to receive a contract for one of my picture book manuscripts, what would life look like for me, after the final product is ready to sell? You speak often of authors being required to become marketers to push their book once they are created. I can see where that is a crucial step, but what are the logistics of that? How much travel is involved? Are new authors flitting about, across the country selling their books? How much is accomplished electronically? What does ‘real life’ look like for a newly published author, trying to make a name for herself?

First of all, let’s dispense, for the moment, with the notion of an author flying around the country on “book tour.” In most cases, that is not going to be your reality because publishers are investing less and less in these brick-and-mortar-heavy strategies, especially for debuts. If you have the sort of marketing plan for your book that includes a book tour, you will be in the minority. And then you don’t have to worry about the logistics as much, because the level of marketing that includes a book tour will also include a support person on the publisher’s end to walk you through the finer details.

So let’s toss the idea of a book tour out for a moment. Sad, but true, you’re likely on your own. So here is what the life of a writer who has a book out (or is about to have a book out) looks like. There are two kinds of marketing you’ll be doing, passive and active.

Passive:

  • Setting up a simple informational website for your book, series, and/or yourself as a writer. Most of the content here is going to be “set it and forget it.” You can add a blogging function, to be discussed later.
  • Set up a profile on GoodReads, flesh out your Amazon Author page, create a Facebook Page (rather than just your personal feed). The first two are rather static, the latter is more active. Make your book cover your profile image.
  • Create paper marketing materials if you wish, postcards of your cover, etc. Have them at the ready.
  • Create ways of people online to message you (via your Facebook page, for example), put a contact form on your website, and set up a mailing list submission form that collects email addresses on your behalf. I use Vertical Response, for example. It’s not going to knock your socks off with responses right away, but you’re building your list, regardless.

Active:

  • Start being an active participant on publishing blogs, blogs specific to your book’s category (there’s a lively YA writing scene), Facebook pages (there are groups and communities for everything). When you’re active here, contribute to the conversations going on instead of just spamming people about your book.
  • Look for timely articles that have to do with your book’s category, or your book’s subject matter. Post these on your blog, on Twitter, on your Facebook page, and in your relevant communities.
  • Generate lists of contacts with youth librarians and bookstores with good children’s programs, starting in your area, and then branching outward. Your publisher may be able to help point you to resources for doing this. You can start reaching out by mailing those postcards you made.
  • In the same vein, talk to buyers and event planners at bookstores and literary festivals, universities, schools, etc. in your area. Pitch them something of value instead of just “an appearance from wonderful me!” Say your middle grade deals with a character who moves around a lot. Call schools and say, “I’d love to give a talk on Thriving in a New Place.” Or however you want to brand it. You’re more likely to get speaking opportunities if you have something to offer, instead of simply a sales pitch for you and your book.
  • Make connections with other writers who are being published around the same time, writers who you admire, and writers who are still looking to break in. They will be your allies and a great wealth of information, as long as you don’t just talk about yourself and spam them with sales messages.
  • Join and get involved with the SCBWI. They will often have authors speak or do workshops at regional conferences.
  • Reach out to journalists who have written articles about your book’s subject matter. Again, you should figure out what your hooks are. In the middle grade example, it’s that your character is an army brat and moves around a lot. That’s a topic you might be able to speak about. That’s a topic people might be interested in. So get on the radar of people who are writing about it. Offer yourself as an expert. It might seem weird to think of yourself that way, but once you’re quoted in one article, it becomes easier to get quoted in another one. Start small, with a blog or local website. From there, approach more journalists.

These are examples of what an author who’s about to be published or has recently been published should be doing. As you can see, a lot of this work isn’t going to pay off in obvious or immediate ways. By building a network of journalists, you aren’t going to get on the cover of Time next week. But the more seeds you plant, the more chance you have of something coming to fruition.

Ideally, you’re doing this a year before your publication date. Basically, as soon as you know that you’re slotted for Winter 2018, you start putting plans in place to do some of this stuff. You don’t have to do it all at once. And some days, you’ll have other things to do.

But you should hold yourself to the standard of doing some marketing every day. Reply to a message that comes in via your website. Post something interesting from Twitter to the YA writer’s Facebook group. Craft a blog post. Send five emails to librarians in your area. Call and ask to speak to the book buyer at your local bookstore. Call the English department of the university that’s having a literary speaker series. Maybe it won’t pay off, but maybe it will.

Most importantly, you’re getting in the habit of marketing, and of selling subtly, and of positioning yourself as an author with something important to say, not just a book to hawk.

For more marketing ideas, don’t forget to check out the Book Marketing Power Bundle from Writing Blueprints. It’s a wealth of ideas and information. I’ve gone through the program myself and can’t recommend it highly enough. The money and time you invest in marketing will only pay off exponentially in the long term, you just have to know what you’re doing, so you’re working smarter, not harder.

“What’s In It For Me?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing. Every week, I get emails offering guest posts, articles, contests, programs, services, etc. The well-meaning writer always says that they’re offering me an opportunity. My blog is pretty humble, but I do get a fair amount of beautiful, wise, talented readers. I’ve been around a long time. It’s not surprising that I come up on search engines and in rankings for people who are looking to market their whatever.

On principle, I turn their offers down. I don’t want to use this blog to sell stuff. (Other than the occasional reminder about my book and services, of course. A girl’s gotta eat!) I don’t want to feature someone’s guest post, unless they’re someone I know personally or professionally and I like their idea. I don’t want to flood my readers with a product or app when I know the average writer struggles with the very idea of scraping together enough focus to practice their craft.

The last thing I want to do is sell my website out. I don’t want to give people guest post slots (with a few notable exceptions over the years). This is my blog, and you come here for my articles. I’m not going to dilute my voice or credibility by letting John Doe publish his “101 Tips for Classroom Success” article (more on this example later). I’m not going to muck up my Resources page by putting any product or service that comes my way. Those are resources I found and loved on my own. They are tried and true, in my eyes. That space can’t be bought.

It’s not an “opportunity” for me. It’s marketing people doing their marketing thing. I get it. How do you get attention for your goods or services? This game has changed completely with the advent of the Internet, and the advent of analytics for said Internet. Now, in addition to trying to score hits in traditional media, people with something to sell are contacting tastemakers with lots of followers. All in the hopes of a mention, a link, and a boost.

I’m not against this practice at all. I sent hundreds of emails when my book came out. I market my editorial services once or twice a year to my mailing list. But I think that the focus of any good marketing piece is, “What’s in it for me?” That’s the question I’m always asking as someone with a blog that gets a certain number of eyeballs. Because I want to always deliver value to my readers. I want them to come here for information, not marketing and sponsored posts and all sorts of other garbage.

And THIS, ladies and gentlemen, this is what makes book marketing so damn difficult!

I’ve just spoken as a person turning down a lot of solicitations. Now, it’s true that I get requests to market people’s individual book projects. When someone writes to me and says, “I wrote this book, I’d like for you to help get the message out,” in my head, I ask, “What’s in it for me?” The answer, again, in my head, is always, “Um, a good…book?” And 99% of the time, that’s just not compelling enough for me to amplify your message. The one exception is the recent guest post I did about a book that was published via a crowdfunding platform. Why? Because I found the process compelling, the writer is a client of mine, and I wanted to hear how it was going.

I wanted to hear how it was really going, mind you. When she sent her first guest post draft, it was full of hearts and unicorns about how great everything was. I wrote back and pushed her to give me the peaks and valleys, the obstacles, the real story. Because I owe you more than a fluff piece. You’ll notice that the article in question wasn’t about the book at all. It had something for my audience about a new publishing platform.

As the curator (major cringe for that word now that everything is “curated” and “artisanal”) of this site, I was asking, “What’s in it for me…and my readers?” That particular guest post passed the test. As did another series about a Kickstarter funded graphic novel that didn’t make it.

There is, I believe, a lesson here for those of you who are looking to market your own work. Because the hard truth is, even once you’ve achieved the major milestone of being published, your work is not done. You have to become a marketing person. And almost everyone will give you the advice of finding people who are tastemakers in your respective subject area, and reaching out to them to pitch your work.

I have the biases I’ve expressed above. I happen to have high standards for featuring stuff. If you want to succeed with someone like me (and believe me, it’s a bigger success to place your story with someone who has standards than with someone who loves free shit and will blog about anything), you need to ask yourself, as if you were the tastemaker, “What’s in it for me? What’s in it for my readers?”

Usually, it’s not going to be just your story. But something interesting about your story. You wrote it entirely on a train. It’s the first novel written by AI. You were declared medically dead and it came to you while you were out. What is interesting about it? What is something I can blog about and find exciting? What is something my readers might like? Pitch from that angle.

And here’s a second bonus tip. Remember how my example article, above, was something about the classroom? Well, my blog is Kidlit.com, and my search terms are (among other things) children’s books. You might be totally justified in thinking that this blog is a resource for children, or about children’s books themselves (like a review site), or about children’s reading habits, or whatever. But you would be wrong.

My site’s audience consists of passionate writers who aspire to write or are actively involved in writing children’s books for publication. It’s a very specific audience. So if you don’t do your research on my site, see the words “kid” and “lit,” and email me a great opportunity to hawk your children’s educational resource for you, you will fall flat.

Marketing is a numbers game. You have to send X emails to get something from even 1% of your targets. It’s discouraging. But if you approach it from the angle of pretending to be the site owner and asking, “What’s in it for me?” AND if you target specific sites which have an audience in common with you, you will have more luck.

AND A THIRD BONUS TIP. As writers for babies, children, tweens, and teens, your marketing audience (most likely) isn’t actual children. There are very few places where children under 13 can legally be online. Your marketing audience is the people buying stuff for those children, and the educators and librarians of those children.

Want more marketing stuff? I recently wrote a somewhat related post about agents and editors who are writers themselves marketing their own work.

Agents and Editors With Their Own Books

I opened up the blog for questions last week and got an interesting one from Frank:

Why is my social media filled with juvenile editors, agents, and art directors pimping their own books? Is this unethical as they are on salary or commission to help sell and promote the books they work on with their clients? I hardly see them promoting for anyone but themselves. What is this saying to those clients and anyone else trying to get published? This seems backwards (and gross).

Now, there’s a lot to this question. Remember that I was once a literary agent with a book of my own to hawk. So I don’t know if I can get on board with some of the more judgmental language here (“pimping,” “backwards,” “gross,” etc.). But I’m sure a lot of aspiring writers have seen this and wondered about it, so I thought I’d take a stab at my experience with this particular perspective.

First and most importantly of all, let’s break down an assumption that Frank makes: “…they are on salary or commission to help sell and promote the books they work on with their clients.” Yes and no. Yes to “sell” and no to “promote.” An agent’s primary job is to scout talent, get a manuscript ready for submission, and sell rights and subrights to the manuscripts to agents and other entities that will exploit those rights. Agents sell rights, basically. That’s it in a nutshell. This is how an agent makes their money, and how they earn money for their client. An editor is employed by a publishing house to acquire properties that stand a good chance at selling to the publisher’s customers (book resellers, mind you, not quite readers), getting that property into shape, organizing all of the moving parts involved in bringing that book to market, and doing some limited promotional support. An art director’s job is similar, but with the visual elements of a property. These are the jobs they are paid to do.

The great fallacy about modern publishing is that it’s anybody but the author’s job to promote a book. As some of you know, for the most part, a book will only get limited promotional assistance from the publisher. It is, largely, a writer’s job to promote their own work. In fact, a writer’s “platform” (or ability to reach potential customers, online and through other channels) is a large part of any acquisitions conversation these days. So an agent’s, editor’s, art director’s, etc. actual job is to get the book where it needs to go in the publication process, but not necessarily to sell it once it is released. That job goes to the marketing department and the reseller who has purchased the book to sell to customers. Everyone benefits if it sells well, but, really, promoting the book is primarily the creator’s place.

Remember, also, that agents have X clients, editors have X authors on their lists. While all of those lovely people are important, an agent or editor must practice fairness. I see many agents and editors broadcasting about a book when a) it is acquired, b) when it is about to publish, c) when there is other news happening with the creator of it, and d) when subrights are exploited, it goes into paperback, etc. etc. etc. This is at least two and possibly four or more mentions of a project. Anything above and beyond this may start to seem one-sided if the agent/editor isn’t also doing it for their other clients.

There’s also audience to consider. And this is a big one. Who follows agents and editors on Twitter? Other publishing people and aspiring writers, mostly. It starts to sound like an echo chamber after a while, because these people are very interested in one thing (getting published and publishing behind-the-scenes), but the people who are buying that new work are not really in this loop. So if an agent is tweeting relentlessly about a client’s picture book, the true audience for that picture book (parents, booksellers, librarians, children) might not be plugged into their stream.

So, an agent (editor, art director, etc.) has many considerations when they tweet. Is there something timely going on with the project? If not, they may sound like they’re spamming people about it after a while. Who is listening? Are they being fair to my other clients when they tweet about this project and not others? And finally, frankly, the agent is the agent, not the marketer. I fully expect a publisher’s marketing squad to be tweeting nothing but book news from that house. Because that’s what they’re being paid to do.

Here’s where we get into the part of the conversation that Frank considers gross. All these agents and editors have their own work that they want to talk about. I can see how it looks like conflict of interest. But here are the realities of what the landscape looks like from the agent or editor’s POV. First, most of the people in publishing are in publishing because they love language and/or writing and/or art. I’ve met a few people who work in publishing that haven’t been interested in creating books of their own, but they are in the minority (in my experience). Second, agents and editors are a dime a dozen these days. Anyone can get into it, often very easily. So how do they differentiate themselves? How do they get out there? How do they attract submissions? Those are, after all, their bread and butter. The more visible you are, the more people submit to you.

Self-promotion is everywhere these days. Authors do it. Agents do it. Editors do it. Art directors do it. I did it when I was agenting and simultaneously promoting my book. So I obviously have a certain tolerance for this blurry line. I would say that, as long as an agent/editor/art director is also making an effort to promote their client projects in a fair and balanced way when it’s appropriate to do so, they are free to advance their own careers. When aspiring writers and that agent/editor/art director’s clients see this, I should hope that they learn an important lesson about how necessary self-promotion is, even for those on the “inside.”

If you don’t like it, seek out the people who don’t do this.

Children’s Book Writing Trends

Today I was thinking of the very important and potentially controversial issue of children’s book writing trends and creating fiction with a market in mind. What do I mean by this? Well, if you see that novels about alligators (ridiculous example) are heating up in the marketplace (“the market”), do you pursue that above any idea you may have come up with organically? Or do you keep writing what you’re writing and put relative blinders on as to what publishing is doing?

writing trends, following writing trends, trendy fiction, publishing trends, children's book trends, publishing market trends
Is the current writing trend worth following, or are you better going your own way?

Are Writing Trends Worth Chasing?

Writers tend to fall into two camps on the issue. Let’s talk pros and cons to help you see it more comprehensively.

By paying attention to the market, the market-minded writer is aware of what publishing is doing, and probably more aware of various guidelines. For example, you know that you could very well write a 200-page picture book, but that it probably wouldn’t get as much traction as if you’d slated your work toward the common 32-page format.

Sure, you can do whatever you want, but it’s going to come to a screeching halt if you try to wedge it into a marketplace that has no category for it. Categories, as we all know, are especially important in children’s books, where writing for specific ages means you have to pay attention to things like word count, protagonist age, etc.

You are of the opinion that you need to know the game before you step onto the playing field, so paying attention to what’s getting published is a way for you to learn the business and (potentially) get a leg up, especially if one of your ideas happens to align with what’s currently sought-after. Think of market awareness as giving yourself a stronger potential chance for success.

If You Don’t Pay Attention to the Publishing Market…

If you are a market-ignoring writer, you may be surprised when you try to submit. “What do you mean they’re not publishing 3,000-word fairytale storybooks anymore?” you ask. “I’ve put two years of my life into illuminating this manuscript with my daughter’s kindergarten illustrations!”

Well, if you had been in a bookstore in the last few years, you would’ve seen very clearly the way the wind is blowing in terms of length, tone, and illustration quality. Hey, whether or not the market is right or wrong in not really publishing the type of book that you want to write is up for debate, and that’s not really the scope of this post.

The truth remains that there are trends and preferences to today’s publishing culture, and that it would behoove the savvy writer to at least know what they are if they intend to offer up a product for sale. The same applies to any economy. If I happened to notice that twee handmade jewelry and adorable knit caps are selling like gangbusters on Etsy, I wouldn’t, for example, try to hang my shingle out as a lady mechanic selling rusty old car parts. I’m not going to get as much traffic there as I would on, say, the fantasy marketplace of RustyOldCarParts.com. The same idea applies here. It’s just common sense.

When Market Savvy Can Pay Off

There are, however, potential cons to paying too much attention to the market. You can become a slave to trends and lose what’s yours about your work. Your ideas will start to sound like copies or rip-offs of what’s currently trending, and you might lose some passion for your projects because you are chasing the market instead of your potential contribution to it. The market is also fickle, and trends come and go.

There’s also lag time to consider. What you’re seeing published now was acquired two years ago, so unless you are very connected or have an agent in your corner, it’s hard to know what editors are looking for at the present moment. Paying too much attention to the marketplace tends to create anxiety, whether it’s founded or not, and takes the fun out of the creative process.

The Pitfalls of Trendy Manuscripts

And if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, and approaching it with a more mercenary attitude, chances are good that others will find it more difficult to be passionate about it, too, and treat it like a project-of-the-week. Emotionally, this can lead to some bitterness. I heard it a lot during the Twilight era. “Why did that stupid vampire novel get published, while I have a perfectly good vampire novel and nobody wants it?!” writers would gripe.

There’s no good answer to that question. Maybe the stupid vampire novel was submitted before yours, or the writer had started it before the Twilight epidemic as an original, unlikely idea, and it’s full of that type of passion, whereas the griping writer’s novel was written in haste to make a few quick bucks. Who knows. But sometimes trend-driven projects take on a competitive edge that wouldn’t otherwise be there, and prove unpleasant to their creators.

Plus, a lot of the wild successes of publishing have come out of left field, as far as categories are concerned. So there’s something to be said for originality influencing the market, not the other way around.

The Perfect Blend of Writing Trends and Timelessness

I think an approach somewhere in the middle ground is the best. Know what the marketplace is doing so that you can give yourself a fighting chance. But don’t dwell on trends or haunt the deals notices too closely. Stick to your original ideas and pursue them passionately, as long as you’re also keeping a distant eye on what it might be like to sell them down the road. This, to me, is the sane road.

What kind of writer are you when it comes to paying attention to the market? Do you let it dictate, or do you follow your heart and then see if there’s a spot for what you’ve created? Or are you a little bit of both?

Wondering if your idea has market potential? Hire me as your book editor or manuscript consultant and I can give you feedback for where your project might fit into the publishing scene.

Help! Someone Is Publishing My Idea!

Read this if you just saw news of a book sale that left you thinking, “Someone is publishing my idea!” I was going through my emails for some reader questions that I’ve gotten over the years. This one comes from Susan last year, and it’s basically this: She saw some marketing materials for a book that’s coming out that’s exactly like what she’s working on. She’s upset. How is she going to find the will to continue writing this project if someone else has already beat her to it?

This is actually a very common question, and here is the (at times, tongue-in-cheek) response I wrote that I hope can help a few more of you out there.

someone is publishing my idea, someone stole my book idea, do i have to stop writing my idea, see a book sale that looks like my idea
Do you recognize your book idea in a publishing announcement? Does this mean you have to kill your project?

Don’t Worry About Book Descriptions That Sound Like Your Idea

I know everyone says “don’t worry about it” and that obviously hasn’t made you feel any better but…don’t worry about it. That book and thousands of others will be published this year. Unless this particular book hits it DIVERGENT-big, it will have its moment on the stage and then gracefully recede onto the backlist. (Sad but, more or less, true. For every mega-successful book that’s published in a year, there are dozens or hundreds more that do pretty well for themselves but don’t make a global splash.) Then next year’s crop will come. Then next year’s.

It’s the ciiiiiiircle of liiiiiiiiiiiiife!

Meanwhile, in the BEST case scenario, you will take six months to polish your book. You’ll take three months to query and sign with an agent. You and your agent will revise for three months. It will go on submission, and let’s say it sells in an amazingly short month. Did I mention that the entire publishing process moves at a snail’s pace? And you’re not even done! Then it will go into contracts, editing, design, proofreading, blah blah blah, and it will finally come out in hardcover a year from when the editor bought it. That’s a MINIMUM of two years from today.

But if there are invariable publishing delays or you need two revisions instead of one at any point in the process, or they decide that another similar book is coming out and they should push you back a season and you have no control over any of it, then it’s more than two years from the book that’s upsetting you right now.

Someone Is Publishing My Idea…But It’s All About Execution

On top of that, you can’t really know a book from a paragraph of description. The voice, the tone, the plot, the sense of humor, the lightness or darkness, the literary quality. All of these things happen in the execution, not the pitch. (ETA: The product and the pitch, people! It was an idea in my brain like a year ago!!!) So the book you’re worried about could be completely different from what you’re doing. And you don’t even know it until you read it. What attracted that writer to that idea, and that editor to that manuscript, could be completely different from what kind of response your idea will drum up.

So, basically, all this is to say you should probably trash your manuscript and start over. Just kidding! You’re totally fine. Keep on trucking. Nobody is stealing your ideas. Maybe one day your book will be featured in an online newsletter and some writer is going to start worrying and email me because she thinks she’s working on the exact same thing. It’s perfectly normal and doesn’t mean the end of the world. In fact, this is far from the first time I’ve heard this question.

There are just a few archetypal stories in the world that we keep telling over and over, in different wrapping paper. That doesn’t make one book more or less special than the next, and as long as the stories are well-done, there’s room for them on the shelf.

Don’t believe in the myth of scarcity. This book isn’t taking away from your potential place in the spotlight.

Hire me as your novel editor and publishing consultant, and we can figure out how to position your novel in a competitive marketplace.

Do Fiction Writers Need Platform?

This interesting question comes from Diana:

Platforms continue to elude me. How to build one without pigeon-holing yourself, how to assess the best methods, how to find the time (snort). Is the scope of your platform important to an agent? Are publishers looking for genre-specific platforms or more generalized author-focused approaches? Am I worrying too much about this?

First and foremost, when a writer asks, “Am I worrying too much about this?” the answer is almost always “yes!” Not to make light of Diana’s plight, but writers do have a reputation for getting hung up on things and then swirling in their own heads until panic arises. I get it, too. It’s the curse of hte intellectual/creative type.

Now, “platform” is one of those buzzwords that you hear on blogs and message boards and at conferences. First and foremost, it’s much more important for non-fiction writers. That is a fact. When you put together a non-fiction book proposal, the publisher really wants to know how many people you can reach and sell books to. That’s a crucial concern for them at acquisitions. Professionals with big networks, popular bloggers, experts with connections, people who have caught the media spotlight…those are the types of people who can impress editors with the promise of big NF sales.

Fiction writers are different. They’re not selling themselves (an essential part of every non-fiction book is either that the author or the idea are noteworthy and attention-grabbing), they’re selling a story. In most cases in fiction, it really is all about the book and not about the personality behind it. Some fiction authors don’t even do promotion for their work.So the average fiction writer’s platform is, “I like to write fiction,” and that’s okay.

Let me repeat: Fiction lives and dies by the manuscript itself, unless you’re famous. And you would know if you were famous (hint: you wouldn’t be reading this blog because you’d already have five different types of agents).

A lot of my (unpopular) thoughts on developing platform for fiction writers can be found addressed in this previous post. I stick by what I said. Just like a query letter does not have the power to make or break you as a fiction writer (query letter writing and manuscript writing are two different things), a fiction writer’s huge platform does not have the power to land you a book deal if your book is horrible, nor does a lacking  platform get in the way of an acquisition if the book is brilliant. (Unless, again, you’re Snooki.)

All that said, however, it’s important for writers in today’s market to think about platform at some point. You should start getting familiar with the idea of self-promotion, the venues for developing your marketing strategy (blogs, social media), etc. However, platform shouldn’t be the thing you need to focus on before you write your manuscript.  Once you get a book deal, you’ll need to shift into two modes, a) marketing Debut Novel, and b) writing Follow-up Novel. But that’s after. Building a platform now, before you have a book, before you have anything to leverage it with, is a bit like putting the cart before the horse.

People love their blogging and their Tweeting and the communities of unpublished writers that they’ve created online. I’m not trying to take that away from you. But realize that a platform without something to sell is not something you really need to be worried about at this point. I’m all about writers getting themselves out there and starting to participate in the world, build buzz, etc., but that’s not what I’m selling when I sell your fiction. If platform is stressing you out, go back to focusing on the writing.

Social Networking for Beginning Writers

Consider this your friendly primer on social networking for beginning writers. We all know that the Internet is a great way to “get out there.” Get known. Put yourself in people’s sightlines in a new way.

social networking for beginning writers, blogging for aspiring writers, social networking for writers
Get your head on straight before you let loose on Facebook and Twitter.

Social Networking for Beginning Writers: Important Don’ts

This can be intimidating, but it’s also inspiring. Shy people become less so online. Connections and friendships and business relationships are forged. More people know about you than ever before. But the kind of “shoot for the moon” attitude that social networking sometimes inspires also has a bad side. Sometimes people do things to get noticed that they wouldn’t ordinarily do, all because the Internet makes them feel bolder.

This can get dangerous when you realize that a lot of literary agents, editors, and publishing imprints are also online. The exact people you want to impress. This should be easy, right? Not so fast, buckaroo…

Here are some things that I absolutely hate when people do to publishing professionals on social networking sites*. Just because I accept a friend request on my public agent profile (I have two Facebooks, one for Agent Me, the other for people I actually know from high school, etc.), just because it’s easy to find me and add me, that doesn’t mean you now have an open channel to do whatever. My colleagues at ABLA or other agencies may feel differently, but here are the social networking moves that I consider a faux pas:

Do Not Send Query Letters Via Social Networking

Don’t do it. Just don’t do it. Don’t ever do it. Don’t ask me if I want to read your work via a Facebook or Twitter ping, either. Follow submission guidelines and get your work to an agent or editor the way everyone else does.

Unless you are specifically participating in some sort of logline, pitch, or query event on Facebook or Twitter, do not send your query to someone’s social media account. Chances are, you will not only be ignored, but you’ll look unprofessional, to boot. You’ve spent many months writing the novel. Give it the pitch it deserves.

Refrain From Obnoxious Wall Posting

I welcome posts to my profile thanking me for the add or talking about a conference where you just saw me speak or about a book I’ve represented or whatever, but leave it at that. Don’t post things to my wall about your book.

The thinking is probably this: “Lots of people visit this person’s wall, so I can generate some extra traffic to my blog/ebook/whatever. It also looks like this person is endorsing my thing. That’s great!” I pick the things I endorse, whether for my Resources for Writers page or things I mention via social networking very carefully. I’ll either review something or retweet it. In fact, earlier this year, I retweeted a contest and it turns out the company running the contest was claiming rights ownership for things submitted, so I deleted my Tweet and didn’t recommend the contest anymore. I take whatever I mention seriously. It’s a matter of integrity.

Don’t use an agent or editor’s page as a billboard for your stuff. Not only is it annoying, but I guarantee that any such posts often get deleted, which takes time, which will only make it even more annoying. And forget about trying to pal up to an agent or editor by sending those quizzes or game invitations — we may be “friends” on Facebook but we’re not that kind of friends, and my real life friends know better than to waste their time (and mine) with that nonsense.

Don’t Invite Publishing People to Facebook Events for Your Book

There are a few blunders in the invitation arena, too. Don’t invite me to Events unless I actually know you. No book signings if I’m not a real friend of yours, no virtual launch parties, no poetry slams or what have you.

No group invitations, either. There was this one writing group that I was invited to a few months ago. My name was added to this group without my knowledge or permission. Members of the group started posting their writing samples. I’m guessing a lot of agents and editors were added to this group because the leader thought it would be a great and creative way to get some work noticed. Since I don’t join groups, I had no idea that my mail settings for Facebook sent me an email every time someone posted.

The day some random person added me to this writing group, I got over 200 emails from people posting. All for a group I didn’t want to be in. I was traveling that day, and couldn’t leave the group from the Facebook app while I was flying, so I had all this spam in my inbox. It made a bad impression

The new thing people are doing is adding me as a co-worker. They click that they work as “Writer” or “In publishing” or whatever, and they mark us as working together. Then I have to go to my profile and say to ignore this work information. Please stop doing that. I work alone at home and I know, for a fact, who my co-workers are. They’re two pugs named Gertie and Olive. And a baby named Theo. These people adding me as a peer on Facebook are not them.

It’s Illegal to Add People to Your Mailing List Without Their Knowledge

Another abuse of the Internet is adding my email address to mailing lists and newsletters. I’ve had many authors do this. They will add me to either their newsletter or add my email to another social networking site where they want to connect with me, and I get deluged in emails that I didn’t ask for. Do not sign anyone up for anything without their permission by using their email address. This should be common sense but you’d be surprised at how often it happens. It’s also illegal, and it could get you banned from your mail marketing client if someone were to complain. So if you value your relationship with Mail Chimp, and the agent you’re trying to target, rethink this strategy.

The Right and Wrong Ways to Get Attention

The bottom line is: there’s a right way and a wrong way to get attention. There’s also a right way and a wrong way to get your work noticed. Don’t try and catch my eye through tricks or overstepping your bounds on the Internet. Catch my attention with the strength of your work and through official channels. All of the scenarios I mention above annoy me. And when I’m grumpy, I focus my frustration on the source of the social networking error: you.

You may be trying to expose me to the coolest event, newsletter, query, game of Angry Birds ever, but I am never going to notice it because I’m too busy thinking you’re rude. If you really have something wonderful to show me, just show me like a normal person, don’t resort to Internet gimmicks.

Looking to refine your self-promotion and marketing strategies with ideas that actually work? Hire me as your publishing consultant and we can plan your next steps together.

 

Posting Writing Online and Getting Published

In the last week or so, a few people have emailed to ask me whether or not posting writing online (like a few pages or a few chapters) on your blog, in forums, or whatever, is a good idea This can be tricky. In the Internet age, if you post something online on a blog, social networking site, online literary journal, or public forum, it is considered “published.” I’ll let that sink in.

posting writing online, should i post my writing online, blogging and getting published, posting writing samples online
This super hip blogger might have just bought a one-way ticket to Already Published City…

Obviously, the length of the sample you post is important. Read on:

Posting Writing Online Is Dangerous If You Post Too Much

If you are posting an entire poem or short story online, and then you try to sell it to a literary magazine, for example, the fact that is has previously been “published” is not good, as the entire work has appeared elsewhere.

The editor of that literary magazine wants new, never-before-seen content. This applies both to print and online venues, as there are a lot of respectable online journals and literary magazines.

If you are posting a short portion of a novel online, and then the novel gets interest from an agent or editor, I’d say you could be okay, since the sample is short. Even though most editors and agents don’t like to work with previously published material, whether posted online or self-published, a short sample on your blog may not be enough to put them off your project. (Careful, though, as individual policies here do vary greatly.)

So when you think about posting online, consider how much of your work you’ll be exposing. Are you posting all of it? That will count as “published” and that website will be your venue for the piece, so you better make your peace with it. A sample that’s less than 5% of the total work? You could post, if you really want to, but know that you may run into some obstacles down the road.

Safe Places for Posting Writing Online

The one exception to the “published” rule is if you post your writing in a private forum that’s behind a log-in wall. One reason to do this is if you want to get critique of your work from other writers. What you post in a members-only area of the Internet isn’t available to the general public and is therefore not considered “published” once it goes up.

If getting feedback is really the reason you want to post your writing online in the first place, I’d do it behind the closed doors of a private forum.

What Happens on the Internet, Stays on the Internet…Forever

Now, I know there are people thinking: But what if I post something and then take it down? Ah, Grasshopper, the reason is simple: online content never dies. Search engines log all new web content as it is created. If you put something online, ever, even for a short while, it will stay in a search engine’s cache and will still appear in search results.

Posting Writing Online to Attract a Literary Agent or Publisher

I’m probably not going to be popular for this opinion, but I don’t think you should post your writing online as a means of attracting editor or agent interest. While some agents and editors do troll blogs looking for talent, I get most of my clients from submissions and conferences. I’m not crazy about most unpublished writer blogs, as some of you know, so I don’t go prospecting there. Don’t even get me started on sites like Authonomy and InkPop.

Plus, your writing should change and grow as you keep at it. And first chapters are usually the most wildly revised in any book. I know a lot of writers who keep hammering at their oh-so-important openings, draft after draft. Your beginning might change, so do you really want an old draft online for all to see? Maybe that doesn’t matter to you, but it certainly bugs me.

When I turned in my MFA thesis, I declined to make a copy available in the university library (what usually happens with thesis manuscripts). Why? After one revision, that manuscript becomes just another rough draft, and I don’t want a rough draft floating around. I don’t know about you, but I often look back at old writing and cringe. Unless you plan to keep updating your writing sample online, it will become stale work at some point.

How to Generate Buzz For Your Writing Online

If you do want to post something tantalizing about your book, post a query-like summary of the story and a tag line. That’s the same kind of advertising that a published book has: the back and flap copy that is meant to describe the story and entice the reader. Write some flap copy for your manuscript — this will be good practice to help you hone in on  your hook, too — and put it on your blog. Some writers make a short and cheap video trailer. Others pick a playlist or images that evoke their work. That should be enough marketing to get people excited.

If you’re thinking of posting your writing online to get literary agent attention, there’s a better way: To submit a kick-ass manuscript. Turn to me for editing services and we’ll make sure you don’t have to resort to gimmicks to reach your publishing goals.

Blogging Before Publication: Do Unpublished Writers Have to Blog?

Blogging before publication is a fraught topic for many writers. Some seem forced into blogging. Others love it.  If you’re happy to blog, please do it. This post is geared mostly to people who are on the fence and who are feeling pressure to start a blog because they hear that’s what they’re supposed to do. The tone of this question is usually, “Do I have to blog?” I’ve changed the title to reflect the framing.

blogging before publication, should unpublished writers blog, do i need to start a blog to get a literary agent
If you’re not already blogging, do you start? Or do you work on your novel instead?

The Unpublished Writer Quest for a Platform

This is a question that comes up a lot at conferences and from people who email me. It’s the familiar scenario: You’re an unpublished writer chasing publication. You don’t have a book or a deal to blog about yet, but you’ve heard that writers need platform and Internet presence, and you’ve heard that blogs get you friends and traffic and riches and unicorns, and you’ve also heard about this Twitter thing. Yet it sounds overwhelming. And you wonder if you have enough to blog about. You wonder if you have the time to keep up with all these things.

But the online writing community you see other unpublished writers enjoying keeps bugging you — You have to blog! You have to Tweet! You have to Facebook!

What do you do?

Your Time Is Better Invested Writing

I’m going to say, probably, the exact opposite of what you’d expect. See, I’m a person who blogs. And I have a Twitter. And I’m on Facebook. I also grew up in the Silicon Valley and worked for a bunch of Internet start-ups before I got involved in publishing. You think I’d be totally into unpublished writers blogging, Tweeting, flickring, Buzzing, Facebooking, and all that. Right?

Wrong.

I never look at the blogs of people who query me unless they can give me some kind of impressive fact, like “30,000 people visit this blog per month” or “I draw a daily web cartoon and have a following” or “I’ve created an interactive game that you can play” or whatever.

The Worst Thing You Can Do Is Blog Halfheartedly

If you’re iffy on blogging and worry, already, that you’ll run out of material, I say don’t do it. There are too many bad blogs, blogs about people’s cats (I swore I would never blog about my cat…then she got sick and I freaked out and I blogged…at every conference I attend, people still ask me about my cat!), blogs about their word count for the day and what book they’re reading, blogs by people who think they need a blog. Don’t add one more to the pile. Blogs without good, useful information or blogs by a clearly reluctant author are the worst.

The thing about blogs is that they’re a living thing. Blogs take your most recent entry and post it first. For the savvy, content-rich blog, that’s great. For the reluctant blog, that’s bad. Readers can log on and see the exact date when you lost your zest for blogging or ran out of content. And I’d say that a blog last updated in September 2009 is worse than no blog at all. It makes you seem out-of-date, irrelevant…maybe even dead. (Old blogs frozen in time are almost creepy.)

Being Practical About Platform

Fiction writers don’t need to pay attention to that whole “You have to have a platform” myth as much as nonfiction writers do. If you’re writing a novel or a picture book…what is your platform? That you like writing and you’re writing a novel or a picture book. Just like all the other writers out there. Unless you happen to be an expert in a subject matter that plays into your fiction, or you’re some other kind of professional writer who is crossing over, you’re not going to have any more platform than that.

The reason why I’m so negative about unpublished writers blogging and Tweeting is that it’s usually not good content. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Internet from actually working for it for all those years, it’s that users come to the Internet to see, “What’s in it for me?” They want valuable content that speaks to them. They Google: “How do I get this stain out of my white carpet?” “Is it okay that my baby is turning sort of purple?” (It’s probably not.) “How do I stop the hiccups?” “What’s a great summer BBQ recipe?”

Blogs Work Best When The Content Helps Others…Not You

Most writing blogs — and most blogs in general — are about the writer of the blog, not about the user. I have a blog, but you’ll notice that I try to keep myself and my life out of it (and I was doing a dang good job until my cat got sick!). I want to use this space to give you valuable content, because I know that’s what people want from me. At the end of the day, they have their own cats to worry about, but they would like some writing and publishing advice.

The Benefit of Blogging Before Publication

Unpublished writing blogs do one positive thing, usually: they foster community among other unpublished writers. You can come gripe about rejections, brag about word count, share your successes and frustrations and make friends.

While that’s nice for you, it has little value to an agent or editor (and not all of us feel this way, so please take this as my opinion) who comes to visit. Unpublished writers also write about writing in their blog, and that may attract other unpublished writers, but it does have a limited reach. Published writers who write about writing usually attract a wider audience, as they have perceived authority.

If you have a blog where you can give people really valuable content, tips, and things to make their lives better (or at least to give them good cocktail party conversation), do it. If you are just thinking of blogging because everyone else does it or you heard that agents won’t consider you unless you have a blog, don’t.

Spend Your Time Writing

Plus, Web 2.0 (social networking) is a time suck. You can go pretty far down the rabbit hole with Tweets and Facebook updates. Then you lose sight of the thing that’s really going to get you published: writing.

Focus on your writing. And if you feel the need to be online, which you should, at least in some small way, put up a simple three page site: main landing page with info about your work, about you page, contact page. That’s it, and it should be cheap to make a page that actually looks good and professional.

Once you’re under contract with a publisher, of course, everything changes. You’ll have stuff to say. You’ll have a book to sell. You’ll have events to publicize. You’ll have readers who want to know more about you. For now, though, don’t bow to the peer pressure if you really don’t feel comfortable blogging or Tweeting or Facebooking.

Do you have strategy questions about how to best use your valuable time? Need writing career advice? I’m happy to be your writing and publishing consultant, and we can come up with a road map together.

Online Platform Do’s and Don’ts

Since I have an online platform — and since a lot of agents talk a lot about online platforms for their clients and for prospective clients (even though this is more important for non-fiction writers who hope to sell projects on proposal) — I get asked about it fairly often. And for fiction writers and children’s writers, it’s a difficult topic. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and have some thoughts to share. People seemed to like my do’s and don’ts for the “how to pitch” article, so here is another list for online platforms and online presence.

Basically, most authors and writers these days have an online presence, whether through Twitter or Facebook or a website. I think that every person trying to break into publishing should at least have a 3-page website (welcome page, About page where you talk about yourself and your writing, and a contact page or whatever other things you think might be interesting to throw up there). I don’t, however, suggest that everyone blogs or Twitters or Facebooks. The reason?

If you aren’t comfortable with social media and you don’t have any content that has value to it (other than hawking your own book or talking about yourself), then you won’t get an audience for your online efforts anyway. This blog, for example, offers value. You wouldn’t be reading it if I insisted on talking about MY clients or MY own writing or MY cat. I give you stuff YOU can use. A lot of writers who blog fall into the trap of only talking about their own stuff. While this might help other writers come together around one writer’s journey, or whatever, the appeal will be limited (and, I’ll add, all those aspiring writers who read the blogs of other aspiring writers could probably spend their time more wisely by, you know, writing).

So if you’re only Twittering or Facebooking or blogging to give information about yourself and to hawk your own projects, people will stop reading. Also, if you’re clearly uncomfortable with social media and you feel forced to do it, your efforts will clearly reflect that. There are enough bloggers and Twitterers out there already. We don’t need any reluctant Web 2.0 people joining the ranks… there’s too much other content to sift through already.

Finally, with kidlit especially, and with fiction writers, there’s the question of audience. Kids don’t really read blogs that much. Teens hang out online but they’re more interested in social networking with friends, so there’s little conclusive data on how they interact with blogs (unless some one has read a study and has a link on hand… I’d love to check it out). If you write for kids, your audience for your online presence won’t necessarily be… kids. You’ll hit other writers, book bloggers, parents, librarians, and, if you write for older kids, some of your teen readers.

So make sure your content is geared toward your audience. And make sure it’s good content. That’s at the heart of building an online presence. With that in mind, here are some more tips!

DO’S:

  • Create interesting content.
  • Leverage everything you do — blog about school visits, author events, books you’re reading, movies you see that have a good writing take-away, milestones of your book’s journey to publication if you’re that far along (check with your editor, though, to make sure you can post cover images and other production-related stuff), your agent search, etc.
  • If you’re an illustrator, share sketches and finishes, talk about your process, talk about the tools you use, show works in progress.
  • Use pictures or cover images to liven up your posts.
  • Tweet or Facebook or post interesting links you find, don’t just blah blah blah all by yourself.
  • Leverage other people to create content for you — host blog tours, have guest blogs, do interviews, bring added value by using your blog to spotlight fun and different people who fit in with the theme of your blog.
  • Write about things that interest a wider audience — like here, sometimes I write articles on writing craft that can apply to children’s writers but that can really benefit a broader audience, too.
  • Do contests and giveaways — remember, people are always asking “What’s in it for me?” when they read blogs.
  • If you write NF, use your blog as a place to talk about interesting things you’re learning about your subject matter, or research you’re doing  yourself, or articles and research that’s currently coming out. For example, if you’re writing about butterflies, post the latest news, or current migrations going on, etc. With non-fiction, whether you’re writing picture books or novels with certain real world elements, you can make a blog that will become a resource to teachers… who might then teach your book int he classroom!

DON’T:

  • Rant or talk endlessly about yourself — make your blog a place that other people will want to visit. Besides, if you rant about how hard it is to get published or what scum publishing professionals are, it’ll come back to bite you. The agent who clicks on your blog link in your query will think you’re a negative and difficult person… not a positive business partner who will be a joy to work with.
  • Force it. Again, there are too many blogs online to try and add yours to the heap if you’re not committed. You’re better off not having one instead of doing a bad or unenthusiastic job.
  • Leave your blog hanging. Blogs are a huge time commitment and endlessly hungry little monsters. By the very virtue of a blog, your most recent post will be the first thing visitors see. If it’s from eight months ago, you’ll look outdated. If you can’t update at least once a week, you should think of a static website like the one I mentioned above.
  • Promote via Facebook. Use Facebook to get in touch with friends and fans and writing buddies. Don’t use your Facebook as a platform, just set up a simple profile and use it to connect.
  • Exist in isolation. When you’re staring to blog, reach out. Respond to comments on Twitter. Post comments on the blogs of people who comment on your blog. Read other blogs. You can’t expect the “social” part of social media to be a one way street. (Note, readers… I am a total hypocrite because I am too swamped to do this part… Forgiveness, please.)

This should at least get you thinking about how much social media you really need and how much to get involved in. It’s a slippery slope. Some people start and can’t stop, others start and can’t wait to stop, leaving their blog skeletons up for the whole world to see. Find your own style. Concerns of online platform are more pressing for non-fiction writers, so the pressure is less for fiction writers, but you should still have SOME kind of online face. We do look for one, even for fiction folks.

If your book is picked up by a publisher, they’ll expect you to do some online marketing. It’s better to have at least a small website and some presence than none at all.