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“You Oughta Write a Book!”

October 20, 2015

Many of the query letters I receive have this exclamation in it – meaning that friends and family who’ve heard the author’s personal journey punctuate their excitement and support by prodding the author to write about their experiences. On the surface it seems a great idea.


And yes, there’s always a “however.” It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of having people around you insist that your story is amazing enough take up residence on store shelves. But it may not be the reality, and it’s important that you know the difference.

The Friends and Family Bias

Your friends and family will love you even if you have spinach stuck in your front teeth, so they’re far from being unbiased. And that’s a good thing. You want to have good people surrounding you. However…agh, there’s that dreaded word again…they’re too close to you and not educated in the ways of all things publishy.

This is precisely why I receive an overabundance of addiction/cancer/midlife crisis/I-was-a-child-of-war queries. The author is pumped by their friends and family and they dig right in without realizing there is A LOT of ground to cover from, “Hey, you oughta write a book!” to actually being convinced you have a marketable story…and thy name is Research.


Competition: How many stories like yours are already on store shelves? If there are a gajillion cancer stories out there (and there are), then you need to know that. You need to be prepared if you’re writing in a crowded category, such as cancer, divorce, grieving, etc.

Why do you need to know? ‘Cos I’m gonna ask, for one. I want to know the three titles that compare most closely to your book – how they compare and contrast. Why? ‘Cos my sales and marketing teams are going to ask. Why? ‘Cos the genre buyers are going to ask. Whee! Dominoes.

READ: It’s not enough to look at store shelves to see how many other books like yours are in the marketplace; you gotta READ them. Why? ‘Cos you need to be able to speak to the unique elements of YOUR book. And this is where many queries/submissions fall down. I can tell whether an author has read her competition or not in the way she writes her query letter. She may use short examples to offer a frame of reference:

My Inverted Belly Button is reminiscent of the popular 2014 adventure Inverted Belly Button Blues, however my story is specifically geared to college students, who are much more sensitive to having an inverted belly button than the general public.”

This is helpful to me because I can quickly recognize an expansive and identifiable readership. This is a savvy author who understands the unique elements of their story compared to a popular book in the same category. This helps our sales and marketing teams a great deal.

Platform: Memoir/nonfiction is a tough nut, and authors need to have a platform in which to swim to the top. Ask yourself not how many people you know…but how many people know you? Are you the airline pilot who wrote about her cockpit experiences? Are you the mother of a desperately sick child who has done countless talks and seminars about this subject matter? Are you an expert in the topic you’ve written about to the point where media would call you for your input?

Platform wears many different faces, but I can tell you that authors who have a large footprint sell a lot of books. Those who sit on their hands either don’t get a good publishing contract, or they make their publishers very grouchy.

Writing Quality/Beta Readers: It sounds elementary, but it’s so often overlooked that it bears discussing. Your writing has to be solid, meaning an excellent command of the English language, artfully constructed, and engaging. Of course, writing style is subjective, so it’s tough to gauge. But this is where beta readers come in handy. These aren’t your friends and family (because they’ll never be honest), but instead, your writing group, or writing class. People who will be able to honestly tell you what did and didn’t work for them, and why.

Ask Yourself These Questions

  1. What is the message/what am I trying to say/impart? There are plenty memoirs that are simply a “I did this, then I did that,” and they sell very well. However, they’re usually written by famous people, and readers may not give a rat’s patootie whether there’s a message in there or not. I look for stories that not only have an amazing journey, but that the author comes through that journey transformed in some way. That creates depth.
  2. What are the unique elements of my story as compared to what’s already out there? If you can’t name them, then it’s possible you’re not saying anything new. If you’re not saying anything new, then it’s going to be difficult to market and promote the book.
  3. Who cares? We already know your friends and family care, but what about the reading public? They don’t know you, so what is it about your story that instantly makes readers care about it enough to plunk down their hard-earned cash? What are the Who Cares? factors of your story? Are you an airline pilot whose life became so immersed with being in the cockpit that your life hit the ground at 600 miles an hour? Are you a desperate mother looking for answers to her dying son, whose only comfort is in his unusual chicken? These are things that make me sit up and say, “Tell me more!”
  4. Is there enough red meat? I’ve run across many queries that would have made excellent magazine articles, but didn’t have enough gas to sustain a book. These might be stories of bizarre diseases or experiences – like rescuing a dog in the desert or being hit by a car, and there wasn’t enough going on in the author’s life to create a compelling book-length story. A story with red meat has many layers where the author is appreciably transformed. Is your story one-dimensional, or is there a lot of food for thought?
  5. Do I have a solid platform? This isn’t a case of “I’ll work on establishing my platform once I get a contract.” By that time, it’s too late. Establishing a platform takes oodles of time. Same for establishing yourself on social media.

As you can see, thar be lots to consider after some darling relative or friends yelps, “You oughta write a book!” The idea is to set yourself up for success, and that means having the ability to determine whether you really have a great story in your heart, or that your friends and family need to be committed.

Bookstore Signings: Method to the Madness

August 24, 2015

Bookstore signing events are often the stuff that propels authors with the desire to toss themselves under a bus. Being the author of two books, I grok that. And nowadays, book signings are an even scarier notion, given the changes within the publishing industry. But keep in mind, authors aren’t the only ones freaking out. Bookstore event planners are doing their fair share of doing the freak-out mambo.

The first thing bookstore event planners have to consider is whether the author will bring in an audience, because they are in the business of selling books. It’s how they keep the lights on. They want attendees to not only buy the author’s book, but stroll around and buy an armful of other books. In many cases, it’s a great way to pull in people who normally buy their books online and give them a chance to see how groovy (‘scuse my 70s moment) it is peruse the shelves and lose oneself among the huge and wonderful choices.

Knowing what flips up a bookstore event planner’s Victoria Secrets is half the battle in strategizing your promotion plan. But first, it’s important to know where the author fits in this bookstore signing game – and it all depends on how you’re published.

Mainstream Pubbed Authors

These authors enjoy national distribution. Their publishers have regional and national sales teams whose job it is to get books into stores. They do this at the corporate level with the large national accounts like BN, etc., while the regional sales teams frequent the bookstores in their territory, which includes the chain stores and the larger indie stores.

What this means to you, the author, is that your book is already in library and bookstore systems. If you waltz in and tell them your title, they’ll find your book, who distributes your book (for example, Consortium is our distributor, and I love them more than chocolate. Well…almost). They know they can easily order your book, and that it has all the standard discount percentages attached. If it’s BN, they can easily order from their own warehouse (if the buyer picked up your title), or they can contact the distributor to order the books.

Self Pubbed Authors

For the self pubbed author, getting a book signing could be harder because this group lacks the distribution support afforded by their commercially published brethren. This means that you’re not in the bookstores’ database, which makes ordering a PITA because your book isn’t in their warehouse. If you can convince them to host an event, be prepared to provide your own books…and they will dictate the percentage terms. This is why it’s important to have a large enough print run. It’s a good idea to offer them a copy to read.

Print On Demand Authors

Not sure how many of these are still around (thankfully), but your concerns will be the same as the self-pubbed author. In fact, it will be more difficult because books are only printed when there is a demand. These “publishers” don’t do print runs, so these unfortunate authors will have to buy their own books (at often lame “discounts” that do nothing but line the publisher’s pocket. Gee, Pricey, how do you really feel?).


Okay, let’s talk how you can appeal to a bookstore, the first of which is changing your perspective. This isn’t about what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. It’s much easier to talk to an event planner if you feel you have something concrete to offer them, rather than pleading with them to host you. “You want to host me because I’ve taken the necessary steps to encourage a good-sized audience.”

Book events are time consuming. Good bookstores take the time to promote and advertise upcoming book events. Indie bookstores can be little goldmines of support if they like you.They’re smaller and can turn on a dime much more easily than the large chains. One that comes to mind is Tattered Cover in Colorado. Love, love, love these guys. And because they’re so full of awesome, you want to provide them with a product that will enhance their business.

Customer Base/Audience

A store’s customer base should be your first consideration. You want to match the store’s customer base with your book. Obviously, a store whose customers tend to lean toward nonfiction won’t be a good fit for your  YA distopia. I’ve called up any number of bookstores for my authors over the years only to have them tell me their core customers focus on topics other than what I’m pushing. And yes, good bookstores know their customers’ reading tendencies.

How to Bring in an Audience

Bookstores want to be assured you’ll garner an audience. One of the best ways of making an event planner smile is if you can show them you’ve put out feelers to the local area. Back when I was promoting my writer’s book, I told the manager/event planner that I had a list of all the local writer groups in the area, and would contact them regarding my event. I always got the event, and enjoyed a good turnout.

When I was promoting my novel, I’d do the same thing, with the exception of telling the event planner that I planned on contacting the local nursing associations, docs, healthfood stores, and integrative practitioners (the book has a heavy theme of integrative medicine). Again, I always got the gig, and a good turnout.

Seminar? Short Talk?

How you choose to plan your event gives it a definite face, and bookstores capitalize on that in their promotion. “Come hear Authoress Fantabulous discuss her book PUTTING THE ZING BACK INTO YOUR ROMANCE, where she’ll focus in on the finer points of the whistling belly button trick and how it’ll put the romantic jam in your jelly donut.”

Some books are filled with great seminar material. Our upcoming title A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT by Erika Armstrong comes to mind, and I could easily see her putting together a seminar about filing a flight plan for daily living.

On the other hand, this is easily a great book for a short talk, and there are a myriad of topics she can pull from to discuss.

What it comes down to is the event planner. They will tell you what’s more appropriate for their particular store – a seminar or a short talk. But the fact that you are giving them options shows that you’re not a noob (someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know).

For example, with my writer’s book, I always did a seminar because it was easy to pull in aspiring writers who were eager to learn the ropes of the publishing industry and how to circumvent the waters. I always provided a seminar outline to the event planner to let them decide whether this was something they wanted.

For my novel, I chose to do a short talk instead because I felt the readership would rather hear about the characters, the storyline, and how integrative practices are playing a larger role in mainstream medicine. I wanted to be sure I was appealing to my target audience. But I was always careful to have a distinct point to my short talk other than just focusing on the book. I brought in elements that apply to our lives, something that appeals to everyone.

Simple Booksigning

What I really avoid, and recommend to all writers, is the simple booksigning. No talk, no seminar, no nothing other than signing a few books, smiling, and pretending you’re having a grand time. This is the least plausible way to engage with the customer because so many of them are working hard to avoid eye contact.

Is there anything worse than going into a bookstore and seeing some poor author sitting at a table, alone in the corner with a small stack of books and the poster and candy that only kids will come up and eat in handfuls, looking like he’d rather be watching paint dry? Many shoppers’ first instincts are to walk in the other direction because it’s all sad and forlorn. The writers are almost always unknown, so there’s nothing to pull the buyers into the table.

Obviously, I’m painting a worst-case scenario, because I’ve seen authors who are amazing at simple signings, and sell a ton of books. But they’re the exception to the rule, as I’ve seen the former play itself out far too often. If you want to do a simple signing, then you need to figure out how you’re going to attract people to your table without making them want to call the cops.

Day or Night of the Event

Bring. A. Pen. It’s one of those “duh” things, but I remember having a stack of customers who wanted me to autograph my writer’s book, and I had NO pen. What a ditz. I quickly borrowed one, but geez…a total
WTF moment.

Food! Bring plenty of goodies for everyone – including special treats for the staff. It’s a simple thing, but it’s often overlooked. It can be anything, but it’s something that will keep people at your table after your talk. For example, for our author’s first event, we get them a sheet cake with their book cover on it to pass out to shoppers. Book parties are a blast, because it’s invariably where you have the largest crowd, filled with friends and family, along with anyone you can drag off the street.

One of the things we’re starting is Hershey bar labels, like this:

candy bar front



candy bar back




Just wrap ’em around a Hershey bar, and voila…instant marketing tool, and way better than a bookmark.

The important thing is to bring something, especially for the staff. After all, they’re the ones who are in a position to recommend your book to their customers. Make ’em happy. Plus, it’s simply good karma.

Promote Your Competition: It may sound counterproductive, but stores love it. But, mind you, it’s not for every book. For example, when I was doing a seminar for my writer’s book, I’d have the store employees pull some of their favorite writer-type books and put them out on a table next to my book (in hopes of selling more books than just mine.) I figured there’s enough fabulosity to go around. Obviously, it depends on the kind of book you have and how you’ve planned your event.

In the end, it’s all about making a store deliriously happy they hosted an event for you, and you do that by having the perspective that you’re there to help their business, not the other way around.

Now, go out and be fabulous.

Having a Case of Self Pub Remorse?

January 13, 2015

There’s no shame if you’re raising your hand. Publishing is fecking hard work, and I have twelve years experience and a team of hundreds backing me up. I can imagine how delicously hard it is to be a team of one trying to get a book into the marketplace. Whom do you turn to? How do you promote? Feh.

Over the years, I’ve talked to many authors who have self pub remorse, and their comments are almost universal: “I never expected it to be this hard.”

Yah. It is hard. That isn’t to say sales can’t happen, but it’s time consuming if you expect to sell any books. And while you’ve learned to boatload throughout the self pub process, there’s nothing wrong with deciding to see if publishers would be willing to take over your load. Heck, even Amanda Hocking threw in the towel and signed a four-book deal with St. Martins…so you’re in excellent company.

HOWEVER, chances are you aren’t Amanda Hocking,who knew how to promote ’til the cows came home, so  there are some important things you oughta know about how editors view these queries on self pubbed books.

The Eight Ton Elephant in the Room

The first thought that comes to my mind is WHY? What are the reasons the author decided to stop going it alone. Sure, I can speculate, and I do, because my first thoughts focus on what I can do for the author’s book that the author hasn’t done on their own. It’s important that authors know the specific reasons for chucking in the self pub towel because they’ll then be able to define their expectations of a mainstream publisher.

To say, “Oy, I’m tired!” doesn’t help your cause. Write down the specifics of what made selling your book difficult. The list could look something like this:

  •  Marketing/Promotion – I have no real idea how to do this, and I’ve poured countless hours into the effort with no discernible sales.
  • Distribution – Well, I did it through Amazon, so they’re taking care of “distribution,” but I can’t get my books into the stores.
  • Editing, cover design, page/book layout – I feel overwhelmed and broke.

In other words, you spent hundreds or thousands, and the damn thing didn’t sell. Okay, I grok that. But more importantly, I look at the outside reasons why it didn’t sell.

The Query Letter

An author sent me a query letter the other day about her self pubbed book. I looked at the content, which was meh. It’s something I’ve seen a thousand times already – which could be one of the reasons it isn’t currently selling. So, her first fatal mistake is that the story didn’t sound compelling. It could be the case of it being a truly dull story, or it could be the author didn’t know how to write a mouth-watery synopsis. Strike one.

The letter went on to tell me how well received her book was and the huge sales it enjoyed. Hmm. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to smell a rat. If the book is selling so well, then why is she querying me?

Sales History

First thing I did is check Bookscan. Admittedly, Bookscan is far from reliable, because not every store reports their sales to them. Nor does it include Amazon sales. But it does give me a general indication of the sales. In this case, the Bookscan numbers were a grand total of 2 units sold.

Then I checked Amazon, where I noticed the title was ranked at 8 million and only had a couple reviews. Now I’m trying to reconcile this against her claims of “well received” and “huge sales.” The book had barely been out a year. So there’s an obvious disconnect between what her query letter says and what I’m seeing. I mean, it’s possible there was much gushing, and maybe she sold lots of books at talks and such, but I’m just not seeing it, nor did she make any reference to that possibility. Strike Two.


But I took one last chance at finding her platform. This could tell me how she promoted her book. A quick google of her name showed diddly squat. Put that together with the low sales and few reviews, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t an active author, and she’s looking to me to take over where she’s been exquisitely challenged.

But here’s the rub; taking on a book that’s already been published is a big responsibility on my part because the book isn’t new. There has to be something that tells me this book will sell well. If the author doesn’t provide it, then what conclusions can I draw from what I see? Strike Three…she was out.

If you’re looking to try to get your book with a mainstream publisher, then help yourself out by thinking like an editor. With all the queries on unpublished works that editors receive, why would an editor choose yours? Being able to defend you and your published work will help bridge the gap and possibly elicit a sale.

However, all that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the chances of a publisher being interested in your already-self-pubbed book is extremely low. Most self-pubbed authors I know start fresh and go to publishers with a brand new book. It may be the publisher will pick up your self-pubbed book, but that book must have something to offer them in terms of marketability.

Your bestest friend is the practice of putting yourself in an editor’s Sorels (I woulda said Manolo Blahniks, but I’m squatting on 7″ of snow). If you can look at your query from an editor’s perspective, it may help you decide whether you’re better off making a clean break by writing a new book, or whether your self pubbed book is really something that would make a mainstream publisher jump on top of her barstool and offer free drinks for everyone.


Feel the Urge to Spam? Don’t…Just Don’t

September 24, 2014


I hate Spam. No, I’m not talking about the mystery meat that comes in a can -which I hate as well. Doesn’t everyone? Well, except maybe the Hawaiians…and my mom, who tried to pass it off as ham back when I was a wee bairn. We weren’t fooled, and rebelled mightily. Nice try, Mom.

No, the Spam I’m talking about is the annoying drek that authors send to my BUSINESS ACCOUNT (for godsakes!) that announces their new books, their accomplishments/cries for support, blah, blah, blah. Makes me want to hurk in my Cheerios.

On any given day, my email account is filled with hundreds of emails, and every one of them gets read. Imagine getting piece upon piece of unwanted announcements about how you completed your cancer walk in the name of your new book, and may I count on your support? Wha’? I’m an editor, for cryin’ out loud. Long hours do not equal big pay. Only causes I’m currently supporting are those that keep the Rescue Beagles in designer doggeh chewies.

Other announcements are the typical “My book got published! Go buy! Go read!” They are invariably from authors whose manuscripts I rejected, and they feel the need/desire to rub my nose in it. Bully for them. No, really, I’m thrilled for anyone who realizes their dreams. I just don’t need to know about it because…well…um…I don’t care. I know that sounds harsh, but come on…editors and agents reject thousands of manuscripts a year. Can you imagine if even a third of those authors decide to spam everyone who rejected them? That’s a lot of crap mail clogging up a lot of email accounts.

I can assure these people of one thing: I will NEVER read their books or take them seriously again. Oh, I know…you’re thinking, “Come on, Pricey, the authors don’t care at this point. They got published, so really, they don’t care if they piss you off because they don’t need you anymore.” True. But burning bridges is a dangerous game.

Case in point: I rejected a manuscript after reading the full, which means I’d had a bit of back and forth conversation with the author. Ultimately, I decided he project wasn’t right for us and wished them the best of everything. A few months later, I got a spammy in my inbox announcing the publication of that book. Wow, that was fast, methinks. I ignored it and deleted it – mildly annoyed. About a week later, another spammy from the same author dumped into my inbox, gushing about how wonderful her publisher is, and come join her at a book event. Getting steamy at this point. A third one suggested I support her cause célèbre, which she’d written about in her book. Officially pissed off.

I emailed her and asked her to please remove me from her distribution list. She fired back something about “Oh, I’m not good enough for you, huh? Well, you’ll be sorry you didn’t publish my book when it hits the NY Times bestseller list!” If I had a dime for every time an author has spat that in my face, I’d own Europe.

About a year later, she wrote this gushy email about how mahvelous Behler is, what mahvelous books we publish, blah, blah, blah…I hardly need convincing; you’re singing to the choir, babe…and would I mind taking a look at her book? Yes, it was pubbed a year ago, but she’s grown disillusioned with her publisher and received her rights, and is now shopping around.

I remembered this little tart as my spammer with anger issues, and told her I’d rather someone stuff my Vickie Secrets with hot jellybeans and molasses than ever entertain a publishing relationship with a serial spammer. Okay, I didn’t really say that, but I did let her know that not only did I remember her, but I wasn’t in a forgiving mood.

Burned bridges are never a good idea because you never know when you’ll need that person at a later date. What feels like rainbows now may be a dog’s smelly behind in the future.

The lesson here is that publishing a book is a big deal. A BIG DEAL. You want to scream from the mountain tops about your lovely new baby. But there are effective ways to promote and ineffective ways. Spamming may be quick, down, and dirty, but it’s also a major pisser to the receiver. If you’re tempted to spam those who rejected you – you do so at your peril. Those rejecting agents and editors don’t care. Your rejection wasn’t personal, it was business. Don’t be tempted to slap someone’s face because your writing wasn’t their cuppa tea.

Instead, put up a blog post about your accomplishments. Shout it out on your Facebook page and Twitter. Create a newsletter and only send to those who sign up. But leave my email addy alone. Please. Otherwise, I’ll have to send out the Rescue Beagles after you – and they’re murder on tires and new shoes.

Making the Most of Your Book Event

March 27, 2014


Book events are enough to give the heartiest of writers the heebie jeebies, and it’s because few know the mixin’s of a successful event, so I thought I’d share some of the foolproof goodies.

But before I get into that, it’s vital to decide whether you can pull off a book signing. This isn’t a case of “If you schedule it, they will come.” This is about showcasing you and your book, so an event will only be successful if a lot of people know you, or you have a compelling reason for people to attend. For example, when I wrote The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box, I alerted writers groups in the cities where I was planning a book event. I sent out a TIP sheet that talked about the book, and what I’d be talking about at the event. I never had an audience under 50 people.

In another example, my bud, Annette Dashofy – author of the wonderful CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE – knows everyone in Pittsburgh. Or it just seems that way…and they all came to her author event at Mystery Lover’s Bookshop. We were crammed in like little sardines, and we had a blast. Since so many people know her – and adore her – they were eager to come support her on her big day. Predictably, the store sold out, and Annette had to fork over two cartons of her own stash. Huzzah!

Now, you could be like my friend Jim Misko, who is the most outgoing, I-love-ya-man author I’ve ever seen. He goes into Costco and sells a ton of books to total strangers because he’s just so damned friendly and fun to hang around.

Wherever you fit, you need to plan your book event thoughtfully.

  • Be a big mouth. I’ve gone to book events where 3 people showed up. It’s painful and depressing.  They won’t come if they don’t know about it.
  • Give ’em a compelling reason for coming to your signing. Whether they’ll learn how to cure cancer or make really good homemade wine, capturing someone’s imagination is a powerful tool. When I did events for my novel, DONOVAN’S PARADIGM, I tossed out the whole, “Have you ever considered if your doctor’s belief system can impact the way he/she treats you?” Hmm.
  • Read from your book. You want to give the audience a sense of your story, but keep it short and sweet. Audiences can doze off fairly fast, so choose a scene that sparks controversy or demonstrates an emotional impact—this gets the audience slobbery for more. Be sure to set up the scene.
  • Talk about how you came to write the book. It’s fun to hear the “story behind the story.” Was there a particular person or incident that inspired your book?
  • Do a Q&A. I know this can be scary…”What if no one asks a question?” Pah, don’t worry about it. Mix this in when you’re talking about how you came to write your story. And be sure to repeat the question before you answer it. Not everyone will hear it, so repeating it is good manners.
  • Figure out how and when to end the Q&A. It sounds simple, but this can go on for too long, and you won’t have time to sign books. Most events last about 2 hours, so plan accordingly. Decide who’ll be the bad guy – you or the bookstore.
  • Always thank the bookstore! They worked hard on your event, setting up chairs, advertising, ordering books, so be sure to thank them in front of your audience. And bring them something yummy. Back when I was doing personal book events, I always brought goodies for the bookstore workers – cookies or cupcakes. They loved it.
  • Bring food and drinks for your audience. Food is a great ice-breaker. People attending your event may not know each other, but munching on a few pretzels or cookies, while sipping a pouty white wine or mineral water relaxes your audience. For example, I always do a book cover cake for our authors’ first book events. If you enlist some good buds to cut up the cake and pass plates out while you’re busy signing books, your audience will stick around…and invariably buy more books, which makes the bookstore love you.
  • Bring extra books. This is key. If you have a big turnout, you’ll sell out because attendees tend to buy more than one book to give as gifts and such. If you have an extra box or two of books in your trunk, you’ll satisfy all your readers and make the bookstore very happy. WARNING: It’s common for bookstores to order around 30 books because they don’t want to have any extra stock that they may have to return. Be a good Girl Scout and be prepared!
  • Relax, breathe, and have fun. Book signings can be a lot of fun if you’re prepared.

How ’bout you book signing event veterans? Do you have anything to add to the list?

Online Presence: Now Is Too-Late Thirty

November 22, 2013

late clockI hate being late. I think it’s a leftover from my childhood when Mom kept insisting I had plenty of time before school. The clocks were wrong, and I was late for school one morning, which nearly made my intestines invert because my first grade teacher was a beast who loved to scream. It didn’t stop there. My brothers were slaggers when it came time for going to church, so I’d always arrive late to Sunday school. There I was, tromping through the door, all eyes scooped up and staried at me as the teacher brought out paper and crayons so I could catch up and draw my own version of Baby Jesus – which always looked more like Elvis riding bareback on a camel.

Every Sunday, as Dad broke all the laws of physics by getting us to church in 5.5 seconds on what in the real world would take 15 minutes, I would sit back in the car plotting my brothers’ painful demise while thinking, “Here we go again, it’s Too-Late Thirty.”

So I’ll readily admit that I have some issues with being late, which means that I recognize it as easily as the Rescue Beagles recognize a fresh margarita at 50 paces.

I see Too-Late Thirty in a lot of query letters and book proposals when they discuss promotion plans, and it sends chills up my spine – and not in a good way. It usually starts like this:

“Once my book is published, I’ll start a blog/Twitter/Facebook page to promote my book.”

No, no, no, no, a gabajillion times no. It’s too late. The prevailing thought is, “If I put up a FB page, Tweet, blog, they will come.” No. They. Won’t. You have to work your Times New Roman off to attract a readership, and it takes a lot of time. The time to be thinking about your online presence as a promotional tool is before your book even sells to a publisher. Preferably while you’re still writing your book. Yah, it takes that long.

And let’s face it, the internet is a huge behemoth that contains gynormous amounts of information, so not only do you need to establish your online presence in plenty of time, but you have to figure out “Who Am I?”


You wrote your book with a particular intent, and your online presence is no different. The most popular blogs have a message/tone/intent. They’re consistent in the kind of content they put out.

Humor: Humor is always a great way to capture an audience. Don’t be afraid to use it. The more you make people chuckle over their morning cuppa, the more they’ll look forward to reading your posts. And when your book does come out, your readers will rush to support you. Cha-ching!

Don’t Clash: When I was 10, Mom told me I couldn’t wear my plaid skirt with a polka dot blouse because they didn’t go together. I thought she was daft. As I’ve grown up (ostensibly), Mom can still run circles around me when it comes to knowing fashion. It’s the same with your blog/FB/Tweets. If your writing style of your book is vastly different to your blog/Tweets/FB page, then you’re creating a disconnect. Of course, I’m talking in generalities.

Boring: An author I met awhile back has a brilliant book – it hits all the emotional highs with a delicious balance of humor and throat-grabby “holy crap” moments. His blog is about the most boring thing I’ve ever seen because all he ever does is talk about statistics and quoting other articles. Predictably, his blog has icicles on its little nose because he’s regurgitating boring stuff. He’s not sharing his own amazing story. I told him if he talked about his personal experiences, he’d have something to work with. Equally predictably, his sales are quite low.

Self-effacing: Is there anything more attractive than someone who’s not afraid to poke fun at their sillier moments? Let’s face it, we all have them, right? What you’re accomplishing by being self-effacing is that you’re showing your human side and allowing your readers to say, “Oh yeah, totally been there, done that.”

Create a Community Feel

There’s nothing more attractive than blogs that say, “Hey, you’re not alone.” Regardless of the tone/theme – be it writing woes, dependence, health issues, slogging through school, or romance – there are a lot of other people who’ve traveled the same road. Include your readers and ask them to share their experiences. For instance, there’s a great Facebook page called “I Love Beagles,” and it’s wildly popular because beagle lovers (not known for being particularly normal) love sharing their stories about this insane breed.

What elements of your book can create a community feel? The idea is to present material that has your readers itching to leave a comment. This means they’re engaged. Engaged = good.

Branching Out/Capturing Attention

Now that you’ve figured out how you want to project your online presence, you’re wondering how to get readers. Easiest way is to google other blogs that compare to yours. Get active on those blogs by giving thoughtful comments. People will link on your name and see your blog – and will mosey on over to see what you have to say. Now you see why this all takes time.

Also, be sure to use tags and do the rss feed thingy. When people google, your blog may show up.

The long and short of this is, if you’re going to go to the trouble of establishing an online presence (and I think it’s a good idea), then it makes sense to do it right, and do it early. Too-Late Thirty puts you constantly behind, and you’re forever playing catch-up…and your book won’t wait. In short, have fun with your online presence. Be you.

The Great Procrastination Escapade: Establishing Yourself

July 11, 2013


My last blog post talked about making sure that you present a united front between you and your book – meaning that your platform and promo plan is consistent with the content of your book. It’s hard to make lemonade with a book about the joys of gardening if the author’s platform is that of a blood researcher, and his promo plan is to give talks to his co-workers at the hospital.

If that isn’t hard enough, I run into many cases where authors wait too long to establish their platform in the belief they can work on that after they secure a book deal. So instead of seeing a book proposal that says, “I have done/am doing…”, I see “I’m gonna…”

Après le Book Deal – Coming From Behind

First thing I gotta ask is, what’s holding you back? It takes a long time to establish a platform. If you wait for that book deal to get cracking, your book will be out long before you barely hit your stride. And the terrain is completely different because you’re constantly playing catch up. The book is out and needs to sell, yet you’re not known by many people, so everyone has to work a lot harder to propel your book out there.

The pressure is on, and you’re worried about making sales. It’s forced. What’s worse is that you’re may be facing a lot of rejection from those whom you’d hoped would interview you, book you for a speaking gig, accept your magazine article, or host your book signing. That’s a lot of pressure, and it’s all because you’re coming from behind.

Avant le Book Deal

#1 thing I see in query letters and book proposals: “I’m going to start a blog, get a FB page, start tweeting.”

Why haven’t you started working on establishing yourself before going for the book deal? If you planned on having a blog, then why didn’t you establish it eons ago? I know of a number of authors who got nice book deals based on the fact that their long-standing blogs were wildly popular. Editors knew these folks had a built-in target audience.

One blog that comes to mind is The Underwear Drawer. I’ve been reading Michele Au’s blog for years because I adore all things medical (and I write medical fiction). I used to look forward to her ScutMonkey comics, which were based when she was a resident. I used to scream with laughter at her unique analysis of residency and all the scut jobs doctors and nurses foisted upon her. Michele’s blog became insanely popular, so it was no surprise when she announced her book deal for THIS WON’T HURT A BIT.

I can’t help but wonder if Michelle would have been as attractive a target to her publisher had she not had a very well-established, active blog. After all, there are a ton of doctor memoirs already crowding the marketplace.

So you see that I’m gonna means nothing because It. Takes. Time. Lots and lots of time to become established.

Don’t wait for that book deal to begin establishing yourself because you’re already too late.

Thoughtful Planning

Let’s get back to my make-believe knitting friend from my previous blog post. She’s written a manuscript about how knitting is a great stress buster, so let’s consider how can she establish a platform.

Let’s say she works in a bank and decides that her fellow workmates would love to hear her talk about knitting as a great stress reliever because she knows banking is stressful. I went through college working as a teller, and it was long hours, crap pay, angry grumpy patrons…but I digress.

So she’s trying to create a target audience with her fellow workmates – possibly a tough road to hoe. But let’s say her little talk to her workmates is a rousing success because she, surprisingly enough, discovered she’s a hambone and loves talking to audiences. She’s put together a thoughtful and entertaining talk that engages both men and women…who all believed they have ten thumbs.

Let’s say she’s so successful that she ends up traveling to other bank branches after hours and teaches a rousing class that she’s titled Smokin’ Hot Knitting Needles. Let’s say word travels (as it usually does), and other groups begin asking if she’d talk to their groups. Over time, this knitter realizes she’s establishing herself among a larger populace of people. And the more talks she gives, the larger her audiences becomes, and the more groups want her to speak to their members as well, until one day, a corporation asks her to give a talk. Word spreads and other corporations want her to come speak as well. Maybe the local newspaper is intrigued and does an article on her in their Local section. And the speaking offers keep coming in.

Guess what? Now she has a platform. Now she has bragging rights that back up the premise of her book – that knitting is a stress buster. Now she has defined her audience (which is basically anyone who lives with stress) and has the ability to reach them. This is what excites editors, their sales teams, and corporate genre book buyers. This is what results in book deals and nice sales.

Don’t Rush the Process

This the one thought I wish authors would tattoo on their foreheads: You’ve worked so hard on your manuscript, doesn’t it make sense to give it and you the very best chances possible?

I realize that rushing the process normally comes from lack of knowledge about the industry, and this is why it’s so important that authors research the biz before they take their first step. The breathless gasp of “I had no idea it would be this hard,” is something I hear all the time. Believe me, it’s so much easier to book an event or interview with an author who has established their platform.

I have an acquaintance who wrote a wonderful manuscript. It’s very unique and caught my attention immediately because I could see women loving this book. But she has zero platform, so I knew that no matter how lovely her book is, it probably wouldn’t sell well because the subject matter is a bit quirky. Luckily, she’s working with a marketing/branding expert who is helping the author focus on establishing her platform, even though the manuscript is complete and ready to query out. Smart, smart, smart. Because of this specialized focus, she’ll be a much more attractive target for agents and editors, thus giving sales teams a lot more meat to work with.

Publishing isn’t a matter of “if you write it, they will come.” They won’t. You won’t even be a blip on a anyone’s radar screen. A lack of platform and thoughtful promo plan is the #1 complaint I hear from authors who self-publish. They had no idea how hard it would be, and they become defeated within a few months of their books coming out. Avoid this. If you value yourself and your writing, don’t be in a rush to get a book out to market before you’re ready to properly promote it. That is what helps get you a solid book deal and sales.

Now go out and rock the world.


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