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?”

Intent/Message/Tone

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

procrastination

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.


Hey, nonfiction-ers, do you write in a crowded category?

December 21, 2011

This morning’s queries brought forth a story about cancer. I know the story is vitally important to the author, and I honor her for that, but I have no choice but to reject it because cancer has been done over and over and over. I’m not sure if the author realizes this or not because with memoir, many people have an experience and go no further than their laptop to bang out their story. They don’t know anything about trolling their competition.

Because this happens so often, I thought I’d share how editors look at stories written in crowded categories such as cancer, mid-life crisis, addiction, divorce, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s.

Since there are a gajillion books already written on these subjects, there is very little “new” under the sun. Authors should realize this because they need to tailor their query letter to win us over, to convince us their stories are unique.

When I say unique, I don’t mean, “Well of course my story is unique because the circumstances are different and the characters are different.” What I mean by unique is that the storyline/plot is unique from what’s currently on the shelves.

Do Da Research

Anyone writing a book should know their competition. You should choose at least three titles and be able to speak about how your book compares and contrasts to the competition. Not only do we use this information for promotion purposes, but we use it during our submission committee meetings. I heart authors who include this info in their queries. A lot.

Once you’ve analyzed your competition, you should be able to address your book’s unique qualities, what makes it stand out from all the others.

Confront the 500 pound gorilla

The next thing I suggest is to get it out there in your query letter. You and I know your story is in an overcrowded category, so address it. Kate McLaughlin, author of Mommy I’m Still In Here, did this, and she immediately won me over because she knew what I was thinking. Bipolar disorder is an extremely crowded topic, but Kate blew my doors off by acknowledging this fact and telling me the unique elements of her book.

I was hooked because it was/is a fantastic book, and I could see she understood the publishing industry and appreciated the dilemma of selling a book on this topic. Because we all knew the unique and uplifting message of Mommy I’m Still In Here, this book remains a bible for families and friends of those with bipolar disorder.

Platform – Who knows you, baby?

I know authors hate this word, but it’s the way of the world, so we may as well acknowledge it and appreciate it. Having a platform is the difference between rejection and a contract offer.

For example, I’d been considering a manuscript for a couple months. The writing was fantastic, but the story is written in a crowded category. I shared my concerns about the author’s lack of platform, and she wrote up several promo plans in hopes they would convince me that the story had legs. Alas, I finally had to turn her down. It hurt. If only the author was advocate for her subject matter and involved in foundations that deal with this topic, her book would have flown off the shelves.

As it stood, I knew our sales and marketing guys would have tossed a loaded brick at me if I’d come to them with this book because the first thing buyers are asking is, “What’s the author’s platform? What are they doing to promote the book?” The author has no affiliation with her subject matter other than her personal experience, so she had zero name recognition. That’s a death knell for a publisher – regardless of who that publisher is. I have colleagues with the Big Boys who have suffered from authors’ lack of platform.

Just because an author is with a Big Boy publisher doesn’t mean anything other than they may get more copies more widely distributed, but it doesn’t guarantee sales. If you write in a crowded category, then you need to work on your platform so you have name recognition. So many authors are dependent on social media, and I’m still wary about this dependence because social media is as crowded as the bookstores. It’s hard to swim to the top.

Consider your readership and become involved in foundations or groups where your book’s subject matter takes place. The more people know you, the bigger target you become – and we all lurve big targets.

In short, the world of literature is crowded, and there are certain topics that enjoy a huge number of titles. If your book is in one of those categories, then take some vital steps to ensure your success. Being an author these days puts you in a much more visible position by the merits of promotion. Take an unbiased look at your book and ask yourself what makes your book a gotta-have-it, and what those unique qualities are.


Platform – to have or have not?

July 29, 2010

Melissa asked a good question on a previous post that I felt needed a revisit. It’s about platforms. No, not those goofy shoes that the beagle insists makes her legs look longer, but author platforms:

One of things I heard at the conference was the importance of a platform/established audience, even for fiction. When I mentioned that on a writers’ forum after the conference, they said I was nuts. :-) I realize you do little fiction, but what’s your opinion?

Opinions on the need for a platform vary depending on who you talk to. Unless the writers forum is made up of agents and editors, their advice may be ill-informed. I’ve even heard established writers poo-poo the platform notion. Easy words for the already-established. But for the debut author who lacks an established readership, the reality train is more likely to slap them upside the head.

Agents and editors agree that a bigger footprint sells books. Plain and simple. Publishing has changed over the years. With the plethora of books from vanity presses and POD presses, authors are finding it harder for their particular cream to rise to the top. That’s why agents and editors have gotten so choosy over the years.

In this media-driven society, the obscure writer has a harder time getting noticed.   Hello, Mr. Platform.

Nonfiction

It’s common knowledge that nonfiction authors really need to have a platform because it’s what makes readers decide that your book is worthy. If, for example, you write about bipolar disorder or divorce, you need to be an informed source. An expert. It’s important that to convince potential readers that you are the best person to have written the book because the first thing that enters their mind is, “why should I believe you?”

Your platform speaks volumes.

If you sit at home collecting chocolate bar wrappers and get the bright idea to write about the mating cycle of yaks on crack, agents and editors won’t take you  seriously because we know you’re not an expert. You aren’t a reliable source, and we know readers editors will run in the opposite direction.

Fiction

It’s hard to have a platform for a novel because, well, it’s a made-up world. How does one create a platform when one writes romance or SF – and one is a debut author without an established readership? It’s great to get the book on the shelf, but it’s gotta sell or they come right on back to the publisher. And that fact is across the board – from the big guys to the little spuds.

This is where the smart author considers how to create a bigger footprint, via their platform. I covered this is a post I wrote a while ago – two surfer dudes.

Life is easier for those who write what they know – the detective who write cop books, the doc who write medical fiction, etc. – because their platforms make their stories unimpeachable because they wrote what they know. They are an expert – just like the nonfiction writer.

Regardless of what you write, look at it this way; if I have two books I love and one author has a great platform and the other doesn’t, whom do you think I’m going to offer a contract to?

This is no longer a world of recluse authors. Publishing has evolved into a world where we’re selling not only the book, but the author as well. “What is the author’s platform,  what are they doing to promote the book?” are the first questions genre buyers ask. You can either stick your fingers  in your ears and scream, “lalalalala” or you can embrace the realities of publishing and make yourself a bigger target.

And really,  is there anything sweeter than an author with a big fat bull’s eye painted on their forehead?


Sold!…or oversold

May 4, 2010

I know I’ve written about this before a while back, but it bears repeating: DO NOT OVERSELL YOURSELF. You only make yourself look foolish.

If you don’t have a platform, admit it.

If you tell me that you give lectures all over the world, then I will expect to see a whoppin’ internet presence that backs that up. If I google you and see absolutely nothing other than your brand new website and equally pristine blog, then my little radar starts pinging because most speakers have active websites with a list of where they’ve spoken and their upcoming schedule.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, one cannot break wind anymore without someone reporting it on the internet, so it’s natural to assume your national and international lectures will leave some sort of internet footprint.

And this lack of an internet presence will make me suspicious about your claims that you’ll have “huge” back-of-the-room sales.

Just because you’re not some Hollywood hooha who had a ghostwriter bang out a new kid book or sloppy, indulgent memoir doesn’t mean that you don’t have a worthwhile project, so don’t go to the lengths of trying to blow smoke up my Vickie Secrets. I’m gonna check you out so, one way or ‘nuther, your cover will be blown. And won’t you feel quite the ninny?

If your subject is good, has a compelling plot, and a definable audience, then sell yourself on those merits. ‘Cos if an editor signs you, you’re going to have that day of reckoning. Trust me – you do not want to make your editor angry. Ve haf vays off making you bleed…


“I have a blog”

March 15, 2010

The past couple of weeks have been a bit frustrating for me in terms of what authors consider a platform and how they intend on using that platform for book promotion. Most of them have said:

I have a blog

Oh. I’m underwhelmed.

So what is a platform?

A platform is a term you’ll hear a lot in our industry. A platform is the vehicle that propels you to the forefront – how people know you. For instance, the ever-adorable and achingly charming Adam Eisenberg is a judge. Lotsa people know him. His book, A Different Shade of Blue – is about the first women in cops and their evolution within the Force. His platform is that he’s a judge – it’s how people know him – and his day job is a perfect shoe-in for promoting his book. He’s an officer of the court and rubs elbows with….cops! Because of his platform, he shows his handsome face all over.

The Horse or cart?

A blog, on the other hand, is not a platform. For most, it’s a hobby. Unless you are known because of your blog, like Jane Smith, who attracts all kinds of hits and adoring fans, you’re whistling in the wind. Her upcoming book deal is due to the popularity of her blog and her sage advice.

In Jane’s case, this is the horse pulling the cart [I’m not calling you a horse, Jane dear, so put your missile launcher away]. An author who thinks they’ll become known starting a brand new blog has an uphill battle. That is the cart pulling the horse.

Time factor

For starters, blogs take a long time to become well-known and gain an audience. Popular author blogs are a hit because the author is already known. But how does one who isn’t a blip on anyone’s radar create a blog readership that impacts sales, demand, and popularity? In a word, they don’t. Not usually.

When your book comes out, that first year is make or break time. This is when the book will either catch fire and burn on its own inertia, or die a slow, withering death. A blog takes years to capture attention – provided it does at all. By the time you’ve gained a small readership, the book is no longer new.

Blog content

If you want to do a blog, think about content. What do you have to say? Some blogs are naturals. Kate McLauglin wrote an incredible book about her children’s bipolar disorder. Mommy I’m Still in Here is a unique, amazing journey of a family in crisis. Her blog is an extension of her book. She offers advice on how to cope, how to keep the family together, how to stop playing the blame game, etc. It makes perfect sense for her to have a blog because this is an issue near and dear to her heart, and the hearts of millions of bipolar families and sufferers.

The blog was a natural extension of her book. Horse pulling cart. This is a blog filled with resources and advice. Her content relates to her book. But at no time did she ever try telling me a blog was part of her promotion plan.

What about your blog? Do you have enough material to keep your blog germane to your book? Is the topic big enough? Most author’s blogs I view run out of steam because you simply can’t talk about your novel day in and day out. If it’s fun and gives you pleasure, go for it. But don’t believe that it will propel you to a bestseller’s list.

The time to do this is ages before you start the query process. If I see that you have huge comment numbers, then I’ll believe your established internet presence is part of your platform.

Keep the blog bit to yourself

In a word, blogs aren’t a platform, they aren’t promotion in the way that I think about promotion, so don’t make that part of your book proposal. If you do, this is where you can insert <editor yawn here>.


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