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Author Paul Dorset’s “How to build a brand on Twitter for FREE!”

I have a feeling I would like Paul Dorset, were we to meet. Well organized, typo-free, and to the point, Dorset writes prolifically, and not just books. His blog Utterances of an Overcrowded Mind offers concise, valuable  posts about the craft of writing, yet for all his laser-focus, the banner image for his headline is a complete departure: a darling child, likely his daughter, next to a Christmas tree. Whimsical, warm, and poignant–and nothing at all to do with his niche. Works for me.

I follow Paul on Twitter (@jcx27), where he appears as a Twitter junkie, posting roughly 50-60 tweets–about writing–PER DAY. Is he feverishly tweeting the hours away on his iPhone, to the consternation of the little girl in the picture? Before any of us forcefully disarm his Twitter app,  he posted about his method on his blog, to help writers build their own brand in the Twitterverse. The following are excerpts from Dorset’s post:

1. Where do I get my material from?

If you’re like most people, there is only so much relevant content you can make up for yourself on a daily basis. This means you’re going to need to get more material from somewhere else. But where? The Internet of course. I use Google alerts. Go to http://google.com/alerts and try setting some up. Use the Alert information that is emailed to you for writing Tweets. Another place is your favorite RSS feeds. You probably read this stuff already so use it and re-tweet it.

2. How often should I tweet?

There are millions and millions of Twitter users on the Internet. Unless you have millions of followers, the chances that a lot of people will see all your tweets and click on links are very small. But don’t be despondent, this can
work to your advantage as well.

I have over 50,000 followers on Twitter. What do you think the chances of everyone reading and actioning any single tweet I make are? Actually, the number is very small. Twitter is a bit like a fire hose, you spray water everywhere; it’s not a direct pressure jet of water that is directed specifically at something. What does it mean? Well, actually it means that if I tweet one thing at 8am and then a very similar thing at 9am, there’s a good chance that the tweet will be seen by different people. But, if I only have 10 followers, then they will all most likely see both of my tweets. So, follower numbers are important as a ratio to tweet frequency too.

As a general ratio, for every 10,000 followers you have you can tweet the same
thing one time per day. So in my case, I can safely send the same tweet out 5
times a day without worry that people will notice I’m spamming them. But you have to intersperse your tweets with other tweets so that anyone looking through your timeline doesn’t see the repeated pattern. A reasonable timeline that anyone looking back through will be about 20 tweets or so. This means that if I am to repeat a tweet 5 times a day, and I need to create 20 tweets between each repeat, then I should be tweeting about 100 times a day! Now that’s a lot more than I currently tweet. In fact I guess I send out around 50-60 tweets a day. This means I shouldn’t repeat the same tweet more than twice a day.

But the question still remains, how often should I tweet? The simple answer is
that the more followers you have and the more you want to build a brand, the
more you should tweet – up to a limit of about 6 tweets an hour (above that and
it will be impossible to follow you). Tweeting 50 times a day (for me) is a lot of tweeting so I have automated much of the process.

3. How can I automate my Tweets?

There are two tools I want to introduce: Twitterfeed and Twaitter. They differ slightly and they both serve different purposes.

Twitterfeed

In the first step I wrote about building alerts and having them delivered as emails. Well, now it’s time to change those emails to RSS feeds so that you
make better use of them. If you go to http://google.com/alerts
and edit one of your alerts, you can select ‘Feed’ in the edit box. Save this
and then you should see a little RSS button next to the alert. By right-clicking on the RSS feed you can copy its feed address. Do this! Next, go to Twitterfeed.com and set up an account there if you don’t already have one. Create a new feed and then follow the prompts, pasting in the RSS feed address when appropriate (use the advanced settings to determine how often to update Twitter – every 30 mins or so). Then finish off the process and you are now automatically posting new alerts into your Twitter feed (you may need to wait up to an hour for the first feed to kick in). So, onto automating your own Tweets.

Twaitter

Twaitter is a free product that allows you to schedule your own tweets (up to 10 an hour) on a single or recurring basis. The process is very easy so I’m not going to go into details.

Put all your best blog posts on Twaitter. When you’ve built up 30 or 50 blog posts, I’m sure you’ll have a handful of favorites that you’d like others to read again. Post the links in Twaitter and schedule them (recurring). (Note: Link your blog to Twitterfeed to post all freshly published posts. Keep in mind, if you have a WordPress blog like me, there is a built-in tool which does this automatically, after each new post. -RL)

With the combination on Google Alerts, Twitterfeed and Twaitter, you can have
most of your tweeting automated and your branding well underway.

If you’ve followed along and actioned all the steps so far, you should now be
sending 30+ automated tweets every day to your Twitter feed. Now all you need
to do is a little gardening!

With the increased flow of tweets you’re going to get more replies from people.
Be prepared to answer them! You’re also going to have to carefully monitor the
traffic that’s flowing to your blog. This is the only way to understand which
of your tweets are working and which are not. Hopefully you have analytics on
your blog and you can see just how many hits you are getting. What time of day do you not get any visitors? When do you get peak traffic? Rearrange tweets to try and smooth things out a little.

Oh, and use exciting headlines for your tweets. There’s a lot more chance of people clicking on them that way. Words like ‘FREE’, ‘advice’, ‘help’, ‘dummies’, etc. will all drive traffic to you. Put yourself in the head of the reader. Which headline would make them want to click your tweet? If I had called this series ‘Building brands on Twitter‘ it wouldn’t have had as much reader power as ‘How to build a brand on Twitter for FREE!

It’s not an overnight process. Get the ball rolling, and refine your process to suit your material and unique audience. Do you currently automate? Do you have any advice culled from your experience?

Comment below or tweet me @RebeccaLacko

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Guest posts

Upcoming Book Release? 5 Things Writers Should Do

Author Inara Scott sold her novel, Delcroix Academy: The Candidates, in October 2007. The book wasn’t released until August 2010. “This, you might think, would be ample time to plan my promotion activities,” she says. “In fact, I still missed the boat on a couple of things. But I also did a few things right. So to all of you who had recently sold your novels (congratulations!) and to all of you pre-published folks planning in advance (very smart of you!) here are some pre-release day tips:”

1. Do the Website. Like, Now.

Okay, you know you need a website. But release day is 18 months away. Do you really need one now? Short answer: yes.

Websites take a surprisingly long time to build, especially if you’re working from scratch with a designer. You can throw a holding place up on blogspot in a day, but if you want a quality, built-to-fit site with bells and whistles, START EARLY. Many designers have waiting lists or are backed up for months. Even once you get on their calendar, it can take months from first design meeting to launch. Make sure the site will be live several months before release day. You want to build internet buzz BEFORE your book is released, and that means a great website done well in advance.

2. Contact Bloggers, Get Them ARCs, Plan Your Blog Tour

Here’s the pre-release buzz thing again—you need to get on the radar of all those book bloggers before release day. You don’t know any book bloggers? Well, it’s time for some Internet research. I write for young adults, and I discovered there’s an actual directory of book blogs. About six months before my release, I went through and checked out, oh probably 100 of them, and if I liked the tone and structure of the blog, and if it had a significant number of followers, I contacted the blog administrator. I offered to send ARCs. They wrote back, many asking me for interviews. Plan a blog tour and make it interesting; don’t just recycle the same interview over and over again.

If you want an idea of how to promote via the Internet, check out this website. These guys are amazing. Fabulous promotion, unique blogs, and lots of ‘em.

3. Twitter, Facebook, Blog—Make Friends

Yes, the world of Social Media is crowded, and yes, you may spend a lot of your time talking to yourself. That’s okay. Do it anyway.

Once you’re there, do not spend all your time telling people to buy your book. You are there to MAKE FRIENDS. Friends don’t push their books. Friends don’t bombard their friends with sales pitches. Friends DO share their excitement over things like great reviews, new covers, and release days. They do this because they are friends, not because they are trying to get someone to buy their books.

4. Ask for Blurbs

You know those cover quotes you see on books? The “breathtaking” “spell-binding” “fast-paced” blurbs? Guess what—in most cases, the author probably asked for those blurbs himself.

It helps, of course, if you’ve got friends who are authors (see #3, above). But don’t despair if you’re friendless. Cold call (er, e-mail). Send out letters to authors you love. Make it personal—they should be able to tell that you’ve read their books and have an specific reason why they would be a good person to blurb your book. Be professional and polite. And do all this months before you need the blurb. People are busy and need time to read. Find out what your deadlines are and be generous with your lead-times. What’s the worst they can say—”no”?

5. Yes, You Need Bookmarks

Everyone hands them out, and many end up in the trash. That’s okay, make them anyway. In the months/weeks before your release day you’ll be attending conferences, meeting people in bars, and chatting with friends and neighbors. They will all ask you about your book. You will tell them the title and release day and they will promptly forget everything you’ve said.

Help them remember. Give them a tangible piece of paper with your cover, website address, and release day. Sure, many will end up in a landfill (or hopefully recycling bin), but some will go on bulletin boards, desks, and fridges. You will have done both your memory-challenged friends—and yourself—a service.

Inara Scott is the author of Delcroix Academy: The Candidates (Aug 2010) and the forthcoming Delcroix Academy: The Watchers. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook (Inara Scott) or via her website. (Note from Rebecca: Please check outInara’s bio page. It is a wonderful example of how an author can reveal herself to her audience without the trappings of showcasing an impressive compendium of writing courses, degrees or literary honorariums. Maybe Inara has all these commendations and therefore doesn’t need to brag. Or maybe she doesn’t. But I like what she says about herself so I don’t care either way. Your thoughts?)


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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

14 Rocking Good NaNoWriMo Tips

With an entirely out-of-control outline tipping the scales at over 12,000 words, I dove headfirst this fine November 1st on a journey to make a messy manuscript my own personal heaven. Yes,  I wrote fast and furiously, throwing editing, self-censorship and occasionally good taste out the window.

I loved every minute of it.

I wish I could remember who tweeted it this morning, but a fellow Tweep/WriMo commented that NaNoWriMo feels “like Christmas.” I heartily agree. The process of opening an unbridled vein of creativity (even armed with a well-thought-out outline like mine) is a.) the ultimate gift to yourself; b.) an awe-inspiring opportunity to uncover moments of genius you didn’t even see coming; and c.) an universal gathering of all creation called to do what we  are created to do: create.

(Follow me on Twitter @RebeccaLacko. Buddy up with me on NaNoWriMo.org–my username is RJL.)

Ready? Get ready to rock National Novel Writing Month with these tips from saucy (and often profane–you’ve  been warned) author Chuck Wendig at the terribly fabulous Terrible Minds:

Do Make Discipline Your Takeaway

You want to know how most writers fuck up? Seriously, here it is — the fatal flaw of the writer: we are lazy no-goodniks, forever hopping from project to project. We’re like meth addicts, our dopamine centers blown to ragged tatters, forever in search of the next high. Except, writing can’t be about the high. It can’t be about that one great day of word count. It also has to be about all the shitty ones. What NaNoWriMo will give you is discipline: the ability to staple-gun your shit-can to a chair every single day and pound the keyboard the same way a beat cop pounds pavement. It can’t get done unless it gets done.

Do Not Believe That Haste Is A Critical Ingredient To Your Word Soup

And yet, NaNoWriMo sets a very arbitrary pace: 50k in 30 days, or ~1,667 words per day. It’s certainly doable — I tend to write 2-3k a day. But I was only able to do that steadily after years of freelancing, and that’s when I have a deadline (and money) waiting at the end. Writing a novel can be a different creature, and it isn’t so easily boxed into the same schedule. Most novels I’ve written took me about three months to write from start to finish — still not a bad stretch of time, but certainly not 30 days. So, if you find that NaNoWriMo’s pace doesn’t fit your own — then stop caring about NaNoWriMo, and start caring only about the novel. Your goal is the novel. Your goal is not to “win” an Internet experiment-slash-experience. If you need three months, take ‘em. If you need six, take ‘em. If you need eight… well, let’s try for six, okay?

Do Take Time To Smell The Word Count (And Do A Little Planning)

Writing isn’t about writing. It’s a misnomer — a myth. The actual writing, meaning the pen-to-paper fingers-to-keyboard part, actually comprises a very small portion of the writer’s life. So much else exists between those spaces: planning, marketing, selling, rewriting, editing, researching, and so forth. Assuming that NaNoWriMo is very much about a taste of the job and the life, then for yourself and for the novel I’d recommend taking time in your day away from the writing to concentrate on some other elements. Hit your word count mark for the day, then attend to other matters your novel may require. Put your back into a little planning for tomorrow’s word count. Start writing up a sample query letter and treatment to keep yourself on task. Do up some character notes. Think in beats, scenes, sequences, acts. Then, when all that is said and done? Sit back, relax, and enjoy what you have accomplished so far. Take pride. Eat candy.

Don’t Stop Writing, Neither For Hell Nor High Water

And yet, despite this side prep, don’t stop writing. Writers can easily get lost in the prep. Lift your head from the murk! Clear your brain of the crazy bees. And always, forever anon, sit your ass down and write. This novel isn’t going to write itself. Unless it is? And if it is, then you need to tell me where you bought that awesome novel-writing robot. I seek to purchase a clone of NovelBot for a hefty sum. And if NovelBot one day goes nuclear and attacks the United States, I reserve the right to scowl at you. I’d sue you, but it won’t matter, because the entire infrastructure of our country — the legal system included — will be surely defunct thanks to the cruel reign of the word-crunching NovelBot. Damn you, robot.

Do The Work, And Realize That It Is, Indeed, Work

Surrounding NaNoWriMo is an existing giddiness, an airy and intrepid spirit — and that’s a good thing. Yes. Have fun with it. Smile now, you poor bastards because you may not be so giggly and gassy after two weeks have gone by. The reality is, writing is work. Like, work-work. It can at times be as exacting and punishing as dentistry, and sometimes you might feel like you’re a Chilean miner trapped in the deepest, darkest earth. This is, contrary to how it feels, a really good revelation. If you go into this thinking that writing a novel will be fun from day one until day 30, you’re fucked right in the ear. This isn’t a log flume ride, pal. This is a mountain climb. And climbing a mountain is a hard slog. And you might fall. Or encounter mountain lions. Or even cyborg bears. Point is, be excited for the thrill, but be ready for rectal misery.

Don’t Believe That 50,000 Words Is A Proper Novel

Writing a novel is work, and writing 50k of a novel is a lot of work — but it isn’t a complete work unless we’re talking middle-grade or young adult. For the most part, a novel is going to need to be somewhere around 70-90,000 words. Which means, uh-oh, you’ve got a lot more work to do. Now, this means one of three things — a) you create a complete 50,000 word “novel” now, then go back in and flesh it out and beef it up; b) you write 50,000 words now and realize that you’re going to, in the subsequent month, hammer out another 20-40k; or c) try to write a 70-90k novel in 30 days, which is all well and good until you pull a mental hammy and shit your brain-diapers and end up having to eat mushed-up peas and bananas for the next six months. Again, do what needs doing for the novel, not for the “contest.”

Do Consider This A Zero Draft

I consider a first draft a proper draft. It is your first completed draft, a draft that doesn’t need to be good, but needs to be utterly whole. Let this NaNoWriMo draft escape the pressures of that. Let it be a “zero draft.” It’s allowed to exist a little bit unbaked — soft in the middle, uncertain, still finding its feet like a goo-slick calf. That’s okay. Take the pressure off. You have time. Unless you’re dying from some terrible disease. And if you are, then, uhhh. Sorry? Good luck? Here, have a Hallmark card!

In Fact, Do Think Of This As A Very Powerful Outline Or Story Bible

Write this draft like it’s a very deep, intensive outline, story treatment, or story bible. Yes, yes, it’s still a novel, and it’s still a technical draft of your novel — but with the kind of haste and waste you’re going to make churning through this work, you might find yourself better served looking at the end result as a clumsy “first go.” This means it makes a truly excellent and highly-detailed preparatory tool. You take this draft, you finish it, you find the mistakes and mis-steps, then you rewrite the whole damn thing with a deeper devotion toward all those fiddly bits that make a novel truly great — character, dialogue, action, theme, mood. Oh, yeah, and plot. If one thing is going to get its head lopped off on the altar of haste, it’s plot. So, for now? Fuck plot. Just write. This is your outline, after all. A really big, really robust outline.

(Which Means You Don’t Need To Work So Hard This Month)

You say, “I’m writing a novel,” and (for me) that’s a lot of pressure. But you say, “I’m writing a novel that’s really just an outline for an even awesomer and ass-kickier novel,” then — ahhh. Woooo. The shoulders unclench. Your sphincter loosens (but not so much you make a mess on that most critical of implements, your writing chair). You let slip a few drops of happy pee. Now? The pressure’s lessened. This is just a plan. This is just really exacting prep. You’re not foolishly rushing onto the battlefield. This is a battlefield simulation! This is your own X-Men Danger Room. Breathe easy. And learn how to bring down Juggernaut.

Don’t Stop With Your Zero Draft

All that being said, don’t stop with this draft, whether you think of it as a first draft, a zero draft, or a really plump outline. NaNoWriMo is one month, but your novel cannot and should not be contained to a single month. It needs more time. Trust me, it needs more time. You’ve got more drafts to write. Possibly one, two, even ten. You don’t write until November 30th. You write until it’s good. (Or, put differently: drink until she’s pretty.) To continue the alcohol metaphor, it’s like a wine. You uncork it too early, it’s going to taste like piss and vinegar.

Do Embrace The Community

NaNoWriMo’s shining awesomeness comes in the form of being connected to something greater. You’re all embarking on a really weird journey together. Use that. Enjoy the camaraderie. Listen, a writer’s career isn’t formed just on what she can write — it’s formed on who she knows. It’s build in part on the backs of relationships. Make those relationships. Both professional and personal. It will not only give you the morale to keep on kicking, and it won’t only let you boost the spirits of others — but it’ll hopefully create lasting relationships that go well beyond November, 2010.

Don’t Rely On It, However

And yet! The writer’s life is a lonely one. Online relationships are only so real, after all, and your devotion is not to other people. Your priority isn’t social. It’s mental. Your job lurks in the words, not the words you write to encourage others but the words you write on the pages of this beast you call a novel. It can be easy to get caught up in other people’s drama, and the last thing you want to do is duct tape your novel’s fortunes to those who aren’t helping you — so, be a part of the community but know its limits. Know that the only thing that gets the book written is you writing the goddamn book.

Do Take Yourself And Your Work Seriously

Once again I’ll point out that the motif of NaNoWriMo, the prevailing mood, is one of fun — it’s a challenge! It’s a game! Hoot! Gibber! Eeeee! Well, okay, that’s very nice. But my assumption is that you’re serious about wanting to be a write. Otherwise — why do it? If you’re doing it “just to see if you can,” well, hoo-hah for you. Except, I’m not talking to you. You can go now. Shoo. Go on, skedaddle. You, glib dilettante, will soon learn that writing is a devotion, a discipline, a craft (and to some, an art), but it is not a throwaway piece of cake left on the counter for the ants. It’s serious business. And so those engaging in NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to take this seriously and more importantly, take yourself seriously. You are an ass-kicking, neck-throttling word jockey. You command the powers of the verbal elements. You make characters dance, fight, fuck, eat, love and kill. You can set the mood of the room the way most people set the temperature in their house. You are a god here. Accept that mission for what it is: a responsibility.

Do Not Take It So Seriously That You Start Sending It Out To Agents And Editors Immediately, Because That Makes Word Jesus Turn Evil And Doom The World

The one flaw in NaNoWriMo (and why it sometimes earns the ire of professional writers) is that it kind of floods the marketplace a little bit. November 30th rolls around and suddenly you have a world with thousands of new novels birthed screaming into an unkind world, and while that remains a truly sublime act of creation, it also means that you have a lot of writers who don’t have the sense of a tree grub, and these writers decide to abdicate their own sense of work and responsibility by throwing their unformed fetal drafts into the world. They choke the inboxes of agents and editors with their protoplasmic snot-waffle novels and they think, “Gee golly gosh, I’m a real writer now!” Except, they’re not. They’re rosy-cheeked, empty-eyed shitheads. Don’t be that shithead. Don’t just loose your garbage onto an unsuspecting world (which creates more work for agents and editors who already have a hard time finding diamonds in a sewage tank). Take time. Polish your work. Give it six months. Give it a year. Give the novel the air it needs to breathe. Give yourself, as a self-serious novelist, time to realize when this book is ready to roll or (a bigger and more mature revelation) that this book just isn’t “the one” — and that it’s time to write another better book, a book that doesn’t beg to be written only from November 1st to November 30th, a book that can be written whenever your fluttering wordmonkey heart so desires.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

Impact Your Career: 7 Free-to-Enter Writing Competitions

I love learning about an author’s journey from first word to published book. Wooing an agent and publisher in this industry can be grueling; slush piles grow and opportunities to surprise and intrigue are often slim. Winning a respected national writing competition can propel your manuscript into the right hands, or add a compelling edge to your already superb query.

If you’re frequently or widely entering competitions, fees can add up quickly. Jane Friedman, author of the blog There are No Rules, and  kindly known as “the most progressive media professional you’ll ever meet,” says “there are a handful of national writing competitions—totally free to enter—that can make a huge impact on your writing career.” Here are seven.

Amazon Novel Breakthrough Award
There are two categories: general fiction and young adult. Unpublished OR self-published work is allowed. Entrants must provide a full manuscript, an excerpt from the beginning of the novel, and a novel pitch (plus some other info). The winner receives a publishing contract with Penguin.

Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel
Manuscripts must be between 100-224 typewritten pages. Manuscripts entered in this contest may not be under consideration with another publisher or an agent. The winner gets a publishing contract with Delacorte.

Real Simple Life Lessons Essay Contest
This popular newsstand magazine runs a contest every year looking for a personal essay by a new voice. Max of 1,500 words. The winning piece appears in Real Simple.

First Crime Novel Competition (Minotaur)
Open to any author who has not published a novel (plus self-published authors, though you may not submit your self-published work). Length should be about 60,000 words or at least 220 typewritten pages. The winner gets a publishing contract with Minotaur.

Writers of the Future Contest
All types of fantasy and science fiction work are eligible for this contest founded by L. Ron Hubbard. To be eligible, entries must be works of prose, up to 17,000 words in length. The contest is open only to those who have not professionally published a novel or more than three short stories, in any medium. Winners receive cash prizes.

Harlequin New Voices
Harlequin occasionally runs competitions; the deadline for their next competition is tomorrow! Entries are accepted across 6 different romance subgenres. The first stage of submission requires your first chapter only; subsequent stages require more material.

Iowa Short Fiction Award
The manuscript must be a collection of short stories, at least 150 typewritten pages in length. Any unpublished fiction writer is eligible to enter. Previously entered manuscripts that have been revised may be resubmitted. Writers are still eligible if they have published poetry or self-published a work in a small print run. The winner is published by the University of Iowa Press.

Are there any other contests that don’t require your cash to enter that you know about and recommend?

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

6 tips for promoting your book on Facebook

Every writer’s “other” job is self-styled marketing machine. My bet is because you spend so much time on the computer anyway, your fave form of communication with the outside world is the written word. (See how I plugged the name of my own blog there?) Twitter and Facebook allow invaluable connections. For me personally, my Tweeps are my lifeline to the industry and I freely admit that I hang on the 140 character offerings of favorite authors, pundits, editors, publishers and agents. On Facebook, most everyone with whom I’m connected are actual friends or acquaintances… and sweet little nieces. Perhaps it’s time I utilized my network for more professional aspirations.

Dana Lynn Smith is a book marketing coach and author of several marketing guides, including Facebook Guide for Authors. She explains how “many Facebook users never venture beyond their profile, but there are several other ways to gain visibility on Facebook.” Here are Smith’s suggestions for getting the most from this powerful networking tool:

1. First, be sure to take full advantage of the promotional opportunities on your Facebook Profile. Just below your photo is a small box where you can enter a concise description of what you do, including the title of your book.

The About Me box (under Personal Information) is a good place to describe your book and your business. In the Contact Information section you can enter multiple website addresses. Post your book cover in your photo album or another application and display it in the left column of your profile.

Remember, your Facebook profile must be registered in your real name. If you create a profile for your book or business, you risk having your account cancelled.

2. Facebook Pages are similar to personal profiles, but they are created for business use. You can create a page for your book, your business, or even one of the characters in your novel. People join a page by becoming a fan.

You may want to offer an incentive to join (or at least visit) your page, such as a free download or a coupon for one of your products. Another way to attract fans is to set your page up as an information hub, offering links and resources. Using Facebook applications like Static HTML, you can create customized content for your Facebook page, including graphics, text, videos and mailing list opt-in forms.

3. Groups are a great place to meet people who share your interests and find new friends. Search for groups by entering keywords in the Search box at the top of the page and then clicking on the Groups tab. You can gain visibility on a group page by introducing yourself on the wall, participating in disucssions, and posting your book cover, photos or videos.

Forming your own group can also be beneficial. Be sure to encourage discussions and offer valuable information such as free downloads and links to resources. You can direct message the entire group.

4. Joining relevant events is a good way to get visibility because you can write on the event wall and post photos. You can also promote your own live or virtual events by hosting an event.

5. Facebook displays pay-per-click ads on most pages on the site, and ads can be targeted by age, gender, location, education level, relationship status, or keywords in people’s profiles.

6. The Facebook Marketplace is a classified advertising area where you can post a listing to sell your book. It’s worth an experiment if the topic of your book is something that might be searched for on a classified site.

Thanks, Dana Lynn Smith for your advice! However, “be careful,” say Stanford Smith from Pushing Social. “Twitter and Facebook can be a time-waster if not used properly.” Leo Babauta recommends you spend 80% of your time promoting others, 10% promoting your blog, and 10% on personal tweets.

Habits to avoid: I would be remiss if I didn’t also include a link to author Kathy Kristof’s 3 Most Annoying Facebook Habits that Bug Your Friends.

Excerpted from The Savvy Book Marketer’s Guide to Successful Social Marketing, by Dana Lynn Smith. For more book marketing tips, follow @BookMarketer on Twitter and get Dana’s free Top Book Marketing Tips ebook when you visit The Savvy Book Marketer blog.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, For the love of writing, Freelance Writing, Guest posts

Self-doubt and writing: amicable partners?

It’s Monday morning, and I am dragging myself through the mud. Am I making any progress?  Is what I’m writing any good, any good whatsoever? Over the weekend, my husband and I had the rare opportunity to enjoy a date night. It was a beautiful evening, so we sat outdoors at one of our favorite places (the incomparable Watermarc in Laguna Beach) and over dinner, my husband inquired about my fiction novel, Radiohead.  He asked if I come sum it up, so I gave him my elevator pitch.

His response? Utter indifference. Struck by his impassibility, I found myself rambling, determined to convince him of how exciting the details of my story are proving to be, but the conversation continued its radical nosedive. While the storyline seemed promising and dynamic to him, in truth he really didn’t want to talk about the details of my process. Nonetheless the exchange aggravated deep-seated self-doubt I’d been struggling to quash.

“Every one of us experiences self-doubt, even the most well-established writer,” says Joan Dempsey of Literary Living. “Dean Koontz, for instance, an author who has sold more than 400 million books and is one of the most highly paid writers in the world, says ‘I have more self-doubt than any writer I know.’”

Dempsey also points to Alice Munro, the celebrated Canadian writer who’s been called our Chekhov, and how she worries every time she finishes writing a book that she’ll never write again.

“Let’s agree, then, that self-doubt is an ordinary part of every writer’s experience, even yours,” says Dempsey. “You’ll never be without it. The question is, what can you learn from it?”

Here are Joan Dempsey’s four reasons to appreciate your self-doubt.

1. Self-Doubt is a Protective Instinct

Self-doubt arises out of your own instinctive desire to protect yourself, which is actually a nice impulse that you probably don’t often acknowledge. We usually bemoan or bludgeon our self-doubt; we believe what writer Sylvia Plath famously claimed, that “the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

I beg to differ!

You can be more creative if you welcome and examine your self-doubts.

It’s true, though, that we writers allow our doubts to keep us away from our work. Why? To protect ourselves from pain. Author James Baldwin says we’re good at fooling ourselves because we don’t want to get hurt. “We don’t want to have our certainty disturbed,” he said.

Psychologists call this self-handicapping . If you stay away from your work you’ll never have to face the pain of writing poorly, or you can fool yourself into thinking you’ll be a great writer if you do get down to work.

The problem with that, though, is that you’ll never really be a writer. Baldwin believed that the trick is to know when you’re fooling yourself.

The best writers live an examined and therefore honest life, and that includes scrutinizing your self-doubt.

2. Self-Doubt Sounds an Alarm

Not unlike a smoke detector, self-doubt alerts us to the presence of fear, the typical cause of our doubts.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known Buddhist teacher (and celebrated author), advises us that because fear is a natural and constant presence in our lives, we’d do well to welcome it rather than fight it:

It is best not to say, “Go away, Fear. I don’t like you. You are not me.” It is much more effective to say, “Hello Fear. How are you today?”

The next time you feel self-doubt, don’t despair or fight – look around to see what might be smoldering; be grateful for the alarm.

3. Self-Doubt is a Call to Action

Dean Koontz is notorious for obsessively polishing his paragraphs. “I began this ceaseless polishing out of self-doubt,” says Koontz, “as a way of preventing self-doubt from turning into writer’s block: by doing something with the unsatisfactory page, I wasn’t just sitting there brooding about it.”

In Koontz’s case, feeling uncertain about his abilities actually motivated him to take an action he might otherwise not have pursued.

4. Self-Doubt Provides Fresh Perspective

If you keep your doubts to yourself you’re missing a valuable opportunity. By sharing your doubts with friends and writing colleagues you’re bound to get a fresh perspective. Others often don’t see your failings or uncertainties in the same way you do.

By sharing your doubts you’ll likely learn something new about yourself, feel companioned, hear a helpful cheer, or receive a much-needed boost to your self-esteem.

James Baldwin, in discussing why he writes, says he does so to describe. What he means is that by describing something in detail you come to understand it intimately. Describe your doubts in writing, or through dialogue – either way, your new understanding can help disarm your doubts.

The next time self-doubt keeps you away from your writing, try this:

  • Review these four reasons to appreciate your doubts;
  • Say “Hello, self-doubt, how are you today”; and
  • Get to work.

What have you learned from your self-doubts?

Joan Dempsey is a writer and the founder of Literary Living, an online program for serious, aspiring writers who want to overcome resistance and self-doubt to create a unique writing life. Sign-up for more information, a free audio interview with Leo Babauta, and a free e-book, The Power of Deliberate Thinking: 5 Strategies for Staying at the Writing Desk (Despite Your Self-Doubts)

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

How authors make money. No, really.

Writing your first book (or second, third…)  is no small undertaking. In the best of times, getting an agent and finding your book one day in a book store was a long, arduous journey. The task facing today’s aspiring authors can often seem unsurmountable, but the truth remains: a writer must write. One’s story must be told—the show must go on.

In his excellent blog post, How Authors Really Make Money: The Rebirth of Seth Godin and Death of Traditional Publishing, Tim Ferriss, enormously successful author of The 4-Hour Workweek (number one New York Times, Wall Street and Business Week bestseller!) lays out the financial potential for would-be authors seeking to quit their day jobs.


What are the economics of publishing? (Photo: thinkpanama)

Print is dead!

This has become a popular headline, and a great way to get quoted, as Nicholas Negroponte has shown. Iconic author Seth Godin, after 12 bestsellers, just announced that he will no longer pursue traditional publishing, and the writing seems to be on the wall: the e-book is the future, plain and simple.

But what are the real concrete numbers? How are established authors actually making money, and what should new authors do? Go straight to e-book?

In this post, I’ll look at real-world numbers to discuss some hard truths of publishing, explain economics and pay-offs, and provide a few suggestions for aspiring authors.

To start, some contrasting numbers…

The 4-Hour Workweek is one of the top-10 most highlighted Kindle books of all time.

– The 4-Hour Workweek was the #1 business book when Kindle first shipped after November 2007, and is currently around #116 in the Kindle store.

– In my last royalty statement, December 2009, digital book sales (all formats, including Kindle) totaled…. ready?… a mere 1.6% of total units sold.

My own book has been on the bestseller lists for more than three years, and I’ve tracked most multi-month bestsellers for all of those 36+ months using Nielsen Bookscan (among other tools) which covers about 75% of all retail book sales since 2001, including Amazon but excluding discount clubs such as Sam’s Club. Titlez has also been useful for looking at detailed trending on Amazon.

This all gives me a good pool of data, and I feel like I have a good grasp of what authors are selling and… realistically earning directly from books. If you’d like to get a basic idea, just subscribe to Publishers Lunch to see what authors are getting paid as advances. Enjoy.

We’ll come back to the Kindle numbers, but first, here’s a sketch of book economics, incentives and options:

– For a hardcover book, authors typically receive a 10-15% royalty on cover price. This means that for a $20 cover price, the author will receive $2-3. If you have a $50,000 advance, a $20 cover price, and a 10% royalty, you therefore need to sell 25,000 copies (“earn out” the advance) before you receive your first dollar beyond the advance. This is the basic rule, but several quietly aggressive outfits — both Barnes and Noble’s in-house imprint (Sterling, acquired in 2003) and Amazon’s in-house print arms, AmazonEncore and AmazonCrossing — could prove to offer more attractive terms. Then there are the fascinating rogues like Andrew “The Jackal” Wylie.

– For a trade paperback book, authors typically receive around half the royalty of a hard cover. If you are making 15% on your hardcover, you might get 7.5% when it goes to paperback. Guess what? This means you now need to sell twice as many books to break even. I think going to paperback is a bad idea for almost all authors, unless you want to double your work for the same income. Do you really need the people who won’t buy a $20 book hardcover that’s already discounted to $12-14 dollars through Amazon or Barnes and Noble? I don’t think so, yet most authors follow the hardcover-to-paperback progression without question.

– Electronic books, including Kindle, do not count towards the most famous bestseller lists
, such as The New York Times bestseller list. I suspect this will change within the next two years, but for now: print is what will make you famous in the mainstream.

– If you choose to self-publish but stick with print format and retail distribution, you might double your royalty earnings. This is based on conversations with friends who own their own boutique publishing houses, all of which have distribution in large chains like Barnes and Noble. It’s fun to imagine that you could print a book with a $20 cover price and pocket $15, but that isn’t how the math works out. Once you factor in retailer discounts and distributor percentages, you might end up netting 30% of cover price vs. 15%, if you’re lucky and have a print run of 20,000+ units (Can you afford the upfront cost, especially if retailers are paying net-30, net-60, or beyond?). Keep in mind you also need to manage things as a publisher, which could make your dollars-per-hour earnings less than with a traditional publisher. There are a few promising companies, like Author Solutions, trying to solve this problem for authors.

– If you choose to go digital only as an e-book, this is where profit rules and amazing numbers can be achieved. How amazing? I know one man who nets between $5,000,000 and $10,000,000 per month with a single e-book and affiliate cross-selling to his customer lists. I’m not kidding. The downside is that you need to be a world-class marketer and understand affiliate and CPA advertising better than anyone else in your niche (since there is little barrier to entry, and therefore plenty of competition). Prepare to be an uber-competent CEO or fail if you choose this option.

The Kindle Phenomenon — How Press Releases Are Misread

Amazon is incredible and I expect nothing but more innovation from them. Putting aside their coming bloodbath with Apple, though…

What of this announcement that Kindle sales have now passed hardcover sales on Amazon? I believe this to be true, but there are a few things I suggest we keep in mind:

1) Kindle books selling well does not mean that print books are selling poorly. In fact, it appears quite the opposite. From the Wall Street Journal coverage of the announcement:

Still, the hardback comparison figure doesn’t necessarily mean the end is near for paper books. Amazon said its hardback book unit sales also continued to increase.

It will be fun to see more precise Kindle sales when they are shown as a separate line item in Nielsen Bookscan, which should happen in the next year.

2) The top-five Kindle selling authors of all-time, over 500,000 copies each, are all fiction writers (including Stieg Larsson, Stephanie Meyer, and others). In the top-50 Kindle bestsellers right now, I counted just three (3!) non-fiction books. If you’re a non-fiction author, I’d think carefully before jumping the gun to all digital. Remember that comment about print being dead? What if we ask a high-level exec at one of the “Big Six” (explained later) about how print sales are declining?

Hardcover trend is mixed and dependent on hot books. If you are wondering about ebooks, commercial fiction is where you’re seeing the erosion. Paperbacks are ok. Mass markets are taking a hit.

What are “mass market” books? The NY Times describes them thus:

Mass-market books are designed to fit into the racks set near the checkout counter at supermarkets, drugstores, hospital gift shops and airport newsstands. They are priced affordably so they can be bought on impulse. There are other production differences in binding and paper quality (historically, paperbacks were printed on “pulp” and could fit in the consumer’s pocket). The format is often used for genre fiction, science fiction, romance, thrillers and mysteries.

Is it a coincidence that print impulse purchases are also the biggest sellers on Kindle? I don’t think so.

3) I believe (conjecture, yes) that the figure we are missing is Books-Per-Person. If you have a Kindle, as I do, how many books did you buy in the first week or two? How many unread books do you have on your Kindle? Unlike with print books, you don’t have to look at a stack of unread material like undone homework. Ergo, you purchase more digital books than you would ever purchase in print. If Amazon is selling 180 Kindle books for every 100 print books, I wouldn’t be surprised if 10-20 people are responsible for the former, whereas 80-100 people are responsible for the latter. This reflects that Kindle owners are buying more books per capita, not that paper purchasers are buying fewer.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There has to be some cannibalization of sales, and much of print will die eventually, but it will take a long time. Print is far from dead… and far from unprofitable. Despite the industry-encouraged myth that print has no margins, a hardcover book sold for $20, assuming no graphics or color, can often be produced for less than $2 a copy. With the proper economies of scale (unavailable to most individuals), the publishing biz can be quite a little cash cow.

Let’s cover some basics of traditional publishing next.

What “Traditional” Publishing Looks Like

Traditional publishing looks something like the following for non-fiction authors. For fiction authors, you need to write the entire manuscript first. Here are the five steps:

Step 1. Get an agent (best done through a referral from one of their authors).

Step 2. Put together a book proposal, which is like a business plan. It will contain marketing plans, your existing “platform” (who you can sell to or reach without publisher help), an executive summary of the book concept, and 1-3 sample chapters, among other things.

Step 3. Pitch to specific editors at different publishers through the agent and schedule meetings.

Step 4. Sell the book. The editor will probably have signing authority up to a certain advance amount, but higher ups will need to sign off on larger advances. If you don’t have a great platform for selling books without publisher help, don’t expect anything more than $50,000, and that’s being optimistic. The $50,000 will not be paid all at once, but in several installments, something like this: 1/4 upon signing the deal, 1/4 upon publisher acceptance of manuscript, 1/4 upon publication, and 1/4 upon paperback publication (assuming you start with hardcover).

Step 5. Write the book. Keep in mind, you’re not getting paid the advance all upfront, and writing a good book will probably take at least a year if you’re hoping to have good word-of-mouth and some longevity. I’ve been working on my new book for more than three years. I’ve spent this time because I want it to sell like mad for no fewer than five years after publication, preferably more than a decade if I update it on an annual or semi-annual basis.

For more detail and recommended books, which I used as guides, read “How to Sell a Book to the World’s Largest Publisher,” which explains exactly what I did.

Below are the “Big Six” publishers — most of the bestsellers you see come out of one of their divisions (called “imprints”). In no particular order:

Lagardere (owns Hachette)
Harper Collins
Macmillan (owns St. Martin’s)
Penguin Group
Random House (the largest, and where my book lives within the “Crown Publishing” imprint)
Simon and Schuster

All of these publishers have iBook agreements with Apple except for one… Random House. Why? Is Random House just unable to see the obvious future? Nah, I don’t think that’s true. There are plenty of smart people working at Random House, and that includes their legal department.

The paragraph that follows is all hypothetical:

What might happen if the iBooks agreements of the other Big Five all have suspiciously similar terms? If there were a federal investigation, might that lead to charges of collusion among the publishers and have terrible financial consequences for an already fragile industry? It certainly would. By distancing themselves and coming in late to the game, Random House — again, hypothetically — would be playing a very smart hand, indeed.

For those of you who are devoted to your iPads (I do like mine), you can always use the Kindle app to read Random House books on them pretty screens.

So What Should Authors Do?

First off, writing books is a terrible revenue model for authors.

Precious few books sell more than 25,000 copies, so it’s unlikely you’ll make even $75,000 a year from book royalties. In rare cases, you might have a perennial bestseller, but this is less than 1% of all books sold and not a good bet to make.

There are still a few reasons you might consider writing a book and going through traditional channels:

– Speaking: Particularly in the business category, if you target your Fortune 500 audience well enough, you can stair-step your way into $20,000 per 60-minute keynote without needing a miracle. Hundreds, if not thousands, of authors earn this kind of money. The higher echelon can make $80,000 or more per speaking engagement. Needless to say, this adds up fast.

– Reputation and audience: Money is a means to something else. Not unlike wampum, income is traded for either a possession or an experience. If you use your book to build a reputation as a thought leader, and if you can establish a direct line of communication to intelligent readers (through a blog, for instance), it is possible to bypass income and get almost any experience for free or next-to-free. The middleman of currency is removed, and you also have access to things money can’t buy, whether it’s interesting people or unusual resources.

Though I have done high-level speaking and enjoy it with the right audience, I typically do fewer than a dozen engagements a year. I prefer to focus on connecting with my readers and having fun with cashless adventures.

How do you build a base of fans or supporters and build a high-traffic blog? Here are two detailed closely related case studies:

How Does a Bestseller Happen? A Case Study in Hitting #1 on the New York Times
How to Create a Global Phenomenon for Less Than $10,000

So what of self-publishing versus the more traditional route?

Reputation, at least in the mainstream and for the next few years, is difficult to build if you self-publish. In the below five-minute discussion, NY Times bestselling author Ramit Sethi and I discuss the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. getting a “real” publisher:

In Closing

For established and successful authors, like Seth Godin or Jim Collins, self-publishing in print or digital is a supremely viable option. Jim Collins self-published his last print book, How the Mighty Fall, and was featured on the cover of BusinessWeek magazine to help push it up the bestseller ranks. Seth could do the same.

Why is this possible?

Because they have incredible reputations that were built, in part, on top of the traditional publishing machine. The Big Six and their close cousins are in real trouble. Some of them might adapt (which will include massive lay-offs), but most will not. In the next few short years, there will also be many interesting publishing alternatives for aspiring authors.

But, all that said, there is still real value in having the rare stamp of approval that a “traditional” publisher provides. I don’t think this will change much in the next 12 months, perhaps even 24 months.

Now, a handful of first-time, self-published authors hit the New York Times list, that’s an entirely different story…

###

Recommended reading – Below are the three books I’ve suggested to a dozen or so aspiring-author friends. Almost half of them later hit the New York Times bestseller list. Reading these doesn’t guarantee that outcome, of course, but it will help:

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (to help you craft the right message and themes)
Bird by Bird (to help you write the damn thing and not shoot yourself)
Author 101: Bestselling Book Publicity (to help you reach and excite big media)

Afterword: Book Format and Multimedia Books, etc.

In the comments below, I was asked the following question:

“Tim, I have a question… Before I decided to self-publish, I got a couple decent offers from traditional publishers, but they all involved 10+ months of lag time between when everything is ready to actually print and when they would actually print. I’m not nearly patient enough for that much delay. Is the world of “real published authors” really limited to people who are comfortable waiting around a year for their book to manifest?”

My answer addresses a few other common questions I get:

Hi Jeff,

With the big boys, yep. That’s the lag time in production. I actually kind of like it. Allow me to explain:

It forces you to think about your material and attempt to make it perennial. Which advice will be obsolete in 12 months? Delete. Which advice would be obsolete in 24 months? That means it will only be good about 12 months after pub date. Delete.

I find that it helps refine your thinking, just as having the content in a fixed form (print) forces you to consider your writing and editing more seriously than if you could change it willy-nilly like a blog post. There are certainly benefits to the multimedia books on the horizon, but I wouldn’t call them “books”, and I think the bells and whistles of video, hyperlinks, etc. will be used to mask sloppy thinking as often, if not more often, than they will be used to create a more compelling argument or presentation. The wordsmithing and precision of the language will suffer with the crutches of embeddable video, etc. Will they make perfect sense for some books? Absolutely. Will they distract and detract from the flow of the prose, story, or argument in most cases? Absolutely.

To me, “timely” books are a bad bet for writers. If the content delivers value based on timing near recent events, other media have it beat. I think long-form books should have a longer shelf life, and therefore require harder thinking throughout the process to ensure the content has value 1 year, 5 years, even 10 years down the line.

Hope that helps!

Tim

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Freelance Writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?