Thursday, November 29, 2012

Everything I Did Wrong: Designing An Author's Website

Updated 12/24/23

It occurred to me some time during the last century that it would be a good idea to put up a website. I did so and, at the time, thought it was brilliant – not that I could do a thing with it. (Much like my hair, it required the services of a professional.) Everything seemed to be written in some kind of code.

Several years later, when it dawned on me that having an up-to-date website might be advantageous (rather than one that reflected my activities of a decade earlier), I began to search for someone who understood this mysterious code.

The place to find people who knew about things like websites was obviously online. So, I placed an ad on “Wanted: A computer-type person who can put up a five-page website for me. I write books.”

Within three days I was deluged by dozens of emails. Soon, the offers – ranging from $699 to $4000 – numbered in the hundreds. I began to receive staticky Skype calls late at night. (Apparently, Dubai is in a different time zone.) “What exactly do you want?” they asked. “SEO? Joomla? Slideshows?” I couldn't answer any of their questions. I despaired.

This was my first mistake: I assumed that other, more technical, people would be able to help me design my website. My second mistake came shortly afterward.

Realizing that I knew nothing about websites, I began to investigate. I discovered that there were free websites available everywhere, and that they were based on templates. What's more, these templates required no computer skills whatsoever. They were designed for people like me. (And they were used by those very people who wanted to charge me $699 for one page.)

I began to look at templates. Oh, lord. There were thousands of them. I spent days looking at WordPress templates, Google templates, free templates of all kinds. My head hurt. This was my second mistake. I assumed that I could pick a template. I couldn't – there were too many of them, and none of them seemed appropriate for a writer.

Then the realization hit me. I was going about this all wrong. There were other authors in the world, and they had websites! All I needed to do was find one that I liked and copy the format.

So, I found an author's site I liked on Author's Guild. Then, I went to Weebly, which is the simplest website builder for the technologically challenged, and located a template that was closest to the author's website I had found.

Looking at what other authors had done helped me to choose a good template on Weebly, which I accomplished painlessly in a less than an hour. From there it was easy. I imitated. (And, unless reinventing the wheel is your idea of fun, so should you.) Here are some great examples:
Top 20 Author Websites Every Author Must See (in 2023)

Components of an author's website

This is the website model used by hundreds of successful authors (and which I appropriated without hesitation):
  1. The first page should consist of a photo of you that shows your personality – according to your subject matter (children's book authors, smile! and look trustworthy; serious literary novelists, look deep). There should be a short, interesting bio. This page is also where you can put the latest professional news about yourself. (Upcoming publications, endorsements, speaking engagements, and so on.) (This page can be reversed with Page 2. It depends on whether you want to put you or your books front and center.)
  2. The second page features your books: images of the covers, one paragraph descriptions, and where to purchase. (This page can be reversed with Page 1.)
  3. Page three is an enticing excerpt from forthcoming work or your most recent release. 
  4. Page four is a selection of your other published writing – essays, short stories, if you have written them. Or page four can be an events calendar. (This page is really up for grabs. But, please, no photos of your cat.) 
  5. The fifth page is your blog. Everyone who is anyone writes a blog. Besides, authors' blogs are always read by prospective agents.
  6. “Contact us” comes last. You must make yourself available to potential readers, agents, and Nobel Prize nominations. Don't post your email address - use a form to avoid spam and dodgy proposals of marriage.
Keep it simple
A website should be easy to read. Stick to conventional typefaces, and do not, under any circumstances, choose a light typeface against a dark background. It's true you can do just about anything with typefaces and colors - but don't let that tempt you into chartreuse or, god forbid, brown. (I've seen that combination on an author's website, and it's not only ugly, it's a sin.) It may not be trendy, but use a plain white background and black typeface.

Avoid trends. Gray backgrounds used to be a trend. They were hard to read and have now been replaced by large images. These are a waste of space, and hopefully will go the way of gray backgrounds. (The only images should be of you and your books.) The risk of following trends is that your website will rapidly look outdated. Stick to a classic look and your website will never go out of style.

Final words

Even if you have not yet been published, you absolutely MUST have an author's website. Websites are not optional; they are a requirement for anyone with something to sell. (Authors are not only selling their writing, they are selling themselves.) At the very least, put up your first page (bio and photo), a blog, and a contact page. If you want to talk about your current writing project, do so on your blog.

Unless it is an excerpt from your forthcoming book, do not post your unpublished writing for readers to critique!! There are forums for that sort of thing. Your website is where you must come across as a professional. Take yourself seriously, and others will as well.

Monday, November 19, 2012

How to List Your Blog on Technorati

If you have stumbled across this blog post, it's because you've entered a time warp. Technorati is no longer listing blogs. As of May 29, 2014, it is now an advertising platform. Facebook has also "monetized" and soon Twitter will as well. 

You can see Technorati's final list of top 100 blogs here.


Listing your blog on Technorati is a little complicated, but it is well worth it. With over a million blogs, Technorati is [was] the mother of all blog directories.

The entire registration system is automated, so if you run into problems nobody will help you. This means you have to follow all of their instructions to the letter.

If you follow these steps, you shouldn't have any problems listing your blog.

1) Write a new blog entry, but do not publish it.

2) Go to the Technorati website and create an account ("join").

3) Add your blog title, URL, blog feed URL, and description. (To find your blog feed URL, scroll down to the bottom of your blog page and hover over "Posts (Atom)."  The URL will appear in green in the lower left corner of your screen.)

You will receive an email almost immediately with the subject line “Technorati Claim in Progress.” Click on the link provided in the email for instructions. Scroll down to “Claim Status.” Click “check claim.” You will see this note:

Claim Status – (your blog)
Technorati will need to verify that you are an author of the blog by looking for a unique code. Please put the following short code [ … ] within a new blog post and publish it. This code must appear in the published post and it must also appear in your corresponding RSS feed once published. Once it is published, use the "Verify Claim Token" button on this page to tell Technorati your blog is ready for Technorati to verify the claim token and proceed to final review.

4) Copy and paste the 12-symbol token into the body of your new unpublished post. (The best place to put it is between two paragraphs.) It must be an unpublished post for the process to work!

5) Publish your post. Then go back to your account and click “verify your claim token.” You will get a confirmation email in about 10 minutes.

Note: You may receive the following rejection:.

Thank you for submitting your blog claim on Technorati. Unfortunately, we have encountered a problem reading your site's data. Please log into [technorati] and go to [your account] to update any necessary site information and continue the claim process.
Don't panic, just check that your token appears on your published blog and not just on your blog editing page. Go back to your account, and repeat the process.
6) At this point sit back and wait a few minutes for your next email, which will be:
Thank you for submitting your blog claim on Technorati. We have successfully crawled your blog and found the claim token, and your claim is now awaiting review.
7) The next email you receive will be this confirmation:
Congratulations, your claim is now complete! Please allow 24 to 48 hours for Authority and recent posts to begin showing for your site now that it has been successfully claimed. Once they are there, we will update your site's Authority once per day.
At first you may not see your site listed in the Technorati Blog Directory for all of the categories you've selected. As you write blog posts around those topics, you should see your Topical Authority in those categories begin to rise.
In my experience, it takes roughly a day for a blog embedded in an author's website to get confirmed. It takes a grand total of 15 minutes – start to finish – for Technorati to list a Blogger site (yet another reason to duplicate your website blog on Blogger).
Good luck!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion

Updated 12/23/23

Marketing is the bane of an author's existence. It distracts us from what we really want to be doing: writing. It forces us to enter into the uncivilized world of advertising, where strident ads claw their way into the consumer's consciousness, convincing the public to buy what they don't want, can't use, but must have. 

It's a jungle out there and, frankly, we don't like getting our hands dirty. Writers are shy, reclusive creatures, who would much rather sit at home, sipping Darjeeling in our pajamas, quietly composing the Great American Novel.

This is a pleasant fantasy, but it has nothing to do with publishing. Publishing rests on the concept that people other than yourself will read, and (hopefully) buy your book. Nobody will buy your book without these two essentials: marketing and promotion. 

1) Marketing is what you do before you publish. It establishes the need for a product. (An example of marketing - "Coming soon to a theater near you!") Pre-release reviews, cover releases, pre-orders, and interviews prior to releasing your book are all marketing strategies.

2) Promotion is what happens after you publish. It satisfies the need for the product you promoted during your marketing campaign. The product is your book. (An example of promotion - "Now available on DVD!") Advertising, blog tours, free days and giveaways are all promotional strategies.

Whether you are an unpublished neophyte or an author who has hit the big league, marketing - establishing a need for something - is the name of the game. Without it, promotion is like swimming against the tide.

Like any game, marketing has rules.

Rule #1: When you market, you are not just selling a product – you are selling yourself. 

Regardless of the concerted efforts of the publishing industry to turn books into products, they are not. Books are ideas. They represent what is in the author's mind – nothing more. Even if a book turns into a fad, which is what every publisher hopes, it is still an idea. In this case, it is Your Idea, which means that what you write is inextricably bound to who you are, or, better stated, who everyone thinks you are. (Which is why so many businesses like to put the word "trusted" in their blurbs.) 

This is how you begin:

First: Define yourself. Who you are is not determined by who you actually are, but by what you write. For example, if you write children's books you are cheerful, accessible, and any mother would be happy to leave her precious only child with you for a week. Your photograph will show that person – a friendly smile (with teeth), wearing parental clothing, in pleasant colors. If you write horror-thrillers, nobody would leave their children with you for a minute, so you can go with a brooding photo, either in black and white or in very subdued hues, no smile – or if you must, a Mona Lisa impersonation. Avoid portrait studios. Your picture is worth a thousand careers, so make sure it doesn't look like the one in your high school yearbook.

Second: Project yourself. Your website should reflect your image. Of course, your writing will be showcased, but the site's mood will be determined by your writer persona. Your picture should appear on the first page of your website along with a brief above-the-fold bio. A different, smaller portrait of you must be at the top of every other page on your website. Anyone who views your website must feel as if she or he is getting to know you. Your blog should have a theme in keeping with what you write. (That means you cannot blog about your cat unless you write books about cats.) You can blog about writing, of course, but a lot of people do that, so unless you are famous, competition will be fierce. And remember: You are a writer - even when you are blogging. So give it your best.  

Third: Establish yourself. After you have set up your website and blog (you don't need to publish anything  first), join online groups appropriate to your writing themes, get on forums, and make comments on other blogs. Use the name you write with – for example, if your author name is your full first and last name, that will be your “handle.” Be proud! Let people see your name, and your face. Write guest posts and articles. And don't write anything that you would not want to be read, out loud, in court, by a judge.

Fourth: Share yourself. After you have spread your name around, it is time to spread your website and blog. Join Linkedin, and post your website and blog on the appropriate discussions. (Linkedin allows you to post a blog on their site.) Join every group you can think of, alumni associations, Writer's Digest, Librarything, Goodreads, and post a profile with as much detail as you can muster. Needless to say, Facebook, Twitter (I refuse to call it X), Pinterest, and every other form of social media that has been invented are tools for building a following.

Read these posts!

10 Ways to Find Your Ideal Audience on Twitter (For Writers)

Reddit for Writers

Precycling: A Great Way to Get the Most Mileage Out of Your Blogs

Further reading:

The Ultimate Book Marketing Timeline for Indie Authors - Timing, they say, is everything 

One author's feedback after five months of self-promotion: 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Flogging your Blog

If Venus could do it, so can you.
Updated 12/22/23

You’ve set up your author’s website (you have, haven’t you?), and you’ve begun a blog. You are happily blogging away, secure in the belief that every time you hit “Publish” your thoughts are winging their way through the blogosphere, reaching millions of people who are hungry for your knowledge, wit and/or wisdom.

The millions are not hungry. If anything, they are overfed. According to NM (that’s Nielson/McKinsey) Incite — a company formed to “discover industry-specific consumer insights and build relevant, differentiated and emotionally engaging brands … with the vision that real-time, authentic consumer expression in social media transforms how marketers build strong brands, create passionate and engaged brand communities, and ultimately achieve superior sales outcomes” (so many buzz words, so little content! I am sure you could write a better sentence than that!) — there were 181 million blogs around the world by 2011. Five years earlier there were only 36 million. Imagine how many there are today. (600 million if you really want to know.)

On second thought, don’t imagine., a statistical news source for technology statistics, reported that there were around 496 million blogs from Tumblr alone as of January 2020. But that’s not nearly as impressive as the number of daily blog posts. (If you really want to get depressed, you can go to Worldometers and watch, in real time, the daily world blog count — even as they are being posted. It’s hypnotic. Go there now.)

Where was I?

If you actually want people to read your blog, then you will have to “drive” them to it, either in your cybercar, or using a cyberwhip (whatever makes you happy). Do the following:

1. Set up your blog as part of your author’s website. Then duplicate your blog on a separate site. The most popular are Blogger and (Note: Blogger's recent "update" has made it almost unbearably glitchy.) Both are free and relatively easy to use. Why duplicate? You may want to expand the scope of your blog beyond your website. Your author website will, of necessity, be about you and your books, but what if you want to blog about something unrelated or tangential? Your standalone blog might end up being more popular than your website, in which case you can use it to drive traffic to your website — and vice versa. (Hint: Creating a subdomain for your blog is another viable option. If you have paid hosting, subdomains are free.)

2. Blog regularly so search engines can find you. It stands to reason that the more you blog, the more traffic you will get. But reason isn’t synonymous with practical — or efficient. If you blog every day, you won’t have time to eat, let alone write anything else. Two or three times a week is enough. And use your imagination. While long, informative posts typically generate the most traffic, brief observations, lists, and even short commentaries on articles that you post a link to (along with a snippet), all generate interest. Some of my most popular posts are humorous. (My daughter says I am “cheeky.” Humph. But take the hint, and be yourself.)

3. Once you have accumulated ten blogs, start registering your blog on blog directories. Register your independent blog, not the one on your website. The automated software that the largest blog directories use cannot detect embedded blogs. Blog directories are not as effective as they used to be, but they can still generate significant back links. Here is an article with a good list of top blog directories:

4. Write guest blogs and repost. Writing posts for blogs that get significantly more traffic than yours is a good way to generate initial traffic. The easiest way to find blogs on your topic is to do a google search on “top ____blogs.” (Google will suggest a year. Choose the most recent.) You will have to investigate which of those blogs accept guest writers. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that some will actually pay you! You can also repost on platforms like Medium. 

5. Facebook. I hesitate to include Facebook because Mark Zuckerberg is on my list of “Underlords of Evil,” but nothing has generated more traffic to my blog than Facebook. The reason Facebook is so effective is because anyone can share your post, which has the effect of amplifying your blog’s reach by a factor of ten. Join Facebook groups on your topic and post in them. And make sure you include a FB share button on your blog.

6. Advertise, advertise, advertise. Whether it's Twitter (#MondayBlogs), or Reddit, or LinkedIn, or Instagram, or Flipboard, post links to your blog posts everywhere you can.

If all these steps sound a lot like how to break into the publishing world (fierce competition, shmoozing, submissions, rejections followed by an overwhelming sense of futility), then, by George, you’ve got it, you’ve really got it! But do not despair. The fabulous thing about the Great Equalizer (aka the Internet) is that, for the time being, it is a democracy. You get to run your own campaign, and the masses get to vote for you.

Helpful articles:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Editors: Why We Love/Hate Them

Page from World's End

There are all kinds of editors, good ones, bad ones, and many in between. A good editor is one who will give you a run for your money. She will not only correct all your grammar errors, but will question you on every detail, find logical inconsistencies, hold your feet to the fire. Odds are, she will write, “Show, don't tell!” somewhere on your manuscript.

A bad editor will not do anything at all. Increasingly, editors – who are generally underpaid and overworked – simply don't want to put any time or effort into a manuscript. Like a homeowner who doesn't want to fix up a house before putting it on the market, they want to publish a book “as is.” 

Writers may think such a "hands off" approach is sheer heaven. After all, editors who do nothing are great for an author's ego. But, believe it or not, there are errors in your manuscript – of internal logic, of grammar, and of sense. There always are. Trust me, you don't want your readers (or reviewers) to point out your mistakes.

Good editors are a dying breed, but great editors – ah, those are the ghosts of the past. A great editor not only gives his authors a run for their money, he brings out the best in them. A great editor puts his own ego aside (a rarity), and instead of adhering to a rule book (“Show, don't tell,” “Only one POV allowed”), follows the author's lead. Great authors break the rules, and great editors let them. 

I had a good editor at RH. She forced me to examine everything in my manuscript – every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence, every word, every punctuation mark. I fought her every step of the way - and sometimes I was right. When I caved in to her insistence on following the rule book it robbed something from my story. But, more often than not, she was right. The trick to working with her was to understand what she was getting at, and then adjust my manuscript – slightly. In editing my first book - and this will always haunt me - I deleted too much. This is a common mistake for first-time authors. They throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I have learned through trial and error that the best way to work with editors is to walk the middle path. When they say “Jump,” don't ask “How high?” Don't slavishly follow every suggestion. Use your judgment. 

On the other hand, don't, don't, don't tell them to sod-off – even mentally. They may be right. Take a step back from your manuscript, take a deep breath, and then exercise your skill as a writer. Make your manuscript shine as only you can – with their guidance. If the editor is good, the final product will be well worth it.

Along these lines (and good for a laugh):

Building Character (for Writers)

Rejections of Famous Authors: Gertrude Stein

The Harshest Rejection of Them All

"We were not amused."
Gertrude Stein's rejection letter merits a special place among rejections, if only because the publisher put so much effort into it. 

This parody demonstrates the defining character flaw of publishers: they believe they are the final arbiters of literary taste. Notwithstanding the possibility that, in this case, Fifield may have been right, one hardly needs to point out that being a music critic does not make you Rachmaninov. Or even a Rach knock-off.

The letter reads:

Dear Madam,

I am only one, only one, only one. Only one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.

Many thanks. I am returning the M.S. by registered post. Only one M.S. by one post.

Sincerely Yours,

A.C. Fifield

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Building Character (for Writers)

Productive young writer with human companion
Years ago, when I was teaching English to Japanese English teachers (you had to be there), one of my teacher/students informed me that, in her school, the students did all the clean-up. “All?” I asked. "Oh, yes," she informed me. They wiped the blackboards, swept and mopped the floors, washed the windows. “It builds character,” she said.

Basically, things that build character are comprised of anything that is disagreeable. For some strange Calvinistic and/or Japanese reason, character cannot be built by winning a prize, taking a swim, or eating my delicious apple streusel cake.

One must suffer to have character.

I doubt that this is true in general, but in specific, as it applies to writers, it is definitely a fact. It is not necessary for you to fulfill the Romantic ideal: a sensitive, unshaven (women too), starving creature agonizing in a garret. Yes, you will eventually get to do all that. But the real suffering, the real character building comes not in the process of writing - which is sheer fun and therefore useless for building character - but in the process of sharing what you've written.

These are the writer's steps to building character:

Step 1: Don't publish too early. You have written a book. Don't get it out there. Instead, get it critiqued, as harshly as possible. You must bleed.

Step 2: When you have bled enough, still don't try to publish. Write another book. Yes, that's what I said. Write ANOTHER BOOK. What kind of writer do you expect to be if you can only write one book? Then go back to your first book and revise it.

Step 3: Write short stories and articles. Get them critiqued. Bleed some more.

Step 4: Submit your short stories and articles to top-ranking magazines and ezines. You will be rejected. Bleed and revise. Submit again. Each time you get a rejection, re-read your work and revise.

Step 5: AGH! Somebody published your story! Your character is destroyed! Sadly, no. Read the published version. It's amazing how many mistakes you can catch after your story has been published. Ouch.

Step 6: At this point you have so much character you need a transfusion. Start submitting your book to agents. They will reject you. Each time you get a rejection, look at your query letter and revise it. Submit again.

Step 7: AGGHHH! An agent wants to represent you! Now, you're cooked. Don't get too comfy. She or he will want to confiscate your manuscript and change everything in it. You have to decide what to change and what not to change. You are faced with killing your darlings.Your character is firming up nicely.

Step 8: You have followed your agent's suggestions - or not, as the case may be. And NOTHING happens! Not one single publisher is interested in your book. They say awful things about it. You have to decide if some of these awful things are true. They might be. Great character-building technique.

Step 9: AAAGGGGHHH!!! Someone wants to publish your book!! You are fried!! You thought the agent was harsh. Wait until you see what an EDITOR does to your manuscript!! It will be drawn and quartered before your very eyes. They will change your title. They will slap on a dreadful cover. You will want to die.

Step 10: You now have character. Write another book. This time it had better be good.

(Repeat steps 1 through 10 as often as necessary.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Biggered ... what the Penguin/Random House merger means for writers

Do not go to jail ... collect ALL the books!

Last week I received this announcement from Random House:

"To Our Authors, 

Our most important mission will always be to publish the work you entrust to us for everyone, everywhere, in every format, and on every platform. That mandate is a primary motivation behind Bertelsmann and Pearson, the parent companies of Random House and the Penguin Book group, signing an agreement this week to combine our respective trade book activities.

One of the defining characteristics of the new company I am most excited about is that it will be author- publisher- and editor-centered – just like Random House. When we join together we will be retaining the distinct identities of both companies’ imprints and you will benefit from an extraordinary breadth of publishing choices and editorial talents and experience. Our Random House imprint leadership remains endowed with creative autonomy, and financial resources, to decide which books to publish, and how to publish them. We expect this to continue in our new business, where we will build on the history and heritage of each of our storied brands. Your relationship with your editor and your publishing team will be unaffected by the new company.

A diversified retail and distribution marketplace for print and digital formats remains a key priority for Random House now, and in the future. Our investments in enhancing the supply chain and our marketing support will supply more services for physical retailers, while expanding our opportunities in the digital space. We expect to create more tools to help you take full advantage of the many online marketing platforms for growing your readership. And we certainly want to continue to expand our Author Portal, which has become an enormously popular and useful resource for so many.

For now, it is business as usual at Random House and Penguin. Soon, we hope to join together to offer an even deeper backlist, alongside our newly published titles. In our partnership, we will be even better positioned to provide copyright protection and support your intellectual property.

Random House and Bertelsmann believe strongly in the future of trade book publishing, and our continuing commercial and cultural success is a major reason why Bertelsmann is extending and expanding its investment and support with the new company. For us, separately and in partnership, it is and always will be about the books. Your books.

All my best, 

Marcus Dohle"

If you are as impressed as I am by large quantities of horse manure, the true significance of this announcement will have completely escaped you.

So now, boys and girls, we will have a pop quiz.

What is the underlying meaning of the above passage?

a) This merger does not affect me, because I am never going to get published anyway.
b) WOW! If I ever do get published by Bertelsmann/Pearson/ Random House/Penguin, I'll be famous all over the world, and maybe even in Outer Space.
c) What the hell is a deeper backlist?
d) It is and always will be about the books. Your books.

(The correct answer is: e) We're screwed.)

(The first sentence is the tip-off. Notice the close proximity of the terms: "entrust", "mandate", "mission" and "everyone, everywhere, in every format, and on every platform.")

The reason that the union of the two largest publishers in the world is terrible for writers is unclearly stated in paragraph two: 
 "we will build on the history and heritage of each of our storied brands."

 history of these publishing houses has nothing whatsoever to do with storied brands. In fact, it has nothing to do with "marketing support", "platforms", or "supply chains" either. The origin of Random House, as stated by Bennet Cerf,  was "to publish a few books on the side at random."  And so they did. Many random authors, who couldn't find a home elsewhere, were published by Random House (Ayn Rand and Jerzy Kosinski among them).  The heritage of Penguin was to publish LolitaLady Chatterly's Lover, and Deer Park, books which had been rejected by scores of publishers (back then we still had scores), and which, once they were finally published, made it onto banned book lists everywhere.

This is the proud heritage of Random House and Penguin: to publish groundbreaking new concepts without regard to the "market." Because that is the purpose of a publishing house - the dissemination of ideas.

We will be reading fewer of them in future.

Bertelsmann, a privately owned company based in Germany, owns publishing, music, and broadcasting companies in 60 countries, including: BBC Books, Multnomah, Triumph Books and the largest English trade publishing house in the world - Random House, which in turn owns Crown Publishing Group, Knopf Doubleday, Crown, Harmony Books, Ten Speed Press, Tricycle Press, Celestial  Arts, Three Rivers Press, Broadway Books, Clarkson Potter, Watson-Gupthill, Back Stage Books, Anchor Books, Doubleday, Vintage, Pantheon Books, Delacorte, Fodor's, Bantam Dell, Del Rey, The Dial Press, The Modern Library, and ... (wait for it) ... One World. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

How to build your own author platform – from scratch

All you need is a coffin, and a few nails.
Updated 12/17/23

The first time I heard the phrase “author platform,” it instantly conjured an image of myself, with a noose around my neck, standing in front of a crowd of people who were waiting for the Big Drop.

I hoped it would be a quick, painless death. So far, it hasn't been. I have spent many a grueling hour trying to build this “platform,” only to discover that I am not heavy enough. Day after day, I am left dangling. Gasping for air.

Those of you who were born prior to the invention of the horseless carriage may not know what an “author platform” is. So, I am going to explain it to you.

An author platform is Newspeak for “fame.” In concrete terms, it means people recognize your name. Perhaps you have won a contest, such as the Nobel Prize. Or maybe you have not sent your kid up in a balloon, or faked a moon landing like those chaps at NASA. People must know who you are in order for you to build a platform.

Nowadays, many agents will insist that you have a platform before they will even consider representing you. This is a catch-22. How can you be a “name” if you have not yet been published?

The fact is that you must start building your platform well in advance of contacting an agent or publishing your book. Achieving a following takes several years. But even if your name is not a household word by the time you publish, you can - and should - set the stage for future fame. 

1. Put up a website. I assume you have already done this. Without a website, YOU DON'T EXIST. Click HERE for tips on how to design an author's website.

2. Write articles and publish them online. There are plenty of online journals and ezines. Basically, you must turn yourself into an expert. Use ALL of your experience for this. Have you had a child? Several? Have you taught them to drive? Did you survive high school? Do you know how to make a smashing cup of tea? Have you recently discovered the cure for cancer? Pick your area of expertise. Everything counts. Read You're an Expert! How to Make Money Writing Nonfiction Articles for some great tips on making the most out of your expertise.

3. If you are a fiction writer, you also have the option of publishing short stories. Click HERE to  find a literary magazine that will give your story a home.

4. If you have a book ready for publication, and not even that agent in Zanzibar will answer your query letter, then you may want to consider going Indie. But, before you self-publish, you should post excerpts from your forthcoming book. (This is a great marketing strategy.) Many reviewers are willing to post excerpts from forthcoming novels on their blogs. Here is a list of 64 Book Bloggers Who Work With Indie Authors, many of whom are delighted to post excerpts. (Also see the Empowered Author list.) Most accept traditionally published books as well, and more than a few will be happy to interview you. (Be forewarned, book bloggers come and go like the wind.)

5. Do reviews/articles for sites that get a lot of traffic (e.g. Blogcritics). See: Precycling: A Great Way to Get the Most Mileage Out of Your Blogs 

6. Once you have published some articles give talks, webinars and/or interviews online. Read Arranging Your Own Book Tour.

7. BLOG!! I cannot stress this enough. Agents who receive your query will google you. If you maintain a blog - on any topic - they will read a few posts. (So make sure you check grammar, spelling, and punctuation.) Readers will also look for your blog. One of the many benefits of a blog is that it allows you to acquire an email list. You may not need that list now, but I guarantee you will need it later when you send out your pre-order announcements. (You need pre-orders for your book.)

Even if you plan to publish your book the old-fashioned way (by either marrying or giving birth to an editor for a major publishing house), you will have to build a platform, so you may as well start now. The sooner you get an online presence, the easier it will be to promote your work.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

23 Idiotic Rejections of Famous Authors

Rejections are hard on budding young authors - even on old, famous ones.

The following is a list of authors who have received what should have been soul-crushing rejections. Thankfully, their souls were not crushed, and their books went on to become icons in the literary world.

Nowadays, publishers don't put their thoughts into writing (although, believe me, they still say them in private). In some ways, it's a pity. Authors who have achieved success should have the pleasure of gloating over the idiocies of publishers who have dismissed them.

From the American literary publisher Knopf's Archives at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin ...


Jorge Luis Borges
'utterly untranslatable'

Isaac Bashevis Singer
'It's Poland and the rich Jews again.'

Anais Nin
'There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic.'

Jack Kerouac
'His frenetic and scrambled prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don't think so.'

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence
'for your own sake do not publish this book.'

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
'an irresponsible holiday story'

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
'an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.'

Watership Down by Richard Adams
'older children wouldn't like it because its language was too difficult.'

On Sylvia Plath
'There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice.'

Crash by J. G Ballard
The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.'

The Deer Park by Norman Mailer
'This will set publishing back 25 years.'

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
'Do you realize, young woman, that you're the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex.'

The Diary of Anne Frank
The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.’

Lust for Life by Irving Stone 
(which was rejected 16 times, but found a publisher and went on to sell about 25 million copies)
A long, dull novel about an artist.’

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
'The grand defect of the work, I think, as a work of art is the low-mindedness and vulgarity of the chief actors. There is hardly a "lady" or "gentleman" amongst them.'

Carrie by Stephen King
'We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.'

Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller
I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’

The Spy who Came in from the Cold by John le CarrĂ© 
You’re welcome to le CarrĂ© – he hasn’t got any future.’

Animal Farm by George Orwell
It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’

Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde

My dear sir,

I have read your manuscript. Oh, my dear sir.’

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 
... overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’

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