Category Archives: public relations

Routine maintenance: clean up your online profiles

cat's tongue

  Photo courtesy of Shubhankar Sharma

The following advice is not intended for superstars and bestselling authors.

If you’ve created an online profile that you don’t intend to use, then delete it this week. Don’t leave it out there with unanswered inquiries, especially when they’re publicly visible. Everyone who sees an earnest question that has been posted by someone and ignored by you will think you don’t care about your followers, readers, and fans. 



Many social media profiles will allow you to adjust your notification settings so you’ll receive them via the email application you use every day. An alert will pop into your regular email inbox. If a profile you’ve created doesn’t offer this function, then you’ll need to discipline yourself to check that profile at least every other day. Delete your profile from a site if it’s too much trouble to check regularly.

Unless they’re spam or harassment, treat questions sent to you as comments, email, or text messages as though they were being asked in person. The sender is getting an unfavorable impression if you haven’t responded. Take the time to create a generic but friendly reply that you can copy and paste, if necessary.

If you don’t already have one, make a list of your social media profiles and email inboxes for your daily checks. Your browser’s bookmarks or favorites feature can streamline the process. Most of your social media profiles should be linked to the website that serves as your hub.

Don’t forget to update your biographical information periodically. Nothing highlights your neglectfulness more than an above-the-fold “update” that speaks of a past event as if it were still in the future.

The demands of commercial authorhood today

daydreamer

  Photo courtesy of Alexander Solodukhin

Daydreaming fosters creativity. Industriousness, on the other hand, is beneficial for commerce. Rarely is a creative writer equally productive in both modes.

Everyone’s favorite writers’ conferences and how-to-get-published guides gently encourage and inspire. They wouldn’t be as popular if they presented a fully realistic picture of what it takes for an author to succeed commercially—that is, by selling lots of books. As an unfortunate, unintended result, many aspiring book authors are led too soon to believe they’re ready to compete with their idols in the publishing world. I’m conflicted about how to bring this matter up with prospective clients.

The telltale promise that exposes naïve writers every time is, “I’m willing to do whatever it takes for my book to succeed.” They feel compelled to say it, because they haven’t begun to envision and haven’t yet started whatever it takes. Technically, it’s a failure of their imagination. It shouldn’t happen.

My job is to screen out the dilettantes and hobbyists and to coach the thoughtful, devoted, solid professionals who have chosen writing as a career path. Following are some of the questions I try to remember to ask prospective clients when we’re deciding whether we’ll be able to work together.

Takeaway: If you don’t have good answers to these questions, then there’s no need to pitch your manuscript to me. You’re not ready.

How much time can you invest in building your writing career, knowing you’ll simultaneously need to spend significant time earning income? Holding down a day job is not an issue if you have enough passive income or savings to support yourself for more than a few years. Will any of your commitments over the next several years prohibit you from being in the public eye and from devoting a lot of unpaid time to your author platform and your writing? *

Have you already proven you’ll be able to market yourself as an author? Have you developed a following or any sort of name recognition among a sufficiently large group of people who are likely to buy your book? Consider that selling books primarily to the writers in your social circle isn’t an ideal marketing strategy, unless your book happens to be a writers’ manual.

Can you show me articles, essays, or stories you’ve written that were published in journals and magazines or on websites with some traffic? While unremunerative, collecting publication credits can be a quick-start learning experience. By the way, I tell new writers that it’s likely to take sixty submissions to get a first short story or essay published in a selective journal or magazine, including the digital ones.

Do you write a column or blog for a print or online publication? Landing that sort of (typically low-paying) gig demonstrates your ability to network and collaborate with an editor.

Do you have a professional-looking website and an active, engaging presence on significant social media sites? Which authors’ websites are your benchmarks? Don’t think of emulating but learn from the living authors you most admire.

If you’ve made no initial progress on your author platform before contacting me, then I’ll be forced to assume you never will. It takes a great deal of time to acquire the technical and social skills and then to execute a long-term publicity strategy for a career. Many, in fact most, writers aren’t terribly teachable or motivated to work on their techniques for self-promotion, without which their chances of succeeding as a commercial author are just too remote. I’m obligated to choose clients who are prepared to knock it out of the park, not those who have never shown up for batting practice.

I do my utmost to prepare a new client to collaborate successfully with a publisher and with the people who will offer opportunities for good publicity that might increase book sales. The actual work is up to the writer. Some might prefer to find and hire freelancers to help with some of their responsibilities. I don’t recommend delegating tasks, because no one will care more about the success of a book than its author. Usually it’s obvious when there’s no practical possibility that a potential client will follow through on vague promises to hire someone to do the work they don’t want, or don’t know how, to do.

Once a book is under contract, a publisher’s timeline is unyielding. Authors sometimes are asked, for example, to turn around revisions or proofs in as little as two weeks. No one will worry whether those two weeks happen to fall during the author’s annual vacation in the Florida Keys. Grace under pressure is an enormously valuable trait.

I emphasize to new clients the benefit of rolling up their sleeves. If a publishing team begins to sense that their new author isn’t working as hard as they are to launch the author’s book successfully, then the publisher’s staff will shift their focus to another book by another author. Conversely, if an author is going above and beyond anyone’s expectations to generate amazingly creative publicity for a book, then the publishing team will be enthusiastic and motivated, at least to care, even if they don’t have a spare moment to act. The caring part matters. It ripples out. The word spreads. You’ve got to read this one!

Debut authors get one chance to establish their commercial viability. It doesn’t matter whether their first books are self-published or traditionally published. The sales data are inescapable. To the largest trade book publishers, an author was a financial risk who cautiously was given an opportunity to become a profitable investment. If readers didn’t show their approval by purchasing thousands of copies of the author’s book, the record of poor sales becomes all but impossible to overcome. When a book flops, according to the trade book publishing industry’s definition of failure at the time, then commercial publishers won’t invest in the author’s future works. It doesn’t matter how gifted the author is or how much I believe in and like the person. A first-time author is viewed as a more strategic risk than one whose published book hasn’t sold well.

I’ve been through this fantasy-wrecking process with writers who thought they could either a) embark on degree programs, internships, alternate career development, or other major new endeavors while simultaneously building a career as a book author, or b) immediately discard all of their practical plans in favor of a career as a book author, without realizing how slim the chance that writing ever will generate an income sufficient to live on. The illusion of overnight success is the de facto gate beyond which most aspiring authors can’t progress.

These demands might seem unbearable or unfair, but as long as a few good writers are finding imaginative ways to put in whatever effort is required to succeed commercially, they will be the ones setting the bar so high.

How do you plan to manage all of the work ahead of you?

* In case you haven’t noticed, these expectations have an unfair and disparate impact on writers who are not wealthy but desire careers in the arts requiring many hours of labor with little likelihood of financial gain. I already do a lot of pro bono work as an agent, as I’m sure most authors’ representatives do, because we believe in trying to mitigate the existing disadvantages. At least one nonprofit literary agency exists in the U.S. Check it out. Individual publishing houses and arts funding agencies contribute much more to solving this persistent problem.

We’ve reached peak vanity (I hope)

Now that we all have a book, a blog, a microphone, or a stage, we are well equipped. We can reach an audience. We can communicate our messages. We are empowered. Someone somewhere is paying attention to us.

Someone, or maybe many people, are paying attention and judging. They’re deciding whether we’re wasting their time and if they should shift their attention to someone more entertaining or intelligent or informed.

No one is assigned to stop us from making fools of ourselves by being unprepared, unethical, or ungracious when we take the stage or publish our work. Our vanity has demanded a means to get attention, and now we have it. Are we ready?

Asa Rodger

  Photo courtesy of Asa Rodger

Encouragement for aspiring authors: foolishness will eliminate most of your competition

Aspiring authors eager for encouragement can be glad of one thing, which I can promise will never change: human nature. Most of their competitors—other writers vying to win readers—will fail to capitalize on the opportunities they’re given. They will consider themselves too talented to be overlooked, too intelligent to take advice, and too exceptional to fail.

Day after day, I receive queries from authors whose books were published, either traditionally or nontraditionally, but then languished without appreciable sales. These writers took or were given their chances and did not make the most of them. Usually, they haven’t recognized or tried to rectify the problems that kept their books from reaching or appealing to readers. When it’s too late, they want someone else to repair the damage.

I don’t often hear from unsuccessful authors who know exactly where they stand. I’m contacted by those who are mystified by book buyers’ disappointing reactions to their work. Oblivious to the reasons, these particular writers remain confident that fairytale success will find them if only they believe in themselves.

No amount of testimony by successful authors whose years of struggle and relentless practice enabled their careers will convince a writer who doesn’t want to face the unpleasant aspects of the business of creative writing. The obstacles include endless revisions and rejections, critical scrutiny, meager pay, and a market robust enough to cater to readers’ every whim rather than every writer’s wallet. Unwavering perfectionism, sincere humility and willingness to learn, and the ability to connect with audiences are rare qualities even in the most talented writers. That’s why there are so few success stories, compared to failed attempts, in book publishing. The coincidence of necessary personal and professional qualities is truly unusual.

Occasionally, good writers do recognize how much effort and time it will cost them to achieve the careers they envision, and the realization paralyzes them. They may believe they can’t handle the pressure or the demands on their time, that the market isn’t fair, or that their aspirations are self-indulgent. I have more sympathy for them than for the failed author who is hobbled by a big ego. The fact remains that authors today have more choices and resources than ever before to enable their success. Along with those choices and opportunities goes the personal responsibility to make the best use of them.

Sounds true, you say, but where should a writer who honestly wants to improve seek reliable, free advice? Here are a few good sources.

Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published by Jane Friedman

Online Critique Groups for Writers

A Flowchart For Diagnosing Self Publishing Problems by Morris Rosenthal

Author Marketing Experts, Inc.

Lion of St. Mark

  Lion of St. Mark

How will readers ever find your book?

It may well be that you don’t have enough time for a career as a book author, and writing is really just a hobby, a side gig, or a form of therapy for you. No problem. In that case, you don’t need a literary agent, or more correctly, the literary agent doesn’t need you. If you want to make money as an author, on the other hand, then your books must be discoverable. Readers won’t come to you. You’ll need to find ways to get on their radar. You’ll need to become an author whose books are recommended by one reader to another. That’s how books and their authors become bestsellers.

Let’s say your book was published in 2013. More than 300,000 new titles were traditionally published in the U.S. in 2013. In the same year in the U.S., more than 1,000,000 new titles were non-traditionally published, a figure that includes self-published books. How many of those books did you read? How many can you name? How many of the authors can you name? How would a stranger have ever found your book among the 1,300,000?

browsing books

  FreeImages.com/Nick Manning


When you’re browsing in a bookstore, how many books do you leaf through before selecting one to buy? What attracts you? What makes you put a book down and choose another? Do you typically search for new titles from authors who are known to you? Do you like to read what your friends are reading? Your book is evaluated in the same ways.

If your book’s page on Amazon lacks a compelling description and any customer reviews, and the Amazon customer who happens to come across it has never heard of you, and you have no online presence to give the prospective buyer any information, then why would you expect the person to pay for your book instead of the latest from Clive Cussler or one of the titles longlisted for the Man Booker or the novel everyone at the hair salon is discussing?

If you know anything about online booksellers and social media, then you know it requires effort to capitalize on the exposure they can offer books and authors. It takes time and technical ability to maintain multiple online profiles and learn to write compelling sales copy. Working at it every day for three years might get you up to speed, provided you already possess some basic social skills. There are no shortcuts. Thousands of writers are there ahead of you.

Don’t know where to start with self-promotion? You can join the crowd of writers who remained clueless. You’ll know them. They’re the ones you’ve never heard of.

Everything you want and need to know about book marketing and self-promotion has been debated at length online, where you can find vast amounts of information on author platforms. Start with Jane Friedman’s excellent blog. I’ve gathered links to “Publicity tips for book authors.” Good advice comes from Joel Friedlander, Joanna Penn, and Penny Sansevieri. Self-published authors are generous with recommendations. Don’t assume that marketing strategies for traditionally published authors should differ from strategies for self-published authors. The main addition is the need to coordinate marketing and publicity efforts with a publisher or publicist, if there is one.

Learning about the business of selling books is doable if you want a career as an author and are willing to work hard for it. No one will mind if you prefer to remain a hobbyist. Just don’t make the mistake of asking me or a book publisher to donate time and money to support your hobby.

Authors and humility

mask

  Photo courtesy of Marc Garrido i Puig

There’s nothing inherently wrong with fashioning your public image the way you want to be perceived as an author, but onlookers are discerning. They know instinctively, often without being able to explain why they know, when someone’s posturing. Americans, especially, are incredibly alert for any hints of pretentiousness and sometimes go overboard by openly demanding self-effacement, which we equate with graciousness. One result is the defensive tactic so well known to authors: the humblebrag.

The only way to avoid jumping straight into harm’s way is to learn how to get outside yourself and view your own public image through the eyes of readers, followers, colleagues, and friends. Silently noticing what other authors do wrong and right can help. Friends and family aren’t likely to give you honest criticism, because they all love you and fear ruining their relationships with you.

We’re living in a moment when genuineness, transparency, and humility are valued more than poise and sophistication, but cultural preferences eventually will change. They always do.

Writers who take the initiative gain an advantage

It’s difficult for new writers to comprehend that having a literary agent doesn’t mean the end of all rejections. When I’m able to persuade an acquiring editor to read a manuscript, the writer continues to face considerable competition. At the major U.S. publishing houses, each acquiring editor opts to read perhaps fifty or more manuscripts per year and selects from them maybe five or fewer that are published.

Lately, when manuscripts of equal quality are being evaluated, one factor that tends to tip the scales in favor of an acquisition is the author’s ability to help promote the title before and after it’s published. Publishers aren’t impressed with earnest promises; before investing, they look at what an author already has done to become familiar and interesting to readers.

Six years ago, when I started my agency, consideration of an author’s platform wasn’t as prevalent among publishers, but aspiring authors were learning how to use social media to their advantage. Now that a good percentage of creative writers are entrepreneurial, many editors view the absence of a platform (or the lack of an established readership, or name recognition, or whatever you choose to call it) as an additional reason to disqualify a manuscript and move on to those that have more potential to be profitable.

Some writers simply aren’t good at self-promotion, and it’s not something anyone can do for them. On the other hand, when a publicist at a publishing house and an author are able to collaborate easily—when they’re on the same page, so to speak, and the publicist doesn’t need to do much explaining—a successful book marketing campaign is far more likely.

Some writers excel at self-promotion, but their manuscripts aren’t superlative. What then? Is it easier and more cost-effective to fix an imperfect manuscript or to teach a writer how to make connections with readers? The jury’s still out on that question. I suspect that by the time I’m reading a query from an aspiring author, the individual already has reached his or her peak performance in both arenas and won’t be able to show much improvement. In other words, earnest promises don’t impress me. Evidence of self-initiative does.

Walt Whitman

  Detail of the entrance to the Detroit Public Library

Still can’t stop talking about it: Get Known Before the Book Deal

Day 19: I sincerely wish I could stop talking about it. I wish writers who send me queries had read Christina Katz’s Get Known Before the Book Deal and implemented the strategies she outlines in the book. I wish I didn’t need to tell so many prospective clients to back up and learn exactly what publishers and readers expect of them in 2014. I wish I were a fairy godmother with the power to transmit knowledge, skills, and business sense with the flick of a glitter-spangled wand. I’m weary of repeating myself. I’m whining today.

GET KNOWN BEFORE THE BOOK DEAL by Christina KatzHowever, there is good news! There’s an upside of my frustration, which I assure you is shared by at least a few other agents, as well as book editors and publishers, not to mention successful authors who frequently are asked how they got so lucky. The bright side is that the unbelievably small percentage of writers who apply—that is, put into practice rather than just reading—Christina Katz’s advice can achieve an enormous advantage over the larger number of writers who don’t.

Think about that. Did you just feel the power shifting?

Christina doesn’t promise instant results, and she doesn’t say it’s easy when it’s not. No one ever truly masters self-promotion in a turbulent market, and the mere attempt takes a lot of time. More hard work is exactly what average writers or wannabes will not confront. They believe they should be finished with the work part when they put the last words on the last pages of their manuscripts. They’re ready for the cake, punch, and applause precisely when the going really gets tough. C’mon. Take advantage of their mistakes.

Writers need to exploit every possible asset in order to stand out among thousands of contenders and to get their books noticed among the incredible quantity of titles now frictionlessly available to readers. Those readers easily can choose similar content in other media, often at less expense. Writers who are aware of their competition, respect readers, perfect their manuscripts, consider their art a career, and demonstrate their ability to engage their intended audience, well…

We know who they are.

Full disclosure

Christina Katz is my friend, but I recommend her book because the advice in it is so good. Chuck Sambuchino wrote a similar manual called Create Your Writer Platform, but then I must admit that Chuck’s a friend, too. There’s also Amanda Luedeke’s ebook, The Extroverted Writer: An Author’s Guide to Marketing and Building a Platform. I’ve met Amanda. I like and respect her. She’s a dynamo. Several other books cover this very topic, and some of these resources are likely to be available at the nearest library. By the way, my old neighbor Bob Robertson-Boyd developed the WorldCat interface that shows the closest library where a copy of a particular book can be borrowed.

Musical accompaniment

Believe it or not, I do have a heart. It gets crumpled a lot, to the tune of “The Laugh of Recognition.” Over the Rhine are some of my favorite musicians.

BookADay-The Borough Press