Month: April 2013
My marketing (old career) mind pondered a question from a blog subscriber regarding building followers. The more I thought, the more convinced I became that order does matter because some platforms naturally feed others that don’t actively reciprocate.
The NLBHorton platform started with facebook and twitter. These building tools weren’t genius or strategy; they appeared easier to implement well than a full-scale blog. Many elements of these two are tightly controlled, so development involved fewer choices that could (and should) be consistent across both—cover shot, and author bio and photo on facebook; background, and author bio and photo on twitter.
Developing a professional-looking blog requires more decisions, time, and effort (conquering WordPress, for instance). Followers must find a blog, whereas twitter requires little more than sitting at a computer watching posts scroll. Facebook is a little more work for your following than twitter, but linking facebook and twitter accounts make them interact: if someone sees one, they are led to the other. (I recommend a professional facebook author page instead of using a personal one; remember, you’re promoting your work. Few followers want to see photos of your 25th high-school reunion.)
And then there’s the website: the mother-ship, really. Embed your blog therein, post links to your site on facebook and twitter profiles, and present a comprehensive package that’s a one-stop waltz through your public platform. A beautiful website, one that moves readers toward your writing, is time-consuming to develop, and requires a lot of planning and thought. So your first good shots out should be facebook and twitter, followed by website with blog. You’ll also see what works on facebook and twitter, enabling you to better target your website (which can be expensive to develop, so you want to do it once).
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by social media, but easier than you think to build and control. I’ve just crested an aggregate of 10,000 followers in about six months (without a product). While managing the public image is a little time-consuming, tools like BUFFER (https://bufferapp.com/) automate posting and make it doable.
With planning, consistency, and thought, you can create the impact today’s publishers require—and enjoy the process as well by interacting (VERY important) with those interested in your thoughts and ideas. Twitter…facebook…website…blog. You can do this.[subscribe2]
You’ve researched, pondered, written, and spell-checked. You’re ready for a professional edit. (I’d suggest reaching for bandages, antibacterial cream, and chocolate now.)
If you’re seriously trying to get published, you already know the odds (less than one percent for an unpublished author). Everything has to be perfect; stars must align; God must smile on your face. And you must be lucky, or a well-publicized ax murderer with a story to tell. Assuming you’re not on death row, you pay your dues after doing your best—and that means a professional edit.
I found my first manuscript’s editor through a writers’ association. My second was recommended by my literary agent. I was accustomed to taking direction from clients and remembered brutal edits in Journalism 101 class, but nothing prepared me for the electronic file I opened one summer evening in Germany.
The entire right column—the comments field—was crimson. The attack extended BELOW the page, corrections, re-directions and questions dripping from the edge like a hemorrhaging wound. Her work eviscerated 85,000 words. So I did what any adult would do in this situation: laughed while reaching for an almond-studded Toblerone bar.
The visual impact staggered me. Creating the document was tough, but how was I going to conquer 250 double-spaced screens of literary gore? The answer was one screen at a time.
About twenty screens into the carnage, a pattern emerged. Then I discovered mistakes: syntax, redundancy, logic flaws—mind you, this document made it to the top level of a Big Six, so it wasn’t garbage—bringing Journalism 101 lessons to the surface of my work. Halfway through, I started anticipating comments. By the end of the document, I believed my editor was the most brillant person on earth.
The process was an epiphany. It hurt. It was a vast, hard work. But I LEARNED SO MUCH from her expertise, seeing my document through another set of qualified eyes.
My second manuscript is queued up for July edit, and I’m expecting a scarlet August. But the professional edit is some of the best money I’ve spent during my publishing journey, and I’d advise you budget for one. (Just remember funds for Mr. Hershey.)[subscribe2]
I confess: I hate twitter. With facebook, communications are long enough to express a coherent thought, and dialogue can develop. But 140 characters? Is twitter anything like speed-dating?
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Blog—the eeny, meeny, miny, mo of todays’ authors. A strong following in social media calms nervous publishers, assuring them someone besides our mothers enjoy our writing. But for an aspiring (and most likely, reclusive) author, wading into social media is baffling and scary. Here’s how I began.
GET A DECENT PHOTO OF YOURSELF. You’re going to need one for almost everything. How do you want to be perceived? Professorial or scholastic? Attractive or approachable? Glamorous or giddy? Study authors whose writing is similar to yours to see how they position themselves, and take cues from their author photos. Be thoughtful about the person you convey—nothing is truly deleted from the world-wide web.
GET ANOTHER PHOTO REPRESNTING YOUR TOPIC. Find (or take, as I did) a photo that epitomizes your subject or genre. For me, that means archaeological and Christian elements, as well as iconic images of foreign settings. I’ve a lot of photos from travel, as well as a background in advertising to stage a shot, but amazing stock images in the public domain can be used free of charge. The photo sets the mood for your brand, and compliments your author image, so chose carefully.
THINK ABOUT HOW TO DESCRIBE YOURSELF. The public platform bios are notoriously short, so condense your life history—and make it riveting! Once you have a short bio you like, you’ll be amazed how many places you use it. And don’t forget to stay relevant to your writing: no one cares if you home-schooled a Phi Beta Kappa unless you’re writing about home-schooling or Phi Beta Kappas.
POST AND INTERACT. Step one is to share interesting information. Step two is to respond when your receive a reply, retweet or favorite. You’ll quickly discover who’s interested in what you’re doing, and it’s wise to reciprocate by “favoriting” or “retweeting” their posts, and commenting on facebook or blog. The online community is vast, but individual personalities emerge. Keep your public platform proactive.
BE CONSISTENT. Services like Buffer (https://bufferapp.com/) enable you to schedule a slew of tweets and posts ahead of time. This means you have no excuse for irregularities if you go to the Bahamas for a week (I didn’t), or have a face lift (I won’t) and are away from your computer. Publishing is business, remember? Momentum, once built, is hard to regain when lost.
My characters are an odd lot—archaeologists, MI6 agents, elderly theologians. Each demographic has a unique voice. As a writer, I need to ensure my twenty-something spy dude doesn’t sound like my eighty-something holy man. How?
I live in a valley of young people, so I swung by the local coffee shop last week just to listen. I didn’t hear one complete sentence, learned a few words that won’t appear in print (at least not MY print), and discovered speech patterns resembling a chopped salad. Rule number one: LISTEN CAREFULLY TO YOUR TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC TALK.
I noticed they spoke in code, shared inside jokes, and acted like an exclusive club. They didn’t explain themselves fully because they knew what each other was talking about without going on ad nauseam, which brings me to rule number two: DON’T DUMP INFORMATION. BE CRISP.
They discussed “shredding” a hill, “bombing,” and the “zipper line,” (which are skiing really well, barrelling down a slope without regard for others’ safety, and the straightest shot down a mogul run). In other words, they spoke their own language. So rule number four? USE APPROPRIATE SLANG. (Please note I calmly cross-country ski.)
Realizing my elderly theologians would think shredding was something you did to paper, bombing was an unfriendly act of war, and the zipper line was what you remembered to pull up before you left the men’s room, I turned my attention to their dialogue—by listening to sermon videos on seminary websites.
A bunch of octogenarians in prayer don’t talk, so it’s unnecessary to tell my reader about their silence in this context, for example. However, when this group speaks, they mention things like Ugaritic, pneuma, trinitarianism, homologumena (hint: all the books recognized as holy scripture), or hypostatic union (Christ’s being fully human and fully divine). Even in dialogue, I need to provide a natural explanation of unusual words either directly or contexturally. Rule number four? DON’T OVERSHOOT YOUR MARKET.
Lastly, these dialogue tips have to be properly formatted, tied clearly to the appropriate speakers, and move my story along. I’m embarking on the last major edit of manuscript two, and will watch especially for dialogue mistakes after my spy-dude-versus-holy-man focus group. If I’m careful, my reader’s exegesis (draw out the true meaning of my text) will increase their enjoyment of my work, and they’ll think think I am woven (awesome), increasing sales.
Last week’s blog, My Trail of Breadcrumbs, shared the birth of my literary journey. This second installment (of three) describes the busy bees working with me.
THE MENTORS—As an entrepreneurial type, I never thought I’d approach my AARP years with a mentor, but I have two. The first I found in a professional-level class via an association mentioned in the Breadcrumb blog. Her feedback provides much-needed perspective, but her insight about the business of publishing is invaluable. She knows the ins and outs, and has saved my ignorant self from countless mistakes already.
The second mentor is a break-out author whose recent journey into the deep end of publishing puts my task in perspective. He also self-published before landing a major publisher, so straddles both worlds.
THE PEERS—I received for edit the first chapters from aspiring authors also taking yhe professional class. It was exciting to see such good work, read the diverse stories and perspectives, and figure out where I stood among my peers. We endured each other’s attempts at sharing an editor’s pitch (mine was easily the very worst) the night we met, applauded progress as presentations improved, and check in now for news about manuscripts and agent signings. We are becoming a resource, and I hope one day to find an edit group as powerful as my classmates.
THE AGENT—Without her, I wouldn’t stand a chance. She’s tending publishers while I develop my platform and write another manuscript. Before I attend a conference, she networks with acquisitions editors to pave the way for meetings. She provides direction on my public platform; shares feedback from editors assessing my work; and generally acts on my behalf in an industry still unfamiliar to me. When that publishing contract comes in, she’ll be responsible for negotiating—for both of us.
THE EDITOR— You need a professional editor. I need an editor. Published writers use editors. A professional edit will set you back $500 to $2000. Publishers want to know you’re investing in yourself by paying for classes and edits. (I think the phrase is “skin in the game.”) Those associations mentioned in the Breadcrumb blog are good places to begin your search for an editor, but trust me: you’ll never know how much you need one until you start to receive edited files from him or her. (I would recommend band-aids and antibacterial cream before you open the files. It’ll be bloody.)
THE FAMILY—If you read Breadcrumbs, you know my grown children goaded me into doing something with the manuscript gathering pixeldust in my computer. They’ve been proofreaders extraordinaire. My daughter in particular has been a source of ideas, comments, and
sarcasm encouragement. She’s also a great window into another generation I hope my work attracts. And then there’s Mr. Wonderful—ever patient, ever understanding of something he doesn’t understand at all. He listens to ideas and plans, tells me to invest in myself, and tries not to mention I’m dreaming big.
One of next week’s blogs will address the
onerous public platform essential for every aspiring author. It’s the toughest, most expensive piece of the puzzle, but we can’t be Hemingway in a boat anymore, landing a marlin with one hand while writing The Old Man and the Sea with the other. Writing is business now.