Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: books

If the cover is an invitation to the party in your book, then the blurb (the back cover description, the summary, whatever you want to call it) is the RSVP card readers check off as attending-with-the-chicken-option when they buy your book.

The trouble is that for so many books, while the cover is invites you to a rave, the blurb reveals it’s really polka night at the VFW.

The Book Cover
The Blurb

So, if the blurb is so important, why is it so hard to write? Raise your hand if you hate writing blurbs. Raise your other hand if you agonize over writing a blurb, and it still feels like it’s awful when it’s done.

Even Tolstoy probably downed a gallon or two of vodka while trying to write the blurb for War and Peace.

Well, for today’s Girl Friday, you get me, Cait Reynolds (you know, the chick who goes on vacation with six books and comes back with, uh, eighteen – no lie!), and my tips and tricks for turning blurb writing hell into blurb writing heaven!

Actually, *I* do.

I used to hate blurb writing with the heat of a thousand suns. Now, I pop them out like Pop-Tarts from a toaster. I used to think blurbs were a challenge set by the Devil (totally on par with that 40 days in the desert thing) to test my resolve in being a writer. Now?

The Lord rewards the righteous, and the way of blurb writing is littered with goodness and manna with sprinkles.

Why is blurb writing so hard?

In order to fully understand the solution, we have to look at the problem.

We write a book. We are so freaking excited about it! It’s such a good story! We want everyone to know what a good story it is! It has all these characters and a quest that is going to change the world! Oh, and then, there’s this really crucial part about…

…aaaaand that’s where we need to stop.

We have come down with a serious case of “KSS” – Kitchen Sink Syndrome. It’s probably safe to say that we have also contracted a secondary infection of “ISS” – Inadvertent Snowflake Syndrome.

The symptomology of Kitchen Sink Syndrome is easy to spot:

  • The urge to make sure the entire arc of the plot is covered;
  • Reassuring the reader that there will be a satisfying resolution;
  • Showing just how exciting the story is by revealing one of the twists;
  • Erupting in a rash of “No Character Left Behind” in the description.

If we can check off one or more of these symptoms, then we definitely need to get tested for Inadvertent Snowflake Syndrome, just to be on the safe side.

Signs of ISS include:

  • Mentioning the age of any character unless crucial to the plot;
  • Including irrelevant physical descriptors (I’m looking at you, raven-haired beauty!);
  • Reassuring the reader that the protagonist has best friends who will go with him/her on the quest;
  • Admitting that any characters fall in love with a 70% chance of happily ever after.

So, now we have a diagnosis that on the surface seems to nix basically anything we want to put in the blurb. It feels like we are further away than ever from that golden moment of revelation of how to write a blurb with ease and panache.

Yet, like chicken soup, antibiotics, and puppy-snuggling, there is a slow-and-steady cure for the blurb-writing blues.

Celebrity Death Match: Blurbs vs. Summaries

The first thing we have to do is stop thinking of the blurb as a stand-in for a synopsis or summary of the book. Stop thinking like a writer, and start thinking like an advertiser.

A summary tells all, reveals all, and has a purpose that is totally different from a blurb. It’s an editorial and production piece that rarely sees the light of day with the public.

A blurb is an advertisement. It’s meant to lure, entice, and tease. It is a selling tool.

And, just like most effective selling tools, absolute accuracy isn’t really necessary. Think of the blurb like it’s an ad for wrinkle cream (Thanks, Kristen!).

It will leave your skin softer and smelling good. Whether your skin is smoother or not is entirely subjective, so the claims of the ad can’t really be proved or disproved.

What I’m trying to say is that we can fudge things a little bit in a blurb if it will make it more exciting and enticing. For example, if Seraphina is learning to become a mage but ends up flunking out of mage school and not being a mage after all, we don’t really have to be honest and up front with the reader in the blurb that Seraphina will fall short of her goals and our expectations.

Just like the old saying, “There are no good lawyers, only lawyers who do their job well,” there are no good blurbs, only blurbs that do their job and sell the reader on the book.

Hokey Pokey blurbs

Good blurbs leave us wanting to know more, thinking about the problem posed, or fascinated with one little detail that was mentioned.

These are the things that lead us to buy the book. I totally get that it is wicked hard to pry ourselves out of the mindset of a being a writer and and into the slightly swampy mindset of being a marketer. So, here’s a little game I play when I sit down to write a blurb:

The Hokey Pokey.

You put your protagonist in. You leave the best friend out. You put the problem in. You leave the twist out. You do the Hokey Pokey and leave ’em on a cliffhanger. That’s what it’s all about.

(Look, I never said I was a poet or good at rhyming stuff.)

Obviously, there are exceptions and tweaks for every genre, and it’s a good practice to browse through both indie and traditionally published books in whatever genre we are writing to study the blurbs. Things to note as we read the blurbs:

  • How long are they?
  • How suspenseful?
  • What are some key words and phrases in the genre?
  • Do they start with a tagline (a one-sentence/sentence fragment that is a tease for the entire book)?
  • Do they end with a tagline?
  • What is the balance between the protagonist’s personal peril and the global peril of the plot?

If we look hard enough, patterns for the blurb emerge (kind of like those 3-D eye puzzles I could never get to come into focus). In all seriousness, the structure of a blurb is super simple and can be summed up by 3P’s made of 2-3 sentences each:

  • Protagonist: Who are we rooting for and where are they in life when the book starts?
  • Problem: What is the main problem of the book?
  • Peril: How does the problem bring the protagonist to the brink of X?

And leave it there. Don’t reassure the reader about anything. EVER. Reassurance is what they get when they buy the book and read it all the way through.

Which is why we write the blurb in the first place…

I’m not gonna lie. The kid has talent. I kinda want to read this. (From Mrs. Baldwin’s Class Blog – http://mrsbaldwin5.edublogs.org/2014/08/14/what-is-a-blurb/)

Blurb writing blows…but, it doesn’t have to

If you want to learn more about writing blurbs and get your blurb workshopped, join my class tonight!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, October 6th, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

The blurb. Back cover description. 150-200 words. Your entire book in 3 small paragraphs.

The heart’s cry goes up from every single writer ever: “THIS IS HARDER TO WRITE THAN THE 90,000 WORDS OF MY BOOK!”

And yet, it shouldn’t be. Approached from a different angle, a blurb should be one of the easiest and most fun things to write. Yes. I went there. I said it. Hopefully, after taking this class, you will be saying it, too. No more blubbering over blurbs. Ever.

This class will cover:

  • Understanding the purpose of a blurb in attracting readers;
  • The top secret formula to structuring a blurb;
  • How to plug-and-play every blurb, every time;
  • Why everything you think is important in your story really isn’t (in terms of the blurb);
  • The secret to keywords, blurbs, and algorithms.

As a bonus, bring a copy of your blurb to the class for group workshopping!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

GOLD PACKAGE

With the Gold Package, you get a 1 hour consult and hands-on blurb editing session with Cait!

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

Happy Friday! It’s Cait Reynolds, sitting in for Kristen – who is off GALLIVANTING in New Zealand. We’re not jealous. Or bitter. At. All. Anyway, while the cat’s away, other cats will come in and mark their territory.

Today, I am super excited to bring you Kim Alexander, fantasy writer extraordinaire. If you know anything about me, you know that I am a picky b*tch when it comes to fiction, and there are very few authors that I would go back to the well for, especially when it comes to series. Kim is one of them. Consider this a ‘ground-floor tip’ from me. She’s one to watch.

Kim Alexander and Cait Reynolds at Book Expo America 2017 in New York City. (Also, innocent until proven guilty.)

Encomiums aside, Kim is a master world-builder for fantasy. Today, she is going to talk about something very cool: books within books. This concept is interesting from two perspectives.

The first is the purely commercial aspect of it, (I’m looking at J.K. Rowling and sighing wistfully at the thought of her bank account). Books within books give us a chance to expand a series not just with a ‘back list,’ but with a ‘side list’ of related books.

The second aspect is how it brings the reader deeper into the culture and characters. We read, and we read about characters reading. But to read what they read and understand the impact of that reading…well, that’s a pretty awesome immersion technique. (Bonus points if you unraveled my sentences.)

Before we get to Kim, I need to share a quick programming note: Monday’s blog is going to be the announcement of our September 2017 class schedule. We have new instructors, new classes, and so much more planned!

Now, without further ado…Kim Alexander!

* * *

Traffic, Bilbo Baggins, and espresso (lots of it).

First of all, I have to thank your regularly scheduled squatter Cait who SWORE to me it was okay with Kristen that I take over her page today. Cait, you did tell her, right? RIGHT?

So…hello, friend. I’m Kim Alexander, and I live in DC and write epic fantasy. I used to co-run Sirius XM Book Radio, so I got to interview literally hundreds of authors. When my channel got cancelled, I took everything I learned over those past 5 years and started writing my own books. (I also was an old fashioned radio DJ as a dewy youth, so if you were in South Florida or the Keys you may have heard me kick off another seven song set with Aerosmith coming up after the break. After that I was a traffic reporter for approximately seven thousand years; yes, there was a backup on the beltway; yes, I went up in a helicopter a few times; yes, it was both hard and boring.)

These days, like the rest of us, I mostly start my day in a cold sweat, have a good shower-cry, drink a triple espresso, and do my best to get some work done.

It’s kind of hard to do that last part. Especially when we’re going through a tough time.

I feel pretty confident that I’m not the only one who sometimes needs it all to just stop, just for a few minutes. And there’s no place better to escape than taking solace inside of books.

You know who else is working through some tough times? Almost everyone you’ll meet in those pages. I mean, they wouldn’t be there if things were super, going really well, thanks! If Bilbo just hung around the Shire smoking weed and having parties – no, that’s a bad example, I’d still read that. Okay, if Paul never left Caladan and grew up as a minor noble who never even heard of sandworms, that wouldn’t be much of a story.

So, things go wrong, and then they get wronger. Those stressed, heartsick, lonely, frightened characters – like us – sometimes get away by turning to their favorite imaginary books.

Great books that came from books (and some that didn’t).

I love books within books almost as much as I love footnotes.

Since I’m a weirdo, Lovecraft’s Necronomicon springs to mind as one of my favorites, although I don’t think anyone cracks it open with a cup of tea to relax. I could be wrong – I don’t know your life/allegiance to the Elder Gods.

Harry Potter has dozens of them, of course. Strategically releasing these books not only fed the feeding frenzy of all things Potter, it tided fans over until the release of The Cursed Child and the start of a new movie franchise.

Dune not only has pages of them, but references them liberally throughout the text. I’ve always wanted that thumb sized copy of the Orange Catholic Bible to go along with the ‘I will face my fear’ tattoo I’m going to get one day. Yes, I am way into Dune.

Fictional books have always appealed to me, as much, almost as books of fiction. They are the mystery that can never be solved, they impact our heroes (and villains) without ever showing their faces. It’s up to the author whether or not they want to expose their books-within-books to the light of day. They can be a joke, or a key, or commentary on the action. They add another layer.

They have great power.

I wanted one for myself, or rather, my books.

Not writing a book-within-a-book…then writing it.

In my epic fantasy novel The Sand Prince, my hero, the misfit demon prince Rhuun, finds just such a book – a marvelous story of the adventures of a human man and his friends and enemies on the other side of The Door, the mystical portal separating his own world of Eriis from the human lands of Mistra. The humans are a great mystery to the demons of Eriis, as The Door has been locked in the wake of a disastrous war a generation past. Rhuun is something of a mystery as well, even to himself. He sees something in the human book that resonates with him, and he sees a strange echo of himself in the painting of the human man and woman on the cover of his book. He thinks it’s a documentary, a blueprint to a way of behaving in a world he’s desperate to visit.

He’s mistaken.

Originally, the idea that a lurid, over-the-top, bodice-ripping romance novel would serve as my hero’s guide to the human world was a sort of joke. But then, as things tend to do with us writers, the joke got out of hand and took on a life of its own. I began to seriously consider it.

What if, I asked myself, the only thing Rhuun knows about the human world is what he read in this little book, without context? When he meets Lelet, our relatively modern human heroine, how will she react when he calls her a ‘wench?’ (Pretty much as you’d expect.)

To create my book within a book, I first wrote the epigrams appearing at the beginning of each chapter set in Mistra and taken from the imaginary novel, The Claiming of the Duke. I wanted them to reflect the action in the chapter, and I made the prose of each one more purple than the next.

Then, after The Sand Prince was published, I decided to try and write the whole book.

Since I had one character die twice, several murders, many heaving, creamy, alabaster bosoms, and some fairly ridiculous dialogue, I had a lot of work to do retro-fitting an actual plot with real characters into the twelve or so pages of text I’d already written. It was plotting something that hadn’t even really been pantsed.

I kept almost all (not quite all) of the original epigrams from The Sand Prince. I invented a mysterious dead wife for my Duke, and figured out how to kill off that pesky character who meets his maker twice. I have to confess, I sort of became quite fond of the Duke – to my own surprise – since he’s sort of an alpha-jerk. Only sort of, because even he has hidden and honestly kind of kinky depths.

In fact the most fun I had was sprinkling references to both The Sand Prince and its sequel The Heron Prince into The Claiming of the Duke. We find out why Rhuun picks ‘Moth’ as his name in the human world. If you’ve read those books, you’ll easily find your way through the darkened hallways of the once-great crumbling estate of Gardenhour. If not, welcome to Mistra and I hope you enjoy your introduction to my world within a world inside this book.

Oh! Nearly forgot to mention my inspirations and guiding spirits. Allow me to make your life a better place by introducing you to Leeloo and Onion.

Leeloo, pictured right, is A Lady. Onion, left, is Cattus Gooberus. We like to keep them folded away for neat and easy storage.

Here they are staring in obvious terror at something just above my head. Or an invisible bug. Or air.

So, the cats and I will see you in next month’s classes, and we’ll talk a little more about the ways you can make your fictional fantasy world come to life.

About Kim Alexander

Kim Alexander lives in Washington DC where she writes epic fantasy and paranormal romance.  These days she divides her time between writing, rooftop gardening, and waiting on her cats. ?

Her earlier incarnation co-producing Sirius XM Book Radio gave her a look inside the heads of hundreds of best selling authors, and she’s ready to pass on what she learned.

Kim Alexander Online

 

 

***

For the month of AUGUST, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***

CATCH THE LAST CLASSES FOR AUGUST AND WATCH HERE FOR OUR WHOLE NEW LINE-UP OF SEPTEMBER CLASSES!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here). $45.00 USD. Wednesday, October 11, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Painting With Words: Using Description and Sensory Details. $40.00 USD. Saturday, Monday, October 9, 2017. 7:00-7:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Social Media for Writers. $35.00 USD. Thursday, October 19, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Harnessing Our Writing POWER---The BLOG! $50.00 USD. Thursday, October  26th, 2017. 7:00 p.m.--9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

A couple weeks ago, I had a post about how to sell fiction. We explored the WHY behind the BUY. The same tools that will sell car insurance or bank accounts won’t work for selling books. Fiction is emotional, and often we will purchase based off feelings. This is why likability on social media is so crucial to marketing. We are no longer selling stories…we are selling ourselves, which just confirms for me that writers really are the oldest profession in the world. But that’s another topic entirely :D.

Often we will judge a book by its cover author. If interacting with the author is a pleasant experience, we feel better about purchasing their books and even promoting them to our network of connections. Conversely, if an author is self-centered, self-promotes non-stop, spams everyone in sight, takes without giving in return and acts like an equestrian derriere, we would sooner suck nails through a straw than part with .99 that would benefit the jerk writer. A few of you were concerned, however, about how to be “liked.” No need to panic. Today’s post is here to help. Connecting with others is so simple that we frequently make it harder than it needs to be. Being likable doesn’t mean we need to be phoney.

There are a lot of different ways to do social media. My WANA methods rely heavily on learning to be part of a team, and, as we have discussed before, this is very contrary to traditional marketing. I believe social media works like a barn-raising. Everyone does a little bit for the good of the whole. Even just being mindful to do small things makes a huge difference in the long-run.

One of the biggest obstacles we face in social media is that we do have to limit the self-promotion. It turns people off and they really aren’t likely to listen when we go around tooting our own horn. What do we do then? We do what is counterintuitive…we support others.

The single largest determining factor as to whether a person will succeed or not on social media is our L.Q. Heard of I.Q.? Well, L.Q. is your Likabilty Quotient.

We don’t care how smart you are as much as we care if we LIKE you. When working on our social media platform, the ever-present questions should always be:

Do people like me?

I know it sounds crazy, but it is true. And there is no need to panic. Calm down. You don’t need to hide all your Star Trek paraphernalia and tell your friends to get in the closet. This isn’t high school, where popularity is based on stupid stuff.

Likability is important. Why? We hang out with people we like. We promote them. We go out of our way for them. We want them to succeed.

Our information can be the best on the web, but when pitted against another blogger with not-as-great-information…but she connects to readers and we don’t? The likable blogger will win. If she promotes others and we don’t? Again, she will win.

Being an excellent writer is not enough.  When we get out on social media (or even launch a blog) we must make sure we have good content. That is a no-brainer. I don’t know about you guys, but find it hard to like people in person who ramble or talk to hear the sound of their own voice. On the web, I like substance just as much.

But, in addition to that great content, we MUST actively work on how others perceive us. We must become likable. How to we become likable? We serve others first. Remember the barn-raising? Help them raise their barn, and most people will be more than happy to return the favor.

Top 10 Ways to Raise Your L.Q.

1. If we are on Twitter and we know an author writes great blogs, RT (retweet) for them. It only takes a minute of time, and it earns you a reputation of being an edifier.

2. Comment on blogs (REAL Comments). A healthy comments section is a sign of a healthy blog. Comments are encouraging to bloggers who take a lot of time to craft meaningful posts. When readers take time to comment, it has the potential to generate dialogue. Dialogue is critical for a blog to thrive.  I want comments on my blog, so I go out of my way to comment on the blogs of others.

3. Reply to comments on our own blogs. I wish I could reply to every single last one of you. You guys have no idea how much you make my day when you take the time to post feedback, compliments or even your opinions. Remember in social media, our goal is to form relationships. Relationships are two-way streets.

4. Visit the sites of those who post in your comments. You guys might not be aware, but I am always on the lookout for great blogs for the mash-up. I regularly click on your websites and blogs.

5. Embed trackbacks (hyperlinks)…um the blue thingies. Link to other blogs you like. Link to books you like. Hey, we need all the help we can get these days. There are A LOT of choices. Mash-ups (lists of favorite links/blogs) and even recommendations are a great way to help out other writers and generate more traffic to your blog at the same time. Everyone wins.

6. Blog about your favorite books, then link to that author’s book, home page or blog. Need blogging ideas? Go out of your way to promote others. Part of why I talk so much about Bob Mayer, James Scott Bell, Les Edgerton, Donald Maass, Blake Snyder, Jessica Morrell and Christopher Vogler is because these writers are my heroes. I believe that these are the best teachers in the industry. Now, instead of them having to go out and self-promote I have gifted them with the best gift a writer can have….a genuine word-of-mouth recommendation from a fan. Make life easy on other authors, and who knows? They might one day love to return the favor.

7. When you see a blog/book you like, take a moment to tweet the post or repost the link on your FB page. This helps the blogger/author gain exposure she otherwise wouldn’t have. It also benefits people in your circle of friends in that you are acting as a filter for great information…which helps your platform grow because people trust you for quality goods.

8. Openly praise. When I see a writer post a blog, I go out of my way to open, scan and take a look. Then, when I post, I make sure to add a “Great post!” or a “Very interesting!” Trust me. People remember an authentic compliment.

9. Repost someone else’s blog. Some people might get weird about this, but this is an amazing way to spread influence for you and the blogger you repost. Have the flu? Power outage and you don’t know how you will get a blog together in time? No worries. Just repost. How do you do this?

Give the title of the blog, and make it very clear you are reposting someone else’s content. Only give the first couple paragraphs…enough to hook a reader. Then add a hyperlink to the original blog. Now you have a blog post and the blogger you promoted now has exposure to your regular followers. I gain a lot of subscriptions this way. There are some people who had never heard of me until Marilag Lubag (Hi Marilag!) reposted one of my blogs. Her readers followed the hyperlink, loved my blog (in its entirety), and I have new fans. Yippppeeee!

10. At least hit the “Like” button. I know that sometimes I read blogs on my phone and I really don’t feel like trying to type out a compliment. I have a touch screen and there is an auto-correct function. My compliment would probably look like this:

 I loved your blood. You make so many grape poinsettias and I wish I wood have fought of it. Grape stuff. Looking forehead to next leek’s blood.

So if you don’t want a blogger thinking you want to “leak their blood” instead of “read their blog” it is fine. Hit the “Like” button. Takes two seconds and it encourages the writer who put their effort into the blonde…blood…blog. And they WILL remember your face.

You know, I didn’t always do things the right way. In the beginning, my blogs sounded more like lectures. Was I stuck up? No. Was I insecure and waiting for the digital cabbages to come flying through the screen? Yes. Fear of saying the wrong thing or sounding stupid or making a mistake can keep us from genuinely interacting. But when we fail to interact, what others see is a snob, not someone who is literally terrified that both feet will fly in her mouth. I know it doesn’t make sense, but humans are self-centered, insecure and neurotic.

If someone makes a weird face, we automatically assume they are looking at our fat thighs (okay, maybe that is just me). We don’t stop to think that person might be shy. Why? Because we are paranoid narcissists and like to believe we influence everything. It’s a control thing. You know I am right :D. You, in the back, lurking on my blog. We do like you, you just were so quiet you blended in with HTML. Come hang out. Have a snack.

Can you spot the writer?

Being likable is far easier than it seems. I guarantee you that if you just employ a handful of those ten tactics, your following will improve tremendously. Why? Because you will be giving others what we all desperately need…support, validation, compliments.

What are some habits/behaviors that you guys LIKE? What small or big things can others do that just warms your heart and puts you on their team? Conversely, what are some pet peeves? Maybe we are screwing up but don’t know. Educate us! I want to hear from you guys.

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of February I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

I know we are supposed to be talking about the third person you need to know to be successful on social media–the Salesman. But, over the weekend my Great Aunt Iris (who might as well have been my grandmother we were so close) slipped into a coma and then passed away on Sunday morning. She had just turned 98, so yes it is sad, but it is amazing that she lived such a full and long life. Anyway, I have not had time to finish the Salesman post, so rather than rushing and slapping up a less-than-stellar blog, I decided to post a lesson from early this year.

Most of us have slept since Spring, so a refresher is always refreshing. *drum roll, snare*  Yes, I’ll be here all week. Drinks are half-price.

I have been doing social media for a number of years, and it has been wonderful to see how writers have embraced technology. I remember back in 2006 I had a hard enough time getting many writers to learn to use e-mail, let alone join Facebook.  Yet, it was really only in 2009 that I started thinking of myself as an expert. Namely I watched a lot of social media people teach tactics that were more likely to give writers permanent hair loss than anything. They were trying to overlay a Corporate America template on to a writer’s career. Not a good fit.

Kind of like watching me try to put on size zero skinny jeans…lots of grunting and pain and the end result ain’t pretty.

Anyway, writers finally did perk up to the fact that they needed to be on social media, yet we had an information vacuum. Many writers took off doing the best they could, and, in the process, made a lot of errors. Hey, I was one of them. Need I remind you of texaswriterchik?

*slaps forehead*

The thing is, I am teaching writers how to do this social media platform thing the correct way. This is all great and wonderful if you are new and haven’t started building. For others? I see the digital blood drain from your face when I give the bad news:

I’m sorry, but your platform needs major reconstructive surgery. I need to put your brand in a temporary coma so it doesn’t die while we do the transplants. Do you have insurance?

Some people suck it up, bite on some leather and resolve to get it over with. Others? Denial is more than a river in Africa.

I hear a lot of, “Writers just need to do what works for them.”

Yes….but, um, no.

 

I will use an example to illustrate. Say I want to make chocolate cake. My end goal is a chocolate cake. So I set out cooking, but I don’t want to use butter, and I don’t like eggs, and definitely no flour and I just can’t bring myself to use chocolate. Instead, I want to use vanilla pudding, and slices of bananas and top it off with vanilla wafer cookies and LOTS of whipped cream.

So you say, “Wait, but you aren’t making chocolate cake.”

And I say, “Well this is how I make chocolate cake.”

And you say, “But, you just made banana pudding. That’s NOT chocolate cake.”

And I get huffy and reply, “Stop judging me. Maybe YOU make chocolate cake differently, but everyone needs to do what works for them.”

You would think I was a lunatic. Yes, I made a dessert….but I didn’t make a chocolate cake.

If our end goal is to brand our name, which it should be…then there are right and wrong ways to go about this. My lessons are to make our name alone a bankable asset. Our NAME will have the power to drive book sales so we have more time to write, or prank call or even make origami monkeys.

There is a HUGE difference between having a social media presence and becoming a brand. And I know I am about to do some sacred cow-tipping, but it needs to be done.

My second book, Are You There, Blog? It’s Me Writer is a great book to teach you all you ever wanted to know about blogging to build an author brand. There is little point to contributing content to the Internet if it doesn’t build our brand.

Tweeting under a cutesy moniker. We have discussed this one before, but some people are new (here is the post). Every time we tweet, that is an “advertisement” that contributes to building our brand. The only acceptable Twitter handle is the name that will be on the front of our books. Period. If we are tweeting under @FairyGirl, we are contributing great content—blogs, articles, conversation—but we have the WRONG name top-of-mind.  Readers cannot buy a book by Fairy Girl, so all that tweeting is wasted effort.

Writing on Group Blogs at the Expense of Our Author Blog I have run into writers who were very prolific, contributing to multiple group blogs. Group blogs are wonderful. They can help us learn to blog better and can offer accountability. Yet, if we are writing for three different group blogs, but then not blogging on our own site? That is BAD. Group blogs will not brand an individual author. Yes, we will have a social media presence…but that isn’t a brand.

I read a lot of WONDERFUL group blogs, but the name of the group is what will be top of mind. Writers in the Storm, Adventures in Children’s Publishing, and Writer Unboxed are three of the best group blogs, but I would be hard-pressed to give the names of the contributors. And, the ones I can name have their own separate blogs that buttress their brand.

I care very much about you guys, and I want all of you to be successful. But part of caring is giving the truth. When we decide to go from hobbyist to professional, we sometimes have to make the tough choices. We have to say no to friends, family, kids and pets. We have to spend time working when we would rather play. If we are contributing to a bunch of group blogs, but our own blog is infested with dust bunnies and spam bots? We might need to make a choice. Hang out with friends? Or build our career?

Our own brand is paramount. The more bankable our name, the more books we sell. The more books we sell, the more successful (and enjoyable) our writing career will be.

There are right ways and wrong ways and smart ways to build a brand. Can we brand ourselves by only blogging on group blogs? Sure. Anything is possible. I could theoretically take I-35 south from Texas and get to Canada. It involves a very tedious journey through South America over Antarctica, up the other side of the globe and over the North Pole. The Earth IS round. I will get to Canada eventually, BUT the odds of me giving up and going home are far more likely than me reaching Canada.

Is my taking I-35 South WRONG? Technically, no. But it is a formula to give up.

Many writers find social media to be a huge time suck, namely because they either have no plan or they have a flawed plan. I used to think it was a time-suck, too. But I wasn’t approaching social media correctly. I have made all the dumb mistakes so you don’t have to :D.

My two books have hit the top of multiple best-seller lists using the methods I am teaching. And I am not the only one who has experienced this kind of dramatic success. I have a stack of testimonials. Yes, we are free to do social media any way we please. No Facebook police will drag us to digital jail. But I think most of us would rather spend more time writing and less time trying to Bond-O a faulty platform.

What are some tough choices you guys have had to make for your writing? What are some tough choices you face, but maybe don’t know what to do? Have any advice or suggestions? Put them in the comments!

I do want to hear from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of October, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

NOTE: For those of you who haven’t yet gotten your pages back, please resend to my assistant (if you haven’t already). I get about 500 e-mails a day, so I am redoing things so submissions don’t get lost in the ether. Thanks for your patience.

Gigi at gigi dot salem dot ea at g mail dot com. Gigi will make sure I get your pages.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of October I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

Happy Friday!!!! Today I have a really special treat for you guys. I do have to say that I love being right, but sometimes it kinda sux being right…but then it goes back to being awesome that I am right. Confused? Okay, well I started a ton of controversy surrounding writer blogs with such posts as Sacred Cow-Tipping–Why Writers Blogging About Writing is Bad and More Sacred Cow-Tipping–Common Blogging Misconceptions.

We have big folks in publishing claiming that blogging is dead, that blogging is a waste of time and does nothing to drive book sales. Yet, I counter with, “What if blogging isn’t the problem? What if writers just don’t know how to blog?”

GASP!

I mean if I ran out and spent $2000 on a Mac computer and the promptly used it to swat mosquitos and then loudly proclaimed that Mac laptops were a waste of money, everyone would think I was a lunatic, right? Yet we have the hubris to believe that because we can string together sentences that we instantly have the know-how to write a blog that connects to thousands of readers in a way that creates loyalty and drives book sales??? Hey, I’m not judging. I learned this stuff by making all the mistakes.

Yet, we have this amazing tool–the blog–and think that with NO instruction, we can be successful. Can we? Sure. Are there better approaches that are more effective? YES!!!

Blogging isn’t dead, but blogging is an art and a skill that needs to be learned. It can be learned by trial and error (like me) or it can be learned by those who have made all the dumb mistakes and who are willing to share their knowledge (from me). It feels good to be right, but sometimes it can bum me out, too. Yet, the awesome part is that, if I am right and I offer instruction to writers who want to blog, then there is a path to success and that is great reason to get excited.

Today my pal Susan Bischoff-who is an amazing writer and very sweet/supportive person-is going to share her experience. A couple weeks ago, Susan courageously e-mailed me and asked if she could share her story so that other writers could learn from her mistake. I think that is awesome and very brave and adds one more reason I adore her.

Thanks, Susan for doing this….

***

Kristen’s recent post, The Secret to Selling Books Part I–Let’s Get Sticky, certainly got a lot of people talking. Part of what’s interesting to me about the post and the buzz it’s created is that, in a lot of ways, it’s the same thing Kristen’s been trying to tell us all along. This idea that writers talking to writers about writing is not optimal use of social media if you want to sell fiction is something that’s clear in her books We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media (a.k.a. the WANA Guide) and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer.

So I wanted to talk about why, knowing and understanding Kristen’s advice regarding blogging to and for writers, I basically ignored her and did it anyway. More importantly, I wanted to give you a bit of case study about how that’s worked out for me.

Blog on topic…

From the time I read the WANA Guide, around the same time that I released my first novel, and I determined to get serious, to retake my neglected blog, to make an effort on Twitter, etc., I’ve experienced the frustration of not feeling like I had anything to talk about except writing. Kristen says to blog “on topic.” On something related to your book.

One suggestion she makes is to take the research you did for your book and write articles about that. If your fiction is set in a historical period, write articles about that period, about the clothes, food, events, technology, etc. People interested in that period will find you and may be interested in reading your fictional perspective. Write about ghosts? Then write about ghost hunters, paranormal science, ghost sightings, ghostly legends.

Even for those of us who don’t feel like we do much active research, like what we write comes purely out of our heads (Purely? Really? Not inspired by anything?) we could probably find something in the real world to tie in to our fiction.

I write about teens with superpowers. So I could write about comic book superheroes, superhero TV shows and cartoons, superhero movies, books about kids with abilities…

Yah. If had time to actually take that stuff in. And then analyze it for something to say besides ZOMG Squee! or Thor’s six-pack! :flail:. And then write about it in some way that makes it actually worth someone’s time to read about it.

Writing about writing is easy. It’s accessible to us. We think about it all the time. We discover things that are new to us, and we enjoy sharing those things with people who get it—the people we rarely meet in real life. Writing a writer blog is very gratifying.

In my case, I know that I didn’t see how I could maintain an “on topic” blog because I didn’t want to see it. I really wanted to keep doing what I was doing. And I see this from others all the time, in comments on Kristen’s posts and in what people say on their on blogs.

Just doing what came naturally…

It was very easy to convince myself that my writer blog was totally working for me. I was building a following on my blog. People were subscribing. I was selling a lot of books, in large part due to the Amazon machine. The way it works is that you hit a certain level of sales compared to everyone else, which causes you to achieve a rank, which causes you to hit their charts, which causes you to be easily seen by browsers, which increases your sales dramatically, which causes you to chart higher and more widely, which increases your sales even more, which means that some of those people are actually reading and some of those reading are actually reviewing, adding buzz and credibility to your visibility, getting you some more sales…

And where did I tell myself all of that started? In part, with all of my writer buddies. Every sale counts, and it doesn’t matter why someone bought the book, it still helped its rank.

  • I wrote a whole blog series about marketing ideas that helped me. It was very popular.
  • An article I wrote was published by a company which helps authors market. Many of those authors publish independently as I do.
  • Every time I wrote about a level of success I experienced, people who wanted so support independent publishing would say, “See, she’s sold more than 150 copies!”

And not only did those things send visitors to my blog, it did sell some books because the book itself was very inexpensive and people were curious about my writing. Some wanted to know how good a book has to be to sell like that (not like it was a huge seller) and some wanted to know if I was doing something so right that I was selling even a really crappy book. But they were all sales.

So I was writing about writing and catering to writers and I was doing just fine, thank you very much. I was being supportive and instructive. I was paying back and paying it forward, and getting all kinds of nice comments and blog love. I was building a blog and a solid blog following—something that I doubted I could accomplish. Yay!

When I realized it didn’t work…

So I went to publish my second book. Allegedly I had thousands of readers of the first book. But, uh-oh, I don’t know how to get in touch with them. Even though I offer a newsletter, only a few hundred people signed up for it. And what was really interesting to me about the newsletter, during the year in which I collected subscribers, was the fact that I didn’t know them. They were not the people who commented on my blog or talked to me on Twitter. They were people completely unfamiliar to me.

Oh, look! I think that may be a retroactive clue.

Okay, so I got ready to put the book out. I let everyone know on my blog. I asked for their help to spread the word. I wrote some extra good posts that brought in extra high traffic—posts aimed at writers and indie publishers.

The book went out. I let everyone know on social media. I posted links. My friends supported me with Twitter mentions, liking me on Facebook, carrying the badge for the new book on their blogs, writing whole blog posts mentioning the release. They were awesome. And they probably reached all the same people I reached because we have all the same followers.

Last time I put a book out, I had not built up my social media platform. If a writer friend promoted me, that message reached people I couldn’t reach. A year later, we’re all hooked up, linked in. Homogenized. I think people must get that on some level, which accounts for some of the scurrying about to find new friends and hobbies the wake of the “Sticky” post.

See, of all the people it was in my power to inform, only people who were fans of my books bought my second book. Right now I have a follower base who are fans of my writing/publishing advice.But that’s not what the book is about.

I neither want nor expect fans of the writing advice to buy my fiction if the content doesn’t interest them. I neither need nor expect pity or loyalty sales. The advice I gave, I gave for free. And I don’t regret giving it away in the slightest. I got a lot out of giving it, and that’s a big reason why I kept doing it, to the exclusion of focusing on my fiction/genre/topic stuff.

I built a writer blog. And that in itself is cool. In a financial sense, it would be cooler if I’d monetized my blog, if it carried ads. Then I’d get paid to build that following just for the sake of building it. In a marketing sense, it would be super cool if I also had books about writing or publishing to market. Then my blog would be selling my product. But my product is fiction.

Looking at my blog content as advertising, it’s like I wanted to sell jewelry and so I wrote about sports and ran the commercials on ESPN. Will I hit a few viewers who might be curious enough about me to look more deeply, a few who happen to like jewelry and then become my customers?

Maybe.

But in terms of ROI (return on investment), it is not the best use of my time and creative energy to maintain focus on a topic that has very little to do with my product. Nor to focus on a demographic that isn’t necessarily part of my target, a demographic with lots of book consumers, yes, but consumers who are over-saturated with book choices.

Solid platform, wrong crowd…

When I released my second book, I felt like I was standing on my platform, looking out over my sea of followers. People who respect me professionally or like me personally and care what I have to say about writing. People who have appreciated what I’ve been sharing with them as I’ve learned it. And there I was, ready to make my big announcement. And I said, “Hark, oh ye loyal followers, for now I have NEWS!”

And upon hearing the news, a few of them jumped up and gave me a squee, because a few of them actually like what I write. And some of them took the time to give me a grin and a thumb-up, and even a pat on the back, because they like me. But mostly they just went right back to talking to each other about writing like we always do.

Because we’re all writers. We’ve all got books coming out every week. Big deal.

Logical. Obvious. But I needed to have this experience for it to really hit home. To really understand what Kristen was saying. I had taken my evidence, my sales figures and my blog subscribers (and other social media numbers), and made them tell me something I wanted hear—that the writing about writing was really working for me. (Must be because I was just soooo good at it.)

(Please, girl.)

I want to continue to serve, to share what I learn, to be kind (and yeah, rack up some good karma). I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to do. But I need to understand that putting too much focus on that doesn’t serve what I say my goals are. That’s me becoming known as Susan: sweet, sensitive, and sometimes insightful writer girl. That’s not me developing a reputation as Susan: author of kick-ass teen paranormal romance.

If I focus on the writer persona to the exclusion or detriment of the author persona, for the sake of serving the writer community instead of my writing career…that seems a little martyrish.

So what now?

In terms of selling book 2, sales will come. I’m a good writer and it’s a solid piece of work. I just have to wait for a slow build that might have been faster if I’d been more linked in to my actual market.

And the platform?

I have a lot of thoughts. I mean, this element of what I did non-optimally is really only part of my recent mind-blowing epiphany. I think I have a better understanding of how I want to use my blog. One hundred topics for my blog that might actually sell my books? Nope. Don’t have those yet. A clue where I’m going to go to find my target demographic and how I’m going to reach out and interact with them without being spammy? Nope. I think I’m going to take Kristen’s upcoming workshop to try to figure it out. After all, it somehow seems like she’s always right.

***

THANK YOU SUSAN!!! And I really look forward to having you in class. For those reading, the class is still open but you need to sign up FAST. Class is about to start. It is $40 for TWO MONTHS. One month is for lessons and the other month is for launch. I help each participant create a brand that is special and unique and designed to connect to more than just writers. My goal is to help you connect to your future readers. 

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.