Why Proper Formatting Is Important -a guest blog by Joyce Reynolds-Ward
We’ve all read the different essays from editors about editing, right? All of that good stuff about slashing excessive adjectives and adverbs, eliminating said-bookisms (definition: going out of your way to use any other dialogue tag besides “said”), cutting prepositional phrases and the like, correct?
All of that is good information to have. But I want to harp on something else about editing that isn’t discussed as often as another big issue.
Formatting is one of those processes that can make your editor either love you or hate you. And if you work with an editor who charges by the hour—i.e., actual time spent working on your manuscript—a clean format saves you a lot of money. Even if you work with an editor who charges a flat fee, clean formatting means that your editor has more time to focus on actual wordage rather than fixing a messy manuscript so that they can get around to working on the words rather than the formatting.
You get a better deal for the money spent on an editor if you spend a little bit of time formatting your manuscripts correctly. Period.
Some of this is simply common sense. A clean manuscript causes less eyestrain for the editor. It’s easier for anyone doing the layout in a production program if the manuscript fits standard formatting protocols. Copyediting and proofreading go much more smoothly.
Most of all, a properly formatted manuscript demonstrates that you are a professional. Period.
So let’s get started. What sort of formatting setups am I talking about?
First of all, if you aren’t familiar with the basics, please go to this site—https://www.shunn.net/format/
Also keep in mind that all of my references are for Word. Again, that’s a professional standard. I understand that others prefer other programs, but in the long run, your documents end up in Word when editors and publishers are working with them. Your formatting needs to be compatible with Word.
The Shunn formatting style is widely accepted by all publishers. Use it, especially for margins and typeface (that means no Calibri! Use Times New Roman at the minimum. I prefer Palatino but others like Garamond, Helvetia, or Bookman Old Style. Essentially, you want to use a serif font that is readable. I personally do not care for Courier or Courier New, but that’s because I no longer find them to be that readable).
I want to emphasize something that Shunn mentions in that first page, which is start with a blank document. Some editors recommend Styles. I’m not fond of using Styles, because it adds extra codes to your document, which can cause problems when someone starts formatting for publication. Plain old blank document works just fine.
Another thing—you’ll see a little symbol that looks like this ¶ on the ribbon at the top of your document. Click it on, and you will see all of the formatting codes that Word wants to show you. This is helpful for figuring out some issues, and allows you to see when you’ve inadvertently hit the space bar multiple times (or your hyperreactive touch pad or keyboard does that for you), or other issues. More on that later.
Set your margins. Then format your paragraphs. That means, in Word, that you go to Format>Paragraphs. Set your line spacing to double spacing and your first line indent to 0.5, with no extra spacing between paragraphs. This means that all you need to do to start a paragraph is hit return.
DO NOT USE YOUR TAB BUTTON FOR PARAGRAPH INDENTATION. That just causes more problems for whoever is laying out the manuscript for publication. Don’t hit the space bar five times, either. Again, that causes more issues.
Single space between sentences. Yes, yes, I know that double spacing used to be the standard and for some people it doesn’t look right. However, that era is long gone, even for those of us who started out writing on manual typewriters. Don’t do it. Otherwise, your dear editor or formatter will at the minimum need to do a find-and-replace to eliminate those extra spaces—and that double spacing between sentences can add quite a few pages to your manuscript, especially at novel length. If an editor is quoting you a flat fee based on manuscript pages, single spacing between sentences can save you a little bit of money.
One of my editors automatically deletes any spaces between a period and a hard return, because that space can cause issues in some formatting programs. I haven’t noticed that issue in particular when working with my formatting program (Vellum), but I understand that this is a problem with some programs.
Always use left justification (the default) unless you are doing something in particular with a small section, or centering a title. Right-side ragged edge is not an issue when drafting and editing, as modern formatting programs automatically convert left-justified Word documents to full-justified documents.
If you use scene break dividers instead of an extra space (I recommend the dividers, but some people don’t like them), show them with a #. Some people use asterisks, or multiple #s. I’ve found that formatting programs understand # just fine, and will put a prettier scene break divider in nicely when # appears between paragraphs. Some presses have different standards—<<<>>> for one, or ~0~ for another, but # also works just fine.
Spelling and Grammar Check
Do not completely trust your spellchecker or grammar checker in Word. I have discovered numerous mistakes in Word alone, including indicators of extra commas, word substitutions that don’t make sense (such as “cheap” when I was describing a bird’s “cheep”—my most recent gripe). One of my greatest rants is the misuse of “free reign” for “free rein.” Word will tell you to use “reign” instead of “rein,” and it is WRONG. The idiom refers to giving a horse more rein when you are riding or driving it—i.e., telling the horse to set its own pace and direction. That is what the idiom means. Period. “Free reign” is meaningless in that context. But Word also makes mistakes when it comes to the proper use of “its” versus “it’s”; “lets” versus “let’s”. Be aware.
If you don’t trust your spelling and grammar understanding, use other checkers besides Word. Also, don’t trust that it will identify all of your misspellings and typos. If the mistake looks like a real word but doesn’t make sense in context, then Word may not flag it for you.
When you are cutting and pasting across documents, or if you are working on different devices (especially switching between a tablet and desktop or laptop) be aware that Word will insert a superscript “o” irregularly in those sections. Those have to be edited out by hand, as far as I know. Some people may be macro wizards who know how to do it otherwise. It’s a pain but there’s no way around it. If everything else is clean, then editing those “o” appearances isn’t that big a deal.
Version Control (during edits)
This leads into the related but short topic of version control when working with editors or beta readers. I do not recommend working within the document that you get back from an editor or beta reader. My suggestion is that you designate one version as your final document, and do all editing within that document without cutting and pasting. Why? Because that introduces other formatting into your document, including those dratted superscript “o”s.
I learned this lesson the hard way when working with a British editor. Working in the document I got back instead of my own designated final document ended up with that person’s formatting instead of my own—including British English spell check and usages. Designating that separate final document also lets you work with multiple other versions. I do like keeping earlier versions around when drafting, because sometimes I end up cutting things that I wanted to keep in the long run.
Basically, the lesson here is to spend a little bit of time learning how to set up your formatting options, at least as much as you can do with your device. Apps on mobile devices such as tablets and phones can be more restrictive for formatting setups than laptops or desktops. It’s probably a good idea to indicate to your editor or beta reader that you may have been doing this work in an app on a mobile device, because then they know what to look for in fixing it.
Play with your formatting and understand it. Your editor will thank you—and you may save yourself a little bit of money in the long run.
About the Author -Joyce Reynolds-Ward
Joyce Reynolds-Ward is a speculative fiction writer who splits her time between Enterprise and Portland, Oregon. Her books include THE MARTINIERE MULTIVERSE series (Amazon, Kobo, Apple, B&N), THE MARTINIERE LEGACY series, KLONE’S STRONGHOLD, THE NETWALK SEQUENCE series and GODDESS’S HONOR series. Joyce has edited two anthologies, Pulling Up Stakes (2018), and Whimsical Beasts (2019).
Besides writing, Joyce enjoys reading, quilting, horses, skiing, and outdoor activities. She has been a member of Soroptimist International of Wallowa County since 2017.
Having covered the steps of the editing process, setting up your author platform and choosing distributors in this blog, it’s time to talk indie book launch tips. On to self-publishing step 8!
8. Book Launch (Marketing Plan)
Your marketing plan depends on publishing on KU or publishing wide, and your goals. For KU you’ll want social media posts, perhaps a paid cover reveal, a giveaway and or other to ‘generate buzz’ about your book. Your goal will be to get as many pre-orders as you can, ideally at least one a day every day of the pre-launch period, to chase a good Amazon ranking on launch day. If you plan to publish wide, Amazon rankings won’t matter so match, but you’ll still want to do a cover reveal and spread the word about your book. If you’re aiming for a softer launch, this blog detailing Emma Lombard’s marketing plan and experience is worth a read. Whether you choose a buzz filled hard release, or a soft release, many things bellow will need considering.
Research Marketing Mistakes to Avoid
To put it bluntly, from reading, viewing and talking to fellow indies, it seems that paid advertising offers many ways to set your money on fire. Step one to avoid that seems to be take a course before spending money you don’t intend to entirely lose on Facebook or Amazon adds. For any other paid services, I highly recommend talking to other indies to see what they recommend based on their experiences. If you don’t have many to talk to, read the article bellow.
If you’re going for a hard release (and particularly for later books in a series, when you’ve already got a reader base), you may want to set up pre-orders well in advance. You’ll want to plan social media and other pre-order promos daily in the week leading up to release day. Before that, you’ll need to set up pre-orders on Amazon. For that, you’ll need your blurb, and the the details (key words, categories, meta data and price) unpacked under Step 12: Uploading Your Book (near the bottom of this post).
Book Links. Before posting pre-order links, use booklinker to generate a link that will take people clicking on it to the Amazon store selling in their local currency. If you’re releasing wide, use bookstoread to create a link to a page displaying icons linked to your book’s page on each retailer your ebook and paperback are available at.
Grow Your Newsletter
Consider newsletter swaps with writers in the same genre, writing for the same audience age. Building your list means more people to tell when your book drops. Your reader magnet can get its own landing page on BookFunnel, where you can organise newsletter swaps. Story Origin is another good site for swaps. If you write SFF, here’s a facebook group for organising swaps with SFF authors (though you may want to file it for it for later as these FB lists seem to be 2k+). If you don’t write SFF, its worth searching for FB newsletter swaps in your genre. This is something you can put more focus on after the book is out if you run out of time beforehand (which is my post-launch intention.) Also: Keep Subscribers Engaged. Here’s some content ideas from Bookfunnel to help with that.
Again, this is something I’ll keep in mind for perhaps book two or three’s launch, but you may like to consider Social Media Author Hops with other authors. for a Facebook example. see this guest post by Anna Campbell). If you’re on Book Funnel, here’s a FB Group for organising multi-author promos.
Reviews don’t just show potential readers what they may enjoy about your book, getting enough of them makes you eligible to be featured on Bookbub, and can make your book more visible on Amazon (displaying it as an ‘also bought’). But don’t pay for reviews. Amazon don’t like that and I know people who have been rigorously policed by them, losing reviews Amazon suspect they paid for. The alternative I’m finding works well —especially as I’ve only released my debut book— is blog tours. This isn’t paying for reviews, its paying for a tour organiser to make your book accessible to reviewers and or book bloggers, and for your book (and sometimes you as an author) to be featured on blogs and or social media.
Which tours are worth the cost? I’d say the ones that get reviews, though reviews may not be guaranteed. Rachel’s Resources has been recommended to me by indies who were happy with reviews they received. Itsy Bitsy was also highly recommended to me by two indie author friends and I had my debut’s Book Spotlight with them for three weeks and was very happy with it.
Promotion Sites & Paid Newsletters
Check out platforms which host giveaways, or otherwise promote newsletters and books, the big one being Bookbub, Bookfunel also being popular . Think about whether you may participate in giveaways, in which case sites like BookSweeps may help. Another option is Prolific Works.
A relatively safe way to spend money when you’re still learning how to market books wisely can be paying for a feature in paid newsletters. First: ensure you did get critical reader feedback on your blurb, that your cover is genre appropriate and up to scratch (for more on these see part 1 of this blog) and your price appropriate. This can still waste money if any of those three need work (I know because my first paid newsletter was an expensive way to sell books 😉). Again: ask people publishing in a similar genre what they’ve had success with, or read this post of paid newsletters Nicholas Erik has had good experiences promoting a range of genres in.
I’ve seen so many authors say that Facebook adds or Amazon adds ‘don’t work for them’, yet for some authors they seem to be AM-A-ZING. I haven’t tried either, but the fact people have designed week long courses and written whole books about one or the other tells me that if you plan to use either without thorough research -you’re wasting your money. Even with study, you may still find one, the other or both just aren’t your jam. So proceed with caution (and see the free courses linked below).
Book Report is handy for this, and syncs with Amazon Kindle to analyse your sales data.
Its not like a newspaper, or magazine is going to interview me, random indie author is it? But they may (as Emma Lombard can tell you). And if they do and they ask you questions, do you know what you’ll say? If they want easy access to pertinent info, do you have a page on your website they can refer to, to check any details and ensure their interview article is accurate? For an example press kit, see mine.
Facebook Group 20booksto50k is a great space to discuss and learn to market indie books.
Google Air, free Google add workshops (you have to register using your Google account.)
Wondering about sales trends?K-lytics is a handy (free) blog to follow, though their paid services are expensive.
9. Set up Your Author Profiles
Before you seek reviews, you need an author profile and your book’s information to be up on review sites. Your book will need to be on sale or have pre-orders to do this, as each review site will want a purchase link for your book. I set up pre-orders for my debut on Amazon (which doesn’t require the book to be finished, though I suggest making an attractive ‘coming soon’ template if your cover isn’t ready), so I could set up my author profiles for reviewers ahead of launch day. For Goodreads, you have to add your book to Goodreads first, then you can claim your author profile on it. This is worth doing early on, as reviews can be uploaded to Goodreads well before launch day. Tip: get your betas to add their reviews when they finish reading your late draft.
On other sites, you simply need to sign up, add a purchase link for your book, add a profile photo, fill in your bio etc. I suggest using the same profile photo and short bio for all of these sites, and the same author photo on your website, social media etc., so people you ‘meet’ on any digital space recognise you on others. If you seek ARC reviewers, I suggest giving them your Amazon, Goodreads and Bookbub profile links, and encouraging reviews on all three. Bookbub reviews may one day help you become eligible for a coveted Bookbub feature, while star ratings on Goodreads will display with your paperback blurb on Book Depository.
I have author profiles set up on Amazon, Goodreads, All Author and Bookbub. –The Amazon and Goodreads links are to instructions to set up your author page while the All Author and Bookbub links will take you to the sign-up pages for those platforms].
10. Update your Socials
Now is a good time to put a book banner on your website’s header and a cover, blurb and pre-order or purchase link front and centre on your site’s home page. It’s also a good time to place a book banner as your Twitter/ Facebook Page or group/ Pinterest header and a pinned post about your upcoming release.
11. Get Your Street Team Set Up
A ‘street team’ for a traditionally published author may be a large group of people excited about the upcoming book, formally organised on a Discord server, or other digital space. It probably has an application form to join and hundreds of applicants. It will definitely be an organised group effort to ‘generate hype’ about the upcoming book. For debut indie authors, your ‘street team’ may simply be a few friends you privately message for help spreading the word about your book. Ideally, it’s (and in my experience it works well to have) a mutual indie support group, which helps in any (or all) of the below three ways. Yes, I have an SFF Author Indie Discord for this. Feel free to reply to this tweet or use my contact page if you’d like an invite link to it.)
Social Media Boosting
True, social media is primarily for socialising, not selling and buying stuff. But you want help telling everyone you’re been interacting with on social media (and ideally potential readers beyond those people) that your book will soon be released. I suggest doing this by creating or joining mutual support groups of indie authors writing similar genres likely to be read by your potential readers. Creating for example Twitter Dm groups to comment on and or RT each other’s tweets boosts your book’s visibility in the pre-launch period and beyond. (Yes I’ve had and seen others have success boosting tweet reach with this, particularly with cover reveals).
I’ve heard that blogging is more useful for promoting non-fiction books, and may have little impact with fiction. But my first interview was met with a detailed reply from someone I didn’t know on Twitter, who had read and enjoyed the interview. Blog reach may be small, but a lot of indies I know are interviewing each other about writing, life and their books. Again, ideally the people you interview and are interviewed by, write similar books and have a similar audience to you, the goal being getting your name and book’s existence out there and helping them do the same.
Ask people interested in your genre, including fellow indie authors, if they’re interested in receiving an ARC (advanced reader copy) for free, in exchange for writing a review (ideally posting on launch day or soon after on retailers, Goodreads and Bookbub). Your ‘review street team’ may include finding ARC readers on Booksprout, and if you’re releasing a fantasy book, this FB group for finding beta readers and reviewers may help you get more ARC reviews.
How do you reach people for social media support and author interviews? Hopefully, your social media networking since step 2 has led you into author groups, or built you enough of a following to organise your own, or your newsletter has enough reach to do so. If not, again, SFF authors feel free to reply to this tweet or use my contact page to join my Discord for help with this.
12. Format Your E-book (+paperback if applicable)
Perhaps ironically, I found formatting paperback (in Word) easy. You choose your paper size (I chose 5.5 by 8.5 for my YA Fantasy, a common size), set your margins (do this early because when I changed them last, Word re-inserted page numbers into the front matter). I followed Chloe Alice Balkin’s youtube tutorial, using ‘layout,’ ‘page breaks’, ‘next page’ to add page-number-free front matter, created styles in Word for front matter, back matter, titles, chapter headings, chapter header art, dingus and for body text. Then I saved the Word doc as a pdf and the book was uploaded to Amazon without mishap. (Ingram Spark warned my chapter heading art, author bio pic etc could cause print issues, but they didn’t).
Ebook Formatting (in Word)
This I found fiddlier. If you format a paperback yourself in Word, mistakes can insert random blank pages throughout the book, or splice content across pages.
-Hit ‘enter’ for page breaks (your book may format without page breaks, and for multiple pov books this will present to readers as head-hopping.) -Let Word generate a Table Of Contents for you (there are many ways this can go wrong).
-Leave any images without a style (my chapter header images were displayed on separate pages to chapter headings when I converted to epub because of this).
–Use a tool to do the formatting for you. Reedsy’s tool is popular. Draft2Digital will format your book for you (though check it, as it couldn’t handle the chapter header art in mine). If you’re a Mac user willing to pay a one off fee, Vellum is very popular (no, I’m not an affiliate for them or anyone else linked in this post).
FormattingIn Word -Use styles for EVERYTHING (headings, copyright page, all images, body text etc). -Manually create your contents page by bookmarking each chapter and linking the bookmark to the chapter heading on the contents page. (Smashwords Style Guide, page 20 has a video showing you how).
-If you’re wide, upload your interior file everywhere at the same time. Kobo and Smashwords spotted issues with my ebook that Amazon didn’t, while Ingram noted potential paperback issues Amazon didn’t. Cross-checking issues each distributor and or store spots, then making final tweaks, can help you give a better-formatted version to all of them.
–get proofs for every format on every store/ distributor to ensure they turn out ok. (Kobo converted my Word doc to epub without mishap, but Draft to Digital had one issue throughout, while the Smashwords epub conversion was so bad that I converted the epub myself (using Convertio).
Front Matter Tips
-Keep it short so readers can get to the book and online look inside features show the opening pages. -Look at the copyright notices of other indie books to help you phrase yours. -Mention other or upcoming titles on your ‘also by author ____’ page. -Include a digital table of contents in ebooks. -Consider a map and or personis dramatis for epic fantasy or similar, so readers can see where things are happening and check who is who as they read. (Maps are good in front matter, but for ebooks put it at the back so the ‘look inside’ preview shows potential readers pages that pull them in, not a cast list they don’t yet care about).
Back Matter Tips
-Don’t use your full author name, use some initials, as Amazon doesn’t like it. -Link to your website, newsletter sign up and if you like, your social media/ Goodreads/ Bookbub. -You may like to politely ask for reviews, but only include an Amazon link for reviews in the Kindle ebook. Apple will reject your book if it has an Amazon link in it. Tip: link to Goodreads in review requests for all non-Amazon stores, seeing as Goodreads isn’t any store’s competitor. -Write a book two blurb and in the ebook have a pre-order link to book 2.
Formatting Error Checklist
Is your front matter free of page numbers? Does your ebook contents page display appropriately and do its contents link correctly to pages? Does your epub have random blank pages anywhere? Are your front and back matter spaced as you wish? Are your chapter headings (and images) spaced appropriately and consistently? Does your back matter only contain links to Amazon in the copy you’re uploading to Amazon? (Other stores may reject interior files with Amazon links). Does your Ingram Spark file only contain black and white or greyscale text, styles and images? (NB: They’ll warn you off colour, even colour overlaid with greyscale, but my colour overlaid with greyscale chapter header art, author profile pic etc. printed fine).
13 Uploading your Book
If you’re going wide, I suggest creating a file that has all the meta data you’ll need to copy and paste everywhere you upload your book (your name, book name, genre, categories, tags, blurb, contributors, ISBN etc).
ChoosingAmazonCategories. Check which categories your comp titles are listed under using this category checker. Have a look at which sub-genre/ fiction headings match your book using Book Industry Study Group’s List. Check the number of competitors in relevant categories. Standard advice says ‘pick obscure categories you can rank in.’ But my best rankings (in the US) weren’t in completely obscure categories. On the US store they were:
Amazon will initially only let your book be assigned two categories, but you can email them for it to be assigned an additional eight (Go to your KDP dashboard. Select ‘help,’ ‘contact us’ at the bottom of the menu, ‘Amazon store & product detail page’, ‘update Amazon categories’. Bad category news: every Amazon national store has different categories, so you’ll have to contact them telling them the exact category string for EVERY store you want categories on. NB: English language categories aren’t just on the US, Canada, UK and Australia, India and Germany’s are also in English, Germany being where I’ve had the second highest no. of clicks.
Choosing Amazon Key Words Use ‘incognito’ mode on your browser, then on Google, Goodreads or Amazon, type your genre and audience age, and see which search terms your browser suggests (popularly searched ones) and which are relevant to your book. You’re not limited to 7 of these —jam as many as you can fit into Amazon’s 7 key word boxes. Also, there’s no need for key words to repeat your category, title or subtitle.
To determine a price in any currency, this article outlines factors you may like to consider. My best advice: -Get on the Amazon store of each region of the world it sells to (ImportantNB: a reasonable $US price converts into what Brits consider to be a too-expensive UK price, so don’t just let retailers convert international pricing, check which pricing appears reasonable by currency and national store). -Search books of your genre and audience age and note pricing. -Get an idea of cheap prices, moderate prices and outrageously expensive prices (you will see the latter). -Observe whether you think a book is indie or traditionally published and how prices vary because of that. -Check how many pages a books has to get an idea of a reasonable price for a 70k vs. a 100k+ book. -Choose a price taking the above and your personal publishing/ marketing goals and factors in the article linked above into account.
Check the profit margin in every currency. Does it leave you room to put the book on sale without losing money? In the UK, books are so cheap that you may struggle to discount your book there and still break even, but if you aim to make even the smallest of profits on every sale (as opposed to freebies), you’ll need to check regular vs. sale price profit margins carefully.
If you’re discounting your pre-orders or book, don’t just change the pricing in KDP’s or any other distributor’s dashboard. Sale prices are entered separately. On KDP, as with categories, go to your KDP dashboard. Select ‘help,’ ‘contact us’ at the bottom of the menu, then ‘pricing’ and read the information. NB: if requesting a price match you’ll need to have links to the Apple/ Barnes and Noble/ Kobo price for each countries store you want price matched on Amazon.
To Distributors. Before you upload your book to any distributor, be clear about which distributor you want to send your books to which retailer (or other distributor), so you don’t double up. After you’ve uploaded, you can sync Amazon to Goodreads so your shelves are automatically updated.
Upload To Libraries. If you’re American or Canadian, you can upload your books to the Indie Author Project to get your book into libraries in both countries. And yes, you’ll earn royalties -see the FAQ page.
Local Brick and Mortar Stores. This involves being bold, but I’ve spoken to indies who’ve told local booksellers they’ve published a book and the booksellers wanted to see it (yeah, carry it or have a photo of your cover on your phone) and then stocked it on consignment (meaning they pay you if it sells, and hand it back to you if it doesn’t). So it pays to be bold! To help you prepare to approach book shops, here’s some comprehensive (Uk sourced) advice on Getting Your Book into a High End Store.
14. Cover Reveal
Post your cover on your social media, share it in your newsletter and share it on any promo sites you’ve joined which feature cover reveals, such as xpressbooktours. You may wish your cover reveal to be the first of a series of social media promo posts counting down to launch day, featuring teasers, character introductions, ARC review snippets etc and containing or naming the location of your pre-order purchase link.
15. Release Day
Put purchase links on your site and author profiles. Post your launch day post on social media and interact with everyone who replies. I hope it goes well for you!
I learnt A LOT of the above from conversations with and between the following indie authors:
Total Page Visits: 2261
Just in case your head isn’t exploding with information already, there are more resources on many of the above topics on my Writers Resources Page. I’ll also point you towards a Self Publishing pro, David Gaughram. If your head is exploding, I suggest bookmarking this post so you can revisit a few of its steps at a time.
Whichever of the above steps you’re at –Good Luck!
You’ve written a book, you’re considering self publishing and you wonder what it involves. In short: a lot! This post is a concise summary from editing, through self publishing and book launching, with many links to tools and information to help you along the way. It contains almost everything I’ve learned from indie author discussions in a Self Publishing Twitter group by Cheryl Burman, and what I’ve learned while self publishing my first book.
I’m Writing/ Have Drafted My Book, What Now?
1. Craft Knowledge
If this is your First book, and or you haven’t already researched how to develop your characters and plot, or read up on story structure, now is a a good time! Make notes to help get your head around character development, story structure and how they intertwine. Then use your notes to write character and plot focused outlines or revision/ structural edit lists to address potential character/ plot holes in your draft.
2. Start Building Your Author Platform: Social Media
Yes, I’m talking about social media before you’ve even edited your manuscript, let alone have a book seeking a publishing path. Why? Because it takes time to grow a following. And the writing and editing stages are great opportunities to get to know fellow writers, build friendships and learn from each other. This is also the time to begin describing interesting features of your book and start generating interest in your story!
Post about the contents and the experience (or process) of writing your book. Talk to other writers about it on Twitter’s #WritingCommunity —or Instagram’s. Connect with people you share interests with on social media (local interests, genres, themes that inspired and tie in to your story etc).
To begin with —pick ONE social media you feel is a natural (or least uncomfortable) fit for you. Get comfortable calling yourself a writer there, and publicly interacting as one. (FYI: there’s no such thing as an aspiring writer. If you write —you ARE a writer!). Experiment, and learn the ropes of your first platform. Then start on a second platform. (Unless you’re bursting with restless energy *waves* and would rather choose the chaotic path of tackling multiple things at once over the easier one *waves again*).
Get at least three beta readers (if you can find more, I’d do so) to comment on how they find your characters, plot, pacing, story tension ect. If all they say is, ‘this is great and I liked this bit,’ I’d be asking, do my betas have the: Experience and ability to critically evaluate my story? Willingness and time to honestly comment on things they find problematic (or less than ideal) as a reader? Communication skills to spell out how any particular aspect of my writing confused, bored or otherwise put them off? Or do my betas think I only want encouragement (or a positivity pass), as opposed to constructive feedback to help me grow as a writer and to ensure my story is clear and engaging to unfamiliar readers?
If you suspect any of the above is an issue with one of your beta readers, I’d get another/ an extra beta reader. I wouldn’t be satisfied readers will be satisfied with my book until I’ve had that rigorous critical reader who pulls me up on every potential crease, tear or hole in the reading experience. —And I’ve repaired and ironed those things accordingly. Having attempted that for Manipulator’s War, I’ve now got reviews complimenting things (pacing and characters) the reviews may have complained about, if not for my critical readers.
Consider your goals for this book/ series and your budget. If you can’t afford an editor, get a second round of critical readers to comment on your post-beta-edited draft. Then, if you’re happy with it —get other, sharp eyed people to proofread it. If you can afford an editor, consider which type(s) of editing you can afford: developmental (structural), stylistic (line editing), copy editing (word level technical & factual edits) and proofreading. Manuscript Critiques/ Reports can be pricy, but are a cheaper alternative to (prohibitively expensive for most people) developmental edits. Bear in mind, some freelance copy editors charge by the hour instead of by the word. So if you tend to write fairly clean 100k books for example (like me), paying by the hour is more affordable and better value for money.
In choosing an artist or creating your own cover, research current covers in your genre and audience age. You want a cover design that clearly says to the reader “this book is (insert your genre)”. You also want a design that appeals to readers of that genre in ways they’re used to seeing. Pay attention to current trends in your genre, by researching new releases and studying their covers. For example, dark covers are a thing with YA Fantasy at the movement, and if characters are on epic fantasy covers — they’ve got weapons. So my cover for Manipulator’s War is dark and features weapons.
Traditionally published authors will have honed their pitches near to perfection. Their blurbs will have had a LOT of critical feedback, editing by a literary agent, and possibly by an editor before a back cover exists to place those blurbs on. So for your blurbs to compete at online retailers —hone your pitch craft! You can get pitch critiques in the facebook group Author Unleashed, which focuses on this skill and on my Authoring Discord. You’ll find my best advice for writing an engaging blurb in this post.
If hiring a cover artist, check the contract to see if you own the art, and if you need to pay the artist fees for using the art in your merchandise, on your website and in any promotional graphics you make. If you’re unsure which of multiple pieces of concept art to use for the final cover, try posting a poll on social media and or consulting your newsletter subscribers. In considering cover artists, you may also like to ask how they work, and how much your cover design can change within the negotiated price. For example, my cover artist Judah (GlintofMischief) and I built a set of Pinterest pins as well as discussing my cover, and I reviewed multiple concept sketches before we chose (and modified) the published cover. I also chose my fonts, and designed the glyphs on Manipulator’s Wars cover.
If you want to be actively involved but don’t have the skills to produce your own cover, check you’re hiring an artist as prepared to work collaboratively with you as Judah is with me. If you’ve got Indie Author friends, I suggest beginning your cover artist hunt by asking them (or tweeting) for recommendations.
6. Choose Your Distributer(s)
Kindle Unlimited or Wide?
In choosing a distributer, you’ll have to decide whether you want your ebooks available on Kindle Unlimited (where readers pay a monthly rate to access Kindle’s library, as opposed to buying your ebook, and you are paid per page read). This means your ebooks are exclusive to Kindle. Alternatively, your books can be sold in multiple digital spaces —publishing wide and available on Kindle, but not Kindle Unlimited. Wide vs. Exclusive: A Tale of Two Marketing Systems by David Gaughran is a good resource to help you weigh factors and understand both options. If you’re considering wide, I highly recommend the Facebook Group Wide for the Win, who discuss marketing strategies and have information threads on publishing wide.
Publishing Wide, Some Distributor Factors to Note
Do you want to publish ebook and paperback or just ebook? Do you want pre-orders? Again —ebook (and paperback)? How do you feel about managing multiple dashboards on difference distributors/ stores? Do you want your book to be distributed to libraries as well as stores? Do you want access to retailers in-house promotions? Resource: Why Ingram Spark expanded distributionfor print books is preferable to Amazon’s, including ISBN advice, by Eric V. Van Der Hope.
Allows paper back preorders via Amazon (KDP/ Amazon only allows ebook pre-orders). -Lets you order paperback author copies before publication, (Amazon doesn’t). -Requires you to purchase an ISBN for paperbacks. -Distributes ebook and paperback globally, but multiple sources I’ve read discourage using their ebook distribution.
Draft 2 Digital
D2D charges a 10% commission and has paperback distribution in beta, using Ingram Spark print books. In-house Apple and Kobo promotions are available via D2D (and not otherwise unless you go direct to these retailers). Around half the retailers and libraries Smashwords and DraftToDigital distribute to overlap, and these two distributors are joining forces, so signing with one will in time mean you’re with both.
Having uploaded my book to Amazon, Kobo, D2D and Ingram before Smashwords, I found Smashwords dashboard the most challenging to navigate. There’s a LOT of information and links to process. I didn’t find it user friendly. However, I persisted with them because around half the places Smashwords distributes to differ from D2D, and I wanted my ebook available there a.s.a.p.
By going direct, I mean which stores will you create an account with and upload to directly? In answering that, I’d consider:
Which stores dominate and have the most reach generally? In which countries do you want to sell your book in and what are the biggest retailers in those markets? Which retailers have the biggest share of the market in your home country? Does the store you’re considering pay in your local currency? (Being based outside the US can be a disadvantage here). What do other indies have to say about their experiences with specific distributors? Have they had issues, what kind and how did they find customer service/ support?
Amazon is obvious for market share and reach. Googleplay store is hardly a leading book retailer, but they’re Google, so that appeals to some indies. (They were unable to verify my Aussie bank account, which is why I’m not direct with them). Barnes and Noble are another logical choice for popularity in America (they only pay Australians in US dollars and the currency conversion fees may be higher than my earnings, so I’m not direct with them). Beyond that, I’d be considering the questions above to decide who to go direct with.
Imprints: do you Need or Want One?
Amazon will display information about your book to potential readers, including ‘publisher.’ If you don’t want Amazon to display ‘publisher (insert your legal name)’, I suggest creating an imprint. Mine is Faraway Fiction Press. I’ve registered it as a business name with the relevant Australian body for tax purposes and it has its own website (to reserve and link the .com domain name to my books).
Resource: For info on the benefits of having your own press, see this post by David Wogan.
ISBNs: Do you Need or Want them?
Many retailers offer a free ISBN, which can only be used for your book at that retailer. So if you use free ISBNs, your ebook will be registered under a different ISBN at each retailer, and that ISBN will link back to that retailer. If you purchase and choose to use your own ISBNs, each format needs its own ISBN, but you can use the same ISBN for your print or audio or ebook at different retailers. ISBNs are free in some countries (Canada and Sweden among them), and are best purchased by their official seller (Bowker) in the US, Australia and elsewhere.
NB: If you distribute print books via Ingram, you must purchase an ISBN. If you only plan to have print books on Amazon, you may prefer to use free ISBNs for everything. Which ISBNs are best —free or paid— depends on which factors you prioritise: saving money, having sequential ISBNs pointing back to you instead of a retailer or other. Many indie authors seem happy with either option.
7. Extend your Author Platform
I suggest setting this up after social media because imposter syndrome is real, and hopefully having been on social media and presented as a writer for at least a few months (I was on social media over a year before I took this step), you will find it more natural to write an author bio and present yourself professionally as an author on your site. Blogs are optional and of course take more time, but they bring a lot more traffic to your site than an author name and book title no-one has heard of, so I recommend them.
If you decide to have a blog, I recommend drafting posts ahead of time. (I teach full time, so I write most blogs in the summer holidays, then edit and publish them once a month).
Once your site and social media presence are established, its a good time to think about your newsletter. If you only have time for a blog OR a newsletter, here’s a post by Jane Friedman weighing pros and cons of having only either. If you start a newsletter, you’ll need a reader magnet. A 10-20k short story, maybe the origin or background story of a central character or a subplot you had to edit out of your novel can work nicely for this.
I suspect that’s more than enough information to get you started, and possibly enough to make your head spin, so I’ll end this blog here. Part 2 is packed with ideas and resources for your book launch and initial marketing plan, author profiles, formatting and uploading your book and tips right up to launch day.
I learnt A LOT of the above from conversations with and between the following indie authors:
Total Page Visits: 1814
Just in case your head isn’t exploding with information already, there are more resources on many of the above topics on my Writers Resources Page. I’ll also point you towards a Self Publishing pro, David Gaughram. If your head is exploding, I suggest bookmarking this post so you can revisit a few of its steps at a time.
Whichever of the above steps you’re at –Good Luck!
Self Publishing wasn’t the first publishing path that appealed to me. Nor were small presses. Like many writers, I figured I’d need a literary agent, because they’re the gatekeepers of middling to large publishing companies and because I didn’t know much about book marketing. Then I worked with multiple critical readers, discovered how difficult it is to know when you’ve finished editing, and figured an editorial agent would do nicely. But when I really thought about it, I was facing down all the usual querying obstacles, plus a couple of large experience-related and some personal ones. The following are the factors I weighed and measured before deciding to self publish my first trilogy.
The Early Querying Journey
It was fine at first. As anyone whose pitched an 80+ thousand word novel will tell you, writing 280 character tweet pitches is HARD. As is writing a query pitch. And a synopsis. All were challenges. I like challenges, and learning. I quickly found these things worked better when people helped each other. So I created a query letter critique group, which quickly became five Twitter DMs, each with five writers trading query letter feedback. I made a Twitter DM for discussing querying, and another for tweet pitch critiquing and supporting each other in pitch parties (there were 3 of those at one point!) Then I consolidated query package feedback and query discussion onto a Craft & Querying Discord. I met fellow querying writers, we shared our journeys, helped each other hone our querying craft, and encouraged each other with the uphill struggle that is querying.
By the time I made my first foray into the querying trenches, I’d spent three months talking to querying writers. I was well aware I may need to send out 50 queries to get a few full requests. Later, I realised I could send out 100 queries and still get very few full requests, and no offer of an agent contract. I saw friends write entertaining stories, with well rounded characters, querying till they ran out of agents to query (over two or three years), shelve book that book, write the next and query it. Yes, a very small minority did sign with agents and a few with a small press, but over a two year period, the vast majority didn’t.
Killer one: Time
I spent YEARS writing and more YEARS editing. I was studying full time and am still teaching full time. I’ve lived and worked overseas and generally done a lot. It doesn’t leave much time for writing. By the time I’d pantsed a trilogy, re-written it, read up on writing craft and worked with critical readers -and completed a structural edit based on a manuscript critique- I was TIRED. It had taken 20 years for a series of novellas to become a fully drafted, near query-ready trilogy (with a second trilogy not far behind). So how did I feel about waiting years before someone else let me publish? Not very motivated. If not for lockdowns bringing most things writing related to a grinding halt for me, I’d intended to query at least 50 agents, over 6 months to an absolute maximum of two years, then move on. But the pandemic hit, lockdowns dragged on and it took me 1.5 years to query 19 agents and 14 presses. It was taking too long. I’d worked too hard, I just wanted my books published already!
Killer two: Interest
By this stage, I’d critiqued over an estimated 200 tweet pitches and probably around 50 query letters). I’d learned loads about what makes a good pitch. As much as I could from querying this particular novel, and I had a second ready. So I started pitching wip two in pitch parties and continued to hone my skills. But the issues I had with my pitches and queries now weren’t about general pitching skills. They were how best to pitch, in one case, a multi-pov, portal, epic fantasy in which writing only one pov in a query or synopsis felt like pitching a (misleading) book fragment. Compared to the first three months of query writing and critiquing, I was learning next to nothing. And because of that, I was losing interest.
Killer three: Patience and Tolerance
Here’s where my querying story differs. In my state one year teaching contracts are FAR more common than ongoing positions. So, almost every year, for 8 years, I’ve filled in the same bloody paperwork. I’ve updated the same six, single page mini essays, updated the same interview notes, and spent HOURS looking at potential jobs, schools etc. How does this relate to querying? Its a LOT like searching for agents. Do we have the same goals? The same work ethics? Will my style of teaching go well with this school/ my personality and writing style match this agent?
Querying is a numbers game, but so is continuing to have a job as a teacher. I forget how many jobs I applied for before getting my first. 50? 60? It was similar the second year and the third. By the forth (year in a row), I reached burn out after applying for 80 jobs that year alone. I went from enjoying reflecting on my teaching practice, to fed up. From hopeful and curious about where the next job was, to stressed about facing potential unemployment every year, while writing student reports, because job application season coincides with the busiest time of the teaching year.
Burnout and Swearing Time
In year four of job re-appling, Ithought, fuck this shit, I want to go the Europe and travel. I calmed down, thought it through and moved to England, which has a serious shortage of teachers (understandable, given their system is brilliant at chewing teachers up and spitting us back out again). I went through agencies who found schools for me, and didn’t have to apply for as many positions. When I returned to Australia, I applied for around 20 positions. In my eighth year of reapplying (yep, my eighth year in a supposedly professional job of proving I’m worth continuing to employ), I realised I was beyond burnt out, and past caring. I had so little interest in the reapplication process that I seriously considered leaving the profession, despite that I love and am just as passionate about teaching as I am about writing.
I didn’t leave teaching. Instead, I moved to New Zealand, where an agency asked my criteria for schools and handed my resume (yep, just a resume!) to four schools, the first offering me a job. This is when I began querying. The process of endlessly trying to make teaching application paperwork perfect, of spending countless hours researching who to send it to annually, the enormous investment over a period of weeks (usually 2 to three months) over eight years of teaching, was day one of querying for me. So my tolerance for doing the same shit over and over and getting the same results was low from the outset.
Killer Four: Marketability and Motivation
I may be wrong here. It may be that my YA Fantasy Manipulator’s War is sufficiently ‘fresh’, and ‘unique’ and ‘stand out’ enough for a literary agent and sizeable publisher to think it will sell. (Getting an honourable mention in the YA category for Pitch It may indicate so.) Maybe my writing craft and querying skills don’t do the marketable idea of my novel justice, and that’s why all 19 agents (yes, that’s not many) gave me form rejections. Maybe that’s why I had to pitch in around 15 pitch parties before getting my first (and second) literary agent like. But setting aside that YA Fantasy is very competitive, and visibility at pitch parties is almost winning the lottery in itself, my gut always said ‘prince’ (even a nonbinary one) + ‘war’ =’insufficiently original and marketable’ to appeal to a literary agent or sizeable publisher.
Yes, the right literary agent for it may exist. Yes, if I send enough queries, I may get lucky enough to one day query that agent. But in the face of waning interest for the process (a point I’ve reached with teaching twice, and overcome), with my impatience to have a book out, my intolerance of monotony and potentially endless waiting, doubt and lack of motivation tipped my scales for this trilogy well onto the side of ‘nope’.
Killer Five: the Need to Achieve
If you are querying and plan to do so for longer, I recommend also pursuing writing related things that let you experience a sense of achievement. Write a short story (and submit to anthologies!) Start your website, or a blog. Kick off your newsletter! Whatever you choose, make it something writing related you can point to and say: see? Finished! Because a novel without a literary agent or publishing contract can feel unfinished, and can make you feel like you aren’t achieving anything.
I didn’t set out to develop my author platform for this reason. Having moved back to Australia to spend lockdown with family, my personality clash with remaining indoors and extreme cabin fever made me so restless and unfocused that I couldn’t focus on wips. Building a website? Easy! Writing blogs? -perfect length! As for an author newsletter, I figured I needed to develop my voice in speaking to people as an author, and getting used to writing one would help me overcome imposter syndrome. So being me, I took on the website, blog and newsletter all at once (NB: do one thing at a time -its much easier!).
Developing my author platform was fun, and engaging. It was new and novel and most importantly (as a former technophobe) it was a challenge which involved learning to do lots of new things. I was motivated and happy again, just as I’d felt when I begun querying. But for me, the sense of achievement at having developed a blog, newsletter and website made me question. I wondered, why should I spend more time, effort and energy querying with (likely) no book to show for it, when with my blog and newsletter established, my next big step could be self publishing and having books to show for it?
In considering which publishing path is right for you, I think personality is an important factor. The first time I considered that, I immediately thought: I’m adventurous, impatient, restless and a very sociable person. My personality is perfect fit for self publishing. My love of challenges and learning positions me well to learn to self publish, and book marketing clearly poses challenges and opportunities to learn new skills. In January 2021 I was thinking, is traditional publishing the right path for me on personality grounds alone? No. I’ll need to get lucky, because I have no desire to stick around for the numbers game of querying.
What I say here is my personal -and not hugely informed impression- which is that the pandemic seemed to throw a spanner in the works of traditional publishing. I saw one agent talk at a conference where he said his agency quietly shut their doors to queries while editing with existing clients in 2020, then remained closed while putting those clients on submission in early 2021. I wondered, is this a shit time to be querying? Then there are the issues of labour and supply shortages, (more details in this blog by Kathryn Rusch), which again make me think now is not a good time to debut in traditional publishing. In a few years, after I’ve self published my YA Fantasy trilogy? Then I’ll sniff the air, see what’s happening and maybe reconsider.
Alternatives? Small Presses?
Back in January I thought: let’s give small presses a shot. From conversations I’ve had with many people who enjoy fantasy, my YA Fantasy does have reader appeal. Perhaps a small press focused on fantasy and more willing to take a risk on a debut book than literary agents and big publishers, was a good idea. If I signed with a small publisher, I would still have an editor (and wouldn’t have to pay them out of my own pocket). I’d get to work with people with more editorial and marketing experience than myself. I assumed those conversations could be invaluable to me as a newbie author. And as a sociable person whose worked in close collaboration with colleagues in some of my varied teaching roles, I liked the idea of working with a small team to bring my book into the world.
How many presses did I query? At final count, 14. Why? Well, I was busy moving house, starting a new teaching job, then learning to teach students via video call over multiple lockdowns, which became a second big lockdown. It was exhausting, it was all consuming and 2021 wasn’t the right time for me personally to query. The return to teaching on site was so hectic I figured I might as well throw out a final round of queries while I waited for the school year to end, and the time, headspace and energy to self publish. The summer school holidays (January) would be the best time to self publish my first book. If I didn’t do it then, I’d have to wait another YEAR to take control of when my book FINALLY became available to friends, family and colleagues I’ve been telling about it since FOREVER.
Do I Self Publish?
It would be a LOT to learn. LOTs of work. But I like learning. And challenges. I find them stimulating, interesting and energising. Everything that querying no longer is to me- self publishing is likely to be. Sure, I’ll probably make hardly any money and most likely won’t sell many books. I don’t care. I understand that you need a good back catalog to make money self publishing and that takes years, spending money and serious work. I’m prepared to tackle that. And I love teaching too much to give it up, so I’m not relying on writing to pay my bills or put a roof over my head. (I’ll be relying on teaching to pay for covers and editing very soon).
The thing that appealed to me most about self publishing, was that after two years of scurrying to get my books and then query package to the best standard I could get them, self publishing is efficient. It moves fast. I could choose to make my book available in a matter of months, instead of waiting unknown years, over which I have no control, for other people to make that happen. After all the uncertainty covid brought into our lives, having the ability to make the decision to publish -and when- had more appeal to me than ever.
But what about the two years I spent honing my pitch craft and supporting other writers to hone theirs? Well, it should put me in good stead to write book blurbs, and advertising copy for my books. No skills will go to waste! (And yes, maybe I’ll query another trilogy/ series in future and have a head start in writing queries for them).
If I Self Publish, am I Quitting?
I once had this idea that I ‘wasn’t a quitter.’ The things is, we don’t always choose what’s best for us. I slogged through a job once, for as long as I could stand it. The day I handed in my resume, I could not stop smiling! I was so happy! Only then could I admit how much I hated working there! Why did I ‘quit’? Because staying on would have meant killing myself trying to please people I believed were holding me (and everyone else) to ridiculous standards. Overworking ourselves (8am to 10 or 11pm Mon to Fri), to the point we were under constant stress, always tired, didn’t have the energy or time to enjoy life, and to which I at least, was putting my mental health on the line for a stupid job.
Having had that experience with non-writing work, I don’t see choosing an alternate publishing path over querying as quitting. I tried a path for a particular trilogy. It wasn’t for me or that trilogy. Now its time to move forward on the path that lets me do just that.
For me, for my first trilogy, at this point in time: self publishing is the option I feel happiest and most motivated about. I can’t wait to dive in! (and probably will have by the time you read this 😉). Will I query something else in future? I’ve also written a MG Fantasy that’s high concept, and I feel is much more marketable. It will take time to hone its pitches (the one thing I haven’t done is paid critiques or querying workshops- which I would like to attend). But in a couple of years, having brought closure on a trilogy I’ve worked on and off for over twenty years by self publishing it, and finished editing the SciFi Fantasy trilogy I’ve worked on, and off, for the same length of time, maybe I’ll query again. If, with rest, closure and the achievement of having published my first trilogy balances the above factors above the right way, and querying books appeals in future, yes, I’ll consider it.
Choosing Your Publishing Path
If you’re debating publishing paths, I suggest talking to other writers. Find out which personality factors, motivations, experiences and book goals led (or are leading them) to a particular path. Consider which of those factors do or don’t apply to your personality, skill set, lifestyle, book and goals, and to what extent. When you weigh everything up, which publishing path do you feel will best meet your needs? Your books needs? Is it one path for now, different paths for different books, or do you lean strongly to a single publishing path for everything?
I’m sure many of us have been curious about indie authoring at some point. About self publishing’s advantages and disadvantages, and its greatest challenges (broadly speaking: its marketing 😉). When it comes to things like writing styles, we often talk about doing what works for you as a writer. So what may work (or not work) for you as an indie author? I talked to four indie authors to find out.
Cheryl Burman 🇬🇧
Lily lawson 🇬🇧
Dreena Collins 🇬🇧
Paula Peckham 🇺🇸
What is it about self publishing that appeals to you the most?
The sense of control over your own destiny and relief of getting away from dependence on other people after three years in the querying trenches. I’m too old to wait for agents. Cheryl
You can usually make more money per sale and it’s quicker. Paula
I’m impatient, so when it’s ready and it’s edited I want it out. Dreena
That I am in control. Lily
What do you feel you’re missing out on by not publishing traditionally?
Kudos and respectability. Some people won’t be very good and some will be exceptional. Some people who don’t understand publishing will think you vanity published. It’s getting people to overcome that old fashioned view of publishing and to understand. Dreena
Trad. authors get a lot of support around the launch of their book (if they’re lucky), but after those few months you’re as much on your own as if you self publish. It gives you a kick start, however, which is good. Cheryl
What were your goals and expectations when you set out to self publish?
I set myself a target to write a story a week. But not about being published. After I published a first collection I realised I could publish more. I jumped straight in without knowing the ropes. I didn’t know what my publishing goals were.Dreena
How Lily Published
I had zero goals and expectations. I’ve written for a long time. I’ve had things published in anthologies no-one’s heard of. Uni put an anthology together and I decided ‘what the heck, I’ll send them some poems and a short story ’ and they published all of them. I started to talking to people about publishing and it took me well over a year to put a book together. When people say they love my stuff or give me a review I still go what? I’ve been published in more anthologies through Uni, but I don’t necessarily believe in myself as a writer of fiction. I ended up on Twitter because I got hassled into it. I have a website and a newsletter because I got hassled into it. My whole author platform exists because I was hassled into it. I am very grateful and I feel very lucky to have people around who care enough to hassle me. Lily
Cheryl’s Publishing Path
I started writing my book secretly. I bundled it all up and sent it to Curtis Brown. They didn’t immediately offer me a contract so I thought I’d just shove it up on Amazon and let the money roll in. I’ve learnt a lot in the last few years. It takes time to learn what’s going on in the industry and how it all works. Cheryl
Because of the sales goal number given to me by the publisher [a small press publishing one of Paula’s books], in her eyes, a successful book will sell 500 copies. I thought I could do that easy. That was not easy, I discovered with my first one to self publish. I’m realising that has to be done differently or there’s no way I’ll sell 500 copies. I’m using my experience with a publisher to learn the process I’ll have to do myself. The whole launch thing is necessary. There’s so many books coming out in a day. Paula
How have these changed over time and what changed them?
I think we’ve all just become more realistic. Get something out there, keep on learning and be thrilled when people say they love it. Cheryl [Everyone agreed].
Which aspects of indie authoring have you found most challenging?
My very first cover I after replaced after only a year. I learnt very quickly that it wasn’t right. Dreena
Covers are the bane of my life, but we have the wonderful Rue. Cheryl
They saved us. Lily
My main concern was coming up with a book cover. How to arrange the different parts, how big to make the words and pictures, which fonts to use? I have looked at books in the store to try to learn – what makes this look professional? How does it compare to the ones I’ve seen that look amateurish? I was in a panic about having to do that myself. Paula
[But there was something else pretty big Paula raised that everyone agreed with.]
There’s so much technological stuff. You have to know formatting for Amazon, how to make a video for Tik Tok. Everything has this whole learning curve behind it, and the writing portion is only this much [Paula held her finger close to her thumb] of it. The other day I had 4 tabs open on my computer. One was an excel spreadsheet to keep track of expenses. But I read an email where someone said Tik Tok is the best place to sell books now. So now I need to know how to edit videos. I was googling ‘best free program to make videos’. It was so complicated. Here’s a layer for your audio, here’s one for your video, I need to learn what all that means. I can’t even learn one new skill before the next comes up. I need to focus on my goal for the day, write it down, get that one thing done, and learn it before moving to the next one. Paula
I found things like doing my website challenging as well. David [Cheryl’s husband] is great moral and practical support but I’ve forced myself to get to grips with it all. For me it’s: what are the most important things? If you spend hours doing a video for Tik Tok, how many books is that going to sell? Everybody says the best way to sell books is to get more out there. I think it’s taking what you can personally cope with,, setting priorities 1, 2 and 3 and after that I don’t care. Cheryl [Everyone laughed and agreed].
I find it difficult with confidence. If someone said write about my book I’m like do I really have to do that? Lily
I kind of role play it. It’s like it’s Dreena the writer doing this bit now. With a pen name I have to put on a persona and it really helps. Dreena
Followers to Fans
I enjoy making the images, videos and all that. The danger is you can focus on that instead of the writing. I’m not trained in a techie way and I don’t even know the terminology for what I do. The difficulty for me is getting likes on Instagram where I have 12k followers but how can I turn that into book sales? Dreena
Having thousands of followers doesn’t translate into sales. Lily
A lot of people who follow you are writers. But breaking into being followed by a reading community is really hard. Dreena
They tend to go for traditionally published, big names. Cheryl
Be Your Own Fans
This could be a mindshift in ourselves. In my local writing group, we started a book club. Every few months Stacy will put up 7 or 8 books on a Facebook poll, and we’ll vote on which to read next. We buy the book, read it on our own time, and then meet as a group to discuss (via Zoom). Often, she can get the author to join us and we talk about the book and writing in general. I told her, “Stacy, stop listing all the big names for Christian writing. It’s a small pond, it’s not hard to get big. Start listing us. We’ve written books. Let’s read our own.” It’s being confident enough to say, ‘I’m an author. I’m published. Let’s read my book.” Paula
I had a good opportunity to build contacts with the local literary community by helping with a local a festival. It takes an awful lot of time to build these contacts and feel comfortable. I met a famous author through this, but I still can’t bring myself to ask them to review my book… You’ve got to build these relationships so that when you do go to a library to flog your book, they don’t just say “thank you” and put it on a shelf, they actually do think of you to give a talk or something. Cheryl
[When an organisation Paula works with wanted a volunteer to take on a role similar to Cheryl’s]. I’ll do it because it gives me the opportunity to meet people who are farther down the path than me. What behind the scenes things can I learn? ACFW does all these contests. They need people to organise the entries. I’m like “Yes, I’ll help do that.” So now I’m working everyday with people on the national board of ACFW. I don’t understand why people don’t get out there everyday and make those connections. It means that you have a claim. Paula
Some people find it horribly painful and some people don’t have the time as they work [I, Elise, silently raised my hand]. My children remind me constantly that I’m supposed to be retired. The marketing is a challenge. Cheryl
What’s worked well for you in overcoming these challenges?
I was freaked the first time I did Zoom. There’s always a part of me that goes “I’ll just run away”. It’s fine now I’m used to it. To begin with it was like, “So scared.” Lily
Practical things like having a persona in writing I found an easy way to overcome insecurities. Dreena
Moving outside your comfort zone does help. All my life I had a job I didn’t know how to do when I started it and I learnt as I went. I had a fantastic mother who told me I could do anything. When the local radio says, ‘Can you come live on air’ you’ve gotta push yourself out there and think: what’s the worst that can happen? Cheryl
Take on one thing at a time. My day with 4 tabs open? I never finished any of them. Just pick something. Learn it. Then you can move on. Paula
Critical for me has been actually engaging in the Writing Community in Twitter and meeting friends like yourselves. It has helped me so much and taught me so much. The kids laugh at me but they’ve stopped now. I think because of covid and having to learn this technology, that has helped so much as well. For me personally, one thing that’s worked really well has been building community with other writers. I also buy your books. Cheryl
My shelf is growing with books by people I know. I think that’s cool. Paula
The first time you pick up a book by someone you actually know, it’s brilliant. The fact my critique partner has published her book means almost as much to me as publishing my book. Lily
Have you found anything easy?
The blog tour I’ve just been on has been a useful tool. I’m paying this woman, she’s giving me a service and she does all the connecting with the people who read my book. I found it really helpful and it did work. Of 20 people who signed up there’s 1 who didn’t read it yet. They did what they said they would do and all I had to do was pay for it. It’s an example of not really expensive and I only had to give away 18 ebooks. The fact someone else was the pivot made it easier for me than having to call lots of bloggers. Dreena
The writing is the easy part. And it’s not all that easy. Paula
Nothing’s easy. Cheryl
Getting people to read my book and pick it to bits was quite easy for me. I just put a message on my FB book page and asked if anyone would read it for me and 6 people were like “I’ll do it.” Some read it more than once. That’s because I already had a community of people I’d known for over a year. Lily
What do you consider to be one of the most important lessons you’ve learned as an Indie?
Build your platform first. If you don’t have a platform when you are ready to launch your book, there’s nobody to tell. That website where you post your newsletter or short stories you’ve written has to be there ready to use when you publish. The hard thing about doing it before you have a finished book in your hands is that you don’t feel real yet. It just feels like you’re playing. Paula
Having somewhere people can come to, to find more about you is important because it builds into the whole marketing is the key point and you have to start that way before you launch your book. Cheryl
Be yourself. Trying to do things the way everybody tells you to, you end up feeling like a bit of a fake. I try to do things my way, instead of going “what does an author do here”, because that isn’t me. Lily
You have to be comfortable. You have to be you. Authentic. Cheryl
Yeah. I know they’ve been doing this longer than me, but the change they’re suggesting doesn’t feel right. I’m not always going to do it that way. Paula
The interior of the book presentation, layout and all of the tricks I really rushed in the first book. I’ve spent longer and longer with each one. I went back and reformatted everything because people are paying money. So I think the design and formatting of the interior needs to be spot on. Dreena
I looked at books and the fonts and where to put your name. Then hard copy proofs. It’s always important to see how the book will actually look. It’s the same also with the editing, grammar, punctuation, chapter headings. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist with those things. Kobo messed up the formatting of Keepers the first time. It didn’t show the scene breaks. The only clue was no indentation in the first para. Somebody gave me a review saying I had head hopped within scenes. Horror! I put proper scene breaks in with a symbol now, not just a double space. Cheryl
Poems can be a right pain with formatting. Lily
What advice would you give to writers beginning Indie Authoring?
Be part of the WritingCommunity on Twitter and find your people whether that’s on platforms, or geographically. Learn as much as you can from reading, webinars, asking questions. Don’t be scared to ask people for help. If you think its a stupid question, chances are there’s somebody going, “Oh I wanted to know that.” Know your limits, what you can do and can’t do and be willing to get someone to do what you can’t do for you. I did do my cover for My Father’s Daughter, but now Rue’s re-done it, it’s a better job. It doesn’t always cost you money. Some people are willing to share things with you and help you for zero pence. Sometimes it’s you teaching people and they’re teaching you. Go your own speed and your own way. You learn at your own speed. Lily
If you want people to reach for you, then reach for other people as well. Lily
I’m in another group and there are some people who are very conspicuous by their absences. Some people have more chutzpah than others. Cheryl
Find a critique group. Paula
Subscribe to Jane Friedman’s newsletter and take advantage of all the topics there. And be willing to engage with other people. Cheryl
Get a good product. Be patient and learn from others. Cheryl
I know I said take your time with formatting and all that, but at the same time don’t wait too long and doubt yourself. Don’t think it’s not a great time. The time is now. Some of that hesitation will be from a lack of confidence, but people will support you and guide you and you’ll learn from that. I would say don’t hesitate. Dreena
I think you have to be ready. Lily
But it’s good fun. I think we all do it with very little expectation of being fabulously rich, because for me anyway, it’s just what I do. I treat it almost as a job these days. It’s what I like to do. Cheryl
Tell us a bit about you, your books and where we can buy them.
I came late to writing, inspired largely by where I live, in the beautiful Forest of Dean in the UK. Over the past few years I’ve published a children’s fantasy trilogy, a slim collection of short stories (several of them prize winning/commended) and a women’s fiction novel which is being met with positive reviews. In between getting on with two current projects, I’m much involved in my local writing scene including working with students in local schools to encourage their creative spark.
You can see all my books (including the dog’s best selling book) on my website.
To keep up with what’s going on, including in my local writing world, join my mailing list for my monthly newsletter.
A fifth-generation Texan, Paula Peckham graduated from the University of Texas in Arlington and taught math at Burleson High School for 19 years. She divides her time between her home in Burleson and her casita in Rio Bravo, Mexico. Her debut novel, Protected, was an ACFW Genesis semi-finalist in 2020 and will be published March 2022 with Elk Lake Publishing, Inc. She also writes short stories and poems and is a member of ACFW and Unleashing the Next Chapter. For more about Paula and her books, visit her website. You can also follow Paula on
Lily Lawson is a poet and writer who has self-published two poetry collections; My Father’s Daughter and A Taste of What’s to Come. She has had poetry, short stories and creative non-fiction published in anthologies.
Dreena Collins was born in Jersey, where she lives with two males and a dog. She has also been listed and placed in a number of writing competitions, including the Mslexia annual awards, and the Bridport Prize. She writes earnest short fiction under her birth name, and feel-good light reads as Jane Harvey. Jane’s debut novel – The Landlord of Hummingbird House – is out now. Her hobbies include eating spicy food, unintentionally waking at 4.30 am, and falling over.
For more about Dreena and her books, visit her website.
Unlike social media posts, your author newsletter is a direct line to people interested in hearing from you, and receiving your content. It sits in an inbox where interested people can read it a their leisure, instead of on a social media feed where it may be drowned out by thousands of posts vying for attention. Newsletters effectively reach your people, but what you can offer in yours to make it worthwhile for your subscribers?
What Should I Write About?
Imposter syndrome can hit hard when it comes to writing a newsletter, especially if you don’t have a release date for your first book yet (I would know, being about to send out my fourth newsletter, and still querying and researching self publishing, with no release date in sight yet 😉). The good news is, a newsletter can be a lot more than just a means for people to learn when and where your next book is out.
In considering what to offer in your newsletter, I’d think about: General interests and life experiences (ones you’re comfortable sharing) which you have in common with your readers. Things that will make you relatable to your readers, or help them connect with you. Things that may entertain or educate your readers. Your own thoughts or experiences related to major themes in your writing, which are likely to also impact on your readers lives, or be topics they care about.
Personal/ Wip/ Book Updates
Share your personal, wip or book updates first with the people who trusted you with their email address. Give them more of the juicy details than you do on social media. Tell them the jokes or show sides of your personality that don’t fit into your social posts. Share your reflection on a life event you and your main character have experienced and your readers are likely to relate to. Tell your subscribers how your pet’s or child’s demands for attention forced you into making productive use of what time you have to write without interruption. Think about experiences, actions and thoughts which make you human and which your readers can relate to and marry the two in your update. This is what I meant above when I said ‘things that make you relatable to your readers, help them connect with you.’
This isn’t just for published authors. If you’re editing or querying a novel, you may also want to include blurbs about your characters, settings or the struggles your characters face, to generate interest in and allow your subscribers to enter the world of your stories. This could be blurbs, or creative writing, eg. news sources or diaries ‘produced’ by characters in your fictional world.
If you commission character art or create mood boards for your book, this is a good space to show them and or cover reveals off. Again, give your subscribers the v.i.p. treatment and share these things with them first. (This being one of many reasons monthly newsletters are a good idea, as I find it impossible to tell my subscribers things first when my newsletter is only quarterly).
The thing a reader gets when they sign up to your newsletter. A common recommendation is a short story. For example, take a character’s backstory and write a short story about an episode from it. Later in a series, write a short about an event between books, or a scene after the series finishes, possibly wrapping up any final loose ends.
I know, not everyone writes shorts, but as your newsletter will appeal to people interested in your books, its worth giving them a sampler of your fiction as your reader magnet. I put off writing one for ages because I don’t do shorts, but after writing four picture books and a Middle Grade novel, I was surprised how easily I adapted my knowledge of story structure and character arcs to a 7,500 word story.
Alternately, or better yet additionally, you may like to use merchandise. For example, Emma Lombard created postcards using character art from her Historical Fiction debut, Discerning Grace, as a reader magnet. What digital merch could you include in a welcome email?
If you blog about topics like the inspiration for your books, book reviews etc, there’s a good chance your subscribers will be interested in your blogs. Sharing a concise blog blurb and a link to it lets you repurpose something you’ve already put the work in for. (I started off sharing my blog’s opening paragraphs in my newsletters, but I think a concise, personalised introduction for subscribers creates a more welcoming tone).
These can be interviews you’ve given, or conducted. I’d consider who you’re interviewing and how the interview relates to your subscriber’s interests. For example, are you interviewing an author who writes a similar genre or themes to your books? Or sharing your interview with an ‘expert’ that you did as part of your book’s research?
These could be events you personally are involved in. Or third party events of topical, thematic or genre interest to your readers, like festivals, readings, conferences, competitions, related identity group events, etc.
You might sponsor other writers giveaways and share them in your newsletter, an option for collaborative book promotion, particularly if you’re an Indie Author. A giveaway may also be merchandise (if you have it), or a query letter/ first chapter critique (especially if you’re also a freelance editor, or an agented author giving back to querying writers).
If you know authors writing in similar genres and audience ages, sharing a blurb and sign up link to their newsletter, and them doing the same for you in theirs, can help grow both newsletters. If you’re a fellow SFF writer, here’s a Facebook Group for arranging newsletter swaps.
Your email provider probably has a footer block to add to your newsletter template, with icons to link to your social media accounts. I display this below my sign off for each newsletter, to make it easy for my subscribers to visit my social media.
How Often Do I Send it?
The most common recommendation I’ve heard is monthly. Often enough for people to remember who you are, what you’re about and to eagerly open your newsletter. I’ve started with quarterly because I have too many balls in the air to manage monthly newsletters as well, and I suspect its negatively impacting the amount of opens I get. I know authors who are able to write fortnightly
How to Design & Write My Newsletter?
Before designing yours, I suggest (if you haven’t already), subscribing to the newsletters of a few writers you know (including some same genre authors). Look at what they include in their newsletters, how their content is organised, but also their presentation, tone etc. Consider what will suit your personality/ brand and your goals in designing and selecting content for your newsletter.
My favourite author newsletters are by Emma Lombard (Historical Fiction Author) for her personable tone and bookish content (you can read her January newsletter here). And Rue Sparks (Magical Realism, Mystery, Spec. Fic. Author), who illustrates what I mean when I talk about personal reflections on topics in this newsletter. If you’re wondering what my attempts to do the above look like, my January newsletter gives you a good idea and my April one will improve on it.
If you haven’t looked into branding yet, the main thing to bear in mind here is using consistent fonts and consistent colour schemes across your site and newsletter, and for any promo graphics you make which include text. You may also like to design your own newsletter graphic to promote your NL on your site, socials etc. I use the image on the right (made on canva) as my email header.
This is something to consider throughout your entire newsletter. What style of writing suits your personality and how you want to interact with your subscribers? How does your newsletter style compare to your books and their tone?
Are you aiming to invite readers to connect with you, to entertain them, to inform them and or to educate them in some way? What type of tone best suits your style and that purpose/ those purposes?
I’m Aussie, and we tend to be blunt, so my newsletters (like my blogs) speak quite directly. Entertainment isn’t my main goal, but I like to include some humour and show some personality in my personal updates, to make them an enjoyable read. My blogs aim to share my learnings as a writer and to help fellow writers on their journeys (which will shift gears to focus more on potential readers when I prepare to publish my first book). So at the moment, my blog and external resources sections aim to help writers (when my blog focuses on readers, this purpose/ aim will also include entertaining, connecting with and engaging readers.)
As you figure out your style, tone and purpose, you may also like to consider: What do you want your reader to feel as they read your newsletter? How do you want them to respond to it? How can you style and structure your newsletter to meet those aims?
If imposter syndrome is on your back, and or you don’t think you’ve found your author platform voice yet, I suggest trying blogging before drafting a newsletter. Chances are your blog readers aren’t signed up to your blog. They haven’t made a commitment to you, so you’re under less pressure on a blog. And you’ve got space to practice writing longer-than-social-media messages to your readers, in your author voice. It took me around six or seven blogs before I felt comfortable drafting a newsletter. My blog is where I’ve experimented with and developed my newsletter voice, developed my non-fiction writing style and played around with how to use those to connect with my readers, and to entertain and help them. I suggest experimenting with all that on your blog. And installing a page visit counter to see which blogs and styles are getting the most reads, and considering what worked well with your blog when writing your newsletter.
Developing a blog (and sharing it on your social media) gives your potential newsletter audience a chance to sample your content and realise that they may want to sign up. Alternately, giving your blog readers the chance to subscribe directly to your blog opens up a line of communication with people who don’t want to subscribe to your newsletter.
Mailing List Providers and Set Up
Which Mailing service provider should I use?
Mailchimp is free until you hit 2,000 subscribers (then pricy), Mailerlite being free for up to 1,000 subscribers, while Convertkit is expensive. To help you choose a provider, here’s a guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog comparing the three (courtesy of @RSJoneseeAuthor).
What Does a Mailing List Do?
If the term ‘mailing list’ is new to you, you may be wondering what’s physically involved in setting up your newsletter and mailing list, so I’ll unpack that. Whether you set up a sign up form on your site or on a landing page via your provider (more on sign ups below), once someone signs up to your newsletter, your provider will store their emails on a list. From there, it will provide you with newsletter templates. If the templates aren’t much chop, you should have the option to add content blocks of your choice from a menu. When your newsletter is finished, you can send it to everyone on your list via your provider.
Where do I send Emails to my List From?
Not your personal email account. Attempting to do this can cause tech issues (yes I know people who’ve tried it and had a lot of trouble). Most website hosts offer an email account to match your site, firstname.lastname@example.org, which looks more professional and doesn’t have those issues.
Which Emails Should I Set Up?
I recommend setting up an automated welcome email, thanking subscribers for signing up to your newsletter and stating its name. If your name isn’t clear in your newsletter title, I’d state your name too, so people know who’s speaking to them and that their sign up was successful. If you’re using Mailchimp and can only set up one automated email, I’d include your reader maget in this welcome email.
Then I suggest creating (and saving) a template for your regular newsletter. If you save it as both an email and a template, you can use the template (with your choice of fonts, colour schemes etc) to populate next month’s newsletter.
A goodbye letter for un-subscribers. I’m sure you’ve seen the ‘sorry to see you go’ type emails you get from third parties. As my newsletter is called ‘Fiction Frolics’, I sign it off by wishing them well in their fiction endeavours. You might also like to remind people that they can follow you on social media to stay in touch in this email.
Do you still want to receive these newsletters? This email is important to send out periodically, to the people your provider thinks aren’t opening your emails. Why? Because if people persistently don’t open your emails, your sender rating can be effected, which means your newsletters are more likely to end up in everyone’s spam folder. For more information about this and comprehensive newsletter set up tips, I recommend buying Newsletter Ninja.
Where Do I Promote My Newsletter On My Site?
If you have a single page site, at the top (for attention) or bottom of that page (by then, people will have some idea of what they’re signing up for, from your homepage’s content).
If you have a multi page site and no blog, you may like to put your newsletter blurb and sign up form on your contact page. However, if your contact page also includes your social media and or is crowded (like mine), its worth giving your newsletter its own page, mine being here.
The advantage of a newsletter-only page is that you can link your newsletter sign up directly to your Twitter bio, as well as your main site or blog (I’m trialling this on Insta too). I’m established and quite active on Twitter, and via my Twitter bio, my newsletter page gets more visits than any other single page or blog on my site.
If you have a blogtoo, I would do whichever of the above applies AND place a sign up form and newsletter blurb, or a link to your newsletter sign up page at the bottom of each blog. That way, people interested enough in reading your blogs to the end get another chance to sign up for more content.
Do I Need a Separate Landing Page for my Newsletter? If you’re using Story Origin or other external newsletter promoters, they may have landing pages for you to use for their set up. But for your set up, why give Mailchimp or other providers page visits from say Twitter, when your site could get those visits, and people could then browse your site from its newsletter page? (Making everything involve as few clicks as possible is an effective SEO strategy).
What Should Your Newsletter Blurb and or Sign Up Say and Look Like?
I suggest creating a newsletter header. You’ll see mine in my site’s sidebar, its footer, and as my Twitter and Facebook page headers.
Every newsletter blurb I’ve read says at least ‘sign up for updates.’ That doesn’t tell potential subscribers anything specific or let them know what value they personally will get from your newsletter. So whatever else your blurb says, I’d at least tell people about the reader magnet they get for signing up, including audience age, genre and perhaps a one line blurb. For example my sign up page initially said:
Get the short story Urmillian: Rebellion is due and accompany me on my Fiction Frolics via personal updates, behind the scenes snippets, author interviews and blogs every two months.
If you have an option for site visitors to subscribe just to your blog, I also suggest displaying that sign up on your newsletter page. For a visual of all of the above, visit my sign up page.
Total Page Visits: 6065
Further Reading& Mailing List Resources
Interested in a space to discuss newsletters, author platforms and book marketing with other authors? Let me know by tweet or use my contact form and send you an invite link to my Strictly Authoring Discord Server.
Deciding what to put on your author website can seem daunting, especially if you publish it before your first book. But your author bio and writing samples can go on your site, and you can start blogging at any time. I’ll suggest site content, and give tips on carefully selecting your theme in this post. I’ll also recommend plugins for WordPress (sorry, I don’t do Wix or Squarespace, though I hear good things). Ultimately, I’ll share what I’ve learnt tweaking my site and blog over the past ten months (yes, as an unpublished author 😉), to help you hit the ground running with yours.
What Should I Put On My Site?
Your bio ought to be written in third person, so other people can copy and paste it into author interviews you give. You might like to include things like places you’ve lived, your education, life events etc, but I’d also try and inject some personality and personal interests too, as your bio may be the place where potential readers, writer colleagues or potential agents and publishers get their first feel for who you are. For an example of showing personality and humour, I offer my bio. (I’ll use the short ‘about me’ paragraph on my home page for interviews, as my About page bio is too long).
I suggest accompanying your bio with your standard author profile photo (the one you use for social media and sites like Goodreads), so you’re instantly recognisable to anyone who’s interacted with you online. If your bio is on a separate page, you may like to share other photos too and give more details for people to get to know you better.
This could be book adds, descriptions of your works in progress, sample chapters, your poetry or short stories. You may want a Works in Progress page, and or a page for each short story, and or a page for poetry. In choosing writing samples, I’d consider how well each showcases your writing, your main genre and themes, and your writing style to potential readers. I’d also consider: are you displaying shorts which are prequels to your novels, aimed at building a readership? Are your book teasers from works in progress, aiming to generate reader interest, or upcoming release blurbs aiming to entice potential readers to preorder? (Strong, polished book pitches being more crucial for the latter, though I recommend seeking critical feedback for both, to overcome any author bias blind spots which may trip up potential readers).
What if I have multiple writing styles, genres and or audience ages?
That’s when you might want to consider a pen name for some books, and a separate author site for your pen name, especially if you write unrelated genres, or themes appropriate for different age groups, like erotica and children’s fiction.
Images are a great way to capture people’s imaginations, and a unique way to indicate the atmosphere and mood of your writing. You may like to commission a portrait of your MC to generate interest about your book and to illustrate the book blurb section on your site (and share on social media or in your newsletter), and yes, that’s what I did on my works in progress page.
Alternately, you can find high quality photos on unsplash.com and some great public domain artwork on canva.com, to format into a mood board or graphic to illustrate your book blurb. I prefer Unsplash, because it lets you credit photographers for their work. Remember to use alt text, so vision impaired visitors know what images show (more on this in Image Accessibility below).
Newsletter Sign Up
I highly recommend a newsletter, especially if you plan to self publish. My next post will focus on newsletters, so all I’ll say here is make your sign up form is prominent on your site and tell people what they get for signing up, eg. a short story.
A blog is a great way to attract potential readers to your website. Whether you blog monthly, fortnightly, weekly or are a super-human who blogs more often, every post is an opportunity to drive traffic to your site. Writing a number of quality blogs encourages people to spend time exploring your site, and to revisit it. If you’re lucky, that may lead them to sign up to your newsletter, to get your content in their inbox.
To get your website showing up in Google search results, complete this (free) Attracta site map form. This alone created a steady increase in the number of visits my site and blog posts received.
Yes analytics can help with SEO, but as a layperson I find Google Analytics has far too many options and too much information, which I lack the time and intuition to utilise. I just read its monthly reports. So shop around! Dotstore Plugins (my page counter), told me 3/4 of my website visits are via Twitter. It also displays a graph of daily page and blog visits, for a week at a time. It suggested that (as I rarely tweet my blog), most people visit via links on my Twitter profile page, or in my Twitter bio. So put your site link in your Twitter bio!
Choosing A Theme
I suggest experimenting with different themes to see what appeals to you, but also consider…
Display & Visual Accessibility
Does my theme display page menus and social media clearly, in an easy to see space? Is site navigation easy?
When choosing colours, try to be as conscious of making your site visually accessible as you are about designing it to your personal taste. Ensure there is enough contrast between text colour and background colour for text to be easy to read. Be wary of big slabs of text on a white background, with no images, colour or sub-headings to break it up, which could bore some visitors and be a visual impairment access issue to others. (If you’re curious, this site’s theme is Katha (on WordPress), which many people have said they find clean and easy to read.)
Style, Genre and Audience Age
If you’re writing a dark and haunting Horror, you’re probably after a theme with dark colours, and images which evoke the mood and feel of your stories. If you’re writing children’s fiction, you may gravitate towards bright colours and lots of pictures. I suggest neutral colours, as opposed to glaringly bright tones of each colour and not too many pictures, which may overstimulate neurodiverse visitors. For any genre and audience age, consider whether the tone, atmosphere and mood of images on your Home and other pages evoke your books style. Creating a site which feels like an ‘experience’ is another way to generate interest, so if that interests you, I’d have fun experimenting with it. A good example author site where colour, art and font choices gave it a genre vibe is melissahawkes.com (a YA Fantasy author site).
Themes With Images
Themes with background images can be great for giving your site a genre-related feel, especially if the background image you choose displays off-world art for SFF. I suggest choosing a theme with side borders of that image/ art, and a single colour background for the middle, over which text is displayed clearly, so it has a genre vibe, but isn’t visual stimulation overload/ inaccessible. A header image with a fantasy feel also sets the mood (images on mine being from the front cover’s of my debut Manipulator’s War, and my second novel, Secrets of the Sorcery War.)
Visitors with visual impairments may depend on digital readers, which cannot read print formatted onto images, eg. promo images you’ve overlaid with text on Canva. So I’d make text on images on your site accessible by putting text in alt text too. Also say what the image is in alt text (unless its purely decorative).
Whatever your colour, art and font choices: make them consistent across your pages and your blog. Try to have your own style of promo images, with similar colours and backgrounds. This also gives your site its own distinct feel, and will make it easier on people navigating across pages of your site, by not requiring them to adjust to different colour schemes before they can read and access each page. A great example of this is emmalombard.com (Historical Fiction author site).
Does my theme have a banner? + Site Icons & Logos
A banner is an easy way to put images of yourself (your brand) and your book covers on each page. It can help people visually associate your site’s content with you and says clearly, “I have books to sell!” NB: If you’ve got a series, give pride-of-visibility-place to book one’s cover in your banner (the gateway book 😉) and maybe a few others, but try not to overwhelm us with too many covers.
If, like me, you don’t have books out yet or coming soon, you may wish to make your site logo and browser icon (as displayed in the browser tab) your face. My goal there is enabling people to visually associate my site’s content with me. You could use an author logo, but I find them forgettable and faces memorable, so I prefer faces.
Social Media Links
Ideally, you want a theme which displays social media icons linking to your socials clearly, at the top and or bottom of your pages. As my theme displays them below comments, and the footer, I use Ultimate Social Media Icons to display ‘follow me’ buttons (the ones below) in my side bar menu, where they’re more likely to be seen.
Does my theme have a sidebar?
If your site has multiple pages and or you’re blogging, I’d pick a theme with a sidebar to display ‘Follow Me On Social Media’ buttons and a ‘Sign Up To My Newsletter’ form. I also recommend displaying a category menu for blog posts, and assigning your blogs to categories. That way, visitors can identify posts which interest them, as opposed to your latest posts, or archives listed by month and giving readers no clue what they’re about.
What Do I blog About?
Not everything under the sun. As with books, you’re trying to build a regular readership on your blog. Ideally, your blog readership and book readership will be the same. So when thinking what to blog, ask yourself, ‘what might readers of my books be interested in reading?’ (Side note, yes, this blog is writer advice and I write YA Fantasy, not non-fiction. For now, this blog is me sharing what I’ve learnt, not trying to appeal to potential readers of my books).
Which blog topics are relevant to your books audience? I write YA and I recently identified as non-binary, so you can bet I’ll blog about gender identity in future, something young people may question, relevant to the coming of age stories I write, and something I’d hope people who buy books for young people would want to support them with. If you’re unclear what your equivalent of this is, consider themes and ideas your books explore, and your experiences with those things, or thoughts you’re willing to share about them.
On another track, a blog is a much more extensive space than a bio for potential readers to get to know you, your books etc. If you’re unsure how to utilise it or if you’d enjoy jamming time to blog into your busy schedule, take a look at 100 Blog Ideas for Unpublished Authors by @mixtusmedia (which is excellent), then see how you feel.
BlogLinks On Your Site
Every blog post can draw potential site visitors, and linking your blogs can encourage them to stick around. If your current post touches on topics you’ve already blogged about, mention and link your old posts where relevant, and or end your current blog with related links (yours or other people’s articles, which help with SEO).
Your theme may display other posts, but not make related posts visible. My WordPress theme links only to ‘previous’ and next ‘posts’ at the end of each blog, so I installed a plugin (Shareaholic), which displays eight of my blogs below every post. (Adds NB: Shareaholic also lets you opt in (or out) of displaying adds in this panel. I like this option because it contains adds at the end of your posts, where they neither impersonate paragraphs of your blog posts, nor obscure them with a pop up).
These do make a difference. I suggest choosing them by selecting key words from your blog posts, entering them in Google, and seeing which of the most popularly searched phrases in Google are most relevant to your blog, and using them as tags. Also, check if key words you associate with your post mostly turn up similar content before using them as tags. I considered ‘querying’, but on Google that turned up results for every type of human enquiry, so I experimented till my search terms turned up agent and publishing related results.
9 Tips for the First 5 Pages is one of my most popular blogs. I think that’s a combination of a topic many fiction writers want advice on, and a title which aligns with Google search terms. So when seeking popular search phrases for blog tags, consider using one as your blog title, if its relevant and specific enough. Also, keep your title short. I generally find anything longer than five words gets less hits for each word I add.
Install Social Media Sharing buttons
Social Warfare is my top pick. It’s style suits my theme (its the floating social bar) and the paid version lets me determine the text and images which display when people share my links on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (no, I’m not an affiliate getting paid to say that). I also tried Shareaholic’s share buttons, which displayed photo credit text and some Google Analytics code before the first line of my blog posts on FB and looked awful. And Ultimate Social Media, whose floating share buttons had a time delay, obscuring paragraphs as I scrolled.
Social Warfare is linked to Twitcount, the only app which will display how often your blog is shared on Twitter. (I wish you better luck if you use it, as it updated my Twitter shares twice, then failed to update ever since. My emails about it went answered.) If you don’t get many shares, or have issues with persistent share count inaccuracies, you can set plugins to not display share counts too (which I’ve mostly done.)
Blogs and Pinterest
Images on my site cannot be pinned to Pinterest, which is popular with certain demographics. The easiest fix if you have this issue, is to create a pin for your blog on Pinterest (including a link to your blog in the pin), then use this Pinterest widget builder to create short code and paste the code into a short code block in your post. That displays the blog’s pin in the blog, so site visitors can pin it.
Share Links in Your Newsletter
Sharing your latest or popular blogs in your newsletter is a great way to recycle content you’ve invested time and effort in. It also gives people who appreciate your blog an easy means of staying in touch, at their leisure.
If you want like buttons, page counters, social media share buttons (and any other plugins I’ve mentioned above), on WordPress, you’ll have to be manually install them. (If you don’t know how, see this guide from WP beginner, or search for WordPress plugin instructions from your web host.) I suggest installing these plugins as soon as you publish your blog, so your like, visit and share counts (technical issues notwithstanding) accurately reflect your blog’s popularity.
–Yoast for SEO optimisation and readability basic analysis and recommendations per site page and blog.
And Complianz to scan my site to produce and display a relevant Cookie banner.
Total Page Visits: 3164
Interested in a space to discuss author websites, newsletters, platforms and book marketing with other authors? Let me know by tweet or use my contact form and I’ll send you an invite to my Strictly Authoring Discord Server.
Social media is an ideal space to think about how you present and to begin interacting publicly as a writer. Twitter and Instagram have thriving Writing Communities, where you can find your tribe. A Facebook page (or Instagram) are great spaces to share your writing life and books with personal contacts. Any of these plus Pinterest, Youtube and others are potential spaces to reach readers and promote your published works. And Tik Tok? If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ll know writers are selling books over there. So which social media is most appropriate to you as a writer, which account is best to start with and how do you get started on your writer social media?
Social Media Introductions
Twitter is a great starting point, because of its #WritingCommunity. There, you can meet and make friends with fellow writers, ask advice about all things writing related and gain insight into what lies ahead of you -at any stage- from writers further down the line. Because of the tight character limit on tweets and Twitter’s focus on text, and because people are more likely to retweet your tweets than share posts elsewhere, I found Twitter the fastest social media account to find my writer tribe on. Once I was established there, it was also a base to connect with fellow writers and to see how they used Instagram, Facebook and Tik Tok to reach readers.
To get an idea of potential readers /demographics you can reach on Twitter (it’s a mix mash compared to Instagram and Facebook), see this statistic summary by Hootsuite. For detailed tweeting advice, see Getting Started on Twitterhere (the bottom of this post).
Twitter Alternative: Mastodon
This is a different category of social media, because it isn’t algorithm based. You can go offline as long as you like, and it won’t change your visibility or what content you see on your feed, unlike Twitter and Instagram. Unlike them and Facebook pages, you can’t even see how many impressions your toots get on Mastodon. Best of all, its crowdfunded, so it isn’t littered with promoted posts. Its decentralised, so you join a server and can view toots on its feed, or on the fediverse, which is every server linked to the one you joined.
It’s tricker to be seen there, as algorithms don’t boost you hours after you toot. But boosts (retweets) do share your toots on both the feeds of anyone following people who boost you, and on the fediverse. As a nonbinary, neurodiverse person, I can also report that its a friendly space to diverse people generally, especially in terms of accessibility. If you’d like to find out more about interacting on Mastodon, this post has some good advice.
If you have a personal Instagram account and feel at home there, its #WritingCommunity are also welcoming. A good way to introduce yourself there is on hashtags like #MeetTheWriter and #FindMyWritingCommunity. (Include a photo of yourself for increased engagement). Instagram also has #Bookstagram and is a great place to promote your books to readers. With Twitter under new management, its writing community is also taking on Twitter refugees. For more see below, Getting Started on Social Media, Instagram.
Who can you reach there? Hootsuite’s 2022 research found Insta still more popular than Tik Tok for Gen Z, and most popular with Gen Z and millenials (18-34). If your books are likely to appeal to these age groups, but Instagram is outside your comfort zone, I’d leave it for now, but plan to set up a writer/ author account there eventually.
I say ‘Facebook page’ as opposed to ‘account’ or ‘profile’, because if you want to use the word ‘author’ or ‘writer’ in your name, Facebook considers you a public figure and requires you to have a page. If you create a profile as (whoever) Author, you will have your account suspended, and probably deleted for ‘posing as someone else.’
Research on Facebook’s demographics by Hootsuite says its most popular with men and women aged 35-44 (younger than I anticipated from personal experience). If you’re active on and comfortable with Facebook, a Facebook Page (or group created by your page) is a good place to start book promotion. Alternately, you can use your personal Facebook account , if you just call yourself first name, last name. For advice on choosing between using your profile or creating a page, see Facebook for Authors by Jane Friedman.
Pinterest differs from the above three media in a few key ways. Pinterest’s algorithms work differently, with the pins which appear on people’s feeds being determined by the topics each Pinterest user selects, as opposed to pins created or pinned by people they follow. On Pinterest, users are also more likely to use the search function to find particular types of pins, so who sees your pins isn’t limited by how small your following is. It doesn’t even require you to be active on Pinterest, or to make algorithms happy for your pins to be seen.
Pinterest Boards You can pin (create your own copy of, collect and organise) other people’s pins by pinning them to your own boards, using them to attract followers with similar interests. You can click and drag your boards, to position them in the order you want visitors to your profile to see them. You can also select the edit icon (on the bottom right corner of any board) to select (and position) which pin it displays as its cover. I have the boards I’ve saved my blog pins to across the top, where they’re most prominent, and inspirational image boards (for my writing and drawing) underneath.
If you’d like to create pins for your blog or site pages to embed on your WordPress (so visitors can pin them from there), here’s a Pinterest tool which makes that easy. (In my case, this an easy way around the problem of my site not allowing images on it to display on any social media). To learn about who you can reach on Pinterest and how often, here’s Hootsuite’s Pinterest statistics.
I’ve seen a few posts in an author Facebook group (20Booksto50k -great for learning about marketing), noting an increase in their book sales which appears to correlate with an increase of their book promotion and impressions on Tik Tok. An advantage of Tik Tok is that hashtags are a big factor in how your posts are seen, so if you choose the right hashtags and use popular sounds, you can potentially be seen by far more people than your followers. Another advantage is that when you start typing hashtags on TikTok, it will tell you how many people post on that hashtag, assisting your visibility by hashtag within the app. (Hashtags do help on Twitter and Instagram, but they’re most useful for writing prompts and communities, and less so than Tik Tok for reaching readers).
Lastly, Tik Tok’s like of people being themselves, not the polished, scripted versions of themselves you may see on more formal youtube channels makes it friendlier to the budding writer who isn’t a budding actor. And if you don’t like showing your face on social media, #BookTok is fond of book trailers, and related videos, so videos of you aren’t necessary. If you’re scared of Tik Tok altogether, according to Hootsuite, 70-80% of its audience also uses Facebook, Instagram or Youtube.
Hootsuite reports that 40% of Tik Tok users prefer it as a search engine over Google and Instagram, and that while still very popular with teens, in 2022, 31% of its users were aged 24-35 and its still growing in popularity with all ages and many walks of life.
This may not be technically social media, but Youtube is competing with Facebook’s levels of active monthly users in the US and Hootsuite has lots of encouraging statistics about audiences reachable on it. A few writer friends with established channels have recommended youtube. If you have an interest in film, acting or audio narration, or if your day job involves public speaking, this may be a natural platform to establish yourself as an author. An advantage of Youtube is that it basically functions as the Google of videos, with users regularly searching it for content, so again this is a space that doesn’t depend on a large following or interactions on the platform nudging algorithms to display your posts to more users. If it isn’t in your comfort zone, again I’d get started where you feel more comfortable.
Getting Started On Social Media
Whichever social media you start with, find and follow some writers, and if you like, people who share similar interests to you. Spend some time looking at what content they post, how they interact and getting a feel for that space and which content could resonate with potential followers and readers there.
When you start your second social media account, post asking other writers if they are on it and begin your platform by connecting with and learning from writers you already know on the new platform. I see periodic tweets about this for anything you could follow authors on, and this was my entry point into Pinterest. I also met writers to share Instagram and Tik Tok content ideas with on Twitter.
Social Media Names and ProfilePhotos
I’ve read that your name is your brand —not your book title— so my name on all my social media profiles is @ElisesWritings. My first and last name are also the dot com name and header of my site. My social media profile photo and the most prominent head shot on my site are the same. Consistency across all these spaces lets you build your brand —you— so when choosing a user name, think of something appropriate across every social media you plan to use. I’ve seen some writers develop logos as profile photos, but I find logos easy to forget, while faces are memorable, so I prefer self portrait profile photos.
What Should I Post? Getting Started on Instagram, Pinterest & Facebook
(for Twitter see below)
Marketing 101 —don’t only post book adds! Your account will look like spam and you’ll put people off following you. Vary your content. A ratio a few authors like to use is 80% give, 20% ask. That could be 80% entertaining posts —quotes, photos, jokes, discussion questions related thematically or by genre to your writing. It could be personal interest or update posts and some work-in-progress posts. Then 20% ‘sign up to my newsletter’, ‘here’s my latest review,’ ‘please vote for my cover,’ or ‘my book is currently on pre-order/ discounted’ posts.
Yes, if you’re time-pressed and mostly write tweets, you can just share them on Insta. But Insta is a visually focused space. My favourite posts to view and read are ones with thoughtfully selected quality photos or images, which compliment a thoughtful personal update, or someone’s reflection on life or writing.
Insta is a great place to share mood boards for your works in progress, character art or sketches. Posting a good photo of yourself can signal a personal update or a reflection on your writing post. You might also like to post photos of and write about some of your other interests —especially if they tie in to your books— and make those connections clear to your followers.
Whatever content you choose, Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags to boost your post’s visibility. It has multiple equivalents of #WritingCommunity hashtags and many hashtags for posting about books. Here’s a list of around 70 writer and bookish tags to get you started.
#Bookstagram is full of book covers artfully arranged with props, coloured fabric backing, glitter ect. So if you’re posting book reviews or adds on Insta —be creative. Make your cover the focus of a visually pleasing scene, or explore short animated video add options.
If you want to share quotes or questions, I suggest getting on canva and designing an Insta post image with a coloured (or photo) background and a nice font. Using the same font on all Insta posts helps them become recognisable by it, as well as looking good.
No, you don’t have to do the above
Yes, people will follow you if you just take photos of your cat or not-very-visually-pleasing photos of your device with your work in progress on its screen and write comments about those. But if you want to gain (and retain) followers, and to attract potential readers to your account, I suggest making full use of the space by creating visually pleasing and interesting content and taking book add inspiration from #Bookstagram.
How Often Should I Post?
Until I hit around 500 followers, I routinely got unfollowed by multiple people if I didn’t post for a week or 2. You’ll gain the most followers posting daily —and may keep them if you post popular content like motivational quotes, but you’ll attract a lot of people follow for follow-backs unfollowing you too. For me, posting every second or third day was the best balance to gain the kind of followers who stick around and not be unfollowed for not posting.
Following & Bots on Insta
There are quite a few bot accounts on Insta —particularly those of single men following women— and some bots which write generic comments on your posts. (Twitter thankfully deletes bot accounts periodically, but alas Instagram has no such clean up system). The bots’ aim seems to be the same as that of people who follow you, wait till you follow back, then unfollow you —to gain followers (or ‘dm me to promote your books -for a fee). Its annoying. You can get apps to track follows and unfollows, but there’s a LOT of Insta following apps, so I’d choose one carefully. (I don’t use an app, ignore bots and follow back carefully, screening my followers by taking the steps in When Following Backon Twitter and Instagram below.)
Promoting a Blog On Instagram
The provider of my social media share button (Social Warfare) doesn’t include an Instagram share button. Their research shows over 80% of Instagram users stay on Instagram and don’t want to visit other sites advertised there. However, having found great quality photos on unsplash to illustrate and promote my blog posts with, I post those on Instagram. I write a blurb relating to my personal experience of the blog topic and I include a discussion question for people to reply to. Then I paste the text of the link (which people have to copy and paste into their browser, as Instagram posts don’t do hyperlinks). Generally my Insta posts about my blog get more likes than links on Twitter (though less blog visits). So if you have a blog to promote and you join the Writing Community on Insta, I encourage you to experiment with posting about it.
For more advice on creating an appealing look and on what to post, see:
Because Facebook allows link sharing, your Facebook page is a good place to share interesting articles of topical or thematic relevance to your books. Most commonly, I’ve seen writers posting updates about their latest work in progress, favourite quotes (of other writers and of their own works), character art, cover reveals, reviews of their books and some book advertising, interspersed between personal posts about holidays etc.
There’s plenty of room for Facebook Page and Insta content to overlap, and I tend to post the same poetry (sometimes with different travel photos to illustrate) on My Facebook Page as on my Insta. I post occasional work in progress updates on both, but tend to go into more detail on Insta, where I have more writer followers interested in detail about writing than the personal contacts following my Facebook Page.
I recommend using canva.com to create full pin size images for Pinterest (as I did in my pins), and to add text to pins (if applicable). Hashtags are also used on Pinterest. I tend to choose 5 on my pins, and to search terms I think would be popular tags in the Pinterest search bar to help me choose them. Some popular Twitter or Instagram tags aren’t used at all on Pinterest, so its worth checking your choice of tag has a chance of boosting your pin impressions and isn’t just taking up space in your pin description.
As Pinterest is also very visual, you may like to use the same images to create pins as mentioned for posts above on Instagram. If you’re looking for photos on Pinterest to inspire your character or setting descriptions (something I plan to do), you may like to save these as public boards, as they may also draw interest to your account.
When creating pins for blog pages (if you have one), you may like to use photos from unsplash.com (as I did with the pin on the right). I’ve also made pins of my sketches of Lord of The Rings characters, because I write fantasy and some people interested in those drawings may also be interested in my books. As with Insta, thinking of photos or images from other interests which relate to your books may give you content ideas.
You might feel great gaining your first Twitter or Insta followers, and be tempted to follow them all right back. Don’t. Most writers following you in Twitter or Instagram’s #WritingCommunity are probably fine. I only blocked 4 jerks on Twitter in my first 2 years -so I didn’t unwittingly follow them- but its always a good idea to screen accounts before following back, in case they happen to be a troll, a jerk or to post content you dislike. So before following back, check the account:
🔸has a bio and has posted (writing a comment and using hashtags on Insta, not just posted a photo) -so you don’t follow a (primitive) bot account.
🔸look at posts and see if you want that person’s content on your feed.
🔸check if the account is only following a few hundred but followed by thousands -they’re probably going to unfollow you after you follow back.
Also be aware that while some writers will always follow back fellow writers, others may follow or follow back through interaction only (in my case when replying to people’s tweets). If you follows lots of people, they may not follow you back, and if you’re following 5,000 on Twitter and only have 4,000 followers -you won’t be able to follow anyone else until you have 5000 followers. (Twitter jail is a thing 😉).
Further General Social Media Reading
Social Media Tips by Marc Guberti is aimed at businesses generally, but has some useful tips for writers.
Would you like to discuss author socials, newsletters and other aspects of author platform with fellow authors? My Strictly Authoring Discord Server is dedicated to this. Let me know you’d like to join it by tweet or use my contact form and I’ll send you an invite link to access it!
Some writers are partial to following writers of the same genre. The easiest way to let us know what type of writer you are is to state your genre/ text type and audience age in your bio. If you have a website, you may like to put a link in your bio to make it accessible through your @ (and by extension through your tweets) instead of just on your profile page. Beyond that, try to inject some personality into your bio, as well as telling us about your interests, so your bio gives us a sense of who we’re potentially following.
Introduce yourself to the #WritingCommunity. Tell us who you are, what you write, that you’re new and anything else you like. I suggest asking other writers a question to encourage people to interact with you too. My first tweet said:
I can’t promise you the same response my tweet got, but it’s a great way to ‘meet’ people. (I don’t recommend #MyFirstTweet -you get some weird/ random responses).
Before You Tweet
You might like to ask; why am I on Twitter? I assume many of us hope to sell our books, but do you want writer friends/ colleagues to share the journey and seek help and advice from along the way? If so -will you tweet as a companion in the writing/ revising/ querying trenches?
Will you tweet writing motivation and encouragement, or humour or tips and advice? If you want to connect with readers, will you tweet discussion questions related to themes in your writing, your interests or share links to topically relevant articles? And what and how much would you like to say about yourself, your life and your opinions on your writer/ writing focused twitter account?
Before You Retweet
You may consider, am I going to retweet everything of interest to me, or just things topically/ thematically/ genre or generally related to my writing and or topics I feel strongly about? Will I retweet things which are helpful, useful, encouraging or entertaining to my followers? Will I retweet to help the writer whose tweet I’m retweeting?
It’s also worth considering how often you retweet. Retweeting anything which interests you many times a day may make your account look like a bot, and put people off following you.
What Should I Tweet?
Tweets with images tend to get more impressions, but writing or reader related quotes, jokes and clever or just well-timed comment tweets about writing, reading or life can get lots of interaction. Asking a few questions to get to know your followers and encourage people to interact with you is also a good way to start.
Don’t forget, social media isn’t just about producing organic content. On Twitter or Instagram -reply to and interact with others- especially if you’re looking to find your #WritingCommunity on either. Even if you’re not -reply to people who reply to your content, to connect with your audience.
Promoting a Blog or Book On Twitter
Include a blurb (as I have on the right). Don’t just tweet a link. No-one will click it if you don’t give us reason to. And don’t just write, “My book is out on Amazon now!” Sell it to us, with a pitch.
Example: “George thought he had problems. He’d lost his job and the house might be next. Then his city vanished, taking everyone he knew with it. If he can’t work with out-of-towners to find his city and bring it back: he’ll truly lose everything. #BookBoost #SpecFic #BookPromo.” (Yes, these are actual Twitter promo hashtags.)
How Do I Get Tweets Seen or Interacted With?
Short answer -use hashtags. By algorithms no-one I’ve spoken to can fully explain, hashtags help your tweets get onto people’s feeds, but they can do more. Specific, relevant hashtags can act as subheadings and incline people to read and interact with your tweets. Savy Twitter users may also find and interact with your tweets by searching hashtags. For a list of hashtags to connect with writers and find tips, help and prompts on, see this post.
Tips for Getting Tweet Impressions & Interactions
My two line tweets often get the most impressions, whereas 3-4 lines often get the least.
2. TweetSome Questions
Few of us have the gift of being able to write statement tweets which go viral, so ask some questions most writers/ readers can answer (unless you’re seeking specific information). This encourages people to interact and is a good way to get to know your followers. The odd poll can help too, especially if your question is thoughtful or a research question.
3. Use 1-3 RELEVANT Hashtags
Lots of hashtags hurts eyes and puts people off reading tweets. No hashtags means we don’t know what the tweet is about. Using vaguely relevant hashtags clutters that hashtag’s feed with tweets writers searching that tag for information or tweets to interact with may find irrelevant and or annoying. So stick to 1-3 relevant tags. Here’s a list of popular, categorised tags to choose from. Using a popular, umbrella hashtag like #WritersOfTwitter/ #AuthorsOfTwitter will also boost impressions.
Don’t just ❤️ others tweets -some of us only look in ‘Mentions’ and only notice replies -so reply. Help when you can. Answer questions. Play tag games or respond to prompts (these are listed in my Hashtag Guide.) Reply to familiar faces on your feed and log in at a regular(ish) time of day. Doing this increases your chances of seeing and being able to interact with the same writers, and their chances to interact with you, making it easier to get to know people.
What do the Community Acronyms Mean?
WIP= work in progress
CP= critique partner
POV= point of view
Antag= antagonist villain/opposing force
MC =main character
PB= Picture book or paperback
MG =Middle Grade
NA used to mean New Adult -which no longer a marketing category (aside from Romance/ indie books), but some people use it because they don’t know about YA Crossover (the new traditional publishing thing).
YA = Young Adult
SFF =Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction
Synopsis: means ‘book summary’ -including the ending- generally 500 words for literary agencies. But some agency websites call a query letter pitch (which is ideally around 300 words, ending with an impossible choice the MC must make or point of tension after main conflict and stakes are revealed -but not the ending) as… a synopsis.
‘Short synopsis’ tends to mean ‘query letter pitch.’ ‘Long synopsis’ tends to mean book summary. Unfortunately, ‘synopsis’ can mean either. (Unsure? I’d ask others how they interpret that agency’s guidelines, or email the agency to clarify).
A Blurb is NOT a pitch
Blurb =back of the cover description, which can say anything to entice a reader to read the pages.
APitch must include: MC intro, MC role in conflict, MC personal stakes, (MC impossible choice) and anything unique about those. It can include other interesting things, eg lists of crazy situations MC must overcome to resolve conflict, but omitting or not making any of the 3 clear is likely to see your query letter rejected, or your tweet pitch ignored (rejection/ no industry likes having many other causes too).
Once you’ve met people, don’t be that person who notifies 50 people when talking to the one person who tagged them. When you hit ‘reply’, check if above it says ‘replying to @___ and 48 others’. (Like it does on the right).
Select the ‘and’ before ’48 others’ then untick the ‘others in this conversation’ option from the menu, to reply to the one person who tagged you.
Or re-tick/ re-tag the 3/50 people below you’re speaking to (below ‘others in this conversation). If the blue box is ticked -like above- you’re about to notify (in this case) 48 people of your reply. It’s much easier to stay connected if our notifications aren’t bursting with replies of people not speaking to us. If others don’t do this for you, hit the top right 3 dots on any tweet in the thread clogging your notifications, then select ‘mute conversation‘ from the menu.
This means you won’t get notified when someone replies to your tweet in that thread. To see those replies, go to your profile, select ‘Tweets and Replies’. Then scroll down the ‘tweet and reply’ feed to your reply in the tag thread. Selecting your reply will display replies to you.
Staying In Touch: Twitter Lists
The easiest way to remember who you’ve met and something about them (eg. genre, where they live in the world, etc) is to add them to a twitter list by a category of your choosing (using the left menu in your profile page). This will store people’s twitter handles for you and create a list feed which only displays list members tweets (which is how I find my friends tweets out of tweets by the 4k writers I follow.)
Staying in Touch: DM Groups
If you want to talk regularly, or easily ask questions in a private group, or find out what friends are saying without sifting through public Twitter feeds, you can make or be added to a group DM. That’s when someone starts a new Direct Message, but after pasting one person’s twitter handle into ‘search people’, and selecting that account from the drop down menu, you paste another twitter handle in, and continue adding up to 75 people (soon to be 100 under new management). Then select ‘Next’ -top right- then type your message. See below for DM etiquette.
Total Page Visits: 7292
NB: twitter etiquette is to speak via public tweet and agree to DM people, not to jump straight into people’s DMs. So if you’re creating a DM group, I’d tweet publicly asking who’d like to be added.
Shortcut: scan your feed for writers offering to add you to their DM groups (which is what many of my friends did with mine 😉).
I hope this helps you get started. To navigate Twitter’s #WritingCommunity and find out which hashtags to use in your tweets, see my Hashtag Guide. If you’d like a more detailed Twitter introduction (including Twitter etiquette), seeEmma Lombard’s comprehensive Twitter Tips for Newbies.
Like many writers, one of the things I loved about joining Twitter’s #WritingCommunity was the opportunity to discuss the craft and to learn with other writers. But as I followed more writers, questions about the business of writing virtually vanished from my feed. I created the hashtag #StrictlyWriting to make these things more visible.
#StrictlyWriting‘s goal is to act as a space to ask for writer or wip help, talk nitty gritty of writing craft and reflect on outlining to querying). Its also to tweet advice to help each other on our writing journeys, and share opportunities like workshops and festivals. Self Promo and Follow Threads are NOT welcome. Here’s many topics which are.
Strictly Writing Community -on Discord
Hashtags are hard to maintain on Twitter. To get around this and make detailed discussions about our writer journeys, and helpful resources more accessible, I’ve created a Strictly Writing and a Strictly Authoring Discord.
Discord began with gamers. It creates private, invite link only groups. Instead of viewing posts via a personal profile, you enter a Server (like an old school forum) with group feeds (channels), organised under Categories. Everyone comments or asks questions on topically relevant channels, so you can go straight to channels whose topics interest you and ignore channels which don’t.
The Strictly Writing Discord Community is a supportive space. It has channels for writing craft discussion and seeking critical readers, query discussion and query package feedback. There’s also a companion server, Strictly Authoring. Its channels are for discussing self publishing, newsletters, social media, author profiles and book marketing.
Both servers are open to fiction writers. Most of us write novels and or shorts, for audiences of all ages, many being SFF and quite a few queer. If you’d like to visit the Strictly Writing and or Authoring Server, reply to the tweet below and I’ll DM you an invite link. Or email me via my contact page. (I share links privately so we don’t inadvertently let trolls in 😉).
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With thousands of pitches set to pour through Twitter’s #Pitmad feed for literary agent and indie publisher perusal on Thursday, it’s time to tell you everything I know about crafting a quality book pitch. I’ll include tweet pitch examples, and advice which applies to query letter pitches and advertising material aimed at readers. If you’re writing a pitch as promotional material for your book, bear in mind that this post focuses on pitches aimed at literary agents and you will have more wiggle room with readers.
BookPitch vs. Blurb
On Twitter, you will see people use ‘pitch’ and ‘blurb’ interchangeably. A pitch is NOT a blurb. A pitch aimed at literary agents or publishers will not get you requests if it doesn’t include specific ingredients, address them clearly and well (see below). Pitches often conform to particular formulas, like ‘Character is X, but when Y happens character must A or else incur terrible C.’ There are variations, which include essential pitch ingredients (see below). Whereas, a back-of-book blurb may or may not include all the essential ingredients of a pitch. A blurb may also include bonus details to appeal to readers, like thematic statements. (Thematic statements are mostly NOT included in pitches because they take up limited space and are usually not what sells a book to industry professionals).
Book Pitch vs. Log lines
You may see people advising, ‘Don’t name characters in pitches. State their role or what makes them unique instead. Definitely state their uniqueness, but I suspect this advice confuses log lines with a pitch. A log line is generally telling the audience (eg. at the movies) they’re in for a wild ride or a fun journey. It’s not trying to get a literary agent or publisher to care about or take interest in a main character. Its not trying to persuade busy agents and editors that they like this character so much or relate to them so well that they want to spend their limited time reading about this character. ‘Little Timmy’ is more likely to generate sympathy or to be relatable than ‘little no-name’. So I advise against log lines in Twitter pitches (in a query letter it may work), and for either, I say name your main character!
Over the past year, I have critiqued an estimated 100+ tweet pitches for various parties (not including revised pitches). This has helped me note patterns in essential ingredients and maximise opportunities to hook a reader. However, quality ingredients don’t guarantee a quality end product. So I won’t just list ingredients, I’ll explain why it’s important to address them well, then give advice on how to do so.
Essential Book Pitch Ingredients
–Main Character –Inciting event, central conflict & stakes –Character growth that must occur for the MC to resolve conflict and avoid stakes or impossible choice the MC must make
Before we dive in
Remember that your pitch isn’t just saying ‘this is a great novel’. You’re telling an industry professional why they want to represent your novel. So how does your novel differ from others in your genre? What is unique about your character, inciting event, conflict, stakes & character growth? As you draft and revise your pitch, keep checking that it highlights what is most unique and compelling about your novel. Try to be as specific as you can in your pitch.
Note For SFF & Multiple POV Writers
It’s tempting to write an opening which introduces the wonderful world you have created -but don’t. In a tweet pitch and even in a query letter, you aren’t selling your fantasy or scifi setting. You’re selling an intriguing character, with a compelling personal role to play in a conflict involving significant personal stakes. This is why it’s so hard to pitch multiple points of view. Its also why, if your novel has multiple points of view, I recommend giving the main characters a pitch to themselves, to do justice to each character’s arc. You may also write like to attempt a 2 pov pitch. A two pov tweet pitch normally has a sentence to introduce each character and a third sentence explaining their roles and stakes in the conflict.
Your main character is your hook. Your goal is to introduce them that piques interest and or invite a literary agent or publisher to connect with them. (Do name your MC- thats a mental hook for details about them to hang on and makes more sympathetic than ‘random, un-named office worker’.) A character description could be a single adjective, or a job title. Ideally, it will show or state what your character draws on to help them confront the conflict and be specific to your character. Eg. fear of swimming from near-drowning as a child, in a story of personal growth in which she sees a child drowning offshore at a deserted beach. However you introduce your character, consider: what is the most unique thing about them? What helps them resolve the conflict and what are the most engaging word choices to show or describe that?
Character Intro Examples
“17 YO Jorden’s specialties are baking apple pie, hand to hand combat and leaping before he looks.” -Debbie Iancu-Haddad @debbieiancu.
“Elective mute Ashari remembers nothing before the void in her mind.” -Halla Williams @hallawilliams1.
If you’re struggling to find space for an engaging character introduction, you could use the inciting event as your hook and frame your introduction with it, as I have done here. “Thrust to power by death in the family, peace-born Ruarnon…” -Elise Carlson.
Inciting Event and Tension
You might like to frame your character introduction with ‘when’ to lead into the inciting event. ‘When’ is a good opening to lead into a collision of worlds, desires or wills etc. It amplifies the fact that the character we’ve just met and connected with is about to have their world turned upside-down and leaves us wondering how and what the outcome will be. (Try not to use the phrase ‘turned upside-down’. This phrase is common to many stories and can sound generic. If you use it, highlight the way in which that character’s life is changed. Or their emotional response/ reaction, to keep the focus on what is ‘unique’ about your story). Ending with a clash of wills with another character, or clash of morals between the character’s beliefs and actions -with an obstacle to their goal or resolution of the conflict- is a good way inject tension.
Inciting Event Examples
“His suicide mission: Build a bomb, destroy a space ship and save the world.” -Debbie Haddad.
“Having lost her memory in a storm, she chooses the unlikely safety of becoming a mercenary for the enigmatic Captain Westorr.” -Halla Williams.
“Monsters live under beds, but Julie is sure there’s one in her ceiling.” -mine.
An important thing to note with conflict is that in a pitch you don’t create conflict by saying ‘there’s a war on.’ Conflict here doesn’t refer to external plot events. It refers to your main character’s personal struggles within those events. Or to struggles in relationships necessary to achieve story goals, or to moral or ethical dilemma’s your main character faces. Again, inclusion of these personal elements creates opportunity for readers to connect emotionally to your character and story and for your pitch to hook them.
Of pitches I’ve critiqued, I would estimate that half do not clearly state the external conflict and or the main character’s role in it. Author bias really kicks in here. You know your story so well that your subconscious fills holes in your pitch. But critical readers can point them out, so you can fill holes and clarify that pitch for industry professionals. This is where I highly recommend trading pitch feedback with other writers.
“But falling in love wasn’t part of the plan…” -Debbie Iancu-Haddad.
“There’s only one way to find out and stop being scared -climb the tree beside the house and meet the THING!” -my picture book pitch.
Once you have introduced a character and conflict which has hooked our interest, we need to know not only the external stakes, but the personal stakes your character faces. A pitch in which the stakes are ‘or the world will be destroyed’ is generic. Also, the world/ fantasy kingdom x’ is an anonymous entity the reader knows nothing about, so it has little impact on us. A character however, is someone we can connect with, so when you threaten that character, we feel something. If external conflict is key to your story, be sure to state the character’s role in it and the personal stakes their role entails.
(Conflict and) Stakes Examples
“…completing his mission means sacrificing the girl he loves.” -Debbie Haddad.
“But ‘safe’ is a relative term. For both of them.” -Halla Williams.
Character Growth and Impossible Choice/ More Tension
Perhaps the greatest place to hook a reader into your pitch emotionally is when you state how your character must grow or develop to overcome the conflict. If main character Jane hates estranged uncle Tom, but his knowledge is crucial to preventing granny’s murder, and Jane must forgive Tom’s past mistakes to enlist his help in saving Granny -that adds tension.
Specific demons from your character’s past (or other obstacles/ shortcomings) they must overcome to resolve the conflict are often what makes me lament your book not being in print yet. Think about how your character must change to overcome the conflict they face and try to include it in your pitch. If you struggle to identify how your character changes (I did in my first Pitmad), this may be a sign that your novel isn’t ready to query. It may signal that your main character’s arc needs another structural edit (as mine did.)
Impossible Choice Example
“…she must use her voice or let her captain perish.” -Halla Williams.
But Wait, There’s More
The Save the Cat Formula features an addition that may be difficult to fit in a pitch, but can make a pitch highly engaging to read. This final ingredient to kick your pitch up a level is adding a complication to your character’s ability to resolve the conflict. Then indicate how this complication raises the stakes. What factor makes it even harder for your MC to achieve their goal? Does a friend betray them? Do they lose an asset crucial to success at the eleventh hour? Can you jam this complication and an indication of how it raises the stakes into your pitch?
“When a monster army invades…” (the second conflict in my novel).
Tweet Pitch Examples which got Agent Likes
The above pitch elements may seem like a lot, and you may only fit some of them into each pitch -which is why it’s great you get 3- so you can highlight different elements in each one. Here’s the pitches I’ve referenced above -each reference is often sections of 2 different pitches.
How Do I Achieve All This in a Book Pitch On My Own?
You don’t. Whether you’re writing tweet pitches or a query letter pitch: tweet on #AmQuerying and #WritingCommunity asking who’s happy to trade pitch feedback. Offer to give others feedback in exchange. Most of what I’ve learnt about pitch craft came not from reading blogs like this, but from reading MANY tweet pitches. It also came from reading query letters -critically- and providing feedback to help other writers strengthen their pitches. Not all of this knowledge applied directly to my own pitches (to date), but all of it has given me valuable insights.
If you’d like to join a Discord Server focused on querying and including tweet pitch and query and synopsis feedback channels, let me know by replying to this tweet or using my contact page.
Another way to learn from other writers is to enter ‘#Pitmad’ (or other parties hashtag), and the genre tags you will pitch on into Twitter’s search bar, then reading the top pitches from previous parties. Some will unfortunately be rough and in need of editing, but many will be jaw dropping and great mentor pitches to learn from.
More Book Pitch and Related Resources
I’ve listed the pitch parties I’m aware of, which months they’re held in and links to Pitch Party websites here.
You’ll find resource links spanning Query Letters & Synopsis to Finding and Communicating with Literary Agents, in this post.
If you’re new to Twitter, the bottom section of my Social Media For Writer’s is full of advice to help you get started, and I’ve cataloged other #WritingCommunity hashtags to help you navigate the community in this Guide.
G'day! I'm an Aussie (they/ them) who graduated from playing imaginary games in my extensive backyard to writing YA Fantasy. In between educating energetic, enthusiastic minds as excited about life as I am —kids— and adventures in Europe, North America, South-East Asia and locally, I enjoy writing adventures and epic conflicts for the young and young at heart.
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