I’ve titled this post “Good Advice Part One” because I know more advice will be coming my way over time and I’ll need to add to this list. Warning – this initial list is pretty long but everything mentioned is important.
There are certain things every single author — whether electronic or print or both — should know, but some don’t. This profession is a never-ending learning experience. Thankfully, I’ve fallen in with lots of writers who are willing and happy to share all their advice to help me get ahead and avoid mistakes. Now, I’m sharing that with all of you.
These aren’t in any particular order, sorry about that.
GOOD ADVICE EVERY AUTHOR SHOULD KNOW AND HEED PART ONE:
1 – Signature vs. Autograph
Protect yourself. If you plan to sign things for fans make sure your autograph is different from your signature. Sit down and practice something cute looking if you have to, but keep the two separate since you don’t want people forging your signature.
2 – PO Box
This is another protect yourself type thing. You don’t want everyone and their mother knowing where you live (some of them might drop by and visit). Let’s face it there are some weird people in the world, so get a post office box. It’s a tax write-off (those are always nice) and they aren’t expensive.
3 – Brand
Branding is important for promoting YOU. I have two: D. Renee Bagby = Leave Your Reality Behind and Zenobia Renquist = Imagination: Reality’s Evil Twin. A brand is like a jingle, it helps people remember you, so put it on everything. Format your personal email signature so it’s there automatically. Put it on every post you send to loops. It should be the second line of your signature after your name. You want them associated together at all times. It should appear on all paper promo and internet promo. You want your brand to be just as memorable (and possibly annoying) as those HeadOn commercials — hey, say what you want, you remember them, don’t you?
4 – Carry Paper Promo
You spent time and money on bookmarks, business cards, etc then you should be carrying them around with you at all times, ready to hand them out at a moment’s notice. Make sure you keep them someplace they won’t get bent or torn. No one wants something that looks like a hand-me-down. Your paper promo (or any promo) is an extension of you and should reflect the image you are trying to convey. (oh wait… that sentence goes with the next one too)
5 – Professional Looking Paper Promo
Do-it-Yourself or printing service doesn’t matter, make sure your paper promo is crisp, clean, and professional looking. Frayed/torn edges, typos, runny ink, and other imperfections reflect badly on you. If the company you use screws them up, send them back and have them redone (then don’t use their service again). If you do them yourself, make sure your printer and cutting tools are up to the task.
6 – Watch Your Mouth
Once you publish something, you’re officially a representative of yourself and your publisher. Don’t embarrass either by getting into flame wars or bad mouthing authors/publishers/reviewers. This goes for internet and especially in public. It’s okay to gripe about things, but keep it to personal friends and out of the public forum. You never know who’s friends with who or who’s reporting what, and your mouth could screw you out of a publishing contract (I’ve heard horror stories, believe me).
7 – Censor Yourself (this goes with the above, somewhat)
Retrace your steps in your internet past. If you were an opinionated internet personality prior to getting published (or wanting to be published), then track down your words and put them under lock and key if you think they might get you in trouble. If it’s a journal, put the posts on private so only you can see them. If it’s posts to a forum, see if you can get them locked or deleted. Publishers and agents know how to use the internet and they do searches when considering new talent. Getting published isn’t just about your writing, it’s about you too.
8 – Be True To Yourself (contradiction time)
Act the same way on the internet as you would in person. If the fans get to know you on a loop, then they expect you to act the same way in person. Changing up in public is a shock and may scare away readers who thought you were someone else entirely.
9 – Don’t Use Name Brands
You love to buy them, but don’t write about them. There are sooooo many ways to get around mentioning a famous name brand. If you drop enough hints, people will get the picture without you having to spell it out. Or, a trick they use in anime, change a single letter in the brand name so it’s still recognizable but the company can’t sue you if they don’t like you representing them in your book.
10 – Mailing Lists Are a Must
Keep in touch with your fans. Email or snail mail doesn’t matter, but both are ideal. If a fan is willing to give you their snail mail address, make sure to send them promo. Keep in touch with newsletters that give updates about your writing career (and your life if you’re so inclined). The same goes for starting a loop. It’s all about keeping you on the minds of your fans.
11 – BACKUPS VERY IMPORTANT!!
I did a whole post on this but it bears mentioning again. If you love it, then protect it. Whatever your method, make sure you do it often and without fail.
12 – Bookmark Surprise
(I need to do this) So, you have all these bookmarks sitting around with no way to get rid of them besides handing them out to random people on the street. March into your local bookstore, go to your genre section, pick a book (something in your theme or just random in your genre), and stuff a bookmark inside. It’s a surprise for the person who buys it and they’ll think of you every time they remember finding it.
Now, this comes with a word of warning. The big name bookstores might not be too happy with you if they catch you doing this (matter of fact, I’m pretty sure they won’t be). It’s not illegal but it is frowned upon, so be as inconspicuous (read – sneaky) as you can. I also urge you NOT to do this at indy bookstores. Chances are, if you ask the owner, they will be more than happy to hand out your paper promo with every purchase. The same can’t be said for the big stores because they aren’t allowed. I’m not sure, but I think the big stores get paid to hand out promo by publishers so they won’t just hand yours out for free. They will put it on a promo table that’s usually situated next to the bathroom. I’d suggest just hiding it in a few books.
And, don’t just hit bookstores. There are tons of places that carry books: Target, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, grocery stores, etc. Hit them too. The more people see your name, the easier it is for them to remember.
13 – DON’T PAY!
You do NOT pay to have your submission read. You do NOT pay to have your manuscript published. Publishers and agents get paid when your book SELLS, NOT BEFORE. And then, they don’t get the money from you, they get the money from your sales. This same advice goes for reviews. Paying for a review sounds too much like bribery and what if your review sucks? You just paid for a crap review. They already get to read your book for free, that should be enough. Paying to be published or reviewed is like paying for sex and you know what they say about people who pay for sex…
14 – Promote Yourself
In the words of Jamie Denton (THANKS, JAMIE!!), books come and go but you’re here to stay. It’s YOUR name you want readers to remember. If they look up your name, they can always find your books. But, there may be a few books out there with the same name as yours (in romance, that’s almost a given). Make sure your name appears on everything you post (which reminds me, I need to change some stuff with my signature lines).
15 – Keep Book Paper Promo to a Minimum
If you’re advertising an ebook then the internet should be your main forum of promotion. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have bookmarks et al, but don’t go nuts with them. Remember, books come and go. If you’re a prolific writer, as soon as you’re ready to hand out postcards and such it’s already time for the next book to come out. Think about combining books on advertising or simply promoting yourself on your paper promo. Another thing you can do is order/make what you need. If you know a convention is coming up (whether you’re going or not) and they are expecting X number of people, ONLY order/make that much. You never know when you’re going to want to change the design or the info and you don’t want to be stuck with old and out-dated.
16 – They Say 300, Send 250
A lot of conventions (and other gatherings) always say they are “expecting” X number of people and would love paper promo. You’re all gung-ho to send it to them too. Go for it, but be frugal. If they say they’re expecting 300 people then send 200-250 of your items. A lot of times, there are tons of goody bags left over after a convention and you don’t want your promo getting tossed — does you no good in the trash. More than likely, the bags with the most promo will be offered first and the ones with the least will be last (the whole you-snooze-you-lose mentality).
17 – Sign It
Postcards, bookmarks, brochures, etc sign them all. If you’re sending them out to a convention or handing them out on the street, sign them. People are less inclined to throw it away if it’s signed. They think it might be worth money one day when you hit it big.
18 – Tell Everyone
My mother tells everyone she meets about me and my books. Cashiers, random people in the mall, it doesn’t matter. If she stops to talk to them, then they learn about me. You should do the same. Work your books into the conversation and give out your promo to all the people you meet. They may not read that genre but they might know someone who does. OR, you might get a new recruit to your genre because that person wanted to read your book BECAUSE they met you. Remember: Writer = mini-celebrity.
19 – “Autographed By Author” Stickers
Planned signing or drive-by signing, you need “autographed by author” stickers. Not every store will have them on hand. You need to have your own. They aren’t expensive (another tax write-off). Heck, you can go to the places that offer personalized stickers and make your own with your name and brand on them. Then people will keep it on the book simply because it’s not generic.
20 – Drive-By Signings
Is your book in print? Does your local store have some copies (if not, will they order them in)? If so, get the manager-on-duty’s permission and start signing. There’s a trick to this and you have to do it right. First, locate ALL your books. Second, go to customer service and tell them you want to sign your books. You need to introduce yourself (show ID if you have to) and ask if there are any other copies in the back. Third, get the MOD’s permission. They probably won’t mind or care but it’s good manners to ask. And fourth, when you are done signing, PUT THEM BACK! Don’t make work for people, that leaves a bad impression and that’s the last thing you want (I work in retail as a day job and I HATE when people don’t put stuff back). Also, when you put it back yourself, you can face the books out so people see them. That “autographed by author” sticker will jump out at impulse buyers and your books will fly off the shelf. Not to mention, the store will be less inclined to send your books back to the publisher.
21 – Feed Them
People love food. Duh. When doing a signing, feed the employees of the place where your signing is held and the people who stop at your booth. Think neat (cookies over donuts and so one). More than likely you’re in a bookstore. Messy food and books don’t go together. It might also be a good idea to ask if it’s okay for you to have your little goodies in the store. Some bookstores don’t allow food.
Have an assortment. Chocolate is nice, but not everyone likes, or can eat, chocolate. Keep in mind those people on a special diet (diabetics, weight watchers, etc). If you only have chocolate, those people might be a little annoyed that you didn’t think of them and you just lost a sale. And, individually wrapped is a lovely thing, just make sure you ask the store people for a trashcan to keep the mess to a minimum.
22 – Collect Business Cards (I’ve mentioned this before)
Collecting business cards is good for two reasons:
A – They give you design ideas for your own (the same goes for bookmarks and everything else).
B – Most business cards have mailing addresses on them. If someone puts their mailing info (email or snail) on a business card then that is permission to use it. If they didn’t want you to use it then they wouldn’t have put it on there (remember that when making your own). When it’s time to send out postcards, unearth all those business cards and make sure they all get one. Same goes for promo time, email everyone.
23 – Write Now, Edit Later
Don’t get so hung up on form that you don’t get the book written. Your first goal is to get the manuscript finished. Nothing else can happen until you do. If you have to write the ending first, then go for it. If you can’t name your characters until the last word is written, that’s not a problem.
Write however you feel the most comfortable in order to get the job done. Worry about editing and grammar and all the rest when you’re done (or when you’re blocked). Make sure the manuscript is polished and gleaming BEFORE you submit and have a few trusted and honest people critique it, but don’t worry about that until the time comes. Get finished then you can sweat the small stuff.
24 – Keep Writing
Don’t sit around waiting for your submission/publication date. Start writing the next manuscript. Most publishers have a long review time for new submissions (already contracted authors don’t have so much of a wait), any where from one to six months. That’s a long time to go without writing something. And then, after you’re accepted, it might be another six to twelve months before your story is actually published. Take it from me (who has a HUGE gap between her first and second book), DON’T WAIT. Write, write, and write some more. Finish one, celebrate, take the rest of the day off, then start the next the following day.
25 – IF YOU DON’T KNOW, ASK!!
Don’t be afraid to ask someone. People will help you but you have to open your mouth first. If they don’t know the answer, they might be able to direct you to someone who does. When things don’t sound quite right, ask somebody. If I didn’t have a piece of advice in my list that you’re wondering about, ask me. I may have just forgot OR I don’t know and would love to hear it and add it for next time’s list.
Every piece of advice on this list is important. As I said, I’ll be adding to it as I learn new things just so I can relay them to you.
Whew! That took a while.
Next week’s topic: Why Ask Why. More writing advice, but this is more of an opinion and personal philosophy. Hope to see you there.