3 Ways to Build Up Your Community

When we talk about marketing your work, there is a lot of focus placed on becoming an active member of the communities where your readers hang out. This is super important. That said, I think sometimes we lose focus on building up our own communities. After all, we hope that our readers will want to come to our websites and engage with us and each other. The question is, how do we do it.

How do you get them hanging on your every word? Source

Here are three simple steps you can take to improve engagement in your writing community and create a place where people want to come back for more.

1. Respond to Comments
This is an easy step, but a lot of writers skip it in an attempt to save time. When someone visits your blog or website and leaves a comment, they are taking time out of their day to tell you they appreciate your content. Responding to these comments is an easy way to say thank you. It's also a great way to engage with your readers and let them know you care about what they think. The more you respond, the more opportunity there is for meaningful conversations, and that's a win-win for everyone.

2. Click the Link
When someone leaves you a comment, they have the opportunity to list their own website and their name turns into a hyperlink. Make it a habit to visit the website of your readers and comment on their own content. People like talking to other people, not untouchable entities who rain down words of wisdom from above. Visiting the sites of your readers says "Hey, I'm a reader, too."

3. Link to Others
Have you read a great blog post lately? Why not link back to that blog and give your own perspective on the topic? Linking to others is a great way to actively engage in the community and share the love. Plus, people are much more likely to re-post your content or help your marketing efforts when they see you are willing to return the favor. Never underestimate the power of the WAM principle.

These tips may sound easy, but that's because they are. In the end, it's the little things, not the grand gestures, that build a community people want to be part of.

Agency Lessons: Yes, the first page really is that important

When I first started my internship, I didn't spend a ton of time in the query box. I was busy working on other things, and to be honest, the query box intimidated me. Imagine an inbox where every email contains someone's hopes and dreams. Yeah, like that. So when I did review these emails, I spent a crazy amount of time reading each and every word, hemming and hawing over the merits of each submission.

Then I spent more time in the slush and got more comfortable with what I was looking at. I realized if the sample wasn't good, I didn't need to read the synopsis. I discovered that a convoluted query usually led to convoluted sample pages. You get the idea. The most important discovery I made was that you really can make a decision about a manuscript based on the first page or two.

Before my internship, I thought this was bogus and nothing more than agents looking for a shortcut. Now I realize I was wrong and right. Agents are looking for ways they can move through their submissions faster. When you get hundreds of queries a day, you have to be able to filter through them quickly or you'll never get to the really good ones. But agents aren't the only ones doing this.

I started really paying attention to the way I choose books to read. With everything else going on, my pleasure reading time has been drastically reduced. Because of this, I'm not going to waste my time reading something I don't enjoy. So how do I decide which books to read? By the first page.

When I'm standing in the library stacks or browsing the book store aisles, I'll crack open the front cover and peruse the first page. If I want to turn the page, then it's up for consideration. If I can close the book and not care at all about what happens on the other 300 pages that follow, it's going right back on the shelf.

So what does that mean for us writers? It means, the experts and advice givers are all right when it comes to how important it is to get that first page right. This means it needs to be right for the agent and for your future readers. True, every page needs to be good, but if the first one doesn't shine the rest of them might as well be blank.

But I'm a writer, not a marketer!

I think anyone who writes has, at one time or another, imagined themselves sitting in a quiet cabin in the middle of the woods with nothing but copious amounts of coffee (or tea if that's your thing) and their words. We pictured the amazing prose we could produce in our perfect solitude and the large bank roll that would magically flow into our savings account when the world caught its first glimpse of our brilliance.


Bang! That was the sound of that bubble popping.

The truth is, most of us live in the real world where other things demand our time and attention. Things like jobs, family, sleeping and in today's world, marketing. That's right, unless you're a huge name (like King or Rowling) today's writer has to do more than just write printed gold. 

Authors Donna Grant and Virginia DeBerry announced on their blog a few months ago that they have decided to stop writing. In their post, they stated that they are no longer willing to do the non-writing things that are required of authors today.

While this is absolutely their own choice, I find it a bit head in the sand. The world of publishing is changing. This isn't anything new and it isn't limited to publishing. When I first got started in marketing, I spent much of my time working on various publicity campaigns and analyzing  results. It was lovely. By the time I left my desk job a year ago, I found myself spending a large portion of my day working with IT staff to fine tune our internal structure and creating budgets and cash flow sheets. I still enjoyed my work, but it wasn't the same as it was years before. And there were certainly days I wished I could push aside all my other tasks and spend hours crafting the perfect message for a new campaign.

But I couldn't. The world I operated in changed, and it wasn't going back. My only option was to adapt.

As writers, it doesn't matter if we like the idea of creating a platform and marketing our work. This is the new reality. We can either adapt or quit.

Publishers aren't evil because they expect authors to take a heavier role in marketing. They themselves are only adapting to a changing world. Rather than complain and resist this change, I suggest we embrace it.

Consider this an opportunity to learn more about the business side of publishing. Does it mean you won't have as many hours in the day to dedicate to writing your next masterpiece? Yep, sure does. But unless you're content to write books no one reads, you don't have a choice. 

What does your brand say about you?

I'm not usually one to get my  news from the Onion, but they recently re-posted a slideshow from Grated that really got me thinking. They showed pictures of twenty well known logos as they would be if the company really told the truth about their product.

As authors, we don't generally have logos, but our public perception can be just as important. A recent post by Beth Fred showcased her disappointment when a writer she loved failed to deliver on their brand promise.

So, how do we as writers make sure we are delivering as promised? The answer is actually easier than you might think. Communicate!

If you are switching genres, let your readers know about it. If you are trying out something new or drastically changing the tone of your books for a new project, don't hide it.

Some readers might not like this new direction. It's true. But remember that you can't please everyone. Some of your fans might not be willing to make the switch with you, and that's a risk you take. However, by not telling them, you are tricking them into reading something they might not want to. If you do this, you risk turning off your fans to all your future work. They will have lost trust in you and this can kill your fan base.

The moral of the story: Tell it like it is. If you write feel good contemporary stories then own it. Don't try to sell your work as a gritty, real life drama. If you write suspense novels with button-pushing themes, don't pretend it's a love story. Let your readers know what they're in for, and they will thank you with their loyalty.

Agency Lesson: Agents are readers, too!

Last week I posted about what I do as an agency intern. It prompted some really great discussions both here and over on Google+.

At one point, I was asked what are some of the common things I see in a manuscript that makes me recommend a decline or request. When I shared my list, the questioner expressed relief that my items were some of the same things he looked for when picking a book to read.

This made me realize how easy it is to forget that interns, agents, editors and others who work in publishing are, at their cores, lovers of books. While publishing is a business, it's one that doesn't pay huge salaries unless you're at the very top. In my case, it doesn't pay anything. :) That means that people who make it their career do so because they love books. They love to read them, dive into their words and soak them up. Just like writers and readers.

There is no super-secret check list that publishing pros use to decide if your book is worthy. It's the same things we look for when picking a book to read. Is the writing strong? Are the character's engaging? Does the plot make me want to know the end?

Sure, there are other smaller things that fall under those questions. Things like good grammar, POV/Tense consistency, active voice and such. But even if a reader doesn't know those terms or intentionally look for them, they will know if they aren't done correctly. Rather than calling it passive voice, they will say the book wasn't engaging or they couldn't connect with the reader.

It doesn't matter what you call it. Readers and publishing folks are all looking for the same thing: A great read.

Going Viral: What can you learn from Twogirlsandapuppy

If you weren't on Facebook on January 15th, then you might have missed the out of control explosion on the page of Twogirlsandapuppy. Two girls talked their father into letting them get a puppy if they could get 1 million likes on FB. Armed with nothing more than their three adorable brothers and a handwritten sign, the girls took the internet by storm and in less than 24 hours got almost 2 million likes and ended up on Good Morning America.

So what can we learn from this and how can we apply it to our own platform? Here are my three take-aways.

1. Keep it simple
These girls weren't asking you to vote for anything, visit another site, sign up for a contest or buy anything. They simply asked you to like their picture. This is genius, because FB is made for this. When you like something, FB asks if you want to share your new like with your own friends. One more click of the button, and now all of your friends can see it too. This sort of function is a crucial part of going viral.

For you: Don't go crazy! When you are first starting out, you can't ask too much of your fans. While superfans will probably do your dry cleaning if you asked, most fans are going to need to warm up to you first. By starting simple, these girls created engagement and started a community (exactly what you want to do). When running a contest, don't ask contestants to do ten different things to get an entry. Keep it simple and easy. Once you have an established fan base, then you can ask them for more. For example, if these girls asked their new fans to post pictures of their own rescue dogs to help them decide what kind of pup to get, I bet their page would be flooded with adorable puppies by the end of the day.

2. Hook and Show
The picture and homemade sign hook us in. What's not to like about 5 cute kids who want a puppy. When you click on their page, they share a short story about how their family dog recently died and they wanted to get a new one. Their parents initially said no, but agreed to what they thought was a crazy plan. It's David (5 kids) against Goliath (Mom, dad & the whole internet).

For you: Telling a good story doesn't just apply to your novel. Your platform needs to tell a story, too. In fact, it's telling a story even if you don't know it. Make sure it isn't telling the story of a cynical writer with a bad attitude. You can call it a story, theme or niche, but whatever you call it, make sure your platform is intentional.

3. Make it Personal
Just in case you weren't already sucked in by the cute kids and the sad story of their lost pet, they seal the deal with another bit of info. If they managed to get their 1 million likes, their dog would come from a rescue or shelter. Jackpot! The underdogs plan to help a dog that's down and under (puns intended).

For you: People want to follow other people, not brands, themes or identities. Make your platform personal so you fans can get a taste of who you are as a person. This doesn't mean you need to tell your life story and share intimate details. Just be real in your communication. Let your personality come out and show your fans there's a real person behind the pages.

As evidenced by the GMA segment, popularity breeds popularity. As more people sit up and take notice of  you, the harder it will be for the big players to ignore you. I wouldn't be surprised if the story of Twogirlsandapuppy is covered on half a dozen more news outlets by the end of the week with a feature story on their local news once they bring the new puppy home. Now picture your books getting the same kind of coverage.

**Unrelated Reminder: Today is the last day of the Corvisiero & Friends Auction. I donated a complete platform review and analysis.You can check out my item and all the others here.

Finding your blog Niche as a Fiction Author

Before I get to today's post, I want to let you know about an auction I'm participating in. All proceeds go to South Carolina Writer's Workshop. I am offering a platform critique. You can check out all the items here. Now on to the post.

A non-fiction author has a natural connection between their writing work and their blogs. After all, if you write a book about how to get in shape after having a baby, readers would expect to find the same kind of health and wellness information on your blog.

But what if you write young adult fantasy novels about werewolves? Do you dedicate your blog to all things werewolves? Maybe. And if that's what you want to focus on, then that's great. But what if you also write young adult fantasy novels about pixies, and sometimes you write young adult science fiction. Now what do you focus on?

Where is your focus? Source

It is tempting to assume you don't need to pick a focus, or niche, for your blog. The problem with this choice is that if you don't know what the focus is, how will your readers? If they don't know, why should they visit your blog? See the conundrum?

When it comes to picking your niche as a fiction author, you have a couple of choices

1. Focus on Genre
If you write romance novels, then you might enjoy writing all about love. Where to find it, how to keep it, and what to do if it doesn't last. Do you write historicals? You could blog about the time period you write in. The upside here is that your readers will find more of what they love about your writing when they visit your blog. The downside is that you will have a hard time transitioning if you ever decide to write in another genre.

2. Focus on the Craft
This can take several forms. You can write about the business of writing, the process of writing, or just things you've learned about the craft along the journey. The benefit is that you aren't tied in to any one genre. The obvious negative is that your readers who aren't writers won't see the "WAM" component of your blog. To overcome this, you'll need to make sure the rest of your site has plenty of content for those readers.

3. Focus on You
What else do you like other than writing? Are an avid scrapbooker? Addicted to running marathons? One option is to use your blog to talk about your passions as a way to connect on a more personal level with your readers. The advantage is that you can make your blog more personal and let readers know the real person behind the pages. The disadvantage is that your blog can easily lose any focus on your writing and you might turn off readers who aren't interested in your hobbies.

Whatever route you decide to go, the most important thing is to choose a focus. Let your visitors know what to expect and be consistent in your content. Otherwise, you risk writing a blog about nothing.

Agency Lessons: What exactly is a literary intern

I recently had a great conversation with +John Ward about what exactly it is that I do as a literary intern. So I'm going to answer that question. But before I forget, you should check out the community John runs over on Google+. Seriously awesome folks and a daily post by John that always gets my brain thinking.

Now, back to the intern thing. First, let me state for the record that I don't know what other interns do at other agencies and this is only my experience. That said, I have to imagine that a lot of interns do some of the same stuff. So, if you have no idea what a literary intern does, this should give you a good idea. Here are the five main things I do as a literary intern.


1. Query Box
At the agency I'm at, all queries go to a single email instead of to each agent individually. As an intern, I go through the box and send the queries to the agent it is addressed to. If it is a genre that agent doesn't rep (it happens) then I send it to a different agent. I am filtering for queries that don't have all the items we request (like sample page and a synopsis). Just so you know, I send them back and give the author a mulligan. I also filter for queries that just aren't going to work. I was a little nervous about the idea of holding someone's literary career in my untrained hands. So, I never reject without getting another agent's opinion first. There, now we both feel better.

2. Manuscripts
Since I love to read, this is one of my favorite tasks. Agents have lots of manuscripts to read and considering the average one takes six hours to read, there just aren't enough hours in the day. When I get a manuscript, I read until I want to stop. So, if this was a book I got from the library and I lost interest around pg. 20 I would return the book unfinished. Same deal here, only I also provide a detailed write-up of why I stopped reading. This is one of those things where you need to know the components of a good story. I can't just say "It didn't work". I need to say the pacing was off, or the characters were dry, or any other reason (usually more than one) for why I didn't want to read anymore. The inverse is also true. When I like a manuscript I still need to say why.

3. Research
There is so much information on Publisher's Marketplace. Seriously, that place can suck me in like Facebook. I spend a lot of time on the site researching new publishers and finding out who is making deals for what kind of books and for what territories. This is where some keen organizational skills come in.

4. Social Media
Part of my title is also PR Specialist. This sounds so fancy. What it means is that I post things to Twitter and FB, answer questions and help our authors promote their new releases. It's not fancy, but marketing gets me all kinds of jazzed up in the mornings so I really like it.

5. List Maker
I probably have at least a dozen running lists of things that I am gathering at any given time. A list of book bloggers for a certain genre, contacts for press releases, new sub-right agents who are making deals in Greece. You get the picture. This is not glamorous and if I'm being honest, it's a huge time suck. That said, it is all crucial information that agents need to do their jobs. Because it's constantly changing someone has to constantly keep up with it.

Those are the biggies sprinkled in with lots of other fun stuff that keeps me constantly learning more about the amazing book business. If you are interested in learning more about the business side of how books end up on the shelves, I would definitely recommend an internship. It's a lot of work, but so is anything else worth doing. :)

If you have other questions about being an intern, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.

Write down your goals

Did you set any goals for 2012? How did you do? Are you setting new goals for 2013? Do you have a plan on how to achieve them? The infographic below has some great information about the power of writing down your goals. As writers, this should be a no-brainer.

 Setting Goals Infographic

Special thanks to OnlineEducation.net and Allison Morris for the use of this graphic.

WAM: What About Me?

When it comes to marketing a product, it doesn't matter if you're trying to sell a book or a box of tissues.  The most important thing to keep in mind is that your potential buyers are self-focused. They don't care how long you took to craft a perfect piece of fiction. They aren't impressed that your beta readers find your prose mesmerizing or that you won some award they've never heard of.

What readers really want to know is "What about me?" What can they expect to get out of your book? It's not enough to know that they will be educated. How will this new knowledge help them in their daily lives. It's not enough to promise them entertainment. Are your going to make readers laugh, cry, hide under the covers, or all three?

What present are you giving your readers? Source

The "WAM" principle is important to keep in mind with all of your author interactions from blog posts and newsletters to review requests and press releases.

Take a look at your blog posts for the last couple of months. How many of them are focused on what's going on with you and your life versus offering your reader something they want? And that doesn't just mean giveaways, though they are always appreciated. Are you providing your readers with content they want to read and share? Are you giving them behind the scenes information or educating them about your topic?

What about your newsletters, tweets, status updates, etc.? How many of those are writer/self focused instead of reader/audience focused? A good rule of thumb is that 80% of your content should be targeted toward what your reader needs or wants. How do you measure up?

If you aren't getting great responses from requests for reviews, I suggest you take a look at your request. What are you offering? Do you mention a willingness to cross promote the review to your audience? What about an offer to feature the reviewer and their top picks on your blog? Giving the reviewer a "WAM" incentive tells them you appreciate their hard work and is likely to get your review put ahead of another book on their their list.

Next time you find yourself in a position to ask for a favor, keep the "WAM" principle in mind when making your request and see how much more effective you are.

Back in the Saddle with a new Direction

After a few weeks off visiting family and friends, I'm back in town and ready to get back to my regular blogging. The break was great, but I missed the wonderful interactions from this blog and the many others I visit regularly. That's all the motivation I need to keep going.

December marked the one year anniversary of Sarah Nego Writes. I've been extremely pleased with how the first year went. This has been my first time blogging so there were a lot of learning opportunities and growing pains in this first year. That said, there were also a lot of successes. :)

Moving into 2013, I plan to make a few changes around the blog. Visually, I'm still not 100% in love with how the blog looks so I plan to take some time in the next few months to play around with options and get the pages to look exactly how I want.

In regards to content, I'm planning to make a few changes here. I've gotten some great positive feedback on the weekly "Agency Lessons" post so I plan to continue that with the next one coming next Monday on what exactly an agency intern does.

When I first started the blog it was more of an account of my writing journey, but I don't think that really serves me or you in the way I had hoped. Instead, I'm planning to take my professionally marketing experience and the new information I'm learning through my agency PR work to turn the blog in a new direction. Starting on Wednesday, I'm planning to write a weekly post on how we can be better marketers, both of ourselves as writers and of our writing.

In this same line, I'd like to use more time on the blog to help other writers in their marketing efforts. My goal is to highlight a new writer each week to discuss their new projects or their marketing efforts. Hopefully, we can all learn from each other and spread the word about talented writers. If you would like to be showcased with a new book or an interesting marketing experience, please contact me at SarahNegovetich(at)gmail(dot)com.

I'm excited about the future of the blog and hope that this new direction piques your interest as well. If you have a specific topic on marketing you'd like to see discussed here, please contact me at the email address above.