Agency Lessons: A grain of salt

There is a lot of rhetoric in the publishing world these days. There probably always is, but it's easy to focus on the now and the fact that the current industry has more drama than a middle school girl's locker room.

If you are new to publishing (and possibly if you've been around forever) it can be confusing to wade through these trouble waters and get an idea of what is best for you and your career. So I have two pieces of advice today for writers at all stages of their career to help understand all that's going on.

Rule #1: Everyone has an agenda

Every single person has an agenda and remembering that can make it easier to put opinions into perspective. The author decrying the devaluation of books by self-publishers has an agenda. The Indie press claiming that publishers are only good for taking advantage of writers has an agenda.

Shoot, even I have an agenda! The more informed authors are about the industry the more realistic expectations they have when they get to me and the better queries they will write. This makes my job easier. Also, the bigger my platform, the more writers know about me and the more talented writers I have to pick from in finding more clients.

Everyone has an agenda. That doesn't mean you should automatically dismiss everything you read. But it does mean you shouldn't blindly believe it all either.

Rule #2: Success does not depend on failure

Just like an author can succeed without shoving down and stepping on other authors, so can all the publishing businesses. That's why I always get antsy when professionals start throwing dirt at each other. For example, a small indie publisher should be able to draw talented writers to their press without the need to trash traditional publishing. On the same lines, a traditional publisher should be able to push their authors' books without belittle the efforts of self-publishers.

When a "professional" talks more about how they are different and better than the other guys than what they can do for you as an author, run! Run quickly in the other direction and don't look back.

There is room in this industry for everyone and there is no One True Path to book success. Everyone will do something a little different and your mileage may vary. Don't let anyone else tell you that the road you're walking is going in the wrong direction. Stay your course and all those other road/travel/destination cliches.

There is a ton of information out there and I truly believe the online writing community is an amazing blessing to authors working toward joining the world of professional publishing. But, like everything else, the plethora of info can be dangerous if not tempered with a little common sense. Take it all with a grain of salt and you'll be doing fine.

My monthly newsletter goes out tomorrow and I'll be asking you guys to weigh in on something kinda cool coming up. So if you haven't signed up yet, what are you waiting for? Plus, you'll get a free copy of my DIY Blog Tour guidebook. I call that a win-win.

Hey, Sarah: Representing the Self-Published

Today I'm talking about gorilla snot and self-published books. Yeah, you're gonna want to see this!

When Tweets Go Bad

Twitter is awesome. I love engaging with my favorite authors, learning about new books and scanning headlines for relevant info. Sadly, I see a lot of really bad tweets (and based on your responses to my random twitter poll, so do you). 
Buy links and hashtags galore can spoil a great tweet, but we all still want to use twitter to reach our readers. Right? Today I'll take 9 examples of twitter at it's worst and offer up some suggestions on better ways to use social media without turning off the people you are most trying to woo.

1. Follower Plea
Example: Only 5 more followers until 1,000! I'll do a giveaway when I get there. :) #authors #readers

Instead: My followers are awesome! How about a random giveaway to say I Love You!

Having more followers on Twitter or Facebook is not going to sell you more books. And that's because, say it with me, Social Media is not a sales platform. Social media is there to be social and engage. Your followers aren't going to feel very engaged if it seems like all you care about is numbers. Instead, provide interesting content that your readers want to enjoy and engage in random acts of appreciation. 

2. Hashtag Overload
Example: Wohoo! My book releases today! #yabooks #ebook #books #reading #readers #fantasy #nerdgirl

Instead: Wohoo! My book releases today! #yabooks

There will be some that say this tweet is inappropriate, but I disagree. You get one day to be a little book happy and that is release day. That's it. But it won't take much to push your occasional book tweet into spamville. Overloading your tweet with hashtags is a sure fire way to do it. Plus, some experts suggest that the more blue in your tweet (from @names, links and hashtags), the less likely someone will stop skimming to read it.

3. Firing Into the Wind
Example: Want an ARC of my newest book, MY BOOK? Sign up here!

Alternate tweets in this category "Want to be a part of my blog tour? Sign up here!" and "Want to be on my street team? Sign up here!"

Instead: Wohoo! Check out this shiny box of ARCs. Time to hit the post office! #Bloggers

Tweets like this are just all kinds of bad. First, it looks desperate, as if you couldn't find enough people to review your book or be on your street team, so as a last resort you'll take anyone from twitter. Second, you're going to end up with anyone from twitter. Not that you should be stingy with your review copies, but which do you think is better? Giving a copy to a carefully selected blogger in your genre or Handing one out to any Tom, Dick or Sally on the internet who wants a free book? Build up relationships with the good folks on twitter. Then provide a place on your book page for blogger to request a review copy if they are interested.

4. Random quote is random
Example: "She held him tight, but knew it wouldn't last"

Instead: Let a picture do the talking

A quote can be great, but most of them are meaningless out of context. Plus there isn't enough there to draw in a casual reader. Instead, take an appropriate quote, photoshop it onto an image that gives more meaning to the words, make it a link to your book page and post it.

5. Linkapalooza
Example: Yeah, my book!

Instead: Finally! My precious has arrived

No one said that you can never tweet about your book. But on the rare occasion that you do, don't scare off readers with a dozen different links. Instead direct readers to the book page of your website where they will easily find all the various online retailers' buy links (because you'll have them there, front and center, right?).

6. You'll be sorry you followed me
Example: @newfollower, thanks for the follow. Be sure to check out my newest book 

Instead: @newfollower, thanks for the follow. What your favorite book of 2014? 

People don't follow you on twitter to hear about your next book unless you're JK Rowling or George RR Martin. They followed you because they saw something they liked and would like some more of that, please. Don't hit them over the head with a buy link. Start a conversation and start connecting. Your website is in your bio (it is, right?) so they can find your book when they're ready.

7. Tweetchat interloper
Example: Great questions tonight! Be sure to check out my new adult suspense, GUNPOINT. #MGLitChat

Instead: Great questions tonight! Being a MG author is the best! #MGLitChat

One of the great things about twitter is that you can join in all these amazing conversations and learn so much. And people there are usually happy to have a new face join the conversation. But that warm welcome will be met with an immediate spam report if you jump into a group and start promoting your book. Make connections, be a part of the conversation and learn from others. These tweetchats are not the place to sell your book.

8. The "helpful" author
Example: Check out NEW BOOK by @MyFriend 
Followed immediately by twenty identical tweets each with a new friend and book link.

Instead: I never saw the plot twist coming. My review of  adult fantasy NEW BOOK by @MyFriend 

Writers are such a helpful bunch. We are so great about giving each other a pat on the back or a helpful hand. But your friends do not want you to spam on their behalf, regardless of your best intentions. Instead of throwing these tweets at the world. Write a meaningful review on a major site and then share those judiciously with your followers.

9. The never ending story
Example: OMG! I am so totes excited to tell you guys my really big news. I've been saving this up for the past few weeks and it's killing me...1/15

Instead: Major announcement! I just signed with XYZ publisher for my debut novel!!!

Keep your tweets to 140 characters (preferably under 100 so others can RT easily). If it needs to be longer then use another medium such as FB or your blog. You are fine to do a tweet that links to one of those platforms, but the whole story should not be a long series of tweets. Twitter is a great practice tool for writing concisely.

 Thanks to everyone for your great examples during my random poll. However, I'm sure we missed a few. Feel free to add any bad twitter behavior you've witnessed (keeping it all anonymous, of course) in the comments. Together we can all make twitter a more magical place to waste time online. :)

10 blog post ideas for fiction writers

So you've decided that you want to blog, but aren't sure what to put on it. Here are ten ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
Mimosa, anyone?
1. Updates
Any news you have and want to share about upcoming books, progress made, events, etc. Include all the relevant details, but don't forget to make it personal. If you have an event, share what you'll be doing there and create a sense of community by giving readers a special code that gets them little extras at the event. Though keep in mind my rule that these sort of updates aren't really appropriate until you have books and readers.

2. Engagement
This can come in the form of polls, questions, feedback or quizzes. Ask your readers legitimate questions and let them be a part of your writing process. Let them help you in any way they can such as picking your next books setting or character name. Want to see a great example of this. Check out this Jennifer L. Armentrout blog post where she's letting readers pick which guy her main character ends up with. This is a brave and terrifying example, but you get the idea.

3. Video
You guys know I'm now all kinds of down with the YouTube, because that's the kind of hip cat I am. Oh so cool. Video was frightening for the first 24 hours, but now it's kind of fun, so think about giving it a try. And don't forget, you don't have to just share your own videos. If you found something on YouTube that spoke to you as a genre fan, a fandom member, or a human, share it with your readers.

4. Story Time
I love story time. And we're writers, gosh darnit. That means we should be able to turn even the most mundane events into a magical story that our readers will want to go on. Did you just have a truly craptastic day? Or maybe the best day ever? Tell your story in the way only you can, in the voice that your fans have come to know and love. Share it.

5. Reviews & Recommendations
We've probably all heard that authors shouldn’t be reviewers because you never know which author you’ll have to sit next to at the next conference lunch. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about the books you love. Readers will love getting the recommendations and it gives them something else to connect with you on.

6. "Best of..." Lists
Best fantasy books of 2014, Best manga cartoons, Best author tumblr accounts. It really doesn’t matter what it is, readers will love to see your thoughts on this. But like all things, make it personal. Don’t just make a list, tell your readers why you love something and why they should love it too.

7. Guest Posts
This is pretty self-explanatory. Not only will other authors appreciate the opportunity to borrow your platform, you get a little break for the day. Just make sure a guest post isn’t a 500 word advertisement for the author’s next book. If you aren’t sure what to have a guest author write, consider coordinating their post with your own opinion piece. Try to find a guest who has a different opinion than you or can shed light on an area that you have little or no experience.

8.  Most Popular Posts
No one says you aren’t allowed to recycle old info. And if you’ve been blogging for a while, you probably have a great stash of older posts. What about a 1x/month throwback Thursday that features an old post that you feel is still relevant for your readers. Want to spice it up, make a meme and throw in a classic Throwback Thursday photo of yourself to keep the content exciting.

9. Topic Refresher
Do you have an old post that (thanks to your new experiences) needs to be updated. Maybe the technology has changed or just your world view. Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to go back and refresh an old post with new ideas.

10. Your Opinion
Any good blogger is also doing a fair amount of reading other blogs. Keep an eye out for blogs that strike a chord and then discuss the issues on your own blog, whether you disagree with the original post, feel the author missed a key point or just want to add another perspective, share your thoughts and opinions with your readers. But keep this in mind: your readers come to you because they love your writing. While there’s nothing wrong with having strong opinions, the last thing you want to do is alienate some of your readers. With that in mind, be civil and know that there are some topics that aren’t going to be relevant.

What do you have? What are your favorite blog posts to read? What keeps you coming back for more? Share you ideas for fiction writer blog posts in the comments and let's see how long we can get this list.

Agency Lessons: Query Services

I'm back open for queries, which means I've gotten a fresh batch of queries that make me cringe and grind my teeth.

And it's not for any of the reasons you might be thinking. This physical reaction has nothing to do with the quality of the work, following guidelines or any other newbie mistakes that are often the downfall of an otherwise okay query.

These queries make me hurt because all I can see are wasted dollar signs. What are they? Queries sent through a service. Cue huge eye roll and face palm.

Let me make myself clear: You do not need or want to hire a service to send queries for you!

End of story. But in case you like a little reasoning to go with your edicts here you go.

1. All the excess
When you use a service they add in all this introductory non-sense that has no business being in a query letter. It's usually a combination of third party praise and barely coherent statements on the market. Not only is this useless (I don't really care what someone else thinks about your book and I have a pretty good handle on the market already), but it slows me down from getting to your query and puts me in a bad mood when I do get to it. That's really not how you want an agent to feel when they read your query.

2. Bad aim
If I had a dollar for every time a service sent me a query for a manuscript in a genre I don't represent, I'd have a nice stack of dollar bills. That's right. The service who promised to handle the leg work of sorting through all the lists of agents to find the ones begging for just your type of story, basically sent out a mass of queries to everyone they have an email address for. Wanna bet they leave out that detail when you're told they sent out hundreds of queries?

3. Opposite outcome
Many services pull in new authors by claiming to add authority to your query. They feed you a line about how having your query sent from a professional "Author Service" will give your query the extra edge to get an agent's attention. Well, they are right in part. It will get my attention, but not in the way you want. I assume two things when I see a query from a service like this.
 1. The author is a complete newbie. Not that there is anything wrong with being new. You have to start somewhere. That said, I would expect someone new to an industry to dive into the readily available information plastered all over the internet where they would quickly learn this is not something they want to do. Using a service like this suggests that the author in question hasn't done any of this leg work, which makes me assume they didn't do other leg work, like work with CPs or beta readers, or check their work for the basic mistakes that catch a lot of new writers. None of that is positive.
2. The author has been around a while and has decided that all of this querying non-sense is too much work. They would rather fork over some cash to someone else to do the grunt work so they can focus on pounding out more of their own brilliance. So what else does this author think a little cash money can fix? If they think money can buy an agent, will they also have unrealistic expectations of my responsibilities (since essentially, they will feel they bought me, which makes me feel all kinds of creepy)? How will they handle the potentially long wait to sell their book? What happens if the first one doesn't sell? Surviving the query trenches is a kind of merit badge that proves you have what it takes to survive the sometimes long hard road toward publication.
 4. Pre-query
The newest irritating trend I'm seeing is the pre-query. A query service sends over an introductory email that only has a line or two about your story and doesn't include your actual query or any of the other needed info such as details on your story, synopsis or pages. They ask the agent if they would like to see a query for the project. So basically, these services are giving agents the opportunity to say no right then and there based off only a sentence or two about your book. Knowing that this happens makes my blood boil (and not in the good way).

5. Authors are not made of money
Querying agents is free. There are a ton of free resources like and where you can look up agents by genre and preferences. You can also visit sites like to see some agents' wish lists. Emails are also free. It's all free. Querying is FREE! So paying for a query service is like paying someone to go to the library and check out books for you that they picked out based on a limited knowledge of your reading preferences. I hope this sounds like a bad idea to you. It is.

I realize that querying can take a lot of time. You have to research the agents and figure out what each one wants you to send and then track all of your emails and their responses. It can be a time suck. Truly, I get it. 

But are you willing to take all the time to write a manuscript, get feedback on it, polish it up and then hammer out a stellar query only to cut corners and turn the last stage over to a stranger? You've seen your baby this far, hang in there and hammer out this last stage. You and your manuscript deserve it.

Hey, Sarah: (not) Live from Kansas

So I didn't get a chance to record a video answering one of your questions. We all knew that was going to be the most likely scenario. However, I was feeling adventurous last night and I made you a very low quality video from my hotel room. I realize that sounds dirty. I'm late for breakfast so, Oh well.


5 Reasons you should attend a writing conference

As you read this, I am most likely in a plane making my way to Kansas for the LDStorymakers Midwest conference. Excitement! I love going to conferences and meeting so many talented writers. But I recognize that I'm an extrovert. Large crowds are like DD batteries to me. For the more introverted among you, a conference might sound like a medieval torture device.

So today, I've got my top 5 reasons you should attend a writing conference.

1. Network with other authors
This is probably one of the least touted reasons for attending, but might be the most important. Finding your tribe couldn't be easier than at a conference filled with other weirdos who talk to their characters at breakfast and check under the table for plot bunnies. Your people are at conferences. This is where you can find like-minded crazy people who will answer your random twitter questions, beta read your next project and offer a supportive word while you query. You can write in isolation, but a good network will keep you from completely losing it while you do.

2. Practice talking about your work
When you are surrounded by other writers, the most common conversation topic is "So what is your book about?" Before you run away screaming, hear me out. The best place to practice telling others about your book is in a room filled with writers. They will completely understand when you can't seem to find the right word to explain the villain's evil plans. And, they'll offer helpful advice if you want it. Once you have a published book, you'll want and need to tell everyone about it and this means perfecting that pitch. At a conference you'll have all weekend to work out the kinks and get more comfortable talking to strangers about your work.

3. Meeting agents/editors
I'm not talking about a formal pitch session here, though if your conference provides this, you should definitely take advantage. I'm talking about all the other times when these people aren't in classes or pitch sessions. Don't be afraid to pull up a chair at lunch and ask a question or two. We are completely normal people and we go to these conferences because we want to help writers. You are not bothering us by asking questions. That's what we're there for.

4. The classes
Let's not overlook the actual meat of the conference. There are usually tons of classes to pick from that will help writers at all levels whether you are looking for help with character development or long term marketing strategies. These classes are taught by agents, editors, and writers who were once in your shoes. Go, learn, take notes. If you're there with a friend, don't sit next to each other in the same class. Split up and then share your notes afterward. A well organized conference can be like a mini MFA in a weekend. Go get your learning on.

5. Recharge your creative batteries
There is just something about being around so many other people who are all working toward the same goal. It's inspiring and the energy buzz is tangible. Don't be surprised if you make it back to your hotel room each night with your fingers itching to hit the keyboard. And you don't need to be in a slump or have a case of writer's block to benefit. Even if you are in the midst of a writing frenzy, you can't help but be uplifted by the meeting of so many creative minds.

So go check it out. If you still aren't sure, start small with a local conference in your city or state. There are some great organizations such as RWA and SCBWI that hold mini one day conferences that you can start with before jumping into the big ones.

And if you are going to be at the LDStorymakers conference this weekend, please stop by and say hello.

Why authors need clean baseboards

This past weekend, I washed my baseboards. Like, I got out a bucket and cleaning rags and marched around my house on my knees scrubbing all the grime that gets mysteriously deposited on the little ledge of baseboards. I also polished the doorknobs, cleared the grime off the thermostat, and cleaned out all the air return vents.

My husband came home and said, "Wow, the house looks great, honey. That really makes a difference."

Or...he didn't notice at all and made no comment on the cleaning project that soaked up hours of my Saturday.

The truth is, no one is ever going to walk into my home and comment on how clean the doorknobs are. But you better believe if they grab the bathroom door handle and come away with a palm full of something my kids have smeared on it, they'll notice.

So why do it?
Because, even though no one notices, I know it makes my home cleaner. I know that cleaning the return vents means less dust and healthier air. I know that clean doorknobs means less chance that we all give each other a cold this season. And I know that if I don't do it, my house will look and feel dirty, even if it isn't.

So why are we talking about this?
Because cleaning your baseboards and polishing doorknobs is the marketing equivalent of a clean, easy to navigate website. Here me out.

No one is going to visit your site and say "Wow, look how few clicks it took me to find a buy link. This author made it so easy for me to find their work." But if you don't streamline your site, you might hear "Great googly-moogly, it took forever to find this buy link". Or worse, you hear nothing, because readers got frustrated and left to go find another book.

You will not receive praise for the hours you spend organizing your book pages or putting your press release in its own tab. And my husband still hasn't noticed the clean baseboards. But if you don't keep your website updated, easy to navigate for readers and beneficial to journalists, the silence will much worse.

Agency Lessons: writing to trends

I realize you hear this all the time. Don't write what's popular because by the time you have it ready the trend will have moved on.
I think sometimes though we hear that and don't really believe it. After all, we heard that vampires were dead for years while more vampire books spilled out of publishers. And Dystopian is a no-fly zone, yet I've seen new ones come out just this summer.

So writers see that and think that there are exceptions and their book will be one of them and so they are going to write this trendy YA Zombie Dystopian Steampunk* and just let anyone try to stop them.

And they aren't completely wrong. There are always exceptions. That's why I'm always saying that no genre is ever dead, just maybe hibernating. But you still shouldn't write to trends.

First, the books you see coming out now in "dead" genres are not new acquisitions. Chances are, these books were sold quite a while ago. Don't believe me. I just sold a book last month with a projected release date of mid-2016. This was what worked for the author and publisher, in their schedules. It happens all the time.

Second, editors are readers just like everyone else and they can get burned out quickly. At the beginning of the summer, if you had asked me what the hot genre was, I would have said YA contemporary. It felt like that was all anyone was buying (not true at all, just my perspective). I just got an email from editor saying that while she still loves these stories, her list is full of them now and so she needs to diversify. And she's not the only one.

These trends have a flash-bang shelf life. They come out blazing, everyone gobbles up the really great ones and then it fizzles out. The next big thing comes along, rinse and repeat. If I had a magic ball, I would absolutely tell you what the next big thing is. I promise. However, I don't know and honestly, I don't think it would do you any good. By the time I told you, you'd need to be able to draft, rewrite and edit a brand new manuscript in under a month in order to cash in on the newest trend.

So does that mean a lot of publishing comes down to timing and being in the right place at the right time? Yes and no. Write what makes you happy, even if that book can't sell right now. This is where an honest agent/partner can help. I have a client with a dystopian, a really unique dystopian. But we aren't doing anything with it right now. Not because I don't want to sell her book, but because I know that right now trying to sell it would be an act of futility.

Write, write a lot, write different kinds of books, write stories that make you happy, write the stories that need to get out. And accept the fact that you may or may not sell that book. You may need to let that book sit for a year, or five. But if you've been writing then you'll have something else to sell in the meantime and it won't matter. Don't write to trends.

* If you have a YA Zombie Dystopian Steampunk, please let me read it. :)

Hey, Sarah: Agent Questions

It's been one of those weeks. My kids are driving me nuts and I smashed my cell phone screen to smithereens. So I'm thankful for two things today, the weekend and you guys! Yeah for having a little hidey hole on the interwebs where I can post ridiculous videos and pretend my house looks like the cover of Better Homes & Gardens.

So with that, here's this week's video. You're getting a three for one today, because I'm answering three viewer questions about my style as an agent. Don't forget to submit your own questions Right Here!

Productive Procrastination

Writers are weird. We love writing, yet we'll come up 1,000 excuses to get up from the desk and not write. Sometimes it's just being lazy and other times we need to step away and recharge our creative batteries. Whatever the reason, there are going to be days when the writing isn't happening.

The good news is that you can productively procrastinate if you do it the right way.

There are a lot of exercises you can do to get your writing juices flowing that can later be used in your marketing efforts. So next time you just can't write another word on that WIP, try one of these five tips to get back on track and save it for your marketing plan.

1. Cast lists
Who doesn't love to oogle the rich and beautiful people on the internet? Creating a dream cast can be a great way to focus in on your characters. Maybe your character has the boy-next-door looks of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (a personal favorite of mine), but with the bad boy attitude of Johnny Depp. Create a cast list, find some photos and save them to a special folder or create a Pinterest board. You can use these as inspiration as you write.

How do I market this? 
You can use a cast list in a lot of fun ways. Consider adding this as a bonus feature on your website, or include it in your next newsletter. This would also make a great post for your blog tour. Wanna shake things up? Hold a contest and let your readers guess who your cast list is. Come up with clues to each actor and the reader with the most right wins a prize. 

2. Playlists
Music is a beautiful thing. It can take a scene in a movie and change everything about it, just with a song. So what music would make up the soundtrack to your book's movie. You can go with songs that inspire you, your characters favorite songs, or just ones that make you think of different scenes. There are plenty of free services that let you make an online playlist you can share with your readers. I like Pandora myself, but find one that works for you.

How do I market this?
Much like a cast list, you can share this with your readers on your website, newsletter, or blog tour. Going into too much detail about what all the songs mean can be a bit of a spoiler to readers who haven't gotten to the end yet, so be careful. You could give readers a clue about what the first few songs mean, then direct them to a hidden page on your website to learn about the rest after they've read the book. This is a great way to continue that relationship once they've finished reading.

3. Scenery pictures
Novels don't happen in a blank room. Our characters live in the real world, even if that world is nothing like our own. Scour the internet for pictures of places that match your book. You can go big with outdoor shots, pictures of room decor, or even focused close-ups of items that are important to your characters. You can use this as reference as you write your story.

How do I market this?
One of my favorite visual marketing tools is the teaser quote. Little quotes or lines from a book that make a big impact. When pasted on a picture these can be a wonderful way to create early buzz about your book. The good news is all those pictures you collected can make a perfect backdrop to your book quotes. Use a simple editing program like GIMP and you're good to go. Just make sure you are using Creative Commons pictures. No one wants their work stolen.

4. Fashion
Your characters don't run around naked all the time (unless you write erotica, and then maybe they do). Most of the time your character will be wearing clothes and sometimes they can be a really important part of the story. So go crazy and buy your main character a virtual closet. Collect pictures of all the outfits that are perfect for him or her.

How do I market this?
This is perfect for anyone writing a series. Share your character's closet with your readers and then invite them to come up with their own version of your MC's perfect outfit. For the prize, you agree to write in the winner's choice into the next novel with a shout out in the acknowledgements. Not only do your fans get to engage with you, but they will help you keep your character dressed to the nines.

5. Extra content
Sometimes all you need to get those creative juices flowing is to write something that isn't a part of your novel. It can be a scene that happens "off camera", a scene from an alternate POV, or even something that happens before your novel starts. It can be anything really. The key is that it won't be going in your novel so the pressure is off.

How do I market this?
This one is a no-brainer. Readers love bonus content. You can share these on your website or newsletter. You can also use them as rewards. For example, tell your readers than when you hit X number of reviews on Amazon (or any retailer) you'll post a bonus scene on your website. The more scenes you have written, the more mini-goals you can set. It's a win-win since fans get more of the book they love and you get more reviews to help your sales numbers.

There's nothing wrong with taking a break from your work. Next time you need to step away from the words, consider one of these procrastination exercises to get back on track and put you ahead of the game when it comes time to market your book. Happy procrastinating!

What's your favorite way to procrastinate when you're in the midst of a project? Share your tips below and let's brainstorm ways you can make them work for your marketing plan.

Platform without product

We all know we need a platform, but how do you do that when you don't have a product yet? When there is no book to promote? You've got a blog, but now what do you do with it? 

Computer cats are cute, but rarely helpful

The Don'ts
This cat doesn't care about you word count
First, let me give my two cents on what you shouldn't talk about. Your writing. Honestly, there are thousands of blogs out there run by pre-published authors (Oh, hi there *waves*). So many of them focus on the author's own journey toward publication. I made that same mistake myself when I started this blog almost three years ago. This may have worked ten years ago when the behind the scenes of an author being shared publicly was a novelty, but not anymore. 

I'm gonna lay down some hard truth here. No one cares where you are in the drafting process or that you've hit a plotting snag. Unless you have  books out and people are actively waiting for the next one, no one cares about your word count. I'm not saying you don't have friends that care about your progress. But the masses (which I'm assuming you would like to come visit your site) do not. 

The Dos
Here are a few ideas for things you can write about on your blog before you have a shiny book to share with the world.

Give me a topic, any topic
Subject specific
Write science fiction? Create a platform that talks about all the sciency goodness you love. You could focus on new advances in technology, your favorite comic books, fan cultures like Star Trek or Star Wars, or your favorite genre books. This can work with any genre or subject. Write romance, talk about modern day love stories, your favorite romance novels, ways to improve your relationships, etc. The options are limitless.

If you write across genres then consider talking about subjects in your age group. This is especially helpful if you write in the MG or YA market. Talk about news that is relevant to your age of reader.

Book reviews
This is a controversial issue among authors. The question is always how to handle reviews for books that you really just didn't like. So here's a not so controversial answer. Only review books that you like. If you didn't love something, then don't review it. If you accepted the book for review from an author or publisher and don't like it, then quietly (and privately) tell them that you can't give it a good review. Since you can pick your own genre to review, you can build up a familiarity with readers who you know like what you write and have grown to trust your opinion.

If you don't want the pressure of being a full-time book blogger then don't accept books from others.
What do we have going on over here? It's news!

Simply review or discuss whatever you are reading. A book doesn't have to be new and shiny to be in the spotlight. You can always highlight the books that you loved growing up or that made a difference in your life.

The industry
What is going on in the world of publishing? Lots, and the scenery is constantly changing so you have plenty of options here. You can focus in on news about a certain genre or even branch out into an age group. Share tips on new developments that will help authors such as the Amazon pre-sale option, or discuss reader focused developments like new subscription services. With news constantly flying out of so many sources, not to mention exciting conferences and book awards, there is no shortage of material here.

According to this, the internet loves cats
Before you get cranky, let me clarify that talking about yourself is not the same as talking about your writing. I'm suggesting you blog about the you that lives on the other side of your computer screen. What other hobbies do you have that readers might find interesting? Do you have a gazillion funny stories? Tell us. Is your life one series of hi-jinx after another, can't wait to hear about it. You are in interesting person. You have stories. You are a story teller. So tell the stories that are really happening. If you don't know where to start, I highly recommend checking out The Bloggess. She's got a bit of a potty mouth, but, in my opinion, no one does the personal blog better.

In conclusion
There isn't a magic science behind creating a successful blog. You might have to go through a few iterations until you get it right. Lord knows this is not the same blog I started out with. And that's okay. Everyone is still figuring this out, even me. So give something a try. If it doesn't work, then try something else. 

And...if you hate it. As in you absolutely dread updating your blog, then stop doing it. Seriously, stop blogging. You can always create a static website for your readers once you have a book out. Don't let the hype of "Get a Platform Now" force you to do something that is only going to drain your creative energy and push you further away from your publication goals.

Find what makes you happy and do it!

Agency Lessons: Do I need a platform?

In last month's series I talked all about keeping your platform in tip top shape. But what if you don't have a book yet? Do you really need a platform?


No, you don't!

Ah, don't you feel better all ready.

Let's be honest. You don't have a book to promote, and without something to read (besides blog posts), readers have little reason to flock to you online. That might sound harsh, but let's put it in perspective. With the popularity of this newfangled contraption many are calling "The Internet", authors are readily available at the fingertips of readers everywhere. And tons of authors are taking advantage of this advancement in technology to make a real connection with their readers. With so many authors no more than a click away, and all the media begging for readers' time, there isn't a lot of draw to spend quantifiable time on the blog of an author with no book. Cold, but true.

Let me just say here that this doesn't apply if you are a non-fiction writer. You need a platform, even without a book. Very few exceptions to that, sorry.

If I don't need a platform, can I quit social media?

Nope. If you thought not needing a platform meant you could quit Twitter, sorry to burst your bubble. Just because you aren't pulling in readers, doesn't mean you shouldn't be pulling in something else...


Everyone talks about how lonely writing is and how we need other people to keep us from going crazy. All of that is true. Finding your tribe online is priceless. You need people to cheer you on, answer your questions, bounce ideas and give you a break when you feel the need to strangle your characters.

And Twitter isn't the only place to find your people. Not sure where to start? Get thee to Goodreads. It's a social media hub for book lovers. There are groups there for every taste under the sun. Join one, get involved, meet the people. Do not go around shouting about your book (or your someday book). This will make you a leper. No one likes a leper. Go in as a fellow lover of books and connect with people.

But finding your tribe is not all a good social media presence is for. Connecting with others online is also a great way to find critique partners and beta readers. You can learn about contests, conferences, new agents, publishers calling for submissions, and just overall feel connected to the awesome writing community.

And eventually, you are going to publish a book. You are. This is going to happen. And when it does, you will need people in your corner. Online friends who will help you share in the excitement, talk you through the process and be your cheerleaders. These same friends will help you promote your books, give you marketing tips and make the difference between a writer who is starting from ground zero. 

Let me say this, just to be clear: A large tribe online does not equal book sales. I don't want anyone to get the wrong impression that somehow filling up their Twitter feed with thousands of followers will guarantee you bounteous book sales at release. Rather, a legion of twitter followers grants you access. Access to their support and help.

So stop worrying about building up an extensive platform before you have a book to promote. Instead, focus on connecting with the people around you.

Wednesday, I'm going to share a few tips for those of you who are looking to spice up your pre-publication blogs. :)

Hey, Sarah: The inbetween ages

I'm back with a new video. This week, we're talking about the differences between MG and YA. Tricky stuff. 

The whole house has been a bit under the weather so you'll excuse the fact that I am not wearing any make-up in this video. I didn't realize this until after it was all said and done, and I wasn't about to re-record. So you're stuck with it.

You guys seemed to like the outtakes last week, so I've done them again. I guess I'll keep doing that until I get so good at recording these that there aren't any outtakes...yeah...right.


As always, I'd love to hear from you guys with comments here or over on the YouTube video. If you have questions of your own you'd like me to answer, just submit them here and I'll add you to the list. :)

Debut Authors: Go big or go home!

Story time, faithful blog readers! Gather round!

Wednesday I told you all that I have been cast in a local theater show. Today I will tell the embarrassing tale of how I got my part (and then correlate it to marketing, because that's what I do). Popcorn, ready? Let's go.

New Kid
Even though I've lived in Texas for almost three years now, this was my first time auditioning at this really cute little theater downtown. I showed up and was the only person there who didn't already know everyone. This is not an exaggeration. In fact, one of the women auditioning even works there. I was the new kid in the worst kind of way, and it seemed that everyone else was already part of a club that I knew nothing about.

The Welcome
Of course, I shouldn't have been worried. Even though they were all friends, they welcomed me in and even explained the inside jokes so I wouldn't feel left out. So nice and helpful. First we had to sing which was fine. I like to sing and think I'm pretty decent, so this is always the easy part for me. Then it was time for the real audition. This show is a little different so for our "scene read" we had to sing happy birthday while portraying an emotion or situation (for example, giddy or sad). I got itchy. Yep, itchy. My scene partner had to pretend to be dying.

Decision Time
There are lots of normal ways to be itchy, but the director asked us to be over the top. So I scratched my way across the stage, using walls and props against every inch of my skin. Then as the final line was sung and my scene partner was collapsed on the ground...I rubbed my itchy rear end all over her. Yes, I did this. No, I didn't get her name. Yes, I apologized afterward.

Truth Time
At our first rehearsal, everyone went around the room and introduced themselves (basically to me, since I was the only new person). A few folks auditioned at a different time, so when I said hello, the director interrupted to tell everyone about me itching my butt on another actor. I was embarrassed for a second until he said this to me.
"It was perfect. You were an unknown. You sang well, but we had no idea what you would do on stage. When you did that (rubbed your butt all over a person pretending to be dead), I said, that girl has balls and knew I wanted to cast you."

And now for the moral of the story...
Walking into that audition as the new girl was a lot like being a debut author. All the other published authors are part of this club you really want to be in and they have stories from the trenches that mean nothing to you. It can be intimidating to say hi, but they are basically all really nice people who want to see you succeed. So nice and helpful.

You probably have a really nice story, and hopefully a nice cover and pitch to catch some eyes (like a good audition song). But that's not going to be enough. Because to readers you are an unknown.

Your story might sound great, but they don't know what they will get in once they crack open the cover. They have no idea if your book is worth their money, and sometimes more importantly, their time.

If you want to convince them to cast you as their new favorite author, you have to go broke or go home. I don't think rubbing your bum on a dying woman is going to be appropriate here, but this isn't the time for subtlety.

You are going to need to market that book to within an inch of being obnoxious. Now, don't take this as permission to destroy any goodwill you've built up by throwing buy links all over the internet and private messaging everyone you know or wish you knew. You still need to follow the "rules" of appropriate behavior.

But you can't afford to quietly release your book into the wide world and hope for the best. There are too many other debut authors out there with books releasing, probably some of them on the same day as you. As much as they'd like to, readers cannot read all the books. They will have to pick and choose. And it's your job to prove to them they want you.

This is going to look different for every writer. What you do to market your book will depend so much on you, your publisher, your genre, your subject matter, the age you write for, your budget, your comfort with making a total fool of yourself. There are a lot of variables. But here's the universal truth for marketing as a debut: There is no such thing as over the top. You cannot save an idea and say this is too big for a debut, I need to wait for the next book. If this book doesn't do well, there may not be a next book. As long as you aren't spamming, there is no such thing as "too much" when it comes to marketing your debut.

So stop second guessing and holding back. Now is not the time to timidly scratch your head and hope it's enough. Rub your itchy bum all over the stage and show those readers you mean business.

Working your creative muscles

We creative types are a unique bunch. Our brains just work different than the average soul. Most of us need an outlet in order to keep from going crazy. So we write, but is that enough?
It can be, but I also think we are limiting ourselves if all we ever do is write. I find I get some of my best marketing ideas by getting out into the world and thinking about the way that the world markets non-book products. So it would stand to reason that authors would benefit from a little creative outlet outside of our pages.

For myself, I've been stretching my creative muscles in a different way the past few weeks. I've recently been cast in a local theater production. At first, I almost didn't audition, because I was concerned the extra time commitment would mean less productive writing days. Boy was I wrong.

Since rehearsals have started, my output has increased significantly, even though I have less free hours to devote to writing. 

I'm working out creative muscles I haven't touched in a while. It's a bit uncomfortable and the result is not always pretty, but I'm getting there. I'm starting to find my happy place back on the stage and in return I find it's easier to sit down with my words and ease them on to the page.

"But, Sarah," I hear you saying from way in the back (you have wonderful projection), "I don't want to do musical theater." 

Well, that's okay. Try something else. Break out your kids' crayons and doodle a picture, make something exotic for dinner, dance around the living room, go to Zumba. Just do something different and see what happens.

Agency Lessons: I'm open!

Happy Labor Day!!!

I'm a little blogged out today after last month's Platform Pick-up series. So get  off the internet and enjoy the day off from work.

One tiny announcement, I am now reopen to queries. I will be open until mid-November when the agency closes for the holidays so if you plan to query this year, get it in now. 

That's it! Enjoy your day!