It’s time for me to evaluate my baby steps toward building an author platform, and I realize that probably the best decision I made in 2013 was to stop querying agents. “Sour grapes,” you’ll say, but that’s not the case as my query letter wasn’t a failure—it got me two partial requests out of the ten agents I sought out. No, I didn’t manage to get representation, but I found out in the process that I wasn’t very keen to take the back seat and hand over full control of my work to an agent and then a publisher. To be more specific, I didn’t want to see a headless man with a six-pack on the cover of my romance novel (not that I have anything against men with six-packs or covers with naked torsos) or my hearty epilogue chopped because of some imprint’s word-count limitations. But the real reason I don’t regret stopping the pursuit of traditional publishing is the brave new world indie publishing has opened to me.
I have a mere two-month online presence as an aspiring author, but I’m astounded by the possibilities not only for professional but for personal growth as well. I’ve already met wonderful, creative and inspiring people online, and most are truly willing to help a newcomer. I’ve gathered a wealth of valuable information,and now I feel more empowered to face the challenges that putting my work out there entails. I’ve also realized that without a solid platform, the odds of eventually being picked up by an agent are slim (I thought that applied only to non-fiction writers).
So here I am with a brand new blog, about three hundred followers on Twitter and ready to share what I’ve learned so far.
Motto: Give, give, give then ask. I can’t stress enough the importance of “branding” yourself as a giver. I won’t elaborate, as the entire post reflects this philosophy.
Twitting: An invaluable platform-building tool. I hadn’t appreciated what Twitter can do for you, and I’d never bothered creating an account. But if you want to get noticed and enhance your online presence, being pro-active on Twitter is a must.
What I did: I paid attention to my feed and noticed who’s really there, retweeting, replying and not just auto-tweeting self-promo links. I joined discussions initiated by tweeps with thousands of followers, where I thought I could contribute in a positive way and instantly saw results. For example, after a quick but interesting exchange with Rayne Hall (@RayneHall), an experienced writer with a solid Twitter presence and followership, I got twenty new followers who apparently appreciated my direct engagement. So it was a case of two birds with one stone: excellent pro advice plus increased followership. (Word of caution: Rayne Hall offers free advice but be nice, on-topic, and avoid any form of self-promo—it just won’t fly with her).
I’ve also chosen to send a personalized thank-you tweet to each new follower—because I can. By that, I mean that my flow of new followers is still manageable. If, at some point, I have dozens each day, I won’t be able to check each and every one’s sites to send personal messages. But as long as I’m able to do it I will because it shows that I actively care, and the result is a lot of “favorited” tweets and more followers.
Initially, I wondered how I could get noticed by bloggers or writers with dedicated followers. I may not have experience or insight in a related field, but I do have a well-honed skill: my “typo-cop” abilities. Teaching translation for fifteen years means proofreading tons of translated documents, so whenever I read any kind of text my typo-scanner is always on—unless the text is written by me, so feel free to do the same here! Tweeps with links that didn’t work or led me to profiles, book blurbs or blog posts containing errors got a private, discreet message pointing out the error (no bragging). What I got back was lots of love, instant follows and subscriptions to my blog.
What I should have done: Added lists. My next blog post will be “How new writers can chase readers away” and I’d like to point all the new writers among my followers to it, but how can I do that when I don’t have a “New Writers” list? I also realized I need a “Book Blogger”, an “Author” and a “Writer’s Resources” list among others. Having three hundred followers means spending a lot of time revisiting their sites and profiles to add them in the right category when I could have easily done this as they were coming in.
What I shouldn’t have done: Auto-DM new followers with a link to my blog. That brands you as a “taker” not a giver and, at best, you’ll be ignored. Thankfully, I only did it for a week until Rayne Hall told me to drop it and concentrate in active engagement.
Blogging: This blog is very young and needs a lot of original content to gain some authority. However, I needed a “home” way before I found my footing in the indie-publishing realm. But I don’t have a packaged product, I’m not a random muser, so how would people get to know me? An easy start was to import some of my Goodreads’ reviews. I like to write organized reviews that reflect my writing style, and the pictures of some good covers that came along gave the blog some good visuals.
What I did (and paid for—no, literally paid for): I got rid of .wordpress from my domain name. I think it’s a good investment. It makes the writer’s name stand out more. I also paid for a “Custom Design” upgrade which allowed me to play around with colors and fonts, adding a personal touch to my blog’s appearance. Total cost: $45.00. However, some tweaking is needed. There are a couple of visible problems (not pointing them out) that I need to sort out.
What I should have done: Write this and a couple of other blog posts earlier. Nursing my three-year-old daughter and then myself as we exchanged flu bugs for the best part of December did not help.
Branding: When I started the blog, I chose a dark charcoal grey theme with a black and white header, featuring a vast room with opulent chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. I thought it was a metaphor for… the road to success? I may write romance, but aesthetically, I’m not a hearts-and-cupids kind of person, and I do enjoy rock music, so maybe I tried to channel a bit of myself through that, but soon I came to my senses. Actually, Rachel Thompson and her Branding 101 for Authors blog post helped me, so I recently revamped this site, focusing on my genre’s keywords (romance, Greek islands, summer). Fate Accomplis, my upcoming contemporary romance, has a Greek island setting, so I used my own photography for the header both here and on my About page to set the tone. I intend to write a full article on Alonissos, the North Aegean island where my protagonists find their HEA, and then, I’ll add more beautiful pictures from my collection. I have a lot, as that’s where I fell in love with my husband, and we visit it every summer—there’s some more romance branding for you!
Goodreads: I feel comfortable there. I’ve dubbed myself “The Romance Nitpicker” as I’m a tough sell in spite of the fact that romance is my genre (or, maybe, because of it). My Goodreads friends increased spectacularly when I connected this platform to my Twitter account, and all in all, it’s a good place to connect and be yourelf. I slightly alter the phrasing of my reviews there to reflect the target audience of each book (meaning I’m allowed to use more “spicy” language depending on the book’s sub-genre).
FaceBook author page: Not yet. As an unpublished writer, I can’t see how I could attract Likes unless I link my blog articles. That’s something I will definitely look into, though, because right now I can only support writers or bloggers with a Like or connect with them on this platform through my personal FB account where, inevitably, Greek is the dominant language.
Pinterest: It’s gaining momentum. I’m not really clear as to how it can help writers, but it’s such a beautiful place to be! I’ve created three boards: Writers’ Resources, Covers and Books. I can instantly tweet your pins, and I read that tweets with interesting visuals get more retweets, so there you have it. I love art, and I’m big on aesthetics, so I’ll definitely build on my Pinterest use. Useful tip: a blog post without an image attached to it cannot be pinned.
Google+: I’m there, but not really active yet. I’ve been reading conflicting opinions as to whether it works or not. As I create more content, I’ll try that platform out as well.
Writing my second Aegean Lovers novel: two thousand words in two months (a total of 14,000 words), in other words, nada. And that’s my biggest challenge for 2014: to organize my time in such a way that building on my author platform and writing won’t be mutually exclusive.
Wishful thinking: If a fairy were to come unto me and told me I got to pick one super power, that would be the ability to freeze time. I just want to be able to write between 12 a.m. and 4 a.m., glance at the clock and see both hands pointing vertically upward. Then, I’d go to bed, get my seven-hour sleep and wake up refreshed with the draft of a new chapter there, waiting to be edited. *sighs*
New writers: what’s your social media presence? What do you feel works or doesn’t for you? Authors: am I on the right track?
Thanks for reading!