Monday, March 07, 2011

How to be a professional and a self-epublished author

Perhaps I could have titled this post simply "how to appear as a professional when you publish" and left out the distinction of self-publishing -- but presumably, if you publish with a house they are at least going to advise you on publicity if not provide you with a small amount of it.

(Not book tour publicity, but at the bare minimum all of the following information.  And most likely, they'll do some of the work for you.)

One of my good friends is a theatrical publicist who likes the same kind of fiction I do. Last week, when the Amanda Hocking headlines and chatter were strong, I mentioned the situation to my publicist friend. She read the article I sent her and began scoping out "this Amanda Hocking woman."

Speaking as a publicist, my friend declared two things to me: (1) Ms. Hocking might be making a good deal of money but she's not a professional and (2) Ms. Hocking absolutely needs a publicist.

(1) Ms. Hocking might be making good money but she's not a professional. This declaration comes from the notion that one must dress for success if one wants to succeed.  That to be taken seriously you must put your best foot forward: you don't show up to court in fluffy slippers or chew gum in front of the Queen.  When in Rome, behave in a way that makes the Romans think more of you, not try to kill you before you get back to the Tardis.

Mixed metaphors aside, what I mean is that having a web presence is not the same as having a professional web presence.

I thought about getting into a discussion of the differences between person, personal, and persona, but I think that is another post all in itself. For the sake of this post, I'll say that your web presence should not be "you" it should be your "writer-on-the-internet persona."

With that in mind, I get to things the publicist told me:

  • If you're selling something (a book, a watch, your cupcakes, your skills as an actor, tiny pieces of your soul), your presence on the internet should not be just a blog.  You must have a website.  Should you also have a blog?  That's entirely up to you.  But your blog should be in your website not in place of it.  
    • If you're working toward publication and don't have a novel to promote, then a blog is a great platform building tool. You can chat with other writers and develop connections.  And someday when you have a novel to promote, you can incorporate your blog into your website.
    • There are many free and easy ways to create a website.  Engage them.  If you're selling something (as in making money from sales), upgrade to the low level package which doesn't run ads.  The low-level upgrade on sites I've checked out like has a monthly rate that's about as much as a grande latte.  Or at very least use wordpress to create a site that looks as little like a blog as you can make it.  Unfortunately, as much as I love blogger, a site will always look like a blog.
  • Your website should have separate pages for your publications, bio, press kit, and news.  
    • Publications: where you list and link your novels.  Use cover art.  List and link your short stories.  Use the magazine's cover art.  
    • Biography: write it in the third person.  It's a biography, not an "about me."  Look at the "About the Author" in the back of your favorite book -- it's written in the third person, not the first.*  
    • Press kit: pertinent facts and cover art for those who may be interested in reviewing, interviewing, or writing articles on you/your books.  
    • News: not what you ate for lunch.  This page should list and link all the places you've guest blogged; list and link all your favorable reviews and all reviews (favorable or not) from big venues; articles written about you/your book; places your press release has appeared; places you have or will be appearing, lecturing, signing, or teaching; and future release dates. 
  • Don't put your direct, personal, non-professional email address on the site.  "She's got her hotmail listed!" my publicist friend shrieked when she poked around Ms. Hocking's blog.  "First off, it's not professional," she told me.  "Second, you don't want that kind of email going into your personal account.  Third, it should be going through a publicist or agent or at least your mother."  Then she amended the statement further: even if you-the-author manage this account, it shouldn't be your main account and it shouldn't sound like your main account.  It needs to sound professional because it's (not @hotmail or @gmail or @yahoo), and it should be something like or or the like.  Something that does not suggest OMG we can be bffs if you stalk me and send me a :) email after you finish each chapter of my book and an lol mssg after each of my #CharlieSheenIsAnAss tweets!

(2) Ms. Hocking absolutely needs a publicist.

Lastly, hire a real publicist.  No, don't run out and do it now.  But if you find yourself in the prized position of having local and national news media interviewing you and reporting on your success, or if you find yourself getting nominated for national awards, then don't try to do it all yourself.

A publicist is not like a personal assistant; she takes on many clients at once so you don't have to have oodles of work for her to do all the time.  But for a media blitz, she's worth having around.

Ms. Hocking posted last week that she had spent several days doing nothing but answer emails, and it frustrated her because it was taking time away from her writing.  Hopefully that made her see that she needs to hire help (at least temporarily) to deal with her sudden fame.

A real publicist would advise her on all of the above and more.  A real publicist would weed through the emails.  A real publicist would provide someone for the press to contact instead of contacting the author directly and having honest-to-god interview requests getting mixed in with fan/stalker/plz-tell-me-the-secret-of-your-success emails and ignored for lord knows how long.  Most importantly, a real publicist would take care of publicity and let the writer have time to write.

Photo credit: madaise

*Where a bio should be written in the third person, I've been assured that a blog's "about me" should be in the first person. Your choice between the two depends on what persona you want to bring to the table, a professional writer with published novels, or a personable blogger writing about her journey.


kmullican said...

Thank you for this post! I may just link to it on my next post.

All awesome points.

Witless Exposition said...

Great points! I would have laughed at the email, too. It's amazing what people think is a "professional" email address.

I'll really have to keep this in mind!

Madeline Bartos said...

Awesome advice! When I begin to take myself seriously enough and find the one story I absolutely love, I'll have to keep all of these points in mind! Thanks for sharing.

Michael Offutt said...

Why is your friend picking on Ms. Hocking? Poor woman had a crap job and has had "some" success to where she can buy a mid-sized home of around $700,000 or in that range (most professional athletes and professional writers would scoff at that pittance and thumb their noses). I think it's cool that she managed to make a buck against all the people that thought her writing is terrible and she's worked darn hard for any success she has had. People are like lobsters in a basket...always pulling the other lobster down that's trying to get out of the basket.

MonkeyLOLogist said...

Michael - I think Eileen's concern is pretty clear, especially in the context of her previous post on Amanda Hocking. Yes, what Ms. Hocking did is a great personal success story. But it is not a guaranteed recipe for success that anybody and everybody can follow in detail and get the exact same results.

The same general lesson applies to people like Bill Gates - yes, he and a couple friends pulled business magic out of their garage and are now among the wealthiest men in the world! But large components of their success are based on a fortunate combination of luck and timing, as much as it was based on their computer skillz. The existence of Bill Gates does not mean you should tell all young computer scientists to base their whole future on a similar gamble.

Nor should all aspiring writers suddenly believe that all they have to do is imitate Amanda Hocking to the letter and they will be a wild success for the rest of their lives. At this rate, not even Amanda may keep up her success for long. Especially if she doesn't follow some of the steps outlined in this blog post and take full advantage of the publicity blitz that she's caused for herself.

KarenG said...

I'll bet there's been a lot of publicists calling Amanda and emailing her hot mail account. The poor girl just wants to get back to writing--this is where people realize that fame and fortune can be more trouble than it's worth.

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

@micheal: my friend was "picking" on Ms. hocking because my friend is a publicist. If you're a dentist you notice people's teeth more than the average person does. If you're a publicist you notice how people present their public image.

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

@MonkeyLOLogist: thanks for the defense.

To clarify, my point was (and remains) that if one uses clothing as a metaphor for web presence, then one might become a millionaire and never wear anything but flip flops and cut offs, but career minded people often offer specific advice that one might want to consider closed toed shoes and a nice blazer and slacks when pursuing business. My publicist friend (a career minded individual) offers specific advice on web presence.

Elizabeth Twist said...

I have two reactions to this: 1. It was kind and generous of your publicist friend to share some thoughts, and awesome of you to pass them on. 2. much work.... When are we supposed to get writing done, exactly?

I'm curious to know whether this means you're going to get your website up and running again, Eileen? Or will you wait until you make a big sale / land an agent to do that?

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

@Elizabeth Twist - I'm not going to make/remake my website until I have a book sold.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Given everything in this post, that makes sense in terms of timing.

I guess that means we have to get some damnwriting done!

Summer Ross said...

great points!

Gina Blechman said...

Thanks for the post. I will definately keep all of this in mind now and when I get further in my agent-acquiring process.

<3 Gina Blechman

E.C. Smith said...

Terrific post. Now, all I need to do is remember it all!

J.L. Campbell said...

Really good points. I lost my last website and blog through a phishing operation and didn't bother to link my current blog to the new website. I should get around to that at some point.

Considering the magnitude of Ms. Hocking's success, if I were her I'd definitely hire a publicist. I don't see how she can manage her publicity programme and everything else that goes along with it, plus her writing.

Suzanne said...

All great points. I never would have thought about having a separate email.

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