All About the Authors

Helping edit, publish, and market your book.

Author: Karen Alley

Facebook for Writers

fblogoFacebook can be a great marketing tool. It’s a good way to build a network with other writers, to build relationships with people who are or will be reading your work, and to promote things like book signings and events. It can even help sell books, but don’t depend on it for a lot of direct sales. Using Facebook for marketing is all about building relationships and drawing traffic to your website, and that’s where you sell the books.

It’s highly likely that you’re already on Facebook. According to Facebook’s stats, in December 2015 there were 1.04 billion daily active users. Something I find even more interesting is that 24 percent of non-adapters use someone else’s account. So even people who say they aren’t on Facebook are on Facebook!

The question for writers is, how do I set up my Facebook presence? Do I want a personal profile page, where people can “friend” me and feel like we’re having personal, private, friendly conversations? Or do I want what Facebook calls a Business page, something separate from my personal profile?

For writers, you have a choice. Some choose the profile for their “author” page, mostly because they don’t really want to have a private presence on Facebook anyway, and that way they only have to worry about one page. But I recommend using a business page for your author site and your writing presence on Facebook. Here are the reasons I feel a business page is better than a personal profile for writers.

  • Keeping personal separate. Having a business page helps delineate your personal life from your work life. Even though as writers we do share some personal things with our writing network/base, like where we are in our writing, how we’re suffering from writer’s block, or the interminable search for an agent, it’s not really the appropriate place to post things like your kid losing his first tooth or your favorite crockpot recipe. It’s nice to have a personal profile page for those family posts, and a business page for your other posts.
  • Analytics. Facebook’s business pages are equipped with analytics so you can see, in real time, how many views each posts gets. It also tracks the likes, shares, and comments of each post, so you can see which ones garner more interaction.
  • Unlimited number of likes. A personal profile page only lets you have 5,000 friends. There is no limit to how many likes you can have on a business page. So hopefully someday we’ll all be as successful as Diana Gabaldon, who has over 571,000 followers.
  • The Facebook Scheduler app. I’m not a huge fan of scheduling Facebook posts, because I think they need to be in the moment and relevant, but there are times when it comes in handy to schedule a few posts ahead of time. With a business page, you can use the Facebook app, which allows you to schedule posts ahead of time without sacrificing the number of views that post might get.

It’s really a personal preference for writers whether you want to launch a business page or not. But if you’re hoping to really build your brand and reach out to a lot of people, a business page is the way to go.

5 Tips for Improving Your Interviews

phoneIf I’ve learned anything from my years of writing, it’s that producing good work comes from first having good content to work with. Sometimes, if you’re writing poetry or short stories, or some types of fiction, most of your material comes from your imagination. But for some fiction, and almost all types of non-fiction, there is quite a bit of research involved, and many times that research includes conducting an interview or two. Or more.

If you’re ghostwriting a book, writing a memoir, producing an article for a magazine or doing a little journalism for the local paper, you’ll be interviewing people to get information. And if you’re interviewing, you want to make the most of your time. Here are a few tips to be prepared to get the most out of the time you have, and get the information you need to make your writing project worthwhile.

 

  1. Do your research. Before you make the first call or write out your questions, take time to research the topic you’re writing about so you can sound knowledgeable about the subject matter. Or if you’re conducting a personal interview, find out what you can about that person beforehand.

 

  1. Prepare your questions. It can be hard to know exactly what route an interview will take, but it helps you stay on topic if you have prepared a list of questions ahead of time. Make sure there are plenty of open-ended questions to spark conversation. Asking things like: “Do you like tea?” will get you a yes or no, but “What types of tea do you like?” will at least get you a list, and you can follow up with a why for even more information.

 

  1. Set the tone with a friendly attitude. It’s always nice to start an interview with a little small talk or a non-invasive personal question. And be sure to share a little information about yourself as well. It helps get both of you more comfortable, and helps foster the feeling that you know each other, even if you’re just talking for a few minutes one day and will never talk to that person again. When the person being interviewed feels comfortable with you they are more likely to provide information.

 

  1. Be prepared to redirect. Sometimes a person will get involved in telling a story and start to get off the main topic. It is up to you to guide the interview, and gently redirect that person back to the topic at hand.

 

  1. Be prepared for the interview to take a new direction. There are times when getting off topic can be a good thing. You might have done research and prepared your questions with a specific direction in mind, but once you talk to the person you find out the information they share leads your story down a whole new path. When this happens, you often ask follow-up questions on the fly, but it’s rewarding to find out new and exciting information.

 

Most importantly, approach interviews with a positive attitude. It can be hard to pick up the phone and call someone you’ve never met. But in my experience, most people are excited to talk with a writer, and you can end up learning lots of information and getting to hear some great stories along the way.

 

Making Time to Write

How many of you reading this blog made a New Year’s resolution to write more in 2016? I know I did! I don’t even make resolutions, usually, but I really wanted to try to write more, and just making it a goal of mine hasn’t panned out in the past. So I was hoping the added importance of it being a New Year’s resolution might help it stick.

Maybe, maybe not. According to statistics from Harris Interactive, about 45 percent of Americans make some sort of goals for the new year. But 1 in 3 have ditched those vows by the end of January. Those stats are pretty dismal. So far I’m not in that one-third who have given up, and hopefully you aren’t either.

I think one of the most important ways to keep your resolution to write more, to finally make this the year when you finish that short story or novel, or get your gardening book completed, is to make time to write. All of us lead frantically busy lives, filled up with work, family obligations, and other appointments. But if we’re serious about writing, we need to make it one of those appointments on our calendar that we don’t cancel or reschedule. I heard advice earlier this month about keeping your resolutions to exercise, and they said to schedule it on your daily calendar just like you would a doctor’s appointment. I think the same holds true for writing. But how do you make time?

woolfOne of my favorite essays of all time is Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. When I was in college and reading this for the first time it riled up the feminist in me. “Yes, women do need a room of their own. A place to go, a place to write, a place to let the creativity flow.” Now, in 2016, a place might not be as hard to get as time. And putting all feminist leanings aside, time might be just as hard for men to find as women.

Just as Virginia Woolf had to make a space to write, a room of her own where she could escape, we need to find that place as well, and carve out time to let our minds work. Here are a few ways to “make” time, and hopefully keep your writing goals.

  1. Get your family on board with your goals. We all have family making demands on us, whether it’s your mother calling every day “just to check in,” your spouse wanting you to do activities with them, or kids constantly needing your attention. And while it’s important to spend time with those you love, you can also be clear that you need some time without distractions. These people are your biggest cheerleaders. Get them on board with your goals, and they’ll be glad to give you a few hours a day to chase your dreams.
  2. Put writing on your calendar. Just like they recommend for exercise, schedule in your writing time. Put it in your phone’s calendar or add it to your daily planner. Once it’s in there, scheduled in pen (or in digital form) it’s easier not to let other things take precedence with your time.
  3. Avoid distractions. Betsy shared The Writer’s Circle’s photo on our All About the Authors Facebook page the other day, a pie chart that shows how writers spend their time at their computer, and Watching YouTube Videos and Reading Facebook Posts were two of the biggest pieces of the pie. Log out of Facebook, leave your phone in the other room, and get to work. This is where having a room of one’s own comes into play. It’s a way to get away from the distractions of life. If you still find yourself staring into space, that’s okay. That’s where the inspiration comes from, right?
  4. Make sure you are giving yourself a big enough chunk of time. I have found it’s better to have a few hours at a stretch, rather than 30 minutes her and an hour there. If that means you can’t write every day, that’s okay. Just make sure on the days you do set aside time for writing it’s enough time to really get into your work and keep the juices flowing. The worst feeling is to be right in the middle of a writing streak and have to go to another appointment.
  5. Figure out what time of day you’re most productive, and start with that. Everyone has different times of day they like to set aside for writing. Some of it might depend more on your family’s schedule than when you’re actually at your best, but hopefully those two will intersect. If you have your best bursts of creativity first thing in the morning, set the alarm clock and get yourself up. If you’re a night owl, work then. The idea is to find a time that works for you, hopefully cutting down on the stare-into-space time.

I am going to try to use these tips to stick to my own writing goals this year. Making it a priority should make all the difference in the world, and I hope it does for you too.

Yes, Repetitiveness is Okay (at least for web writing)

If you’re like me, you remember with horror the essays you wrote in high school and college that came back marked up with red ink, with notes to the side that you were being repetitive. Maybe you said a phrase over and over, something simple like “for example,” or maybe you just use the same descriptive words, somewhat unconsciously. Our writing teachers and mentors tell us to be creative in our writing, use different words, engage the reader. Finding new ways to say something is a fun exercise for many of us writers. But I’m going to tell you today there’s one place where this rule doesn’t stand hard and fast, and that’s writing for the web.

If you’ve created a website or a blog, you’re familiar with the term SEO. These three letters stand for Search Engine Optimization, the Holy Grail of web content. The better your SEO, the higher your website will come up in a search engine’s list after a person has entered a search. For example, say someone is looking for a book about writing resumes. The first thing they do is turn to Google, and type in “writing resumes.” You want your book on resume writing to come to the top of that list, or as close as possible. After all, how many pages do you thumb through on a typical search?

One of the best ways to optimize your page for search engines is to pay attention to the words you use when writing content. Figure out what your key words will be, and use them often in your writing. Say, for example, you’ve written a book about a kindergartener’s first day at school. Your key words will of course be your title and your name, but also starting school, anxiety, kindergarten, mommy, teacher, and student.

Once you’ve figured out your key words, you want to use them as much as possible in your writing for your website. To many of us who have been writing for years, this goes against the grain somewhat. Once you’ve mentioned a title of a book, you usually refer to it as “my book” or “the publication” to avoid repetition. But when writing for the web, it’s better to go ahead and rewrite that title.

The trick is doing this without seeming too obvious. You don’t want to blatantly repeat your book’s title ten times in two paragraphs. Just be sure that when it comes up in the natural flow of things, you use that title instead of referring to it as the book. The same is true for your other key words. Remember to use the specific key words as much as possible, stating kindergarten instead of school whenever possible.

Writing content for websites might seem pretty simple at first, after all, it’s only a few hundred words. But in reality a lot of planning takes place before any paragraph are written. Knowing ahead of time your key words and your end goal is crucial to writing content that will help your website succeed.

For more tips on writing for the web, check out my video Writing Web Content, available for subscribers only.

 

Work for Hire: Not as All-Encompassing as You Think

contract-clipart-1552-0909-2116-0233When I first started working in the publishing industry I was young, fresh out of college, and a lot of the terms I heard being bandied about were as foreign to me as if my boss were speaking a different language. In reality he was speaking a different language, he was speaking publishing-ese. One of the terms he mentioned quite often was work for hire. At the time, I was working for a company that did production for college level English textbooks, so most of our writers were signed on as “work for hire.” I never asked what that meant, and I just assumed it meant their names weren’t on the final product. Because a lot of times that was the case, a person would work on pulling together an anthology, maybe of short stories by American women writers, or poems of 19th century Britain, but they wouldn’t be acknowledged on the cover, it was just an anthology. Not all were like that, we did work with one editor whose name had enough recognition that he was mentioned on the cover and the title page.

It turns out I’m not alone in having the wrong idea about what work for hire truly means. Some people might think it means doing a job where you get paid a flat rate. Others might think it means you’ve been hired for a specific job and that’s it.

It turns out work for hire is a clause that can be used to make an exemption to copyright laws. Under U.S. copyright laws, any time you write something, once your pen hits the paper or your fingers hit the keyboard, it is yours, forever and always. But sometimes a publisher might want to have control over that writing in perpetuity. Anthologies are a great example of this. Publishers might want to publish a second edition, or a revision, without having to go back to the original writer or editor for permission, or even to pay them a second time for work. If you sign a contract with a work for hire clause, that means your writing is owned by the publisher, not you.

If you are an employee doing writing, the work you do for that employer is considered “work for hire.” If you are an independent freelancer, your work only qualifies as work for hire if it falls into one of these categories:

  1. a contribution to a collective work (like a piece for a magazine, anthology, or encyclopedia)
  2. a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
  3. a translation
  4. a supplementary work (like a foreword, afterword, bibliography, appendix, index, or editorial notes)
  5. a compilation (like an anthology, database, or anything that qualifies as a “collective work” from category 1 above)
  6. an instructional text (generally, any text that could go in a textbook)
  7. a test
  8. answer material for a test
  9. an atlas

Of course, even if a publisher can’t qualify your work as work for hire, there are other ways for them to write into contracts ways to retain rights to your work. But that’s not always a bad thing. For example, if you’re writing copy for a PR firm to help sell dog food, you probably won’t use that writing anywhere else anyway.

Overall, it’s important to remember work for hire isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when you want to publish your poem, short story, essay or novel, make sure you read the contract carefully, all the way through.

For more information about contracts and what to look for, check out my video on All About Publishing.

Why I Love Outlines

outline3Everyone approaches writing differently, and we all have our own unique routines. Some writers love to sit down in a comfortable chair with a pen and paper, others have grown accustomed to their laptop, with words flowing from fingertips to keyboard quicker than they would if they were taking a pen to paper. Not to mention the hot chocolate, coffee, Skittles, trail mix, or other things we have to have by our side in order for the words to flow.

No matter what your writing style is, it’s important for everyone to start out with some sort of outline. I have to admit, I used to hate outlines. I refused to do them when I was in college, because I had found them a complete waste of time in my school career before that. Whether it was my eighth grade grammar teacher or high school research projects, we were forced to outline before writing, complete with Roman numerals, capital A, B, Cs and little 1, 2, 3s.

But then I got started in my career. I found myself working as the editor of the IGA Grocergram, a position that entailed quite a bit of writing along with my editing responsibilities. And suddenly, I found myself making outlines. Not the formal ones of my school years, by any means, but in order to say what I needed to say in a 1,200 word article about the increasing opportunities found in made-to-order foods for supermarkets, it was necessary for me to pull my research together into some sort of plan. Since then I have come to depend on outlines. Still pretty informal, but each article I write has a map of what paragraphs will be included, with notes about where to stick specific quotes and other pertinent information, mostly so I won’t forget to include something important.

Outlines are an important tool that help you get your thoughts organized and help you make sure you include what you need to in your writing. They also are a great way to help you stay focused once you do begin writing.

My writing mostly consists of magazine articles ranging from 800 to 1,200 words, and my outlines are scratched out on a legal pad, with four to five main points and some notes under each. Others of you might have very different types of outlines. Some of you might still depend on the formal outlines, with capital As, little as, and both Roman and Arabic numerals. Others might outline plot with a timeline, or a list of proposed chapters and a short paragraph highlighting their content. When it comes to making an outline, style doesn’t matter. It’s all there just to keep you on track.

To find out more tips that will help improve your writing, check out my latest video, “Tips for Making Your Writing Exciting,” on our All About the Authors writing resource page. If you aren’t a subscriber yet, join today to get all the full benefits of All About the Authors.

Writing for Magazines: The Query and the Follow Up

covers-imageThere are many different ways to practice your writing craft, and writing for magazines is one that is very rewarding. Not only does magazine writing offer you a great platform to write, it also gives you the opportunity to work with different editors, get feedback on your writing, and of course, get paid!

One of the great things about writing for magazines, in addition to the above, is there are so many different publications out there, from consumer publications we’re all familiar with such as Redbook and Southern Living, to the free publications you find on the news rack at our grocery store. And then there’s the whole realm of niche publications, for antique car fanatics, cat lovers, or quilters, to name a few, and the world of business to business publications where you might find yourself writing about the latest technology used in making mattresses or tips on how to attract customers to your aquarium store.

To get started in the world of magazine writing, first you need to get an assignment, and unless you happen to know an editor, you’ll be sending out a few queries. Here are some tips on querying editors.

  1. Do your research. Look on the magazine’s website for an editorial calendar so you know what topics they’re interested in and when they’ll be published. Remember, magazines work ahead, so for example, a parenting magazine editor might be preparing the back-to-school issue in May.
  2. Don’t write an entire article. Come up with a few ideas that are well thought out, and write about a paragraph or two on each idea explaining the topic and how you would approach it.
  3. Do follow up. Persistence pays off in the world of magazines. Editors are busy people, and often they’ll read your email but not have time to respond. Keep track of when you send queries, and two weeks after your first email, send a follow up email to let the editor know you’re still interested. It won’t hurt to send another email again in a few weeks if you still haven’t heard from them. You never know when the email you send could happen to arrive right when they’re looking for one more article to fill up an issue. And sometimes, just the fact that you’ve emailed a few times will help them remember your name when it comes time for new assignments.

To learn more about writing for magazines, check out my video on the All About Writing page. This page is for members only, so subscribe today to take full advantage of everything All About the Authors has to offer.

5 Keys to a Successful Blog

keyboard_computer_hardwareAs a writer, whether you are published or aspiring to be a published author, it is important to have a blog of your own. It’s a great way to build credibility within the publishing world, practice marketing yourself, and also practice your writing!

Thanks to many great tools on the Internet, creating a professional looking blog is relatively easy. Both Blogspot  and WordPress have nice looking templates available for use, and the website pretty much walk you through signing up and setting up.

Once you have created a place to blog, there are a few things to keep in mind to help it be successful.

  1. Set a schedule and stick to it. Your followers will appreciate knowing when to be on the lookout for fresh content, and it also shows editors that you are able to stick to a deadline.
  2. Publish good content. This isn’t a journal, where you write stream of conscious on whatever pops into your head. Try to make posts interesting and about something people will enjoy reading. It might be helpful to have a theme for your blog, to tie things together. Just don’t make your theme too narrow, or you’ll run out of things to write about in a few months.
  3. Keep it short and sweet. People reading on their computers or tablets don’t like to have to scroll down a lot to read a blog. Entries of 400-800 words are optimal. Some successful blogs even have entries that are only a few sentences!
  4. Add pictures to your entries. Not only does this break up the content, it helps with marketing your blog on social media. Research shows people are more likely to click through to a shared link on Facebook if there was a picture with the link.
  5. Network! Once you have your blog up and running, you want people to read it. Get out there and share it. Use the tools on your blog host to have automatic updates on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also setup automatic updates on Facebook, but I prefer to post those manually, which gives me more control over what is said. That way you can ask questions or write statements that provoke a conversation or shares, and get people involved in your blog in an interactive way. And of course, use email and word of mouth to let people know you’ve entered the blogging world!

 

For more tips and information on starting a blog, check out my video “Blogging 101 for Writers” in our Author Resource Center.