digital age for writersHow to be Visible in a Digital World

 
by Marg McAlister

Once upon a time, when writers wrote 'the end' on their work in progress, their attention turned to sending out the manuscript - by surface mail. Everything was hard copy: print out the manuscript, send it out, wait for a letter or a phone call in response, then (if successful) wait for the galleys to arrive in the mail, post them back, then finally, hug the mailman when the advance copies of the book arrived.

Things gradually changed.

First, editors started accepting query letters by email. If they said 'yes' to the manuscript, they required a copy on disk. Then disks virtually became redundant: these days, pretty much everything goes back and forth by email.

Okay, it was easy enough to get used to that. Most authors welcomed the advent of word processors (so much easier to edit) and the speed of interacting with editors online.

Then... with the advent of e-readers, e-books moved from being something people barely thought about, to an accepted way to buy and read a book. E-books were usually cheaper to buy, and much, much cheaper to produce. They also saved a lot of trees.

Moving right along... the popularity of e-books began to cause problems for publishers. People weren't buying as many physical books, which meant that bookstores were having trouble shifting their stock. Furthermore, more and more authors were taking matters into their own hands. They started publishing their own books (often simple PDF e-books if they were non-fiction or self-help) or they opted for Print on Demand (POD) publishing, because they could order as few as one book at a time. Many POD publishers allowed purchasers to buy either the e-book version or a speedily-produced paperback.

Of late, several large bookstore chains have had to close their doors; they just can't compete in a digital world.

Where does this leave authors?

First, they should remember that their role is to be storytellers. That hasn't changed. People still love stories, even if the way they are accessing those stories has changed.

Leaving aside for now the question of whether you end up having your work published by a traditional publisher, publish it yourself, or do a joint venture with an online publisher, you still need to become visible. For people to ask for your books, or go in search of your books, they have to know about you.

Your job is to become as visible as possible both online and offline - but especially online. If people do a search on Google for your name or your books, they should be able to find you. You should definitely have your own website, not just a sales page at the site of an online publisher.

Your Website

On your website, you can have:

  • information about yourself
  • a list of your books and publishing credits
  • images of your book covers and perhaps a sample chapter
  • testimonials from readers who have enjoyed your books, or people who have attended your talks/workshops
  • a downloadable media kit for newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations
  • a list of the different talks/workshops that you can deliver (for adults, libraries, club groups, schools etc)
  • articles (written by you) about writing, or about anything related to the content of your books if you are writing self-help or how-to
  • a blog (a good thing to have on your website, because you need to make only short entries and this generates fresh content on your website for the search engines... it also helps to promote you as a person)
  • a form on your website for people to contact you regarding talks or the content of your books
  • sales pages for your own books and products (PayPal is simple and widely used)
  • a sign-up box for your own newsletter to stay in touch with readers or students

If you have never even considered creating a website before, it can be a daunting prospect. I have used several website building programs over the years, including Dreamweaver, FrontPage and Expression Web, but the easiest by far was XSitePro, and that is the program I now use for my website. You can find out all about the program and how it works here: XSitePro Website Builder. (I've also used web-based software to create websites, but I'm not a fan. I'd rather be able to work on the website pages on my own computer - as I am right now.)

Other Ways of Being Visible

Facebook and Twitter

Some people think that life is too short to bother with Facebook and Twitter. Others post regularly to Facebook but don't really understand what Twitter is all about, and really can't be bothered with it.

The fact is, people do get to know who you are by 'following' you on Twitter and by becoming a friend on Facebook. If you want to keep Facebook for family and friends, go right ahead. On the other hand, if you're eager to explore what social networking can do to help you become more 'visible' as a writer, read this excellent article by Melinda Hutchings (who does it very well!): How to Use Social Networking to Promote Yourself.

YouTube

These days it's pretty easy to create and upload a short video to YouTube, and plenty of authors are taking advantage of that to promote their books, talks and workshops. There are easy-to-use video cameras that are actually designed for quick videos for YouTube!

One author who creates wonderful book trailers for YouTube is Deborah Abela. She has been interviewed in a podcast for Writing4Success and explains just how she goes about doing this. You can download the podcast and written transcript from the Writing4Success website here:

Deborah Abela on Creating YouTube Book Trailers

Interviews for Newspapers and Radio

Local newspapers are always looking for stories, so it makes sense to start your promotional activities in the place where you live. It helps the editorial staff to get it right if you have a media pack available (email it to them or give them a download link). Have a copy of your book ready for a photo opportunity, or have promotional photos already taken and in a variety of sizes/resolutions.

Radio stations are also hungry for content. Hazel Edwards has some excellent tips on the way to approach a radio (talkback) interview here:

Hazel Edwards: 20 Tips for Talkback Radio

Visiting Schools

If you have written books for children and teens, you can make a nice extra income by using those books as a basis for author talks, workshops and enrichment days. If you're starting from scratch with your first book, it's harder, because you're an unknown quantity. Schools have no idea whether you can handle children in a group situation, or whether you can hold their interest. 

Some authors shy away from school visits, because they're not confident about their ability to control children. In this case it's a good idea to start small: approach your local school and offer to come into a classroom or a library session  for a short time to chat about being a writer. You can make your first session as short as 10-15 minutes and follow it up with question time, with the usual teacher supervising.

Once you've done a few school visits, and are feeling more confident, you can start expanding your repertoire - workshops for gifted children, author talks and readings for different age groups, or even talks for teachers about writing and what they can try in their classrooms.

As you develop your expertise and experience, make sure you collect testimonials from teachers and/or kids who have been in attendance. (You can do this by asking kids and teachers to fill in a short questionnaire at the end of a session about what they liked and what they'd like to hear/see more of.) These testimonials can be featured on your website and promotional flyers, so prospective clients can see what others have said about you.

Teachers are always searching for extra material to use in the classroom, so you can offer worksheet masters as part of your visit, or as PDFs downloadable from your website.

Try to ensure that schools have a copy of your book (or books) in the school library and that kids have had a chance to read it. If you are just starting out, give a few copies of your book(s) to the class you're visiting ahead of time. It's hard to discuss a book and characters if you haven't read it.

What Do Schools Pay?

For an author who is good with kids, has interesting or useful information or books that kids enjoy, there is likely to be work in schools not only in Book Week (usually the busiest time for authors visiting schools) but at other times of the year.

Check out the ASA (Australian Society of Authors) website for recommended rates (if you are from another country, look for a similar site in your own country) but understand that you will find it hard to book visits/talks/workshops at these rates if you have no track record.

In addition, some schools are hurting for funds and can't afford the ASA-recommended fees.It's up to you whether you are prepared to go into schools at a reduced fee. You may like to set your own.

Visit the ASA here to check out their recommended rates for writers (also downloadable as a PDF).  

© Marg McAlister

 

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