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How to Build a Readership with Blogging
and Prepare for Publishing by Debby Gies
As writers who choose to self-publish, we must understand that we’ve chosen to be not only writers but publishers, marketers, and promoters of our work because these components are all essential parts of running a business. Yes, your business! If we intend to sell books, it’s in our best interests to learn about these things as well as building an author platform. If we don’t put in the time to promote our work, our books will surely sit and collect dust on the virtual shelves, lost in a sea of hundreds of thousands of other books.
Although we may be publishing in a digital world, our business is no different than if we opened our own brick and mortar store. We wouldn’t leave our doors unlocked and wares left unattended, would we? So, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of what’s involved in putting together a good book to gain wider readership.
Building an Author Platform with Blogging and Social Media Tools
If we prepare for our book launch well before publication, we’ll establish a presence as a writer and begin a following so we’ll have readers already eagerly interested in our book once it’s published. Remember – No readers = no sales.
Running a blog and creating a presence on social media are two important tools for gaining an audience. Using our blogs to write interesting articles to reflect on topics we write about in our books is a good way to develop a niche for our blogs. Some other suggestions to write about:
- Writing and publishing tips you come across which other writers may find helpful
- Book reviews – to share works of other writers to build rapport, which in turn will have others wanting to reciprocate and share our posts and books and reviews
- Personal posts to share with readers to give them some insight as to who we are as a person, inviting readers to get to know us
The point is to build relationships with our readers and showcase who we are. Don’t be the person who posts about their book all the time, because people don’t want to be hard sold to. And keep in mind, it’s important to always respond to comments because this is the engagement we strive to receive from readers. If they’ve taken the time to leave a comment, it’s our obligation to take the time to acknowledge them. It may take a while until we find our niche and target audience, but eventually, we’ll build our tribe.
Tip – Don’t forget to add share buttons under your blog for readers to share posts to their readers, which will bring new readers back to your blog. And don’t forget to add your social handles to these buttons when setting up your blogs so you get the credit to your name for the post.
Next, get active on social media. Yes, there are many sites out there, but many of them don’t have to constantly be babysat. You can auto send your blog posts to your social sites automatically by linking your posts to your social media sites at the very least. And eventually you will narrow down the few sites you most gravitate to by noticing where most of your reader engagement is happening, and those sites will become the ones you’ll want to focus more of your energies on. And again, when people respond by leaving comments on your social posts, make it a point to respond back. By engaging with potential readers on multiple platforms, you’ll give yourself a head start on creating interest about you and your writing, and by the time your books roll out, you’ve already created interested readership.
Now that we’ve established the importance of social presence and completed writing our first rough draft of our book, we can focus on the major parts of getting our book in shape for publishing.
Tip One: Editing
Before your book is anywhere near ready to go to an editor, re-writes and revisions begin for your rough draft. Even Hemingway said, “The first draft is shit.” This is the time to clean and polish your words, phrases, and structure of your story. At this time, you’ll experience a bit of pride, and a bit of, “What the hell was I thinking?” after you come across random run-on sentences, typos, and plot holes. You’ll need to read through the manuscript a few times to begin the polishing process. I recommend then to send your manuscript to beta readers for feedback and then weighing out the suggestions and making appropriate changes before sending off to the editor.
I always find it helpful to print out a copy to do another round of revising before sending my work to the editor because our eyes catch a lot more on paper than they do on the screen. Then I take my newly marked-up manuscript back to the computer for last round changes before it goes off to the editor. Yes, even editors need editors. And the cleaner your book goes to the editor, the less time and work it takes them to edit, resulting in less cost to you.
It’s important to seek out an editor you’re comfortable working with and fits reasonably in with your budget and your genre. Believe me, I know as writers our budgets are tight or practically nil, but have you ever heard of anyone who started a business for free? Your books need professional editing, and if you don’t believe me, go look at some books with bad reviews on Amazon because of lack of editing. Readers are discerning and will get angry for crappy, unedited work, and we can’t afford to piss off readers when we’re trying to gain them.
Editors charge by the page or the word count. A good editor will offer to edit a sample chapter from you to show you how they work. A good editor will also not strip your voice from your story.
Once your manuscript is returned, you’ll go through the editor’s suggested changes and revise, then send it back for a final proofread before it’s ready for formatting.
Tip Two: Formatting
Once the manuscript is ready for print, it needs to be made into a downloadable file for ebook form: a mobi file for Amazon, and an epub form for all other distributors, and a print file for POD (print on demand) if you should desire, but highly recommended.
Some authors have the know-how or the inclination to learn how to format, but I can tell you, I have neither. So, if you’re like me, you’ll want to hire a formatter to get your book into form for publishing. A good formatter knows all the specs entailed with creating the file, will find spacing and gap issues in the document, and most important, find leftover marks on your Word document that you may not even be aware of because they aren’t visible after making changes on your manuscript. Once the files are created, they’ll be sent back to you, ready for downloading to your retailers of choice.
*Note: There are many authors offering formatting services now. If you’re not well-versed in formatting and don’t wish to go through the hair-raising and often time-consuming process, you can get a book formatted for a reasonable price, many only charging as low as $25. I know it’s certainly worth my time to hire out.
Tip Three: Book Cover
The first thing to catch a reader’s eye is the book cover. A catchy cover is more apt to attract attention than a boring generic one. Think about how many times you’ve looked through books on Amazon and didn’t look twice at even reading the blurb because the cover didn’t grab you. No matter how great the book may be, it can become a missed opportunity for a book sale if readers aren’t attracted to the cover or if it’s difficult to read the title.
Many new writers try to cut corners by making their own covers, and if they aren’t well-versed in the graphics department, to the discerning eye, it will look home-made. There are many elements involved in creating a good book cover. There is font, and font rules to beware of – size, color, and style elements. And you must be sure the cover is proportionately balanced with the font and picture elements in relation to the size of the book cover. Also, it’s important to know how that cover will look in thumbnail size because that’s how it will show on Amazon and other retail sites.
There are several places online you can find and hire book cover designers for a reasonable price. A good designer will know what’s involved in constructing an eye-catching cover. And of course, it will be up to you to tell them the concept of your book, share your ideas about what you’d like to essentially see on the cover, and you might want to send a few photos to the artist to give them an idea of what you’re after. You can search images at many photo sites to look for ideas of what you’d like on your cover. Artists don’t have time to read your manuscripts, so the more you can tell them about the book, the more ideas they can come up with as mockups to begin sending you for feedback and changes until the final masterpiece is created.
As you go through the process, you’ll be suggesting the changes you’d like, and a good artist will tell you if your suggestions for change will look balanced. For example: The rule of thumb is no more than 3 fonts on a cover because it becomes distracting to the reader. So, you may want your title in one font and your name in a font that you intend to keep as your branding for future books you will write. But you may have a subtitle requiring a third font because you don’t want it to blend into the title or look the same as the font used for your name. These are just a few pointers to take into consideration when creating a cover. I had no concept about all of this when I wrote my first book, so I subscribed to some of the pioneer Indie authors’ newsletters and learned a lot from their publications and links they provided on everything book publishing. I would highly recommend visiting www.thebookdesigner.com – Joel Friedlander’s site. He offers a wealth of information on everything about creating a book.
Tip Four: The Blurb
This is the book’s description, a crucial sales ad copy for your book to attract readers and entice them to buy it. The blurb will go under the product description on Amazon to dangle a carrot and intrigue readers into wanting to buy the book. If you’re making a print version of your book, this will go on the back cover.
Many writers will tell you that this can be a hair-tearing process to write. Finding the appropriate words and message for the blurb has been likened to – worse than writing a book. Why, you may be wondering? Because condensing your book into a mere 200-300 words to share the essence of your story, finding the right hook and not giving up spoilers, is hard work.
A blurb should contain – the protagonist, what they’re after, what the stakes are if they fail. It should create an emotional attachment, leaving the reader curious and wanting to read the book to find out what happens.
Blurb standard protocol:
- First line is where you hook the reader (what the stakes are)
- First paragraph is plot and conflict with the protagonist
- Second paragraph should leave the reader wondering what the resolution of conflict will be
- The last line should be a cliffhanger, causing an urgency in the reader to find out what happens
- You can add a third paragraph if it’s fitting, informing the reader what they can expect from reading the book, or by adding one or two quotes from an editorial you received from your book, inviting the reader to get insight as to how the book will make them feel
*Note: If the blurb is short you can condense the first and second paragraphs.
Here is a wonderful breakdown from Standoutbooks.com, on writing the blurb. This site is one of my favorite sites for learning and keeping up-to-date with everything about the writing industry.
I hope I’ve given you some points to ponder here today. These are the basic guidelines used to self-publish a book. As you get more comfortable publishing more books, you’ll come across many other tricks of the trade that you’ll find useful for incorporating into your own publishing purposes.
Debby Gies is a Canadian nonfiction/memoir author who writes under the pen name of D.G. Kaye. She was born, raised, and resides in Toronto, Canada. Kaye writes about her life experiences, matters of the heart and women’s issues.
D.G. writes to inspire others. Her writing encompasses stories taken from events she encountered in her own life, and she shares the lessons taken from them. Her sunny outlook on life developed from learning to overcome challenges in her life, and finding the upside from those situations, while practicing gratitude for all the positives.
When Kaye isn’t writing intimate memoirs, she brings her natural sense of humor into her other works. She loves to laugh and self- medicate with a daily dose of humor.
Connect with her at:
Book by D.G Kaye available on Amazon.
Platform is a guest blog to discuss ideas or share tips for building and marketing a writer’s platform.
I have this analogy at Carrot Ranch: That the path to publishing a book is like a rodeo ride. My father, his father and his father were all bull-riders. My father gave it up after high school. I really wanted to ride bulls, coming from a family that did so. I rode training barrels, goats and steers. I never made it to the level of bulls. If I had, all I would have needed was one eight-second ride at a rodeo to prove my merit. I never got the chance.
Now it’s about writing novels. I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years, mostly publishing in newspapers, magazines and business publications. But I’ve trained to write novels. It’s a bit like my childhood, comparing my writing experience to that of training with goats and steers when I really want to ride bulls. Every lesser step matters though. It’s how you develop skills and practice your craft.
Also, other life experiences matter.
Parenting teaches you a certain kind of dedication that a job does not — you can always change jobs. Every job teaches you something of value, even if it is the recognition of what you don’t want to do. It can teach you the value of teamwork, negotiation, administrative skills. When you feel stumped about how to ride a bull, think back to what it was like to ride a goat or steer. Back up to what you know and look for connections from your experience to take you down an unknown path.
Publishing is the big dream. Think big. Dream big. Publish. However, it’s not quick and easy.
When I first set out, I was so certain I’d ride the biggest, baddest Brahma bull the rodeo had to offer. I would get published. Turns out, that requires getting an agent and the agent brokers the ride. It’s a long process. In the meantime, I kept writing. With my third WIP, I discovered that genre really does matter when it comes to getting published in the bigger arena. This means I won’t get my chance to ride until I finish revisions on my third. And just because a publisher is interested to read doesn’t mean it will get picked up. I have much anticipation on one ride, but it is a strategy and I’m committed to see it through to success or failure.
Well, no one can take from me what I’ve already written. If one ride doesn’t work out, there are plenty more rodeos to aim for. I will most likely consider a new strategy or shop it out to other publishers and agents. Then there is self-publishing.
Self-publishing has remained low on my list of rodeos to consider. To me, it’s like aiming for the county rodeo when I really want to ride at the Nationals. However, it can be a legitimate strategy for authors. Some start with the county rodeo with the intention to get picked up for the national ride. Others enjoy the county rodeo and that’s where they want to be. Many are successful there. It doesn’t matter which rodeo you want, as long as it fits the ride you seek.
While some might think self-publishing is an easy ride, they speak from a lack of experience. It requires a writer to provide more, and to understand book publishing regardless of your entry point. It’s one thing to know how to ride bulls, but do you know what each rodeo requires of you? Self-publishing requires specific skills and planning. It’s more than knowing how to upload a digital file. It requires every step that book publishers take. Thus the author becomes a publisher. It also puts your book into the same market. Thus the author becomes a distributor.
The P-word: planning. Not every author likes the p-word. In fact, a successful author I follow had a hard-truth-response to an author who said they’d self-publish and see what happens. C. Hope Clark, author of several mystery series and the weekly Funds for Writers, responded:
“I have no problem with people writing as a hobby. I encourage it, actually. I have no problem with people publishing as a hobby. I encourage that, too. But . . . when they hint that they do not have the time to do it right . . . when part-time is an excuse for not doing it thoroughly, I just want to get to a microphone someplace and rant!
Of course ranting to anyone is not the way to make them understand. I don’t want someone shaking their finger at me, either. So I try to educate.
1) A book not prepared with a professional eye, will not sell.
2) A book not edited hard by people other than the writer, will not sell.
3) A book placed on Amazon with no steady promotion, will not sell.
4) A book published without the author marketing herself, will not sell.
One gentleman threw those words at me, “and see what happens,” and I simply replied, “It won’t sell.” He looked like I’d slapped him.” (Read the full post, “I’ll Throw it Out There and See What Happens.”)
Planning is essential. I love the craft of writing, too; I love creation, to create, to dwell in the hum of creativity. But I want to ride bulls to make the purse. In other words, I want to publish what I write to earn a living. I’m not so ignorant of the state of this profession to not see how difficult that is. In fact, it’s why I equate publishing books to making a rodeo ride. But consider this: I have student loan debt for a writing degree; I worked in the trenches at newspapers, magazines and in marketing departments; I workshopped my craft on my dime each year and invested money in craft-related books. This isn’t a hobby for me. And just as I have nothing against those who do write for a hobby — I know and admire many who are on this path — I want to help myself and others who are serious to make writing a viable career.
If you do plan, understand it can take years to come to fruition. I wrote a guest post for Rachel Poli about planning and how it’s part of establishing your writer’s platform. You can consider three different plans, all or one. A vision plan is great for all writers. It helps you understand what you want out of writing, an answer only you can give. Once you clearly see your vision, decide if you need a business or marketing plan. If you are having trouble keeping to your plan, adjust it.
Don’t beat yourself up every time you fall off the bull. You will fall off the bull 8,000 times, but you only need one eight-second ride.
You will fail to meet your plans. You will be rejected by others. You will fail to convey your ideas in words. You will experience disappointment. Don’t linger in disappointment (back in the 1850s, it was a common reason for getting committed to an insane asylum). Connect with other writers who are on similar paths. Study the rodeo rides of successful authors and absorb that the ride can be done. Find your voice and use it. Acknowledge your falls, but get back up and try again. You might even want to quit for a while until the itch to ride brings you back to the arena.
The purpose of this post is to give a backstory to posts to come. I’ve been working to define a writer’s platform as what you build from branding, community, credibility and audience. Currently, I’m stuck on audience building. It’s similar to building community, but often harder to make the connection. Community is getting to know your fellow bull riders. But say you had to fill the grandstands with rodeo attendees. Sure, a few bull riders might attend, but most are going to be in the arena with you. So, how do you find people to come watch the show, buy tickets and see your ride? That’s the same question every author has — how do I get people to find my writing, buy my book and read it?
I’m also exploring the world of publishing, specifically self-publishing. Currently the Congress of Rough Writers are collaborating on our first anthology. Sarah Brentyn is riding as Trail Boss; she’s our editor. Volume 1 will include flash fiction from our first year of writing at Carrot Ranch and will introduce several chapters of new work, including essays from our memoirists and longer stories from our featured fiction writers. Sarah Brentyn is also writing a chapter to make this anthology a teaching tool for book clubs, writers groups and classes. Several writers are assisting on teams to guide the processes involved. We plan to self-publish. As Lead Buckaroo, the planning is my task.
What I’m learning is that the marketing channels for traditionally published and self-published books are the same. The difference is what and how distribution is available. Another difference is that as self-publishing, I’m the publisher.
Subsequent posts will explain:
- the marketing channels,
- the role of authors,
- each publishing requirement,
- the process of planning,
- ideas on pricing,
- how a writer’s platform applies to the anthology.
An anthology is a way to explore at low risk. Each participant is risking little on this ride. If it’s successful, it benefits many. It it fails, it doesn’t take down any one writer’s hard work, like a full novel. If I fail, I learn from it. We can always try again. My hope is that the anthology becomes a practice arena of sorts. We can experiment with self-publishing, pricing, distribution, platform and even craft and content, which are all lessons we can individually apply to our greater individual rides. As a group, we have greater experience and skills to share, too.
Stay in the saddle! Once a week, I’ll post something new from what we are doing, learning or discussing. Feel free to add to discussion in the comments.