No Really, How Many?

December 2, 2021 § 7 Comments

A memoirist recently shared her querying frustration: “An agent really liked my work, but said I didn’t have enough platform. But I have a website and I’m on Twitter and Instagram!”

Out of curiosity, I checked. The author’s website showed she wrote occasional humor pieces, loved knitting and had two dogs. She’d published on a couple of literary blogs. On Twitter she had 400 followers; on Instagram she had 185. Nothing in any location suggested she’d written an intimate, soulful memoir about Culturally Relevant Topic.

When Ashleigh Renard (platform expert and author of SWING) and I co-host The Writers Bridge Platform Q&A, we’re frequently asked for numbers. How many clicks make a “viral essay”? How many followers show an agent you have “platform”? How many places do you have to publish? How many years will you have to do this?

You knew this was coming: “It depends.”

Followers can be bought, so numbers don’t tell the whole story. Followers can be generated through #writerlifts, in which everyone agrees to follow everyone else and some of them actually do. If you’ve seen Twitter accounts with 20K followers / 19K following, those are not meaningful numbers. People have followed back politely, not because they’re interested in what the many-followed person has to say. What matters more is engagement—how often do people have a (short) conversation with you online? How often do they comment on your photo, not just click a heart? How often do you share information related to your topic, your writing or your book? Does that information get reshared, or discussed even outside your own feed?

Plenty of people have sold books without being on social media. Plenty of people have sold books with 100K followers. Plenty of people with 100K followers haven’t sold a book.

I know all this, Allison, I hear you cry through the ether, but please just give me a number!

  • If you’re writing memoir, it helps to be connected to readers who will later spread the word about your book, at least ten thousand of them. This can be across social media, newsletter, other types of mailing list, public speaking/teaching, or establishing yourself as an expert in your topic. Many of your followers will overlap…so aim for a total of around 50K engaged followers.
  • If you’re writing self-help, business, or wellness (or your memoir focuses on one of those angles) you must have at least one very large following, which could be 100K+ on any single social media platform, YouTube, a podcast, or speaking regularly to groups of 1000+ whose ticket price includes a copy of your book.
  • If you’re writing a “big idea” book (like Malcolm Gladwell’s work) or narrative nonfiction, you mostly need bylines in significant media, like the New York Times, the Atlantic, Harpers, etc. Places where you’re demonstrating that your work appeals to a wide range of people who are ready to have Opinions about your topic.
  • A “viral” essay is 100K plus views, often more.

But I’m going to self-publish!

That’s great! Do you want people to purchase and read your book? Do you want to reach the people who need your message? Every publisher needs platform, even if that publisher is you. Self-publishers would be wise to start with at least half the numbers above.

Two things sell books: interest in the topic and recognition of the author. “Building platform” is simply making as many people as possible aware that you’re writing something they care about, so when your book baby hits the shelf the bookstore aisle will be full of people stopping, saying, “Hey! I’ve heard about that author!” and buying your book. The sneaky algorithms that pump ads into your social feeds and your Google searches are also looking for authors they’ve heard of, writing about subjects of interest. For both people and numbers, your continued, engaged presence in the world is how you become someone they’ve heard of.

Very often, authors publish widely and consistently for several years before landing a book deal. Humorists write columns, or they get their work into the world so someone will let them write a column. (To see what working towards getting a column looks like, follow Lucie Frost on Instagram/Twitter, where she shares fun facts, regularly, in a specific voice.) Literary writers publish essays. Commercial writers publish magazine articles. Very, very few writers generate one magical, beautiful book and publish on the strength of the writing alone. Are you better than Joan Didion? Go for it! But if you’re not, if you know your writing is still growing but your subject is important, focus on making the most of the platform you have.

  • A clean, well-designed website that shows your topic clearly, and establishes your expertise and/or skilled interest.
  • Social media on which you appear regularly and engage in discussions.
  • Getting short pieces into the world, then sharing the best quotes through your newsletter or social media.
  • Starting a spreadsheet NOW for the mailing list you’ll be able to start in 18 months.

Platform takes time and effort to build, and yes, takes away from your writing time. But the good news is, you can do 15 (focused) minutes a day for two years, listening to your audience, caring deeply about other people having the same experience, adding topics as you discover them…and your platform will gradually assemble itself.

Ashleigh Renard and I will be going more in depth on Making the Most of the Platform You Have on the next Writers Bridge, Tuesday December 7th at 1PM EST. It’s always free, always recorded, and you’ll get the Zoom link by signing up here.

Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor and the author of SEVEN DRAFTS.

Don’t Give Us Anything Today

November 30, 2021 § 36 Comments

It’s Giving Tuesday! A hyped-up commercialized day of charity to balance out the hyped-up commercialized days of shopping! You’re probably getting exhortations from every nonprofit you’ve ever lent your email to, plus the charities who bought your email from them. It’s inbox hell.

Brevity does not want your money today.

Instead, consider the spirit of Giving Tuesday: if you have, give. But for your author friends and your literary community, the gift of your time and attention is far more valuable than a monetary donation. In that spirit, here’s Brevity’s wishlist of Mostly Free Acts of Literary Citizenship for Giving Tuesday:

Free, 10 minutes or less

  • Google an author friend’s name or scroll their social media, and comment on their most recent blog post/article/essay. Let them know someone is reading.
  • Pick a quote you like from your friend’s book or essay and post it on your social media. Tag them. If you know how to schedule Tweets, pick three friends and do one a week between now and Christmas.
  • Phone your local library and request they order your friend’s book.

Free, 20 minutes or less

  • Write a note to an author/writer friend you admire, and tell them why.
  • Whatever app, gadget, or process makes your writing life easier, write 50-100 words about why. Send it to Brevity [ brevitymag+blog (insert @ symbol) gmail.com and yes that’s a plus sign] with WRITING HACK in the subject line and we’ll do a round-up of writing-life hacks in the weeks to come.

Takes More Effort But More Rewarding:

  • Write a review of a new, small-press book for your or someone else’s blog
  • Contact your favorite literary podcast and say you’d like to see the author on it (with two reasons why they’d be great!)
  • Offer to read a friend’s manuscript or exchange pages when you both need feedback

Under $20

  • Buy a friend’s book. If it doesn’t interest you, put it in someone else’s Christmas basket
  • Subscribe to a literary magazine you’d like to be published in (win-win!)
  • Take a chance on a new author—tell your local indie bookstore what you enjoy, and ask what they recommend (bonus points: relationship-building with the store that will one day be recommending your book!)

They’re small things. But they’re not insignificant. As humans, we minimize ourselves and our impact. Particularly in these times, our focus is so strongly on survival and protecting those closest to us, it’s difficult to take outward actions, to engage in a world that has become so actively hostile to our ideals. We tend to think, How much does my compliment matter? Does anyone care what I think?

It does.

We do.

And each time we take action to benefit a friend—or wish a stranger well—we take one tiny step towards our own happiness. In a challenging time, feeling our own power to do good, even in tiny doses, can reaffirm our faith in ourselves, in each other, and in our literary world.

You matter.

Your writing matters.

Your opinion, your thoughts, and your inherent membership in our community matters.

Step forward with your words.

Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor.

Your Memoir Is a Turkey

November 25, 2021 § 8 Comments

Your memoir is a turkey. The surprisingly beautiful plumage, the majestic strut, the delicious meat beneath the feathers, the hidden goodness all the way down to the bones.

So often, to get to that goodness, we need an axe. As with turkeys, memoirs often call for dismemberment of the past, careful plucking, and a great deal of dressing to present the important parts for the feast. Garnishes. Good china. All so your vaccinated friends can gasp in admiration and your mother can suggest you should have used more salt. Or less salt. Or at least left out Cousin Sue.

Our holidays this year (again!) take extra effort for community. Effort, perhaps, saved from shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling, and the forced gaiety of a table full of kin instead of family-of-choice. This year, anyone you’re seeing, you’re seeing on purpose.

We see you. We share this strange and challenging time, and we’re glad you’re our community. Glad you read, glad you write, glad you share your words with us, and Brevity’s words with your friends.

Thank you for contributing to our mission with your talent, your attention, your monetary contributions and your time.

And always, thank you for writing, for reading, and being part of the creative nonfiction and memoir world. We’re here for you. Thank you for being here with us.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Brevity

Put a Tag on It

November 23, 2021 § 17 Comments

These traditional Madhubani paintings are only made in Bihar, India, and are, with 35 others, the result of 3 hours of tea-based negotiation.

Some time ago I saw a writing program that looked amazing. You’ve seen something like it: a respected writing teacher/coach works with a small group of students for 6-12 months, with goals, deadlines and feedback. This type of program is for writers who need accountability and welcome feedback, but don’t have the time/money/desire to pursue an MFA.

I thought one of my writer-clients would be a good fit for the program, but I couldn’t find the price on the website. I know and like the teacher, so I emailed.

The response (paraphrased): Oh we don’t tell anyone the investment cost until they’ve applied and been accepted into the class.

You know who else doesn’t give the price up front? Used car salesmen.

You know who else describes their need for your money as an “investment”? Prosperity-gospel shysters. Jesus is gonna return that twenty-five dollar check tenfold, Grandma. Trust me.

I know this strategy: get people engaged and excited about how awesome the product is before getting frightened away by the price. I’ve tried it myself, experimenting with highlighting the deposit on my retreat website and making the payment plan less conspicuous. I had info calls with two writers who didn’t understand that was only the deposit, a waste of their time and mine. Now I put the whole price.

How can you be up front with potential clients for your course, services or freelancing, without scaring off your income?

1) Price your work fairly. For yourself and for the client. You’re not meant to be affordable to everyone, and I’m not advocating for creatives to undersell ourselves. When I lead a class or retreat, I do a spreadsheet: How many hours will I work? What will venues, meals, gift bags, flights, Zoom subscriptions, website design cost? It all gets factored in.

2) Never compete on price. I do a lot of snooping research on what other editors and retreats charge. Mine cost less than some and more than others. I see programs and people I know are at my level or better, who charge more—or less. I’ve been a workshop student, and most of the time, I didn’t pick based on price. Students choose classes because they want to study with that teacher. Or spend a blissful week in that place. Clients book freelancers on how the writer handles the topic. Writers pick editors because they loved the sample edit. Usually, creative clients aren’t shopping for who they can afford, they’re figuring out if they can afford you.

3) Never feel guilty about your price. The magic words: “I totally understand if we’re not a match for your budget.” I know my price is fair for what I offer (see 1 & 2). If I’m way out of a client’s range, I can refer an editing partner who fits their budget and who I know will do a good job; recommend a webinar; or edit 25 pages and give the writer a list of fixes to apply to the whole manuscript (a wise option for most writers even if you’re ready to pay for a full edit, btw).

Charging a fair price lets me offer an occasional discount to someone truly in need, or whose work I adore and want to be part of. I’ve more than once reached out to a writer I knew would benefit from an experience to say, “Just come, we’d really like to have you and I know you’re tight right now.”

4) Put the pricetag where it’s easy to find. By putting my pricing up front, I save MY time. I no longer go back and forth in emails with people who’d like to negotiate the cost, the services, or the scope. Weighing opportunity cost, I probably save 3 billable hours a month by not interacting with people who can’t afford me, but say no to themselves before I have to.

I’ve walked through my fair share of souks, flea markets, mercatos, melas and car boot sales. I’ve sat with tea and a salesperson for hours, working out the price of gold relative to the necklace I have my eye on, or how much the paintings are if I buy 10 of them. I enjoy the ritual of determining together a fair price, meeting somewhere between “I know I’m a tourist but come on, dude” and “Madam, you will ruin me!”

But most writers I know don’t have that kind of time. They’d like to find out what I do and how much it costs, and ask questions from there. Most writers deserve the respect of your fairly determined, confidently stated price.

Save your time. Save their time. Put a price tag where your clients can find it.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. In January she’ll be co-leading a virtual intensive, Rebirth Your Writing: Memoir Large and Small with Dinty W. Moore. It costs $375 and you can sign up (or ask questions) here.

Six Ways to Self-Promote (Without Feeling Like a Huckster)

November 16, 2021 § 4 Comments

Buuuuuuuuuuyyyyyyyy myyyyyyyyy booooooooook!

We’re all afraid of sounding like that, or wearing out our welcome by spamming our acquaintances with ads. But you’ve probably heard marketing expert Dr. Jeffrey Lant’s “7 Touches” theory—the potential customer must hear about the product seven times before deciding to buy. Social media counts as maybe 1/4 of a “touch,” because a tweet or Insta post goes by so quickly. Do you really have to post 28 times before someone buys your book?

Heck, no.

But you can make people aware of your book—or your course, freelance services, or webinar—without directly advertising. A light touch brings your work into your community’s consciousness, so when the time comes to buy, they remember what you’re selling.

Social media bios. Most social sites allow one link, and most people put their website, most recent publication or latest offering. But travel writer Erin Van Rheenen has cleverly set up a “links” page on her website. Visit her Instagram bio and click through: you’ll get a page of links to Erin’s most recent articles and podcasts, her blog, and her mailing list signup.

If this feels beyond your website-building skill level, try the free service Linktree, which lets you easily enter and update links for your book, articles, webinars, services, etc., then creates a single link to the list.

Email signature. If you’ve ever gotten an email from me, it probably had a picture below my signature, like this one for a virtual memoir intensive I’m teaching with Dinty W. Moore in January:

In email, the picture is a clickable link. I include a text link for people reading with assistive devices, or whose email loads photos slowly.

Sell one thing at a time, or your signature becomes a crazy quilt that’s easy to ignore. Start using the signature 2-5 weeks before webinars; longer before bigger-ticket items with a more substantial commitment. If you’re not actively selling, use your signature to invite mailing list signups, promote your latest blog, or make graphics featuring your great reviews or blurbs. Setting up an email signature takes 15-20 minutes the first time; about 5 minutes once you know how.

Blog…for SOMEONE ELSE. The personal blog is dead. Unless you’re working in a specific niche or you’re consistently hilarious, blogs aren’t growing readership like they did in the early 2000s. Only your most die-hard fans will visit a blog on your own site. Instead, pick a literary site you admire, or a site dealing with an issue or interest you write about. Read their blog(s). What hasn’t been covered in the past 6-8 months? Check for submission guidelines and pitch or send a finished blog that’s clean, proofread, in their word count, and fits the tone of the site.

Sites like Brevity, Jane Friedman, Craft, Electric Lit and many more use guest bloggers—start where you love to read. If that feels like a big leap, try trading guest blogs with another author—you’ll give each other new audience eyes. Reaching someone else’s pre-existing audience is much easier than drawing eyeballs yourself.

Offer a resource. An ebook or pdf of a first chapter; tips about your subject; a website page listing literary podcasts or another resource. Include an ad midway for your latest book or service; even better, tie the resource into what you’re selling, like Free PDF of Six Ways to Edit Your NaNoWriMo Draft (PS I Sell Editing Services).

Promote other authors’ work. Rather than just liking/retweeting the happy published-essay news, pick a quote you love and/or say what’s great about the article. Post a picture of a book you like and say why, then tag the author, their agent and the publisher. By praising publicly, we subtly establish ourselves as arbiters of taste, building our own authority as teachers and authors. Tagging also means you just created content for someone else, who is then more likely to reshare it…also promoting you.

Be a guest. Maybe you’re ready to speak at a writing conference. Or your local library. Or the Lions Club lunch. Or a college class. Or on a podcast. If you can package your point of view as a 15-45 minute presentation with specific takeaways for the listeners, you don’t even need a published book. Marketing yourself as an expert—or just fun to listen to—guest can lead to same-day book sales or class registrations. Long term, public displays of expertise serve as part of your author platform, making it easier to sell your book (or your next book) to agents and publishers.

All these techniques are gentle touches, rather than direct self-promotion. My email signature sits below a response you asked me for. If you’re checking out Erin Van Rheenen’s social media, you already want to know more—her easy link is a service. Blogs and reviews are informative to their readers. Everyone wants free resources. Guests are fun and enlightening. By attaching your ad gently to a product or service your audience actively wants, the recipient remembers that you gave them something they enjoyed…and oh yeah, you also have a book for sale.  

_________________________________

Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of SEVEN DRAFTS: Self-Edit Like a Pro From Blank Page to Book. She’ll be teaching a 5-day virtual memoir intensive in January, with Brevity’s Editor-in-Chief Dinty W. Moore–more info/register at Rebirth Your Writing: Memoir Large & Small.

Diversion, Delight and Pleasance: Rebirth Your Book in Tuscany

September 13, 2021 § 2 Comments

In 1348, Boccaccio writes in the Decameron, Florence was gripped by plague. Seven young women and three young men (about the ratio of most writing events) meet on a Tuesday morning in the church of Santa Maria Novella. Living in the city right now sucks, they agree, and so they’ll  

betake ourselves quietly to our places in the country…and there take such diversion, such delight and such pleasance as we may, without anywise overpassing the bounds of reason. There may we hear the small birds sing, there may we see the hills and plains clad all in green and the fields full of corn wave even as doth the sea; there may we see trees, a thousand sorts, and there is the face of heaven more open to view…

In an isolated hilltop castle, the characters set up quite a life. Servants make their beds with fragrant sheets, bring meals and wine, put flowers on the table. In the afternoons, the ten relax in a shady meadow, but rather than spend their minds on gambling, they decide that every day for ten days, each one of them shall tell a story. Those hundred stories form Boccaccio’s Decameron.

Writers, too, need diversion, delight and pleasance in their surroundings. With retreats, the setting is often as important as the work done there. Bringing ourselves to a new location allows focus and stimulation—and a surprising amount of creative power is unleashed when someone else handles meals.

Brevity’s Editor-in-Chief Dinty W. Moore and Social Media Editor Allison K Williams are leading an October retreat in Boccaccio’s hometown, Certaldo. In a small hilltop castle, on a terrace overlooking Tuscan fields, we’ll help ten writers create their stories every day.

Is it…responsible…to travel overseas right now? Is it risky?

ALLISON: I spent July in Tuscany, went to the USA, and was in Florence again last week. I needed negative PCR tests to board international flights and showed proof of vaccination to enter Italy, to dine inside, and to enter public indoor spaces. Tuscany has half the lowest per-capita Covid rate of any US state, has a fully-vaccinated rate of 63% and climbing, and masking indoors is required and mostly followed. I felt much safer there than in Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.

Much like Boccaccio’s storytellers, we’ll be largely keeping to ourselves, with private airport transfers and our own dining areas and lodging in a small, family hotel. We’ll also be testing before returning home.

What’s the difference between a workshop and a retreat?

DINTY: A Workshop is primarily designed for feedback, where we look at draft pages around a table and ‘critique’ what is working and what is not quite coming across. Our Tuscany experience is instead a Retreat, aimed at both freeing up time to expand the writing and freeing up the necessary head space to think holistically about a large writing project. We will “retreat” from the burdens and distractions of our regular lives, to aim our attention on the joys and struggles of putting words on the page and turning pages into completed books.

What exactly will Allison and Dinty do all week?

DINTY: Some days have formal classes to help get the wheels spinning, and as Retreat leaders, we’ll be sitting down with everyone individually to work through manuscript problems (and opportunities). But we will be available as coaches at every step along the way, to discuss small issues in the text or larger concerns about sustaining your writing project. Plus, we will steer you to some lovely Tuscan destinations when the time comes to relax.

ALLISON: I truly love being “at the table.” When a writer hits a tough spot, we can step out and talk through the challenge, getting them back to the page. We’ll meet with each writer via Zoom before the retreat to make a clear plan for what they want to accomplish (writers can bring an idea, a full draft, or anything in between), and meet again after returning home, to sustain the momentum.

Also, gelato. I will be eating a lot of gelato. Some of it onion-flavored. (It’s a local thing, and way better than it sounds!)

DINTY: I may not be eating the onion gelato. But I’ll be eating gelato for sure!

I’m not ready for this.

ALLISON: That’s OK! We might see you virtually in January, in Costa Rica in Feb/March, or next year in Tuscany! This is not your only chance to retreat with us. Meanwhile, please make time for your work when you can. Check into a local AirBnB for a weekend, or train your family that Wednesday afternoons are sacred. Or focus the emotional power you have on keeping yourself and your family safe in this weird time. Writing will always be there when you come back.

DINTY: These are difficult times. I admit some initial hesitancy about travel right now, but I researched how airlines are enforcing masking and safety and how Italy looks right now and I feel confident, especially given the precautions we will all be taking. A trip like this is just what I need. Maybe it is for you too, but if not, stay safe. We’ll see you another time.

I’m totally ready for this.

DINTY: We still have spots for two writers and we’d love for you to join us. Here are the full details including cost, daily itinerary, FAQ, and photos from the 2019 Rebirth Your Book in Tuscany. Get in touch through the contact form with questions.

At the end of their retreat, one of Boccaccio’s young men says,

I have seen and felt here a continual decency, an unbroken concord and a constant fraternal familiarity… I hold it meet, if it be your pleasure, that we now return whence we came…

That’s what we hope our writers will return with, too.

1, 4 or 5 Stars: Why to Review Right Now

September 7, 2021 § 29 Comments

You can do something for me today. For every author you know. For even the authors you don’t. An act of literary citizenship that takes 7-10 minutes. Sure, you can spend time and/or money to be a literary citizen—hosting events, blogging, editing or reading for a journal—or contribute gently to your community by giving thoughtful feedback in your own writing group. But to actually help authors sell books, for free, right now:

Write a review.

Not “pitch a review to a literary publication,” although that’s great, too. Not “write a 900-word blog post balancing serious critique with just enough praise.” Not “read the book twice for fairness and highlight quotes and eventually put something up in a couple of months.” Just write and post a short review, right away.

  • Write a review of 3-10 sentences. Maybe quote one line you really liked.
  • Post to Amazon, where you can usually review even books you didn’t buy on Amazon. Copy your review before hitting “submit.”
  • Paste the review to Goodreads. (Goodreads accepts reviews even before the publication date, allowing for ARCs or having read the manuscript.)

Feeling ambitious, or you like the author? Take a photo of the book or the cover on your screen. No need to style like #bookstagram—next to your teacup or against your houseplants is fine. Post to your social media. Tag the author so they’ll see it and feel supported and can repost on their own social media…which might get you another couple followers. Citizenship always comes back around. Posting that photo with your Amazon review helps your review show up, and tells the algorithm you own the book (useful if you supported your local indie bookstore).

Should I wait to have time to write something “real”?

Amazon reviews are not serious discussions of literature. They guide buyers on the fence: Look, someone liked something I know I’ll like, too. Buy. Look, someone had an issue with a plot element that’ll bother me, too. Nope. Reviews help algorithms decide how many people will spontaneously see this book. More reviews (the best-guess “magic number” is 50) makes a book show up higher in search results. More people not specifically shopping for that book will see it, and some of them will buy it. Goodreads reviews are often more thoughtful, but review now rather than laboring over a paragraph truly reflecting your literary prowess.

What if I haven’t read the whole book?

Your review is more valuable to your friend than reading their whole book. Think about it: would you rather I email you in six months, “I finally finished your book and I loved it!” Or would you rather I post that sentiment on my socials during your release month, even if I’m not on the last page yet? (Authors: do not pop-quiz your friends on your book. Trust they read what spoke to them and be grateful. If they want to thoroughly discuss your plot choices, they’ll bring it up.)

…Shhh…I didn’t actually like my friend’s book…

Helpful reviews are no stars, four/five stars, or one star.

No stars: Hated the book? Don’t review it. For a friend’s book, pick a sentence you like (there’s one in there somewhere!) and quote it with a photo on social media. Tell your moral compass you’re not recommending the book…you’re observing that it exists, pointing out one good thing, and supporting your friend.

Four/five stars: If you liked the book enough to give your time to review, choose four or five stars. Didn’t like it four stars’ worth? Go back to the no-stars plan. Three stars says, “I think your work is…average.” Two stars says, “Your book sucks, but it didn’t raise my anger or disgust enough for one star.” If you wouldn’t say that to their face, don’t say it with your review.

One star: If a book you regret reading is by a stranger you will never need goodwill from, and it really irritated you, go for that one star! A trash review is better than tepid, as long as you’re specific about what you didn’t like. Your poison may be someone else’s champagne.

You want your friends’ support when it’s your turn. They need your support now. Maybe they’re not even your friend—maybe they’re an author you hope will blurb you one day. The best time to start publicly supporting future blurbers’ work with reviews and social media is two years before you ask them for that favor. The second-best time is now.

If you have time, if you have a mass media or literary venue, by all means read that book like it’s your job. Make extensive notes. Write a beautiful essay placing the book in context with the cultural moment and your own love of literature. But if that’s not what you’re doing, read enough to know what you like and write a quick-but-thoughtful review, right away. What have you read in the last six months? Other than bestsellers, those authors need your reviews. You will make their heart sing that someone, somewhere, recognized their artistic contribution to the world.

I’ve been writing reviews all year, making deposits in the Bank of Goodwill. And oh look, my book is out today! You don’t have to buy it or like it, and I won’t ever hold that against you. Most authors won’t even notice if you don’t review them. But we’ll sure remember it with joy if you do.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. Her book, SEVEN DRAFTS: SELF-EDIT LIKE A PRO FROM BLANK PAGE TO BOOK is out today. Buy it at Bookshop.Org to support indie bookstores; go Amazon.com if corporate behemoth is your style. Ignore the “out of stock,” it’ll get there!

Getting Over Over-Editing

August 31, 2021 § 11 Comments

I love being an editor. I love pointing out craft fixes that immediately make this book and all an author’s subsequent writing better. I love pointing out major structural overhauls…and inspiring them to do that work. Most of all, I love how analyzing other writers’ work helps me improve my own.

How did I get to be an editor? After an MFA and years of tidying friends’ work for free, I hung up my shingle and congratulations me, I’m in business. While there are certificate programs for copyeditors and online courses for story and structure editors, we’re not like therapists or dentists. There’s no licensing to give us permission—and no regulatory board to make sure we’re honest and competent.

I’ve heard from plenty of authors who’ve had bad experiences with professional editors or writing coaches. The scammed/mistreated/poorly edited authors aren’t usually willing to speak publicly, and I don’t blame them for being embarrassed or intimidated. But plenty of authors have told me privately about money lost and feelings bruised. Since I can’t out specific people (hearsay), I’ll tell you my own editing sins—and how to avoid them as a client.

Overwhelm. Early in my editing career, I tried to fix every single thing that could possibly help a manuscript. Pages went back crawling with red ink and hundreds of margin comments. No no no, Previous Me! Editors should do one stage at a time. Feedback on commas comes after story and structure. In a developmental edit, I’ll point out some repeated sentence-level mistakes for the author to fix globally, but it’s my job to limit the amount of editing to what an author can handle in one or two more drafts.

Don’t let this happen to you. Know the difference between developmental editing, line editing, copyediting and proofreading. Be honest with yourself about what your work needs, and specific with the editor. It’s OK to say, “I only need feedback on the story,” or “What I really need help with is making my sentences stronger.” The editor may say your work needs a different level of editing, and you’ll be able to decide if you agree.

Over-criticizing. Editors don’t just point out what’s wrong; they reaffirm what the author is already doing beautifully and inspire them to build on those strengths. Unless you’ve hired a straight copyedit or proofread, your editor should recognize moments like “this sentence is great” or “the way you handle this theme works well because X.” Now, my own editorial cheerleading balances out comments like “WHY DOES SHE GO BACK SHE KNOWS HE’S TERRIBLE HUGE LOGIC ISSUE HERE!!!” but I was a lot worse at that balance ten years ago.

Don’t let this happen to you. Get a free or paid sample edit. Look for the editor’s tone—how does it make you feel? If your sense is, “Wow, I didn’t see that and boy is fixing it going to help!” this might be your editor. If you feel discouraged beyond that initial “Crap, there’s more to do than I thought…” (which is very normal!), think about whether this editor is the right fit. Try applying fixes they suggest in the sample to your whole book, and see if that feels like improvement.

Over-ruling. There’s grammar, and there’s writing in your natural voice with consistent word patterns that make sense for the character, situation and setting. “Rules” against run-ons, comma splices and ending sentences with prepositions can help readers smoothly navigate your prose, or they can make your natural voice sound stilted and prim. Finding my own barometer for voice—“Like you’d tell a friend, but better”—saved myself and my clients hours of analyzing commas and awkwardly reframing sentences. “Correct” is only useful when a grammatical convention serves the book.

Don’t let this happen to you. Learn enough grammar and punctuation so that when you violate a convention, you’re doing it on purpose. Identify key elements of your own voice and amplify those as you gain confidence in your work. If an editor strips away your phrasing in the name of “correctness,” you’ll know it’s happening and be ready to push back.

Over-scheduling. Yeah, I still suck at this one. I’m often late returning manuscripts, compensating for my guilt by trying to do an extra-good editing job. I’ve learned techniques to speed up line editing, make margin commenting faster, and communicate better when I’m running behind (most clients aren’t mad, they just want to know what’s happening!), but I could still allow myself more cushion time.

Don’t let this happen to you. It’s OK to nudge your editor! More than once, even! Email a week or so before the deadline to ask if they’re on schedule, giving them an opening to tell you up front if they’re not. Let them know if you have a planned retreat, time off work, or a deadline.

My clients have given me grace for my mistakes, and I’m honored to be a small part of their journey to publication. Improving author communication, setting clear expectations, and educating myself to deliver useful, encouraging and thorough editing are daily practices, ones that serve what truly feels like my life’s work. I’m grateful to be able to do it.

Ever thought being an editor could be your life’s work, or even a pleasant sideline? Want to be a better editor or better at the business? Join me for a three-webinar series, Build Your Developmental Editing Business, beginning October 20th.

Getting Together Again

August 17, 2021 § 9 Comments

I’m going to a writers’ conference! With workshops and panels and book sales and a lot of strangers and oh dear god what if none of them like me? What if all the workshops are too advanced, or too basic, and I have no idea what the Liminal Space Outside the Academy: A Feminist Perspective Through The Work of Dickinson and Gay As Realized In Graphic Novels panel is talking about? Am I too old? Am I too young? What if I haven’t had anything published yet?

Good news: we’re all welcome. Conferences, both online and in real life, are a great chance to meet and talk with writers of all ages and stages. Most conferences have purple-haired college kids, silver-haired seniors, and a variety of pantsuits, piercings, ties and tattoos in between.

I’m just about to teach at the Woodhall Writers Conference this Saturday, and I’ve just taught at the HippoCamp Creative Nonfiction Conference in Lancaster, PA. There were/are some terrific panels (none of them use the word ‘liminal’) on publishing, researching, writing, promoting and a lot more. (It turns out the key to getting ahead as an author is pretty much the key to everything else–work hard, be nice to people, and don’t tweet “Buy My Book!” every hour because everyone else will mute you.)

Some thoughts on how to make the most of attending a writing conference.

Before you go:

1a) For a virtual conference, set up a reasonably private space and brief your family that you won’t be answering calls or texts unless someone’s on fire. Have your water and coffee handy. Maybe make some meals in advance so you can enjoy thoughtful breaks rather than rushing to your kitchen. Consider starting your day with yoga or a walk, even if you don’t usually, to energize the morning.

1b) Going live? Decide whether to stay onsite. Conference hotels are often expensive, but when your day starts at 8AM and the last reading finishes at 11PM, it’s nice to have a last glass of wine and hit the elevator instead of the pavement. If budget’s an issue, see if you can get a roommate–most conferences have a message board to share rides and rooms. Or, if you’re more of a hermit, retreating to an offsite AirBnB might be your jam. I’ve been fortunate to be in a sunny, plant-filled studio this week, and it was worth it to book a few extra days on each side of the conference for personal writing time.

2) If you have an author website, update it. Make sure your links aren’t broken and that your most current work is represented. If you have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, check your page from a friend’s account and see what shows up first. Any embarrassing pictures? Is your top post a rant? You’ll be friend-ing/following a bunch of new people, and you want to give a strong first impression. What if an agent loves your query in a workshop and clicks over during a break? Be you online, but be the best you.

3a) Check your virtual space: does anything look like it’s growing out of your head? Is your background over-bright or distracting? If you’ve got a book out, display it on a shelf behind you!

3b) For live conferences, pack comfy shoes, layers and a jacket. Most convention centers and big hotels are freezing, especially first thing in the morning. Dress code at most conferences is Casual Friday–professional but comfortable, often a little quirky.

4) Get on Twitter. Specifically Twitter. Find out what the conference hashtag is and follow it. Even if you never tweet again, Twitter is where people are commenting on the panels, making dinner plans, and announcing schedule updates. It’s worth it to be in the loop. If you’re virtual, chances are there’s some backchannel messaging going on, too, and it’s a great way to connect with fellow attendees.

At the conference:


1) Go to everything. It’s worth getting up early, it’s worth staying out late. Sleep when you go home. That said,

2) Don’t be afraid to bail. If you’re exhausted and can’t focus, slip upstairs to your hotel room or turn your camera off and take a power nap.

3) Make the first move. As the Victorians said about fellow houseguests, “The roof constitutes an introduction.” It’s OK to sidle up to a conversation in progress, make some smiley eye contact and start listening. Find people on social media and see what they’re up to. Like what someone just read? Send a private chat message. When in doubt, start with “How were your workshops today?” And the best follow-up question ever: “What do you write?”

4) Volunteer. If there’s a chance to be read or heard, jump on it. There’s always a pause before the first person volunteers–fill that pause. After the first person it will be a scrimmage and not everyone will get a turn.

Corollary: Ask good questions. Before popping up to the mic or raising your hand during the Q&A, ask yourself, “Will this be relevant to at least half the room?” If your question is “I’m writing a memoir about my mother, do you want to buy it?” phrase it as, “What topics are you seeing in memoir right now, and what are you looking for? Are there a lot of parent-child stories?”

When you get home:

1) Follow up. Everyone whose card you took, send them an email saying how nice it was to meet them, and/or connect through your preferred social media. If you’ve got free time, send out a few links to articles you think would interest specific people. Start building your literary citizenship by being useful and kind.

2) Keep the energy going. Register the domain for that blog idea you talked about. Query that agent who seemed really nice. Ask someone to be your writing buddy.

And of course, write write write.

See you at the Woodhall Press Writers Conference this Saturday! I’ll be giving a keynote address; there are small-group workshops, a pitch panel and more. Register here.

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Allison Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book.

Come Together

July 29, 2021 § 14 Comments

You may not be ready to step into the world yet. Or plan travel. Or be around groups of people. And that’s just fine. The Delta variant, angry political arguments, the idea that wanting to protect your own health and others is somehow not a universal given, all of these are frightening.

In this past span of 18+ months we’re sort of calling “a year,” virtual teaching and online workshops have flourished. Suddenly, we’re all able to cater to people who can’t leave their houses for reasons physical or emotional or financial or just because. And it turns out there are great ways to teach online, to interact with students and help students interact with each other.

Yet, many of us still miss personal, human connection without a mediating screen. Gentle crosstalk without a Zoom delay. The warm presence of writerly bodies across a table. Hugs.

Fortunately, whether you’re a staying-home-still or a stepping-into-the-world person, on a budget or ready to spend your accumulated vacation funds, there are upcoming events for you! You might enjoy:

August 13-15 (live) Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This three-day writing conference features 50+ notable speakers including Athena Dixon, Lilly Dancyger and Marian Winik; engaging sessions focused on writing, publishing, networking and writing life, interactive all-conference panels, author and attendee readings, social activities, networking opps, meals, and optional, intimate pre-conference workshops. Cost is $489 and 8 places remain. More information/register here.

August 21 (virtual) Woodhall Writers Conference. This first-time conference includes small-group workshops with top-notch instructors, enlightening panels on the Future of Publishing and Book Pitches, keynote speeches by inspiring writers, and networking interactions that will help you expand your artistic community. Workshops include: Introduction to Short Forms with Tom Hazuka and Darien Gee, Poetry with Charles Rafferty and Prose Writing with Eugenia Kim. Cost is $175 with a workshop, or $95 for keynotes and panels only. More information/register here.

October 10-17 (live) Rebirth Your Book in Tuscany. Truly excited to travel and write, but want some guidance? Or maybe you just want to write in a castle? Join Brevity’s Editor-in-Chief Dinty W. Moore and Social Media Editor (me!) Allison K Williams for personal coaching, editorial feedback on up to 75 pages, seminars on writing and publishing, live-editing, great food and inspiring scenery, all in a tiny town in the hills outside Florence. Cost is $3250, payment plans available. More information here.

Ongoing (virtual) Low on cash but want to better the business aspect of your work? Enjoy Jane Friedman’s free Sunday Business Sermons. Jane’s frank, friendly style gets to the nuts and bolts of publishing and process. You can watch live upcoming sessions on Using Discord and Better Slide Presentations, or enjoy the recordings of past sessions at Jane’s YouTube channel, including Branding Tips&Tricks and How I Get So Much Done. FREE, no registration needed. Topics list and dates here.

Ongoing (virtual) Creative Nonfiction Magazine offers webinars, live and asynchronous courses, and self-guided courses to generate new writing, stay focused, and create your best work. Upcoming webinars include Byline Boot Camp: Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Short Nonfiction Published with Melissa Petro, and Mind Music: Writing the Lyric Essay with Amy Hassinger. Most webinars are $15 early bird/$25 regular; course prices vary. Find out more/register here.

What are YOU teaching or learning, and when and where and how much? We invite you to share your upcoming events—and events you’re excited about!—in comments.

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