Gotham Writers Conference: A New Author Meets Agent Model

September 7, 2020 § 2 Comments

By Josh Sippie

Writing conferences can be kind of daunting. I spent about half a decade going to various conferences across the Eastern seaboard as an eager attendee, relishing my 2.5 minutes of facetime with editors and agents, and awkwardly trying to start conversations with writers because we had one thing for sure in common—we were both writers. Whether it was a conference for book-length projects or just slinging essays about tattoos or poor choices made as a teenager, I felt like my success as a writer would be won or lost in the hallowed halls of a generic hotel-turned-conference-space.

But it got to the point when I started to feel like they just weren’t doing it anymore. Those 2.5 minutes didn’t amount to success, and it seemed like they were all blending together into the same experiences. Fortunately, I found myself eventually in a position to make a difference. As the Director of Conferences and Contests at Gotham Writers, I wanted to make a conference that could make a difference. Only I wasn’t exactly sure how, only that I knew what I wanted from a conference, and assumed others would want the same.

So I reached out to the people that attract writers to conferences—agents and editors. And I asked them what they would want to see from a conference. My logic was if we could make the “talent” happy, we could make the attendees happy as well. After all, you can only see so many panels before they start to repeat. I know I’m not alone when I say that I attended conferences with the hopes of making a connection to further my writing endeavors.

Their response surprised me—they hated conferences. Many saw them as a “rite of passage” for newer agents and editors, to get their feet wet in the industry. They highlighted any number of things that writing conferences did that drove them crazy and begging for the end of the day. So I asked them what would make that different, what would get them excited about a conference.

That got a better response. They didn’t want quick pitches, they wanted to educate. They wanted quality projects. They also wanted a decent lunch break.

Thus, the Gotham Writers Conference was born. A conference for book-length projects of nonfiction and fiction alike. Rather than speed dating 10 agents hoping to strike gold, we’re giving writers the chance to make a genuine connection. And, in turn, that allows us to line up some of the best agents in the business. We divide writers into “pitching roundtables” where they spend four hours with up to eight other writers in their genre, as well as two top agents in that genre. In that four hours, everyone will go over their first few pages and query letter or nonfiction book proposal. If it sparks a connection—great. We had writers land their agent in our first ever conference last year. But the goal here is to put writers in a better place after the conference so that they are better equipped to find an agent on their own.

With the individualized attention, writers leave their table knowing how to move themselves forward with their writing career, because there isn’t always going to be a conference there… as we are unfortunately learning in the times of COVID.
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Josh Sippie is the Director of Conferences and Contests at Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City, where he also teaches. His work has appeared in The GuardianThe Writer MagazineMcSweeney’s Internet TendencyHobart, and more. When not writing, he can be found wondering why he isn’t writing. Twitter @sippenator101, more at joshsippie.com.

Platform Without Tears (today!)

August 25, 2020 § 10 Comments

Back in May, I wrote about many writers’ fundamental misunderstandings of “platform”: it’s not being famous, going viral, or all about getting clicks on Twitter.

Here’s the main problem with “building platform”: a “platform” is something you get up on and yell at people.

Instead, build a bridge.

Your bridge is all the ways people who need your book can reach you. You are making a pathway for your readers, and it’s a two-way street. You listen to them, they listen to you…If you’re consistently entertaining, kind, and helpful in your world, some of your connections will become advocates for your book. You’ll also know more, be a better writer, and understand your readers.

This resonated with many writers. But there’s still a lot of confusion over just how to start building platform, from the beginning. From the “How do you turn this thing on?” stage of social media. The very beginning of brainstorming what kinds of outreach will engage your readers, develop your own writing craft…and is fun for you!

Memoirist Ashleigh Renard and I are here to help. We’ve started The Writer’s Bridge—a free biweekly Zoom chat about all things platform, aimed at writers who are just beginning to connect with readers on the long road to publication.

Some key takeaways from the last chat:

  • You don’t need 100k followers, you need 1000 superfans. Engagement is much more important than follower count
  • Show your face in your profile pictures, because readers want to know YOU
  • Only do the platforms you like—you don’t have to do them all
  • Create things that are fun to create!
  • Share MOMENTS not THINGS; make the reader feel something—show instead of telling.

We also talked about limiting your social media time by setting a timer and doing strategic actions, rather than randomly scrolling.

 

If you have 15 minutes a day…

  • Follow accounts of writers you admire who have bigger followings than you, and add relevant and contributing comments—sometimes you’ll start a conversation with their other followers, and that can lead to those people engaging with you on your own account.
  • Spend five minutes interacting and commenting, by clicking hashtags you follow, like #amwritingmemoir, #cnftweet, or #writewritewrite. This helps you see and be seen by accounts who aren’t already following you, and writers and readers you don’t already know.
  • Post once to one platform.

 

If you have 30 minutes a day…

  • Follow your admired-writer accounts, add relevant and contributing comments
  • Spend ten minutes interacting with hashtags you follow
  • Post once to each of two platforms
  • Work on planning your posts. Explore a look or tone you like (funny tweets? light and airy photos?) and stockpile ideas by taking screenshots and saving them in a new album on your phone. OR Brainstorm ideas for blog posts or newsletters, collecting useful links to share or thinking of personal stories you’d like to tell your email list.

 

If you have 60 minutes a day…

  • Follow your admired-writer accounts, add relevant and contributing comments
  • Spend ten minutes interacting with hashtags you follow
  • Post once to each platform you are using
  • Start/Add to your list of potential captions, by thinking about stories or writing tips you’d like to share with your readers and fellow writers. Seek out quotes that inspire you and you’d like to respond to. Put some rough-draft captions in the notes app on your phone that you can work on and copy-paste to Instagram or Twitter when you’re ready.
  • Play around with a photo-editing app like Snapseed (free! also available for Android) or A Color Story (free and paid options, iOS and Android) and see if there’s a look you enjoy unifying your photos with. OR Recreate classic Instagram photo types: hands holding something living, flatlays (your desk with your writing stuff, shot from above), a book in a “styled” environment, etc.

 

This week’s chat is today at 1PM EST. If you’d like to join us, sign up here to receive an email with the Zoom link:

The Writer’s Bridge

If you can’t make it, sign up anyway! We’ll send a link to the recording afterward, and you’ll be invited to the next chat September 8th.

Today, Ashleigh and Allison will journey through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and answer this week’s million dollar (or six-figure advance) questions:

  • Who to follow?
  • How can I use Twitter lists?
  • Instagram analytics…um are what?
  • Does my IG need to look pretty?
  • Facebook Author page, colossal waste of time or merely pointless?

We’ll also answer questions in the chat and review one lucky volunteer’s social media with tips and tricks.

After last week’s chat, we heard:

“…Flawless and jam packed with great information and tips. Thank you so much for catering to the absolutely clueless!”

“This was SUPERB. I’ve taken several workshops on this topic. Yours was the first one that not only didn’t exhaust me — it energized me!”

“Social media feels so overwhelming and I love how you make it feel manageable.”

Next week, we’d love to hear from you. See you on The Writers’ Bridge!

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Join her newsletter for adventures in writing and stories from the road!

That New-Agent Smell

August 4, 2020 § 19 Comments

“Eeeeee! Eeeeee! Eeeeee!” were my measured and intelligent words upon scheduling The Call. An agent wanted to work with ME? Wanted to talk about my book? An agent who had rejected two previous books, whose work and advice I’d followed for years?

Reader, I signed with her.

Eventually.

Two weeks after a wonderful call with an agent I respected and admired, and who respected me and liked my work, we actually said “I do,” and two weeks after that we signed a contract and got down to business.

Why so coy?

When you finally get the hallelujah! email saying, “I really enjoyed reading your manuscript, could we schedule a call?” it’s tempting to proceed immediately to your temple of choice to give offerings, then send you-missed-out emails while singing “Let’s call the whole thing off!” to all those other agents who didn’t move fast enough to snap you up, who made you wait.

Resist that impulse. I mean, sure, sing anything you like, and ritual is always reassuring, but an author’s first step after scheduling an agent call is far simpler and more frustrating:

Wait.

Maybe do a little more research—you of course researched this agent before submitting—but it’s worth revisiting her website and Twitter feed, and browsing the websites of authors she represents. This reminds you why you like this agent, and if she says on your call, “I’ve been working on Author X’s new release,” you can respond with “I adore animal-friendship memoirs!” or even just “I love that cover!” which makes you look savvy and shows you care about her work, too.

Your next step? Send more queries.

You heard me.

Look at your list of agents and send 5-10 more queries to agents you’d like to work with, but haven’t gotten to yet. Maybe you were waiting to see if this query got good responses before sending to your A-list.

Send those queries NOW. Time is of the essence.

Enjoy your agent call. Ask lots of questions, like:

  • What readers do you see as ideal for this book?
  • Do you see this as a Big-Five book or a medium or smaller press?
  • What revisions would you suggest?
  • How hands-on are you with your authors? How often would we communicate?
  • How much editing do you do?

It’s like hiring a babysitter. Great babysitters are worth their weight in gold, and you must entice them with your well-behaved children, plentiful snacks and Netflix. But they still work for you, and you can’t trust just anyone with the beautiful baby that is your book. When talking to a potential agent, you are not a desperate supplicant grateful for attention. You are a creator of something lovely that you both think is worth selling, and you’re both envisioning that process playing out.

Maybe the call is terrific. You adore this agent, you love her plans for your book, her revision suggestions were enlightening. You are thrilled—THRILLED—someone wants you. You’re ready to blow off all those other agents. That new-agent smell is already making your whole life better.

You still don’t sign yet.

You say something like, “I have a few other queries/pages requests/fulls out, let me follow up on those and get back to you.” You and the agent set a deadline for accepting her offer of representation, usually in 10-14 days.

Now follow up with everyone else you’ve queried who hasn’t sent a rejection (including the queries you just sent after scheduling the call, remember those?). Forward your original query, adding 1-2 sentences at the top along the lines of, “Following up on the below—I have an offer of rep and will be deciding by [date]. Will you let me know if I should still keep you in mind?” Before the “re:” in the email subject line, write in all caps, OFFER OF REP RECEIVED.

Most of them still won’t get back to you. So why do this?

1) It’s polite. Another agent may in fact be 50 pages in and loving your manuscript more every minute. They’ve put in time. Give them an opportunity to also ask, “Can we schedule a call?”

2) They may not have seen your query yet, but with this urgent deadline, they find it, love it, read your book overnight, and email you the next day to schedule a call.

You may have more options. And even if you have six more calls and realize nope, happy with my choice, your first agent may not be your agent forever. They may retire, or not be able to sell your book after all, or not love your next book. You want those other agents to remember “That author I wanted so bad and didn’t get.” Or to think, “This polite, professional author whose last book wasn’t right for me seems like she’d be great to work with.”

Once you decide, you need a few more days to carefully read the agency contract and ask questions. Only then have you achieved the meeting of two minds.

As writers, we spend a lot of time slogging through the rejection trenches, hoping someone will want us. It’s easy to be blown away by the first person who cares, who is invested in our work. Revel in that feeling. Wallow in happiness. But don’t let joy and gratitude stop you from doing business.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Manager. Curious about building platform and using social media? Join Allison and writer Ashleigh Renard for a (free!) 60-minute Zoom Q&A about platform for writers, Tuesday August 11 at 1PM EST/10AM PST. Sign up now!

My Memoir is Hibernating

July 22, 2020 § 9 Comments

Vicki LindnerBy Vicki Lindner

In December of last year, I finished my ‘60s memoir, Baby, It’s You. (I won’t admit how long “finishing” took.) Then I placed the 300-page manuscript in a black plastic box and buried it in my walnut cabinet. Here, I thought, Baby could rest like a tulip bulb waiting to bloom —for three months.

When Alan, a writer friend, asked how “Baby” was going, (hesitantly, as if inquiring how many millimetres a melting glacier has shrunk), I said, “It’s done.”

“Wow,” Alan said, “Congratulations! Are you sending it out?” And I confessed I wasn’t, not yet. I’d come to understand that I sent my stuff to likely prospects all too soon, and only after rejections popped into my inbox, realized that the manuscript needed work—from cutting and shaping to re-imagining. And if that was true of an essay or short story it would likely be truer for the monster snoozing in the black box. Despite compulsive revisions, I told Alan, “Baby” was too vast for my limited literary vision to take in just yet.

Alan said that failure to “see” new work applied to his process too. As it does, I think, to many writers. We finish, so full of hubris, trepidation, even boredom, in such a hurry to “succeed” or to “win” that we gulp down encouraging feedback from other writers and forget the endurance that writing, the toughest extreme sport, demands. “Patient sustained labor,” Vivian Gornick called it.

That was one truth, but I faced another, more psychological: I’d been nurturing “Baby” so long that to throw the infant to sharp-toothed critics in cold publishing waters seemed like diving naked into the Arctic Ocean myself. And I admit, writing the memoir had transported me back to the ‘60s, a transformative era, more rewarding than the current one, enmeshed as it is in this global pandemic.

So I called Melissa, a wise Montana poet and essayist. She, too, asked about my memoir. I explained that “Baby” was hibernating like a Grizzly in winter. Melissa loves bears, but she didn’t exclaim, as Alan did, “Good idea.” Then I raised a painful topic—the time I refused to resubmit my short story collection to a contest, in which it had been a finalist, after the judge strongly suggested I should, assuring me that the book didn’t need more and better stories as I insisted. (No, I didn’t rush to the psychoanalyst Junot Diaz recommends for all writers.) And now, after years of kicking myself for not exploring my fear of rejection, I asked Melissa, “Am I doing what I did with the contest by putting my memoir down for a long winter’s nap?”

“YES,” she answered without missing a beat.

But though I did self-destruct by not resubmitting the story collection, I still thought I should give my memoir time to ferment. Nobody was clamoring to publish it in a pandemic. And it focused on a subject that could benefit from additional thought—a taboo relationship, which helped the teenaged girl I was in the memoir to jettison the ‘50s stifling script. Plus an agent had told me what I already knew: My first chapter sucked.

After revision I’d called that chapter “good,” but needed time and space to be sure. Another question: Had I figured out what my father—a munitions expert who’d conceptualized weapons systems for the Vietnam War—was doing in this work? After three months of thinking instead of pretending to think by re-writing compulsively, I knew.

But back to “Baby”, germinating in the cabinet. While waiting for the proverbial tulip to bloom, I wrote shorter works, a new short story, an essay, and my morning prompts — “comments” to The New York Times. And I kept reading relevant books and stuffing notes in the black box.

Then came the early spring day I’d vowed to awaken “Baby” from torpor. I duly extracted the closeted box, and forbidding myself swings between depression and elation, pencil-edited the manuscript. I’d been right to wait. How had the best chapters turned into the worst ones? With refreshed vision I saw countless passages that would shine after tightening, or in some cases, loosening; I empowered verbs and batted away pesky commas. Most important, I judiciously developed essential ideas and remodeled misshapen sentences. Then I began typing my handwritten edits into the computer, seeing more opportunities for betterment. (But when I caught myself changing new words back to the old ones I knew it was time to stop.) The governor’s stay-at-home orders, I guiltily admit, proved a gift, though some days I stared into space, immobilized by anxious inertia. Ultimately my apartment lockdown revealed that I needed to let go of the past as who could say how long my present would last.

Now I’m about to mail the manuscript to a few friends who’ve agreed to read it. Then I will write a query, the hardest part.

And when “Shelter-at-Home” turned to “Safer-at-Home,” I visited Tess, my new Jungian shrink.
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Vicki Lindner writes memoir, personal essays, and short fiction in Denver, Colorado, where she also teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Her essays have been published by Gastronomica, American Literary Review, In Short: An Anthology of Brief Nonfiction, Seneca Review, Shadowboxmagazine.org, New Writing, Western Humanities Review, and others She has won two Wyoming Fellowships for Creative Nonfiction, a National Endowment for the Arts for fiction, and two New York State fellowships, also for fiction.

My Favorite Rejections

July 2, 2020 § 26 Comments

gossBy Erica Goss

My favorite rejections start with “Dear Erica” and end with “sincerely.”

They explain that regretfully, unfortunately, after close review, even though it was lovely, even though it sparked interest, even though they were impressed, even though they enjoyed reading it, even though there was much to admire, even though it stood out from the rest, even though they appreciated the opportunity to read it, my work does not fit their needs.

They often seem disappointed. After all, they read my work with care, with pleasure, with interest, with gratitude, and with the closest attention. I almost feel sorry for them. I certainly feel sorry for myself.

Once in a while, the rejection comes with the explanation that they received so much high quality work it made their selection process extremely difficult. This is hard. I understand. I assume, of course, that my submission was part of the high quality work they refer to.

There is often a fee for rejection. This is also called a reading fee.

After I receive my rejection I’m frequently asked to buy something else. I’m invited to make a donation, buy a subscription, enter a contest, contribute to a tip jar, and recommend that others do as well.

Of course, due to the volume of submissions, they cannot respond personally.

It makes me happy when I’m asked to submit again, even if it requires another reading fee.

I keep track of my rejections. No rejection is ever forgotten. It lives forever as an entry in my spreadsheet.

I don’t like to see the word “rejected” in my spreadsheet. I prefer “declined.” It’s easier to see “declined” over and over, page after page, year after year.

I look back at my spreadsheet. I calculate my acceptance rate. From my figures, it seems I have mastered this rejection thing.

When I’m bored, I’ll see if the rejection email from a particular journal has changed. Some journals have sent me the same rejection email, word for word, for years.

There’s a thing called a “tiered” rejection. From a menu of rejection emails, the journal chooses one based on how much they liked your submission. From the rejection emails I have received, I can see that I’ve gotten rejections that range from terse to encouraging and back to terse again, from the same journals. This is true of journals that have accepted my work, as well as the ones that have rejected me over and over.

I try not to send my work to a journal that stipulates, in words similar to these, “If we haven’t responded in x number of months, consider yourself unchosen.” I want an actual, emailed rejection to seal the deal.

However, for reasons that aren’t always clear, those rejections might not come. Fairly often, the journal goes under and fails to inform the writers. When that happens, it’s hard to know what to put in my spreadsheet. “Never heard back?” “Ghosted?” “Crickets?”

I’m never sure if I should consider my work rejected if I haven’t heard back in a year. You’d be surprised how often a year goes by before you hear from a journal.

Sometimes, like curses or wise men, rejections come in threes, on the same day, in the same hour. Sometimes, this is how the day starts.

Rejections have a special look to them. The subject line almost always starts with “RE: Your Submission to our literary journal.”

I’m an editor as well as a submitter, and much of the above applies to me when I receive submissions of other people’s writing. If I have to decline a submission, I try to inform the writer as soon as possible, and in as kind a tone as possible. If I liked their work, I invite them to submit again.

Every time I send a rejection, I remember how it feels to get those emails that start with “RE: Your Submission to our literary journal.”

My rejection might be that writer’s third in one day.

Some days are like that.
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Erica Goss is a poet and freelance writer. She served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA from 2013-2016. Her essays, reviews and poems appear widely, including in Lake Effect, Atticus Review, Contrary, Convergence, Spillway, Cider Press Review, Eclectica, The Tishman Review, Tinderbox, The Red Wheelbarrow, and Main Street Rag, among others. She is the founder of Girls’ Voices Matter, an arts education program for teen girls.

The Power Of Story: A CNF Webinar

June 25, 2020 § 11 Comments

Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore will be offering a one-hour webinar next week, titled The Power of Story: Finding the River of Meaning in Your Memoir or Essay, as part of Creative Nonfiction‘s virtual education program.

The online webinar will examine the craft elements that can transform a memoir or essay from a mere collection of scenes or observations into something powerful, and how writers can create a dynamic, compelling whole greater than the sum of its many parts. The goal, as Langston Hughes writes, is to tell a story that is “older than the flow of human blood in human veins.”

This how-to webinar will allow writers to:
  • FIND the power of story and discover how locating your “Invisible Magnetic River” will insure that readers stay engaged and curious from beginning to end.
  • LEARN how story can help to solve many of the frustrations and obstacles that can interfere with  both writing and revision.
  • DISTINGUISH between a chain of events and a compelling story that contains a dynamic emotional flow.
  • UNDERSTAND that the surest way to make your book or essay one that readers want to read–and, in that way, one that editors want to publish–is to tell a damn good story.

Writers at any level, at the beginning of a project or in the revision process, are welcome.


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

2 pm – 3:15 pm EDT

$20 

Advance registration required. REGISTER HERE.

 

About the instructor: Dinty W. Moore is author of the memoir Between Panic & Desire and the writing guides The Story Cure and Crafting the Personal Essay, among many other books. He has published essays and stories in the Georgia ReviewHarper’s, the New York Times Magazine, the Southern Review, and elsewhere. He is founding editor of Brevity, the journal of flash nonfiction, and teaches master classes and workshops across the United States as well as in Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, and Mexico.

Writing and Publishing from the Front Lines of a Pandemic

June 3, 2020 § Leave a comment

ZoomChristopher Madden, David Lëgere, and Colin Hosten are editors at Woodhall Press, publisher of Flash Nonfiction Funny, Flash Nonfiction Food, and the forthcoming Fast Funny Women. The three of them had a socially distanced discussion on our current public health crisis and the importance of storytelling as a way of documenting individual experiences. Below is a truncated transcript of their conversation:

Christopher Madden: We’ve published two collections of flash nonfiction, with a third on the way. Is this perhaps the right format for pandemic-related storytelling?

Colin Hosten: The context seems very different, thematically. We’ve tackled humor and food. How would we navigate the ongoing tragedy of this crisis?

David Lëgere: The theme is different, but I don’t think that changes our goal as a publisher—to connect readers and writers through vital storytelling.

CM: Flash nonfiction, specifically, may be very well suited for people on the front line of this pandemic, as opposed to longer form essays.

DL: Exactly—it allows us to capture as many voices as possible in one compendium.

CH: And what kinds of voices would we be seeking? You mention people on the front lines…

CM: Basically anyone facing this crisis head-on. Nurses and other medical professionals. ER staff. Essential workers making sure trash is still picked up. Delivery workers, first responders….

DL: Patients?

CM: Sure—the idea is to preserve and amplify these essential voices and stories from anyone caught on the front lines of this.

CH: I think it’s a fantastic idea. And it may be a way to highlight some of the things that these diverse voices might have in common.

DL: What should we use as a working title?

CH: We already have a paradigm going with Flash Nonfiction Funny and Flash Nonfiction Food. Maybe something like Flash Nonfiction Frontline?

CM: Is that too general? Should we make it clearer that we mean the front lines of this pandemic?

DL: I mean, this is basically the main thing occupying the public consciousness for the foreseeable future—let’s just be direct: Flash Nonfiction COVID-19.

CH: Well, that certainly is direct.

CM: It’s more to-the-point,

CH: We’ll need to get a call for submissions out, sooner rather than later.

DL: Are people even able to do much writing through all this stress and trauma?

CM: Maybe part of the point of this is to encourage those on the front lines to use writing as a tool for reflection, for negotiating the trauma.

CH: And, again, the flash form allows people to dive right in and back out again in just 750 words. To Chris’s point, flash nonfiction may be the appropriate vehicle for something like this.

DL: So what’s the best way to get the word out, besides all the usual suspects?

CH: Brevity publishes some of the best flash nonfiction being written these days. We should reach out to them and see if they’d be willing to share with their readers.

DL: Good idea!

CM: I sure hope we get lots of strong submissions.

DL: I’ll be checking flashnonfictioncovid@gmail.com every day!

CH: And let’s make sure folks know they can go to https://www.woodhallpress.com/post/call-for-submissions for more information.

CM: And share it with their friends on the front lines!

Author Website 101

June 2, 2020 § 11 Comments

Walt Whitman knows his best side

More than one Brevity guest blogger has woken up to an email from me saying, “Your blog is up this morning, I grabbed an author photo from your website and made up a quick bio from what I could find, let me know if the bio isn’t quite right.”

In my other life, managing events, I’ve heard complaints from variety performers: “The newspaper picked a photo off my website of me wearing glasses—I never wear my glasses when I’m performing!” Or, “They put my real name instead of Wacky Wilma!”

Well, Wacky Wilma, your legal name was on your website, under the bespectacled photo of you.

Editors, reporters, and the administrative assistants whose job it is to compile press releases, programs and brochures don’t have time to search for your favorite photo, or to carefully cut your bio from six paragraphs to 50 words using only your most-prestigious publications.

The number-one way to avoid displeasure or delay in the information you want representing you in the world? Make that the easiest information to find.

One way to make it easy to find is to make an author website. You do not need to be famous or important to have your own website. You do not even need to be published. Your website functions as your business card:

  • Provides a way to contact you
  • Shows who you are and what you do
  • Provides information, including a photo, that a publication or organization can use to accompany or promote your work
  • Links to any publications
  • If you use social media, links to your profiles
  • If you have anything for sale, makes it EASY to give you money

An author website doesn’t have to be expensive. Yes, you can spend four figures on a designer, logo, your own domain, hosting, etc, etc. Or you can put up a WordPress site for free in an afternoon. (Here’s a rundown and reviews on some of the most popular build-your-own website services.)

The key elements of your website:

An author photo you love that is at least 500KB. It’s easy to shrink a photo that’s too large, but very difficult to blow up a small photo without it looking pixelated or grainy. 500KB-2MB is a good size range for a quick-loading website with usable photos.

Make your headshot reasonably current—if we see you at a conference, we should be able to recognize you without a time machine. Author photos these days tend to be casual and with a “real” background rather than a photographic backdrop. That means a good selfie often works just fine. Here’s a Brevity blog of tips for getting a good author photo. Put on a solid-colored top, stand next to a window with natural daylight, and take 50 selfies. After the first ten, it will stop feeling silly. Somewhere in there will be one photo you like. Hate all photos of you? Try Melissa Ballard’s author photo style.

No photos you don’t love. Allison’s Law: if you have ONE photo you don’t like on your website, that will be the photo everyone picks.

An easy to copy-paste bio. Allison’s Second Law: if the editor cuts down your bio, they will leave out your favorite credit. Put a short, 1-3 sentence bio on your front page, and a longer bio on the “About” page.

Links to any social media/newsletter/etc. Put your casual ways to keep in touch, because how often are you really going to update that website? And triple-check that any “Contact” form submissions arrive in your inbox.

Where to buy or read your work. Link to posted essays and articles, and any books you have for sale (anthologies count!). This is also a great time to save PDFs of any online publications, because one day their website will go out of business and your link won’t work.

If you are still working on publishing credits, include links to:

  • Books by writer friends
  • Literary organizations you support
  • Books that have informed your work, or that you enjoyed
  • Resources for writers and readers

Even if a website isn’t on your list right now, websearch “[your name] + writer” and see what comes up. Anything you’d like to track down and remove? When I search myself, the top five photos are all professional shots I’d be happy to see printed. My middle initial avoids confusing me with the actor or the Miss West Virginia with the fake sex tapes. Sure, some photos that aren’t me come up—pics I’ve posted on Twitter, or that also appear on a webpage I’m featured on, but it’s pretty clear I’m not the guy holding the headless chicken.

Finally, don’t stress too much. Do your best to make the information you want available, easily, but know that people will still get it wrong. One of my favorite newspaper front pages was me, eating fire, with my stage name in a faux tattoo Sharpie-d on my arm: “ISABELLA.”  The caption directly beneath says, “Isobel eating fire.”

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. Her new comedy playscript for video chat, The Next Horseman, is now available in paperback and ebook.

Forget Platform—Build a Bridge

May 26, 2020 § 33 Comments

There are three big myths about platform.

Myth #1: platform = social media followers

You may have seen writers on Twitter with statistics like “20.1K followers, 20K following.” Some writers build these numbers with “#writerlift” posts (everyone follows everyone else), or use apps to mass-follow hundreds of accounts, hoping they’ll follow back.

That’s not a platform. They have racked up numbers with people they can’t actually engage with. They are followed by people who clicked as reciprocation, not genuine interest.

Even truly impressive social media followings seldom translate to actual book sales. Social media numbers reflect, rather than cause, popularity.

Myth #2: platform = going viral

Only sometimes! If you’re writing memoir or nonfiction, writing a “hot essay” can get you a book deal. For literary fiction, a powerful short story in a great literary magazine can get you an agent.

Or it may not. You can’t control what’s going to go viral. Fortunately, the ingredients of “going viral” (tap into a subject people care passionately about, write a unique take and write it well, gradually build your publication credits until you get into more prestigious and prominent outlets) are the exact same ingredients of “pursue a serious writing career.” Going viral is the icing on your cake of dedication and time.

Myth #3: platform = being famous

Famous people get book deals all the time, very often for a ghostwritten book. But famous people are not your competitors. Readers buying A Famous Person I Like Wrote This are not the same people seeking a book that will entertain them, move them, or solve their problem.

Publishers know that. The pool of time and money available for famous person books is not the same pool for not-famous authors.

The vast majority of books are written by people who were not famous before publishing, and most of them still aren’t.

So what IS platform?

Platform is how you’re going to reach the readers who need your book.

  • You’ve become a known expert
  • Your work ties into (or better yet, sparks) a cultural trend
  • Your topic, work or personality draws people to pay to find out more

For nonfiction and memoir, platform is building trust, not numbers.

Think about your ideal readers. What do they need to know? Where are they currently seeking that information? Writing articles, public speaking (when health allows) and email newsletters are all more valuable than social media. Instead of a quick scroll, you have a meaningful chance to build bonds with the people who will trust YOU to solve their problem, whether that problem is, “I need to understand beekeeping,” or “Nobody around me knows how it feels when your kid dies.”

If you’re writing narrative nonfiction, work to establish your expertise in your subject, with a wonderful essay in a good literary magazine, articles for mass media, or speaking to special-interest groups fascinated by your topic.

For the writer creating a beautiful and passionate memoir, zero followers is plenty. That writer’s platform is the excellence of her writing, her fascinating emotional journey, and (hopefully) publishing short pieces that build her readership and reputation. Having followers and fans who will advocate for your book definitely helps you appeal to publishers, but writing a great book is more valuable still.

Here’s the main problem with “building platform”: a “platform” is something you get up on and yell at people.

Instead, build a bridge.

Your bridge is all the ways people who need your book can reach you. You are making a pathway for your readers, and it’s a two-way street. You listen to them, they listen to you.

I use several bridges: In Facebook groups (not my own pages), I connect with writers by offering information, promoting their books, and supporting their writing journeys. It’s not about racking up followers, but establishing myself as someone who is useful, helpful and kind—without a specific transaction. On Instagram, I focus on mini-essays: “get to know me,” “hey I write things that make you think,” and “here’s a writing tip.” Twitter is to amplify other people’s voices, practice being funny in writing, and entertain myself. I write a mostly-monthly newsletter, with the goal of “feel better today, reader! Also, here’s what I’m writing right now.” I stay connected to family and friends, because one Aunt Tillie who makes her whole church buy your book is more valuable than 10K followers on Twitter.

Building bridges isn’t quick and easy. I usually tell writers, it’s going to take fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, for two years. Fortunately, you only need to start with fifteen minutes.

Make some lists: Who are your readers? What are they reading now? What bridges do they already use to get entertainment and information? What websites do they visit, what groups are they part of? Start brainstorming ways you can be on the other side of that bridge.

  • Can you write an essay that shows off your voice?
  • Can you write an Op-Ed on a subject you’re passionate about?
  • Can you think of a topic for public speaking?
  • Can you start a newsletter that entertains or informs your readers?
  • How can you promote or support another writer today? How can you share valuable information with people who need it?

If you’re consistently entertaining, kind, and helpful in your world, some of your connections will become advocates for your book. You’ll also know more, be a better writer, and understand your readers. Just give it 15 minutes—I’ll see you on the other side of the bridge.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Her new comedy, The Next Horseman, is a playscript for video chat. Let her know (in comments or DM on Twitter/Insta) if you’d like to review a copy or send one to your local drama teacher or theater group.

 

 

Writers Near and Far: Shared Prompts and Tic-Tac-Toe Boxes

May 22, 2020 § 4 Comments

By Megan Vered and Jennifer Lang

Part One: Creating Community by Megan Vered

Megan VeredI open the link to our scheduled Monday evening meeting and, one by one, mini faces appear in virtual boxes. How happy I am to see the women from my weekly writer’s group! We’ve been meeting in my home for the past two years and during that time have written about everything from first kisses to heart heavy losses. Within five minutes of being online together I sense the disconnect. We are an intimate ensemble that, under normal circumstances, huddles around my dining room table drinking ginger tea and eating lovingly assembled snacks, while listening to the sound of each other’s fingers on the keyboards. I look at their strained faces in the gallery view and it occurs to me—traditional prompt writing may only contribute to the feeling of isolation we are all experiencing. I wonder how I might add a personal touch to our now depersonalized gatherings, and it comes to me. “Let’s change things up this week. How about, rather than writing separately, we work together on a collective document based on the same prompt?” I feel their bodies relax. They are all on board.

It takes us a few weeks to polish the process that now looks like this: at the end of each two-hour session, I give a prompt. Person #1 responds and emails her response to Person #2. Person #2 responds to a theme or a phrase in Person #1’s writing and emails her response to Person #3. This continues until the final person has responded. I am cced on each version and collate a master document. Each week, we take turns being Person #1.

My spontaneous tag-you’re-it relay offers no road map, so we’ve had some false starts. Person #1 held up the flow by sitting on the prompt for too long. Person #3 forwarded to the wrong person. I reassure the group—we are not seeking perfection but safety.

The following Monday, I email everyone the assembled document. We do a read through without comments, each writer reading her own words out loud. We then do a second more critical read through. Each reader tells us what it was about the previous writer’s piece that motivated her. And then begins the fun: noticing, questioning, encouraging, word-shifting, deepening, reframing. Working on one document as a group in real time has brought us even closer and is improving everybody’s grasp of first person writing.

In the past month we’ve explored the topic of reckoning during these unprecedented times, how our experience of home has shifted, and this week we are writing desperation humor based on being cooped up. What has changed for them? They have shifted from being solitary writers to becoming a writer’s collective. What has changed for me? I have a new identity in the group as fellow writer who receives feedback on her work, just like the rest of them. And, in the process, I’ve become a bad ass pandemic prompt queen.

Part Two: Crossing Boundaries by Jennifer Lang

Lang 2020I beamed at the two dozen plus people popping up in tic-tac-toe boxes across my screen. A handful of my writing students in Israel. A couple of handfuls of my writing friends from my greater grad school community in the U.S. And a handful of writers from my friend Megan’s classes and community in my native northern California.

When I first approached her with my idea to co-lead a free workshop, on Zoom, she immediately accepted. The idea was we invite students and fellow writers, as well as our mates from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Despite the 7,422 miles and 10-hour time difference between us, Megan and I volleyed WhatsApps and emails, both of us brimming with ideas, until finalizing the details. She came up with Stepping Through to the Other Side: A Virtual Writing Workshop; I scheduled the session and created the event; we blasted it on Facebook. That first meeting, late March, after group introductions, Megan and I each offered a prompt and women from across the globe wrote together in silence. At the 10-minutes left ZOOM warning, I messaged her, and we decided to forgo reading, wrap up, and gauge future interest: thumbs up, nods, un-muted yesses.

Ever since Megan and I started teaching in our opposite corners of the world after graduation, we have often shared prompts, methodologies and resources. In this new, unmapped territory, where I wanted to write but couldn’t focus and wondered why anyone would care about my memoir in progress, Megan was my perfect partner. At our second session, we listened to those who volunteered to read for three minutes and ended with a prompt for the next meeting. And so on and so on. Every Wednesday, we alternate leading the session and offer a mutually-agreed-upon prompt at the end to work on for the following week. As the weeks pass and we get to know and trust each other more, our stories are becoming more vulnerable and intimate as we tackle subjects like isolation, loss, rediscovered joys, simple pleasures. We see each other wiping eyes during readings. We clap. We send messages in the chat box with words of encouragement or calls for submissions.

A month in, Megan and I have named our group Writers Near & Far. We’re fluid with faces coming and going and no limits on numbers. The only rule is to keep your heart open, to feel safe in the space. During these uncertain times, as we hunker down and turn inward in a way that even feels intense for a memoir writer, maybe listening to each other read and creating connection is just what we need.
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Megan Vered is an essayist whose first-person writing focuses on family, friendship, faith, and the fantasia of her youth. Her work has been published or is forthcoming  in the San Francisco Chronicle, Silk Road Review, and the Coachella Review, among others. Megan holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her husband and West Highland White Terrier in Marin County, California, where she serves on the board of Heyday Books and leads writing workshops.

Born and bred in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jennifer Lang lives and writes in Tel Aviv. Her essays have appeared in Baltimore Review, Under the Sun, Ascent, the Brevity blog, and 1966: A Journal of Creative Nonfiction, among other venues. A Pushcart Prize and Best American Essays nominee, Lang earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and serves as an Assistant Editor for Brevity. Find her at israelwriterstudio.com and follow her @JenLangWrites.

** If you would like to contact the authors or join a writers’ group, please email meganvered@gmail.com or jennifer@langonline.com for details.

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