Keep Your Writing Friends Close But Your Comp Authors Closer

February 11, 2021 § 20 Comments

By Ashleigh Renard

Last week “harsh writing advice” was trending on Twitter, spurred on by one bonehead tweet that declared that our writing friends are our competition. Well, if we think the prize in this game is winning the attention of a top agent or editor, maybe the bonehead is right.

But if our perspective expands just a tad, we may remember that all of us in publishing—writers, editors, agents, and booksellers—are tremendously outnumbered by the ACTUAL READERS. Our ability to connect with readers is what agents and editors are talking about whenever they mention “platform.” And it is those dear readers who are the most often forgotten about until we have something to sell them.

Here’s how to change that and put readers at the center of your daily writing practice.

Just as writers diligently research comparative titles for queries and proposals, we need to search out “comp authors” on social media. Comp authors are the established, published writers in our genre, who have a large following and engage regularly on their chosen platforms. Followed strategically, their social media accounts can help us determine where our potential readers hang out and what they already consume with vigor.

To determine your comp authors:

  1. If you could switch accounts with any writer in the world today, who would it be? Who shows up online in a manner that appeals to you?
  2. Choose someone you like. This should not be a hate-follow. You will be studying what they do well and why readers flock to them. Liking their work will help you get the most out of this practice.
  3. Find common themes with your own writing in their books and their presence on social media—grief, body positivity, travel, parenthood, nutrition, chronic illness, humor, etc—but your stories do not need to be identical, because of course they can’t be.

What to do with your comp authors:

  1. Turn notifications on for 3-5 accounts on your favorite platform(s).
  2. Pay attention—what do readers react to quickly and exuberantly? Are they following the account for encouragement, commiseration, or to be entertained? What types of posts inspire the most interaction? Does your target reader enjoy a quick punchline or an Instagram mini-essay. Do they want to laugh or want to cry?
  3. Engage by joining the discussion in the comments. When you feel you have something witty and supportive to add to the conversation, do. Comment and respond to comments from others. You’re not there to steal the show. You are there to give genuine support to the community your comp author has already assembled. Add value by listening, offering assistance, and being your real self.
  4. If you have chosen accurate comp authors and are really paying attention it won’t take long before you start to notice gaps in what the writer is offering, gaps you can fill with your unique experience. What holes do you notice in the support the comp writer is giving the readers? How are you positioned to fill these holes and meet these needs with the differences between you and the comp author? This is where you get ideas for your own social media content. Actively noticing the gaps in what the authors already in your genre talk about can even help you narrow the focus of your memoir, prescriptive nonfiction project, or the way you will present yourself as a novelist.
  5. Support the author and practice your literary citizenship. When you buy the author’s new book (because you actually like their writing, remember?) buy an extra copy and hold a giveaway on your Instagram or in your newsletter. On Instagram, tag the author, the editor, the imprint, and their agent. Share to your Story and tag them there, too.
  6. YOU ARE NOT AIMING TO BE FOLLOWED BACK BY THE WRITER. Please remember this is not the goal. The purpose is to focus your online offerings to become a creator who followers of your comp author would recommend to their friends as another person who offers great advice/encouragement/education online.

One pertinent and caring comment from me on an Elizabeth Gilbert post led to Liz responding for a brief conversation in the comments, 1600 new visitors to my Instagram account and 150 new followers, many of whom became beta readers for my memoir. Positioning yourself as a writer who should be read by readers who love your comp accounts comes earlier and is more in your control than whether your title will be shelved next to your comp author at a bookstore or whether you’ll be put on a panel together at a literary festival.

Keep your writing friends close. Share editing and submissions advice and support. But remember we are all of more value to each other when we prioritize growing our own readerships. Newsletter swaps, giveaways, and shared book events all have a wider reach when we actively seek out our audience, and have a finger on the pulse of what they love.

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Ashleigh Renard’s debut book SWING – A Memoir of Doing it All will be available May 2021. Follow her on Instagram for daily reflections and advice for writers, monogamists and moms.

Need more ways to connect with readers without sacrificing your writing time on social media? Join Ashleigh Renard and Brevity’s Social Media Editor Allison K Williams for Reach Your Readers, Keep Your Soul: 8 Weeks to Author Platform.

Mailing List Love

February 4, 2021 § 8 Comments

We’ve all heard it.

You need a mailing list.

Your mailing list is your most powerful way to reach your readers.

Agents and publishers want you to have a mailing list.

And it’s true. A mailing list is your most powerful way to stay connected to your future readers. Being invited into someone’s inbox is far more intimate than connecting on social media. Plus, most people see under 10% of everything posted in their social feeds. But most people read about 95% of their email.

Which leads to a conundrum, as a writer asked me recently on Twitter: “How, exactly, am I supposed to get all those addresses?”

Start simple.

When a writer hands you their card at a conference, they are inviting you to stay in touch. Add those emails.

Look through your address book. Any family member or friend who has expressed interest in your writing (and from whom you’re not actively hiding your memoir).

That workshop attendee list. The addresses a literary magazine fails to bcc on their email. Most of them won’t opt in for regular news, but keep their information. When the time comes, one email announcing your book launch is OK!

Broaden your reach. Make sure there’s a prominent mailing list sign up form on your website. Put the link to sign up in your regular email signature (it’s in Mail>Preferences). Each time you contact your list, crosspost a teaser to social media. More of your followers will read, and some will sign up.

You don’t need a lot of mailing list infrastructure. A way to sign up. A place to track information, like a spreadsheet or an app like Substack, Mailchimp, Tiny Letter, Convertkit, or Flodesk. Automate your subscribe/unsubscribe process—legally, it must easy to unsubscribe, and letting a machine take care of that avoids hurting your feelings. Don’t bother to check your subscriber numbers more than every other month, unless you’re actively growing your list with a campaign and need to see if it’s working on a daily or weekly basis.

How often should you be in touch? No more than weekly; ideally no less than monthly. However, most of us have actual writing to do. I personally send my newsletter every 4 to 6 months (whoops!), but the point of regularity is so people remember who you are. I do enough social media that much of my audience remembers me, but I still start each newsletter with “Hey I know you haven’t heard for me in a while…”

And what, exactly, are you writing to all these people? The same things you tell your friends about your writing. How your process is going. What inspired you today. Something cool you read and think they’d like to read, too. Entertain them, enlighten them, be of service. You’re not selling your content, you’re buying their attention.

Most newsletters focus either on service or story. Service newsletters curate information, like Erika Dreifus’ The Practicing Writer, give insider tips, like Kate McKean’s Agents and Books, or consolidate industry news, like Jane Friedman’s paid offering, The Hot Sheet. Story newsletters showcase your actual writing. Emerging writer Casey Mulligan Walsh sends part of her monthly blog to her mailing list (scroll allllllll the way down). Some people will click through and read the whole thing, but Casey’s not overloading their inbox with a giant block of text. I tend to write travel stories or quirky slice-of-life moments. Thriller writer Jessica Jarlvi combines personal moments with writing inspiration.

Nobody wants to be your “customer”; they want to be your friend. As you build your author platform—or as I like to think of it, the bridge connecting you and your readers to each other—readers opting in and choosing to see you in their inbox are placing you among their friends. Your mailing list is a gentle way to keep in touch, not necessarily with the people who’ll rush out and buy your book instantly upon release, but with those who will spread that news to their friends, endorsing you and evangelizing for your work. That warm, supportive feeling you have towards the authors in your inbox, sharing their work and their lives? That’s how your mailing list readers are going to feel about you.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Ready to start building your personal author platform? Join me and Ashleigh Renard for Reach Your Readers Keep Your Soul: 8 Weeks to Author Platform. You’ll learn better social media skills, improve your pitching and submissions, explore public speaking, write PR, discover how to reach your readers consistently, write better, and build an audience that helps you sell your book. Weekly classes and small-group coaching start March 1.

Freshening Up

December 3, 2020 § 16 Comments

Exactly what holidays this year will feel like

As we near the end of 2020, the year that brought you April is Forever and Where Did August Go? it’s time for that special season: Weird Holidays.

The upside of this strange emptiness? Those hours normally spent shopping for a mob, cooking for a mob, cleaning up after a mob, or biting your tongue while Uncle Henry shares his Views, is free time!

Use some of these open hours to freshen up your author self. This is regular maintenance, ideally done 2-3 times a year, and the routine is worth setting up long before you publish a book.

EMAIL SIGNATURE
Update your email signature with links to your website, favorite social media, or newsletter sign-up, and a recent publication or the book, course, or service you’re selling right now. Limit to 2-3 links and an image—rotate information rather than overwhelming the reader.

WEBSITE
No website? Ask your writer friends how they built theirs. Choose WordPress, Squarespace, or a professional designer for a simple, one-page website with your name, bio, author photo, and links to anything you’ve published so far. You don’t need a blog or events calendar. Just the equivalent of an online business card.

Already got a website?
– check all links
– update your bio with new honors, awards or projects
– add new publications
– update events if you have a calendar
– update pricing for any services, and give yourself a minimum 10% raise yearly
– make sure your headshot still looks like you, and you still like it

SOCIAL MEDIA
You don’t have to do social media! If you’re writing literary essays/memoir, you’re better off focusing on publication and prizes. But if you do social media, for all your accounts:
– update your bio and link; add a Linktree if you need multiple links
– update profile and cover pics if needed
– check that any pinned posts are still relevant to the work you’re doing now
– in your phone, delete duplicate, unflattering, or blurry photos (you’re never going to need them ‘just in case!’ I promise!)
– ‘Favorite’ photos you like for social media, or put them in an album.

GOODREADS
You don’t have to be on Goodreads! If you aren’t, spend ten minutes checking it out and see if you’d like to have an account. If you are:
– update your bio and any links
– update your profile pic
– ensure any book titles you’ve authored are “claimed” and listed on your profile
– answer any outstanding questions from readers

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE
If you’ve published a book or you’re included in an anthology, get your Amazon Author Page organized:
– update your bio and links
– add or update any photos and videos
– claim all titles associated with your name

MAILING LIST/NEWSLETTER
If you haven’t started an official mailing list, open up an Excel or Google sheet and enter the names and emails of every reader and writer you know. You’re not emailing them yet, but when you’re ready, this is who you invite to join your list. All those workshop contact lists, those author business cards you’ve kept in a file? Put that information here.

Got a mailing list?
– improve your open rate by removing inactive subscribers
– check your website pop-ups and other sign-up links—are they specific calls to action? Do they link correctly?
– if you use a service like MailChimp, export your contacts list to back it up
– in your favorite notes app or notebook, start a casual list of ideas and topics for future newsletters
– if you use a newsletter template, update images and links
– check that any automated subscriber messages are still relevant

PORTFOLIO
If you have online publications, make them into PDFs. Someday that website will go under or clear their archives and you’ll still want to share your work. If your article/essay/story only appeared in print, scan to a pdf, then make it viewable on your website 2-4 months after publication. Link to the publication’s subscription info, too!

Update your list of where you’d like to be published. Rotate your reading to keep in touch with what those venues publish, and note submissions periods or pitch guidelines.

BLURBS
Start/update your list of authors you are even vaguely connected to who might blurb you one day. Every week, pick an author and promote, retweet, share, or review their book/recent article/course/services, or send a brief, friendly email. Maintaining these connections long-term means you’ll feel OK asking (and they’ll remember you fondly) when it’s blurb time.

CONFERENCES
Look up live and virtual writing conferences, and non-writing events around your memoir topic. Note anything you’d like to attend and why (agent pitching, particular speaker or genre focus, audience who will be helped by your book). If speaking is part of your work, note application deadlines and requested materials.

BOOKSTORES
As health, safety and finances allow, buy a physical book from your local indie and chat with at least one clerk. Note live or virtual events you can attend. Connect with the stores and their featured authors on social media.

 

This is a long list. Don’t do it all, and don’t do it all at once! Set up your own checklist, and make notes in your calendar or recurring to-dos. Tackle the things you care about most, in tiny bites. And when the time comes to talk to your publisher’s marketing department? You’re going to have great news for them.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Manager. Freshening up your manuscript? Join Allison and Jane Friedman for Second Draft: Your Path to a Powerful, Publishable Story. Suitable for any subsequent draft, we’ll talk narrative voice, theme, and Allison’s #1 editing technique to revolutionize your next draft—no matter what number it is! December 16th, recording available if you can’t make it live.

Facebook Author Pages Are Useless. Make One Anyway.

November 11, 2020 § 13 Comments

A writer asked me, “Should I start a Facebook Author Page? My book is coming out next week, but I want to keep my personal profile private and just get everyone to like my author page.”

What I heard: I don’t want to share my real self or genuinely connect, but I want people to sign up for my commercials.

Because yes, we share our blog links and promote our friends’ books, too, but these are all commercial activities. Read me. Buy me. Buy this other thing.

Nobody wants to be your customer. They want to be your friend.

Facebook already knows this. That’s why Facebook feeds you a steady stream of news from family and acquaintances, posts from interest groups you’re part of, and a very occasional post from that author page you liked a long time ago because your friend asked you to.

Even when you like and follow a business or author page, Facebook rarely delivers their posts. You have to specifically visit the page. For that author, only 10-15% of the people who clicked “follow”—who signed up on purpose!—will see their posts. Mathematical algorithms weigh a page’s popularity and interest to the public, because what Facebook wants is for people to spend more time on Facebook. If a page has thousands of followers, Facebook shows the posts more widely and more often. Famous people get more famous. Viral content goes viral-er.

Social media algorithms aren’t looking for “quality” or “this author deserves a boost!” so if you want anyone to see posts from your author page, you’ll have to pay for advertising. Do you have a product to sell? Your beautiful book, or maybe a course you’re teaching? Run $20 worth of well-targeted ads. No product yet? Don’t bother.

Because Facebook Author Pages don’t attract their own traffic, they don’t usefully separate professional from personal. You will always get far more engagement on your personal page. (Try posting the same link or post or picture to your author page and your profile and see who shows up where.)

No-one wants to be your customer. They want to be your friend.

Even if they see your post in both places, commenting on a friend’s post feels “real” and “connected” in a way that commenting on their low-traffic author page doesn’t.

For a useful compromise, join some interest groups on Facebook. There are plenty of writing groups in all genres, and whether you write about boating or genealogy or special-needs parenting or hot-air ballooning, your topic almost certainly has groups, too. Lurk for a while until you understand how the group functions. Comment when you can help, or congratulate, or encourage. Almost zero groups allow direct “buy my product” advertising. But if you gain a reputation for being helpful and kind, people will ask you about your book.

Administrating an author page is a little more difficult than updating a personal profile. They don’t get traffic, they feel fake even to your friends, and you’ll feel weird constantly advertising yourself.

Make a Facebook Author Page anyway.

Here’s why: One day, you’re going to publish that book, or that second book, or offer a workshop or a course, and you’re going to want to spread the word. You can only buy Facebook advertising for posts on a page, not your personal or group posts.

Here’s why else: if you’re writing a book that will benefit from a social media platform (that’s not all memoirs!) agents and publishers will care how many followers you have on Facebook personally, and on your page. They’ll also care about how many members your groups have, and how active you are in the groups. Pumping up those numbers from scratch at the last minute doesn’t create genuine connections. A long, slow process builds bridges between your writing and reading communities.

  • Set up an automatic feed to post to your author page whenever you write something new on Instagram/Twitter/your blog (I use IFTTT, it’s free).
  • Share non-private posts from your personal profile to your page, so your fans see some of the personal you.
  • Once or twice a week, find a helpful or well-written blog or article you didn’t write. Say why you liked it or found it thought-provoking, and quote something intriguing or counter-intuitive. Post that to your author page (and Twitter, if you have it). Tag the original author. Sharing their work connects you to them a little more, and their fans may discover your work, too.

Sharing your work on your personal profile, among the genuine moments of your life, will always be more rewarding and gain more readers. “We had a picnic!” “So excited about my publishing deal!” and “Wow, these fall leaves!” are far more engaging than “Buy my book,” “Review my book,” “Tell your friends about my book.” Instead of asking friends to watch a commercial, your work sits amidst the many things you mutually find interesting. But a Facebook Author Page has advertising and platform benefits you’re going to need one day—so start gently building your following now.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. She’ll be teaching the webinar Second Draft: Your Path to a Powerful, Publishable Story December 16th (replay will be available). Click here to find out more and grab your spot!

How Will Your Memoir Sell?

October 29, 2020 § 7 Comments

Do you need a platform to sell a book?

Read that question again. Not as “Do you need a PLATFORM to sell a book,” but as “Do YOU need a platform to sell a book?”

We usually think of “platform” as “social media.” But there are literary platforms and mass-media platforms, too. Some memoirs sell on powerful writing alone.

How do you know if yours is one of them?

Memoirs fit roughly into four categories, and each category needs different elements to sell. Yes, a strong social-media platform can be one of those elements, but it’s not the only one. Let’s break it down:

Voice-Driven memoirs are collections of anecdotes, essays or loosely-connected stories. David Sedaris falls into this category, as does Jenny Lawson—authors we want to spend time with, to enjoy whatever story they want to tell because they’re telling it. Comedians’ memoirs are also in this category. Their plot might be “I grew up, I worked hard and then I got famous,” but we want to hear that story from the person inside it.

Character-Driven memoirs are often generational family stories through the eyes of the narrator, like The Glass Castle or The Liar’s Club. Or the reader navigates a particular situation or time in close concert with the narrator, as in The Year of Magical Thinking. The journey is through time and personal change, rather than up a mountain or around the world.

Plot-Driven memoirs focus on a journey, from Point A to Point B. There’s usually a physical element: sometimes these are places on a map, as in Wild; sometimes the journey is through addiction, or traveling from sickness to health as in Porochista Khakpour’s Sick.

Personal Record memoirs survey a place, culture or time. Orange is the New Black (women’s prison), Kitchen Confidential (professional cooking), and Maximum City (Bombay) each encapsulate the writer’s personal intersection with a larger phenomenon. “Legacy” books—collections of family letters, parent biographies, community histories—fall in this category.

The sellability of each type of memoir—to agents, publishers, and ultimately readers—tends to spring from these elements:

Voice-Driven Memoir: Come Spend Time with Me

  • Personal Fame from public speaking or a public career like theatre, dance or politics.
  • A unique, consistent, often funny, voice.
  • Mass-Media Platform: publications in newspapers and newsstand magazines.
  • Social-Media Platform: a high-engagement blog with hundreds of comments per post, or social-media accounts that regularly receive thousands of likes.

 

Character-Driven Memoir: Personal Change, Beautiful Writing

  • Excellent writing with a strong narrative voice.
  • Deep insight into oneself and the human condition, expressed on the page.
  • A “hot essay”—a literary or mass-media publication that draws wide attention.
  • Literary connections: teachers and workshop leaders who promote you to their agent and publisher, and will blurb your book.
  • Literary platform: a body of work in literary journals and upscale mass-media; places at selective residencies; literary awards and contest wins.

 

Plot-Driven Memoir: The Journey Is the Story

  • Newsworthiness of your journey, especially if a physical journey has been reported in mass media or an internal journey is related to an emerging hot topic.
  • Cultural relevance of your journey, like a significant generational, ethnic, or gender experience.
  • A “hot essay”
  • Literary platform

 

Personal Record: My Experience with an Interesting World

  • Self-publication and niche-marketing to the community the book is about (your relatives, a geographical area, etc.), though traditional publishing is also an option.
  • Cultural relevance, especially if you are an expert on or native of a world that’s becoming newsworthy or topical.
  • Social-Media Platform, including incredible visuals that invite readers into the world OR
  • Mass-Media Platform, especially regular publication in niche venues about your world, such as popular travel or cooking websites OR
  • Literary platform if your writing is voice-driven.

 

You don’t need to tick off every element in your category. But the more you can achieve, the better your chances of selling your memoir.

If you want to focus primarily on your writing, you’ll need to consciously improve your craft, seek publication in top-notch journals, and cultivate ongoing connections with your teachers. If your physical journey is the fascinating part, try to interest a reporter in your story, or learn to pitch to mass media yourself. If you want to build readership online until you reach critical mass, make improving your reach and content on social media a large part of your writing practice, and write a book that makes social media a positive contribution to your time.

As Jane Friedman says, “Everyone has a meaningful story to tell, but not everyone’s story (or writing) will find an agent or receive a commercial publishing deal.” Your book is worth writing. If you want to sell it, start educating yourself now on how that’s likely to happen, and how you’re cultivating and connecting with the readers who need your book.

Need more platform information? Want to know how to build an audience with or without social media? Join Allison K Williams and Ashleigh Renard for The Writers Bridge Platform Q&A Zoom chat today at 1PM EST (recording will be available). Always free. Sign up here to receive the zoom link.

 

Cover Story

October 13, 2020 § 16 Comments

Sometimes writers feel we have to limit what we share on social media and in our work: I write memoir, why does anyone want to see my garden? My book is a parenting journey—can I write an essay about addiction? But our whole selves make our creative work. Seeing a writer’s favorite topics juxtaposed shows why you’re writing about those things. Parenting informs your writing on trauma. Gardening influences your thoughts on social justice. Readers want to see what inspires us as well as the words we create.

These topics and interests are your “content buckets” full of ideas for books, essays, articles and social media posts. Everything you see and have a strong feeling about. Every problem people have that you could advise on. Every experience you’re willing to share, so readers discover, “I’m not the only one who feels like this.”

One way to name your content buckets is the #MagazineCoverChallenge. If Writer-You were a magazine, what would the cover look like? What photo represents an aspect of your writing tone, genre or material? What topics from your work AND your life would be featured articles?

A Facebook writers’ group I’m in used the #MagazineCoverChallenge to visualize and share our content buckets. Here’s what we experienced:


Stephanie Weaver: I knew if I focused on design skills I would never get it finished, so I decided right up front that mine would not look professionally designed, because that wasn’t the challenge. That freed me up to get it done and post it. I also didn’t spend much time crafting the topics to sound exactly like they would on a magazine cover.

Candice Marley Connor: being given permission to toot my own horn was very liberating. Funny how I feel I’m not allowed to tout my accomplishments unless invited to.

Casey Mulligan Walsh: The fun of designing a magazine cover unleashed the sort of thought process I couldn’t quite access when attempting to make a simple list of content buckets. Suddenly every idea seemed a little more exciting and sparked another.

Abby Alten Schwartz: In addition to being a writer, I’m a graphic designer, so approaching this as a visual project allowed me to use tools I am familiar with and communicate it a way that makes sense to me. It necessitates bite-size descriptions and decisions about the hierarchy of the thoughts on the page.

Emily Brisse: Whether it’s a product of my Midwestern roots or just my introverted self, I cringe at anything resembling self-promotion, especially if it involves my face. I like my face just fine! But I’m often constrained by this cringey belief that I’m not supposed to say that. So, creating something where my face is front and center? That took a lot of other women showing me just how okay it was to gather together a list of why they were amazing, AND include their face as one of those reasons, for me to find some kind of permission to do the same.

Sarah Bringhurst Familia: I put off making my cover for weeks, and eventually realised I was unconsciously recoiling from the idea of distilling my entire personality into a magazine cover. Actually going through my [Instagram] feed allowed me to see certain topics I come back to over and over. Then I gave myself permission to focus on those, instead of trying to stuff a whole biographical sketch into a magazine cover.

Jo Acholonu: 2020 has been a trying time for so many of us and, I think, has forced us all to be reflective in some way and so my cover focuses on the aspects of life and writing I want more of, not just of myself but creatives in general. Especially the no more slave narratives…that thought in particular has been consuming me in the best and most beautiful way possible. The BIPOC community is so rich in experience, it’s a disservice to paint us with a single brush of suffering and servitude. Not only do my personal life experiences show that, but also my extensive travels and it just feels like the more I see of the world, I realize just how many stories go untold.

Carrie Honaker: Focus. As a writer, I know what content buckets I lean into, but I tend to be all over the board on social media. [The challenge] helped me distill my “brand” and see how building a platform and my ass-in-the-chair writing can feed and reflect each other. Designing the magazine cover forced me to laser in on what you might find about me if you looked past the cover into the pages of words.

Abby: I was having a difficult time wrapping my head around what my IG feed should be about. Originally it was purely personalbooks I was reading, meals I cooked, photos of my dog. I deliberately shifted to content that will help me connect with an audience for my memoir-in-progress and the essays I am now writing and submitting. This exercise helped me recognize that I have expertise in a number of areas and they are all spokes of the same wheel. What will pull them together will be my visual voice and my writing voice, as long as I am authentically representing myself. It was a surprisingly effective challenge.

Casey: I’ll definitely be coming back to these categories when brainstorming ideas for both social and blog posts, and they’ve helped me more clearly articulate my “brand” and what belongs on my website.

Abby: I’ve already started putting together some ideas for future posts about freelance life, with the intention of providing tips that bring value to the reader.

Emily: I hadn’t realized that most of what I write and post about ties back in some way to “learning.” This definitely fits with how I experience and understand the world, so I was happy to find this overarching theme.

Stephanie: I learned that I should talk more about living with chronic illness, something I don’t tend to share much about.

Abby: My content can be eclectic, and what unifies it is me. My voice. My perspective. My journey, to use a slightly cringe-inducing but apt word. I learn visually, so seeing my content buckets displayed in a magazine cover format helped me quickly wrap my brain around them.

Candice: The magazine cover challenge helped me realize that building a platform isn’t the scary, out-of-reach monster it felt like the first time I heard about it at an author’s seminar. Writing platforms are really just embracing your interests and being yourself!

Want to take the #MagazineCoverChallenge?

Your own cover doesn’t need to be super fancy. Our group made them in WordSwag, Instagram Stories, Canva, even PowerPoint! Design skills are great, but ultimately we’re writers. Regardless of the level of visual slickness, every writer above has shown who they are and what they write. Our covers are guides when thinking, “what should I write my next essay about?” or “how can I develop themes in my novel?” or even “what should I put on social media today?” And it was fun!

If you’d like to share, post your cover to Twitter or Instagram. Hashtag #MagazineCoverChallenge and tag me @guerillamemoir. I’ll RT/repost and give you some love.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Her webinar Nail Your Memoir Structure By Thinking Like a Novelist is October 21 (recording available). Register here!

Platform Without Tears (today!)

August 25, 2020 § 8 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!

Why No-One’s Interacting With You on Twitter

June 23, 2020 § 15 Comments

You have ten minutes, so you open Twitter. No notifications. Your inbox has an auto-message from an author you don’t know, thanking you for following (delete!). You scroll for a few minutes, note the level of political outrage, like a few tweets advertising books (that you’ll never buy but you want to be supportive), retweet a couple of “safe” posts (author quotes, an agent’s advice) and a “writer lift”, and exit, mildly disappointed.

How come nobody talks to me on Twitter? I have #writingcommunity in my bio, I like all my friends’ tweets…maybe I’ll just never be cool enough to get attention on social media.

First, let’s get one thing straight: You do not have to be popular on Twitter to write or sell your book. Twitter is most helpful (but isn’t mandatory!) for how-to/self-help/narrative nonfiction. For memoirists, Twitter can help reach readers, but email newsletters, public speaking, published essays, and Facebook groups (not pages) are all better ways to connect with your audience. For novelists, Twitter is a place to build community, not show how you’ll sell books.

So what do writers do on Twitter?

  • connect with writing idols and industry professionals in a low-stakes way
  • practice writing tight, focused sentences that provoke and engage readers
  • meet other writers and have fun

But Twitter has plenty of unwritten rules, just like every other social arena. Breaking the rules requires deep understanding. For example, if I walk into a Star Trek convention dressed like Henry VIII, I am breaking the rules. If I’m cosplaying as Captain Kirk experiencing historical monarchy in a holodeck, at least some fellow attendees will love me. You don’t have time to learn all the rules, let alone parse that previous sentence, because you need to be writing. So here’s a guide to why people aren’t engaging with you, and what you can do about that.

Technical Troubleshooting

Are you following too many people? “Writer lifts,” in which everyone who responds to a tweet follows everyone else, give us inflated statistics. If Bob Writer has 14.1K followers/15K following, he’s following too many people to meaningfully interact with any of them. Bob’s followers never see his tweets either, because they’re all following too many people. Writer lifts are randomly following to build numbers, not genuinely sharing interests. Follow people you want to read.

Are your followers active? Every time you log on, check ten people on your followers list. If they haven’t tweeted in a month, unfollow. If you value the connection, find where they’re active and meet them there.

Are you active? Twitter’s a weird, bitter, funny, ridiculous community, but you truly do get back what you put in. If you aren’t responding and/or tweeting for a few minutes 3-4 days a week, other people aren’t seeing you.

Better Writing

Think of your audience. Better yet, think of a specific person you interact with on Twitter, and what they react to. We don’t have to be laugh-a-minute, especially right now, but people interact with tweets that move them. Comedy or tears, a moment of thoughtfulness or joy.

Tweet like a writer. Tweak your first draft. Is the question phrased well? Is your joke funny? Do your sentences that begin and end with strong verbs or nouns instead of prepositions or pronouns? Do your best sentence-level work.

Stay positive. Avoid whining about publishing (or anything else). Ask, “Is this complaint because I personally feel hard-done-by, or is there a larger group or principle at stake?” Then decide whether you want to express rage, bring up a legit issue to discuss, or quip about knowing you’re riled up over something silly. If you can, suggest a solution, or ask for information, instead of just venting.

Take part in conversations that mean something to you. Avoid begging for attention. Tweets like “is anyone out there?” or “I guess I’m not important enough to get likes” are unappealing. Start a discussion with a question.

Skip the ads. Sharing your newly published essay (with a quote, or a sentence about your process or motivation) is great. Sharing your great review, or “hey I published a book today!” gets likes. Posting repeatedly about your book for sale is tedious, and people will unfollow. Spend that time submitting articles or essays that tie into your book, and brag about those instead of another commercial.

Better Engagement

When you retweet, comment. It’s fine to just RT, but try to more often have something to say about what you’re sharing. Why you liked it. What makes this author or article important. How that joke made you feel. Even an emoji helps connect.

Find a couple of accounts that are just for fun, like reading the comics pages. I’m a fan of @AITA_reddit (some adult material), and I see other online friends in that feed. Responding to their comments there gives us a low-stakes interaction, and they’re more likely to see my other tweets. Literary agents and high-profile, fascinating writers like Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, Tayari Jones and C. Spike Trotman often have regular commenters, and you can get to know other writers in discussions.

Adjust Your Expectations

Building connections with readers and fellow writers takes time. My social media helped me get a book deal…after spending five years building bridges to readers through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogging and a newsletter. But I’m not there to rack up numbers. I’m there to share information, make connections, answer questions, and practice writing in those formats. It wasn’t the numbers that got me the deal, it was the behavior. We often dismiss social media as frivolous or shallow, and yes, wide swaths of it are. But Twitter also holds professional camaraderie, writing-process and publishing support, and literary news. Truly connecting on Twitter takes time, and genuine interest in the community—exactly like connecting anywhere else.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. Follow her on Twitter for writing tips, publishing news, and fabulous GIFs.

Mother’s Day Feature: My Mother’s Belly

May 10, 2020 § 10 Comments

Editors’ Note: We rarely include creative nonfiction on the blog, focusing instead on craft talk, book news, and the writing life. But Diane Zinna’s micro-essay (also posted to Brevity’s Instagram) felt right for today.

A white toddler, her belly hanging out of her top and shorts, among chrysanthemums. Behind her, her mother holds a walker.My Mother’s Belly

by Diane Zinna

Today is 22 years since my mother died. It was my graduation day from my MFA program, and I had gone to her apartment to show her my diploma.

There was baseball on TV—she never watched baseball, that’s how I first knew something was wrong—the water was running in the kitchen, her favorite rainbow coffee mug was broken in the sink. Her dog, who would become my dog, was cuddled up beside her body on the floor, his front paws on her, upon her round belly.

She had the roundest belly, like me. Our shape of being pregnant that never went away. I remember being embarrassed of her round belly when I was a child, outlined in her many seam-down-the-front polyester pants, my friends always asking me if she was pregnant.

That night, I put my hands on her belly, and kept them there, waiting for people to come and help me, loving it, finally loving its shape, missing it though it was warm under my hands.

Almost every week someone asks me if I’m carrying a boy or a girl. People give me their seats. They smile in a way they think is knowingly. Sometimes it makes me cry. Other times I try to laugh it off.

Like on this day last year—I was boarding the Acela train to NYC with my boss, when a pregnant conductor announced, big-smiling, arms thrown open, “From one mother to another, Welcome Aboard!” I’m conscious of it always, the way my body reminds me of my mother, the way people’s mistakes make me miss her, surprise me into missing her.

I might be boarding a train, putting my luggage up in the overhead rack, but in my mind I’m in that apartment, and baseball is on, and the sink is running, and the puppy’s paws are on her belly. I think that was the first time I ever really touched it, that night, 22 years ago, from the outside.

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Diane Zinna is originally from Long Island, New York. She received her MFA from the University of Florida and taught creative writing for ten years. She was formerly the executive co-director at AWP, and Diane created their Writer to Writer Mentorship Program, helping to match more than six hundred writers over twelve seasons. Her first novel, The All-Night Sun, is forthcoming from Random House and you can pre-order it now. Learn more at dianezinna.com.

How to Bypass Writer Burnout in the World of Social Media

April 20, 2020 § 4 Comments

Sweta_Headshot_BrevityBy Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Social media is incredible; it introduces us to writing opportunities, communities, retreats, residencies, prizes, scholarships, and so much more. It helps us connect and communicate with people around the world. It orchestrates new friendships. Social media dissipates geographic boundaries and makes the writing life less isolated. But, like most things in life, social media too comes with its complications.

Research tells us that excessive and compulsive social media usage is linked to depression, anxiety, insomnia, low self-esteem amongst other health issues. If we don’t learn to take care of ourselves, pause every now and then, and stop refreshing our feeds constantly, burn out is inevitable.

  1. Take a deep breath: While Facebook live and webinars and Zoom meetings make it easier for us to RSVP and “attend” more events because we aren’t limited by geographic location and timings, they can also take a toll on us. Sleeping at odd hours, skipping meals, not getting enough movement, and jumping from one event to another because there are no commute constrictions can have its own consequences. Fact: It’s important to pause. It’s good to take breaks in between. It’s imperative to exercise and eat right. And, it’s perfectly fine to not attend anything once in a while. When you make the time to recharge yourself, you get back to your writing life, writing community, and creativity with vigor and appreciation, you have so much more to give to your tribe.
  2. Redefine boundaries: Social media has made access to information seamless. It makes life more alluring. You see pictures of your friends at book launches, literary gatherings, and book clubs, and if you perceive exclusion, it can have negative impact on your mental health. Then there is the fear of missing out (FOMO) and tendency of over-booking your calendar to not feeling adept because everyone else around you seems to be doing better—courtesy of social media posts. Develop a healthy relationship with social media. Don’t check social media posts at least two hours prior to going to bed. Don’t log on to social networks first thing in the morning. Maybe schedule your social media posts or you use an app that compels you to take breaks? Consider having an editorial calendar in place to plan content ahead of time and allot specific time of the day to use social media. Whatever you do, do not forget to add a nourishing distance between yourself and social media. Sometimes, we need to build boundaries to protect us from our own thoughts and actions.
  3. Figure out your why: Social media can be addictive, and it can create a want for instant gratification. Figure out why you are on social media—what your goals and expectations are from it. You don’t have to be on every social networking channel just because others are on there. Figure out, which social media network makes most sense to you and allocate time wisely. Reality is that the more time you spend on social media, the more you start to seek personal validation through your social media engagement. So, if you share an update/post something about your new writing, book, interview, essay, award, struggles, wins….and don’t get “enough” likes or comments or emojis on your post right away, you might find yourself refreshing the feed obsessively. Then the inner voice gets loud and leads you on the path to self-deprecatory reflections: People don’t like my writing. People don’t like me anymore. People aren’t happy for my success. They don’t think I am relatable, witty, or intelligent. I don’t matter. My words don’t make a difference. No one will read my work. My career is over. The writers mind can be filled with insecurities, doubts, and self-loathing. We tend to make up fearful stories in our head.
  4. Find your community: While it’s important to feel that you aren’t alone, it’s equally important to know that there are different kinds of writers and paths available for your writing career. That said, not everyone will be a good match for you even if though they might be the best human being to have walked this planet. For example, if you are a writer with a day job who is feeling anxious about their commitment to the craft and publishing, talking to a full-time writer who has much more flexibility in their schedule and can afford to spend hours online to research options and opportunities, might put you in a more vulnerable space. Talk to those who can relate to your situation. Find those in the same position as you in life and build a community.
  5. Embrace tech timeouts: Have you noticed…on some days, you sit down to write with full intention…and then you make the mistake of opening Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat or Pinterest on your phone? And there starts the world of mindless scrolling and thumb impressions. On a good day, aside from wasting productive hours, you might not be deeply impacted. But we all have bad days where we doubt our writing, our voice, and our capabilities. On a day like that, it’s easy to assume that everyone in the world has a better life than you. Because social media constantly exposes us to idealized versions of other people’s lives, we assume everyone is more successful than us. Fact: Everyone is struggling in their own ways. People only show those aspects of their lives that they want the world to believe. Intentionally disconnecting from social media can give you untainted perspective.

Social media is powerful. Try to use it mindfully, not reactively. While it’s important to be an active member of the writing community and support your fellow writers, it is equally important to take care of your emotional, physical, and mental health. Information overload can overwhelm us for the wrong reasons. There is a tipping point for each one of us, after which we end up on the road to burnout.

“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.” ~ Christopher K. Germer

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Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an international speaker, best-selling author of 12 books, and Ayurveda and mindset coach who is committed to helping people thrive on their own terms. As a trusted source on health and wellness, most recently appearing on NBC and Radio Lifeforce, Sweta has dedicated her career to writing about and teaching a more holistic approach to creativity, productivity, health, and nutrition. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. Sweta is a trained yogi, is on the board of Fly Female Founders, and holds a Master’s in Strategic Communications from Columbia University. Voted as “One of the Most Influential Asians of Our Times” and winner of the “Voices of the Year” award (past recipients have been Chelsea Clinton), she lives in New York City with her husband and works with clients across the globe.

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