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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I did it: I’ve Published Five Novels in Three Months! Here is #5

It’s another rom-com mystery, this time set in the 1980s—a prequel to GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY and SHERWOOD, LTD (an ebook now, with the paper version to follow in about a month.)

Buy The Best Revenge for Kindle at Amazon.com
Long before the events of GHOSTWRITERS and SHERWOOD, in 1980s New York, a time of big hair, coke-fueled society parties, and the rise of the greed-is-good 1%, teen heiress Camilla Randall befriends Plantagenet Smith, a penniless young gay playwright. But they quarrel and he disappears in the direction of California.

Soon after, Camilla is assaulted by her mother’s fiancé, smeared in the newspapers by a sexy muckraking journalist, and her family loses all their money in the Savings and Loan scandal. With nothing left but her DeLorean and a suitcase full of designer clothes, Camilla sets off in search of Plantagenet, her only real friend.

But when she arrives in the Golden State, she discovers Plant has developed strange heterosexual tendencies and an inconvenient girlfriend. Camilla is forced to move in with some wild-partying college friends, and when a famously debauched TV star comes on to her and then ends up dead, Camilla is arrested for his murder.

In order to clear her name and find the real killer, she turns to a friendly sanitation worker, a dotty octogenarian neighbor and the hot muckraking newspaperman who ridiculed her—who also happens to be her boss. 

And don't you just love this cover by Katheryn Smith? It's got that 1980s nostalgia feel, but matches the look of the other two Camilla books. Thanks bunches, Kate!

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Procrastination: Myth, reality or your best friend in disguise?

 by Ruth Harris

I’d like to start this December 25 post by extending my heartiest congratulations to those Master Procrastinators who are still putting off their Christmas shopping. You’re the pros and we salute you!

Now to the rest of us:

My mission (and I chose to accept it) was to blog about The Big P so I turned to the global authorities on said subject. Not shrinks. Not self-help gurus. Not cubicle dwellers. Not housewives with a sink full of dishes & dust bunnies under the sofa. But … ta da!…wait for it!…the true, undisputed Rembrandts and Picassos, the acknowledged geniuses of the Art and Craft of Procrastinaion: Writers!

Who are able to luxuriate in every exquisite moment of guilt, self flagellation and despair. Who can wring every last drop from an orgy of self-loathing about not-writing. So, when I requested some info and insight, here is what I got:

            •           Humor, bitter
            •           Snark
            •           Promises to get back to me later (I’m still waiting)
            •           A single instant reply—which on closer examination turned out to be a
                        deviant form of procrastination
            •           Constructive, prescriptive recommendations
            •           Denial

Jill Metcalf (Jill’s webpage) is the multi-published, award winning author of 5 historical romance novels. Jill took the competitive approach:

  “I would have answered this sooner but...I had to build a sand castle. Then I remembered, I don’t live near a beach. Then I remembered I had to make my bed...but it was made, so I un-made it and made it again. Then I remembered I had to do laundry, but I’d already done the laundry and it was dried and folded...so I washed it all again. Then I remembered...LOL.  I’m the Queen of Procrastination.”

As the Queen of Typos, I am honored to share my throne with Procrastination Royalty.

Still, all is not sand castles and laundry. Jill concluded by saying: “I have never failed to meet a deadline or an obligation. If I give my word, I keep it.”

Fact is, HRH, the Queen of Procrastination, has obviously found a way to make procrastination work for her. 

Shelly Thacker, (Shelly’s webpage) a bestselling author of historical and paranormal romances published by Dell and Avon, took a practical, constructive approach: “When it comes to beating procrastination, visuals work best for me. I like calendars, checklists, and charts. I keep a calendar next to my computer with page goals spelled out for each week, and a checklist of chapters completed so far. Watching those numbers go up is very motivating.”

For more tips, Shelly posted an excellent article which you will find here.

Shelly’s article is loaded with helpful—and very effective—ways to beat back The Big P. Her advice is practical, very doable and it works. She’s a pro who knows what she’s talking about.

Lawrence Block, (LB’s Blog) that sneaky devil, answered instantly (really!): Turns out keeping a beady eye on his email and replying quick-as-a-flash is Larry’s creative and (obviously) efficient way to devote himself to You Know What.

In the interest of complete disclosure, I must point out that LB’s method is certainly efficient. He’s been a bestselling writer for over fifty years, the author of the bestselling Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr series plus many, many, many more titles. Larry has written under a number of pseudonyms and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1993. His Liar's Bible: A Handbook for Fiction Writers and other books of writing advice are considered classics.

Consuelo Saah Baehr: (The Repurposed Writer) Years ago, Consuelo and I shared the famous/infamous editor, Michael Korda, when we were being publishing by Simon & Schuster. Consuelo’s been TradPubbed but now has gone digital. She’s the bestselling author of Nothing To Lose  and here’s what she has to say: 

“I was a procrastination junkie and, like all career junkies, I hid my addiction by doing hard things that looked good on paper but were not my real life's work.  Hey, I have a glamorous job, leave me alone.  

“Still, many mornings, I would get some whispers from the soul hole:   You haven't written anything new in years.  I bought a procrastination tape and wrote out my list. Write another book, lose twenty pounds, re-align my sinuses and my septum.

"’You are a doer,’" screamed the man on the tape. I listened to him every day.  Nothing.

 I tried magical thinking.  Nothing. Until about a year ago life shoved me in the path of the moving train called KDP.  

“My brain said "No."  Please.  Too hard. Two people told me it wasn't hard.  It was easy—Joe Konrath and Zoe Winters.  I thought, well, I can just put one foot in front of the other so I tried it.  I tried it early in the morning when I still had clear faculties and got lost in the work. 

 “I realized that the best antidote to procrastination is momentum. If you can take a few tiny steps and keep going, momentum will pull you along.”

Liliana Hart, multi-award-winning author of romantic suspense and mystery fiction,  (lilianahart.com) nailed it. Quoth Liliana: “Procrastination is commenting on your procrastination blog when I have 30k words left to write on a book that's due at the end of the month.”

Liliana was polite enough not to tell me to bug off with my stupid questions. And I wasn’t clueless enough to pester her again, either. I know a busy woman when I hear from one! And I also know Liliana will meet her deadline!

Now we come to the deniers. Or maybe they’re the realists. But there are writers who simply don’t believe in procrastination and/or being blocked (IME, very often the same thing).

Robert B. Parker(http://www.robertbparker.net/author) of the Spencer and Jesse Stone series, didn’t believe in The Big P. He thought writers should think of themselves as plumbers.

You’ve heard of plumbers who don’t show up when they’re supposed to but have you ever heard of a plumber who couldn’t fix a faucet because he was in procrastination mode?  No way. He could say his kid was sick, he could say his car broke down, he could even say he had a terrible hangover and couldn’t fix your faucet.

But if you called him and the message on his voice mail informed you he was alphabetizing his complete collection of Super Bowl tapes and couldn’t fix your faucet, he’d be booted out of the plumbers union. Basically, Parker’s advice was: “Shut up, sit down, and write.”

D.D. Scott, bestselling romantic comedy and humorous mystery author  (ddscottville.blogspot.com) and Reigning Goddess of WG2E sees it the way Parker saw it.

D.D. was succinct. And pithy, too.

 She said, and I quote: “There's no such thing as procrastination...just get your butt in your chair & get your BITCHOK Groove in full gear!!!”

“BITCHOK?” I asked D.D. “Wot’s dat?” 

She explained: Butt In The Chair, Hands On Keyboard.

I replied: lmao. Although on second thought, I probably should have said lmbo.

D.D. and Parker are pros and they have the impressive body of work to prove it. 

Yeah, Ruth, I hear you say, but what about you?

I’m strictly a minor-league procrastinator and indulge only infrequently. In my experience whenever I start diddling and futzing around, organizing my spices or rooting through my medicine cabinet to get rid of the expired aspirin and cold meds, it means that I’m stuck. My sub-conscious is sending me a message and the message is always the same: You screwed up. Somewhere. Somehow.

Whether it’s a problem with plot, voice or characterization, procrastination is an alert, telling me to figure out where I’ve gone off track. To do that, I go back to the beginning—I mean that literally, we’re talking Page One here—and read very, very attentively and carefully until I can figure out what the problem is—whether one of omission or commission.

So, if you’re like me, you will consider procrastination your friend. The ally who is sending you an important message and doing its best to help you write and finish your book.

To make one final comment about the myth/reality/agony of procrastination, here’s an anonymous observation—sometimes attributed to Monty Python:

“Procrastination is like masturbation.  At first it feels good, but in the end you're only screwing yourself.”

So have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year and, whatever else you do, stop diddling around & finish the damn book!

So, scriveners, what are your favorite procrastination techniques?

This just in from MWiDP! Anne's Hollywood mystery, THE GATSBY GAME is a Christmas freebie on Amazon for the next three days. It hit #40 in Free Contemporary Fiction yesterday. And GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY  is only 99 cents for a limited time.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why One Author Chose Traditional Publishing--And How to Decide if it's Right for You

Roni Loren's blog Fiction Groupie has been one of my favorites since I first began reading blogs. I was so happy for her when she signed with her agent, Sara Megibow (who is with one of the classiest, most pro-author agencies around, the Kristin Nelson Agency.) Then I was even happier when she got her book deal. 

As most of you know, I turned down an offer of representation last fall and decided to go the small publisher route so I could keep more control. It's working very well for me and I'm about to launch book #5, THE BEST REVENGE--the prequel to my comic Camilla Randall mysteries.

Ruth Harris has happily gone from the Big 6 (as an editor as well as author) to self-publishing, and we've talked a lot about the indie Kindle revolution. We had a popular post from Rick Daley in October, "When Landing an Agent Lands You Nowhere" telling what it's like to be represented by an agent who can't sell your work.

But lest Ruth and I seem to give too much weight to the "Self-Aggrandizing Self-publishing Monarch-persons," I decided it was time to hear from an author who is comfortable with the traditional publishing process. There's a lot of snarky "us vs. them" talk that goes on in the blogosphere, so I wanted to offer a positive view of traditional "legacy" publishing for those of you who are still holding onto that dream. If you read Publisher's Lunch, you'll see that deals are still being made for debut authors every week, and New York publishing is still alive and well. Not everybody is cut out to be a "wrublisher" or deal with the seat-of-your-pants world of small presses. So here's Roni with a great "can't we all get along" message for the Holidays. She is so right: don't let anybody criticize your dream!

Why I Went Traditional and 
7 Reasons Why You Should (or Shouldn't)
by Roni Loren

First, I want to thank Anne for having me over here at her fantabulous blog. I always learn something new when I stop by, and I love her philosophy of slow-blogging (even though I have yet to take it up myself, lol.) And Anne and I are both traveling on similar journeys with our books coming out, yet we've gone about it different ways. So Anne asked me to talk a little about the journey to debut authorhood from the perspective of someone who chose the traditional route.

There is some polarizing going on in the writing world lately. People in general like to take sides on issues and writers are no exception. Plotter or Pantser? Fast Drafting or Edit-As-You-Go? Literary or Genre Fiction? Man, we love to debate.

And most recently the topic on the docket is Indie vs. Traditional publishing. Both "sides" are guilty of hocking loogies at the other. Traditional pub people complain about the lack of quality in self-pubbed stuff, they fuss about Amazon, they lament about ebooks and missing the smell of paper. (Dude, WHY is everyone smelling their books?)

Then indie pubbed people talk about how traditional authors are letting themselves get totally screwed, they refer to Big Publishing like they're evil overlords, and they talk about how so many horrible books get published traditionally every day. "Look a typo! In a Big 6 book! Gah, the crap that makes it out! Editors aren't editing anymore!"

I'm not going to go into the whole debate because that's already been done well by Bob Mayer--read his post Writers For Traditional Publishers=Slave? Indie authors=f**kwad. Come on!.

But here's the thing I want everyone to hear: WE ARE ON THE SAME TEAM

Writers are writers. Day to day we do the same things. And unless you're one of the BIG TIME multi-million dollar deal writers, we're ALL underdogs. We all have an uphill battle trying to sell books in a crap economy to a public who is reading less and less every year and who would rather a new app than a new book.

And you know what? How we do that is just a detail. Yes, if you go indie, you're going to have different challenges than if you go traditional. But the reverse is also true. Each path has it's own pros and cons. And the beauty of this whole thing is...

Your dream doesn't have to be the same as my dream.

So stop wasting time with these debates on who's right, who's better. Worry about what is best for YOU and your career. What path is going to fit your needs best?

Not sure what path is better for you? 
~Some key things to consider~

1. Validation - How deep is your need for validation from professionals?
This was a component for me. Part of my dream was to hear from an agent and a respected editor that my writing was good enough and that they believed it was worth paying money for. I found it enormously validating to know that Nelson Lit got 36,000 queries in 2010 and only signed 9 clients and I was one of them. Maybe that says something negative about my self-esteem, but that was part of my dream. Indie publishing would not have given me that. 
However, if you don't need that kind of validation. If you only need to hear from readers who love your work, than that part of traditional publishing doesn't offer you any additional benefit, so maybe indie is the way to go.
2. Deadlines - Do you find them motivating or restrictive?
Working on a deadline can be stressful. And working on someone else's time table is WAY different than your own self-imposed deadlines (like Nano or something). Self-imposed deadlines don't have true consequences beyond a little disappointment or guilt. But deadlines with traditional publishers are part of a legal contract. They are a big deal. 
I do get stressed knowing I have a deadline, but I also find it very motivating. It's taught me to reaarange priorities and not to slack. But if your creativity shuts down under a deadline, then this is a con of traditional publishing. If you indie pub, you set your own schedule.
3. Marketing - Can you balance this with writing?
Let's face it, even in traditional publishing, a lot of your marketing is up to you. I am fully responsible for building my online platform, for blogging, tweeting, getting the word out, blog tours, etc. But there's no denying that I get in some doors that would be much tougher if I were indie pubbed. My book automatically gets reviewed in RT Book Reviews magazine because they review all Berkley Heat books. I was in the Breaking In feature in Writer's Digest magazine this month because I have an agent who helped me with that. I get into the bookstores. I have a publicist through Penguin. My book was selected for Rhapsody's Book Club. I have someone working to sell my foreign rights. All of those things are possible for indie authors but there would have to be a lot more hustle and work for an indie author to get those things.
So I see this as a big pro for traditional publishing. I want to have time to write. I'm not an overly aggressive person, so trying to get my foot in the door for promotion doesn't jive with my personality.
4. Genre - Do you know where you would be shelved in the bookstore? 
I write erotic romance. It's a clearly defined subgenre that sells well. I know exactly where I would be shelved. And that's what a publisher wants. They want to know when they read your book exactly how they would market it and to which kind of readers they would sell it to. When I queried Sara, I said in my query "This story would appeal to readers of Shayla Black, Lauren Dane, and Maya Banks." (Note: I didn't say mine was just like theirs or better than or any such nonsense. I just told her who my market would be. Incidentally, I sold to Berkley Heat who publishes all three of those ladies and I now share an editor with Shayla.) 
So if your book crosses a few genres or doesn't seem to fit in a specific spot in the bookstore (or is in a genre that has been declared "dead"), then indie might be the better option because you have a lot more leeway. You can be more experimental. I think this is one of the most exciting things about indie publishing. My own genre started in the small digital publishers before it went mainstream. I love the idea of having new genre options to read like romantic horror or m/m romance (which is now becoming mainstream because of experimental digital publishers.) 
5. Flexibility - Do you want to write in one genre or many?
In traditional publishing, at least when you're getting started, it behooves you to stick to one genre. You're trying to build a readership and your publisher wants to do the same. So, they don't want to sign you for a three book deal where one is horror, one a western, and one sci-fi. They want you to do one thing really well. Then, once you build up a fan base, you can get the flexibility to branch out. (Just ask those authors I mentioned above. They all do much more than erotic romance now.)  
But writers often have ideas that genre hop. I know I do. I don't only get erotic romance ideas--I'm not a hussy ALL the time. ;)  But I'm happy putting my energy into this right now because I love my series and want to build momentum. However, if that feels overly restrictive to you--indie affords you options. You can publish what you want. You can see which genres sell best for you.
6. Speed - How prolific are you?
Indie publishing favors the fast writer. The more backlist you have, the better chance you have for making a good living. If you can bust out a quality novella in a month, then the thought of waiting 12-18 months (the normal publishing turnaround time for publication) may seem interminable.  
I am a slow-ish writer--though I'm steadily improving. My deadlines are set up to have me finish a 90-100k book in 4-6 months. And that's a fast schedule because my books are going to be released every six months instead of once a year. If I was indie publishing, I wouldn't be getting anymore than two books out a year anyway, so the traditional publishing schedule doesn't hinder me any.
7. Control - Are you a control freak?
In traditional publishing, you still have a lot of control--at least in my experience. They haven't made me change anything I didn't want to. I had input on the covers before their development and after. (In fact, they scrapped my second book's cover when I pointed out an issue and gave me a completely different one.) I had full permission to rewrite the back cover blurbs. I wrote my tag lines on the front. They didn't like my original title but I'm the one who came up with the new one. However, they didn't HAVE to give me all that control. And I'm sure with some publishers, they're a lot more restrictive. And there are definitely things I have absolutely no say in like pricing, print runs, etc. 
So if you know you will have trouble not being in control of some of those things, indie may be the better route. However, remember with all that control comes LOTS of responsibility. My work on my cover involves sending an idea of what I want and photos of my character inspirations. That's it. Then the professionals take over and I don't see it again until they send it to me for final approval. So I've spent maybe 20 minutes working on my cover. If you indie pub, that is going to be a much more extensive process.
So based on all those things, I chose to pursue traditional publishing. And I'm happy with that decision. But you may come out with a different conclusion when you ask yourself those questions.

Figure out what path suits you best and strive for your dream. Don't criticize anyone else's. And remember that dreams can shift. You may find yourself on the other side of the coin one day. In fact, I think the hybrid author who publishes both traditionally and indie is going to be the one best poised for success. So don't go poo-pooing the other side. You may be one of them one day. ;)

So what do you think? What does your dream look like? Are you as tired as I am of people making this a "taking sides" thing? What made you decide on your own path? Which of the issues above are big sticking points for you?

Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. Her debut erotic romance CRASH INTO YOU will be released January 3, 2012 by Berkley Heat/Penguin. If you want to read more posts like this one or follow her journey to debut authorhood, you can visit her writing blog Fiction Groupie or her author blog. She also tweets way too much for her own good.

Next week, in preparation for your New Year's resolutions, Ruth Harris will blog about PROCRASTINATION. Yeah. That thing you're going to worry about tomorrow.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

HOW NOT TO BLOG: Beginning Blogging for Authors Part II

This is a continuation of last week’s post “HOW TO BLOG.” It's aimed at authors who are trying to build platform. If you’re only blogging for yourself and your cat, skip this—you and Pufferball can go watch that Hallie Berry DVD again. I’ll also repeat what I said last week: This is not meant to be taken as dogma. (Seriously. I hate to step in a pile of dogma myownself.) This is just what works/doesn’t work for me and successful bloggers I admire. But there are exceptions to every rule, and creative people are all about being exceptional. If something different works for you, go for it! 

HOW NOT TO BLOG: 22 Things for New Bloggers to Avoid

1. Ignoring comments. If somebody comments, respond in the thread. Personally, I did not know this for, like, months when I started out. If any of you who commented two years ago are still reading in spite of my cluelessness—I apologize. Email responses are good, too—but responses in the thread stimulate discussion and further comments. And if you want comments, turn off the %&@! CAPTCHA, word verification, people! Your spamblocker blocks 95% of spam without it. The other 5% you can delete yourself. 

2. Crying in the wilderness. Social Networking is SOCIAL. Nobody coming to your party? Go find one. Visit other blogs. To have a friend, you gotta be one. Follow and comment. It’s called social networking. Go out and be sociable!

Tip: Looking for stuff to post about? Respond to other people’s blogs on your own. Instead of leaving a long comment in that anti-prologue thread, write your own post on the pros of prologues and leave a link.

3. Using your blog as a personal journal. “Today I went to the dentist, picked up groceries and cooked my husband’s favorite meatloaf,” will snoozify even your immediate family. It’s OK to post personal stuff if it’s funny or newsworthy—like how Pufferball won the “ugliest pet” award. Or how many Kardashian-wannabes you spotted yesterday at the mall. But don’t use it like a private diary if you’re blogging to build platform. 

4. Whining: Resist posting rants about the unfairness of the publishing industry. Or how lame that famous writer’s work is compared to yours. It’s OK when you’ve had a big disappointment to ask for the emotional support of your friends, but don’t give specifics and never rail against the agent/editor/reviewer who spurned you. Remember the first thing an agent will do if she’s interested in your query is Google you. She probably just had lunch with that editor you called Mr. Poopy-Brain.

5. White text on dark backgrounds. Ouch! My eyeballs. Seriously. Every “how to blog” article says this, but still, half the blogs I visit have dark backgrounds. They are a big “go away” sign.

6. Posting unpublished fiction or poetry if you ever hope to publish it. And don’t post creative stuff if you’re just trolling for praise. Want a critique? Try critiquecircle.com, or writing community forums like Nathan Bransford’s. For some reason, people don’t tend to read fiction on blogs (even by famous published authors.) Save the fiction for the occasional blogfest or contest, but otherwise, keep your WIP to yourself, especially if you’re a newbie. You don’t want that sucky first draft hanging out there in cyberspace. Trust me on this.

Besides, you’ll be seriously limiting your future publishing options. Listen to agent Meredith Barnes

“Many writers serialize their work on their blogs. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to avoid that. Authors nearly always list "getting an agent" as the reason they put "teasers" on their blogs. But there is already a mechanism for showing your work to agents: the query. If you choose to do so anyway you may put yourself breach of the warranties and indemnities clause of the publishing contract that you haven't even signed yet.”

Exception: blogfests and contests. A blogfest is a non-competitive mass sharing of work. One blogger will announce a topic, say “first-kiss scenes,” and anybody who wants to join in signs up. On the given day, everybody reads each other’s posts and makes comments. It’s a fun way to meet new writers and get acquainted with their work. A blog contest can be anything from a random name draw from a list of commenters to a competition for the best cat-related haiku. Prizes are usually a book or maybe a critique from the blogger. Rewards for the host blogger are an increase in traffic and more followers.

7. Writing snoozifying headers. “It’s Wednesday” or “So Sorry I Haven’t Been Blogging” won’t snag a lot of readers. If you want examples of good headers, browse Twitter and see what YOU would want to click on. You need to think like a copywriter—as Joanne Tombrakos blogged on Jane Friedman’s blog this week. Certain types of headers typically draw in readers.

·       Lists: 10 Lies That Work Better than "My Dog Ate My Homework"

·       Questions: What if the Dog Really DID Eat Your Homework?

·       Answers to Questions: A how-to is usually a grabber: “How to Sell Homework-Excuses on E-Bay”

·       Search Engine Optimized: Use keywords potential readers might use in a search to bring new readers. Nathan Bransford explained SEO way better than I can in his post What You Need to Know About SEO on his blog this week.
8. Pointless tags or none. Tags are the little words and phrases at the bottom or top of a post that tell search engines what’s in the text. Use as many tags as possible. This is how Google finds you. Tag your posts with names of anybody mentioned, plus your main topics. (More SEO.)

9. Failure to link. Don’t be afraid you’ll send your readers off to read somebody else if you include linkage to other sites. Linking is friendly and it also gets the attention of those search engines. A weekly round-up with links to some of your favorite blogposts of the week is a great way to get readers and notice from the Google spiders.

10. Blogging too often. If you have nothing to say, don’t say it. Yes, I know blog gurus tell you to post once a day or more, but creative writers have other priorities. (You’ve got that novel to write, remember?) I suggest once a week, with an occasional mid-week post for important announcements. Most blogs burn out after two years. But you want yours to be a platform to support you for the long haul.

Personally, I’m relieved when my favorite bloggers cut back to a few posts a week. That way I have some hope of keeping up.

11. Blogging erratically. Keep to a posted schedule. Most agents say they’ll look up your blog before they request a partial. If you have an abandoned blog hanging in cyberspace, this says—1) you don’t stick with things 2) You don’t have much to say 3) You don’t have the platform needed to sell your work to an editor.

And if you’re a self-pubber who doesn’t update your blog, you’re abandoning your fans. They don’t tend to like that.

It’s fine to take blogcations, but if you have to skip a few posts, leave a message letting readers know you’ve got big things in the works and when you plan to return. And—if you do lapse for a while, don’t post a long list of excuses when you get back. Bo-ring.

If you started a blog six months ago and haven’t done anything with it—delete it now and start over when you’re ready. Really. Right now. Especially if you’ve got queries out or a book for sale.

FYI: Wednesday and Thursday are the biggest blog traffic days. (Worst days: Saturday and Sunday—which I didn’t know when I started a Sunday blog. Sigh.)

12. Monetizing. If you sign up for Google ads, you have no control over what they advertise, and many of the ads will be for bogus agencies or scam vanity publishers. Besides, they won’t pay you more than a few pennies a day and they’ll make your blog annoying. You’re after bigger fish. Like followers, readers and maybe a book contract.

13. Acting like you’re a rock star from Mars. Don’t pretend you have fans when you’ve never published a book. Talk to your readers as equals, not adoring minions. Don’t assume all your readers are newbies who don’t know the basics. Or they are fans come to worship at the feet of your greatness. And it's kind of creepy to make oblique references to your characters as if the reader has been living in your head.

If somebody disagrees with you in a comment, argue respectfully, or delete their comment if it’s offensive, but don’t say— “When you’ve written a whole novel like I have, you ignorant pipsqueak, you’ll know I’m right.” You may be talking to a bestselling novelist—or an agent’s assistant who’s about to read your query.

14. Trying to maintain too many blogs. One is plenty. Two if the other is a group blog. Anything more and you won’t be able to keep them up. If somebody visits your profile and randomly clicks on one of your twelve blogs and it hasn’t been updated since you posted that weepy eulogy for Heath Ledger, they are not going to try another—and you just stamped “unprofessional” next to your name.

15. No contact info. A blog is essentially an advertisement for you as a writer. Why advertise a product that’s not available? Unless you’re being actively pursued by a dangerous cyberstalker, or you're living under a repressive regime and posting stuff that could get you arrested, there's no reason not to provide a contact email address. That's the whole reason you've got the blog--so people can find you. I advise setting up a separate email account for your blog.

16. Making the blog about one book and/or posting cute observations from your character’s point of view. Yes, I know some bloggers have managed to sustain this kind of tour de force for a while—but what happens when your editor has you change the character’s name? Or that series doesn’t sell and you move on to something else? You want a blog to establish your career—not lock you in a box.

17. Focusing on follower numbers. Go for quality not quantity. This is about making friends who (hopefully) will become loyal fans. If you treat people as a commodity, they’re not going to care about you, either.

19. Spamming other bloggers. Visiting random blogs and saying, “This is a swell blog; come visit mine” is creepy. If there’s a discussion going on about prologues and you’ve just blogged about it, by all means mention it. But it has to be relevant to the discussion.

20. Writing posts that are too long, dense, or address more than one topic. I’ve read that 79% of web users scan rather than read. Break up posts with lists, bolding and lots of white space. If you want to write about several topics, use separate blogposts.

21. Letting blogging take over your life. You CAN’T read all the top publishing blogs and comment on all your friends’ blogs every day. Choose one or two days a week and let go of the guilt.

22. Forgetting the #1 rule of blogging is the Golden one.  Offer the kind of content you like to read. Keep it short, sweet, informative and reader-friendly, and pretty soon you’ll have a bunch of friendly readers. Want followers? Follow. Want commenters? Comment. This is social media, get it?

For more on the importance of blogging for authors, checkout Roberta Trahan’s blog this week. She says:

“An author blog is the single most effective forum for building a bridge between you and your audience. You have a soap box, and your readers have a way to interact with you.”

What about you, scriveners? What have I left out? Do you have any pet peeves that make you avoid certain blogs? What's most likely to send you clicking off into cyberspace?

Next week’s post will be a refreshing one to those of you who are on the fence about traditional vs. indie publishing. I’ve asked romance writer Roni Loren, who has a novel about to debut with Berkley Heat/Penguin to talk about her experience as a traditionally published author and weigh the pros and cons. She agrees with me that the us-vs-them mentality with trad. vs indie publishing is silly. We’re all in this together!

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

HOW TO BLOG: A Beginner's Guide for Authors

FIRST, AN ANNOUNCEMENT!  My second Camilla Randall mystery, SHERWOOD LTD., went live on Amazon.com and the UK Amazon site this morning.  It’s a sequel to GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY that involves mysterious doings at a wildly unorthodox publishing company in the English Midlands, near Nottingham. It was inspired by my wacky experiences getting my first book published in the UK back in the early ’oughties. It’s full of writerly humor as well as fun stuff for Robin Hood fans and Anglophiliacs everywhere. Etiquette expert Camilla Randall's good manners get her into more dangerous scrapes--and this time the charming hero may be trying to kill her. (Nook owners, The Gatsby Game, Ghostwriters in the Sky and Sherwood, Ltd. should be available on B & N by Christmas!)

A year ago I ran a series on how to blog that went viral and got mentions on a lot of prestigious blogs. I went on to teach blogging and social media at the Central Coast Writers’Conference. The following is an overview of part one of my beginning blogger course. Next week, I’ll run part two: “HOW NOT TO BLOG.”

NOTE: please don’t take anything I say here as dogma. As a certified Old Hippie Chick and life-long Authority-Questioner, when I step in a pile of dogma, all I want is to scrape it off my shoe.

Which is probably why I ran afoul of the Amazon Review Taliban in the last couple of weeks. Boy, howdy did I learn my lesson, (although my little incident of stepping in it also got me a sympathetic mention on Porter Anderson’s must-read publishing industry round-up Writing on the Ether this week.) 

So please note:

I do not now—nor will I ever—dictate what anyone must blog, read, write, think, review, smoke, or wear.

(Really. I think you look fabulous in that evening gown, Mark.)

These are my own observations of what seems to be working right now. But creative people are always finding ways to get around rules. It’s one of the things creativity is for. If you hate blogging, please--go find a more interesting way to promote yourself and come back and tell me about it. I’d love to feature your experiences here.

So: do you absolutely need to have a blog if you want to sell books? 

Nope. But it just might help..

Even a couple of years ago, only nonfiction writers needed “platforms,” but that’s changed. Even the Big Six publishers expect authors to do most of our own publicity.

And what is a platform?

It’s the network of people who know you well enough that they might buy your book. All social networking sites contribute to it. So joining RedRoom, Goodreads, Kindleboards, Absolute Write, She Writes—or any of the smorgasbord of writer schmooze-rooms—will help build platform. So pick a few and join up. But not too many: remember this is about promoting your writing, not keeping you from it.

The point is to get your name out there where the Google spiders can find you.

Why? Here’s a quote from Oak Tree Press acquisitions editor Sunny Frazier  that might answer your question:

“I don't read the query (sorry aspiring writers!) I look for two things:  genre and word count. I then Google the author. I'm looking for the number of times the writer's name appears on the Internet. I'm searching for a website or any attempt to build a platform.”

Yup. She checks your presence on the Interwebz before she looks at your writing. Sad but true.

Before I started blogging, if anybody Googled me, they'd find me on maybe page 20 in the endless string of Anne Allens. If you Google me now, you’ll get 20 pages of mostly me. And I’ve only been blogging a little over two years.

The three major pillars of most writing platforms are Facebook, Twitter and your Blog.

The greatest of these is your blog. This is where you get to be 100% yourself however many characters it takes.

Here’s what publishing guru Jane Friedman says: “All serious writers need this kind of hub so they can start learning more about their readers and formalizing a connection with them. Facebook, Twitter, and other sites help you find readers and connect, but those connections can disappear at any moment, or gradually over time–but with a blog, they can always find you.”

That’s why a website you have to pay somebody to update for you isn’t as useful. People want to connect with you—not your web designer. The difference between a website and a blog is the difference between putting an ad in the Yellow Pages or personally giving somebody your phone number. Blogs are friendly. And if you have a blog, you don’t need an expensive website. Here’s what Nathan Bransford said about formal websites:

“The thing about author websites is pretty simple, in my mind. They're expensive. Are they worth the return on investment? I don't know. I can't think of a time I've ever bought a book based on a visit to an author's website. But I have definitely bought books based on author blogs. I know I may not be the average reader, but I still have a hard time seeing how it's worth the investment unless the website is really spectacular.”

Does a blog sell books?

Not directly. But it helps in lots of indirect ways. I found my publishers through my blog. I got to know Ruth Harris through my blog—and most of the people who are hosting my blog tour. Networking pays off.

A lot of blogging advice is for professional bloggers who are looking to make money selling ads on the actual blog. That’s not what you want as an author. You want a fun, inviting place where people can visit and get to know you—a home rather than a storefront.

I had to learn blogging by trial and error—lots of error. So here’s the stuff I wish somebody had told me.

20 Steps To Starting Your Own Blog:

1) If you don’t do it yet, spend a couple of weeks reading a bunch of writing and publishing blogs before you jump in and create your own. See what you like and don’t like. Agent blogs and some of the popular indie-publishing blogs are good for meeting people at all stages of their careers. I especially recommend Nathan Bransford’s blog  because he’s a publishing insider and a social media guru as well as a successful MG author. He’s also a smart, classy guy. Plus his blog has forums where you can get to know people.

2) Comment and interact with other commenters. You only have to say a few words of agreement or disagreement, or offer your own experience about the topic. Lots of writers have a “blogroll” in their sidebar with a list of other great writing blogs. Start clicking around. If you like what somebody says, click on their name in the comments and you’ll get their profile and you can go visit their blog. Comment there and Bingo, you’ve got a potential follower.

3) It’s easier to comment if you have an online profile, so I suggest you sign up at Gravatar.com. This gives you an online profile that’s compatible with all blogging platforms. Upload a picture—a smiley one of yourself is best. There’s room for a short bio and your contact info. Make sure you post an email address. That’s why you’re doing this—so people can find you. If you’re on Facebook, Goodreads, Google + or whatever, post the link. If you’re on Google + (which I like, because it’s kind of quiet and low-key) you’ll already have a Google profile, but it’s helpful to have a Gravatar profile, too, because it’s compatible with all blogs.

4) Choose a blogging platform. The biggest free blogging platforms are WordPress, Tumblr, LiveJournal & Blogger. Tumblr is a platform for short posts, videos and pictures—something between a blog and Twitter.  You can also have a blog on your personal website, or on a writer’s forum like RedRoom. But these aren’t as likely to be picked up by search engine spiders, so if your goal is to be more Googleable, I suggest using a more popular platform.

I use Blogger (owned by Google, with addresses that read “blogspot.com”) because it’s the easiest to set up and use—and has some really pretty templates. But Blogger does have some drawbacks. Whole continents get blocked periodically—probably by Blogger’s fierce spamblockers. And for a while there, we were all losing our follower widgets, and some people couldn’t get into their own blogs. But the glitches eventually get ironed out.

People who are more tech-savvy love WordPress. You can get step by step instructions here. Jane Friedman loves WordPress. And it has the advantage of being easily translated into an ebook. Very cool.

4) Decide on a focus and tone for your blog. Blog gurus will tell you to address a niche, but I’m not sure any more if that’s the best way to start. I think the most important thing is to develop a strong personal voice and be flexible. And don't plan to blog about writing all the time. There are an awful lot of us out here doing just that and you want to provide something fresh.

Roni Loren—a fabulous romance author and popular blogger who is going to be visiting us on December 18th—has written some of the best posts on blogging I’ve read. She's pointed out she’d never have the following she does if she’d started with a niche blog. She started out as a YA writer and switched to erotic romance. Yeah, a tough switch.

Beginning author-bloggers form a wonderful community. That community can help you in hundreds of ways, so don’t worry too much about seeming like a ‘professional” blogger right away. Be real, flexible, open and friendly and you can ease into your niche later.

Remember the most successful blogs reveal the writer’s personality and provide something useful at the same time. Even if you choose to be a niche blogger like me, keep flexible.

Don’t focus on one book or lock yourself into one genre, especially if you‘re a newbie.

Zombies could invade the second draft of what started out as a cozy mystery. Or a Victorian romance could veer into steampunk. Romance writer Rosa Lee Hawkins might decide to become dark, brooding R. L. Hawk. She doesn’t want to be stuck with that pink, lacy blog—or betray her romance-loving followers. You can always add stuff, but it’s harder to take it away.

5) Think of a title and subheader. Don’t get too creative here.

Make sure you put your own name in the title. Your name is your brand.

Yes, I know most blogs you see have names like “Musing, Meandering and Muttering,” but this really isn’t a good idea.

Anywhere you go online, you want to promote your brand, or you’re wasting time (time you could be writing that opus that’s the reason for all this, remember?) It’s OK to be unimaginative like me and call it YOUR NAME’s blog—maybe reducing the ho-hum factor with something like “Susie Smith, Scrivener.” The advantage to using your own name is—

    1. When somebody Googles you, your blog will come up, instead of that old MySpace page you haven’t bothered to delete, or the picture of you on Spring Break in Cabo in 2006. Yeah. That one. 
    1. You don’t get boxed into one genre. (I strongly advise against starting different blogs for different books. One blog is hard enough to maintain.) 
If you need to be convinced of the “your name is your brand” thing, read social media maven Kristen Lamb, whose wonderful books Are You There Blog?It’s Me Writer and We are Not Alone, the Writer’s Guide to Social Media are must-reads.

6). Choose a couple of photos from your files to decorate the blog. Usually one of yourself for your profile, and another to set the tone. And of course your book covers if you have them for sale. Try to keep with the same color scheme and tone.

On Tone:

If you write MG humor, you don’t want your blog looking all dark and Goth, and cheery colors will give the wrong message for that serial killer thriller. Romance sites don’t have to be pink, but they should be warm, inviting and a little sexy or girly.

Also, if you have a website or Twitter page, aim to echo the tone and color in order to establish a personal “brand” look.

7) Prepare a bio for your “About Me” page. This is the most important part of the blog. Make it intriguing and funny without giving TMI. You can add some more pics—maybe of your dog or your funky car. Keep family out unless it’s a family blog. Pseudonyms for kids are a smart idea for protecting their privacy.. 

8) Go to a friend’s blog. If they use Blogger or Wordpress, there will be a link at the top that says “create blog.”

9) Click on “create blog.” Follow directions in the window. They’re easy. In Blogger anyway.

10) Choose a template. Don’t mess with the design too much, except in terms of color—a busy blog isn’t a place people want to linger. And don’t add animation really big files or anything that takes too long to load. Keep with your color scheme and tone.

11) Pick your “gadgets.” There are lots. But again, keep it simple. I suggest just choosing the basics like about me, followers, subscribe, share and search this blog. Share is the thing so people can Tweet or FB or + your post. You want this to happen.

You can go back and add anything you want later. Later you’ll want your archives and most popular posts. Just go to your “design” tab to find more. If you Tweet, get a twitter button. (Google “Twitter buttons”) Don’t choose an animated one, though—they’re cute but they slow your load time.

In a little while, you’ll want to install the gadget that posts links to your most popular posts. That makes people want to move around the site and not leave after they’ve read one thing.

I don’t recommend putting your stats on the front page “so many hits” or whatever. It will only advertise that you’re a newbie and might make you sad. Do keep track of your stats on your own dashboard, but remember it takes about a year to get a blog going at full stride. So don’t obsess. Yes, you will have weeks when you have two hits. My blog had five in its first three months.

But checking stats is actually a good idea because you can see where your traffic is coming from. If you suddenly get 40 hits from one address—go check it out. Somebody’s posted a link to you. You may have a new friend you didn’t even know about.

12) Set up privacy settings. I suggest making no restrictions on new posts. Don’t make every comment wait for your approval before it goes live. You won’t get a discussion going that way. Monitor your blog yourself instead. I’ve personally found that 99% of commenters are friendly.

Also, I suggest turning off the “Captcha.” word verification thingy. Spambot programmers are learning to get around them and they don’t screen out most spam. (That’s done by the spamblocker, which will work just fine without Captcha.) But the two or three extra steps annoy people and keep them from commenting.

But DO have every comment over a week old sent to you for approval. Old posts attract spam and trolls.

13) Sign up for email notification of new comments so you can respond to them in a timely way. If commenters give an email address in their profile (always smart) you can respond to them via email, but I prefer to respond in the comment thread to stimulate discussion.

14) Upload those photos. But not too many. One per post is good. This is a WRITING blog. And NO MUSIC. People read blogs at work. And on their phones. Even though you’re sure everybody on the planet adores the classics of the Abba catalogue, some of us don’t. Trust me on this.

It’s that easy. But don’t forget to:

15) BOOKMARK your blog, or you may never find it again. You’d be amazed how many people set up a blog only to have it disappear forever into cyberspace.

16) When you go back to your blog, click “sign in” and then “new post” to get inside the blog. What they call the “back” of the blog.

17) Keep to a schedule. Decide how often you want to blog—I suggest once a week to start—then do it. Preferably on the same day each week. Most blog gurus will tell you to blog more often, but I have a pretty highly rated blog and have never blogged more than twice in one week.

I follow something called SLOW BLOGGING. It’s like the slow food movement. Quality over quantity.

Joining the Slow Blog movement is simple. Start a blog and announce you’re planning to post on alternate Tuesdays, or every full moon, or whenever. Or if you already have a blog, next time you miss a few days, tell yourself you didn’t FAIL to blog; you SUCCEEDED in joining the Slow Bloggers. All you have to do is skip those boring apologies, and you’re in.

18) Write your first blogpost.

So how do you write for a blog?

  • A post should be 600-1200 words presented in short, punchy paragraphs. (Do as I say, not as I do—This is one long-ass post. Sorry.)
  • Bulleting, numbering and bolding are your friends. Make a point and present it in a way that’s easy to grasp.
  • Offer information and interesting observations, not navel-gazing. Direct your focus outward, not inward. (And keep to nonfiction. Blogging your fiction isn't a great idea for a number of reasons, which I'll go into next week.)
  • If you have more to say than fits into a few paragraphs—great! You have material for next time.
  • Keep to one topic, because that stimulates conversation more effectively. If you have dozens of short things to say—Tweet them.
  • Always ask a question of your readers at the end. It makes people feel involved and stimulates discussion.
19) Go tell those blogfriends you’ve made that you’ve got a blog. Hopefully, a few will follow. Don’t despair if you don’t get a lot of followers right away. I had maybe ten for my first six months—consisting of my critique group and my mom.

20) Congratulations. You are now a blogger.
Really. It’s that easy.

What about you, scriveners? Do any of you regular bloggers have suggestions for newbies? Newbies, do you have any questions? We’ll be glad to help.

This week I’ll be making two blogtour stops. I’ll be visiting Roni Loren’s legendary blog, Fiction Groupie  on Monday, December 4th, talking about that scary question of whether that first novel can find a publisher.

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