books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, October 4, 2015

How to Start a Blog in 20 Easy Steps: A Guide for New Author-Bloggers

by Anne R. Allen

This blog almost wasn't here today. On Tuesday, it disappeared. When I loaded the home page, I got a message saying "this page does not exist on this blog."

Panic attack time.

Luckily, my Google Plus friend SEO expert Johnny Base was able to help me get it back up and running and thwart whoever was trying to hack it. Thanks, Johnny!

But I had to go through some painful hours there wondering if I could survive without a blog.

I realize plenty of authors do. I spent a few minutes trying to tell myself, " would give me more time to work on my books...."

But blogging can boost your career in so many ways, as I wrote in my September 13th post, "Does an Author Really Need a Blog?" This blog sure has helped mine.

Plus if you write non-narrative nonfiction like, ahem, How to be a Writer in the E-Age, a blog is pretty essential to your platform.

If  you haven't tried it yet, you'll find that creating a blog isn't as hard as you may think.

A lot of blogging advice is aimed at professional bloggers who are looking to make money from the blog itself. They want things slick, flashy, and monetized.

But that's probably not what you want as an author. You want a personal, 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. Tech people always assume everybody knows the basics, which is why the basics are the hardest part to figure out if you're brand new to all this.

Here's the stuff I wish somebody had told me when I was starting out...

20 Steps To Becoming a Blogger

1) Read Blogs

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.

Blogs written by agents, authors and other industry professionals are great places to educate yourself. They're like a visit to a writers' conference available free any day of the week. And like writers' conferences, they're also good places to network with other writers at all stages of their careers—people who can help your own career in dozens of ways.

For suggestions of blogs to visit, see my post "What Should A Novelist Blog About?" I also highly recommend Molly Greene, Jami Gold and Janice Hardy's Fiction University. Their blogs are all full of great information that will be helpful to you whether you plan to self-publish or go the traditional route.

Also, many writer-bloggers 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 probably get their profile and you can go visit their blog.

While you're reading, think of things you might like to say in your own blog. Start jotting down ideas for posts.

You'll want to have several pieces ready to go by the time you launch your own blog.

For non-bloggers who are getting blogposts in their email but may not know how to read an actual blog or see the comments, you can click through the email to the blog by clicking on the header (for our subscribers, it's the title in blue at the top of the email.) That will take you to this blog in its native habitat at

The advantage of clicking through is that you can read the comments (just click on the word "comments" at the bottom of the post. It will usually say "28 Comments" or whatever the number is.)

For most of you reading right now, that may sound too beginnerish to mention, but we were all beginners once. I remember when I finally figured out how to comment on a blog. It felt like such a triumph. And I'd been reading them for at least six months. Online sites never come with a manual.

Blog comments have a wealth of information. Some of our commenters know much more than we do! And if you leave a comment yourself, that will help you raise your profile and increase name recognition.

2) Get a blogging ID

You may find it tough to comment on some blogs without the proper ID. Ruth and I have recently decided to allow "anonymous" commenting, so if you don't have an ID, you can comment here as "anonymous" and then sign your name at the bottom. But many bloggers don't allow anons because it involves weeding out a lot more spam.

There are a number of ways to get an ID.

  • Join Google+. It's an easy, no-strings social site where you can participate or not (just unclick "email me" functions if you want to keep participation to a minimum.) This gives you a "user ID" that allows you to comment on most blogs without jumping through all those hoops. Plus when you comment, your Google profile picture will come up and if people click on it, they will go to your Google profile. If that profile has links to your blog, website and books, you may have just made a sale or got a potential blog follower. If you have gmail, it's super easy to sign up, and it's not hard for anybody, even a cybermoron like me. In a guest post written for us by Johnny Base, there's a video showing you exactly how to sign up.
  • Get a Gravatar ID. Gravatar is a universally recognized image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. Clicking on it will lead people to your Gravatar ID, where you can put links to your sites, just like on Google Plus. So when people read a comment, they can click on your image and find you on the Web. ( Although something seems to be weird there right now. When I click on "my profile" it closes the tab. Very mysterious. I assume they'll fix that.) 
  • You can also join Wordpress without having a Wordpress blog. You can sign up for a username only account. Unfortunately, Blogger, which is owned by Google, sometimes doesn't accept a Wordpress ID, so a Google ID is better for a Blogger blog. Tech companies always seem to be at war with each other and they don't seem to mind the collateral damage.

3) Comment and interact with other commenters on high profile blogs

You only have to say a few words of agreement (or disagreement, if phrased politely), or offer your own experience about the topic.

Commenting on high traffic blogs is the quickest way to get into search engines. Most of my early mentions on Google came from my comments on other people's blogs. 

A comment right here can put your name in front of 5,000 people in a week. It could take many months to reach that many people with a new blog.

Discussions on big blogs can also lead to discussions on your own. Find yourself making a long comment? That's a future blogpost. When you post the comment, you can invite people to discuss the topic further on your own blog. 

Support somebody's argument on a high-profile blog and you have a blogfriend. That's how I got my first followers.

4) Choose a blogging platform

The biggest free blogging platforms are WordPress, Tumblr, and Blogger. But there are lots of others to choose from, like SquareSpace, TypePad, LiveJournal, and Weebly. Medium is a newer site that comes highly recommended. WordPress is the most popular.

You can also have a blog on your personal website, or on a writer's forum like Goodreads or SheWrites, but these aren't as likely to be picked up by search engines, so if your goal is to be more visible, I suggest using a blogging platform that's not buried in another site.

I use Blogger (owned by Google, with an address that reads "") because it's the easiest to set up and use—and has templates that are easy to customize. But Blogger does have drawbacks. There's no tech support, so you have to go around to forums asking for help. And you don't have as many choices. 

And scary things can happen, like what happened to me this week. Johnny Base tells me when a blog gets to be the size of this one, with up to 100,000 hits a month, it's time to move to a paid web host site. So we'll be doing that in the next few months.

But Blogger has been working fine for us for five years and it works for most authors.

If you prefer to start with a free WordPress blog, you can get step by step instructions here from Jane Friedman. WordPress has the advantage of tech support, and a free blog can be easily converted to a self-hosted (paid) blog if you start getting a lot of traffic. A WordPress blog can also be more easily translated into an ebook.

4) Decide on a focus and tone for your blog. 

Blog gurus will tell you to address a niche, but that's not always 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.

For more on this check out my post, What Should An Author Blog About?

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, gritty R. L. Hawk. She won'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.

But note: if you make a big genre change, you can alter everything about a blog—header, name, template, tone—but still keep the original url (blog address.) I suggest you do that so you don't lose the search engine attention you've gained so far.

5) Think of a name and tagline. 

Don't get too creative here. Make sure you put your own name in the title. Your name is your brand. Yes, I know a lot of blogs have names like "Musing, Meandering and Muttering," but this self-defeating for an author.

Nothing is more annoying than reading a great blogpost and not being able to find out who wrote it. I'm amazed at how many writers are still doing this.

Here's the thing: anywhere you go online, you want to promote your brand, or you're wasting time (time you could be writing that masterpiece 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."

You're doing this to get your name out there, so for goodness sake, put your name on the blog.  

6). Choose a couple of photos to decorate the blog. 

Use a friendly, professional photo of yourself for your profile, and another for the header to set the tone. And of course post your book covers if you have them for sale.

Try to keep with the same color scheme and general feel when choosing photos.

And make sure they aren't copyrighted! Use your own or use free ones from places like WikiCommons, or you could be hit with a big bill from the copyright holder.

Do think about tone when you choose. 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 series. Romance sites don't have to be pink, but they should be warm, inviting and a little sexy or girly.

Also, aim to echo the tone and color of your other social media pages in order to establish a personal "brand" look.

7) Prepare a bio for your "About Me" page. 

This is the most important part of your blog. Again, I'm amazed at how many writers don't have one. It's why you're here, remember?

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 or parenting blog. Pseudonyms for kids are a smart idea for protecting their privacy. You can learn more in my post on How to Write an Author Bio.

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 G+ 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.

Make sure you add links to your other social media accounts. It's easy if you just add a gadget that will make a link live that gives your Twitter handle (as we do) or says "Like me on Facebook." You can get a Facebook badge from FB, but mine disappeared some time ago. If you Tweet, you can Google "Twitter buttons" to get a cute one. Don't get the animated kind, though—they slow your load time. And be sure to put your actual Twitter handle on the blog somewhere so people who Tweet your posts can attribute them to you.

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: "42 hits" or whatever. It will only advertise that you're a newbie. Do keep track of your stats on your own dashboard, but remember it takes about a year to get blog traffic going. So don't get discouraged. Yes, you will have weeks when you have two hits. My blog had five hits in its entire first three months.

Checking stats privately is a good idea, so you can see where your traffic is coming from and what posts are popular. If you get a ton of hits from one address (and it's not spam) someone probably posted a link to your blog, so check it out and get a discussion going.

But don't obsess about your traffic. Establishing an audience takes time. Longer than you think. So relax and have fun.

12) Set up privacy settings. 

I suggest making no restrictions on comments 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. And the spambot will take care of a lot of the robo-spam.

I used to suggest turning off the CAPTCHA word verification thingy, but they've improved it so it's not such an infuriating puzzle, so I've put ours back on. Now there's just a box to check to "prove you're not a robot,"

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 

That way 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.  Unless you're a photojournalist, you're trying to sell yourself as a writer, not a photographer (or a chooser of stock photos.) And NEVER use copyrighted photos. You may get a bill and it won't be cheap.

If you're more of a photographer than a writer, you'll probably prefer Tumblr, which is more about images than text.

And NO MUSIC. People read blogs at work. And on their phones. Even though you're sure everybody on the planet adores the classic oeuvre of the Archies, 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.  Remember you can't find it with a Google search it until the search spiders have found it. I lost this blog for three months after I started it.

You'd be amazed how many people set up a blog only to have it disappear into cyberspace. If you've done that, it's worth it to go looking for them use the oldest one as the basis for your new blog: it will have some Google cred by now. Then delete the others. You don't want people who Google you to find a dead blog from 2007. They'll think you're deceased.

These days you ARE your Google search page. Don't run the risk of looking like a dead person.

16) Sign in.

When you go back to your blog, click "sign in" in the upper right hand corner. And then hit "design" or "new post" to get inside the blog. That's what they call the "back" of the blog where you do your actual work.

Why is the link  that opens the blog labeled "design"? I don't have a clue. That's the kind of thing that sends a non-techie into a panic, but must be obvious to most techies. It may be called something else in Wordpress. Maybe one of the commenters will let us know.

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 this is a pretty highly rated blog and I have never blogged more than twice in one week.

I like to do what some people call "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 some blogposts.

As I said above, it's a good idea to write several pieces before you start the blog, so you have time to get into a rhythm and you don't fall into the trap of so many one-post would-be bloggers who have those deceased blogs floating around in cyberspace.

If you have four or five posts lined up, you'll give yourself a running start.

I personally write in Word, save it in my documents, and then copy and paste into Blogger.This is because the auto-save is slower than Word's. I learned that the hard way.

But if you compose in Word and paste into Blogger, turn off the "smart quotes" (the curly ones) in Word. It's not that a post won't go live with smart quotes, but they seem to interfere with the rss feed, so your followers won't be able to read the blog in their feed. I'm too much of a cyberemoron to tell you why, but for some reason the rss elves prefer stupid quotes.   

So how do you write for a blog?
  • A post should be from 500-2000 words presented in short, punchy paragraphs. (If you post more often, you can make the posts shorter.)
  • Bulleting, numbering and bolding are your friends. Make a point and present it in a way that's easy to grasp.
  • Use subheaders! That means going up to the toolbar and choosing a format from the drop down menu. In Blogger, you can choose "Normal", "Header" "Subheader", or "Minor Header." Formatting is important because search engine spiders notice properly formatted subheaders and get your post into Google faster.
  • Make sure you link to your sources. And choose good anchor text for those hyperlinks. Don't just say "for more information click here." Say "you can find more information in the article How to choose Anchor Text" and highlight the whole title. (Those aren't actually live links) That's so the search engine spiders will find you. They are looking for live links that tell the search engine something. "Here" doesn't say much. 
  • Don't navel-gaze. Offer information and interesting observations. Direct your focus outward, not inward. (And don't expect to get as much traffic for fiction and poetry. People are usually looking for nonfiction and information in blogs.)
  • Don't feel you have to say everything in one post. If you have more to say than fits in one post—great! You have material for next time.
  • Keep to one topic per post, because that stimulates conversation more effectively. If you have dozens of short things to say—Tweet them.
  • 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.

Twitter is one of the best places to promote your blogposts, so if you're not on Twitter, consider joining. Then RT other posts on the same subject you're blogging about. That way you'll get a core of Twitter followers who will want to read your posts.

Facebook is also a great place to promote your blog. If you sign up for Networked blogs, they will post a link to your FB page automatically (as long as you use stupid quotes: their elves don't like smart quotes either.) Google Plus will post a Blogger blog automatically if you link it to your Google Plus account. (But don't link your comments to Google Plus. Then only Google Plus members can comment.)

Any social medium is good for blog promotion. We get a lot of hits from Pinterest, and we're not even on it. We're grateful to followers who post links for us. Thanks!

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? If you're a blogger, what do you find the hardest part of blogging? The easiest?


BOOMER WOMEN: Three Comedies about a Generation that Changed the World. ONLY 99c for a limited time. 

The Lady of the Lakewood Diner, Food of Love and The Gatsby Game, available in one boxed set. 99c at Nook, iTunes and all the Amazons. Also available at Kobo and Scribd

"Canny cultural observation that brings to mind two of my favorite British authors, Barbara Pym and Penelope Fitzgerald. Yes, the humor is there and sometimes spew-your-cocktail funny, but the character depth and plot fulfillment go so far beyond the humor. I felt I knew these people. I felt I was there."...Debra Eve at The Later Bloomer

"I applaud Allen's consistently genuine voice, with accuracy that spells 'that could have been me'. Behind the humor, she is gracefully revolutionary."...Kathleen Keena author of The Play's The Thing.


Open call for the Independent Women Anthology: short stories (flash fiction included), poetry, essays, artwork, or any other woman and/or feminist-centered creative work. 10,000 word max. All genres but explicit erotica. $100 per short story, $50 for flash, poetry, and photography/artwork. All profits will be donated to the Pixel Project Charity to end Violence Against Women. Deadline January 31, 2016 with a goal of publication on International Women's Day, March 8, 2016.

TETHERED BY LETTERS' FALL 2015 LITERARY CONTEST ENTRY FEES: $15 Short Story; $7 Flash Fiction/$15 three Flash Fictions; $7 poem /$15 for three poems. Currently accepting submissions for the short story contest (1,000 to 7,500 words, open genre), flash fiction contest (55, 250, or 500 words), and poetry contest (maximum of three pages per poem). All winners will be published in F(r)iction. All finalists will receive free professional edits on their submission and be considered for later publication. The prizes are $500 (USD) for the short story winner, $150 (USD) for the flash fiction winner, and $150 (USD) for the poetry winner. Multiple entries accepted. International submissions welcome. Deadline December 1.

The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.

The IWSG Short Story Anthology Contest 2015.  NO FEE! The top ten stories will be published in an anthology. (Authors will receive royalties on sales.) Eligibility: Any member of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is encouraged to enter – blogging or Facebook member (no fee to join the IWSG). The story must be previously unpublished. Entry is free. Word count: 5000-6000. Theme: Alternate History/Parallel Universe. Deadline: November 1st

$20 ENTRY FEE. 7000 word limit.
The winning story will receive $2,000 and publication on the site. Second and third place stories will receive $200 and $100, publication, and all story winners will receive a critique. Fifteen finalists will be recognized online and have their stories read by the VanderMeers. Deadline October 31.

RROFIHE TROPHY NO-FEE SHORT STORY CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE. For an unpublished short story. Minimum word count 3,500; maximum to 5,000 words. Winner receives $500, trophy, announcement and publication on anderbo.comDeadline October 15.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Style That Doesn't go out of Fashion: Style Sheets, Style Guides, and Why Audrey Hepburn Style is a Writer’s Best Friend

by Ruth Harris

What's a Style Sheet?

Look, guys, I don't want to freak you out but, if you're writing a book (or a short story or a novella), you need a style sheet.

If you plan to self-pub, a style sheet will save your sanity while you're writing—and after because a style sheet will save you time and money when you hire a copy editor. If you want to try trad-pubbing, you'll need a style sheet, too. Publishers have cut back staffs and copyediting, like a lot of things, ain't what it used to be.

In case you don't know what a style sheet is and maybe have never even heard of one, a style sheet is a list of all the important data—names, addresses, dates, people and places—in your manuscript. Creating a style sheet is straightforward: the first time a character or place name (or any other data) is mentioned, add it to a list. That list is your style sheet. Simple as that.

Your style sheet is a road map to your book, a quality-control tool that provides coherence and consistency.

Analogous to continuity in a movie, your style sheet will ensure, among other things, that your characters don't suddenly change names, marital status or political affiliation—or worse—in the middle of your novel. Trust me, it happens.

Like this: Your MC is James Q. Black. You don't want him to suddenly to become Jimmy Z. Brown and confuse the hell out of your reader or the agent or editor you're trying to sell. Because, guess what?, the reader will get confused and give up or you won't make the sale. A style sheet will save you from the vagaries of memory—and from yourself.

Or this:

  • Example #1: You want to make certain your reader knows exactly which character is facing an attack by alien hordes while dangling off the edge of a cliff by the fingertips. Is it James Q. or Jimmy Z, or, god forbid, Jane Z.—reader wants to know!
  • Example #2: Your heroine, Suzie Smith, lives at 21 Main Street. Add Suzie Smith plus her address to your style sheet. Will save you from calling her Suzy Smith a few chapters later and makes sure you refer to her address as 21 Main Street. Not twenty-one Main Street. And certainly not 22 Maine Avenue.
  • Example #3: Suzie's bff, Marianne, works at Lulu's Bakery. Add Marianne and Lulu's Bakery to your style sheet. Because if you don't, you risk glitches like: Mary Ann? Who's dat and what's she doing in this story? Loulou's Bakery? What's dat and what's it doing in this story? A confused reader is a reader who's going to love bomb you with a five-star review? Nope.

Character descriptions that ensure a blonde is blonde (unless a change in hair color is critical to the plot) can also be included in your style sheet. A six foot tall zombie is six feet, not five six. A scar on the right side of your gunslinger's face stays on the right side, doesn't wander over to the left or completely disappear (at least not without a credible explanation).

Style sheets how-tos.

Style guide or style sheet. There's a difference?

Well, yeah, although IRL sometimes there is overlap. Generally speaking, though, a style sheet keeps track of the nuts and bolts: 21 Main Street not twenty-one Main Street or 22 Maine Street, remember?

A style guide, OTOH, offer suggestions about how to write. Some publishers provide a style guide, a sort of house rules for writers.

To get started, acquaint yourself with a few tried and tested classics.

Just remember, rules and style guides are suggestions, not iron-clad laws. Once you know them and use them confidently, you can (maybe) break them as long as you know what you're doing.

Audrey Hepburn style and why it matters.

What did Audrey do that no one else did—or could do? She looked like herself. On purpose. Period.

Barbra Streisand and Diana Vreeland and Tilda Swinton are other examples. Among the men, think of Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Woody Allen. Include Joan Didion and Joan Rivers, Steve McQueen and Steve Buscemi. And don't forget Grace Coddington, Steve Jobs, Diana Ross, David Geffen, Jackie Onassis, Tom Wolfe, Lauren Hutton, the Kardashians.

Style icons don't look like anyone else, they look like themselves and no one else. They do not follow trends, they set them. They are not fashion victims but style leaders.

They are unique and instantly identifiable. They don't fear owning their own wavy/frizzy/stick straight hair, scrawny/fleshy/muscular body, big nose/thick lips/long chin. They understand that the key to standing out is to work with what they have and to be the best version of themselves. On purpose.

What does style and looking like yourself on purpose have to do with writing and selling books?

In the tsunami/avalanche/crap ton of books being published and a flattening market as noted in a recent post by Porter Anderson, the big question is: how can your book stand out?

Style is how. Style is not fashion and style is not some fad that's here today, gone tomorrow. Style is enduring, unique, recognizable, desirable and, most of all, authentic. For a writer, style is writing like yourself. On purpose.

Consider Elmore Leonard and Ernest Hemingway, Tom Wolfe, Jackie Collins, Janet Evanovich, Robert B. Parker, and Raymond Chandler: each one has developed an immediately recognizable style.

Finding your own style isn't quick and it isn't easy. Which doesn't mean it's impossible. Or, even worse, no fun.

Stephen King has an answer to the question of why developing a style of your own can be difficult: "Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation."

When you write, are you afraid of what critics/your Mom/a reviewer/your crit group will say? Do you feel pressured to prove to the world how smart you are and how brilliant your prose? Do you want to impress a Paris Review critic or your high school English teacher?

Do you shrink from ideas that seem too far out/too freaky/too scary/too ordinary/too done-to-death? You know what I mean: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. You don't want to write that. Not again.

Or do you?

And you do know, don't you, there there are maybe 7 basic plots?

Are you holding yourself back from developing a unique style because you're afraid? Of what? Of the nay-saying phantoms in your head? Of what "people" will say? Do you cringe from imagined hostile reviews?

Is your writing suffering because you're afraid of what people you don't even know much less care about are going to think?

Does the thought of a one-star review send you to the shrink?

Do you want to hide or do you want to shine?

Now you're beginning to see what I'm getting at, aren't you?

But, you say, if I let go, if I indulge my nuttiest, weirdest, furthest-out or done-a-million-times idea, people will laugh at me, sneer at me, think I'm crazy, call me untalented.

The fact is, you're right. Only a few examples needed to make the point: 

  • Jackson Pollock was ridiculed and called "Jack the Dripper."
  • Picasso's Cubist paintings were considered "shocking."
  • Elvis Presley was considered "vulgar" and his performances were censored and even cancelled because he was said to be a threat to the morals of American youth.
  • And let's not even go into all the huge bestsellers (Harry Potter, anyone?) that were rejected over and over before finding their readers.

Mahatma Gandhi reduced the outraged, you-can't-do-that reactions to a formula: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

So then what?

How do you develop a style of your own?

The obvious answer is that a writer must face his or her fears. Booze is popular. So is chocolate. But, honestly, don't both seem a bit passé in this time of organic, grass fed, artisanal, gluten-free Everything?

The advice of an in-demand sports psychologist gave me an idea for a different approach. Why not accentuate the positive? Why not conquer fear with confidence?

The psychologist's theory is that if a golfer is a good putter, s/he should practice putting until s/he becomes a superb putter? This expert's approach was not to focus on correcting an athlete's weaknesses, but on polishing his/her strengths.

Writers can take the same approach: write what you're good at. To bring the end of this post back to the beginning, as you polish what you're already do well—narrative, dialogue, characterization, humor, horror, thrills, romance—you'll will inevitably hone and define a style. It will be as individual as a fingerprint, as recognizable as Streisand, Tilda or Audrey and you will develop it by doing what you like best—and by practicing what you're already good at.

Simple, yet not so simple, and, yet, eminently do-able.

Plus, like many of the best things in life, style is FREE.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have a distinctive style? Did you experiment with several before you came up with one that's really "you"? Have you ever changed a character's name and forgotten to go back and change it? (I once sent a partial to an agent where the heroine's name changed halfway through. Ack!)...Anne


When it comes to style, you can't beat Chanel. Read The Chanel Caper by Ruth Harris for only $2.99 on all the Amazons

Chick Lit for Chicks Who Weren't Born Yesterday

Here's what USA Today bestseller, Vanessa Kelly says about The Chanel Caper in Love Rocks:

"The Chanel Caper is a romantic comedy, a thriller, and a send-up of the big city lifestyle in the wake of the global financial crisis. All the disparate elements of this very funny story are tethered by the engaging Blake, a smart, sensible, and dryly witty heroine intent on saving her marriage. It's definitely a romance for the grownups, set against the backdrop of the bright lights of the city that never sleeps."


The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.

The IWSG Short Story Anthology Contest 2015.  NO FEE! The top ten stories will be published in an anthology. (Authors will receive royalties on sales.) Eligibility: Any member of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is encouraged to enter – blogging or Facebook member (no fee to join the IWSG). The story must be previously unpublished. Entry is free. Word count: 5000-6000. Theme: Alternate History/Parallel Universe. Deadline: November 1st

RROFIHE TROPHY NO-FEE SHORT STORY CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE. For an unpublished short story. Minimum word count 3,500; maximum to 5,000 words. Winner receives $500, trophy, announcement and publication on anderbo.comDeadline October 15.

Glimmer Train Press Family Matters  Prize: $1,500 and publication in Glimmer Train.  Entry fee $18. Stories up to 12,000 words: about families of all configurations. Deadline: September 30.

Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest $4,000 in prizes. Entry fee $10 per poem. Submit poems in modern and traditional styles, up to 250 lines each. Deadline: September 30.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

How to Get Your Indie Book Translated and Reach the Growing "Globile" Market

by Mark Williams

How would you like to double, triple or even quadruple your titles without writing a single extra word?

Think E Unum Pluribus.

The United States' original motto "E Pluribus Unum" translates as "From Many, One", a reference to the creation of one country – the USA – from the myriad colonies that fought the British for independence.

E Unum Pluribus, therefore, translates to "From One, Many."

No, I'm not advocating chopping long books into short ones just to game the system. But rather turning one book into many, without writing an extra word, and at a stroke increasing your potential audience reach by literally hundreds of millions. 

Translation is not just for the Big 5 anymore

Translation is the name of the game, and if you haven't been thinking seriously about translations so far, I can promise you will be by the time you finish this post.

English is the lingua franca of the world. As authors it is our single greatest asset. We have immense reach simply by writing in the world's most widespread language.

But beyond that reach are not just hundreds of millions, but literally billions of readers who do not speak or read English.

Back in 2010 Big 5 publishers (then the Big 6) could get an elite handful of top authors into translation around the globe, but even these had limits. Their books would only be available in a few big stores in a few big cities in the richer countries of the world, and few people could afford them.

Five years later…

I'm an indie author. No Big 5 publisher backing me. But right now I've got titles live and selling in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Chinese.

I have translations underway into Japanese, Norwegian, Dutch, Afrikaans, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu and Ukrainian.

And I'm actively seeking translation-partners in Vietnamese, Indonesian, Filipino, Turkish, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Swedish and a host of other languages too long to list here.

So much has changed, and the changes are profound.  

A brief trip down memory lane:

Ponder these words of wisdom from Newsweek in early 1995.

"Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries, and multimedia classrooms… [They say] we'll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet. Uh, sure. The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper…

"We're promised instant catalog shopping — just point and click for great deals. We'll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month?"

Amazon was barely six months old when that article was written. Ebooks were slightly more than a figment of a 14 year-old's imagination, but not by much.

Back then the internet existed, but who really cared? To connect to the internet you not only needed an expensive desktop or laptop computer, but you needed reliable electricity, a landline telephone connection (ideally next door to the telephone exchange), and an expensive data plan from an ISP.

If you wanted to exchange an email with someone in another city or country, or even your next-door neighbour, the person at the other end had to have the same equipment. And they had to have it switched on and be sat at the desk to know you'd emailed them.

The internet was the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and tech savvy in big cities in a handful of countries. And who really needed it anyway? What was it for?

There was no Facebook. No Twitter. No YouTube. No iPad. No…

Fast forward to 2007

In April 2007 the first iPad had appeared. But it was just for geeks.

YouTube, Facebook and Twitter existed, but few people were taking them seriously.

Twitter was just one year old. YouTube was just two years old. Facebook was the granddaddy, having launched in 2004, but apart from college students, who knew? The social media experts of the day were advising people to ignore this new fad, Facebook. MySpace was the height of social media savvy in 2007.

And then came the Kindle.

Amazon had come of age by then and was not only delivering cheap print books to our door on a scale unimaginable in 1995, but in 2007 it had just brought out this new device, the Kindle.

But the internet was still the exclusive preserve of the rich First World countries. You still needed an expensive desktop computer, reliable electric, a landline telephone connection, and to be living in a big city where a local ISP existed.

By 2009-10 strange stories were emerging from Japan that people were reading books on their phones. Books? Most of us were still struggling with text messages that we had to abbreviate to mindless gobbledegook just to cram onto those tiny screens.

The experts assured us it was just a fad. Reading on phones was "peculiarly Japanese" and would never happen outside of Japan.

Fast forward five more years...

Today we can now not just buy and read books, exchange emails and engage in social media on phones and tablets, but do our weekly shopping, book plane tickets and make restaurant reservations, stream TV and films… It would be quicker to list what you can't do on a phone.

And not just in big cities next to the telephone exchange like in 1995, but anywhere a wi-fi connection can reach.

At which point you may be wondering what this has to do with authors getting their titles translated into other languages.

Here's the thing:

Way back in 2009 when the Kindle opened to indie authors, the ebook market was, for all practical purposes, the United States. And the ebook market was a handful of people who owned a Kindle or another brand of ereader. In 2010 that market became the US and UK. Both English language.

Today there are over a dozen Kindle stores across the world, not just in English (US, UK, Australia, Canada, India) but in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese and Japanese. There's even a Kindle China store.

That alone should have you thinking seriously about translations.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The Kindle store may be the biggest ebook store in most of those countries (Canada, the Netherlands and China being the exceptions) but ebooks are being read all over the world.

Consider this:

The Guadalajara International Book Fair in Mexico is in November. It's the biggest Spanish-language book fair in the world.

Publishing Perspectives reported that the Guadalajara Rights Center – a meeting place for publishers to exchange foreign-language rights - had sold out its 125 tables several months in advance, a sure sign of trad pub's growing interest in the global Spanish book market.

There is a global New Renaissance unfolding right now, and the Big 5 are preparing to rake in the cash from it.

  • Penguin Random House (PRH) this month reported parent company Bertelsmann has seen its highest revenues since 2007, thanks in large part to PRH's expanded global reach. PRH reported "excellent performance in Latin America and double-digit growth in (Latin American) e-book sales."
  • There's a new ebook megastore, Orbile, opening in Mexico this month, and Kobo is handling its ebooks. 
  • Amazon has Kindle stores in Mexico and Brazil. Apple is in Latin America. Google Play has ebook stores in 17 Latin American countries. And there are also countless "local" ebook retailers in the region. 

The big publishers are well positioned to reap the rewards as the Latin American ebook market blooms. Indie authors can do well there too. 

Easy access through the above-mentioned stores, and just this month the Italian aggregator Streetlib announced a deal to get indie titles into the key Latin American ebook retailer BajaLibros.

As for the rest of the world…opportunities abound. The global ebook market is about to blossom.

Smartphones are bringing even bigger changes

Up until the start of this decade, the World Wide Web was something only the lucky few could actually participate in.

For most people in the Third World, reliable electric and a landline telephone connection were unaffordable luxuries you hoped your grandchildren might one day live to see.

But then "globile" happened. Global mobile, that is. The phenomenal rise of the global smartphone, no longer the exclusive preserve of the rich west, but an everyday device for people across the planet.

The rest of the world – even the poorest nations on the map – have quite simply skipped those painful desktop decades and gone straight from the pre-internet (and even pre-telephone) era to the age of 4G internet and smartphones.

Today there are over two billion – no, that's not a typo – two billion people around the world with a smartphone in their hands and a connection to the internet.

That's two billion people who could potentially be reading your ebooks.

Many read English, of course. We are soooo lucky!

And for the rest of the planet, English is the second language of myriad countries, and that number is growing by the day.

In China there are over 300 million people learning English right now, and millions more are signing up every month. Very soon there will be more English-language learners in China than there are people in the United States.

But that's a tiny fraction of the Chinese population. If you want to top the Chinese ebook charts you need to think seriously about a translation into Mandarin.

The Exploding "Globile" Market

A reminder – "globile" means global mobile. It's this brave new world where two billion (and rising) people around the planet are our potential audience.

How does an audience of five billion sound?

Seriously. That's how many people will be connected to the internet and potentially reading our books in the very near future.

As of this summer India officially has more internet users than the USA has people. Thirty million more!

And fifty million of those connected to the internet for the first time in the past six months.

To ram home the significance of this, the USA has just 280 million people online. Yet the USA has 86% of its population online. India? Just 27%.

By end 2017 India will have five hundred million people connected to the internet.

And here's where it gets really exciting. Those projections are based on current take-up rates. They don't take into account projects like Google Loon, Internet Saathi or Facebook Aquila, which are going to wildly accelerate such take-up.

Google Loon and Internet bicycles

You may be thinking Google Loon is a term of abuse you shout at Google's driverless cars, but Google has a vision where everyone on the planet will be connected to the internet. Not in some distant century, but in the next decade.

Google Loon is Google's internet balloon project. High-flying internet-relay balloons that will bring the internet to remote areas where a traditional cable or wi-fi connection simply isn't viable.

Google Loon plans to bring the internet to remote parts of the USA and Canada, for example, currently without access. And it plans to bring the internet to the Third World.

In July Google signed an agreement with Sri Lanka to give the entire island internet access by balloon. A case of science-fiction literally becoming reality. Arthur C. Clarke, who lived in Sri Lanka, "predicted" the idea many years before.

Google also has more down-to-earth methods of getting the world connected. 

Google's Internet Saathi project, just launched this summer, is taking the internet to millions of women in remote villages in India. By bicycle. Trained teams touring India by bike showing rural women how to connect to the internet with their smartphones.

It's a scenario that, just a few short years ago, was quite unthinkable.

Facebook's and Aquila drones.

And it's just the beginning. Facebook is also in on the act.

Facebook has this wonderful project called, which brings (limited) free internet access to some of the poorest nations on the planet.

And then there's Facebook's Aquila drones.

While Amazon is working on drones that will one day deliver your POD book to someone's door, Facebook's Aquila drones – each the size of a Boeing 747, solar powered and flying at 60,000 feet – will be delivering your ebooks, tweets and Facebook posts to places that right now can only dream of connecting to the internet.

Facebook and Google are also using satellites to bring the internet to the world. And they’re not alone. At the end of August the third Immarsat Global Express broadband satellites was launched from Kazakhstan and will orbit over the Pacific.

Also at the end of August the Pacific Caribbean Cable System (PCCS) started commercial operations. The PCCS links the USA, via Florida, with the Caribbean nations, Central America and northern South America as far as Ecuador, meaning millions more people across the Caribbean and Latin America have access to 4G-standard internet service.  

The Internet Saathi project and ebooks

But let’s come back to the Internet Saathi project to remind us why this matters to authors.

Over the next eighteen months five million women in 45,000 Indian villages will be getting lessons in how to use their smartphones to connect to the internet.

Google last month tweeted that the first rural women student, Jayant, had successfully used her smartphone to look up information about the cattle she rears to support her family.

The internet is a truly wonderful thing.

But it won’t just change Jayant’s life in practical terms like providing information about her cattle. It will also open up a world of entertainment and social engagement previously unknown to her.

How long before Jayant and the other five million women in this project will friend you on Facebook, retweet one of your tweets, or read one of your ebooks?

But Google's South Asia VP Rajan Anandan warns that while the English language has dominated the growth of the internet in India so far, "the next 100 million Internet users will not be fluent in English".

That’s one hundred million reasons to start thinking about translations into India's myriad local languages.

India is the second most populated country on the planet. On current projections it will soon have more people than China.

China is currently the world's largest smartphone market. India is expected to jump into second place ahead of the USA as soon as 2017.

A reminder, every smartphone and tablet out there is a device people could be reading our ebooks on. So should we be focused on the US market and ignore the rest of the world?

We can and of course should all stay focused on the big western market(s) that sustains us now.

But it’s not rocket science to see the way things are going.

The US and UK markets are not going to get any less crowded with titles. Just the opposite. If we’re not big name authors then getting discovered is a growing challenge. 

The more titles we have out, the more chance there is a reader will find us.

Which brings us back to E Unum Pluribus

From one, many. What’s that all about?

Put simply, if you’ve got 2 titles in English then, obviously, you’ve just 2 titles in your global catalogue.

But get those 2 titles translated into French and you suddenly have 4 titles available, and have added tens of millions of French-speaking readers to your potential audience, pretty much without having written an extra word.

Potential readers not just in France, but in Belgium and the European principalities, in Canada, not to mention Morocco, Algeria, Senegal. Niger, Benin, Togo, the Ivory Coast…

Now get those same 2 English-language books into Spanish. Your 2-book portfolio has suddenly become 6, and you have a readership not just in Spain but across most of Latin America, in the USA and around the world.

Add Italian and German translations to your repertoire and you increase your 2 book portfolio to 10 titles. Add Portuguese, Dutch and Japanese translations to the list... And why not go for broke and throw in some Chinese translations too?

When complete your two titles will have become 2 x English, 2 x Spanish, 2 x Portuguese, 2 x French, 2 x German, 2 x Italian, 2 x Dutch, 2 x Japanese and 2 x Chinese.

Your 2 English-language titles have suddenly become 18 titles.

5 English-language books? How does 45 titles in your global portfolio grab you?

And did I mention box-sets?

But why stop there? As said earlier, I’m actively seeking translation-partners in Vietnamese, Indonesian, Filipino, Turkish, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Swedish, etc.

None of these are random choices, but driven by the way the nascent global markets are shaping up.

"But I can’t afford to get even one of my books translated into one language, let alone all of them translated into more languages than I’ve had hot dinners. How much is this costing you?"

A lot less than you'd think, is the answer.

Translation Partnerships: Fiberead and Babelcube.

Translation costs? Well, no question translations can get very expensive. Serious money. I know some indies who went that route very early on and still are nowhere near recouping their costs. Paying big money for a translation that you cannot easily distribute or promote in the relevant countries is probably not a good idea.

Which is why I've long advocated the partnership model, where the translator takes on the task with no up-front payment, instead working on the promise of a share of the royalties when that title sells. This gives the translator the incentive not just to do an outstanding job, but also to help promote and market that title in the local language once the job is done.

At which point you'll be asking, "But how do you find even one translator, let alone dozens, willing to work for nothing on your book in the hope they might get paid down the road?"

Time to share the indie world's best kept secret. Translation-aggregators.

There are two key players out there right now: Fiberead and Bablecube 


Fiberead is based in China and will take your English-language book, translate it into Mandarin, format it and provide a cover translation, and make it available in China's many ebook retailers, including the Kindle China store, but also some much bigger players.

Fiberead charge nothing up front and pay you royalties on all sales. I've got five titles live and selling in China right now (some have made the bestseller list) and I will be uploading another half dozen to Fiberead before the year's end. 

Fiberead are also getting my titles into paper in China.


Babelcube  has a different model. They provide a meeting place and a safe-house for authors and translators to pitch their wares and secure deals.

You sign up with a translator (you need to do your homework carefully to be sure they are any good) and upload your work. The translator uploads their version down the road. When both parties are happy, Babelcube will get the book on retail sites around the world and pay both translator and author from the sales.

Again, no up-front costs, although in this instance you need to get your own cover translation.

I've got a number of titles being translated into different languages through Babelcube, and several are already out there and selling.

Babelcube offer ten languages. Fiberead just Chinese. But that gives authors an easy route to get started with eleven languages. 

And another player, Douban, is about to open up to western indies wanting to sell in China. Watch out for an announcement at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.

Those who want to explore the translations paths further will find two posts here covering several different translation models. (LINK) and (LINK). Everything from paying for your translations outright to using translator-aggregators to teaming with a traditional publisher.

And for those who'd rather let a publisher do all the hard work, here's a post on how to query foreign-language publishers when you don’t speak their language.

While Babelcube and Fiberead are great, I find it more satisfying still to find my own translation partners, and of course in far more languages than they offer. I love exploring uncharted waters.

By chance I was researching Thor Heyerdahl for my newly-launched travelogue-memoir series West Africa Is My Back Yard. The first of the series is already available in Spanish, will be out in Portuguese and German later this year, and a half dozen more languages sometime in 2016.

Which sounds exciting until you consider Thor Heyerdahl’s flagship book The Kon-Tiki Expedition has been translated into seventy languages.

Well, the new globile world is every bit as uncharted as the waters the Kon-Tiki sailed in, and anything Thor Heyerdahl can do I can do too.

So it's 71 translation languages or bust!


What about you, Scriveners? Have you thought of getting your books translated, but thought it would be too expensive? Have you ever pictured your books making a bestseller list in some far-off country? Do leave questions for Mark in the comments. He's on African time, and sometimes his electricity or Internet go out, but he'll be happy to answer when he can...Anne


Mark Williams, @MarkWilliamsInt  "The International Indie Author" is an ex-pat Brit living in The Gambia, West Africa. He's a novelist, TV scriptwriter, playwright and freelance travel writer. 

He's the author of the international best-selling novels Sugar & Spice and Anca's Story, currently marketed`under the Saffina Desforges brand, and co-author with Saffina of the "Rose Red" crime thriller series. He was the biggest-selling indie author in the UK in 2011 and has since topped the charts in other countries including France and China. 

In 2014 he became the first and so far only indie author to reach number one in Amazon’s Kindle China store. You can read his blog here, and join his FB group "The International Indie Author, Your Guide to Going Global."


Join Mark Williams on the first part of this odyssey through the history, geography, culture and daily life of the country he calls his home - The Gambia and the region he calls his back yard - West Africa.

If you like Bill Bryson's travelogues that leave no stone unturned to share the author's fascination with the world around him, you'll love West Africa Is My Back Yard. 

All proceeds from the series go towards supporting, babies, children, families and schools in The Gambia.


The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.

The IWSG Short Story Anthology Contest 2015.  NO FEE! The top ten stories will be published in an anthology. (Authors will receive royalties on sales.) Eligibility: Any member of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is encouraged to enter – blogging or Facebook member (no fee to join the IWSG). The story must be previously unpublished. Entry is free. Word count: 5000-6000. Theme: Alternate History/Parallel Universe. Deadline: November 1st

RROFIHE TROPHY NO-FEE SHORT STORY CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE. For an unpublished short story. Minimum word count 3,500; maximum to 5,000 words. Winner receives $500, trophy, announcement and publication on anderbo.comDeadline October 15.

Glimmer Train Press Family Matters  Prize: $1,500 and publication in Glimmer Train.  Entry fee $18. Stories up to 12,000 words: about families of all configurations. Deadline: September 30.

Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest $4,000 in prizes. Entry fee $10 per poem. Submit poems in modern and traditional styles, up to 250 lines each. Deadline: September 30.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Does an Author Really Need a Blog? 10 Reasons a Blog May Help Your Career

by Anne R. Allen

"Blogging doesn't sell books."

"Don't waste your time blogging."

"Make book trailers! Email those newsletters! Spend more time on Pinterest and Instagram! Blogging is so over!"

I'm hearing this stuff every day.

But I still think a blog is one of the best uses of an author's time. Even if you only blog once a month. (I'm a big advocate of slow blogging, but I think it's best to post on a timetable: write at your leisure, but post to a schedule.)

Why do I think authors should blog?

Because it worked for me. Let me tell you my story—

Six years ago my career was over. My publisher had gone under. My fourth agent had dropped me. All my freelance writing gigs had dried up or stopped paying.

I was bloodying my knuckles on the doors of agents and publishers. If I got a response at all, it was to let me know that nobody wanted a washed-up author of funny mysteries. (Humor never sells; just ask any agent.) I was advised to change my name and start writing steampunk or YA zombie romance.

If you Googled my name you'd have to go through 10 pages before you found one entry about me or my books.

On a sad Friday the 13th in the late 'oughties, I decided to start this blog as a place to post archives of my old columns from Freelance Writing Organization International.

I promptly lost the blog. Yeah. Don't do this. Remember to bookmark that baby blog!

But three months later, I went hunting and found it again. And I started blogging once a week or so. For the first year, nobody read it. Nobody. I have posts that still haven't had more than 10 hits.

But posting once a week to a timetable and treating the blog like a job gave me back some of the confidence I'd lost when my career fell apart. I felt like a professional again. I could communicate with other writers all over the world. (As well as close to home: a book blogger I met on an Irish site—so I thought she was Irish—turned out to be my neighbor in San Luis Obispo, CA!)

Then, in 2010, after I won a guest post spot on Nathan Bransford's blog, more people started to drift over here. (Guest blogging is the key to building your blog traffic.)

Fast forward two years and miracles had happened. 

  • Four publishers came to me—I didn't have to query. Instead I got to choose.
  • I was sharing my blog with Ruth Harris: the NYT bestselling author.When I first started reading Ruth's books in the early 1990s, I never dreamed I'd even meet such a famous author. 
  • I'd written a book with another NYT bestselling author Catherine Ryan Hyde.
  • I was being invited to speak at writers' conferences and seminars—and magazines and anthologies actually solicited my work. 
  • When you Googled my name, you got 47 pages of ME before you got to Anne R. Allen the San Jose stockbroker (who must hate me. I apologize, Anne.) 

And by 2013, this blog was named to the top 101 Websites for Writers by Writer's Digest and I had 7 books in print, was published in numerous anthologies and two of my novels were on the Amazon humor bestseller list—where they each stayed for over half a year.

And good stuff keeps happening. I now have ten books out there. I chat daily with movers and shakers in the industry. I just got a hefty check from F&W publishing because they'd decided to excerpt one of my Writer's Digest articles for the 2016 Novel and Short Story Market. A total surprise.

All of this happened directly because of my blog.

I'm not saying all blogs will do this. But with patience, a blog can help you meet the people who can take your career to the next level. And that's what social media is about: meeting people and networking.

I know many authors who, like me, have met their publishers, agents, and writing partners through blogging. (And that neighbor I met on the Irish writing site? She's now a literary agent.)

Do all authors need a blog?

Nope. Plenty of successful authors don't have them.

But you need to be on social media somewhere. You can't just have a launch party in your local bookstore and get a press release into your hometown newspaper and expect to make significant sales. (And even if you go the traditional publishing route, don't count on your publisher for much help with marketing.)

Today, a writer's market is global. Do you know the country where people read the most? India. Or where the 2nd biggest population of English speakers lives? India. Followed by Pakistan and Nigeria.

We're going to  have more info on the global marketplace next week from Mark Williams of the International Indie Author. He's been helping me find translators for my books. Ghostwriters in the Sky and Why Grandma Bought that Car will soon be available in Spanish!

The advantage of a blog is that it can be your home in that global marketplace—a place where people can drop in and get to know you and find out about your books.

NOTE: Blogging isn't for direct sales of books. No social media is about hard-selling. (See my post on Social Media Secrets .) Social media is about meeting people and making friends. (With people and with search engines. You want Google to be your BFF.)

As Chuck Wendig said this week, "Worry less about selling books online. Worry more about being a COOL HUMAN meeting other COOL HUMANS. That last one will take you far."

Why blog?

1) You need a website anyway. 

A blog is a website. It's an interactive one, which is a plus when you're starting out. People can comment and get to know you. Yes, you may want a flashy expensive static website later on, but if you're not published, that can look pretentious. A blog is more down-to-earth.

Sending out a query when you don't have a website is often a waste of time. Many agents and reviewers will reject on that item alone. (And yes, if you're getting lots of form rejections on a polished query or book proposal, this may be the reason. Stop revising the query for the millionth time and start blogging.)

I'm not saying you should start blogging when you're a total newbie, or when you've just started that book you've always wanted to write. Don't scatter your energies. If it's either blogging or writing the book, the book should always win.

But I'd say you'd benefit from starting one when you're getting ready to send out queries or preparing to self-publish. (Which should probably be when you're polishing up your second book.)

2) It gets your name into the search engines

A static website gets less traffic, so the search engine spiders don't notice it. Before a search engine can tell people where your website is, they have to find it. The way they do that is with special software robots, called spiders. To discover information on the hundreds of millions of Web pages out there, spiders build lists of the words found on Web sites.

The more active the site, the more likely the spiders will find it. Spiders will begin with a popular site, index the words on its pages and follow every link found within the site. (This is why you want to link to other sites from your blog, and you want to encourage other bloggers to link to you from theirs.) This is why blog hops are a great thing for new bloggers.

An active blog that's getting hits and comments will get noticed. It may take six months to a year, but it will get Google's attention, then when somebody Googles you, you'll be on the first page of the Search Engine Results Page (known as SERP.)

Whenever you query an agent or publisher or reviewer, or you send a story to an anthology or literary magazine—pretty much every time you want to do business online—the first thing people will do is Google you. A blog is one of the best ways to get your name on that all important first SERP.

3) You're a writer.

Blogging is writing. This is your medium. It's what you do. Like in the Geico ads.

So do it. It's a great way to polish your writing skills. And if you're a fiction writer, you'll learn to write better nonfiction and advertising copy, which you're going to have to do when you're marketing your books anyway.

 You'll also get used to writing to a deadline. An important skill.

4) You'll learn to write Web content.

Writing for a blog teaches you to write for the digital age. You can see immediately what posts are getting the most traffic.

You'll also learn to use keywords, bulleting, subheaders and minor headers to draw the eye through a post. This is useful for composing any kind of content for the Web.

Once you're published, you're going to need to know how to write guest blogposts (one of the best methods of marketing your book) as well as other web content. Why not start practicing now?

5) Other social media are subject to faddism

Facebook is making it tougher and tougher for people to see your posts if you don't pay to boost them. And the word is that Twitter will go the same way.

And trend watchers tell us Facebook mostly for old people now. Instagram is the place for younger people at the moment, but that can change on a dime.

We don't want to forget MySpace...oh, whoops, I guess we already have.

6) Other social media can kick you out any time

A lot of people have been finding their Facebook accounts deleted because they use a "fake name" (like they put "Author" after their real name.) They have to start all over again getting friends and followers. It can take months to get their following back, if they ever do.

And you can get kicked off through no fault of your own. I got put in Facebook jail for a week once because some troll reported me for spam (for something I posted on my own page.) And once they slapped a CAPTCHA on all my links for about six months for no reason I could see.

7) Control. 

Unfortunately, the Internet is infested with trolls, rage addicts, and spammers. I know a woman whose Facebook account got hacked by some diet-drug spammer who hit all her FB peeps with insulting ads. Several promptly "defriended" her before she even knew what happened.

Another friend got hit by a porn site who "tagged" a bunch of amateur porn with my friend's name so it went all over his page. Stuff like this happens every day.

But on your own blog, there's that nice "delete" button. A troll, spammer or furious fool shows up and you click it. All gone.

8) It's FREE! 

Oh, I know everybody is going to tell you you need to have a professional, self-hosted blog and pay a designer to set it up for you and pay every month for a really good one, because OMG what will happen when you get 10,000 hits an hour and your blog crashes?

Sorry to pop anybody's bubble, but that doesn't happen to author blogs. Not even the superstars get that much blog traffic. We get up to 110K hits a month here, but not per hour. And this free Blogger blog has never crashed. If it ever does, we may move to a self-hosted site and start paying the big bux, but for our purposes, this little freebie blog has been doing very nicely.

If you're starting out, I guarantee a free Blogger or Wordpress blog will do you just fine. 

NOTE: I don't recommend using the free blogs on dedicated book sites like Goodreads, BookLikes or SheWrites, even though the sites can be great for other things.

  • Those blogs are not as likely to get picked up by search engines so the spiders won't find it. (If you want your blog on Goodreads, just link to your Blogger or Wordpress blog and it will go up on Goodreads whenever you post. But I get about 2 hits a week on the Goodreads version of this blog and 20,000 on this one.)
  • You don't own your own content. Technically the site owns it. 
  • Those sites can disappear. Lots of writers blogged on RedRoom until it suddenly died in 2014 and everybody lost their blogs.

9) You get to have fun and make friends. 

I have made so many wonderful friends through blogging. Friends who live all over the world. These are people I never would have met otherwise. They have been encouraging and supportive as I rebuilt my career, and it's been wonderful to see so many of them succeed too. 

Plus it's just plain fun to write for my loyal core of readers every week and then see new people come and comment and join the group. It's a little informal get-together every Sunday that I really enjoy. 

10) It's the only form of social media where you don't have to act all "OMG I'm totally still in high school!" 

My favorite reason for blogging.  You can be a grown-up. You can discuss complex ideas. You can share them with like-minded people, who can also bring up complex ideas.

If you like to read and write and think, blogging is probably the best medium for you. Most other social media are more about the visuals.

For more on how authors can benefit from blogging, see Robin Houghton's guest post on this blog from last spring, "10 Reasons for Authors to Blog."

What about you, Scriveners? Do you blog?  Have you tried guest blogging? What part of blogging attracts you? What stops you from blogging? Do you have advice for new bloggers?


So Much for Buckingham, #5 in the Camilla Randall Mysteries 
(but it can be read as a stand-alone) 
is on an Amazon Countdown! Until Sept 19th it will be 99c in the US and £.99 in the UK

"Delicious wit, wonderful eccentric characters, and a beguiling plot. Camilla Randall is a delight!"...Melodie Campbell, Canada's "Queen of Comedy"

It's a comedy-mystery about cyberbullying, the gangs of new media, and the ghost of Richard III. Plus a cat named Buckingham.

"This wonderfully satiric comedy is a joy to read. On the surface, it's a frothy romance cum suspense story about a whacky writer, Camilla, whose life is threatened by trolls and who topples from one hilarious disaster into the next. But underneath, it provides a perceptive insight into the mad world of modern publishing, the sub-culture of Internet lunatics and the mindset of cultists who can - and do - believe ten impossible things before breakfast. The reader is left with the question: how much of the story, perish the thought, might be true? Tremendous fun, wittily satiric and highly recommended."...Nigel J. Robinson


The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.

The IWSG Short Story Anthology Contest 2015.  NO FEE! The top ten stories will be published in an anthology. (Authors will receive royalties on sales.) Eligibility: Any member of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is encouraged to enter – blogging or Facebook member (no fee to join the IWSG). The story must be previously unpublished. Entry is free. Word count: 5000-6000. Theme: Alternate History/Parallel Universe. Deadline: November 1st

RROFIHE TROPHY NO-FEE SHORT STORY CONTEST NO ENTRY FEE. For an unpublished short story. Minimum word count 3,500; maximum to 5,000 words. Winner receives $500, trophy, announcement and publication on Deadline October 15.

Glimmer Train Press Family Matters  Prize: $1,500 and publication in Glimmer Train.  Entry fee $18. Stories up to 12,000 words: about families of all configurations. Deadline: September 30.

The Central Coast Writers Conference. One of the best little Writers Conferences around! You can attend Anne's workshops on How to Write 21st Century Prose and How to Deal with Reviews and even have her critique your work. September 19-20. SEE YOU THERE!!

Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest $4,000 in prizes. Entry fee $10 per poem. Submit poems in modern and traditional styles, up to 250 lines each. Deadline: September 30.

Real Simple's eighth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest FREE to enter, First prize: $3,000 for an essay of up to 1500 words on: "What Single Decision Changed Your Life?" Would your world now be completely different if, at some point in the past, you hadn't made a seemingly random choice? Deadline Sept 21.

Dear Lucky Agent Contest, judged by Michelle Richter of Fuse Literary. For Mystery, Thriller or Suspense manuscripts. Send the first 150-250 words of your completed ms. This is a FREE recurring online contest sponsored by Writer's Digest with different agent judges. With every contest, the details are essentially the same, but each contest is focused around a specific category. ACT FAST, Deadline is Sept. 17, 2015.