While You Are Writing
So you’re currently working on your book, trying to write every day, setting goals for yourself, researching tropes, making character sketches and more. It’s important that you spend as much time as you possibly can, to get our drafts done. However, at this point it’s equally important for you to kick your audience platform building up a notch.
While you’re working on your book, is a great time to figure out which communication channels are actually working for you. It is also the time to produce fresh and better content for your blog, to try and build an email newsletter, to start networking with others in the industry and testing your work against that of others (which can be a very good way of telling how much work you have ahead of you).
2.1 Stretching Your Platform
a. More Social Media Channels to Join at This Stage
Pinterest. Pinterest is mainly a visual channel. While it can be very helpful for you to start engaging with Pinterest users, you might find yourself spending a lot of time creating mood boards on your characters, infographics about writing and so on, which may be valuable time away from your manuscript. Ideally, Pinterest works more for writers who are working on illustrated children’s books, graphic novels, science fiction and fantasy genres.
Goodreads. A very efficient platform that was created especially for bibliophiles. Even if you’re only a reader and not a writer, it is always helpful to sign up for a Goodreads account. It lets your followers know your preference, it lets you post blog content, run giveaways on your books, lets readers review and discover your books, helps you find beta readers (more on that in Chapter 3), lets you join forums for writers that are extremely helpful.
Quora. Quora has turned out to be a very productive platform for most industry experts. And it can easily be used by authors as a powerful marketing tool. The more questions you answer on Quora, on writing or publishing, on character development and story arcs and writers’ block, so on and so forth, the more interest your answers get and more upvotes you get from readers. This in turn, puts you, your profile and book in the limelight.
Youtube. One of the most popular channels for upcoming authors, and writers in general, is Youtube. Video has, over the recent years, become an incredibly popular way to spread content and the good news for authors, is that Youtube has a giant network of voracious readers who review books on their channels, both indie and traditional, who talk about new authors, and who are aspiring authors going through writing their books, and querying agents and processing the self-publishing industry. Having your own channel on Youtube and posting quality content can increase your audience by ten-fold. It is no wonder that most bestselling indie authors I know have their own channels on Youtube.
Author Kristen Martin, whose books have topped Amazon’s Bestselling lists multiple times, runs a very successful Youtube channel. About building a social media presence, she says:
“I think you have to find what is most appealing to you, so yes, some trial and error may be involved. When I was younger, I used to steal my dad’s camcorder and VHS tapes and set it up in my room and record myself giving inspirational talks and fake news stories – so it’s really not surprising that YouTube is my largest platform, my bread and butter. YouTube is great because people can connect a face (and well, a life) with a name. To my platform and audience, I’m not just “some girl who writes books”, I’m “Kristen Martin – girl boss, time management wizard, and hustler extraordinaire”.
If I had to pick two other platforms that I think will grow exponentially over the next couple of years, it would be Instagram and Podcasting. Podcasting is great for both fiction and nonfiction writers who want to share more about their work, as well as to offer writing advice or talk about their struggles and wins along their writing journey. As for Instagram, I mean, who doesn’t love looking at pretty pictures? For goodness sake, there’s even a bookish hashtag – #bookstagram.”
Early 2017, when I’d just started working with new writers, I encountered a client who is an aspiring writer looking to self-publish his book. And the conversation soon turned to social media strategies for authors. The most interesting bit was when I asked him, “So, text me your Facebook page or Twitter account.”
And he just looked back at me with a confused expression. “Social media accounts? But I’m not published. What would I even post?”
This was perfect. It got me to poll a writers’ group on Facebook, and the answers were completely unexpected. A whopping 49% of aspiring writers said that they hadn’t set up their Author accounts. The remaining 51% had, and had little or no idea of how to leverage social media to their advantage. Almost 75% were only on Facebook and not on any other platform. Apart from participating in “Like for Likes” or Instagram pods, they’ve generated very little organic traffic, engagement or sales through their accounts.
If you’re an author, even one that’s not published, you can easily use social media to build yourself a platform of readers who like your work. That way you’ll have an audience waiting to buy your book when you do publish.
The biggest question however, is, “My book is not out yet. What do I post?”
5 things to post on your social media pages, when you’re just starting out:
- Small excerpts of your work. Excerpts are like tiny nuggets that give people a taste of your style and stories. It can range anywhere from a couple of sentences to a 100-word excerpt. It could be part of your work-in-progress novel, or could be a whole story by itself. Use a free online design site like www.canva.com or www.picmonkey.com to design a pre-made Facebook post image, add your excerpt and appropriate royalty-free artwork (or your own artwork), and post it to you page. Use not more than 1-3 hashtags, if at all (30 for Instagram). Posting full poems or chapters or stories, if any, at this stage, is not advisable. If you’re planning on submitting your work to literary journals, then full posts on Facebook will be counted as “published” pieces. Remember that most literary journals will consider this as “previously published” work and will reject your submission even before they look through it.
- Blog Posts. If you have a blog where you put up short stories in, or if you blog about your journey as a new writer, navigating through the steps of character development, plot structure, story arcs, sub-plots and so on, ensure you regularly post links to your Author Page. If you’re using Wordpress or Squarespace is your blogging platform, it will be easy for you to automate the posting, where the platform can post your link directly to your Facebook page as soon as you publish it.
- Posts from Other Blogs. Seriously, at this stage, I’m pretty sure other awesome bloggers have more content than you do on your blog. So don’t stop at posting just your own blog posts. Post links to resources from around the internet, resources that you have found to be useful. Famous author interviews, blog posts from editors or on self-editing your work, marketing tips from publishers and other writers, story structure templates from writing coaches, list of illustrators and book cover designers who are affordable, and so on. The idea is to have a steady stream of fresh material posted to your page, so your readers and fellow authors keep coming back.
- Status Updates. Funny, quippy, witty or just an inspirational quote — a one or two-liner about something that’s relatable in a writer’s life or a work update, will let your followers know what it’s like being you. For Instagram, you could also post clips from your personal life. What it’s like writing with kids running around? How are you celebrating your holidays? Are you travelling? Writing on the train or the plane? Give your followers snippets of what it’s like being a writer in your world.
- Curated Finds. Sounds fancy, does it? It isn’t. Curated finds are similar to posting other people’s blog posts, but they extend to the writing life, rather than just writing. Post about something you found on Amazon — a brilliant journal for you to write in that you think other writers may find interesting. Or a coffee mug with a clever caption about writing on it. Or a quill feather pendant that you may have found on Etsy. Don’t go overboard. You don’t have to do this every day. Just once in a while. Post book reviews that you found informative, especially if you’re looking to buy that book, news on writing awards. Or a book cover that you found interesting.
At this stage, your blog should also be a driving force behind your audience building efforts. While it can be a distraction at times, especially when you really want to work on your book, the best way to maintain a balance is to think of your blog as an extension of your book. Treat your blog like the journal you keep for research on your book, a storage pace for your ideas, a way to spread your ideas and thoughts and so on.
Author Torre DeRoche, who’s blog The Fearful Adventurer helped her build an audience and led her to self-publish, which in turn, led agents to approach her for a traditional publishing deal, mentions that it’s imperative to have a plan when blogging. She says:
“Know your purpose. I see far too many bloggers killing themselves to win popularity contests without having any idea what they’re building for. This is often accompanied by unrealistic assumptions, like: If I get thousands of subscribers, I will be rich! But how will you get rich? What is your product? And are you in this for money or passion? I sold my book for several big advances, but I’m not rich. It took me years to get to this point and it will take me years to get to the next one. Divide that money by the required work hours and you might find you’re better off flipping burgers. You’d better be doing this for passion, or you will burn through an incredible amount of time and energy. This is a hard game. It can be very depleting and emotionally taxing. Blogging is a platform for launching something else. What is ‘something else’ for you? Have a clear vision of where you want to go and then align everything you’re doing with that goal. Don’t just start throwing darts into the dark hoping to hit something.”
10 things to blog about, while you’re writing your book:
- Behind-the-scenes. Writing a book is hard work and writers go through a range of problems, doubts and emotions while doing it. The best thing you can blog about is your journey as a writer. Write about what stage you’re at, what you like to read and write about, what you have written so far and where you want to go with your story.
- Character sketches. Once in a while pick a character from your story and write about them. What’s their story and what are they doing in your book? Who has been the inspiration for that character? Have you based it on a real-life model or stock photo? Do you have a sketch to display? Putting up titbits on your characters can really pique the interest of your readers.
- Chapters or parts of chapters. Similar to posting excerpts on Instagram or Facebook. Add stock images and extend the excerpts to more than a paragraph and keep your reader asking for more, without giving it all away.
- Reviews. Book reviews, poetry reviews or reviews of articles or pieces you may have read in a magazine, always do good. They are the perfect posts that readers and bookworms will hook on to, if you keep providing them with fresh reviews. Don’t worry about the book being an old release or new, just write your honest opinion and post.
- Personal pieces. You can use your blog as a journal, as well. Don’t just make your blog about writing. For every four posts on writing, post a review, followed by a personal piece. Write about a recent travel experience, or a writers’ event that you may have been too. Share a recipe or write about an interesting dialogue you may have overheard at a cafe. Keep it funny and light or thoughtful.
- Curated links. A list of links or objects/articles that you found interesting throughout the week, could make for a quick post, especially during those times when you don’t have the time or don’t feel like crafting a full informational post. Blogging is the combination of helpful content and consistency. Your posts should appear regularly and frequently, so your readers start to expect it. Pro bloggers often use this trick to take a break between content creation. When you’re out of ideas and need some time to come up with fresh material, a curated list of links can be posted, so there’s not too much gap between two posts.
- Book cover inspiration. If you come across a book cover that catches your attention, then talk about it on your blog. If you’re a graphic design expert, then you can post a constructive commentary. If not, then just talk about what you like or don’t like and whether you would pick it up at a shop.
- Interviews. Profiling other writers, editors, agents, designers who are in the industry is always a great way to raise your own profile. Interviewing an author will do potentially three things: it’ll provide your readers with fresh, helpful content, whoever you interview might want to interview you back, which will add to the exposure you’re seeking as a new writer, and then there’s the potential of gaining name in the industry itself.
- News and updates. This one’s obvious. This is the reason you’ve been working hard at your blog. You can now use it to announce your books, pre-orders, launches, giveaways, signing events, readings et al.
- Writing Advice. This is a little controversial, considering that a first-time author might not be in a great position to give writing advice, but it shouldn’t stop you. Veer away from giving ‘expert’ advice. Instead talk about the problems you’re trying to overcome with your own manuscript. If you suffer from writer’s block often, how do you get out of it? What do you do to inspire yourself to write? What things do you do to self-edit your chapters? What apps or software do you use to help you write? You get the idea. These posts are extremely helpful to other writers who might be going through the same struggles and your blog might be exactly what they’re looking for.
b. The Email Newsletter
So far, in the publishing, newsletters have been the most effective of all marketing strategies. An effective newsletter not only engages readers, gives them vital information and makes them look forward to more material.
Building an email list should be one of your priorities while you’re working on your book. Choose a service that lets you design your own sign-up forms, which you can then place on your blog and website and encourage people to add themselves to your newsletter.
3 Reasons Why You Should Build an Email Newsletter:
- Email marketing is still #1. Out of all the marketing strategies there are, email is still going strong, because guess what --- everybody checks their emails! It is actually that simple. People may not open all their social apps every day, but they won’t miss their emails.
- It’s one-on-one communication. You may be sending out a mass email, but email marketing platforms have made it easy to customize emails for certain readers, or certain sections of readers. You can personalize your communications and accept direct replies from your readers. Your readers will not have to go through a ton of content just to find your blog post, or your tweet or your photo. Whatever you have to say, is right there in their inbox.
- It’s free. The best things in life are free, really. Well OK, you’re paying for the internet and the electricity and all that, but when it gets down to brass tacks, email marketing is still free compare to Facebook Ads and Amazon Promotions and Goodreads Giveaways. You still don’t require special equipment to send an email and nobody needs to install any special apps either.
Publishing Consultant Jane Friedman emphasizes on the impact of having a great newsletter. She says:
“Regular email contact with your readers creates a long string of impressions, so that your name stays at the forefront of their mind. When an opportunity arises—a book club needs a new book to read, a publication is searching for a freelancer to hire, a journalist is looking for a good interview subject, or a conference needs speakers—people are far more likely to think of you if they frequently see your name.”
8 things to keep in mind in order to run a good email newsletter:
- It’s not all about your work. Don’t get me wrong, your email newsletter is mostly about your work. But that’s not all there is that you can put in there. Definitely put in the links to your latest blog posts, putting the most interesting one front and centre. Follow up with upcoming events that you’ll be attending or hosting, links to your guest posts, interviews and social channels. Then make sure to include a short section on information, articles, reviews you may have found elsewhere on an agent’s website or a literary blog or another writer’s interview, or the internet in general. Add a literary or inspirational quote and you’ll be on your way to a pretty well-designed newsletter that your readers will be interested in. One of my personal favourite blog to follow is called “For the Interested” that’s maintained by Josh Spector, where he send out a weekly piece always titled “10 Ideas for The Interested This Week”. It focuses on creativity, writing, life and even unusual but informative news around the world.
- Stick to a frequency. Most newsletters from authors are either weekly or bi-weekly. Sometimes even monthly. Slightly busier authors or magazines might go for a quarterly beat. Daily newsletters, while not impossible, might be very difficult to keep up with. Decide on a frequency that suits your work schedule taking into consideration how often you post on your blog. Consistency is key here. Editor and industry-expert Jane Friedman sends out her bi-monthly newsletter that contains tools and news for writers. Writer Amy Spalding maintains a Tinyletter newsletter where she writes about her own journey and process as a writer.
- Short and sweet is best. While you may have written a few rather long blog posts during the course of a week, that should not reflect the length of your newsletter. You may have a lot to say, but try not to cram everything into one email. Make use of bullet points. Lists are more interesting than long paragraphs. Divide each section into colour coded boxes, if applicable. Keep everything streamlined and well-curated.
- Choose the best software and learn everything about it. Today, maintaining an efficient and visibly stunning newsletter is not difficult, given the sophisticated options that are available on the internet, both free and paid. Whichever service you choose, make it a point to learn everything about it. At least, get familiar with the features. Can it schedule emails? How can you design sign-up forms with it? Does it track all the times the email is opened and the number of times the links are clicked? Go through the tutorials and check out the work of other users to find inspiration for yourself.
- Auto-responders and scheduled Emails. Whichever newsletter platform you choose to go with, ensure that they allow you to set up email auto-responders. Auto-responders are essentially welcome emails that are immediately sent to those who sign up for your newsletter, the moment they confirm the sign up. You will not be at your desk, or not have access to your email at all times. And an auto-responder that your new follower receives can be designed to include your latest posts, or a literary quote or your book’s release timeline, or a freebie giveaway, or a simple “thank you for signing up” message --- whatever you want new members to know about, to feel welcome. It’s simply a great customer tool to have.
- A killer subject line. A good subject line is half the battle won. CMB reported in 2012 that 47% of email recipients decide whether or not to open emails based on the subject line. Given the nature of email inboxes today, it’s quite likely that your newsletter may not always be delivered to your reader’s primary inbox. It might go into a subfolder or sub-category (eg, Social or Promotions inbox that Gmail offers). That subject line will make readers pay attention and actually click on your newsletter, so make it a clever, eye-catching one.
- Engagement is a must. Always aim for engagement. It’s no fun if you keep sending out newsletters into the black-holes of readers’ inboxes without getting a response or question or even a small Hello. Understandably, this will take time. Most people don’t like to respond to newsletters at all. There are a few things you can do to encourage engagement: end your newsletter with a question your readers may want to answer, ask for feedback on a certain section of your newsletter, add a call-to-action button which prompts your readers to click on it. Also, ensure that you reply to every email or comment that is sent your way.
- Your own unique voice. I don’t actually have to repeat this since you may already have an idea: your newsletter should be in your own special voice. If you’re sarcastic and dry then let that reflect in your writings. If you’re an eternal romantic and love sappy quotes, then include those in your email. Let your readers get used to your unique voice.
Best Email Marketing and Newsletter Services:
AWeber - https://www.aweber.com/
Natively integrates with WordPress, PayPal and Facebook so you can add people from the places where they already interact with your company. And, it offers two mobile apps: one to keep track of your stats, and another to add subscribers on the go. Free to use up to 500 subscribers.
Mailchimp - https://www.mailchimp.com/
Undoubtedly, one of the best out there, Mailchimp allows you to do everything from send beautifully designed email newsletters and check your stats to designing a wide variety of sign-up forms, landing pages for your books. Its intuitive user interface makes it super easy for beginners to learn about email automation. Free to use up to 12,000 emails to 2000 subscribers.
MailerLite - https://www.mailerlite.com/
Very similar to Mailchimp and somehow much more affordable while providing the same services, even in the free version.
Tinyletter - https://www.tinyletter.com/
A service that is run by Mailchimp, Tinyletter is practically perfect for writers and creative individuals. It’s different from the major email newsletter services, in a way that it’s more personal and gives the feeling as if you’re writing a personal email to your reader, rather than a business-oriented, keyword-rich newsletter. Many of my favourite writers use Tinyletter to share their writing excerpts, news, ideas and creative processes. If you don’t want the hassle of learning everything about a sophisticated newsletter service like AWeber or Mailchimp, definitely try and use Tinyletter to stay in touch with your readers.
Campayn - http://www.campayn.com/
Campayn helps import your contacts from a variety of apps, including Gmail and Yahoo! Mail address books, and will keep up with all of their info just like a real address book, including their social media profiles. With pre-made templates, Campayn makes it easy for you to quickly design a newsletter without a lot of know-how. Free to use up to 20,000 emails to 2000 subscribers.
For further reading:
- The 25 Best Email Marketing and Newsletter Apps
- 5 Ways to Quickly Improve Your Email Newsletter Performance
c. Interviews & Book Reviews
Posting interviews of fellow authors and reviewing books can drive a lot of traffic to your profiles and is a great way of establishing your identity for your future followers. It’s the knowledge-sharing-platform concept that makes you visible to potential readers and industry specialists. But why take the pain to come up with questions and give some other author prime space on your blog or on another publication?
5 reasons to do an interview:
- Free marketing. You’re actually getting free marketing. Seriously. The author you’re interviewing is as invested in this as you, maybe more. They will willingly give you their time if they find value in the interview. And once it’s published, they will also be invested in promoting. They don’t care about you, to be honest. But they’ll do this to get their own exposure. In the process, readers will be exposed to you and your work as well. It’s mutually beneficial.
- Inexhaustible content. This is prime content for your own platform, whether you have a blog/website or an email newsletter or a personal publication. Interviews are a potentially perennial source of content.
- Break from regular medium. It can also be a way to mix up your medium. If so far you’ve been only blogging, these interviews are a great chance to try a different medium. Start a podcast, or put up a video of the interview on Youtube and Vimeo or even host a webinar.
- Break from regular content type. It breaks up your writing rut. You may not be in one, but doing something different from your everyday, routine content generation will provide a change of pace. And keep your readers even more interested.
- Learning exercise. It’s a great exercise in learning about other authors. The more you interact with other authors, the more you learn about the industry, the pitfalls, get clued in on valuable resources and contacts and of course, you get to build a reliable network. Even though you may feel uncomfortable and out of your depths at first, interviews are a valuable excuse to connect with other industry dwellers. Down the line, one of these authors might even want to interview you. Or might recommend you and your work, when the time comes.
A step-by-step guide to conducting an impactful interview:
Step 1: Identify and make a list of authors who write in the same genre or for authors who have a similar audience to yours, and approach them for an insightful interview.
Step 2: Frame the questions. For this you’ll need to be clear about why you’re conducting this interview.
Do you want to focus on the author, agent, and publisher or are you only interested in their work? Is it about one specific piece of work or book, or is it generally about their body of work? Which part of the process do you want to highlight --- the writing, the marketing, the behind-the-scenes or trends? Is this just a casual chat about the life of a writer?
Once you have a clear answer to these questions, you’ll have a clear direction as to what your questions should be.
Step 3: Do your homework. By this I mean, read up about the person you’re about to interview. Hopefully, you’ve already done this. Now concentrate on customizing your questions.
Was the author a publisher before she started writing? How was the transition for her, in that case? Did being a forensic expert during the day help with all the crime novels she’s written? What was his first experience with editing a manuscript? How did they find an agent? What advice do they have regarding building their platforms?
Step 4: Be professional and courteous. Always. As an interviewer, keep your personal opinions to a minimum and let the interviewee have the floor. Maintain clear documentation of emails, videos, recordings etc. Ask for permission before linking to their websites/social media accounts or before using their photos.
The other kind of content that’s similar to interviews, brings in a ton of traffic, but not as collaborative maybe are book reviews. Book reviews are, in many cases, more of a crowd-puller than interviews. Readers are always looking for recommendations and a professionally critical look at a new book (or even old) can lead them to click on your blog, follow your work and expect more from you.
Book critiques also perform better as social media posts. My Instagram posts on a book I like or don’t like, receive eight times more engagement than a general post where I post about my life as a writer. Doing a book review might also help you develop a professional relationship with the authors whose works you’re reviewing. That makes it easier for you to ask for a blurb (if at all) from these authors when you need one for your own book.
Things to keep in mind when you’re reviewing another author’s work:
- Professional and logical is best. As much as we’d like to tweet things like “Ohmigawd! I loved so-and-so-book from random-author! Totally awesomesauce!” it would be infinitely better for us if we don’t and instead posted a well-written review. The best thing you can do is read up on well-formed reviews that appear on The New York Times, The Guardian or The New Yorker, and identify what makes them tick. Is it the voice of the reviewer? Have they paid attention to the details? Is it clear whether they like the book or not? How have they highlighted their likes and dislikes about the book? Taking note of these things will help you write your own review.
A good thing to take care of is checking emotions while writing a book review. Yes, while many books evoke emotions in us as readers, we may get upset by the material or angry with the writing or stressed about a controversial character, it is best to put forward these points in a logical evidence-based manner, rather than making your review look like a childish rant.
- Honesty is, in fact, the best policy. Even if you don’t like a book, it is possible to write an honest review about it without being a jerk about it. This is where a line has to be drawn between a reader’s review and a writer’s review. A reader can afford to be acerbic and pointedly opinionated and negative about the book, because the reader is essentially the demographic that the book was written for. However, as a writer, you are reviewing a potential peer in the industry. And if you’re putting down negative comments without being constructive about it, then that’s a problem. Readers will notice and your book may or may not be received well by them in future. As a new writer, you’re not looking to turn everybody in the industry off, even before you get published.
- Engage. Not just with readers, but also with the author you’re reviewing. Once you’re done with the review, don’t hesitate to send a link to the writer in question, or their publisher. Writers are always interested in reading reviews of their books, and if they’re active on social channels, they might even post your review on their feed.
- Note more than the story and characters. Since you’re a writer, you have an edge over readers. Instead of just commenting on characters and plot, talk of structure, dialogue and writing voice. Compare the book to similar work in the same genre and make the review noteworthy.
2.2 Spreading Your Work
Once you’ve started writing and engaging with your following, which is hopefully, increasing day by day, it’s time to reach a larger audience. Hopefully, at this point, you have a certain amount of grip on social media and blogging and you have been pushing out fresh content in your email newsletters regularly.
But your ultimate goal hasn’t changed. You want to be a published author. You want your work to be taken seriously. This is a good time to start writing for publications, take part in literary contests, and be associated with small (and large) presses who regularly publish aggregated literary work.
a. Submitting Your Work To literary magazines
Why Bother Submitting to Literary Magazines?
A great way to get noticed as an emerging writer is to submit your work to literary magazines and online publications.
Understandably, the older and more popular ones, like The New Yorker, The New York Times, Tin House, The Sun Magazine, AGNI, The Paris Review to name a few, only publish the best and are picky about the quality of writing. But that in no way should discourage anyone from submitting their work. Indie publications are popular too and have gained recognition for being diverse in their choice of pieces to publish. Over the last few years, online magazines have also gained a lot of ground and are great places for a new author to be featured in.
Whether you’re bang in the middle of writing your book and have gained a lot of momentum, or if you’re struggling with writer’s block, take some time down to pen a piece for any of your chosen publications. These publications are subscribed to by readers, other authors and industry specialists like editors, agents and publishers, and they’re always on the look-out for the next best writer, and that just might be you.
5 things to remember before you start submitting:
- Read the back issues. It is important to read a few back issues of each journal/magazine you’re planning to submit to, which will tell you what kind of pieces they usually favour. For example, I have been reading The New Yorker for years and by now, I get what they always try to go for. And if I ever wanted to submit to The New Yorker (I mean, what aspiring writer doesn’t), I’d know if my writing style would be able to produce something that they’d be interested in. That doesn’t mean my work will be chosen, but a girl can dream! If you already subscribed to a journal you want to submit, you’re already on the right path. If not, then either subscribe or read back issues or surf through the depths of their archives. Read most of their stuff and understand what they’re looking for.
- Follow their submission guidelines to a tee. Most journals have it on their ‘Submit’ pages. Read through carefully, about themed issues, formatting, word count, genres, number of submissions they accept at a time. This page will also have instructions on any payment they may be making to their contributors, simultaneous submissions, previously published pieces, file formats, cover letters and whether or not they blind evaluate submissions. Deviating from any of these instructions may lead to instant rejection.
- Note the submission fees. Most journals don’t ask for submissions fees, but many do. These fees are either maintenance fees or reading fees, which help the journals pay their staff, for their printing costs and website maintenance. To be honest, it is completely up to you if you want to pay submission fees. But paying them doesn’t guarantee that your piece will be chosen.
- Pay attention to contests too. Many literary journals, like Glimmer Train, run prestigious contests from time to time, which can be excellent exercise for your writing skills and give you a ton of exposure if you win.
- Sign up for sites like Submittable and Duotrope. They are the most popular sites, so far, that are used by magazines to accept and monitor all the submissions. They provide a great repository for writers that can be filtered by genre, payment, fee, deadline, instructions, etc.
Let’s talk rejection.
Even before you start writing, you’ll have to realize that rejection is part and parcel of your career as a writer. It takes an immense amount of courage to put your thoughts to paper and even more courage to have strangers read it and critique it. Some publications may reject your work outright, and some may come back later.
To be published in a fairly reputable lit mag is easier said than done. There’s the slush pile that you have to get through and then there are readers, followed by editors. Having an established name as an author definitely helps. But that doesn’t mean fresh writers don’t get chosen. It’s just a little more difficult and comes at the price of multiple rejections.
Same with agents and publishers, if you choose to go with traditional publishing methods. But remember, that these rejections are never personal and most of the time, it’s only a matter of either mismatched goals or timing. Pick yourself up and move on to the next project.
Lincoln Michel, Editor-in-chief of Electric Literature and author of Upright Beasts, knows all too well about running literary magazines and writers’ submissions. He has a candid take on it:
“Grumbling is every writer's favourite pastime. There is always a crappy story in the latest lit mag or mediocre writer winning a grant. We all know great work is passed over while E.L. James and Dan Brown help destroy acres of the Amazon rainforest each year.
At the same time, we love to say that the cream rises to the top, that good work will get recognized eventually. And both of these things can be true.
You should consider submitting [to lit mags] as something like poker. There is a giant amount of luck in a single hand, or even a single game. One night, the worst player in your regular game can bleed everyone dry. Another night, the player who has been raking it in every night will go bust. But over the course of many hands and many nights, the good poker players win the money. Similarly, mediocre work may win out over great work in the short term (and lord knows it can even win major awards or become a best-seller), but in the long run if you write good work and you submit consistently you will find a home for it...
... But for this to happen, you do have to sit at the table and play the game.”
Lists of Literary Magazines That You Should Know About:
● Top 50 Literary Magazines - everywritersreource.com
● Ranking of Literary journals - thejohnfox.com
A few literary favourites:
● The New Yorker
● The New York Times
● AGNI Online
● The Kenyon Review
● The Paris Review
● Tin House
● The Sun Magazine
Magazines that accept science fiction, fantasy, horror, paranormal, crime, other speculative fiction, and genre fiction:
- Abyss & Apex
- Bull Spec
- Fantasy & Science Fiction
- SQ Mag
- Nightmare Magazine
- Asimov’s Science Fiction
- Escape Pod
b. Anthologies & Chapbooks
Anthologies are collections of works that have a common theme running through them. Topics can range from a specific writing prompt, to hobbies, to city or country-based themes; there are anthologies on mental health and music genres, emotions, art and even non-fiction issues. Getting published in an anthology is not just a huge a validation, it adds to your writing portfolio and is also a great way to have your work on display to potential readers and publishers.
Once you’ve decided to take part in contributing to an anthology, your next question will be, “Where do I find anthologies to contribute to?”
There are two ways to go about this. Either, Option A - you find and contribute to an anthology being put together by another author or publisher, or Option B - you start one on your own and get other authors to join.
In Option A, you are dependent on a third-party to make things happen. In this case, the anthology is a piece in your portfolio that you can use to gain exposure and attract agents and publishers with.
In case of Option B, the anthology becomes a very powerful marketing tool, via which you can not only control every aspect of the production, but you will be bolstering your position as the lead-decision maker and gain more exposure as a literary figure in the indie publishing industry.
At this point, it needs to be mentioned that, as a first-time author it might be a little tasking to take on the challenge of getting an anthology published. Traditional publishers have lately been very iffy about investing resources on anthologies. Mostly university presses and indie publishers are the one that are still interested in them. If you do take charge of compiling an anthology, make sure you know that you’ll have to market it just like you would a book/novel. Then comes the challenge of finding a press willing to publish the work or decide if you want to self-publish it.
If you’re wondering how hard it might be, take a look at author Margaret McMullan’s experience of getting her anthology published, in a fascinating interview with Jane Friedman. She says, about looking for university presses to accept the work:
“The university presses put me through a lot of hoops, and I worked so closely with the editors, I was pretty devastated when all the plans fell through. I “took to bed”—not for a day or a week as some of my Southern great aunts have been known to do, but for a few hours at least. I felt so sorry for myself. It was pathetic. And then I just got good and mad. I always tell my students how anger is helpful because it can propel you to action. Self-pity is worthless. I got out of bed and went back to search for the right publisher.”
My suggestion would be to delay taking charge of an anthology till the time you gain experience with the publishing industry.
5 things to keep in mind when submitting to an anthology:
- Follow the submission guidelines. To the tee. Most submissions get rejected right at the start because of failure to follow guidelines. If the guidelines mention double-spacing, then single-spacing just won’t do. If they mention the use of a specific font, then use that and nothing else.
- Follow submission dates. In fact, submit well-ahead of the last date, so you don’t hurry your work right at the end.
- Proofread your work. Polished work has a higher chance of getting accepted than work rife with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
- Be aware of fees. Most anthologies are free to submit to. But there are many that charge ‘reading fees’ and make sure you’re aware of these fees and that you’re willing to pay them, before you start working on the submission.
- Be clear on legal policies. A legitimate publisher, or an author doing good work on the anthology, will always have a publishing contract, of some sort, for you to sign. Make sure you know what the copyright clauses are, what the payment terms are and what the other agreement terms are, that you need to be aware of. Make sure you’re clear on your rights and on those of the publishers/author.
Places to find Anthologies that you can contribute to:
- Submittable- https://www.submittable.com/
- Duotrope - https://duotrope.com/
- Call For Submissions (Facebook Group) - https://www.facebook.com/groups/35517751475/
- Writing Career’s blog - https://writingcareer.com/call-for-anthology-submissions/
- Erica Verrillo’s blog - http://publishedtodeath.blogspot.in/
c. Guest Blogging
I’ve listed this strategy as the last one in this section. But it is easily one of the most important one. Guest blogging is a lot like submitting to magazines, except that blogs (the good ones) usually have a much larger reach and audience, who will be getting to see your guest post. It is the strategy where you get to piggyback on a well-established blog’s audience in exchange for quality content.
It is also a strategy that is not just followed by authors, but also business writers, marketing gurus and startups -- anyone looking to spread their “name”.
Why does guest blogging help and why should you be doing it at all? Because of 2 main reasons:
- To build relationships and reputation. Isn’t this what you’ve been trying to do all along? You want to, need to build a relationship with readers who will then trust you to provide a good book when the time comes. If you’re a non-fiction writer, this is even more helpful, since readers of the blog (you have guest posted for) will now be aware of you and your advice. It lets you capture a wider audience than is available to you on your own platforms.
- To boost SEO. SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization”. If you’re aware of what SEO is, then you’ll know how important a role it plays on your online presence. If you’re not aware, I’ll explain without going into too much technical detail. SEO ensures that you’re find-able over the internet. With the vast ocean of content that is the internet, SEO, or good SEO rather, makes sure that search engines, especially Google, is able to find you. The more quality content you churn out, on multiple platforms, the more readers visit your pages, the more people link back to you and your work, the more Google favours you in their search results. Suffice to say, that you want effective SEO to be on your side. Guest posting is brilliant with this.
Just a side note: If you write fiction or creative non-fiction, it is not necessary for you to completely immerse yourself in understanding SEO. You can just focus on keeping your blog and website compliant with effective SEO and that should really be enough. However, non-fiction writers should ideally be aware of good writing that enhances the SEO factor of a website, post or article online. If you’re trying to be an expert in a certain field, you should at least know how to make it easy for your readers to find you and your content.
For more information on SEO, check out these resources:
- What is SEO?
- A Simple Step by Site Guide to SEO
- 7 Ways to Nail Your Author SEO
A quick Google search will tell you which publications and blogs accept guest posts in your genre /field. And it would seem that submitting to all of them at the same time will increase your chances at being accepted to write for them. But that is never the case. There are a few things to double check before you start submitting your posts to blogs or start pitching your pieces to a blog.
10 things to do to ensure you’re a great guest blogger:
- Research the blog you’ll be submitting to. The point of a guest post is to direct as much attention to your expertise and as much traffic as possible to your product or website or newsletter. If you’re going to be spending time and energy crafting a great pitch and post to engage readers, then you’ll have to make sure you’re submitting to a website that has a reasonable amount of reach, authority and popularity in their respective domain. Check their DA (Domain Authority) score and that they have a clear audience and subject matter. Also check if fresh content is posted on their website everyday, that they have a good social following and if they’ll allow you to have an Author Bio at the end of your article.
Publishing gurus Jane Friedman and Joanna Penn has websites that get 10,000 hits per day on a daily basis. If you can put up a guest post on their website, that’s potentially 10,000 unique people getting to know you, per day.
Obviously, getting an opportunity to post on any one of these websites is extremely difficult and understandably so. So how do you nab that opportunity? That brings me to the next point.
- Know your subject. This should go without saying, but actually it doesn’t. I run a relatively new blog for the travel company Altertrips, and on a regular basis I have to decline 3-4 guest post requests because the subject matter is not accurate, the research is non-existent and the quality of writing is poor. Ensure that the blog’s audience is aligned with the kind of audience you want to gain. And moreover, ensure that you have complete authority over what you’re contributing.
For eg, if you’re writing a post on productivity or on inspiration, add personal anecdotes and practices that help you in your work life. However, if you’re writing a post on a certain writing app or writing advice, ensure that you have full information on the app or that you draw from your professional experiences and that of the experiences of experts in the field.
- Keep your pitch straight and sharp. For most blogs, you’ll have to pitch or at least, send a cover letter. Spend time to craft a great pitch. Be clear and transparent in your intentions. Introduce yourself in the first sentence. Mention what you want to contribute and why and how is it going to help the blog’s audience. Outline the post. Or send in the full draft, if that’s what they prefer. End your pitch by mentioning why you’re qualified to write this article, other websites or magazine you’ve contributed to and how has their blog helped you. Great pitches are a thing of beauty and can’t be hurried. So take your time. Make sure it’s devoid of flowery language and that it doesn’t deviate from the point. It is imperative that you display how much research you’ve done on the topic and on the host. Mention a couple of previous posts that you may have liked in the past.
- Follow the rules. Most professional blogs will have rules for guest bloggers to follow. Follow their pitching rules. If they ask pitches to be uploaded on their website, then do that, don’t email them. Many websites ask for pitches and post outlines, whereas others ask for full drafts. Take note of any payment related information and make sure you’re clear about the terms. Another pet peeve that most blog hosts have is the way emails are addressed to them.
The Altertrips ‘Submit’ page (a travel website I run) has a clear instruction that says every pitch should be addressed to the editor, followed by my name. And yet, more than 7-% of pitches we receive start with “Dear Sir/Madam”. *Sigh*
It’s perfectly fine to have a generalised greeting at the start of your email, if there are no specific instructions. But if an editor’s name is provided, then use it.
- Aim for eternally valuable content. This can get tricky. While it is very easy and attractive to write and publish a post title “10 Books on Politics That You Should Read Right Now” or “5 Literary Cafes in London That You’ll Love”, it is quite possible that these books on politics may not be popular ten years down the line. Or one or two of those cafes could go out of business in a couple of years. It is very important to at least try and write articles that will remain relative and educational down the line, for maybe ten to twenty years or more.
- Concentrate on selling something. There it is. “Selling”. A word that most authors are terrified of, because it conjures up pictures of loud and annoying salesmen, numbers and Excel sheets and calculators. Well, this is way easier than you think. You have decided to create a guest post in order to build your reputation. But take a look at the post on a macro level and realize that every post needs to have an outcome, where the reader performs an action or transaction. This action or transaction could be anything --- they could sign up for your newsletter, they could click and browse through your website, they could ask you a question on Tumblr, they could click on your book and buy it. The outcome of a guest post they could click on your book and download it for free, they could sign up for your speaking event and so on.
Make sure your post has a Call-to-Action. Lead your readers to take a certain action, either at the end of your post, or include an actionable link in your Author Bio signature.
- Links and link backs are gold. Make your post rich in links. But obviously not any old links. Whenever you mention examples, link to the appropriate website or profile. If you’re writing about a product, make sure to link to its official page or download page or to its reviews. If you’ve interviewed a fellow author, link to their books. Provide extra links if someone wants to read further about the subject matter. If the website you’re writing for has previous posts that are relative to yours, then link to those. Links are brilliant for SEO as well as cross traffic generation. People whose websites you’re linking to may want to reciprocate, or may want to share your guest post on their social media, which is the kind of exposure you’re looking for.
- Answer each comment. As I said before, engagement is extremely important. Keep track of comments on every guest post and try and answer each one of them, if it’s to help. Try not to engage with negative or spam comments.
- Craft a great Author Bio. Include a sentence on who you are and what you do, along with your website, social media links and of course, a link to your product --- this can be your newsletter that you’re trying to grow, your book, white-pages, Youtube channel or course/class.
- Spread the word. Just like any blog post or update, share your guest post on all your social channels. Create a separate post on your own blog of an excerpt from the guest post and link back to the website you contributed to. Make sure to add it on your newsletter, of course.
Great websites to guest blog for:
There are a ton of websites that accept guest posts, especially specialised blogs on a plethora of topics that you can write for. For nonfiction authors finding a specialised website that is within your expertise can easily be done with quick Google search. However, I have listed a few websites with high domain authorities that are open to well-crafted guest posts on the topics of copy writing, blogging, freelance writing, etc.
- The Writing Cooperative
- Shout Me Loud
- The Sway (The Sits Girls)
- Writers Weekly
- Write to Done
- Make A Living Writing
- Men With Pens
- The Write Practice
- The Renegade Writer
- Writers’ Relief
- Writing Forward
- Writers Helping Writers
- Pen and Muse
- Book Riot
- Self Publishing Team
- Book Masters
For further reading:
- 15 Smart Ways to Find Guest Posting Opportunities
- How to Use Guest Blogging to Promote Your Book
- The Ultimate Guide to Guest Blogging
- 4 Ways to Find Guest Blogging Opportunities