Figuring Out the Publishing World

Would you take a moment to nominate my new novel on Kindle Scout? It costs your nothing, and if the book is selected, you’ll receive a free digital copy. Click here to get to the page, then click “Nominate me.”

Since I’ve spent the last several blog posts talking about writing, I’m not surprised that most of the Red Sneaker email is about publishing, trying to fathom how to crack the market, where to send manuscripts, how to survive in a world where bookstores are online and books look like Star Trek PADDs.

I wish I had all the answers. I don’t. At best, I can offer a few guidelines, but at least those guidelines are based upon experience gained publishing over forty books in every possible way during the last thirty years. Here’s what I know for sure about where to publish your books:

  1. It depends on the book, and
  2. It depends upon you.

When I started submitting manuscripts back in the 80s, there was no confusion about it. Unless you had a NYC publisher, you weren’t in the bookstores, and that was where books sold. But somewhere in the last twenty years, Amazon became America’s top bookseller–by far. (#1 retailer, too.) In 2009, digital gizmos like iPads started catching on, and pretty soon people could carry thousands of books on a device that weighed less than a pound. If you’ve ever packed books for a long trip, you can see the advantages. Yes, you may prefer snuggling up to a nice hardcover when you’re in bed, but you aren’t always in bed (I hope) and hardcovers are expensive and increasingly harder to find. So what’s the upshot?

  1. Adult genre fiction sells more in eBook than paper. Figures vary, but it looks to me like sales are around 75% eBook. Books for kids, art books, and some nonfiction still sells better in paper–but the margin in narrowing.
  2. The Big Five NYC publishers are becoming increasingly dependent upon genre fiction (which they sometimes call “upscale fiction” to make it sound more different than it is). You will need an agent to pitch them.
  3. Smaller publishers are less likely to care about agents, and that may be where your non-genre work is heading anyway.
  4. New York is not publishing poetry to any significant degree.
  5. Amazon Publishing is not yet the largest share of the market, but they are the fastest growing slice–by far. Given the high visibility Amazon gives books in which they have a vested interest, that just makes sense.
  6. The Kindle Scout program is one way to get a book into Amazon. Amazon has other houses, but some still require agents (and even if you have one, do you want to give up 20% of your slender royalties)? It works best for adult genre fiction, though there have been exceptions.

And this is why last week, I worked on a book for a large publisher, sent one to a smaller publisher (cross fingers) and launched a Kindle Scout campaign for another book. These days, you need to try everything–based upon what’s right for the book and what’s right for you.

NOMINATE ME!: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/KY5IRZ0DD3YU

Join my Patreon campaign!: https://www.patreon.com/willbern

Patronage in the Modern World

If you’ve followed my social media this week, it will come as no surprise that my topic today is Patronage. My Patreon campaign launched on Friday. Click here.

Asking is hard. At least for me it is, and I think for most of you as well. Here is the rugged land of rags-to-riches fables and Protestant work ethic, we tend to exalt self-reliance. Asking suggests vulnerability, or imperfection, and no one wants that. Writers in particular want to be independent. Sure, we want a zillion people to read our books, but we also want the freedom to do the work that matters to us.

I recently read Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking, and it had a big impact on me. You can get the short version in her terrific TED talk (Click here). (She also has an excellent Patreon campaign.) The book discusses how hard it was for her to ask for support from her fans and admirers. She didn’t want to be perceived as a loser, or as taking advantage. She’s married to Neil Gaiman, but she didn’t want to be dependent on a husband’s fans. She much preferred a community that admired her work and wanted to support it.

Once upon a time, of course, virtually all artists depended upon patronage. Before copyright laws existed, that was about the only way for writers–and painters and musicians–to survive. We have intellectual property protection today–sort of. The internet and bit torrents have made it possible to distribute other people’s work without paying them, and sadly, millions download pirated material. The publishing industry has changed dramatically and eBooks are not terribly profitable for most. Which is why you are seeing a rise in patronage, a new relationship between artists and their fans, through sites like Patreon and Kickstarter and Indiegogo and such. You like what artists are doing? Here’s how you let them know.

I’ve been running this Red Sneaker Center for Writers for many years, but I’ve always made a point of keeping the books and audios and stuff dirt cheap. I didn’t want anyone to have to agonize over whether they could afford to buy them. You want to be a writer? Here’s help–take it. But of course, writing those books takes time, newsletters must be distributed, developing apps is expensive…you get the idea. Like Amanda Palmer, I would rather sell the work at cost and be supported by people who appreciate what I’m doing.

So I launched the Pastreon campaign. If you’d like to help keep this Red Sneaker school going, please check it out. While you’re there, look at the other artist Patreon pages. Many people are doing fantastic work, and they could you use your help, too. A tiny contribution makes a big difference–if many people pitch in.

Let me share what one of the first contributors to my campaign wrote. This truly touched my heart, because I thought, HE GETS IT! He said:

“I’m thrilled that this tool exists to help support artists. In your case I have literally stopped many times from listening to the Red Sneaker books (which I listen to again and again in audiobook format) to think how unfair it is that I paid such a small price for such amazing and valuable learning. I have wanted to do something to say thank you for that and make things more balanced in paying for what I’ve gained.

This gives me a chance to show my support for your work with Red Sneaker Writers. Consider my pledge a nudge in that direction 😉 I can’t believe you manage the output of high quality work and help you do without it being full time. Just wow!”
​                                –Jason W.

Lots of cool gifts and book-related goodies if you join, too. Please check it out: https://www.patreon.com/willbern

Theme, Part 2

Thanks to everyone who suggested a title for my forthcoming Red Sneaker book. “Thinking Theme” is my current favorite (possibly “Thinking About Theme?”) but I’m still open to any suggestions you might have.

Last time I talked about what theme isn’t–basically, it isn’t clubbing people over the head with a moral or a political viewpoint (though Aesop and Ayn Rand might feel differently). Let’s get more positive this time. Let’s talk about what theme is.

I will admit that I am still influenced by a seminal book I read early in my writing career, John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction. Here, the brilliant critic, theoretician, and author of novels like Grendel talked about theme, and more specifically, how to make fiction moral. His idea was that all stories convey society’s underlying values (some better than others). This is represented in authors’ choices, how they lay out the plot, what creates a story that seems to “make sense.” If you accept that notion, then one reason to read old books is to gain insight into the values of the people of the time when it was written. I have often said that one of the great pleasures of reading classic literature is that you realize that people may have believed different stuff back then–but people themselves haven’t changed at all.

Stories are the glue that hold together our fragile experience. They validate our values. This is revealed not only when you choose what to read, but when you choose what to write. That’s just common sense. Techno-thrillers appeal to those who favor strong shows of military force, not pacifists. SF appeals to people who, at the very least, believe in science. Romances appeal to those who believe in love. Religious fiction…well, this is getting obvious, isn’t it? You get the point.

To be fair, some people read to have their values challenged…but not many. We tend to be a closed-minded bunch, even those of us who read voraciously. But if you can produce a book that seriously challenges the way people think, you may be headed to greatness. Uncle Tom’s Cabin would be a good example. On Civil Disobedience is another. Many spiritual or inspirational books have traded on vagueness, that is, they aren’t really saying anything new, but give readers the feeling that they’ve read something terribly profound–when in reality they’re just reinforcing what the reader already believes. In the opinion of some, this might include Jonathan Livingston Seagull, or The Celestine Prophecy, or even Tuesdays with Morrie–all of them huge bestsellers.

Gardner said, “By theme here we mean not a message—a word no good writer likes applied to his work—but the general subject, as the theme of an evening of debates may be Worldwide Inflation.”  So it’s presenting a subject worthy of contemplation, rather than telling people what to think. Posing a question, but not forcing an answer. Similarly, Chekov said a writer does not solve a problem so much as state the problem correctly.

One of the most challenging examples of this for me was my novel Capitol Conspiracy, which tackled the then-new Patriot Act. The fundamental question was, Should we uphold the civil rights upon which this nation was founded, or relinquish them in favor of enhanced security? I tried not to take sides. I knew everyone would expect bleeding-heart Ben Kincaid to take the liberal viewpoint, so I created a dramatic event that turned the poor boy in just the opposite direction. If Ben could rethink his predispositions, should we? Ultimately I wasn’t trying to tell people what to think. I was saying, This is an important topic we should all think about, and give reasoned, not panicked or reactionary, consideration.

More next week. Btw, registrations for my California and Massachusetts retreats will close at the end of the month. Don’t miss this opportunity to workshop your words and ideas. Click here: http://www.williambernhardt.com/red_sneaker_wc/writing_retreats.php

 

Thinking About Theme, Part 1

Let me lead with a secret: The next book in the Red Sneaker book series will be on Theme (then Description and Setting, Conflict, and unless you think of something else, I’m done). Perhaps you’re questioning whether this sounds like the most exciting writing topic. I think it is–in fact, sometimes I think it’s the most exciting part of the whole process. Or perhaps you’re imagining you already know everything there is to know about Theme. Maybe you do–but I can tell you that I didn’t, which became abundantly clear as I started gathering my thoughts for this book, and I’ve written over thirty novels now.

Depending upon who your English teacher was, you may have the idea that theme is some deep, profound, secret meaning cryptically buried somewhere in a fictional or poetic text. I don’t think so, and I think Theme is rarely as simple or as didactic as what we are sometimes taught. I mean, maybe in Aesop’s fables, or in a parable (Pilgrim’s Progress, Animal Farm), but most novelists want to be somewhat subtler. Rightly so. Morals hammering readers over the head rarely have much impact. To me the best themes do not pound. Theme is best when it’s more like the brush of a feather, something that tickles readers’ brains just enough to get them thinking–but not enough to take them out of the story.

One of the best analogies I’ve read is this: theme is the container for your story.  Sort of like a cup, or a goblet.  It’s what holds all the other elements together and makes them even better than they might otherwise be.  And here’s the truth: the goblet may be completely unnoticed by some readers, but the drink is still better because the goblet is there.

Don’t think of Theme as some ponderous shroud only decoded by academics and critics, diehard dissertation writers who strap the story to a chair and beat the theme out, leaving it lifeless afterward. It’s not a game of Hide and Seek. It’s more like Sardines (if you don’t know the diff, Google it). You have the joy of discovery without the pain struggling for it. Because reading is not supposed to be a hair-shirt experience. The story itself should be a delight, and the theme is the lagniappe, the added bonus that gives it additional pleasure and makes the book linger in the reader’s memory long after the last page is turned. Like Harry Chapin said, “It’s got to be the going not the getting there that’s good.”

 

Have you ever finished a book and thought, That was nice, but so what? And a week later, you can’t even recall what it was about? That’s not the ticket to the bestseller list, much less the classics list. The best way to give your book added resonance is to underlie the conflict with a well-conceived theme. This is why War and Peace is more than just another war story, why A Tale of Two Cities is more than just another thriller.

Okay, so now that I’ve explained what Theme isn’t, you may be wondering what it is. Next week.

By the way, if I’m going to write a book on theme, I need a snazzy alliterative two-word title. And frankly, I got nothing. Can you suggest a title? I’ll give you credit and everything. Everything except royalties. Email your ideas to me: willbern@gmail.com. Any other suggestions for the book will be equally welcome.

The summer is fact approaching and I’ll be closing registrations for at least two of my writing retreats at the end of the month. Register before it’s too late: http://www.williambernhardt.com/red_sneaker_wc/writing_retreats.php

Viewpoint–The Writer’s Greatest Challenge

Maybe this is an exaggeration, but I’ve been editing quite a few manuscripts lately (see below for info on editing and critique services) and I’ve found that I’m commenting on viewpoint problems more frequently than anything else. I discussed viewpoint in a chapter in Creating Character, but I nonetheless continue to receive requests that I devote an entire book to the subject. This reinforces my feeling that this is something that’s causing headaches for some aspiring writers.

It’s really not that complicated. Look, you just need to pick a viewpoint and stick with it throughout a scene. If you change viewpoint characters, don’t do it in the middle of the scene. No “head-hopping,” that is, drifting from one character to another’s thoughts and observations. That leaves the reader feeling dislocated. They don’t want to hear from an omniscient narrator who knows everything about everyone (meaning you, the author). They want to forget about the author and be immersed in the story. Readers will care more about your characters and what happens to them if you can get them inside the characters’ heads.

This does restrict what you can write about, or at least how you go about it. You cannot reveal information your viewpoint character does not or could not know. You may say something like, “She thought his smirk suggested he didn’t believe her,” but you cannot say, “He didn’t believe her” when you’re in her viewpoint, because she doesn’t know. Internal monologue is a good tool for keeping your reader inside a character’s viewpoint. When characters are thinking to themselves, the reader feels securely within that viewpoint. That doesn’t mean you should do it to excess, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should use internal monologue to tell rather than show (see the discussion below). And fyi, you don’t have to use italics every time your characters think to themselves.

Ideally, each new scene should identify the viewpoint character in the first sentence. “Mary walked into the room” or something like that. Then unless there is a scene break, you cannot portray any other viewpoint. You can’t take us inside another character’s head, or tell us what he or she thinks or experiences, unless and until you break the scene. Ideally, after identifying the viewpoint character by name in the first sentence, you refer to them by “he” or “she” for the rest of the scene. This tight psychic distance keeps the reader firmly inside that viewpoint. Using their name again tends to take readers outside their head, to distance them. Of course, this also means none of the other characters in the scene can be “he” or “she.” Refer to them by name or a nickname.

Head-hopping, or stream-of-consciousness writing, is not as immersive, and omniscient narration has fallen out of common use–for a good reason. Readers don’t like it as much. What they like is to experience a story through the eyes and ears of one of the characters involved. Even when there are multiple viewpoints, readers should have a sense of who the main character is and should spend most of the time inside that head, experiencing the story as the protagonist does.

The usual reason for introducing additional viewpoints is to increase suspense. The narrative flips to an antagonist’s viewpoint and the reader learns something the protagonist doesn’t know yet. This creates suspense, because the reader knows something bad is in the works but the lead character doesn’t.

One last thought: many beginning readers try to avoid these viewpoint problems by writing in first-person narration. I do not receommend this. If you think first person is easier than third person–you’re wrong. It is far more challenging to do well, because it means staying in the voice of a character–who should not be a sassier, braver verison of the author–for an entire book. While it can be done, I think it’s best reserved for writers with experience and a clear view of their character’s unique identity.

Click here to learn more about the Red Sneaker Editing & Critique Service (I do the editing myself).

Show, Don’t Tell–What Does That Mean, Anyway?

I was sitting onstage taking questions one year at our annual fall writing conference, and a woman I knew asked me to explain the opt-quoted concept of Show, Don’t Tell. “That sounds great,” she said, “but this is a novel and sometimes you just have to tell people what’s going on. Don’t you?” I didn’t have a ready answer, but that’s always good, because when I actually have to think about something hard enough to explain it, I usually end up understanding it much better than I did before.

I eventually suggested that my questioner distinguish character from plot. Yes, to move the story forward, you will eventually have to tell the reader what’s going on, perhaps fill in a little background, and not all of it can always be shown. When writers talk about Show, Don’t Tell, though, they are usually referring to revealing what’s going on inside the viewpoint character’s head, what they’re thinking, or even more importantly, what they’re feeling. The idea is that, instead of saying, “Sally was mad,” you say, “Sally raced up the stairs, slammed her bedroom door, flung herself down on the bed, and pounded the pillow.”

Not a subtle example, but you get the idea, right? There are legitimate reasons for writing this way. For one thing, words expressing emotional states tend to be flat and to have little impact on the reader. If you portray the emotion, however, it will come to life and have far more impact on the reader. This is closely related to the all-important concept of viewpoint. You want to keep the reader inside your characters’ heads, experiencing the story through their eyes and ears. Few readers get wrapped up in a story that is narrated to them, but if they feel as if they’re inside the story, as if it’s happening right before their (inner) eyes, they are much more likely to be engaged. When you just tell the reader about a character’s emotional state, it feels as if the story is being narrated. After all, no one really stands around thinking, “Grr. I’m mad.” On the other hand, if you show their emotional state by describing their actions, you’ve kept the reader inside the character’s head.

This so-called rule is usually attributed to the playwright Anton Chekhov, who wrote in a letter to his brother, “In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.” He was writing about description rather than emotional states, but the core idea is just the same.

Hemingway is renowned for what he left out, not just adverbs and adjectives but anything he thought the reader could figure out for themselves (the theory of omission). One of his most famous stories is “Hills Like White Elephants,” which is simply a few pages of two characters not talking about what is uppermost in their minds. The clues are sufficient to allow an attentive reader to figure out what it is, though, and it strikes with much more impact because the reader is led there rather then being hit over the head with it. For the same reason, Chuck Palahniuk has recommended a ban on what he calls “thought verbs,” such as “thinks,” “knows,” “understands,” “realizes,” “wants,” etc.

By the way, there’s still room in some of my summer writing retreats. More than two dozen of my students have been published, and three of them are up for awards this coming weekend. Is this the year you should join us? For more info: http://www.williambernhardt.com/red_sneaker_wc/writing_retreats.php

Does Anyone Still Buy Books? Where?

There’s a new Author Earnings report out this month, and for me, that’s a chance to reassess everything you’re doing as a writer, and perhaps, to readjust your plans for the future. It’s hard to obtain reliable information about the publishing business, and every source has flaws, but I believe the information collected by Author Earnings is the most reliable we have, and certainly better than the info from AAP or Bookscan or other sources that don’t track Amazon sales. Granted, that’s tough to do, since Amazon doesn’t release its sales figures. But any accounting that ignores the retailer that sells more than 50% of all books sold in the US, and an even greater percentage of all eBooks, is inherently untrustworthy. Authors Earnings, using its advance computer-bot data-gathering techniques, counts everything.

Here are the three main takeaways from this month’s report:

One: In the five primary English-speaking countries, indie self-published books outsell the Big Five New York publishers.

When you’re doing the math, remember to add the sky blue (indie books) to the cyan (uncategorized, probably self-published). Independent authors are doing better worldwide than most people realize. Also note the increased growth of Amazon’s imprints. Amazon is the fastest growing publisher in the world.

Two: eBooks are still selling, and they sell far better at Amazon than anywhere else.

eBook sales did dip around May of last year, but they rebounded and are slowly growing again. As this chart makes clear, Amazon sells far more books than anyone else, but the other three are not insignificant. Which leads to the third topic…

Three: The answer to whether it’s best to have your books exclusively with Amazon, or to “go wide” (my wife calls this, “playing the field”), is still unclear. Amazon sells more books, and exclusivity does have benefits, the most significant of which is participation in Kindle Unlimited. KU allows members to “borrow” your book at no additional charge. The author gets paid based upon pages actually accessed by the borrower.

The plus is that many will borrow who would not buy. According to Author Earnings, “KindleUnlimited has grown into a Top-3 ebook retail channel in its own right; KU is now paying indie authors twice as many dollars as Barnes & Noble’s Nook is paying to all publishers combined.” That said, you have to wonder how many of those people would’ve bought the book (at full price) if they couldn’t borrow. Even if it’s only a fraction, you might make more in royalties.

And there are always risks in being dependent upon a single market. What if Amazon’s eBook sales dip again, even more precipitously? Or Amazon changes its policies on author compensation? Being visible, and taking advantage of promotions, on a variety of platforms may increase your visibility. It will also increase your ability to get value out of marketing promotions like Bookbub. I have friends who have told me they are getting something like a quarter of their sales from B&N.com or a combo of non-Amazon sites. (Of course, that only comes with active promotion.)

I wish I had a definitive answer here, but I don’t. My recommendation? Experiment, and see what works best for you and your books.

Author Earnings: http://authorearnings.com/report/february-2017

Promoting Your Work in Instagram

The blog is back!

I took February off to finish up a novel and to help Lara get the next issue of Conclave out. In case you’re wondering–Ben Kincaid is back! Justice Returns will soon be available. The Balkan Press has two new titles, Fetish and Other Stories, a lovely collection of short fiction, and Whimsical Warrior, a poetry book out in a few weeks. Lara’s novel, The Wantland Files, is doing phenomenally and was recently nominated for the Oklahoma Book Award. The summer writing retreat schedule is posted and we’ll soon be providing details about the fall writing conference.

Enough update. Back to blogging. I want to continue the prior discussion about marketing, this time focusing on Instagram. Whether we like it or not, social media marketing has become essential to book promotion. Most of you are probably already using Facebook and perhaps Twitter. But you may be overlooking Instagram, currently the fastest growing social media outlet, either because you think it’s just for kids or because you think it’s more about pictures than words. The latter part is true–but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to attract readers.

Instagram has about 500 million readers, and 300 million of those post or visit every day. Who are the people? According to the Pew Research Center:

  • 32% of all internet users (and 28% of all US adults) use Instagram. Would you like to reach 28% of all US adults?
  • Instagram use is highest among young adults, but 33% of 30-to 49-year-olds also use Instagram.
  • Females are somewhat more likely to use Instagram than men, 38% to 26%, respectively.

So Instagram may be best for those targeting readers between 18 and 49, but almost anyone could benefit. Creating a profile is easy. All you need is a username and a short bio, though I would also add a photo. And start posting. Don’t expect overnight success. Like everything else in the world of writing, it takes time to build an audience.

How are authors using it? Tyler Knott Gregson has used it to become the bestselling poet writing today, with book sales far greater than the more traditional or academically approved poets. He typically handwrites or types out his short poems and posts photos. Agent Gordon Warnock’s Instagram feed is named for his dog Archer–it’s called archersnack.  He posts a lot of dog pictures, which people love. Other authors have posted book covers, photos from signings and events, or gorgeous photos of the settings of their books or the places where they live or write.

Lara and I were at Eureka Springs’ Books in Bloom festival and I started playing the piano because, you know, no one could stop me. Moments later, Tess Gerritsen had snapped a photo and posted it, which drew her many readers to my page (though they were more interested in what I was playing than what I was writing).

The site has added Instagram Stories, which allows you to string together photos or videos to tell a story. And there is Boomerang, which allows you to post a series of 20 or so photo frames which Instagram will speed up to create a looping video.

Here are some suggestions for finding a following on Instagram:

  • Choose a regular posting frequency and stick to it.
  • Cross-promote from other channels. Don’t hesitate to ask your Facebook friends to join you on Instagram.
  • Create a consistent photo theme. For instance, I may mention other books on Facebook and Twitter, but on Instagram I’m strictly a poet.
  • Use hashtags. On Instagram, you can use lots. #instapoet, for one.
  • Create quote images or “memes,” always popular and frequently reposted.
  • Share your followers’ posts. Khloe Kardashian reposted a Lang Liev poem, and the next day her following (and book sales) skyrocketed.
  • Include faces in your images occasionally. Including yours. People are drawn to faces.
  • Share Instagram posts to Facebook. You’ve already created it. Might as well.

I hope that’s helpful. I’m also attaching a link to my summer writing retreats. Two have already filled, so if you’re thinking about attending, don’t wait till the last minute.

Summer Writing Retreats: http://www.williambernhardt.com/red_sneaker_wc/writing_retreats.php

 

 

Marketing 101: Making Social Media Work for You

In a previous blog post I mentioned that social media has become crucial to promoting books. This is a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s cheaper, less time-consuming, and more effective than old-school book promotion tactics like book signings, but it may not be your first choice of how to spend your afternoon. My recommendation is that you strategize. Make a plan. How much can you do without going bonkers? What posts on what platforms will work best for you?

I also mentioned that Facebook is by far the best medium for selling books to adults, but Twitter and Instagram have adherents too, and other forums may be worthwhile if they or their participants favor the content of your book. But remember this: All these platforms are crowded and getting more so every day. You are not the only person advertising books. It is not enough to merely post. You must think of a way to make your posts distinctive. You must give people a reason to follow you.

What do your readers or potential readers like? Giveaways, warnings, updated info, laughs, inspirational words, advice, surprising truths, or fun facts? What emotions cause people to return to your posts? Happiness, compassion, the desire to be informed, career goals, support, or a feeling of being connected? The same creativity you put into your books must also be put into your social media campaign.

Here’s a checklist that may help. The most popular social media posts are:

Posts with images. Pictures grab attention more readily than text. Ideally, the image should make the reader’s eyes stop, then redirect those eyes to the text.

Posts inviting comment. Start a conversation. Ask a question. People love to have their opinions respected, and this will cause them to linger longer on your post.

Posts with secondary advertising. “Buy my book” posts are tiresome and should never be more than 10% of your media activity. A secondary ad may refer to your book without overtly asking people to buy. Upload your cover, or post a pic of you signing books or speaking to a book group.

Posts with links. Even when you aren’t overtly selling, form the habit of including a link to a site where people can find more information. This will also generate an image, which is good (see #1).

Some people have used ads on Facebook or Twitter to promote their work. I think this may have worked once but is now overdone. I’ve tried it but I’ve never felt it did me any good. I think it perhaps works best for nonfiction authors who can target readers interested in a particular topic than it does for fiction writers targeting fans of a particular genre. There are writers who have used these ads successfully, but I think they all started earlier when it was not so popular.

If you want to get in on the ground floor of something that isn’t overdone (yet), try livestreaming. Instead of posting text, try posting a video. Facebook Live is new and might be an opportunity to stand out—if you can concoct an engaging video presentation. YouTube Live may also be useful. Hold a livestreamed fundraising event to promote your book, or a livestreamed book-launch party. Recording live is not required. You could just make a video and post it. Start a YouTube channel (YouTube allows you to post longer videos of higher quality).

Start slowly and consider what will work best for your books. Don’t be shy about it. And don’t forget—no matter how much marketing you do, the majority of your day should still be spent writing.

Maximize Your Writing Time

If there’s a universal lesson that I think all writers must learn, it’s that your most valuable commodity–by far–is time. I can teach people to write cleaner, more effectively, more dramatically, but the one thing I cannot do is teach people to write more quickly. Finishing a book is extremely time-consuming, and that will be true whether you’re on your first book or your forty-fourth. As soon as you hear someone grin and say, “I write fast,” you know it probably isn’t going to be very good.

As a writer, you have to measure “to-do” items, not simply in terms of need, or cost, but time. Sure, it will save you fifty cents to drive to the other side of the city and buy gas at that 7-11, but what is the cost to you in terms of time? To be more specific, how many words are you giving up to save fifty cents? Is it a good investment?

Given the importance of time to every writer, I’m going to list a few productivity tools I think are valuable. The most essential one is Dropbox or Google Drive. You need one or the other for two reasons: 1) to make sure you have a safe place to store your work, and 2) so you can share large files with agents, publishers, friends, fans. You may back up your computer to a cloud, or an external hard drive, and that’s a good idea, but you probably don’t want to share access to your complete hard drive. An inexpensive Dropbox account will allow you to share specific large files with anyone. It also allows you to access key files regardless of where you are or which device you’re currently using. (If you don’t have an external hard drive, CrashPlan provides a continuous 24/7 backup for the contents of your computer.)

Evernote is the world’s most popular organizer, or “to-do list” program. It is beautifully designed and easy to use. I compose the first drafts of these blog posts on it. I’ve also used it for outlines, research notes, or random ideas that occur to me when it’s inconvenient to write them out in detail. You can carry the app version on your phone, so even if you don’t have your computer with you, Evernote can store your ideas. If your desk is perpetually surrounded by Post-It notes, it may be time to consider Evernote.

Zoom is the best and cheapest online meeting service for conferencing with editors, agents, friends, students, colleagues. Apple users can use FaceTime, but amazingly, not everyone uses Apple devices.

If you create graphics, check out Canva. It’s somewhere between Gimp, which is completely free but limited, and Photoshop, which can do about anything but is extremely expensive. I wouldn’t use Canva to design a cover, but it’s fine for creating social media materials. I’ve started posting about my poetry on Instagram, because that’s the largest poetry community in the world today. But Instagram requires a visual. Canva allows me to create good ones. (If you need free/public domain visual images, go to VisualHunt).

SignUp Genius is the best bargain in online scheduling software. We used it at the last Rose State Writing Conference to schedule private consults, and it was a huge improvement over pencil-and-paper scheduling. Acuity Scheduling has more features, but it does require a small monthly charge.

Virtual Response is the email newsletter service I prefer (I use it to send out the Red Sneaker Newsletter). VR makes it easy and cheap to send email to large numbers of people. Inputting the addresses is streamlined and simple. If you have fewer than 2000 names on your mailing list, MailChimp is free–but you may find you soon outgrow it.

Just remember: Cool gadgets and gizmos are only advantageous is they give you more time to write–not if you’re playing with your gadgets when you should be writing. Make yourself write as often as possible, whether you are “in the mood” or not. That’s how books get finished.