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It occurred to me some time during the last century that it would be a good idea to put up a website. I did so and, at the time, thought it was brilliant – not that I could do a thing with it. Much like my hair, it required a professional. Everything was written in some kind of code.

Several years later, when it dawned on me that having an up-to-date website might be advantageous (rather than one that reflected my activities of a decade earlier), I again looked for someone who knew this mysterious code. I placed an ad on guru.com. “Wanted: A computer-type person who can put up a five-page website for me. I write books.” Within three days I was deluged by dozens of emails. Soon, the offers – ranging from $699 to $4000 – numbered in the hundreds. I began to receive staticky Skype calls late at night. (Apparently, India is in a different time zone.) “What exactly do you want?” they asked. “SEO? Joomla?Slideshows?” I couldn't answer any of their questions. I despaired.

This was my first mistake: I assumed that other, more technical, people would be able to help me design my website. My second mistake came shortly afterward.

Realizing that I knew nothing about websites, I began to investigate. I discovered that there were free websites available everywhere, and that they were based on templates. What's more, these templates required no computer skills whatsoever. They were designed for people like me. (And they were used by people wanting to charge me $699 for one page.)

I began to look at templates. Oh, lord. There were thousands of them. I spent days looking at WordPress templates, Google templates, free templates of all kinds. My head hurt. This was my second mistake. I assumed that I could pick a template. I couldn't – there were too many of them, and none of them seemed appropriate for a writer.

Then the realization hit me. I was going about this all wrong. There were other authors in the world, and they had websites! All I needed to do was find one that I liked and copy the format.

I ended up not doing that, but looking at what other authors had done helped me to choose a template on Weebly, which I did in a less than an hour. (And it was free!)

This is what I did. I went to http://www.smartauthorsites.com/ and looked at all their clients' websites until I found one that was appropriate for me. (I also browsed on the Author's Guild site and elsewhere, but Smart Author Sites was the most productive.) Then, I went to Weebly, which is the simplest website builder for the technically challenged, and located a template that was closest to the one I had found. From there it was easy. I imitated. (And, unless reinventing the wheel is your idea of fun, so should you.) This is what other authors do:

  1. The first page should consist of a photo of you that shows your personality – according to your subject matter (children's book authors, smile! and look trustworthy; serious literary novelists, look deep). There should be a short, interesting bio. This page is also where you can put the latest professional news about yourself. (Upcoming publications, endorsements, speaking engagements, and so on.)

  2. The second page is about your books: images of the covers, one paragraph descriptions, and where to purchase.

  3. Page three is an excerpt from your latest work.

  4. Page four can be a selection of your published writing – essays, short stories, if you have written them. Or page four can be an events calendar.

  5. The fifth page is your blog.

  6. “Contact us” comes last. You must always make yourself available to potential readers, agents, and Nobel Prize nominations. 


Even if you have not yet been published, you need an author's website. At the very least, put up your first page (bio and photo), a blog, and a contact page. Unless it is a chapter from your forthcoming book, do not post samples of your unpublished writing for readers to critique!! There are forums for that sort of thing. Your website is where you must come across as a professional. Take yourself seriously, and others will as well.   

 
 
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This recipe is from the 1946 edition of the Woman’s Home Companion Cookbook, which my mother received as a wedding gift in 1950. I have made countless tender, cholesterol-free, melt-in-your-mouth pie crusts with this recipe - in less time than it took to write it down. (Makes one crust. Double for two.)

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup safflower oil
3 tablespoons cold water

Sift flour, salt and baking powder together in a bowl. Beat oil and cold water together with a fork until well blended. (I do this in a measuring cup.) Add liquid to solid mixture and mix with a fork just enough to blend. Do not overmix. Form into a ball and place on a sheet of wax paper. Flatten slightly with your palm. Place another sheet of wax paper over the dough and roll until it is just larger than your pie pan. (Do not attempt to roll out the crust on a floured board. It will stick.) Carefully, peel back the top sheet of wax paper.  Invert the crust (with bottom sheet of wax paper) over the pie pan. Gently peel back the remaining sheet of wax paper. Assemble in pie pan and bake. No chilling is necessary, however you can store the crust in the fridge once it has been rolled out and formed in its pie pan. If you chill the dough before rolling it out, it tends to be too stiff.

I don’t know of an easier, healthier, or more fool-proof method of making a pie crust.


 
 
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Note: as of May 29, 2014, Technorati is no longer listing blogs. 

Listing your blog on Technorati is a little complicated, but it is well worth it. With over a million blogs, Technorati is the mother of all blog directories. The entire registration system is automated, so if you run into problems nobody will help you. This means you have to follow all of their instructions to the letter. 

If you follow these steps, you shouldn't have any problems registering your blog.

1) Write a new blog entry, but do not publish it.

2) Go to the Technorati website and create an account ("join").

3) Add your blog title, URL, blog feed URL, and description. (To find your blog feed URL, scroll down to the bottom of your blog page and hover over "Posts (Atom)."  The URL will appear in green in the lower left corner of your screen.)

You will receive an email almost immediately with the subject line “Technorati Claim in Progress.” Click on the link provided in the email for instructions. Scroll down to “Claim Status.” Click “check claim.” You will see this note:

Claim Status – (your blog)

Technorati will need to verify that you are an author of the blog by looking for a unique code. Please put the following short code [ … ] within a new blog post and publish it. This code must appear in the published post and it must also appear in your corresponding RSS feed once published. Once it is published, use the "Verify Claim Token" button on this page to tell Technorati your blog is ready for Technorati to verify the claim token and proceed to final review.

4) Copy and paste the 12-symbol token into the body of your new unpublished post. (It must be an unpublished post for the process to work!)

5) Publish your post. Then go back to your account and click “verify your claim token.” You will get a confirmation email in about 10 minutes.

Note: You may receive the following rejection:.

Thank you for submitting your blog claim on Technorati. Unfortunately, we have encountered a problem reading your site's data. Please log into [technorati] and go to [your account] to update any necessary site information and continue the claim process.

Don't panic, just check that your token appears on your published blog and not just on your blog editing page. Go back to your account, and repeat the process.

6) At this point sit back and wait a few minutes for your next email, which will be:

Thank you for submitting your blog claim on Technorati. We have successfully crawled your blog and found the claim token, and your claim is now awaiting review.

7) The next email you receive will be this confirmation:

Congratulations, your claim is now complete! Please allow 24 to 48 hours for Authority and recent posts to begin showing for your site now that it has been successfully claimed. Once they are there, we will update your site's Authority once per day.

At first you may not see your site listed in the Technorati Blog Directory for all of the categories you've selected. As you write blog posts around those topics, you should see your Topical Authority in those categories begin to rise.

In my experience, it takes roughly a day for a blog embedded in an author's website to get confirmed. It takes a grand total of 15 minutes – start to finish – for Technorati to confirm a  Blogger site (yet another reason to duplicate your website blog on Blogger).

Good luck!


 

Flogging your Blog

11/16/2012

 
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If Venus could do it, so can you!
You've set up your author's website (you have, haven't you?), and you've begun a blog. You are happily blogging away two or three times a week, secure in the belief that every time you hit “Publish” your thoughts are winging their way through the blogosphere, reaching millions of people who are hungry for your knowledge, wit and/or wisdom.

Wrong.

The millions are not hungry. If anything, they are overfed. According to NM Incite  (that's Nielson/McKinsey) – a company formed to “discover industry-specific consumer insights and build relevant, differentiated and emotionally engaging brands … with the vision that real-time, authentic consumer expression in social media transforms how marketers build strong brands, create passionate and engaged brand communities, and ultimately achieve superior sales outcomes” (so many buzz words, so little content! I am sure you could write a better sentence than that!) - there were 181 million blogs around the world by 2011. Five years earlier there were only 36 million. Imagine how many there are today.

On second thought, don't imagine. At an average yearly increase of 36 million there are now at least 217 million blogs. But that's not nearly as impressive as the number of blogs posted every day. (If you really want to get depressed, you can go to Worldometers and watch, in real time, the daily world blog count – as they are being posted. It's hypnotic. Go there now.)

(One hour later.)

Where were we? Ah, yes. 

If you actually want people to read your blog, then you will have to “drive” them to it, either in your cybercar, or using a cyberwhip (whatever makes you happy). Do the following:

  1. Set up your blog as part of your author's website. Then duplicate your blog on a separate blog, preferably Blogger. (Blogger is an ugly glitch-filled mess, but Wordpress is hard for Google search engines to find, and you are too old for Tumblr).

  2. Blog regularly so search engines can find you.

  3. Once you have accumulated ten blogs, start registering your blog on blog directories. (Register your independent blog, not the one on your website. The automated software that the largest blog directories use cannot detect embedded blogs.) Here are two good lists of blog directories:

    http://www.best-web-directories.com/blog-directories.htm

    http://www.searchenginejournal.com/20-essential-blog-directories-to-submit-your-blog-to/5998/

  4. Write guest blogs. Obviously, you want to post on the blogs that get a million viewers a day (the “A list” blogs), but realistically speaking that is not going to happen. So submit to those who blog about your subject matter. Technorati, which is one of the best places to register your blog, has a huge list. More important, they have a popularity index. Use their index to find the most popular blogs. Then see if any of them post on your subject. Check to see if they take submissions.

  5. If you don't have a specific area to focus on, and are just a wonderful all-round writer, then write for Blogcritics. (They have great SEO, which in the cyberworld is better than sex.)

  6. Shmooze. Just like writers, bloggers have conferences. Meet them, make friends. Here is a list of conferences. http://mommybloggerdirectory.com/conferences. (There are many lists out there, but this list will give you a good idea of the types of conferences, and where they are held.)

If all these steps sound a lot like how to break into the publishing world (fierce competition, shmoozing, submissions, rejections followed by an overwhelming sense of futility), then, by George, you've got it, you've really got it! But do not despair. The fabulous thing about the Great Equalizer (aka the Internet) is that it really is a democracy. You get to run your campaign, and other people get to vote for you.

ZXCECH6CAG8S (Ignore that man behind the curtain!)

More information:

Buzz in the Blogosphere: Millions More Bloggers and Blog Readers
http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/buzz-in-the-blogosphere-millions-more-bloggers-and-blog-readers/

Technorati's annual reports on the state of the blogosphere. Lots of interesting information here.
http://technorati.com/state-of-the-blogosphere/

Wow! Just look at those numbers go!
http://www.worldometers.info/blogs/



 
 
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I just happen to have my manuscript with me!

I frequently get phone calls and emails from people who want to know how to get published. They figure there must be some trick of the trade, some wisdom, that I can impart. A winning query letter. A perfect pitch.

The nasty truth is that getting published is basically about connections and luck. (Just type “how I got my agent” into a google search and you'll see what I mean.)

This is how I got published. I wrote a book. Then, not knowing a thing about how to get it into a publisher's hands, I called a former boss of mine who was the editor of an academic journal. One of his friends happened to have a sister who was a publisher. The friend made a call to his sister as a favor to my former boss. Then the publisher called me. “What have you got?” she said. I described the book, and she said, “I'll send you a contract.” That was it.

This story may fill you with self-righteous indignation and/or despair. After all, if you haven't been published, stories like mine will just piss you off. But wait, there's more.

My publisher turned out to be a dud. But, several years later, when I had written a work of fiction and had mailed out hundreds of query letters to agents who replied with one-sentence form rejections on coffee-stained paper (they aren't even doing that anymore), it dawned on me that my publisher had used an agent to sell my book to a second publisher. Voila! I already had an agent.

I called the agent and informed her that she was my agent. She seemed to believe me, because she said, “Send me your manuscript.” And, after a couple of years, my novel got published.

That is also how my second, third and fourth books got published. No query letters, no agent's “auctions,” just one phone call to the right person at the right time.

This is how the entire system works. You don't get an agent by sending out query letters. You get an agent by knowing a guy who knows a guy who can hook you up. That is also how you get a manager, and a publisher, and an editor. It's a sad fact of life – but getting your work into print is all about who you know.

Don't jump off a bridge – yet. You can meet people in the industry rather easily.

There are numerous conferences and workshops that are attended by agents and writers. Go to one and talk to them. Join writers' groups and talk to other writers. (Don't even think of contacting editors directly. I did that once. It surprises me that I am still alive.) Get out there and meet people, physically, in the flesh. Let them know you are a real human being. You never know. Some of them may like you.

Here are some good sites for finding appropriate conferences (research them carefully!). Please read foliolit's article on conference etiquette first. It's got some wonderful tips.

Now, get out there and shmooze!

http://foliolit.com/resources/writers-conference-etiquette/
Must-read article on etiquette at conferences.

http://www.agentquery.com/resource_cs.aspx
Agent Query's excellent list of conferences.

http://writing.shawguides.com/
Shaw Guides' great list of conferences with detailed information.


 
 
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Last week I received this announcement from Random House:

"To Our Authors, 

Our most important mission will always be to publish the work you entrust to us for everyone, everywhere, in every format, and on every platform. That mandate is a primary motivation behind Bertelsmann and Pearson, the parent companies of Random House and the Penguin Book group, signing an agreement this week to combine our respective trade book activities.

One of the defining characteristics of the new company I am most excited about is that it will be author- publisher- and editor-centered – just like Random House. When we join together we will be retaining the distinct identities of both companies’ imprints and you will benefit from an extraordinary breadth of publishing choices and editorial talents and experience. Our Random House imprint leadership remains endowed with creative autonomy, and financial resources, to decide which books to publish, and how to publish them. We expect this to continue in our new business, where we will build on the history and heritage of each of our storied brands. Your relationship with your editor and your publishing team will be unaffected by the new company.


A diversified retail and distribution marketplace for print and digital formats remains a key priority for Random House now, and in the future. Our investments in enhancing the supply chain and our marketing support will supply more services for physical retailers, while expanding our opportunities in the digital space. We expect to create more tools to help you take full advantage of the many online marketing platforms for growing your readership. And we certainly want to continue to expand our Author Portal, which has become an enormously popular and useful resource for so many.

For now, it is business as usual at Random House and Penguin. Soon, we hope to join together to offer an even deeper backlist, alongside our newly published titles. In our partnership, we will be even better positioned to provide copyright protection and support your intellectual property.

Random House and Bertelsmann believe strongly in the future of trade book publishing, and our continuing commercial and cultural success is a major reason why Bertelsmann is extending and expanding its investment and support with the new company. For us, separately and in partnership, it is and always will be about the books. Your books.

All my best, 

Marcus Dohle"

If you are as impressed as I am by large quantities of horse manure, the true significance of this announcement will have completely escaped you. 

So now, boys and girls, we will have a pop quiz.

What is the underlying meaning of the above passage?

a) This merger does not affect me, because I am never going to get published anyway. 
b) WOW! If I ever do get published by Bertelsmann/Pearson/ Random House/Penguin, I'll be famous all over the world, and maybe even in Outer Space.
c) What the hell is a deeper backlist?
d) It is and always will be about the books. Your books.

(The correct answer is: e) We're screwed.)


(The first sentence is the tip-off. Notice the close proximity of the terms: "entrust", "mandate", "mission" and "everyone, everywhere, in every format, and on every platform.")

The reason that the union of the two largest publishers in the world is terrible for writers is unclearly stated in paragraph two:  "we will build on the history and heritage of each of our storied brands." 

The history of these publishing houses has nothing whatsoever to do with storied brands. In fact, it has nothing to do with "marketing support", "platforms", or "supply chains" either. The origin of Random House, as stated by Bennet Cerf,  was "to publish a few books on the side at random."  And so they did. Many random authors, who couldn't find a home elsewhere, were published by Random House (Ayn Rand and Jerzy Kosinski among them).  The heritage of Penguin was to publish Lolita, Lady Chatterly's Lover, and Deer Park, books which had been rejected by scores of publishers (back then we still had scores), and which, once they were finally published, made it onto banned book lists everywhere. 

This is the proud heritage of Random House and Penguin: to publish groundbreaking new ideas without regard to the "market." Because that is the purpose of a publishing house - the dissemination of ideas. 

We will be seeing fewer of them in future.

Bertelsmann, a privately owned company based in Germany, owns publishing, music, and broadcasting companies in 60 countries, including: BBC Books, Multnomah, Triumph Books and the largest English trade publishing house in the world - Random House, which in turn owns Crown Publishing Group, Knopf Doubleday, Crown, Harmony Books, Ten Speed Press, Tricycle Press, Celestial  Arts, Three Rivers Press, Broadway Books, Clarkson Potter, Watson-Gupthill, Back Stage Books, Anchor Books, Doubleday, Vintage, Pantheon Books, Delacorte, Fodor's, Bantam Dell, Del Rey, The Dial Press, The Modern Library, and ... (wait for it) ... One World. 



 
 
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All you need is a coffin and a few nails...
The first time I heard the phrase “author platform,” it almost instantly conjured an image of myself, with a noose around my neck, standing in front of a crowd of people who were waiting for the Big Drop.

I hoped it would be a quick, painless death. So far, it hasn't been. I have spent many a grueling hour trying to build this “platform,” only to discover that I am not heavy enough. Day after day, I am left dangling. Gasping for air.

Those of you who were born prior to the Internet Revolution may not know what an “author platform” is. So, I am going to explain it to you.

An author platform is Newspeak for “fame.” In concrete terms, it means people recognize your name. Perhaps you have won a contest, such as the Nobel Prize. Or maybe you have gotten arrested many times like Lindsay Lohan, or not sent your kid up in a balloon, or have faked a moon landing like those chaps at NASA. People must know who you are in order for you to build a platform.

Nowadays, many agents will insist that you have this “platform” before they will even consider representing you. This is a catch-22. How can you be a “name” in the publishing world if you have not been published?

Without doing something incredibly stupid, this is how you can build a platform:

  1. Put up a website. I assume you have already done this. Without a website, YOU DON'T EXIST.

  2. Write articles if you are a non-fiction writer, and publish them online. There are plenty of online journals and ezines. Basically, you must turn yourself into an expert. Use ALL of your experience for this. Have you had a child? Several? Have you taught them to drive? Did you survive high school? Do you know how to make a smashing cup of tea? Have you recently discovered the cure for cancer? Pick your area of expertise. Everything counts.

  3. If you are a fiction writer, you may have to get arrested. You also have the option of publishing short stories. Go to duotrope.com and find a literary magazine that will give your stories a home.

  4. If you have a book ready for popular consumption, and not even that agent in Zanzibar will answer your query letters, then you will have to go Indie. You have no choice. But first, before you epublish, take excerpts from your forthcoming book and publish them – as short stories for fiction writers and articles for non-fiction. Keep submitting. This is the SOLE remaining area of publishing that does not require an agent or having been President.

  5. Write reviews for sites that get a lot of traffic, such as blogcritics.

  6. Once you've epublished give talks, in person, and give webinars and/or interviews online. You've written a book. That implies that you have something to say. Say it.

Even if you have published your book the old-fashioned way (by sleeping with an editor for a major publishing house), you will have to do all of this anyway, so you may as well start now.


 
 
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Years ago, when I was teaching English to Japanese English teachers (I know that sounds odd … you had to be there), one of my teacher/students informed me that, in her school, the students did all the clean-up. “All?” I asked. Oh, yes, she informed me. They wiped the blackboards, swept and mopped the floors, washed the windows. “It builds character,” she said.


Basically, things that build character are comprised of anything that is disagreeable. For some strange Calvinistic and/or Japanese reason, character cannot be built by winning a prize, taking a swim, or eating my delicious apple streusel cake. One must suffer to have character.

I doubt that this is true in general, but in specific, as it applies to writers, it is definitely true. It is not necessary for you to fulfill the Romantic ideal: a sensitive, unshaven (women too), starving creature agonizing in a garret. Yes, you will eventually get to do all that. But the real suffering, the real character building, comes not in the process of writing, which is sheer fun and therefore useless for building character, but in the process of sharing what you've written.

These are the writer's steps to building character:

Step 1: Don't publish too early. You have written a book. Don't get it out there. Instead, get it critiqued, as harshly as possible. You want to bleed.

Step 2: When you have bled enough, still don't try to publish. Write another book. Yes, that's what I said. Write ANOTHER BOOK. What kind of writer do you expect to be if you can only write one book? Then go back to your first book and revise it.

Step 3: Write short stories and articles. Get them critiqued. Bleed.

Step 4: Submit your short stories and articles to top-ranking magazines and ezines. You will be rejected. Bleed and revise. Submit again. Each time you get a rejection, re-read your work and revise.

Step 5: AGH! Somebody published your story! Your character is destroyed! Sadly, no. Read the published version. It's amazing how many mistakes you can catch after your story has been published. Ouch.

Step 6: At this point you have so much character you need a transfusion. Start submitting your book to agents. They will reject you. Each time you get a rejection, look at your query letter and revise it. Submit again.

Step 7: AGGHHH! An agent wants to represent you! Now, you're cooked. Don't get too comfy. She or he will want to take your manuscript and change everything in it. You have to decide what to change and what not to change. Your character is firming up nicely.

Step 8: You have followed your agent's suggestions - or not, as the case may be. And NOTHING happens! Not one single publisher is interested in your book. They say awful things about it. You have to decide if some of these awful things are true. They might be. Great character-building technique.

Step 9: AAAGGGGHHH!!! Someone wants to publish your book!! You are fried!! You thought the agent was harsh. Wait until you see what an EDITOR does to your manuscript!! It will be drawn and quartered before your very eyes. They will change your title. You will want to die.

Step 10: You now have character. Write another book. This time it had better be good.

(Repeat steps 1 through 10 as often as necessary.)

(Building Character was first published on Blogging Authors 11/1/12: http://www.bloggingauthors.com/)


 

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