Thursday, September 23, 2010

Websites, Blogs and Newsletters

Marketing and promoting is a subject that confuses many writers. Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, for adult or children readers, are self-published or traditionally published, all writers need to promote themselves. And one of the best ways to do that is through the internet.

I put these three together because in reality everyone has their own idea on how to market themselves on the internet. I personally use all three ways to market my work and myself. I know others who use only one form to promote themselves. Whichever you choose, make sure you keep it updated with the most current information about you.

Another thing to think about is what you are going to post on your websites, blogs, or in your newsletters. Jan Fields, an instructor at the Institute of Children’s Literature, Editor of Children’s Writers enews said in the February 14, 2008 issue, “We live in the information age and little things can become big things really fast. For example, although it is true that editors and agents are not cruising the net looking for your super writing on your website or blog, it's also true that editors and agents spend a lot of time on the Internet. In addition, they have friends who spend a lot of time on the Internet. And they have clients who spend a lot of time on the Internet. So, if I post something on my blog or on a writer's discussion board saying ‘Nathan Bransford rejected me so he's a doodiehead.’ He may never see it - but there's a decent chance an internet search for his name could turn up the unfortunate doodiehead remark. And maybe he'll laugh and shake his head, and maybe he'll think, ‘Why the heck is this woman calling me a doodiehead?’ And maybe he'll even take the extra moment to think, ‘I don't like her - what's her name anyway?’ And maybe some other agent friends of his will take up his offense and well . . . my professional life would be about to take a hit.”

With that said, let us talk about blogs. I have a few different blogs. Most of us already know about My Space, Blogger, Facebook, and Squidoo. Whichever blog site you choose, make sure to have a topic for your blog. If it’s about you as a writer, then stick to that theme as much as possible. If you choose to have a blog about your new book or how to write in your genre, great!

Blogs drive lots of traffic, if you are blogging about something people will want to share with others, add to their blog roll, and so on. My blogs are either about writing for children, Stories for Children Magazine, or myself as a writer and my thoughts on writing. I share information on each blog that crosses easily over, but mostly only blog about stuff that relates to those themes. For example, I am not going to post a media release on my The Writing Mama blog about the new staff members at SFC. Nor would I blog about reading tips on one of the blogs I’m doing a guest post on, but I would on my personal writing blog and on my SFC blog because they are both geared towards parents.

Let’s talk Websites for a minute. I know many writers think they have to be computer savvy or know HTML (computer lingo) to build a website. Some think you have to invest lots of money into a website. Well I’m here to tell you those people are wrong. First off, I have three websites. One is my personal website (http://vsgrenier.com), the second is Stories for Children Publishing, LLC (http://storiesforchildrenpublishing.com) and the third is my Ezine, Stories for Children Magazine (http://storiesforchildrenmagazine.org). All of these sites I built myself and I had absolutely no website training or coaching help. I learned as I went. I used many websites that I enjoy visiting as my outline. But first, let’s talk about why it’s important to have a web presence.

As an author, it is important to have a web presence because most of the world is on the internet daily. We all use computers at work, home, and even in schools. With a website, your readers, editors, publisher and anyone else who wants to learn more about you can.

On my personal website, I have a Bio page where I not only tell about me in third person, I also have a first person letter to those who come to visit. I list my hobbies and other websites, too. The next page I have is “What’s New”. Here I list anything going on in my writing career be it an interview or coming soon published title. After this is my “Event Calendar”. Not everyone has this on their site, but I find it nice to have. This let’s my readers know where I’ll be or when I’ll be interviewed next. I even list workshops I’m presenting at school visits or conferences.

Every website should have a “Media Room”. This page lists your media releases, your bio, awards, publications, appearances, copies or links to interviews, personal essay, available seminar list, your expert list, book reviews or reviews about you as a speaker, a picture of you, covers of your books, and sales sheet. You should have contact information so those who want a full media kit can request one. Note: You will want to make sure people who come to visit can download and print this information as well.
 
After those key parts of your site, anything goes. On my site, I list my critique services, information about Stories for Children Magazine, my free newsletter for writers (SFC Newsletter for Writers), information for school visits, and I even have a resource pages for kids, teachers, and parents.

A few comments about pictures on blogs and websites: when adding pictures to your sites make sure they are professionally done or look like it. Add pictures from workshops, conferences, and other writing activities, too. It’s okay to have a few pictures of your family, pets, and even like me the inspirational view out my front windows, but just remember your fans want to know you’re out there writing, getting published, visiting schools if you’re a children’s writer and doing workshops.

Lastly, the key to a website is repeat traffic. Many authors offer free articles about writing; some printable coloring pages. Myself, and others, offer a free newsletter or eBooks. Just make sure that you are able to update this information and change it out often. I typically update my site at least once a month if not more.

Here are few other author websites I think are really good:
http://www.conorandthecrossworlds.com/
http://markpeterhughes.com/index.html
http://www.nancykellyallen.com/
http://www.dottienderle.com/
http://www.asuen.com/
http://www.katedicamillo.com/
http://brendaferber.com/
http://www.maxbooks.9k.com/index.html

Now to answer the question you’ve been thinking, “How can I have a website and not pay a lot of money.” I use OfficeLive.com for my sites. You can also use Tripod.com who I have used in the past and they are okay. I originally had Stories for Children Magazine’s site hosted with them, but you do have to pay a little every month if you want to keep pop ups off your site. Which I did at $4.95 a month. However, OfficLive.com doesn’t have pop ups and you only pay yearly ($14.95) to have a site.

A few others that I don’t know much about . . . but are free: Homestead.com, Freewebsites.com, and Bravenet.com.

I’m sure there are more, but my advice is, ask other writers you know who have a website. Ask them who they use and what they like and don’t like about the hosting site.

Again, you don’t need to be a computer nerd to build a site. Most hosting sites offer builders and templates and there are many online places to get free templates, html code, and much more. Just ask your writing friends or if there is a site you like, contact them and ask how they did whatever it is you like. You’d be surprised to find most of the time they got it from some other place on the web, and now you can go and customize it for your site from there, too.

So why is a website or blog important? Because it lets editors and publishers know you have a way to promote and market what you write and it lets readers get to know you. In sales it is said, “People buy people before they buy merchandise.”

I don’t know about you, but when I’m looking for a new book to read, I look at the author’s name first than the title. I usually buy a book from an author I know before I buy one from one I don’t. In addition, if I do buy a book from an author I don’t know . . . I look them up on the internet to find out more about them.
Just recently in one of my writing groups, the moderator, Tilly Rivers, had this to share with us. “A hard-driving author is always at the heart of success. Some authors spend months at a time on the road doing book readings or seminars, others are relentless at marketing themselves as interview candidates for radio stations, print and Internet media, even TV. Successful authors maintain databases and mailing lists of fans, local media, and book editors of national papers, and networking links to announce every new book release or public appearance.

The mistake most authors make is they forget to promote themselves as an author before they can promote their book. Remember that the least book buying habit for a reader is--who the publisher is- they do not care, and for the most part do not know a self-publisher from a trade publisher. The top book buying habit is going into the store, looking for an author. (Author- not title!)”

Now once you build a website and/or blog, make sure to have a link in your signature line when sending an email and also link with others who share the same passion, genre, or cover the same topics. People love to see others like your site as well and it helps move you up in the rankings of search engines the more links you have.

To learn more or if you would like to join Tilly Rivers yahoo group about marketing and promotion go here http://groups.yahoo.com/group/promoteyourwriting/, trust me it’s well worth it.

Lastly, let’s just quickly talk about newsletters. I know most of you are thinking, “How can I write a newsletter?” Well I personally thought the same thing when I first attended the Muse Online Writer’s Conference three years ago and took Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s workshop “Savvy Marketing”.

In her workshop, I learned some tips I didn’t know about because they were things I didn’t need to do in fashion. Nevertheless, as a writer, they were very valuable tips to get my name out. One was starting a newsletter.

After the conference wrapped up, I thought about what Carolyn said during the week. I read over my notes from her workshop. And believe it or not, I still have them, three years later and still comb through them for new ideas to market myself. If you have never signed up for one of her workshops, I suggest you do it next year if she does one. In addition, I suggest you sign up for her newsletter, which is FREE. To subscribe to Sharing with Writers send an email with "Subscribe" in the subject line to: HoJoNews@aol.com. Trust me you won’t be disappointed.

One of the biggest things Carolyn talked about is to use your mailing list when it comes to marketing. Most of us get that, but what most of us don’t get is how to build a mailing list. Well newsletters are a great way to do it. 

In retail, we lure our customers into giving us their personal mailing or email address by setting up a customer profile in our computers to make shopping quicker for our consumers. How many times have you been out shopping in a specialty store or sometimes a department store and they ask you for your phone number to look you up when they have a promotion going on? Or how about this one, “Have you shopped here before? You have. Can I get your last name?” They do this so the company can get your personal information for mailings (i.e. mailing list).

So think of your newsletter the same way. Yes, for a new writer the idea might be scary. Think of a different way to get more names in your contact file. How about running a contest on your blog where everyone has to give up at least their email address. At Stories for Children Magazine, we use a guest book. Another great way to get contacts added to your database.

However, I find my SFC Newsletter for Writers (which is free and you can find more about it at http://storiesforchildrenpublishing.com) is the best way to add contacts to my mailing list. I use this list to not only send out my newsletter, but to let my fans know about upcoming events I’m doing, new works being published, and anything I feel is important to those in writing. Now with that said, I don’t just go around spamming people either. I make sure I send things when it is important and I do it as a media release or professional letter. Be savvy and professional about how you share your news with those on your mailing list. You don’t want to lose them. These readers are your fans. Treat them with respect and professionalism. In addition, you never know . . . they may just nominate you for the 101 Best Newsletters from Writer’s Digest as my subscribers did in 2009. It was such an honor to be listed with all the others last year.

So how do you get started writing a newsletter? My newsletter is for children’s writers mostly, but all those who love writing can gain insight from my newsletter. I was new to writing when I started it and I wrote most of the articles for the first few months. How I started my fan base was by contacting those I already knew to see if anyone was interested in receiving SFC Newsletter for Writers. I posted to my writing groups and blogs with how to subscribe and in the first month, I had 50 subscribers. Not a lot, but a good start. Slowly, others contacted me about subscribing and submitting. Now I only write one column each month and have five other writers who write for the newsletter as well. I now have a decent fan base of over 800. It has become a great way for me to build peer support, fans, and find talented authors or illustrators to submit to Stores for Children Magazine as well.

My name as an editor has spread because of my newsletter and magazine. People in the industry know me from either SFC Newsletter for Writers or Stories for Children Magazine, I have found when I do submit as a freelance children’s writer . . . I tend to make contact with the editors instead of the slush pile. I may not sell everything I submit, but I do sell and I make valuable contacts at publishing houses.

So think about starting a newsletter. Mine is monthly, you can do yours weekly, bi-monthly, or quarterly. Your newsletter can be about writing, reading tips for kids, how to better your relationships with your partner (if you’re a romance writer), etc. Whatever genre you are writing in, make sure your newsletter fits with it or can somehow be tied to it.

3 comments:

  1. What a lovely surprise in the google alert that comes straight to my e-mail box, Virginia. It is always lovely to know one's efforts are appreciated. Glad you like the Free (if you register early enough!) Muse Online Writers' Conference. Lea and I have loved seeing it grow since its inception.

    I also love this article. I will naturally refer my newsletter readers to it. Of course! Big thanks here, too, though!
    Best,
    Carolyn

    ReplyDelete
  2. You are very welcome Carolyn. I owe a lot to you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Virginia, this is an information packed post. I'm glad you mention that it's not as difficult as it may seem to create your own websites - I created 3 myself also.

    There are a number of new writers who are persuaded that they need a website designer for hundreds and thousands of dollars to get a website up and running.

    Blogging and newsletters are powerful marketing tools, as is article marketing.

    I'm going to link to this post in my October newsletter.

    ReplyDelete