I always tell people that my biggest challenge of my job in helping people find literary agents is correcting bad information on the Internet. This is no doubt my biggest challenge on a day-to-day basis in helping people get published.
But if I had to pick a second frustration — one that drives me absolutely bonkers more often than I’d like to explain — it’s the fact that so many writers make themselves difficult to contact and hurt their writer platform. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wanted to help someone or promote a book or interview an author only to find no e-mail address anywhere online. For example, at least a dozen times, I’ve found a great debut author online whose book I wanted to include in my recurring Writer’s Digest magazine column (“Breaking In” ) only to find … no e-mail. No Twitter. No contact information. Plenty of times no website at all. Other times I’ve wanted to interview up-and-coming writers for one reason or another, and I face the same problem. They don’t make themselves available, and I find someone else instead. (Makes you wonder … perhaps someone reading this column right now missed out on some easy promo because they kept their e-mail hidden.)
I have no idea why people make themselves difficult to contact. I think it comes from some sort of old-school fear that if their e-mail is online, all hell will break loose and their identity will get stolen by someone in Chechnya or they’ll be deluged with spam and from hundreds of people asking to borrow money.
Take it from me — this will not happen. I make myself very available through all channels and am in a position to help people, but the amount of cold-contact e-mails I get each month is small and manageable.
The point I’m trying to make is this: In this day and age, book publicity is very valuable and very hard to come by. The last thing writers want to do is make it more difficult for editors to publicize their books. In order to give yourself the best chance at success, here are my suggestions for all up-and-coming writers in terms of making yourself available and easy to contact:
- Create a website, even a simple free WordPress blog with just 1 page. The important thing is just to have something come up when I Google your name or the name of your book. Heck, your website can be one landing page — that’s all I need. Just put some information about yourself and your book (so I know I’m contacting the correct person), and include some relevant contact info — especially an e-mail address you check regularly. Twitter’s also fine, as long as you’re on it often and respond quickly. If you want to see an example of a simple site that I set up for free, check out my writing website  on WordPress.
- On that note, try to check your e-mail each day. Note how I just said “check,” not necessarily “respond to every waiting e-mail.” You just must make sure there are no pressing matters. Here’s the thing writers must, must understand: Editors and literary agents have schedules and deadlines. We also procrastinate more often than we should. This means that, plenty of times, we are contacting people at the last minute and needs an expeditious reply.
- If you want to protect yourself from spam/etc, take simple steps. An easy thing everyone does when posting an e-mail address online is adjust the formatting and write it out like this: literaryagent (at) fwmedia.com (dot) com. Spam be gone! If you’re an established author with a communicative fan base — perhaps you write for children — then include a note by your e-mail saying that “While I do read every e-mail promptly and personally, due to the sheer number of them, I cannot respond personally to all messages. Sorry.”
- Know that only listing your publicist’s contact info on your site is, in my opinion, not good enough. (I know I will catch some hell for this one.) The good thing about publicists is they understand deadlines and are usually very quick to return e-mails and touch base. But publicists get sick, too. They get buried in work just like everyone else. They may be so busy that they can’t consider media requests from non-top-tier outlets. And plus, they don’t always work on weekends (but plenty of journalists do!). That’s why you should include your own information — just in case it’s an urgent matter.And I know the subject of publicists gets kind of tricky. Plenty of publishing house publicists don’t really want writers doing their own publicity without supervision from them. If that’s the case, just use your judgment. When my humor book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack, came out in fall 2010, we got publicity/review requests from media outlets big and small. If the media outlet was very sizeable (e.g., USA Today), or was requesting copyrighted book images to go with the story (e.g., The Huffington Post), then I knew it was something my publicist would have to approve. But everything else was fair game for me to do on my own. (She didn’t have time to get involved with everything anyway.) I solicited blog coverage. I responded to lots of interview requests. I answered people’s questions. And I did it all as fast as I could — because you never know when someone has a publicity window that’s closing fast. Just keep in mind that if it’s an emergency, your publicist will understand. I remember one time I was on a docked cruise ship in Miami an hour from when we left and would lose phone reception. That’s when I got an e-mail from a Boston Herald reporter, who wanted to ask me interview questions about how book deals worked. (Guess where she found my contact info? Who knows! It was everywhere online, because I make myself easy to contact.) Since this was not just some random blogger calling, but rather a large metropolitan newspaper, protocol said I should send the request formally through my HR division. But the reporter’s deadline was hours away. So I called the Herald back immediately and did the interview. I was careful to pay attention for any “dangerous” questions that had answers that would get me in trouble. But these concerns never materialized, and my quote appeared in the paper. And when you’re quoted in the media, your title also appears: “editor of Guide to Literary Agents.” My bosses at work couldn’t be mad that I answered some innocuous questions while getting our product out in a big media outlet. In fact, they were quite happy.
On a side note, I should mention that if you have a specific reason for keeping your info offline — such as safety concerns — that is something relevant and totally understandable. I’ve ran into a few authors at writing conferences with crazy ex-boyfriends who have this issue.
But if you’re keeping your info locked up for no prevalent reason, please realize your name and your reach is your author platform . You WANT people to contact you. You WANT other writers to reach out from the blue. I love it when a member of the media finds my info online and writes me. I don’t even mind it when a writer sends me an e-mail with a random question. I’ve made long-term friends that way — friends who have bought my book and sung my praises to others. It’s called networking — and writer networking  starts by simply making yourself available.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Cara Photography