Today’s guest is Carole Jelen, an author, former publishing editor, and literary agent for Waterside Productions. She is a former editor for major publishers including Addison-Wesley, Prentice-Hall and Sybex, an imprint of Wileyholds, and she has two degrees in English from UC Berkeley and UC Los Angeles. She also holds a California teaching credential, and trains and consults in publishing and audience building. Carole is the author ( coauthored with Mike McCallister) of Build Your Author Platform: The New Rules: A Literary Agent’s Guide to Growing Your Audience in 14 Steps. Her next book, a novel based on transcendence and her travel adventures to 44 countries, is still shrouded in mystery.
Carole’s book “will show you all of the tricks, tips, tools, and loopholes you’ll need to know –empowering you to take control of and build your author platform. When pitching a new author, one of the first questions I’m always asked by my publisher and our sales force is, ‘How’s the author’s platform?’ In the new age of publishing nothing is more important for success (aside from great writing, of course!).” — Andrew Yakira, Assoc. Editor, Tarcher/Penguin Group USA
Of her post today, Carole says that building readership is a subject close to my heart for launching my own novel and to build success as a literary agent for my author clients. I’m hoping to help every writer launch books with a story that needs to be told, and knowledge that will help others.
The Dozen New Digital Rules Authors Need to Know
For three decades my job has been to search for talent, looking to discover the next “big” author. As a literary agent, I’ve come to rely on the web to find the best writers and thinkers. Like all talent scouts, I have to be able to find writers easily, and understand what books are about quickly, as well as seeing indication that people would care enough to purchase them.
My early career building days involved one foot in publishing, one foot in tech, and my head in clouds of ideas. Determined to stay on the west coast instead of transplanting to New York, I luckily found how to combine the best of both via the rise of the Silicon Valley. Out of a Redwood Shores office, I acquired books for large east coast publishing companies, scouring The Valley to publish now famous innovators. I learned from these brilliant yet sometimes reckless movers and shakers how they launched their ideas into the world. Their fervor in audience building influenced my ideal publishing model early on.
Then I realized my own book was growing inside of me, waiting to born in the form of fictional memoir. Because intuition pulls us along into areas where reason tells us not to venture, I went with it, booking a solo flight to a castle in Quebec to open the creative floodgates. I celebrated my finished manuscript—stumbling into a cafe with rumpled clothing, hair a mess, half awake at lunch—with bon voyage French champagne and soufflé.
But that soufflé deflated on the plane home. The reality of the publishing world I knew and the forces of reason combined with gravity to pull down that excitement: I realized I had no readers. With anguish I knew as a literary agent that as an unknown I could not place my own book into a publishing contract.
Teaching What I Know
So this is how I came to co-write Build Your Author Platform: The New Rules. Now in my third decade of working to make authors successful, I’ve studied how top authors who know something about marketing continue to hold a competitive advantage to get more books into the hands of more readers, and yes, achieve higher book sales.
The truth is that I couldn’t remain anonymous in order to bring my manuscript to life; and as a commissioned literary agent I have a stake in helping author clients successfully grow readership. This body of knowledge needed to be shared with all writers looking to grow readership.
I recorded how many successful authors build their platform on their own—without paying for consultants, expensive classes or publicity managers, using free web tools, networks and blogs as well as library cards. I discovered how authors find new fans, a surprising level of support, and an unexpected fresh idea stream by using twenty to thirty minutes a day for between six and twelve months.
As a new author, I also had to “walk the walk.” Using these same digital rules and new tools, I’ve built my author platform from ground zero, and it continues to bring in new readers, and will sustain my future writing.
The key to moving forward has always involved some holding on, keeping concepts that have worked before, and finding ways to translate and grow them into new avenues. Right here on Writer Unboxed, we’re using new tools to enhance what we’re doing; we’re communicating with bits and bytes, in a virtual community of like-minded souls scattered around the globe with a comment box dialogue. In-person coffee house discussion has been replaced by online interaction. You’ve already opened the door.
…And Walk In
The dozen new digital rules here can be applied one per month to make it easier to develop these concepts over one year. We have to move upwards by parts because we don’t live in a simple world, and the good news is that once separated out, each part is not that hard to master and grow. Each of the following “new rules” shines a light on ways to build readership from an already familiar base of people—starting with friends, colleagues, and associates who read books.
Unlock the Dozen New Digital Rules
At the end of the day, writers who keep traditional values of caring, sharing and helping others—combining these with new digital rules—get ahead of those who ignore them. Authors are boosting visibility digitally by joining author collectives, combining networks, forming groups, promoting one other, or blogging together. The main thing is to find what resonates and apply it.
- We’re expected to be accessible by creating online conversations, in public. Readers feel more connected to you and your book if they can reach out and talk to you. Now readers are enabled with new digital tools and want to ask authors questions directly, so open the door and give readers access to your mind. Embrace the conversation with your audience with new tools like comment boxes and Goodreads “Ask the Author” feature.
- We need to share our ideas and get them re-shared on networks to build authority. We need to create some type of influence for people to explore our writing. When you share ideas with a huge pool your audience already participates in like Twitter, you easily enable people to reshare via RT. Twitter as a micro-blog is a shorter route than a full blog post.
At the end of the day, writers who keep traditional values of caring, sharing and helping others—combining these with new digital rules—get ahead of those who ignore them.
- Our findability is related to relevancy. Search engines like Google define findabillity via SEO. Learn how Google and other search engines work and use hashtags, metadata and key words to get found. Google is continuing to reward authors who create great written content, and it doesn’t take long to learn the tools, and why Google+ is more than a social network.
- We need to find ways to motivate others to talk together online. Authors who create motivation for interaction among members of their audience rank higher and be found more often on search engines. Creating a Facebook fan page boosts reader interaction as a community, and you can still maintain privacy with a personal page as well. Author Like exchange groups like this Author Networking Megasheet abound.
- As authors we need a demonstrated following. It’s better to have a smaller community of interested followers than thousands of uninterested followers. But remember, authors are also readers and are bonding through countless online support communities, like the Writers Network. Here is a list of ten more online writer communities.
- We boost audience by understanding readers. Understanding creates instant connection and uncovers reasons why people become interested in you and your writing. Online speaking and training creates avenues to gather questions and comments as food for blog posts and posts to networks. New tools for online talks and seminars gives the opportunity to teach in a pubic setting that opens new avenues to attract readers.
- Repurposing content gives us an extended reach. Find what others want to know and teach it, even if it is a subject somehow related to your book or how to write a book, then use it in the twenty ways suggested in this blog post.
- We need to appear wherever our readers hang out. This means appearing in as many multiple locations and media as possible. Picking and choosing is not the way to go. Instead, find multiple ways to get in front of people who are looking for you but have not yet found you.Now readers want to connect with writers by experiencing personal appearances, easily created online with video and audio through interviews, trailers, repurposing clips and more. For the same reasons you would not want your book to be found in only one bookstore, find and go to all the locations where your readers hang out.
- Building an online bookstore (for your book) sells more copies. Be sure that your book has a BUY button next to it, wherever it appears, to make it easy that once found, the reader can purchase it easily. Your book web site is an online bookstore selling your book, to readers, to bookstore buyers selecting titles, and to book reader groups who are thinking of selecting your title.
- Amazon’s Author Central forms a “billboard to the world.” The most empowering toolbox for authors is found right on the largest online distributor site—Amazon. Fill in all the slots: author bio, photo, book description, Twitter feed, blog feed, video, audio, so that readers can explore you and your book. There is nothing better for an author than having the info you choose about you and your book right there at the point of sale.
- Showcasing positive quotes and reviews has become essential. It’s not an era to be shy about praise. Readers base book purchases on what others say. In public view, print those positive reviews and praise quotes from your peers and readers: on your author and book sites, on your blog, on review sites like Goodreads, at others’ sites. Informative praise quotes about why the book is great work best.
- An author digital promotion plan has become a must, to connect all the pieces of platform. Understanding how to use the author site as “home central,” using online tools together to get the greatest and most effective impact, letting the Internet do the work of linking it all together, allows you to keep control of your platform and attract readers and talent scouts to be able to find you and your work.
The role of author and creative artist has evolved into an interactive experience and has gone beyond traditional book marketing. The artist role is evolving into a sort of partnership with readers. A new model is growing at publishers like Macmillan’s YA imprint Swoon Reads (you can read more about Swoon here). Now readers can vote online to choose what book Swoon will publish. The reality TV model is coming to publishing, with belief that this collective interaction will result in more potential buyers of books and that readers who vote will then evangelize the books to their networks, expanding the audience by multiples. Swoon’s site alone already has 10,000 registered users, and sites like Unbound are growing with advance financial support in exchange for book copies. Measuring readers’ reactions to manuscripts is also growing as a device as to what will sell in the future. This trend is becoming as powerful a tool for authors as self-pubishing.
The Next Step: Connecting Further
I invite you to jumpstart or widen your reach by connecting with me on Twitter, Google+ and on my Facebook fan page—connecting with my base of many thousands of authors and joining the author support communities I already belong to on these networks and on LinkedIn groups. This leads to exchange promotion through following and liking other authors in exchange. In the process you’ll attract fellow authors to become your readers. I hope you’ll join my networks and I’ll look forward to seeing you there.
What are ways you’ve opened doors in the digital world and boosted your online visibility? We’d love to hear your suggestions for what’s worked particularly well for you!