Stephen Kozeniewski thought he was joking when he said:My takeaway from this post is that I should e-mail Janet personally when my next book comes out.
And sure enough Stephen has a book coming out, and was smart enough to tell me about it. I swam over to Amazon to check it out.
Now, dystopian fiction isn't really what I read for fun, but the premise sounded interesting.
And then I saw Stephen's author bio:
About the AuthorStephen Kozeniewski (pronounced "causin' ooze key") lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor's degree is in German.
I thought this was hilarious. And very nicely written.
A well-written author bio gave me confidence there would be a well-written book. I clicked "buy" and got a copy.
What this means for you: Your author bio is part of your promotion plan. It's not something to just dash off at the last minute.
EVERYTHING--snout to tail-- counts for promotion. You want an author bio that's charming (like Stephen's) because it could be the difference between someone buying a book they're not sure they'll like when the author sound like a nice, funny guy.
Once I started reading I knew I'd made the right choice. This line in particular:
"You're pretty needy for a corpse," Toomey said.
I don't want you to obsess about this to the point where it stymies your writing, but if you devote a couple of minutes a day to things like your author bio, and your 25 word answer to "what is your book about?" and you think about getting a good author photo before you have 24 hours to provide one, well, you'll be happier and your promotion will be more effective.
Promotion is a VERY long game. You want to have as much prepared as possible.
1. Your mailing list. (Don't have one? START ONE)
2. Cleaning your mailing list. By cleaning I mean you look at it and remove duplicates. You weed out non-working emails. You make sure the right people are on it. And the right people are OFF it. I NEVER buy books from people who send "hey y'all" emails. As you can see, I DO buy books when it says "Dear Janet."
3. Prepping your email list platform. Do you use a mailing list platform like MailChimp? You should. Sign up and figure out how it works NOW.
4. Cleaning up your website. Does it have contact info? Does it have broken links? Does it have info on your published books?
5. Does the contact page on your website list your twitter handle and Facebook page if you have them? Does it list your agent?
6. Googled your name lately? What pops up first? I hope it's not someone else. If it IS you might think of adding an initial or a middle name to your author name (Loretta Sue Ross, Stephanie Jaye Evans) or taking a new name entirely (every Stephen King who wants to be a writer who isn't THAT Stephen King.) You can't do that if your name is already printed on the book!
One of the best ways to think about this is to look at OTHER author's website to see what they do and if it works or not.
Promotion doesn't go from zero to sixty in five seconds flat without a helluva lot of hard work under the hood before you hit the Go pedal.
Now, off to read Every Kingdom Divided.
OMG how utterly wonderful for Stephen.
To get your book published is an amazing thing but for a post by Janet like this, which helps and informs all of us, and gets your name out there, WOW.
Today I am, cleaning house, putting Christmas stuff away, doing laundry, hoeing out the fridge and doing everything Janet said to do.
Congrats Stephen. Off to buy your book.
Never even thought about these kitchen issues, til now.
A "mailing list"? Who are the "right people"?
An "email list platform"?
Someone help me out here cuz I don't think I'm in Kansas anymore.
I don't know that I obsess so much as feel intimidated.
But, then I take a deep drink of tea and think, one-task-at-a-time. Edit the novel. Play with the query. And check-out author and blog bios. One task? Um...yea.
I think the bio can be more difficult to write than the dreaded pitch. I've been working on mine for months and it still just ... isn't right.
This was a very useful post for me. I do have users who submit their email to engage with my posts. I get their e-mails one at a time (annoying). However, I can only generate a mass listing of people who subscribed to me. I will have to sit down and figure out why that is one of these days. Also, I need to figure out what plug-in sends e-mail alerts/notifications to new posts. I don't know what plug-in is used for that. My website platform is Bluehost.
Oh dear Lord, one more thing I know nothing about. I will just lurk about and learn what I can from this bunch.
I actually have anxiety about the whole author picture. I hate having my picture taken. Always have. It's one of those completely irrational fear things.
Ah well, cart, horse, and all that. Must find agent first. Why must they hide from me? Buying Stephen's book. I love zombies. I am one.
I've always had problems writing my bio. Selling myself - not my work - is hard. I mean, selling my work isn't easy, but talking about myself is very difficult. If only my bio could be about my dogs instead of me...
A mailing or email list is simply a list of people who want to hear about your book - you just have to be careful that they *do* want to hear from you.
A newsletter is probably the best way to develop such a list. And it really is easy to use MailChimp. MailChimp will make sure you're doing the right things. It automatically helps you do what you need to do, including giving your subscribers a chance to unsubscribe if they want.
What MailChimp can't do for you is make sure your readers want to hear from you (that is, don't throw every address you have into the program - best is to let others sign up on their own), and make your content interesting.
I've got a MailChimp account and I've been playing around with it. I've got a few people willing to be my test subjects, and I'm planning to start my newsletter in January.
James: There are a number of plug-ins and widgets that can do that for you. Your hosting company is Bluehost, but I don't believe they're also a platform. According to their site, I can see they allow WordPress, Drupal, Microsoft Expression Web, and Weebly. Unfortunately, I only know WordPress at this time. WordPress has a number of plug-ins for sending e-mail alerts/notifications when you put up a new post. I don't know what the others have. If you use the WordPress platform, I might be able to find some of the plug-ins for you.
Congratulations Stephen! I love dystopian zombie fiction so your book is on my list!
I'm trying not to freak out about all the stuff I still need to learn and do and just focus on finishing the book. These posts get bookmarked for later. I'm thinking about printing them all and organizing them as a timeline for what to do, when to do it, and how to do it well.
Smeep! Thanks so much for the signal boost, Janet! I try to think about snout-to-tail marketing, but now I'm blushing because it seems like it worked.
Kitty: a mailing list is just a list of people who have subscribed to receive your newsletter, whatever that may be. You've probably found yourself auto-subscribed (or, heck, maybe you did it deliberately) for things like your local pet store or big box store when you gave them your e-mail address to sign up for a discount card. In YOUR case it should be a lot more voluntary. Campayn and MailChimp are two free platforms you can check out, and there are plenty of paid platforms.
So why bother? I wrote a blogpost outlining all the reasons, but what it boils down to is that social media is ephemeral while e-mail addresses are very steady. I haven't checked my MySpace account since probably 2006, so any marketing happening there is lost on me. But my e-mail address has remained the same (or forwarded) since middle school so even something I signed up for ten or even twenty years ago could still be effectively reaching me.
Ahh, bios... like the woman whose kids "reek havoc" on her house? I'm always glad to work with authors to fix bios and back cover copy... help's out there if people look for it.
Here comes Captain Cart-Horse again...
Before everyone loses their lunch (or just me) over the anxiety attack that lies in this blog post, let's all take a deep breath (into a paper bag like the one I'm holding) and read one VERY important line again.
Promotion is a VERY long game.
Let's try one more line.
I don't want you to obsess about this to the point where it stymies your writing
And for good measure -
but if you devote a couple of minutes a day to things like your author bio...
Alright - everyone breathing again? :)
I love this topic, because it's a big deal in any public-facing industry. Recording artists deal with it. Comedians deal with it. Actors deal with it. If you're trying to sell your work to the public then, invariably, you are a product as much as your work is a product.
Personally, I think the best thing to remember here isn't what to do, but what not to do. Because the people I see who fail at this most often are the ones who like to sprint through a bunch of stuff all at once and then can't forgive themselves when it doesn't produce massive results. It's all about the pace.
Don't stop working when something good happens.
Because the race isn't over when you pen the last line, or when you get an agent, or when you sell your first book. Those are the starting guns to longer races.
My point is this - If you throw a bunch of dynamite in your oven (update/obsess over your entire web-presence all weekend), you're just going to blow up your kitchen.
Growth happens slowly and consistently.
Several years ago, I took over a chatroom for writers. The mailing list was almost 300 people, and I was so excited! Now, we have live chats twice each week, and the mailing list is almost 3,000. I have 15% open rate, and people respond to the emails. (And Janet has dropped in twice!)
If I had started out with the goal to build this, I probably would have tied myself into knots and it would have fallen apart. But by simply moving forward, one step at a time, I'm amazed to find myself with something valuable.
Now I just need to find the time to actually write a book...
When I Google me, I'm the first like, 6 results on that page (pictures included, via the lovely Elka. The people pictures are not me). There's also apparently an Internet Speculative Fiction Database that I am now on because of my published short. I mean, it contains pretty much nothing, but it's there.
I think I do need to start devoting a couple of minutes a day to my bio and to my "novel in 25 words" (though I can summarize it in fewer, I can't interestingly summarize it in fewer). My bio is also very dry, though I do specify what kind of dog I have. For some reason, that bugs me in author bios, when they're like "so and so lives in Miami, with their wife and dog." WHAT KIND OF DOG? I'm taking Elka to the vet today, by the by; she's got some lumps we want looked at (honestly, they're bothering us more than they're bothering her). We're all fallin' apart over here, I tell you.
But. I'm outside the bell curve of normality on any number of things, and one of those is newsletters. I hate receiving newsletters. I sign up for them, sure. I don't read them, for the most part. I kinda scan Publisher's Lunch, that kind of thing. But, as we discussed last week, I also don't read jacket copy (or reviews, by the way. I don't read reviews until after I've read the book. Or tried the book and failed to complete it). Commercials don't actually seem to make me want to buy things, but rather have the opposite effect.
But really, people want to read books that are being talked about. There's a teen columnist in my local paper, and she mentioned a young adult book she'd just read (We Were Liars, I think, by E. Lockhart). I had the good fortune to glance at that column one Saturday at the library while searching out the crossword puzzle to photocopy for our patrons, and so when an older woman came in several hours later and couldn't remember anything about the book save that it was in the paper, I was able to get it off the shelf for her without much pondering. The next older woman who asked for it, though, we had to reserve it. And that's the thing, a lot of people won't seek out YA on their own, but if somebody raves about how great a title is, they'll give it a try. If they hear an author on NPR, or Good Morning America, they'll give it a try.
(I feel like I may have gotten off topic, and my ultimate point was not to contradict QOTKU's advice in any way. I'm just a contrarian who has not finished her coffee, and who did not have milk in the house so used whipped cream.)
Way to go, Stephen! To paraphrase the orangutan from Jungle Book (what was his name? King something?), "I want to be like you-ou-ou"
And though I agree with Audrey, one step at a time, I want to emphasize her last line. Find the time to write the book. Still the number one priority is to write the best book you can.
I love MailChimp. It lets me know every time someone signs up for my book. I have no idea who these people are and sometimes I'm convinced it's all made-up emails or spam or something equally horrible because my royalty cheques sure aren't matching my Chimp list but I can't dwell on that...must get book 2 done.
Captain Cart Horse is absolutely right. The Queen's advice today is spot on, as usual, but focus on what the Captain has highlighted. And breathe. That's pretty important, too.
Oh, and one more thing. I love Stephen's bio because, besides being funny, it's humble. A clerical error and he gets a bronze star!? LOL, I don't think so.
Shoot...I don't comment for weeks and now I can't shut up. Correction to original post. Readers do not sign up for my book, they sign up for my newsletter. Which I haven't sent out since April. Will remedy that this week.
Congratulations, Stephen! And, dearest QOTKU, you know that when you address your loyal subjects with direct *orders* they are bound to obsess. The benefit of that is forward movement when the obsession eases a bit. I'm vivisting the zoo today to get one of those mail chimps from the gift shop; I'm glad to know he's trained to take of that for me. I've always wanted a chimp!
James, you mentioned plugins, so my guess is that you're using WordPress. Like BJ said, there are plugins for what you want. There's a highly rated free plugin for MailChimp (accurately named MailChimp for WordPress). You'll need a MailChimp account, too. There are lots of tutorials out there to learn how to use that.
First off, thanks for the fantastic to-do list, Janet.
Next, and I know I am terribly late to this party, I have a craft book to recommend. My writing group has been raving about Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer.
I have to admit I haven't read it yet, but after a quick look at some YouTube videos I'm a little miffed it didn't show up under my Christmas tree and have already ordered a copy.
My critique partner (who I trust with my words and would trust with life) originally bought it for her daughter then devourered it herself. She assures me it's one not to miss.
Jennifer: I hope that the bumps turn out to be benign fatty lumps, like the one Koko had. They aspirated it to make sure, then it went away on its own.
This is awesome!
Stephen: Hello from a fellow Pennsylvanian! I clicked over to the blog post you linked and became a fan from just the first few lines--of your blog post. To me, that says a lot about your writing and voice and what I can expect in the book (and a dedicated rave from Janet certainly doesn't hurt!). Congratulations on the release!
As for mailing lists and newsletters: I'm of the Newsletters Don't Work For Me camp--both in sending and in receiving. I tried creating a newsletter for my business a few years ago. It began as a monthly, then dwindled down to a quarterly before going extinct. The pressure to create that content when I was already marketing my book, writing another, burned out from working a stressful corporate job, and recovering from illness was too much. It became a chore I grew to dread rather than an enhancement to my services, and I decided I'd rather spend that time and energy producing content I enjoyed: more blog posts, books, resources, and even personal journaling.
I do see the wisdom in maintaining a mailing list, and I'll likely revamp the newsletter into simple email updates such as book news and free resources, but I'm not one who can churn out content on a consistent basis like I'd originally intended. It actually took me a while to come to terms with that.
My goal for 2016 is all about production and release--a metaphor for my life lesson if there ever was one. I have a lot of writing stockpiled for the blog and business, and I don't know what I've been waiting for. This post is good motivation to start getting it out there.
Cool beans, Stephen! Janet's right (of course), that's an awesome bio.
This is one of those topics that's on the back-burner until I actually have a book worthy of an agent, and an agent to sell it. I can't bring myself to think about it until then--even if I should. Besides, those bios are hard to write. It took me ages to come up with my Twitter bio, let alone something that will feature on Amazon and the back of my book!
One take away for me, though: don't wait until the last minute to do it. :)
I'd like to thank all you commenters who made me feel I wasn't alone in panicking when I read this post. Mailing list? Website? For me? The sweat from my anxiety is just drying.
I've just been reading here the last few months and I very much appreciate both the information in the posts and in the comments. I'm both intimidated by how much I have to learn and fascinated by all the twists and turns of this profession.
Bios don't bother me - I have to do one for every show.
Great post, Janet. Thanks!
Hubby's home health nurse passed him on to physical therapy so he's on the upswing. At least now he's able to sleep. I'm learning to catch cat naps in between med rounds. Thankfully I don't need much sleep.
One of my goals while I'm off is to organize my writing (published and in progress).It's ridiculous how much I have stashed around here.
No one freak out about this, okay?
There are lots of reasons you might want a bio before you land an agent or need a website. A few I've run into:
* for a CP match making thing
* for a contest (can't remember which one now)
* for an essay submission (I submitted to the Not that Bad project, a collection of essays on sexual assault, edited by Roxane Gay and Ashley Ford. I almost didn't enter because so many "real" authors submitted but then I reminded myself I'm a real author too, dammit, and I should let my work speak for itself instead of fretting over my lack of name recognition).
I'm Heading back to the bio which is a masterpiece of writing. Awarded a bronze star from an administrative error? Pennslvania the bithplace of place of the modern zombie? (I'll never look at the corn field in front of my house quite the same way ever again.) This little bio packs in so much, hinting at masterful writing inside. For me this is the only kind of marketing that works. Not Twitter, not Facebook, not a blog. Brilliant writing, plus someone like Janet, or anyone else who knows her stuff and appreciates good writing, making a recommendation. That is genius in marketing. I'm going to by this book.
And I forgot to congratulate Stephen, of course. So congrats, Stephen! And your bio does look amazing ^^
Also, some agents request a bio, specifically, in their submission guidelines.
BJ: thanks for the well wishes! The vet just thinks they're fatty lipomas, nothing he worried about even to needle aspirate. And in the office, Elka was a fine upstanding example of her breed, behavior wise (we needn't get into her conformation, which is not her fault). Very in tune to me, ignored the other dogs, etc. Couldn't have asked for better!
Congratulations to Stephen, from another former Night of the Living Dead Pennsylvanian. Your bio is brilliant. I am still working on mine, although I do have one good line, the rest is still a little dry. Now I am inspired, both to rewrite my bio and to read your book.
And Jennifer, there is nothing wrong with putting whipping cream in coffee.
Happy almost New Year everyone. Time for my resolution to revive my newsletter (I use Mailchimp,mwhich is pretty user friendly) and quit spending so much time on the internet.
Thanks again for all the great advice and great comments.
Fantastic, Stephen. So happy for you. Brilliant bio.
"You're pretty needy for a corpse," Toomey said.
You must have had an advance copy of Barbara Baig's Spellbinding Sentences because you elevated that sentence from so-so to spectacular. Great stuff.
This reminder is perfectly timed with the new year. I didn't realize mailchimp was free. There must be different versions, which is no surprise. I really like the idea of pushing forward, that's a great lesson. Thanks for that ... and for so much else I learn here.
Congratulations Stephen. What a lovely bio. Your book sounds like a great read and to have QOTKU plug it, wow!
Before internet I would send over 200 original Christmas cards. I haven't yet graduated to Mailchimp but I do subscribe to newsletters and unsubscribe to those I've "inadvertently" undersigned.
Colin, I'd subscribe to your newsletter.
Brian has the best advice.
I'll admit I was a bad author and didn't start my newsletter subscription early enough. I was worried I'd have nothing to say until AFTER I had a book come out. Now I realize that I could have just done a quarterly newsletter and talked a bit about my writing process, highlighted a couple key blog posts, and updated people on my publication journey.
So for all of you not-yet-published authors out there, please heed the advice of the QOTKU. Don't get your panties all in a wad about it. Just start small. Do a quarterly newsletter and get your friends and family members to sign up. Then slowly build it. Offer freebies to people who sign up.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get back to work on the next freebie I'll be offering with my newsletter. :)
Oh, one more thing!! About the Google search. My brother (who is a hotshot online marketing VP at a MAJOR company) has informed me that if you search your name on your own computer, you should definitely come up first because Google has cached your name and the sites you visit often. You do visit your own website often to update it, right?
Anyway, the real test is to have a stranger Google you on his or her own computer. Then you'll know whether or not a stranger can find you easily. One plus to having an unusual last name like Cattapan is that it's pretty easy for other people to find me. Not a lot of other Cattapans out there. :)
I've established a routine of sorts while I'm home: writing and cleaning in the morning, movie marathons in the afternoon. I've noticed all my favorite movies come from books or stories. I'm watching Father Goose at the moment - Cary Grant and Leslie Carone with Trevor Howard. I've seen it so many times and it never fails to make me laugh.
I always want to put an 'e' at the end of Caron.
First off, thank you for your service, both in and out of the sandbox. Clerical error indeed.
Second congratulations! It sounds like a great book. I haven't read any zombie books since the Morning Star Strain series by Zach Recht. This one sounds great. I love a little humor with my zombies.
Now, why couldn't I have heard about this yesterday when I was cursing under my breath and buying colored pencils for my Outlander coloring book? I don't think I've ever walked away with one item. Ever. Somehow books fraternize and sneak into my shopping cart. I also wound up with five new books. I left GANGRENE AND GLORY behind, ignoring its forlorn whimpers. I imagine it will sneak in the basket when I return for your book.
I have books filemot with age I haven't read yet, but I can't resist this. Good job.
Regarding the laundry list of things I need to do . . . I'm putting my ear muffs on. My bio is boring as horse pee and I don't want to think about pictures. Well, I have thought about them, but not like I should. I've always liked those pictures of the authors in a sweater, sitting there with a pipe in one hand. I'm thinking a nice Canadian sweater with buffalo skulls on it and a peace pipe.
The good news with email lists and newsletters is that you can really make it as simple or complex as you have the time for/interest in.
On the really simple end, you can at least email your list when your next book is out. That's it, that's all -- but even that is huge, and collecting those emails in the first place is key.
I also think fewer words, more frequently is the way to go if you want to do newsletters or updates. At least for myself, I'd much rather read 1 amusing anecdote every two weeks from my favourite author than receive a long quarterly newsletter. The longer a piece is, the more likely I am to get distracted before I reach the end and then never go back.
Now back to writing...
Something bothered me about this post and it took me half the day to figure it out.
Now I know. Writing a bio, getting an author photo taken, cleaning up my website. These are all things my poor little woodland creature brain thought a marketing department would help with.
Having (not a ton I realized, but at least some, I thought) support from a marketing department was on my list of Traditional Publishing Pros.
And thank you QOTKU for another very informative post.
Sorry, but once again I am here way too late and there are way too many comments to read through, so I'm just going to say — wow, congrats Stephen!
Congratulations, Stephen! Sounds like it was fun to write and will be fun to read :)
And thank goodness for Kitty for expressing my own confusion. Thank you to everyone who explained, too. I still can't imagine doing this before getting an agent/ published, though. It would feel way too presumptuous!
Hope this isn't too far off topic: I am curious how someone with a pen name would handle these things. I am planning on using one even though I know now that it will prob. give something between a slight and extreme disadvantage as far as marketing. Assuming your name is NOT Stephen King, at what point would you mention a pen name in the querying/ publishing process?
Jennifer: glad your dog's lumps appeared benign!
I'm still mulling over Janet's advice about the newsletter. I don't sign up for them, even from my favorite authors, and I'd always thought anything connected with email was on the decline. I read blogs. I come here to learn, so....newsletter.
I share a name with a published author. Thus “Almitra.” I know that I will have to correspond with industry professionals by my given name. Should I also make it clear publicly that Almitra is my pen name?
Thanks to the white guy who used a Chinese pen name to publish a poem, I am a little worried that any obfuscation of my very white ethnicity is going to cause problems. The name I have chosen could lead people to assume that I’m not white. Should I be concerned?
Ashes said: "Now I know. Writing a bio, getting an author photo taken, cleaning up my website. These are all things my poor little woodland creature brain thought a marketing department would help with."
Well they will give you support, but for those things it'll probably be in the form of telling you to write a bio, get a photo taken, and clean up your site.
Seriously, that's not what you want the marketing department spending their time on. They will be dealing with bookstore chains or libraries, the things you can't do. Besides, how is someone who doesn't know you supposed to write your bio for you? You're the one who's living your life. If you're not sure what's interesting about you, ask some good friends for ideas. You might be surprised at what they come up with.
Stephen, congratulations on all fronts! Awesome bio. May your readers descend upon the "Buy Now" button like ravenous, needy corpses ;)
I frickin love hearing about and celebrating the successes of fellow Janet/QS readers =)
"You want an author bio that's charming (like Stephen's) because it could be the difference between someone buying a book they're not sure they'll like when the author sound like a nice, funny guy."
Janet's point is so wicked true--usually if I really love a short story or book, chances are whatever flair the author offers in their bio will also resonate with me; if I'm on the fence about buying a book the bio can be the thing that gets me to commit or go elsewhere.
That's not to say that I expect every author bio to entertain me over informing me tho--I've definitely seen bios where the author tries so hard to be clever that the only thing I learn about the author is that they make me cringe with proximal embarrassment. But when it's authentic, a detail outside of the common bio formula or a fun turn of phrase makes me better remember the author and feel a greater sense of investment in their work.
This blog post gave me new hope. Perfectly timed as I've put my website on my to do list for this holiday break. How smart of me to realize that I needed to dust it off, even though I'm still procrastinating. So, that list of things I was going to do has blown out of the grimy window that needed cleaning and landed atop the car that needed to be washed. Instead I'll revamp the website and rewrite my author's profile. I am so blessed to live a writer's life - I can honestly tell the hubster that I'm working today and won't have to lift a finger around the house. Yay for me! :)
Instead of a story contest one week, could you have authors post their bios? It would give us a chance to practice writing effective bios and see a large group of successful and unsuccessful bios. Pretty please with chum on top?
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