Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Unfortunate first impressions

Referrals can be a good way to warm up the otherwise-arctic query process. Good referrals are a recommendation to an agent from someone the agent knows. Really good referrals are when that someone has read your book, likes it and says so.

I pay very close attention to these kinds of referrals; when they come from my clients, I act on them immediately.

By act immediately I mean I google the author being referred.

Recently, one of my clients gave me the name of an author who was looking for an agent. The author was talking to friends, getting names. My client sent me a heads up that she's read the author's book, liked it, and had passed my name along to the author.

When I got my client's email, I immediately googled the author. Her website was the first item on the google results list so I clicked on it. (The other options were Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, her publisher's site, Twitter, and then some book reviews.)

The website was a disaster of epic proportion.

Not least among the problems was that her website allows comments on her pages, and her comment column was filled with spam. (Remember discussing using blogs as websites?)

This is a TERRIBLE first impression.

If you're querying, you want to make sure your website or blog is spiffy.

Now, I can hear some of you plaintively asking why? why? It has nothing to do with the writing!
That's very true. It has nothing to do with the writing.
It has an ENORMOUS amount to do with the my impression of how much coaching you'll need on what are now the fundamentals of Being a Published Writer.

When you're a published writer, your competition is no longer the slapdash, the ignoramus, or the wretchedly bad writer. It's GOOD writers. It's PUBLISHED (or about to be published) writers. You're no longer competing for agents. You're competing for readers.

And if you think agents are tough to please, wait till you meet real readers in the trenches of the Amazon reviews. Or on your blog.

Or worse: not at all.

You want a website that gives readers value for their eyeball time. They're looking for info on your books, probably some info about you, and often a way to contact you. What they're not looking for (at least on your site) are cheap term papers or scented dog poop bags or ways to attract a man.

And yes, I help my clients with that stuff. So yes, I'm much MUCH more interested in someone who's at least on the ball enough to watch their blog for spam.

If you're at this stage of querying, google yourself to find out what I'll see first. Then make sure what I can see looks polished. At the very least clean up the spam! And have you checked your Goodreads page lately? What impression will I get there?

You'll notice all this happened BEFORE I knew anything about her writing or had even gotten a query from the author. In other words, this is something to take care of EARLY rather than waiting till you think you need it.

This kind of googling tells me how to prioritize this referral and subsequent query. If I'd seen something less daunting, I might have reached out to the author. As it is I'll wait for the query, and it's not going to be one of those I drop everything to read.

Any questions?


Laura Mary said...

*shuffles off to check dormant blog for spam*

*feels bad blog is dormant*

*eats chocolate*

Lucie Witt said...

Timely post as I know a lot of us are setting up or cleaning up our websites/blogs.

I mentioned this off topic on another post but I think it's worth repeating here: if you are a frequent commenter on this blog it might be one of the first results when someone Googles you, especially if you've been in a WIR. Set up your blogger profile so folks can find you easily.

I also think it's helpful to keep your profile pics consistent across social media.

DLM said...

Scented dog poop bags don't attract a man themselves ... ?

... ???

I rarely get spammed, but then my posts are only sparsely commented in the first place, so THAT may be the thing a Google-er might notice first. With 36 followers and only a handful of commenters (Hi, Colin, Donna, and Lilac Shoshoni!), and with under 800 Twitter followers, there are those who'd say I have a weak platform, as defined by attention being paid to what I put out there.

But what I put out there is pretty consistent, and curated (hee to hit a few general themes and also to be work I would not mind my coworkers, mom, random aunties, or my nieces reading. I get very silly indeed on Twitter, but not controversial nor incomprehensible. And I know that searches for my name take little scrolling in the results to get to me.

It ain't much, but it is at least something I pay attention to. So I may not have the strongest presence, but at least it's not embarrassing, and it would be clear to any casual peeker that I'm an author and at least trying to support that with my online activity.

One tip: try Googling yourself from a computer or device YOU DO NOT USE regularly, and if possible, not from a friend's, if they happen to read your blog.

With Google's algorithms, you're a lot more likely to find yourself with ease on your own devices because Google's intuitive search will "learn" that you spend a lot of time on your own blog. Try it at a library or something, see what the results look like from a computer that's ignorant of your patterns. You may discover you're not as close to the top of Google's stats as it looks like when you use the laptop you blog with to search.

AJ Blythe said...

I've listed before, really I have oh great QOTKU. On my 'to-do' list I have turn blog into web page (with blog attached). Have just nudged it up the 'to-do' list, hopefully with no-one noticing it needed to be nudged.

And even though I've checked before, Lucie has made me paranoid, so once I post this I'll double check my blogger profile.

Now DLM has added to my anxiety so I'm about to hijack my son's computer to see where I appear when I google me.

I'm going now before Janet gives me the evil eye

AJ Blythe said...

*crawling over to change "listed" to "listened" and now shuffling back out again*

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Advice on this blog is why I specifically have a "How to Contact Me" tab on the top of my blog, in addition to my email address at the bottom of the bio sidebar.

I too need to blog more, but I've been working on that goal of finishing a short story per month. I've got one coming 'round the bend, I just need to bring it on home. I also got to work editing a novel draft that's been incubating, but then Open Office decided I'd locked the document and saved none of what I did on Monday.... (another reason to cut and paste to a fresh document and draft that way)

Spam comments and emails can sometimes be very interesting to read. I used to get what I called "word salad short story" spam, which read like some kind of grad school student's attempt at an O. Henry/David Foster Wallace/William S. Burroughs mashup. That, and they're always very nice and call me things like "my dear", and honestly, sometimes I need that.

Lennon Faris said...

I don't remember the discussion on blogs as websites - anyone have the link? This is something I am thinking about, as I am debating whether or not to include my website in the query letter as part of contact info. I know Janet has said they are going to google you anyway, but I am not sure my website would help an agent bc I will have all my contact info at the bottom anyway (and I'm not a computer person by any stretch of the imagination)... Ugh, so many things to consider!!

DLM - I was going to mention that, about googling yourself from another computer. Someone here had mentioned that once and I had never thought about it previously. I tend to forget how eerily 'smart' our machines are!

Laura Mary - your comment made me laugh!

Colin Smith said...

I wouldn't say my blog is especially glamorous, but I don't think it's an eyesore, and it's spam-free (unless I find the spam comment particularly entertaining, in which case I'll let it stay--like those comments that tell you what a wonderful writer you are, and how much your article changed their life, attached to a housekeeping post). My blog is viewed by more than a handful of people each day, and I even seem to have some followers (I don't know exactly how many--I believe the number on my home page reflects WordPress users only, though I could be wrong about that). Is it what an agent or reader wants to see when they look up my name? The content is pure, unadulterated, unfiltered me--articles on writing, music, books, theology, Doctor Who, and sometimes my meandering thoughts on a general topic (today, funnily enough, I'm musing on whether Dickens would have had a blog). So I suppose that fits the bill?

What I want to know is, what on earth do you look for from Goodreads? I have a Goodreads account, and up until a few years ago, I listed every book I had read along with a review. When it got to the point the thought of writing a review for every book affected which books I chose to read, I stopped doing that. Now I review selected books on my blog, and only enter those in Goodreads. So, what should my Goodreads account be like? How do I make sure it's not off-putting to a reader or agent? Are you looking to see what I'm reading? Or more? Or less?

Here's Diane's link: No doubt, like me, she's too polite to self-promote on someone else's blog, hence she didn't linkify it, so I'll gladly do that for her. If you're ever stuck on what to say on your blog, wander over to Diane's and take some tips. Her "Collection" feature not only demonstrates an easy way to create content, but it promotes other blogs, which I'm sure those bloggers appreciate--it creates good community.

Brenda Buchanan said...

Excellent advice, Janet. As ever.

DLM said...

AJ Blythe, I am so sorry! That wasn't meant to be an anxiety-inducer. I just know that I find myself at the top of any "Diane Major" search, but I also happen to spend a lot of time on this blog named after me, a Twitter account named after me, and so on. Google knows this, so it serves what it expects me to be looking for.

Colin, thank you very kindly sir! Particularly for imagining I am polite. Really, I'm just a lazy luddite ... :)

Kitty said...

Most of the blogs I've visited by the BIG NAME writers have been a waste of time. They don't respond to comments, so I quit going. I cut them some slack because I figure they're busy writing the next book, which of course I'll read.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Yes, another newbie website person who is paying attention to what Janet says here. And...I thought I needed to change how I posted my comment here which lead to that string, ad infinitum, of resetting password and messing it up. ack.

Colin: wherever you are, whenever you have time, you can add my website address, lisabodenheim dot com, to the list. Thank you.

Now, it's definitely time for more caffeine.

Colin Smith said...

Lisa: If I haven't done it by the end of the day, drop me an email (see my Blogger account) with your link and I'll be sure to add you ASAP.

Dena Pawling said...

Sorry, I couldn't get past this
>>Recently, one of my clients gave me the name of an author who was looking for an agent.

I think it's time for me to stalk, er, introduce myself to Jeff Somers..............

My blog gets a low-but-increasing number of daily hits. My comments are not filled with spam, altho they're actually never filled with much of anything. Is paying for comments just as bad as paying for reviews? Even if I don't specify that your comments must be positive?

And I have fewer than 200 Twitter followers.

Sigh. My platform is sinking into the ocean.

Nevermind, that implies my platform was ever floating in the first place.

What kind of drink does Jeff Somers like?

nightsmusic said...

My site is up and running and I've got a reminder to post every Saturday at least, even if it's nonsensical and completely unrelated to writing, but I'm not worried about spam because no one reads me anyway. At least not at this point in my writing. Well, two. Two people. Friends. God bless friends ;)

I do have the site set up to notify me of any comments and I have recaptcha set up though these days, it's not bots spamming anymore. It's people who are hired to spam. Yes, living people who somehow manage to get past the 'are you human?' spam measure. Who'd figure? ;p

I took Janet's admonishment to heart though and realized, it just wasn't good to leave the site languish so I'm using it. Still trying out different looks, but I'm fickle that way.

Laura Mary, you made me spit my coffee on my keyboard! Thanks for the laugh this morning.

Maybe if I posted pictures of cats, I'd get more comments...*ponders*

Unknown said...

Recently Donnaeve replied to something I posted on her website and though I could see she responded(my smarter than I android phone told me), I couldn't find her comment. I checked my website, Google, Gmail, everywhere. I thought.

There was a clue. My phone showed a WP icon. So I checked my website (again) because it's a WordPress. Nothing there. But I didn't even think of my WP blog site (that I don't remember ever setting up), so when I finally thought to click on the icon next to my post on Donna's site...up came this spritely little lamb and...nothing else.

In my enthusiasm to be known I created my presence everywhere and then forgot where I was. If it wasn't so pathetically needy it would be funny.

Donnaeve said...

While the Shark was convalescing, we woodland creatures - some of us anyway - went on a jaunt around the internet to visit each other. The way I did this personally was if you commented, I clicked on your name. Boy. What an adventure that turned into. I came back to the comment box here at The Reef and mentioned I couldn't visit some of you.

Some of you may remember the story about the last time I Googled myself - since I'm sure I've brought it up a couple times. Once I was DEAD. Another time, the MUGSHOT of "Me" was quite alarming, wild ass hair and toothless.

This time - although I need to do what Diane said and Google myself off a device that hasn't baked cookies into my search - my search lands on my blog. Off to the right of the Google page is a Google+ rundown. I don't sign in using Google+ (hate it).

Any Spam comments I get - and there are a ton, are diverted by the handy dandy WordPress folks. Occasionally I'll post a blog about them when I'm cleaning up my Spam Folder - because they are strange/oddball - and funny!

Yeah. First impressions are lasting and hard to change.

Colin Smith said...

Quick Plug: If you're looking for a way to drive some traffic to your blog, may I suggest the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge? The idea is to blog every day (except Sundays) for the month of April. You can write about anything, as long as your article has something to do with that day's letter (day 1=A, day 2=B, day 3=C...), and your articles are at least 100 words long. It takes time to think about and write 26 blog articles, so many people start writing and scheduling them in advance.

The challenge is in its 7th year, and this will be my 5th time participating. It's a very popular challenge. They opened up the sign-up sheet Monday, and already today they have nearly 400 people on the list. By April 1, I fully expect this list to grow to 2,000+ people. Participants are encouraged to visit as many others on the list as possible, at least 5 every day, which is what makes it an excellent way for people to discover new blogs.

Anyway, since it's kind of on topic, I thought I'd mention it. :)

Donnaeve said...

Oh Amanda! I was going to mention you in a (ahem, Amanda Capper!) kind of way and I'll leave her alone to skip along happily like her little lamb. LOL!

Funny and thank you for sharing our little snafu in me trying to visit you! You're a hoot. (for the record - her WP blog showed this absolutely cute little lamb leaping in the air - and below it was her name and this tagline (something like) "She Writes What She Darn Well Pleases!)

DLM said...

Amanda, hee. I think most of us have defunct profiles lying around; you should perhaps write the detective story hinging on these clues!

nightsmusic, I just saw that all this time I have been getting your name wrong, calling you nightmusic! ACK! I am so sorry.

Donna: mmmm. Cookies.

And that's my three comments today. Ending with a whimper ...

Susan Bonifant said...

I missed the blog tour suggestion because, well, I skipped class a couple of times while the teacher was out.

I just thought I had new visitors on my blog because, I don't know, because.

I know I'm not on a checklist or anything, but I like the reciprocal nature of these things, so I'll be around later.

Donnaeve said...

Btw...I have a profile pic I've tried every which way to get rid of...I've updated my Gravatar, Twitter, FB, WP, and Google+ profiles...and yet, it persists. I noticed the other day when I commented out on one of "your" sites (can't recall whose it was) the old pic came up. Seems like it was associated to Twitter - somehow - but I've delved into my Settings there, and EVERYWHERE and can't seem to eliminate it.

Anyone have any ideas on how to fix this?

nightsmusic said...

DLM, you can call me just about anything and I'll answer :)

Donna, depending on the browser you're using, you can right click that picture and choose Copy Image Location Link. Then past it into the address bar and see where it takes you. That would be my first suggestion to try and find it.

Claire said...

I'm keen to set up a website, and have got as far as buying, but as an unpublished writer (apart from one short story and various articles in medical journals) I'm struggling with what content to include. I don't want to maintain a blog at the moment, but I do see the value in a simple website with book news and contact details. But what's your content when your writing career is in its infancy?

Donnaeve said...

Well. Just like when you wash your car, it rains, I mention my errant picture floating about the interweb I can't seem to "fix" and voila! I landed on the culprit! Strangely, it WAS out on WP - and under General Settings - which I know I'd changed b/c my current profile pic was popping up when I went to my site. But to avoid any more boring details, I found it and it was known as a "blavatar."

Anyway, all fixed! (thanks anyway, nightsmusic!)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Seems it was good timing for us Woodland critters to go blog crawling through the reef. I am really enjoying it. Janet's guidance shines through. I am dealing with melt down at work - will attempt to catch up later. I miss you guys when I am pulled away.

John Frain said...

I Googled my name as has been suggested here and I'm a way more interesting person than I ever realized!

Already a writer -- who knew? And a darn good football player over in bloody England.

My first thought was that I shouldn't put any information out there about the real me when my namesakes are doing so many cool things. I'll let people wonder if one of those fascinating people are actually me. Right about that time, smarter people told me to get off my ass, use my middle name and claim my own presence.

Damn those smart people. They make me work too hard. And now Goodreads too! Sheesh, here I go...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I ascribe to the underwear drawer rule. Though everything on the surface of your dresser may look neat and tidey, it's what's underneath and in the drawer which counts, folded and stacked underwear and organized socks. Makes life easy.

Same with blog and website. Looks nice and is organized well. Helps a lot when you get famous :)

Dena Pawling said...

I will second Colin's AtoZ Blogging Challenge recommendation. My first time was last year, and my daily hit count started its slow up-creep at that time. Before I did that challenge, sometimes my daily blog hits were ZERO. Since that time, I've never had a zero day, and some days I go high enough that I'm sure I'm on a spam-bot's radar. But I can dream, can't I?

Visiting y'all's blogs has been fun also.

Two comments today. I must have a fever.

Janice Grinyer said...

As Colin mentioned, blog hops are excellent ways to increase traffic to your blog. You'll also meet other like-minded writers, who may end up being your friend :)

I avoid running Ads on my blog- I find them annoying. Doesn't mean I do not have links to other's websites, informational stuff, but IMO Ads detract from writing content. I want people to read my stuff, not be lured away to go shopping.

Two-step verification is necessary when blogging on blogger. Never had a problem yet because of it (6th year of blogging) And it is important for you to check comments. Spammers can be sneaky- putting a link up in their comment that absolutely has nothing to do with the conversation at hand. I eliminate those, even if you are my mother. No links unless they go somewhere that pertains to the topic!

I have a question Janet *raises hand!*

My blog is basically for my enjoyment and others entertainment - "Gowestferalwoman" is basically what I am known by or "feral woman" :D. However, I do list my real name. I have combined followers of over 400+ who are a great bunch of people, and a good amount of traffic per month. But my blog is just for fun - funny writing, poetry, photos, stories, what's going on with the animals/work etc. There are no rants of any religious/political/cursing nature, but there is no mention of any writing process as a writer. I also have a Forestry business website but I do not link to my blog. I am currently working on setting up an author website for when I query. Should I link to my blog I currently have (do I have to go and grammar check all 350+ posts?! wah!), or should I set up a new blog that is more "professional" and link to that?

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I'm with Colin and Dena regarding the Blogging A-Z Challenge. I participated three times and had a blast - gained new readers and followers and "met" lots of interesting folks.

I try to keep my blog updated (posting at least once a week) and interesting (hopefully!) as well as easy to read and navigate. I moderate my blog comments so while there might be a delay for them to appear, I keep spam away.

I do need to tend to my Goodreads page since I'm on there as a reader and as an author.

Sherry Howard said...

So much to worry about! I wonder if there was an equivalent worry for writers fifty years ago? I know a lot of this is due to the electronic age, but surely early writers had some *connectedness* they needed to nurture. I always thought that I'd have some time AFTER getting an agent to spruce my electronic world up. I wish I had more skills in that department.

DLM said...

Breaking the three-post rule to make a point on blog content: for those of us who are pre-published, I think the major sticking point in the "what do I write about?" question is that we think we should be writing about our writing.

Not to burst any balloons, but reading unpublished writers' writings about their writing is a drag. I do write about my writing here and there, but usually to make a point about research, history, or the fact-versus-fiction (section of the Watford Public Library ... sorry, Python moment) conundrum of historical fiction. What I do NOT do (anymore): complain that I'm not published, complain about things that are published, complain about how hard writing is, complain about how deep my navel is and how dusty it is in there.

Blogs are intended to invite readers to read. Have something to say, don't just have discussions with yourself you "KNOW" will not be read. If you feel nobody's reading you, look at your blog as if it were not yours and ask, "Would this interest me?" Is there anything about your posting that makes a larger point than your own personal indigestion about your own personal writing woes or the state of breakfast this morning? Is there a QUESTION you ask people to respond to? Is there information you provide that might be interesting or useful?

My themes are not all tightly bonded to the historical fiction I write, but they are defined, and my readership has improved with the clear presence of basic topics - costume, archaeology/artifacts, misconceptions about history, pop culture and ITS history, great blogs, and the occasional musing about friendship, family, and yes writing. A theme has developed where the odd writing post is often entitled "Also, I Write" because those are not constant, but I do like to remind myself and others that yes, the blog is an author's blog. The Collections posts Colin mentioned are SUPER content, because I can point in every direction my short attention span takes me in a short period without looking like I am utterly scattered. I noticed a lot of good blogs collect links like that, some do it almost exclusively; it takes a sentence or two of clickbaitery for each one, you don't need but three or four if that's all you have at one sitting, and bam - content, as well as some networking.

Don't ask yourself "WHAT DO I WRITE!?"

Ask yourself, "What interests me?" "What do I want to share?" "What do I want to ask others?" "What might interest OTHERS?" ("What words can I come up with this week that might make Donna run for a dictionary?")

There's your content, right there.

And I shall endeavor to shut up now.

Unknown said...

Google me and you will find five of me, at least. There is a Dave Rudden who is a writer from Ireland. Nice guy who sports an awesome beard.

Not me Dave Rudden #2 is a freelance writer in CA.

Not me #3 is a real estate agent in CA

Not me #4 lives near Chicago. First time I wished him happy birthday over Facebook his wife had no idea what was going on. It was really funny.

Maybe I should change my pen name. I am thinking Tim Smith might be the way to go. What do you think?

Colin Smith said...

I know I'm over my 3 posts, but I wanted to kinda-respond to Claire and her "I've got a domain name, now what?" question. Kinda-respond, because I also want to kinda-ask the same question. Kinda.

I have a domain name that I've owned longer than I've had a blog. For a while it served as a home for my academic papers, and for me to experiment with php coding (I coded a neat little RSS reader thing that showed the latest news headlines on the front page). But it didn't look good. Graphic design is not in my artistic skill set. So, not long after I started my blog, I quit referencing my website, and then a few years ago, I put a re-direct on my URL so anyone visiting my website would go straight to my blog. My strategy is to grow readership via my blog where I write about things I care about, and hopefully others care about too. I'll leave my website to gather dust and be neglected, even after I get an agent. Once I actually have a publisher on board with my career, that's when I'll re-activate the website, only with some professional designer doing his/her thing with it--either someone provided and paid for by my publisher, or someone I hire myself. I'll then have someone (maybe the same person) create a WordPress theme for me based on that website design. My website will have a page for advertising my book(s), a bio page, a contact page, a page for tour information, and a link to the blog.

So, Janet, shoot me down. Am I wrong to take this approach? What would you recommend to both Claire and me with regard to our websites?

DLM said...

While I'm breaking the rules, something I left out: glumness about nobody reading your blog and how agents will hate you and then retreating to go eat your worms is also a drag (see: unpublished writers' writings about their writing).

Your content is your storytelling, just in a different forum and perhaps not restricted to one world. "Does this move my story forward?" is another good question to consider.

Hint: worrying does not.

We all love you here, you have friends who love you, and you may have met others at other fora online who also love you. TRUST US to come, if you throw a party and serve something tasty. Don't apologize for the recipe, don't sneer the poor ingredients you had to work with, don't try to draw our attention to how bad a cook you are. Smile and thank us for coming by, because by gum we will and we do - I clicked on several new and old names just this morning, and a GREAT number here are giving everyone hearty goodness.

Don't get meta about the process, just either do it or don't. But don't say "Aww I don't" or "I don't do it well enough" because: none of us is going to think that necessarily ... but you MAY convince someone.

Do you really want to do that?

Diane's theme: "DON'T APOLOGIZE."

Now go Sharpie that on a Post-it, stick it on your forehead, and either do the thing or don't worry that you're not.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I have a question for any of you who have experience or advice! Let's suppose before I query I set up a neat, professional looking website. I also happen to have a blog that I don't update often (I use it more for browsing other blogs) and a twitter account that I never use. Do I need to delete those dust-gathering platforms that I'm not really using as platforms? Or is it all right to have some outdated stuff so long as I have a neat, up-to-date platform as well?

Sara Halle said...

Hello, first-time commenter, long-time reader :)

QOTKU, what should I do if I'm pretty sure I'm going to use a pen name, but I don't know what the pen name will be? I've got the URLs for my potential pen names registered, so I'll be able to set up a website quickly once I know. Or should I set up a website under my real name, then switch it if/when I get published?

And to echo some other commenters on this post, as someone who isn't yet published, is it okay to just have a static webpage that lists some contact info and the genre I write in? Writing regular blog posts isn't something that appeals to me, but I can gird my loins and do it if necessary.

Lucie Witt said...

Am I the only one who thinks comments on blogs are not the metric they once were? In the age of Twitter and tumblr it seems less and less people comment, with the exception of communities like this. In my mind, if you have a nice, accessible website/blog with good content and contact info that would be a plus to an agent even with low comment count.

Barb Cameron said...

I love your suggestion, DLM, to ask: "What might interest others?" I don't have any of the web presences that I might want eventually but I do sometimes look around for stuff to read. The places I go back to are the ones I learned something interesting. That question goes with much of the other good advice I'm making note of here. The first good advice to follow is not to wait for the future to get started. I'm nowhere near the query stage yet and have to admit that I feel kind of queasy about putting things on the internet. It seems so final, like it'll chase me for years to come. :) But that's part of the world today and I'm sure I'll get used to it. The first time on a roller coaster is terrifying but the second time is easier and the third time it's easy to put your hands up and cheer!

Lucie Witt said...

Hi Sara! Welcome!

For what it's worth, Witt is my pen name and I didn't settle on my website/blog until I settled on my name. In my experience it's best to get that ironed out as quickly as possible so people can start associating you with your "writer name".

It's challenging to pick a name that feels right. Witt is the surname of my great great grandmother, Maude Witt. She was a very educated woman for the late 1800s, and she ran the first library in a tiny Kentucky county out of her living room. It felt right to use her name. Genealogical records are a great place to look for pen name inspiration.

Anonymous said...

First off, Miss Janet, welcome back. I'm glad you're feeling better.

My techie son was over the other day and we had another discussion about my web site. He hates it.

"Mom, this looks like an old lady website."

"YES! That's what I was going for. Victorian, like the inside cover of those wonderful old books."

"Umm, yeah. That's not really the image you want to project."

"Yes, I do. I'm old."

"Yeah, but most of your readers won't be. This background just makes me twitch and you can't read the font."

"OK, we can change the font."

"Do you know how many backgrounds I looked at to find that?"

He shuddered. "Oh, I can imagine. Ugly like this isn't easy to find. Let me build you a new website when I have some spare time. You don't have to use it, but at least look at it."

"OK. I'm easy to get along with."

"When did this happen?"

"Don't you have your own home or something?"

I have been trying to post on the blog more. Today is Wednesday! New blog post! I know they're important. I used to have a decent following, but when the field lies fallow....

I am totally disappointed my posts on Wrangler patches are not what I'm supposed to post. Or how to starch Wranglers. It's my most popular post. The legend of black eyed peas complete with recipe gets lots of hits every New Year.

None of which have led to publishing success! Who knew?

Goodreads, good grief. Something else to worry about. I have a Goodreads page, but I didn't realize I was actually supposed to be professional about it. I've been using a non-searchable name. I changed to my name, which may have been a bad idea since I left a bad review for a non-fiction book I read. It's my honest opinion and shared by some others, but I tend not to leave bad reviews. This is my second bad one. If I don't like a book, I usually just don't review it at all.

I've been trying to catalogue my library into LibraryThing for two reasons. One, to keep me from duplicating orders. Two, the crew at Books and Writers has convinced me it might be a good idea to have a bibliography of reference materials for my historicals. I chafe at the idea of having to document things in a novel, but I know, especially in the Civil War novel, the stitch counters will crucify me if I get things wrong.

Something I would suggest to all writers. Keep a page in your writing journal, at the end of your manuscript, somewhere, to note people who have helped you with your manuscript. When you get published, you'll want to thank those people who beta read for you, helped you with research, kept you from sticking your head in the oven. Don't trust your memory. She's a fickle mistress and won't be there when you need her.

Sorry about this tome. I'll forego posting a few days to make up.

Lennon Faris said...

Hi Sara - glad you commented. Everyone here is super friendly. I second Lucie Witt - I would decide on a pen name asap and then start the website. Switching can leave people confused, especially if you do get a following. And depending on why you want a pen name, if your 'real' name is attached to your pen name on the internet, well... that's never going away :P

DLM - those were some great ideas/ advice. The one caveat I would add is that I do enjoy reading people's writing processes, even unpublished ones. Maybe not if they are giving advice about the publishing world, or what sells? I think I know what you are saying, no one takes seriously someone who doesn't have the credentials. But I do think blogs are a nice way to let other people know about challenges you are facing, or revelations you have, throughout the entire process. And if they DO become a published author, how cool would that be to look back on that? I do like your points, though!

nightsmusic said...

Oh. My. God! Julie, you really made me laugh!

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Bethany Elizabeth makes a great point.

I've had websites for over 16 years. Five in all. An old one is still active and I'd like to kill it but it's floating in Italian virtual bureaucracy. I'm on my fourth blog, the first began in 2006. All four are still online. The idea of going through them and cleaning up is daunting but the sock drawer needs cleaning.

Dena, if you want to know what Jeff Somers drinks check his blog. I'm fairly sure he's mentioned it. He has a nice post from Jan 25th Writing Lessons from Assholes

Speaking of writer blogs, I was surprised when I googled Tod Goldberg author of Gangsterland. I loved his book but found his website less interesting because it has a "leave a reply" message on each page. I was surprised after seeing the NYT's review in December. He and three two other authors host Literary Disco. I listened to one of their podcasts where they snidely reviewed a romance novel. That was a bummer. But when I tweeted that I loved his novel, he replied.

If you don't have a blog or website and are heeding Janet's advice, you are smart. It'll save lots of virtual vacuuming.

Julie M. Weathers, I love your comments.

DLM said...

My apologies, Janet ...

Lennon Faris, my point was not that an unpublished author should NEVER write about writing, but that whinging about not being published or just crawling around grappling with a problem in the writing does not engage. Many of the questions I put above apply to writing-about-writing.

I *do* still find that blogs devoted to nothing but process feel narrow and dry. Good blogs by authors who stick to writing topics in practice tend to infuse them with the spirit of other questions; their philosophy, the things we have to be grateful for as creative people, ways in which current events intersect with their plots or our craft. There is always something to invite others in - no successful or interesting blog has ever consisted strictly of navel gazing.

I'm curious to see Julie's design options; share screenshots on your blog, as you eliminate and/or choose?

John Frain said...

Somebody's been reading Spellbinding Sentences (cough, cough Julie Weathers cough). Proof:

"Oh, I can imagine. Ugly like this isn't easy to find."

And Bill Cameron, I'm raising my hands and hooting over your roller coaster analogy. So, so true. You just gotta get on for that first ride and suddenly you're starting to enjoy the view from high above.

I followed real estate advice when I started hanging out here. But the smallest house in a nice neighborhood, and hang out with a lot of friends who are smarter than you. I'm hoping you guys are contagious and will start rubbing off.

Colin Smith said...

John: No, Julie is Spellbinding Sentences. Those things just come naturally to some. And we still love her. :)

Donnaeve said...

Yes, Diane has an extensive vocabulary, and a McCarthy'ish style when she writes some of her posts. I love learning new words, and she's used one recently I'm still trying to fit into my current WIP.

Donnaeve said...

Dang it! Well over my limit too - but Lucie - your backstory for your pen name sounds like a GREAT story in of itself! Maude Witt - running the first library out of a small town in Kentucky...I'd buy it.

nightsmusic said...

Colin, when you surface from whatever is going on at work today, I sent you an email.

Lucie Witt said...

Donnaeve - I've thought about it (especially since my aunt is a genealogist) but I'm utterly intimidated by historical fiction, as much as I adore reading it.

Colin Smith said...

Sara: Hi and welcome! Nice to have you among the commenters! :)

NM: I got your email. I'll tend to your request as soon as I can.

nightsmusic said...

Oh, Colin, it's all good. Just didn't want it to get lost in your spam folder though the email address would still be a clue ;)


Theresa said...

I still rely on WordPress, and I make sure to keep it updated. Comments cannot be posted for other visitors to see unless I authorize them. I don't get much in the way of comments, though--or of traffic.

I just started the process of getting a Goodreads author page. I have an Amazon page, and I'm on Twitter and Facebook. Like Janet said, it's all so anyone interested in my books can find me.

Anonymous said...

Sara, hi! Welcome to the shark tank! I would decide on your pen name and start establishing some kind of presence even if that's just commenting here or on twitter. You don't need to do everything at once.

Regarding my wordy post: Criminy, I deleted a sentence which threw the whole dialogue flow off. Yes, I'm a writer.


Donnaeve said...

Lucie - not that you have to listen to me... I'd still think it's a great premise for a novel - even if you only had a few historic facts!

It reminds me of that movie I saw called the Songcatcher, about a musicologist recording folk ballads in Appalachia.

Diane - one last thing - I can't help but chuckle at this, "Diane's theme: "DON'T APOLOGIZE."

And then a bit further down you say "My apologies, Janet ..."


Anonymous said...

Janet wrote:
"You want a website that gives readers value for their eyeball time. They're looking for info on your books, probably some info about you, and often a way to contact you. What they're not looking for (at least on your site) are cheap term papers or scented dog poop bags or ways to attract a man.

"And yes, I help my clients with that stuff."

This had me spewing tea across my laptop. SO glad to know you're a full service agent who can help with a variety of needs. Know any available men in my area?

For those of you wondering what to blog about or how to attract visitors to your blog: keep in mind that we writers are in the entertainment business. Be entertaining. Or at least educational, in an entertaining manner. My blogging in the past year has become more introspective and less light-hearted. But it's been that kind of year. Really hoping to get back to more entertaining topics.

Also, make use of tags (which are searchable) and not just categories. Especially if you have a WordPress blog, as there are readers on their forum who might read your posts without ever visiting your blog. I tend to write very long posts. A lot of people don't like to read anything more than 200-300 words, but some do. In fact, there's a #longreads tag on WP (and twitter) specifically for posts of 1000 words or more. I've picked up quite a few new readers/subscribers using that tag. Give some thought to the tags you create and what search terms people are likely to use. "Writing" is too broad and you'll get lost in the crowd. "My cat, Snookums" is perhaps too narrow.

When I first started my WP blog/site, I created a tab labelled "Books" even though I had no books to list. I posted a short blurb saying the page was a placeholder for someday when I would have books. An incentive, of sorts. It was also a way for people who visited to see that while, yes, I am a writer, I wasn't simply neglecting to include links to my work.

Anonymous said...

I hesitate to do this, as it feels too self-promo-ish, but some of you just setting up blogs/sites might find it useful. Waaaay back in 2009, after three years blogging with Blogger, I set up my WP site. Before I did, I asked my blog readers (a couple writers, but all very smart and avid readers) for opinions about what they liked/disliked about author sites. A lot of things have changed since then, but much hasn't. If you're at all interested in this topic from the reader's perspective, read the comments (mine are made using the initials "BCB"-- definitely one of the things that has changed).

[and I deliberately did NOT make that clickable; even my hubris has limits]

Jessica Snell said...

Julie, I love the idea of keeping a list of people-to-thank at the end of a working ms! Reminds me of the idea (from Ask A Manager) of having a "waiting for" file on your email. Those things that just slip out of your head if you don't have a way to keep track ...

Colin, you may know about this, but if you want a better idea of who's visiting your blog, above what Wordpress may provide, Google Analytics is very helpful. I have Blogger, and even though that itself is Google-related software, installing Analytics gave me a MUCH better picture of how many visitors I had and where they were coming from.

Finally, add me as another one who has a domain name that simply redirects to my blog. I really will fix that someday.

Lilac Shoshani said...

Diane: thanks so much for mentioning me. You have a wonderful blog! :-)
AJ: I would need your son's computer as well.
Julie: may I borrow your son? ;-)
Jessica: installing Analytics sounds good.

Botanist said...

Janet, you did such a brilliant job with Query Shark coaching people on their queries. That forum has quietened down because you must have shredded almost every possible example of bad query form, and amassed an impressive reference archive in the process. How about a similar venture for web sites now? Seems you have a lot of valuable advice to offer there too...

AJ Blythe said...

All good, DLM. Better to keep the housework up to date than have cobwebs.

Lilac - 2nd last day of summer school holidays... you can have my son and I'll throw in the computer ;)

John Frain said...

Hey, a Botanist moving to Carkoon -- I wonder if that'll help the kale crop when it's harvest time this year?

Just musing...

And Lilac, I've got a couple teenage sons. You're welcome to them just about anytime you like. "Right now" appears to be available.

ACFranklin said...

My website was made quite literally yesterday. Picking some advice I'd heard about being find-able, I went with a URL that contains the version of my name I'm hoping will be attached to my work: A. C. Franklin. I'm still figuring out this thing, so I just made it with WordPress for free. Changing the URL is possible.

Trouble is, my name is taken on the Internet a dozen times over. I Googled the two key parts of the URL on my own computer, and came up completely empty. Other people's email addresses and twitters were readily available. A different WordPress blog came up. My blog was nowhere.

Should I try to make my website's name more distinctive, or just start getting my friends to come read it? Any advice for a baby woodland creature?

LynnRodz said...

Well, this is depressing. LynnRodz isn't my name, nor is it my pen name and there are a bunch of them on Google, but none of them on the first page happen to be me.

I Googled Lynn Rodriguez, also not my name, but I wanted to use it as a pen name and found a ton of them. One believes she was a gypsy in a past life because she loves to travel (as do I) but she's not me.

This exercise has seriously made me question whether I should come up with something more intriguing than using LR as my pseudonym.

Alas, January is not even over and thanks to Botanist we now have our first exilee banished to Carkoon.

LynnRodz said...

Another thing, is it wrong to have Facebook mainly for family and friends? I don't want to use it for anything else. Twitter is for my writer friends which is around 100 followers. I don't want more, I can barely keep up with their tweets. Am I dooming myself for wanting to be selective?

Unknown said...

Lennon, there was a discussion in the comments in this post, and some more from Janet at the end of this WIR. For what it's worth, since you have a website already, I think you should include it. It's a little peek at who you are, if y'know what I mean.

Arri Franklin, encourage people to start visiting, and your site will start climbing in the search results. Also, send Colin your site to link up. You might think it's too early if you've just started / have no content, but as people and other sites link back to you, search engines will give your site greater importance in results.

Lynn, I can't say wrong or right either way, but you might consider having a Facebook page where people can follow you-the-author, instead of befriending you-the-person. Of course, that requires its own updating. Someone please correct me if this is actually poor advice for an author.

I admire all the effort people put in to maintaining various presences on the web. What a lot to keep track of! Let me bake you some brownies. *passes Laura Mary a tray of double chocolate chip brownies*

Anonymous said...


Sure. He's housebroken mostly. He's an easy keeper. He even comes with two mini mes.

SimonFrancisDowling said...

I am currently at work on my first novel and I have no previous published work. I have only started submitting short stories to be published recently and have no success to date.

Should I be thinking about starting up a blog now? I am around 80,000 words into a first draft of my book so I imagine it will be another year or two before I am even ready to query. I don't have any credentials so not sure what I would put on my blog.

Lilac Shoshani said...

AJ: no problem. Thanks, dear. I'll hop into my pianoship and be there in a couple of seconds.
John: you are very generous. I'll take your sons as well. ;-)
Julie: he is your son. That's all I need to know. :-)

Anonymous said...


When I was discussing moving to Wisconsin to help him with his wee ones while so he could go to college, my former editor was aghast. "My God, Julie. Have you thought about this? Will James is an absolute clone of you."

"You say this like it's a bad thing."

Lilac Shoshani said...


It's a wonderful thing! I wish there were many more people like you. <3

ACFranklin said...

Thank you for the advice, Mona. I'd be happy to share the little bit I have, for those that would care to read it. Here's the URL.

Unknown said...

Welcome to the world of blogs, Arri! Now we just need Colin to add you to the list. *whistles* Yo, Colin! A little help here? Hmmm. Maybe you should email him instead.

Until then: This is the link to Nebula's den. ;)

Thrash said...

I've done the Google-myself thing and Though my blog is not fabulous, at least it's clean and I like to think my twitter's a good representation. However--that's not the first thing that comes up. The first thing that comes up is "Roommates {my full name} and {some dude} arrested in {city} for possession of stolen property and materials for manufacturing methamphetamine."

Yeah--that's not me. The third hit is my twitter, the fourth my blog.

There's nothing I can do about this--is there? Should I be putting asterisk on the bottom of my query like a PS (that first google hit isn't me, I'm not a crack head?) Haha, I think I know the answer to that.

But a question I do not know the answer to--right now I have my meat-only queries up as "pages" on my blog, with comments disabled. Bad idea?