Author Brands: Which Type of Influencer Are You?

Brand. Platform. Influencer.

Do these words scare you? If so, they shouldn’t because the fact that you’re online and interacting with this post means you understand a couple, if not all of them. Part of my brand is sharing useful information with writers, so you come here to gain knowledge from my platform.

Your personal or author brand is simply the way you conduct yourself and interact with the world. Online, your brand is everything from the color choice of your Twitter header which can evoke a certain mood, to the specific tone of articles you choose share on Facebook (uplifting? funny? motivational?). Developing a brand is just owning who you are, deciding what you want to say to the world with your work, and strategizing the best way to communicate it that reflects your brand (also known as a marketing-version of your identity). And lastly, and most important, being consistent with it.

Platform can mean two things: the type of social media site you like to use (i.e. Twitter is a platform) OR it can mean an “author platform” which is your network and ability to reach potential book buyers (i.e. 20,000 e-newsletter subscribers, a podcast, a column in a newspaper). Who knows you are? And why do they care what you have to say? Your brand is the angle and the platform is the way you share it.

Now, let’s talk influencers and check out this matrix from social media curator Klout. Look at the words across the top and the category names in the boxes. Start to think about where you fit into this.

klout-influence-matrix.jpg

WHO DOES WHAT?

In this matrix, I’m a “Specialist.” I post highly focused content about a specific industry. Mike Shatzkin of The Idealog is a “Thought Leader.” Media Diversified is an “Activist.” And as you start to think about where you get your information from, and from whom, you start to see the value in being certain types of influencers.

Think of some of your favorite authors: how active are they are social media? What square do they fit into? Which authors do you admire on social media? What are they doing that you’re not?

THINKING ABOUT HIDING OUT? THINK AGAIN.

You’ll notice that there is a listening corner for “Observers” however these people are inconsistent and do more watching than interacting–many new writers sit here. However, be careful not to stay here or fall into this category when you’re leading into book promotion time. Think about getting yourself into another square. You know why it’s important. Making time for interaction and engagement shouldn’t be on the bottom of your to-do list.

HOW DO YOU PIVOT?

To move between squares, look at the side bar to see what you need to improve. “Observers” should be moving towards “Curator” or “Networker” in order to increase their following. In order to do that they need to increase their usage (get more consistent!) and increase participation (If you agree with someone, tell them! If you read an interesting article, share it with us! If you want other people to promote your book launch, try promoting other writers’ launches!).

Once you reflect on how you’re interacting with others online you can work with your strengths to increase your engagement: expanding your brand. How can you share your world-view with more people? The more people in your circles who like what you have to say means that when it comes time to publicize your book they’ll be right there with you promoting you too.

That’s why writers get themselves stuck in a corner when they blog about writing. It’s best to use social media instead of a blog if you don’t have another topic to write about. That way if you want to talk about writing you can post links instead which will give you an influencer category more in the “Sharing/Creating” spectrum like “Feeder,” “Curator,” or “Tastemaker.”

I hope this is a helpful tool to help writers move out of their comfort zones and into higher engagement. Because higher engagement means more followers and more potential for book sales! Therefore, happy agent and happy publisher.

Q: So! Have you solved the puzzle? Which type of influencer are you? …and–if you want to pivot–what square do you want to move into?

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Which pitch has the most potential? Slush pile, in-person or online contest?

I get asked this question often. Writers want to make the most of their time and talent. Querying is a part in your writing career that is fraught with stress, expectation, and worry–oh wait, this sounds like the entire length of a writing career! Jokes aside, the decisions you make to start your career have a huge influence on the trajectory of it.

So what’s the best way to pitch an industry professional? In person at a conference? In the slush pile? Or in an online contest? 

All of these have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s go over them.

Pitching At A Conference In Person

Advantage: We get to know a slice of your personality (even if it’s only for 10 minutes) and whether we could see ourselves working together. Establishing a personal connection is beneficial for both parties.

Disadvantage: We haven’t seen your material yet! It all depends on the writing. So even if we get along well there is absolutely no guarantee anything will come of it. And if you’re nervous in those 10 minutes we might not get to see the best version of your presentation.

Slush Pile Pitching

Advantage: You can passionately explain why you think an agent is the right fit. You can get lots of advice on how to write the perfect query letter. This targeting is one of the most effective ways of hooking an agent who is right for you. I find more clients in the slush pile than anywhere else. I’d say it’s a 10:1 ratio. For every 10 clients I sign up 10 are from the slush, 1 is from elsewhere.

Disadvantage: Agents get hundreds to thousands of emails a month and you only get one chance to impress them.

Blog Contest Pitching

Advantage: You know you have 3-10 agents actively looking at your material, depending on the contest. There are many success stories floating around from these selective types of events.

Disadvantage: There might be a few agents interested, but often the speed of which the interested agent offers puts off the other agents because we don’t always have time to drop everything and read. Sometimes this speed works out in people’s favor and sometimes it doesn’t. Competition is definitely healthy, but writers have to make a tough decision without the hoopla getting in the way.

Twitter Contest Pitching

Advantage: It happens a few times a year and agents looking to build their list are actively observing it. Plus it makes you practice how to pitch and write a hook in one sentence.

Disadvantage: Agents want to work with authors who select agents for a reason. Writers pitch blindly on Twitter and sometimes the agent that wants to offer rep isn’t on that author’s “top agents” list and there can be bad blood and also a waste of time for everyone when querying would have been a must more beneficial use of time for both parties.

Q: Do you have a success story from one of these methods? (Or, more unfortunately, a horror story?)

Guest Post: The 4 Platform Elements That Catch an Editor’s Attention

Headshot for Stonesong websiteEditor-turned-Agent Maria Ribas has a guest post for everyone today! It’s a small world in publishing and the story of how Maria and I know each other is a reflection of that. When Maria was an editor at Adams Media I sold her a cookbook called THE WELLNESS KITCHEN. She left Adams Media a couple years ago now and is currently at agent at Stonesong Literary in NYC. Maria represents non fiction and specializes in lifestyle and cookbooks. She has a great post about platform that I think you’ll all learn something from. You can also check out her site for more great information: www.cooksplusbooks.com or follow her on Twitter @maria_ribas.

I started out in publishing as an editor. And about once a week, I would get rejected. Our acquisitions meetings were on Thursday afternoon, and I’d spend much of that morning preparing a pitch for why everyone should get excited about that book I was so excited about.

The meetings would go something like this:

Me: !!!!

Everyone Else: …..

Me: !!!!!!!

Everyone Else: ????

Me: !!!!?

Everyone Else: No.

Having your excitement be met with disinterest is terrible. I know it’s something writers struggle with every day, and it’s a thing agents and editors have to battle through, too. But after some comically sad flops, I finally started figuring out what I needed to say so that people’s ears would immediately perk up.

And what got the most ear “perkage” (that’s not a word, is it?) from acquisitions teams? A platform-savvy author.

Any great agent or editor will tell you that you don’t need a platform to get a book deal as a fiction writer—a wonderful book is all you need. But any great agent or editor will also tell you that you can only avoid these platform-building initiatives for so long. A wonderful book may get you in the door, but only a strong publicity and marketing campaign will get your book back out the door and into readers’ hands.

That’s exactly why coming into the publishing process with those skills and networks in place can make you extremely appealing as an author. I’ve sat in many strategy meetings where an author’s editor, publicist, marketing manager, and agent put all their expertise together to formulate a strong marketing and publicity campaign. Yet the author’s lack of familiarity with the online landscape, and most often, their discomfort with putting themselves out there, crippled their ability to execute the campaign. The worst part is that this makes for a miserable, lie-awake-at-night book launch, because the author is forced to battle the fears and anxieties of platform-building at a time when they can’t afford to stumble.

Don’t let that happen to you! I know I sound like a scare-mongering PSA, but I’ve seen too many incredible books be completely ignored because the author struggled with the foundational skills of publicity and marketing.

If you’re overwhelmed about where to start, here are the 4 platform elements that most stand out to agents, editors, and acquisitions teams:

1. Connections

It’s true that you don’t need to be well-connected to break out in publishing, but it’s even truer that having connections will help you. Editors and agents know how hard it is to get even an ounce of attention for a debut book, so working with an author who has access to the megaphones of tastemakers is a huge advantage.

But remember that this doesn’t mean you need to live in New York City, attend all the right writing programs, or rub elbows with the literati every day. This isn’t necessarily about knowing celebrities, bestselling authors, and high-profile journalists. It’s about forming real connections with the people who are right there with you in the trenches. Get out and meet writers in your neighborhood; join online communities; reach out to that writer you admire just to say hello. Remember that it takes a tribe to launch a book, and it’s a whole lot easier to make real friends when you’re not plying them with information about your book.

2. Press

Similar to connections, press mentions are a way to get attention for a book, and they’re the foundation of a publicity campaign. So when a book comes in to an editor or agent and the author already has press experience ? That’s a big, big plus. Publishers think of it as a two pronged advantage: 1. The author already has a relationship with gatekeepers in other media (reporters, producers, bloggers, etc.) and can call on those connections to get coverage for the book, and 2. The author has already proven that he/she is comfortable with being a public figure and understands that pitching and public speaking skills are essential to the successful promotion of a book. This shows editors that you know how to position yourself and your work in a way that receives favorable attention, and that is always a good thing.

3. Analytics

Ten years ago cold, hard numbers had no place in the acquisitions conversation for a debut author. Today, they can be the #1 reason why an author and agent hears a “yes” rather than a “no” from an editor, particularly in the practical nonfiction world. Again, this is something that’s make-or-break for nonfiction, but still a big plus for fiction writers, too. These numbers are a concrete way of showing editors that you already have a readership—that you’ve spent years building relationships across different online channels, and that those people think what you have to say is worthwhile.

Analytics can be anything from traffic on a website or blog to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media followers.

4. Email List

Yes, you could put this under analytics. But I’m breaking it out for a reason—it’s a breakout number. That means that even if your social media numbers are middling, having a significant email list can get an agent’s or editor’s attention. This is because sending an email is the most direct way to reach potential readers, and it’s also the only way you can (nearly) guarantee that the recipient will see an important announcement. With so many changes to social media algorithms lately, it’s hard to guarantee that important updates (like a launch announcement!) will actually make it to the people who want to know about it. That’s why I preach the gospel of the email list to all my authors—it’s the best thing they can focus on building, because it’s the only channel they can themselves own.

I know platform-building can be overwhelming, fraught with emotional pitfalls, and overall more pleasant to ignore than to face head-on. But the business of publishing, in any genre, always hinges around sales, and the sooner authors can build marketing and publicity skills, the sooner they’ll find their readership. And the less often that their exclamation points will be met with a cold, hard “No.”

Maria Ribas began her career on the editorial side, first at Simon & Schuster and Harlequin Nonfiction, then at Adams Media, where she was an associate editor before moving to the agency side in 2014. At Stonesong, she specializes in practical and narrative nonfiction from authors who understand how a thoughtfully produced, proudly promoted book can grow their brands and their businesses.

She also writes about writing, platform-building, publishing, and cooking her way through books at www.cooksplusbooks.com

 

5 Steps to Internet (and IRL) Safety and Privacy for Writers

There are many ways to think about internet safety, but with the fall publishing season book launches coming up I wanted to take the time to share my thoughts about staying safe when you’re used to interacting on the web. I consider safety physical or intellectual.

I definitely think everyone clearly knows how dangerous the web can be, but sometimes we all think we’re immune to it and take risks when we don’t know we’re doing so. It’s the thing that happens to *someone else* not us.

5 Steps to Internet (and IRL) Safety and Privacy for Writers:

Tweet or post when you’re leaving somewhere, not when you’re getting there. DM the people you’re meeting up with at the book launch instead of broadcasting it to the world. Instead of tweeting on the way to an event, why not tweet after you’ve gathered your thoughts and maybe taken a picture or two? If you are going to post in real time, don’t take pictures from the same location all night. It seems silly, but if you’re prone to over-sharing make sure you’re keeping people on their toes.

Think twice about geo-tagging. (This is when your location is attached to your social media post.) Especially if you pair it with photos. It’s easy for anyone to connect the dots if you’re posting every day or multiple times per day. When in doubt (like me), follow tip 1: geo-tag after you’ve left. I don’t need to recount all the horror stories about geo-tagging for you to get my point. Don’t forsake safety for social currency.

Check your settings. Do you know your privacy settings on all your devices? Believe it or not uploading from your phone vs. uploading on your computer require different privacy settings on Facebook. Knowledge is power. Don’t regret things later; get ahead of your privacy issues and learn where you might have cracks.

Keep your book ideas close to your chest. One of writers’ big worry is that someone will steal their idea. Journalists know to keep their stories to themselves, so writers need to think carefully about this too. If you’re doing book research keep it to private messages and open ended social media questions. I’m not saying people will steal anything, but why give yourself the opportunity to worry? Share your ideas with people you trust: writing circles, agents, and editors. Ideas also change; slow down on blogging through the details of your latest book. Give yourself freedom to make changes and add a little bit of mystery.

Remember: the trolls only win if you feed them. The internet breeds animosity. There are many opinions out there, some of which it’s hard to agree with. It’s tempting to fight back at the trolls, but all it will do is make you mad. It’s hard to change anyone’s mind, especially when you add in limited characters and a social platform. Internet fights can follow you around for a long time. Not all of us will get our Twitter spats featured in major news outlets, but blogs live on–and bloggers don’t have to fact check. It’s best to let things breeze by. No one wants to be Googled and found that their online fight has followed them around for years.

***

I love social media for the way it brings us together, but be wary about your privacy. Most book publishing people are great people! But social media is available to everyone.

Your life belongs to you, not the web. So be careful about what you decide to share. Privacy is important and you control the message. Even if you’re not thinking “privacy” at the time of posting, remember that people can connect the dots across social media platforms and days or weeks at a time. Patterns are there whether they’re intentional or not.

Lastly, if you’re into Cons, or all things amazing, grab Sam Maggs’s book FANGIRL’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY where there is information about staying safe at big fan events.

Q: What do you think about when you’re planning your internet safety as a writer?