Without This, You’ll Never Succeed as a Writer

Without This, You’ll Never Succeed as a Writer

This column is excerpted from Create Your Writer Platform, from Writer’s Digest Books.

I always tell people that my biggest challenge of my job in helping people find literary agents is correcting bad information on the Internet. This is no doubt my biggest challenge on a day-to-day basis in helping people get published.

But if I had to pick a second frustration — one that drives me absolutely bonkers more often than I’d like to explain — it’s the fact that so many writers make themselves difficult to contact and hurt their writer platform. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wanted to help someone or promote a book or interview an author only to find no email address anywhere online.

Why you want to make yourself easy to find

For example, at least a dozen times, I’ve found a great debut author online whose book I wanted to include in my recurring Writer’s Digest magazine column (“Breaking In”) only to find … no email. No Twitter. No contact information. Plenty of times no website at all. Other times I’ve wanted to interview up-and-coming writers for one reason or another, and I face the same problem. They don’t make themselves available, and I find someone else instead. (Makes you wonder … perhaps someone reading this column right now missed out on some easy promo because they kept their email hidden.)

I have no idea why people make themselves difficult to contact. I think it comes from some sort of old-school fear that if their email is online, all hell will break loose and their identity will get stolen by someone in Chechnya or they’ll be deluged with spam and messages from hundreds of people asking to borrow money.

Take it from me: this will not happen. I make myself very available through all channels and am in a position to help people, but the number of cold-contact emails I get each month is small and manageable.

The point I’m trying to make is this: in this day and age, book publicity is very valuable and very hard to come by. The last thing writers want to do is make it more difficult for editors to publicize their books. In order to give yourself the best chance at success, here are my suggestions for all up-and-coming writers in terms of making yourself available and easy to contact:

1. Create a website, even a simple free WordPress blog with just one page

The important thing is just to have something come up when I Google your name or the name of your book. Heck, your website can be one landing page — that’s all I need. Just put some information about yourself and your book (so I know I’m contacting the correct person), and include some relevant contact info — especially an email address you check regularly. Twitter’s also fine, as long as you’re on it often and respond quickly. If you want to see an example of a simple site that I set up for free, check out my writing website on WordPress.

2. On that note, try to check your email every day

Note how I just said “check,” not necessarily “respond to every waiting email.”

You just must make sure there are no pressing matters. Here’s the thing writers must, must understand: editors and literary agents have schedules and deadlines. We also procrastinate more often than we should. This means that, plenty of times, we are contacting people at the last minute and need an expeditious reply.

3. If you want to protect yourself from spam, take simple steps

An easy thing many people do when posting an email address online is adjust the formatting and write it out like this: literaryagent (at) fwmedia.com (dot) com. Spam be gone! If you’re an established author with a communicative fan base — perhaps you write for children — then include a note by your email saying that “While I do read every email promptly and personally, due to the sheer number of them, I cannot respond personally to all messages. Sorry.”

4. Know that only listing your publicist’s contact info on your site is, in my opinion, not good enough

I know I will catch some hell for this one. The good thing about publicists is they understand deadlines and are usually very quick to return emails and touch base. But publicists get sick, too. They get buried in work just like everyone else. They may be so busy that they can’t consider media requests from non-top-tier outlets. And plus, they don’t always work on weekends (but plenty of journalists do!). That’s why you should include your own information — just in case it’s an urgent matter. And I know the subject of publicists gets kind of tricky.

Plenty of publishing house publicists don’t really want writers doing their own publicity without supervision from them. If that’s the case, just use your judgment. When my humor book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack, came out in Fall 2010, we got publicity/review requests from media outlets big and small. If the media outlet was very sizeable (e.g., USA Today), or was requesting copyrighted book images to go with the story (e.g., The Huffington Post), then I knew it was something my publicist would have to approve. But everything else was fair game for me to do on my own. (She didn’t have time to get involved with everything anyway.)

I solicited blog coverage. I responded to lots of interview requests. I answered people’s questions. And I did it all as fast as I could — because you never know when someone has a publicity window that’s closing fast. Just keep in mind that if it’s an emergency, your publicist will understand. I remember one time I was on a docked cruise ship in Miami an hour from when we left and would lose phone reception. That’s when I got an email from a Boston Herald reporter, who wanted to ask me interview questions about how book deals worked. (Guess where she found my contact info? Who knows! It was everywhere online, because I make myself easy to contact.)

Since this was not just some random blogger calling, but rather a large metropolitan newspaper, protocol said I should send the request formally through my HR division. But the reporter’s deadline was hours away. So I called the Herald back immediately and did the interview. I was careful to pay attention for any “dangerous” questions that had answers that would get me in trouble. But these concerns never materialized, and my quote appeared in the paper. And when you’re quoted in the media, your title also appears: “Editor of Guide to Literary Agents.” My bosses at work couldn’t be mad that I answered some innocuous questions while getting our product out in a big media outlet. In fact, they were quite happy.

Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a freelance editor. If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my editing services. Thanks!

On a side note, I should mention that if you have a specific reason for keeping your info offline — such as safety concerns — that is something relevant and totally understandable. I’ve run into a few authors at writing conferences with crazy ex-boyfriends who have this issue.

But if you’re keeping your info locked up for no reason, please realize your name and your reach is your author platform. You WANT people to contact you. You WANT other writers to reach out from the blue. I love it when a member of the media finds my info online and writes me. I don’t even mind it when a writer sends me an email with a random question. I’ve made long-term friends that way — friends who have bought my book and sung my praises to others.

It’s called networking — and writer networking starts by simply making yourself available. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it).

Other TWL Guest Posts by Chuck Sambuchino:

  1. What Does a Literary Agent Want to See When They Google You?

  2. Tips for Pitching a Literary Agent at a Writers’ Conference

  3. 8 Lucrative Tips for Writing and Selling Articles to Magazines and Websites
Filed Under: Marketing
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26 comments

  • Luis Jara says:

    Thank you Chuck! Your article was very informative, especially to a newby like myself. I’m in the begining stages of making a career in writing and advice like from someone like yourself (expert 🙂 is priceless!

    An important decision I’m struggling with right now is college. I dropped out at 19 and now want to pick up where I left off. I have some credits and would like to know your thoughts on that. Is it an absolute necessity or are there successful writers out there without college degrees?

    • Emy says:

      Get a college degree to pursue a career or you could get some other sort of training. Look to your strengths. In my opinion, you do not have to have a college degree to be a writer. Don’t spend money and invest time just to say that you went to college thinking you will be taken more seriously. Only go if you really want to go and you have a plan. But there are many valuable ways to grow as a writer. Just keep writing and find a way to make a living. Just my opinions.

  • Again it happens! I follow some link from Twitter to an amazing article…I’m halfway through it before I realize it’s another one from Chuck Sambuchino. You are seriously my favorite writer about the business side of writing. Super engaging and interesting and knowledgable. I can’t think of anyone else who writes on these subjects who I’ve taken notice of! (On a total side note, I am so glad that the preposition rule finally is bendable! Otherwise writing can sound so pretentious: “…of whom I’ve taken notice.” Hah.)

  • K Callard says:

    What’s your opinion of having a contact form on your blog/website instead of listing your email address? Is that just as useful, or does it annoy people who simply want to send out a quick email?

    • Great question, K! It can certainly be helpful, and I think many people use contact forms in an attempt to block some of the inevitable spam. As for whether it annoys people…that’s probably up for discussion!

  • Shyla says:

    I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but
    your sites really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back down the road.
    Many thanks

  • Gilbert says:

    Being at stage 1 of your list, what do you think about promotion via bookmarking sites like digg, stumblUpon or reddit?

  • Kelly says:

    Hi, I’m curious about your opening statement: “my biggest challenge of my job in helping people find literary agents is correcting bad information on the Internet.”

    Are you referring to correcting bad information about the individual looking for a book deal? Harmful or overly personal information that they’ve placed on the internet? Or what do you mean exactly? Do you have another article that addresses this?

    It’s a topic I want to know more about. As an emerging writer, what are things to avoid doing or revealing about yourself via social media, etc.? The whole professional versus private life thing.

    Thanks!

  • Denise Pass says:

    Thank you for writing this article. The social media maze can be dizzying at times, but significant and necessary to be a participant in.

  • linda says:

    can you help me get a job freelance

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