Author blog? Author brand? Do you even need one? I can answer this in one simple word. Yes. Oh yes! If you are writing any form of non-fiction you need a blog - or at least a FB page, an Instagram page, a website or an email database. You don't need them all, but the days you just needed a typewriter and a great story are gone.
Although of course, all writers need a good story. If you want to publish with Hay House you need a database of over 20,000 subscribers to your newsletter. Gulp. And yes, they must all ‘opt in’. Phew. Daunting? Or exciting?
I am going to vote for exciting. Why - because when you write a book you are investing in a whole new future. Be whole-hearted about it. Dive into it and really use it to share a message. That's the call of writers. I also don't want you to freak out and feel you have to do all of the social media stuff. That is not necessary. I recommend you find a channel you love, and you will find your readers on. Then focus on that. I like to use YouTube for videos on writing, as well as my website where I house most of my content. You may love Instagram or LinkedIn. More importantly... where are you readers hanging out?
I had a call earlier this week from a writer (soon to be author) sitting in the final stages of a publisher taking on her book. She wrote it at speed on my last mentorship.
"You know what they told me? My Instagram doesn't have enough followers. I mean who counts Instagram followers?"
Publishers in the new economy do count Instagram followers. They are looking for authors who have a platform, and that means you need to get busy building one. Don't sigh, don't give up. Just open your mind to a new way. You can do it.
So what are publishers (and agents) looking at when you reach out to them and see if they want to take on your book?
They are looking at your author brand
They want authors who are engaged, who back a cause, who take a stand and who are not afraid to speak out. Publishers want an author who has a platform already. They want you take a stand in the world and to share it. They want names and faces. They know that it’s easy to have a voice out there in the world, and they want one that stands out. Yours. They do not want authors who hide and wait for readers to find them.
They are looking at your argument and your book’s big idea
They are taking a look at your story and asking – what are you promising me (the reader) in this book? Is it weight loss? An exercise plan? A new way to talk to teens? A smoking hot guide to sex? A terrifying trip into the mind of a serial killer? A smart way to think about work? A guide to help me make a sale? A new way to lead?
They are looking for completed and polished books
That means that if you have actually written (and finished a book) you have a fighting chance. Don’t laugh. You would not believe how hard it actually is to finish a book and get it polished to a level where it is ready to send out. So if you have done that work, if you have a solid structure and it reads well – your changes are higher to find a publisher.
They are looking for a bigger message
I always ask writers to step out of what you want to tell your reader, and marry that with what they actually want to read. If you are writing a memoir and the memoir is about YOU, you are in trouble. Unless you are a celebrity, an assassin, a serial killer or you were reared by wolves. But if you are just an ordinary person who has been through some s**t and learned some stuff – you need to make sure you book is about more than YOU. It has to be about a bigger concept … addition, parenting, hope, courage, grief, loss, survival, insomnia, extreme challenges. Why would a reader want to follow your story for 280 pages?
They are looking if your writing is engaging
Most often this is not about being a good writer. This is about letting your personality come through. Do you have a tone to your book? Do you talk to your reader? Do you have a unique voice? Do you have a fresh, new take on stuff?
They are looking for worthy stories
Publishers want to sell books, and they want book that sell. But not all books have to be bestsellers. Many books are published because we need a record of a time, an era, a story or a generation - or it's just an important story. I often encourage writers to pitch books on modern history, or biographies. They are great ways of getting published.
They are looking for books with a clear and popular genre.
Go look at the bookshop. Get clear on which shelf your book will sit. Make sure you understand what a reader is looking for in that genre. Look at the formats of these books. Then deliver it in your unique way, with your unique voice, using your unique story.
All of this feels very daunting. However, if you have a calling to write, to share your story, this is the work you will end up doing.
Are you willing to ‘stand in the arena’ of life, like the gladiators of old, and entertain the crowds. It is not easy being in the arena. It requires huge courage to share your story with the world. It is far easier to be a critic, or a spectator.
I love this quote from author Brené Brown, it is about how writing and sharing your story is an act of courage. It truly is.
If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in or open to your feedback. There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never be brave with their lives but who will spend every ounce of energy they have hurling advice and judgment at those who dare greatly. Their only contributions are criticism, cynicism, and fear mongering. If you’re criticizing from a place where you’re not also putting yourself on the line, I’m not interested in what you have to say."
Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.