The Etiquette of Self-Promotion

It is commonly said in order to promote and market your work, “Presence is key.” Does this mean you have to bombard people with posts saying, “Buy my book!”? Or does it mean you can constantly tell people, “Read my stuff! Look at me! Check this out!”? No. That is not what it means when it is said ‘presence is key’. So what exactly does it mean?

First off, the saying is very true. In order to promote, market, and sell your work, your presence must be out there—notice, I said your presence, not the presence of your books or work or anything like that but rather you. You must become a face and a name familiar to people because if people know you, they’ll be more likely to consider whatever you’re selling, and they may start spreading the word. So, how do you do this?

Don’t make it about you. If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, or any social media site, don’t make all your posts about you. Instead, reach out to others, encourage them, answer their questions if you can, and promote their work. Then, when the time is right, market your own work, but don’t spam your followers with posts saying anything along the lines of, “This is worth reading! Worth purchasing!” Your work should speak for itself. Your readers should speak for you. If you have to boast about it, that gives the exact opposite message you want to portray—it tells me your work isn’t exceptional.

Is there a place for you to specifically promote your work without being a nag? Yes, but you need to create that space. For instance, having a Facebook Page or Facebook Group specifically for your work is a good place to post anything regarding what your work. Your followers there expect that, so it’s fine. However, don’t private message anyone or go to someone else’s page and tell them they need to buy your book. That is distasteful etiquette, and as I said, it has the opposite effect than what you want. The only time this is acceptable is when someone inquires of something along the same lines as to whatever you have to offer. That’s a good time to suggest whatever your work. Notice, I said suggest—not tell or order the person to purchase whatever you’re offering because when someone commands us to do something, we’re more inclined to do the opposite just because we like to be rebellious like that.

So, how should you approach marketing yourself? Don’t be afraid of social media or of criticism. Be watchful of what you say, and be considerate of others—remember, they’re human beings as well. Determine your strengths and be willing to share your resources with others without expecting anything in return. Yes, in an ideal world, if you promote someone’s work, they will in turn promote yours, and some people are really good like that, but others…they just forget or don’t think about it, and that’s okay. That is simply who they are, and you shouldn’t take offense to it, and you’re not obligated to share their work either unless you truly think it is worth sharing. At the same time identify your weaknesses and be on the lookout for those people who might be able to help you strengthen those areas. Someone else might have the same weakness and ask the question you didn’t want to ever ask, so you can follow the conversation and learn as well.

Also, when you are giving others feedback on their work, don’t settle for, “That was good!” While the writer appreciates the fact that you think their story is worthy of some praise, this kind of feedback is shallow and hollow. Instead, look into whatever you’re reading and try to pick out one unique thing that stands out for you and bring that out. That will show the author that you really did pay attention. However, if you see errors or anything that needs correcting, be courteous and contact them privately informing them of the problem. Why do it privately? Well, one day it may be your work out there being critiqued, and would you rather someone publicly correct you or privately? If you’ve shown respect to others, they are more prone to show you the same respect.

In other words, be human. Whatever you have that you’re promoting, seek opportunities to surprise your followers and do random acts of kindness for them. Offer unique opportunities that would get your readers excited about interacting with you.

Is this all you need to do to successfully sell your work? No. Each social media site has its tricks here and there and little secrets that’ll help you. However, knowing who you are and being comfortable and confident that your work can speak for itself is a major realization, and this carries over to all social media sites.

In the end, be real, promote your work from time-to-time, but be yourself.

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The Etiquette of Creating a Book Cover: Author & Artist

Book covers are important. They are the image by which your book will be judged. Everyone says, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but honestly, if the cover doesn’t catch our attention, it’s unlikely we will read it. When you sign up with a traditional publisher, they have their own graphic artists who they will assign to your book, and you will work with them. They have their own process. What I want to focus on though is when an indie author is working with a graphic artist to create the perfect book cover for their self-published book. However, when working with another creative mind, there is an etiquette that must be considered for the best results. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Make sure the artist and you work well together.
  2. Come prepared with an idea for the cover.
  3. Don’t settle for less. Follow your gut. Be honest but respectful.
  4. Give the artist creative license.

Make sure the artist and you work well together. As exciting as it is to be at the stage where you need a cover for your book, remember you might not get along with the first artist you encounter. So, before assigning her the task to design your cover, communicate with the artist. How well do you communicate? Are there any misunderstandings? Do you just have a bad feeling about it? Can you be honest with the person? If anything raises a red flag in your mind, do not follow through. It’s better to delay the design of the cover and find the right artist than to force cooperation between the two of you when there is no chemistry. Trust your gut.

Come prepared with an idea for the cover. When I had my first book cover designed, I had no idea what I wanted, so I told the artist the basic idea of the story. When he came back to me with a proof of the cover, I wanted to cry in horror. It looked like a boring textbook—gray and lifeless. But of course the artist didn’t know better. He never read the book. How could he create a proper representation of a story he’s never read? Armed with this knowledge, I sat down and imagined what the book would look like on the shelf of the bookstore—what did the cover look like? From there, I sketched out a very rough idea of the cover and sent it on to him. With that, he was able to work his magic. The lesson learned? It is better to have a vague idea of what you imagine the cover to look like than no idea at all. However, keep in mind, the end result will likely be nothing like you imagine—it should be better than you imagined.

Don’t settle for less. Follow your gut. Be honest but respectful. There will be countless of versions of the cover. With each one, if something doesn’t feel right about the cover, express to the artist what you think the problem might be and ask her if she could change it. The artist won’t see the cover like you do because she is working so closely with it, so you need to point out when something doesn’t feel right about the cover. Neither you nor the artist should get irritated with one another when you’re nitpicking. Both of you should be patient and working with one another. If the problem doesn’t seem to be resolving, take a break. Get away from it in order to look back at it with new eyes. When you come back, you might not see the problem at all—or you might have a better way of explaining what exactly the problem is to the artist.

Give the artist creative license. If you can create your own cover, then do it, but if you can’t, then let the artist do her job. You may present an abstract idea for a cover, but it’s her job to put it into the concrete. Unless the cover is completely illustrated by the artist, most artists will use stock photos for the pictures of the cover, and unfortunately those may not be exactly the look you wanted for this character or that one. The artist should be able to manipulate it to look closer to what you want, but it will be slightly different than what you imagined.

As an author, you may have googled images that you would like to see on your cover, but do not expect those pictures to be used unless they are stock photos. It is okay to find pictures you like and even actors you imagine for your characters, but in the end, accept the fact that none of those pictures will likely be on the cover at all. Otherwise, there is potential of getting in trouble with copyright laws and such. You don’t want that headache. The graphic artist will try to find pictures that are extremely close to the ones you chose, but they will not be identical, and this is good—it makes it unique to your own work.

Now, if you do want to choose pictures that you can use, look up stock photos. Here are a few sites:

www.istockphoto.com

www.dreamstime.com

www.123rf.com

www.dollarphotoclub.com

www.shutterstock.com

And there are many, many more! Find the pictures you like, but don’t purchase anything yet because the picture might not fit perfectly into the cover that’s being created, and an alternative photo will have to be chosen. Show the artist the pictures you’re thinking about, and let them create a mock cover. Once you’re satisfied with the cover, the artist will tell you which stock photos you need to purchase. Is it your responsibility to purchase the stock photos? Yes—unless the artist and you came to some kind of agreement beforehand. This is something you will need to discuss with them just to make sure you’re both on the same page.

When you are working with a graphic artist, the two of you are on the same team. You want the same thing—the perfect cover. Both of you should be patient and professional about it.

Also, authors, if you’re looking for covers and you don’t want to go through the stress of working with an actual artist, you can find pre-made covers for a reasonable price here: www.selfpubbookcovers.com.

Now artists, you may work with an author who is very insecure and doesn’t feel comfortable asking you to make changes. If you sense that is the kind of person you’re working with, be patient with them and reassure them that you want the perfect cover for their book. When you finally think you’ve arrived at the perfect cover, then here are some questions you can ask such an author:

  • “Is the background exactly the way you want? Should any of the background elements be changed or altered in any way?”
  • “Do the elements in the foreground meet your approval? Does anything stand out that shouldn’t? Or is there something that should stand out but doesn’t?”
  • “Do you approve of the color of the cover? How is the lighting/shadows?”
  • “Are your name and the title positioned where and how you want them? Do you approve of the font?”

If the author approves of everything but you still get the feeling he’s not being completely honest (with himself if not you), you can recommend he think about it for a day, and if he’s still content with the cover, then your work is complete.

If you’re the artist, the last thing you want is for the author to come back to you further down the road and finally confess, “I really don’t like this element of the cover. Could you change it?” When this happens, you have to consider how much you’re going to charge for revisions after the job has already been completed and such. That is stress no one wants to deal with.

If you’re the author, the last thing you want is to be stuck with a cover you secretly don’t like. It’s very hard to promote your work and be excited about your book if you dread the cover. If you’re not excited about it, no one else will be excited about it, and your sales won’t get off the ground. The cover does affect your confidence, so it’s better to be open and honest with the artist during the process rather than regret it later.

However, artists, there will likely be authors who are perfectionists and constantly asking you to change their cover over and over and over again even though it’s really good. There will come a point where you will simply have to put your foot down and calmly but professionally inform them that you can only do a certain number of revisions and after that any additional revisions will be an added cost.

Authors, don’t freak out when I say that to artists. Most artists won’t tack on any additional cost because they really want to work with you and have the best cover for you. Nevertheless, if you push them too hard and are unreasonable, they will stand their ground.

Once you find an artist you work with splendidly and their fees aren’t unreasonable, don’t let him or her go. You can have a wonderful working relationship that could last through book series, and this also allows for consistency of the book covers.

Remember, both of you are creative individuals coming together to create the finished product of a book. Give each other space and respect. Be professional, be honest, but also be considerate.

In the end, you should have an impressive masterpiece.

The Etiquette of Readers Part 2: Beta Readers

Last week we identified and discussed the role of Casual Readers. Now we’re going to focus on the more popular role of a Beta Readers.

While Casual Readers tend not to be writers, Beta Readers are usually on the path to becoming editors and are writers themselves. First thing to recognize about Beta Readers is there is not a one size fits all. You may not agree with someone’s method of critiquing because they’re looking at it all wrong, and they’re always negative, and you just can’t seem to do anything right. If this is the case, try getting another Beta Reader, but always do a trial run with them first. Send a sample of your writing, see how they critique. If you two seem to get along, then work from there.

With Beta Readers, it is up to them whether or not you send your work as a complete manuscript at one time or chapter by chapter. This is something the two of you must discuss. Simply be aware, the more you send, the longer it will take to get anything back to you. It is also important to remember that you should have revised and edited your work at least once before sending it to a Beta Reader.

With a Beta Reader, it is important to understand one thing: their job is to tear your work to shreds. Yes, this is difficult. It’s hard. It’s painful. However, it is important. This is also preparing you for when your work must go before an editor. It’s helping you understand your work better and develop thick skin.

Now, on this topic, there is something very important to realize. If you have people read your work, and they stop at a certain point and can’t read further, you must investigate—not only where they stopped but from the beginning all the to that specific point. Look at description, dialogue, character development, scene setting, plot development, writing style. Are the characters cliché? Are they too perfect? Are they relatable? Is there a moral issue in the story that’s causing the problem?

Most people won’t tell you why they didn’t like the story because they don’t know. Some might know, but if you’re stubborn and stuck in your way when it comes to writing, they’re not going to be very honest with you because it takes a lot of time and energy to explain to you the problem.

I don’t volunteer to read anyone’s writing anymore. If I can’t finish a story, I find out exactly why that is, and it’s usually more than one issue, but this one issue brings up this other issue which breeds another one and so on and so forth, and the writer is left thinking, “I can’t write!” And I’m respond, “No, you can! You’re very good at it, and you wrote an entire story which is an awesome accomplishment!” but then I’m lost at how to encourage them to step back, have faith, and tackle things one at a time.

If you’re confident in your writing ability and believe the story you wrote is important for the world to know, then nothing can tear you down. Yes, there are people out there who want nothing more than to completely rip writers to shreds. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into something or the importance of certain elements and specific scenes, they don’t care. I don’t understand those people, but when I encounter those people, I don’t bother to justify my writing or explain myself. They have a right to their own opinion, and no matter how many times I revise my work, it won’t make them happy, so I just nod and tell them, “Thank you. I will take it into consideration,” but then I’ll go back to my story and set the criticism before the characters and listen to them protest loudly, “Why would I do that?! What would my motives be? That makes absolutely no sense. No, no, and no!” And they cross their arms, threatening me with Writer’s Block if I even attempt to revise in the suggested manner.

This is why you must know why you wrote everything in the story, why it’s important to see how the pieces connect.

However, there are some unofficial guidelines we can all use.

WRITERS, if you give your work to a Beta Reader to critique, expect them to do several things:

  1. They will read your story from beginning to end in a timely manner.

  2. They will make notes on everything that jumps out at them.

  3. They will ask questions.

  4. They will point out errors.

  5. They will not correct or change anything for you.

  6. They are not your brainstorming buddies (unless agreed upon otherwise).

  7. If a Beta Reader cannot complete your novel for lack of time or simply disinterest in the story, you should not be offended but find another Beta Reader.

  8. You must remain professional.

  9. Honesty is key.

BETA READERS, if you volunteer to read someone’s work to critique it, there are a few things you must recognize:

  1. You are obligated to read their entire work and critique it in a timely fashion.

  2. If you cannot complete their work, you must inform the writer of this and explain why.

  3. Do not volunteer to read someone’s work out of pity especially when you’re disinterested in their story.

  4. Look for positive aspects of the story as well as the negative.

  5. You must remain professional.

  6. Honesty is key.

Now notice, I said Writer and Beta Reader should ‘remain professional’ and that ‘honesty is key’. WRITERS, your story may be your baby, but when you’ve reached this stage of your story, you must distance yourself from it and become professional about it. This makes any negativity toward your writing easier to accept and to view objectively rather than subjectively. BETA READERS, being professional while you work allows you to do your work properly without fear of the author lashing out at you and blaming you for your criticism. Even if that were to happen, you can take everything in stride and carry on.

Honesty is the most important element in this process. Writers must be straightforward and honest with their Beta Readers of what they expect from them and when they need the story’s critique completed and returned to them—set a deadline. Beta Readers need to be able to say ‘no’ when they have too much on their plate or when they feel their style of critiquing will not work well with a specific author. Beta Readers should be able to express their opinion without too much concern of how the writer will react since the writer should react responsibly.

Are these hard and fast rules? No. They’re completely unofficial, but they could help to eliminate stress and frustration on everyone’s part. You may approach this subject any way you want.

To summarize: while you are writing or in the middle of revising and editing but need encouragement, find a Casual Reader (or several) to be your cheerleader. Once you’ve revised several times and are now ready for the next step, find a Beta Reader and understand everything is about to get serious, so be professional, and keep honesty between the two of you. This will help you face the harsh realities of publishing.

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The Etiquette of Readers Part 1: Casual Readers

First, to clarify the title. The ‘readers’ implied are not the readers who pick your books up off the shelf and read. The readers I mean are those who work closely with you prior to publication. They are friends and family you let read your book in the process of writing it and revising and editing it, and they are those who will critique your work prior to you sending it to any publisher or editor. So I am not directing this to anyone picking up a book to read it for the first time. Everything I’m talking about is before the book is even published. Now, with that clear, let’s move on.

For writers, it is unnerving when our VERY first readers read our books before it’s even published. We might have written the entire story without telling a soul what it was about, or we might have told everyone we encountered about our story, but now is the time of reckoning—the time to see what someone truly thinks of it. Now it is time for the story to stand up and speak for itself—be the brilliant story you claimed it to be. Like you letting go of your child’s bike as they attempt to ride without the training wheels, you have faith they’ll find their balance and their freedom in being independent, but at the same time, you’re worried they might falter and fall and scrape their knee. Even if they do fall, you know you can’t rush to them and cuddle them and carry them into the house. They have to grow used to the pain of falling down, and they have to learn to get back up again. It’s part of growing up. The same thing applies to our writing.

Once we’ve written the story, we trust it’s ready for anything, but at the same time we’re terrified of being told that the ideas in our head are not entertaining, enlightening, inspiring, or original. We hate being informed our writing is cliché or boring or that people just don’t ‘get it’, so what are we supposed to do?

Let’s define some terms and then go into detail.

First up, we have the Casual Reader. This would be what I described in my previous post when you let a friend or family member read your story while you’re working on it (especially doing the revision/editing process). Their primary purpose is to be a cheerleader but also to wave a red flag when they’re confused at a point. You can let a Casual Reader read your work as soon as you finished the first draft or while you’re revising and editing your work.

Beta Reader: This is the individual you give your work to when you are ready for some real critiquing. You should have already done a revision or two or three and edited it as best you can. These are the people who are looking for inconsistencies, grammar errors, plot holes, and they will challenge your decision to have this scene unfold that way or that character to do that and not this. A lot of Beta Readers have the inclination of becoming editors, so they’re using this time as practice.

So let’s go into more detail about each kind of reader. Let’s start with the Casual Reader. Why let people read your work before it’s even completed and absolutely polished? One of the most irritating things I’ve discovered as a published author is working hard on a book, get it published, and the only response I get are vague like, “Oh it was a good story.” Now, to be fair, some are more definite in their responses, but still it’s easier to say “It was great,” rather than go into details as to why you absolutely loved all 600 pages of the book. Meanwhile, I labored hard to work that twist in Chapter 5, to kill that character in Chapter 10, to show the emotional and fundamental but silent moment in Chapter 26—doesn’t anyone appreciate it? I almost killed your favorite character, and all I get is, “Oh, that was nice.”?

Your Casual Reader will give you feedback you need to motivate you along the way. They will be your fans. You might not be famous with thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook, but these few devoted readers will make you feel like the best writer in the world—not because they’re trying to make you feel good, but because they really enjoy the story and can’t contain themselves.

When you let Casual Readers read your work, don’t overwhelm them by sending in the entire story at one time but rather a chapter at a time. Letting someone read the story as a whole is like watching a movie. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it’s all wrapped up nicely where it may or may not have a sequel. However, allowing people to read it only a chapter at a time is almost treating it like a TV show rather than a movie—you drag it out. They get really attached to the characters, and that’s exactly what you want.

Casual Readers will give you feedback such as this (taken from a Casual Reader of mine who has given me permission to share):

Oh my gosh that is so AWESOME!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT!!!!! 😀 I especially love the part when Vixen asked the guardian to hold her glove thing and she knocked him out. I cracked up laughing on that one.”

“Don’t make me cry you cannot make me cry I cannot cry STOP MAKING ME WANT TO CRRRRRYYYY!!!!!” :'(:'(:'(:'(:'(:'(:'(:'(:'(

Hahahahaha!!! This was hilarious! And surprising. You made me think that Ardden was going to be okay but who knows (except you) what’ll happen? I thought it awkward then hilarious when Lorrek found out Vixen and she disappeared so suddenly. And I so love it that everyone loves everyone yet they hate them so much.”

Finally I read it. I was so busy. I Love iiiiittttt!!!!! 😀 it kind of looks like Verddra is going to the good side, but you left a quote in there that Honroth said. Something about enemies. Anyway, it left me thinking that Verddra is acting good yet she isn’t.”

As you can observe, this kind of feedback is the best. It tells me in real time what my readers think and feel about characters, things they experience, and decisions they make. So if you want some responses from your readers, try sending it to them a chapter at a time and tell them in order to get the next chapter, they need to tell you what they think in detail of the chapter they read. This might not work for some readers because of time restraints, but communicate with them and see what works best.

Now, sometimes the Casual Reader will have questions, and that’s a good thing. Do not take offense or be discouraged when you get this kind of feedback. Remember, you’re letting the Reader read while you’re likely revising and editing, so you can always and honestly say, “It’s the rough draft.” In this context, errors to expected and forgiven. The Casual Reader is more like highlighting the AWESOME parts while tagging the vague parts. They are not the Beta Reader, so don’t expect them to give you too much detail as to what is wrong.

This is what you can expect from a Casual Reader. So, what kind of people are good Casual Readers? Not writers. I have about five Casual Readers, but only one is a writer of any kind. All others just enjoy reading. So find friends or family members who have the time to read, and ask if they’d be willing to read your story a chapter at a time.

I had fully intended for this to be one post discussing the Casual Reader and the Beta Reader, but as I wrote it, I realized it was getting long, so I’ve decided to split the two. Next week we will discuss the Etiquette for Beta Readers.

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