Grow Your Following

We live in an age when technology is pretty much a part of our everyday lives. Just look at social media – it is so integrated into our lives. We don’t just use social media as a place to post pictures of our pets or our homemade bread, it’s also where we search for jobs, build business connections, and promote our business. Small businesses and creatives rely on social media as a platform to get their goods and services out there. 

That is why, as writers, it makes sense that many of us would turn to social media for help. Whether we’re self-published authors, or authors seeking a traditional publishing deal, we need social media. There is no two ways about it – the days of making it as a writer with no social media presence are over. 

I have a friend who is a literary agent, and prior to meeting him, I was under the impression that social media wasn’t that big of a deal. I assumed that if the writing was good, you could get published no problem. Boy, was I wrong. Agents and publishers alike look at your social media following. While good writing is important, what they really are interested in, is marketing. Do you have enough followers to make it worth their while? If you have a big enough following, publishers see that as a built-in audience already sorted. So, how many followers should you aim for? 10k. Most of us don’t have anywhere near that many followers. So, the next logical step would be to grow your numbers. But how do you do that? 

Here are some tips:

Focus Your Energies: The two platforms that you really want to grow a base on, are Twitter and Instagram. Twitter has a HUGE writing community, and it’s a great place to connect with other writers and get yourself out there. Likewise with Instagram, it’s nearly like a Twitter with pictures, so it’s a great place to post promotional pictures of your book, or to drum up interest in your work-in-progress by posting inspirations and sneak peeks to get people excited about your work. And both platforms work on a follow-for-follow basis, so just go on a following spree and gain people along the way.

Use Hashtags Strategically: Hashtags are great for Instagram posts to be seen by people who aren’t following you, meaning you can potentially gain more followers by posting with hashtags. But the key is to know which ones to use. In order to find the more popular ones you can take a quick look through #bookstagram or #writersofinstagram in order to see what other hashtags people are using. Additionally, your favorite writers that you follow can also be a great place to start looking. Speaking of which…

Do Your Homework: Following your favorite authors are a good idea. You can learn a lot from looking at pages of successful authors. Take note of the more popular content, which kinds of tweets or pictures gain the most attention? How do they represent themselves? In short, what is their brand? Obviously, you are your own brand, but what can you do to help yourself figure out how to build yourself up is to look and learn. 

Run Giveaways: Another great way of building up your following, this strategy also helps you do some promotion of your book as well. You can give away signed copies of your books as well as merch too – commissioned drawings, maps, book marks – all things related to your brand that can get your name out there are great ideas for giveaways. Plus, they also present an opportunity to team up with other authors for joint giveaways and promotions as well. 

Get engaged: Even if you’re not running a giveaway or going on a following spree, you can still use your posts to engage followers. Make sure your posts are something that your followers can connect with. For example, if you’re posting about a writing session in your favorite coffee shop, make it an opportunity to drum up a conversation by asking your followers where they like to write, where their word count is at, etc. Similarly, don’t be afraid to leave a comment on someone else’s post if you admire what they shared. Sometimes simple, friendly engagements with others in the community can get you a new follower or two – and every follower counts!

Don’t Buy Followers: So, you may be sitting here thinking if publishers want to see at least 10k followers on your social media then what is the harm in spending a few extra dollars and getting a mass of new followers in a few hours? Well, there is no such thing as a free lunch. While buying followers might get you numbers it doesn’t get you engagement. Fake followers won’t like your posts, buy your books, or retweet your tweets. Publishers want to see that your 10k following is an engaged one, meaning you grew them organically. While it might take a while to build yourself on social media, it’ll be worth it in the end when you can say you achieved numbers organically. 

So, with many of us probably starting somewhere below 1,000 followers on either Instagram or Twitter, it might seem a little daunting. And I’m not going to lie, it is a little daunting to think that we’ve got a long way to go building up our social media following. But, if we want to be successful writers then we need to grow with the times. And, in the words of Li Shang, “Let’s get down to business…”

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

Why You Shouldn’t Withdraw Your Submission Early #1

After being in the business for so long, one ends up seeing multiple dreams being squashed or coming true. One of the worst things is getting in your own way and causing everything to crash and burn. This has occurred many times and as such, has warranted this article.

Many publishers have the option of manuscript and anthology submissions. When someone submits to both outlets and one gets rejected, the automatic response is to withdraw all submissions from that publisher. This is the wrong way to do things. Just because one thing was rejected does not mean everything will be.

There are so many possibilities as to why it was refused. Some of the most common reasons is it needed more editing or that story didn’t fit in that particular anthology. No matter the reason, none is cause to withdraw all of your submissions. More often than not, the publisher is planning on accepting one even though another was rejected.

The reason many authors are not successful with traditional publishing is because they don’t follow submission guidelines and once refused, they automatically give up. “Self-publishing is such an easier way to go” has been a saying going around writing communities. It may be easier, but you will never have the same opportunities that traditional publishing gives. And so, the story that was rejected due to poor editing is uploaded for self-publishing without further improvement and gets nowhere with sales.

The worst of all is that, more often than not, the author never continues improving their writing. Critique is the most important way to continue honing your writing skills. If you think you’re already the best and have nothing further to improve, then you’re already in the wrong mindset.

To be continued in a later blog post called
Why You Still Need an Editor After Multiple Books

Finding Your Community

Whether you are a first-time writer just starting out, or a successfully published author with several works under your belt, there is one thing that ever single writer needs: a writing community. Writing can be a very lonely pursuit. However, it’s a journey that we can’t go on alone. We need friends to lean on when we write, ones that understand the complexities of trying to realize the story in your head onto paper. But how do we find our writing community?

Well, if you haven’t already, here are some tips to getting started in your search of a writing circle where you can continue to grow as a writer:

1. Classes: Perhaps one of the best places to find other writers is in a writing class. Specialist writing schools, librarians, and community schools are all great places to start your search for some writing buddies. Plus, there is the added bonus that taking a class or seminar on writing will only help you enhance your writing skills. You can also check out your local bookshop to see if they have any writing-themed events on the horizon as well. 

2. Online writing forums: Perhaps one of the best options for those of us who are either shy or busy, going online can yield some great results. Personally, the NaNoWriMo forums are one of my favorite online forums to interact with other writers. Additionally, Facebook has plenty of writing groups, many of which are specifically dedicated to different genres or topics. All you need to do is go search for your niche. Twitter is another online plethora of everything writing, and there are plenty of wonderful supportive writers that are part of the writing community.

3. Book clubs: Plenty of writers are also avid readers, so it would make sense that if you were to walk into a book club, you’d find at last one other writer amongst the crowd, so joining a book club might be the gateway into finding and forming your own critique group. Even if you happen to be the only writer in the book club, reading and discussing analysis of different books helps to flex your mental muscles – something that can only benefit your own work. 

Either way, don’t despair. Your people are out there and you will find them!

The Good Short Story Tips and Tricks: Hook and Pacing

DSP typically plans and produces six to twelve anthologies a year with a short story word count ranging from 5k to 15k words. Technically, there is no sole right way to write a short story, but there are a lot of wrong ways. However, we’ll focus on a couple of methods used to entice your reader and get them hooked on your story for the next twenty to forty pages.

Let’s assume you know the components for proper characterization, tension, theme, POV, etc. For a good short story, you only need to place heavy emphasis on two aspects of your story; a good hook and your scenes moving at a face pace toward the climax.

The Hook

The hook is the opening line or scene to ensnare your reader. It’s a statement that makes them develop an interest in your story right off the bat. For a short story, you want them vested in your tale from the very beginning because you don’t have a lot of words to develop your character or theme. There are several easy ways to write a hook that will have your reader jump into your story; in media res, mystery, and disturbing.

In medias res means, “in the middle of the action”. Instead of starting out those teenagers having sex by the lake and then getting killed one-by-one by the psychopath in a hockey mask, you start the story with one of them running for his life while being chased by the psychopath. In my story, Malicyne’s Puzzle, the hook took place with a battle between a pirate ship and a naval frigate. Thela’s Angel started with poor Thela getting beaten to a pulp by her husband in the inn. Daughter of Darkness starts the story with the holy knight, Rhain, landing a killing blow through a demon lord’s heart in the temple of night elves dedicated to the worship of the Tri-Headed Queen.

Mystery is a very common mechanism. You start out with a profound statement or an enigma for your story. In my book, Fallen From the Stars, it opens with the following:

“Come with me.”

A gunshot rang out, followed by a woman’s scream and the world turned to utter darkness. That’s all I can remember.

Was the main character shot? What happened? Who said, “Come with me?” Readers don’t find out until Chapter 12 Bad Memories, but in a short story, you reveal the mystery of the hook usually at the climax or at the end.

Disturbing is a less common one but is great for grimdark fantasy, horror, or something in which you’re going for shock value. It makes your reader shout, “WTF did I just read?!?” and then they are compelled to read on just to figure out why you wrote that. The Disturbing method will typically contain triggers (again, for shock value).

A word of warning about using the Disturbing method – know your audience. If you’re a fantasy writer who typically writes YA epic fantasy and you want to try your hand at grimdark fantasy, your loyal fans are in for a rude awakening. Secondly, a lot of publishers have a “no graphic [anything]” rule (or rules on certain triggers in general), so don’t violate submission guidelines by writing something that will make people wonder if you’re sane or turn your editor off to you.

Pacing

After you’ve written your hook, all your scenes following should be paced as if racing toward the climax. You’re not walking or building up to the climax, you’re running to it. A perfect example of how you should pace your story is by watching the promo trailer for Dragon Age: Origins. Here’s the link (Warning: Violence and Blood):

What did you see here if this was a story? An intrepid band of adventurers on a quest in monster-infested mountains filled with ice, snow, and death. There is the brief pause by the main character, a weapon is thrown from the ice and then boom, we are running through the action building up to the climax of the sorceress Morrigan casting a powerful lightning bolt that lays low the dragon. Did you note how fast the action moved and how it flowed from one character to the next? This is how your short story should flow from one scene to the next, and then building up to the climactic battle with the dragon at the end.

Master this and you’ll sweep your reader up for an intense ride with only a few thousand words.

Happy writing!

Nip the Naysayers

It is hard enough being a writer, sending your writing out only to receive rejection letters. But what about those around you who are critical of your passion for a career that pays little, but calls to your soul? I get criticism too. Often people tell me they see it as a hobby. It is not a hobby to me. It is my life. They don’t see it that way no matter what I tell them. I want to share some tips on how to ignore them, keep writing, and maintain your sanity.

A rejection letter is harsh. When your aunt or employment counselor chides you for not becoming a lawyer or an executive, it’s even harder. They make you grind your teeth at night and develop headaches because you feel like quitting writing just so they would be quiet. Well, take heart.

Writing, like the arts, doesn’t get much love from those who don’t see it the way we would like them too. From their perspective, it’s a dalliance, a hobby–or worse–a waste of time. To those of us who are serious, getting published in magazines or books is life or death. We love seeing our byline in a publication and are bit by the itch to get the next byline or the next publishing contract. We perfect our query letters and synopses to the best of our ability.

If you do sense you are under attack, perhaps telling people you are busy writing and closing the door to your writing studio will do the trick. Be assertive, but not overly upset and they should get the hint. We can’t change them. It is a sad fact of life, but we can change the way we respond to them. It’s not fair, but life is not fair.

Another great way to get naysayers off your back? I can think of two. One, you put honest effort in… and you are, right? Two, they see you succeeding at it. Then they will look forward to seeing your next published book or that article in the magazine you were dreaming of seeing yourself published in.

Never take the chiding or ridicule seriously. Maybe they are secretly jealous of you, seeing you reading your draft of your writing project, looking like you are not spending your time more responsibly and wishing they had the time to do what you are doing. It’s them, not you. Treat this the way you would if you got a rejection letter. File it away and keep writing. Keep writing because you are not writing for them; you are writing for you, the editors, your readers.

That’s what matters. Own it and be responsible for it. Getting angry is giving them another reason to harass you for not following your heart and work instead on an oil rig- -anything that makes “actual money!” See it from their perspective. If you follow all these suggestions, you may persuade them to see yours. They may even offer help or suggestions.

Good luck!