The Hidden Advantage Novelists Have in the Online World

We’re gearing up for a move in two weeks (just to nearby Alexandria, VA) and so I’m savoring these last few days in our apartment before it becomes a wasteland of boxes and messiness.

Whenever Jarrett rolls his eyes at me for being finicky about keeping the house neat, I have to remind him that it’s my authors that are to blame. (Rule #1 of Marriage: Outsource Blame.) I’ve learned so much from the home design and organizing books I’ve worked on over the years that it just tears me to pieces to have the house in disarray for weeks at a time during a move. I like everything in its place, okay? Order is good. Very, very good. And it keeps me from spending all day mentally editing what’s out of place and how I would revise it. (Occupational hazard…)

How I wished the house always looked:

literary agent home tour

And I’ll spare you the shot of how it looks mid-move…just imagine boxes to the ceiling and me whimpering under them.

Anyway, as most of you know, I’ve always specialized in nonfiction (except for an early foray into novels at the start of my career!), and so it’s been fascinating to see how rapidly the publishing landscape has evolved.

Early on, having a platform and a direct connection to readers mattered only in the nonfiction world. So us nonfiction folks got an early start on figuring out what the heck an online platform is, how it grows, and how it actually converts into book sales.  We’ve been tapping our little hammers at this platform mine for years, and we’ve seen where the gold lies and where it’s just coal.

But now that platform and audience-building is also becoming so important to novelists,  I wanted to let you guys know one important thing:

As a novelist, you have a hidden advantage in the online world.

the most important social media for novelists and writers

It’s an advantage I try to teach my nonfiction authors, but it’s one that’s already so deeply ingrained in novelists that it’s almost silly how easy it would be to capitalize on it and how much you would benefit from it.

That’s why I wrote a whole post about it at Writer Unboxed, who so generously hosted me in front of their wonderful community of fiction writers.

But nonfiction writers (and anyone looking to build a platform!), this applies to you, too! It’s easily the most common weakness I see in nonfiction authors, yet it’s not hard at all to train yourself to have this same advantage.

And chances are, if we were having a one-on-one coaching call, it’s one of the main things I would tell you to focus on!

Click here to read the full article at Writer Unboxed!


What I’m Reading

The Gone Girl With The Dragon Tattoo On The Train (Emily St. John Mandel for FiveThirtyEight): Why on earth does every book these days seem to have “girl” in the title? Answers lie on the other side of this door. Um, link.

Is “Best” Now the Worst Way to Describe a Recipe? (Sarah Jampel for Food52): It’s 2 p.m. on a Saturday, and you decide to make banana bread. So you Google “best banana bread” (because, of course, you don’t want to make mediocre banana bread, right?). Over 2 million results pop up. Why are there so many results, and which one is really the best? Sarah Jampel investigates (with a great cameo from Stonesong client, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen!).

How to Automate Your Book Marketing (Tim Grahl): Because the point of all these online tools is to help you sell books, even while you sleep, right? Here’s a fantastic step-by-step method for setting up a hands-off system for getting more email subscribers and selling more books.

Simon & Schuster Latches onto Podcast Trend With Launch of “Paper Donkey” (Ellen Harvey for Book Business Magazine): “The podcast launch is part of a larger movement among book publishers to develop original content about the books they create and the authors who write them. This original content can help publishers build a captive audience that they can then market and sell books to directly.”

New bookstore-cafe from Spike Gjerde, Ivy Bookshop owners to open Nov. 7 in Charles Village (Sarah Meehan for The Baltimore Sun): I’m always thrilled to see chef and bookstore collaborations, especially from one of my favorite Mid-Atlantic chefs. Congrats, Spike!

Thinking about NaNoWriMo? Read these two pieces first:

Have Trouble Getting That Book Done? Try Doing Less. (Ginger Moran on JaneFriedman.com): I know that it’s only week 1 of NaNoWriMo and everyone’s gearing up to do MUCH MORE, rather than less. But it’s worth reflecting on whether pressure and panic really lead to your most productive hours.

How NaNoWriMo Can Backfire (Kristen Kieffer of She’s Novel): Kristen–who chatted with us about why fiction writers should build platforms–shared in her email newsletter this week how she’d run herself so ragged preparing for NaNoWriMo that she’d fully burned out by the time November 1 rolled around. NaNo can be so much fun and a fantastic way to write alongside millions of people, but let’s not forget that we’re still aiming for quality output, and that that can only come from a rested and relaxed mind! (This post is only available to her email list, but I highly recommend signing up here–her newsletters are always a lot of fun!)

What We’re Eating

I’m off to NYC for a few days of meetings this week, so pickin’s are slim:

Monday: My favorite weekday pasta recipe with sausage, white wine, and kale. I’ll share the recipe with you all soon!

Tuesday: The Stonesong crew and I are off to see one of our authors, Doug the Pug, signing books at The Strand. Here’s his adorable Good Morning America appearance, or become one of his 5,000,000 (!) friends on Facebook.

Wednesday: Dinner at my grandma’s house usually means tortilla de patata. Happy sigh.

Thursday: Maybe Peruvian chicken from El Pollo Rico? It’s absolutely the most delicious roast chicken I’ve ever had. No ifs, ands, or buts. But here’s a great recipe for making your own peruvian chicken at home, from my lovely author Jenn of Once Upon a Chef.

Friday: Dinner at Virtue Feed & Grain with friends–happy Friday!

Saturday: I’m thinking of rolling up some fresh pasta dough this weekend and tossing it with a simple pesto. What are you thinking of cooking this weekend?

Cheers!

 

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4 Ways Introverts Can Get Comfortable with Video

instagram stories video for writers

But first, the publishing news worth reading this week:

Pete Wells Has His Knives Out (Ian Parker for The New Yorker): This is a fun and fascinating profile of Pete Wells, “the restaurant critic of the Times, who writes a review every week—and who occasionally writes one that creates a national hubbub about class, money, and soup.” It’s a great inside look at the massive influence traditional media still holds, and it’ll also make you hungry.

Instagram Stories: Your New Favorite Way to Engage With Readers? (Martine Ellis for The Write Life): “If Instagram Stories disappear after 24 hours, what’s the point? Authenticity, engagement, and exposure. Unpolished snapshots of someone’s day are far more interesting than a carefully crafted flat lay featuring scattered rose petals and a strategically placed — albeit irrelevant — pair of vintage scissors.”

How to Be Active on Social Media without Losing Your Mind (Kirsten Oliphant on Jane Friedman.com): “The biggest issue I hear from people struggling with online marketing is TIME. Many writers struggle to balance social media and writing or creative work. Since we don’t have the option to go back before the age of Twitter, we are left with a few options…”

Jennifer Egan on Writing, the Trap of Approval, and the Most Important Discipline for Aspiring Writers (Brain Pickings): “You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”

4 Ways Introverts Can Get Comfortable with Video (And Happy Pub Day to Damn Delicious!)

Hey everyone!

I’m baaaccckkk. After two magical weeks of being away for our wedding and mini-honeymoon, Jarrett and I are both back at it.

First things first: yes, I will be sharing wedding photos with you all here! I’ve had a few requests for them already, and I can’t wait to see them myself the very second they hit my inbox. With any luck, we’ll all see them by next week.

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7 Things You Can Do Today to Get on The Bestseller Track

7 Ways to Become a Bestselling Author (text)

But first, the publishing stories worth reading this week:

Amazon is Quietly Eliminating List Prices (David Streitfeld for The New York Times): A fascinating look at the deterioration of the list price/discount marketing tactic and how it’s influencing online commerce, including the massive online book business. I thought this was a must-read this week, and it’s definitely a trend worth watching for anyone involved in online commerce.

Training to Be a Good Writer (Leo Babuata of Zen Habits): “You get good by doing it a lot, and caring. You’ll never be perfect at it—goodness knows I’m far from perfect — but the only way to get better is to practice. And to care about what you’re doing. Do that every day, and every step of the struggle will be an amazing one.”

My Top 5 Favorite Marketing Books (Chad Cannon): “They say that reading is a key habit for success–that our society’s leading thinkers, investors, and decision-makers must be readers. I fully believe it’s true, and I love this quote from Warren Buffet. Once, when asked what his key to success is, he pointed to a stack of books and said: ‘Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.'”

Do You Lock Your Best Ideas in a Vault? (Benjamin Percy for JaneFriedman.com/Glimmer Train): “For every story or essay or poem you write, you withdraw one image, two characters, maybe three of the metaphors you have stockpiled—and then slam shut the vault and lock it with a key shaped like a skeleton’s finger. I used to be the same way, nervously rationing out my ideas.”

 

7 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Become a Bestselling Author Tomorrow

I hope everyone had a delicious and fun Fourth of July weekend! The fireworks in DC were a bust with all the rain, but Jarrett and I spent the first half of the long weekend exploring Louisville and Lexington. We ate:

  • Brisket and smoked sausage at the Blue Door Smokehouse (picked by Ashlea Halpern of Condé Nast Traveler as one of her two favorite BBQ joints in the country!)
  • The most glorious country ham on an Eggs Benedict at Proof on Main inside the 21C Museum
  • A 4-course tasting menu of delight at Edward Lee’s fantastic 610 Magnolia
  • Really very naughty sandwiches at Ouita Michel’s Wallace Station (that Hot Country Ham and Pimento Cheese sandwich…oh my.)
  • And because we couldn’t help ourselves: more of Ouita’s food at Smithtown Seafood. They’re participating in the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project that challenges chefs to create more sustainable burgers by adding mushrooms to their patties. This makes the burger better. In fact, it was the best burger of my life. Yes, I said it. Go try it and tell me if I’m not right.

I think we did some other stuff in between there, but mostly we ate, and a lot.

Which brings me to the question: what productive things can you do as a writer or blogger when you are, say, too gut-bombed on Southern food to concentrate on your manuscript? Not every moment needs to be write-or-die, and there are so many things that can contribute to your skill-set that have nothing to do with typing away.

Here are 7 of them, which I first covered for Bustle Books, and which I hope make for some easily digestible reading no matter how gluttonous your holiday was!

7 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Become a Bestselling Author Tomorrow

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How to Handle a Writing (or Kitchen) Disaster

Laurie Colwin Potato Salad recipe(short)

But first, the stories worth reading this week:

All the Food That’s Fit to Print: How Culinary Scientists are Building the Meal of the Future, Layer by Layer (Susie Neilson for The New Yorker): This is an absolutely fascinating look at what 3-D printing can do in the food world. If you don’t have time to read the full story, watch the 2-minute video here.

What Makes a Bestseller? Two SMP Authors Say They Know the Formula (Jim Milliot for Publisher’s Weekly): “What are the components a manuscript needs to become a bestseller? According to two St. Martin’s authors, Dave Eggers knows.” It’s also worth reading Mike Shatzkin’s rebuttal on The Shatzkin Files: “The idea that the odds a book will make the bestseller list can be calculated from the content of the book alone, without regard to consumer analysis, branding, or the marketing effort to promote the book, is ridiculous.”

Webinars & Summits: An Author’s Guide to Selling Books through Online Events (Chad Cannon): “Secret ingredients to sell books: win someone’s email address, demonstrate your authority and teach valuable content, strategically get in front of a captive audience. A killer way to do these three things online… for free… all in one fell swoop? Online events.”

Dissecting the Success of Malcolm Gladwell (The Tim Ferriss Show): A great listen for any fans of Gladwell who want to learn more about his writing process. One sneak peek: “’For every hour I spend writing, I spend three hours thinking about writing.’”

11 of Our Best Potato Salads (Sam Sifton for New York Times Cooking): This has nothing to do with publishing, but everything to do with your happiness this weekend. Seriously: do you have your potato salad game on lock for this weekend? Jarrett and I are ready–we special ordered Duke’s Mayo off of Amazon just to make the potato salad recipe you’ll see below. This is both something to be ashamed of and something to be very, very excited about. We’ll be making it tonight, so follow me on Twitter to see how it turns out!

How to Handle a Writing (or Kitchen) Disaster

Laurie Colwin Potato Salad recipe

Here’s something I hear myself saying to authors a lot: “It’s going to be okay—don’t worry!”

That’s because disasters happen. They always do. And that’s okay. There’s no good challenge you’ll take on that doesn’t experience a hiccup, change of course, or outright fiasco along the way.

It’s just like being in the kitchen—sometimes you perfectly poach that egg and other times you end up with egg on your face.

Which has happened to me. I tried to poach an egg in the microwave once, and it exploded in my face. At work. In front of other people. At a publishing house.

After a good cry in the bathroom and many, many paper towels to wipe the shell and yolk and mild burn marks off myself, I got it together and went back and sat at my desk like nothing had happened. And it was okay. And I laughed about it.

It’s the same thing with your manuscript or your book. Yes, it’s much more important, and deeply personal, and it’s your life’s work. There is no contesting that.

But it’s also all very fixable. What’s not fixable? Losing your health. Losing someone you love. Losing a part of yourself that guided you.

But plot tangles, photo shoot fiascos, endless rejections? They can’t really hurt you.

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