Here’s Why Guest Articles are Important for Authors

How to Use Guest Articles to Build Your Author Brand

Developing your author brand can feel like a long and confusing process. It’s difficult to know where to begin or what to focus on. After all, there are so many options—countless avenues to explore! It may help to start with something you, as an author, are already familiar with: writing.

What are guest articles, anyway?

You may have experience blogging regularly on your website or sending out email newsletters to your subscribers. While these are important and worthwhile strategies, this isn’t quite what we’re referring to when talking about guest articles. A guest article (or guest post) is usually any piece of writing an author produces that is published on a third-party hosting site—a medium (website, newsletter, magazine, etc.) that does not belong to the author.

Most hosting sites will want first-publication rights for an article, meaning they want content that was written exclusively for them. So, unless they specifically approve a reprint or an excerpt, any article you submit should not have appeared anywhere else before, in print or online.

In addition to first-publication rights, most sites are looking for the following in an article:

  • Originality. What are you saying that hasn’t already been said?
  • Expertise. Why should you be the person who says it?
  • Timeliness. Why does this matter now?

You may feel limited by this at first—especially if you’re used to blogging on your own terms—but there’s actually a lot of flexibility here! The term guest article is really an umbrella category that encompasses a wide array of content, from casual blog posts to formal op-eds.

How do I find the right media outlet to share my article?

Researching the right outlet to approach will take a bit of time. While there’s no one-size-fits-all method for finding a perfect match, you can narrow your focus by considering a few key elements, each of which relates to your author brand:

  • Style. Do you prefer a more casual or formal style? What adjectives would you use to describe your writing?Newspapers usually feature academic, journalistic, opinionated, and of-the-moment pieces. Blogs, digital magazines, and niche newsletters often share more laid-back, relatable, humorous, or specialized articles from guest authors.
  • Audience. Who do you want to reach? Who could benefit from hearing your message?If your article offers writing advice, it would be wise to contact magazines and websites that cater to fellow writers. If your topic is highly specialized, try pitching specific publications that reach readers in your field of expertise.
  • Message. What topics do you feel passionate about? What conversations are you always having with friends, colleagues, and fans?You don’t need me to tell you that your message is a huge part of your brand. You likely have a few main themes that come up in your writing, or several talking points you lean on during interviews. That being said, while it’s important to have cohesive messaging, it’s also OK to branch out into new territory every now and then. Follow your passion and your interests!

How do I pitch a guest article?

First, double check to make sure the media outlets you want to approach publish articles from guest authors. Read a few pieces and take time to explore the outlet. Confirm it’s a good fit for you in terms of style, audience, and message.

Second—and I cannot emphasize this enough—check for submission instructions! Newspapers, magazines, and blogs often have their instructions clearly listed on their website. Submission requirements vary from outlet to outlet. Some may want to see a full article already written, whereas others may prefer to see a list of potential topics you can write on. It’s important that you adhere to these guidelines in order to have the best chance at success.

Third, follow up. Unless their guidelines say otherwise, it should be OK for you to check in if you don’t hear back within a week or two.

How do guest articles benefit me as an author?

Ah, the million-dollar question. Guest articles do require some heavy lifting from you as a writer, but you’ll certainly reap the benefits! These articles are designed to help you:

  • Reflect your expertise. You’re an author, and that means you’re an expert, both in terms of writing craft and the topic you write on. Publishing articles can help you secure your place as an authority in your field.
  • Reach a new audience. Getting your writing published with a new media outlet exposes your work to a new audience, connecting your message directly with readers who may not have heard of you or your book yet!
  • Get your name in front of readers. This is obvious, right? Publishing guest articles is especially helpful for authors who are between book releases and want to keep their name on readers’ radars in the interim.
  • Improve your SEO. If you’re able to link to your website or social media accounts at the end of your article, that can help improve your search engine optimization! Once your article is published, you can also link back to it on your website. This way, you’ll be driving traffic in both directions.
  • Help others. One of the many goals of writing is to help others. So, share your expertise and wisdom—make the world a better place!
  • Become better acquainted with your message, passions, and talking points. While you’re helping others, you’re also helping yourself. As you dive deeper into your favorite topics and begin to crystallize your message, you may find it easier to do various other authorial tasks, such as answering interview questions or writing social media posts.

At the end of the day, guest articles shouldn’t feel like a dark cloud looming over you. They are a fun opportunity to play to your strengths, explore your interests, connect with new readers, and solidify your branding. And, since they don’t necessarily need to be published around your publication date, you can start writing articles and pitching them anytime. Why not now?

Video games spark author’s creative passion and inspire debut novel

To celebrate National Video Game Day, Books Forward author Mark A. Alvarez II is dishing on how one popular game became the catalyst for his creative pursuits and ultimately led to the 10-year endeavor of crafting his first novel.

“Why defy your fate?”
“Is the will to live that powerful..?”

These are words from the ending of “Final Fantasy IX,” the first Final Fantasy game I ever played and the first ending to any story to make me cry. I still remember it so clearly, watching every scene, listening to the score, feeling so moved by the words that came across the screen. It mesmerized me in such a way, it’s hard to forget.

To this day, I’ve yet to come across a game that has affected me as much as “Final Fantasy IX” (which is soon to have its own animated series). Granted, I was 8 when I first played and beat this game, but the ending to this game and the story overall would impact me long after that as I became more and more obsessed with the themes it exposed to me.

I know this might seem unlikely or rather unheard of, but the day I watched that ending would shape me as a writer more than anyone could ever know. But come on … a video game? How does that even happen? What can a writer learn from a video game, especially a budding one at the tender age of 8?

Even if I didn’t know it at the time, that game would sow the seeds of inspiration I needed to explore the darkest parts of myself, the parts of my life I struggled to face alone. This story spoke to me for reasons I was oblivious but obviously drawn to. And it did so with brilliant writing, a colorfully immersive world and an amazing score — among the best of any game I’ve ever heard.

Which brings me to “Dutybound: Light Wings Epic Vol. 1,” my debut novel. In reality, I started writing this story in 2009. But the story’s conception started long before that, while I was a kid fantasizing about building my own world, my own fantasy, my own game with a story as compelling as that of my favorite role-playing game.

Originally, I imagined Light Wings as a video game, inspired by “Final Fantasy IX.” I drew storyboards. I wrote character profiles. I even fleshed out roles, abilities and weapons for each of my characters.

Little did I know this would be the foundation I would build “Dutybound” upon. Pieces of this imaginary game would become the backstory as I introduced a new generation of characters by my freshman year of high school, the year I started writing my first draft of what was then called “Light Wings: Sinful Wishes,” desiring a fresh take on the philosophies I so eagerly sought to understand.

The connections between “Final Fantasy IX” and “Dutybound” lie in the themes they present and how each applied to my distinct outlooks and philosophies of life. 

“Final Fantasy IX,” as light-hearted as it is, dealt with some of the darkest topics to be explored in a Final Fantasy game. It posed questions of life and its purpose as many of the game’s characters had to come to terms with their creation and, ultimately, the finality of a death that was inevitable.

Its ending theme, “Melodies of Life,” presents something similar: a song about grief and loss that illustrates it as something bittersweet rather than tragic and all-consuming.

As an 8-year-old, I had already faced two near-death experiences. First, as a newborn and then as an infant when I was shot in the face by my younger brother. It’s no surprise why I would be drawn to these themes. Even if I didn’t quite understand them, they resonated because in those tight moments within my childhood, when things felt the most dark and hopeless, I often wondered why I survived those experiences. I pondered whether my life held a purpose because I was born into a life that felt nothing more than a series of mistakes. My birth, potentially, being one of them.

In truth, I was born of infidelity. My mother was unfaithful to her husband and had a son, a fatherless child, who was given a name that should have not been his. My younger brother was Mark Aaron Alvarez’s true-born son. Mark Aaron Alvarez II, however; I was a bastard. Nothing more, nothing less. At least that’s what I believed at the time. Despite this, it was in not knowing that second half of myself that I found myself exploring new possibilities and seeking to define my place, my destiny, and my purpose.

“We do not want to forget this. We want your memory to live on forever… To remind us that we were not created for the wrong reason — that our life has meaning.”

As I began to construct my somber tale of light and dark, I faced these challenges within myself, seeded by the imaginative and epic game that filled me with so much inspiration. I had to come to terms with aspects of my life I could not change, while also finding meaning in these events, as unfortunate as they may seem. Not knowing my real father or lineage. Being born of infidelity. Feeling like a mistake. Surviving tragic events that in some ways made my life feel meaningless. These issues, along with everything else, is a lot for a child to process. And in hindsight, I can say “Final Fantasy IX” was my first escape. Its story was the first I ever felt truly connected to. 

The game was an accessible way for me to cope with issues I didn’t quite understand, while my writing became a medium for me to explore my own doubts and fears about living in a world where I felt I had no place. A world where I felt alone. Where I could not find answers within my favorite video game, I sought to answer on my own, within a story, world, and fantasy I created, my second escape.

“What to do when I felt lonely, that’s the only thing you couldn’t teach me. But we need to figure out the answers for ourselves.”

“Dutybound” is a unique story, but it is also a personal one. My ego played no part in writing it. I didn’t write this story because I wanted to write a best-seller or be seen as an incredible writer, or even pitch it as a video game. The Light Wings Epic was written as a personal journey of introspection, as a means to come to terms with an unpredictable and turbulent life. And it would not exist if I never played “Final Fantasy IX” or been exposed to those themes of life, death and finding a purpose.

And for that, I’m immensely grateful. Because it was in not knowing that I found myself stumbling into something incredible, discovering that life is more than the circumstances we are born into. Our lives and our light come from the inside, from our own convictions, from our own choices. We will always hold the ability to choose the way we’d like to live our lives. And our choices will always be intricately connected to the things we desire most out of life. 

“How did you survive?”

“I didn’t have a choice. I had to live. I wanted to come back to you. So… I sang your song. Our song.”

Did your book’s publication date shift? Here’s why that’s OK

I, for one, hate change. I’m a planner and a list-maker, and switching gears makes me dizzy. Checklists, deadlines and color-coded markers are the backbone of our society, sure, but when plans change, it’s better to adapt than to fight it out.

Why do publication dates change?

Publication dates can shift for a variety of reasons. However, it’s important to keep in mind that in every case, your team may suggest a date change because they believe your release would be more successful on a different day. Your team knows that publishing a book is more often a marathon than a sprint. While detours may add a mile or two to the journey, they can also better prepare you for crossing the finish line.

Here are a few common reasons for moving a book’s release date:

Production Delays: From editing and designing to printing and shipping ARCs, a lot of work goes into production, and there are often several eyes and hands working on a book all at once. A thorough publishing process opens up the possibility for delays. Editors often factor time into their schedule for a few things to go wrong. Even so, if a snag is hit in one department, it may cause others to fall behind too.

Unforeseen Circumstances: The pandemic is one of the most monumental unforeseen circumstances we’ve encountered in a while. Due to its impact on travel, many books that had planned in-person book tours had to adjust their schedules. To see some of the hundreds of altered publication dates, check out this spreadsheet from Publishers Weekly.

Competition for Media Attention: Say the planned publication date for your book was set for Election Day, or a similarly newsworthy date. As the day approaches, and you realize the impending media frenzy, your team may decide to move your release date out in order to give it a better shot at securing publicity.

Catching the Trend Wave: Book releases can also shift to earlier dates on the calendar! Typically, this is because your team is looking to capitalize on a seasonal or topically relevant trend that would help your book reach a larger audience.

How to make your date change work for you

If you haven’t begun promoting the book yet, it will be relatively easy to make a radical change, should you choose to do so. You can switch from a summer release to a fall one, for example, which was the route many publishers chose in light of the pandemic.

Or, if you’re simply recovering from a small production delay, your date may only shift back one or two weeks. In any case, let your publicist know about your date change ASAP, if they aren’t already in the know. This will be important as they begin to create press materials and organize their outreach to the media.

What if promotion has already begun using the old date?

If you’ve already begun promoting the book, a date change may feel a bit more stressful. Rest assured, though, it’s still manageable!

First, you’ll need to let your publicity team know ASAP about the new date. Your publicist may need to update interested media contacts, and they’ll want to have the correct information for their pitching moving forward.

Plan to spread the word of your date change on social media–here is where a pinned tweet may come in handy! A pinned tweet allows you to showcase one tweet at the top of your profile page, so it won’t get buried at the bottom of your feed over time. Pinning a tweet about your date change will make sure that it stays on your readers’ radars. If you’ve never pinned a tweet before, here are some helpful tips from Business Insider.

Also, be sure to make any necessary changes to your website and Twitter and Facebook banners. You may need to have new graphics made accordingly.

If you are using an email newsletter to keep friends, family, and fans updated, you should send out a special announcement of the date change as well.

What if readers forget about my book or lose interest due to the delay?

This is a valid concern, but it’s equally possible for the delay to translate into added anticipation for the release!

When in doubt, get creative: ask yourself what you can offer to readers that will be sure to keep your book on the forefront of their minds. This will likely look different for every author depending on your audience’s needs, but here are a few options to get you started:

You can plan a special giveaway in the interim, such as offering free signed bookplates to your audience. Or, you can set up a FB Live chat for your would-be pub day, where you play a few games and answer questions from your followers.

In the end, publication days may change, but our love for a good book never will.

 

How to Create the “Perfect” Writing Schedule

As an author (or an aspiring author), you’ve probably felt the pressure to be “more disciplined” in your writing life at some point. Maybe someone told you you should get up every morning and write for two hours before work. Maybe you heard that you should carry a small notebook at all times, and scribble inspiration daily. Or maybe you’ve simply heard other writers wax poetic about their incredibly regular and productive writing schedules, and thought “I should be more like that.”

If you are one of those writers who already has an incredibly disciplined and productive writing schedule, we would warmly invite you to continue doing whatever it is that you’re doing, because this post isn’t going to help you very much. But if you’re one of those writers who feels like you should have a writing schedule that resembles a well-oiled machine, then stick around, because we’re going to let you in on a little secret.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

The perfect writing schedule doesn’t exist.

But what about all of those incredibly disciplined and productive writers who we just cordially invited to exit this post–don’t they have the perfect writing schedules?

Simply put: no. What they have is a writing schedule that works for them (or so they say). And there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for that.

Writing is highly personal and individual. Your writing schedule should be too.

In a Reddit post (before he published his blockbuster novel The Fault in Our Stars), mega-bestselling author John Green said,

“I think a lot of writers lie about their schedules and discipline. (I know I do.) We do this so that people will think that we are, like, extremely disciplined and hard-working and whatever. I try to write every day (except for when I’m traveling, which is quite a lot of the time) for five hours in the morning, but you may notice that it is morning right now, and I am not technically working on my new story.”

Let’s put this bold: If you try to shove your writing time into a schedule that doesn’t work for you, you will damage your writing time–or worse, you will stop writing.

Here are some questions that will help you design a writing schedule that actually fits you:

  1. Realistically, how much time can you devote to writing each week, after your other obligations, social activities, and (yes this is important) rest time are adequately fulfilled? Maybe you’ll find you can write for five hours per day, like John Green is pretending to. Maybe you’ll find you only have an hour per week, or a couple hours per month. That’s ok. Choose a time slot that fits your lifestyle, because the more realistic you are with the time you have available, the more accessible (and productive!) your writing time will become.
  2. Do you work best when you complete tasks at the same time every day, or when you diversify and adapt your schedule daily? Some people enjoy–and even require–a routine. But others work best when they adapt their daily activities around the demands of each individual day. Variation is a part of life, and that’s ok! The important thing is to be honest about what approach works for you.
  3. Are there little things you can do to reward yourself for a productive writing time–and also forgive yourself for an unproductive writing time? Writing is not always its own reward–it’s hard work! Find little ways to reward yourself for every period of time that you take to write. Conversely, don’t beat yourself up if a writing sesh (or two, or three) was not as productive as you hoped.

The important thing is that you are actively seeking to create workable writing opportunities for yourself–and with time, practice, and a hefty dose of realism and self-acceptance, you will get there!

Interview: Joining Susannah Felts on The Porch

Have you ever wanted to improve your writing through amazing writing classes, participate in absorbing literary events, and meet other fascinating authors, poets, journalists, essayists and wordsmiths? Look no further than The Porch in Nashville, Tennessee. The Porch is a nonprofit writing center, offering workshops, youth outreach, and events to enrich and celebrate the local literary community.

Today on the blog, we’re sitting down with Susannah Felts, co-founder and co-director of The Porch to learn more about what it takes to run a successful writers collective, and how this organization improves not only the individual writing craft of its participants, but elevates the literary community as a whole.

1). What is The Porch? What do you do?

The Porch is a nonprofit literary arts organization, founded in 2014, and our mission is to inspire, educate, and connect readers and writers of all ages and stages through classes and literary events. We offer classes in creative writing year-round, a youth program, public community events, initiatives to expand literary access, local arts partnerships, and the Porch Prize, a writing contest. There’s always something going on!

2). How did The Porch originate, and how did you get involved?

The Porch was founded by myself and Katie McDougall in 2014. We met in a writing group at a moment when both of us were ready for a new challenge, and we shared enthusiasm about the idea of a local literary center for Nashvillle. Prior to founding the Porch, Katie was teaching high-school English and I worked as freelance writer/editor and adjunct college professor. For several years before The Porch came to be, I was also teaching writing workshops in the community on my own, held at a coffee shop near my house (shout-out to Portland Brew East!) or around my dining room table. That small-scale effort was going really well, and I kept thinking, This could be something more, something bigger. But how? Katie had dabbled in offering writing retreats, too. So, together, we made this new thing happen, taking a lot of inspiration and advice from helpful mentors: local arts organizations and established literary centers in other cities.

3). What are the benefits of being involved in a writers community like The Porch? How have you seen writers evolve and grow?

Writers, like all artists/creators, need community. You may do the bulk of the work alone at your desk, but the sharing of ideas and feedback and resources that happens in a writing community is what really shapes a writing life. So many sparks fly this way. Writers connect in ways that can both move their work forward and help them navigate the waters of the publishing world, if they choose to wade in. Work evolves, lasting friendships are forged, audiences are found. Art is never really forged in isolation. We’ve seen many writers form lasting writing groups and relationships after taking our classes, and we’ve seen them publish and enter MFA programs. This spring we have someone teaching for us whom we first met when they took a class with us. They went on to earn an MFA out of state, and now they’re back! I love seeing the work come full circle. Seven years in, we’ve seen so many writing lives evolve and intersect in wonderful ways.

4). The Porch organizes a diverse array of literary events and initiatives. What kind of planning and work goes into creating your events? What advice would you give to fellow writers who want to successfully organize and/or participate in an event?

I love this question, because a lot more planning and work goes into running events and programs that some may believe! There are several stages and moving parts to even a small event, and all along you’re hoping to build relationships that will continue to grow long after a single event is complete. It takes a lot of love and effort and stamina to program and to keep programs going. Advice? Start small, and give yourself as much time to plan an event as you can. Collaboration is a beautiful thing, but maybe be mindful not to bring too many cooks into the kitchen. But above all, just learn as you go, and know that you’re going to make mistakes and that is absolutely a healthy part of the process.

If you’re eager to participate in an event — for example, to read in a regular reading series — try to be an enthusiastic audience member first. Show up for others, listen to and read their work. Be a genuine part of the world you want to see your work highlighted in, and the rest will probably come naturally.

5). In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

Being a successful writer means figuring out what feeds your creative spirit and then consistently doing and thinking about those things, then acting on that “source material” to create work that matters to you. I could go on at length about this, but there are all kinds of ways, small and large, that you can shape your life to make it more conducive to writing, and doing that in itself is a kind of success. You don’t have to write every day, but some level of consistency will make a huge difference; as with other practices of all kinds, it pays to use those muscles regularly. Being a successful writer means reading, reading, reading, and learning to see books as your mentors, as Katie always says. Don’t confuse a successful writing life with a successful publishing life; these often intertwine, but they are two separate things. And try not to get too hung up on the idea of success at all. “Success” is such an emotionally loaded concept, and not always a useful one for a creative life. Much of a writing life feels or looks or smells like failure — is failure — and honestly, you have to be OK with that.

Learn more about The Porch here: https://www.porchtn.org
Follow The Porch on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

What is a street team and how should I use it?

As an author, have you ever thought about just how great it would be if you had a network of friends you knew would be dedicated to helping you promote your book? Sound like a fantasy?

Enter the street team.

A street team is a group of readers that help you promote your book, usually the most loyal fans of your previous books, or books in similar genres.

The relationship built between author and team members is beneficial for both parties. Team members will have access to their favorite author (you!) as well as other exclusive content. And as an author, you’ll have a team dedicated to promoting your upcoming book by posting and talking about it to their network of followers and friends — building up buzz ahead of your book’s launch!

How to recruit team members

The first step after deciding to compose a street team is, of course, recruiting members. If this is your first time getting a team together, try and shoot for between 20-50 members initially. More is great! But keep in mind you’ll have to keep track of if everyone is doing their part and promoting on their end. Exclusivity also helps make everyone on the team feel more special as well. A fun way to cement that exclusivity: Consider coming up with a creative team name!

And remember, team members need to be active online. There will be opportunities to promote your book in person — like talking with a bookseller or book club — but word-of-mouth will be most effective online and on social media.

Where to find members

  • Reach out to friends and family who would be a good fit
  • Check in with any beta readers you may already have
  • Go through previous relationships with book bloggers and people who have previously reviewed your book
  • If you’re promoting the next book in a series or a book similar to a previous work, reach out to people who have positively reviewed your book on Goodreads, NetGalley, Edelweiss, etc.
  • Announce in your mailing list, newsletter or on social media that you’re looking for team members

Have people fill out a Google Form so you can go through and pick who would be best for the team, or create a form/page on your website where they can enter info. Ask them things like what social media accounts they have, other books they’ve read in your book’s genre, any specific ideas for how they’d like to see your book promoted, etc. Consider keeping a tab on your website where people can request to join and you can consider building up your team for future books.

How to communicate with your team

So how do you keep track of communication with members once you’ve assembled your team? You’ll need to have an online space where all members can have access. Consider creating a private page on your website that only team members can access with a password. Or an easy option: Create a private Facebook page with just you and members — just make sure everyone in your team has a Facebook account!

Wherever you decide to keep team communication, you should make it a goal to post here regularly as well (we know, basically another social media platform!!). But interaction is important: It helps team members get to know you and vice versa. And it builds a great relationship with your team for future releases.

Notes on communication

  • Try and keep content focused around you and your book. After all, the goal of your street team is to promote your work!
  • Organize things like author interviews/takeovers with other authors to cross-promote and provide new content for your team members.
  • Make sure your team has access to any kind of promotional materials, both digital and physical. This could be bookmarks they can pass out to friends or flyers, stickers, buttons, etc. that they can drop off at local bookstores and libraries.
  • And again, exclusivity is important! When making announcements, make sure team members are one of the first — if not the first — group you reach out to and alert of something new. For instance, if you’re planning a cover reveal, your team should be able to see the cover before the general public.
  • You can also consider hosting a special launch event/party with just team members to celebrate all their hard work leading up to your book’s launch!

How to incentivize team members

It’s important to keep your team active and engaged during the book promotion process. The easiest way to do that is to create a challenge system where members must complete a task to receive a special reward, i.e.: After they post about the book on all their social media accounts, they’ll get a sneak peek of a future book excerpt. For bigger challenges/rewards, you can have drawings for prizes, i.e.: If someone gets a book club to read your book, they can be entered for a video chat session with you.

Potential rewards for your system

  • First access to any advance reader copies
  • Early access to extra written content like short stories, prequels,
  • Signed copies of books
  • If they aren’t already, consider allowing them to be beta readers for future novels
  • Sneak peeks at cover and title reveals, excerpts from future books etc.
  • Early and/or exclusive access to content on your author website or blog
  • Bonus book-related content like printable artworks, maps, bookmarks etc.
  • A video chat session with you (or potentially with an author friend as well if you’re working on cross-promoting!)
  • Promotion of your team members’ blogs and social media accounts on your own channels
  • A shoutout in the acknowledgements section of subsequent books

Potential challenges for members

  • Have them leave reviews of your book(s) on Amazon, Goodreads, Bookbub, other bookseller sites, their own personal blogs, etc.
  • Posting Instagram photos (if you don’t already have a hashtag around your book/series, now would be a good time to think of one!)
  • If they have a blog, hosting you for an interview or guest post.
  • Sharing others’ reviews and social media posts about you and your books
  • Sharing your blog posts and reposting posts from your social media accounts
  • Posting shoutouts of you and your book on their own social media channels
  • Talking about and recommending your book(s) to their family members, friends, etc.
  • Requesting your book(s) at their local libraries and suggesting them to any book clubs

There’s no set limit on how often you dish out challenges and rewards, but weekly challenges are a good goal to shoot for. You want challenges to be often enough to keep members active and engaged, but you don’t want to give them too many challenges that they are overwhelmed. Being a team member should be fun — not a chore!

Organize your system in the beginning of your book promotion period so that as the weeks go on, all you have to do is keep track of if team members are completing the challenges. And don’t forget to let everyone know that the rewards are not the main purpose of the team: They’re a way of thanking team members. The goal is to get the word out about you and your book to new readers!

 

Interview: Brynn Markham on Finding Writing Community and Support Through James River Writers

“Writing is hard and it can be isolating. Community provides the vital support to keep going. James River Writers provides that community.” This was the ethos that inspired James River Writers, and it has kept this dynamic, active, and connected collective of wordsmiths thriving ever since.

Today on our blog, we’re sitting down with Brynn Markham, Director of Programs and Communications for JRW, to discuss how this multifaceted group helped revitalize Richmond’s literary scene, and why writing communities can help improve and support each member’s individual craft.

1). What is and who are James River Writers? What does your writing community do?

James River Writers (JRW) is a nonprofit that builds community by connecting, supporting, and inspiring writers. We provide programming year-round to help writers at all skill levels develop their craft, as well as the business side of their work. In addition to our signature event, the Annual James River Writers Conference, we offer Master Classes, a Writing Show series, on-demand Encore! classes, and opportunities to socialize and connect through our monthly Writers Wednesday events.

2). How did JRW originate, and how did you get involved?

JRW was founded 20 years ago (next year!) when local writers in Richmond, Virginia, saw a need for supporting the growth of its budding literary community. This small group of writers hosted its first conference the following year, and James River Writers has continued to grow its membership and program offerings exponentially since then.

As a nonprofit communications professional in the Greater Richmond area, my work with public media (VPM PBS/NPR) connected me to James River Writers through my community engagement efforts. As a lover of writing, especially poetry, I always admired JRWs work from afar, and wanted to get involved with their efforts, both professionally and personally. In the fall of 2019, I made the decision to leave my work at VPM, in order to provide space for the perfect opportunity to come along. I wanted a flexible workplace that fueled my passions and allowed me to continue to work in Richmond’s nonprofit sector. James River Writers was the perfect fit. I now have the opportunity to add value to the community I live in, while also (selfishly?) benefiting from being inspired by talented writers every day!

3). What are the benefits of being involved in a writers community like JRW? How have you seen writers evolve and grow?

I joined JRW in February of 2020, right before COVID hit. As a result, I was only able to host two in-person events before we made the pivot to online programming, including hosting our signature event, the Annual James River Writers Conference, virtually.

I definitely had reservations about whether I would be able to effectively connect to our community in a meaningful way when there were no “live” options to do so. But this community of writers is nothing short of amazing, and my reservations were completely unfounded. Our membership is highly engaged and extremely supportive of one another. I’ve mentioned several times to everyone that you can plan all the details of an event or program, but if the participants and presenters are not authentic and personable, your planning is for naught. It’s the people that make an organization. The relationships within James River Writers are what make it such a success. Our seasoned presenters and instructors, like Newbery Medalist Meg Medina and Emmy Award-Winner Hank Phillippi Ryan, genuinely want to see our budding writers succeed. Our new members want to learn and be in community with one another. As one of our long-time members, accomplished author Karen A. Chase has said, “JRW…is so wonderful at championing all writing genres, encouraging diversity, and giving rise to varied viewpoints. If you’re a JRW member, as you grow and gain successes, you’re always welcomed back in to share that knowledge with writers coming up. JRW is the ladder of success, and it’s always there for everyone whether they’re on their first book, or their fourteenth.”

Writing is hard and it can be isolating. Community provides the vital support to keep going. James River Writers provides that community.

4). The James River Writers Conference appears to be your flagship event. What goes into creating a successful writers conference? What advice would you give to writers who want to make the most of their participation in a writers conference (whether they’re part of a panel or event, or just going as an attendee)?

Yes, our Annual James River Writers Conference, held in October every year, is our flagship event.

Because my first JRW Conference was hosted online, one of our main concerns was whether or not we would be able to recreate that sense of connection and community that keeps everyone coming back to us. Luckily, our attendees and speakers overwhelmingly told us that they were amazed at how connected they felt during our conference, in this online space. To do so, we not only incorporated the important professional development opportunities to teach the business and craft of writing, we also included ample opportunities to network and connect with other writers, as well as time to benefit from one anothers’ perspectives in more relaxed settings. As a writer, to make the most out of your time, force yourself to come out of your shell (so many of us tend to fight this), establish some new contacts, and then continue to connect after the conference. Writing is most definitely a marathon. You need someone to cheer you on, and to offer you refreshment along the path when you need it.

5). What suggestions would you make to writers who want to join–or get “more” out of–a dedicated writing group or workshop?

I would suggest that, in order to get the most out of writing groups, you do actively have to participate. Don’t just pop in to ask a specific question, or to make a specific contact, and then never be seen again. Some of the best moments that result in next steps for writers come from conversations with others before and after our programs. And, whatever time and energy you put into your community of writers, you’ll get back tenfold. Our community celebrates the successes of one another, both privately and publicly. Many times, they collaborate on events when their works present natural opportunities to do so. Writers are some of the most supportive people because they know how hard it can be. You’ll never see a successful writer only singing their own praises.

I also highly recommend building up your contacts on social media, and following those writers, agents, and publishers that align with your work. This will help you stay informed of submissions opportunities and industry trends, and feel inspired and seen on the days you just can’t seem to get any words on paper.

6). In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

This is a tricky question, because the answer is most definitely different for everyone. And, depending on where you are on your writing journey it also changes for the individual. Success for a writer can be as simple as setting a goal and keeping to the measures you set to get there. Showing up each day and putting “pen to paper.” If you start measuring your success by industry standards, then that’s likely to keep you from getting you where you want to be. As a recent presenter on one of our panels put it – Are you still having fun? Enjoying yourself? If not, then stop and think about why that is. Are you constantly stopping the flow of ideas because you’re obsessed with the editing or word choices, at every turn? If so, change course. You’re probably not focusing on the writing, but on that goalpost.

If you’re interested in checking out James River Writers, a great entry point is our free monthly Writers Wednesdays events. Now offered online, and open to writers at all levels of expertise, Writers Wednesdays offer a chance to network and socialize in a relaxed environment. We’d love for you to join our community of writers.

Learn more about James River Writers here: https://jamesriverwriters.org
Follow James River Writers on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Why are romance novels most commonly published in paperback?

Ever wonder why romance novels are always published in paperback? During quarantine, I’ve been reading a LOT of romance, and every time I get a new romance novel from the bookstore or a publisher, I noticed they’re always published as paperback. Typically, when a book is first published, they’re produced as hardcover. Hardcover books are more expensive, and can drive a higher profit for publishers in the first six months to a year of a book’s life. It’s after that point that publishers will continue printing the book, but in paperback.

But why is romance different? Why do these books begin their careers as paperback books as opposed to the more expensive and higher quality hardcover?

The short answer is DEMAND. Historically, romance has been the best-selling genre of books in existence. Of course, this fluctuates and changes, and in recent years, we’ve seen an increase in true crime and thriller genres — but from a standpoint of how the industry started, romance was always the highest in demand. Paperbacks are not only cheaper to produce, but they are also easier. So when romance novels were flying off of the shelves, it made sense to get them into the hands of readers as quickly (and cheaply) as possible.

Mass-market paperback novels are also extremely popular in the romance genre. Mass-market paperback novels are the kind you can find for $5 to $10 at airport, grocery stores, etc. They’re often much smaller and more compact than the average paperback. Perfect for tossing in your purse or on-the-go reading! I’ve bought them before simply because they’re the biggest bang for my buck, though admittedly they hurt my eyes!

Notice where they are sold … they’re sold in places that are most convenient to their target audience; middle-aged women. They’re also sold at an affordable price that can act as an add on to any order. I’ve personally been guilty of adding one to my cart at Target simply because it didn’t make that big of a dent in the grocery list, and I doubted that my husband would even notice.

So there you have it; our consistent and constant demand of these spicy, salacious stories are what make them produced at such an affordable price, even right out of the gate. A huge thanks to the publishers for giving us fresh, affordable titles — we see you, and appreciate you for looking out for us and our grocery shopping!

Why it’s important to take a great author headshot

When releasing a book, there are a lot of moving pieces. Of course writing the book and marketing the book takes precedence, but a lot of smaller steps can be overlooked and may have a huge impact!

First impressions are everything. Especially in a digital world – our eyes naturally gravitate towards book covers, websites, social media platforms and the quality each of those possess. We often refer to the “restaurant” metaphor: If you have two restaurants side by side, one is empty, run down, dark lighting, unclear of what their menu will look like versus a full restaurant, well lit, bustling and beautiful restaurant – which one are you most likely to go into? Consider this when building your profile. Is your website warm and welcoming? Does it look like a real person or just advertisements? This way of thinking narrows right down to your author headshot. Did you scroll through the dark depths of your photo roll and pick a picture from 10 years ago? Is it blurry? Is your pet in it? These are all things you want to avoid when settling on an author headshot.

Photography can be expensive, but if you can get professional photos done, we highly recommend including this in your marketing budget. You can hire locally for headshots and press shots, and these photos will work for radio, newspaper, your press release and beyond. Having these photos can go a long way and will keep your brand looking professional.

If you are on a tight budget, there are options. You can hire a college student, somebody who is looking for experience in photography – perhaps they need for their final project and will take your headshots at no or low cost. Another option is asking a family member or friend to help you take photos. Most phones these days come with high quality cameras.

All you need is good lighting (natural lightning works best, or invest in a ring light – these are also great for Zoom interviews!) a plain background and the editing tool in your phone. Refrain from using filtered apps for your headshot, as these can really tamper with the quality of the image. Focus on slightly and subtly brightening and adding a little bit of contrast. And take multiple shots – you’ll want options to choose from! Don’t be shy to get the best author headshots you can to represent your book.

All in all, remember to be current and stay relevant. You are an author, and that needs to be clear and concise when people see your headshot on the back of your book and the front of your social media platforms. This is your business. It may be a small part of the bigger picture, but it’s an important one that will help sell your book.

What are reader newsletters and how can they help me?

Authors are always trying to find new ways to reach readers and get their book to as many people as possible. There are a lot of ways to achieve this, but one of the more successful strategies is by submitting for reader newsletters.

So, what are reader newsletters?

Reader newsletters are essentially tools for book promotion. They are free to readers, and publishers or authors pay to have their book included. A newsletter is sent out to subscribers advertising books that are on sale, or even free, for a limited time.

The cost to have your book included varies based on the newsletter but it can range from around ten dollars to hundreds of dollars. This usually has to do with the audience you are reaching. 

These newsletters are all about offering bargains for their subscribers, which means that to run a book promotion through them, you usually drop your e-book price between $0-$3.99 for 3-5 days. This is what draws readers in to buying your book. 

It is a great way to gain exposure and get some sales. Often these promotions increase your standing in Amazon rankings, which also gets your book seen by more people. 

Many newsletters allow you to target a specific genre which means that the people seeing your book in the newsletter are the type of person who is most likely to buy your book.

It is important, however, to try and pick newsletters that often see good results. You ideally want to generate at least enough sales to pay for the promotion.

So, what are some of the best ones?

We submit for a full range of newsletters and the best ones do depend on genre and other factors, but here are some of my top recommendations.

  1. Bookbub: This always gets great results, but it is pretty pricey (can cost thousands of dollars), and they only accept 10-15% of the books that are submitted. If you are selected, it is a great opportunity and usually is one that recoups the money spent on the promotion itself. Just be aware that you may have to submit multiple times before you are selected.
  2. Bargain Booksy: This ranges from $10-$95 depending on the genre and is easy to submit for.
  3. Fussy Librarian: Easy to submit for, ranges from $10-$30 depending on genre.
  4. Book Lemur: I don’t just love it for the fun name, but it is a plus. This newsletter costs anywhere from $25-$55 depending on price drop price point and genre. They are easy to submit for and are very communicative if there is ever a problem.
  5. Just Kindle: This is a great one that is set at $43. There is no waiting around to get approved for this one. Everything is quick, and your newsletter ad is scheduled before you leave the website.

There are many newsletters out there and they all have benefits!

So, what do you need in order to submit for them?

Each website is a little different in the information needed to book an ad. Here are some of the things that are often required:

  • Title of the book and author name
  • Email
  • Original price point and discounted price during the dates selected
  • ASIN
  • Book cover image
  • Short description of book (Pay attention to character count required on each site)
  • Author bio
  • Number of ratings/star rating
  • Dates of price drop
  • Date you want the ad to run

Some newsletters require all of that information while others only want a subset. It is important to have these things on hand so that the submission process can be quick.

So, is it worth it?

Reader newsletters can be extremely beneficial in getting your book on the radar of a new set of people. Having these ads go out to people who love your genre can boost sales and your ranking on Amazon. As an author, exposure is likely one of your top priorities. Running these ads and these discounts is a perfect way to catch the reader’s eye. This is a low time commitment way to see maximum results.