Get social

Continued from…

In addition to the many things you should be writing, you need to write and respond via social media. Instead of devoting all your time to posting photos of your kitten, you need to connect with your audience. Sharing kitten posts may be a part of that, but you need to have an actual conversation.

Too often we forget that social media is…social. It is a conversation. Lecturing is not social. Having a two-way discussion is.

So how do you jump in and do that? It’s easy.

You can certainly share other people’s posts. But, you need to add a note explaining why you are sharing. If you share a photo of a crocodile, is it because you love crocodiles, or fear them, or breed them, or study them, or think they are funny?

Do keep in mind that search engines crawl social media. Pasting a link into a post accomplishes nothing. You are simply reposting exactly what has appeared elsewhere. Not adding some of your own contact can actually drive readers away from you. If you post a link to something else, with no further information, your reader is going to click on that link and leave your post, possibly never to return. So, why did you post it? Were you involved in some way? Were you hoping to drive your reader away?

It’s fine to post something out of the goodness of your heart, for absolutely no reason. We do it all the time.

But, you do need to focus most of your social media presence on conversations that relate to your business and, let’s make no mistake, writing is a business. Treat your posts like an advertisement for your business.

The social media side of the business can be time-consuming. And, yes, there’s an app for that. In fact, there are several.

hackUse a social media management application to schedule posts. Write content ahead of time and then intersperse it with other content, as it appears. At 108 pages, The Definitive Guide to Social Media is twice as long as a lot of things that pass for books these days, yet it is one of the best guides I have seen—and it is FREE.

There is never an excuse for your social media to appear to be out of date. There is even less excuse for it to actually be out of date. Use whatever tool you need to in order to keep posts fresh and current.

hackI have just started using Airtable’s Blog Editorial Calendar. I can plan out my writing schedule ahead of time and fill in content when I get a chance. I can schedule when I anticipate posting something. I added columns for the various streams I use so I can track where I will or have posted. Airtable understands attachments so I can attach images or text and not have to remember where I stored them and on which server. But, a spreadsheet would do just as well for something simple, basic and already on your computer. Basically, you just need a process.

Some sites use a gimmick [I am not using that word derogatorily]. I used to manage social media for a zoo and we had a “guess what animal this is” day once a week. We knew that we could draw people on that day. Even if they had not looked at our website since the previous week, they would come on that day for the fun.

There was no prize. Just interaction. And, parents often involved their children who would, of course, want to come to the zoo to see the animal in person!

Writing has the unique misfortune of not usually having a location. It does not lend itself well to Yelp! or TripAdvisor, unless you are writing about a location. But, you don’t need a location. You need a conversation.

A common hashtag currently in use is #writerwednesday. Should you participate? You can ride on the coattails of the likes of Huffington Post—but can your content compete with the Huf, or will it swallow you? Maybe you’re better off creating your own hashtag. You decide.

Writers are often shy. We would rather curl up with a book than be the life of the party. Usually. Most of us, anyway. But, SEO and social media should be second nature for us. It’s all just words and do we ever love words?

Ready for help? Contact me at



Write your own story

Continuation from 

We’ve been talking about what you need to write, after you finish writing. The third thing you need to pen is your autobiography.

No one can tell your story as well as you. But, I have discovered that the one thing a writer is least able to write is their own story. I have actually taught autobiography writing workshops devoted solely to helping writers craft their own writer’s page.

You will need an author’s page, when you upload your books to any distributor. And, yes, I meant to use the plural because I do expect you to write more books.

Authors depend on a revenue stream. You want to write more books and you want people to buy them. It helps if people remember your name. A customer who likes one book you wrote will likely like another book you write. And, they should.

hackStudy some author’s pages. Now, think about what you remembered about the authors. Your goal is not to write what they wrote. Your goal is to write your author’s page in a similar manner.

I want you to get comfortable finding and reading author’s pages, so I am going to give you an assignment. I want you to go to Amazon and find some authors I suggest. These are random, but very good examples. Let’s take a look at Nancy Tillman.

hack If you don’t have a good photo of yourself, have one taken. Think about your writing when you select what to wear, the setting, and so on. Nancy Tillman’s fun photos reflect her children’s book writing.

Nancy’s photo is great. But, more importantly, she explains that her goal “has always been to give parents words to say what they feel about their children.” Readers want to know things like that.

Holly Lisle is a writer and a writing instructor. She uses her author’s page to demonstrate her storytelling abilities. I especially love to see writers show off their writing skills as part of their author’s page. But, from a marketing point of view, it is clever to include a quotation.

When I worked in newsrooms, I saw editors rifle through press releases and literally toss those that did not contain quotable material. There were two reasons for that. The first was, a quote gives the story life. The second reason was that, when my editor handed me a press release, I had a conversation starter. I would call the person who was quoted, or their spokesperson, and repeat the quote. Then I would ask them to discuss that with me. It was my icebreaker. It was more of a challenge to write news coverage when there was no quote. A quote hones in on the message and a quote, complete with quotation marks, energizes a story.

A good quote is a great quote for a lead. I used to cover a city government beat that brought me into contact with a woman who was my favorite person for any news story. She always had a quote ready for me. To this day, I have visions of her sitting in her office memorizing her quote before every city council meeting. And, that was fine with me.

She always had a quote that looked good on paper and sounded good when she said it aloud. Whether she rehearsed or not, I never discovered and soon no longer cared. She always got print and we always had a talking point.

Her quotes were not just words. They were keenly focused. They were on point. She was adept at identifying what I was likely to ask and she was at the ready. The questions were simple: who, what, when, where, how and why. It’s not that my questions were all that predictable. She understood media. She was always on point about any issue. She knew the heart of the issue. She never floundered for something to say. She anticipated what the public wanted and needed to know. She didn’t control me. She was at the ready with the key information that people needed to know about and she phrased it in quoteworthy ways.

You can learn to do the same thing. Anticipate what a reporter might ask, and have an answer ready. Use the answers as a quote on your author’s page and in press releases (which we will discuss later). Come up with a few quotes and swap them out on your author’s page, from time to time, to keep it fresh or to test what quotes motivate customers to buy.

hack Changing the content on your author’s page is important. The way to move up toward the top of search engine lists is to offer new content. If nothing changes on a page, it moves down until it is quickly lost among the vast number of pages with new content that are perpetually moving up. For more info, read 5 Reasons Why Fresh Content is Critical for Your Website and SEO.

I’m not especially fond of quirky author’s pages. But, if they work for you, go for it. You know your audience. It is your job to know your audience. That is who you are writing for.
It works well for Suzan Tisdale. I would not normally advise calling yourself a cheeky wench. Cheeky is not a term one easily applies to one’s self. That’s a term that needs to be earned. But, if that’s the name of your blog, you can certainly get away with it.
Susan does a couple of other things any author can do. She makes herself available to her readers.

She posts her website address, her blog address, her Twitter handle, her Facebook address and how to get text messages from her. Yet, she keeps it short.
Most of like to see a few paragraphs. A few paragraphs fit nicely on an Amazon author’s page.

Of course, we all like to break the rules. Some people can afford to. Dean Koontz keeps his author’s bio super short.

“Dean Koontz, the author of many #1 New York Times bestsellers, lives in Southern California with his wife, Gerda, their golden retriever Anna, and the enduring spirit of their golden, Trixie.”

It is a mere 31 words long. On the other hand, he is so well-known he perhaps doesn’t need to set himself apart. Plus, he is so prolific that his page is littered with work that stands for itself. Not interested in one of Dean’s books? That’s okay. There are dozens more.

Stephen King follows suit, with a single paragraph. David Gerrold wasted no words on his nine-word bio. (Yes, my sentence is intentionally only nine words, as well.)

Make sure that you have author’s pages. Lulu calls them Author Spotlights. Amazon calls them Author Pages, created via Author Central. Create an page.

As a new author, you need to introduce yourself to the public. Open up. Share a little about what makes you unique and perhaps explains why you see the world differently enough that readers should be interested in you. Be sincere. Don’t try to invent a persona for yourself. Be your genuine self and share what you genuinely want readers to know about your writing.

Find what works. Write content for your author’s page. Add a good photo of yourself.
Ready for help? Email


You wrote a book. Now what?

Completing the writing of your book feels like a big accomplishment. But, not only is the work not done.The end of writing a book is just the beginning.

Writing doesn’t put money in your checking account. Selling your writing does. But, it doesn’t have to be a chore.

Let me show you how to make it an effort that you, as a writer, will enjoy. You get to write!
Getting noticed requires writing. First of all, you need to format your book, regardless of whether you decide to publish a print version or an eBook. For most people, it is probably worth the money to hire someone to format for you. Your time is better spent on what you do best: writing.

Beyond that, you need to write a description of your book. You need to write metadata so that your book is found by the customers most likely to want to read and buy your book. You need to pen your autobiography. You need to write and respond to social media posts. You need to write a press release or two. You should at least consider creating a giveaway, giving away a free copy of your book. The writing never ends, even after you write “The End.”

Every book needs a description. Who better to write it than you? If you are self-publishing, there may not be anyone but you. You can hire someone but—you’re a writer! Write it yourself.

If you are self-publishing through Amazon, you are not required to write any description. But, why wouldn’t you? You can write as much as  4000 characters to convince an Amazon reader that your book is one they should own. Lulu requires a minimum of 50 characters and a maximum of 1,000 characters.

Smashwords eBook publishing does not require any description and, like Amazon, they allow you to write a 4,000 character description for distribution of your book to Apple’s iBook store, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, Oyster, Kobo, Yuzu, Blio and Inktera plus it includes library distribution via OverDrive, Baker & Taylor Axis 360, Gardners (Askews & Holts and Browns Books for Students), and Odilo.


In an earlier post, I discussed writer’s block. One thing to do rather than giving in to the malady is to work on your book description. It may evolve as you write, but sooner or later you are going to need to write it. That little bit of a break can help you achieve a little progress even if your story is on hiatus.

If your head is swimming already, then you should hire help. We are just getting started. Next time, I will talk about the next thing you need to write. Oh, yes, there is much more to come.

Ready for help? Contact me at



First things last

Sometimes the first thing we write needs to be last. In my case, an opening paragraph is the last thing I write.

When I was a newspaper reporter, I discovered, much to my dismay, that I was incapable of writing opening paragraphs. I had an editor, sitting just a few feet away in the pit, who always sighed when he opened digital copy of my stories. I knew what that meant. Once again, I fell short of the mark and my work was crying for a stellar opening paragraph.

I also knew what would happen next. He would start typing.

Read. Sigh. Type. Every article, every day.

And, in that newsroom, my load was three articles a day. That was a lot of humiliation.

My humiliation became a motivator. I was truly embarrassed that I was missing the target every single time. What was worse was that I actually thought I was writing respectable opening paragraphs.

In retrospect, I had the world’s most tolerant editor. He kept me on. He believed in my ability enough to tolerate my glaring weakness. He very gently mentioned to me a couple of times that I needed an opening paragraph. And, then he typed it in. After all, we were always on deadline.

Humiliated, I was determined to do better. I did a comparison of every single story I had written, holding each one up against my editor’s version. In every single instance, my editor’s version, with an extra paragraph, was much better.

I wanted to protest. I wanted to insist that I was convincing myself that the edited version was better merely out of respect for my supervisor. But, no, I had to admit it. His version was better.

I learned two lessons from that experience. The first lesson is one that holds up to this day.

Every single time I have been edited, it has been for the better. It is still difficult to part with my version.

I work hard to pen my work. But, yes, a second set of eyes was a good thing and it still is. In fact, in that newsroom,  two humans edited every story we wrote before it was released to the public.

The second, and perhaps the more important lesson, I learned was how to write a good opening paragraph. Everyone needs a technique. For some people, I do believe it is organic. For me? I have to focus. I needed a technique, a process, a method.

The interesting thing was that both editors kept what I thought was my opening paragraph. They didn’t replace it. They just added the missing opening paragraph.

I developed the technique of writing my opening paragraph last. I write that way to this day. And, editors are thrilled.

I cannot tell you how great it felt the day when my editor opened one of my news articles—and I heard no sigh, followed by typing. He read it. He almost smiled. He put it back in the queue for the second editing.

That was the day I knew I could write. No, that was the day I knew I could author.

Until that time, I had merely been writing words and good, but incomplete, copy. I was never told my copy was not good. It was just incomplete. I had such a tendency to leap into the story. I was missing that first paragraph that would grab the reader.

My editor had patiently gone through every story, crafting that missing opening that should have been there. So I mimicked what they were doing. I wrote the opening after everything else was done.

Anyone can write words. I could type words from the dictionary and still not be an author. I was merely a writer. That day, I became an author.

We all have to start somewhere. This is my story about how I learned to write the first thing last.



Writers who opt not to write

Not all writing is written. I have a client who is a public speaker, in the process of penning his autobiography.

I want to see his autobiography as words on a page. But, is writing it the best way to accomplish that? My advice is for him to narrate his story. This client does a remarkable job of preserving his unique writer’s voice in his writing, plus he’s just a verbal person with a great audible voice.

If your voice loses its unique flair when you write down the words, try narrating.

My favorite tool is a handheld RCA VR5320R, which I have had for years. I love it so much that I have not felt compelled to replace it. I just keep using it. It just keeps working.

It is especially great because it has a USB and I have had success with software automatically “typing,” if you will, the audio files. Translated, software will type the words so you don’t have to.

I would recommend something a bit more sound-sensitive, if you are really going to record your book. If you have access to a recording studio, all the better!

hack  A number of self-publishing distribution streams offer audio books. In addition to creating print or digital books, consider narrating the final version of a book especially if your voice deeply connects with your readers or if you already have an audience who is likely to have heard you speak in person. You can hire voice talent, but your own voice just might be what connects with audiophiles.

One example is Scott Sigler. Visit his website at


How fast do you need to write?

You need to write fast enough to meet your deadline. You need to write fast enough to finish.

There is no minimum speed requirement. So, how fast do you want to write?

We can’t answer that question for you. But, we can tell you how to manage your writing speed.

We strongly suggest, and actually use, a digital timer. Dial-type kitchen timers don’t seem as precise. There’s nothing like a good digital timer.

A Taylor Stainless Steel Timer with Clock, is a wonderful thing. It is rectangular, with a stand that folds up. It is not much larger than a cell phone, and it folds flat. You can hang it from the stand, or stand it upright. It works fine on its side.


This timer can be used as timer, or as a stopwatch. The timer is good if you want to get a sense of how many words you can type in a specific amount of time. If you have an hour to write, how many words can you finish during that time?

The stopwatch feature is great if you want to see how long it takes you to write a certain number of words. If you want to know how long it will take you to write 1,000 words, start the stopwatch and just keep typing until you have typed 1,000 words. Stop the stopwatch. There. Now you know.

Some people say that, if you type faster, you write faster. It is perhaps possible. But, ultimately, you can only type as fast as you can think.

However, if you know how fast you can reasonably type, you will be a more realistic writer. You won’t feel so discouraged because you have an unrealistic expectation of how much you should be accomplishing.

Just to throw a kink in the works, remember that word processors are relatively new. Typewriters are fairly new, given the history of the written word. And, there are still people who write in longhand.

But, the rule is the same. Know how quickly you write.

So how does it work?

First of all, this is not a race to see how quickly you can write. In fact, don’t even try doing timings until you get that notion out of your head.

Secondly, you need to do two kinds of timings. The first type is a timed writing.

Relax. Get everything in position. Gather together whatever media you are going to use. Clear everything else out of your head. Turn your phone off, or make a conscious decision to let voicemail pick up. Ignore text messages. Feed the dog, before you begin. Do whatever it takes to give yourself a clear playing field.

Start the timer, in timer mode for 5 minutes.

Start writing. Do not rush. Write in your usual speed.

When the timer goes off, look at what you accomplished.

That was just one timing. I recommend half a dozen timings, over several days.

Your average word per minute writing rate becomes obvious. Now you know what to expect of yourself. You know how much you can accomplish in 5 minutes.

Now try some longer timings.

I am a pragmatist. I do actual writing when I’m doing timings. If I don’t have an assignment, I make one up that I might want to actually sell or that I might post on a blog. I want the experience to be as real as I can make it.

Now, try the second timed writing technique. Turn the stopwatch on and just start writing until you are finished. Stop the stopwatch and make a note of how long it took you to write that piece.

Again, try this several times. And, again, pragmatism wins out in my book. I do this with actual writing projects, just to save time. I’m not fond of wasting precious writing time on something I know I will trash.

Now what?

With both timings done, you now know how fast you write. You no longer have the excuse that you don’t have time to write. The time is there. You just need to learn to manage it.

Plan out your writing. This doesn’t sound as fun as calling yourself an author, does it? But, it works.

Every November is National Novel Writing Month and every November I hear one person after another lament that they wish they didn’t have a job so that they could participate. Guess what? Almost every person who does participate does have a job. NaNoWriMo participants don’t take the month off!

So what’s so special about them? They know how to gauge and manage their writing time.

The first time I participated in NaNoWriMo, I realized that I needed a spreadsheet. I adore spreadsheets. I can do amazing things with spreadsheets. I use them for everything.

During NaNoWriMo, you have 30 days during which you commit to writing 50,000 words. Yes, that comma is in the correct position.

A 50,000 word is short. It is not even a novel. It is considered a novella. So, yes, you can do this.

Yes, in 30 days. Because, you know how fast you write thanks to your timed writing experiments.

Here is how I suggest you use NaNoWriMo to become a more productive writer, whether you write novels or non-fiction. Map out your writing time. That’s why I use a spreadsheet. I like it better than a calendar. I created one for myself that actually does a countdown to zero.

I create what looks like a calendar. Then I determine how many of those 30 days will be writing days. I know that 29 days are the most number of days I will write—because I don’t write on Thanksgiving.

Generally speaking, we all have days when we just are not going to write. If you plan to devote a day to Black Friday, then you need to reduce the writing days to 28. And, so on.

The idea is to be realistic. Mark off days when you will not be writing.

Next identify days when you have other commitments that will require some, but not all, of your day. Like a workday. If you are working 8 hours, then you need to deduct 8 hours of work, plus lunch plus commuting time, plus food preparation time, plus family time, plus any other commitments. Whatever is left over becomes writing time.

Begin with weekends. Schedule long hours of writing on Saturdays and Sundays. Then calculate how many more hours it will take to reach 50,000 words based on your writing rate, as determined by your timings.

Divvy up the rest of the writing throughout the rest of the month until you schedule yourself time to write 50,000 words. Now, do the work.

It’s really just that simple. Know your thinking/writing rate. Plan your writing accordingly. Do the work.

hack   Use AutoCorrect to compensate for your typing foibles.

Thanks to technology, your computer can actually do some of the writing for you. I realized years ago that my fingers refuse to believe that lavendar is not a word. So I taught my computer to replace the word with the correct spelling as soon as I type it in wrong. It’s not a spelling feature. It’s an AutoCorrect feature.

I have also learned that my fingers have a habit of typing certain things wrong, well beyond just the spelling. I went through a phase where, for whatever reason, I could not type “let’s” if my life depended on it. So I added “let;s” to AutoCorrect so that it always replaced it with “let’s” as soon as I typed it.

Do this with anything you just can’t type correctly.


hackSave even more time by creating acronyms in AutoCorrect.

I am currently writing about World’s Columbian Exposition. I added an AutoCorrect entry of “WCE” that automatically replaces the acronym with “World’s Columbian Exposition.”



How much formatting should a writer do?

I prefer working with writers who use the simplest, plainest formatting possible. Even when writing my own publications, I tend to begin with a simple text document. The simpler, the better.

I would rather work with a Notepad file than a file that someone has heavily formatted without adhering to the requirements of the publisher they plan to use. All that formatting can really get in the way. Especially, if the text was formatted for different dimensions.

Every self-publishing entity provides formatted templates. They are far more than mere margins and tabs. The templates are pre-formatted to number pages directly. They are set up to create a table of contents and generate page numbers correctly. Moving content after the template is in use can really wreck your formatting, especially page numbers.

I find it much easier to keep writing separate from layout. Then copy the content in pieces and place it in the formatted template. If the original writing has heavily formatted content, it can conflict with the template.

And, templates are king.

If the template doesn’t work, the design process may have to start all over again. I have been known to strip a document back to an ascii file in order to get rid of unnecessary formatting. It’s especially troublesome with a writer who applied new formats instead of merely editing what was in place.

hackInDesign is not a writing program. InDesign is a layout program. It is an exquisite program. But, you don’t use it like a typewriter.


The proper way to use InDesign is to use a text program to type your words.

Then use the File/Place command to load text into InDesign.

The Text tool is for decorating text. It is not intended to be a writing tool.

Need help formatting? We can make it happen.