Storyville: Advance Your Writing Career—NOW!
This edition of Storyville is really for the more developed author—those of you who have published some stories, gotten in a few places, maybe put out a novel or collection, gotten an MFA—in other words, really put themselves out there, and had a bit of success, and shown that they’re serious about it all. Of course, if you’re new and still trying to break out, these tips can hopefully help you, too. But if you’re not quite to this level yet, don’t worry, keep at it—you'll get there.
I don’t think I have to mention this, but then again, maybe I do. I can think of at least FIVE things you need to be doing on social media—and four of them are entirely free. Get a Facebook profile and also start an author page. Get a Twitter account. Set up an author profile on both Amazon and Goodreads. And put together a website or blog. Each of these has a benefit, something to offer you.
Facebook is where I spend most of my time, not just running my own profile, and page, but also pages for Dark House Press (and all of the individual book titles) as well as one for Burnt Tongues. You can only invite your friends to these groups, the rest will have to grow organically, but why WOULDN’T you want to tap into thousand of friends who have similar interests, even IF the Facebook algorithms aren’t ideal? I get anywhere from 10-60% of the people in my groups to see a post, and I rarely spend any money. I’ve grown the biggest pages (mine and DHP) to over 2,300 likes each. Twitter is a much different beast, but in six years, I’ve grown my followers to over 6,000. It takes time, and if you start by just following good friends, and then authors you like, and then other related interests, a lot will follow back. It’s essential to track your Amazon and Goodreads accounts, not only to see who is reading you and what they are saying, but to track sales, cross-promote with links, and to use the Giveaways feature at Goodreads. Lastly, set up a blog or website that will house all of your book covers, links to stories online and in print, big announcements, and anything else that you deem worthy. It’s all connected, and over time, these individual snowballs will roll downhill, and merge together, to create one massive promotional machine that takes on a life of its own. That’s a GOOD thing. How can you be “discovered” if you aren’t out there?
DO LIVE READINGS
Get out there! Look for local opportunities to unite with your fellow authors and read your work. It’s always great to meet people in the flesh, to put a face with the avatar, to show that you don't have two heads. Not only do you get to share your voice, your stories, your words, but you also get to make new connections in publishing, academia, and meet your fellow authors. Look for a reading series, such as Noir at the Bar or one at your local bookstore—there are bound to be a few going on around you. I’m lucky that there are a lot here in Chicago, the aforementioned, plus Write Club, The Marrow, Guts & Glory, Bad Grammar Theatre, and other author organized events and releases. How much easier is it to ask for a blurb, or talk to an author that you really enjoy reading with a beer in your hand? Or hell, if you buy the first round?
Speaking of blurbs, give them! Please, I know—“Who the hell am I!” I get that, I don’t feel like I’m a “big name” either, but if somebody else has taken the time and come up with the courage to approach you, try and give a blurb. Obviously, you need to make the time to read the book, which can be tough, and there’s no guarantee after you’ve gotten the book that you’ll enjoy it (yes, I HAVE said no on blurbs before), but take the chance. A sentence or two from you, especially if you love the book, that’s easy to put out there. You simply talk about what you loved, how it impacted you, and what the author did well. ALSO, not only do you get a chance to show off your OWN writing, boiling down that 70,000-word novel into a sentence or two (never easy) but then YOUR name (and usually the title of your latest book) gets put on the dust jacket, and on Amazon/Goodreads, and then people will say, “Who the hell is this wordsmith? I must seek out their work!” True story.
These are harder to get, but start asking around, and if you’re already working the social media like I suggested above, you may have people start to approach you. Or, try pitching a panel for AWP or WHC or any other convention you like to attend. What can you speak about? Do you have a specialty? What do you write about, and are there specific organizations or groups that could benefit from your presence? Be prepared to travel, to drive, or even fly. If it’s local there may not be any pay, but if it’s out of town (or state) they’ll usually pony up a stipend, as well as airfare, hotel and food. What a great way to get out there, and help those that are getting started, share your experiences, and meet new people (and hopefully some old friends as well).
DON’T BE A DICK
This may sound like an obvious thing to say, and I’m not implying that you need to kiss up, be false, or go out of your way to support books, presses or authors you don't like, or enjoy. BUT, you’d be surprised at how many people you’ve come up with in the literary and publishing world who are now in positions of power. I can’t even begin to list all of the authors that I’ve published in magazines I’ve guest edited, anthologies I’ve edited, or publications where we’ve shared a spine that are now in positions of power. Maybe your friend got a teaching gig, or is the president of a writer’s group, or is getting their MFA—all of those people should be getting your support, you should be talking them up, not getting jealous, or finding ways to nitpick at their success. Embrace it all, and understand there is room for all of us. We’re all in this together—your support of a fellow author may turn into their glorious review of your book next year. Your helpful advice, your private look at their new short story when they’re doubting themselves may turn into an invite into a private call for an anthology, or a reading out at a local bookstore. Obviously, I’m not saying to be calculating and manipulative, just aware that what goes around comes around. And high tides raise all ships.
WRITE A COLUMN AND/OR REVIEW BOOKS
One way to get more exposure is to start writing a column, or doing book reviews online. Once again, your column should be something that showcases your talents, your life, your experiences, etc. My Storyville column has been going on for some three years now, with over 50 columns, and it’s not only gotten me a lot of exposure, but it’s helped a lot of authors. I love what Max Booth says in his hotel missives, or what Samantha Irby says about her life at her blog, Bitches Gotta Eat. Likewise, if you review books for a reputable magazine or website, not only do you get free books, but you get to support the authors you enjoy, and get your name out there—while showcasing your voice and ability to write (again). It all helps you to grow your network. An author you wrote a thoughtful review of in 2012 maybe be more receptive to you when you come asking for a blurb in 2015. Again—it’s all connected.
TEACH ONLINE AND IN NON-ACADEMIC SETTINGS
I’ll tell you a dirty little secret—I got my MFA in 2012, and have sent out dozens and dozens of CVs and still haven't gotten ONE interview. Very frustrating. And I have six books and over 100 stories published. So what’s a struggling author to do? You take what you can get, right? I’ve been lucky enough to teach classes online here at LitReactor, and while it’s a nice little paycheck, it also looks really good on my CV. When I pair that with my time at StoryStudio here in Chicago, as well as teaching opportunities I have next summer at the Iowa Summer Writers Workshop, the Novel-in-Progress Bookcamp up in Wisconsin, and a week in Transylvania (plus a key speaker engagement in Oklahoma City) it all starts to add up. It adds credibility to your CV and bio, it may open a few doors if you’re seeking full-time employment in academia, and it helps you to develop your speaking skills, your organizational abilities, and once again helps you grow your network of friends, associates, and peers.
If you look online (at places like BookClub.Meetup.com or ReadersCirle.org) you can probably find local book clubs near you. If you can find one that is into your kind of writing, reach out, and see if they’d like to read your book (send a FREE copy to whoever runs the club) and have you come by to talk about it. I’ve done a few, and they are a blast. Whether it’s a room full of women drinking wine or a bunch of grizzled men in a cabin out in the woods, you’ll learn to speak about your writing, defend your choices, and share your insight with fans (hopefully) of your fiction. That kind of personal, intimate environment could yield lifelong fans of your writing.
WRITE AND PUBLISH SHORT FICTION
This may seem like an obvious choice, but are you actively writing short fiction and putting it out into the world? Even if you REALLY want to write novels, there is no better (and quicker) way to get your voice out there than to publish short fiction. The more people read you, the more they’ll remember who you are and what you write, the more likely they are to turn into loyal fans. Try to get paid for what you’re doing, of course, and aim for markets that can get you the exposure you deserve. I’ve been lucky that some of my columns, essays and stories have gotten 20, 30 and even 80,000 clicks. My story in Litro Magazine was circulated to 100,000 readers, and my story in Cemetery Dance this month will be in over 10,000 copies. All of that helps, it gets your name out there, and helps to establish you as a legitimate author.
NOVELS AND AGENTS
So, of course, beyond that—novels and agents, right? Another obvious step, but if you can find the time to finally write that book, and land a small press or an agent who can get you into the big six (or is it five now?) that really can change your career—in a good way. It can open the door to foreign sales, and even film rights. But, you probably know all of that already.
Being an author today is more than just sitting down to write. When you help yourself, when you make the time to promote, teach, share, support and publish—it all adds up to a wide range of exposure (and hopefully income) which will lead to more doors being opened, more people putting you on their radar, and more opportunities to share your writing with the world. Good luck and go get it!
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