Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Up the Wattage: Highlighting Your Books & Byline

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

The librarian's email read: “I’ve been regularly visiting your website for years, and I had no idea that you were an author!”

Ouch.

Granted, this was before the Tantalize series, but at the time, I had published three well-received children’s books and a couple of short stories with major trade houses.

The librarian was a total sweetheart and clearly delighted to learn about my books. But why had that taken her so long?

My site featured substantive children’s-YA literature and writing-publishing sections. These were inclusive of my titles, but my own work was by no means the sole focus.

That’s still true today. But more recently, my web designer—Lisa Firke—came on board and re-envisioned my site so that visitors to any page are clearly presented with (a) who I am, (b) the opportunity to learn about my children's-YA books, and (c) a treasure trove of information about the larger world of literature, publishing and writing for young readers.

Most author websites are exclusively focused on the writer and his or her books.

There are notable exceptions like Uma Krishnaswami’s peace page and Toni Buzzeo’s author and illustrator visits pages.

However, both of these authors’ sites do a wonderful job of providing such bonus resources without overshadowing them or their work.

Having accidentally under-served myself on my official site, I'm mindful of not making that mistake again.

Big picture, Jane Friedman tells us that the keys to a successful web presence include having a defined purpose, great content, and a context for it.

Today I'm talking about more subtle points. Over the years, I’ve noticed several low-effort, high-impact opportunities that authors--and illustrators, too--may want to consider in maximizing the effectiveness of our online efforts.

1) Brand Your Byline

Building name recognition is one of our biggest challenges.

Publishing is a crowded business. I receive literally thousands of children's-YA book review copies a year. A familiar byline is one way to catch the eye of any book blogger as well as book buyers and industry opinion-makers.

Many authors try blogging (at least in part) to raise their profiles. Yet in an effort to identify the source of a given post, I’ve on occasion had to click from that post on my LJ friends page to the author's LJ homepage to its “User Information” page and from there to the author’s official website. Not everyone is willing to work that hard. Make it easy for readers to discover you and your books.

If you’re a contributor to a team blog, perhaps suggest adding bylines to the individual posts. Brief biographies at the end of each may also prove useful.

2) Cheer the Home Team

U.S.-based Tantalize series publisher.
If your book is introduced, co-authored, illustrated or published by someone else, credit all the players with links to more information.

The artist who helped bring your picture book or graphic novel to life may have avid supporters, too, and it’s possible that some of them are visiting you online.

For example, a fan of Ming Doyle may discover at Cynsations that she's the illustrator of Tantalize: Kieren's Story and seek out the book.

Speaking of art, are your cover images large enough and of sufficiently high-resolution to be seen clearly? They should be. Covers are designed to sell books. Feature them to your best advantage.

Likewise, publishers like Candlewick, Clarion, Greenwillow, and FSG (among others) have both a reputation for producing quality books and established relationships with prospective buyers. Let it be known that they’ve put their good names and efforts behind your work.

As a side note, use on-point and appealing headlines on your posts and other web pages. The title of your official site should be something like: David Lubar: Writer and Game Designer Home Page, not simply "Home." A title like "Up the Wattage: Highlighting Your Books and Byline" may attract more interest than "Some Thoughts" or "Web Stuff."

3) List All Editions

Coming Oct.6 from Walker Books (UK)
Is your book available in hardcover and paperback, on audio, in a bilingual or foreign edition?

Too often, authors don’t mention available options beyond the initial hardcover or trade paper release. Be sure to share alternative titles, formats, markets, covers and other publication details.

Blogging alone on your couch, it’s easy to forget your words may be read not only around your home country but also around the globe. It's the World Wide Web, after all.

For example, I’m U.S. based and the majority of my online visitors come from here in the States and Canada. However, the U.K., France, Australia, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, and India account for tens of thousands of visitors to my blog each year, and my books are available in the first three of those markets.

The presence of my work there may be what attracted some of them. However, other readers in those places may find out about my writing from visiting me online. Or they may discover additional releases available to them.

4) Point to Booksellers

Feature links to online book retailers, including those with a brick-and-mortar component to their business. For example, I prominently feature an IndieBound widget in the sidebar of Cynsations at Blogger and link to Indiebound and several other outlets—located both in the U.S. and around the world—on my website book pages.

Some authors don’t provide buyer links at all, and that may be the right choice for you. The logic goes that the reader is more than capable of ordering your book at his or her own bookstore of choice. The counterargument is that every required click or car trip is a barrier to purchase.

5) Point to Libraries

Tell readers that your books may be found and/or ordered at school and public libraries.

I occasionally hear from teens who sadly inform me that, for budget reasons, they have to wait for one of my books to come out in paperback. Or that there's no bookstore in their immediate area. (Not everyone has a credit card, Internet available in the home, or easy access to transportation.)
 
A shocking number of YA readers are pleasantly surprised to be reminded that, for free, they can check out new releases at their local libraries right away or shortly after filling out a request form. (Listing ISBNs for each of your books may be helpful, too.)

6) Stay Current

Keep your web presence updated.

If information about your latest book is easy to find, it's more likely that readers will learn about it and easier for champions to make noise on your behalf.

7) Be Available

I spend a lot of time trying to track down author contact information, hidden somewhere on a blog or website. Occasionally, I abandon my quest for an ARC or interview because an email address or contact form proves too elusive.

Of course some authors may not want to hear from web visitors. They may be zealously guarding their writing time against an unwanted influx of email, and that’s great. Seriously, amen, and hang in there! But I mention this issue in case, for others, it’s more a matter of not realizing the costs rather than a strategy per se.

8) Give, Take & Participate

I want to learn about your books. I want know if you’re visiting Austin soon. I’m interested in what you have to say about the craft of writing and the writer’s life.

It’s okay—it’s really okay—to talk about yourself and your work. You’re even allowed to be ambitious, and you don’t have to apologize for it.

(Ladies, I'm looking at you.)

If that’s all you have the time and inclination to do--to post your own book news as it arises--rock on with your fantabulous self. I’m eager to hear it.

We understand that you have a day job or newborn twins or carpal tunnel syndrome or need to prioritize your creative work. We're just glad to have your voice in the mix, to the extent you want to share it.

Well, don't go overboard. Don't constantly inundate your friends/followers/subscribers, but form a contact strategy makes sense for you and keeps us in the loop.

You may also want to let your visitors know if you’re an interviewee or guest poster at someone else’s blog or site or chat room. It's an opportunity for them to learn more, and referring them over will show your host that you appreciate being highlighted.

Beyond that, if you’d like to thoughtfully participate in the larger conversation of books and writing, please consider yourself welcome to join in!

There are countless ways to do this—from recommending favorite reads by other authors to sponsoring giveaways of their books to contributing to online carnivals to joining a #yalitchat….

It doesn't have to be time consuming. Participating in a Twitter Book Party doesn't take longer than a click. You can even auto party--how's that for time efficient?

Along the way, feel free to make the occasional contribution related to your books when it’s invited and appropriate (as opposed to in a spamming or single-minded way).

9) Step Away from the Screen

Everything you do in support of your existing books should be secondary to your creative writing.

Yes, you’re the best ambassador for your new release. But usually nothing will be as effective at selling your latest title as finishing your next one.

Beyond that, be fully present at in-person author events. Unless one of your dearly beloveds is in intensive care and you are utterly incapable of functioning without knowing her latest status (in which case bow out and suggest a colleague to replace you), turn off or at least silence your phone.*

Focus on the people you’re with. Give them your respect and attention. They deserve it.

*Exception: you can always turn on your phone to share with those you're with. Especially photos of cute babies a' la Varian Johnson and Melissa Walker. I'm also happy to coo over your latest book cover or adorable cat(s).

10) Be Gracious

In person or online, err on the side of professionalism and friendliness. Attribute sources. Respect copyright. Mind your manners. Create and celebrate.

Have fun, learn, grow, reach out, inspire. Be kind to yourselves and each other.

Think of it not as marketing but building relationships. That will take the pressure off, and you’ll enjoy it more, too.

And finally, get your creative writing done! That's your priority. I’m rooting for you!

Shine a light on fabulous you and other book champions, lovers and creators, too!

10 comments:

Pixel Shavings said...

Excellent advice as usual! Thanks Cynthia :-)

Bonny Becker said...

Cyn,
Great suggestions and ideas. I'm heading over to my webpage right now to add info about foreign editions.

Thanks!

Dara Dokas said...

Your post gets me thinking about what I can do to "up the wattage!" This is something we authors really do need to think about. Thanks!

Uma Krishnaswami said...

A resounding yes to all your points, Cyn. Thanks as well for the shoutout about my web site. I'm still seeking the right balance between offering info on my special passions (international and culturally grounded books--I try to duck that multiculti word when I can!) and letting people know that I too write in that realm. We're not naturally self-promoting people, most of us writers. We do need to get over that small hangup and find the right spaces, and they're different for each of us.

deescribewriting said...

Thanks for a great post, Cynthia,

So many useful tips. I particularly liked your 'Step Away from the Screen" advice.

Tracy Trivas said...

Great tips! Thank you for creating a wonderful site and resource for so many people!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Thanks, Pixel S, Dara, Bonny, Dee & Tracy!

Bonny, my husband told me that he was adding foreign releases to his site after reading the post. It's apparently something a lot of us overlook to our detriment.

Dee, I've always admired how Laurie Halse Anderson is so in the moment at events. She's definitely my role model for in-person author behavior.

Uma, you're right that we so often feel awkward in doing all this, but we're also the best ambassadors. You do a lovely job of presenting yourself, your work, and contributing thoughtfully to the larger conversation.

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

I never run out of opportunities for discovery at Cynsations. One of the things that impresses me most (about this post, but also about the site in general) is how well you manage to remember the particular challenges of starting out--being new to the whole game.

You are an amazing example to us all of how to maintain a professional presence that is both strategic (in terms of your own work) and supportive of other's work.

That last bit, especially, is rare. I see it also very much in Blythe Woolston, another fantastic mentor. Many authors, though, once they get their "big break" forget how hard it was starting out. That's what I remind myself when something a little unprofessional crosses my path: everyone's still learning.

We can't keep the training wheels on forever, of course. But once they come off, we should be willing to pass them on to other writers rather than pretending we were born riding the bike like a pro.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

What a lovely note! Thank you, Ashley. I'm deeply honored.

"Pay it forward" is one of my mottos. Early on, I saw that philosophy modeled in authors like Kathi Appelt and Jane Kurtz who came before me.

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

Pay it forward, indeed. I usually think of "up" as the direction for most gratitude, but I think "forward" might be my new model for meaningful, grateful action. A beautiful notion.

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