Category: For authors


So you need an author website (and blog)? Start here.

By John Yunker,

You’re a writer, not a computer geek.

And now you’re expected to launch an author website and a blog and you get on the Internet and come across a publishing or design expert who will do it all for you for the “bargain” price of $3,500 (or more).

Stop right there.

Too many authors spend way too much money on hiring designers and computer experts to create their websites. That’s not to say these experts aren’t worth every dime (some are and some aren’t) just that many authors don’t realize they can have their own websites for as low as a few dollars per month. But more troubling to me is that authors often end up in the position where they have to rely on these experts to make even the smallest changes to their websites, resulting in ongoing expenses of hundreds of dollars per month.

So my first bit of advice for any author in need of a website is to get past this notion that you need someone else to help you build and manage a website.

True, the Internet and all its buzzwords can be very intimidating — but there are website services out there that are actually pretty easy to use. If you can figure out Facebook or Gmail, you can probably figure out how to use these services. And, best of all, you can try them out for free, which I recommend you do before anything else.

Here are three web services that offer individual website designs for a low fee (or even free):

Wix

Wix offers author templates that you can test out for free. Click here to see what’s available. Here’s one author template:

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You’ll note that this template also includes a built-in blog, so you not only have an author website but also the means to add regular blog posts, which is very important in terms of getting readers engaged with you and your work.

You first need to create an account to get started, but it’s free. It’s free because they run ads on your website; you eventually may want to pay $12/month to remove the ads and get additional features.

SquareSpace

SquareSpace also offers a range of website templates. Here is one template that I think can work as an author website. You can start a free trial with no credit card.

WordPress.com

WordPress is known for its blog software, and most of its templates look very much like blogs. But if you do some searching through all the templates they offer, you’re likely to find a design that looks more like an author website that happens to have a blog built in.

Begin your test drives!

I recommend trying out all three of these web services to get familiar with how they work and which feel most comfortable. Even if you choose none of them, you’ll start to get familiar with how this type of software works, which is important if you want to maintain your own website and blog yourself, which I think is important to do.

What if you hate all those pre-existing design templates?

Using a design template that other authors are also using can feel a bit like wearing the same outfit as others as the same party. I get that.

But keep in mind that even if two authors use the same design template, they may use different artwork and color schemes so that the two websites do not appear similar at all.

But let’s say you still want to create your own web design. Should you then call up that expert and write a big check? Perhaps. But if you do so, here are some tips.

If you do hire someone to create your website…

Here are some questions to keep in mind before you hire a web designer:

  1. What’s the total fee? Make sure the price includes everything you’ll need to get the website launched.
  2. Who pays for web hosting? Every website needs to be hosted somewhere, and this requires a monthly fee. I’d recommend that the author have the hosting account so the author has full control over the website down the road. I’ve witnessed examples of the designer not giving login info unless certain fees were paid. You always want to have access to your own site.
  3. Who owns your URL? Your domain name, such as “JohnYunker.com” should be owned by you and you alone. Your consultant can help you purchase it, but you should have it in writing that you own the rights to it. Your domain name is your little bit of real estate on the Internet. Like any real estate, you want to have a “deed” in writing.
  4. How will you make changes to the design? What will the designer charge per change?
  5. How will you make text changes to the website? Ideally, the person you hire will train you so you can do this sort of thing yourself. If not, you’ll want to know what you’ll have to pay.
  6. Does the design include a blog? If so, can it be set up so you can have full access to it? I mention this because if you have access to the blog you can then create content anytime without incurring expenses.
  7. Do you have permission to use the art on your website? Make sure the designer you hire has secured legal rights to whatever artwork is being used.
  8. Is the design search-engine friendly? What I mean is: Will someone who enters your name in Google find this website quickly? To ensure this happens, you want your web design to be mostly text based, which means that text isn’t embedded within visual elements. The more text you have on your website, the more “findable” it will be to Google and other search engines.
  9. Is the design “lightweight?” I’ve seen some web design so loaded with big images and videos that the home page takes seemingly forever to load. This is a big mistake. You don’t want readers to give up on your website before they’ve even loaded page one. So keep performance in mind at all times. Use images sparingly, and avoid having any videos on your home page.
  10. If you do use videos, first load them into YouTube or Vimeo and then embed them into your web pages. This ensures that the videos will work well and your web pages will load quickly.

So there you have it. Just a few questions to keep in mind.

If you have further questions, let us know!

Announcing the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature

By Midge Raymond,

We are thrilled to announce our new book award, The Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature. The 2014 prize will be judged by New York Times bestselling author Karen Joy Fowler, whose most recent book is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.

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The contest is open to unpublished, full-length prose manuscripts, including novels, memoirs, short story collections, and essay collections. The winner will receive a cash award of $1,000 and publication by Ashland Creek Press. The submission deadline is September 30, 2014. For complete writers’ guidelines, click here.

New environmental literature” refers to literary works that focus on the environment, animal protection, ecology, and wildlife. The prize seeks work that redefines our notions of environmentalism and sustainability, particularly when it comes to animal protection. The award isn’t for books about hunting, fishing, or eating animals—unless they are analogous to a good anti-war novel being all about war. Under these basic guidelines, however, the prize will be open to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction with environmental and animal themes.

The Siskiyou Prize is named for the Klamath-Siskiyou region of northern California and southern Oregon, one of the most diverse eco-regions in the world. Considered a global center of biodiversity, the Klamath-Siskiyou region is an inspiring example of the importance of preservation.

Prize judge Karen Joy Fowler is the New York Times bestselling author of three short story collections and six novels, most recently We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Her books’ honors and awards include two New York Times Notable Books, the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, the Commonwealth medal for best first novel by a Californian, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the Bay Area Book Reviewers Prize, and the World Fantasy Award.

For more information, click here, or visit our submissions page.

Join us at AWP in Seattle!

By Midge Raymond,

We look forward to seeing many of you at the AWP Conference & Bookfair — February 27 to March 1.

We’ll be hosting a booth for Ashland Creek Press, EcoLit Books, and Literary Provisions. Please join us (we’ll be in booth #1207 in the North Hall) to check out new books and fun stuff for writers.

And don’t miss these other events…

Thursday, February 27
Julian Hoffman, contributor to Among Animals and author of The Small Heart of Things: Being at Home in a Beckoning World, winner of the 2012 AWP Award Series for creative nonfiction, will be signing books from 11 a.m. to 12 noon. (ACP booth #1207)

Jean Ryan, author of the “captivating” (Publishers Weekly) short story collection Survival Skills and contributor to Among Animals, will be signing books at the booth from 1 to 2 p.m. (ACP booth #1207)

Friday, February 28
Mindy Mejia, author of the “beautiful” (Twin Cities Pioneer Press) novel The Dragon Keeper will be signing books from 9 to 11 a.m. (ACP booth #1207)

JoeAnn Hart, author of the eco-novel Float (“a stellar model of eco-literature”—Cape Ann Beacon) will be signing books from 4 to 5 p.m. (ACP booth #1207)

And at 4:30 p.m., I’ll be leading a panel on Book Marketing — From Finding Your Muse to Finding Your Readers: Book promotion in the twenty-first century, with Kelli Russell Agodon, Wendy Call, Janna Cawrse Esarey, and Susan Rich. Panelists from a variety of genres—poetry, fiction, narrative nonfiction, and memoir—will discuss the unique challenges and opportunities of transitioning from writer to published book author. Through specific experiences and using real-world examples, panelists will offer tips for finding one’s natural niche and audience, and how to reach out to readers authentically and generously. Topics include book promotion through conferences, book clubs, social media, awards, blogs, events, and salons. (Room 608, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6)

Saturday, March 1
On Saturday, the Bookfair is free and open to the public!

At 12 noon, join John Yunker for a panel on The Greening of Literature: Eco-Fiction and Poetry to Enlighten and Inspire, with authors JoeAnn Hart, Mindy Mejia, Ann Pancake, and Gretchen Primack. From mountaintop removal to ocean plastic to endangered species, ecological issues are increasingly on writers’ minds. Authors on this panel discuss how their ecologically themed fiction and poetry engages readers in powerful ways that nonfiction can’t. Panelists discuss writing in these emerging sub-genres as well as their readers’ responses and offer tips for writing about the environment in ways that are galvanizing and instructive without sacrificing creativity to polemics. (Aspen Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor)

And for anyone heading south after AWP, please join me and Gretchen Primack for an afternoon of eco-fiction and poetry at Portland’s Central Library on Sunday, March 2, at 2 p.m. — click here for details.

Tips for Authors: How to be a good blogger

By Midge Raymond,

If you’re a writer in 2014, you surely have a blog. Yet how do you know if you’re using your blog in the best way you can to promote your work (without being that dreaded writer, The Over-Promoter)?

There is no one-size-fits all way to write a blog — for as many writers as there are in the world, there are as many blogging styles. Yet if you don’t blog enough — or if you blog too often, or if you blog about the wrong things — you risk alienating the very audience you hope to engage. So here are a few tips  to help you keep up your blog, your writing, and your connection with readers.

  • Keep it short and sweet. A blog post need not be the length of a novella — it need only be interesting, relevant (see below), and useful to the reader. Also, if you’re a writer, you need to be spending most of your time on your novel or essays, not blogging. Be brief and have fun — and then get back to your writing.
  • Keep it relevant. While you don’t want to be a shameless self-promoter, you do want your blog to be at least somewhat related to your writing, whether you talk about the process of writing your novel (research, writing rituals, inspiration for your characters, etc.) or whether you add content relevant to a nonfiction book (new recipes if you’re writing a cookbook, for example).
  • Add visuals. Not every post will lend itself to images (and it’s better to use none at all than cheesy, unrelated stock photos), but keep in mind that what engages the eye helps to engage the reader. Make each post as visually appealing as possible. For example, I’m using bold type in this bulleted list to make it more reader friendly. (Is it working?) And, when in doubt, you can always add an image of your book.

 

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  • Share the love. Use your blog not only to share your own writing but to connect with others. The more you reach out and share others’ blogs, the more your readers will gain. Link to other blogs, offer and host guest posts, participate in virtual book tours and giveaways. All these things will help foster a true online community. And don’t neglect to comment on others’ blogs and to respond to comments on your own. Both bloggers and readers love the feedback and the sense that there’s a real human behind the posts.
  • Have fun. While I saved this point for last, it’s probably the most important. Even if it means posting less, post only when you’re inspired and have something to say. The last thing your blog should be is a chore (and readers can tell when you’ve phoned it in), so take the time to consider how best to keep up with a blog in a way that engages and inspires you, and this in turn will keep your book out there in the world in a subtle yet important way.

Wishing you happy blogging!

Book promotion tips for authors: The never-ending book tour

By Midge Raymond,

My short story collection, Forgetting English, came out twice—once from Eastern Washington University Press, after winning the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction—and again, from Press 53, after EWU Press closed its doors. On one hand, it was awful to have my publisher shut down and leave me out of print—on the other, I got to have a second book tour, with an updated edition of my book and a spiffy new cover.

Among the best things I learned from doing two book tours for the same book, two years apart, is that The Book Tour comes in so many different shapes and forms. And the most important thing for any author to know is which type of tour will work best, for both the writer and the book. The second most important thing for an author to know is that a book tour doesn’t have to take place within the first few months of a book’s launch date; you can continue your tour for years. Until everyone on the planet has read your book, there will still be new readers to reach.

Of course, the old days of publisher-sponsored, multi-city book tours are, for the most part, long gone. These days, the vast majority of authors must plan, pay for, and publicize their own book tours—which is no small task. And for writers who don’t have a background in publishing, publicity, or marketing, it can seem even more intimidating.
But the challenges are well worth it, as the rewards can be great. Keeping in mind the nature of your book, your schedule, and your budget, here are a few things to consider (excerpted from Everyday Book Marketing) as you begin to think about planning a tour that will best fit your needs.

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Go where your friends are. Choose venues that you know will draw a decent audience, i.e., always plan book tour stops and events in places where you know at least a few people who will show up, bring friends, and otherwise make sure you’ll have a nice showing.

If you’re doing mostly local or regional events, spread them out so that the venues aren’t competing with one another. When Forgetting English first came out in 2009, I was living in Seattle, where I did about a dozen book events—but I spread them out over the course of the year, so no one got too sick of me and the venues didn’t have to compete for customers since even similar events were spaced months apart.

Team up with a fellow writer. For my 2011 tour, I teamed up for many events with my friend and colleague Wendy Call, author of No Word for Welcome. Because our books have similar themes (both are about foreign locales, though mine is fiction and Wendy’s is nonfiction), we thought it would be great to offer joint events, with something for all readers, and we received enthusiastic responses from booksellers, community writing centers, and libraries. Best of all, we shared the workload (the cold calls, follow-ups, and creation of marketing materials) as well as the fun stuff (great events, great people, lots of wine). Even better, we could commiserate over the not-so-fun stuff (the rejections, the small crowds, the low book sales). In all, it was a wonderful experience and one I’m so glad to have shared with Wendy. So if your book is a good fit with another writer’s, consider setting up a few joint events, which can offer a great way to share the experience as well as broaden your audience.

Think outside the bookstore. Certain times of year (holidays, for example, or summer in the Pacific Northwest) can be nearly impossible for scheduling bookstore events. And sometimes, no matter what the time of year, a bookstore may be booked already, or your schedules won’t align. So always be thinking beyond the bookstore—you’ll not only find gems in new venues but discover whole new audiences as well.

Libraries, for example, are always open to author events, particularly if the author is local and there’s an educational component to your book or presentation. Also, look for community centers or literary centers such as The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Grub Street in Boston, Richard Hugo House in Seattle, or San Diego Writers Ink in San Diego. Among the places I’ve read or attended readings are museums and galleries, cafés, universities and colleges, book clubs, historical societies … the list is endless if you think about it, so get a little creative.

If your book is nonfiction, this in and of itself can help you find good venues (if you’ve written a book with an environmental theme, for example, seek out organizations that embrace this theme and see how you can help one another). And fiction writers, too, should look for the same opportunities; simply use your fictional characters and settings in nonfictional ways. If your protagonist is an artist, hold an event at a local arts center or in an artist’s studio; if your book is set in Thailand, host an event at a Thai restaurant; if your main character is a barista, get readers together at a local café. You might also ask someone you know to host a literary salon—a great way to find new readers and talk about your book in a more private, casual setting. Ask a friend (even someone in another city/state, where you’ll be able to reach out to new readers) to host a salon for you at his or her home. Bring copies of the book to sell; provide whatever food, wine, etc., you’d like at the event. Then simply plan a casual gathering around your book, which might include a brief reading, discussion, and Q&A.

Research book festivals and conferences around the country, and see which ones you might attend as a reader, presenter, or instructor. Book festivals and conferences are wonderful ways to reach new readers—all have built-in literary audiences, and it’s also a great way to connect with fellow authors. Keep in mind that most festivals and conferences schedule up to a year in advance, so be sure to do your research early.

Offer a little something more. Unless you’re a writer whose mere presence in a bookstore will guarantee a line out the door, think about offering a little more than a traditional reading/signing. You want the event to be a win-win (so that you not only find new readers but will be invited back enthusiastically when you publish your next book), so think beyond your book to what else you can offer. Because Forgetting English is set in eight countries across four continents, for many of my events I offered a travel-writing workshop, which brings in not only readers but writers and travelers as well. So even if no one’s ever heard of me or my writing (which is, in fact, most people), those who love to travel or write will show up to learn something—and one of the things they learn is what my book is all about. On our joint tour, Wendy and I held several mini-workshops, and we received terrific feedback from these events. Even if an event isn’t specifically about your book, you’re giving participants an opportunity to get to know you, which in turn will build interest in your work.

Try a virtual book tour. This is a great option of you don’t have the time or budget to do a traditional book tour. You’ll do many of the same things you’d do on a live, in-person tour—create buzz for your book, find new readers, and chat about your book. Keep in mind that, while virtual, this type of book tour still takes a lot of planning: You need to connect with host bloggers, come up with original topics to write about, and promote your tour.

For more on book tours and book promotion (including a fabulous Q&A with Wendy Call), check out Everyday Book Marketing. You can also read a mini Q&A with Wendy here.