[Before we start, have you followed 10 new people yet?]
It’s all about YOU!
Yesterday was a big-picture assessment of your homepage. Day 6 hones in on your Bio, which you need for your website as well as every social media platform you’ve got. Let’s make sure you are presenting the best possible version of yourself (that’s still truthful of course).
I sorta cheated on this task, since my home page right now is my bio page, and I worked on that yesterday. But I do need to revisit the bios I have on Twitter (oh, wow, noticed outdated info right away!) and Insta (how long has that link been broken?! Oh and did you know they now let you add FIVE links on your Insta profile?!). I bet you forgot about those platforms and were only thinking about your website! But they are ALL our brand, and they all have bios–even if just five words. I’ve culled bio tips other professionals (I searched the web so you don’t have to) and blended them with my own advice.
First off, think about your audience. Who is reading this bio? Is it parents, past and potential buyers of your books? Specialists from schools and libraries considering whether to book you for an author signing? Kid fans that read your books? Literally picture them in your mind as you write your bio. As we’ve talked about, different platforms will have slightly different audiences. It’s OK to vary them.
Secondly, write it well! Be engaging! If you can’t write a good bio about yourself, can readers trust you can write a good book? Remember that you are your own brand. Your bio needs to reflect who you are, so that when someone reads it, they “get” you. Some great examples of writing in your own voice are here: https://rocketexpansion.com/about-the-author-examples/. Granted, those are mainly jacket flap bios, but you get the idea. This bio isn’t for jacket flap, which has an even more centralized audience—potential and current reader/buyer. First work on your webpage since it’ll be the longest. Adapt accordingly for Insta, Twitter, etc.
Third, don’t sweat wordcount. It can be as simple as a paragraph. Don’t bore anyone by cramming in too much information no one needs. (You’ll have stricter parameters on most of the other platforms.)
Lastly, don’t forget a CALL TO ACTION! More on that below.
On websites, I’ve always appreciated the almost-all-encompassing two or three sentence bio, followed by a few paragraphs of more-detail-that-isn’t-crucial-but-is-nice-to-have. That way, if your reader only has a few seconds, they can get enough from those first few sentences. It’s something they can cut and paste if they need to introduce you. To nail down the super short “elevator pitch” of your bio, check out https://scribemedia.com/write-author-bio/ (scroll about halfway down to Template heading).
OK, let’s get down to it. What should you include on your bio page?
Where you’re from, and where you live now. I like to keep this generic, as in “from NY, now live in CA” as I honestly don’t think it’s anyone’s business what town or exact city I live in. Plus, with cybersecurity issues, you don’t want to give out too much info on yourself. But if you have an unusual city name, like Boring, OR – please keep it! Have some fun with it.
Personal info but IMHO only AS IT PERTAINS TO YOUR WRITING such as if you write about the environment and you have a biology degree. Or, say, if you mainly write male characters b/c you are a mom of four boys, talk about how they influence story ideas or creative work hours.
Toss in some “PERSONAL TAGS” like something you’d call out on a main character to show their personality or make them memorable. Do you love Orange Crush? Root only for the Mets? Enjoy fly fishing? Hate the Oxford comma? Show readers what makes you uniquely you. Be relatable!
Recognition or awards you’ve received. Go ahead and toot your own horn! But no need to be a jerk about it. “I was excited to win the MOMMA 2022 Book of the Year” is different than “I beat out 200 other mostly-lame entries to capture the coveted award that most other authors only dream about” which makes you sound like a poo-poo-head. Be specific, spell out all acronyms, and give dates/years (unless it’s over 8ish years ago as then it’s old news so don’t give the year). Bonus points if you can toss in a few kid-friendly things like “baton champ of 5th grade” or “voted worst penmanship in 12th grade.” Remember that note about being relatable?
Your main age level and genre. For example, although I have CB and MG manuscripts that I’m working on, I am mainly a PB fiction writer, so that’s what I talk about. If I get published in the other age ranges, I’ll talk more about them. If you say you “write for all ages” then it looks like you’re unfocused. It’s more impressive to be specialized.
ALL your current social media handles WITH LINKS. (If you haven’t updated Pinterest since 2006, say, don’t include it.)
Headshot that’s within the last 5 years please! NOTE: HEADSHOTS ARE TOMORROWS TOPIC so no excuses for an outdate selfie.
People love pets so feel free to also add a few of those.
Book covers! Add all of ‘em. Feel free to have the pic linked to an indy book store where the book can be purchased—but do NOT say anything about buying the books. Simply have the linked book cover images.
YOUR CALL TO ACTION
Don’t miss the opportunity to ask people to leave a comment, sign up for your mailing list, click on a link to your blog or recent recorded interview, follow you on social media (with links), etc. Do NOT have the call to action be a sales pitch. No one likes that. It ruins the great impression you’ve just created.
Did we miss anything? Let me know if you have crucial info you think has to be included.
Once you hone your revised bio, make sure you update your bio’s main points on all your social media accounts. They don’t have to be exact; as mentioned, most people have slightly different personalities on each platform. But make sure they sync up and make sure they are all current.
Recap: Update and rework your bio(s!) as needed. Make sure each social media service you use has a bio that fits the audience (adapt your new one accordingly).
But those speaking engagements are still there. They are going to “get your name out there,” build your brand, and sell your books, remember? You can’t avoid them. Not if you want to sell books, that is.
I’m not trying to scare you off, but hey, people are strikingly more likely to remember HOW you said something compared to WHAT you said. That means you gotta work on your game. Think of a great speaker you saw. Now tell me what he or she said. You probably won’t remember most of the content, but you’ll remember the overall message or feeling they left you with. When it comes to remembering a speaker’s talk, a UCLA study showed that people tend to remember about 7% of what the presenter said (the words). That’s it. The rest, 93%, is the nonverbal impression the speaker made on the attendee.
The good news is 93% of what attendees walk away with is all under your control. Gestures account for 55%, tone 38% of the opinion/memory. You can affect that. Relatively easily (honest–I’ll show you). Another study by Management Science showed people are more likely influenced by the likability of a speaker that the quality of the speaker’s arguments. So…not to add to your stress, but instead of spending all that time on content, you need to spend time on delivery too.
Good thing you’re a peach.
I’m going to give you some solid ways to make sure your presentation stands out from the crowd, no matter how shy or nervous or a beginner you are. These 5 DOs and 5 DON’Ts will ease your mind and take you from a panicked mess to a well-informed presenter.
I’ve also included 3 extra of each, for the advanced presenter who wants to crank it up to eleven.
If you take it seriously and do your homework, you’re gonna do great. Realistically you might not hit a home run your next time at bat (sorry but IRL there are no shortcuts or instant successes, this isn’t a Hallmark movie), but you’ll get on base at least. You got this. Honest.
Or, you can, if you try.
1. DON’T Confuse your agenda with theirs
You are there to give a presentation, right? Wrong.
You are there to share information, right? Wrong.
You are there to make them a better speaker/reader/person. You are taking your expertise and sharing it with them so they can implement it and improve their lives/careers and therefore they can improve the lives/careers of others.
Isn’t that wonderful?
Not:“I’m here to talk about…” But: “Today you will learn…”
It may seem like a subtle difference but that change in perspective makes all the difference in the world. (OK, not the world, but big diff.)
Don’t be a writer but instead be writing…
2. DON’T Peddle your wares
No one likes a sales pitch. It’s icky. You’re not starring in an infomercial. Have your book(s) standing up on a table off to the side, and unless someone asks directly or you are quoting from them, don’t even acknowledge your titles. Let them speak for themselves. (It’s perfectly OK to point to them in your intro as you mention you are an author, tho.) If your presentation goes well they will be flocking over to buy or ask about them. Even if you think you’re being cute, the second you start hawking your stuff you lose credibility–as well as your audience. Don’t let them think you are only there to sell your books. Prove you are there to improve their [xxxx].
3. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT NOT REHEARSING. Out loud. Repeatedly.
How do you become a decent presenter? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice practice. While most audiences will decide within seconds whether or not they deem a speaker credible, writer-ly crowds are rooting for you, so don’t sweat it too hard at writing conferences. You still have to practice; just know they aren’t out to judge you harshly–they really want to learn (and for you to succeed). Give them reasons to pay attention to you instead of reasons to doodle or switch sessions midstream.
There is no way around this: you HAVE to practice your talk. Out loud. In front of people. More than once.
Your audience isn’t expecting a TED Talk, but they want to know you didn’t wake up this morning and throw the presentation together as you walked down the conference hall. And they deserve your best efforts. I’ve heard presenters say “When I was working on this on the plane” and “Last night when I wrote the page” and it’s flat out insulting. They just admitted they only worked on this presentation, that I have paid hard-earned dolla-dollas for and have eager expectations on, on the fly. Not cool, man. You’re a professional getting paid to do this. Show it.
Yes, you will feel awkward talking to yourself as you rehearse. But you have to say it out loud before going live. The first “dry run” will give you an idea on timing: how long is it? Do you need more material or do you need to cut some stuff out? The second time you’ll be more likely to notice where you repeat yourself or where things are out of order. The third and fourth time you’ll get more comfortable and more familiar with the material, with what’s coming next, so you can focus more on the HOW you’re presenting instead of the WHAT. (You wrote it, how hard can it be to remember it?) You’ll get more comfortable walking around as you talk. [Repeat after me: I am not sitting or standing in one place the whole time. I am not a boring robot.] The more comfortable you are with the material, the more comfortable you will be onstage presenting it.
4. DON’T START OUT APOLOGIZING. Or apologize mid-talk.
Never start out with an apology. You only get one change to make a first impression, right? Start out strong. If the projector isn’t working, stop and quietly go over to your handler or whoever is in charge to get help. No need to announce “Oh this isn’t working, let me get help.” We know it’s not working. We are in the room. If a table is in the way, walk over and move it, without saying a word. None of this “Let me move this before we get started…” You need to control the room from the second you make eye contact.
When should that be?
Don’t make eye contact with the audience until you have things under control and are ready to go.
That’s not to say you don’t own up to anything if you have made a mistake (“Oh, sorry, I thought you said beaches”). I’m referring to if something technical/mechanical goes wrong before or during your talk.
Not: “Oh, wait, this needs to, um, let me fix, er, move this, bum-dee-bum, hi, oh sorry, I hate this, hang on while I juggle some furniture around, doot-de-doot-doo, almost there, one mooooore sec, OK, now we can get started.” Nope. Not: “Wait, that page isn’t supposed to be here, I thought I fixed that, hang on while I–dang it, I paged back too far, now I have to…doot-doot, bear with me here, folks…” No. Shut your trap and make it right. Without a sound. Without eye contact. You might think you’re making it less awkward or being charming by narrating, but what you’re doing is calling attention to the fact something is wrong. Or that you don’t have your act together. No sense announcing it. Fix it. If it’s a dreaded typo, don’t fawn over it, simply state “oh, that’s spelled wrong” and move on. Don’t be embarrassed. You’re human. If you can’t fix what’s wrong on the screen, calmly move on, talk from your notes instead of slides, or jump to Q&A. To me, this is the #1 way to tell a beginner speaker from a seasoned one.
Running late? Whether it’s your fault or not, own up to it–the right way. Not: Sorry I’m late But: Thanks for waiting
Missing materials? Not: I was going to have handouts but… But:I’m passing around a sign-up sheet; I’ll be emailing you a summary/worksheet/handout tomorrow. Or, The conference coordinators will get you handouts within a week. (Find a solution, stay calm and in control.)
Not: Sorry it’s so cold in here But: Thanks for bearing through this arctic room temp
On a related note, never throw anyone under the bus. Even if, say Thomas is to blame for the typo/missing docs/cold temp/etc, never call him out (“Ack, I told Thom to fix that”). You’ll look like a jerk, even if it was Thom’s fault. It’s your presentation. Blame no one.
Silence while you correct it, on the spot, like a boss.
5. DON’T GO LONG
Ending on time proves you rehearsed, are fully aware how much time you were given, and knew how to use it effectively. It also shows you respect the audience’s time.
Again, this is a difference between a seasoned presenter and a newbie.
1. DO Start BY ANSWERING ‘WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?’
In addition to starting with who you are and why you’re qualified to be speaking either on the topic or at that event, tell the audience what they will learn (not “what I will talk about!”), and how it will make them a better writer/editor/artist/person–i.e., what’s in it for them.
Greeting followed by your name, spoken slowly and clearly
Two or three reference points on why you are the content expert and maybe a fun fact about yourself
Specifics on what people are going to learn/walk away knowing
Why they need this important information, if possible
“Hello! I’m Bitsy Kemper. I’m author of 21 books and have taught presentation skills for years, from beginners up to corporate vice presidents (talk about a tough crowd). Today you’re going to learn how YOU, you sweet introverts, can make your next author visit or book presentation shine, even if you hate giving presentations. How does that sound?”
Or: “By the time you finish reading this blog post, you will learn ways to make your author presentation better, in both content and presentation skills. As introverted as most authors are, these tips will not only ease the stress of future book signings or conference speeches, but give you insight into how to make talks successful regardless of how comfortable you feel in front of a crowd. Your future audiences will walk away with a positive impression of both you and your session.”
You don’t want to include background on yourself that isn’t relevant to that particular setting. In the first example above I stated I’m an author because I’m talking to authors. If it was a corporate setting, I know they are a tougher sell so would have started with “I spent 13 years in the computer industry, then consulted on marketing and branding for small businesses, have been on CNN/movies/TV, and as author of 21 books giving presentations across the country, now focus on helping others–like you–write and present. Today you’re going to learn how to take your presentations to the next level, whether you hate giving presentations or think you’re already pretty darn good. Who’s ready to start learning some secret intel?” In that case I gave some corporate experience so they know we have a common thread, gave quick acting nod as that always helps a presenter’s cred, and used being an author as my most relevant experience explaining why/how I know about giving presentations.
No humble brags. More of a brief resume recap that’s targeted to the audience. And speaking of audience…
2. DO Know your audience!
Who are you talking to? Are they fifth graders? PreK? PreK all the way through 5th grade? Teaching staff? Just like you wouldn’t write a book for fifth graders in the same way you’d write it for four year olds, you need to know who you’re talking to and adjust accordingly.
Your message won’t change, but how you get it across will.
There are times you won’t know in advance–whether the people that hired you never told you, or they don’t know themselves (hello, book tour!). There are times the info changes (“…there was a K/1 field trip today so we’re sending you to third grade instead”). I mean, how many of you have ever signed up for a session at a conference and then switched once you got there? It happens.
Even if you were told who they are–CONFIRM. After that great intro you just gave–ask some questions to get a feel for the room. Start with a questions they can answer yes to. It gets buy-in from the get-go. “We’ve got writers in the crowd, yes?” Then narrow things down. “How many are published? YA writers? Picture book? Any illustrators?” Don’t spend too much time here, though, or you’ll come off as unprepared. View this as confirmation of who you think is there, not a panicked blank stare. You know everyone there is there to hear what you have to say on the topic, so it’s not like a random crowd rounded up from the street. A few clarifying Qs should handle it.
3. DO Spend time on content
As much as you’ll want to practice HOW you’re saying it, you need to make sure WHAT you’re saying is a) factually correct, b) what they hired you to talk about c) WHAT WAS ADVERTISED (if you are at a conference, triple check this; almost nothing upsets a crowd more than a speaker talking about a subject that differs from the title or program summary. They will blame you, not the conference coordinators.)
4. DO Radiate
Be confident knowing you are a content expert. You are up there presenting because you know what you are talking about. Everyone has felt the pangs of Imposter Syndrome; don’t let it get to you. Sure, there will always be someone who knows more than you on the subject. Does mean that you don’t know enough, or are unqualified? Not at all. You were asked to present (or in some cases, did the asking) because you know what you are talking about. So let that shine through. Remember that statistic on importance of being likable?
If you’re not a confident person in general, pretend, just for today, that you are, and act like one. That’s why you are there. That’s why they booked YOU. They could have asked anyone, and they chose you. Own it.
I’m not asking you to put on airs or suddenly become someone you’re not. We don’t want to see fakers. We still want the see the real you. Just a confident version of you. I mean, if you don’t believe in yourself or your material, why should I as an audience member? I want you to use your same voice, chose the same vocabulary, dress the same way (OK maybe a little nicer, please–see #5 below). And the only way to get that confidence level up is to practice, practice, practice. (See Don’t #3, above)
5. DO Dress nicely
To use an industry expression, people DO judge books by their covers. Dressing up shows you are respecting the audience. Doesn’t have to be a three-piece suit. Doesn’t have to be high-heeled shoes. But it needs to be something that makes you stand out from the crowd, just a little bit. You’re not an attendee, you’re a guest of honor. Don something that shows you put effort into this. And be consistent, as it builds your brand. (“Oh, the guy in the bow ties” or “You know, the speaker who always wears polka dots”)
Let me caution away from three things. Please, nothing 1. way too low cut or 2. wildly LOOK AT THIS distracting. We want to look at your sweet face as you’re talking, not at your clothes (will there be a wardrobe malfunction?) or platform shoes (will she trip out of them at any second?). Also, 3. nothing brand new. You need to know how something feels and moves before you try it out in front of a crowd for the first time. You don’t want the itchies or to split a seam reaching for a visual aid. (I can, um, neither confirm nor deny any of the above things happening to me…)
Is that all? you’re asking yourself.
If you’ve got all that down pat and are ready for more refinement, here are 3 bonus DOs and 3 bonus DON’Ts.
BONUS DON’T #7: DON’T TALK TO “EVERYBODY.” Be specific. Talk to ME.
Think of this as a one on one conversation. With every member of the crowd. If you start out with “Hi, everyone!” it feels impersonal. Cold. Corporate. Like I’m one of many. If you say “Hello Cherry Avenue fifth graders!” you’ve made every fifth grader at that school feel special. Plus their teacher <shout out to Mrs. Fox!>. The crowd knows you are there for THEM, not for any ol’ group of kids. It feels personal. There’s a reason the crowd goes wild every time a rock star says “Hello, [insert your hometown]!” We feel special. Seen.
BONUS DON’T 7: DON’T DISMISS Qs
“As seen on page 10…” or “As I mentioned earlier…” are not great ways to answer a question. If they knew the answer was on page 10, if they remembered what you said earlier, or if the answers given were clear, they wouldn’t be asking. Don’t be an arrogant jerk. Answer as if it’s the first time you’ve heard it. [Caveat: if the 4th first-grader in a row asks the same question, recognize they might not be capable of coming up with other/new questions and just want to be called on to make you happy. State the answer and end with “Are there questions not related to [xx]?” or simply end the Q&A. With a smile.]
On the flip side, there is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know” to a Q. If you truly can’t bring yourself to say those words, a) get some professional help and b) pause and answer with a genuine “Let me look into that. Other questions?”
BONUS DON’T #8 DON’T BRAG
State facts. Sure, tell us what went right. But include failure in your success story. We want to share in your humanness.
BONUS DO #6: DO ADD VISUALS
We like you. But we don’t wanna spend the entire time staring at your mug while you yammer on. Or listen to you read your slides word for word. Personally, I feel if a speaker doesn’t have a powerpoint-type presentation it means they didn’t take it seriously or didn’t put in enough effort. I really do. That’s my corporate background talking and I can’t shake it. If computer-generated presentations really aren’t your bag, baby, at least give me a few other things to look at. Think of it as Show & Tell. Any sort of visual will go a long way. Sprinkle them in, don’t give me one in your entire 90-minute session. Include, say, a prop. A sample product. Photos. A large flip chart. An audio or video clip. Artwork. Don’t pass anything around, though. If people are looking at something in their hands, or distracted by the rumble of it getting passed around, it means they aren’t listening to you. Speaking of passing it around…
BONUS DO #7: DO Bring a handout or giveaway of some sort
Yes, total suck-up move. But it works. People LOVE handouts–it’s like a follow up session with tangible information. It should have your name/logo/website on it, whether it’s a bookmark or session summary. Great branding opportunity! Wait until your talk is over before handing them out to keep the focus on you instead of the paper/trinket.
An example of an exception here is conferences or workshops for grown-ups. Maybe teenagers. To keep it interactive, often times I’ll bring a bag of candy (usually M&M Halloween-sized) and keep it hidden. The first time someone interrupts with a question, after I answer it I toss them a bag, thanking them for being bold enough to ask a question. I say it’s an incentive for the crowd to keep asking Qs, and toss one each time a Q is asked. They love it!
All handouts leave attendees with a positive impression, and a tangible piece of you. Win win.
BONUS DO #8: DO Ask your audience (yes) questions
Asking questions keeps them involved. It keeps them on their toes (“whoops, I wasn’t listening, what did she say? I need to focus back”). By asking questions they agree with, it gets them on your side. And it gets them invested in the outcome of the session. You can take it a step further by getting them active: “By a round of applause, who wants to get published?” [Ask a Q everyone will answer yes to, and therefore all applaud.] Applauding effects the brain. Happy people applaud. Happy people smile. When even one person smiles it makes everyone in the room feel better because they, consciously or unconsciously, are smiling with that smile-er. Smiling people set a positive tone for your presentation. A happy tone is a great start. Wouldn’t you say that’s worth clapping for? <—see what I did there? 🙂
I hope implementing these tips will help your next presentation be the best one yet. The links give a ton more help, in much more depth than one blog can offer, and are worth a quick click. There are plenty of tried-and-true classic books to review as well, by well-respected experts like Dale Carnegie and Decker Communications. Check back with me in a little bit. Let me know what you’ve improved on most.
*Yes, I did quote my own book. In this/that link you can find my (award-winning!) TEENS AND PHOBIAS book for as little as $5.95. I don’t profit from sales, so I’m not actually asking you to buy it. But it’s honestly very helpful for anyone, not just teens, with social anxiety or a phobia of any kind, especially ones they may be reluctant to admit.
Not everyone is comfortable sharing information online, even when it’s required.
If you’re self publishing and/or using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to print your books on demand (POD), you will notice that you have to hand over your social security number (SSN) or TID (Taxpayer Identification Number) in order to set up an account and get started. You also need to hand over your bank account info so they can pay you royalties (lots, hopefully!). In the age of cyber and identity theft, many people are uncomfortable sharing that precious information — as well they should be. Our friends over at the Northern California Publishers and Authors (NCPA), have suggestions.
EID: You don’t have to use your SSN, actually. What do you mean? you may ask. I have to give them a legal identifying number or I can’t sign up. Well, instead of using your SSN when you sign up for your Amazon KDP account, there is an option to provide an EIN, or Employer Identification Number. Do it. Use your EIN instead of your SSN or TID! It’s that easy.
But I don’t have an EIN, you might say.
Then get one!
Many people assume that to get or have an EIN you have to run a business or at a minimum, hire employees (hence the Employer part of the acronym). But no, you don’t have to be or have either. As a writer, you are a business.Gasp! And get this — it’s free to get an EIN directly through the IRS, online. Double gasp! Tell me more! Click here for the direct link on how to secure an EIN. You *will* have to give your SSN or TIN to sign up (they need some way to track you, it is the government after all)–but you’ll be giving it directly to the IRS.
Sharon Darrow, president of NCPA, cautions, “DO NOT waste time and money going through a third party, because they often charge and can take longer because your application has to be submitted through the IRS.” She finds the EIN page “clear as mud,” but it’s not too bad for government work (wow, two government burns, nice, Kemper). The app should take about 15 minutes to complete. And, Ms. Darrow feels, is worth it. “Using the EIN not only protects your privacy, but makes you look a little more professional.”
Uncomfortable with completing the form online? The bottom of the page has a form you can download to apply through the mail.
BANK ACCOUNT INFO: Kindle also requires your bank account. No, they aren’t being nosy, they need it in order to get you your moolah from book sales. Ms. Darrow has another suggestion that is “very simple and helpful for your tax records.” And I agree. “Set up a separate account for your writing business,” she says. “Even if you only have a handful of transactions a year, it protects your privacy and is more professional. Make sure you are getting an account with the bare minimum or no fees, and ask your banker if it’s connected to any of your other accounts in a way that an outsider could access. If you are especially worried, set up the writing account at a bank or credit union where you have no other accounts. This way, you can give the bank account information to Kindle with no worries.”
I was presenting at a workshop where they held agent pitch appointments, also called Agent Meet & Greets. Several attendees ended up disgruntled. And they shouldn’t have been.
Let me take a step back.
What’s an “agent meet and greet,” you may ask? At this one, attendees paid a certain amount of money for 10 glorious minutes of face time with any or all of the agents that were attending the one-day conference. Writers weren’t allowed to hand over their manuscript directly, but could:
ask about the agent (are you editorial–do you give feedback on manuscripts or do you only submit as is? how many clients are you actively subbing right now? what kinds of stories do you like and tend to submit: humor, sci fi, YA, etc)
ask about the agency (how long has it been around? where is it headquartered and is that where you are located? how many are in the office? [<–technically they should have already looked up that info but I digress] are you autonomous or does the Director play a strong role?)
ask about the industry (do you see many historical fictions these days? are picture books selling well?)
Mostly, though, (smart) writers were there to use the 10 minutes to talk about their manuscript and ask for feedback. If we’re going to call a spade a spade, mostly people were hoping that after discussing the manuscript, the agent would say “sounds interesting, send it my way, I’ll have a look.” They were there to pitch their story to the agent in hopes of getting representation. And that’s fair–nothing wrong with that. Agents know that coming in–in fact, that’s why there are there too! They are looking for new talent/work. Win win.
But as in every potential relationship, not all work out. Even when they were SURE this one would.
Several people lamented to me that their agent meetings “didn’t go well” because the agent didn’t like the manuscript, or didn’t ask for them to send it in. They felt they wasted their time and their money. But that’s not true!! That meeting still went well. In fact, it almost went better than if they asked for the entire manuscript to be sent in.
Listen. If the agent wasn’t a fan of your submitted work/idea, or if you didn’t get the feels, THEN SHE ISN’T THE AGENT FOR YOU! You 100% still had a good meeting. How? You now know that agent isn’t for you. The last thing you want is someone not committed to you or work work, or a contract with someone you don’t get along with. An agent is someone you’re going to be working with for a long time–you want a good working relationship based on mutual trust and effort. If she isn’t into you or your work, it’s GREAT that she let you know (and I’m sure it was a gentle let down). It’s now a confirmed data point vs an unknown.
This applies to interviewing almost anyone for anything–once you’ve said or heard no to/from that person, you are that much closer to saying yes to the right one. This “No thanks” was time well spent. In the case of the writing world, you aren’t getting your hopes up by emailing a proposal or query or manuscript to someone that on paper looked perfect only to wait six months to get a form rejection letter back. You already know this isn’t the agent. Seriously, that is good information. In other industries and situations, you can confidently say, “we avoided making a mistake by hiring that one.” It’s not idle effort. The important thing is that you’re getting yourself out there, seeking.
I once had a dream agent that I found out about, read all I could about her, practically memorized the agency website as well as her bio page, and followed on her on Twitter. She was hilarious. We had the same sense of humor. I KNEW we’d be a great match. I couldn’t wait to meet her at a conference. But once I met her in person…wow. Does. Not. Equal. We were sooo not a match. While she was a great agent for others, there was no way I wanted to work with her. And I never would have known for sure had I not met her in person. It was not a waste of time. It saved me time.
Think of if this way: now you can get moving focusing on someone else to grow old with. The right someone else.
Quick quiz: You’re told you need to work on your “Author Platform.” You:
A. Smile politely, then go back to searching online for cute cat outfits
B. Nod, smile, then furiously Google “author platform” hoping you’re not the last to know what the heck that is
C. Think “Oh, yeah it really is time I update and interact with my social media” [Facebook, Twitter, Insta, blog and/or website], then dig right in
D. B or C but definitely not A (unless it was a really good sale)
Correct answer: D
What is an Author Platform? And why do you need to care?
Let’s break it down. Author. Platform. It’s like a compound word. (Author Platforms or Writer Platforms, no matter what you call it, are the same thing, don’t get hung up on author vs writer. For the sake of ease, we’ll use the terms synonymously here. I’m also capitalizing the words here for effect, which is unnecessary elsewhere.) What does the phrase mean?
As defined, a writer or an author is someone who has written something. A platform is a raised surface, something you’d stand onfor better visibility. Like a stage. Put the words together and you’ve got an image of a writer standing on a, well, platform, a little taller than everyone around them. They stand out; you can spot them in a crowd.
That’s the writer you want to be.
You want to be the writer/author that people can find easily or can recognize…the one that stands out. And you’ll need a platform on order to do it.
“Author Platform: your visibility as an author, utilizing your personal ability to sell books through who you are, the connections you have, and the media outlets you use.” –Writer’s Digest
I think of the term as a less-commercial way of saying “author branding.” It means how you present yourself to the public, and how you are seen/viewed by readers, agents, editors, fellow writers/artists and anyone else paying attention. It’s a way of showing your unique qualities that “brand” you as a person, as a writer, or artist…with the ultimate goal of leading to book sales.
Don’t confuse it with image. Image implies something perceived. You’ll be putting the real, flawed you out there, just like you do for your main characters. An Author Platform should be based on truth. You’re not an actor hiring a publicity agent to get media attention. You’re you, showing who you are, with the ultimate goal that the likable you is worthy of following or noting or reading or acknowledging, and it will at some point lead to book sales. Isn’t that why school visits, book signings, special promotions, launch parties and all that exist: to sell books? Well you’re the in-person version of that, the walking billboard, the neon sign, the ever-friendly smile of customer service, open 24/7. Except when you’re asleep. Or driving. Or whatever. You know what I mean.
You are NOT shaking hands and asking people to buy your book all the time, oh no, you’re missing the point if that’s what you just ran off and started doing. No one is going to follow or buy the book from a guy that’s sending pestering Tweets or spamming Facebook posts or always standing up in groups asking people to buy their books after the meeting. Boy is that annoying or what? I hate that guy. What I’m saying is you are your brand. You represent you. So be respectable. Make me like you. Make me WANT to buy your book. If you do it right, you will probably never have to say the words “Buy my book.” I’ll decide I want to on my own.
Note this is a Writer Platform, not a book platform. This is about you, not your book. Why? Because you’re more than one book. If you brand yourself too closely with one title, on the next book you’ll have to do it all over again. That confuses people. They can handle lots of books, but they only want one you. Brand yourself correctly and all your books will easily fall under that one umbrella…you!
Everything you post online becomes a part of your brand. Your Tweets, your FB posts, your blog updates. Your forwards, your shares, your likes. It all shapes the person people see. Those who have never met you can only form an opinion based on what they see. And that’s based on what you do. How you reply to comments. What you post or repost. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it. The way you talk to your friends. The way they talk to you, even. It all paints a picture.
I’m headed to one of the largest children’s book writing conferences in the world: the SCBWI Winter Conference (why our annual winter conference is in NY [where it’s supposed to be 8° this weekend] and the summer conference is in LA, I’ll never understand, but that’s another topic.) And OVER A THOUSAND fellow writers and illustrators will be there too. The event boasts many top (dare I say famous) editors, agents, art directors, authors & illustrators in the children’s publishing world. It’s going to be a fantastic few days of learning, inspiration, and friend making.
The large mix of attendees is weighted a little heavily towards the beginner, with many in the intermediate and many many in what I’d call the “seasoned professional” category. The NY conference is a little different from other SCBWI conferences in that, given the proximity to so many publishing houses, it practically rains editors and agents. You’ll see them at conference keynotes, intensives, panels, awards ceremonies, heck, even elevators. Some of them just show for the Art Show or Gala Dinner. Many of them are either new or overworked and don’t travel much, so you won’t see them elsewhere.
If you’ve never been, and have wondered if it’s worth it, I have to give it a hearty YES YES, two cramped writing thumbs up. And not just because I love my NY roots and will find any excuse to go back. But because it’s a writing experience like no other. It’s not a pore-over-your-workshop-notes-and-guarantee-yourself-an-aha-moment. It’s a wow-I’m-really-a-writer-surrounded-by-other-writers-and-this-is-where-I-want-to-be-moment. If you don’t have one of those while you’re there, well, you might not be a writer after all. And that’s OK, too. Isn’t that an important learning moment as well? No matter what you walk away with, I promise you won’t regret your decision to attend. There’s a reason a thousand people from around the world will be at this thing.
Now if you happen to be one of these thousands of fellow conference attendees this week or sometime in the future, and are fearing for your life because you’d rather be in your jammies creating in the privacy of your home and not in the middle of a grand ballroom surrounded by all these cat ladies, here are some conference tips to maximize your trip.
You’re not going to get a contract(seriously, toss that thought right now), but you WILL make contacts. These connections might lead to a contract some day. But don’t pressure yourself, or others. Listen. Learn. Be present. Follow some new people on Twitter and Facebook (follow this blog!). It’s kind of like college-you aren’t really there to memorize the Periodic Table; you’re Continue reading →