Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Platform-Building for the Prepublished Author

A platform. That which is stood upon to be heard. And in this noisy world, where billions of people have direct access to major distribution channels, getting heard is no small task.

No wonder new authors obsess over building their platforms. For most types of nonfiction, a platform before publication is a must.  It establishes both your authority and your pull. The importance of a platform for a prepublished fiction author is up for discussion, however.  Regardless, keep in mind two points:
  • Don’t sweat it. Rarely do debut authors have a truly robust online presence unless they are celebrities.  Between someone with an amazing platform and mediocre writing and someone with amazing writing and no platform, guess who I’m going to pick? (This is not a theoretical conjecture.) 
  •  Don’t ignore it. Platform-building normally takes a long, long time and involves a considerable learning curve. Putting in the legwork from the beginning helps.
Upon hearing they need a platform, prepublished fiction authors often do three things:
  1. Start a blog.
  2. Create an author page on Facebook. 
  3. Head to Twitter.
These may be steps in the right direction, but more often than not, they’re not. Here’s why.


Unpublished writers seem to love writing about writing. Unfortunately, most of your blog readers end up being other unpublished writers, which might be great for comradery, but less so for reaching your future core readership. Try to think of something that will attract readers, not just writers (or -- if you write kidlit -- the decision makers in readers’ life: teachers, librarians, parents). 

Blog with an end-goal in mind. Think about a service you want to provide, a niche that needs filling. Think about the persona you want to portray – Whimsical? Brooding? Twisted? High-minded? Let your blog be a natural extension of your brand – and make part of the draw to buying your work be, well, you.

One powerful way to jumpstart your platform is to piggyback on what others are doing. Many blogs are hungry for content providers – and already have hard-won established readerships. Maybe you can sign up as a reviewer for a book blog, or a commentator for a mom blog, etc. Or you and your fellow writers can join forces and start a blog where you share content responsibilities. Leverage the pre-existing resources – if the connection makes sense.


You know how Facebook works: the people you interact with most often and the posts that get the most comments are the ones that show up highest on your feed. If you’re not posting regularly, and people aren’t commenting back, your author page will soon fade into near-oblivion. And frequent posting when you have no real news can get obnoxious, fast.

You might be better off skipping an author page until you have traction and people who actively want to hear your writing news. Or perhaps help start a group Facebook page where a ring of genre-specific authors share their news. Your collective pull and content will help you all gain more exposure. Or you don’t worry about Facebook– just keep a nice personal account where you can share your squee-worthy news and forget the rest.

Most Facebook posts have a lifespan of hours; a few potent ones a lifespan of days. Most incredibly shared posts are passed around mindless of the originator. If you’re on Facebook and you enjoy it, by all means, continue – but don’t feel any need to make it one of the cornerstones of your marketing plan just yet.


There is nothing wrong with Twitter, and a lot right with it. If you choose to be on there (and yes, participation all these social media outlets are choices – you don’t HAVE to do all of them), just use it in a way that makes sense. Share cool and useful ideas; don’t make yourself a self-promotion hound. Reach out to people who seem like they’d belong in your “tribe;” don’t just mindlessly try to get the biggest follow-ship you can. Remember, the average tweet’s lifespan is much, much shorter than even a Facebook posts’. A select group of people who care about what you tweet and reply, favorite, and retweet often is much better than an indifferent cast of thousands.

In Short

Many resources – from books to websites -- exist out there to move you along. Just remember to start with a goal in mind. Don’t just throw something up ad hoc because you heard you had to have a platform. Be strategic – about who you want your audience to be, how you want your persona portrayed, what you can sustainably provide content about and whether there are synergistic partnerships you can start or join in on. 

By all means, don’t limit yourself to the social media networks mentioned above – think videos, web comics, memes, speech engagements, online or offline classes, etc. Slowing down during the planning stage will save you a lot of time and effort at the back end. And remember rule #1: don’t sweat it. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Happy platform-building!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Membership drive is now over - Thank you for your support of Books For Africa!

Welcome, new members!

Thank you to all of you who contributed to our Books For Africa fundraiser membership drive! We'll update you with an impact total soon, and return emails after the weekend.

Happy writing,

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sign up for RYS Membership This Week Only - July 17-18

You've asked. 
We've answered:


For a very limited time on July 17-18—and with the Books for Africa cause behind us—Rate Your Story will allow non-members to sign up for a 2014 PRO membership at a pro-rated, 1/2 year price.


Cost: $90

Duration of Membership: Immediately upon checkout through December 31, 2014


- Priority Inbox Treatment (your emails get bumped ahead of free/non-member submissions);

- 10 total manuscripts for reading/rating:
     3 free day submissions total
     7 "Anytime" submissions;

- Access to PRO bonus exclusive emails with occasional agent/editor interviews, discounts offers on professional critiques, market/submission calls, and more;

- Donation to Books For Africa's 1 Million Books for Gambia fundraiser* (video here)

Window to Purchase: July 17 and 18, 2014 ONLY

How to Purchase:
Visit the Membership Options Page on July 17 or 18 for checkout buttons. These checkout buttons will appear on the Membership Options Page the morning of July 17. These buttons will disappear at midnight (Central) on July 18. (Note: We reserve the right to end the offer early if we are inundated with an overwhelming number of new signups.)

*50% of net proceeds after costs, fees, etc. will be donated to Books For Africa, Inc. - 1 Million Books for Gambia. Books for Africa, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

If you have any questions, email us at rateyourstory at gmail dot com.

Please share, tweet, and let your friends know about this very limited offer. When it's gone, it's gone!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What Do I Write?: Author Blurbs for the Pre-Published

You’re a pre-published author. No biggie – tons of people are in the same boat. But then you start drafting your query letters bio and before you know it, your banging your head against the wall, cursing the day you eschewed your parents’ suggestion to become an accountant…

Relax. Every single successful writer started out with no publishing credits, and you can too. Agents and editors understand where you’re coming from and, for the most part, have reasonable expectations of the newbie author.

When you write a cover or query letter, there is no perfect amount of information to provide. It all depends on the circumstances.  In general, however, the fewer writing credentials you have, the shorter your bio should be. Don’t sweat trying to fill a paragraph up if you don’t have a paragraphs-worth of information to share. Being sparse always trumps being irrelevant. 

Do mention:

  • Degrees relevant to writing (English, Journalism, Creative Writing, MFA) or to your specific content (Education, if you’re a children’s writer; science, history, etc. if it relates). 
  • Relevant career or life experience (Law enforcement for crime novels; military for international thrillers; having lived in Uganda for two years if you wrote something about Uganda; teaching if you write for kids, etc.).
  • Membership in well-known professional writing organizations like the SCBWI.
  • Legitimate regional or national writing awards. 
  • Major or relevant magazine, newspaper, and web publications. By major, I mean publications you can name-drop and impress your non-author friends with. By relevant, I mean ones tied closely to your genre or topic.your platform if you have one. (This is another sweat-inducing topic for pre-published authors. We’ll get into it next time.)

Do not mention:

  • Your life experience, degrees, or career if it’s irrelevant to the project at hand.
  • Every little publishing credit you have. There are a lot of obscure publishers out there, and getting published in them might mean very little. Just list the most prestigious ones and indicate there are others.
  • Every little writing award you’ve received, like that first place prize in your middle school writing competition (unless you happen to be a high school freshman, in which case that might be relevant).
  • The composition, duration, or any other detail about your critique group. Having a critique group, critique partner, or beta readers is great, but the details are irrelevant.
  • Anything about your family, unless it is clearly and directly relevant to your project. If you write about autism and you have an autistic child, that’s worth knowing. If you write romances and are a thirty-something mother of three, keep it to yourself until you’ve established a relationship with your agent or editor.
  • Your motivation for writing the book. If it’s interesting and important, the topic will speak for itself. Honest. Basically, editors and agents can spot padding when they read it, and they don’t appreciate it.
But what if you really, truly don’t have ANY writing credentials worth mentioning? You can write something along the lines of “This is my first novel.” --- without any explanation about why you’re worthy. Your work will speak for itself, or it won’t. You can also just sidestep the issue:

My <specific genre> novel, Title, is loosely based on my own experience/interest in <relevant experience/interest>. Because of your <relevant interest>, I thought my story might intrigue you. 

That quote is based on an actual query letters that got requests for a full.  That was ALL the author said about herself, and that’s all she had to say. Better to keep the focus on the project than to put even a line of weak filler in the query. Or, in other words, better to keep the agent/editor excited about what’s coming than to raise a red flag about your level of professionalism.

Hopefully you’re feeling more confident about making your biographical debut now. Share your query letter bios in the comments below – inspire other people with what’s worked for you, or get feedback on how to make your bio stronger.

And now, for a special-limited time offer:

1/2 year Pro Membership will be available July 17-18 only - 

Our membership options have been closed since earlier this year. HOWEVER, if you want a yearly membership, we will open one option from July 16-18 ONLY.
The $90, half-year PRO membership good for the rest of 2014 will include:
 10 total submissions for rating plus comments 
7 "anytime" submissions - must be sent before December 31, 2014
3 submissions on the free days (one MS on each day: Sep 1Oct 1, and Nov 1)
Priority inbox treatment
access to our pro-member monthly bonus email (with bi-monthly interviews).

*Miranda Paul and Rate Your Story will donate 50% of net proceeds after credit card charges, PayPal fees, and eCommerce costs to Books for Africa, Inc.'s 1 Million Books for Gambia project.