Making Connections as a Writer

Business People Meeting Corporate Digital Device Connection Concept

In my previous post, Connecting with People at Conventions, I discussed how writers can connect with people at various convention events such as exhibit hall displays, main sessions, workshops, luncheons, and receptions. While meeting people in person provides great opportunities for a writer to reconnect with key individuals as well as make new friends, most of the time writers need to communicate with people at a distance. Here are some ideas for connecting with people through technology.

  1. Magazine and Journal Editors – Even after you have written a book, keep writing articles for magazines and journals. You will find that writing these shorter pieces helps you pursue fresh ideas as a writer and keeps your name in front of readers. If you have met editors at writer’s events or conventions, send them an email to follow up on potential writing opportunities. If you discussed potential topics with an editor in person, send a query for an article that fits the publication’s current needs. If you have not already done so, connect with the publication through social media, liking the page on Facebook or following the account on Instagram, Twitter, or other social media sites. These social media connections will assist you in determining what articles are most suited to the publication and how a finished article will appear online.
  2. Agents and Publishing House Editors – If you are seeking to publish your first book through a traditional publisher, you most likely will need to communicate with a publishing house through a literary agent. During the publication process, your literary agent will give you suggestions as you hone your book proposal (nonfiction) or manuscript (fiction), so you want to find an agent who understands and enjoys books in your genre. If you have met a potential agent in person, follow up with a letter sent through email introducing your background (education, professional interests, previous writing experience) and a one-paragraph description of your potential book. If the agent is interested, the next step will be a scheduled telephone conversation to verify that the agent’s interests align with yours. After you sign a contract with your literary agent, he or she will communicate with publishing house editors until you sign a publishing house contract.
  3. Bloggers and Readers – If you have connected with bloggers and readers at conventions or speaking engagements, use social media to maintain the connection. Comment on blogs, guest post, and interact with readers through your social media accounts. Make sure you end each presentation at a workshop or speaking engagement with a slide providing your social media contact information. Focus on maintaining the social media connections with individuals and organizations whose values and focus match your readers. However, welcome connections that expand your reader base. Be aware that articles on the Internet can be taken out of context, especially with the passage of time, so use caution when deciding whether or not to write a guest post for a particular blog or agree to an interview.

How do you use technology to connect with people as a writer?

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10 Strategies to Keep You Afloat in the Treacherous Social Media Waters

Image of a ship at seaWhat’s a writer to do? Publishers expect you to connect with readers online, but new networks spring up before you can learn what to do with the old ones. New invitations arrive daily in the various inboxes you don’t have time to check. You’re tweeted, emailed, and updated out, and never mind all the invitations you have no time to decline. It’s a slow-drip torture.

If the treacherous waters of social networking are swamping your ship, you’re not alone. A wise writer fights back with a strategy. Here are ten strategies to help you:

  1. Pick your battles. Decide where to focus your energy online. Although Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have a greater share of traffic, your results may vary, depending on the audience you want to reach, your brand, and your particular style of networking. Pay attention to where your visitors come from, and you’ll be able to make an informed decision about where to focus your efforts.
  2. Set aside specific times or a time limit for social networking. Decide where and when and how you’ll interact online and stick to your guns. Failing to approach the Internet with this mindset makes it far too easy to lose track of time. If you have trouble adhering to a set time, use an egg timer or other alarm to warn you when your time is up.
  3. Manage your social networks from one dashboard. I use and recommend http://hootsuite.com for posting to and tracking my social sites. With Hootsuite, I can post the same update to more than one site simultaneously and pre-schedule or auto-schedule updates. Another popular option is Tweetdeck.
  4. Use browser extensions to shortcut social tasks. I favor Google Chrome because of the extensions I can add to my browser. I use Silver Bird to post to Twitter, check my tweet stream, follow search terms and hashtags, and for alerts when I’m mentioned on Twitter–all from my browser. I use Hootsuite’s Hootlet, Bitly (a link shortener that tracks stats), Google+ FacebookLinkedIn, and Stumbleupon extensions as well. Pinterest’s Pin It button is a big time-saver. All of these tools operate from small icons embedded at the top of my browser. This cuts down my visits to the social sites themselves, saving a tremendous amount of time.
  5. Understand your brand and how it applies to your social networking efforts. If you don’t know who you are and what you have to offer, you won’t know what to build and can spend a lot of time investing in the wrong thing. Watch for my next post, which will be all about finding your brand. (If you want to make sure you don’t miss it, sign up in the sidebar to receive the blog’s email updates.)
  6. Know your audience. Understanding who you’re writing for and what they care about is an essential step in developing an effective social media strategy. Make the effort to discover and develop your target audience. If you’re not sure how to do that, this post for novelists can help nonfiction writers as well: How to Find an Audience for Your Novel.
  7. Develop tunnel-vision and wear blinders. When you log into a social site, distractions abound. Keep your focus. It can help to follow a simple list. Here’s an example for Facebook: respond to comments and post to my wall, post to three friends’ walls, upload a picture, check emails, accept or decline new friends, respond to event invitations, and log off (30 minutes).
  8. Adhere to a social media schedule. I’ve programmed Google Calendar to send me email reminders to pay more attention to one social site over others on a specific schedule. During these visits, which occur weekly, I do maintenance tasks like revamp my bio, check that my links are current, swap out my profile picture, upload videos, make sure my site adheres to my brand, and the like.
  9. Count the opportunity costs. Time spent on social sites is time not spent doing other things. It’s easy to get caught up by online friendships to the detriment of real-life relationships. Reminding yourself of your priorities helps you switch activities or power down the computer.
  10. Track yourself online. Install Rescue Time to track you online and send you productivity reports. If you lack discipline, this software can help you find it again. There are even options you can set to restrict your Internet access at certain times.

I rarely spend more than half an hour a day on social networking, and often considerably less, but for the most part I cover the bases. I hope you can glean from the strategies that have kept me sailing away on SS Social Media.

Trying to Break In? Think Out of the Box!

Photo Credit: © Winterberg | Dreamstime.com

Trying to break into publishing can be daunting, to say the least. For me, it was something akin to scaling the wall of a fortified castle, surrounded by a mote filled with hungry crocodiles.

I tried to break in as a fiction writer for years, first with a young-adult novel, then with a suspense-thriller. Both were well-written and polished. Both received good reviews from published authors. And both had received wonderful, glowing rejection letters, complete with encouraging notes from editors.

“This is great writing. Sorry, it’s not for us.”

“We love this, but we’re stocked up on YA material for the next three years.”

“The entire publishing committee wants to encourage you to keep writing. We feel you have what it takes.”

The first few times you get notes such as these, it is indeed encouraging.

After you get about 30, you begin to wish someone would say, “Hey, pal, don’t quit your day job.”

By May of 2000, I’d been trying to scale the wall of Castle Publishing for six years and had little to show for my effort aside from a stack of rejections and a seriously-bruised ego. For all intents and purposes, I had given up on the idea of ever breaking through and winning that coveted publishing contract. This was especially disappointing, as I had recently resigned my position as a pastor in order to devote my time and attention to prison ministry.

I’d hoped to have a publishing contract in hand by that time because I planned to support my prison outreach by royalties from my books. (Yes, I know that was a pipe-dream, but that story is for another post.)

Now that I was officially unemployed, I had to turn my attention to generating some sort of income. My brother-in-law, who teaches computer languages, offered to help by asking me to develop a course in HTML (the language in which Web pages are written). He told me that if I developed the course, he could hire me to teach it. The idea sounded good to me, so I started to research HTML.

During my research I discovered two things. One, HTML was very easy to learn. And, two, most of the books out there were much harder to understand than they needed to be. They were written by “techies” who could communicate well to like-minded people. However, for readers who didn’t grasp the technical aspects of web authoring, these books might as well have been written in Chinese. The more I considered it, the more I saw a need for a book on web authoring written in easy-to-understand language.

I looked at the class outline that I’d just developed, and it looked remarkably like a book outline. I knew that it wouldn’t take much work to further craft it into a book proposal. Over the next few days I wrote a query letter for a book on HTML written “for non-techies by a non-techie.” I sent the letter out to thirteen computer-book publishers.

Out of the thirteen, I received two positive responses.

One was from Osborne/McGraw-Hill.

They liked the idea and asked if I would modify the book to fit a series called “How to Do Everything With…”

Writing a computer book was completely "out of the box" for this non-techie!

I agreed, and within a few months I had my first book contract.

I never intended to be a computer-book author. That wasn’t even on my radar. My plans were to be a novelist. But when I allowed myself to think out of the box and consider a different type of writing, the walls of Castle Publishing came crashing down.

If you’re frustrated with trying to break in to publishing, in what ways could you think “out of the box”?