InboxWednesday – Writer’s Market, Brands&Platform, and Twitter

Good morning everyone. Hope you’re doing well. Welcome back to #InboxWednesday, where I answer questions emailed or tweeted at me. Today, we’re doing 3 questions, all about things writers can do to help their writing.

If you’ve got a question, ask it.

John, what’s the Writer’s Market and is it a big deal? – Aimee

Aimee, this is the Writer’s Market.

2016-01-19 09.38.37

I’m not a fan of the mint green color.

It’s like a phone book for publication. In its 820 pages are listings for magazines, book publishers, literary agents, trade journals, and contests. In earlier editions they had a lovely chart of rates and prices for jobs, replaced now by articles about earning an income, writing queries, and book proposals. To be honest, I preferred the list of rates. I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to talk costs if you’re also going to talk about income opportunities. Still, it’s a useful book for when you’re looking for destinations for that manuscript.

Now, it is the Deluxe version, which does mean there’s a not-deluxe version, and this is that moment where I point out that you want to spend the dollars for the Deluxe Version. The one-year access to the online database is critical if you’re trying to get your MS out the door. Also, it’s often more accurate than the text.

It’s not that the text is completely wrong, just remember that this book was an MS itself, and that means it’s possible that since going to print some of the people and businesses listed might not be available anymore. The online database tends to be more current and more accurate. Also, it’s 2016, an online database should be standard for any resource.

The book runs about $50 on Amazon for the Deluxe, $30 for the standard. Save your pennies and go Deluxe, your MS deserves it.

Using it is super easy: You find the appropriate section of whatever info you’re looking for (let’s say you wanted to write for Montana Magazine, because you like big Buttes and you cannot lie), and read about what they accept (non-fiction, no more than a 1000 words per piece on average it seems) and how they accept it (email, after you query with a sample and an SASE). It’s worth noting these lines: Responds in 6 months to queries & Pays $.20/word.

This knowledge allows you to bang out some simple math (an 800 word essay on rocks would pay you $160) and put together a calendar (if you submit in July while on vacation, you can get a reply when you carve your Thanksgiving turkey). Knowing how much you’ll get paid and when you can communicate with people, combined with the fact that you can do this everyday with hundreds or thousands of opportunities can pack your writing schedule and strengthen your writing ability. Also, you’ll get rhinoceros quality skin from the rejections. Big wins all around.

Hi John! I’m a new author, I mean I’m trying not to call myself aspiring, and I have been reading a lot of blogs. I see a lot of people talk about brands and platforms. I don’t know what they are, but they seem important. Do I need a platform? How do I get one?  – Mary

Mary, this question has a lot of moving parts, so let’s go step by step.

A brand is an image, it’s an idea packaged and presented in a particular way or with a certain sensibility. As a writer, your voice and the work you do is your brand. The Mary brand is characterized by certain things that draw an audience to you, and no matter what story you’re telling, you’ve left specific fingerprints on it. (Maybe you love sentence fragments, or all your sidekicks have eyepatches, whatever)

Mary, brands are for cattle and jeans. You can’t boil down an author to a few regular habits or pigeonhole them due to genre and expect an accurate picture of who the author is and how their work is. This isn’t like producing the same material over and over again, so that batch 10 is just like batch 573. Writing is an art with growth inherent in it, so I want to see a change in products over time. I want characters to develop. I want plots to grow complex. I want to see writers get better at what they do.

Anything you put your name on is, to some degree, your brand. You can spend an obscene amount of time thinking about it as if your brand is under fire and in need of preservation or not. (Hint: It’s not) Do the best you can do, push yourself, stretch yourself, and let someone else ascribe a “brand” to you.

A platform is the way you broadcast yourself. Maybe that’s a website. Maybe that’s a blog. Maybe that’s social media. Maybe it’s a combo platter.

Don’t panic. Platforms are for standing on, or if we’re talking video games, jumping on while trying to avoid getting attacked by stupid digital ninjas. Giving the author one more thing to worry about, one more thing to divide their attention and increase anxiety is not conducive to making the most out of what a platform can do. You just want to write and then talk about stuff.

Yes, platforms are important. But they’re not more important than the act of writing. Loads of writers fall into that rabbit hole where they spend hours and days talking about writing, talking about marketing writing, talking about critiquing writing, and critiquing the talking about marketing of writing, that they skip the part where they should be writing.

Yes, you need to tell other people that you’ve written a thing, or that you’re writing a thing currently. You need to tell people where and how they can acquire what you’ve made if your goal is to earn income from making the thing. The platform is how you do that.

Having one is easy. Blogs are free. Social media is free. You can teach yourself to write concisely for Twitter. You can connect your blog to Google+. You can make time, like that 15 minutes while you eat that muffin and drink your coffee, to tweet about what you’re going to do today. Writing a tweet is barely a few sentences, and even if you labor over them, do you really think it will take all 15 of your allotted minutes?

You can broadcast what you’re doing while you’re still doing it. I said I was going to blog, and here I am, writing this blogpost. When I’m done, I’ll tweet again. It’s up to you to define and carry out a schedule that works for you. The platform is under your control, not the other way around.

Start small. A few tweets. A simple blog you update regularly and consistently. What do you put on it? How about regular updates as to your word count, or maybe the good news that you bought a Writer’s Market and made a list of 7 publishers you want to query before the month is over? If you’re about to ask me where you find the time, I’m going to ask you if you really need to be watching that TV show, really playing that game of solitaire and/or how seriously you’re pursuing getting your MS done and out the door. Make the time, even just a few minutes. Seriously. Yes, you can tweet just before you floss. I won’t tell.

Hey John, I’m on Twitter and have no idea where to start. What do I do?

I love Twitter. I would marry Twitter and our lives would fall into a glorious debauched decay. Yes, there’s a lot of complaining about the future of Twitter, that they’ll do away with its two principle elements (concision and chronology), and maybe that will change my mind on it later, but for now, I think the world of the microblogging format.

Treat Twitter like those telegrams you see on TV. You’re writing short, tight little ideas down and broadcasting them to people. You want to tell them that you’re working on chapter 11, you want to tell people that you’re tired of feeling you’re not good enough, you want to tell people that the secret to a really good cake is slipping some instant pudding into your batter, you’ve got 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation) to do so.

Twitter’s impact is not in its follower count (the number of people who will see what you tweet when you tweet it), but in its brevity. It forces strong and clear word choice. It forces punch. A weak ramble of a sentence, a mush of words, isn’t going to make sense to people, nor will it move them. It’ll just be another bit of palaver, in between all the other applesauce spit out into the world.

That said, it can be an open window into your world. It can invite creepy guys, harassment, anger, morons, hatred, bigotry, distraction, violence, or tedium. True, it doesn’t have the greatest methods for walling yourself off from that, but the whole Internet doesn’t have great walls from that. You have the ability though to do better than software – you can make active and deliberate choices to engage or ignore. You can protect yourself rather than cower. Or, my personal preference, you can not let that stop you, not assume that the worst of the universe is somehow waiting for you because you’re just you, and the world is not out to get you or silence you from all of time and space. It’s a tool, and it can be abused, by others and by yourself

Yes, you can totally misuse it. Tweet over and over that you’re selling something? People are going to get very tetchy and then choose to stop following you. Use a lot of automated software to bait people into weird salesy conversations and you’ll find that many people won’t respond. Tweet infrequently to solicit or sound desperate (often for sales, are you seeing a pattern here in this paragraph?) and you’ll have a hard time being a person people want to parlay with.

There’s a reason it’s called “social media.” You can use it to socialize. Communicate about not just the work. Why not? Why not tell the world that in addition to writing a great action scene today, you also have a turkey roasting in the oven?

If you’re about to say, “Who cares about that?”, I shall respond with, “Who are you to determine what someone else will care about it, and who is it hurting for you to talk about dinner and how good your house smells?”

Start your Twitter adventures by following people. Follow editors (like me, or Amanda or Jeremy), follow writers (like Chuck or Delilah or Stephen King), follow whoever you want (like him or her or this guy or grape jelly or that lady). Read what they have to say, talk to other people. Communicate. Share. Repeat this process until you’re happy with who you communicate with.

You can do this.


Looking ahead to my Friday schedule,  we’re going to be talking about promoting yourself and your work. See you then. Enjoy your Wednesday.

Happy writing.

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