Blogging 101-Settings, Part 1

If you’re blogging for promotional reasons (and if you’re an author or wanna-be, that should be your #1 focus), there are a few settings and other things that will make this easier for you.

Domain name: Choose your domain name carefully because you cannot change it later. Most people will come to your blog through a link. If they like what they see, they will bookmark it and return that way or via RSS feed. But for those few who will be typing in your URL (like a publisher or agent), please pick something that is easy to remember and at least slightly professional—like your name. Or if your blog focuses on a theme, something that reflects that. is not a good idea.

Blog Title: This may or may not be different from your domain name. It’s the same here on my blog. The title is what appears in the header of your blog. You can be much more creative with your title than with your domain name. Still, you want to present a professional image.

Description: This is where you explain what your blog is or why you are doing it. For example: Dedicated to helping LDS authors successfully navigate the LDS publishing world.

Profile: Your profile shares with the world some of the details of who you are. A lot of people are hesitant about including these details and you do need to be careful. But anything that you would include in the author bio of your book would be just as safe here.

I suggest posting your photo because people like to see who they’re “talking” to. It makes you seem friendlier and more approachable—both attributes you want to cultivate as an author. If you really don’t want your photo there, use the cover of your book or an attractive icon or a piece of clip art (like mine).

Take advantage of the “Extended Info” to invite readers most likely to relate to your site. List areas of interest that correlate with the focus of your books. When they visit other blogs, readers will click on the key words that correspond with their personal interests and your blog will show up on the list.

Blogging 101-Getting Started

I’ve been inundated with questions about blogging, so I’ll be doing a short series of posts about where and when and how and all that jazz, with an emphasis on how best to use this to promote your writing career. This will be old hat for some of you who are experienced bloggers but I’m hoping you will jump in with your comments, opinions and tips.

Where to Blog:
If you have not yet started a blog, do a little research. Look at the blogs of people you know. Click on their blog roll (links to other bloggers) and notice what you like, what appeals to your eye.

There are several free or inexpensive blog hosting sites. The most popular are Blogger (this one; it’s free), LiveJournal (free), Word Press (free and subscription versions) and Typepad (starts at $4.95/month). [If you know of others you’d recommend, please post the URL in the comments section.]

Each of these blog hosting platforms have their advantages and disadvantages. I chose Blogger because it was free and easy, and because several friends used it and were willing to help me get going. [Comments on which host you chose and why would be appreciated.]

Start Simple:
Most blog hosts have a variety of templates you can use. Pick one that is clean and attractive. Stick with the basics while you’re learning. You can always fancy it up later on.

Blog Content:
There are many types of blogs, from a simple online diary to a full-fledged promotional focus. Here is a list of some blog types. Choose one that appeals to you or mix and match. It doesn’t really matter what type of blog you choose, as long as you remember that people will be judging you and your writing abilities by your blog. If you want to promote your writing, I’d suggest a slice of life, general interest or a blog about writing and/or books, rather than the online diary or rant style. You might also consider doing book reviews.

Before clicking “Post,” check spelling and grammar. Think about how your reading public and/or potential agents and publishers might react to what you’re saying. Are you projecting the image you want to present to the world? Will a publisher reading your blog see you as professional and careful with your words? Easy to work with? Positive attitude? Interesting? Will your readers find you friendly? Fascinating?

Be very careful not to plagiarize. If you “steal” from someone else’s blog, be sure to give them the credit and plenty of links back to their blog.

Be consistent. Post on a regular basis—daily or weekly. If you go too long between posting, readers will stop checking back.

Blogging for Readers

When do you think it’s important to establish a web presence? Before you ever have hope of being published, after acceptance of your manuscript, or when the book comes out?

Do you think a blog is sufficient for a web presence?

When do I think wanna-be writers should establish a web presence? YESTERDAY.

If your plan is to publish, start marketing yourself now. When I have an author tell me he/she has a blog that’s getting 100+ hits every day (that’s unique visitors, not page loads), and hosts a forum with over 100 members, and has a monthly newsletter that her loyal following subscribes to, I sit up and take notice.

Anyone who reads your blog (and returns to read again) is a potential book buyer. If they have a relationship with you–even a virtual one–they are more likely to buy your book. In fact, I was at the local LDS bookstore today and bought two books, neither of which I would have ever purchased had I not already read and liked the authors’ blogs.

A blog is sufficient up until your book is accepted. At that point, you’ll want to create an official author website.

Utah Residency, Optional

An LDS publisher recently requested to see a rewrite of my novel. (Hang on. Is that “An” or “A” LDS publisher? I’m going with “An” since it sounds better.) [Say it aloud and use the one that fits.] Obviously they haven’t offered a contract, but for the sake of fantasizing, I’m going to pretend they will. Since I don’t live in Utah, how will this affect the marketing of my book? For example, book signings, school visits, etc. Also, are LDS publishers wary of taking on authors who live outside of Utah for this very reason? Thanks in advance!

Since the huge majority of LDS books and products are sold in the Utah/Idaho corridor, living somewhere else means you won’t have easy access to multiple promotional signings. It also means you won’t be able to do co-op events with other LDS authors–like workshops or community events or Ladies Night at Deseret Book before conference. Unless, of course, you’re willing to drive/fly out for a week or two and hit all the bookstores who’ll have you. (That will probably not be paid for by your publisher, so think about taking a working family vacation.)

If there’s an LDS bookstore in your area, we will set up a signing for you there and at any other local bookstores that will let us in. If you’re going on vacation to an area that has LDS bookstores, we can try to set up a signing. You can also do RS workshops or firesides locally and within neighboring wards/stakes.

You’re on your own with schools, as is every author. Living in Utah doesn’t mean an automatic pass into the schools. It depends on the type of presentation you’ll give, the content of your book and your connection with the school.

Pretty much anything else can be done regardless of where you live–thanks to the magic of telephone, fax, Internet, and good ‘ole USPS. Radio shows, book reviews, websites, blogs, online interviews, press releases, postcards, catalogs, etc. can all be done no matter where you live.

So, no. Publishers won’t turn you down if you live outside Utah as long as you’re willing to make the effort and do what is within your ability and budget to help promote your book.

Review Copies

Realistically, how many copies of a book does a publisher give away for possible reviews? Does the author have any say or input in these decisions?

And the definitive answer is: it depends.

It depends on the type of book (fiction vs non-fiction), the genre, the initial buzz and excitement about the book, the budget, how many copies we printed in the first print run, the number of reviewers we have a positive relationship with, the number and size of papers/local magazines in the authors home town, when the book is released (near Christmas or other related holidays or events), how much energy the author is going to put into promoting the book, what kind of mood the marketing department is in, whether it’s raining outside,…

The author may or may not have a say in it. We make up our list and if the author wants us to add to it, they have to make a good argument for it. For example, let’s say the author lives in Kaysville, UT. We would send review copies to the Salt Lake City papers. If the author wanted us to send a review copy to his/her local Kaysville paper, we’d probably decline, UNLESS a bookstore in Kaysville was going to do a launch party/signing for the author and the paper was agreed to do a timely and positive review in connection with that launch.

Another issue we have with review copies is when authors want us to send them to bloggers. (I’m not talking about online reviewers, such as Jennie Hansen at Meridian. I’m talking about non-professional bloggers.) We only consider this if the blog is targeted to our audience (LDS readers) AND if they get a respectable number of hits per day AND if we get pre-approval/kill vote on the post.

If an author wants to send the book to more reviewers than we’re willing to send to, they’re always free to do so using their own comp copies.

If You Call a Rose an Onion, It Will Stink

I worked for an LDS publisher who claimed you had seven words or less (preferably less) to grab a reader’s attention. The title was one of the key reasons buyers picked up a new book and we spent hours retitling purchased manuscripts.

Now I wonder–how important is a title during the submission process? Does a title ever grab your attention and cause you to lift a manuscript out of the ‘slush pile’? How do you feel about those manuscripts which are submitted simply as “Untitled”?

Seven words, huh? That sounds about right. And you’re right, a good title piques interest and will get a buyer to take the book off the shelf. I’ve toyed with the idea of hiring someone solely to generate titles. That would be nice. But in reality, it’s a group effort. We often run a list of titles by our readers and employees and see which one appeals to the most people.

As to how important your title is to the submission process–not very. Yes, sometimes an interesting title will invite me to read that mss first, but it’s the story and the writing that make the final decision. It’s a somewhat different skill set required for creating titles and for writing stories. Kind of like the difference between writing a novel and writing poetry. I never turn down a book based on its title. And I always reserve the right to change the title–it’s in my contract.

I have used author’s original titles before. Some of them are great. Sometimes I’ve tweaked them a little, or used them to start the brainstorming process. Sometimes they’re really, really bad–but a bad title is better than no title.

I really hate mss submitted as “Untitled.” A title brings focus to a story. A story without a title says to me that you don’t know enough about your story (bad news) or that you’re too lazy or that you’re expecting me to do all the work. My experience tells me that Untitled manuscripts are going to need lots of editing in other places as well.

So–brainstorm titles. Test them out on your friends and family. Pick one. Put it on your manuscript and submit. Keep your list of brainstormed titles so that you can offer other suggestions when the publisher asks for them. (Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.)

High Risk Manuscripts

Hi LDS Publisher,

How much impact does a first-time author’s sales from their first novel have on your decision to accept another manuscript from them? If a book sells only about 600 copies in the first year, would you be hesitant to accept their next manuscript, if that manuscript was good?


Unless I am personally committed to your cause or career, or I’m trying to impress you for some reason, sales of a previous book has a HUGE impact in whether I accept your next manuscript, because in that scenario I will have lost a ton of money.

Exceptions to this would be:

  • I made some type of marketing mistake and it’s my fault they didn’t sell (highly unlikely, and I’d never admit to it publicly, but it could be possible).
  • Your next manuscript was much better or would appeal to a different market.
  • You were published by another publisher and I thought perhaps I could do a better job at promotion and marketing than they did.
  • I can lock in 1,000 pre-sales before I go to press (and you would need to be the one creating the buzz for those pre-sales, because I will be thinking it won’t happen).
  • You’re willing to share the expense of publishing–but I would only consider this option if the manuscript was significantly better.

Notes from the Scary Publisher

Oooh, we’ve found a hot topic in yesterday’s post, haven’t we? That’s good. I like it when there is discussion. It helps us look at things from all angles. There are really two issues here–the effect posting pre-published works on the Internet has on marketing (which has its pros and cons) and the possibility of copyright infringement.

I’ll be excerpting a few of of the comments from yesterday here. You can read them in their entirety here.

If something is really, really good and a portion of it has been posted on the internet, a good publisher like yourself would be goofy not to pick it up, publish it and then ask what else they have. If Harry Potter’s first three chapters were posted on you certainly wouldn’t tel the author to find something less apealing to the reading public.

First, the marketing aspect. There is a difference between posting the first couple of chapters of a book on the Internet (smart marketing) and posting the entire book on the Internet simultaneously with the publication and release of a traditional printed book (fewer sales). If you plan to publish what you’re posting, keep this in mind.

Second, the copyright. A lot of people post their writing on blogs before they publish. They want feedback and use that to shape the final manuscript. They get minimal traffic at their blogsite, so the chances of someone stealing their stuff is reduced but not eliminated. If you’re going to post pre-published work anywhere on the Internet, be smart about it. Mark it with the correct form of a copyright on every post. Keep good records that will support you should you face the worst-case scenario. When you’re ready to start submitting, take down all but the first few chapters. After it’s published, replace those first few chapters with the newly edited and published version, and provide a link to where the book can be published.

Anyone who steals your stuff does so at the peril of their own demise.

If you have the resources to sue them for damages. Let’s say someone stole your book and a big NYC company published it. As a small publisher, I don’t have the money to pursue this or the years it takes to resolve an issue like this. Do you? I will have to wait for them to earn their eternal reward–which does nothing for getting your book published under your name. Even if you get damages, do you think a publisher will re-publish the book under your name? Not likely. And if there’s lots of big publicity and the suit is not resolved in your favor, there will always be the question of who was telling the truth. Some publishers will shy away from publishing anything you write because of that. Perhaps I’m overly cautious and conservative, maybe I’m even a little paranoid, but my job here is to help you–which includes giving you a peek into a publisher’s thought processes and warning you about the possible negative impact of your decisions and actions.

Publishers are consumed by the bottom line of the story-telling business…

Of course we are. That is our JOB.

Publishers forget why we write…somewhere in the long grind of putting out books year after year amnesia set in. Take away all the glitter of marketing, jetison the sales department projections, toss out the promotionals, be rid of the retail shelf space battles, the access to distribution lines, and the corporate boardrooms. And what do you have left? An author writing for a reader. You middlemen publishers are scary people. You’re once removed form the real business of story-telling.

Writers write for a variety of reasons. If your goal is simply to share a good story, then by all means, post it on the Internet, tell it at parties, print copies and give them away or sell them at cost. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If your goal is to become a traditionally published author and to earn an income from your stories, then you need someone willing to take on the “grind” and run the machinery of publishing–which (because no one has yet invented the replicator which will do away with economically based decisions) includes that cursed marketing, sales projections, promotion, distribution AND coming up with the money to do it.

I hate all that stuff too. That’s not why I became a publisher. I became a publisher because I love good stories, I love books, and I loved particular books so much that I wanted to make it my life’s work to share those books with as many people as I could. I wish I could accept every good story that comes across my desk and turn it into a book, which would magically appear in every store and people would intuitively know it was a good read and happily plunk down their hard-earned cash for it. But in the world we live in, all that other stuff is a necessary evil. It’s not that publishers are so removed from the business of story-telling, it’s that we’re very much in the business of sharing your stories in a permanent format (printed books) with as many people as possible. Since we’re not independently wealthy, that means we have to figure out how to recoup our investment and turn a profit so that we can share even more stories.

Bottom line, we live in a free market economy. Publishers offer a service to both the writer and the reading community. That service carries with it certain conditions and restrictions. If the service we offer has value for you, then seek out a publisher and adhere to their conditions, which may or may not include pulling your work off the Internet. If you feel the service we offer does not carry enough value to outweigh the cost of the conditions, then by all means, publish in your own way, according to your own criteria. No one forces you to “hire” us to produce your book. You can do all of that work yourself in whatever way seems most profitable and emotionally rewarding to you. And I honestly, genuinely wish you success in sharing your story in whatever way you desire.

Posting Your Book on the Internet

This is a long one, so I’m going to insert my comments within the letter itself. You’ll know it’s me because it’s in red and it’s not italicized.

LDS Publisher,

First, thanks for your great blog. Great information that can't be found anywhere else.

You're welcome.

Here is my question: have you seen [a site that allows authors to post their stories on the Internet and receive feedback]?

Yes, I have seen the site, but I haven't read any of the posts.

I'd really like your opinion on the site and the concept. The intent is to provide a convenient place for aspiring, and published, LDS authors to post their work for others to review and provide feedback. The site is completely free and includes auto-notification to let those who are members know when new content or comments are posted.

My assumption is that the typical "publisher" response will be negative. Maybe something along the lines of, "Free content on web? We're doomed!" But I'm hopeful that more progressive publishers will see it for the boon that it can be.

Yes, many publishers will see it that way.

Here's how I think it can help publishers:

1) Market Development - Publishers want to sell more books. You posted a great example recently of an author building some viral buzz for her book.[website] can get the buzz started. Would publishers rather publish the work of an author with no email list or with a long list of avid readers? [website] provides a way for authors to start building their list.

Yes, in this way the site is a positive thing--IF the authors are able to capture the e-mail addresses of everyone who visits or registers on the site. If there is no way to contact those avid readers when the book is released, then it really doesn't help.

2) Market Understanding - I know publishers are really good at what they do, but they could always use more market intelligence. Reviews and comments on [website] could provide one more--actually several more-- data points to judge the potential market acceptance of the work.

Yes, if there was a way for the publisher to determine the demographics of the people who post comments--who liked it, who didn't--and use that info to target their audience, then it would be helpful. However, I am guessing (and this is just a guess) that most of the people who come to the site and post positive comments already have a vested interest in the author--friends and family, fellow writers, etc. Unless your site was getting lots and lots of hits a day from a large cross-section of readers and most of those readers were posting comments, then the comments may not be helpful.

3) Author Development - There is a no doubt a lot of junk out there. [website] provides a free platform for authors to get their work out for the world to see and comment. The reviews may not be professional quality, but practice is practice. Why not a sentence at the bottom of the standard rejection letter: "You might consider posting a portion of your work on [website]..."

This is the best reason for having a site like [website]--to help inexperienced writers hone their craft and to practice getting it out to readers they might not normally have contact with. For that reason alone, I am glad to see that this site exists.

One of my concerns is that the writers may not be getting helpful or correct feedback. A comment that says, "I loved this" or "This stinks" is not productive. Comments that say why they liked/disliked it are more valuable. However, you can't know the expertise of the commenter. When someone suggests doing something differently, do they know what they're talking about? I see suggestions on other sites (and hear them at writers conferences), sometimes by experienced published writers, that are so off track I hope no one follows them.

So to those who have posted on this site, great. Just take the comments with a grain of salt.

And this concept is too new for me to even consider recommending it as part of my standard rejection letter. (See also my last comment.)

4) It is Never Going to Replace Print! - It is a rare individual that is willing to sit in front of a screen and read an entire novel. With the cost of ink and paper, it is much cheaper to go down to your local Deseret Book and buy the book than try to print it out yourself. [website] will never replace traditional book publishing. On the contrary, it will create a number of vocal advocates that will help drive sales as the book goes into print.

You are right, this is not going to replace the printed book. However, I know from experience that it does have an impact on sales. I had an author post his entire manuscript on the Internet--after I had already published his book. His business cards referred readers to the Internet site. Sales dropped almost immediately--enough that I seriously considered suing him for breach of contract. I decided against it for other reasons, but I was really ticked and I absolutely, positively will never publish anything else that this man writes. And if I hear that other publishers (my friends and colleagues) are considering publishing a book by him, I will definitely share my experience with them.

Well those are my opinions, but what I would really like is yours.

I reserve the right to change my mind at some future time, but as it stands right now, I personally, would not have a problem with an author posting short stories or works they didn't intend to publish. This gets them some experience and name recognition. But if they are posting works they intend to publish, my biggest concern is the protection of the author's copyright. Someone could steal the work and publish under their own name before the true author was able to publish or be publishing simultaneously with the real author. I would never be able to determine if that was happening. If that were to happen, it would really cause a sticky and very expensive mess. For that reason, I would have to think long and hard about publishing a book that had been published in its entirety on the Internet.

How to Promote Your Book

I am not promoting the book mentioned in these links. I have no personal stake in whether you buy it or not. I am using this as an example of a GREAT grass roots marketing idea.

Here is an e-mail I got from Sariah S. Wilson last week:


My first book, “Secrets in Zarahemla,” will be on bookstore shelves this week. In honor of my debut novel, I am offering several contests on my website,

I’m contacting you in hopes of spreading the word about my book and to give you the chance to participate in one of the giveaways, the “Secrets in Zarahemla Tell A Friend Contest.” I am hoping that you will tell your blog readers about this giveaway. The direct link to this contest is:

One reader can enter to win a free copy of “Secrets in Zarahemla” and a $50 gift card of their choosing. They will need to enter the name of your blog in the “who referred” them box.

The blogger/blog site that drives the most entrants to the contest will win their own $50 gift certificate and a free copy of my book.

The contest lasts until February 28, 2007.

Thanks so much!
Sariah S. Wilson

P.S. – If your blog has multiple posters, I will leave it to your discretion to determine how the prize should be awarded – whether you prefer to have it split up or to give the certificate away on your own site or have me donate to a charity in your name, etc.

Apparently this is working because I have seen her announcement on no less than 4 forums/message boards and 3 blogs that I regularly visit. This is a smart way to get the word out.

Here’s why it is good:

1. For me, Anonymous LDS Publisher, to have gotten this e-mail means that Sariah is sending announcements of her book to everyone she can think of. That’s good. I’ll bet everyone she knows from grade school on got a variation of this e-mail. (Just be aware that some people might consider this spam and delete without reading. Usually I do, but I recognized Sariah’s name from a blog that she does.)

2. She is targeting bloggers. Bloggers who write about her book and post links help spread the word and increase sales. When someone Googles her name or the title of the book, a whole slew of sites will show up. If they’re all saying good stuff it increases the buyer’s willingness to purchase the book. If you don’t think this is effective, I ask you, ever heard of “viral videos”? Also, getting on blogs is free advertising for Sariah’s book. (Some bloggers might ask for payment or a copy of the book and it might be worth it to oblige them, depending on their hit count.)

3. Speaking of blogs, before Sariah sent out this e-mail, she had been blogging regularly. People who like what they read on her blog are a lot more likely to purchase her book.

4. She has her website in the e-mail in two places, including a link that the reader can click on to go there. She has made it very, very easy for people to go find out more.

5. She’s sponsoring a contest–several in fact. Contests are always a good thing. The one that is really good is the “Tell a Friend” contest. You win by spreading the word about how others can win a contest.

6. When you actually go to Sariah’s website, it looks really cool. Very professional. A good web impression can be subliminal encouragement to buy the book. Even though our logical minds know that creating a website and writing a good book are two completely different skill sets, our emotional mind (which drives our book buying) does not. Like judging a book by its cover, we often judge an author by their website.

When your book is accepted for publication, talk to your publisher and start planning how you will get some grass roots publicity for your book. Sometimes the publisher will be willing to provide the cash, gift cards and books for your winners. Sometimes it will come out of your budget. But either way, this is a great way to use e-mail and the Internet to promote your book.

NOTE TO ALL AUTHORS: Please do NOT bombard me with e-mails about your books and expect them to be posted on this site. I have only posted this one because it is the first I’ve received here and because it is a great example of what to do and how to do it. I will not be posting any other e-mails of this type unless they show an exceptional grasp of marketing and/or provide a teaching moment.

If You’re Already Published…

If you’re already published or you have a book scheduled for release, you might want to read this article.

It has some great tips for promoting your book.