Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To blog...or not to blog...that is the question

I'm the first to admit that promoting a book takes a lot of time and effort--too much in fact. Many authors barely get a website up, let alone a website and a blog. To further complicate matters, many people today are using blogs as their websites. So I thought it was time for me to blog on….well blogging.

Both myself and Michael are coming to blogging relatively late in the game. We only started to blog this year (I know strange huh). Not surprising my blog focuses on business related activities and Michael’s on the craft of writing and his books specifically. Since I’m by no means a blog expert I’ve brought in a guest to help discuss this important topic: Jo-Anne Vandermeulen. Jo-Anne in a romance writer and also offers professional advice and marketing assistance to authors. I was a guest blogger on her site recently and she has been gracious enough to return the favor. Jo-Anne has two blogs:

I developed a series of questions on blogging and Jo-Anne answered them. Here are the results:

1. What are the advantages of blogs?

  1. Multi-Functional – A blog can work as a website. A tab at the top of the blog site can guide the viewer to your web page.

  2. User Friendly – You feel more in the driver’s seat. A blog is easy to create and you can do it yourself with no html skills. You don’t need software or an expensive web designer.

  3. Timely – By updating regularly, you can stay current with the ‘needs’ of your audience.

  4. Interactive and Personal – A blog is a great way to stay in touch with your readers in a more informal manner. The audience is involved by submitting comments. You can generate a following with this connection, discover what they want so you can delve into the requested direction of their interests or concerns, and YOU get more exposure through marketing yourself/your book(s).

  5. A Showcase of Your Ability – You write and they read for themselves your awesome abilities, style, and voice.

  6. Free – Many blog hosts are free.

  7. Higher Search Engine Exposure – More exposure for you. Using links and tabs, each key word will pop up in search engines.

  8. Easy to Maintain – Through expert technicians, free and quick assistance is there if needed. They will provide answers to any questions and solve any concerns.

2. What are some of the popular blog platforms?
I would need to be experienced in many different blog platforms to recommend the best. I use Wordpress for ‘Conquer All Obstacles’, but we have chosen Blogger for 'Premium Promotional Services. Popular blog platforms are:

  • Wordpress
  • Blogger
  • Typepad
  • Tripod
  • Squarespace

3. What kinds of things should I have on my blog?
You must ask yourself: What type of blog do I want to write? For me to ‘conquer all obstacles’, I want to promote myself. My blog has:

A.) First/Feature Page or Home Page

  • Updated posts with information my followers will find useful. Try and put your feet in your target audiences’ shoes. The key to promoting yourself or your book is to understand your customers and their buying habits.

Depending on what you want as your focus will determine your first/feature page. If you want to promote yourself/book(s), make sure you at least either expose your picture/cover of your book on the sidebar of each page or feature this as your first page. You may even decide to have your bio/synopsis or pitch as your first page. You have control of the steering wheel.

Make sure your blog is easy to comment on—a warm inviting message.
- First impressions are lasting impressions.
- People need to trust you before you pitch your book. This is why I would recommend leaving your “advertising about your book” page out from your feature page.

  • Widgets on your side bar(s). Going from the top down:
    - A friendly and professional picture of you. Link the photo back to your bio page.
    - A badge your followers can click to subscribe. Easy to follow instructions: “Click here for your FREE bi-weekly subscription”.
    - Your book cover. Link this to another page where you can detail information –About/Price/etc. (*Note – Wordpress does not allow you to advertise so you may want to use Blogger as your platform if you are selling your book.)
    - A search space. I use google, plus my own search button for easier navigation.
    - List of Blog rolls
    - List of Groups you belong to
    - Categories. List 3-5 only
    - List of Recent Posts
    - List of Resources
    - List of Writers. Usually fellow writers you share links.
    - Archives
    - Recent Comments
    - Meta or Log In button
    - Subscribe RSS button. Very important so you can link your other blogs together.
    - Blog stats. (This is questionable)

    *Note - View the dynamics of your blog to make everything look user friendly and attractive. Do not clutter the page. More doesn’t necessarily mean better.
    - On white background, print in black. Keep it simple. No fancy flashing buttons, music or slow to download animations.
    - Remember, your audience is there to read your material and they don’t have a whole lot of time. Give the reader what they are looking for right away. The fewer times they have to click to find what they want, the greater the chances they will stick around.
    - Give cohesiveness to each page—same format and structure.
    - View other sites and ask yourself why you like or dislike their pages. Nothing wrong with borrowing ideas.

B.) Other Pages:

  • Bio Page:
    - The most viewed and commented page is my bio page. Sell yourself. Present an eagerness to talk about you and your work.
    - Write in third person.
    - List facts not wishes.
    - Cite relevant information.
    - Write tight. Limit to three to four sentences.
    - Add a hook.
    - The four questions your viewers want answered from your bio:
    1.) Who you are
    2.) What is your expertise;
    3.) How does your expertise address their problem or goal; and
    4.) How can they contact you
    - DO keep your professional bio as short as possible.
    - DO be selective; don't list your entire professional background.
    - DON’T be bland; let your personality show.
    - DON’T include information that isn’t relevant to your audience.
  • Contact Page:
  • Promotional Page:

4. How do I get people to find my blog?
People will discover your blog through:

  1. Search Engines – The key is to get your name listed at the top of these engines. You need a brand, keywords repeated often in your content, links, and tags.
  2. Marketing – Constantly post your “signature” everywhere: in forums, blog comments, and emails.
  3. Promoting - Promote your site – Advertise in MySpace, GoodReads, FaceBook, Ning, BookMarketing, MyLogBlog, Twitter. Promoting is time consuming and must be done constantly to be effective. If you are tight with deadlines or want to focus solely on your writing, you may want to consider paying someone to build your author platform and promote your book. I am the owner of a new company called Premium Promotional Services. My partner, Brian Knight, and I will take care of all your promotional needs.

What are the Top 5 pieces of advice for a successful blog?

  1. Be prepared to market and promote your blog.
  2. Present your blog in a professional and user-friendly manner. It must be attractive for the viewer.
  3. Target Your Audience – Submit relevant, factual, and interesting information where the reader can contribute.
  4. Discover the balance between selling and presenting. Feel comfortable expressing yourself. Have fun writing…this will show in your voice.
  5. Edit – Polish each post. Make sure you have included all widgets necessary for your viewer to navigate and gain the knowledge they seek.

Thank you Jo-Anne for taking the time to help other authors learn more about blogging.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Promote your Signings with BookTour

The release for Michael's Avempartha is about a month away and there is a lot of activity around the book signing tour that will be occurring April - June. There are some tools that I use that I thought I would share with the rest of you. I'll then have a post that "brings it all together". The first item I would like to cover is a great site called BookTour.

BookTour is a site where authors can list their upcoming events: Signings, Lectures, Conventions, even virtual events. Readers who are interested in going to author signings register and get emails and RSS feeds whenever an event is near them. In addition, a number of other sites "pickup" the bookTour feed and you get free publicity by them posting events in their areas (More on this in a minute).

As with many things like this on the Internet there is no cost. This may not always be the case (the site is actually "in Beta" at the moment but I've used it extensively since October 2008 and never had to pay a dime for it.

The whole system is very easy the first thing you do (as with most sites is make your profile. They provide a number of places for you to provide "more content" about yourself that people will see when they click through. For instance:

  • Your head shot
  • An overview of you (Bio, Awards, Reviews, and "blurb" of each book)
  • Book Trailers
  • List your books (Shows cover and provides links to Amazon and local retailers)

After you have a profile, you simply add the events one at a time. It already has in the system most bookstores, but if you find a venue missing (say if you are doing a signing at a coffee shop you can add that

When the reader receives emails, or RSS feeds about upcoming signings if they click on it they will see your profile page along with a listing of all your events. Here is an example from Michael's BookTour Listing:

BookTour provides a great little widget (plug in) that you can put on your site so that your followers can know where you will be when. It provides "real-time" data that you have entered into BookTour so you don't have to update your website every time you add a new venue - simply add it to BookTour and it will show up automatically on your site. The blue box on the left is the widget as it appears on Michael's site.

This is how you do this
  1. Make a 2 column table on your website. In the first column put something simple like "aaa" in the second column put all the content you currently have now.
  2. From BookTour do a search to find yourself, and get on your "profile page". On the right directly below the red "Request a visit from this author" button click on the "on my website" link.
  3. Decide how many events you want displayed at a time (depending on how long your page is).
  4. Where you currently have aaa replace the aaa with the data from the first box. The "number" identifies "your" page as opposed to someone else.
  5. Take the code from the second box and paste it directly above the "/body" of the page.

I'm sure you google yourself or your book from time to time. One of the great things about using sites like BookTour is you get more exposure on the Internet. First there are the listing from BookTour itself and since it is a fairly large site with lots of links it gets a high SEO ranking. This alone is worth listing your venues here.

Another benefit is many newspapers and other websites are "hooked" into BookTour and take content from it. For instance for this article I did a google and found 5 newspapers that were linking to events I had in BookTour and Goodreads also pulls events from it to present to its millions of online readers.

I'm the first one to admit that book signings are not the best way to spread the word about your book - they are time consuming for the amount of exposure and number of sales you actually get. However, they are great for "establishing creditability" for your work. If you are going through the time and effort you need to make the best of it and using BookTour is a great resource to utilize.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Summing it up - Blurbs and Headlines

One of my favorite lines that I quote all the time comes from The Princess Bride. Westley comes back to life and needs to know what is going on. Inigo's response is "Let me explain....No, there is too much...let me sum up". That is the inspiration for today's post: Summing up your book.

It takes a ton of marketing materials to promote your book: Posters for books signings, bookmarks, postcards, ads, online postings. The list goes on and on. In all of these materials there are two things I use over and over again: Headlines and Blurbs.

The headline is probably the hardest to develop because you have a limited number of words. I suggest you limit it to 15. This needs to be short and snappy. It should be featured prominently in the design (Large lettering on a poster or at the top of an ad) and it needs to draw people in to find out more. There are two techniques that I've used commonly in my advertising career and they work well for books.

3 Sentence Technique
This is a great format because it can have a nice rhythm--a kind of meter that rolls of the tongue. The sentences need to be exceptionally short and to the point. We used this technique for "The Crown Conspiracy" it's headline is:

They killed the king. They pinned it on two men. They chose poorly.

Yes, it a bit of a play on Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade but that's not such a bad thing. It also sums up the story pretty well as TCC is about two guys who are framed but ultimately catch the real killer. We have gotten a ton of people who have said "You had me at...." that headline so I think its proven to be a good one.

2 Sentence Twist
Another technique is the "2 sentence twist". This format uses a very simple straightforward statement and then has a twist that makes go "hmm". We used this for "Avempartha" it's headline is:

She hired them to save her father. The wizard had other plans.

This is designed to illicit questions. What did the father need saving from? What did the wizard want? How did he interfere with the original goal? This book is not out until April 2009 so we'll know if it works or if we have to adjust it as time goes on.

The blurb is a single paragraph (no not 2 or is 1) that you would typically see on the back of a book. If you were published through a traditional publisher your blurb is probably written for you...but don't feel just because they wrote it that you must use it. I've seen some pretty bad blurbs done by very large publishers. If you are fortunate enough to have a good blurb - your task is easy - enter it into your computer and have it easily accessible for copy and paste.

Keep the cat in the bag
Part of the problem with the blurb is you don't want to "give too much away". We toiled and toiled over the blurb for "The Crown Conspiracy" in it how the two main characters get out of jail is quite interesting. If we had "spilled the beans" on the back of the book we would definitely hook people...but they would also get a "spoiler" to the book and not come across this plot point on their own. In the end we decided not to put it in there but the temptation to "say too much" is tough and you should your best to not go too far.

Less is More
I recently finished a book by a new author (I try to support new authors whenever I can - something I encourage all other authors reading this post to do - we need to help one another) and after reading I went to the back of the book and read the blurb - Oh my God. It was a complete summary of the entire book! It's like some of those movie trailers that you see before the main feature and after watching you go - well good I saved $10.00 no reason to see that movie now. If you follow the first rule - 1 paragraph the likelihood this will not happen but since I've seen it happen too often it is worth pointing out.

Tease, please
The point of the blurb is to get someone to want to read the book. Sometimes the best way to do this is to end the blurb in a cliffhanger or to trail off. Ending in a question also works well. What you want to do is engage the reader so don't be afraid to leave the blurb with a bit of a teaser.

Learn by example
Writing a good blurb is not easy but there have been many of them written over the years and sometimes a trip to a library or a bookstore and reading the back of each book will help you to see patterns and develop a blurb that is compelling. Here are the blurbs we created for Michael's too books:

The Crown Conspiracy

Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles until they become the unwitting scapegoats in a plot to murder the king. Sentenced to death, they have only one way out…and so begins this epic tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.


When a destitute young woman hires Royce and Hadrian to help save her remote village from nocturnal attacks, they are once more drawn into the schemes of the wizard Esrahaddon. While Royce struggles to breech the secrets of an ancient elven tower, Hadrian attempts to rally the villagers to defend themselves against the unseen killer. Once more, what begins with the simple theft of a sword places the two thieves at the center of a firestorm — but this time the outcome could change the future of Elan.

Think long and hard about your headline and blurb. Work them over and over and if you have one that doesn't work don't be afraid to revise it. They are the main tools you have to get the person to buy the book so invest in them wisely and it will directly effect your bottom line.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Marketing #4: Sample Chapters

I was having a discussion with an author on-line on GoodReads. He was a bit upset because no one was buying his books. I decided to "checkout his books". In just a short time it became completely clear to me a big part of his problem - I could not (even with a lot of searching on my part) find any sample chapters.

Sample chapters are essential, especially for new authors. People would like to "try before they buy" as it were and if you don't give them a place to investigate your work you'll be fighting an uphill battle.

You should not just think about one way for people to get at sample chapters. You should use a series of weapons in your arsenal including:
  • Amazon Search Inside the Book
  • Google Book Search
  • Authors Den Book Excerpts
  • GoodReads Excerpts
  • Author's Website
  • All-in-one Book Page
We discussed this a bit in another post I'll refer you there rather than repeat myself. But one thing I should point out about this source of getting a "sample out" - You have no control over "what" is posted. They are going to do a few pages from the front of the book and where it stops may not be at the best place for your book. For "The Crown Conspiracy" the first chapter is a red herring, because the people you are first introduced to are not the "main characters" but bit players. Many people reading about it on Amazon might get the wrong impression so for the chapters I have control over I actually post an excerpt from chapter 2 which does have the main characters in it.


This is very similar to Amazon's Search Inside the Book Program. An example of Michael's Book which is in the program is shown above. It also indexes the entire book but shows a few pages. Again you have no control over what pages are shown in fact in Michael's version it starts (for some inexplicable reason) on page 2 instead of page 1. One of these days I have to fix this.

One of these days I have to do an entire post about this site as it offers a ton of great opportunities for authors and is highly ranked in the search engines so it is a good way to get your books high up on Search Engine Optimizations. But one thing I'll bring up for today's post is that they you can post your books and in that posting is a place for putting an excerpt of your book. I HIGHLY recommend that you take the time to pay attention to the formatting when putting into this format. When I cut/pasted from Word there were line and paragraph breaks that were not ideal. So I took the time to put it into notepad, make all the paragraphs on individual lines then pasted it into AuthorsDen. This made a much more attractive and easier to read post. (This is where I eventually found the author's excerpt that I stated above and he did not do this - the overall effect was on of "unprofessionalism"). Remember anything worth doing is worth doing properly so take a few minutes to put your best foot forward.

If you don't have an author profile on GoodReads you really need to. Like AuthorsDen this deserves a post of its own but suffice to say they have an area where authors can showcase their writings as well. Here are some tips for when you post your samples chapters on this venue:

  • Description is 2048 characters and will allow for html formatting so use for bolding and for italics. I suggest you put the "blurb" from your back of the book and then select a few "choice" reviews and put them here.
  • Make sure you set the genre drop down to the most appropriate category for your book if you can't find one that makes sense use "Literary & Fiction" for novels and "Non fiction" as your best "generic" categories
  • Tags: On this site tags MUST be single words so take this into account when making your tags
  • Don't forget to add your ISBN for the book that the chapter relates to - this ensures a picture of the cover is included and provides a quick link to the Goodreads page for that book

Again I've already covered the importance of an author's website elsewhere on this blog. But it bears repeating that having a books page with a sample chapter with each book is essential. I always recommend having a page where you have the "Blurb" from the back of the book and THEN a button for the sample chapter - so many people drop the readers right into the sample chapter and without context they are lost. Give them the same information that a reader in a store would have.


This is something that not many people have - but I think it is essential. This is a page that is "independent" of your website (i.e. you would not land on it as a part of your website but it contains everything you would ever want to know about your book in one spot. Again I'll go over this page in more details in a future post but suffice to say that the ability to access the sample chapter must be on this page.

For the pages that you have control over I highly recommend you post them in a .pdf format on 8 1/2" x 11" with ample spacing such that it looks like what it would look like if it were in book form but "blown up" to the larger page size. In other words make it look as much as possible like a real book but allow it to print nicely on their printer. Make sure that on every page you have the following: page number, author name, book title, URL to "All-in-one Book Page". They just might give it to a friend and then they will have all the information required to order their own copy.

When posting a "sample" it is not always necessary to choose the first chapter of the book. Although in most cases this will be the logical choice. When I first posted a sample chapter for "The Crown Conspiracy" I started getting some interesting feedback - people didn't like the characters and were being "turned off". As I mentioned these were not the "real characters" and so it was giving the book a wrong impression. So for that sample chapter I choose a lively piece near the beginning of the book that shows the main characters and the rapport between them.

While I'm not a huge Twilight fan I will admit that I was impressed with the sample chapter that Stephanie Meyers put in the first book. The reason is where she ended it. It definitely ended in a place where someone would want to rush right out to get the book to see what will happen next. Now it turns out that her Chapter 2 was a huge let down from the build up but the technique worked. So choose carefully where you end your sample even if you don't publish the whole thing. In Avempartha there are three sections in the first chapter. The first two are compelling and end with the main characters going off to find someone. The third section is really just them "finding" the person - not much really going on there so I ended the sample chapter for that book after the first two.

When posting sample chapters make it easy that anyone can find them no matter where they "find" your book. Use every avenue at your disposal. The disadvantages of Amazon and Google (can't select which pages you wish to showcase) is a sever limitation so be sure to use the other venues so you can pick "the perfect" pages for showcasing each book.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Writing for Dummies

Today's post is as the result of a request. I love it when people email me with topics to cover. Feel free to email me anytime at with a suggestion or just to let me know that you read the blog and find it useful (or not so useful). Knowing that people actually read some of what I write here makes it worth writing down. If there are only crickets out there I have better things to spend my time on.

Anyway I was emailing with an author about podcasting and mentioned that Tee Morris (author of Podcasting for Dummies and Advanced Podcasting Techniques for Dummies) is coming to do a guest lecture for my writer's group. They asked if they could use "For Dummies" in the title of their next book - so I did some research for them.

Book titles are not copy rightable (okay not a word but you get my point). An author can not "reserve" a title for them and them alone. Elie Wiesel's "Twilight" was published in 1988, Nancy Pickard wrote "Twilight" in 1995, Meg Cabot has a "Twilight" from 2005, Erin Hunter's "Twilight" is from 2006, Christtie Gordon's "Twilight" was published 2008, and I think there is a s somewhat well known person called Stephenie Meyers who used it in 2005. ;-) These are just a few that I found and I'm sure there are others.

NOTE: Always consider if your title is used by others before selecting it - it is important to have a title that has a good Search Engine Rank - obviously any of the authors above will have a difficult time getting Google's attention against the Meyer popularity. Books in Print (put out by Bowker - the US ISBN agent) is a great resource for determining if your title has been used before. Also a quick search on Amazon is helpful. So no one can stop you from using "For Dummies" in your title. But..


Everyone has seen the hugely popular "For Dummies" books - Their trade mark yellow and black with distinctive font and the triangular headed big eyed geek (known as "Dummies Man"). These images are definitely copy rightable and are - Notice the ® around both the cartoon guy and the "For Dummies". It is not the words that are copy written it is "the look" -those particular words written that particular way - (i.e. colors, font, etc). So if you attempted to "emulate the look" of the For Dummies then Wiley will definitely be coming after you. You will open yourself up for a huge financial liability. This organization has spent millions investing in this "brand" and I'm sure they have a whole department that works on ferreting out people who abuse it and they will have a legal department that is not worth tangling with.

There are over 150 million "For Dummies" books in print and 1,400 titles. More are developed all the time by Wiley (AKA John Wiley & Sons) A leading non-fiction producer of: reference books, text books, and brands such as Cliff Notes, For Dummies, and Frommer's.

The first "For Dummies was published in 1991 "DOS for Dummies". It was initially met with skepticism — most bookstore chains didn't want to carry the book at all, claiming that the title insulted their customers and readers in general. But the publisher prevailed arguing the title was a "term of endearment" that readers would immediately relate to and identify with. Their success speaks for itself.

At one time you could approach the "For Dummies" publisher (the people who owned the brand before selling it to Wiley) with an idea - basically "pitch" them the concept and your credentials and if they liked your idea they would take on the project. If you have an agent you can still do this. If you don't have an agent then the best you can hope for is to be placed in their database. Basically they have a stable of "For Dummies" authors then when they decide a books should be written they look to see who has the best credentials to write it. This is an excerpt from their site.

"It is Wiley's policy not to accept unsolicited proposals for books in the For Dummies series. You may send us a copy of your credentials for our files or contact a literary agent to submit a proposal on your behalf. If you choose to submit a proposal through an agent and do not already have one, we suggest that you consult a publication like Literary Market Place that offers contact information for literary agents. Please be aware that Wiley Publishing, Inc., retains the right to publish a book, at any time, on any topic."

Which basically means if your agent suggests a good idea -- they might do it anyway without you ;-)

Once I talk to Tee Morris I'll learn a bit more about their royalty structure. My guess is it will be less generous then industry standard because they are putting the lion's share of their money into promoting the brand and I'm sure the supply of authors wishing to be "For Dummies" authors is higher than the demand. This is only speculation on my part -- call it an "educated guess".

Being in the "For Dummies" stable would certainly be a feather in the cap of any non-fiction writer. While you "could" use that in your title - I would not suggest it. I did a search on Amazon and didn't find a single book with "For Dummies" that wasn't part of the Wiley offerings. I'm 100% sure that Wiley is very protective of this brand and anything close may be challenged.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Number Please: A bit about ISBN's

I've been having some email exchanges with an author recently on ISBN's. This happens from time to time and is perfect because it shows an area that people need to know more about. So I thought I would go over a few things about ISBN's today.

The ISBN is the number that uniquely identifies a particular book. Prior to 1997 they were 10 digits but now the standard format has 13 - so many books actually have two numbers but they both point to the same book. (There are conversion programs that will generate the 13-digit number from a 10 digit ISBN and visa-versa). The ISBN is specific to the publisher and the format of the book. So the same "content" may have several ISBN's. For instance a paper back and hard back book each have their own number. Because the ISBN is tied to a publisher, a book will have multiple ISBN's if it has had more than one publisher. For instance, if you started out self-publishing then it was picked up by a traditional publisher each would have their own ISBN. If you reprint a book, and the content is primarily the same, you don't need to issue a new ISBN. However, if you have significant updates, like new chapters or content that has changed over time then you should use a new ISBN for that revision.

NOTE: If you are printing the book from multiple sources you do not need to change the ISBN. So if for instance you have a book that you are printing at both CreateSpace (for Amazon distribution) and LightningSource (for Ingram distribution) they both have the same ISBN).

An ISBN is made of 4 parts:
  • Group or country identifier which identifies a national or geographic grouping of publishers
  • Publisher identifier which identifies a particular publisher within a group
  • Title identifier which identifies a particular title or edition of a title
  • Check digit is the single digit at the end of the ISBN which validates the ISBN
Sometimes you'll see an ISBN with an X at the end. For instance the ISBN for Michael's Avempartha is: 098000344X. This simply means that the check digit (modulus 11 with the weighting factors 10 to 1) calculated as a 10 and so the roman numeral of X is used.

Many people confuse the ISBN with the Bar Code on the back of the book - the Bar code is just a representation of the ISBN in a particular font (EAN) that can be read by scanners at the store when the book is sold. You actually need BOTH an ISBN and a bar code. Sometimes you can buy the bar code when you purchase the ISBN, there are also bar code services on the Internet (you give them the ISBN they give you a .jpg with the bar code). You can even create your own bar code with the appropriate software. This is what I do and I'll make a separate post on it at a future time.

In most circumstances when a bar code is created a second bar code is added to the right to indicate the list price of the book. The first digit of the price code indicates the currency type (5=US dollars) and the rest is the price. So the bar code to the left is for a book that costs $24.95.
Every book that is sold by anyone other than yourself would need an ISBN or it could not make it through the various distribution and sales systems. If you are going to market through a traditional publisher they will assign it one of their ISBN's. If you are self-publishing you have a number of choices in getting an ISBN.

If you are using a subsidized publisher such as iUniverse, Lulu, or BookSurge they will issue an ISBN for you but...many of these organizations allow you to give them an ISBN and I highly recommend that you take this option. Remember the ISBN indicates the publisher of the book and if you use their number then for instance iUniverse will be the "official publisher". There is a stigma against self-published books and most reviewers won't accept books from these sources and many bookstores will also not carry them. If you have your own ISBN (for instance I own a block of ISBN's assigned to Ridan Publishing) they will not immediately think it a self-published book (even though it is). They would have to do some research (which they will not do) whereas the moment they see iUniverse they will know it is self-published.

The creation of ISBN's is limited to a single entity per region (there are 160 worldwide). In the United States Bowker is the sole source for all ISBN's. In the past they only sold them in groups of 10 (for $275) although I see now that they offer these choices:

  • 1 ISBN for $125
  • 1 ISBN + Bar code for $150
  • 10 ISBN's for $400
  • 100 ISBN's for $1,120.00
  • 1000 ISBN's for $1,875.00

ISBN's are not transferable so a publisher cannot resell, re-assign, transfer, or split its list of ISBNs among other publishers.

Remember ONLY Bowker can issue an ISBN (in the US) if a subsidized publisher tries to tell you you can have your own ISBN through them they are misleading you and you will probably just have one of "their blocks". It is much better to get one yourself then give it to them.

There is one other option and that is that some companies buy blocks of ISBN's then sell them one at a time over the Internet. For instance Aardvark Publishing sells them for $55 each. I can't say whether this is prevalent enough for reviewers to recognize this as a 'self publisher' service and so I'm not sure if it carries the same stigma as say "iUniverse". But one thing to be concerned about is distribution. Distributors don't work directly with authors -- they work only with publishers so if you are not listed as the publisher you won't be able to enter into a distribution contract for your books. This is really not a problem if you use CreateSpace and/or LightningSource for distribution but if you wanted to print up 2000 books and for instance use Atlas Distributing then it would be an issue. When in doubt...get your ISBN directly from Bowker and then there will be no question.

The ISBN is a necessary number that all books designed for purchase will need to have. Among other things it identifies the publisher of the book and has implications for book reviews, distribution, and selling in brick and mortar stores. If you are self-publishing it is important to consider the various options in obtaining the ISBN. If going through a traditional publisher it is not something you have any control over nor anything you need to worry about.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tip: Finding Agent's Names

While there are many resources to find the names of qualified agents (See books and on-line resources to the right). Here is a little tip I wanted to throw out: Use's search inside the book feature to find agents of books similar to yours.

Many authors will thank their editors or agents in their acknowledgements. Because Amazon's search inside the book has the entire book digitized you can use this to find the name of agents if they did mention them. Here is what you do.
  1. Find a book similar to yours on Amazon
  2. If it has the "Look Inside" graphic on the cover picture than SITB is enabled
  3. Mouse over the book and a small window will pop up
  4. Type the word "agent" and if they mentioned their agent you'll see their name

You can then look them up in the various agent directories to get address and submission requirements.

For instance if you did this on Stephenie Meyer's bestselling book: Twilight you would see:

Amazon: Making the 800 lb gorilla work for you

I love Amazon! They really know how to do things right. What they have done for book buying is in short amazing. Today's post will be an "overview" of some great things to take advantage of through Amazon. Each of these will take a "deeper" dive but I wanted a top level summary first.

If you are published traditionally, this should not be a problem. I know of know legitimate publisher that doesn't use this channel so it will be automatic. If you are not-self published and you are not available through Amazon this is a huge red flag - make sure your publisher rectifies this immediately.

When selling through Amazon there are two different ways: Directly through them, or through one of the "marketplaces". Marketplaces are "mini-stores" (you can even make one yourself it is really easy) If you are only being sold through a marketplace - that also is a problem you need to be listed on "Amazon" otherwise you risk not looking legitimate.

If you are self-published, you need to make sure you are in this channel. You have two choices: CreateSpace and Amazon Advantage. I highly recommend CreateSpace because there is just a 40% discount rate whereas Amazon Advantage has a whopping 55%. Even if you have a few thousand books printed up and stored I would send your same print file to CreateSpace so you can get the 15% savings in "Amazon's take". You can find more about CreateSpace in my post about publishing 101.

It goes without saying, but I've seen enough without them to make it a point here...make sure your book has a product description. A product on Amazon without a description is practically useless. How can you buy a book when you don't know what it is about? Using the blurb from the back of the book is usually fine. But feel free to augment it with information such as age appropriateness or whether the book is part of a series. The description is controlled by the publisher so work through them if you don't like what you see. For instance if there is too much "given away" of the plot you might want to negotiate with them changing it.


This is one you can do yourself (if your publisher has not). Notice the two product pictures to the left - The Crown Conspiracy has SITB enabled Avempartha does not (it will as soon as it is released). This allows the reader to get a "sneak peak" inside the book and read the first few pages. Sample chapters are an invaluable selling took (arg....another future post - I should make a list ;-)) people will read a bit and if they like what they see they are more willing to buy.

I'll go in full details later as to how you do this but in a nutshell you submit your whole book to Amazon and they make sure that only a few pages are exposed. Once you have enabled this feature they can see the cover, table of contents, copyright page, and 6 - 10 pages of the book.

Getting "your" message on your product page is a huge advantage and Amazon provides a mechanism for writers to talk directly to their audience through Amazon Connect. To use this feature you will have to verify you are the author. An online form provides you a way to specify the publisher contact information and then once they have verified you are who you say you are you can post information in the form of blog posts directly to any products you are the author of. Here is an example on Michael's "The Crown Conspiracy" product page.

This is an area that deserves its own separate post and I will go in more detail in the future. But for now let's just point out that tagging is very important. It gives you (and others) a way of classifying a product into various categories so that when they search within Amazon for a particular subject your book shows up. In order to tag you need an Amazon account associated with a credit card, but you don't have to buy the product (or any product for that matter) to make a tag. You have up to 15 words or phrases that you can identify with your book. For instance Michael's books has tags such as: fantasy, fantasy series, wizards, magic, etc. If enough people have tagged your book you will get a ranking (the top 100 books in each category are designated as shown here)

There is a great blog on tagging that I highly recommend click here if you want to learn more about tagging before I can post in more detail.

The number one thing that sells books is good reviews and thankfully Amazon makes it easy for your readers to tell others what they thought of your book. I bump into people all the time both in person and online that say how they loved Michael's book. EVERY TIME I hear that I remind them to go post a review on Amazon. Even with all my nagging there are only a fraction of the people who actually go do it. Why? I have no idea. The most interesting thing is that even those closest to us rarely post and it is the single biggest thing someone can do (besides buying a book) to help support you. At the time of this blog we have 27 Amazon reviews (21 5-star, 6 4-star) and only 4 of them are from people we actually know (and none of them are family)!

Personally, I say the author should avoid reviewing their own book. Sure you can vote for yourself if you run for public office but that is private and many people take offense at writers "blowing their own horn". It is particularly problematic if there are only 1 - 3 reviews. Bottom line about reviews...ask everyone you meet and you'll get a small fraction of those actually posting.

This is a new initiative for Amazon and it is still in beta. It allows for an area dedicated to a single author where their books can be grouped and it offers: a bibliography, and can include a biography, author photo, and discussion board. I only recently discovered this capability and after I learn more I'll make another post.

Another item that deserves its own post but for those not familiar...a Kindle is a small electronic device that stores hundreds of books and allows Amazon customers to buy books formatted in a special electronic format usually for a significantly less than the standard cover price. Making a "Kindle version" of your book is easy (again I'll take you through it step by step in the future). It is important because Kindle users generally have "given up" on printed books. If you don't have a Kindle version it is unlikely they will buy the print version so if you don't have one for them to download you'll loose a particular market segment.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Authonomy: Get noticed by Harper Collins

I just ran across a great site: Authonomy. It is a social network where writers post their works, people read and critique them and there is a forum for talking about writers and publishing.

So you might say, Robin there is GoodReads, LibraryThing, and Shelfari why should I care about this one? Well there is a great reason why. Harper Collins is using this to find gems for publishing. Think of it as a way to get past the "slush pile".

Each month they take the top 5 rated books and send them to the editors. They have already signed 3 authors from this program and I think it is a great way to get some attention of a major publisher.

It couldn't be easier.
  1. Create an account (free sign-up): Authonomy
  2. Click on "upload" and fill out: Title, Author, Short pitch (25 words), Full pitch (200 words), Cover Image (or use a template) and as many chapters as you wish (must have at least 10,000 words), specify genre, and keywords to help people find your work.
  3. As people read your work(s) they can choose up to 5 books to put on their shelf. At the end of month the 5 books that the most people have shelved will go to Harper Collins editors
  4. Even if you are not offered a contract you will get a review of your work from the editor

So post your book, tell your friends, and you might be able to get your work into the hands of a Harper Collins editor. Heck what do you have to lose?

Friday, February 6, 2009

More Amazon Tracking

In one of my online social networks (can't remember if it was GoodReads or Shelfari) but someone mentioned another site other than titlez. It is called BookAlert. The advantage is BookAlert does its tracking hourly where titlez does their's daily. I just started using it and it looks really good. I'll let you know more after I've had a few weeks worth of data.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Marketing #3: Free books

Things are so busy right now that I'm going to have to keep doing some of these smaller posts - but will do deeper dives on these subjects when I can.

I want to make sure that every author puts in their marketing plan budget free books. I would say you should target 50 - 100 books. These are books you are going to have to pay for out of your own pocket (unless your publisher provides them to you - our publisher has been really good in that they let me send out free books for promotion)

  • Reviews
  • Contest Entries
  • Giveaways

I need to do an entire post on reviews (how to get someone to review your book, where to find reviewers etc but in a nutshell:

  • Pre-release sources (Booklist, Foreword Magazine, Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly) - these sources need copies 3 - 5 months before publication date - in most cases they are looking for a galley proof (more on this in the future)
  • At release sources - some reviewers don't want to have a copy until after the book is available - these are generally website based as anything in print wants that 3 - 5 lead time I'll have to dig up my list and post them
  • Amazon top reviewers - I think it is worth contacting Top Amazon reviewers and sending them copies - for instance Harriet Klausner has been the top reviewer for years and is easy to get a book to (
  • Blogs - the blog community is great and growing there are many looking for books to review and they tend to talk amongst them selves and are active in social networking sites - they are great for spreading news about a book they really enjoy

Winning an award, or even getting an honorable mention can do a lot to legitimize a new author. I submitted Michael's first book to Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year and he received a "finalist" designation that I use in a lot of my marketing materials. Now, if you know anything about this award it's really not all that great - in that they give out a lot of them. But most people don't know this and see "2007 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist" and get really impressed. Again I'll post more about various contests in the future.

Can be a great marketing tool. If you are at a book fair, or sci-fi/fantasy convention put out a fish bowl for people to add their email addresses then pull one at random and send it to them. This gets you email addresses for your direct marketing efforts

Also use social networking site. Goodreads has a "free giveaway" section and I had over 600 people sign up to win one of 5 copies. After the contest I contact the people who did not win and gave them a special discount offer - I got a HUGE number of books sold this way and the people really appreciated the discount.

One thing not to do....Don't put a free giveaway on YOUR website. This doesn't help because anyone coming to your site already knows about your book - so you are just throwing away money advertising something they already know about. An exception to this rule is if you are using it as a way to "drive" people to your site - so if you put a free giveaway on your site then are out pounding the pavements sending people to your site to sign up that is fine - but don't do one without the other.

Lastly, use those bloggers again. Many "genre" blogs (For instance Fantasy Book Critic) has thousands of readers and they offer giveaways as a way to keep their readers coming. Contact the blogger and offer the giveaway - you'll get a bunch of free advertising.

Behind your websites and bookmarks this is the biggest bang for your marketing buck - make sure that you minimize your costs by getting the cheapest "per book" price. If you are POD self publishing I recommend you do a short run printing of 100 - 200 books because you will reduce your cost by book by 40 - 60%.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Today's post has to be another quick one. The final proof for Avempartha has come in and I have to turn my attention to it. But I wanted to make sure that before the February 8, 2009 I mentioned this award and encourage all authors enter. I'm going to summarize some of the needed information below but here is a link to the award itself.

It is a great opportunity for unknown authors to get discovered. There are great prizes and no entry fee so it is a contest with no downside. This is the second year Amazon has done this. It is for an "unpublished" work so you can't submit anything that has been printed (even self-published) and it must be a novel written in English (50,000 - 150,000) words. There are a few restrictions on content (no pornography, offensive, illegal, or plagrism, etc.)


  • First 10,000 entries or deadline of 2/8/2009 whichever comes first (last year had more than 5,000)
  • Must be 50,000 - 150,000 words (English)
  • 1 submission per person
  • Grand Prize: Contract with Penguin with $25,000 advance
  • 3 first prizes: Trip to Seattle WA for awards dinner (airfare, hotel, and $100 cash)
  • 500 second prizes: Review from Publishers Weekly
  • Submission Fee: None


  • A finished manuscript (will submit it in word format 12 pt Times, double spaced, 1" margins)
  • An excerpt - first 3,000 - 5,000 words
  • The Pitch - 300 words pitching your idea (like you would in a query)
  • Blurb - 300 words that would be on the back of the book
  • Author Picture
  • Biographical Information


  • Submissions are done online by using CreateSpace the word file is uploaded, other information is cut/pasted into text fields
  • 10,000 entries are narrowed to 2,000 by Amazon Editors reading "the pitch"
  • 2,000 entries are narrowed to 500 Quarter-finals by editors and Vine Reviewers
  • Publishers weekly editors read 500 Quarter final full manuscipts for: Originality, Plot, Prose, Character Development, Overall Strength
  • From the 500 Penguin will pick 100 as Finalists (Presumably from reading Publisher's Weekly Reviews)
  • Publisher Weekly Reviews of the 100 Finalists are posted on Amazon
  • Penguin Editors read all 100 Finalists full submission - decide on 3 finalists
  • Amazon Customers will read 3 Finalists and vote


  • 02/02/2009 - Submissions open
  • 02/08/2009 - Submission closes
  • 03/16/2009 - 500 Quarter-finals listed on Amazon
  • 04/15/2009 - 100 Finalists Selected, Publisher Weekly Reviews Posted
  • 05/15/2009 - 3 Finalists posted
  • 05/22/2009 - Judges use their reviews and customer reviews to choose winner

This is an extremely important award that can go a long way to propelling a new or unknown author. There are no down sides to this competition and every author that has a work they have not published should enter.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Reviews - What not to do

So I don't have time this morning to do a big post, and I want to do a through job about reviews so I’ll just post the most important thing (IMO) about reviews.

Never buy a review – period.

Whether it is blatant, like Kirkus Discoveries, ($400 - $550) or some “less obvious” fee where they claim you are just paying for “expedited processing” like BookPleasures ($119). It is just a bad idea. If you get a bad review you are out cash and humiliated, if the review is good you just “bought it” and all creditability goes out the window.

There are some sites (Like ReaderViews and AllBookReviews) that offer free reviews but also chage for expedited processing. In these cases you go "on a list" and eventually someone might review your book. I know Michael's "The Crown Conspiracy" sat on the ReaderViews "queue" for almost 6 months before it was finally reviewed without having to pay. I question though whether this was a good decision as some people may assume it was a paid review. Well too late to do anything about that now but at least I know you can get reviews off these sites without paying - I guess that was with the research.

I remember looking into a book by a fellow author and saw a nice review by someone called Geri Ahern. Since our books were similar I was going to contact her about reviewing my husband’s book. When I googled her I found a blog where she reviews book – which was great until I saw that she charges a fee – Grrrr I just lost all respect for the author and now doubt the quality of the book.

Getting reviews IS important but don’t be so desperate for them that you pay for someone to review your book. The only thing you should ever have to do financially is give the book gratis and pay for shipping. I nice media kit goes a long way as well. But never exchange money when looking for a review.

Monday, February 2, 2009

PublishAmerica: Vanity Publisher in Traditional Clothing

If I could give any aspiring author a single piece of advice about publishing it would be to run don’t walk from PublishAmerica (referred to as PA throughout this post). I can think of no other entity in publishing today that is a bigger problem than this organization. Now, that being said, every time I run into an author who has “published” with them I ask them to tell me a bit about their experiences, and I have found a few who while not praising, at least don’t spit their name with vile. (The majority do spit, curse, break into tears or in other ways lament on how this was the worst choice they ever made.) The ones who seem content are few and far between and I’m sorry to say that 2 years from now they probably won’t feel the same way.

Well that right there is the whole problem. I don’t have problems with companies like iUniverse, and LuLu who are POD’s making their money from authors. They are very clear what they will be doing for you and what the price will be. I see PA as a POD vanity in a traditional publishers clothing.

Again this is the crux of the problem. Because on the surface of things they don’t charge anything – and hence the trap. In fact they give you $1 for signing up with them. Cool you say…I get my book published and it doesn’t cost me a thing – that I’m afraid is where you are wrong. They just have reversed the model. Where traditional POD vanities such as iUniverse, and LuLu ask for money up front, PA gets you “on the back end”. I could make a pun here but I’ll just move on.

PA is not interested in selling books to the “population at large”. They are quite content with their business model which is sell a few hundred books to the author and his friends or relatives. It is their business model and it works for them.

When you first look at PA you may wonder how they make any money at all, but an analytical mind (such as mine) who breaks things down by the numbers, can see exactly what they are doing. Let’s first examine why I say they are not interested in selling books in general.

Selection Process
A traditional publisher MUST be extremely selective about the books they take on. They are investing huge sums of monies and taking a gamble. They will look at hundreds, or thousands of submissions for every book they actually produce. PA acts more like a vanity press when it comes to books they “agree to publish”. Virtually anyone can get a book accepted by PA. They claim they turn away 80% of submissions (and even if that were true the % would still be too high something like ½% would be more common), but the facts don’t seem to agree with this. There are dozen’s of stories of people sending purposefully bad submissions to “test” them out and they were accepted. One person took 30 pages and repeated them over and over until they had a novel length book and it was accepted. The most famous example was Atlanta Nights written by 30 people in the SFWA (Sci-Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Association) who purposefully created what was in their own words “the worst book ever”. It was submitted and accepted by PA. You can read more about this “sting” here. The bottom line is – if you send it they will publish it. A red flag right to start with.

This is the keystone in the PA scheme. They price their books are way above any reasonable market price. Here are some examples:
  • $24.95 for 134 page paperback Man of my Dreams
  • $27.95 for 250 page paperback 500 Years of UFO’s

These are not “cherry picked” – these were just grabbed at random from the PA site (go look for yourself). In fact, whenever I run across an author and look up their book and it is highly overpriced, it is almost always a PA book.

By setting their cover prices so high, PA is betting against their own books. They don't care that readers aren't going to pick up a book by a new author that costs significantly more than comparable books by authors they've heard of. PA happily sacrifices their authors' chances of selling books to the general reading public in favor of gouging a larger per-unit profit out of copies sold to their authors' friends and relations.

Distribution Channel
Most PA books are nearly impossible to buy. The chances of finding a PA on a bookstore shelf is analogous to a finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. I was actually shocked one day when I found one in the children’s area (the only PA book I ever held in my hands) it was 32 pages long and cost $19.95 and it was black and white!! I don’t think the store is selling many of those. Now part of this I’m going to actually give PA a pass on – the main reason they can’t get into bookstores is they are POD and all POD’s suffer from the same problem of non-returnable, and no warehouse stock. But added to the inflated price it is virtually impossible for a store to even consider a PA title. In fact Barnes & Noble has sent letters to PA authors to say that they will not stock PA books – period.

It should be obvious now they make it from the authors and friends of the authors – because they are not interested in selling to the population at large. Let’s take what we have learned from other posts and do some math. As you may recall from the direct selling post our publisher offers a 50% discount (pretty standard for the industry). But PA has the following author’s discounts:

  • 1-20 copies: 20% off of the retail price
  • 21+ copies: 30% off of the retail price
  • However, for your first purchase of 50 or more copies, you will receive a special one-time discount of 50 percent.

Now, PA uses places like LightningSource and CreateSpace to print their books (or at least they did when I did my research. I doubt they have invested in the capital equipment for these expensive machines). And from what we learned in a previous post the price YOU pay for these companies is (0.85 + .012 * pages). Now PA does hundreds of thousands of books, even if each one only has a few hundred printed that’s a lot of books and I’m sure they get a discounted price. But for the sake of argument let’s make them pay full street price – they still make a killing.

For the books listed above the cost that PA has to pay out is

  • $2.46 for Man of my Dreams
  • $3.85 for 500 Years of UFO’s

Now most authors are going to take advantage of that one time 50% discount so let’s say they buy the minimum – 50 copies they would each pay

  • $623.75 for Man of my Dreams (net PA profit $500.75)
  • $698.75 for 500 Years of UFO’s (net PA profit $506.25)

Now it get’s worse because 50 books disappear fast. So the author wants another 50 so they exercise their 30% discount

  • $873.75 for Man of my Dreams (net profit $750.75)
  • $978.25 for 500 Years of UFO’s (net profit $785.75)

Now the author has spent over $1250 for 100 books and the more they buy the worse it gets for them. Even with the discount they are way overpriced so the author makes little to no profit on each sale (I know some PA authors who sell their books at a $5.00 loss just to get them in people’s hands!!)

Now I did cheat a bit because not all that is profit – PA has to pay to “edit” the book and lay it out but read some forums and you’ll realize that their editing process is maybe a spell check. I’m sure they have minimum wage layout people and so they invest as little as possible in the “layout costs” of the book.

If it sounds like I’m carrying a vendetta with PA, well I freely admit that I am. Not because of any harm they did me or my husband. I did my research early and missed that landmine but I’ve talked to so many ruined by them I want to avoid others from the same mistake. And it’s not just me here are some other groups that warn against PublishAmeria:

The Internet is a flame with horror stories from authors such as

I know if you read this after signing on the dotted line it looks bleak – and I’m sorry to say it is. My best advice, and you really are not going to like to hear this. Forget you ever wrote that book. Don’t buy any copies yourself, don’t promote it. Forget it every existed. Go on and write a new book and publish by one of the other mechanism we talked about before…..and wait. Your contract with PA will run out after 7 years. Then you get your book back. Then you can publish and start from scratch. Do not continue to “try and make it work” you are just digging yourself in a deeper hole – there is no win-win in their financial model – you are going to bleed money for every book of yours you sell.

Believe it or not – the answer is yes!! If you have a story you wrote “for yourself” and you just want the pleasure of holding it in your hand and seeing it on your shelf. Then I say go ahead – send it to them. But….and here is the tough part. Buy 1 copy and 1 copy only (say from Amazon or something). Then you can show it to anyone who asks and take it out and page through it and smell it – and heck – you might get a sale or two every blue moon (I’d be curious if this is ever the case). But you must be strong and not “promote” and try to sell it – least you fall into the trap. In this “one book scenario” PA actually looses money. I don’t think many have the willpower to do it but I would love to form an army of people all doing this and lets see how long their model holds up. It may be that before long they have a “xx book minimum” in their contracts.

If even one writer reads this post and avoids PA I’ll be happy. For those that found out too late, I am truly sorry. Don’t beat yourself up. It is nearly impossible to see the flaw in the offer they give you and when you deal with rejection after rejection you might embrace them with open arms. Don’t give into the temptation. Be strong. There are better ways. Trust me you don’t want to go there.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Querying via email

In today’s post I thought I would discuss queries sent to agents and publishers through email. There are some differences when using this medium and I wanted to point out a few helpful hints on the subject.

Whether sending by email or snail mail, don’t forget the cardinal rule of querying which is follow their instructions to the letter. If they only want a query letter, send only that. If they ask for a synopsis, or certain number of pages then send them but never include things not requested – for the most busy of agents this will disqualify you immediately and they won’t see any of what you sent.

The various books that list agents such as
  • LMP 20xx
  • Writer’s Market
  • Guide to Literary Agents
  • Jeff Herman’s Guide to Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents
  • 20xx Writer’s Market
will list the preferences of each agent but because they are printed I NEVER rely on information there. It is too likely to be out of date. The best things these can give you is the website of the agent where they almost always have their preferences listed.

If you don’t find their information on their website then I prefer to use one of three on-line resources:
In the not too distant past, many agents required snail mail with ASAE envelopes as the only method to query. More and more agents are offering both email and snail mail options if given the choice ALWAYS do email. Here is why:
  • It shows you are technologically savvy – important as they are going to be replying on electronic and email communication a lot and those who are Luddites and use phone/fax will be more difficult for them
  • You will get a MUCH faster response – Agents generally do their emails first because they are “easy” so you will be on the “top of the list” I’ve gotten responses in a matter of hours and no more than 2 days when I’ve used emails
  • It’s less expensive – with snail mail you need 2 stamps (one for the ASAE one plus envelopes
  • An even playing field – with emails you don’t have to worry about factors such as paper stock interfering with the process
  • You get free advertisement on the “outside” – your subject line
You’ve all seen a piece of mail that has something written on the outside of the envelope – special limited time offer etc. This is designed to make you open that mail before all others. When doing an email submission you get that in the form of your subject line.

Some literary agents will specify what they want in the subject line – remember rule #1 if they give specific instructions following them to the letter right down to the words they ask if they say include QUERY then use that if they want SUBMISSION then use it. Many agent’s have email filters that automatically address any emails with certain words to a folder for processing. If you fail to do this they may never see your submission it might end up in the spam folder.

Don’t try to get too “flamboyant” with your subject line – sometimes simple is better such as: Query: Title of Your Manuscript. If you want to add a bit more like the genre etc then even better. But don’t make it sound like a used car commercial you don’t want it accidentally deleted because the agent thought it was spam.

Attachments can be dangerous things. Some companies have policies against accepting emails with attachments because of potential viruses and because they can take up a lot of space, but the bottom line is your work will always look better in word then cut/pasted into and email. If the guidelines say they will take attachments then by all means send them but if it is unclear, or if you get conflicting information between various sources then opt to not have attachments. It might not look as pretty but at least it will not be thrown out. When sending everything in the body the order should be
  1. Letter
  2. Synopsis
  3. Sample Chapters

Each should be separated in some way like a series of dashes

This is probably the single biggest change between your email and your snail mail query. In a snail mail you have a “letterhead” with your contact address at the top, then an address block with their contact information, then a date, and a salutation, then the body of the letter. Dump all of this in your email submission except the salutation.

Don’t waste the first lines of your query with this unnecessary information. They know who they are and where they work. Your contact should be at the bottom – where it is easy to find. The date is already on the email itself. Even though e-mail is less formal than snail mail, you should include a professional salutation. Use the standard Dear followed by Mr./Ms. and the last name of the agent. Make sure that you get the gender correct.

An email query should be even shorter than one sent by postal mail. Literary agents receive dozens (or sometimes hundreds) of emails each day, and you don't want to ruin their schedule with a lengthy submission. You can still use the standard four- or five-paragraph format but your paragraphs should be considerably shorter. The more concise, the better.

Let the literary agent know that you have done your research. Make sure that your manuscript fits into the accepted genres they work with. If there is any conflict in what they want mention where you found their submission guidelines that you used.
Writing an E-Mail Query Letter: No Net-Speak

Email query letters are automatically less formal than queries sent through snail mail, but don't mark yourself as an amateur by using "Net-Speak" or any other informal language. LOL, TTFN, TTYL and "U" for "you" have no place in an email query letter.

I would always “compose” the query in word so you an check grammar and spelling but before copy/paste make sure your document is in plain text. I sometimes go from word and paste into notepad then paste into the email. Certain characters - such as "smart quotes" - don't translate well into e-mail format, and the literary agent will receive a letter full of funky characters that make the e-mail difficult to read. Make sure also that you leave out any HTML code and that you you've typed the e-mail in black on a white background with a standard font.

I always try to do agents that accept emails first if I have a long list to go through. This format has many advantages and makes both yours and the agent’s life simpler. I hope you found some of this information helpful and as always would like to hear from you.