Should writers blog? Hear me being interviewed on The Author Biz


Last month Stephen Campbell of The Author Biz podcast invited me onto his show to talk about authors and blogging. He grilled me about everything from ‘should authors blog?’ (I wish there were a straightforward answer to this!) and my thoughts on the various platforms available, hosting options, organising your time and so forth.

Listen to the podcast here.

The Author Biz podcast

I find being interviewed a little nerve-wracking and I admit I could only listen to a small amount of the recording! But If you’re new to blogging or on the fence about it, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Stephen publishes a new podcast every Monday on The Author Biz, a towering achievement, and his interviewees have included many top authors, publishers, agents and editors, all sharing their expertise, opinions and advice. I’m grateful to be included in such great company.

Do check it out, and you can subscribe in iTunes.

How to promote your blog posts on social media – manual vs automation methods


You’ve written a new blog post and hit ‘publish’.

What next? You may have subscribers who receive an email alert, either immediately or maybe in a weekly digest, together with other blogs they follow.

But what about reaching new readers? Your post may well come up in searches – particularly if you’ve thought about your keywords and used them strategically.

Blogs are part of the bigger social web, and the principal way they get found (and you get new readers) is via the sharing that happens on online social networks – not just directly from your blog, or on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and so forth but also blogger communities, writers’ communities and special interest forums. But for sharing to take place, people have to know about your blog posts.

What can you do to help kickstart the sharing process? The answer is as much or as little as you like.

The manual method

How it works: You log onto your social network(s), write an update and post in the URL to your blog post. Some people see it, click on it and hopefully share it to their networks.

Upsides: doing it manually means you can write bespoke updates for each of your social networks, which may be desirable if you connect with different audiences and want to customise your language, or maybe not always post to a particular network. You will have a clear picture of what updates are being posted when and where, so you feel in control and happy that your audience won’t feel swamped with too much promo.

Downsides: it’s labour-intensive, especially if you post often and are active on a number of networks or forums. Unless you consistently use a URL shortener/tracker like, you won’t be able to easily track who’s clicking or sharing. When it comes to Twitter, one update probably won’t do it, because it’s unlikely all your followers will be online and monitoring their feed at that one moment.

The basic automation method

If you blog with WordPress, it’s fairly easy to connect your blog with your social networks so that whenever you publish a new post, an alert goes out. From your Dashboard, go to ‘Settings’- ‘Sharing’. Here’s the page for my blog Poetgal, and you can see I have connected it to my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

Sharing settings on WordPress

Once you’ve done this, when you’re on the Edit Post page you’ll see your Publicise settings on the right of the screen:

Publicise on WP screenshot

If you click on ‘Edit’ you can customise the wording of the auto-update. Then when you hit ‘Publish’ the update and link to your blog post will be posted to your connected networks. There’s a good walk-through of Publicize here.

If you’re not using WordPress, don’t worry, there are third-party apps that do the same job no matter what blog platform you’re using, and some come with many more features (see below for the all-singing all-dancing options). For example, take a look at Twitterfeed or IFTTT (which stands for ‘If This Then That’).

Twitterfeed IFTTT


Upsides: You no longer have to go to your social networks and post each blog update, so it saves you a shedload of time, and having to think about it. Once these services are set up, they run in the background. An app such as IFTTT allows for quite specific targeting, using what it calls ‘recipes’. This means you can specify things like “If I publish a new post on my WP blog with the category ‘Twitter’ then post a tweet with image to @robinhoughton”. You can also set up automatic actions based on just about any activity on most social platforms.

Downsides: You may not want every update to go out on all your social networks, and if that’s the case you need to set up filters – always check what settings are available. These tools are pretty cool but there are so many of them it can feel overwhelming – it’s very easy to sign up for them as the basic versions are all free, but you need to keep a clear picture of what you’ve set up, otherwise you could end up multiple-posting. I’d advise finding a service you like and sticking with that. If you change any of your network passwords you’ll need to refresh the connections with any third party apps as they will stop running.

One of the main issues with basic, one-off auto posting is that it only happens once. So you have the same problem as manual posting in that not everyone will see your autopost. If this concerns you then you probably should choose an app that autoposts as many times as you like, at different times of day, what I would call managed automation.

The managed automation method

A step further from basic automation is to signup for a service that will allow you to manage a range of triggered actions based on your specifications. You can decide exactly what gets posted, where and when, and you usually have access to a whole range of other features such as browser extension allowing you to bookmark and share anything on the web, syndication of your blog posts to social bookmarking and media sites, and social analytics.

The good news is you don’t have to jump into using all the available features, and in fact the advanced features are usually only part of the premium (paid for) packages. Even so, the free versions of Hootsuite, Buffer and, for example, are all very good and worth checking out.

You can sign up with any of these services using your favourite social network (if you wish) or by creating a new username for that app. The free versions will have limits on how many social networks you can connect, access to analytics and custom features. But unless you are a pro blogger (running your blog as a business) then you’ll probably find the free services are plenty good enough. All these apps allow you to ‘queue’ your updates for re-posting across your networks at different times of day and on different days, in order to be seen by a bigger cross-section of your followers.

Upsides: These apps give more power to your social updates and take a lot of the elbow-grease out of it. Pro-bloggers swear by automation and there’s no doubt that if you are serious about making blogging pay, you need to spend less time doing things that can be automated, and more time on the stuff that requires brain-effort such as writing great blogs posts, interpreting your stats and nurturing strategic relationships.

Downsides: There will be some trial and error before you find the app(s) that suit you, and you need to pay attention to the setup. Automation isn’t for everyone: many people prefer slow-blogging: creating contacts more organically and growing a following based on recommendation and more personal promotional methods. That’s absolutely fine and if I’m honest I’m a bit of a slow-blogger myself. Having said that I do find Hootsuite invaluable as it gives me the right amount of automation and control while still keeping it real.

There’s a great deal of commercial clutter and over-promotion on the social web, and bombarding it with yet more isn’t on everyone’s agenda. However, you do want people to see your blog posts, and saving some of your precious time by taking advantage of the helpful tools available is, I think, a sensible choice.

Social media Q & A with writer Richard Skinner


Richard Skinner authorMy guest today is Richard Skinner who I had the pleasure of first meeting at the Vanguard Readings which he organises in London each month, attracting big name readers and a loyal audience. Vanguard also has its own publishing imprint, Vanguard Editions. Richard is the author of three novels, all published by Faber & Faber. His work has been nominated for prizes and is published in seven languages. His poetry has appeared widely and his new pamphlet Terrace will be published by Smokestack in April 2015. Richard is Director of the Fiction Programme at the Faber Academy.

Do you have a blog or blog(s)?

Richard Skinner blog

I do have a blog page on my website but it is not a standard blog, it is more of a place to post essays and reviews and anything else of interest to me. I think of it as both an archive and a resource. I have recently taken a lot of these posts down because they will be collected together into a book of essays, reviews and interviews that will be published in May by Zero Books.

How often do you update it? Do you follow other blogs?

I don’t update my blog in any regular way, just when I find/write something that I’d like to share. I follow a few other blogs, mainly by other poets, for example And Other Poems run by Josephine Corcoran, and Spectral Lyre. I tend to follow blogs when someone posts/tweets that a new post is up.

Tell us what other social media platforms you use regularly. How do you manage the time you spend on social media – do you have any rules or tricks, for example?

I am a regular user of Facebook and Twitter, which I use for both personal and professional purposes — the two often collide.

I put time aside first thing in the morning to catch up on social media and then stop at a particular time in order to write. When I’m at home, I use my MacBook to post/tweet. When I’m out and about, I use my iPad mini (I don’t have a smart phone), but I can only use my iPad in WiFi hot spots, so I’m limited to when I can post/tweet (which isn’t a bad thing, I think). I just use the Twitter/Facebook interfaces. I did have Tweetdeck for a while but I didn’t find it particularly useful.

Richard Skinner on Twitter

How do you balance social media activity with your actual writing – any advice?

When I’m in the middle of a novel, I try to be strict with myself and only deal with social media at particular times. It doesn’t always happen though!

One tip that works for me: I have set Notifications as my Twitter homepage, not Home. I have a large enough number of followers that it would be impossible to read every single tweet on my feed, and so, by setting my homepage as Notifications, I don’t miss tweets that have my handle in them. They are the more important tweets to respond to, I think.

Some people find social media stressful. What do you most like about it what do you most dislike?

I think there’s a lot of very dull/trivial stuff on both Facebook and Twitter (kittens!)* but there’s also some amazing stuff there, particularly on Twitter. I have come across some incredible photos, links, articles and so on, none of which I would have found otherwise.
The Mirror by Richard Skinner
I think the key is to tailor your Facebook timeline and Twitter feed by stopping notifications or muting anything you don’t like so that you’re only seeing what you want to see. Be ruthless about that. The other golden rule, I think, is not to use social media solely for promoting yourself and your work. Use it to share your likes, loves and interests. There is no greater turn-off on social media than someone who only says ‘Buy my book. Buy my book. Buy my book.’

*I quite like the kittens! – Robin

Building your email list, part 2


This is the second part of a longer blog post: part 1 is here.

People who sign up to your email list need nurturing, and at the same time you need to work at signing up new readers.

You’ll always be losing subscribers through unsubs, changed email addresses, spam filters and just being invisible – whether it’s because you don’t send often enough to the list, or your emails are disappearing into spam or ‘promotions’ folders. Then again, those subscribers who are still opening and responding to your emails after many months or years are your most loyal and valuable.

It’s important to create valuable content for your newsletters so that people look forward to your email updates. But as well as this, what else can you do to help keep your list growing?

1) Encourage shares & forwards whenever you send an email – top and tail with ‘forward to a friend’ messages and include social sharing buttons.

2) Capture visitors by making your sign up box stand out. For example – with the SumoMe WordPress plugin you can set a floating sign up message & box to appear, and customise it to first visits only if you don’t want it to be too annoying.

Sumome WordPress plugin

Example of a floating email sign up box on SumoMe’s homepage


3) Offer an incentive to join your list – for example a sample chapter, a free tip sheet or entry into a giveaway. There is a caveat here: some people will join a list just to get the freebie, then unsubscribe.  Just saying!

4) Offer a short course or series by email – delivered by timed autoresponders. You can do this if you use a service such as Aweber, or the paid version of Mailchimp. The thinking behind this is that repeated exposure in the few days after signing up not only reminds readers of who you are and what you offer, but takes advantage of the ‘honeymoon’ period when people can still remember why they signed up for your emails and how great you are. For example, you could offer a short story, delivered by seven installments by email.

5) Turn your email list into a community in itself – perhaps give email subscribers access to a private group on Facebook, or let them have exclusives on cover reveals, earlybird invitations to your book-related events or readings and other ‘thankyous’ to let them know you appreciate them. Loyal email subscribers are likely to be your best advocates, talking up your work on social media and face to face with others, so they are worth looking after.

6) When you send out a newsletter or email exclusive, let it slip on your blog and in your social updates. It doesn’t have to be as direct as ‘My newsletter is going out today, sign up now or miss out’ – which can come across as hectoring – but mention the actual content – if it sounds intriguing, if there’s something ‘in it for them’ and if you make it easy to sign up, you should see some takeup.

7) Collect email addresses offline, from people who come to your readings or other events. Have a sign up list on the table where you are signing books, or a simple QR code that people can scan to join your list. (More about how to set up a QR code in another post!)

8) Promote a book giveaway, and have entrants submit with their email address. You can create a simple giveaway for free at Rafflecopter, for example.


Rafflecopter allows you to create and administer giveaways, even randomly selecting the winner(s) for you.

9) Get together with another writer or blogging buddy and offer a joint giveaway or contest – that way you both reach a new audience and potential new sign ups. (You must ask permission to add people’s email addresses to your list, don’t just add them automatically.)

10) When creating content for guest blogging opportunities, include a call-to-action and link for readers to subscribe to your email updates in your author byline. (I need to be better at this!)

There are no doubt many other ways of growing your list. Best results come from a multi-pronged approach! When you’re browsing other people’s blogs and websites, notice how they do it. Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried these or other methods and how they work for you.

Building your email list, part 1


A few years ago marketers, were all speculating on the future of email. With the rise in popularity of social media, and the seemingly hopeless issue of how to control spam, email looked like it might go the same way as the printed phone directory or the audio cassette.

But email is as popular as ever as a marketing tool.

Why you should build an email list

When someone opts in to receive email updates, they have given their permission to be marketed to and are a pre-sold audience. Direct response rates for permission marketing are higher than just about any other kind. The sender can communicate on an individual level with people, and can control the timing and frequency of the message.

By way of contrast, if you want to use social networks for marketing purposes you can only really do so with paid advertising. This is not permission marketing in the sense of it being shown only to people who have asked to see it, it is interruption marketing, or the old-style 20th century tactics which most of us endure (for the sake of ‘free’ services) rather than invite.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying some interruption marketing – Facebook ads, for example, can be very effective in certain circumstances. But permission marketing, in the form of an opt-in email newsletter, needn’t cost anything except your time to set up, and the payback long term is that you build a bona fide list of fans. And one of the best things about an email list is that it’s portable – Facebook may disappear overnight, your website may go down, but your email list is yours to keep.

How to create a sign-up form

To start building your email list you need to set up a few things:

1) You need an account with an email marketing service. There are plenty to choose from, but a good free service that integrates easily with various platforms is Mailchimp, so in this article I’ll use that as an example. (The principles explained here are relevant whatever email platform you choose.)

2) Decide what you’re going to be sending out, and how often – this needs to go on your sign-up form. A regular newsletter is a commitment, so manage people’s expectations and don’t over-promise. ‘Occasional updates’ is fine if you don’t want to be tied to a set publication schedule, but it’s not as compelling as ‘A weekly firehose of essential information and writerly tips’ or whatever. As marketers always say, ‘sell the benefits’. You can always tweak this.

3) (Desirable but not essential) – you need a platform from which to sign people up – for example your blog or website, and/or a Facebook Page.

Once you’ve got this far, the next step is to create a list in Mailchimp, Constant Contact, AWeber or whichever service you have signed up for, and a sign-up form for that list. Here’s how to do it in Mailchimp:

From your Mailchimp dashboard select ‘Lists’ from the menu and ‘Create List’. (You can create multiply lists and groups within lists.)

Mailchimp - add list 1

Creating and saving a list is fairly straightforward. Mailchimp ‘Support’ files are very good if you get stuck.

When you have a list, it will show up under ‘Lists’ together with any others you create. To add a sign-up form, click on the down arrow next to the list name and select ‘Sign-up forms’:

Mailchimp lists 2

Here’s where it can get a bit complicated. There are different form types to choose from.

For now, choose ‘General Forms’ and you’ll be guided through setting up your basic form – adding or deleting fields, adding some introductory text, plus some basic customising of colours.

mailchimp general form

Once you’ve finished customising, you’ll see there’s a link to your form – ‘Sign-up Form URL’. If you don’t have a website, blog or anywhere else where you want to put the form, you can link here, from anywhere you like. This is the kind of thing people will see:

mailchimp hosted form

However, if you want the sign-up form in a widget on the sidebar or your blog, or on your Facebook page, or if you have a hosted blog (on Blogger or for example), you need to do a bit more work. Here’s where I hand you over to the excellent Mailchimp support articles:

How to add a sign up form to your website (‘Embedded form’)

How to add a sign-up form to a Blogger site

How to add a sign-up form to your self-hosted WordPress blog (not sites)

How to add a sign-up form to a Facebook Page

If you have a hosted blog, like mine at Poetgal, you won’t be able to embed your sign-up form in a widget, but there are ways to work around it. I actually have a sign-up form for my ‘Social Media Essentials’ email newsletter which is embedded in the side bar of this site (because it’s on a self-hosted WordPress platform), but I can’t embed it at Poetgal. So I just have a link to the hosted version of the ‘general’ form, which comes up in a new window when you click on the link:

Sign up form Poetgal

Having a sign-up form on your blog, or linking to a hosted version, is only really the first step in building your list. “If you build it they will come…”? Hmmm….not necessarily! In part 2 we’ll be looking at strategies to build your email subscriber list and examples of how to do it successfully.

When you have nothing to say – beating the social media blahs


It happens to us all – that sudden feeling that you’ve just got nothing much to say to the blogosphere, or the Twittersphere or whatever. It often coincides with that sinking feeling that everyone else seems to have endless ideas, inspiration, energy and motivation. How do you tackle it?

First of all, try to understand the problem – is it one of motivation? (‘Why am I doing this?’) Or finding the time? (‘I have too many other important things to do’) Or confidence? (‘No-one’s going to be interested in what I think’) Or even your general state of health & happiness? You may be physically or mentally exhausted, for example. We lead busy and complicated lives.

It’s crucial to be kind to yourself – nothing really terrible will happen if you don’t tweet for a week or blog for a month. If you need a break, take a break.

If you’ve started to build a social web presence and have found enjoyment from it, and if you still believe it’s something worth doing, there are things you can try that might help shake off the blahs and get you back to bouncing social media health.

‘Why am I doing this?’

Remind yourself it’s a slow process.

I often get told ‘I’m posting regularly to my blog and yet no-one comments.’ Or ‘If I post something to my Facebook Page and nobody comments or ‘likes’ it feels like a waste of time.’

We all need the positive affirmations that comments, likes and shares give us. But not everything you post will produce a visible effect. The vast majority of people using social media only comment on a tiny fraction of the updates they read, only read a fraction of what they see, and only see a fraction of what gets posted. It’s a big old iceberg out there, and it’s growing bigger all the time.

Rather than stressing about numbers of comments, likes etc (or lack of) remind yourself that you’re building your own social network one person at a time. Put your energies into that, and it will feel more rewarding. Reach out to other people on an individual level – add value to someone’s blog post with a good quality comment, thank someone for a link they posted on Twitter to an article you found useful, enrich your Facebook Page into a resource you’re proud to send people to when appropriate, don’t let it be just another promotional channel. Ask interesting questions, invite an expert to guest post on your blog.

‘I have too many other things to do’

I read two very interesting articles recently about this. One was quoting a study which found that people are happiest when they are focusing on one task only, and not letting their minds wander. It has nothing to do with how pleasurable the task is – you could be paying bills or making love. In today’s multi-tasking world it’s an interesting idea.

In another piece of research, it was found that having a ‘time scarcity’ mindset was crippling not only to our ability to think creatively, but also to how we are able to utilise effectively what little time we do have.  (A ‘time scarcity’ mindset means the feeling of being perpetually behind with things, general overwhelm, too many things needing our attention.) In other words, when we’re in that ‘I don’t have the time/I’m too busy’ zone, we’re less able to focus on the task at hand, so we can’t get as much done as we’d like, and it becomes a vicious circle. When we’re in this state (say the researchers) we tend to give a lower priority to things that aren’t urgent, to the detriment of our health, family, relationships and other long-term aspects of our lives.

Social media can seem to function at a frenetic pace. If you feel you’re struggling to keep up with people’s updates, or read all the blogs you’d like to, let alone do any posting or tweeting yourself, it’s worth reminding yourself that there are tools and tricks to help you manage your social media time, whether it’s having an editorial calendar for your blog, using an organising dashboard like Hootsuite, or installing an app to limit your time on social sites. And it’s better for body and soul to do one thing well, and slowly, than juggle five things because they’re all important.

‘Nobody is interested in what I think.’

This is a big one to unpack. First of all, you’d be surprised how many people are interested in what you think, what you say and how you say it. You’re a writer, so that gives you a head start: you know how to communicate. I’m not saying you just need to talk about what you had for dinner, although the fact that this has become such a cliche shows that plenty of people DO tweet about this and MANY of them have happy followers.

There are all kinds of social media guidelines about what to say or not to say, topics to avoid, how to entice people into following you or befriending you with great content or whatever. I’ve written a few myself! But they are only guidelines. We’re all making this up as we go along. There are examples everywhere of people breaking the ‘rules’ and chugging along very happily. Although the word ‘authentic’ has fallen from favour, I still believe it should be at the heart of any social media presence – which you are building one person at a time – so why expend energy on trying to create ‘ideal’ updates or worrying whether what you say won’t entertain or excite people every time. It’s your day-to-day life, not show business.

Sometimes it can be dispiriting to read about other people’s book deals, competition wins or successes. It’s as if everyone else is more successful AND they’re rubbing it in your face. But that’s a feeling we all have to deal with. I thought this piece on the subject was really helpful – How to Enjoy (and Not Envy) the Success of Others – especially the advice ‘don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides’. Indeed!

Every now and then someone will tell you how much they enjoy your blog posts or your Twitter updates or your Facebook Page and it will make your day. Keep on keeping on!

Show your face on the web with a Gravatar


You’ve probably seen them around the web, on blogs, forums and author profiles – those little images next to people’s names. They’re called avatars, and they’re applied automatically whenever you post or comment. The good news is you don’t have set up your avatar again and again on every blog and media site you encounter, because the majority of them display the results from one place – Gravatar.

Gravatar stands for ‘Globally Recognised Avatar’, and it refers both to the individual icon itself (your Gravatar) and the site where you create one ( As with most web apps, there’s no guarantee Gravatar will be around forever, but for the moment it seems to be stable and it’s recognised as an industry standard. Which is why I think it’s worth your while setting up your Gravatar if you haven’t already.

If you’re anything like me, you put a low priority on things like filling out your profiles, uploading profile images and keeping things up to date. There just seems to be too much else to do. But once you’ve set up your Gravatar you can kind of forget about it.

If you don’t yet have a Gravatar, chances are when you comment on a blog, or in the top right hand corner of your screen when you’re editing your WordPress blog, what you see is a grey shape or something anonymous, like this:

Anonymous user gravatar

Nobody wants to be a grey, mystery man! As you post comments on blogs, and are joining in conversations on the web, you want people to remember you. Research has shown that showing your face creates greater levels of trust, more shares and more interaction. Anonymity is too often associated with having something to hide. There’s nothing for it but to get yourself a decent Gravatar and join the people with faces.

Getting a Gravatar is simple and best of all it’s free. Signup at, upload a photo – I always recommend a good, clear headshot – fill in a short profile, and really that’s it.

Most WordPress themes already come with Gravatar integrated (which means Gravatars will be displayed with your readers’ comments). But Gravatar is used on many, many sites, not just WordPress.

There are all kinds of add-on benefits to having a Gravatar, for example Hovercards – which means when you mouseover someone’s Gravatar you see their profile – it comes with blogs and can be added as a plugin to a self-hosted WordPress blog. Here’s an example of how it looks:

gravatar hovercards

You can see Gravatar in action in the foot of this post – I’ve installed a plugin called ‘Author Bio Box’ which displays your Gravatar information at the end of your blog posts. This is particularly good if you have guest bloggers or if there’s more than one of you running your blog.

You can change your Gravatar if you wish, but sometimes it takes a while to see the changes across the web. Try clearing your browser’s cache too, especially if you use Chrome, as Chrome sometimes keeps loading old versions of Gravatars even after you’ve made changes.

If you’re interested in how to build trust online there’s a ton of great stuff that’s been done in this area. Take a look at this blog post on Social Media Examiner, or read Chris Brogan’s book Trust Agents.

Writers: this is why you need a web presence

No search results

Writers are sometimes reluctant to ‘put themselves out there’ (as it’s often referred to) in terms of having a web presence.

Some of the common reasons cited:

– I don’t want people knowing about my private life
– My work should stand alone / speak for itself
– I don’t have time to be blogging, tweeting or wasting hours online
– It feels completely foreign to me
– It’s all so superficial and ‘me, me, me’

I could spend a lot of time and effort carefully questioning and counter-arguing these points, but I only do that if someone has asked for mentoring. If I’m in a class, or at an event or just having a conversation all I can do is try to inspire people, without pushing – either by example, or by telling stories – equipping people with all sides of the picture as best I can. If and when they change their minds the final motivation will come from within, not from someone saying ‘you ought to be doing this.’

It’s not just individual writers who can be social media refuseniks, it’s other areas of the publishing industry too. What the social web offers a small publishing press, for example, is a fantastic opportunity to ‘punch above its weight’. But too often the chance is missed.

So why do you need a web presence? How about “so that I’m not invisible”? Here are a couple of episodes to illustrate my point.

Example 1- publishers missing a trick

On two occasions in the last few months, I’ve read a debut poetry collection I’ve enjoyed, and wanted to feature the poets on my poetry blog. I’ve searched for their name on Google – ‘Fred Bloggs poet’ – and have found either nothing at all, or nothing that provides a method of contacting them.

Luckily, I ran into one of them at an event so was able to ask them for an email address, and the other I contacted their publisher, who forwarded my email to the poet.

One both occasions, once contacted, the poets responded promptly and were very happy to be featured since it exposed them to a new audience of readers and at least one review in a magazine. But if I’d had a long list of potential poets to feature, if I had less time or if I was less determined, I might have easily given up and moved onto someone else.

Interestingly, neither of the publishers involved followed up with me, or made much of the added exposure for their poet. It seems amazing to me that small poetry publishers, who we hear all the time are struggling for survival, wouldn’t make the most of the opportunity when offered free, unsolicited publicity. Did either of them send me a quick email to say ‘great review, thanks! can we send you the latest pamphlet from Joe Smith, in case you’d like to feature him too?’ or did they ‘like’ the blog post, leave a comment on the blog, mention it on their own website, even as a short news item, or tweet about it? No.

Example 2 – poets playing hard to get

I’m part of a newly-formed poets’ publishing collective. We work together to publish our own first pamphlets and promote one another’s writing career through social media and readings, with plans for skill-sharing workshops, an anthology and other events. Our strategy is not to call for submissions, but to approach individual poets who we feel would be a good fit, whose work we admire and who have yet to have a first pamphlet published.

There’s a lot of competition in poetry publishing – thousands of poets pay good money to enter pamphlet competitions in the hope of being published. You might think they would also make it easy for publishers to contact them. You know, in case the Faber poetry editor reads your wonderful poem in ‘The Rialto’ and wants to offer you a publishing contract. Or even if an events organiser wants to invite you to do a reading. Not so.

Several well-respected poets/magazine editors have offered us some names of poets they feel would be good to approach. They’ve taken the time and care to do this, as a favour. They believe it’s a wonderful opportunity for a few talented individuals they noticed.

So what happened? Of an initial list of ten names, three had no web presence at all, and of the four others we wanted to approach, two of them have proved impossible to make contact with. At least one of these did have a web presence but suggested the best way to contact them was via Facebook. Now, this assumes the person wanting to make contact is on Facebook themselves, and it also requires the poet to respond to messages from strangers on Facebook. In this case, our messages via Facebook have been unanswered.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you want your work to be read, and/or if you don’t want to miss out on career opportunities, you need to be contactable via a web search. At the very least get a free one-page profile at and put an email address on it. And make it an address you do actually monitor! If you’re worried about spam then create a one-off email address at Yahoo and set it to forward to your ‘actual’ email box. Then if you have any trouble with it you can just shut down the Yahoo address.

And if you haven’t already then buy your domain name now. You can always park it until you’re ready to get a blog or a website or an email address that sounds like you own it.

Six Reasons to have an Author Page on Goodreads


Goodreads Author Page

Goodreads is a huge online community of readers, 25 million members and counting, but did you know there are over 100,000 authors in its Author Program? If you have published a book, even if it’s self-published, you can apply for an Author Page on Goodreads.

One of the key pieces of advice I give writers is to connect with your readers, rather than just market to them. Social media gives us the tools to grow our reader base one person at a time, and where better to do that than within a ready-made community of readers? Here are six good reasons why you should have an Author Page on Goodreads.

1) You can create interest in your books & develop a network of fans

This starts with a ‘stand out’ Author Profile Page. Make sure you upload a professional headshot for your photo and fill in your biog (this doesn’t need to be any more personal than the biog on your book’s dustjacket). There are other areas of your profile worth filling in – it all helps generate interest in you and your work. Here’s a good example of an Author Page. You should also make the most of your book(s) by creating dedicated book pages. Essential is a book cover (but it can’t be changed once you’ve uploaded it – so don’t put up a dummy or ‘working design’ cover). Give some details about the book, maybe even an excerpt. If you are a new author this is your chance to ‘sell’ your book. Here’s an example of a book page.

Remember also you are a reader not just an author – use Goodreads as a reader, by putting books on your ‘read’ ‘reading’ or ‘want to read’ bookshelves, list your influences, follow other authors, write reviews or rate books you’ve read, connect your blog feed* or post updates. All this activity gets seen by members – they’ll learn more about your reading interests and tastes and be more likely to take a look at your book(s) and even become fans to follow your updates. (*Only Goodreads Authors can connect their blog feed so that latest blog posts appear on their Author Page – regular members don’t have this facility.)

2) You can promote your books with Giveaways

Either in the run up to publication, or once it’s out, a Giveaway can kickstart interest in your book and generate a spike in reviews and follower numbers. Only give away what you can afford to (and remember shipping costs – you can always specify which countries are eligible). Start and end on odd days – May 6th – June 5th, for example, rather than May 1st – 31st. That way there will be less competition when your Giveaway starts.

Giveaways are listed on a special page and are very popular – and average 20 copy giveaway in the US attracts over 900 entries! People see the giveaways their friends are entering and often join in. It can be a good way to extend your reach into the Goodreads community.

3) You can build a body of good reviews and use them for promotional purposes

One of your aims as a Goodreads Author is to increase the number of reviews for your books, which starts with getting your books onto members ‘want to read’ lists. Every member has a newsfeed of activity, and friends’ activity shows up first. User-generated reviews are trusted, and when a member sees a friend’s review they’re more likely to have a look and place it on their ‘want to read’ list.

Basically, reviews help other users discover books. And not just within Goodreads – millions of readers share their reviews on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. You can display your Goodreads reviews on your blog or website, if you wish, which can not only support sales of your books but may also encourage your blog readers to join Goodreads and enrich its value as a community still further.

4) You can have conversations with fellow readers/enthusiasts & invite questions

There are umpteen special interest groups on Goodreads. If you’re passionate about your genre or a specific sector, join a group and take part in discussions there. This is slow-burn strategy for building your network, well worth it in the long term. But it’s important not to join groups in order to sell your book. They are for discussion, nobody there wants the hard sell.

Another popular feature is ‘Ask the Author’. Once you start building a network of readers, open up for questions – you can set it for whatever period of time you wish, but make sure it’s a time when you’ll be around to answer the Qs. Take another look at Ayelet Waldman’s Author Page for an example of a ‘Ask the Author’ and the questions/answers it generated. It’s a great chance to answer individual questions, like a ‘meet the author’ session in real life.

There are plenty of other ways to overtly promote your books, and one of the most obvious is targeted ads.

5) You can extend your reach with ads

Ads on Goodreads run on similar lines to Facebook ads, in that you have control over how much you spend (pay per click), what the ads look like and targeting. Goodreads admin suggest broader targeting than on Facebook, because when you think about it you’re already targeting a niche – people who read and are interested in books and their authors.

According to Goodreads, a Giveaways backed by ads increases entries by up to 200. Ads are an opportunity to extend awareness of your books outside your circle of friends and fans. Make sure you include a call to action, and check your stats before, during and after your ad campaigns. Has the campaign resulted in more fans, more ‘want to read’s, more reviews? All these activities are building your influence on Goodreads, helping more readers to connect with you and discover your books.

6) Great things can result from having a strong Goodreads presence

Your books may get selected for site-wide exposure by being added to Listopia Lists and voted on by the community, or even featured in Goodreads newsletters. Both of these features brings you to the attention of more members and can thereby increase the numbers of fans, bookshelf listings and reviews for your books.


Improve your social web presence – for writers


This coming Saturday I’m in Brighton at New Writing South running a one-day workshop on ‘Improving your social web presence’.

I know that there are readers of this blog and of my email newsletter who have already been on one of the three-evening courses I’ve run for NWS in the past. I’ve already been asked ‘will I learn anything new if I come along to this one-day course?’

The short answer to this is ‘possibly not’ – but it depends on whether you’ve put into practice what we covered on the previous course.

But I know how it often goes – you finish a course full of good intentions, but real life/ deadlines/writing gets in the way and you never quite settle into any social media routines. The blog never really gets going, the Twitter account starts to languish and you’re thinking “I really ought to be doing that social media stuff.”

If this sounds familiar then yes, you might find a one-day sessions will kick you off and get you actually DOING rather than thinking about doing. Or you might just think “OK I know this already but I need to be doing it.” If you’re someone who benefits from external kick-up-bum nudges then it may be what you need. But if in your heart of hearts you know you’re still not ready/willing/able to embrace the social media thang, then the day may not work for you.

What I do hope to cover is:
Why we’re doing it – where to start – what social media is good for (and what it’s not) – what to spend your time and creative energy on (and what to avoid) – how to make valuable connections – how to present yourself in a way that works for you – how to play (and enjoy) the long term game – how to keep social media in persepctive. Plus brilliant bluffs, scrumptious shortcuts, terrific tools and incredible insights.

This will be a general, channel-neutral day (in other words, we won’t focus exclusively on any one social tool or network, but take a broader view). If you’re looking specifically for Twitter or blogging help, sign up for my future workshops – Master Twitter in a Day (November 15th) and Set up a Blog in a Day (February 7 2015).

These’s no magic to social media, and I’m certainly not promising that a great blog or Twitter account is the key to fame and fortune, or even book sales. But these are powerful tools and channels that were never available before, and they’re here to stay – in one form or another. They have changed many aspects of our lives as writers. Understanding and adapting to that is crucial for anyone looking to further their writing career.

There are still places available for all three day courses – sign up here, or please pass on the details to anyone you know who may be interested. New Writing South members get 10% off.