We’ve all had to do it at some point in our academic and professional careers: the Dreaded Personal Statement™. Why do you want to join this university? Why do you think this job is right for you? And going beyond personal statements, some of you might have even written an online dating profile. I know I did, and it led me to my wife. Finally, every day we write emails to colleagues, friends, family, and even strangers.
What if I were to tell you that by mastering the art of the personal statement, the art of the online dating profile, and the art of email, you could become a first-rate author? You’ve probably had plenty of practice doing these things anyway, so why not tell yourself that spending time doing this stuff counts towards your daily word goal so that you don’t feel so guilty spending time on Tinder or Gmail?
Here’s how it’s worked for me, and how it could work for you, too.
Writing about yourself is hard, and many authors want to compartmentalize their writing as just one aspect of their multi-faceted lives. But the thing about writing is that it begs to burst from your soul. You write (or at least I do) because you just cannot keep the words inside of you for a moment longer or you’ll explode. Writing is intensely personal, then, and there’s no need to be embarrassed about that. The first short story I had published was about my alcoholism. Anybody can sit at a computer and type on a word document, so what makes your writing stand out is that it is YOU writing it. You are telling a story that only YOU can tell, and you owe your readers the answer as to why that is. Why can only YOU share this tale about two brothers searching for revenge in a desert? Why can only YOU pen this tale about a girl who just wants to go home?
My first book was essentially a 150-page personal statement. In 2016, I wrote an autobiography based on 10 years of working as a professional political campaign manager; being able to tell my personal story in that medium turned out to be a massive help over the next several years of my life. In 2017, I had to write a personal statement to get into an MBA program and, thanks to months spent refining my “less is more” style of weaving a personal narrative in a few words that still manages to captivate, I got a full scholarship to my top choice. It turns out that when you learn how to write about yourself in an interesting way, writing about other things in ways that captivate the soul becomes much easier.
Online Dating Profiles
Growing up in that awkward period — when the internet wasn’t quite yet a thing in grade school but everyone had an AIM screen name by 6th grade — I became well-acquainted with just about every dating app available by the time I hit my 20s. OkCupid, Tinder, Hinge, and – what finally worked for me – Coffee Meets Bagel. Just as in writing a personal statement, when writing a dating profile you’ve got to explain things succinctly.
Unlike personal statements, though, online dating profiles require HUMOR. Just think about that – why do you swipe right on someone’s profile? How much can you really learn about someone given a few words and a couple of pictures? Enough to make you feel safe and happy enough to want to spend an evening with them? Perhaps our inhibitions drop and we’re convinced of a person’s authenticity when we know they can crack a joke: humor is a cheat code.
What I mean is that when you can make someone laugh, they start to think less logically and more emotionally. All your favorite stories – from Harry Potter to Star Wars to the Avengers – have inconsistencies in them. Why don’t Deatheaters weaponize polyjuice potion? How can Leia remember her birth mother in Return of the Jedi? Why doesn’t Thanos just double the universe’s resources? We don’t mind these inconsistencies because, by the time they’re introduced, we’re thinking emotionally. And one surefire way to make sure people react emotionally about your writing is to make them laugh.
There’s Always E-mail
I never knew there was an actual term for what I often do: “ping-ponging.” I frequently will respond to a just-sent email with a few words, and then follow up with a few more words, and then follow up with a few more words. You’ve now received 3 emails from me in the span of five minutes, and it’s all because I couldn’t just chill and read your entire email in one go.
When writing anything, you want to gather all your thoughts in one go and then succinctly do the thing. This way, you can make sure your writing is compelling and to the point. You need to write something that fully addresses all the questions your reader might have, but isn’t needlessly long. As authors, we might have less than 500 words to convince a reader to buy our book instead of just reading the free preview on Amazon.
Improving your email etiquette could make you a better author by ensuring that each word in your novel is justified.
Bharat Krishnan is currently working on his third book in four years, and during that time he decided he wasn’t quite busy enough so he also got married and graduated with honors from LSU’s Flores MBA program. He lives in Columbus, Ohio as a philanthropic consultant, and loves to cook when he’s not writing or working out.
When I ventured into the Twitterverse, I was terrified. Having witnessed how quickly situations could turn toxic on social media, I didn’t want to involve myself in this world. But a huge part about being an author is putting yourself out there and social media plays a big role in that these days.
I resurrected my Twitter account in 2018 (dormant since 2010) and I most fortuitously tripped across the #WritingCommunity.
Tentatively Venturing into Social Media
I spent months fumbling my way around Twitter, feeling insecure and unsure about what to do – or more importantly, what not to do. I didn’t want to step on any Twitter toes. I started posting Twitter Tip threads that garnered a lot of thanks and praise from those still learning themselves. I ended up with so many Twitter Tips threads that I decided to put them together as my first blog, TWITTER TIPS FOR NEWBIES. It has turned out to be a big hit with folks, as have my follow-up blogs in the series.
I’m no expert in social media, in human relations or in the publishing industry – I have a little more knowledge than some folks and a whole lot less knowledge than others. I share my own experiences. Sometimes, all folks need is to know they are not alone on their journey and that others are experiencing similar challenges.
Figuring Out How Social Media Ticks
I research blogs and online marketing sites for advice. Social media is an evolving platform, so I figure that reading the most up-to-date news about its functions from those in-the-know is the way to go.
Interestingly, I found some marketing websites better and easier to understand than Twitter or Facebook’s help sites. The best sites for me are the ones with pictures or videos. Bless all those guys and gals who know how to record this info and upload it!
One thing I like to do on Twitter is to boost those who have fewer than 1,000 followers. I don’t do this to encourage folks to play the numbers game. I do it because Twitter analytics don’t seem to give any traction to the posts of those with fewer than 1,000 followers. This came from my personal experience – I found that once I tipped over the 1,000 mark, I popped up on people’s feeds and they interacted with me more.
Taking Care Not to Be Overwhelmed by Social Media
One huge job for me is screening new followers on Twitter to decide if we’re compatible. I don’t blind follow (I made that rookie mistake in the beginning). As part of my daily Twitter housekeeping, I do a quick screen for bots – they’re easy to spot – and I block them instantly. For everyone else who’s a real person, if they interact with me on my feed and I see that they are following me, I screen them for compatibility and if we’re a good fit, I follow back.
This process keeps me supporting and following new folks while not being overwhelmed by a large number of followers. I realise I’m in a fortunate position and I can only thank the lovely peeps in Twitter’s #WritingCommunity for making this happen.
I’ve taken my time about building my author platform, only extending myself into new areas once I was comfortable with a certain niche. I began with Twitter, then branched out to blogging and my most recent endeavour is my Facebook author page.
Should Writers Have a Large Social Media Following?
Hoo boy! This is a loaded question with so many varying opinions, including from editors, agents and publishers! From my understanding, it is essential to have a decent social media following if you are planning to self-publish or if you are going down the traditional publishing route with non-fiction. The jury is still out in my court whether a large following is essential if you’re planning to be a traditionally published fiction author – some agents say you do, some say you don’t.
I think folks need to do what they are happy and comfortable with. Not everyone is comfortable with having thousands of followers because they don’t feel they can connect with that many people, while others feel it’s important to have that broader base to work with when it comes to their marketing strategies.
However, I will add that I’ve not yet seen a hard-sell marketing campaign on Twitter succeed in any sales; but I have seen dozens and dozens of books bought by folks who have a relationship with authors. The key factor, whether you have 100 followers or 100,000 followers, is positive engagement and interaction, which is integral for building those relationships.
Lift Others Up
Genuinely engaging with folks online (aka, your potential readers) takes time and energy but if you are planning on building a supportive following, you need to put the work in – it’s like anything in life really. If you are only in it for the numbers, most people will spot you from a mile away. I believe you earn your true followers through engagement. Having thousands of empty followers isn’t going to make people buy your books, read your poetry or sign up to your blog.Genuinely engaging with folks online (aka, your potential readers) takes time and energy but if you are planning on building a supportive following, you need to put the work in. Click To Tweet
I’m not on social media to compete with other writers, I’m here to share in their journey and share mine with them. By lifting other writers up in Twitter’s #WritingCommunity, I have been lifted, supported and loved tenfold by so many wonderful folks.
What the Pros Have to Say
That’s my rookie two cents’ worth. Here’s what the publishing pros have to say about building your social media platform as a writer:
- A great Twitter thread from Megan Manzano (@Megan_Manzano), YA Editor & Book Blogger – Agent Apprentice @CorvisieroLit – 1/5 of @WriteCraftQuest and #Pitchwars Mentor: tips and tricks to help build your social media platform
- A one-hour-long vlog from @WriteCraftQuest – A collective of #editors supporting writers on their publishing adventure @Maria_Tureaud @SouffleLumiere @Megan_Manzano @Justine_Manzano: Social Media Dos and Don’ts for Writers
Emma Lombard was born in Pontefract in the UK. She grew up in Africa – calling Zimbabwe and South Africa home for a few years – before settling in Brisbane, Australia nearly 20 years ago. She writes historical fiction and keeps platform-building authors on their toes as the #WritingCommunityMum
A launch party on St. Patrick’s Day 2019 was perfect timing to formally release my latest Irish historical novel, The Earl in Black Armor. But just as the earl could not have put on his heavy armor without many helping hands, I could not have published this book so successfully without similar and most generous help.
When I first started writing this book I expected it to be easy and quick, because I’d already studied much about the period and I was only covering a time span of seven years. But it turned out to be the most difficult and complex book I’ve written to date – and also the most rewarding accomplishment.
Even though I’m a former journalist and experienced writer, I knew this book needed many eyes on it to make sure it was right. After revising my manuscript numerous times, I used several beta readers, plus two editors, and two proofreaders who found the errors I could not see, and who pointed out the places where I needed more clarity.
I was able to test drive parts of our Amelia Indie Authors network. I had help finding exactly the right people to assist me at each stage: they supported and encouraged me when I felt frustrated and celebrated with me when the final product was in hand.
But that is just the beginning. My Amelia Indie Authors co-founder, author Andrea Patten “had an idea.” (If you get to know her, you’ll get used to hearing those words.)
Andrea’s vision and her natural capacity for building connections led to a remarkable opportunity for me: to lead a literary tour in Ireland in 2020 — exploring the sites traveled in my books and bring those scenes to life in real experiences for readers. What other authors have had such a tour? How about Maeve Binchy, and Frank McCourt? It is a tremendous honor to be able to join such renowned company.
The Earl in Black Armor is a story of conflicts: loyalty and betrayal, love and hate, courage and fear, honor and disgrace. Because of the work I put into it, and the help I have received, I have no conflicts at all about promoting this book with confidence. I know it can compete successfully — not only with other indie books in its genre but also with those traditionally published.
By Dr. J.
When you begin a new part of your life like writing, and it involves everything you know nothing about, what do you do?
If you are the former academician like me, you begin research. Learn about what you want to do. Find experts. Get guidance. Make a plan. Execute. Let’s see what happens when you follow directions. That’s what I did.
LEARN ABOUT IT
I attended a local writers’ group where I met Andrea Patten. When I talked with Andrea, I was days from completing a basic writing course with a New York editor for my writing genre erotica and erotic romance. The editor suggested I use three specific websites where I could share my work and become known in the writing world.
What did that mean?
First, it meant I’d be writing for readers. And second, I needed a website to link my stories to the other locations. How do you get all of this up and running? Andrea consulted with me to lay the ground floor of my author platform. That makes an author visible to the world
CREATE THE WEBSITE
The first part of the plan was securing a website. Even though I knew it was essential to have a site, I did not understand how to go about creating it. A guide is vital. There are things they know I didn’t. Frankly, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. Andrea broke down my needs in bite-size portions.
You can’t learn everything at once. For me, this was a world I had never lived in before, not writing, not IT, and not, social media. As a retired sex therapist, I had steered clear of all social media locations.
The first step in securing the website was to buy my website domain name-DrJAuthor, a combination of my pen name and my new identity. Given my writing content, it was helpful to learn that some hosting sites were better than others for my needs. I settled for HostGator and their built-in Weebly Website Template. Andrea had recommended Bluehost and WordPress, but I liked what I saw with HostGator. Notice, I didn’t follow directions.
After that, I created a picture that would be my visual recognition, my avatar, to be used on my website and other places. Once the website was in place, social media platforms were next. I learned that my name and my avatar needed to be consistent across all locations in the digital world.
That was my smooth start until it wasn’t smooth anymore. A year and a half into my website, HostGator did not renew its contract with Weebly and I lost a way to create my website content or access my old content. Luckily in a short time, I made many author friends talented in many areas. One such person is Mischa Eliot who in one weekend, rebuilt my site in a WordPress location. If only I had followed the directions of my author platform guru.
CHOOSE YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA
After the website, I tackled four social media sites. It seemed overwhelming. Check out my names. Facebook: DrJAuthor; Twitter: DoctorJAuthor; Instagram: drjauthor_; and Pinterest: drjauthor. I put those forward specifically to show that sometimes even with your best efforts, it doesn’t go as planned. What did you notice? The ideal would be to have the exact name match — then it is always easy for folks to find you. But the good news is, even if the names aren’t available, your avatar will identify you for readers.
If I had a full list of all the digital places I would end up, then I could have checked them. But sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. If you are good at planning, you can secure all the names at the same time for the future. Notice I only listed the ones I started within my first year. I continue to grow my platform to other places.
LET IT WORK
There is so much to share. While Andrea Patten has been the spectacular guru on “all things start-up,” I attended Nancy Blanton’s workshop on Author Branding. Did you notice my purple essence? It’s always about learning more. My branding will be my next discussion.
Dr. J. arrived at her writing career after being a condom packer, sex educator, sex therapist, and finally a college professor of human sexuality. Using her vast knowledge and experience of sexuality and the mind, she continues her education efforts to integrate positive sexuality into the human experience through her stories. She writes romance and erotica. Living the island life, Dr. J. plays petanque, knits, and supports all the visual and performing arts of the area.