While U Wait: Pre-Market

Wendy Lawton

Blogger:  Wendy Lawton

Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office

Weather: 81º and sunny

Last week agent-extraordinaire, Janet Kobobel Grant, tweeted, “If you want anyone in publishing to take you seriously, you need to have a good-looking website that centers on you as a writer.” I agree, and it’s one of the things you can do while you wait.

I asked Janet what prompted her to tweet about websites. She had a publisher anxious to receive a project from a new writer. Janet had been going over the proposal with a fine-tooth comb and called the writer with a few questions. For one, the writer hadn’t listed her website on the proposal. Plus Janet wanted specifics on how many Twitter and Facebook followers the writer had. Janet was surprised to find that her client did not have a website and had only a handful of Twitter and Facebook followers.

You don’t often have a publisher that excited about a debut author’s idea. As Janet explained to her author, when the publishing committee sits down to consider a book, many laptops are open on the table. As a committee member listens to the editor make the presentation, he may be multi-tasking, looking at the author’s website, publishing numbers, reviews and other resources. A website, even for an unpublished author, offers a level of comfort. It introduces the sales and marketing team to the author.

And if you are actively seeking an agent, it’s even more important. Part of our due diligence includes checking out your website. Yes, you can get an agent without a website. (In my example above, Janet’s client did not have a website before signing.) And yes, you can get contracted without a website, but publishers know how important online marketing is these days and how much they count on an author’s skillful online presence. Contracting a technophobe or a Luddite is a big risk for a publisher.

So what is the most important pre-marketing you can do during your wait? Create a professional website. One that will show who you are, will show that you know how to present yourself online and will begin to define your brand. The question unpublished authors usually ask is, “What do I put on a website if I’m not yet published?” Look around. Check out other pre-published authors’ websites. You will want to have a beautiful home page that emphasizes your distinctiveness–your brand. You’ll want to have a bio page. You may want to create a book review page where you promote other authors. (More about that tomorrow.) If you speak, have a page with your speaking topics and quotes about your presentations.

Create something that is distinctly you. Something fun. If you love coffee, you may want to have a recipe page of your three best coffee recipes. If you are a dog person, make sure to have a photo of you with your dog and maybe famous writers with their dogs. Are you a photographer? Add a gallery. Think of what you like to see in a website. Be creative!

And connect your website to your blog, to Twitter, and to your Facebook. Your website should be Brand Central for you–a stopping-off place to get to all your other social networks. Don’t forget that blog numbers (which are available to anyone who wants to verify), the number of Facebook friends or fans and Twitter followers give an agent or publisher an idea how well you can market online. No, it’s not the most important thing, but it is one of the skills that does translate to buzz.

So pre-market while you wait. For some of you, this will seem like a heavy burden. Don’t let it be. See it as a challenge. Have fun with it. Make it uniquely yours. Let this verse from the Bible inspire you:

Live creatively, friends. . .

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. Galatians 6:1a, 4-5 [The Message]

What ways have you made a website work for you? Feel free to give us your URLs.

23 Responses

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  1. I taught a continuing marketing track at the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference last month.

    I was surprised at how many of my students thought they didn’t need to build a Web site and/or blog till they had a contract.

    Having a stunning Web site or blog can be the tipping point for you getting that first contract.

    Great advice, Wendy,


  2. Lynn Dean says:

    Again, Wendy, you’ve given me much to mull over. Thank you!

    While I’m a “Lady in Waiting,” I’ve developed two websites that I believe build a platform, though neither is specifically my “author” site.

    The first site, http://www.discovertexasonline.com, is where I market the non-fiction history curriculum that got me hooked on writing historical fiction. An associated blog, News Around Texas, is a new feature. At curriculum fairs this spring I collected subscriber addresses and hope to have this tool in full swing over the summer.

    The second site, http://www.aNOVELWritingSite.com, is a collaborative effort with four other Christian fiction writers who are also homeschool moms. This site is a service to the homeschooling community, providing guidance to young writers. First year results have been encouraging. Readership tripled when we announced a writing contest this spring (and the students’ entries were a delight to read). To combat a potential summer lull, we’re using a blog tour and writing prompts to maintain interest. Like many of our contributors, whenever I speak at a homeschool event or write an article for that market, I mention this site as an added bonus. I’m finding that an established website seems to increase my stature with each audience, and each public appearance builds readership. It’s a slow process, though, so I can definitely see the wisdom in starting early!

    I agree that what I need next is a website like you’ve described–one that focuses on me as a writer. Since most of what I have to say is already featured on the other sites, though, I’m a bit dry for ideas. As I type this comment, I see “Marketing & Publicity” in your sidebar and remember so many excellent articles by Kathleen Y’Barbo and others. Maybe I should prime my creative pump by re-reading those!

  3. Wendy says:

    This one of so many reasons I am looking forward to having an agent. I’d love input about the website I’ve created. I’d like to invest in it more (pouring financially into it) but that is something I’m waiting to learn more about.

    I researched author websites before I created mine to get a grasp on what I should include. I receive the cd of my professional photos on Sunday and look forward to using those.

    This business is so exciting because there is always more to learn and improve upon.
    ~ Wendy

    Here’s the link: http://wendypainemiller.wordpress.com/

  4. What a great post!

    I am actively seeking publication for my historical fiction about the Oregon Trail.

    Currently I have a blog/website. When it comes to content I opted to “sing a simple song well” instead of going for every bell and whistle out there.

    It contains a bio of my television writing career (my writing experience), a brief excerpt of my novel (in case a potential agent/publisher wants to see more of my work), a link to my book trailer (which was easy for me to create due to my background in television commercial production) for the sales/marketing team to check out, and a way to contact me via email.

    In addition, I offer up plenty of helpful links for writers who happen to stop by. I hope the many categories of links will entice them into staying a while.

    I also blog on a REGULAR basis (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) to keep readers coming back.

    I also have a “Self-promotion” section where I provide links to my guest posts on other blogs (like Pimp My Novel), and interviews I’ve done with other blogs in the publishing industry.

    If anyone reading this would take a few minutes and check out my site I’d really appreciate any feedback you have.

    Christi Corbett

  5. Thanks for the great post, Wendy… and for the opp to plug our sites.

    My book site is: http://www.InnerMess.com

    I’d also be happy to be your FB friend at http://www.facebook.com/bill.giovannetti

    My blog is at http://www.MaxGrace.com

    Question: if you’ve only got one book out, what kind of website should you be working on?


  6. David Todd says:

    I can see the need for a web site during these pre-published days, but to be honest I don’t have the money. The depression has reduced me to 1998 wages with 2010 expenses. All social media are blocked at the office, and at home my computer is so old I can’t do much with anything that has graphics. Facebook barely loads, and I’m not about to bog down a 2002 processor with twitter feeds.

    Is there any hope for me? Eventually being published, that is.

    Technophobes unite!

  7. What a great post!

    As both a writer and an owner of a firm that has built hundreds of websites you would have thought this would be obvious to me. However; I believed building an author website prior to publication would come across as presumptious and would backfire. It seemed to be building the cart before the horse.

    Thank you for clarifying this. With your good advice, we’ll get busy.

    One big question I would have is how much information do we provide on our websites for our works in progress? Should that be kept proprietary until a contract is signed? When is it to early to start promoting your books?

  8. You said “only a handful” of Facebook followers. How many is that? What number of Facebook friends makes an agent take notice?

  9. patriciazell says:

    After reading Michael Hyatt’s blog and interacting with him, I decided to write my book through my blog posts. I also signed up for Twitter and Facebook. With Twitter, I am making progress with increasing my followers. Actually, I’ve been doing some “marketing” through Twitter and have found that when my tweets include the words “evil” and “God’s absolute love,” my retweets go up and the number of visitors to my blog go up. Since school is out for the summer, I am going to spend more time on Twitter and build up my Facebook fan page for my blog.

    I also am going to finish my book, edit my posts, and put together a book proposal within the next several weeks. And, then, here I come, agents!

  10. Heidi Bylsma says:

    Yesterday, my husband asked me, “With your short-term “online presence” goals accomplished, do you feel sort of like all this work is for nothing since you don’t have a book to sell right now?”

    It was a great question and I realized that it isn’t about selling my book. It is about a message of freedom that God has put on my heart. It is about connecting with people who long to hear it, who thirst to know there is a hope and a purpose for them! Online connections are most effective for that for right now, apparently.:-) God *is* sovereign and I will trust him!

    As I wait for the phone call or the email from the kind agent who is reviewing my proposal, I will continue to connect with the women God brings and delight in the fact that my blog and newly designed website are experiencing more interaction and repeat visitors than ever. I am “meeting” new folks on Twitter, Facebook, and at my blog, too. I LOVE these “online relationships” and the way God uses these women to spur me on to love and good deeds. It is a blessing to have the privilege of encouraging them.

    Your article really has affirmed for me that this is NOT a pointless treadmill I am on. It may be a marathon, true, but I am going somewhere–even if launching into social media and having an “author website” has seemed pretty premature! Thank you so much!

  11. Ishk! I have a website but it is in SORE need of updating and fixing. I do like the look of it for now, but would “pay” someone to do it once I get contracted (although it’s one of those things that, because I like some of the techno stuff, it’s fun to do myself too! Ah if only I had more hours in the day…) For now, I get hosted free through my web programmer brother-in-law, and I just haven’t taken the time to update it like I want and actually create all the links I want. I focused more time on my blog and make sure it links everywhere.

    I DO think, even if you don’t update it regularly, that everyone should reserve their domain name if they can IMMEDIATELY otherwise you might not get it. Thankfully, I reserved http://www.kristaphillips.com and that’s what I’m using, as rough as it still is.

    Also, if you are going to start a blog, think wisely about the name of it before you begin. I started mine just to be silly a few years ago, and slowly built it, and now, even though I don’t care for the name (reflectionsbykrista.blogspot.com) I live with it because it already has 2 years worth of posts and readership built up! Not that I have a HUGE following, but enough that I don’t want to switch:-)

  12. Lenore Buth says:

    Great post, Wendy.

    Thanks especially for ending with those verses from Galatians. I love finding new examples that the Living Word truly sounds fresh and alive, even today in this age of technology.

    Hmmm. Almost sounds inspired, doesn’t it?

  13. Along with Stephanie, I’m wondering how many facebook friends and twitter followers make an agent or publisher take notice. Great article. Thanks.

  14. Wendy Lawton says:

    What great input everyone!
    Bill asked if you only have one book out, what kind of website should you have. I’m not an expert on this but I believe the most important website is the one built around you, the author. I know a lot of writers create a separate site for each book, sometimes even buying a domain name for that book. I find, however, that when I’m looking for more information my default is always to look at the authors name [dot] com.
    For your site, Bill, I’d focus on your ministry as a whole with a home page, a bio page, a book page and a speaking page with some of your over-the-top clips. You could add other things of course, but that kind of website would give a great overview on who you are.

  15. Wendy Lawton says:

    David talked about the challenge of creating a website when resources are already strained. That’s one of the realities of doing pre-marketing but if I could go back to those waiting days the one thing I’d learn to do is create and maintain a website. There are so many free templates and I believe there are even free or almost free hosting sites– if you can invest some time and energy right now it will pay you back richly later.

  16. Wendy Lawton says:

    Patricia talked about publishing her book in serial installments on her blog, if I understand correctly. Michael asked how much info should be given online about works in progress.

    Both of these bring up an important discussion. Legally it could be argued that Patricia already exercised the serial rights of her book. It could be viewed as having sold competitive rights if a publisher were interested. Or not. The field of online publication is so new much still has to be sorted out. I’ve already talked about my problem with giving away the whole intellectual property for free. As an agent I would counsel against this.

    As to Michael’s question the jury is out. I think book teasers can be interesting. I know many authors worry about idea theft but regardless of the plot, no one can write the book you are writing. It’s just that I don’t know how early you want to start pre-marketing a specific idea.

    I’d love to hear what others think.

  17. Wendy Lawton says:

    Stephanie asked how many Facebook friends would be enough to impress an agent. Sorry I implied thar it is a number– something quantifiable. It’s a little more complicated than number of friends or fans (likes?). It’s a combination of how many friends but how successfully you engage those friends. It’s more about the “kind” of following than how many followers.

    If an editor or agent begin following you online and sense that you have your own tribe, so to speak, it’s a huge boost. If you have 4000 friends but you rarely post and never seem to get a rollicking discussion going it’s of less value than If you have a thousand Twitter followers and another thousand Facevook friends and every time you speak you are retweeted or your Facebook is filled with comments. That’s when it gets exciting. It’s not numbers, It’s your ability to get buzz going.

    Does that make sense?

  18. Morgan Busse says:

    Thank you for this post. I always thought I should wait until I had something to offer on a website before building one. But your post has shown me otherwise.

  19. Nicole says:

    I find that most published authors don’t keep up with their websites but do contribute to either their blogs or Facebook on a regular basis. The websites might list some of their work but rarely give up to date information unless they do a makeover to alert everybody to their website updates. They usually include categories at the top for their blogs, contacts, etc., but I usually skip websites and check blogs. Some only post sporadically.

    I do a blog because I can express myself there and any readers can find out who I am there. What makes me tick. The journey of writing, etc. I talk about opinions, review books, interview authors and a few editors. I’m on Facebook and transfer my blog posts to my profile page. I don’t stir things up there except with my comments on others’ political rants. Kinda get in trouble there with liberals. 😉

    Anyway, would love to have y’all visit anytime you want to contribute to the discussion or argument(?) or comment on book reviews. Click on my name.

  20. Thank you, Wendy. It does make sense and I agree with you. I subscribe to Rob Eager’s Wildfire Marketing newsletter and he makes an interesting social networking point. Social networking isn’t “Buy my book” or “Tell people about my book” or “I passed 30,095 words on my WIP!” It should be more subtle than that, right? I like Bonnie Grove’s status updates–they’re funny, concise, and almost never about her books, unless she shares a quirky comment about a writing problem. In short, she seems like a fun person to know, and that makes me want to read her books.

    On the other hand, if a friend asks me a book question, I’m happy to answer that, but I do it with a touch of humor and humility. It’s not about me. It’s about the person who asks the question.

  21. patriciazell says:

    Wendy, I was encouraged by Michael Hyatt to write my book on my blog. In fact, he is putting together a book of some of his blog posts. Every post I write has a copyright on it with all rights reserved to me. The advantage of writing my book on my blog is that I am building my brand and I am proving that there is an audience for what I write.

    I know I have taken a chance, but had I not done that, I don’t think there would have any way for me to find an agent and a publisher. And, if I don’t find either, at least my book will be written and people are reading it. The main reason I would like my book to be published is that a publisher would provide a larger pool of readers.

  22. Funny, even though my WIP calls people to embrace biblical traits such as Boldness and Greatness, I’ve struggled with the idea of a “ME” website.

    I need to follow my own advice and accept that Romans 12:3 is not about tearing ourselves down, but about not inflating ourselves into what we are not and being realistic about who we really are.

    I’ve been maintaining my ministry site (www.MenofAIM.org) but am now looking forward to getting an author/speaker site going, where I can include more of the fun / off-the-wall aspects of who I am (from Men’s Ministry to Meat-related t-shirts to Cake Decorating?).

    Thanks for these posts to kick start this side of the process!

    Any tips about how much or how far a pre-book author should go with regard to their book ideas/concepts online? A few teaser discussion topics but not the full title/concept/layout?? This has really where one of my internal debates has been.

    I’ve had multiple magazine articles published, just not a book yet unless you count my contribution to a pre-school Yamaha organ class song I wrote about our cat.

    Next year I’ll be talking more broadly in workshops (including Detroit) so a larger audience will be exposed to the idea and myself as an speaker/author.

  23. Lenore Buth says:

    I’m catching up on reading blog posts, so this comment is late. I agree with everyone else. These posts have been great–and the comments, too.

    I guess I can’t put off having a website any longer. It has seemed like one more thing to manage (sigh) but you make a convincing case, Wendy.

    You also answered one of my continuing questions in your comments on publishing one’s book as blog posts, before the book is sold. My WIP would be a perfect fit and I’ve wondered about doing that, too. Somehow it never felt right for me.

    Thanks most of all for pointing us to those Galatians verses, from The Message. They remind me as a writer to take another look and understand who I am, not comparing myself to other writers and to concentrate on the work I’ve been given. That part’s been clear to me for a long time, but I love the idea of “sinking yourself into that.”