Ten Tips for Twitter Beginners

Twitter is an amazing social media tool, and used correctly, can promote and advertise yourself to the world. But in order to be effective, you must understand how Twitter works. For one, you must realize that it is not Facebook, Myspace, or Google +. It’s entirely different, and therefore contains entirely different rules and guidelines that you must follow to use it properly. That being said,  I believe everyone should have a Twitter account, and if you do not, then hopefully this article will convince you to come out of the Dark Ages and into the future of communication.

Tip #1: Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet. This is, in effect, a quick way of sharing something of relevance, or irrelevance, with the world.

Tip #2: There are no “friend requests” in Twitter. Twitter uses a very simple system of following someone who’s tweets you’re interested in reading. They will receive notification of your follow, and have the option of following you back. Their tweets will show up in your Twitter feed, and you can also receive tweets on your mobile device by subscribing to users that are important to you(friends, family, co-workers, etc).

Tip #3: Anyone in the world can read your tweets, unless you make them private, and likewise, you can tweet @ anyone with a Twitter account. This is an easy way of connecting with celebrities, business people, friends, musicians, etc. Most celebrities do not have a public Facebook account, simply because there’s a 5,000 friend limit, and there are many fake celebrity accounts. With Twitter, there is a system of verifying that the account does indeed belong to its celebrity user. Also, many celebrities will respond to tweets, because it is so simple.

Tip #4: If you want to gain followers, then follow complete strangers and friends alike. Many people will follow you back, and this practice will get your numbers up. This doesn’t mean you have to follow them forever, but be forewarned that some people, upon discovering that you’ve stopped following them, will do the same for you.

Tip #5: You will not sell your book, products, movie, pictures, etc through Twitter. It is not a sales tool, it is a marketing tool. Twitter is a way of expressing yourself and your work through short tweets. If you want to sell your product, purchase ad space on Facebook, Google Adwords, etc.

Tip #6: Hashtags. These are a critical part of Twitter’s success. Placing a hashtag in front of a word will highlight it in your tweet and make it a trending word(i.e. #amazing, #facebook, #subway), and once your tweet is posted, you can click on the word you’ve hashtagged and see what other users are saying about it.

Tip #7: Connect your Facebook and Twitter account for the most effective means of reaching your audience. This saves time, and is great if you use Twitter on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Even regular, non-internet capable handsets can be used for Twitter. Just go into your Twitter settings > mobile > text messaging, and follow the instructions.

Tip #8: Be active with your account. If you want followers, you have to be somebody worth following. Share a funny quote, tweet something random, reply to followers tweets, and be as interesting as you can.

Tip #9: Don’t be “that guy” who always tweets about their book, or always asks for followers, or tweets every two seconds. People will shun you sooner than you can say “oops”.

Tip #10: Have fun with your account, and realize that it’s just another way of sharing what’s on your mind with the world. Grammar is not necessary, and you will have to commit grammar crimes regardless, since there’s a 140 character limit.

Advertisements

Creating your own Book Cover Art

If you’re the kind of person who likes doing everything yourself, then you’ve probably already turned down all of the art concepts that your publisher has sent you. They more than likely just weren’t quite what you’ve envisioned gracing the cover of your novel. Lucky for you, there are free programs and software tools at your disposal to help you create the perfect cover, and you don’t have to take a single computer course to learn how to use them.

The program I use is a free design software called G.I.M.P(www.gimp.org). This is basically free Photoshop, with a similar interface, usability, tools, brushes, etc. It’s easy to pick up, and there are many tutorials available to help you learn the basics to get started. My favorite instructionals came from Youtube, and a quick Google search will bring up hundreds of others. There are guides on how to make planets, houses, people, animals, etc. Nearly every sort of artistic scenario you can think of has a tutorial associated with it.

The learning curve for using G.I.M.P is relatively small, and within a week, if you keep a steady schedule of practicing and watching tutorials, you’ll be able to start working on your first cover. If you have an artistic background, you can shorten this time nearly in half. My suggestion, for beginners, is to start small. Create something similar to a tutorial you’ve watched, but not so similar that people liken your image to the original. Embellish it, and let that be your first picture. Then, using your new found knowledge of how to create a picture with G.I.M.P, work on your first original design.

Make sure you use a template that’s big enough to shrink if needed, but not so small that it shows up pixelated when you turn it into a cover. 1600 x 1200, and 1024 x 768 are great templates for a cover image. You can turn it into a poster to sell at Book Signings, use it on your website, create a desktop background, and more.

Sometimes a simple picture tells more about your story than a complex design ever could. Think about starting with a basic one-color background, and then use the text tool to make an extravagant book title. If the font you’re looking for didn’t come installed with the program, you can always Google search free font downloads, and find the one you want.

Be careful not to make a cover with too much going on. It will distract from your title, and sometimes turn people off from your book. Try and get as much feedback on your picture as you can before sending it to the publisher for review. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. A great website for showing your art and receiving feedback is Deviant Art (www.deviantart.com). You can create a profile and upload your photo’s instantly, and by commenting on other pictures on the site you can draw attention to your own.

Before I made my own cover, I contacted various artists and companies to see about having them create a cover for me. But what I found was that most will charge in between $200-$500 just for one picture. It was then that I realized I could make my own cover for FREE, I just needed a little patience. So I did my research, and the advice I’ve provided above is everything I followed while saving money and creating a photo that I felt was perfect for my book.

If you have the money, but don’t have the time to make your own photo, then check out 99 Designs (www.99designs.com). You can set the amount of money you’re willing to pay for a picture, and then designers will bid on your project and upload pictures for you to choose from. Whichever picture you like the best “wins” the contract, and just like that you’ve got a picture you enjoy, for the price you’ve set.

How to plan a Book Tour

For authors, a Book Tour is something we have only dreamed about. Going from bookstore to bookstore, travelling across the country or state with a pile of freshly printed novels in tow, and sending our creation out into the world. But not everyone has the luxury of their publishing company setting up the Tour for them. For many, the mere thought of planning such a Tour by themselves causes a headache, as they groan at the thought of spending money they don’t have, contacting people they don’t know, and wondering if it’s all even worth it. I hope to dispel these rumors with this post.

As I write this, I am hours away from a scheduled Book Signing on my first Book Tour. I organized it myself, contacted the stores I needed to, and set the dates I wanted. It wasn’t easy, nor was it completed on one day. I was met with rejection, and most stores required that I send them a copy of my book before they’d even hold another second of conversation with me. This was difficult, because at the time of the Tour planning, my book was still a few weeks away from being available for purchase.

I’ve learned a lot about organizing, and the following tips are some of the tactics I feel have been the most helpful along the way.

Tip #1: Start with the stores closest to you. Don’t look out of state right away; try and keep it close to home and then expand from there. The reason is, it’s more cost-effective, plus you’ll receive a better showing from people who know you, rather than a store several hours away in a city you’ve never heard of.

Tip #2: Before you call any stores, write a quick dialogue to use as notes during the conversation. Think up a nice intro(ex. “Hello, my name is _______, I’m an author, and I’m interested in setting up a Book Signing at your store.”) Keep it simple and professional. Have your book with you to use as a reference in case they ask for the ISBN number, back cover text, etc.

Tip #3: If your book isn’t available yet, offer to send the store a PDF copy of your manuscript. You should have this, since you wrote the book. If for some reason you do not, ask your publishing company to email it to you. Most stores will accept this, and be sure to attach the file of the book’s cover photo, if you can.

Tip #4: Don’t just look for stores to visit; contact Universities, Library’s, and other places relevant to your book’s topic.

Tip #5: Once your Tour is completely scheduled, send promotional material(posters, bookmarks, stickers, etc) at least 2-3 weeks before your signing. Advertise on the local radio station, newspaper, Library, etc. If haven’t done so already, create a Facebook page for your book, and promote yourself on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, etc. The more ways you can spread the word, the more efficient your ad campaign will be.

Have fun with this, and don’t stress yourself out. Always schedule your Tour 2-3 months from the moment you begin contacting stores. This will give them time to prepare and find an open day for you to visit. Plan for a weekend signing, and ask the store what hours they receive the most traffic, and schedule the signing during that time frame.

For new authors, don’t forget to check out my posts for beginning writers, and follow this blog for more tips and advice!

Editing your Book like a Professional

Book editing is not free, unless you do it yourself, or find someone in the higher education field willing to assist. But chances are they will take longer than you would like to complete your manuscript, as they have other duties that take priority over your project. Luckily, there are many tools available to make sure your book receives as much editing as it can before sending it to a publishing company or literary agency. In this post, I’ve highlighted my two favorite editing programs. Having a properly edited book is absolutely key to your success as an author. You might have a great story, but if it looks like a middle school child wrote it, you will be turned down at every stop. Don’t worry, there is hope for even the most grammatically challenged among us.

The first on the list of tools is a Thesaurus. Before I wrote my first book, I don’t know if I’d ever opened a Thesaurus, much less even seen one. The schools I attended growing up never required us to learn how to use one. Even now, I don’t own a Thesaurus, but I use an online program (www.thesaurus.com). It has everything you need to transform your book from a chaotic mess into a literary masterpiece. It’s also attached to (www.dictionary.com), for those moments when you really want to use a big word, but don’t quite know if you’re using it correctly.

The second online program is EditMinion (www.editminion.com). I’ve only used it a few times, but it’s been great as a writing assistant. The website is still in Beta mode, which means it might not catch everything, but if you feel that your book reads more like a scrambled word puzzle than a novel, then this website will work wonders for you.

If these tools aren’t working out for your book, then do a quick Google search, and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of alternatives that will suit your needs. Don’t forget to utilize the tools provided by Microsoft Word, or whatever document creating software you use. Technology has made it nearly impossible to not have a cleanly edited manuscript, so be sure that you aren’t missing a valuable asset by trying to rush through your writing.

Spamming until you see Results

So, you’ve finished writing your book, script, graphic novel, etc. Now what? This is where the going gets tough, and if you’re tough, you’ll get going. By this I mean sending your book into the cacophony of literary agencies, publishing houses, editors, etc. At this point in the game, you’ve just spent months or years completing your novel, and you’re ready to move onto the next project, right? Not just yet. You still have to find someone to publish your creation. There are several methods to achieve this sought after goal, and I’ll take you through a few of them.

Step One: Research. Find out what companies books that are similar to yours are being published through. Contact other authors and seek their advice. Many popular writers have a blog, and like to share the journey they took to become an author, so I would suggest starting there. Authors aren’t selfish people, and most would gladly help you the same way they were. Visit the Literary Marketplace (www.literarymarketplace.com) which has a comprehensive list of agencies and publishing companies to send your manuscript to.

Step Two: If you have the funds available, consider hiring a Publicist. They specialize in promotion, and perhaps they can generate more interest in your book than you can. You might be the next J.R.R. Tolkien, but you probably don’t know the first thing about the advertising industry. There are things that agencies look for that might not even realize. Your book might be the best thing since sliced bread, but if you can’t explain it the right way, it will forever remain a document file on your computer.

Step Three: Spam. You spam them until they shut down their website, or change their email address. Ok, so maybe not quite as dramatically as that, but you will want to continue sending your manuscript into the world until you receive a positive response. If an agency turns it down, hopefully they’ll also have given you a few reasons as to why they refused your manuscript. Take this in good spirit, and revisit, revise, and resend your manuscript to them. Don’t place all your bets on one agency or publishing company, however. Send it to them all.

Step Four: While it might not be the dream you’ve always had, smaller publishing houses still offer a good stepping stone for your career as an author. This can be a great first stop on your way to the Bestseller list, as long as you play your cards right. Continue spamming(sending) your manuscript to the agencies, but if you receive a contract from a smaller company, you might want to think about it. Now, this is only after you’ve just about exhausted yourself spamming(sending) your book to as many agencies as you can, with zero positive reception. Small presses will give you everything the larger companies will, just in a smaller dosage. They’ll advertise, promote, and sell your book as best they can, because the future of their business is riding on your success.

In the end, don’t give up. I’ve known authors whose books have taken 5-6 years to publish, and authors who were published in under a year. It’s different for everybody, but if you have a good book, and it’s written, edited, and formatted correctly, chances are high that you will receive a contract for it. Keep spamming(sending) your creation to as many places as you can. Dedication is usually rewarded with success, so don’t quit, no matter what. And remember, spam on, my friends.

Finding the Inspiration to Write

Sometimes the hardest part of starting a novel, short story, script, etc, is the very first page. Even the beginning sentence is a challenge for many, as it can be difficult to come up with something that will instantly grab your reader’s attention. So how do you stop the procrastination and channel the creativity? There are several methods that have proven helpful to writers worldwide, myself included.

A big first step in the process is to shut out all the distractions. A noise-free, clean environment with all the comforts you need is an absolute must. No one can tune out the sound of children running through the house, or the obnoxious drivel of commercials on the television, or the barking dog next door. Finding a spot in your house, the Library, the park, etc, should be the first step in finding natural inspiration. Once you’re relieved of the stress that comes with unwanted distractions, you can begin writing your novel.

The next thing you’ll want to do is get off Facebook. Don’t even keep a tab open, “just in case” somebody opens a chat with you. They can wait, and I’m sure they’ll understand once you’re an accomplished writer. Turn off the cellphone if that becomes too much of a temptation. You know yourself better than anyone else, therefore you know your weaknesses as well. Whatever you feel might be detrimental to your writing progress should be cancelled out.

Once you’re free of distractions and sitting in an environment you feel comfortable with, the writing can finally begin. Now comes the hard part. You know what you want to write about, but how do you begin your masterpiece? One word: Imagination. Channel your inner child, because no matter how deep, dramatic, serious, etc, your book is, the mind of a child is constantly brimming with creativity. There’s a part inside all of us where that creativity is waiting to be extracted. “How do I find it?”, you might ask. The answer is to have fun with your book. Don’t take anything too seriously, or you’ll end up frustrated and facing dead ends. Let the book flow, and don’t force the words to appear, or they never will.

Enjoy the experience of writing a book, and don’t let it become a chore. If you feel that your book is burning you out, take a few days from writing and just relax. Even if you need a couple of weeks respite from the book, it will be worth it in the end. Be proud of the story you are creating, and let it become something you yearn to write every day. Some authors have even booked a night or two in a hotel, simply so they can finish those last few pages of their novel. That’s a little on the extreme side of finding a peaceful area to write, but if it becomes necessary, then by all means, go for it.

The best inspiration comes from your friends and family. Share your experience with them, and if it’s encouragement you need, they’re the best source for it. Another way to seek motivation is to find things related to your story, and use them as a creativity stimulant. If you’re writing a science-fiction novel, watch a few alien films, read your favorite extraterrestrial books, etc. For a crime-thriller, do some research into the field, consult an expert(i.e. a detective, crime scene investigator, judge, etc), or tune into a police scanner. Whatever it is you’re writing, you’ll want it to be as authentic as possible. People enjoy reading books that they feel could have real life connotations.

All in all, have fun with your story, don’t be afraid to mess up, and take all the time you need. It’s doubtful that somebody else is writing the same book you are, so don’t feel rushed. Even if you have a deadline, pace yourself, and enjoy the process. Being an author does have its stressful moments, but the composing of the story shouldn’t be one. If you follow this advice, then you’ll be well on your way to a good book writing experience.

Sticky Note

Advice for aspiring Authors

This is a blog post I wrote as a guest for a website dedicate to sharing authors experiences as they foray into the literary world.

“As a new author just barely out of my teen years, my experience from beginning to end of writing my first novel has been anything but traditional for many in the literary field. My first book, titled ‘Inceptum’, first began as an assignment in college, but quickly developed into a passion I wasn’t aware I even had. I’ve learned much along the way, the biggest lesson being that one should never self publish, except as a last effort to see your book in print. If you feel your story is worthy of being read by the public, then seek out a literary agent, or a small publishing company to get you on your feet.

There are thousands of agents across the country, and chances are high that at least one or two will show an interest in your book, provided it has been written and edited professionally. One way to see this through for free is to contact a professor at a nearby University, and ask if they’d be willing to review your book for grammatical errors. Many in the education field would be glad to off their services for free, or even for a small fee.

Another mistake first-time authors make is with scheduling their writing sessions. If you feel that you’re an “inspired writer”, that’s great, but you still need to balance time spent in front of the computer, or you will burn out from overexposure. After I completed my book, I was so sick of reading it that I didn’t even touch it for several months. Make time for yourself during periods when you won’t get distracted by anything, and sit down for at least an hour or more to create your story.

If you’re having trouble finding the inspiration to write, consider sitting back and ask yourself why you’re writing this particular book. What about it inspired you in the first place? Is the story going anywhere, or is it dead in the water? Don’t be afraid to delete a chapter here and there if they aren’t contributing to the overall flow of the book. For me, my story was science fiction in nature, so to find inspiration I would watch my favorite science fiction movies. It really helps to experience things related to your story and look to them for assistance.

The best advice I have ever been given, is to write a story that you will want to read over and over again. It shouldn’t matter if you never sell a single copy of your book. If you are happy with the finished product, then any sales are an added bonus.

In conclusion, I plan on writing many more novels in the future, as well as working on a sequel to my first book, ‘Inceptum’. You can pick it up at www.zackwall.com, or download the Kindle version on Amazon. Follow me on Twitter: @authorzack, and check out the official Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/inceptumbook”