Welcome To The Writer’s Journey: Mary Mackey On Writing Advice and the Writer’s Life

Amazon River, Welcome to the Writer's Journey Welcome to my blog The Writer’s Journey and my People Who Make Books Happen Interview Series. Each month I interview agents; book designers; magazine editors; writers; people who have expertise in digital publishing, and anyone else who has important things to say about writing, publishing, publicizing, selling, reading and enjoying books. I also give writing advice and post about Brazil, the Amazon, the Goddess-worshiping cultures of Neolithic Europe, and other topics.

Coming in November in People Who Make Books Happen:  How to Edit an Anthology of Poetry: Interview with Daniel Lawless, Poet and editor of Plume Magazine and the Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013.

Read the October People Who Make Books Happen interview: How to Write A Non-Fiction Book Proposal That Will Sell Your Book: Interview with super-agent Michael Larsen

Previously posted interviews in the People Who Make Books Happen Interview Series : 

Bestselling Author Ellen Sussman on Surviving Rejection: Interview with Novelist Ellen Sussman  Who Tells Us How She Survived Rejection to Become a Bestselling Author

Designing Websites For Writers Part One: Interview with Professional Website Designer Linda Lee 

Designing Websites For Writers Part Two, Checklists: Interview with Professional Website Designer Linda Lee

How to Get An Agent And Other Tips for Writers: Interview with Celebrity Literary Agent Andy Ross.  

How To Design a Book Cover that Sells Books: Interview with  Genius Book Cover Designer Claudia Carlson

Helping Independent Bookstores Survive and Thrive: Interview with Amy Thomas owner of Pegasus Bookstores

Three Great Reasons To Still Print on Paper: Interview with poet and Catamaran poetry editor Zack Rogow

HOW TO FIND POSTS: This blog is indexed to take you straight to the things you want to read. To find a complete list of the  interviews in my People Who Make Books Happen series without scrolling through all my posts, you can go to the right hand side of any page on my website where you will find a menu labeled TOPICS.  Click on PEOPLE WHO MAKE BOOKS HAPPEN INTERVIEW SERIES to see a complete list of interviews  in The People Who Make Books Happen series. In a similar fashion, you can click on BRAZIL to see all posts I have written about Brazil, on WRITING ADVICE to see all posts that offer writing advice about things like overcoming writer’s block and digital publishing, and so forth.  Presently the TOPICS Menu offers you direct access to my  posts on the following topics: BRAZIL, DIGITAL PUBLISHING, GODDESSES, PEOPLE WHO MAKE BOOKS HAPPEN INTERVIEW SERIES, THE ENVIRONMENT,  WRITING ADVICE, COMEDY, NEWS, NOVELS, PERSONAL STORIES, POETRY, VIDEOS OF MARY MACKEY and READINGS.

 You’re warmly invited to in the conversation by posting questions or comments. I love to hear from you.




How To Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

photo_michael_larsenInterview with Agent Michael Larsen: How to Write A  Non-Fiction Book Proposal That Will Sell Your Book

Michael Larsen co-founded Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco in 1972 with his partner Elizabeth Pomada. Members of AAR (the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc.), Michael  and Elizabeth have sold hundreds of books to more than 100 publishers and imprints.

Mary: Welcome to my People Who Make Books Happen Interview Series, Michael. Could you please start by telling us why a writer needs a proposal to sell a nonfiction book?

Michael: A proposal is a business plan that has to convince publishers to invest in a book.

Mary: Why not just send an agent or publisher a brief cover letter and the completed manuscript?

Michael: A cover letter won’t provide all of the information publishers need, and unless it’s a memoir, they don’t need or want to see a whole manuscript. They just want to see enough to feel excited about the writer’s ability to turn in a salable manuscript and promote the book.

Mary: Do you need to write a proposal to self-publish a nonfiction book? What would be the point of doing that?

Michael: Writers are free to write and publish their books any way they want. They don’t have to write a proposal if they are going to self-publish. But doing a proposal enables writers to test their commitment to writing and promoting the book. It also helps them align their literary and publishing goals: what they want to write and how successful they want their book to be. Getting feedback from knowledgeable readers will help them make sure they’re on the right track. If writers want to write a memoir for their families, they don’t need a proposal. If they have ambitious goals, a proposal is proof of concept and a commitment test.

Mary: As an agent, are you willing to consider nonfiction book ideas that come to you without a proposal?

Michael: The only time to approach agents or editors is when a writer has something ready to sell. Once a proposal for a promotion-driven book is ready, I ask for just the author’s platform–the writer’s continuing visibility online and off, on the subject with potential buyers- and a promotion plan. They will tell me whether I can excite a New York house about a book. For a prose-driven book, it’s all about the read, how well writers can tell a story. But platform and promotion will still be important to big publishers

Mary: Again, in your role as an agent, how do you use a proposal when you are selling a nonfiction book to publishers?

Michael: After we find out if editors are interested, I do a multiple submission to the best editors at the best houses for the book and the author.

Mary: How long should a nonfiction book proposal be?

Michael: Proposals usually range from 35 to 50 pages.

Mary: What are the major parts of a nonfiction book proposal?  For example, should it have a title page?

Michael: A proposal begins with a title page followed by a table of contents page listing the parts of the proposal and the pages on which they begin. The three parts of a proposal are the Overview, The Outline, and the Sample Chapter. Narrative, prose-driven books will need two or more chapters.

Mary: Let’s take those parts of a nonfiction book proposal one by one. First, what’s the aim of the Overview?

Mary: The goals of the Overview are to prove you have a salable idea and the ability to write and promote it. I list the parts of the Overview in a particular order, but they are building blocks that writers can arrange in whatever order that will help them sell their book most effectively.

Mary: Could you give us a list of the essential things that should be in the Overview and tell us what order they should be  in?

Michael: Here’s my list of essentials:

•    The opening hook–ideally a paragraph that will most excite editors about the subject: a fact, anecdote, opening paragraph, or a recommendation by someone who will impress editors.

•    The book hook:  
    * The title and selling handle, up to fifteen words of selling copy about the book.
    (Optional) If credentials will significantly help sell the book, before the title, add an introductory phrase describing them. For example: “Based on an article in x / y years of research / y years as a z, [title of book]…”
    * The book(s) or author(s) the writer is using as a model for the book
    * The estimated (or actual) length of the manuscript and when the writer will deliver it
    * The book’s benefits (optional)
    * Special features: e.g. illustrations, design elements, back matter (optional)
    * Information about a self-published edition (optional)

•    Markets: List the kinds of readers and retailers, organizations, or institutions that will be interested in the book. Include the size of each group and other information to show the writers knows the audience and how to write the book for those readers. Other possible markets: schools, businesses, and subsidiary-rights markets such as film and foreign rights.

•    Platform: A list in descending order of importance of whatever will impress editors about the writer’s visibility to potential readers. Online, this may include numbers for subscribers to a blog, website visitors, your contacts on social networks, and online articles you’ve published.
    Offline, your platform may include the number of articles you’ve had published in print media, as well as the number of talks you give each year, the number of people you give them to, where you give them, and your media exposure. For promotion-driven books, a platform is essential for big and midsize houses.

•    Bio: Up to a page about yourself with information that isn’t in your platform, starting with the most impressive, relevant information. To increase the impact of your proposal, include a link to a video version, up to two minutes long, of you giving the strongest information from the proposal with as much passion as you can.  

•    Promotion: A plan that begins: “To promote the book, the author will:…” followed by a bulleted list in descending order of impressiveness of what you will do to promote your book, online and off, during its launch window and after. Start each part of the list with a verb and use impressive numbers, if possible. Publishers won’t expect big plans from novelists and memoirists, and the smaller the house you’ll be happy with, the less important your plan and platform are.

Mary: You’ve noted that including information about the book’s benefits, special features such as design elements and back matter, and information about a self-published edition are “optional.” Are there times when you should not include these three things?

Michael: Writers should include anything that will help sell the book. Nonfiction encompasses a wide range of books, so the information you provide has to make sense for the kind of book you’re writing. Memoirs don’t usually have back matter. Cite successful books you love as models for your book.

Mary: I’ve heard many publishers say than any manuscript that comes to them with an already-designed cover is the mark of an amateur.  

Michael: Not if it’s a cover worthy of a New York house. Most published books don’t have the best covers because publishers don’t have the resources to create the best possible cover for every book. A professionally done cover design can be the first page of the proposal. It will help sell a book, and even if it’s not used, it will give the publisher something to improve on. Writers will need a cover designer and feedback from knowledgeable people such as booksellers to make sure a design is worth submitting. Every word in a proposal is either helping or hurting the chances of  selling it. This is also true for a cover design.

Mary: Are you required to reveal that the book has already been self-published if you are looking for a commercial publisher?

Michael: Writers should tell publishers if their book has been published, include quotes from reviews and sales information, if they will help sell the book. If the book is good enough to sell, send it along with just the first part of the proposal.

If the book won’t impress editors or you want to change it significantly, just send the proposal and mention the self-published edition.

Mary: Should you say “this will make a great movie” if you don’t have a movie deal in the works, or does that sound like wishful thinking combined with unrealistic bragging?

Michael: The latter.

Mary: Is it true that publishers these days will not even look at work by writers who don’t have a substantial online and offline platform?  

Michael: A promotion plan shows how authors will use their platform to help sell books. Big houses want authors who can do as much as possible to promote their book; it’s not as important for small and some midsized houses. Publishers won’t expect authors of memoirs to have big platform; the success of a how-to book depends on the author’s continuing visibility, online and off.

Mary: Is there any magic number of people you need to be in contact with to make the grade?

Michael: No, but the more the better. Books are ready for the world before the world is ready for them. The challenge is to maximize the value of your book before you sell or publish it by building your platform and communities of people to help you, and test-market your book in as many ways as you can.

Mary:  You suggest a video version of your query letter. How important is this and why does it appear in the Bio section of the Overview?

Michael: It’s not essential but it can make the difference. Publishers want to know how well writers come across in the media, and how effectively they can speak about their book. If a proposal is salable, a link to an effective one-to-two minute video of an author describing his/her passion for the book gives editors another reason to say’ yes.’ The proposal should also include links to videos of the author speaking or doing interviews, if they’re available. Video is huge and using it is essential if you want to be a successful writer.

Mary: Won’t making a video cost a lot of money?

Michael: Publishers won’t expect a professional video. A phone, camera, or tablet is fine, but, like the proposal, the writing and the execution of the video must have the impact writers want for them. Writers should get feedback on the text and the presentation of it to make sure the video is worth including.

Mary: Are there things you might put in the Overview section of your proposal that are not essential—that is to say optional—but well worth considering?

Michael: If writers can get a foreword and cover quotes from people whose names and/or positions will help sell the book in fifty states two years from now, they should name them.

If writers want to write follow-up books that will help sell the book they’re proposing, they should mention up to three books in descending order of their commercial appeal. If they find an idea for a series of books that will sell each other and that they will enjoy writing and promoting, they can create a career out of it.

Mary: In describing competitive books, you advise writers to use “phrases starting with a verb.” Could you please give us an example?

Michael: In balancing a competitive book’s strengths and weaknesses, you could write: “Covers x, y, and z; fails to include a, b, c.”

Mary: You’ve noted that the Mission Statement is optional. If you use a Mission Statement, should it go in the Overview?

Michael: A mission statement should be the last part of the Overview.

Mary: Do you send a cover letter as well as a proposal or is the proposal the cover letter?

Michael: First you research agents’ or publishers’ websites to find out how to contact them. Then you send them what they request. A query letter is often the first step. If agents or publishers want to see the proposal, send it along with the query letter, changed to mention that you’re sending the proposal.

Mary: Now that you’ve given us a thorough explanation of the Overview, let’s move on to the second section of a non-fiction book proposal: the Outline. Could you please describe the Outline to us and tell us what should be in it?

Michael: The outline has to prove that the author has a book’s worth of information and knows the most effective way to present it. The first page of the A page called “Table of Contents” listing the chapters and the back matter. Then one to three present-tense paragraphs about every chapter, using outline verbs like describe, explain, and discuss. For an informational book, you can use a bulleted, self-explanatory list of the information in the chapter.

Mary: Finally, we come to the last section: the Sample Chapter. How long should it be and what should it aim to do?

Michael: Editors vary but at big houses, they usually want to see about ten percent of the text. For example, a representative chapter of a how-to book—twenty to twenty-five pages–is enough.

Mary: Should you always use the first chapter as your Sample Chapter or can you include a chapter from some other part of your book? Does the Sample Chapter need to be the actual chapter as it will appear in the book, or can you shorten it, edit it, or make it more able to stand-alone?

Michael: The first chapter of a promotion-driven book should be the most exciting chapter in the book. It should be a brochure for the book, the book in a chapter, so that if all readers finish is that chapter (which happens often), they will have the essence of the book. If the first chapter excites them enough, they’ll want to keep reading.

The Overview for a how-to book will explain what the book is, so editors don’t have to read it again as a sample chapter. That’s why writers should use the strongest, representative how-to chapter they can for a sample chapter, with the illustrations for it, if the book will have them.

Prose-driven books like memoirs should read like novels. How compelling the first chapter, even the first page, is determines whether readers go on to the next chapter. Editors often want to see the first three chapters. My partner Elizabeth asks for the best three chapters. Writers should follow the guidelines on agents’ and publishers’ websites.

Every word is an audition for the next word. So writers have to:

•    Read as many competing books as possible so they’ll have at least one book and author to cite as a model for their book and their career
•    Write as many drafts as it takes to make every word count
•    Get feedback from as many knowledgeable readers as they can
That is the holy trinity of salable prose.

Now is the one of best times ever to be a writer. There are more subjects to write about, more ways to promote and profit from books, and three billion readers on the Web alone which is the next frontier for writers. English is the international language of culture and commerce, so there’s a world of readers out there who want to be enlightened and entertained.

Onward and upward!

Michael Larsen loves helping writers, and is always eager to find nonfiction writers with ideas, writing ability, a platform, and a promotion plan for books with social, esthetic, or practical value. He also has a consulting service for nonfiction writers. Besides being the co-founder of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents, he is the author of How to Write a Book Proposal and How to Get a Literary Agent, and co-author of Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 Weapons for Selling Your Work. He has also created a downloadable proposal template, which is available at www.thebookdesigner.com. He is co-director of the San Francisco Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference.

Dear Readers: You are warmly invited to join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen, ask Michael Larsen questions, or leave a comment. See the other interviews in this series for information about How To Get An Agent, How To Design A Book Cover That Sells Books,  Helping Independent Bookstores Survive and Thrive, Three Great Reasons To Still Print On Paper, Designing Websites For Writers, Best-selling author Ellen Sussman on Surviving Rejection, and more. This is where the experts hang out.

And remember to come back next month to read the another great interview in the People Who Make Books Happen  series.


Mary Mackey Reading at Hotel Rex, Litquake October 11th

Hotel Rex San FranciscoOn Saturday October 11th at 12:30 pm at Hotel Rex, Mary will read poems from Travelers With No Ticket Home as part of the Litquake event “Off With Your Heads and Off the Richter Scale.” Mary will be reading with Litquake authors Judy Berhnard, Maggie Glover, David Koehn, and Aimee Suzara. TIME: 12:20 pm. PLACE: Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA (at Powell Street). This event is free and open to the public. Bring a friend!

Come hear Mary Mackey’s love poems set to music

  Maps and Lists, Holly Munoz


Thursday, September 25, 2014, San Francisco, CA: Mary Mackey reads her love poems including “The Kama Sutra of Kindness: Position Number 2″ at the launch party for San Francisco musician-songwriter Holly Munoz’s debut album Maps and Lists. TIME: 7:00 pm. PLACE: The San Francisco Institute of Possibility, Private Warehouse on Caesar Chavez at Mission, San Francisco. Mary’s “Kama Sutra of Kindness: Position Number 2″ is recited as “Interlude” on the final track of the Maps and Lists. To purchase tickets to this event, click here. (Holly is so cool that she is recording on vinyl!). Between the sets, Mary will do a short reading of her love poems and other poems from Travelers With No Ticket Home.

Mary Mackey Reads Saturday at Alta Solano in Berkeley

Folk and Fine Art Gallery Berkeley Alta Solano reading seriesSaturday September 21, 2014, Berkeley, CA: Poets Mary Mackey and Dale Jensen read their poetry in the Alta Solano LIT OUT LOUD series.  TIME: 7:15 pm. PLACE: Folk & Fine Art Gallery, 1861-A Solano Ave., Berkeley (in the small alleyway just above Pegasus Books).


Bestselling Author Ellen Sussman on Surviving Rejection

Ellen Sussman Tells How She Survived Rejection To Become a Bestselling Author

Ellen SussmanMary: Welcome to my People Who Make Books Happen Interview Series,  Ellen. You’re the author of four national bestselling novels: A Wedding in Provence, The Paradise Guest House, French Lessons and On a Night Like This.  I think it’s hard for people to image anyone with your level of success ever got rejection letters. Yet, you’ve said that you received “piles” of them. I’d like to talk to you about how you persisted through rejection, how you kept going, and why you didn’t give up. Let’s start by going back to the earliest stages of your career. How old were you when you started writing?

Ellen: Believe it or not, I decided that I wanted to be a writer when I was six years old! And I never veered off course. I couldn’t support myself as a writer until many many years later, so I always had a day job, but writing was my passion and my purpose throughout my life.

Mary: What’s the first piece of fiction you wrote? Was it praised? Were you encouraged by your parents or teachers to continue writing? Or did you start out with rejection?

Ellen: I had great support for my writing through high school, college and grad school. I won prizes and fellowships and I guess I got a little cocky. I thought that when I sent out my first short stories they would all be accepted! Boy, was I wrong. I have a folder of rejection letters that’s a mile high (or it just seems that way) – and it took a good ten years before I started publishing stories in literary magazines.

Maybe that early praise helped me survive the rejection years. It’s so hard to keep going when every editor seems to be saying no no no. Somehow you have to believe in yourself when no one else does. Or you have to be remarkably stubborn. I must have some combination of both.

Mary: I assume you were an avid reader from a very early age, yes? If so, which authors inspired and influenced you to make the choices you made?

Ellen: I read all the time! In high school I was greatly influenced by Hemingway and Salinger – I wrote terrible imitations of them both. In college I expanded my horizons. I think almost everything I read influences me. I beg, borrow and steal. That makes it sound much worse than it is! In truth, I’m always learning from the masters. How do they do it? Can I try that technique? It keeps me growing as a writer.

Mary: Let’s talk about those “piles” of rejection letter you’ve received.  Can you tell us roughly how many there’ve been?

EllenI couldn’t possibly count them all. Seriously. I submitted stories to magazines for years – sometimes a story would be accepted at one magazine after having been rejected at 40 other magazines! I’ve written a couple of novels that haven’t been published. Now that really hurt. But, in fact, they weren’t good enough – I can see that now.

Mary: What was the first thing you submitted that got rejected? Do you recall what the letter said?

Ellen: Right after graduate school I sent off my best story to the New Yorker. And so I began to collect form rejection letters from them. Eventually I did get personalized rejection letters from them, always encouraging me to try again. That meant a great deal to me.

Mary: Many writers give up when their work is rejected and never submit anything again.  Have you ever decided to give up writing permanently?

Ellen: Yes – but that decision only lasted one day! About 15 years ago, I finally realized that I wasn’t going to be able to find a publisher for a novel that I had worked on for a few years. I announced to my family that I was quitting writing. They all ignored me. A day later I started a new novel.

Mary: What changed your mind? What gave you the strength to continue?

Ellen: I have to write. I’m pretty miserable when I’m not writing. And most of the time I can keep the noise of the publishing world out of my head. That’s when I most enjoy the process.

Mary: How does a writer know when the rejection is valid and when it isn’t? How do you decide if you should revise, rewrite, or abandon a piece of work; or leave it exactly as you wrote it and submit it somewhere else?

Ellen: Great question. If I received the same kind of comment from a few different editors, then I would start to pay attention. Also, if what they said rang true to me, then I would push myself to do another rewrite.

Mary: Do you still occasionally get rejection letters, or is all that behind you now that you are a famous, bestselling author?

Ellen: Oh, I still get rejection letters! I wrote a novel after On a Night Like This (my first novel – which was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller) and it was rejected everywhere! Now I realize that it wasn’t good enough but at the time so baffled. I thought I finally had success – wouldn’t more success follow? Not unless the work is good enough!

Mary: Before you go, is there any additional advice you can offer writers about surviving rejection and continuing to write?

Ellen: Surround yourself with a writers group that’s supportive or loving friends who boost you up when you need it. It’s tough to stand strong when the rejection letters accumulate. Believe in yourself and in your work.

Ellen sussman bookcover A wedding in ProvanceEllen Sussman’s new bestselling Novel is A Wedding In Province

She is the New York Times bestselling author of four novels altogether:  A Wedding in Provence, The Paradise Guest House, French Lessons, and On a Night Like This. She is also the editor of two critically acclaimed anthologies, Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave and Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex. She teaches through Stanford Continuing Studies and in private classes. To learn more about Ellen Sussman and her work, visit her website at www.ellensussman.com


Dear Readers: Join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen. You are warmly invited to ask Ellen Sussman questions or leave a comment. See the other interviews in this series for information about How To Get An Agent, How To Design A Book Cover That Sells Books,  Helping Independent Bookstores Survive and Thrive, Three Great Reasons To Still Print On Paper, Designing Websites For Writers, and more. This is where the experts hang out.

And remember to come back next month to read the another great interview in the People Who Make Books Happen  series.

A Celebration of the Indigenous Cultures of the Americas

 Berkeley Art House and Cultural CenterA Celebration of the Indigenous Cultures of the Americas at the Art House Gallery & Cultural Center, Sunday September 7, 2014.  The Poetry Unbound Reading Series will celebrate the indigenous cultures of the Americas with three very different readers. Kim Shuck, whose ancestors hail from the Tsalagi and Sauk and Fox peoples, will grace us with her woven words and insights. John Paige will present a variety of his expert and gorgeous translations from Nahuatl, language of the Aztecs. And Mary Mackey will share her acclaimed poetic observations from decades of travel in the Amazon. The Poetry Unbound Series is curated by Richard Loranger, Carla Brundage, and Clive Matson. TIME: 5:00 pm. PLACE: Art House Gallery & Cultural Center, 2905 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley CA. The featured readings will be followed by a brief open mic.

Poetry Reading at the John Natsoulas Gallery, Davis CA

 John Nasoulas Gallery exhibition paintingThursday September 5, 2014, Davis CA: Mary Mackey will poems from Travelers With No Ticket Home at the John Natsoulas Center for The Arts.  TIME: 8:OO pm. PLACE: John Natsoulas Center for The Arts, 521 First Street, Davis CA (at the corner of E and First). Joining her will be Sacramento poet Andrew Williamson. This reading is curated by Dr. Andy Jones, host of the popular radio show “Doctor Andy’s Poetry and Technology Hour.” (KDVS 90.3). After Mary and Andrew read, there will be an open mic. Free and open to the public.

Dr. Andy’s Poetry and Technology Hour to Host Poet Mary Mackey

August 20 5-6 PM on KDVS 90.3 FM Live and Streaming

old fashioned radioThis coming Wednesday at 5:00 PM,  Dr. Andy Jones will host Mary Mackey on his popular radio show Dr. Andy’s Poetry and Technology Hour. Mary will be reading poems from her three most recent collections Travelers With No Ticket Home, Sugar Zone, and Breaking The Fever. KDVS 90.3 FM (Live and Streaming)


Music, Fun, and Poetry at Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley

Ohmega Salvage logoOn Saturday, August 23, 2014, Berkeley, CA:  Mary Mackey and former California Poet Laureate  Al Young will read their poetry at the burgeoning cultural arts center Ohmega Salvage, one of Berkeley, Calif.’s oldest antique and salvage stores. Famed Berkeley slide guitarist, Freddie Roulette will perform along with other musical guests.  TIME: 1:00 PM; PLACE: Ohmega Salvage, 2407 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA. Free and open to the public.

Designing Websites for Writers Part Two, Checklists

Interview With Professional Website Designer Linda Lee

checklistWelcome to the People Who Make Books Happen Interview Series. This month I’m again talking to Linda Lee, professional website designer and founder of AskMePC Webdesign. This is Part Two of a two-part interview with Linda about designing websites for writers.  Last month in Designing Websites For Writers Part One, Linda talked about why every serious writer needs a website and what should be on it. In this interview, she is going share additional information about designing websites for writers and give us a list of do’s and don’ts. 

Mary: Welcome back, Linda. Could you please begin by telling us what’s the most important thing for a writer to have on his or her website? In other words, what’s absolutely necessary?

Linda: I’d be happy to. Here is my personal checklist for author websites:

1. Great Biography/About Page. Get help if you cannot write it yourself.
2. Book Sales Pages for each book. Each book you have needs its own page.
3. Social media connections, and author centric things like connecting to your Amazon blog, Amazon Central Author Page, or any online publications your write for. Connecting with Goodreads, Redroom and writing groups or groups that you are in or support like California Writers Club, and Women’s National Book Association, Litquake, or the San Francisco Writers Conference.
4. Media section/page. All your interviews, radio, podcasts, TV, listed and linked.
5. Event calendar for speaking events, lectures, personal appearances, and book signings.
6. Email sign up list so you can develop a solid email list of your readers.
7. Contact page so people can get in touch with you.
8. In addition to all of the above, your website should feature clear, easy-to-use navigation and sidebars set up correctly.

People want to know about you and your books and/or your writing. They want to know how to contact you and where to buy your books. They should be able to go to your website and do all of that with ease.

Mary: What are some things that are good to have but not absolutely essential?

1. Adding a slideshow highlighting your books and interesting things you are working on is fun and eye-catching.
2. You should add a photo to every page and every post for visual interest.The internet is a visual medium and you need those pops of color.
3. Adding videos you  have created and or adding videos from other sources to your site is another good tactic.
4. You can add podcasts to your site using audio plugins.
5. You can add clips of you on TV or clips of interviews that have been filmed. You can also post links to the written interviews people have done with you as well as the full text of those interviews.
6. Testimonials and Reviews are most helpful once you start getting them.
7. Using plugins, you can conduct polls which will interest and engage your readers.
Those are just a few fun extras.

Mary: I know that you design sites so that the people who own them can update them without having to go through a webmaster every time they want to make a change. How hard it is to learn how to manage your own site?

Linda; Once I became the webmaster for clients, I found that the most tedious and not very fun part of the job was doing updates and minor changes on pages for these HTML websites. That is when I found out about WordPress and started learning how to design websites using WordPress. I wanted to be able to train my clients to do their own updates, so they could use their sites without having to email their webmaster, to change a word, or update a page or a photo or a paragraph. WordPress created software which you can use with the ease of a word-processing document. You can login, do updates, write new articles and make changes yourself. You do not need to learn code or HTML. Normal not web savvy people can learn how to run their own websites.

You could buy WordPress for Dummies, but that’s the hard way. When you’re learning how to update your own site, it’s easy to get so overwhelmed that you can’t even figure out what questions you should be asking. There are other options. Personally, I’ve found a direct student-teacher relationship works best, because you can ask your instructor to clarify things as you go along. I offer remote training classes via the internet and WordPress boot camps locally to help train my clients and others who are interested in learning to update their sites. I’ve found that most people can do the basics after my two hour training. It has been very satisfying to watch clients, many who are intimidated by the web, learn how to run their own websites.

Mary: Do you have any plans to expand this?

Linda: Yes, in the near future I plan to make it possible for people to subscribe to an online forum called WordPress Total Training which will provide them with ongoing support and training.  One of the great things about WordPress is that over 200 million websites use it. Depending on what you want, a lot of free help or paid help is available.

Mary: What are the worst mistakes people make when they create sites?

Linda: Worrying too much about the design or colors and taking years sometimes to get a site up and running.
Get the site up! You can make changes along the way.  Another major mistake is building the site and then never using it.  I’d say this is the number one mistake. I see so many websites that are launched, and the person is excited and ready to go gangbusters, and then they abandon their site.They lose interest or they get overwhelmed. There is no new content, no new blog posts or articles. You click and find out that everything is two years old and out of date.

If this happens to you, get some help. Take a refresher course.  Ask people for suggestions. Get your excitement back.
When you are active with your site, it can be fun. You will have readers and comments and you will want to be there.
You need to stay active with your website.  You need to post at least once a month and stay connected to your site.

Mary: Could you please leave us with a general list of the do’s and don’ts of website design.

Linda: The Don’ts:
1. Don’t make it complicated. You have 5-10 seconds to keep a reader on your site. If they cannot find what they are looking for, they will bounce.
2. Huge graphics and photos that take up the entire page are a trend right now. I’ve found that most people do not enjoy this. They want to find what they came to your site for.
3. Don’t use too many colors in a web site. Keep to a simple color scheme
4. Do not have videos or audios or music that starts automatically. People hate that.

5. Do not make people have to sign up or click something to get to your main site.Why would you want to put roadblocks up for your readers?
6. Do not put a bunch of ads on your website that are intrusive and overwhelm the site.

The Do’s

1. Clean,  simple layout and navigation. Make it easy for your reader to find what they are looking for.
2. A clear menu bar.
3. A clear message for your website.
4. Social media badges for easy access and connecting.
5. A Blog section
6. Add new content at least once a month. Once a week is ideal.
7. Make sure your links are easy to notice and are underlined.
8. Use lots of images and graphics for visual pop.
9. Keep it to 3 key colors for design.

Mary: Before you leave us, what’s the most important advice you can offer a writer who is in the process of designing and managing his or her own website?

Linda: Stay realistic about your website. Good websites take time to build. If you want the best results out of your site, be patient. By adding new content, and staying attentive to your website will build your page rank in Google and gain followers over time. It is not an instant process.

Mary: Thank you Linda. You’ve given us a lot of very useful information. Just a reminder: My previous interview with Linda Lee can be found at Designing Websites For Writers Part One.

Dear Readers: Join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen. You are warmly invited to ask Linda Lee questions or leave a comment. See the other interviews in this series for information about How To Get An Agent, How To Design A Book Cover That Sells Books,  Helping Independent Bookstores Survive and Thrive, Three Great Reasons To Still Print On Paper, and more. This is where the experts hang out.

And remember to come back next month to read another interview.