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Author: Iola

I provide professional freelance manuscript assessment, copyediting and proofreading services for writers of Christian fiction and non-fiction books, stories and articles. I also review Christian novels at www.christianreads.blogspot.com.

Dear Editor | Should I Pay an Agent or Editor to ... ?

Dear Editor | Should I Pay an Agent or Editor to … ?

Over the last few months, I’ve come across several people asking if they should pay an agent or editor or publisher for X or Y or Z. Today I’m answering some of these questions.

Should I pay an agent a reading fee?


The Association of Author Representatives clearly state that literary agents are not to charge clients or potential clients for reading or editing their work.

For that reason, members may not charge clients or potential clients a fee for reading and evaluating literary works

Literary agents are paid a percentage of the advance and royalty they negotiate on your behalf when they sell your book to a traditional publisher. The industry standard is 15 percent. Many agents negotiate that the publisher will forward them the full advance or royalty payment, and the agent will then check the royalty statement, take their 15%, and forward the balance to the author.

Kathryn Kristine Rusch recommends negotiating that the publisher make two payments—15% to the agent, and the remainder to the author. I suspect more authors will be asking for this split after the recent case where author Chuck Palahnuik was virtually bankrupted when his agent’s accountant embezzled the funds.

Not all publishers pay advances—if that’s the case, the agent gets paid purely on royalties. Either way, the agent gets paid a proportion of book sales. That’s it.

Should I pay a publisher a reading fee?

Again, no.

Reputable publishers make money by selling books. Period.

Yes, there are a lot of up-front costs in owning a publishing business, even a small press.

If a publisher doesn’t have the resources to read submissions, then they should close submissions for a period (as many do).

Otherwise it would be all to easy for a publisher to charge prospective authors a reading fee. (I’ve seen $35 discussed in Facebook groups). They could turn that into a profit centre. There is also no way to tell the publisher actually read your submission. They could just take your $35 and send back a form rejection letter or email.

Yes, it takes time for publishers to read and assess submissions, and time is money.

Some even pay readers to go through the slush pile. But this is a cost of publishing. If publishers don’t have the time, they can say they only accept submissions from literary agents, or close submissions for a period.

If you download Christian Publishers: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction, you’ll see I divide out those publishers which are accepting submissions from those who only accept agented submissions. Unfortunately, the high-profile publishers don’t accept unsolicited submissions.

(If you want to know how to find a Christian literary agent, check out this post: How do I find a Christian Literary Agent?)

Should I pay to have my manuscript edited before I submit to an agent or publisher?


Some agents also moonlight as freelance editors. I’m in two minds about this. I can see the appeal in using their skills to earn a little money on the side. I can definitely see the attraction for unpublished authors. After all, paying an agent to edit your manuscript gets you in front of an industry insider, which might be the vital step you need to be offered agency representation or a publishing contract.

However, this goes against the AARs ethical standards:

The AAR believes that the practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works … the term “reading and evaluating literary works” includes providing editorial services with respect to such works. The term “charge” includes any request for payment.

So an agent can moonlight as a freelance editor … but not for current or potential clients.

Also, I read endless blog posts about how busy agents are: how many submissions they have to review, how many  manuscripts they have to edit, how many contracts and royalty statements they have to review. If they are so busy, they should be spending their non-working hours relaxing, not moonlighting in a job that’s so close to their day job.

I’ve also heard of publishing house editors undertaking freelance editing work.

Many publishing houses outsource their editing to freelance editors. While hiring one of these freelancers should get you a high standard of editing, a freelance editor isn’t likely to have any influence with the publishing house.

Working with an editor for a publishing house might give you some advantage, but there are potential disadvantages. While publishing house employees aren’t covered by the AAR, they are covered by their own employment contracts, which may well prohibit taking outside paid work.

What about freelance editors? (Like me).

If you’re serious about getting represented by a literary agent or being offered a contract with a major traditional publisher, then you need to make sure your submission is the best possible standard.

That may mean getting input on your writing before submitting. That input could come through beta readers, critique partners, contest judges, or a freelance editor.

This doesn’t have to be a full edit: it could mean an assessment of your full manuscript. It could mean copyediting your first couple of chapters, or it could mean assessing your opening chapters to identify any recurring writing issues.

If you’re interested in finding out more, email me via the About page.

Should I pay to enter a writing contest?

That requires a longer answer, and will be the topic of next week’s post.

Meanwhile, if you have any questions, let me know in the comments.

Do Authors Have to Blog?

Dear Editor | Do Authors Have to Blog? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

Writers are an odd bunch. I’ve come across many writers who are more than comfortable with the idea of writing a 90,000-word novel, but have palpitations at the thought of writing and publishing a 500-word blog post.

These authors often ask the same question:

Do Authors Have to Blog?

My answer? Maybe. But maybe not.

If you’re a non-fiction author, then you do need to blog. It establishes your expertise in your specialist area, which will build credibility.

But you might not need to blog if you’re a fiction author. Many established authors don’t have a blog on their website. Others do, but blog only a few times a year (usually to promote a new release). Some blog on group blogs.

Do fiction authors have to blog? And what should they blog about? #Blogging #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Click To Tweet

Fiction authors may still need to blog.

If you’re aiming for a publishing contract with a major traditional publisher, then you almost certainly need to have an author blog and post regularly. Social media expert Edie Melson points out that regular blogging shows industry professionals you can write to a deadline and produce quality work. Melson does point out that blogging isn’t a way to sell books, but does provide a way of connecting with readers.

What if you’re aiming to self-publish?

Then it depends. Self-published authors need a website and an email list, but blogging? It’s not the most important part of a website—that would be your About page, and your Books page, because those are the pages readers are most likely to be looking for.

Do you enjoy blogging?

No? Then don’t start a blog. You want your blog to show readers an interesting person they want to know better. That’s not going to come through if you think blogging is a chore on a par with cleaning the toilet (or whatever household task you loathe most).

Can you commit to regular blogging? Will you?

Will you commit to a regular blogging schedule, including writing, editing and publishing a new blog post at least once per week for at least the next six months? No? Then don’t start a blog.

Don’t I have to blog to sell books?

No—even a strong blog might not help you sell books. Think of Mike Duran. I often share his posts  because they are thought-provoking and relevant and he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions about Christianity and literature. But he writes Christian horror, and while I think his blog is great, I’m not interested in his fiction (sorry, Mike).

Anyway, no one is going to be interested in your blog if it’s a constant infomercial (let your Home and Books pages do the selling).

Okay. I’m going to blog.

If you enjoy blogging and can commit to a regular schedule, then maybe blogging is for you. Now your choice is between blogging on your website, or blogging as part of a group blog. Here are some I read regularly:

If you blog on your own website:

  • Be regular. Blog at least once a week, at the same time and on the same day each week. Announce this on your About page. Don’t overcommit yourself: if one good post each week is all you can manage, then blog once a week.
  • Be intentional. Choose a topic or theme, and stick to it. If you don’t know what your theme might be, Jeff Goins has a 12-part free email course that might help you.
  • Don’t put blogging ahead of writing your book. If blogging is taking over your writing time, you might need to reconsider how regularly you blog.

If you post on a group blog:

  • Get your post up early. The earlier, the better. It saves the blog organiser the last-minute stress of wondering whether they need to find a filler post if you miss your slot.
  • Ensure your posts fit the blog. Some group blogs have different themes for different days. I find a set theme makes it easier to write a post. Ensure your posts are consistent in length and style with those of the other contributors. This doesn’t mean letting go of your unique author voice, but it does mean making sure you’re not posting deep theological treatises when everyone else is posting about their cute pets (or vice versa).
  • Put blogging ahead ahead of writing your book. You’ve made a commitment. Keep it. If you need to step back from contributing, contact the blog organiser and work out a mutually agreeable schedule. Don’t leave your blogmates in the lurch.

What do you blog about?

This is the more difficult question.

If you write non-fiction, blog about subjects related to your book (or even blog your book).

It’s not so cut and dried if you write fiction, especially if you’re not yet published. You want to your blog to appeal to your target reader—it’s a place for your potential audience to get to know you better, so write to appeal to that audience.

Do Authors Have to Blog? Tips for fiction and non-fiction authors #Blogging #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Click To Tweet

What subjects are your readers interested in?

Rachel Thompson and other blogging gurus suggest picking four or five topics and blogging about each once a month. Topics should be:

  • Something you’re interested in, so you can bear to write about them each month.
  • Something your target reader might be interested in. There is no point in building an audience of manhwa (Korean manga) fans if you’re writing inspirational women’s fiction.

Your blog needs to serve your reader, not you. What questions are they asking?

This doesn’t mean you can’t post about your writing—you can, but in a way that’s relevant for your target reader. For example, you could post:

  • Short stories (so they know your writing style).
  • Reviews of books in the same genre (because you want your blog to attract readers, right?).
  • Movie reviews in your genre (because readers are fans of story, and movies often have great stories).

Once you’re published, you can add book-related content, such as:

  • Character information, maps or related plot information.
  • Questions for book clubs.
  • Outtakes or deleted scenes (maybe).

The Novel Marketing Podcast has a useful episode on what novelists can blog about.

One last tip . . .

If you do choose to blog, ensure your blog integrated into your website (so your blog is a page on your website, not a completely separate site). Your blog is where you’ll start connecting with readers, through regular blog posts, so don’t confuse potential reader by having two sites.

Do you blog? How often? What do you blog about? What hints to you have for your fellow authors?

Should I Hire Someone to Build my Social Media Presence?

Dear Editor | Should I Hire Someone to Build my Social Media Presence?

I often see variations on this question: An agent liked my manuscript, but said I needed to build my social media presence. I work full time. Should I hire someone?

Short answer: Maybe. Long answer …

Maybe. It depends on what your agent means by a social media presence, the kind of books you write and plan to write, on your brand, and on what God wants for your writing …

Dear Editor, An agent liked my manuscript, but said I needed to build my social media presence. I work full time. Should I hire someone? #BookMarketing #SocialMedia Click To Tweet

Let me explain.

I don’t have an agent. I’m not seeking representation from an agent. I’ve lurked on a lot of agent blogs over the years, and one thing I’ve found is that agents are all different.

  • Some only accept electronic submissions; some only accept paper.
  • Some want a query letter first, others think a query letter is a waste of time and want a full proposal.
  • Some seem to think numbers are the only important aspect of a writer’s platform, others make no mention of the subject.

That’s an extended way of saying that for every agent who reads this blog post and thinks I’ve got something right, another will think I’ve got it wrong. The right answer to this question depends very much on the agent you’re talking about.

What is a Social Media Presence?

If your potential agent thinks a good social media presence is 100,000 engaged Twitter followers, then it’s possible the agent is out of touch. Absolute numbers are not as important as they once were—it’s all too easy to buy 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 followers on any platform.

It’s not even important how many people Like your posts (as Likes can also be bought).

While there are a lot of readers, writers, and reviewers on Twitter (and I definitely recommend having a Twitter account), you may be better building a following on Instagram or in a Facebook Group (as Facebook have announced they will be placing more emphasis on Groups and Events, as apparently these are their two most popular features). Facebook knows Groups and Events get engagement in a way that Pages don’t.

Engagement is important.

Engagement is how many people read and respond to your posts—whether by sharing an emotional reaction (e.g. a heart or wow reaction on Facebook), by adding a meaningful comment (something more than “great post!”) or by sharing.

Engagement comes from authentic two-way conversations. That means you have to be present on social media to build relationships and engage with those who engage with you—responding to comments, liking and commenting on posts. Being present and real and authentic. You can’t hire that out.

What does this agent expect in terms of building your social media presence?

But this might not be what your dream agent means. So you need to know what the agent means before you invest your time or your money in developing a social media presence. Does the agent mean social media only? Or does the agent mean your author platform—your entire online presence including social media, your website, and your email list?

Also, what manuscript did you submit?

  • Fiction or non-fiction?
  • What genre?
  • Was it written for adults, teenagers, or children?

These questions are important. If you’re going to build a social media presence, you need to focus on the platforms your target reader uses. There is little point in building a Facebook Page if your readers are all on Instagram.

I’ve discussed the basics of author platform in previous posts:

I’ve also built the Kick-Start Your Author Platform marketing challenge, an email course to help authors develop a basic platform.

Build Your Brand

How you do this will depend on what you are writing, and who you are writing for. You need to decide who you are, and build your author brand around that persona. Then you need to attract and engage with potential readers.

I believe you should do this yourself.

Why? Because you can’t hire someone to tell you who you are.

Should you hire someone to build your social media presence? I believe you should do this yourself, because you can’t hire someone to tell you who you are. #BookMarketing #SocialMedia Click To Tweet

Once you know who you are and who you want to be online, you can hire someone to help you broadcast that message. But you’re going to have to do some of the hard work up front.

It’s generally agreed that a non-fiction author needs more of an author platform to interest an agent than a fiction author. That’s especially true in the case of true-life stories—for example, I’ve read that agents aren’t interested in cancer stories. They’re all too common.

Once you’ve decided who you are, and once you know what kind of platform your dream agent wants you to build, then you have another decision: is that what you want to do? Is it what God wants you to be doing?

Should you hire someone to build your social media presence?

The answer is going to depend on the answers to other questions:

  • What does this agent mean by “build a social media presence”? This is the most important question.
  • What manuscript is the agent interested in? What’s the genre? Is this the same as the books you’ve previously published, or different?
  • What is your brand? In other words, who are you? How do you want people to see you?
  • What does God want for your writing? Is this closed door a challenge for you to get past, or is it a door God doesn’t want you to open? Is chasing this agent God’s plan for you and your writing?
  • What is more important to you (and to your dream agent)—numbers or engagement?
  • How much is hiring someone going to cost? What results will you get? Is that return on your investment worth it to you?
  • Could you find a way to do this yourself, perhaps by investing in online tools such as Buffer or Hootsuite? Or by signing up to my Kick-Start Your Author Platform marketing challenge?

Once you’ve answered those questions, then you can get back to your original question: should you hire someone?

I suspect the answer is no.

That might change in a couple of weeks or a couple of months, when you find the answers to some of my other questions. By then, I suspect, the answer to your original question will be obvious.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in a future blog post, please email me via www.christianediting.co.nz/contact.

#TwitterTips | 9 Tips for Authors on Twitter

Twitter is for twits.

That was my first impression, and my second wasn’t much better: that Twitter is like a gaggle of teenage girls with everyone talking and no one listening.

But I’ve persevered, and Twitter is now my second most influential social media network, after Facebook. And I’ve got to the point where it requires very little effort to add my content and maintain both my profile (@iolagoulton) and the profiles for the two group blogs I’m part of: Australasian Christian Writers account (@acwriters) and International Christian Fiction Writers (@icfwriters).

Despite the noise, the seemingly endless spam from authors who don’t know how to use Twitter, and the rumours it’s dying, Twitter has two huge advantages over Facebook:

  • There are no limits as to the number of followers you can have.
  • Tweets are indexed by Google, which impacts on search engine optimisation.

No, Twitter shouldn’t replace your own website and email list. But it’s an additional way of getting yourself out there and connecting with potential readers. And once you know a few Twitter tricks, it’s easy to use and doesn’t take long.

So what are my must-do #TwitterTips?

1. Set up a Twitter account

Set up a Twitter account using your author name, not your book name (you are going to write more than one book, aren’t you?). Even if you don’t plan to actively use Twitter, this enables other people to tag you in their posts (using what’s called the at-mention, e.g. @iolagoulton). Note that your Twitter name can be no longer than 15 characters.

If your name is taken, use your website name, or try JohnSmith-Writer, JohnSmith-Author, WriterJohnSmith or similar.

Add your author photo.

Also add a header image (use Canva to create a 1500 x 500 pixel Twitter header.

Write your bio.

You have 160 characters, and can include hashtags (see below). You can also include website addresses: use a link shortener such as bit.ly if the website addresses push you over your 160-character limit. Check out the bios of authors in your genre for ideas.

2. Manage Your Follows

The Twitterverse considers it good manners to follow anyone who follows you (unless you’re a major league celebrity). I follow back most people who follow me, excluding:

  • People who don’t Tweet in English (I don’t want Tweets I can’t read).
  • Spam accounts (e.g. buy followers, US Army surgins, and Prince Harry).

3. Tweet and Retweet

A tweet is you sending an original message while a retweet is you forwarding someone else’s message. Many people use RT to signal a retweet.

Figure out what you’re going to tweet, and make sure it’s not all about you—no read my blog, buy my book, follow me on every social media platform in existence including MySpace.

Twitter is a social network, and the key word is “social”. Think about what your target reader might be interested in: if you write science fiction, try Dr Who memes and pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch. Mystery authors could tweet Sherlock Holmes quotes and pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch. If you write Christian romance, Bible verses, poetry quotes and funny book memes might be more appropriate. Perhaps no pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch. A shame.

All blog posts are better with a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch. I'm just sorry you can't see it.

Advice used to be to include images and links in your tweets to maximise engagement. That may be true, but my personal experience is that I get the most interaction from snarky “Dear Author” oneliners and #badwritingtips.

4. Use Hashtags

The # (hashtag) is used to identify topics by making tweets easily searchable by Google, which helps SEO (search engine optimisation). Popular writer hashtags include:

  • Genre tags (#romance, #chrisfic)
  • Book tags (#amreading, #books, #greatreads, #bookblogger)
  • Writing tags (#amwriting, #amediting, #1K1H—writing 1000 words in an hour)
  • Publishing tags (#amazon, #kindle, #publishingtips)
  • Marketing tags (#bookmarketing, #marketingtips).

Research shows Tweets with one or two hashtags get the most retweets.

Hashtags are also used for Twitter chats and events. However, these are usually in the evenings in US time, which makes them a little inconvenient for those of us in Australia and New Zealand.

5. Use Appropriate Tools

@iolagoulton tweets book reviews, and tips on writing, editing, publishing, marketing, and social media. I curate and schedule all my social media updates using Buffer. I have sprung for Buffer’s Pro plan (USD 10 per month) and the WP to Buffer plugin for WordPress. This combination automatically posts all my blog posts, even when I’m on holiday.

Many Twitter experts recommend Hootsuite to manage Twitter and other social media accounts. You can combine this with the WP to Hootsuite plugin for WordPress.

Others rave about Edgar, but that costs around USD 50 per month. (which is probably worth it, because it combines the features of several other services). ManageFlitter is another option: you can schedule posts if you are on their paid Pro plan.

I find the Buffer interface cleaner and easier to use, and the paid plan allows me to schedule tweets for @iolagoulton, @acwriters, and @ICFWriters (as I’m the person with the password). As @iolagoulton, I’ve also started using SocialJukebox, which cycles through a preset list of tweets, such as evergreen blog posts. Unfortunately, SocialJukebox no longer lets users tag other users (Twitter removed that functionality).

Most of these tools will both schedule posts and recommend optimum posting times based on when your followers are online (yes, Big Brother is watching you). The trick with these tools is to ensure your retweets are consistent with your author brand: as a Christian, you don’t want to find yourself retweeting Christian Grey quotes because the keyword matches.

Four Twitter Don’ts

6. Don’t follow everybody

Twitter limits each account to following 5,000 people until you have 5,000 followers. Then you can follow no more than 10% more than the number of people following you. So if you have 10,000 followers, you can follow 11,000 people. (Better to be the other way around, and follow fewer people than follow you).

7. Don’t make it all about you

Follow the 80:20 rule, and ensure no more than 20% of your Tweets are about you. Some commentators recommend 20:1. Unfortunately, most authors seem to think it’s all about them, and my Twitter stream is often full of “buy my book!” spam, which I ignore.

8. Don’t send automatic messages

It might feel rude, but don’t thank people for following you, asking them to follow you on Facebook, or subscribe to your blog, or anywhere else. And don’t ask them to buy your book.

9. Don’t automatically screen followers

Specifically, don’t use TrueTwit or any other computer program to determine whether or not your followers are real. The only people I’ve seen recommend TrueTwit are TrueTwit employees.

Finally …

Twitter is not about selling books. That’s a nice-to-have. The main purpose of social networking is to be social, and to aid discoverability. It’s social. Not sell-me.

Do you use Twitter? Do you have any #twittertips to share?

Twitter Automation

How to (Responsibly) Use Twitter Automation

This week I’m going to talk about how to responsibly use Twitter automation to reduce your time on Twitter (and other social media) while still being a good Twitter citizen i.e. how not to be a Twitter spammer. Apps and plugins are your friend!

Yes, this will require a little time to set up, and there is a cost involved.

But it really is set-it-and-forget-it. Mostly. And it will save you time in the long run—and time is money.

Here are the main tools I use:

  • SocialJukebox
  • Buffer
  • WP to Buffer Pro

SocialJukebox (previously TweetJukebox)

You all know what a jukebox is: in the old days, it had a bunch of 45s and you could select which song you wanted from the playlist (for the younger readers: a 45 is a record with only one song on each side). They also had a random play function, and that is the concept behind Social Jukebox.

You load a virtual jukebox up with tweets, and SocialJukebox sends them randomly at predetermined intervals.

So, for example, you could have a jukebox for old blog posts that you tweet each Thursday using the #tbt (Throwback Thursday) hashtag. Yes, you have to load the posts into the relevant jukebox, but it’s a once-and-done thing: once you’ve loaded a post, it will be in that jukebox until you delete it.

SocialJukebox was previously known as TweetJukebox, and it just offered Tweets. The new version also posts to Facebook and LinkedIn, although I don’t use those options. Yet. Mostly because while I don’t mind seeing Tweets repeated, I’m not a fan of seeing the same Facebook post over and over. And if it annoys me, it’s reasonable to assume it will annoy my followers.

Click here to find out more about SocialJukebox.


Buffer requires a little more input in my part. It works in a similar way to SocialJukebox in that it automatically posts content for me. The only difference is I have to load the posts in myself, and each will only post once (although there is a multiple post option). I find Buffer is an excellent tool for posting new content or news, whereas SocialJukebox is better suited for evergreen content (content which isn’t going to date—like a book review or Bible verse meme).

Buffer’s Pro plan currently costs USD 15 per month (with a 20% discount if paid annually), and allows users to link up to eight social media accounts including Pinterest and Instagram. Tip: if you subscribe to a paid plan, your price is locked in. I subscribed when it was USD 10 per month for 12 social media accounts, so my annual cost is only a little over $100.

If I could only justify one paying for social media plan, this would be it, because it enables me to post throughout the day even when I’m out of wifi zone (yes, it happens).

One thing I especially love about Buffer is that they appear to work closely with Twitter, and Buffer won’t allow you to bend or break the Twitter rules around spam and posting. If you try to Buffer two similar Tweets in too short a time, Buffer will reject the second Tweet. I like that—I have had my Twitter account suspended for unintentional spamming, and it’s not an experience I wish to repeat.

Click here to find out more about Buffer.

WP to Buffer Pro

I combine Buffer with another WordPress plugin: WP to Buffer.

The WP to Buffer plugin automatically sends all my new blog posts to Buffer, so I don’t have to remember to Tweet and share them in a timely manner. There is a free version and a paid version. The free version (WP to Buffer) is available to all WordPress users, and allows limited posting to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter via the free or paid Buffer plans.

I bought the Pro version ($39/year for a one-year single-site licence, or $199 for a lifetime multi-site licence). The Pro version is only available to self-hosted WordPress users or those on the more expensive WordPress.com plans. I currently use WP to Buffer Pro on my two sites (Christian Editing Services and Iola Goulton, my reviewing site), on Australasian Christian Writers, and on International Christian Fiction Writers.

WP to Buffer Pro allows me to:

  • Post to Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter.
  • Send multiple posts to each social media network.
  • Send posts to the start or end of my Buffer queue, or post them at a specific time.
  • Customise my posts by social network.
  • Add selected images to my posts.
  • Customise individual posts.

Using WP to Buffer Pro means I can automatically share to each site, whether I have wifi access or not. It also saves me time—it takes five to ten minutes per blog post to share once to each social network, and the plugin shares each post between one and seven times (depending on how I’ve set it up). And I’m sharing from three blogs each weekday, so that’s saving me up to half an hour a day. That’s a win!

The fact I’m able to customise each post also means I’m keeping in Twitter’s good books, because each post is unique.

Other WordPress Plugins

The makers of WP to Buffer have a companion plugin for Hootsuite users, WP to Hootsuite. As far as I can tell, it has all the same features, as well as the paid upgrade.

WordPress users can also use Publicize (part of Jetpack) to automatically share blog posts to social media. However, I’m not sure if this is available on the free plan, or only on the paid plans (paid plans start at $5/month).

No, I’m not on Twitter (or social media in general) 24/7. But tools like this allow me to be “active” even when I’m asleep.

Do you use any free or paid tools to help you manage social media? Which tools do you recommend?

Twitter Hashtags Lists and Mentions

Twitter Hashtags, Lists, and Mentions (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

Last week, I talked about why authors need to be on Twitter.

Today I’m going to give you a little background to three important Twitter topics: hashtags, mentions, and lists. And an important Twitter Tip that you’ll need to remember before you even think about automating any Twitter tasks. I’ll be back next week to talk about Twitter tools and automation.

About Hashtags

You’ve all seen hashtags—they’re all over social media. Things like #amreading or #amwriting or #amediting … basically, anything preceeded by a hash symbol (#, which is what Americans call a pound key).

Hashtags are important because they are how people search for topics on Twitter (and Instagram). You want to hear the latest publishing scandal? Search for #CopyPasteCris. Want the latest Game of Thrones gossip and spoilers (or to vent about the current episode)? Try #gameofthrones or simply #got. Looking for a book to read? Try #amreading or #christfic or #inspy or #romance or #bookworm. Using #cr4u (Clean Reads for You) will always get you a lot of retweets.

You can even invent your own hashtag, for a book, a series, a genre (like #cr4u), or an event. And you can use the same hashtag on Facebook and Instagram (Instagram loves hashtags. Facebook … allows them, but not everyone uses them properly #soyougetlotsofwordsjoinedtogetherwhichdontmeanmuch.

#TwitterTip. If you are using multiple words in a hashtag, capitalise each word to make it easier to read: #SoYouGetLotsOfWordsJoinedTogetherWhichDontMeanMuch. Still a mouthful, but it is at least readable. Click To Tweet


These are called @-mentions (at-mentions), because of the @ key which comes in front of your Twitter name (so I’m @iolagoulton). If you want someone to see your Tweet, you tag them with an @-mention. This also means your tweet will show up in the Twitter feed of all their followers … so it’s not something to abuse.

But it is considered good Twitter etiquette to @-mention someone if:

  • You’re linking to a blog post about them.
  • If you’re reviewing their book.

If you’re interviewing them.

(This relates to my post last week, about why you need to be on Twitter. Why would you want to miss out on knowing when people are being nice about you?)

Twitter Lists

Once you’ve been on Twitter a while, you’ll find you can’t actually scan every tweet from every person you follow (and you wouldn’t want to, especially not if some of the people you follow are the spam-every-six-minutes types). But that doesn’t mean you want to unfollow them …

Twitter lists are the answer to this dilemma.

Group similar accounts into a List, and you can just review tweets from that list. Sometimes I add interesting people to a list, then find out they are tweet-every-six-minute spammers. The solution is simple: take them off the list.

(As an aside, this is why you shouldn’t be a tweet-every-six-minute spammer. It’s possible no one will notice if they follow hundreds or thousands of active accounts. But if they put you on a list, spammy behaviour is easy to spot and difficult to ignore.)

The way they achieve this annoying omniscience is through automation. They’ll use a tool to preschedule hundreds of tweets each week, each promoting themselves or their books. This behaviour gives automation a bad name.

But there is a better way to use automation. I’ll talk about that next week.

Meanwhile, here’s my big #TwitterTip (hey! See the hashtag!):

Twitter is not all about you.
If you spend any time on Twitter (or read blog posts about Twitter or other social media), you’ll come across some variation of the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80:20 rule #TwitterTip Click To Tweet
No more than 20% of your posts should be about you.

Most of your posts (80%, or four out of five) should be posts from or about other people, such as retweets of interesting blog posts. That is, blog posts which are interesting to your target reader … which may or may not be people like you. Not blog posts you liked because they had useful writing or editing tips (unless your target reader is a writer).

If you can focus on this 80:20 principle, focus on providing content that your readers will find interesting, you’ll get interaction with readers and you might even find you come to enjoy using Twitter.

But if you make it all about you … Yeah. You might get nothing but tumbleweeds. Not so good.

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:
Dear Author - Why You Need to be on Twitter

Dear Author | Why You Need to be on Twitter

As many of you probably know, I review books. Lots of books—over 1,000 between my author website and my old Blogger site. Some are for books I loved, some for books I loathed, and some for books which were good books but not spectacular.

I review on my blog, and copy the reviews to other sites such as Goodreads, Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, Koorong Books, and Riffle. I also share a lot of my reviews on social media—Facebook, Google+, Pinterest … and Twitter.

And when I share a book I loved, I want the author to know about it.

That’s not me being egotistical. It’s me being practical: authors love reviews, especially positive reviews. It encourages them.

But I want my favourite authors to be writing, not stalking Amazon and book blogs looking for reviews. So when I post a review to Twitter, I like to tag them in the review so I can be sure they’ll see it when they do check. It also brings my review to the attention of other people looking at the author’s Twitter feed.

(Tip: only tag the author in positive reviews. It’s fine to write a critical review if you didn’t enjoy a book. But you don’t have to point it out to the author.)

An author will often share my tweeted review, potentially bringing it to the attention of more readers. Well, why wouldn’t they? They want reviews, especially positive reviews. They want their current and potential readers to know about those reviews, in the hope that will influence more people to buy their book. This is a biblical principle:

The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

If I say something about myself, it’s not valid. If you say it, it is … especially if someone else agrees with you.

There’s even an internet buzzword for it: user-generated content (or UGC).

That’s a simple way of saying they author (the producer) gets shareable content (Tweet, book review, meme) from users (me). Because me (or you) saying something positive about a book is more powerful than the author saying it herself. Or himself.

It’s self-promotion, but not the annoying kind. Sure, Twitter is full of authors spamming the feed with “buy my book!” promos every six minutes. That’s the annoying kind of self-promotion, because it’s all about the author. The beauty of user-generated content is it’s from the user. An author who retweets me is promoting me as much as she’s promoting herself.

But not every author is on Twitter.

Or if they are, they have weird names that means I can’t identify them. And that means I can’t tag them in my posts. It means they don’t benefit from my user-generated content. It means they’re missing out on me promoting them—which means they have to promote themselves. Probably by spamming.

To plagiarise Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that authors hate promoting themselves.

Fine. I get that. But that’s not a good reason to avoid Twitter. It means you’re thinking about it the wrong way. Instead of thinking of Twitter as another social media network you have to be on to promote yourself, think of it like this:

Twitter is a way readers, reviewers and authors can find you and influence for you. And a way you can influence for promote readers, reviewers and other authors. #TwitterTip #WritersLife Click To Tweet

Doesn’t that sound better? Pay it forward. Be relentlessly helpful. Make social media about other people, not you.

Some authors aren’t on Twitter because they think it’s going to be a lot of work. It’s not (or if it is, you’re doing it wrong). I’ll cover that in another post.

Meanwhile, if you’re not on Twitter, why don’t you head over there and set up an account?

While you’re there, follow me (@iolagoulton). Then leave a comment with your Twitter user name so I can follow you back (if I don’t already), watch for your Tweets and retweet you. If you’re on Twitter … well, that’s even more reason to follow me!

Avoid Social Media Time Suck by Frances Caballo

Book Review | Avoid Social Media Time Suck by Frances Caballo

I bought this because it was on sale and I’m a keen reader of Frances Caballo’s blog.

The first part is excellent, as she takes readers through her four-step approach to social media: content curation, scheduling, being social, and analysing your metrics. This is all in the first few pages, so download and read the free Kindle sample.

The middle part contains lots of links to social media apps to help automate content curation and scheduling. Some are free, but others are not (and the prices have increased considerably since Caballo published this book). The end of the book touches on the important topics of planning a blog content calendar (because blogs are also part of social media), and a schedule of daily, weekly, monthly, and annual tasks. This is similar to my own mental list, so it’s good go have the confirmation I’m on the right track!

The problem with Avoid Social Media Time Suck is the publishing date. Caballo says:

“A few years on the Internet is almost equivalent to a millennium.”

Avoid Social Media Time Suck was published in 2014—a millennium ago. While the principles outlined in the first section of the book haven’t changed, a lot of the specific advice in the middle section is now dated. Instagram barely gets a mention, and Tailwind doesn’t exist.

And that’s a potential problem if someone who isn’t social media-savvy reads the book. It’s not recommending the best apps. Some of the advice on the more established social networks is now dated to the point of being against the terms of service. New social media users won’t know what information is good, what is outdated, and what could get you kicked off Twitter or sent to Facebook jail.

Basically, the book has some excellent tips, but needs updating for the new millennium.

The best part was the plan:

(Which, of course, should be adapted to your individual needs.)

Daily tasks

Post to social media channels
Follow new users on Twitter [and Instagram!]
Check responses to blog posts and reply
Thank Tweeps for RTs
Review notifications on other social networks and respond where necessary.

Weekly Tasks

Write a 500-word blog post
Comment on industry blogs
Participate in LinkedIn Groups [I’ve been on LinkedIn for so long that I thought it was a business tool, not a social network … so this isn’t something I’ve ever done]

Monthly Tasks

Write a 1,000-word blog post
Mail a newsletter

Quarterly Tasks

Conduct an author interview/podcast/video

Six-Monthly Tasks

Update website
Create a downloadable white paper from a series of blog posts & offer on Scribd [I think the more contemporary advice would be to offer it as a free download to entice people to sign up for your email newsletter.]

Annual Tasks

Teach a webinar

It’s a lot … but it’s also manageable because

About Avoid Social Media Time Suck

How You Can Avoid Social Media Time Suck and Still Have Time to Write

The question everyone asks is, “Can I really manage my social media in just thirty minutes a day?” My answer is yes, you can. This book explains the four-step process to effective and efficient social media marketing for writers.

  • How to curate content.
  • What and how to schedule your tweets, posts, updates and shares.
  • The importance of scheduling time to be social.
  • Analyzing your metrics.

Social media is no longer an option for writers – it is a required element of every author’s marketing platform. And using social media to market your books doesn’t need to be time-consuming.

Whether you consider yourself a seasoned social media user or you are new to the social web, this book will introduce you to posting schedules, timesaving applications and content-rich websites that will help you to economize your time while using social media to market your books.

Find Avoid Social Media Time Suck online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

You can read the introduction to Avoid Social Media Time Suck below:

Book Review | Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour by Donna Huber

Books on book marketing often date quickly, which is something newbie authors have to watch out for. After all, the rules on sites such as Amazon change, and authors can find themselves reading outdated and bad advice without knowing it’s outdated and bad advice.

Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour was published in 2013, so I was pleasantly surprised not to find any outdated advice.

Instead, it’s jam-packed with excellent advice for any author planning a blog tour as a way of getting the word out about a new release.

The book isn’t long—just 60 pages. But it’s full of useful advice and tips.

As a blogger, I only found one piece of advice that I disagreed with: to use GoogleForms to conduct your tour signup. Yes, GoogleForms is a great way of keeping all your information organised (which is a must). But bloggers are busy, and it has to be a book I *really * want to read before I can be bothered filling out a Google form with three kinds of social media profiles and other proof that I’m a legitimate blogger rather than some fly-by-night free book seeker.

I will admit that blog tours perhaps aren’t the book publicity powerhouse they were in 2013.

Some of the bigger publicity firms offering blog tours have folded, but I suspect that is more about the difficulty in finding reviewers and bloggers, and the fact arranging a blog tour can be a time-heavy exercise (that therefore costs a lot when someone is paying by the hour), but may not deliver an immediate and measurable return.

Bloggers are busy (and unpaid), and none of us have the time to read every book we want to read, let alone every book we’ve promised to review. As a result, many bloggers (me included) are now looking at other ways of featuring books rather than the traditional review, like book blasts and social media takeovers (Instagram is especially popular for this, but is barely mentioned in the book. Well, it wasn’t as big in 2013)

Recommended for any author planning a blog tour.

Especially recommended for any author considering hiring a book tour company or VA. It will be a few dollars well spent to make sure you know what questions to ask a potential tour company, and so you understand what work you’ll still have to do (most of it. After all, a tour company might be able to find you hosts, but you’re still going to have to write the posts).

About Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour

Get the info you need for a successful blog tour in this easy to follow how-to manual for authors.

From the publicist who introduced the world to Fifty Shades of Grey, Donna Huber is now revealing her secrets to successful blog tours. She shares tips and tricks learned through organizing over 30 tours, blasts, and promotional events for nearly 50 independently and traditionally published titles.

Secrets revealed in this quick read include:

  • Planning stage decisions
  • Different types of tours
  • Recruiting bloggers and keeping requests organized
  • Best practice communication tips
  • Tricks to making a great guest appearance
  • How to organize a fun (and legal) giveaway
  • Actions to take during the tour
  • Next steps once the tour is complete
  • Virtual tour and other promotional opportunities
  • When to hire a professional

In this easy to follow manual, Donna does not stop there. She spills even more of her blog tour secrets to help authors get the most out of their events by providing:

  • Tour checklist
  • Tour invite tips
  • Step-by-step guide to creating tour graphics
  • 10 broad guest post topics
  • 25 sample interview questions

Find Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

How to Writers Earn Money? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

How do Writers Earn Money? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

I recently came across an advertisement for a website offering a new way for writers to get paid for their work. Having observed the publishing industry for several years, my experience has been twofold:

  • There are more people claiming to have invented a “new way” than there are new ways.
  • Most of the “new ways” are ineffective or unethical.

Anyway, the advertisement got me thinking: how do writers earn money?

Selling Books

Selling books is the obvious source of income for published authors. However, that’s one of the many things in life that’s easy to say and much harder to do!

Writing Articles

Many sites pay up front for contributions (but many more pay only in “exposure”). Payment isn’t high, and can start from $5 for a 300-word blog post. If this interests you, I suggest checking out sites like Fiverr and Upwork. Just don’t get caught up in something unethical, like writing $5 Amazon book reviews for books you haven’t read …


Writers don’t actually earn money by blogging. But bloggers can monetise their blogs through advertising, affiliate income, and sponsorship.

The challenge here is traffic. No one is going to want to advertise on a blog no one visits, and many advertising networks won’t even sign up bloggers with less than a specified number of page views (e.g. 10,000 page views per month, as measured by Google Analytics).


Most blog advertising is direct advertising. Some websites have enough traffic that they can actually sell their own advertising for a monthly fee (e.g. SBTB, who have 350,000+ page views a month on desktop alone). The advantage of this is you control the content that will appear on your site, and you set the fee so you know how much you’ll get paid. The disadvantage for writers advertising on their own site is that you might only want to advertise your own products.

The more common blogger advertising model is to partner with an advertising network such as Google AdSense. Bloggers then provide a blank space which the advertiser fills, and the blogger pay be paid on a pay per view (PPV), pay per click (PPC), or on actual sales. Payments will therefore vary depending on traffic and engagement.

I see two issues with using an advertising network:
  1. With PPC and other click-through advertising, you’re getting paid for taking people away from your website, not for keeping them on your website. That’s bad for your SEO, which rewards people visiting your site and staying there. It also doesn’t say much for your writing if visitors would rather leave than read your content.
  2. You don’t control the advertisements that are appearing on your blog. I visit a lot of book blogger sites where the ad spaces are advertising vanity presses (no doubt because Google sees a lot of writers visiting those sites). I’m against vanity presses, so there is no way I’d want advertisements for a product I despise on my site. I’ve also seen advertisements for violent R16 video games on Christian review sites. I want to control what I advertise, which is why I stick with affiliate marketing. While bloggers can block certain categories of advertisers, those categories are broad (dating, drugs, games, sex).

And advertisers can still slip through the cracks. The site which prompted this post was clear that it did not accept adult content. But the first affiliate link I clicked took me to an advertisement for a famous lingerie brand, complete with a lingerie-clad model. The second link took me to a pirate video site.

Again, not products I want my brand to be associated with.

Affiliate Marketing

Organisations such as Amazon have affiliate programs to encourage website owners and bloggers to advertise their products by providing a small percentage

I am an Amazon affiliate (which earns me around $10 a year—4% of a 99c books means a lot of people have to click through for me to earn enough to get paid!)

I’m also an affiliate for several of the products and services I use in writing and blogging, such as:

I’m also an affiliate for Draft2Digital even though I don’t use their services (yet). This is because I’ve seen them recommended by others, I’ve seen the work they do, and know I’ll want to use them when the time comes.

Do these schemes earn me a lot of money? No—less than $100 a year, but that’s because I don’t put a lot of effort into them. Some bloggers earn a full-time salary through affiliate income. Some authors (e.g. Joanna Penn) earn substantially more.

Again, it comes down to traffic. Joanna Penn earns more in affiliate income than I do because:

  • She gets more traffic.
  • She’s an affiliate for some higher-ticket items, like courses from Nick Stephenson and Mark Dawson.

I also refuse to be an affiliate for products I don’t support. For example, I paid $297 for one course I wouldn’t recommend. I could earn back my (wasted) fee by signing up for an affiliate of the course and pocketing 30% every time someone signed up using my link. But I see that as somewhere between misleading and dishonest, so I won’t do it.

(Yes, all the above links are affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a small commission if you buy something from one of those links, but you’ll pay the same amount).
How do authors earn money? There are several ways ... but there are potential traps. #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop ##WritersLife Click To Tweet


As with affiliate marketing, sponsorship is working directly with product or service providers. For example, I often get approached by service providers offering me a free product in exchange for a review (none of them have yet offered actual money as well!). I don’t usually accept these offers, as most of them aren’t relevant to my audience (e.g. the quiz app that costs $209 per month).

If you’re interested in chasing sponsorship dollars, you’ll need an established site and audience, and you’ll need to pitch to the service providers you’re interested in.

Speaking Engagements

Many writers are also speakers, speaking to writers at conferences or local writer groups, or speaking to readers at reader conventions, book clubs, and book signings. Children’s authors may also speak in schools. Many of these engagements are unpaid or compensated only with a token gift.

Other speaking opportunities are paid, but most are only an honorarium and don’t cover the cost of the conference, let alone the associated travel and accommodation costs. Most writers speak as a way of enlarging their platform and giving back to the community, not as a form of income.

There is also the reverse: business professionals who write a book. For this group, a book is a sign of authority in their field, and earnings from the book are secondary to their earnings from their business. These authorities (some of whom do speak on writing or book marketing) are usually paid hundreds or thousands of dollars, as well as having all their expenses covered.

What have I missed? How else can writers earn money from their writing? Let me know in the comments!

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts: