Business Planning for Authors

I love making New Year’s resolutions (though I don’t always keep them). For 2019, I have resolved to be more purposeful in my business decisions. While I’m still pursuing projects I’m passionate about, I also plan to devote more time to developing career goals and specific objectives to accomplish them. In the past, I have taken more of a “try everything and see what sticks” approach but this year, I have developed a business plan to keep track of everything.

I presented a workshop on business planning at this year’s first meeting of the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada. As part of my research and preparation for the workshop, I developed this Power Point presentation. I hope it is useful for some of my readers and fellow authors!

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How to get your website in front of readers – the “magic” of search engine optimization

The Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors, used with permission.
The Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors, used with permission. and Column Five Media have joined forces to come up with this awesome inf0graphic. It is designed to help website owners come up with the right combination of ranking factors to show up at the top of the search engine heap.

And along with the infographic, Search Engine Land is providing the *free* “Search Engine Land Guide to SEO”. I have a lot to learn, so I will definitely be taking advantage of this! Click the link above to see the guide in presentation mode (as a series of slides), or you can browse by chapter below.

Chapter 1: Types Of Search Engine Success Factors
Chapter 2: Content & Search Engine Success Factors
Chapter 3: HTML Code & Search Engine Success Factors
Chapter 4: Site Architecture & Search Engine Success Factors
Chapter 5: Link Building & Ranking In Search Engines
Chapter 6: Social Media & Ranking In Search Results
Chapter 7: Trust, Authority, Identity & Search Rankings
Chapter 8: Personalization & Search Engine Rankings
Chapter 9: Violations & Search Engine Spam Penalties

When Life Gets In The Way – Writer’s Block and Creativity

time by
time by Sean MacEntee. CC BY 2.0.

Ever feel like there just isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish everything you’d planned?

Or worse, that there was enough time but you’ve squandered it, frittered away the hours doing God knows what when you could have been – should have been – writing, or reading, or doing anything but watching back-to-back episodes of The X-Files on Netflix? (Guilty as charged.)

When I started this blog, I had the best of intentions. I posted something new every week, and I had no problem coming up with the time or energy to maintain the schedule I set for myself. The same went for my writing – I worked on my current novel every day, rain or shine, without fail.

But somehow in the past couple of months, something changed…

Life got in the way.

First there was some day job stuff that took up a lot of energy.

Then I had knee surgery, and my convalescence ended up being longer than expected.

And then…and then…and then…

And then, nothing. “Regret for wasted time is more wasted time“*.

Over the past few weeks, there has been nothing and no one preventing me from pursuing my goals but me. But the thing is, the longer you let your ideas and imagination languish, the harder it is to get back up and keep going. So here’s how I gave myself the kick in the a** I needed:

1. No judgment.

When you know you’ve been procrastinating, and you feel bad about procrastinating, but somehow can’t make yourself stop procrastinating – don’t worry about it. Just don’t. Maybe you needed a little vacation, maybe you’re just being lazy, but it doesn’t matter. Judgment and self flagellation is just more wasted time.

2. Find inspiration.

Maybe you find it incredibly relaxing to be out in nature, like I do. Or maybe you get off on the hustle and bustle of busy city streets. Maybe you like to play video games, or read comic books, or listen to music to unwind. If you’re stuck in a non-creative rut, at least put yourself into a good headspace so that you’re able to create when the time comes. So if watching Netflix all day is your thing, go for it. But on the other hand, if it gives you cabin fever and makes you lash out like a rabid badger…you might wanna put down the remote.

3. Learn something.

Watch a documentary. Read a book. Browse Wikipedia for towns with weird names. Maybe even talk to someone new. With more resources for knowledge at our fingertips than ever before in the history of the world, don’t you think it’s kind of a sin not to learn just a little bit every day?

4. Create something.

It doesn’t matter if you make a craft out of macaroni and popsicle sticks, or if you paint a masterpiece. I believe that just the simple act of creating something – anything – because it’s fun, or interesting, or challenging will pay off hugely. There have been more studies done and articles written about creativity than I could ever hope to summarize (or fully understand), but the Wikipedia article on creativity is here for anyone who is interested.


* According to Wikipedia, Mason Cooley was an American professor known for his witty aphorisms (an original thought, expressed in a concise, memorable form). Also from his Goodreads page:

  • “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are”
  • “When you can’t figure out what to do, it’s time for a nap”
  • “If I can’t serve as a role model, let me serve as a warning”






The Life Authorial: How to be a great critique partner

The Life Authorial is a series of posts sharing firsthand tips learned on the journey toward publication.

The Algonquin Hotel, New York City by OpenPlaques. CC by 2.0.
The Algonquin Hotel, New York City by OpenPlaques. CC BY 2.0.

Throughout the Roaring ’20s, the Algonquin Hotel in New York City was the daily meeting place for “The Algonquin Round Table”, one of the most famous “critique groups” of all time. Composed of writers and critics, its members traded “wisecracks, wordplay and witticisms“, which were published in newspapers across the country (from Wikipedia).

Although they were the founders of The New Yorker magazine, comprised the literary in-crowd of their day, and served as an inspiration to up-and-coming young writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, they were also accused of rehearsing their witticisms in advance, and of being overly concerned with their images and with elaborate practical jokes*. Among themselves, they used the more self-aware moniker of “The Vicious Circle”, and founding member Dorothy Parker later commented that:

“The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them”.**

By comparison, most of us don’t have the luxury of daily hotel luncheons at which we can trade jokes and practice our witticisms, so we do our best with the time and resources that we have – and one of the most important of those resources is feedback from other readers and writers. When starting out, the thought of showing your work to someone can be daunting, but the odds that you will write a masterpiece with no input or advice from others is slim.

So where do you look for critique partners and what do you do when you find them?

In my experience, the best feedback will come from like-minded writers who understand your genre and are at approximately the same level of skill and experience. This isn’t to say that you won’t find exceptions that work – I’m so far unpublished, and one of my partners has published more than half a dozen novels – but there does need to be some common ground. For example, if you’re writing inspirational romance about Amish heroines and I’m writing horror erotica, the odds are good that we won’t be on the same page.

Finding critique partners as a new writer can be frustrating. There are a lot of places on the internet that encourage us all to help each other succeed as part of a “writer’s code”, but it’s hard to tap into that if you don’t actually know any other writers. I’ve found that sites geared toward helping writers collaborate and network are the most fruitful places to look, and my own critique partner relationships have developed as a result of my memberships at Romance Divas and Ladies Who Critique.

Typical critique partner etiquette is to trade a chapter or two with someone whose profile and work looks interesting before committing to an entire manuscript exchange. This way, you can find out if each of you “get” the other’s work, and if your editing styles are a good match.

Once you’ve exchanged chapters, determined that you’re a good fit, and have your new critique partner’s manuscript in hand, the next step is to actually provide feedback. Here are a few tips on how to make sure you and your partner get the most out of your relationship:

1. Accentuate the positive.

There’s more to being a good critique partner than just telling someone what’s wrong with their work – it’s important to let them know what they’re good at, too. As a new writer, it’s hard enough to deal with feelings of self-doubt and self-consciousness without being told that there aren’t any redeeming qualities to your work. Be truthful, but be kind.

2. Recognize your own strengths and weaknesses.

My personal style of critiquing is very micro – I point out issues with plotting and character development if I see them, but I also work on a “line editing” level and make changes to spelling and grammar. I do this for a couple of reasons: 1) I mostly just can’t help myself; and 2) this is the sort of detailed feedback I like to receive. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that this sort of editing is mostly subjective. Proper grammar is proper grammar, but  word choice, punctuation, and dialogue are used in different ways for effect, not just technical correctness. Just because I have a personal dislike for semi-colons, it doesn’t make them “wrong”.

3. Be gracious.

This point isn’t about commenting on someone else’s work, but it’s one of the most important things to keep in mind when receiving feedback on your own. Someone else has taken time – often hours – out of their life to help you. To be a good critique partner, you don’t have to agree with all of their suggestions, but you do have to appreciate their efforts. It can be hard to hear that your heroine is “too stupid to live”, but the correct response is not to explain to your critique partner why she is wrong (she’s probably not) or to criticize her. Just smile, say thank you, and move on. Whether you change your work or not is up to you, and you’ll likely get worse reviews when you’re published – everyone does.

For more tips on how to be a great critique partner, check out these other resources:

  • Karen Henley points out 7 Tips for Receiving Critique. My favorites are numbers 1 and 6 – weigh the critique according to the skill and knowledge of the critiquer, and realize that if you don’t catch your mistakes, the public will.


*from  Herrmann, Dorothy (1982). With Malice Toward All: The Quips, Lives and Loves of Some Celebrated 20th-Century American Wits. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. pp. 17–18. ISBN 0-399-12710-0 at p.29, courtesy of Wikipedia.

**from Herrman at p.85, courtesy of Wikipedia.





The Life Authorial: Choosing a pen name

The Life Authorial is a series of posts sharing firsthand tips learned on the journey toward publication.

Pilot Hi-Tecpoint & Precise by bfishadow. CC by 2.0.
Pilot Hi-Tecpoint & Precise by bfishadow. CC by 2.0.

So I chose this photo because: 1) pens, duh; and 2) the Hi-Tecpoint writes so smooothhh (picture me saying that in a James Brown sort of voice), I can easily picture myself using it to sign my name on the crisp new pages of my super-mega-like-whoa bestseller.

The first hurdle, of course, is to write the book, but I’ll put the trivial details aside for a moment to talk about what’s really important – the pen name! In deciding whether to use a pen name or not (I do), there are several factors to consider, including:

  • How difficult is it to pronounce your real name?
  • How common is your real name?
  • How dorky is your real name?
  • How embarrassing/shocking/controversial is what you’re writing?

My real name isn’t particularly difficult to sound out or spell, and I don’t think it’s all that dorky, but there are different variations of it and folks outside my geographic area have been known to have trouble pronouncing it.

On top of all that, it’s a fairly common-ish name where I’m from, and I didn’t want it to be immediately obvious to everyone I know that I write a little – ahem – purple prose from time to time. So it was pretty much a no-brainer for me to decide I wanted a pen name.

And if the above wasn’t enough to convince me, there’s something that’s just plain fun about a pen name – as Nora Roberts once said, she assumed all romance authors used a nom de plume*.

So now that you know you want or need a pen name, how do you go about choosing one?

1. Say your name, say your name. 

First of all, say your potential name out loud and ask yourself if it sounds like a porn star, as Angela James suggests in this great blog post at Carina Press. If you call yourself something like Candy Jane Stiletto, you’re going to attract a very different sort of audience than if you call yourself Tolstoy J. Auteur. Keep in mind whether or not you’ll actually be embarrassed to use this name professionally, and have people address you by it in public.

2. Consider your intended audience. 

Do you want your book to appeal to fans of chick lit or middle grade fantasy? Romantic suspense, or military thrillers? There are certain naming conventions across various genres, and christening yourself in the tradition of your genre can help readers associate you with a certain type of work. I chose the “FirstName, Initial, LastName” convention because although my work falls very definitely in the romance camp, I’m also heavily influenced by sci fi and mystery writers like Donald E. Westlake, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Philip K. Dick (Ks are popular, apparently).

3. Will you be able to remember and respond to your name?

choose your own adventure 138: dinosaur island by Chris Drum. CC by 2.0.
choose your own adventure 138: dinosaur island by Chris Drum. CC   by 2.0.

If all goes according to plan, you will someday be a big, huge, famous author whose fans go crazy whenever you speak at a conference, and call for you in the street. When they yell out, “Candy Jane, we love you!”, will you automatically turn and look, or will you fail to recognize that they’re speaking to you?

(If the latter, you manage to alienate a big-time reviewer and sink your career. The End.)

4. Does the name make practical sense?

  • Will readers be able to say and spell it? And more importantly, find you online and in bookstores?
  • Is the name you’ve chosen even more common than your real name? (If so, you’re kind of missing the point.)
  • Is there another author already using the name you’ve chosen?
  • Are you able to write the name with sufficient ease and legibility for book signing purposes?

5. Is your domain name still available for purchase, and are the associated social media handles still available?

As James points out in her post, “if you search for a domain name and it’s available, be prepared to buy it, even if you haven’t settled on that name. It’s worth the $7 to $10 investment per domain to reserve a few options. There are people who watch sites like GoDaddy, to see what people search for, and then buy it, hoping you’ll come back and decide you want it and pay a higher price for it.”

The same goes for Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. Even if you aren’t ready to start establishing your presence on all channels, it will be an asset later on to have these accounts already ‘reserved’.

*From an interview excerpted from the March/April 2002 issue of Book magazine, at

The Life Authorial: Using photos on your blog

The Life Authorial is a series of posts sharing firsthand tips learned on the journey toward publication.

Blog Girl, after Norman Rockwell (detail) by Mike Licht. See license here.
Blog Girl, after Norman Rockwell (detail) by Mike Licht. CC by 2.0.

So, that girl with the computer? The one stuck in the olden days with the confused look on her face? That’s me, trying to figure out ‘the internet’.

Or to put it more specifically, trying to figure out ‘the blogging’.

As far as surfing, browsing, researching, and other basics go, I’m as web savvy as the next person. In fact, I actually capital-letters LOVE research. But to create something and put it online? That’s a whole ‘nother ball game. One that involves really hard things like…hacker-level HTML coding (or, y’know, cut and paste)…figuring out what blog ‘tags’ do (still not totally sure)…and most importantly, not ripping off other people’s work.

So what’s a poor, hair-bow-adorned, Victorian lass to do?

1. Never, ever assume that because “everyone else does it”, improper photo attribution is ok.

As blogger Roni Loren discovered, you CAN get sued for using photos you don’t own on your blog, even when you have the best of intentions. In this blog post, she recounts her experience of being sued after using a photo from Google Images with a disclaimerBecause she had seen many other blogs – some of them really ‘big’ blogs – using improperly attributed images this way, she assumed it was ok. Unfortunately for Loren, it wasn’t, and she ended up having to pay “money she didn’t have for a photo she didn’t need”.

Roni Loren’s blog post about her experience is not only helpful, but honest and really brave, and I highly recommend it.

2. Use images that you own, or which are licensed through Creative Commons.

The most obvious, simplest way to avoid copyright infringement and improper use of someone else’s work is to use your own. If you are not photograpically inclined, however, you can use work that has been shared with the world under a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons is a “global nonprofit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools“. What it is best known for is sharing copyright agreements with the public free of charge. These licenses can then be applied to artists’ work (by the artists holding copyright themselves – you can’t unilaterally license someone else’s work) to allow other people to use the work according to specific, defined circumstances.

One of the most well-known “hubs” for works available through Creative Commons licenses is photo-sharing site Flickr. The site offers artists different “levels” of licensing options for their work, and it groups images into easily navigated categories by license type.

3. Take the time to understand your rights and obligations.

Using Flickr as an example, let’s take a look at the different types of Creative Commons licenses out there:

Attribution license – this means that you may copy, distribute, and display an image provided under this license, so long as you give the author credit. You may also create derivative works from the originals, meaning you create something new using elements of the image. In this instance, you must still give the original author credit for use of their work.

Attribution-NoDerivs license – this means that you may copy, distribute, and display an image with proper credit, but you may not alter it or use it to create something new.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license – see above, with the added caveat that your use must be non-commercial.

ShareAlike license – if you create a derivative work from the original, you must distribute your work under the same license as the original.

You should also remember that while summaries and articles of your rights and obligations (like this one) might be helpful, they are not legal advice and are not a substitute for reading licenses yourself to determine what you can and cannot legally do with an image.

4. Respect the formal requirements of proper attribution (giving credit).

When using an image licensed under Creative Commons, it is not sufficient just to say it is subject to a CC license. To comply with the license, you need to provide more detailed information, including:

  • the title of the image;
  • the author’s name (a best practice is to link to the author’s profile page);
  • a link to the original source (for example, the Flickr site where the image can be found); and
  • a link to the license.

Creative Commons provides a handy, detailed guide (with examples!) on best practices for attribution here. And in case all of this seems overwhelming and stressful, try to keep in mind that CC stresses that there’s no need to make things overly complicated. As they say in their guide to best practices, “there is no one right way; just make sure your attribution is reasonable and suited to the medium you’re working with”.

5. Feel free to use work that is in the public domain or is being used for the purposes of “fair dealing” or “fair use”.

While you should always be sure to confirm your right to use an image before you post it on your blog, there are some circumstances in which no license is required. Some works exist in the public domain, meaning that they are not subject to copyright and can be used freely. Some artists choose to offer their work for free, and some older images (think decades, not years) have been in existence long enough that their copyright has expired. According to Wikipedia, the image of the Mona Lisa, for example, has been reproduced on everything from postcards and t-shirts to seaweed and computer chips.

Other images may be used without permission from their creator if they are being shared for purposes of “fair dealing” or “fair use” such as study, criticism, review, or news reporting. One frequent example of this is book bloggers’ use of unattributed cover images of books they are reviewing. In her FAQ, The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh! does a great job of explaining that this is ok because the images she uses fall under “useful article” criteria, and are copies of an inferior quality to the originals.

As always, you should be sure to confirm the copyright status of an image before using it. What constitutes “fair use” or “fair dealing” varies from country to country, and copyright laws may provide for differing lengths of copyright terms.

*Because I’m a lawyer in real life, I need to be extra careful not to lead anyone to believe I’m giving out free legal advice. The above discussion is a summary of information found online, and does not speak to specifics of circumstance or jurisdiction. This post should not, in any way, shape, or form be taken as legal advice.

The Life Authorial: How to take a great author photo

The Life Authorial is a series of posts sharing firsthand tips learned on the journey toward publication. 

Image by Annafur. See license here.
New Camera by Annafur. CC by 2.0.

Nervewracking… Anxiety-provoking… Self-esteem depleting… Fun?

As they say on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other ones. In fact, for many people, having a photo taken is so uncomfortable, it rises almost to the level of a phobia*. But for those of us who aspire to literary greatness, there can be no yielding to our fear of getting out from behind our word processors. After all, as we’ve been told time and time again, image  and online presence matter in this business.

So we might as well make the experience as fun and fulfilling as possible, right?

At least, that’s what I told myself when I was contemplating having a professional author photo taken…and oh man, am I glad that I did. Not only do I now have a photo that’s about a million times better than anything I could have come up with on my own – I have a photo I’m not embarrassed for the world to see. Sure, I still haven’t achieved Danielle-Steele-posing-in-a-ball-gown glamour (if that’s your thing), but I do look Nicola-R.-White-fabulous (which is totally a real adjective). And trust me, when your default pose is a grimace of pained awkwardness, that’s saying something.

So how did I achieve such – dare I say it – miraculous results?

First of all, I did what any researcher would do – I Googled. I found this awesome post by author Mary Robinette Kowal, which explains not just why you need an author photo, but how to find a photographer, how often to update your headshot, and what to bring to the shoot itself. I also liked this satirical article on 10 ways to take a bad author photo, from Salt Publishing.

Finally, I Googled a few authors I admire, and compared their photos to how I wanted to appear to my readers. Based on this highly scientific research, I knew enough to take a couple of different outfits to my photo shoot so I could try out different looks and personas.

For the shoot itself, I chose a photographer I had worked with previously, so we had a good rapport and the whole thing was both laid-back and professional. Knowing how poorly I photograph most of the time, this was the most important thing to me, even more than the setting, hair, makeup, or outfit. If I had gone with a photographer I wasn’t comfortable with, I know I wouldn’t have been able to show off my genuine, authentic self, and the whole thing would have been a waste of time and money.

Once arrangements had been made with the photographer, I took a good, hard look in the mirror and in my closet to assess what I had to work with, and what I could use some help with. Since I’m pretty happy with my wardrobe most of the time, and have only an average amount of skill at doing my hair and makeup, I opted to wear clothing I already owned and  invest in having my hair and makeup done professionally on the day of the photos.

As I mentioned in my last post, a lot of us struggle with ‘outing ourselves’ as writers, and having my photo taken really helped with this. Not only did it force me to tell the photographer what the photos were for, I had to explain it all to my hairdresser and the woman who did my makeup. Aside from that, there were also a few random passers-by who stopped to watch the photo shoot itself. The whole thing was a little awkward, but it did make me feel more legitimate. It was also the first step toward creating my website, as I didn’t want to put anything online before I had some half-decent content to share.

All told, the whole experience cost me a few hours of time and a few hundred dollars, and the value I got in return was huge. While I recognize that not everyone is able to spend that much money on non-essentials, I highly recommend asking a professional photographer to take your author photo. If costs are a concern, you can probably brainstorm a few ways to keep them in check. For example, you could schedule your photo for the same day as your regular trim to avoid an extra, expensive trip to a hair stylist.  If a professional photographer is definitely out of reach, you could also try a photography student, who may be willing to work with you for free in exchange for a chance to build his/her portfolio.

Last but not least, you should also keep in mind the possibility of any intellectual property issues that could arise as a result of your use of the photos. If you plan to post them online or use them commercially, you should make sure you and the photographer are both clear on what rights are held by whom, and whether licensing or attribution should be discussed*.

Intellectual property rights for authors is a topic I plan to discuss in another post(s), so stay tuned for more info.

*In a world where decidophobia and triskaidekaphobia exist, I find it hard to believe there’s no specific term for this fear, but there you have it. The internet wouldn’t lie, right?
*Because I’m a lawyer in real life, I need to be extra careful not to lead anyone to believe I’m giving out free legal advice. When I say you should be careful about intellectual property rights, I mean it only as a piece of common-sense information, like “you should be careful not to get run over when crossing the street”. I do not, in any way, shape, or form mean to advise anyone about the specifics of any agreement they have with their own photographer.