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Monday, February 10, 2003

How The Internet Changed My Writing Career
By Duane Simolke
(Updated from previous postings.)


I began writing at a young age and constantly submitted my work to a variety of publications, sometimes with success. While those publications never paid more than five dollars, if anything, they helped get my name and my writing to the public. I also edited or wrote for various college publications while attending those colleges. Still, my attempts at finding a book publisher led nowhere, except for offers from people who obviously wanted to rip me off.

When I began exploring the internet, I quickly found e-zines (web-based electronic magazines) that featured work by unknown writers. Internet newsgroups, message boards, and mailing lists offered more outlets. Some people even asked me for permission to post my essays or poems on their websites.

Those venues not only gave me new places to get published but also led to feedback from people around the world. The feedback included questions, encouragement, and criticism, all of which pushed me to expand and improve the writings I posted.

Soon, I tried publishing collections of my work as e-books (electronically published books). Though some writers reported great success with e-book publishing, I found little reception for my e-books. In all honesty, I wouldn’t buy an electronic document either. Also in all honesty, most of the people whose books sold well in e format were already well-established authors, such as Stephen King.

During all that time, I continued to submit my books to traditional (print) publishers, with no takers. I also found new readers by continuing to submit my work to newsletters and other smaller publications that would give unknown writers a chance. Many of those readers asked when my books would appear in print. That became possible when I discovered print-on-demand (POD) publishing, a technology that allows the printer to only make copies of a book as people order them.

POD publishers tend to rely on their websites and the online bookstores for selling their books, so it is a largely web-based industry, with sales mostly coming through the sites, the various online bookstores, and the efforts of the individual author. Most on-demand publishers won’t publicize their books outside their website.

Also, brick-and-mortar bookstores usually won’t stock POD books, largely because—with a few exceptions—POD publishers won’t take returns and don’t offer enough profit for the bookstore. I’ll accept those drawbacks for now, because the benefits outweigh them for someone who hasn’t yet found a traditional publisher.

I only recently discovered Everything You Always Wanted to Know About POD Publishing But Didn't Know Who to Ask!!!, by John F. Harnish. That book explains POD publishing and marketing in ways that would have saved me a lot of time and money if I had known the secrets it reveals before writing four POD books and co-authoring another. Still, I certainly wouldn’t change my decision to use my POD publisher, iUniverse.

Thanks to on-demand publishing, readers can now order all of my books at online or brick-and-mortar bookstores. The creation and constant expansion of my website has helped me promote those books, especially since that website contains information that consistently attracts a diverse audience.

Aside from my site, I use the following methods for promoting my books. From book sales and e-mail responses, I know that all of them help.

1. Continuing to contribute to websites, especially Amazon.com, AuthorsDen, StoneWall Society, and my own site. People keep seeing my name at those places, and often read more about me—including information about my books.

2. I mentioned that I also co-authored a book. That one, The Acorn Gathering, raises money for cancer cure research. John Mudd, the publicist for that book, suggested new ways to make my Acorn Gathering website more effective (study the site to see what I mean) and also introduced me to blogs (weblogs). Blogs, a growing trend, help active writers, critics, hobbyists, etc. constantly provide a fresh exchange of observations and ideas. They appear more quickly in search engines than traditional webpages appear, and they form quite a community. I created three blogs at Blogger. John Mudd also helped me network with media people, which means more exposure for an important project.

3. Advertising my books in the classifieds sections of various print publications. The expense more than cuts into my royalties, but the publicity allows me to reach outside the net and gain a larger audience. Besides, classifieds cost much less than other forms of print advertising. I choose publications that somehow relate to the book I’m promoting. For example, my first book, The Acorn Stories, uses a West Texas setting, so I advertise it in Texas publications. Of course, I usually include my domain name, to make my writing easy to find.

4. Sending review copies of my books to people who might write about them or help me schedule a signing or reading. More than half of those review copies result in nothing. But a single review copy will sometimes yield considerable results. I receive much better results if I contact the person in advance and ask for permission to send the review copy. I eventually learned not to bother with the leading magazines, as most of them will only review books from the leading publishers (i.e., the ones that advertise in those magazines). Smaller publications often take interest in unknown writers. As John F. Harnish’s aforementioned book points out, most newspapers won’t review POD books; I wasted a lot of money by not knowing that simple fact.

5. Holding local signings or readings. For an obscure writer with no financial backing, going on the road costs way too much and offers way too little. However, many people will take interest in local writers. While newspapers and other local publications tend to ignore POD books in and of themselves, most of them will write about an event that involves those books. The article will include information about the book.

6. Using press release services to submit news about my books. This procedure can prove costly, but it gets the word out quickly to people I wouldn’t otherwise reach with my website. I hear from many people who say they purchased my books after reading one of my press releases.

7. Adding link pages to my site, where I tell people that I will (with reasonable exceptions) link to their site after they add a link to one of my webpages, or to an online bookstore listing of one of my books. A quick Google search will reveal many other link trades sites, which is how mine grew so quickly. I also trade links with the writer sites that will list my biography, my books, and/or my home page; such sites help writers and deserve our support, even if that support comes only in the form of website traffic. Breeze through my link trade pages, and you’ll find many such sites.

8. When people write to me with praise of one of my books, I kindly ask if they would submit those comments as reviews for Amazon.com or bn.com. They often say “yes,” increasing my exposure on those sites.

I will continue to explore the possibilities of publishing via websites and POD publishing. Still, I hope to eventually see my books published by traditional publishers, so they will find their way to the shelves of bookstores everywhere!

The internet has allowed me to not only find more readers but also become friends with them, as well as with some amazing writers. I soon learned that such friendships with readers and writers can hurt me, if I foolishly agree to proof or critique their books or “help with” (which usually means “do”) their research or critical studies. However, with reasonable boundaries in place, we can mutually benefit from shared contacts, ideas, and encouragement.

I could go on about other ways the internet helps me as a writer. In fact, I can’t measure all the ways it affects my life and my work. As my books continue to sell and my audience continues to grow, I remain constantly aware that the internet has changed my writing career.

Visit DuaneSimolke.Com to see examples of the approaches I discuss above; that page includes links to The Acorn Gathering site and my links pages.