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The Top 20 Articles of 2016 for Aspiring Authors

This has become a bit of a tradition: every December since, well, 2015, I’ve looked back at the year and compiled a “best of” summary of the Top 20 articles, news, and resources for writers who are working toward publication. Making the jump from writer to published author means entering a whole new world of business, and it’s important to do your homework and understand the landscape.

The Trends

This year, as I went back through my tweets and notes, two things became clear:

  • It was a hard year to pay attention to publishing. National and international news took precedence.
  • Maybe because of all the crazy stuff happening in the rest of the world, it was not a big year of publishing changes. (Anyone want to dispute that? Am I forgetting some major change of policy, player, or approach here?) Self publishing is still growing, filling all of the corners of the technology that’s currently available to us. Traditional publishing still owns the biggest names, and most of the spots on the bestseller lists.

1. The one thing that has changed this year, I think, is that we’ve started to agree that Selling books got harder. 

2. Income is down for career writers overall, both self publishing and traditional publishing.

3. It’s not that people aren’t reading. There are just a lot more books out there than there used to be: 727,000 self published titles in 2015 alone, plus another 300,000 or so traditionally published…who has time to read a million new books in a single year?

4. Even Booktrope, the venture capital-funded “partner” publisher that was supposed to be the next big thing, had to give up.

(Bonus links: On the upside, it’s also been a hard year for the ever-hovering vanity presses. Penguin Random House’s parent company finally sold off the predatory albatross Author Solutions, cutting off even the appearance that a writer who pays AS’s hyper-inflated rates has a shot with a traditional house. And Tate Publishing’s having an even worse year: lawsuits, layoffs, repossessed printing machines, state investigations… this is a train wreck to avoid.)

5. Wait, you say, I don’t think I understand how books sell. How is there so little profit to be made? Here you go: Everything You Wanted to Know About Book Sales But Were Afraid to Ask.

Photo by Liz Mochrie

6. So…what can an average writer do about a shrinking space in the market? Well, according to this agent (and I wholeheartedly agree), “never will you just write.”

Successful publishing, more than ever, means developing a successful marketing plan. So here are ten (!) articles to help you get there.

The Advice

7. Know your hook and how to describe your book. “”If I can get the whole story from the blurb, why would I bother to open the cover?” explain the good folks at Invisible Ink Editing.

8. Promo Tasks for 10 Free Minutes. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” So here are some small, actionable things every author can accomplish.

9. Author Molly Greene re-focused her approach to her marketing this year with a solid plan full of replicable, accessible goals. (And we all know how much I love a good marketing plan.)

10. 4 steps to selling more books with less social mediaThere’s no magic bullet for marketing, and that includes Twitter. Here’s a good article to help you think more holistically about how you’re reaching your audience.

11. But if you want to do social media, get creative about it. Here are some fresh, successful ways to use THE hot social media channel of 2016: Instagram. (Of course, in 2017 there will be a new hot social media channel…Snapchat, maybe?)

12. One marketing channel that never gets old is word of mouth. Reviews matter. Here’s a personal case study about the effectiveness of NetGalley, still one of my favorite marketing channels for new releases.

13. But really, let’s face it, what you want to know is how to get national media interested in their book. And book marketer Penny Sansevieri wrote a helpful, realistic guide to help you think about your options.

14. But be careful. Reviews are good, but Amazon’s got some new rules in place that affect how you can go about asking for them.

15. And always remember to approach book marketing with a thick skin…publicity is all-too-similar to the agent/publisher query process, according to this publicist, when it comes to waiting and rejections.

16. But don’t get discouraged. A solid marketing plan DOES make a difference. Just ask author Paul Sohn about how he sold 1,000 copies in a week, and landed an agent the week after that.

17. Wait, an agent offered an author a contract AFTER he self published? Yep, that’s definitely been a trend of 2016. Here’s agent Chris Ferebee’s explanation of what it takes to catch his attention.

 

Whew, that was a lot of marketing talk. Lest you think that this whole round-up is all about marketing, let’s wrap this up by getting back to the most important fact about writing:

Before you can sell a book, you have to write a GOOD book.

18. The 10 Ingredients of Great Novels offers a top-level checklist for self editing.

19. Balance those positive elements up against Anne R. Allen’s 10 Things That Red-Flag a Newbie Novelist.   

20. And then, before you’re done, go back and read those first ten pages again, especially up against this 5 Story-Opening Cliches That Need to Die.

The Blogs

Whew, think you’re done? Not quite…because there’s a whole new year ahead, and it’s important to stay on top of things. So here are my Top 5 Blogs for Writers to Subscribe To and Read Regularly. These are editors, agents, and publishing insiders who will teach you the craft, the business, and the pitfalls of publishing.

1.     Plot to Punctuation by editor Jason Black

2.     Jane Friedman (and many knowledgeable guest posters)

3.     Chip MacGregor and news from MacGregor Literary

4.     Pub Rants by super-agent Kristin Nelson

5.     Writer Beware by Victoria Strauss

 

So there we have it. What did I miss? What article or piece of publishing news made a difference for you in 2016?

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