Author and 'reluctant blogger' Carol O'Dell works the Web for writing success
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: July 1, 2008
July 1, 2008
Author Carol O'Dell (right) appears on CNN to discuss her book, Mothering Mother, with Melissa Long.
Author Carol O'Dell has the best of both worlds. She's published in a number of magazines and journals in the traditional sense. But she's also tapped in to the vast resources technology offers. Via the Web, she found a publisher for her book Mothering Mother. O'Dell says she heard Kunati "had put the word out on the Internet they were looking for new and fresh voices." And her original query to her agent was an e-mail pitch. "The contract came via e-mail," she said. "Agents and publishers use the Internet to check out potential authors. They will run a search on your name, see what you've published, read what you've written in forums and on your blog." She said of the latter, "Be careful about that!"
O'Dell echoed advice from industry experts about agents and publishers. "They prefer that you have already established an Internet presence—that you have a Web site, a blog and published clips both online and in print." She noted the value of social media sites like MySpace and Facebook. She also said if she could recommend one book, her pick would be Steve Weber's Plug Your Book. She said the book is "packed with info that will take you more than a year to implement, but you'll definitely establish an Internet presence if you follow his advice."
Kunati is a Canadian publisher, but that hasn't caused problems. Noting the process isn't that much different from U.S. publishers, O'Dell said the only drawback is the mail system. "Certain documents take longer making it through customs." The flip side of the coin is access to both U.S. and Canadian markets. O'Dell has been featured on major programs on Fox News and CNN, and she is a popular speaker at book events.
O'Dell agreed to a Q& A by e-mail.
Q: You have a lot of skill in using social media. For instance, your blog and Web site have a nice Google page rank and your blog draws comments from readers. When you started your blog, did you promote it or did you just wait for readers to find you?
I was a reluctant blogger. I was afraid I'd run out of things to say, that it would chain me to the computer, that it would be boring or I'd divulge too much. In truth, I've come to enjoy blogging and just hit a major milestone of 10,000 hits. I use Google alerts to target my audience—they have a great feature where you can tag your key words—for example, mine are: caregivers, caregiving, sandwich generation, boomers, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, family relationships, mothers, daughters, my name (Carol D. O'Dell), my book title, and my ISBN. I get daily alerts whenever these key words are used, whether it's in a newspaper article, a forum discussion or a blog—and then I can comment back as well as stay abreast of the latest research, opinions, and struggles people face.
I do a bit of both—they find me and I find them. While marketing is extremely important, so is heart. What I do (in the field of family issues, caregiving, etc.) is something I have to treat with respect, and while marketing is important, I also impact people's lives—so I'm not just selling my book or my speaking services—hopefully I'm making a difference in someone's life.
Q: Your Web site really has a lot of information. Did you do the site yourself or did you hire a Web designer? Can you share any tips about either process?
I'm fortunate to be married to a computer genius (I'm going for brownie points here). My husband is my Webmaster and he uses the Dreamweaver 8 program. It's not for wimps, I tell you. There are lots of ways to tackle the Web site issue—if you join Authors Guild, you get a Web site at a great rate; if you own a MAC, you can create your site pretty easily, and there are other options out there that are pretty inexpensive and easy to operate (even hiring a college kid who is a computer major)—it depends on how much you want it to do. More is not necessarily better, and everything with the Internet is a work in progress. You do want to be able to update your Web site often.
Finding the right look and tone and updating your site and information regularly are extremely important. Blogs are very easy to set up. The hardest part about blogs is being consistent, staying focused (pick your topic and write about it—not what you had for breakfast) and building your audience by offering them something of value—something worth coming back for.
Q: Do you believe the Web is essential to an author's success?
Absolutely. While technology can take over your life, and you will ultimately have to rein in the beast, you can't afford not to market yourself-and your book on the Web. The book world has changed, and writers have to get used to it. I consider it a challenge, and one I gladly meet because I'm learning, and that's healthy. A writer who ignores the Internet would be cutting sales and exposure by at least 80%. It's crucial. Most new authors' books will not land in the bookstores right out of the gate. People want to read your blog, or read about you on another blog or forum, or at an online book club. Click the link … and buy your book. That's the new reality.
Q: You have a very well-rounded media kit on your Web site. Has that resulted in requests for interviews and public speaking?
I've had television producers comment on my Web site and media kit, which makes me glad I've put this much time and effort into all of this. I now realize that you are promoting "you" as well as your latest book. Your fans will follow you from book to book and your Web site connects them to all you are. A great way for authors to supplement their income is through speaking engagements—and they pay better than your book sales (if you're with a traditional publisher, and you haven't sold a million copies—yet)
Your media kit is another of those work-in-progress things-and many of those components are also a part of your proposal. And by the way, many agents and publishers are requesting mini-proposals for fiction as well. Most writers need to realize that they are also signing up to be public speakers. It comes with publishing a book. Book clubs, libraries, radio interviews, and television are all a part of the package. You can be yourself-quiet, laid back, humorous, whatever your style is, but you still need to be willing to meet your readers (and attract more). I spoke to well over 100 organizations last year, and I've found that it's a great balance to the introspective world of writing.
| Q: What's next for you in books, writing, etc.?|
Mothering Mother comes out in paperback in January, and I've been approached to write a book about the transformative power of grief, which is in the works. I also do a lot of work with foundations now—something I'm honored to be a part of. I work with Memory Bridges Foundation, an organization whose goal is to teach how to communicate with those who have Alzheimer's and also at risk youth. I also work with Open to Hope Foundation, and they're dedicated to assisting people through the grieving process.
The prequel to Mothering Mother is Said Child, and I'm in the midst of negotiating a contract so it's exciting. Also, Kalliope Women's Literary Journal published Said Child's first chapter in their 30th year anniversary edition. I have also completed a novel I'm shopping around—White Iris, about a woman who breaks up with her fiancée, quits her MFA program and goes on a quest to see all 864 Vincent Van Gogh paintings—all over the world. I write articles, short stories, and essays, so I'm always busy!
Q: How much time to do you spend on your Web efforts?
Don't ask! I'm learning to manage my time better. I blog three to five times a week, and since my blogs are mini-articles and with all the links I put in, they take me about 45 minutes to create. I also answer other blogs, post on forums and answer a ton of e-mail, as well as write a weekly column for Caring.com where I'm a family advisor, as well as write one to two articles a week for magazines. All in all, I'd say I'm on the Internet about four hours a day, and that's not counting writing time (I didn't say computer time). I can easily work ten to twelve hour days, but I'm doing what I love and I take a lot of breaks-for a run, walk the dogs, swim, paint, and garden. I don't "work" on the weekends, unless I have a book coming out (those three to four months before take an intense amount of preparation).
Carol O'Dell's official Web site
Previous Web Savvy on where to blog and tips on blogging
--July 1, 2008
In our next Web Savvy, we take a look at Amazon's decision to require print-on-demand titles to be printed by the company's own publisher. How does this impact authors, regardless of how they're published? And what are other companies doing in response?