What Will Agents Find When They Google You? Have You Checked?

Advise from Author & Editor, Mary Rosenblum

Earlier this week, when I received the email from an agent asking for more of my manuscript, I sent a message to Mary Rosenblum to pass along the good news.  Mary, an accomplished author who offers professional editing and other author services at the New Writers Interface, has been associated with my book since I first pitched her the idea for it, back in February 2012.  For the past several years, Mary has mentored me in all things writing and marketing.  So it’s only fitting that her reply to my news was a helping of “congratulations” with a generous side order of "What are you doing right now to promote your world and your writing?".

That question caught me a bit by surprise, I hadn’t really connected the dots between querying and the need for self-promotion.  Mary was gracious enough to sit down with me to go over some basics and answer a few questions on the subject:

ALR: First off, thanks so much for all your support over the years, Mary!  You’ve been there since the beginning with this project, supporting me all along the way, and telling me exactly what I needed to hear at each milestone (even if it wasn’t always what I wanted to hear). 

Thank you, Ange, for being one of those great clients who listened to that advice even when it maybe wasn't exactly what you wanted to hear and did the right thing! Doing the right thing is how you succeed, and I'm not at all surprised that an agent is interested in your book.  Congratulations!  It's a great SF read!

ALR: I'm fairly clear on the connection between sales and self-promotion but, if I interpret your email correctly, then marketing is key to finding an agent as well! And you're suggesting that agents will often Google prospective authors, and what they find online may influence whether they take them on as a client.  Is that right?

Oh, goodness, it's not 'often'. It's probably always, unless that agent already knows you by reputation. When I get a mss to evaluate for an author, the first thing I do is Google that author, just to see if they have a promotional platform in place.  It's even more important for agents to do that.  A fan base is a selling point for them.  The New York publishing world is very bottom-line driven, books are expected to make a profit in the first year of release, and an author with an existing fan base is much more likely to make money for the company than an author that nobody knows from Adam's housecat.

ALR: What types of web pages/social media accounts are agents hoping to find when they Google an author who has queried them?

It doesn't matter what social media platform you use;  Pinterest, Facebook, Blogger, Instagram,  or Wattpad.  What matters is whether or not your name pops up when they Google it, and it will only do that if you are getting a lot of traffic on that social media site or on multiple sites. There are ways to make that happen more quickly through use of good SEO techniques, or you can simply be very popular with your followers on your favorite platform, but you need to be easily visible when someone goes looking for you. 

ALR: On my end, I have an author blog, a related author Facebook page, a more geek-driven, fun-fact/sci-fi/fantasy-themed Facebook page and a Twitter account.  I’ve owned the URL for my penname (http://www.ALeeRipley.com) since I first took the course with you in 2012.  But I’m at a loss about what I can/should do with it.  If an author hasn’t actually published anything yet, what kind of content is considered meaningful for their author domain (other than linking to an active blog and any social media accounts/pages)? 

Oh, I hear this question SO often!  And 'published' is so irrelevant!  When you do publish the book, that hungry fan base will run out and buy it and give you a very nice launch, but meanwhile, you are going to create them as fans of YOU and not this particular book. 

Why do we buy books?

To be entertained. 

You will entertain people with your blog/ FB page/ Pinterest boards/ Twitter/ Website, what have you.  People will share your links with friends because they are entertaining, and when the book comes out, they'll assume that it will be entertaining, too.  And buy it.

The trick is, you entertain the type of people who are likely to enjoy your books.

Who are they? What might interest them? Start with that.

Now go find content they'll enjoy - YouTube videos, websites, images, whatever, and intersperse them with comments, updates on the book's progress, requests for name suggestions, excerpts, and other bits of writing-related blog posts.  But mostly, entertain.  Numerous tools such as Hootsuite will allow you to spend a day acquiring content with Google and queuing it up to post at various times during the week so that you keep feeding your entertainment-hungry readers.

If you want to do this really well, use tracking software such as Google Analytics to find out which posts got you the most visits or Tweets or Likes on FB. Do put those nice 'tweet this', 'like this on FB', or Google+ buttons on the blog or website so that people can tell others it's great.

All this adds up to making you visible online, letting that agent know that enough people are paying attention to you that Google pays attention, too. Believe me, search engines are huge popularity contests and you need to be popular! I suggest that you start thinking about keywords for your book now, and use them on your website, blog, anyplace where you are listing keywords.   They are critical, and the more you stick to the same keywords, the more quickly the search engine spiders will bring you up. Too many authors overlook keywords or use them randomly.

Post regularly.   A blog with regular posts and some reader comments shows that you're reaching out to readers, you're going to be an asset to promotion. That's a necessity today, even when you publish with a New York house.

ALR: Right now, if I Google A. Lee Ripley or A Lee Ripley I get a bunch of references to random pages that contain references to “Lee Ripley” or “Lee” and “Ripley”.  My Twitter profile comes up somewhere in the middle of the first page of returns, but that’s essentially it.  But if I put quotes around my name (to force Google to keep that first initial in the mix), or if I remove the spaces altogether, then I get lots of returns that are all essentially relevant to me, but I think that's likely cheating somewhat. :) Is there a “critical mass” of backlinks that bring the returns into view without having to manipulate the results by using quotes?  

Backlinks are the easiest way to come up right away on the Google search page.  And Everyday Readers do not put quotes around author names. They mostly don't know to do that. You may need to think about the readers you want to attract and use a consistent group of keywords to connect your various sites for the search engines. Do acquire backlinks. If you are networking with other authors ask them to swap links with you. Most people have a links page.  Go invite other authors who publish books like yours to be a guest on your blog, linking to that person's website and blog.  Ask them to return the favor.  We are allies, not competitors. No one of us can satisfy one voracious reader with just our books, so it's in our best interests to help each other.

I will be creating a networking page for my clients where they can have a link on my site.  That gives them a backlink from an active site and will facilitate networking among writers in the same or overlapping genres.  You can do this with other writers you know  link to each other. 

ALR: Assuming the agents can actually find your website(s)/ social media profiles, is there a certain minimum level of engagement (likes/ favorites/ followers/ etc) that they need to see to in order to be satisfied?

The more the better!  When one of your FB posts, say, seems to gain a lot of attention and/or likes, spend a few bucks to Boost that post.  Every platform offers some sort of paid sharing like this.  You should be collecting email addresses for news about discounts and specials on your website, of course. (Those are the people who probably will buy the book, after all).  Try sending out a call to action to them, asking them to go like your FB page and including the link.  You can do that as a paid call to action on FB and other platforms as well. 

Spend a few dollars. It's not expensive to boost a post now and again. You are building a fan base and it's promotion money. 

ALR: Is it expected/ appropriate to include links to your various pages/ profiles within the signature block of your email when you’re providing the follow-on submission to an interested agent? 

Absolutely.  This IS a popularity contest. If you have an active blog and a professional looking, updated website, include those links in the signature line.  (Do NOT include a long list of every site you're on, every buy link.  That looks silly and pretentious and can actually discourage a click.  Pick the strongest one or two). 

The publishers are not out to publish a good book, they are out to publish a book that sells LOTS of copies and makes them money. Genre suitability, visibility, and fan engagement trump the quality of your writing to a significant degree. Sorry, that is true.  I wish it were not, but that's the business. That's why I shake my head over the writers who open the door of the ivory tower, throw their book through it and slam that door,  firmly believing that the high quality of their writing will bring them enthusiastic fans, fame, and fortune.

Occasionally it does, but getting hit by lightning is probably more likely.  Do you really want to bet your book's success on that lightning strike possibility?

Let me wrap up here by saying that today, whether you want to publish with New York, a small commercial publisher, or publish your own book, you face the same requirement that you be visible online. An invisible author and book is a handicap to a publisher. It takes time to create visibility with readers and while that's happening, the newly published book is not selling many copies.  So when you bring a fan base that is likely to buy that book right off the bat, you make your book much more desirable than a similar book without a fan base attached.

The time to start promoting your book is while you are writing it, no matter how you intend to publish.

Remember…you're not selling a book, you are selling entertainment. Start entertaining those potential readers right now! Here are some links to books that may help writers:

Self-Publishing Success: A Handbook for New Writers

Formatting For Createspace Using Microsoft Word

Rights and Contracts: What YOU Need to Know About Copyright, Rights, ISBNs, and Contracts!

Effective Promotion: How YOU Can Reach New Fans Today... Without Going Crazy!

ALR: Thanks, Mary. I'll be grabbing a few of those books for sure and combing through your past newsletters and posts on these topics as a refresher now that I see the direct link to querying.

It would appear that I have my work cut out for me! Tweaking my keywords and designing my ALeeRipley.com web page will be the first priority over the next short while. I'll also need to research Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as my Comp Eng degree is almost twenty years out of date in that respect, and I'm not sure what the best practices are nowadays. I'll be sure to make a blog post about whatever I find so others can benefit from that research as well.

In the meanwhile, I want to again extend my heartfelt thanks to Mary for taking time out of her busy schedule to once again steer me in the right direction.  :) If you're a new author, or an established author looking for a brush up on how best to promote yourself in today's market, then head over to Mary's blog and sign up for her newsletter!

Mary Rosenblum's Published Works 

NOTE: Background image of the graphic above was taken from http://www.alisoneldred.com/imageJohnHarris-Originals-1-877.html



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two Responses to "What Will Agents Find When They Google You? Have You Checked?"

  1. Pearl R. Meaker
    Pearl R. Meaker on 21-06-’16 05:26

    A. Lee, this is a wonderful interview with Mary! In large part thanks to her my third cozy mystery book, The Devil’s Flood, will be released this fall. Mary really knows the writing and publishing business and is a great help to all of us authors.

    Best of luck with your career and I’ll keep an eye out for “Eve Unknown”!

  2. A Lee Ripley
    A Lee Ripley on 22-06-’16 22:22

    Thanks, Pearl! I agree, Mary is a “keeper” for us all. And congrats on your success to date! :)

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