Matt Grant

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Helpful Author Advice from the Experts

Yesterday marked the annual Brooklyn Book Festival, the crowning event in a weeklong literary smorgasbord of readings, workshops, and more.

Usually I'm scrambling around the festival searching for the perfect book to spend my money on, but this time around I actually attended two workshops on author promotion. I'm nowhere near ready to publish my book yet, but I figured it would be helpful stuff to use for when I am ready. 

I couldn't have been more right. The first session I attended, entitled "Ask Amazon: Tell Your Story; Find Your Readers," was a forum on many of the author services that Amazon offers to both self-published and traditionally published writers. For instance, did you know about Write On, an online writing "story lab" wherein you can post your project at any stage of development and get feedback from other writers? Or how about Kindle Scout, a crowd-sourcing publishing option through Amazon? Amazon's director of author and publishing relations Neal Thompson, a writer himself, spoke to a packed room about the many new publishing opportunities available in the digital age and ways to make them work for you. Here's a photo of the sessoin handout, with some more helpful author services (apologies for the poor quality); 

Author services from Amazon. Courtesy of Neal Thompson. 

Author services from Amazon. Courtesy of Neal Thompson. 

In addition to hundreds of vendors not only selling books but editing and writing services, the Brooklyn Book Festival is also known for its author readings and talks. This year, people were lined up through the courtyard of the Brooklyn Law School to hear Ralph Nader, but I made a detour to see an author I'm excited about reading soon: N.K. Jemisin, recent winner of the Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction novel. Jemisin read from The Fifth Season and spoke along with Robert Jackson Bennett and Sarah Beth Durst about their female-centric science fiction, worldbuilding, and putting your characters through hell in order to make your fiction interesting. Jemisin in particular is a fascinating person. She reads a lot of history and imbues her novels with themes of colonialism and oppression. I'm definitely tackling Fifth Season next. 

N.K. Jemisin (center) reads from her novel The Fifth Season along with Robert Jackson Bennett and Sarah Beth Durst at the Brooklyn Book Festival.

N.K. Jemisin (center) reads from her novel The Fifth Season along with Robert Jackson Bennett and Sarah Beth Durst at the Brooklyn Book Festival.

Finally, I went to a session with three publicists from Your Expert Nation, all about how to market your book for the digital age. A lot of the information was crossover from the Amazon workshop, but they again stressed that publishing is a business and the importance of finding your readers and your audience early, while you're writing your book, not once its finished and you're ready to start publishing. There were a lot of helpful tips about social media, author websites, and more, all of which can be found on their handy Resources page.

One thing I liked particularly about this last workshop was how much they stressed the importance of in-person relationship building as you build your audience. Bridget Marmion, the founder of Your Expert Nation, repeated many times that writers should be patronizing local booksellers and libraries and find other authors who write in the genre or for an audience similar to theirs. We should support and encourage other writer's works. Neal talked about this too; that writers are by and large a warm and welcoming community, and supporting one another goes a long way to not only enriching your own writing and life, but to helping you find an audience when it comes time for your writer friends to support you.

Overall, it was half a day (I didn't get to the festival until about 1pm, something I'm definitely changing next year) of extremely helpful advice, and I hope that you've gleaned something useful from the information I'm passing on. If so, feel free to leave a comment and let me know.