Notes from Tim Bete’s presentation at the

Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

March 9, 2002

University of Dayton

Eight ways to promote your writing online

by Tim Bete, co-director, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop; award-winning humor columnist and University of Dayton e-marketing manager

Today I’ll talk about the concept of online branding — how to set yourself apart from other writers and help you to sell your work and become seen as a top producer in your field.

The online promotion techniques I’ll share with you today work – and they’re not complicated, although they do take some time on your part.

I’ve used these techniques to help a national nonprofit sell more than 5,000 copies of a book it published — in only three months.

We used these online PR techniques to sell out this workshop more than two months ahead of time -- growing it from a regional event to a national one with attendees from 28 states and Canada.

I’ve used online PR to promote my own humor column, gaining an international readership as well as a paying job as a weekly columnist – until the Web site where it was published went broke at least.

Regardless of whether you’re just starting out or you are an experienced writer, you compete with other writers. You compete for the attention of editors. You compete for paying jobs. Using the Internet to promote your work won’t make you the next Dave Barry or Erma Bombeck, but it will help your work get noticed, so that when you’re competing against other writers, you’ll have the edge. Writing great material is up to you.

I won’t get into a lot of technical details today, because we don’t have the time, although I’d be glad to take your technical questions afterwards.

When it comes to the details of online publicity and marketing, I highly recommend Steve O’Keefe’s book, Complete Guide to Internet Publicity. Steve provides all the technical know-how to do all the things I’ll talk about today. You can find his book at Amazon.com.

1. Brand your name by creating a Web site

The first step to branding your name is to create your own Web site. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Most of the online publicity you do will drive people to your Web site. Whether your trying to attract readers, editors or potential buyers of a book you’ve written, your Web site will be the focus of your online marketing. Having your own Web site is the easiest, cheapest way to create a national and even international image for yourself – without being published in national and international print publications.

Tip: Since you are your product, use your name as your Web site address.

Many of the speakers here today do this.

www.lorettalaroche.com

www.wbrucecameron.com

www.timbete.com

Some writers use their topic specialty as their Web address. For instance, www.thehumorwriter.com. The problem with this is that, if you write anything else besides humor, editors may not visit your site because they think you’re a specialist. You’ll invest a lot of time getting your Web site address placed all around the Internet. If you change your Web address in the future, it’s a pain to recreate that work.

Some writers use free Internet services to host their Web sites. There are many places that will provide free Web site space. For instance, because I work at UD, I’m given my own home page. If you’re using free Web space, purchase a domain name and have it redirect users to your free space.

Which looks more professional:

homepages.udayton.edu/~bete or www.timbete.com?

I purchased the www.timbete.com and have it redirect people to my free site. Total cost: $35/year. Then you get the best of both worlds — a good Web site name and cheap Web hosting.

2. Design your site so it appeals to readers and editors.

I used to be a magazine editor. When a writer I wasn’t familiar with approached me with a story idea, I looked for confirmation that the writer was up to the task. In addition to reading samples of his or her writing, I asked myself these questions:

1)Who was the writer? What was his or her background?

2)Where else had the writer been published?

3)What did other editors think of his or her work?

4)What had the writer written on the topics I was looking for?

Everything on your site should help answer these questions and set you apart from other writers. Your Web site should showcase your work in such a way that if you and another writer – who writes just as well as you do – are vying for the same job, your work will win out.

Keep your site as simple as possible. Need to include your bio, reader comments, where you’ve been published, editor comments, writing samples, contact information and the ability for readers and editors to subscribe to your column – if you write a column. Together, the content of your Web site paints the picture that you’re an experienced writer who can get the job done.

Now, you may say, “Tim, I’m not an experienced writer and don’t have a lot to fill those areas of my Web site. What should I do?” Use the Internet to fill in the gaps. When I began writing a humor column two years ago, my Web site was empty. Today it’s packed with information, almost all of which came about because I had a Web site to begin with.

Let me walk through each area. I’ll use my Web site as an example.

Your bio
Your bio gives you the opportunity to talk about your professional and writing credentials. From the e-mail I get, people really seem to like to read about authors. They often comment on items in my bio. But, the bio is really for editors. It gives you the chance to tell them about your accomplishments, awards and expertise that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious to them. For instance, from reading my column, all you can tell about me is that I have kids and I’m insane. But, after reading my bio, you’ll know that I have kids, I’m insane AND I have several hobbies.

Writing samples
Include writing samples on your site to prove that you can write. This may seem obvious, but I’m amazed at the number or Web sites I seen for freelance writers that don’t include any clips. This is especially important if you’re a columnist. You don’t need to post every column but it’s good to post a few of your best.

Posting new columns allows editors to read your work and get in touch with you. If you sell reprint rights, your Web site is a good place to showcase what you’re selling.

Posting your work also gives readers a reason to come back to your Web site. You can’t get reader testimonials without readers — and reader testimonials are important.

Reader testimonials
Positive comments from readers show that people respond to your work. That’s the bottom line of what editors are looking for – stories and articles that satisfy readers. Positive reader testimonials show that hiring you to write a piece isn’t a risk.

Also, readers can say things about you that you can’t. For instance, if you say you write like Erma Bombeck, it seems egotistical. If someone else says it about you, it appears much more genuine.

Readers often include information about themselves that provides demographic information. For instance:

"I'm a pastor..."

""I am a mother of a 3-year-old little boy..."

"I am a father of five..."

"Being a stay at home mom of five children..."

Since I write a parenting humor column, reader testimonials from parents are key. As long as you don’t use the reader’s name, you don’t need to ask permission.

Because reader testimonials are important, make sure that it is easy for readers to contact you by e-mail. Once you have a few reader testimonials, create a page on your site for them.

List where you’ve been published
Listing where you’ve been published shows that other editors have had confidence in you. If you’re trying to create a specific image for yourself, the sites on which you choose to publish can make a big impact. My goal is to brand myself as the best Catholic parenting humor columnist. At the same time, I wanted to show editors that my work appealed to a broader audience. To accomplish this, I set my goal to get published on a dozen Web sites that fit this niche.

Why on the Web?

First, it’s easier and quicker to get published on the Web than in print. I hadn’t been published before – but I had great experience getting rejected in print. I found many Web sites that fit my niche and were looking for content.

It didn’t matter to me whether the sites were large or small but I paid close attention to the names of the sites and their logos. Since many editors won’t have heard of the sites, I wanted the Web site names to tell the story. I wanted editors to know what I wrote simply by seeing where I was published.

So, I got my column published on Web sites simply by pitching them with e-mail messages with links to my Web site and sample columns. I got published on:

CatholicExchange.com

CatholicMom.com

ChildFun.com

iParenting.com

ParentingHumor.com

FathersWorld.com

ParentToParent.com

RaisingADaughter.com

and RaisingASon.com

among other Web sites.

I think you can see that where I’ve been published paints a picture of what I write about. If I got published on a Web site that didn’t fit the image I was trying to portrait, I simply didn’t include it on my Web site.

There’s always a debate about giving away your material for free in return for “exposure.” Some people will tell you to never give away your work. Others say to give away as much as you can to gain exposure quickly.

For about six months, I had a paying job at a major Web site – CatholicExchange.com. I was their top story every Friday and they were paying me $50 per column, which wasn’t bad money. They ran my column each week but I retained all subsequent rights. So, once I had sold the column, I gave the same column to other Web sites to publish – especially when those sites fit my image. That way, I got paid for the columns but also quickly built a list of sites on which I’d been published. I think that’s a good middle-of-the-road strategy that balances income with exposure. Unfortunately, the weekly, paid column, turned into stock options, which turned into worthless paper. Now I’m in the process of self-syndicating my column to Catholic newspapers.

But, now when an editor visits my site or I pitch work to an editor, I can say that my work has been published on more than a dozen Web sites including ________. If I’m pitching to a Catholic publication, I mention CatholicExchange.com and CatholicMom.com. If I’m pitching to a secular publication, I mention ParentingHumor.com and iParenting.com. You get the idea.

Editor testimonials
Editors love to know what their counterparts think about your work. There’s an old saying in public relations – “News breeds news.” Translated, when a news story gets picked up in one newspaper, it makes it more likely it will get picked up in another. The same is true for your writing. If an editor thinks that other editors like your work, it makes it more likely that they’ll want your work, too.

Editor testimonials are easier to get then you’d think. In some instances, I’ve received unsolicited praise from editors. In other cases, I’ve actively solicited it. If an editor has paid for your work, obviously he or she thinks it’s good. They’re likely to give a testimonial if you ask.

If you’ve allowed a Web site to run your work for free, they owe you. The least they can do is provide a testimonial.

If you’re looking for a specific type of testimonial, ask for it. Editors won’t be offended if you say, “I’m trying to show that my writing appeals to senior citizens. Would you consider providing a testimonial to that effect?”

Awards
Why try to win writing and Web site awards? Unless you can win a major writing award that is known by editors — a Pulitzer or something — there’s only one marketing purpose for winning awards: to say you’re an “award-winning” writer. For the most part, it doesn’t matter what the award is. Your dealing with an editors gut impulse.

If you had two pitches in front of you, one which said:

“I’ve written for several parenting publications.”

And one that said:

“My award-winning work has appeared in several parenting publications.”

Which would you read first?

It’s not a big thing, but it one more way to brand yourself — to set yourself apart from other writers. The quickest way to find awards to win is to visit other columnists’ Web sites and see what they’ve won. Once you’ve won a few awards, there’s little value in winning more unless they’re well recognized.

You can find a good directory of Web site awards at:

http://awardsubmit.com/directory.html

When applying for awards and contests, try to find those that help reinforce your image. For instance, I tried to get parenting Web site and writing awards, since that was my niche.

Get readers to subscribe
If you write a column, getting subscribers is a key success factor. I think it is the most important feature on your Web site. I use Yahoo! Groups to allow readers to subscribe to my column. It’s a free service that allows readers to subscribe by sending a blank e-mail message to my account.Each time I post a new column on my Web site, I send a message to my 475 subscribers — that’s 473 subscribers besides my mom and dad. Sending the e-mail drives subscribers back to my Web site. It also allows readers to easily forward the link to my column to their friends.

Why get subscribers? A few reasons.

If you’re just starting out, self-publishing your column may be the only way to get started. You don’t need to wait for an editor, you just need a handful of family and friends with e-mail accounts.

The more subscribers you have, the more reader comments you’ll get to post on your site. As I said before, reader testimonials are important.

If you get enough subscribers, it becomes a selling point with editors. Bruce Cameron has more than 40,000 e-mail subscribers to his column. That’s a lot of leverage. It helped him get his column into a major metro newspaper.

Also, when you’re pitching an editor to write a print piece, you can throw in that you’ll mention the piece to your subscribers. That’s free promotion that can help you get jobs.

A subscriber base can also help you if you’re trying to show an editor that readers want to read your writing in their publication. This works especially well if you’re trying to get a publication to pick you up as a regular columnist. Ask your subscribers to e-mail the editor and request your column. WARNING: The editor probably won’t be happy at first. Would you be if hundreds of e-mail messages clogged your e-mail box? I tried this with one publication that wasn’t returning my calls. After the editor received 200+ e-mails within four days, he said he had to seriously consider my column since I had “a built-in readership.” I didn’t close the deal but I did get a good hearing. You can’t ask your subscribers to do this too often, so be judicious.

I’ve also had several editors subscribe to my column. When they see a column they are interested in, they call. Allowing them to subscribe is an easy way to keep them up-to-date.

One final reason to get subscribers. At the bottom of my Web site I have a banner ad. It’s part of a banner exchange program that places my advertising banner on other Web sites for every time a banner appears on mine. There are many free programs like this. I don’t get a lot of readers to my site this way, but it’s free advertising and helps brand my column.Every time my subscribers come to my site to read my column, more of my banners appear on other Web sites. It’s a great one/two punch.

The bottom line: Put a link to subscribe on every page of your Web site.

3. Use Web Trends Live

One of the reasons I know so much about who uses my Web site, is that I use Web Trends Live –Web site statistics software. It’s free for personal Web sites and provides great Web site stats. You can find it at http://www.webtrendslive.com.

Based on the information I get from Web Trends Live, I can tell that I get about 1,300 visitors per month to my site — more than 13,500 in less than a year. Ninety percent are from the Unites States but I also have readers from Canada, Australia, the UK and even the Netherlands and the Philippines. Web Trends tells also shows me how readers get to my site — for instance, which Web sites they came from. All of this information can be useful when talking with editors. It can help demonstrate — even before you’re published — that you have a solid audience.

4. Drive people to your Web site.

Your main purpose for readers is to get them to subscribe to your work, assuming that you write a regular column.

Your main purpose for editors and Web site owners is to get them to promote your site by linking to it and mentioning it in e-mail newsletters as well as get them to buy your material.

What are the best ways to promote your Web site?

First, put your Web site address everywhere.Promote your Web site on your business card; the signature line of your e-mail, in your article byline, in letters and especially on articles you write for other Web sites. Then, use the power of the Internet to drive people to your Web site.

Promoting your Web site takes some time but its fairly easy. There are many places on the Internet where you can post notices for free. There are thousands of e-mail newsletters looking for content. There are discussion groups and message boards.

This assumes that you’ve found a niche for yourself. Erma Bombeck became famous because she filled a niche that no one else was in. Today, there are hundreds of writers trying to fill her niche. It’s much easier to promote your Web site if you have a specific niche. Do you write a humor column for golfers? cooks? gardeners? Does your column appeal most to teens? senior citizens? parents?

Once you’ve defined your niche, it’s easy to surf the Net and find groups within the same niche. Here are a few areas to start.

Usenet newsgroups
(see p.114 of
Complete Guide to Internet Publicity)

Usenet is an informal news service. It contains more than 40,000 individual news groups on every topic from aviation to yoga. Some groups are moderated, others aren’t. If one is moderated, a person has to approve anything posted to the group. Many of these groups have thousands of readers, who are dying to read your material. In most cases, anyone can post messages in these groups. You can tell thousands of people about your column or a book you wrote.

Internet mailing lists and e-newsletters
(see p.162 of Complete Guide to Internet Publicity)

With Usenet, you have to go to the Web site to read posts. With mailing lists, posts are e-mailed to users. There are thousands of different newsletters. If you’ve subscribed to the e-newsletter for this writers’ workshop, you’re familiar with them. We have more than 1,500 subscribers at this point.

There are several places you can search for newsletter.

Yahoo! Groups is a free newsletter service with nearly one million lists that can be searched by topic. If you join a group, you can post to it or at least submit information to the editor.

New-List is a series of mailing lists segmented by category that you with notification when new email lists are created. It has more than 15,000 subscribers and hundreds of topic areas. It’s a great place to find newsletters within your niche.

When you come across a list that looks appropriate, shoot off a quick e-mail to the editor or moderator, telling them about your column and how to subscribe to it. If you’re willing to allow them to reprint your column, tell them that, too. When I’ve done this in the past, I typically get a 30 to 50 percent response rate — editors who are willing to mention my column.

I recently got my column mentioned in an e-newsletter that has 100,000 subscribers. The visitors to my Web site went through the roof!

Request that your Web site be included in online directories.
There is a myth that the way to drive people to a Web site is to get listed on the major search engines. While I wouldn’t ignore submitting your Web site to search engines, I’ve found that a much more productive way is to get your site listed in topic-specific directories. I don’t mean just humor or joke directories, but directories that fit your niche. I write Catholic parenting humor, so I’ve got my site listed in many Catholic and Christian Web sites and Web directories.

At this point, my Web site is listed in 124 places on the Internet. But, only a few of these drive the majority of readers to my Web site. The best ones seem to be smaller sites that have a targeted readership. For instance, 4 of the top 5 sites that referred readers to my site were smaller Catholic Web sites – even though my site is listed in most of the major search engines. The reason is simple: Catholic Web sites have more of my target audience and I don’t have much competition there, so my column stands out.

If you’d like to see who links to your Web site, a good, free tool is: http://www.marketleap.com/publinkpop. It’s a link popularity analyzer.

One directory that you definitely want to get listed in is the Open Directory Project: http://dmoz.org/If your link is accepted, it will automatically be included on some larger search engines — Google.com, for instance. The Open Directory Project has a category for humor columnists. You can find it at: http://dmoz.org/News/Columnists/Humor.

In addition to using your Web site, there are several other ways you can use the Internet to help your writing career.

5. Find paying jobs on the Internet

Up-to-date paying jobs are listed in many places on the Internet. Here are a few places to look:

WritersMarket.com
WritersMarket.com provides the most comprehensive -- and always up-to-date -- market contact info available, with electronic tools you won't find anywhere else. The cost is $29.99 per year. The service includes a submission tracker to help you manage manuscripts, submissions and the status of queries and assignments; complete contact information for hundreds of literary agents and agencies; standard pay rates and submission guidelines.

WritersWeekly.com
WritersWeekly.com is the highest-circulation freelance writing ezine in the world, reaching more than 60,000 writers each week. Each issue has leads on paying markets.

WritersWrite.com
Includes information on paying and non-paying humor markets.

Work for Writers
This list is for professional writers, staff or freelance, to find job leads, share information on job searches, writing contacts, contracts, writers' organizations, etc. The list also posts jobs from employers for print, screen and tv writers, journalists, editors, book indexers, etc.

6. Research syndicates on the Web

If you want to get your column syndicated, the Internet is a great place to do your homework. Most major syndicates have Web sites with guidelines and submission instructions.

You can order the Editor & Publisher Syndicate Directory online.

Google.com has a good list of the major syndicates.

7. Research your market

There is a lot of free information on the Internet about newspaper and magazine readership. This can help you position your column. If you’re pitching to a specific publication, go online and read their advertising information. There is usually a link at the bottom of the page. It will often provide detailed demographics about their readers. What publications tell advertisers is what you need to tell editors about your work. For instance, iParenting.com says that 90 percent of its readers are women. That’s useful information when pitching the editors.

If you’re looking for newspaper readership information, try The Newspaper Association of America. Their Web site includes the latest readership polls — what’s hot and what’s not. The Readership Institute Web site has similar data.

If you’ve targeting a specific industry, trade association Web sites often provide demographic data.

Here’s how I use demographic data from the Catholic Advertising Network to help sell my column. I often use this in pitches to editors.

According to the Catholic Advertising Network, readers of the Catholic press have a median age of 56. Catholic newspapers need to find editorial content that draws in younger readers. Based on fan mail, most "Where I Live" readers are age 25 to 45.

Catholic Advertising Network research also states that 70 percent of Catholic press readers are married. More than 40 percent have children under age 18. This group is especially responsive to the "Where I Live" humor column.

Much of the work you put into your Web site can be used when pitching print publications. I often use the same information when pitching stories. It’s great background material and is easily tailored to specific publications. I’ve adapted my bio, reader comments, editor testimonials into a print package that I can use as background information.

Here are some other places to do demographic research and find information on specific publications.

Where to do research: Advertising and marketing

Where to do research: News media sites

Newspapers.com— more than 10,000 links to U.S., international, college and business newspapers.

Top 100 U.S. Daily Newspapers

ACQWEB'S Directory of PublishersPublisher Web site directory by subject. Also includes a publisher e-mail address directory.

8. Network online

The eighth way to use the Internet to promote your writing is to network online. Many of the tips I’ve shared today, I Iearned from other writers. Bruce Cameron, who is speaking here today, is in one of the online writers groups I belong to. The Internet allows you to connect with writers who you otherwise wouldn’t meet. It a great way to find people to critique your work as well as help you make contacts to get published. Yahoo! is a great place to look for writing groups. There are thousands of groups for writers there, on every topic imaginable.

There are some advantages to joining online writing groups.

* Allows you to participate at your leisure. No travel time.

* Rather than meeting once per month, online groups are always open.

* Gives you the ability to join many groups and see which ones are best for you.

* Since geography isn't an issue, online groups allow you to network with writers you wouldn't ordinarily meet.

A few writing groups I would recommend are:

The NetWits
A group for humor columnists. Has an 11-member review team that has to approve your work before you can become a member.

Writing humor
Writing-Humor is a participation-oriented group. Includes exercises in creative humor writing and critiquing the work of other humorists.

Humor Writing
Talk about the writing life, motivation, jokes, favorite comedians and more! This list is moderated by Chandra K. Clarke, author of the course Humor Writing The Art of Being Funny. She is also the author of the weekly column, In My Humble Opinion at www.chandrakclarke.com.

Online Publicity Group
A great place to learn more about using the Internet to promote your writing.

If you have questions about my presentation, you can contact me by e-mail.

© 2002, Timothy P. Bete