My Business Card Concept

As a writer, I have now been in a number of networking situations where I really could have used a business card. However, I have also been handed lots of business cards by writers, editors and other would-be industry professionals that can only be described as, well, distinctly amateur. I decided that if I was going to have business cards to support my writing, then they were going to have to be good cards.

I wanted a business card that was memorable, something that could even function as a conversation opener. Here’s an example of what I came up with:

Business Card, Zombie Edition

Yes, writing is a business, but it’s also a creative endeavor. My card says, “This guy is doing some wild and crazy stuff, but hey, this card looks really professional.” When I hand out this card, I want the recipient to believe that I’m both creative and business-like, a person that they might reasonably want to do business with.

As a secondary goal, I wanted my business cards to tie into the rest of my marketing activities. My business cards are modeled after my Facebook page, complete with an inset photograph of myself. I decided that I wanted custom cards, with sixteen different pictures on the front. As a gimmick, when offering somebody a card, I can fan out a stack of cards, and then say, “Pick a card, any card. There’re all different.”

Here’s what I came up with for the back of my cards:

Business Card Back, With Quote

One of my pet peeves involves business cards that are blank on the back, or worse, that have a link to the free service that the individual used to print their lackluster cards. A business card is an advertisement for your business, whether that’s writing or something else. If you’ve managed to get an advertisement into somebody’s hands, you should make sure they get the most of it. Give ’em something useful on the back.

For my cards, the front tells the recipient what I do, “Writer, Speaker, Futurist,” and implies that I’m both creative and business-like. The back of the card delivers my contact information, as well as a memorable and positive quote that has something to do with writing or creativity. And every card has a different quote.

It’s a well integrated one-two punch of marketing information.

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So You Want to Quit Your Day Job?

For me as a writer, one of the most interesting panels at Ravencon was one entitled, “So You Want to Quit Your Day Job?” It featured four relatively new writers who were, in my opinion, extremely open and honest about their experiences.Since I took such copious notes on this session, I decided to devote an entire blog post to it.

Panelists Edmund Schubert, Joelle Presby (moderator), Tim Burke, and James S. Stratton

Panelists Edmund Schubert, Joelle Presby (moderator), Tim Burke, and James S. Stratton at Ravencon 2014.

Here’s what the Program Guide had to say about the session, which was held Saturday, April 26, from 11:00 AM to noon:

So You Want to Quit Your Day Job?
Edmund Schubert, Joelle Presby (moderator), Tim Burke, James S. Stratton

Panelists discuss what you need to consider as you shift careers from corporate employee to something else. Discussion topics include reassessing finances, finding alternative healthcare coverage, managing odd neighbor/acquaintance expectations, defining and defending work hours, refilling the creative well, and more.

Hard as it is, writers enjoy writing. Every writer wants more time to write. However, most writers start out writing on the side while supporting themselves with some sort of day job. Getting to the point where you can quit your day job is hard. Here’s what the panelists had to say about the writing life.

Have You Quit Your Day Job?

What does it take to quit your day job so you can write full-time? The consensus was that it takes money, either money you’ve saved, inherited, or are earning through your writing. How much? Well, that depends on your personal situation.

Joelle Presby, the moderator, had quit her day job six weeks ago, something she was able to do thanks to her husband’s support. Tim Burke quit his job a year ago to focus on writing full-time. He said that he’d hit that magic milestone of 50, and realized, “If I was going to make a stab at it, this was the time.” James Stratton still had his well-paying job as a lawyer for the government, but mentioned that he hoped to retire soon. Edmund Schubert had closed a business, exiting with some reasonable (but not excessive) money, had no debts, and a wife with a salary and benefits. Of this, he said, “I quit my day job because my wife didn’t.”

How Do Non-Writers Look at Writers?

All of the panelists had stories about funny reactions from non-writers. Tim Burke said that when he described a writer’s lifestyle to friends and neighbors, he often got reactions like, “You can do that?” Most people looked at him as a curiosity, an oddity. He added that he had to develop metaphors to speak with ordinary wage earners, because they had no idea how the writing profession worked.

Edmund mentioned that people treated writers like “strangers in a foreign land.” According to Joelle Presby, a common question she received was, “When is the movie coming out?” Again, this showed how little understanding of the writing life most people possessed.

How Have Recent Changes in Publishing Affected Writers?

The panelists also spoke generally about how much the publishing industry has been changing in recent years. Generally, they felt the changes offered more opportunities for writers, but stressed how chaotic and confusing the industry could be today.

Writers need to treat the profession as a business. Edmund mentioned that the rule of thumb for a new business is that it takes five to seven years to break even. He asked, “Why would you think it would be any different for writers?”

What About Healthcare?

Edmund stressed that healthcare was in a state of flux, but that there were healthcare options for writers. He cited the example of C. J. Henderson, a popular and well-regarded writer who was currently fighting a second bout with cancer, sans healthcare. All of the panelists agreed that healthcare was vital.

Do You Need Agents?

None of the panelists had an agent. Additionally, Joelle was picked by David Weber to work with him on the third book in his dimensional war series (taking over from Linda Evans) based on the recommendations of friends. She mentioned that Weber himself has never had an agent (for books anyway — he does have an agent for movie rights).

Several of the panelists noted that both Baen and Tor, the two most popular SF lines, take unagented submissions.

What About Marketing?

The general consensus was that, barring a lucky lightning strike like Fifty Shades of Gray, it takes a concerted effort over a period of time to build a brand.

Different writers market in different ways. John Scalzi blogs, and is known for it. Don’t blog unless you like to, because your readers will be able to tell. Joelle stated that the biggest thing was to get your stories read, to get a novel out there if you can (even a short one), and to start doing the convention circuit to get the word out.

Tim added that new writers needed to be willing to make sacrifices. He said, “It’s like having to build the airplane while it’s flying and people are shooting at it.” There was general agreement that you needed to plan your writing/marketing, execute that plan, and then be willing to make course corrections as needed.

Conclusion

Overall, a well-done session, with the panelists trying hard to address the topics in an informative and useful manner for the audience. As a new writer, I really appreciated how open everyone was. While they didn’t sugarcoat the amount of work necessary to jumpstart a writing career, they all agreed that the rewards of being a writer were worth it.

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Promotion 101 at Balticon

I had a great time attending Balticon 47 this past weekend. I was there to learn as much as possible about self-publishing. Now, one of the key challenges in self-publishing is discoverability. You’ll hear that keyword like a mantra whenever you talk to self-published writers. Basically, it boils down to this question: Given the multitude of stories available, and the many writers clamoring for attention, how can you stand out so potential readers will discover your work?

Many of the sessions I attended were focused on promotion. Which is why I was so shocked to see some glaringly bad promotion … on the part of some of the panelists from the sessions that I attended. Note that I’m not going to call out any panelists by name.

What’s my background in promotional activities? Well, I’ve been creating web sites since 1998, which led to me working off and on in the Internet startup world since 2000. In this world, promotion is everything, because your promotion has to make your business viable before your money runs out. I’ve done business promotion, leveraging Internet marketing techniques to build an audience. Additionally, I’ve been organizing and promoting events, such as conferences, since 2008. I don’t consider myself a marketing expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m not a layman either.

So, based on what I saw at Balticon, here are some promotion tips for writers:

  • Have a Bio and Picture Ready to Go: All panelists had the opportunity to have a picture and a short biography printed in the Balticon 47 Convention Program. It boggles my mind that, in this age where “discoverability” is so important, that anybody would neglect to provide both of these items. But some panelists didn’t, including a couple from the sessions that I attended. Never, never, never pass up any opportunity for advertising, especially 3rd-party advertising (having someone else promoting you is far more powerful than self-promotion). Bottom Line: Have a bio and picture prepared, and easily accessible. Any time a professional opportunity arises, provide them promptly to whoever the appropriate recipients might be.

  • Your Bio Needs a URL: If somebody asks you for a biography, make sure that it includes the URL for your web site (where you SELL your stuff, or link to somewhere that SELLS your stuff). If somebody is interested enough in you to look up your biography in the convention program, give ’em somewhere else to go where they can find out even more.

  • You Need a Web Site: I didn’t think I’d have to add this bullet point, but there was at least one panelist from the sessions that I attended who was promoting their work at Balticon, but didn’t have a web site (and couldn’t even be found on Amazon). Seriously, you need a web site. It’s not that hard.

  • Ask for the Sale: Your web site doesn’t need to do a “hard-sell,” But make it clear that your work can be purchased from your web site. If you have the technical capability, sell it direct in various formats (you get to keep even more of the money that way). Failing that, at least link to someplace like Amazon or Smashwords where a prospective reader can purchase your work.

  • Have an Elevator Pitch Ready: Somebody has just asked you about your latest book. You have 30 seconds to get them interested. You need two or three sentences that will engage their interest. You’re a writer — you can come up with two or there sentences, right? Here’s an example: “Well, it’s basically a bent fairy tale with delusions of grandeur, on steroids. Plus, you know, the prince doesn’t always deserve to get the girl, but you’ll have to read the story to find out why.” Don’t give them the plot, plant a hook.

Impressing your audience is one of the first steps in converting potential readers into buyers. These simple tips will enhance your image as a professional writer and position you to more effectively take advantage of opportunities when they arise. As the famous philosopher, Anonymous, once said: “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.”

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