May Writers' Forum

In my journey through the steps of independent publishing, refining my writing skills, and most recently completing a successful agent search, I’ve come across some excellent information, tips, tools, and shortcuts that I think would be beneficial to any writer. Once a month, I’ll share the “best of” information and news from the publishing industry as well as feature other authors and writing instructors with tips to share. I am incredibly thankful for the assistance and advice given to me from writing and publishing professionals and am happy pay that forward.

Book News & Events

At the end of April, Green Bay hosted the newly created “UntitledTown Book and Author Festival”. I was unable to go, but from social media posts attendance appeared to be very good, which was certainly helped by the inclusion of authors Margaret Atwood and Sherman Alexie. (If any of you went, I’d love to hear a first-hand account of the weekend!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about banned books and in particular those that get challenged as part of the curriculum in schools. 

What does this have to do with the UntitledTown Book Fest? Well, Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is often at the center of such firestorms. His novel takes on some tough topics in a raw way that certainly challenges our comfort level. I always get an uneasy feeling when people talk about book banning but have to admit that I've only read excerpts of Alexie’s work. (It is on my summer to-be-read list.) Have any of you read his book or had it taught in your kids’ classrooms? I’m just curious what your take may be on it. (I know there’s currently a challenge taking place in the Sauk Prairie School District here in Wisconsin about the inclusion of this title in the curriculum.) 

Please let me know of any upcoming book releases or events this summer that you’d like featured in the June Writers’ Forum!

Featured Article

UGH! What’s Amazon up to NOW?!

Amazon Allows 3rd-Party Sellers to Control Top Buy BoxesA few weeks ago, I heard the buzz that Amazon was doing something strange with their buy boxes—you know the ‘buy now’ or ‘add to cart’ button at the top of each product page. For books, the default for these buttons has always linked to the publisher of the book—not third-party sellers. Unfortunately, a new policy at Amazon allows third-party booksellers to “win” the buy box for books in new condition. Brook Warner's May 4 article in the Huffington Post from May 5 more fully explains this issue.

But wait, there’s more! The backlash against Amazon was rather broad, including big publishers and independent publishing associations. Amazon has since issued a clarification . . . that only truly NEW books are eligible to win the Buy Box and that they are “dedicated to removing bad actors.”

But that talk doesn’t appear to go very far. Reports from Publishers’ Marketplace, explain that Amazon does not ask the third-party sellers in advance for proof that they have acquired the books in new condition. (As indie authors or publishing houses, we would have a record of who has ordered books directly and has copies that could truly be considered new.) It appears that the third-party sellers are only asked for authentication after a complaint has been made to Amazon. This authentication would be in the form of invoices from publishers or authorized distributors.

I can’t link to the full article because Publishers’ Marketplace is a subscription-only site. Here’s the link to the headline and the first paragraph of the article that I’m paraphrasing above should you choose to subscribe. (I find this a worthy expense and you might too, especially if you're doing agent and/or publisher research.) 

So, what’s to be done? For all of Amazon’s assurances, it seems it will be up to us to remain vigilant and check our buy buttons regularly to make sure we haven’t been pushed down the page by a third-party seller. As this issue is updated, I’ll be sure to include the info in future Writers’ Forums.

Pre-Publication Information

Setting up your International Author Pages on Amazon

Don't Miss out on International Amazon Author PagesAnd, yes, while we may (often) be irritated with Amazon’s policies, we can’t afford to ignore them as they are pivotal to our book sales. One thing that I think many authors fail to do, is to set up your international Amazon author pages. I’ve always had a UK page, but only recently set up my French, German, and Japanese Amazon author pages. It wasn’t difficult . . . a little time consuming perhaps. I did need to translate the page a few times. and used my trusty standby when there was no translate button available.

I followed the steps in this article from Jane Friedman’s blogAnother article by Penny Sansevieri on has very helpful links and a checklist to help you. 

So why do this? Does it help your international sales? By most reports, it does help to increase your sales in those markets. For my purposes, I decided ‘why not?’ . . . I’m only out a little bit of time and the author pages are free marketing platforms that I otherwise wouldn’t have had in those countries.

Legal Myths

Back on the Bookworks blog, legal expert Helen Sedwick does a precise job of debunking five legal myths about writing that many of us have heard. This is worth a read and deals with copyright, copyright infringement, use of names, and name changing a true-life villainous character. 

Yes! You do need a website!

I repeat this again and again at writing conferences when I’m teaching about publicity and marketing. “You must have a website.” I know this can seem daunting for those who areYes! Authors do need a website! not tech savvy. It doesn’t have to be. You can hire someone to design your website or you can use one of the many helpful platforms out there to do it yourself. This doesn’t have to be a crazy-expensive endeavor. But it must be professional! After all, your writing is a business and all successful businesses have a professional website . . . for those of us without an actual storefront, this is our front door and the window to our product. Make it inviting and interesting!

Apparently, I am on a Bookworks binge this month . . . here’s part 1 of 3 of their feature on website building. 

I won’t pretend that creating the website isn’t time consuming. It is! And whether you design it yourself or hire someone else to do it, the content for each page will be written by you. I am certain that I spent a minimum of 40 hours on this with my designers. That included the initial design discussions, the writing of the copy for each page, cataloging the photos I wanted used where, and then editing as each page was in draft stage. I still spend time updating my site on a regular basis. I’m happy to talk in more detail about the process. Take a look at and let me know if you have questions on why I did what I did.


Traditional Media Publicity







I’m tackling all kinds of unsavory topics for writers this month, so I thought I might as well jump into gaining attention with traditional media. We spend a lot of time working on our social media platforms, but we sometimes forget that we can and should be approaching traditional media outlets for coverage of our book launch or a book award or whatever hook we can come with that might be appealing. If you want a 30-minute tutorial on this issue, please pop over to my YouTube channel where I walk authors through gaining attention on TV, Radio or in Newspapers or Magazines.

I was so pleased to see an article from Joan Stewart on The Book Designer giving many of the same tips that I have given at seminars for authors. The main emphasis here is to start by approaching your local news media. 

I always remind authors that they shouldn’t be intimidated by the process of pitching their “story” to local media outlets. After all, the media is always looking for good stories and if you can make the case (give the hook) why your story is interesting, you will get featured!

Social Media & Connectivity

Is Social Media Broken? What to do?The flip side of traditional media is, of course, social media. An article from Frances Caballo from The Social Media Just for Authors website tells us that the way we think about social media is broken, and I think she’s right. The focus is often on sales promotion and number of followers/likes instead of the quality of the connections being built.

The article is a fabulous read, and I highly encourage you to do just that and ponder the premise that social media is more about making authentic connections with others in the publishing, reading, writing world . . . and not just about gaining sales. In fact, over-promoting your content (books) can backfire, and you’ll likely end up losing audience members/followers.

Making real connections takes time but it certainly can have big payoffs. Dan Blank of We Grow Media highlights that in his article about how word-of-mouth marketing paid off for him. This is a fun journey through the connections he’s made that led to being featured on a popular writing podcast.

PHEW! That was a lot of content for one month. (And I’m admitting that I tabled a couple of things for next month.) Let me know if there are topics you’d like covered or questions you may have, and I’ll do my best to find the answers!

Happy Reading & Writing, Valerie  



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