What makes a good head shot?

Before I launched my Facebook page for Socialexis, I sent the link to my sister and my best friend, asking them to look it over. Both came back with the same criticism: I needed a more professional photo.

I knew they were right. Not only did I need one to promote my new business, I also needed a professional head shot for this blog and hopefully, at some point, to promote my book.

Andrea of Servidone Studios sets up a backdrop.

But I hate getting my head shot taken. I never like how they come out! People often tell me I’m photogenic, but apparently that doesn’t apply to posed photos, because I find something wrong with every one: my smile looks fake, my arms look fat, my hair looks greasy. I thought about using my photo from my days as a reporter at the Houston Chronicle, but it was several years old and, let’s face it, I never loved it anyhow.

So I called a photographer friend, Andrea of Servidone Studios, who was nice enough to truck her equipment, including a large white backdrop, to my house. While she took what seemed like hundreds of shots, she gave me some tips on how to take a good head shot.

Andrea’s tips:

Wear a brightly colored shirt. White doesn’t do well with a flash, and it can wash you out if you’ve got light skin. Black causes problems too; it is slimming, but doesn’t show up well on camera. You’ll see below that I followed Andrea’s advice and wore a bright blue shirt. Red or green or any other bright color works, too.

Avoid patterns. A solid shirt is best, rather than one with a busy pattern. “It’s about you,” Andrea said. Don’t let your shirt steal the show.

Ladies, pick a v-neck or cardigan. Unless you work in finance, collared shorts can look stuffy. Wear a shirt that shows some neck. But only a little bit of neck! Modest is good, too.

Don’t sit facing the camera. Instead, sit with your body to one side. Leave your feet planted and turn your upper body and head to face the camera.

Tilt your chin down. And look up at the camera. This feels kind of awkward, but it works well for the photo. And that’s what we really care about, right?

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Because publicity IS your job: social media for authors

This lady knows her stuff.

That was obvious to me the first time  I “met” Marian Schembari on Twitter (she’s @marianschembari). She knows what she’s talking about. Whenever I have an idea about social media, I bounce it off Marian.

Marian Schembari, who helps authors sell boatloads of books.

And the cool things for readers of this blog? Marian specializes in social media for authors. That’s right, she focuses on helping writers sell books. And she’s here today to tell us how she does it.

Thanks for joining us, Marian! How’d you get into social media consulting? What makes you qualified to work with authors?

My background is in book publicity, and the way I landed that job is where the social media part comes in. I left college wanting to get into publishing, but getting my foot in the door was way more difficult than I had thought. After three months of sending out resumes and cover letters and hearing nothing back, I decided to take a “guerrilla marketing” approach. I used Facebook ads, Twitter, LinkedIn and a blog to get my name out there, and two weeks later I had a job as a book publicist. It was that easy. And that hard because no one taught me how powerful social media could be!

After three months of book PR, I realized a) I really enjoyed working for myself and b) most publicists still don’t really have a handle on social media, and traditional publicity is fading fast. Print and TV opportunities are limited, and having a review in The New York Times just doesn’t have the effect it used to. Readers want a personal connection, not some unrelatable opinion from a faceless reviewer. Readers want recommendations tailored to their interests, friendly neighborhood book bloggers and fan pages where the author actually participates in discussions.

Today, what can help sell books are relationships. Make it easy for readers to engage. Connect directly with book clubs on Twitter. Update fans on your writing/tours/signings/readings. Fiction or nonfiction, it doesn’t matter. There are incredible communities online – covering everything from knitting to politics to cooking to rock climbing.

You teach authors to use social networking rather than doing it for them. Why does that work better?

For a million reasons, the most important one being that no one knows a book better than the author. The second being that it’s more authentic. Like I said, readers want a personal connection with an author and if that author is going to make the effort to be online, it’s silly to have someone else do it for them.

Social media is not one of those things you can outsource. I show authors how to create a real presence online based on their interests and goals. I do a little tutorial work for those who are brand-spanking new, but when it comes to the actual tweeting, blogging, etc… well, that’s where they have to put the work in. There are ways to approach social media so it doesn’t consume your life, and I give my authors a daily, weekly and monthly schedule so they actually have time for writing and aren’t just sitting at their computers tweeting all day. This makes all the difference.

What are two of the top mistakes you see authors make when it comes to social media?

Only two? Sigh. Well, the first is attitude and this definitely comes across through their profiles. So many authors think it’s “not their job” to take care of the marketing and publicity of their book. But as much as I love publishing houses and their employees, here’s a little word to all you authors out there: your publisher’s not going to do sh*t for you.

While unfortunate, it’s the truth. And this isn’t the publisher’s fault! With the economy in bad shape and the interwebs making it harder and harder to sell books, their staff is spread incredibly thin. So if you want to make sure you actually sell your book, take some of the easy marketing into your own hands. Get on Twitter. I’ll help you find that community of readers who’s going to fall in love with your book. Create a Facebook fan page and spread the word. But don’t sit at your desk whining that it’s not your responsibility. The incredible power of social media is that you don’t need to be a marketing expert, you just need to have a passion for your book, be willing to learn the basics and have fun with it! [Note from Alexis: Love this tough love approach. Marian’s so right.]

The second mistake? Blatant self-promotion. While people will start following you on Twitter or become your fan on Facebook because they want to hear more about you, they don’t want to hear you shouting “Me! Me! Me!” from the social media rooftops. They want to hear where your next reading will be or get a link to your latest review, but they also want to hear about your favorite authors. Writing tips you can provide. Extra tidbits about your book. And, of course, you need to give love to get love. So retweet (that’s Twitter lingo) and engage others in conversation to get the most out of your online presence.

You offer solid tips on your site about how job seekers should use LinkedIn. Do you think LinkedIn is also valuable for authors?

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How to use Facebook to — shhhh — promote your book

In my social circle, knowing how to use Facebook is like knowing how to read. It’s something we do every day, without thinking about it, like we were born knowing how. Of course, we know there are people in this world who don’t know how to read, but we rarely come into contact with them, so we barely believe they exist. Besides, we can’t imagine a life without reading.

I’m not saying this to brag. (And I’m not a teeny bopper; I’m 29.) I’m saying this so you understand how vital Facebook is in 2010. And so you understand why we all notice that you — yes, you who joined Facebook to promote your book — you’re doing it wrong.

I’m here to help you use it properly. And it’s totally okay that you have to learn — good for you for getting on the train. Kudos for doing what your publisher or agent or circle of writing friends told you to do. They’re right; Facebook is a great networking tool. But it works far better when you look like you know what you’re doing.

That’s why I’m offering these tips:

Pretend you didn’t join just to promote your book. Fake it. Act like you joined Facebook for fun. Sounds crazy, right? But that’s why most Facebook users are on the social networking service. For fun. And we can smell promoters a mile away.

Befriend people you know. Like, in person. Not people you follow on Twitter or people you’d like to know. Befriend people you’ve met in real life, people you worked with, went to school with, maybe someone you’ll see tomorrow. Even with more than 700 friends, I’ve met nearly all of them in the flesh. A few I’ve met only once, maybe at a party or work conference. And yes, a few I met originally on Twitter, or some other online group — but we communicated through more than tweets before we became Facebook friends. And on that note…

Don’t treat Facebook like Twitter. They’re both social-media tools, but they’re totally different beasts. Facebook is for communicating with people you already know. Twitter is for meeting people. Facebook is personal. Twitter is about networking for career purposes or other specific interests. Yes, Twitter can be personal and Facebook can be used for career networking. But if you keep that basic distinction in mind, it will prevent you from telling us TMI — Too Much (Private) Information — on Twitter and not enough on Facebook. If you’re friends with so many people on Facebook, people you don’t really know, you won’t offer personal stuff like status updates and photos that your real friends want to hear about. Stuff that makes you a good Facebook friend.

For that reason, don’t link your Twitter feed to your Facebook status. Your audiences are different, and they want to hear about different things. Cater to those audiences to build relationships.

Relationships on Facebook are reciprocal (both parties have to agree to be friends), while on Twitter they can be one-sided (I can follow you even if you don’t follow me).

Understand the difference between a profile page and a fan page. If you’re promoting your book, you’ll want both, but they’re used differently. Your profile page is where you make connections, befriend people you know in person and offer personal information about yourself — well, not too personal, but that’s another post — since only your friends read it. Your name is on your profile page.

Your fan page, however, bears the name of your product. And anyone can join that fan group, even if you’re not friends. How do you get fans? You get fans through your profile page, where, because you’re pretending you joined Facebook for fun, you’ve connected with people you know from work, school, your craft club, the PTA, whatever. Because those people are really your friends, they’ll join your fan page to support you. Then their friends will see that they joined the page, and they’ll join, too. If the domino effect works, you’ve got a solid fan page with members you know in person and members you don’t know.

Look at other fan pages to figure out what to put on yours. (Like the fan page for Julie Kraut’s YA novel, Slept Away.) Don’t post an “out of office” reply if you’re not going to be around for a while. Yes, I actually saw someone ask online whether they should do this. Facebook FAIL.

If you must, if you absolutely must, go ahead and create a fan page under your name. I really think this is only a good idea if you’re a celebrity — you’re probably not if you’re reading this post — or you have more than, say, four books to promote. Check out Jodi Picoult’s fan page. It works. But if you’re not going to be cranking out books like she does, if this is your first book, it works better to have a fan page for that book. It also looks less presumptuous. Because you’re joining Facebook for fun, not to promote a product, remember?

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The Creative Penn on promoting your book

If you’re a writer who uses Twitter, you’re probably familiar with The Creative Penn. She has one of the most useful feeds out there, offering links to everything writing.

I got to know Joanna Penn when she interviewed me for a podcast on her blog. That’s when I realized this tech-savvy English writer had a few tips that would benefit my readers.

Joanna Penn, from The Creative Penn

Penn, who lives in Brisbane, Australia, has self-published three non-fiction books. At her blog, The Creative Penn, she shares her knowledge on writing, publishing options, Internet sales and book promotion.

Thanks for joining us, Joanna!

Like many of us, you have a day job and write on the side. What’s your day job? How do you find time for writing?

I am actually a business IT consultant with a mining company in Australia. I work as a contractor so currently I do four days per week or sometimes three. I found that moving to four days per week enabled me to actually get the time to write my first book and have not gone back to full time since then. That extra day just gives me a big slot of time to write and meant I could manage three books in two years. I seriously recommend it to people. Just ask – you never know what your boss will say.

Finding time is hard for us all! I spend most evenings and weekends working on http://www.TheCreativePenn.com with blog posts and emails, as well as social networking and arranging interviews and speaking opportunities.

Can you tell us about your program Author 2.0? How’d you come up with the idea?

The Author 2.0 Program basically teaches writers/authors how to write, publish, sell and promote their books using Web 2.0 online tools. I decided to write the course when I realised that I was loving the online space for all this platform building, digital publishing, etc. but many other writers did not have the technical skills or enjoy it. Many people didn’t even know where to start, for example, in setting up a blog, or publishing an ebook, or even what print-on-demand is. I am fortunate to be working in the IT field so I am very comfortable playing with this technology, and I wanted to help others.

I also discovered I could publish my own book on Amazon.com for under $100 and wanted to share that information with others because it changed my writing life. Then I wanted to share about blogging, podcasting, ebooks, cross-media writing, making money as an author… and so much more. So I wrote the course with 12 modules, each covering a key area of writing, publishing, sales and promotion online. Each module has an ebook with loads of written information, then there are videos per module where I show you how to do things e.g. how to create and publish an ebook, or how to use Twitter. There is also an audio interview with an expert in each module, for example, in the Author Entrepreneur module, I interview John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, as well as experts in all the other fields. The people who take the course find it packed with information and we also have monthly teleseminars for questions.

Here’s a free Blueprint for people who are interested — it contains lots more information.

Can you share a few tips for authors marketing their books?

The first thing is that you need to think of marketing as telling people who are interested in your niche that you exist and offering helpful and valuable information. If people are interested, and they like and trust you, they will buy your book/product. There are so many ways you can get yourself out there these days, and people have to find what fits them and their market. Do you love video? Audio? Twitter? Live speaking? You have to enjoy it or you just won’t do it. I was surprised to find that I actually love marketing now that I know what I am doing!

The most successful things for me personally in terms of marketing for platform building and book sales have been:

  • Having a great blog. The Creative Penn, for example, is regularly updated with interesting, relevant content, and easily clickable “Buy this Book Now” links, and free workbooks/blueprints. This means you get traffic to your site and people see your books. They are far more likely to buy your books if they know your other writing is great. The search engines also come regularly and you can build your expertise in the field. I am so passionate about blogging now – I absolutely love my blog, and my readers.
  • Being active on Twitter (or another specific social network for your niche). This has really exploded my market and my traffic and the time I spend pays dividends.
  • Speaking either live or on teleconferences. I love to talk about my niche of using web 2.0 tools as an author, and I also speak on digital branding. I do many teleseminars for other blogs as well as my own, and I also speak at least once a month at various events near where I live. I have done writers groups, full day seminars, evening networking events and guest spots. I often speak for free but I make product and book sales from these appearances. As I mentioned before, people will buy if they like you and are convinced by your knowledge. How do you get this opportunities? Just start asking people and offering, or put something on your site advertising yourself as a speaker for starters.

For more examples, I have a free marketing plan available for download on my site.

You’re ever-so-popular with the writing community on Twitter. How’d you manage that? Got any social-networking advice?

I used to think Twitter was a waste of time and then I read Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott. I recommend that book to anyone who doesn’t “get” social networking or the social web.

So I joined Twitter around February 2009 and like everyone else, didn’t have a clue how to use it. I started tweeting useful links to blog posts in my area of interest – writing, publishing, internet sales and book promotion. I found that other people found me and followed me, and also started to retweet my links (pass them on to other users). In this way, my followers started to grow.

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My book tour: via blog?

Traveling across the country to promote my book will be expensive, time-consuming and tiring. But thanks to the Internet, I’ve got another option for self-promotion: virtual marketing.

This month and next, I’m participating in a free online class where I’ll learn how to promote my book via a blog tour.

Once again, I’m a little ahead of myself. Yes, I remember that I still have to write the book. Yes, I realize I need to convince an agent to represent me. And yes, I am fully aware that in order to launch a book blog tour, my book has to actually be published.

But my attention span for writing is pathetically short, and this gives me another excuse to take a break to do something productive. It’s a skill I’ll need to promote my book in the future, so why not learn it now?

What is a book blog tour? It’s a schedule of virtual stops at blogs that are willing to host me, ones that cater to readers who might be interested in my book. A stop at a travel blog, for example, might include a Q&A with me about traveling alone. At a book-review site, the blogger might give her opinion about my book and then let readers ask me questions. A blog for writers could host me for a chat about the process of pulling together a plot.

The idea is to get as much exposure as possibly via blogs, as well as having a successful blog myself. This is just one aspect of online promotion, which also includes social networking tools like Twitter and a personal Web site like the one I recently launched.

Of course, I’ll share what I learn with you here at Aspiring Author.