stack of papers tied with black ribbon

Competitive Pitching

All aspiring authors know how difficult it is to write a query letter that stands out in a slush pile. You stress and stress over the exact wording, trying to create something that will make agents pick your manuscript out as the next big thing. But sometimes you just need a break from the standard method of pitching your novel. If you’re looking for a fun way to get your manuscript out in the world, check out #PitMad, a Twitter event put on by the organizers of Pitch Wars.
Pitch Wars is a mentorship program that matches a writer with an author, editor, or other industry intern. It’s a chance for writers to work with someone who will read their entire manuscript and give them suggestions. These mentors help their mentees prepare their manuscripts so they’re ready for the agent showcase. There’s a ton of information on the Pitch Wars website, so if you’re an unagented writer––or just want to learn more––check it out! There’s information on both current and past Pitch Wars, #PitMad––which I’ll be going into here––and other resources for writers. It’s a great site to check out if you’re looking for an agent or just want to connect with other writers.
One of my favorite things about Pitch Wars is #PitMad. Although Pitch Wars only takes place once a year, #PitMad happens in March, June, September, and December on Twitter. Each pitch day goes from eight in the morning until eight in the evening. Writers craft a short pitch using the #PitMad hashtag, and on designated days they post on Twitter. As a writer, you can post your own pitch for your manuscript using the 280 characters Twitter allows, or you can support your favorite writer friends’ pitches by retweeting. It’s a great community event which allows you to find new writers and future novels. And if you’re lucky enough, an agent will like your tweet and you’ll be able to submit your manuscript to them.
To start participating, just write up a few tweets that you’ll share throughout the day! It helps to have a few to work with, as you’ll want to tweet periodically over the day for more chances for agents to see your work. You’re allowed to pitch a manuscript a maximum of three times a day, and it’s recommended to pitch once every four hours in order to not crowd the hashtag. More rules are available on the #PitMad section of the Pitch Wars website and will help you navigate the #PitMad days on Twitter.
#PitMad is such a fun way to jump into the exciting world of competitive pitching. It may not always lead to an agent, but it’s a wonderful way to interact with the Twitter writing community, find some aspiring authors to follow, and see what agents are looking for.

Rise in the Ranks with SEO Techniques

So, you’re a new author: you’ve climbed the gargantuan mountain of writing, rewriting, tearing your hair out at some unknown hour in the morning, pitching your book several times, and going through the editing and publishing process, and now you’ve finally heaved yourself up that last ledge—you’ve been published!

But as you look up from that beautiful book in your hands, you realize that you’re not done after all. There is still a little ways left to go, and those seemingly infinite footholds on the mountainside spell out a terrifying word: marketing.

Don’t worry—it doesn’t have to be a daunting task. One of the best ways you can build your brand and put your book out there is through developing your website. This serves as a place where your readers can learn more about you and your book, locate you on social media, find promotional events, and more. But with over 3.5 billion Google searches made every day, how do you ensure your website stands out? Ooligan Press encourages authors to utilize search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to bump your site higher in the ranks. Continue reading for simple tips to help your book reach the peak of its potential!

  • Identify Your Keywords
    All right, so this seems like an obvious answer. However, it is still important to note that in order to utilize SEO correctly, you must select the right keywords. In fact, the more specific they are, the better chance they have of ranking higher in searches! For instance, instead of using “fantasy” and “unrequited love” as your keywords, opt for specific subjects in your latest novel, such as “wood nymphs” and “immortal love interest,” to reach that niche audience. Make sure that these keywords are used in your title, your meta description, and elsewhere. Google recognizes that users are more likely to click on a link that includes the keywords they are looking for in both the title and the description, and so they place those websites that do this higher in users’ searches and penalize the websites that don’t. There are many creative ways in which you can include your keywords on your site. In fact, you can even put your keywords in your alt text, which is usually included as an option when you upload an image to your site. This is helpful because Google cannot read images but does recognize alt text.

    Placing your keywords everywhere on your site may be tempting, but did you know that it’s possible to use your keywords too much? This strategy is also known as “keyword stuffing.” When you needlessly fill your webpage with your keywords, Google will read that as a spamming tactic. Research has shown that in order to achieve the best results from utilizing SEO techniques, it’s best for keywords to account for 2–5 percent of your total text.

  • Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly
    The number of mobile users has increased exponentially in the past decade, and Google has made a recent update that penalizes sites that are not mobile-friendly. This means that if your site isn’t compatible with mobile devices, Google will automatically disregard your page in the rankings. Not sure if your site is mobile-friendly? You can place your URL here to check.

  • Take Advantage of Free SEO Tools
    I know what you’re thinking: I’m a writer, not a website developer! That’s okay, because there are resources out there that are not only easy to use, but also free! Tools like Google Search Console will give you insights on where your site ranks, which pages are giving you the most traffic, and which keywords are getting clicked on the most. This tool will notify you if there are any errors on your website and help you optimize your content so that your potential readers can find you not only by searching your book title, but also through other tabs on your website, such as your book blog, accolades, and promotional events.

And there you have it: a few simple tips and tricks to get you started in learning how SEO techniques can help your website soar in the ranks—and with it, your book sales too!

Publishing with a Small Press: A Stepping-Stone to Greatness

Where do great writers come from? Did Ernest Hemingway suddenly appear to us as a best-selling author, like gray-eyed Athena from mighty Zeus’s head? Did John Steinbeck begin his career by landing a multimillion-dollar book deal with a publishing conglomerate?

Nope. These authors—and most of your favorites—got off to a more modest start. Hemingway’s first book was a collection of stories and poems with an initial run of 300 copies, and Steinbeck’s first novel had an initial run of 1,537 copies.

Achieving success as an author is like achieving success in any other field: you must work and fight and claw your way to greatness. Though some authors explode into popularity with their first published novels (E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey; Stephenie Meyer, Twilight; Stephen King, Carrie), this is far from the norm. Most authors have to start somewhere that isn’t a major publishing house. That somewhere is often a small press, which, like the author, is struggling to make a name for itself.

As a budding author, you want to get the best deal possible. When you’re an unknown quantity, the best deal you can get—or maybe the only deal—is most likely with a small press. Big publishing houses like Penguin Random House and Knopf Doubleday don’t often take chances on debut authors, even if their writing is amazing.

In 1989, a criminal attorney named John Grisham had just finished writing his first novel, A Time to Kill. After being rejected by dozens of publishers and literary agents, the novel finally found a home with Wynwood Press, a little-known publisher. Although A Time to Kill didn’t achieve much commercial success after its release, it set the stage for Grisham’s next novel, The Firm. Twenty-six books and nine film adaptations later, Grisham is one of the best-selling authors of all time—thanks in part to a small press that took a chance.

J. K. Rowling famously penned the first Harry Potter novel as a single mother on welfare. After many rejections from publishers, the boy wizard was finally published in 1997 by Bloomsbury Publishing, a small press at the time. In 1995, Bloomsbury reported sales of £11 million. In 2007, Bloomsbury reported more than £150 million in revenue, thanks in large part to the success of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the rest of the Harry Potter series. In this case, the author and publishing house reached great heights together.

Ooligan Press is based in Portland, Oregon, so we might as well include a local success story. In 2007, Monica Drake published her debut novel Clown Girl with Hawthorne Books, a small Portland-based press. Three years later, SNL alum Kristen Wiig optioned the film rights. And in 2013, Drake published her second novel The Stud Book with Hogarth, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Philip Pullman, Margaret Atwood, Janet Evanovich, Agatha Christie: The list of famous authors who debuted with small presses is long and impressive. Most of those who didn’t publish their first books with small presses built up their literary reputations by writing short stories, news stories, poems, articles, etc. And virtually every author—including all of those mentioned above—has endured the sting of rejection many times over.

The point is, publishing with a small press isn’t “settling”; it’s a great and often necessary first step for a new author. Though there’s always a chance that a Big Five publishing house will take your manuscript and run with it, it’s far more likely that your debut novel will be published by a small press.