Shea Serrano and the Perfect Mailing List

Shea Serrano is a journalist who has written for all kinds of publications. He has written a lot of things — most of which I haven’t read yet — but I assume it’s all stellar. He writes articles, he does podcasts, all great, I’m sure. He writes about hip-hop and basketball and movies and TV, and it’s clear from everything he puts out that he does it because those are the things he loves.

The way I discovered him was through his little e-book about the TV show, Scrubs. It’s sold as a collection of essays, but it’s really just an extended love letter to a great show.

Anyway, Shea Serrano is one of my favorite people to get email from.

Now you can go searching online and find lots of advice about how to set up an author newsletter or mailing list or SubStack. How you can connect with people and grow your audience. All that smarmy business stuff about growing your brand.

Really, I think all you need to do is be like Shea Serrano. Every couple of weeks, he sends out an email to his list. Each one is just a short story, probably only a few hundred words, about something funny or weird that happened in his life. Things like his kids insulting each other at the breakfast table, and then proceeding to roast him with devastating insults that don’t really make sense.

At the very end of the email is a link with mildly insulting text that takes you to the page where you can buy his latest work. The most recent one sends you to pre-order his upcoming book, and says “If You Don’t Click This Box And Preorder The New Book I’ll Really Fucking Fight You.”

That’s it. It’s fun and a little bit ridiculous, just like his books. It’s a little gift in my inbox, with a zero-pressure note that points me toward something I could buy, if I feel like it. And honestly, the next time he writes something that aligns with my interests, I’m going to click that insulting button and feel great about it.

I think the best kind of marketing gives people something they want, and then does the absolute minimum to make them aware of what you’re selling. If they like you, and you bring them joy, they’re going to be happy to throw some money your way.

(If you want to subscribe to Shea, click this and then click “Follow.”)

How to Write an Author Bio

As I get close to launching Razor Mountain, there are a few side tasks to take care of. Last week, I delved into the process of writing a book description, and then wrote one for Razor Mountain. This week, I’m working on my author bio.

I’ve already spent some time on this here and there, because a bio is required pretty much everywhere you might want to publicly be an author. My blog has a bio. Twitter has a bio. However, a book bio is just one more little tool that you can use to get potential readers interested. Now is as good a time as any to really polish it up and make sure I’m putting my best foot forward.

What’s in a Bio?

If you’ve read author bios before, you probably already intuitively know a few things about them. They have to be short, they are always written in third-person, and good ones give the reader some small insight into the author.

If you search the internet, you’ll find dozens of articles about writing an author bio, and they’re all mostly variations on these themes. For my money, a couple good ones are:

As with book descriptions, you don’t want to get bogged down with a list of rules or requirements. Author bios can vary quite a bit, and part of the charm of a good one is that it reflects your personality.

“Short” here means about 50-100 words. Much like the book blurb, this is a tool to get the reader interested, and attention spans are limited. The third-person perspective is long-held convention, perhaps because it feels less weird to imagine someone telling you about the author, than to imagine the author describing themselves to you like this.

Building Credibility

If you have achievements, awards, bestseller listings, or any of the other things the kids like to call “street cred,” the bio is a great place to list them. Just know that the average reader is going to start skimming if you list more than one or two.

For non-fiction, you want to establish your credentials in a field related to the subject of your book. If it’s about history, being a history prof is great. If it’s a cook book, you should probably be a cook of some sort.

Non-fiction writers have it easy. For fiction, credibility is a little more nebulous. You might luck-out and be able to establish a link between your experience and the content of the book. The fact that I’m a professional software developer might grant me some cred for a book about hackers. A background as a physicist might be relevant if you’re writing about time travel or spaceflight.

If that doesn’t work, you might want to focus on the particular perspective you bring to the work. It’s time for some soul-searching. What are you interested in, and why? What drives you to write? What do you think a reader will appreciate about you or your work?

These can all be difficult questions to answer, looking at yourself from the inside out. If you have trusted beta readers, critiquers, or family and friends who are familiar with your work (and able to be honest), it doesn’t hurt to ask them what they think.

Finishing it Off

Finally, once you’ve got all the difficult bits sorted out, you’ll probably want to add a link to website, social media, or other ways that fans can virtually stalk you. While a good bio can sometimes help sell the book, it’s also the easiest way to point excited readers to more of your stuff when they finish reading.

It’s also worth noting that we live in a digital world. You can’t rewrite the bio or blurb on a published book unless you get a fresh print run or new edition. When it comes to self-publishing, print-on-demand, e-books and other digital avenues, it can be much easier to change and tweak these things. Just don’t get stuck in a loop of constantly updating and second-guessing yourself. You can always update that bio when your next project is done.

Next Time

Later this week, I’ll work on updating my author bio for Razor Mountain. See you then.

Aside

Thing Number Zero: Write the Book

I came across this article recently, A Pre-Launch Playbook for Debut Authors, and I couldn’t help but laugh. A mere fifty-six things you need to do before launching a debut novel. Social media, website, bookstagrammers, goodreads, bookbub, newsletters, travel and networking, interviews. A YouTube channel.

As if it wasn’t exhausting enough writing a good book, this is what the business side of writing is like nowadays. God help you if you’re not independently wealthy and have to have a non-writing job. You can sleep when you’re dead, right?

I do like the idea of dropping a few copies of your book in local Little Free Libraries though.