Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Author Dr John Yeoman: A 3-Step Way to Become a Celebrity Author

By Dr. John Yeoman, @Yeomanis

I'd like to welcome Dr. John Yeoman to the blog today to share with us some tips on achieving what we all want--to be the next JK Rowling/James Paterson/Stephen King/Insert Huge Named Author of Your Choice.

Dr. John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. His free 14-part course in writing fiction for profit can be found online.

Take it away John...

Have you ever wondered why some authors sell more books than you do although your novels are, indisputably, of better quality? I once read a brilliant debut novel by an historical fiction writer. She had captured the language and customs of the late 16th century immaculately. Her storyline sparkled too. Yet she couldn’t find a publisher.

Then I picked up a swashbuckler by a name writer that had stayed in the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks. I tossed it down after the first five pages. Trite, badly researched and unreadable.

Publishers are not fair, are they?

Some iconic authors sell their latest work solely, it seems, on the basis of their past glories. If an unknown writer submitted that same work to an agent it would be round-binned as fast as you could say "dross." Of course, celebrated authors have "mana" or a charisma invested in their names which unknowns lack.

Mana is irrational.

It can attach itself even to unreadable work. Some authors could sell a million copies of their laundry list. (And some do, to judge from their first chapters.)

What’s these authors’ secret? In the words of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, they have great "symbolic capital." This is the mana that celebrities accumulate by virtue of being, well, celebrities.

It takes many forms. Shakespeare has cultural capital and Lady Gaga has erotic capital. Bill Gates? Intellectual capital. Mark Zuckerberg? How about economic capital aka money? One form of capital can merge into another. (There’s nothing more erotic than money.)

As authors, how can we acquire symbolic capital?

1. Gain independent validation.

Bourdieu called this process "consecration." An author whose work is published by a distinguished publisher is consecrated and acquires some of the publisher’s own mana or charisma.

Until recently, self-publishing authors could acquire little mana. In their self-promotions, they consecrated only themselves. However, with the advent of Kindle and on-line ebook vendors, the power of an imprint is becoming less relevant. Given a ton of good reader reviews at Amazon, Goodreads and the like, who needs Random House?

Reviews create mana.

They are one of the two greatest factors in persuading readers to buy a book from an author they don’t know. (Source:

So step one is, get your book widely reviewed! You’ll find plenty of "how to" advice on reviews at the Yahoo forums dedicated to self-publishing authors: Independent Authors Guild, Murder Must Advertise, Marketing for Romance, and the like.

2. Build your own fan base.

Word of mouth is the second greatest influence on the purchasing of novels ( It starts with your own blog. Amanda Hocking spent just twelve months in 2010 to sell one million copies of her self-published ebooks through her website, solely as a result of word-of-mouth recommendation. That was a first. It gave her celebrity status.

Authors of paranormal tales for young adults are everywhere at Lola, AuthorHouse and other self-publishing arcades. So why did St Martins Press give Hocking a $2 million book contract? It was not buying her work but her mana. And Hocking created that herself, by word-of-mouth.

Most authors now have a blog, of course, and know perfectly well how to use social networking to drive in traffic. But social networking, by itself, won’t result in a million sales. We have to go to step 3...

3. Create a long digital footprint.

Once people hear your name they’ll look you up in search engines then be guided to your books. For example, put in the longtail keywords “Dr John Yeoman” + “creative writing” into Google and you’ll find around 23,000 listings. More than half the traffic to my Writers’ Village site now comes from organic searches, folk who Googled my name or “Writers’ Village” + contest (94,000 valid references).

I don’t sell books, merely a story contest and writing course, but if novels were my main product I’d now have a steady income just from Google.

How do you get a long digital footprint?

Put your name, novel titles and site address (URL) everywhere in quality sites that attract a high volume of your target readers. Across three years, I’ve seen my own Google page rank shoot up from 0 to 5 (though it oscillates) and my Alexa rating drop from 12 million to a six-figure level. (Perversely, a low Alexa rating indicates high traffic.)

How did that happen? I know very little about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). So it can only be because I’ve placed comments, guest posts and articles in many hundreds of quality sites and forums relevant to creative writing.

"Traffic" and "quality" are the keys. One substantial mention in a high-traffic site is worth a thousand references in start-up blogs or those trawled only by Google spiders.

You might spend all day on Twitter, or bonding with your Facebook and LinkedIn friends, or posting pictures at Pinterest and not sell a single book. Why? You’re preaching to a tiny congregation, your own. Provide value to other people’s sites or forums and, for the same investment of time, your congregation is unlimited.

But it does take time. The work you invest today may not pay off for twelve months. Then the results become incremental. A high page rank attracts traffic and backlinks, all by itself. The more backlinks you get the better your page ratings become and the more books you sell.

Of course, this is familiar wisdom. So why do I mention it? Because many authors give up too quickly. Three quality posts in the right places will not shift your page rank but 100 might, Google willing. Acquiring cultural capital is like writing a novel. Talent is useful but persistence is everything.

Sorry, I must go now. I have to check out my cultural capital at Alexa.


  1. Thanks for the advice! Let's hope we all receive a little mana of our own :)

  2. Hmmm. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Dr. John Yeoman is indeed a brilliant and wise man.

    I've entered a few writing contests, one of which was Dr. Yeoman's. He is the only man I know who answered my questions and provided valuable writing advice free of charge.

    Thank you, Dr. Yeoman. Your advice on Janice's post is invaluable.

    Best regards,
    Tracy Campbell

  4. This is really good advice. I'm hitting the self-promotion trail at the moment for my first book, so I'll be trying out your suggestions.

  5. Thanks for this great insight. I read many blogs, but I don't always comment. I'll be adjusting my strategy. Thanks again.

  6. Great advice. I does one know which sites are the right ones?

  7. Ex,ellent

  8. Ex,ellent