Author Platform Example: Caitlin Doughty, Ask a Mortician

Author Platform Example: Caitlin Doughty, Ask a Mortician An excellent example of ticking all the boxes for building an author platform. Any author, self-published or traditionally published, can learn from Caitlin Doughty’s example.

Death. An inevitable fact of life, but one that is usually spoken about in hushed tones and with sadness and awkwardness, right? Well, that is until now.

Caitlin Doughty, a licensed mortician with a degree in medieval history, kind of blows that theory out of the water. Caitlin deals with the topic of death boldly, factually and with humour.

Her book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory was published in 2014, but she started her YouTube channel Ask a Mortician in 2011, long before the release of the book, and she hasn’t done just a video or two. Caitlin has produced more than 50 videos, some receiving in excess of 250,000 views! In her eccentric, entertaining manner, Caitlin addresses questions that many of us have wondered about but never felt comfortable enough to ask, even if we knew someone who could answer them. No topic related to death seems to be too weird or too uncomfortable for Caitlin to discuss.

Perhaps it is because of this that she has more than 650 reviews of her book posted on Amazon (a 4-1/2 star overall rating) or perhaps this success is due to our curiosity about the niche topic she so readily and easily explains with her insider knowledge, but I’d like to think that Caitlin is a perfect example of an author with an extensive author platform, established long before the launch of her book. She’s ticked all the boxes for building an author platform by using an extensive number of social media networks, YouTube and a website to attract readers for her book.
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Dropcards for e-Books: Digital Downloads with a Difference

Dropcards for e-Books: Digital Downloads with a Difference explores the digital download options available through Dropcards.

This article first appeared on The Book Designer. If you’ve published an e-book and are looking for unique ways to sell and market it, I think you’ll find this article quite interesting!

A couple of years ago I wrote an article for The Book Designer about some of the options that were available to authors of e-books for distributing their e-books through bookstores and at booksignings (E-books For Real: E-book Gift Cards from Livrada and Enthrill.)

Recently I had the pleasure to speak with Steve Ceragno of about what Dropcards can offer authors and small publishers when it comes to digital downloads for their e-books.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • You’ve written an e-book and you want to:
    • make it available to reviewers.
    • sell it at bookstores.
    • sell it at booksignings.
    • give away another book, perhaps a prequel in your series along with the latest book.
    • serialize it and make it available to your readers a chapter at a time.

  • You’d like add a video greeting to the readers of your e-book to introduce yourself or maybe give them a peek into your secret world where you write your books.

Guess what? It’s all possible!

Dropcard offers the following options:

  • Plastic gift cards
  • Plastic gift cards with concealed codes that can be scratched off (like scratch and win lottery tickets) for bookstore sales. (Additional cost)
  • Eco-friendly biodegradable gift cards
  • Lanyards
  • Digital codes that you can send out via email.

The gift cards usually feature the artwork for the e-book cover but Dropcards is open to exploring other ideas for graphics on their cards.

Dropcards cards

Examples of Dropcards

A website landing page is created by Dropcards for each digital download, or, if authors and publishers prefer, they can embed the digital code redemption box onto their own existing websites. (Embedding the digital code redemption box is basically the same process as embedding a YouTube video onto a website if you’ve ever done that.)

Dropcard redemption box

Example of a Digital Code Redemption Box

You can find a couple of examples of landing pages by Dropcards here:

If you prefer, a custom website can be done for an additional fee. Steve showed me an example of a custom site where the author had included cover art for two more of his books on the site with links to Amazon where they could be purchased. I thought that was a great idea!

The digital redemption codes (on gift cards or for emails) are good for two years, but Dropcards is open to extending if necessary. And, if you change or update the content, the redemption codes can be re-used to download the edited or new content.

Hosting Your Digital Files

Dropcards offers up to 500MB of hosting space for your digital files with a standard package. But, here’s the good part: You can use this space for pretty much any type of downloadable digital file!

So, that could include audio books, e-books in whatever format you’d care to offer them (epub, mobi, itunes…), video, images, you name it!

And, if you’re writing an e-book and you want to serialize it and make it available to your readers a chapter at a time. – You can change the content that is being hosted by Dropcards and your readers can re-use the redemption code to download the next chapter.

Setting Up an Account with Dropcards

  1. Go to and create an account.
  2. Decide what type of card you’d like to use for your project.
  3. Order your Dropcards and upload the graphics you want to use for your cards so Dropcards can begin work on your project. (You don’t need to upload your book media at this time, you can upload ANYTIME, even after you have the cards in-hand.)
  4. Within 24 hrs of receiving your order Dropcards will send you a proof.
  5. Once you approve the proof, Dropcards will ship your cards within 4 -8 business days from our New Jersey facility.

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Book Promotion: Are You Clueless or Desperate?

Book Promotion: Are You Clueless or Desperate? describes how not to promote your book using email and lists ways to properly promote your book.

I manage the Inbox for a client of mine who is an indie author. Almost every day this person gets at least one email announcing the launch of a new book and most of the time my client doesn’t even know the author.

These emails usually start out with a distribution list of about a thousand email addresses, not entered in the BCC (An old world term that means blind carbon copy.) field, but staring every recipient of the email right in the face.

It looks as if the person sending the email has been collecting email addresses for years in anticipation of this huge event (their book launch) and they’ve copied in every single person in their contact list including their veterinarian, dentist and the guy who emailed a quote about fixing their roof.

Is this a case of being desperate or clueless?

The email then proceeds to excitedly announce the publication of the brand spanking new book, or e-book, or audio book or whatever.

Now keep in mind that these books are often from very unique genres with topics like exotic encounters with ghosts or how to embroider mobile phone cases, and what the sender and presumed author never quite gets is that their book, their pride and joy, might not be something that the guy who fixed the roof lies awake at night salivating about in eager anticipation of its release let alone the veterinarian and the dentist.

There are many definitions for desperate, but I like this one from Merriam-Webster online dictionary: done with all of your strength or energy and with little hope of succeeding.

And clueless? Merriam-Webster defines that as not having knowledge about something : unable to understand something.

I believe many of these authors think, or perhaps hope or pray, that everyone who receives the email will either buy the book, or forward their email aimlessly out to everyone on their contact lists who will buy the book. I’m guessing. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of strategy put into sending out these emails so I’m really not sure what the thought process is.

First, let me be clear on something. I am not criticising and I really don’t know if the guy who fixes the roof is on the list though I could find out as all the email addresses are there to be seen. I’m telling you about this because I don’t want you to make the same mistake.

How Should You Do It?

  • Do market research well in advance of (months or maybe even years before) the publication of your book to determine who will read your book and then announce its release to only those people who are going to be interested and, perhaps to your family and friends who will want to congratulate you.
  • Establish an author platform (again, months or maybe even years before the release of your book) through a blog/website and sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. and create a network of potential readers and other people in the industry through your author platform who are likely to want to know about, spread the word about, read and/or buy your book.
  • Start a subscription list on your blog so that you can contact your subscribers with the exciting news of your book’s release. Sign up for an account with MailChimp or Aweber or another similar site to manage the list for you and send your announcements through your account. These people have already expressed an interest in what you’re doing so it’s acceptable to contact them with your book news. They are likely to share your enthusiasm and might be inclined to forward it to some of their contacts, unlike the guy who fixes your roof!
  • Send out book review requests but only to those reviewers who welcome and review books in your genre.
  • If you have to send an email to multiple recipients to promote your book or for any other reason it is good form to use the BCC field to protect the privacy of each individual by not making their email address available to everyone on the distribution list for the email.

It’s not rocket science but it is work, a lot of work. And, it’s your book’s best shot at success!

Photo credit: Pixabay

5 Things to Know about Working with a Virtual Assistant

5 Things to Know about Working with a Virtual Assistant shares some information about working with virtual assistants.

I wear a lot of hats in life as do many of you and one of mine is being a virtual assistant. So, if I’m at my desk and I’m not blogging or writing, I’m usually working for my clients.

I’ve been a virtual assistant now for about eight years and I thought I’d share some information about working with virtual assistants that you might find helpful.

Five Things about Virtual Assistants

  1. Find a virtual assistant that you feel comfortable with. I recommend this to people all the time. In the absence of face-to-face communication, it’s important that you have a good feeling about the person you work with. Referrals from someone you trust definitely help. Interview your virtual assistant on the phone or on Skype to get a sense of who they are. Most virtual assistants are happy to discuss your needs with you initially without charge.
  2. You will need to give your virtual assistant your passwords for sites you need help creating or maintaining. Before you send this information to your virtual assistant, make sure that it works. If you can log into your accounts successfully with the login information, she should be able to as well. (There can be exceptions to this if the site logs IP address as part of their security measures.) Sending the wrong login info causes confusion and wastes time that you have to pay for.
    If you are uncomfortable sending the information through email there are a few ways to do this that minimize the likelihood of it being intercepted.

    • Print the document, scan it and send the image file with your password as an email attachment.
    • Tell your virtual assistant that you are sending the password over several emails without noting what the password is for. For example if you’ve told her you’re sending her your password for your blog, you could send it with the subject line of Email #1 and the body of the email could show the first three characters of the password, say “ABC”, then subject line “Email #2” with the body showing the next three characters, and so on. The information would appear as random characters and it is unlikely that anyone other than you and your virtual assistant would know what the password was for if it was intercepted.
    • You could verbally give your password and login information to your virtual assistant over the phone or on Skype but if it’s a particularly complicated password with a lot of special characters, this may be difficult.
  3. Different virtual assistants have different skills and experience. Some virtual assistants help writers maintain their blogs or market their books and are experts on using social media or building websites, some virtual assistants work with lawyers, some work with real estate agents, etc.
    And, even though a virtual assistant might be an expert on using social media, it doesn’t mean that she’s completely up to speed on every single social media platform and utility that works with that social media platform. She might be, don’t get me wrong, but things change quickly on the internet. New sites crop up overnight.

    It’s also been my experience that as much as I might like to learn something new, it isn’t always possible because there are only so many hours in a day.

  4. Just because a virtual assistant works from home doesn’t mean she’s available for business 24 x 7. We all have personal lives, too, and as we’re all learning more and more, it’s important and healthy to switch off and disconnect from the internet sometimes.
    The borderless nature of the internet means that we often work in different time zones than our clients. Some of us choose to work on off hours that better suit our family lives, but some of us work 9 to 5 hours, or something close to that. Know what time zone your virtual assistant is in so that you don’t call her too early in the morning or too late at night. And, realize that if you email on a weekend, you might not get an answer until Monday.

    If you have questions or concerns about this, ask your virtual assistant what she sees as being reasonable work hours when you can contact her.

  5. Being a virtual assistant is great! I like my job. I like to help my clients and working from home works for me and my family.

Is there anything you’d like to know about virtual assistants? Ask me in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

Photo credit: 30.365 via photopin (license)

Hyperlinks: Pretty, Smart and Short

Hyperlinks: Pretty, Smart and Short describes three options for modifying hyperlinks to make rename them, make them geo-aware or shorten them.

I’ve never tracked how many hyperlinks I use in a day, clicking on them, adding them to blog posts and emails, and so on. I bet some days I use hundreds of them and that’s not an exaggeration. They’ve become firmly entrenched in our day to day online operations, haven’t they? In fact, I might go so far as to say, without hyperlinks there’d be no internet?

But some URLs are so long and random that you couldn’t possibly type them from memory and they’re useless for use on social media, particularly on Twitter where you’re limited to a mere 140 characters. Other URLs take us to sites that we can’t practically use because of geographic restrictions. So, today, I thought I’d tell you about a few options you could try.

Pretty Links

This is a plugin that works with sites. It enables you to shorten, redirect and rename awkward links for affiliate sites or social networking sites or pretty much any sort of hyperlink on your site, even the links that aren’t particularly lengthy and awkward, using your own domain name. And, you can access statistics so that you know the number of hits per link.

So, for example, my affiliate link for Book Design Templates is:

With the Pretty Links plugin, I could change that to, and not only would it be easier to remember, I could also view the stats on how often that link was clicked on from my site.

There’s a free version and a pro version which offers even more features. You can see the differences between the two products here. The pro version currently sells for $37 for one website or $97 for multiple sites.

Smart URLs

Ever clicked on an Amazon link on someone’s site to buy their book only to discover that it directs you to Amazon in a foreign country that won’t ship to you or allow you to download e-books through their site?

SmartURL will take care of that.

This is a free utility. Its links are” geo-aware” so if you use a Smart URL on your site for your Amazon book, and someone in the UK clicks on it, they are sent to Smart URL is not Amazon-specific and will work with various sites.

For more information about Smart URLs features click here. FAQs for Smart URLs can be found here.


Booklinker is similar to Smart URLs but it is only for links to Amazon.

Link Shorteners

Link shorteners are helpful on social media or when a hyperlink is long or awkward and you want to share it. There are many link shorteners available on the web but I’d advise that you do your research and stick to reputable ones as some link shorteners have been linked (no pun intended) to malware and adware.
I regularly use the following three link shorteners:

  1. Google URL Shortener
  3. Bitly

So, using the URL for this blog post and shortening it using these URL shorteners, this becomes:


Significantly shorter URLs, aren’t they? So I guess it’s pretty obvious why they work better on social media, especially on Twitter when used in tweets and you’re limited to 140 characters.

Generally speaking, however, it is a good idea to exercise good judgement when clicking on shortened URLs because you can never really be sure where the link you’re clicking on will take you. Make sure you trust the person or site providing you with the shortened URL.

So there you have it–three flavours of hyperlinks! I hope you find them useful.

Photo credit: Buttercups Springtime via photopin (license)

Authors: Let’s Play Show and Tell

Authors: Let’s Play Show and Tell explains why authors need to show and tell potential readers about their books and suggests how they can accomplish this.

As writers and authors we see our books from a unique perspective.

We’re excited about our books, right? And we already know how great they are, right?

Because of this, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that our potential readers have to catch up and learn what we’ve known all along—that our books are fantastic and they really need and really want to read them.

So, how do we do that?

Show and Tell

Do you remember way back (well, way back for some of us!) when we were in grade school and we had to bring something in for Show and Tell?

When our books are published, it’s our job as authors to “show” our books and “tell” our potential readers all about them.

What Influences Readers?

But, let’s think like readers for a minute. When we go to buy books, what makes us decide to read a particular book?

I think we select books in our favourite literary genres or subject matters based on:

  • The book cover
  • Availability of the book
  • Familiarity with the author
  • Reviews

So, if these factors influence readers to buy books and we have to “show and tell” readers so they know about our books, how do we do that?

Showing and Telling When It Comes to Your Book

  • Book Cover
    Your book cover is often the very first connection your readers will have with your book and contrary to what we’ve always been told, i.e. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” we do exactly that. I mean, come on, how could we NOT do that when there are 10 books on the same topic to select from and 5 of them have covers that look like they’ve been designed by a five year old?

    Without taking the time to evaluate the contents, we make assumptions that the author didn’t care enough to do a proper job of the book–based on its shoddy cover. As readers, we don’t stop to think that the author already knew that his book was fantastic and just didn’t know how to relay that information to us, do we?

    Have the cover of your book professionally designed. If you’re determined to do it yourself, have a neutral party with experience in this field critique your cover. One way to do this is through the monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards run by The Book Designer and even if you don’t actually submit your e-book cover to this contest, you can learn a lot by reviewing previous submissions.

  • Bookstores – Online and Off
    Wherever possible, and unless you have a very good reason not to do this, make your book available through various online and offline retailers in print and e-book formats so it can be seen and is accessible. We’re all busy people and many of us are a bit on the lazy side. If it’s too hard to find your book to buy it, most people won’t.
  • Your Author Platform
    Just as you should put your book out there, show your face, too. Connect with your readers, your potential readers, other writers and other industry professionals. Utilize social media, maintain a blog, do interviews, consider podcasting, do a newsletter, write guest posts.

    Use this, your author platform, to tell potential readers about you and your book. Tell them why you made certain decisions about your storyline, or where you did your research, or how you picked your book cover, for example. Let them in on the creation of your book and tell them why you think it’s fantastic, but don’t go over the top with “Buy my book! Buy my book!” because they won’t. You’ll just turn them off.

    It’s recommended that you create your author platform well before your book is actually published to build your connections and to reap the most benefit from your social media networks when your book is released versus starting from scratch after your book has been released.

    Interact with your audience and others in the industry and be approachable. If they like you and are interested in what you have to say, odds are they’ll want to read your book and might even help to spread the word about it.

  • Book Reviewers
    Book reviews are an important way to tell the world about your book. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some book reviews without asking as people read your book, but more than likely you will need to get this ball rolling, and it will be your job to contact book reviewers and ask them to read and review your book and show them your book (see to it that your book gets in their hands) so they can do this.

    Book reviews tell people about your book and the more people telling the world about your book, the more noise they’ll make and the more likely it will be that others will want to read your book, too.

My clearest memory of bringing something to school for show and tell was taking a dried blow fish that my grandfather brought back from Jamaica where he was stationed during WWII. The poor thing was old and very brittle (and ugly!) by the time I took it to class some 20 years after the war ended. I don’t remember what I told the class about this dried up old fish when I showed them, but I do remember that that fish had the last laugh when its sharp pointy spine things poked through the paper bag I was carrying it in and gashed my legs.

Showing and telling your potential readers about your book sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It is, and while it’s not quite as simple as back in the day when you could drag a favourite toy (or a dried up fish), into your classroom and talk about it for five minutes, you can still have a lot of fun with it.

Photo credit: Puffers via photopin (license)

14 Free Ebooks on Writing, Marketing, Publishing and Motivation for Writers

14 Free Ebooks on Writing, Marketing, Publishing and Motivation for Writers – a list of 14 ebooks written and complied by industry experts offering information and guidance on a variety of topics ranging from writing, marketing, publishing, and being just plain motivated to stay the course.

Below is a list of 14 ebooks for writers written and complied by industry experts offering information and guidance on a variety of topics ranging from writing, marketing, publishing, and being just plain motivated to stay the course.

To receive some of these ebooks, you will have to sign up for a free subscriptionn first.

I have visited a lot of these blogs and have downloaded and read many of the free ebooks listed below. A few of the others were tracked down just for this article and I haven’t had a chance to read them yet so if you do please let us know what you think.

I think there’s a lot of good stuff here.

Writing, Publishing, Marketing and Motivation for Writers

  1. Free Guides on Publishing available at
  2. Shave 10 Hours Off Your Work Week available at
  3. Guide + Workbook, How To Write Better Stories available at Jennifer Blanchard
  4. 14 Prompts available at The Write Practice
  5. The Nearly Ultimate Guide to Better Writing available at Write to Done
  6. How to Get Published, How to Increase Book Sales available at Best Seller
  7. 10 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing available at The Book Designer
  8. Author 2.0 Blueprint available at The Creative Penn
  9. Twitter Just For Writers: The Ultimate How-to Guide for Authors available at Social Media Just For Writers
  10. 279 Days to Overnight Success available at Chris Guillebeau
  11. Smashwords Book Marketing Guide available at
  12. Write Good or Die by Scott Nicholson
  13. Time Management for Creative People available at Wishful Thinking
  14. The Cheap Retreat Workbook by Catharine Bramkamp

Photo credit: DSC_0590 via photopin (license)

Testimonials: An Ageless Marketing Strategy

Testimonials: An Ageless Marketing Strategy provides examples from 1869 to stress the importance of this book marketing tool.

During the course of my research into Victorian houses, I found another old book today on

Hints on Household Taste title page

The book itself, Hints on Household Taste by Charles Eastlake, looks like an interesting read and may be very helpful, but as I scrolled through the PDF file, what first caught my attention, were the “Opinions of the Press” listed before the Table of Contents.

Hints on Household Taste reviews1

Hints on Household Taste reviews2
In case you missed it in the first image, this book was published in 1869!

So, there you have it! Publishers have been using this tactic to sell books for a very long time which, to me at least, indicates that it must work?

What are your thoughts on the subject? Have you used testimonials and book reviews to market your books?

Photo credit: Pixabay

Internet Outage: Book Promotion in the Dark Ages

Our internet went out the other night. Well, it wasn’t just our internet, it was all of our internet service provider’s clients in southern Ontario and eastern Canada and because of the vastness of the outage, I started to wonder if we were dealing with a cyber terrorist attack, you know, like they keep talking about in movies and novels and even sometimes on CNN.

After the initial realization that our internet could be down for quite a while, I started to think of how we did things “in the old days” and how much the internet has changed our lives.

Because of the internet and the opportunities it provided and the connections we made online, we moved to the UK and back to Canada again sorting out houses and jobs in both directions, travelled extensively, and made friends throughout the world, many of whom we’ve actually met “offline.” My daughters even met their husbands because of the internet.

The internet has also opened up opportunities for me, and many many others, to start businesses as virtual assistants, web designers, and a host of other related businesses.

But think for a moment about how the internet has changed the world for authors.

No internet = no Amazon, no BookBaby, no Smashwords. Of course, this is only a sampling of the online book retailers. And, obviously if there was no Amazon, there would be no Kindle. I’m using that as an example but I’m sure you get the picture – no e-books or need for e-readers, at least not how we know e-books to be now as an available alternative to almost any hard copy book.

No internet = no blogs, Facebook, or Twitter (or the million other social media marketing tools that are out there.) Imagine how much smaller the market becomes for a self-published author trying to sell his/her book without these online tools. Imagine how difficult it would be to create an author platform and network with potential readers for your book and to learn about self-publishing and marketing in the first place if not for the internet.

I can’t really think of one negative when it comes to authors using the internet to promote their work.

But, fear not. Our internet service resumed after a few hours and there hadn’t been a cyber terrorist attack, just a malfunction of some damaged equipment owned by our ISP apparently. All is well and authors can continue to explore all the amazing options and opportunities available to them in cyberspace!

Photo credit: Image courtesy of mikumistock at