Mistakes Authors Make

by Michelle Gagnon

I recently read an excellent post by Rowena Cherry on some of the cardinal sins writers commit, and it really struck a chord, probably because in the past I’ve been guilty of most of them.

So here’s my advice on how to to make blatant self-promotion (aka BSP) less blatant…

  • Mailing lists: only add people who actually agree to be added. I’ve opened my inbox to discover newsletters from people I served on panels with, people I helped out by reading their manuscripts, and people I’ve never even heard of. As it is, I receive a few hundred emails a day- the last thing I want is more to sift through, UNLESS I signed up independently. The irony is that some of these newsletters I probably would be interested in, but being added without my permission is such a turn-off, it puts a black mark next to that writer’s name for me.

  • Newsletters: Send them out occasionally, and as John so aptly said on Friday, only when you have real news to report. If I’m getting a newsletter from someone on a weekly basis, I tend to delete it without opening, or to unsubscribe. Not many of us have exciting news occurring on a daily basis (I’m lucky to have one exciting thing happen a month, actually). I tend to send out newsletters 4-6 times/year, mostly clustered around release dates.

  • Newsgroups: A large portion of those hundreds of emails that I receive originate from various newsgroups and listservs. And invariably, on almost a daily basis, there’s a post that starts, “If you like reading such-and-so, you’ll love my new thriller about…The best way to get people interested in your book is not to push it every time someone starts a thread about Lee Child. Participate: if you enjoy those author’s books as well, say so. Be an active member of a listserv, not just popping out of lurkdom to announce the release of your latest opus. Because unless the other participants have some familiarity with you, chances are it will do more harm than good. As you build up a presence, then you can-OCCASIONALLY- mention your next book. Better yet, just include the title and release date as part of your signature. As members start to recognize your name, they’ll most likely become curious about your work, too. Anything else smacks of tooting your own horn.

  • Groups like GoodReads, 4MA, Shelfari, Dorothy L, and many others exist mainly for fans. I remember one time when the author of one group’s monthly read discovered they were discussing his book. He joined the list, and popped up with all sorts of explanations. And the conversation promptly shut down. Because the truth is, sometimes fans are thrilled to have an author participate in their discussions- but if that’s what they want, they’ll usually invite you. If you show up unannounced, you become the equivalent of a party crasher. They clearly were not about to say anything negative about the book when the author was reading every word (after all, some of these fans have their own manuscripts tucked away in a drawer, and wisely didn’t want to annoy someone they might seek a blurb from down the line). If you’re going to take part in these groups, do so as a fan. If you want to directly promote your book, take part in GoodReads giveaway program, or buy advertising with one of the sites targeted to readers of your genre.

  • Likewise, if all you do on your Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter pages is post updates on your own work, everyone outside of immediate family will probably rapidly tire of it. It’s the virtual equivalent of the guy at a cocktail party who won’t stop talking about himself. Instead, post links to interesting articles you stumble across, writing-related or otherwise. Respond to people who take the time to comment on your links. Answer messages people send. The trick is to have a real dialogue, rather than perpetually shouting the title of your book from the rooftops.
  • Poking, hugging, and otherwise molesting social network friends: personally, I find the deluge of emails inviting me to join fairy kingdoms, battle mobsters, or start a farm annoying. I barely have time to maintain my ongoing feud with the Petriarca family in real life, for Pete’s sake, never mind planting green beans that I could actually eat. Now, I know there are people out there who love those aspects of Facebook and MySpace; but don’t assume that others want to participate. That checkbox, where you can invite all your friends? I recommend avoiding it. Same goes for virtual hugs, flowers, postcards, angels, and whatever else is out there.

Now, what you can do…

  • Make it easy for people to sign up for your newsletter, and to friend you on the social networking sites (in other words, clear and user-friendly website design is crucial). Also make sure to keep the information on your website current.
  • If you see that someone has read your books on Shelfari or Goodreads, extend a friend invitation- then it’s their choice (this works better with people who liked your books).
  • Keep your author pages up to date across all social networking sites, focusing mainly on the ones you have the time and inclination to maintain.
  • Bring a notebook to any and all author events, making it clear that people only need sign it if they want to join your newsletter mailing list.
  • When you craft a newsletter, keep it short, to the point, and interesting.
  • On the newsgroups, follow my Southern friend’s “ABC” rule- Always Be Charming. Getting into a spirited debate is fine, but there are people on the listservs who quickly become notorious for abrasive or obnoxious posts. That sort of behavior definitely won’t help sell books.

And finally, remember that the most important thing is to achieve a balance. Don’t spend so much time discussing other people’s books that you neglect to work on your own.

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Social Networking Showdown

by Michelle Gagnon

At Left Coast Crime a few weeks ago, I was part of a great panel on utilizing the Internet to market your book. This is a bit of a double-edged sword: now that much of the marketing burden falls on authors’ shoulders, being able to reach people without an insanely expensive direct mailing is invaluable. However, online networking can also become a tremendous time suck, drawing valuable hours away from what writers should primarily focus on: their manuscripts. Today I’ll discuss which sites I’ve found most valuable in a head-to-head match up, as well as sharing how I stay on top of them without losing my mind.

facebookFacebook vs. MySpace

I confess to being one of the “old people who joined up and ruined Facebook.” I now have more than a thousand friends, and probably post something to the page once or twice a week. I’m also on MySpace, but have found Facebook to be far more user-friendly to someone as technologically challenged as myself. (However, if I was working on a YA novel, MySpace would probably be where I devoted more of my focus). A couple of things to bear in mind when using these or other social networking sites:

  • Public vs. Private: I keep my pages public, and will friend anyone who asks. So anything that’s truly personal, such as family photos, etc, doesn’t get posted there. And if anyone tags me or mine in such a photo, I immediately remove the tag. myspace
  • In order to maintain my sanity, I go onto each site once a week (Facebook on Mondays, MySpace on Tuesdays). That’s when I accept friends, answer emails, and respond to comments. If I stumble across an interesting article online, I have the “share on facebook” tab incorporated into my browser, which makes it oh-so-easy to post it to my page (another clear benefit of Facebook over MySpace).
  • The cocktail party rule: I rarely post anything political on any of my pages. Again, this is a matter of personal preference, but I would rather discuss my books or interesting developments in publishing than who I voted for.

Shelfari vs. GoodReads

shelfari The trick to these is joining groups that read books similar to yours. I’ve generally found Shelfari to be more useful, although I do get updates from GoodReads discussions as well. The Shelfari groups just seem to more active, especially the “Suspense/Thrillers” one, which graciously invited me to lead a discussion of Boneyard last August. Every so often I’ll remember to log in and update my home page with the books I’ve read recently.

  • One caveat: if I don’t like a book, I don’t review it, period. Other authors have no problem posting negative reviews, so it’s largely a matter of personal goodreads preference. But I know authors whose feelings were hurt when one of their peers negatively reviewed their book on these sites, and figure it’s better to follow the, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” rule. The crime fiction writing community is a small one, filled with people who possess an encyclopedic knowledge base of how to kill someone and get away with it. Bear that in mind when you’re considering giving a book one star out of five.
  • I join in whenever people are discussing a book I really enjoyed, or an author whose work I admired. After all, I’m a reader as well as a writer.
  • Be careful in how you participate. When someone I’ve never heard of joins one of the discussions and proceeds to blatantly flog their own work, it’s a huge turn off. Probably better not to participate than to do that. This isn’t to say that you should never mention your book- but other members will be more receptive if you’re someone they’re already familiar with.

Twitter

twitter I’m not a big tweeter. I post links to my Kill Zone posts (and guest posts,) and occasionally link to articles or posts that I found interesting, but I simply don’t have time to announce what I had for lunch every day.

siamese Crimespace et al

I know other crime fiction authors love Crimespace, but I haven’t used it much. Most of the Ning circles (and I’m part of five) don’t seem very active to me. This could be my own failing- I find them challenging to navigate, and frankly my other pages are so easier I forget about these. Same goes for Gather, Bebo, Linked In, etc. You might have better luck. If you write books with a Siamese Cat sleuth, and there’s a Siamese cat appreciation group on one of the social networks, by all means take advantage.

Newsletters:

I have a pet peeve. Say we met at a conference and chatted about marketing. I offered to continue the discussion by email. Then, I find myself getting a deluge of newsletters from you, none of which I signed up for. Or worse yet, you mined my email address from a mass email sent by a mutual friend (note: always bcc people on those emails). This has happened to me more times than I can count. DO NOT add people to your newsletter unless they have specifically asked to be included. Have a sign up sheet on your website, and make it easy for people to unsubscribe.

And that’s my two cents. So what have the rest of you found to be useful? Any tips to share?

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