No More Platform Anxiety, Please

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

A recent post by agent Janet Kobobel Grant offers some welcome relief on the dicey subject of “platform.” I’ve been slapping that particular bongo for years. How are new fiction writers supposed to create a following before they have any books out? I even pulled up a comment I made on TZK ten years ago (before I was a contributor!), to wit:

By far and away the best “platform” for us is OTHER people yakking it up about our books. Word of mouth has always been the most powerful marketing tool. You don’t get that by blogging, tweeting or shouting. You get it ONLY by writing books people talk about. That has to be job one.

The flip side is the best promoter in the world cannot overcome a book that fizzles with the reading public. It can get you a strong introduction, but from there the book takes over. If it does fizzle, the answer is not more promotion; the answer is a stronger book.

Yet many a publisher has pushed platform building, even for unpublished writers, leading to increased levels of scribal stress and sales of Pepto-Bismol.

A platform, as the book industry sees it, is whatever you do to engage and interact with a significant portion of the public. That includes social media, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and even good old public speaking.

All of those things take effort and cut into a writer’s creativity and productivity time. So does it make sense to spend that capital trying to create a platform at the expense of writing good books?

There is no shortcut to platform success, either. Sure, you can farm 50,000 Twitter followers, but how many of them are truly interested in you? Or you in them (shown by actual engagement)? That’s the key to social media. Thus, I was glad to read Janet’s comments:

The second group of editors I met with started off our conversation by saying they have come to realize it’s unrealistic to expect a newer novelist to have a large platform. Upon what foundation can a fiction writer build that platform? Especially as a debut novelist, you can only engage potential book-buyers so much in your writing and research endeavors before your attempted connections take on a bland sameness.

However, Janet continues, these fiction editors do want to see that a writer is “willing” to engage in platform building. Which means at least one social media footprint. The big takeaway is something I’ve advised for years:

These editors believe that choosing to focus on one aspect of social media is the best route to go. Rather than dabbling in several mediums but not really figuring out what works for you, dig into one medium and gather all your friends or followers in that one spot.

So which social media outpost is best for you? Read and reflect on Sue Coletta’s excellent post on the topic. Be sure to follow the links and also read the comments. You’ll make wiser social media choices if you do.

Janet Grant concludes:

I hope you’re taking a deep breath as you consider that some of the pressure to collect names and online connections has let up just a bit. None of these editors would say platform isn’t important. But each of them would say she—and the whole publishing team—is taking a more nuanced look at the planks of each writer’s platform.

By the way, if you want to plow right through the nuance, write a book that blows them all away. Then you can talk about platform all you want.

As I was prepping this post, an article entitled “How to Reduce Marketing Anxiety and Confusion by industry expert Jane Friedman appeared on the PW site. Jane writes, in part:

In a great scene from Lost in Translation, Bill Murray’s character says, “The more you know who you are and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” If I could customize that for today’s authors, I’d say, “The more you know who you are as an author and what readership you seek, the less confused you’ll be about marketing.” And the less you’ll be influenced by the crowd.

It’s easy to feel anxious about your progress when you see your peers engaging in new forms of publishing or marketing and you feel pressured to join. But the more you’re focused on your own long-term outcomes and how to wisely use your time and resources, the better prepared you’ll be to consider or experiment with new tactics, adopting or discarding them as you see fit.

So how is your platform anxiety these days? Does it ever detract from your writing? What are you doing about it?

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Social Media, Blogging, and SEO Tips

Posted by Sue Coletta

Social Media, Blogging, and SEO tipsTo prepare for my first post as a TKZ member (yay!), I read all the social media posts on the Kill Zone (my little research addiction rearing its head :-)). Back as far as 2009, Joe Moore wrote Social Networking Showdown, which explored MySpace vs. Facebook, Shelfari vs. Goodreads, Crimespace, Gather, Bebo, LinkedIn, and the all-important email list. Even though some of these sites are nonexistent today, Joe’s advice still applies. And in 2011, he shared his perspective on using manners online. Which is critical these days.

The way we conduct ourselves on social media matters. Hence, why Jim made social media easy and why, I presume, Jodie Renner invited Anne Allen to give us 15 Do’s and Don’ts of social media as only Anne could, with her fantastic wit.

One year later, in 2016, Clare shared what’s acceptable for authors on social media and what isn’t. Jim showed us the dangers of social media, and how it can consume us if we’re not careful.

Through the years the Kill Zone authors have tried to keep us from falling into the honey trap of social media. Which brings me to the burning question Kathryn posed this past June: Writers on Social Media: Does it Even Make a Difference?

In my opinion, the correct answer is yes.

Working writers in the digital age need to have a social media presence. Fans expect to find a way to connect with their favorite author. How many of you have finished reading a thriller that blew you away, and immediately went online to find out more about the author? I know I have. It’s only natural to become curious about the authors whose books we love. Give your fans a way to find you — the first step in building an audience.

I’ve seen authors who don’t even have a website, never mind an updated blog. This is a huge mistake, IMO. It’s imperative to have a home base. Without one, we’re limiting our ability to grow.

BLOGGING

There are two types of blogging: those who blog about their daily routine and those who offer valuable content. Although both ways technically “engage” our audience, the latter is a more effective way to build and nurture a fan base.

When I first started blogging I had no idea what to do. I got in contact with a web design company (just like web design company Nashville) to help me get set up, and away I went! I’ve always loved to research, so I used my blog as a way to share the interesting tidbits I’d learned along the way. For me, it was a no-brainer. I’d already done the research. Writing about what I’d learned helped me to remember what I needed for my WIP while offering valuable content to writers who despise research (Gasp!). Over time my Murder Blog grew into a crime resource blog.

Running a resource blog has its advantages and disadvantages. Be sure to look into the pros and cons before choosing this route. When I first scored a publishing deal, I realized most of my audience was made up of other writers. The question then became, how could I attract non-writers without losing what I’d built?

My solution was to widen my scope to things readers would also enjoy, like flash fiction and true crime stories. Who doesn’t like a good mystery?

With a resource blog it’s also difficult to support the writing community. Book promos go over about as well as a two-ton elephant on a rubber raft. If you decide to run a resource blog, find another way to support your fellow writers. When one of us succeeds, the literary angels rejoice.

There’s one exception to the “no book promos” rule for resource blogs, and that is research. It’s always fun to read about other writers’ experiences. Subtly place their book covers somewhere in post (with buy link). That way it benefits both your audience and the author.

The one thing we can count on is that how-to blog changes with the times. A few months ago, my publisher shared a link to an article about blogging in 2018. Because she shared the article via our private group, I’m reluctant to share the link. The gist of article is, come 2018 bloggers who don’t offer some sort of video content will be left in the dust. Only time will tell if this advice holds true, but it makes sense. The younger generation loves YouTube. By adding a video series or a Facebook Live event we could expand our audience.

It’s time-consuming to create each video episode. Hence why I had several months in between the first two episodes of Serial Killer Corner. Our first priority must be writing that next book. However, consistency is key. Weekly, monthly, bi-monthly? Choose a plan that works for you and stick with it. There are many internet marketing experts who can help make your blog become successful.

SEO MATTERS

SEO — Search Engine Optimization — drives traffic to your website/blog. Without making this post 10K words long, I’m sharing a few SEO tips with added tips to expand our reach. In the future I could devote an entire post to how to maximize SEO. Would that interest you?

Tips

  • every post should have at least one inbound link and two outbound links; we highly recommend speaking to a digital marketing agency such as OutreachPete.com to get guidance on how to build these links.
  • send legacy blogs a pingback when linking to their site;
  • never link the same words as the post title or you’ll lessen the previous posts’ SEO (note how I linked to previous TKZ posts in the 1st paragraph);
  • use long-tail keywords rather than short-tail (less competition equals better traffic);
  • using Yoast SEO plug-in is one of the easiest ways to optimize a blog’s SEO;
  • self-hosted sites allow full control of SEO, free sites don’t;
  • remove stop words in the post slug (for example, see the permalink for this post); I’d also recommend removing the date, but that’s a personal preference;
  • drip marketing campaigns drive traffic to your site;
  • slow blogging drives more traffic than daily blogging (for a single author site);
  • consistency is key — if you post every Saturday, keep that schedule;
  • use spaces before and after an em dash in blog posts (not books);
  • use alt tags on every image (I use the post title, which should include the keyword); if someone pins an image, the post title travels with it;
  • link images to post and book covers to buy link;
  • white space is your friend; use subheadings, bullet points, and/or lists;
  • longer posts (800 – 1, 000 words min.) get better SEO than than shorter ones;
  • using two hashtags on Twitter garners more engagement than three or more;
  • protect your site with SSL encryption (as of this month, Google warns potential visitors if your site isn’t protected; imagine how much traffic you could lose?);
  • post a “SSL Protected” badge on your site; it aids in email sign-ups;
  • via scroll bar or pop-up, capitalize on that traffic by asking visitors to join your community, which helps build your email list;

THE 80/20 RULE

Most of us are familiar with the 80/20 rule. 80% non-book-related content; 20% books. My average leans more toward 90/10, but that may be a personal preference.

What should we share 80% of the time? The easiest thing to do is to share what we’re passionate about. When I say post about passion I don’t mean writing. Sure, we’re all passionate about writing, but I’m sure that’s not the only thing you’re passionate about. How about animals, nature, cooking, gardening, or sports?

One of the best examples of sharing one’s passion comes from a writer pal of mine, Diana Cosby, who loves photography. Every Saturday on Facebook, she holds the Mad Bird Competition. During the week she takes photos of birds who have a penetrating glare and/or fighting stance. On Saturdays, she posts two side-by-side photos and asks her audience to vote for their favorite “mad bird.” Much like boxing, the champion from that round goes up against a new bird the following week.

On Fridays, she posts formal rejection letters to birds who didn’t make the cut. With her permission, here’s an example:

Dear Mr. House Sparrow,

I regret to inform you that though your ‘fierce look’ holds merit, it far from meets the requirements for entry into the Mad Bird Competition. Please practice your mad looks and resubmit.

Sincerely,
M.R. Grackle
1st inductee into the Mad Bird Hall of Fame

It’s a blast! I look forward to these posts every week. As such, I’m curious about her books. See how that works?

My own social media tends to run a bit darker … murder & serial killers top the list, but I also share stories about Poe & Edgar, my pet crows who live free, as well as my love for nature and anything with fur or feathers. The key is to be real. Don’t try to fake being genuine. People see right through a false facade. Also, please don’t rant about book reviews, rejection letters, or anything else. Social media is not the place to share your frustrations.

As for soft marketing on social media, I like to make my own memes. It only takes a few minutes and it’s a great way to keep your fans updated on what you’re working on. In the following example I wrote: #amwriting Book 3, Grafton Series. I also linked to the series. Don’t forget to include a link to your website. The more the meme is shared, the more people see your name. Keep it small and unobtrusive. See mine in the lower-right corner?

Social Media, Blogging, and SEO Tips

In the next example, I asked, “What’s everyone doing this weekend? No words, only gifs.” Have fun on social media. The point is to engage your audience.

Folks love to be included. Plus, I genuinely want to get to know the people who follow/friend me. Don’t you? It doesn’t take much effort to make your fans feel special. Take a few moments to mingle with them. It’s five or ten minutes out of your busy schedule, yet it may be the only thing that brightens someone’s day. In a world with so much negatively and hatred, be better, be more than, be the best person you can be … in life and on social media.

Over to you TKZers. How do you approach social media? Would you be interested in more SEO and blogging tips?

CLEAVED by Sue Coletta

 

Women impaled by deer antlers, bodies encased in oil drums, nursery rhymes, and the Suicide King. What connects these cryptic clues? For Sage and Niko, the truth may be more terrifying than they ever imagined.

CLEAVED, Grafton County Series, Book 2, is on sale for $2.99.

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Social Media is Eating Your Brain

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

In 2007 the lovers were born. Soon they met, and conceived a bastard child. The child looked so beautiful … until …

damienDamien!

What’s this? A riff on The Omen? 

Nay, for it really happened. The lovers were the Kindle and Twitter. And their child is that brain-eating spawn, social media marketing.

When the child turned one, writers were just starting to figure out they could profitably self-publish on the Kindle platform.

They also saw Twitter exploding with users. They began to reason: Hey! What an easy way to reach a zillion potential book buyers! All I have to do is tweet out, “My new thriller is not to be missed. Buy it here!” and keep on tweeting that same message. Over and over. A dozen times a day. The money will pour in!

Which it never did, of course. For authors and businesses soon woke up to the harsh reality that Twitter is not great shakes at direct marketing. In fact, it is barely any shakes at all. It is social, and personal … but it is no citadel of commerce.

Still, addicted to hope, authors jumped upon each shiny new social media outlet that appeared. Pinterest! Instagram! Tumblr! Google Plus!

This addiction was fueled by enablers. Writers hoping to catch the interest of a traditional publishing house were being advised by agents and editors and critique-group chatterboxes that a gigantic social media platform was an absolute necessity for success!

Biggest load of flapdoodle since Fen-Fen, with just as many ruinous side effects.

Here’s the truth: social media madness is eating your brain, affecting your ability to concentrate and work deeply, and sabotaging the quality of your fiction––which is the one thing you cannot afford to have sabotaged if you want a long-term career!

Social media stimuli is actually akin to a drug addiction. Really. Brain scans show that constant internet users have similar brain patterns as drug addicts and alcoholics. And since social media involves another “you,” the social-you, the branded-you, the you you want to present to the world, there’s a dopamine effect. You get a good jolt of pleasure when you post, because it’s easy and it’s all about you. Which in turn makes you crave more of it.

Is Walter White behind social media madness?

The book Deep Work by Dr. Cal Newport is an eye-opener on all this. The gist of the book comes from it’s cover copy:

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.

Writing a novel is hard work. So the moment you get to a challenging spot, your brain starts to crave the easy pleasure and fast distraction of hopping onto the internet. The more you follow that impulse, the stronger the impulse center grows.

Thus, you’ll be distracted from your fiction all the time. Your ability to concentrate and stay engaged, and actually work through a writing problem toward a breakthrough, will weaken. You’ll be like a former champion pole vaulter who has started to take frequent breaks from training to snag donuts and coffee. Instead of vaulting to greater heights, the bar is going to have to be set lower and lower. Pretty soon, you’ll be doing The Limbo.

After reading Newport’s book, I saw how much of it applied to me. I’d fallen into some bad habits. Too often as I wrote I’d find an excuse to go check social media, which took me out of “flow” and often kept me distracted far too long.

This, in turn, hurt my concentration in other areas, like reading. I noticed that I’d only get through a few pages in a book before I’d feel like checking Twitter or Feedly or some news sites. I was losing the ability to “get lost” in a book, one of the main pleasures of reading. (Fess up. It’s happened to you, too, hasn’t it?)

So I took some steps that have helped enormously, and now pass them on to you:

  1. Schedule your internet time

Do not go on the net at all, ever, without scheduling the time to do so. When you sit down to write or read a book, give yourself a slot––one, two, three hours––during which you will not go net surfing at all. Then jot down the exact time you’ll do some internet, what your objective is (news, email, social media, etc.), and how much time you’ll allow for it.

Do this for the entire day.

At first, you’ll notice as you work that the strong call of the internet is still there. Like the Sirens singing to Odysseus. Fight off that urge every time it arises! Put yourself back into the pages or the books. Slowly, but most certainly, you’ll retrain yourself to concentrate on matters at hand. It’s a great feeling to get that back! And your writing will be stronger, your reading comprehension better.

  1. Mute your phone

And put it somewhere where you can’t see it––pocket, backpack, another room. There used to be a time, youngsters, when we could take a phone “off the hook” so it wouldn’t ring. Learn from your grandparents.

  1. Do memorization exercises

This is something Newport recommends. The concentration required in memory work is good training for when you’re writing or reading or studying.

My two favorite memory books are …. wait a second …

Oh yes! The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas, and Maximize Your Memory by Jonathan Hancock. (You can get a used copy of the latter for a song via sellers on Amazon. This is a very good deal!)

I’ve noticed that when I do memory exercises (one of my faves is memorizing phone numbers), my mind feels more alert and active when I get into my writing.

  1. Read something challenging every day

Choose a book or subject that forces you to concentrate in order to understand it. Then read and make yourself understand it!

I own a set of the Great Books (as collected by Mortimer Adler). The best part is the three-volume Syntopicon, an index of the 102 “great ideas” and the various places they are discussed in the books themselves. Each subject has a long introductory essay by Adler (this guy was an amazing brain! He knew not Twitter or Facebook!). My new goal is to read each essay and pursue the references that interest me, and take copious notes.

Here’s another idea: there are TENS OF THOUSANDS of great books, free and Kindle-ready, at Project Gutenberg. Literature, history, philosophy, memoir. Some starter titles I recommend:

A Manual of the Art of Fiction

The Journal of Henri-Frederic Amiel

Democracy in America 

Moonbeams from the Larger Luncay

 Now, I don’t advocate you ditch all social media. My own view is that you ought to specialize in one outlet and do it because you enjoy it. I specialize in Twitter, with some Facebook presence, and of course my Sunday posts here at TKZ.

pac-manBut I do, however, counsel that you take a hard look at your social media practices. Are you using it, or is it using you? Are you getting on it first thing in the morning (when you could be writing your Nifty 350 or Furious 500?). Are you haphazard about it during the day? Do you stop randomly as you write to go check something out on YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook? (If so, you could be a YouTwitFace). Do you check your phone several times an hour?

My guess is that for 97.8% of you, there’s brain-eating going on. It’s Pac-Man in the synapses! Time to unplug that game!

Does this ring true? What’s been your long-term experience with social media? Madness or method?

(Here’s the talk by Cal Newport that started me thinking about all this):

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Playing with Pinterest

Nancy J. Cohen

Pinterest might be the third most popular social network after Facebook and Twitter. It’s an online pin board where you post photos along with a description. The photos link back to the source. Go here to set up a free account: https://www.pinterest.com/

To find people you know, go to your friends’ sites and search through their followers. Follow any familiar names. Or on the left, click on Find Friends or Invite Friends to Pinterest. If you don’t see these features, click on the gear shift arrow in the upper right corner and then on Find Friends.

Go here to Follow me: http://pinterest.com/njcohen/

 

Pinterest3

To gain followers, follow other people’s boards and repin their photos. If you click on the little heart by the photo, it means you Like their photo. Clicking on a photo brings up a comment box.

Create your boards. Suggestions for topics can include My Books, Books by Friends, Coming Next (your WIP), Favorite Places, The Writing Life, Book Tours, Books I’ve Read, Food, Hobbies, Travels, Crafts. Browse by Category to get ideas. On the right of the search bar, click on the arrow beside the three lines. A category list will pop up. Or see what your favorite authors feature and copy their topics.

Pinterest1

I like to do storyboards for my books. Check out my boards, and you’ll see what I mean. This is a fun activity. It gives me and my fans a visual reference for my books. I’ll use some of the same photos I buy from royalty free sites for my video trailers and mix them with photos I’ve taken personally or that others have pinned.

Pinterest2

To get to your Boards, click on your name in the upper right corner. Find the Board you want to change and click Edit. Here you can add a description to the board.

To access the photos, double click on a board. You can add a pin to this board or edit the photos that are there. When you add a pin, you can also post it to Facebook or Twitter. Click on the pencil on the upper right corner of a pin to edit. If you upload your own photo, go in and edit it to add a description and website link. When you want to post your own book cover, do it from an online bookstore so the source leads back there.

Get the PinIt badge to put on your toolbar. Use it to pin photos from around the Web. On the right of the search bar in Pinterest, click on the arrow beside the three lines. Choose About, and then Browser Button. Also make sure the photos on your sites are pinnable by having the Pinterest share option appear on each post or website page. Get Share buttons at http://www.sharethis.com or http://www.addthis.com

Caution: Do not pin copyrighted material. Make sure the source is listed. Upload your own photos or Repin someone else’s, or buy royalty free images. If in doubt, refrain from pinning.

Manage your pins if you wish on Tailwind: http://www.tailwindapp.com/pinreach

Pinterest can be fun once you start playing with images. It can also be so much fun looking at the pictures on display that you lose all sense of time. So be sure to do your workload for the day first, and plug in Pinterest along with your other social networking. I hope to see you there!

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Social Media Etiquette: 15 Dos and Don’ts for Authors

by Anne R. Allen

Note from Jodie: I’m just heading home from presenting at Word on the Lake Writers’ Festival all weekend (2 workshops, panel, blue pencil sessions), so humorous author and award-winning blogger AAnne Allen_e-agenne R. Allen has graced us with her wit and wisdom today. Take it away, Anne!

Thanks, Jodie. It’s a pleasure to be a guest on TKZ.

“Authors behaving badly” tends to be a hot topic on booky forums and blogs these days. A lot of people blame the indie movement, but some of the worst social media behavior I’ve seen comes from traditionally published authors who are following the dictates of their marketing departments.

Unfortunately, a lot of marketers seem to have studied their craft at the “let’s cold-call random strangers just as they sit down to dinner” school of salesmanship.

As a general rule, I feel if someone has the social graces of a rabid squirrel, he’s probably not the guy to listen to on the subject of winning friends and influencing people—which is what social media is all about.

We need to keep in mind that social media isn’t about numbers, no matter how numbers-oriented your marketing department squirrels are. Social media is about making actual friends, not about mass-“friending” a horde of random strangers.

You’ll make a lot more real friends and sell a lot more books in the long run if you heed the following dos and don’ts.

1) DO remember Tweets are casual: Never tweet a query—not to an agent, reviewer, blogger or editor.

2) DON’T post advertising on anybody’s Facebook “wall.”  A person’s wall is how they present themselves to the world. When you plaster the cover of your book on their timeline you seriously mess with their brand.

Posting on somebody’s wall is like putting a sign in the front window of their house. Don’t do it without permission. This is true for pleas to sign petitions or donate to charities, no matter how worthy the cause.

3) DO use social media to interact with people, not to broadcast a never-ending stream of “buy my book” messages.

People whose Twitter stream is the identical promo tweet over and over look like robots with OCD. They will only get followed by other compulsive robots.

Twitter is a place to give congrats to a newly agented writer here or a contest winner there. It’s a wonderful vehicle for getting quick answers to questions. Or to commiserate when you’ve had a disappointment. Or if you’ve found a great book you love, tweet it.

Social Media is a party, not a telemarketing boiler room.

4) DON’T put somebody on an email list who didn’t sign up for it. ONLY send newsletters to people you have a personal connection with, or who have specifically asked to be on your list. Lifting email addresses from blog commenters without permission is considered especially heinous. Cue Law and Order music…

5) DO use Direct Messages sparingly. And never automate DMs. Private messages are for personal exchanges with people you have a legitimate connection with—not for advertising or begging for money. The fact somebody has followed or friended you back doesn’t give you license to send them advertising through a private message. This is especially true with “thank you for the follow” messages that come with a demand to “like” your author page, visit your blog and buy your products.

6) DON’T forget to check your @ messages on Twitter several times a day and respond to them. It only takes a moment, but those are people reaching out to you. Ignoring them will negate what you’re doing on Twitter in the first place.

 7) DO change the Facebook default “email” address to your actual email address. You are on social media to connect with people. Post a reliable way to connect—which that Facebook address isn’t.

8) DON’T forget to check your “Other” Folder on Facebook regularly. People who want to contact you for legitimate reasons may contact you through a Direct Message, but if they’re not on your “friend” list, the message goes into your “other” file.

A lot of FB users don’t even know it’s there.

If you’ve never heard of it, go to your home page and click on the message button on the left side of the toolbar (It’s the one in the middle, between friend requests and notifications.) They’re semi-invisible if you don’t have anything pending, so if it’s all blank up on the left side of that blue toolbar at the top of the page, move your mouse slightly to the right of the Facebook logo in white and click around.

Mostly your “Other” file will be full of spam and hilarious messages from guys with poor language skills who think Facebook is a dating site. But nestled in there you may find a note from a fan or a fellow author who wants to co-promote or is asking you to join a blog hop or something useful. So do check it once a week or so.

9)  DO post links to your website on all your social media sites. And have your contact info readily accessible on your site! Being paranoid on social media makes your presence pointless. Even if you’re on the lam, incarcerated, and/or in the Witness Protection Program, you need to be reachable if you want a career. Use a pen name and get a dedicated email address where you can be reached at that Starbucks in Belize. 

10) DON’T “tag” somebody unless they’re actually in the picture. This is an unpleasant way some writers try to get people to notice their book or Facebook page. They’ll post their book cover or some related photo (or worse, porn) and “tag” 50 random people so they’ll all get a notification.

But here’s the thing: a tag means a person is in the photo. Full stop. Yes, you may get a person’s attention with this—but not in a good way. Remember you’re trying to get people to like you, not wish for you to get run over by a truck.

11) DO Network with other writers in your genre. Joining up with other authors to share fans and marketing is one of the reasons you’re on social media. You’re not here to sell to other authors, but you are here to pool your resources.

12) DON’T thank people for a follow, especially on Twitter. It may seem like bad manners, but the truth is most people on Twitter and FB would prefer you DON’T thank them for a follow. That’s because those thank-yous have become 99% spam. If your inner great aunt won’t let you rest without sending a thank-you note for every follow, send it in an @ tweet.

If you actually want to show gratitude, retweet one of their tweets. Then maybe they’ll thank YOU and you can get a conversation going. 

13) DO talk about stuff other than your book. Yes, we’re all here because we want to sell books, but social media is not about direct sales. It’s about getting to know people who might help you make a sale sometime in the future. Consider it a Hollywood cocktail party. You don’t launch into your audition piece every time you’re introduced to a film executive. You schmooze. You tell them how great their last picture was. You find them a refill on the champagne. You get them to LIKE you. Then you might get asked to audition in an appropriate place.

14) DO Read the directions. If you’re invited to join a group, and you’re instructed to put links to your books only in certain threads, do so.  Anything else will be treated as spam and you could get kicked out of the group. And don’t dominate any site with your personal promos, even if it isn’t expressly forbidden in the rules. Taking more than your share of space is rude. People don’t like rude.

15) DON’T ever respond to a negative review or disrespect a reviewer online.

  • Not in the Amazon or Goodreads comments.
  • Not on your Facebook page
  • Not on their blog.
  • Or yours.

And especially don’t Tweet it.

If you get a nasty, unkind review, step away from the keyboard. Go find chocolate. And/or wine. Call your BFF. Cry. Throw things. Do NOT turn on your computer until you’re over it. Except maybe to see these scathing reviews of great authors. Getting a bad review means you’ve joined a pretty impressive club.

If you break this rule, you can face serious consequences. So many authors have behaved badly in the past that Amazon has sprouted a vigilante brigade that can do severe damage to your career if you get on their poop list.

In my forthcoming mystery novel, SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM: The Camilla Randall Mysteries #5, an author breaks this rule and ends up being terrorized—online and off—with death and rape threats, destruction of her business, hacking her accounts, and other horrors.

This isn’t so farfetched. I know authors who have gone through this, for much smaller offenses than my heroine. There are some terrifying vigilantes in the book world who don’t just fight fire with fire. They fight a glow-stick with a nuclear bomb.

So ignore these rules at your peril, or you could be designated a “Badly Behaving Author” and become another of their victims.

What about you? Have you been making any of these faux pas? (I’m not going to claim I haven’t. We were all newbies once.) Do you have any funny “Other” folder encounters you want to share? Any do’s and don’ts of your own would you’d like to add? 

Anne R. Allen is an award-winning blogger and the author of eight comic novels Anne Allen_ARA roseincluding the bestselling Camilla Randall Mysteries, plus a collection of short fiction and poetry. She’s also co-author of How to be a Writer in the E-Age: a Self-Help Guide, with NYT bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde.

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How Not to Fumble Your Social Media Presence

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Seth Godin, whom many consider the premiere social media guru, uttered a word of caution to traditional book publishers at the recent Digital Book World conference:
The challenge we have is not all of your authors want to be good at social media. And not all of them have something to say when they’re not writing a book. Is the only way to sell books to dance faster than everyone else? I don’t think it is. … What we have to figure out is not merely does this author have 70,000 good words to say in a row, but do they have a following, can we help them get a following, are they the kind of person where a reader says, “I can’t wait for your next work.” (Quoted by Jane Friedman)
I was happy to see that, because it may be the one time I come out ahead of Godin. A few years ago I wrote about the limits of social media as a direct marketing tool. At the time I was also inveighing against the “platform pressure” many publishers put on new writers. (A nice account of that debate can be found here).
Then there is marketing expert Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia.com, who wrote a post last year about how he is changing toward social media. In short he wants “more social, less media.”
The prevailing wisdom has coalesced around the fact that social media is best for forming community, and only marginally effective for selling things like books. A good SMP (social media presence) certainly can help with a launch if (and this is crucial) you have established trust by consistently offering quality content to your followers.
On the other hand, abusing your SMP can render the whole thing a complete waste of time.
By the way, SMP in the UK stands for “statutory maternity pay.” But I digress.
What do I mean by abuse? I call it the Ned Reyerson Syndrome. You remember Ned, from the great comedy Groundhog Day. If you don’t, have a look at this clip and then come back. I’ll wait.

What has Ned done wrong? Count the ways! He demands attention. He exhibits lousy communication skills. He makes lame jokes. He thinks the whistling belly button trick is a matter of talent. Worst of all, without an invitation, he pushes his product into Bill Murray’s face, and keeps on doing it.
I like to do a little personal research on this issue every now and then. The way it happens is that I’ll come across an indie author I don’t know but who looks interesting. Most of the time it’s because of  a nice book cover that catches my eye. I’ll click to see if that author has other books, and what the general reviews and rankings are. Then I’ll check on his/her SMP.
Just this past week that happened. I noticed a really nice thriller cover from an author I hadn’t heard of. He had three other nice thriller covers. But his Amazon rankings were not good for any of the titles. He had a handful of reviews that averaged out to … average.
Now, I believe the books themselves always have the most to do with any of this. But there may be other reasons, too.
I checked this author’s SMP. And boy, did I find Ned Reyerson.
Not one of his tweets was content-filled or a real interaction with others. Every single one was some sort of sales pitch. There were different kinds: a deal kind, then a line from the book kind, followed by a book cover kind and an elevator pitch kind. These are all fine from time to time, but not as the sole output of your SMP.
Over on Facebook, more of the same.
This author is not only wasting his time, he’s hurting his prospects. He’s making everyone who follows him feel like Bill Murray in his eternal recurrence: Oh boy, here comes Ned Reyerson again! Do I have to live this moment over and over?
Remember the last time Murray sees Ned, he just punches him in the face.
Here’s the SMP lesson of the day: Don’t make people want to punch you in the face. Thus:
1. Be the kind of guest people want to have at their next party.  
What kind of guest is that? One who brings something to a social gathering that people like. A content provider. A person who says things that bring a smile or a new thought or a helping hand.
2. Be patient.
Don’t run up to people and yell. Grow naturally.
3. Be real, but don’t be a boob.
Honestly, didn’t your mother teach you not to say the first thing that pops into your head?
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” (Abraham Lincoln).
4. Go 90/10 on your socializing/selling ratio
It’s perfectly acceptable to announce a book, push a deal, remind folks about an older title. But make such things only about ten percent of your messaging. That’s my unofficial, anecdotal rule of thumb.
So what about you? What are your feelings and findings about social media here at the start of this new year? Have you run across any Ned Reyerson’s lately?
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Social Media for Authors

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

We’ve blogged a lot about the need for authors to be savvy marketers, as well as great writers, and to use social media wisely and effectively to promote their books. At the Willamette Writers Conference I attended a few weeks ago this was evident in all the presentations provided on publishing and marketing ebooks. 

As someone who has only used social media sporadically in relation to my books, I was interested in how many of the presenters viewed the social media world as a fragmented one – with options such as Facebook and Twitter having, in their view, only limited reach and effectiveness in terms of actual marketing. I have certainly noticed a real uptick in the number of Facebook posts I receive that are little more than either blatant self promotion or thinly disguised marketing (To be honest I’m getting pretty sick of hearing what # on Amazon’s rankings certain author’s books are – does it mean I’m more likely to buy their book because I read a Facebook post on this – short answer, no). Most of the time it doesn’t bother me though – I’m always interested if it’s a post on a one-day sale or some special event/signing etc. – but I remain unconvinced that Facebook is a tool for actual marketing. In my mind it’s more of a tool to connect with people who have already opted to be your ‘friend’ (either on your author page or for you as an individual). I’m not sure it necessarily gains an author new readers.

After digesting what many of the presenters at the Willamette Writers conference said on the use of social media, I thought I’d get some feedback from the TKZ on their views. It will be interesting to get your take on the issues raised. So…here goes… 

  • When mapping out your own marketing plan (or author platform development) how do you view Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, or Tumblr etc. 
  • Do you adopt a different approach and have different expectations in terms of using these? 
  • Do you use all or only some of them? 
  • Are there any you just don’t bother with?
  • Do you replicate content across social media or do you produce discrete, original content/posts for each?

In short, how are you navigating the social media world when it comes to marketing and promoting your books?

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The End of Discoverability and the Rise of Merit


One of the long-term consequences of the digital revolution is, of course, the decline of physical bookstores. Remember when there were at least two or three great bookstores in town? More in a big city, with a lot of indies to choose from as well as the chains? I remember Pickwick, which was bought out by B. Dalton, which was bought out by Barnes & Noble.
There was Brentano’s, which was acquired by Waldenbooks, which was acquired by K-Mart and rolled over into Border’s.
Then, all of a sudden, there was no more Border’s.
And now poor Barnes & Noble is the last chain standing. But it’s been closing stores left and right. A couple of weeks ago its CEO was ousted. The future of its remaining brick-and-mortar outlets is cloudy at best. Which of course ripples upward to the traditional publishers.
We all should have bought Proctor & Gamble stock in 2007, when the Kindle hit the market. Because P & G makes Pepto-Bismol. Sales of the pink elixir must have shot through the roof in publishing boardrooms across Manhattan.
All of which leads us to another consequence of monumental importance: the end of discoverability.
What do I mean? Take a look at these stats from an article in Salon:
According to survey research by the Codex Group, roughly 60 percent of book sales — print and digital — now occur online. But buyers first discover their books online only about 17 percent of the time. Internet booksellers specifically, including Amazon, account for just 6 percent of discoveries. Where do readers learn about the titles they end up adding to the cart on Amazon? In many cases, at bookstores.
The brick and mortar outlets that Amazon is imperiling play a huge role in driving book sales and fostering literary culture. Although beaten by the Internet in unit sales, physical stores outpace virtual ones by 3-to-1 in introducing books to buyers. Bookshelves sell books. In a trend that is driving the owner of your neighborhood independent to drink, customers are engaging in “showrooming,” browsing in shops and then buying from Amazon to get a discount. This phenomenon is gradually suffocating stores to death. If you like having a bookseller nearby, think carefully before doing this. Never mind the ethics of showrooming — it’s self-defeating. You’re killing off a local business you like. (If you prefer e-reading, many independent stores have agreements with Kobo and Zola Books that give them a cut of e-book sales.)
As online sales continue to gain ground and shelf space diminishes, “discoverability” has become a big worry-word in the industry. To make a point so obvious that it’s sometimes overlooked, the most crucial moment in bookselling is the moment a reader finds out that a book that sounds interesting exists. How else is she going to buy it?
So there you have it. Physical bookstores are (were?) the big driver of discoverability. You walked in and saw a huge front-of-the-store display of a writer the publisher put big bucks behind. You saw recommendations from store staff, you saw certain titles cover out. You saw all sorts of books in all sorts of ways.
But when that space is no longer there, what happens to discoverability?
Well, you can try to create a new stream. The recently designated CEO of Random Penguin believeshe and the big publishers are the ones who will be able to “crack the code of discoverabiity in a world of fewer bookstores, to come closer to the end consumer, to keep readers more interested in reading and provide them with the best reads.”
To which I say, with all due respect, there is no code to be cracked. There never was. Once upon a time there was but one system with but one player: the publishers, who controlled placement in bookstores.
But the era of massive placement is over. What do we have instead? An old-fashioned system, one your grandparents called merit. That means trust which is earned, over time, as people come to rely on the quality of your offerings.
This is good news for writers. Because it should be about the writing, and writing is a craft, and craft can be learned, and writers can get better.
In the past, writers needed the backing of a big publisher to get any prominent real estate in a store. Precious few writers ever got the royal treatment. But now the playing field is digital. And those who compete directly for reader loyalty do so with the same chance to grab market share as anyone else.
Thus, the key to success in this game is not advertising, shelf space, co-op, The New York Times, algorithm ping pong, bookstore signings, launch parties, or social media saturation. It is simply and reliably what we all concluded in Friday’s open forum: good book after good book.
Sure, you need a home base (website) and a modicum of exposure to social media. You have to give some thought to how you present your professional self to the world. You’ll have to explore some means of “getting the word out” when you have a book available. Just don’t stress out about it. Don’t fall prey to Obsessive Promotion Disorder.
Instead, concentrate now and forevermore on the most important thing: the quality of the experience you deliver to readers. Focus on that and discoverability will take care of itself.

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How Will Your Book Get Discovered in The Roiling Sea of Digital Publishing?


Ah yes, this is the question of 2012 for authors (and traditional publishers, for that matter). Last year the question was, Should I self-publish? That question has been answered with, Only if you want an additional stream of income and a growing platform.

Of course, we now have self-pubbing authors jumping on board in numbers approaching the population of China. So everyone wants to know how the heck you get anyone to know you’re out there in this massive, churning, ever-expanding bedlam.

Well, that’s why Digital Book World, an arm of F + W Media, put on a big “Discoverability” conference in New York last week. I did not attend but followed it in real time via Twitter hashtag #DBWDM and the amazing, flying fingers of the indefatigable Porter Anderson. Porter’s nice summary of the conference can be found here.

I came away with some strong impressions and later discussed them with a publishing executive who attended the conference. He confirmed some of my opinions, and they are as follows:

1. There is No Consensus on What Works

Rick Joyce, Chief Marketing Officer with Perseus Books, said there is a sea of conversation out there, and “there’s too much of it.”  While people are trying different things, to truly be effective, “we’ll have to build some stuff that doesn’t exist.”

And when that stuff does exist, is there any guarantee it will be any more effective and certain? I’m not sure we will ever be able to say that. 

Publishing has changed forever. As Joyce said, it “is no longer a mature industry.” 

So it has to try things and keep on trying. “Standing still is not an option,” says Joyce. 

Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute counseled, “Get uncomfortable. If you don’t feel like you’re running off the road, you are not driving fast enough.” 

2. Best Advice Re: Social Media

Willo O’Brien, a creativity consultant, said that having a small, dedicated “army” you are engaged with is more important than your number of followers. So don’t just talk atpeople. “Empower people to speak back to you.”


3. Worst Advice Re: Social Media

“Be everywhere, all the time. Find your customer and give them what they want.” (Shall remain nameless, but works for a Big 6 outfit).

Now, to be fair, maybe the speaker was talking mostly about non-fiction writers who are an “information-based brand” and can spend countless hours hawking books consistent with the brand.

But for fiction writers (entertainment based), this is horrible advice. It will dilute the strength of your writing and the production of new work. And will not make any discernable difference in sales. The ROI (Return on Investment) is terrible. It’s much better to specialize in one or two social media forms, and concentrate on your writing.

4. Business-speak on Parade

Someone from a Big 6 told the audience,  “We are working to build and deploy verticals to construct thematically framed communities.”

Ack! I think that translates to: We are trying new things we hope will attract lots of buying customers to our online site, but that hasn’t happened yet.

I do recognize the challenge traditional publishers face. It is a harsh reality. They are competing against go-to sites like Amazon and Goodreads (10 million plus). This is where people are shopping and browsing. With bookstore placement shrinking, and more and more buying being done online (see chart, below) publishers have to carve out online territory. But can they, when they are essentially late to the game? Some may establish what will amount to a fairly popular blog. But then they have to compete against tens of thousands of blogs, too.

As Kelly Gallagher of Bowker put it, “Perhaps most daunting is that e-reader owners, tablet owners, online book shoppers, customers of different retailers, people of all demographics, readers of all genres are all discovering books in different ways.”
For a writer, one thing you can do is make sure you have an Amazon author page and keep it fresh and updated. That was stated several times at the conference.


5. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

That was a major topic, and beyond the scope of this blog post. But here are some interesting stats from Define Media Group:

With 100 million searches per month, 16% of queries typed into Google daily have never been used before.

• You get 65 characters or less in a search result to make your point. Get a main keyword at the top. Branding at the end.

• Your web pages’ headlines should be optimized not just for the content, but for the keywords people are searching for.

• Search engines are very literal…They don’t understand nuance, sarcasm…they (simply) want to see a headline.

It is a good investment of a writer’s time to learn about SEO and incorporate some of that knowledge into your website and landing pages.

6. Marketing Psychology

Rob Eagar, a marketing consultant, said, “Successful discoverability starts with psychology rather than technology.” IOW, you want to create a feeling in the potential customer that answers the question, “What’s in it for me?”

I certainly think that’s true. But the method may be quite different for fiction than non-fiction.

If someone asks you what your novel is about, Eagar said, and you answer with the plot, you have hindered the sale.

I don’t agree. It is plot copy itself that creates a “feeling” in a fiction reader. If they are looking for a thriller, for example, it’s not persuasive to tell them, “You’ll be thrilled!” Or “You’ll be on the edge of your seat!” The days of that kind of ham-fisted advertising are over.

Instead, give them a foretaste of the thrills with powerful copy that creates the excitement. I tweeted this to the stream: “If we try to tell a reader that ‘thrills are in it for you’ they won’t believe it. The concept must create mini-thrill.”

This is a big one for self-publishers: master the art of cover copy! You can get the straight scoop on that in my query letter and proposal section in The Art of War for Writers.

The Bottom Line

As I said, 2012 is a key year in the digital publishing revolution. Look at how e-commerce has grown when it comes to book buying (it’s the red slice):



Next year it will be even greater, and will continue to grow, and there is going to be some major fallout in some very big companies. But not all. There will be survivors, and a new sort of equilibrium will begin to take shape. Self-publishing will produce more and more writers who are making a living going it alone. Those writers will be the ones who have developed a business mindset and implemented a strategy like the one found in Self-Publishing Attack!

But traditional print publishing is not going away. It will, however, face challenges it will have to meet with paradigm-cracking (and leaner and meaner) innovation. New contract terms will have to be worked out in order to retain and develop writers. Knowing this, writers and their agents are in a better position than ever to negotiate.

The new successes will be centered around thinking win-win, creative partnerships and shared risk/reward. 

But whether we writers choose indie or traditional or a combination of both, we still have to figure out how to get our fiction noticed.

The good news is there is one tried and true method that is consistent throughout all marketing platforms: good old word of mouth.

Which comes from quality + consistency x time. The best books and stories you can write, and then more, and more, never stopping, ever.

So resolve to spend less time fretting about marketing and social media and all those things you could be doing to get “discovered” (the list of which never stops expanding), and more time producing words worthy of being discovered.

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