This is a blog post to supplement the panel I’m on at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans this weekend, “SUDDEN EXPOSURE: The Write to Market.” The moderator, Michele Karlsberg, asked me to speak specifically about the social media and networking. So I’m posting it now so that people equipped with mobiles at the panel can look this up immediately without waiting to get home. Ah, the power of the Internet! If you’re reading this from SASFEST, please comment here or drop me a line at my Twitter feed: @ceciliatan.
I divide the things a fiction writer can do online to connect with people into three types:
1) things that are purely customer-facing,
2) things that connect one to ones peers,
3) and things that are a combination.
You need all three, and they work together.
First, some lists. These are not exhaustive lists, and more things are popping up all the time.
YouTube (i.e. videos of yourself reading aloud, book trailers, etc)
Fiction-content Blog (i.e. a serialized novel)
Facebook Fan Page
Amazon.com Blog & Author Page
writers communities online (Livejournal, Absolutewrite, etc)
publishing business communities online (Digital Book World)
Ning groups for writers (SheWrites, Gay Writers Circle, BookBlogs)
Facebook personal page
Regular ‘real life’ blog
Customer-facing outlets are pretty easy to understand. They mimic most closely the old forms of media and brick and mortar world of promotion. They are MOSTLY a one way street, where you put up content and the “masses” look at it. The feedback from those looking at it might be minimal — your YouTube video might get lots of comments, or it might not. It also might get lots of negative comments, but hey, nothing stops people from throwing rotten tomatoes at you in a bookstore. Oh, except public decorum, but don’t expect that from the faceless trolls who have nothing better to do than leave homophobic “bait” in comments. (Tip: IGNORE TROLLS. No really. IGNORE. Don’t put them down. Don’t debate them. DO NOT ENGAGE.)
As an author you have the most control over your customer-facing outlets, but you also face the problem of how do you get the word out that you even bothered to MAKE a YouTube video? Well, hopefully you are leveraging some of the other social networking tools that are more of a two-way street.
Peer-facing outlets should also be pretty easy to understand. They’re like going to a cocktail party at a publishing convention or attending a writers conference. You make friends and acquaintances. In the old days you would exchange business cards and maybe when you had books come out you would ask someone in your Rolodex to provide you a laudatory jacket blurb. Then you would do the same for them if asked. Nowadays, you become connections on LinkedIn. You make connections to people who make connections to people who make connections to people, and next thing you know you can have a friend send a virtual message to that best-selling author you love introducing you and asking for a blurb… or a mention on their blog to spread the word of your book directly to that famous authors’ readers. That’s way better than just a jacket blurb.
Here’s where most social networking newbies get confused, I think. They get on Twitter, for example, and they can’t quite figure out if they’re supposed to be “talking” to their readership or if they’re talking to their friends and family, or business colleagues, or what. Well, guess what, it’s ALL OF THE ABOVE. This means that if your tweet feed is nothing but promo for your book, your colleagues will get tired of it, so will your family, and wait, so will your readers…
This doesn’t mean you have to tweet what you had for lunch. (With any luck, I had crawfish ettouffee today… thanks for asking!) Think about it this way. If you were stuck in an elevator with some of your fans, some of your friends, and some of the people who worked for your publisher, and you were the only one talking, what would you say? Twitter is the ultimate “small talk.” 140 characters, in fact. News of the day, the weather, headlines that outraged you, what your kids did at school, what YOU did at school, the book you’re working on now, where to find the best Mexican food in Cleveland. Remember, you get to ASK as well as TELL people things. Did you notice your book was one of the topics in there? Yeah. That.
If you can do it on twitter, you can do it in the longer form media of Facebook (where the “status” message can be identical to your tweets, and in fact can be automatically imported by software so you don’t even have to remember to send it twice!) and the even longer form of your personal blog. Whether you have your own named website, or you set up a Blogspot account, or you go with one of the other blogging services (Typepad, WordPress, etc…). The same rules apply, only now you get to hold forth in essay form, rather than fortune-cookie size.
One of your goals in being witty, interesting, provocative, informative, or whatever else your public persona makes you worth reading, is to attract NEW followers/readers. The way it works and why it’s called viral marketing is that if you say something witty on Twitter, for example, and someone who follows you likes it, they can forward it instantly to all of their followers to see. Some of them may not have heard of you and might think, huh, interesting person, I should follow them, too. One click and they are following you also. It’s that simple.
On Facebook there are two kinds of of pages. You can have a personal page that is actually for connecting with your real life family and friends, and a Fan Page that is for your readers and supporters. On your personal page, people will request to be your friend and if you accept, then you can see their private posts and they can see yours. But on the fan page, all a reader has to do is click that they “LIKE” you. This is less intimate than friending and gives fewer reciprocal privileges, but it does give you permission to market to that person. (One still shouldn’t give them nothing but the hard sell, though. They can “unlike” you, too.)
Use Software Tools
Most of the forms of social networking and online hanging around one can do have various software ways to make it easier on you to connect it all together. For example, most blogs allow you to install a kind of widget that whenever you post, a tweet automatically goes to your Twitter followers, who then know to go look at the new post on your blog. While they’re there, even if they don’t buy anything, if you’re running ads on your site, they count as visitors. USE THESE TOOLS. Sometimes they can be a pain to figure out. But guess what? I usually tweet to my list that I can’t figure it out, and someone among my followers will tweet back with advice.
A few helpful software tools:
HootSuite — a web page where you can log in to Twitter, Facebook, Myspace etc all in one fell swoop. Best feature is it lets you pre-schedule tweets to happen at specific times in the future.
Ping.fm — another multiple platform gateway. Type it once and have it appear on all your “status” messages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
We’re all in the same boat. Every fiction writer and every publishing professional is experiencing rapid change in the way they work, create, and monetize what they do. The only way to keep the boat moving is for everyone to row. Readers are in the boat, too. They have a vested interest in tools that will help them find the books that will entertain them and sustain them. Readers are already connecting with each other through sites like Goodreads, and helping each other (and incidentally authors) by leaving reviews for books on Goodreads and Amazon. Goodreads, Library Thing, and Shelfari are networking sites where people can make friends based on what they’re reading. They’re like virtual online book clubs and viral word of mouth combined into one awesome tech package. (Well, three since there are three sites.) Authors can have a presence on all three of those sites as well as Amazon. If you don’t have time to do all of them, pick one and stick with it.
Movers and Shakers
Another list. This one of useful movers and shakers in the e-world to follow and read to stay up to date on the new frontier:
JA Konrath — this guy is selling millions of books on the Kindle store. Not kidding. He started a blog called Newbies Guide to Publishing where he shares his successes and failures. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/
Kristine Kathryn Rusch — a longtime sf/fantasy writer, editor, and publisher, her site features frequent blog posts on freelance writing business, changes in publishing, and her online Freelancers Survival Guide, etc. http://kriswrites.com/
John Scalzi — president of Science Fiction Writers of America and an early adopter of blogging as a writing & promo tool. http://whatever.scalzi.com/
Those were people. Here are some organizations and institutions:
Digital Book World — It’s an annual publishing industry conference in NYC, but online it’s a community of book biz optimists collecting real data and information about what’s working and what’s not in the digital publishing world.
Publishers Lunch — If you’re not already having PubLunch delivered free into your email box every day, you’re missing one of the book industry’s greatest freebies ever. Sometimes irreverent, always relevant.
PW Daily & other Publishers Weekly Newsletters
While we’re at it, did you know you can subscribe to email news from Publishers Weekly? In addition to PW Daily, there are specialty newsletters on cookbooks, comics, religion, and childrens books. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/email-subscriptions/index.html
These are the great places you can follow the play by play action on things like the Borders bankruptcy, Amazon’s latest “glitch”, and the Google Book Settlement. And if you think those things don’t concern you as a fiction writer, you’re wrong. Fisherman have to do more than just put their hook in the water. They have to know about the weather, pollution, et cetera. Writers can’t just sit at home alone and write, and then lick the envelope on their manuscript and just wait for a royalty check to come. (I could write a whole post, actually, on how that was rarely the case even in the “golden age” of publishing… writers have always had to do more than just write.)
Please comment below to add to these lists! What are your favorite new media and publishing resources? Who do you follow? Where are you participating in social networking? Does anyone use MySpace anymore? How about the MobileReads forums?
Followups from the panel! I’m now liveblogging the panel from the stage:
Follow ups from the panel!
Lara Zielinsky suggests talk radio, but not just the traditional radio places, online places and also real world stations that have Internet streams. “They don’t have the knowledge to contact you, which is why you have to go to them. Radio stations are hungry for interview subjects.” And podcasts stay accessible on the Web in perpetuity. Your “virtual book tour” can go on for years without you having to work on it for years.
Places to find internet radio:
Blog Talk Radio
Lara also makes a great point about hash tags. In Twitter, you can tag your tweet with a hashtag like #gay or #literature or #books makes it discoverable by random searchers on Twitter who are looking for people to follow.
David Pratt on “Bob the Book” his first published novel, in which Bob is a gay book who loves books of the same gender. Was difficult to search for on Google at first, but now that it has some notoreity, it comes up in searches.
Important to come up with a unique title for your publishing house, and for your book, so that it can be searched for easily.
David points out that for people over 35 plain old email works well. But don’t put a spammy subject line like “Event Friday Night!” put “D. Pratt Bob the Book Reading Friday 8pm at____”
ctan: If you are going to run an email mailing list, use a reputable place like AWeber.com which is not free but is cheap ($10 a month). Many use Constant Contact (I have no experience with them). For free you can use Google Groups. All these places will have a way to easily add a “sign up on my email list” link to your web site so that people who do find you and want to stay in touch with you that way can do it.
Michele Karlsberg (the moderator): what about asking a friend to host a house party? Maybe you get 25-30 people who you would have never got to a bookstore, but they go out to a party, and they talk to their friends.
Someone had also mentioned in a previous panel a place called Vokle, which is a one-stop shop platform for talk shows, live audience interaction, etc. I will mention also uStream, and there are a few other places that livestream video. I see artists do this often where they draw pictures live and have a chat room going for an hour. They gain fans and exposure because it’s cool and interesting.
Michele: Don’t forget to market through the ALA (American Library Association) and doing events in libraries. They have a specific rainbow group and definitely not a market to be overlooked.
Jameson Currier (from the audience): People are posting a lot of Top Ten Lists, like “top gay characters in literature” and one of the new books will be in among the other books. I discovered some books that way.
ctan: Yes! People love lists. I learned in a blogging class that top ten lists are always the highest traffic posts on any blog. Amazing.
Michele: Use SurveyMonkey.com to survey your readers. You can find out a lot about your readers that way. (SurveryMonkey is free for up to 100 respondents.)
Jameson: Use Google Analytics to find out what people are looking for to find you. ALso there are a lot of book fairs. The Rainbow Book Fair in NYC has become very popular. Brooklyn Book Fair costs like $200, get some people to co-op it. West Hollywood Book Fair.
Lara: Get free promo stuff made at VistaPrint.com — 250 color postcards, first order is FREE. Free business cards. Etc.
David: One thing to think about also is make sure you reciprocate. Thank the people who have helped you, who host readings, who make Amazon reviews for you. Etc.