The Magic of Social Networking

Writing a book was hard. Editing it was harder, and finding a publisher even harder. Waiting for it to be released after acceptance was murderous, and now promoting the book is . . .

Ha! Bet you thought I was going to say it was hardest of all — most authors find promoting to be an arduous task, but not me. I enjoy it. What’s not to like? I get to meet wonderful people and have wonderful conversations. I get to write articles about anything I want and post them all over the internet. I get to . . . well, those two points are enough. Or should be. My books are still so new that they haven’t developed momentum, but I do believe that social networking is an incredible tool for book promotion.

Goethe wrote, “What you can do, or dream you can, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” So, gather a bit of boldness and begin. Join sites like Facebook and Goodreads. Add friends. Take the time to get to know people by commenting on your new friends’ content, by sharing with links to some of your new friend’s articles and content. And bit by bit the magic happens.

Let me share some of the magic that has happened to me.

I had the honor of hosting Michael Palmer’s very first guest appearance on a blog. How magical is that?

I had the privilege of meeting Bruce DeSilva, the writing coach for Associated Press, who introduced me (virtually speaking) to his wonderful wife, the poet Patricia Smith. Or is it his wife, the wonderful poet Patricia Smith? Either way, a remarkable experience.

I managed to impress award-winning ad exec Marshall Karp with the way I promoted his stop at Bertram’s Blog during his blog tour. Still don’t know how I did that. I just thought I was having fun.

Through one of my Facebook discussion groups, I met Rita Schiano, who is going to interview me live on her blogtalkradio show, Talk To Me  . . . Conversations with Creative, Unconventional People. Being a bit nervous, since I have not spoken before a group of people in decades, I posted articles asking for advice on both Gather and Facebook, and I received the most wonderful tips and suggestions. So if I screw up, it’s my own fault. (One bit of advice I got is to not talk longer than 2 minutes at a time, but it’s probably the one suggestion I won’t be able to follow. I do tend to rhapsodize about social networking. As if you haven’t figured out already.)

Am I bragging? Maybe, but the truth is, I am honored to have met these people and to have shared a moment of their lives. But it would never have happened if I hadn’t created a presence on Facebook and various other social networking sites.

The key to social networking is to be social. Spamming people with mass emails is not social. Nor is setting up a profile and expecting it to run itself. You need to add friends and take time to get to know them. Update your status frequently and include interesting links so your new friends seek you out. Reward those who post great content by leaving a comment or participating in their discussions. You need to take an interest in them. It’s up to you. You can treat book promotion as an arduous task, or you can be bold, give a bit of yourself, and perhaps create magic.

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The Book Promotion Puzzle

Writing means many things to many people. It is like a mythic journey into self, other lands, other minds. It is like archeology, like exorcising demons, like channeling, like performance, like a faucet. It is like having an adventure. It is uniquely human, and it brings out the divine in us. It is breathing, a compulsion, a necessity, a reason for living, an obsession, a fun pastime. It is exhilarating and frustrating. It is liberating. And it is like comfort food, chocolate, and cherries. It is like magic.

Because of this mystic connection to their words, other writers don’t seem to understand why I can stop writing to promote my newly published books. For me, writing is like the world’s longest crossword puzzle, one that takes a year to complete. I like playing with words, finding their rhythm, and getting them to behave the way I want. I like being able to take those words and create ideas, characters, and emotions. Amazing when you think about it, how we can juggle twenty-six symbols in different ways to create words, sentences, paragraphs, worlds. And what one person writes, another can read.

The puzzle of promotion is every bit as intriguing to me as the puzzle of putting a novel together. We are told that to promote ourselves we need to blog, to social network, to participate in discussion forums, to create a presence on the Internet. But these things don’t work. At least not by themselves. How do I know this? If they worked, most authors would be successful enough to quit their day jobs, yet very few writers ever reach that pinnacle. Sure, some authors don’t promote because they prefer to spend their time writing, some are satisfied with what they have achieved, a few are lazy, but most authors are out there promoting themselves every single day with varying results.

I am successful enough at creating my online persona that, moving from site to site, I meet people who recognize my name. I am not subtle about promoting myself, nor am I annoying (at least I hope not). I don’t force my books down people’s throats — I want readers to feel as if they discovered my books, because that will give them a stake in their success.

Despite all my efforts, I feel as if I am missing an important piece of the puzzle, the key piece that makes sense of the whole. What should I/could I be doing that will translate name familiarity (meager though it might be) into sales? How can I go from where I am to where I need to be?

All things take time to come to fruition, so perhaps time is the missing key to the puzzle. Unfortunately, time is one puzzle no one has ever figured out. Which brings me back to that missing piece.

I do know that promotion is as personal as writing. We need to write the book that only we can write. We need to promote in a way that only we can promote. So, how do we find that? I don’t know. Some people are lucky enough to find the key at the beginning. Others are smart enough or knowledgeable enough to figure it out. Me? I will have to find the missing piece the same way I fill holes in my stories: experimentation. Try everything I can and hope I can stumble upon the solution.

(This article was originally published on Vince Gotera’s blog, The Man With the Blue Guitar.

How much time should an author spend tweeting, Facebook-ing and MySpace-ing?

Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention and book marketing coach is my guest blogger today. Tardif responds:

The quick answer: Not so much time that your manuscript is piling up around you–unedited or unfinished.

All writers need to find ways to use social networks; it doesn’t have to be time consuming. Only you can determine how much time you spend on your social networks. I recommend an average of 15-30 minutes each for MySpace and Facebook, 2-5 times a week, depending on your schedule. This would include reading and responding to emails, contacting friends with requests (especially reviewers), leaving comments on your friends’ pages (socializing), sending invites to events or a bulletin (MySpace) announcing your new article, book, event etc. It all boils down to time management. 3-5 hours a week is a good goal.

Twitter requires less time. 5-10 minutes a day is all that’s needed to make an impact on sales, word of mouth, and opportunities. One book marketing expert, John Kremer, likes to send out about 10 tweets (messages) a day. Mine will vary, but on average, I probably send out 5-10 messages every other day. More lately because I’m promoting a contest that is bringing new followers in by the hour. 🙂 I suggest people set small goals. Use a timer if you have to so you won’t go over — or stick to one thing a day. Start small, working up to your goals.

As I mentioned in my presentation at the recent Get Publishing conference, all authors will have various needs. The first thing you need to do is determine WHO you need to connect to and WHY. Who can help you move forward in your career? Publishers? An agent? Bookstores? Magazine editors? Readers? Book Clubs? Book reviewers? Newspaper reporters? TV talk show hosts? Radio hosts? etc. This is the first step–target your network.

In the past I have been reviewed by a New York Times bestselling author because of my friendship with her on MySpace. It happened very quickly after connecting with her. I also have 5 other known authors who will be blurbing my new novel once my agent finds a publisher.

I have found numerous book reviewers through all social networks, and through them found other marketing opportunities, like guest blogging on their blog and using them as hosts for a VBT.

I have had film producers and directors contact me through these networks. Some have read my novels and my screenplay for Whale Song.

I have been interviewed as a result of online networking. I’ve had book clubs pick up my books; schools have too–which means I’m selling books.

The main thing is by being on these networks it becomes a “viral” form of marketing. Like a virus, word spreads and we all know how vital word-of-mouth advertising is. Twitter is perfect for this. Just add “RT” to your tweet and others will re-tweet your message to all their friends. And so on…and so on…

The bottom line is this: if you want to be a successful writer who is able to continuously bring forth new works and get paid for them, you will want to spend time marketing your books EVERY DAY.

I always try to do at least 3 things a day that will move me forward in some way–even if it’s giving someone a bookmark at Starbucks. As with any kind of marketing, it has to be balanced with your writing and other life. If you’re spending more than an hour a day maintaining the top 3 social networks (MySpace, Facebook and Twitter), then you might want to look at how you’re spending that time. It’s totally up to you though.

Visit Cheryl at The Write-Type — Multi-Author Musings

Negative Reviews: Are They Really Negative?

I am the administrator of the Suspense/Thriller Writers group on Facebook. Our discussion this week was about negative reviews, and Marshall Karp left a comment that I wanted to pass along because I thought you’d find it as helpful as I did.

Marshall Karp, the author of Flipping Out, is an award winning former advertising executive, a playwright, a screenwriter, and a novelist. He has also written, produced, and executive produced TV shows for all the major networks. Karp says: 

Picture this: I walk into a room and 99 people applaud wildly. One guy is just mumbling “here comes that asshole.” Guess who I pay the most attention to? What is it about the negative reviews that seem to always get a writer’s attention?

For years I wrote TV commercials just because they were never reviewed. When I finally wrote a play and then moved on to TV sitcoms, I thought of my negative reviews as Public Shame. As for my great reviews — I just figured I fooled another critic.

I’ve come a long way. These days, I only take a few negative reviews seriously. They come from people I respect, and I try to learn from them. But most of my really negative reviews are downright laughable, so I refuse to take them seriously.

In fact I can now get a lot of mileage — and a lot of laughs — out of my negative reviews. I read them to my audience at book signings. One guy on Amazon gave me one star for my new book FLIPPING OUT. Reason: foul language and sexual references. I write murder mysteries — what are the cops supposed to say — oh fudge?  So I check his profile. He got my latest book free from the Amazon Vine program. Normally he reads Christian Romance and Church Insight. When I tell the story my audience is laughing and I’m quietly blessing this guy for being such a judgmental ass.

Another guy gives me 2 stars for THE RABBIT FACTORY. He too claims not to be much of a mystery reader. I check his other reviews. He gave 5 stars to a Scooby Doo Chia Pet planter, and 4 stars for a Shrek Chia Pet planter. I tell my audience I don’t understand how Scooby can get 5 stars and Shrek only gets 4, but even so, this dude still thinks the Shrek planter is twice as good as my book. All this gets a lot of laughs and a lot of empathy from my audience. And it doesn’t hurt that the reviewer called himself (or herself) Church of the Flaming Sword.

Audiences appreciate a writer who doesn’t take himself too seriously. So reading your negative reviews out loud can go a long way to making people feel good about you. One more thing — I always tell my audience that if they really like my book, don’t just tell me. Tell everyone else.  Post a glowing review on BN.com, amazon, goodreads or any one of a hundred other book sites. I tell them it helps offset the reviews I get from all those Flaming Swords and other Flaming Assholes.

Bottom line — I have learned to make the most of my negative reviews — I even work them to my advantage. It’s those damn raves that always wind up throwing me for a loop.

Thanks for a great topic. See you on Facebook.

Never Be Afraid to Ask

Ian O’Neill, the one-time advertising copywriter turned award winning freelance journalist, is the author of Endo, a mystery/suspense novel set in Ontario, Canada. Ian has written for newspaper, magazine, radio, television and once wrote a dirty limerick on a dusty car but didn’t sign it. Ian writes:

The more technology enters our lives the more we’re able to live at arm’s length – the arm being enormously, freakishly long at times. It means communicating without, in many cases, having to look people in the eyes (their actual eyes, not a webcam version of them). Surprisingly, there are writers harboring a trepidation about not only coming face-to-face with other humans, but simply making requests even at a comfortable, technologically-created distance.

My father may not have had a tremendous amount of formal education but his teachings have stayed with me. One little nugget of knowledge he imparted has served me well in the writing world and stands to help a lot of authors better market their books.

Never be afraid to ask. This is the translated version from my father’s thick Scottish brogue which in it’s original form was, “You’ll never get the jail for asking.” At least not in this part of the world.

Dad was definitely on to something.

Considering the plethora of ways to communicate, some authors still find it difficult to ask for things. Is it in our nature? Is it in a writer’s DNA? Are you Canadian? Factoring in the percentage of writers who are simply shy or nervous about communicating to anyone, you’re left with those not wanting to be perceived as pushy or have anyone thinking they have a big ego.

 Authors with small publishers shoulder the bulk of their book’s promotion burden. This is where many writers vacillate in getting attention for their work. We know so many ways to get the word out. There are hundreds, if not thousands of sites like this one listing ways to promo your work. The problem is the writer has to approach a bookstore owner/manager, a site’s administrator, even their own publisher to get that opportunity.

So, to what kinds of questions am I referring? Questions that, when asked, can promote you and your work and can help sell books. That’s the dirtiest four letter word in any author’s vocabulary – sell.

Putting together a blog tour is difficult if you can’t approach bloggers with a request to participate on their site. This seems like a simple task, but our perceptions of what others think of us gets in the way of what is potentially very good for us. Maybe it’s how you approach people that will make the difference. Always be professional and polite when dealing with anyone — reader, blogger, fellow authors, anyone. This applies to any situation, whether communicating from a distance or in person. Never use net speak; always use proper spelling and grammar. No one wants to see LOL or U or smiley faces. Save those for your casual communications.

What about a book launch? You’ve considered it and are laying the groundwork for a killer launch. Your book has gardening as a key component so you think having an outdoor launch at a local botanical garden is a good idea. Now all you have to do is ask. Get up the gumption to call, e-mail or go in person to find out if what you want is possible. I can’t tell you the number of author’s I’ve spoken to who’ve mentioned plans like these then dropped them a week later. The amount of work and dollars involved may have contributed to their change of mind but many have admitted the interaction intimidation factor.

 What other options does the writer have at their P.R. disposal?

Book signings are a great way to get your name out there. This is a difficult task to accomplish whether you’ve got a publisher setting these up for you or you have to organize one yourself. The biggest challenge is approaching the bookstore with the idea. You’ve made a list of stores including that great indie place you’ve shop at for years. Take a deep breath and ask if they do signings. Then work out any of the details necessary to make it a success. How much advertising will the store do to promote the event? Will they supply all the books? What can they provide for shoppers in the way of refreshments? Get a list of questions down on paper before you even ask if they are willing to do a signing. If it helps, read them over a dozen times out loud to familiarize yourself with them before hand or read them right off the paper. 

Ever venture into a bookstore and see a lonely author sitting at a table, books stacked beside them, pen at the ready but no one is lining up? It’s not uncommon and there are a few things to remember if you are that solo artist. Looking at people and smiling is the first step in breaking down any awkwardness and that usual imaginary barrier that surrounds the table. When someone does approach you, put a book in their hands. We choose books in several ways, not the least of which is by reading the cover copy. Having the book in hand allows for this to happen and it increases the chance of a sale. One book sold opens the possibility for dozens more to sell.

Conventions are a fantastic place to meet readers, potential readers and fellow authors. Again, those bearing the marketing load must take the initiative and ask to be included. It can be daunting but in my experience cons are one of the most receptive at communicating with and including new authors. Find out what booksellers will be attending and staffing a booth in the sales room and ask to have your book among their convention inventory. Bring books with you to your panels and put it in the hand of conventioneers in hopes of sparking their interest.

One of the best selling features of a book is reader reviews. Whether you have a website, blog, Twitter, Facebook or use a mailing list, connect with readers and ask them to give you a positive review. You’d be surprised at how receptive readers are to this especially when you explain that they can be part of your success. It will make readers feel connected to you giving them a more personal stake in the situation.

Worrying that people will see you as egotistical becomes irrelevant when you realize that if you don’t talk about your book, who will? Ask questions and get the ball rolling.

What we’re really talking about here is initiative. Once you establish a course of action you need to be able to approach those involved or in charge and ask for what you need.

The result of writing this post is twofold; I get to impart some knowledge that could help other writers and I get my name and book title mentioned to an established audience. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t asked. Remember, in the end the absolutely worst thing that can happen is someone says no. As writers, that is a common word and by now, holds little weight. We hear it, absorb it and move on to find a yes.

Starting an E-Publishing Company

My guest today is Joan De La Haye, author of Shadows and co-founder of Rebel E Publishers. Joan writes:

When I finished writing Shadows, I hit a few brick walls. Which left me feeling less than positive about my writing career. It also left me thinking that there had to be an easier way of doing this. It took me a few months to come up with a solution for my dilemma. I also used that time to lick my wounds. Bruised egos take a while to heal.

Luckily, I had received positive feedback from a big, mainstream publishing house, so I had an inkling that my book was viable and that it didn’t belong in the dustbin. Thinking that way also helps the bruised ego heal faster. I think if I’d only received form rejection notes, I may have decided to do things differently.

So I took matters into my own hands. What can I say?  I’m an impatient, control freak who doesn’t believe in waiting around for someone else to take control of my future.  I also believe in dragging others into my crazy hair-brained schemes, to which my wonderful business partner, Caroline Addenbrooke, can attest. I twisted Caroline’s rubber arm into starting an e-book publishing company, which we called Rebel e Publishers. We felt that we were being rather rebellious and that the company title should represent that.

We were then lucky enough to find an amazing editor, Jayne Southern, who jumped on board our crazy train without a second’s thought. Without her, our books wouldn’t be as good as they are. She asks the tough questions, that we writers try to avoid. Having a professional editor on board also gave us a bit more credibility.

The reasons behind taking the e-book route were very logical. With e-books we weren’t limited by our geography: being in South Africa means that we’re very far away from the rest of the world. Being on-line and digital puts us on everybody’s doorstep. We’re now just a download away.

Another reason was the financial benefit. Opting for the e-book route meant our overheads were now much lower. Our main costs are our website and book covers. Being in South Africa, we get our ISBN numbers for free. Big bonus! As a result we don’t overprice our books. So we and the reader win.

Going the DIY route in publishing is not for everybody, but it was perfect for me. Having my own publishing company as well as being a writer gives me an interesting perspective on the industry. That perspective also helps when I’m working with another writer on getting their book out into the world. I know what they’ve been through and what they’re going to go through. I love that I can now help someone else through that birthing process and that someone else can benefit from what I’ve learnt along the line.

If you want to learn more about our rebellious little publishing company, you can find us at Rebel E Publishers

You can find out more about starting an epublishing business here: https://marketingfloozy.wordpress.com/2008/12/31/a-cheapskate-guide-to-creating-a-publishing-company/

See also: Pat Bertram Introduces Jack, the Torment Demon from Shadows by Joan De La Haye
                   On Writing Shadows by Joan De La Haye