Saturday, February 24, 2018

Teaching a cat to shave: social media promotion for authors

I’m new to audience-building, publicity, promotion, marketing. I’m forcing myself to learn because it’s a skill every author needs. Right? But right now it’s feels like the equivalent of teaching a cat to shave. It seems that everywhere you look, the experts are pointing to the need for social media. I don’t do social media. I did once, but in the 18 months since quitting I’ve found myself healthier, happier, and more productive. So I stay away (a trend I think we’ll see more of in the coming years). Compound this issue with my living situation: a cabin in the woods an hour from nowhere (literally).

I want to wow publishers and agents with my drive for professionalism, I want to take my career by the horns and get the word out that I’m an author (once I’m finally published), but outside of moving or returning to the psychologically damaging world of social media, what likelihood do I have of doing any of that? How do you promote yourself when you refuse to play by modern social marketing trends? What is the likelihood of generating a Lee Child-esque career when I live in Carkoon and never like or share any of Felix Buttonweezer’s posts?

We'd all be happier, healthier and more productive if we didn't have to go to work every day too.

I'd get so many blog posts written, and they'd be longer, more nuanced, and assuredly less-typo-rife, but yanno, as long as this blog is free, and my rent isn't, work is one of those things I need to do.

And promotion is one of those things you need to do IF you want people to find your book.

Sure a publisher can hit the trade journals like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publisher's Weekly.  And maybe even offer some co-op to Barnes and Noble so your book is front and center for the first week it's out in the world.

But effective marketing tells us that that the way to reach people is word of mouth; recommendations from friends.

Look at the last ten books you read out there by lamplight in the woods. How did you find those books?

In fact, keep track of how you found books in your list of the books you've read (you should keep a list if only to remember what NOT to check out at the library.)

The last book I read was The Unicorn in the Barn by Jacqueline K. Ogburn. I read it cause a friend (a client actually) told me about it.

The book before that was The Wanted by Robert Crais, and I read it cause I've been reading Robert Craise for years now (in other words, he was not a debut.)

The book before that was Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted and I picked it up on reccomendation of a friend (a blog reader.)

Before that The Fire and the Fury and we all read that cause we heard about it via the news.

And before that was Perish the Day by Nick Petrie and while this is the second time I'd read the book, and I read it cause I'm a besotted fan, the FIRST Nick Petrie novel I read came to me via a friend (his agent LaSlitherina herself, Barbara Poelle)

See the pattern?

Verify it with your own reading patterns if you think I'm an anomoly or an outlier.

As to removing yourself from social media, well, we all existed quite happily without Twitter for a few gazillion years and managed to sell a few books anyway.

If you don't want to use social media, what do you want to do?

The option isn't social media or nothing if you want a career. It's social media or something else. You can name the something else, and I'll probably be willing to help you with that if I love your book. What IS a non-starter is "I'm going to sit here in the woods and write, and let you other people promote my books."

Even Lee Child does promotional work. And Harlen Coben, before he was a mega-bestseller, spent a lot of time calling bookstores about his first book (the bleeding football cover, get him to tell you the story someday, it's hilarious.)

And my go-to promotion model JA Jance built her bestselling career store by store. She knew every single bookstore and retail outlet that stocked books for three hundred miles up and down the 1-5 corridor in Washington, Oregon and Califfornia. She knew the manager's name, the event coordinators, and she knew what their book groups liked to read.  She wasn't on Twitter or Facebook either; they hadn't been invented yet.

And Debbie Macomber built her best-selling career with a newsletter that her fans adored. She didn't have Facebook or Twitter either; they hadn't been invented yet.

So yes,  there are old school ways to promote your novel. And they work. NONE of them involve someone else doing it for you.

And Felix Buttonweezer is pretty hurt you haven't returned his calls about the KalePie Eating Contest.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OMG I missed Felix's kale pie eating contest again. (A pox upon me)

OP, a twist on the old adage, (there are three things which help make your business successful, location, location, location) may apply here.
Book stores, book stores, book stores.
If you live in the middle of nowhere you are used to driving to the ends of the earth for milk and butter, so why not to promote.

Also, and I can vouch for the success of this suggestion... local print media.
They do have actual newspapers out in the boonies which are usually part of larger syndicates who would LOVE an article and updates regarding the local Paul Bunyan author who lives in the woods, slays dragons and deep fries them. I'm sure Colin would share his kale dip recipe. My lima bean one sucks.
Good luck.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah, I will be one of those teaching a cat to shave or at least my pug to juggle. I do have a blog and twitter but I am coming to loathe social media. I wish to disconnecf. I also want people to read my books so I will do as I must. Full of dread and trying to restrict my social media to cute animal pictures and publishing relevant stuff.

BJ Muntain said...

First, I highly recommend Dana Kaye's Your Book, Your Brand. Yes, she has a chapter on social media, but she also talks about how to find the best traditional media outlets for your promotion and has ways you can get prepared for when you have a book to publish (like finding appropriate shows to get on, how to approach media folk, etc.)

You don't HAVE to go the way of social media, but there are ways to avoid social media burnout (aka I CAN'T DEAL WITH THESE CRACKPOTS ANYMORE Syndrome).

If you have any questions about social media and limiting your exposure to crackpots, let me know. bjmuntain at sasktel dot net. I'll answer what questions I can, and try to figure out answers I might not know. I know Facebook and Twitter best. And don't forget that a blog is also social media.

Do read Dana Kaye's book, though - very informational and helpful.

Elissa M said...

I think OP's real problem is (was) not realizing social media is not the be-all end-all of promotion. I'm not remotely comfortable with social media myself. I only live on the edge of nowhere, so I'm not quite as isolated as OP. Even so, I've thought of a number of things I can do to promote my work (once there's something to promote). I, too, have Dana Kaye's book and highly recommend it.

To answer Janet about how I find the majority of books I purchase: I walk in the store and look at the shelves. It's not that I'm not open to people's recommendations. I just don't know that many folks who like the same things I like. I do read books I see mentioned on this blog (and others) and invariably enjoy them.

Mostly though, I simply love walking into a bookstore and grabbing whatever catches my eye. Fortunately I live well over 100 miles from the nearest bookshop, because my visits tend to be verrrry expensive.

Colin Smith said...

A comment and a question (for everyone, not just Janet):

I think part of what Janet says is that, these days, social media is part of the promotion game, like it or not. Even if it's just putting up a website, you have to do something online, because that's where people are. I totally get your point, Opie, about being more productive without it. I'd also be more productive if I didn't have to go to work every day, but there are things I need to do if I'm going to put food on the table. One day I hope to be able to afford plates...

My Question, related to promotion. The vast majority of my social media contacts (Twitter followers, FB friends, blog readers) seem to be writers. That's wonderful, but I really want to reach readers. Without a book to promote, what are the best promotion strategies for attracting readers to your "brand" (i.e., my blog/twitter account/Patreon, etc.)?

Thanks everyone! :)

John Davis Frain said...

When you learn to appreciate a good, old-fashioned kick in the butt, you're surely in a good place.

Yes, we'd all be far more productive without social media. It has made life simpler and more complex at once. But it serves a purpose, so unless you have a better solution, time to get to work. (there's a reason they call it "work" sometimes.)

Thank you for the reminder.

And Colin, you pose a good question. One I've asked myself often. Soon as I come up with a good answer, I'll happily share.

Keep writing, everyone. And promoting!

Ashes said...

You want to promote your books to passionate readers who talk about books.

This makes sense to me.

As a librarian, I am completely biased, but I was thinking the other day about our local author (small town, we only have one), and how I have read and recommended his book even though it it outside my genre-preference. I think if you are going to give books away for promotion at any point, then librarians and bookstore employees should be your go-to. We love books, we love getting them for free (and don't, often), and are constantly asked for recommendations.

CynthiaMc said...

I would love to spend a weekend at OP's cabin in the woods. It sounds wonderful.

For me, Facebook is for my friends, family, acting family (and any of you all who send me a friend request). We are so huge and so spread out I can't keep up otherwise. I usually pop on at 4 a.m. to see whose birthday it is and post squirrel pictures on the weekends.

Twitter I like for what's going on moment to moment. Often I find writers by accident. I found Jonathan Maberry when he asked a research question I had just read something about. Harlen Coben and I found each other when he asked for pictures of what everyone was doing one Sunday afternoon and posted one of his own (I was tending my orchids - he liked them). Montel Williams said "Twitter is useless" and I said "Not as long as there are cat videos."

I'm not reading as much because I'm writing more, still working full time, still doing shows. Right now my commute book is The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah - just read an interview with her in Writer's Digest so thought I'd check her out. Before that it was Humans Bow Down by James Patterson and somebody else. Before that I won a copy of The Usual Santas in our very own Janet's writing contest - get it, it's fabulous! Before that was Gone Girl because I saw part of the movie on tv, before that was Girl on the Train because so many people were talking about it. Before that was Kill Switch by Jonathan Maberry because I met him at an event where he was the keynote speaker and that was his new book. Kept me up several nights. Loved it.

There were about 50 more I didn't finish because they were boring.

I am fortunate not to have to buy a lot of books because people give them to me. (I'm easy to shop for).

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Dena Pawling said...

I haunt my library's “new books” shelves, especially the new audio books. I check the library's website for newly acquired books. [I've also been known to recommend books to my library to purchase.]

I subscribe to a few newsletters which list new books in the genres I like to read.

The most recent MG book I read was The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade. I loved it and as an added bonus, it's a wonderful comp title to my current WIP.

I've read books that have been recommended here on this blog. And today Janet mentions Alibi Junior High, which sounds right up my alley, so it's now on my list.

Occasionally I see something recommended on Twitter that sounds good.

Several times I've started a book recommended by one of the above, and I stop after just a few pages because it doesn't grab me. This is also a good exercise because I do the work to figure out why I didn't want to read it [wrong genre, boring first page, etc].

I do agree with OP that social media can be a real time suck if you let it. However, I'm choosy about which ones I read and use, and I've limited my time to no more than 30 minutes each day and that seems to work for me. I hope you find what works for you too, whether it's no social media or limited amounts.

Living in a cabin in the woods sounds wonderful. I'm jealous.

Lennon Faris said...

When I was a kid, I just picked things up off the library shelf. I remember heaving the stacks up onto the counter at check out. It got to the point where I'd notice when new mg books came in. And it was a big library!

However, school and life took over. With less time and an embarrassingly shorter attention span, I need to see something several times in different ways to catch my interest. So multi-modal methods would be my recommendation.

Casey Karp said...

Colin, I don't think it's a problem that most of your followers are writers rather than readers. I figure in the long run, that's a self-correcting problem. See, all those writers are going to share your FB posts, re-tweet your Tweets, and forward your blogs to their own followers.

As long as the writers who are following you have readers as their own followers, your deathless prose is going to get in front of the folks you want to see it eventually. Then you just have to hope they'll be sufficiently intrigued to follow you themselves. And then, as the underwear gnomes say, "Profit!"

(At least that's my plan. It's kinda, sorta working, so, y'know. There's that.)

Julie Weathers said...

I can kind of sympathize with the OP. I have a FB account, but don't use it and only keep it to keep some Chinese enhancement seller from taking my name. I despise FB and everything associated with it. I grow to despise twitter just about as much.

I shall have to be witty on the blog it seems.

Steve Stubbs said...

Sam and Sam:

Thank you very much for your comments yesterday. Very helpful indeed.

One thing I have trouble accepting is that if something seems not to be resonating with the market it makes more sense to pitch it endlessly than revise it.

A couple of years ago I sent a book out into the world of NORMAN-Is-NORMAL and noticed things were not going anywhere. Then an agent kindly sent some detailed feedback and I could see where the problem lay. Eternal gratitude to her. I didn't have a clue how to fix it, so tossed it on the theory that burning bridges makes no sense. It is my responsibility to produce a quality product. It isn't anyone else's responsibility to be nice and accept it.

A year or so ago I decided to try again writing another project, mainly because it refused to quit banging around in the back of my head and I wanted to to go away. This one turned out FAR better than the previous one. I didn't have a clue what the category was, but reading the descriptions of domestic suspense was shocked to discover that may be it. I may have to hide behind a female pseudonym to market it. I will give it maybe a dozen opportunities to find a market. It is my responsibility to please the market. It isn't the market's responsibility to please me.

While waiting to see if it rings any bells, I'm working on yet ANOTHER book. This one is going to be a quantum leap better than the last one. That isn't discouragemnent. That is reality. I think the one I'm pitching will find a home. But if it doesn't, the WIP will.

And if it doesn't, guess what?

As the Three Stooges used to say, "If at first you don't succeed, keep on sucking 'til you do succeed."

Frankly, with all the great established authors out there who are proven earners, I don't see how any newbie could have a snowball's chance anyway. Realistically, even if you are the best storyteller since Apuleius, the market doesn't need you for anything. Think of it as a hobby. Nobody expects anybody to publish their butterfly collection.

But one of these, the one I'm pitching or the one I'm writing, is going to catch on fire.

Maybe that's the wrong philosophy.

Craig F said...

Living in the woods is no longer longer an excuse. Satellite interweb is a real thing. It is about as fast as broadband and the data caps keep dropping to lower levels.

As far as social media goes, there is only one place it might help. That is if your book and someone else's book are dead even, in the eyes of an agent. That agent will probably pick the person with a social media presence, if they have to choose.

I have transferred the FB account from the farm to the new owners, my personal account is totally blank. That is why I am torn about what genre to push towards publication first. If I go sci-fi, I can visit cons and see other weird people too.

Hope y'all have a good weekend, I have to go back and try to help my friend.

Sam Hawke said...


Like Janet said, you don't have to do it if you hate it, though from a cabin in the woods social media might well be the easiest way to connect with people in the long run! Honestly, though, if you're not published, you're working yourself up about this a bit early aren't you? You don't need to reach readers yet. I joined twitter and author-FB when I was preparing to start querying because I found it a useful way to get to know what agents and publishers might be a good fit, and I've gotten to know some cool people around the world because of it, but unless you're super good at it it'll likely more be a tool for people to connect with you rather than to really reach new readers.

Hi Steve

You don't have to pitch endlessly if something isn't resonating. But a dozen agents not picking you up is very far from an indication that it's not. Agents need to LOVE your book to want to represent it, and what we love is varied and subjective. Books take a very long time to write and if you give up just because the first 12 people you ask don't love it, then likely publishing isn't a game for you. 200 agents don't love it? That's a different story.

Is it difficult to break in as a new writer? Of course! You need a healthy dose of ego to entertain the possibility that yours can make it. (But then, you need a healthy dose of ego to be a writer at all, and think that stuff you make up is worth reading.) And it may not happen. All you can do is prepare as best you can, and be ready to jump if you do get lucky. Sometimes you do.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

OP... Social media is only psychologically damaging if you allow it to be. There are ways to embrace the good while rising above (or ignoring?) the bad.

I still don't get the value of twitter. Unless you're famous, the interaction is akin to cyber crickets. I do, however, love Facebook. Love keeping up with my extensive family who are all over the country. Including my nephew Clayton who is the editor of the glossy print magazine, Tahoe Quarterly. (Sorry, so proud of him).

Regarding interaction from FB followers: I'm lucky because I get to post about our sanctuary and the rescue horses who live here. I generally get several hundred comments/shares/likes and so on. Here's my sneaky book promo tip: After a post has been up for a day or two, I make a comment in the trail asking folks if they'd like to learn more about what we're doing here, then consider the books about Proud Spirit.

Bottom line: You have to engage on some level.

Panda in Chief said...

Opie, I also live in a cabin...well, a post industrial cottage, in the woods and I have pretty good (if a little pokey) internet connection. I was like you, reluctantly wading into social media, and to be sure, you can let it suck a lot of time if you let it. But I think I've (mostly) found a balance. I've built up a small, enthusiastic following of readers who have become friends. I did not fall into the trap that that I needed to find as many readers as quickly as possible, which is soul sucking indeed. My followers have built slowly, one at a time and I have wonderful and fun conversations with them, interestgly more now on Twitter than on Fez Book.

As to Janet's reference to Judy Jance and how she built up her ginormous following, that's absolutely true. My partner's late partner Holly Turner was Judy's publicist liason and was instramental in her making sure her books got into all those stores up and down the I-5 corrider. There was some story that I heard about "knowing the kind of donuts the truck drivers liked" to make sure Jance's books were on the top of the delivery pile, but that may be apocraphal. Also Judy never forgot a promise, including the one that when she made it to the NY Times best seller top 10, she would throw a big catered party at the Four Seasons in Seattle. Sadly, Holly was already gone by that time, but happily, I got to go instead.

The point is, there are all sorts of ways to build a following, but you do have to build one. I know that if I ever hit the "big time", I won't be able to have the same kind of relationship I have with the panda-faithful now. But they are my core group, they are important, and I hope never to let them down.

You can do it Opie.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm late chiming in, and I know I do probably TOO MUCH social media, so take this advice with a grain of salt.

OP: If you cultivate WHO you follow and keep your posts writing, books, and cute pet related, you can end up with a Facebook feed that sidesteps 90% of the social media arguments.

For twitter? I follow people who post on certain hashtags (#amwriting, #writerslife, #9pmwritersclub), after making sure their twitter feed isn't 90% articles and reblogs of politics or just reposting their book-for-sale over and over again.

The best way to GET followers is to FOLLOW people. So, look for hashtags of people saying things you like.

And then? Then I use twitter LISTS, so the people I'm actually reading are ones in ThisWritersGroup or ThatBookClub or AmazingAgentsWhoIAdoreFromAfar, so the noise is really cut down. I look at the larger feed from time to time, but 90% of my twitter use is writing related updates and keeping an eye on my notifications, not on the feed itself.

As long as you post, even a cute writing meme, once a week on FB, you'll be fine. And maybe reshare on Twitter.

Ryan Neely said...

I'm in the trenches with Opie there. I don't social media, either. It has nothing to do with reliable internet connection or a need to ignore or turn away from posts that are derogatory. It is the inherent design of social media to capture your attention and not let it go, to mire you in the bog of shallow and self-important milieu to make you believe you are having healthy, important conversations and maintaining strong relationships when, in reality, what you're doing is reducing your attention span, killing your memory, and driving yourself further away from those people who are really in your life.

Suggesting that you have to be on social media because that's where people are is the same as suggesting you jump off that bridge because that's what people are doing these days. I'd recommend anyone who doubts the logic behind that do some digging into the science that has come out in the past 18 months on how damaging social media really is.

Coming down off my soap box, however, I also agree that social media isn't the end-all, be-all and that maybe Opie was blind to that fact. It's difficult to pull yourself out of that thought process when you're inundated with information that comes from the most popular advertising markets accessible to the average joe ... social media, but there are other ways.

Dana Kaye's book was amazing, and she's just rolled out a course which coincides with the book. I'd recommend it. I'd also second the recommendation to look at local newspapers. I'm not the hermit stuck in Narnia that Opie seems to be (sounds nice, but I like the proximity of everything in the city), but there are always ways ... even if those ways mean hiring outside help who have a better reach.