From Chapter Thirteen: Websites, Blogs, Podcasts, and Social Networking
Let’s take a little walk through literary history, shall we? It used to be that authors’ main connection with readers, if it existed at all, was through touring and correspondence. In the nineteenth century, famous novelists like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain went on tour, often for months at a time, filling great lecture halls and taking questions from readers. In the twentieth century, with the advent of radio and then television, authors could communicate with thousands or even millions of readers at a time through interviews and readings on the air. This was an enormous leap forward for book publicists, who worked tremendously hard to maximize exposure for authors and get them booked on the most popular programs.
Now, however, it is the twenty-first century, and the rules are changing once again. According to Penny Sansevieri, author of Red Hot Internet Publicity, the advent of blogs and podcasts has meant that “the TV programs we would have traded a kidney for in the past are not even skimming the surface of the media that really drives readers to books, and consequently, to sales.” Nowadays the Internet has brought us an unprecedented democratization in how books are publicized.
What makes the difference is peer groups: Whereas traditional print, TV, and radio publicity hit a broad audience in a shallow way, these new online media target a narrower audience in a deeper way. Blogs, podcasts, and social networks tap into word-of-mouth book recommendations, which have always been a powerful means of driving sales. Potential customers who might just breeze by an ad or even a well-placed radio interview will give serious thought to buying a book that’s recommended by a blogger they trust or given five stars on www.goodreads.com by their sister.
What’s marvelous about the Internet is that it has the potential to link you directly to like-minded readers who might be interested in your book. You have the chance to get direct access to your target audience. And best of all, it’s basically free.
Five years ago, it was enough for an author just to have a nicely designed, professional-quality website. It was the end-all destination, with an author biography, a page for each book the author had to her credit, and maybe a few links to media articles.
Nowadays, you need to change the way you think about your author website. It is no longer a destination or end goal, but a portal. As Internet publicity has exploded, a website has become a starting point in driving sales, but it is not the last word. Here are some things your website might have:
- A place to buy. The fanciest author sites allow customers to buy the book right from the site, but this can be difficult and expensive to do. Others link directly to Amazon.com through the Amazon Associates program so customers can click through to buy the book, and the author gets a small kickback from the sale.
- A very obvious connection to your blog. Some writers have made the move to have the front page of their website be their blog; others prefer to have the “official” site be more formal but have a clear place where visitors can click to get to the regularly updated blog. We’ll explore blogging in a moment, but for now just know that if you decide to have a blog, you need to integrate it seamlessly with your author website.
- A clear connection to your podcast, if you have one.
- A place to sign up for your e-mail newsletter. As we saw in the last chapter, an electronic newsletter (preferably HTML and not just text) can be a great way to communicate with your readers. Make sure your website is designed to capture the names and e-mail addresses of readers who want to keep abreast of your writing and speaking engagements.
- Links to related sites. Add links to other websites that will be relevant to anyone interested in your work. If you write about science, for example, include links to scientific websites.
If you are serious about your writing—and especially if you plan a career in this rather than just one book—you need to create a blog. A blog, short for “weblog,” can be anything from a public diary about your life to a running commentary about a specific topic: figure skating, science fiction movies, celebrity gossip, whatever interests you. There’s even a wildly popular blog devoted to cakes gone wrong, where every day the owner posts photos of a different cake disaster.
As an author, your blog needs to be devoted to things that are relevant to your book. Now, listen up for a very important distinction (which will also come into play in this chapter’s section on podcasting): The sole purpose of your blog cannot be to advertise yourself or your books. People lose interest very quickly when they feel they’re being subjected to an endless round of “Look at me!” promotions.
What people want instead is good information. If they’ve looked you up and have thought about buying your book, it’s because they’re interested in the topic you write about (for nonfiction) or the genre you write in (for fiction). As an example, let’s take the hypothetical case of a popular romance novelist we’ll call Amara Love. Amara updates her blog about five times a week with fresh content, sometimes discussing trends in the romance writing business, sometimes revealing where she is with a forthcoming book, sometimes making movie recommendations for the latest romantic comedy to hit theaters. She has book giveaways every once in a while to drive traffic to her site (both her own novels and other favorite writers), and she takes reader questions all the time by publicly answering some of the e-mails she receives via the “contact me” button on the blog.
Some novelists have taken blogging a step further by actually blogging as their characters. Meg Cabot, author of the YA Princess Diaries series, blogs in the voice of Princess Mia at www.miathermopolis.com. Teen readers love the free extra content they’re getting via the blog, and the blog helps document Mia’s life in “real time” as teens are experiencing it themselves: spring break, summer break, holidays, etc. You don’t have to go to the extreme of blogging as a character, but you do need to create a community and give useful information.
If blogging and podcasting are steps toward building a community, social networking is like an enormous potluck: You never quite know who is bringing what or how many people will be there, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a good meal. (Even if you feel a little bloated afterward.)
Social networking is still recent enough that many people are just learning the ropes, and no one is quite sure of the best methods for using it to sell books. This means that authors have a great opportunity ahead as they try different things to see what works with their particular audience. In this section we’ll explore three of the most popular kinds of social media, but be aware that there are many more already and will undoubtedly be dozens of niche sites in the future, including some focused on books.
Facebook, now the top social networking site in the world, grew 127 percent in 2008 and as of press time had surpassed 300 million users. It vaulted past MySpace so suddenly in part because Facebook’s ads were less obnoxious and obtrusive; many adult MySpace customers began switching loyalties when they discovered that Facebook might be less aggressive about constant sales pitches.
This should tell us something. No one joins Facebook to become fodder for sales pitches. They join because they want to connect with old or distant friends they never get to see. If authors (or companies) exploit Facebook as a sales tool in too obvious a way, people will simply tell Facebook to “block that person.”
Ten Hot Tips for Using Facebook
1. “Friend” promiscuously. Yes, you’ll be hearing from some people you never imagined you would see again (and weren’t terribly sorry to lose in the first place), but you’ll be amazed at how much most of us have grown up since high school. Old friends and acquaintances can turn out to be among the strongest supporters of your writing. Once you get a name established as a writer, you’ll also start getting friend requests from readers you’ve never met. Some writers friend everyone who asks but set parameters on Facebook for which ones will appear in their news feed; others create separate accounts for their work and personal lives.
2. Comment widely on other people’s links and status updates. Facebook is all about community, so don’t just stand on a platform and shout about your work with a megaphone. Get involved in conversations about other people’s status updates, links, and photographs. It’s fun in its own right, and it makes people more likely to pay attention to your posts.
3. Don’t just promote yourself. All work and no play make Facebook a very dull place indeed. While you don’t want to overwhelm Facebook friends with details about the fight you just had with your teen or the bills you’re struggling to pay, it’s great to post status updates and photographs about your life and family outside of work. What movies are you seeing? Who do you think should win on American Idol? Writers are people, too, and readers like to see that they are interested in sports, volunteer opportunities, and the like.
4. Alert friends to new releases, book signings, and works in progress. When there’s something concrete and specific going on with your book, don’t be afraid to shout about it. Friends who stay with you through all the steps between “An agent finally wrote back and said she wants to represent me!” to “I got a good review in Library Journal!” want to know these things. Let them know about upcoming author appearances and speaking engagements. Link to reviews or discussions about your latest book.
5. Push your blog posts and tweets to Facebook. One way to cut down on the tendency many people have to feel overwhelmed by social media is to arrange your various accounts to talk to each other. For example, most blog programs have a tools section to help you automatically update the blog with any new tweets. The reverse is true if you also use Twitterfeed, which pushes any new blog entries to all of your Twitter followers.
6. Become a fan of your publishing house. Most publishing houses now have a presence on Facebook, and you’ll want to show your support for your press (and also receive any important general updates about products and breaking news) by becoming a fan.
7. Create a fan page for yourself or your book. It’s easy to create a fan page, but some people feel awkward or conspicuous doing this. It can be a bit much for friends to receive a news update that says, “Amy Marie Author became a fan of Amy Marie Author,” inviting them to also become a fan. If you don’t feel comfortable creating your own book or author fan pages, ask a friend to do it for you. You can send this friend any updates or announcements to post.
8. Create a Facebook “event” for the month of your book’s launch. Ask friends to RSVP if they will buy the book during that window of time, and make them eligible for special giveaways if they also blog about it then, review it on Amazon.com, link to the book or its trailer in their status update, etc. (You can choose to hide the guests who are not attending, and only show the ones who are definitely or maybe attending.)
9. Follow other authors on Red Room (www.redroom.com). Launched in 2008, Red Room, another social media site, claims it has an “author centric” mission to connect authors with readers. It works with publishers to sell authors’ works on the site, and with Facebook to upload member-writers’ Red Room blog posts to their social media profiles. Red Room is selective about the authors it represents, but it costs nothing to become a follower, and you can learn a lot about promotion this way.
10. Remember the three Ps: Public + Permanent = Privacy Settings. The default mode on Facebook is always open sharing. Unless you tell Facebook otherwise, almost anyone—and not just designated friends—can have access to your friend list, profile, and even your photographs. And unless you tell Facebook otherwise, absolutely anyone in your “default network” (which would be your hometown, high school or college, or city of residence) can see your status updates. All this openness can lead, and has led, to some very embarrassing situations for people who didn’t realize that information or photos they thought were private were in fact in the public eye. Remember Miss New Jersey 2007, who was publicly disgraced when her humiliating Facebook photos made the national news? Learn from those mistakes and adjust your privacy settings to allow your photos, videos, and status updates to be seen by the friends you approve. Even after doing this, just work under the assumption that everything you post will be both public and permanent, and exercise appropriate caution.
About the Book
For more tips on achieving publishing success, check out Writer’s Market Guide to Getting Published from The Editor’s of Writer’s Digest.