Category Archives: social networking

How will readers ever find your book?

It may well be that you don’t have enough time for a career as a book author, and writing is really just a hobby, a side gig, or a form of therapy for you. No problem. In that case, you don’t need a literary agent, or more correctly, the literary agent doesn’t need you. If you want to make money as an author, on the other hand, then your books must be discoverable. Readers won’t come to you. You’ll need to find ways to get on their radar. You’ll need to become an author whose books are recommended by one reader to another. That’s how books and their authors become bestsellers.

Let’s say your book was published in 2013. More than 300,000 new titles were traditionally published in the U.S. in 2013. In the same year in the U.S., more than 1,000,000 new titles were non-traditionally published, a figure that includes self-published books. How many of those books did you read? How many can you name? How many of the authors can you name? How would a stranger have ever found your book among the 1,300,000?

browsing books

  FreeImages.com/Nick Manning


When you’re browsing in a bookstore, how many books do you leaf through before selecting one to buy? What attracts you? What makes you put a book down and choose another? Do you typically search for new titles from authors who are known to you? Do you like to read what your friends are reading? Your book is evaluated in the same ways.

If your book’s page on Amazon lacks a compelling description and any customer reviews, and the Amazon customer who happens to come across it has never heard of you, and you have no online presence to give the prospective buyer any information, then why would you expect the person to pay for your book instead of the latest from Clive Cussler or one of the titles longlisted for the Man Booker or the novel everyone at the hair salon is discussing?

If you know anything about online booksellers and social media, then you know it requires effort to capitalize on the exposure they can offer books and authors. It takes time and technical ability to maintain multiple online profiles and learn to write compelling sales copy. Working at it every day for three years might get you up to speed, provided you already possess some basic social skills. There are no shortcuts. Thousands of writers are there ahead of you.

Don’t know where to start with self-promotion? You can join the crowd of writers who remained clueless. You’ll know them. They’re the ones you’ve never heard of.

Everything you want and need to know about book marketing and self-promotion has been debated at length online, where you can find vast amounts of information on author platforms. Start with Jane Friedman’s excellent blog. I’ve gathered links to “Publicity tips for book authors.” Good advice comes from Joel Friedlander, Joanna Penn, and Penny Sansevieri. Self-published authors are generous with recommendations. Don’t assume that marketing strategies for traditionally published authors should differ from strategies for self-published authors. The main addition is the need to coordinate marketing and publicity efforts with a publisher or publicist, if there is one.

Learning about the business of selling books is doable if you want a career as an author and are willing to work hard for it. No one will mind if you prefer to remain a hobbyist. Just don’t make the mistake of asking me or a book publisher to donate time and money to support your hobby.

Authors and humility

mask

  Photo courtesy of Marc Garrido i Puig

There’s nothing inherently wrong with fashioning your public image the way you want to be perceived as an author, but onlookers are discerning. They know instinctively, often without being able to explain why they know, when someone’s posturing. Americans, especially, are incredibly alert for any hints of pretentiousness and sometimes go overboard by openly demanding self-effacement, which we equate with graciousness. One result is the defensive tactic so well known to authors: the humblebrag.

The only way to avoid jumping straight into harm’s way is to learn how to get outside yourself and view your own public image through the eyes of readers, followers, colleagues, and friends. Silently noticing what other authors do wrong and right can help. Friends and family aren’t likely to give you honest criticism, because they all love you and fear ruining their relationships with you.

We’re living in a moment when genuineness, transparency, and humility are valued more than poise and sophistication, but cultural preferences eventually will change. They always do.

Fear of exposure

I can’t count the times I’ve seen some great writing online but haven’t been able to reach the author, because the person’s email address wasn’t listed anywhere. A writer who wants to turn professional needs to provide some very straightforward biographical and contact information on his or her primary website. The writer’s most effective business card is the site used as a hub for the person’s online identity and writing-related activities.

For the sake of being taken seriously, a writer’s professional email address should use the writer’s professional name or business name. It’s possible to set up multiple email addresses for different purposes and direct all the email for those addresses to a single email inbox. Instructions for accomplishing this will vary depending on the email application being used.

It’s silly for a new author to make it difficult for a book reviewer, reporter, or event organizer to get in touch, yet many writers seem purposefully aloof online. They haven’t make the transition into the public sphere, where their potential readers might be found. Ridiculously, some of them are the same writers who, cloaked with anonymity, blame everyone but themselves for their failures at getting published, soliciting reviews, selling their books, and generating income. (Of course, being publicly obnoxious will have the same self-defeating results. Have they already realized something about themselves that’s better left hidden?)

Concerns about privacy are no small thing, but the ability of an author to attract publicity has a direct affect on the discoverability and sales of the author’s book. A book publisher can’t compensate for an author’s inability to connect to readers, or for the author’s inaccessibility to reporters, book critics, bloggers, librarians, producers, and event organizers who would help make those connections. Privacy has always been a tradeoff for fame.

peeking

  Photo courtesy of Ned Horton, Horton Web Design, Nashville, TN

Why blog, when you can shoot yourself in the foot?

laptop and cell phone

  Photo courtesy of Jonathan Velasquez

A writer friend who’s been blogging for as long as I have—almost eight years—wonders about recent claims that blogs are old hat. In view of the popularity of Pinterest, Tumblr, and sites like Facebook that facilitate simple sharing, is creating new content actually necessary?

It depends on the user. Is the user a writer?

Our blogs and websites are becoming our professional portfolios. They’re our marketing collateral. We can make them into whatever works for our particular professions. For example, a photographer could post thousands of words and still never convey to her prospective clients what one sample portrait or piece of photojournalism on her website could demonstrate about her talent. Likewise a fashion designer. Or a dog groomer. Creative writers, on the other hand, need to show that they can write. Words. Not shared videos or Instagram snapshots.

The person who holds a factory job on an assembly line or drives a truck or teaches school doesn’t need to use a blog or another form of social media to attract business or establish professional credibility. A bartender isn’t required to know how to take a great photo or write a poignant essay or design a kickass steampunk wedding gown. Most people need social media only to connect and communicate with other people socially. Sharing a 140-word tweet or a bad selfie or a book review written by a critic is more than sufficient to make those human connections and stimulate the type of small talk that would happen in real life.

A creative writer’s objectives include attracting readers, something a blog is designed to enable. Beyond blogging, in order to be seen as a professional in what amounts to the entertainment industry, a creative writer needs to reach the largest possible audience and should communicate in a variety of the media his or her audience uses. Every ambitious online literary journal now links to the journal’s blog, Facebook page, Twitter stream, Instagram, Tumblr, and sometimes a Pinterest board or other social media. Book publishers aren’t far behind. Each professional writer these days has the ability to do the same amount of outreach that publishers are doing.

Competitors are using the best available resources to make themselves discoverable. A creative writer who chooses not to is at a completely voluntary disadvantage. Would anyone who’s been blogging for eight years care to listen to someone complain about shortcomings… that are self-imposed? Please, don’t get me started.

“A song to go to the soul of things”

mixtape of new songs

    Image courtesy of Michael Lorenzo

I keep some mixtapes upon the shelf. They hide a nasty stain or gloss over some messy memories from another era. Actually, they’re mix CDs. I still like them, and I’m still sensitive to the urge behind their creation.

Because playlists have become technically easy to assemble online, I suppose we’re inclined to make them effortful in some other way, so they’ll remain meaningful. In “Why we crave human-curated playlists,” Justin Fowler touches briefly on how we try. Elsewhere, the blog Largehearted Boy features Book Notes, which are playlists compiled by authors who want to elaborate on themes in their books. Finally, bop.fm is making it simpler to use embedded playlists. Merely listening to one doesn’t require user registration, which has been an annoying obstacle with other music streaming services.

Most of the music I now buy was shared through social media or used as part of the soundtrack for a film or television program. I work in silence, so ten minutes of listening is the equivalent of a smoke break. The recommendation algorithms built into streaming services are helpful, but I owe more to the old mixtapes that introduced me to metal and blues and to friends who find and post throwbacks and new songs.

The title of this post is a line from Lorca’s “New Songs” (“Cantos nuevos”) translated by Catherine Brown. Go on down the rabbit hole, if you’re of a mind to. A.S. Kline’s translation of “New Songs” is on page 9 of the freely distributed book Twenty-Six Early Poems of Federico García Lorca.   pdf icon

The books that have stayed with me

This is my response to Robert Gray’s status update on Facebook today. I’ve hijacked it. This blog feeds automatically to my Facebook profile and Google+, so my list will wander back where it belongs and elsewhere.

red and gold gift

  Photo courtesy of Davide Guglielmo


Feel free to comment here, or follow the meme’s instructions and post your list on Facebook, or do both!

Then, get to know Shelf Awareness, if you aren’t already a subscriber. It’s free. Gray is an editor and columnist for the book trade publication. You’ll appreciate his considerate, intelligent, reliable, and always lovely commentary.

In your status line, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard—they don’t have to be “right” or “great” works, just ones that have touched you. Tag 10 friends, including me, so I’ll see your list. I am sure I have forgotten hundreds that I will regret once I post this and tomorrow’s list might differ from today’s, but here goes:

The Vagabond by Colette

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Paper Trails: True Stories of Confusion, Mindless Violence, and Forbidden Desires, a Surprising Number of Which Are Not About Marriage by Pete Dexter

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

For the Win by Cory Doctorow

Night by Elie Wiesel

Dreams of My Russian Summers by Andreï Makine

Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

This is my list today and not listed in order, just listed.

To see Robert Gray’s own list of titles, go to his Facebook profile.

This meme is much nicer, I think, than the “best of” lists and promotional campaigns, which I see every day, especially at this time of year. I confess that I always pay closer attention to Gray’s Facebook posts than to the same pieces published elsewhere. It’s a natural tendency. What do you make of that?

Are you good enough to be published?

When you finish writing your first book-length work of fiction or nonfiction, you’re most urgently concerned about exposing it to readers. Yet you might be jumping the gun. Don’t forget that you’ll also be exposing yourself.

Are you good at networking?

Many writers still require basic training in the use of social media. A smaller percentage already have demonstrated their expertise, in ways that are discoverable 24/7. Literary agents, acquiring editors, book buyers, producers, and fans want easy access to information about authors and their books in order to make investment decisions.

Although creative writing is a vocation well suited to introverts, the publication of creative work involves a variety of interactions with other people, sometimes in person, requiring poise and self-confidence that not everyone possesses.

Are you good at research?

Do you know how to find answers and explanations so that you don’t require a lot of coaching? For example, if your editor or critique partner suggests that you eliminate “excessive exposition in dialogue,” will you know what that means? Have you attended a writing workshop? Can you go to a library or bookstore and locate a textbook that will teach you the creative writing techniques and grammar rules you need to know?

Can you identify reliable resources on the web?

If you’re asked to obtain additional quotes from experts for your nonfiction project, will you have the ability to locate, evaluate, and contact those experts?

Are you good at self-promotion and marketing?

A polished, engaging web presence is the hub of your professional identity as a writer. Is yours already in place? Can you update and maintain it, or have you hired someone who will?

Have you published short works in magazines or online? Do enough potential book buyers know your name, because they’ve read your writing, met you, or heard of you through others? Do you know who these people are and how to communicate with them?

Do you understand how generosity and genuine interest in others are forms of self-promotion?

Penny Sansevieri: “Why having a platform may be the only way to sell books”

Penny Sansevieri
Yesterday, I linked you to a blogpost written by a publisher who explained what he’d learned about selling the books he’s been publishing for 35 years.

Today, with book authors in mind, I’d like to recommend a Huffington Post article written by publicist Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts, who says that “in order to gain any kind of attention for your book, you’re going to have to have a platform.” I agree. Take a look at Sansevieri’s description of the basic components of an author platform and trust her when she says, “Without it, yours may be the best book that no one has ever read.”

Christina KatzMy friend Christina Katz, author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, has been a trailblazer on the topic of author platforms. I’m glad I met her before I started my agency, so I could learn what to expect of my clients and how to prepare them for their books’ publication.

A few months after I established my business, a young editor at HarperCollins told me he would not look at the work of a writer who hadn’t already established an online presence. In the years since, other acquiring editors have followed suit. They’ve found the author platform requirement a quick and dirty, not to mention objective and reasonable, means of eliminating quite a few manuscripts from consideration.

These days, I can’t consider taking on a new client who hasn’t demonstrated a capability for self-promotion, online and IRL. I still use the terms online and IRL for clarity, but I no longer perceive a distinction. To me, they’re one and the same.

I once thought I’d be able to teach every new client the platform development techniques I’ve learned from Christina Katz, Penny Sansevieri, and other book marketing experts. Instead, I found that it’s impractical to try to instill the motivation to make time, the competitive drive, the emotional stamina, and the willingness to learn, all of which are required of a writer who needs to build a readership. When I’m considering whether to work with a writer, I need proof of those characteristics.