Thursday, October 16, 2014

Finding the Happy Medium With Social Media

This entry originally was posted in April 2013, and is reposted here as part of our continuing "theme month" discussions about social media.
Ah, social media. So much fun. So much danger.

In April 2012, I wrote about the potential traps and other hazards which await you when you decide to wade into the social media pool. However, that piece focused on the more obvious pitfalls: privacy, how not to let time spent in these venues eat up your writing schedule, how to acquit yourself when in the midst of self-promotion, reacting to reviews from readers and/or critics, and so on. One thing I didn’t touch on the first time around but which I think deserves its own bit of attention is the tightrope we walk when advertising ourselves and our wares. It can be hard to find the right balance between “hanging out” on social media sites and using these venues as promotional tools.

Everybody’s always going on and on about how we as writers need to be “out there,” building a “platform” and all that. Websites, blogs, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube...all these are viewed as prime territory for attracting readers and attention to our work. X number of Twitter followers, Y number of Facebook “friends” or “likes,” Z number of subscribers to our blogs, all of these—supposedly—have weight when a publisher is considering an author’s book. Some of the “advice” I’ve read almost makes it seem as though we need to be beating our drum with every Tweet and Facebook status update, or else we’re just not working hard enough to promote ourselves.

Of course, the people who are the targets of these marketing efforts may just end up thinking we’re a bunch of annoying prats. So, my attitude with this stuff is to tread carefully.

I've spent...let’s see...an inordinate amount of time in the trenches of social media over the past several years, and I’ve seen what happens when that balance isn’t achieved. You know what? It ain’t pretty folks. In fact, I’ve unfollowed writers and other creative types who do nothing but promote themselves and their latest book, or who only post links to their books for sale or articles they’ve written for web sites or crowd-sourcing efforts they’re championing. The constant barrage devolves into an irritating drone after a while, which can really harsh my net-surfing mellow when all I really want is to see a picture of a cat who can’t spell, or a video of a guy skateboarding into a fence.

The point of social media is to socialize; to communicate with other denizens of these virtual realms, whether you’re chatting about shared interests or commenting on issues of the day or simply commiserating because Life chose an inopportune moment to kick you in the gut. When readers follow authors in these venues, they’re not interested in seeing the “sales pitch” 24/7; they want to interact with the people who write those books they love so much. They want to get to know the person, not the brand.

Now, me? I blog throughout the week, and I try to keep my choice of topics varied and (hopefully) entertaining. I tend to have more fun on Facebook and Twitter than normal people might consider healthy. Most of the followers I’ve attracted have found me after reading my books and checking out my website or blog. Others follow me because we have mutual friends, and we’ve found that we have common interests. I engage in the usual sorts of behavior you see everyday on Facebook and Twitter, such as sharing funny pictures or links to news articles, or commenting on other people’s links and updates.

Do I promote myself and my work to this audience? Of course, but as with all things, I believe moderation in this context is the key to success. Sure, I alert people that a new book is coming or has been published, but I also tell them when I take on a new gig. I give teases about the chapter I’m writing that day. Sometimes I solicit input, like what to name a character or if I need help researching some bit of trivia. Chatter usually results from these sorts of postings, and we have fun with it. Once, I even had a contest calling for readers to post photos of them holding one of my books while on their summer vacations. I got responses from Disney World, beaches, cruise ships, and other locales around the world. I turned it into a contest and readers voted for their favorite pictures and the winners received signed books. Sure, I’m promoting myself, but my goal is to seamlessly weave it in and around the rest of my online blatherings.

How do you approach social media? Do you love it or loathe it? Is it fun or frustrating? What tricks do you have for integrating promotion into the mix?

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Do You Bring to the Table?

Independent presses have a lot to offer today's aspiring authors. The slush pile is smaller and the chance for an unknown, untried author to get a contract is greater. Unlike large publishing houses, there's still very personal interaction between editors and writers. Unlike self-pubbed books, the publishing house takes care of cover art, lay-out, printing and distribution. Authors are nurtured and a bond builds between the author and publisher.

What most authors fail to realize is that they are expected to don the hat of promoter once the ink has dried on the paper. The job's not finished when THE END is typed on the last page of the novel. In fact, the hard work has just begun.

Anyone aspiring to a career in publishing cannot be blind to all the posts and forums talking about book marketing. It's the #1 topic discussed today. Yet, when the long-awaited novel is finally on the shelf, there it sits. Why? Because authors are unprepared or unwilling to dirty their hands in selling the book to the public. Isn't that someone else's responsibility?

Depending upon the contract, the average amount a publishing house gets is less than $2 profit per book sold. It takes the sale of approximately 200 books before a small outfit sees any profit on a title. That covers production cost, plus Amazon gets their cut and the author gets royalties. Industry stats say the average book will sell about 500 copies. Nobody is out to get rich, but in order to keep producing more books, money has to come from somewhere.


Independent houses exist only when authors and publishers work side by side to do book promotion.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Help! Social Media Isn’t Working For Me

It's Social Media month on NovelSpaces. (Wait ... isn't that every month? Every day?) Anyway, I get many subtle hints and nudges from my dear friend and media expert, Nerissa Golden about my lack of a strong social media presence. So, I figured that you all would be much better off hearing from her on this topic than from me. Here are a few of her tips on making social media work for you. Check out her most recent publication Like. Follow. Lead. Mastering Social Media for Small Business for more, simple but very useful tips on how to get the best experience and results from your social spaces.

Here's Nerissa:

With all of the attention social media gets, the message seems to have spread that it would be easy to get results and customers loaded with cash would roll right up and spend, spend, spend.

For every guru telling you they can teach you how to make a million a month using Facebook, there are a million people wishing they knew the secret for free. Here are a few tried and true ways to increase your level of exposure and gain those all-important fans and followers.

First off, social media will only work if you work it. So post frequently. You won’t get any traction and build an audience if you only log on periodically to browse or retweet someone else’s work. As an author these platforms are ideal to let your audience see how creative and quirky you are. They may not become fans overnight but as they watch your continued engagement they will become a follower and hopefully a loyal customer. Use your electronic calendar to remind you to post at specific times. You can also schedule posts on some of the social spaces so no need to feel attached to your phone or computer.

Step outside of your comfort zone. All of the authors you know say Facebook has been the missing link in making those all-important sales. You’ve tried what they’ve tried without the same results. Why not step over to Twitter or Instagram and create a new space all your own? Research the various social media and find one that appeals to you and which can help you connect with your audience in a more entertaining and meaningful way.

Spend a little to get a little. You will only get out what you put in. While setting up an account on social platforms is free, it will cost you time and money to build and position your brand. Costs can include taking ads targeted at specific audiences, having professional photos taken so you can display an impressive profile image and graphics to promote your books and products. If you don't have the time to manage your social spaces, you may need to hire someone to do it for you.

Know where your audience hangs out. Ladies tend to hang out on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter more than men do, so if your potential customers are most likely male then find the platforms where they spend most of their time. Most popular are Google Plus and LinkedIn but check out Vine and Instagram as well. There are thousands of others so do your research.

What’s in a name? Everything. Make it easy for readers to find you on any social platform by using the same handle. Here’s an example using the handle #1author. Facebook.com/#1author, Twitter.com/#1author, Instagram.com/#1author and your website then should be www.#1author.com. If you already have a popular handle on one platform but it’s already been taken on other social sites, then find a version of the handle, which will be memorable and ensure it is visible on business cards and other promotional products. Use www.namechk.com to see which social spaces your handle is available on.

With focus and lots of perseverance you can build a social media audience which can have the long term results you are after. Grab my new book, Like. Follow. Lead. Mastering Social Media for Small Business, for more, simple but very useful tips on how to get the best experience and results from your social spaces.

Nerissa Golden is an award-winning media strategist, business coach, and author who helps her clients accelerate their business growth by leveraging high impact communications solutions and income generating strategies. She is the author of four books: Like. Follow. Lead. Mastering Social Media for Small Business, Island Days, a collection of illustrated poems about growing up in the Caribbean; The Making of a Caribbeanpreneur: Strategies for Overcoming Fear and Building Wealth as well as Truly Caribbean Woman’s Guide to Good Love.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tumblr 101 (What is it and should I want one?)

It's social media month! So if you'll pardon the interruption in "How to Not to Write a Novel" I would like to share with you a little a Tumblr 101.

I stayed away from Tublr for the longest time. Despite having a mouth like a sailor in real life I was put off by the fact that every single Tublr seemed to be name F*ckyeah (insert noun here). So there was F*ckyeahbjds, F*yeah Illustarions, etc. But when Facebook started getting cluttered with ads and autoplay videos a friend of mine encouraged me to get one.

Tumblr is very much it's own animal. It is unlike any other social media I've ever been on. An author I know once said that Tumblr, like Pinterest, is more about curating content then a necessarily useful tool for self promotion, and I would have to agree. Unless you have some sort of stunningly original content to offer, are already a well established author it's probably not going to serve you as well as another format. However, the crowd on Tumblr is young. If you write YA, diversity of any kind, or want to try connecting with a younger audience, it might be worth your time to sign up and join the madness.

Unlike Pinterest it is politically charged as well. If you don't know what a privileged able-bodied cisgender white male is it might not be the place for you. If you are a cisgendered white male then I wish you luck... Tumblr is a place of diversity and politics. There are Tumblrs like Medieval PoC, Cosplaying While Black,  Black Fangirls Unite ,  and Writing with Color . There are a lot of resources for white people who want to write characters of greater diversity. Tumblr is not always a comfortable place, but if you can bear with your discomfort you will learn a lot about race relations, what the I and A are in LGBTQIA, and most importantly, yourself.

Now, it's not all serious political discourse and angst. I follow a TON of fashion blogs, illustration blogs, and illustrators to find inspiration for my own work. I follow my friends, and a number of literary agencies which regularly post. 

Best of all, if you (like me) don't LOVE updating your Facebook every five minutes, you can post your Tumblr activity on FB and Twitter- so it looks like you're updating more than you really are. I also have my Wordpress site send all my Wordpress posts to Tumblr and I can update Tumblr from my Deviant Art Gallery!

So, how does Tumblr work? After you sign up for an account- which is free, you can pick a theme, leave it as is, or customize your page if you have the know how. Then you find other Tumblrs pf interest to follow. Their content shows up on your "home" indicated by a house icon. If you see a photo or post you like you can 'heart it' which will add it to a list of posts you have hearted. If you want to share the content on your Tumblr- the one everyone sees (which is separate from your 'home') you can 'reblog' the post. Reblogging the post will share it on your Facebook and Twitter. You don't HAVE to share them, but they are options you can turn on in the settings, and then use or not as you choose. Unlike Pinterest the posts you heart are just kept in one long list by date. So you may end up scrolling awhile to find what you want.

At the same time you are reblogging content you like, other people can reblog posts that you make, sharing said post with their followers. There is also an option for "Asks" which you can turn on or off. Asks allow anyone looking over your blog to ask questions- either under their username or anonymously. But there are also plenty of trolls looking to Ask really insulting things. But it can be a good way to answer questions from fans. Just beware. Personally I leave the Ask off on my Tumblr because I don't want to get trolled. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

SORMAG interviews Novel Spaces members

Our regular Day 4 poster, the lovely Marissa Monteilh, is recovering from surgery and won't be able to blog today. Get well soon, Marissa!

Last month, LaShaunda Hoffman of Shades of Romance Magazine (SORMAG) interviewed Novel Spaces members Jewel Amethyst, Kevin Killiany, Marissa Monteilh and Liane Spicer. Here is the full podcast of the interview in which we discuss the running of a group blog--how we got started, why we do it, how we do it, what's behind our longevity, and more.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Reflections on Baltimore Book Festival

 As authors we get to participate in many different events that promote book sales, book writing and of course, ourselves.  For this, there is no better place than a book festival or a convention.  This weekend Carol Mitchell and I, along with the co-author of “Zapped!” my daughter, Lynelle Martin, had the opportunity to participate in the Baltimore Book Festival which ran from October 26th - 28th. For CaribbeanReads Publishing and all three authors, it was our first book festival as a vendor/participant). It was definitely an experience to remember.

Unlike past festivals that were held at Mt Vernon Place, this one was held at the scenic Baltimore Inner Harbor, a great location for tourists and Baltimoreans alike.  CaribbeanReads Publishing shared a tent with a group of teachers from Baltimore City, quite an advantage if you are selling children’s educational books.


One of the things about festivals is that you have to have something to draw people in.  Think about it, all of the hundreds of tents have the same thing: books.  People are coming there either for the well known speakers (Tavis Smiley was the highlighted speaker this year), or to get free stuff.  We had a great activity in keeping with the theme of “ZAPPED!"  Kids got the opportunity to make an edible model of an animal cell out of candy.  We used that as a jump off point to promote the children’s book, CaribbeanReads newest publication: Zapped! Danger in the cell". 


Now here is the dichotomy.  While the kids were quite engaged making (and eating) their model cells and some of the parents were inspired to purchase books, many adults were just coming for the free candy.  Some were quite rude in fact and would just grab the candy without asking and run without even glancing at the many children’s books on display.  Others were quite courteous and would listen and take a flyer with the faint promise of purchasing the books online (been there –done that…  I know what that means).   It did not translate into windfall sales at the festival, but…

…Lynelle and I were invited to give a talk and have a book sale and signing at school in a different county, we met and established contact with local NPR affiliate, and we met several bloggers and got our information into their hands and we got our information into the hands of a coalition of libraries and librarians. 


The highlight of Lynelle’s experience however came after the book festival.  She was playing “Words with Strangers” at a booth adjacent to ours when a family came and purchased her book.  Though we pointed her out as one of the authors, her back was turned and the person never got to meet her.  The next day she came home from school quite excited.  One of the girls who purchased the book was her class mate and was quite excited to discover that Lynelle was the author.  And here I was looking for a way to introduce it to Lynelle’s school without putting her on the spot.  Problem solved; it was introduced (unofficially).


Over all it was a great experience and I learned the power of free.  A booth had books selling for $5.00 for the entire three days of the festival.  That booth enjoyed a trickle of patrons for those three days, who would browse and occasionally purchase.  On the last day, within the last ten minutes they put up a sign: “ALL BOOKS FREE”.  I could not even get to the booth for the crowds that flocked it.  People were grabbing books they would never read.  Even Lynelle squeezed her small body between the throngs and got a few books that we have little interest in.  Yes, there is power in FREE.


I don't know if our experience as vendors/participants in book festivals is typical, but it sure was an enlightening experience.  If you have experiences with book festival do share them.
 




Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dust Off Those Manuscripts

by Velda Brotherton

How long we’ve been writing dictates how many manuscripts are stuffed into plastic storage boxes along with research and notes. Nowadays, those old manuscripts are probably on files or stored in a hard drive or on a CD. Mine dated back so far that all I had were paper bound copies. A couple of times I’d gone through them and discarded a few here and there.

However, I learned the hard way to never throw them away. One just might come in handy one day.

Authors have been told for years not to write for the market but to write what they like to write. Nothing could be more true, yet sometimes we have to skid a little sideways, so to speak. The first books I wrote were mainstream meant for hard cover – strange of me to have such dreams, hmmm? Then I had no thoughts of being published, so why not write what I liked to read?

When a contest came along for western historicals, I decided to give it a try. I loved westerns like True Grit, and movies where the good guy and bad guy wore white hats and black, rode gorgeous horses and depicted our past fascinated me. So I wrote three chapters about a tough woman abandoned by her family and left in a soddy on the prairie. She would leave and go west before she either starved to death or shot herself. The three chapters and a synopsis won first place and the judge urged me to finish the book and submit it to a New York Publisher. Finishing that book I discovered that I loved researching and writing in this genre, and my husband enjoyed researching for me as well. And it sold to Penguin.

Lesson #1 – enter contests in genres in which you don’t normally write. You may discover something new and exciting about yourself.

Oh, back to the dust gathering manuscripts. I’m coming to a lesson learned there too. After being published in western historical romance for six years, the New York debacle occurred. If you’ve been in the business very long you know that 30 or more publishers melded into five or six, and New York became a difficult if not impossible goal.

Because I’d discovered a love for researching the history or our country, I decided I could turn that into writing regional nonfiction books.

Lesson #2 – Don’t quit when all seems against you. Find another avenue where your talent can go to work.

After six regional nonfiction books, during which time I was hired by a local newspaper to create and write a historical page for their paper, I discovered something else. I liked working with small presses. They were more personal, one on one, actually answered emails and phone calls, and so I wondered if maybe I ought to get back into fiction, my first love. Small presses were cropping up to replace those lost in New York.

So I dug out the western manuscript I had written just prior to “the debacle” and submitted it to a small publisher, The Wild Rose Press. They took it and wanted more. Since then number four, Rowena’s Hellion, is set to come out Oct. 24.

Lesson #3 – Once again, don’t throw away something that’s been rejected a few times. Place a hard copy somewhere safe, you may go through several computers and lose the manuscript there.

Now, because we’re running out of space, comes the final lesson. Remember back when I was writing those long books suited toward mainstream? One just happened to be on a subject that is much in the news today. Veteran’s issues and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’d spent six months researching the Vietnam War and issues about the men returning with no place to turn to help them live in a peaceful atmosphere after being subjected to the the killing fields for two or three tours. My agent loved it and did his best to sell it, but it was 1986 and no one wanted to discuss this matter. That was my first novel. Nothing in the computer, a floppy disk in Word Star, but by golly I’d kept one bound copy, now covered in dust.

Out it came and I began a complete rewrite. Jump to happy ending. The book, Beyond the Moon, contracted by a publisher and released in hard cover, paper and ebook, will be released Sept. 30. It’s big, it’s beautiful and my publisher has a lot of faith in it, so much so that he took the time and spent the money to submit it for a Pulitzer Prize.

Lesson #4 – Work, keep working, don’t hesitate to rewrite something over and over and never let rejection get in the way of your success. That book gathering dust? Pay attention. Its time will come.