quail scuffing in the April snow for seed

How Not to Promote Your Book

quail scuffing in the April snow for seedWe’re having a lovely April snowstorm today, which means the quail are here in force, and looking for food. They kick up the snow and gravel with their claws, to get at the dropped seed below the feeder. I took this photo from my office window. They scratch for seed while I scratch for words. It feels very companionable.

So, I realize my title probably brought about ten thousand suggestions to the tip of your tongue. It’s a large, fraught topic. And it’s complicated by the fact that most authors don’t really love self-promotion in the first place. We like tippy-tapping on our keyboards while the peaceful quail peck around outside. Some authors are really good at marketing, but others aren’t so much. Unfortunately this awkwardness can lead to creating the opposite effect of what they’re hoping for. 

They end up driving people away instead of attracting them.

I’m going to focus on one aspect of this syndrome today: the impetuous social media insertion. 

This is what happens:

  1. Author joins Social Media site (this can be any of them)
  2. Author posts intro post saying
    1. Hi!
    2. I’m new here
    3. I don’t know what I’m doing
    4. Normally I don’t have time for this sort of thing
    5. But it’s hit me that my book is coming out so I’m trying to do things like this!
    6. So, any ideas to help me?
  3. [Fill in likely response]

You guys have all seen this before, right? I see it all the time. I saw one like it just this morning, which is what got me brewing on this. 

Let’s break down why I find this problematic.

  1. I’ve said this before, but apparently it bears revisiting. Social Media is social. You join one, it’s like walking into the cafeteria at a new school, carrying your lunch tray and a hopeful smile. Sure you have a right to be there, just like anyone, but that doesn’t guarantee you a seat at any of the tables. Don’t expect the room to stand up and applaud your presence. It’s gonna take a little while to make friends.
  2. Intro posts are never easy. Twitter likes to show us our first tweets and they’re invariably something like, “This is my first tweet. I have no idea what I’m doing.” We’re all in that same boat. It’s awkward when the teacher asks us to stand up and say where we moved from, our hobbies, and how we spent the summer vacation. (Packing and moving, then unpacking. Duh!)
    1. All I can suggest is, keep it to an intro post. Say hi and gracefully retreat from the field. Your next step is making friends, so let that happen naturally.
    2. Well, yes, but that’s fine to say as much. Honesty is good.
    3. Okay, authenticity is good, too. But maybe don’t dwell on this. The old hands probably already figured this out. Nobody expects you to know where your classroom is. Just ask for directions. Don’t keep apologizing.
    4. Whoa! So, right off the bat you’re telling me that your time is more valuable than mine. Because you’re talking to a vast room full of people who’ve decided this thing IS worth their time. Because we all understand that it’s not about how much time you have, it’s about how you choose to devote your time. WE ALL HAVE THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME. Nobody gets extra portions of time for good behavior. We can only control how we portion out that time. By saying this, an author is essentially saying, “this thing that you do was never important enough to me before, but now it is and I’m asking you to give me your time and attention.”
    5. Aha! And now we know your motivation. It’s not really that this social thing we do is suddenly interesting to you. Essentially you’ve told me that you’re interested in being my friend ONLY because you think I might be helpful in selling your book. Can you imagine doing this in real life? Picture sitting down at the lunch table with nothing but your books on your tray and saying, “Hi! Normally I have better ways to spend my time than eating lunch like you people, but today I thought I’d come sit with you, be all friendly, and see if you’ll buy or help me sell my books.” I don’t think that would go over well.
    6. And now you want me to offer ideas for you? Well, yes, social networking is a great place to get this kind of help – I advocate for that all the time. But you don’t get to just walk up to the food co-op and help yourself, right? You have to put in the time and effort. By suggesting that people should jump to offer you ideas and support, having done nothing for them before, you come across as a special snowflake. This is especially true when you’re talking to a bunch of other authors. People who are also  invested in selling their books. 
    7. [Fill in likely response]
  3. My likely response in this scenario? It’s super easy to delete, ignore, scroll past, unfollow, unfriend, you name it. MUCH easier than devoting my time and energy. There will be some people, ones who are undoubtedly kinder, more patient, and more generous than I, who will offer help. But – wow – when it’s so simple to delete, forget, and move on? That’s gonna happen a lot. 

The book gets forgotten before it’s found in these scenarios. Social media takes an investment of time and good will. Even then it can go wrong. But at least we can try to put our best foot forward. 

And, yes – you can always come sit at my lunch table, but not if you only want to talk about your books, okay?

Why I Needed a Mission Statement

BFqnq3dCQAArYBoOlder kitty and newer kitty are getting to be quite good companions for each other – very pleased to see it!

Recently I’ve been thinking about Mission Statements.

What – you don’t?

No, really. See, a fellow author asked me for a favor. It wasn’t a big favor, but I was feeling cranky about being asked. I was annoyed with this person for other reasons, for an online gaffe that the other person probably never even thought of as being rude. I never said anything about it, just fumed a little and tried to let it go. You all know how it is – you can’t get all worked up about every little thing. And I do think intention matters. It’s one thing for someone to accidentally step on your foot and another for them to deliberately grind their heel in your instep.

So, I *thought* I let it go. Until this person asked me to do something for them and I didn’t want to. And I wasn’t sure of my reasons.

There’s another side of this “helping fellow authors” thing. Julia Quinn recently said at a conference that “No one ever ruined their career helping another author.” Brenda Novak says “A high tide floats all boats.” I believe in both of these things. I think it’s important to help people and, more, I enjoy it. But I think we all know that this can go bad. There are bad apples that will take your help and then abuse you for it. There are vampires who will drain you of everything you have to give. It’s the ugly face of what is supposed to be a good and lovely enterprise. We’ve all been stung by it, I think.

Sure, we have ways of dealing. Most of us know to never give a gift with the expectation of reciprocation or even gratitude. That way the gift is given freely and it’s easier to ignore any less-than-pleasant results.

Still, after this happens a few times, when someone asks you for a favor, you can’t help but weigh it. Especially if that same person recently stepped on your foot.

This is an emotional reaction and I wanted to separate out my emotional reaction.

Thus: a Mission Statement.

When I tweeted about this, someone suggested I pick “Eat Chocolate. Drink Coffee. Write a Lot of Words.”

Which was funny – and largely accurate – but not what I was getting at.

A few years back I did this retreat weekend with some other facilitators and a bunch of sorority and fraternity members from the local campus. They were primarily the presidents and vice-presidents of their chapters. The program proved to be a fascinating one, that worked to move these leaders into focusing on their sorority’s and fraternity’s open and secret mottoes – their Mission Statements, as it were. See, every fraternity and sorority has both. For my sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, our open motto is “Founded Upon a Rock.” The letters of the sorority are an acronym for our secret motto, known only to Gamma Phi initiates.

Despite the sometimes unsavory reputation of the Greek system, these organizations were all founded with bold ideals of integrity, learning, and honor. To help guide these chapter leaders to make decisions in sync with these ideals, the program helped them think about their founding ideals.

One thing we did was work through “hypothetical issues” in small groups, as if we were on the boards of the companies involved. For example, we were the board of a pharmaceutical company and someone dies taking one of our medications. What do we do?

What was cool – all of these turned out to have been actual events. The example above was taken directly from the Tylenol poisonings in the 1980s. Those of you old enough might remember that as one of the first massive product recalls in history. It set a firm precedent. The Johnson & Johnson board members said that, at the time, the decision was easy. They looked at their Credo, which guides them to “do the right thing and act honorably” and knew exactly what to do. You can read all about it here.

The goal of this program with fraternities and sororities was to help them use their founding principles to do the same. Thus the have a compass for making decisions. It’s timely to point out that the kids who participated in/witnessed the Steubenville rape could have used similar guiding principles.

At any rate, this has been a roundabout way of describing how I came to make my own Mission Statement. So, that I would have a compass besides my bruised feelings to guide me.

As I thought about what’s important to me, I recalled a conversation I had recently about an upcoming conference. Some first-timers were nervous and I was reassuring them on details and that they could always hang with me. I remember my very first RWA conference and how I knew not one person – and how lonely I felt eating by myself next to tables full of laughing people. So I declared “Anyone can sit at my lunch table!”

After all, high school is over and in the Cafeteria of Life, we’ve all had our share of eating alone.

Once that gelled, I replied to the author asking me for a favor that amounted to no more than sitting at my table – and said yes.

It was the right thing to do.