The Problem with Short-Term Thinking in Book Marketing

I’m getting serious about regular yoga practice lately. My lovely stepdaughter and son-in-law gave me a gift certificate for Christmas to 6pm.com, where I was able to get all kinds of great yoga clothes for not much money! This is the pic I took for them to show my loot. I’m excited because I’ve found a yoga studio I really like with a wide variety of classes at times that work for me. I went twice right after Christmas, then got this obnoxious flu. I’m finally feeling back up to full strength so I’m revved to attend regularly and build a steady practice. I’ve been doing variants of yoga along with other martial training for more than twenty years, but never really devoted myself to yoga. Now’s the time!

Yoga is one of those practices that require long-term commitment. The results come gradually, with diligence and consistency. I’m looking at it as something to do to maintain my body as it ages. Thinking long term like this requires a different perspective. I’m not trying to lose fifteen pounds in the next six months so much (though I am), as wanting to regain flexibility and retain elasticity and strength as an aging body moves away from those things. It’s much the same as I’ve approached my writing career, which I’ve always viewed as a long game.

That includes marketing.

Marketing has been on my mind lately. I did a post about this at the SFF Seven a bit ago. And last week I was on a panel about productivity as a writer for LERA, my local RWA chapter, and one question people asked was where in my schedule I fit in marketing. It’s not that I don’t accept marketing as a reality of being a career author. I worry that it gets too much attention from authors, especially in the short term.

When I started out with my first books, I received the advice that the best, most effective method for marketing my book was to write the next book. A lot of people get this advice. It’s really good advice. I’d only amend to say, “concentrate on writing the next book and try to make it even better than the previous one.”

See, the problem I have with a lot of today’s focus on marketing is that authors seems to get very focused on promoting THAT book or THAT series. They work hard to get a better Amazon ranking, to get more reviews, to get a bestseller status that they can put under their email signature or website banner. All of these things make nicely tangible milestones. It’s easy to know if you did it or not, so they’re seductive for that reason. It’s much more difficult to quantify the longer-term goals of gaining a devoted readership or improving your reputation in the genre. 

Still, those longer-term goals are the ones that matter. For example, having a book hit the USA Today (USAT) Bestseller list should be an indication that enough readers anticipated and loved the book that they bought the book during a certain amount of time. It’s a terrific measure of a dedicated fan base. But a lot of short-term marketing efforts these days go into getting on that list – joining in box sets with other authors and pouring on promotional money in order to get that badge of honor. The argument is that an author being able to call themselves a USAT Bestselling Author will sell more books. 

But will it?

Maybe?

Still, it’s no longer a measure of that long-term goal of having a dedicated reader base. It’s a reflection of a short-term promotional effort. The reality is, unless an author is writing books that readers love, it doesn’t matter what’s on their website banner or under their email signature. Word of mouth and reader recommendation is still the primary way people find new books. It’s how I find new books. 

This is why writing the next book – and trying to improve on the previous book – is the key to the long game. I get that it can feel critical to launch a debut book well, or to get that series off the ground, but winning readers who will put you on their autobuy list for the next twenty years is what will allow you to be a career author, to make a consistent income from both your back- and front-list. Making money or a USAT Bestseller badge off of one book – or even one series – won’t. 

Just like my losing 15 pounds by summer won’t ensure my long-term health. A lot of planning and gradual improvement will go into how my body will perform thirty years from now – and the same is true of my writing career. 

Both are about the long game. 

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?

Getting More Facebook Likes

001This pic didn’t come out as well as I would have wished, because Jackson was moving so fast. But he’s perched on the back of a chair next to my treadmill desk, methodically swiping things to the floor so I’ll pay attention to him. Funny cat.

Before I forget, I’m teaching an online writing workshop starting next week, on October 18: Defying Gravity: Writing Cross-Genre and Succeeding Anyway. This is for my longtime online home chapter, the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Special Interest Chapter of RWA (FFP).

Genre definitions have a profound influence on writers’ careers. From the first queries where we must specify the book’s genre to long-term decisions about pursuing or giving up on a “dead” genre, dealing with what feels like a false construct is a necessary skill. However, following our hearts and inspiration often means tossing aside these considerations.

Or chopping them to pieces in a murderous rage.

But shedding conventions can be what sets a book apart. That’s what takes a writer’s career from midlist to break-out. So… how do you know? More—how do we find the courage to embrace a bold move?

In Wicked, the heroine Elphaba is faced with that crucial decision, of whether to choose the safe path or to risk flying on her own. This workshop will explore genre definitions and how Jeffe Kennedy went from being a “Crack Ho” – being told that her work fell in the cracks between genres – to receiving a nomination for Book of the Year and an RT Seal of Excellence for the one title each month that stands out from all the rest by an innovative twist on a familiar story or pushing genre boundaries. Participants will discuss their experiences with genre—both coloring inside the lines and stepping across them—and will leave inspired to take risks and follow their hearts.

Everyone deserves a chance to fly!

I’m teaching this by special request, so it should be big fun. 🙂

While that workshop is about breaking away from market considerations, I want to talk a bit about promoting books on social media. This is something authors are forced to think about, whether they want to or not. Accordingly, there’s tons of advice out there on the topic, Rule #1 of which tends to be along the lines of “Get More Followers!”

Recently one of my published author email loops went bananas with people offering to trade Facebook likes – as in, you like my page and I’ll like yours. They did the same with following on Twitter.

I think this is a really bad idea.

Sure, the numbers go up, which apparently satisfies Rule #1. But it’s not real. Worse, it creates a false idea of your social media reach.

Let me caveat before I go on that I’m friends with and following/followed by LOTS of authors. Hell, I’m writing this blog post for authors. Nothing at all wrong with that. In fact, networking with other authors can be important for building community and career opportunities.

However – creating a trade system with other authors to like one another’s pages does three things: It skews our lists to the wrong people, possibly diminishes our reach to real readers and skews our own perceptions.

Skewing our lists to the wrong people

We all know Facebook is a mystical bog of smoke and mirrors. They really want us to pay money to get followers to see our posts, so they mess with our reach. We try to game the system. They game it right back. It’s an eternal battle to be seen, on top of the usual discoverability battle. This may be growing more true of Twitter also. The only thing we can be sure of is that only a portion of our followers will see a given post. If all of our followers are people who are there because they’re interested in our books, at least that portion who sees a post will be them! If a portion of our followers are from reciprocal author trades … guess what?

Diminishing our reach to real readers

Yes, yes, yes – people will always argue that writers are readers, too. Of course we are! And, sure, I’ll like the pages of authors I want to keep track of. But that’s entirely because I want to, not through a trade. A trade isn’t organic. See above. We want people to follow and like us because they are ACTUALLY INTERESTED in our books. This might be more difficult, but they’ll be real followers. See below.

Skewing our own perceptions

As nice as it may be to look at our profiles and see hundreds or thousands of followers, as lovely an ego stroke as that may be, if a whole bunch of those are from author reciprocal trades, then it means nothing. Worse, it allows us to kid ourselves that we’re doing well in expanding our reach when we’re not. It’s a pleasant little fantasy and there’s no room for that in running a business. On the other hand, gaining *real* followers is a good measure of success – and one to be proud of.

Let’s get those real followers, people! Oh, and my Facebook author page is here.

What??? I *had* to give that a go. 😉

Promo Pushes – The Good, The Bad and The Serendipitous

Santa RosaWe continued our tour of New Mexico – and David’s ongoing quest for a good fishing spot – with a visit to Santa Rosa on Sunday. I, naturally, make an ideal fishing companion since all you have to do is park me in a chair and let me read. No fish were caught, but I did finish reading a book and started another.

I call it a win. 🙂

Today I’m over at Word Whores (yeah, the schedule got messed up), talking about my most successful planned and serendipitous promo pushes. I’m also at Books and Tales, where I talk about Graham Joyce, his recent passing and how much I liked him – both as a person and an author.

On a happier note, I’m also at Paranormal Romantics, following a reader suggestion and analyzing the number and variety of descriptors that Rogue uses for Gwynn in the Covenant of Thorns books. Like this one:CoT 1Also – very fun! – there’s a Goodreads giveaway going on for The Tears of the Rose! This book, the second in my Twelve Kingdoms trilogy, comes out November 25, but you can get it early via this giveaway!

Dialogue and Accents – Don’t Be the Monkey with the Bazooka

RT 2013 promo

This is one of the magic wands I’ll be handing out at the RT Booklovers Convention next week. They arose out of a post I did recently on my personal blog, about how I’ve become the Fairy Godmother of Good Sex.

 I think they turned out pretty cool.

Today I’m over at Word Whores, talking about showing accents in dialogue – and how it can go oh, so very wrong.

Trolling for Likes and Tags – Worth It or Not?

There’s this trope in the movies – especially a certain kind of teen movie – where someone pays/bribes/coerces one of the popular kids to pretend to like/love/date the nerdy kid, thereby conveying that special magic upon them and elevating the unpopular kid into the lofty ranks. You all have seen this movie, right? Inevitably it turns out that everyone loves the previously unpopular kid and the formerly golden kid has plummeted in the rankings because everyone now sees them for who they truly are, whatever that may be.

Of course, we understand from this that popularity is A) not a real thing, B) easily created and destroyed and C) a false goal that leads only to pain and suffering.

Popularity very often is a mysterious thing. Why does everyone think that one cheerleader is the prettiest? Or that one guy is the one everyone wants to hang with? It’s easy to put it down to money, the right clothes, personal charm, luck. In the end, nobody really knows the answers and, after a certain point, we all leave high school and we don’t worry about it so much anymore. It is what it is and popularity doesn’t really matter.

Unless you’re engaged in a field where you’re trying to get people’s attention.

Then you’re plunged right back into the social frenzy. Why does one book get passed around and talked about while another languishes? How come everyone seems to LOVE that author, that book blogger, the one agent who everybody knows is really kind of smarmy? But they do, we still don’t know the answers and now, unfortunately, it really DOES matter.

Recently on a number of the author loops I’m on, people have been engaging in “Like” and “Tagging” parties. People ask for “Likes” on their FB author pages. For example, here’s mine https://www.facebook.com/Author.Jeffe.Kennedy. You can see there’s a “Like” button (which is at least way better than the old “Fan” button). If you click, then you see my posts. And look! it’s a measurable indicator of popularity! There’s a similar deal on Amazon, which is arguably more important to the book’s success. For example, if you look at Rogue’s Pawn on Amazon, you can see the little thumbs-up symbol under the title, which is meant to show how many people liked the book. If you scroll ALLLLL the way down, below the reviews, you’ll see “Tags Customers Associate with this Product,” – again, meant to be a way for customers to rate and describe the product.

Well, there’s all sorts of mutterings and schemings about how a book needs 25 Likes to make it into Amazon’s recommendations. And that the tags are EVERYTHING if you want to sell books. Of course, a lot of this is trying to discern the system behind the curtain and make it play for us. So what are these authors on my loops doing?

They’re attempting to create the appearance of popularity. “I’ll like your book if you’ll like mine” is just the grown-up iteration of paying the popular kid to sit with you at lunch. And there’s a certain logic. Hopefully real readers – and by this I mean, people who’ve actually read and liked the book, as opposed to clicking to do you reciprocal favor – will see all those frisky likes and think “Hey, look at all the people who like this, it must be good! I want to be one of those people!”

But, in the end, though the number of Likes might look much better than it did before, it’s still not a real measure of anything. You’re kidding yourself. I suspect that at some point, like the kids in the teen movies, we realize that popularity cannot be bought, sold or traded. That it comes down to who we really are or, in the case of our books, what kind of reading experience we offer.

And it is what it is.