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Self-promotion thoughts, part 2

Tobias Buckell once posted a piece about the changing nature of his own blog. I believe he started his blog before he sold his first novel, and many of his readers, valuing his openness, were also writers who were on the same journey.

But when he sold his first book, the nature of his readership began to change. People who could viscerally sympathize with the struggle to get published could no longer sympathize if they weren't, and people who had had a different career trajectory also found his posts less germane to their own experiences. So his blog eventually changed as more of his readers found it. The posts began to be written with the newer audience in mind; they changed, because of that. What readers who are purely readers want is different from readers who are also writers.

Many of us started to read the blogs of writers who were trying to make the process transparent when we were writing for publication but had not yet been published ourselves. Like Toby's audience, we supported & cheered on other writers. But at some point, having passed that milestone, there's a totally different set of neuroses that appear, and a totally different struggle.

One of them would be: Self-promotion.

When I started to post on GEnie, it was a bulletin board system with different topics, and usually each author had a topic. LJ was the closest community to GEnie that I found when GEnie, once thriving, eventually shut down. I won't go into the differences here, because it's not relevant. I came to LJ, and I found a lot of my old GEnie friends, and I started to post here.

I mentioned in my previous post that I did this for social reasons; that hasn't changed. What has changed is the way the internet is viewed as a vehicle for self-promotion. I blame John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow for this. Yes, my tongue is in my cheek -- but only partly.

Marketing People who don't understand that John Scalzi has built a community of many thousands over a decade then said: Go out and be John Scalzi. And by this, they didn't mean be a funny, outspoken, balding middle-aged man. They meant: he's a writer, you're a writer, do what he does. As if it were as simple as getting a blog which would then magically produce 50k unique visitors a day.

Well. It is simple in exactly the same way as someone saying, "want to get published? Sit down and write a book." Because, of course, anyone can sit down and write a publishable book off the top of their heads.

Or not. I come down on the side of not, in this case. I do believe that anyone who has the commitment and drive can write a publishable novel -- but I certainly don't expect that they can sit down and do it overnight.

Yet authors are pushed to do exactly that.

Why? Because someone in marketing is now looking for your web-presence. They don't understand that community building takes time, and that community building isn't done on the basis of shilling. They probably don't understand this because they don't spend time building communities on the internet. Instead, they google to look at what's there, and they see a snapshot.

My current advice to writers who have felt or feel this kind of pressure? Have a web-site. Pay attention to what the site looks like; have your books, your book information, and etc., up front where it's easy to find and easy to navigate. Make sure that you have notices about upcoming publications there, as well as appearances.

This will give you the appearance of having an on-line presence to people who aren't actually monitoring it, because if marketing is looking for presence, they need to be able to find it. I know in the last few years the sales reps will, with their wireless connectivity, start to google authors if they don't recognize their names to see what comes up. This may sound terrifying, but they won't be reading your site and they won't be doing page counts because they don't have access to them; they only have access to what they see when they navigate to the site.

As long as you keep it updated with the information about your books, your forthcoming books, and as long as it looks relatively professional, this will be your internet public face for those five or ten minutes of googling. In the old days, you could get by without this; now, I think it's necessary.

As for the rest? Do what you're comfortable doing. You can tell people you have a Twitter account if you have one; you don't really need to tweet if you hate it. You can set up a Facebook account, and do the same.

If you honestly feel you have to be John Scalzi, my advice will of necessity be different. Go to his web-stie and read the last year's worth of his posts. Note the dates, the lengths, and the probable research involved, and then: Start writing. Don't be afraid to give offence. I'd say you probably want to spend no less than three hours a day, and probably closer to six, monitoring, writing, responding and moderating as you slowly build an audience.

Do this daily for three to five years without fail.

Because only by doing this will you have a chance to build a similar base--and it is a chance; it's still not guaranteed. You will, however, have much more traffic than the average author blog by that time.

But wait, you say, you have the rest of a life to live and work to do on top of that, and this sounds unreasonable? Well, yes. That's sort of my point. Scalzi does this because he loves it. He is good at it because he loves it. He's not grinding his teeth and going through the motions because he sees it as a necessary -- if distasteful -- part of his job. The writing of novels wasn't his job when he started the site; that's not why he did it. It's also why it works.

But you can build a much smaller community simply by blogging about the things you love; it will, however, be a community drawn to the things you love.

Failing that? Having set up your web-site so that marketing can find it and be pleased it exists, here are some things I feel you should not do.

Do not scream, cry, or beg at your readers. Do not tell them that they must buy your book during its on-sale day or week because you want a shot at the NYT list. If you don't have the peak of sales that will get you there anyway, the shouting at the readers you do have will probably lose as many sales in the end as you gain in the short run. Think about how you feel as a reader now, and how you felt as a reader when reading was practically the centre of your universe. Did you care about the NYT lists? At sixteen I was immediately suspicious when I saw that banner over a title or author name.

As a reader, as any kind of shopper, do you respond well to people guilting you out and telling you that you must rearrange your shopping schedule to accommodate them? Probably not. I certainly don't.

Do not antagonize your friends by friending them on Facebook and then immediately sending them a suggestion that they friend your fan page. While sarah_prineas is possibly the most vocal LJer to discourage this practice, she's not the only person who finds it irritating in the extreme.

Many Facebook users who are also writers have accounts that are essentially public; we'll accept friend requests from people because they might be our readers. Friending a writer so that you can spam them with your fan page does not, in fact, increase your audience. It may annoy the crap out of your audience. sarah_prineas auto deletes anyone who does this to her. I simply fail to -- ever -- buy their books.

Do not rearrange and move book displays to better accommodate your books. As someone who worked in a bookstore, I can't tell you how very irritating this is. In the current paradigm, it can also get the stores in trouble because publishers now do pay placement fees to have specific titles displayed in certain parts of the store, and the employees -- who, as retail workers, are already underpaid and overworked -- must then clean up the mess you have made.

And that's it for part 2. Part 3 -- in which I answer why seanan_mcguire (and authors like her) is an exception to follow tomorrow.

Edited because it's and its are not the same. Sigh. One day I will post something that doesn't require edits after I've pressed the button

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
tinachristopher
Oct. 2nd, 2010 03:21 am (UTC)
Thanks for another great post. As an aspiring author it's great to find out about what not to do;).

And as a bookseller, I am so with you on rearranging the displays. I have one local author who comes in regularly and I have to then go around and tidy up after her because her books suddenly appear on all the tables. I've told my manager and he said we can always ban her books from the store...not a good way to make friends, for sure.
mmarques
Oct. 2nd, 2010 03:49 am (UTC)
I like the community nature of LJ. And that the "friend" feature makes it easy to maintain a reading list and to get read. But I agree with you that it's pretty unlikely that most of our blogs will get much attention.

When I started my LJ blog, I admit that I had grandiose plans. Both for the blog and for the draft of a novel I had just completed. I now limit my writing-related posts to a private community. And my LJ blog is just as much for myself as anyone else (because I want to be able to keep track of the recipes I'm trying).

Coincidentally, on my corporate blog, today I also posted something about the challenges of blogging - and tweeting.
mtlawson
Oct. 2nd, 2010 04:25 am (UTC)
Yeah, I was suspicious about NYT bestsellers too. Still am, honestly.

When I got back into reading SF/F, I deliberately avoided the bestselling authors at first. I didn't want to look at the past (Pern, Shannara, D&D tie-ins, etc.), I wanted to see the present and future of the genres. I didn't want marketing to drive me, and blatant hard sells on websites turn me off.

I guess it's no surprise that I find the environment here in LJ to my liking. As another ex-GEnie user (MLAWSON4, if you're curious), I feel comfortable here. A writer is going to win me over by being themselves and posting interesting things, not marketing and selling to me. Like you said in Part One, Michelle, people come here for different reasons than a regular author's website, and I definitely qualify for that. If I hadn't found your comments on Jim Hines' LJ, I wouldn't have found my way here and gotten intrigued enough to start reading the Chronicles of Elantra.

(Oh, and I don't think I've not edited a post in a long time; I always mess something up.)
teenagewitch
Oct. 2nd, 2010 05:16 am (UTC)
I agree, people who spam my list with causes to join often get the boot from my FB list simply because I don't want to join the millionth fan page for breast cancer this week. Also moving around books I would think causes issues for people who want to buy the book. If I can't find something, I can always find someone else.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )