Today I’m reposting an article I did for the Summer 2011 issue of the SFWA Bulletin on self-promotion and mandated extroversion. For another post on this subject, check out my article in the March Knight Agency newsletter. In the meantime, I present to you….
Usually I start with whatever lyrics the demented little DJ in my head has seen fit to provide or a colorful anecdote about the crazy people with whom I’m sharing a train car, but today as I frantically try to finish all of my work in time for my overseas trip, I’m stuck in my office with my puppy jailer guarding the door and no further inspiration than the voices in my head, one of whom actually has her own blog…which is exactly the sort of thing I want to talk to you about today.
It’s truer every year that authors need to invest themselves in self-promotion. Relevant clauses have even begun creeping into contractual language, committing authors to maintaining websites, blogs, a perhaps certain presence in social media sites. But for a lot of authors, this is very nerve-wracking stuff. It takes time and energy away from other writing and for many it doesn’t come naturally. What’s an introverted author to do?
I’ve had a lot of these conversations lately, and I’d like to offer up some suggestions. Let’s start with website development. It’s a great idea if your website has enough content to keep readers around for awhile and doesn’t immediately redirect them elsewhere, like to buy links. Some authors include free fiction, secret dossiers, widgets, book trailers, wallpaper and other value added content in addition to a listing of their books and where they can be bought. They give something back even while they promote. Now, all of this extra content can take a lot of time and energy. My two cents: it’s worth it. At a bare minimum, though, your website should always be up-to-date, easily readable across browsers and quick to load. This might mean that you loose one of your bells or tone down your whistle, but a clean, sleek, modern and easily navigable site is a must. It’s also very important (sometimes even contractually mandated) that you link to your publisher’s site and offer multiple buy links so that none of the retailers who might support your books is left out. For all those wonderful independent bookstores, there’s Indiebound.
Your website should also contain buttons that will help your readers link up with you elsewhere, like your blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, etc. Let’s see if we can take some of the stress and uncertainty out of the idea of putting yourself out there in public. I’ll start with blogging, which, while not absolutely necessary, is becoming increasingly important.
Idea #1: If you’re uncomfortable blogging on your own or don’t feel that you have enough to say to keep people coming back, enter into a group blog with other authors where your commitment might be anything from a blog a week to one a month. You’ll still get the exposure and you’ll benefit from the cross-pollination of your peers.
Idea #2: Set yourself a schedule, something easy, fun, entertaining and informative. You’ll find a schedule takes some of the stress away, since you’ve got an idea each day of what you’ll post. As an example:
-Mondays: fun facts (this can be anything from research you’ve come across to quirks of your writing process to FAQs about yourself, your superstitions, weird history, etc.)
-Teaser Tuesdays: I see this a lot, and it’s intriguing each and every time. Simply post an excerpt from something you’re reading or writing or about to have released. It can be from the beginning, the middle, the end, out of the mouths of babes….
-Writer Wednesday: This might be the day each week where you post something helpful about the process or the business. Maybe you talk about character development or dialogue, plotting or pacing, or any number of other things. Or maybe each Wednesday you feature an author who’s not you and take the day off. Let someone else guest blog for a change.
-Thoughtful Thursday: I’m thinking here of the old Saturday Night Live “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy.” Maybe you post your musings or quotes or articles you’ve found helpful in your work.
-Fun Fridays: This is something I’ve begun on my blog. I’ve posted up a free short story, links to videos, songs or other websites. Generally, the humor is industry-related, but not always. It is, however, always intended to be entertaining.
Idea #3: Offer to guest-blog for all and sundry. Are there blogs already targeted toward your audience that encourage guests? Dip your feet in with a guest blog or interview elsewhere. (If you do have a blog of your own, offering to swap blogs is often very effective.)
Readers like lists; they like quick concise wisdom that they can take away with them; they like controversy and humor. They do not like: the hard sell, mundane minutia, or being talked at rather than with. Pose questions, start a dialogue. Be a real and fully interactive person rather than a bot. Do not: use the forum to rant about negative reviews or problems with your agent, editor or publishing house. Remember that there are truly no “take backs” on the web. Once something is out there, it’s stored forever somewhere, and I’ve seen more than one author shoot him or herself in the foot by being indiscrete or overly aggressive and getting labeled a problem child.
I briefly touched on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, which are two of the best known, but there are a ton of other great sites that appeal to readers, from Goodreads to Library Thing, Shelfari, Authors’ Den, Figment, CreateSpace…. The list is practically endless. Of course, it’s impossible to do everything with the attention needed to succeed, so it’s probably a good idea to choose a few places into which you’ll pour your time and energy. Do less and do it well. Doing a great deal poorly really doesn’t get you anywhere.
Lest you think things like Twitter and Facebook might be too great a distraction…well, you may be right. They can be very distracting and addictive. You have to know yourself and be very disciplined with your time so that you don’t take too much away from your actual writing. But if writing is your profession, something you’re very serious about, networking is an increasingly large part of that.
Would it help if I tell you that, like with your blog, you can have your “tweets” (your Twitter posts) feed into Facebook as well—and vice versa. Double the exposure and half the effort! (Although, I’d argue that the two are truly different enough that this may not always be your best option.) What about if I mention that it takes less than a minute to sign up for a Twitter account and that posts can only be 140 characters maximum (not words, characters!)?
Outside of social media, there are a host of other new and exciting ways to reach readers, from music videos and book trailers for your work to widgets and apps, though the latter is still prohibitively expensive to create. And no, you don’t have to be an electronics guru to figure them out. As far as book trailers, many have gone the homemade route. With a clever concept and a little help from your friends, a Flip camera and a YouTube account can do wonders, although it takes a little more than that for widespread distribution unless your video is lucky enough to go viral. But there are plenty of companies out there that’ll help with the creation and/or distribution of various sorts of multi-media.
Look at the possibilities as just that—possibilities, full of promise and ripe for the exploration of ideas. Once you get into the swing of things, you’ll find that promotion takes on a life of its own. You’ll build a file full of contacts and discover what works for you. It’ll become easier with time. You’ll have your go-tos, your big events and an ever-growing network to help you spread the word.
3 thoughts on “Mandated Extroversion”
Thanks, LD. These suggestions are just what I needed. My blog has languished too long…
I consider attending the DFW Conference and making a pitch to you, an ideal example of mandated extroversion! 🙂