No, not that a-word. This past week or so I’ve been thinking about advertising (and promotion) and the various ways writers go about it. Interestingly, I also read two posts on the topic; one from Chuck Wendig (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/04/25/let-us-discuss-the-nature-of-book-promotion/), much of which took place in the comments, and one from Joseph Devon (http://josephdevon.com/2012/04/words-advertising-book/7130/), where the author discussed things he has tried and what has worked for him. All of this is very interesting reading if book promotion is something on your mind. And interesting to me because I am really not all that good at it myself (but that’s not the point of this post).
I’ve also been wrestling with the decision of whether to un-follow a couple of authors I follow on Twitter. Now, I actually read things on Twitter; I don’t just follow folks willy-nilly so that they’ll follow me back. This indiscriminate-following sort of use, I think, removes Twitter from being the solitary writer’s equivalent of a water cooler (I think it might have been the aforementioned Mr. Wendig whom I saw first refer to it that way), and turns it into a big echoing abyss where everyone is shouting into it but no-one is listening to what comes out.
The problem with these particular authors and the way they are using Twitter is this: they tweet solely about their books and the books of others in their network(s). Over and over. And over. One even makes a point of saying that he rarely goes "off-message." This, I suppose, is meant as a selling point for authors to use him to promote, but to me as a follower it has the opposite effect. It says, "you are never going to hear anything other than these promotions from me." Whoa, dude, way to tell me you’re going to be boring to follow.
Now, it’s not that I’m uninterested in independent or self-published or discounted-for-promotion books. I’m not a reading snob and frankly, especially of late, I’ve frequently put down a bad "traditionally-published" book in favour of a non-traditional but more interesting/better-written one. I’m a big fan of independently-produced audiobooks. It’s not that I don’t want to discover more of this engaging writing that flies under the tradpub radar.
BUT. I don’t want a steady diet of plugs for it in my Twitter stream. It’s "social" media, folks, not "commercial" media.
So, how can authors use Twitter (and other social media) effectively? It comes down to three things, I think: personality, value, and balance.
First off—you, the author, are a real person. Don’t be afraid to be that real person in your social media participation. The most interesting writers I’ve found on Twitter have a personality; they are not just ad-pumping avatars. It’s entirely possible their online personalities are nothing like their real-life personalities, but at least they present one. Sure, they mention promotional stuff when they have something new happening, but it’s not all they talk about. Imagine if you were at a party and an author talked about nothing but their new book and their friends’ new books. After half an hour you’d be sidling away or out the door, thinking about a different a-word. So if you wouldn’t do it at a party, why do it in another social venue?
Second—value. My favourite people on Twitter are those who often point me to other interesting things or people on the internet, or write about other interesting things and tell me about that. It’s a big, big world out there, with lots to discover and share with your friends. It also offers another glimpse into the things that you as an author find interesting, and if I, as a reader, know that we share some common interests, then maybe I’ll be more likely to think you might write a book I’d like to read.
Third—balance. Find a good balance between personality, value, and advertising. Too much of anything is going to upset that balance, but a nice mix of the three will make your advertising and promotion much more palatable and actually likely to make someone act on it.
And…if you’d like to see how I try to mix it up on Twitter, you can always follow me @sdramsey. Just, y’know, sayin’.
Photo credit: xenia at Morguefile