The A-word

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 (, much of which took place in the comments, and one from Joseph Devon (, 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

Social Media Thoughts for Writers (or anyone, really)

I was reading an excellent post the other day titled “Which Social Media Websites Work Best For Writers?“, by Conor P. Dempsey. (He forgot Goodreads, but overall it was a good list.) However, I don’t want to rehash his thoughts here. I mention his post because I like the assumption inherent in his title: writers need social media sites, it’s just a matter of choosing what’s the best use of one’s time.

I know that not all writers (particularly, but not limited to, non-genre writers) see any point in using social media at all. It is often largely described by these writers as a waste of time and a waste of brain power. “I don’t have time”, “I don’t have anything to say”, and “I don’t care about the silly things people talk about on social media sites” are the three main complaints I hear, so Conor’s article got me thinking about them. (Note, too, that these complaints come not just from writers, but from others who are hesitant or downright intolerant of social media.)

Whether or not you believe in the “ebook revolution,” it’s been clear for a number of years that traditional publishing is a) walking a financial tightrope and b) choosing very carefully where to spend advertising and promotional dollars. Mid-list authors have lamented being left out in the cold, new authors have lamented being dropped after one book fails to make the sales grade. This predates the real take-off of ebooks, so it’s not entirely tied into those sea changes, although I think its impact has probably been accelerated.

What writers who don’t “do” social media seem to overlook is that even before the e-valanche of ebooks, there was one thing needed to sell books–readers have to find them. Books have to be accessible, available, find-able. You have to let readers know they’re out there, unless you’re going to depend on the odd reader here or there who finds your book by accident among the myriad covers stacked on bookstore shelves. Publishers used to look after that for you, so you could get on with writing your next book. Except in the case of that handful of authors who don’t even really need it, publishers’ efforts in this case have been severely curtailed. There’s no sense in blaming the publishers–they are making business decisions.

But the upshot is–you’d better do everything you can on your own, to promote your book. To do that, you have to let people know it’s out there.

Now, I live in the back of beyond as far as the book-buying public is concerned, but even if you live smack-dab in the middle of NYC, your personal circle of book-buying readers is limited in scope. If publishers are not going to be out there hawking your book or footing the bill for you to go gallivanting around hawking your book, how are you going to let people know about it?

Social media is a great answer. No ifs, ands, or buts. Unless and until the Internet collapses under the weight of its own information overload, it’s the best tool you have for connecting with your readers.

Does it take time? Yes, it takes some. It needn’t be great gobs of your time, sucked into the black hole of your monitor while you struggle to stay at the edge of the event horizon. But look, you’re a writer. You can’t write a 500-word blog post a few times a week? You can’t share the interesting things you find on that selfsame Internet, or a few random thoughts and updates through Twitter? I think you can. I think you just don’t believe you have to.

Don’t have anything to say? I hardly think so. You’re continually writing stories about fascinating characters (or trying to) and yet in your own life you do nothing of interest? No hobbies, no interests, no travelling, no reading, no movies? You never find anything of interest on the Internet? You never want to talk a bit about your writing process, the story you’re working on right now, or the way your cat/dog/kid/gerbil/spouse did that really cool thing the other day? No? Then I have no idea where you’re getting your stories.

And finally, you can’t be bothered listening to/reading about other people and the silly, pointless things they’re doing or talking about? Well, in the first place, you don’t have to. You only need to learn to control the way you use social media (which sounds like a topic for a future blog post). If you are going to let it control you then, yes, maybe that’s a problem. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Social media has all sorts of tools and tricks you can use to make sure that your incoming stream is not full of garbage. Sure, you might annoy a few followers if you shut them out, but if you’re connecting with hundreds, if not thousands, of potential readers, that’s not a worry.

In the second place, people talking about the silly, pointless things they’re doing can offer great insight into characters and the way they think. It can be like a whole laboratory full of specimens for you to study at will. (insert evil laugh here)

And third, people talk about a lot of things via social media that are neither silly nor pointless. Social media can highlight the most important issue of the day. It can show you how others feel about it. It can point you to information about it. It can inform you how you can act to be a part of it. If you think social media is filled with people talking only about how drunk they were last night or the flavour of chips they’ve just eaten, think again. That’s out there, sure. But there’s a whole lot more that’s important, current, and relevant. And you can have a voice in it.

Readers tend to like that.