Two panels I attended at Wiscon 38 were so closely related and important that I decided to merge my notes and put them all in a separate post. This is that post. First, the panel descriptions.
Reaching Readers: Best Practices for Writers. The panel description said: “Whether a writer is self-publishing ebooks, serializing fiction online, or promoting traditionally published books, modern technology is rife with opportunities (and pitfalls) for connecting with readers. The old advice about writers remaining aloof is outdated – especially in marginalized communities. Aloofness is a privilege that writers can’t afford. But should writers participate in “readers only” spaces like Goodreads? What should writers do to foment their own fandom, if anything? Facebook has throttled pro pages – has anything replaced them? What are the do’s and don’ts of serializing as part of a web presence? Do mailing lists work? What do readers want from authors online and how can authors benefit from that relationship?” [Panelists: Sally Wiener Gotta, Wesley Chu, Liz Gorinsky, Melissa F. Olson, Trisha J. Wooldridge]
Selling Yourself: The Journey of Self-Marketing. “Today, authors find they must become part of the marketing machinery if they want their work to succeed. You need to sell yourself to agents, to publishers, and then to booksellers and readers, and beyond. Signed and aspiring writers can both struggle to find a balance. Is social media all there is? How can you stay professional while engaging in ways that sell your work? Can you keep a private social presence separate from your professional persona? [Panelists: Jim Leinweber, Ellen Kushner, Katya Pendil, Jesse Stommel. Mary Robinette Kowal was supposed to be there, but she had to miss Wiscon this year.]
So, to my notes.
1. Is social media all there is? What about book-tours or signings or Conventions? Ideally, you want to do everything but you can’t do all that and write as well. In terms of return for the effort, social media give much more exposure. According to one panelist, when you’re writing Middle Grade (MG) books it’s different. This is because MG books are bought by gate-keepers – parents, teachers, librarians – rather than by the kids themselves. This means that to connect with your audience, you have to go through them, and that may mean a physical presence instead of an internet one.
2. Which social media? Ideally, be on every platform you can. If you’re a newbie at this, just get onto all of them and see which works best for you. One of them can be your primary platform, and others feed off that one. Facebook is possibly mature. Twitter and Tumblr are currently active; and Youtube is a good option; it’s “sticky” which means people come there and stay for a while. Reddit is a possibility. And if someone wants to “friend” you – do it. What have you got to lose? If they turn out to be terrible in some way, you can ‘unfollow’ or drop them.
3. Are blogs dead? A few years ago, authors were encouraged to have blogs. Now, it seems no one’s reading them any more. Individual blogs – unless you are John Scalzi – may be more trouble than they’re worth. (Hmmm!) Multi-author blogs that are magazine-substitutes (with multiple contributors, and significant following) are useful, and blog-tours with the writer contributing to, or interviewed by, such blogs are a good way to gain exposure. But every author does needs a website or blog as a sort of landing site, so they can be found on the internet and provide up-to-date information. It’s important to be easy to find. But you need to use other social media to connect people to your blog.
4. What about multiple pseudonyms and multiple accounts? Many do it. It’s definitely more work, but may be needed for “branding” if you have different audiences. The question is, who are you trying to reach with each separate account? But if you are present as more than one “person” – reblog yourself. If you’ve written something as John Smith, reblog it on your Joanna Jones site as well – if it’s relevant to John’s following as well as Joanna’s. You can save some work that way.
5. You need to be visible. “Presence is promotion” – Jesse Stommel, one of the panel. Do you have an interest people would like to hear about? He recommends finding your enthusiasm and sharing it, using it to build a persona. Ellen Kushner mentioned a radio show, Sound and Spirit that she did for a number of years that brought her a following even though it had nothing to do with her writing. You need to create an illusion of intimacy with your audience, so they’re interested in you and by extension your work. It’s a constructed relationship. It’s important that an internet presence should not be all about selling your book; people get turned off by obvious sales pitches.
6. It’s a long game. Constructing the relationship takes time, and you may not see an immediate impact on book sales. Google analytics does help to see what impact your site is having, but how it translates to purchases is not easy to estimate. One panelist said it takes 3 exposures before people decide to buy a book. They may see a review and file it away in their mind, then hear a friend talk about it and still not respond. But if they then see the book somewhere online or in a store, they might decide to buy.
7. Effective reviews. Someone mentioned research that showed that reviews influenced book purchases only if they included a picture of the book. Author pictures also had an influence. The recommendation was – always try to get a picture of the book into a review; and always have an author picture.
8. Have a press kit. If you’re trying to get reviews, or visit bookstores, or practically anything – you should have a press kit. It should include a photograph (head shot) with high enough resolution to print. It should include a list of publications, and something interesting about the writer. It should have a press release about the latest book.
But do NOT have a database of questions with every possible answer somewhere out on the web. It makes interviews less interesting.
9. Book tours and personal exposure shouldn’t be written off, even if you focus on social media. Local bookstores, especially indy stores, are a good place to start and to build a relationship. Traditional book tours solely for promotion may be too expensive for individual authors. But – if you are thinking of travel for some other reason (say visiting family) – see if you can layer on book-signings and similar appearances. It’s fun, it’s exposure, and it makes your trip tax deductible. Ask someone else to make the call on your behalf, don’t make it yourself. (They should sound professional.)
10. Book panels and book clubs can be good ways to get exposure. If they like you and your book, they can become fanatics and your best supporters. “Sell your book by not selling your book” – people are more interested in hearing about the author than “Buy My Book!” Hiring a publicist doesn’t necessarily work, for that reason. Consider having questions and study lists with your book, if appropriate.
11. If you’re self-publishing:
- Get your own ISBN number for your book. Don’t rely on Createspace or Amazon’s ISBN. (Not sure why the panelist gave this advice.)
- Make sure your cover is professional, attractive, works as a thumbnail as well as full-size. And that it signals the right genre.
- Hire an editor, especially for the back-cover material. Typos there can kill the book.
12. Some panelists recommended BookBub. It’s a site that charges for promoting a book that is on sale to its genre readers lists. It doesn’t accept all writers, though.
13. Make friends with other writers and show up for them. If they have a new book, help them get the word out. This helps when you want their help in getting the word out about yours.
14. Consider having a monthly newsletter. Develop an email list of supporters and fans. If you’re keeping a blog, it can be a round-up. One panelist includes things like Deleted Scenes from her book, photos of locations where her book is set, and other interesting material. Make sure it’s entertaining.
15. How do you stop outreach from eating your writing time? Use time-fragments. One panelist needs uninterrupted time for writing, but in five minutes while waiting for a bus or 30 minutes during a kid’s activity – she can write a Tweet on Twitter, or a note on Facebook.
16. Do get on Goodreads and on Amazon. Every writer is a reader. Write reviews of books you enjoyed. Avoid reviewing books you dislike; it’s not worth the effort, and can just make you enemies. Also, try to get people to review your books on these sites. It’s a necessary evil. Many reviews may not boost your sales much, but a lack of reviews can kill them.
17. Serialising – mixed reviews. Some people serialize the first part of their book – as a teaser, or a sample – and charge for the remainder. Someone mentioned a site called Patreon to do this. One author puts out her chapters as she writes them to her list, with a warning that it’s a draft and could change in the final book. This engages readers, and also encourages them to buy the book later. Some serialize their books publicly in the hope that readers will want the whole book in once piece later, or that they’ll buy subsequent books in the series or by that author. But some panelists didn’t care for the idea; it provides too many opportunities to lose the reader.
18. Back list matters. If readers discover a book by you, they want to buy more. If there’s a body of related work, it provides that many more entry points for potential readers.