First of all, please stop by Celeste Jones’ book club discussion of Desire in Any Language today. This discussion is amazing! She has a few great questions about F/F, reading F/F…and I am finding out that I was the first F/F reading experience for more people than I thought! I’m flattered and a bit nervous at the same time. I worry whether Mira’s tutor is so perfect that now every character after her will be held to the same standard.
Today I’m going talk about ways that authors screw up. Turn off their audience. Become relegated to the “do not reply” slush pile of emails and requests. I have met many more wonderful authors than lemons in this journey toward establishing a writing career, but some of the lemons have been bad enough experiences to alienate me from the author and the author’s work.
Bottom line: There are millions of authors out there hoping to get noticed. If you make people hate you, there are 9,999,999 (margin of error of plus or minus a few thousand) other hopeful authors who will happily take your place.
Anthea Jane has written a wonderful, insightful blog post on how to promote books (she says indie, but it can be true for anyone). Regarding blog commenting, she says:
Don’t make it an opportunity to promote your book, just make thoughtful comments that relate to the article, and make sure your signature contains a link back to your book or website. [. . .] You have to read the article so that your comment can be relevant. Otherwise it will look like an obvious cheap attempt to put a link back to your blog. Your comments should add to the discussion. [. . .] Don’t put in a plug for your book.
Well said, Anthea Jane. Very well said. Which brings me to my first point:
1. MAKE EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU. MENTION YOUR BOOK(S) EVERY TIME YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH (OR TYPE).
Facebook posts. Replies. Blog comments. Tweets. Emails.
Everyone has experienced the nauseating parents who will NOT shut up about their nauseatingly perfect children doing nauseatingly perfect things. How often do you deliberately seek out their company, purely for the enjoyment of spending time with them?
Or what about your friend who just got a new boy/girlfriend and manages to work in a “Susie/Scotty says” reference into every single conversation? Are you thrilled at each reference and eager to learn more?
I thought not.
It’s a good rule of thumb that, unless you have been invited to do a guest blog/promo spot, you should treat people’s blogs as their homes and skip the self-promo. Their home; their rules. Same with their Facebook page or other social media sites. If someone visits my page or blog only to insert a reference to his or her own book every other sentence…or if that person only ever posts to promote his or her own work, I stop engaging.
Yes, it is true that as an author of a book you are absolutely certain that your book relates to the discussion and absolutely certain that everyone else is as fascinated with it as you are, but the sad truth is that few people enjoy relentless advertising. Think back to that nauseating parent who is sure that everyone must be fascinated with the latest tale of Susie’s latest amazing exploit, remember how you rolled your eyes and vowed never to get stuck in a conversation with this person again…and you will get a taste for how people react to authors who only talk about their own books.
We get it. You’re excited. But remember that everyone else is just as excited as you…about his or her own book.
2. ONLY SHOW UP/CONTACT PEOPLE IF YOU NEED SOMETHING. DON’T DIRECTLY STATE THAT’S WHY YOU’RE CONTACTING THEM.
Call me old-fashioned, but I like relationships. I like honesty, integrity, and above all I like someone to be interested in me (don’t we all?) as a person rather than as a conduit for advertising.
If you only want to contact someone to advertise your book or to serve as a platform for you to mention your own book, it should be a paid service.
If you’re going to make me your call girl, I want to get paid like one.
There are some people who are consistent about their contact, and they ask for help in promoting. In that case, I am pleased to be asked and pleased to help–when it is phrased as a direct, clear request rather than something sneaky. When authors only post in groups and blogs right before or after a book release (and I never hear from them otherwise, and they only post about their own books or books associated with them), I tend to write them off. (Pun not intended.)
If you become a trusted colleague and even a friend, I will do anything for you. One loyal friend in the author world is worth one hundred acquaintances who tolerate your self-promo only long enough to make sure that they get their own turn to promote themselves.
Make relationships, not sales.
A sale is over in one day. A relationship, if you are lucky, will last you throughout your career.
3. ENGAGE IN NEGATIVITY. DO NOT WALK AWAY! YOU MUST PROVE THAT YOU ARE RIGHT.
As grown-ups, and there are fewer than biological age might otherwise indicate, we come to a conclusion that would have shocked us in childhood:
People have different, equally valid perspectives and opinions.
Someone might misunderstand something you have said or written. Someone might post an unflattering review, say something unkind, or perhaps even begin a smear campaign.
While I have sympathy for people who receive these kinds of responses, I quickly become frustrated when authors then turn the occasion into a spitting match.
I have seen people post negative things about me and my work. I have read public messages that accused me of things that I did not do, or they distorted the actions and assumed intentions that were not there. I have been on the receiving end of snarky, mean-spirited comments that served no purpose.
I’m not talking about a thoughtful, intelligent critique that says my book sucks for reasons that the critiquer then outlines. Although that kind of critique is painful, I have received strong criticism that I incorporated into my work to make it even better. If I can win over a naysayer, I count it as an enormous victory.
But to engage in flame wars and drag something out makes you lose credibility as a professional.
Protect your name and your reputation. While there may be certain cases severe enough that you do need to post a public clarification, engaging in negativity will nearly always make you look like a donkey.
4. GIVE ORDERS. AFTER ALL, YOU NEED TO MINIMIZE YOUR EFFORT AND MAXIMIZE YOUR RETURNS.
It’s another funny thing about being a grown-up. The things we learned in kindergarten really are true.
I host Fika. I hosted the Advent Calendar last year and plan to do it again this year. I’ve been the contact person/coordinator for Love Spanks and Spank or Treat. We hope to bring you another event in the summer. I truly love it. It is such a joy that at times I have to remind myself to go back to my “real” writing. However, there are always a few lemons who seem to confuse “request” with “order”. I would say that I make a sincere effort to give back to the reader and author community.
However, some people seem to think that they are entitled to my services, not because we are friends or because we have built up a professional working relationship, but because I (pick one or more) am a woman, write about women, write spanking fiction, have done similar things for other people in the past, have worked hard to build up a blog following, have published two books…or who knows what else.
When I receive a short note commanding me to do this or that (whether it’s to follow someone on Twitter, retweet, add someone to an event, promote his/her book, vote in a contest, like an author Facebook page, visit a blog, buy a book, or anything else), very rarely do I respond. More frequently, I unfriend or unfollow the person. If there are reasons why I can’t do that, I certainly don’t like or buy or visit.
Up to a certain point, letting people know is fine. Getting back to the parenthood and dating example again, if your child is getting baptized or performing in a recital…or if you are getting engaged or going on a special trip…I want to know. I would be hurt if I did not. The difference is whether you tell someone close to you or randomly spam 5,000 people on every social media site.
Remember those emails telling you to wire money to Nigeria or to enlarge a body part that you don’t own? You don’t want to become relegated to the same category.
5. FORGET THE FOLLOW-UP. AFTER ALL, YOU HAVE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO.
The truth is that there are many wonderful, generous, kind, and intelligent people out there. The “conventional wisdom” of “Circles that are only authors promoting each other are worthless” is not true, particularly for new authors. I slid into writing from the back door, so I was lucky enough to have readers and followers. Maybe not enough to turn The Vengeance of Mrs. Claus and Desire in Any Language into instant bestsellers, but I had some. (I adore each and every one of you! Thank you!)
While I consider myself extremely lucky to get to talk with readers, I also am lucky to be connected with other authors who can help me out with questions about submissions, anthology calls, formatting, publication procedures, and especially to get tips on which publishers, reviewers, and advertisers might be worth my time.
That network also includes discussion of which authors are gracious colleagues…and which fall into the categories listed above.
If someone invites you or allows you to visit a blog, show up and comment. Thank the person afterward. If someone hosts your book as part of a giveaway or other promotion, visit the person’s site or blog. If you find something that would be helpful, share it with others.
As I said in my recent interview with Blushing: Be real, be honest, and be true. It’s hard enough to make it in the publishing world already. Epublishing has opened the market to new writers in new fields, but it has also meant that authors need to work that much harder to get noticed even after getting published. Treasure the connections you make, show your appreciation for those who have helped you, and never be afraid to help out someone who can’t do anything in return.
Oh, and the people who are only nice in order to get what they want?
We call that manipulation.
Anyone can write a book. But can you be an author…without making people hate you?