Thoughts on Using Social Media and Other Things

It’s been more than a week now since I took part in the Jambalaya Writers Conference in Houma, then I got busy last week (a string of household “incidents” that took a lot of attention and time.) So let me start wrapping up what I talked about in my session.

I told you last week how I opened, with a couple of stories that illustrated, whether you’re self-publishing or got picked up by a legacy publisher, you still have to get out there and do the work yourself. And that’s the good news, because no one loves your book as much as you do, and no one is more vested in its success than you are.

So here, in summary, is the rest of what I had to say.

It starts with your book. Make it the very best you can. Rewrite. Rewrite again. Have a few test readers. Listen to them. But keep these words from Neil Gaiman in mind: “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Don’t scrimp or cut corners. Hiring an editor is a good idea. An outside professional can do more than clean the typos. He or she can point to problems in your story that you might be blind to. If you can’t afford one, find someone competent to read it. You must know somebody – your daughter’s fifth grade English teacherAnd DO NOT go cheap on the cover. Like it or not (and nobody does) people do judge books by their covers. Do not have your neighbor’s 14-year-old daughter do the cover because “She’s always been so artistic,” unless your neighbor’s daughter has also taken classes in art, design, typography and print technology. Money spent on a good cover is, perhaps, among the most important money you will spend. Yes, you can use a service or the “cover creator” software on your POD platform, but the best you’ll get is a thoroughly OK cover. Generic, but not embarrassing.

You don’t want to publish a book. You want to publish a great book. So don’t cut corners. People might buy a bad book from you the first time. They won’t do it twice, and you probably want to be in this for the long haul.

Social media can help you get the word out, but it will not sell your book.

Rule number one of social media is – It’s social. It’s not a marketplace or an advertising venue. It’s social.

Yes, you want the people on your friends list to buy your book. But you can’t treat them like potential customers. Treat them like – for want of a better word – friends. You don’t want to be the guy who is on their every day saying “buy my book, buy my book, but my book.” That’s a recipe for getting unfriended and unfollowed really fast.

If you have a release date coming up, if your book is about to come out or already has, you’re about three years behind the curve. The time to start cultivating your social media following is as soon as you start writing, or earlier. On Facebook (and “everybody” is on Facebook) you can start with your page, then set up a page for the book. Then act like a friend. For every time you mention the book you’re writing, try to post five things that are just chat. The picnic you went on with the family, the weather, something funny that happened on a date last night. Maybe post a picture of your cat. Those seem to be popular. And take some time every day to go through your friends’ posts and like things, comment on some of them. Be supportive and encouraging. Be a friend.

That way you’re an interesting person who happens to be writing and selling a book, not just an annoying person who is out there shamelessly flogging your book to a resentful public at the expense of everything else.

Build an email list. Your email list and newsletter is your best single selling tool. You need a web page, and a place for people to sign up for your newsletter. Don’t sign people up without their OK. Having them sign up is critical. It gives permission for you to send them your information. Otherwise they just get – here’s that word again – resentful. And resentful people are hard to sell to.

And don’t make the newsletter nothing but an ad. Give the reader something useful, some reason to want to open the email you send them once a month. That’s going to depend on your book, your genre, and your platform. (More on platform later.) In my case, I try to give the readers something funny every month. I’ve been sending short excerpts from the earlier humor books Cap’n Slappy and I wrote, then a calendar of upcoming events, and finally something about the book.

The people on your list gave you permission. Don’t abuse it.

Making and maintaining an email list and creating a newsletter are not that hard, they’re something you can do yourself. But there are services you can use that are inexpensive and even free. For instance, if your list is less than 2,000 address, MailChimp allows you to send 12,000 emails a month for free. That’d by six mailings to your entire list every month, and I think we can agree that’d be excessive. Once your list grows over that number, it goes from $40 to $65 a month, which isn’t onerous, and wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have? A list that just keeps growing? And they provide other services, templates, reports of how many of your mailings actually got opened. Stuff like that. Anyway, it’s something to think about.

There were two more pieces of my presentation, but this is long enough and I’ve got to get to work. So I’ll finish up tomorrow.

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