When book promotion gets annoying

tweet loudlyIt was many years ago. My husband was on a television show that was, at that time, Canada’s answer to Oprah in the days when Oprah was still that kind of daytime talk show where the on-stage panel was deliberately provocative and the audience was stacked with people representing the points of view that were most likely to cause controversy. I know because I was sitting in that studio audience. The topic was sex with your doctor. Couldn’t get much more provocative, could it?

My husband, then chairing the Ethics Committee of the Canadian Medical Association, was representing the medical profession;  one of the other panelists, a patient who had evidently had a long-term, in-office liaison with her family doctor, was in disguise (because that’s the way these TV shows rolled in those days); the third member was a psychiatrist from California. He had written a book. He wasn’t going to let anyone forget it.  No sir.  If we heard the title once, we heard it practically every time he exhaled.  It was a fundamental lesson in book promotion for us self-effacing Canadians, and one that we would often laugh about in the intervening years when we co-authored four consumer health books.  That lesson was so basic and so fundamental and so necessary for authors to understand. 

Your potential readers cannot read a book that they do not know about and cannot find.

It’s that simple, but as we fast-forward to 2015 and beyond, it becomes clear that this simple, fundamental truth about book promotion is no longer so simple in its execution.  Back when we first learned it, there were few ways to get the name of your book in front of potential readers.  Being on television was a coveted one.  That’s why good publicists were so important.

The first time I was taken on a book tour across Canada, I was thrilled.  I was picked up at the airports by publicists and driven to interviews: television talk shows, radio station interviews and call-in shows, press interviews.  It was such fun, but to tell you the truth, had only limited success in reaching the right audience. [You can read about it at The fun of an author tour]  Those were the days when I was still writing those consumer health books, and was considered something of an expert.  This is still an important entrée into media coverage even today, but things are a lot more complicated.  As a result, I’ve come to observe that there is perhaps a line over which authors can cross when book promotion is nothing short of annoying to those of us on the receiving end.  I mean, how many times can you be bombarded by tweets and posts that scream, “Buy my book!” before you get so annoyed you click ‘unfollow.’  And are these authors really doing themselves any favors?  I think not, but I know who is benefiting: all of those thousands of sites and companies who will sell you their services to tweet your book all over the place.

I am often followed on Twitter by book tweeting services who, I guess, expect me to follow them back.  I always look at profiles before I do that and if a new follower is following 25,000 accounts, I NEVER follow back.  No one monitoring that feed would ever see a single one of my puny little tweets in the first place.  In the second place, I will then be bombarded by those thousands of automated tweets they put out every minute of every day shouting at me to buy books.  And in the third place, and this is the kicker, they will then stop following me anyway. What they really want is for me to follow them.  Without thousands of followers, they nave nothing to sell to those authors desperate for book tweets. follow me

Ever wonder where your followers go?  Well, you may find that if you don’t follow back, you’ll be dropped. Those new followers are more interested in their new followers than in what you have to offer on Twitter.What they really want is for us to follow them.  Without thousands of followers, they nave nothing to sell to those authors desperate for book tweets.

So, now I come to the end of my rant and bring myself back on topic and to that fundamental truth that has not changed.  Your potential new readers will never become real readers if they can’t find your book.  I just hope that we all recognize that there does come a time when enough is enough.  Just as that psychiatrist plugged his book at every available opportunity on television: after a while it was just annoying.

Independent or co-dependent? Writers & other strangers

network 2The indie music scene?  Now that’s an image most of us can get our heads around.  As Catherine Andrews wrote for CNN online a few years ago, “If it’s cool, creative, and different, it’s indie…”[1] I don’t know about you, but when I think about indie publishing, I don’t really get the same vibe – but I’d really like to. Let’s start with the word itself: What, precisely, does the word independent mean?

I like to start with a dictionary.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary online, independent means the following:  “Free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority.”[2]  That sounds just about right.  The dictionary also suggests that the word means “…not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence,” and my personal favorite, “…capable of thinking or acting for oneself.”

So indie writers should be self-sufficient, self-supporting and autonomous.  They should also be unconstrained by the thinking of others.  They do their own thing.  So, is that really true?

I’ve spend a bit more time than usual lately on my social networks – more than I should because that cuts into writing time (and I plan to stop that immediately), but I have noticed an important phenomenon as I connect with so-called writers’ communities online.  Writers are by and large more connected with other writers than they are with mentors or readers.  And it has puzzled me quite a bit that I am sometimes followed on Twitter by tweeters who have thousands of followers.  An illustration…

Just the other day I one of my Twitter notifications indicated that I had several new followers.  I don’t know what other people do, but I usually click on them to see who they are.  My suspicion is that others either (a) automatically follow those who follow them – a questionable exercise depending on your objective for being on Twitter at all; or (b) try to figure out if the new follower could be useful to them.  In any case, this particular new follower boasts some 81,000 followers!  Wow!  This individual must have a lot to offer.  Well, not so much, I found by reading his tweets.  And to make matters worse, he follows 75,000 people or organizations! Why in the world is he following me?  Even if I had something useful that he might be interested in, he would never, NEVER see it among his thousands of tweets that would come to him on a daily basis.  I might be ridiculously naïve when it comes to the power of social media – but I don’t think so.

I’m as aware as the next person that there is a lot of power in the viral tweet, but the truth is that only a miniscule number of tweets garner the kind of publicity that most writers are looking for.

I took some time today to explore the research on what makes social media message go viral.  It appears that no one has yet published a good, well-constructed study on the reasons for why a tweet goes viral, but there have been some studies on the attributes of videos that go viral, although the results are vague to say the least.  One American study I read suggested that there are two distinct factors that might affect the ‘virality’ of a video message: the emotional content of the video and the source. This study provided some evidence that videos that were disgusting, angry or funny might garner more sharing, but the results are a bit fuzzy in my view.[3]  So does that mean that if your tweets are angry, funny or disgusting they are more likely to be retweeted and go viral.  Maybe, but unless these are genuine characteristics of what you really want others to know about you and your work, the results are not likely to be what you want to achieve.

So, if you are seeking a large following on a social media platform like Twitter, are you truly independent and unconstrained by the thinking of others?  Or do others’ perspectives and actions make you a lemming?

There is a big difference between independent and co-dependent which is how I see many of the relationships between and among writers on social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook (to a lesser extent on LinkedIn but it’s only a matter of time there.  Co-dependency means being controlled or manipulated by another – and in the usual sense of the word that other person has some kind of pathological condition including narcissism.  Hmm…not at all like indie, isn’t it?  But does seem to define many of the online relationships in writers’ communities in my view.

Is it the case that most of us only use certain social networking sites because of what we think we can get from them?  What would happen if we took a different view?  Ask not what a social network can do for me, but what I can do for this social network?  Wouldn’t that change a lot of those me-tweets?  Then maybe we’d all actually get something out of it anyway!

Perhaps being a cool, indie writer means that you have to be the one asking what you can do for your social networks, rather than the other way around.  I’m actually going to try this myself – from now on.

twitter clip

 

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2006/SHOWBIZ/Music/09/19/indie.overview/

[2] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/independent?q=independent

[3] Guadagno, R. E., Rempala, D. M., Murphy, S., & Okdie, B. M. (2013). What makes a video go viral? An analysis of emotional contagion and Internet memes. Computers In Human Behavior, 29(6), 2312-2319. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.04.016

5 ways your social media platform might be turning toxic

Email abstractAt least twice in just the past week I have acquired new Twitter followers who themselves boast over 10,000 followers.  Imagine that!  10,000+ followers!  I always surf over to see the profiles of my new followers and never cease to be astounded by these huge numbers.  But before I click to “follow” back, I always hesitate in these instances.  I always seem to have the same question for myself: “Why in the world would I want to follow someone (or some organization) with that many followers unless I’m looking for their information.  They certainly won’t be interested in anything I have to say.  Dear god, they’ll never be able to find it!”  And I’m left wondering how anyone can possibly be in a balanced give-and-take situation when there are so many hangers-on involved.

In my day job, I’m a university professor.  To be more precise, I teach in a communication studies department with a focus on public relations and corporate communication. Throughout my long career in the real world and in academia, I’ve specialized in two areas, one of which is strategy.  In that capacity, I’ve helped hundreds of students develop successful promotional plans for non-profits and small businesses, and was an early adopter of social media, teaching our first undergraduate course in the new applications some years ago.  It’s funny now that I’m looking at my own promotional work, I’m struck by a number of oddities in the world of social media – and authors.

My last post found me wondering if publishers really care about a writer’s life on Twitter, and thinking about that led me to contemplate the problems of social media ‘platforms’ in general.  So, at the risk of alienating all of those authors and wannabe authors that I might be connected to online, here goes.

A social media platform no doubt supports sales of independently published books.  Okay, I’ll buy that – but with a few caveats, the most important of which is that there needs to be some recognition of the point of diminishing returns.

I submit that a there is a point at which a writer’s online, social media presence morphs from supportive and beneficial to toxic.  So here are some symptoms of toxicity that I’ve observed.  You might be developing social media toxicity…

  1. When you find yourself falling victim to group-think.  It’s so easy to retweet mindlessly, to find yourself nodding in support of ideas that you hadn’t really given enough time to figure out on your own. I’ve noticed that except for the odd outlier, most reply tweets are supportive, and I even find myself falling into this trap, ignoring the tweets that I think are just plain stupid.  And note that on Facebook and even Linkedin there is no “dislike” button.
  2. When you have an over-inflated notion of how many books you should be selling based on your number of followers, friends etc.  I have to hearken back to my last blog post where I began to find research to support the notion that online ‘likes’ don’t translate into behavior.
  3. When you fall victim to that co-dependency problem.  Codependency is known in mental health circles as a relationship addiction, excessive social or emotional reliance on another person who often has a problem.  I’m suggesting that writers who toil in isolation often look for support among other writers who understand them, and this begins the cycle.  Over-dependence can become toxic leading to inertia and the next symptom of toxicity…
  4. When your social media activities become a major time suck.  This can happen so easily.  It’s like several of my students suggested the other day in class: they find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time on assignments as a result of keeping their electronics devices at their elbow and responding to every ‘ping’ as texts and tweets arrive. My advice: just turn them off!
  5. And finally, when your admiration is seriously misplaced.  I’m talking about the odd phenomenon of actual best-selling writers like Sheila O’Flanagan having fewer than 5,000 Twitter followers (and wisely following far fewer yet selling books in millions) while some indie authors who have sold a few thousand books having tens of thousands of followers.  It might be worth the unknown writer’s (like me) time to follow the ones who have been on the real best-seller lists.  Maybe we could learn a thing or two.

So, you might conclude that I’m just sour because I have a very few Twitter followers.  But I’m not.  I might have at one time when I thought that those followers might actually buy and retweet to actual buyers about my work.  But that rarely happens in reality.  It’s a bit like viral video: You can’t plan to use one for promotional and marketing because you have no way of knowing if a video you produce will catch fire or not.

I’m going to spend less time on my social media presence and more time on my writing.  At least for now.