Friday, February 22, 2013

If You Don’t Answer, I’ll Just Ring it Off the Wall


 

I’ve been catching up on my Publisher’s Weekly reading. One of the January issues had a couple of interesting articles on social media. Key word being discoverability. Due in part to the current glut caused by self-publishing, every author is fighting the same battle – where to find that rare species of reader who doesn’t ultimately want to be a writer? Here in niche publishing, we’re like leopards competing for prey on the Serengeti. Every week there are a slew of new releases. New titles from new authors. How can they all survive and thrive?

 
Well, they can’t. Which I guess explains some of the exciting goings on in recent days about who, and who would not, be attending various conferences. So...discoverability.

 
Does it have to be face-to-face and up close? No. Not at all. That's part of the joy and beauty of ebooks. Most of the marketing happens online. And it's not just ebook authors who stick to the airwaves for promo. The majority of print and mainstream authors don't spend time doing signings and conferences the way they used to. We have the tools, we have the technology, that allow us to reach many, many more people in a matter of days than we could reach in person over a matter of years. However, in the PW article, a number of media experts were interviewed and one of the big points made was that authors largely use social media incorrectly. Which naturally caught my attention. Their point was something I’ve been saying for a while (but had started to wonder about). Quality not quantity.

 
Everyone is focused on building those lists of followers and friends. We get caught up in the numbers game. I do it too. I start thinking of ways I could ramp up my numbers on Twitter, on Facebook, on Goodreads, here on this blog. I don’t want to look less popular than the other kids!  

 
But the point these media experts were trying to make – the counsel they give their clients – is that it is all about the quality of the interaction. Their suggestion was that having lunch with three readers was more valuable in practical terms than adding a thousand followers on any social media site you care to name.
 

Now, granted, you have lunch in person and that gets back to the panic over how few opportunities authors have to interact face-to- face with readers. But it isn't the face-to-face that matters most. It's what happens during that lunch. And what happens is time is spent and attention is paid. And this can be done in person or from a distance. You simply have to be willing to interact in a real and meaningful way with your readers.

According to the experts (who are all paid by authors to boost their discoverability) too much of our social media interaction is focused on advertising to customers. That's the wrong way to think about it. The original intent of social media was to…socialize. It was achieving something that could only previously be achieved in person. And, yeah, you don't have to tell me that socializing is easier when we have a few drinks and our friends around us. Believe me, I totally get why conferences are a great idea and why writers want to attend these conferences . Not just to meet readers, but also to network with other writers.
 

 
Anyway, I’m lucky enough to have a remarkably loyal and engaged readership (and thank you for that), but there’s always that feeling of…should I be doing more? I see authors in this very genre with tens of thousands of followers. And though it’s obvious from their various social media sites that there’s not much real interaction, and though their Amazon numbers and reviews aren’t any better than mine, there is that persistent feeling of unease. Am I doing enough? How can I keep my current readers happy and engaged? How can I reach the readers who don't currently know me or my work?

(I don't know the answer, by the way. This is just me thinking aloud.)

 
Face-to-face interaction is not always possible, but I'm here to tell you that you can still reach readers and form meaningful relationships -- relationships being what it's all about -- through social media and your online presence. You just have to use social media the way it was intended. For socializing. In a manner that is both fun and professional.
 
Take the time to really interact with readers. Not only is it more effective, it's more enjoyable for you. I mean, if we'd wanted to be salesmen we'd all have jobs with Encyclopedia Britannica, right?

Oh. No we wouldn't, because that's all done online now. Which is kind of my point.

 

 

 

29 comments:

  1. Interesting commentary, Josh. Just wanted to respond to your comment, "...where to find that rare species of reader who doesn’t ultimately want to be a writer?"

    *waves hand in air* Here I am...I just want to read...never wanted to write. So, thanks for writing so that I may read. :-)

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    1. And thank YOU, Cynthia, for reading, so that I may write. :-)

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  2. So far as that goes, it's been known for decades that attending conventions/conferences/whatever is not cost effective marketing. It can be a good way to network with peers, to meet with editors (especially if you've made an appointment ahead of time), to participate in your genre community, and if you're into it then it's a heck of a lot of fun. But writers in the SF/F side of the business (who probably have more convention experience than anyone else in the publishing industry, bar none) have been saying for many, many years that if your only reason for accepting a guest invite to a convention is marketing and promo, then don't.

    Even with a comped membership, the cost of travel, hotel and food, to say nothing of the opportunity cost of sitting on panels or shmoozing when you could be writing, is never made up by extra sales made to people who meet you in a hallway, or hear you speak on a panel, and think, "I've gotta get this writer's books." It just isn't. Add in the $$$ charged by a certain conference to attend as an official author, and the cost of swag if you have it made, and nobody's going to be making up the cost of attending in extra sales.

    The only reason to go to any convention with your author hat on is because you're pretty sure you'll enjoy it. Because you think conventions are fun, because you want to hang out with friends and make new ones, because you think you'll enjoy the programming and might even find some of it useful. I was in New Orleans in 2011 and had a blast hanging out with online friends and meeting new people. Attending a convention isn't a good use of any writer's promo budget, though.

    Angie

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    1. Yep. I agree. In fact, this was something I was very conscious of the last couple of conferences I went to -- that my time would have been better spent writing.

      That said, I loved hanging out with my friends, and chatting with readers, and meeting reviewers and booksellers, and having lunch with my editor and dinner with my agent. I loved drinking in the bar and renting movies and room service. I always managed to have a great time.

      But was it a wise investment of time? If we break it down by cents and dollars, no. It made for an excellent tax deduction. But it also meant spending money I didn't have to spend at that time. Which meant that I didn't have that money later on for promo and marketing when I needed it.

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  3. I couldn't write a proper story at gunpoint but I love reading about how my favourite authors write and publish. The added insight into the author's head makes reading the books so much more special. I think I had to make 3 new accounts just to keep track of all your posts around the world wide web :D

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    1. Thank you, Naila! I'm glad you're enjoying these little musings. Sometimes I'm not sure how I feel on a given topic until I'm writing it out, so it's kind of a useful process.

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  4. Just wanted to say you're not only the only author I have the same work in three formats (ebook, physical, and audio), but you are also the only author I've read repeatedly. I generally don't reread books, it's something I never got into the habit of, but for some reason I keep picking up works like the Adrien English series, Darkling Thrush, and several others, and read them again and again. I have always enjoyed your books, and all it takes is your byline to make me hit the "Add to Cart" button.

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    1. KT, I think the idea of being re-read has to be one of the things a writer longs most to hear. A story, even a short story, is such an investment of time and thought, that you want to believe that it lasts for readers longer than the relatively few minutes it takes to consume. Thanks for telling me!

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  5. I think you do an amazing job interacting with your readers. I, follow your blog, your Facebook page and your fan page, and am part of your group on goodreads and I can say you are one of the most personable authors I've been in contact with. You always respond to people's questions and comments, and get great debates going, so I think you do more than enough as far as that goes. I often wonder how you have the time :)
    I first discovered your work with the AE books, not realizing what I stumbled on I mistakenly nook borrowed all the Adrien books. Well that was dumb because I fell in love and I AM a re-reader, so I have been buying them for myself when I have extra cash. I've learned my lesson since, never borrow a Josh Lanyon book, you'll always wish you own it for yourself!
    Oh and the Christmas Codas? That was such a great way to do something extra for your fanyons

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    1. Thank you, Carey!

      Yes, I think the codas was kind of a nice gift, if I do say so myself. :-D Not sure how often I could pull that off, but I loved doing it.

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  6. Well said, Josh.
    I've never planned on attending conventions. Like many writers I'm an observer rather than a participant most of the time and shy by nature. Even so, I'm beginning to enjoy socializing online. The key is taking the time to interact with others rather than just blast promo info out into the void.

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    1. Hi Pender. Yes, I think the key is figuring out what part of promotion you enjoy -- because there are all kinds of avenues to share your work with readers -- and then focus on those. Feeling pressured to do any one thing is a mistake.

      I think the idea of a conference in this genre is such a big deal because there wasn't anything like that before for m/m writers. But the fact is, most writers I know are cutting back on conferences.

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  7. I think you are hugely successful with your social media practices. There is definitely a lot of quality there. I read my first book of yours about the time you started your sabbatical. So if you weren't such a social guy, I may never have read more. By the time I read a few of your books, I was interested enough to click on the link to your website at the end of one of the stories on my Kindle. I haven't ever done that before. I enjoyed reading your blogs and looked for other places where I could read your posts or interviews. Next thing I know, I've purchased everything you've written and I'm following you on FB. I was hesitant to buy some of your shorter stories because of the cost. However, through your eloquence, you convinced me that even though I am too cheep to shell out $3 or $4 for coffee, it is indeed a wise investment in your work as I have read them all repeatedly. I haven't regretted a penny I've spent on your books and now audio. Long story short, I know I don't "know" you, but I feel like I do a little bit, and I like you which makes me enjoy your work even more. And even though you don't know me from Adam (whom I am dying to read about), I feel like you care.So could you do more? I don't know. I just think you're perfect as you are :)

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    1. Lori, there's definitely an expectation now that writers will make themselves accessible to readers. The problem is that the temperament that can sit alone for 12 hours making up dialog for imaginary people is not always so good at the real time thing. :-D

      I've always had a little advantage in that, yes, I am social and I like chatting with readers. But trying to find that balance is still hard. It's easy to lose track and find that you've spent four hours of your eight hour writing day shooting the breeze.

      Ha! I'm very happy to think I've persuaded you to invest in my work. So much better for you than all that caffeine anyway!

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  8. Great post! and as others have already said ... me, me, me, will never a writer be! Regarding keeping your readers engaged and keeping it fresh - I truly think you are the best! Although - Josh at GRL - it has a certain ring to it. :-P

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    1. Is the ring a hollow, ghostly sort of ring? :-D

      Thank heavens for readers like you, Barb! Who would execute my plans for world domination otherwise?

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  9. *waves hand in air, too*

    Just a reader, thank you very much. Well, unless you count my editing gig, but to me, that's helping others who write, not writing myself. I have never wanted to write a story, let alone a book.

    As for quality, Josh, you have that in spades. Others could learn from how you interact with us, the Fanyons. :)

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    1. Thanks, Traci! Actually, it sounds like you're that other rarity in this genre. An editor who doesn't want to be a writer. Because there's a fair bit of that too.
      :-D

      Three cheers for editors!

      Not that you can't find people who do both well, but it's a rarity.

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  10. I wonder how a writer gets any writing done with all the social media options they *should* apparently be on if they want to reach a reader. How do you choose? Do you feel some are more effective than others? I'm not interested in Facebook or Twitter, haven't managed to keep up with Goodreads, but I do enjoy this website/blog, which seems to tell me all I need to know about what's been released, what's new, and what's upcoming, as well as what you're thinking about. I found the first Adrien English mystery somehow and have been a fan ever since but I can't imagine having to do all the marketing/promotion as well as trying to write.

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    1. Well, that's a real challenge, Christie. The time spent on social media is time not spent writing. On the other hand, you can write the best book in the world, but if no one finds out about it...?

      So it's a balance, and I find myself having to readjust periodically. In the final stages of finishing a book, I tend to drop off the radar because I need all my focus. But after a story is out, I usually get very chatty.

      And then as I delve into the next project, I pull back a little. And it all begins again.



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  11. Thanks for this, Josh. I've tried to tell myself quality is always better, but there's that innate tendency to compete--including for numbers.
    I don't do conferences, but I do enjoy interacting on blogs and social media. It's more time and budget friendly, and I've gotten to know several other authors that way, and shored up moral support for my writing. It's gratifying when readers hang around and talk.
    And I can "have lunch" with someone via social media--we just don't happen to be sharing a table. :~D
    Kelly

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    1. True! Though it does make it harder to steal that pickle my friend obviously wasn't going to eat anyway! :-D

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    2. ::Moves pickle to Josh's plate::
      :)

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  12. I completely agree about your point regarding quality NOT quantity. I follow authors of many genres on Twitter and some of them have seriously high follower numbers - I have one that has 50,000+ - but when you look at their profile you find out they auto-follow just about anyone and anything. To me, that's just noise.

    Also, writers are also voracious readers so I'm not sure having a bunch of writers following you is such a bad thing ;) As a writer who cares about connecting to their readership, nothing can build kinship like putting yourself "out there" and bearing your soul to others. Reading about how you deal with writer's block, keeping up with social media and your daily writing schedule, draws me in and tells me we both have challenges to overcome even on a minute level - instant connection!

    Josh, you're doing great! Don't over-think it - just enjoy your quality "following", ignore the numbers and bear your soul ;P Just kidding!

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    1. Thanks very much, Leah. Before I follow anyone, I verify they post something that might be of interest to me -- and that they are not using social media merely to spam.

      In fact, I probably veer too much the other way because if the person is someone I interact with in other media, than yeah! I do want to follow them. But I'm leery of the auto-follow.

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  13. That should be "bare" your soul! Not enough coffee yet.

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    1. Apply caffeine liberally. Repeat as needed.

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