The internet has been both a blessing and a curse for all of us. On the one hand, it’s brought us closer to people all over the world, but on the other it has distanced us from the “real-life” interactions that are supposed to be a part of the human experience.
This paradox is just as daunting for us writers, or any other professional artists/creators who have found themselves thrust into this technological age where we have the intimidatingly infinite realm of the Internet at our disposal to market ourselves and our work. The problem we face is the never-ending question of “What is going too far?” and “How much is too much?” As we all know, there is an extremely thin line between marketing our work, and being obnoxious spammers.
I can’t proclaim that my methods will work for selling your books, or your music, or whatever else you want to sell online. I’m not on any best-seller lists (I’m not even a blip on the radar of most lists), and I’ve only been in this game for just over a year; but in that year I have observed many different approaches to marketing through Facebook, and I can certainly tell you which approaches attract me and which ones I believe cause more harm than good to the marketers.
The hardest thing to accept about this battle is that it is impossible to avoid offending anyone. No matter how hard you try to be respectful, someone, somewhere, will get irritated and accuse you of being guilty of spamming.
And sometimes (if not often) these accusations are based on something that is actually more the fault of the accuser than the accused. I can’t tell you how many people have accused me of spamming them because they “Liked” one of my status updates and then were flooded with notices every time someone else commented on that status. Those who are less technologically inclined will sometimes confuse the line between something that is in your hands to correct, and something that you have no control over.
The most important thing to remember, I think, is that respecting other people’s space (even if it is virtual space) is just as critical in the cyberworld as it is in the real world. We all hate telemarketers with a passion. (Ok, that’s not entirely true. I actually enjoy tormenting telemarketers. Whenever I get a telemarketing call, I say to them, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t speak a word of English.” Depending on how bored I am, I may let this play out for a bit to see how they react, or just hang up right then and there. But I digress.)
The point is that most people hate telemarketers, because they thrust themselves into our personal space and try to sell us their product, regardless of whether we are interested or not. The same rule applies to someone’s virtual space. My Facebook Wall is almost like my home, or my personal office. When other writers come along, uninvited, and just randomly post about their book on my wall, I will be blunt and say that it ticks me off. That is my space to either talk about my personal life with my friends, or promote my work to my followers.
If you want me to help you promote your book, ask me. Chances are I will oblige. But if you jump into my personal space and promote yourself uninvited, not only will your post be deleted (and you therefore wasted your time and energy posting), but chances are that your post will also be flagged as spam because, guess what, you crossed the line between self-marketing and being a spammer (And by the way, apologizing at the end of your post for possibly offending anyone actually does not make it any better).
I’ve seen some people include links to their blogs or websites in their introductory posts to new friends (e.g.: “Hi thanks for networking! Check out my books at www.mybooks.com”). This I find much less offensive than the former example, but it is still kind of tacky, in my opinion. It basically sends the message, “I’m just here to get you to buy my books.” Even though we all know that is the endgame, I personally find it off-putting when people are that bald-faced. I am far more likely to become interested in another author’s writing after I’ve gotten to know them through reading their status updates, blog posts, etc.
An introduction should be just that: an introduction. When I introduce myself to a new Facebook friend, I just simply say, “Thanks for the friend request! Hope you’re having a great week(end)!” It’s more friendly and it invites them to get to know me better as a person as well as an author before getting down to the “this is how you can buy my books.” Give them the power to decide if they’re interested or not. Don’t force it upon them.
I also find it useful to set yourself a daily schedule, to help keep yourself in check from going overboard with posting. Each day, there are a set of posts that I put up at various times, usually in 2 hour increments (which coincide nicely with my day job’s work breaks, incidentally). Each post is a little different, and most of them actually don’t have anything to do with my writing, but are about writing in general, or funny quotes and anecdotes from other authors, etc.
For example, when I get to work at 8:30 I usually post my Fortune Cookie of the day – there’s a handy application on Facebook that delivers a new Fortune Cookie to you every day. I add a little twist by playing the infamous Fortune Cookie Game, by adding the words “in bed” to the end of the fortune (so, for example, “You will have a very productive day” becomes “You will have a very productive day in bed.”) This is a good way to start off the day, because it doesn’t really require any serious thought from myself or the reader (which at 8:30 is a very good thing for me…), and it usually generates at least a modest chuckle.
During my first break at 10:30, I used to post my Random Shakespearean Insult of the Day, but after a year of doing that, I decided to change it up a bit and switched the RSIOTD out for the Evil Mastermind Quote of the Day (posted on my Evil Twin’s Facebook page, Kram Sheldon). Again, this is a post that requires little effort or mental exertion on my part, but hopefully gives a good chuckle to those following my feed.
For my lunch break at 12:30, I put out two posts at once. The first post is my “Favorite Author Quote of the Day” – for about a year I posted Douglas Adams quotes, and now I’ve moved onto Neil Gaiman. I try to focus on quotes that are humorous or related to writing.
My second mid-day post is related to promoting my writing and/or whatever projects I may be working on. I do a different topic each day for this post, to avoid repetition or causing aggravation. For example, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I will post a review for one of my books, on Tuesdays I will post a YouTube link to my most recent/currently relevant book trailer, and on Thursdays I post about whatever monthly promotion is going on (such as discount coupons for books, new/upcoming release dates, special events, etc.). This way, I’m not bombarding my feed with the exact same information each day, but still getting all my information out there over the course of the week.
I use my last break of the day at 3:00 to publish my daily blog post. These consist of short, humorous quips on various topics. For example, the first of these blogs is my Dossier of Flayed Cliches, in which I take a common cliche or idiom and put a humorous twist on it. I currently have four different blogs (Flayed Cliches, Twisted Tunes, Kram Sheldon’s Shout-outs to Perpetuators of Stupidity, and Random Musings, Rants and Pontifications), each one with its own subject/flavor. This setup gives me the freedom to write a different type of post each day, which is good both for myself as a writer and for my readers.
I usually don’t post over the weekend, since my weekend schedules are rather unreliable for any kind of consistent schedule. I also think it’s important to change things up a bit if something in your routine starts to feel stale – if it feels stale to you, chances are it’s starting to feel stale to your followers, as well.
In addition to my daily posts, I also publish a newsletter, which I try to send only once a month, to remind people that I’m still alive and working, but not to become an annoyance.
I also try to plan one event a month, either a sale, a book release, trailer release, or other promotional event. I make virtual events on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. for these promotions and invite my network contacts to attend – again, I send these only once a month to remind people of what I’m doing without being overly intrusive (also, let’s be honest, sending out five thousand Facebook event invitations is extremely time-consuming, and not something you would particularly want to do more than once a month, anyhow).
And whenever there is an event that happens at a specific time, I’ll do a twelve-hour countdown leading up to the event – so once an hour I’ll post 12…, 11…, 10…, etc. I’ve found this to be a good way to get people’s curiosity piqued. They’ll ask what I’m counting down to, and then I tell them (although, most of my followers by now have figured out that if they check my wall from the past few days they should be able to see what event is approaching)!
As you may have gathered, the second-most important thing I think you can do to help build your audience, aside from respecting people’s personal virtual space, is to use humor to your advantage. For some odd reason, people like to laugh (I know, weird, right?). I can almost guarantee that more people will remember you if you make them laugh than if you give them some deep, thought-provoking piece of wisdom.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to throw in some wisdom from time to time also – and if you can manage to blend the two together, as I try to do, even better! But I think that most people (myself included) will get bored if ingenious pearls of wisdom are the primary focus of your marketing platform. As I said, people like to laugh. So, if you’ve got a sense of humor, then use it to your advantage.
In summary, you don’t have spam everyone on your friends list in order to sell your books. I know as well as anyone the temptation to do just that – after all, you’ve got this masterpiece that you just know everyone in the world has to read, if only they would just listen to you and buy your book right now! Back when I first started out, I did not follow my own rules. While I did not go to the point of actually posting on other people’s walls or sending them private messages, I am afraid to say that I did go a bit overboard with the posting on my own wall. It’s very easy to get sucked into the excitement and wanting everyone to know about my books.
However, after being on the receiving end of many such e-mails, I can say that I’ve almost never felt compelled to buy those books. Almost all of the books I have bought from Facebook networking have been from people with whom I have interacted. People whose status updates made me chuckle (or even downright LOL or ROTFLMAO) – they are the authors whose books I want to read, not the ones who try to shove their writing down my throat. And I would be more than willing to bet that most other people feel the exact same way.
Mark Sheldon is the author of the twelve-part book series, The Noricin Chronicles – the first four installments of which are currently available, and the fifth will be published in early 2012! He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Betsy.
You can find Mark online at these links:
The Noricin Chronicles Homepage: http://noricin.webs.com