A few years ago, my novel My Problem With Doors was published by iPublish Press, a publisher out of Canada. Being a new press and from a different country, it was quickly proven difficult to get the book on shelves in bookstores or to get the work any attention on Amazon and elsewhere.
I was (and still am) very proud of the novel, and began to make as many calls as I could to make my book a success, in the very least in the area I live. First, I met with the local arts council and garnered their support. Working with a popular bookstore in the area, a reading and event was planned around the book. The local newspaper reviewed this novel ahead of the event (gave it a great review!) and even my local NPR station promoted the reading as an event coming up.
When the event took place only friends, co-workers, and family were there.
Not even members of the local arts council showed up!
While everyone there were very positive, bought all the books available (and I was grateful they showed up), I felt a little ashamed, like somehow I had failed my book and my dreams. I know that sounds a little dramatic, but, hey!, I am a writer and I get dramatic about a lot of things. It’s in my blood.
It was that evening that I promised myself I would never put myself in that position again. The next time I give a reading or an event I would be at a place in my writing career where I wouldn’t feel like I was standing in front of an empty theater.
Ever since I started this blog, I decided I was not going to sugarcoat any aspect of the world of writing and my place in it. I’ve shared embarrassing stories about my books and about myself. Things that have even shocked and angered some readers, but I realized that if there is one thing I can give my readers that is unique… well… that would be me.
I’ve never promised the writers who follow my blog the “answer” or the path to the holy grail (But some still from time to time ask over comments and e-mail). There are no holy grails, and if there were one, I don’t have the map to it. I’m not Indiana Jones (but I wish I was). I focus more on what they can expect, advice from someone who has been in the trenches. Set realistic expectations. As I said in an earlier post, there are two paths to writing success: sacrifice or luck. And I have found, as more and more writers enter the fray (this is a very, very congested market), luck is becoming the norm for finding that success.
This year, I had two books published. One, A Jane Austen Daydream, was published by Madison Street Publishing. And as those that follow my blog or other accounts can attest, I truly believe in the book and want it to succeed, find its audience. See, the book is more than just a tribute to Jane Austen (since I give her a fictional adventure in it reminiscent of her own novels), but also a somewhat experimental work of literature. I truly think I do something new in it that has not been done before. And I want more people to experience that twist, talk about it. New ground has been broken!
In promoting the book, I have been working with my publisher (who has done a wonderful job lining up interviews and reviews throughout the country and world), but I have also been trying a few things on my own. See, I get the e-mails and notices, like other authors do, about the “golden tickets,” the tricks to make a book take off. And I had to try them. My book deserved a try, I could never argue against just that.
While I am still in the midst of fighting the good fight for A Jane Austen Daydream, I thought I would share what I have experienced so far on Twitter, Facebook, and Good Reads. Here is what I have learned via each site, each possible online empty stage beckoning us on…
I had a writer once write to me saying that some agents will only take a writer seriously by the amount of their followers. That was new news to me. Has anyone else heard this? I have over 24,000 now (@SDSouthard) but I don’t have agents knocking on my door. But who knows? I have issues with maps on my iPhone, they might be experiencing that as well right now.
The fact is a majority of those 24000 are people that simply want me to follow them. They want the numbers as well. Personally, I only follow other writers. It’s my club! These are my people! So if someone says they are an author, I don’t care the genre or title, I will usually follow them. (Plus, I write a lot of writing posts, like this one, that I like to believe other authors might enjoy and benefit from reading.) And of those 24000+, I think I have had only a conversation with about a thousand. Most seem to be on a service of some kind where they just tweet their ads for their books at me.
While I am skeptical that anyone will check out a book based on only 140 characters, I decided to try Twitter Ads last week. One thing I like about Twitter Ads is they allow you to pinpoint your audience. You can actually target followers of different accounts. So, for example, if you write a mystery, you can target accounts of famous mystery writers, believing their followers might like more books like that. That is a neat touch.
Over the course of two days around 6000 saw my promotional tweet, but of those only around 80 clicked on to the Amazon page. From what my publisher tells me there were only a few purchases during that span of time from there.
So did it justify the money I spent for the tweet to be promoted like that? Sadly, I would say not. It didn’t even break even.
However, I would say, unlike Facebook promotions, Twitter has a much better plan in place with their targeting service. Who knows? In a few years, as more and more people join this social media, it could be a good tool. Right now, though I was only marginally impressed.
The one thing Twitter has, its ace in the hole, is the possibility to break through the list of followers via retweets and the right hashtags at the right moment. It’s all about capturing that eye.
Do you remember when it was fun to be on it? Catch up with old friends? Now it is so overly filtered that friends I think I am following I don’t see unless I visit their pages. And no one does updates anymore! The conversation that used to be so fun on Facebook is gone, replaced by pictures, advertising and videos of cats people like to share. It’s all about sharing now, but nothing original.
Honestly, there are days I consider dropping Facebook and I would if it wasn’t for my writing page and some of the sites that give me updates on writers, movies, and shows I like.
Facebook offers the option to promote pages or links you put up on your page. Like all writers, I have a page for my writing (here). Anyway, over the last few months, I think I have promoted a post about half-dozen times. Many times they are around my novels, but never directly to amazon; I like to give my readers something more. So I will link to a review or an excerpt or an article about it or an interview or a giveaway, etc. via this blog. Facebook looks at the followers of my writing page and makes a decision based on those followers (and their followers) who to promote the post to… at least that is what they tell us. We really have no way to actually visit those other accounts to see it in action.
And we have all seen these promotions. Usually, for me, I get them because one of my friends decided to like a clothing store or some random candidate for office. Suddenly, my home page is flooded with pictures and little notes to click for more info. I think we all can agree that these promotions are really annoying.
Well, one of those annoying posts was mine! Hi and sorry…
Facebook, like Twitter, will give you an update on the numbers. While the first digit can be rightfully overwhelming (for example, 9000 have seen your link in one day!), the rest are the ones where you can take a deep breath of disappointment (the clicks and the likes).
As you can tell, I’m not sure where Facebook is going as a site, and their lackluster promotions just is another spot of curiosity for me. Then when you consider your reach is really only as far as the pages you visit, the people who friend or follow you (on your page), it feels so, so limiting.
Facebook could do better, and sadly it once did.
It seems a bulk of the people on the site are authors… or librarians. There are a lot of librarians. Let me correct that, everyone seems to be a writer or a librarian.
I tease, but seriously, I love the concept of Good Reads, I just worry us authors and our aggressive nature to sell our books might have scared off everyone else!
See, writers promote their books on the ads on the sides of the screen, in giveaways, in quotes (sometimes that writers do themselves), in recommendations, in forums (which sometimes may include a note from others that plead please don’t), in updates. in created events, etc. Some even review their own books which you can do on Good Reads (a practice that always makes me feel a little sad when I see it happen).
I said that I love the concept of Good Reads. I do! I love the giveaways, the possible conversation with other readers and writer (just like I do on Twitter), it just can feel overwhelming as I get dozens and dozens of requests each day to follow someone. Sometimes followed by an e-mail later asking me to read their book.
When I have had a giveaway around a novel, the numbers are always wonderful. What I especially love are those entries that add my book to their “to-read” list. Awesome! However, the book moving from that list to the other (“currently-reading”) seems to be the trick.
The one thing I am nervous about doing on Good Reads is the Writer Q&A. You see these from time to time. A writer will create a forum–sometimes even daring to call it a “fan club;” seriously, a writer shouldn’t run their own fan club–where readers can ask an author questions. Yet, I can’t help but think of the empty theater image again. Walking onto that stage and no one being in the audience.
Looking back over this post, it feels all doom and gloom. That actually wasn’t my goal when I started it. I have hope, I always have hope.
See, what people don’t remember is that a few decades ago, you didn’t even have these mountains to attempt. Yes, just a few decades ago, all there was was agents, and then publishers and smaller publishers (indie presses) and self-publishers. And beyond, the book stores and libraries, there were no eBooks, no amazon. Just sweat and a lot of pleading with bookstore managers.
Now, thanks to the internet, anyone can publish, self-publishing is almost free. And, as much as I like to complain about Facebook, Twitter, and Good Reads, all writers–from the successful to the struggling–are on the same turf, the same stage.
Yes, we are all equal here, fighting and hoping for the same dream.
You see, we all carry our own empty theater with us, looking for an audience to fill it.
If you liked reading my review, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!