Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, websites, and other electronic media platforms are important to an author’s success in the book business today. Let’s face it; you can’t ignore social media anymore if you plan to publish your book.
Last week on this blog, Danielle made the point that even if you have electronic platforms up and running, they are of little value unless you can provide compelling content. Do you know how much more ice cream is sold when taste tests are free? Don’t give away your book content, but at least inform the audience of the flavor and quality of your voice.
We’ve all seen what we don’t like about social media. You don’t care to know about your second cousin’s bowel movements or friends’ cats’ hairballs or dancing dog videos. Your silence makes you invisible: wallflowers who are all dressed up with nothing to say don’t get asked to dance. Those who talk unceasingly about themselves aren’t much fun either at a party. The art of social conversation in the real world extends to the cyber-universe.
Perhaps it is a lost art — engaging in civil discourse and public conversation. The creators of these electronic social networks we’ve all seen are predominantly young geeks with little or zero
social skills in the face-to-face arena of the real world. When you add creative the talents and critical insights of socially engaged writers to this virtual architecture, new positive possibilities open up for author-reader interactivity.
What I like most about the radical changes in the book business today is the way that social media works with and for authors and readers. An author doesn’t have to act like a used-car salesman or use pop-ups or porn to attract a following. Instead of shameless self-promotion, the most successful style is to share your love of good writing with readers. Authors often ask me, what should I blog about? Recommend and review a good book by someone else who shares your audience, or alert your readers that this author will be at a book store in their area. Share good music, film, art and cultural ideas, and discuss them with readers. Invite them to public events and share new tips. Authors must be social in their use of social media. Humor helps.
Our participation as authors in lively conversations with real people face to face is the basis of our social media networks. Research shows that online connections between people with an established face-to-face social connection are much stronger than those between strangers who connect online through a common interest.
Authors take note. There is no substitute for engaging with the audience face-to-face. I don’t just mean an author should give readings of works-in-progress, public lectures or guest appearances, although these are important face-to-face social networking opportunities. You can do a blog tour, but I still encourage authors to get off their butts and into the bookstores that bustle with readers and book lovers. The “social” in “social media” begins and ends with the author’s engagement in the community.
This means the author engages in the local culture in which he or she lives and works, and builds strong social relationships among people who read and who have friends who read books. And this doesn’t just happen once the author’s book gets published. It takes several years to create an audience platform in preparation of your book’s publication. The food co-op, local bank, public schools, library, book clubs, neighborhood association, sports club, etc., are the places where you engage in social relations face-to-face. Your memberships in professional associations, guilds or unions, organizations, churches, synagogues, mosques, alumni groups and other network affiliations become part of your target audience in a publisher’s marketing plan.
Participate in writing workshops, attend book festivals, go to bookstore events, join or form reading groups, volunteer at the library or be a literacy volunteer. Be engaged in book culture. Put the social in your social media networks. Consider the electronic version a complement to, not a substitute for, your face-to-face connections. Keep the conversation started in person by taking it online. Then build the base of your target market: the readers of your book, your friends and community.
Publishers want to know that you bring an audience, a following of readers who are likely customers for your book. Social media metrics tell them that. Agents and editors expect an author to understand the important role authors play in marketing and selling their own books; this is true even with the largest commercial big six houses and their imprints. They also want an author who is social – good with the media, gives a great interview, draws a crowd for readings, delights audiences, and is physically attractive. Yes, a good headshot of an author is an appropriate item in a winning book proposal today.
While writing a book seems a solitary act, publishing a book is a social one. The connection between the author and the reader is what matters. If you are writing to get published, always keep foremost in your mind whom you are addressing: the reader. If you don’t know who your audience is for your book, then get out from behind the screen and into the streets and meet them face-to-face. Once you know them, stay connected online.
Worry less about widgets and plugins and more about expanding your face-to-face connections. Add one friend and one new technical skill day-by-day and discover slow but steady support and sustenance for your writing efforts. Putting the social in social media is what packs the viral punch.