If you have been following our social media series and keeping abreast of the free advice Swenson Book Development LLC has to offer, please take note: this post trumps its predecessors. Search engine optimization, metadata, plugins, widgets, and pretty blogs all can improve web traffic and generate sales conversions. Nothing, however, is as important as the content on your website. Presentation and formatting makes a difference but it’s the content that keeps visitors coming back. Nothing but truly compelling, relevant, valuable content encourages visitors to sign up for e-mail updates, subscribe to your blog feed, follow you on your social networks, or share your website with friends. And if you can’t do any of these things… well… what’s the point?

I know authors don’t like to spend time on the “new” social media. Yes, it’s less time spent on writing books; there’s no disagreement there. But consider this: how do you, as an author, expect to sell books to an audience if you don’t spend time cultivating one?

The challenge of living in a competitive, consumer-driven society is the number of options available to the people. In America, we are blessed with the power to pick and choose information, whether fact or fiction. We can choose C-SPAN, NBC, or Comedy Central. A newspaper, a magazine, a website, a blog, or perhaps nothing at all. Print, PDF, or e-book. Perhaps this is a cultural Achilles heel: given the vast amount of information available to us, in combination with its ease of accessibility via multiple print and electronic sources, there is really no excuse for illiteracy or ignorance of any kind. And yet there is a sizeable portion of the U.S. population that doesn’t complete high school or receive G.E.D. level education. Think about the popularity of the recent Facebook page, I Hate Reading. If there are that many people (over 400,000!) publicly claiming to detest an activity which you rely upon for income, how many more people are quietly switching on their televisions or plugging in their iPods? Your book is one in a sea of millions and it depends on the preference of one activity over several others – some of which are less time consuming and, let’s face it, easier.

What, exactly, is your author strategy? How are you going to get readers on your side?

As an author, half of your job is convincing people to buy your book and read it. Undoubtedly there are thousands of books published already this year in your genre and at least a handful in your niche. (Not to mention the competition from past publications). How are you going to convince someone to read your book? I’m not just talking about Average Joe and Jane – the fat part of the bell curve – who read one book a year, if that, and would never consider themselves “readers”. I’m talking about those so-called “book nerds”: the folks who spend hours roaming bookstores and hoard (nay, collect) books; the ones with a stack of books yet to be read… and who continue to purchase more. In short, the types of readers that authors love because they don’t require a hard sell. I don’t know about you, but I just need a recommendation or, hell, even a well-placed storefront display!

The gatekeepers of the publishing industry are asking these same questions. Every query that lands on an agents’ desk undergoes the same business evaluation. The appeal of self-publishing is that writers can by-pass these questions. You can self-publish and never worry about the audience. But what good does that do you? Isn’t writing a public confession? I like to think of it as the difference between a diary and a memoir. You may tell your diary what you ate for lunch that day, but you won’t include it in your memoir unless some seriously compelling action resulted from that particular lunch. Chances are that tuna sandwich was notable to no one but yourself. It may taste good, but is it really something worth writing about? Be honest: would you go around telling everyone you met that day how fantastic that tuna sandwich was? I’m going to guess no (unless you have some very understanding friends).

Even successful self-publishing ventures have an audience in mind and a sales agenda to attract it. You may not begin writing with an audience in mind, but you certainly want someone to be reading your work. The best place to begin is to figure out whom, exactly, that person is. Not friends, not family, not your partner, and certainly not your first grade English teacher. On Thursday, Bethany Dixon wrote about the importance of writing circles, groups, and MFA programs. These are great place to test and improve your writing. You can receive quality criticism in a laidback, writer-friendly environment and fellow writers often clarify your audience. These forums and resources force you to ask questions of your writing and intentions, such as why you chose a particular subject and in what ways you can keep the reader interested.

The neat thing is that social media also asks these questions. The results – or lack thereof – of your blogging, tweeting, and sharing efforts will become obvious if you’ve hit your target. An added bonus is that you don’t have to leave your home or spend money on program fees to partake in its benefits. Blogging and tweeting can provide focus and precision. Facebook and Google Plus are forums for sharing interesting content and fostering relevance. Stumble Upon and Tumblr can broaden your horizons and stimulate creative activity. In general, reading interesting content is a resource for further consideration and inspiration. When I read others’ opinions and thoughts on a certain subject, it helps me formulate and justify my own. Browsing is important – even the virtual kind. Months ago, social media guru Mitch Joel expressed similar sentiments. Fellow guru Seth Godin is known to agree. Mostly, it’s research. A way to amass a foundation of knowledge, most of which will be kept to yourself and maybe 10% of which will make it into your writing.

Social media generates content. At some stage, there was a person writing and at another a person reading. These are the building blocks to becoming an author. Writing leads to reading and blogging is just another method of practice. Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and other social media networks can be used to the same effect. They can work individually or in tandem; each network has unique benefits and limitations. Unlike the labor of your WIP, producing content for social media cultivates audience engagement. As a writer and aspiring author, you must decide which platforms work best for you. Some platforms require more work than others but, over time, the practice becomes habitual. Investing time is the only way to pave the path to success. Your book requires work and so does your platform; your book will be your words but your platform will be YOU.

The important thing is to produce content and work hard at keeping it compelling, engaging, and relevant. Content of value denotes currency and viable revenue. Quality content sells and the glory of the “new” social media is its inexpensive production. Social networking sites are free and unique web domains cost little. Writers who do not adapt to this new business model will struggle in our changing market. Publishers and agencies are being forced to alter their strategies, so too must writers.


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