Crossing the SPAM line

PJ Nunn

PJ Nunn

I read yet another announcement on Facebook this morning that said, essentially, I don’t care if your book is an Amazon bestseller, or if it’s been selected for reading by some book group I may or may not have ever known, if you keep posting advertising in this group I will NEVER read your book and I suspect I’m not alone in feeling like this.

We’ve all seen similar posts and maybe have posted similar posts. I hadn’t had coffee yet, but it set my mind whirling. Most marketing experts tell authors to be more active in social media, to tweet their hearts out and make sure they’re posting regularly. And honestly, what is advertising but putting your product information out in venues where it’s likely to be seen by potential buyers?

If I subscribe to a cooking magazine and sit down to read it when it arrives, I shouldn’t be surprised to find advertising in it that is somehow related to food. It’s expected, actually. I may not know the company that’s doing the advertising. In fact, I probably will come across quite a few products that I never knew anything about until I saw it there. I think that’s the point. Whether I like it or not, or will buy it or not, that’s a different story.

If you ask some people what crosses the line from discussing or introducing a book to spamville, the consensus is often whether the poster is known to the group in which he or she is posting. At first thought, that seems logical to most and heads will nod. But can you give me a comparison from general marketing guidelines? Where are the rules?

If you’re talking about groups to join on Facebook or LinkedIn or wherever, maybe that could be compared to those rare occasions when you get to watch a television movie with “no commercial interruptions”. I’m not saying spam is ok. I can get annoyed as anyone when that typical BUY MY BOOK tweet interrupts my feed for the umpteenth time and, no, I probably will not go buy the book.

Society is bereft of the manners with which I was raised oh so long ago, so I shouldn’t be surprised when some trample over any semblance of etiquette in social media situations. But I admit as a publicist I do feel a twinge of regret that this person wants very badly to see his or her book succeed and it’s too bad that he or she is going about it in the wrong way. I’d like to think that if we ranted less and offered well placed advice more, there might slowly be change. But then few take unsolicited advice to heart and I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to stick their necks out. Pearls before swine, as it were.

What are your thoughts? When does ill-advised attempts at advertising cross the line to spam?

Off to find that missing coffee…

Do I Really Need a Website if I have a Facebook Page?

There are lots of opinions on this topic, but if I had to pick just one of the two, I’d still pick a website – with qualifications.

First, look at what they are. A Facebook page is a social media networking platform. It consists largely of a place to share news, announcements, photos, gossip, you name it – it’s out there. It can be as casual or as professional as you like. I strongly recommend that if you have a Facebook page, you create one for personal use and an author page for professional use and you try not to mingle the two together too much. Maybe that seems like overkill today, but the more people who read your books and follow your pages, the more important it becomes to keep your private information private. As much as we don’t like to think about it, there are people out there who are a little unbalanced and you don’t want to be sharing pictures of your grandkids with them.

A website, on the other hand, is a more “fixed” platform. I work with journalists every day and while they do look at your Facebook page, they also go straight for your website to see if you’ve posted press information there. As you probably know, journalists often work around the clock and on deadline. If they’re working on a story and can’t find the info they need, they’ll find it elsewhere. Your website is the first impression you’ll make on a lot of people. The good news is, there are no rewrites in real life, but you can work and rework the content on your website until it really shines.

In both instances, I come across pages that look professional and even more that don’t. As with any area of business, find out what you’re good at and staff your weakness. Your brand and your professional appearance are NOT the place to cut corners and save money. With all the freebies available today, it’s tempting and I know few writers are independently wealthy, but if every time someone checks you out online they find information that looks more DIY (do it yourself) than professional, that’s exactly how they’ll think of you.

We all want to know and do business with people who are on the road to success. Maybe you’re not there yet, but you need to look like you’re the person you want to be. An author who shows up in shorts and flip flops may be a fun person and a great writer, but the impression is probably someone who isn’t that serious about his or her professional appearance.

Take some time and do a search for author websites. Don’t just look at one, look at several and keep an objective eye. It’s best to look at authors you don’t know personally and visit a few pages on their sites.

  • What do you like?
  • What don’t you like?
  • Do you find any typos?
  • Is the information up to date?
  • Do you find information there that would be helpful if a journalist was writing up a quick article to announce an upcoming event?
  • Is there something missing?
  • What could be done to improve the site?

Once you’ve visited a few, go back and look at your own site. Do you think it gives the impression of you and your work that you want it to?

If you use Facebook and/or Twitter, visit some author pages there and see what kind of impression they make. Do they post things that would be of interest to their readers? Do they include a variety of photos and links that are in good taste?

Usually the best gauge of what any of your pages should be is what interests you, and what works for others. We all have different tastes and opinions, but if you’re drawn to particular posts and pages, chances are similar posts and pages will work for you.

Don’t hesitate to ask trusted friends for their thoughts, but also get input from others within the writing industry. Most of my family have no idea what works on webpages and FB for writers, but other writers should have some good ideas. Good luck with your project!

Bios made easy by Kris Bock

KrisBockcreditAE2012webKris Bock has lived in 10 states and one foreign country – Saudi Arabia, where she spent five idyllic years in an American camp as a child. She now lives in New Mexico with her husband and two ferrets. Kris enjoys hiking, rock climbing, good food, and of course books.

I discovered something while coordinating writing conferences:  Even published authors often do not know how to write a good bio. This should be the easiest thing in the world – if we can write at all, surely we can write about ourselves. And yet, whether through modesty, carelessness or overwriting, many author bios fail. The bio above contains specific details, some of which may even be interesting, but it doesn’t do its job.

What is the job? To sell yourself and your books. Keep that focus in mind and the rest will follow.

Content: List your books. You’d be surprised at how many authors skip this part. This is your chance to advertise! If you have lots of books, stick to the three or four that are most popular and currently in print, or first books in a series, or the books most relevant to the situation.

People are more likely to look for your book if they know it fits a genre they like. Titles aren’t always clear by themselves. Death in Russia could be a mystery, biography, history, historical fiction, or political analysis. Specify the genre.

List awards, but don’t get carried away. If each book has four or five minor awards mentioned, the reader bogs down in dull details. List the most prestigious, or combine them – “Ms. Inkslinger’s books have received 11 Readers’ Choice Awards from various states.”

Relevancy: In general, stick to writing-related information. If someone is considering buying your book or coming to hear you speak, they want to know your success as a writer or speaker. They’re probably not interested in the names of your pets. And since most children write or tell stories, the fact that you’ve been writing since age 7 isn’t terribly impressive.

If you do include personal data, put your professional information first. Don’t start with your hobbies or childhood, unless it directly relates to your book. (For example, you’re a nurse and you wrote a hospital drama.) This is also not the place to thank your parents or spouse for their support. Save that for your book dedications.

 

Style: Focus on the information. Humor and lively writing are fine, but don’t get so wrapped up in sounding “literary” that important facts get buried or forgotten. If you’re releasing your own PR, you can be as zany as you feel fits your author persona. If your bio will be one of many in a conference brochure, the designer probably wants some consistency of style. A touch of formality may be appropriate, since you’re trying to portray yourself as a professional. Pretend you’re someone else writing about you. Write in the third person. “Bard Wordsmith is an award-winning author….”

You may need different bios for different uses—playful on a book flap; professional for a newspaper article; focused on your teaching experience for a conference catalog; praising your writing success for a book signing.

 

Length: Unless you’re asked for a certain length of bio, keep it short and to the point. An editor may shorten your writing to save space, so put the most important information in the first sentence. This may include the topic of your presentation and/or the name of one book (the most recent, the most popular, or the one you’ll be presenting).

If your bio will stand alone, on an individual brochure or press release, you might use 100-200 words. If your bio will appear along with others, 50-100 words is plenty. Any more and some people will skip ahead. (You’ll also annoy the person designing the material, who may make arbitrary cuts). Include your website for people who want more information.

To get started, make a list of the facts that you want to share—the items that are most impressive and relevant to your career. Then write a simple, straightforward paragraph that includes them. As in all good writing, communication comes first.

$.99 SALE March 17-22: Whispers in the Dark, a romantic suspense novel featuring archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins.

Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. In Counterfeits, stolen counterfeits500x800Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. What We Found features a young woman who stumbles on a murder victim, and Rattled follows a treasure hunt in the New Mexico desert. To learn more about her latest work, visit www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page.

Kris writes for children under the name Chris Eboch. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Genie’s Gift, an Arabian Nights-inspired fantasy; and The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Hot August Nights

Here we are in August already. Amazing. Seems like it was just January a minute ago and now we’re nearing the end of the year and the onset of 2013. Or is this a comedy of errors? Wasn’t it just a year or two ago we were all worried about Y2K? On the one hand, days are long and hot and there seems no end in sight. On the other hand, school starts in a few weeks (didn’t the school year just end a week or so ago?) and if we blink a time or two it’ll be Thanksgiving. What?

Proof that everything is influenced by personal perception and that opinions can rise and fall with the outdoor thermometer. It’s best not to be moved by them. However, every writer’s life is a roller coaster of sorts and this time of year in particular, it can be a really bumpy ride. Our New Year’s resolutions have lost their shine and many have been abandoned altogether, leaving behind that hopeless feeling of yet another failure. The list of things we’d planned to have accomplished by this time has grown enough that we’re no longer comfortable looking at it so we spend more time on Facebook where we can Like and be Liked. The decision is no longer how do we catch up, but what do we do now since there’s no way we can do it all by the end of the year.

In the background of my mind I hear Rob Thomas and  Carlos Santana serenading me with that deceptively titled old favorite, Smooth.

Or maybe it’s Neil Diamond singing about hot August nights:

I wonder if it’s time to tilt the office chair back and close my eyes for a quick accidental nap or if this day deserves the get-up, march-to-the-couch-and-lie-down on purpose variety. The point? We all have these days, and frankly, just pretending that we don’t doesn’t change a thing. What to do?

Like so many self-employed people (including moi) writers tend to be “on duty” 24/7 with little relief. Continuing that way with no end in sight will lead down the road to total burnout. The cure? Or more accurately, the Prevention? Scheduling. Oxymoronic? Not really. Not if it’s done right.

Just like it’s important to schedule regular writing time, and if you’re excelling in time management, a set-aside time for promoting your work, you need to pencil in some regularly scheduled YOU time. Call it R & R. Maybe that stands for Rest and Relaxation, or for Research and Rejuvenation. Maybe it’s a day on the couch reading a book you don’t have to read, or taking your grandkids to the zoo. Oh wait, I forgot it’s August. Maybe it’s an appointment at a spa nearby, or a trip to the nearest Natatorium. Museums and libraries are usually cool (temperature wise) this time of year. Movie theaters aren’t as appealing today, but they will be again. I like to go to the lake. Even when it’s burning hot outside, it somehow seems cooler there.

Whatever you do, make sure it feeds your soul. After all, what kind of writer will you be if you have no soul? As much as the project manager in me believes in planning and scheduling and essentially making every day count, life is too short to always be working and feeling like it’s never enough. So especially in August, pause. Take a day a month, or a day a week (gasp!) and just live. Do something that matters to you even if nobody will ever read it. Enjoy. I promise, the lists will still be there when you get back.

PJ