Sam Stone is the winner of the Silver Award for Best Horror Novel 2007 with Foreword Magazine and British Fantasy Society Award Nominee for Best Novel for ‘Futile Flame’, she has just had the third book in her Vampire Gene trilogy published by Murky Depths, and has several other projects on the horizon. She’s here today to talk about publicising your work, and offering a few helpful hints for both new and old writers on the dos and don’ts of social networking.
Learning to Self-Promote: A Writer’s Journey
This week I deleted my MySpace account. Myspace was my first dabble with social networking, and despite having over 12,000 views, I just didn’t think it worked for me anymore. Facebook has taken over as my preferred social network, but I also have GoodReads and my blog, and between them these seem to cover all the bases. But why social networking? I’m a writer … and writers write. Indeed, lot of people think that when you’ve written a book, the hard part is over. To some extent that’s true, but these days a writer is almost obliged to promote the book that they’ve been slaving over. Your responsibility begins in earnest on completion, but really you need to start telling people before you finish. How to do that, of course, is the million dollar question. Promoting is hard. You have to be confident without appearing arrogant and getting the balance right between promotion and spamming can be difficult. I’m never sure if I have it quite right, so I always lean towards ‘less is more’ because I’ve seen so many people go completely over the top with it. However I do have a sort of formula which seems to work for me.
Some Social Networking Dos and Don’ts
What not to do …
- One of my pet hates is people leaving adverts on my Facebook page. I never do that. I think it’s rude and disrespectful. Often I’ve had new people come onto my page and immediately post a link telling me all about their book and how wonderful they are without even saying ‘hello’. That is a big no-no.
- Another faux pas is posting your website in every single comment you leave. Or even a full blown advert for your latest book. Okay! We get it: you’re a writer too – but please don’t do that because it won’t win you any friends or new readers – it will just annoy them.
- Don’t harp on all the time about how wonderful you are.
- Don’t stalk other people’s pages and then just talk about yourself all the time on them – engage in conversations, you might just enjoy yourself and make some real friends.
- When sending out events – don’t keep resending the same one. If friends have refused once you won’t make them say they are attending by re-inviting, but you might encourage them to delete you for spamming.
- Spam emails/private messages – OMG! You wouldn’t believe how many of these I get. Just this morning I received the same PM on Facebook three times! Don’t resort to it. It doesn’t work. Event invites are enough, if people don’t respond then leave them alone.
- Never respond to a bad review on a public forum. You only make yourself look an idiot and people think you’re unprofessional. If you don’t like the review – suck it up. The reviewer is entitled to their opinion and you can’t please everyone so just get over yourself.
- Never talk politics or religion – everyone has their own beliefs in this area and it won’t make you friends but is likely to lose you some.
- Don’t be snide about other people online – even if their status is the most annoying self-obsessed bullshit you’ve ever seen. It doesn’t look good and only makes people think you’re unpleasant and bitchy.
- Never review a friend’s books in public unless you have a lot of positive things to say about them. You should be objective and balanced in your argument if you plan to review anyway, but if you didn’t like their work – it’s always best to stay quiet about it.
- On the same basis, never ask your friends what they think of your own work. You might get some vague platitudes, but equally you might find out what they really thought … If they liked it, then it’s up to them whether they post about it or not.
What works for me …
There’s no formula for perfect promotion but what I find works for me is just being myself with everyone. What you see is what you get. I also really enjoy interacting with people on Facebook … you could say I’m a little addicted J
- Mix up status updates with a combination of personal things and work related things even on your official or fan page if you have one.
- Be cheerful as often as possible, because, let’s face it, if you’re constantly feeling sorry for yourself then people will get fed up with it and stop listening. Also, when you do have a rant they are more likely to listen because you don’t do it all the time.
- Respond to comments that your friends leave, even if you put a ‘like’ on it. Be interested in other people and what they are doing – it’s not all about you after all.
- Respond to your friend’s updates and statuses if you expect them to engage in yours. Be supportive of other people and genuinely mean it.
- Reply to private messages – even if they are from some guy in Turkey asking you to marry him. You can still be polite when you tell him to ‘get lost’.
- Definitely advertise your achievements. There’s nothing wrong with telling your friends you’re up for awards or have been invited to attend a convention as a guest. That’s all good and positive and it helps to raise your profile with others. It shows that your work is valued in the wider community.
- If you are up for awards that are voted on, then remind people – but don’t beg them to vote for you, it sounds desperate. If they want to support you then they will.
- Pat other people on the back if they win and you don’t – it’s only an award and it’s not the end of the world. Be positive about being shortlisted – because hey – that’s a huge achievement anyway!
- When sending out invitations to events it helps if you write a covering note. Mostly I apologise for sending just in case it is not wanted or they live too far away. It doesn’t hurt to be polite and aware that not everyone is interested.
- Be positive and upbeat. That’s the biggest and most important of my rules.
There’s also blogging. Mine is getting close to 9000 hits now overall and averages 6-700 hits a month. One thing you should do if you have a blog is keep an eye on your stats. I have a stats counter that analyses the hits. At the click of a button I can see the IP addresses of everyone who logs on and it shows me where they are from (it’s not full names and addresses, only areas or countries). It also reveals how they found the site – even showing you the Google pathway that led them to the page. This kind of information is useful to help you analyse your tagging process. Tagging is a great resource and helps people find you by accident. It helps if you think ‘out of the box’ when selecting tags for the main page – and always tag the individual blogs.
Other results that I look at are ‘returning visitors’. At the end of the day you could be doing something wrong if your website or blog is getting a very low return rate. If you are posting interesting blogs or the type of information that the reader wants to see then there should be good returns results.
There has to be a balance between attracting new readers and keeping old ones. I’m no expert on this of course, but I try to mix up the information as much as possible. Sometimes I blog on a film I’ve seen. At other times I write about the publishing industry, exploring things that I believe might interest aspiring writers. Then, of course, I post all of my news or latest events.
It’s important to keep the blog updated, whatever you decide to put on it. Just think about it. How many times have you gone onto your favourite writer’s website and found that it hasn’t changed in six months? Eventually you stop looking for that information, after all, what’s the point in returning if there’s nothing new to find? So it’s a good thing to bear in mind when maintaining your blog or website. I try to put something up every few days – and I’ve seen an increase in hits recently so hopefully it’s working.
Promoting takes up a lot of your time. Once you’ve sorted out your social networking sites and blogs, and got them linked up so that posts to the blog also appear on Facebook or wherever, then you’ve got to get out there and meet people. That’s where conventions come in. This is where the real time and money goes.
In order to meet the right publishers and maybe even interest more readers you have to be seen. There are several horror and fantasy conventions that are good for promotion. My personal favourite is FantasyCon, but this isn’t always the best event for actually selling books; although I have seen a huge increase in sales there over the last three years which I hope is down to the fact that word is getting out about my work. If you’re a new writer, or self-published, then don’t expect to do well here on sales as there’s only 200-300 people attending each year. The event does attract, however, a good selection of publishers and agents, and is crammed with writers, poets and editors from the self-published, to indie-press to pro-press.
There is also EasterCon, which is a huge event. It has about 12-1300 people attending every year. It is an excellent event to get involved with. The EasterCon organisers are very open to new people being panellists. My first EasterCon I was given 6 panels over the course of the weekend. Panels are good things for writers. It’s an opportunity to talk intelligently in front of an audience. A good moderator will know who you are and will introduce you properly, explaining what you write or will give you the opportunity to do so yourself. It’s also a very good selling event. I’ve seen the most unlikely books sell at EasterCon and I think that is because there are more fans attending, whereas some of the smaller cons attract mostly writers, publishers and agents, who are less likely to actually buy your books. Also there is no snobbery at EasterCon. ALL writers can become involved at the mass signing events. So whether you are published by one of the majors or by a small independent press, you’ll be treated the same.
I’ve recently discovered Asylum –a steampunk convention which takes place in Lincoln. I was invited as a guest this year only to learn that the event attracts over 800 people. The organisation was fabulous and I was treated wonderfully. I’m pleased to have been invited back next year and I’m hoping to get more involved in the panels. This isn’t necessarily the place you’d go to if you want to meet publishers and agents – but it’s a great selling event and is full of potential readers. It’s also growing in size and has become the second biggest UK convention in just two years. It may even take that crown from EasterCon next year.
Smaller more intimate events are NewCon (a whole weekend held every two years) and Alt-Fiction which usually only runs for a day. There are more but I will be honest and say I haven’t attended them.
Outside of the UK – I also attend the annual Gallifrey convention in LA. My partner, the Doctor Who historian and writer, and director of Telos Publishing, David J Howe, and I are invited as guests and guest status makes all of the difference. We are extremely well treated by the organisers and attendees and sales are incredible. There are also great panel opportunities, and a very diverse selection of attending guests, not only from Doctor Who but from film and literature also.
We diversified this year and I also attended the Bram Stoker Film Festival in Whitby. Footfall was less than I expected throughout the day, but I did sell some books and also met some great people. What was interesting in this situation was that there were film producers there because they were showing their latest movies. So, there may well be some opportunities that will come from attending this event.
That’s where the time and money element of promotion comes in. Attending conventions is expensive and while you’re away from home you aren’t writing – but if you’re smart, you will be working, smiling at people, chatting, and hoping that they remember your name enough to Google you later on and maybe buy a book to find out what you do.
Promotion is important, and you have to keep plugging away at it … but just remember, not too much!
Text © 2010 Sam Stone Author Photograph © 2010 Sam Stone Covers © 2010 Murky Depths, All Rights Reserved