Tag Archives: facebook

Closing the Facebook

5 Jul

This summer I’m working on revising and updating my self-publishing ‘how to': Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. Edition #3 is scheduled for release September 5th. When I did the second edition back in 2012, only one year had passed since the first but still, so much had changed. This time around, the entire landscape has changed, and there’s so many new and exciting opportunities for self-publishers to take advantage of. I’ve completely changed my mind about some of my advice, and believe more than ever in the rest of it. One thing hasn’t changed at all though: I still think self-publishing is something every author should be involved in, whether it’s their main career or a sideline, and I still think that with great power comes great responsibility, so you should do it professionally. Over the coming weeks I’ll be writing posts about some issues that need a whole new section in Self-Printed: The 3rd Edition, starting today with the tumbleweeds-blowing-across-a-broken-road-cutting-through-barren-desert ex-social network we call Facebook…

[The Self-Printed 3.0 Splash needs YOU!]

I think I’m done with Facebook.

Once upon a time, I thought Facebook was a really good way to reach readers. If you had a book about a specific topic – say, Disney World – you could reach groups of Disney Word enthusiasts who were already assembled for you. By setting up an author page, you could get real life friends and family to help you build a fan base, as they could share content from your page on their own pages and news of their ‘liking’ you would show in their news feeds. With the help of things like Facebook offers and Rafflecopter, you could hold giveaways and draw attention to events, real world and virtual, like the release of your new book.

Then, it all went to pot.

Facebook has become its own worst enemy. I think in the future social media archeologists will study it for lessons in what not to do with your success. I think it was Steve Jobs who said, ‘People don’t know what they want until you give it to them.’ Mark Zuckerberg seems to be operating on some kind of ‘Take away everything people want’ principle, and it’s failing miserably. By constantly trying to second guess what users would like to see when they log into Facebook, Zuckerberg and friends have consistently moved further and further away from what users want. Privacy settings constantly change. The terms and conditions hide a multitude. In attempt to turn a profit,they’ve made many page owners, effectively, invisible. The kids are all signing up to Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and other websites this grandma (32 as of today!) probably hasn’t heard of yet, and Facebook is a wasteland of neglected profiles, dusty photo albums and unrequited pokes.

Take, just as a simplistic example, the debacle that is your News Feed. Once upon a time you accepted a friend request, and then whatever that friend posted on Facebook, you saw in your News Feed whenever you logged in. If you didn’t want to see it you could unfriend them or hide them. Simples, right? Worked for everyone. You could see what your friends were up to and keep in contact with them – the point of Facebook – and you could also lurk and, ahem, stalk as well. Then Facebook decided that that was an inefficient method of operating and started hiding things from you. So if there was a “friend”, say, as opposed to a friend, and you never commented on any of her photos or clicked the ‘Like’ button or in fact interacted with her in any way (but you still wanted to see what she was up to, natch) well, forget it. Zuckerberg said no, and hid her from you entirely. He only wanted you to see the activity of people you regularly interacted with which, honestly, shows such a blatant misunderstanding of what people were using Facebook for (let’s be honest) that he doesn’t deserve his paper billions.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 14.02.02

But the fact that you missed your old frenemy getting a horrendous fake tan job isn’t important. (Let’s hope!) But take Dead Good Books. Run by a team from Penguin Random House, this Facebook page is one of my faves and a must for any crime fiction fan. Even though they’re a corporate page their content is fun, interesting and worthwhile, and I loved checking in to see what giveaways, news, etc. they had on offer. They’ve worked hard to get to nearly 15,000 likes. But a few days ago I realized that I hadn’t seen anything about them in my News Feed for a while. Were they still operating? I wondered. Well, DUH. Of course they were. Facebook had just decided to hide them from me because even though I had clicked the ‘Like’ button and interacted with them in the past, I hadn’t for a while. FACEBOOK FAIL.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 14.06.26

Take my own Facebook page for Mousetrapped, which – hands up – I have been neglecting. So my neglect might well play a part in what I’m about to share with you, but it’s definitely not the only underlying cause. When you are the admin of a Facebook page, you get to see the ‘reach’ stats for every post. Reach is pretty self-explanatory: it’s the number of people who saw your post, i.e. the number of people it reached.

My Mousetrapped Facebook page has 1,126 likes as of writing this post. Let’s take a look at the reach of some the posts I’ve published there lately…

FB.jpg

The post on the left is a link to the last blog post on here, which only reached 34 people. Yes, thirty-four. There were no shares or likes, which makes this a really good indicator of how many eyeballs land on content that’s just posted to your Facebook page without any subsequent interaction. 34 out of 1,126.

But, in fairness, that content is me-related, not Disney-related, and that’s the main attraction – I presume – to fans of this Mousetrapped-specific page. The post on the right is indeed Disney-related: it’s a shot of balloons for sale on Main Street U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom. It had 33 likes and reached 485 people – great, but still a long way off 1,126. Less than half, as a matter of fact.

You’ll notice the handy ‘Boost post’ button, which is an invitation to spend money – because that’s what this is all about. Not reaching enough people? Pay Facebook to lift the invisibility cloak. (Remembering that if enough people organically saw your posts, they wouldn’t be an opportunity to make money this way.) A little over a year ago, I tried this just to see whether or not it was worth it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 14.08.00

I think we can agree the answer is no, right?

I ran a giveaway and I wanted people to see the actual giveaway post, so I set a budget of €4 and let Facebook go and do this boosting it was always on about. You can see that the paid reach was 1,083 people – fewer people than ‘like’ my page. (Although, in fairness, back then, it was probably slightly more or the same.) Out of them, a whopping 8 – EIGHT! – actually took action on the post, i.e. clicked ‘like’. (We don’t know if they entered the giveaway.) So essentially Facebook charged me €4 to reach the same number of people who had ‘liked’ my page. Stay classy, Facebook.

There was a time, back in the old days, when you could just post something on Facebook and most of the people who had ‘liked’ your page saw it. (Or an amount of people equal to them, anyway.) No money changed hands. Can you imagine such a thing?! This is the last example I could find of it on my page, a post published back in March 2013.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 14.08.27

As you can see, this post won activity: 12 likes, 8 comments and 2 shares. Not exactly viral, but yet it organically reached 713 people. Woo-hoo! In March 2013, this was probably less than 100 people off how many liked the page, so I’d consider it a win. A win, but a win back in March 2013.

Now, let’s slap ourselves across the face with a cold, dead fish called reality. Something that ANNOYS ME NO END when people start harping on about how terrible traditional publishing is because so many books don’t earn back their advance and why self-publishing is a waste of time because so many books don’t sell more than a copy is that no one ever says, ‘Maybe the book failed because no one wanted to read it.’ So maybe I’m crap on Facebook. (I’ve definitely been crap on it recently.) Maybe my contributions to the Facebooksphere are so boring that if you cared any less, you’d pass out. That is entirely possible – it’s entirely possible approaching almost likely.

But let’s go back to Dead Good Books. Nearly 15,000 likes and I’m one of them, yet Facebook has decided not to organically show me their posts anymore. (FYI: I’ve corrected this by going onto their page and randomly liking a few things they posted recently, but should that be necessary? I love to lurk, just like 95% or something of internet users. Let me lurk, Facebook. LET ME LURK!) They are definitely not crap on Facebook. They’re exceptionally good, and nearly 15,000 other people think so. But if it hadn’t occurred to me that I hadn’t seen them in a while, I’d be lost to them forever. Me and who knows how many others. So was all that work – the work that it took them to get to nearly 15,000 likes – worth it? I think the answer is no, and the reason is Facebook.

(There’s also this creepy business, which I won’t go into here. But, ewwww. Creepy McCreepyson.)

However nothing sums up the crapness that is Facebook like the image above. ‘Organic reach is dead’ the accompanying tweet declares and unlike those ‘No, really, THIS time, the novel really is dead. No, really’ articles that come out every six months or so, this could well be true. The image is comparing the response Snickers got when they posted the exact same picture to their Facebook and Twitter pages the night Luis Suarez got hungry for human flesh.

On Facebook, they have approximately 11,000,000 fans. The post got 895 shares and was ‘liked’ by 3,250 users.

On Twitter, they have approximately 50,000 followers. The exact same post was favourited 14,754 times and retweeted 34,994 times.

In the first and second editions of Self-Printed, I encouraged self-published authors to get on Facebook. But do I now? Well…

If you have an active page with a high, consistent level of engagement:

Get YOU! And well done. Somehow, some page-owners have managed to keep up a very high level of engagement (posts getting ‘liked’, commented on, shared, etc.) naturally, which means that you likely have great organic reach. If it’s working for you, hooray! Keep it up. But also keep in mind that as a social network, Facebook’s star is fading. Encourage your Facebook fans to double-up on their liking of you by subscribing to your mailing list, following you on Twitter or adding your blog feed to their Feedly list. Then you won’t have to worry about what shenanigans Facebook might get up to in the future.

If you have a page with lots of ‘likes’ but inconsistent and/or low engagement:

This is me, right now. I’m thinking that just like not eating that cupcake now and ‘saving’ it for later, it’s just not worth it. I think what I might do is apply some jump-leads: really make the effort with FB for a month or so and seeing if stats improve. If they don’t though, I know my time is better spent on other things, like this blog, Twitter and writing more books. It’s time to relegate Facebook to the waste-of-my-time leagues, me thinks.

If you haven’t got around to doing Facebook yet:

Don’t even bother. The ship has sailed. In the current ‘pay to be seen’ climate I’m not even sure how you’d win likes or expose users to content in the first place. Put your time and energy into something else instead.

UPDATE: The very helpful Amy Keely shared this YouTube video in the comments. If you are considering paying Facebook to do anything, you NEED to watch this video first. Shocking stuff.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVfHeWTKjag

In other news, yesterday was America’s birthday and today is mine! (Yes, 21 again, thanks for asking…) To mark the occasion, Backpacked is free to download for Kindle from all Amazon stores today (Saturday 5th July) for 5 days. If you’ve read it already, you might be interested in the Backpacked photo or video galleries. Have a good weekend!

Social Media: Have You Got It All Wrong?

6 May

WARNING: This is one of them long ones. Better go get a fresh cup of coffee before you start…

We all know I love publishers. I still hope, should I ever finish The Novel, to be published by one of them. Say silly things like legacy or gatekeepers, or use something as serious and tragic as the Irish potato famine—or rape or Stockholm Syndrome, for that matter—to describe the relationship between the author and the business that has risked its money to get that author’s book to market, and you go straight onto my Naughty List.

(Well, there isn’t actually a Naughty List. Who has the time? I will roll my eyes at you though.)

I don’t believe for a second, for instance, what is pretty much an accepted ‘fact’ by the majority of the self-publishing community: that traditional publishers don’t publicize and/or care about the books they publish. I’ve seen for myself that this is simply not true. The bad publishers might not, but it’s up to you not to sign contracts with them. (Or at least not sign contracts with them twice, or tarnish all publishers with the same brush just because of one experience.) Even if I took away what I’ve seen firsthand, there would still be the evidence of logic: publishing is a business, and any business that isn’t run by morons wants to recoup their investment, i.e. any advance paid, printing and staff costs. They market and publicize and support their product as much as they can because it’s in their interests for it to sell.

DSC00195

Here’s a nice relaxing photo for you this Monday morning. You’re welcome!

Anyway, I tell you this because I want to make it clear that despite my self-publishing background, I ain’t a publisher-basher. But there is one area where some of them do need a stern talking to, and that’s their attitude towards using social media to promote their books. The Big Ones are all over it (that’s probably why they’re The Big Ones) but others aren’t even making an effort, which is crazy as they’re the ones who stand to benefit the most on the internet’s level playing field.

This is something they have in common with a lot of self-publishers, as luck would have it, so let’s talk about this attitude and the reasons behind it here today.

Do any of these statements sound at all familiar?

  • ‘But does Twitter really sell books? So-and-so has 10,000 followers and he only sold 500 books…’
  • ‘Ugh. I can’t be bothered with Facebook and all that silly stuff.’
  • ‘Why waste your time on that when books have sold fine without all this rubbish until now?’
  • ‘There’s no evidence social media does anything except suck away time.’
  • ‘I have NEVER bought a book because someone on Goodreads recommended it to me. NEVAAAH!’
  • ‘Is this over yet? Call me when Twitter is gone.’
  • (From the writer) ‘But I want just to WRITE!’

I talked about this recently in a post called The Author Platform: Are You Being Cautious… Or Just Lazy? But I think beyond caution and laziness, there’s yet another reason why you might be turning your nose up at the idea of using social media to sell books: you might have it all wrong. The phrases using social media to sell books and promoting your books on social networks offer no real, tangible, practical clues as to how one might do such a thing, and once you start throwing around buzzwords like discoverability, the process becomes even murkier still.

So I think it’s time we demystified this whole selling-books-with-social-media thing. Because maybe if we took your average Social Media Skeptic and explained to them, in practical, tangible terms, what it actually means, they’d feel differently.

Using social media to promote your book is not anything magic or mystical. It’s not a hit-or-miss fuzzy cloud from which success only rarely emerges. It’s just the simple act of:

  1. Finding readers who liked a book like yours
  2. Telling them about your one.

As the meerkats would say, simples!

boardwalk

And here’s another one… (Because who wants pictures of Twitter logos? BORING!)

But Wait… Does It REALLY Sell Books?

Yes, it does. It sold mine, it sells the books of my self-published friends, and it’s worked wonders for countless traditionally published titles. But most of the time, we can’t prove it. No one listens to self-publishers because for some reason self-published success is still treated like a total fluke. Even when the author says ‘Well, I did this and then I did this and then sales really picked up when I started doing this’, no one listens. They just think wasn’t he lucky?! And publishing houses use lots of different methods to sell books, so they can’t really say for sure why a certain book was a bestseller, only that, as a whole, the campaign worked. The other problem is that it doesn’t sell all the books, and the skeptics latch on to each Twitter-flavored failure and hold it up as high as they can. If it fails, it means they don’t have to worry about it.

But tell me what, besides Oprah or the New York Times, can be guaranteed to sell thousands or hundreds of thousands or even millions copies of a book? Two books get great media coverage, meet you inside the door of every major bookstore and collect glowing reviews. One ends up selling a million copies, and the other disappears without a trace. Why? Because that’s just how it goes! That’s how publicity pans out. Sometimes it works, and we don’t know exactly why, and sometimes it doesn’t, and we can’t say for sure what went wrong.

The beauty of social media is that, should it fail, the only thing you’ve spent, for the most part, is time.

The other benefit is that what you have done has been targeted to readers who like books like yours. Spend money on a radio ad, for example, and you don’t know who’ll hear it. But get your crime novel reviewed or mentioned on a crime book blog, or reviewed by an influential crime novel-loving Goodreads user, and you know that promotion hit home. People always want to know time-saving tricks for using social media, but social media itself is a time-saving trick, because it cuts you a path to your target market.

Much like Salon’s recent spate of anti-self-publishing articles*, we should also look at these so-called failures a little closer. When someone says ‘I used Twitter and it didn’t work’, is that really evidence that Twitter doesn’t sell books? Were they using it right? Like I said last Friday, it’s like having a treadmill in your garage, failing to lose 30 pounds and then concluding that treadmills don’t lead to weight loss. Did you use the treadmill? Did you eat right? Did you avoid those knock-off Choc Ices from Aldi? I congratulate you if you did, because they’re delicious

We may have wandered slightly off topic here.

Anyway, social media can sell books. I know it can, because that’s how I sold mine—and how countless self-published friends sold theirs (a lot more of them than me), including a few who’ve sold more than 100,000—and because that’s how I now find out about a lot of the new books I buy and authors I decide to try. (Ooh, look: I’m a poet and I… am unaware.) Even if you don’t buy that, you can’t deny that the readers are out there, online. Twelve million of them on Goodreads. A thriving book-loving community on Twitter. And then there’s the fans and subscribers of countless book blogs, author websites, etc. They are there. You can’t deny that. And if you’re a reader, you’ll know that a good book recommendation is the best thing after a good book. We want to hear about the new books. We want to add to our To Read pile. And if you don’t bother telling me about your book, one of your competitors will get in there and tell me about theirs instead.

DSC05024

I want to go to there. 

Engagement, Not Advertising

But it’s not advertising, and so saying ‘oh, so-and-so has 10,000 followers and he only sold 1,000 books, therefore social media doesn’t sell books’ means you don’t get any Pretend Choc Ices.

This is really, at the end of the day, about good content. Create good content, post that content, drive eyeballs to that content, convince me with your cover and your blurb and your advance praise and your writer’s credentials to hit the ‘Buy’ button and—ta-daa!—you’ve sold me a book. And by good content we mean something that stands alone as entertainment or useful information, even if you took away the advertising-a-book-bit.

Examples of this would be:

While we’re on the subject of book trailers, STOP WITH THE MOVIE-STYLE ONES, for the love of fudge. Even if they work, they sell just one book—to me, the person watching it. But make it funny, make it entertaining or make it not really about the book at all, and not only will I buy the book, but I’ll pass the book trailer on.

For example, boring with a capital B:

Yawn.

But wait, LET ME STICK THIS UP ON FACEBOOK AT ONCE!

I read a great line about content during the week (from a graph on Pinterest, of all places): valuable content earns you permission to sell. Write it on a prominent Post-It, people.

Or read this great post on The Creative Penn which talks about this being not social media marketing but content marketing, with social media is just the delivery system.

The Numbers You Can’t Deny

Even if you don’t believe that social media can be used to sell books, here is a number you can’t deny: 12,000,000. That’s how many users Goodreads has. That’s a website where only people who love to read books and share the books they’ve read love to go. Twelve million. And that’s before we even think about the readers on Twitter, or Facebook, or blogs.

And remember: Goodreads, at its core, is about personal recommendations. We follow someone whose taste we trust, we see that she liked a certain book, we think we’ll like it too. Five years ago I would’ve finished a book I loved and told a couple of friends about it. Now, I can share it on Goodreads, tweet about it, blog about it, stick it up on Facebook… Word-of-mouth is still what makes a bestseller. What’s changed is that word-of-mouth now involves a lot more people, and because there’s a lot more people, it can benefit a lot more books.

We don’t know where Twitter and Facebook and all that malarkey will be in five or ten years’ time, but I think it’s safe to say that social reading is here to stay. So at the very least, you should be turning your head towards that.

The readers are out there. They want to know what to read next. And you’re publishing books. You two need to get it on.

I’m one of these readers. That’s why I can say this with a degree of confidence. Nearly all the new books I read (new releases but also authors I haven’t read before) now find their way into my consciousness via Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads or a blog post. Just this past week it happened with Just What Kind of Mother Are You? and My Criminal World, and I’m counting down the days until I can get my hands on a copy of The Silent Wife (which the internet just seems to refuse to shut up about, and tortuously it’s not out until July).

All you have to do is find us, tell us about your book through good content, a book which we should be predisposed to liking because it’s similar to other books we have publicly expressed a love for in the past, and finally aim to convince us, through the book itself (cover, blurb, etc.) to buy it.

No voodoo involved.

(Seriously: 2,015 words. And I wonder why The Novel isn’t finished!)

*Salon are really having a laugh lately. First of all we had I’m a Self-Publishing Failure, and the internet whispers tell me that the guy didn’t have an e-book for sale, and then we had The future  is no fun—self-publishing is the worst, which was about a newly self-published author trying to promote his book through the same channels that had promoted the books he’d previously got traditionally published, like newspapers, TV, etc. which is just stoopid. Trad books=trad media. Self-published books=online media, i.e. the place where nearly all the self-published books are sold. I mean, REALLY. 

What do you think? If you’re not using social media to promote your books, why not? And does selling books this way work on you? How do you find out about the books you read? 

Social Media for Publishers

15 Apr

I’m just popping in this Monday afternoon to tell you that on Friday 26th April, I’ll be in Dublin talking Social Media for Publishers.

Self-publishers are publishers too, and all the same general principles, ideas, strategies, etc. apply, so I thought I’d share the details here in case any of you lovely blog readers would like to attend.

Here’s the pitch from Publishing Ireland:

Tw€€t This: Social Media for Publishers Half-Day Seminar

Ever wondered what social media is all about? Ever wondered how relevant it really is for your business? Ever asked yourself how far all that tweeting and facebooking would actually get you in terms of sales — real sales? How can publishers best take advantage of the wealth of opportunity this new world holds? How can they identify these opportunities? And in an environment where information is everywhere and attention is short, how can they create the kind of content that will stand out and get shared?

typing

Self-published media expert Catherine Ryan Howard is here to tell you that social media for publishers really IS that important! Word of mouth is more important now than ever and using social media tools right can not only turn your recommendations into sales but also raise your profile in a very real way. Come join us on Friday, 26 April as Catherine takes the jargon and the mystery out of what has become the fastest and most efficient sales tool ever developed.

When? Friday, 26 April, 12-4pm.

Venue: Publishing Ireland offices, 25 Denzille Lane, Dublin.

Price: €100/€75 for Publishing Ireland members. Tea and coffee will be provided.

* * * * *

As this is a Publishing Ireland event, please note that although anyone can attend, only Publishing Ireland members can view the full website. So if you’re a non-Publishing Ireland member and you’d like to attend this event, please e-mail Stephanie at stephanie@publishingireland.com.

And if you ARE a Publishing Ireland member, you can read an interview with me here.

Follow Publishing Ireland on Twitter

The Author Platform: Are You Being Cautious, Or Just Lazy?

2 Apr

Welcome to the last post of Mousetrapped Madness Week!

Three years ago last Friday I self-published my first book, Mousetrapped, and set off on this misadventure. To mark the occasion I’ve made a hardcover edition of Mousetrapped, and if you leave a comment on this post by midnight tonight, Tuesday April 2nd, you might win a signed copy of it. (OR you can have a copy of Self-Printed 2.0, if you prefer.) If you really want to win you can increase your chances by leaving a comment on every Mousetrapped Madness post I’ve posted (that’s all the ones that have gone up since Friday and make some mention of the Mousetrapped giveaway), but only one comment per post will count.

Today is also the last day you can download Backpacked for Kindle for free.

While I’m on the subject, someone on the Mousetrapped Facebook page asked if there’s anywhere you can see pictures from my Central America trip. Well, my lovelies, there IS. Here, AKA The Backpacked Gallery. There’s a gallery for Mousetrapped too. Count the many hairstyles of Catherine’s Past…

Anyway, onto today’s post.

‘Tis the season of speaking engagements, when I get to crawl out of my writing cave and see what’s happening in the 3D real world of self-publishing. One thing, I’ve noticed, never changes.

DSC00195

One of my favorite spots in the world, the rocking chairs by Celebration Lake in the “town that Disney built”, Celebration, Florida. It’s okay to be lazy on these. It’s mandatory, actually.

There’s always an exchange that goes something like this: Continue reading

The Social Network: Guest Post by Author Gillian Duffy

19 Aug

A while back I heard about Dublin writer Gillian Duffy, who had just signed a three-book deal with Book Republic, an imprint of Irish publishing house Maverick Press. What was unusual about Gillian was that her first book, The L.A. Commandments, was going to be published in only a few weeks’ time. With such a short time between dreaming of becoming a published writer and becoming one, I wondered how difficult it would be for Gillian to handle the social media side of things which, as we all know (whether we like it or not), is vital to selling books these days. So I asked her to write a post about it. Welcome, Gillian!

“Hi there everyone. I’m Gillian, I live in Dublin and I’m currently studying English and History at St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. All seems pretty normal and unexciting, right? Right…until something extraordinarily exciting happened about nine weeks ago which has thrown a spanner of hope and happiness into the normality works – I signed a three-book deal with Book Republic, an imprint of Maverick House, and my debut novel, The L.A. Commandments, will be published on 18th August.

I signed the contract on 8th June and the weeks since have been a rollercoaster ride of bliss and delight, with just a side-order of disbelief – ‘is this really happening?’ I continually ask, pinching myself. ‘Yes,’ is the answer, ‘it is happening.’ And happening really fast, which, I must admit, is propelling the excitement levels to a 5.0 on the Richter scale. The fast-paced momentum of my publishing experience keeps me focused, triggers my energy and makes the creative process even fresher; the manuscript is edited, proofread, then it’s ready for publication, and that’s exactly what’s happening. No long wait from edit to release and that approach suits me fine. Book Republic felt that the novel’s principle themes – Redundancy, Emigration, Celebrity Culture, Infidelity and Addiction – are so integral to people’s daily lives that it would make sense to publish it when its meaning is so topical. Finding something I can connect to is extremely important when it comes to my own reading ‘must-haves’, so I hope readers will find something relatable in this book. The L.A. Commandments deals with some hard-pressing issues, but, predominantly, it’s a light-hearted story about two best friends, Joanne and Suzie, who strive to find their place in the world as they tackle unemployment, relocation, relationships, and all the ups and downs which they can bring. Their journey begins during the summer months of 2009 as they make their way across the Atlantic, en route to their new home, so it’s fitting to schedule the novel’s release during the same season – people embarking on their own holiday or travelling adventure can also accompany the girls on theirs.

When I began this novel adventure, the part of the process which I found most daunting was the social media/promotional side of things. I had a Facebook account with about 130 friends, who comprised family members, schoolmates, former colleagues, friends and acquaintances, which I rarely logged on to. As for Twitter, I followed about five people and had five less followers. Not to mention my biggest fear of all – video diaries. I’m a huge fan of vblogs when I’m watching someone else’s footage, not my own. But suddenly I found myself in a situation where I had to embrace these social networking systems. They were to become my best friends for the immediate future – in some ways, even more so than my flesh and blood substitutes – and slowly, but surely, they are.

Facebook wasn’t so frightening. The search for likeminded literary lovers all over the world was but a few clicks away and I’d also found my Facebook feet while using my personal account, as relatively unacquainted as we were. But Twitter was a whole different kettle of very slippery fish. For me, it was a site solely used to follow the tweets of your favourite celebs, people you admire and those who inspire you – I was a tweet reader; I’d never envisioned myself as a tweet writer!

When I first began tweeting I’d stare blankly at that white space – future home to my 140 characters if I could just think of something to type – and rack my brain about what to say. ‘Should I just talk about the book and my publishing experience?… No, I’m trying to create connections, not crush them with repetition.’  ‘Perhaps I should post links to my favourite songs?’ ‘Maybe I could quote some lines from my favourite books.’ ‘Or, what about trying to meet some tweeps with similar interests and goals? Yes, that makes sense. We can converse all things literary.’ I’ve since realised that attempting to stick to one approach is pointless and nonsensical because people aren’t like that and isn’t that what Twitter and Facebook are about, trying to connect with people?  My favourite tweeters are those who openly share what they believe in, what they find funny, what they like and dislike – basically, people who are themselves. That’s the approach I try to take. Instead of only tweeting all things publishing, I like to let others know about my musical interests, what books I read, what films I watch, what fashion I like, while, also, keeping them up-to-date with my own writing news. I try to be myself and I think that’s the best approach to adopt in everything you do. So, Twitter and I are no longer strangers, rather admiring acquaintances whose budding relationship grows stronger by the day! It’s a great place to meet fellow writers – and fellow music, fashion, and film fans. I’m not doing too badly on Facebook either. My ‘author’ page gives me the perfect opportunity to meet and engage with other students and book lovers, worldwide, and The L.A. Commandments’ page is brilliant for keeping those who are interested abreast of any developments – it’s win-win all round.

The reality is that without Twitter or Facebook I wouldn’t have been introduced to Book Republic and if I hadn’t been following their tweets I definitely wouldn’t have known about the writers’ evening which they held in The Irish Writers’ Centre, Dublin, on Thursday 19th May. That was when this adventure really began. I met with the editorial team that night, told them about my manuscripts, which I submitted to them the following week, and about two weeks later I signed a three-book deal. Social networking really was instrumental in transforming my writing wishes into reality.

I’m still getting to grips with my video diaries, but, hopefully, I’ll soon feel as comfortable with them as I do with my other social-networking sidekicks. I think I’ll always prefer to be behind the camera, but you never know. Soon I could be chronicling my life on film: Gillian going to the supermarket, Gillian going to have her braces removed, Gillian waiting on the bus… Imagine!  No, you can relax – that’ll never happen.

So, nine weeks ago I was a social networking student. Now, I’m still a social networking student but at least I have a few more friends. And I’d like to say a very BIG ‘Thank You’ to all my digital companions for their ‘follows’, ‘likes’ and well wishes – right back at you!

Talk soon,

Gillian.”

Thanks so much for stopping by, Gillian!

The L.A. Commandments is out now. You can find out more about it on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, The Book Depository and Book Republic’s website. You can also follow Gillian on Twitter here and find her on Facebook here.

Self-Printed Preview #5: What’s With the Be Professional Thing?

13 May

Welcome to the Self-Printed Preview Week! Today’s excerpt is from Part 3: Building an Online Platform and it’s called What’s With The “Be Professional” Thing? In Self-Printed I talk a LOT about acting like a professional writer even if you’re not one yet, especially on your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc. But why do we need to? Why can’t we just blog about Jersey Shore, tweet about how our boyfriend’s dumped us and incessantly poke our Facebook friends? It’s because if you want to sell books, acting professional is the only way to go… 

Why do you need to act like a professional? Why can’t you smear your emotional crap all over the place? Why can’t you do whatever it takes to get to a nice round number of Twitter followers? Why can’t you virtually poke me in the eye, especially when after reading this far, you really really want to?

You Have Something to Prove

Self-publishers, in the eyes of the discerning reader, start off fairly low on the Book Ladder. In fact for some, we’re not even on the ladder. The ladder is leaning against a house and we’re across the street and five doors down from it. Before the discerning reader will give our book a chance, we have to convince him or her that we have the potential to be just as good as anything the top-selling, most lauded, international-superstar-authors have to offer, and that just because we’re associated with a group known for bad quality doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve gone down that road as well.

How can we do that? By sending I’m-not-crap signals at every opportunity. On the book, this is the cover. On our Amazon listing, this is the product description. And online, this is how much our blog looks like the website of a professional author, maybe even one who has someone else to make and maintain their website for them, someone with a website manager. (The dream!) When you’re a self-published author, everything you do online is a reflection of the quality of your book. Everything. Because even when no one is watching, Google is.

The More… the Merrier?

When you first start blogging, you feel like it’s just you and the screen. Then a few people leave comments, and you feel like it’s just you and them. Even though you know, intellectually, that whatever you type on those posts is entering the public domain, it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Even when your site stats say a couple of thousand people are visiting your blog on a regular basis, it still feels like a little group of friends, gathered together over a coffee every morning, chatting about quilts or whatever. It’s nice. It’s intimate. It’s safe.

It’s only when something from the real world pierces the bubble of your blogosphere that you realise how many people can, potentially, read your every blogged thought, and who some of those people might be. Maybe you write a post about how your family don’t believe in you, and then Aunty Joanne brings it up at your cousin’s wedding. Maybe you tell people the resort you’re going to on holidays and, while you’re there, someone comes up to you by the pool and says, “Are you the Quilting Queen of the Universe? I read your blog!” Or maybe you bitch about how your boss is clearly a devoted disciple of Satan, and then the next day you get fired.

And not to get all serious and sinister, but a lot worse can happen that that.

Your social media presence requires your personality, but it shouldn’t include your personal life. The easiest way to ensure that we keep one but exclude the other is to behave ourselves, and act the same way a professional writer – who knows, right from the outset, that lots of people, including reporters, agents and editors, are reading his/her every word – would do.

Dress for the Job You Want

You’ve heard that, right? Dress for the job you want, not the job you have? The same applies to your online presence. If you want to be a professional writer some day, start acting like one now – at least on your blog.

And so concludes Self-Printed’s preview week! I hope you’ve enjoyed these little tasters of the book that, through typing it, nearly wore my fingerprints away. (Over 100,000 words, people. What was I thinking?!) If you haven’t, we can still be friends. 

Find out more on SelfPrintedBook.com

Making a Living as a Writer in the 21st Century

28 Feb

Last Thursday I spoke at an event in Belfast organized by LitNetNI, Making a Living as a Writer in the 21st Century, along with Eoin Purcell of Irish Publishing News and author Carlo Gébler. (If you are one of the lovely people I met that day, well hello there! Remember to drink coffee while simultaneously reading this blog for maximum effect.)

My presentation was called ‘A Year in the Life of Catherine, Caffeinated’ because I wanted to show how in the space of a year, I’ve gone from making nothing as a writer to making a (very modest!) living as one, and have done it using free resources available to everyone. You can download the full presentation here, but this is basically what I said.

In February 2010 my income from writing was nothing.

(Strictly speaking it was actually a little bit less than that because I have a stationery shopping problem and need no excuse for stockpiling Post-Its, clicky pens and all the other items I imagine I need for writing.)

What could I do to change this? Excluding any money-making schemes I didn’t have total control over (such as waiting by the phone for a publisher to call), I could:

  • Start a blog
  • Use the blog and social media to build an audience
  • If nothing else, an established “author platform” would at least improve my chances of getting traditionally published
  • Self-publish Mousetrapped, the non-fiction book I’d tried to get published.

So the first thing I did was start a blog. (Or rather, start a proper blog. I’d previously been blogging here, but not very well.)

I came here to Word Press, took a free blog, a free theme and paid $17 to upgrade to a customized URL (catherineryanhoward.com).

It’s very important to give your blog a name other than your own, unless your name is Stephen King or JK Rowling. A lot of people – myself included – find new blogs to read by perusing other people’s blog rolls, and we don’t have the time or inclination to click through each one to see what it’s about or if it’s something interesting. This is where naming your blog becomes important, because I am far more likely to click on, say, High Heels and Book Deals, than Jane Doe’s Blog.

As for content, I posted about:

  • Self-printing. I chronicled the entire story of my self-publishing adventures, warts and all, here on my blog
  • Novely. Posts about writing. Things like ‘How To Make a Novel Bible’, helpful How To  books and NaNoWriMo
  • Book Reviews. Um, the clue is in the title.
  • Miscellaneous. Personal blog posts, funny writing-related videos, coffee and news.

Then I needed to send people to that blog. A website is not a shop window that even if you do nothing someone will eventually stroll past. If you tell no one it’s there, you could potentially have a website that is never visited by anyone at all. You need to send people to it.

  • Twitter. Fun, supportive and useful. What more could you want? Put your blog URL in your Twitter bio, set up your blog so links to your new posts are tweeted automatically and make Twitter friends who are sometimes, against their better judgement, interested in reading something you have to say in a format longer than 140 characters. My Twitter page is here.

  • Facebook fan page. This is entirely different to a Facebook profile, where people ‘friend’ you. People will – hopefully! – ‘like’ your fan page. Setting one of these up is worthwhile because it captures the attention of people already using the platform and can target specific groups, e.g. Disney fans for Mousetrapped. Post links to relevant blog posts on your page’s wall. My Facebook fan page is here.
  • Contests and giveaways, like my coffee contest.
  • Other blogs. Blogging is a community. You’ll get out of it as much as you put in. Read other blogs, leave comments, get to know other bloggers and make blogging friends. Make things easier for yourself by using Google Reader which delivers all new posts from the blogs you’ve chosen to follow to one place each day. Add your favorite blogs to your blog roll (see bottom right sidebar for mine). Eventually when you get to know other bloggers you can do guest posts on their blogs and they can do guest posts on yours, thus building your blog readership.

So now I had a blog and people were reading it. Now I needed to let them know that I had a book for sale.

In a nice way. I cannot stress the ‘nice’ bit enough; the quickest way to fail at this is to be a shameless self-promoter. You know the way you feel when you accidentally answer the phone to a cold caller trying to sell you something you don’t need or want? Well, why would anyone read your blog or follow your Twitter account if that’s all they felt while they were there? Rule number 1 is always be nice.

On my blog:

  • Self-printing posts, as above.
  • Mousetrapped Mondays. Whereas the self-printing posts were not directly promoting my book, I did do things like post videos and pictures, and other more obvious advertising. So as not to leave a bitter taste in my blog readers’ collective nose, I confined these posts to Mondays which then became ‘Mousetrapped Mondays’. This went on for a few weeks, and then I released Mousetrapped on a Monday to complete the cycle.

On other blogs:

  • Guests posts. Some blogging friends invited me to write posts about self-publishing or other aspects of my experience.
  • Reviews and interviews. I made about 20 copies of my book available to book bloggers. Some of them not only posted reviews but also interviewed me or arranged a giveaway of a copy.

On Twitter:

  • I did the same on Twitter, confining promotional tweets to about 3-5 a week, and all on the same together. I used the hashtag ‘#mousetrappedmonday” to identify these.

On Facebook:

  • Cross-linked ‘Mousetrapped Monday’ blog posts
  • Gave family and friends an opportunity to help advertise (or have no excuse not to!) my book
  • I asked readers to send in pictures of themselves reading the book, and uploaded them in an album called ‘Look Who’s Reading Mousetrapped.’

I also made two video book trailers, which you can watch here, and signed up for an Amazon Author page (through Author Central) and a Goodreads profile.

When blogging, remember that most people who read your blog posts will NOT be reading them on your blog. They might browse them on a blog reading application like Google Reader (and so are only seeing plain text) or in ‘mobile view’ on their phone. Therefore it’s always vital to put something at the end of the post like, ‘if you want to read more about this topic…’ or ‘click here to read more about this book…’ so wherever the reader is, they still have an option to read more if they want. Also, you have no idea where your blog posts might end up, so always behave professionally.

Some other things I did:

There’s more detailed information about this area in the following blog posts:

So I had established all the main components of an online platform, but what if by some slim chance someone first heard about Mousetrapped from the book itself? It saves me a lot of trouble, yes, but don’t I still want to bring that person into my online existence? Yes, of course, because somewhere down the line there’ll be another book, and I’ll want to tell them about it. That means connecting the physical book to our online presence.

To do this I:

  • Did something very simple: printed the links to my blog, Twitter account and Facebook fan page in the back of the book. This works really well in e-books, as the links are live and can be clicked on instantly.
  • Created a dedicated book site, aimed at readers who had already finished the book and wanted to learn more
  • Gave readers an incentive to go online and look me up. I used Mail Chimp (another free service) to sign up readers to a mailing list who, from the end of the next month, will receive a new ‘More Mousetrapped’ story once a month for a year. These will be short episodes of things that didn’t make it into the book, or related things that have happened since.

This also feeds into my long-term plan. Yes, I’ve built a readership, but I’m connected to them through social media platforms which may or may not last. If Twitter disappeared tomorrow, how would I contact my 1,000+ followers? The short answer is I couldn’t. Therefore your goal should always be to collect e-mail addresses. I don’t mean this in an evil sense, where you collect emails and then sell them to a third party or spam them with offers with cheaper prescription drugs. I’m saying that if six months or a year down the line you have another book to sell, you want to let these people know you do. You can also offer added value to your readership by doing things like newsletters, new stories, etc.

NB: Never use email addresses without permission, and always give subscribers the option to unsubscribe. Nobody likes annoying and unwelcome emails, especially when they’re trying to sell you stuff you don’t want at the same time.

How much time does all this take? At the beginning, maybe 1-2 hours a day. At the moment, I stockpile 3-5 blog posts over a couple of hours at the weekend (while simultaneously watching TV) and spend maybe 30 minutes a day maintaining it, like replying to comments, messages, etc.

I started this blog on 1st February 2010 and Mousetrapped went on sale on 29th March 2010. What are the results?

Since 1st February 2010:

  • The blog has had 39,000+ visits
  • I have 1,100+ Twitter followers
  • I have 300+ Facebook followers
  • I’ve sold 3,100 books.

Remember my writing income in February 2010? It was absolutely nothing. Nada. Zero. But just a year later, in February 2011, it will be around €1,700. This comes from book sales (mainly), speaking engagements and feature writing.

A modest income, yes, but still an income. And not bad considering:

  • I don’t have a book contract, the support of a grant or bursary, or any other kind of regular income
  • The book I’m selling is self-published, only available online and mostly sells in an e-book edition priced $2.99
  • My book hasn’t been on sale for a year yet
  • I did it all by myself – and from my desk.

And money isn’t everything. In February 2010, I did nothing but write, blog, tweet, drink huge amounts of coffee and stared out the window. But this month, February 2011, has been very exciting. I have:

You can see all the exciting things I’ve got to do (and how they’ve been increasing in frequency) by looking at my News page.

Some final thoughts:

  • Blogging, tweeting, etc. isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy doing it it can be very easy to do it well.
  • It may not be for you but don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s below you. It’s not. You may think that being a writer should be all about scribbling stream-of-consciousness with a pencil in a dark corner of a bohemian Parisian cafe called Pretension and that engaging in social media is selling your literary soul, and you’re entitled to think that. But while you’ve got your head up your arse, I’ll be selling books.
  • Numbers snowball. In the beginning, there may only be a handful of people reading your blog. Keep at it. The results are cumulative: what was five people last week will become ten this week, and twenty the next. And anyway, it’s quality, not quantity.
  • The biggest benefits are the ones you don’t expect. Your email account came become a very exciting place!
  • It won’t affect your writing time if you don’t let it. We’re all grown-ups. We can step away from Twitter, can’t we?
  • I think it’s the best thing I ever did for my writing career and that there’s no reason why it can’t be yours!

So that’s all, folks. If you’re starting out on the whole blogging/Twitter/Facebook thing, good luck!

After a very interesting and fun day at the LitNetNI workshop, Eoin and I made our way over to BBC Radio Ulster where we appeared on Arts Extra, talking about the same topic. You can listen to the show here. We’re on about the 15:15 mark.

Click here to read more of my self-printing posts.

Click here to find out more about Mousetrapped.

%d bloggers like this: