Tag Archives: Social Media

Writer, join your tribe!

“If you want to write and publish, join the publishing industry and consume.”

MANY writers struggle alone with the task of marketing. Writing an entire book is enough of a challenge for even the most experienced wordsmiths, so when we’re expected to run the marathon of multiple drafts, then turn around and create a publicity campaign for our work, we tend to stick our heads in the sand and hope like hell that something about our work will render all marketing efforts unnecessary. Here’s a refresher on how you should already have started marketing if you’re writing a book, and the good news is it involves interacting with other people.

Marketing from day one

Write, Regardless! has one fundamental message on marketing: to sell your book, you need to be actively promoting while you’re writing and packaging it. This process takes a degree of multi-skilling which is akin to juggling, but adopting it removes the terrible feelings of exhaustion that result from completing a manuscript only to find you’ve run less than half the marathon. Marketing starts on day one of writing a book, and, for as long as you want others to buy and read your work, it never ends. Break through this mental obstacle and you’re halfway to an effective marketing campaign.

Accessing word of mouth

The simple act of one person reading your book and recommending it to their friends is the oldest form of marketing in the world, and it’s still (relatively) free. Entire advertising industries are built on convincing people they need to part with their money in order to generate word of mouth, but the good news for independent publishers is that the social media is built to facilitate infinite word-of-mouth experiences. If you’ve come this far in Write, Regardless! and somehow decided not to build your social media web of fabulousness, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Going tribal

It’s time to take your facebooking up several levels and find your social media tribe. Facebook offers facebookers a sophisticated search engine. Take some time to seek out others who think like you. This could be political groups, social networks, or book clubs… anyone gathering for a common cause which relates in some way to the subject and/or genre of your writing. Sometimes these are closed groups, and you simply apply to join. Sometimes, these groups allow participants to post without permission, following a set of group rules and guidelines. Other groups are managed by an ‘admin’ person or persons, who you can send messages to, requesting they ‘share’ one of your posts. Admins have replicated the role that editors fulfill for news sources, aggregating content for group followers, and they are often hungry for relevant contributions. This is where you come in, providing articles that relate to, mention, provide extracts of and links to, your books. Never do the hard sell in these forums. The soft sell is generally more persuasive. Don’t tell me you can’t do this because you’re not a journalist: you are, and here’s how.

Tasting the spam

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be used autonomously by writers marketing books – you simply post material about your titles whenever and however you like. A small warning: many social media participants are wary of spamming; and you don’t have to do much for people to think you’re a spambot. Endless sales tweets or filling your Facebook timeline with posts about your books is a big turn-off for many social media consumers. It’s the social media, remember? The emphasis is on being sociable. You can market like those who hand out business cards at birthday parties, sure, but you’ll start to notice your number of followers dropping. Selling all the time is very one-note. Mix it up with content that is not about your latest book.

penguin_book_cover
PERFECT PAPERBACKS Penguin’s paperback brand has been a publishing success since the 1930s.

Branding like an expert

Independent writers can tend to overlook tried and true marketing tools, such as brand management. It sounds a bit cold and corporate, but writers who publish our own work need to keep half an eye on how it sits in the marketplace. Ever since independent publishing began, centuries ago, writers have published work in serialised form. Think of the success of Mills and Boon and Penguin Books as a publishing brands: readers know exactly what they’re buying (and they buy it often) plus they know how much they’re paying; there is a consistent look, length and format, and there will be more of the product to purchase in the future. Think about what you want to achieve with your writing. Do you have a series in mind? Could you visually link different titles with a similar design palette? Can you position yourself as an expert in the field you’re writing about?

Reading the marketplace

It’s easy for writers to forget about reading and consuming in the same marketplace we plan to sell product within. If we avoid bookshops and book reviews, we can quickly lose touch with publishing basics, such as the current price of eBooks and paperbacks, or the evolution of publishing genres and writing styles. Keep your book-lover’s antennae attuned for shifts in the book trade, and check the date of online articles you stumble across – years have passed since it was claimed eBooks would knock printed titles into oblivion, a prediction that turned out to be incorrect. The publishing industry, like all industries, moves the goalposts annually. What worked three years ago may not work now. If you want to write and publish, join the publishing industry and consume.

Hiring help

“Decide what will make you feel successful, and share that with your readers.”

For some writers, running a marketing campaign is too much of an ask. They decide they have neither the time or the energy to promote their own work, and they seek to hire a publicist to generate sales. There is no standard fee for publicists, and the scope of their role varies, but expect to pay thousands of dollars. Some believe this scale of fees is justifiable since publicists are effectively selling access to a network of publicity that they’ve built over many years; but, as always, the onus is on you to be upfront about the cost, the terms and the outcomes. Do your homework and ask for references and testimonials before paying for a publicist’s services: you may well be hiring someone who is an independent author like you making a sideline income. Always create a contract with a publicist, laying out the parameters of the agreement, and hold them to account.

Deciding what ‘success’ means

It’s been my experience that independent publishing success means different things to different readers and writers. There are few benchmarks outside the usual ‘bestseller’ lists, so it’s helpful for independent publishers to set the bar for ourselves by deciding what we view as successful outcomes. For me, gaining independent reviews and mainstream media coverage for my titles means I have succeeded in doing all that I can to promote them in the marketplace. When I have placed my paperbacks with major city bookshops, I feel I have succeeded in putting them in the pathway of readers. Anything less, for me, does not feel like success. Work out what success will mean for you, and keep it realistic and measurable. This will help when you’re feeling challenged by what you have started, and I assure you there will be many such moments.

Recap

WRITE REGARDLESSIndependent publishers do not operate in isolation, we are part of an international network creating product for a hungry audience that is increasingly diversifying the ways it accesses books. Replicate what has already worked for that industry through branding and word of mouth. Join the club by ensuring you buy, read and review books. Participate in social media groups and networks, not just by promoting your work, but by promoting the work of others too. Decide what will make you feel successful, and share that with your readers – they love knowing when the risk they took on you pays off!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Writer, spread the word!

“The bare minimum requirement is this social media platform you’re building.”

BY now, I hope you’re a regular online publisher, consistently uploading articles in your field of expertise. You have configured your website to automatically send your articles to your web of fabulous social media assets. As a result, you should notice you’re attracting a bit of a following – other bloggers, facebookers, tweeters and social media users. If you’re somehow thinking that your titles will eventually reach readers without this process, good news, I am graduating you from Write, Regardless! right now, because this course is not for you. If, on the other hand, you’ve come to terms with the reality that it doesn’t matter if you want to be a traditionally or independently-published author (or life has chosen one of these pathways for you), the bare minimum requirement is this social media platform you’re building.

The endless journey

Here’s a harsh reality: the distribution of your work will be your task for as long as you are publishing. The job of informing potential readers never stops. Let me say that again: it never, ever stops. I recently read No Picnic, the autobiography of Australian film and television producer Patricia Lovell, the force behind the screen version of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Lovell’s book gives a fascinating insight into the journey of the independent creator, and one of her memorable revelations was how the role of marketing and publicising her films was lifelong. Decades after they had disappeared from mainstream movie houses, Lovell was still selling her creations to TV networks, foreign territories, and video and DVD distributors. Each phase of this required new artwork, marketing packages, and adopting new forms of communication. If you want to create, you must make marketing, publicising and distribution a part of your life. It will often take more time and energy than writing.

Doubling your distribution

You may have noticed that using the automated ‘publicize’ function (spelled that way on US-originated WordPress) on your website does not give you much choice in the wording of your posts on your social media assets. When sending them to Twitter, it gives you no chance to add elements like #hashtags to the tweet. This can limit the extent to which your distribution is operating, so here are some simple ways to boost the distribution of your online publishing.

Top Twitter tips

Twitter is one of the greatest shop windows the publishing world has ever seen. Embracing it takes some fortitude, because it’s a shallow experience most of the time, but it is also what you make of it, in a maximum of just 280 characters! The first step is to come to terms with what #hashtags do when used correctly. For many on social media, they’re a clever (albeit useless) way to underline your point, like saying #PeopleCantUseHashtags – see what I did there? Using such pointless hashtags will connect you with no-one, but adding #auspol to your tweet on your review of a politician’s latest book will put that article in the pathway of thousands of political enthusiasts. #Auspol is short for ‘Australian Politics’, so you can probably guess what #qldpol and #vicpol stand for, right? Hashtags I often use include #LGBT, #MarriageEquality and #Writing.

The difference a hashtag makes

Here’s an automatically-generated (‘publicize’ function) tweet. It looks pretty, but there’s no hashtags.

Here’s a manually-created tweet on the same article. Note the hashtags, and the ‘retweet’ and the ‘like’ the tweet attracted, which is a small, but effective, boost for the article on Twitter.

To make a tweet promoting your article, simply copy and paste the URL of that article (the web address – everything that appears in the box at the top of your internet browser) into the tweet. Twitter will automatically reduce it in size to no more than 20 characters, leaving you another 260 to use in the tweet. Watch how other tweeters make tweets work – short and sweet, pithy and pushy, or just plain funny. It’s up to you, have fun!

If your tweet gets ‘retweeted’ it means another tweeter is sharing it with their followers. Give another tweeter a thrill and retweet their tweet to your followers. Retweets are distribution gold.

Facets of Facebook

Walking the Facebook tightrope as a writer with articles to promote and titles to sell can be wearying. Facebook is free, but over time Facebook Page account holders have been encouraged to buy (or ‘boost’) posts, and as that facility took off, Facebook began to curate who sees posts on Facebook Pages (business account) and Timelines (personal account). To counter this limitation, I often manually post an article to my personal Timeline at a different day/time in the hope that it gets a greater reach. Facebook keeps its functionality very secret, so no-one knows how the algorithms really work.

“The most effective way to use these systems is to participate and reciprocate.”

Targeting social media users

One great workaround for the Facebook algorithms is being able to target, or ‘tag’ people into your Facebook post. I use this function to alert some of my followers to an article they may be interested in, or linking to a business, such as a bookshop that is stocking my books. You simply type the @ symbol before the Facebook Page name, or a Timeline name (to tag me you’d type @MichaelBurge:AuthorArtistPublisher) and it creates a hyperlink to that Facebook post, drawing attention to your article and a providing a link to that business, a win-win for you and them.

Public vs Private

All posts from a Facebook Page are automatically public – everyone can read them. Posts from a personal Facebook Timeline can be set to public or private, as you’re posting, or afterwards. If you want a post on your personal timeline to be distributed by your followers to all their followers, you need to set it to public. Keep on top of Facebook’s regular changes to the ways its system works in this regard.

facebook-privacy-memeSocial media etiquette

There is none, you must set your own standards. Some people will not follow those who don’t follow them back (#TeamFollowBack). Others hate tweets and posts that seek to promote something, and blatant self-promoters get regularly unfollowed. There are all kinds of traps – getting blocked, trolled, overlooked – it’s a minefield, and now and again you’ll see some poor soul trying to ‘keep it positive’ on Facebook because they’re ‘sick of all the negativity’… LOL. Newsflash: Nobody owns Facebook! All you can do is stick to your pathway and not compare yourself to others – be aware that many social media accounts have purchased those 250,000 followers just so they look popular and relevant.

Reciprocity is free

Across my first years on the social media, I found the most effective way to use these systems is to participate and reciprocate. If we expect others to read our articles, we are rightly expected to read theirs. A little give and take goes a very long way. Now and again you’ll feel the heat of a rampant social media abuser. Ignore them or block them, delete the mess they’ve left on your timeline, and move on. Social media fights are ugly.

Real life is still better

Nothing sells your message more than meeting you in person, allowing others to gauge your demeanour, enjoy your personality and your level of humanity. In addition to social media distribution, I encourage writers to put themselves out there on occasion (I force myself to). Go to events – you can post Facebook content from such gatherings, or ‘live tweet’ from them to your social media audience (as a journalist would do), and spend time meeting people who may be interested in your work.

WRITE REGARDLESSRecap

As you create your books for publication, it is important – many, including me, say imperative – that writers build a distribution network. One of the most effective ways of starting is on the social media, but it’s just the beginning of a process that will continue for as long as you seek readers for your books.

An extract from Write, regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Stand up, citizen journalists

TRY
CALLING CARD Citizen journalism does not open every door.

IN May, 2014, a very simple tweet went out on the afternoon before Fairfax journalists agreed to strike in protest at the company’s plan to cut 80 jobs, mainly in production (layout and sub-editing) and photography.

Since the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) hearings would continue through the strike, a citizen journalist (CJ) asked whether any CJs were available to cover the following day’s ICAC events in lieu of Fairfax. After all, the hearings were only getting more interesting with every new day.

I was mentioned in the tweet, so got swept-up in the replies, but my tweeted suggestions that CJs and the MSM work together during the strike fell on many deaf ears.

“Stand down CJs,” one tweeter advised.

“Don’t cross the picket line,” another warned.

Which posed the question – are citizen journalists comrades of mainstream media journalists, or are we not?

When the Fairfax redundancy announcement was made, it didn’t register at my workplace – a Fairfax title in Queensland – where I was a part-time sub-editor, because we had our heads down meeting our deadline.

I say “we” about citizen journalists because my paid employment as a part-time sub was nothing like my unpaid output as a citizen journalist, which took up a huge chunk of my week as a sub-editor and writer for No Fibs, my own blogs and other sites.

No Fibs’ editor-in-chief, Margo Kingston, a former Fairfax employee, also identifies as a citizen journalist, most recently in her self-funded reports from the Leard and Bentley blockades, mainly via Twitter.

No Fibs ‘pages’ are filled with articles by academics, public servants, corporate employees, authors, carers, business people, welfare recipients, estate agents and many others who identify as CJs, and a few trained journalists.

We journos amongst them are a mish-mash of survivors from the wash-up of the mainstream media, the shipwreck of which occurred long before this week’s latest round of redundancies within Fairfax.

Which tempered my response to the strike. I empathised, but the axe has been hanging over my journalist’s head for years. It’s become almost impossible to secure gainful full-time work with my subbing skills, and I work alongside plenty of highly-skilled, under-employed journalists.

That day’s strike in the south barely registered up here.

FAIRFAX STRIKE Photographer Kirk Gilmour and union representative Andy Zakeli lead editorial staff striking outside offices of the Illawarra Mercury in Wollongong, May 8, 2014.
FAIRFAX STRIKE Photographer Kirk Gilmour and union representative Andy Zakeli led editorial staff striking outside offices of the Illawarra Mercury in Wollongong, May 8, 2014.

Because many of those who were shocked by Fairfax’s job cuts placed the strike at the very centre of journalism as we know it, and, far more surreal, they were expecting readers to notice Fairfax journos wouldn’t be reporting that day.

I weighed into the Twitter debate about whether a CJ could be described as a rat for reporting from ICAC that day, citing lack of pay and lack of affiliation as reasons why it would not be the end of the world if one had.

In the process I was turned into some apologist for the ‘dark forces’ ending our careers, but it has not washed, that argument, ever since I came to terms with why I believe the media has been killed by every single user of the social media’s Publish Button. Journalism will survive, but the media as we knew it is already dead.

It’s very confronting, this moment of realisation, for all journalists – seasoned, emergent, and student. I feel most for the students about to begin a lifetime of HECS debt in return for a degree which will not sustain them with a career. They have been lied to by institutions out of touch with the reality of a dying industry. Savvy 18-year-old tweeters already have more of an audience than most media graduates.

Citizen journalists are perhaps more in touch with the point of journalism – as one tweeter pointed out, journalism is ultimately about communicating to an audience, without whom the job is a one-way street leading nowhere.

We know the role requires much more of individuals than mainstream journalism ever did – taking photographs in addition to writing; creating headlines in addition to stories; proofing our own work and not just writing it; and uploading it onto the largest distribution network the world has ever seen: the social media.

Many citizen journalists struggle with this workload, and there is very, very rarely a pay cheque at the end of weeks of research and/or travel.

Some mainstream journalists have taken to the social media via blogs to complain, and the plethora of spelling errors, layout mistakes and grammatical knots reveal an embedded reliance on production colleagues that may not find sympathy in the wider workplace. Journalists need to be match-fit and multi-skilled, not merely insightful writers.

There is also the issue of access: try blagging your way into a press conference without a mainstream media logo on your lapel, yet citizen journalists manage to get in and report.

For one of us to turn up at ICAC that day and live tweet would not be an onerous task. Twitter has provided easy access to our audience, and journalists of all stripes, including Fairfax staff, have rushed to capitalise on Twitter in a way which outstrips mainstream media circulation by an unlimited degree.

That mainstream journalists want the right to access that free distribution network through live tweeting, and get paid, opens them to accusations of having a foot in both the problem and the solution for journalists worldwide.

WRITE REGARDLESSI defend my colleagues’ right to strike and I understand why they did so, but I will also defend any unpaid, unaffiliated citizen journalist who live tweets during a mainstream media strike, as long as they report the truth and they hashtag properly. Crorcet silplneg is oatpnoil.

And in the end, the only journo who crossed the picket line that day was a Fairfax employee.

An extract from Write, regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.