Thursday, September 30, 2010

Do writers exploit a marketing double standard?

Last year, when my wife and I were both scrolling through Facebook status updates on our phones, she wondered why my feed had more. I did a quick study and determined that the answer does not have to do with likability (or else she’d bury me) but rather occupation.

Most of my updates came from people who work in the creative arts: writers, artists, filmmakers, web people (who are usually some combination of the previous), and so on. Few of my lawyer or doctor friends were regular posters. (Then I stated this observation as one of my status updates and several of my lawyer and doctor friends protested, saying “I do so post!” As I told them, I wasn’t being critical!)

Narrowing focus to writers now, many of us are self-employed and don’t have the marketing engine of big companies to help promote our work. Yes, we do have publishers, but they can devote only so many resources and for only so long. More and more of the word-of-mouthing falls to us. Yet thanks to technology, that is not as daunting as it once was.

It’s no news flash that creative types are prominently vocal in social networking. There’s the fun part and there’s the funds part—we need them, like everyone else. It sounds crass, but in the end, we’re all salespeople on some level. I write to tell stories but also to make a living.

When I have a new book out, I usually email an announcement to my network. I approach it in the same way I approach everything else I write—I try to be entertaining. I also keep it as succinct as possible.

Yet no matter how funny or short such a message is, it is still an unsolicited sales pitch. Luckily, my circle has been consistently supportive and understanding—or at least that’s how it appears.

Do you think it’s okay for writers to send email blasts about new books
to personal networks? Is it (as writers like to believe) less unctuous than most other sales pitches because it’s (a) art and (b) sent by a starving artist?

And does frequency factor in—i.e., most authors won’t be announcing more than one book a year? Put another way, does the double standard exist that is it okay to promote creative works but less okay to announce more "everyday" services (insurance, clothing, cars, etc.)?


PoetessWug said...

Hmmmmm...Good question!! Obviously, I don't know. If I did I probably wouldn't have stopped at your tweet when I saw it on Twitter!! LOL But I'm glad I did!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

The vast majority of folks who're subscribed to me on social networks are doing so because I'm an author that they're interested in.

I very seldom send requests, just accept them or not.

And my few strictly personal contacts are always the most enthusiastic when I publish a book.

That said, I have a dedicated business page on facebook and do my best to keep my personal page more personal. But I still have readers posting to the latter and asking questions about upcoming releases.

Especially when you have teens writing you all the time, it's good to give them a safe, moderated place on a network to go to for information.

As for my own author pals, I really want to hear their good news and cheer them on. Hooray!

I think what gets sticky is when (with affection/understanding) mostly self-published/obscure-press/unseasoned writers are basically friending people just for the purpose of pitching to them or post only about their own work. It begins to feel like a deluge.

I also suspect it's completely ineffective.

Michael Rex said...

I was just talking about this with my wife. I think it's fine to announce books, events and signings to your friends.

However, I think you should make sure that some posts are about you, and not your work. Post about the kids, vacations, whatever. I think it makes the work stuff go down a little easier. It makes publishing a part of your life, not your whole life.

I do have a Mike Rex page, but it has very few people on it compared the my 'real" page, and I don't expect close family and friends to join both pages.

erica said...

Great question. I answer it in my NEW BOOK... just kidding! My admittedly biased feeling is that we all get a pass, provided we don't abuse it. I try to limit my news blasts to "opt in" social media like Facebook & twitter plus the extremely occasional email, since my in-box is as clogged as the next person. I also try to promote my friends and fellow authors and be a good citizen, tooting the horns of others. As you mention in your piece, and as most authors (and musicians, and artists, and filmmakers...) know, even if you have your publisher's support, most books' marketing budgets are nonexistent to slim so your book will sink or swim in large part based on your efforts. Which is why we have to do this, even if it drives some of our friends - and even some of us - crazy.

Anonymous said...

I have over 4000 people on my email data base. Then locals on groups that equal about 15,000 contacts. People on my personal lists gave me *permission* to email blast them. All email addresses are kept private and they can be removed if they like...and they do. I meet people at signings, events, school visits, etc. I am now going to stop emailing fellow authors and illustrators for two reasons. 1) there is no support, not even a congrats as a reply to my news. 2) We are becoming an echo chamber of back slaps and kudos and yet no sales.
I cannot afford anyone's book if I am struggling to get work myself. I am looking for a customer base data list which is what I am building. I have people on Facebook that see my postings on a daily basis. Never even get a thumbs up that takes a milli-second to do. My bank of good wishes needs deposits to get any withdrawals from me these days. I do not have unconditional love. It makes me feel burnt out and used imho. So I am strictly going for customer based email blasts.
Melanie Hope Greenberg

Anonymous said...

ps I disagree with the personal stuff from the authors. I do not care what anyone eats, their dogs, cats, etc. Stay on message, I have no idea what your identity is and how one gives "Face" on Facebook. Are you an art historian? a reviewer? The messages are so convoluted I just pass those by. I did not set up a Page on FB because Pages talks AT me rather that WITH me and offers no support of my work. And I only post professionally so why dilute the message with so many pages to go to. We are "Colleagues" not real friends, so I treat FB as such.

your neighborhood librarian said...

Until publishers have the resources to adequately promote ALL books... as long as you aren't one of the 10 people whose books they DO promote, blast away. Email, Facebook, hot air balloon, whatever.

And then there's the big box problem: Target, Walmart, etc, place huge orders for a very small number of titles. The only way to ensure that publishers maintain a deep catalog is to get books that aren't on those very short lists SOLD, even if it has to be done one book at a time.

Also, it's fun seeing what my favorite authors are up to lately!


Jody Feldman said...

For me, frequency absolutely figures in. I get a little annoyed when I hear from the same people about the same things month after month. But when it comes to big, occasional things like a book launch or a substantial award, I love to hear the news.

My take on including personal/family updates ... that news is appropriate for friends and relatives, but not necessary and often unwanted among industry acquaintances.

Anonymous said...

You, most definitely, have a free pass from me, Marc! As does any author who doesn't abuse blasting. Abuse would, say, be an email everyday, pushing a book... or multiple sendings of information about the same book.
If you're looking for a more general answer... I think one of the places where authors need to be careful is on listservs. It's very tricky when a librarian on a listserv like YALSA-BK posts a query looking for some category of books, and the same author is constantly recommending one of his/her books regardless of the subject. Or constantly pushing a book when the purpose of the listserv is to talk about the books, not to advertise them. Just that you sent out the question shows that you are aware of that!
I DID see the update on Facebook, but probably wouldn't have said anything. That you asked me in an email (an I'm posting my answer here)- that's what made me respond. Not that that matters!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks, all, for chiming in. In case I wasn't clear, I am speaking solely about e-blasting our friends, not fans. And solely professional announcements.

Cynthia - Someone once friended me on FB and when I asked if we knew each other, he said he was just trying to rack up a lot of "friends" to announce his (self-published) book to. In other words, no, we didn't know each other.

Mike, I agree that (for those of us who don't have a separate fan page) it's good to balance plugs with non-work posts.

Erica - ha! And then well said.

Melanie - I feel you make good points. We must reach our target audience - but sometimes that may include fellow writers and personal contacts. I buy friends' books whenever possible and at times promote other people's books (whether or not I know them) on my blog and Facebook page.

Jacket Whys - Thank you! I found it interesting that what you made you respond was an email, not a shorter post. The way we're heading with texts and online activity, receiving an email may soon again be a novelty, like it was in 1995!

Greg Pincus said...

I'm pressed for time here, so forgive the brief reply. I think the framing of the question is why we have a problem.

Marketing/promotion doesn't have to be "BUY MY STUFF!!!!!!!!" particularly not when it comes to friends. Letting people know about good news, however... well, don't we love to hear that? In other words, I think a lot of this is about approach.

If you met a friend on the street and the first thing they said was "you haven't seen me in a while, go buy my book!!!" you'd react oddly. If they said "Oh, great to see you. I'm so excited today cuz my new book is out!!! Isn't that so cool?!?!?" you'd probably be happy for them, wouldn't you? An email blast can work the same way.

I mean, really, do you have to tell your friends to go buy the book? It's not gonna be right for most of them, anyway. But if you tell people how excited you are, how much you hope it sells, how you'd love them to tell everyone cuz it's the coolest thing you've ever done, etc... well, it comes across differently.

Best of all, by the way, is to find a way to personalize EACH email you send, rather than bulk emailing. It does take longer, of course, but more people will read the note that way. Also, when you bulk email, you would be surprised who is in your "personal" address book - your chiropractor might not care and surely won't. :-)

The more effort you make, the more likely it is to be rewarded. The more inviting the tone of your email, the more likely to not annoy. Or so say I, typing as fast as I can!

Greg Pincus said...

And in reply to Jody's thought and related ones...

It takes two for friendship. You don't like what someone posts, disconnect from them. For me, my social media accounts are about ME, so it'll be personal and professional all mixed together. I expect that in others, too. That's where my line is. Others have different ones. Great! Then act on them rather than telling people they should or shouldn't do something different. It's choice. (And the lines are blurry and we all like different things... and we're all right!)

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Greg - Thanks for commenting. I agree that you don't need to hard sell friends (which is why I prioritize humor in those emails) and that not all friends will, frankly, care. But no matter what approach you take, friends will read into it. (Again, why I try for humor. The commercials we remember the most are the funny ones.)

And while I think I did customize emails the first time I announced a book, that is too unwieldy now. On the flip side, I don't do an email blast, either. I send one message but hand-pick the recipients. (Only slightly less unwieldy!)

Karen Romano Young said...

My syndrome is that there is not even a fine line -- there is NO line -- between my so-called personal and professional lives. And yes, I considered using "syndrome" here and chose it over problem or issue because for me it's neither. I'm a writer and doodler, and nobody has to friend me or accept my invitation. For all I know some have ignored me, and that's fine with me. As such I feel free to share my sorrows and triumphs, whether they be about cooking, kids, yoga poses, some obscure blog giving my book the nod, a starred review, or whatever's coming next, say the Printz. And I love to hear what everybody else is doing. Not once have I wished some birdbrain would go away with his endless self-promotion. That's not how I see it.

Au contraire -- facebook helps me keep up with what many more of my friends and acquaintances (and even a few total strangers with lots of mutual buddies) are up to -- SO MUCH BETTER than bumping into people at ALA or KW or wherever and trying like hell to remember what they do. Now I can crow and praise and cry with them, and in this lonely field that is worth a lot. So is the opportunity to help create buzz around a book -- mine or somebody else's. I'm all for it.


Cheryl Bardoe said...

Good discussion. I think people do like to know what their author friends are working on, even if the book isn't for them. Often when I encounter someone that I haven't seen for a while in person, one of their first questions is "What are you working on? Do you have a new book out?" And I ask what is exciting in their lives since we last spoke. Even if the book isn't for them, you never know if it becomes something they mention to someone else for whom the book is a perfect fit. Most authors don't have books coming out so often that an email announcement targeted to friends and their professional network is onerous.