Know Your Tools

Imagine you’ve hired a carpenter who holds up a screwdriver and says it’s a wrench. How much confidence would you have in his abilities?

Recently, a self-published friend posted an ad he had made for his book which misspelled “you’re” as “your.” I pointed this out and to his credit, he fixed it and thanked me, but really — how much confidence would you have in this writer’s abilities after seeing that?

Words are your tools.  As a writer, you need to know how to use them. tools

I’ve also seen writers post things on Facebook that were terribly written, contained spelling mistakes, and did not impress me with eloquence or insight. Come on folks, why should I check out your book if your posts don’t impress me?

If you’re going to use social media to promote yourself, the best way to do it is not to constantly say “Buy my book!” in various ways, but to make people think, “This person writes well. They say interesting things and have interesting views. I’ll bet their books are good, too.”

Be insightful with your posts. Write things no one else is writing. Be humorous if that’s your thing. Make people want to read what you have to say. And, most importantly, say it well, showing your skill with words, phrases, grammar and spelling.

You know — your tools.

Politics (or “How to anger your readers”)

Should writers avoid discussing politics and religion and other controversial topics in order to not alienate potential readers?

At the recent Mysticon convention, I was on a panel about using social media to promote yourself (something I have written about here before). The rest of the panel agreed that avoiding such things was important.politics

I disagreed.

If you follow my political blog or are a friend on Facebook, you know that I don’t shy away from giving my opinion. It’s who I am. I think it’s more important to be true to yourself and let people see you as a real person as opposed to a bland guy with no views on anything important. Yes, my political views may challenge you. So may my books.

Have I lost friends on Facebook because of it? Yes, I have. But from what I can tell, I have added many more than I have lost. People read my comments, share them, discuss them, and that attracts other people who then check me out.

The point of social media as a promotional tool is not to use it as a constant advertisement for your books. It should instead be used to make potential readers like you and thus want to read your work.

So here’s how you do it (not that I am always successful at it):

Be entertaining. That’s always your goal when posting. Share a joke or a cartoon or a thought that is entertaining; that other people want to read. If you’re going to talk about politics or religion, offer an insight or a witty comment and not just say “Obama sucks!” or something on the level that any idiot could say. You’re the thinking writer. Show off your damn writing skills. Be eloquent and say something that no one else has said.

Don’t be insulting. I mean, sure, calling a politician an idiot is an insult, but you shouldn’t be insulting merely for the sake of being insulting. “Ben Carson is an idiot” is something a 10-year old could have posted. “Ben Carson is an idiot because he has said the following stupid things” offers something of substance to back up your insult. (And is it really an insult if it’s true?)

Don’t be stupid. Don’t fall for every internet meme you see. Do your research. Chances are Sarah Palin didn’t say that we shouldn’t have ended slavery and Obama didn’t say we should hand Iran a nuclear weapon for free. Make sure everything you post is true and verifiable through reliable sources. Your reputation is important, isn’t it?

Set the rules and don’t let people push you around. My Facebook page is open for anyone. You can read everything and post a reply at any time. However, it’s my page. If we’re having a discussion on gay marriage and some troll comes in and wants to change the subject and complain about how a Kenyan Muslim in the White House is destroying America, I will tell him to stop and if he doesn’t, I will delete the messages.

It’s my house. You are invited in as long as you remain polite and not try to change the subject of the discussion to whatever you feel like ranting about.

I’ve had that argument more than once with people who wander in after reading something and then try to take over, and when I tell them to stop, they complain that I am “censoring” them. No, I am editing them. It’s my page. You don’t have a right to post on it.

I’m never going to stop talking about controversial subjects. It’s who I am. It will anger some people. The people it will anger will probably also be angered by my latest novel BLOODSUCKERS. So screw them. Read something else.

Social Media Promotion (Without being Obnoxious)

If you’re an author, you have to use social media to promote your books. Publishers expect it and your readers expect it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But it can be done horribly. There are some authors I am friends with on Facebook whose every post boils down to “buy my books.”

So, after listening to much advice from other authors on this subject, here’s what I try to do (and not always successfully):

Be an interesting person with interesting posts. When using Facebook and Twitter, have something to say, even if it’s just sharing a funny cartoon or a joke you heard. writingMake people want to read what you post. Don’t be negative and angry all the time.

Try to get people to respond. I try to post things with questions, so that people talk to you. And then you can talk back. Sometimes I admittedly ask questions that have answers somewhere on the web. “Anyone know how to keep my phone from cutting off the end of the music?” I don’t make these questions up — I really do want to know the answers. But I’d rather have a conversation about it and get opinions from people than just google it and see what people I don’t know think.

You know this is true: the more you talk online with someone, the more you feel that you know them, even if you’ve never met. And the more they know you, the more they remember you and the more they may say, “Hey, that book by my friend may be interesting.”

Don’t be bland or fake. I don’t shy away from controversy. With my political blog and posts on Facebook, I clearly take positions on controversial issues, and sometimes may be scaring away potential readers. But I’m honest about who I am. I am not creating a false persona. My books may challenge you, too.

Now, admittedly, I would be doing the things listed above even if I wasn’t promoting books. But apparently some authors are shy and don’t like doing this sort of thing — but you have to. Here’s the key — you have to not think about this as self-promotion. Just be an interesting person online.

But even then, you still have to literally promote yourself:

Mention the books when you need to! If you have something new to report, report it! Some of your friends on Facebook are indeed your readers, and they’d sincerely like to know when you have a new book or short story available, or if you’ve just been interviewed. There’s nothing wrong with mentioning these things, so long as you don’t overdo it.

Don’t guilt trip. I hate reading posts from friends who try to shame people into buying their books. It’s even worse than those memes that basically say, “Is anyone reading this? Do I have any friends? Please respond with just a ‘hello’ — that’s all I ask for my miserable existence.” No one is going to buy a book because you make them feel guilty for not buying it. And if they do, they probably won’t then read it.

Promote all books.  Talk up your friends’ books!  Interview them on a blog and tell everyone. Talk about books you’ve just read.  Mention seminars and conventions you’ve been to. Get people interested in reading and books in general.  That’s what this is all about, after all.

And remember: Writers are not in competition. Someone else’s success doesn’t mean your failure.

So be a “friend.” Make people want to read books by their friends.

And after all that, one more piece of advice:

Don’t take it personally if people don’t buy your book. All of this advice won’t make a bit of difference if your Facebook friends aren’t interested in your book. You could be the greatest writer ever, a wonderful friend on Facebook, and a very entertaining person but if you’re writing romance novels about women running away from castles, I’m probably not going to read your book because that doesn’t interest me. I know I have friends who aren’t the slightest bit interested in the kind of books I write. So don’t take it personally!

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