Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Social Networking Showdown

by Michelle Gagnon

At Left Coast Crime a few weeks ago, I was part of a great panel on utilizing the Internet to market your book. This is a bit of a double-edged sword: now that much of the marketing burden falls on authors' shoulders, being able to reach people without an insanely expensive direct mailing is invaluable. However, online networking can also become a tremendous time suck, drawing valuable hours away from what writers should primarily focus on: their manuscripts. Today I'll discuss which sites I've found most valuable in a head-to-head match up, as well as sharing how I stay on top of them without losing my mind.

facebookFacebook vs. MySpace

I confess to being one of the "old people who joined up and ruined Facebook." I now have more than a thousand friends, and probably post something to the page once or twice a week. I'm also on MySpace, but have found Facebook to be far more user-friendly to someone as technologically challenged as myself. (However, if I was working on a YA novel, MySpace would probably be where I devoted more of my focus). A couple of things to bear in mind when using these or other social networking sites:

  • Public vs. Private: I keep my pages public, and will friend anyone who asks. So anything that's truly personal, such as family photos, etc, doesn't get posted there. And if anyone tags me or mine in such a photo, I immediately remove the tag. myspace
  • In order to maintain my sanity, I go onto each site once a week (Facebook on Mondays, MySpace on Tuesdays). That's when I accept friends, answer emails, and respond to comments. If I stumble across an interesting article online, I have the "share on facebook" tab incorporated into my browser, which makes it oh-so-easy to post it to my page (another clear benefit of Facebook over MySpace).
  • The cocktail party rule: I rarely post anything political on any of my pages. Again, this is a matter of personal preference, but I would rather discuss my books or interesting developments in publishing than who I voted for.

Shelfari vs. GoodReads

shelfari The trick to these is joining groups that read books similar to yours. I've generally found Shelfari to be more useful, although I do get updates from GoodReads discussions as well. The Shelfari groups just seem to more active, especially the "Suspense/Thrillers" one, which graciously invited me to lead a discussion of Boneyard last August. Every so often I'll remember to log in and update my home page with the books I've read recently.

  • One caveat: if I don't like a book, I don't review it, period. Other authors have no problem posting negative reviews, so it's largely a matter of personal goodreads preference. But I know authors whose feelings were hurt when one of their peers negatively reviewed their book on these sites, and figure it's better to follow the, "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" rule. The crime fiction writing community is a small one, filled with people who possess an encyclopedic knowledge base of how to kill someone and get away with it. Bear that in mind when you're considering giving a book one star out of five.
  • I join in whenever people are discussing a book I really enjoyed, or an author whose work I admired. After all, I'm a reader as well as a writer.
  • Be careful in how you participate. When someone I've never heard of joins one of the discussions and proceeds to blatantly flog their own work, it's a huge turn off. Probably better not to participate than to do that. This isn't to say that you should never mention your book- but other members will be more receptive if you're someone they're already familiar with.

Twitter

twitter I'm not a big tweeter. I post links to my Kill Zone posts (and guest posts,) and occasionally link to articles or posts that I found interesting, but I simply don't have time to announce what I had for lunch every day.

siamese Crimespace et al

I know other crime fiction authors love Crimespace, but I haven't used it much. Most of the Ning circles (and I'm part of five) don't seem very active to me. This could be my own failing- I find them challenging to navigate, and frankly my other pages are so easier I forget about these. Same goes for Gather, Bebo, Linked In, etc. You might have better luck. If you write books with a Siamese Cat sleuth, and there's a Siamese cat appreciation group on one of the social networks, by all means take advantage.

Newsletters:

I have a pet peeve. Say we met at a conference and chatted about marketing. I offered to continue the discussion by email. Then, I find myself getting a deluge of newsletters from you, none of which I signed up for. Or worse yet, you mined my email address from a mass email sent by a mutual friend (note: always bcc people on those emails). This has happened to me more times than I can count. DO NOT add people to your newsletter unless they have specifically asked to be included. Have a sign up sheet on your website, and make it easy for people to unsubscribe.

And that's my two cents. So what have the rest of you found to be useful? Any tips to share?

33 comments:

  1. Good article Michelle. I find myself easily distracted by social media, blogs and blog comments more than anything...like this one for instance. I have to be really disciplined to not quit working on my mss and scanning google reader for the latest blog I absolutely must reply to.

    At any rate, I too have found Facebook to be a good useful tool. Twitter...just for quick one liners once or twice a day...or every few days. When Gather first started several years ago I spent a lot of time there, before I had any ideas of actually trying this writing thing out for a living. That was when there were only a few hundred users. Now I find sites like it are too much of a deluge of words to get anywhere on. Like a penguin trying to be noticed amongst a flock of a million penguins.

    Basically there are a small handful of blogs (Killzone, Bookninja, scalzi, writers beware, and miscellaneous others) and my own stuff to keep me more occupied than I need to be. And I don't even have a huge following,perhaps not even a small following ... miniscule maybe. But it keeps me busy enough.

    Oh, and yeah, I was one of those guilty of sending unsolicited newsletters back in the day. Bad idea, I eventually learned, when a lawyer on my list wrote me and laid out the law in very precise terms. Boy...she had no sense of humour.

    Put a newsletter subscription button on your website and only send to subscribers, best practice.

    Anyway, I have now wasted too many minutes of editing time and it is getting late, therefore back to proofreading I go.

    Btw...got a really great mental boost this afternoon while checking the stats of my website. Someone from one of the major publishing houses surfed my site from within their network domain. Whether that means anything at all or not, seeing a domain name like that crossing my stream of digital consciousness can wake up a new desire to get the next book ready for submission and maybe get back to editing the others that I shelved.

    So off my duff I go...yeeehaaaa....

    if you ever receive unsolicited materials from me, slap me...nicely though...I bruise easily.

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  2. Oh wow...that post was longer than I thought...

    I have to get treatment for that logorhea

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  3. Great post, Michelle. I also have a thousand+ “friends” on Facebook, most of which came looking for me. Many have said they either read my books or intend to buy them. So for a few minutes invested a day, I believe I’ve made some connections. MySpace reminds me of walking down the midway at a carnival—noisy and obnoxious. I was on Goodreads for a while but finally dropped off. The endless updates on what everyone was reading just clogged up my inbox. I Twitter but only once or twice a day. The biggest problem I see there is that it’s a ton of writers talking to other writers. And other writers aren't who we need to be marketing to. Plus, it can quickly turn into a major time drain. Approach with caution.

    Having said that, we are setting up a Social Networks Committee at ITW and have already established Twitter and MySpace pages. Facebook is coming soon. Love them or hate them, you gotta be there.

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  4. @Joe: "Love them or hate them, you gotta be there."

    When everyone is there, though, how does anything get through the debris? I know it's expected now, and I am primarily twittering, but the question remains.

    Also, I have yet to see proof that any of this makes any discernable difference in a) the quality of our writing; or b) sales.

    I've unscientifically followed several writers over the last few years to see if I can pick up some results. Some of these writers have been all over the place: blogging, newslettering, twittering, Facebooking, MySpacing. Yet there hasn't been a real breakthrough to the stratosphere. In one case, I think it's because the books themselves just aren't that good. Word gets out about that, among readers and booksellers. All the networking in the world can't overcome a book that doesn't connect.

    In another case, a writer whose books ARE good told me of his frustration with not getting over "the hump" after all the time investment.

    My feeling at this point is that the book is, as it has always been, the most important thing. All this networking can get us an introduction to some new readers, but it's not going to open the floodgates of the universe.

    Maybe the rule should be do what you can without expending so much energy that it takes away from a) your ability to write the best book you can; and b) your humanity.

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  5. Interesting observations, Michelle! I'm the opposite in terms of some of my preferences. I like Twitter, probably because it only requires a momentary, straightforward update, and has a strict character limitation. Facebook I find to be quite confusing, and every time I go over there, I get overwhelmed by requests to toss beads and plant seeds or save the Amazon. Yikes! I find myself avoiding Facebook bacause of that. I don't go on most of the Nings very much, but I do like Crimespace--there are lots of interesting discussions over there, and I keep my personal page there up to date and include an rss feed of the Kill Zone blog. I don't like writing newsletters or getting them usually, so I've pretty much stopped doing that entirely. I figure people who want to know what I'm up to go to my web site, where I have a Twitter app displayed on my News page. How's that for tweeting with the flock?

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  6. The ITW debut author page on MySpace has just been updated and looking pretty good. Apart from my name appearing on that, I don't do MySpace. A liitle too complicated for me.

    I seem to have a handle on Facebook with my own group page that I plan on using for updates and building on as I near publication. We also have The Thrill Begins group page for the ITW debut authors on Facebook.

    Just finished building my website and I'll continue working on that and updating my blog. I don't do twitter or the others because I just don't have the time for them.

    I suppose it all comes down to finding the right balance when it comes to social networking, writing and life in general.

    JJ

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  7. Twitter is great for mentioning things like "I'm blogging today on..." and drawing people to your site.

    I got a small crowd at a recent signing in LA because I re-connected with high school classmates on Facebook, and they made it into a mini-reunion.

    Like you, Michelle, I've stopped using MySpace much, though it was very useful for me when it started.

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  8. Thanks, Michelle. I just posted a blog entry yesterday, asking if publishers provide any guidance when they send an author off to do her own marketing; the early consensus seems to be "no." Looks like we're going to have to figure it out for ourselves. Articles like this are a good start, as empirical evidence is hard to come by.

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  9. Thanks Michelle. I find them a necessary evil but to be honest I only use Facebook really - the rest have fallen by the wayside as I have only limited time. I do send an infrequent e-newsletter but I have found random people from conferences have suddenly added me and if I never actually met them that pisses me off. I try not to piss people off on the social networking front but I'm sure I inadvertantly do - but I agree with Joe and James there seems to be a lot of author noise but not sure it makes much difference to the bottom line.

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  10. Have to say, though, Twitter is pretty addictive. I've read of some dropping FB and adopting Twitter. Any thoughts on whether this is a good move?

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  11. I think if all you are doing is one liners, Twitter could be good with one caveat. That caveat being that if a person if following fifty people, and half of them comment once or more a day then your message will only be on the page for a short time and may miss their view.

    With Facebook, at least there is an email notification for some items. Of course maybe that works in Twitter too and I'm just not using it fully.

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  12. I suspect I might not be using twitter to its full potential either. And I'd love to know how to set up the rss feed for Crimespace, Kathryn.

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  13. When it comes to social networks, I'd trade them all for my blogs and Twitter. In combo they are fastest, easiest, & viral! I get 50% of my blog hits from Twitter.

    I do have accounts on the other social networks just so I can share my experiences in the blog book tours classes, but truly, I find them to be inefficient and not nearly as promo-powerful as a series of excellent tweets that drive traffic to a well-maintained blog. I hit Twitter 3-4 times per day, and use a combo of various updates. Links to various blogs, reply comments, info-sharing, and lots of retweets of other pertinent updates.

    And the info I glean from Twitter... wow. Worth it for that alone.

    Yes, you can follow me on Twitter and find out when the next blog book tours course starts. I'll spend at least a week on Twitter tactics. Yep, I'm sold. No, don't own any stock with them. ;)

    Thanks for leaving a link to here at Twitter, Mich. Nice to catch up with you again.

    Dani
    http://twitter.com/blogbooktours

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  14. Hi Michelle. I'm a reader and I have been thinking a lot lately about social media, authors, and readers. As soon as I can overcome inertia and fear of a blank screen I'm going to write some posts on how social media is affecting my reading.

    For example, I bought a copy of Bone Yard because you invited me to a discussion in Second Life. SL isn't a web application but it is social. I didn't make the discussion but I did see a poster for your book and subsequently picked up a copy. Second Life has a ways to go as a promotional tool for authors but it has potential.

    I don't envy authors trying to balance actual writing with promotion over social media but for me, as a reader, contact with an author works.

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  15. Michelle, you made a comment on the LCC panel -- iirc -- that you thought BONEYARD got a warmer welcome because of the social networking you'd started doing for THE TUNNELS. (In response to Laurie King saying that social networking should be set aside for writing until a writer had a batch of books out.)

    Am I misremembering? Can you talk about how social networking works in the long run for a writer who's just stepping into the marketplace?

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  16. One thing is clear about "writers" and social networking: they usually have no idea how to use it, they usually only want to establish relationships with people who buy their books (which is unlikely anyway) or "important" people who can help further their career. Social networking, especially on twitter, requires one to be extremely social, which is the one thing serious writers lack.

    Overall, social networking takes up a lot of time. If you're writing four or more hours per day, social networking can really drain energy. Most writers have individual sites with hardly any traffic, mostly because they don't understand SEO or how the Internet actually works. To build a successful blog (close to the top 100,000 on Alexa) is a better bet for a writer than using facebook or twitter, but does require some SEO schooling.

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  17. I looked at Statcounter, and according to the "Came From" link, the top referring link for this blog seems to be Twitter. That's interesting because that's a relatively new social site. Next came a couple of blogs, then Crimespace, Crimespot, then Facebook. The daily "Came From" hits vary widely day by day, depending on all sorts of factors, like the day of the week, whether someone cross-posted, the phase of the moon, and goodness knows what else. Very interesting.

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  18. As a reader who is sick to death of the same 6 authors being shoved down my throat by my local chain bookstores I go looking specifically for books by authors who I've found via web 2.0 (Good Reads, dedicated blogs, several crime fiction Yahoo Groups and Friend Feed). So far I've tracked down books by 3 of the regular Kill Zone authors (none of which were actually available in an Australian bookshop but these days that doesn't matter)

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  19. I just read an article that said the only truth about anything marketing related is "it depends." I've been doing Dani Greer's class on blog book touring, which got me into the social circle. I'm on six or eight of these networking sites like Gather, Bebo, Redroom, whatever, but the only ones I really do anything on now are Facebook and Twitter.

    Dani also got me into blogging regularly on my personal blog. My website unique visitor stats are holding up at a little more than 100 some days, a little less others. As for sales, who knows?

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  20. I'd like to jump in and say that Twitter isn't really meant for you to talk about what you just ate for breakfast. Twitter is best used as an information exchange, so if I was an author, I would follow people who like books, other authors, publishers, etc. You'd be amazed at the information that is exchanged. Very little is mundane.

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  22. Hi Trish, Dani, & Mack- great to see you folks here! And yes, I freely acknowledge that I'm a clueless tweeter. I'd love any and all tips on how to get more out of twitter (without committing too much extra time to it- Lord knows, time is what I don't have these days).

    Sal- I did say that on the panel, thanks for reminding me! I think the industry has changed dramatically in the past decade in terms of what is expected of authors in terms of promotion. There was a time when you were asked to tour a few cities (tours arranged by the publisher, no less) and that was the end of it.

    Now, a publisher expects you to develop a marketing strategy- much of which you'll be personally responsible for. If I hadn't utilized internet marketing through my blog tour/social networking/Second Life/ etc (much of which I can credit to Dani's excellent book blog tour information, btw-highly recommended) my sales would not have increased in the way that they did, since I had much less marketing support for Boneyard.

    I also think there used to be more patience, authors weren't usually expected to be bestsellers out of the gate. Now, if your first two books have middling sales, you need to change your name to get another contract. At least that's the impression I get.

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  23. Oh, and Bernadette- Tunnels and Boneyard should both be available in Australia- they published separate editions there. Let me know if they're not and I'll send a strongly worded letter to someone :)

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  24. Michelle, to add the rss feed of a blog on Crimespace, on your "My page" on Crimespace on the lower left there will be a place where you can enter a title and URL. I think it will display something like RSS feed originally. You click that, and it prompts you to add the blog title and URL. Then the blog always appears in the lower left of your personal page on Crimespace.

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  25. They're available over here, Michelle. Mostly, you'd have to order them into the shops though. Which means you need to know about the author and what they have available. Hence, the value of social networking to a global audience.

    I think Bernadette may have tracked own one of your books. She reviewed The Tunnels a couple of days ago on her site.

    JJ

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  26. Great article, Michelle. I know I should be doing something/more with Facebook and Twitter but sometimes just don't know what to do! I'm also a member of two yahoo mystery reader groups and it's always interesting to see what everyone's talking about and get a diverse range of opinions.

    PD Martin
    PS Today I came to this blog via your Twitter post!

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  27. Yes I have tracked down both The Tunnels and Boneyard - bookmooch (for scrounging) and book depository (for buying as they offer free delivery worldwide) are equally valuable to me these days.

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  28. Yeah boy they can be a time suck. I like your advice about the once a week check-in. But after two years on Myspace I find it's the site I use the least despite once enjoying the groups discussions. I enjoy Twitter but as a YA author Myspace is likely my best bet for actual book promo.

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  29. As far as Twitter goes, like I said, it's all about who you follow. If you don't have much time, I would pop in once or twice a day, do a quick scroll to see what people you follow are talking about, click on any interesting links, tweet something you found or you did that was interesting or something you're working on that's interesting, and then get out. What I love about Twitter is that I learn so much and gather so much information that I wouldn't otherwise receive. It's one of those things that does take a little bit of a time investment, but I'm getting about five new followers a day, and yes, maybe they follow so many people that some of my tweets will get lost in the noise, but I have a much more far reaching voice, so to speak, now than when I wasn't Twittering. I also have access to people I wouldn't normally have access to, such as publicists and publishers and authors I'm currently reading. I personally think Twitter is more dynamic than Facebook or Myspace, but I also think they serve different purposes.

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  30. Trish, I'm with you. I always do a quick scroll and usually find interesting links to click on from my "following" friends on Twitter. Or the ones I'm following. Whichever. It's all good!

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  31. My brain is about to explode with all of the things I want to say.

    First, GREAT article, Michelle! You covered so many topics I talk to authors about in a single, easy-to-read post.

    On politics... I tell authors to avoid politics and religion if they don't like controversy, or easily get their feelings hurt. I actually had someone berate me on Twitter for simply sharing a link to a conservative publication during the election. I will say that I am too politically opinionated to NOT share how I feel, but I try to keep my network to folks who feel the same way. There are a few folks who follow me who differ in opinions, but who love to discuss them via Twitter. I've learned a lot from them, and got links to GREAT stories.

    On reviews...I host authors on VBTs, as well as do book reviews, for Pop Syndicate. I have a pen name for fiction for the reasons you talked about. My job is a reviewer. I don't want someone with hurt feelings taking their anger out on my work. If it sucks, let them say so - and make the playing field as unbiased as possible.

    On Time Suckage... Have you ever gotten up in the morning, checked your email, then realized it was 6 p.m.? This has happened in my world. I do social media for clients, and it is easy to get lost in cyberspace. I force myself to take breaks - usually hourly. I also schedule like a demon so I have MS time. So many authors don't do this - even when they realize they are losing precious time. They simply believe they MUST be online to be successful. This is true, but you have to be smart about it.

    Facebook vs. MySpace... I rarely visit MySpace anymore. Facebook has been a boon for my connections in publishing. LUV it.

    Shelfari... I am on there and like it much more than GoodReads. Someone told me LibraryThing allows authors to send out news releases. Might be worth checking out.

    On newsletters... I think the easiest way to collect names is to ask for them on your Web site and, at events, just put out a sign up sheet or a bowl for business cards and allow folks to sign up themselves. I hate unsolicited newsletters - especially when they come once an hour.

    One thing about online promotion... Too many authors try to target a huge genre audience. What you should do is find a smaller niche and work it. If you develop a small, but loyal fan base, their word of mouth is key to future success.

    I promise to stop writing now. =0) Going to share your post at Market My Novel today.

    Angela

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  32. I've heard the same thing about Library Thing, Angela- let me know if you find out more about it. And I completely agree about the mistake of targeting too many genre blogs etc- much better to figure out how to reach the people who might not be part of a community that already knows you. That's why with my blog tour in addition to mystery sites I visited Romance, Parenting, and General Interest blogs.

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  33. I do FB and twitter and find lots of the hits to my website and blog come from there. Does that mean more sales? Who knows but it's exposure.
    I like both of those networks because they lead me to interesting blogs and articles. Though I only visit each of them twice a day at the most, I almost always follow a link to somewhere.

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