Archive for category Social Media Platform

Branding and the Brain—What We Post On-Line Matters

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We’ve been talking about social media and building a platform the past couple of posts. I know this is a topic that makes most of us break out in hives, especially when you don’t yet have a book for sale. Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt. It’s sort of like credit. You can’t get any credit because you don’t yet have any credit but you don’t yet have any credit because no one will give you credit because you don’t have credit.

My head hurts.

Thus, today is for all levels of authors. Yes, even Jane Newbie who hasn’t yet finished the first book. We are going to talk about the bare essence of branding.

In my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World I go into a lot more detail about the science behind branding, but today we are going to talk about why our everyday on-line behaviors collect into a larger pool we call “author brand.”

The thing is, humans have always had a “brand.” Brand in its simplest form is what adjectives we attach to another person. Before the digital age and social media this idea of “branding” simply extended into our social realms in places like school or church or clubs. Why? Humans dig labels. It’s how we make our larger world manageable. Thus, people might be tethered to words like “band geek” “jock” “prep” “gossip” “jerk” “soccer mom” etc.

As we grew older our personal brand included our occupation and this was a good way to do business. I was a member of Rotary for seven years. I was friends with “Ken the Stock Broker,” “Mike the Plastic Surgeon,” “Tom the Orthopedic Surgeon” “Debbie the Realtor” “Kim the Physical Therapist” and on and on and on.

Not one of these people needed to drop a flyer in my lap when we met for lunch. I knew who they were and what they did and I relied on their “brand” when I needed their service(s). It was far preferable for me to go to Dan the Dentist (who I knew and liked from Rotary) than it was to go on-line and hope I scored a dentist I liked.

But why did I “like” these people? Did I really need to get a full resume of their experience to at least give them (their services) a try? Not really. “Gene the Money Manager” was a nice family man and I enjoyed his company and that was good enough. He made the “sale” without ever “selling.” It was probably less about what he did and more what he didn’t do, but this is where we start getting into some neuroscience.

The Neurological Shortcut

Our brains are remarkable organs that have the ability to adapt to our environment. Before the invention of the written word, our memory centers were far larger because we had to pass down information orally. In fact, if you took an MRI of an tribesman from some South American tribe, his brain would look and act very different from yours or mine.

Then, with the advent of the written word, our memory centers shrank but we gained even larger areas for abstract thinking. This is around the time we start seeing major explosions in science and engineering.

Now we are in the Digital Age, and we’re bombarded with stimuli. Internet, television, radio, smart phones, pop-ups, etc. etc. We’ve lost our stellar memory centers and our ability to focus for long periods of time and have gained an unprecedented ability to multitask. We process massive amounts of information faster than ever before.

Think about it. We see ads on Facebook all the time. Or do we? Our brains have literally learned to un-see. We cannot manage all the input. So, if we (authors) are eventually going to advertise our books, how do we make our content visible?

Since our brain is much like a computer processor, it must come up with ways to effectively manage all this input in order to maintain efficiency. To do this, it relies on what are called somatic markers.

Somatic markers are neurological shortcuts and are one of the most primitive functions of the brain because they are uniquely tied to survival and procreation. It’s the same shortcut that tells us the stove is hot. We don’t need to sit and ponder the stove. We likely learned when we were very small not to touch.

To give you an idea of how somatic markers work, let’s do a little exercise. Is there a perfume or cologne you can smell and it instantly transports you back in time? Maybe to that first love or even *cringes* that first heartbreak? A song that makes you cry? Perhaps there is a food you once ate that made you sick and even though there is no logical reason you shouldn’t eat it now, the mere thought of eating it makes you queasy.

These are somatic markers. When it comes to branding, somatic markers are king.

The Pepsi Challenge

If you are around my age or older you can remember The Pepsi Challenge. For years, Pepsi had been trying to gain an edge over Coca Cola who had dominated the soda industry for generations. So, they came up with the idea of setting up a table in stores and shopping malls and encouraging people to take a blind taste test.

The results were astonishing.

In a blind taste test, people preferred the taste of Pepsi. Coke was rattled by this and they did the same test and it turned out, people preferred the taste of Pepsi…and this led to brilliant ideas like “New Coke” which was one of the most epic failures in history.

Why did New Coke fail?

Coke had reformulated to make the drink sweeter. In blind taste tests, New Coke was a clear winner. So then why did it tank so badly?

Somatic markers.

Years later, neuroscientists decided to see if they could demystify what happened in The Pepsi Challenge so they conducted the exact same experiment, only this time they hooked participants up to an fMRI machine so they could witness what areas of the brain lit up.

So, they held the taste test the same way it was conducted in the 70s. A blind taste test and to their astonishment, people preferred the taste of Pepsi. According to the fMRI the ventral putamen, the area of the brain that tells us something tastes yummy lit up like Christmas.

*Some have speculated that when it is only a sip, people will prefer the sweeter drink.*

The scientists then decided to try something a bit different. They did the test again, only this time they told the participants what they were drinking. This time, Coke won. Ah, but something strange happened in the brain. Not only did the ventral putamen light up, but so did the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with emotion and memory.

See, when it was based on taste alone, Pepsi won. But, when the brands were compared, Coke won. The human brain was in a wrestling match between two very different regions—taste and emotional. Coke had the advantage because of the vast reservoir of fond memories associated with the brand.

Norman Rockwell Americana, cute polar bears, I’d Like to But the World a Coke, every BBQ, summer vacation, rollerskating parties, Friday nights with pizza and on and on all were part of the Coca Cola arsenal. The fond memories (positive somatic markers) associated with the brand literally changed the taste and gave Coca Cola the winning edge.

Every Bit Adds Up

This is why every interaction on social media matters. Right now you might not have a published novel and thus you don’t have 15 hours or more of an emotional memory to link to your name (yet). But you can get on social media and do a little bit every day.

Start building your own Coca Cola experience.

Even authors who are published. Keep the brand strong in between books a little bit every day,

Every time our name floats by on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. what emotional experience are we tethering it to? There are two types of somatic markers—positive and negative.

Last time I mentioned that it was possible to have a belief system without giving everyone else indigestion. I have people on Facebook who I actually agree with politically and I have had to unfriend because I don’t feel like being hysterical all the time. If I wanted doom and gloom and panic attacks I would watch the news. I don’t like feeling hopeless and powerless. I don’t enjoy being attacked.

Imagine that.

This holds true for how we act in person. Would we want to hang out with someone who just ranted and raged and complained all the time? Who called other people names and became belligerent when anyone dared to disagree? And I am not suggesting anything that wouldn’t be prudent in a regular workplace. Social media is simply an extension of the social realm. There is no “magic” to it other than be kind and treat others the way we’d like to be treated. Somatic markers are what make us “likable” in person or “on-line.”

Somatic markers also have the power to give us an edge when it comes to sales.

We see ads all over. More than ever before in human history. But when we have a positive experience, we notice the ad. For instance, I never realized there were so many red Hondas until I bought one. Now, I don’t believe the overall sale of red Hondas changed any, but I noticed them because I had one.

If we see an ad for a book, we may or may not notice. But what about an ad for a book written by someone we know? Someone perhaps we talked to and liked? The ad practically leaps from the page. We might even buy it because we SAW her ad and OMG! I know her!

Ads alone have very little power to compel a purchase. But, couple them with a brand, and the odds greatly improve. We can use some simple understanding of how the human brain works to better guide us in what we should (or should not) post on-line.

Remember last time we talked about kitten memes. Don’t underestimate them. Think about it. If every time my name floats by on Facebook it is attached to something that makes you SMILE, that has an impact. We might not be aware of it, but our brain is attaching somatic markers to a name.

When I see X, it is a good thing.

When I see X, I want to punch things and I feel sick.

At the end of the day, this is a long way to say that brands are simply what we learned in Kindergarten. Every interaction matters and it all adds up. With some planning, discipline and intent, we can better guide what it adds up to😉 . We will talk more about simple ways to start building a brand. This can be an enjoyable experience.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a perfume you used to love, but then someone you despised wore it and you no longer could stand the smell? Have you had a bad experience with a food and to this day can’t eat it? Do you think of summer vacation whenever you smell Coppertone, too?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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72 Comments

The Secret to a Powerful Author Brand

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Last time we talked a little about our author brand and why, these days, our brand is almost as important as the books we write. It is an awesome time to be a writer, but also a scary one. Why can’t it be like the good old days when all we had to do was write the book?

Because that world no longer exists and, frankly, it wasn’t all that great to begin with.

Granted, in the pre-digital publishing world we authors didn’t need to tweet or blog or be on-line, but it was also a world with a 93% failure rate. According to the Book Expo of America, as late as 2006, 93% of all books (traditionally and non-traditionally published) sold less than a 1000 copies. Only one out of ten traditionally published authors would ever see a second book in print.

These days, anyone can be published. This is good and bad and we can talk about that another time. But with more titles than ever before and bookstores becoming an endangered species? Our brand is our lifeline. Whether we decide to self-publish or traditionally publish is a business decision only we can make, but we still must have a viable author brand if we hope to sell books.

So What is a Brand?

There are all kinds of answers to this question, but my answer is the correct one😀 .

A brand is when a name alone has the power to drive sales.

In an age where we are deluged with choices, consumers are relying more and more on brands. We rely on a brand because the NAME comes tethered to a promise. There are 753 brands of cereal, but we trust Cookie Crunch…okay, Cheerios.

Author brands aren’t as impersonal as selling cereal, but the idea is similar. In a sea of infinite choices, who do we trust to provide an enjoyable experience?

Brands take time to create, but my way is fun. As I mentioned last time, I have ZERO interest in turning any of you into mega-marketers. I know you didn’t take up writing about spaceships or unicorns or unicorns on spaceships just to hold you until you could land that dream job selling life insurance.

Today I am going to let you into how I teach branding. I’ve never blogged about this before namely because while it isn’t complicated, it IS complex. I go into far greater detail in my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

In the book I also show you step-by-step how to create your own unique brand. Not meaning to hawk a book, but I can’t have this blog be 20,000 words so if you desire more “meat” than what is in this blog, y’all know where you can find it😉 .

Moving on…

How an Author Brand WORKS

In the “olden days” before Instagram and Twitter and YouTube, the only way a novelist could build a brand was through his/her books. Think about it. Why did we (fans) love these authors? Because we felt we were part of the worlds they created.

Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Tony Hillerman, David Eddings, etc. were all a part of my teenage world. They brought me love, pain, fear, resolution through their characters and stories. By getting to know the author’s characters I felt I knew the author and became emotionally bonded TO that author through story.

If you need a refresher on how that works, go re-watch Misery.

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Come on! Admit it. There are some authors you would really creep out of they met you😉 .

*Drives car over Kardashians because OMG!!!! DEAN KOONTZ!*

When I decided to be the social media expert for writers, I spent over two years studying successful brands. All types. What made a brand iconic? I studied movies, fashion, soda, cars, authors, and pop phenoms.

I also studied the neuroscience behind branding. What made content go viral? Was there something about content that the human brain reacted to positively or negatively? Was all content equal? (NO) Was some content actually damaging? (YES)  Is some content WAY better? (YES). I became a student of human behavior and created a step-by-step plan for writers to recreate that magic.

But for the purposes of today’s blog…

Like successful fiction, a successful brand must be HIGH CONCEPT. High concept is RIGHT-BRAINED. It is visceral and emotional. 

Authors are in the business of selling feelings. It’s what we do with stories. We sell love, action, adventure, community, and happy endings.

Virtually all successful stories on the page and on the screen have harnessed what is called “high concept.” The reason Titanic was one of the most successful movies of all time is because it was “high concept”. It wasn’t a story about a doomed ship, it was a story about LOVE.

And we hear this term “high concept” in writing class, but what the heck is it?

High Concept has THREE Components:

Universal

Emotional

Gives the Audience Something to Contribute or to Take Away

If virtually every successful story/movie is high concept, doesn’t it make sense that our brands should be high concept, too? We don’t write novels with titles like:

The Virtuous Semicolon

The Sentence that Kept Running

That Amazon Prime Harlot 

The Dangling Participle *RAWR*

If we write books about love, why are we trying to connect with “readers” by lecturing them about punctuation?

Writers have the power to create interstellar dynasties and invent entirely new species. With various combinations of 26 letters, writers can travel in time, rewrite history or wipe out a planet, a solar system a universe. But, the second they start a blog? Tweet? Get on Facebook?

All they can talk about is writing.

*head desk*

Why does all this talk of “writing” fizzle? Because “writing” is not high concept.

Trust me, readers do not give a crap about three-act structure unless we screw it up. Readers don’t care about Amazon vs. Smashwords, why we love the Oxford Comma, or how to write deep POV.

Does this mean we can’t blog about writing at all? NO. There is a difference between writing a blog about writing and creating a writing blog.

Even though I teach writing, this is not a writing blog. This is Kristen Lamb’s blog. Yes, I blog about writing and social media, but I have also blogged about zombies, my addiction to Febreze, being ADD, why I hate skinny jeans, and how to deal with bullies. And, frankly, those were the posts that went viral.

OMG!

OMG!

Blogging only about writing will wear you out. And the real bummer?

Articles, interviews, and reviews are all informational. This is LEFT-BRAINED content. If all we are posting is left-brained content, we have a left-brained brand. Thus I posit this:

Why are you trying to sell a right-brained product with a left-brained brand?

Writers cannot fathom why a funny kitten meme gets 50 likes, 6 shares and 17 comments, but then a post about their upcoming release gets crickets.

Which topic is high concept (right-brained)?

Is a kitten universal? Yes! People in Japan actually pay money to pet adorable cats. Are kittens emotional? Yes! If you don’t smile looking at this little guy, you likely have no soul…

Does a funny kitten meme allow others to contribute or to take something away? Yes! Odds are, you will get all kinds of comments with people sharing about their pets. Oh, Fluffernutter used to do the same thing! 

Does a cute kitten meme offer something to take away? Yes. It brightened our day, so we pass it on.

Now, if I post about a new book I have coming out, is that universal? No. Is it emotional for anyone but me and my mother? Not so much. Does it offer you anything to contribute or take away? Eh, not really.

And before anyone blasts me that sharing cute kittens isn’t “real” branding activity, we need to remember that we are no longer in a world of traditional media. Yes, we need to mention that book for sale, but if it is all we talk about? It turns people off. It is also making our brand reliant on content few people will share.

Hey, my new book “Sexy in Sneakers” is now available! PLEASE SHARE.

Yep, right on that. Not.

But, if most of the time we post fun stuff others enjoy, when we DO post about a book, others are more open to doing us a solid.

Remember, when it comes to social media, content that goes only ONE direction is already dead.

If I share something in a blog on Twitter or Facebook and no one else shares? My reach is limited to the people who are following me. Social media has the best impact when content goes VIRAL. This means lots and lots of other people want to share my content.

Guess what the most likely content to go viral is?

High concept😉.

See, you guys are smart!

This is why my kitten friend above has almost a million views.

We can talk about having a new book out just like we can feel free to blog about three-act structure. But, since these topics are NOT high concept, they will never ever go viral.

Ever.

We can post this kind of stuff, we just know not to camp on it.

Remember, name recognition alone is meaningless. A name only truly holds power once we tether it to an emotional experience. Which means…

Welcome to High Concept Branding

The key to creating a strong author brand is to understand what we are trying to create. We are creating a positive emotional experience and then tying that experience to OUR NAME.

Do this enough and eventually our name alone will have the power to drive sales. Btw, that is called an author brand😉 .

If we are able to produce content that 1) resonates with a wide audience 2) creates a positive emotional experience 3) by nature engenders sharing behaviors, we can do a lot more with a lot less. This also elucidates why ranting, name-calling, hyper-politicization, and spam are all behaviors that can and will tank a brand.

We will talk on this more later, but I will say that it is possible to have political, religious and social beliefs without giving everyone who sees our name indigestion. Remember we want to create a positive emotional experience. This is what ALL successful brands do. Apple, Coca Cola, Corvette, Levis, Harley Davidson, Hershey’s and on and on and on. ALL good brands capitalize on emotion. ALL strong brands use high concept.

Soap companies don’t have a thirty-second commercial about the merits of good hygiene, they show a woman moaning in the shower and having an “organic” experience. Thus, if every single successful brand is relying on the holy trinity of high concept, why are authors still spamming about their books and then confused why badgering strangers for money doesn’t work?

One Last Thing

Aside from possibly going viral, brands built on emotional connection have one major advantage—LONGEVITY. Since our brand is based on relationships and not algorithms, it is far more resistant to change. Facebook can go away and twitter can flitter and your brand will be just fine. I had Shingles and was down for MONTHS. The reason I still had a strong brand when I returned? I built it on people.

I hope this has made you feel less intimidated about creating your own author brand. We writers tend to overcomplicate stuff. A platform isn’t built overnight, but it also isn’t terribly hard. And yes, platforms built on simply sharing funny cat pics are stronger than you might have realized.

What are your thoughts? Do you now see this high concept pattern in your own behavior? The stuff you enjoy sharing? The content that gets the most interaction from others? Did the clouds part and angels sing now that you know why that dog-shaming meme scored WAY more likes than your thoughtfully crafted book review?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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88 Comments

Pen Names—Necessary Evil or Ticket to Crazyville?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of gaelx

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of gaelx

Today we are going to talk about a somewhat touchy subject. The pen name. Before anyone gets in a fluff, understand two things. First, I’m on your side. Secondly, this is only a decision you can make. My goal here is to make sure you guys are making educated business decisions. Thus, I won’t stop anyone from having a pen name, but about 95% of the time? It’s unnecessary.

In my opinion? Pen names are more hassle than they are worth and they’re a fast way to land in Crazyville. Pen names used to offer benefits, but most of those benefits have evaporated because the world is digital and connected. In fact, pen names can actually hurt book sales and stall a platform and brand.

Let’s look at some of the advantages pen names used to offer that no longer exist.

I Need a Pen Name for PRIVACY

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Here’s the thing. We are in The Digital Age. Privacy is an illusion. In fact, be too private and we fail to connect emotionally with others and thus the platform and brand never gain traction. Social media is social and being social requires a certain level of vulnerability and openness.

One of my bugaboos is when writers tell me they just want to write or they just want to sell books. They don’t want to *shivers* talk to anyone. This is a personal choice. I can’t require anyone to be sociable, but in a world where readers are being deluged with a gazillion choices, they are going to gravitate to who they know and who they like.

And, to be blunt, we are expecting people to part with money and precious time they don’t have to read our books. It takes an average of 12-15 hours to read a novel. We are asking a lot of others. The very least we can do is talk to them and have a good attitude about it.

Being open and vulnerable doesn’t mean we post our Social Security Number and the names of all our kids. It can be something as simple as, “Hey, I totally dig Star Wars” or “I like to crochet weapons of mass destruction.”

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But some writers don’t want to do social media at all or they want to hide behind a pen name and only post “writerly things” or “BUY MY BOOK!” because, yeah, that is SUPER creative and we don’t already get enough of that *rolls eyes*. They don’t want to share anything personal and the pen name is there to help them gain emotional distance and keep their “lives separate.”

The problem with this thinking is that, in The Digital Age, WE ARE THE BRAND.

Before The Digital Age, gatekeepers stemmed the number of books that came to market. Readers only could buy what they discovered browsing a bookstore. Now that there are millions of titles and more being added every day? Those habits and hobbies no one cared about in 1995 are what’s going to help us cultivate our readership.

When we try to separate our personal persona from our writing persona, we create layers of friction and a lot of extra work for those trying to discover our books. This means we can inadvertently undermine our own success seeking the illusion of anonymity/privacy.

A lot of writers complain to me that they don’t want to post things everyone else can see. Problem with that is it is TOO EASY to lose control of information posted on the Internet. Thus, my personal rule? If my mom can’t see it, I don’t post it.

I Need a Pen Name to HIDE

Image courtesy of TrueFashionMirror

Image courtesy of TrueFashionMirror

Erotica authors generally run into this problem. If what you write might cost you your job? Then yes, I agree a pen name is probably a good idea. It will be extra work, but y’all probably already knew that. What I DON’T like is often writers believe that just using another name is enough.

No.

First, if you require a pen name for safety, security, etc. hire a pro. I recommend The Digital Dark Knight Jay Donovan at Tech Surgeons. Tell him I sent you and he will give you special rates. If we are just creating social sites under a made up name and thinking this keeps us “safe”? This is akin to locking the screen door to keep out serial killers.

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If someone is motivated to find us, they can (unless you hire a pro like Jay).

You will probably have to look into the legal aspects of using another name and will likely require a DBA (Doing Business As) because, if you have any amount of success, you will need to be able to cash the check under another name, do taxes, etc.

It does me no good to use the pen name Fifi Fluffernutter because I want to hide that I write erotica, but then someone goes to buy a book and can only make out the check to Kristen Lamb😉 .

Also, I will say that having to hide an identity is very stressful. Sites like Facebook use facial recognition software for tagging photos and then those photos are searchable. All it takes is a friend carelessly posting a photo and tagging with the wrong name to implode a carefully crafted alter ego.

There are rumors that Google is wanting to acquire Twitter, meaning every tweet would be cached and searchable. As more social networks communicate across platforms and search engines become more ingrained and more advanced, hiding will get harder and harder.

I Need a Pen Name for Each Genre

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NO! For the love of all that is chocolate, NO!

Remember, WE ARE THE BRAND. You guys come to my blog and trust I will work hard and deliver enjoyable content. This means when I have a book out, there is less work or thinking on your part. You know me, hopefully like me and you trust my work.

My name holds a lot of power because it promises to deliver content you enjoy. I write social media books, but I also…wait for it…write fiction.

Did anyone’s reality just fracture?

People “get” we do more than one thing. In fact, those who like my blogs or social media books, might just decide to read my fiction simply because they already trust my non-fiction. With SO many choices out there, we find a writer we like and stick like glue. We don’t want the hassle of trying and testing an unknown.

Readers don’t only read one genre. In fact, I think that is probably fairly rare. When I look at my bookshelves, I have almost every genre. If nothing else, we will at least enjoy the kissing cousins. Suspense readers will also dip into thrillers or mysteries.

When we use a pen name for another genre, we are back at Ground Zero. We have to build another name without any help from the already existing platform. Right now, I’m finishing a sci-fi trilogy. When that sucker goes to market? I am NOT motivated enough to start ALL OVER. If my followers don’t like science fiction? Don’t buy it. Simple. But, there may be people who might just try a science fiction because it is written by me😉 .

It Doesn’t Take Much to Implode an Identity

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A couple days ago, I had an author whose agent recommended that he use a pen name for his new books that are General Fiction and not Christian Fiction. My argument is that many Christians do read outside of Christian Fiction and thus the pen name would cost him the following he already had for four other books.

He countered that they didn’t want the haters who would be upset that this wasn’t Christian Fiction and that these stories were grittier. But my problem is this.

It only takes ONE.

It only takes one troll putting two and two together to dismantle all that work to craft a new identity. Thus, he could potentially cost himself a LOT of readers who are smart enough to realize that General Fiction is NOT religious and who would have read the books anyway to make a small group of people happy (people who are likely never going to be happy anyway).

In the end, it is the author’s decision and this might be a good case for a pen name, but note that it WILL be extra work with almost no support from the existing fan base structure.

Another writer was using a pen name because her family is less than supportive and they trolled her other sites when she tried to use her real name.  Again, the problem is this. What if she becomes successful and crazy family member figures out the pen name and starts trolling the site? Eventually this writer will have to put down a boundary.

Troll my site one more time and you will die in a tragic blow-up doll accident in my next novel.

She is costing herself a TON of extra work to cater to a handful of bullies. She’s losing all those close connections–schoolmates, college friends, colleagues, etc.—who actually will be her best word of mouth sales. I have people who didn’t say three words to me in high school who are now avid fans because I’m the writer they KNOW.

I Need a Pen Name Because My Name is Too Hard to Pronounce or Spell

NO! That name no one has gotten right since you were a kid is now your digital BFF. If you don’t believe me? Google Janet Evonnivich.

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I see authors with AWESOME names for the Digital Age change it to something utterly forgettable. If your name is Skjolsvik, I don’t have to know how to pronounce it, I just have to be able to recognize it in a lineup. Also, all I have to remember is it starts with Skj—. Search engines will correct me if I goof it.

I Need a Pen Name Because There is Another Person With My Name

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Again, search engines can help with this. Do y’all really think I am the ONLY Kristen Lamb? When I decided to set aside fiction to become the social media expert for writers, I began by googling my name. There was another Kristen Lamb who happens to be a media mogul. I called her and told her, “There could  be only one.”

She thought I was kidding😀 .

Actually, I DID call and I DID say that because I’m a nut, but she IS a Kristen Lamb and ergo super fun and cool and we actually talked for about an hour.

But by producing a LOT of content and properly tagging that content, I now dominate the search for my name. And, even if I didn’t? If someone knows they are searching my name for social media and they get Kristen Lamb the Cake Decorator, all they have to do is add the words “social media” to narrow the search.

I Need a Pen Name Because Using My Name is Pretentious

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I hear new writers say this a lot. Why would anyone care what have to say? They don’t. When I was new, they didn’t care what I had to say, either. Being a writer is fundamentally pretentious and even narcissistic. We have to believe we have something to say that is worth not only reading, but PAYING to read.

Just own it.

And if we pan back, this entire argument is more than a tad ridiculous. So no one would care what Kristen Lamb has to say, but they WILL care what Kristen Lamb writing as an imaginary person and figment of my own imagination has to say? And that isn’t pretentious?

It is YOUR Decision

In the end, all I can do is give you branding and social media advice. Multiple names and pen names are a lot of work that is very often unnecessary. I see writers do this same thing with multiple blogs.

I blog about writing but I also blog movie reviews and funny anecdotes. What if my followers who like my writing posts don’t like kitten stories?

Um, they don’t read your post that day?

I write thrillers, but I also write cozy romance. What if my readers don’t like cozy romance?

Um, they don’t buy them?

If you require a pen name for safety issues, legal issues or even because it could endanger your job? TALK TO JAY. The rest of us? Our time is better spent writing more books😉 .

What are your thoughts? Questions? Experiences? Do you have a pen name and love it? How do you manage that pen name without going cray-cray? Did you start out with a pen name and now you regret it? Do you have multiple names you now need to merge? I can actually blog about ways to do that another time.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form😀 .

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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190 Comments

Selling & Social Media–DON’T Be a Personal Space Invader

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir...

Johnny Cat wants to write his memoir…

We writers are kinda weird…okay, a LOT weird. We can drift to extremes if we aren’t vigilant. Either we are the non-stop All-Writing-All-The-Time Channel or we’re afraid to mention we have ever read let alone written a book lest we offend anyone. I get it. I struggle, too. We are artists and “selling” feels…ookey.

Yes, ookey is a word.

Marketing feels especially weird in The Digital Age. But why? Also, why is the ROI (Return on Investment) so dismal with traditional marketing tactics? Facebook ads are a notorious waste of money and I doubt the guy who programmed his Twitter to mention his new book five times an hour has seen a massive uptick in sales.

Perhaps death threats, but not sales😀 .

I feel that, as we shift from the TV-Industrial complex of the past century and into the Digital Age, we are becoming more of a global village. Information no longer runs one direction, from sender to receiver.

Why?

Because the medium has changed. The medium always affects communication, and a lot of well-intended advice fails to account for this shift.

We Heard It the First 20 Times

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As much as I rail against it, we still see the relentless book spam. Yet, we are wise to appreciate that as the communication mediums changed, society, culture and values shifted as well.

For instance, we never had America + Television. Once television became a part of our everyday life, America was different. It could not go back to the way it was before television. The change was like a chemical change, a cake that could not be un-baked. The culture changed. Our habits, language, expectations and definitions of “truth” all shifted.

Same with social media.

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In the traditional paradigm, “air space” cost money. To put out an ad, a commercial spot on television or even an ad on radio cost money. Even printing off flyers and paying someone to stuff paper under windshield wipers cost money. This “cost barrier” was a sort of gatekeeper that naturally decreased the number of people who would be “advertising” their products.

Then came the Internet and social media.

Now it is FREE! for everyone to talk about goods and services non-stop. The sheer volume of people all pitching their services renders them invisible at best and highly annoying at worst. There is a lot about the new publishing world that I love, but it also has created some serious problems.

How I feel checking e-mail. Remember when we LIKED getting e-mail?

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

Now that everyone can be published, we are inundated with constant pitching to buy books or download free books or read reviews for books. We can’t escape it.

Posting multiple times a day about our book for sale is like us going to a cocktail party and opening a card table to take book orders. The medium has changed and so have the rules.

Yes, it is important to let people know we have a book to offer, but how we do that has changed.

In the TV-Industrial complex, people merely received information. There was no dialogue, so no social rules applied. We didn’t take offense when we saw a commercial on TV…but the TV wasn’t our “friend.” We were strictly grounded in market norms. Market norms govern commerce. We pay the price on the sticker. We use coupons. Market norms are not personal.

Yet, social media seeks to harness social norms. Social norms are governed by relationships. They are more nebulous and emotionally driven.

I open the door for you and it’s implied I don’t expect a tip.

Where social media gets sticky is that yes, we can get the benefit of social norms. For instance, many people who know and like me from social media might choose to read my book above others even though it isn’t normally a genre they’d read. Yet, we must be careful mixing marketing norms with social norms or people feel used and manipulated.

Thanks for being my friend! Here is a link to my fan page and a free book! Please leave a good review, since we are friends *wink, wink*

Yeah, not creepy AT ALL.

Language Matters

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In the Golden Age of TV and Advertising, we accepted that commercials were just part of having entertainment on television. We didn’t “own” any of that airspace, so we willingly acquiesced. Social media changed this dynamic, and, for the first time in human history, the Internet gave us virtual territory.

Tom Anderson was highly intuitive when he called his new social network (2003) MYSPACE. Humans are territorial. Our Facebook wall is literally OUR WALL. When strangers post ads in “our space” it is irritating and personal.

Don’t be a personal space invader.

“Careful, Jim. I think it has a book for sale.”

We cannot get the benefits of social norms unless we respect social norms. On social media, we use terms like “friend” and “Likes.” To humans, these words have meaning, whether we consciously acknowledge this or not. When I “befriend” someone on Twitter and they immediately DM me with a spammy message to buy their book? I am offended.

Why?

Because social norms regulate social media.

Social norms don’t mean we are against buying stuff from “friends,” but it does mean we are part of a social dance that we should respect. For instance, how many of you have kids? How many of you have had your kids come home with boxes of candy to sell for school? Who did you go to first to offload overpriced crappy candy? Family. Then friends. Then probably some coworkers.

Why?

Because no one wants to go door-to-door selling anything, let alone $4 stale candy bars.

But see how the social norms guided who you would ask, and in what order, and even how you would ask for a sale? Many of those closer relationships are happy to buy overpriced candy, but only because they know you.

Let’s look at this scenario instead.

What if I complimented a woman in the grocery store, then got her chatting about the items in her basket and what she was cooking for dinner? At first she is hesitant but as we chat she lets down her guard and talks about her cat Muffin, and how she likes to bake cookies for the church.

And just about the time she is comfortable talking to me, I ask, “Wow, if your church likes cookies, they would LOVE chocolate bars. Would you like to buy some candy?”

I bet she couldn’t get to her wallet the door fast enough.

What To Do?

All right. Some of you might be panicking a little right now. But Kristen, how can we ever sell our book if we can’t TALK about it? I never said we couldn’t talk about our books. I said we had to adjust our approach. Sure, tweet about your book but don’t feel the need to camp on top of it ;) 

It should be clear to anyone looking at our interaction history that we are on social media primarily for the purpose of being social, NOT using Twitter of Facebook as free ad space.

We just need to apply the Golden Rule here.

Don’t just blast out a bunch of links all day. Are you lacking for stuff to read? I know I’m not. How many of you woke up this morning and said, “Gee, you know what I need? MORE information. I don’t have enough. In fact, I have far too much free time I need to fill. I hope I get some more e-mail.”

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Most people are on social media because humans are wired to be social. We are looking for connections, not another news feed with commercial breaks. If we wanted that, we’d just watch TV. I joke that social media was invented to fill a need. Many of us were seriously ticked off that Show-and-Tell was canceled after Kindergarden.

We’ve never gotten over the hurt.

We like Show-and-Tell. We love participating and we love watching and sharing in return. Hey, check it out! I baked a CAKE! Look at my new BIKE! I taught myself how to make a TREBUCHET!

Strangely enough, we haven’t changed much since childhood. Making friends is easier over something nonthreatening like a pic of our cat who has shredded the new ten-pack of toilet paper. People can relate. It generates the foundation of all relationships…a conversation.

Meet my fur-baby, Odin the Ridiculously Handsome Cat (who, upon popular demand, got his own fan page)….

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I’ve even memed him:

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Y’all get the idea. But see how a random picture of my cat, became fun for ALL? A regular pic of my cat taking a nap transformed into something interactive. Suddenly, people who might never have before spoken to me were coming up with captions for Odin the Ridiculously Handsome Cat. Thanks Diedre Dykes!

This has nothing directly to do with selling a social media book, but it IS fun and it IS memorable and it IS the kind of content people love to contribute to and then share. These actions add up over time to create what we call “BRAND.”

Interruption Marketing DOESN’T Work

When was the last time a writer tweeted several times a day about her book and that prompted you to drop everything and go buy? When was the last time you clicked on a Facebook ad to buy something?

One of the reasons I encourage writers to blog is that a blog is very useful for passive selling. Every one of you who follow this blog know I have a book for sale (and even teach classes) even though I have never tweeted about them and never posted about them on Facebook.

How is this?

I serve first with a blog and then, at the end of my post, I mention my books or any W.A.N.A. International classes that might be of interest. So I am promoting my books and classes, thousands of times a day…but I am not doing so intrusively.

Most of you are not offended that I mention my books (I hope), namely because I gave freely, and thus reciprocation on your part feels natural. You don’t feel like I am ramming book ads down your throat.

No one likes a personal space invader.

My attitude is that some of you will read, click and even buy, but those not interested can simply quit reading at the end of the blog post. You might not buy one of my books today, but you know about them. So when the day comes that you decide you need to blog, hopefully my book will be in your mental databanks.

Since you have come to my corner of cyberspace it doesn’t feel invasive when I mention my books and classes, because I mention them in MY space, not YOURS. Also, like the picture of my cat, my blogs are interactive. I tell my thoughts, then look forward to yours. I am super blessed that my comments are a vibrant and interesting community. 

See how the experience now no longer only flows one direction? Content-recievers are now content-contributors and social media is far more fun because we are all engaged.

What are your social media pet peeves? Do you see red when people post ads on your walls? Or does it not bother you? Do you buy books from people who promote a lot on Twitter? Or do you not see the tweets? Do they irritate you or make you unfollow? What are some of the areas where you see the most personal space invasion?

Do you have any ideas for future installments of Odin the Ridiculously Handsome Cat? 

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***Note: I have been out of town and need time to calculate March’s winner, so will announce that NEXT BLOG POST.

Also, for more help on how to use characters to ratchet anxiety to the nerve-shreding level, I am finally back teaching and offering my Understanding the Antagonist Class on April 18th and YES, it is recorded in case you miss or need to listen again because this class is jammed with information.

I LOVE teaching this simply because our antagonists are pivotal for writing a story (series) readers can’t put down. Yet, too often we fail to harness characters for max effect. I look forward to seeing you there! I also offer the Gold level for one-on-one. Maybe you’ve hit a dead end. Your story is so confusing you need a GPS and a team of sherpas to find the original idea. Instead of wasting time with misguided revisions, I can help you triage your WIP and WHIP it into fighting form😀 .

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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102 Comments

Three NEVERS of Social Media for Writers

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

These three professional blunders can hang on like the smell of dead fish and stink up our author career, so avoid them at all cost. I understand that many of you who follow this blog are new, so if you’ve made one of these mistakes, you’re learning. We all oops (especially in the beginning), so don’t sweat it. Yet, I see these three behaviors far more often than I’d like.

You’ve been warned😉.

NEVER Be Nasty in a Blog Comment

I am fully aware that my blog can’t make everyone happy. I work my tail off to entertain and enlighten but I know I can’t be all things to all people. If I’m not your cup of tea? Just click the unsubscribe button at the bottom of the e-mail WordPress sends you or e-mail me and I will happily assist you leaving (and cry later *sniffles*).

There is no need for this:

Ohhhh-kay.

Ohhhh-kay.

The irony was 1) I didn’t even write this particular post. It was a guest post and an excellent one at that 2) It wasn’t negative at all. It just wasn’t coated in glitter and fluff. Professionals don’t have a lot of time and shouldn’t need to be handled with kid gloves and 3) Was it really necessary? I’s written over 600 posts at the time, and one wasn’t her cup of tea? So we just carpet bomb?

I once wrote a humor post about my many failed attempts to join the military. It was a humor post. It was posted for Memorial Day and to honor those willing to sacrifice for the very freedom this person liberally uses…

Yes, this counts as a troll...

Yes, this counts as a troll…

Oh, and a warning. Trolls will bait you with the, “You will censor my right to free speech” to get you to approve a nasty comment. But they forget we actually don’t have universal 1st Amendment Rights or we’d be able to yell “FIRE!” in a movie theater or stand and scream profanities and threats in the middle of an Applebee’s without being arrested. Don’t fall for it. Your TRASH function is there for reason.

Also, blogs count as a benevolent dictatorship.

And my personal favorite?

Um...OUCH.

Um…OUCH.

See, the thing is, if you want to tell a blogger she has the brain of a retarded chimp, that she’s a loser-poseur fake, don’t do it in the blog comments (or at all, for that matter). AGAIN, the comment is there forever, complete with the commenter’s name and face.

Oh, and it’s spelled “expertise” by the way😉 .

Most of the time, when I get nasty comments like these I just send them to the trash. They aren’t heathy for the comment community and everyone has a bad day, which is why I didn’t include the gravatars or names of these nice people. But, remember, not all bloggers will be nice.

I have the right to be wrong and y’all have the right to un-sunbcribe, never buy one of my books and tell all your friends that oatmeal is smarter than I am. I get that I can’t please everyone, but there is a way to disagree and remain polite, respectful and professional. There’s no need for ad hominem attacks.

If someone writes a blog you don’t like? Fine. But keep in mind that this person worked hard and for free to offer you something of value. All they ask in return is for some common human decency.

People have long memories regarding those who are needlessly cruel. And sure, a blogger might be a new, unpublished nobody. Doesn’t mean he or she’ll remain that way. We never know who we might need one day, and burning bridges is a bad long-term plan.

If you do goof and hurt a blogger, just e-mail them and apologize or apologize in the comments. A lot of bloggers (I’d like to believe) are reasonable. Own the mistake and ask for gratis.

Never Be Nasty on Twitter

Twitter is a wonderful tool, namely because it can help us go viral. Yet, that’s precisely why we must handle it with care. It can go VIRAL. A random woman on Twitter tweeted a nasty remark about rapper Ice-T’s wife and millions of fans pounced.

This woman had to delete her account and practically go into witness protection. I am certain she didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but it shows that tweets should be handled with care.

Sure, we can delete tweets, but often by the time we realize we need to delete one…it’s already too late. Twitter goes quickly, so it can get out of hand quickly.

Never Write Bad Book Reviews

This doesn’t apply to book bloggers and book reviewers. That’s your job and we love that you give us guidance on what to read. But, as authors? I believe in what Candace Havens calls Writer Karma.

If I can’t give a book a great review? I just don’t review it. Again, publishing is a small world and we all need each other. The world is already out to throw us under a bus. We need each other to keep from turning into cutters.

***And yes, I KNOW “experts” tell writers to blog book reviews, but that’s a BIG, HUGE, MASSIVE no-no in my book. First because writing reviews is a HUGE time-suck. Average of twelve hours to read a book then time to craft a review. Even if you posted once a week, that is 36-40 HOURS per month we could have spent on the novel. Second, book reviews will never go viral, EVER. And thirdly? Reviewing books muddies and undermines the author brand.

If a writer really bungled and you just cannot remain quiet? Send him or her an e-mail outlining the problems and maybe suggestions how to do better with the next book. This way correction is private and we aren’t publicly and permanently humiliating a peer.

Some writers might not respond well, but I know I’ve gotten e-mails that actually were really helpful. Readers who spotted typos or formatting errors that could be corrected. The idiot stuff? I just ignore, but I do appreciate that it was handled privately.

If you goofed on this and now feel badly, remove the review. In the future, focus on reviewing what you love.

Our BRAND is AUTHOR, not “book reviewer.” My opinion is we can’t do both.

Book reviewers have to be forthright to be taken seriously. This means some books will get shredded. This can undermine how our fellow writers feel about working with us as authors.

“Hey, I publicly shredded your first novel with a two-star but thoughtful review. I have a new book coming out. Can I guest post on your blog?”

“SURE! Just as soon as you send me a lock of your hair to complete that voodoo doll I crafted in your likeness.”

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Juha-Matti Herrala.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Juha-Matti Herrala.

I have a post that delves deeper into this conflict of interests HERE. Remember, we can be Siskel & Ebert or Steven Spielberg. Tough trick to be both.

We Are Human

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

I’d love to tell you I’ve never made a mistake, that I am the shining example to all, but I’ve had bad days too. I’ve screwed up and had to apologize. Just own it and say you’re sorry.

We all need grace, let’s just try not to make a habit of needing it too often. We’re wise to remember there’s a human on the other side of that screen. The digital world is wonderful, but it takes work (and sometimes holding our tongue fingertips) to keep it a positive experience.

Have you ever had someone shred you publicly on your blog? On social media? How did you handle it? Did you cry? I used to. Have toughened up. Do you delete the comment or leave it up so everyone will know they’re a jerk and steer clear? When you see comments on a blog that are rude and in bad taste, what do you do? Do you make note of the name? Defend the blogger?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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139 Comments

Social Media is a Waste of Time for Writers—Hmmm, Think Again

Image courtesy of cellardoorfilms WANA Commons...

Image courtesy of cellardoorfilms WANA Commons…

We’ve been talking a lot about social media lately and I am always grateful for your comments and thoughts. This kind of feedback not only helps me improve my blog, but my also books, because I get a glimpse of your worries, weaknesses, fears, loves, and strengths.

As a teacher/mentor/expert, it’s my job to address those fears and put you at ease or reinforce when you’re headed the right direction and give you tools and tips to take what you’re doing to another level.

There’ve been some comments that have piqued my attention lately. Namely this notion to give up on social media completely to write more books (out of vexation for the medium and the task).

Oh-kay….

Social Media is a TOTAL Waste of Time

Write more books instead of tweeting or blogging. Social media is a giant time-suck better spent writing great books.

I don’t know how to answer this besides, Er? *screeching breaks* Personally, I can think of no larger waste of time than researching and reading and spending countless hours crafting a wonderful book of 60,000-110,000 words and then?

No one knows the book exists so few people ever read it, enjoy it or are changed by the author’s story.

It’s like spending six months to a year on an oil painting to hang it in an attic.

 

These days, any agent worth their salt will not sign an author who doesn’t have a social media brand and presence. Rarely, they will take a book from an author who doesn’t…but usually it will come with the requirement the author get on-line and get to work.

I ADORE Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary and once shared a panel with her. She told the story of a book she LOVED and took even though the author wasn’t on social media. She was so impressed with the book she signed the author but told her she needed to get on social media and start building a platform.

After six months, the author refused. Dawn gave an ultimatum. Get your tail on social media or we drop the book and cancel the contract.

Myth-Busting

It used to be that an author who wanted to completely avoid social media went traditional. Well, traditional publishing has now seen the value of social media and almost all of them require it. They require it even if they allot budgeting for marketing. Why? Because social media helps them gain a FAR greater ROI on the marketing dollars spent.

How?

I’ll give an example. I once read a traditionally published craft book that changed my life. At the time, my platform had grown fairly large and I’ve worked very hard to create a solid reputation for recommending only the best resources. I tried to contact the author not only to promote the book, but to get this author to present our conference (which sells A LOT of books).

The web site was an outdated clumsy mess and the contact e-mail at the bottom was no longer any good. The author wasn’t on FB or Twitter and I think I finally located this writer—of all places—on LinkedIn. Four months later the author replied, but by then the window of opportunity had closed.

I was…vexed.

 

Additionally, since I’d had such a bear of a time connecting to the author, I wasn’t going to recommend this tedious experience to others.

Publishers have since recognized this problem and they want to remove as much friction from a potential sale as possible. Their goal is not only to sell a book but to captivate and cultivate a FAN who will buy that book, the next and the next. This is simply smart business.

Though I’m not a huge fan of ads, it makes sense that if a publisher (traditional or indie) is going to pay good money to create and launch one, that anyone interested should be able to easily connect with the author. Same with coveted AP reviews, interviews, or events. Even if we self-publish and pay for promotion, an existing platform will make the most of that investment.

A LOT of any sales is the follow up then the follow-through.

If social media is new, scary, overwhelming? Welcome to being NEW. Most of us start like this…

 

Social Media is for the CONSUMER

I come from a background in sales. Cardboard. Not glamourous but everyone uses it. Being the cheapest or mailing out flyers or calling non-stop was not what sold my product over other choices.

And trust me, we had BEAUTIFUL ads. I also had competition offering a far cheaper product. They also had products virtually IDENTICAL to ours. But ads and price and even selection weren’t the major driving factor in sales.

Rather, it was the customer’s ability to quickly and easily connect with ME.

Maybe the company didn’t need corner board the day they met me. But then, that purchaser I’d spoken to in the spring signed a contract with a client in the autumn who wanted to ship truckloads of water heaters STAT. Water heaters that needed protection during shipping.

Because that purchaser had my personal cell number (back in the days when most salespeople didn’t have one and I paid for my OWN), guess who closed the sale?

Most salespeople didn’t want to pay out of pocket for a cell phone. They liked the old ways, the way business had always been done. Call the office. Leave a message with the receptionist, and then they’d return the call when they got back in off the road (which could be DAYS).

Even if the salesperson got the message once they checked into their hotels, it would be late in the evening. The earliest a customer could get an answer would be the next day.

Me? They talked to the minute the idea flitted across their brains (or within the hour if I was in a meeting).

It cost me $400 a month of my own money to have a cell phone with enough minutes. Back then, 2000 minutes a month was the max one could buy in a package, but I had a nine-state territory and also all of northern Mexico and believed it was a wise investment.

Work smarter, not harder….

 

I put out my own effort and money to make it easier for a customer to find and connect with me instantly. I didn’t have to. But it sure made that $2.5 million a year quota a lot easier to meet. Of ALL the cardboard reps vying for the SAME SALE, I was the one who was Johnny on the Spot to solve a problem. I was the one they could dial and get an almost-instant response and solution.

Though cardboard and novels are different products, that tether of personal connection is powerful.

A large number of agents, especially those at the prestigious agencies, will not even consider a query if they can’t google our name and see we’ve been working to at least connect and begin cultivating a community that can become readers.

But now many authors are going indie or self-publishing. Indie houses I can guarantee will likely ignore anyone who doesn’t want to be on social media. Those who self-publish? WE ARE THE PUBLISHER. What responsible publisher with a hint of business acumen ignores any kind of interaction and follow-up with potential customers (readers)?

It reminds me of the cardboard salesmen who didn’t want a cell phone. They’d missed the point that their job was to serve the customer’s schedule and needs, not the other way around.

Golf is NOT Golf and Dinner is NOT Dinner

Hubby and I had an interesting debate a few days ago. He kinda turned his nose up about wining and dining and entertaining clients (we have two small businesses). But Hubby has spent most of his professional life as a procurement person and is a long-lost cousin of Mr. Spock.

But then I explained that those off-site relaxed endeavors were actually investments in relationships and even friendships. When I took customers to lunch, I never talked business. I wanted to know (genuinely) about their wives, kids, or hobbies and let them have some fun talking about the things they enjoyed. It was personal.

It’s far more important to be interested than interesting.

When I would call to follow up, I asked about how their son’s Little League game went or how the wife was and simply told them I’d be in the area during a certain time. Never asked for money or talked about cardboard.

I also never chastised them or was hurt if they bought from another source. I’d say, “Well, that was a smart business decision. Can’t blame you for being prudent. Just hope I am there to help you next time. You know how to reach me.”

Over time, because of the relaxed atmosphere, I found that customers gravitated to calling me because they knew me, could reach me, and rather enjoyed not being pitched to non-stop. They’d even pay more.

What was really cool was that certain customers eventually refused to deal with any other company but ours, no matter how cheap the competitor’s price. They would even recommend me (and my product) to other companies, because I ignored the ABCs (Always BE Closing) and trusted the power of relationships and consistency.

The same can be said for social media. Blasting spam and bargains and free stuff might work for a while and on a few people, but it doesn’t generate the long-term loyalty money can’t buy.

Sure, back in my cardboard days, it cost me time and money and effort. My hard work rarely paid off immediately and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t harshly criticized.

But, eventually, when customers had to choose between going to lunch with someone who jammed flyers and price lists in their faces, who never shut up talking about themselves and who insisted on a signature on the dotted line by the time the check came?

Versus me?

I was far less exhausting and annoying to deal with.

Social Media is NOT a Sales Pitch

Social media is like all those lunches or quick, relaxing trips to a driving range to just unwind and chat and become friends. People should know we have a book, just like all my cardboard customers had a fancy folder filled with all our products and a sample box.

But the product wasn’t my focus, people were.

To refuse to do social media would have been akin to me never traveling and sitting by the phone in my office hoping it would ring. That our cardboard would sell itself. I imagine I wouldn’t have lasted long.

To misuse social media is a formula for a customer (reader) to gravitate some place they don’t feel like prey. Social media used properly doesn’t take much time to do, but it will take time to grow roots.

Just like it only took five minutes for me to call a buyer, ask how his kids were and let him know I’d be in the area and ask if he and his receptionist would care to join me for a bite to eat. But, though it took minutes to make the invitation, it took months of care and authentic follow-up to build a foundation of trust that created a loyal customer.

Direct Sales is Almost Universally ANNOYING

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 11.38.06 AM

How many of you have gone to having a cell phone because the only people who called the landline were selling something? How many times have any of you said, “Sure, I’ll pay for that cruise right now” after getting a random phone call. Or, “Yes, sign my up for that credit protection plan. TAKE MY MONEY!”

How many times have you found a flyer on your windshield or front door and immediately called for that product or service? Or answered the spam in your e-mail with credit card in hand?

Think of this when using social media😉 . Relax, have fun and trust this is a process and a really fun one with the right attitude.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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141 Comments

Marketing, Social Media & Book Signings—Why NONE of These Directly Impact Book Sales

Craftfest

In The Digital Age, we seem to find a lot of extremes. Either articles or blogs ranting how social media doesn’t sell books, it’s too hard, there are too many rules, whiiiiiiinnnnne. These folks might write books, maybe even great books, but I suppose they think readers will find them using telepathy. 

Or, there are those who worship the Oracle of Automation and the Lord of Algorithms. Instead of writing MORE BOOKS, they tweet, FB, Instagram, buy flare, do blog tours, futz with the website, the cover, the algorithms…and then can later be witnessed crying in a corner with a pan of brownies and a half-finished bottle of rum.

Thus, I am here to bring some balance to The Force.

Social Media Was NEVER About Selling Books Directly—Who KNEW?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

I’ve been saying this for about ten years, because the idea of using social circles for sales is NOT new. About ten years ago, I recognized that social media would soon be a vital tool for writers to be able to create a brand and a platform before the book was even finished. This would shift the power away from sole control of Big Publishing and give writers more freedom. But, I knew social media could not be used for direct sales successfully.

How?

When I was in college, every multi-level-marketing company in the known world tried to recruit me. I delivered papers and worked nights most of my college career. Needless to say, I was always on the lookout for a more flexible job that didn’t require lugging fifty pounds of paper up and down three flights of apartment stairs at four in the morning.

I’d answer Want Ads in the paper thinking I was being interviewed for a good-paying job where I could make my own hours. Inevitably it would be some MLM company selling water filters, diet pills, vitamins, prepaid legal services, or soap.

And if I sat through the presentation, they fed me. This meant I sat through most of them.

What always creeped me out was how these types of companies did business. First, “target” family and friends to buy said product (and hopefully either sign them up to sell with you or at least “spread the word” and give business referrals). Hmmmm. Sound familiar?

The business model wasn’t really about meeting people, connecting and actually liking them just because they were good people. There was an endgame…SELL STUFF (or manipulate others into helping you sell stuff).

Ick.

Hey, you go to the gym anyway. Strike up a conversation. Say nice things, then give the sucker friend target a FREE SAMPLE. People who work out need vitamins. That isn’t ookey AT ALL!

Hmmm, looks legit.

Hmmm, looks legit.

The Battle of the Experts

I recall being part of a panel in NYC at Thrillerfest and the other experts were all excited about applications that could tweet for authors “saving time” or even certain tools that could measure what days and times Twitter was most active and when people would be most likely to see our tweets. All I could think was:

1) Are these people tweeting or ovulating?

2) If everyone uses this same tool, then all they will do is crowd the feed and no one will see anything. Left long enough, these “Golden Hours” will shift so people can avoid the barrage of ME, ME, ME! MY BOOK!

The panel’s moderator (ironically) worked for the CIA and was tickled silly that there were all kinds of algorithms that could “predict human behaviors.” Of course, I made myself WAY popular when I said, “The only way to accurately predict human behavior is if we all have a chip in our heads and someone else has a joystick.”

Yes, I can be blunt. My mom is from New York. I blame it on her.

My assertion was that, if this was true, and we could accurately predict human behavior, then we wouldn’t be worrying about crime, war or terrorism and that these algorithms were a mirage that gave a false sense of us “being in control” of the uncontrollable.

Also, how would she still have a job at the CIA?

Oooh, But We Can MEASURE…um, NO

In the 90s and early 21st century most people weren’t on-line. Computers were still cost-prohibitive and Internet service was mind-bendingly slow (dial-up?) and expensive. Social media was in its infancy and only early adopters trusted buying on-line.

Companies could launch ads and measure click-throughs. How long did a visitor stay on a web site’s page? Did the visitor click the ad on the page? Did that ad then translate into a sale? Companies still do this. I’m pretty sure authors can do this, but why would we want to?

Could feel like THIS? Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

Meet Spiffy the Algorithm Hamster. He is DEAD.

Unlike Sephora, Gap or Walmart, most of us are a one-person operation. We don’t have a team of interns to do this stuff. We also don’t have a multi-million dollar corporate budget.

What IF an ad doesn’t work? How many of us have time and extra money to launch a new ad?

Also, there are SO many variables beyond our control. I’ve seen this with blogging. A holiday, time of year (kids getting out of school), a major world news event (like Paris being attacked by terrorist cells) can all affect traffic and click-throughs. To try and study our stats and juke them for advantage is a lot of time better used elsewhere (like writing more books).

Might I suggest one of these...

Might I suggest one of these…

Relationships are Key

Social media is social, meaning it’s about relationships. This means, 1) it will take time to build and 2) it cannot be outsourced 3) it cannot be automated.

Can you imagine trying to maintain relationships this way in the real world? Give your husband a call-in number:

For the location of clean socks, press 1. For a word of encouragement, press 2. For the item I need you to pick up from the store, press 3. For the real reason I haven’t talked to you since yesterday, please stay on the line and an operator will be with you shortly.

Your estimated call wait time is three days.

HINT: Anniversary.

Social media and author brands will sell books, just not directly and not in ways that can be measured looking at clicks and stats. Social media is essentially word-of-mouth which has been selling stuff books for centuries and no one can measure it. 

The Bottom Line

Since I don’t have all the articles and blogs griping about social media, I am limited here. But I imagine that, aside from telling writers social media was a waste of time that doesn’t sell books, I assume not one of these complainers offered up some panacea replace social media.

See, it is a hell of a lot easier to complain than to offer a solution. Griping takes ZERO brainpower.

So, if social media doesn’t sell books, then what does? Ads don’t. Never have. Promotions (without an extant and vested platform) are time-consuming, expensive and have a dismal ROI (Return on Investment).

Also, if social media is so grossly ineffective, what explanation do we have for the MASSIVE power shift from BIG NYC publishing to indie and self-published authors now 1) making a reasonable second income 2) making a decent enough living to finally write full-time 3) nontraditional authors taking up an increasing portion of major bestseller lists like the New York Times and USA Today and 4) the major inflation of fiction writers now making six and seven figures?

All the ones I know of (and there are MANY) use social media to some extent. All of these authors would never have gained visibility, traction or sales without social media.How can we explain these trends without including social media as a variable?

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 1.17.53 PM

Notice I said social media as a variable. There is NO magic formula. Hard work, more books, good books and generating word of mouth (in part with a brand and on-line platform) is fundamental. Social media has been mistakenly touted as a formula to wealth and riches, but it isn’t. Neither is buying real estate using a proven program from an infomercial.

The Future

Bookstores are closing. Barnes & Noble is evaporating. Indie stores are making a comeback, but they have limited space (and need to unless they want to go bankrupt like the megastores that tried to KILL them). THIS is the future of book sales. THIS is in the cosmetics section of my grocery store. Insert a debit card and get a sample before you buy…

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. LOSS prevention?

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. Also, um LOSS prevention?

Oh, and these are popping up…

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 11.23.38 AM

Check your bank balance then BUY A BOOK!

For those who want a paper copy to hold...

For those who want a paper copy to hold…and get NACHOS!

These kiosks sound familiar. Reminds me of one of my posts from over three years ago. I wrote a lot of other blogs that said basically the same stuff, posts that are even older. But I’ve written over 800 blogs and I’m lazy and have to get back to writing books. And I am not alone in seeing this trend. I’m no great genius. Other people saw this coming.

Um, clearly since I can’t claim I invented any of these machines. Ok, I could, but I try to restrict lying to my fiction.

But, if THESE kiosks are down the pipeline, how can we reasonably come to the conclusion that social media is a total waste of time?

Relying totally on social media is a waste of time, but I’ve been saying that for years. As authors, we are wise to think in terms of our careers. Think like a business, as in short-term and long-term. Platforms and careers need a wide base, deep roots, a community of support, time and a heck of a lot of sweat equity.

Also, there are effective ways to do social media and ways that make others want to stab us in the face (which was why I wrote Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World).W.A.N.A. ways WORK. They’re responsible for selling millions of books. But they take time.

ROM has a simple step-by-step plan. Heck, don’t buy my book. Browse my blogs for free. I only care about your success.

The Future IS Bright for Writers

The future for authors is wonderful, but there is no Social Media Shake Weight. Sorry. I was bummed, too. But here’s the thing. The same articles/blogs that will discourage writers from social media because it doesn’t sell books aren’t also demanding we halt all book signings.

Book signings are fun, they are social, and they’ve historically been a way to connect authors to an audience in a personal way.

Until social media they were the only way. 

But book signings were NEVER meant as a sole means to sell books. In fact, it was really never even the purpose of a signing. Rather it was connection with the author as a person.

Craftfest

Even if a writer has a line out the door, the most even a mega-author might sell is a thousand books. Let’s be generous. FIVE thousand books. A drop in the bucket if you’re Dan Brown. Is selling 5,000 books relevant when an author sells millions? When an author has to board a plane, stay in a hotel, sit in one spot signing for hours or even come up with a speech? And travel city to city to city for a month or more instead of writing?

Food for thought😉 .

We live in a wonderful time to be a writer. Yes, it’s work, but there are a lot of reasons why this job isn’t for everyone. Success in anything is about staying power, passion, and effective action (solid social media, building relationships, and writing MORE books and GOOD books).

What are your thoughts? Are too many authors banking too much on social media? Do you feel social media has been sold to writers as a get-rich-quick-scheme? Do you see other authors approaching social media in a way you know is going to burn them out? Do you know of any nontraditional authors who sold zillions of books yet didn’t use social media at all? What did they do?

…ALIENS.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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87 Comments

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