Follow-up Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work.

There’s a blogger named Delilah at Whimsydark.com who apparently got a lot of interest in a controversial blogpost. As she correctly noted, people do not visit blogs for self-help or for improvement. Folks want juicy controversy, which explains the multi-billion dollar gossip industry. Which is why it’s much easier to criticize pirating and get emotional over how evil and vile the “Big Five” and Amazon are, because the more radical one is, the more hits one gets. That’s the reality of our internet lifestyle.

So below is her controversial post, and my thoughts. Pay attention, class. School is in session. You can call me the professor.

Note: I am a subscriber to Delilah’s blog. I think this is worth checking out.

Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work.

April 13, 2015

Let’s talk about marketing, shall we?

It’s 2012. I’m sitting at a table in the front of the room, a microphone poised to capture my every word. At this local writing conference, I am considered a rock star. Everyone in the audience wants what I have–a three-book contract with a traditional publishing company. Their eyes are hungry, their pens poised over notebooks. We take a question from the crowd.

“How do I build a platform and make money with my blog?” a woman asks.

“Build a time machine and go back to 2005 and start your blog then,” I say.

Because it’s the truth. In this oversaturated market, the only ways to build a following and profit from it are to have been around for 5-10 years already or to already be famous. The woman sits down, unhappy with my answer. But no one else on the panel has a better one. Because there is no easy answer, no secret to building a following.

Scary, right?

It scares me, too.

From the very beginning of my writing career, I’ve been told that publishers want a writer to have a brand, a platform, a blog, a built-in army of fans. But that was 2009, and now it’s 2015, and that doesn’t work anymore. Book blogs become paid services, giveaways become chum pits, conference-goers dump purses full of business cards out in the trash to make room for more free books that they won’t read. It is virtually impossible to get your blog seen or your book discovered. We are glutted with information, and yet our answer to “How do I get people to buy my book?” is social media marketing, which is basically throwing more information out into the void.

Why?

B&B note: Yes, there are far too many websites and far too many distractions. This is why I say there will never be another Harry Potter book again- it’s not about whether HP is the greatest book series ever written. Even if hypothetically someone wrote books as good as that, you have far more distractions and competition than Harry Potter did in the late 1990s, when the first books came out. So if you though kids like me (I was a kid in the late 1990s) were distracted with Playstation and Nintendo64, now add social media, free games, free apps, Netflix, bing-watching television, and the glut of free stuff on the net, combined with the threat of piracy, and a struggling economy, and now you see why it’s so hard for anyone to pay attention, especially to books. Plus, the number of new children declines as the birth rate declines, meaning in 30 years, barring a sudden revival in baby-making, there won’t be enough kids to make children’s book publishing profitable. AND an increasing number of young people can’t read, thanks to an inept public education system.

1. Because Twitter doesn’t sell books.

It is a sad fact that if every one of my Twitter followers–which is 9,631, as of this post– bought my next book, HIT would hit the New York Times bestseller list. BOOM. Easy. One success like that helps an author with every stage of their career, raising their advances, giving them more bargaining power, and lending them a sort of street cred that even my grouchy Luddite grandfather understands and respects. Looking at my sales numbers, my followers are not following me for the purpose of buying my next book, and that’s totally okay. They’re probably there for my brownie recipes and #badscarystories. But the point is that whatever a publisher sees when checking my Klout score doesn’t necessarily translate into book sales. Whatever form of alchemy causes a person to click BUY IT NOW runs deeper than simply hearing the message every two hours as if the author is an insane cuckoo clock.

B&B: The free twitter services aren’t bad, but how many people do you know go to Twitter to buy books?

2. Because Facebook hides posts for blackmail purposes.

Back in 2007, Facebook was beautiful in its simplicity. You posted something to your personal page or your Fan/Author/Brand page, and everyone who was your Friend or Follower saw it. Since then, however, Facebook has recognized the error of allowing us to speak to our friends for free, and now, of my 1836 Fans, only 3-10% see any given post on the Author page that they have chosen to follow for the express purpose of reading my posts. If I pay $20, I could bump that number up to 30%. I would have better luck randomly mailing postcards to strangers. No matter what I say or how beautifully I say it, my message doesn’t reach the people who have asked to hear it.

B&B: Score one for Delilah! Little to people know that Facebook actually makes you pay TWICE to get everyone possible to see it. This is due to their algorithm changes, which affect who can see your posts. They do this because they can.

3. Because people aren’t on Instagram to find new books.

I got on Instagram hoping to reach people who prefer beautiful images. As an artist, I love setting up shots, tweaking the exposure, and using filters. But let’s be honest. Seeing a beautiful photo of my book sitting on my orange sweater beside a Pop-Tart isn’t going to make you go buy that book. Even if you judge a book by its cover, Instagram isn’t how people shop for great reads. I get more <3’s when I take pictures of Earl the donkey rubbing his adorable nose on my butt, but I haven’t yet figured out how to monetize that.

B&B: Instagram is the one social media site I don’t use, because I don’t know how to integrate it with my platform yet. I can see the value, but yes- people who go there are not looking to buy books. Same with Pinterest, Facebook, and lots of other places.

4. Because tumblr is not a spectator sport.

I tumbl. I love tumbling. But at 37, I’m practically a corpse over there. I’m not so much part of a vibrant, changing, sharing community as I’m on the sidelines, occasionally curating and adding value but never wanting to be pushy or intrude on the young adult readers I hope to one day call fans. To be honest, inserting myself into convos on tumblr makes me feel like Matthew McConnaughy in Dazed and Confused, when he was the skeever hitting on high school girls. I don’t need to be following or addressing teens, but I do want to be around if they’re looking for me. In a non-creepy way. That mostly involves retumbling my Instagram pics.

B&B: Scratch that, I use WordPress, not Tumblr. Or Snapchat. Or Keek. Or Vine.  Or YikYak. Or a lot of what teens use today. Whoa.

5. Because book reviews are not a place for the author.

I firmly, 100% believe that anyone has a right to express their feelings about my books in any way that they want, and that’s one of many reasons why I’ve removed myself from the realm of reviews. Reading bad reviews makes me feel horrible, and reading good reviews makes me feel creepy and embarrassed. I’m too shy to reach out and ask someone to read or review my book, and approaching book bloggers online out of nowhere feels awkward. Nothing makes me as happy as learning that someone liked one of my books, but I can’t go looking for that information. I turned off my Google Alerts forever after a Goodreads review made me uglycry.

B&B: Agreed that relying on book reviews, good or bad, is dumb. You will live and die emotionally on people who just want to complain, or only say nice things, no matter how shallow their post looks. Having said that, I don’t think I would object to blogpost after blogpost praising my writing and legions of people buying my books.

6. Because I hate newsletters and hashtag parties too much to inflict them on anyone else.

Seriously. I get so many of these invites from strangers and promoters and people who met me once at a con and now want me to retweet them every hour, and I can’t. Y’all, I just can’t. I can’t go to your book launch party in California. I can’t spend an hour when I could be writing just popping in to a virtual party to ask questions and give away $20 worth of my books to your followers. I don’t want to do anything “virtual” that involves ending every post with a hashtag. I have never signed up for a newsletter, so why do I get so many of them (me: :(, she doesn’t subscribe to my blog?!) ? And when I unsubscribe, why do they keep on showing up? Do not even get me started on people who add me to Facebook groups without asking. I will see you in hell.

B&B:  The problem is, there are just so many sites with book readers and writers, you have to tour everywhere and it’s overwhelming just to think about, let alone visit. And many folks hang out in one site, so you’re missing readers.

UGH.

Are you seeing the thread here?

Social media is PUSHING.

B&B: Yup. And bragging about your unexceptional life to strangers, just to get a sliver of attention.

And today’s reader doesn’t buy things because the author pushed them.

As a reader, I want a book to pull me.

When I see a book’s name pop up again and again among people I trust, I want to read it.

When the cover is beautiful and the hook is compelling, I want to read it.

When I meet the author and they are gracious and kind and insightful, I want to read it.

When I listen in on a panel and like what I hear, I want to read it.

When I chat with someone on Twitter, and they make me laugh and add value to my life, I start to think that their book might add value, too.

None of those things are pushy.

None of them happen *to* me, uninvited.

I don’t want to be the object that is acted upon. I want to be the subject that makes a conscious decision, that feels a twinge of curiosity and discovers something amazing. I want to be the person who acts, not the person who is acted upon. I don’t want to be badgered and nagged and wheedled and urged and threatened and cajoled and whined at.

B&B: Okay, this is where I have a slight disagreement with Delilah. This is how advertising works. If GEICO was unsuccessful in getting people to sign up because of all their tv/radio/magazine/newspaper/social media ads, would they keep doing it? Of course not. The reality is, people need to be reminded over and over again. I just sat through 2 hours from a local radio station on advertising, and why I should buy ads with them and I can tell you how this works.

Would fishing be fun if the fish jumped out of the ocean and smacked you in the face?

Nope.

And that’s what a lot of social media by authors is starting to look like, to feel like: being smacked in the face, repeatedly, by hundreds of fish. Being pushed. Being assaulted and yelled at and chased. Being manipulated and prodded and possibly tricked.

That’s not how you earn readers and friends. Literature is not a #teamfollowback sport. B&B: Tell that to the lit agents and publishers, who count the number if twitter/instagram followers you have before they decide to sign you to anything. And then expect that they expect you will push your followers to buy your books.

Books and social media are both about making a genuine connection.

So if you’re a writer who worries as much as I do about online marketing, the best advice I can give you is to chill out and write the next book. To focus your energy on the one thing that’s in your control: writing the best book you possibly can. Focus on editing each sentence to make it sing. Focus on helping your publisher craft a great hook and fabulous cover copy.

Spend your energy and time being kind to your colleagues, thanking your publishing team, and making new friends with no expectation that you will eventually use them to claw your way to the top. Before you Friend another writer on Facebook, make sure it’s because you legitimately want to know them better and be part of their life and not because you’re planning on sending them an Event invitation or a link to your book. If they’re smart enough to write a great book, they’re smart enough to see through that ploy.

Because here’s the secret: None of us know what we’re doing, but we’re all trying our asses off. We are all hungry.

I went to a panel on How to Write a Bestseller at the RWA conference and asked the two speakers what was the number one contributor to their making the jump from midlist to bestseller, and they both looked very uncomfortable and said, “We just kept on writing.” They couldn’t point to a single marketing-related action. They sure as hell didn’t say, “We sent a lot of auto-DMs on Twitter with our book links in them.”

The recipe seems to be GREAT BOOK + HARD WORK + TIME + LUCK.

And the writer can only control three of those things.

B&B Conclusion: Apparently, she  followed up with a post saying she got 50,000 hits on it, but still didn’t sell any books. It’s easier to ‘like’ something online than give money. Speaking of, I liked her synopsis, so I need to be reminded over and over and over to check her book out.

In all seriousness that is all author’s challenge. Why did Twilight sell better than every other vampire romance novel series everywhere? Why Hunger Games but not another dystopia? Why this thriller but not that one? As Delilah noted, no one really knows. Great writing and a great cover help a lot, but it’s luck. Some authors understand this, others do not. But yes, writing lots and lots means EVENTUALLY you might have something people want to pay for.

So my advice: Go forth and write what seems best to you. Promote it, and consider a great book trailer and great giveaways. And if you crack the 1,000 barrier, you get an A from Professor B&B.

What We can Learn from the “Burger-King Wedding” about Promoting Ourselves

When a Burger (Joel) gets engaged to a King (Ashley), there is only one place for their official engagement photo — a Burger King restaurant.

photo: Ashley King, provided to the State-Journal Register

In the latest episode of a nice story which goes viral and gives some folks their brief moment of fame, it appears there is a couple, named Joel Burger and Ashley King, who are getting married, a.k.a., the “Burger-King” wedding. They’ve apparently known each other for many years, and through love and good fortune, are tying the knot.

As one would expect, Burger King, Inc., saw a great PR opportunity and jumped in on it, offering to pay for the entire wedding. No word if they will serve onion rings, rodeo burgers, or crispy chicken sandwiches as the catered meal, or if they will share Whoppers at the altar (okay, okay). Needless to say, this light-hearted story (which I have no reason to believe is being manufactured by BK for promotion purposes in this instance, though this does happen with some frequency) is a great way to make you feel warm and fuzzy about a business which I doubt caters a lot of weddings.

The point is, BK found an easy opportunity to promote itself, and took it. So for today’s topic, how does this help authors sell books? After all, most of us can or could barely afford our own weddings, let along a stranger’s.

But in this case fate had it that Mr. Burger and Mrs. King got engaged, and created an opportunity to jump on it for publicity. Authors, you can do it to. Say you wrote a book with unusual but not totally made-up names, such as a romance novel. Then it turns out a real-life couple with the same names as your characters really is getting married. Why not send them a $200 gift certificate, maybe some of your books, or something else, and then mention it on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube?

Or you find out someone has used one of your books at an event they were at and took a photo. Not only should you retweet/pin that photo, but I’d go ahead and send them an autographed copy of the book and interview them for your blog (who says fans can’t be guests on the blog)? Then, send them a prize pack.

Yes, it is somewhat shameless self-promotion, but so long as you don’t take away their joy and make it ALL about you, then there isn’t anything wrong with it. What are the odds of having an opportunity like that ever again?

The bottom line is, in this world, with so many distractions and choices for entertainment, we are competing against everything else out there for people’s money and attention. If fate presents you with an opportunity to get your name out there, even if only for a day, B&B strongly recommends you take it and not look the other way.

And speaking of shameless self-promotion, please make sure to follow my blog and my twitter @sammydrf.

Three Things I’ve Learned so Far about Pinterest

The stereotypical Pinterest user is a college-educated woman between the ages of 25-45. It’s true that men are less likely to want to “Pin” something than women, but even if romance novels, wine, and Louboutins, are not “your bag” it could be useful.

I’ve only had the opportunity to use Pinterest a few times because I’m still trying to figure out where it fits into my social media schedule. Below are three things I’ve learned from Pinterest thus far.

  • Brands dominate Most Pins are related to businesses and brands and sharing brand content. Now Pinterest was criticized for recently banning affiliate and redirect links from the platform, making these repins marked for the spam category. So if you were just repinning stuff from businesses without being recognized as an “official repinner” then you may not be able to earn a living. But if you have your author site and you create photo, meme, or graphic content, you are more likely to get attention than if you just randomly Pin stuff. Approximately two-thirds of the pins on Pinterest are related to brands, according to Pinterest’s own figures.
  • You will soon be able to sell directly from Pinterest They’re expected to allows ads and buy buttons on Pinterest boards to keep people from leaving the site. Think of things which could be sold just by pinning a photo or graph and letting people buy with one click like Amazon. This is a good thing for anyone with a product to sell- if 2/3 of pins are related to brands, and the typical Pinterest user has some amount of disposable income to make purchases, then you have a new avenue to increase your sales in a place where people expect to be sold to, unlike say Twitter or Facebook. I would definitively take advantage of this function in order to reach new customers and if you have a brand and either a) some content creating skills or b) someone who can make content for you, consider using this.
  • Create targeted boards This goes into my whole “branding” thing where some people think you have to stick to one very specific thing to be identified with that. Somehow corporations don’t get this memo- many create different boards to target different thinks. For example, “Beer” is very generic. But “Best craft brews on the West Coast ” has much less competition because it’s a less searchable topic. So let’s say you write books on beer. You could create on board for specific brews in different region, then maybe create one for people to post their favorite beers, and one for most unique beer recipes and yet another for people who want to talk about books and writing about beer. You still talk about beer, but you aim your brand at people with different interests, with the goal of getting people to buy some or all of your books. Someone who doesn’t care about craft beers of the Mid-West might find most unique recipes to be more interesting.

My person Pinterest board is here. I will use this as a test run for future branding opportunities. Follow my blog for more tips- I’ve got more advance Pinterest, and other, tips which I share for free (just add a $2 gratuity to your bill).

Feel free to share your Pinterest tips or success stories.

Seven Things I’ve Learned Using Social Media

Anyone trying to build a personal brand knows you have to use social media. All of us are increasingly spending more and more time online, whether from a desktop or mobile device, so being where people are is important if you want to reach folks.

The question is though, how many social media sites does one need to be active on to be successful? I’m not just talking about Facebook, etc., but blogs and “hang out” places like Kboards.com or whatever it is in your field you like. I’m still learning but here are seven things I’ve learned from trying to create my online platform.

1. Contrary to popular wisdom, you really don’t need to be a star with every site Conversely, you should be using more than one. I would say if you can use 3 social media sites and stay active on at least 2 blog boards (your personal blog counts for this, as does someone else’s blog) that’s more than sufficient. Stretching yourself too thin will dilute your impact but too few limits your ability to find new fans for your brand.  There are so many social media sites (Do you use Keek? Vine? Tumblr? Instagram? Snapchat? Flickr?) you just can’t star at ’em all unless you either a) use social media like a full-time job or b) hire someone to manage your social media full time. Ignore anyone who says that if you’re not on dozens of social media sites you’re “missing out”. There are very few people or businesses which can use that many sites and all of them have social media managers.

B&B: I use Facebook for personal use, Twitter (personal), LinkedIn (professional), Google+ (both), my blog (both), and I just signed up for Pinterest (which you can visit at https://www.pinterest.com/samfriedman100/). Check out my blog this Thursday for some great Pinterest tips. I also have a Vimeo account but it’s inactive at this time.

2. YouTube is a great tie-in to your other sites, but useless without a strategy Unless your direct objective is to be a YouTube celebrity or to get just enough viewers to collect a little ad revenue, producing even basic quality, simple content is time-consuming. It takes me about an hour to make a 2-5 minute video, edit it, add a free music soundtrack for intro and outro music, and publish with keyword rich videos. If I need photos it could take a little longer given my computer’s age and hard drive speed. Absolutely use YT to promote your brand but make sure YT fits into your overall platform plan. Otherwise your random videos will be drowned out by gamers, sketch comedians, DIY celebrities, and anyone willing to do basically anything to become famous. Hmmm…..

3. Visit blog boards in your area of interest and post, but don’t be worried if you aren’t a heavy poster I’ve been a registered member of Kboards for about 6 months and I have maybe 30 posts. Working a full time paid job and managing several other part-time jobs and volunteering keeps me too busy to post a ton but I do try. On at least one occasion a woman on Kboards snarkily commented how I had been on 3 months but had 8 posts (at the time) when I tried to post a topic question. Get your name out there but focus on your brand first and foremost and don’t feel bad if you’re not a board addict.

4. Identify the best posting times for each site Not all social media sites are created equal when it comes to posting. Did you know the best times to post to YouTube are Wednesday-Friday from 12-3 PM, but Saturday and Sunday 9-11 AM? Did you know some Pinterest brands in areas like cars and fashion do better if Pinned Friday afternoon, which is a total dead time for LinkedIn posts? Experiment and measure your data to see how you’re doing and when you find the times which work best for you, get those posts in as consistently as you can.

5. Experiment with different ideas per site, and keep track of what works and what doesn’t For LinkedIn I found that posts about social media were my most popular, giving me hundreds of readers and followers at a time. In contrast, posts about anything else had far fewer hits. Twitter does well when I follow accounts tied into writing but less so tied into other things. I agree that branding only works when you follow a somewhat consistent pattern to make yourself identifiable with a brand, so in my case writing and personal branding tips. But I disagree with anyone who thinks you have to use the same concepts for all your social media platforms. So long as you stay within your brand image, it’s OK to post one type of post to LinkedIn and then a variant of that post, or a whole new one, to your personal blog.

6. Consider using Hoostsuite or Buffer to manage posts Eventually you will discover just how difficult it is to post to all sites consistently. Do I write a LinkedIn Influencer post today or post for my blog? Should I post a photo of my uncle’s adorably kitty to Twitter or Pinterest? Why not both? Eventually you will outgrow your ability to manage all posts so look for a social media manager like Hootsuite or Buffer. I use Buffer for personal stuff and Hootsuite for CRI which allows me to test which one is better, and there ARE other options as well. Find one you like and stick with it. Post as consistently same time/day as you can, but don’t get alarmed if you aren’t 100% consistent. You’re only human, even if your scheduler isn’t, and those who insist you manage half a dozen sites at the same time every single day fail to note this. Anyone who stops reading or following you because your post is a day late isn’t worth your worry, anyway.

7. Your Search Engine Optimization improves with your relevant online use Have you ever been contacted by someone promising to get you on the top page in Google’s search engine for your category? Obsessed over how to be found? The truth is, your total online presence and relevance is the top driver for SEO. The more relevant posts and publications you have which can be identifiable by you, the higher your SEO ranking will go. Don’t spend money on these “experts” who offer to boost your rating if you give them a lot of money. They can’t do anything productive for you and money you could have spent on Google AdWords to advertise your brand (or similar services such as Bing Ads) will be swallowed in the black hole of worrying about your SEO ranking.

Coming up next: National Pancake Day! Why I’m getting involved

Coming up soon: Some Pinterest posting tips I’m learning about.

The Problems with Children’s Lit in 2 Graphs (Super Bowl Edition)

First off, let me say American Sniper is a 5/5 movie. Bradley Cooper surprised me by playing the part of Chris Kyle well, naturally, as though it really was Kyle and not an actor playing a former Navy SEAL. I HIGHLY recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see war through the eyes of a person who actually went to Iraq and fought.

Second, Children’s lit. Publisher’s Launch is a project of Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and PublishersMarketplace.com and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company to provide better data analytics on the book pub world to publisher’s. Such as, who’s buying what and what the trends are for literature and literacy, two big issues I care about. Education is so important to me that I do a lot of grassroots work to improve education but that’s a post for another time.

Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book had a presentation at Publisher Launch’s Launch Kids session at the most recent Digital Book World conference called “A look at the US Children’s book Market”. He posted his slideshow to the ‘net, for those of us who couldn’t go.

As someone who read a fair amount of kid’s books, and who just finished manuscript #1 for a middle grade novel, here is what’s wrong with children’s lit in 2 graphs: 

The takeaways:

1. Notice the book is missing from graph #1 for kids 14-17. For most American children once they turn 11 books drop off and YouTube and TV take its place.

2. By 14 social media and mobile devices are more important. Reading drops out of the top 8 slots and even sports drop towards the bottom. I was surprised that gaming was less interesting than Facebook and YouTube among teens. This must explain the rise in watching strangers on YouTube play video games and “commentate” rather than actually picking up the controller yourself like I did when I was a teen. Let me note: They are watching random strangers just play games and talk. Whenever I wanted to watch someone play a game and talk, I would go to friend’s houses and do the same thing! But I digress.

This sadly means it’s tougher to get kids and teens to read, which is noticeable when 80% of Young Adult books are bought by adults, for adults. Unless..

3. Graph #2 shows the rise in getting YouTube (and presumably other) internet celebrities in “writing books”. Now to be fair I’ve never heard of any of the celebrities listed on graph 2, but I found this tidbit on “Girl Online” by Zoe Sugg, who goes by the name “Zoella” online. The article notes that Zoe’s debut novel outsold other major authors like J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and E.L. James. Apparently, though, her first week accounted for nearly all of her sales as she has since petered out near the 100,000 mark, surprising given that she has close to 7 million YouTube subscribers. She apparently did not actually write the novel; it was ghostwritten, a rather unusual thing for fiction novels, unless you’re bestselling author “Snooki” from the Jersey Shore.

No doubt the internet was a useful tool to help these YouTube stars, of which I am not one of them (I think I’m too old), sell books. However, in the long run, whose books sell better? The three authors Zoe beat, or Zoe? We all know the answer. Now in the short-term, getting celebrities of all stripes (internet, reality tv, etc.) is a better way of selling books than relying on little-known debut novelists with smaller platforms and fewer social media followers. You fans will go buy a book because it’s “you” and, like, you’re famous. BUT again, what are the odds of these books becoming the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Stephen King just because they have a celebrity’s name on it? Want to place a bet?

I can tell you why. At the end of the day it’s the product quality, not the person/people endorsing the product, which determines a product’s success. While I acknowledge I am a bit envious of my far-fewer social media follower status in promoting anything I have, I can say in the long run relying too heavily on poor-quality celebrity books, even to get kids to read, is not the answer. The kids who are not fans of these celebrities just won’t read or will go back to reading other things by established authors. I love Lord of the Rings, I consider it one of the all-time greatest fantasy series ever, but it’s a little sad to me when 2 of the top 5 best-selling Fantasy novels for January are by a man who’s been dead for 42 years, as though literally no one in the world can ever write a good fantasy book again.

Please share your thought about whether you think it’s a good idea for book publishers to rely heavily on celebrity-driven books, or take risks on little-known or unknown debut novelists. Remember. celebrity books are nothing new or bad. They can certainly boost sales at least in the short run over non-famous persons. My argument is that relying on internet & reality T.V. celebrities to “write” kid’s books is not a good long-term trend for brand development and literacy improvement.

The full report is here

SUPER BOWL PICK: I will be rooting for New England with my Pats shirt on at the bar tomorrow. Initially I had Seattle 27-16, but I’m more torn on it now. New England plays very well with the “us against the world mentality” and for that reason I leaned towards NE. But Seattle has shown the ability to do their best no matter what the other teams do, and can the Pats defense stop Lynch and Wilson?

The key players are Gronk vs. Wilson. I’ll go closer but I say Seattle 26 New England 23. Seattle’s defense has been very good at shutting down good offenses and even with the injuries in the back 7 I don’t know how good New England’s defense will be at slowing down the Seattle run game, even IF their WR’s are mediocre.

Can an Author be Successful Without a Huge Social Media Platform?

Could Steven King  land a book contract today for his debut novel without celebrity status or being know by the “in-crowd?”

photo credit: blogs.denverpost.com

As I have discovered since I decided to try to have my novel published, publishers care A LOT about an author’s social media platform in order to drive sales. Now I happen to be a public relations pro and so building a platform, however cost-effective at this time, is not a problem for me to want to do and do well. Many authors, however, are not very good at doing this, and thus is one reason I provide helpful tips on social media strategies (and coming soon, media appearance tips) to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter @sammydrf.

Having a social media strategy is a good thing. As an author you have to be able to sell yourself and it is unreasonable to think a publisher or agent will just book your tours, get you media appearances, or market your book while you kick back and do nothing but sign copies between working on your next novel. However, I agree to some extend with comments made by Seth Godin, founder of the website squidoo.com. At this week’s Digital Book World 2015 conference he said (emphasis mine):

“Not all of your authors want to be good at social media. Not all of them have something to say when they’re not writing their book,” he told publishers.

In Godin’s view, the emphasis on building author platforms has gone too far. If so many authors now approach social media as a part of their jobs in the digital era, it’s at least partly thanks to their publishers, who have assiduously told them it is. But the problem is that it often looks that way to readers.

For one thing, that can make it hard to build a following, Godin says, and for another, doing so isn’t just about driving engagement on social channels, anyway.

Establishing and maintaining a loyal audience is by its nature a long-term investment, and what loyalty looks like online can sometimes differ considerably from what it looks like offline, “where the real work” gets done.

Godin points to Bob Dylan, who isn’t particularly active on social media but still has a vibrant and profitable career. “The long-tail rewards people for whom there’s passion from a few,” he says. “The Monkees had a TV show, but Dylan’s still around.”

Is this not an accurate observation, or what? It’s the quality of the book and the personality of the author which sells, not just how many social media followers he/she has. For example, Steven King (pictured above) had exactly zero (0) Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Vine followers when his first book Carrie was published in 1973. Did he end up being a colossal failure because he couldn’t tweet or post to his 35,000+ fans to buy the book? Of course not. He built his reputation on being an excellent writer (my favorite King book is Firestarter) and by the time he joined Twitter he was able to secure fans based on a previously built reputation.,

Contrast this with the Jersey Shore castmember Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, who published A Shore Thing in January 2011 and sold a whopping 9,000 copies in its first month, and not much more after that (note: I actually read a full chapter of this book). The reason? It really was NOT well written. Believe me.

So assuming that because an individual has online popularity, whether via television or social media, will mean lots of sales forever is mistaken. The problem is, if the quality is sub-par, even a person’s fans will not buy future copies and thus harm his/her future sales and writing career.

Now having said this, I agree with publishers and agents that authors should have social media platforms and be regular users. The reality is, we live in the age of the internet and this is where people find you and me. Thinking you never have to market your book yourself is asking for too much from a publisher or agent. The difference is that I agree with Seth that publishing good quality literature will drive up a person’s popularity and as long as the author is willing to be a self-promoter, that has to matter more in the long-run than just expecting people to have a built-in platform based on popularity somewhere else, which is a short-term strategy.

Note: for non-fiction authors you must have credibility, whether via popularity a la Bill O’Reilly, or by being respected in your field of study a la Noam Chomsky. However, in the end it’s the content that sells and not just the platform. If O’Reilly was really that bad he would not have a list of bestsellers in his Killing series.

So going forward here’s to writing good quality literature and being a willing self-promoter, while recognizing that quality drives sales better in the long run than short-term fame.

Speaking of social media, please follow me on Twitter @sammydrf and my youtube channel Samuel Ramirez.

Also please subscribe to my blog for new posts, which generally come out Tuesday and Friday (or whenever I feel the need to post extra)

Should Celebrities Take Stances on Controversial Issues, or Avoid Them Altogether?

 Feel free to share your thoughts: Do you take stands on controversial political issues, or do you stay away from controversy so you can focus on the noncontroversial part of your platform?

Politics and entertainment have mixed for as long as human civilization has been around. In the 5th century B.C. Aristophanes, a Greek playwright, used political satire of the times in his play and was one of the founders of comedic satire (Image if the Daily Show existed back then). He was one of many examples of politics and social commentary used in fictional works in the ancient world.

Sports has also played a big part in politics. In the 20th century integration of athletes from diverse backgrounds was part of the success of ending racism in America, in 1972 the world saw Palestinian terrorists massacre 11 Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympic games which has been one history point in the century-old battle between Jews and Muslims in that part of the Middle East, and Billie Jean King’s victory over a 55-year old Bobby Riggs was one historical point in the battle for equality for women in athletics. Whether intentional or not, these points became rallying cries for the mixing of politics in sports.

However, what is unique about the 21st century is that we have social media and lots of forums for celebrities to post, tweet, keek, pin, snap, or otherwise share their photos, videos, and thoughts. Many celebrities choose to be as apolitical as possible in their public lives so no one can get angry at them for taking sides and thus hurt product sales or reputation. But some celebrities do wade into the political arena and the question is: does being political impact your brand positively or negatively, and when do you want to be involved?

I picked four recent cases of people who  were involved in controversies involving politics when they are not otherwise political people (reputations not built on politics). These are randomly picked but they all had one thing in common: New Media made their opinions much more well-known than they probably would have been in the pre-internet age where news traveled more slowly and was less readily accessible.

Rupert Murdoch, founder of News Corporation, would come off as more political since he owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Last week Murdoch posted a tweet reading “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter author, then tweeted back, “I was born Christian. If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I’ll auto-excommunicate.” She then compared asking Muslims to be accountable to Jihadists the equivalent of holding Christians accountable for the Spanish Inquisition.

Then there were the double killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The tension between those who believe Brown and Garner were victims of cops deliberately targeting Black youth as “criminals” versus those who believed Brown and Garner were at least partially to blame for their demise ran high (for the record I was more surprised by the Garner verdict than the Brown one, though I didn’t follow either case closely). After the verdicts athletes like LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and Reggie Bush wore  “I can’t breathe” shirts during pre-game warm-ups last month. Six St. Louis Rams players put their hands up for “hands up, don’t shoot” and angered the police in St. Louis for doing so.

And who can forget earlier in 2014 when the Clippers, during Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors, tossed their warm-ups to the ground and turned their pre-game shirts inside out to hide the Clippers logo over what they believed was a racist comment by then-owner Donald Sterling towards Black people?

The one odd one was Liam Neeson, whose Taken 3 movie was just released in theaters. He told gulfnews.com, “there’s too many [expletive] guns out there, “Especially in America…There’s over 300 million guns. Privately owned, in America. I think it’s a [expletive] disgrace. Every week now we’re picking up a newspaper and seeing, ‘Yet another few kids have been killed in schools.’” Given that his movie involves him shooting guns and is marketed towards a diverse audience I have to believe this will hurt Taken 3’s total take since I believe this comment will be perceived by many to be “Elitist” and “Hypocritical”. A similar situation happened with Exodus and they suffered at the box office because of it.

Where I am going with this is on when otherwise non-political people make political statements and whether it helps or hurts their brand. Rupert Murdoch, whose name and companies have been involved in politics in nature, might be expected to make comments (and his comments probably won’t cost him viewers or readers in the end). Ms. Rowling’s books and movies are already out so I’m not sure how much her tweet at Murdoch will hurt her in the long run. Probably none of the athletes who made statements supporting Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, or Eric Garner will suffer either, but I really do think celebrities should be careful with what they say before taking sides.

So should you be political with your brand, or not? I think it depends on what you want to be known for and who you’re trying to appeal to. Some people benefit by taking public stances on issues, exercising their rights to free speech. Others like to shut up as to not offend anyone. Your personal brand is yours and it’s entirely up to you what you want to do with it. Just accept that stating your opinions in public risks offending people who disagree with you and who will boycott you to make a statement (not saying it’s a bad thing, just stating the obvious here). And in the age of the internet and social media, anything you say absolutely will be used for and against you in the court of public opinion.

Want to Gain Website or Blog Subscribers? How Data Analytic Inaccuracies Could Affect You

Web Analytics can be a powerful tool to help understand what your page visitors are looking for and what they see on your website. Using these tools properly can make the difference between your website(s) increasing page hits and SEO ranking or getting lost in the sea of websites, of which there are close to 1 billion worldwide as of December 2014 (netcraft.com).

But how to get the most accurate number? Below are the two main ways data is collected for websites and how your analytics statistics might be impacted. I’ll keep the tech minimal to focus on the analysis and marketing/branding benefits:

  • Logfiles- data collected by your web server, logged as a text file, independent of the visitor’s browser. Data collection with logfiles suffers when people use dynamic IP addresses, which means someone might visit your page 4 times a day and count as 4 different people, if they cache your page, meaning it’s saved on their browser so it’s like they never left your page and thus their repeat visits are not measured, and if search engine “robots” are accidentally counted as page activity even though they aren’t real people.
  • Page Tags- collects data via the visitor’s web browser and sends that info to remote data-collection servers, usually captured by JavaScript code. Google Analytics uses this method.

Page tag collection is where “cookies” are used. Attaching a “cookie” to a visitor’s web browser is how most website track and collect information on who is visiting, because this is the easiest and best way to obtain demographic information. How else would you know if your visitors were male or female, old or young, or visiting your page from a mobile device or desktop?

The problem is many people delete cookies routinely or set firewalls for their personal or company web browsers. If you use page tag services like GA, data will be incomplete or missing because if this person then visits your site a month later, they will be treated as a totally new user and if they are blocking cookies important data can’t be collected. Also, you have to add the GA tracking code to every webpage you want tracked, or else you won’t have information for that page. Lastly, “Cookie time-outs”, when an analytics vendor must stop collecting data because a page visitor is no longer active on the site, can affect your statistics, as discussed in the previous post.

So what can you do to compensate for these data collection inaccuracies?

  1. Use visit metrics over unique user visits- According to Brian Clifton, author ofAdvanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, 3rd edition, unique visits can be misleading. His example: You visit a travel booking site to search for plane fares on your personal computer, then make the purchase from your work or office computer, you visits count as two uniques but it’s still one person.
  2. Don’t assume New visitors plus repeat visitors does not equal total visitors- Consider this example: A person makes his first visit to your site then comes back later than that. He counts as both a new and returning visitor but is only one person.
  3. Wait at least 24 hours before checking data-it takes GA 24 hours to sift through the data and paint a more accurate picture of your web visits.
  4. Have a clear privacy policy (or promise not to sell, rent, or voluntarily turn over private information to anyone, except as required by law)-This way people are less likely to delete cookies from your site and mess up your analytics.

In my next post I’ll talk about how to create data spreadsheets with data and I’ll provide some examples. This is an easy and simple way to track your progress.

photo: recarga2.com

Why Understanding Web Traffic is Important to your Website Profile

I want to start off 2015 with a miniseries of articles on data analytics. The reason is because as the Caesar Rodney Institute’s Communications Director I have spent a lot of time going through data analytics for our websites and social media pages (social media analytics will come in a future blogpost). Seeing the data is one thing; knowing how it can benefit your company or personal website is another. All you aspiring authors and personal profile builders out there, you might want to take a few notes. Knowing ways to build your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can mean the difference between being discovered and going “viral” and being stuck in the bog of roughly 644 million websites worldwide.

For this post I’ll focus on Google Analytics (GA) and the book “Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, 3rd edition” by Brian Clifton (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012). Brian is the former head of web analytics for Google Europe, Middle East, and Africa, and I combine his lessons with my own experiences. Most of the newer editors are just slightly updated versions of previous editions, but if you have the chance to pick up a copy I’d recommend it. (author note: I do not benefit in any way from endorsing this book)

The first step in learning to use data analytics is to know why it’s so important for your website profile. Unfortunately many people just see a bunch of numbers and some pie charts and then don’t compare data from past months or try to dig into the data to spot useful trends. GA has over 100 different reports available for downloading and this is a daunting number for the new user.

Not all data points in GA are as useful as others; for example I discovered that, for CRI, measuring the average page visit was not very valuable. Part of this reason is because there is no perfect way to measure exactly how long someone really stays on your page- ever opened a new website in your browser, then gone off to do something else? At some point the website has to cut off your site visit time. Some sites cut it off after 30 minutes of inactivity, some 10.

Some useful data points which can be tracked:

  • Your daily visitor total
  • average conversion rate (if you sell things on your site)
  • top-visited pages
  • where people are searching from (location)
  • where people are searching from (web browser)
  • Your “page stickiness” (how many pages are viewed before a visitor leaves)
  • keywords being used in search engines to find you.

All of this data, and more, help you identify your Key Performance Indicators (KPI). For example, a review of CRI data shows about 1/3 of people who find us via search engine are doing so by looking for us by keywords like “prevailing wage Delaware” or “Delaware government accountability” rather than by our name, which is an indication that there is interest in our policy issues but a lot of those people didn’t know we existed prior to entering those keywords.

Having this information available allows you or your team to figure out what is working and what isn’t working with your pages and make adjustments. So for us, for example, we discovered that we had an increase in total visits in November but a lot of those views were from November 1-20. By being able to break down the month into thirds to view our total page views, we could see that November 21-30 accounted for only 26% of our visits, which we attributed to the Thanksgiving holiday. Knowing the specific cause of the late November drop into early December prevented us from being overly concerned about the drop and then making an irrational decision regarding our online presence.

In the next post I’ll talk about some of the inaccuracies in GA and some ways you can prevent these inaccuracies from adversely affecting your data points. Please feel free to comment below on ways you use data analytics for yourself or your company.