Do Million Dollar Debut Authors Help or Hurt Publishing?

Million Bucks

Point One: Book publishing, like the entertainment industry at large, relies on a few breakout successes to overcompensate for the projects which don’t succeed. Point two: We as humans are wired for “narratives” in our lives-thus we seek opinions which confirm our pre-conceived notions, rather than being challenged.

For book publishers and authors, nothing beats a “rags to riches” narrative, given the struggles of pretty much every author who has a book, many who may live in poverty or low-income conditions, who see their work come to life via publisher. They watch the book become a hit, get rich, and stand tall as the next wave of eager beavers send in their manuscripts, in the hopes that their book might be the Next Bit Thing (NBT). The desire to stand on top of the mountain and shout to everyone behind you “yes, you can do it. See me? See me? I did it and perhaps it could be you.” Whether that desire is eager optimism to help fellow authors or a cynical ploy to sell “services” or “advice” to wannabes, depends on the author.

The desire to find the next breakout story drives publisher to seek the NBT. The problem is, it’s not really clear why some books do phenomenally well and others don’t. If it were, publishers and agents would only accept authors with a 95% chance of that book hitting the bestseller’s list. (Subscribe to my blog for a future post on this 95 percent confidence interval and what it means). But since determining those books is difficult without market research (which I don’t see them do for most books), they are left to what we used to call in grammar school “educated guesswork” or “guesstimates”.

The Wall Street Journal had a recent article about the “millionaire debutantes”- authors who got $1 million or more for their first book. This is like the legendary City of Gold or Shangri-La for authors, since it’s so rare to ever hear of an author receiving an advance this big. Or is it?

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, a former marketing copywriter in Los Angeles, dreamed for years of becoming a novelist but never had any illusions about earning a living from it. Her goal in writing her first novel, “The Nest,” which she tackled in her early 50s, was merely to finish it.

In a whirlwind week as publishers read the manuscript last December, HarperCollins’s Ecco editorial director Megan Lynch made a pre-emptive offer to publish the novel for at least $1 million. “I never imagined people would respond that way in a million years,” said Ms. Sweeney, 55. The book, about four adult siblings whose anticipated inheritance has all but evaporated because of one brother’s bad behavior, is scheduled to be published next March.

Literary fiction, long critically revered but poorly remunerated, is generating bigger and bigger bets by publishers. Thanks to a spate of recent runaway hits such as “The Goldfinch” in 2013 and “All the Light We Cannot See” last year, publishers are increasingly willing to pony up enormous advances to secure potential blockbusters.

Social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads have contributed to a culture in which everyone reads—and tells their friends about—the same handful of books a year. It’s increasingly a winner-take-all economy, publishing executives say.As a result, publishers are competing for debut literary talent with the same kind of frenzied auction bidding once reserved for promising debut thrillers or romance novels. “If they feel they have the next Norman Mailer on their hands, they’re going have to pay for that shot,” literary agent Luke Janklow said. “It’s usually the result of a little bit of crowd hysteria in the submission.”

“They’re basically betting on the book establishing itself as an important book in the canon,” Jane Friedman, co-founder of e-book publisher Open Road Media and former CEO of HarperCollins said of Knopf’s deal for “City on Fire.” “You’re betting that this is going to be the most-read book of the year.”

The lack of a sales track record is one of the factors that makes debut authors most appealing, publishers say, because there is no hard data to dampen expectations. “You can pin all your hopes and dreams and fantasies on a debut novel,” said Eric Simonoff, an agent known for negotiating seven-figure advances.

Some worry that large payouts for debut novels could do more harm than good. They put pressure on first-time authors and consume resources that otherwise might go to authors who have posted moderate sales, some agents and publishing executives said.

“It’s not that they’re betting on the wrong writer, it’s that the bet’s too big,” said Morgan Entrekin, publisher at the independent house Grove Atlantic, who noted that Grove can’t afford seven-figure advances.

Moreover, if the book doesn’t turn a profit, the relationship between the author and publisher can sour. And those disappointing sales figures are available for any other publisher to peruse when the author tries to sell her next novel. “That is a scarlet letter that you don’t get out from under,” Mr. Janklow said.

Indeed, million-dollar investments in debuts often don’t pan out, publishers and other industry experts say.

Read that quote by Eric Simonoff again and scratch your head. Is that how a business should operate? Committing millions of dollars to unproven projects because you could project your fantasies onto them?

Authors, unlike musicians or actors, are generally not public figures and rarely have the extroversion needed to build a massive social media or TV following to sell books. Whose fault that is you can argue all day. But the point is, you don’t see any reality TV shows featuring the writer’s life or asking aspiring writers to read their best flash fiction on-air for judges. Just imagine if publishers took most of that over-sized advance and instead committed it to marketing their books. Might they not sell more, especially of the ‘midlisters’?

The whole point of an advance is to provide authors with a source of income for their writing while they waited for their books to sell and collect royalties.But how can you justify handing one author a million bucks, probably 20 years’ of pre-tax pay for their job, when other authors barely get enough to pay their mortgage or rent? Or get nothing at all? Especially when who gets what is based on guesswork and not data.

The bottom line is, in an age where Amazon and self-published authors are taking market share from the traditional publishers of all sizes, the last thing the Big Five need is to spend millions on “guesstimates” of which books will succeed, enriching a tiny, tiny number of lucky authors while leaving the 99.999% out to dry, and focus on marketing the titles they already have. Then they might not need to rely so much on blockbuster titles.

photo: http://mymoneycounselor.com/net-worth-how-are-you-doing/million-bucks

 

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.

My First Query Rejection

Anyone who has submitted work to be represented in the traditional manner (by an agent, who then tries to convince editors at a publishing company to buy your work) knows how daunting it is for first-time noncelebrity authors to get representation and publication.

Now I know a lot of you who are authors, writers, or aspiring professionals in this regard have self-published material and I know there are some very opinionated bloggers on the web who are very passionate about this issue. There are pros and cons to both self- and traditionally- published books but we’ll save that for another time.

I’ve redacted the name of the agent I heard back from since it isn’t relevant for this blogpost. First off, I appreciate her very quick (1 day) AND her personalized response, even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear:

“Dear Samuel,

Thanks so much for thinking of me for your book.
Unfortunately, this is not quite right for me. However, I really appreciate the opportunity to see your work. I’m wishing you the very best in 2015!”
Warmest Regards,
xxxxxxxx
We know the reading market has slowed down growth as it’s increasingly less likely people will sit through an entire book as opposed to watching videos or going online. This is actually not an insurmountable challenge, and stay tuned because later I will explain why we can’t give up on literacy and getting people to invest more time in reading. It isn’t just good for the industry, or for someone’s bottom line, but also for society: a more literate society is a society with less crime and poverty.
I also, having read books on publishing by publishers and on agent representation by current and former agents, know it’s tough to find that one person out of (tens of) thousands whose idea and marketability is solid enough for a publisher to put in serious effort to market and distribute a book. Sometimes we as aspiring professional authors wish there was less clutter in the agent’s e-mailbox to give ourselves a better shot, but this is unfortunately not true.
But here’s the question: How much of an eye-catching query letter is based on the plot of the book versus the author’s ability to sell it? I have a feeling your credentials or “platform” matters more than the actual book itself. Otherwise Snooki could never have gotten a contract. In other words, was the problem that she isn’t “the right fit”, or that I do not yet have a few ten thousand social media followers whom I can tweet or post about this book to get traction? (speaking of, please follow me on Twitter @sammydrf and I will follow you too). Speaking of social media, as your friendly “Millennial” social media “expert”, I have written, and will write again, about why social media platforms are overrated when judging the value of what is salable or not.
I sent out a few other representation requests, highlighting my active use of social media across multiple platforms AND my experience speaking on live commercial radio, tv, and being printed in newspapers. I actually have been published before as an author in both printed and online newspapers, but not as a fiction author. Sadly, I get the impression this does not have much bearing on my publication history for Big 5 book publishing.
If anything interesting happens with this, I will let you know. Any ideas? share ’em too. I love feedback (and I will subscribe to your blog!).

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.

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.

Happy New Year! My Blog’s Resolution

Happy 2015! I want to end the year with one final blogpost to welcome in the New Year and mention what I will be writing about more of in 2015:

  • More social media tips. I’m becoming more of an expert on this from my work and from reading books from industry experts. Check these out if you’re trying to build a personal platform and boost your online presence.
  • Tips on how to use data analytics (Google and otherwise) to better measure results and find out what works and what doesn’t.
  • Better ways to market and advertise.

Whether you follow my blog because you’re an author looking to build an online platform, or a social media/PR professional looking for more tips on branding and using data analytics for work, you should expect more posts from me and more things you can take away.

As always, please subscribe to my page and follow me on Twitter @sammydrf.

Happy New Year!

Are you Addicted to Social Media?

First off, Happy Holidays to all this December, no matter what you celebrate.

For this post I’ve decided to look at social media addiction. In an article written by Jess Ostroff at Spin Sucks, she talks about how lots of us are not only internet addicts, but social media addicts.

womenonthefence.com

Do you care what your friends, family, and favorite celebrities are up to all the time? Do you frequently check you social media pages to see new statuses, tweets, pins, keekbacks, vine posts, etc. etc.? Could you go an entire day without social media? How about a week? a month?

Jess writes: “Some people are addicted to social media the same way others are addicted to heroin.”

The summary of the article is this: There is a chemical called dopamine which, when released, provides you with the feeling of pleasure. For many people the constant need to read what others are posting {you can be excused for my blog- I love it when you read my posts :)}, post new content yourself, or struggle with Fear Of Missing Out syndrome (FOMO) which for some people is a real disorder, is a direct result of our brains being retrained by our internet browsing habits to crave the internet and get annoyed when we aren’t around it.

under30ceo.com

For me personally I don’t dispute that I do monitor social media during the week, as for my job I am required to update and post new content at least once daily. However on weekends I am pretty good about turning off the social media and picking up a book or at least continuing the books I’m working on now.

This is an important point for those of you trying to complete projects, especially books, film projects, etc. One way I find I’m able to write better is to put my phone in another room so I can hear it but I’d have to get up to answer it. This removes at least one distraction.

What about you? Are you or someone you know a “social media addict”?

How the (bored) internet community can make or break your book or business

I can’t wait to finalize my recap of the election results (which I will put at the bottom of this e-mail) but I saw this story in the New York Times and I think if you aspire to have a successful book or business or anything else, you might want to pay attention as to what can make (or break) celebrity status. Article truncated for length:

“While political analysts spent Wednesday interpreting the significance of the midterm elections, social media pundits obsessed over the meaning of Alex from Target.

Alex is Alex Laboeuf, a 16-year-old from Texas with Justin Bieber-ish looks. He became the latest Internet sensation after a photo of him working at a Target checkout counter went viral this week and teenagers — both girls and boys — started gushing over him. By Tuesday, he was flown to Los Angeles for an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

But why did he thunder to online stardom? Was it a marketing stunt by Target? A hoax by a couple of bored teenagers? Or was it absolutely nothing at all?

“There is a whole attempt at making sense of this now,” said Andrew Lih, a journalism professor at the American University School of Communication. “But I can’t find any. The Internet is more and more like your local high school where inexplicably the crowd picks something that is not that interesting and elevates it to popularity status.”

Social media pandemonium over Alex started last Sunday when a young woman named Abbie posted the photograph on Twitter. The image acquired its own hashtag — #alexfromtarget — and Alex, who started with 144 Twitter followers, now has more than 600,000.

The Alex phenomenon became the subject of news articles on the websites of Time, The Washington Post and CNN over the last two days. The Dallas Morning News tried furiously to confirm just which Target he worked for.

Various Internet memes ensued. Some began snapping photos of other teenagers in jobs, for example: Kel from Good Burger and Kieran from T-Mobile. There were Alex imitators posted on the video service Vine.

Ms. DeGeneres was confused as everyone else by Alex’s popularity. Do you have any skills like singing and dancing, she asked?

“I can apparently bag groceries pretty well,” he said.

Late Tuesday, CNET reported that a marketing start-up, Breakr, was taking credit for Alex’s rise. On its web page, Breakr offers this opaque definition for its business: “helping connect fans to their fandom.” In a post on Tuesday on LinkedIn, the company’s chief executive, Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares, wrote: “We wanted to see how powerful the fan girl demographic was by taking an unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral Internet sensation.”

Breakr’s claim then set off a whole new round of articles suggesting that the whole Alex phenomenon was the product of these crafty marketers.

It also compelled Target to issue a statement.

“We value Alex as a team member and from the first moment we saw this photo beginning to circulate, we shared that the Target team was as surprised as anyone,” the company said. “That remains the truth today. Let us be completely clear, we had absolutely nothing to do with the creation, listing or distribution of the photo. And we have no affiliation whatsoever with the company that is taking credit for its results.”

Alex and Abbie, the young woman who supposedly first posted the photo of Alex, also disputed Breakr’s account and denied they were part of any publicity stunt. This caused Breakr to “update” its LinkedIn post to say that neither Alex nor Abbie were part of any scheme, that it occurred organically and the company “jumped on it” to draw attention to its services.

“I didn’t know the pic was taken or tweeted until my store manager showed me,” Alex wrote on Twitter late Tuesday.

“This just shows you it is another Tuesday on the Internet,” said Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “There is all these important things going on like the election, but some portion of the Internet is paying attention to something else.”

What you have here is a normal 16-year old handsome boy who was doing his job- and then for really no reason whatsoever the interent decided he should be made into an internet celebrity. I have no objection to Alex’s 15 minutes of fame; in fact, he didn’t even ask for it! But this shows you the power of the internet and also the problem with trying to develop a personal brand when sometimes you can just post a photo or write something and the (bored) internet users decide to give you a few minutes of fame.

This is a great Public Relations lessons because there is a difference between developing a brand and “getting lucky”- sometimes there is just chance as to what your consumers will want and find interesting. Things which seem clever or creative may win awards but not get you much traction; things which are totally boring might get you somewhere.

There is one other point to be made: take a look at the bolded comment on “the internet is like high school.” I wonder- what if, instead of spending time and effort focusing on a 16 year old Target employee, those people making this photo viral spent time, say reading? Or developing a business plan? or studying? Or taking a dance class? If authors want to increase book sales we’re going to have to convince people that reading a book is a better use of their time than hanging around the internet looking for the next fad opportunity.

Bonus Tip: Try tweeting a photo of a tuna sandwich with the hashtag #ThisIsMyTunaSandwich and see if it gets thousands of tweets and goes viral. If it does, you have to thank me.

photo credit: Abcnews.com