Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Brave New World Anne Cassidy

I’ve been reading a lot of stuff lately about how writers should take control of new technology and use it to promote themselves. Facebook and Twitter seem as much of a writer’s armoury as flyers, bookmarks, school visits.

Now I’m not averse to new technology (although I was not quick to get a word processor, nor email and I thought web sites were an expensive waste of time). I can’t help feeling though that the constant appeal for fans on Facebook or regular Tweeting shows us writers to be, well, a bit needy.

It reminds me of when I was a young woman and went into clothes shops. There was always a predatory shop assistant who gave you thirty seconds before she (he) sidled up and asked if they could help. They hung around as well praising the choice you made, complimenting you. In other word they were desperate for a sale and it put me off. I hated that attention. I just wanted to be left alone to make my own choice.
Thankfully shops have changed and now, if anything, the job is to find an assistant.
Sometimes I feel that this rush to use every kind of technology to grab readers’ attention is a sign of desperation. The desperation to sell books. I’m not sure that this will attract readers any more than the dress sales person I was writing about earlier.

In the end it’s good stories that sell books. I think that promotion is important but maybe the world of children’s publishing has to look at new, broader ways to promote reading books. This guerrilla war of Facebook and Twitter doesn’t do it for me.

22 comments:

Susan @ Reading Upside Down said...

As a book reviewer and avid reader I follow quite a few authors and publishers on Twitter.

I have found them to be very personable and friendly, happy to chat about their own books, literature in general and everyday life.

I really enjoy the opportunity to 'connect' with authors in a way that isn't possible otherwise. The casual conversations and sharing of ideas that is possible with Twitter particularly is very appealing and I have formed a few tentative friendships as well as networking opportunities through the contact I have had with authors and by 'eavesdropping' on their conversations/tweets with others.

As with anything, there as those that will abuse the technology and will only use it to promote themselves. The wonderful thing about Twitter is that I can very easily 'unfollow' these people and not be bothered by their pushy promotional style if I choose.

Stroppy Author said...

I'm not aware of any children's writers who use twitter to promote their books, I must say. I use it to chat with other writer friends and a few others in the book world. Rather like Balaclava, it's a route to support and help with specific questions, and companionship.

Some people do use Facebook for marketing - I don't, so I have no idea how well it works. (I suspect it doesn't work very well.) But I think for a writer with an enthusiastic following of readers - particularly teen readers, who are old enough to use Facebook - it is a lovely way of having contact with readers and giving them a link to a writer which they may treasure. I know my Small Bint was hugely excited that she could actually tell Meg Rossoff who much she enjoyed How I Live Now.

Obviously, no-one has to use Facebook and twitter - but many of us find it lovely to be part of a writing and reading community in this way, and don't use it for any kind of aggressive marketing.

Keren David said...

Well, I am one of those 'needy' new authors who has a twitter account, a blog, and a Facebook page. I do it because it's fun and it's free. I've made a lot of useful contacts through it, and I'm sure I've sold a few books that I wouldn't have sld otherwise.
I'm with a small publisher which does not have the marketing spending powers of the big boys. I'd like my book to be noticed and read, and if there's anything I can do to aid that, I'm going to do it. But I have young children, so my time is limited for networking at conferences and doing lots of school visits.
If using free marketing resources means I get labelled as needy and desperate, oh well, never mind.

Keren David said...

Oh and - guerrilla war on Twitter? Are you joking? Come on and join the party...

Nicky said...

I am both needy and desperate most of the time, but I mainly use facebook and other online thingies because I am just brilliant at wasting time. If I have ever sold a book because of my online activities I would be very surprised.

Susan @ Reading Upside Down said...

I thought it was worth coming back to comment that I found your blog thanks to a link posted on Twitter by a writer.

I'm sure we can all appreciate the irony of that. :-)

Ms. Yingling said...

Twitter and Facebook don't seem very useful, but I know that my students frequently access author web pages to find out about new releases or to do research on authors for class projects. Most of the social networking things are blocked at my school, so they are not helpful to me personally.

Gillian Philip said...

Like Keren, I'm a needy writer. I need to connect with my readers and I love doing it, but not only do I have a young family, I live in the north of Scotland. You'd be amazed how this cuts you out of ordinary networking. I had an email from the Crime Writers Association this morning - amusingly, it was apologising to Glasgow writers for three Edinburgh lunches in a row. 'Not to worry, we're good at getting on that train from Queen Street.' Uh, try living north of Stirling...

I use Facebook and Twitter to chat with my friends (which is often a hoot, especially on Friday nights) but I also use it to make new ones and to network. Why not? It's free, and it saves me an awful lot in plane fares. If I get a good review, I'd quite like people to read it, so I post a link. I don't beg anyone to click on it, but they can if they want. And I know I've sold more books as a result; simples. I've also bought other people's books because I discovered them through Facebook and Twitter, and I usually buy them because their authors are fun people. The ones who sent automated marketing messages, or only accept followers but don't get involved themselves, I ignore or block.

If any time is wasted on Facebook or Twitter, it's because I'm like Nicky - I'm chatting and putting off work. Promoting my books takes next to no time. So why not?

Keris said...

I've been on Twitter almost since the beginning and I love it. I follow a lot of writers but I've never been subjected to the kind of hard sell you describe in your post. If you have, it sounds like you might be following the wrong authors. (You are on Twitter, right?) That's the beauty of Twitter, if you don't like someone's tweets, you don't have to read them.

Nicky said: "If I have ever sold a book because of my online activities I would be very surprised."

I've been forwarded an Amazon pre-order confirmation by someone I met online. So I've certainly sold at least one book because of my online activities and it's not even out yet.

Oh and I bought Keren David's book after discovering her on Twitter.

Nicola Morgan said...

I love twitter and find it very useful indeed. Useful because I have made friends and had fun (which is useful) and useful because I've made readers and sold books. I've been offered speaking engagements directly through twitter and i've increased audiences for events I've been doing. None of these things has happened deliberately or in any contrived or ugly fashion - it's all about conencting with people, which is what I love to do. It's also great for shy people, or people living in remote places.

The only people who are negative about Twitter /Fb tend to be the people who don't use it, or perhaps don't use it right. I would never say anyone MUST join, but if you do you'll find we're very friendly, very positive and supportive, very open to new ideas and very willing to go and read each other's stuff.

And we have great parties on twitter, too! I see it as being like a HUUUUUGE office and a HUUUUGE party rolled into one, but with the huuuuge added benefit that you don't get stuck talking to someone who's boring, you can leave whenever you like, you can ignore anyone you like, you can work whenever you like, and you don't have to dress up. Oh, and it's free.

What's not to like?

Nicky - I have absolutely definitely sold books through these activities, but if I hadn't I wouldn't mind.

I have got to know Gillian, Keren, Anne Rooney, Lucy Coats and others through twitter and I have had great fun doing so. I will happily connect with any writer or reader who is prepared to be as fun and generous and supportive as they all are.

Brian Keaney said...

Good stories are one of the factors that sell books but there are others. One of which is an awareness that those particular books exist. This is important because people don't just wander into bookshops to buy books any more. I, myself, haven't bought books in that way for years. Instead I absorb knowledge about books by a kind of virtual osmosis while meandering through the web. Consequently I believe that social networking can contribute to visibility.

Anne Cassidy said...

Just to be clear I am also a 'needy' and am 'desperate' to sell books. I'm just worried that the new technology is just getting us all in touch with eachother rather than the readers. Nothing wrong with that but I was talking, in my blog, specifically about it being used as a marketing tool.

Sharon said...

To me it seems that book blogging can have a significant impact on sales, which is why the likes of Simon & Schuster, Atom and Scholastic put a huge amount of time and energy into fostering relationships and making sure bloggers are running competitions, doing interviews and reviewing titles from their list. Sure, I still buy a book I've never heard of just because the cover or title catches my eye, but these days, most of the time I've read a review before I buy.

At the moment, on my to-be-read pile there are four books that I heard about on Twitter that otherwise I might not have bought because they're not of a genre I normally read.

I've discovered really wonderful books I'd have otherwise missed out on such as When I was Joe by Keren David.

As a wanna-be YA writer I find the blogosphere/Twitter a really lovely way to connect with writers/agents/publishers. I've had good advice, encouragement, and most important of all, light relief when I've been in the midst of my three-thousandth revision!

But in the end, it's horses for courses. I'm not fond of Facebook, but I know a lot of writer friends are finding it a great tool and a source of fun.

I know that context is everything, but it's interesting to note that of the recent debut YAs to make it to the top of the NYT bestseller list, all of the authors were on Twitter and creating a buzz before the release date. They connected with bloggers, tweeters and anyone else and lo and behold... people bought their books because they felt invested in their success.

Anyway, I'll shut up and go back to Twitter now... Thanks for starting the discussion.

Bill Kirton said...

The consensus seems to be in favour of the networking option and I'd go along with that. There's no doubt that I've sold some books and also been asked to do interviews because of my sporadic visits to Facebook. I've also had readers contact me to say how much they enjoy putting a personality to the name on the cover. I do wonder, though, whether the time spent posting Wildean gems and profile-boosting wisdom doesn't sometimes drag me away from real writing for too long.

I also had the huge irony of having my twitter account hacked into yesterday and silly messages sent to all my followers there - irony because I hardly ever use it. It necessitated a wholesale change of passwords.

Keren David said...

It would appear from the comments on this blog that I'm selling loads via Twitter! I'll rush off and tweet a bit more...

adele said...

I don't twitter because I just know I'd be spending ALL my time at that party Nicola speaks of! The email and comments boxes are bad enough! But I'm with Anne...I am not sure at all whether all this new technology actually sells the books and if it does, then I reckon the publishers, if they're big ones at least, ought to be pulling their weight. To be fair, Random House have got a splendid AUTHOR PLACE where every writer has a page they can add to, and where they can talk to any fans, etc. I think some of the effort made towards selling the book ought to come from the publishers themselves. I have a writer friend who is published by a very good and reputable small publisher and she has spend HOURS AND HOURS on promoting herself and her books, to not very much avail. So it goes.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Good to follow this thread as I am new to the children's market and will have a book out next year, also with a small publisher. They are delighted that I FB, Twitter, blog etc. It all seems good stuff and it also means I can connect to lots of writers which provides a support network in the lonely attic. But its not everyone's cup of tea, I do understand that. I've only really been doing all this for less than a year.

Lucy Coats said...

Another needy, tweeting, blogging, Facebooking, with website author here. I agree with all that us needies have said above--but I'm going to try and address Anne's specifics on whether social networking is an effective marketing tool. Hard work? Time consuming? Yes on both counts, but for me it is worth it. I know for a fact that I have sold a lot more books through being on Twitter/FB than I would otherwise have done. Not millions. but it all helps. Selling books is what we all want, of course, but I have also had firm offers of interviews (purely through connecting on Twitter), reviews, and generated general goodwill with book bloggers, librarians, teachers and other book people on both Twitter and Facebook. My 'author profile' is sky high in important areas like schools and libraries (and I've had school visit requests through this too), compared to what it was--and that's important if you're middle of the road and not a high flying bestseller. They know who I am, and by interacting I become a 'real' person, not just another name on a cover. Because they know my name, they are more likely to notice my books when they come out--and buy them as a result. I do use my blog to promote my books (and the ABBA blog, come to that)--but not exclusively and relentlessly, I'd say more of a 'light touch', especially on ABBA. I put up links to stuff to do with my books (events, mentions, related stuff) on T and FB--but again, I don't go on and on. It's a balance which has to be found by every individual writer. You don't HAVE to do it, but, interestingly enough, a very well-known adult fiction writer friend of mine told me not long ago that her American publisher and agent insist that she DOES. So she has--the Americans are really tough on this one apparently. I don't know if the UK will do the same--but we live at the mercy of our technological age, and my personal feeling was that if I didn't embrace it I would be left out of the publishing loop and left behind. My own publishers are delighted that I do--and do everything they can to help. I've certainly had an infinite amount more positive and friendly contact with the lovely Orion publicity people because I am 'out there' and seen to be working hard at getting the books out there too. Doing all this 'author platforming' has the effect of getting your name firmly at the top of the all powerful Google search rankings, as well, so readers can find you at the click of a button in all sorts of places. For me, the added and amazing bonus of all this is that I have 'met' and made friends with some great, supportive, amazing people on both sites, (authors, and other booky people too), attended numerous raucous tweetparties and drunk more (virtual) cocktails than I have since I was at university. I have laughed till I cried, offered and received help--and I feel much less isolated in my rural retreat than I ever did before. Business and pleasure. This is one way I am very happy to mix them!

Nicola Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicola Morgan said...

Back again - not sure what happened there. Rushing, I think.

Adele - the problem is that when publishers come onto Twitter they can wreck it if it becomes contrived rather than purely friendly. I follow two publishing people on twitter but I dumped several others because they only ever went on about their authors' books. Even though Twitter can be great for selling books/authors, it isn't FOR selling books. The selling has to be a happy side-effect, I feel. The main purpose is for getting to know people and "meeting" people you probably wouldn't manage to meet in the flesh. I can't manage to get to the SAS events, for example, for various reasons, but I can meet people and learn and interact in equivalent ways on Twitter.

As for the time spent at the party (!), it takes seconds at a time. I reckon I spend five minutes on Twitter during the day (spread out), and more in the evenings, in between other things, like eating and occasionally even talking to my husband. If he's really unlucky.

Gillian Philip said...

What, Crabbit? You mean when I'm mixing you the best Manhattans on Twitter, you're not even actually CONCENTRATING? I'll be slipping Cointreau into your margaritas, just see if I don't.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Great post Anne... it certainly got everyone talking. I missed it on the day... Perhaps Twitter and Facebook are perfect examples of 'if you snooze you lose'... like I did!