Tuesday 24 January 2012

Do you do too much promotion? - by Nicola Morgan

Recently, on my own blog, I was talking about "how much promotion is too much?" (There's no need to go and read that post, and it's not about the same thing as this one, but I'll put the link at the end in case you want to see the guidelines I was suggesting, as well as the useful comments.)

The question had arisen because, on Twitter, some writers have been bugging the pants off people by over-promoting. In fact, I've decided that the next in my series of writers' guides from Crabbit Publishing is going to be How to Promote Your Book Without Bugging the Pants Off People.

I think there are three main reasons why writers sometimes do too much jumping up and down about their books - bearing in mind that "too much" is going to be different depending on each beholder.
  1. Our publishers don't really do it for us. Most of us are expected to do vastly more than we used to have to; publishers' budgets have been slashed; and the window during which our publisher may do some activity has shrunk. Many of us (myself included) don't actually mind, and many of our publishers are delighted to let us do it.
  2. We can. Suddenly (and it really has been quite sudden) we have all the possible platforms of Facebook, Twitter, our own blogs, other people's blogs, etc, and they are free and easy. So it's easy to be a bit too free and easy with the opportunities. It's also easy for us to make connections with journalists and therefore easier for us to generate publicity opportunities in traditional media.
  3. Sheer blind panic at the thought that our much-loved, long slaved-over book might sink without trace, and a burning passion that people should get to read it.
In the blog post I referred to, I was answering the "how much is too much?" question from the viewpoint of "how much will bug the pants off people?" But there's another way to look at the question: how much is more than is good for us? How much will actually be self-defeating because we won't have time to write?

I've read numerous pieces by highly successful self-publishers (including this piece by Joe Konrath and also a recent interview in the Guardian with Amanda Hocking) in which the value of tweeting etc in actually selling copies is regarded as over-rated. Joe Konrath has analysed sales movements in his ebooks (yes, we all get RSI from checking our figures!) and believes that it's not the tweeting or FBing or blogging or being interviewed anywhere that boosts his sales. He's not saying don't use Twitter or even that it's not useful - he's saying, and I agree, that it doesn't directly hugely affect sales, or not as much as we might think it would. What both writers do is write, and write lots. Amanda Hocking's sales rocketed because she put lots of books out there in quick succession, not because she found thousands of followers on Twitter.

So, is one conclusion that a better way of promoting ourselves is to promote ourselves less and write more?

I rather think it may be. I think that spending two hours a day on promotion (in whatever form) will not be four times as effective as spending half an hour a day on that, and an extra hour and a half writing something. In fact, I'm rather sure that spending more time writing and less time promoting would be a very good idea for many of us - myself definitely included - for lots of reasons.

What do you think? Do we all do too much promotion, even those of us trying to keep it at the non-bugging end of the scale? Do we do too much for our own good? How do you know when you've done enough? What do you dislike about it? Or possibly like about it? Do you like the idea of doing less and writing more?

I'd love to know!

(Here is the link to the post I mentioned.)

Ahem. If by any chance you'd like help with how to use Twitter like a sensible and unbugging person, you might be interested in Tweet Right - the Sensible Person's Guide to Twitter, currently at a crazy cheap price on Amazon. I'm cringing at that blatant plug and the irony of its appearance in this post. But what the hell: in for a cringe, in for a crossing the line - my newest ebook for writers is Write a Great Synopsis - An Expert Guide. 

*slinks off to do some writing*


Anne Cassidy said...

I think it's impossible, in book buying, to link cause and effect. It's a slower more organic thing. Unless you're very high profile already no one's going to be waiting for your book. So it's up to you as a writer, you have to promote yourself, gently and over time so that when a book of yours does come out it doesn't look as though you've suddenly discovered the web and are using it to flog your book.

Ellen Brickley said...

My personal pet hate, as a Twitter user, is when I see that there are X new tweets in my feed and when I open them, they're all from the same person selling the same book in X different ways. I think timing online promotion in a non-annoying way is a good start!

Elen C said...

One of the things I really like to do is events. I am one of those jumping-around-havoc-causing authors. I treat school visits as a performance. I would much rather talk to a room full of children than tweet/blog etc. But doing one event really does take out a whole day (inc travel. And when you're not a full-time author (which I'm not), then you do lose valuable writing time. I think you have to enjoy it for its own sake. I feel as much a performer as a writer sometimes!

Whirlochre said...

This is very definitely a case of Man With A Purple Banana syndrome.

A man walks into a room with a purple banana. Everyone notices because bananas aren't purple.

Next day there are two men with purple bananas, and by the end of the year you can't move for them.

In fact, everyone is sick of the sight of them, and irritation soon turns to fisticuffs.

Until the man with the blue banana walks in.

So it's all about having a banana no-one else has got and remembering how all bananas go off very quickly when peeled.

JO said...

As a consumer, I respond less and less to tweets and FB messages urging me to read someone's book, because it's wonderful and everybody is reading it and I'll be the only person on the planet who hasn't read it if I don't race over the Amazon to buy the last copy.

And I find bleating about my book hard - I'm hugely proud of it, and of course I want it to be read. But now I want to get on with the next one. So research that shows all our tweeting has limited results suits me.

Though I might have to remind people about a recent five star review ...

Nicola Morgan said...

Anne, I agree that it's difficult and fraught with possible misinterpretations, but I don't think it's impossible. After all, the whole science of marketing (and I mean marketing that is taught in courses and MBAs etc, not the amateur stuff that we kind of pick up or guess as we go along) is based around tested theories and models that have been observed and formulated by statisticians etc, so there must be *something* knowable in it. Not that I'm particularly interested in that stuff, but I do respect that there are things that can be measured and analysed. I absolutely agree with the last part of your comment.

Elen - events, ah yes. Great fun and I certainly love them and they do have a measurable effect (for example when you get an email a year later from the librarians saying that after the event your library borrowings went up by x% and stayed there). But it *is* exhausting and time-consuming. I no longer find it such a good use of my time as I used to.

Whirlochre :)

Ellen - yes, overkill there.

Jo - I'm with you on all that.

Rebecca Emin said...

This is a great post. What I find more irritating than anything is when you add a new person on Twitter and get an automatic link to their book by DM with a message to urge you to buy it. That is a sure fire way to put me right off. I only buy books by people who I have got to know nowadays.

I spent 16 hours yesterday doing an online publication day party for my own book, but that is an exception. I really want to get on and write now.

Patsy said...

I suspect many of us do too much of all sorts of things rather than getting on with the actual writing.

Trudy said...

There's an interesting article in this month's Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/ which addresses your points. In it, the writer talks about 10 dollar work, 100 dollar work etc. Basically, you might earn 10 dollars per hour from actually writing, or if you're really lucky, 100 dollars per hour. But if you had to farm out your Twittering, or FB-ing - how much would YOU be willing to pay someone to do it for you? And if you wouldn't be willing to pay much for it - why are you spending so much time doing it yourself?
It made me think about social networking a bit differently - but since I haven't finished my novel yet, I'm earning zero dollars per hour anyway!

adele said...

Agree completely that too much promotion on twitter and elsewhere is counterproductive. Or MAY be....we just don't know but meanwhile I have yet to see FIGURES demonstrating that tweeting etc helps sell books. As William Goldman said; NO ONE KNOWS ANYTHING. I think events are very useful but those are getting scarcer as schools etc are pressed for cash.
The banana story is good. The next new thing is what people are searching for...good luck to them, I say!

Nicola Morgan said...

Adele, I think the figures show that tweeting doesn't sell many books or not as many as some might think. What Twitter definitely does, however, is create a lot of opportunities for unpredicted but huge benefits, in terms of connections or conversations that can be very material. I never suggest to people that they should tweet intending to sell books, even indirectly.

Susie Vereker said...

A small group of authors deliberately tweeting about each other's books is equally annoying, I find. But I've found some good recommendations from readers on Twitter.

Stroppy Author said...

I've always said I'd rather write another book than try to sell the one I've just written - but that used to be my explanation for not doing school visits. I do send one tweet announcing the publication of a new book. Nothing more. I'd rather my online presence was not associated with selling.

I feel there is such a deluge of 'look at me, I've put my novel on Kindle, please buy it' that I take no notice of any of them any more. If something really is good, it will filter through to me sooner or later. Lots of promotion from other people puts me off; lots of promotion by me would bore *my* pants off!

michelle lovric said...

Agree very much with Stroppy Author that there is a horrible sick-to-the-stomach fear of being associated not with writing but with selling. Everyone can see you're nakedly needy to be read ... I don't fb or twit.

Yet there is also a fear that without an online platform/school visits/eventing etc your publishers might consider that you are not pulling your weight. Worrying about this also takes creative energy and time away from writing ...

Ali said...

As a reader and tweeter, I have certainly discovered some authors via Twitter that I may not have encountered otherwise. The best understand that Twitter is a two way conversation (Stephanie Burgis, Keris Stainton, Sarwat Chadda, Philip Ardagh are great at Twitter) but clearly feel comfortable in the medium. Those who don't understand it and simply do the online version of standing in a room shouting their news would perhaps be better off networking their blog to Goodreads or Facebook and not doing something quite so interactive if they don't want to interact.

Lucy Coats said...

"opportunities for unpredicted but huge benefits, in terms of connections or conversations that can be very material."
...and I think that's the key point, Nicola. I don't know how many books I've sold via Twitter etc because there's no way of quantifying that, and I don't use it for that anyway. What I do know is that I've got lots of paid work opportunities (school visits, festivals, conference talks etc) as well as one book offer via connections I've made there. Ali is quite right when she says that the best understand that it's a two way conversation - and I've had conversations with some fantastic people there, both in the UK and abroad, who I would never otherwise have come across.

Kirsty said...

Maybe people just need to use their carefully crafted 25 word synopsis once a week (maximum) to promote their book. If that doesn't work to hook people in Direct messaging them with a link to the book certainly won't!!