Friday, January 15, 2010

Looking at Promo

Christina Phillips asked her readers about promo, what we like and dislike, what we do, and what we think works. Since I'm me, my answer got way long, so I'm posting it here instead.

I enjoy some promo activities and dislike others. I generally don't do the ones I dislike. :)

I like blogging, but I post only when I have something to say. I don't appreciate it when other people post lame whatever just to fill a slot on their schedule, and I won't blather about what I had for lunch just to get something up on a Monday. I know people who can come up with interesting, useful posts on a regular schedule -- and envy them bitterly [rueful smile] -- but I'm not one of them and I'm not going to waste readers' time if I have nothing significant to say.

I have a LiveJournal under my pseud because my publisher has an LJ community and encourages us to sign up for days to play host. I'll grab a day when I have something new coming out, but don't try to appear regularly otherwise. I don't have a gift for entertaining a bunch of people online all day long unless I have something specific to talk about and a relevant theme, and if I haven't had anything new out recently, well, that sort of leaves me with tap-dancing and birdcalls, neither of which I'm good at. A lot of the other writers do stunt writing, where they call for prompt words from readers by a certain time, and commit to having one or more ficlets posted using the prompts by the end of the day. I've done that once or twice, but I suck at it and would usually rather do something else. [hides under keyboard]

I like doing raffles, and have found that an effective way of keeping a decent number of people showing up in comments all day is to give a ticket in the hat for each post a reader participates in. So if someone answers three trivia questions, tells me who their favorite historical pirate is, and posts a cookie recipe (or whatever I've asked for that day) they get five tickets in the hat. That draws much more traffic than just saying that each person who participates in some way that day will get a ticket.

And about raffles and other give-aways, if you're giving away a copy of your new book, people who are participating won't buy your book until after the contest is over, because they're hoping to win a free copy. After it's all over, disappointment can nullify the excitement and anticipation built up by your promo activities, and cause them to put the book on their wish list and maybe buy a copy whenever, rather than running right out after the contest is over. Giving away something else encourages people to sign up to win something from your backlist, or a gift certificate, or whatever swag you're offering, and possibly also buy your new book, which you're promoing the heck out of. :)

And giving away a gift certificate, even five dollars' worth will let someone buy several of my stories, so it's a nice prize but not a huge expense to me. And someone who's a dedicated fan and already has my whole backlist can participate and use the gift cert. to buy someone else's stories; I don't mind at all extending the benefits to someone who supports me so much that they already have everything I've published, and if they buy someone else's books with the prize, that just spreads the good fortune around.

I don't do MySpace or FaceBook; I've heard too many bad things about them, and I don't need an iffy timesink.

I don't Twitter -- major timesink.

I have an author's topic over on The Phade, in their Manhole area, which is dedicated to m/m fiction. It's a fun place to hang out, with people who really love the kind of stories I write, but it's not so busy that it's a huge timesink. A number of reviewers hang out there, and I've gotten several reviews from Phade people since I signed up there, which is way cool.

Being a Romancing the Blog columnist drove a surprising amount of traffic to my blog, considering that RTB is mostly het and I'm an m/m writer, but that was a nice gig, even overlooking the fact that I just love being able to blather on about whatever. ;D RTB is on hiatus right now, but I'm hoping the new owners do fire it up again soon, and decide to keep me on. [crossed fingers] Note that I have no idea how much of that traffic actually resulted in sales, but even just blog traffic is nice to see.

I have a set of GLBT Bookshelf pages and I get some blog traffic from that site. There are buy links from my story pages to my publishers' buy pages, but I can't tell how much purchasing traffic originates there. Building my pages also forced me to expand my HTML skills; I got a good book on the subject and did some experimenting to get my pages looking decent, and learned a few things.

I have a web site which I swear I'll do something with some day soon. [hides under keyboard again] Doing the GLBT Bookshelf pages means I'm that much closer to being able to do something with my web site besides having a mirror blog sitting on it, in all my spare time. :P

Part of my problem, though, is that so far I've only published short stories (and one novelette) and I like writing different characters and even genres so I don't have a built-up body of information for any individual set of characters or fictional setting. I don't have any major works which lend themselves to the kind of "bonus material" people like seeing on web sites. I have free sequels available to three of my stories, but they do perfectly well as pages on my WordPress blog. There are some things I want to pull out of the blog pages and put on the web site, like my list of publications, and the freebies, probably add to my bio, that sort of thing, but mostly I want to be able to give people cool bonus material. I have a novel in process with my publisher at the moment, and some more stories in the works set in the same universe; once that's up and running, there's other info I'll be able to give -- character bios, info on how the magic system works, background on the fey and various other beings the boys run into, that sort of thing. At this point, though, I feel like so long as I can manage with just the WordPress and its pages, I should keep it at that level, rather than expanding to a full web site (which would be skimpy anyway) just to have a full web site.

I haven't done any swag because I don't have anything to put on that kind of item. Again, all I have out so far are short pieces, none of which had an individual cover. Cover art is a primary focus of swag items, especially the cheap ones like bookmarks; I'm hoping my novel will have a great cover which will lend itself to that. [crossed fingers]

And recently (just yesterday, in fact) I signed up with Goodreads as an author. Still trying to figure out how that works -- if you're there, come say hi! I'm not sure what the noticeable effect will be (any comments from other writers who actively participate there?) but there are folks on Goodreads who've already put my work up and have done some rating and reviewing and such, so I'll find out whether it helps to have an active presence there, however much time I can give it.

Wow, looking at all this written down, it seems like a lot. [blinkblink] I guess it sort of creeps up on you, a bit at a time. And some things require regular tending -- like being an active presence in the blogosphere -- while others are very intermittent, like my RTB gig, or maintaining my GLBT Bookshelf pages. That's another factor when deciding whether to do a certain type of promo: can you invest the time to set it up and then mostly leave it, with just periodic attention, or is it something you'll have to carve out a regular block of time for?

Honestly, though, I think the best promo when you get down to it is good word-of-mouth, and a lot of it. If you count that in, it seems promo will eventually start feeding itself, as though there's some critical mass of talkative fans which, if you can achieve that level, will ensure that you're going to expand from a decent audience to a really good one. The trick is getting to that critical mass, and making sure that your fans, however many or few there might be at any point, have stuff to talk about. Which comes back to writing great fiction, and ensuring that you have a fairly steady supply of it appearing. Awesome writing is what it's really all about; with it, you'll have other people promoing for you once some target number have tripped over your work, and without it, all the frantic promo a single writer can do won't help.

It's all about how you invest your resources, whether time (to do things yourself) or money (to hire people to do things for you.) I think we can all control money spent, because it's money and there are bills to pay and that number at the bottom of the check book. Time can get away from you, though, if you don't watch it just as carefully. There might be all kinds of promo activities you enjoy, and they all might even be productive, but if you take up all your time doing promo at the expense of your writing time, the wheels are going to grind to a halt eventually. Finding a good balance here is key, and any uncertainty should be awarded to your writing time.

Angie, still trying to find a good balance


Christina Phillips said...

What a great post, Angie. I signed up for Twitter at the end of last year and do enjoy that, although it's a very social thing for me, keeping up with friends I only ever meet at conferences :-) I'm also on GoodReads - I'll look you up over there!

Thanks for the link!

Charles Gramlich said...

You sound similar to me, except for the raffle thing. I don't do that well.

Angie said...

Christina -- if you're enjoying something then keeping up with it is painless. [nod] I'm not a 140-character kind of person, myself, and since Twitter seems like the sort of thing you're supposed to keep up with all day long, it sounds like it's something that you'd have to be into to do long-term. :D But I agree that doing things you find fun and interesting, rather than things you find onerous, is definitely important.

Charles -- if I had to pack and ship paper books, I'd probably do fewer raffles too. :) One convenient thing about e-books is that you can e-mail the prizes. Although gift certificates are just as convenient, and Amazon has them too.


Dawn Wilson said...

Great post! I had never heard of doing a raffle online. Hm, that's interesting! I would love to know more of your experiences in doing an online raffle. I might do one someday. I appreciate your notes about it.

I use MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. Of these, MySpace has provided better promo for my books, but it really depends on how you use it. I network like crazy on there and have learned that you should be careful in the kind of information you share. I've only sold a couple of books through my efforts on MySpace. It remains to be seen if any sales will follow from what I do on Twitter and Facebook. Nevertheless, I don't think I should "close the door" on those promo opps. We authors need to have a strong Internet presence. On the other hand, I don't try to be EVERYWHERE. There is only so much I can do online, though I am open to trying new sites and new promo opps. It's just a matter of organizing everything properly.

And, hey, at least with MySpace, Twitter and Facebook, I'm THERE and so are my links and book promo stuff. :)

And, yes, Twitter CAN be a major timesink. I CANNOT work and be logged in at Twitter at the same time. Once, in the time it took me to read one email, there were 38 new tweets to read and catch up on! *chokes*

"There might be all kinds of promo activities you enjoy, and they all might even be productive, but if you take up all your time doing promo at the expense of your writing time, the wheels are going to grind to a halt eventually. Finding a good balance here is key, and any uncertainty should be awarded to your writing time."

Oh, this is sooooo true!! Sometimes, it feels like I'm doing EVERYTHING for book promo and networking, I often have to stop and ask myself, when am I going to write? It helps by setting a time limit on everything. Like, I'll stay logged in at Twitter for the amount of time it takes me to have my morning coffee. Or, I'll do book promo stuff for just one hour today. This helps in finding that time to write. It does take time to establish that balance, though.

You do indeed have a lot going on. It's great it has resulted in reviews, though it IS hard to gauge where certain efforts meant more sales. But at least that effort is put in. You ARE still getting the word out about your book in some way, and that's all that matters. :)

Angie said...

Dawn -- online raffles are easy, and there are different ways of running them, depending on how much work and time you want to put in. Some people will just make a post and say, "Everyone who comments to this post gets a raffle entry," and that's it. Some people will ask for some participatory activity, like answers to a trivia contest, or prompt-words for stunt writing, or something on a theme relating to the story they're promoing, like asking for everyone's favorite food if the story they're pushing has a character who's a chef, for example.

For myself, I usually do these when I'm driving the bus over at Torquere_Social on LJ, and I'm looking to get participation all day. It's depressing when you're up there doing your song and dance and only your two best friends are commenting, you know? [rueful smile] So I came up with the idea of offering multiple raffle tickets for participation in multiple activity-posts, and that's worked pretty well. It also gives people a better chance to participate at all, since someone who doesn't have a favorite cookie recipe to share migh have a favorite Torquere book/author, and someone who hasn't read any Torquere books or authors yet might have a funny travel story to tell, and cetera.

One thing about trivia contests -- it's easy to get all over-enthused and ask really "good" trivia questions based on your books. Don't do that. :) Especially if you're giving away copies of one or more of your books, the people who have the best chance of winning the contest are the people who already have all your books, so why would they be interested? More general questions are better -- stuff that's Googleable -- or at least questions which are answerable from information on your blog or web site. And even there, many people will get frustrated and give up if they have to really dig around to find the answer. If you're just looking for participation for a random drawing, something people can do quickly and easily is best.

The bottom line with a raffle is you want a lot of people to enter, and hopefully to have a good time doing it.