Netiquette for the indie author

Schmoozin' cocktail

Okay. So you’ve formatted and released your books, and established who your target audience is.

The next dilemma you’ll face, is how to market your work.

First of all, make sure you’ve written the best book that you can pull out of your head and heart. Not any other part of your body. If you’re dredging it up from elsewhere, the strain will show in every paragraph.

Secondly, make sure it has a clear and attractive cover.

Third, that the blurb is appetite-whetting enough to attract readers – don’t give too much away, but don’t be so vague that you could be describing pretty much any book. Try to avoid tag lines in the form of a question. It’s very pulp fiction noir, but if you’re not skilled in that particular genre, you’ll just come across as a lazy tag-line writer. Below are examples of weak tag lines:

~ Will he/she succeed?

~ Does love conquer all?

~ What will they do?

~ In a race against time, can they beat the clock?

~ Will truth/justice/honour prevail?

The above are all too vague and over-used. Number four, in particular, basically describes everything from the school run to the TV quiz show Countdown. You don’t actually need a tag-line. Just write a decent story, package it nicely, and keep your fingers crossed that enough folk will enjoy it to recommend it to one another. That’s the best form of promotion, because it doesn’t actively involve you.

I have one opinion about asking for reviews:

How to lose friends and irritate people.

Amazon Kindle frowns on reviews written by friends and family. Reviews posted on request in exchange for free books have to state in the text ‘I received a free/gifted book in exchange for my honest review.’ Editors, formatters, publishers, cover designers, contributors and other people involved in the book’s development and production cannot post reviews of the book. Any reviews unearthed seen to be breaching their guidelines are unceremoniously removed without notice. You can say all you want about the practises of major publishers and their methods, but down at the other end with the indies, you have to play fair. And if the book itself doesn’t live up to a ream of glowing, paid-for or solicited reviews, it’s one of the best ways to attract a shed-load of bad ones.

I don’t ask for reviews, but I’ll happily give away books if someone thinks they’d enjoy a book I’ve written. I don’t set them homework afterwards. I’ve seen good friends of authors run at the sight of them approaching on social occasions, crying for mercy the familiar pleas of “I haven’t finished reading it yet!” or “I don’t really know how to use the computer or post reviews on Amazon!”

It’s crass to treat your friends and family as a marketing machine for your work. Do you promote them and their business? Do you give them any help or support with their dreams and ambitions, whether it’s getting them a make-over, working to create the house and garden they most want, helping them find a date, arranging for them to have the car they’ve always dreamed of driving, writing them endless job references and endorsements? Because that’s what you’re asking for, in a nutshell. There is a mentality among some authors that family and friends are there to be used. If you need private feedback or approval, or help proofreading your book, ask one or two to take a look BEFORE you publish it. Don’t ask them to do your heavy lifting afterwards.

Be dignified.

Mannequin

Remember – you are the front window for your writing.

Authors themselves are the best support network, many of whom now have learned, to their cost, that nobody close to them socially is interested in their new hobby as a self-promotion machine, and liked them better while they were still only writing in their bedroom after school with paper and pen.

I was once asked to post the same review on several sites, having genuinely written a nice one of my own volition, because I enjoyed the book. I said no, explaining to the author that having it pop up on every outlet or listing for the book would instantly imply that it had been an insincere, solicited review, possibly paid for as well. You have to put your foot down when approached about these things yourself – it turns the whole author support network into a protection racket of back-scratching. If an author then leaves you a sour comment on your book, with you having either declined to review theirs or having not read it, most likely, ignore them and move on.

Don’t sink to their level. It won’t endear you to the audience. Trolling the internet is time wasted that you could be writing a bestseller in.

Make sure you are always working on the next thing, and having new ideas. There’s nothing sadder than pimping your one solitary book for years, waiting for Hollywood to call. In the same vein, make sure that you have a life, and are taking a healthy interest in the people around you from day to day – and not in the desperate search for material for your own work. What are their dreams? What are their life stories? When was the last time they took up a new hobby? For that matter, when was the last time you did?

I’ve got to the stage now where I’m starting to receive unsolicited spam from ‘social media experts’ on sites such a FB, LinkedIn and Twitter, who haven’t looked at what I do and seen that it’s also my own job. All they trawl for is the word ‘author’ and send out a pitch for their services, announcing that I can’t possibly have the time to promote my own books as well as write and that the cost of their services is very reasonable. Which is true. I only teach others how to promote their own books, in between writing my own books. And I’ve never had to spam or apply for work. I get referred by word-of-mouth, and have to turn down or suspend jobs all the time because I’m too busy. And because my job is so easy I’m sure most folk could do it, my I.T. and technical services are damn near rock-bottom 🙂

That’s one of the reasons I’ve written these tutorials. So long as you can write a good story, format it nicely, present it in an attractive way, behave yourself online, and not alienate all of your family and friends in person, you could get lucky and sell a handful of books. The best way to sell more books, is to write more books. If your readers are keen on your material, they’ll come back for more of it.

Remember, in the real world, selling yourself online isn’t everything. Getting on with life and enjoying yourself is. Make sure you leave time for that. It’s scary how fast the time passes while following your book’s progress up and down the Kindle charts, and trying to influence it in any way possible 🙂

L xxxxx

Pied Pipers and Gingerbread Houses

Art for art’s sake

Was having a discussion earlier about marketing, with a couple of great authors who advocate social networking in marketing, creating fan pages for stuff relevant to or similar to what you sell, yada yada yada. It all sounds cool and funky and modern at first. And, er, blatantly sneaky…

Personally, I think you need social skills to use social networking, and a lot of time on your hands for the admin. I’d rather sell books in my sleep with no effort on my part whatsoever, but then I guess I just like my sleep better than social networking sites.

Something was bugging me though. Something saying at the back of my mind that I’ve seen it all before, heard it all before, and it’s not modern or funky at all.

Then I remembered ‘Timeshare’. Where you’d get a free holiday, but basically had to sit through their hard-sell sessions. And those ‘youth clubs’ you’d get invited to as a youngster, which were all good fun until they mentioned Jesus. After which you didn’t get out of the door without knowing you were going to Hell, but who gave a toss anyway, at least Hell would have a bouncy castle on which you didn’t have to feel guilty about keeping your shoes on, while cussing and swearing if you felt like it.

And half of the kids’ fairytales warn of the same thing. Don’t go into the Gingerbread House, it’s a trap. Don’t follow the Pied Piper. You’re being led up the garden path to meet a sticky end. And not the good sort.

Basically, it’s a way of avoiding paying for formal advertising. Call it dishonesty if you want, or ‘grooming’ *BLECK* nasty word, unless you work in a stables. Come hither, Facebook folks, and ‘like’ my fan page about Harry Potter. The next thing you know, I’ll be recommending books you’ve never heard of, muahahahaha… no Harry Potter freebies or competitions here, just badly-edited thinly-disguised fan-fiction promotions…

I read another blog post recently, with any luck I’ll dig out the link so that I can credit Red Bonsai or whoever it was, about ‘old media’ being what works. Posters on the rail platforms and the Underground. TV and radio appearances. Sunday broadsheet literary supplements. It’s true. Last stand-up comedy gig I went to, was after seeing it advertised on the London Underground. But that costs money, and apparently the time and money is better spent on paying an office full of typing monkeys to play on Facebook and Twitter all day. For a month’s worth of that, they could pay for a poster on the Underground, and catch all the folks who are actually buying stuff, instead of just rounding up all the others who are also playing the social networking game.

It’s so overcrowded now, most of the mutual follows are from people in the same business. Indie authors get followed by indie authors. SEO experts follow other SEO experts, hoping to scam their ideas off them.

I’m not against having your own fan pages, of stuff you really like or recommend to others. But there’s a difference between indulging in a love of your own, and setting up a coconut shy covered in big fluffy teddy bears which only gives away penny sweets if you have a go.

Who do you think JK Rowling promoted herself as while looking for a book deal? “Hi, my books are like Enid Blyton meets Terry Pratchett. I run the Blyton Meets Pratchett Fan Club, which people join and they get a weekly newsletter all about me and my own writing.” No? Good. I don’t think she would have done that either. Do you think it would have been as successful if she had started out that way?

Or those youth clubs… Come and talk about Jesus! You might also get a beaker of weak orange squash and five minutes on the bouncy castle in your socks! But the Jesus part is compulsory!!

If you think you’re talented, or have something worth selling, f***ing tell people you are up front. Don’t hide your personal trainer diet leaflets in Happy Meals packaging.

So you have stuff to sell, good for you (and for me). If you don’t think it’s worth advertising properly, or being honest about, just think about what other associations you’re going to attach to your product if you go the sneaky route.

Instead of becoming the next Rowling off the back of your own talent, you too could be the next Timeshare in heaven…

🙂