Friday, September 16, 2011

Shouting from my social media soapbox

Last Saturday, I went to Portland to be part of a panel presentation on savvy social media for authors.

As a sidenote, it's not wise to drink fourteen gallons of caffeinated iced tea before getting in front of a group for an hour-long presentation, unless the image you're trying to project is that of an incontinent crack addict.

It also might not be wise to sit there with your iPhone posting to Twitter while you're in the middle of the presentation.

Or at least that might be true under normal circumstances. In this instance, the Twitter dialogue that took place turned out to be the perfect illustration of many of the points I hoped to make on the topic of social media, so I'll share it with you here.

Some background, for those who aren't Twitter-savvy: The first tweet in this series is a general message I posted to all my followers just a few minutes before I got up to do the presentation. Malin is a regular blog reader and Twitter pal who lives in Sweden. She replied to my initial tweet with what I thought was an exceptionally keen observation about social media, and the conversation unfolded from there:
A couple things are noteworthy about the exchange.

For one, Malin is exactly right about social media being personal. It's one of the reasons I tweeted what I did. Though I'm not generally nervous about public speaking, I was feeling a little pressure to get up and say something smart. There's always a risk my brain will decide to take a mini-vacation just as I open my mouth to speak or click on my iPhone to tweet. It happens to all of us, and sharing that fear in a public forum gives us all an opportunity to relate to each other.

The second thing that's noteworthy is that I've never met Malin. She lives on the other side of the world, and half the time she's tweeting in Swedish. My book isn't even sold in Sweden, but because Malin follows this blog and pals around with me on Twitter, she ordered Making Waves online. She even emailed me this screen shot a few months ago so I could see what my book looks like on the Swedish site where she bought it:

Now here's the thing: I never asked Malin to buy my book. I never asked her to send me that delightful screen shot. I never asked her to banter with me on Twitter in a way that made me look smarter than I am in front of the assembled group.

She did those things because we've forged a sort of friendship through our months of banter on social media sites. In the spirit of that friendship, you can be damn sure I'll line up to buy Malin's book someday when she achieves her goal of becoming a published author.

It's that sort of friendship – real, genuine, honest-to-goodness human connections – that make social media a valuable tool for authors.

I think about that every time I see an author cramming her tweet stream with messages urging people to buy her book. I think about it whenever I see an author on a message board asking people to visit his blog without bothering to interact with other authors there or considering the fact that at least 90% of them have blogs, too, and that the way to get someone to visit yours is not to beat people over the head without engaging in a real, meaningful way.

Social media isn't about selling. It's not about self-promotion. It's about forging connections and trusting that the rest will happen naturally.

Any thoughts on this subject? Feel free to tell me if you disagree – it's all part of engaging, right?

I'll leave you with a few photos someone was kind enough to snap for me on Saturday. Note the giant iced-tea cup. It was on its third refill, and I was preparing my second potty sprint. I'm not proud.


Penelope said...

I totally agree. I find it obnoxious when people self-promote on a regular basis. The books I actually end up purchasing are the ones from authors I've connected with.

Also, could you be any cuter in the last picture? I think not. (Though male readers surely prefer the bikini shot from the other day.)

Unknown said...

Well, that post made me flush so deeply I didn't need any tea to warm up. (A beta reader once asked me why my characters blush so much - it's because I do. For everything).

I'm with you and the previous commenter. I get put off when people repeatedly ask me to buy a certain book - even when it comes to agents, friends and random strangers who haven't written the book in question. All I need is the blurb - or as in your case, feeling that the author was such a great gal the book had to be good too.

I hope a lot of people will read this post because in some instances I'm probably dissuaded from buying a book I might have loved. And that's just sad.

Reminds me... I really need to shape up my blog.

Do you think it's important to be social media-active before you have a clear publication chance? As in, at which point does it become important - before ms is written, before agent, before pub contract, before pub date?

Melanie_McCullough said...

I have to agree. Every time an author tweets "buy my book" I no longer have any desire to purchase it. Even if it seems like something I would have loved. In fact, I'm hard-pressed not to click the unfollow button. And if your Twitter stream is nothing but self-promotion, I won't follow.

That being said, I've quietly stalked, I mean read, your blog and Twitter posts for a long time. I pre-ordered your book as soon as I was able. Not because you and I had connected in any real way, but because from your website and Twitter stream I got a sense of who you were and knew that anything you wrote would be phenomenal.

The way to reach readers through social media is not by telling them to buy your book, it's in showing them you're a person. One with the same triumphs and hardships that they have. If they can relate to you they are much more likely to relate to your work.

Patty Blount said...

YES! Yes! Yes.

I agree completely. I've stopped following authors who nothing but book-brag.

However, I am NOT saying "Don't ever talk about your book." You should definitely do that.

I'm saying it shouldn't be ALL you do.

If you're on twitter and people @ you, REPLY for God's sake. Nothing upsets me more than when I'm ignored online. I feel like the gawky uncool kid I used to be in school.

Linda G. said...

Absolutely agree. I'm so much more likely to buy something from someone who isn't always actively trying to sell it to me.

Aside to Malin: totally sympathize on the blushing thing. Maybe it's a Swedish thing? I think I inherited the tendency from my Swedish mom.

Julie Glover said...

I unfollowed someone a couple of weeks ago because every tweet was BUY MY BOOK. It's sad because maybe the book is terrific and this person would have been great to know. However, I LOVE that we can now chat with people across the world; it is a small world after all. And you come across incredibly smart on this topic. Great post!

Steph Schmidt said...

I have to agree with what everyone else is saying. There's just one thing distracting me from sounding more intelligent, what happened to your leg in the second picture? (the one where you're sitting in front of your twitter profile)

Anonymous said...

My issue with interacting on social media is a personal one--I always feel like the agented and published authors (and sometimes even the aspiring folks like me) I tweet at are too busy to chat with me, like I'm bothering people. Or like they just plain old won't like me. It's silly, and it reminds me of high school, but I haven't ever been able to shake it and it makes it hard to connect on a personal level.

I agree with you, though. When I'm published--whenever that is--I know I'll make an effort to interact with potential readers and connect with them.

And I'll always feel connected to you and this blog--there are pictures out there of your book with my engagement ring!

(I've commented on this blog under my twitter name before: @jesshface)


Penelope, thanks! I believe that expression on my face translates loosely to, "get me out of here before I pee myself."

Malin, your question is actually a great one for a future blog post, but I'll answer now a little more briefly: I'd say the best time to be active in social media is whenever you want to. If you enjoy it and feel you're getting something out of it, dive in right away. If it's a chore, that will be apparent and you'll begin to alienate people, particularly the longer you do it and the more you burn out. Agents and editors DO pay attention to your activity on social media, so it's worth keeping that in mind when querying.

Melanie, AMEN to everything you said here: "The way to reach readers through social media is not by telling them to buy your book, it's in showing them you're a person. One with the same triumphs and hardships that they have. If they can relate to you they are much more likely to relate to your work." YES!!!!

Patty, great point! It's totally OK to talk about your book or even encourage people to order at a few key points. It's just that it should be a very small fraction of what you're tweeting/blogging.

Linda G, I'll admit it, there are several authors whose books I'll never buy simply because I feel they've been beating me over the head for so long.

Julie, you're right, things have changed so much from the days I used to lick stamps and mail letters to my favorite authors. Now it's easy to interact personally with authors in all stages of their careers. Scary, sometimes, but mostly exciting to me!

Steph, LOL, I believe I was sitting on my leg because I HAD TO PEE REALLY REALLY REALLY BAD!!!

JustJess, I figure if people are out there on social media, it's because they WANT to interact with people. And I can promise I don't think twice about who's published or who's not. That's one thing I love about social media -- it's a pretty level playing field.

Thanks for reading, guys! Great discussion!


Miss Viola said...

I agree Tawna - self promoting instead of building friendships or just being funny, interesting, complelling is rather like a friend who only calls you when they need you to help them move, pack, or need a ride somewhere. After a while it becomes an annoyance and you tend to not answer the phone, you delete their emails without reading. Much better to have fun and build those relationships!

Joelle said...

I dislike it so much when people ask me to buy their book online or in an email. In fact, I pretty much won't if you ask me unless I was going to already. I have never asked anyone on my blog, twitter, or facebook to buy my book, although I sometimes feel like BEGGING them to!

I bought Making Waves because of Twitter. You crack me up and you're super friendly. I know you have a great blog, but I don't like to read blogs, so Twitter is where I get book recommendations. And I think of so many of the people I banter with as friends...or as the writer Eileen Cook calls her online friends, "imaginary friends" and I often check out their books - either to buy or get from the library. I know a lot of people have bought my book because of Twitter, too. Plus, it's just fun.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Yes! Twitter is for engaging with others in a meaningful way--in a personal way, in a conversational way. This past Wednesday I did a post about how Twitter got me to buy a book I had written off as not for me, all because someone spoke to me about it and then gave me a link. It's like this: when you walk into a store and the store owner/salesperson never acknowledges you or speaks to you, you become a lot less interested in buying from them.

mshatch said...

I completely agree that social media is about building connections. I don't tweet - no cell - but I do blog and the reason I started my blog was specifically to connect with other writers who were doing the same thing. I've made a lot of on line connections as well as some real friends. We may not have met yet but I often 'talk' to some of my blogging friends more than I talk to my own family!

Anonymous said...

I love the t-shirt you wore to the social media panel! LOL. I will remember that advice about the ice tea when I lead my facilitation class early next month. Great advice though on the key piece of social media. I do use it more to find out what's good to read and hadn't put in as much face time outside the bloggers I already knew. I'll definitely be changing the way I tweet. Thanks Tawna!

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

One of these days I'm going to go through all your blogposts and glean everything you say about social media.
Meanwhile I have this quote written down:
"Social media isn't about selling. It's not about self-promotion. It's about forging connections and trusting that the rest will happen naturally."

Words to live by!

Denise Grover Swank said...

Amen, amen, amen! It's called SOCIAL media not SELL MY PRODUCT media. If an author is doing social media the right way, they don't have to tweet "buy my book." Their true followers will be excited about it enough to buy it anyway. I will retweet reviews but usually only once a day and only one or two. And it's definitely not every day.

I've "sold" books on Twitter by simply TALKING to people. I talked to one woman about Keurig coffee makers (I called mine my significant other.) and her stand-off with her husband to bring the trash cans from the curb. Was it my intention to sell her a book? No. I had fun tweeting with her for about twenty minutes. But at some point, she clicked on my profile and followed me. At the end of the conversation, she told me she'd just downloaded my book. THAT is how I want to sell books with social media. I want people to see I'm a real person, who is hopefully fun to talk to and as a result, they want to read my book. I love social media because it allows me to connect to my readers on a personal level.