September 28, 2009
One of the first things a neophyte writer learns after celebrating the publication of his or her first book is that the bulk of the marketing responsibility falls on the author. The second object lesson absorbed is that marketing is much harder than writing the book. Advertising in productive venues is not cheap. Travel to bookstores across the country for book signing fests not only gulps the dollars but drains the time of the author, who is probably attempting an encore performance. The competition for the consumer’s attention and dollars is fierce. I’ve seen quotes of 400,000 to a million books published in the last year. How is an author who is not a household name supposed to alert potential readers to the existence of a new book and convince them they need to invest their time and money in this particular work instead of the plethora of alternatives?
One recent innovation which gives authors some hope is the proliferation of the social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Shoutlife, Plaxo, and YouTube. Some book specific sites available include Shelfari, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and JacketFlap. Another notable name is Ning, a unique application which allows users to create their own social network for a specific cause or purpose using the toolset that Ning provides free of charge. Authors suddenly have access to millions of readers and vice-versa. Announcements of new books can be tweeted or blogged or bulletined to thousands or posted on the walls of individual users. So am I saying the problems are thus solved? Just join a gaggle of social networks, mingle with the masses, and fall asleep at night counting your sales. I’m afraid it’s not that easy.
Now that you’ve discovered the social networks, you will soon realize that you’re not sure how to employ the tools to their optimum productivity. There may be a steep learning curve in harnessing the power of the whistles and bells available to your orchestra of one. You might end up frustrated because you set a minimum goal of 4000 words for today but you feel short because you consumed four hours of your writing time figuring out how Facebook works. I can safely say from experience that the Internet is a beauteous invention, but it is also a Black Hole when it comes to time management. It will swallow you up if you don’t apply some discipline. I belong to over 100 networks and have friends from just about every nation on earth. I could easily spend all day communicating with these interesting people. Does that help my bottom line marketing? Questionably. Does that help my next writing project? Indubitably no, unless I am able to research my next novel via such communication.
If you’re aspiring to write a best seller book, you might take a stab at one which edifies the rest of us in maximizing the potential of the Internet for marketing purposes. The phenomenon is so new that any books on the subject are probably obsolete before the ink is dry. At some point the fog should clear as this virtual world stabilizes and matures so that more definitive and accurate assessment can be broadcast. If you read this blog post hoping to find all of the answers, I apologize for disappointing you. I simply am groping in the obscurity as are most. My goal was to present the questions, however I have two answers that will not change with the technology.
You must be disciplined. Set a limit on time spent on the Internet. One good rule might be that you are not allowed to logon to a social network until you meet your daily quota of words for the day. If you don’t reach your goal, don’t visit. You might try the same thing with email, unless there is the potential for vital, time-sensitive emails arriving in your inbox. You must be the master, or you will become a slave.
One of the features of Social Networks is the ability to make friends (or followers in the Twitter paradigm). I now have 5000 friends on Facebook, 2000 at Shoutlife, 2000 at Goodreads and so on down the line. The term friend takes on new meaning here. I can safely assert that no one can balance 10,000 friendships. Luckily I don’t have the problem of being a celebrity author, and so I am not besieged by people asking me questions and writing notes that I feel I have to answer. I do try to answer anyone who writes to me at this point, but I can see how impossible that task would be in the case where that load increases exponentially. Just like in real life, when you make a cyber friend, you can do it because that person has something to benefit you. In other words that friendship is driven by selfish ambition and self-promotion. Those are ugly words to me. I found myself seeking out other authors, publishers,readers, people in the movie industry, and affluent business people because they can help me get what I want. I tried to distance myself from those third world country missionaries and pastors who always seemed to hit me up for donations. I found myself becoming almost coldly calculating and Machiavellian, qualities that I have always detested. In the struggle to get my books marketed, I was losing who I was and what drove me in writing. The phrase “gaining the world and losing my soul” took on new meaning. Some of this revelation is hitting me as I type. I’d would rather die as a totally undistinguished wannabe than flourish in a world void of the common aspects of decency and honest transparency.
From a Christian perspective, I’m convinced that blockbuster work explaining how to tap into the power of social networking must not preclude the vital chapter explaining how to obtain success without becoming a social monster and an egomaniac parasite. I’ve averted the proverbial bullet. I’m withdrawing my marketing ploys and will be trusting in the Lord to open doors. If the work I’m doing was commissioned by Him, he will bring it to the surface when the timing is right.