Harnessing Social Media?

So I found out that a writer friend of mine puts in their cover letters just how many friends they have on Facebook/Twitter as a demonstration of their ability to harness potential customers.  I have two problems with this:  the first is that you are more times than not better served with cover letters that stick to the submission and don’t skip to “here’s what you get if you buy my story”; and second,I don’t know if I’m convinced of this “social media is the wave of future marketing” thing.

I believe it’s important, as online billboards, but shouldn’t be the goal in and of themselves.  Certainly I’m no expert, but to my mind this mentality shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how social media works.  I think the issue comes down to how you use your networks.

Now admittedly, I’ve been accused of being a friend whore, as I tend to approve everyone who visits any of my pages.  I’ve seen the high school popularity aspects of acquiring friends on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, folks who spend hours hunting down friends (or purchasing software to find and friend folks).  I am not convinced those lead to real “relationships” or interest in you or what you have to sell.  They are just names on a list.

[Plus I actually avoid using Facebook/Twitter to communicate with friends I should be hanging out with in the real world (or even break off a phone call to).  It’s too easy to fall into traps of passive-aggressive communication.  If there’s one thing technology has been a great tool for, it’s been ease of communication and re-connecting with old friends.  On the downside, it has also become a new way to be poor at actually communicating with people.]

Anyway, no one likes to be spammed to, so I can’t imagine stalking people down for the sake of adding them to a list as if that’s an automatic sale.  I can’t tell you how many writers rub folks the wrong way because you can’t engage them in conversation without them selling to you.  If you have any interact with them, you end up on their mailing list.   If you follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever, you can expect constant requests to “like” their latest book.  And you have to appreciate the hustle of these writers.  This part of the game is all about promotion and marketing, I just don’t know if slamming your “friends” is the best way to go about things.

Take blogging for example.  Some people are great at creating communities around their blog.  Think Brian Keene, John Scalzi, Nick Mamatas, Jeff Vandermeer, etc.  My blog is pretty much “here’s what I think/feel”, I put it out there, and move on, it’s not very interactive.  I only even bothered to turn on the comments feature in the last year as I moved away from having a dedicated message board (even then, I see message boards in decline, especially author boards, when it’s just as easy to hit them up on their facebook page.  My only message board presence is as a part of the Keenedom).

My twitter and my facebook accounts are my interactive platforms.  Twitter is the flotsam that spins around my brain mixed with ridiculous takes on my life.  Facebook is pretty much the same … with pictures.

Building a platform is certainly important.  I know that part of the game is getting the word out to folks and it’s hard to cut through the white noise of distractions our lives have become.  I guess it’s all marketing in the end.  But if I’m going to chase after fans, it’s going to be with my stories.  Not some program to add them to a list.  The power of attraction, not so much constant fishing.  But maybe I’m terribly naive and going about this all wrong.

You and the Library: The Broaddus Experiment

Okay, I’ve occasionally run my mouth at conventions about the burgeoning crop of black horror writers, what we can do to increase diversity, and how the horror market needs to quit whining about the shrinking audience and instead actively expanding its audience. You know, rather than decry books like the Dark Dreams series as somehow “reverse racism” (oh, yeah, I LOVED those discussions), embrace them as the opportunity that they are. For example, when I spoke to Jason Sizemore at Apex Books about marketing Orgy of Souls, I asked how he planned on marketing to the black audience. I fully expected something along the lines of “we published you”. Instead, there was a gentle glow about his face, his head tilted to the side (he gets like that when he’s in love, and in this case the object of his affections was … more sales) and with a lilt to his voice he asked “what’s our next step?”

With help from my friends (another random shout out to RAW Sistaz), I’ve been posting resources like Black Literary sites, places folks can send their books to market themselves better and build new audiences. I’ll be posting a similar list of black book expos and conventions for folks to begin to add to their convention schedule. And I’ve compiled a list of black book stories which folks are free to contact me to receive.

In addition, I recently received this blog which I have permission to re-post.

My Name is Greg Fisher and I’m the Undead Rat.

I’m a a librarian assistant at the Cleveland Hts.-University Hts. Public Library. I work 20 hours at the main library on Lee Rd. and 20 hours at the Noble Neighborhood Library (a branch). So I get the experience of working at a branch and working at a main building.

Today I wanted to talk about Maurice Broaddus and an idea mentioned at last year’s Context 21 convention.

He was on a panel — I think the topic was ‘is the horror genre dead?’ — and he mentioned the book he’d written with Wrath James White called Orgy of Souls. Orgy was published by Apex in trade paperback format at a reasonable price. Maurice said that he thought Apex had done a great job marketing the book in all the available horror fiction venues but . . .

They hadn’t explored marketing the book in any African American venues.

Not to black book discussion groups, not to any black book-of-the-month clubs, black book review magazines and online journals nor the blogs. Not a fault of Apex, it just didn’t occur to them.

I heard what he said and it got me thinking (and that can be a really bad thing . . . )

At the Noble branch we have a horror section (it’s still considered an experiment although last month it circulated books better than the cookbook section) and an African American fiction section. An ideal set up to test his theory.

I purchased, for Noble, two copies of Orgy of Souls, Succulent Prey and The Book of a Thousand Sins both by Wrath James White, as well as two copies of Bad Blood and Bite the Bullet both by L. A. Banks. I would have liked to have purchased more books but my budget limited me.

Still, it’s enough for an informal test so . . .

One set of each was cataloged HORROR while the other set was cataloged as AF-AM FICTION. Currently both sets are listed as New Books so they’re in special promotional bins — one bin for new horror novels and the other bin for new African-American novels.

All this year I will monitor how many times each book goes out. I’ll periodically report on it here in Horror Mall’s The Haunt and send Maurice a copy for him to distribute.

It’s not scientific since I have no control group or enough diversity (i.e., only 3 authors) in my study group but it might give us a clue how to better promote the horror genre.

And perhaps someone running a bookstore might pick up this idea and run with it? I’d love to hear about it if you do.

I’m all about continuing to experiment. Not every effort will be successful and folks may not see immediate dividends, but we’ll all be the better for it.

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Black Literary Sites and Marketing

Because I, as you all should, follow RAWSistaz on Twitter, I was able to collate their recent tweets on black literary sites. Consider this my (ever-growing) checklist of places for me to market (READ: memo to horror publishers who decry the shrinking market yet neglect an entire readership):

RAWSISTAZ Literary Group – focuses on reading, writing, and discussing books primarily by African-American Authors. Our groups (both online and off) are not only book clubs, but resources to readers, writers, and literary enthusiasts.

R.A.W. Sistaz Black Book Reviews – one of (if not the first) online and national organization specializing in reviewing and promoting African-American literature.

APOOO – an online author and reader community dedicated to advancing African American literature. Our mission is to expose readers of all ages to a good book in any genre; to support African American authors, books, literary events and book clubs; to provide marketing resources, tools and tips to authors; and, to promote literacy within the African American community.

AAMBC – African American Book Club

Urban Reviews – Your source for African American fiction, Hip Hop, and R&B;

TheGRITS.com – a leading online reading and book promotion community for readers and writers of all ages.

Nia Promotions
– a marketing company that provides a variety of marketing services. We assist authors and publishers with internet book marketing using strategy, branding, and education.

ReadersRoom/Blogging in Black – a blog of African American Commercial Reading, Writing, & Publishing

Motown Writer’s Network – Drawing readers, writers, authors, poets and more together, the networks’ mission is to connect readers to Michigan literary works, educate and connect writers and poets to resources, provide events for authors to showcase their work and a lot more.

White Readers Meet Black Authors – Your official invitation into the African American section of the bookstore! A sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted plea for EVERYBODY to give a black writer a try.

Written Voices – spotlights fiction and nonfiction authors who incorporate their Christian faith and/or personal experiences into their books (the literary section of AAKultureZone.com which strives to highlight the importance of faith, values and culture).

Write Black – about the vagaries of the publishing industry and occasionally praise, occasionally criticize and always pick the nits of books written by black authors — with special attention paid to genre writers.

The Brown Bookshelf – dedicated to uplifting African American creators of children’s literature.

QBR, the Black Book Review – the leading black literature and black writers’ publication in America.

Disilgold.com – African American literary network

Shades of Romance Magazine – a bi-monthly online magazine that believes in promoting authors and their books.

Joey Pinkney – features book reviews and author interviews.

Delta Reviewer – African American book reviews

Urban Christian Fiction Today – highlights African American Christian Fiction and some occassional non-fiction. Look for author interviews, book reviews, and takes on publishing and marketing.

Black Books Direct is a full service online Black bookstore with a great selection of books which are of interest to African American readers or by African American authors.

3 Chicks On Lit – a Hip, Fun, & Sassy Literary Hour.

Urban Book Source – the premiere Internet source for readers, writers, authors, publishers, and vendors of urban literature.

Urban Literary Review – We invite you to join us each Tuesday and Thursday for Urban Literary Review! One of the hottest urban literary online radio shows featuring authors, editors, agents, book clubs and industry leaders

Now I’m waiting on RAWSistaz tweets on black book expos and festivals …

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[BIB/ReadersRoom] Online Billboards?

You remember when we were told that everyone had to have a website? Then participation on message boards was a must. Then we all had to have a blog. Now life is all about the social networking sites. I’m having a hard time believing that all of this stuff is worth putting my effort into. I have precious few hours to write as is, yet I find that when I sit down, I have to do a lot of what amounts to maintaining my online presence. It varies from checking in on a few message boards (my own included) to e-mail to the various social networking places … and eats up hours of my life. Is it all worth it?

JA Konraths blogged about fixing your online billboards and casting your net because to him, the answer is yes. Online billboards, as he defines them, are places “on the Internet where you have a little bit of property people pass through.” Your online presence may not directly translate into book sales, but it is a way for new potential readers to find you and for you to interact with them. So in short, your online presence, whatever they might amount to, is designed to attract new readers.

So I made a list of my online presence:

My website – which I’m preparing to re-vamp a bit

My Blog – where I touch on a lot of my favorite themes: race, spirituality, pop culture, and writing

Twitter – for the record, a lot of gibberish runs through my mind

My Message Board – my main interaction with folks

MySpace – I mirror my blog over there

FaceBook – this can be a sink hole of time, but other than my message board, I hang out here the most

The remainder of my billboards I need to do more with:

Goodreads

LinkedIN

SmallerIndiana

RedRoom

So, I have a few, some I’m more active on than others. I can think of quite a few writers who have made names for themselves with absolutely no web presence and I know I’d rather be spending my time writing (cause, wow, have I mentioned how FaceBook and MySpace can be time sinks if you let them be?) Whether this effort translates into sales is debatable. At the very least, you’re out there talking to new potential readers. Don’t get me wrong: FaceBook alone has destroyed any hopes of a serious professional image on my part. (Yay Broaddus Christmas party pics!) However, the more signs you have pointed to your books, the better. And a little bit of effort goes a long way.

At the very least, if you’re already on one of these sites, come friend me.

The Market Generation

“We are a ridiculous and beautiful trickster-generation and we just put our heads down and pursue the most random, minute nonsense until it’s almost holy.” –Catherynne Valente

We are a market group. We are a target demographic advertiser drool after and try to figure out how to gain our loyalty. Ironically, judging from how we’re marketed to, we’ve been largely written off as frat boys and girls gone wild. As I study the ads aimed at us, we’re a bar hopping, bed hopping, vacuous, self-involved, self-centered, all about our short attention spans and the gratification of our immediate needs lot who is in need of constant entertainment, movies, music, video games, and trends to distract us from the sheer emptiness of our own lives.

Look how cynically marketers analyze how new ideas spread from person to person. Whenever a new idea comes along, the innovators, the adventurous ones, are the first to pounce on it. Next come the early adopters, the opinion leaders in the community, the respected, the thoughtful people who watch and analyze what the innovators do and then do it themselves. These two groups are the trendsetters, the ones who eventually lead the early majority, the sheep.

Too few of us are the truly cool, the innovators and the early adopters, and more of us are majority, the lemmings, than we care to imagine. But we’re also more than endless trends and sheep herded by first adopters and clever marketers

We live in a media saturated age. We know when we are being targeted, we know when we are thought of simply as product to be catered to. We process all of this, we internalize it, and marketers forget or at least underestimate just how media savvy and knowledgeable we are.

We are more than folks worried about how much J. Lo’s wedding dress cost or what body part Britney/Paris/Miley has on display for the paparazzi. We are a generation of hope. Of passion. We think about things other than the assumed navel gazing. We care deeply about the world around us. We act when we see the failings of our parents generation rather than give into cynical apathy. We aren’t content to dance while the world goes to hell around us. We won’t sit still to be condescended to. Respect us for more than our potential to buy your product.

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[BIB] – Black Marketing

(crosss-posted on Blogging in Black/Readers Room)

A while back, I did a series of blogs/interviews with some of my black horror writing colleagues. As it turns out, I ended up doing a collaboration with one of them. Wrath James White and I wrote the novella Orgy of Souls. To our editor’s delight, we quickly earned out our advance, but we’re not satisfied with that.

You see, the bulk of the marketing of the novella was done through the channels one would expect a horror novella to be marketed. The book is available at the Apex book store, Amazon, and Horror Mall. There have been the usual posts on horror message boards and advertising in horror magazines. (And when you have a publisher putting in the effort to market your work, you’re thankful because that’s less you ultimately have to do). The novella is now up at Fictionwise, the e-book is on sale for $4.24 for the next two weeks. (Fictionwise provides in a number of formats including Kindle, PDF, and eReader.)

So then I asked, what are we doing to market to the black community? While I was expecting “you’re the black writers. You’re supposed to tell me.” his response was “I’m gonna put someone on that. Any help would be appreciated.”

One of the contentions I’ve repeated made to horror publishers was that the black market was going ignored. No one can complain about a lack of readers when there are whole populations of readers going specifically ignored (a topic specifically discussed by my colleagues). So I’m putting together my list of black reviewers and black book clubs (RawSistaz and APOO I’m looking at you). I’m ramping up my presence on several black message boards (Black Science Fiction Society and the AAMBC). I’m making my list of black book stores in my area (X-Pression Bookstore & Gallery and Elevations Book & Coffee Shop) to arrange signings. I’m checking out the Carl Brandon Society. So as I’m thinking through the next phase of my marketing campaign, I’m turning to the Blogging in Black experts. What else would you recommend?

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MB: Marketing Genius

I’ve been trying to think of ways to market my upcoming novella, Orgy of Souls. I thought about starting a book group. Apparently, however, my publisher thought the North American Maurice Broaddus Literary Association was a bad idea. Back to the drawing board.

Now what to do with all of these T-shirts …

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