Whazzamatta, boo? Feelin’ lost, outta step? Up the dirty creek of self-promotion without a digital paddle?
Never fear, Sarah Wendell is here! Well, not exactly here, but brought to you by way of the Virginia Romance Writers, who last week hosted a presentation by the social-media-savvy maven of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books romance review blog (smartbitchestrashybooks.com.)
Sarah’s blog is the go-to online presence for reviews and discussion of romance novels in all sub-genres and formats. With a design that features retro photos (think cat-eye glasses) and, as Sarah puts it, “screaming, not-safe-for-work pink”, the site provides a home for romance readers (and not a few writers) of all descriptions to connect around the books they love.
When Sarah (seen above, without the cat-eye glasses) and friend Candy Tan, took the giant step of launching Smart Bitches, Trash Books in 2005, they didn’t really expect anyone to read it. “We underestimated that need for connection among readers,” she said.
People were afraid to admit to someone else that they read romance; it was a guilty pleasure. To be able to talk about it with someone else who loved it was something romance fans craved. The blog thrived.
“Also, we didn’t realize how often authors Google their own names!” Sarah pointed out with a laugh.
The blog’s unconventional name was an attempt to disarm critics from the beginning. “After all, if they think your review is mean, what are they going to call you? If you’ve already called yourself that, what can they say?”
So, with a successful blog going, Sarah has a big online presence, but she doesn’t stop there. She has an active Facebook account and an even larger Twitter following. (Of course, this is no surprise. Sarah is outgoing, ebullient and very funny. I’d follow her if I, uh, Tweeted. Life is full of choices—more on that later.) People started asking her how she does it. Then people started paying her to tell them. Thus the presentation on social media marketing before the VRW.
Sarah told the room full of authors what we’ve all heard before: the days of being able to simply write the books and leave the promotion to others are gone (if they ever existed at all). The readers are your customers (not the agents or editors), and the readers exist in digital space.
Even if you are not yet published, an established digital presence (website, blog, Facebook, Twitter) indicates to publishing professionals that you are an author with an intention to be professional, with a connection to readers already. Given a choice between a good writer with a website/blog/Facebook/Twitter (choose one or all) and a good writer without any of these things, the agent or editor will choose the one who has connected with readers in the digital world.
Does it matter which method you choose to connect? Not really, Sarah said. You don’t have to have a Facebook account, though many, many readers do connect through Facebook. You can have a well-designed (and frequently updated) website as your first line of contact instead. You can start with a frequent blog (at least weekly, preferably twice or three times a week—thank God for blog partners!) and comment on other blogs to get your name out there.
There are some rules to social media marketing that apply across the board, however. First of all, the hard sell doesn’t work. “Social media is about interaction,” Sarah said. “It’s not about trying to sell your book every time you post something.” She compared people who use social media as a sales platform to those “Tupperware friends” we all have. You know, the ones you hate to see coming because you know they’re going to invite you to a Tupperware (or basket or Avon or something) “party” where you’ll be pressured into buying something you don’t want?
(Pause for rant. The problem is, I think many people are blissfully unaware of this rule. I’ve dropped out of the RWA FF&P loop except for the most limited digest option because it has become nothing but a self-promo fest. And if we’re all just selling to each other, what’s the point?)
Rule Number Two is closely related to Rule Number One, and that is to Be A Person. Sarah suggested we Be George Clooney. With a Puppy. But I think she actually meant to be ourselves. (Unless, of course, we are so far from George Clooney with a puppy that we’d scare little kids and old people.) If social media is about interaction, then we must interact as a personality. The livelier and more interesting that personality is, the better.
You can project your personality in a variety of ways. A frequent blog on a subject related to your work can draw in readers and/or keep them panting for the next book. A website can feature excerpts from your work as well as a design that reflects your own style. Your Facebook fan page is a more professional space than your profile devoted exclusively to your work and can lead to direct interaction with readers who like the same kinds of books you do. And if you’re good at Twitter, you can develop a following that will eventually pay off in sales simply by name recognition.
For those whose talents extend to the visual as well as the verbal, Pinterest can draw in new contacts who share interests (and a sense of style) with you.
Sarah took the time to critique the websites of several brave souls from the VRW chapter who volunteered for the review. The writers, some of whom were unpublished, had all done a great job with their sites, and Sarah only had a few comments to tweak their design and presentation.
She started by saying there are four questions all websites must answer:
1) Who are you?
2) What do you write?
3) Where are you?
4) How do readers contact you?
Within that framework there may be a number of things readers might want to see: a photo and bio; a book list, organized by date and sub-genre, if applicable; buy links for those books (to Amazon or your digital publisher, for example); recommendations of other books or authors you like; excerpts from your books; contact information/links to your blog/Facebook/Twitter accounts. Can your website accommodate a forum with comments? That interaction with and between readers could really push traffic. (I recently learned I can do this with my website through GoDaddy. I’m excited!)
The design should be clear and easy to follow, with the vital information easy to find. And the style should reflect your personality and your work.
The thing about a website, Sarah pointed out, is that YOU have control. Facebook is always changing; Twitter is limited to 140 characters at a time. On your website, you can do what you want.
Of course, after Sarah’s talk I was inspired to completely revamp my own website. Now that my writing career is heating up somewhat, I plan to separate out my martial arts info, shifting it to a new site (donnafrelicksensei.com-currently under construction). I want to redo my profile page to limit family info (given some legitimate privacy concerns Sarah raised) and accommodate space for news which I’ll update on a frequent basis. The Works page(s) will expand to include excerpts, including a rolling excerpt from my WIP. So . . . this shouldn’t take more than about a month, right?
Now, if someone would just invent a software that would make it easy to do the layout on a website, we’d be in good shape. (No. I mean easy. I’ve talked to software engineers who admit it’s hard to do move those dang boxes where you want them to go. I want Publisher for websites.)
Anyway, when the new and improved donnasfrelick.com is up and running I’ll let you know!