If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed I was in Los Angeles last week, which doesn’t suck in the winter. I caught up with friends, took in a Clippers game, ate some fine food and enjoyed many excellent beers. During the day, though, I was at my job in marketing and communications — and heard some things I thought I’d share.
There’s a lot of sturm und drang about authors and their self-promotional efforts. Publishers certainly like to see authors doing their part online and off, be it blogging or Tweeting or going to cons — though great books by more reclusive authors still get out there. Not everybody has to be a Tweet machine, after all, and the book’s the single most important thing authors have to offer.
But let’s face it: Publicists have lots of books to promote, and yours (or mine) isn’t going to be a publicist’s sole reason for being. So we gotta do what we can, though for some readers, the constant drum-beat of promotion is a huge turn-off. That’s important to bear in mind.
Anyway, I’m pretty well suited to the promotional task, given my day job and my experience in media prior to that. Even so, I can still learn a few things, and I did this past week.
Firstly, I think it’s important to know that your blog/Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram/Peach network isn’t the center of a reader’s universe. Some of us create a huge ecosystem of interrelated social media systems all designed to draw readers into our orbit, entertain them, and ultimately convince them to buy books. We see great blogs from the top authors out there and we want to have that same kind of success online.
Problem is, it doesn’t quite work that way.
When I think of successful author-bloggers — Scalzi and Wendig come to mind immediately — I recognize they spent years finding their voice and audience. They now have enough gravity to pull readers into their orbit solely because that’s who they are, and their readers have been there long enough to form communities around those blogs.
For most of us, we do not have the gravity to pull people into orbit, no matter how extensive our online presence is. So no matter how much we post updates about our books and our appearances, we’re still howling into the void, riding our rogue comet through the darkness with nobody paying attention. So the first thing we have to do is recognize that we’re not the center of our little universe online.
What does that mean? It means that few of you, dear readers, are coming here regularly to check on whatever I’m doing or thinking. I mean, those of you who are doing that are wonderful human beings, and I hope you’ll keep doing so! And certainly, this URL is out there in all my books, short stories, podcasts and interviews, so that’s nice. But that’s not gonna cut it in terms of social media success.
To beat this analogy into the ground further, think of the Internet as one giant galaxy. At the center is a core of hot stars — Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, etc. — whose gravitational pull draws everything else into orbit around it. You have to create a reason for folks to travel from the core to your little rogue comet at the edge of the galaxy. You need to get noticed. How?
I believe it isn’t where your presence is — I’m not on Facebook or Instagram, for example, and I do not feel the loss — but rather what you’re offering. We’re being marketed to all the time, so much so that folks will gloss over if all you do is say, “Buy my book.”
Unless you’re Sam Sykes on Twitter, because he made it damn funny.
For the rest of us, you need to provide something to latch onto. And the best way to do that is to create good stuff to read. Do that, and you’ve created a wormhole from the center of the galaxy right to your little rock. Create enough wormholes, and you’ll amass enough gravity to start attracting readers into your own orbit more regularly. (Yes, I know physics doesn’t quite work that way, but it’s too good an analogy to let facts get in the way.)
This process, of course, takes years. But it’s doable. Last year was my best year blogging, and if you’ll remember this top-ten list of posts from 2015, you’ll see just two of them have anything to do with my fiction. The rest of the posts were merely interesting — my use of Excel, my reviews of Star Wars movies, and various thoughts on being a writer. And that Tom Mison thing, of course.
Actually, Tom is an interesting case study. I didn’t really post my encounter with him at DragonCon to attract readers; I did it because he was a total mensch, and I wanted to give him props in my own small way. But that sucker blew the heck up because Tom’s popular and has his own orbit. I didn’t realize it at the time — and couldn’t have planned it if I tried — but I kind of became part of the conversation about him for a bit.
And that’s the key to success online — be part of interesting conversations. Create interesting conversations. Talk about what inspires you and what gets you going. Others will find it, latch onto it and roll with it. And little by little, you’ll draw others into your orbit.
That said, don’t be mercenary about it. Folks know when you’re click-baiting, and frankly, the subsequent comments aren’t worth it. Be yourself. Don’t blog to just blog. Don’t pick fights or be a jerk. See below.
Anyway, all this got me thinking about how I’m going to use my blog and Twitter going forward. I’m going to do more thoughtful stuff, like this post right here. I’m going to talk about writing, which I love, and I’m going to talk about history and some of the cool things I dig up when I’m researching my novels. I’ll geek out from time to time as well. Yes, there will be self-promotional posts, because once folks are here, I have no problem reminding them that, hey, I write books that they may want to check out. But that’s not the end-all, be-all. I’ll still talk about my work, which is perfectly fine and awesome for any author, but I want to make interesting and informative and fun.
I’m not the center of the universe, and neither are you. But we’re riding a pretty cool little comet, spewing all kinds of ideas and bad metaphors. Spew forth neat stuff and let the audience find you.