Posted by Gary D. Robson
This blog, like every other blog, gets a lot of spam comments. Most of them are nonsensical, posted by bots in the hope that there’s no spam filter and the comments will remain as links back to the spammer’s site. Many are in other languages and even other alphabets. I regularly get comments in Chinese that are a full screen long.
Sometimes I get one that makes me chuckle, and then makes me think. One such message began with, “Hello, I am a professional social media business manager, obviously.”
At first chuckle, I mentally edited it to read, “Hello, I am a spammer, so I’m a non-professional social media business manager, obviously.” Then I thought about the implications of this message, and what bloggers — especially authors — might think when reading it. After the opening paragraph, the spam comment goes on to say:
“By building more than 10,000 real people profile endorsements using Facebook LIKES to your business page. This tell Google that your website is relative and authentic to what you do. IT WILL BE POSTED RIGHT ON YOUR PAGE FOR ALL VISITORS TO SEE HOW MANY -(people) Facebook LIKES !you have, via Facebook, by real FB counter button. Click on to see how you can do this in you free time or no time.”
(Just to get this out of the way, please assume a great big red [sic] plastered across everything I copy from spam comments.)
We all need metrics in our lives. We need a way to measure how we’re doing. Authors often use book sales, but that information isn’t updated that often for print books. Most traditional print publishers issue royalty statements semiannually, so it’s hard to tell how effective that email you sent last week was. Alternatively, we might use placement on Amazon category bestseller lists, but that only measures Amazon sales, which are a tiny fraction of overall sales for some of us. The last time I ran the numbers, Amazon was responsible for less than 1% of the sales of my Who Pooped books. But there are a few metrics that are up-to-the-minute, and Facebook provides one of them: likes.
It’s tempting (and easy) to measure our self-worth by the number of Facebook likes on a page. Was my last comment witty enough? Let me see how many people shared it. Are people excited about the book signing I announced yesterday? Let me see how many people “liked” the announcement.
Likes do more than that, though. When somebody clicks that like button on your page, they’re going to see the next thing you post, too. That helps to build what publishers call a “platform,” and a good platform can help you land the next book contract. I’m not saying Facebook is irrelevant to writers. As I’ve said before, Facebook can be a great tool for us in ways you might not expect.
This spammer is striking right at the heart of our self-worth as writers. She (apparently, her name is Karen) is offering to sell us likes. Thousands of people hanging on our every word. Our blogs flying to the top of Google search results. Our sites become “relative and authentic!” We get bragging rights! Legitimacy! A real platform! And it doesn’t stop there!
“We can help you also with build 10,000 Twitter Followers in 7 days, or 100,000 YouTube visits, to your YouTube video or channel, build 20,000 Google +1, from your peers about your business. Best offer G+1 building in 7 days. You can get help building 100,000 Facebook LIKES in 7 days. Likes Mean visitors endorse your Fan Page or website.”
Let’s back up a minute here. Why did we start using social media professionally in the first place? To help us sell our books, of course. Even if Karen the Spammer followed through on her promise, you wouldn’t get 10,000 people following your tweets because they want to buy your books. You’d get 10,000 bots, shills, and hacked accounts. You’d get people duped by a spammer into clicking a “like” or “follow” or “+1” button.
“How do you think Justin Bieber(singer) get his first 1,000,000 followers before his first album? His producers bought the followers for him?”
Metrics like Twitter followers are, indeed, important to celebrities. I doubt, however, that Justin Bieber became the 2nd most followed person on Twitter (at the moment) because Karen the Spammer delivered a million paid followers.
“Ah, this is all just sour grapes,” you may be thinking. “This Robson dude doesn’t have a million followers on Twitter. Heck, he doesn’t even have a thousand.” True, I don’t. Given the right “social media business manager” and an appropriate budget, you could have ten times the likes and followers I have in a matter of days. Maybe even a hundred times.
But does it sell your books?
I confess. I’ve gotten caught up in the drive for followers on some of my business pages. The first time one of my posts on this blog got over 100 views, I was ready to throw a party! But 1,000 views or 10,000 likes or 100,000 followers won’t pay the bills. It’s dangerously easy to spend your days fighting for social media metrics instead of writing books, putting on book signings, doing interviews, and sending out queries and proposals. It’s important to use social media for marketing, but we have to remember we’re writers, and writing pays the bills.
Posted by Gary D. Robson
I’ve written a fair amount about book signings here on this blog, starting with my 14 book signing tips for authors, proceeding through 10 book signing tips for booksellers, and covering subjects like credit cards, ethics, funny questions, and my own stupid book signing mistakes. Today, though, after hosting a series of signings earlier in the month, I’d like to write an open letter to other authors from the perspective of a bookseller.
Sales sometimes stink
First of all, I wish I could predict how many people will be at your signing or talk, but I can’t. I’ve had some amazing authors in the store that only drew one or two people, and some unknown self-published authors that drew big crowds. Sometimes, the weather affects attendance. Sometimes, the promotion just didn’t get that viral “click” where everyone is telling everyone else about it. Sometimes, another business sets up an event at the same time. Some friends of one local author called everyone they knew when her first book came out and showed up with a big cake to celebrate. We sold 50 books at that event, for a self-published first-time author.
Low sales doesn’t mean your book sucks. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. And it doesn’t necessarily mean the store didn’t promote the event. Sometimes, you just don’t catch a break.
Promotion on social media
I want to thank those of you who do your own promotion. It always makes me happy to see your blog or newsletter prominently featuring your visit to my bookstore. That helps both of us. A request, though: If I go to the trouble to set up a Facebook event for your signing and invite you to it, please click “Yes, I’m attending” and share the event on your own Facebook page.
Social media is additive. If my store has a few hundred fans/followers and you have a few hundred more, linking to each other’s updates doubles the exposure for both of us. I may have three times as many fans on Facebook as I do followers on Twitter, but it could be the other way around for you. Even if you are going to unfriend, unfollow, and disconnect after the event, let’s work together as much as we can before the event.
Also, keep in mind that in many cases you are more likely to get a prominent article in the paper than the bookstore is. Editors get tired of interviewing the same booksellers over and over, but when they get a call (or email or press release) from an author saying, “I am going to be in your town doing a signing at XYZ Books and I’m available for interviews,” that’s something different.
Be flexible on talks
Sometimes, an event is all about the talk. When a store books me into an amphitheater, I know I need to be prepared for a formal talk with a slide presentation. When signing in a store, however, realize that sometimes the talk simply won’t happen. If you get a “crowd” of three people, don’t just give up and declare there won’t be a talk. Instead, walk away from the slides and sit down with your fans. They’ll remember that one-on-one (or one-on-several) time with you and it will mean a lot more to them than the slide presentation would have meant anyway.
Yes, fans want good books. But you’d be amazed how often I hear, things like “Does Craig Johnson have any new books? He’s such a nice guy!” It matters.
I’ll swap you six books for a cigar and a stuffed bear
Finally, thank you for understanding why I don’t barter. If you spot some books or tea in my store that you like, it makes lots of sense for both of us to just swap some of your stuff for some of my stuff. But that throws off my accounting and recordkeeping. I really do need to write you a check for your books and then run your purchase through my point-of-sale system.
In fact, I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but it bears repeating: If you need to be paid that day for any books that you’ve brought to the signing, tell the store personnel up front. Otherwise you may end up at the end of the event looking for money when the only person who can sign a check has already left for the day.
Book signings are a collaborative effort between booksellers and authors. I’ve often said that indie bookstores have a symbiotic relationship with new and local authors. As an author, I know it’s the indie stores that got my books going; Barnes & Noble and Costco had no interest in an unknown. As the owner of an indie bookstore, I know that if the authors don’t support us, nobody will.