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A professional social media business manager, obviously


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.

Facebook likes

Like me! Love me! Make me legitimate, relevant, and authentic!

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.

Caution: Haiku May Lead to Drinking Beer With Friends


Gary Robson with beer

This is the author picture that used to run with my “Beer Snob” columns. That’s a Scottish Ale I’m tasting.

Oh, my goodness gracious! Yesterday, I posted 26 of my beer haiku on this blog. As usual, I posted a link on Facebook and Twitter. The Facebook link said:

Haiku: Celebrating Beer in Verse, in which I offer up 26 original poems to beer. Anyone care to add their own?

The response was marvelous, as a couple of my friends jumped in to respond, and we all ended up at Sam’s Taproom (the pub/tasting room attached to our local brewery, Red Lodge Ales).

Be careful, people! Writing beer haiku can lead to laughing, drinking, witty repartee, and hugs.

I’ve edited this only slightly to remove last names, fix the order of things, and take out a few extraneous comments. Other than that, this is what appeared on my Facebook timeline immediately after last night’s blog post:

Doug:
I really like beer
No, seriously, I do.

Gary:
Doug writes a haiku
But he stops after two lines

Doug:
BAH! In the comments section, you have to hit all kinds of Shift+Enter mumbo jumbo to make it format correctly!

Doug:
Beer, mead, beer, mead, beer
One is sweet, one is bitter
I like both just fine.

Doug:
Hoppy beer is fine
Malty beer is more my style
Scottish Ale, Porter

Doug:
Beer is good alone
Beer is better with great friends
Beer is always good

Doug:
Beer beer beer beer beer
Beer beer beer beer beer beer beer
I love this here beer

Dan:
Care for a pint sir? Indubitably, I would So, Ale or Lager?

Doug:
Dan has the same formatting problems I have.

Dan:
Stupid Facebooking
Writing a poem about beer
Can’t find the shift key

Doug:
Laughing at my pals
Dan, want to go get a beer?
Come pick my ass up.

Gary:
My Thanksgiving beer
Is all Montana-made beer
I love living here

Doug:
Gary, you in town?
Dan wants to go get a beer
Sam’s Taproom sounds good.

Gary:
Sam’s Taproom sounds great
I’d love to join you bozos
But I have some work

Dan:
Went to the TR
Eating some yummy chicken
pick you up real soon

Doug:
I think from now on
I will comment in Haiku
On everyone’s wall

Dan:
Excuse sacrilege
But oh my freaking christmas
Haiku can be fun

Gary:
It is easier
to make comments in Haiku
than to write Limericks

Gary:
Oh, who needs to work?
I will join you for a pint
Shall I pick you up?

Doug:
The first to arrive
With him shall I ride to Sam’s
and hoist a beer, CHEERS!

Gary:
I’m on my way now
If Dan gets there before me
Call and let me know.

Simon:
To craft an odd sort of verse,
One couldn’t think anything worse
Than fives, fives, and sevens,
about beer (good heavens!),
To me, seems downright perverse.

Adam:
I don’t understand.
What the hell is a haiku?
You people are nuts.

Jim:
God is good. Beer is great.
He gave us beer forsooth partake.
With his sun on hops doth shine.
Please back off, THIS beer is mine!

Jim:
I know…it’s a rhyme, not haiku. Gesundheit!

A few book signing observations from Yellowstone


Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to Yellowstone Park to sign Who Pooped in the Park? books. There are two concessionaires in the Park: Delaware North, which operates the gift shops, and Xanterra, which operates the hotels. Some years I go to the Xanterra sites and some years I go to the Delaware North sites. Some years I hit both. This year, I was invited well in advance by Xanterra and offered one of the choice sites in the Park: the lobby at the Old Faithful Inn. Since it’s a busy time of year, I decided instead of my usual routine (a few hours a day for a week in various locations around Yellowstone), I’d just do two long days in the same place.

Signing at the Old Faithful Inn in 2013

Signings at places like this are very different from bookstore events. For one thing, no bookstore is going to ask you to spend eight hours behind a signing table. For another, the foot traffic is simply amazing. For a second-tier author like me, selling 30 books at a signing is pretty good. I did that in the first hour in the Old Faithful Inn. Also, the questions you answer are quite different (I’ve talked about this here before).

This year’s top questions

  1. When is the next eruption of Old Faithful? See that thing on the wall behind me in the picture above? It’s a clock showing the estimated time of the next eruption of Old Faithful. This question was #2 last year and jumped to the top this year for some reason.
  2. Where’s the bathroom? Usually question #1. Maybe folks weren’t drinking as much water this year.
  3. I took a picture of some scat. Can you identify it? Maybe. Unless it’s a blurry picture with no context and nothing to give it a sense of scale. But what the heck? I’ll give it a try!
  4. Is that POOP? See below.
  5. Where are the animals hanging out? I try to answer this one. Really I do. But Yellowstone is over 2.2 million acres of wilderness and I just got here yesterday. This is what the interpretive staff is for.
  6. Are these free? Really, people? You think I drove down here to give away free copies of my books?

Yep, that’s poop

Props are a highly effective way to start a conversation, and starting conversations sells books. Lest that sound entirely mercenary, I’m a social animal and I do love having conversations. But back to the main point…

Signing at Old Faithful 2013 from above

Having a six-story lobby with balconies all around gives people a unique perspective on book signings.

In this picture, you can see a row of round things on the table in front of me. You can also see rows of books. Sometimes I do rows, sometimes big spiral stacks, sometimes pyramids. The round things on the table are samples of animal scat (a.k.a. “poop”) that I have cast in resin. The big one in the middle is bear scat — always a crowd pleaser. That thing in the lower left is not poop. It’s my lunch.

As a complete non-sequitor, I inscribed books to hundreds of people this week. The vast majority were children. The most common names were Emma and Wyatt. Do what you will with that information.

Something new and different

I have done a lot of book signings in my time, but every year brings something new. This year it was an evacuation.

It was about 6:15 p.m., and I had been sitting at that table since 11:00 (minus a few bathroom breaks). I was chatting with a family when an alarm sounded. I made some quip about someone opening a door they shouldn’t have opened, and then a recorded voice came on asking everyone to evacuate the hotel. The restaurant was full, with a line halfway through the lobby. The bar was full. The gift shop was packed. There were lines at registration. People were unpacking their bags in their rooms. Everyone began streaming out.

I had my handy-dandy leather satchel with me, so I swiftly stuffed my important possessions in it (signing pen, poop samples, phone) and headed outside. The books and the sign were left to fend for themselves.

Cell service at the Old Faithful Inn is spotty. Did I say “spotty”? I really meant “lousy.” In the interests of keeping Yellowstone as pristine as possible, there is one cell tower in the area, and it is utterly incapable of handling the data traffic that people attempt to use it for. When I went outside, I found myself surrounded by hundreds of people all trying — with varying degrees of success — to tweet about the experience. I managed to get a tweet to go through myself, shot a text message to my wife so she could find me, and then settled in to chat with people.

“We had just gotten our dinner,” one woman lamented. “I had only had one bite of my steak!”

“There’s the difference between men and women,” I told her. “I would have brought the steak with me.”

In general, people handled the situation with grace and humor. Someone commented that a vendor with a beer cart would be making a mint. Someone else said if there was a fire in the kitchen, at least the food wouldn’t get cold.

The signing was scheduled to end at 7:00, and that’s about what time we were allowed back in. It wasn’t until the next morning that I found out what had actually happened: low water pressure in the fire sprinkler system had triggered the alarm.

Guerrilla marketing

I believe in using whatever tools lay themselves at my feet when it comes to marketing. When we checked in and went to our room, we found that there was no WiFi available in the hotel except for “Dave’s iPhone.” I don’t know who Dave is, but he had a password on his WiFi, so it didn’t do us any good.

Luckily, however, I have my iPhone set up to become a mobile WiFi hotspot, too. Using it for that does suck the juice out of the battery, so I don’t use it that often, but this situation gave me an idea. There was only one visible WiFi network in the hotel, and it would probably be going away soon. So I changed the name of my iPhone and activated the mobile hotspot app when my signing began the next morning. What did people see when they searched for a WiFi hotspot that day?

Who Pooped WiFi networkThat, my dear readers, is called free advertising.

I’m a celebrity, by golly!

Every writer should have the experience of being recognized. It’s an amazing feeling. When I was having breakfast with my wife the following morning, someone came up with a book she’d purchased in the gift shop right before the evacuation and hadn’t gotten signed. She recognized me, of course, by my ruggedly handsome face and thoughtful, intelligent demeanor. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the Who Pooped in the Park t-shirt, the black cowboy hat, or the fact that I’m 6’5″ tall.

Yep, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Customizing presentations at book signings


Seven years ago, when my first Who Pooped in the Park? book was hot off the presses, I cut one up, scanned it, and turned it into a PowerPoint presentation.  I have used that slide show many times, and I learn something new every time I give a talk. That, actually, is one of the things I like most about public speaking: if I do it right, I learn as much as my audience does.

Among the things I have learned are:

  • Carry props. It keeps the talk more interesting if you can show people something tangible, not just pictures.
  • Move.  Don’t just park yourself safely behind a lectern. This may be controversial advice, because a lot of speaking coaches will tell you not to wander all over the stage when giving a talk, but my primary audience is children and they bore easily. I move around, point at the slides, hold up props, walk over to audience members and hand them things to pass around. I’ve even been known to demonstrate different gaits.
  • Engage the audience.  Ask them questions. I like to ask where people are from at the beginning and make references to their home states or countries later during the talk. Address people directly.
  • If you expect to sell books after the talk, mention the book. Say something about how and why you wrote it. Put a picture of the cover on one (or more) of your slides. And mention that you’ll be selling and signing books after the talk.
  • Make sure you have contact information on one of your slides in addition to having bookmarks or business cards available. That makes it easier for people to send you pictures they took, or invitations to other events. Instead of an email address, consider using your website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and other social media contact methods. You’ll get less spam that way, and you may pick up followers on those sites.

And, to bring this back to the main subject for the day, customize your slide show. I just gave a talk at the National Bighorn Sheep Center in Dubois, Wyoming a few days ago, and we did a book signing afterward. Here’s what I did to customize the PowerPoint presentation:

First, the opening slide. The top half of the slide has the book banner on it. I went to the Sheep Center’s website and grabbed a picture with their logo, added that to the bottom of the slide, and overlaid the date. I set up the projector in advance and left that slide up on the screen as an introduction until the talk started. That way, attendees wouldn’t just think, “oh, this is some generic presentation,” they’d know it was in some way connected to here.

Next, since the Center is all about bighorns, I figured I should insert a picture of a bighorn sheep. When I am doing slide shows, my first preference is always to use a picture I took myself. If I don’t have an appropriate shot, my next stop is either a stock photo house or Wikipedia, so I know I am using the picture legally.

I have an account with a stock photo company from when I published a newspaper. Generally, I am not going to pay $10 or $20 for a picture I am using one time in a slide show, unless it’s absolutely perfect. This stock photo shop, however (Dreamstime) has a free photo section which sometimes has what I need.

Wikipedia (or, more accurately, Wikimedia Commons) has a wealth of photographs that you can use in slide shows without royalties — just check the license.

Since I didn’t have a good bighorn sheep picture of my own, and there weren’t any cheap (or free) at the stock photo house, I picked one up from Wikipedia, overlaid some scat and track photos, and it made a perfect slide.

The local bookstore in Dubois set up and promoted the talk, so I added a “thank you” slide at the end. It’s typically easy to get logos from a store’s website or Facebook page. After they put a bunch of time and effort promoting the talk, it means a lot when you go to the effort of making a slide to thank them.

I am not a “read from my notes” kind of guy. I think it sounds awkward and stilted, and when you are reading from notes you aren’t looking at your audience. If I know my subject matter — and I had better! — then all I need is an outline, to make sure I don’t forget anything important.

That makes it easy to tailor the talk to the audience, since I am speaking extemporaneously anyway. Spending an hour or so customizing the slides makes it look like you have really put forth an effort, and that’s the kind of little thing that gets you invited back.

Book signing notes from a bookseller to authors


Mark Liebenow

Author Mark Liebenow talks about his book, “Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite” at my store a few weeks ago.

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.

Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson: He’s a nice guy!

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.

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