Thursday, 2 June 2016

Ink Tips: How Far to Promote?

Last week, I talked about the "race to the bottom" for media attention, when the splash of sensationalism is more important than accuracy.  There are plenty of sites which still focus on delivering quality, but the reality is that the more people are shouting, the harder it is to get anyone to pay attention to any one individual.  Or author.

A friend forwarded a rather harsh article which blamed self-published authors for the fall in revenue for digital books sales, claiming they had glutted the market with crap.  His solution was that all self-published books should be segregated until they reach a certain sales level, thus "proving" their quality.

Both of these things have gotten me thinking about the difficulties authors have in getting attention for their books.  I started wondering: if Amazon or Kobo or Apple began segregating self-published authors, what would I do to haul myself out of that particular dungeon?

Kozlowski has a valid point in his article: the number of poorly-written books out there is huge.  It does get overwhelming trying to pick out the few good seeds from the mass of garbage.  And unfortunately, the majority of those books are self-published (although I have seen a number which come from small presses and even the Big 6, so a publisher isn't a guarantee of quality).

Authors have to promote.  There's no question about it.  Either we pay someone to do it for us or we do it ourselves or a combination of both.  But even if one is willing to dedicate a substantial chunk of money each month to promotional services, there is still a limit to the number of purchasable opportunities (at least, if we stick to the effective ones).

But looking at the other options available, we quickly find people who will tell us either not to bother or that a particular tactic will backfire.  So I'm going to take a look at two of the most controversial options, the pros and cons and my own view on the matter.

Posting reviews: People who read reviews are looking for books to read.  By creating those reviews, an author can get their name (and sometimes cover) in front of potential readers.  Since most authors are also readers, this seems like an easy solution.  We're going to read anyway, and we're going to judge what we read, so why not post that judgement?

I've had a number of authors tell me that I should never post reviews, particularly not within my genre and with my author name (the two things I have to do if I want to use reviews as a promotion tool).  They point out new authors who have gone down in flames for having dared to criticize someone popular.  The popular author's fans began a campaign to bury the reviewing author's work in one star reviews and fill their social media with hateful comments.  Even being complimentary can backfire, as those who dislike the books can launch similar campaigns.  Or an author can find themselves losing credit as they give "good" reviews to horrible stories.

Personally, I take a middle ground.  I post reviews of romance novels in a local arts blog and sometimes on Goodreads.  I try to be fair, but I also focus on what I enjoyed about a book rather than on nitpicking.  If I can't find anything complimentary (which is rare), I let the editor know and I simply don't do a review.  Thus far, I haven't had to handle any flame wars, but I'm aware of the possibility.  I take the view that those sorts of actions are more reflective of those posting than of me but it's a risk I have to take if I want the opportunity.  

An "Open" and interactive Facebook page:  This applies to all social media, but Facebook is still the most popular option.  By allowing people to friend you and like your page, an author can gain followers in an organic way.  By interacting with them, your name and books stay in their minds, making them more likely to pick up the next installment once its ready.

This is one of those tricky balancing acts.  How friendly and interactive should an author be on social media?  How much should they reveal?  There is a risk of attracting the wrong kind of attention: someone obsessive who won't respect the author/real life boundaries.  There is also the challenge of having people use your openness for their own purposes.  Scammers will 'friend' romance novelists to gain access to their readers, who are assumed to be vulnerable to love scams,

I've had a number of new authors say they won't accept a friend request from a man, since they assume he is a scammer.  I find that sad.  I know I have a number of male readers and I don't want to pre-judge anyone.  That said, I don't respond to private messages from those I don't know personally and if any of my followers tell me that one of my "friends" is harassing them, I will remove that friend immediately.  I keep strict boundaries on my personal vs my author life, particularly when it comes to protecting my children's privacy.  But I will share information about my life, without identifying details.  It's not terribly interesting, but has the advantage of being genuine and thus easy to keep track of.

There are always going to be risks in promoting.  When you shout for attention, it's not possible to control the kind of attention you'll receive.  Some will be good and some will be bad.

I respect those who stay courteous, who offer balanced opinions without vilifying their opponents, who offer insight and who are open-minded.  They may not attract as much attention as those trolling for scandals and shock, but I'd rather take a slower approach and still respect who I am than find myself caught up in a whirlwind.

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