Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Writer Wednesday: Is Social Media Marketing Enough?

In the old days, a writer wouldn't have a published novel until she spent years sending manuscripts to agents and editors, and then wait for months or even years to get rejected only to start the process over again (and again, and again - you get the picture) until finally they either gave up the whole damned thing or got published.

Then the writer would wait many more months or years for the book to finally make its way out of the large publishing house machine and appear on bookshelves in bookstores. At last!

And then, in order to get readers to notice the title, the writer would drive her car or board a plane to travel across the country to book signings. Maybe she would get lucky and fifty or so people would show up. But more often than not, a dozen or fewer intrepid readers came to meet the author and get a book or two signed.

I'm not telling you this based on my own personal experience, but rather based upon the stories from writers who weathered the road to publication in "the old days".

I'm an Indie, aka "self-published". I have never sent a manuscript to an agent or editor. When my first novel, Emily's House, was in a condition that I thought was ready to query, I chose instead to self-publish it.

And it was around that time (Spring, 2011) that I began to research how in the hell I was going to spread the word about my work. Traditional book tours are a no-go for self-published authors. Most large bookstores (okay, Barnes & Noble 'cause they're pretty much the only big bookseller left) will not schedule a book signing for an author whose book cannot be returned (i.e. the authors' books aren't ordered from warehouse where they can be returned if they don't sell).

From the first days of the Indie Revolution, Indie Authors have relied on social media and Internet marketing campaigns to spread the word about their work. J.A. Konrath in his Newbie Guide to Publishing Blog speaks against the old ways of doing book business (and if aren't familiar with his blog, I highly recommend it - tons of useful information). He's a veteran of both traditional, old-school publishing and a highly successful Indie. Konrath and others have spoken negatively about traditional book tours and attending festivals and fairs as a waste of time, preferring instead virtual tours.

I have neither the breadth of experience nor the commercial success of J.A. Konrath. But the experience that I've had so far shows me that no amount of Internet marketing or social media campaigning will make up for in-person writer to reader contact.
In-person human contact makes a far larger and more lasting impression than a blog post, Facebook status update or Tweet. Period.
I've been connecting with readers through social media for about two years now. And I do not deny the power and efficiency of the Internet to spread our message. I'm not claiming that you should replace your social media marketing plan with an all in-person campaign. I have done and will continue to use virtual tours as a mainstay of my book marketing.

But I do recommend that you augment your Internet marketing with some in-person marketing as well. Contact your local independent bookstores to arrange for book signings when you have new releases. Get a booth at a local book fair or book festival. If the cost is high, share the space with another Indie author who publishes books in the same genre.

This March, I shared a booth with author Janine Caldwell at the Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB). It was the first time either of us had participated as an exhibitor at a book fair. We both write young adult fiction and decided to give it a try.

The TFOB is one of the five largest in the country (in terms of attendance). We expected between 100,00-150,000 to show up.

The weather gods were not kind to us. It was two days of cold, wet and windy.
Despite the weather, I had a very successful festival. I had close to 100 books on hand and feared that I'd end up taking most of them home. Instead, I SOLD OUT!

Selling almost a hundred books in two days - that's a good sales weekend.

But the real success is not in the number of copies sold. The true measure of the success of that weekend is what happened after.

First, online sales were boosted. The months of March and April of this year were the best sales months I've had since January, 2012. I had no other promotions going, so I know that it was my appearance at the festival that accounts for the rise in sales. So not only did I sell a lot of books in those two days, but all the fliers and bookmarks I handed out resulted in higher than usual online sales.

Second, I made personal connections with readers. And if you write for young people (children, middle grade and teen), it can be difficult to connect with readers.

I saw middle-grade girls hug their copy of Emily's House to their chest and beam with excitement about reading an epic girl adventure. The truth is, there aren't many books being written for girls that age that have strong girl protagonists going on epic journeys. Emily's House is like Percy Jackson for girls. And they are eager and hungry for it. Another example of traditional publishing not recognizing (and thus not filling) a need.

This one-to-one experience with readers invigorated me. It gave me a shot in the arm of the juice required to keep me going.

Why do you write? And why do you publish?

For me, I write first and foremost because of my own internal need to create. But I publish because I want to share the ideas, thoughts, and questions evoked in my writing with others.

Seeing readers excited to read your story - you cannot get that through a Facebook page. The light in their eyes doesn't come through an e-mail or blog comment. You can only experience that by meeting them, talking to them, and genuinely hoping that they enjoy the ride that your story takes them on.

Whether in-person or across the ether, it's all about connection. I have never felt more genuinely connected to readers than I did those two days of the TFOB.

I came away from my TFOB experience with an addiction to book fairs! I'll be back at TFOB next year with at least one more title (maybe two). I'm looking forward to catching up with some friends I made this year and to meeting new ones.

And then I'll push off to three or four more next year. I've heard L.A. is nice in April . . .