So there I was, innocently typing along — and monkey wrenches started flying!
I grumbled when I put up my dukes, but I didn’t flinch. No, sirree, Bob! STUFF happens, and sometimes a body just needs to knuckle down and buckle down and do it.
Then one of the wrenches hit me in the head. Ouch!
Let’s back up a little bit. Before I went to Hawaii (I won’t say how long, but it was a while…), WordPress decided it would only publish some of the new pages I wanted to add and it would look the other way for the others. There they were, sitting in my list as pretty as you please, but every time I tried to actually go to it, the site would wave an error page in my face and giggle like mad. All the Googling in the world didn’t turn up a solution that would work, and I tried all but one. Well, two, but who’s counting?
After the vacation, I buckled up and prepared to get down to business. I tried The One.
It broke my website.
But only the WordPress part, so that was something positive. I’d installed a backup plugin, so everything would be shiny in a minute. I even used the plugin to back up my posts. Yay!
Only … the folders with my posts in them were all empty as could be. Ranting and raving didn’t fix a thing, but scrapping WP entirely and re-uploading it did. (That was solution #2.) And hey! WP and my preferred (default) theme were upgraded to boot! Woohoo!
No, it was boohoo. I still had the same problem with adding new pages. So I paid a visit to the WP help department at my website host. The tech couldn’t fix it. Neither could the next tech up the chain. So they created a ticket so they could work on it without me watching over their virtual shoulders and promised to email me when they’d worked the problem out.
That was on Tuesday. I visit the site now and then and see it in various stages of Crazy Sauce. I apologize for that, but STUFF HAPPENS! Funny thing — I chose one of the default themes because I imagined (silly me) that I’d have less trouble with it in the long run. One can dream, right?
In the meantime, I’m letting the good folks at GoDaddy take the ulcer medicine. And me?
I’m goin’ with the flow, man. I’m not fiddling, fixing, improving, plugging things in, taking things out, or any other much-needed site maintenance. In fact, I’m hopping back and forth between editing Sharpness and writing book two. So fun!
Social media platforms have become a marketplace for authors promoting their works — and it’s a great option if you do it the right way. Of course there are a lot of opinions about what is “right,” but there are a few things an author (or entrepreneur) can do that actually work against them. If you’re on the best-seller list you don’t really have to worry about what you’re posting, but if you’re trying to get to that thrilling elevation you need to work on making connections.
Here’s the key: You have to sell yourself, not your product.
“What? I don’t know how to do that!”
Sure, you do. Nobody knows how to be You better than yourself.
Social Media Platforms Are Like Convention Venues
Think of social media platforms as convention venues. We go to them to ooh and ah over our favorite stars, learn how to become those stars, meet people who can help us along the way, connect with other fans, attract our own fans, and so on. I’m focusing on Twitter today, but these principles can easily be applied to other forms of social media as well.
So you’ve got your account (ticket). You’ve showered and dressed appropriately (customized your header, uploaded a good picture/icon, and created a good bio for your profile). You’ve packed a giant tote bag with promotional material (books, bookmarks, business cards, flyers, t-shirts with your logo/book cover/book quotes, inflatable characters, megaphone, flashing blue light). And you’re off! You’re so excited!
Before you fling yourself into the throng, it might help to know the top four mistakes that will drive people away and cost you potential fans or useful connections.
1. Buy My Book!
Most of the people at the convention (Twitterverse) are strangers. Would you walk up to someone, shove your book in their face, and holler “I wrote this book! Buy it NOW!”? Or jam your business card and say, “Here’s my card/link, call me!”?
Probably not! We don’t know anything about you. Go away, you’re scaring us.
2. Auto DMs
“DM” is the abbreviation for Direct Message, which is used to send a private message to another user. This action is loaded with with ways to offend people.
Using a service to generate a message is impersonal. It suggests that your new follower isn’t valuable enough for you to spend five seconds on with a reply you type yourself. (And auto DMs are frequently made obvious by such tags as “via @NameThatCompany”)
The auto-message frequently employs Point #1 above, “Buy my book!”
—Or it orders a person to follow you home, like you, or friend you. This is kind of creepy and sounds desperate.
The auto-message comes from TrueTwit (or any other validation service). It isn’t enough that someone pressed the “follow” button because they thought you were interesting. Now you want them to prove it?
Those are the fastest ways ever to make your would-be followers (customers, reviewers) punch the “unfollow” button. Or, to stick with the convention analogy, we’re more interested in the guy that wants to talk to us than the recorded message emanating from a box with your picture taped to it.
3. Do Me a Favor!
This involves both of the previous points, and while we don’t mind helping people out, we’re a little put off when the very first interaction we have with you is a request for us to do something for you.
Did you know that the word “spam” was apparently derived from the words “spiced” and “ham”? I don’t know what spiced ham has to do with streams of virtual trash, except that not many people like it. What kinds of things qualify in this context?
Repeated use of Point #1 or the equally unappealing “follow me” directives
Retweeting messages without changing the hashtags (which is like having one person shout a message, and then forty-eleven other people barking the exact same thing, one after the other)
Tweeting the same thank-you message to all of your new followers — one at a time (Do you really want to look like a robot?)
Loading your tweets with hashtags (Social media professionals suggest limiting the number of hashtags to two or three)
Posting your follower/unfollower numbers (“Look at ME! I have SIX new friends!” Or, “I just found TWENTY people that unfollowed me. I’m going to unfollow them back!”)
You might have noticed that the convention (Twitter) is a wildly busy place. Most attendees will skip right over the trash. Er, spam. At worst, it will make them mad because it’s in the way. (Cue the “unfollow” response.)
Do This Instead
So what can you do make the convention (Twitter) a useful, positive experience?
We’re back to the key I mentioned before: Sell yourself, not your product. And by that I mean “show us what you’re really like.” Strike up conversations with other attendees (Tweeps). All you have to do is reply to something someone said. One of the advantages to this medium is that we don’t have to introduce ourselves or be invited to participate.
Boost your karma by re-Tweeting other people when they share interesting or useful things.
Respond to @ messages or mentions. (I’m going to advise that conditionally, because I won’t respond to spam or to most auto-messages.)
To have a friend, you have to be a friend. If other people like what they see you doing and saying, they’ll check out your profile. They’ll go to your blog. They’ll find you and follow you on other social media platforms. They’ll buy your books. They’ll write reviews. They’ll tell their friends about you.
And that’s what you want, right?
If you want to learn more about the ins and outs of Twitter for authors, take a look at some of the articles I’ve found helpful:
A lot of people don’t like being photographed. It makes them feel awkward and self-conscious. (I know all about that!) But people like, well, people, and providing a face to go with a name helps us to connect. When we have a face to associate with something—like a song or a book—we tend to remember it better.
Just like your book cover, your author picture (or “headshot”) has a job to do. You want to make a good impression. You want to look professional. Why? Because it helps establish trust between you and your readers. An amateur shot will establish your immaturity. You want to be taken seriously! This picture is going to represent you everywhere you go: on your book cover; in your media kit; in blog posts; on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, and every other social media site known to mankind. Your author picture is an important part of your brand.
Zap the background. People want to see you, not your Star Wars Action Figure collection or the creatively dressed participants at Comic Con. Avoid busy, cluttered backgrounds and surroundings. Provide some contrast, you don’t want to blend into the background. If you’re light-haired, use a darker background. If you’re dark-haired, go for a lighter one.
Watch what you wear. Remember your school pictures? Solid, dark colors look best, and if you’re going to wear jewelry avoid things that are flashy and flamboyant. These rules are golden unless your natural style is bright and exuberant. It’s important to be yourself!
Mind the lighting. Don’t get lost (literally) in a setting that is too bright or too dark.
Don’t use photos that are blurry, pixelated or distorted.
No pets. Your pet is your companion, it is not the author of your book.
On the same note, don’t include your spouse or your children. Remember, this is all about you.
Don’t use casual snapshots with someone cut or cropped out.
Don’t be afraid to smile! A smile is personable and attractive.
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Have you ever seen an author photo that made you say “Wow!”? Whose was it?
Share your portrait adventures below — and please share this post!
The word “graphic” comes from a Greek word that means “writing, drawing.” Graphic representations are visual, symbolic, illustrative … and written. Graphic descriptions are vivid, detailed, descriptive, illustrative. Do you see a connection here?
Authors who wants to sell their books (as I suppose most authors do) will draw more attention to themselves and their books if the package (author and books) is attractive.
A book’s description is the “first and foremost concern” of the blogger and book reviewer known as “The Picky Girl.” Still, she thinks twice before accepting or buying a book with a bad (or cheap looking) cover. “I wonder what other areas lack quality and refinement,” she says.
Like Picky Girl, Naomi Blackburn, one of the world’s top Goodreads reviewers, founder of the group The Sisterhood of the Traveling Book, and author of the business advice column The Author CEO, selects books based primarily on their description. But Blackburn, too, passes on books with bad covers. “If the cover seems to be nothing more than a catalog photograph with block lettering, I bypass it,” she says. “If the author didn’t care enough to dedicate time/effort to their cover, I wonder how much time they put into the book itself.”
Graphic designer and author C.L. Smith lists (and goes into detail about) some important guidelines in his article 14 Tips for Good Kindle Cover Design. These do not apply exclusively to Kindle/e-book covers. If you’re concerned with making that first good impression, it would be well worth your while to read the full article.
But wait! There’s more!
Your book may or may not be your first introduction to a potential reader. Your social media presence is important, too. It’s your cover, your first impression space. Do you have a good-looking icon/profile photo? Does your header/cover photo (the “graphic page title”) take advantage of the space to promote your brand or your books? Does it carry your logo or your tagline?
Identities with generic icons (Twitter’s “egg” anyone?) and/or headers produce the same question as books with low-quality covers: I wonder what other areas lack quality and refinement? Can you imagine Target’s social media pages without the familiar red-and-white icon or heading? Apple without an apple? Coca-Cola without the bottle of coke and a smile? Toyota without their (okay, what IS that?) icon and “Let’s go places” tagline?
“Whatever our objectives are for marketing ourselves (establishing a reputation as an industry expert, selling a book we’ve written, or finding a new job are just a few ideas that might apply), our personal brand can help us familiarize our target audience with the facets of our character that make us an appealing investment.” (Many Platforms, One Voice: How to Maintain a Consistent Social Media Persona, by Steve Glauberman via the Content Marketing Institute)
* * *
“Due to the rapid growth of social media, consumers are exposed to a barrage of Tweets, “Likes,” texts and messages on the Web and on their mobile devices. With the need to read or view images in seconds — as well as on smaller screens — graphic design plays an increasingly important role not only in building brand awareness and recognition but in merely attracting the user’s attention.” (The Importance of Graphic Design in Social Media by Elle Smith via Small Business Chron)
Look at social media pages.
Search for “images for social media headers.”
Think about your brand’s personality — What colors define it? Pick out a “brand font.” (Remember to make sure it’s commercially licensed and readable!) Choose a style (medieval? retro? futuristic? something else?).
Then what? Use them together every time you create new marketing materials. Consistency is important. It’s noticeable. When your particular brand appears across the internet, people will recognize you.
So if you’re not artistically talented (do your Photoshop or GIMP skills mimic the quality of your favorite book covers, social media headers, marketing materials?), where do you go?
There are loads of websites that design packages for you to use or custom-made graphics.
If you prefer doing it yourself, be sure the images you’re using are 1) legally licensed, 2) not popular stock images—you don’t want your cute-girl-with-a-ponytail showing up on a dozen other covers— and 3) following the 14 Tips for Good Kindle Cover Design.
Or, if you’re on a tight budget, you could look into hiring dirt cheap affordable freelancers from sites like Fiverr, FiverUp, GigBucks and the like. Caveat: be careful. Research the site, research the artist. Like any other business, you want to make sure they’re reliable.
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Do you pass over books with poorly done covers? Do you ignore social media connections with generic graphics? What do you struggle with as an author? Reader?
Traditionally, publishing houses were the ones to discover and nurture notable authors. With the shift to indie publishing, the responsibility falls upon the reader themselves. Isn’t it cool? You have the power!
“After conducting more than 250,000 interviews about reading behavior since 2004, Codex has found that a major shift has taken place in discovery in the past two years, as digital books have become a significant part of the book world.
Two years ago, 35% of book purchases were made because readers found out about a book in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, the single-largest site of discovery. This year, that figure has dropped to 17%, a reflection both of the closing of Borders and the rise of e-readers. In the same period, personal recommendations grew the most, to 22% from 14%. Some three-quarters of personal recommendations are made in person, while the rest come by e-mail (8%), phone (7%), Facebook (4%) and other social networks (3%).”
“[COO of Enders Analysis] Douglass McCabe’s statistics show that only a piddling 10 percent of Amazon book choices are made because of its ‘bought this/also bought’ recommendation engine. Bestseller and top 100 lists influence 17 percent of book choices, with 12 percent down to promotions, deals, or low prices. Only 3 percent came through browsing categories. Planned search by author or topic, however, makes up a whopping 48 percent of all book choices.”
The other day I was perusing Lindsay Buroker’s wonderful blog, and I came across an article she wrote about business cards for authors: Adventures in Business Card Creation. My interest was immediately piqued. Part of that might have been due to an overwhelming desire to procrastinate the editing I really need to finish, and part of it was because I’m currently working on some graphics I’ll be using across my “internet presence.” Yes, I match myself! What I came up with is, as yet, a work in progress, and will be printed on the back as well.
Lindsay’s tips from her designer friend, Syd Gill, suggest “Business cards should make an instant statement, actually you may only have an instant to get recognized. In a pile of cards if your card stands out you’re ahead of the pack.“
How does one go about doing that? You’ll want to read the article to get some good advice about card stock and shape, simplicity, typefaces and QR codes (a barcoded designed to be scanned by smart phones and giving instant access to a brand’s website.) Lauren Ruth, author of Slush Pile Tales, has an excellent article on how to make your business cards useful instead of trash in Author Business Cards.
1. Print your pitch on the back of the card.
2. Put your photo on the front of the card. (Head shots only!)
3. Have a tag-line that you use during your pitch that is quick and compelling.
4. A professional email address and a website or blog address is great to have on your card.
5. Don’t get cute. Be careful what kind of imagery you use, as it implies a topic for your book(s).
6. Be clear and concise. If you have a branded look with colors and graphics, go ahead and put it on the card if you’re going to be consistent about it. Use fonts that are easy to read.
In her article about author’s business cards on 1st Turning Point, Lillian Cauldwell lists some information you’ll want to include on your card:
Pen Name (Writing By ______)
Back of card, an author can leave blank OR consider these options:
Display jpg of book cover(s)
List upcoming book title releases with dates
Upcoming book tours (signings)
Upcoming interviews – radio, television, blogs,
Social website addresses that RELATE directly to that particular book and/or genre. (Facebook, Twitter, Ryze, LinkedIn).
And what, you may ask, can a writer do with business cards?
Pass them along to the folks you meet every day
Give them to the people you meet at conventions or workshops
Put them into all the “free lunch” drawings you can find
When you pay your bill at restaurants, leave one along with your tip
When you chat with someone on the train/bus/plane reading in your genre, have one on hand
Tuck them into genre-specific books at the library (but be thoughtful; don’t get carried away!)
Leave some in your vehicle, “just in case”
Have you got a business card? Share pics! What are some of the ways you use it as a marketing tool?