Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Now Somebody Scream

The Newbie's Guide To Publishing Book has been grabbed over 2000 times in the last two weeks. But you couldn't tell by looking at that blog entry, which (at the time of this writing) only has 18 comments.

While feedback is an indicator that people are tuning in, it isn't a precise one. Yet, as writers, we crave feedback on not only our stories, but on our blogs and MySpace and websites.

I'll assume, because you're reading my blog, that you're a writer, and that you'd welcome more feedback. Maybe you want to get comments on your blog. Maybe you want fan mail. Maybe you simply want to know that people are out there, even if they don't even respond.

First issue first, how can you tell people are tuning in?

For download tracking, I use http://www.bfnsoftware.com/, which is free. It requires a bit of HTML knowledge to set up, but once it's up and running you can leave it alone and let it do its thing.

For website and blog hits, I use http://www.statcounter.com/, also free. StatCounter is a great service that not only lets you track hits, both repeat and unique, but also tells you how long the visitor stayed, where they came from, what keywords they used to find you, what browser they viewed you on, and what country they're from, among other things.

For my emailing list, I use http://www.ymlp.com/, which is $160 a year. This allows people to sign up for or remove themselves from my newsletter list, and I can send out 9000 emails just by pressing a button. I've played with other bulk email senders, and found this one to be the best.

If people aren't hitting your site, aren't signing up for your newsletter, I've written extensively on how to drive traffic. Remember to offer free entertainment and information, make sure you have a lot of links going in and coming out, that your metatags are specific, and that you have your URL on your email signature, business cards, and on everything you publish.

But what if you want actual human interaction rather than just a hit counter? What if you want email and comments and feedback? Counters let you know people are tuning in, but actual responses are so much more encouraging.

I'm still not 100% sure why certain things get big responses and others don't. Some of my blog entries have over a hundred comments. Some, under a dozen. I started a second blog over a year ago called The Anonymous Publishing Vent Club, which allowed people in this business to let out steam and point fingers without naming names. I expected it to get a lot of traffic. It did, for a while, but it didn't get any contributors. With no one posting, traffic died.

But I have learned a few things about how to get responses. If you want someone in cyberspace to reach out and touch you, try the following:

Contests. I held writing contests for a few years, until it became too hard to keep up. But it did generate traffic, spawn links, get me mentioned by others, and get me a lot of email. If you're holding a contest, make sure it is for something people actually want. A cash prize works best.

Giveaways. This works even better than contests. Instead of having people jump through hoops to get a freebie, just give it to them. Between the contests and the freebies, I spend over a thousand dollars a year just in postage.

Newsletters. I don't abuse my newsletter list, only sending out one or two a year. Some writers send them out monthly. Some even weekly. I don't believe micro-updates are necessary, and more intrusive than welcome. What do you think?

Bulletins. For instant feedback, nothing beats a MySpace bulletin. Of course, only a small percentage of your friends will respond, so if you want a lot of responses you need a lot of friends.

Polls and Quizzes. I've posted a few quizzes on the Newbie's Blog, and just put a poll on my website because I was getting so many emails about the ending of my new Jack Daniels novel, Fuzzy Navel. People like to do more online than just read, and letting them interact and interface seems to get results.

Asking Questions. Seems obvious, but how often do you ask for readers to respond? If you want people to contact you, ask them to. Encourage this by soliciting their feedback with thoughtful questions, such as "How Many Newsletters Should an Author Send?" Seriously, I want your response on that. One or two a year? Three to eight a year? Once a month? Once a week?

Being Controversial. The blog post that receive the most comments are the ones where people disagree. I love it when people think I'm wrong. Conflict is interesting, and as long as it doesn't devolve into a flame war, differing opinions makes for great reading. Nothing heats up the blogosphere like taking sides on a hot issue.

Again, for any of these to work, you have to make sure that you're providing a good reason for people to visit you in the first place. So many agents and publishers tell authors to get a blog, and so many other tell them not to bother because they don't help. Both are right and wrong.

Online promotion will help, but only if you understand how it works, can set attainable goals, and are able to measure your effectiveness.

Of course, one of the best measures of effectiveness is feedback...