Monday, January 05, 2009

Becoming Cyber-Effective

It's been said that 50% of all advertising is effective, and the other 50% isn't. But the problem is that no one can guess which 50% is which.

While it's a tidy little axiom that makes excuses for why ad campaigns fail to generate expected results, it's still a little off.

In my last post, I talked about things that writers have no control over, and a few things they do.

One of the things you do have a measure of control over is your Internet presence.

Brand-building and name-recognition are important for authors. Once we sell a novel to a publisher, we have to sell it to readers. If they like the book, they become brand-loyal, and we become an automatic purchase.

For that to happen, readers first have to know a book exists, then they have to read it, and finally, they have to like it enough to buy the next one.

Publishing, as a model, functions very much like an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. There are a certain number of items for consumption, and personal taste and quality dictate which items move the fastest.

Of course the most important aspect--getting on the table in the first place--plays the biggest role. The bigger the quantity, the more restaurants a food appears in, the more it will be consumed.

We writers don't have much control over how big our print runs are, or how wide our distribution is. That wonderful food that buffet-goers might love to devour must be available first. Sadly, most books don't get big print runs and distribution, which limits the amount of people they can reach.

Writers have some control over a book's quality, but who likes the book and wants to keep reading the author is largely subjective, and also beyond a writer's control.

So how can a writer brand themselves when distribution and quality are crapshoots?

They can follow advertising's lead, and discover on their own what people want and what works by conducting studies, comparison, and analyzing data.

Here are some tools and I use and ways I measure my cyber-effectiveness.

What I Want to Know - Do people like my writing?

Tools Used- Email, personal appearances, message boards, blog comments, reviews.

How I Know How I'm Doing - Fan email can be an indicator of how well people are responding to your book. In this day and age, if someone emails you about your writing, this is a huge coup. It isn't like a reader can press a button embedded in a book and immediately contact an author. So those who do this have a compulsion to do so, which implies passion. To read a book and like it so much that one logs onto the Internet, Googles an author, and writes them a personal message, is a powerful indicator of how much that book affected them.

Frequency of email depends on distribution/print run, naturally, but it also can measure a book's effectiveness. Divide your print run by the number of people who contact you.

You can also browse Amazon.com, GoodReads.com, Shelfari.com, and many other sites where readers post reviews. Got a lot of reviews that you didn't directly solicit? Then your book is striking a chord.

If you have any sort of crowd at a signing or appearance, your writing is important to people.

If people are discussing your books in a forum, listserv, Yahoo Group, or message board, that indicates passion, and passion in one person often means passion in many, which indicates you're doing something right.

If I divide my sales by the number of people who somehow reach me or talk about me, I get around ten to fifteen percent feedback.

This is high. But the number is skewed. Much of the feedback comes from people who have read several of my titles, and may contact me/review me after each title. But if you know you've sold ten thousand books, and you've only gotten two hundred people offering feedback, you should know that your writing isn't as effective as it could be.

Remember that being contacted is it's own form of distribution. The more places/easier it is to contact/review you, the more you're going to be contacted/reviewed.

Beside email and this blog, I make it easy for people to find me using the many billboards and social networking sites I've listed in the sidebar. I have a forum, and use polls on my website, and maintain Facebook and MySpace pages, doing all I can to facilitate feedback.

If people aren't contacting you, make it easier for them to do so, and make sure both your writing and persona encourages it.

What I Want to Know - Are people finding me on the net?

Tools Used - Hit counters, download trackers, social networking.

How I Know How I'm Doing - First of all, content is king. People on the Internet are looking for two things, information and entertainment. As a writer, you're uniquely suited to provide both.

The more you provide, the more Googleable you become. The words I'm writing right now will be searchable a decade from now, still drawing people to this post. Some drawn here will read, some readers will seek out my books, some of those people will become fans, and some of those fans will become buyers. It's a trickle down effect, but it works.

You control your content. If you're a blogger, are you blogging about something people are interested in? Timely topics may get hits in the short run, but universal topics tend to keep finding viewers long after they've been posted.

This blog has its share of both timely and universal posts. Newbie writers come here from around the world, as evidenced by my Feedjit Live Traffic Map widget in the sidebar. This widget shows me, at a glance, how universal my posts are.

For a more specific demographic breakdown, I use Statcounter.com, which lets me know who is visiting and how long they stay, among other valuable info. I can see what topics generate the most hits.

My website has many free downloads. By offering books (entertainment) for free, I'm basically like a buffet restaurant that offers free samples--a certain percentage will like the sample, then come in and eat.

I use bfnsoftware.com to track my downloads. People have downloaded about twenty thousand copies of my ebooks since I began tracking. A huge number? No. But these books keep attracting new visitors, and creating new fans, with no real ongoing effort on my part.

Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, among many other social networking sites, allow you to reach out to people, and vice versa. The reason I have a lot of online "friends" on these sites is because I put in the time to find them. The higher your friend count, the more people you can potentially reach with announcements.

But like your website and blog, this is all about content. What you have to offer dictates how many people on these sites will care when you do have an announcement like a signing, new book release, or contest.

If they really like you, you become prominently displayed on their social networking page. This is free advertising, leading others to you.

What I Want to Know - Are people linking to me on the net?

Tools Used - Other blogs and websites, search engine rankings, Google Alerts, link exchanges.

How I Know How I'm Doing - When writers ask me about blogs, or MySpace, or websites, they think these are magic bullets and all they must do is open an account for the traffic to come pouring in and name-recognition to blossom.

Well, no. As I've mentioned many times, you have to give people what they want if you want them to visit, and they want information and entertainment. You also have to make an effort trying to find these people.

If you're just starting out, one thing to do is visit popular sites, contribute information and entertainment, and offer a link back to your site. Say something smart or funny on another person's blog or message board, and people will check your profile, and your site, and if they like what they see they'll bookmark you or link to you.

If you're already established, offer content to other sites for free. Guest blogging, doing interviews, and providing short stories are all ways to spread name-recognition.

One of the ways to judge if people are talking about you (rather than to you) is by using marketleap.com. This free site allows you to check your search engine saturation, and how many other sites link to you.

Technorati.com, Digg.com, Delicious, and other social bookmarking sites allow people to point you out to even more people. Making it easy for folks to bookmark you, link to you, subscribe to your feed, or tell others about you, means more people will find you. Hence the two new widgets you see on the bottom of this post.

I've set up Google Alerts for JA Konrath and Jack Kilborn. This isn't out of vanity. It's so I can see what I'm doing that is important enough for people to mention. If you Google Alert yourself and you don't get any hits for several days, you aren't doing enough online. I average 4 to 10 alerts a day. That's more than many authors, not nearly as many as some. How do I know? You can set up Google Alerts to search for any term, including your peers' names. Marketleap.com allows the same thing.

You should NEVER compare yourself to other authors when it comes to things out of your control: advances, print runs, publicity, awards, reviews, etc. But you can and should see how effective your branding and name-recognition techniques are compared to theirs. Not for bragging rights, but as a learning tool.

I know I've written an effective blog post if a lot of people link to it and comment. The more people who link to you, the more traffic you get. It isn't by chance that both my blog and website have lots of links.

Links not only bring in traffic, they also raise your search engine ranking. Remember that your ultimate goal is to become known to complete strangers. The more places you appear, in person and in cyberspace, the better your chances at being discovered, read, and bought.

Sales are not the only indicator of how well we're doing as writers. They're just one statistic. While sales may be the ultimate goal, and that goal may be influenced by factors beyond your control (like print run, distribution, and publisher marketing dollars), you can and should be influencing the other statistics I mentioned here.

You can write a book, cross your fingers, and hope your publisher pushes it.

You can write a book, cross your fingers, and hope it magically catches on with the public.

Or you can write a book and put in the time to make people aware of your book, which will perhaps influence how well it catches on with the public, and maybe even prompt your publisher into pushing it.

Landing a book deal is luck. Becoming a bestseller is luck. Getting 50,000 hits on Google when someone searches for your name is hard work.

Becoming cyber-effective is within your control. All it takes is time, savvy, and attention to content. And as writers, you should be paying attention to content in the first place.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Informative stuff. I always enjoy your posts.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks, anon.

But if you are a writer, you should have commented using your blogger account, either adding to my points or disagreeing with them (which is providing content), and then had a link back to your own blog and website. :)

Jim said...

Joe, another source for authors to check is www.worldcat.org. Search the book title and library systems that carry the book will pop up. You can clink on the link of any particular library and find out how many copies they have and whether the books are are checked out.

JA Konrath said...

Wow. That is very cool, Jim. Thanks.

Aim said...

Joe-
Thanks for the great insight again. I took notes! This year is going to be a year for me to focus a bit more on my writing, and I can see many good points. I never thought of google alerts for myself (which at this point I don't need, but hope to someday soon). Cool!

FIONA said...

Your website and blog have been a huge help for me, as a true newbie.

Thanks for taking the time.

Another point--with BLOGGER, you can have "followers" to your blog, and follow other blogs. It gives you a presence on the blogs you follow, even if you don't post on them every day.

How effective do you feel are contests--giving away books or other goodies?

AstonWest said...

I can't wait to get a royalty statement, to find out what my feedback rate is.

:-)

N. Mahana said...

Good advice!

Joan Mora said...

Always informative and inspiring. I linked to you today. Again.

Thanks for taking the time to offer great advice.

joanmorawrites.blogspot.com

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

Interesting thing to contemplate now, though, Joe. While I agree with you 100%, at least in the few months prior to and after your book coming out, there's this new wrinkle in today's publishing climate: What happens if you have to then start over, a couple of years down the road, under a different name? This happens more and more frequently due to BookScan. It's just one more thing to think about as we balance the old time/$$ vs. results equation. Yes, of course, some of your efforts will pay off even with a name change; any subscribers you have on your email list are still fair game, you can redirect old websites to new ones. But I think this is something we need to contemplate. There's no use continuing to "get your name out" when it becomes evident that a drastic change in course - such as a name change - is going to be necessary if you want to publish further. THEN, it's time to get thinking, studying the market, talking to your agent about possibilities - and writing something astounding and new.

Sling Words aka Joan Reeves said...

Excellent, Joe! I write a lot of articles (blog posts and website) designed to help writers with their Internet presence. What always surprises me is the number of people who think it doesn't matter.

They view blogging as something to dabble with instead of the dynamic tool it can be. Same with websites. Of course, you can always tell what a person thinks of the value of the Internet by simply viewing his/her blog or website.

JA Konrath said...

Good to see you, Melanie. :)

You bring up a good point: what about name changes?

I can only speak from experience. JAKonrath.com is now also JackKilborn.com, and if I write under another name in the future, I'll add that one as well. Anyone looking for either JA or Jack can find my site within a single click.

I'm also tracking the hits JA gets vs. Jack's. JA is winning, obviously, because Kilborn's books don't come out for another few month. It will be interesting to see how it plays out over the summer.

It may sound odd, but I think having a pen name can be beneficial to your real name, and vice versa. Some Jack Kilborn fans might indeed become JA Konrath fans, and Konrath fans will certainly know about Kilborn, if they don't already.

So rather than having to do twice the work, I think it only requires a bit more work.

Or course, if you don't want anyone to know your pen name is actually you, that would mean twice the work. But why would you want to do that, with all the work you've put in promoting your real name?

Of course, it is possible that a less-than-stellar sales track record may make an author and his agent want to create an entirely new persona to submit to publishers. That's fine. Submit that way. Then, after the publisher is interested, the truth can be revealed. I don't see how that can hurt a negotiation. If it's past sales that are worrisome, a new name will fix that. And I'm pretty sure a publisher would rather deal with a seasoned pro than a green newbie.

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

There are two different scenarios here; one in which the original name is still on books that are available - thus, supposedly, a name that has attracted a readership. Then the 2nd name can be used, effectively as you say, in combination.

But then there's the scenario in which the name is attached to books that have been remaindered or out of print, and the reality is such that that name will not be used in the future. As you say - the scenario in which the author has to create a little literary suicide in order to be reborn. In that case, I'm not sure what good it does to keep pushing the old name (after all, if it truly had inspired an audience, the author wouldn't be in that situation!). Although I do agree that it's good to point out to past efforts when a publisher is interested, if only to show that the author is at least willing.

But at some point I can't help but think it would be in the author's best interest to just start afresh. Baggage is baggage.

JA Konrath said...

I see what you mean, Melanie.

I do know of a few cases where the pen name became popular, prompting interest in an author's earlier, out of print books. But these cases were pre-internet.

Obviously, if an author has built a fanbase, even if his books are out of print, he should make those fans be aware of the pen name.

But I see your point about websites and billboards--it might make sense to just start anew.

Amber Lynn Argyle said...

How much marketing work can you expect from your agent?

JA Konrath said...

Amber, agents don't do any marketing. They sell your work to publishers, but don't promote it to fans.

That usually falls in the lap of the publicist at the publishing house that bought the book. And the amount of work they do depends on many things, such as pre-orders, print run, and the allotted marketing budget.

Crimogenic said...

Joe,

First time commenting here. I found your blog through another site. I must say you have great information here. I'm a bit overwhelmed, but as a newie trying to get published it's really good to get an look tips to be more proactive with tracking readership, niche marketing to fan-base, sales, etc. Thanks again, and I'll be watching your blog for more nuggets of valuable info. Thanks.

J said...

I found your blog via Nanowrimo. Do you get a lot of hits from Nano?

Marian said...

One thing I like about your blog is that even though your posts are long (informative-long, not rambling-long), they don't come across as ponderous and difficult to read because you've got short paragraphs.

Information is given in little bite-sized chunks, in other words, and picked out with some sentences being bolded. Good technique.

Oh, and my blog is Flights of Fantasy. :)

Marjorie said...

My blog is my book:
marjorie-pentimentos.blogspot.com

Many people have read it and tell me it is a very funny memoir. I hope you enjoy it, especially the funny photos from the 40s and 50s.
What do you think of self-publishing?

Favoured Girl said...

Thank you for this post, I've got a great deal of useful information from it. I'm a new writer, just started working on my first novel and I'm really keen to learn how to promote myself when I'm done. I'm definitely bookmarking your blog to come back for more :)