Friday, December 11, 2009

Promotion, Social Networks, and Going Viral

As I've said many times in the past, getting people to find you on the world wide web is no major feat if they're looking for you in the first place.

Sure, you should have a website, and assorted billboards that point to your website (like social networks and blogs), but if someone Googles your name and finds you, you really haven't won any major battles.

The goal is to get people to find you when they're looking for something else. When that happens, you're spreading your brand.

As long as I've been on the Internet, I've been playing around with various ways to get people to find me while looking for something else.

The pinnacle of this idealogy would be to do something that went viral--that spread word-of-mouth and captured millions of viewers.

Hasn't happened yet. Might never happen. But I have thought about it.

For as long as I've had a website, I've been giving away free ebooks. They've been downloaded tens of thousands of times, and recently the frequency is picking up. But I haven't gotten huge volumes of new surfers because I give away ebooks. It's worthwhile, but hardly viral.

I've played with videos a few times, releasing my video to Hyperion on Youtube a few years ago, and last year doing a book trailer for Fuzzy Navel. All total, these have been watched about 5000 times. Not viral at all.

I went heavy into MySpace a few years ago, getting more than 12,000 friends. Then MySpace started to suck, so I spend my effort on Facebook and Twitter. I have a few thousand friends on those, but I'm not a "must see" destination, even though I try to make my daily updates amusing.

I put a funny little Flash game on the Jack Kilborn website, to promote Afraid. It's gotten over 1600 hits, but that's far from viral.

My goal, from the beginning, was to do something that encorages word-of-mouth. Something funny, different, goofy, and unique enough to stand out, while still resonating with the majority of people who see it. I've tried to do this with my writing, from the very start. My books, named after drinks (hook) are funny and scary (hook.) Easy to remember titles + a unique approach to thrillers.

They've caught on, but not virally. It's tough to reach a large audience when you've never had coop, or been in Wal-mart.

With Afraid, I didn't try to write a horror novel. I tried to write the scariest novel of all time. Did a blog tour (a hundred blogs in a month this March), which lead to better sales than my previous books, and over a hundred ratings on Amazon. But again, it didn't set the world on fire.

I wrote a novella with Blake Crouch called SERIAL, and that's the closest thing to viral I've done. I haven't seen the latest numbers, but I estimate it has had over 200,000 downloads. Nice, but it hasn't made Jack Kilborn a household name.

Keep in mind, aiming for viral is a lot like buying a lottery ticket. You can try, but don't have high expectations it's going to work. The stars have to align.

Still, the key word is "try."

My detractors (and I have a few) will often point to the many things I've done to promote my writing and say, "But all that didn't make you a bestseller."

I never thought it would. But I knew I'd sell more books by trying than by doing nothing, and the more I try, the more I do sell.

Which brings me to a new experiment.

Two days ago, I listed an auction on eBay for signed copies of all of my books. I've mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook, and now I'm mentioning it here.

There have been eBay auctions that have attained viral status, either by selling something outrageous (like a Dorito that looks like Michael Jackson), or by using a funny description. My old high school friend Dawn Meehan sold a baseball on eBay in a humorous way, which lead to a blog, an appearance on Good Morning America, and a book deal. She went viral, using only her wit.

So I decided to give it a shot. The main goal of the auction isn't to sell the books. It's to introduce people to my sarcastic brand of humor. The product description is essentially 500 jokes.

The point, of course, isn't to be viewed by people who alreayd know me. It's to be viewed by folks who had no clue who I was before looking at the auction.

So far, I've had over 200 hits on the eBay auction. That's a lot of hits for eBay, but nowhere near viral.

Here's the auction link:

Feel free to check it out, and spread the word. I'm really curious to see if being a smartass, coupled with the social networks I'm already involved in, can translate to a lot of traffic, both on eBay, and by extension, on my website.

Worst case scenario: I sell some books.

Best case scenario: Billions of people visit the auction, leading to my being elected ruler of the world, where I will encourage public nudity and legalize drugs.

Please do your part to help.