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Author, sell thyself (but in a good way)

Authors who want to jump into Twitter, Facebook and all the rest should pay heed to Chris Brogan. He’s spent years — more than a decade — carrying on a conversation with his audience. Take a look at the sheer number of @ replies in his Twitter feed and you’ll see how seriously he takes this stuff.

In the following interview, Brogan outlines easy community-building techniques and common pitfalls that should be avoided at all costs (narcissists, beware). He’s also got a few pointed comments for laggard publishers.

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  • bowerbird

    when everyone is an author,
    and everyone is thus a promoter,
    the pitch level is gonna be very shrill.

    i, for one, am already sick of all of the
    authors doing in-my-face promotion…

    and, for the record, i’ve stopped listening.
    so i hope that contingency is in your plan…

    -bowerbird

  • Kathy Sierra

    I always love what Chris has to say, but I just don’t agree with this one.

    Authors “selling themselves” through participation/engagement with potential readers is not sustainable and certainly isn’t scalable. As an author, I cannot possibly personally engage with enough individual readers to ever hope to earn out an advance. More importantly, readers can’t possibly personally engage with more than a VERY tiny subset of the authors whose books they read and care about. (not to mention that now we’re also being told to engage with “brands” who have “joined the conversation”)

    I don’t think there’s anything *wrong* with the social media / author-as-self-promoter approach, and I am in huge favor of author-as-helpful-content-provider approach (for non-fiction, anyway). I just don’t think it’s either practical or–with some exceptions (Chris being one)–as useful as we might think. And it’s certainly not NEEDED.

    Books–in whatever form–will continue to change the world for readers/listeners/viewers/participants regardless of whether the author blogs/tweets/posts (though I do agree–heavily–on the “listening” part).

    There IS a time/place where the author’s level of selling/self-promotion/social media engagement does matter, and it’s for books that on their own simply aren’t that good. Or rather, books that don’t make the reader any better for having read them. THOSE books may indeed depend on some *other* push, and their relationship to the author might be that push. But outside the books that hover around a zone of mediocrity, the author’s involvement may be nice, splashy, even thrilling and wonderful for readers and fans, but still just… not… necessary.

    As Chris is well aware, plenty of engaged authors with HUGE Twitter and blog followings and the savviest, most helpful forms of friendly self-promotion (speaking circuit, “doing good” by putting out great slide presentations and posts, etc.) have STILL not managed to turn all that into book sales. Even the most adoring fan base is not enough to push a book onto even a “comfortable-selling” list let alone make it a bestseller unless the book is really That Good For Readers.

    If it is, readers will find out. If it really isn’t, it just doesn’t seem to matter how many fans the author has or even how many people tweet it. We should never confuse publicity/buzz/engagement with actual value because, well, most readers don’t… not when it comes time to actually pay for the book and — most significantly — recommend it to others.

    If a heavily-engaged author sells a lot of books, it’s easy to suggest their engagement made a difference. I’m thinking that this is most often just not true. Most books (for most categories) that readers find useful and compelling and worth it will succeed regardless of the author — and even the publisher — doing much beyond a bit of initial and, today, relatively *trivial* bootstrapping.

    I love that Gaiman tweets and blogs because I am a deep fan. My husband and I — and all of the guests in attendance — read from Stardust as the foundation of our ceremony! (I wanted Neverwhere, but squeamish in-laws overruled) But my feelings about his books — and even him as a person and author — would not change in a meaningful way (or at least not in a way that affects sales) if I never heard a peep from him.

    Granted, I’m sure being one of the early social media adopters HAS earned him some new fans, but I refuse to believe that in World 2.0, Readers 2.0 are somehow boycotting all but the authors-who-tweet. When it comes time to buy a product, I believe most people are still basing their choices on what’s best for them. In the absence of any OTHER compelling reason to pick product X over product Y, then, yes, he-who-has-the-most-“friends” may have the edge, but if out-friending is the only competitive advantage, there are much deeper problems at work.

    Personally, I’d rather Gaiman spend LESS time tweeting/blogging and more time doing what he does best… making things I love. I’d nearly kill for a Neverwhere film so, you know, I’m kind of resenting the time he spends on Twitter if it’s getting in the way of making that happen ;)

    If authors/publishers want to improve their chances of success for a book, author-engagement is useful *only* to the extent it allows the author to have a much better sense of what people want BEFORE they write, and for nearly all books, the author can do this purely as a lurker/analyzer.

  • http://www.bacongrinder.com Jon Sterling

    As many marketing professionals say, it won’t be long before “social media marketing” is called just plain “marketing.” The social media channels are a huge part of the human conversation these days, it makes sense that we will continue to have conversations about what we buy, eat, do, etc.

    The ability to target an audience by listening is prudent for authors and publishers both before and after publication of a book. Creating a book that sells still has the same formula: Have great content and get the message in front of the people who care about that content. If social media is the best way to do that, go there.

  • http://podcast.indianajim.net Indiana Jim

    Bowerbird brings up a great point, and that’s the gigantic echo chamber of people selling themselves.

    But I think the greatest “selling point” in social media is being just that: “social.”

    If an author is on Twitter or Facebook being genuine, and not just sending out a constant stream of self-promotion, people notice and value that. It’s like following someone you know. You don’t want to hear nothing but stuff about their hobbies or work constantly, but just see them being normal.

    And that’s the best sell of all. Because people like REAL people, and not just salespeople.

  • http://www.48Days.net Dan Miller

    Chris is right on here – as usual. As authors we can interact with our readers. But even more importantly, we can allow them to interact with each other. And there they can take our ideas, expand them, personalize them and make useful application to their own lives. We are not the end-all of useful information; we are the catalysts for stimulating conversations and new successes in the lives of our readers.