Saturday, February 21, 2009

Promotion? Or Peer Pressure?

by Tawny Weber

There is so much promotion being done on the Internet, it's hard to keep up with what's what. Even harder to keep up with what actually works!
Remember a half-dozen or so years ago when the biggest ‘have to’ was having a website. All the cool writers were getting them. Some were flashy and expensive, with lots of bling. Others were clearly homemade, often with their own flash such as kisses that glittered behind the cursor as it moved across the screen. Peer pressure didn’t win out instantly, but after a few years, author websites were the norm.

Then there was blogging. Remember the start of blogging? Only a few people were comfortable enough to dive in at first. A lot watched from the sidelines, calculating and figuring out what was involved while they measured the promotional benefits and time commitment. But now? Personal blogs, group blogs, publisher blogs, agent blogs. They’re everywhere! Blogging is the norm.

How about video trailers? Flash in the pan or here to stay? From pricey actor portraying characters to homemade Windows Media player slideshows, they hit the net with with a bang. But did they sell books? Did it matter? Soon a lot of authors were jumping on the wagon, either because the trailers looked like wild fun or out of fear of missing a promotional tool that might work.

Aaaaand now there are the social networks. MySpace and Facebook and Twitter. Bulletins and walls and tweets. You know the drill. We’re going ‘huh’ and wondering how and why. But at the same time, everyone who’s anyone is doing it. It’s all the rage. Heck, even politicians are twittering and my parents are on MySpace. It’s everywhere. But does it work? Does it promote authors? Does it connect readers with books they love? That’s the question, isn’t it?

As I gear up for the back-to-back releases of my next two Harlequin Blaze's in April and May, all these options tend to make my mind spin in circles as I wonder what works, what doesn't and what's just for fun. What's the right promotion, and what falls into the category of just wanting to have the same cool toys as the other kids?

So what do you think? Is it promotion or peer pressure? Is there a difference and does it matter? What do you think? As a reader (even if you write as well) do you check out websites? How about blogs? Video trailers? What about those ubiquitous social networks. And if you do the social network thing, since it’s our latest form of peer-pressured promotion, which network do you hang out on (and do you really understand how to use it?)


Christine Wells said...

Hi Tawny! Great blog -- I really wonder a lot of the same things as you. Does promotion work? It's really hard to get statistics to prove one way or the other. I don't know whether it's peer pressure that drives me or the desire to do everything humanly possible to sell more books. You don't want to feel that if only you'd done x or y, you could have made a difference. But it's tough, especially when there's not much time left over for writing. In the end, you probably need to do only what's fun and what you're comfortable with. Facebook, definitely, is my preferred hangout. I find myspace a little garish for my taste:)

Anna Sugden said...

Fascinating blog, Tawny! As someone who spent many years in marketing, I'm afraid to say that 90% of it doesn't work - the trick is working out which is the 10% that does!

From a personal point of view, a good website is key with the most important section being the one about your booklist. Too many authors skimp on this and don't provide what their readers want to know (please, if you have connected books or recurring characters, tell us!). If I pick up an author I like, I often want to go to their backlist and pick up more books. So, telling me what I want to know about them is vital.

I try not to spend much time on blogs, Facebook or MySpace or they could eat away my writing time. What I do enjoy about them, is reading about authors and new books and the fact that you can do it quickly. And since I strongly believe that the best form of marketing is word of mouth, blogs and Facebook, in particular seem worth the time and effort.

Like Christine, I prefer FB to MySpace - it's friendlier. Plus I love the quick bites you can get - telling me your book is launched through FB in one sentence is more likely to get my attention than reams of other stuff.

I'm told Twitter is an awesome viral marketing tool. There are some amazing examples over here in the UK of how it's been used effectively - I wish I understood it.

While I find trailers entertaining, I click past them on websites and I've yet to be enticed by one. I think this is one of those where peer pressure and even being seen by your publisher to be doing the right thing may be in play - though I'm sure there are plenty of examples of where it has worked. It just doesn't for me.

Oh and giving away books is worth the investment! Gimmicks, not much unless it is very well, preferably integrally, branded.

*g* I'll stop blathering on now.

Christie Kelley said...

Great blog, Tawny! It would be nice to have statistic to draw on for promotion. You know it's best to put X amount of dollars in magazine ads, spend this amount of time on different blogs, buy X number of bookmarks and send them here. From what I've seen, I think the best advertising for a book is word of mouth.

There are problems with all advertising. Magazine ads cost a lot of money. Blogging takes up a ton of time. Many people don't use bookmarks so yours end up in the trash.

With my book coming out in March, I did bookmarks through RT, I have several blogs lined up, and a group ad in RT in May. Is this enough? I have no way of knowing. I guess only time will tell.

Michelle Styles said...

I do recommend the article The Tao of Publishing by Steve Axelrod (Dec 08 RWR) which addresses the sheer randomness of it all.
It can be helpful. As can the chapter on PR in Donald Maas's book The Career Novelist...
Personally, all of what I do with promo is about reader outreach and making it easier for readers to find me and potentially find my backlist etc.
As I have had readers contact me via myspace and facebook, I use both. I maintain a website, a blog and contribute to group blogs(because I enjoy doing it) and a newsletter. But I know the most important part is my writing. The last page of the book sells the first page of the next book. And what is the point of having a pretty shop front if you have no product to sell...

Joan said...

Woohoooo!!! More Blazes from Tawny!!!

Thought provoking post, T. I go to author websites mainly to check out their new titles and if it is a new to me author, backlists. While I'm there, I may surf around but as a rule do not go back often for the bells and whistles.

A few that I am fans of do blog and I will occasionally read those but again, not on a regular basis.

With the risk of seeming prejuidice I DO visit The Lair daily...but then that's because you never know what the Banditas and BB's will do next LOL

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Tawny! Great to see you over here! :> As Christine put it, I really wonder..the same things. I think Michelle put it best that the last page of your last book sells the first page of your next. :> Nicely put, Michelle!

Like Anna, I limit my facebook and myspace time because it cuts into my writing time. That is to say, I'm LEARNING to limit them. Being an extrovert, these kinds of things are like crack to me - ways to connect with the real humans when I'm sitting at home alone? Oh yeah, I'm there. Ha!

But, I think blogging works, esp blogs that have a lively chatter on them and build a following. I also thing a great website works, but as Barbara Vey said, you have to keep it updated. Nothing worse than going to a website and having it say "Last updated: 2006" Grins.

Cassondra said...

I think promotion DOES work. I guess as a past radio and tv broadcasting person, I just believe in it. Print advertising--well, I've worked in that field too, but I don't believe in it so much. Why? MORE than having worked in those fields, it's that I pay attention to my own consumer behavior. And I recognize when something has my attention and I try to notice how they GOT my attention.

BUT, I think for books, I go by what I do or don't do. No, I don't go to author's websites unless I have a specific reason. I do listen to word of mouth--I listen to the bookseller, although there are fewer and fewer booksellers who have read and/or know the material on their shelves. I read the back cover and inner cover blog. I'm drawn to a great cover.

I HAVE gone out and bought books--LOTS of them actually--from seeing the author on a blog--or from seeing an excerpt either on a blog or website. (I think excerpts are REALLY important because it gives me a feel for the book and makes me care about the characters immediately) It's getting me to the blog or website that's the problem. The guests who come on Romance Bandits--I buy an awful lot of their books, and I wouldn't have done so if they hadn't guested with us. Once I fall for an author, you've got me of course, and that's the key.

I think the best tool is having a fantastic book, cuz then I want more. But getting that first one into my hands...that's a scary thought. Print ads don't do it, unless I'm waiting for it already.

Oh....One thing that's sold me a book recently is a newsletter. Not one that comes out every week or every month, because I'll just exit from that list. I'm too busy. But every, say, QUARTER...Susan Crandall just sent a newsletter last month--she does about one per quarter, and it mentioned that her latest release was coming out in February. I went to the store and ordered it immediately. So I think email--and thus the facebook stuff--is good marketing.

That said, I'm not on facebook yet because I don't understand it and the privacy issues have me concerned. Getting in touch with a lot of people, PERSONALLY in touch--like an email saying, "My new book is out" is a great promotional tool for me as a consumer. As long as they don't pester me all the time. And the good thing about most web-based marketing is it's cheap or free.

I can't wait for these two books, btw.'ve got me hooked. But I still need that "My book is out" notification, or I'll miss it.

Donna MacMeans said...

Remember - this is from "hide-my-face"book Donna, I prefer Facebook to Myspace but that's just because I'm a little less lost. But then - when you're lost, does it matter if it's a little or a lot?

I agree with Michelle about the last book being the key & all the last books for that matter as I love to find an author with a large backlist and each one a delight - then I'm sold on whatever she reads in the future.

Blogs? I check the Romance Bandits but not really anyone else. No time. The internet is wonderful, fabulous, can-t live without it -- but man-o-man, what a major time suck.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Another Bandita popping by to say, GREAT POST, Tawny!

I wish I did now what works and what doesn't in terms of promotion. Is anyone has some stats on anything, please send them to me. (Yes, the old analyst in me LURVES stats!)

I usually do look at an author's website. I read a few blogs but not on a regular basis except those were I participate (BANDITAS RULE!).

I don't watch trailers because my old dinosaur of a computer (which I just replace three weeks ago!) wouldn't play them. Probably just as well, I find enough ways to procrastinate. :-P

I have a Myspace only because a friend's teen daughter set it up for me! Just started with Facebook and it seems a lot more user friendly to me. Haven't even TRIED to figure out Twitter...

Can't WAIT for your 2 new releases, Tawny! I think the bottom line here really is entertain the reader with a good book!


Tawny said...

Christine, you do rock Facebook. I know that wonder/worry about if we'd just tried this - or that - would it have helped more. And then its natural to look around and go hmmmm, what else IS there to do? *g* its a vicious cycle, I swear!

jo robertson said...

Hi, Tawny, waving madly to my fellow Bandita from the Lair!

This is an interesting topic, primarily because we don't yet have (I think) hard numbers on it.

Recently, I read an article about the celebrity effect (I think that's what they called it). It's the idea that success and name recognition beget more success and more name recognition and so it goes.

Take the Jonas Brothers or Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. Once the group, author, or work is "recognized" in some way, everyone jumps on the bandwagon, more for curiosity's sake than anything.

It's not so much that the work itself is great or the boy band is super, but the fact that everyone THINKS it's so. There's all this hullabaloo and frezy in the media and fter all, it must be worthy of it makes the NY Times Bestseller list or TV or whatever.

What gives a work (music, book, painting) its real value as opposed to its PERCEIVED value, to me, is the test of time. Does it endure and speak to generation after generation of people.

Tawny said...

Oooh, Anna, I hear ya on the gimmicks. I've heard a couple wise authors point out (over and over *g*) "have you ever bought a book because of a _____ (fill in the blank)". And no, of course not.

I wish there was a magic crystal ball that gave that 10% insight *g* Wouldn't that rock?!

Tawny said...

Having a great product helps, Christie- and you do! Fingers crossed that it makes its way into lots of readers hands *g*

I've heard it said that all promotion costs -the question is whether you pay the cost in time or in money. And I've found that to be true LOL.

Tawny said...

Wise words, Michelle! Thank you. I love your point-of-view, which isn't to push books, but to make it easy for readers to find you.

Thank you for the wonderful reminder of that. And I loved that artcile! It was defifinitely inspiring and one I think I'll pull out and read again - you're the second person this week to mention it. (talk about word of mouth prmotion, huh?)

Tawny said...

Ahhh, Joan, I think you hit on something. Its not the promotion that works, per se... it's the reader benefit of having a great time *g*. The Lair is wild fun, and I think its that sense of community that brings readers back time and time again.

Estella said...

I visit both websites and blogs, to try and keep up with authors new releases.

Tawny said...

Hey Jeanne! I hear you on the time. Its so easy to use "but I'm promoting my writing" as an excuse not to BICHOK write, isn't it? And YES! Websites have to be kept up to date. Its so frustrating to go looking for info and wonder if the author is even writing still.

I'm giggling at the extrovert image, btw.

Tawny said...

LOL - I love how you measure promotion, Cassandra. Like you, I'm hooked on blurbs, the writing itself, and on authors who impress me. I'll buy them the first time to support them because they are cool, then I usually buy backlist and watch for new books because they've got me hooked.

And hey, if you're signed up for my newsletter, you'll get the reminder in March about the releases *g* I know people who do monthly newsletters, but thats such a time investment. I love getting Nora's newsletter - it comes out when she has news. Period. Lucky for me as a reader, she usually has some great news.

Nancy said...

Hi, Tawny--

These are all great questions. Wish I knew the magic answer. :-)

As Cassondra says, our own behavior may be key. I don't spent a lot of time on various web networking sites. I visit friends' blogs on occasion and am prone to check for a website if I discover an author I hadn't know before. When I think of it, I check websites for updates on what's coming.

And if I see an author on a blog, I'll either buy the book based on excerpts or check it out based on the blog and the author's website.

So based on all that, I think the value of different networking sites may be the chance to reach people who aren't on other sites. Or don't regularly blog-hop. Or don't read RT but do read romance (I imagine there must be such people, though I don't know any).

I've never bought a book based on a trailer, though I watch them when I have access to high-speed internet. My buying decisions are based on my track record of reactions to that author's work, if I've read her or him before. Barring that, I a catchy title or cover gets me to read the blurb. The blurb does or doesn't get me to read a few pages. If I get to pages, they may or may not lead me to read the book.

If I see an author on a blog, I'll either buy the book based on the blog and an excerpt or check out the author's website and then maybe buy the book.

Tawny said...

Hmm, little lost or a lot lost? That is the question. I'm with you on the social network wandering, though, Donna. I just don't quite know what to do with them - or how to do it!

Ahem... I did pick up Facebook for Dummies yesterday. Just sayin'...

Beth Andrews said...

Great post, Tawny! I don't do a whole lot of online promotion for the simple reason that I'm trying to devote more time to writing *g* I'm on Facebook and am enjoying the networking there and I also try to pop in on eHarlequin's forums a few times a week.

I'm also a part of The Romance Bandits and Writers At Play - two wonderful and fun group blogs.

And I do love to check out author websites! I tend to look at every page from what's new to bios to booklists to pictures :-)

Lois said...

Well, I'm a plain and simple reader, and sure, I visit plenty of blogs and all, but in the end, I figure half of the stuff out there is just peer pressure as you put it. In the end, as long as there is the main website, I still don't see why there are all the facebook/myspace/twitter/insert-your-favorite-here other stuff. For me, as long as there is the website that I can visit at least once a month, then I'm happy. Anything else beyond that, I just really see as extra, not necessary.


Tawny said...

Aunty Cindy - hey there! You know, I've heard your comment about dial up and video trailers quite a few times. I think that has a bigger effect than we consider.

My daughter set up my MySpace page and I've had help and hand holding on my Facebook and Twitter pages - but am still flailing around and feeling very lost LOL.

Tawny said...

Hey Jo *waving back* I love my Bandita's!!

I love that theory. I know thats one of the basic tenets of promotion - to build name recognition, but I've never heard it described so well.

I really like, too, the test of time theory. You are one wise woman!!!

Tawny said...

So Nancy, for you the promotion is all about getting the writing to you, huh? I like that - it really boils it down to what it's all about *g* The writing.

Tawny said...

Hi Estella :-) I love checking out author sites, too, but have to admit I don't get to nearly as many blogs as I'd like.

Tawny said...

HI Beth!

You really look at every page? Oh man thats cool. I always figure certain pages appeal to some people and others don't even look, so its awesome to hear someone looks at it ALL.

Michele L. said...

Hi there Tawny!
I am a fanatic blogger! It is my fave thing to do in the evening. I have several blogs saved on my favorites list so I can go right to them.

Since I am on blogs so much, I find out so much info on new books, new authors, etc. that I know so much info about the book that it inspires me to go out and buy it. I would have to say blogs are a number one marketing tool for me in buying books.

I also subscribe to a lot of author newsletters. This is another great way to get the word out on new and upcoming books. Contests are always fun! I have discovered many new authors through winning books.

I don't myspace, facebook, twitter, etc. I tried myspace but couldn't make it work. It doesn't seem to user friendly to me. Blogs are so simple to use. I think that is another key thing, simplicity. If it is difficult to navigate people won't bother reading the ad, review, or info on the book.

I have viewed some of the videos on new books but I am not particularly impressed by them. I like newsletters, contests and blogs the best of all! Also, when in bookstores I love all the colorful displays they have set up announcing new books.

I agree that having good information readily available to readers on the authors websites about their backlisted books is very important! So many times I have gone on author websites to look up their old books. Many were not kept up-to-date or the information was laid out in a weird format. Simplicity is the key to getting the info across to the reader. No fancy fonts, backgrounds or colors needed. Just plain, simple text on a neutral background is the best to read information on.

Think of kindles, e-readers, adobe, etc. and you will notice that the background and text is plain and simple. I can't stand when text is put on a multi-colored background. It is so hard to read anything when there is an image behind it. Also, the text needs to be dark, such as black, and the background needs to be white, beige, or grey. Colors can be really iffy when trying to read something and your eyesight is bad anyway. I love websights that are pretty on the homepage but have simple info pages where the text is easy to read.

These are just my thoughts and opinions. Everyone had such good input on this topic!

Tawny said...

Lois I love your reader point of view. Its great to know what works and what doesn't for different people. I remember (showing my age here) when they termed it the MTV generation and explained why we had to always have a slew of attention getting promotional gimicks.

I'm all for keeping it simple. A wise woman told me recently to make that my focus and you just remminded me of that LOL.

Tawny said...

Hi Michele! Another advocate of simple, hmm? I'm sensing a theme tonight LOL. And a good one to listen to. Great input on websites- ease on the eye is a priority, for sure.

Mariee said...

Another reader here. For me as long as the author has a website that's regularly updated I'm happy. A blog and newsletter is of course great too. That way I can keep up with what the author is working on now, when the next book is coming out etc. I'm not really a big fan of Myspace and Facebook though, they're just way to time-consuming.

Tawny said...

I hear ya, Marie, on how time consuming the social networks can be. I think to use them effectively (and still have time to write) authors would have to be really diligent and disciplined in budgeting their time.

I'm neither *g*