Fodder For the Facebook Machine

I have a discussion group on Facebook, Suspense/Thriller Writers, that is constantly evolving because of the site’s ever-changing policies, and what was once fun, has now turned into a burden.

In the beginning, when I was new to Facebook, the groups were pretty much worthless. They were mostly discussion groups where no one discussed, but I found a way to make it work. At the time, FB had separate areas for links and promos and such. I was fine with whatever anyone wanted to post — I just wanted the discussion group. And it was a great discussion group. Each week I’d ask a different author to pose a topic, I’d email the group members, and we’d have an interesting discussion. I learned a lot from those people.

Well, Facebook couldn’t leave well enough alone. They changed the group format, and since our original groups didn’t fit in with their new format — we had too many members — they planned to get rid of all of us. Eventually enough people complained, and they let our groups remain, but they changed them completely — got rid of the discussion forum, took away the ability for Facebookgroup administrators to send messages to the group, and combined everything else into one huge mess on the wall.

Members of the group left in droves. They couldn’t stand the constant barrage of promotion. Finally, we decided to ban any sort of promotion from the wall and turn it into strictly a writing discussion group. (No publishing, formatting, or promotion questions are allowed — this is strictly a group to discuss the craft of writing.) It actually worked well. As a thank you to the members for adhering to our rules, I set up a separate event every Saturday. Well, FB decided there was something wrong with that, and took away my ability to set up events. So I set up a separate group for promotion.

All went fine for a while until FB decided to change things again. Instead of ignoring groups, they decided to promote them — and the groups with the most members got the most promotion. Sounds great, right? Wrong! Now every author on FB who has a book to promote is made aware of our group, and we’ve been inundated with new members. Members, I might add, who don’t pay attention to the group rules, which are pinned to the top of the wall for all to see. (It’s amazing to me how often someone will “like” the rules or comment about how great the no promo rule is, and then immediately post a promo. I guess people think rules apply to everyone else but them?)

I spend way too much time every day deleting promos and banning those who posted the promo link. I used to give people the benefit of the doubt, but if I didn’t ban them, they’d simply post something else. (Doesn’t anyone get the point of soocial networking? You don’t constantly beat people over the head with the links to your books. You get to know them and then let them find you.)

I realize that FB is not a public site — we are all fodder for the great FB machine, and are subject to whatever changes they deem necessary — but all these machinations are burdensome. Still, the group is worth saving. How often on the internet, and especially Facebook, do you find a group of people who help each other with the craft of writing? So I’ll just deal with the frustration and hope that eventually the gods of Facebook decide to turn their attention elsewhere.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Big Brother, Thy Name is Facebook

I feel as if I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole, and that rabbit hole has a name — Facebook. A couple of months ago, I met a reviewer on Facebook who had been prohibited from posting her reviews of mysteries on the Mystery Writer’s of America Page by MWA. (Isn’t that bizarre? Wouldn’t you think they would have wanted her reviews.) I invited her to post her reviews in my Suspense/Thriller Writers Group. I’ve mentioned before that we’ve banned most promotions except for reviews of other authors’ works, interviews with other authors, and excerpts from other authors’ novels. I’ve been trying to foster a sense of camaraderie, of authors helping authors rather than letting the authors inundate us with book links everyone is sick of seeing, and this reviewer’s posts seemed to fit with my concept.

But now she has been banned from posting links to her reviews in my group, not by me but by Facebook. Apparently, FB now have new rules banning any sort of promotion on one’s profile and from one’s profile. You have to use a business page for that. And so for now, people are still being allowed to blatantly promote their books, but unpaid reviewers are banned. Not just prohibited, but blocked — the links from her WordPress account and Networked blogs no longer post to her profile. And if she posts the links manually, her account will be suspended.

Technically, Facebook has always prohibited promotion. The profiles are supposed to be about socializing and connecting with real life friends, but people posted books links, giveaways, and all sorts of promos anyway, and Facebook never enforced it. A major change is coming now that FB is traded publicly. If FB allows promo anywhere on the site, the pages lose their competitive edge. FB also loses potential advertising bucks. (A related issue is that FB is not being welcomed by investors as enthusiastically as they had expected — huge numbers of users are accessing the site via phone and tablet and are bypassing the advertising, which makes FB not quite so lucrative as it was just a few months ago.)

But still . . . not to allow book reviews? Why is that a business? For some people it might be, but for this particular reviewer, it is a hobby, nothing more.

I asked the reviewer how FB found her and why they singled her out. She responded, “They tripped over me on another site and they FOLLOWED ME THERE! Yes, THEY FOLLOWED ME and about 4,000 OTHER people! That’s how they knew about my reviews, reviews that are free mind you. In time, though, I believe this will get to everyone. I’m betting I’m just in the first batch, but I’m sure they will be more.”

Yikes. Shades of big brother. I generally presume articles about Facebook fall under the category of urban legend until corroborated, but this reviewer’s experience seems to corroborate the following article: Wow. Facebook Rules Prohibit Users From Promoting Their Work, Company, And Much, Much More . . .

Is “No Promotion” Really so Hard to Understand?

I moderate a writing discussion group on Facebook where we’ve banned any kind of promotion. The point is to develop a sense of camaraderie among members, and to share writing tips, techniques, friendship. It’s supposed to be a destination, a fun place to hang out, rather than a bulletin board with links to other sites. It’s almost impossible to get people to understand the benefits of such a group. The following correspondence I had with a Facebook Friend (now a former Facebook friend) is a graphic example. FBF joined the group on December 18, participated in a few discussions, and then sent me an interview for my interview blog.

December 20 — FBF: Did you receive my interview? I felt really good about my answers. What did you think?

December 23 — PB: Yes, I received it. Haven’t read it yet, but I did see it. I’ll read it when I format it for the site. It will be perhaps in a week.

December 23 — FBF: Yeah. You answered me on a post in the group so I already knew. I’m very excited. Thank you for doing this for me. You are amazing. Don’t let those promo people bug you. They obviously lack the social skills necessary to make friends and understand what professional respect means.

December 23 — PB: Actually, the one that bothered me the most was the guy who posted on the wall that what he hated was my whining about no promo. Before you joined, all anyone posted was promo, and some of the members rebelled. I was pleased because I’d just about decided to dismantle the whole thing. I think we’re developing a great group. Thank you for joining and for participating in our discussions.

December 23 — FBF: Your welcome. I’ve already gotten my book on two websites. An interview and two reviews in progress. And I never promoted my book once! So thank you.

December 23 — PB: See, that’s the whole point. Get to know people, and let them promote your book! And you’re welcome. I am glad to do what I can.

December 31 — PB: Hi. I posted your interview. Thank you! Sorry it took so long. Let me know if you need me to make any changes.

January 1 — FBF: It’s great. Thank you.

January 10 — FBF (in response to the question what three words describe your writing?): Comical, dialogue, needs-improvement. But that’s why I’m here.

February 8 — FBF: I posted a promo (a book trailer) on the group wall yesterday for a good writer, and it was removed. I’ve had enough. I’m outa here. [And then he used a lot of not-so-nice words.]

Is There too Much Promotion on Facebook?

I got a message from a woman on Facebook the other day asking if I’d be willing to write a post about too much promotion on sites like Facebook. At first, I thought this would be an easy task. I detest all the self-promotion that goes on at the site, especially in the groups.

Some promotion is understandable. Pages, of course, are all about “soft sell” promotion, and so any promotion that goes on there is part of the package.  Mostly I use my fan page for announcements, such as kindle sales, and for discussions. (You can find the current discussion here: Do your characters always act at maximum capacity? Should they?)

What people post on their own profile, of course, is up to them. Self-promotion is sometimes the least offensive thing they post on their profiles. How many times can the same dang too-annoyingly-cute-for-words animal video or cloyingly sweet sentimental photo/saying be shared? Sometimes the same thing shows up in the feed day after day after day after day. . . But I digress.

I thought I did a lot of promoting on my profile, in which case I would be the last person to talk about too much promotion on Facebook, but here is a list of the last twelve things I posted on my Facebook profile:

  • Two posts were about Malcolm’s Book Bits and Notions, a great compendium of links to publishing/writing/book news, which everyone in the industry should subscribe to.
  • Two posts were brags — 1) I just posted my 700th blog post!!! and 2) My blog is ranked 177,350 of all blogs and websites in the United States. People stay an average of 4 minutes. And based on internet averages, ptbertram.wordpress.com is visited more frequently by females who are graduate school educated and browse this site from work. At least according to Alexa.com
  • Two posts were pithy observations: 1) At the grocery store today, I saw a book written by someone I met here on facebook when they were first starting out. An odd commentary of our times when hitting the grocery store endstacks means hitting the big time. 2) I doubled my memory!! Facebook works faster now. I don’t.
  • One was an announcement for my live chat on gather.com: Maximum Capacity — No Whine, Just Champagne… | Gather (Same discussion as on my facebook page, but with different participants, and different comments and conclusions)
  • One was an announcement of an article (written by me) that was published in Angie’s Diary: Rhythm in Writing | Angie’s DIARY
  • One was an announcement of the Second Wind Publishing Short Story contest: Short Story Contest. No Entry Fee!
  • The remaining three were links to my blog posts.

Does any of that constitute promotion? In some respects, all of it does, but it’s not blatant. At least I don’t think it is. Maybe you have a different opinion on the matter.

Nor do I promote in the groups I moderate. I post links to interviews I do with other other authors, I welcome new members to the group, and sometimes I post questions to get people to talk. Mostly what I do as moderator is delete everyone’s promotions. The group decided to ban self-promotion except on Saturday because they were sick of it, but apparently everyone assumes that self-promotion is what everyone else does, not what they themselves do. So they continue to post links to their books, links to reviews of their books, requests to “like” their page, and all the other blatantly self-promoting things that we all do on occasion but hate when anyone else does.  Instead of just turning everyone loose on Saturday, I’ve turned Saturday into a self-promotion extravaganza, which has become a lot of fun, and maybe people sell a few books from it, but still, it’s promoting to other authors. We need to be promoting to readers, not each other. This is a concept many authors don’t seem to get. Nor do they seem to understand that being generous and promoting other authors does not take sales away from themselves. I keep plugging away, though, trying to build a kinder, more giving group, one that is not so deep into self-centered promotion.

So, when the woman asked me to write an aritcle, I thought I knew what to say: that there was too much self-promotion on Facebook. Anything interesting gets buried beneath the constant barrage of “Look at me! Buy my book!” But . . . and here’s the sad truth . . . for some people, this constant self-promotion is catapulting them into star status on Amazon. Just because I think there is too much promotion on Facebook, doesn’t mean that there is too much from other people’s points of view.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of articles about promoting on Facebook, looking for the magic ingredient that I seem to be missing. The only thing I can see that I am missing is a willingness to constantly and blatantly plug my books. One guy maxed out five profiles and made a fortune.  (Of course, that fortune came from the money he made off his book telling how to max out your profile, but it was still a fortune.) I was near maximum capacity on my profile once, but didn’t want to have to switch solely to a page — I like the interaction on the profile — so I unfriended all the blatant promoters such as the multi-level marketers, the people trying to sell me self-improvement books, people urging me to buy their book that will tell me how to make money on facebook, the people who had maxed out their profiles or were about to, and I was left with about 2,000 friends. I’m trying to make friends with my friends, to see if in the long run that will help sell books. And if it doesn’t? I’ve still gained a lot of online friends.

This has turned out to be a rather lengthy post when in fact all I wanted was to get your opinion. Do you think there is too much promotion on Facebook? What would an acceptable form of promotion be? Do you mind all the promotion? Do you do a bit (or a lot) of promotion yourself? If so, what do you do to promote yourself?

Leaving on a Jet Plane

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go, but I have a few minutes before I have to start donning my traveling togs, so I thought I’d say good-bye. Unlike Mary Travers, I do know when I’ll be back again — late Sunday night. I’m going to take notes and photos to show you, but most of all, despite 100% humidity (yikes!!), I’m going to have fun. It’s been so long since I’ve had fun, I’m not even sure what the word means any more, but I intend to find out.

I had an interesting revelation today, and oddly, it wasn’t even my revelation. I showed the preparations for my Scribbler’s Retreat Writer’s Conference presentation to a couple of people at different times the past two days. One said, “You have enough here for a book.” The other said, “This would make a good book.” And it would. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it, but sometimes we’re too close to things to see the truth. So, I haven’t even left for my conference, and I already have what I hoped to gain from it — a new direction and the confidence to go where it takes me.

Knowing I have something to do after my grief book is published will give me the impetus to type and edit the writings from my year of grief. My first year of grief. I’m still not over it, though I am healing every day. And perhaps I’ve outlived my stay at my grief support group. One woman brought a poem to read today, purportedly from our loved ones on the other side. At the end, everyone was wiping away tears but me. I was horrified by one of the lines: “everyday is the same here.” When I mentioned my horror, it sort of broke the mood. Ah, well. I’m mostly there for the hugs and to help the newly bereft however I can. They (whoever “they” is) say that grief brings strange blessings, and mine appears to be the ability to put into words what others are thinking.

The past few days have been so busy, I’m looking forward to doing nothing but sitting back and letting the plane take me where it wills. And even the five hour layover in Atlanta is even looking good. I was on top of the situation the whole time until Facebook decided to archive my old groups unless I acted immediately, so I couldn’t wait till I get back.

I have a favor to ask. If you belong to one of my facebook groups, and if you have time, will you go to the group, scroll down the wall (and click “older posts” when you get to the botttom of the page), look for discussion threads and make a comment? That brings the discussions to the top of the group page, and is a way of keeping them from getting lost. I’ll do it when I get back, of course, but any help will be appreciated.

My facebook groups: Suspense/Thriller Writers, Genre Book Club, and Second Wind Publishing.

I already did Help Support Independent Publishers,, but feel free to stop by and comment in a discussion anyway, especially the one where we are posting the first sentences of our books.

My ride is here. Gotta go!

What’s Next? Updating My Life.

It’s hard for me to believe, but exactly a week from now, the Scribbler’s Retreat Writers’ Conference will be over, my speech will all but be forgotten, and I will be on an airplane, probably over Kansas somewhere, heading back here.

I’m not sure what to think about that. I’ve used this conference as a beacon, something to light my way through the darkness of my grief, and soon I will have to figure out what to do when the conference is over. I’ll work on my grief book, of course, and I’ll have to figure out what to do with all my facebook groups. For some reason, they are “new and improving” them to the point of unusability, at least for my non-nefarious purposes. We had some great discussions, and the discussions will no longer be available. Don’t know what the point of that is. All of that collected wisdom just  . . . gone. I also can’t procrastinate too long in upgrading the groups, or I will lose all the members. Sheesh. What a mess.

To a certain extent, it’s the impetus I’ve needed to rethink my promotional efforts both for me and for my publisher, Second Wind. To that end, I will be doing something I’ve never considered — emailing lists. At least they are something I would have control over. Don’t worry — I won’t be adding anyone who doesn’t want to be on the list. (Unless you responded to giveaways, and most of those had a note to the effect that your email address could be used to notify you of future giveaways and contests.)

But after that? Haven’t a clue. I was talking to someone today about the conference, and she asked if I’d ever taught before “other than on the internet”, and it occurred to me that in a roundabout way I have been teaching writing all along. So perhaps I’ll do writing workshops here on this blog. It wouldn’t be that much different from my various online discussion groups, but it would be more structured. Perhaps post a tutorial every Sunday night? And something similar to my presentation for the conference — creating incredible but credible characters — would be a good place to start. Besides, I need a new focus for this blog.  Grief only goes so far.

I’m not in the throes of grief anymore, at least not much — I keep myself too busy. I figure, if my life mate doesn’t want me to be thinking about him, he shouldn’t have died. Can you detect a hint of anger here? He used to tell me I needed to keep a pilot light of anger. He said it would fuel without consuming me. And what do you know — there it is. And it does help.

Funny how life coalesces at times. Everything of my old life (both online and offline) seem to heading for another turning point. Of course, that could be an illusion (or a delusion), but it’s true that this is another time of many changes.

I’ll keep you posted. And for sure I’ll get photos of the conference.

Speaking of photos, you’ve all seen the rather blurry photo of me I use as an icon. The photo accompanying this post is the picture it’s cropped from — my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary party, just a couple of months before my mother died. Happy mother’s day, Mom. Hope you’re at peace.

I Asked and You Answered. Thank you!

A couple of days ago I posted a plea for interview questions to submit for my Blog Radio interview on Thursday at 12:30 pm CT, and you generously came up with some wonderful suggestions. I don’t know how closely the moderator, April Robins, will follow the list, but it should give us a great starting place. Thank you all very much!

Here are the questions I submitted:

You are the moderator or co-moderator of four successful Facebook groups. How did you get started, and how did you end up with four groups? What’s the secret to your success with the groups?

How much time and organization does it take to be active in online communities?

Is your Suspense/Thriller writers’ group only for suspense/thriller writers?

Does it make sense to join a FB group, like the ones you host, if the writer writes for the YA audience?

How do you balance your time between writing, blogging, promoting, moderating 4 groups, and other day-to-day responsibilities? Do you have a written schedule or “to-do list”? How do you keep up with it all?

You have three books published. What’s next?

What is the most common question you are asked by fans or would-be writers?

What are your writing goals for 2010?

Which of your books was the hardest to write/most research intensive? What’s the biggest writing challenge you’ve ever faced?

How did you decide your genre?

Please stop by April Robins’ Blog Radio show Red River Writers Live — Savvy Designs on Thursday, January 7 at 12:30 pm CST to hear my responses. You can also call in with additional questions. The call in number is (646) 595-4478. Hope to hear you there!

Interview Questions Wanted

I am going to be a guest on April Robins’  Blog Radio show Red River Writers Live — Savvy Designs on Thursday, January 7 at 12:30 pm CST, and I need to supply ten interview questions. A few of those questions have to relate to the facebook groups I moderate or co-moderate, and the rest are up to me. I like a freewheeling interview, where we just talk rather than do a Q&A, but I can see that some guidelines would help. I will talk about my Facebook groups and how I ended up as moderator for four of them. And I will talk about how generous the members of all the groups have been with their time and expertise during the discussions, but beyond that? Haven’t a clue. If I were still in my blog tour/self-promotion phase,  I could feed April questions about my books, but that phase seems to have passed. I’m just me again, not an author on tour, and so I’m plumb out of questions.

Any suggestions?

Oh, and if you haven’t yet joined one of my Facebook groups, I am extending a personal invitation. Well, it’s more of an impersonal invitation, since I’m posting it here and not sending it to you individually, but still, it’s an invitation.

Suspense/Thriller Writers

Second Wind Publishing

Genre Book Club

Help Support Independent Publishers

And, of course, there is my live chat on Thursday evening at 9:00 pm ET. Always a lively discussion! So, feel free to join this group, too: No Whine, Just Champagne.