“Now That My Book is Out, What is the First Thing I Should Do?”

A newly published author asked me an interesting question today: “Now that my book is ‘out,’ what is the first thing I should do?” I ought to know the answer to that since I was in the same position not that long ago and will be again next month when Daughter Am I is released, but I’m still a bit mystified about how to promote effectively online.

So much of book promotion on the internet depends on social networking sites, which means that one’s promotion efforts have to start long before the book is ever published because you need people to promote to. That was the big lesson I learned during my first months as a published author. The internet is so vast that any message thrown casually out into cyberspace has about as much impact as a child’s balloon set free to drift on the wind. If you hand a child a balloon, however, at least one person for sure will see it, maybe even two or three. If you have “friends,” on social networking sites perhaps a few of them will see the messages you post on your profile and be glad for you. Or at least they will pretend to be glad for you since chances are they are promoting a book, too, and responding to such messages is part of their promotion campaign.

(Do I sound cynical? I don’t mean to. I am a bit disappointed that promoting on the internet hasn’t had the impact on my sales that I’d hoped, but on the other hand, I’m having a wonderful time meeting new people, discovering new books, rediscovering old friends, creating new relatives. In essence, I’m developing a whole new life, which is a thrill in itself.)

Some new authors send email messages to all their contacts, but unless you know the people personally, I don’t think it’s such a good idea. I’m hearing through the grapevine that spamming generally doesn’t have much impact on sales, and it only irritates people, which might cause a backlash. On the other hand, status updates on MySpace, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter are good, especially if you link the update to a blog article that tells about your struggles to get published or something else of an equally personal or helpful nature.

The secret to social networking is to be social. I admit I don’t do the one-on-one thing that well. I have a huge list of people I owe blog comments to, but somehow the days pass, and the list keeps getting longer. I’ve started responding to comments on my blog, though, which is a big step in the right direction. I used to think it was better to give commenters the last word, but recently my blog readers have convinced me they like a bit of dialogue, if only to let them know I read and enjoyed their comments. And I do. Read them and enjoy them, I mean.

I’m starting to ramble a bit here.

The point is . . . heck, if I knew what the point is, I’d be sitting back and counting my millions. Still, I have learned one thing — websites, blogs, tweets and status updates all work together to create something more than the individual parts. Who knows, that something may eventually turn out to be book sales.

Daughter Am I will be released by Second Wind Publishing, LLC in October, 2009

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A Shocking (And Embarrassing) Reality

I received my second royalty check yesterday and was shocked (and a bit embarrassed) by how few books I had sold online in the past couple of months. I’ve been a big advocate of online promotion, and I’ve had a great time connecting with people on Facebook, Gather, Twitter, Goodreads, this blog, and other sites. Apparently, however, while I’ve been making friends, I haven’t been making sales. I realize the economy is bad, that people are spending money for vacations and back to school clothes, that many people are without work, but that can’t be the total answer since 30% of each of my books is available as a free download on Smashwords. And people aren’t downloading them.

I’ve been saying all along that I’m missing a piece of the on-line promotion puzzle, and this just proves that I am right. To be honest, I still don’t know what that missing piece is. I get dozens of emails from authors telling me about their books, giving a synopsis and a plea to buy. I won’t follow their example. Such emails might work — people are kind and often will follow through — but I find them intrusive. And annoying. So annoying that I don’t even bother to read them. Since I won’t do unto others what I won’t let them do unto me, emailing people is out.

I know many authors who continually speak and write of their books, cramming them down our gullets until we want to scream. We can’t scream, of course, because that book is gagging us. That’s why you never hear a protest against this sort of tactic.

I could do what other authors are doing — give up on promotion to concentrate on writing another book that might be “the one.” The problem with this (for me, anyway) is that I already have two more books that will soon be published. Daughter Am I (sort of a gangsterish book with my own twist on the bootlegger story) will be published in August, and Light Bringer (sort of a science fiction, alternate history, retelling of human history novel, with my own twist on the past), will be published in November.

I can see one problem — I can’t write an elevator speech! After all this time, I still don’t know how to describe my books in a single sentence. Nor have I figured out my genre. One reader emailed me (yes, I do read and respond happily to emails from people who aren’t trying to sell me something unless it is one of those endlessly forwarded messages that no one ever reads). She commented: I now see what you mean about an unnamed genre. Kind of a big picture conspiracy, behind the scenes machinations and how that affects the little guy (or gal) on the street. (Thank you, Wanda!)

So, what’s the answer? I promise, when I figure it out, I will let you know. By November, I hope. Light Bringer is my magnum opus (of the four people who have read it, two called it brilliant; the other two merely said it was wonderful), but how magnum can an opus be if no one reads it?

Meantime, my fame, such as it is, is spreading. In the past few days, I found my name in four different blog posts and links to my blogs in a couple of surprising places:

Murder in the Wind — I won! Thank you! By Sheila Deeth

I blog, you blog, we all blog — Why? By Claire Collins

To Kindle or Not to Kindle by Norm Brown

Interview with Alan Baxter on Smashwords

Bookselling Links on the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association website

Yahoo Answers

It’s a good beginning.

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