In which I wonder if I’m over twitter now

I posted a couple of months back about how I don’t really have a strategy for social media and how, apparently I’m very much supposed to have one. Well since then, nothing has really changed apart from that I’m starting to think that I really really don’t want to be a person who knows How To Do Social Media, because, I suspect that people who know How To Do Social Media are might be killing* twitter.

I love twitter. I wasn’t a desperately early convert, but I joined just before the numbers of people, and particularly writers, on there went stratospheric, and back then, back in the good old days, twitter was a completely different place. At least my twitter feed was. It was smaller for one thing, so it flew past at a much more manageable rate. And it was mainly people chatting. Sometimes people who already knew each other. Sometimes random strangers who happened to be watching the same thing on TV or be struggling to put together the same piece of flatpack furniture. During that period I *met* lots of people on twitter who I would now consider friends, most obviously Lisa Hill who responded to a tweet about Croome Park being on TV, which started a conversation which somehow ended up with us agreeing to meet up at Croome and have a scone, which we did, and it was lovely because scones are lovely and Lisa, despite being a random person met on the interweb, is not a serial killer.

I can’t imagine that happening now simply because the percentage of people on twitter who routinely ‘chat’ rather than simply share and RT links and motivational sayings seems to be in terminal decline. I sort of know the four or five people who are likely to reply if I post something that’s just a comment or thought rather than a link to a post. For most people, I suspect, their twitter feed is now such a fast-moving stream of links that the odd chatty post gets lost in the haze.

So what to do? On the one hand writers are under great pressure – from agents, publishers, other writers, the tiny voice of self-doubt inside their head – to be on twitter and to be actively using it to sell books. On the other, if everyone’s doing that, the net benefit for each author must be reduced. One person standing on a table in the middle of a restaurant and shouting over the diners quietly chatting is notable – if what they shout is dull or offensive then that’s rude; if what they shout is funny or clever then they’re a visionary. If everyone’s shouting, nobody notices whether they’re rude or incredible, AND nobody gets to have a conversation.

None of which answers the question of what to do. I want my twitter feed to be a place where interesting people say funny and insightful things, and where there is an appropriate amount of discussion about Celebrity Masterchef, and the links that are posted are only to unusual and interesting things, but maybe the glory days are gone, and I just need to learn to move on. And now I’m going to go and tweet a link to this blog because if you can be part of the solution, you might as well be part of the problem.** Or something like that.

 

Yeah. I’m over-dramatizing. I’m a writer. What did you expect?

**That’s not right is it? It doesn’t sound right…

In which I, firstly, have a plan, and, secondly, lack a plan

I had a plan for this week’s blogging. It was twofold. Firstly the blogging was definitely going to happen yesterday and secondly it was going to be about how David Cameron announcing that he doesn’t want a third term as prime minister isn’t news, and doesn’t demonstrate in any way that he’s a stand up guy who’s not motivated by ‘glory, ego or wealth’.

I would have been a good blog post; basically it would have pointed out that by ruling out a third term Cameron has created a whole chunk of news coverage based on the unspoken assumption that he’s going to win a second term, and secondly I’d have argued that Cameron is vulnerable to a leadership challenge straight after the election if he fails to win an outright majority for the Tories. At the moment an outright majority for any party looks like being a tall order, and so Cameron is shoring up his own position by discouraging potential rivals from challenging the incumbent leader too soon. Why would they risk it, if he’s going to stand down in a few years anyway?

But, having failed at the first part of my plan, a whole 24 more hours has now elapsed, so the tiny political hoo-ha feels even less like news, and I have become distracted by other things – primarily by how I think I might be doing social media wrong. I’ve suspected this for a while. Every time I find myself gathered with writing chums, either at conferences (occasional), places with cake (frequent) or, indeed, online (bascially all the time), the conversation invariably turns, at some point, to social media and How To Do It. And every time, I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I do not have a strategy. I basically live on facebook and twitter, and I do post links to blog posts and new book releases and I RT book related stuff that looks interesting, but mainly I just tell the world about my lunch or the shiny thing I’ve just seen and then sort of chat to people. I don’t have a system for checking who’s followed me or unfollowed me or isn’t following me back. I don’t really schedule tweets or statuses, although I use TweetDeck so I totally could, but it would involve deciding what I wanted to tweet more than 4 seconds before I tweeted it, and I don’t know what shiny thing I’m going to be looking at in the future, do I?

Somehow I seem to have found myself embracing social media in a weirdly luddite sort of a way. I like just chatting. I like seeing pictures of the weird stain that random people on the other side of the country have found on their carpet, and musing about what it might be and how to get it out. I like feeling that if I RT or share someone’s post it’s because I think it’s interesting and not because I’m trying to get a certain number of reciprocal retweets every day. I like having a place (albeit a virtual place) where people who spend a lot of their time sitting on their own in their pyjamas can feel like they’re slightly connected to the world. I even quite like getting outraged en masse about some minor thing that does not matter at all, and then sort of sheepishly sidling away when we all calm down. Basically I like being social and chatting to people; I don’t really like to have a strategy for how I’m going to chat to get the most benefit out of it. Chatting to people is the benefit.

And here endeth today’s lesson. I had a blogging plan and I failed. I have no social media plan at all, and therefore can’t even say if I’m failing or not, which is nice I guess. How about you (especially you writer types)? Do you have a system for social media-ing and how does it work?

If you enjoyed these random musings and would like to read more by me, I also write actual novels and novella. Details here.

In which I witter on about self promotion and sisterhood

Ahoy, hello and indeed howdy one and all.

Reading it back I suspect that was probably a greeting that needed more commas, but I can’t quite work out where to put them so I’m going to move on and hope nobody noticed.

Right.

I’m also going to skip over my normal paragraph about being a bad blogger and promising to eat my bloggy fibre and be more regular in future. Best laid plans and all that…

So, anyway, this week I am mainly thinking about self-promotion. It’s a bit of a tricky topic for us budding writers out here in InternetWorld. If you hop over to Twitter you will find that the only form of tweet even nearing the ubiquity of “Buy my book,” is the humourous ranting tweet about the number of tweets saying “Buy my book.”

In addition to the relatively benign “Buy my book” tweeters, you also get the real hardsellers who send DMs (private one-to-one messages on twitter) instructing you to buy their book and write an amazon review, or demanding that you like their facebook author page. Those people are beyond the pale and should be rounded up and taken away to a place where someone can have a stern word with them and then they can sit for a bit and think about what they’ve done.

All of which is a bit tricksy for us writerly types, because ultimately we do want you all (every single last one of you) to BUY THE BOOK. Fortunately, I am here to save budding writers from this nightmarish social media stressfest, with my completely considered, not made up on the spur of the moment at all, RULES FOR ONLINE PROMOTION.

1. Tweeting or Facebooking a single line from your novel won’t make anyone buy the book. No single sentence is that amazing. If Shakespeare had been @shakespearebard and had tweeted “‘To be or not to be’ Brilliant new story: HAMLET! Out now ” he would have essentially managed to make Hamlet sound a bit meh. Bad Shakespeare. And Bad Twitterers. Bad.

2. Don’t tweet or message me just to ask me to like your Facebook page. Have a facebook author page by all means. I’ve got one. It’s fine and dandy. It means that you can keep your personal facebook and your public/work/writerly facebook separate. But the point of having it isn’t just to attract likes. Presumably the point of having it is to allow you to engage with readers in a fun interesting way that ultimately encourages them to BUY THE BOOK. Putting all your energy into getting likes for a facebook page seems like putting your cart before your horse, which is stupid because horses are notoriously poor at pushing stuff. Facebook likes aren’t an end in themself. Remember that people.

3. It is ok to tweet or retweet links to reviews, blogposts and news stories about your book, but it’s not ok if that’s all you tweet or all you put on facebook. Twitter’s tagline is “Join the conversation,” not “Shout promotion at strangers.” For every explicitly promo-y tweet set yourself a target of at least three tweets about your breakfast. Everyone loves breakfast. No-one loves having promo yelled at them across the interweb.

4. Be interesting. And if you only adhere to one of these rules, make it this one.

So in summary, facebook author pages are like horses. You need to be careful about where you put your cart, and be interesting. That is all dear readers. That is all.

Actually no, it isn’t! I’m not usually a fan of blog chainy type things, for similar reasons that I’m not really a fan of blog awardy things, which I explained back here. However, this week I was tagged in this:

by the rather lovely Jane Lovering, and the concept didn’t actually offend me so I shall play along. The idea is that we’re sharing the love between cool and interesting women bloggers who we admire. Jane has already tagged my fellow Choc Lit newbies, Rhoda Baxter,  Janet Gover and Jules Wake, and so I’m going to add the following:

Laura E James – one more Choc Lit Newbie. The Dear Mum post on 22nd July made me tear up.

Holly Anne Gets Poetic – in the interests of full disclosure I’ll acknowledge that Holly is a close personal friend, but she’s also my absolute favourite poetry blogger out there at the mo’. Read her. She is funny and dark and wise.

Neets Writer – I’m not normally a fan of writers blogging about writing. In fact the amount of writing chat around here at the moment is quite putting me off myself. But Anita Chapman does it well – she’s worth a read.

Kate Johnson -And one more Choc Lit girl to finish things off. The delightful Kate Johnson, who I have just about forgiven for taking MY little cup home from the RNA conference this year. Apparently she won it or something…

And that really is all. Bye bye.

In which I consider sock puppetry and the pitfalls of online promotion

Firstly, dear reader, an apology. It is, I can’t help but notice, Tuesday. I did promise you that I would deliver you a weekly musing every Monday. I have failed. I prostrate myself before you and implore your forgiveness. Am I forgiven? Jolly good. Let’s all move on.

So, there’s has been a small furore (a furorette?) of late about writerly types massaging and faking their online reviews. Proper successful writers, most notably (but not uniquely) RJ Ellory, have been caught hiding behind anonymous online usernames in order to  big up their own books and slag off rivals in Amazon reviews and online forums.  It also turns out that John Locke’s “How I Sold 1 Million E-books in 5 Months” failed to detail his technique of paying for positive reviews. Ooops. Now clearly neither of those things are really on. But what is on when it comes to online promo? Where, ladies and gents, is the line?

If I hop over to twitter right now, 5 out of the first 15 tweets in my feed are people providing me with links to where I can buy their book, download their book or read a review of their book. And that’s a much lower percentage than it would be at other times of the day. Now clearly a bit of tweeting of links to stuff is fine. If people follow you on twitter I think it’s fair to assume they might be interested in other stuff you’ve written or produced. I’m a guilty party, as I always tweet and facebook the link to this blog when there’s a new post. I think, equally clearly, those people who use social media like twitter for nothing but direct promo are annoying and should expect to be unfollowed pretty quickly. Constant promo is deeply tiresome and makes all the lovely interesting people on twitter disappear off the bottom of your feed before you’ve had chance to see what they’re up to. Having said that, even aggressive and excessive direct twitter promotion is an irritant rather than an act of fraud.

But what about tweeting a link to the amazon page for your book and asking people to post a review? If someone tweets a writer to tell them they’ve enjoyed a book, is it ok to ask them to repeat that view on amazon? What if the reader doesn’t contact the writer directly, but the writer seeks them out and asks for a positive review? What if a reader writes a positive blog review, entirely of their own free will and volition? A review on a tiny personal blog isn’t going to do much to help a writer’s sales – what’s wrong with copying and pasting those positive comments into an amazon review? You’d simply be repeating a reader’s genuine thoughts, albeit under an amazon profile not of their creating.

An underlying issue here is one of markets. For new writers starting out, particularly for independent self-published writers, amazon is the key selling place. Getting books into real world book stores is hard, and there are less and less of them to choose from. Waterstones, WHSmiths and the supermarkets dominate real world book sales and, limited by shelf space, carry a vastly smaller range of titles than online sellers, and in the UK, at present, one online seller dominates them all. The drive to promote your book on amazon, to post good reviews, to boost your search position feels close to irresistible.

In addition to that, one of the big messages that new and aspiring writers hear from every turn at present, is that you must have an online presence. You must promote yourself and your wares. In this bookselling context it’s easy to see how the anonymity of online communications can tempt people to do things they’d never consider in a real world conversation. It’s tricky when talking to someone face to face about your book to nip out of the room, pop back in with a different hat on and pretend to be an enraptured reader of the tome. It’s also quite awkward to stand in front of someone and repeat the phrase “Buy my book. Buy my book. Buy my book” at 3 minute intervals, but online, people don’t always recognise that they’re doing just that and it’s, frankly, a bit creepy-weird.

So maybe that’s the rule – if it would be creepy weird in person, it’s probably creepy weird online. And, unless you’re trying to sell some sort of gothic fantasy horror, creepy weird is probably not the image you’re trying to create. So what do you think? Have you seen any examples of online promo that made you feel a tad discomforted? Do you pay any heed to amazon reviews and blog comments on books? Do you have any other thoughts on any subject at all? Please share…