A big topic of conversation lately has been the use of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, or rather the effective use of social media, to promote a product or an event or, in my case, a book. I confess that I have been resistant to engage, finding all that stuff to be both time consuming and, frankly, time wasting. But, as things are now in the publishing world, I understand that I must.
Like Rip van Winkle, I had a long nap in my publishing career. Not as long a nap as old Rip’s—he slept through the American Revolution, remember?—but during the decade that I published only short stories and no books, the world of publishing and book selling had a revolution of its own. When I re-emerged in 2009 with “In the Guise of Mercy,” it was suggested in the nicest yet strongest way that I should get a web page and a Facebook account, participate regularly on author blogs, and post on various fan-based Listserv groups. I did, I do, what I can with available time, my most precious and most scarce resource. But it seems that every week there is something new out there, and each new medium requires more time and more tending. So, the big question is, are the social media productive as promotional tools?
After the success of Shaken, an anthology of donated short stories to raise money for Japanese relief after the great tsunami, my friend Tim Hallinan, who edited the stories, asked the contributors if we wanted to participate in yet another group project, this time a discussion about how we each develop our stories. Do we plot meticulously, or do we fly by the seat of our pants?
Twenty-one of us, an international group of well-published, award-winning authors, signed on and “Making Story: Twenty-One Writers on How They Plot (The Twenty-one Writers Project)” became a reality as an E-book, though there is now also a paperback version,. In September, when the book was released, all twenty-one authors promoted the book using whatever social media we had at hand. That’s when I learned what a hashtag is; yes, I feel like a dinosaur sometimes. Sales were brisk during the initial weeks. And then, as happens, after a while we all went off and focused on other projects. Between the September and April, the book’s sales dropped off.
Tim, whose background is in marketing, suggested that, in honor of Tax Day, April 15—also Titanic Day, ironically—we offer the book for free on Kindle. For five days, in shifts, all twenty-one of us Tweeted, posted, blogged, and flogged. Lo’ and behold, the book zoomed to the top tiers of Amazon sales, if you can call a giveaway a sale. We were number one among books about writing.
During the week since that offering, sales at the regular $3.99 bargain bite have been respectable. It will be interesting to see how long the afterglow of the big push lasts, and what collateral effects it might have on increasing books sales of the contributors and the follow-up volume next summer about developing story characters.
Can the social media be used effectively for promotions? Sure, given enough time, effort, and variety of media involved. Would I alone be able to create such a move in the rankings as twenty-one of us working together affected? Nope. I know that there are bloggers, tweeters, reviewers and Likers (is that a new noun?) for hire at the rate of about five bucks per post. But I’m a school teacher edging toward retirement, so I doubt I’ll ever go that route. Oh, and if you Tweet me, don’t be in a hurry for answer.
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