I Gave Up Facebook for Lent & Found Me

It was a spur of the moment decision. On February 9, the day before Ash Wednesday, I decided to give up social media (excluding WordPress and any postings I do for work) for Lent. I did it for lots of reasons, chief among them being I wanted to finish writing the sequel to Baby Grand, a project I started back in December 2014. I knew I was spending too much time on social media, but I just didn’t know how much. It was a lot. At first, I was perplexed by all the oodles of free time I didn’t know I had, but soon I found new activities to fill the void, as if I were a starfish whose amputated limbs were regenerating: I wrote quite a bit (the sequel is nearly completed, and I also found time for other writing, including this essay that appears in today’s Newsday) and charged through my daily to-do lists like nobody’s business. I also found myself calmer, serene. Turns out, while I was busy scrolling through posts, my thumb double-tapping images almost absently, I had been missing out on a lot of something that was important to me: me.

 

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Giveaway on Facebook! Today Only!

It’s been a terrific year for Baby Grand! To say thank you to all of you who have supported my debut novel this year, I’m running a Christmas giveaway over on my Facebook author page. To enter, all you have to do is comment on the giveaway post with your favorite holiday song. Yep, that’s it. The winner will be randomly selected and will receive this BELIEVE tag and silver ball station chain (a $22 total value) manufactured by Origami Owl.

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Why BELIEVE? Because it’s Christmastime, of course, and also because BELIEVING IN HERSELF is something Baby Grand’s hero, Jamie Carter, must do in order to foil the bad guys’ plans and save the governor’s daughter. (Does she do it? I’ll never tell!) You must be over 18 years of age and a U.S. resident to qualify, and (legal mumbo jumbo) this promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. (In other words, it’s mine, mine, all mine!) Contest ends Monday, December 23, 2013, at 9 p.m. EST, and the winner will be announced soon thereafter. Click here to go directly to the post. And feel free to spread the word to your friends and neighbors. The more, the merrier! Good luck!

Marketing Tip #6: Vendor Fairs

Yesterday, I took part for the first time in a vendor fair. Several of my author-friends have done fairs before, and the feedback I always get is that they’re hit or miss, either you sell lots of books or you don’t — and I should qualify that when I say “lots” I mean maybe three an hour. Since my local high school was hosting the fair and the money raised would be going to a scholarship fund, I thought I’d give it a try. And lo and behold, I sold lots of books!

There are things you can do to make your vendor fair appearances more successful. Here’s what I did:

1. Publicize the event. On social media in advance (if you like) and on the day of.

2. Create signage. I have a bunch of really cool plaques that I’ve made in the past regarding various contests that Baby Grand and I have placed in, but I needed some signs specific to this event. Keep in mind that your signs don’t have to be state-of-the-art. Mine were rather rudimentary. I created them last minute on Microsoft Word — I couldn’t access InDesign for some reason — and made them in, seriously, five minutes, but they worked: fair_signage

3. Bring with you the following items: table (be sure to know the size of your selling space and whether or not you have access to electricity), chairs (at least two — even if you’re alone it’s nice to have an additional seat, either for an unexpected friend or for your arm or purse to rest on), clean solid-colored tablecloth, sign-up sheet for your mailing list (even if folks don’t buy books, they often sign up, either out of interest or pity), a bunch of books (I brought 30), several Sharpies, a camera, and perhaps something to keep you occupied when things are slow (I brought my Kindle, although it never left my purse).

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Marketing Your Novel WITHOUT Social Media: Press Releases

Although I’m a HUGE proponent of social media with regard to successfully self-publishing a book — seriously, there is no other marketing tool that lets you reach so many people so affordably — in the class I’m currently teaching at Hofstra University there seems to be some (gasp!) resistance to the idea of using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to market novels. Is social media the ONLY way to market a book? Of course not. Is it the BEST way. I say yes. However, I put together some non-social-media tools that novelists can use to boost their visibility and help increase sales. Here’s one of them: the press release.

What is a press release?
A press release is a “news story” that you write about yourself — it is written in a professional manner and in third person. The goal of a press release is, first and foremost, to gain editors’ or reporters’ attention so that your news will be placed in their publication or on their website. You do that by conveying newsworthiness, which means your press release should include the five Ws and one H:

•    Who is this news release about?
•    What has happened that is newsworthy?
•    Where did the newsworthy event take place?
•    When did this happen?
•    How is this newsworthy?
•    Why should I (or my readers) care?

How are press releases sent?
Nowadays, most press releases are sent by email, but you can also use snail mail or fax.

What is the proper press release format?
There are various acceptable formats, but all press releases should include a header, dateline, a paragraph or more of news, and contact information.

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8 Tips for Building an Audience for your Blog

I was honored to be asked to participate in a panel this morning at Briarcliffe College in Bethpage, N.Y., as part of Fair Media Council’s Social Media Boot Camp. The topic was “How to Blog Like a Pro.” My fellow panelists included William Corbett Jr. of Corbett Public Relations and Judy Smith-Bellem of SMM Advertising. Tim Vassilakos of North Shore-LIJ Health System moderated. Here’s a photo of all of us, courtesy of Rich Kruse (that’s me sitting on the left — notice how focused I am!).

I distributed a tip handout to the group, and I thought I’d post the tips here as well. As we discussed at the panel, there are no rules for blogging, but there are definitely things you can do to generate readership and engagement. Here are eight:

  1. Don’t blog unless you have something to say. There is so much noise on the internet today, and readers’ time is limited, so don’t post for the sake of posting. Post only when you have useful and actionable info.
  2. Write in a professional, yet conversational tone. Blogs are popular because readers feel like they are getting to know you personally, so keep the corporate-speak for your press releases.
  3. Engage readers. Whatever the topic of your post, try to get a conversation going with readers. Try ending your posts with a question that readers can answer in the comments, or you can offer giveaways or discounts to commenters.
  4. Pay attention to your blog’s appearance. Let’s face it: Many times, we judge a book by its cover. So make sure your blog is easy to read and navigate and that your domain name is memorable and accurately represents your company (if you have a stand-alone blog).
  5. On your blog’s homepage, show several blog posts/excerpts, rather than just your last post in its entirety. New visitors like to skim your homepage to see if your blog is for them. If you can show a variety of post examples, one of them is likely to make a connection.
  6. Keep the Me, Me, Me to a minimum. No one’s going to visit your blog if all you do is talk about yourself or your product. Even though you are blogging for promotional reasons, your blog has to be about Them, Them, Them — your readers. What takeaways can you offer your readers? What can they learn from you? How can you save them money? Treat blogging like a service that you offer your customers, rather than a press release.
  7. Blog regularly. You don’t need to blog every day. One, two, or three times a week should be sufficient. But whatever frequency you choose, your readers will become accustomed to it, so stick to it.
  8. Promote, promote, promote. (But don’t over-promote). Every blog post should be announced on whatever social media you participate in. Although your blog subscribers will get a notification, everyone else — your future subscribers — will hear about it through Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest. Keep in mind, though, that your blog promotion should only represent a small percentage of your social media interactions–on Twitter, my rule is one promotional post for every seven informational ones–or you risk the dreaded unlike or unfollow.

There are lots of ways to build an audience for a blog. What are some of yours? I’d love to hear them!

When Authors Pull an Anne Rice

Yesterday, the internet was abuzz with news that author Anne Rice posted a link on her Facebook page noting that a blogger had given her novel, Pandora, a bad review and proceeded to rip up the book (literally) for a decoupage project. For those of us who follow Rice on Facebook, she wrote her customary “Comments welcome” above this post, which she often does to promote discussion about various things — usually current events. Although she didn’t encourage anyone to, needless to say, many of Rice’s 740,000+ FB fans barged over to the blogger’s page and let her have it. And some of the comments left for this blogger were pretty hurtful.

Anytime an author interacts with a reviewer, particularly one who has given a bad review, sparks are bound to fly. I agree with the first line of this Mary Sue blog post which discusses the Anne Rice incident: “If there’s one valuable lesson a creator can learn, it’s not to engage with reviewers.” I just feel like there is nothing to be gained by confronting someone who posts a bad review. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and shouldn’t have to defend it or justify it.

The other day I got a lukewarm review for Baby Grand. Hey, it happens. But what especially bothered me about this review was that there was something written that was factually incorrect — it never happened in my book! A friend suggested, “Why don’t you just write a comment under the review and tell the reviewer what’s incorrect?” I shook my head. I told him that I find it lame when authors do that for the reasons I stated above. As I wrote on Anne Rice’s post: Better to just shrug one’s shoulders, I think, and move on.

The other day, a blogger wrote (for the life of me, I can’t remember where — I read so many blogs!) that his grandfather told him never to look strangers in the eye, particularly when you see them acting erratically. You just keep walking. The blogger said he uses his grandfather’s advice when dealing with internet commenters — who, essentially, are strangers.

I agree. When faced with a poor review, rather than pull an Anne Rice or give into the temptation of confrontation, an author’s best recourse is to steer clear and just keep walking.

5 Book Club Tips

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Book club meeting in Massapequa, New York, January 18, 2013.

In promoting Baby Grand, I’ve done all kinds of appearances. Bookstores. Libraries. Assisted living communities. (Street corners.) But probably my absolute favorite thing to do is attend book club meetings. Sitting in a casual circle, talking about the book that I wrote and everyone read, and seeing up close how readers have taken ownership of the novel’s characters and how they defend them, fight for them, question them, hate them, love them. Hearing how someone was at the edge of her seat as Jamie plotted to escape from her abductors, how some were surprised by the ending, had guessed a few things, had a few questions, can’t wait for the sequel. It’s probably the closest thing to bliss with regard to being novelist that I can describe — other than that amazing feeling, when you’re actually writing, of being so swept away and in the moment that you don’t even know where the ideas you’ve just put on paper have come from.

And there are some things that authors can do to make their book club appearances even more memorable and worthwhile. Here are five:

  • Have handouts. Every book club has its own way of doing things, but many of them have a facilitator who runs the meeting. Sometimes you will be asked to serve as facilitator, as I was for the book club meeting I attended last night. As facilitator, I brought handouts for all the members that included discussion questions for Baby Grand, as well as my contact information (email, Twitter, Facebook) so that I could maintain relationships with readers. Even if you are not asked to facilitate, business cards or book marks with your contact info or perhaps information on your next book, including the publication date, can be helpful.

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