With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with author, blogger, and social media expert Kristen Lamb
Kristen Lamb is the author of the #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. Her methods are responsible for selling hundreds of thousands of books. She has helped all levels of writers from mega authors to self-published unknowns attain amazing results. Kristen is the founder of the WANA movement, the founder and CEO of WANA International and creator of WANATribe, the social network for creatives.
As an expert on social media marketing, what are your three biggest recommendations for authors looking to promote their books and build a platform?
Don’t promote, and don’t market. That is old paradigm. When gatekeepers existed to stem the flow of information, marketing and promotion were effective. Now we live in a Huxleyan deluge and we are drowning in information and non-stop advertising. The human mind, to combat the overload, literally learns to “unsee” content it views as part of the problem—namely too much advertising and promotion.
People are tired of it and, frankly, they no longer see it. Social media is governed by social norms, so too much promotion (which is very little, actually) is frequently dismissed or resented. Focus, instead, on forging relationships. I strongly recommend writers to have a good blog, and I teach blogging very differently than most. The way I teach writers to blog harnesses their strength and creativity as storytellers, this way the audience grows to love their writing voice.
People are on social media to connect, to socialize, not shop. If they were, they’d be on the Home Shopping Network, not the social network. We are wise to remember this when crafting our author brand and approach. Simply talking to people and caring is worth a lot and people respond positively to authenticity.
What advice can you give to authors who are hesitant to use social media? Is there one social media outlet you’d point them to above all others? How much time should an author expect to devote to social media?
The genie is out of the bottle, and writers must use social media if they hope to sell books. Discoverability is an absolute nightmare. Additionally, when I was in sales, we had a saying, Fish where the fish are. Billions of people are actively engaged in social media. They aren’t lounging in bookstores or at the local library as part of a reading group. Sure, there are people there, but 1) every writer is trying to sell to the same 5% of the overall population in need of informing or entertaining and 2) with the advent of tablets and e-readers the new generations of reader will be on-line. We need to meet them in their comfort zone, not ours. Who cares if someone only buys one or two books a year if they are YOUR books? There are hundreds of millions of those people.
How much time? As much as necessary. This is a job, and there are a lot of reasons this career isn’t for everyone. As of 2004 (BEA statistics) writers had a 93% failure rate. Most authors sold less than a thousand books (all kinds of publishing, traditional and non-traditional). Of the authors who did traditionally publish, only 1 out of 9 ever saw a second book in print. Writers had a staggering failure rate and most failed to make enough money to write full-time. Social media has given authors the opportunity to break free of these hellish odds. Singers would all love to just sing and artists would all love to just paint, but the arts are a business, too. Social media is now part of that business.
If you do social media the way I teach, maintenance takes less than 30 minutes a day. Blogging will give a tremendous advantage, but that can be done in a couple hours total per week. The question we have to ask is How badly do we want the dream?
Marketing plans, mailing lists, algorithms, tweeting non-stop to buy our book take a lot of time and they have a dismal ROI (return on investment). The WANA way is slower, but it has deep roots and is resistant to major upheavals in technology (um, MySpace?) because it is founded on relationships and content that connects to people.
How can the success of social media promotion be measured? How can a person tell that his/her efforts are making more of an impact than garnering “likes” and followers?
No matter what anyone tells you, it can’t be measured. There are too many variables and humans are infinitely unpredictable. “Likes” and number of followers are meaningless numbers. There are services out there that can sell me a thousand likes on my Fan Page for $50 or 500 Twitter followers for $100. These are vanity numbers that make us “feel” productive. This is like holding up the Houston phone book and claiming to have a “half a million friends.”
I teach how to do more with less.
One of the reasons I do like blogs is that you can measure how well your messages are being received. How many genuine comments? How many unique visits and subscriptions? You can also see how many people are spreading what you have to say. If your blog has been tweeted once, try again.
We would all love some magic formula, but there isn’t one. I hear all this nonsense about tweeting at a certain time of day, on a certain day, and all I can think is, Are these people tweeting or ovulating? Just step out and engage. If you do it correctly, you won’t be alone. Others will respond positively and repost, retweet, etc.
Real power in social media is by spreading NOT linearly, but logarithmically. You may only have 1,000 followers, but I have almost 8,000. You don’t need to have 9,000 followers to reach 9,000 people. I can RT you.
You just need to make friends and post stuff they want to share. Within the span of a few reposts, you can hit hundreds of thousands of people AND others are more likely to pay attention to the content, because it is a referral. Someone is essentially saying, Hey, check out this cool thing I found.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make in promoting their books through social media? How can these mistakes be avoided?
Promoting their books on social media. The non-stop deluge of Me, Me, Me! Buy my book! Now on sale! Free! They have time to shove their books down our throats, but not enough time to say, “Hello.” What is really bad is when they promote the same stuff using four or five identities and then automate their tweets. This behavior makes me (and others) see red.
Essentially people who do this want friends with benefits. They are too busy doing “important stuff” to engage on Twitter (or Facebook), where as WE have nothing else better to do. See, the thing is this. If everyone did the same thing, Twitter would be nothing but automation. If no one is present to SEE the tweets, then it’s a waste of time and marks the ruin of a great social site. People who rely on automation are relying on the rest of us being present and vested, whereas they have other stuff to do.
When these folks add hash tags to the automation, it makes things even worse. NEVER automate Twitter. That is spam. Sorry. Especially if the tweet uses a hash tag. If I follow a person who automates her tweets and she keeps tweeting stuff that clearly has no person behind the tweet, I can unfollow her. I am there to befriend people not robots.
Hash tags are different.
Anyone following that hash tag gets blasted and there is no way to get away from it unless we report the offender for spam (because it is) or avoid the hash tag. #MyWANA was a beautiful, thriving community where writers could always find a live person to talk to. Writing is a lonely business and we need connection. Well, the lazy writers who just wanted to preprogram tweets from four identities included #MyWANA in their programming and they very nearly killed #MyWANA. We had to take back our community and started ruthlessly reporting them as spammers.
Automation is dangerous. If Twitter gets too many complaints and they look at our feed and it’s clear we aren’t engaging, they will delete our account, and they should. People aren’t on Twitter to be blasted with ads. They are there to connect and make friends.
Another pet peeve of mine is wholesale adding others to a BUY YOUR BOOK Group on Facebook. I have writers who have never even said hello to me add me to groups without even asking. Remember, social media is governed by social norms. Kidnapping people in real life is bad manners, too.
How can a writer benefit from having a blog? What are some steps to starting one? Should an author’s blog be dedicated to the topics of writing and the author’s current projects?
Blogs are the most powerful tool in a writer’s arsenal. Blogs cater to our strength—writing. Blogs are enduring. Twitter could implode and Facebook could go away, but unless the Internet implodes, blogs are there for good (and if the Internet goes down we have bigger problems than our author platform).
Blogs get stronger the longer we do it. Our following compounds. Search engines deliver new fans daily. I regularly have people discover an old post while searching for something else. They read, they’re hooked and they tell all their friends. WINNING! This means that two and three-year-old content is still working for me and building my platform. Remember, do more with less.
Please, for the love of all that is chocolate do NOT BLOG ABOUT WRITING. And don’t blog about your books. If talking about ourselves non-stop is a bad plan for a cocktail party, a date or the workplace, it’s probably NOT the best plan for social media. It is likely why a lot of writers feel creepy blogging. Deep down, they feel the social norms blogs like these are violating.
Besides, those topics are very limiting and writers will burn out quickly. They also won’t connect to readers, only a highly oversaturated pool of writers.
Is it okay to do some posts about craft or the current project? Sure. But dedicating the entire blog to it is a bad plan. Readers don’t care about three-act structure, how to query, or the future of publishing. Additionally, posts like these are left-brained because they’re informational. Fiction, however, is a right-brained product. Why waste time trying to sell a right-brained product with left-brained content? The way I teach how to blog, writers will connect the same way they do in their novels…through EMOTION.
In We Are Not Alone, you emphasize promoting the author versus just promoting his/her book. How is building an author platform instrumental in selling books?
A platform is merely a network of people who know us and like us and like our writing voice. People buy first from who they know and who they like. Without a platform, we have only one way to compete—market norms. This means a race to the bottom, giving our work away for free and close to free and having to hold ridiculous giveaways (Hey, come buy my book and you can win gift card, no a Nook, no an iPad…A CAR!).
Relationships help us keep prices reasonable because people like us and support us. I’ve bought many books from many authors simply because I knew them from Twitter or Facebook and they were just so nice. When people like us AND our work, they are our best salespeople. Humans have a need to share cool stuff. Why can’t that be OUR stuff they share?
Can you tell us a little more about WANA International? What made you decide to start up this organization? How has the experience been thus far?
I can’t be an expert in all things and maintain quality. I can’t teach blogging, Twitter, G+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Squidoo, Tumbler, etc. and keep sane. But there are teachers out there who are highly skilled who believe in the WANA Way, which is service above self and the power of relationships. WANA International was to give other experts the opportunity to spread WANA across all platforms.
Sure, I could teach you how to use Facebook, but Lisa Hall Wilson can teach you how to ROCK Facebook. I don’t really use LinkedIn, but there are writers who need it. Instead of me trying to teach a platform I don’t use, I let Jenny Hansen teach it because she is the WANA LinkedIn Queen.
I think part of being a good leader is finding talent and giving them an opportunity to shine. The WANA Way is about love and friendship and if I am tired of spammy tweets and rude Facebook form-letters, then I need to have a WANA Instructors teach people how to use Facebook or Twitter or whatever the WANA Way. In the absence of another path, most people will default to spammy methods.
Down with SPAM!
WANA International is a force amplifier. I can’t change the world, but if I have the right instructors (and we have AMAZING instructors) then we can make a huge difference. WANA International freed me up to do what I do best, but at the same time offer writers top talent in the industry at affordable prices.
When creating WANA International, I was tired of teaching using Yahoo loops. It was great they were free, but they made me want to throw myself in traffic. Face time is valuable, so we teamed up with Tech Surgeons for an INCREDIBLE interface. The program is being used to homeschool kids and it is just easy to use and very enjoyable and participants can SEE me and TALK to me, no matter where they live in the world.
Also I built WANATribe so writers could have a private class with a forum that made it easy to communicate and organize information.
Different writers need different levels of help and have different budgets. At WANA International we could scale the classes so that there was a price range. I see blogging classes out there that are $800 for a month, but that’s a price most of us can’t afford. At WANA my blogging class starts at $50 and goes up. Every level gets a lot of value, but as you increase in price, you just gain more webinars and personal attention from me. So everyone who takes the class gets the benefit and the team of support.
I tell you, the classes just get better and better and better. Every class I teach at WANA, I learn new stuff and new ways of doing things. Also, a lot of people take the classes over, but at a higher level. So someone might be basic in one class, but then come in Gold in the next. It is such a joy to have that extra time and watch them grow exponentially as artists.
How can WANA members help each other in the creative process and in promoting their products?
Again, promotion is overrated. We have to be careful teaming up to promote each other. People are savvy. I never recommend anything I haven’t vetted. I have seen authors do the “I recommended your book, now you recommend mine.” Problem? EVERYTHING we do on-line is also part of the brand. All it takes is recommending one book that stinks or that the formatting looks like it was done by a drunken chimpanzee to render all our recommendations worthless. I had a writing friend who became very angry with me because he “always retweeted my blogs but I never tweeted his.” But the thing was, his blogs were awful. He needed to grow. I wasn’t going to put my name on mediocre content.
WANA is wonderful, but people who really love us are honest. They will tell us the blog or the book needs work. People don’t like guilt trips, manipulation or being lied to, so working together is great, but we need to keep it real.
I think WANATribe is an excellent place to start. There are all kinds of tribes. Science Fiction Tribes, Erotica Tribes, Horror Tribes, YA, Kid-Lit, etc. This gives writers a place to connect to other professionals in their genre. There they can help each other, offer advice, feedback, beta reading, etc. Most business is done through personal connections. I am hiring a cover designer based off work he did for an author friend of mine. I know a lot of people in the tribes are open to beta reading, trading pages, etc. In WANA, you get what you give. If you give a lot, you will see the return a thousand fold.
In a recent blog post, you predicted that “traditional publishing has maybe another five years” and will likely fall to the strengths of indie publishing. What are some positive aspects of this change in power? How will it affect writers and other publishing industry professionals?
My problem with traditional publishing is the world is changing and they aren’t. We live in a world of instant messaging, 30-minute delivery pizza, Tweeting, UPS, and same-day delivery. To take a year to get a product to market just isn’t competitive. The pricing structure also doesn’t favor writers. There is a lot of bloat and needless overhead that is coming out of what can be paid to the writers. Small indie presses aren’t factoring fancy Manhattan rents into the price of the book. Additionally, the emerging market is digital and NY didn’t stake its claim when it would have mattered.
For the first time, fiction authors are making a good living. They have creative control, can write to demand and make money off their backlists. The current mid-list authors are going to wake up and realize the workload is the same, but the pay is WAY different. Mid-list authors already have to blog, tweet, have fan pages and newsletters and do blog tours. The difference? When it comes to e-books, the difference is 17% or 70%. Writers are bad at math, but we aren’t THAT bad.
Sure, a few years ago you could tell if a book was self-published. These days, if you hire the right people, the only way a shopper can tell the difference between an indie book and a traditional is price. A lot of people order books on-line, print and e-book. No one goes on Amazon looking for a “Random House” (or Random-Penguin). They look for snazzy covers, catchy titles and sample pages that hook them into the story. Indies can do all this and more.
Good books are good books and as more talent drifts indie, NY will have less revenue to maintain its bulk. So unless something radically changes, the future seems to look really similar to Tower Records and Kodak.
The downside of this transition is that NY provided a service—gatekeepers. We are being deluged with bad books and the slush pile is now in the lap of the reader. I see the .99 book becoming less popular because readers just got blitzed with junk. I think this is good because now people are willing to pay more for fiction, say $5.99 so they can feel assured the quality is better (sample pages help A LOT).
The paradigm shift is AWESOME for writers. Writers have a lot better odds of success. We just keep writing and eventually we will hit a tipping point. A lot of writers are viewing self-publishing like the lottery. Write one book and instant millionaire. This isn’t the case. Usually it takes a MINIMUM of three books to break out (even in traditional publishing). But, in traditional publishing, if the sales on the first book were lackluster, authors were frequently dropped.
Audiences take time to cultivate and the new paradigm offers that. Sure, the first four books might only sell a few copies, but book five? When people discover a writer they like, they tend to stick to them like glue and buy all they write. John Locke didn’t sell a million books in six months with ONE book; he did it with (I think) TWELVE books. Compounded sales are a good thing. Writers who can write to demand and who have a great work ethic can finally have writing career.
As far as how this will affect other industry professionals? They need to do just like writers and adapt. We’re having to learn new skills and wear a lot of hats, why are they immune? I think there are a lot of opportunities for those with an entrepreneurial spirit. The indie world is in need of talented cover designers, editors, book designers, formatters and even agents.
Part of the reason I’ve been frustrated with New York is that, with a little bit of creativity and a willingness to embrace the new, this could have been a new Golden Age of Publishing. There are unprecedented opportunities, but we have to be innovative and open to change.
Do you believe there are any drawbacks to publishing independently? What advice can you give to writers who want to publish their work independently? How can they ensure they produce a professional quality product?
It’s A LOT of work. Expect a tremendous workload, but the cool thing is you get to do what you love and actually stand a chance at making a living (even a GOOD living).
Also, to properly self-publish, expect to put out money. You will need a content editor, line-editor, book designer, formatter, cover designer, etc. Make friends in WANATribe. They can recommend good people who do great work. I know some writers who trade services. Maybe one writer is a fabulous copy editor and the other knows how to format and so they trade. WANA is full of these generous folks. I strongly recommend going to Vonda McIntyre’s web site. She’s a multi-published, Nebula-Award-Winning Author and she has a lot of free help for writers who want to go it alone.
You can have a fabulous cover for less than $300. Ask around. Get names. I look at what Simon & Schuster’s Author House self-publishing division is charging and laugh. Any writer who’s done more than a minute of homework knows those prices are absurd, if not insulting. There are a lot of talented people out there who do great work for affordable prices. We have to have capital to invest (but $500 is a reasonable starting place). We also will have to hire people and likely fire a few, too. I’ve fired at least six in the past year. It’s business.
Do you think social media will eventually lose some of its magic/influence? Will users one day get tired of Facebook, Twitter, etc?
No, social media isn’t a fad. It’s a fundamental shift in the way humans communicate. This would be like getting people to give up using phones or watching TVs. This is the biggest shift in human communication since the Gutenberg Press. We’ve been altered forever. It isn’t a physical change, more like a chemical change. It’s a cake that can’t be unbaked.
Do you have any new books or workshops coming up in the near future?
I am finishing my new book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World and it will be out late spring/early summer. I’m always teaching classes, I can’t help it. I LOVE helping writers. Just hop over to WANA International and find me. I also recommend the other instructors. WANA has some stellar talent among its ranks.
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley is an English/Marketing major at Whitworth University. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is an editor and a writer, and loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.