The White Hat Promo Manifesto

After my last post, I got some valuable feedback from a reader who was “dismayed” that, in essence, I was advocating a new way of “infiltrating” the Amazon forums, or any forums, for that matter.  That I was suggesting ways to trick readers.

She was worried that my stance of connecting and giving it a couple of months before mentioning a release was a carefully crafted plan.

In re-reading my post, honestly, I don’t blame her.  I wasn’t clear enough.  So today, I want to make my position on promotion as clear, I hope, as possible.

But first, a lurid, “hooky” header…

How is book promotion like sex?

Let’s say you’re a single guy.

You’re lonely.  You’d like companionship, someone to spend time with, among other things.  You don’t consider yourself particularly adept with the opposite sex, and you’re shy.

What you do know: your chances of finding Ms. Right while staying in your hermit cave are between slim and none.

You realize that one of your biggest problems is you hate this dating thing.  You don’t know what to say, or do, and you don’t know when to say or do it.  You’re not sure why anyone would say “yes” and you fear the pain of hearing “no.”

You decide you need help.  You need a plan of action.

“Black Hat” or “Evil” approach.

You see an ad from a guy who teaches classes on how to be a “hundred percent success!” with women.  He’s a pick-up artist, a successful one.

In these classes, you learn how to ignore the pain of rejection.  You learn to be flamboyant and attract attention while minimizing your defects.  You learn who to prey on.  You learn how to use psychological cues to zero in on women’s weak spots, and improve your chances.

Above all, you learn it’s a number game.  For every five to ten women you offend, one will eventually succumb.  The key to success, then, is not in your attractiveness, or your compatibility. It’s in your persistence and the sheer quantity of your invitations.

These classes emphasize another number: your success rate.  How many women you “pick up.”

These classes do not teach you how to sustain a relationship.  Considering the techniques you used to get the connection, it’s not like you’ve got a strong foundation to begin with.

You’re able to manage a number of one-night stands, but at the end of the program, you’re right back where you started: alone.

“White Hat” approach.

You decide you don’t want to simply bag a large number of random women, and keep up the numbers game.  You want a meaningful relationship with one woman who is right for you.

You go to therapy.  You do work on yourself.  You accept yourself as you are, recognizing what you have to offer as well as what you have to overcome.

You get as clear about who you want, what’s a definite and what’s a deal-breaker.  You think about where women with the qualities you’re looking for are most likely to be found, and start going there.  If you’d love to find someone athletic, you join a hiking club or marathon training.  If you’re interested in someone who loves old movies, you’d join a movie club.

You might work with matchmakers.  You might try online dating.  You could let friends fix you up.  If you’re determined, you might try all of the above.  You realize there are a number of available paths.

Finally, when you meet someone, you’re gentle, non-pressuring, and you give the relationship time to develop.  You go for coffee.  Maybe dinner.  You date for a while.

When you do propose, she says yes.  But to keep the marriage going, you don’t take her for granted. You don’t ignore her and chase other women in front of her.  You don’t forget to send flowers. You appreciate, check in, and give your best.

All the above applies, almost exactly, to book promotion.

Predator marketing.

Hard sell manipulative tactics are like being a pick-up predator.  You’re looking to score a sale from anyone who’s half-way willing to buy.  Often, you try to bend the truth to seem more like what they’re interested in.  “You love thrillers?  There’s a mystery in mine!” you say, even though you know it’s really a comedy with a light, ridiculous suspense subplot woven in.  But you don’t care — you’re trying to close the deal and make one more sale.

If someone does pick up a book under these circumstances, odds are unlikely that they’ll become fans.

Congratulations… you’ve just made what I call a one sale stand.  You don’t have a relationship with your reader.  And like a pick-up, when you’re done, many of them will walk away feeling screwed.

Permission marketing.

Permission marketing, on the other hand, takes a bit longer, and takes more work.  Finding and connecting with your Right Reader is a lot like getting married. For one thing, you don’t just wander up to someone and say, “hey, you read books!  Want to buy mine?”  To stretch the analogy, that would be like going up to a total stranger and saying, “hey, you’re single, but appear to like sex!  Want to hook up?”

You need to know what makes your book special. That will tell you who your Right Reader is… the type of person who is looking for just what you offer.

Then, you can follow the relationship arc:  you “meet” the readers where they hang out (book blogs, websites, conventions) and strike up a connection.  You interact when you bump into each other in comments or on forums designed for interaction.

The reader likes what you’re saying — she goes to your blog, and learns more about you.  She knows and likes you. When your book comes out, she’s more than ready to give you a try.

If she’s your Right Reader, you’ve got a fan for life — one that, if you respect her with quality books and continuous appreciation, will be worth more than a hundred “pick-up” sales because it’s easier to keep her happy than spend the time and energy finding new sales.

Bottom line:

At Rock Your Writing, we only wear White Hats. Want to be a pick up artist?  Door’s over there.

If you wear a White Hat, please re-tweet or like this post.

 

Photo by A. Germain.

When Self Promotion Attacks

I was recently reading a discussion over on the Amazon discussion boards about a new feature Amazon is introducing, to try and crack down on the infestation of blatant, clumsy, and otherwise invasive self-promo that has been cropping up, choking out a lot of reader discussion. (One reader called the forum “Village of the Spamned.”)  The readers on the romance forum were overjoyed that Amazon was finally policing their policy.

Frankly, I can’t blame them. And as one commenter pointed out, “the worst part is, their publishers are telling them to do this.”

The difference between good self promotion, and bad self promotion.

You’ve got a book coming out in a few months.  Your publisher tells you, “You need to start building your platform!  Get out there!  Get on some forums!”

They don’t tell you what to say, or how to say it.  They’re not quite sure which forums they’re talking about, although “That KindleBoards thing seems to be really hot, look at what it’s done for Amanda Hocking!”

They don’t tell you about the culture.  And they don’t prepare you for what’s about to happen next.

One of the lowest rings in hell.

If you’re a true introvert, going into a busy, social forum can be like going to a cocktail party where you don’t know anyone.  You’re a little nervous to make a comment, because you’re afraid you’re either going to be mocked or ignored.

At this point, you’re not quite sure which is worse.

But your publisher has told you to get your name out there, and damn it, you’re about to tunnel out from your cubicle with plastic spoons you’ve stolen from the break room. You are going to make this book a success if it kills you.

So you jump on a board, and announce:

“Hi, my name is Jane Author, and I’ve got a book out in two months.  It’s about (one sentence high concept elevator pitch)!  I hope you like it!”

Then you duck behind a couch and pray that the worst doesn’t happen.

What’s the worst?

You will hear one of two things.

One:  the awkward chirps of crickets as there is a huge crush of indifference to your post, and various conversations continue around you.

Or two:  the quick “fwoomp” sound of flamethrowers being lit, as you are roundly pointed out as a self-aggrandizing clumsy promowhore who is automatically not going to be purchased by anyone in the near future.

Actually, there is a third sound you might overlook: the soft “click” of a link called:  report abuse.

Obviously, you don’t want to do that.

Don’t do this, either.

Some authors try the Clumsy Random Segue.

Let’s say there’s a discussion going on about albino vampires who drink V8.  You have a vampire book.  You then post a comment like this:

“I love vampire books!  In fact, that’s why I wrote my vampire book.  It’s called Puncture and it comes out in June!”

Again.  Crickets or flames, or that soft little click.

So what do you do?

Pretend you’re a reader.  Only a reader.

That doesn’t mean put on the persona of a reader.  That means tap into that part of yourself that started out just loving books, unaware that you would also one day be writing your own and having them published.

It doesn’t mean that you lie and say you don’t write books. It means you don’t mention it unless someone asks.  Don’t make a big production of it.  Don’t make a signature block that looks like a billboard.

Just say, “Hi, I’m Jane Author.  I love books by (favorite authors.)”

Contribute.

If you can give something to the conversation, even if it’s just “I didn’t know about this author, thanks for the rec!” or “I can not wait until (whoever’s) next book comes out.”

Or if you know other authors that you genuinely love, not that you’re trying to impress or whatever, mention them.

“So how does that help build my platform?”

One is the number one reason why readers don’t read your books?  It’s not because they don’t know about them.  It’s not because they’re not interested in the concept.

The number one reason a reader doesn’t buy your book is because she does not trust you.

These days, even $1.99 can be too much to risk on a book that’s going to suck.  She needs some reassurance.

She doesn’t need to hear how cool your premise is.  Doesn’t want to know who your main characters are.  Doesn’t care about your blog tour.

She wants to know that you’re like her: someone who loves stories.  And who hates being harassed by over eager advertising.

“Am I supposed to befriend 100,000 readers to make a bestseller list, then?  I don’t have that kind of time!”

There is a short-cut, of sorts, to this “get to know me” approach.  If you’re on a forum, odds are good you are connecting with connectors.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he mentions Connectors, people who are part of a large group of “loose bond” friends.  They also tend to be really plugged in, and have an almost compulsive need to share information with their networks.

You don’t need to know everybody in the network.  You just need to know the Connector… and have her vouch for you.

They even have a fancy information marketing name for it.

SOCIAL PROOF.

I’ll be blogging more about social proof soon, but in the meantime, if you’re on a forum, think about what you’re posting.  Pretend you don’t know you.  If someone sent you that post… how would you feel?

If you’ve been the victim of some other author’s self-promo attack, or otherwise found this article helpful, be a love and hit the Retweet button, please?  😀

UPDATE:

I just wanted to clarify a few things, after some very cogent points from the fine folk on the Amazon romance forum.

This is NOT advocating “okay, Amazon is cracking down, we’re just going to be more covert in our attempts to snag readers.”

This “strategy” is not about figuring out a “sneaky backdoor to promotion.”  No, no, NO!

Yes, you want to promote your books as an author.  Nobody’s saying shave your head, wear brown paper robes and give away your fiction for free.

What I am saying is:  people in forums do not wish to be “promoted at.”

Let me repeat that, loudly.  PEOPLE IN FORUMS DO NOT WANT TO BE “PROMOTED AT”!

So what do they want?

They want to have conversations about books they enjoy, and don’t enjoy.  They want to share a love of reading and connect around a passion we all should share.

They are not sheep waiting to be fleeced.  They’re not a market to be harvested.  They are people who love to read.

I’m going to be blogging about having a strategy without sounding like a criminal mastermind, too.  Sounds like I’ve got a busy week!  😀

 

Torture for Fun and Profit

As part of both my writing course and my critique service, I get to see the framework of a lot of stories in progress.  When it comes to conflict in general, and Black Moments in particular, there’s one thing I’ve noticed over and over.

People pull their punches.

They get to the Black Moment, and it’s really more of a Light Gray Moment.  What happens is… unpleasant.  Possibly even upsetting.

As a reader, I don’t want unpleasant or upsetting.  I want soul-crushing*.  I want to be tied up in knots.  I want to stay up until three a.m., wondering how this character is going to get out of this predicament.

*And if you think this doesn’t apply because you’re writing comedy, you are so very, very wrong.  I direct you to THE HANGOVER, which is a funny gross-out movie, a perfect mystery, and a great example of how to raise stakes.

How to crush a soul (successfully.)

There are four questions you have to answer for your reader before you can have a true soul-crushing Black Moment:

1.  “Why do I care about this character?”

Usually, this is interpreted as: is my character sympathetic? Can the reader relate to the character?  Because relating to a character means your reader can imagine herself in the same situation.  She would care if it was happening to her.  That’s one step closer to caring about the character.  Bottom line: your character needs to be interesting, in an intriguing situation.  The situation will carry you until we learn more about the character. (One further note: she doesn’t need to completely empathize.  I love the show Dexter, and I can’t imagine chopping people up.  That said, I relate to his misguided sense of justice… and I look at the building conflict and go, Wow, how would I get out of that?)

2.  “What am I rooting for?”

Once you’ve managed to create a character readers can care about, you’ve got to go to the next step.  Readers need a clear and tangible outcome to root for.  Like any good goal, you need to know when you’ve achieved it.  Be crystal clear.

3.  “What happens if the character doesn’t get it?”

This is what’s known as creating high stakes.  If the answer to your character not getting what she wants is “she’ll be unhappy” then you do not have stakes. You’ve got a tangible outcome, right? You need a tangible consequence for failure.  If the ending means the character doesn’t achieve her goal, but there’s still a happy ending because she realizes that she didn’t need it, this still applies.  She has to feel shattered and hit rock bottom before realizing that.  She can’t simply have “an awakening.”  (See point 4.)

4.  “What’s stopping the character from getting it?”

This is the whole shebang:  conflict.  What’s standing in the way of success?  It not only needs to be sizable enough to require a lot of ingenuity and effort, it needs to escalate… like climbing a mountain, you’d better make sure every step gets harder. Oh, and be wary of internal conflict.  If your character has a goal of, say, getting married, and she’s got a proposal and everything but her conflict is her abandonment issues, if you’re able to solve it by saying “she decided her abandonment issues didn’t matter” then I have news for you:  YOU DO NOT HAVE CONFLICT.

Once you’ve got these four elements, you’re ready to craft a truly soul-crushing Black Moment.

The soul-crush.

Take your goal.  Look at precisely what your character wants, and why she wants it.

Next, write down a list of the ten worst things that could happen in terms of those characteristics.  For example, let’s say you’ve got a character who wants to get married by the time she’s thirty.  The reason why:  she’ll inherit a billion dollars… and she’s been struggling financially, trying to make ends meet to cover the expenses of a demanding and dysfunctional family as well as pay for school.

From a Black Moment standpoint, it has to look like she is not going to get the money, because she’s not going to get married.  To really make it worse, she’d get kicked out of school and disowned.  See?  No punches pulled there.  And say she fell in love with someone who doesn’t believe in marriage, and she was going to married some other guy just to get the money.  Bam!  She loses the guy she’s in love with, too!

At that point, she could also get hit by a truck.  Or maybe learn an asteroid is heading toward her home town.  Those are, admittedly, Very Bad Things.  However, they don’t really tie to the goal and motivation, so they don’t really apply.  The Black Moment must be in terms of what your goal and motivation have set up.

Donald Maass suggests a great trick:  write down at least twenty possibilities for scenarios where this could go.  The first ten will probably be stereotypical, complete cliches — what the reader’s expecting.  The next ten is where the juice is.  Stretch yourself.

Where the torture comes in.

You might think that the torture in the title means torturing your protagonist.  That’s true, to a certain extent.  More importantly, you need to torture your readers.  You’re putting someone they care about in gradually increasing pain.  Worse, you’re making them watch!

The really amazing thing?

They’ll thank you for it.  Pay you for it.  And keep coming back for more.

If you know this advice but you’re still having trouble making the elements work, now’s a great time to try my Mad Plotter special (which I might rename Plot Dominatrix in light of this post. <g>)

For $50, we’ll have an hour conversation, sort out your chaos, identify your plot points, ratchet up your conflict, and increase your torture.  (It’s only $25 if you’re on my monthly tips list.)  And if you know of anyone who might be interested in this service, please forward or retweet!

 

Don’t Panic

*Note: this is a reprint of the earlier article from my “imploded” version of the blog. I’ll be posting the ones I’ve been able to recover. Thanks for your patience!

I have been hearing a lot of discussion about epublishing lately. Can it be successful? Is it going to destroy everything we, as writers, have built toward? Will only a few authors “make it” while the rest drown in the anonymity of the glut of authors running toward the low-to-no barriers of self epublishing?

First: Don’t Panic.

It was true for Arthur Dent, it’s true for us. Things are moving quickly, but there is still time to breathe, to ruminate… to write. Keep calm and carry on, as the famous war poster advises. If you”re going to be published by the Big 6, or by yourself on Kindle, or on clay tablets in cuneform, you still need to keep writing. Focus on what you can control.

Second: Take Stock.

Where are you in your writing career? If you’ve been published and are currently riding high on bestseller lists — well, welcome to my blog, I”m flattered you”re here. If you’re in the mid-list and wondering where to turn next, what do you want? I’ve advocated looking at goals before, and this is no exception. If you”re looking to make mondo bucks up front, then a break-out with a traditional publisher is what you need… but it’s a long shot. If you”re writing in a relatively unpopular niche, then epublishing might be better for you.

Third: Find Your Tribe.

I repeat this, and repeat this, and repeat this. But it still remains the same. Whether you”re publishing traditionally or electronically (or on clay tablets), you still need to connect with your tribe of readers. This means finding reader groups to contribute to and befriend.

Yes, befriend.

You’re going to need to offer something: input on other books, sympathetic listening, a sense of community. You”re going to become part of the culture. You”re going to go native.

Then, when you”ve got a release, you’re going to tell them. And they’re going to be happy for you… because you’re one of them. Rejoicing with you is celebrating the community.

“But I hate promotion!”

If you hate promotion, then I would say you’ve got one problem: a crisis of confidence. You”re shy, or you don”t want to bother someone with what you perceive to be an imposition. You don”t believe your work is worth interrupting someone to talk about. This is difficult, but not impossible, to overcome. I’m sure there are ways to build your own confidence. I”m going to write about personal word choice, and how your thoughts dictate your outer perceptions: self-fulfilling prophecies.

If you think you suck at promotion, guess what?

You’re going to suck at promotion.

That said, I also know that trying to bully your subconscious into playing ball is like trying to push back a river. So there”s an easier way.

Join a writer tribe first.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two: Writer Unboxed on Facebook, and Savvy Authors. Savvy Authors requires a paid membership: $30 a year gets you a whole bunch of stuff, including their yahoo email loop connection, which I love. Either way, you can lurk for a while, reading other authors. You’ll know that they”re on there for support, as well as to celebrate their accomplishments or ask for help. You’ll dip your toes in. Tell someone she had a good post. Mention a blog you”ve written. Tell them when you”ve completed a manuscript.

You”ll be surprised and pleased by the response. They’re all writers: they want you to succeed. No flaming, no buzzkills, no harshness. Just support. In fact, you could be whiny, or lame, or whatever, and guess what? They’ll still be good to you. (I wouldn’t advocate that all the time, but let’s face it: sometimes we suck. Better to suck in sympathetic company before moving out into the world.)

You’ll also find that it becomes a little easier to open up. You might share some of your work. Find critique partners (for the love of God, find crit partners. You write alone, but you don’t get published alone.) You’ll start to hear promising feedback as well as constructive criticism. You’ll start to grow.

In short, they’ll believe in you until you’re strong enough to believe in yourself.

This is the point of a writer’s community, and it”s one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal. If you’re scared of the future of publishing and unsure of how to move forward, come on. It’s not an emergency: it’s a party for those of us who are facing the future together.

There’s room for one more. Come on in.

You Are Not Apple: Building A Fiction Brand

*Note: this is a reprint of the earlier article from my “imploded” version of the blog. I’ll be posting the ones I’ve been able to recover. Thanks for your patience!

What do you think when you hear: “Build your author brand?”

Most of the time, when people think “brand” they think of the big brand name corporations: Nike, Starbucks, the ubiquitous Apple.  They think of a snappy logo and a clever tagline.  They think color schemes and websites and promo items that all have your name on it.

These are elements, but they’re not a brand.

The best discussion of brand I’ve ever seen has been on Naomi Dunsford’s brilliant site Ittybiz.  (Careful if you’re skittish about language – she can run a bit blue.)  In a nutshell: brand is simply how your audience perceives you.

Brand cannot be controlled, although it can be influenced.  Every single thing you do, every interaction you have with your audience – whether it’s an email you send, a blog comment you make, and especially your books themselves – influence how your reader thinks of you.

Basically, if someone asked your reader “when you hear (your name), what do you think of?”  her answer is your brand.  It could be “funny mysteries.”  It could be “family saga.”  It could be “violent, gritty suspense.”  It could be “Irish stories.”  It could even be “bitch who refused to sign my author copies without saying goodbye.”

The perception is the brand.

The question to ask is: how do you want to be perceived?  How do you want readers to answer that question?

For fiction authors, here are some of the easiest elements to hang your branding on:

  • Subject matter:  Think Karie Marie Moning, and you’ll probably think Highlanders.  Carl Hiassen, you’ll think Native American.  Jim Butcher?  Probably a wisecracking wizard P.I. in Chicago. When readers love a particular archetype or specific subgenre, you’ll be there, giving them exactly what they want. Debbie Macomber covers small towns to perfection, giving readers a sense of comfort and “small town living.”  (This includes her non-fiction knitting books, her recipes, and her website, whose tagline is: “Wherever you are, Debbie takes you home…”)
  • Genre:  Stephen King is known as a master of horror, no matter what the horror turns out to be – vampires, aliens, psychopathic readers. Jodi Piccoult goes hand in hand with tear-jerking women’s fiction.  It’s not enough to build your brand strictly on genre, but it’s a good place to start.
  • Series:  J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series.  Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series.  Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta mysteries.  Create a character and a world that readers love, and they will not only loyally follow it, they will transfer their enjoyment of the series to you.
  • Voice:  Jennifer Crusie has a very distinctive humorous voice that readers respond to, whether she’s writing romantic comedy, light suspense, or even paranormal-tinged horror.  Chuck Palahniuk is known as a “transgressional fiction novelist” that tackles violent, edgy, and darkly humorous work.  Whatever the story line – whether it’s sex addiction, underground fight clubs, or transsexual thieves – you connect with the voice above all.

Whatever you decide to focus on, pick something you can emphasize.  Everything else should subtly (or not so subtly) resonate with this branding.  Stephen King often writes about small towns, for example… and so does Debbie Macomber.  Try switching their website graphics, and you would wind up with some very confused readers.

Also, keep in mind: brand is reader perception of you.  So if you decide you’re changing your brand, it’s going to be difficult for readers to catch up.  Look at Anne Rice.  She’s denounced her horror past, writing strictly about religious topics.  But she’s always going to be known for “Interview with a Vampire.”  You may need to start with a new pen name and a new “brand” to get the results you want.