Sunday, December 29, 2013

Author Platforms

When it comes to an author platform, there are some things that an author really shouldn't talk about or post on their social media outlets using their author persona: politics, religion, anything considered even remotely related to either of those two topics, or any subject that could be construed as controversial. There's something to be said about an author using social networks to be social, and then there's using social networks in a social way that negatively affects an author's platform.

I just read an author's post that said the author's Facebook page had been shut down. The reason wasn't stated, but the post explained that this author, who writes male/male romance, posts "interesting" articles or links on a variety of subjects that have nothing to do with writing, but which are political in nature and include topics that many would find controversial, such as marriage equality and gay rights. The post also stated that pics of men kissing are among favorite pictures to post.

While a part of me applauds this author's courage to stand up for what he/she believes in, their author platform is not the place to do so. His/Her page was shut down because someone (probably a lot of someones) complained about the content on his/her page. Being that a lot of m/m authors don't get arbitrarily shut down simply for being an author of m/m romance, it's a good bet that it was the other non-writing related content that worked up whoever reported the author's page.

Was it worth it? Was it worth having the author's page shut down—a page he/she had built and put a lot of effort into, and which had an impressive number of likes? Just to voice his/her personal beliefs?

This is where it gets tricky for an author. I found this out recently when I posted my opinion on what I believe is an over-medication of kids with ADHD (more on this later). I never knew this topic was such a sensitive one, but as an author, I NEVER should have posted my personal beliefs and feelings about something like that using my author platform. That's not what an author platform is for. It's not what MY author platform is for. Here's an excellent post that defines author platform and what activities make up and detract from it:

I've excerpted out a couple of sections from that blog post, highlighting a couple of key points:

What platform is NOT
  • It is not about self-promotion.
  • It is not about hard selling.
  • It is not about annoying people.
  • It is not about being an extrovert.
  • It is not about being active on social media.
  • It is not about blogging.
  • It is not about your qualifications, authority, or experience, although these are tools for growing or nurturing a platform.
  • It is not something you create overnight.
  • It is not something you can buy.
  • It is not a one-time event.
  • It is not more important than your story or message (but hopefully it grows out of that).

What activities build platform?

First and foremost, platform grows out of your body of work—or from producing great work. Remember that. The following list is not exhaustive, but helps give you an idea of how platform can grow.
  • Publishing or distributing quality work in outlets you want to be identified with and that your target audience reads.
  • Producing a body of work on your own platform—e.g., blog, e-mail newsletter, social network, podcast, video, digital downloads, etc—that gathers quality followers. This is usually a longterm process.
  • Speaking at and/or attending events where you meet new people and extend your network of contacts.
  • Finding meaningful ways to engage with and develop your target audience, whether through content, events, online marketing/promotion, etc.
  • Partnering with peers or influencers to tackle a new project and/or extend your visibility.
If something has the ability to annoy another, even if it's just a faint possibility, it should not be posted. There's a reason why politics and religion are the two subjects everyone says never to discuss in social situations. They are extremely volatile subjects that can turn a friendly evening into a war. I've seen it happen. Gay rights? Marriage equality? Your beliefs on Catholicism or Islam? Nope...they're off limits unless you want to risk putting yourself—and your fan page—and your business—in jeopardy, not to mention your readership. Look at what one poorly timed, socially controversial comment from the Duck Dynasty guy did. Do you want that to be you?

Some might be saying right about now, "Well, my target audience is one that reads m/m romance, so I should be able to post about gay rights and marriage equality. I should be able to post pics of two guys making out, because my readers like that." Wrong. I write erotic romance and have a reader group where only fans of my stories are members. Even so, when another member began posting pictures that were a little too racy or provocative, some of my members grew uncomfortable. I had a few leave the group. I had another message me and tell me that while she loved the group, she couldn't have those pictures coming up in her newsfeed, even though the models weren't showing their private parts. I write pretty graphic erotically charged sex scenes. Nothing is left to question. So, shouldn't my readers enjoy pictures of half naked hot men? Why would they complain about something like that when what they're reading something I've written that's ten times worse?

The truth is that reading something and seeing something are two totally different things. Reading hot scenes is a lot easier to hide than seeing hot pictures. And the reality is that people view Facebook at work and in front of their families, which include kids. They want to know that they're not going to pull up a picture that could upset a coworker, boss, child, or husband who might be looking over their shoulder. And to be honest, even I was uncomfortable with some of the pictures being posted. Me. The author who writes the graphic sexy-smexy stuff. So, I'll say it again, just because someone likes to read it (or write it) doesn't mean they want to see it. It doesn't make them a prude (I dare anyone to call me a prude, because that is so not the case), but there is something to be said for good taste and reader respect.

And just because someone reads m/m romance doesn't mean they want to be exposed to your opinions on gay rights and marriage equality. Your readers follow you because of your BOOKS, not your opinions. I've had to unfriend authors who posted constantly about their political agenda, their beliefs, etc. I wanted to ask them, are you an author or an activist? I've left behind m/m authors who posted rants about anti-gay bloggers, anti-gay politicians, anti-gay everything. It was like, OMG, do you have a life outside the world of homosexuality and political activism? I hadn't followed those authors because I wanted to be exposed on a daily basis to their anger and rants about the injustices against gay people. I get that enough from the news. I mean, hey, I'm all about marriage equality and gay rights, too, but my author platform is not the place for me to throw my beliefs about those topics out into the world.

If you're an author, then be an author. If you have a strong belief about marriage equality, write it into the character development of your next book (as long as you're not preaching to the reader through your characters, using real-world controversial topics can create a wonderful plot arc. I use them all the time to great effect with my readers. In fact, my m/m romance, Heart of the Warrior won over an enormous amount of traditionally het readers and positively changed more opinions about gay rights than any post I could have written ever could, and I have the fan feedback to prove it). But don't spew your opinions and beliefs on your wall and think your readers like it, because more often than not, they don't. And it sends a confusing message about your intentions. If you're an author, be an author. Engage your readers and followers in constructive, less antagonistic ways, and you'll cultivate a loyal fan following.

Remember my example of how I posted my opinion regarding ADHD medication? I lost two readers from that post. Two that I know about. All because I used my platform to voice a personal opinion I never should have posted. How many others turned away from me that I'm not even aware of because of that five-minute mistake? All the work and cultivation I had done to build my readership, my platform, and social relationships with my fans/friends was annihilated in a blink from one careless post. Over a year of hard work and careful cultivation was destroyed for at least two of my followers over a subject I had no idea was so sensitive. My words were twisted by one into something I never even said, to the point that she called me an ignorant judgmental bitch—over something I didn't even say, but which she perceived incorrectly from what I did say. But there was nothing I could do. Nothing I could say at that point. None of the funny, witty, socially acceptable comments I'd made in the past year-and-a-half that this person had liked made a bit of difference. In less than five minutes, I killed all that with one misguided post that never should have gone on my platform.

I will NEVER make that mistake again.

So, I speak from experience when I tell all authors to watch what they post. Make sure it relates to your platform and can cause no fallout among your readers. This is especially true for self-publishers, who have no agent, publisher, or publicist shielding you and guiding your social endeavors. Be smart, guard your platform like the priceless entity it is, and leave the controversial subjects to someone else. And if you really can't NOT speak out about those political, religious, and controversial topics, at least don't do it using your author platform. Start a page elsewhere that doesn't connect in any way to your author platform. That's a lot safer.

I'll visit "author platform" again with my 365 Ways to Improve Your Writing Series coming in 2014.

Happy writing!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Resolutions and My Advice to New Writers

A new year is right around the corner. Time to make your New Year's Resolutions. They need to be measurable, challenging, yet attainable. I'm keeping mine simple:

1) Reach 1,000,000 words written
2) Publish six books
3) Begin a social media series of posts called "365 Ways to Improve Your Writing"
4) Write one blog post per week on that week's 365 ways.

So, while I was thinking about next year's goals, I started thinking about what advice I would give new authors going into their first full year of self publishing. What kind of goals would a new author be wise in making in 2014?

You see a lot of authors buying a bunch of swag and hosting tons of giveaways, book launch parties, blog tours, etc., and for someone just coming in to the world of self publishing, it could be very tempting to go gung-ho all-out and do it all. But here's what I've found after trying this route: It's extremely 1) time-consuming, 2) exhausting, and 3) not necessarily as productive as you'd think. In 2013, I did three blog tours (one that lasted two months and took about 160+ hours to prepare for and run), ran several giveaways, and hosted my first book launch party for my latest release, Return of the Assassin (which also took about 20+ hours to prepare for). Here's what I found worked and didn't work so much:

Blog tours are great to help get the word out about a new author or a new book, but you have to be ready to put in a LOT of time and effort to do one. Even one that lasts only a week or two takes a ton of preparation and effort. You should write a unique post for each blog, not simply recycle the same post over and over. Bloggers want to see the effort. Some bloggers won't even host you if you give them a recycled post. Read what other authors are writing on their blog tour posts to get an idea about what works and what doesn't. Shorter is better, however, I have written "short stories" for my AKM Series as blog posts, and fans love those. I've interviewed characters from my books, written holiday themed posts, and all sorts of fun things. Be unique. Be fun. That's the trick. But blog tours are great ways of networking and gaining exposure. I've made some great friends from blog tours.

Swag? Eh. I've bought hundreds of dollars worth of swag and haven't seen any return on investment. Swag is nice to have to hand out, but be smart about what you buy. Don't just buy it to buy it. Unless you're going to a book convention or are to a point where you're doing big giveaways, you really don't need it. Swag is an expense you can hold off on if you're a new writer.

Giveaways. There are varying opinions about giveaways. I've done them, but haven't seen any increase in business because of them. For me, they just don't work to gain new readers or impact sales. If someone is interested in your book, they're going to buy your book. Not because you gave away a Kindle Fire, but because your book enticed them. For me, a giveaway is more a way for me to give back to my fans than to find new ones. So, if you're looking for new fans, giveaways probably aren't the way to find them. They'll enter your contest, win or not win, and move on to the next contest and/or to a writer they know.

Book launch party. My launch for Return of the Assassin was HUGE! It was a three-hour event, and I couldn't keep up with the activity and buzz it created among readers. More posts came at me faster than I could reply. With that said, a launch party when you're a brand new author could leave you depressed. You haven't yet built up an audience, so it might psychologically depress you when only four or five people show up. I never threw a launch party for any of my first five books, but I felt it was time with ROTA. But I kid you not, after three hours, I was a vegetable from exhaustion. Wow!

Just Write For Right Now
With all that said, if you're a new author, what do you do to gain new readers? Here's my ultimate advice: WRITE. Just write. Learn how to write better. Study writing. Don't worry about blog tours, swag, giveaways, launch parties, or any of that other stuff. There's plenty of time for all that later. Build your body of work, and focus on quality, not quantity. I've known authors who put out a book a month and don't sell squat, because the quality of their books suffers from the constant churn to get the next book published fast. And then I've seen the authors who've published one book that was well written and carefully planned, and they make enough from that one book to retire from their job. One author I know made the New York Times Bestsellers with her third book and was able to quit her job, all because she wrote well, not often. She is very successful now, and she has a rabid following. But it all began with excellent quality. So, that should be your primary focus as a new author.

For me, I spent 2013 doing everything but writing, and I have vowed to get back to the basics in 2014. I won't be running any big giveaways, nor will I do any big blog tours, if any at all. I won't be attending any book conventions, either. In today's market, an author needs to be prolific to be successful. And as a writer, I need to write, so this works great for me. I only published two books this year, and that's not good enough. With six on next year's docket, I need to focus on writing first and foremost. And isn't that what it's all about for writers, anyway? The need to write? Once you've got a healthy body of work, then you can start adding in the other stuff (see below). That's when blog tours, giveaways, and parties will have the greatest impact, anyway. To do giveaways and tours and parties with only one or two books for sale is kind of like dumping baby fish into a pond and then immediately going fishing. Let the fish mature before you fish them out, otherwise you're just wasting time and effort. So, in 2014, I write. In 2015 I'll promote.

Best Thing I Ever Did To Gain New Readers
With five books on the market, I ran a freebie of my first book, Rise of the Fallen in January of this year. Sales had been steady but slow, but after I put up my freebie (and spent $100 to advertise it on a couple of sites), downloads went through the roof. I think I had over 100,000 downloads of ROTF in one month. Sales of the other books skyrocketed, and the likes on my Facebook fan page took off. Within three months, I'd made more from book sales than I had in a year at my day job. I haven't looked back since. BUT...without a decent body of work already published, the freebie would have been a waste. So, I repeat, get a body of work published, and THEN start your hard marketing and promotion.

Good luck! And here's to a happy and productive 2014


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Protecting Reviewer's Rights

A troubling new practice has recently been brought to my attention. One that disturbs me and leaves me scratching my head all at once. Authors, publishers, and blog tour organizers are telling reviewers what kind of reviews can and can't be posted for their books.

I'd love to hear from reviewers if you have encountered this, but here are my initial thoughts on this subject.

First of all, nobody has a right to tell a reviewer what they can and can not say in a review. One gal I know writes extremely humorous reviews. She's magnetic in her humor, and I love reading her posts. So do a lot of other people. She recently started a review blog. She's an avid reader and wanted a place to express her writing and her opinions of the books she reads. So, she read a book, wrote a review, and then sent it to the author before posting it. The author replied that she didn't want the review posted because, in her opinion, it "made a mockery of the seriousness of her literature." The book was about naughty aliens, according to this reviewer, "serious" could that be? It's not like we're talking Tolkien or Shakespeare here. And the review was a good one. It just had a humorous flare. What author turns down a good book review?

Another friend of mine, who has been reviewing books for quite some time, said that she has been asked to take down reviews that were deemed "too negative" and that authors, publishers, and now blog tour organizers are telling reviewers that they can't post anything less than a 3.5 star review of a book...and some won't allow anything less than a 4-5 star.

In my opinion, this is absolutely WAY out of line. For authors, publishers, and blog tour organizers to dictate what a book reviewer says about their books goes against a reviewer's freedom of speech. If an author doesn't want an honest review of their work, then they have no business writing. By the very nature of the profession, once an author publishes their work, they have no control over what the public thinks, nor should they try to sway, persuade, edit, force, or bully anyone to say only positive things about their work. By writing and publishing a book, an author is saying that it is free to be reviewed by whoever wants to review it however they choose to do so.

A reviewer does not need to seek ANY author's opinion or approval for ANY review he or she writes, and I have never been asked by a reviewer to give my approval. That's not my place. I've done my job by writing the book. Now it's the reviewer's job to do theirs without my interference, and if I'm lucky, I'll garner some honest criticism that will help me write my next book. And if anyone ever did ask me for my approval of their review, I would politely express that it's their review for them to write it how they want. Reviewers are not obligated to seek an author's acceptance of their reviews. That is their opinion and their writing, whether bad or good. Just as an author is free to write a story in whatever manner they want, a reviewer has the right to express him- or herself the same way and publish their work free of an author's intrusive editing or dictation of their work.

Again, this is my opinion. What's yours? Are you a reviewer who has been told to remove a negative review or that you had to post a good one to be included on a blog tour, etc.? I'd like to hear from you.