It stands to reason that I’ve been a reader far longer than I’ve been a writer. I began writing two years ago at the age of thirty-nine, so I have way more experience as a consumer of books than I do as a manufacturer. So today, I’d like to approach my writer friends, not as a fellow author, but as a reader with numerous years of experience.
We’re going to discuss platforms and social media as it pertains to attracting readership. Just like me, I’m sure you’ve read loads of articles written by authors experienced in the art of social media, or blogs written by savvy social media consultants interested in gaining new customers.
What makes this article different? I’m lending my opinion as a READER. I do not claim to be an expert at all. As a matter of fact, I confess to committing some of the same sins I’ll be listing below. I’m a self-proclaimed social media slacker, but don’t let this deter you from taking my advice, because as a READER, I know what I look for in a blog or an author’s website. And, to all of you authors who might be squirming in your seats right now, wondering if I’ll name names or site examples, the answer is YES, but I’m only calling myself on the carpet today, so settle back, relax, and make a solemn vow never to commit any of these Social Media and Website Sins ever again:
Sin #1 The Sporadic Blogger—Here today, gone tomorrow, the sporadic blogger blogs twelve times a day at first because blogging is her cool new toy. But, like all children, she eventually tires of her new plaything, or perhaps she just runs out of things to say. Maybe she’s too busy to blog. Whatever the case may be, the sporadic blogger runs the risk of either frightening off readers due to the crushing burden of non-stop emails they’re receiving letting them know their ex-favorite author has blogged yet again, or they risk losing potential readers because their blog has been abandoned for so long, the reader thinks the author has either lost her password, or decided to give up writing to attend clown school.
Solution: Space out your blogs. Plan them ahead of time. If you suddenly find yourself extra wordy, write your blogs, but save them for a period of drought.
Sin #2 The Stagnant Site—You had a pretty good site—two years ago. Since your last update, you’ve moved twice, changed your contact information, switched publishers, and completed three new novels. All your links are broken and no one can get in touch with you. Potential readers believe you are dead, because what other reason would prevent you from updating your website for two years? If I visit your site and I see something that says, “My new novel is scheduled for release in August 2009,” I’m going to assume you’re either lazy or dead. I won’t be back.
Solution: Review your site every once in a while and update as needed.
Sin #3 Facebook Fermentation—I am so, so guilty of this. You started that cool Facebook page and bullied some of your friends to ‘like’ it. Now what? Social media is only useful if you’re social. In other words, be sure to use your Facebook page as a way to reach potential readers.
Solution: Update it often. Make it your own, whether that’s by adding excerpts of your novels every Wednesday, or by recommending other books in similar genre. Be social. (Yeah, I know: takes a slacker to know a slacker.)
Sin #4 The Tireless Tweeter—It took a while for you to warm up to Twitter, but now that you have…watch out followers!!! You tweet about everything, dozens of times a day. Or, worse, you tweet links all day long. Links to your books. Links to other books. Links to articles. Links to everything. Your day is one, long, endless tweet. It’s okay to send out a few links here and there, but you should be using Twitter to foster relationships with potential readers, not to send out an endless supply of shortlinks and drivel.
Solution: Stop the mindless Tweeting and try sending out information you think your readers might enjoy even if it means promoting someone else’s book for a change.
Sin #5 The Promoter from Hell—Your Facebook page and Twitter accounts are used for one purpose—to promote. To hell with friendships, to hell with the people you stepped over to get where you are today, it’s all about promotion. Read my book. Read my blog. Buy my book. Make me rich. Wait? Where did all my followers go?
Solution: Less is more. Stick to one promotional message per day.
Sin #6 The Casino—If things blink and flash at me when I visit your site, I will gape in horror for approximately five seconds before I leave, never to return again. Sure, some readers might like the flashy, casino-like atmosphere you’ve created on your site, but others will not. Do you want to risk alienating a potential reader by driving them away with your blinking lights?
Solution: Save the laser light show for the 4thof July and stop the blinking now!
Sin #7 Redneck Rummage Sale—When I lived in Georgia, I decided to check out a few garage sales. I pulled up in front of one house, only to discover it was not the site of a yard sale, but merely a big cluttered mess. Some garage sales are better than others; some are organized by category with clearly stated prices, while others look like the homeowners simply tossed everything they owned across their lawn in hopes someone would rescue it from the rubble. I’ve seen websites that closely resemble a redneck rummage sale, with badges and gadgets strewn about the home page. There are links and pictures absolutely everywhere, and information is clustered in such a way that it would take a team of archaeologists to sift through it and make any sense of it. In today’s fast paced, busy world, there aren’t many people who will take time to pick through your virtual vomit.
Solution: Clean it up and make it visually appealing.
Sin #8 The Billboard—We’ve all seen it. Darla’s House of Romance and Fried Chicken. Or, Lizzie’s YA Fantasy and Shoe Repair. Okay, so I’m exaggerating just a tad, but
we’ve all visited author sites that display paid advertisements. Maybe you do this. I’ve checked into it—hey, anything to make some extra money so I can quit the dreaded day job. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s your site. Do what you want. But, consider the reader and his or her perception of your website or blog. While some readers might see paid advertising as a savvy effort to capitalize on your site, others might see it as a desperate attempt to make a bit of extra money so you can afford to quit the dreaded day job. Writing is a business, so if you want your readers to view you as a cunning businessperson, that is perfectly fine. But, if you want to be viewed as a master of literary fiction and a servant to the power of the written word, you might want to forgo the paid advertisements for businesses unrelated to the craft.
Solution: Decide how you would like to be perceived and go from there. There’s no right or wrong answer here.
Sin #9 The 30-Second Website—If your website is full of misspelled words and grammatical errors, if I click on a page or link and a window pops up that says “page not found,” if your site looks like you threw it together in 30 seconds, why would I want to spend more than 30 seconds visiting it? Chances are I won’t be there that long, nor will I try to follow your broken links to discover how I can buy your book. If you don’t care about your site, neither will your potential reader.
Solution: Take a few extra minutes to proofread your content and check your links.
Sin #10 The More, The Merrier—This one goes for websites, blogs, and Facebook pages. On Facebook, do you have an author page and pages for each one of your books? Some would call this a good marketing strategy, but if you’ve ever found yourself wanting to write a new book just so you could set up yet another Facebook page, you might have a problem. What’s wrong with multiple Facebook pages? So, so much. If you’re constantly asking people to ‘like’ some new page or another, they’re going to resent you. Do you have enough content for all twelve of your pages? Or, are you going to use the same tired update for all twelve pages? If you’ve somehow managed to coerce your friends into liking all twelve pages, guess what? They’ll receive twelve updates on their newsfeed with the exact same thing! See the problem?
Now, onto websites and blogs…Okay, I’ll admit I might have a small addiction to websites. I update my site (sites) too often, changing backgrounds and headers with an alarming frequency that might leave readers wondering if they’re on the right site at all because every time they visit, it looks drastically different. Sometimes I build sites just because I can. (I’m not proud of this.) So, here’s the problem with updating your site too often: it jars the reader if they see shocking changes every time they visit. They’ll think you’re indecisive or crazy or both.
Before everyone attacks me with a list of all my sins against social media, look at your own blog, website, Facebook page, or Twitter habits. Are you without sin? Have you struck the perfect balance between creating an author platform and creating a nuisance of yourself? I know I haven’t. It’s a work in progress. As an author, I’m a novice. But, as a READER, I’m a pro.