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Archive for July, 2011

Ian Irvine’s Adventures using Facebook …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 30, 2011

Last January I posted on my historical book promotion efforts: and at the end I talked about poking a tentative toe into the murky sea of social media. Some time back Rowena kindly invited me back to provide an update on my adventures with Facebook, my successes and failures, insights and disappointments, and finally, after missing many deadlines, here it is.

Why Use Social Media?

Why did I decide to put so much time and effort into social media, I hear you ask? Because over half my readers are under the age of 35 and I wanted to contact them directly – as well as older readers, of course. And also, because fans are different these days – they want a two-way dialogue with the authors whose books they love, and social media offers the best way to do this.

Ten, even five years ago, email was one of the key ways for authors to communicate with fans, particularly young fans (I used to get email from roughly 1 in 300 of the people who had bought my books – or, at least, had read them). However a one-to-one dialogue is very time consuming and most authors don’t or can’t find the time to reply individually to hundreds (or for big-name authors, thousands) of emails a year. Now, with the rise of social media, email contact is fading at the same time that fans’ expectations are climbing. Few people read book review pages in newspapers these days, or go to conventions, while launches and signings have almost disappeared, and only celebrity authors go on book tours. But more than half the population of Australia (and most other developed countries) use social media regularly, and that’s where any author who wants to communicate with fans should be.

Using social media effectively is about:

  • Making contact with people who love the kind of books you write.
  • Engaging in two-way conversation with them.
  • Being a real person, not a promotional huckster; and
  • Helping others, answering questions and sharing resources.

Why Facebook?

I’ve concentrated on Facebook because:

  • It’s the most used social media platform in the world, with 750 million users and still growing rapidly. More than half of these users log on every day, and 85% weekly. In Australia alone there are more than 10 million active users, defined as those who use Facebook at least once a month.
  • It’s a relatively gentle introduction to a social media environment.
  • Its features are more comprehensive than other popular social media sites.
  • It’s easy to contact people with similar interests – for instance, the 3,400 people in English-speaking countries who have said on Facebook that they are specifically interested in my books. This number may seem small (for a range of popular authors, I’ve calculated that specifically interested fans typically number 1 person for every 300-400 books sold worldwide) but they are among your most committed readers and it’s good to reach out to them and find out what they’re interested in. Also, given that word-of-mouth is one of the key ways that readers discover new authors, committed fans are vital to the success of your new books.
  • Another advantage of Facebook is that it has terrific metrics – you can get a wealth of detail about which groups of people are visiting your Page (and which are not). Also, if you use Facebook ads, there is instantaneous feedback as to whether they’re working or not – and if not, why not. You can stop the campaign immediately and change it to better meet your objectives.

Getting Started

The most effective way to use Facebook is via a business Page set up for individuals (eg writers, artists, bands, public figures) wanting to use Facebook for business purposes. This Page contains a range of features designed to help users connect with you. Note that business Pages are different from the most commonly used type of Page, a personal profile page for an individual to use in a non-commercial way.

To set up a business Page, go here and follow the steps. Once a business Page has 25 fans (ie, people who have “Liked” it) you can apply for a ‘vanity’ Facebook URL, which is a neat, logical and distinct URL for your page. Mine is http://www.facebook.com/ianirvine.author.

Facebook Pages come with several standard apps (or tabs) such as Info, Photos, Discussions, Notes etc. Thousands of other apps are available for a myriad of purposes – for instance, to create a tab for all your books or your latest book, your Twitter feed, to run a poll or a promotion. For ideas on what apps are available, Google “best apps for Facebook business pages”.

My Facebook Page

My daughter Fiona, a social media whiz, put together a 30-page strategy for me. I provided the content and she set up my Page. It’s called a Page though it’s really a site with many different tabs and more than a hundred (printed) pages of content, not counting the Wall where most of the social interaction takes place.

Your Facebook Page should not try to reproduce your website, but it’s important to have blurbs, covers and other information about all of your books there. You should also have a landing tab (this is where people will arrive until they Like your page, after which they’ll come to the Wall) with a large cover picture and clear details about your most recent book. It’s a good idea to provide buttons or links for fans to order your books from a variety of outlets, not just Amazon. Also include links to your website and specifically to first chapters, FAQs, interviews, book trailers and other material of interest to many readers. It’s better to keep the latter info on your website as it offers far more flexibility in presentation.

How the Page Works

The key to success on Facebook is to get a large number of people to Like your page. They have to Like it to be able to comment or post to your Page. Once they have Liked it, they receive a news feed of your posts, which, as well as the social aspects, has obvious promotional benefits. Also, your news items of particular interest will often be reposted to other Facebook pages, gaining thousands of extra views. The interaction can’t just be one way, though. It can’t just be the author relentlessly promoting his or her books – it’s important to listen and respond to what your fans have to say and interact with them as a human being rather than a promotional robot.

Even if you’re reasonably well-known as an author, however, you can’t merely set up your Page and expect people to come – in 6 months time you’ll be lucky to have a couple of hundred fans, which isn’t enough. In my view, for Facebook to be of much use as a promotional tool, a Page needs to have a minimum of 1,000 fans, and the more the better.

Fiona set my Page up in the dying days of 2010. Initially I wanted to use it to promote my Grim and Grimmer humorous fantasy quartet for children. The last of these books was to be published in June 2011, so I only had 5 months from setting up my Page until the final book would be in the bookshops. Therefore I set myself ambitious targets for the number of people to Like my page:

  • 1 month from creation: 300 fans
  • 3 months from creation: 700 fans
  • 6 months from creation: 1,500 fans
  • 1 year from creation: 2,500 fans

Promoting my Page

To achieve these targets, I had to strongly promote my Page. I’ve done this in a number of ways, including directly to my contacts by email, by contact via newsletters, blog tours and other online places, by running competitions and with advertising on Facebook and elsewhere.

Email and Internet

To raise awareness of my Page (and promote the Grim and Grimmer books) I’ve done many things, including:

  • Emailed over 600 contacts and recent fans individually, and contacted another 1,500 or more people via various writer’s lists and newsletters, and on blogs.
  • Put info about the Page and my competitions prominently on my huge, redesigned website, and installed Like buttons on every page.
  • Posted many sets of books to online reviewers. This gained 8 reviews, including 2 in the NSW Writer’s Centre weekly newsletter which went out to 6,500 book lovers.
  • Two blog tours for the Grim and Grimmers, including 32 posts on other book blogs, totalling 40,000 words.
  • Tweeted excepts from the Grim and Grimmers,
  •  Attended various conventions including Supanova in Brisbane (23,000 people were there).
  • Established presences at various other internet sites including GoodReads, Google+, AboutMe.com, Shelfari etc.

Competitions

Initially I set up a weekly competition entitled 300 Books in 200 Days, where I planned to give away three of my signed trilogies or quartets every week until July (since changed to 500 Books in 300 Days and now running until the end of 2011, at least). All new visitors to my Page arrive at the Grim and Grimmer tab, which has covers, blurbs and reviews for these books, plus links to sample chapters, readings etc. Visitors have to Like my Page to enter the comps. So far I’ve given away over 200 books, which I’ve mailed to winners all over the world. Every month I give away a set of The View from the Mirror audiobooks – 91 hours of magic, action, adventure and a little romance – and this prize has proven very popular. I suspended the book giveaway comp for the month of April in order to give away an iPad 2 – a very successful promotion.

Note that Facebook has strict rules governing the use of promotions, which can be found here. Facebook doesn’t allow competitions or promotions to be run on its pages; they have to be run and hosted on a separate app, and winners notified by email or other means, not via Facebook message. I use the EasyPromos app to run my competitions ($15 per promotion) and I’m very happy with it. To see the current promotion, or enter it (remember to Like my page first, ha!) you can click the Promos tab on my Page Wall or go here.

You should also be aware that competitions where there is no skill involved, ie where the winner is selected randomly, are illegal in quite a few countries, and penalties are severe. For this reason, I restricted my iPad 2 giveaway to Australia and obtained a NSW permit for it ($75), which covers the whole country. My book giveaways, which are selected on the best answers, are games of skill, not chance and don’t need a permit.

Advertising

Apart from great metrics, advertising on Facebook has another terrific advantage: members indicate what they’re interested in when they set up their Facebook account (books, music, movies, etc), and you can target ads directly to those people who are most likely to be interested in them. For instance, in the Ad Creator I entered the main English-speaking countries (Australia, UK, US, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland), then ‘Ian Irvine” under ‘Specific Interests’, which revealed that 3,400 people in those countries were specifically interested in my books. Clearly, it was very important to attract as many of these people as possible to my Page, so I directed one version of my book giveaway ad to them.

This process will only work if you’re a reasonably well-known author with a following, of course, otherwise your name  won’t come up under ‘specific interests’. But you can do many other things. For the Grim and Grimmers, I directed other versions of my ads to people who like humorous children’s fantasy series such as Artemis Fowl, Bartimaeus, Skulduggery Pleasant etc. In this way you can target as few or as many people as you wish, for any author or book series that’s relevant, or any combination of these.

With these ads, you only pay when someone actually clicks on the ad and is taken to your Page, so at least you know they’ve seen the content there. This doesn’t mean they’ll Like your page, of course. I gained a high proportion of Likes for the ‘Ian Irvine’ ads described above, and also for the iPad 2 giveaway I ran for the month of April. My book giveaway ads have a much lower rate of Likes – clearly, lots of people don’t want free books enough to Like the Page and enter the comps, but I’ve also realised that the comps should be easy to enter and have simple questions, otherwise most people won’t bother. It’s important to monitor the performance of your ads every day and stop any campaigns where you’re getting lots of clicks (for which you pay) but not many Likes.

Since January, I’ve done over three months of carefully targeted Facebook ads. I’ve also done other ads, including a NSW Writers Centre e-ad which went out to 6,000 people on their mailing list.

Cost

As I was in a hurry, because of book publication dates, this program was more expensive than it would otherwise have been. I’ve spent about $2,000 on advertising, and a good swag more on giveaways, postage etc. if I’d set up my Page a lot earlier, I could have gained much of my exposure and fans incrementally through blogs and other routes, and avoided much of the expense. But I don’t regret it.

Success or Failure?

As of late July 2011, my Page has 2,100 fans and a fabulous level of interaction – some of my posts have had 70 or more replies. It’s a terrifically warm and supporting environment and has become very important to me, both promotionally and personally.

But has it worked, I hear you ask? Well, I can’t say that the sales of Grim and Grimmer have been spectacular, but:

  • The series has been exposed to at least 15,000 people who otherwise would have known nothing about it;
  • The Grim and Grimmers have gained a lot of reviews they would not otherwise have had, every review has been favourable and quite a few have been raves.
  • Book 1, The Headless Highwayman, which had a big initial printing last year (around 10,000 copies) reprinted in May before the last book, The Calamitous Queen, was published;
  • So, definitely not a runaway bestseller, but I’m pleased that I’ve made a significant contribution to the success of these books.

The Future

Will I be continuing Facebook promotion for my long-awaited new epic fantasy series, The Tainted Realm, which begins with Vengeance in November? Too right I will! In fact I’ll be expanding the advertising, and the competitions, including another iPad 2 giveaway in a month or so. Stay tuned.

Not least, my Facebook Page has put me in touch with thousands of my most enthusiastic and loyal fans, and the dialogue I’ve had with them has been precious indeed.

And thanks very much to Fiona, for the strategy and for setting up my Page and giving me continuing advice and assistance with it. I could not have done it without you.

I’d just like to take this chance to thank Ian for his generosity in sharing this information. He has gone out there and done all the research. Then he’s taken the time to write this detailed and comprehensive guide. Show a little support and go Like his Facebook pages!

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Authors and Public Speaking, Book Launches, Fantasy Genre, Promoting your Book, Visiting Writer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments »

Yay for Marianne!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 28, 2011

Marianne gets a two page spread in Sydney Morning Herald! Yay,  Marianne.

It’s rare to see a genre writer get this kind of publicity in the mainstream print paper. Should be more of it.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Authors and Public Speaking, Nourish the Writer, Promoting your Book | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

That dreaded Query Letter and Synopsis

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 23, 2011

We all have to write them, and I don’t know many authors who enjoy doing it. The query letter isn’t so bad, for me it is the synopsis that I dread. How do you write a synopsis for a 100,000 to 150,000 word fantasy novel without making it sound generic? When you reduce even the most inventive fantasy books to its bare bones, it sounds derivative.

Over on Donna Hanson’s blog, she talks about the good and the bad she’s seen in query letters and synopsis while reading for Angry Robot. On the topic of query letters, she says:

‘What made me lift an eyebrow and wonder was the A4 page of oversharing, unamusing attempts at humour, which make the writer sound wankerish, (just personal taste), saying that you have submitted 500,000 words, or 300,000 words or even 275,000 word manuscripts. These word counts are well in excess of the guidelines and did not give me a good impression at all.’

Donna says When writing a synopsis …

‘It helps not to clutter it up with sub-plots and minor characters. In my opinion, you need the central narrative of the story and those bits that impact on it and not every single detail. Angry Robot asked for character lists. I remember rolling my eyes when someone would say there are hundreds of characters but here is the first twenty or so. Yep I’d head straight to the MS tail between my legs.’

As a writing tool/exercise for myself I like to write a one page character bio for my main characters (usually the PoV characters). It covers their back-story, strengths and weaknesses and I also include a description of their character arc. I know what they want when the story starts, and what they need to achieve to reach their potential during the course of the book.  I’ve found, not only does this help me when I write the book, but I can use an updated version of these character bios when I come to story background for the series on my blog (see Outcast Chronicles).

For a few tips on writing  synopsis see this ROR post, based on what I’ve gleaned over the years. In some ways I find it easier to write a synopsis of a book I haven’t written, because before I start I have a general idea of where I want to go, the characters and the theme I want to explore. As it isn’t written yet, I don’t get bogged down in details. The synopsis helps me get my thoughts in order to write the book. Invariably, the book varies from the synopsis, because the characters come to life and insist on their time centre stage. But this isn’t a problem as publishers understand the final book will vary from the synopsis.

I tend to write a variety of synopsis:

There’s the one paragraph synopsis, which appears in the query letter and can be tweaked to create the back cover blurb.

There’s the one page synopsis which gives a brief overview of the book.

And there’s the 5-10 page synopsis which covers the major plot points of the book. Since I write fantasy novels which contain convoluted plots several narrative threads, I find it useful to keep a second document open beside me while I write. Into this document I put the scene length and page numbers, whose PoV it is in, and a brief description of what happens. I’ve found this really helpful when writing the long synopsis.

Don’t get a synopsis mixed up with a chapter outline. That’s what I was working from. Because I’m obsessive, I colour code the PoVs, so I can see at a glance if one of the character’s is getting forgotten.

If you are looking for an agent, then you can’t go past this site: Agent Query.  How does it work and what does it do? See here. This site includes How to Write a Query Letter. I read it to make sure I hadn’t been steering people wrong all these years. Whew!

Here is a ROR post on The Getting of an Agent. The business model of publishing is changing, but there are still times when it is a relief to know that you can call/email your agent for advice.

And, if you’d like feedback on your Query Letter there’s the Query Shark.

Do your research, send the kind of synopsis the publisher is looking for, be professional. Is there anything to do with writing craft and the publihsing industry that people would like the ROR team to cover in these posts?

Posted in Agents, Editors, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Query Letter and Synopsis, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Tell it like it is …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 12, 2011

Top the most common mistakes found by a Reader for a Angry Robot.

Over on Donna Hanson’s blog, she lists these mistakes. Having done a lot of manuscript appraisal over the years I can tell you she is spot on. The list is long, because people do make a lot of different mistakes. Some you can work around, some you can fix easily. But sometimes the mistakesare  instrinsic to the writing and then it is just a matter of putting the book aside and starting again.

Her list is really comprehensive, but there’s two things I would add:

Point of View. Don’t skip from head to head within a scene. I once read a 7 page scene with 11 POV changes. POV is powerful, use the changes sparingly. Signal when you do change the view point. Do it for a reason, to reveal something the other character wouldn’t know and only do it once within a scene. I’ve switched to staying in one character’s head for the whole of a scene, simply for clarity.

World Building Flaws. This is my personal bug bear. Every time I come across a flaw in world building it throws me out of the story. Women rule the country. OK. Why? Power rests with the powerful. Why do women rule? Do your research and build the world consistently.

Many thanks to Donna for her post on common flaws in manuscripts. Now, I’ll go back and take another look at my current work-in-progress.

Never hurts to review and a writer never stops learning.

NOTE: Donna has since added a post on world building and pointof view. See it here. Go Donna!

Posted in Editing and Revision, Editors, Publishers, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Winner Nicole Murphy Give-away!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 3, 2011

Nicole says:
Thanks everyone for all the comments – you all provided some thought for me as well. I was impressed by the number of you who are working hard and pressing ahead with your own writing dreams – I wish for you persistence and happiness in the endeavour.

Now, to the winners. In the end, I found myself torn between Chris’ desire to write an Aussie Hitchhikers-inspired story because I love Hitchhikers, or Tsana’s dream to write science fiction, since I too have an SF character I devised at 13 that I’m desperate to find a story for. I couldn’t decide a favourite, so I flipped a coin and the winner is Chris.

Congrats Chris – send your snail mail address to nicole (at) nicolermurphy (dot) com and I’ll get a copy of Rogue Gadda in the mail for you next week.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

On Reading and Writing …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 2, 2011

RORee Dirk Flinthart compiled today’s post in reply to an email from a would-be writer.


 

Your confession that you do not read novels is, I admit, a little daunting. Storytelling is an art form. The true art does not belong entirely to the writer. Each person who reads a story recreates it in their own mind as they go, and therefore each reading is a personal experience. It’s this necessary act of re-creation which makes the novel a form which can be more powerful than cinematic art – because the art of cinema happens on screen, in front of you. You experience a movie, rather than re-creating it. A novel forces you to be complicit in its own existence.

The point I’m making is that in order to reach your audience effectively enough that they can read your work and re-create the piece successfully for themselves, you must have a visceral understanding of the dance that goes on between reader and writer. I’m not being colourful here to make myself look smart, or to obscure the subject: I’m trying the best I can to help you understand what it is you’ve set yourself to do.

One example of what I’m trying to talk about would be transitions.

Transitions occur in a novel when you close one scene, and open another. A character has a conversation in one room, then says ‘Oh, shit, look at the time! I’ve got to pick up my girlfriend from the airport’. The scene closes, and the next scene picks up… where?

An experienced or confident writer will jump to the airport, and have the character greet his girlfriend as she steps off the airplane. This writer knows instinctively that the readers will simply accept the transition, without blinking. On the other hand, beginning novelists very frequently lack this confidence. They forget how it is to be a reader, and they feel they have to add the details to offer verisimilitude, and to make sure the reader doesn’t lose the thread. And so this less-confident writer will create another scene in which the protagonist leaves the room, goes to his car, drives across town, curses the heavy traffic, glances at his watch to see if he’s late, parks carelessly and sprints into the airport building just in time…

… none of which adds anything significant to the story.

But it’s the instinct that counts. The experienced writer makes the quick transition because the experienced writer is also a deeply experienced reader. Not just a casual reader-for-enjoyment, but someone  who has picked apart the very act of reading, and has understood what is vital to the narrative, and what becomes lead-weight ballast because of its tedious irrelevance.

Transitions are merely an example. They are just one small part of the complex transaction which goes on between writer and reader. The point is that to create a novel successfully, a writer must either be fortunate enough to have an instinctive understanding of the process — or must serve a considerable apprenticeship, learning to see, taste and feel the hidden rules of storytelling.

Very few of us come aboard with that instinct full-blown. Some are lucky enough to find helpful publishers and editors who can assist them in developing those instincts. Others have to serve a difficult, demanding apprenticeship, relying on the help of fellow writers — and most importantly, on the examples they can see in the published works they read.

If you’re really planning to write a novel, you’re going to have to become a reader. Preferably not just of one genre, but of anything and everything. Most writers are so compulsive about their reading that they will literally pick up a bus-timetable and browse the advertising around the edges if they’re caught short of reading material.

Grab some novels. Read them from start to finish, the way you normally would. Now, go back and read them again. This time, look at the words on the page, and ask yourself how they make you think and feel. Ask yourself what images you see in your head, and why. Think about the cover of the book, and the ideas it sets in motion even before you pick up the novel itself. Pick adjectives and nouns and verbs at random from the prose, and ask yourself why the author chose those very specific words, and not their synonyms. Think about the POV characters: ask yourself what job they do in the story, and how the nature of the characters causes the story to unfold in specific ways. Then look at the characters who don’t provide a POV, and ask the same set of questions.

There are dozens of other things you can try, but this is a good start. Be careful, though. In some senses, this practice of analysis and observation can become a problem. Fill your head with it, and you’ll find it impossible to write with the freedom that you had when you were just ‘telling a story’. But on the other hand, the MS is only the first step. All these other things become necessary when you go on to convert the MS into a real, complete, functioning story.

Editing is the hardest part of the job, I’m afraid…

What books  inspired you to start writing?

 

Posted in Nourish the Writer, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »