This isn't your mother's publishing industry. These days, we authors sound more like musicians who have long worried about "generating a brand" and "developing a fan base."
Since I've been blogging and micro-blogging (mostly on Twitter and Facebook) for a while, my writing buddies sometimes ask for tips. Here are five basics to keep in mind as you venture into the virtual world to sell your books.
1. Pursue excellence.
Quit whining about publicists or the lack thereof. These days, an author must take primary responsibility for his or her "brand." This requires writing great books, of course, but it also means that the small stuff matters.
From spelling and grammar to rants and raves, everything we publish on the web should display a commitment to the kind of excellence that attracts followers and fans.
Midlist or debut authors can learn from musicians who claim that to make a living an artist needs a fan base of 1000 members. If we count aunts, uncles, cousins, and old flames, surely we can each gather 900 or so new "true fans."
2. Reveal your voice.
Exploit the power of blogging and status updates to give visitors and followers a clear sense of your writing voice, whether it be funny, frank, and friendly, or passionate, incendiary, and revolutionary.
If they enjoy your tweets and blog posts, they just might consider reading your books. On the flip side, if you're boring online, why should we assume you write scintillating fiction?
3. Master the tools.
Online tools like blogs, Twitter, and FB are powerful and free ways to promote our work. It's well worth some time and effort to learn how to use them.
Do you know how to retweet? Have you heard of bit.ly? Do you have a Facebook fan page? When is the last time you visited somebody else's blog and successfully linked back to yours in a comment? Do you understand the power of a bracket < > in coding anything on-line?
If your head is spinning from these questions, follow some tech-savvy authors and learn from their examples. Browse this list of YA authors on twitter to get started.
4. Remain, respond, and connect.
Don't get me wrong -- I still think it's still possible to write and sell great books and remain a virtual hermit. If that's your bent, please don't bother with an online presence. Because once you start collecting fans (or clients, if you prefer that word), you need to stick around.
Today's online experience is not a one-time, static venture like a website. Developing an author brand is a dynamic, relational process. It requires responding to people who take the time to comment on your blog, your FB page, your twitter posts.
It's called social media for a reason -- these are venues to connect and relate. Leave your identity as curmudgeon or recluse at the door or don't come in at all.
5. Serve others.
Ironically, if your virtual branding efforts are only about you and your books, they'll probably fail. The Golden Rule applies online as it does everywhere else: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Questions? Feel free to ask. Follow me on twitter. Fan me on Facebook. If you're a total newbie, no worries, drop me an email. Let's see if I can practice what I preach.