The Link Spam Challenge

Are you on Twitter? I am, but I've been slightly less engaged lately. It's not for a good reason, like trying to spend less time online and more time being productive. Pshaw! I've been less than enthused because instead of the informative and interesting tweets that had been filling up my feed, I feel like everything in there lately is Link Spam.
Link Spam is not crazy tasty

As I scroll down my feed, post after post is filled with "Check out my new book LINK", "ARCs available now LINK", "Another 5star review for my book LINK".

The thing is, I totally get it. You've got a book out, it's unbelievably exciting, and all you want to do is shout from the mountain top like the hills are alive so everyone will buy your book.

Unfortunately, too many authors think this is the right way to go about getting people to buy, read and review their book. Let me tell you a little secret; this isn't the right way. The right way is much harder. It takes more time and effort. You can't phone it in or pre-schedule it on Buffer.

I could go on and on about the right ways to use Twitter (and other social media), but let's save that for another post. Today, I'm offering a challenge. There are no winners and no prizes, though if accepted, the challenge should help authors win.

If you are an author with a book to promote, I challenge you to not link to your own book on social media for the next month. That's right I said it. You can talk about it all you want, but no links. None, zip, nada, zilch.

The only exception is if someone directly asks you for the link of where they can buy your book. Not "Hey tell me more about your book" or "Didn't you release a book this month?". I mean, "Can you please give me the link where I can buy your book?". Since most people on social media know how to use Google, I'm don't think that's really going to come up, but if it does, it'd be rude not to send it.

So what say you authors? Are you up for the challenge? Because here's my prediction. If you spend the same amount of time on social media as usual, but use that time to engage with readers instead of promoting, you just might find more people who want to learn more about you.

And there's the bread and butter. Because your Twitter bio will have the link to your website, which will have all kinds of info about your books.

So take some time and look at how many books you sold for the month of August. Now challenge yourself not to post your buy link for the whole month of September. I'm guessing you end up with higher sales and a more engaged audience, but that's just me.

If you're willing to give this a shot, please let me know in the comment box along with your twitter handle. Then come back in a month and let me know how it goes. I want to hear your story.

Agency Lessons: Fan Fiction

This is one of those hot button topics that writers love to jump on, pick a side and argue over. To that end, this post is not about the merits of fan fiction. What this post is really about is publishing fan fiction. Potentially, just as hot button, but we'll see.

With the publication of novels stemming from well known fan fiction pieces such as E.L. James's 50 Shades of Grey (Twilight) and Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments (Harry Potter), there's lots of buzz on the topic. Then Amazon went and announced an opportunity for writers to publish fan fiction on their new site, Kindle Worlds.

I've started seeing lots of questions about the options to publish fan fiction and the trend has recently moved into my query box. So where is the line when it comes to publishing fan fiction?

First, anything that has moved into the public domain is safe. This is why books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies can take so heavily from the original. With the copyright expired, there have been numerous adaptations, including spinoff stories following Mr. Darcy, their children and even a musical. Go figure.

So what if a copyright hasn't expired? Certainly, Twilight and Harry Potter still have copyrights firmly intact. Unfortunately, there is no magic percentage that makes it safe to lean on a copyrighted story. Like most legal issues, there is a big swatch of grey area that leaves a lot of questions. Often writers have to use their best judgement and publishers have to weigh certain risks against potential profits.

However, some areas are quite clear. You can't take the world and characters from someone else and simply build on what they've created. A story about Harry and Ron getting into trouble as 30-somethings is fine for fun, but you can't publish it for profit. In the same vein, a story that only changes a character's name and leaves everything else intact is a big no-no. Your story about Larry the boy wizard who must learn all about the magical community while fighting off an evil wizard with the help of his palls Don and Hominy isn't going to fly (pun intended).

Ideas and Themes aren't copyrightable. This is why we can have countless stories about vampires, angels, teen eating disorders and broken marriages. Events are copyrighted. It's probably a good idea to rethink that scene about a kid being seen flying a Ford Anglia over London.

So where does an author draw the line? Personally, I'd advise drawing it at the edge of your toes. By that, I mean, as close to your own creation as possible. As writers, most of us read extensively. It's foolish to think that we aren't inspired and influenced by the works of authors that came before us. Just know that if you allow that inspiration to flow into duplication, you risk legal action.

At the end of the day, I suggest thinking carefully about putting the shoe on the other foot. How much would be okay for another writer to borrow from your work? The Golden Rule will never steer you wrong.

Let me say here that I'm not a lawyer and I don't write about them. Please don't take this as legal advice, but merely my take on the issue as an agent. For more information about copyright you can check out this page on Fair Use and this government site.

Selling your book Sham-Wow style

I'm a fan of the site CopyBlogger. While not everything they post is applicable to the world of selling books, they sometimes have a gem. It just so happens I was working on an infomercial advice post when they posted about using infomercial techniques to sell without the cheese.

So here are my Seven Ways to sell your book Sham-Wow Style!

1. Celebrity Counts

"This is Morgan Freeman and I'm about to sell you something." Just the sound of his voice creates a Pavlovian response that has me opening my wallet. Products that have a celebrity endorsement sell better on infomercials. Why else would companies shell out the big bucks to actors, musicians and comedians? Jamie Lee Curtis is selling the goodness out of Activia.

But for our purposes, a celebrity doesn't need to live in Malibu or be featured on TMZ. A celebrity is someone your target audience looks up to. It can be a best selling  author or a well-known reviewer. It doesn't matter so long as your audience respects them.

Getting a big name to give your book a thumbs up is a big deal. Use every connection you have to get one of these and be sure to use it. Do you have a big reviewer signed on to your blog tour? Ask them to headline and see if you can get a full review followed by an author interview. Milk it for what you can without pushing the limit. Has a big name author given you a blurb? Put that quote in the center of a banner ad for your book page on your website. Incorporate it into your tour info. Don't waste a good endorsement.

2.  Tap into a Core Need

The CopyBlogger article talks about agitating the problem and presenting a solution." Long, sleepless nights ruining your days? You need this crazy expensive pillow!" The problem facing readers is finding the next book they are going to love. First you need to show readers they have a problem. Then present your book as the solution. For example, lots of authors are tapping into to the 50 Shades trend and marketing their book as the one to read when you finish 50 Shades.

Showcase your book as THE book for discerning readers who finished X or are waiting impatiently for the next book in the Y series. Show them the need you are going to fill.

Another core need of most people is the need to be "in" on whatever is going on. You want your readers to feel like they are going to be missing out if they don't read your book. How many times have you heard someone say they need to read a book because everyone they know read it? The only reason I picked up the Twilight books was because a staff meeting was delayed due to a heated discussion between Team Edward and Team Jacob. Among a group of middle aged women. I needed to know what all the fuss was about.

So how do you do that? Ask your blog hosts to tell your readers. Did a character stick with them for days after finishing? Put that in an interview. Are they buying copies as gifts for friends? Get that info out there. You want readers to feel as if everyone in the free world has read your book and they will be the only one who hasn't if they don't get a copy right now.

3. Urgency

One of the core techniques used in infomercials is the sense of urgency used by hosts to get viewers to act right now. "Call right now and we'll throw in this set of unrelated Japanese knives completely free!" Obviously, the action you want readers to take is to buy your book, right now. Without a sense of urgency, readers are more likely to put off the purchase in favor of checking their email or reading another blog. They may have the best of intentions to buy it, but then life gets in the way and they forget.

You might give everyone who pre-orders an entry into a give away for a great prize. You can also offer bonus content if pre-orders or release week purchases hit a certain level. Whatever it is, you want to give readers a reason to act now rather than leaving the page and mentally adding your book to their TBR list.

Make sure before you put this into action you have all of the back-end set up for easy ordering. Double check to ensure you have one-click buy links available for the major distributors (B&N, Amazon, etc.). I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve clicked on a buy now link only to find myself at the publishers home page where I’m asked to search around for the book I was considering. I have never once followed through on a purchase that required me to hunt for the book. Make it easy and give your reader a reason to do it now. 

4. Enthusiasm

Billy Mays never hosted a boring infomercial. This guy sold cleaning supplies. He was basically selling people on doing housework. He exhibited a kind of enthusiasm for laundry that I'll never duplicate. What you do, do it with a kind of gusto that only you can have for your book. From interviews and video chats to blog posts and status updates. Do it with Flair!

5. Hook and Reel

“Are you tired of working 40+ hours a week for someone else and never feeling like you’re getting anywhere in life?” If you’re among the vast majority of Americans, you answered yes to that question and now you are intrigued by what is about to be offered as the solution to this problem. With one line, you’re now willing to give this product at least another few minutes of your time.

First you had to hook an agent with the first line of your query and then you had to hook an editor with the first line of your book. Now you’ve got to hook readers with the first line of your blog posts and tour stops. Blog tours are pretty common these days. It isn’t new and exciting any more. To make matters worse, people choose which blogs to read by scanning through titles in their blog readers. This means you don’t have a whole blog post to suck them in. You have a line or two. You’ve got to make it good.

6. Repetition

According to the "Rule of Seven", people need to see your message seven times before taking action on it. This means you need to get your message out there. We achieve this as writers by getting the word out far and wide. As much exposure as you can get the better. But that exposure won't do any good if you aren't keeping a consistent message.

Imagine if the Sham-Wow was called the SuperAbsorb on one channel, the CleanEasy on another, and a Magic Towel on a third. Even if the same product was being sold, the message isn’t consistent and consumers will likely be confused rather than convinced. Make sure your message is consistent across all channels. Use the same head shot, bio, cover image, blurb, etc. When doing interviews, it’s fine to shake up the wording of your answers, but keep the actual response consistent. For example, when asked what your favorite scene is, you can describe it differently each time, but always choose the same scene.

7. Testimonial

Have you ever watched QVC? After they give the over-the-top product spiel, they go straight to the phones. "Judy, I understand you're buying this for your daughter today. Tell me what you love about the Turbo Majestic." Testimonials play into our need to fit in.

You can achieve the same results by asking reviewers to cross post their reviews on their own blogs and sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Even better, ask a reviewer if they would mind you posting their review on your site. For this, obviously only pick the good ones with well thought out critique. Highlight a single line and provide a link to the review with a link to the reviewer’s site if they have one. The article on copy blogger recommends not selecting outliers for your highlights. To this point, I wouldn’t pick all 5 star reviews. Don’t be afraid to highlight a 4-star that makes your book look good.

You can also encourage fans to share their reviews on social media. During a recent Twitter launch party an author held a drawing for followers who tweeted their favorite review of the book. Dozens of fans tweeted links to this author's book to all of their followers in a really non-spammy way. Hello there easy promotion. Think outside the box for ways you can maximize reviews in a natural way.

This has been a really long post, but hopefully you've found a few tips in here for how you can recreate the success of infomercials without selling your soul to the Cheese gods. Take some time over the next week to actually watch commercials. I bet there are all kinds of lessons you can take away to  help sell more books. Happy watching!