Two Things Prompted This Irritating Column
- A clearly lame bid for authors’ hard-earned money for so-called “reader engagement” and book sales.
- The arrival on Twitter of a brand-new user who is also one of the highest-visibility literary agents in the country.
Old scams and new social mediators. I knew it was time to get at this.
A Clearly Lame Bid In ‘Author Services’ Land
I was going over the faculty of an upcoming conference for writers. On the list was a publicist and ad-sales person specializing in authors and their books, newly added to the roster.
The problem? No Twitter handle. The closest thing findable is a handle for her company. So if this person tweets at all, she’s tweeting as her business. She’s what, a talking letterhead? A corporate address with a great personality?
This self-styled publicist says that if authors will pay her, she will help them leverage social media for their books.
Well, I say that 2015 is the year we start backing down these people — the ones who keep popping up in the “author services” sector, claiming that they can get you readers and get you sales, all while operating without knowing how these media work or how to present themselves on the ether.
This one, in particular, makes big promises of advertising that will produce “five times more reader engagement.” A lovely, meaningless buzz phrase, isn’t it? — reader engagement. Buzzzzzzz.
When such pitches come your way, be sure the getaway car engine is running.
What’s wrong with a publicist, an advertisement monger, a marketer — or anyone else, for that matter — tweeting under his or her company name?
- Have you ever shaken hands with a corporation?
- Have you ever kissed a building facade on both cheeks at a cocktail party?
- Have you ever had lunch with a logo?
The social media are called social because they are just that — person to person. Social.
And handles are specific to the personalities behind them. This is the reason that parents shouldn’t use pictures of their children as their avatars. You’re not your children, are you? Your image should be your own. Leave your poor kids out of it.
The publishing industry is very big on Twitter. So it’s a useful red flag when someone is running around tweeting as his or her firm — or as his or her book title.
When I run live chats, if someone tries tweeting under a company’s Twitter handle, I make a point of asking them to stop it and tweet as themselves. I’m not trying to be a hard ass about this, but I’m also not interested in having group conversations with company facades, are you?
If somebody is in a chat room speaking as a company? They’re there to sell you something. Call them on it. Ask them who they are. You have every right to do that. If they won’t tell you, I recommend you mute or block them. Consider reporting them as spam; case by case basis.
If they’re in the recently booming kitchen-and-garage business of promotion of authors and books, then they have no business in your business if they don’t know how to conduct their own business on as significant a platform as Twitter.
Nevertheless, I’d rather not rely solely on my own good looks and brilliance (shut up), so I asked a colleague, who’s legitimately in the business for her views.
And, as expected, she had a few things to teach me along the way.
‘Generate That Visibility’
Her name is Sharon Bially. Yes, she tweets as @SharonBially. And yes, her Twitter avatar is a shot of herself. Not of family members, favorite vacation spots, cats, dogs, hip urban scenes, foam on a latte, or what she had for lunch.
Bially is at Book Savvy Public Relations and for many years was based in Europe and ran business-and-government communications for the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development). I met her through Writer Unboxed, where she’s a fellow contributor. Her approach takes as its starting point the fact that you may be an author when that Word or Scrivener document is on your screen, but once it’s time for readers to find and buy your book, you are in marketing, yourself.
Bially, in short, is the real thing. You’ll find her on panels and in seminars about author promotion and marketing. She tells me:
I totally agree that they must be there under their personal, not company, names.
The first thing I always do in talking Twitter with authors who are tweeting under their book’s name is to get them to change their handle to their own name and use their own headshot.
And when I asked her about this thing of authors’ publicists and marketers being so inept at tweeting, she started back even farther. She wants you to understand that there’s no such thing as “getting you sales”:
First, if any publicist or marketer today is saying “we know how to get your book sales,” that in and of itself is a red flag.
For nearly everybody except big, powerful publishing houses, there is little if any meaningful connection between publicity and visibility on the one hand, and sales on the other. The job of publicists and marketers is to generate that visibility. What happens beyond that, such as sales, is out of their control.
I’d guarantee you that most authors who hire publicists believe that they’re doing it to get sales of their books. Nothing is easy anymore, is it?
Have you ever kissed a building facade on both cheeks at a cocktail party?
Have you ever had lunch with a logo?
Bially goes on:
That said, Twitter is one of the most important visibility and community-building tools out there, so publicists and marketers absolutely must know how to use it.
As for whether a decent publicist or marketer can do his or her job without being on Twitter, it’s complicated.
I think what’s most important is that she or he has a good amount of experience using Twitter and can advise clients on how to do so themselves and how to use it to leverage the results of any marketing / publicity campaign. Of course, there’s no better proof that this is the case than being on Twitter personally.
But on the flip side, Twitter takes time and publicists and marketers are often solo acts or work with very small, fairly low-budget firms. So there’s a constant tug-of-war between what we can do for ourselves and what we can do for our clients.
I’ll play devil’s advocate on that last bit for a moment.
I’ve heard a lot of authors tell marketing folks that they don’t have enough time to utilize the social media. Inevitably, the answer to that author from a publicist is, “Well you just have to manage your time better, you must be on Twitter.”
So I think it’s fine to say back to our publicists and marketing types that if they’re going to insist that their author-clients operate in social media, then so must they.
Bially is nicer about it. And yes, as a publicist she’s biased, but she’s also good, so we listen to what she says:
In my opinion it’s what publicists / marketers know, do, and can do for their clients that counts the most. If they are not up to speed on Twitter, that’s a bad sign. If they are and just don’t have the resources to be present there themselves, that’s acceptable as long as they have a good reputation and good track record of getting the results they promise.
And why are so many people who present themselves as the right people to help authors find readers often so wrongheaded about it?
So many reasons. Lack of time is definitely one, but also old-school thinking and habits, reflecting far more negatively in my opinion.
So while somebody in the business can understand the workload of a busy marketing operation making the right social presence hard to pull off, that’s not as bad as the so-called expert who isn’t persuaded that social is an important part of the author’s arsenal of promotional resources.
And That Newcomer To Twitter
Kristin Nelson has held out a long time.
Her client list at Nelson Literary Agency runs from literary writers including Jamie Ford and Josh Malerman (tell him Porter said he’s literary, will you?) to high-visibility writers in more populist genres, including Courtney Milan, Jasinda Wilde, Shana Swendson, M.C. Planck, and Hugh Howey.
Nelson’s popular end-of-year statistics for 2014 told us that her office read more than 35,000 queries; requested 45 full manuscripts to read; asked for 856 sample pages to read; sold 99 books; made six film and television deals; saw 3 million print copies sold in the best-selling series the office represented…and took on one, yes one, new client.
And this weekend, Nelson is getting acquainted to Twitter. Her new handle is @AgentKristinNLA.
With so much of the industry networking on the platform, I’ve mentioned several times to Nelson that I felt she needs to be on Twitter. And I’m happy to welcome her decision to start engaging.
What’s interesting is to see the medium through the fresh set of questions her newcomer status carries.
And I have to wonder what she’s going to think as corporations and book covers turn up wanting to interact with her.
I’ll try to get some impressions from her as she goes.
Meanwhile, don’t let “an entity” talk to you. Especially if they want to sell you on their product or service.
Think of that as a red flag on the blue bird. Notice how fast that “opportunity” turns into purple prose.