How to Use Facebook for Book Promotion

Given that my day job is head of content for Social Media Today, meaning that I essentially get paid to analyze and write about social media and digital marketing trends, I often get asked by fellow authors about the best ways to use social media for promotion.

And the answer is that it’s not easy – social media is not a quick-fix that will suddenly get you millions of fans overnight. But it can be hugely valuable, and increasingly so, given the rising use of social platforms, particularly in terms of product recommendations and discovery.

No matter how you look at it, you kind of have to do it, at least in some form. Realistically, most of us are still working to establish a fan base, and we need all the help we can get – and social media can definitely be a help in this respect.

So, in a previous post, I went over how authors can utilise Twitter for book promotion – and that seems like a lot of work, right?

But you don’t need to bother with Twitter, it’s only got a fraction of the users that Facebook has – everyone and their dog (literally in some cases) has a Facebook profile.

Facebook is where it’s at, where authors should really focus their promotional efforts. Right?

Well, kind of, depending on how you look at it – and really, what works best for your audience.

And that’s an important distinction – it doesn’t matter which platforms you might like more or less, it’s where your audience is at that you need to be.

So how can authors make best use of Facebook? Here are some pointers.

1. Create a Facebook business profile

First off, you can’t be using your personal profile for book promo.

Your personal profile is where you share updates with your family and friends, where your personal connections can link up with you. You don’t want to mix up your book fans and personal connections.

You also need a business profile to run Facebook ads, which, as we’ll cover, you’ll probably want to do at some stage.

Facebook business profiles are where you can showcase yourself as a writer, and if you’re seriously looking to promote your work on the platform, you need one, bottom line.

You can set up a set up a Facebook business Page by heading to this link:

fb biz page set up

Select ‘Community or Public Figure’, then enter your name and your category (‘Author’) and you’ll be on your way.

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Note: You’ll also need to set a Facebook Page URL name at some stage (i.e. https://www.facebook.com/andrewhutchinsonauthor/), or Facebook will just give you a generic one. This is not a huge deal, but it can make your Page easier to find – and it looks better.

You can edit your Page name in the ‘About’ section at the left of your Page screen.

fb biz page set up3

2. Share updates that relate to your writing life

What I mean by this is, don’t share the same updates on your business page as you would on your personal profile.

Your readers, and target readers, don’t care about your cute cat or your holiday snaps – unless, of course, they directly relate to your work. Keep it confined to your book-related news, and create specific posts for your Facebook Page. Don’t cross-post. Each platform is very different. Create unique updates, related to writing, for your Facebook Page.

Tim Winton is a good example of this.

winton

Tim shares content related to his work, articles he’s written, publishing news – basically, nothing’s off-topic, and that’s important, because it will ensure that those who do follow your writing page get updates about your writing, which is what they’re following you for.

3. Don’t overpost

One of the key rules to stick to on Facebook is ‘don’t overpost’.

Your fans are following your Page to keep in touch with your latest news, but they don’t need ten updates a day cluttering their feeds.

As noted earlier, people generally use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family – along with some brands and celebrities in between. Go overboard, and you’ll run the risk of them unfollowing – and what’s more, you really don’t need to post too much.

Sure, you want to maintain activity, and ensure that you stay front of mind with potential readers. But you’re not releasing a new book every day, there’s no urgent need to keep them informed of every single thing in order to guide them towards the local book store.

For most authors, Facebook is about maintaining connection with your readers, as opposed to hard selling. Keep them updated with a consistent stream of news, but don’t overdo it.

Matthew Reilly is a good example of this.

reilly

Reilly has over 61k Facebook followers, and he regularly sees high engagement on his posts. Of course, Matt benefits from his established fan base, which you likely don’t have, but his approach to Facebook is consistent, measured and about right for maintaining connection with his fans (note too that he also recently launched a new YouTube channel, showing that even the big players need to maintain activity, and move with the times. If you are going to record video content, however, it’s better to upload it to each platform direct for optimal performance, as opposed to linking off to another platform, as Matt has done here).

Matt posts to his Facebook Page once per week, in general, ramping that up around book launch dates/events. That’s a pretty solid guideline to follow – and that’ll still give you plenty of time to, you know, write stuff, as opposed to spending your days maintaining your social streams.

Also, a few notes here on Facebook’s mysterious algorithm.

Whenever you’re talking about Facebook posting practices, someone always arcs up with their sudden advanced PhD in machine learning, and starts talking about how Facebook’s algorithm works and defines reach.

There are a lot of misconceptions here, but the key pointers you probably need are:

  • While you shouldn’t overpost, every one of your followers won’t see every one of your posts anyway. Facebook’s algorithm will show your posts to a selection of people who follow your Page, and then, if they engage with it, it’ll show more. The system is built to maximize engagement, so if your posts are generating likes and comments, more people will see them. This means that sparking engagement with your updates is important, but not more important than maintaining connection to your author brand (i.e. posting relevant stuff).
  • This also means that, theoretically, you can post more often, as it’s not like you’re going to flood your audience anyway. I would advise against this, but you could post several times a day and it wouldn’t necessarily be a major problem – though it probably won’t help much either.
  • The performance of your past posts does relate to your future updates – so if you have a post that goes viral, your next post after that will subsequently also see a reach boost. Some try to utilise this by posting trending memes and inspirational quotes that will generate likes, even if they aren’t related to their broader branding goals. Facebook knows that people do this, and its system will correct for it if detected. It also clutters up your Page, turns off real fans, and even if it does expand your reach, it likely won’t help you connect with people who will actually purchase your books. So, you can try this, but a longer-term, consistent approach will, eventually, lead to better results.
  • There’s a rumour that Facebook’s algorithm gives a reach boost to posts which include words like ‘engagement’, ‘married’, ‘new job’, ‘big news’, ‘baby’ and various others. This is – or at least was – true, but it’s also not likely to be a major help (Facebook reportedly implemented this after CEO Mark Zuckerberg complained that he missed a post from a friend who’d had a baby).
  • Hashtags don’t really work on Facebook, which is another reason why you shouldn’t cross-post from other platforms.
  • Recency is an algorithm consideration, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your analytics and checking when your audience is active. Post when more people are online, and theoretically, more of them will see it – but it is also worth noting that many brands have also seen good results when they post in quieter times, as there are fewer updates in the stream vying for attention

fb biz page set up4

Basically, Facebook wants to keep people on-site as long as possible, and it does so by showing people more of the content that they’re interested in. Post what people want to see and you’ll be on the right track – but even more than that, post what people who buy your books want to see and you’ll work towards establishing a stronger platform for promotion.

4. Use Audience Insights

Not everyone knows about Facebook’s Audience Insights, which is terrible because Facebook can connect you with so much helpful info, if you know where to look.

If you have a Facebook Page, and you go to this link, you’ll be able to access Audience Insights, which will show you who the fans of your Page are – where they live, how old they are, and other demographic insights.

fb biz page set up5

That’s helpful, but if you’re just starting out, you’re likely looking at an audience of your friends and family, not necessarily your target, book-buying audience.

But here’s where it gets interesting – along with your own page, you can also look up other interests on Facebook, including other authors. And along with demographic insights, it’ll also show you what other things their fans are interested in.

So if I look up an author who I like, whose readers I think might also like my stuff, I can check out what interests them, giving me a better profile of my target book market.

fb biz page set up6

As you can see here, I’ve created a new audience of fans of American author Chuck Palahniuk, limited to those within Australia. Now I can see what other Pages Palahniuk fans like, and based on this, I could post more content that ties into these interest areas in order to boost my potential appeal, or I could use them in my ad targeting, which, given Facebook’s advanced targeting options, I’m probably going to use around launch time.

Which is the next point:

5. Use Facebook ads

I know. I know you don’t want to spend a heap.

I get it – we’re authors, and the majority of us are not raking in the cash from out fat royalty checks and movie deals.

I know you don’t have a heap to spend on promo, but given the advanced audience targeting options available, and unmatched potential reach, Facebook ads can be a great option.

As noted in the previous point, you can target your ads to fans of authors whose work is similar to yours, or around common interests that you find among their fans.

fb biz page set up7

As you can see here, for this (mock) campaign, I’m targeting an audience of people who are interested in movies and TV shows which I think are kind of similar to the themes of my novel ONE. You’ll also note that I’ve also excluded people who are interested in book genres that are not related to what I write.

You should opt for in-feed ads – no one checks those right-rail updates – and if you have a visual ad, you can also include Instagram Stories placement (though I would advise that you create specific campaigns for each platform).

It’s not an exact science, and you should probably run a couple of ad variations to see what works best. You can then stop the ones that don’t produce (after, say, a week) and re-allocate your budget to those that are gaining traction.

You should also optimize for awareness where possible, as you want to make as many people as possible aware of your book, as opposed to driving viewers back to a landing page, as such.

Use a page on your website, or your publishers’, and see what results you get. It may be hard to accurately measure, as you won’t know whether seeing your ad results in a subsequent book store visit. But with fewer bookshops, and fewer festivals and media opportunities, awareness is key.

Facebook ads can be great for this.

6. Get More Page Fans

But hang on, I hear you say, all of these tips relate to functionally operating a Facebook Page, but if you don’t have any followers, you’re talking to no one.

So how do you build your audience in order to maximize engagement?

Getting more people to Like your Page takes work, but here are a couple of options you could consider, depending on how hard you want to push your promotions.

  • First, you’re going to get your family and friends to Like your Page, which will give you a starting point. This is not always ideal, because your family and friends are likely not your ideal target, book-buying audience (which can skew your Page data), but you can prompt them to share with friends, which will give you a base to work from. And either way, they’re going to Like your Page anyway. Best to try and use it to advantage
  • If you have an email list, send out a link to your Facebook Page, or if you’re in any writers’ groups, clubs, organizations and they have an email newsletter, maybe query them to see if they might be able to include a link
  • Share the link to your Facebook Page on your other social media profiles if you have them
  • Make a list of Facebook book groups that might be interested in your book, then contact the admins offering to do a Q and A or similar event. You won’t hear back from all of them, but it may be another avenue to boost promotion, particularly around launch date (note that around half of all Facebook users are active in at least one Facebook group)
  • You could consider running a giveaway to help promote your book. There are specific rules around Facebook giveaways, but you are allowed to ask people to Like your Page to enter a competition, which could be another way to boost your following.
  • Blogging and guest-blogging are additional ways in which you can help get the word out, and make more people aware of your broader online presence.
  • It’s worth leaning on writer friends to ask them to Like or share your Facebook Page, particularly if they’re established, as that will help get your name in front of more readers.
  • Add social media buttons to your website, so people can easily find your related profiles.
  • If you post a picture from an event, make sure you tag the host and any other authors in the image, which can lead to re-shares and more exposure.

Other notes

  • Visuals are important. Still image posts perform better than basic text updates on Facebook, while videos can generate a heap of engagement. As such, a video preview of some kind could be worth the investment, while Facebook Live Q and A sessions are another thing to consider
  • Quizzes and polls also generate engagement and can be tied into the key themes of your book
  • Tara Moss shares some great visual posts, if you were looking for examples, while she also uses the slideshow option for her Facebook Page background image, enabling her to showcase more of her work. This is a good option – but if/when you do update your profile images, keep your phone handy so you can ensure that it looks good on mobile and desktop devices
  • Also, ensure all your profile details are filled out, and that you have the ‘Author’ Page category selected (this will help interested people find your Page)

That’s the basics of an effective author presence on Facebook. There are, of course, other elements you could consider – like Facebook Stories – but as a jumping-off point, this outline should position you to help build an engaging, effective presence to help you maintain connection with more readers.

How to Use Twitter for Book Promotion

I came across this tweet recently, which captures a common frustration for authors on Twitter:

I actually get asked about this quite a lot – my day job is head of content for Social Media Today, so I essentially get paid to analyze and write about social media and digital marketing trends. Combine that with the fact that I’m an author and logically, I should know how to make best use of Twitter for authors and book promotion, right?

And I do, but what I normally add to this when I do respond to such questions is ‘but you’re not gonna’ want to hear it.’

Why is that? Because it takes time, it takes effort – time and effort that writers would generally rather be expending on, you know, their actual writing projects.

The truth is, if you want to utilize Twitter as a promotional tool for your books, then you have to first build your platform, and earn the right to pitch your latest work to a receptive Twitter audience.

How do you do that? Here’s an overview of a few options you could consider.

1. Build a Platform Around an Issue

Now, to clarify, building a ‘platform’ in this context relates to establishing a following of people who are interested in what you do – and ideally, what you write about. If you can establish yourself as an authority or leading voice within a certain niche, then people will seek more information on that topic from you, and in that way, you can utilize Twitter as a promotional tool because your audience is interested in the topic and what you have to say about it.

To do this, you need to get involved in the conversation. Let’s say you write about climate change in your work – you would start by following the relevant leaders in that field and engaging with them, and within the replies on their tweets, wherever was relevant. That, over time, will get your name in front of other people who are interested in the same – so you’re gaining exposure to a group of Twitter users who are interested in that topic.

The more you can get involved and build your profile – through tweet engagement, sharing your own posts, sharing others’ relevant content, etc. – the more you’ll become known in that niche, so when you do publish your book, which relates to climate change, the audience that you’ve established will now be more likely to engage with it.

Author Clementine Ford is a good example of this – Clem writes about gender equality and feminism, and sees a lot of engagement on her tweets as a result, including her book announcements.

Clem has built a Twitter audience of more than 132k followers, and while not every single one of her tweets is about her focus subjects, more than 90% of them are, and combined with her newspaper articles and media appearances discussing the same, Clem has built an audience which knows what they’ll get, and will therefore be a likely market for her books.

But this approach does get a little murky for fiction authors, whose body of work is likely not dedicated to a few key subject areas.

As an example, author Alice Bishop released a collection of short stories last year which looks at the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria – Bishop lived in one of the bushfire hit regions, so has first-hand insight on the destruction.

Alice hadn’t established herself as an authority on bushfires beforehand (which, as a fiction author, wasn’t her aim), but over time, she has been able to build more of an audience on Twitter based on bushfire coverage – sharing articles about the most recent fires, engaging with people from impacted communities via tweet, gaining a following as a someone who writes about fires and their aftermath.

Focusing on a subject has arguably helped Alice build a more engaged audience on Twitter, but that same audience likely won’t be as beneficial if Alice’s next book isn’t related to the same.

In this sense, topicality can help in your promotion efforts, but it’s also likely too confining for fiction authors, who switch topics significantly from one publication to the next. If you dedicate yourself to one key area, it will definitely bring promotional value on Twitter over time, through establishing yourself as an expert in that arena. But this may not be an effective approach for novelists.

Consequently, this is also a problem I see with modern publishing approach to the same, where they seek a topical angle on your work, as opposed to focusing on the story and writing itself. For one, it feels like, over time, literature is merging too much into activism, which can alienate a large audience subset (people are already inundated with politics in their social media feeds every day – the last thing they want is to be preached to in their recreational reading habits). For another, and as noted, it pigeonholes writers into certain topic streams.

But then again, in order to get press coverage, and maximize promotional value, maybe they need a topical angle to pique the interest of relevant editors.

Regardless, if your writing regularly covers a specific focus area like this, this is one way in which you can use Twitter to establish yourself. And once you’ve built an audience of people engaged in the subject, they’ll also likely be interested in your books.

2. Build a Platform within the Writing Community

But what if you don’t write about a specific topic? Another approach you could take is to build a platform within the Twitter writing community, which can connect you to other people who are interested in writing – and by extension, readers who are interested in their work.

To clarify, this doesn’t mean that you should connect to every writer you can and blindly re-tweet each others’ latest book news. Doing this will likely see you end up talking amongst yourselves, and promoting your latest books to no one other than other writers, who are not your target audience. It can be great, and beneficial, to connect with other writers on Twitter for advice, support, etc. But in a promotional sense, it likely won’t help you a heap.

This is where you need to differentiate your purpose for Twitter use, and consider the audience that you ultimately need to reach.

Building a platform within the writing community for promotion more relates to connecting with other authors, with a broader view to utilizing those connections in order to reach more potential readers – i.e. their audience of readers who are already following them.

But this takes a lot of time and effort – Angela Meyer is a good example of this.

Angela has spent literally decades building her profile within the literary sector, first starting as a book blogger, then as a publisher, before finally becoming an author herself. Through all of this, Angela has established connection with a heap of authors and publishing types, who themselves have their own followings of interested readers. When Angela does tweet about a book launch, many of the people who re-tweet it are established authors and publishing folk.

That gives Angela not only reach to writers, but importantly, reach to more readers – but again, Angela has built that platform through years of work, establishing a network on Twitter of people who are now willing to advocate on her behalf.

Angela does also share content around gender identification, which is an element explored in her work, so she also uses topicality to broaden her platform. But an argument can be made that by establishing stronger ties within the literary community, you’ll stand a better chance of utilizing Twitter for promotion.

See also podcasters like Kate Mildenhall and Katherine Collette, who both see higher engagement on their tweets as a result of their established identities within the writing community, and subsequent connection to high profile authors who will be more likely to help them with re-shares and distribution on their announcements.

‘But isn’t that just authors sharing with each other, which you just said isn’t effective?’

Kind of, but in this way, you’re utilizing bigger name authors, those who already have established followings of willing readers. Now, you’re not only getting exposure to other authors, but importantly, the book-buying public.

It’s also worth noting here that with Twitter working to show more users tweets that they may be interested in, even Likes can have the same effect as re-tweets. Twitter’s algorithm will display a selection of tweets liked by people you follow in you in your feed – so even if you can get a prominent person in your field to simply like one of your tweets, there’s a greater chance of exposure to a reading audience.

3. Build a Platform Within Your Niche

Focusing on a single topic area can be restrictive, and building momentum for a podcast or similar in order to establish a place within the mainstream lit community takes time.

So what are your other options?

Establishing an audience within a specific niche, related to your work, is another way to maximize Twitter for promotion – though again, it doesn’t come easy.

In this way, you could tweet about things that interest you in, say, the horror genre in order to establish connection with like-minded users. You could share Hollywood news, posts about the horror writing process, engage with the community around the latest content. And through this, ideally, you can build your profile among people who will eventually also be interested in your stuff.

Author Maria Lewis is a good example of this:

Through her tweets, Lewis shares her interests in film, literature and the arts more broadly, which largely relate to the themes of her own books. Really, Lewis uses a combination of all three of these approaches – her books touch on topical issues, she hosts a podcast (and has previously been a host on SBS TV), and she shares a consistent tweet stream of the things that she’s interested in, further connecting her with like-minded Twitter users.

But again, this didn’t happen overnight. Lewis has also worked for years to establish herself as a commentator, through her work as a journalist and presenter, and she’s now earned an audience of like-minded fans who engage with her tweets.

But it is another approach – if you write in a specific genre, you can use your tweets to connect with readers who are interested in the same.

And the more you can build your brand, tweet-by-tweet, the more you’ll be able to connect with an audience that will be increasingly receptive to your own content.

4. Just Don’t Worry About it

So, all of these approaches take a lot of work – but it also worth noting that you don’t have to use Twitter as a promotional vehicle.

Many successful authors don’t even have a Twitter presence – or some, like American author Jesse Ball, just share random images or cryptic messages for fans.

Many authors also just share what they like, regardless of themes or ideas, and still do fine. While you can use Twitter as a means to promote your work, it’s not essential – but if you are getting frustrated, as with the example at the top of this post, with the lack of traction for your book tweets, it’s worth considering how those who do see significant engagement on their book tweets have worked to establish their presence.

‘So why don’t you do this?’

Yeah, I don’t personally tweet along thematic lines, or even along book-specific lines more broadly. That, in my case, is due to conflicting professional interests – I’m the head writer for Social Media Today, which is where the vast majority of my Twitter followers have come from, so if I share more fiction-related content, it likely won’t get a heap of traction. As outlined in the examples above, I haven’t established a platform for book promotion specifically, and because I’m in between these two worlds, I don’t personally make Twitter a huge focus – though I do use it to connect with other authors, which I find hugely beneficial.

In terms of other pointers, I would add these tips, based on examples I’ve seen:

  • Don’t just re-tweet – ever – Well, maybe not ever, but if you’re looking to establish yourself in a specific area, you need to be including your opinion when you share things. Blank re-tweets likely won’t help improve your tweet engagement (as your followers will be getting these in their feed with no context) and won’t further establish you as a person of interest in that field. Better to share with your own thoughts included. A notable exception to this is if the tweet is about you/your work – if a high profile person says your book is great, then you re-tweet that for sure, as this does work to further underline your brand through external endorsement.
  • Follow-for-follow is outdated – Yes, you want to have lots of followers, but followers who are just doing so in order to boost their own audience counts won’t engage with your tweets – and won’t buy your books.
  • Don’t follow trends – Sure, tweeting a cute cat picture or an inspirational quote might inflate your tweet metrics, but will it help connect you with people who are actually going to buy your book? Making a funny video might get more engagement – but if it’s not actively working towards building your presence in your key area of interest, and linking you through to that audience, it’s probably not really helping. Sharing insights into your personal life is fine, but keep in mind your broader strategic focus – if indeed you are aiming to use Twitter for max promotional value.
  • It’s not the algorithm – Some have suggested that it may be worth sharing some high-engagement tweets, even if they’re off-topic, in order to ingratiate yourself with Twitter’s algorithm. That way, the theory goes, when you share your subsequent promo tweets, you’ll get more reach. That’s not really a relevant consideration on Twitter – on Facebook it is, to a degree, but Twitter’s algorithm is more aligned to each individual tweet, and any reach boost you might achieve is likely not worth the effort (worth noting, too, that Twitter is working to better align itself around topics, further lessening any such impact).

As always, some will read this and respond with ambivalence. ‘But I like re-tweeting book launch info and connecting with fellow authors, and that works for me’. And that’s fine, if you’re happy doing what you do, then all good. But let’s face it, if you were truly satisfied with the results you’re seeing, you wouldn’t be reading this.

The bottom line is that there are ways to utilize Twitter to promote your work, but the pathway to true success is not easy. If you’re looking for a quick fix, a quick-hitting way to get the message out about your latest work, Twitter probably isn’t the best option.

Twitter is a brand-building platform, and as such, you need to take the time to build the right audience, those who will eventually be receptive to your promotional messaging.

Overusing adverbs

 

One of the more common indicators of lazy writing, which many are not aware of, is an over-reliance on adverbs – saying someone ran quickly, someone sang sadly, somebody waited eagerly.

The conflicting approach here is that, in non-fiction, the use of adverbs like this makes sense, as it’s unemotional, it’s a form that’s designed to provide straight-forward information, as fast as you can. So it makes sense to say ‘he listening intently‘ as it’s a quicker way to provide the basic overview you’re seeking.

But in fiction, that’s not enough.

In fiction writing, you’re looking for the best ways to convey the emotion of a scene, to condense the feelings of each character within each moment, and distill that down in order to recreate that same sensation within your reader. That’s both the challenge and triumph of great writing, and it is absolutely not easy to do. But in this, over-reliance on adverbs is an absolute killer.

Next time you come across an adverb in your work, consider whether the same could be said differently, giving you a chance to add a more inventive, engaging flair to the sentences, and helping to build each scene.

Instead of saying ‘he ran quickly’, you might try: ‘he ran like an animal freed from a cage, faster than you would expect.’

Instead of ‘someone sang sadly’, you could say: ‘someone sang, and it sounded as if her heart had separated in two, right in there in the moment.’

There won’t always be an ideal replacement, but as you can see, by taking the time to consider the actual scene, and the actual movement or happening within it, you can likely come up with a more active, alive description, which enhances the feeling you’re trying to express.

And if you find that works, try also replacing specific details, like measurements, kilometres, years-old, etc.

Here’s an example from a piece by Amy Hempel:

“The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me.”

You don’t need to be so specific, so clinical and flat in your explanations – and in re-considering your descriptions, you may actually come up with more descriptive, enhancing prose.

 

 

 

#AuthorsForFireys

As you may have heard, a group of Australian authors recently launched a campaign to help raise funds for the volunteer firefighting groups who are currently battling the massive bushfires impacting several regions across Australia.

Some of these volunteers have spent months away from family and loved ones, often at their own expense, risking their lives to help save other peoples’ property, and the work they’re undertaking is grueling, unforgiving, and this fire season in particular, relentless.

The #AuthorsForFireys campaign, which is running on Twitter, has grown significantly, and there are now a heap of big-name authors – both from Australia and overseas – who are offering some amazing packages, including mentoring, copyediting and professional manuscript feedback, along with signed books and related items for fans.

I’m a very small player within this larger pool of literary superstars, but I’ve also put forward what I can offer, if anyone might be interested.

This is an amazing campaign for all aspiring writers to be aware of, and get involved in – and some of these offers could actually end up being the thing that helps you get that initial momentum that you need to get your work published.

Check out the #AuthorsForFireys and #AuthorsForFiries hashtags on Twitter to see what’s on offer.

 

 

Human impacts

bushfire moon

In 2009, my home town of Kinglake was hit by the Black Saturday bushfires, which killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2, 000 homes. I wasn’t living in Kinglake at the time, I’d moved to the city about five years prior, but I had family there. My grandparents and my aunt and uncle didn’t lose their houses. My brother did.

Kinglake is (or was back then) a small town, where everyone sort of knows everyone, so I also knew a lot of people who were impacted. In the weeks following the fire, you couldn’t go up to Kinglake without a resident pass on your car, but I went up with my brother, and I got to see people I hadn’t seen in ages, their faces still half shocked, each of them perpetually on the brink of tears. The horrors they explained to me are difficult to comprehend, and while several books have been written about the Black Saturday fires, none of them has come close to expressing the emotion they shared, even in the smallest details.

These are events which etch themselves into the psyche of those in its wake, the smoke seeps into their bones and becomes a part of who they are. No one can fully comprehend the enormity of such an incident. In my mind, fire moves slow, you can see it coming from a mile off and you can get away if you leave in time. That’s not the reality that these people faced.

I’ve heard stories of animals on fire, writhing in the smoke, human bodies in burnt out car wrecks, shrivelled and shrunken in. My brother was part of a CFA team that rescued a young girl, who took shelter in a dam as the fire front hit. Her skin was basically melting off her bones as she ran to meet them. These are not images you can shake out of your mind, the impacts of such events will linger inside these people forever.

Now, ten years later, we’re witnessing yet another major fire event. And while debate rages around what could have been done, what sparked the blazes, and how we address future threats, keep in mind the people at the centre of this. The people who’ve lost everything, things that insurance cannot recover. Pets, memories. A sense of place. A feeling of home. It’s easy to overlook these things when it’s not you that’s impacted, but the ripples of this catastrophe will resonate throughout these communities, and the nation more broadly, for years to come.

Research shows that over a quarter of the people who were in the worst affected areas during Black Saturday showed signs of significant mental health problems, while PTSD and suicide rates rose as people struggled to recover.

If you can help, please do so wherever you can, and if you know of anyone in the impacted areas, please reach out to them and let them know that you’re there, and that you’re ready to listen if ever they need. It’ll also be important, at some stage, that people look to head back to the coastal areas, in particular, to visit, as towns which are largely reliant on tourist income have also been hit by this crisis.

Definitely, people have a right to demand answers from the government as to its lack of action in this respect, but make sure that anger doesn’t overtake the need to consider the humanitarian impact, which will stretch on for lifetimes.

You can donate to the Red Cross or Salvation Army relief efforts to directly benefit bushfire victims, you can also donate to the RSPCA Bushfire Appeal and the NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) who are working to provide assistance for impacted wildlife, while The Black Dog Institute and Fearless are both working to assist the victims of post-traumatic stress. Comedian Magda Szubanski is also raising money to help bushfire victims long term with trauma and mental health support.

Main image via @gnat_fly/Twitter

Publishing Trends, Consumer Data and Where to Next

Penguin Random House Publishing Direct Justin Ractliffe recently wrote a new, in-depth report for The Copyright Agency which examines the evolving consumer marketplace for books in Australia, and how publishers can align with modern reader shifts.

The report provides some interesting perspective on the utilization of data-driven insights as a driver of publishing success, and repeatedly refers to Netflix as an example of a modern, content-focused business which has built consumer data into its product decisions, leading to greater success.

Which is not surprising – Netflix has repeatedly been held up as an example of how modern data analytics can be used to maximize traditional creative processes.

You may recall the story of how Netflix used ‘big data’ to create ‘House of Cards’, which all of its indicators showed would be a hit.

As per SOFY:

“Netflix identified that the British version of House of Cards was watched by many subscribers.  Those members who watched the British version of House of Cards also seemed to favor movies starring Kevin Spacey. This was one of the patterns that led to Kevin Spacey being cast in the lead role – in fact, big data was instrumental in how most of the characters were cast. It had a role in how the script was finalized and how the overall narrative progressed.”

Brilliant, right? Tapping into consumer data, from Netflix’s 155 million subscribers, to create shows which align with their interests, thus driving viewer loyalty. Great.

Except that’s not really true.

Definitely, Netflix, as a case study, provides some interesting considerations, as noted by Ratcliffe, but the correlation/causation elements of this argument don’t play out as strong when you dig a little further. Yes, Netflix has achieved success – but how much of that, really, comes down to its original content?

Here’s a simple counter – Netflix published some 700 original shows in 2018, and 80 original films. How many of them can you name?

Sure, Netflix has had some big hits – the platform has struck gold with shows like ‘Orange is the New Black’ and ‘Stranger Things’, and movies like ‘Bird Box’. But on balance, Netflix’s production output is still fairly hit and miss. If Netflix’s data-driven approach were as spot on as implied, why are so many of its offerings failing to gain momentum, and attract big audiences?

But Netflix has 155 million subscribers, which many use an indicator of the success of its original content. Is that an accurate correlation?

Not necessarily. Netflix benefits from brand equity as much as it does from its content – the platform is cheap to access (in relative terms), provides access to a heap of movies and TV shows (Netflix-created an otherwise), and there are also, every now and then, cool, original shows that people want to watch. Given these various elements, it’s impossible to attribute how much of Netflix’s overall success comes down to its’ own productions.

To make it an even more difficult comparison, Netflix doesn’t actually reveal any viewership numbers, so we have no idea what’s working and what isn’t on the platform.

Netflix did, just recently, publish a list of its best performing originals between 2018 and 2019, which provides some insight:

netflix shows

But as noted by The Guardian, it’s interesting, here, to note that only two of the shows listed weren’t a first season. So, again, despite Netflix’s data insights, it’s clearly not fueling ongoing success – which suggests that, potentially, the user analytics-driven approach isn’t as effective as suggested.

Arguably, the Netflix programs which have seen success have been driven to higher levels of viewership by the social media hype train, as opposed to simply aligning with consumption data. Indeed, ‘Black Mirror’, ‘Stranger Things’ and ’13 Reasons Why’ were all among the most tweeted about TV shows in 2018, while the Bird Box challenge became a trending meme on social media, which undoubtedly increased views of that film. In each case, an alternative view could suggest that it’s not consumer data that’s lead to their eventual success, but influence – slotting into the zeitgeist of the day and prompting expanded discussion, which then leads more people to take a look.

As such, maybe it’s not so much data-driven decision making that publishers should be investigating, but viral dynamics – studies like this one by Steve Rayson which dig into the reasons behind why such trends occur, with a view to fanning your own waves of success.

But that path, which requires understanding modern communication dynamics, aligning with pathways that lead to increased social media traction, and igniting those first sparks in just the right spots, is definitely not easy. It’s worth noting too that Ratcliffe doesn’t definitively suggest that publishers should adopt a strictly data-driven approach, but the risk in adopting such a strategy is that you end up narrowing the field too significantly. Basically, my response after reading Ratcliffe’s thesis was ‘I hope people really liked ‘Boy Swallows Universe”.

At core, my concern with Ratcliffe’s overview is that it looks to cater to the existing audience of readers, as opposed to seeking ways to win more readers back. And of course, the latter goal might not even be viable, but if you’re looking to make data-backed decisions, and the data you use is limited in scope, because the reading market is already narrower than before, then that seems like more of a path to eventual obsolesence, as your audience will thin further and further the more you refine your targeting.

But then again, the alternative is not a lot better – the truth is that people’s reading habits have changed, and with so many distractions available to us 24/7, asking someone to take the time to read a full novel these days is asking a lot. People aren’t reading as widely as they once were – which, as to Ratcliffe’s suggestions, points to the benefits of maximizing those who are.

As an author, and someone who loves to see new voices, that concerns me. But from a marketing perspective, I see the logic.

But I would argue that the Netflix data-driven model is not as solid as many suggest. Again, Netflix created 80 new shows in 2018, and relatively few of them resonated. And you don’t have to take my word for it – go watch them, a lot of them just simply don’t work.

At the rates that Netflix publishes, its track record is not much better than any other publisher, even with its added consumer insight. Which would suggest that the existing publishing models, which rely upon the knowledge of publishers – their ‘gut feel’ as it were – are probably just as good.

It seems less about the data in the acquisition process, and more about the marketing push, using elements like influencer marketing and similar dynamics, to amplify messaging.

But the market is narrowing, as are opportunities.

 

at sea

writing ex

I haven’t posted here in a while. Partly because I don’t have anything new to share – I don’t have any new publication dates or anything set to be released in the near future. But also, because I’ve been contemplating where I’m at with my fiction work, and how to push through to that next stage.

Also, I’ve been writing. I’ve written three new novel manuscripts in the last two years, along with a screenplay, a YA novel manuscript and I’m currently working on a series for younger readers, aimed at my nine year-old son. I have a set writing routine, I’m able to commit time to doing it, and I want to make sure I use that capacity while it lasts. You never know when life changes might take your writing time away, so once you have it, you need to keep going.

And in some ways it’s freeing, being able to work on the projects I want to, dedicating the time to editing and reworking and getting them to a presentable state. But also, not having another deal locked in is scary.

I commit a lot of time and effort to writing, and will do so as long as I can, but it’s difficult to tell, in the current market, whether my ideas will make it. I remain confident that they will, eventually. But publishers’ budgets are getting tighter, and reader interests are, at least seemingly, narrowing in. I believe in my work – but will it actually work in the current environment? Can I find an audience and deliver for my publisher, solidifying my career?

And then there’s the more philosophical question – does that even matter?

I mean, I’ll always write, whether for thousands of readers or none, I’ll always come up with stories and ideas that I want to explore and flesh out. And in some ways, that’s probably enough – but then again, there are bills to pay, and the time I spend writing I could spend doing something more directly tied to income.

For the vast majority of writers, fiction doesn’t pay much, and most authors wouldn’t be doing it for the money – cause they could make more elsewhere. But it’s still a consideration, it’s important on some level.

But where do you draw the line – how much time is too much to be allocating to a task with indeterminate return? I’m sure this is a dilemma that all writers face – and again, I know that I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep doing what I love, keep working to improve. But the questions of promotion, of raising awareness, of how you go about boosting your profile, how you make money – while also matching that with, you know, actually doing the work itself, is always difficult.

There are government funding options to consider, of course, but those too are in increasingly limited supply. And also, I don’t need them as such. I work full-time, I can pay the bills. I would generally rather leave those options to writers more in need – because they’re likely the voices that we really need to nurture in order to broaden our perspectives. But maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it.

Essentially, I haven’t posted anything here in a while because I’m waiting. For the next big announcement, the next step. And I’m not exactly sure what that is just yet.

So I’m working. I’m writing every day, refining my sentences, filling in my plot holes, tightening up my language. Improving where I can.

But I guess, aside from wanting to provide some sort of update, I also wanted to share that the process is hard, for everyone, and no one has all the answers. Even two books in, I still have periods of total self doubt. But I always come back to why I write.

Is it to make money? No, though that would be ideal. Is it to build a profile and chase some sort of literary ‘fame’? No, not at all.

I write because it’s what I love to do, and if I can somehow fund that work though publication, while also connecting with an audience, that’s the ideal.

But will I keep writing anyway, if that doesn’t eventuate? Sure. I mean, it’s what I do.

And the more you practice, the better you get.

Note: I was partly reminded/inspired to get back to my blog by this post from author Matt Davies, which all authors and prospective writers should read.

The trend away from literature at festivals

After the recent releases of the programs for the 2019 Melbourne Writers’ and Canberra Writers’ Festivals respectively, I tweeted out these stats:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

That raised a few questions over what this means, whether such matters, and what, exactly, my point might be.

There are a couple of things. For one, as someone who’s interested in literature and writers, I look forward to the release of these programs to see if there’s anyone worth heading along to hear. I was disappointed with the line-ups of both events, largely because of the low representation of any authors I might be interested in – though many others, it’s worth noting, have praised the programs. Worth noting, too: MWF director Marieke Hardy, now in her second year, lead a significant increase in revenue for the event in 2018.

As a literary fan, I dislike the trend away from fiction authors, given there are seemingly fewer and fewer opportunities to hear them speak, but I do also get the financial perspective, the business side of such planning.

But the other issue I have is more pressing – with fewer outlets for fiction writers to generate exposure for their work, I feel like we’re losing a significant opportunity, which could have a much larger cultural impact over time, as our next generation of authors miss out on connection with writers and work that may help them find their own voice.

Of course, literary ‘voice’ is a bit of a fluffy concept – finding your voice is never really a clearly defined process. But I’ll give you an example within this context – as much as I was good at English and literature when I was in school, I was never taken by the assigned books on the curriculum, and I never really found stories and/or authors that I truly connected with till after I started reading for pleasure more consistently, after I’d left the school system.

Through the authors I found – many via events, festivals, bookshops – I was able to discover writing styles that I connected with, that I wanted to write like myself, which then inspired me to try my hand at creating my own works.

A significant part of this comes down to basic exposure – and as noted, there are many authors I’ve come across because they’ve been speaking at events, broadening my literary input and helping me find more of what I like. It’s important to also note that I didn’t go to see every one of these authors speak, but simply having them featured on the bill, seeing them interviewed as part of the lead-up – all of the periphery exposure that comes in addition to being part of a writing festival, particularly one of the majors, helps to connect more people to more authors, and as more and more bookshops close down, and the opportunities for such reduce, authors, arguably more than ever, need that extra push wherever possible.

Excluding fiction authors from a writers festival is a major blow – and again, I do understand the commercial obligations, and the festivals that do receive government funding, and, you would assume, have more of an obligation to promote the arts do feature more fiction writers.

But it feels like a lost opportunity. In some cases, some of the festival events feature whole sessions where none of the speakers or hosts are primarily known for their writing – which, to me, misses the entire point of a writers festival (call it a ‘festival of ideas’ or something if you’re no longer going to focus on actual writing).

Festival directors need to make money. But then again, authors do too. The less opportunity for exposure, the less they’re able to do so, which is another component to the whole chain in lessening cultural impact. In essence, as the balance of power in the Australian book marketplace shifts towards commercial content – and away from literary expression – we also run increased risk of failing to help our next generation of authors find their voice.

Who’s the next Christos Tsiolkas? The Next Richard Flanagan? Right now, I’d say we don’t clearly have another shining literary light coming through – and the way we’re going, maybe we won’t see such anymore at all, and definitely not at the same rate we have in the past.

It’s only one indicator, and there are other signs of positive activity within the fiction space overall. But it’s a concern that writers festivals are increasingly moving away from actual writers, and therefore, the sharing of discussion and exposure around the same.

Advice for aspiring writers…

“Clearness is the most important quality of writing but it’s the most overlooked. People think being complicated or ambitious is the most important part of writing, but the mind is so raw and complicated itself that being clearer will always create a greater depth of complexity. It never leads to reductiveness.”

Jesse Ball