Brenda Cooper

A Story of Engagement

I usually wake up with fiction stories in my head.  I’ve kept writing fiction in the last month, but the stories in my head lately have mostly been blogs.

Here’s the futurist take on it:

Earth has become a computer connected world. I’m a science fiction writer – so a bigger percentage of my readers are online than some other genres might be.  The raw population of the world is bigger than it ever has been (and has grown by around 30% in the last twenty years).  The broadband connected population is growing.  Younger generations know how to use the web to market and to decide what to buy; they were born with keyboards and monitors and ipods and cell phones.   Marketing of everything from underwear to toothpaste to cars has gone viral and online.  Physical means of delivering information (newspapers and bookstores) are dying.

I don’t like it, but I can’t change it.  I had foolishly hoped the old ways might support me anyway.  You know, that past world where writers write, agents sell, publishers publish and market.  Yes, everyone still does do their job.  I still depend on my capable agent and editor and publisher.  But I have to do more than write, since there are a lot of equally capable writers (and better and further along writers) out there who are also marketing effectively.  John Scalzi.  Jay Lake.  Cory Doctorow.   Neil Gaiman.  Tobias Buckell.  Mary Robinette-Kowal.  Elizabeth Bear.  If I want to sell my fiction, I have to do more than just write it.  I have to market myself and my work.  I’ll admit I do like attention, but I’m not the natural self-promoter that, for example, Jay Lake is.

On a personal level, I got a shock that made this into a mission for me – an expected easy sale didn’t materialize.  I sat back and had a little cry (well, all right, maybe a big one)  and went WTF? and thought about it over a cup of coffee.  Then I emailed some friends, including Jay Lake, and went “Help!”  Jay connected me to the able Jeremy Tolbert, who I hired for some advice (and he did a very nice job).  I contacted Shaun Farrell, and he agreed to let me do some guest blogs (and by the way, if you comment there, you may win a free book.  I’ve already given one away).  I was going to do a video for my public speaking career anyway, and paid extra for an interview about my books.  I’m working with the fellow who did the video, Tim Reha, to plan more videos (and get better at them.  I learned a LOT from video number 1 – video number 2 will be better.  I know how to talk – even on camera – so that was fine, but I came off looking a bit like a middle-aged business person instead of a cool writer, and spent way too much time head-nodding).

So what exactly am I doing?

  • I use my Twitter account a lot.  A lot more than I thought I would, actually.
  • I use Facebook
  • I’m trying to get more guest blogs set up.  For example, my writer’s group is all pro writers and we’re going to guest each other’s blogs.
  • I’ve had the videos made through my work at Futurist.com (three – two futurist videos, one of which mentions my books, and one just about the books)
  • I’m getting better at categorizing and tagging posts
  • I’m learning these tools.  That’s not as small a job as it sounds like.
  • I’m spending a lot of time talking to people (on line and face to face)
  • I improved my website from a social networking viewpoint
  • I’m blogging about twice as often
  • We have a loosely linked personal interest site shared by me, Toni, and three dogs called threedogsblog.
  • I’m part of a shared futurist twitter feed.

My goals?

  1. Make that sale materialize.  Other sales, too.  Don’t worry, I won’t leave all my eggs in one basket.  But I’m stubborn and I want the one that want.
  2. Get good (and efficient) at this – I’m still spending way too much time.  I don’t have time.
  3. Become an expert.  This will be useful in my day job anyway.
  4. Stay authentic – some suggestions have been too “markety” and feel about as friendly as the new Facebook design.  I don’t want to do that.  I want to actually connect.

So here is a set of random comments about what I’ve learned and done so far.

  • This is complex.  Link things as much as you can.  For example, if I Twitter, it shows up on FaceBook.  Friends helped me with that, too.
  • I have lost writing time.  I have to be careful with that balance.  Writer’s write.  The sound of valuable time draining away is the most insidious part of social networking.
  • Some of this is free.  Some of it isn’t.  I’ve spent money to save research time – that’s a good trade for me.  But if I had more time than money, I could learn this stuff.  People are helpful.  If you ask someone how they did something, they’ll probably share.
  • I have had some new people comment.  I’ve had more comments.  Nothing like the major blogs.  Drop by and look at Scalzi’s Whatever to see a real following.  But mine’s growing, and just like your books don’t start out on the lists unless you’ve been there before, electronic readership builds. I’m still seeing more comments from my friends in the writer community than the reader community, but that’s okay.  I like my friends, and the other circle is growing, too.
  • Since I’ve asked for advice and gained help along the way (free and fee-based) I feel like I have a cheering team in this effort.  That actually matters.
  • I have no idea yet if what I’m doing translates to the physical book sales I want.  The two industries –  internet word-of-mouth marketing and social conversations, and the New-York based book industry –  are at opposite side of the time continuum.  One changes moment by moment, the other is slow and often misleading (because of the returns-based book model, and because authors, and I suspect others, can’t seem to get information in a timely way)
  • New York is learning, too.  Torforgeauthors and I follow each other.  There is also a torbooks out there.  I suspect the difference is the editing and publicity arms of the house, but I actually don’t know.  Maybe it’s Tor’s official tweets and all of our authorial wisdon in tweet form.   Good for them, anyway.  And drop by Tor.com for some of the best online fiction.

What about you?  What web 2.0 stories are you waking up with?  What ideas do you have?

15 Responses so far

  1. 1. Barb Hendee

    Oh, my gosh, Brenda . . . you are already TONS better at this than me or J.C.

    I’m not even following half of what you said up above–and you wrote it very clearly. I don’t Twitter. I don’t have a Facebook page. I don’t network at all.

    I mainly use my Live Journal to talk with my friends about food, cats, or whatever we’re currently reading for fun.

    I’m terrible at self-promotion. Just awful. I get sick from nerves before readings.

    SF conventions wear me out. So, we only do one or two cons a year.

    In my defense . . . I am writing two separate series now, and the Noble Dead books take a lot of time. But still . . . your post makes me feel like I’m not doing very much on the promotion front.

    I think you are doing very well!

  2. 2. brenda

    Right. I probably AM doing more on promotion than you are. But you may be working on exactly the right priorities for you. You are on the lists. You have a big following. I’m not, and I don’t. Yet. I’m hopeful. I’m a fine writer as far as I can tell. I’m just newer and more likely to get lost in this crowd and this recession. I frankly think you should keep spending all your time writing so I can read your stuff.

  3. 3. Jill Zeller

    Hi Brenda!
    Very insightful blog–thanks to Mary for posting a link on Facebook. Get’s me thinking about my own career and how to use the Internet’s valuable resources–the other stuff, waiting for a big sale but maybe I should get started talking about my smaller recent sales. Any way, thanks! I linked your blog to my website.
    Jill

  4. 4. Shashwati

    Thanks to Mary for linking to this on Twitter. You are on your way already, I am looking for your stuff now!

    Thanks for sharing all that you’ve learned and plan to do.

  5. 5. brenda

    Thanks for the comment! I will post more about this as I learn more — maybe once a month or so. So feel free to drop by anytime. Good luck to you.

  6. 6. Chris Billett

    Great post, Brenda! I bookmarked it when Mary stuck it up the other day and have finally gotten around to reading it. Sounds like you’re making all the right steps!

    One thing I’d say (which, as someone you don’t know, unless we’ve met at WFC n’ I’ve forgotten!) is that I am very much *not* a fan of guest blogs, unless they’re on a blog that has rotating contributors from the start. It is, for instance, why I rarely swing by Jeff VanderMeer’s blog as much as I like his writing, opinions and him personally! Mind you, I guess that says more about me going to a blog for a person rather than content… which is probably debatable in itself. I’ll shut up now.

  7. 7. Earl S. Wynn

    As a fellow science fiction author, I have to say that I agree whole heartedly with everything you’ve said! I’m still trying to figure out twitter, but I’m a pretty confident user of Stumbleupon and reddit, which have helped quite a bit all by themselves!

    But yeah, bravo, and nice post!

  8. 8. brenda

    Thanks for replying. I don’t know much about stumbleupon or reddit – how have those helped you?

  9. 9. brenda

    Well, I think guest blogs can “add” to a site. For example, if I have someone guest blog here, I probably won;t blog any less. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  10. 10. Kim Sannes

    Brenda,
    I was thinking about this today after I closed your blog, so I thought I should come back and comment.

    Perhaps if you figured out how your current readers have found your books you could use that in your marketing.

    I found you when browsing through Bookstar, looking at Nivan to see if he had any new books. After reading H’s Moon, I realized how much of it was obviously your work and purchased your next book. I had to special order “Reading the Wind”, because it wasn’t yet available in the stores.

    I suggest finding out how other fans have found you and somehow repeating what ever method is already working. That is, if they find you through your lectures, do more lectures. If they find you through books signings, do more of that.

  11. 11. Kim Sannes

    Park Avenue Agreement

    Another thought. In one of the autobiographies I read by Heinlein, Clarke, or Asimov, I don’t remember which, they had come up with a good idea. As I recall, and I could be totally wrong, they were all sharing a limo back from some SciFi convention in New York when one of them came up with this idea. When ever anyone asked them who their favorite author was, they agreed to mention the other two author’s names.

    Maybe you can find a small selection of authors that have the same demographic and try something similar. Always emphatically promote other authors who promote you in the same way, every chance you get.

    It seemed to work for the three of them.

  12. 12. brenda

    That’s a great idea. I think the three B’s do that (Brin, Bear, and Benford). I have actually been thinking that a follow-on post to this one to explore a similar subject. The more I comment on, link to, or draw attention to other writers, the more they tend to do the same in return out here in the twitter/blog/facebookverse. And we all benefit. I’m not quite sure how to tell how people find me…and thanks for telling me how you found me! People who email me off the website have generally read my books. Readings are tough – not many people come until you get a big following, which I don’t have yet. Sometimes two or three of us go together so our small fan groups can meet each other!

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