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U b U


toujours gai, archie
I just read a post from over at Writers Unboxed. I felt the author(s) missed an important point. Rather than rain on their parade, I thought I'd make comments here. First, here's the link
Books PR & Marketing Questions Answered Part VII: Tips from Authors on Social Media, Events, Expectation, the Long Haul, +

The problem I have with this article--and there are many others that are along the same path--is that they don't take into account the many different kinds of people who make up the sum total of authors. They talk as if we are all naturally gregarious and engaging (and charming), and that only a misplaced shyness or lack of confidence holds us back. Here are some typical comments.

"Be you. Readers can tell when you’re phoning it in—but they can also tell when you’re genuinely having fun. Don’t do something just because everyone else is if it doesn’t feel natural to you, but do find those things that best express yourself and define your brand."

Sure. And what if me being me means I'm dull and awkward? Am I still supposed to be me, or am I to "fix" myself? To get personal, I'm a historian. I'm well aware that many people find history dull, but I like to write about it, so you're going to find historical (and pseudo-historical) essays at my website. That's me being me, but I doubt it's going to sell many books.

Moreover, how many of us actually know what things best express ourselves? We have many aspects to ourselves, not all of which are relevant to marketing a book. Still more, I don't have a brand. I really don't. I don't care to develop one. That's just me being me. How about someone write advice for folks like me?

"My second tip is this: find what you enjoy doing (for me, it was graphics and newsletters) and dig deep into that modality."

OK, a phrase like "dig deep into that modality" should be a warning flag in any sentence, but I'll let that slide. I enjoy making electronic music. I like to teach history. Those only take time away from writing and marketing. Moreover, I do enjoy playing around with graphics, but that cannot disguise the plain fact that I'm not an artist and I should not be allowed within the same county as my next book cover. Just because I love an activity doesn't mean it's relevant to my marketing effort.

That's sufficient to make the point. We are not all the same. We have different strengths, weaknesses, and depth of pockets. I long for advice columns that recognize that and have something practical to offer across a wider spectrum.

Mad Swede

Except that I've heard that said before, that you should be yourself and do what you enjoy. Because we all enjoy writing, don't we? Why else are we doing it? And we do put ourselves into our work, no matter what we say. So yes, our readers can tell when we're having fun. And it does apply to our marketing too. Some of us are good at websites, some are good at Facebook or TikTok or whatever, and some of us are good at gladhanding around all the cons out there.

And yes, we do have brands. You may not think so, but we all do. It's about what sort of books we write, whart sort of characters and settings we have etc. As my editor says, it's about our style. That's all about us having fun and writing what we enjoy. And in your case Skip, it's writing your style of book and historical essays. That is your brand.

I think the problem I have with articles like that isn't that they're wrong, it's that they're using jargon to give snappy replies without stopping to think that others may not know the jargon and may not express themselves in that way.


toujours gai, archie
I appreciate what you are saying, but it also sort of makes my point.

I don't really enjoy writing. Not that I dislike it, either. I'm not a tortured soul. But writing is just something I do. I can't stop doing it. For most of my life, this activity resulted in whole boxes of notebooks filled with fragments and ideas, along with history essays, lectures, and even scholarly work. At some point, I decided that I wanted to try to go further than fragmentary work and get completed stories in place. So it's sort of in the category of let's see if I can do this. It really isn't about fun or fulfillment or any of that. All of those sentiments feel contrived and distant from me. Closer would be a craftsman who said to himself one day, enough with whittling and boxes, let's see if I can build a nice wardrobe that someone would want to buy.

As for brands, that doesn't feel helpful to me. If my brand is whatever I happen to write, then that applies to anyone who ever writes anything. At which point "brand" rather loses its meaning. Style (I'll presume voice is a fitting synonym) is something quite different. My style isn't about having fun or even writing what I enjoy. It's merely what I do, like breathing. I think brand is something more specific. But I also think the word has been used in so many cognate ways, it has been rather drained of meaning.

Finally, absolultey yes. They use gargin without stopping to think that others may not express themselves in that way. Which is a better way of putting what I said originally. These posts don't take into account the many ways in which we all differ from each other in important and meaningful ways. When Joe Writer comes to such an article, he doesn't see himself reflected there and walks away wondering if perhaps he's the problem. That's he just doesn't see what others see.

And all of that is just humans being human. What I wish is that some humans out there would write articles that took these differences of character and experience into account. Spoke to those differences. And gave helpful advice accordingly.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
"Be you. Readers can tell when you’re phoning it in—but they can also tell when you’re genuinely having fun. Don’t do something just because everyone else is if it doesn’t feel natural to you, but do find those things that best express yourself and define your brand."

Sure. And what if me being me means I'm dull and awkward?

Then be dull and awkward. If you could be anything but dull and awkward you would be already. Don't pretend otherwise. It's not like you're the only one.

No, I'm being serious. I mean, I'm not trying to call Skip.knox dull and awkward. I'm just running with the example. But whoever you are, you kind of need to be that when you write, too. It's part of the creative process. It's part of having better ideas and better execution. You need to get out of your own head and your insecurities so you can focus on the work. Worry and insecurity actually hinder the parts of the brain that encourage creativity.


toujours gai, archie
I agree with you, Devor. There's a kind of tension where from one corner we're told to study the writings of others, even to the point of imitating them as an exercise, while another corner urges us to "find our voice." It's enough to make any noob despair. I feel for them. I've never had that insecurity. I dunno why. I can think of reasons why I might have turned out that way. But it seems to be part of my character. Which in turn makes me wonder if insecurity might be part of the character of another person, which in turn would make all the urging for them to come out of their shell and be confident sound awfully tinny. Yes, being overly self-critical can just kill a person's creativity. But some artists find ways to use that. I'm no help there at all, but it's another area where it'd be nice to be able to point to genuinely useful literature and resources.

But the article (and the thrust of my kvetching) concerned the marketing part, about U b U when it comes to selling books at convention, for example. Surely there are things the Chronically Shy can do in such venues. But the gist of most advice columns is along the lines of hey, lighten up! Just be friendly! People want to like you! Which of course, for a shy person means absolutely do not be you. *shakes head*
I find that the thing with these kinds of articles is generally that they try to fit complex ideas into a nice soundbite or twitter worthy sentence. Of course there's value in being yourself or being all bubbly at a convention to sell books or whatever. But just being yourself doesn't actually sell any books, unless you're a door-to-door salesman by nature. There is a whole world behind just that one sentence which could probably fill up a book or two. That just wouldn't fit into a blog post or a tweet.

I generally take this advice to mean: find marketing activities you don't mind doing too much. You'll be doing them for a long time, spending a lot of time on them. And if you hate them you'll stop before you'll have much luck with them. It's basically drawing a Venn-diagram with in one side "stuff I can do" and in the other "stuff that sells books". The intersection of those two circles then is probably the kind of marketing you should be doing.

To use skip.knox as an example (if I may...). You enjoy history, and teaching it, and writing alternate history fantasy (or at least, you can't help doing it...). If I would be "building your brand" I would tie those together. There are plenty of people who like history, as long as you don't force them to memorise dates and events. History is full of interesting characters and fantastical events. You could send out a newsletter each month (or twice a month if you're feeling adventurous) with a fun real history story. You could talk about the historical events that play a role in your stories or serve as the backdrop for them. You could talk about where you have to alter history (other than having goblins invade of course). You could then also post these on your website, or on facebook. I've read your pilgrim posts and they're great fun.

Now, I've just turned a boring and akward history academic into a brand. Do it consistently and you'll get some people who follow and like it. I'm betting there's plenty of people out there who would be interested in reading this stuff. It just takes time to build up the momentum.

Just an example of course.


Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
I think there is a lot of value in adopting a role instead of being purely yourself when writing. I am a scatterbrained person who jumps from subject to subject, interest to interest and frequently cycles through different viewpoints. If I were to be "myself" when I write, I'll end up with an incoherent whole. More than anything, I think it is important to approach a work from a particular perspective when writing (at least in any given sitting). Whether that perspective is an act or "real" doesn't matter. If it did, the world would be many pastiches poorer.

Mad Swede

If you know what is meant by Johari windows then you'll know that everyone puts on a front of some sort. You can call that adopting a role if you like, it comes to the same thing. And I'd suggest that we do that unconciously, and that it comes across in our writing. Our writing methods may reflect how we are, at least in terms of how we work, but the role we take on is about what we write. And indirectly that role becomes part of our brand, our writing style.
My problem would be that these sorts of statements are platitudes you see everywhere: Be you! Do what you love! Promote your brand! They're about as useful as advertising advice like "use an engaging image" and "know your audience". It isn't that any of the advice is wrong, but it's so generic that it's borderline useless.

That said, I suspect you underestimate the value of the History Prof does Alt-Earth Historical Fantasy. The problem isn't your brand, it's finding the people open to your brand. That's the bitch-to-find ingredient in the witch's brew. No retailer wants to open up their data to you. The closest we've got was FB in its prime, but even then, you were counting on them applying their data while giving you glimpses. Amazon COULD apply massive data to their advertising, but I'm not convinced they really do a good job of it. This is in part because they sell a bazillion products and don't really care which ones sell (at least until they have an Amazon Brand of that product), but from what I know of their Mega Campaigns, where someone pays them like $30k+ a month to advertise, meaning Amazon literally takes over the ad campaign, their ads are run Shotgun all over hell instead of micro-targeting or "knowing their audience". Proof of this are the books that show up in my ads in locations reserved for these big-spending clients. If their data thinks I will read that book, they don't know me so well.

Amazon could be an absolute Goliath in micro-targeted advertising (in particular with books as they own all of Goodreads' data) and sales even more so than they are by taking a more FB approach, but whether due to privacy or other legal concerns, or apathy, or whatever, they take a different approach.

Hmm, that's some babbling right there.

EDIT (AKA more babbling): One of my favorites is "make sure your book is in the right category" No Shit! What category is that since books on Amazon are jammed into categories they don't belong to the point of absurdity? heh heh.


toujours gai, archie
>I suspect you underestimate the value of the History Prof does Alt-Earth Historical Fantasy.
No one ever went broke underestimating the value of a historian. <g>

I get the sweet spot, however modest it may be. The challenge, as you say, is figuring out what to plug into the maw of Amazon in order to get noticed. Especially when the algorithms seem to have been modeled on the behavior patterns of a Labrador retriever. Squirrel!

As for the platitudinosity of the platitudinizers, let them shine, as the poet sayeth. Where I get irked is when I think about the damage they do to those who, with all the innocence of the newborn, take them seriously and try to apply the slippery devil-speak. There should be a way to issue a takedown notice for Vapid.
This might go wildly off-topic. Appologies in advance...

I've been working in IT for over 10 years now, and I've built things like search engines etc. As a result I've lost a lot of my faith in "Algorithms". In my experience it's usually a lot of technobabble to make a very simple idea sound very difficult and profound. Something like also-boughts. I'm sure you could do a lot of predictive analysis and machine learning and add in someones search history to predict fairly accurately what someone will buy. It would also require constant maintenance, be a privacy headache, change all the time get stuff massively wrong and so on. Easier is to simply look at all the people who bought a book, list all other books they bought and show the most common ones. Quick, easy, always works.

Same with advertising. If you have a massive budget, you can find hyper focus on specific books, analyse all the data, fine-tune it, run statistics on it and try to predict what's going to happen. Lots of work. You could also just target everything, remove stuff that doesn't convert and work your way down. It's easy and doesn't require any work. Even I could probably program that in an afternoon and I have no programming skills at all.

I remember a story from a succesful advertiser about how advertizing sometimes doesn't make sense. At one point he decided to let Amazon do its thing and just created an auto ad with basically all the settings as Amazon suggested them, just to see what would happen. He set it and forgot about it. It turned out to be a massive succes, so he went in to analyse what was happening and what he could learn from it to apply to his own ads. Turned out the success was mainly down to 1 keyword, which was:
"book book"

Make of that what you will.
Even there, was that Broad, Phrase, or Exact "book book"? Heh heh heh. The veracity of this tale is in question, although I know for a fact Amazon has made sales for me on stupid keywords like that. If true, I'd question the time period. Otherwise, it sounds like a fable to teach a lesson about the quirks of advertising. A loose interpretation of someone typing book book "Broad" might be "books about selling books". I could see it working for some types.

There is one lesson to be had... running an Amazon auto ad can learn strange and useful keywords. It's why some folks recommend running them for a time to discover some stuff.