Monday, January 13, 2014

Getting the Word Out: More Thoughts on Guest Posts & Blogger Etiquette/Responsibilities (and a bit on Loss Leaders)

Okay, I’m going to make this short and sweet today because I’m really crunching on a deadline.  In the weeks leading up to the New Year, I was talking about discoverability and how to get the word out about your books.  On a week where I wasn’t set to blog here, I did put up a post about blog tours; you can read about that here.  What I’m going to do today is simply follow up on a few things I mentioned in that post and a little something extra that came up in the interim.
One comment that a reader made was pretty interesting.  She is a regular blogger, has hosted guest posts, done giveaways, and has published a slew of reviews.  She is, in fact, one of the first bloggers I ever “met” and I hold her responsible, for better or worse, for getting the ball rolling for Draw the Dark.  (She can deny it, but I know people read her blog.)  So when this woman talks, I listen.  Her take on guests posts was fascinating: she felt they really weren’t all that useful for her as a blogger and reviewer; that people headed to her blog because they wanted to hear from and had developed an attachment to her, not because they were all that excited or interested in whomever she might interview.  Which was pretty intriguing. 
Conversely, I also know of a blogger whose readers love when she does interviews—but that’s because her blog’s been set up that way from the get-go.  She’s very clear that this section of her blog is devoted to interviews; this section to reviews; this section to her thoughts about books in general; this section to her own work . . . Getting the picture?  She’s a blogger who’s diversified; the people who read her interviews are not the same who might read her thoughts on the best middle grade horror books (as one example). 
As a reader of a very few blogs—there are only so many hours in my week—I can tell you, for a fact, that I regularly go to one writer’s blog every week for one post only.  She has other posts during the week; she gives away free fiction; but I’m not interested in that.  I’m interested in only one particular area she chooses to blog about, and that’s the day I’ll drop by.

So I’m thinking that both my reader’s comment and my own observations about blog content ring true: people head to a blog for a reason; because it has some identity and/or some content they’re really interested in.  They do not head to a blog because you, a writer they may never have heard from, just happen to be posting . . . unless it’s their practice to do so already. 
See the distinction?
Anyway, all that reinforced to me that guest posts really might not be the most efficient and effective use of your time as a writer to get the word out.  That was hammered home for me just a day or two ago when I happened across a blog where I’d actually been invited to do a guest post—for which I spent time I might have given to my work in progress or, say, feeding my husband—that never appeared.  Mind you, this is a post for which I was invited and my publisher asked that I do.  Come to find that the blogger put up a kind of a blanket apology a week or so ago, talking about getting swamped, not having been able to make the time, and so falling down on putting up the guest posts she’d solicited authors to do.
Now, I’m not an ogre.  I don’t whip my husband (or, if I do, he enjoys it).  I don’t starve my cats.  I’m as human (and humane) as the next person, and I really, really understand about getting behind.  We all do.  I have been working nonstop for months, every single damn day of the week, on the book whose deadline is coming up in . . . hold on, let me check . . . three days.  (Am I done?  Yes.  Have I been done for a week or so?  Yes.  Am I taking a weed-whacker to the thing and checking for inconsistencies even though I know I’ll be seeing this book again at least three more times?  Yes—but I’m a perfectionist this way.)  But I’ve not cooked the best meals from my family; there have been nights of grilled cheese and many Sundays I’ve not baked a cake.  I’ve put off doing a lot of things, like paying bills or seeing a movie, going out to dinner, going on vacation.  I have been under virtual (self-imposed) house arrest for months.  I'm not complaining either.  This is my job.  I have a contract and obligation I take seriously. 
So when somebody puts up a blog and then invites you, the writer, to do a guest post, I think that every blogger has to understand: a writer takes time out from her job to write something for free.  That writer is providing content with the good-faith expectation that those words will see the light of day.  Will that post necessarily generate a lot of hits and more publicity for a book?  Probably not, unless it happens to being an extremely well-traveled, highly influential blog (I talk about this in my earlier post and how you ought to weigh the pros and cons), or one that’s universally recognized: say, something on Horn Book, Kirkus, or Publisher’s Weekly. (HAH!  I wish . . .) 
But is it okay not to honor the obligation to put up the guest post, especially when it really doesn’t take all that much work to cut and paste?  To my mind, the answer is no.  When I give my word that I will do something—for example, this blog—it’s not okay not to.  I’ve taken on the obligation; it’s a promise I’ve made, and promises . . . you gotta keep.  (And, come on . . . we’re all busy.  We all have things to do.  I didn’t  have time is really shorthand for This wasn’t a priority.  Simple as that.  We all the same number of hours in the day.)  Barring something like illness, a death in the family, or some catastrophe, then I must make time/find the hours to honor that obligation. (Just as some of my fellow ADR3NALIN3ers do their blogs weeks in advance.  In other words . . . they plan.  What a concept.)
In the case of a blogger who solicits a guest post and then doesn’t put that up . . . so not cool.  A personal email to the writer who spent the time to generate words for which she’s not getting paid is only polite.  It is not okay to solicit a piece and then never put it up.  That is work and time that I’ll never get back.  That is time I took away from making a more elaborate meal for my husband, or seeing a movie.  Or sleeping.
Think about it. 
Something that has nothing to do with blogs: I think we all know that giveaways are one venue for getting the word out about a book.  In a post about discoverability, Kris Rusch mentioned the idea of loss leaders: that is, something sold at a loss to lead consumers to other products (as, for example, forgoing a profit on the first book in a series sold for a deep discount).  In many ways, this is one reason why writers participate in communities like Wattpad, where authors make out-of-prints books available for free or post free chapters pf a work in progress (or finished work).  Until a few weeks ago, I had zero stats on this because I’m traditionally published and so  have no access to sales numbers (better for my mental health, trust me on this).  But, a few weeks ago, Audible decided to make ASHES available as a daily deal.  (Tickled me to pieces.)  A week later, they followed up to let me know how that had gone. 
Let’s put it this way: with the discount, the sales for ASHES went up two-hundredfold in a single day from what it had been for an entire week prior.  In addition, the bump in sales continued for the week after the deal, with sales of the first book, even back up at full price, going up twenty-fold.

Wow.  That . . . that makes you sit up and pay attention.
What this also suggests—actually, screams—is that you need a very efficient marketing arm to get the word out.  I’m still not sure how an individual would do that in a way that’s comparable to a company like Audible, unless it’s someone who’s built up a following over a lot of years.  I suspect that going through venues such as Goodreads or Amazon—I’m talking about people going the indie route now—might generate the same bump in sales, provided that the sale (or giveaway) remains in effect long enough.  Audible was able to achieve for ASHES what it did because it has the resources for an email blast that reached a ton of customers.  Their reach is huge. 

By contrast, my reach, as an individual, is teeny-tiny.  For example, when I do a giveaway on Goodreads, I’ve learned that you have to let it go about a month in order to generate hits (I count a goodly amount of hits as upwards of a thousand).  Is there a bump in sales afterward?  Beats me.  I don’t know because I’m not the publisher and don’t have access to those numbers.  If and when I go indie, though—say, release WHITE SPACE as an e-book for overseas distribution through Kobo and Amazon—then I’ll have some numbers . . . sort of.  That is, I might be able to track whether or not my sales improve because of a giveaway or price reduction.
Okay, that’s all I have time for today.  That deadline just hasn’t disappeared, so it’s time to pet the cat, feed the husband (or vice versa) and get back to work. 


Sechin Tower said...

Insightful as always. Thanks Ilsa! It might interest you to know that Amazon gives indie writers the option to make their book free from time to time. It has some trade-offs, but man-oh-man it works like gangbusters to get the word out. and boost sales.

Good luck on the deadline!!

Ilsa said...

Yes, I did know that, Sechin. If and when I do that,I'd be interested in seeing if there's a bump in sales after the initial freebie.
Back to deadline madness...