The prevalence of social networking sites has made it easier than ever for writers to reach readers, regardless of whether they are traditionally published or self-published. However, it’s also extremely easy to go overboard with marketing or to just look like an idiot in front of people from all over the world.
While I’m not a published author, unless you count a couple of tiny anthologies published by a company that has since folded, I am a huge consumer of books. I have over a hundred books on my shelves at home and a never-ceasing “to be read” pile. I know what I like, and what I don’t. A lot of these following problems may only apply to self-published authors or only to those traditionally published, but it’s a good idea to keep all of them in mind. Some of these might not turn everyone off, but I can only speak from personal experience here.
Extreme Anti-Traditional Publishing Views
The majority of the books I read are traditionally published. That is, published by a publishing house. My favourite books are traditionally published and, while I’m not opposed to giving self-publishing books a chance, I will generally give preference to a traditionally published one because it has already gone through a vetting process of sorts.
If you are a self-published author and have an interesting novel concept I might read, the biggest turn-off for me is finding rant after rant against traditional publishing when I visit your blog. Seriously, if you’re trying to convince people who primarily read traditionally published books, rants about traditional publishing essentially insult the readers’ tastes, and, may I add, the decisions made by readers who are thinking of traditionally publishing their own works, like myself.
It’s okay to dislike traditional publishing, but ranting and raving about how they’re not in it for the authors, are liars, money-grubbers, etc. will only make you look like a conspiracy theorist. And very few readers take those kinds of people seriously. I certainly don’t. If the author is incapable of being reasonable and accepting there are both positive and negative sides to all publishing methods, I’m not going to think their work will be very good. While it might not be fair to judge someone’s fiction from their blog, if I see an extremely one-sided view of publishing, often descending into common insults flung at publishers that have ceased to have any real meaning, I’m going to assume your work is just as one-sided and lacking in complexity.
Poorly-formatted or poorly-spelled blog or website
I rant a lot about hating white text on black backgrounds, but that’s not the only thing that can go wrong with a blog or website. I often find potential authors following me on Twitter and the first thing I do while deciding whether or not to follow back is to look at their website. If it is messy, impossible to navigate or glaring spelling errors pop out at me, I am going to be much less inclined to read your book. If your website is this unprofessional, will your book be the same?
A clean format with easy to find links on the sidebar and across the top of the page beneath the heading are your best bet. Anything important should be listed there. I recently went on to an author’s website because the title of their book interested me, only to have a hell of a time finding a page about their books. I eventually found a picture of one of the books halfway down the page in the sidebar. It’s fine to do that, but maybe a little messy, as long as you also have an easy to find page where you have information about all your books. Readers don’t want to embark on a treasure hunt to find your books.
Also, proofread your damn blog posts and website content. If you aren’t a very good speller, get someone else to help you. PLEASE. And, while you’re at it, you better have found someone to proofread your book.
A Terrible Book Cover
Traditionally published authors often have no control over their covers, but self-published authors do. If you want your book to be bought, you had better shell out for a decent designer if you are not one yourself. The cover is your book’s clothing, if you will, and while some people wouldn’t be opposed to a cover equated to someone dressed in dirty rags, I assure you many people will. The old “never judge a book by its cover” adage may work with people, but the literal sense of book covers is incorrect. If your cover is absolutely hideous or boring, people will be turned off.
A Terrible Blurb
Oh, these exist. Sometimes it’s possible to get past clichéd descriptions of a plot if the plot itself actually sounds okay, but it’s not going to do you any favours. If you write something like Jane Doe was an ordinary girl living an ordinary life before the sexy John Smith arrived at her school, I will probably run away. The number of hackneyed plot elements described in that sentence has reached toxic levels. Yes, the plot elements can work in a novel if reworked well enough, but the “ordinary girl” cliché in particular is so overdone you will lose potential readers if you don’t put an interesting spin on it in your blurb. Some traditionally published authors, again, don’t have control over this, but some do and so do all self-published authors.
The number of people on Twitter who do this is astounding. Let’s just say you follow someone because their blog looks interesting or they have a handful of interesting tweets. However, once you follow them you receive a direct message reading something along the lines of: “Hello, thanks for following. Here’s a link to my book.” Ugh. Maybe some people buy, but plenty don’t.
Repetitious tweets about your book are also a turn-off. It’s okay to link to, say, a review of your book every so often and make it clear in your profile description you do have a book out, but it’s not okay to beat your readers over the head with sales pitches. This sort of marketing is so intrusive and transparent that you will lose Twitter followers and possible sales.
You’re better off providing interesting tweets about things that may relate to your book. For example, if your book involves faeries, you might link to articles or other people’s books about faeries that you like. Most people on Twitter also share minor details about their lives on occasion and create content that will interest their followers. This is a much better alternative to over-marketing, and will make readers feel like they know you. If they like what they see, they might purchase your book.
Blog posts like this come around every so often, although generally from more experienced members of the writing community than me.
Rachelle Gardner recently posted What NOT to Blog About, which has a slightly broader focus than just turning off potential buyers.
A Writer On Writing posted last year Social networking (or what NOT to say to an editor), which is focused on networking in person and contains a real-world example of rude behaviour, which she experienced.
Nathan Bransford’s Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer is less about finding readers and more about not going insane from the publishing process, but some of the commandments are relevant to what’s been discussed in this post.
I hope I left you with something to think about. I also hope I haven’t offended anyone. I do try to temper my opinions on the internet so I don’t look like a raving lunatic. Here’s a smiley face to make things better :)