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The Lotus Palace Release & My Crazy FB Experiment

Today is the official release day for my first single-title, THE LOTUS PALACE…huzzah!!

But what I wanted to talk about–because I can’t just concentrate on what I should be doing for a release….no….I have to come up with some new scheme to try out…

What I wanted to talk to you about was my crazy FB experiment the three weeks leading up to today. And hopefully some of you will learn from my mistakes. Maybe laugh with me. Or laugh at me?

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It starts like this…

Facebook is the thing, right? That’s what every author who has hit it big says. Twitter is tired. Blogs are dead. Facebook!

Okay. I’ve been hanging around Facebook. It is kind of fun. So I’ll concentrate on FB for this release. And because I was a science teacher in former life, I start with some field research and observations about Facebook.

Observation 1: Pictures do way better on Facebook than just text or links.

Observation 2: For me, people seem to respond most when I post Asian pictures. Makes sense. Asian/Chinese culture is my brand. Plus Asian scenery, art, costumes, knick-knacks look really cool.

4705428_sObservation 3: People don’t seem to mind when I post about my book. In fact, they seem to respond really positively.

Observation 4: I really like looking at the stats on the Fan Page. I just love data. My personal page doesn’t have fun graphs attached to it.

Observation 5: What’s this boost post thing do? Maybe I can drop a couple of bucks to find out…Neat! So instead of a couple hundred people seeing my post, a thousand people see it. For five bucks. Evil Facebook. Really, really evil.

And ingenious.

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I’m going to post a disclaimer here: If I was some hot, marketing savvy, enterprising author posting a success story, what follows would be how they used FB to become a mega-bestseller and are now buying a house. And an adjoining house for their cat too.  This is not going to happen here.

(Though my book does release today…any chance of it suddenly going viral? Checks Amazon…nope.)

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Three weeks before The Lotus Palace release date, I hatch a scheme. Only I’m in the middle of the book that’s going to kill me, which happens to be the sequel to The Lotus Palace titled The Jade Temptress. It features a lot of deadly poisons. I’m considering taking some as I’m up for the 10th night in a row past midnight, typing gibberish.

Yet I get so excited about this new idea, that I take a couple of precious hours away from my book to put the activity together. (It was more than a couple of hours.)

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My crazy idea: I’ll do this cool FB activity to introduce people to my book. I’ll have little giveaways attached and include all those elements which are usually big draws on my feed: Asian settings, historical trivia, tidbits about The Lotus Palace without hitting people over the head with the fact that my book is coming out.

It was going to be a series of three “crime scenes” through which I’d introduce the setting of my book and sprinkle little “clues”. Fun stuff, right?

The good thing was that even if NO ONE pays attention to it, I’ll have created some nice and interesting content to post to Facebook, I’ll have a non-traditional ad to promote for a few bucks each and I’ll have an interesting “Extra” to put on my website later.

Here’s what I learned:

Lesson 1: You can host FB giveaways through a separate tab or page, which you can point to your website or a Rafflecopter widget. The idea being that you’re actually hosting the contest not directly on Facebook.

Lesson 2: You can’t make liking or sharing a post a requirement for entering the contest,however you can give the option to Like a Fanpage as an option. I need to revisit the fine print on that, but apparently it IS acceptable to ask people to Like your Fan page on a contest. Just don’t ask them to like or share a post for a reward.

Lesson 3: Don’t post stuff on Sunday evening just because you’re excited about it. It will totally get buried and ignored.

Lesson 4: Facebook doesn’t allow ads with more than 20% text on them. I tried to make a teaser image, but nope. Still too much text. So they boosted my post for only a short period of time before ending the promotion.

Lesson 5:  The images did get a lot of views, but not much interaction or many entries for SWAG. Was the activity just too ambitious? Too complicated?

In the end, I at least got what I planned for: Nice-looking content that’s relevant to my book and brand.

Lesson 6: I could have gotten more interaction on Facebook by posting cats and ice cream.

cat_icecream

***

lotus_palace_cover_medium

The Lotus Palace releases today!

A clever maidservant forms an unlikely partnership with a notorious failed scholar and playboy to solve a crime, but will they be able to find lasting happiness when an impossible attraction develops between them?  A Tang Dynasty romance and mystery set in the infamous pleasure quarter, complete with crime scenes.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

***

 So what’s your poison? Are you a fan of Facebook? Is Twitter more your thing? Or do you prefer to stay far away from social media?

Street Teams: The Nuts and Bolts

I’m sure you’ve all heard it . . . street teams are “the thing” right now. Everyone is getting one! But how do you start one? And what do you do with it when you get one?

I’m far from an expert, but I’ve been watching and listening and playing around with one on my own. I also sat in a street team workshop at Nationals this year just to pick up some tips. Additionally, I’m sure there are many other rubies here with much more knowledge and know how, so please, feel free to share your thoughts on the matter in the comments (because I guarantee I’m only scratching the surface here). Non-rubies…please tell us what you know, as well! This post is here to help, so comment with anything you think others could use. :)

Promo…ugh…

Book promo…author promo…just jab a needle in my eye and make it stop :)

OK, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but promo is a necessary evil, right? We all have to do it! And who of use really likes it? I would venture to guess, very few of us. So…since it’s likely very few people’s favorite part of the job (possibly NO ONE’S favorite part of the job), I would like to know What Really Works?

I’m sure you would, too! :)

Digital Book World Discoverability and Marketing Recap

I attended the Digital Book World Discoverability and Marketing conference in NYC two weeks ago, and I wanted to share my key takeaways with all of you. The conference was geared toward publishing professionals – marketers, publicists, and all the people responsible for launching ebooks and getting them discovered by readers. There were very, very few authors in the audience; I know Bob Mayer was there, and a few authors gave programs during the session, but this was truly a marketing conference. I’m kind of a geek for marketing (even though I also secretly despise it), so I found myself loving/hating all of it – but your mileage my vary, of course!

These are the most interesting insights/tidbits I heard during the conference…if you want more detail on anything, leave a comment and I’ll see whether my notes are helpful:

1) If you take nothing else away from this post, know this: the importance of mobile (smartphone/tablet) browsing is increasing dramatically. The head of industry for publishing at Google shared some Google search stats, and the eyepopping one was that in 2010, 93% of Google queries came from computers; now, it’s 72% and still dropping fast, with those other 28% of searches coming from mobile. Mobile search is only going to continue to grow.

What this means for authors: you must make sure that your website looks great on smartphones. For me, my website traffic in the last month (1943 unique visitors / 2571 total visits) was 41.9% on mobile devices – the iPad was 50% of my mobile traffic, iPhone was ~25%, and a variety of Android phones and Kindle/ereader tablets made up the rest. If someone is reading your book on a mobile device and searches your website to learn more, you want them to see a great website optimized for smartphones. This means *no Flash* (flash doesn’t work on iPads), quick loading, etc. Test your site on mobile devices, and if you don’t like how it looks, work with your web designer to fix it.

2) Your Amazon book page is like your book’s homepage on the web. We heard from Jon Fine, the Director of Author/Publisher Relations at Amazon, and his main point was that when someone searches for your book on Google or other search engines, they’re almost certain to see the Amazon page for your book at the top of the search results. You want that page to be as good as possible, with reviews, product descriptions, etc., and a robust author page that gives as much information as possible about your works.

What this means for authors: do as much as you can with Author Central. You may not be able to control your product descriptions (often the publisher is responsible for this), but you can do a lot on Author Central – regularly update your bio, add videos, add your Twitter feed, add your blog feed, etc. You can also add extras about the book through Shelfari (Amazon’s Goodreads competitor), which show up on the product page for your book. Just a little bit of effort on Author Central can make your presence more robust, which helps you show up higher in search results.

3) Email marketing is a bigger sales driver than any social media platform. Jessica Best from Emfluence Marketing said that for every $1 she spends on email marketing, they drive $28 in revenue. I don’t think that these stats are perfectly accurate for authors maintaining their own email lists – but purely from a time/money spent perspective, my (very infrequent) newsletter is more valuable than anything I’ve done on Facebook, Twitter, etc. It costs some amount of money every month to maintain a mailing list through a mailing list manager like Mailchimp or Constant Comment – but the people who sign up for your mailing list are interested in what you have to say, and you can use Mailchimp to track how many people open it, make sure that it looks good on smartphone mail clients before sending it out, and see how many people subscribe/unsubscribe every month.

What this means for authors: build your email list. Facebook or Twitter could go away tomorrow, but if you own your mailing list, you can always reach your biggest fans. Key caveat: do it ethically! Don’t violate CAN-SPAM law (or public opinion) by adding people without their permission. But I make joining my email list a key way to enter my contests, and I can track to see how many of those people stick around when I send out my next newsletter. I also have a link to sign up to my mailing list in my ebooks – this is easier to do if you’re self published, but it should be obvious how to sign up for your newsletter as soon as someone hits your site. Use something like Mailchimp or Constant Comment, which will help to make sure you don’t break CAN-SPAM law and also help you track stats.

4) Get a few metrics you can measure consistently and act upon – and then track them. Angela Tribelli from HarperCollins spoke about the importance of metrics, which I totally agree with. But it seems that most authors (and I’m guilty of this myself) obsess over their Amazon sales rank but don’t track anything else. Instead, you can track things that you can actually impact – visits to your website, newsletter signups, Twitter follows, Facebook likes, contest entries, etc. Then, if you do a blog tour, for example, you can see whether there’s any increase in averages for those stats in the days/weeks after the tour – if you don’t see any lift beyond your average, it might tell you not to do a blog tour again.

What this means for authors: pick your stats, track them, but don’t obsess. Daily tracking of things like Twitter or Facebook likely isn’t helpful. Instead, you can pick a day of the week or a day of the month, write down all your stats, and ignore them until the next time you need to track them. For me, this helps to decide whether to invest money in a giveaway, whether to spend more time on Twitter, whether to spend money promoting a post on Facebook, etc. This can also be helpful for showing publishers that you’ve built a platform – if you’re able to show steady growth and things you’ve done to grow your platform, this could theoretically help to get a deal.

5) Final thoughts: the jury is still out for me, but I’m starting to believe that it’s less important to do blog tours before a release and more important to spend that time making sure that your profiles and information on all the major platforms are thoroughly updated and have as much info as possible about your latest books. Obviously your website is key to this – your website should always be updated, even if you don’t treat it like a blog. But your Author Central page, Goodreads and Shelfari profiles, Facebook, Twitter, and any other outreach methods you use should be updated regularly so that search results are accurate. The primary goal is to make sure that anyone searching for you or your books finds out how to buy them! The secondary goal, with the help of a good web designer, is to figure out how to get your own site or book higher into the general search results for terms like ‘regency romance’ or ‘best contemporary romance’ – that’s a much harder nut to crack, but it’s worth thinking about.

But I’m not an expert, and I would love to hear what you think – what’s worked for you, what hasn’t, and where you’re focusing your efforts. I’m looking forward to your comments!

An Author’s Guide to Geeky “Social” Stuff

Whether you are a published or soon-to-be published author, the chances are pretty good that you’ve already been thinking about social networking.  If you’re a published author, your publisher has probably insisted that you do this.  If you’re an indie author, knowing this stuff can make a huge difference in building readership.  If you’re pre-published, learning this stuff before you sell can be a huge time saver.

So, like it or not, we right-brained authors need to learn a few left-brain tricks.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t learned any of this stuff before I sold my first book, so I had to do a lot of catching up while simultaneously trying to meet killer book deadlines.  I would not recommend this method of learning.

And so, in the interest of sparing you some of the pain I’ve gone through, I thought I would pass along a few helpful tricks that might give you a running head start in trying to stay “social.”

How to have a blog delivered to your email account.

Let’s start with something really simple, like having the content of the blogs you want to follow, including the Ruby Sister blog, delivered to your email.  To do this, you’ll need to learn about something called a “Real Simple Syndication Feed,” otherwise known as an RSS feed.  (And, no, that is not short for Ruby Slippered Sisterhood.)

Every WordPress and Blogger site has an RSS feed that contains the content of the blog.  An RSS feed looks like an Internet URL address, but it’s not the address for the blog — just for the blog’s content.  Here is the URL address for the Ruby Sister blog feed.

http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/feed

If you follow this feed, you’ll see all of the blogs posted on the Ruby Sister Blog, displayed in a webpage without our site’s navigation buttons and graphics.

Using an RSS feed, you can have just the content of the Ruby Sister blog delivered to your email account on a daily basis.  All you have to do is visit “Feed My Inbox” (http://www.feedmyinbox.com/).  At this site, you simply enter the URL for the Ruby Sister blog and your email address and voila you’re done.  Every day you’ll get an email containing the blog posted here on the Ruby Sister blog.

Obviously if there are other blogs you want to follow, you’ll need to get their blog feed.  Luckily there are specific naming rules for WordPress and Blogger RSS feeds.  Below you’ll find a link to more information about this, so you can figure out the feed for each of your favorite blogs and have them delivered to you, instead of having to go onto the Internet and search for them.

For a full discourse on RSS feeds from WordPress blogs, follow this link:  http://codex.wordpress.org/WordPress_Feeds

For more information on Blogger RSS feeds, follow this link:  http://support.google.com/blogger/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=97933

Following blog comments

It turns out that WordPress and Blogger have RSS feeds that include more than just the content of the blog posts.  You can also follow comments posted on a blog.  So if you want to follow the comments that are posted on the Ruby Sister Blog, the URL would look like this:

http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/comments/feed/

Like any other RSS feed, you can have this one delivered to your email.

Following a specific blog author

It gets better — and more useful — because WordPress has a way of filtering an RSS feed.  You can filter a feed in a number of ways, but for me the most useful is to filter the feed so that it provides only the posts of a specific blog author.  So if, for example, you wanted to read blog posts that were submitted only by me, the RSS feed would look like this:

http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/author/hramsay/feed/

Using a blog feed on your own webpage

I use my own Ruby Sister author feed to build content on my own webpage.  If you follow this link:  http://hoperamsay.com/news-feeds/, you’ll see how my posts at the Ruby Sister blog show up on my own webpage.  I don’t have to create these links by hand, using my RSS feed, they post automatically.

My webpage uses WordPress so I have a huge array of free software “plugins” that help me manage the page pretty effectively.  The WordPress plugin to display my Ruby Sister author feed is called “Syndicate Press” (http://henryranch.net/software/syndicate-press/), but there are others available.  I am not familiar with Blogger webpages, but I’m sure there are methods that you could use to have your author RSS feed embedded on a blogger webpage.  If your webpage is more traditionally built, you may have to check with your webpage designer for ways to have your author feed embedded into your webpage.  But if you are blogging at other sites, you should not miss this opportunity to automatically keep your webpage content dynamic.

Using a blog feed to create Facebook content

Suppose you have a webpage like I do that includes a blog.  I occasionally make posts on my own blog, as well as participating in multi-author blogs.  Every time I blog, I want to make sure that I let my friends on Facebook know about it.  If you visit my facebook author page, you’ll find my blogs posted in two different ways.  I have a tab on my facebook page that shows the feed from various blogs that I participate in.  In addition, every time I create a blog, a Facebook status update is created, with an automatic link to the blog.

I use an app called “Social RSS” to make this happen.  The free version of social RSS will post the blog feed to your Facebook status timeline or author wall in about 24 to 48 hours after the initial blog post.  Because I want my feeds to show up quicker than that, I pay for the premium version of this service.

I have to be honest, I like this app, but it sometimes malfunctions.  I’ve been searching for a better way to do this, but I haven’t found it yet.  If anyone has suggestions, please leave a comment.  The point, though, is that it is possible to link your blog feeds to your Facebook page automatically, using an RSS feed.  And anyone who regularly blogs, should be taking advantage of this connectivity.

What else can you do?

Well, it turns out that Facebook and twitter also have feeds.  And with a little bit of research you can figure out ways to do some pretty interesting things.  For instance:

  • You can connect Facebook and twitter so that the feed for every one of your Facebook posts is automatically tweeted.  There are two advantages to using twitter this way:  1) you don’t have to worry so much about the character count, and 2) you only have to post a status update or comment once.  Follow this link to set this up:  http://www.facebook.com/blog.php?post=123006872130#!/twitter/
  • You can put your Facebook or twitter feed directly on your WordPress website.  I embedded my Facebook feed on my own webpage by using a WordPress plug-in called “Simple Facebook Connect.”  Not only does this plugin allow me to embed my Facebook feed on my webpage, but it also allows my readers to “like” posts and other content on my page.  If I wanted to, I could allow users to post Facebook comments on my webpage content.  If you visit my page (www.hoperamsay.com) you’ll see my Facebook feed on the right sidebar.
  • I have also opted to use Constant Contact to manage my mailing list.  This is a paid service, so it might not be for everyone.  But one of the advantages of using Constant Contact is that the service provides a mailing list app that I can use on my Facebook page as well as my personal webpage.  Facebook normally doesn’t have a mailing list option, so if you are an author and trying to build a mailing list, I strongly recommend that you find a service that will allow you to connect a mailing list option on your Facebook page.  Constant Contact also has a way for people on my mailing list to tweet and to share my email messages to them, potentially broadening every mailing that I send to my mailing list.
  • If you are using both twitter and Facebook to communicate with readers or friends, it can get really tiresome flipping from the Facebook interface to the twitter interface.  There are two great solutions for this problem.  You can download free software called “Tweetdeck.” Alternatively, you can visit www.hootsuite.com and set up a hootsuite account.  Both of these solutions allow you to set up multiple twitter, Facebook, and linkedin accounts in one place.  You can post to all of your accounts in a single post, instead of trying to post in multiple places.  Using hootsuite has really saved me a lot of time.

I am only beginning to explore additional ways to connect my presence as an author on Goodreads and Amazon to my webpage and Facebook.  So I can’t provide much help on those things right now.  But I would sure be interested in hearing any other tips from readers and authors about connecting things up and staying social.

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