Because publicity IS your job: social media for authors

This lady knows her stuff.

That was obvious to me the first time  I “met” Marian Schembari on Twitter (she’s @marianschembari). She knows what she’s talking about. Whenever I have an idea about social media, I bounce it off Marian.

Marian Schembari, who helps authors sell boatloads of books.

And the cool things for readers of this blog? Marian specializes in social media for authors. That’s right, she focuses on helping writers sell books. And she’s here today to tell us how she does it.

Thanks for joining us, Marian! How’d you get into social media consulting? What makes you qualified to work with authors?

My background is in book publicity, and the way I landed that job is where the social media part comes in. I left college wanting to get into publishing, but getting my foot in the door was way more difficult than I had thought. After three months of sending out resumes and cover letters and hearing nothing back, I decided to take a “guerrilla marketing” approach. I used Facebook ads, Twitter, LinkedIn and a blog to get my name out there, and two weeks later I had a job as a book publicist. It was that easy. And that hard because no one taught me how powerful social media could be!

After three months of book PR, I realized a) I really enjoyed working for myself and b) most publicists still don’t really have a handle on social media, and traditional publicity is fading fast. Print and TV opportunities are limited, and having a review in The New York Times just doesn’t have the effect it used to. Readers want a personal connection, not some unrelatable opinion from a faceless reviewer. Readers want recommendations tailored to their interests, friendly neighborhood book bloggers and fan pages where the author actually participates in discussions.

Today, what can help sell books are relationships. Make it easy for readers to engage. Connect directly with book clubs on Twitter. Update fans on your writing/tours/signings/readings. Fiction or nonfiction, it doesn’t matter. There are incredible communities online – covering everything from knitting to politics to cooking to rock climbing.

You teach authors to use social networking rather than doing it for them. Why does that work better?

For a million reasons, the most important one being that no one knows a book better than the author. The second being that it’s more authentic. Like I said, readers want a personal connection with an author and if that author is going to make the effort to be online, it’s silly to have someone else do it for them.

Social media is not one of those things you can outsource. I show authors how to create a real presence online based on their interests and goals. I do a little tutorial work for those who are brand-spanking new, but when it comes to the actual tweeting, blogging, etc… well, that’s where they have to put the work in. There are ways to approach social media so it doesn’t consume your life, and I give my authors a daily, weekly and monthly schedule so they actually have time for writing and aren’t just sitting at their computers tweeting all day. This makes all the difference.

What are two of the top mistakes you see authors make when it comes to social media?

Only two? Sigh. Well, the first is attitude and this definitely comes across through their profiles. So many authors think it’s “not their job” to take care of the marketing and publicity of their book. But as much as I love publishing houses and their employees, here’s a little word to all you authors out there: your publisher’s not going to do sh*t for you.

While unfortunate, it’s the truth. And this isn’t the publisher’s fault! With the economy in bad shape and the interwebs making it harder and harder to sell books, their staff is spread incredibly thin. So if you want to make sure you actually sell your book, take some of the easy marketing into your own hands. Get on Twitter. I’ll help you find that community of readers who’s going to fall in love with your book. Create a Facebook fan page and spread the word. But don’t sit at your desk whining that it’s not your responsibility. The incredible power of social media is that you don’t need to be a marketing expert, you just need to have a passion for your book, be willing to learn the basics and have fun with it! [Note from Alexis: Love this tough love approach. Marian’s so right.]

The second mistake? Blatant self-promotion. While people will start following you on Twitter or become your fan on Facebook because they want to hear more about you, they don’t want to hear you shouting “Me! Me! Me!” from the social media rooftops. They want to hear where your next reading will be or get a link to your latest review, but they also want to hear about your favorite authors. Writing tips you can provide. Extra tidbits about your book. And, of course, you need to give love to get love. So retweet (that’s Twitter lingo) and engage others in conversation to get the most out of your online presence.

You offer solid tips on your site about how job seekers should use LinkedIn. Do you think LinkedIn is also valuable for authors?

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En lieu of a Writers’ Roundup… Socialexis

I’ve felt slightly overwhelmed this week trying to juggle three major projects: book revisions, my new social media biz and a revamp of my website. Everything, including this blog, will soon be at alexisgrant.com. Finally!

To lighten my to-do list, I’m going to pass on the writers’ roundup this week, and instead ask you to “like” the new Facebook page for my biz, Socialexis. I promise not to inundate you with updates (because that’s what prompts me to unlike pages I follow), but I will let you know what I’m up to and occasionally post social media tips.

A Facebook page is also an easy way for you to refer me to friends who might be able to use my help, since there’s a “Suggest to Friends” link under the main photo.

Thanks for your support, guys! Couldn’t do it without you. And I mean that.

A simple tip to help you build your online community

Everyone’s always complaining about how much time it takes to build an online community — to grow a following on Twitter, Facebook, your blog, etc. It’s true. It does take a lot of time.

So I like to give my clients tips to maximize every minute they spend online. And this particular tip will help you across the board, on every network and platform. Best of all? It’s easy.

Whenever you write the name of your blog, make it clickable. How do you do that? By including http:// at the beginning of the address.

I’m going to use my friend Melanie’s blog as an example, because I was teaching her this yesterday. I know she won’t mind because y’all are going to go check out her blog about life as a new mom, right?

Melanie should be writing her blog address like this: http://soveryvienna.blogspot.com

Not: http://www.soveryvienna.blogspot.com

Not: soveryvienna.blogspot.com

The http:// is crucial. It lets readers click on your link right there, rather than having to cut and paste it into their browser. The fewer steps it takes to get to your blog, the more readers will visit. The easier it is for readers to visit you, the faster your online community will grow.

Do this when you’re leaving comments on other people’s blogs. Do it in your e-mail signature. Do it in the blurb on the left-hand side of your Facebook fan page. (Profiles have a website option built in, so no need to worry there.)

This applies to all parts of your online life! To your Twitter handle! http://twitter.com/yourhandle. To your Facebook fan page! http://www.facebook.com/yourpage. To everything!

Ingrain it in your head. I will always use http://. It doesn’t matter whether or not you include www. That’s your choice.

Note: This trick will NOT work when you’re writing a blog post. You’ve got to use your link button to make a link live.

If you already knew this, don’t growl. Pat yourself on the back. That’s way more productive. And if you learned something new today, go forth in your online community and show off those skills!

Why writers should have a blog (and my first real rejection)

It was nearly a year ago that I was first approached by a literary agent.

I hadn’t sent out any queries. I hadn’t attended a conference and pitched agents in person. I hadn’t even tried to get in touch with agents, because I wanted to write my manuscript first. So how, you ask, did this agent find me?

Through my blog.

That’s right. I’d written here about one of her clients, and the agent happened to see the post, then clicked around my site reading more about me and my project.

Apparently I looked interesting, because she e-mailed me asking to see a proposal — if I had one — and sample chapters. And though the e-mail was a complete surprise, I already knew who this woman was. She was on my list of agents to query! She’d represented the author of a travel memoir I’d enjoyed, so I’d already researched her, knew about her experience and books she’d sold. Needless to say, I was excited.

My proposal wasn’t quite ready, so I finished that and my chapters during my residency at The Hambidge Center. Upon my return home, I sent The Agent my work. And then, every time I sat down to work on my manuscript during the next month, I nervously wondered whether she was reading it.

But when she finally got back to me, it wasn’t with good news. She was passing on the manuscript, she wrote. My first rejection!

For a day or so I felt defeated, disappointed that it hadn’t worked out. Months later I’d wonder whether I should have waited to share my work, until I’d finished my entire manuscript. After all, what I have now is completely different than what I gave her a year ago. In retrospect, the work I sent her wasn’t polished. But that’s how we learn, right? By making mistakes. I learned then that even when I think my writing is at its best, it’s probably not. Because we don’t know what we don’t know.

I also learned another important lesson: that it was essential that I do a fabulous job with my blog. Because someone important might read it. Producing an awesome blog is part of making my own luck.

There are a zillion reasons why writers should make time to produce a quality blog. Simply having one isn’t enough; it does you no good — and can actually do you harm — unless you do it well. But for those of you who are looking to get published, this one reason should be enough to get you on the blogwagon: a literary agent, or another important, career-changing connection, could find you through your blog.

A handful of writers have approached me recently asking for help with their blogs, which is why I’m now offering blog coaching — help with everything from setting up a new blog to improving an existing one — as part of my social media consulting gig. But The Traveling Writer is all about free advice. So over the next two weeks, I’ll address three questions:

  • Part II: What makes a blog successful?
  • Part III: How do you get started blogging?

If you’ve ever considered starting a blog or are looking for ways to improve one you’ve already created, I hope you’ll join the conversation.

I’m open for social media business!

My job hunt has taken an unexpected turn. A good one.

Though I’ve applied mostly for journalism positions, plus a few other writing-heavy jobs, something different keeps falling into my lap: social media gigs.

I resisted it at first. I see “social media consulting” and immediately think snake-oil salesman. I mean, who really needs someone to help their company with social media? Everyone knows how to do this stuff!

But everyone, apparently, doesn’t. Look at the job boards, and you’ll see tons of social-media positions. (Mashable Jobs is my favorite social-media-heavy board.) Lots of companies that want to expand their client base through social media don’t have the know-how or the time to do it.

These positions keep finding me. Here’s one example: I applied for a writing/editing position with an international organization. The woman in charge of hiring wrote me an e-mail saying that yes, I looked qualified for the Web-writing position, but what they’d really noticed on my resume was my social media skills. Would I be interested in a job along those lines?

Now, social media is on my resume, but I hadn’t exactly highlighted it. Mostly because I didn’t realize how much I could leverage my experience in this field. Yeah, blogging and building online communities and using all sorts of social networks is part of my daily life. I use those tools because they help me accomplish what I need. I ran the @freeroxana Twitter campaign because I thought it was an important cause. I created a Ning group for writers of travel memoir because I saw a gap in the writing community. I figured out the ins-and-outs of using social media for networking because it helped me with my job hunt. I put that experience on my resume because I thought it made me more marketable all-around, not because I expected an employer to hire me specifically for those skills.

But small businesses and organizations are offering to pay me to build online communities. C’mon. How can I say no to that? I’m excited to help them!

On top of that, it seems that all the press releases I threw into my trash as a journalist are now coming in handy. For small businesses looking to build online communities with the end goal of finding new clients, it turns out I have something else to offer: I can write a damn good press release, and I’m smart about figuring out who to send it to. I’m an affordable one-woman social-media-slash-media-relations band! Who would’ve thought?

So I’ve started taking on clients. And thanks to this bridge-builder we call the Internet, they can be in the next town over or across the country. I’m not jumping off the job search train just yet, but this might have the potential to turn into a full-blown business.

If you know a small company or organization who wants to extend their reach and needs help doing it, you know where to send ’em.

If you’re in the social media biz too, I’d love to hear from you.

How to use social media to look for a job

A lot has changed since the last time I was in the market for a job. Fresh out of j-school in 2005, I gave my resume and clips to the editor of a newspaper I wanted to work for. He didn’t have any openings, but he knew someone who did: the Houston Chronicle‘s Washington bureau chief. So the no-openings editor passed my resume to the Chron editor. And guess who hired me?

Now, five years later, as I look for a D.C.-based reporting/writing/multimedia/social media position (if you smell a plug, you’re right on), that passing of the resume is still important. What’s changed is how the resume is passed. Now it’s often done digitally. And most of that digital resume-passing occurs through social media.

Knowing how to use social media effectively has become doubly helpful in the job hunt: not only do employers value social media skills, but using social media strategically can help you land the job you want, even if social media skills aren’t required.

Here’s how I’m using social media in my job hunt:

Facebook. Yes, Facebook is for fun. But my friends might also help me with my career. Since I’m a journalist, a lot of my Facebook friends are journalists or former journalists who work for organizations that might be hiring. And because of Facebook, I’ve stayed in touch with colleagues-turned-friends who I might not have kept in contact with before it was so easy.

My friends know I’m looking for a job in D.C. They know because I’ve said so in my status updates, even asked them to let me know if they hear of any openings. Asking for favors on Facebook is easy, because these people already know and like me. The key is to not inundate your friends with hiring pleas. Let them know you’re looking and then move onto something else (please, not FarmVille).

I’ve mentioned my job hunt in my status update only twice in the last six months. That was enough for a handful of friends — including a few I wouldn’t have thought to approach individually — to write me private messages with suggestions of places that are hiring or people who might be helpful to talk to. Because of Facebook, 748 people might think of me when they hear of a job opening. And since the best positions often aren’t posted on job boards, it’s important to let people know you’re looking.

In addition to pimping myself on my status updates, I use Facebook to send private messages to friends who live in D.C. and ask them to be on the lookout for openings (because not everyone checks their news feed obsessively enough to catch all of my status updates). I’m not close enough with some of these friends to e-mail them on a regular basis, but thanks to Facebook, we’re still in touch.

LinkedIn. If you’re uncomfortable networking for jobs on Facebook (though you shouldn’t be), you should feel just fine doing it on LinkedIn, because that’s why the site was created. It’s good for more than simply building your network. LinkedIn has a great job board, and groups that I’m part of — my alma maters and media groups  — also list jobs on their own LinkedIn pages.

Whenever I apply for a job, I search on LinkedIn for people who work for the company, specifically the person who would be my boss or hire me (I figure that out with Google’s help). And this is genius: LinkedIn tells me whether one of my connections knows that person! It’s like riffling through my Rolodex and being able to see not only my networks, but my friends’ networks, too. Taking that one step further, LinkedIn lets you write a note to the person you want to contact — through your friend, who can endorse you in the process.

Why is this important? Because applying for a job online isn’t enough anymore. To get someone to pull your application out of the virtual pile, you’ve got to talk or e-mail with an actual person. In the old days (what, like five or ten years ago?), you had to know someone at the company or wiggle your way in by networking in person. But with LinkedIn, you can create that connection — and get a personal recommendation to boot.

Remember: if you can find someone on a social-networking site, they probably know how to find you, too. So make your profiles professional and all-around awesome.

Twitter. It’s ironic that LinkedIn is supposed to be the forerunner for career networking, because I’ve found Twitter to be the most useful in this job hunt. A different community of people follow me on Twitter than on Facebook, and tweeting about the type of job I’m looking for reaches a ton — about 1,500 — of people who otherwise wouldn’t know I’m on the market.

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The challenge: build community around your blog

I probably should have titled this post, How to drive traffic to your blog. That would have gotten more clicks, right? But the truth is, while we sometimes use hits to measure the success of our Web sites and blogs, the reason for that success is community.

One common mistake new bloggers make is thinking that all they have to do is put information out there — and readers will come. But to create a successful blog or Web site or organization, you’ve got to turn that information into conversation, into community, into a place people want to visit again and again.

Several writers have approached me recently, asking how they can attract readers to their blog. What they really need to know is, how do you go about building a community?

Here’s what I tell them:

Provide awesome content. This sounds obvious, but it’s the basis of any successful blog. If you don’t have good content, the other strategies I’m about to suggest are useless. Ask yourself: Is my content unique? Useful? Inspiring? What can I give readers that they won’t get anywhere else?

Encourage conversation. Write in a way that encourages dialogue and follow-ups. Ask questions at the bottom of your posts. Not yes or no questions, but open-ended ones that give readers the chance to weigh in. If your content is awesome, they may think about commenting or linking to your post on their blog. But they take that leap unless they feel welcome, inspired, encouraged.

One person who does this really well: soon-to-be author Jody Hedlund. There are thousands of writing blogs out there, yet writers go back to hers because she engages readers, asks great questions, joins the conversation in the comments and visits the blogs of her readers. She starts dialogue. (For example, check out her recent post about blogging.) On that note…

Join the conversation. Respond to comments on your posts. Visit the sites of the people who left them, and leave comments on their sites. When you do, make sure your name offers a link to your site. Not only will the blogger come back to visit you, but her other readers might, too.

Link within your posts. When you link to other bloggers’ posts within your posts, you’re helping your reader by providing additional information. But you’re also creating a conversation with those bloggers because their blog will tell them you linked to them, and maybe they’ll visit your blog.

This is how I connected with author Mary Morris. I mentioned her book and linked to her Web site so readers could find out more about the book. She noticed my link — either her site told her or Google alerts let her know — and visited my site, left a comment, I responded — and boom! We’re friends. That’s one of the main benefits of having a blog: connecting with people who have accomplished what you’re working toward.

Link to descriptive words like my travel blog or Inkslinging in Africa, not instructions like click here. This helps Google send people to your blog. Which brings us to…

Search Engine Optimization. You only need to understand the basics of SEO to make it work for you. The most important rule is to write good headlines, using words you’d type into Google if you were searching for whatever you’re writing about. An example of a good headline: How to find and apply to writers’ colonies. It has lots of words you’d type into Google if you were looking for a colony: colony, writers, find, apply. A bad headline: Does this count as productive? It doesn’t tell you what the post is about, doesn’t contain any keywords that would help Google guide readers to the post. Yeah, I knew that when I wrote it and I did it anyway. Sometimes we break our own rules.

Use images. They do more than make your blog interesting and fun to look at. Just like Google uses your text and links to determine whether to send people to your site, it also looks through your images. One map I included on my travel blog still drives significant traffic there a year after I stopped posting.

Get involved online. Participating in Facebook and Twitter will lead people to your blog. But make sure you’re using those tools properly, promoting yourself in a way that attracts, not annoys, potential readers.

What other forums can you join to lure people into your community? I created a Ning group for writers of travel memoir. I did it because I wanted to connect with writers in my genre, but as an added benefit it brings people to my blog. Another example: I’m active at Matador Network, a community of travelers. I leave comments on stories and occasionally write for the site. All of this participation online helps me strengthen my own community. (Need more ideas? Check out this post at Chip McGregor’s blog.)

Network in person. No matter how much we try to create relationships through our blogs, those connections are still virtual. Turn them into in-person connections. Go to conferences or round tables or Meetups — anywhere that helps you physically meet people who share your interests. At the very least, put a photo of yourself in your blog sidebar. Readers are more likely to feel like they know you if they can picture your face.

Be likable. Show us your personality — if only the nice parts. You are your own community liaison. You are your brand. You are the face of your blog. Make us want to hang out with you and get to know you better. Be interesting and helpful, but also be a friend. When I like the person behind a blog or Web site, I go back for more.

~ Yes, all of this stuff is time consuming. It’s also necessary if you want your blog to succeed. Don’t let it overwhelm you. You don’t have to introduce all of this at once. Focus on one or two of these suggestions each week, and eventually they’ll work in your favor.

Do these ideas help? What have I missed? How do you build community around your blog, and what do you struggle with?