Authors – How to make Facebook work for you

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I have recently been talking with an author friend who is disillusioned with Facebook and feels there are better ways to market his novels.

That maybe so, but I truly believe that for free promotion Facebook is easily the best marketing tool on the Internet. Sure the annoying popups reminding you that for an additional cost you can reach a bigger audience are annoying, but trust me, you do not need to pay. If you’re prepared to put in the time and effort, Facebook will work for you, the same as it is working for me.

Here are my six rules.

Don’t force your books on people

Some authors are relentless. All I see is ‘Buy my book, you won’t regret it’ repeated again and again. Sure, post the occasional reminder, maybe share when you receive a four or five star review, but don’t keep ramming your work down people’s throats.  They know you are a writer and that you have books to promote and if they’re following your page it’s because they want to know what you’re up to, not continually be bombarded with relentless sales pleas. Look at the pages of celebrities who are prolific on Facebook like Ricky Gervais and Jason Manford. They have things to promote, but they are not constantly reminding you with every post that you must buy their latest work, and let’s face it, if they were you would probably stop following them, because it’s not what you want to see.

Mix it up

Don’t post the same type of thing day in, day out. You will always go through peaks and lulls with your audience, but most loyal followers will keep an eye on your page. Keep them updated with what is happening with your work. Tell them how sales are going and if you’re meeting with a book club or doing some other kind of promotional engagement, talk about it. Let people know where you are off to and afterwards how it went. But don’t keep it all about the book. Post interesting pictures and quotes about writing in general. And try to inject some humour into your updates. I post about my family, my cats, my love for wine, my gripes with life (in a lighthearted way to make people smile, as no one wants to listen to a moaner), and anything witty that happens during my day. Think about what you’re putting on your page and whether it would engage you if you were the reader. If it would, post it.

Don’t give snippets away

When I was about half way through Dead Write I sought advice on whether to post a passage from the book to whet appetites. While the decision was left in my hands, I decided against it after it was pointed out to me that bestselling authors such as JK Rowling don’t reveal snippets of their work before the release of the book and that it comes across as rather amateurish – like, look at me and what I managed to write today – rather than engaging your readers. They want the finished product, not snippets, so make them wait and give the book to them in its entirety.

Post regularly

I cannot stress the importance of this enough. If you post once or twice a week you are going to have far fewer page views than if you post every single day. We all have other commitments in our lives, social, family, work and of course writing, but if you want people to engage and interact on your page you need to make time to post frequently. You don’t need to say a lot, but let people know you are there. Post every single day and at least two or three times a day if possible.

When I went on holiday last summer I switched off from writing for 10 days, only to return to find the people interacting with my author page had dropped from over 100 to about 5. This then had a knock on effect to the number of people who were viewing my posts. I don’t regret switching off while I was away because we all need to have a break from social media, and I would do it again, but be prepared for the harsh truth. A week away is enough time to knock you almost back down to zero and it takes longer – a couple of weeks to a month – to get you back on top.

I have a personal Facebook account, but other than to exchange private emails with friends and family, I rarely use it. Instead I have concentrated on my author page and over the last few months I have made an effort to post to it almost every day and when possible several times a day to make sure I am constantly in people’s faces. It pays. My average post view is around the 200 mark, but plenty are much higher and I’ve had posts hit almost 3,000 views.

Engage with your audience and be human

I love interacting with anyone who posts to my page, so this bit is easy for me. The people who follow my updates are great fun, they make me laugh, they encourage and support me, and I feel I have made so many new friends. Regardless of how your audience is, don’t ignore them. Without your page followers you are nothing. If someone takes the trouble to comment on one of your posts, acknowledge this. I have seen far too many author pages where a post is made and then there is no further interaction from the author. Like any conversation it’s a two way thing, so get down off your lofty pedestal and be nice.

Increase sales by asking people to post share

I know some authors are sceptical about whether marketing on social sites can lead to sales. I am not one of them. I still have my doubts about Twitter, as once you post it has already disappeared off the page of most of your followers, but Facebook can definitely increase sales and I know people I have met through my page, who had never heard of me before, have gone on to buy my book after engaging in my updates. Asking friends and followers to share links, especially when you have a new book out for sale, is also effective and I know I gained a lot of sales this way when Dead Letter Day was first released.

So the bottom line is this, Facebook is a great marketing tool, but if you want it to work, you need to put in a lot of effort. Yes, at times it is hard, but it can also be a lot of fun, and I promise you it will be worth it.

Interview with Timothy Hurley, author of Shortstack

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My second interview is with the very funny US based writer, Timothy Hurley, author of Shortstack, a collection of humorous short stories.

Take it away, Tim.

Can you tell us about yourself in 100 words? No more and no less.

I grew up on and near navy bases around the country, influenced by my parents’ Midwest roots. I found writing stories and essays to be my choice early on. The short fiction of Twain, Poe, Hemingway and science fiction writers became my guides. My medical career slowed my writing, while I moved about for training and work: San Francisco, Boston, Mayo Clinic. Upon retirement I trained at Gotham Writers Workshop and began writing for publication. The more humorous of these I collected into my first book, Shortstack. My works-in-progress, a second collection and a novella are due out in 2014.

Tell us about your books.

My first book is a collection of humor short stories written in 2012 and 2013. They range from absurdist satire to touching personal essays. Other stories have been published in anthologies: science fiction (“Dead Planet Scrolls”), gothic horror (“Poe’s Black Cats”), and literary magazines (“Waiting on Alma”). My collection, Shortstack, and several of my short stories are available on Amazon.

And what about the authors who inspire you?

Topping the list of master story tellers for me is Mark Twain for his wit and plotting. I very early latched onto O. Henry stories for the same reason. Hemingway’s sparse-word styling had a big impact on me since high school. More recent authors I admire are Dorothy Parker for biting wit,and Joseph Mitchell for characterization, a deceased New York writer who deserves increased recognition.

What are you working on at the moment?

My second collection of short stories, due out in late 2014, will be some of my more serious-minded works and exhibit my range of genre from literary to horror to science fiction. I will also include some creative nonfiction personal essays. One of my short stories decided to turn itself into a novella, Johnny Don’t March, which I hope to have finished by early 2015. I am also working on two memoirs. The first, Thirty Hours with My Father, is the story of my listening to thirty hours of self-recorded autobiography, gifted to me before his death. The other is my remembrance of medical school years.

What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?

I have been writing seriously since 2012, which isn’t a very long career, particularly at my age (70). The highlight has been publication of my first story in an online magazine and then my collection of humor stories in eBook and print-book. When that happened I felt like writing was really my second career, and I was on my way to being more than a hobby writer.

Do you have any words of advice for the budding writers out there?

The brevity of my writing career doesn’t stop me from giving advice. Routine advice is to keep writing, write everyday and read good authors as much as you write. I would add the importance of formal training in creative writing; learn the craft through classes, online study, reading books on writing. Books on screenwriting have helped my fiction writing. The other surprise for me was how slow the writing process is. A rough draft is usually about 20% of the effort and can take a few weeks. But the real writing is the 80% of the work in revision. That’s when the story really reveals itself. By the time one of my stories is ready for publication, it can be weeks or months, and I will have read and revised it twenty or more times.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

I commonly awaken between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. with story stuff rolling in my head. Those early mornings are best for rough draft writing, and I typically will put in two or three hours. When my brain says it’s had enough, I’ll take a walk with my iPod and run errands. Music speaks to my creative self, but not while I’m actually writing, when I like quiet. Paradoxically I can become absorbed in the writing in a coffee house; I have accomplished some good writing there when I start feeling house-bound in my small New York apartment. I also go to the gorgeous main reading room at the New York Public Library. Afternoons are not productive times for rough drafts for me, although I can do good revision work then. The final polishing for grammar and word choice, I seem to be able to do at anytime.

Social media seems to be playing a big part in the success of books these days. What are your thoughts on this and how active are you on various sites?

I know this is the conventional wisdom, and I do participate daily on Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter. I think this is a good way to reach fellow writers, and I’ve made a number of friends online. I’m less convinced this is a good way to reach the general reading public.

The world is ending and you are about to be blasted off into space – Bruce Willis style – to try and save mankind. You are allowed to take two people with you. Who do you choose?

Bruce Willis and I are too old to save much of anything. Jason Bourne is probably too busy. Yoda would be good at giving advice but not flying the ship. I’ll bet Beevis and Butthead could save the world.

If you could find out the answer to one of life’s mysteries, which one would you choose?

I’d like to know how this Time-Space Continuum thing works. Also Carl Sagan never explained String Theory so I could understand it.

Share a personal fact that no one would ever guess about you.

No one, until now, knew I grow tomato vines twelve feet long, that I can flip my tongue all the way over, or that I make a killer cappuccino.

You are on death row and it’s your final supper. What do you choose?

Definitely I want something that takes the chef a long time to prepare—like those thousand year old Chinese eggs they bury in the ground. And then I’d add something that takes a very long time for me to eat and has many courses. Between courses I’d snack on New York pizza and Indian curry.

What would you do in life if you knew you couldn’t fail?

You mean like climb Mount Everest, or cure cancer, or publish my book? I already know I can’t fail, no matter what I do. My success, however, varies widely.

Describe the most terrifying situation you have ever been in?

Once I was in a restaurant that ran out of spaghetti carbonara. But that terror didn’t last. I substituted tortellini. Walking up the aisle at my wedding was pretty frightening. Oh, wait. The bride walks up the aisle. Hmmm, it could have been the time I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge at its fiftieth anniversary. But that wasn’t scary until later when I learned that the loud clanking noise we heard in the middle was when the bridge nearly collapsed.

Share one quote, or saying, that keeps you going in life.

I love quotes so I’ll share several of my favorites. Mark Twain: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” “When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”  Elbert Hubbard (no relation to L. Ron): “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” Timothy Hurley: “Never run for an elevator. It looks needy.”

What would be the perfect day for you?

Two eggs over medium with dry rye toast and Red Rose tea, and the New York Times with headlines saying no one shot anyone anywhere in the world, and the haves were overcome with the urge to share with the have-nots.

And the cliché question, four guests at your dinner party (dead or alive), who do you choose?

I assume that you don’t mean I’m dead or alive and that the deceased are alive at least during the dinner party. I wouldn’t invite Papa Hemingway, who insists on being the center of attention. I’d love to have Poe if he avoided being morose. I can’t think of a single politician to invite. It goes without saying that Mark Twain would come and I’d place him at the head of the table. I’d consider Ghandi or Mother Teresa, but I’d be afraid they would just bore us with advice to be nice. And, of course, I’d bring my best friend, my wife, so we could talk about the guests while we walk home.