Because you can have conversations like this. Enjoy!
And in case you’re interested, here is the strawberry planter in question.
One of the great things about the WordPress platform for blogging is the sharing facility. These little buttons at the bottom of each post allow people who have liked what you’ve written to share it across many different social media platforms.
Like many other bloggers I use twitter. Twitter is fantastic a platform on which to share you content, but I’ve noticed recently that a a number of bloggers I follow are missing a great way of expanding their online community by not linking their blog to their twitter account.
Whenever anybody shares one of your posts by twitter using the share button, your blog generates an automated tweet structured like this:
Blog title – blog post url – linked twitter name
Below is the text generated for my last post:
The difference between creativity and inspiration http://wp.me/p3Dds0-fH via @hearndylan
If you notice, I’ve already linked my twitter username, @hearndylan, to my blog. This means whenever anybody shares one of my posts, I get a notification from twitter letting me know what has been shared and by whom.
This is incredibly valuable information.
Think about it for a moment. This person has not only read your post, they liked it so much they wanted to share it with all their twitter followers. And if they enjoyed your post, there is every chance their like-minded followers will also enjoy the post and share it to their followers, and so on. Every time this share is retweeted, your twitter username is tweeted with it, meaning you get to see each and every person who enjoyed your post. How cool is that?
But what should you do with this information? The most effective twitter users know that engagement is key to building a strong following. This is where the true value of linking you username comes in. If the person who retweeted your post likes your writing so much, wouldn’t they be a great person to get to know better? The very least you can do is thank them for sharing your post. You could ask them what they most liked about it, you could follow them (if you don’t already), respond to some of their tweets in return. From these small interactions, friendships blossom. I’ve lost count of the number of great twitter friends I’ve met this way.
But, if you haven’t linked your blog to your twitter account, all this information is sent to @wordpressdotcom, and is lost to you forever.
The good news is this setting is very easy to change. Simply go to your Dashboard – Settings – Sharing. Fifth from bottom you will see an option snappily titled “Twitter username to include in tweets when people share using the Twitter button”. Replace ‘wordpressdotcom’ with your own twitter username (without the @), then press save.
This weekend has been a wonderful learning experience. To say that I have been blown away with the response to my free promotion would be an understatement. I ran the fill gamut of emotions, from surprise, to excitement, to pinching myself to see if it was real. If the next few paragraphs come across as boasting, I apologise. It’s not. I’m just trying to get my head around it all.
Some authors are against giving their work away for free. I can understand why. When it takes a year or more of hard work to write a book, why should people have it for nothing? I see it a little differently. While I want to earn money from my work, I also know that the biggest challenge to a self-published author is visibility. The more people who see our work, the more chance we have of generating a word-of-mouth buzz. I discovered many of my favourite authors through friends lending me copies of their books. I may not have paid for that particular book but I certainly paid for everything else the author wrote.
Saying that, my expectations for the promotion weren’t high. Having spoken to a couple of authors who ran free promotions at a similar stage in their publishing career as myself, I thought it realistic to have 100 downloads over the two days. My hope was that possibly 200-300 copies would be downloaded. To put that number into perspective, it would be close to twice the number of copies than I had sold since launch. I knew I was being a little greedy but hey, one could dream.
In the end over the two day period my book was downloaded over 1000 times. At one point I was no.8 in the Amazon.co.uk free Science Fiction charts as well as no.1 in the Dystopian and Cyberpunk sub charts. On Amazon.com I made it to no.16 in the Science Fiction charts and No.2 in the Cyberpunk and No.3 in the Dystopian charts. I was also in the top 10 of the UK Thriller charts, top 20 in the US thriller charts. All from a 2 day promotion.
I didn’t pay any money to advertise the promotion. The only promotional avenues I used were via social media. Many friends and family shared my promotion on Facebook, to which I am very grateful. Probably the biggest promotional boost, though, came via twitter. I’ve spoken about how I’ve come to like twitter in the past, how what started as a means to promote myself became a great way to meet like-minded people. I have rarely promoted via twitter but for this weekend only I sent a total of 13 tweets letting people know my book was available for free. I was worried it was too much as I didn’t want to fill people’s inboxes with tweets saying ME, ME, ME!
What happened next was wonderful. Many of the people I had befriended via twitter retweeted my tweets. This meant they were seen by all their twitter friends, some of whom retweeted them on again, and again. Through these acts of kindness, enough people decided to take up my promotion to send my book into the charts. Once visible, it enabled many, many more Kindle readers to find out about my book and download it. If it wasn’t for the kindness of these people, my promotion would never have been as successful as it was.
Of course, having this many downloads means that there are now hundreds of people all over the world who will now judge my work. For somebody as self-critical as myself, that’s a terrifying thought. Even though I’ve been lucky enough to have had a number of good reviews to date, a small part of me is just waiting to be pointed out as a fraud. This isn’t a plea for sympathy, I would much rather be in the position I am in than have nobody read my work, but I’ve now realised that I’ve passed the point of no return as far as critical anonymity is concerned.
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that while all this has been very exciting, the thing that gave me most pleasure this weekend was watching my 7-year-old play his first cricket match of the season and taking his first wicket. It put everything else into perspective.
Being a self-published author is very confusing. The problem isn’t a lack of advice, but too much, a lot of it conflicting. Social media is a good example. On the one hand you are told to prioritise and not waste time ‘playing’ social media when you could be writing your masterpiece. On the other hand you are told to build your platform and not publish anything until you have a ready-made audience.
Facebook is the way forward, or it is a waste of time.
Blogging is a time drain or a great way for people to connect with you, the author.
Twitter is a distraction or…
I joined Twitter in 2012 but had no idea why. A few friends had joined so I thought I would too. I saw it as a nice way of keeping in touch with certain celebrities I admired. I found – unsurprisingly – that a number of my favourite authors used twitter and started following them too. It was an eye-opener. Some were just as I imagined, others… less so. But I was amazed how many would interact with their readers. It seemed a great way for those already established to reach out to their audience, but for those of us less established? I wasn’t sure.
By the middle of March this year my book had been published for a couple of months and I had been blogging for a year. My Twitter followers had risen from a paltry 30 to a slightly more respectable 70, but for some reason people were not flocking to follow me. I’d been hash-tagging for all I was worth and would get the occasional retweet, but as a promotional avenue twitter seemed a dead end. When I looked at how other self-published authors used twitter I found a number with 20,000, 50,000 or over 100,000 followers; churning out tweets and retweets seemingly every minute of every day. Was this what I had to do to get the best out of twitter, turn myself into a promotional machine? I understood the concept – tell your message enough times to enough people, some are bound to bite – but it didn’t seem the right approach for me. It felt soulless and impersonal.
Then again, maybe there was something in their approach. I started looking up other authors on twitter and following them. I did this for 30 minutes a day because I was worried that it would become a time drain. Amazingly, many of the authors who I followed, followed me back. My follower numbers grew. Within a week I had a thousand followers, many of them authors like myself. This was great, until my timeline became filled by endless promotional tweets and seemingly mindless retweets by those that preferred the blunderbuss approach. What made this worse, I was losing any meaningful contact because of all that extra noise. This was a real shame because a number of people were contacting with me, giving me feedback on my blog, my tweets. Others were writing really insightful comments and sharing their writing experiences but I was missing them because of the noise.
That was when I discovered Hootsuite. It’s a website and app which allows you to create custom timelines from lists. For those that don’t know, lists are a way of grouping together followers within Twitter. I created two lists, one for friends and one for what I called “interesting people”. Within Hootsuite I was able to look at a twitter feed (or stream, as they term it) that contained only those tweets of the people on that list. If I looked at the “friends” stream only the tweets from those listed as my friends would be there.
It was wonderful. Instead of being like a bear watching thousands of salmon swim past, occasionally swinging out a paw in the hopes of catching a fish, I was able to identify those people who seemed interesting, and those that engaged with me. I discovered a wonderful writing community who supported and encouraged each other. I discovered wonderful bloggers. I helped and encouraged, and was helped encouraged back, by many people. And I also discovered new readers.
But calling these people new readers is a disservice. For authors, twitter has changed our relationship with readers. The term readers is too passive. Instead I got to feel what it was like to read my book through others eyes by receiving tweets like the following:
These wonderful tweets and others like them at a time when I was struggling to find the time and enthusiasm to finish the first draft of the follow up to Second Chance. They were the social media equivalent to 3 triple espressos. Instead of becoming a time drain twitter redoubled my energy levels and commitment to write.
I’m so glad I decided to give twitter a chance. It has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. If any author asks me whether they should use social media I would say yes. You can use it as a selling tool, but if you want to get real value don’t treat your followers as prospective customers, but as prospective friends. It’s much better for the soul.