Friday, June 22, 2012

Why I Prefer Social Media Promo to In-Person

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

barnesandnoblebooksellersThursday, my daughter reminded me that she has a particular book assigned to read for a summer reading project for school.

My children now usually read books on ereaders, but I’ve found they have a tougher time using ebooks for school projects. They like to underline important passages and flip through the book looking for specific parts. Although they can do that on an ereader, they haven’t gotten used to doing it.

So yesterday, I went to the bookstore in search of Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.

I’ll admit—I haven’t been in a bookstore for a long time. In fact, considering how much we all read in our family—it’s been a very long time. We’re downloading everything we read.

Sure enough, the staff in the bookstore had changed since the last time I’d been in. My heart was beating fast. I had a new book out—it released June 5. Penguin always arranges excellent shelf-placement. I knew there would be plenty of copies. And I knew I should sign them while I was in the store. I knew that an “Autographed Copy” sticker on the outside of a book will sell books.

I’d made excuses twice in the last couple of weeks and passed two bookstores in the car that I should have popped into.

I took a deep breath and I went to the “New Book” tower that was right by Barnes and Nobles’ cafĂ©, in the middle of the main aisle. Sure enough, there were several copies there in prime location. I gathered them up and waited at the customer service counter.

A young guy came up. “Hi,” I said, clearing my throat. “Do you have any ‘autographed copy’ stickers? I’m—well, I’m running errands and I thought I’d sign my books while I’m in here.”

He looked at the book cover and then at me. “You’re Elizabeth Craig?”

“That’s right.” I fumbled in my pocketbook for my driver’s license (although my picture was in the back of the book…duh) and he said, “Oh, that’s okay.” He pulled up the title on the computer and said, “You’ve got a couple of other copies over in the mystery section. I’ll get them.”


He did and I signed the books quickly. I always, always feel like a total fraud. I don’t know what an author looks like, but I’ve always suspected they look more like Ernest Hemingway than I do. And they probably don’t decide to sign stock on the spur of the moment and while sporting disreputable looking tee shirts, shorts, flip flops, and an unacceptable lack of make-up. Heck, maybe he wouldn’t have recognized me from my picture in the book.

And then there’s the fact that sometimes I sign the stock in that store under a couple of different names. The staff in that store that I do know usually call me ‘Riley’ when I walk in.

And--there's the fact that I'm embarrassed my nearest bookstore doesn't know me. That's because I download my books on an eReader...which will likely mean their jobs will eventually evaporate. It doesn't exactly make me feel good.

He watched me as I signed the books. I failed at the small talk.

“Are they selling well?” I finally asked in a small voice.

He looked at the computer again and the reorders. “Seem to be.”

The thing is, signing stock is easy. It doesn’t get any easier than that. And it still frazzles me.

But when the store suggested that I do a signing there, I smiled. “No thanks. That is—well, I’m just swamped right now. But thank you. I might have to take you up on that another time.”

Because signings are total torture. The only way I’ll do signings now is when I’m with other authors. And I know I’m not supposed to do group signings because they’re not profitable—potential readers are usually reluctant to approach a whole gaggle of writers at a table. They might not want to buy all the books at the authors’ table. They worry that might hurt the feelings of the writers of the books they don’t choose.

So signings are hit and miss. Signing stock all over the place means filling up the car with gas a lot. How can we reach people all over the world—for free? Without feeling like a fraud? Without thinking we should be dressed up?

Social media.

I used to feel guilty about the fact that I don’t make many in-person appearances. But now? I think my time is better-invested in platform building.

As a midlist writer, why would I want to do a signing? Readers aren’t going to come to a bookstore just to see me. Not realistically. That means I’m counting on the chance that random people who have walked through that bookstore door for a SF/F, a romance, a beach book, or a kid’s school summer book project, will want to buy a book just because I’ve signed it. A book in a genre they probably don’t read.

To me—that’s just an inefficient use of my time. If there’s one thing the new world of author promo has taught me, it’s that we have to invest our limited time into what works.

For me, that’s not meeting readers face-to-face. If anything, my decidedly unpolished social skills and introverted nature are more likely to scare off potential readers.

Exceptions—reader conferences (like Malice Domestic or Book ‘Em) and book clubs. Places where the readers want to meet writers. Not just random shoppers in bookshops.

But—I happen to know that several regular commenters here have really nailed in-person appearances and have maximized them to pull in new readers and make sales. I’d love to hear from y’all….maybe it’ll at least get me out of my house to sign stock in the other Charlotte area stores. :)

In person promo? Social media promo? Which do you like and why?