Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Shill

John McFetridge

There’s a fine line between marketing and being annoying as shit.

And it seems like it’s one we better learn because we’ve all accepted the idea that writers have to do a lot of marketing themselves – whether they’re any good at it or not.

Here’s a story to demonstrate how bad I am at marketing. I found a website all about the escort business in Toronto – a review site, actually, that started out with men reviewing the escorts they had been with (like restaurant reviews) and after a while the escorts themselves started taking out ads on the site and then even joining in the discussions. Like most online discussions the site had a fairly lively “off-topic” section; books, movies, sports, politics, where to buy electronic products, the best cell phone plans, local crime – all kind of stuff.

In one of my books a character, an escort, mentions the site and the reviews she’s received. Her friend asks if it’s like Amazon and can she give herself great reviews the way writers do?

So, when the book came out I thought some of the people on the escort site might be interested in it – it takes place in their city, mentioned their site (not in a bad way) and had fictionalized some of the real crimes they’d discussed.

I joined the site and posted a very polite note about the book, with a link to a pretty good review in a local paper.

They called me a shill and told me to get lost.

A site with nothing but ads for prostitutes and discussions of the best deals on “massages with happy endings,” called out my timid attempt at marketing.

So, whenever I see articles about, “Book Marketing in Social Media,” I wonder if it can really work. They say things like, “The most important rule of social media is: be human and be yourself. People don't want to ‘friend’ a marketing campaign, they want to connect with a real person and many at least hope for the occasional two-way communication.”

Occasional two-way communication? Really, they have to explain that to someone who’s trying to sell a book.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that the guy who started Soft Skull Press is now working on something he calls, “Cursor,” but he isn’t giving out much info. Other than, “Cursor is a social approach to publishing that focuses on the establishment of powerful, self-reinforcing online membership communities made up of professional authors, reader members, and emerging writers.” I don’t know, it sounds like “reader members and emerging writers,” will pay to be part of an online community that includes, “professional authors.”

Hey, at least that hooker website didn’t charge me to join before running me out as a shill.

Of course, you’re thinking, “But wait a minute, John, this Do Some Damage blog is just marketing.” And you’re right, the idea here is to try and get a little more exposure and maybe sell a few books but we’d never think about charging for this. Just like I wouldn’t expect there to be a charge to join a Facebook discussion or a place like Crimespace, which has a pretty clear disclaimer on the front page that says: Note that the forum is for discussion only, not for blatant self promotion (BSP). There’s even a TLA (three letter acronym) so that means it’s official.

So, maybe that line between marketing and annoying people isn’t all that thin. Maybe if you want to advertise your books you should pay for an ad and not join a “social media” site to engage in, “occasional two-way communication,” with people you have “friended” with the sole purpose of selling them something.

Through my writing I’ve met a lot of great people and been exposed to a lot of good writing I wouldn’t otherwise have found. Some of that writing has been online and some has been books I’ve bought and some has been books that people have given me.
I hope that this has been a “two-way” street.


Dana King said...

One of the joys of being a writer is the ability to depict that site--or one very much like it, but with a different name--in an unflattering light in your next book. You're a nicer guy than I am, so you might not, but I highly encourage it. Great stress relief.

I'd be a lot more convinced of the benefits of creating "one-to-one" connections with readers through social networking sites if someone could show evidence it actually works. At some point so much time must be taken up with this individualized approach, the writing itself has to suffer.

Blogs like this--and sites like Crimespace-- are different, in that you already have people with an interest in this kind of writing, and you don't have to address them one at a time. It's more like a series of interviews in small newspapers, except you get to direct the discussion.

Steve Weddle said...

Hahahahaha. The hookers in Toronto hate you. Hahahahahaha. That's great. I'm at my desk laughing and crying right now. Can't process the levels of hilarity. I'd say "screw them" but, you know, I don't have five bucks.

Ron Earl Phillips said...

Every time I post a short to my site and then go about telling the world, I feel like shill. I feel like after my 3rd tweet over several hours I've offended everyone. But others seem to do so, repeatedly without care. Of course they could be just as self-conscious as I am. Perhaps.

The thing that gives me some solace is that I equally shill others posts, tweets and book releases. I want everyone to win.

That's a funny anecdote with the escorts and whatnot.

Re:Cursor ... you're going to see this more and more. Charging membership as websites, media and commercial, try to figure out how to regain control of the money flow. Not sure if it will succeed. Personally, I wouldn't pay to mingle with professionals. If I wanted to spend money to mingle, I might check out that escort website. ;)

John McFetridge said...

Ron, I think telling the world about a story you're letting them read for free is a fair and good deal.

And I suspect you're right, more websites will try and charge but I hope the "culture" of the internet may be well-enough established by now to resist that.

And I agree, Dana, that fiction can be used for stress relief and I probably will.

But just to be safe, I'm staying far away from the wife-swapping site I used for research in Swap/Let it Ride ;)

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Funny, I didn't join any of the social networking sites until last year. I joined twitter after I landed my fabulous agent and FB after I got my publishing contract. I joined them because people said it was a way to connect with readers. Thing is, I'm a reader. So I have ended up buying more books by people I didn't know before but "know" now because of social media. And nope - I won't buy books when people jump up and down setting their hair on fire yelling BUY MY BOOK. But if you chat with me a bit, I'll probably buy your book. I'm an easy mark. Who knows if anyone will buy my book because of social media, but the system worked on me:)

pattinase (abbott) said...

I feel like a shill every time I mention my daughter. Or anyone I remotely know. It's a weird situation. The rules or etiquette is still being worked out, I think.

Barbara Martin said...

I have yet to join a social networking site to peddle my writing, and probably won't...ever. I have too many other things to do and not enough hours.

Loved your post and the laughs it provided.