No, not reader expectations in books. Y’all are authors, and there are better authors than me to talk about that. Let’s talk about your online presence. How much social media do you have to have?
Well, actually, you don’t.
There, I said it. It’s heretical in the age of Everything Always Online!, but it’s true. There are some authors who have an almost entirely offline presence. There are some who barely check in on one or two forums, and their websites were last updated in 1998, and still they sell. This doesn’t mean they don’t market; it means any marketing they do may be in person, or by selling short stories to magazines and anthologies, or by placing ads in trade magazines with their target market. One lady has almost no online presence for her cookbook, but when she shows up at a gun show with a gingham checked tablecloth and plates of lemon bars as free samples, recipe is on page such-and-such, she sells gangbusters.
Anyway, your online footprint. First, the most extreme case: don’t be That Gal On Twitter, the one who hadn’t published yet but was sure Larry Correia was a total loser, because she had way more twitter followers than him. *migraine salute* Yes, they exist. And folks like that are a useful lesson that having a million followers doesn’t pay the bills.
Second: the writer who has a website for the planned sweeping book series, a presence on twitter, facebook, google +, you name it, he’s there. He’s poured 500,000 words into facebook arguments in the last month alone! But nobody’s buying the one book he has out, despite spending 12-15 hours a day building up his online presence! What marketing trick is he missing? *full frontal facepalm* Write the next book. Seriously, get off mytwitface, and write the next book.
Here’s where viewer expectations start to come into play. You see, if you’re active all over mytwitface, and suddenly you disappear off to go write the next book, two things are going to happen to the people who follow you, and you get to decide which is worse: most people won’t even notice you’re gone, and some people will constantly try to drag you back because they miss your content.
If you could steel yourself to taking a full week off mytwitface, without some Dramatic Announcement that you’re going offline, you’d find when you got back that the majority of folks never even noticed. Social media platforms are designed to make the user feel like they’re drinking from a firehose of content, and they don’t notice when something’s missing.
Personally, I’ve varied facebook from daily to once a month, and people don’t notice when I’m gone; they only notice when I post and they see it. So no, you really, really don’t have to be on them as much as you think you do.
As for the people who try to drag you back? That tells you a lot about what kind of content you’re known for. “We miss pictures of the lambs and how the dogs are doing!” vs. “Hey! This guy is wrong on the internet! Let’s you and him fight!” Neither one of these is bad, just different – but they are different, and let you know a lot about how you’re known. Think about what sort of time, emotions, and energy you want to put into that.
On your online persona: Alice Cooper has, when mentoring young musicians, been extremely firm about the need to seperate your stage persona and your private life and sense of self. If you don’t, you’ll burn out and crash hard. Turns out it’s true with social media personas, too, when you start performing for the public.
I have an acquaintance who’s known for being Angry On The Internet. She’s constantly called to come pour vitriol on trolls, knuckleheads, Someone Is Wrong On The Internet, whatever. I’ve seen her on a slow day when there’s no one to be furious at… and she literally was reaching out to people, trying to find something, anything to be vitriolic at, and getting desperate, because her online persona was her true self, and she couldn’t cope without being furious. Now, that works for her, but I sat and wondered what the long term mental, emotional, and physical damage has to be of living All Drama, All The Time. (Other than teenagers, and even those bouncing balls of out-of-control hormones manage a lot of chill and happy moments.)
So think about what you’re known for, and what toll that takes, and if that’s what you want. If you don’t… change it! You’re not dead, you can too change.
Third online footprint: the daily blogger. Blogs work at optimum for crowd draw if they have new daily content 2-3 times a day, to keep people coming back. This is, however, not feasible for most people. (Even Mad Genius Club is only a daily blog, and that’s with all our contributors writing!)
Generating enough means finding or creating content, and that can take hours of a day itself, to the point that the blog rapidly becomes a chore instead of a joy. Several ways to make it much easier are to build a buffer, mine your archives, acquire contributors, have cross-blog conversations, and grow commenters.
If your viewers expect new content daily (or multiple times a day), it’s just not human to expect that you’ll never have disruptions to your schedule – so generate your content ahead of time, and schedule it to appear on a regular basis. (I am, for instance, writing this early last week, and scheduling it so it’ll post while I’m busy dealing with a funeral.)
If you have sufficient archives built up, feel free to mine them for material: audience turnover & new audience growth ensures that something three years old will be brand new to the viewers who just started coming regularly in the last 6 months. (Whether you label this as old material or not is up to you: I’ve seen it done both ways, but haven’t yet talked a daily blogger into running an A/B test to see which generates more traffic. I suspect it’s when it’s not mentioned as being a rerun.)
Other contributors, often called guests posts, take some of the content-generation burden off your shoulders. Even aggregators like The Passive Voice has people with keys to the blog to manage comments and contribute posts while the blog host is on vacation. The main drawbacks of guest posting are that your fans come for your material, so traffic goes down proportionally with the number of guest posts run, and getting / filtering guest posting offers appropriate to your blog. On the bright and shiny, hey, free material your viewers will like, and driving eyeballs to nifty people who ought to get more exposure and sales. Can be awesome!
This, by the way, is where “blog tours” come in. Originally conceived as guest posts across several high-traffic targeted audience blogs, they can work… as dashing out a bunch of posts and then posting them in sequence to low-traffic blogs that are nothing but guest posts, they’re hard work and heartbreak.
Cross-blog conversations are one of the great things about writing blogs online: it’s a chance to take somebody else’s blog post, and explore it in depth on your own, then engage in an extended conversation with them. I’ve seen a bunch of first responder blogs do a round-robin where they came up with a 911 call scenario, and then each person wrote about the fictional incident as it passed through their part of the first responder world – police dispatch, police, EMS, ER Doc, hospital nurse – from both a technical “Here’s how it goes down” and a emotional impact on the responders, and on the community, level. Don’t be afraid to engage in the social part of social media, and link to others for more than just an excerpt. More than one daily blogger maintains a sidebar of folks they find awesome and interesting – and if life happens, they can post “No free ice cream today – go check out the folks on the sidebar.”
Finally, growing commenters: a few minor notes.
first, the shorter and smaller your comment box and comment space, the shorter the comments your audience will tend to leave. The bigger the comment box / comment space, the longer people tend to be. The longer the blog post or comment area, the more in-depth discussions tend to get, and the lower-drama they get. Twitter’s 120 characters is optimized for bumper-sticker philosophy, and the road rage levels of stupid drama that engenders. Facebook’s promotion of “shorter is better” by putting more than 120 characters below the fold, and increasing font size on shorter updates, again promotes drama at the expense of clarity – by design.
Second, the way to get comments is to ask questions, and to respond yourself in comments. Even then, its’ very hard. And the questions can’t be obvious comment-bait; that doesn’t work when a masseuse is going “If you like the new tattoo, like or favourite this video!”, it doesn’t work on the blog equivalent, either.
Third: moderation in all things. Whether you plan to have a comment section where only sycophants are allowed (I don’t recommend it; it’s generally unhealthy and vicious), or one where anyone can join in, you will need moderation. Because trolls exist – they range from a psychopathic stalker with a fixation on short Asian chicks and some of the worst writing known to man, to paid positions whose job is to show up anytime a product, service, company, or political position is mentioned, and either promote it or denigrate any opposition to it. Neither of these are interested in conversation or growing your web presence, and should be removed from the comment stream. On the other hand, even the best spam filters often catch innocent commenters, and need to be regularly checked.
And yes, this takes time and mental energy. Factor that in to your social media plan.
And when all else fails, manage your viewer expectations with the Big Dramatic Announcement that you’re cutting back, and here’s the new schedule. Make it a manageable schedule for you, and then stick to it! Webcomics still thrive on a M-W-F release schedule (Girl Genius), and some even on a Tue-Thu release. (However, you must stick to the schedule. Nothing kills site traffic faster than inconsistency with updates despite a posted schedule – and kills the discipline and motivation to continue updating!
Accept that you’re going to have a steep traffic hit when you implement, because you will – but again, while eyeballs are important, having books to sell to those eyeballs is far more important than eyeballs alone.
Peter recently did this on his blog, Bayou Renaissance Man – he took his lowest-traffic day, Sunday, and announced it would be a one-post day, focused on music. While it did drive traffic off a cliff on Sunday, it didn’t affect the rest of the week – and he has one day a week now where he can be offline, recuperating and working entirely on other projects.
He’s also, as I type, working on other posts and queuing them up, and there’ll have been a notice that due to death in family, posting will be light and inconsistent. This way, even if we are completely swamped with real life and not near, or paying no attention to, online – the viewers will be informed, happy, and come back when there’s more content.
So bottom line? You don’t need nearly as much social media as you think, but if you’re doing a blog, you need consistency and consistently good content to keep people coming back. However, you don’t always need fresh, original content created by you. And no matter what, the most important part is writing the next book.
Speaking of the Next book, Tom Rogneby just released Lady of Eyre! Swinging between high fantasy and everyday adventures related in a high fantasy tone (The derby of the pine chargers! Yeah, anybody who’s been a boy scout or a boy scout parent knows where that one’s going…), it pretty awesome. Fair disclaimer: I wrote the blurb. I wrote the blurb because I like the story! I did not write the story – it’s better than if I had done it!