The 80/20 Rule
I think most of us are familiar with the eponymous rule, so often cited in business. My take on it is something along the lines of 80 percent of the effort makes 20 percent of the work get done… anyway, I saw it cited in a Goodreads article that drew me in with the title, and their take on it reminded me that it’s been a while since I talked straight-up marketing. “The rule of thumb for online marketing recommends spending 20% of your online time talking about yourself and 80% of it talking about other things”
Now, the article was purportedly about what readers want from Authors, which is why I clicked through to read it. What it was, though, was an article about how Goodreads would like authors to act on their site (i.e. A lot more interaction with that site) rather than what readers are really looking for from authors. That’s pretty simple: more books.
However, the 80/20 comment got me thinking about marketing and social media and blogs, and all the other things that we do rather than writing because even though the singular thing readers want from authors is more to read, authors need to get their name in front of more readers so those readers will start wanting more stories from them… it’s a bit of a vicious cycle, really. Promotion, to sell the work, but you have to make the time to work (write! Write like the wind!) in order to have something to promote. The market is whimsical, and having just one book out there means you should definitely not be spending 80% of your time on promotion. The more books, the more readers will find you, and so on.
The problem is that while an author is promoting their work in social media venues, they are also, in some senses, selling themselves. And if they spend 80% of their ‘face time’ with fans and potential readers talking about themselves or their books, they will repel a lot of folks who don’t care to be sold to. Instead, spending time building trust by not slapping people with a digital wet fish saying ‘buy my book!’ but taking the time to be interesting, talking about something that isn’t in your self-interest for that 80% of the time. I’ve seen it time and again in the groups I’m part of online. An author comes in, spams the group with ads for their book, and we’re all standing on the sidelines muttering ‘who is this jerk and why won’t he shut up?”
I know it’s never gotten me to buy a book. You know why I buy books by unknown authors? Because someone I know and trust recommended it. Or because I found out that the person I’d been chatting with and finding witty was an author (I’m looking at you, Paul Duffau and Wendie Nordgren!) so I went out and hunted down their book. Heck, I learned that my personal doc was an author and bought his book. It looks like it’s going to be Tom Clancy-esque so I am looking forward to reading that, too, because he’s a funny and perceptive guy when we’re in the exam room and I’m betting he’s like that on paper. He might not be. Some people don’t have a handle on writing naturally and comfortably. But I’m willing to take a risk when I like a person, that their writing reflects them.
Then there’s the dude – I’m debating naming him – who keeps posting a link to his book in a group I’m part of. It’s ok, the group owner has made that group open to promo by anyone, at any time, and it hasn’t turned into an open marketplace through sheer force of personality on his part. But this one dude doesn’t interact at all. He just posts a link, and every now and then he adds a comment to it to bump it to the top. You know what I’d like to see him doing? Instead of the bare minimum which he’s currently doing, he could spend a little more time commenting on other threads (not talking about his book, there) or even in his bump-to-the-top comments, being snarky and witty. Does he do that? No. His BTT comments are this: “.” I’m not making a typo, that’s a period. Not even the quotes. So here’s the thing. He’s posting a post-apoc novel in a group that enjoys that kinda thing. It’s like the image I chose to feature on this post: we all love cookie dough. But cookie dough soda? One look and I’m betting you’re blenching and pulling away from your screen a little. That’s the difference between marketing the right way – where you get someone to lean in and drool – and marketing the wrong way, where they are pulling back and avoiding making eye contact while they retreat. I’m not naming the dude. He doesn’t deserve even negative recognition.
When I don’t like a person? See, here’s the backlash to aggressive marketing in a soft market. Reading is about feeling and imagination. You carry that into the book. If you know nothing about the author, you can be objective about the book. If you like the author, it’s going to color your perceptions favorably. If you got a bad first impression of the author, you’re going to read critically even if you are trying not to. There are times and places for aggressive hard-sell marketing. I think. Personally, I haven’t found any yet, but my businesses have been about building relationships with clients, delivering a superior product, explicitly asking the customer to pass on the good word if they were happy, and waiting for them to come back again for more, bringing friends along with them.