Tagadvertising

The Masks We Wear Online

Yep, this again. Another post about social media.

I have three main social media pages I try to keep updated: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter–mostly in that order. I have found considerable positive traction on Instagram [of all places!] and I am gaining a little ground on Twitter now, which I honestly didn’t expect. It goes to show that if you throw yourself at something long enough, eventually something will stick. Though now all I have in my head after typing that is a mental image of me beating the hell out of Twitter like it’s an old console TV on its last legs.

I’ve considered a YouTube channel for a few months now, but that also involves the artistic side of my light novels so it gets backburnered easily. [And we all know what the comments section is like over there…]


Roughly, yes.

Social media has been my bugbear for a while now, but you already know this. I’m a private person by nature, and it’s been difficult for me to come out of my shell while lacking that magic confidence anonymity lends people. As Oscar Wilde said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. Despite this being stated a century before the internet would even become a thing, it seems to be more true now than when it was originally coined. Human nature doesn’t change much, and with the exception of a few outliers, we all want to be liked and accepted. It gives people a sense of value to feel like others appreciate them and their ideas.

Creators put the intimate workings of their mind on display for people to pick apart and dissect–whether it be music, writing, or artwork. Social media makes two things easy: putting your ideas in front of millions of people the world over all at once, and allowing them to judge it–and you–from behind the safety of their own mask.


Sometimes multiple masks at once…

I don’t like taking off my mask. It’s not that I am secretly a cruel or unpleasant person, [Though I feel that I am much more amicable online than off…] but that I feel my discomfort and worry bleed through my words. I’m scared. I hesitate. I re-word, erase, and refine: “Will they like this? What if someone thinks it’s awful–what if it goes viral for being terrible?” [Like that last one? I always jump to worst case scenarios.]

But to be a writer–nay, an author–you have to have a thick skin! That means you can’t be afraid to take off your mask. You can’t be afraid to put yourself and your work out there! You need to handle criticism and praise with equal parts grace and aplomb. If you even hint at uncertainty, your peers will repeat this as if it is a magic incantation that will remove your doubt. I even find me telling myself this sometimes, which is awkward.

So what is a writer to do when they need to be honest and real on social media in order to connect with others in an authentic way, but find themselves full of anxiety and fear? They either stop writing, or do the exact opposite of what they are instructed to do: they create a new mask.

But… the goal was to not have a mask, right? Well, we see what happens when famous people use social media without their masks on–it doesn’t work. They alienate people, and quickly; a few of them even lose fans, and access to their own accounts for it. So you end up creating this half-mask, like the Phantom of the Opera, where you are both open and honest, but also guarded. Telling people how they should feel is stealing their agency–if something someone says about you or your work bothers you, you have every right to be upset about it! But the way you wear your own mask when others are watching says more about you than any thinly-veiled rant or tear-stained tweet ever could.

Ultimately, the magic author incantation is a lie. You cannot follow it as written. There is no way you can completely turn off your ability to care what others think about you, even if you try to convince yourself otherwise. We’re only human, and fall easily back into old habits… we trade one mask for another. It’s not a bad thing; this way we can fulfill the spirit of the incantation while being honest to both ourselves and our followers.

I believed in it for too long. I tried to bend my own feelings to fit it, trusting that it was right despite it feeling all wrong. I should know by now to listen to my gut, even when it contradicts what seems like solid advice. I took an impromptu trip to visit family recently, and had a lot of time to think about my online presence while not having much of an outlet through which to curate it. I didn’t pack my laptop, so I had what I could reach with my phone. [It was mostly Instagram, and it was largely pictures of the forest around my parent’s place in Missouri. It was… quaint… and you didn’t miss too much. Just some lousy photography of trees, flowers and my poor, misplaced-but-well-taken-care-of cats.]

I worried about leaving it quiet for so long, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Now that I’m back and updating, having had this revelation about masks, I am seeing a better response to my posts and tweets. It’s kind of magical in its own sense, but I know that it’s because I learned from my past experience, and was willing to go against what I was initially told to do.

The lesson in this is: Don’t be afraid to be yourself online, but don’t forget to protect yourself either. Remember that we’re all wearing masks out here–even when at first glance it may appear that some of us aren’t wearing one at all.

The Self-Promotion Hat

If you ask about promotion or marketing as a new self-publisher, people usually say something vague like: “As a self-pubbed author, you need to wear many hats!” as they direct you toward social media, or paid book promotion services, and… well, that’s it. “Here’s a link to Twitter, and another one to Goodreads. Now go forth–and don’t forget to wear your marketing hat! Even traditionally published authors have to do this now.” Others will recommend that you have a nice cover and tell you to try to utilize word of mouth. Barring that, you’ll get told to pay someone else to do it. No one is wrong, but no one is telling the full story, either. To market successfully, you need to use everything available to your advantage. Things like:

A Finished Book

  • Eye-catching cover that instantly conveys your book’s genre
  • An edited, polished manuscript beneath that cover
  • Intriguing back cover blurb that introduces the main character and asks more questions than it answers

The actual book is half the battle, but it’s the most important thing you can work on. This is the end product. Everything you do after you write it will be designed to lead readers to it, and when they leave, they should feel at best satisfied–and at worst, neutral. They should not feel tricked or offended by taking time from other tasks to look at your work.

Your Audience

These are the readers you had in mind when you wrote your book, and the ones you will need to keep in mind as you build your campaign. Who do you think would like your story? Ask yourself questions like:

  • What type of stories do they normally read?
  • What element of your story would pique their interest?
  • What other authors would they read?

The more questions you ask, the closer you will come to seeing your ideal reader. Once you have your ideal reader pinned down they are who you want to aim for as you plan your ad campaign.  Any marketing you do should target them, and anyone else you may catch will ripple out from that center.

A Social Media Presence

  • A blog branded with your name or pen name*
  • A Facebook Page
  • A Twitter Page
*= If possible you should start this before you finish your book

This is the bare minimum for social networking. I highly recommend buying your author name as a domain and having it direct to your blog if you do not open a website. I also advise you to join a third social media of your choice, this one visual. Pinterest or Instagram are great choices, though I have personally found great success with Instagram–especially since it cross-links so easily with Facebook.

That’s another thing–if you are more comfortable on one type of social media than another, there are resources that allow you to make a single post on your preferred platform and send it to others, maximizing your exposure. [This is a great article detailing the most popular options available to you.]

Speaking of exposure, there are several different ways to achieve this. Simply putting yourself on the web will not sell books! You would be surprised at how many authors stop here and wonder why they couldn’t sell to people other than friends and family. The web is a vast, busy place. You have to make yourself visible. You have to make yourself and your book stand out. There are several ways to do this:

Visual Aids

People are visual creatures. First impressions are important–some readers won’t even read your back cover copy [or your back blurb, as it is sometimes called] if they hate your cover! With split-second decisions like that being made, you’ll need to have cover art that can work double time for you in advertisements. If you are going to market your book, you’ll need a few visual aids:

  • A high-resolution copy of your cover art
  • A high-resolution copy of your final book cover
  • A photo of yourself that is not a selfie [Author’s Headshot]

These should all be at least 2000 px in height, and 600 dpi; preferably saved in a lossless format, like PNG or TIFF. The cover art is what you are going to use whenever an ad requires a picture, and the image of the cover whenever you want to display an image of your book. [Such as in banner ads] Your author picture will be used when you create an official profile for yourself. You should have one on any website you sign up for, and display it on any “About” pages you have the chance to fill out.

If you wish to get creative and make banner ads, or advertisements with text on the images, I highly recommend paying someone with more experience to do it. It works out well to do it by yourself when you’ve spent the last twelve years freelancing as a graphic designer [like I did], but if you are planning on using any kind of template tool or paint program to create your images, you’re probably going to have a bad time. This is the one point in the self-publishing process where I would err on the side of caution and hire someone. If you can’t afford it, do text only ads. It is so difficult to overwrite a bad first impression. It can be done, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Advertising Yourself and Your Work

Free Options

  • Social Media Hashtags
  • Word of Mouth
  • Getting cataloged by webcrawlers

Don’t underestimate the power of hashtags. Put them on all your social media statuses! Make them relevant to what your book or series is about, but don’t forget about vaguely-associated ones, like the platform you sell from [Smashwords, Amazon, etc.] or the cost of your book–especially if it’s free or on sale! Word of Mouth is another powerful, free tool–especially if friends and family are buzzing about your book! And if all else fails, a webcrawler will eventually catalog your blog or shop page. It could take several weeks or months for that to happen, though.

Paid Advertisements

Social Media

Social media can work for you despite having a small initial reach or audience.

  • Promoted Status Updates
  • Promoted Website Links
  • Promoted Pages/Profiles

These are done through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can set your own budget per day, and set the number of days the promotion will run. These are most effective when used with a sale or giveaway.

Ad Networks

These are low cost options that reach many people, and are great for an author who has just launched their first book, or a seasoned author with a slim advertising budget.

I ran an ad campaign simultaneously with Google and Facebook. You can read about my experience here.

Concierge Advertising

This is for authors trying to break into the big leagues! You are set up with a consultant who will tailor an ad campaign just for you. Unfortunately, these services come with strict qualifications and/or a hefty price tag–some starting at a couple hundred dollars. These services target readers specifically, and if you have a large amount of positive reviews that can drive sales, then using a service like these can catapult your book into a bestseller slot.

Book Promotion Newsletters

These can be a low-cost option for promotion, and can start as low as $10. But they usually have strict guidelines your book must fall within in order to participate.

Most of these require your book have at least 10 reviews and a 3.5+ rating prior to submission.

Special Promotions

Giving away your book free for a limited time is a great motivator to pick it up, especially if it’s new and doesn’t have many reviews. If you are writing a series, your first book is a good candidate to offer for cheap [or even free] whenever you can–this drives people who like it to pick up the remaining books in the series, and is known in marketing terms as a Loss Leader. [But it only works if you have two or more books released for the series.]

  • Contests
  • Giveaways

The chance to win something is a great motivator! People love free stuff, even if it’s a copy of your book. You can offer a simple lottery-style giveaway, or you can require certain terms for entry. On Facebook a popular strategy is to offer a single chance to win for a “like”, and a double chance if they share the contest status. This spreads your message organically, encouraging others to enter while promoting your book or page. How much that prize costs is up to you–a free e-book doesn’t even cost you shipping! [Note: Make sure you read the rules of the sites you plan on running your contest on so you can make sure it doesn’t accidentally violate one of them!]

Other Writers

These two options are great if you are willing to do some legwork, and are often free! Don’t be too discouraged if people don’t get back to you right away–they often have large backlogs of requests to go though, so a reply time of several weeks isn’t unheard of.

Summary

As I said earlier, using all of these will drive sales; but for some self-pubs things like concierge advertising are a pipe dream. That’s okay–there are plenty of free and low-cost options here that will help you out! Mix and match the ones you feel will work best with what you have, and you will still bring readers to your book!

I know–this was a long, serious article. Have a cute kitty for your patience!

Advertising: Facebook Versus Google

I recently ran an ad campaign, because over the holidays my sales slumped. Why were my sales slumping? Well, initial excitement over my second book had tapered off, and people were all wrapped up in holiday stuff. It’s fairly common. If I was smart, I would have set up a sale and ad campaign to run right after Christmas, to catch the eye of all those people getting e-readers for presents! But alas, I was caught up in holiday stuff as well, and didn’t take the opportunity. So I promised myself I would run a campaign for the next holiday, which was Valentine’s Day.

E-readers make excellent gifts! E-books… not so much.

This was dubbed the Valentine’s Heartwarming Sale*, and it recently ran over the weekend of Valentine’s Day, which was very convenient. I ran the promotion for three days in all, and I decided to try out a new ad delivery service, Google Adwords. I’ve run ads on Facebook before, but I’ve avoided Google in the past because I feel like with light novels the covers really help with letting the reader know what they’re purchasing. Google ads are… just words, like it says on the tin. But because there was also a promotion, I figured the sale aspect would generate a few clicks on its own. So I ran one ad on Facebook, and another on Google, just to see how they stacked up.

I have to say, I was totally blown away by the results! Here are my experiences with both sets of ads.

*=Because I like cheeziness, and I found this really cute stock photo of a heart-shaped mug of cocoa in snow that I really liked. Seriously.

Facebook

I have run an ad campaign on Facebook before, so this was nothing new to me. Or so I thought. My ad ran overnight, but then was pulled for having “Too much text on it”. Turns out, the text on the images of my book covers on the ad counted towards their 20% limit.

So I stripped all the text off–except for the name of the sale–and resubmitted it. What irked me the most is that I lost out on four to six hours of ad time on the first morning because Facebook never notified me that the ad was pulled. If I had never checked my stats to see how it did overnight, I would have never noticed it wasn’t running!

Ten points from Facebook!

Their interface is intuitive, though there were a few bugs with the targeting and demographics areas that I managed to work around. Other than the approval mess, it was a smooth process.

Pros:

  • Ads connect to your series page, author page, or directly to your website
  • Can use an image
  • Ads can also appear on Instagram
  • Can set a detailed target audience
  • Can set daily price limits or total campaign limits
  • Can set custom time period
  • Can choose to pay per click, per impression, or per unique view
  • You can choose where your ad shows up [mobile devices, the side bar, apps, etc.]
  • Easy to read reports

Cons:

  • Does not notify you if your ad is not approved/removed
  • Will run your ad despite it being in review status, and make you pay for clicks/views in that time period even if they do not approve it
  • Buggy Interface [Image upload and audience targeting, specifically.]
  • Ads appear to be served in a set rotation with other ads which keeps the impressions low
  • Cannot have different ads to cycle through in the same campaign
  • Help center/FAQ is difficult to navigate and did not answer many of the questions I had

 

Google Adwords

I’ll admit, their stark interface had me worried, but it really is a full-featured program. There are many options, one of which is the ability to pause a campaign, which I really liked. I was also impressed that there was phone support available–even if I didn’t need it. [Compared to Facebook’s help center, which was… bad.] And when I poked around the advanced reports, a step-by-step tutorial walked me through building a custom report. [Which gave me a ton of data. Seriously, loads!]

Maybe… too much data.

It holds your hand quite a bit, which was comforting to a newbie like me. The hardest part was staying within their character limits! People who do that Twitter thing will feel right at home; for me it took an hour to figure out how to say what I needed to with so few words. Now that the ad has been running for over 7 days, the tools that help fine tune your ads are offering suggestions, and everything they recommend is working. Today–with no sale running–I received 25% more clicks than I did during the peak day of my sale! I went in with no expectations since I’m technically a little fish to Google–but I came away pleasantly surprised.

Note: Today I noticed they had options for image ads and YouTube video ads available now, which is pretty cool! I don’t know if I unlocked those somehow, or if they were available from the beginning. I may experiment with an image ad and see how it performs versus the text-only ad.

Pros:

  • Ads can connect to any web address
  • Can set daily price limits
  • Can set custom time period
  • You only pay for click through, not for views
  • You can define a custom bid per click setting
  • Ads can show up on any partner network–YouTube, Gmail, Blogger, etc.
  • Can create multiple ads within a set that will cycle randomly, or only appear for certain keywords
  • Can set ads to only run during certain times
  • Has instant tools to help you optimize and tweak your campaign to get the most value
  • Has step-by-step tutorials for any non-intuitive feature
  • Many ad blockers have them whitelisted because they are unobtrusive
  • Give coupon code for $100 worth of free ads for new accounts that spend at least $25 in their first month
  • Free Monday – Friday, 9 AM to 8 PM EST phone support
  • Tons of data available through advanced reports
  • Image and video ads available

Cons:

  • Text ads are limited to a title, and only 2 lines of 36 characters each
  • Relies on search keywords to define audience
  • Ads can fail to be served if they have a low relevancy rating on any of your keywords
  • Ads can fail to be served if your bid per click is lower than competing ads
  • Initial reports are straightforward, but detailed reports need to be manually compiled
  • The position of your ad is based off relevancy rating and the amount of your bid per click settings
  • Ads are unobtrusive, and are sometimes ignored

Results: Facebook

Total Impressions: ~7,500

Click Throughs: ~20

Total Cost: $15.72

0.26% Effectiveness

Best Day: Saturday

Best Hours: 12 PM – 6 PM

Peak Hour: 2 PM

Results: Google Adwords

Total Impressions: ~12,500

Click Throughs: ~40

Total Cost: $1.23

0.32% Effectiveness

Best Day: Saturday

Best Hours: 6 PM – 10 PM

Peak Hour: 10 PM

Final Thoughts:

Overall my sales tripled from the combined ad campaign! For a self-published author writing in a niche medium, that is amazing for less than twenty dollars total!

Though sales have dropped with the end of the promotion, they haven’t leveled off. Why not? Because the Google ad was so cheap, I decided to keep running it! It seems to be pulling me an extra couple of sales/lends per day, and it’s only costing me pennies a day to maintain, so why would I not? I know a 0.32% rate looks dismal, but I’d happily pay $2 for it as opposed to $16 for 0.06% less. That’s just smart shopping. As far as Facebook goes, I’ll stick to boosting posts for $5 if the mood strikes me, or when volume #3 releases.

Maybe someday I’ll get brave and try Twitter ads, but I really don’t care for Twitter. Plus whenever I clicked “Get Started” to explore pricing it just took me back to the analytics page in a constant loop. Not particularly inspiring.

Later, I found an independent site that listed Twitter’s rates as $0.50 – $2.00 per ad click. No thanks, Twitter.

No. Thanks.