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But I'm a real person with a real book; how can my tweets be spam?

I've just been having this discussion on Twitter, and I wanted to give an answer. But it's difficult to sum up in 144 words, and this kid's not the only one asking the question. Almost all authors are asking it.

When I first saw the tweet, it had a whiff of spam, but I thought perhaps the person tweeting was genuinely a kid, and I like to support young people making their own books. So I clicked on his profile and saw his tweets. He'd been tweeting exactly the same thing directly at loads of people. If it had been an adult, I would have ignored him; if he'd tweeted me twice, I would have blocked him or possibly reported him for spamming. But I know what it's like, that fine line between trying to promote my book and trying not to overload people with too much information they don't want.

So let's look at his profile:

Not bad. A head shot, which helps us know who's tweeting. A peek at what I assume is the book's front cover, or at least an image that gives the title and helps convey the atmosphere of the book. And he's been followed by one of my publishers, Scholastic UK, which is heartening. He's also put that he's based in London, like me, which is helpful because I realise he's local, and makes me more inclined to engage with him.

But the number one tip I'd give him is that he needs a web link in his profile: it's impossible to find out about his book with a direct click. I've seen loads of authors on Twitter who make this mistake. People browsing the Internet are lazy; unless they have a burning reason, they don't want to take the extra time to do a search engine hunt for your book.

The link doesn't have to go to a big expensive website. It can go straight to a free blog (such as Wordpress, Blogger, Tumblr, LiveJournal, etc) with a single blog post on it. The most important thing about that web page/ blog post is that it have:

*The name of the book
*The cover of the book
*A brief blurb: what's it about?
(And what makes it different from all the other books?)
*A link to somewhere I can buy it
, whether it be a bookshop, a bookshop website, a newsagent that stocks it, a fair you're selling it at, anything. Wherever people can get hold of a copy.

But that still leave the question: what can he tweet about, once he has this in place? Just saying 'Buy my book!' doesn't go down well in Internet-world. His age helps him, a bit like the way people will buy lemonade from a kid sitting on the street by a cardboard box, even if they didn't think they wanted lemonade. It's just nice to see someone young being entrepreneurial. But that will only go so far, and he'll lose that credential as he gets older. It's time to start learning the skills that he can take into his adulthood as an author.

I don't have all the answers, but I'm learning as I go, just like he is. I remember once leaving an ecstatic review of The DFC comic over on Neil Gaiman's forum when I started writing the Vern and Lettuce comic strips. I was immediately reprimanded for spamming and my blood ran cold. WHAT? But I'm just excited! And it's a place where people like British comics, SURELY they'd want to know??! I felt mortified, deleted the comment and apologised. Immediately I got some nice replies back, people thanking me for apologising and realising that it was comics passion firing me up, not just self-promotion. But I learned a lesson, that I could be a spammer, it wasn't just strangers hawking diet schemes from the other side of the planet. I hadn't realised that. This kid's the same, he didn't go quiet when I tweeted criticism back at him, he came back with a genuine question and we had a brief version of a real-life, non-spam chat.

That's what you need on the Internet, a way to show you're a genuine, real-life person, fired up with a passion for what you do. People get excited when they come in contact with real passion and enthusiasm. But this kid's 11, he doesn't want to lay his whole life open on the Internet. Or at least, his parents probably don't want him to, and well-meaning people would worry for him if he did. So what else can he do?

My advice to him would be:

1. Start a blog. There are some rules on the Internet about age limits, but if he's already tweeting, he's probably in a position where he can get a blog, or his parents/guardians/librarian/teacher could help him manage one.

A blog is a great place where you can talk about your book. Perhaps start with a blog post saying why you decided to write this book, people always want to know that. Include some images if you can, people always like to see long lines of text broken up with pictures. They don't have to be photos that give away too many personal details; they can be silly pencil doodles, photos of objects, post-it notes, etc. Just be sure they're not stolen images, people don't like seeing their pictures popping up on other people's websites uncredited. Just because an image is on Google Image search doesn't mean you can use it. The best and most original way is just to make your own pictures.

What about the second blog post? And the third? Here are some ideas:

2. Interview yourself. Ask yourself some questions about the book and answer them. Perhaps mix it with some silly questions, such as 'What is your favourite kind of pizza?' 'If you could have a superpower, what would it be?' 'What's your favourite joke?'

3. Get other people to interview you. You can post their questions and your answers on your own blog. If it's someone who's also written a book, a great way of thanking them for their time is to mention their book at the end, post a picture of the cover and give a link to their website. If they post the interview on their own blog, you can write on your blog that you've been interviewed and post a link to the interview. Maybe post a photo of the person interviewing you, so people can put a face to the name. If you look around at author blogs, you'll see some authors doing what is called a 'blog tour' on other people's blogs. Usually they're interviews, but not always. It gives authors something to post.

4. Write reviews of other people's books. Authors LOVE to see young people reviewing their books and getting geniune feedback about them (especially if you like their book). If you write something interesting about their book and tweet a link to them, they will almost always retweet it. After awhile, other authors and publishers and book lovers will start noticing that you're being retweeted a lot and start to follow you on Twitter. If you write half-decent reviews, there's a good chance they'll even start sending you free copies of their books to review. (You don't have to review them, but it's nice to have the option.) After awhile, they'll also start inviting you to book launches and book events, and if you post photos and a review of the event, people will again retweet you. You'll start to become a familiar face to book people and they'll be well disposed to share what you have to say and start to take interest in what you're doing, too. I know a lot of people who are published by major publishing houses who started this way, and they continue to have solid blog followings.

5. Do some events. You don't have to wait to be invited to a major literary festival to do events. It could be something as small as a table at your school book fair, or in your local library. And if you do events, it gives you a place to sell your book and then something interesting to blog about afterward (especially if you remember to bring your camera and take some photos). The way I started was by paying a little bit of money to set up my books and comics at a small press fair. Here you go, here's my first fair ever, when I split a table with my friend David O'Connell. I think I paid £15 for it and I made back more than enough money to cover the cost of it.

Think about how your books are displayed on the table, prices, where you're going to put your money.

I recently read good blog posts about preparing for these small press/ comics fairs by Sara McH here and by Matt Badham here.

Even if you're not selling comics, if you're a kid with self-published books, most festivals will welcome you. Be as polite and professional as you can with all the people you encounter, say thank you whenever someone helps you, and perhaps bring a friend or parent to help you with setting up and taking cash when people buy your books. You can play around with the price and see what sells best and still gets you enough profit to make it possible to do it again. Some potential festivals include Comiket, the Oxford Children's Comics Festival, the Alternative Press Fair (is that still going?), Leeds Thought Bubble festival. You could even encourage your school to set up its own festival! I've met two 12-year-old self publishers who exhibit at fairs, Zoom Rockman and Jordan Vigay:

This one's at Comiket, when Zoom was a bit younger:

And here's an interview with Jordan at the Oxford Children's Comic Festival:

6. Keep a copy of your book with you as often as you can. You never know when it might be a good time to show it to someone or pose with it in a picture for your blog.

7. Print business cards. Make some simple business cards, or even better, tiny photocopied sample books with your web address - or at least your Twitter name - printed on them. If you meet someone, you can give them a card and if they're interested in you, they can find you and your books on the Internet. They don't have to be fancy, just a way for someone to find you.

8. Do some research. Go look up Zoom Rockman's website and work out his business model. Jordan Vigay does much more with YouTube than I do, and it may be a good way forward, with his simple but clever animations. (And Jordan got my attention by sending me a fan comic. I'm like most authors, I like people saying nice things about me, and I'm always looking for something fun to post on my own blog!)

Research how your favourite authors blog. Research how they tweet. See what you think works, and what doesn't work. Go out in the real world and do something interesting, and then report back about what you've done on your blog or Twitter, using techniques you've picked up from authors you admire. Tweet back to them if you like something they've done. The ones who have less than, say, 10,000 followers are more likely to tweet you back, so don't just focus on tweeting to the ones with millions of followers. They'll be much more interested in your comments about what they've done than if you're telling them to buy your book. If you develop conversations with them, they may well go peek over at your profile and follow that web link you've posted (or will post... don't forget!).

I hope that helps! If anyone has any other helpful tips, or knows of small press fairs or other opportunities for kids to sell their books, please leave a message in the comments!

. . .

Edit: A year later, and it's great to see that Harri's going strong! I met him at Manx Lit Fest as a fellow author and he's already come a long way from our first exchange. He's even made quite a few school visits. Yay! You can check out his website here.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 22nd, 2013 08:44 pm (UTC)
Great advice - and you're so generous! i would have immediately assumed this was an adult pretending to be an adult and simply blocked it. You good.
Sep. 22nd, 2013 09:32 pm (UTC)
Hi, Candy! I did think that, but then I figured that it's an issue we're all wrestling with anyway, so it wouldn't hurt to address it here in case it helps other kids, too.

I think he's probably legit, here's his Goodreads page (via Neil Jackson): http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7260352.H_G_Sansostri
Sep. 23rd, 2013 04:13 am (UTC)
Awesome post.
Sep. 23rd, 2013 07:12 am (UTC)
Thank you! :)
Sep. 23rd, 2013 12:13 pm (UTC)
Hi Sarah,

I've seen quite a few of these posts flitting about Twitter now, having read Matt's, this, the one by Sara McH you pointed out and also one by Sally Jane Thompson. I've been writing and self-publishing comics for quite a few years, but as of this Summer past only just started exhibiting at conventions, so I've found the above and the other posts very interesting and certainly very useful. A lot of interesting and excellent points, and it's great to see a range of different perspectives on the same challenges.

(That Sally Jane Thompson one: http://blog.sallyjanethompson.co.uk/2013/09/20/freelance-friday-10-on-selling-at-conventions/#more-662)

There's one point that I'd like to respectfully raise a few questions on, a suggestion that you've made here that I haven't seen elsewhere: writing reviews.

Your post is obviously on skillful self-promotion and building a profile. I can see the benefits of reviewing work by writers you like, and how this can build relationships and bring attention to your own work. My issue is that I see this being applied by some comics people in ways that I feel range from somewhat cronyistic to outright crooked and disingenuous.

I'll say firstly, I'm a pretty firm believer that your book should stand or fall on its own merits. But I realise that in the smallest and largest end of the industry that's not really realistic. Exposure and positive buzz are important, perhaps essential. But personally (and that is very much personally - others will feel very differently) I find the notion of writing a review of "Famous Author"s book or comic in the hopes that they will look kindly upon your own, maybe a little distasteful. It seems to work, but could you not argue that that positive review that you tweet to your favourite writer is just ingratiation? Which I find, well, a bit gross.

Similarly, the thorny matter of friends reviewing friends. You don't comment on it above, but I think it falls into the same area. Now, obviously comics is a relatively small and friendly pool of people, where a lot of people know and like a lot of people. Some of those will want to write and review, and review work by their peers, which is a grey-ish area and not necessarily a dubious one...

However - I see a significant amount of "pals reviewing pals". I've seen reviewers on respected platforms who are unable to write about any comic without positively mentioning other books that happen to be by their friends, or who they're members of the same collective of. I've seen writers giving a hugely positive reviews to books by a writer/artist they're collaborating on a different project with, or are part of the same small publishing label as. I've seen people arrange over Twitter to positively review one another's work, Facebook comments being used as promotional straplines... and much more of the above.

Is it not somewhat disingenuous, to promote yourself with a positive review from a friend, or a party with a vested interest in your success? It seems to me that for the people who can see this as such, it's pretty much rank cronyism and if you have a legitimate platform (i.e. a respected site from which you review) then it's an abuse of that platform. And to the reader, who picks up your book based on these glowing reviews, are they not potentially being somewhat duped? That reviewer has a serious interest in that book doing well, but the buying public see a review, assume it's wholly impartial, and are being sold on something being beyond brilliant, when... maybe it isn't.

This to me is like the film reviewer with a financial stake in the film studio, the music reviewer who is an executive in the record label... I think another factor here is that it can potentially corrodes the reputation of reviewers as a species, and crowds out the more important, impartial and critical voices. I may have gone off topic here a little, but I'd be really interested to know what people make of this, and the conflicts of interests that can arise and the attitiudes toward them.

** Sorry - looks like I'll have to continue below ***


Sep. 23rd, 2013 12:15 pm (UTC)
*** Apologies, continued from above. Oh, the wordiness of an unpopular opinion! ***

Apologies if any of this seems overtly negative. People can obviously review purely because they like to or like to discuss work in a formal way, and no doubt many have rigorous standards on how they approach it, and how they might separate their own work from writing about the work of others. Certainly I know of some who can and do. Maybe I'm ultimately being naive about how this stuff should or does work. But I do think I raise some reasonable points, and I'm really interested in your thoughts on this, and anybody else who would like to chime in.

Cheers, all the best

Craig Collins


Edited at 2013-09-23 12:18 pm (UTC)
Sep. 23rd, 2013 01:18 pm (UTC)
Hi, Craig! Thanks for your comment and for thinking about this. There's been a lot of talk about so-called 'sock puppet' reviews, by friends, people with a vested interest.

I think reviews are much like books; there are loads out there, but the good ones will rise to the top. If someone consistently posts good reviews on a book blog, people will come to trust those reviews.

One benefit of writing reviews of other people's books is that it's good training for writing your own books; looking at a book critically is very good practice. I learned a lot about how picture books work by reviewing them for Nikki Gamble's Write Away website (now the Just Imagine centre).

If someone writes reviews of an author they love, why is that gross? If someone lies about a book, saying they loved it when they didn't like it, that's not good. But why would we want to stop discussion by a real fan? And I find it totally fair; if someone puts a lot of thought and effort into writing a good review of my book, the least I can do is click 'retweet' or thank them. I'm not obliged to, but it's nice to have someone else saying my book is worth reading, other than me, especially if it comes from a trusted source. I don't mind why they wrote the review - that's their business - and I don't actually then owe them anything. If someone were to say, 'I wrote a review of your book, so now could you put in a good word for me to your editor,' I wouldn't like that. But that doesn't usually happen. I have no problem with people building up their online reviewer credentials and harbouring their own aspirations to get published.

My favourite reviews are the creative ones, when someone does a craft project along with the words, or shows how my book has inspired them to try out something new. (See my previous Seawigs post from the Peakle Pie blog.) I try to post creative reviews, too. For example, the one I did of my friend Viviane Schwarz's Sleepwalkers and Awesome Robot books. Yes, Viv's a friend, and I'm reporting on her work because I know other people will be interested in what she's done. I have friends who do books I don't like so much, and I don't review those. But because I'm a children's book illustrator, I have a good perspective on her books because I have some idea about what goes into making them and I've seen Viv fill out a whole picture book dummy in two hours, using a Sharpie pen. (Quite a feat!)

My least favourite reviews are the ones where people seem to have cut and pasted from other reviews. You often get the phenomena where once the first review is out there, lots of other reviewers parrot that review, often even using the same phrases. So when you find reviewers with their own unique voices, you know you've hit gold.

On places like Amazon, I just assume that at least one of those reviews will be by the author's mum. (Gary's Teenytinysaurs reviews were quite funny this way.) So I take everything with a pinch of salt, but the reviews have often still proved useful. And not just for buying the book, sometimes in coming up with topics of discussion for book club.

Thanks again for jumping into the conversation!

Edited at 2013-09-23 01:20 pm (UTC)
Sep. 23rd, 2013 04:13 pm (UTC)
Hi Sarah - happy to contribute to the conversation, thanks for your response!

I think you make a lot of good points, and I do have something of a bee in my bonnet about this stuff. I don't really have a problem with people developing reviewer credentials and simultaneously aspiring to be published, I guess my issue is with the instances where it looks like the former is being used to achieve the latter. Uncommon, but in my opinion not that uncommon.

To answer your question, why is that gross? I suppose it relates to the above. There's nothing wrong whatsoever with healthy and positive dialogue between creator and fan, in the form of review or otherwise. But on occasion it looks to me again as if it's done to boost their profile as a writer and their own books, a form of attention-gathering ingratiation... why not have your book gather attention itself, because you've made a great book, rather than because you've tried to curry favour with some fawning review? (Not *you* you, obviously!)

I think there's a lot of grey areas in this kind of thing, and while it's great and fine to see people apply promotion and review of friends / collaborators / colleagues work is a judicious and manner, I guess I find it troubling the extent to which I see it as not. But as you say, good reviewing will rise to the surface, and perhaps I'm being too negative about the average reader's perception of quality in reviews.

Anyways - good to hear what you think, and clearly this particular line of thought is just one of many parts of your post, so I'll leave it at that. Thanks Sarah, very interesting and useful advice there!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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