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The Delicate Art of Crowd-Sourcing Publicity

Posted in New Media and Tech

I’m acquainted with a lot of podcasters and writers. Some of my friends are both, and some have used the spoken medium to gain wider distribution for their written work. I love these people. I love that what they are selling is creative work.

They are, in a very real sense, also selling themselves. Tools like podcasting, Twitter, Facebook, fan art and the like are the grassiest of grass roots, and the most personal of mass media. There can be no cooler use for what has come to be called social media. Aside from posting links to words, audio, video an illustration, or engaging in conversation about their work, authors have come up with clever ways to promote wheat they’re doing to wider audiences. From cross-promotion with other content-makers to character naming rights, a lot of these methods are both free and engaging to their fan communities. And because book promotion is so often self-promotion, many authors bring the audience along when they have success; announcing book deals, reprints of past works, and even movie options. These events are not merely a press release for the author, but a cause for celebration in their fandoms and communities of social media followers. In this way, the reader’s early faith in an author is vindicated, and fans are more likely to spread the word far beyond their own social media networks that they know someone who as written a great book. And it’s available at a bookstore, web site or multiplex near you!

In the past few months, though, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed by these homegrown publicity machines. If you’re already a part of a community where authors “work the room” a lot, you will have read or heard their messages and their success stories many times over. You’ll know not only that book x has been added to Amazon’s catalog, but that it’s improved in sales rank by 500 places in the past day. And the author’s success will be amplified again and a gain by friends sending “congrats” via Twitter and Facebook. Great stuff for the author, but grounds for me to say “enough already” even if I’m a supportive fan.

The challenge is for the author: how much is too much, and how can you make that determination in a world where the milestones you achieve are magnified many times over by your community of friends and fans? I’ve written a lot of books myself, and I don’t mind telling you that I would have LOVED to have access to social media tools when I published them between 1997 and 2005. But the point at which you begin overloading your fans, tempting them to unfollow you, and making it hard for them to feel like hitting that Retweet button, is a place you don’t want to be.

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