Marketing Lost in Lexicon began with the website but went much further. Rebecca and I took the book's release as an opportunity to learn about the world of online and traditional marketing. We talked to publicists, read whatever we could, and consulted a small design and marketing firm called Nectar Creative Group, whose principals, Patrick and Sarah, patiently educated us. Basically, we decided to try a little of everything. Here's some of what we learned.
First, of course, came blogging. I really didn't see why I should have to blog, and I was very reluctant to give up the author's cloak of mystery and anonymity to do it. But everyone says authors have to blog. I tried to weasel out of it by offering to blog in my characters' voices. Daphne blogs about cool words, and Ivan blogs about interesting math problems. I thought the topics would draw in potential readers and teachers, but the truth is, those blogs have only a couple of visitors a day. (Come on, someone, follow them! They're lonely, and it's not a big commitment: they only post about once a week.) Finally I agreed to try blogging in my own name, with the following guidelines:
-- Blog several times a week: write some blogs in advance before you start so you'll have a backlog.
-- Tag your blog posts with possible search words, so people can find them.
-- Most posts should be about 500-700 words, substantial but easy to gulp down in one sitting.
-- Once you have a number of meaty posts up, you can afford to put in a fluffy one once in a while (I don't really do this).
-- Don't constantly be asking for something in your blog; offer something at least four times as often as you ask, advertise, or push.
-- Visuals help (I really fall down here).
Other advice, which I haven't taken, is to specialize enough that your blog will stand out. I tend to mix all my areas of interest and expertise in one blog.
To my surprise, I've really come to enjoy blogging. I like coming up with topics. I try to be careful and respectful when I review books or comment on current events. One way I've learned to increase page views is to send a link to particular organizations that might be interested in the topic of a particular post -- say, 4H or the Association of Science and Technology Centers.
Sarah and Patrick also insisted I join Facebook and Linked In. Linked In is not just good when you're looking for a job: you can find colleagues in your field. They advised me to join lots of Linke In groups, so I belong to groups on writing (there are lots), publishing, math and science education, gifted education, graduates of the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, etc. Here again, the idea is to start conversations and offer insights to other group members, with a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio of helpfulness to self-promotion. (Not everyone on the forums follows those guidelines.) The point is not so much to sell books directly as to increase the number of references to your website or blog and to establish standing among your peers. Besides, you'll hear good ideas and often learn something. Just don't spend too much time there.
Everyone knows Facebook. It's useful to have a fan site where you can post pictures and events and sometimes look to reassure yourself that you do have fans. I don't spend a lot of time on Facebook. For one thing, I don't want to spook my children and their friends by lurking in the shadows of their world. Still, Facebook has led to some renewed friendships and opportunities.
Finally, there's Twitter. A year ago authors were being told they had to be on Twitter. I created an account and have never opened it. I'm sure Twitter is a great thing: after a talk I gave in South Carolina, one audience member told me she had madly tweeted little pearls from it to friends as I spoke. That sounds like a nice way to increase the reach of whatever you have to say. But I fight with distraction enough as it is. I don't think I could absorb any more small snippets of input from people everywhere. Interestingly, this year at the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference, there was much less of a push toward Twitter. It's as if editors, agents, and publishers all recognize that every social media outlet drains time from somewhere, and probably from writing time. Now the advice seems to be to choose judiciously and reach out from your areas of strength.
Right now, social media probably requires about four hours a week from me. That's a lot, and it grows if I spend too much time browsing. Is the time worthwhile? That's hard to say. There's no direct line between blog posts written and books sold, that's for sure. But I do find I speak and write with increasing confidence. I've found another way to have a voice in the world.