Sunday, September 6, 2009

How To Lose Fans and Alienate Visitors

Hi, Joe or Jane Author. My name is...well, it doesn’t really matter what my name is, all that matters is I’ve just signed up for your newsletter, or started visiting your site or blog, or registered for membership on your site, or started following you on Twitter, or friended you on Facebook or MySpace or FriendFeed or Goodreads or LibraryThing or something similar. This should be the start of a wonderful relationship, in which you share useful and amusing information with me and I sing your praises to everyone I know, buy your books, register for your webinars and show up to your speaking engagements. So far, so good. Now here’s how to f**k it up.

Bombard me with emails. When I signed up for your newsletter, Helpful Tips or the like, unless you specified otherwise at the time I signed up, I’m expecting to hear from you no more frequently than once a week. And in all honesty, if your messages take longer than about five minutes to read, I won't. Between my job, my family commitments, my social commitments, my own reading and writing, and the fall TV schedule ramping up again, I don’t have time to wade through your too-frequent or too-lengthy missives.

Bait and switch me. It might surprise you to learn that when I signed up for your newsletter or Helpful Tips I was expecting to receive…wait for it…news or Helpful Tips, NOT advertising messages. It’s fine to have a one- or two-line sales pitch at the end of your email, or to send out the occasional message about your upcoming book or speaking engagement, but the rest of your content better be worth my time and attention. Look at it this way: would you read a magazine that had nothing but full-page ads in it? If your favorite TV show suddenly started consisting of 80% ads and 20% show, would you keep watching it?

Son of bait and switch me. If you’ve promoted your free webinar, ebook, members-only site, newsletter or whatever else you’ve got as Twenty Surefire Strategies to accomplish some goal, and I sign up, I’m expecting to receive…you guessed it: Twenty Surefire Strategies. When you give me a series of sales pitches for twenty fee-based products or services from you and your affiliates instead, I tend to conclude you’re a lying liar.

Return of the son of bait and switch me. Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari and other reader community sites are places where people share their reactions to books they’ve read and engage in discussions about all things book-related, generally from a reader’s perspective. If the only books on your virtual shelf are those you’ve written yourself, or if you’ve got a variety of books on display but reserve your gushiest reviews for your own work, it’s obvious you’re using the site as a marketing outlet. Way to give new authors everywhere a bad name.

Bait and switch me, the revenge. It’s great that you’re branching out into new areas, or already operating in multiple areas, but don’t assume I want to branch out with you. I signed up for your Sci Fi Wonks site because I enjoy science fiction in general, and yours in particular. Imagine my surprise (and annoyance) when I also started receiving emails from your Gory Horrors site. And your Renaissance Romance N’ Ribaldry site. And your [insert religious affiliation here] Inspiration Of The Day site. And your eBay store. Bonus question: how angry do you think I was to find there were no “unsubscribe” links in any of the unwanted emails?

Bait and switch me, the final chapter. I understand I may need to provide my email address when posting a comment on your blog or site, because it protects you from spammers and hackers. And of course, if I’ve used the Contact form to send you a remark or question off-site, you need my email address to respond to me. But neither of these actions gives you the right to add me to your mailing list. Even if you’ve added some verbiage to your site pages to indicate that’s what you’ll do anytime someone enters his or her email address anywhere on your site, since that’s not how upstanding and honest most sites operate, if you want to avoid any appearance of bait-and-switchery you need to have a separate page just for mailing list signups.

Bait and switch me, the remake. Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, MySpace and other social networking sites are intended for…seriously, do I have to say it? Social networking. Not marketing or sales pitches. If most (or worse, all!) of your tweets, status updates or blog entries are only there to promote yourself or your work, you’re wasting my time. Just like I said about signing up for your newsletter or Helpful Tips, I wasn’t expecting to get a steady stream of advertising.

Are you beginning to sense a common thread? When I’m getting a lot of quality content from you, I don’t mind getting a modicum of advertising and promotion too. Sometimes I’m truly glad to hear about your new book, service or product, especially if I’m getting a special discount, premium edition or access to material or events not made available to the general public. But the moment the balance between content and advertising tips in the direction of advertising, I’m out. The moment I start thinking you’ve abused my trust, I’m out AND spreading the word. So please, don’t make me tweet angry.


PV Lundqvist said...

What should I call this, Bride of Bait and Switch?

Social media is about getting your message out: even if that particular person doesn't buy, maybe a friend, a neighbor, etc...will. Going for the short sale may alienate a future customer evangelist. So when someone offers to RT, or blog, or book club your book, treat that person like gold. For they are your unpaid sales staff.

Sulci Collective said...

It's the new pyramid scheme con/ virtual chain letter - secure 6 sales of my book or suffer the curse of death by spam.

Can I also add writers' websites whereby they explain away their 'creative' process. Why they chose the characters they did. What led them to the inspiration that was behind the car crash in Chapter 6... If your book is good enough to appeal, don't explain away its mechanics and any mystery with it.

Like you say, blogs like Agniezka's Shoes which shares good knowledge without asking for anything in return are top. But those where the writer tells us what marketing coup they pulled off today... It's what the phrase "Curb Your Enthusiasm" was invented for. 'Yay, you just moved up a place on Amazon, how are the heady heights of the six thousands...?"

Jill said...

Ooooohhhh! Thank you for this!

I am a newbie to publishing and a newbie to blogging (and I'm not on board yet with Twitter and Shelfari and MySpace, etc etc etc).

Your post is very helpful - thank you! I don't wish to start off on the wrong foot and tick people off from the get-go.

I have been getting advice (good and bad) about what to do to 'create an online presence' but have been told very little about what NOT to do.

I will heed your advice, thanks.

Jill Edmondson

Angela said...

I can SO relate! My Inbox became a nightmare after I signed up for a newsletter and got not one, but THREE. This happened on multiple sites - not all author sites - and the majority were advertisements, not tips.

This happens a lot with author marketing companies that say they offer "tips" but instead just send two bullet points that are too general to do anything with and three pages full of ads and special discounts. (At least in my experience.)

Thanks for sharing!