Marketing, Social Media, Books and Me

A couple of things I’ve been thinking about, at too much length to leave as comments elsewhere.

Stop With “Not Your Mother’s”

Many readers I know object to the currently popular “not your mother’s romance” marketing slogan. Some were introduced to romance-reading by their mothers; some are mothers who like sex and sexy books; all know newer authors did not invent sexy/dark/whatever they think they invented. The other day, right after reading yet another author tout her book as “not your mother’s erotic romance,” I came across this line in Book Riot’s delightfully diverse summer reading suggestions from The Well-Readheads:

[Tiffany Reisz's The Saint] is not your mother’s fuzzy handcuffs “bondage” story

I then had a positive Twitter exchange with Rebecca Schinsky about this: I explained politely why it bothered me; she said she agreed and said she had meant it as an ironic poke at 50 Shades’ “mommy porn” rep. So my point here is not to criticize her. (I think this fails as irony because Reisz’s book is exactly the type that romance marketers label as “not your mama’s,” though Schinsky may not have realized this. As I recall, Harlequin and Reisz herself basically sold her first book as “for readers of 50, only better”).

This conversation made me think more about why I object to the “not your mother’s” phrase: it’s wrong about literature (or story-telling, if you prefer). I want my Oldsmobile to be “not my father’s”; I expect technology to have progressed in 30 years (my father’s still around and bought one of the first hybrids on the market–he’s not driving “your father’s” Oldsmobile either). But while what stories we tell and how we tell them change (some) as culture changes, that’s not progress. The novel may be better suited to depicting a modern society than the epic is (may be), but it is not a superior or more advanced literary form. 

Moreover, today’s writers are still going to the well of the past. The Odyssey? Not on the scrap-heap! Still being read, still being re-worked by writers. The same is true of “your mother’s” romance, for any value of “your mother.” Authors are inspired by and rework loved (or hated) stories of the past, presenting familiar tropes and character types in a new way. Or even in the same old way, because your mother was on to something. Yes, the genre changes and goes through trends and fads, but that’s not the same as “progress.”

So please. No more “not your mother’s.” It just makes the daughters look ignorant.

Social Media: Again

The role of social media in my reading life is one I come back to again and again. I value what social media adds to my reading life, but it can detract too if I’m not careful. I thought about this again because of Dear Author‘s post from two authors on The Agony and the Ecstasy of Social MediaI put “me” in the title of this post because these are of few of my personal current truths about reading and social media. They’re all about keeping me reading happily, and are not meant to be prescriptive for other readers or authors.

In fact, the #1 thing I’ve learned is that authors’ use of social media is often at cross-purposes with my own:

  1. They may use it as a water cooler, as Roni Loren said in the post. This makes perfect sense, and I’m glad for them, but it’s not my water cooler, since I’m not part of that professional community. And honestly, sometimes I want to know less about how the sausage is made and about how the sausage-makers think about their product. This has everything to do with my own prejudices about stuff like quality, editing, covers and branding. But since those are my prejudices and I fairly often see things that make me despair about the genre, I try to look away from the water cooler stuff.
  2. Sometimes authors make pronouncements about readers that . . . well, they aren’t true about me, that’s for sure. (E.g. “Readers don’t care about craft/grammar.”) Romanceland doesn’t like it when outsiders make sweeping generalizations about us. But there are plenty of insider versions.
  3. It can be hard to have readerly conversations that involve authors-as-readers without someone putting on her author hat. Many times I’ve been involved in a discussion about what we want to see in the genre, and someone will say “that won’t sell.” Well, that’s that, then! No point in discussing further. And frankly I don’t care about sales, because I’m expressing a readerly desire. I still wish it existed. (Maybe story-telling should be a little more like technology. They like to develop new products.)
  4. Of course authors want to market their books. But I don’t want marketing, even in subtle forms, to dominate my feed. This is hard to avoid. I am soooo grateful to the person who taught me you can turn off retweets from an account, because the majority of what most authors retweet is promo. I also gave up feeling guilty about unfollowing people if their balance of promo type tweets and interesting conversation shifted too far to the former for me.By “promo” I mean way more than “buy my book.” There’s a lot of talk about how awesome my friend and her manuscript are that is basically promo. I suspect this is effective for many readers. Not for me.

Twitter is a big part of my book discovery these days. But I have never bought a book from a release day promo tweet or one of those f&*!ing Amazon “I just bought…” autotweets (readers engage in promo too, often unthinkingly I suspect). I will never click that damn button. Once I’ve read it, I’ll tell you what I thought. Why should you care what I’m buying?

Here is what I think is missing in talk about social media and discovery. Knowing a book exists is a very small part of discovery. I mean, obviously it matters as a first step. But I will not click through to find out more based on a “TITLE is out today! [buy links]” tweet. Or a “The fab AUTHOR’S latest is out today! Buy it!” tweet. I see tons of these, despite pruning my feed. I don’t have time to click them all, even if I were minded to. (I do not get why readers do these tweets. Did you write a review that tells me why it’s great? Tweet that. Otherwise, your opinion has no value to me). I have to discover something about the book to make me click through and see if I want to buy it.

Lots of people are very bad at using Twitter to help with this step of discovery. But some are great at capturing the essence of a book in a few tweets. Allison has sold me on several books with her 2-3 tweet mini-reviews. I’ve bought others because of conversations about a particular book, trope, theme or author. By definition, such tweets are not easily retweetable as promo–because this kind of discovery is about readers sharing a book they read, not about promo. It works as discovery because it comes from readers I trust, whose taste I share some of the time. I’m not sure there’s a good way for authors to capitalize on that. Thank God.

I’ve never bought a book because the author seemed nice on Twitter. I have bought books because I liked what the author had to say about the genre on Twitter.

Well, that was kind of ranty. But again, it’s just about how bookish Twitter works for me.

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24 Responses to Marketing, Social Media, Books and Me

  1. I appreciate your candor, Liz.

    As reader, I dislike twitter and other social media used as a platform for promo. However, I am also an author. It is unfortunate that publishers encourege their new authors to use social media for generating buzz, be it for discovery purposes or for the ‘buy my book’ plea-n-pimp. At the same time, publishers also suggest that new authors do more on social media besides the promo.

    Not that this should matter to you or to any reader.

    To be frank, as an author, I find it difficult to self-pimp, mainly because I absolutely loathe it. I try to come up with novel ways to engage with readers and the rest of the social media world, as myself, not as my own pimp. I probably fail 98% of the time. Know this. As much as you hate überpromo, I hate it too, as a reader and as an author. I hate seeing überpromo in my tweetstream. I hate putting it in my tweetsteam, and I hate that it irritates others. The last thing I want to do is alienate a reader, which is what all the BUY MY BOOK promo does to reader me.

    Meanwhile, please accept my apology for the fumbling times I try to figure out how to capitalise on using social media to generate discovery, find new readers for all my books, and please my publisher.

    Sandra

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Whenever I write a post about this, an author ends up apologizing/feeling bad. And maybe that’s inevitable, because part of making bookish social media work for me is cutting out, as much as I can, things that get between me and reading enjoyment–things I find hard to get out of my head when I’m choosing and reading books. A lot of that is stuff done by authors (though as you can see here, I hope, some of it is done by readers, and there are readers/bloggers I’ve stopped following for various reasons too).

      The thing is, the things I have commented on here, regardless of MY feelings about them, are all perfectly legitimate uses of Twitter. I imagine that many of them serve authors well–as promo, but also as bonding and professional exchange and all kinds of good stuff. Otherwise, authors wouldn’t be encouraged to do them. And plenty of readers like the things I don’t. I don’t think authors should try to please me. I don’t represent everyone. Sometimes, I just find it helps *me* to talk about my social media issues. Probably authors should look away from my sausage-making. ;)

  2. EncourAge: I can spell it correctly.

  3. kaetrin says:

    What you said about “not your mother’s…” +1 x1,000,000

  4. The way the Book Riot article used the “not your mother’s” phrase didn’t read ironic to me at all. But this is the same website that posted an article about how a computer could write a romance novel because they are just *that* formulaic and easy. I’m very happy to see them become more inclusive and positive towards the genre (and I don’t mean just Jessica’s articles) but they could use more contributors. Hopefully, they will and are getting there. Also, are Reisz’s books romances? I thought they were erotica. I’m tempted to read them just to see if they really are so amazing that make people don’t care or notice the disturbingly problematic relationship(s) at their core.

    As someone who sometimes tweets the “I just bought” Amazon links, I do it because I think it’s a book that looks interesting and that’s getting no attention whatsoever. For example, I did it last week when I bought Piper Huhuley’s book, which I plan to review as soon as I can. But I agree that this is readers engaging in book promo that’s not particularly useful to everyone.

    Great post, Liz! I have many thoughts about authors and social media, but I need to organize them before I make them public. I will say that my main issues are about the lack of disclosure, but this is a Romland problem that’s in no way exclusive to authors.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I think Reisz’s books are erotica. There’s no romance-style HEA, is there? I don’t judge people who read them, but I don’t want to. I think Book Riot has gotten much better on romance–though they also have diverse points of view–and I really did like the summer reading list’s wide variety of books. I think part of what happens there is that they produce a LOT of content and there’s then bound to be a light editorial hand and some things get posted that could have used a second thought. I see that in other high-traffic sites that rely on a network of not-really-professional contributors, like Heroes and Heartbreakers. I don’t mean that bloggers can’t provide good stuff, of course they can, but the need to feed the beast means there’s a lot of sloppy page-filling, too, and no one saying “This could use a re-think.”

      OK, now you’ve made me a hypocrite, because I bought Huguley’s book and I think it was after I saw your Amazon tweet. But I already knew about it. This is how I think “promo” tweets from authors actually work for me, too. If I already knew about the book and wanted to get it, the release-day tweet can remind me to buy. I don’t need 50 of those from different sources though, and that’s often what I get. The thing about the Amazon tweet is it’s an easy way to mention a book that you think looks interesting, but it means readers are promoting *Amazon* too (I mean obviously they don’t put the button there out of the goodness of their hearts) and I really don’t think they need that from us. But it’s a good example of how easy it is to have our book talk monetized by someone.

      Yes, disclosure. When I was talking to people about the social media post on Twitter yesterday, that came up. It is a huge issue in Romanceland, and my real problem with it now is that people’s multiple roles are so often unclear that I just don’t know how to take what they’re saying or what to trust–is this person speaking as a reader, an author, an editor, what? A lot of people I think I’m talking to as a fellow reader suddenly make comments from an aspiring author point of view, and that can really shift the conversation.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I think I was unclear–Schinsky didn’t call the Reisz book romance, she just used “not your mother’s.” And I don’t think it’s been marketed as romance either, though tons of romance-readers love Reisz.

      • The article refers to it as erotica, but closes with “the series has been a great way to recover from reading 50 Shades and discover what good BDSM romance looks like.” so that’s where my confusion comes from.

        Anyway, I don’t mean to sound like I hate BR, because I really appreciate their willingness to feature all genres. And from what you and Jessica say, they are also willing to read and engage with them.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        Yeah, I see your point. I wonder if it’s because Harlequin publishes them or a lot of romance-readers read them or what that there’s a lot of slippage in how readers categorize Reisz’s books (and not only hers–other erotica too). I think I’m with Ridley on this kind of thing. I don’t want to read erotica about a priest (or any adult) and a 15-year-old girl. On the other hand, its existence bothers me less in erotica than if it is presented to me as “romance.”

        Also, I have a real-life colleague who writes for BR, in the interest of full disclosure. ;)

    • Jessica says:

      Yeah that computer post was bad, although the person who wrote it is no longer be a contributor. Along with me, Book Riot has Tasha Brandstatter and Amanda Diehl, the latter of whom is a regular contributor to Smart Bitches Trashy Books, writing regularly about romance. My initial impression is that the readership of Book Riot tends not to be romance readers, but that may change with more posts. What finally got me interested in writing for them was listening to the podcast (which is great). Jeff O’Neal often refers to romance publishing and romance readers as ahead of the curve in the adoption of new technologies and in other areas, and Rebecca often includes among her recommendations romance novels. I share the sense that “not your mother’s” is bad, but Rebecca is new to the genre, and when there are so many romance and erotica publishers and authors who themselves employ that marketing phrase, well…

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        My assumption was that Rebecca didn’t have the same context for that phrase that a regular Romanceland denizen would have, and that she’d be receptive to an explanation of why it bothered me. And that was true. (Plus I’m sloooowly learning that going in guns blazing is not usually the best way to approach a problem).

        There is not a lot of depth at Book Riot (and in general their tone is enthusiasm, to a point I often find wearing, though it’s not totally uncritical). But the breadth goes a long way to make up for that. They talk about a really wide range of books, new and old, and I’ve discovered some good books because of that. I can’t really think of another site that has that kind of breadth and doesn’t really put books in boxes–they have all kinds of lists and features that cheerfully mix genres rather than segregating them.

  5. Rohan says:

    “your mother was on to something” — yes, there’s something dunder-headed as well as ageist and sexist about this trope. It’s incredibly condescending, not just to older women and mothers but to women of the past. As if we have nothing to learn from “our mothers,” or nothing to thank them for! Good for you for calling her on it.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I think there is a strain of romance marketing that is entirely focused on attracting new readership. It doesn’t matter if you implicitly insult many existing readers, the genre’s past, and beloved books in the process, because the loyalty of those existing readers to the genre is taken for granted.

  6. Sunita says:

    Great point about the difference between the “not your father’s Olds” and “not your mother’s romance.” I hadn’t thought about it that way, but it’s spot on. There’s definitely the whiff of “old man’s car” about the Olds thing, but there’s more going on than that. With “not your mother’s,” it’s entirely about your mother being fuddy-duddy and out of date. Which is ironic, given the age of most romance readers. For every new, hopefully young, reader they attract, they piss off a dozen loyal readers.

    I’ve been thinking about the publicity thing, and the fact that I see it most with newbie, small-press, and self-pubbing authors. I think it’s because when you’re with a Big 5 or Harlequin, you know, as an author, that your books are going to show up in a bunch of brick and mortar places. The big presses may be losing readership and sales outlets, and e-reading is on the rise, but there is a built-in (print and e) readership of *some* size. With indies and small presses, it’s all word of mouth, mailing lists, and social media. They use social media more because they need it more and it pays off more for them, proportionately speaking. And since ebook readers are probably disproportionately online, we are their captive audience. Also, indie authors generally publish more often, so there is more promo to be done in terms of sheer volume of releases.

    As I said on Twitter, I get plenty of great recommendations for books from authors. It’s not that I don’t think authors are readers, of course they are. It’s that their author experience gives them a different reader (and consumer) perspective. I just wish more authors showed awareness of this, rather than saying “I’m speaking with my reader hat.” I don’t care what’s *on* your head, I care what’s *in* it.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes, we can’t change brains as easily as we change hats. I think a lot of authors are not fully aware of how much that role colors their perspectives on a topic.

      As we were talking about on Twitter (how perfect that this conversation is spilling over) I am increasingly aware of how much received wisdom based on anecdata there is in romance. Not just about what needs to be IN your book (Da Rulez as Moriah says) but about everything surrounding your book. Does anyone actually know for sure what works? And will what worked for one person work for others?

      Self-publishing, instead of being a place for experimentation, seems to be becoming a place for carefully (I dare not say slavishly; only trad-pubbed authors are slaves, right?) following the precepts of a few authors who have been ordained gurus. Those people may well be smart and successful, and others can learn from them, but they became successful in a particular context that won’t necessarily apply entirely to others. The necessity of using social media in particular ways seems to be part of that message. Authors feel that they MUST tweet, based I think on fairly slight evidence. Publishing success is both flukey and over-determined. But by all means, everyone do the same thing.

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  8. lawless says:

    At the risk of seeming ignorant or insensitive: Can’t the vast majority of the problem you identify with Twitter as a way of discovering new books be avoided by not following authors on Twitter, or at least only following authors who don’t engage in relentless book promotion (if there is such a thing)? Or do too many of the thoughtful discussions and recommendations you’ve benefited from come from authors in their role as readers?

    I use Twitter, but I don’t follow any authors there and find new books through blog posts (including author blog posts), reviews, and Amazon recommendations arising from specific book searches. That way I escape the relentless self-promotion entirely. From what I’ve seen (admittedly a skewed sample), most authors non-promo non-RT tweets are about the (mostly unfiltered) events of their personal lives and the writing process. While humanizing and potentially informative, neither is that important to me. I am far more open to reading a blog post that reflects on these or other topics in a thoughtful and considered way.

    Also, I would love to know how to turn off specific users’ retweets without unfollowing them altogether.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      It’s a perfectly reasonable question, and I do follow way fewer writers than I used to. That helps–but some readers ALSO do a lot of RTing of promo (and promotion of themselves/their blogs, when they have them).

      I focused on book discovery here, and the majority of my Twitter stream is people I “met” through Romanceland, so a lot of our talk is about books. But they’re also just people I enjoy talking with about all kinds of things because they’re interesting and we have stuff in common. So book discovery is a by-product, not a purpose of Twitter for me. The authors in my stream are almost all people I engage with as well, not just people I listen to–I like chatting with them. So I am interested in their lives not because I want to know about “an author’s private life” but in the same way I’m interested in any Twitter person’s private life–as part of social chatter. I don’t know if that makes sense. It’s not important to me in a book way, but in a human way.

      I do also like having *some* authors in my feed, because their perspective can enrich a conversation, even though sometimes it bugs me. One great thing about romanceland is that you don’t get just authors/readers/librarians/academics, etc., but a mix–I think a boon of social media is that those various conversations are less siloed, to use a horrible jargon word. So yes, for me, it’s about finding a balance where I can enjoy the good things without feeling overwhelmed by the parts I don’t like.

      If you go to an individual user’s profile page, you can select “turn off retweets” under the settings. I can’t remember who told me this, but I thank her from the bottom of my heart. It allows me to keep engaging with some people I enjoy but whose RTs drive me nuts.

      • lawless says:

        Thanks for the info! I’m not sure I have anyone for whom that is a necessity now, but it might have saved me an unfollow or two if I’d known.

        I completely get what you mean about wanting to follow people who are interesting and with whom you share common interests. For me, finding and interacting with such people through the compressed (and frequently daily) medium of Twitter would be too time-consuming, but i have other outlets, like Livejournal and Dreamwidth (though they’re dying) and Tumblr. For example, I follow Courtney Milan’s Tumblr (which she only updates every so often) but not her Twitter. Otherwise, I periodically check author’s and other blogs and subscribe to a small group of personal blogs.

      • Sunita says:

        You can also go to your own “following” page and click on the gear icon for each person/account. It gives you the option to turn off RTs. That way you can do more than one in a fell swoop.

        I want to reiterate your point that this is not about unfollowing every author. I follow some authors whose books I love, whose promo I selectively RT, and whom I would miss very much if I unfollowed. This is about the way in which different interest circles overlap. I just want authors to think hard about whether a conversation among readers about a reading issue is the appropriate place to bring up author-centric concerns. Just as I think hard about whether a discussion of a HistRom is the place to bring up all the anachronisms that made me DNF it. Sometimes it is, but a lot of times it isn’t.

      • Liz Mc2 says:

        This is a great point–what conversations to join and how. If people are discussing how they loved a book, I may not need to barge in and rain on the parade with my contrary viewpoint. This is how I feel when readers are discussing feelings about covers or things they’d like to see more of in romance and an author comes in to set us straight about what will sell. They may (MAY) be right, but maybe we are just venting our feelings. It can kill a conversation, or shift it entirely to author issues. (Of course, sometimes I have done the same as a reader when authors are talking–it’s something everyone needs to think about).

        The same goes with @ ing someone who is being mentioned. If we are talking about an author’s book, I don’t want to invite her into that conversation. It will be less free. We can link someone’s post or whatever without making her a part of the conversation. Doing so changes its nature, changes the circle involved and, often, the focus of the discussion. Especially if the person is being invoked as an expert.

        Even this post–it was a way of venting my feelings and talking about how I manage my social media to make it work for me. But despite disclaimers, it’s also seen as a lesson for authors. It’s not. There’s nothing “wrong” with what they are doing, but some of it does not contribute to a good social media experience for me. It’s my job to manage that, not theirs. And I am most definitely not Every Reader. There is not A Right Way to do social media. There really isn’t.

  9. Ridley says:

    “The same goes with @ ing someone who is being mentioned. If we are talking about an author’s book, I don’t want to invite her into that conversation. It will be less free. We can link someone’s post or whatever without making her a part of the conversation.”

    People who do this need to be put on a rocket and shot into the sun. 99% of the time it’s tattling like “THESE PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT YOU BEHIND YOUR BACK YOU KNOW” and little kiss-asses like that can just peace out, thanks.

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