Boston celebrated 2017s first day of summer at Blue Hills Bank Pavillion on the Boston waterfront in style—great weather, good vibes and nothing short of stellar music—kindly provided by Silversun Pickups and headliner, Third Eye Blind. During their Boston stop on their Gods of Summer tour, Silversun Pickups played and abbreviated, yet potent set list of their better known material. I’ve seen them five times now and they’ve always been in the headliner position. Although they only performed 2/3 of their usual set, they certainly did not disappoint. Opening with Nightlight from their most recent release, Better Nature, the band kicked it into high gear from the onset. Followed by such crowd pleasers, Well Thought Out Twinkles, Panic Switch, The Pit and Substitution, the band, especially the always energetic and fun to watch Brian Aubert, plowed through one song after another to the delight of their fans. The quartet ended their set with their best-known hit single, Lazy Eye—the one with that amazing extended guitar solo, and left their fans to a satisfied and thunderous applause.
By the time Third Eye Blind took to the stage, every seat had been filled in the sold out venue. Very eager fans—many who weren’t even five years old when the band’s self-titled debut was released, were on their feet, cheering and jumping up and down in anticipation of their opening song. There was an energy flowing through the area that I don’t see very much at concerts these days—at least not from Millennials cheering on a band from the mid-nineties with a fifty-two year old lead singer. As the band took the stage, Lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Stephan Jenkins—wearing an illuminated sport coat, eased into the evening with Weightless, followed by Company of Strangers, Horror Show, Wounded, Queen of Daydreams, Something in You and Shipboard Cook. After some light banter regarding the fact that their debut album reached number one twenty years ago on that day, the band left the stage for no more than 5 minutes. Upon their return, the stage set changed, the lights got brighter and more colorful, and the band ripped into their self-titled debut album, performing the album live in its entirety. Ripping into Losing a Whole Year, the crowd went into a frenzy, singing along to every lyric, to every song, which included Semi-Charmed Life, Graduate, How’s it Going to Be and Jumper. God of Wine was omitted from the sequence and saved as the final song of the evening, following Alright Caroline and Never Let You Go. The Summer Gods surely conquered.
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I hate to break it to many of you writers out there, but whether you’ve just published a new book, written a new blog, are promoting your writer’s workshop, so on and so forth, the fact is that social media has to be your new best friend. No, I’m not talking about the countless hours a day spent on Facebook squeezing out status updates and commenting on everything you see in your news feed (for the sake of being seen.) I’m talking about opening yourself up to new and endless opportunities every day of the week. Of course this advice isn’t limited to writers only—it could be applied to anyone who has something to promote, but it seems as though people in business who have products to sell have far-mastered the art of promotion via social media. They use Etsy, Pinterest, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter and others—in addition to Facebook. But what’s the difference between someone who, let’s say, sells handmade jewelry, tee shirts, or repurposed art and an author who is promoting a new book in hopes for additional sales? The answer? No difference at all. Books are consumable products and they should be promoted as such to the buying public.
I’m not suggesting that writers should spend their days spamming their books to everyone under the sun on each and every social media platform. What I am suggesting is removing yourself from the Facebook bubble and venturing out onto a new platform in attempts to grow your audience even further. Sadly, I know many, many writers whose only form of self-promotion is commenting on other writer’s posts—the same writers, over and over, hoping that people will take notice of the fact that they too have a book available. There’s not much room for growth there. It’s about as exciting as an AOL chat room (ask your parents, kids.) Yeah, remember those?
Just very recently, I had personal conversations about book promotion with three different writers and each one had these things to say about their favorite methods of promoting their books on Facebook:
- One writer searched out roughly forty different Facebook groups that allow you to post your links to your books. Their idea was to post in five or six different groups every day and do this on a continuing basis. Post, rinse and repeat. I’m sorry (I told them), but this method, and pardon my le français, is chicken shit promotion. It’s lazy and counterproductive. Who do you think will be frequenting those groups? Other authors who are only concerned with promoting their own books, that’s who. I guarantee you that readers on a legitimate quest to find something good to read aren’t skimming through those Facebook groups.
- Another writer held a contest in which their Facebook friends would be entered into a drawing for a prize if they went on their book’s Amazon page and wrote a review for said book. I’ve seen this a bunch of times and it’s never ended very well. First of all, it’s unethical and even worse, it’s against Amazon’s review policies. Book reviewers are not to receive any monetary compensation (cash, gift cards, etc..) nor are they to receive rewards or prize incentives. Amazon has actually gone so far as to delete reviews if they get wind of such practices and some authors have even been banned from using their website—in many cases, up to a year. The other reason that this is a poor method is while you’ll generate some reviews for your book, a lot of times the reviews aren’t convincing. When I read reviews such as, “This is the best book I’ve ever read” or “I’m not a reader but I really loved this book,” then I’m not inclined to purchase that book. It sounds as though the author’s friends and family had written those reviews.
- The third writer, and this one takes the cake, said that they post a new photo each day on Facebook of their cat posing with a copy of their book. First of all, unless the book has something to do with cats, then it doesn’t make much sense. This might be fun to do once every so often, but on a daily basis? Not only will your friends get tired of seeing your book, they’ll get sick of seeing your cat as well. I’ll assume that your cat will start to hate you too.
While Facebook definitely has its place in the realm of self-promotion, the fact is that our Facebook profiles should be used more as a communication tool and less as a self-promotion assembly line. Our friends and family shouldn’t be made to feel like customers. Create a Facebook page for your promotional purposes. In addition to this, however, I recommend that writers get themselves aquatinted with the following social media platforms.
- Twitter – I’ve heard a lot of writers say, “Ugh, I just don’t like Twitter. I’ve tried it and I got nothing out of it.” My suggestion? Try it again! This time, actually invest more than five minutes into learning how Twitter works. It’s a very useful social media platform and can propel you into an entire new universe of potential new fans, friends and resources. It’s one of my preferred forms of social media and I find it to be the most effective when it comes to generating leads, resources, website traffic and news on upcoming events. The thing Twitter has over Facebook is your website (or Amazon) link is visible to everyone you connect with. Facebook keeps our website links buried from view. We are, after all, trying to drive new people to our sites everyday. This is how we increase our sales.
- Pinterest – Believe it or not, there are book lovers galore on Pinterest and if used correctly, you can get the attention of someone looking for their next beach read or late night novel.
- Instagram – Another one of my preferred platforms, mostly due to its simplicity of use and the effectiveness of its reach. Not only do I use it for my personal use, but I maintain accounts for my custom stainless steel business and my hot sauce company. I’ve generated business for my companies and have increased website traffic for my writer website, all by posting eye-catching and engaging photos. Some people have told me, “Oh, I’m no good at taking pictures. I don’t know what to post.” Listen, I’m no Ansel Adams and I seem to be doing just fine. Use your imagination and get creative. You are after all a creative individual, are you not? Once you figure out how Instagram works, you’ll find it to be an enjoyable experience.
- Vine – If you can get creative by making engaging 6 second video clips, then Vine is for you. While I use it for my hot sauce company, WATTSauce, creating food related videos, I have seen some rather crafty videos from authors promoting their books in humous ways within a six second time frame. (Update): Apparently Vine will be turning the lights off so you won’t be enjoying their benefits for much longer. It would however be in your best interest to pay attention to the next “Vine-styled” social media app that comes along.
- YouTube – Video has become the most popular form of promotion online and it definitely receives the most engagement. Whether you’re posting a 30 second clip of your book trailer or a 30 minute discussion about your new book or perhaps related topics such as book marketing, YouTube will get your message to the masses. Take for example, Derek Murphy, a cover artist and author, who posts informative daily videos about cover design, marketing, editing and a slew of related topics in the publishing industry.
- WordPress – Duh! Yes, create a blog for yourself and post informative information for your audience. Don’t use it to directly promote your book with every new post. Write interesting and engaging articles, post it on places such as Twitter, Pinterest and yes, even Facebook. You don’t need to have web design skills to create a WordPress blog. Select a name for your blog, choose a clean design and header, and start posting away. Simple as that.
One final thought that I’ll share with you about book marketing on social media. Don’t just get all gung-ho with posting on social media when you’re promoting a new book, and then jump ship as soon as you’re bored with the process. Sure, maybe you’re short on time and/or your book has reached it’s saturation stage, but here’s the thing; if you’re a writer and you are serious about your craft, then social media needs to be your new best friend from here on in. You need to establish a presence and maintain your place in the circles you create. Otherwise, people will write you off as someone who likes to dump and run. You don’t have to use every venue listed above. Pick one or two, get the hang of them and take even just a few minutes out of your day to share something that will grab attention. Continue to be seen and known between book projects—not just when you have a new book available. Share relavent articles and engage with other users. Establish credibility by being a constant source for quality material. And always keep in mind the 20 / 80 self-promotion ratio; 20 percent self-promo and 80 percent useful and entertaining content that generates inclusivity among your followers. Facebook is great—there’s certainly no denying this, but you and your work deserve a much larger audience. Stretch your creative marketing wings and build a larger and more-diverse network.
Writers should be posting on Instagram for a variety of reasons. While several other social networking sites have their place when it comes to self-promotion, Instagram is unique in the fact that it’s a visual medium—your witty wording used in Facebook posts won’t carry much weight here, yet your creative and eye-catching images could attract a wide-range of new followers and expand your personal brand.
While there are several opinions on how Instagram should be used—I’m not going to tell you exactly what time of day to post, which scheduling apps you should use or what filter attracts the most attention—I find that these are all subjective suggestions and in the world of Instagram, there is no exact science to its effectiveness. I find Instagram to be random and unpredictable, which is why I enjoy using it. Where Twitter and LinkedIn are more time-sensitive when it comes to reaching your intended audience, Instagram is a round-the-clock stream of interaction. At any time of day, people are scrolling through their Instagram accounts—at lunch, waiting in line at the supermarket, waiting for the train, at the airport, at the kitchen table—there’s always a captive audience logged on at any given time, and you should be taking advantage of this.
If you’re new to Instagram and haven’t created an account yet, just follow these few simple steps:
- Create your user name. Use your real name name or the name that you write under, but if that’s unavailable, choose a name as close as possible. Keep it as simple as possible because you want it to be easy to remember, and it needs to look good on your marketing materials.
- Write your bio. Be informative but remember to keep it to 150 characters. Remember to add your website. You do, after all, want to drive traffic to it from your Instagram.
- Choose your default photo. Remember to use a good photo of you that represents you as an individual—don’t use your cat or some random abstract image that won’t connect with users.
- Start taking some pictures of things from your daily routines; getting coffee, walking the beach, visiting a bookstore—whatever encapsulates you as an individual, share these photos and add some filters to your pics to give them that special zing.
It’s pretty straightforward. Remember to be diverse in your postings. If you’re a writer, don’t just share photos of your books and your computer screen all day long. There’s a way to self-promote without using Instagram as your self-promotion dumping ground. Again, you need to keep in mind that social networking is about selling yourself, not just your work. You might have a bunch of followers who couldn’t care less that you’ve published a book about a vampire square dance party, however, those same people might really enjoy the fact that you cook really incredible vegan food and the fact that you share those photos of your food could open up new networking possibilities for you—possibilities that might not exist if don’t stretch your legs a bit more on social media. So remember to be diverse and share more about yourself than the fact that you’re “just a writer.”
Here are things you—especially writers—should refrain from posting on Instagram:
- Memes: lots of people post these, but they are posting content that has been created by someone else and they aren’t very inspiring and not much of a personal statement. In fact, they are pretty boring.
- An abundance of selfies. Once in a while, here or there, yes, post a selfie because after all, you want your audience to remember what you look like. Daily selfies? No—not a good idea.
- Photos intended to humiliate: Don’t, and I mean DON’T post random photos of strangers you see on the street, in the stores, on the bus who might be dressed oddly (to you), have debilitating conditions, are showing their “plumbers crack” or are doing something that you seem to find humorous. I’ve seen this many times and it’s in poor taste and will reflect poorly on your character. This is not how you want to promote yourself online.
Everyone is using Instagram, from big corporate companies such as Coca-Cola and New Balance, as well as small mom and pop outfits such as coffee houses, clothing stores, restaurants and home improvement professionals. This is how they are establishing and sustaining their brand. Writers need to jump on this as well. I’ve been told by a few writers, “well, I write all day and I’ve got nothing very exciting to take pictures of.” Below are a few examples of how writers and book editors are using Instagram to their benefit.
As you can tell, editor Tanya Gold has an affinity for dinosaurs and cleverly works them into many of her posts. Along with beautiful landscapes that she encounters while out and about, she puts forth an attractive collection of engaging photos. She doesn’t just post pictures of her time spent editing books. That wouldn’t be very exciting, but we get a different perspective on Tanya as she posts things that interest her as an individual away from the process of editing.
Writer / Blogger Katie Li‘s Instagram page is another terrific example of how writers can express themselves without constant self-promotion of their own work. Katie does a fantastic job at sharing glimpses of her daily life with books she’s currently reading, working at home or being out and about. As a lover of art and an artist herself, there’s no room for guessing as to what she’s all about.
Todd Henderson is a children’s book writer and as you can see above, he utilizes his account to share photos of his work, his outdoor adventures and Kid Lit related imagery. He does so without piling on too many redundant photos one after another. It’s a perfect blend of what makes him who he is and what it is that he does.
I’ll use my own account as a final example. I’m someone who doesn’t enjoy being chained to my desk. As you can see above, I tend to share photos from my morning walks, Red Sox games, vacations in addition to my writing endeavors. Wherever I happen to be, I like to capture a moment from it.
A quick final few words on some additional benefits to using Instagram. For starters, your website link (or Amazon link to your books) is displayed right at the top of your header. This is encouraging because with some creative photos and captions, you could potentially drive more traffic to your destination page than you could with Facebook. Facebook, as we all know, buries our website links on our “about” page, which we know nobody bothers to click on. Hashtags; you are allowed to post up to 30 hashtags on each post. This opens up the possibility to reach a very large audience. Finally, unlike most social media sites, Instagram enables you to share your posts on Facebook and Twitter, etc… I recommend sharing your Instagram pics on Facebook. This will only help to increase your reach. I don’t recommend sharing them on Twitter. Your pictures won’t show up as a photo in your tweets, but rather as a link. No one will care or bother clicking picture links on Twitter so it’s not worth your efforts. There you have it. Take some pictures and expand your personal brand!
It was a packed house last night at Newtonville Books in Newton Center, just outside of Boston. You couldn’t fit another body in the bookstore with a shoehorn as there was an abundance of excitement and anticipation for author Rachel Kadish to debut her latest novel, The Weight of Ink published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Rachel took to the podium shortly after 7PM, allowing store employees to set up extra chairs for the continual flow of fans. She read from chapter one—the first time she’d read from her book publicly, and delivered a wonderful reading which was sure to entice spectators into diving into their own copies as soon as possible. I know that I will be. During her Q and A, Kadish responded to questions in an engaging and informative fashion. She spoke to everything from the writing process of “Weight,” the historical research involved, her detail to accuracy and her refusal to outline her writing projects ahead of time. After which she signed copies of her novel to a lengthy line of fans. Thank you, Newtonville Books, for hosting yet another terrific event.
Many writers that I encounter and speak with have said that they don’t enjoy using Twitter. They’d created an account, used it for a while but left because they didn’t connect with many people. They said it was easier to return to Facebook where they already had a built-in audience. If that built-in audience is your friends and family, other writers—the same writers again and again, then you definitely need to step away from the comforts of Facebook and give Twitter another shot. Based upon my interactions with fellow writers who’ve voiced their dissatisfaction with Twitter, it had become clear that they all had the same issues in common; they simply didn’t understand the full workings of the social network. I’m going to list a few things that writers (or anyone with something to promote) should be doing on Twitter to get the most out of their experience.
1 – Learn which hashtags are most effective in your posts and use them sparingly. The following hashtags are most popular among the writing community and they tend to draw more of an audience when you post your tweets.
#IndiePub (or #IndiePublishing)
Visit AuthorMedia.com for a full list of useful hashtags. Don’t overuse them in your posts. Use no more than 2-3 per post.
2 – Create Lists. The Twitter list is the most underused gem of the entire social network. It allows you to create your own personal news feed based on your interests. Let’s say you enjoy reading news articles in the morning. When you create a “News” list, you’ll have access to all the media outlets that you’ve added to a particular list. Do you like keeping up with your local restaurant and nightlife scene? Create a list of twitter profiles specifically geared towards that topic. If you’re a writer, you can create a list of fellow writers you enjoy, publishers, editors, cover designers, anyone and everyone—all on one list. Here’s how to add someone to a list:
First, create a few lists of topics you wish to have in your list section. Let’s say for the sake of argument that you’ve made a list name called Writers, Artists & Such, just as I have above. Click the gearshift in the profile you wish to add to a list, then select the Add/Remove (as I illustrate using children’s author, Susan Saunders’ profile) from list tab. Your list categories will appear and you simply check the category in which you wish to add to. By the way, if you wish to remove someone from your lists, simply follow the same steps, but uncheck the profile and it will be removed.
Let’s say you want to view the lists that someone has on their profile. This is particularly good when you are searching for like-minded individuals or businesses. If you’re an interior designer and you want to discover fellow designers and architects, you can view other people’s lists (provided they aren’t private) by simply doing the following:
As you can see above, you simply tap the gearshift by the desired profile, hit the View Lists tab when it appears and you’ll have access to that profile’s public lists. Above is a handful of lists that I keep. So what do the list feeds look like when you select one of your lists, you ask?
As you can see, the feed from profiles (that I’ve selected) come up and I get to view tweets from profiles that I tend to follow the most. If you have specific profiles that you gravitate toward, this is the best way to keep up with them without getting lost in the sea of endless tweets on the main news feed.
3 – Create an informative and eye-catching Twitter Header and Bio. Be sure to include facts that you want to be most known for; Your latest book release, accolades, your business, your interests…anything that grabs attention. This will help you connect with like-minded Twitter users more easily and you’ll tend to build up your network much quicker. Have a look at voice actor, Jill Cofsky or attorney and writer, Karen Kettner‘s heading. Their bios leave no room for guessing; it’s direct and informative.
While there are several other tips to explore in the Twitter-verse, these three are what I consider to be the most vital in getting the most out of your Twitter experience. I myself find it to be a better alternative to Facebook. I’ve made more connections with people in my industry—and outside, which is terrific because that’s what growing your network is all about.
Maximum Harm: The Tsarnaev Brothers, The FBI, and the Road to the Marathon Bombing by Michele R. McPhee
Let me start off by saying that true-crime author and investigative reporter, Michele McPhee, deserves a great deal of credit for the tremendous amount of work put into writing the book, Maximum Harm. The exhaustive research along with the tedious process of fact-checking, conducting interviews, tracking down evidence reports, victim’s testimonies, medical reports, arrest records, so-on-and-so-forth—the leg work that she’s put into this book project is immeasurable and should not be overlooked. Why do I give praise to this fact so early on in my review? Frankly, as a life-long resident of Boston, I’m angered to this day over what had happened during Marathon Monday on April 15th, 2013. And like many, many residents who live in the Boston area (many whom’ve been directly affected by the bombing attacks), we’ve always been left with more questions than answers. Sure, the media reported the basics—they’d deliver information in dribs and drabs, but ultimately the deeper and darker story behind the story was somehow always shrouded in mystery. Maximum Harm finally delivers the facts in a very informative and eye-opening manner.
Upon reading the opening chapters, we are given a harsh and descriptive look at the mayhem that ensued during the critical moments following the two blasts. The grim details (and they are in-fact grim) of the victims who’d lost limbs, spectators who had gotten separated from their families and loved ones, the E.M.T.s who rushed in to tend to the countless victims within minutes amid the chaos, the efforts of local law enforcement, the Boston Fire Department, random civilians who had rushed to help the bloodied victims; knowing full-well that more explosions could in-fact detonate in their vicinity, the marathon volunteers—this in-depth vantage point is all laid out for the reader to get a sense of just how dire and uninviting this tragedy was and how the timeline unfolded from that point forward.
As I had mentioned, there have been so many unanswered and poorly explained answers up until now and thankfully, McPhee does a remarkable and impressive job at piecing the puzzle together. So what prompted the foreign-born brothers, Tamerlan, (born in Siberia in 1986) and Dzhokhar (born in Kyrgyzstan in 1993) to attack their country—who’d seemingly rolled out the red carpet for them and their family members, in such a horrific and monstrous manner? You would need to trace their family beginnings back to their war-torn homeland of Chechnya, their fleeing from Russia to finally settle into Cambridge, Massachusetts (upon which they received free housing and a bevy of government handouts and benefits), enrolling the Tsarnaev brothers in Cambridge Rindge and Latin, one the the finest public schools in America, and ultimately enrolling younger brother Dzhokhar into UMass Dartmouth. If you’re saying to yourself, Gee, this doesn’t sound like a recipe for disaster, then you’d normally be correct. Many factors along the way played into what would become Boston’s darkest days. A handful of those factors were:
- The Tsarnaev family had been granted political asylum. Younger brother, Dzhokhar had become an American citizen; this was something elder brother Tamerlan wanted so desperately, yet he was denied.
- The denial of U.S. citizenship resulted in Tamerlan being denied a place on the United States Olympic Team as a boxer, a sport in which he was passionate about and had trained incessantly over.
- The FBI, who had employed Tamerlan as an informant, apparently broke their promise to grant him citizenship if he cooperated with them.
- Tamerlan’s eventual radicalization and the influence he had on younger brother, Dzhokhar.
McPhee also sheds light on a number of questions, such as
- Without a valid passport and while being on TWO terror watch lists, how was Tamerlan free to travel to and from Russia and The United States without any red flags?
- Why did the FBI and CIA ignore repeated warnings about Tamerlan from the Russian Federal Security Service?
- Were Tamerlan and Dzhokhar directly involved in the triple homicide of Erik Weissman, Raphael Teken, and Brendan Mess on Sept 11th, 2011?
- How was it that Tamerlan could afford to drive a lavish vehicle and own expensive clothing without ever having worked a job?
- What is Tamerlan’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni’s connection to the CIA?
- Did the FBI know who the suspects were prior to their acknowledgment, and if so, would MIT Officer Sean Collier still be alive today?
- If the Feds hadn’t ignored these repeated red flags and warnings, might Krystie Campbell (aged 29), Lü Lingzi (aged 23) and Martin Richard (aged 8) still be alive today?
There is a lot of information to absorb from this book, but it flows at a consistent and rapid pace. Although this book may have more regional appeal to those living in and around the Massachusetts area, I would urge everyone to pick this up and give it a read. It’s important to know what’s going on behind the scenes of law enforcement—be it shady dealings or beneficial practices, and it’s vital to ask questions (at least to yourself) about how these dubious affairs affect our daily lives and jeopardize our safety.
Pick up a copy of Maximum Harm available at Amazon.com