When my son was born and I moved to a city where I knew no one, I devoured books as an escape from my boring life. After reading Outlander, I got hooked on romance. I started with the historicals, then consumed 80’s contemporary novels from big names like Judith McNaught, then discovered new adult, and finally contemporary romance. I read close to a four hundred books that year.
One random summer day, I decided to crank out a rom-com series. What the hell to I have to lose? I said to myself. I write for a living. It might be fun.
Except I’m a single mom and own my own business, so I had to zero idea how I’d find the time. Turns out I spent hours online doing nothing. And my binge watching TV habits were also sucking up great pockets of time. By giving up those two things, I carved an extra twenty hours a week out to write.
So I wrote Road-Tripped. And then I had no idea what to do with it. It took me another nine months to beg people to read my book. I’m still begging people. And since then, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, my new readers have come from the book bloggers, who took a chance on a new author and spent precious time to read, review, and promote this newly self-published author.
Then I wrote another book. Head-Tripped was so fucking hard to write. Road-Tripped was a breeze, but this book was completely different. I wrote from the point of view of a recovering drug addict, an introverted Latino male, and six other characters, including a gay black man. To add to that, I wrote in four languages, made eight characters travel to ten different countries, AND themed the book to Alice in Wonderland.
I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking. I had to research violins, classical music, drug addiction, introversion, stage fright, and behind the scenes at concerts. I had to find a way to build the characters’ love from an instant attraction, but keep it slow burning, and do it without sacrificing the titillating aspects of modern romance and sex.
I’m not sure why I made the story so complicated. It just happened that way. But it was a challenge, and when I finished it, I felt drained. Not only that, I blew through my savings while I wrote it. I still haven’t recouped the costs of the first book. The whole time I kept saying to myself, I don’t know if this writing shit is worth it. And since Head-Tripped was so different from the first book, I didn’t sleep at night, worrying I’d lose the tiny precious audience I’d gathered from Road-Tripped.
So now that it’s out, and I read reviews that capture the very essence of the emotion I’d hope to convey, and also say how easy the book is to gobble up, it socks me deep in the belly of my soul. It’s like a little tornado of hope, propelling me to keep going. So this is me, writing a ridiculously long note, to say:
Thank you, book bloggers. Without you, my soul would starve.
For the last few days, I’ve been ruminating over a Facebook post from a well-known author the night of the election. In essence, she was lamenting about not speaking out politically, fearing she’d lose readers. Understandable, considering this election polarized half the country. But would she really have lost fans? I could pull up at least fifty advice articles that say authors and businesses shouldn’t discuss politics on social media. Here’s what I say to that—hogwash.
Before I go any further, a little background about me. I’m a debut author as of August 2016. I don’t have a lot of fans, nor do I have a social media following that’s significant. I’m also self-published, so I don’t have a team of people strapping tape over my mouth. However, in my day job as a digital content strategist, I advise huge corporations, many of whom are fortune 500 companies, on their social media, blogs, site content and marketing. Search engine optimization is my middle name and user-experience is my game. I work with companies who have millions of social media followers and whose blogs have readers in the hundreds of thousands.
Not only do I write and create their campaigns, I also conduct blog outreach and email marketing. I’ve been doing it for a freaking long time, and frankly, my career is incredibly stressful, which is why I decided to write a romance novel. Needless to say, I have a wealth of experience this field, much of it based on hard cold data. So stick with me.
Because I spend my day doing that crap for everyone else, I’ve grown to hate social media. In fact, before I wrote Road-Tripped, I rarely logged on. My business page has like 50 fans and I’ve made one post in 2016. My personal Twitter account is a desert wasteland. Twitter is THE WORST. I think the last time I posted on Instagram was 2011 when my son was born. I don’t even have a Snapchat account, mostly because I’m not 13. On my personal Facebook profile, I only post pictures of my son and maybe an occasional amusing anecdote. My time is precious and social media sucks it up.
That was before I had to market my own book.
From the ground up, I’ve had to create an organic following for Nicole Archer. It has to be organic, because fake, paid-for fans are crap. I could post pictures of dudes from the middle east who followed me after a paid ad. Do you think they’re buying Road-Tripped? Heck no.
Because I write under a pen name, I had exactly one fan on my author page when I published in August 2016—my mom. And she refuses to read the book! Yes, I’ve had to re-embrace social media for my own best interests. And let me tell you, it ain’t easy, folks. Especially when I’m not getting paid the medium bucks to do it, and particularly when I’d rather use my free time to write.
Let’s find out about you, since you know a little about me.
These are the critical questions I usually ask my clients before I begin an engagement:<
Who are you? In other words, what is your brand?
Who do you want to be?
Who is your audience?
Who do you want them to be?
And since my audience in this case is authors, bloggers, and readers, I’ll add these additional questions:
How much do you want your audience to know about you?
Do you want to hide your identity or be real?
Are you a reflection of your writing? If not, why?
While you ponder the answers, let me a show you a few big name authors and companies who’ve voiced their (sometimes hateful and controversial) personal beliefs and the results of those actions. Take note, I’m mostly using gay rights as the impetus because that topic that divides our nation and it gives me more examples to work with.
In 2012, CEO Dan Cathy said he was against gay marriage. A flood of protests and boycotts followed. The fallout? Sadly, sales went up 12 percent. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I frequent the joint because it’s clean, the employees are friendly, and it has an awesome indoor playground for my son. The things you do when you have a kid… The point is, HIS SALES INCREASED after he blabbed his bigoted mouth.
The Salvation Army
Major Andrew Craibe, the Salvation Army Media Director, went on a public radio show in 2013, hosted by Serena Ryan. Here’s part of the transcript:
Ryan: According to the Salvation Army, gay parents deserve death.
How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?
Craibe: Well, that’s a part of our belief system.
Ryan: So they should die?
Craibe: You know, we have an alignment to the Scriptures, but that’s our belief.
Kind of hard to praise their good contribution to society when they also believe gay people should die, eh? I don’t have hard figures on the fallout, but let’s just say a few people probably skipped out on putting change in Santa’s pot that year. But considering they’re the second largest charity in the country, with donations upwards of 4 billion, they aren’t really suffering from a lack of support.
Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game
Card is a flagrantly open bigot. After voicing his bigotry, a movie was made from his book that sold out theaters for many weeks. Ender’s Game is still selling like hotcakes many moons later. Card is the only author in history to win sci-fi’s two biggest awards, the Hugo and the Nebula, back-to-back. In fact, he’s won almost all of the prestigious science fiction awards. Oddly enough, he also received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, given annually to authors who “help adolescents become aware of their role in the world and foster importance in relationships, society, and in the world.”
Okay, enough irony for one day. Let’s move on to those who’ve openly supported gay rights.
CEO Jeff Bezos pledged $2.5 million in 2012 in support of same sex marriage. Amazon’s net profit in 2015 was $107 billion. I think it’s safe to say business wasn’t greatly affected.
In 2013, the giant coffee company offered benefits to same-sex partners. The National Organization for Marriage immediately launched a boycott. After that, sales dipped slightly, but their revenue has gone up a steady 20 percent every year since.
Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Junot Diaz, Amy Tan, Cheryl Strayed
This year, multiple authors openly voiced their contempt for Trump. Many lost fans, but given their continued book sales, most probably shrugged and said, “Don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split ya,” and went home and took a bath in cash.
One of my clients last year was a huge luxury wedding blog. As of today, they have over 6 million fans. For months, I begged the owner to let me post pictures of gay marriages to stay au courant with the times and potentially gain new readers, but she refused, too worried about the backlash.
When gay marriage was approved in the courts, she finally agreed to let me post a lovely picture with two brides that said love is love. Immediately afterwards, 120 people wrote nasty comments on the post and stopped following her. The client called me in a panic. “Just wait,” I told her, “give it four more hours until you take it down.”
During that time, maybe 50 more left the blog. BUT . . . the image was shared over 1 million times AND she gained over 7,000 new fans, mostly wealthy gay men (I know this because of FB insights), who could actually afford to shell out the dough for one of her weddings. Whereas the people she lost, with the bad grammar and interesting interpretations of Jesus’ opinions on gay marriage, probably couldn’t afford what she was hocking anyway.
Do you see the pattern?
It’s okay to have a voice. BE BOLD. You may lose customers, but maybe that’s not a bad thing, especially if your readers are paying more attention to you instead of your writing. Here’s a really good article from the Atlantic that talks about art and politics. The author writes: “The job of literature is to engage us with the world, not to sanitize that world so that we can’t think bad thoughts.”
But what if you’re a romance author or blogger?
People come to us for escape, not depth. Which is why diplomacy is key. Admittedly, I’ve lost my cool several times during this election. But like I tell my son, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Right now, I have about seven fans. My tagline is more or less Nicole Archer gives zero fucks. Well, perhaps I should say: Nicole Archer gives one or two fucks. Because I do care whether I’m a decent human being, and I strive to accept everyone’s differences. And first and foremost, my goal is to make people laugh. Oh, and I want to sell books too.
But I’d rather build an audience who’s okay with a few random digs at the “man.” I may never make a dime because of it, but that’s okay. I’ll be right back. Need to down a glass of wine. *crying now, but I’m still boldly talking smack.*
The rules of the game
Okay, I’m back. Here’s the advice I give my big, fat money-grubbing clients: talk about current events on social media. Posting cute memes and bunny videos all day (not judging, I do it too) may actually backfire. Why? Because variety is the spice of life, baby. But it’s important to adhere to a few rules when you cover sensitive issues. Disclaimer: usually these rules are in a PowerPoint and don’t contain curse words.
Opinions are like assholes—everyone’s got one.
The chance of swaying your audience is slim to none. Many beliefs are hard-wired and science has backed that up. So don’t expect to change people’s minds with your boldness.
Consider your audience
If your beliefs are part of your core and/or your brand, voice them. But if you write religious romance for a living, yet personally believe Furries shall inherit the earth, you may want to rethink voicing your opinions out loud.
Shut the eff up
Weigh the consequences first. If your topic is highly divisive and you’ve got a lot to lose, then rage offline, not on twitter. Also incessant political chatter is boring and grating, so make it a tiny percentage of your posts. Dedicate another small percentage to your book sales and to the cute bunnies and men with six packs, or whatever it is you sell. Mostly focus on your writing, which is why people are following you in the first place.
But, Nicole, if everyone shuts up, how would we progress as a nation?
Excellent question, Nicole. That brings me to my next rule.
Don’t be a dick
Since changing someone’s mind is often an exercise in futility, don’t be surprised if people tell you to fuck off. When you demonize the other side, they’ll demonize you right back. An old high-school classmate took a personal swing at my family in a political comment thread a couple of weeks ago. I hope he’s looking for work as a soprano singer, because in the unlikely event I ever run into him again, I’m taking out his balls.
DO NOT FUCK with someone’s family. OR their livelihood. OR their looks. Or their race. Or their sex. Or their personal beliefs. And that goes for spreading nasty gossip, too. Just don’t. Your beliefs are just that: YOUR BELIEFS. America may have been founded on freedom of speech, but that doesn’t give you a license to be an asshole. And yes, I know Trump was/is an infant on social media, but do you really want to compare yourself to him? Me thinks the answer to that is a resounding no.
Ask questions even if you don’t care what the answers are
Seek to understand. You may learn a thing or two. Or you may strengthen your convictions. Nevertheless, listen before you criticize. But don’t be afraid to . . .
Unload the assholes
Set some hard limits. For example, I won’t tolerate discrimination, cruelty or abuse of any sort. And I have a rather strong sentiments about anti-vaccine- and anti-choice- rhetoric. And jeggings. I hate jeggings. Don’t be afraid to say sayonara to shitty people. This quote is a good barometer.
It’s okay to speak out
Maybe you’ll lose a few fans or gain seven hundred. You never know. Most data shows businesses and authors keep on selling despite their personal beliefs. Controversy drives public interest and also drives search engines. Ever seen a long thread of people going apeshit about something a famous person said? It’s like a car wreck, you just have to stop and look. Google notices. So does Facebook.
That said, please be respectful, positive, and not a hateful douchebag—in which case, you’ll probably end up president.
Recently, I had legitimate reviews disappear from Amazon. Since I work in the digital industry, I didn’t even try to game the system. In fact, I told my own mother not to review my book. But in this case, there didn’t appear to be any reason for the removal, nor were the reviewers notified. I’d never met the readers and the bloggers who received free ARC’s posted: “I received this book in exchange for an honest review.”
Well, apparently that doesn’t work anymore. Scamming for and paying for reviews is a disgusting practice and Amazon is doing a good job of cracking down on it. Unfortunately, it seems to be purging real reviews.
After some investigative work, I found out Amazon has a new review policy, in place since October 16th. Wouldn’t it be nice if they disclosed these to authors and reviewers up front? Through various forums and articles, I put together the best advice for authors and bloggers culminated in one place.
How Amazon Detects Connections
Amazon’s algorithm connects friends on your profiles with reviews. Sharing, photos, and likes are all tracked. If a reviewer is in the same author groups and likes similar posts, a connection can be made. Amazon uses a sniffer to track friends and fans. If either are found to be connected, they are removed. Since most authors and bloggers do most marketing on social channels this is a tragedy. And if someone has read the book and liked your page after they left a review, you’re screwed.
But not if you disconnect!
Everyone, reviewers and authors included, should disconnect Amazon and Goodreads from their social media channels. Don’t sign into Amazon, Goodreads, with Facebook connect, Twitter or other social platforms. In fact, you should go through your apps on Facebook and remove all apps connected through that. What was seemingly an easy way to log in is actually a convenient way to track your data. I thought I’d already removed my connections but didn’t realize you also had to remove them from your mobile apps as well.
On Goodreads, go to apps under your user profile settings and disconnect there and also the integration that allows you to download your Amazon book purchases to Goodreads.
Another suggestion is to use different email logins for Facebook, Amazon and Goodreads. After you’re finished, clear your cache on both mobile and desktop. Another source on the subject.
Amazon detects obvious connections to the author, like address, last name, phone numbers. Clear your address book and gift list settings on Amazon. I sent a Goodreads giveaway through my account and had a review stripped from a winner.
Too many reviews from the same IP address (i.e. your town, office, etc.) This is a pretty obvious no-no.
Don’t post the same review multiple times for one or many authors.
The same search time stamp (QID) clicked by many different people who are already linked to you.
Clean Your URL’s before posting Don’t put a link to your book on your blog or website that you get directly from an Amazon search, because a dated url will tip off Amazon that the review comes from a fan. Here’s a link to a blogpost with more info plus a video about the suspect urls.
Don’t exchange reviews with other authors Not sure how they track this, but somehow they do. This includes review swapping communities. Don’t solicit reviews in that manner. Amazon has cracked down. I haven’t done this, but there are a million groups on Goodreads who do this.
Authors consider removing Amazon Affiliate links Using the link on your website may not harm a review, but posting it on social channels will definitely leave a trail.
Verified purchases have more weight Of course they do, but I actually had a verified purchase removed, too.
Reviewers must spend at least 50 bucks on Amazon with a valid card. This keeps people from signing up for fake accounts.
Editors, cover designers, formatters, etc., can’t review the book That seems obvious as well.
Don’t one star competitor’s books Apparently, a handful of authors did this in the early days—tried to take out competition with low ratings. There are companies who you can pay to do this. Why anyone would want to do this is beyond me.
Advice for Bloggers
Authors can still give free books to reviewers, however the new guidelines state you can’t say, “ARC given in exchange for a review.” The new language is “Received an ARC for which I voluntarily provided an honest review.” Or something like that.
Paid blog tours are considered paid reviews. This strikes me as ludicrous since the bloggers don’t actually get paid, but apparently Amazon disagrees. Not sure how they can track this, but I imagine it has something to do with a timestamp on reviews.
A review copy must be given before the review is written, or the book will be seen as payment for the review. This seems like a great big “duh” to me, but you never know.
Amazon affiliates bloggers take note:“A somewhat murky area is the case of reviewers who post reviews both on Amazon and on their own blogs, with links from the blog to Amazon that result in the blogger/reviewer receiving pay if the person clicking on the link then buys the item on Amazon. It’s not entirely clear at this time, but it appears that this scenario can lead to a purge, because it violates the rule that an Amazon reviewer may not post a review on a product in which the reviewer has a financial interest. Until more is known, a blogger who has monetized his/her blog might be better off not reviewing the same product on both the blog and Amazon.”
Post reviews on other sites like Kobo and iTunes, so your review isn’t lost.
If you’ve had your reviews removed, write firstname.lastname@example.org. Apparently, you get one opportunity to make your case, but your chances of a reprieve are almost nonexistent.