In my previous post I spoke of the need for stamina and persistence for achieving any worthwhile endeavour. Being an author – and getting read – is one such challenging endeavour.
Writing may be challenging enough but marketing and promoting one’s book is anathema.
Many authors would prefer to avoid all this marketing hell. And the particular hell of social media.
I’ve put a lot of effort into my social media strategy. But evidently not enough, given the results – crickets.
Or maybe I’m using the wrong platforms, especially as preferred platforms change, annually. Remember when ‘Everybody’ was on Facebook? But that was soon abandoned, led by the Millennials, for Instagram. And for the adventuresome, You Tubes. Now it’s TikTok.
Let’s Talk about TikTok
Not all of us are moved by words, which, as an author, is a bit discouraging. I knew this already of course – pictures are worth a thousand words and oftentimes words can’t really tell the tale. When you’re trying to convey the complexity of a place like the Philippines, words alone are really not adequate, so I started inserting pictures in a series of posts describing my first sojourn in the Philippines, variously called the ‘Pilipiñas Paquet’ (Tagaytay Tribune, Dasmarinas Digest – love that alliteration!). Then I began to insert pictures into my ‘Travels with Myself’ blog posts and newsletters. And then all the rest of my social media places. This made for more attractive posts, but not many more hits (not counting all the spam from Russia, Iceland, Netherlands, US and a dozen other places all selling me software, Cialis and sex).
To get noticed on social media, words are not enough; even pictures are not enough. You need more than pictures to get and hold people’s attention. You need moving pictures. I needed to master the production of video and drop them into my blogs, and my sm.
And we’re not talking about black and white Charlie Chaplin movies, we’re talking talkies.
But more than dropping videos into one’s existing sm sites, (which you could do) you need to use platforms especially intended for videos, where people come to be entertained, possibly to be educated: YouTube.
Ha! YouTube. That’s so passé. Nobody watches YouTube these days except Baby Boomers looking at old vignettes from the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
These days it’s Tik Tok, though maybe not for long as we discover the ever-lengthening reach of the insidious Peoples Republic of China. (To be fair, Google (who owns YouTube) may not be your friend either.)
TikTok has captured the world by storm. And the reason? Ridiculous videos: of cats, of dancing, of cats dancing, pranks and faceplants; Jagmeet Singh dancing. (You could do the same thing on YouTubes but somehow that platform has been usurped by TikTok – YouTubes is too serious, preferred by the likes of Pierre Poilievre.)
To do a video that sticks (‘sticky’ in marketing parlance) it needs to be ridiculous, decidedly low-brow but having the advantage of making fun of the human race, or at least promoting the humanity of cats.
And to do a decent video, you need equipment. Preferably a decent video camera, and lighting, and a cameraperson, and a grip (to hold the microphone boom), and somebody to write a script, and somebody else to edit it, and then some courageous person to actually go on camera and do the script or the dance, or both. Oh, then an editing team to take the hiccups out of the takes, and get it down to the requisite ten seconds, not more than 30 seconds, which is the maximum time of most viewers’ attention spans.
Of course lots of people do videos without a studio and a production team: all you really need is an i-phone, and maybe a spectrum light.
I think every teenager in the world has one of these light rings these days; certainly my granddaughters in Markham and my apos in Trece Martires.
More than apparatus, you need ideas – what sort of short video are you going to make? Something clever and ridiculous to hook some viewers; and then more and more of them to keep your audience coming back, and watch it spread.
More than that, you need courage, or be perfectly comfortable with ‘performing’. It would also seem you need to be relaxed with your own image. The old adage, ‘he’s got the perfect face for radio’, seems not applicable these days.
I’m missing all those factors – starting with the courage. Or maybe that low score on the Big Five Personality Factors (Openness to Experience) is holding me back. But if I just got myself a spectrum tube…
I recently met a woman – Vivian Boyko from Saskatoon of all places – who has become something of a TikTok star in the last year. She had written a book a few years back and somehow I came across it in my internet travels, I forget exactly how. Her book interested me because it was a piece about a 12-year-old kid and her grandmother in 1964. Echoes of The Treasure of Stella Bay. (The fact that the story also involved time travel was less appealing to me but never mind.) I was writing a blog post at the time about the financial realities of trying to get a decent margin on sales of one’s books. Her book – Once Upon a Groovy Time – is distributed on Amazon and I wrote to her, (once I figured out where from her author page), to see if she sold her books directly as I would like to pay her her fair price for the book, not the deeply discounted margin she gets from Amazon. Six months later she wrote back, having found my email in her spam folder. She told me she only sells through Amazon as a KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) is both her publisher and distributor including the kindle e-pub version. ‘Besides, it doesn’t matter’, she said, meaning the margin; she sells lots of them.
‘How so?’ I said, a bit surprised and perhaps mildly envious. ‘Because of TikTok’, she replied.
With her permission, here’s her story:
My story as an author has evolved and taken me in many directions. I finished my book, Once Upon a Groovy Time, in 2019. I got my book placed in McNally’s [McNally Robinson Books] here in Saskatoon with a 60/40 split. The pandemic meant my book didn’t launch as I had hoped.
It’s hard to sell without people knowing about it. I tried book giveaways [on Goodreads] but the postage costs killed me. So I started advertising on Facebook. I sold books. As long as I bought ads, I sold books. When I stopped buying ads, the books stopped selling as well, but I never lost money. I was about to buy a Facebook ads course … when in November of 2020 I saw my first TikTok. Videos sell. I figured I could make a book trailer. If I gathered a community of people who connected with me, liked me…they might even buy my book. It was free. My followers could buy my book direct from Amazon through a link in my profile.
I made my first video April 2021. Within a month my first viral video hit 3.5M. That was a turning point. I reposted it and gathered another 2.5M views. Along with that came thousands of followers. To date I have 378k. Now I post a new video about every week. [Check out her TikTok channel (@justagrama) here.]
Have I sold the books? As long as I tell people about my book, I sell books. But people tire of being blasted with ads continuously. So every couple of months, I remind my old followers and my new ones that they should buy my book. Almost 2 years later, I have found that TikTok has become more to me than selling my book. If I had ever hoped to write a sequel, I don’t know where I’d fit it in.
Last Saturday [February 25], I was featured on Global TV, ‘The New Reality…The Oldfluencers’. [Check out YouTube rebroadcast.] And Monday morning I was asked to appear on the Morning Show live. Then a radio show out of Toronto. Tuesday was my second zoom call with a production company out of Hollywood looking for a grandma. They had seen my TikToks and wanted to talk to me. They produced ‘Nailed It’, and ‘Top Chef’. The show doesn’t sound like a good fit for me. It sounded lame, and they couldn’t answer my questions about how long I’d be away, and of course no mention of pay, lol. It’s in the very early concept idea for a show, and that’s fine, but it has to be a fit for me too. I’m almost embarrassed to say that Hollywood called, lol.
The attention I’ve gotten in the last week has definitely upped my book sales.
I am 70 years old this year. I’ve got a lot of things I want to do in my next 10 years and I’m not sure how much more I want to put into videos and books. My life is running wild in all directions beyond my wildest dreams. That’s my story.
Hmmm… I’m not sure I have ‘the chops’ for that kind of thing, nor the stamina.
But I just had an idea. All I need now is a film crew, and an editing team, and a YouTube channel (I don’t trust TikTok).
More on marketing books next post.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata, Canada
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