Recently, there have been a spate of posts over at Romancing the Blog about authors and the internet, specifically using the various social networks. The point was made that most of these are free, and authors should take advantage of this, as the only cost is their time.
Ah, yes, time -- which also happens to be one of an author's most precious commodities. Most romance authors I know are women, so most of us have other responsibilities that, even now, tend to fall more heavily on women's shoulders. We are still the primary caretakers in families, whether it's children or aging parents.
And a writer can't spend all her other time writing, editing, revising and doing PR because -- trust me on this one, as I speak from personal experience - that is the fast track to burn out.
That's even supposing the author doesn't have another "outside" job, as many do. Quite frankly, I don't know how those authors manage to write anything at all, let alone something wonderful that sells. Well, yes, I do - they're dedicated to their craft.
So let's say you're Amy Author, who has two elementary school age kids, a part-time job and also writes. Is it reasonable to expect her to then spend a couple of hours on the internet doing promotion, for which she is not paid?
Publishers would say, but if she increases sales, she is, in effect, being paid.
The problem is, nobody knows if being on Facebook, Twitter, etc. etc. really does increase sales.
But the pressure - oh, the pressure! The feeling that if you aren't doing all that stuff, you'll be left behind in the dust.
Mind you, I've been hearing that about PR since I began writing. Back in the olden days, we only had a couple of print advertising venues to consider - Romantic Times and Affaire de Coeur - but it wasn't cheap. And we were told to go to the book warehouses and sign every single copy of our books. And get bookmarks made, and flyers and do a mass mailing.
So the pressure to promote isn't exactly new; I do think, however, that it's gotten to be even greater because...the internet is free. The author can't say it's too expensive and my advance is too small to pay for that sort of thing.
But time IS money. Time is precious. Time is one thing we authors don't have a lot to spare, not if we're trying to write and have a life outside of writing.
So does that mean I think an author should ignore the web? No. But I don't think you have to try to do it all, either. And FWIW, I think the people who capitalize most on social networking trends are the ones who get in on the ground floor, when it's the newest, latest craze. Join later, and that ship has sailed into more populous waters, so you and your efforts are much less likely to be noticed, so much less effective.
So I take a middle road, using some avenues on the web, but not all available. I have a website, an email newsletter, two blogs, a MySpace page and just joined Twitter.
I do think an author really should have a website. Readers should be able to find out what other books you've written and when you have new ones coming out, at the very least.
I use my email newsletter not just to send information or announce when my books go on sale, but as a sort of bonus for those readers who clearly like my books enough to sign up. They get first looks at covers, get notified when I've posted an excerpt and are eligible for a monthly draw for a $25 electronic gift certificate from Amazon.
As far as I'm concerned, these are the two most important things I do online in terms of PR.
Obviously, I blog here - but that's mainly because, quite frankly, I enjoy it. Do I think it means I'm selling more books? I doubt it. But I don't care. It's free, I like it, and I think it gives the readers who find it a bit more of an up close and personal link to me.
My Story Seedlings blog is also mainly for fun. I get a kick seeing what sort of story ideas I can find in the records of the Old Bailey. Unfortunately, those blogs can take a while and sometimes the cases are fairly repititious (many a theft), so I don't do that one as often.
My MySpace page is pretty neglected, because I'm really not sold on its effectiveness and frankly, it was a pain to set up, even as little as I did. I go there when I have a major announcement.
I started to Twitter, but if I'm really busy, I'm too busy to Twitter that I'm busy.
Oh, and I joined Shelfari ages ago and have rarely been back since. I just don't quite see the point of that.
One thing I tend to neglect and really shouldn't is the eHarlequin site and boards. For one thing, they have a huge audience compared to this little ol' blog. For another, they have lots of fun stuff.
I have a lot going on this summer, but I also have a book out in August (THE VISCOUNT'S KISS), so I'm going to make an effort to be more present at eHarlequin.
My point in a nutshell is this: Yes, I think authors should use the internet for PR, but only as much as they can afford in terms of time and life balance. Neglect it completely - not a good idea. But don't let peer pressure to do it all get to you, either.