Monday, February 23, 2009

Guest Post - Mur Lafferty and "New Media"

A few weeks ago I posted an essay about achieving success in the publishing industry that included a link to an article posted on Time Magazine's website. One of the people quoted in that Time article was a friend of mine named Mur Lafferty, a fiction and non-fiction author who has built her career on using new and open media. She can be found on Suicide Girls as a regular columnist, on Tor.com as a blogger, or on her home page, murverse.com. Her first novel, Playing For Keeps, is available via print and free audio podcast (and was reviewed on IGMS by James Maxey). She graciously agreed to write more about the subject of new media, for which I am grateful. I'll let her take it from here...




Edmund posted recently on this blog about podcasters getting publishing contracts. He then invited me to guest blog here, and I wanted to discuss this in more detail.

I am a podcaster who built an audience of over 40,000 via free giveaways of audio podcasts and PDF podcasts, so you can guess I'm rather gung-ho about new media. Podcasting my book led directly to it being picked up by a small press and released in print.

Yes, print publication, or "old media" is my ultimate goal. Giving work away for free is not a way to directly make money, obviously. But new media allowed me to connect to an audience, make them care about my work, and then ask them to help me with the marketing of the small press book. Many bought copies of the book for themselves and to give as gifts. I received one email from a woman who appreciated the free podcast so much that she promised to buy several copies for Christmas gifts. I'm never clear on what number makes a small press book a success, but I earned out my advance and had a strong showing on Amazon for several weeks after the release, so I'm pretty pleased with the sales numbers of a book that never hit the bookshelves.

New media is not a fad or a gimmick. It's not a pipe dream or a crazy idea. It's a way to connect directly to an audience in a way that just a website will not do. Established authors with existing audiences can afford to look down on new media, but new authors with no audience would do well to consider audio or ebook releases of their work.

The relationship with the community is what it's all about. What I've discovered from the listeners who hear my voice talking to them in intros and read me on blogs and Twitter, is that they want me to succeed. I'm not an author in an ivory tower to them, I'm a person trying to climb a pretty big mountain and can't do it alone. (Yeah. Sometimes I mix metaphors.) When these people see my book, they don't think, "Oh, a superhero novel by that author I heard of once." They think, "Mur's book came out! Awesome!"

I had a man approach me at DragonCon last year. The conversation went something like this:

HIM: You're giving your PDF book away for free?

ME: Yep.

HIM: The whole book?

ME: Yep.

HIM: I read ebooks exclusively. What's to stop me from downloading your book and putting it on my reader and never paying you?

ME: Nothing.

HIM: But I won't buy the print version. What are you getting out of this?

ME: Hopefully a new fan. And someone who will tell a friend, who does buy print books, that there's a new author they should check out.

I'm not the best advocate for Creative Commons or giving work away - if you want to read some fantastic arguments for this, check out this Cory Doctorow's essay - (or his collection of essays, Content, which is available in print and, yes, as a free ebook. ) I will say that I've experienced nothing but good things using new media, and I can personally vouch for everything that Cory mentions in his essays (that apply to me, of course.)

I'm only a small example of the power of new media. Scott Sigler hit the New York Times Bestseller list with his latest book, Contagious, this past January. Scott built his career on podcasting as well, and has vowed to always have a free version of his work available (usually audio podcast). His legions of fans are rabid and dedicated and do a lot of his marketing heavy lifting for him.

For me, new media is a key part of the foundation of my writing career. I am hopefully building an audience who will stay with me for years, evangelizing my work whether it's out for free or in print. "Old" media is not dead; it's vital if you want to feed your family on what you make as a novelist. But it's becoming more and more important for new authors to consider new media as a way to engage their audiences, build communities, and get that zealous fanbase. Marry the two, as it were.

How do you do it? Here is a small checklist, but it doesn't cover everything:

1) Contact other authors doing the same thing. My audience already knows about this whole "they give it to you in one form and hope you buy it in another" situation. They're also already built in to receive and appreciate audio podcasts.

2) Network, offer to play other podcasters' promos if they play yours or talk up your book.

3) Connect with your audience. Intro your book with a personal note. Doesn't matter what you talk about, just let them know who you are and what you want out of podcasting your book. If you want them to buy the print version, SAY SO. If you want them to tell others via blog, word of mouth, or Twitter, then SAY SO. When they email you, email them back. Thank them for listening. We've been completely honest with our audiences, telling them what our goals are, and hoping they can help us.

4) Get a Twitter account, announce the Twitter account on your podcast and ask your listeners to spread the word. Make sure you use it - whether to talk about your breakfast, liveTweet the Oscars, or talk about your latest book. Just don't use it solely as a way to shill your stuff. You're trying to make people get to know you; you're not using it as a bullhorn about your work.

5) Keep putting out content. This is the hardest one; we all have issues with time management, and managing new media is no relaxing hobby. But if you want to keep up with your podcast audience, just like your print audience, you need to keep putting out content.

6) Enjoy yourself. The thrill of getting fan mail that your book in someone's ears moved them to tears, or got them through a tough time, or just that they usually hate [insert your genre here] books, but they loved yours, is unparalleled. And it's been proven many times that it will increase sales, but you have to work your audience (go back and re-read #3.)

Thanks a lot to Edmund for letting me play on his blog about new media. If you want to ask questions or continue the conversation, comment below or email me at mightymur@gmail.com. You can find my many projects at http://www.murverse.com.

8 comments:

Lisa Creech Bledsoe said...

Great guest post from a fabulous woman (and guest side show freak, now? lol). Mur is completely on target with regard to free content and how it promotes fandom, evangelism of your brand by your fans, and can even produce income. And I would agree that the single most important way to make the "free" machine work is to employ social media in the most authentic and consistent way you can.

Good stuff, thanks!

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

Awesome post, Mur, a real rallying cry!

Completely as a fluke I was reading Ed's earlier post on this topic, and just minutes ago posted on my blog at johnmierau.com. It's not nearly as motivating but I tried to hit some of the landmarks on the road to where we are today in New Media, and our cred with Traditional publishing:

http://johnmierau.com/2009/02/the-new-media-hot-potato

I enjoy watching you 'marry the two' viewpoints, and how much you're enjoying the ride! Keep on preachin'!

John

Jason Ramboz said...

Good stuff! I'm one of those who found out about Mur through the stuff she gives away for free. I doubt I would ever have heard of her otherwise (especially with so many writers out there to choose from), but now she's one of my favorite authors. I eagerly await every new project, and bought two copies of Playing for Keeps on release day.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm the other side of what Mur's talking about here; I'm the fan. And from a fan perspective, this is an awesome arrangement. I get a bunch of high quality free entertainment and I feel I get to know a really cool person at the same time. All it costs me is some word-of-mouth to friends (which I'd be doing anyway) and the price of a really good book when it comes out. Sweet deal for me!

alphanitrate said...

I've been a huge fan of mur's work and tried to do my part to spread the word about the work she and her others have created.

I even purchased an extra copy of "Playing For Keeps" for my own library system so that other can enjoy her work in print!

Edmund R. Schubert said...

Anybody unconvinced?

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Keep 'em coming.

Eddie Haynes said...

Mur Lafferty has earned the right to ask people to buy her books. She has let us into her world enough to make FRIENDS, as well as FANS.
One would do well to follow her advice.

James Melzer said...

As someone who recently signed a publishing contract with a small press, based off of podcasting my novel, I can vouch for everything Mur just said. Not that she needs it.

As an up and coming writer I feel it is vital to connect with my audience. By answering emails, Twittering and speaking directly to them in the intros to the podcast. It makes them feel a connection with me and I with them and I know that none of what I have experienced over the last few months would have happened without the fans.

I totally agree with you Mur that new writers would do well to follow the examples of those that have come before them. Try giving your stuff away for free through a CC license. I suggest podcasting but hey, I'm a bit biased. It is those who embrace New Media now and are willing to work their butts off to succeed that will be given the best opportunity to see their dreams come true.

Believe me, I know.