Thursday, November 29, 2012

How Should Authors Use Social Media?

Back to basics: All of the students from my first six-session "Writing and Publishing Your Memoir" course have signed up for a six-session extension. One of the areas we'll be looking at is how to use social media effectively when you're an author.

This will be something of a challenge for me. A good one. I'm not an unabashed fan of social media. On one hand, I don't dare ignore it. On the other hand, umm, does anyone really know what they are doing? Emails. Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn, Pinterest. Tumblr. Blogs. When I look around, I know that some people have no idea. It's entertainment. It's a time-waster. It's a reputation-damager. But some people do know what they're doing. I'd like to be one of those, and I'd like my customers to join the in-crowd.

I'm looking forward to the next weeks as a way to work with authors to come up with some strategies and tactics that makes sense for them. But where do we start? It occurs to me that social media is, well, media. Interactive media, to be exact, which is a powerful concept when you think about it. As book authors and publishers, we should have a leg up on this. We're authors. We're dealing with media, specifically printed books and digitally distributed books. However, books are--or were, anyway--information delivered in one direction. Social media is information (and other things, like emotion) delivered in two (or many more) directions. How can we take advantage of that?

Let's begin with the same principles I teach my book authors.

Principle #1: Identify your core customer (reader or audience). Rookie authors often set out to write a book "for everyone," thinking this is the way to generate a best seller. If your book is for everyone, it's unfocused. You won't have any idea how to write your book, let alone how to market it. Instead, the more specific you are, the better off you'll be. When you identify your core customer, be specific. The more specific the better. Not people. Not women. Not thirty-something women. Maybe something like, "a 35-year African American woman going through a career change."

Principle #2: Define your subject area. Again, be specific. If your core customer is the above, your subject area might be careers.

Principle #3: Define how you will change your core customer's life. The whole idea of your book, or ultimately your business, is to change your customer's life for the better. If you can promise to do so with some justification, your customers will be looking for you as much as you're looking for them. So ... with the above example, you're mission might be to help your thirty-something African-American woman find the job of her dreams (or get to the next level or make more money).

Once you do that, you can begin to look at each of your social media accounts and ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this account aimed at my core customer?
  • Is this account about my basic subject area?
  • Will this account help me change my core customer's life?

If you can look at one of your social media accounts and answer yes to those three questions, you're on your way (at least with that account). If you can't answer yes to all three questions, you have some work to do. Stay tuned. The Publishing Pro. 

Friday, November 02, 2012

Copyright May Not Work the Way You Think.

When to sweat it, when not to: Rookie authors worry about copyright issues, as they should, but more often than not they have it backwards. The danger may not be where they think it is.
  • Registering Copyright of Your Book: Don't Sweat It.
    Authors, like inventors, instinctively worry about someone stealing their words, their ideas, their work. The solution seems obvious: Register the work with the government. Get a patent, get a trademark, get a copyright. In general, this defensive posture is, well defensive, when the smarter play is to go on the offensive. When I was a young journalist, thinking about starting a magazine, my editor advised me not to worry about anyone stealing my idea. "If you think you're a genius because you've had a great idea, then you're smart enough to have another idea. And another. And another." A marketing director told me something similar, that it was smarter to put my efforts into getting my project to market than focusing on hiring lawyers to protect something I hadn't proven even had a market. Copyright differs from a patent (and to a lesser extent a trademark) in that it is protection you get the second you create a work. You don't need to register it. You don't even need to add a copyright notice (though you would be wise to do so). You can register it with the U.S. Copyright Office for $35.00 (if you do it online), which gives you some leverage if you wind up in court. (Legal experts say you're more likely to be awarded court fees if you win, though you may not be more likely to win.) The U.S. Copyright Office requires an actual copy of the book, which creates a problem for today's self-publishing printing-on-demand author. Every time, you revise you book, you need to register again. So ... it doesn't hurt to register your book with the U.S. Copyright Office, but it's down on my list of priorities.
  • Violating Someone Else's Copyright: Sweat It.
    On the other hand, authors tend to pay too little attention to the possibility that they may be violating the copyright protection of others. To a great extent, I'm guessing, this comes from our college experience where we're taught to write papers filled with quotes and references. Plagiarism is a concern, so the emphasis is on quoting and attributing accurately, but there is no emphasis on getting permission to use said material. Indeed, in the copyright world, the U.S. Copyright Office has a long and complicated explanation of "fair use," which includes the lifting of images and quotation of material for purposes of education, research, and scholarship. There are also "fair use" guidelines that list consideration of the percentage of material taken from the copyrighted work, the percentage of copyrighted material that makes up the new work, the purpose of the new work (commercial or nonprofit), and so forth. For example, one might be able to fairly quote 500 words from a 100,000 word commercial work but get in trouble for quoting the entire 50 words of a poem or song in a 60,000 piece of non-fiction published by a nonprofit. In the end, "fair use" is really determined by the copyright holder and the U.S. Copyright Office says the following: "The safest course is to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission." You can use material from the "public domain," which refers to material that is decades old but is also subject to a complicated definition. Nowadays, authors assume that words and images found on the internet are in the public domain, being in front of people in a very public way, but this is definitely not true, especially for images but also for words. Keep in mind that you don't always need to quote. You can carefully paraphrase, direct people to books and websites for more information, and always give credit. I have worked with several authors capable of doing their own bible translations from Hebrew and Greek. Authors can make informed decisions about how much risk they are willing to take, but I always advise them to do so in the context of the highlighted words from the U.S. Copyright Office above.
  • Protecting Your Copyright from Contributors: Sweat It. Finally, you need to pay attention to your own copyright when you assign someone else to produce some "work" in the form of words, graphics, or images for you. The cleanest way to do this is to assign it as a "work for hire." However, you must specify the copyright and ownership implications in writing. This is because copyright law protects the "creator" of a work. Thus, if you hire someone to produce illustrations for a children's book that you wrote, you need to clarify your relationship and ownership of those illustrations in writing. This can go any number of ways. You can own the illustrations completely, or own them for the limited purpose of using them in this book (including subsequent editions), or own them for use in the book or in an electronic edition, or own them for use in the book and promotional purposes and so on. You can be generous in the way that you allow your illustrator or writer such work product (in their portfolios, for showing in galleries, or for creating and selling prints, for example), but you need to protect the use of those illustrations or work product for your original and intended purposes. The Publishing Pro.