Therese here. Today’s guest is Catherine McKenzie , author of Spin, an acclaimed novel released in Canada, and Arranged, a novel that will be released in Canada in January (and, psst, amazon.ca delivers). Catherine is here today to tell us about her vision for creating a best-selling-novel machine via viral support on Facebook for another author whose work she believes in. Did it work? What did she learn from the experience? Enjoy!
Facebook Group = Oprah Sensation?
I did a crazy thing in May of this year. I’d been watching all the hoopla surrounding the Facebook campaign to get Betty White on Saturday Night Live, and I’d been listening to all the Twitter and Facebook etc. chatter on the effect of social media, and I thought, I really thought, that these things could be harnessed by me to turn some books that I loved into bestsellers. Well … they say all writers are a little crazy, right?
So here’s what I did. I created a group on Facebook called – wait for it – “I bet we can make these books bestsellers ”, and I picked not one, but two, books by Shawn Klomparens  (Jessica Z. and Two Years, No Rain) that I thought weren’t getting the attention they deserved and I invited all my friends to join the group.
I even wrote something in the group description about trying to harness the “Oprah Effect”, only I called the “Author Effect”. And that, I thought, was that. I’d just Facebook and Tweet all about it, and it would go viral somehow, and hey, presto!, these books would become bestsellers.
Okay, okay, I didn’t really think that. I knew it was a long shot. I knew it would take some giveaways. I knew I’d need the support of a whole lot of other people. So I did giveaways – some big (a Kindle!), some small (a free book!) – and I set about getting the support of a whole lot of other people. I got bloggers I knew involved. I got bloggers I didn’t know involved. I got writers, lots, and lots of writers, to join the group, and lots of readers too. I wrote to people like James Frey and Tom Perrotta – people I’d never reach out to in ordinary circumstances – and got both of them to join the group. And hey, James Frey even wrote about it on his blog for me – what a nice guy!
And yes, there was an increase in book sales, and yes, a lot of great reviews came in, and as I sit writing this we are approaching the 2,500 mark in the group – an impressive number, I think (so long as I don’t look at groups that are about hating, or loving politicians. They get crazy amounts of people to join.) But, but, but … no bestsellers. Yet.
I think I know at least some of the reasons for this, reasons entirely divorced from the quality of the work I’m encouraging people to read. You see, I learned along the way that you can’t get a book reviewed in a traditional media outlet like The Washington Post unless that book has just been released (both the books I picked were released in June, 2008 and June, 2009 respectively). And no matter what anyone tells you about social media and its effects, in the book world at least, reviews in these kind of traditional venues absolutely drive sales.
I also learned that it’s hard to get people to purchase a book if it’s not, you know, in stores. Apparently, people still like buying books from their local booksellers, and while these books are fairly widely available in the US, i.e. you should be able to find a copy or two in Barnes & Noble, I’ve yet to find a copy in a Canadian bookstore. So that put a crimp on things.
And, oh yeah. I’m not Oprah. Should’ve started with that, I suppose. Not that lots of people didn’t take my recommendation. But stores everywhere are not slapping a “Recommended by Catherine” sticker on their books anytime soon. Sigh. Had a great idea for what it should look like, too …
It’s funny because, right when I started the project, I got a whole bunch of advice – some solicited, some not – from certain online “gurus” telling me my project was doomed to fail and I didn’t know what I was doing. (Nice, right?) But you know what? I don’t think it’s a failure. I think I introduced a lot of people to a writer they should know about, and got some others thinking about what we should be using social media for – not just talking about ourselves, but about others, and the great things they’re doing.
And if that’s something that appeals to you, come check us out . Or pick up the books. Or start your own group. And keep reading. It’s what we all write for, anyway.
So let’s talk about it: Has social media ever influenced you to make a purchase?
Flickr photo courtesy dan taylor