Jon is an author that fully embraces social media for connecting with his readers who enjoy reading his bestselling suspense/crime novels such as his Lawson Vampire series. He was kind enough to answer our questions about how he thinks the social web is drastically changing the way authors and the publishing industry do business.
HighTalk: Jon, you’re an author that fully utilizes the web and social web. You have a LinkedIn profile, Facebook fan page, Twitter account and a blog. How important are these channels to reach your readers?
Jon: Vitally important. But most authors don’t get it. They throw up a website, some profiles on various social media sites and then sit back. Let’s look at Twitter since that’s the hot topic right now. There are a ton of bestselling authors out on Twitter. And here is what I see, almost without fail, every time I visit their page: Following: 12 Followers: 1,287. Epic fail right there.
From the outset, they have fundamentally failed to grasp the essence of social media-that is the development of relationships. Twitter especially is a two-way street. Your followers/following ration should be pretty close to 1:1 or you’re simply not getting the maximum benefit out of it. You have to talk to people. Engage them. Twitter has massive potential for breaking out an unknown author into bestsellerdom, but most authors don’t see it that way. “Oh, jeez, another time suck. I guess I’ll do this, but it’s really detracting from my writing time.”
In the 21st century, if you want to be a writer, you need to embrace the fact that you aren’t *just* a writer. You’re an entertainer. That means you talk to people and engage them or else they will leave you in the gutter.
HighTalk: What kind of feedback do you get?
Jon: I’ve gotten great feedback so far from readers I’ve met through Facebook and Twitter. They’re absolutely wonderful folks and they’ve helped me spread the word about PARALLAX and the contest I’m having through retweets and the like. On Facebook, people invite their friends to join my fan page. There are multiple layers of interaction and I’m grateful for each and every one.
What I don’t like is the Twitter-Nazi-this is the self-described Twitter expert who thinks it’s his or her role to protect the sanctity of Twitter by enforcing this unofficial code of conduct. They want Twitter to function in one way and anyone who doesn’t follow that gets their ire. It’s rather silly and ridiculous this notion of people who feel they need to do such a thing.
For example: I suggested people follow me on Follow Friday. Why not? I’m amusing & entertaining if I do say so my own humble self, lol. I got several DMs from people shocked that I would do such a thing. As Sergeant Hulka said so well in Stripes, “Lighten up, Francis.”
HighTalk: Do you think social media helps authors sell books?
Jon: Absolutely! Provided, of course, that the author in question is interacting with people by following back those who follow him/her. I’ve sold hundreds of copies of PARALLAX to people who didn’t know me from anywhere else. But because I talk to people and interact on Twitter and Facebook, they got to know me and subsequently ended up buying my book. If you’re just out there collecting followers, it’s not going to make much difference in your bottom line.
HighTalk: What has been the biggest benefit to you from using social media channels?
Jon: Connections to readers and industry professionals. I was on LinkedIn long before any of the other writers I know. As a result, I’ve developed some great contacts. I ditched MySpace a while back simply because I can’t stand that site. I switched to Facebook and started growing my network there. As a result of the one contacts I have, I’m now on the board of a new entertainment company as a story adviser.
I’ve met editors, agents, producers, media people, readers, and fans. It’s fantastic.
HighTalk: Why aren’t more authors and publishing houses using social media?
Jon: Because they don’t understand it, don’t like marketing themselves, or otherwise see it as a waste of time. I know of one author who actually told everyone he was cutting out all of his social media interaction because it was taking up too much time. That blew my mind. Why would you actually seek to remove yourself from growing a customer base?
And my time online has never adversely affected my professional obligations. I’m more than able to write novels and stories and still get out to talk to people. Other writers I know loathe marketing themselves, saying they feel like a whore doing it. Well, storytellers have been singing for their supper for many, many years. This is just a new means of doing that.
As for publishing houses, most of them seem ignorant or dismissive of social media. That’s a problem for them. They need to embrace this stuff and get out there in a big way. Even the publishers on Twitter don’t get it. Hit their page and all you see is a stream of tweets about this book or that, but again-NO interaction. The one exception I would point out is Harper Studios, which is a non-fiction imprint of Harper Collins. They do a fairly decent job of interacting, although it could be much better than what it is. I’ve sent them DMs and posted comments on their blog numerous times and never gotten a response. People notice that and say, “why bother?” So whatever efforts they’ve been making are immediately undermined.
There needs to be a fundamental attitude change in the industry as a whole. Authors and publishers both need to realize this stuff isn’t going away. So figure out how to benefit from it.
HighTalk: Have we reached an age where authors need to be marketers as well? And is that a good thing?
Jon: We are absolutely at that stage. No author can afford to be so cavalier as to leave the marketing of their work up to the publisher. Even bestselling authors can do their part and get out there a bit more. Personally, it’s not something I was always comfortable with. My background is in personal security and protection, so I tended to shy away from the spotlight when my first novel was released. I remember walking through a crowded convention and someone waiting in line said, “Hey, there’s Jon Merz.” I spun around and had to fight the urge to walk over and demand to know how they knew about me, lol…it was a bit of a wake up call.
Nowadays, it’s just part of the career and I really enjoy it. If someone wants to be be a hermit, live in a monastery writing and be content with a small audience, that’s all the better for me. I want as many people reading my work as possible. I want to entertain folks and give them a vacation from their everyday world. Frankly, the less competition, the better!
HighTalk: And finally do what do you think is going to happen to “paper” books? Will we reach a period where books are replaced by ebooks?
Jon: Growing up, I devoured mass market paperbacks. I still love them to this day. In fact, it’s my favorite format in the publishing industry. I never grooved on trade paperbacks or hardcovers, but those paperbacks I could slip in my pocket? Awesome. So, I hope that we always have books around. And frankly, I don’t think we’re in danger of seeing them die out anytime soon.
But ebooks are definitely going to be a huge market segment and one that the industry needs to seriously get into bed with. As more PDAs make it possible to read, the trend will follow the same arc as what happened with the web: ease of use translates directly into an ever-increasing market share. Why carry a book-even one of my beloved paperbacks-when you can carry one device that has several ebooks on it, along with your music, photos, videos, etc.? People love convenience. And the industry should see how great it will be for their sales if they encourage ebook growth.
Imagine a reader devouring your novel and then immediately tweeting about it and they have their Twitter and Facebook accounts linked so the FB status updates at the same time. This is real word-of-mouth potential, the kind of thing that drives sales and means profits for all involved. As far as I’m concerned, it’s great stuff. And on that note, I’d like to encourage everyone to come follow me on Twitter. And then find me on Facebook and become a fan! Just search for Jon F. Merz and you’ll find me!
Like what you heard from Jon? Why not visit Amazon.com and peruse his list of suspense novels?
Read the first part of our HighTalk interview with Jon F. Merz.