Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Terry Shames--How Much is Too Much?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I was fortunate enough to get my mitts on an advance reader's copy of Terry The Last Death of Jack Harbin.  I was intrigued by the title, picked the book up, and didn't put it down again until I'd finished it.

Terry's books are set in small-town Texas and feature ex-chief of police Samuel Craddock.  She lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two rowdy terriers. 

In  The Last Death of Jack Harbin, with the chief of police out of commission, it’s up to trusted ex-chief Samuel Craddock to investigate the brutal murder of a Gulf War veteran who was a former high school football star. Craddock uncovers a dark tale of greed and jealousy that extends into the past, and well beyond the borders of the small town of Jarrett Creek.

Terry's first Samuel Craddock novel, The Killing at Cotton Hill, debuted to rave reviews.  And then--well, I'll let her tell it...

TERRY SHAMES:  All right! Awesome! Yippeee! Squeeee!

I’m thrilled to announce….

I can’t believe the wonderful thing that just happened…

I’m over the moon….

Yes, you’ve just received good news and you want to share it. You signed your first book contract, you moved to a fabulous new publisher, you signed with the best agent, ever, you snagged one more great review and you can’t wait to tell everyone.  And then something else spectacular happens and you want to tell that, too. You post it on Facebook and Twitter and your list serves. You email all your friends, you put it in blogs and newsletters. And then something even better happens….

When my debut novel came out last summer, there was nothing too insignificant for me to get excited about. I was almost tempted to post when a friend from down the street said she liked my book. Looking back on it, I am grateful at the patient indulgence of friends, acquaintances, and fellow mystery writers.

Now, it’s six months later and my second book has just launched. I’m just as excited, but this time after I posted news of a couple of good reviews, the next time I started to post one a little voice said, “Is this sharing good news, or is it gloating? Is this really wanting to share it, or is it advertising…”  

And I pulled back. I thought about all the writers I know and how they handle their goods news. I love it when I read good news from other writers, but when I really thought about it, I realized that they probably get a lot more good news than they actually share.

I especially thought about some of the Jungle Red Writers, writers I admire. Rhys Bowen always sends out notices of her newest books and about bookstore events. She posted when one of her books reached the top tier in Amazon. But what I’ve never seen her do (and which I did with my first book) is shout out every single movement of her book—every review and every friendly look somebody gave her. Same With Hank, same with Deb, and Hallie…and so on.

So I’m asking the JR’s and other writers, where does that little voice come from that tells you when enough is enough?

Do you trust it? Is it keeping you from doing good promotion…or is it giving you good advice? Are you wasting a good chance to let everybody know that your book is getting raves reviews….or are you realizing that not every little piece of good news warms everyone’s heart? I think newly published writers who haven’t made a name for themselves yet, might get a bit of a pass. But how much of a pass?

And what about readers or aspiring writers? Do you want to see every little tidbit that makes a writer glow with delight? How much is too much? Where is the line crossed between inviting people to share your good news and bragging? 

DEBS: Terry's dilemma is especially interesting considering that just last week we REDS were talking about how readers can help their favorite writers. We all wonder how much promotion is too much, even those who have multiple books under our belts.

So, REDS and READERS, what's your take on where to draw the promotional line?

Terry will be checking in to chat, and one lucky commenter will win a copy of The Last Death of Jack Harbin.

As you can see, I highly recommend it:-)


  1. I can see why this might be a bit of a quandary, but I have to say that I like reading wonderful reviews of books that I have read and enjoyed. [And my biggest failing is that I get really frustrated when other people write reviews that don’t share my enthusiasm . . . .]
    I think perhaps the answer lies in the way writers share their good reviews. There’s a world of difference between “I was so excited when I read . . . .” or “I was so honored when my book received such a nice review from . . . .” and something like “Here’s another great review of my book . . . .”

    Getting a book published is a big deal, and should be celebrated. Having reviews you want to share is like icing on the cake . . . I don’t see it as bragging unless you’ve prefaced it with “Hey, look at this marvelous review.” I believe writers should be proud of earning good reviews for all their hard work . . . . and sharing them isn’t necessarily the same as gloating.

    Terry, I am so far behind on my reading; now that there’s a second Samuel Craddock book out there, I really must move the first one to the top of my to-be-read pile . . . .

  2. Terry, I've have been watching an old friend over-promote his new book. He's in the middle of it right now. It's his first book and he does exactly what you described. His entire personality seems to have changed. He used to be snarky and funny—interesting, but now he is sophisticated, charming, and boring. He never relates to his Facebook friends the way he used to. Everything sounds prepared and stilted. His comments are about his book, his writing, his "craft." Sometimes he throws out a question for all of us, who used to be just his FB friends who turned into his "followers" overnight. His book isn't out yet, and he's trying so hard... It's very painful to experience. I am sure he will look back and wish he had done it another way, because under this sophisticated author facade he is a great guy, although I haven't seen the real him in months. I feel like I've lost a good friend. I want to knock on his head and say where are you? Come back. Please.

  3. My view: There's a different between actual good news and simple promotion. If it's new (a new award, a new rave review, a new event, a new contract, a new release), that's news. Go for it.

    If it is a steady barrage of my book is coming out, my book is coming out, my book is coming out, after a few times, it's old news. Which is no longer news. By the time the book is out, and has been out for a while, and if you are still at it, I'm desensitized to its news value, or I'm annoyed at you.

    I love good news. Old news, not so much.

  4. I think a lot of writers waste time, effort and goodwill by telling their Facebook, Twitter, Google, Pinterest friends (over and over) they have a book to sell. Well, guess what? So do most of our friends. And none of us have enough money to buy EVERYBODY's book. I've done much better personally with real advertising in places where people are looking for books -- Goodreads and Google.

  5. What a great topic. Not an easy line to figure out. Looking forward to what the Jungle Reds have to say on it.

  6. Congratulations on the book, Terry! #2 of many!!

    You raise such a good question. One we all grapple with. Not only when we talk about our OWN books but when we share our enthusiasm for the works of other writers. How much is too much and how to strike the right tone?

    A little crowing goes a long way. Try to make it conversational. Something funny that happened at a signing... not lookee lookee I signed books here there and everywhere.

    Just like a novel needs a "nonfiction hook" for PR to work, the same applies here. Talk ABOUT something. Don't just brag.

  7. Oh yes Terry, this is a tough question. I think all of us have friends like Reine's, who overdo the BSP. But it's hard, because we're told so clearly that we have to promote ourselves and that no one cares about our books as much as we do.

    I like Hallie's advice--try to make posts entertaining, and about something other than just you and your wonderful book.

  8. I enjoy hearing good news about new books and about authors that are new to me: awards, reviews, etc. (This is how I learn about new authors.)I don't recall if I've ever read anything that sounded like bragging. If I did, I may have simply chalked it up to the author being new to publishing,and then I moved along to reading something else. After reading today's post, I'll probably be tempted to reread every news item shared by an author, and scrutinize it for appropriateness. But I hope I'll give any possible "offender" the benefit of the doubt!

  9. I remember attending a panel on this topic last year and one of the Big Deal Agents who was talking said the best ration was 30:1 — meaning, thirty non-book posts to one promotional post.

  10. From an established author, I want to know mostly when a new book is coming out. From a new writer, I do like to see shared reviews and posts like this one, so I can get a feel for the author's style. I don't need to be entered for a copy of the book. I've already purchased it, read it, and posted a brief review on Amazon. Now, I just have to wait for the next one.

  11. Delighted to see Terry here on one of my favorite blog sites!!! I just happened to "discover" her - by browsing on The Lady Killers blog one day - got Cotton Hill - and have been hooked ever since!I just got Jack Harbin yesterday... and Terry has graciously agreed to visit us on Crime Writer's Chronicle ( www.crimewriters.blogspot.com) Sunday, Feb. 9!!! I don't know what her secret formula is - but she is one rara avis!!! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  12. I think there have been some wise words on this, Terry. How else does a new author get the word out if she doesn't share good reviews etc? But you don't want to reach the "oh, not her again" stage.

    As Hallie said, make it human and interesting then slip in the BSP.

  13. I'm surprised there aren't authors just going out in the streets yelling "PLEEEASSE buy my book!" It's so difficult!

    But I think most of us have a little bell that goes off, as you say, dear Terry, when it's too much.

    And certainly we can learn from the excesses of others. Because the bottom-line lesson is--it doesn't work.

    (And YAY, Terry!)

  14. Back, way back, in the early days of the Web, I had books and newsletters to promote. But I didn't. Instead, I used taglines/URL links in emails and message board posts to get the point across. My posting goal was to be helpful in my field (which happened to be business and sewing and teaching sewing), and I know it made a huge difference. Colleagues were more likely to "hit and run", mostly with BSP posts, and I always thought it was less effective. (And I could not make myself do that.)

    Those colleagues were by and large traditionally published, and had the old publishing marketing system behind them. I had to work harder and smarter, which was why I chose to spend my time in teacher mode. It worked for me, and I got a great deal of personal satisfaction from it, as well.

    These days it's not so straightforward, but I think you can still make the point without clobbering everyone over the head with it all the time. The Jungle Reds are a perfect example of using the strength of their own personalities, their good humor and bonhomie, and their excellent storytelling ability to promote their work. After reading a hilarious entry it's pretty obvious that the writer is going to provide an entertaining read with their books, as well. The same holds true of Facebook and Twitter posts.

    The other thing is to be friendly; I've been put off by authors who are not only unfriendly but who have actually attacked their own readers of a blog/Facebook post/message board. How is that going to make readers of individuals? And if you have a chance to respond to readers in a blog like this, take the time to do it, and to at least make the appearance of enjoying it.

    Stepping off the soapbox. Sorry for the lengthy rant.

  15. For me, when all an author can talk about is their books over and over again, I start to tune them out. But when they are talking about their books in relation to other things going on in their lives or just talking about their lives in general, I stay engaged.

    Obviously, that ration changes when a new book is on the way, or just out. That's when reviews and talk of signings interests me. But six months away? Ration it more.

  16. Lesa recommended this book on her blog and it is waiting for me at the library - hope the first one is in, too!

  17. It looks like I'm not the only one who struggles with this. Lucy, you are right--we are told that we have to really promote our books. But I've seen people go way overboard, and I'm terrified to be "that person." Reine, it breaks my heart to read about your friend because I'm sure he would be very upset if he knew he was coming across this way.

    I agree about posting a lot more than just your book. I have come to feel like the people I'm on FB with are friends. I love to hear about their lives. I may actually hit the 30:1 mark!

    I'm also thrilled when I share news about other writers I've discovered and enjoy reading about.

    Hank, I loved your reply. Made me laugh. And Deb Romano, bless you for being so generous.

  18. An old friend published a book to great acclaim. She had not, until that point, been involved in social media. She joined Facebook and posted about the book. Only the book. They weren't obnoxious posts, and it was a great book--I'd bought it as soon as it came out and read it. But there was nothing else. After the first half dozen or so, I just skipped them. This was really a shame and I wondered why someone didn't explain the 30:1 ratio.

    I think that maybe the trick is becoming involved with social media when you don't have something to promote. You establish relationships. Then, in that window when you do have a book to promote, people are interested.

    And, I think, as Joan Emerson said, tone is important. There is a difference between being excited and thinking you are Super-Writer, and people can tell it.

  19. Terry, I can certainly see where you would be excited about your first book being published. It's an achievement worth shouting out to the world. I would think that most authors could be forgiven for going overboard on their first book. Sharing your joy is a positive thing. But, as Joan pointed out, the tone and phrasing is important whenever anyone shares good news. I think anyone has to be careful in sharing good news that you don't sound nauseatingly prideful. We all have probably had that friend or acquaintance whose every report on their kids or grandkids contains the words, "best" or "perfect."

    Susan, the 30:1 rule sounds interesting. I enjoy reading about what my favorite authors are doing in both their writing and non-writing lives. Straight promotion would get old, although it definitely has its place when a new book comes out. And, of course, that's where your adoring fans come in, too, by doing the bragging for you.

    Something that I struggle with on my FB book group that I created is authors joining just to promote their books and sometimes posting promotional posts two or three times a week on books that have long been out. It doesn't happen too often, but often enough that I sometimes think I should delete more than one post a week. I haven't done that yet, as I don't want to discourage authors promoting their works. Most of the time the page consists of great book talk. I have authors that take part in the everyday conversations, and I love that.

  20. I thought I'd share a story about an elderly local man who has written a number of travel and history books over the years. He has personal business with my office a couple of times a year. Earlier this year he mentioned that he was working on a new book. I asked him to let us know when it's published, and at that time he said "IF it's published, you should probably just get it from the library". Last week he was back, and all excited because he has a publication date. He said that he'd forgotten how much work would be involved, and has decided that "I'm retiring from writing after this one is done". Again, I asked him to let me know when it's published. His response was "oh, you won't be able to afford it, dear; just borrow it from the library. I'm donating a copy". Now I REALLY want to purchase that book!He is more excited over the fact that someone his age can still get a book published than trying to get people to purchase it!

  21. Hi, Terry and all.

    I've just come from discussing promotion on Twitter. Given its 140-character limit, Twitter doesn't seem well suited to promotion, but I think the better readers get to know you, the more willing they are to put up promotional posts now and then.

    The key is to be true to yourself and your voice. For example, if you are genuinely moved by good news, let that come through when you share it.

    There's also something to be said for believing your work will do most of the selling for you. Over-promotion in any medium makes you seem desperate for buyers, which of course repulses buyers. I simply offer readers a sample of my work and say, "If you'd like more, feel free to buy my book." The choice is always theirs.

    I have no data to show that my approach works; it's just the way I'd appreciate being treated as a consumer.

  22. Terry, it is a tough line to walk. Our publishers want us to promote the heck out of our books, but no one wants to become the guy Reine knows or worse the many authors I've had to hide on Facebook or sort out of my timeline on Twitter because they post rapid-fire "Buy my book" posts over and over all day and every day.

    I try not to talk about my books too much on social media unless there's something special and new--cover reveal, pre-orders available, book launch, one or two really important reviews, an award/nomination. The rest of the time I try to keep my blogging on my own and the two group blogs I'm part of, my Facebook and Twitter presence about other topics and issues of interest to me, and I try to keep writing/book-related talk to only half of that. I figure people who like what I have to say about things will want to check out my books, because that's the way I feel about someone I find online whose attitudes and posts really interest me.

    I do have my books in my email signature, my bio for guest blogs, and in all the blogs I write regularly, but folks can ignore them if they choose. I think I probably went overboard with my first book, too. I imagine most of us do, and then we settle in and start to think about it strategically.

  23. Linda just said exactly what I was thinking. If I like what another has to say about things I want to check out their books. That's exactly how I found Linda and her books. She commented and blogged. I was interested in and felt much the same as she did about many things.

    When Linda said she had a novel coming out I was thrilled. I knew I would love her books, and I do.

    Her blog is one of the blogs I like to read. She writes about things I'm interested in. All the information I want about her books is available on her blog site.

    Kerry, I love to be helpful when there's an author or a book I like. I think my friends are in more danger of my over helping them, because I get so enthusiastic. So, as a reader, I could use some helpful hints on how to help an author I love or friend who writes.

  24. TERRY --I have a very naughty speech-to-text program today!!! I am so sorry I didn't catch that when proofreading.

  25. Like Ramona said good news is good to hear. Good news might promote, but promotion is different.

    Gerald So is right. Overpromotion makes you sound desperate. I discovered him somewhere on a blog he commented on long ago. His poetry is stunning.

    Hank says what I imagine it must feel like to have a book out, but she does great—interesting promotion. I already knew I would love Hank's books from seeing her on TV back home in Boston. I knew something about what she thinks of the world and how she views right and wrong. I couldn't imagine not liking anything she wrote, and when I rediscovered her on a writers' blog I was again thrilled with another new author for me to read.

    Debs, Hallie, Lucy/Roberta, Rhys, Julia, Susan—ALL the Reds past present, Kaye Barley—and I discovered Edith Maxwell and other writers here as commenters or being interviewed here by Reds—like you, Terry. All have become favorites of mine and through me—many of my friends.

  26. Thank you for the compliment, Reine. :)

  27. First paragraph of my first comment should read:

    "I've just come from discussing promotion on Twitter. Given its 140-character limit, Twitter doesn't seem well suited to promotion, but I think the better readers get to know you, the more willing they are to put up *with* promotional posts now and then."

  28. Lots of things to think about, but the bottom line so far seems to be--first time novelist, you get a pass. After that, step back and be judicious about your news. And in social media, use the 30:1 rule.

    One thing I didn't mention in my original post is that I have an author friend who doesn't ever promote herself anywhere as far as I can tell. She announces when she has a new book out. That's it. And she has been rave reviewed in the Times by Marilyn Stacio. So I guess writing a good book doesn't hurt as a promotion tool!

  29. I love this conversation! I wish I weren't coming in so late. Terry, I'm where you were seven-ish months ago -- broadcasting everything about KILMOON, hyper-excited-like.

    I'm hoping I do get a pass for now. I check in with friends now and then to verify that I'm not going overboard ...

    But also, it's such a huge learning curve. Hugely humongously gynormous. We make mistakes, and hopefully we learn.

    Reine, I wonder if your friend got some advice on what he was supposed to do -- sometimes we think we're supposed to attend to the author side of things a certain way. Be more professional rather than just ourselves.

    I do wonder what counts as a promotional post and what doesn't. If I mention that I'm excited about something -- say an upcoming reading -- is that self-promotion or just me being excited? This is where I get very confused.

    And in truth, all this stuff is my life right now and I tweet/Facebook about my life, so if anyone gets annoyed with me there's nothing I can do about it. In the end, I can only be myself and continue learning.

  30. Can I just put in a late-in-the-day word about the value of thoughtfulness and consideration in this, as in any other, business?

    I had read Terry's Jack Harbin in ms and loved it, but I didn't really know Terry other than that she had been a guest on JR.

    Then, when I met her at Bouchercon in Albany, she was just so NICE. Sometimes readers and newer authors don't really talk to those of us who have been around for awhile--or if they do, it's only about themselves. (This is probably a subject of a whole other social blog...) Terry and her friends (Hi, Diana! Hi, Susan!)however, took me in as if we'd been friends forever. and Terry, I will be forever grateful for that cup of tea.

    The point is that kindness, manners, and just being genuine go a long way towards creating relationships and goodwill, and when those qualities come through in an author's post about his or her books, then we as readers feel excited for them, too.

  31. PS, Terry, the martinis were pretty good, too...

  32. That's a good point, Deb. Thanks for the reminder. It is too easy to talk about myself -- especially when I'm nervous, hehe. I'll have to be aware of that for myself.

    Also, as a newbie I know I'm hesitant to wave well-known authors into whatever conversation I'm in like I would anyone else. What is that about anyhow? You and I had a nice conversation at Bouchercon, and I enjoyed that. But would I have felt comfortable enough to say, Hey, Deborah, you going to the Hilton bar now? Let's go." :-)

    Being an extrovert would be handy at times.

  33. Oh, yeah that bonding thing over martinis...

    I agree that being nice goes a long way. But I have to say there are lots of really, really great people who write about mayhem and murder. One example, I stopped Laura Lippman to ask her a quick question and she ended up spending 20 minutes in a passionate plea for the writer friend I was with and me to "own our dreams." There are a few grumps out there, but no many.

    Lisa, you sweetie, you're never going to have the grump problem. I have to laugh at you saying you pipe up about everything. You know what I posted about? Every time my Amazon rating went up! I'm not talking about being #1, 2 or...I'm talking about when I went from 75 to 66 in the mystery category. Finally I told myself to get a grip. At least I'm doing better than that this time!

  34. As a reader, I've gotten to the point that on FB I do not read the reviews that an author is self-posting. Now if author tells about signing win a photo, I will read through the post. I agree that it's a fine line between bragging and sharing good news. But ism sure publishers are requiring or at strongly suggesting an author get on social media & promote their books. I still rely heavily on old school review sources. I don't trust amazon or even all Goodreads reviews. Most of time I will download a sample of a new unknown author & decide for myself whether its something I want to read and spend my allotted book budget on it.

  35. Lisa, it must be very exciting having her first book come out soon! I often ask our local library to buy mysteries with an Irish setting. I've read almost all of them available locally and look forward to yours a great deal.

    Regarding my buddy... I don't know how much help he's received. I'm sure the pressure is enormous. He and I have not talked directly since he signed his contract. He's been too busy, so I don't have a good sense of where his personality transplant came from. I couldn't do what he is doing. I'm just not good at gussying up. Your new picture is gorgeous by the way.

    I often read that beginning authors especially are not given a lot of guidance. It seems like they are given a couple of rules and expectations, but from there say have to decide how to fulfill their part of the bargain.

    I follow your newsletter and blogging, and it's obvious you have much to do. I like that you separate those two efforts where the emphasis on the newsletter points more in the direction of your work, while the blog features the group—something I always enjoy like here on JRW. You've also made some interesting comments on my FB page.

    I don't envy you all your challenges as a new author, and I'm sure you will be there someday for me if I have a turn at it. And if I need some pointed commentary, I would like no one more than you to give it to me. xoxo

  36. Terry, thanks! I'm LOLing about your Amazon ratings announcements. Hah!

    Reine, you doll! First off, I will DEFINITELY be there for you when you debut your novel. What a gas that will be! Thank you for everything you said. The debut novel adventure is exciting and stressful, and I don't know what I'm doing. Everything you'd expect. :-)

  37. I don't think an author can ever share in to many places about their books. Sometimes it's the unusual place that catches my eye, like another author that I like talking about your book. Ruth Nixon