June 7, 2011

Forum Spam-a-lam-a-ding-dong

You've got a self-published book or two to sell, so you begin your marketing efforts by seeking out online locations to hawk your wares. The most obvious places are where the elusive and legendary Readers are rumored to be found—book forums—places where Readers discuss their literary likes and dislikes. Nirvana to a new author! Or so we think, until we join the site and discover, well, we're not welcome. Despite the advice we've gotten to get busy promoting ourselves, there're new rules out there, folks, and forum administrators aren't very forgiving if we barge into their territory with an ulterior motive.

Although we writers are generally solitary creatures who have a hard time singing our own praises, there exists a sub-species of scribe hell-bent on spamming the living crap out of everyone and anyone who will allow it. Just like writers who self-publish before their manuscript is ready for prime-time, these spammers are making a bad name for all self-published authors. Forums everywhere are catching on, and they've been making it crystal clear what they'll do to us if we spam, blatantly or inadvertently.

Amazon customer discussions forbids "Any form of "spam," including advertisements, contests, or other solicitations for other websites or companies." At kindleboards, it says right in the user registration agreement, "Spam…(is) forbidden on this forum." And over at Goodreads, most of the groups I've checked out have their own rules against spam. There's a thread in the SciFi Fantasy Book Club group that spells out in no uncertain terms how some Readers, at least, feel about, among other sins of the author, spam.

I joined Goodreads earlier this year, before I decided to self-publish. I love it there, it's such a friendly place, as long as I participate as a Reader who follows the rules (and I have, meticulously). But unless I choose to join the groups set up specifically for others like me, it's been made painfully clear that even the faintest whiff of spam will get me a face full of slammed door. I did join some of those groups—I'm all for making contacts among my peers—but there's an atmosphere of segregation there, and the spam is rampant and even encouraged. Even if I posted my own tentative spam attempt to that mix, I doubt I'd garner many reads, because no matter how helpful and nice the members might be, they aren't there looking for reads. And since I also run a book review blog that doesn't turn its nose up at indies, I'd probably end up with a big red target painted on my virtual forehead. Because, yes! Just like the skittish Reader, I, too am leery of self-published books in general. I've read some truly good stuff, outstanding stuff, in fact, but the last thing I want is for someone with an ulterior motive to woo me and become my online pal only to wham-bam-spam me in the hope that I'll feel obligated to read and review them.

So I understand completely the defensive attitude of forums and applaud their anti-spam efforts—even though it leaves me with very little in the way of promotional options for my own books. Word of mouth is essential for indies; we don't have the luxury of marketing dollars provided by traditional publishers. I need reads, and can't rely on the one thing even more elusive than Readers: Luck.

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