Numbers Are Our Friend–Writers and the Wild World of Metrics
Okay, yesterday Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner had a blog post that promptly scared the bejeezus out of a lot of writers. I’m here to help you guys understand that Rachelle is actually on our side, and the idea of numbers should not scare you. Numbers can be a writer’s best friend. They can keep us accountable and can let us know where we are doing well and how we can improve. This is the purpose behind metrics in any business.
My husband works in the defense industry. His business uses metrics to look for waste, redundancy or errors. What changes are working? Which changes should be scrapped?
Writers can take a lesson from this.
One of the biggest challenges many writers face is the mental transition from artist-hobbyist to artist-entrepreneur. Many of us gravitated to writing because spreadsheets gave us hives and sales goals made our eyes roll back in our heads. I feel your pain. I came from a background of industrial sales. I wanted to throw myself in traffic every day I went to work. Writing was my lifeline, my salvation…but it wasn’t a free pass to get out of being a savvy businessperson.
So grab a paper bag. Breathe. That’s it. Place your head between your knees and your laptop at your feet so you can keep reading. I am here to help.
Not All Numbers Count Equally
Social media changes so quickly that even us “experts” have a full-time job simply keeping up with innovations. Yet, one innovation I have seen that makes me feel better is a site called Klout. Klout measures our ACTUAL influence. We now can gain a clearer picture of the impact we have (or don’t have) because there is context.
Yesterday, I guest-posted for Jane Friedman, contributing editor to Writer’s Digest Magazine (Jane has, by far, one of THE best blogs for writers out there, btw). My post addressed three social media blunders that can KILL an author platform. One of the blunders I listed was focusing too much on the numbers.
At first this seems like I am giving contradicting advice from Ms. Gardner. On the contrary!
There are lies, damn lies and statistics. ~Mark Twain
I see too many writers spinning their wheels joining ten different social sites and then just friending/following thousands of people. Having a Twitter following of 30,000 doesn’t necessarily mean much. To use my example from yesterday, I could theoretically hold up the White Pages I just tossed in my recycle bin and claim that I have 30,000 “friends.” Yet, how many of those “friends” can I count on to spread the message of my new book? How many of those “friends” can I count on for a sale? A recommendation? A referral? Help expanding my platform? Only a very small percentage–folks I know personally and a handful of weird, lonely people.
One of the cool things I have liked about Klout is that Klout measures our ACTUAL influence. It runs algorithms to see how many people our message is affecting. What is our amplification? Translated: How many people repost what we are posting? Are people listening? Are they responding? Are they sharing?
Real Friends DO Matter
See, I can go have 20,000 followers. I can even download an app to tweet witty comments every hour so I can “fool” people that I am really on Twitter. There are all kinds of machines that will blast out links to my blog. I never even have to physically BE on Twitter. On the surface, my huge following looks pretty awesome. Oh, and for a fee, I can purchase peeps to make that following even MORE impressive.
Ah, but the real numbers don’t lie.
Klout will tattle on us if we cheat. Most people don’t feel vested in bots. We are unlikely to repost for them and far more likely to just ignore and move on to people who don’t treat us like morons who can’t tell the difference between a person and a bot. Since others aren’t vested in us, our Klout score will reflect this.
When we focus on authentic relationships instead of super high “numbers” we actually will raise the number that counts—the Klout score. This is one of the reasons that writers are better off narrowing their focus and not “participating” on ten different sites. It spreads us too thinly, and, in the end it will negatively impact our Klout.
I blog, am on Facebook (no fan page yet) and I tweet. That’s it. I have less than 5,000 twitter followers and less than 2,000 Facebook peeps….but, I regularly have a Klout score of 72, which is pretty darn great. Due to a death in the family, I haven’t been on social media as much and my Klout score is a tad lower, but it generally is pretty strong at 71-73. I have a very high rate of amplification. This means people listen, they like and they share. This proves what I have been saying all along.
No one is successful on social media alone.
What I love about Klout is that Klout is not so much about me as it is about others. The better I serve others, the higher the score. See, if get on G+ and friend a half a zillion people, that serves ME. That is no measure of how I have served others. A “large number” alone can’t tell me if those in my following listen, whether they care, or are if they are even engaged. Klout is a far better measure of our social media impact, and we don’t need the mega-high followings to have a Klout score that will gain an agent’s attention.
Last week there were all kinds of blogs about whether it was a waste of time for writers to have a blog. One agent said that they would not be impressed unless a writer could show 15,000 unique visits a month. Many writers nearly passed out with a panic attack. FIFTEEN THOUSAND A MONTH!!!!
What I find interesting is that so many of the agents feel blogging is a waste of time. How about BAD blogging is a waste of time?
Why do we all assume that because writers can write novels, we automatically have the skills to blog in ways that will connect to tens of thousands of followers? Blogging is a skill, like anything else. Instead of blaming the blog, let’s see this as a separate skill that needs to be learned. It is also a skill, that, with lots of practice, can be MASTERED.
I will grant there is a lot of GREAT writing out there, but the blogs are not geared to gain those large amounts of visits or even connect with readers (who aren’t writers). Why? Writers are blogging about the wrong things and targeting the wrong people (exclusively).
Expand the Blog and Improve the Klout Score
I can be a world-renowned expert on the mating rituals of the African Tse Tse fly and it not be worth publishing a book. Not enough people care about the Tse Tse fly getting lucky for me to sell a lot of copies.
Granted, the subject of writing is not as limited as the Tse Tse fly. A lot of people care about writing and the craft of writing, but when viewed as a slice of the larger whole global population? Um…there are better things to blog about.
Storytellers have been making the mundane magical for over 100,000 years. We have the power to create new worlds, breathe life into imaginary people. Yet, we get a blog and we all blog about….writing. We become the All-Writing-All-the-Time-Channel. This will limit our influence and lower the Klout score.
Because only a small percentage of the overall literate population in need of entertaining or informing cares to read about narrative structure, POV, character arc, or trends in indie publishing. Also, too many writers are all blogging on the same thing targeting the same worn-out demographic. There are only so many writing blogs we writers can follow and be loyal to. Yet, when I mention getting out of the comfort zone, writers promptly want to defend the writing blog. Feel free to blog about writing, but likely your blog numbers will never get high enough to matter in a proposal.
Before anyone gets huffy, I made all the mistakes so you don’t have to. We will look at me. I blogged about writing once a week, religiously for over a YEAR, and, after a year I had less than 600 views a month. After a year of banging my head against a wall, I set out to figure out what made blogs popular and how we could tool our blogs to connect with writers AND non-writers.
Since I am all about authenticity, here is a look at my stats from May of 2009 into December of 2010. That top number is 25,000 for those who can’t see.
Count over roughly 11 pathetic columns. The wimpy little column in May 2010 was after a YEAR of blogging about writing. 594 visits a MONTH. The next jump was when I started blogging twice a week, once about social media. A little better, but not that wonderful. Had another little bump. Nice, but room for improvement. That fourth jump? That HUGE leap? THAT was when I started blogging in ways that connect to readers beyond writers. I would tell you more, but I save that secret information for my workshops.
One would think my information blogs would have made the huge difference, but actually they didn’t. I had to get out of the comfort zone. When I say don’t do a writing blog, it isn’t because I sit up all night thinking of ways to make you guys miserable (I only stay up until ten doing that). I tell you these things because I have had all the same “bright ideas” that turned into digital tar babies. So when I give advice, it really is because I want to help you guys. Writers are wonderful, but our support base can only do so much.
Remember earlier I said metrics were helpful for figuring out inefficiencies? Well, contributing thousands of words a week to a blog that was reaching less than 600 people a month I think qualifies as an inefficiency. I had to rework my strategy.
Tip: If the horse is dead, DISMOUNT!
As you can see from that image, numbers helped me see when I started connecting and what content made the difference. If I hadn’t had the analytics, I would never have been able to get an idea of what worked and what was a waste of time. Numbers help us improve. They help us adjust and make a new plan if the old one isn’t working. Numbers help agents land us sweeter deals.
This applies to speaking engagements, Internet radio followings and vlog views (also mentioned in Rachelle’s blog). Maybe your numbers aren’t huge, but if you can show a 1000% growth in six months, agents can use this in your favor. Quantifiable metrics can help you grow, expand and innovate. Numbers keep us accountable and focused. Numbers help us try new things and see tangibly if they are working. Numbers help us work smarter, not harder.
What to take away:
- Authentic relationships DO matter.
- Klout score is more important than surface numbers.
- Large blog followings are possible with consistency and a solid plan. Content matters.
- Some topics, by their very nature, will experience limited growth.
- Focusing on community and being part of a team will translate into a higher Klout. This is one of the reasons I HIGHLY encourage participating on #MyWANA.
- ABOVE ALL…People matter the most. If we serve people with authentic interaction and great content, the numbers will eventually reflect all our hard work.
Okay, so do you guys feel better? Need a digital daquiri? Any heart attacks out there? Hey, we are not alone! Better, we are in this TOGETHER!
I do want to hear from you guys!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of October, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of October I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.