I’ve been thinking a lot about influence lately.
Not OUI kind of influence, though I do wonder why “Driving under the influence” has suddenly become “Operating under the influence.” Is there some problem with surgeons I’ve not heard about? But I digress.
Yesterday, I was talking with the always-enjoyable Julienne Givot, and the subject of influence came up. I enjoy our conversations because we share the same quirky sense of the absurd and love to figure out how and why things happen the way they do. I’d heard the key to an author finding his/her audience is to find the right “influencers” first, then engage their followers. . . Sort of the way that Donald Trump hooked up with David Duke and then all these men in bedsheets started showing up at Trump’s campaign rallies. I was telling Julienne what happened when I followed that advice (not to wear bedsheets, but the find your audience bit), and she thought it might be fun to share my experiences of recent negative influences I’ve, until now, tried mightily to ignore. Why not? Confession is good for the soul, or so they say.
The signs are all there: This morning, there was an email invitation to attend a webinar entitled “Influence by the Numbers: The Science Behind Influencer Marketing.” I’ve signed up for it even though the very idea freaks me out. Logging on to my Twitter account, I saw that the talented @Hans_Hirschi (the queen of unconventional happy endings) has a little box beside his username that labels him as an “Influencer.” That made me happy because he did a wonderful review of A Book of Revelations. But then it made me start to wonder. . . If the Twitter Gods bestow the honor, do they send you a little pin you can wear? Maybe one that says “Influencer”? Can you add the title to your business card? A. C. Burch, Author/Influencer. I like the sound of that, but there’s also something troubling about it. Author has the cache’ of substance and effort. Influencer seems a little more. . . unsettling. A little more on the dark side.
The first written response I had to A Book of Revelations was on my Facebook Page. (It’s not there now, I deleted it because, at first, it annoyed the crap out of me.) It was brilliant and read as follows: “Well, I guess there are three types of books now. Fiction, Non-Fiction and Perverse.” I just love it and may yet reconsider and use it as a blurb. In response to this critic who took time out of her busy day to write this on my page, I can’t resist quoting my favorite diva, Maria Callas, “I’m sure you’re a lovely person, but you simply must have a look.” Well, Ms. Critic, I’ve got to tell you, that side shot on the dirt bike with your arms not quite reaching around hubby? It doesn’t do a damn thing to enhance your literary credibility. And, while you’re at it, ditch the stretch pants. On you, they’re right up there with scary clowns and Rudi Giuliani. I’m not being bitchy. Not me. I’m trying to be helpful. I am. I really am. Just like I’m sure you were when you wrote on my Facebook page.
By now, you’ve probably figured my strategic plan to find and engage influencers was not meeting with the highest degree of success. You don’t know the half of it.
In an effort to influence booksellers and librarians, I paid to have A Book of Revelations displayed on Netgalley. The only review I’ve gotten so far begins, “Burch warns his readers at the outset that he’s always been ‘drawn to outre characters who poke fun from the outer edge.’” Oh-oh. “Warns his readers”? Dear Reader, I’m warning you, now, these characters poke fun. Here’s your trigger warning created especially for you. Yes, indeedy. They’re going to poke fun. Watch out now. Maybe you should close your eyes or put down the book? Oh, wait. She did put the book down. She called my characters, Amanda and Vaughn, “psychotic.” Perhaps I should have had a warning label on the cover?
Speaking of warnings, when all twenty of my Goodreads giveaway winners were from places like Fungus, Missouri; Anthill, Arkansas; Rump, Texas, and East Cupcake, Ohio, I should have been warned that their reviews might not provide the sort of influence I’d hoped for. What can I say to the assuredly-lovely septuagenarian who wrote, ‘It was ok, not my type of book, but well written’ (and gave me a 2)? Oh, heck, I’ll take a stab at it. Why not? “My dear lady. Enhance your reading experience. Don’t enter giveaway contests for books that aren’t your type of books. Read their description and ask yourself, “Is this my type of book?” If the answer is no, don’t enter the contest. It will reduce clutter in your home and protect my literary reputation from total ruin.”
All kidding aside, there have been some amazingly positive influences as well. Diane’s wonderful review at GGR-review, say nothing of Scott Burkett’s untiring efforts to promote authors on that site. I honor their commitment to writing and writers and am profoundly grateful for the support they’ve shown both my books. Then there’s Yvonne Leiblein’s review for Underground Book Reviews. The nomination for Novel of the Year influenced me in the best possible way. It gave me confidence. Being a was a surprise and a thrill. There have even been some kind words from Kirkus. (For those of you not familiar with Kirkus’s reputation for snide remarks, a good review is the equivalent of Endora getting Darren’s name right.) Most of all, I’ve been influenced by those readers who have been kind enough to share their feedback with me directly. These are the positive influences that have kept me from going stark, raving mad, and I treasure them, but there’s more to be said about the negative ones.
Perhaps the most profound failure of my strategic plan to influence sales (think Ford’s Edsel or the Hindenburg) was the mass mailing to a carefully researched list of bookstores and reviewers. Along with a copy of the book, I included a signed cover letter, my author bio, and book synopsis with blurbs in a tasteful binder replete with a business card and a color-coordinated paper clip. I sent tons of books off in the mail, returning to the post office day after day for more than a week. I really like the new woman who works there. We got to know each other quite well. She was so pleasant. She’s moved here from California and lives in Truro. She’s tried several beaches and prefers the bay side to the ocean side. She was so patient standing there for 20 minutes every day slapping labels on my packages and talking to me. I don’t know how she stood it. But back to the bookstore campaign. You’ll never guess what happened. Most of the books I sent out ended up on e-Bay or with resellers on Amazon.
I want to be perfectly sure you understand how dismally this effort to influence sales failed, so I’ll carefully restate the outcome. I spent an outrageous amount of postage to send free copies of my book—that I had to purchase myself—to bookstores who resold them on Amazon and e-Bay to readers who would otherwise have purchased from traditional sources such as Indie Books et al., where I would have gotten royalties. No, that’s still a bit vague. Let me try again. I mailed books I’d bought to bookstores who didn’t buy any copies but resold the one they had undercutting my price point, lowering legitimate sales, and denying me any royalties whatsoever. There. That’s perfectly clear. Talk about influence! And by the way, if someone would buy the copies that are out there for one cent, I’d really be grateful.
So this influencing thing. Like much in life, it’s a mixed bag. The real danger appears to be that focusing on influence decimates writing time. I’ve actually had a lot of fun telling you about these spectacular failures, and I have been writing, which is always a good thing. And what’s more, I get a chance to share one of my favorite quotes by Coco Chanel “Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”
I do worry still about finding readers, though. If you know anyone who still reads, would you tell them about me? I’d really appreciate it. Or better yet, have them sign up for my mailing list. I hate to impose, but if I’m not stalking influencers, how else will I find readers? That walkabout-with-a-lamp thing didn’t cut it for Diogenes, so I know I won’t work for me.
I’ve got one new idea I’m going to try with the novella that’s coming out this month. It’s called “Last Chance.” Here’s the deal. . . Be sure to tell your reading friend(s). “Last Chance” is the first story in a mystery series. If you’ve bought A Book of Revelations, don’t buy the novella, it’s already included. If you have bought Revelations, show me proof of purchase, and I’ll send you the second e-Book in the series for free. (It will be a while, though. I haven’t written it yet.) If you’ve bought the one cent copy, show me proof of purchase and you’ll get the whole series free. There’s no postage required for e-Books, so I’m already ahead of the game. I do want to be sure to warn you, though; you won’t get a binder or a color-coordinated paper clip.
Things are looking up already.
A. C. Burch is the author of The HomePort Journals, A Book of Revelations, and the soon-to-be novella, “Last Chance.” To learn more about what influences him visit