Lend us your friends’ ears

Audible has a new service called Clips. It works like bookmarks do in e-books and web browsers, with a feature for the sharing economy.

Here’s how.

Audible clipsFirst, you have to have the latest app for an iOS device. Then, when you hear a passage you’d like to share with others, tap the Clip icon, move the start and end points and save it the snippet, or share via email or social media.

Saving the clip allows you to return to that spot for a repeat performance. Benefit to you. Sharing the clip amplifies Audible’s marketing and might eventually put a few more pennies in the pockets of its authors and narrators. Game, set and match to Audible.

But before grow too critical, I’d like listeners to try the service on one of my audiobooks, Peak Season or Mr. Mayhem, depending on whether you like a strong female lead or a crazy disgraced journalist nattering in your ear for seven hours.

Speaking of nattering . . . let me know what you think.

The social media maven’s apprentice

This is an updated version of an interview I did several years ago with Laurie R. King, whose latest in the bestselling Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series, The Murder of Mary Russell, is due in April 2016.

The author of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is buzzing over social media.

With a website, author and character blogs and a presence on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter, Laurie R. King is a champion of social marketing. She posts in the voice of one of her characters, runs writing contests and invites fans to discuss the books among themselves. Her efforts go beyond promoting the work to promoting engagement with readers. That reveals an understanding of the collaborative nature of social media many corporations might envy.

“Mostly what I use the social networking sites for is to tie together my readers—I set up a site, or suggest an approach, and then more or less stand back while they play with it,” she said in an email exchange. But first, some background on the Californian who has become famous for portraying the life of perhaps the world’s most-famous detective, and the woman who has become, some would say, an equal or better.

LaurieRKingCreating a voice
Ms. King has written 22 novels, including several stand-alone novels and three series, one featuring San Francisco police detective Kate Martinelli and a second with Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. Her first book, A Grave Talent (1993), received the 1994 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and a 1995 John Creasey Memorial Award. She followed with the 1996 Nero Award for A Monstrous Regiment of Women and the 2002 Macavity Award for Best Novel for Folly.

Her books about Russell and Holmes have been applauded as “the most successful recreation of the famous inhabitant of 221B Baker Street ever attempted” (Houston Chronicle), “with the power to charm even the most grizzled Baker Street irregular” (New York Daily News). The first in the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, appeared in 1994.

She measures the number of copies in print in the millions.

Creating a buzz
A few years ago, to highlight the 20 books she’s written, and the publication of her then-newest novel in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, Ms. King embarked on what she calls “Twenty weeks of buzz.” In addition to the traditional methods of promotion—book tours, radio and TV appearances—Ms. King took to the Internet with a passion usually reserved for her characters.

Her presence on the Internet is considerable. She created a website and a blog about her activities called Mutterings. She also created another blog, this one in Mary Russell’s voice, back when MySpace was the rage. Mary, in character, posts regularly on Twitter (@mary_russell)—a technique used effectively by Helen Klein Ross (@AdBroad) to promote the TV show Mad Men. Ms. King writes as a guest blogger on other sites and runs a Yahoo! Group. She has a page on Facebook. She even posts reader videos on YouTube.

King beekeeper coverTo share her tastes in literature, Ms. King created an account on Goodreads, where millions of members recommend, compare and discuss books.

She also bolstered reader engagement with the creation of twin writing contests. To celebrate the publication of The God of the Hive, she authorized the 2010 Mary Russell Fan Fiction Writing Contest. Contestants were asked to write about a character in one of the Russell novels as a teenager. A second contest, to celebrate National Library Week, invited readers to create their version of the ideal library, complete with drawings.

She even runs contests for artwork about Russell, Holmes, and their world where fans can submit and judge the works.

Her opinion on social-media efforts and their results are insightful for readers and writers alike. Edited highlights of the interview with Ms. King, who goes by LRK online, follow.

Creating a community
I have to say, it’s funny to be considered a “champion of social marketing” since I never feel I know much about what I’m doing! Mostly what I use the social networking sites for is to tie together my readers—I set up a site, or suggest an approach, and then more or less stand back while they play with it. I’m kept in the loop of course, and I’ll drop in regularly, but making use of enthusiastic volunteers means that I don’t have to do all of the day-to-day work, while at the same time letting a group of key readers—”fans” if you will—have the fun of working with a writer they enjoy and making her job just a little bit easier.

Murder of Mary Russell coverI think a number of writers do this in some form or another—Dana Stabenow’s “Danamaniacs” are a powerhouse of networking, for example—and so long as it is kept fairly clear which is the author speaking and which is one of the administrators, I find people are happy.

Mostly I write and post my blog “Mutterings” and stop in once a day on both the personal and fan Facebook pages. I visit regularly on the Virtual Book Club [now the Laurie R. King Virtual Book Club on Goodreads],  reading the discussion and dropping in on some of the other threads, but I don’t tend to post a lot there unless I have something in particular to contribute—the VBC is a place for the readers to freely discuss and get to know each other, and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m in charge of what they say. A great side-effect of the VBC is that whenever LRK readers meet at an event or a conference, they often already know each other remarkably well, even if they have never met in person.

As for Twitter and Goodreads, I work with volunteers on answering letters sent to me (or to Russell) through the sites, helping promote things like the recent Twitter Party. (I helped set this up beforehand but, being in a far distant time zone, I had very little to do with it at the time.)

All in all, I probably average an hour a day on this stuff, more when I’m working up to a book launch.

As for results, who can tell?

In a small Pa. town, an unwelcome guest

In this economy, even an assassin needs an agent.

Sued by his publisher for libel, Brinker is reduced to promoting trolley tours of crime scenes. The tour business is dying. There aren’t enough murders to draw a crowd.

A good serial killer would help.

That’s the premise of my new thriller, Mr. Mayhem, a book my fellow writers have alternately called clever and demented. Here’s the first chapter. I’ll let you decide.

1.

Brinker stood beside the body with its red flannel shirt and black ski pants and two-tone duck boots and smiled. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”

From the end of the road, police lights flashed as two cops directed traffic. At this hour, there was next to none.

“I’d be careful,” the Colonel said. “People might think you had a hand in this.”

“You should talk,” Brinker said. “Word is, our pal Red diddles with the bodies.”

The eyes of Col. Frank Mabry, U.S. Air Force retired, darkened to the color of his three-piece suit. “No wonder you got fired for libel.” He motioned for the redheaded intern in black to help hoist the body onto the gurney. Red was nineteen going on twelve. He had more acne than a porn star’s ass.

Mr Mayhem 3d_coverThey shoved the gurney into the back of the hearse and slammed the door with the little white curtain and Red drove the hearse into the night, its tailfins glowing like hot coals from hell, which was where the publisher of the Free Press was headed . . . after a brief layover at Mabry & Sons Funeral Home.

Brinker’s feet stuck to the ground. If he stayed here much longer he’d be next in the meat wagon. He looked around the yard. The porch lamp lit an axe, a pile of split wood, a felt Stetson and a dent in the snow bank where the publisher had fallen headfirst.

Brinker asked, “What killed him?”

“Heart attack, most likely.”

“How do you know?”

“What do you mean, how do I know? I’m the coroner. If I say he died of mustard gas poisoning, that’s what killed him.”

The Colonel usually showed more patience. Maybe he needed a drink. Brinker did, and his meds. He lit an unfiltered Camel and let the warm smoke trickle through his nose.

“Those things will kill you.” The Colonel had the spine of a floorboard. He’d retired from some base in the South and returned to Pennsylvania to manage the family business and had gotten trapped here like everybody else. Coroner and undertaker. Add animal-control officer and you’d have a trifecta.

“You should know,” Brinker said and coughed up half a lung. He’d have to see Dr. Jolley tomorrow. The doc had reduced his prescription of Vicodin and Percocet for lower back pain but he’d pony up a month’s worth of Xanax or Ativan, since the meds he prescribed didn’t seem to work anymore. It didn’t matter that benzos were addictive. The doc didn’t like to see people suffer. Neither did Brinker.

The Colonel stared into the dark, as if it would part like a curtain to reveal the secret of the afterlife. The dark stared back. “I don’t need to tell you, business is bad.”

“Then don’t,” Brinker said.

“Traffic’s down at the museum and most of the seats on the ghost tour are empty.”

“Murder tour,” Brinker corrected. The cigarette bobbed in his mouth. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Did you talk to your mother that way?”

Brinker smiled. “Why do you think she kicked me out?”

MM1 cover 1The Colonel pointed to the dent in the snowbank. In this cold, it wouldn’t lose its shape until July. “What can we do with this?”

Brinker looked at the yard. The snow sparkled like broken glass. The axe hadn’t moved. Neither had the hat. “You said he died of natural causes. No one’s flying up from Florida in the dead of winter to watch this guy make snow angels.”

In the brittle light, Mabry’s nose looked like it could hook rugs.

“Unless,” Brinker said, “you tell the cops you have doubts.”

“That would be official misconduct.”

“It’s a living,” Brinker said.

“You’re supposed to be the PR guy. What are you going to do about this?”

Going to, not gonna. As an elected official, the Colonel took care with his speech. Brinker picked a piece of tobacco from his tongue. “I’ll think of something.”

“You had better think fast. Get on the radio. Send out a release.”

“The paper won’t print our shit anymore.”

“Why is that?” Mabry asked in his I’m-struggling-for-patience voice.

“Too self-promotional.”

“For God’s sake.” Mabry abandoning the pretense. “Then get us on social media—or didn’t they teach you that before they canned your ass?”

Brinker tried to blow a smoke ring but the wind took it. “The murder tour’s getting old.”

“Of course it’s old. The crimes are old. History’s old. That’s pretty much the definition.”

Brinker stamped his feet to drive out the cold. The cold didn’t budge. “The tourists are looking for sensation, the big hit. They want blood, guts, scandal, like they get from TV, or Congress.”

“They want their heads examined,” the Colonel said. “We offer them something they can’t get anywhere else.”

“Time travel?”

“Yes,” the Colonel said, “it is like time travel. They can relive history. They can stand in the exact spot where the murder took place and use their imaginations for a change.”

“Soak up the vibes.” Brinker dropped the butt and listened to it hiss. “So what do we do?”

“Drum up business, fill the trolley. That’s why I hired you.”

“We’re fresh out of stiffs.” Brinker nodded toward the road. “Not counting this one.”

The Colonel turned on a polished boot and waded through a foot of new snow. He popped open the door to a black Escalade the size of a dinosaur and said, “I don’t care how you do it . . . just make it happen.”

Brinker watched the car fade to black. He hated winter almost as much as he hated the job.

New crime series launches with ‘Mr. Mayhem’

A doctor wants to euthanize his terminal patients. A disgraced journalist wants a better job than flogging tours of crime scenes. The tour business is dying. There aren’t enough murders in this sleepy town to draw a crowd.

A good serial killer would help.

So begins Mr. Mayhem, a new crime thriller from a mind the folks in my writers’ group have alternatively called clever and demented. The work is available as an ebook pre-order through Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, with the print release set for Nov. 27.

Mr MayhemHere’s the story: For a man known only as Brinker, the trouble starts when he’s fired for reporting his publisher’s DUI. Reduced to doing PR for a funeral home and its trolley tour of murder sites, Brinker despairs of ever restoring his pride, or his bank account. Compared to journalism, PR is degradation, an excuse to lie for a living. His addiction to prescription medication only fuels the rage.

When his doctor asks for a hand in dispatching hopeless patients, Brinker hires a wildly successful assassin named Angel, who brings chaos and fame to a backwoods town in Pennsylvania. But as Angel’s demands soar with the body count, Brinker wonders whether he’ll become the latest addition to his own list.

I’d like to think that Mr. Mayhem turns the suspense genre on its head. I’m hoping that fans of Elmore Leonard and Gillian Flynn will enjoy the double- and triple-crosses that give the book its dark edge.

A note of caution to readers: Mr. Mayhem is wildly different from Peak Season, my first novel of suspense. That book is set in sunny Florida and chronicles the life and loves of former police officer and real estate agent CW McCoy. Mr. Mayhem is set in the snowy mountains of Pennsylvania and draws on my experience as a journalist with Dow Jones/Ottaway News.

The parallels between Brinker and me end there. But not the drama. The two of us are planning a sequel. I think we’ll set it in the world of advertising. No chance anyone in that industry ever lies.

Beyond ‘Likes’: Growing Your Business with Social Media

Just because someone “Likes” your Facebook page doesn’t mean they’ll visit your business. Entrepreneurs need to engage these visitors, whether they encounter your business through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or your website. Please join me in a discussion of how to meet and measure success in digital communications at the Rotary Club of Sarasota Keys’ Business to Business Mixer.

The event will take place from noon to 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4. At Café L’Europe on St. Armands Circle. Admission is $5 per person. Lunch is included. There will be a cash bar.

Enjoy meeting fellow Sarasota business professionals and community leaders as the Rotary club continues a 50-year tradition of fostering good will and building lasting friendships. I’ll be making a short presentation on planning and measuring a social media program.

To RSVP or for more information contact Jack Geldi at jjgeldi@aol.com or (941) 586-2777.

Beyond Likes 3 Planning and Measuring Social Media title slide

The Revolution Will Not Be Printed

It’s easy to believe that since print survived radio and television it will survive the Internet. After listening to Barry Dawson, I’m not so sure. Or to take a more nuanced approach, I’m not sure it will continue to influence the culture and the economy to the extent it has since Gutenberg invented movable type more than 500 years ago.

Certainly print works better for some content and some eyes, but not news. Its immediacy seeks out the fastest and most flexible medium, and digital tools deliver. Combine original content, new distribution channels and innovative marketing and you have a potentially profitable business, as well as an alternative to ink.

Barry DawsonThat brings us to Dawson, a resident of the West End of Monroe County, a rural area of the Pocono Mountains in Northeast Pennsylvania. Long inhabited by the descendants of German and Dutch settlers, the area best known for woodlands and resorts continues to transition to a bedroom community for metropolitan New York and New Jersey. Several papers, radio and television stations cover the region but shifts in the economy and the culture have gutted their newsrooms.

Enter the digital entrepreneur. Dawson grew up in the West End, moved to North Carolina and returned to take a job in radio promotion with a pair of stations in the nearby Lehigh Valley. He has local knowledge, knows how to bypass channel surfers by embedding commercial messages in programs and lives on his mobile phone. Combining those assets, he bought a police scanner, became a reluctant reporter and launched westendsupporter.com and westendradio101.com. He also integrated his site with accounts at Facebook and other networks as a way to drive traffic and measure results.

Dawson believes that with its speed to market, digital news will eventually replace printed news. It’s a natural fit. Blending content and commerce creates a viable business model. Only time and his bank account will prove him right. Meanwhile, here are five conclusions I’ve drawn from his venture:

  1. Digital trumps print for speed and relevance
  2. Mobile devices trump PCs for optimum news delivery
  3. Micro content beats state, national and international news for gaining followers
  4. In our attention-deficit culture, product integration trumps advertising
  5. For marketers, digital offers the precise measurement of the effectiveness of the ad spend.

Where do you find your news? And do you think print and the people who produce it will dwindle in importance?

3 Steps to Creating Social Networks

I’d just finished writing a social media strategy for a rather large healthcare company when my client asked: how are we going to implement this?

One step at a time.

A week later I think we have a solid plan for launching the network, first with employees, then with their customers and prospects. While developing those tactics I’ve come to a few conclusions—three to be exact.

  1. Promote the network. If you build it, will anyone show? Not unless you publicize it. Actively connect to, follow or like the key opinion leaders and media in your industry. And don’t rule out help from the other marketing disciplines—media planning, web development, public relations and direct marketing. Depending on your industry, an integrated, balanced campaign can drive traffic more effectively than an all-digital approach.
  2. Create your own content. Once you’ve attracted an audience you’ll need to work to keep visitors engaged. Providing original content, and allowing visitors to add their own material, will give them a reason to return.
  3. Measure the results. Whether you’re working with for-profit or non-profit organizations, buy-in is essential. Senior management looks for progress over time. Define realistic metrics and deliver them.

Jeff Widmer is a PR and social media strategist.

stairs X

Hands across the ether

I had a problem. The friend who had created and hosted my website for the past dozen years was closing his business. The server would go dark Friday. He let me know Monday. I felt more concerned about whether he would find a job than whether I could find a company to host the site. But since I make a living as a PR and social media strategist I thought I’d better not let all of those work and writing samples vanish into the ether.

So I called a national web hosting company whose name sounds like granddaddy and discovered that while it could host a site, it couldn’t migrate my pages to a new server. Nor would it offer much in the way of help, should I decide to go it alone.

So I did something I’ve only read about: I signed into LinkedIn and reached out to members of several groups to which I belong. Within a day I counted half a dozen recommendations, from big players to small local shops, all from people who have used the services. One person who has since become a connection, Diane Walz of Good Life Care in Sarasota, Florida recommended someone with whom she’d worked. The person was local. She specialized in WordPress projects. And, as Diane said, she’s nice.

Local, competent, nice. As Rick Hunter used to say, works for me.

So I emailed Robyn Dombrowski of Creative Heads on a Wednesday afternoon and got a quote. It seemed reasonable. So did she. After receiving the logon credentials she started work late Wednesday. By Thursday afternoon she had the site up and running. I’m testing it now and everything seems to work. She’s tweaking what doesn’t, including the email system, which now runs on both computer and smartphone.

This is the way social networks should work. They’re much more than a collection of pictures, posters and opinions. They’re a conduit to people with real world experience, the kind that keeps your business and your life running as smoothly as possible.

Someone once said the mission of all of us in public relations is to “be useful.” Social media is no different. We’re here to help. In a world complicated by devices and deadlines, it’s nice to see that philosophy in action.

Knucklehead or knuckleball? 3 tips on perfecting the PR pitch

When New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey throws a knuckleball, no one is sure where it will land. As a writer I’m not too proud to admit I’ve done the same thing at times—tossing ideas at editors without knowing how they’ll land.

To be more precise, we’ve all done as PR professionals what we dislike as editors: pitching without analyzing the audience. We’ve done it because we’ve lacked the time or patience to pull the editorial calendar or contact the blogger to determine her needs. I see it every day in my capacity as editor for The Builder Buzz, a social media newsfeed for the building and design trades. Mountains of releases clutter the inbox with appeals for coverage. Most of them are wobbly at best.

How do you ensure your pitch is on target? Here are three tips to crafting a more perfect PR pitch:

1. Know your audience’s audience. It’s basic but often overlooked: to create a better pitch you have to know your audience—what they like and how they prefer to receive their information. With editors and bloggers you need to know your audience’s audience. Examine the editorial calendars to determine what the editor wants. Then read the website, publication and blogs to determine what the readers, viewers and listeners want. As Amy McCarthy of Parenthood.com says, “If you’re pitching a . . . product, say how it can help my demographic. Don’t just carpet-bomb everyone in your Vocus database and cross your fingers.”

2. Provide news both audiences can use. Editors know that to retain readers they must provide news those readers can use—service pieces with information the audience can put into practice. Don’t send a pitch or release announcing a website or asking a journalist to follow your organization through social media. Strive to provide something of value to the journalist and her audience.

3. Know the difference between internal and external news. Here’s where life gets difficult. Your boss wants you to pitch a story idea to an editor because it makes senior management look good. You sense the subject won’t matter to people outside the organization. Sarasota, Florida PR professional Heidi Smith has some advice. “Above all, answer the question, ‘Who cares?’” she tells BIZ (941) magazine. “If only your organization gives a hoot, it’s not news—it’s just an item for internal atta-boys, not the media.”

By following that advice you may not win a popularity contest at work. But at least you won’t feel like a knucklehead.

Jeff Widmer