Two mistakes writers make:
Marketing to other mystery writers.
Marketing to the same group too often.
~Jeffrey Marks, mystery writer and marketer
Jeffrey wrote that quote maybe ten or eleven years ago, about the time I was learning to market at all, so marketing to other mystery writers seemed a safe and comfortable way to start, like a bike with training wheels. I figured my fellow mystery writers, having themselves been where I was, would cut me some slack.
One of my havens was discussion groups. I belonged to half a dozen. In case you don’t go back that far, or have forgotten, discussion groups were text-only e-mails, something like the call-and-response of some African and Indian songs. One person would post a question or a comment and other people would comment on it.
The rules were simple, and by today’s standards, archaic.
No images; no attachments.
No politics; no causes; no religion.
Stick to the subject, which was usually writing. Occasionally the group diverted into recipes, childhood memories, or television programs. After a couple of days the moderator announced that, as of midnight, she would pull the plug on the off-the-topic discussion, so if we had anything we were desperate to get out of our systems, please do so by the end of today.
No marketing. A little self-promotion was permitted, but it had to be discrete and preferably identified by BSP—blatant self-promotion—in the message’s subject line.
Over time, the rules crumbled. Promo lines attached to signatures worked their way in; ditto links attached to signatures. Then links in the messages themselves. Then, “I know I’m not supposed to post this, so I’ll just do it really quickly. My daughter is walking for a good cause and if you could support her, that would be terrific.”
The catastrophic downslide began with the phrase, “Read my blog…” What had been lively centralized discussions fractured into exclusive enclaves, with participants essentially saying, “I have something great to discuss, but I’m not sharing with anybody who doesn’t come play at my house.”
The other thing that happened to discussion groups was an explosion of personal messages. I met and grew to care about a lot of terrific people through these discussion groups. I wanted to know when they had health issues, when someone close to them had died, when they had been affected by a natural disaster or, conversely, when they sold a book, won an award, or got a movie offer.
But did the responses have to be public? What’s wrong with sending a private e-mail? Especially when the responder included the entire original message and add “I’m sorry to hear this.” or “Congratulations,” only to have the next responder pick up the message and add their sentiment, on and on sometimes through a dozen well-wishers, until the message became unreadably long.
I still belong to a few discussion groups, but honestly, I mostly look at the subject lines to see if anyone has died, and I rarely post anything myself. Yet, I’m really on the fence whether I should pull out or stay. I can’t decide if it’s long-term loyalty or I keep hoping they will magically get better. What I know for certain is that the noise-to-useful-information ratio in every discussion group has degenerated to an intolerable level.
I’m curious to know if this same thing has happened to anyone else? Did you ever participate in discussion groups? Do you still find them useful? If you’ve never participated or have gone on to something else, what’s your current favorite way to keep up with what’s happening in your profession, and with others who do the same thing you do?
Quote for the week
Things work well when a group of people know each other, and things break down when it’s a bunch of random people interacting.
~ Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia