Ready for Chat
Contributor: Steve O'Keefe
This introductory guide assesses the strengths and
pitfalls of Internet chat through the perspective
of the book author and provides great advice for
anyone considering this avenue of self promotion.
Ready for Chat
I conducted an informal poll and asked authors how
they felt about online chat sessions. The response
was overwhelmingly unfavourable."I hate them,"
wrote one prominent Internet author, who told a
story about having her appearance ruined by the
author of a competing title.
authors said they felt that online chats were plagued
with technical problems, were sparsely attended
and were not the best marketing opportunities. Indeed,
one chat I visited drew only 20 people - half of
them on the payroll (authors, publicists, moderator,
etc.). The authors were well-known, had been on
TV, and the book was selling briskly in stores,
yet they sold no more than two copies as a result
of the online chat.
in the audience are often disappointed with chats.
There's usually a long lag between asking a question
and getting an answer; the chat lacks continuity.
The questions and answers are so short it's hard
to explore an issue in depth. And technical problems
can keep you locked out of a chat or fill the screen
with confusing messages.
Despite these problems, online chats are more popular
than ever. Why? Because the technology is improving
and more big-name stars are holding online sessions.
People like the idea of chatting with their favourite
authors, even if the mechanism is sometimes crude
From an author's perspective, an online chat is
usually better than a bad bookstore signing. You
may only draw 20 people, but you can do it from
the comfort of your home. If no one shows up, there's
not the same level of embarrassment you have sitting
in a bookstore at an empty autograph table.
If you prepare carefully for a chat, you should
be able to magnify the impact several fold. Here
are some tips for authors and publishers considering
Booking a Chat
To book an online appearance, you simply contact
the host and present your credentials. America Online
has a Center Stage auditorium for which it books
headliners. Prodigy has a similar venue. You might
find a more receptive audience in smaller special-interest
forums. All of CompuServe's forums have conference
rooms, and America Online is starting to add more
A new opportunity is chatting on the World Wide
Web. Many commercial websites are adding software
to facilitate online chats. HotWired (an online
offshoot of Wired magazine) has a couple guests
every week in its "Club Wired" area. Book
Stacks Unlimited, an online bookstore, started holding
author conferences in its "Book Cafe".
You can expect to see more commercial sites adding
live chats. No matter what your book is about, you
should be able to find several websites or forums
that want you as a guest speaker.
Preparing for the
When you book a chat, you need to find out whether
it will be moderated or not. Unmoderated chats can
lead to disaster. If the host is not willing to
provide a moderator, you may want to bring one of
your own -- a publicist, editor, or friend. The
moderator screens questions and keeps the chat moving
so you can focus on your answers.
You may need a special account to access the chat.
The host should provide you with an I.D. and password.
Make sure to test this at least a day in advance.
You should get a back-up modem number in case you
have trouble connecting the night of the show. You
should get an emergency phone number to call in
case of technical problems.
Ask the host if transcripts will be made available
after the appearance. On America Online, a typical
Center Stage appearance draws about 300 people.
The transcripts will get another 300 downloads.
That means the transcripts will double the reach
of your session.
Provide the host with a brief introductory script,
some sample questions, and instructions on how people
can buy your book. Make sure the transcripts contain
information on how to buy the book. I've examined
transcripts from several author appearances and
they're shocking. In many cases, the fact that the
guest is an author is mentioned only at the beginning
and there's no information about the book (price,
ISBN, publisher, etc.).
Find out if you can submit a publicity photo. While
a transcript may be downloaded 300 times, celebrity
photos on America Online may get 50,000 downloads
or more. If you are serious about online promotion,
you should have your photo scanned onto disk with
information about your book embedded beneath the
photo. You can have this done for about $20 at a
graphic design shop.
Promoting Your Appearance
If you land one of the major online auditoriums,
the host will publicize your appearance with announcements
on the log-in screen. Forum hosts and website administrators
also will announce your appearance. Sometimes the
promotion is weak or non-existent and you have to
do it yourself.
You can announce your own appearance with postings
in appropriate discussion groups. For example, if
you're appearing in the P.R. & Marketing forum
on CompuServe, you may want to invite people from
the Small Business forum. You can also post announcements
on Usenet news groups and Internet mailing lists.
People can be touchy about such announcements. One
successful technique for reducing flames is to offer
to send transcripts to anyone who can't attend.
This is good netiquette and broadens the reach of
your moment in the spotlight comes, relax and enjoy
yourself. Keep your answers short and remind people
that there is a book behind the appearance that
contains greater detail. If someone is pestering
you, invite them to continue the discussion through
e-mail after the chat.
chats have become one more stop on the author tour.
If you're going to do a chat, careful preparation
will minimize the anguish and maximize the benefits.
O'Keefe is a prolific writer. He has edited
six newsletters and has written more than
100 articles and several books. His writing
has appeared in Harper's, The Wall Street
Journal, Outside, Salon, HotWired, NetWorth,
Entrepreneur, Curio, and dozens of other magazines.
He was one of the original writers for Internet
World magazine, a columnist for the COSMEP
Newsletter, and a frequent contributor to
Small Press, PMA Newsletter, SPAN Connection,
and other publishing periodicals.
Steve's writing has been anthologized in several
books, including Publicity Basics, by the
Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.
His latest book is Complete Guide to Internet
Publicity (John Wiley & Sons, 2002-2007), the
successor to the critically acclaimed 'bestseller',
Publicity on the Internet (Wiley, 1996).
Adjunct Faculty, Tulane University College
Executive Director, Patron Saint Productions,
741 Saint Philip St. #241, New Orleans, LA
Voice: (504) 586-9517 Fax: (504) 586-9518
Web Site: http://www.patronsaintpr.com
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