Social Media and Book Marketing – Advice from Robert Hoge

Robert Hoge is a good friend of mine, a top bloke and a great writer. We were having a conversation with other friends a little while ago and the subject of social media engagement and book promotion came up. Rob is very savvy about that stuff and he promised to put his thoughts on the subject together. When he did, I found I agreed with him pretty much 100%. So, as I know a lot of writers read my blog, I asked if I could steal his thoughts and spread them out for everyone to consume, like a mass picnic of Rob’s brainmeats. He said yes. I told you he was a top bloke. So here you go:

Robert Hoge’s Social Media and Book Marketing Advice

There are a few simple tips for authors trying to get the best from their social media presence.

There are some good guides out there. I like “Your First 1000 Copies” by Tim Grahl but there’s a lot of stuff available on the web for free. Much of this is geared towards non-fiction writing but with some creativity it can be applied to fiction just as easily. You just need to have something to say.

Tip 1

Have something to say. The most important thing you can do – whatever the channel – is create content that is engaging and adds value. The biggest commitment you’re asking from potential readers is not a commitment of dollars; it’s a commitment of time and attention. Reward their attention with smart, funny, engaging content that adds value to their lives and does more than just ask them to buy your book because it’s cheaper now.

Offer value by talking about stuff that relates to your work but isn’t your work. Establish a relationship with people on social media by consistently being interesting and adding value to their experience. Be real. When the time is right ask them to buy (read) your work. You’re creative people. Be creative.

Tip 2

1908138_871371366267410_6973824597014610978_nBe on Facebook. A lot of readers are on Facebook, as are publishers, reviewers and bookstores. If you want to market yourself to readers through social media, you should have some presence there. When you follow the advice in tip one, the network effects are tremendous.

Understand the Facebook algorithm, then stop worrying about it. The Facebook algorithm helps determine who sees what. For fan (non-personal) pages it initially only serves new content to about one-fifth or less of the people who’ve liked the page. Everyone blames the Facebook algorithm for a post only having eight likes but it’s not to blame. Boring posts are to blame. If you post interesting and engaging content that generates likes, comments and shares, Facebook will reward the post by serving it to more readers. Ask questions, post video, post images. Every time someone comments on your post, like it and reply because Facebook recognises that as engagement.

Tip 3

Be on Twitter. Twitter is a great place to converse and its network effects can sometimes be much greater than Facebook’s. All the points in tip one still apply, plus you get to hone your writing skills by making Tweets sing in 140 characters.

Generally though, Twitter is worse at serving content to all your followers than Facebook. Why is that? Well, Twitter is an ephemeral medium and whether you have 20, 200 or 20,000 followers they’re unlikely to all be online at the same time you post your tweet. Often less than 10% of your followers will see an individual tweet.

Check out to start looking at some details of your tweets and what engagement they get. A post on your Facebook fan page remains there for potential new readers to see for quite a while. A tweet will be gone pretty quickly.

Tip 4

If you enjoy other channels, go wild. If you’re great at photos, hang out on Instagram. If you love reviewing, engage an audience on Goodreads. Just be engaging and add value in a way that’s interesting.

I’d discourage you from posting the same content on multiple channels all the time. To me it shows you’re not interested in engaging in a way that suits a particular channel. And if a reader who likes you on Facebook or Twitter decides to checks you out on Instagram hoping to see new content and just sees the same old stuff, do you think they’ll be more or less inclined to follow you on that new channel? By all means, do it sometimes (maybe one post in 10) but doing it all the time is a turn-off. Instead work out how you can leverage different opportunities across channels to serve each other.


Random point 1

Mobile, mobile, mobile. More and more web content is being served to mobile devices. Facebook knows this and Google knows this and they’re already starting to reward websites that are optimized for mobile. Make sure your website and content is optimized for mobile delivery. Google it. [I’m in the process of updating this website to a mobile friendly format right now. It’s really important these days! – Alan]

Random point 2

Don’t market solely on price drops. This is a really common social media error. If a reader can afford to spend $2.99 on a book, they can probably afford to spend $4.99. When you market solely on price you forget the other thing you’re asking the reader to give you – their time. The value of your work is not in its price. Mention a price drop, by all means, but find something else to talk about too. Why should a potential reader think your 93,000 word novel can hold their attention, when your 18 word tweet barely can?

Random point 3

A lot of writers spend a lot of time on social media talking to other writers about writing (ahem). It’s fine networking and chatting with mates. But don’t confuse that with marketing your books. Readers don’t care. It doesn’t count as reader engagement.

Random point 4

My personal experience is that engaging with potential readers one-on-one, in-person or over email is a really powerful tool. It’s not time effective but for me it has been really rewarding and it has helped convert fans to influencers. Just be careful how you invest your time.



72640_471409952930222_934403925_nRobert Hoge has managed social media for the Queensland Government and Virgin Australia. Mostly though he uses it to talk to people about writing, disability and whatever else takes his fancy. He’s written a memoir, Ugly, about growing up disabled and different. You can find him on Twitter and on Facebook.


Plotting and Structure for Cheats – guest post from Ian McHugh

Plotting and structure for cheats (or, how to gaff-tape your cardboard thingy)

angel-dustI’ve banged on elsewhere about the themes that tie together some of the stories in my new collection, Angel Dust, such as my possibly neurotic obsession with the consequences of men failing to be “good men” and (possibly contrarily) my enduring fetish for shiny ladies with wings. There’s also a couple of fantasy worlds that I return to more than once through the book: an alternate Australia where the dreams of the land prey on people and your shadow won’t reliably stay under your feet; and an early steam age faux-Europe, where tax collectors and little girls turn out to be the ultimate bad asses.

Another thing that connects quite a number of the stories in the book is how they were written. In wrestling with the challenges of transitioning from being a “professional” short fiction writer to trying out as a novice novelist, I’ve discovered something about my writing.

What I’ve realised is that my writing has a number of strengths – I can do character, setting, action, dialogue, mood and tension fairly reliably. But, by comparison, I suck at story structure and plot. It’s like I have the full six-pack, but the cardboard thingy that holds it together has gotten soggy and if I don’t put my hand under it, all the receptacles of fermented goodness will fall out the bottom and smash on the path. In short stories, I think you can get by with being weaker on structure and plot if you’re strong enough on the rest, but even in short form it’s something I’ve needed to address.

Some stories just kind of fall out easily by themselves, like “The Wishwriter’s Wife”, which is reprinted in Angel Dust and made the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror. (It’s also archived online at Daily SF, where it first appeared, so you can try before you buy.) Mostly, though, I’ve realised I need a bit of help.

In high school, my mates had a saying, “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always remember to cheat.” So I’ve developed a number of tricks and tools (cheats) to prop up my plotting and structure – to gaff tape the cardboard thingy of my stories.

My first cheat is planning onto a formal act structure. I’ve adapted my own version, which largely follows the Hollywood 3-act / 4-part structure, but also borrows useful odds and ends from 2- and 5-act structures. Thus:


Click for higher resolution.
Click for higher resolution.

The main caveat here is that short stories almost never use the whole act structure. As a general rule of thumb, they should start no earlier than the ‘inciting incident’, that sets the hero on their journey, and get out as soon as possible after the story problems are resolved – or even as soon as the resolution is apparent.

I don’t always follow that formula by any means. In one of the stories in Angel Dust, I tell the first act and the fourth act and, in between, my protagonist sits on his roof and sulks for a few paragraphs while acts two and three rage below. Another story in the book takes place entirely within acts two and three of the structure, and in other stories I combine, skip or reverse some of the steps.

So, just because I start from a template, doesn’t mean I’m following it slavishly – and writing formulaically. But starting from the template really helps me think through a part of my writing that I’m weaker on.

Something I always do when I’m planning a story is a quick map of my characters’ emotional buttons – what they want, what they need, what they have to lose and what will hurt them the most. (Killing them, BTW, isn’t what will hurt your characters the most. It’s the Princes Bride Rule: “To The Pain!” What will hurt your characters most is not the thing that kills them, but the thing that leaves them alive and in freakish suffering.) Pushing my protagonist’s buttons – and often those of the antagonist and any other major characters – has to be at the heart of the story I tell.

My second cheat for plotting and structure is for generating an actual plot from those emotional buttons (along with whatever idea or conceit I’ve decided to write a story about). This one’s pretty simple: I start throwing random elements at them and see what sticks.

If my idea didn’t already come from a book, then one of those random elements is almost always a book (or magazine or Wikipedia page or somesuch). For the story “Cold, Cold War”, which is in Angel Dust and also archived at Beneath Ceaseless Skies (try before you buy!), it was a photographic history of the Russian Civil War that I found in a bookshop bargain bin. For “Beetle Road”, the opening story of Angel Dust, it was both an issue of National Geographic with a cover story on jewelled scarabs and a book on transcontinental railways that were in the pile on the table at the writers’ centre.

Another randomiser I often use is Georg Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations. You can find them online here, complete with Random Dramatic Situation Generator and a bonus dramatic situation. I get the top-level situation randomly, then choose the sub-situation that I like the best. (Of all the various models of story archetypes, this is the most OCD – over 300 story ideas, right here!)

My other go-to randomisers are rolling Crown & Anchor dice (any dice will do but I like the pictures) and dealing playing cards to which I apply a tarot interpretation. Then I start associating cards and dice with characters and story events, sticking the characters onto a character triangle and filling in the events on my act structure.

Sometimes I’ll even generate whole stories from random elements, and use the playing cards to generate characters as well as events. “Beetle Road” is one of those, written for a 24-hour story challenge that I ran with my writers’ group, the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. “Uncle Bob’s Crocodile”, which is too new to be in Angel Dust, but which you can read at Urban Fantasy magazine, is another story that was generated entirely from (a simpler set of) random elements: a friend’s anecdote about his crazy uncle; a page from Luigi Seraphini’s Codex Seraphinianus; and a random object which I forgot about.

“Beetle Road” was the whole kit and kitchen sink – random books, random characters, Polti, dice, playing cards. So, without giving too much away (because only so much of my planning ever survives the actual process of writing, as you’ll see if you read the story) my plan for “Beetle Road” looked like this:

Click for higher resolution.
Click for higher resolution.

Of course, if you’re strong on plot, doing all of this for most stories would drive you nuts. But even if plot is one of your strengths, sometimes you’ll get stuck, and it’s good to have some cheats in your back pocket to help you get unstuck. And if you are like me and not so strong on plot, then over time doing all the stuff that comes from these tricks and tools becomes more and more second-nature, and sooner or later you’ll find you’ve got a pretty solid cardboard thingy to hold your six-pack together.

the beard in memoriumIan McHugh’s debut short story collection, Angel Dust, was a finalist for this year’s Aurealis Awards (and is available here from Ticonderoga Publications). You can find more of his stories, which have appeared in professional and semi-pro magazines, webzines and anthologies in Australia and internationally, at his website. His stories have won grand prize in the Writers of the Future contest and been shortlisted five times at the Aurealis Awards, winning in 2010. He’s a graduate of Clarion West.


Guest post from Gillian Polack – Medieval Military

I’m starting the new year with a guest from Gillian Polack. She’s been here before, has very interesting things to say and has a new book out. Take it away, Gillian.

Gillian Polack
Gillian Polack

Thank you, Alan, for hosting me. I thought I’d talk about the military side of my novel, because I rather suspect that anyone here is more interested in that side of thing than in how I worked out my time-travel technique for my new novel. Let me introduce my novel, however, and maybe me, so that it all makes sense.

I write cosy science fiction and fantasy. Some readers claim it has a bit of horror in it, while others think it’s got a sense of humour. I don’t see it as either humour or horror: I see it as about the stories of individuals. It doesn’t matter how big or small the landscape, my novels are about the small lives of people.

About the same time I started writing science fiction and fantasy (with just a smidgeon of horror and humour), I started becoming a historian. Eventually (meaning about 25 years ago) I became a Medievalist. To achieve this latter, I have many pieces of paper and can be rude in an astonishing number of languages, most of which are rather dead. Everyone but me assumed that it was inevitable that one day I would write a novel set in the Middle Ages. This is one of those circumstances where everyone but me was right, and I am eating so many words that I’ll soon be quite obese.

So, I’ve written a novel set in the Languedoc in 1305 (Langue[dot]doc 1305, published by Satalyte). The thing about the Middle Ages in western Europe is that they were religious, but the whole social system was underpinned by matters military. Knights were important not only in war, but in the legal system, for instance.

I decided to exploit this difference rather than to combat it and try to write modern. I have my modern characters, and one of them is enviably full of modern empathy and snark (my hero!) and the others are maybe a bit more mixed. Those modern characters (my time travellers) gave my readers guys they could  identify with if they wanted, which meant I could be as historically proper as was possible for my Medieval characters and still the book would be readable.

I do a lot of research for my novels. I am research-prone the way some people are ice-cream prone. This means that when I thought “How the heck do I get Medieval military values and how they affect daily lives into a modern novel without it sounding absolute garbage?” I hit the books. “The books” in this case, were some lovely modern studies of Medieval masculinity and a bunch of work on what warfare was and how people dealt when they weren’t fighting and just what it all meant in social terms and how it affected the lives of individuals.

unnamedSix months later, I was a bit more educated. It became really obvious to me that it wasn’t matter of my knight putting down his sword when not at war. He carried his values everywhere. Given the right trigger and he would see a military threat and would take proper action. ‘Proper action’ turned out to be something quite fascinating and shaped the plot. This was what I was after: I didn’t want to superimpose Medieval culture on a plot, I wanted to integrate it so that the plot could only happen the way it did in that place and at that time.

This is when Langue[dot]doc 1305 became my kind of novel, where the landscape plays its own role and the cultures of the characters informs what they do and makes events happen. I love the potential uniqueness of novels.

There was an odd side to this. I had to be honest to my Medievalist self and not push for war when there was none. It turned out that there was no big military action. In fact, it’s the least action-related time travel novel I’ve ever seen. It turns out that Medieval masculinity and a military culture doesn’t mean battles and fighting all the time.

One day I should put my research bibliography on the net, in case anyone wants to explore this for themselves. Not yet, though. I want the novel to be read on its own terms, first.

Gillian Polack is a writer, editor, historian and critic. Recently, she signed up seven novels with Satalyte: Langue[dot]doc 1305 is the first of these. Gillian’s second novel Ms Cellophane was recently republished by Momentum and was shortlisted for a Ditmar, as was her anthology, Baggage. One of her short stories won a Victorian Ministry of the Arts award and three more have been listed as recommended reading in the international lists of world’s best fantasy and science fiction short stories.


Apocalyptic Australia – Guest post from Justin Woolley

Today I have a guest post from Justin Woolley, whose new book, A Town Called Dust, is out today. It’s described thus: “Stranded in the desert, the last of mankind is kept safe by a large border fence… Until the fence falls.” Sounds good, right? Here Justin talks about his apocalyptic Australian setting.

A Town Called Dust CoverThe Australian desert – a vast landscape that stretches flat and empty all the way to the horizon. When you’re standing out there it’s a place that seems to fill up the entire world, as if the whole planet is nothing but red dirt that feels like it sits mere metres from the burning sun. Out there it’s easy to think that maybe the world really has ended and you’re among the last people living on a scorched earth.

Alan invited me to write a blog post about why I chose such a distinctly Australian setting for my novel, A Town Called Dust, and what the pros and cons of this choice were. While as with all aspects of a story the setting is usually the coalescing of a number of smaller ideas but broadly speaking there are two reasons I chose the Australian desert as the place my young adult post-apocalyptic dystopian story would unfold.

The first reason, and probably the most important to the atmosphere of the book, is because of the imagery I’ve described above. As I mentioned, A Town Called Dust is a post-apocalyptic story and the Australian desert provides a rich landscape that invokes a feeling of vast emptiness, even lawlessness. In many ways it already feels post-apocalyptic – just think of Mad Max – the imagery of the Australian outback perfectly captures the feel of a post-apocalyptic wasteland and it’s one that already exists, not requiring me to drop nuclear weapons controlled by runaway artificial intelligences or punch an asteroid into the earth due to Bruce Willis’ failure to save us. Although that said, I have populated the world with undead zombie-like ghouls so there is that I suppose. Without giving away too many spoilers the outback desert provides an area that can be defended allowing us to keep the ghouls out but it’s a place that also makes it easy to keep people in, and keep them under control.

The second reason I chose the Australian setting was that the inspiration for this book came while I was working as a teacher. This experience made me reflect on the books I had read in high school. I wanted to write a book for young adults set right here in Australia. I remember reading the Tomorrow When the War Began series as a teenager and feeling a real buzz about this incredible story happening in a familiar setting, my own country. Not only that but in that series the Australian bush almost became a character in its own right. Most other books and movies I was into, particularly those in the science fiction, fantasy and dystopian genres, even if they were set on earth were set in places I’d never been. While I think the book has universal appeal I’m really hoping the setting helps it strike something of a special chord with Australians.

In terms of the advantages and disadvantages of using this setting I suppose I’ve already discussed the advantage and that was that the Australian desert, even as it is now, provides the exact desolate atmosphere I was after in the setting. The main disadvantage also ties into my reasons above, the second one in particular. I needed to find a balance between appealing to a global audience while providing that sense of belonging I was going for with local readers. That meant being careful about how much Australiana I loaded the pages up with from language and slang, to place names and the names of certain aspects of society. Basically I had to go easy on the ‘strewth you flaming galah’ – not that I’d ever want to use that sentence in a book but you get the idea. A good example is the military in the Territory (the area the characters live) are known as Diggers, this has immediate connotations with Australian readers that others, say a reader from the United States, may not have the cultural basis for. With most things this doesn’t matter, but there’s a few little easter eggs waiting in there.

So that’s it really, hopefully people enjoy the world I’ve built using the Australian desert as the backdrop. Having written this book now might I suggest that if the zombie apocalypse does hit us here in Australia let’s not all move inland to the red centre, things may not work out that well.


Author Photo - Justin WoolleyJustin Woolley has been writing stories since he could first scrawl with a crayon. When he was six years old he wrote his first book, a 300-word pirate epic in unreadable handwriting called “The Ghost Ship”. He promptly declared that he was now an author and didn’t need to go to school. Despite being informed that this was, in fact, not the case, he continued to make things up and write them down.

Today he is the author of several published short stories and has a number of graphic novels in development. A Town Called Dust is Justin’s debut novel and will be published by November 13th, 2014 by Momentum Books.

In his other life Justin has been an engineer, a teacher, and at one stage even a magician. His handwriting has not improved.

You can find Justin’s website at or follow him on Twitter: @Woollz.


Horizon — Consciousness Explorers: Inside a Transhuman

Today I have a guest post from author and editor extraordinaire, Keith Stevenson. His new novel, Horizon, is out now. Take it away Keith.

Keith Stevenson
Keith Stevenson

I’d like to thank Alan for giving over some space on his blog for the Horizon Blog Tour.

Horizon is my debut science fiction novel published by Voyager Impulse. It’s an SF thriller centred on a deep space exploration mission that goes very wrong, with repercussions for the future of all life on Earth.

One of the most interesting themes in science fiction, and one of the most exciting advances happening in medical research today, is how humans will become augmented through interfacing with technology.

In the real world, there are amazing advances that enable paraplegics to control the environment around them. In 2012 in the UK, a woman had an aspirin-sized array of electrodes implanted in her brain which picked up signals from neurons in her motor cortex enabling her to control a robotic arm. In sci-fi movies, humans interfacing with technology has brought about a variety of dystopian scenarios from (the now somewhat laughable) Saturn 3, to (the now very laughable) Lawnmower Man, as well as the Matrix movies and the more recent Transcendance.

One of the best books about the future development of humanity is Damien Broderick’s The Last Mortal Generation. It explores not only how the life of our physical body can be extended, but also how technology might free the mind from its time-limited physical form. The mind is the key to so much — our emotions and sense of self. What would it be like to transplant your mind outside of its fleshy architecture into the elegant symmetry of a computer? Would you feel any different if your brain was replaced neuron by neuron by ‘silicon brain cells’? Would you lose your humanity? What about extending the reach of your mind resting within its physical confines by hooking it up to a wider cognitive network that’s faster, richer, and electronic?

eCOV_Horizon_C2D2In Horizon, Systems Specialist Bren Thurgood is among the first couple of generations of transhumans: people who accept an implant that allows them to interface with computerised and artificial intelligence systems. It makes her very good at what she does, and she’s an indispensable member of the crew. However even though I’m an optimist, I find it hard to imagine a future where humanity doesn’t attack what’s different in society. And given the current controversy about metadata and government snooping, I think the reasons behind a widespread mistrust of transhumans are compounded. They are ‘creatures of the internet’, able to breach firewalls and hack sensitive systems as easily as breathing. As a result, ‘chipheads’ are the target of racist — or maybe that should be ‘specist’ — intolerance from the ‘norms’.

I think the most interesting aspect of interfacing directly with the electronic world, the world of data and numbers, is how our minds would interpret and present that augmented reality to us. We’re not digital, we’re analogue, which means — perhaps — we’ll take a figurative rather than literal approach to the datastream. Bren explains it best:

Lex pressed the patches to her temples and flicked the monitor into life. He picked up a metallic wand. ‘You shouldn’t feel any discomfort. I’m just going to send a range of harmonics through the soft tissue and see what the sensors pick up.’ He touched her chin and turned her head to the left. The wand hummed in his hand. ‘What’s it like anyway, the link?’

Bren snorted and a smile spread across her face. ‘You don’t know how many times I’ve been asked that.’

‘Then you should have a good answer.’

She turned towards him and he gently turned her head back into position. ‘A lot of people can’t get used to it. There’s the increased cognitive capacity, of course. You’re totally aware — of everything. When you’re linked, you can instantly understand concepts, complex equations, programming, the works. You access information, formulate solutions, in the blink of an eye. But the perception change can really get to you. Some things you encounter are actual representations, like when I saw Phillips in the ring. Some things you can template and construct yourself. But every now and then something will come at you that’s totally figurative. Like the interface has tapped into your subconscious imagery and selected something that embodies completely what you’re experiencing intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually. It can freak you out if you’re not used to it.’

‘Like that package ticking?’

‘Yeah, but that’s a simple example.’

‘Look to the right, please,’ Lex said and swapped the wand to his other hand.

‘Anyway, it’s helped me become more than I ever could be. But Harris and people like him will never understand. And they’ll never trust what they don’t understand.’

No matter how augmented they become, I believe transhumans will retain their own human and individual ways of looking at the world. It may have to work that way to prevent their brains from overloading. It’s a fascinating concept to think about, and it almost makes me wish all this was a reality right now.


Follow the Horizon Blog Tour

3 November — Extract of Horizon — Voyager blog

4 November — Character Building: Meet the Crew — Trent Jamieson’s blog

5 November — Welcome to Magellan: Inside the Ship — Darkmatter

6 November — Futureshock: Charting the History of Tomorrow — Lee Battersby’s blog

7 November — Engage: Tinkering With a Quantum Drive — Joanne Anderton’s blog

10 November — Stormy Weather: Facing Down Climate Change — Ben Peek’s blog

11 November — Time Travel: Relatively Speaking — Rjurik Davidson’s blog

12 November — Consciousness Explorers: Inside a Transhuman — Alan Baxter’s blog

13 November — From the Ground Up: Building a Planet — Sean Wright’s blog

14 November — Life Persists: Finding the Extremophile — Greig Beck’s Facebook page

17 November — Interview — Marianne De Pierres’ blog

Keith Stevenson is a science fiction author, editor, publisher and reviewer. His debut novel Horizon is available as an ebook via

 His blog is at