Barry Eisler here again. Today, let's talk MySpace.
MySpace is big enough (the site claims 125+ million registered users) to mean different things to different people. If your business is writing, here's what it should mean to you: MySpace is a collection of self-generated, electronically connected, motivated customer leads.
In business, a "customer lead" is a person with higher than average potential to become your customer. Someone who signs up for a mailing list would be identified by the business running the list as a customer lead. Someone who buys laundry detergent at a supermarket would be identified as a lead by the detergent manufacturer, who might then use coupons or otherwise try to entice the person to purchase fabric softener and related products. Someone whose last child has just left the house for college might be identified as a lead by a company building condominiums in the area.
If your business is writing, anyone who reads books in your genre is a customer lead. MySpace users can list books and authors they like, so you can search for users who identify themselves as liking books by authors who write stories like yours, then contact those users so they can learn about your books, too.
That's a key phrase: "identify themselves." MySpace customer leads aren't extrapolated from other behavior. The products they like -- that is, the books they read -- are so important to them that given a chance, they tell the world. It's one thing for someone, for example, to use a Mac computer (I do). It's another thing for the person to put a Mac bumpersticker on his car. Someone who identifies so closely with a product that he not only uses it, but wants the world to know he uses it, is a motivated lead. And the process by which MySpace customer leads are created (self-generation) self selects for motivated readers -- people for whom books and reading are particularly important.
Of course, it's not just the books and writers MySpace users list that can identify them as leads; it's their wider interests, as well. You should know the "hooks" in your story and look for people who will be, well, hooked by them. Have you written a gardening mystery (I'm sure they exist)? Your leads would include people who are into gardening. Model airplanes? Furniture making? I write a thriller series about a half-Japanese, half-American assassin, and my leads include anyone who expresses an interest in deadly martial arts, exotic Asian settings, realistic tradecraft, and tantric sexual techniques. Kidding about that last one (sort of); just want to make sure you're paying attention. Anyway, you get the idea.
Of course, the basis for lead generation can get pretty broad -- say, people who read generally, rather than people who specifically read books like yours -- but at some point, the connection between the person's behavior and the product you sell becomes so attenuated that people in that class are no longer particularly valuable as leads. If your lead generation criteria are too narrow, you won't generate as many valuable leads as you otherwise could. If the criteria are too broad, you'll generate too many leads, and waste time separating the wheat from the chaff.
Because MySpace is an electronic community, it also automatically selects for people who are comfortable with electronic media. MySpace leads have the built-in ability to instantly tell many other users about your books. When you combine that ability with motivation -- by contacting a lead and turning her into a customer -- there's a good chance the person will make you one of her "top friends," which translates essentially into long-term advertising on the customer's profile page.
Writers have been slow to understand MySpace (I was, anyway); I think because the medium is relatively new. Every new medium is initially understood in terms of the old, and therefore initially misused. When television first came out, people thought of it as radio with pictures, and so the first television broadcasts were of talking heads. Sure, you can use TV this way, but it's not what it's best at. Similarly, you can post a static resume on MySpace and never come back, and it won't hurt you. But it won't help you the way it would if you use the medium for what it's best at: interactivity.
So how do you go about it? That's something individual authors have to decide for themselves. How much time do you have? What are the opportunity costs? How comfortable are you contacting and interacting with strangers? Etc. But the fundamental thing you need to understand is this: what makes MySpace tick is its interactivity. It's not just a new forum for a website or other static "resume" type of presence. To derive maximum value from MySpace, you have to be willing to spend time there, and interact with leads. I find the place weirdly addictive, and it can suck a lot of time out of your day if you don't manage it carefully.
Some people find MySpace to be a great opportunity for spam. If you spam people by using bots to contact people, respond to messages, and leave comments, you might get some value -- after all, the theory of spam is that the cost is zero, so any benefits you derive automatically represent a net gain (spam can be thought of as overly broad lead generation that "works" because it's cost free). My sense, though, is that people are so aware of spam, and so turned off by it, that any benefits you might accrue will be small, and likely to be outweighed by that sinking feeling you get when you look in the mirror and see... a spammer.
One common MySpace mistake, I think, lies in being too aggressive. When you contact people, don't try to sell them your books. Selling is a seduction, and most times, the establishment of a relationship precedes the relationship's consummation. Would you approach a woman in a bar and say, "Wanna sleep with me?" If not, why would you contact a stranger and say, "Wanna buy my book?"
So relax. Meet people. Get to know them. Think in terms of what you have to offer them instead of what you want them to offer you. Do you blog? You can post your blogs on MySpace, and send a bulletin to all your MySpace friends announcing that you've posted -- and announcing anything else you want, too. Think about other ways you can offer value. Sure, you're hoping to sell books, but stop thinking about that -- the sales will happen when people feel you're offering value in other ways.
If you're in business, MySpace is a sales tool, and you can't use a sales tool if you don't know how to sell. Read some books on the subject. Listen to some tapes. Understand that what makes a great sales person is liking other people (which comes from liking yourself) and believing in your product. Combine those qualities on MySpace, and you'll make a lot of people happy and wind up selling a lot of books, too.
Thanks for coming by. See you tomorrow -- with some thoughts on why your nagging sense that your publisher has mistitled your book is probably right.