What To Do When You’re Attacked Online

At one time or another it could happen to all of us. We’re attacked online. Whether it’s an errant blog post, a misunderstood tweet, or something more serious it’s out there and if it’s coming up in search, it’s always bad news. Unfortunately, with the Internet you are often guilty until proven innocent.

I recently presented a webinar about this topic; in the wake of the Komen disaster, everyone is wondering, “what if this happens to me?” Likely you won’t be as visible as Komen, or as viral, but at the same time when you’re attacked it all feels the same: bad.

A few years ago someone visiting my website was unhappy with the navigation. Candidly, she was right. It was just before our new site was launched (we were going live with the revised website a week later) and some of the pages ended up in dead links. With an older site this is bound to happen. She was irritated by this and decided to lash out by putting up a YouTube video showing the faulty navigation. She said we were marketing experts and we should know better. In the end, she was right which is why we were redesigning the site. Her complaint, however, should have been brought to us directly and not put up on YouTube. The video was a painful eight minutes long, during which time she blasted us for not knowing our own website, offering a link (and a promise) that went nowhere. It was horrifying. She finally took the video down, and I’ll explain in a minute how we got her to do that.

How to respond to a Youtube Attack

Different types of attacks:

First, it’s important to know the difference between an online attack and a difference of opinion. We’ve worked with authors who have gotten bad reviews and wanted them pulled. A bad review is not an online attack, it’s someone’s opinion of your product or book. They didn’t like it and it’s their right to voice that. There have been cases where an author has gotten Amazon to pull a highly negative review but that’s for another article.

If the attack is about something you did wrong, make it right, let the person know and move on. We’ll cover this more a bit later.

Attacks can show up in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are on Facebook, other times they are on Twitter, LinkedIn, a blog, or on YouTube.

Keeping Track

Most of us won’t have to worry on a daily basis if we’re attacked online. Still, it’s never a bad idea to know what’s being written about you in general. I recommend getting Google Alerts – http://www.google.com/alerts – it’s free and an easy way to know what’s been written about you or even when a review pops up of your business, product, or book. You should get Google Alerts on your name, your URL, and your blog URL – that way you’re covered if someone cites just your URL or your blog and not your name. This happens to us a lot if someone is referencing a blog post on our site.

How to respond to a Facebook attack

You’ve been attacked, what happens now?

1) Who is attacking you? First, define who is attacking you because it might not be worth your time to pursue. We had a situation a few years ago where one of my Twitter followers asked me to market him for free (no kidding); when I didn’t, he started attacking me on Twitter. We reported him to Twitter and he was shut down, but that’s the extent of what we did. Now he continues to start up new Twitter accounts and tries to follow us, but he is always blocked. I didn’t spend a ton of time on this because he didn’t have a big enough online footprint for it to matter. If you’re attacked, determine the extent of their online footprint. If they don’t have a significant following they might just want to rattle a cage, or two. Again, if it’s something you did wrong, make it right. Otherwise consider someone with no following or a small online footprint (few followers, little or no Page Rank on their blog, no real Facebook presence) to be just a nuisance. Sometimes the Internet, and the anonymity it affords, gives people freedom and power they might have not otherwise had. Know the difference and respond when it matters.

2) Keep talking: If you identify the online attack and it’s credible, then start talking. Communicate on your blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook. Don’t stop talking. That’s the first thing many big companies want to do: go silent. Amazon did this several years ago when they made a blunder and more recently, the Komen Foundation did this, too. Silence is not golden. Be communicative. Depending on what the issue is, present your site. If it involves a fix, tell users when the issue will be addressed. If it’s a team member that had cyberspace chatting, be clear and specific about what actions will be taken to remedy the situation.

3) Watch Hashtags: On Twitter, Hashtags have a way of going viral. Such was the case with #Komen and #amazonfail. Be on the lookout for a hashtag and be sure to search Twitter continuously at search.twitter.com. Hashtags can be really detrimental if left unchecked. If there is a hashtag around this issue, be sure to follow it and respond to any and all appropriate tweets.

How to respond to a Twitter attack

4) Communicate with them, directly: In the case of the gal who put the video up on YouTube, I opted to communicate with her directly and address her issue. I explained to her that I was sorry she’d had that experience and that we were fixing the situation. She wasn’t very responsive to my note, but she did take the video down 24 hours later and, to thank her, I sent her a copy of my book. You might think this is a bit of overkill but trust me, it’s always a good idea to be kind to watchdogs. Whether they are official or unofficial, some users are out there watching for scams, etc. In the end that’s what she was doing. We defused it and the situation was resolved. Perhaps emailing the person and having a dialog may be the last thing you want to do, but step back and realize that going directly to the source could fix this much faster.

5) Don’t I have rights? No, you don’t. Bottom line is that anyone can say anything at any time, which makes the topic of online attacks that much more timely and volatile. You can’t force someone to take down a horrible blog post about you, and in fact we’ve had clients who have hired lawyers to go after YouTube and have them take down disparaging videos to no avail.

While we never want to think about being attacked online it does happen. Hopefully it will never happen to you, but much like having a battery-operated radio, candles, or a working flashlight, it’s better to be ready then to be caught in a storm and not know what to do.


Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com

Note: the videos were added to the reprinted post from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter” and were not part of the original.

Why Isn’t My Book Selling?

It’s a question I get asked a lot: “Why isn’t my book selling?” This question isn’t reserved for the author who is clueless about marketing. I’ve been asked this by savvy authors, even business people who can’t seem to figure out the system for selling.

Sometimes the reasons why a book isn’t selling are easy: the cover is poor, the content is not edited or the topic is unappealing. But in most cases that I’ve seen, you need to dig deeper. So, overlooking the obvious, let’s go a step further because the mysteries of selling might be a lot easier to fix than you think.

1. Start Early: In many cases starting early means earlier than you think. Often, I see authors beginning their campaigns a month prior to book launch. If you do that, keep in mind that your results won’t show up for months (and months), often it takes up to six months to see anything you seed start to grow. That’s partially why marketing people will encourage you to start early because it can take so long to see results.

2. Limited availability: Having a book that can only be purchased off of your website isn’t a great way to promote a title. You want to make sure that the book is where your consumer is: on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and even if you aren’t stocked on a bookstore shelf, you want to be sure that someone can order it. Limit your book availability and you limit your success. If you don’t give your consumer enough places to get your book, they will probably get someone else’s title instead. Don’t let your marketing serve the competition better than it serves you.

3. The rule of seven: You need to be everywhere. A lot. But what does that mean, exactly? It means that your reader (or potential reader) needs to see your book in a lot of different places. Have you asked yourself how many ways you are marketing the book? Are you active in any social media? Do you participate in blogs? Are you getting reviews? Think of the seven ways or access points that you need for your book to gain traction with the audience. Seven seems to be the magic number for many marketing people so go with that, use it as a goal. Your book should have access points in seven different areas. With so much out there begging for your readers’ attention you want to be sure that your book is getting an equal amount of attention.

4. Multichannel marketing: How many different ways are you marketing your book? No, I don’t mean the rule of seven, though this applies here, too. What I mean is how many channels are you using to market your book to the reader? Email? Video? Print mailings? A successful campaign is one that encompasses the rule of seven, so seven public channels to reach your reader, but also consider multi-channel marketing, as well.

5. You don’t think this applies to you: Often when I give these talks, I have authors who say, “Well, this may be true for some, but it’s not really what I’m about.” It might not be what you are about, but I can guarantee you it applies to everyone, across the board. Are there success stories that break out of the norm?  You bet, but it’s rare.

Now You Know, What Do You Do?

Let’s say that you’re reading this, you are knee-deep in promotion and thinking “oh, brother, this is me. What now?” A lot of authors just toss the first book out and focus on the second figuring they made the mistakes with the first and chalk it up to a “learning curve.” I don’t think that’s a great idea. You put a lot of work into that book, yes? Don’t you want it to succeed? I thought so. Here are some tips you can implement, right now, to get things back on track:

* Get to know successful authors: Yes, it’s good and cathartic to commiserate with other authors who feel their book isn’t selling, but beyond that it won’t really do much for your success. Step out of your comfort zone and start looking for authors you want to emulate. Successful authors who have it going on. Build your list. Find at least 10 authors in your market that are doing well and presumably selling books.

* Investigate: What do other authors do in your genre? You now have a list of other, successful authors, right? If you’ve collected this list, follow them on their blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. Follow them everywhere, start to build your tribe. Get to know them almost better than you know your own marketing campaign. You may say “well, they have more money than I do to market!” That might be true, but I bet it’s not – not entirely anyway. Most of the really successful authors don’t get there with just a checkbook, they probably have a great sense of who their market is, what their market wants and exactly how to give it to them. I’m not telling you to copy, I’m telling you to learn from other successful authors.

* Google Alerts: Now that you have your list of fabulous authors, plug their names into Google Alerts and see where they show up. Yes, when I say investigate I mean doing just that. Do your homework. Why does this matter? Because the blogs they show up on will be great places for you to network, and guess what? All it costs is a little bit of time.

* Count the ways: How many different ways can a reader access you? Count them. I’m serious. You should have at least seven access points. Maybe you are syndicating articles, maybe you are on YouTube, maybe you are on Facebook, Pinterest, whatever it is it’s an access point. If you don’t have seven of them and aren’t sure where to start, go back to bullets two and three.

* Get rid of what’s not working: I was at an event a few weeks ago and talked to an author who was doing lots of Google ads. He was careful to stay within his daily budget, but he wasn’t sure if they were working. Why was he doing them? He had been to a seminar that talked about Google Ads and thought he’d give it a shot. Initially it did well, then not so much. He kept doing them because he thought eventually it would turn around. Sometimes things like ads have a lifespan, if you aren’t monitoring this stuff you’ll never know. Don’t hesitate to get rid of what’s not working and be brutally honest with yourself. Remember that if you keep doing something that’s not working it will take away time and probably money from doing something that could make your book successful. The choice is yours.

* Distribution: Make sure your book is out there, and I mean really out there. You may hate it that Amazon takes 55% of your book sales but would you rather have 45% of a sale or nothing at all? Don’t have an ebook yet? Why not? It’s easier than ever to have your book converted to an ebook. It’s so easy I’ve known authors to do it in less than 15 minutes. It’s no longer a matter of whether you can publish a book; it’s whether someone can find it. You might not be in stores nationwide, but if you can be on online e-tailers that’s a big and helpful start.

* Persistence: Maybe the biggest piece of success is persistence. I know I sound like a motivational speaker right now, but it’s true. Persist, persist, persist. Often I find that authors are just weeks away from their success and they give up because of some of the reasons cited in the first part of this article. Persist even on the days you can’t be bothered. On those days do just one thing. Just one.

The key to success isn’t always easy or clear-cut, but the key to failure often is. If you have produced a good looking, well-written book but it’s still not selling then go back through this article to find the missing piece or pieces. Once you do, I can almost guarantee your book will start to take off.

Reprinted from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering bookpromotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com

Instructions for a Do-It-Yourself Book Tour

* This piece originally appeared in Glimmer Train Bulletin 38, March 4, 2010

This post is courtesy of Anne Fox (meaning she brought it to our attention) and written by Allison Amend, who was born in Chicago on a day when the Cubs beat the Mets 2-0. She attended Stanford University and holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her work has received awards from and appeared in many publications, including One Story, Black Warrior Review, StoryQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Atlantic Monthly, Prairie Schooner and Other Voices. Her IPPY Award-winning debut short story collection, Things That Pass for Love, was published in October 2008 by OV/Dzanc Books, and a novel, Stations West, is due out from Louisiana State University Press’s Yellow Shoe Fiction Series this month (March 2010). Allison lives in New York. Visit her on the web at www.allisonamend.com.


It is a truth universally acknowledged that book tours don’t really sell books. Or at least they don’t sell a lot of books in comparison to the amount of time and expense involved. So then why do authors continue to go on them? Well, book tours have ancillary benefits, otherwise publishers wouldn’t still send authors on them. Meeting booksellers makes them more likely to recommend your work, or to look forward to your next book. It gives local media an excuse to talk about you. It gives you a chance to travel the country, catch up with old friends, and show your exes what they missed when they dumped you.

But what if your publisher is an independent press with little to no budget for touring? What if your big name publisher doesn’t think it’s worth sending you out? Plan your own tour.

When my collection of short stories THINGS THAT PASS FOR LOVE was published by OV/Dzanc Books in 2008, they offered me $1000 toward book promotion. I took it on the road (and ended up spending a bit more than that, but I did visit over 17 cities). Here are some helpful tips as you plan your own DIY book tour:

1. What do you want?

Define your goals. Are you trying to sell X number of books? Or are you taking a “victory lap”? Are you visiting certain friends or a favorite old haunt? If you know what you want, you can judge the best tour for you. Then, maybe, it’s worth it to drive 300 miles to sell three books to your aunt Gladys.

2. Start here:

Sort your Facebook friends by region or do your luddite equivalent. The places you have the most friends are likely to generate the biggest crowds (“Crowd” in this article is defined as six or more audience members). Obviously, your hometown is a requisite, especially if your parents still live there. If you see that you only know two people in Seattle, maybe it’s not worth flying there. No one’s heard of you, so it’s unlikely that people will come to see you read unless your friends force them to come. Consider also your college and/or grad school, especially if you know professors there who can require their students to attend. (An aside: Try to avoid the reading where only two people show up. It’s embarrassing. Know, however, that you will have at least one during your tour. Be happy when it happens; at least THAT’S over.)

3. Set aside lots of time. Make a spreadsheet.

For some reason, planning a tour takes forever. You call, you find out the events person is only available on Tuesday mornings, you forget to call back, etc. Keep a record of where you’ve called/emailed, who you’ve talked to and what the follow up action is. You’ll be glad you did.

4. Buy (or download and print) a map.

Did you know West Virginia borders Pennsylvania? Me neither. Once you’ve picked your towns, try to put them in some coherent order. Ann Arbor, Michigan; Los Angeles, California; Oxford, Mississippi; Portland, Oregon is not a good itinerary. This might mean that you don’t get to some cities. Oh well. Catch them next time around.

5. See where other authors have read.

Authors post their appearances on their websites, so pick a few authors who were published by indie presses and see where they read. No need to reinvent the wheel. You can even copy their itinerary. Heck, copy mine: http://www.allisonamend.com/tour.htm.

6. Call bookstores. Practice first. (And have your distributor and ISBN number handy).

The first time I called a bookstore, my end of the conversation went something like this: “Hi. I, uh, have a book out, and I, um, am touring. Can I come read, I mean, if you want me to come and read… .” Finally the person on the other end of the line rescued me. “You want Events. Please hold.” While the Smiths played “the Bomb” in the background, I regrouped. When the phone was taken off hold, I managed. “Hi, I’m an author with a book. I’ll be in the area on my reading tour in October and I’d love to read. At your bookstore.”

As though she was filling out her taxes while she spoke to me, the woman asked who the publisher was. “OV Books,” I said, “It’s a independent press.”

“Uh huh.” I could tell she thought I’d written a book about my cat and published it on my inkjet. “Who’s the distributor?”

I’d like to use my lifeline, Regis. “That big one?” I said. “That begins with a ‘C’— Consolidated? Conundrum?” As I said this, I realized that Conundrum is the name of the press that rejects Paul Giametti’s book in the movie Sideways.

“We don’t have any free openings in October. Thanks for calling.” She hung up on me.

I cried for ten minutes, ate some pasta and found out the name of the distributor: Consortium.

I picked another bookstore and called again. This was Booksmith, possibly the coolest, nicest, most supportive bookstore on the planet. “Oh, I love OV and Dzanc’s books,” the events coordinator crowed. “What night do you want to read?”

7. Only plan one or two events in each city. I read three times in San Francisco, which diluted my audience each time.

Try to plan your tour around non-writing events: I went to a wedding in the middle. It was great. There were civilians there, and I spent two whole days without talking about writing!

8. Attend conferences and reading series.

These are fantastic, because you have a built-in audience. They take some planning, since they schedule far in advance, but I read at Wordstock and the Wisconsin Book Festival. I met some great regional writers and had a “crowd” even in places I didn’t know anyone. At the Gist Reading Series in Pittsburgh, 100 people stood in line in the cold an hour before the doors opened, paid $5, and brought food for a potluck. Now that’s a reading series!

9. Be not proud.

In Seattle, I called up a friend from college to whom I hadn’t spoken in 15 years and asked to stay with her. She said yes; I saved money on a hotel room (and she had a hot tub in her backyard). I’ve asked people to arrange for rides from the airport for me, to host book parties, to feed me. Sometimes you can exchange services—I made a huge batch of turkey chili for one busy family and froze it in exchange for their hospitality. I babysat for another friend in exchange for using her living room for a book party. (Her child did throw up on me 5 minutes before the party started, but that may have been my fault for overfeeding him.)

Have any friends who are professors? Are your professors still at your alma mater? Ask them to invite you to speak to their classes. Often they will offer you an honorarium, or make their class buy your book.

10. Contact everyone you know.

EVERYONE. Friends from camp, preschool classmates, people you met on vacation in 1983, former teachers, old babysitters. Sometimes the strangest people will buy your book or come to your reading. That’s a good thing. Encourage them to invite/coerce their friends. Offer free booze.

11. Tell everyone. Via email.

Don’t tell them 700 times, but twice or three times shouldn’t upset anyone too much.

12. Alert the media.

This one is hard. I Googled newspapers in the towns I was traveling to, and tried to call them up to interest them in a profile or review of my work. Sometimes I pretended to be Eunice Pappalardi, my fake publicist. Sometimes I bought Thai food and asked friends to help me call. I sent out press releases and emails to those whose addresses I could find. It worked better when I could tie my book into something local—I’m from Chicago, so it was an easier sell to Chicago-area journalists and media outlets (NPR, Time Out Chicago, Oy Chicago…). If your book has a theme that is of local interest, highlight that when you call. Be prepared for a miniscule rate of success.

13. Get a “reading outfit.”

In other words, make your tour as easy as possible. Travel light. I bought myself a dress that could be worn with or without tights and with or without a sweater. It didn’t wrinkle. I liked the way I looked in it. Then I never had to decide what to wear, eliminating one source of anxiety. Always carry-on your luggage and a few of your books in case they don’t show up in time. Get an iPhone or a similar gizmo that has Google and mapping capability. I might still be in Madison, Wisconsin if it weren’t for my little iPhone friend.

Similarly, pick two or three passages you want to read, and always read the same thing. Funny is best, but take a look at your audience before you start and pick the passage you think they’ll appreciate most. I usually read from a humorous story about a porn writer, but when my friends brought their 6 and 7 year olds to the reading, I had to scramble to find child-friendly writing.

14. Be careful out there.

I came home with a nasty rash. It turned out to be an irritation from laundry soap, but my dermatologist could barely contain her judgment when I admitted that I’d slept in 34 different beds in the past 6 weeks. I was also sleep-deprived, lonely, chubby and bloated from eating out. Make sure you’re not out there too long. Once, I responded to the airline’s question, “What’s your final destination?” with “That city that begins with M.”

15.Don’t expect to write.

It’s not gonna happen.

16. Have Fun!

You’ve been waiting for this moment for years, so try to enjoy it, even as you’re stuck in the Dallas airport deciding between your fifth Starbucks of the day or TCBY for a bit of protein while waiting for weather to clear in Minneapolis so you can fly to Chicago to drive to Iowa.

No rest for the weary: My novel, STATIONS WEST, will be out in March of 2010 from Louisiana State University Press. I’m getting out the old spreadsheet and practicing my Eunice Pappalardi voice at this very moment.