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Make MySpace Your Space
Promoting Your Bookselling Business

by Steve Weber

#95, 21 May 2007

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Traditional marketing and advertising is less effective than ever; people aren't paying attention to it. But free advertising is alive and well. The catch is you can't manufacture free advertising; you must get it the old-fashioned way - by earning it.

Social networking sites such as MySpace offer an ethical, effective and free way for business owners to find new customers. At MySpace and similar sites, members create profiles of themselves or their business with the objective of meeting like-minded potential friends.

MySpace includes nearly 200 million members. Whether your online bookstore carries general stock or specializes in the tiniest niche, your customer base is represented on MySpace. With millions of users, all segmented by interest, geography and age, MySpace presents an unprecedented opportunity for marketing because it enables your target market to find you.

When 24-year-old Steven Oliverez finished writing his debut fantasy novel, he faced the same predicament as most new authors. He wanted to sell the manuscript, but couldn't get a single publisher to read it, let alone buy it. He spent two years writing query letters, and all he got was a stack of form-letter rejections.

So Oliverez decided to self-publish and promote the book himself. Fortunately, he wasn't starting from scratch. He'd been active on the wildly popular social site MySpace, networking with other fantasy readers and authors. On his MySpace blog, he'd given away seven of his short stories to anyone willing to read them. His stories prompted hundreds of enthusiastic comments and attracted thousands of MySpace "friends."

So when Oliverez published Elder Staves in 2005, he asked for a little help from his MySpace friends. He asked them to buy the book on Amazon, and they did - pushing it to No. 25 on the fantasy bestseller list. Then Oliverez started getting messages from book clubs around the country, asking if he'd make phone-in appearances. After that came some write-ups in publishing trade magazines. Few tools can attract and bind an audience than a network like MySpace, Oliverez says:

"Buzz creates more buzz. Since there's no marketing or publishing company behind the book, it really helps to be online, able to connect with readers directly. Being on MySpace makes you seem more approachable, and that makes it a great tool for authors."

Next Oliverez printed 30,000 personalized bookmarks, and asked his MySpace friends to pass them out at bookstores and coffee shops. Immediately he got a few dozen volunteers. Then Oliverez found more MySpace friends by joining several of its "groups" for authors and fiction-writing.

You can visit Oliverez on MySpace and read the first two chapters of his book here.

MySpace: Not Just for Kids

What Oliverez did wasn't new. He took a page from the thousands of unsigned rock bands that have tapped MySpace to build their audiences. It's a simple yet wonderfully effective strategy: The bands put samples of their music on their MySpace profile, and friends forward the songs to an ever-enlarging circle of friends. Bands that "go viral" on MySpace sell lots more concert tickets and CDs, and some have snagged major recording contracts. Even the journeymen are raking it in by hawking their disks, T-shirts and other goodies right on MySpace.

Authors and many others who want to promote themselves or a product are quickly realizing they can do the same thing the bands are doing - use MySpace to go directly to their potential customers without a big fat marketing campaign. New profiles on MySpace are created daily for artists, restaurants, movies, TV shows, bars, towns, and nearly any other thing imaginable - including booksellers! The commercial entities all hope that participating will generate word of mouth for their product or services.

Barely two years after its launch, MySpace became the most popular U.S. Web site based on number of visits during 2006. With nearly 200 million members, the site contains part of the audience any business needs to reach, and provides easy tools to make that connection. Each MySpace member has his or her own circle of like-minded friends. After you become someone's MySpace friend, you have access to his or her friends. And each of your new friends has more friends.

While there are hundreds of social-networking sites - Facebook, Friendster, Orkut and to name just a few - MySpace has captured more than 80 percent of the traffic. Getting started with MySpace is easy and free, you can open your account here.

If you wish, you can make your MySpace account private until you're ready to use it. Go to Account Settings and then Privacy Settings.

MySpace? You might be thinking, "Isn't that for high-school kids?" Sure, that's the stereotype; MySpace is popular with kids. But with nearly 100 million members and the No. 1 traffic rank on the entire Internet, clearly there's more to it than loitering school kids.

All sorts of people are having success on MySpace. Horror novelist Michael Laimo says he got more than a dozen big media interviews after reporters noticed his MySpace page. He inked his first movie deal through MySpace after an independent director sent him a MySpace message asking about film rights. Hundreds of fans have told him they bought his books after seeing his MySpace profile.

MySpace is the Internet's answer to a promotional tactic used by new authors for decades - selling books from the trunk of your car. Both tactics are tedious, time-consuming, and usually don't produce results for a while. But if you keep plugging away and you're sincere, people notice. Your snowball starts barreling downhill purely from its own momentum.

Most of MySpace's 190 million-plus members don't use the site as a promotion tool; they're just there for the friends. But MySpace can be a foolproof self-promotional tool if you're intent on using it that way. Any business owner, even one without computer skills, can easily post photos and written content.

In addition to its networking opportunities, MySpace is a wickedly good research tool. For example, in about 10 seconds you can find out how many members say "Jimmy Buffet," for example, is their favorite singer, or that "Antiques Roadshow" is their favorite TV program. You can zap a message to any of these folks or you could quickly locate members in your ZIP code who are science-fiction buffs.

Making friends on MySpace

There are several ways to find people on MySpace who might be in your target market - by searching for self-improvement, organic food, or whatever field you're in. Once you've found potential friends, you can send a request for them to "add" you as a friend. The invitee can accept, decline, or ignore your request, although most people accept.

Once you're friends with someone on MySpace, you can post comments on each other's profile pages and see each other's full circle of friends. Here's how to find friends and potential readership on MySpace:

Browse friends lists of members interested in your field. Find the MySpace profiles of similar businesses and target market as yours. On the right side, scroll down a bit to the link "See All of [Name]'s Friends." Start sending invitations - you'll get many potential customers this way. Here's another twist: Send an invitation to a famous business operator, and if they accept, post a comment, which appears on the bottom right of their MySpace page. More exposure for you.

Search. Click "Search" on the top toolbar on the MySpace home page. You can limit your search to certain areas such as Books Interest, Blogs, Music Interest, or others. Let's imagine you're looking for MySpace members interested in organic food. Click "Search" and enter "organic food." Presto, you've got a list of every MySpace member who's used the words "organic food" in that part of their profile. Also, use the Affiliations for Networking search tool a bit farther down the page.

Browse for friends. If your business serves a local clientele, it might be useful to browse for potential MySpace friends by geographic area. On the home page, click "Browse" and the Advanced tab. You'll be able to view member profiles within a specified distance of postal ZIP codes, as well as other criteria such as age, gender, religion, and income. Many single MySpace members use this function to scout potential dates, but it's useful for entrepreneurs as well.

Browse comments on other member profiles. Comments from MySpace friends appear on the bottom right of profile pages. The most recent comments appear at the top, accompanied by the comment writer's photo or image. Members who leave these comments tend to be the most active and vocal MySpace users - and make good friends. In particular, seek out people who've posted thoughtful comments, like "Enjoyed seeing your profile and getting more information." Skip messages such as, "You ROCK, Man!!!"

Sending friends requests. Once you find a potential friend, click "Add to Friends" under their profile's main photo on the left. And if you want to increase the odds of making a real connection, don't stop there - send a personalized message by clicking the "Send a Message" link. It requires some extra work, but you can't convert people into book buyers simply by pecking on your mouse button.

Accepting friends. Once you've done some networking on MySpace, people will start seeking you out. But don't feel obligated to accept anyone and everyone. Click to their profile page first, and make sure their interests are in line with yours.

There are two ways of approaching MySpace friendships - trying to acquire as big a list as possible, or having a smaller group you can make stronger connections with individually. In any case, the people who ultimately will become a customer will be those in your core groups, those who feel a connection.

Create an "event." Launching a new product or opening a new branch office? Throw a party and announce it to your MySpace friends by creating a MySpace event and sending invitations. To get started, simply click "Events" on the top navigation bar on any MySpace page, then "Create New Event."

Leaving comments. After you become someone's MySpace friend, visit their profile and add a comment. This is an effective networking tool. Not only will your new friend read your comment, but people who visit your friend's page will see it too. Avoid the most overused MySpace comment: "Thanks for the add," which means "thanks for adding me as a friend." It's a cliché - and a missed opportunity. Take a moment to think of a meaningful comment, based on something about your new friend's profile, like "Hey, my favorite author is Hemingway too!"

Sending messages. MySpace has an internal e-mail system and an instant-messaging system for sending private notes. You can include your regular email signature, including links and photos. But if the message isn't too personal, you're better off posting your thoughts publicly, as a "comment" on your friend's page. This increases your visibility on MySpace, making it that much easier for new friends and readers to discover you.

Responding to messages. When you receive a MySpace message, you'll receive an email alert. To network effectively, respond promptly to your messages. If someone makes the effort to write to you, they'll be waiting for a response. Don't alienate potential friends by letting messages pile up unanswered.

Sending personal replies is time-consuming and you won't see instant results. But remember, the personal connection you provide with a thoughtful reply is something readers will remember, and something they're unlikely to get from a big-name author. These are the folks who will feel good about you and recommend you to others.

Sending bulletins. Once you've built a network of MySpace friends, the ability to send them MySpace bulletins is a powerful tool. Your bulletin won't be e-mailed like your personal messages are, but the headlines will appear on all your friends' "bulletin board" area. Whether you have two dozen MySpace friends or 20,000, the ability to let them all know about a new product or offer simultaneously is a unique tool.

To post a bulletin, click the "Post bulletin" link in the box labeled My Mail.

Like personal messages, bulletins are a feature you'll want to use sparingly, to preserve their impact. If you bombard friends with frequent bulletins that aren't compelling, they'll start ignoring them, and perhaps be irritated enough to drop you as a friend.

Here are the kinds of noteworthy events you'll want to send bulletins about:

  1. Your new product becomes available for sale at retailers or on your Web site.

  2. You get profiled in a national newspaper or magazine.

  3. You've won a prestigious award.

  4. You've just been booked to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show or Larry King Live.

Picking your 'Top 8'

After you've explored MySpace a bit, you'll notice under each member's About Me section are pictures of eight friends, along with a link to that member's complete friends list. By default, the eight pictures displayed are the first eight friends added by that member, known in MySpace parlance as the Top 8.

You can shuffle your Top 8 to add zing to your profile page. Take your most influential or well-known friends and move them to the front by scrolling down to the box labeled My Friend Space and clicking "Change my Top Friends." Seek out more authors or experts in your field, and request they add you as a friend. Move them into your Top 8 too. This is a valuable cross-promotion tool because it boosts your exposure among members who are in your target market.

If you're really popular on MySpace, don't limit yourself to just eight top friends. Click "Change my Top Friends," and on the top left corner of the screen you'll see a drop-down menu where you can increase the number of Top Friends displayed on your main page to as many as 24. If you'd rather display fewer Top Friends, you can reduce it to four.

Author Marcy Dermansky creatively used her MySpace Top 8 to help promote her debut novel Twins. Drawing from her 3,000 MySpace friends, Dermansky found several with names matching the character names in her book, like Lauren, Chloe and Smita. She moved them to her Top 8. For the more unusual names in the book, like Jürgen and Yumiko, she had to search for new friends using MySpace's search engine. New friends who got invitations were so intrigued about the book, they often bought it simply to read about namesake characters, adding to the book's buzz. See it here.

Tips for working MySpace

After you've signed up at MySpace, pay special attention to these elements of your profile:

Headline. When you set up your MySpace account, you're able to upload a picture - perhaps your portrait or book cover - and a short message labeled your headline. Use this space to identify yourself and your business (who you are, and what you do). Use this to its maximum effect. Add your book title or a brief description of the type of books you write. You can update this section anytime to promote recent books or editions.

About Me. Here, list your history and your influences. HTML is allowed in this section, so include prominent links to your own Web site or blog, and buy-the-book links.

Although it isn't obvious, there are several things you can do to customize your MySpace profile, as long as you're willing to fiddle with the settings. For more information, click here.

Photos. Whether you use a photo of yourself, your company's logo or an image of a product, use professional photos and artwork when possible. Hire a real photographer or enlist a talented friend with a digital camera. Don't brand yourself an amateur by using a crummy snapshot.

Your MySpace Blog

As a MySpace member you're able to publish a blog linked to your profile. Here you can include content too lengthy for your messages or bulletins. Blog posts are searchable through MySpace and regular search engines like Google, so naturally you'll want to include plenty of information about your business.

If you're already publishing a blog on your own domain, you don't necessarily have to reinvent the wheel on your MySpace blog. Simply repurpose some earlier content from your own blog, posting it on your MySpace blog for the benefit of your new friends.

Ask your friends to "subscribe" to your blog by clicking "Subscribe to this Blog" while they're visiting. Then they'll receive email alerts of your new posts.

To add a post to your blog, click "Manage Blog" from the menu just to the right of your main profile picture, then scroll down to the box labeled My Controls and click "Post New Blog."

Contests and giveaways are reliable ways to promote products on MySpace too; the only limit is your imagination. Offer a monthly drawing for a free product or service, awarded to one of your new friends. Just the act of offering a free product will encourage others to buy it. They won't want to wait to see if they've won the contest. However, don't go overboard with expensive prizes, and don't call what you're doing a "sweepstake," since this is against MySpace's participation agreement.

MySpace Groups

Joining various MySpace "groups" is perhaps the best way to find new friends. From, click "Groups" on the top navigation bar. On the left, you'll see a link for "Search Groups," where you can search for your topic area. For example, if your company sells automobile accessories, you'll want to join the MySpace Automotive Group and the Classic Collector and Muscle Group, among others. You can search for groups by keyword or browse by broad categories, such as "Fashion & Style" and "Pets & Animals." The groups with the most members will be listed on top.

Joining groups is a better way to connect with potential readers than just randomly sending friend invitations to any profile that you happen to see. Some groups allow you to post bulletins where you can mention your book. But check on this: It's important to know the group's terms of use, and you don't want to be accused of spamming the group.

Interests. Here's where you enter your basic likes, in categories such as books, music, movies, television, and others. Don't leave it blank. This is how many people will find you on MySpace, by searching for friends who have common interests.

Create Your Own Group

You can create your own MySpace group, giving members several more avenues to discover you. You can attract a wider readership by forming a group dedicated to your business or mission. And by doing a good job of running the show, you'll establish your credibility as an expert in your field.

To create a MySpace group, from the main Groups page, click "Create Group."

If you already have a big, dedicated following, you can make it all about you, starting a fan club Group for yourself on MySpace. Or you can enlist one of your friends to do it.

Uploading Videos

Video is a great way to promote yourself and your work on MySpace. People respond more when they can associate a face and a voice with the rest of your presentation.

Lots of new companies have popped up recently to provide online video content to promote your business. If you don't have the resources to hire a video producer, it's fairly easy to create your own video. A simple question-and-answer session can provide video content to publicize your business. Position yourself in a chair in front of a bookshelf or potted plant and have an interviewer ask a series of questions about your business. If you're on a budget but aren't able to shoot your own video, solicit volunteer film students from a local college. Students are usually willing to work on such projects, which provide experience and something to show on their resumes.

MySpace Best Practices

And here are several more rules of thumb for using MySpace as a publicity tool:

  1. Try to keep your MySpace pages streamlined and clutter-free. Make sure that anyone who sees it can easily discover your business.

  2. Keep your name in front of people by posting frequently to your MySpace blog and by sending a bulletin of the blog entry to all your friends. But don't abuse the privilege - if you post too frequently without something of value, your friends will quickly decide to ignore you, or delete you from their list of friends.

  3. Ignore folks on MySpace who try to sell you something you're uninterested in, or those who try to hook up for a date. Unless you're interested in this, it's best to focus on the friends who find value in your ideas and content. If your MySpace page is highly personalized, make it clear you're there for networking, not dating. That way you'll eliminate a lot of spam from unwanted "friends."

  4. Don't feel obligated to accept every friend who zaps an invitation your way. It's best to concentrate on having 50 friends you truly connect with, rather than having thousands of friends you quickly forget about.

  5. To leverage MySpace as a professional asset, your page must look professional. Your potential friends will check out your existing friends, so your MySpace utility will be undermined by having too many friends who have no connection to your niche. It's fine to have some oddballs in there, but be certain you have a clear connection with your Top 8 friends.

  6. To keep the hits coming, you've got to maintain your MySpace page. Throwing together a page and never visiting or tweaking it will do little good.

  7. Don't promote your MySpace profile at the expense of your own domain. MySpace is a great networking tool, but you don't want to depend on it exclusively. Perhaps someday MySpace will go out of business, begin charging high fees, or simply won't fit your image anymore. In any case, you can purchase an important insurance policy for only $9 a year by registering your own domain name and forwarding the traffic to your MySpace page - your domain registrar can handle this for you. Instead of printing your MySpace URL in your sales literature or on business cards, print your own domain and you can forward the traffic to MySpace if you wish. Later, if you decide to focus your efforts elsewhere, you can take your traffic with you by forwarding it someplace else.

MySpace Rules

Like other Web sites, MySpace has a Terms of Service document that outlines what is allowed and prohibited on the site. Among other things, MySpace outlaws these activities:

  1. "Commercial" use of the site, such as harvesting names or contact information in order to send unsolicited commercial messages.

  2. Publishing member physical contact information such as phone numbers, street addresses, and email addresses.

  3. Posting content deemed "offensive, illegal or violate the rights, harm, or threaten the safety of any person."

See the full MySpace Terms of Service here.

Time-Saving Tips for MySpace

By default, MySpace sends you email notifications whenever you receive new messages, comments, blog comments, or new friend requests. Once your friend list exceeds a few hundred people, you can save time by turning off these automated alerts and simply managing your profile by logging into MySpace once a day.

To stop MySpace's automated emails, go to and click "Account Settings." Check the box labeled "Do not send me notification emails," then click the "Change" button at the bottom of the page.

You can also save time by delegating certain MySpace administrative tasks to an assistant or colleague:

  1. Locating potential new "friends" and sending invitations.

  2. Posting prewritten materials to your MySpace blog.

  3. Screening incoming friend requests and, when appropriate, approving them.

Customizing MySpace

Once you have mastered the basics of MySpace, you may want to further customize your profile by adjusting the background colors and text sizes and placements. You can alter the appearance of various elements of your profile by going to and clicking "Edit Profile," and inserting HTML code into the text of your profile. For example, to make a word in your profile appear in bold text, you'd insert the opening tag before the word, and the closing tag after the word. To see a list of HTML tags, see this reference site.

For more ideas on customizing your profile with more elaborate layout tools, see this reference site

More Social-Networking Sites

MySpace is just one of a growing number of social-networking sites. is an investor in, which was founded by some ex-Amazon employees. On 43Things, members list goals, things they want to accomplish, and assign tags to help put them in touch with like-minded members.

Google owns another of these sites - Others are,, and

This sector of the Internet is growing and changing at a terrific rate, and bears watching. It's entirely possible that MySpace won't continue its overwhelming domination of Internet social networking indefinitely. A more likely scenario is that niche networks will emerge, splintering audiences into smaller sites focused on narrower interests. Someday, an entrepreneur will launch the "MySpace" of science fiction, romance, chicklit, or something else. Be on the lookout for up-and-coming networks in your sphere of interest. Or perhaps you'll have an idea for launching a network yourself.

At, you can create, customize, and share your own social network free without any technical know-how. You can get started by choosing a combination of features such as blogs, photos and forums, then customize how it looks and add your brand logo. Then simply invite friends to create their own personal profile pages on your network.

With Ning, it's perhaps best to join an existing group, perhaps in a hobby interest, to learn how its system works. Then after you're accustomed to it, you can launch your own network.

Ning supports itself by running advertisements along the right hand side of every page. Or if you want to run your own ads on your network, you can do it by paying Ning $19.95 per month. Ning will also allow you to use your own domain name instead of a Ning address for an additional $4.95 per month.

LibraryThing was launched in 2005 and instantly became the No. 1 social-networking site devoted to bibliophiles. Like other popular social networks, LibraryThing has grown purely on word of mouth, not advertising.

Like other social sites, part of the fun at LibraryThing is belonging to a big club that lets you display how eclectic and singular your taste is. Meanwhile there's the chance you'll meet a few one-in-a-million literary soul mates who are passionate about the same books as you.

Spending time on LibraryThing is addictive because of all the interesting connections that surface, especially with obscure books. Entering your copy of Harry Potter won't move the needle. But when you enter your copy of Environmental Kuznet Curves, things get interesting.

Members enter their book collection simply by punching in the ISBNs. Then members can compare their whole collection - or individual rarities - against the collections of others. Ever wonder who else in the world has read that oddball book you love? On LibraryThing you'll know.

LibraryThing also has a book recommendation system that founder Tim Spalding claims is more accurate than Amazon's, simply because its users pay more attention. On LibraryThing, members input the books they want to drive their recommendations, no matter when or where they acquired them. Books you've purchased as gifts easily corrupt Amazon recommendations, and most users don't input the books they've purchased elsewhere.

Further, Amazon recommends only current books available through wholesalers - the ones it can sell. Since LibraryThing isn't a bookseller, it's free to recommend out-of-print books. Finally, LibraryThing recommendations are filtered, drawn from the collections of other users like you, not the whole universe. Harry Potter isn't recommended to everyone.

Another difference is LibraryThing's anonymity. Unlike a bookselling site, which must identify users to collect payments, LibraryThing knows only a user's log-on name - unless that member posts more information and makes it public. This gives members the freedom to list books and provide other information they'd rather not be associated with publicly.

As an author, you can build a special page on LibraryThing to show members what's on your bookshelf. To become a LibraryThing author, you must have at least one book listed at Amazon or the Library of Congress, and you or another member must add the book to LibraryThing. Also, you must catalog at least 50 books on LibraryThing, and you'll need a public account that allows comments on your profile. Get more details by sending e-mail to

Whether LibraryThing will generate the same kind of demand for niche books as commercial networks like Amazon do is unclear. But the potential for such user-generated recommendations is huge. The bookselling network, which sells new and out-of-print books, bought 40 percent of LibraryThing in 2006. AbeBooks will use LibraryThing's data to provide book recommendations to customers.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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