Monday, July 21, 2014

Author Bios

There are two types of author bios: the ones on your product page, and the ones that aren't.

The bio on your product page, you see, has all of your books linked nearby. The reason the browser is reading it is often to see if you know anything or have done anything that lends credibility / interest / bias to that particular book, right before they scroll down to the reviews.

The bio on your convention booklet / printed book / guest blog / etc. is going to read by reader who think "Okay, what's he written? I've heard of/liked this one, are there any more?"

So when you're staring at that blank box that says bio, remember what the reader wants, and try to put in a hook that shows you know a little about your subjects. Or put in "Peter Grant, Author of the Maxwell series including Take The Star Road, Ride The Rising Tide, and Adapt and Overcome, and the new Laredo War series, War to the Knife..." so the customer knows what else to look up on their smartphone or at the merchie's booth.

... minor rant here ...

Of course, one eternal problem of getting men who've been there and done that (and to heck with a t-shirt, they have the patches, challenge coins, out-of-place reflexes and scars to prove it) is that, as a rule, they don't talk about it. I learned a lot about bush flying from a quiet, kindly, thoughtful gent with a laid-back 'absentminded professor' persona that belied a mind sharp as a tack. If I hadn't known him for several years, I would never have managed to start piecing together the timeline of just when and where in SouthEast Asia and Africa he was. (A little harder than normal, because the USA wasn't, ahem, there.

Similarly, Calmer Half has seen a lot more of Africa's heart of darkness than he'll ever admit to in casual conversation, and J. L. Curtis - OldNFO to his blog and ATH readers - has far more acquaintance with things that never happened in places we never were than he'll ever say. But try to get these men to write a bio? "22 years in the Navy", OldNFO says. "Humanitarian work", Calmer Half says. And to those who don't know, this gives no clue that they know anything of which they write.

Were I to try and badger them into blowing their own horn, the response would be a mild look, and a head shake. "Oh, no, I was just there. I'm not one of the real hardcore guys." (I know they don't train 'em to say this, but its pretty universal. My neighbor as kid, holding a cup of coffee in his gnarled hand and recounting to us kidsthe day he was on a tiny boat moving the mail pouches from one ship to another, when the Japs attacked and sank the ship he was serving on... "Oh, I was just there. I was only doing what I had to.")

Now, you take some REMF whose only acquaintance with actual shots fired is his quals, and they'll blow their horn all day long about how they were a super soldier in the war on terror. And the military will all groan, and the civvies will all go "Oh! Somebody who knows what they're writing about!"

I'm not even going to try to get the real men to blow their own horn. Well, I might badger Calmer Half a little, because I married him, but I recognize it's the sport of throwing yourself at a mountain and trying to get the mountain to move.

As for OldNFO - well, I'll just tell you to buy this book, and join me in badgering him for the next one, 'cause I know it's getting close to publication (and the badgering won't hurry him, just amuse him). It's a slower-moving thriller, one that takes time to explore the ties of families who live together for generations on Texas ranches, and of the people who work and serve together, instead of trying to jump from action to action like a red bull commercial.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Where do you find Good Art Cheap?

(This was previously posted yesterday as a guest blog on According to Hoyt. Good comments there, check it out.)

Ahem, would all the authors look at me? Ignore the howling mob of artists and illustrators bearing down on us with torches and pitchforks after that question was asked; I've got the gates close and the drawbridge up.

Thank you. Now, the first answer is another question: what is good art? You with the pretentious air, you sit down. This is not your moment to pontificate. You over there giggling and quoting Neil Gaiman's Make Good Art speech... sigh. You're actually closer than you know. Let's try a simple working definition. Good art for authors is an image that will catch a browsing reader's attention, communicate genre, tone, and theme, and lead them to click on the little icon and investigate your blurb to see what the book's about.

You over there, complaining that definition is marketing, not art? Just. Shut. Up. Or I'll throw you to the angry mob of commercial artists and illustrators who make such images for a living. Michelangelo didn't paint the Sistine Chapel out of some wild whim of artistic vandalism, he did it because he was paid to produce work to spec on theme.

Now, how do you find good art?

There are three ways to approach this.

1. Start with books you like, in the genre you're writing. You don't even have to buy them, just click the "look inside" feature and check out the copyright page in the front matter. Many indie publishers list their cover artists, illustrators, and cover designers there. (If they're not wearing all those hats by themselves, anyway.) Quite a few trad publishers put in the artist, too, though rarely the designer. (That's likely to be an employee.) This one is likely to be moderately expensive in terms of time and money - after all, you already know that the listed artists do sell their art for commercial use, and you just have to backtrack where and how much. On the other hand, you'll also end up having to sigh and filter out artists like Michael Whelan and Kurt Miller, because they do this for a living and charge prices that put them well out of our reach. Someday... Anyway, the artists run from $6 USD on a royalty-free site to $12,000 USD for custom oil painting.

2. Start by browsing the places that have art for sale, looking for things that'll fit. This is very expensive in time, but cheap in money. Where are these places? In person, check the artist's alley at your local conventions; you can browse portfolios (look at the art for sale) and ask artists about commissioning a custom cover, or buying the rights to use a piece they've already done as your cover.

Online, you can look at royalty-free stock sites. This is far cheaper than commissioning, as you pay one flat fee to download the art and use it as you wish in accordance with the terms of the rights agreement. This includes places like dreamstime, fotalia, photo morgue, istockphoto, etc. This option starts at free (morguefile), and then goes to around $6 - $20 USD.

Beware! For royalty-free sites, if you're wildly successful and sell more than a set amount of books, you are legally obligated to return and purchase a higher circulation license. Also, you are not buying the right to put the image on things for sale - so selling posters, t-shirts, or mugs with your book cover is right out, legally! If you try to make money on an image in ways you did not purchase the rights for, especially that that you are not compensating the artist for, don't be surprised if they come after you legally like you'd come down on a pirate site selling your books!

That said, it is by far the least expensive in money option.

3. Buy a pre-made cover from a designer. This already has the art purchased and the design work done, and costs less than custom because the designer did it on spec, hoping to catch a customer. All you have to do is tell them your author name, book title, and any minor tweaks if you want them, and it's all done. This'll take the time to skim designers, but starts at $50 USD.

Caveat! The designer got their work from somewhere, and all the restrictions on the rights they purchased still apply to you, when you buy from the designer! Also, make sure you're buying the right to use, modify, and possess (there's some more legal language, too, here) the cover design; If you hit bestseller, there should be no legal way for the designer to come back and demand more money, or assert legally that you don't own the finished product and they can yank it. (It's happened.)

Whatever you do, pay attention to which rights you buy or license. Not all artists, especially ones starting out, are savvy about this, just as not all authors are savvy about copyright, rights licensing, subrights, and territorial rights. The more rights you buy, the more expensive it's likely to be - for example, artists will often retain the right to sell the image (and often retain the original painting, if it's a physical painting, and sell it separately.) If you want exclusive use - nobody else can use this image - it's going to cost more than if they retain the right to put it up on a royalty-free site and earn more money from other folks downloading it. If you want the right to merchandise - to sell posters, keychains, mugs, whatever with the image as part of your cover design, that's going to be a fair chunk more, because now you're directly competing with the artist's main ways of earning income - namely, selling their image. And if you want to be able to sell the unaltered image - that is, to take their painting or design, and sell it yourself as though you were the artist - that's going to cost you as much as the artist thinks they could make from that image over the lifetime of copyright.

Protect yourself, protect the artist, and protect your ability to do friendly business in the future by learning about rights and making sure both parties are clear on who's getting what before money changes hands.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Branding - Hot Iron Not Included

Branding is a simple name for a simple concept with a complex execution: making something recognizable to the consumer as belonging with another thing.

If the food place off the freeway has a funny yellow M standing high on the signpost, we instantly know what price range, type of food, wait time, quality, etc. to expect even if we've never been off this exit (much less in this state) before. If the athletic gear on the rack has a little swoosh on it, the consumer instantly has an expectation of quality, cost, "cool factor", and such. Beyond symbols, owners often try to make memorable taglines. Dixie Plates has trademarked "Strong plates for heavy, messy meals"(tm). These are to differentiate from every other similar product on the market, to try to get a niche that'll attract consumers - in Dixie's case, for people buying plates and contemplating the disaster after a paper plate folded under a helping of Millicent's Death By Fiery Apocalyptic Doom Chili at the potluck.

When it comes to selling stories, we're all trying to connect a few things.

1. Author Name. Seriously, the readers are loyal to the storyteller, and will binge-read if you give them a chance. Readers who loved your last book, put out six months ago, will snap up your new one as soon as you can jog their memory of how much they liked the last one.
We see this as indies, especially when we run a promotion on a single book. Some readers will start on the promo book, and then read systematically through everything else the author has printed, regardless of genre.

2. Series. If you loved the first one, you're going to want to stay with the characters and find out what happens next. If you picked up one in the middle at random, this is how the author makes it clear to you that there are lots more, and the order in which to read for maximum fun.

3. Genre. When you write different things, you will get different fans. Some may love your mystery but not your romance, others love your steampunk but not your literary. This is how you signal to your fan base how to find the other books they particularly want to read.

4. Publishing house / co-op. This one isn't relevant to one-author houses, but the larger your press or co-op of authors gets, the more you want to funnel readers from "I loved this author, I want more" to "This publisher put out great stories, including that author's. What else do they have?" The Big 5 fail spectacularly at this. Baen is a master of this, as is Harlequin.

So, how do we do it, especially as Indies? Several ways.

1. Cover Art.

Look, if your art was awesome enough to catch a random reader's eyes once, stick with a good thing! Use the same artist, or a similar one with a similar style, to catch your reader's eyes again!

Every artist, once they grow beyond imitation, develops their own style. Chandler's "voice" is very different from Tolkein's, and Monet's paintings are very different from H.R. Giger's. If you retain the same artist, your series will be very recognizable by the style of the art. For example. Don Dos santos does urban fantasy, YA scifi, a little fantasy, a little scifi of the more adventure / possibly space opera bent... but you can tell a Dos Santos cover, and you can tell which of the painting in his gallery belong to the same series. Check out his gallery here.

Now, most of us can't afford a Dos Santos, Kurt Miller, Michael Whelan, or Boris Vallejo cover. But you can look at your level. We started with innovari, and when supplies ran low (he hasn't uploaded in 3 years), we went with the closest match in good milscifi ship and art design, PhilCold. (Great artist, easy to work with.) If you have an artist with a unique style that you like and has graced the first in the series from a royalty free site, don't be afraid to contact the artist and ask about a custom cover if you know what you want and they don't have what you need uploaded.

2. Cover design / typography.

If you can't find a similar piece of art, this is where your designer can put photoshop to the test and make a similarly styled picture look like it belongs perfectly - giving it different treatments until it looks like an oil painting, or has decorative moire patterns to match the last cover added in.

The cover designer will also select the typography and kern it correctly - and this is often the most obvious place to build genre and author brand. Go to Amazon and look through some of the most popular series and authors. Note how similar the design of each series title and author can be, and of the author name across their various series.

This, by the way, is why Baen is an instantly recognizable house - it has a limited slate of cover artists whose styles complement, and a single cover designer with an homage-to-pulpy-fun style. (At least, I hear it's only one designer. Even if they have a full team, the lead designer can set the style and tone for everyone under him, and keep all artwork designing to that same principle.)

Note: If you feel that you got the genre cuing wrong or just want a different / better cover, don't feel restricted to the style and fonts of the last cover. You can always use a book launch as a great time to re-brand the older books to match the newest one!

3. Personal Branding.

This is for making yourself a.) instantly recognizable and b.) making sure you leave an impression enough times to be remembered when doing public appearances. John Ringo always wears kilts and has his hair in a ponytail at cons. Howard Tayler always wears formal business wear. Cedar Sanderson has a small collection of evening gowns, while Dave Pascoe can be seen in a kilt, vest, and undone bowtie. (I presume it's tied sometime, but it's always undone when I see him at cons.) David Burkhead is always in black, with a bright purple patch in his dark hair. No matter what your schtick is, be consistent. It'll help fans find you and connect, and let them easily point out so others can go "Oh, that guy!" when you or your books are brought up in conversation.

Caveat One: While mode and manner of dress is a standard way to stand out, it's not the only one - nor does it need to be artificially forced. Calmer Half doesn't have a specific wardrobe, but the distinctive accent, silvery hair, neatly trimmed beard, and dry humour leavened with the occasional war story or pun seem to leave plenty of impression anyway.

Caveat Two: J. L. Curtis - this one's not for you. If you're not doing public appearances, don't worry. And no, blogmeets in the US inbetween popping up in Australia and Italy and points all over doesn't count. Stay safe, my friend.

Caveat Three: when you become visibly branded as An Author, you become a sort of public figure. What you do and how you act in public will become part of your reputation. Generally, being polite and professional will go a long way toward keeping a warm fuzzy feeling toward you. Don't be afraid to hit back when threatened, especially if you can make it as entertaining as Larry Correia, but don't start nothing and think twice before opening your mouth.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Covers: Cueing Genre and Subgenre

The best way to get a feel for what your cover needs to signal is to look at your genre's covers, discard the classics and the iconic covers with major push, and average the differences for cues. However, I've had lots of reminding the past few days that not everyone has the visual memory / visual processing / sufficient exposure to understand what I mean without more explanation. I've seen this before, in brand new home buyers trailing behind a home inspector / landlord / rehabber.

I can drive past a property, and wince. "Absolutely not."
"Why not? It's pretty, has a big yard, is in our price range, and we haven't even looked inside yet!"
"You see how the roofline's sagging? That's major structural repair. And see the caulked lines on the downhill side of the house? That's a cracking foundation, as it's settling. I don't care how pretty the kitchen and bathrooms are, that's a money pit that'll be less expensive to demolish and rebuild. What's your next address?"

So, here's my attempt to point out what I'm looking for when it comes to signals, so you can do it consciously. PS - you may have to turn off adblocker or noscript to get these to show, because it's infinitely easier for me to link to an amazon-hosted image than to try to download all the images, upload all of them to picasa, and then link them all. Like you guys, but you're not paying me to work that hard for your convenience.

Space Opera and Military SF have a fairly broad overlap; their Venn diagram has most of the the books in the center of both ranges. General rule #1: No photographs other than NASA images. Rendered and painted art is perfectly normal.

Classic ship + planet. "Exploding ship in space - you can tell it's space because of the planet! Epic space battles! It's Military Science Fiction - or Space Opera! (Check the blurb.)"

Classic planet. "Hi! It's set in space! It's science fiction with planetary scope! It's Space opera!"

It's an exploding ship in space - it's military scifi! And hey, if you're not on a mobile browser, look at the sidebar for some non-exploding ships in space, or with alien moons to signify it's not earth! They're space opera!

The number of sarcastic exclamation points is only partly because I'm still on my first cuppa for the day. It's also because covers scream. They have to - as you're skimming a bookstore shelf or a web page of search returns, there's no time for a slow, gentle, subtle introduction. Nobody notices the wallflower - so the good ones tend to be jumping up and down screaming "Pick me! Pick me! Over here!"

It's a space scene... and a person! It's Space Opera! Okay, if the person is holding a gun or wearing military uniform/body armor, there's still a good chance it's military scifi.

For a note on typography - this could be a military thriller, or even a book on a historical battle, by cover art. Nothing really says military scifi... except that typography. That's pure Baen, which screams from six feet away in a bookstore "I'm Baen scifi! My characters kick ass and take names with an awesome plot!"

On to post-apocalyptic fiction. Again, no photographs.

The nuclear explosion, biohazard and radiation symbols have been so overdone you'll need a truly outstanding treatment to look attractive, but they can always be snuck in as an element of the covert art.

Epic paintings/rendering of ruins of modern civilization are pretty standard.

Also, there's usually a a human against the ruins, walking toward or walking away. And, you'll notice that most of these covers are fairly dark, or grungy.

Epic fantasy! Photographs are right out, and so are renderings. This needs to look like an oil painting. Yes, specifically oil.

You have three choices: landscape with guy with sword,

guy with sword,

or magnificent architecture (epic landscape.)

Why didn't I mention the two biggest-selling epic fantasies? Because they're the two biggest epic-selling fantasies, with multi-million dollar marketing campaigns and lots and lots of push.

This isn't a very visible image in thumbnail, but with a TV show and lots of coop space (the tables at the front of the store), millions of occasional readers to non-readers know Game of Thrones. This very, very strong iconic branding means that you can spot it easily, and someone who doesn't read SF&F but can't wait for the next season of the tv show can walk in and instantly spot the book they want.

If you don't have the push, I don't recommend going for the indecipherable icon. Why not? Well, an unexplained little swoosh is instantly recognizable as a Nike product - but another unexplained little squiggle is just some knock-off no-name cheap Chinese athletic gear. So, too, an indecipherable cover icon "It's a...helmet? maybe?" requires the background treatment and typography alone to carry genre, subgenre, and promises to the reader - and has to overcome "Oh, it's a game of thrones knockoff."

Now for two oft-confused subgenres with almost as much overlap as space opera and milscifi: urban fantasy and paranormal romance. The difference is that one is about kick-ass people in variants of modern-day with magic/fantasy tropes, while the other is a romance in an urban fantasy setting, with a "strong female lead" (sadly, usually the romances confuse bitchy, self-centered, and abusive with "strong." Feminism, you have a LOT of damage to the culture to answer for.)

Guy who is not half-naked, wearing a noir-film remeniscent trenchcoat, firing gun while holding mystical-symbol staff: urban fantasy.

Woman facing the viewer, head visible, holding weapon (bonus points for it being primitive weapon.) Urban fantasy. Though it's Mercedes Thompson, which like several other series started off as great urban fantasy, and has slid firmly into paranormal romance. A common feature / bug in the genre, and part of why it's so hard to tell one from the other.

Woman facing away from the viewer / face not visible. Paranormal Romance! Bonus points for skin-tight clubbing gear, any hints of black leather, black latex. Points deducted for lack of weapon.

This one again works on the typography. Guy with sword: quest fantasy or urban fantasy? Grunge font - urban fantasy.

I have now spent two and a half hours on this post. I'm going to wander off and find breakfast, more tea, and the daily chores. If you have a genre/subgenre you specifically want me to cue, put it in comments.

Catnip and elefunks

When we first got Kili, she was 4 pounds of malnourished, half-starved shy and wild thing. Her documentation from the shelter said "three years old, already had a litter, spayed."

We started feeding her high-quality, expensive cat food (Same stuff Oleg Volk's Gremlin gets), and her coat became soft and shiny. She also doubled her weight in a month. (Orijen, for the curious.) We also tried to interest her in catnip toys, but she was completely uninterested. Springs, bottlecaps, boxes, hands under covers - those are the good stuff.

Well, a small percentage of adult cats are, like all juveniles, unresponsive to catnip. They don't have the genetic switch, you see. So I accepted a tiny 8-pound adult who wouldn't play with catnip.

Except today we caught her, red-pawed, dragging a long-forgotten catnip toy out of some recess (probably under the couch), and rubbing herself all over it in glee. I eyed my now-11-pound cat, and considered how small and curmudgeonly she'd been when we first got her. Nope, not fat - just seriously, seriously off in estimated age. And now fully adult, and stoned out of her little furry head.

Note to self: check with vet if she needs any follow-up shots, and if she's actually spayed or not.

So, of course, what do we do after going off to member night at the zoo to see the elefunks and zebras? Why, stop at out favorite pet store just before they closed, and buy a fresh catnip toy. Because our little ambush predator is hilariously mellow when stoned.

Oh, and if you're looking for publishing thoughts, go check out calmer Half's post on Mad Genius Club on the correlation between rankings and sales.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Metrics - Because Math Is the Universal Business Language.

One of traditional publishing's many, many failures is their basic lack of data capture - the fact that they have no way to measure how an individual book is a success or failure compared to others, and thus no way to derive why a book succeeds or fails. The rest of us don't get to lean on multi-billion dollar media conglomerates and whine about Amazon; we have to figure it out as we're already in motion, in order to keep improving our successes and minimizing our losses.

A quick note on success: if you truly believe that publishing your book was only done for the love of it, then you're likely to be offended when success is measured in monetary terms and volume of sales. That's fine for you, but not for anyone who wants to increase sales, or cover the mortgage. Math is a language used to describe the universe, and in order to describe it, we need to use terms in common. Unit volume and dollar volume are the terms I'm choosing. Fuzzy feel-good and raising awareness are not quantifiable terms, and therefore are not useful terms.

So, how do you track the time you spend building an audience, the time you spend writing, the time you spend editing, the time you spend looking for cover art / working on covers? How do you track the size of your fanbase, and whether or not they're actually interested in buying the things you write? How about the reach and effect of promotions? Welcome to metrics.

While I should hope that facebook and twitter, google+ and myspace and every other format I'm rolling into MyTwitFace have the ability to keep metrics, I'm going to tackle blogs because I know blogs. Wash, rinse, repeat, apply as you can to other social media.

First, how much traffic do you get on your blog? will let you track the number of visitors and pageviews, the sites referring people to you, and your most visited posts. It doesn't, however, capture the audience that uses an RSS feed to view your posts - for that, see feedburner. Neither do a great job at capturing outclicks - people going from your post to an amazon book page, for example.

If you are in a state or country that has an agreement with (and if I understand correctly, also has this option), get thee to the Amazon Associates program and sign your happy site up right now! This program lets you give site-tagged links for products that people can click on, and you get a kickback for driving traffic to them. However nice the money is, though, it's almost irrelevant compared to the data. With this linking account, you can actually see how many people who clicked out from your site went and bought your story!

This is how I can tell you exactly how many people clicked through a book announcement each day and bought the newly-released book. This is how I can tell you the rough effectiveness of a newsletter mailing. Mailchimp can tell me how many people clicked on the link in the newsletter, but the Amazon Associate program can tell me how many of those people actually bought the book. Seriously, it's like Amazon whipped aside its veil of corporate secrecy, and is giving you straight, raw, glorious data on how effective any and every promotion you do is in ACTUAL SALES through your links, separated out from the casual browser on amazon itself.

When you know how many people are visiting your site on average each weekday, and how many people bought the latest release through said site (use the first 7 days unless you click-to-sale ratios are very different from ours), then that tells you the size of your story-purchasing fan base versus the whole. When you know how many people over the course of a non-release month clicked on your book cover icon on your sidebar (and you DO have your book covers with a link to retailers on your sidebar, right where they can see it, don't you?) compared to how many bought your stories straight off, you know the background sales level of just keeping your blog traffic steady. When you can tell how many people opened a newsletter, how many clicked to the page, and how many of those bought the story - that tells you whether your ripest area for improvement is on the newsletter, or on the cover/blurb. If you do a guest post and they let you use your associate tag instead of one of their own (be very polite and ask, if you're not sure), then you can look at the spike and see how effective guest-posting was. If you're on a forum and embed the link in your sig with a cover or two (assuming it's not against forum etiquette), then you can measure the traffic from your frequent posting days to see if the visibility drives sales.

What you can measure, you can improve and measure again to make sure it was an improvement.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

To blog or not to blog - that's not the question! (social media for authors)

As you can tell from the sparsity of my posting on this blog and my lack of facebook / twitter / etc, I am not a very social-media person. It did not thrill my little heart when a coworker came up to me the morning after a Company Event, and said "I saw the pictures of you all over mytwitbook!" Nor did I rush to pull out a smartphone and retweet or "like" everything. (Those of you who like me anyway, thank you. I like you too, as friends and acquaintances, not as clicky-button-instead-of-adding-coherent-commentary.) I feel it's important that you know my stance, so you can vary your "take with grain of salt" dosage accordingly.

So, how important is social media? Do you have to participate? How many accounts do you need to have? How often do you have to tweet? Cart. Horse. Wrong questions. Try this one instead.

What can you gain from using social media, and what return on investment can you gain from time spent? How do you maximize this?

The single most expensive thing you can spend is your time, because you don't get it back, and there's no way to get more. It's also the thing that every one of us gets (until we don't), and therefore the easiest to spend. Tomorrow you'll have 24 more hours to spend that day (G-d willing), no matter what the state of your bank account. Some are sunk costs already: if you don't spend at least 6 sleeping (8 for me) and at least 1 eating, the rest will be pretty miserable. Of the remaining, not all are equal for creative work. May writers do best in the morning; others do best in the late evening, and some will have to make do with whatever can be squeezed into while the baby's sleeping, waiting for customers to check in or between patients.

Many writers transitioning to full-time are startled to find that they don't have 8-10 hours of writing in them; the brain is a muscle, and after 2-5 hours, it goes to mush and won't put out any more creative work. (It gets better as you train it, but there is a practical limit.) This leads to indie authors writing in the morning and editing/marketing/business matters in the afternoon, as they don't require the same skill sets. Keep this in mind, and schedule wisely.

Now, to the meat of the question: what is the point of a blog/ mytwitface account?
1. Gain reader exposure / attract readers
2. Retain readers' interest, building name recognition.
3. Build excitement for the next release, so you can
4. Spike your sales in the first few days of your book release / sale

No, interacting with your readers isn't a goal, it's a process. It's how you accomplish your goals.

Goals 1-3 are very fuzzy and hard to measure. "Raising awareness" is so nebulous entire charities make their mint and pay their execs handsome salaries on doing just that while never having to provide any actual outcomes to justify their existence. As indie authors, though, we'd better find ways to quantify and qualify to see if we're wasting time that would be better spent writing. You measure these by site visits and click-throughs, "likes", retweets, etc. Keep in mind, though, the sad fate of a nearly unknown writer (not even sure she was published yet?) telling Larry Correia that she was better than him because she had more facebook friends... don't get obsessed with these metrics, because ultimately, they only matter when you translate them to the action on goal #4.

Strange as this will sound to you, the five years of daily blogs that Calmer Half put out before he released the first book only made a difference for three days. The same is true of mailing lists - you may have 18,000 subscribers, but it'll only make a difference for 18 hours. The point is: your audience on your soial media, whatever form it takes, is not the main audience that will buy your books - the main audience is a vast unknown mass of readers idly browsing amazon, looking for something to read. Your social media audience is there to help you spike the sales numbers on release, drawing enough sales fast enough to kindle (heh) that fire. Once your fans put you on the bestseller lists, and tell people about you, then the world will be able to see and buy your book.

So first, you want to get them excited about an upcoming book. You'll be excited about it, and share that enthusiasm - the joy of finishing the draft, the excitement of the cover reveal (sometimes authors even do two or three options, and kick it out to their readers to help decide which is the best cover. This engages your audience, making them feel excited and invested in the upcoming release.) Some authors release snippets, teasing the audience and whetting their appetite for the rest of the story.

Second, DON'T SPAM YOUR READERS. Did I make that clear enough? Look, Calmer Half gets about 3,000 visits/day. The sell-through rate (people who click on the release announcement to go buy) is much lower than that, and it drops by 50% every day after release.

So, if 100 people click through and buy the book on release day, 50 will on day 2, then 25 on day 3, 12 on day 4, and 6 on day 5. This happens whether we mention the book every day or not; it's been a consistent pattern across all releases. By Day 5, the sell-though rate from "buy my book!" is indistinguishable from background sales through the pictures on the sidebar, by infrequent readers just noticing or browsers who just found the blog being curious enough to click through and check out the books. So by Day 5, announcing again won't help sales, and will annoy the people who've already bought the book - or won't get around to it for weeks.

Third, What do you write about inbetween book announcements? Something that interests you (they won't be excited if you're not excited), and will interest your target market. Which means, don't write primarily about writing. The only people who want to talk about whether or not it's okay to have first person protagonists are other writers, not readers. (This isn't to say never do it; people are fascinated by how things are made / done behind the scenes. See the astounding popularity of Dirty Jobs, How It's Made, Deadliest Catch, etc.)

For blog examples, which tend to be longer format than mytwitface, My Calmer Half has everything from articles on airplanes to cute Peruvian commercial. Sarah Hoyt has social, political, and feline commentary. And free novel chapters. Cedar Sanderson has book reviews, food photography, life updates, snippets of upcoming books, and art. Dave Freer has the "mundane" (only to him and his neighbors) everyday adventures of homesteading in Flinders Island, Tasmania. Larry Correia has a serial adventure written from his gaming campaign, pictures of minis (miniature models for fantasy armies) he's painted, social commentary, book promotion for friends and good causes, and fisking trolls.

For shorter form, see Larry, Sarah, Marko Kloos, or high-selling authors in your genre on facebook - and for very short format, see them on twitter. If you're better at coming up with snarky bumper stickers than articles as long as this, you're probably going to be better showcased on twitter. If your response is "any philosophy that can fit on a bumper sticker is idiotic", you'll probably do much better on blog.

Be warned: Facebook has a habit of censoring how many people can see a post with a link. So if you send "my book's out!" with a link, only 180 out of 3000 people may see it. The current workaround it to post the announcement sans link, and add the link in first comment.

More on click-through, sell-through, and advertising another day.