Google Alerts is a simple and free tool that is available to anyone for tracking topics on the Internet. For authors, it is a great advantage because you can have it provide you with results whenever a new mention appears on the Internet of your name, book title(s), or topics relevant to your book that you can capitalize upon for promoting your book. This information can be delivered to you via email in a timely matter-as it happens, daily, or weekly – so you are aware of the latest conversations and topics that may interest you.
It’s easy to sign up for Google Alerts. Simply go to Google Alerts and fill out the simple form, which will ask you for the “Search Query,” meaning the word you want to track. Here I would enter your full name. Next it will ask for the Result Type; “Everything” is probably the best choice here, but if you have reason to be specific, you can choose to receive only results in a specific category: News, Blogs, Videos, Discussions, or Books. Then you choose how often you want the results and how many results you want to receive, which is either All Results or Only the Best Results. If you are unsure what to put for any of these categories, to the right on the screen as you select them, Google automatically shows you the current results you would get based on that selection so you can determine whether “All Results” might be more than you want or precisely what you want.
As you select the categories, consider how likely your results will be to fit what you really want to know. For example, if your search query is George Washington because you wrote a biography of Washington and you only want to find out when your book is mentioned online, you might want your Result type category to be only Books. However, if you want to see every mention of George Washington to see whether there’s a discussion on a blog, or a conference about him being held that you can participate in, you might want to select “Everything.” As for your actual Search Query term, if you use more than one word, Google will present results where both or all words appear, although they may not be consecutive. For example, if your name is Natasha Smith, you might get results that list everyone who ran in a marathon because in that marathon were Mark Smith and Natasha Johnson. To solve this issue by limiting results to be solely about you (or anyone else named Natasha Smith), you will want to put quotation marks around your name in the Search query field: “Natasha Smith”.
The big question now is: What do you do with the results you receive from Google Alerts? Three main reasons exist for authors to use Google Alerts:
1. Tracking your marketing efforts.
2. Capitalizing on hot trends relevant to your book or topic.
3. Protecting your reputation.
Let’s look now at how each reason can be helpful for you in your quest to sell your book.
Tracking your marketing efforts
The results you get back will tell you how well your online efforts are succeeding. For example, if you have a blog and you blog on Monday about your book and you get a Google Alert on Tuesday showing your blog as one of the results, you know your blog is getting out there to the search engines. More importantly, you will find out who else is talking about your book. For example, another blogger, to whom you have no connection and who simply is a book lover, might write a review of your book on her blog, or you might find that someone who blogs on your topic mentions your book on his blog, or perhaps there’s a newspaper that prints a review of your book, and because the newspaper also has a website where it prints its content, Google Alerts lets you know about that book review. You then will know how well word is getting out there about you and your book.
Capitalizing on relevant hot trends
Google Alerts will probably be more effective for nonfiction authors than fiction authors for capitalizing on hot trends or current discussions, but it can be helpful to both. If your book is about autism and you use “autism” as one of your Google Alerts terms, you’ll be getting constant results, maybe more than you want, but you’ll be able to see when new information comes out about autism, who is interested in it, and where it is being talked about. You can then contact the people chatting or blogging about it to let them know about your book and see whether they will review your book in their publication or on their blogs, or have you as a guest on their show or interview you for their newspaper, etc. Fiction authors might want to be more specific regarding genre and use terms like “vampire books,” “historical romance,” or “time travel books” to find places where people are discussing similar books; you can then contact those people or enter their conversations.
If you are researching your book, Google Alerts can also work the same way because you’ll be able to contact people interested in the same topic as you and share research or simply follow what others are saying about your topic so you have up-to-date information, as well as make sure you’re not repeating what has already been said and instead come up with a new spin or angle for your topic.
Protecting your reputation
Hopefully, your reputation will never need protecting, but while it may hurt your feelings to know people are saying unkind things about you or simply misrepresenting you or your book, it is definitely to your advantage to know about such situations. You can then determine whether you need to take action.
Probably the most common problem that Google Alerts will uncover for you is other people online trying to steal your copyrighted content, such as reproducing articles on their blogs that you originally posted on yours and trying to pass them off as their own. Usually, writing to the person who stole your content and asking that person either to remove it or give you credit for it is sufficient in these cases, but you can seek legal counsel if the situation becomes more serious.
In some cases, when you find people are misrepresenting you or your book, you should choose to do nothing. For example, if a blogger writes a negative review of your book, it’s all part of being an author. If you feel the need to contact the person, you can simply write to thank him for giving your book a chance and then perhaps clarify something he did misrepresent about your book without becoming angry. You might even ask whether he will review your next book-he might like it better or at least be less cruel to you next time now that he’s had personal contact with you.
Finally, you may find that people are spreading blatant lies about you or your book or your topic, or simply misrepresenting something. You might find an online forum on your topic where people are being misinformed so you can step in and give them correct information, or you might find that people truly are slamming your book for their own agendas; for example, if you have a gay character in your book and the blogger is a fundamentalist who did not even read your book but decides to slam it anyway, you may decide to step in and defend yourself offline or online. While you need to approach such situations carefully, bad publicity is still good publicity. In this particular case, you might change one or two people’s minds enough to get them to read your book, and if you don’t change any minds, well, those people wouldn’t have read your book anyway. After all, it’s a simple fact that not everyone will like your book. Focus on those most likely to like it.
Google Alerts allows authors to stay on top of the marketing game for their books, to find new markets and avenues for their books, to watch their reputations and fame grow, to find ways to increase that fame, and when needed, to protect themselves and their books. For a few short minutes spent setting up search terms and reading the results, the benefits can be extraordinary.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.
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