The Great Social Media Flim-Flam

A few days ago, Publishers Weekly published a photograph with one of its online articles that you will not want your children to see.

For authors of any stripe, (indie or trad) it is as gruesome and horrifying as anything Stephen King could conjure up. The photo shows a pie chart depicting those avenues deemed most likely to spur a reader to buy a book. (Yes, it adds up to 203% and yes, there’s no information on how these pie wedges were calculated, but let’s stick to the horrifyingness of it for a bit.)

Allow me to direct your attention to the “social media” wedge of the pie. While it sits at a puny 11.8%, this effort, for most authors, constitutes a concentration of time and work on par with creating their manuscripts. Are you really living on Facebook and Twitter for a measly 11% return on your (time) investment?

Okay. Let’s say we don’t believe the chart for whatever reasons.  I think it still prompts a very askable question for all writers:

Is social media bullshit?

Even before the offending pie chart landed in my Twitter feed, (I’m not saying social media isn’t great for curating info, the question is whether it sells books) I was in the midst of trying to understand a perplexing situation stemming from the surprise success of one of my titles.

Like a lot of Indies, I have my books published through Amazon and also via Smashwords. I have ten books up, most of them trunk material or “vintage.” I am actively pushing, via social media, two of those titles as my strongest and so, I figure, my best chance of being good sellers. Now I have only been doing this since August but I work from home so I was able to do significant catch-up on the learning curve vis-à-vis social media and blogging. I probably spend a minimum of two hours, often more, every day scrubbing and polishing my author’s platform: tweeting, making friends, posting, and carefully and widely disseminating my blog posts. I am careful not to be pushy but to be helpful, provide good content and be interested in others. I hang out adding to and creating threads on Kindleboards. I’ve read all of Kristen Lamb’s books, and anyone else she recommends as someone I can learn from.

And you know what? Here’s what I’m starting to think:

It’s not about us, as authors.

It’s about the book.

For the last six months, I bought into the whole “it’s a marathon not a sprint” thing and put in my two hours a day to garner my 40 sales a month through Amazon. And then I saw that I was selling 500 books a month on one title over on Smashwords (actually Barnes & Noble and Sony.) It is a title I wrote almost twenty years ago. Before I published it, I had to go back in and add in cell phones, for God’s sake. My protagonist in the ad agency she worked for was talking about “marker comps.”

Then, thanks to Giga Alert, I saw that it got a review on Diesel. The review said it was “the worst book I ever read.” Okay. I know, I know. But I was mortified that someone could say that. I’m here to say it upset me for days. I re-read the book to either reassure myself as to its quality or make the decision to take it down. (This was before I read the sales figures through Smashwords which would tell me that this title—for reasons I do not know—was my single biggest runaway best seller at 3,000 copies sold in four months at $2.99.) So I let the book, Walk Trot Die, stay but the point is, I did not draw attention to it because my confidence had taken a hit on it. Plus, it’s only ever sold ONE copy through Amazon and I live on Kindleboards, and Amazon is the website I link all my book titles to, on blog posts and comments and emails, not Smashwords or Barnesandnoble.com.

So here’s what I was looking at:

Putting in 20 hours a week on social media to sell, on average, eight books a week (on not one title but spread out over ten books.) versus:

Putting in ZERO effort via Barnesandnoble and Sony to sell, on average, 125 copies a week (of  one book with one review and that a bad one).

What do I make of that?

Do I start to believe that selling your book has bollocks to do with social media?

Is it possible that the prevailing belief that having an online platform is essential to a book’s success is wrong? Are we all just the cool kids playing with the latest gadgets and wanting them to be essential and really they’re  irrelevant? Is it really the author’s platform that’s important? Is that why YOU buy a book?

Isn’t it about the damn book?

The a priori stance for my argument (that it’s the book, not the author that matters) is based on the assumption that you begin with a good book, not even a great one. All equations must start from that so don’t let’s even bring in the dreck and the bad writers and the confusing story lines and the chapters that begin with a dream sequence. Let’s just say, for our purposes, that our playing field is a product that is publishable (in the old sense), i.e., a good read.

The next thing you need to do, as an author, is to get some luck and, unfortunately, nobody knows how to make luck happen. You can position yourself so you’re in a good place for luck to hit you, but you can’t make it happen and that’s what we’re all trying to deny. After we worked so hard on the book—and it’s an awesome book—are we really going to just throw the dice on it and go write the next one? Can’t we MAKE something happen with it? Don’t we all want to believe that?

Believing we can make the big numbers happen by building relationships or “liking” a bunch of Facebook pages (or getting people to “like” us) is just thinking we have some control over the process.

I’m not saying an influential blogger never helped a writer’s book. Relationships are helpful. But, dear God, trying to develop these relationships is more exhausting than writing the book in the first place, and unlike creating the book, they are soul-sucking because we’re doing it to push our book, not because we really want to get to know the person. No matter how many times the social media mavens tell us to be nice and non-self serving, the fact is, if it weren’t for your damn book you wouldn’t be trolling through tweets or posting comments on other people’s blogs. I mean, unless you were just some pathetically needy, lonely person, I have to think you wouldn’t be.

For example, ask yourself: is it really even possible to make friends on Twitter?

Twitter is like the River Styx. It is this tsunami of sound bytes that comes roaring at you relentlessly. At first, I held off following people because I figured I wasn’t able to “follow” the fifty or so I already had. How can you connect or make friends if you have 10,000 followers? If I leave my computer to refresh the dog’s water bowl, when I come back, I’m heralded by a notation that “265 tweets” have been sent in the interim. How can anyone process all this? Do you try to go read them all? Because, meanwhile, more tweets are pouring in over the transom. And what is the benefit of it all, anyway? Is it so you can deliver some industry-rich content and get a facile “Good point!” or “LOL!” back? Is that a relationship? Really?

If you’re a writer and you follow a bunch of other writers, you will be fed a steady stream of commentary on how many words they wrote that day or how difficult it is to start writing without yet having their morning coffee. Or they’ll link you to yet-another blog post on the importance of persistence and not giving up. (Do writers not post on any other topic?) Is this helpful to pushing your book? On the less friendly side, you have the other writers who push their books in your face constantly and don’t bother with the chit-chat (takes up precious character space to say “hi.”) Do they really think endlessly hyping their books is going to intrigue me? With all the posts on all the writers’ sites that talk about how estranging that sort of self-serving behavior is, are they not reading those comments? Do they just not care? Are they selling books this way?

How in hell can you make a friend worth having in this environment, I would like to know. Isn’t the true benefit of Twitter to get your book advertised to your 10,000 followers and hope it gets, somehow, re-tweeted to their 10,000 followers? How can it be about “relationships” when the whole reason you’re there—and everybody knows it—is To. Sell. Your. Book. ?

I just read a blog post about an author who had become obsessed about how many “likes” she got on her Facebook page. She had begun to check it hourly because, I guess, she had done some Facebook promotion that had gotten a lot of people to “like” her page. Okay, now, really? Is there anybody out there who believes that total strangers really can “like” you, that it means anything? Does it mean anything when you “like” their page? It’s all a game. A silly game that got started back in high school and for some reason we’re all still playing it.

Like a lot of authors, I would love to jettison the whole social media exercise. It takes up too much time and now I don’t see a direct or even indirect line between it and book sales. I don’t know what I did (did I do something?) to make Walk Trot Die sell. (And why isn’t it selling on Amazon?) I would like to do whatever it is I did better so it would sell even better. But that’s me thinking (wishing) I have control over this beast.

Isn’t it possible that, beyond creating a good book, it’s all out of our control? As Americans, that kind of thinking is practically sacrilegious. We are so into the “How to Lose Weight in Four Simple Steps” that the idea that success can’t be turned into an easy step-by-step formula that only needs faith and persistence is just not acceptable.

It’s not about the author. It’s about the book.

You are not your book. Selling yourself does not sell your book. As a reader, I don’t want to cheer you up by buying your book. I want to get lost in a great story. As a reader, I don’t care about you. I care about the story.

If a reader likes your book, they may be interested in knowing something about you, but why is it we believe the reverse is necessarily true? Just because I find someone interesting on Facebook, doesn’t mean I will plunk down money for her book. Why would I? Curiosity? That’s why Amazon invented Sampling, and believe me, I constantly use it to check and see if an engaging blog personality I like can also cut it as a storyteller. And even if they can, if the subject matter or plot doesn’t interest me, I won’t go further.

Selling yourself as a way of selling your book has to be one of the most asinine attempts at book marketing I’ve ever heard of. And responding to that by saying traditional marketing methods won’t sell books online (whether true or not) is not an answer. However you market the product, if you think YOU are the product and not the book, you are selling the wrong commodity to the wrong demographic audience. And that never ends well.

I respect Konrath and Eisler and Dean Wesley Smith and Mayer and I read their blogs to hear their take on the publishing industry. But I can see straightaway that their books are not for me. They are famous in writerly circles. But I can’t believe that celebrity, in itself, is a great marketing plan for their books or the reason they sell so well.

So what’s the take-away?

If you have a good book and you’re spending a lot of time building your platform, and you’re not selling a lot of books, is it because you’re not spending enough time on social media (Dear God!) or because you’re not delivering the right message in the right social media at the right time of day? Or could it be you’re working to promote the wrong thing?

I think you have to at least ask yourself: what if it’s true? What if it really is about the book? And not about how many times you, the author, get retweeted, reposted or “liked?”

Wouldn’t that be a kick in the head?

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82 thoughts on “The Great Social Media Flim-Flam

  1. I’ve never been able to understand why authors get suckered into spending so many hours of their life networking. You’re right. It’s about the book, not about the author. I’m temperamentally not fit for latching onto other people. I’m not on Facebook, Google+ or any of the other “requisite” networks. I barely use Twitter, and that’s mostly to keep track of a few people and sites. I have my books on Goodreads, and do rate and review, but that’s it. I resigned myself to obscurity, knowing that everybody else was doing the right thing and I wasn’t. I blog because I love it. I comment on other blogs when there’s a good reason. There may be a slight benefit where book sales are concerned, but if so, I can’t see it. Where have most of my sales come from, so far? People who read my excerpts or my serialized novels in early drafts. My experience, and my guess for the future, is that potential readers want to know about the book and, if possible, read some of it. That means figuring out where and how to make that possible.

    By the way, every writing/self-publishing post I’ve come across this morning is concentrating on social networking. Must be something in the air.

    • I know, right? I am so attracted to the idea that the book will find its readers. My husband came up with a great analogy. He said: it’s like if someone wins the lottery and then writes a blog telling people how they, too, can win the lottery with inane formulas that totally don’t take into account that the guy was just lucky. (“So, just like did, all you have to do is take your birthday and subtract your social security number and divide it by how many kids you have and THAT’LL be your winning number!”) If you write a good book, and that’s the most important element, so much of the rest of it is just luck. And all the banging of your head against a brick wall (or a Twitter one!) isn’t going to change that.

  2. I’m at the bottom end of this totem poll, written some pretty good stuff but haven’t been published. If you ask me it’s the BOOK, it’s always the BOOK unless it’s your mother and maybe three others, sure you might be able to tweeter 10 people into sampling your book, or tell a friend about your book, but if they read it and don’t like it I don’t think a million likes would get them to take money out of their pockets and buy it, or recommend it to a friend, at least one they might see again. and yes it’s true I haven’t written or published a book, although my work has been published hundreds of times, I’m an illustrator, I’ve been hired hundreds of times to make pictures or drawings for advertising, books and magazines, one of those is Road & Track, sold my first piece to them in 1958, and another is in this months issue with hundreds in between. do I think they might consider me for an assignment because they and fifty other people “like” me on facebook? no, in my case it’s the picture stupid, doesn’t matter how many facebook thumbs up or thumbs down I get, if the illustration isn’t any good nobodies going to send out a facebook blast to a hundred friends asking them to check out and “like” page 84 in the latest issue of XYZ Magazine if they didn’t think it was pretty good stuff. So you’re right it’s the DANG BOOK. of course knowing that, you understand that even the best book needs to be promoted and so because of that understanding we complete the circle and cover the bases, BECAUSE WE KNOW WE HAVE A GOOD BOOK and because it’s a GOOD BOOK it deserves to be promoted.

  3. Well, there you have it. Confirmation that I can now stop the insanity of checking stats, liking and following, posting and commenting in hopes that some one will click the PayPal button and order. I will continue to post the excerpts, book the live readings, and remove myself from the marketing merry-go-round. It is about my books, and those characters can definitely speak for themselves.

  4. That’s so true. At the end of the day, your characters are really the only ones readers are interested in hearing from! (And you know I’m not suggesting a Twitter account in the voice of one of your characters as some writers do! LOL!)

    • It’s like you know me, I was contemplating re-doing my FB author’s page so it wasn’t “me” but a mixture of my characters (which, if truth be told, are all aspects of me anyway….wait a minute, I may need therapy, LOL).

      Seriously, I’ve gotten great tips and such from your blogs since I started reading, but this one was the most liberating.

      • Thank you! I’ve been so confounded and frustrated by social media, it’s a relief to see it as something that’s not only nonessential, but basically a time-waster. I feel liberated, too. I still think your FB author page should be about you, b/c when your readers get curious about who created their favorite books, they’ll want to see what you look like, etc.

  5. To a certain extent I agree with what you’re saying. Social media seems to work much better for those who are already well known. For those of us who are riding the cusp of discoverability it seems to have a marginal effect if any.

    I’ve also noticed that it doesn’t really matter if I skip a day or two, or change the pattern of my social media interactions. The sales trudge along regardless. Needless to say I am trying to do the only thing that has been working for me. Write another book.

  6. Hello, I came to you from Dean Wesley Smith’s blog which I follow. I agree with you about blogs and Twitter. I’ve never used either but I must give some attribution to being ‘of a certain age.’ Authors’ use of social media to sell books while pretending to be friends or at the least friendly acquaintances struck me as distasteful and not the best use of my time.
    It’s a bit of a relief to hear that it is not even successful in its goal.

    I was interested in your description of your sales on Amazon vs. B & N.
    I have wondered recently if Amazon is being overrun by content farms and other marginally legitimate works (from my point of view) that abuse of the ability to publish anything for free. Maybe B & N and Smashwords have become less cluttered.

    • Hi, Ida, thanks for the comment. It was actually Dean’s Jan 17 post that got me looking at my Smashwords sales. In that post, people were saying how they were going exclusively with Amazon for three months via Kindle Select and Dean was arguing that cutting any online bookseller out of the equation wasn’t good. I think he’s totally right. I admit I have no idea what affects book sales but for all the effort I spend trying to make something happen on Amazon, I am doing much better–by doing nothing–on B&N and Smashwords.

  7. I’m finding Twitter to be my best tool for book promo, via getting blog reviews, etc. FB- deeper relationships but not sales. I LOVED this post, and girl I twittered it, FB’ed it, Google+ed it, and then FBed it in my writers groups because we all need to be writing kickass books more and ego-stroking each other less.
    Thanks for the thoughtful and personal reveal. I’ve been coming to this conclusion myself…but it’s fun to trumpet yours through all the social media! Ironic LOL!

  8. Good post, and I wish you luck on backing away from the social media black hole. Personally, I never got fully sucked in. I never joined Face-borg or Twitter, and I dropped my Goodreads account because of the spam.

    I do blog, but that’s not really about promotion. After all, my first book isn’t even out there yet. Mostly I do it because I have things I want to say. They’re not necessarily things that need to be heard of course, but that’s what blogs are for.

    But I still hear people telling me I need to be out there on all the big social media sites doing promotion. Even if they’re right, I find that I still don’t want to do it. I would much rather spend that time either writing or… I don’t know, maybe just killing things in Azeroth. So it’s nice to hear from someone saying that it could all be a waste of time.

  9. Susan — Great post. My thought is that it’s not that social media is useless, it’s more that most authors are using it wrong. Social media only works if you’re connecting with the type of person who would buy your book. So writers, networking with other writers? Not so much. If you’re indeed connecting with actual fans though, social media can be powerful. Nonfiction writers are very good at this. Also, John Locke did some succesful promotions via social media *to his target audience.* I blogged about this in more detail here:
    http://blog.liviablackburne.com/2011/07/author-blogging-youre-doing-it-wrong.html

    and more on John Locke here:

    http://blog.liviablackburne.com/2011/07/author-blogging-youre-doing-it-wrong_21.html

    • Livia — Just read your post on “blogging you’re doing it wrong” and loved it. I have to say I enjoy blogging but I hate to do it with selling in mind. It made so much sense when you said it likely started with nonfiction writers. I can see how it would work for them! But it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole to make it work to sell novels. I’d already decided to let much of the social media circus go by me but I like the idea of blogging to exchange ideas and make (writer) friends. It takes the pressure off, keeps it fun, and sharpens the tools. Now if we could just find a way to sell books!

  10. I like blogging – I was a blogger long before I was writing stories. I like social media too, and yes, I have made very good friends both on twitter and facebook (that is to say – people I now connect with via email in more personal ways). So yes, it is possible if you’re open to that sort of thing (and not spamming everyone with your book links).

    I used soc. networks for marketing for awhile, but it gets old very quickly, and honestly, I sell more when I’m *not* online as much (we’ll just ignore the knock my ego takes for that). So when I engage in soc. networking now, it’s for fun…to chat, play games, read links, and just generally relax a bit. I do chat writing w/writers too…because there really isn’t anyone local who wants to listen to me blather on about it (and honestly, I prefer connecting w/people virtually rather than in person – very much introverted that way).

    Yes, when I publish a new book, I announce it on my blog, and that feed goes out to my networks. But that’s it, really – otherwise, I just chat. Much more peaceful that way – and more time to write/publish books!

  11. I think this is the most sensible blog post I’ve seen in a long time (like maybe – ever)! Of course, I could be prejudiced because I really suck at social media. In any event, reading it provided a sort of ’emperor’s new clothes’ moment. I’d already decided to pull back on the social media a bit, and your post made me feel a lot better about it.

    I’ve been really for fortunate with my debut thriller that came out in June and picked up traction in October, but I’ve always doubted that social media had much to do with it. A great deal of it really is luck.

    Thanks for a great post and injecting a bit of common sense into the dialogue.

    Bob

  12. I suppose, like anything else, it’s about your expectations. I’m fairly active on various social media sites. I’m a geek so they appeal to me. I’m also a podcaster and soc. media circles have been very helpful in building relationships, getting new listeners, etc.

    If you expect that you’re going to get sales by tweeting up your book constantly then I’d say your expectations are misplaced. I follow people that I find interesting on some level. I also follow people whose work I enjoy. Sometimes I get a sale from things I tweet about, Maybe I’d get that sale anyway. But I’m already on Twitter and that 100 character tweet about my book didn’t cost me anything but 30 seconds.

    11% isn’t nothing. But yeah if you’re spending two hours a day online and you don’t like doing it and you could be doing more writing or what have you then yeah it’s not worth doing. That’s not the same as saying it’s not worth doing at all. I’d also be interested in knowing where these numbers come from.

    • It’s true, much of my emphasis about the 11% is because I really don’t like doing social media in the first place. But even if 11% as a ROI (time-wise) was all I could expect, I still wouldn’t mind so much if I thought it really worked. But unfortunately nobody can say whether it does or not. It makes more sense to me to put that extra hour or two a day into writing my next novel. At least I know I’m going to get 100% product out of the time expenditure! (BTW: Click on the Publishers Weekly link in the first line of my post to go to the original article where the pie chart came from to see how they came up with the numbers.)

  13. How do we get you an OBE? This is th ebest article I’ve read in ages. My feeling has always been (as someone who took Kristen Lamb’s course too) that the people who have made the most money from selling books online and are telling you how to do it, sold books that told people how to make money selling books online.
    Recently I downloaded an ebook from an author I “know” through social media. It was a free promotion, but the book was….well, bad. Badly written, badly edited, badly plotted. I won’t be going back for more, despite the social media interaction. It’s the book, it’s all about the book.
    Good for you!

    • Thanks, Damian. I definitely feel like we’re all on the same page here. I appreciate Kristen’s posts on the mechanics of writing because we can always get better. But the social media stuff is basically untrackable and unprovable. And too time-consuming to get away with being either.
      I’m with you: it’s all about the book.

  14. “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” is supposed to tell people NOT to waste time with social media. The idea is that there is no rushing it, and putting in time on anything but writing is going to waste energy and kill your stamina.

    But people don’t hear that because they want to MAKE something happen. Even if they can’t. It’s like the old joke:

    There’s a guy searching and searching the sidewalk, and another guy comes along and asks if he can help. The first guy says he dropped an expensive contact lens, and he’s just got to find it. So they both search and search, until finally the second guy asks the first:
    “So exactly where were you standing when you dropped it?
    “Oh, over there, across the street.”
    “Then why are we searching here!?!”
    “Because the light is better.”

    Social media, blogging, tagging, manipulating the price — all those are things you can DO yourself. Recommendations and algorithms are all out of your control, so people waste time doing the stuff that doesn’t work, just like the guy in the joke searches where the light is rather than where his contact lens is. It just FEELS more useful.

    How do you force recommendations to happen? Write more books. Write better books. That’s pretty much it. But doing it that say is… a marathon, not a sprint.

  15. You’re right. It’s so much easier to fiddle with social media or stack up “likes” on Facebook than accept that selling books is simply going to take a long time and writing more and waiting for it to happen are the two top things “to do.” (BTW: Love your contact lens analogy. Perfect.)

  16. I’m not sure I entirely believe your hypothesis, but if you’re right, it’s a huge relief to me.

    My books garner great reviews from strangers and have done rather well in contests I’ve entered. One of my stories received eight out of ten requests for full manuscripts from agents. I know I can write. But I have very little confidence in my ability to sell.

    I see other writers doing well with social media. The most successful indie authors seem to put themselves out there on display. I just can’t see myself doing that. I’m in my forties. I have silver roots and thirty pounds I should lose. I don’t think anyone wants to see that, and I don’t want to show them. I love the idea that it might not be necessary.

    However, I don’t know if I can take that chance. Like I said, the most successful writers have been putting themselves out there. I know I’m not extroverted enough to catch up, but I’m afraid of being left too far behind.

    Anyway, thank you. You’ve given me something to think about, and you’ve put my mind a bit at ease.

    • You know, your comment reminded me of a discussion I had with a writer’s group recently where they suggested that with the new world order of indie publishing it was all v good that we’d “cut out the middle man” but perhaps we’re missing a tier, even so? This is all subjective, but when I hear an author pushing his book, I get annoyed and not in the frame of mind to give his book a try. But when I hear someone else pushing his book, I don’t look at it so critically. I’m not saying we should all go out and hire publicists (another predatory group happy to take money from the unsuspecting author), but if there was some new mechanism that could come into play by which our books got promoted or marketed–and not from our own self-serving mouths–it might feel a little more palatable. And if it felt that way to us…maybe it would to prospective readers too?

  17. Reblogged this on Tales From The Mad Monk and commented:
    Publishers Weekly recently published the results of a survey about how readers discover books and it has generated a significant bit of discussion because it lists blogs and social networks down at the bottom. In this post Susan Kiernan-Lewis rips into the whole social media thing.

    I have a different perspective on things. Bear in mind that I haven’t sold squat so I sure as hell am not going to come here and say social media is where it all happens.

    Look at the results. The numbers add up to a bit over 200% which makes it obvious to me that they asked respondents to list more than one way they hear about books. Is that important? Maybe yes and maybe no but let me ask you this, if one of your friends tweets or posts on facebook, G+ or their blog that they read a really excellent book and you read the book and you like it and someone asks you how you heard about it, are you going to say you bought it because you heard about it on Twitter or because of a personal recommendation? They don’t report how the questions were worded and they may have specified that the personal recommendation category was exclusive of social media interactions but I tend to doubt it and absent that information I have to believe that some chunk of the personal recommendations occurred online. How many? I dunno, you don’t know, and unless we see the text of the survey questions nobody will know.

    Here’s the other thing. If we assume that regardless of whether the personal recommendation category includes social stuff, personal recommendations are huge. When you don’t have large marketing campaigns, personal recommendations have to be huge. That’s the way human brains work. But here’s the thing, in order to get personal recommendations, you have to get someone to read and like the book.

    The way I see it, for an indie writer (and it should be clear, the survey wasn’t restricted to indie books) there are at least two aspects of selling and they’re to two distinct portions of the reading public. There’s a difference between the really high volume readers and the rest of the reading public. I would love to see the “How Readers Discover Books” pie chart broken down by how big a reader the respondent is. I rather strongly suspect that the highest volume readers discover more of their reads via blogs and social networks than the average schmoe and I think it’s these guys who are making the recommendations to people.

    I think my most fundamental disagreement with the blog is the utterly dismissive attitude she takes towards marketing the writer over the book. There is a difference between selling one book and selling multiple books. If someone reads one book and likes it, you’d like to turn them into a lifelong fan. If nothing else, letting them know that a new book is out has to sell some books.

    And one final point. It’s pretty clear that she doesn’t enjoy it. More than that, she suggests that it doesn’t work because you’re just there to sell books. Well no shit. If you don’t enjoy it and you’re just there to sell books of course it isn’t going to work. Nobody likes to be advertised at and if that’s what you’re doing then you’re doing it wrong.

  18. I realized this months ago. I blog posted about it, but no one heard me because I didn’t have an “author platform”. Which was fine in the end. I deleted my twitter, facebook and blogger accounts at the beginning of this month. Since then, I’ve been spending all my free time writing. I’ll never join twitter again. I’ve got a website and that’s all I need for the genre I currently write in.

    • Good for you. I wish I’d figured it out earlier. Trying to shoehorn writing time (plus making a living and being a member of a family LOL!) into my life when social media seemed to command so much time was agonizing. I can’t tell you how many social media schedules I’d create and rip up trying to insert it into my daily round without wasting half my day. AND STILL saw no results!

  19. I used to do a decent amount of social media, but got tired of it and decided to focus on writing my next story, then the next one, then the next one. I agree with DWS, Konrath, and Rusch’s philosophy of greater and greater inventory creation across multiple genres as a way over time to increase your discoverability. Not only do you cast a wider net, but you get plenty of writing practice at the same time 🙂

  20. This is a great post, thank you! I worry constantly that I’m no good at social media, and I still spend two hours a day trying to keep up with it – and yet I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book as a result of someone’s blog, unless it was non-fiction. So why should I suppose anyone else is likely to do that because of my blog?
    I think I may stop with the social media and go and write instead. Thanks!

  21. Your blog got my attention on twitter. I am a salesman, but also a buyer, a reader, sometimes a blogger. I am also trying to assess how much time social media is worth.

    Two of your concepts got my attention: The first was luck. What is it and what can you do to increase your chances of increasing it. Capitalism is supposed to be about taking risks. What that means is some succeed and some don’t. Only the winners register with the general public, but presumably if the losers weren’t willing to take a risk, the concept would dry up. As a salesman the biggest obstacle is dealing with rejection. I try to tell myself if it wasn’t for rejection there would be a lot more salespeople and the payoff would be less. I have also noticed the more times I expose myself to rejection I not only get more rejection, but I also get a few more successes. From successes I can often leverage more successes (like an author of a successful book). If I could only figure out whether A or B is more likely to buy what I am selling my life would be much simpler. Actually it is probably M much further down the list that is most likely to buy.

    The other concept was “good book”. By most definitions there are more good books that any normal human could possibly read in a lifetime. That is allowing for the fact that any individual’s definition might be unique. I am constantly looking for lists of good books or recommendations by trusted authorities. I am influenced by if I have met the author, read something by the author, had a friend recommend, catch a link to one of my personal interests.

    In closing I would draw your attention to someone I consider a social media expert with a practical outlook. Scott Stratten’s website is http://www.unmarketing.com His concept is that engagement is the key, not numbers. Engagement will lead to better numbers.

    Also add one of the little details that got my attention was a reference to horses as I sell ads for a horse publication amongst other things. You never know what little detail will do the trick.

  22. Was linked here from Dean Wesley Smith’s blog.

    I haven’t gone down the social media road because it never smelled right to me. Even narrowing web focus to KindleBoards and GoodReads seems to have dubious benefits. And I’m beginning to suspect that blogging on one’s own author website may be akin to so much howling into the wind.

    What’s left? Well, that “luck” thing you mentioned. Oh, yeah – and good eBooks.

    You have to believe in something, or else you might as well thrown in the eTowel.

    Todd

    • It seems to me if all I ever got from my blogging was a lot of like-minded people jumping into the conversation with me, that would be worth it to me. I’m delighted to be surrounded (virtually) by other writers. It’s when I find myself donning the cap of “hawker” and lurking around Twitter and Facebook that I feel like a fraud. Twitter is too big, in my mind, to be anything but one big spam-athon. I can’t imagine making friends in just 140 characters. (Can you imagine any way we could’ve had a conversation in this kind of depth on Twitter?) So I happily walk away from Twitter and Kindleboards. I’d rather put my time into writing books and blogging for friendships’ sake (not selling books) and hope the books find their readership eventually. Or hell, or not! I don’t have to make a living at it. I just have to not stop!

  23. I know a few writer, mainly because I’m trying to network myself with writers. Although I’ve only written a few freelance pieces, I one day hope to sell a book (if I ever finish writing it). I’ve noticed that writers seem to spend all their time updating their facebook status and tweeting. When I do that, I get zero writing done. I always wondered why/how they do it. Now I see it’s not always worth the effort. I don’t feel so bad about closing my Twitter account. Great, insightful post.
    ~FringeGIrl

  24. Does social media sell books? I don’t know. Considering the evidence you’ve presented and the fact that I’ve bought exactly zero books via recs from social media, I’d go with probably not.

    But do readers expect you to have an online presence? Absolutely.

    Unfortunately, many people misuse social media; they use it as just another marketing tool. But what was social media created for? Keeping up with friends and sharing information. Somewhere along the line somebody thought (as people often do), “Hey, I can make money off of this!” and suddenly these platforms became one more way to sell a product.

    We are missing the point of social media here. People (who are not selling books or other products) log on to twitter, facebook, etc not to browse for something to buy – this is not Amazon – but to connect with friends and to see what’s happening in the world. By trying to sell your product here, you’re essentially trying to turn a bar into a supermarket. Or, as Camille Laguire mentioned above, you’re searching on the wrong sidewalk.

    Will social media drive your sales? Probably not. But it will help grow your brand and affect the way the public thinks of you. As an author in today’s world, it’s important to be available to readers via social media to some extent, be it all of the above, or just a website with a bio and a contact form. As you’ve already concluded, though, you can’t expect someone to buy your product based on your personality, especially not in an environment that wasn’t intended to be a marketplace.

    • Love the analogy of “turning a bar into a supermarket.” It’s true: my Facebook is so crammed full of virtual strangers that it’s hard to find friends and family! I don’t “sell” on my blog and so I love to write it and meet people through it. I only see Twitter and Kindleboards as marketing tools and so I hate going there!

  25. Pingback: What makes me read a book?/ Was bringt mich dazu, ein Buch zu lesen | phoenixrisesagain

  26. I am starting to lean more and more to this way of thinking. I spend so much TIME trying to market through social media, looking for blogs that review self-published books, looking at the blogs of fellow writers, etc that I have practically NO time for writing. *sigh* And to see no sales as a result of all the hard work is very depressing to say the least! Maybe I should start distancing myself from the social networking and focus on my day job (teaching) and writing again.

    • There is a school of thought that says the book will find its reader. And another school of thought that says if you put enough books out there, it helps it to find its reader faster! It really feels so much more sane and balanced to write–because we love it–and leave the marketing to the fates. Just keep writing. So many writers are poor and begrudging marketers but happy and awesome writers. Why not do what you do best?

  27. This is a great post, Susan. I’ve had six books released through mainstream publishers and have spent countless hours online, trying to promote what I’ve written. The end result has always been lackluster sales. I decided long ago that social media does little to promote sales, but I keep at it simply because most other authors are online!

  28. As a soon-to-be self-published author, I’ve found your blog INVALUABLE and I wish to thank you from the bottom of my heart!
    I don’t really know what to contribute to this discussion; I’ve started a Facebook page and Twitter account to help draw attention to myself, but I don’t really know if my efforts will be in vain or not.

  29. But isn’t there natural crossover between social media and personal recommendation – some kind of trickledown effect which hopefully works better than Ronald Reagan’s? People hear about our book through social media, THEN recommend it?
    Had a look at your “about me” page – we have some similar interests, French features in my writing too…!

  30. Susan – I honestly havent a clue (yet) on how social media drives sales or lack thereof, but it sure is refreshing to hear someone actually questioning the whole premise.

    I will say this though: I stumbled on your blog through Freshly Pressed. I tend to visit hmmm…say 20% of all the freshly pressed blogs and of those I bet I only stay reading for more than 5 minutes on half of them.

    Of those that make it past the 5 minute threshold there are maybe 5% that I click the follow button on.

    So here I am….about to follow you….will that result in a sale at some point down the road? who knows…directly..or indirectly…I’d say there’s a 50-50 chance.

    I know next to nothing about your work, but that will change as I follow your blog….the thing I’m asking myself is what makes me follow a persons blog?

    I think the answer is authenticity. That’s what attracts me (as well as intelligence)

    So in this case, it’s the author first, the book second. Just food for thought.

  31. Well said – your blog I mean. Thanks for bringing me up on a down day. Whenever even one person tells me they read my book and enjoyed it – well it makes my day. We tell stories that we hope people will enjoy. And that’s what’s it’s all about. Hokey pokey now and turn yourself around – aka = take a bow. Enjoy always, T

  32. As someone who’s recently published works on Amazon & Smashwords but hasn’t done a thing as far as social networking, I feel vindicated. I think you’re right, we so need to feel we have some control over whether or not our books will sell well. But most of it’s likely just blind luck. I suppose this was true from the beginning, and it’s one thing the Internet Age hasn’t changed.

  33. Pingback: Here's a Health to the Cow and to Her Long Tail | Hayden Thorne | Short Holidays | Cruise holidays

  34. I don’t have much to add to the admiring comments above, but read your blog with so many ‘Yes, exactly’ and ‘she’s saying what I feel’ moments that I need to acknowledge them. I’ll be linking to this post from my own blog (although given how lazy I am, God knows when that’ll be). I’ve published plenty and got plenty of 5 star reviews (not all from friends) but I’m still light years away from enjoying the tax exile my wife envisaged when my first novel was accepted. I bet I get posthumous recognition and she has the beach all to herself. Thanks for a great posting, Susan.

  35. Pingback: Life After Twitter | Susan Kiernan-Lewis

  36. I am thankful that there are others out there that see all the high school hype behind all this social networking crap and that the majority of it is there for large corporations to make profits not friends.

  37. I’ve been social networking and publishing since 1995. If I could do anything over again, I’d spend less time on social networking and more time on writing. I agree that published works are the best form of advertising.

    However, certain types of social networking have brought in a lot of readers to me – my domain stats and blog stats show that. This is the advice I’d give to new writers:

    1) At a minimum, an author needs a place to link to all their published writings, and a way to send out announcements of new writings (because even the most faithful reader is going to forget to check your website to see if you have new books out). If you’re only going to do one form of social networking, I’d recommend a blog, because that gets word out of your new works, but I think it’s better to have a blog plus a website (or a blog that can be set up to look like a website). It’s asking too much of a reader to demand that they comb through a blog archive to find what books you’ve published in the past.

    2) Seek out ways in which you can mirror (i.e. automatically repost) your blog posts to other social networks: e-mail lists, Twitter, Facebook, and any place that will let you set up an RSS feed, such as Goodreads. That way, you need only post writing announcements in one place, but your posts will reach a wider network.

    3) Beyond that, if you want to social network for the purpose of marketing you writings, focus on places that are specifically devoted to helping readers find writings to read. (Though in response to the comments above about the uselessness of networking in places where writers hang out, I’ll point out: Writers buy a *lot* of books.) You don’t have to spend a lot of time posting in those places. The posts that bring in the most visitors to my website are the ones in which I list all of my latest fiction. I post those only once a year.

    4) A final hint: Online advertising/networking works best for online content, such as e-zines, online fiction, etc. If your writing is available to read at the click of a mouse, by all means link to it in as many places as possible. If you want to sell e-books or print books, give readers something online to read – preferably entire stories or articles or serializations *that are related to the e-books or print books you’re selling*. (There’s a big difference between saying, “Hi! I have an excerpt online for my $4.99 e-book!” and saying, “Free story!” You draw in a lot more people by the second announcement . . . but make sure that the story is connected in some way to whatever you’re selling.)

    Then, at whatever social network you take part in that’s reading-related, link to those stories or articles. Some of the readers you attract will want to read the other stories/articles in your series and will buy your e-books or books. I’ve built up a fair number of regular readers through that method.

    Gosh, I’ve just spent a half hour on social networking. I’d better get back to work. 🙂

  38. Pingback: Heck yeah! Here are some links | Tamara's Little Writing Corner

  39. What a relief to finally see writers speaking out on what I’ve always suspected — social media doesn’t sell books.

    Ask yourself … how do you choose which books to buy? Personal preference, author, genre, time, for example ( a no- show on your pie chart ) followed by recommendation — personal, store staff or fellow- reader review, plot summary and cover ( even in ebooks ) are my helpers in making a choice. Social media, never; advertising, maybe indirectly, if only to let me know Big Famous Writer has a new book release, which I already knew if I’m a fan.

    I like the descriptive on Smith’s blog ( mentioned above) …. authors promote, writers write.

  40. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I quit reading the comments half way down because everyone was saying everything I’ve been thinking for months. When in the heck was I supposed to find time to write if I’m out on the internet every evening trolling for people to “like” me? To me, it’s the writing, the craft, and my wanting to amuse and entertain people, to take them away from their lives for just a little bit and give them a break. I want them to enjoy what I give them. And I can’t do that if I’m more concerned with suckering them into following me on FB or twitter.
    Blessings!

  41. Great questions to raise and consider! I’m very new to twitter and blogging, both started with similar motivations 😉 And one of the questions I intend to focus in on regularly is the effect of modern technology on our mental life, and how it’s changing as a result, for better and worse.

    Would love to get a hold of your book fear of falling, but unfortunately I’m in Shanghai and have no means for doing online commerce (that’s food for a topic in itself actually). But the point is, being able to take a much wider perspective as you have, to better see the implications of how we are living on our nature, our future, and also what we lose in the process.

    All the best!
    Ashok.

  42. Thanks Susan. I feel like I’m a social media moron, so it’s reassuring to see it expressed so eloquently that, in a nutshell, it’s more useful to write the next story than to bleat and blog about the last. Cheers.
    – Sean

  43. Pingback: The Power of Forgiveness: 5 Tips for Dealing With Negative People | Christy Farmer

  44. Just my personal musings…

    Using blogs and other social media, with the intent to sell something, misses the point. For example, first and foremost a blog is a journal. As such a journal is about expressing ones inner most thoughts, about connecting with oneself and the open universe. Using it as a tool for a solely, or perhaps soulless, monetary purpose negates the journey and sells the heart of its writer.

    I rather think of blogging, as a means of sharing, with whosoever chooses to drop by, a love for topics, ideas, colour, life etc. I want them to share in the complexity of life. I want to connect with people. That does not mean they may return daily to my blog or ever again. It does however, mean I have managed to connect with someone, even just for a moment in time. I’m fine with that realisation. If readers come back, I’m pleased and flattered that I have somehow managed to engage them on multiple levels or on a particular theme that reappears on my blog.

    Most people who visit my blog are aware I am writing a book. I do share aspects of my interest in writing my book but as a means of sharing my excitement, my interest and above all my utmost respect and love for the men I am writing about. My purpose in blogging about them is to have them remembered, to honour them in perpetuity for their sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, their life for ours. I want to share a sense of the joy of researching and writing and how it has brought more meaning to my life.

    Of course, not trying to sell my book on my blog or through twitter etc. may very well mean I’ll sell less books or maybe it wont… (that is supposing it will be published for a greater audience than the families who wish a copy). I don’t mind. It is not about the selling but the message. Granted it would be nice to get my time and travels paid for but I never set out with the idea that it would, nor do I think it will, cover my time and financial costs. For me it has always been about the message. Perhaps I will have to write more books to make a living but I highly doubt they will make me feel as proud and honoured or as fulfilled as I feel having had the opportunity to write the one I’m currently writing.

  45. Couldn’t agree more. It’s similar to the mentality that says 3D makes a movie “better.” For me, FB is for friends, Google+ is for contacts, and Twitter is for shouting into a vacuum. (Btw, you can follow me: @ExNASATerry)

  46. Pingback: Link Love for Writers on Friday « Hunter's Writing

  47. Thanks for a terrific post, Susan. I agree with you 100% on social media and the importance of your product. And that’s an important reality a lot of writers are missing: Your book is a product and writing is your business. If your product sucks, no one will care what you have to say on Twitter, G+, FB, etc. ad nauseam.

  48. Cheryl–Love your to-do list! And it makes a lot of sense. As a veteran advertising copywriter, I know a message has to be received multiple times before it registers and that’s a good point. I have to say that Twitter still feels like crap shoot to me but I’m willing to believe that scheduling tweets may have some merit as far as repeating your message. It’s a fine line to tread, tho’, not wanting to be perceived as a dreaded “spammer,” but not wanting to “twiddle your thumbs” as you say, either. I absolutely believe I was guilty of the latter because I was so worried about being mistaken for the former! As you suggest, somewhere in between (like most things in life) is probably where we authors want to be. At this point, I still see Twitter more as a way to find blog posts on subjects that interest me and to help keep abreast of breaking industry news than selling books, but it’s also true that, crap shoot or not, anyone can put thirty minutes a day into it on the possibility that it may build some memorable messaging.Thanks so much for your articulate and intelligent comment. Now I’m going to go set my timer and then see who’s doing what on Facebook!

  49. Susan:

    Great post.

    I think many people mistake social media for advertising. We all know that advertising works, heck, P.T. Barnum taught us that. But Barnum didn’t pretend he was your friend. Barnum enticed you in, and then gave you more than you could possibly absorb in one visit. You left wanting to come back again, whether to his museum or to his circus.

    In other words, while Barnum branded himself, it was also about his product.

    So it should be with us. Author name is important, but author’s work is more important.

    And I want to have more for my readers to come back to. That means writing instead of Tweeting.

    C

  50. Pingback: » Monday’s Writing Links (2/6) Conor P. Dempsey

  51. What a relief! I’m not the only one who has wrestled with this!

    I no longer have a Facebook account.

    Twitter? I wouldn’t know a tweet if it pecked me on the nose.

    I might look at Good Reads…

    I have a website, with a blog, writing bits and pieces here and there, only because I ENJOY doing it.

    The social media networks likely tie in well for non-fiction writers, but I have to admit, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to make use of it as a fiction writer. And to make it more difficult, my writing does not fall into a particular genre – more of a cross between literary and commercial. I like to call it “mainstream.” The more I thought about using social media, the less it made any sense to me.

    I have two novels in the works – one almost ready for release, the other requires editing (major editing). I’ve finally realized that I’ve been stuck, not wanting to move forward, just because I don’t have the “social media platform” in place, prior to launching my books.

    Thank you! Thank you! Let it be about the books!

  52. Hurrah! Three cheers for your post 🙂

    I gave up Twitter because it does nothing other than irritate the crap out of me. Facebook ditto. I totally agree with your comments about a ‘relationship’. Relationships take time and effort – and usually more than 140 characters or whatever Twitter uses.

    I’m getting closer to having something publishable and everyone is telling me I need to get a platform. If that’s what I have to do to sell books then only friends and family will read my work.

    But I wasn’t convinced. There are authors out there selling books and they don’t tweet and they don’t Facebook yet they sell books; some sell a lot.

    Yours is the first post I’ve read which goes against the accepted ‘wisdom’. Not that I read many blogs but someone I know who is a writer follows your blog. I thought I’d drop by. So glad I did 🙂

  53. Pingback: Social Media is NOT about Sales « The Practical Free Spirit

  54. Thank you so much for this!

    I too was taken in by these \”social media experts\”, doing everything they said, till I felt empty, doing something I hated. And then I looked at the bios of these \”experts\”, people like Kristen Lamb (whose books and courses I bought as well), who haven\’t written a single fiction book, yet think its ok to give advice to others.

    I found that most of it doesn\’t even work. I got my blogs retweeted by the so called \”connectors\”, who had 2-3000 followers. I got one person with 5,000 blog readers to recommend my blog on her blog. And in both the cases, I got hardly 3-4 clicks. So all that time spent being \”social\”, retweeting people\’s blogs, commenting on their blogs, which was hours of work, had almost zero effect.
    So I can understand the people who spam you on Twitter. They get more clicks, more people buy their books. Spamming works. Not that I want to do it, but it is more efficient than Ms Lambs techinque.

    After reading this blog, I finally realised what was wrong- I was letting other people pull a fast one over me. I should have listened to my gut, which was shouting \”Bullshit!\”

    From now on, I will follow Dean W Smiths advice- write, write, write, and let the readers find you.

    Thank you once again! You gave me the courage to delete my Facebook and Twitter accounts. It\’s nice to know that I wasn\’t the only one. 🙂

    • Glad it was helpful, James. I wish there were some determining factor that we could all agree on that worked but, bottom line, nobody knows. I don’t have the energy or the personality to be a big social media person (even if I thought it worked to sell books which I don’t) so I’m happy to write my blog, meet people with similar interests and hope for the best with my books. 🙂

  55. Impassioned and meaningful post – well done!
    I’m a published author. My publishers’ marketing woman works in very strange ways, which I’m unable to comprehend. All I know is that she’s not getting me either reviews or interviews.
    My book is a memoir – possibly not the most sought-after genre. But it’s far from your usual kind of memoir; and those who’ve read it are raving about it. Question: how in the name of all the gods does it get into the public eye? – and answer: nobody knows. Certainly not my publishers, damn ’em.
    “And then like my dreams” – destined to remain just that.

    • I’m not a big believer in publicists, I have to say. As long as you’re not shelling out for her, I guess it can’t do any harm. Maybe it’s time for you pick up the phone to call your local radio and newspapers to see how interested they might be in hearing your story. Usually they’re pretty receptive to a local author. Good luck!

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