How Social Media Helps Sell Books

Let me say right from the get-go that I’m grateful for all the other indie writers out there who publicly reveal mistakes they made so that I can try to avoid them, who suggest positive outcomes they think they created (or when they attribute to luck certain results that seem to have “just happened”) so I can attempt to emulate them, and who even make educated guesses not based on personal experience because I might not have thought of it, myself! A week or two ago, Romance Author Merry Farmer shared an experience of how having the first book in her romance series go free helped the other book in the series sell and then the first book, too, when it went back to full price. This isn’t a Kindle Select story, so everyone who has a series can benefit from learning from her experience.

My own little sharing tale began when I published my book Fear of Falling in March 2012 to practically nonexistent sales. I tweeted, I made it free, I discounted, I racked up a slew of very good reviews–mostly fours and fives–and I placed in a prominent fiction contest which allowed me to plaster a very attractive gold medallion on the cover–and still the book did not sell. And then, because while I think social media is worthless for many things (like promoting your book) but is pretty darn wonderful for making friends and learning from people, I read a terrific post from Dean Wesley Smith that changed everything for me. While I must admit to having re-read the post at least four times (I knew there was wisdom there specific to me but it wasn’t obvious at the first reading what it was), it finally clicked which toe I had, effectively, blown off with Fear of Falling, and what kind of surgery would be necessary. While I’d  cranked up the size of my name on the second stab at a cover design,  the positioning of my genre was a muddle, my sales copy was flat (and ME a copywriter!), the cover–although professionally done–was selling the wrong story to the wrong reader.

Here is the book that launched in March. It looks like what I thought it was: women’s fiction. (Turns out that’s only part of what it is and maybe not the best part.) I threw this cover to the left up on my Facebook pages where I have a great group of writers hanging around and got some opinions that basically said, “Yeah, you’re good! Love it but why not add more color?”  So I created the one to the right with the woman’s face staring reflectively off into middle distance as she contemplated her fears and the world ending etc. After a month of, like five sales, I started listening to my husband when he said: “Ditch the woman’s face and the type face. It looks too literary.” Fine. I’m flexible. I hired a designer to re-do my type and my next cover looked like the one below. It was so much better especially with the cool little “L” falling, but since I was still skating down the wrong side of the wrong genre, it wasn’t going to matter. I gave  a bunch of the books away to reviewers and started getting positive reviews. Because I didn’t know who my reader for this book really was, and because I took all the sex and the profanity out of it, I targeted a Christian audience. That worked up to a point but, really, just because my main protagonist thinks more about God when the world “ends” really didn’t make it Christian fiction. (You see how confused I was?) When a friend of mine in New Zealand read it, he told me he was absolutely surprised that he ended up liking it because he thought it was about how to overcome fears with horses! Now this was in May and I should have known RIGHT THEN that I was all backward with the marketing of the thing. But, I’m stubborn and I liked the cover (that I’d paid for) and there was my husband (and how I hate it when he’s right!) saying it looks like a horseback riding manual or some kind of toffy literary fiction. “But if you read the reviews they say stuff like ‘page turner’ and ‘had me on the edge of my seat,’ ” I would say. And still the sales didn’t happen. I wrote two other books in the meanwhile, totally annoyed that this great little book about a modern woman battling to keep her family alive in a post-apocalyptic dystopic rural society wasn’t attracting any readers! And then two important things happened.  I read Dean’s post. I cogitated. I wondered. I looked at Fear of Falling on its Amazon page and I glanced down and saw all the books underneath it that other readers looked at or bought after looking at mine. And they all had flashes or explosions or bomb dust or ruined cities on the cover. And I looked at mine. Hmmmmm.

All of a sudden, it was clear that the damn title was all wrong. I immediately changed it from Fear of Falling to Free Falling. And yes, I did it because I didn’t want to lose the value I’d paid for with the cool little wonky “L” that my graphic artist had created but also because I knew as soon as I did it that it worked. Fear of Falling said it was a nonfiction book and we were going to discuss your fears.

The horse on the cover said we were going to deal with your fears about falling. Free Falling said–what happens in this book is out of control.  I republished the book across all sites–and Createspace, too, and showed it to my husband and he nodded and said: “Now, put a mushroom cloud on the horizon, and you’re done.” What? Are you kidding? Talk about heavy handed! No way! I re-wrote the blurb and description across all sites. I repositioned the genre, killed the Christian fic slant and added sci-fi and even YA (hell, it has no sex or cussing, and a hero kid in it, why not?)  Then three days later, just for fun, just to see, I checked out istock.com for a mushroom cloud, dropped it into the cover’s indesign file and ghosted it back a tad…you know, just to see.

In 36 hours it had sold 20 books.

In 72 hours, it had sold 50 books. It went from a baseline Amazon ranking of 265,000 in the paid Kindle store to 40,000 and then 15,000.

In three days.

I was wrong, the cover was way wrong, the blurb was wrong, the genre was wrong, the damn title of the book was wrong. And because I’m an Indie, I can figure out what to do by accessing my online colleagues and advisers through social media. I can then sit down at my computer and make it right. So I’m passing this little case study on to you as living proof that (well, that Dean and my husband are both very wise men) but also that sometimes tweaking and changing and learning are all a part of the epublishing experience.

And sometimes even if you take the long way round to get where you’re going, if you meet the right people along the way, you can still get there in plenty of time.

How NOT to use social media to sell your book

You know how you know you should keep your mouth shut or go ahead and write the blog but then not post it…but you do anyway? As a result of a few recent posters assertions on the benefits of social media to sell books, I find myself compelled to revisit the whole Social Media: Waste of Time or Important Way to Sell Your Books? argument. The bloggers that triggered this urge in me have recently reasserted their beliefs that creating a warm ‘n fuzzy social media clam bake of “good friends” can be effective in selling books.

I think that’s bollocks.

As I understand it, their basic tenet goes like this: the best way to use social media to sell books is to support each other as writers—instead of obnoxiously, repetitively hawking our wares. Just be nice and don’t overtly sell your books and eventually sales will come to you. Whether it’s via superficial friendships with other writers or infiltrating chat sites of likely prospective readers of your books, I have to say I still think using social media in this way to move books off the e-shelves is like pushing a pea up a hill with your nose. On a skateboard. Backwards.

Going a step further, I’m ready to stand up and announce after careful examination of the available facts and discussions with a lot of people who have sold a ton of books via Twitter, that I think social media might well be useful as a spamming tool to blanket the universe with your name and your latest release and trigger sales which, if the book is any good, might possibly spur a word of mouth thing. Okay, it’s obnoxious, I’ll grant you. But so are the commercials on television and every once in awhile they do alert you to something that might improve your life.

If you think spending time on Twitter or even Facebook telling people bits and pieces of your writing life is going to do SQUAT for your sales overall you are just plain DELUDED. (Sorry, didn’t mean to shout.)  And if you’re doing it for that reason, please do all of us—and yourself—a favor and sign off now. I’m not saying it’s not great to find an online community of like-minded people and if those people give you an atta-girl now and then, all the better. But if you are fooling yourself into believing that you are gathering a henhouse full of love that is going to rain down upon you when your time comes to release your next book then you are not only wasting a whole lot of time on something that won’t happen, but your main purpose for connecting with people is self-serving and devious. (Great basis for a friendship!)

Don’t get me wrong, I think social media can be great for developing a community of like minds. Writers are solitary people. We’re not the Unabomber, (most of us), but writers don’t hate being alone. So yes, I can see reaching out via the Internet to connect with other writers—I frankly love doing that—and then

So then if you write a 5-star review for me, I’ll write one for you…

scurrying back to my cave to knock out another 2K words. Social media is fun and I’ve had a few LOLs with people I’ll never lay eyes on whose wit and insight I enjoy.  But I have my hands full pushing my own career without spending thirty minutes a day promoting someone else’s in the hopes it’ll come back to me someday. Why can’t we just let the work speak for itself and use social media to announce it? Thems that is interested can dip into the constantly moving Twitter stream, and them that ain’t can let it go by. Don’t get your knickers in a twist because people are trying to sell you their books. So far, nobody’s holding a gun to your head to buy.

I think it still comes down to the  maxim we writers all seem to accept: if you want to sell more books, write more books, and make each better than the last.

Thoughts? Comments?

It’s A Scary World Out There

Long before social media put us into each other’s pockets and  thoughts on a moment to moment basis, we had discovered that bad things were happening all over the world. We weren’t just hearing from the next-door neighbor that somebody on our street had fallen down dead for no reason—we were also hearing about bizarre and awful things happening from as far away as Sidney, Australia. And when you hear about the problems of the WORLD in a steady stream, it starts to make you feel like bad stuff is constantly happening everywhere all the time.

I don’t think I’m unusual in my certainly irrational anxiety as I’ve watched my son go from one life experience to the next. Added to the worries of the last generation of “when she starts driving will she have an accident?” is the new concern: “will she have an accident and then be abducted by a serial killer because I know for a fact that can happen.” I’m not saying information is bad. We as a people long to know what’s going on with each other. Although Americans have been accused of only being interested in what’s happening in their own backyards, I think we’re all curious about the human condition wherever it is. It’s just that, instead of registering: “yep, that’s awful” over the discovery of a shocking story, we tend to gather up all the horrible, shocking stories (or rather the media does) and stack them up so high around us that all we see is a shocking and horrible world. And that is the world we are sending our treasured sons and daughters off into. Can they help but be timorous after twenty years of watching Mom & Dad hold their collective breath every time they tried something new?

I don’t think my own parents loved me any less than I love my son. But they allowed me the freedom to experience life on my own terms that I have never been comfortable giving him. (When my father was stationed overseas in the early sixties, my little brothers and I freely wandered post-war Germany like scavaging souvenir-hunters, happily dragging home ancient hand grenades and unexploded bombs. Come to think of it, my parents may have been a little more laid back than most.)

Possibly it was ignorance. In those days, you didn’t hear the words “child molester” or commonly consider the possibility that dear old Uncle Ray might be inappropriately eyeing your son or daughter. It  never occurred to you not to let your child ride his bike wherever he wanted to go, or even be gone for the full day if that’s where his adventures took him. Was it really a “kinder, gentler” time as George Bush, Sr used to say? Or was it just a time where bad stuff  happened and our parents were oblivious to it? Are the fears we have today real? Or are they just a reaction to the flood of horror stories we now all hear about in the world community?

Finding Your Peeps Out in the World

Finding your tribe, your peeps, your people. Not to restrict this important part of living to just that of writers, everyone needs community. While it’s true I belong to a nuclear family, an extended family, a parish, a neighborhood and a community of other high school student parents, it wasn’t until I left my corporate job and began to reach out to other writers that I realized I didn’t truly have a community of people who spoke my language. It takes all kinds to make a parish, for example, and that’s great. Because all the differences add valuable and differing skillsets and perspectives. But an artist laboring in a cubicle with corporate drones is not just a different piece of cloth in a multi-colored quilt. She is acting out a perverse situation of mismatch, misfit, and misconnection that adversely affects her on every level. The reason I continue to bang on this particular drum is because for most of my  tenure in a corporate office, while I knew I didn’t really belong, I also didn’t see to the extent the attempt to fit in was bad for me. About two months after I left my job I went to a writers’ conference up in the mountains of north Georgia. There I met authors and writers of every stripe. I met geezers with boatloads of ancient trunk material they were self-publishing for their families, I met traditionally published authors who swaggered about accepting accolades for being incredibly lucky to be recognized as “real” writers, I met teens who only had scribbled poems and short stories they published on Facebook. I met writers a lot like me and writers nothing at all like me. And I was blown away by the fact that I felt connected to every single one of them. Even the ones I would’ve edged away from in an elevator or crossed the street to avoid. Even the obnoxious ones. Even the ones who shoved their self-published prose at me to prove within a few seconds that they couldn’t write very well. Even those people, I felt more connected to than the people I’d shared birthday parties and company picnics with for the five years previous. You don’t have to like every member of your family, but that doesn’t keep you from acknowledging (usually) that they are your family. Breaking out into the world of weirdos and writers, artists and losers, the pompous and the generous has lifted me up and filled me with a sense of belonging that I literally never had before.

My peeps. My peers. I love being with them. I love talking to them about writing. I love recognizing the same struggles in them that I have with my own work. They understand me because they understand my passion. They understand my pain.

When I started blogging last year, I read all the advice about not doing a blog for writers because how can that be helpful in marketing your work? I worked so hard not to make this a writing blog but something readers might be drawn to (for obvious reasons). But writing is a passionate interest of mine so, like any other passion, I kept turning to it time and time again. It’s also the thing I’m attracted to in other people’s blogs—their take on writing, their perspective on writing schedules, their writerly worldview. When I realized that, regardless of what the social media experts preach, a writing blog is what fills me up and satisfies the parts that other topics can’t reach, I stopped trying to write for nonwriters. Not to take anything away from my parish or my family but when it comes to writing there is a singular language that only another writer speaks. Just like the expatriate I once was, I have to say sometimes it’s just so nice to relax with your own people.

 

 

Does What We Do as Authors Really Matter?

Today’s post is another contributing chapter in the Social Media saga as it pertains to authors trying to flog books to the millions of as-yet unaware readers “out there.” If you will direct your attention to Exhibit A—the chart you see here was pinched from a recent Romance Writers of America article. (The article had a whole bunch of other interesting facts and stats you might want to check out.) While it’s true that Romance readers are different from other genre readers, there’s an argument to be made that how they decide on what book to read next is not terribly different from how other readers decide.

As you can see, if this chart is correct, a whole lot of effort is being made by myself and my fellow-authors in areas that prospective readers are not very interested. In fact, the only area with a remote interest shown is that of our websites and even then it’s less than 50%. Personally, after you wince your way through the big long blue bars, you have to discount the red bars, too. Because let’s face it, if you have to convince people first to do whatever the thing is over and above looking at your book, it might as well be a blue bar. For example, on the one that says “saw a promotional book trailer and bought the full book,” if 23% said “not done but some interest,” what does “some interest” mean? I think it means now you have to convince them or interest them in watching the damn trailer before you can lure them into your web to peek inside the book. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through before they start to consider whether or not they want to read your book. In fact, the only portion of this chart that we need to be looking at is the purple part and, except for the author’s website (even so, barely 40%) the rest of these activities look like, if not a waste of time then at the very least something that takes you away from writing.

Again, that’s just me and if you know me at all, you know I lean in the direction of lazy. So what do you think? Is the chart shocking? Do you still believe? Are dreams really not about ROI? Love to hear your take…

Life After Twitter

This is a follow up to the blog post that put me on the map, thanks to a push from Dean Wesley Smith who directed his followers to my site for the post, many of whom ended up staying.

In less than 48 hours, my post The Great Social Media Flim-Flam received over 8000 views, 80 comments, and the blog, itself, gained 500 new followers.

Dang.

The vast majority of commenters—some from New Zealand, Germany, the UK and Venezuela—all said the same thing: “Thank God! Let’s quit this idiocy and get back to writing books.” It was like they were waiting to hear some kind of argument that would allow them to pack it in, close the Twitter account, sign off of Facebook for good.

I heard from one guy who I had noticed on Twitter several times spamming the crap out of everyone and who I’d always been annoyed to see because he was doing exactly what all the social media experts tell you not to do! He was obnoxiously repeating over and over again to “buy his book.” When he wrote me after the post he said, “I wouldn’t do it if it didn’t get results. Dramatic results.” My annoyance dissipated immediately when he told me that. I don’t blame someone for using a tool to get the result we’re all going after. If anything, he’s just more honest than the rest of them who tweet what they had for breakfast as some form of “relationship-building” but really they’re just waiting to slip you their books when you get all cozy and unsuspecting. He says he spams every hour. But he also retweets more than he spams because, let’s face it, he’s the guy the social gurus warned us about and it rankles being considered an untouchable by much of the Twittersphere, even if it does sell books. He said this internal conflict, spamming and then trying to make up for it with treble the re-tweets, has resulted in him spending so much time on Twitter that it’s taken him a year to finish a book he should’ve finished in three months. He says if he can stop the compulsion to watch his numbers rise, he’s going to quit social media and go back to putting his effort into writing again.

I also heard from one woman who was very testy and said that social media absolutely worked for her. She claimed to sell 10,000 books a month (at 99c). I can only imagine she’s a little friendlier in her other social media channels than she was defending herself to me!

I think the thing I’d want to stress is that, especially after talking to Jim (the spammer guy, who has decent books, I might add), I don’t feel judgmental about people who use social media to sell their stuff. If they can do it, power to them. Even if they do it by using a sledge hammer to the head—and it works—go for it. And if they can do it and sleep at night? Mazel tov. I think the thing that bothers me the most is all the people pretending to be friendly while keeping their not-so-hidden agenda in the background (“buy my book!”) Let’s face it, if that’s not the case and you really are trolling the internet to find friends, you have more problems than getting people to buy your book. I mean, come on. You do know you cannot really have ten thousand friends, right? Not in real life, not in cyberspace. (You can call the singles in your wallet twenties if it makes you feel better but they’re still singles.)   So where is the word of mouth coming from if these friends aren’t real?  Last year, I’d heard hundreds of people rave about “The Help” on Kindleboards and Twitter and never once thought it sounded like something I’d like to read, until one (real) friend of mine on Facebook mentioned she couldn’t put it down. And after I read it, I bought it and sent it to two other (real) friends. (Yeah, yeah, I wish it had been an indie book.)

And while it’s only been a couple of days, I can already make some things add up from this blog post experience. The biggest take-away has got to be so clearly viewing blogging as a mechanism to enlarge friendships with other writers. Their input, their way of looking at the same problems you’re wrestling with, their empathy, their experience—all of it is invaluable as shared Intel. (FYI: after 8000 views and a virtual outpouring of affection and “likes,” I sold not one book more than I have been averaging all along.) If you blog because you like to do it, or because you want to meet other writers, and you’ve got something to share, I think it’s a great way to spend your time. If you’re expecting a monetary ROI, probably not.

What an astounding experience these last two days have been for me. I sat at the dinner table last night listening to the steady stream of “dings” that heralded the email notifications that continued to come in (until my husband made our son get up and mute the volume on the computer) and I felt such a part of the larger writers’ community. Between that feeling and the fact that I wrote 3,000 words yesterday on my book, I’d say this whole Life-After-Twitter campaign is off to a great start.

I will get around to answering everyone who left a comment from the first post and I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to write me. Any and all sharing of experiences and information is much appreciated, so please let me know what you think. After all, we really are all in this together.

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?

How Social Media Made The Writer’s Life Bearable

When I think of a typical author (is there such a thing?) I think of a quiet type–antisocial or at least very shy–whose life is played out among the characters she creates in make-believe worlds. This is a stereotype and I personally know some very noisy and social creatures who are also fine writers. But I think there is some equity to the stereotype. Writers are readers and writers spend a lot of time writing. Reading and writing are both solitary activities. I’d have to believe that most writers like to do these things so they either a) have no problem being alone or b) they prefer it.

There was a brief time in our history where writers had to do something that would be considered torture for normal people, but was positively HELL for shy or retiring people. There was a time when writers, in order to sell their books, were forced by their publishers or convinced by their own marketing common sense, to sit on display in public bookstores while shoppers walked by them and alternately ignored and felt sorry for them. As bad as this would be for anybody else, I think it must have been particularly agonizing for the typical writer.

One of the great things about how writers are being encouraged to market their books today is that social media is ideal for shy people. You can now pretend to be the amazing writer you’ve created on your dust jacket, complete with airbrushing and that photo that was taken ten years ago. And you can deal with people as THAT person, kind of like an avatar you’ve created that does all your talking for you. Social media lets the part of you that is the awesome part of you—the part that communicates by putting amazing words together—take over and meet people and make connections.

On Twitter, you don’t have to worry about meeting fans and not measuring up. (“Wow. You’re short.”) You don’t have to lose weight or shave or get a brow lift. You can be friendly and brilliant in your bathrobe with yesterday’s cat vomit crusted on your bunny slippers and no one will ever know.

My father used to tell me when I was a teenager and he was in his late fifties that I would be surprised to discover some day when I’m older that regardless of how I appear on the outside, who I am on the “inside” will always be 25 years old. At the time, I didn’t understand him. The man had a full head of white hair and a beard. Was he really telling me he looked at the world through the eyes of a twenty-five year old??!

What I discovered as I grew older was, of course, it’s true. You operate in the world on a daily basis and, in your mind, nothing’s changed. You toss your hair and smile winningly at someone in the parking lot and they grab their kid and hurry away, and then you catch your reflection in a mirror and you want to grab yourself and hurry away, because you’re a crone! But it’s not fair, you whimper. You don’t feel like you now look.

But with social media, you really are 25 forever. Who you are on paper–the best part of  you –is the face you present to your social media friends. And because you know you’re looking good (on paper), you are brighter and wittier and friendlier. You are, in fact, your ideal self.

This was actually going to be a lead-in to why I think writers need to brush off or discover their public speaking skills! So now that I’ve got you all comfy and determined never to go out into public again, check my post next Wednesday when I move us all into the scariest light of all: the limelight.

Are you shy? A natural talker? Writers come in all sizes and flavors. I would love to hear about you! Stereotypical writer or offbeat all the way?