Seems to me to be bleeding obvious that tweeting and facebooking and blogging and whatever other social media is the flavour du jour do not automatically equal vastly increased sales. Of any kind. But I’ll talk about books that being what I am in the business of selling.
So I agree with Nick Earls’ post about how social media works for us author types. Except I don’t have a cat and have never had a cat and will never have a cat.
Loads of authors are being told that they MUST tweet, blog, facebook, tumblr, whatever. Because if you do not have a social media platform NOT ONE BOOK OF YOURS WILL SELL EVER. And they freak out and do it and notice they have hardly any followers and no one’s clicking on the buy links and it’s not working and clearly their career will be a total failure and AAARRGH.
Here’s everything I know about authors promoting books via social media:
No one knows how to sell books. Not for sure. Not online and not offline.
Many books have had the full weight of their publisher behind them, big publicity budget, huge tour, saturation marketing online and off—the works—and died on their arse. Or, sold well below expectations.
It’s really easy to look at, say, Hunger Games and declare, “Of course it did well! Look at the promotional campaign behind it.” Sure. But what about all the other books who got the same or bigger campaigns and haven’t sold anywhere near as well?
Some books catch with the wider reading public. Some don’t. A big campaign behind your book sure does help but guarantees nothing. Unless that good old word of mouth takes off your book is not going to shift many units.
There are also books that come out of nowhere and do really well. Most recently, Fifty Shade of Grey. When it was a self-published ebook—before mainstream publishers picked it up—there was no huge publicity campaign making it sell like hotcakes. Word of mouth did that magic.
So, selling books? A bit of a mystery.
Which means that publishers and publicists and authors tend to latch on to whatever they can in the hope that it will generate that blessed word of mouth. Telling authors that they should social media their little hearts out has the virtue of giving them something to do. Something that, occasionally, does work.
I know two authors for whom social media has been crucial to their success as writers: John Scalzi and John Green.
Data point: it helps to make it via social media as an author if your first name is JOHN! *considers changing name to John Larbalestier*
Obviously there are loads of writers who use social media really well who sell loads of books.
However, unlike the two Johns, I see no straight line between their use of social media and their sales. I reckon most of them would sell just as well if they had little online presence. Suzanne Collins certainly does. Karen Joy Fowler’s Jane Austen Book Club and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love sold stratospherically without either of them having much of an online presence and much of a publicity campaign on first publication.
And many of these successful authors were selling fabulously before social media existed. Most of their followers follow them because they are fans of their books. Not because they’re good at Twitter.
There are also many authors who are amazing at social media, have loads of followers, but don’t sell stratospherically. For some there seems to be an inverse proportion between their sales and their number of followers.
I follow heaps of writers whose books I’ve never bought. Just because I find their tweets witty and amusing doesn’t mean I’ll find the kinds of book they write appealing.
Plenty of people have told me they’ve bought my books because they’re enjoyed my blog or my tweets. Which is lovely. Yay! But I doubt they’re a big percentage of the people who buy my books. I’ve had many more people tell me they read my blog and/or tweets because they like my books.
I’m not saying having a social media presence doesn’t help. I’m sure it does. I’m just saying that there is not a direct impact on sales of books.
I think part of the problem is that all too many aspiring authors look at the success of a Suzanne Collins or an E. L. James and think that’s attainable for any author.
The vast majority of published authors do not make a living from writing books. I’m talking about novelists published by mainstream presses. Most writers have another job. Or supplement their novel writing income with school visits, teaching, other kinds of writing etc.
Most of us feel like we’re doing well if we can support ourselves from just writing novels. So the idea that if you only devoted more time to online marketing than you do to the actual writing you will become the next E. L. James is nutty.
Becoming an author to make bank is nutty. Social media’s not going to make it happen any more than any other form of marketing will. And the fact that it worked for one in a million doesn’t really prove the case.
So why social media?
I am not on Twitter because my publisher told me to be.
Okay, actually, I think I am. I was very resistant to Twitter at first. But a publisher said I should so I did. Even though they also told me I had to myspace and I hated it and gave it up pretty quickly. Or, at least, forgot about it. Perhaps that myspace page is still there. Is myspace still around?
I stayed on Twitter because it’s fun. It’s a great way to keep up with sport and politics. Especially women’s sport that mainstream news sources do such a terrible job of covering. I really enjoy tweeting with a wide range of people from all round the world about politics, sport, books, film, TV, publishing, random silly stuff. Worst place to get a mostquito bite? Your eyelids. Clearly.
I have come to love the brevity of Twitter. It certainly is way less tough on my RSI than blogging is.
It’s fun to field questions from fans. It makes my day when someone is excited that I followed them. Hey, I was dead excited when one of my favourite basketball players started following me. I so get it. Though perversely I hate being asked to follow people. I’ll follow you if I want to! Sheesh.
I was offline—not blogging and not tweeting much or anything—for almost a year. I saw no effect on my books sales. I came back to it partly because I had a new book out and felt I should. A lot of the publicity Team Human‘s publishers organised was online.
I found that I’d really missed blogging. Even though hardly anyone comments anymore. *pines for the old days* *is super grateful to those of you who do comment* *realises I don’t comment much on people’s blogs either* *shame spirals*
I digressed again! Sorry.
Has returning to the wonderful online world led to increased sales? I have no idea. Certainly it’s led to some. It’s been a useful way to let people know I have a new book out. Though I suspect my publishers’ efforts in getting advance copies of Team Human to book shops and libraries and other important places all over Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA has been even better at letting people know it exists. Their reach is way bigger than my reach.
Do I think social media is essential?
If you have a well-known publisher behind you, who can get your book widely distributed and reviewed then, no, I don’t think it’s essential. Do it if you’re good at it and enjoy it. It will lead to some sales.
Don’t do it if it feels like a chore. If you resent it because it takes you away from writing. If you don’t enjoy it people can tell. Especially if your every tweet, blog post, facebook entry is about your book and where to buy it and how good it is and how we should all buy it. Don’t do that.
The audience for my blog before I stopped blogging was much bigger than it is now. You can build up an audience but it will vanish if you don’t keep feeding it. After a month back blogging those numbers are slowly growing again but they’re nowhere near where they used to be.
Those numbers, however, can be misleading. It’s easy to fall into thinking that there’s a correlation between visitors to your blog and sales of your books. Even though I had thousands of people visiting here daily back in 2009 I wasn’t selling thousands of books every day. I was selling around the same number of books per day as I am now with the much diminished blog audience.
Basically all my going away did was reduce the number of people who read my blog. Not the number who read my books.
The big effect of returning to blogging has been reigniting my love affair with blogging. *hugs blog*
The link between online presence and books sales is a hard to prove. It depends on so much. We are still in the very early days of the online world. We’re all pioneers and early adopters and none of us really know how this is going to transform publishing. It’s like people driving in the 1920s. The new car-centred world hadn’t fully formed yet. Neither has the internet-shaped world of publishing.
Right now the people who are most successful at selling themselves online are the ones who do not seem to be selling themselves online. Neither of the Johns, Scalzi or Green, are standing up shouting BUY MY BOOKS. They’re doing what they do, being themselves, and it works. They’re a natural fit, and they started their mostly inadvertent platform building early on in the truly pioneer days. And it worked.
But there are millions of others who started blogging and youtubing around the same time for whom it has not paid off the way it has for the Johns. Two successes do not a model for success make.
The one true path towards a successful writing career is to write. Write a lot. Write well. Spend at least 80% of that precious writing time on writing, not on marketing. And only do it because you love it. Because you can’t not write.
And try not to freak out too much about social media as book marketing. Try to enjoy it for its, you know, socialness. Follow people outside of your industry, who have nothing to do with selling books or marketing, who aren’t useful to you. Follow fabulous, wild, interesting people and crazy all-caps newspaper feeds. Have fun!
I have a writing problem which is shared by many writers: I struggle to get started.
I wrote about this problem a bit way back in 2009 when I confessed to almost destroying my professional writing career before it even started. The first six months of being a full-time freelance writer was one great big procrastinatory guilt-ridden hell.
Since then I have reigned it in so that it’s only a struggle at the beginning of a first draft.
For the first week or so on a new book it is a major effort for me to look away from whatever online or offline spectacle is calling to me in order to start typing. I’ll have the open scrivener project with the initial idea jotted down. Girl who always lies. And I’ll think, well, do I know enough about lying? Maybe I should look up what recent research there’s been? So I do that. Then I accidentally look at twitter. Or someone’s blog where a flamewar has started. Then my twenty minute break reminder will buzz. So I have to get up and stretch and someone will text me and I’ll realise we haven’t chatted in ages and call them. And as I walk around the flat chatting I’ll realise that I haven’t emptied the dishwasher and once it’s emptied I have to load it with the dirties. And then I’ll be hungry and have to make second breakfast and in doing so I’ll notice that some of the parsley in the garden is going to flower and I’ll pick those bits and kill some bugs and check for weeds and make sure the passionfruit isn’t growing over to our next door neighbour’s deck. And then I’ll realise we need pine nuts for the dinner we’re going to make so I have to up to the shops.
And like that. At which point the sun will be setting and it’s time to down tools and I’ll have written precisely no words of the new novel I swore I’d start that day.
The next day there’ll be more of the same. And that will keep on until for some miraculous reason I start typing actual words that turn into actual coherent sentences of novel-ness.
The next day the struggle will be a little bit less bad and every day will be better than the day before until I’m on a roll and the novel is actually being written.
By the time I’m heading to the climax and then the end of the book it’s really hard to not write.
It goes like that unless I take a break for a holiday, or get sick, or for some other reason stop work for four days or more. When I return to the book it’s as if I’m starting all over again. Aargh! It takes several days, sometimes more than a week, to get back into the swing again. Drives me nuts.
I have developed several methods of dealing with this annoying tendency of mine.
Procrastination is good
The first is to simply accept that procrastinating is part of my process. Often I’m unable to get started on a new novel because I’m not ready. I haven’t found the way in: the right voice, the right setting, the right starting point. I haven’t done enough research. All that futzing around is me finding a way in. It’s necessary and without it I can’t write my novels.
Though sometimes I’m just flat out wasting time. RSI has meant that I do way less of that online. I consider that to be a blessing because it pushes me out to the garden or out of the house altogether a lot more often. Nothing better for thinking things through than being away from my computer. Long walks, I love you.
Not having done enough research is often the reason why I can’t get started. I need to know more about that world and those characters and what their problem is.
Before I could really get going with Liar I had to find out a lot more about lying. Why people lie, what kinds of lies they tell, the difference between compulsive and pathological lying.
Same with the 1930s New York City novel. I needed to know so much more about the city back then, about the USA back then, about how the USA wound up where it was in the early 1930s. So the idea kicked around for quite a long time before I could write anything down.
Sometimes a novel springs from research I don’t realise I’m doing. I’ll be reading a non-fiction book or listening to a fascinating radio show or see a great documentary and it will give me a great idea. That’s how my sekrit project novel, what I just finished first draft of, got started.
Many books at once
I have learned to always jot down new ideas. For me they’re rarely ideas, per se, more often they’re a fragment or beginning. That way I always have a novel to turn to when I’m stuck on the one I’m supposed to be writing.
The first words I wrote of Liar are:
I’m a liar. I don’t do it on purpose. Well, okay, yeah, I do. But it’s not like I have a choice. It’s just what comes out of my mouth. If my mouth is closed then I’m cool, no lies at all.
That did not make it into the book. I don’t even know whose voice that is. It’s not that of Micah, Liar‘s protagonist. But I jotted that down in 2005 as the first spark of the book that was published as Liar two years later.
At the time I had already started, but not finished, the book that was to become How To Ditch Your Fairy and was on deadline to finish Magic Lessons, the second book in the Magic or Madness trilogy. I was also hard at work on the Daughters of Earth anthology. It was not a good time to start a new book, but I was stuck on Magic Lessons: so the day before it was due with my US publisher I started writing HTDYF.
Yes, I was a bit late with Magic Lessons. From memory, I think I was no more than two weeks late, which is not too bad. Starting HTDYF when I did meant that after I’d sent off the first draft of Magic Lessons I could get back to work on it. And in between ML rewrites and copyedits and proofs and having to write the last book in the trilogy I kept going back to it. It was a wonderful respite from what I was supposed to be writing.
Turns out that what works best for me is to always have more than one novel on the go. Right at this moment I have recently finished the first draft of my sekrit project novel. But I have ten other novels that I’ve started, ranging from the 1930s New York City novel, which is more than 100,000 words long, to a rough idea for a novel of 126 words.
If I get stuck with the book I planned to work on I turn to one of the other books. Often I’m writing back and forth on several different books at once until one of them takes off. Sometimes I’m totally unable to decide and poll my blog readers or ask my agent or Scott. That’s how I went with Liar back in 2007 and put down the lodger novel and the plastic surgery novel both of which I know I’ll get back to some day. Actually I got back to the lodger one a few years ago before it was swamped by the 1930s NYC novel and then Team Human.
If I get an idea for a new book I always jot it down no matter where I am with the main novel I’m working on. Sometimes that novel takes over. The novel I just finished came to me very strongly a year ago when I was feeling overwhelmed by the sprawling NYC 1930s novel which had just hit 100,000 words with no visible sign of ending. I hadn’t, in fact, gotten up to what I thought would be the book’s first incident. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS and I wasn’t at what I thought was the beginning. AARGH. In my panic I started a whole other novel.
In conclusion: There may be a good reason you can’t get started. Procrastination can be your friend. It’s okay to flibbertigibbet from one novel to another and back again and then to another and so on. Other writers will have other solutions and processes. Do whatever it is that works best for you. Zombies should not, in fact, be added to all stories. Just the ones that need zombies.
Every time I mention my RSI people suggest that I use voice recognition software. I do use it. And though I hate it I know that it has transformed gazillions of people’s lives. There are people who literally could not write without it. For them VRS is a wonderful thansformative thing. Bless, voice recognition software!
I am well aware that what VRS is trying to do is unbelievably complicated. Recognising spoken language and reproducing it as written language is crazy hard. The way we make sense of what someone says is not just about recognising sounds. We humans (and other sentient beings) are also recognising context and bringing together our extensive knowledge of our own culture every time we have a conversation. And even then there are mishearings and misunderstandings. Also remember one of the hardest things for VRS is for it to distinguish between the speaker’s sounds and other noises. Humans have no problem with that.
I know my posts here about VRS have been cranky so I’ll admit now that there are moments when I almost don’t hate it: VRS is a much better speller than I am. That’s awesome. And sometimes its mistakes are so funny I fall over laughing. Who doesn’t appreciate a good laugh?
I use VRS only for e-mails and blog posts. And sometimes when I chat. But I usually end up switching to typing because it simply cannot keep up with the pace of those conversations and I can’t stand all the delays as I try to get it to type the word I want or some proximity thereof. But mostly I don’t chat much anymore.
But I gave up almost straight away on using it to write novels. Here’s why:
1. The almost right word is the wrong word for fiction.
Near enough SIMPLY WILL NOT DO. I cannot keep banging my head against the stupid software getting it to understand that the word that I want is “wittering” NOT “withering.” THEY DO NOT MEAN THE SAME THING.
Recently it refused to recognise the word “ashy.” Now, I could have said “grey.” But guess what? I did not mean “grey” I meant “ashy.”
The almost right word is fine for an e-mail. Won’t recognise how I say “fat”? Fine, I’ll say “rotund” or “corpulent” or whatever synonym I can come up with that VRS does recognise. “I’m going to eat a big, corpulent mango” works fine for an e-mail. However, it will not do for fiction.
2. Flow is incredibly important.
Most of my first drafts are written in a gush of words as the characters and story come flowing out of me. Having to start and stop as I correct the VRS errors, and try to get it to write what I want it to write, interrupts my flow, throw me out of the story I’m trying to write, and makes me forget the gorgeously crafted sentence that was in my head ten seconds ago.
Now, yes, when I’m typing that gorgeously crafted sentence in my head it frequently turns out to not be so gorgeously crafted but, hey, that’s what rewriting is for. And when I’m typing the sentence it always has a resemblance to its platonic ideal. With VRS if I don’t check after every c
So here it is the final day of my blogging every day of July effort and I have succeeded! And it was fun. So much fun that I’m going to keep on blogging. Not every day but at least once a week. Turns out I missed it way more than I realised. Missed you commenter types both here and on twitter. I think we had some really cool and interesting conversations over this month and I hope we’ll have many more. *hugs blog* *hugs commenters* *cries*
I didn’t do all the posts I promised I would. I know. I am badness. But I will do them. In the future. In the not-too-distant future even. If you ask me to opine on something here or on twitter eventually I will do so.
I did not, in fact, use voice recognition software. I tried and gave up in anger and frustration. But I will do the post I promised @SirTessa in which I use that dread software without correcting any of the mistakes.
However, not using it was really positive because I also finished the first draft of a novel this month and thus between that and blogging every day was typing more than I had for ages and doing so in a managed way. Some days, yes, I was very sore. But I never pushed through and typed more than twenty minutes at a time. And the frequent breaks—including at least two days off per week—and stretching and strength work and treatment kept the pain manageable. Turns out I can write more than I think I can. To which, well, YAY + DANCE OF JOY.
And my reward for finishing the first draft of a new novel and blogging every day?
So far I have watched, in no particular order:
- shooting—for the first time and it was way more interesting than I thought it would be
- hockey—the Aussie men are RIDICULOUSLY good what a pleasure they are to watch
- basketball—the US women ditto. I mean, they could field an entirely different team from the WNBA and they’d still win gold. Hell, they could go all the way down to, like, the fourth, fifth, and sixth team options and they’d still medal. Depth? Oh, yes, my second nation has it. Total pleasure to watch them play. Especially Seimone Augustus. Oh, how I love her. And yes I adore the Opals and I want them to win but without Penny Taylor? I mean, even with Penny Taylor it was a long long long long shot.
- badminton—shuttlecocks are freaking awesome, I love how they are at once faster and slower than a tennis ball. I also love that serving has no impact on the game
- weightlifting—has to be the most stressful sport of all. I am always afraid their eyeballs are going to pop out of their skulls, that muscles will rip from bone, that their heads will explode. I love the slapping and screaming and other weird stuff they do to psych themselves up and how cool is it when they manage to keep that insanely heavy bar above their head and their feet in line and not moving? Very. And some of them are lifting three times their own weight. Let me repeat: THREE TIMES THEIR OWN WEIGHT!
- gymnastics—you know, every other sport I kind of feel like I can do a much crappier version of it. I could shoot and play hockey. I have played basketball and tennis and table tennis. I’ve lifted weights. I’ve been training at boxing for almost a year now. I have dived into pools. I’ve swum, run, rowed, canoed and