Monday, September 27, 2010

I Will Be Your Friend, But I Will Not Be Your Fan: A Rant About How Authors Use Social Media For Self-Promotion

One of the upsides to Twitter is that you sometimes get to meet fabulous people you might not run into otherwise, which is how I came to meet Sarah Prineas. Turns out we had a lot in common, not the least of which is how we feel about people misusing social media. I stumbled upon a discussion on her blog a while back and asked her if she’d come over here and share some of her thoughts on the misuses of social media here with us on Shrinking Violets.


I Will Be Your Friend, But I Will Not Be Your Fan: A Rant About How Authors Use Social Media For Self-Promotion

A couple of months ago, I posted a blog entry in which I asked commenters to share their opinions of authors’ use of social media.

By social media I mean places on the Internet that would seem to exist for social purposes. Not places where you make business connections, like Linked-In, and not places where you sell your stuff, like Ebay or Craigslist. Specifically I mean Twitter and blogs. (I’m not counting Facebook because…you know, it’s Facebook. Ugh.)

We are, of course, still negotiating the boundaries of social media, figuring out how to create a public persona, learning to be friendly with people we’ve never met before, deciding what personal details to share and what is too private. We’re also trying to figure out what community is online and how best to build a sense of community with the friends, acquaintances, and random strangers that make up our social circles on the Internet.

Ideally, I think, social sites are for friendly conversation and debate, for sharing good news and bad news, for meeting new friends, for posting amusingly captioned cat pictures. The community we’re building is a community based on friendship. Now, we humans have verrrry sensitive antennae when it comes to our social interactions. We can tell when somebody is being friendly versus when they’re trying to sell us something. When authors intrude on social spaces with their self-marketing it can make our antennae twitch like crazy.

Granted, if you’re a writer and you’re blogging about your life and what you think about, of course some of your blogs or tweets are going to be about your book, or about your happy book news. That’s fine. That’s not what I’m talking about.

No, I’m talking about the blogs and twitter-feeds that may be partly social, but which pollute the social ether with self-promotion and book marketing. They exist, mostly, to sell books.

Unfortunately for them, author shilling does not sell books.

It just doesn’t.

You know what does? Sometimes it’s a top-down effort by the publisher. The big push. Just as often, it’s word of mouth. Almost like the book is speaking for itself! Or it’s a combination of the two (publishers, often enough, get excited about publishing good books that readers love!).

I know what you’re thinking. What about when a book isn’t getting a big push from the publisher? Shouldn’t the author pick up the slack and market herself? Won’t that be kind of like word-of-mouth?

No. Because…I’m sure I’ve heard this someplace before…author shilling does not sell books.

Still, it’s true that social media can sell books. My favorite example of this is Megan Whelan Turner. As far as I can see, the woman does almost no social media stuff herself, yet Conspiracy of Kings was a New York Times bestseller. It's the fourth book in a great series, and while MWT was not out herself urging people to buy it, the book had tons of enthusiastic readers spreading the word via twitter, their blogs, and a lively discussion group. Hey, I even blogged about it myself. MWT didn't have to push people to do this. They did it because the books are great and well loved. That is how social media should sell books. Not via authorial top-down selling, but via true fandoms.

It seems to me that authors who shill for their books online might be trying to replicate this phenomenon, like what we saw with MWT’s book. But I don’t think that kind of success is something within our control.

Okay, but what if the author’s editor encourages her to blog or join Twitter, or basically to create a more public, social persona online in order to market her books? Well, frankly, I think said editors should think more about what they’re asking their authors to do. There is this sort-of received wisdom in publishing that online marketing is the new big thing, the best way to get the word out about books. Also, publishers have this throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall approach to marketing. They work hard, do a lot of stuff, and hope that it sticks.

And really, truly, this particular approach doesn’t stick. Here are some of those non-sticky things that authors do that might make the social antennae twitch, things that might not be building friend-community, but some kind of more perniciously commercial space.

Blog tours and contests. The commenters to my entry agreed, by the way. Blog tour interviews are boring. How often do you actually read more than one of them? And the contests. What about the ones with the complicated rules, like that you have to comment to enter and tweet about the contest and post it on your Facebook page, and get a tattoo of the book cover on your face? To be the author’s street team—to do the marketing for her! How lovely for you, reader, to not only have your social space co-opted for marketing, but to be co-opted yourself!

Or the contest where the winner gets a bookmark or a postcard or a crappy magnet with the book cover on it. Sheesh. A contest where the prize is a marketing tool! Genius!

Or the “fan” page on Facebook. I don’t know about you, but every time I get an invitation to be somebody’s “fan” it’s an automatic delete. As in, I delete the social connection. I will be your friend, but I will not be your fan.

Or the twitterers who re-tweet every single freaking mention or review of their book. Boring!

Oops. That got ranty. Sorry. See title, above. This is a rant.

Anyway, the sad thing is, anybody who is using their blog or twitter to market their book is wasting their time and energy. Who are their books’ readers? Do they read the author’s blog? Maybe a few of them do. Is selling to those very few people worth annoying the many more people who are reading the author’s blog for social reasons? LiveJournal and blogs are an echo-chamber, an insular community, and so is Twitter. Authors who self-market are not reaching new readers via social media. They are reaching the same very relatively small group of friend-people over and over and over again.

This is especially true for writers of middle-grade fiction. You might reach a few gateway readers—teachers and librarians. But your kid readers are, for the most part, not reading your blog or your twitter-feed. A few kids will find these places and want to interact socially with you. But most are not online all that much.

Now, there will be rare exceptions to this rule. People who manage to use their blogs or twitter-feeds to successfully self-market their books. Props to them. They are still annoying.

So how does an author know if she is getting marketing all over the social spaces? She must ask herself: “Why am I on Twitter? Why do I blog?” If the answer is, “because I like it and to make friends,” then the author is probably doing okay. If it’s “because I desperately need to help my book do better,” well…

There you go.

The best writing advice I ever heard was from an extremely successful writer of MG and YA books, and it was about self-promotion. The advice was, essentially, this:

Don’t bother. Just write the next book.

#

To sum up, there's more to lose, I think, than gain through authorial self-promotion. As the comments to my blog make evident, lots of people are annoyed by it. We’re authors, we’re not marketers; we seem amateurish and desperate when we do it. Maybe we just need to quit self-marketing and write the next book.

##

(Still, I get why authors self-market. If you’re annoyed by this rant, do tune in tomorrow, because I have further, less ranty things to say about that.)


Sarah Prineas is the author of the hugely popular Magic Thief books, the first of which was an E. B. White Read Aloud Honor Book as well as an NCTE Notable Children's Book and has appeared on numerous state lists and has been published in twenty-one different countries. She has a PhD in English literature and has taught seminars on science fiction and fantasy literature. Her next book with HarperCollins, WINTERLING, will be out in 2011.
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Hopefully that will give everyone some food for thought as we begin our online persona workshop next week. One of our first tasks in that workshop will be to determine the reason we're online and what we want to achieve with our online interactions.

Also a big, whopping thank you to everyone who added a comment to last week’s post on offering encouragement to discouraged writers. I’ll be compiling them all in a page (as time allows) and will announce when that link goes up. However, I did want to announce our winner who, according to Random Number Generator is Number 10! Earthsdivide! If you will email me with your info, I will get your prize out to you this week!

64 comments:

Eleven Eleven said...

When I worked as a journalist and copywriter, interacting with marketing and ad agents clarified what I really wanted to do, and it wasn't their job. I'm more than happy to leave the hard sell and people-pleasing to them. Thank you for this fresh perspective on a pervasive problem.

Yat-Yee said...

It is confusing, this talk about author needing to take marketing and publicity into their own hands. Thanks for your refreshingly different take on the subject and I look forward to reading the follow up post tomorrow.

Meghan Schuessler said...

A week or two ago, an author that I'd become "friends" with on facebook asked why it was so much harder to find people to "like" her author page than to find people to "friend" her. To me, it's quite simple. A friendship goes BOTH WAYS.

As a reader, I want to know that the author actually cares about her fans. And as a writer (unpublished as of yet), I want readers to know that I want to know them and hear what they have to say. Maybe if I reach Stephen King or Nora Roberts status, I'll go for a fan page. But until then, I'll stick with friends :)

Valerie Geary said...

Great post, great perspective!

S. Cornwell said...

I recently finished the first part of a Fantasy novel and have been seeking a publisher via Writers Market. I was surprised to discover how many of the small presses want to know what type of self promotion you are doing or are willing to do. Many of them want this information included in your querry letter. I haven't a clue what they want, or expect. and have misgivings as to how much good they would actually do. This is my first day on twitter and I have ni intentions of trying to promote an unpublished book. I would like to make some author friends who are willing to offer advice and perhaps prevent me from shooting myself in the foot.

R.L. LaFevers said...

That's a big part of it, Eleven Eleven. For most writers, marketing isn't even their skill set. It's the exact opposite of their skill set!

Yat Yee, it does seem like there are not quite enough people talking about this downside to all this marketing stuff...

Meghan, VERY interesting about your author friend. And now you can direct her to this post.:-) As for the both ways part, that's why I tend to like FB better--the relationship goes both ways--you agree to be each other's friend. On Twitter it can be more of a, "Sure, you can follow me all you want, but I'm not following you." The two authors I hold up as my shining exaple are Meg Cabot and Cyn Leteich Smith, both of who appear to follow all their followers.

So glad you enjoyed it, Valerie!

S. Cornwell, I do think the demands for author self promotion are even greater with small publishers! And your reasons for being on twitter sound like exactly the right ones to me!

cindy said...

great post, RL. i think like the blasted cell phone, there is no etiquette and that fine line is different for every reader and every author as to how much is "too much". and, as with personality, it'll also differ and be reflected in our social interaction.

i won't lie, i use fb and twitter very much so to talk about my books and to self-promote. i'm a sahm and i am a wanna be geek and online social interaction is what is easiest and most comfortable for me. of course, i balance it with other things that i just like to ramble on about, and *i* don't think i overdo it, but i'm sure perhaps i do by some other person's definition.

having said that, i've found it really useful for bloggers and reviewers or even librarians to reach out to me via fb or twitter which of course is a wonderful thing. and of course, readers!!

Gregory K. said...

While I strongly agree that getting online just to sell our books is not a good idea at all, I think this post misses the mark in a lot of key ways. Let's start with...



This speaks to author bias or a lack of research, not to fact. One example: my kidlit oriented blog ended up with links from thousands of blogs in over 100 different countries and led me into the New York Times. That is not insular or an echo chamber... or if it is, I'll take it. I can point you to many similar stories beyond my own on blogs and Twitter.

Perhaps, instead, we should agree that there is more than ONE WAY to use these tools. If all one does is talk to the same people over and over, yes, it is an echo chamber. So why settle for that? If that is all one sees in social media, one needs to re-examine their own understanding or use of the tools rather than blaming the tools.

Also, while it is true that kids don't read adults' blogs much, it is false (and beside the point) that most are "not online all that much." I certainly agree that authors need to know who they are going to interact with online and who they aren't. That's taking responsibility for actions. But that is a completely separate point and again a limited way to look at the situation (ask P.J. Haarsma, for one extreme example).

Rather than going through other parts of the post, I'd rather reframe the discussion. I think that there is a huge difference between using social media to try to sell a book by saying "HEY, BUY MY BOOK/ BE MY FAN" and using social media to create opportunity. Why wouldn't one do that?

I agree that shilling doesn't work and that getting online without a plan or without a focus is a waste, but throwing the social media baby out with the bathwater shows a limited way of looking at a tool that gives you access to hundreds and hundreds of millions of people in all walks of life (from gatekeepers to grandparents to reporters to kids). Or so says my answer-rant!

Gregory K. said...

In my above comment, blogger removed the quoted part of the post I mention (but left a lovely gap). I'll reproduce it here (hopefully!):

LiveJournal and blogs are an echo-chamber, an insular community, and so is Twitter.

Sarah Prineas said...

Hi Gregory. As I do say in the post (and hopefully Blogspot won't cut it), there are rare exceptions to this rule. People who manage to use their blogs or twitter-feeds to successfully self-market their books..

You're one of them, clearly. Props to you.

I do wonder, however, about this:

"my kidlit oriented blog ended up with links from thousands of blogs in over 100 different countries and led me into the New York Times."

By "led me into the New York Times" do you mean that your book ended up on the NYTimes bestseller list? If yes, how do you know it's your blog that put it there? Especially since you mention that many of your blog links came from other countries, not just the US, where one assumes the readers who buy books that make the NYTimes list live. I'm not quite seeing the connection (maybe I'm being dumb!). Also was there a top-down publisher push for your book, too?

Genuinely curious here.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Cindy, I 'follow' you both places and I actually think you're a pretty good example of how it can work well. Sure, you toss in the occasional mention of your book, but you talk about LOTS of other stuff as well. Probably even more important to me (I'm not speaking for Sarah, here, obviously) is that you engage in conversations with people on Twitter, which is key. You develop relationships.

Hey Greg! Again, I must preface this with stating I'm not speaking for Sarah, but how *I* read the post is that she's not saying NOT to use social media, she's mostly saying don't be a shill.

I actually suspect you guys are about 80% in agreement. What I got from her rant was to absolutely BE a part of that community, and converse in it as you would any community, but don't participate in that community ONLY to have an avenue to sell your books.

As for the insular thing, well, I think your experience is quite unusual. The vast, vast majority of blogs or tweets or FB pages simply will not reach that many people. You have to know that! You know there are something like what, 14 billion blogs out there right now. It simply isn't going to be possible for the vast majority of writers to reproduce your results.

I DO think the social media experience can be insular in that it is only tapping into a fairly tech savvy, online demographic and that a number of online relationships seems to cluster in core groups. And I think she is merely pointing that out as a reason people shouldn't panic if they aren't able to create a big, social media presence--it's not the ONLY way to reach readers and sell books and, for most people, probably not even the best way.

I am looking forward to tomorrow's post when she talks about what can be done to take some of the pressure off!

Gregory K. said...

Hi, Sarah - my blog and I ended up at the heart of an article in the Times (a picture of me, no less, and not being led off to prison!). That, in turn, helped lead to a two book deal with Arthur Levine. My point in that example was to show that this "echo chamber" statement implies that you sit back passively and only talk to a small circle of people, make no efforts to think strategically about what you offer or what you're doing online, and that you don't work to break out of a closed loop. There are countless examples, small and large, where people move outside of any "echo chamber."

Of course, you point out the great challenge that ALL marketing faces: tell me how many copies of any book sell from an ad in PW or a review in the local paper (or if the "local" is the Times) or from word of mouth. Gimme numbers. If my book HAD been mentioned in a NYTimes article, would it have helped sales? The entire logic of "impressions" in advertising says it would have led to some sales, sure, but if you or I can quantify how many sales, well, we know something no one else does. There is no method of marketing that has the proof you want, is there?

I think where you and I diverge is that you are talking about social media as an end in itself, and I view it as one means to an end. And that end is not selling books NOW but over time. Marketing in the social media world is about connection, relationship, and contact and not about shilling. It's about knowing who you're talking to and thinking about who you want to talk to... and having a strategy to reach your goals. It's about creating opportunity for sales in ways that never existed for an individual before.

Sure, some people use it to scream or to hear themselves type (and we both share a frustration with that!)... but again, throwing the baby out with the bathwater makes no sense to me when there are countless examples of people who have used the tools successfully.

Anonymous said...

I don’t even do most of the things identified in this post (I’ve dabbled in others, to some degree). But here’s my issue with this rant: It’s the flip side of the coin.

I have just as much of a problem with some people saying, “Don’t post an interview and a contest; post cute stories about your kids!” as I do with an editor saying, “Don’t post cute stories about your kids; post an interview and a contest!”

In both cases, it’s trying to dictate how people should use social media.

I would never dream of telling people what they have to say or do, or can’t say or do, on their own sites (unless they’re breaking some law, such as plagiarism or libel). They can do whatever they want. Their audience will shrink or grow as a result, but what bothers one portion of their readership may please another portion, and a person can go crazy trying to please all those people—especially in cyberspace.

I’m not interested in every single thing people in my network post, but that’s what skimming (and, in more extreme cases, defriending) is for. It’s not my place to say, “Hey, don’t interview that person, I already read an interview with her!” I personally don’t enter contests that require more than one step to enter, but if someone wants to post a contest with 50 steps, well—good luck to her. I’ll be skimming past.

A lot of the online features—interviews, blog tours, contests—were initially attractive because of their novelty. Now that there are so many everywhere, they seem less special, and they’ve engendered the sort of fatigue that this rant addresses. Does that mean people are “using social media wrong?” No, it means that the way we use social media is changing. This is a growing organism we’ve created, and it serves millions of diverse people. We need to be careful about declaring “right ways” and “wrong ways” to engage in it.

Gregory K. said...

Robin - you know I agree that people shouldn't panic about creating social media presence or buzz or anything. And you know I hate it when editors or ANYONE says "oh, you have to be online!" That is PART of the post above, but only part.

Yes, social media is limited to those tech savvy enough AND to those who have accesss. But newspaper advertising is self-selecting, PW ads are, even school visits are. Those are givens in the argument. I would argue, though, that social media gives us the best chance to reach the most diverse audience - there are 500 million people on Facebook for example. I strongly disagree that we have to settle for the echo-chamber. Yes, it DOES exist, but so, too, do mediocre first drafts. Do you limit yourself to those? I don't.

R.L. LaFevers said...

This is what I love about a good rant: It gives us so much food for thought and lots of chewy, crunchy discussions!

Anonymous, I think you make a terrific point about the audience being self-selecting over the long term for a particular person's approach! I also agree that the novelty of the blog tours and whatnot were a large part of their initial appeal. Now that they're old hat, their effect is somewhat lessened. Who knows what will take their place?

Greg, I know you and I have a mutual horror of the social media pressure and panic, but unfortunately, there simply aren't enough disclaimers out there about it. So much of the talk is how it works, how it can work, why you SHOULD be doing it, that it just doesn't get mentioned enough that it is only one approach.

I think one of the core things is WHY we're online. Clearly some people are online ONLY to socialize with other writers. Others want a more broad based type of community, and yet others are pretty much there only to sell their books. The trick, of course, is falling in with the right crowd for your needs.

Sarah Prineas said...

Ah! I get it, Gregory.

What you seem to be saying is that you had a platform (a widely read blog) which led you to a book deal.

For most other authors, the situation is reversed. They get the book deal and then try to create platform for themselves.

It's quite true that I view social media as an end in itself, and not a means to an end. In the same way, I view my friends as ends in themselves, and not means to an end.

#

Anonymous, I quite agree that social media is a blurred space. As I say in the rant (I hesitate to call it an "article"), "We are...still negotiating the boundaries of social media..."

Deva Fagan said...

I freaked out a LOT during my debut year over social media and I am so glad I've convinced myself that (A) as Sarah says, the best thing I can do for my career is write another book and (B) that the biggest joy my online socializing can bring me is meeting cool people and being a part of a community.

There are authors whose books I have bought because of their blogs, but in all those cases it was because they blogged about books they were reading, pop culture, interesting hobbies, or thoughtful introspection. It was because the personality that came across in the blog was cool, quirky, kind, insightful, and/or fun. I'd heard about their books already, getting to "know" them was what tipped me over to wanting to actually read the books.

Robin, it's interesting to hear that you prefer Facebook for the reasons you state. I actually prefer Twitter because it doesn't enforce reciprocity! I used to auto-follow but I always felt weird and disingenuous about it. There's no way I can follow everyone back and actually pay respectful attention to them (nor do I expect everyone I friend/follow to follow me back). That's part of the reason I finally did add a public Facebook page and clamped down on my private one (that and my general distrust of Facebook).

But everyone has a different level of comfort with these things. Very interesting to read everyone's comments here!

Gregory K. said...

I agree with you about the "WHY" question, Robin, and also about the rush to embrace social media without figuring out how to use it effectively and efficiently. To me, that's not what this post said, or I'd've replied "Indeed!" To my eye, this post was about defining what marketing on social media is, taking a limited view of what social media can do, telling people they're doing things wrong, and using incorrect or incomplete information to prove the points.

I suspect you are right that Sarah and I agree on 80% or more, including the key ones of knowing WHY you do what you do online (or offline!) and having clear expectations, etc. I look forward to her post on alleviating the pressures... unless she says "to alleviate the pressure, accept that you can't sell books via social media and that it's only an echo chamber." Then I'll disagree :-)

Gregory K. said...

Sarah - the point I was making, as I noted, was that the echo-chamber doesn't have to be what you settle for. You stated that blogs and twitter are an echo chamber. You stated it as fact. It isn't.

In truth, by the way, my blog was 6 weeks old and had a daily readership in the teens. Still, it led to national newspaper coverage... something I believe would help any author sell books. You might disagree, of course. I also would say that does not matter that my example was from before publication - unless you think it is the only time such a thing could ever happen to anyone. As for most other authors being in a reversed position... one, it doesn't have to be that way as everyone can build a platform at any time and two, the lessons are the same no matter where you are on the career continuum.

If you view social media as an end in itself, I think you're cutting off a lot of opportunity. Which, of course, is your choice... but don't assume that everyone will make that same choice.

I agree that social media is a blurry space and none of us know all the answers. Yet you make some things sound cut and dry whereas I don't think they are. To wit: I bet, like me, you have lots of friends on Facebook who are fellow authors. If one of them set up a Page... perhaps with a goal to clear their personal stream of book info yet to give people a way to follow along... and alerted their whole Friends list about this change, would you truly sever all contact with them? Even if they had a plan and wanted you to be part of it? What if you went to brunch with that same person and they told you about their new book tour? Or a new business? Or they told you they had started a blog? Wouldn't that be okay, or would you sever social contact then, too? (BTW, I don't like getting those invites, either, but I assume my friends have a reason for setting up the page. I choose not to "like").

Now, where these blurs cross over into intolerable for each of us is a matter of personal taste. I applaud you for having clear lines, but again... that is your line, and it might not be right for everyone.

Literaticat said...

I absolutely agree that when authors join an online community (whether that Twitter or LJ or Verla Kay's Blue Boards or whatever) and their only contribution to the conversations in that community is to bleat about their dumb book - it makes me hate them.

Sort of like if I got a new office-mate and they never brought anything in for the potluck and they never shared cake and they never chatted around the water cooler and they never even acknowledged anyone else's existence, but instead just left weird political flyers on everyone's desk at lunch every day... I would think they were a real creep and nuisance.

I personally try to have real conversations with people online and have a ton of friends that I'd never know without social media.

That doesn't stop me from bragging about my author's books, or retweeting great reviews... because I am sharing things that I am passionate about, with people who I think are interested in such things. (For what it is worth, I also share pictures of my puppy, and if I had virtual cake, I'd share that too!)

cynjay said...

I like social media because it lets me connect with both readers and other writers from the comfort (and isolation) of my kitchen counter workspace. I think that you have to actually like doing it in order to be genuine.

My publisher set up my FB fan page and I love it. It's a great space for people to come and find out about my book, reviews and events as well as leave comments or questions and know I'll answer them quickly.

OTOH, I got a friend request from an author I didn't know and in the next two days was repeatedly bombarded with 'messages' from this author that were nothing but reviews and requests to view the book's trailer. Ended that particular friendship quickly.

It's all in how you use it.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post.

This is not so much a direct response, but rather related thoughts.

I don't think of most of what I do as an author on my Cynsations/Spookycyn blogs as marketing so much as participating in the conversation of books.

I do include a little section each Friday--at the end of a weekly round-up of what I believe are informative, inspiring, helpful posts to writers--which updates anyone who may be interested in my publishing news. Perhaps it's just Aunt Linda. But I promise you, she's riveted.

Perhaps three or four times a year, I announce a sale or new release in its own post.

But otherwise, my focus is on writing, the writer's life, and mostly books by other folks. The content is substantive, geared to serious writers and book lovers.

I can't imagine blogging regularly about my personal thoughts or life. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But despite my boisterous public speaking style, deep down, I'm quite shy. Especially among people I don't know well. And the Internet hosts quite a lot of them. So this is a way for me to connect with other book lovers.

Briefly, though, I'd like to add that I added a "like" facebook page so that my "friend" page could be as free as possible from publishing-related posts, though YA readers do still post to my wall sometimes. And the "like" page takes the same approach as the blog. A little about me, a lot about the world of youth literature.

But what most inspired me to do it was that I write for teens, and it gave them a place on the network where they could connect with me about my books if they wanted to. A few YA librarians had mentioned that they're reluctant to direct kids to authors' personal pages for a myriad of reasons.


Thanks again!

Sarah Prineas said...

This is fun! I was hoping the post would inspire lots of opinion-sharing and debate, and I thank Robin for setting the fuse and then handing me the match.

Two things. It's a rant! So yeah, it's opinionated and probably obnoxious.

And I really am making a stand here, trying to reclaim social spaces for socializing.

Anonymous said...

I deeply appreciate this post. It so clearly addresses what has long troubled me about the use of social media.

I'm a budding writer, as yet unpublished. In the beginning, I really believed that when people friended me, it was because they liked me and/or what I had to say. I was delighted. We were all writers together, right? Gradually, the realization set in that, for many, I was just a means to an end. They were merely creating a fan base. They never spoke to me, followed my posts or acknowledged my existence in any way, yet they appeared to find it perfectly acceptable to use me as a venue for their relentless self-promotion: "NYT Bestseller, starred reviews, mega-hits on my blog, look at me me me!"

I now fear that if my career hangs on such mass manipulation, I am seriously doomed, because I suck at it.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Dear Anonymous, thank you so very much for your comment! Everything you said reminds me of *exactly* why I wanted Sarah to share her thoughts here.

Thanks for timely reminder!

tanita davis said...

Fascinating conversation.
I have come to really dislike the whole social media thing, and I'd much rather other people talk about my work than have to myself. That being said, I do blog obliquely about my own sales and stuff, but was recently informed that one of the worst drawbacks to social media, in a friend's opinion, is that we all rate each other on the success of others that we see. I do realize that writing was formerly more private - I mean, Publishers' Lunch and their "very good deal" codes aside, most of the time only good friends knew when an author had sold another book.

Is it benefiting anyone or anything to have things be so much more loudly shared? I don't know.

But I'm gratefully eavesdropping on the smart people conversing on this!

Cathe Olson said...

I feel like my blog and facebook page have been a great way to connect with my readers. I don't use it to shill my book (though if it helps sell a few copies, that's nice too), but more to add on to what I've done with my cookbooks . . . I post recipes I'm developing, tips about eating more healthfully, news about genetic engineering and the food industry, etc. On facebook, I don't necessarily want to be "friends" with everyone who reads my books so I love having an author page where I can share without getting posts back from people I don't konw.

Cathe Olson said...

I also want to add that I LOVE author interviews and giveaways . . . I love finding out about more about the people who write the books I love and I share tidbits from them with the students in my elementary school library. And I've won lots of great ARCs which has been a wonderful way to find new books to order for my library. With the budget so tight, I don't want to take a chance on a book that won't get checked out.

Scotti Cohn said...

Great topic! I posted a link to this post on Facebook so all my FB author-friends will see it. :)

I have actually blocked fellow authors on Facebook in the weeks leading up to the publication of their latest book because they are overly generous with their contests and announcements and hooplah.

Most of the authors I know on Facebook do post about their work, their appearances at conferences, etc. When I see a post like that, I always have the option of moving on and not reading it.

And, in fact, I suspect that's what most people do when they see one of my posts that falls into that category. Those who are genuinely interested in what I'm doing (family, friends from various parts of my life) might read it.

I have heard the advice that authors should blog about their personal life instead of their books. I'm probably not going to do that. Oh well.

There are a ba-zillion writers blogs out there, all of them offering pretty much the same advice on writing, covering the same topics. I would rather not spend my time putting together something that's already out there many times over.

The whole writing-getting published-promoting cycle is way more complicated and energy-draining than I would like it to be. But that's the nature of the business of writing.

sally apokedak said...

I love your blog, but I keep forgetting to come back to it because I don't like blog readers for some reason. I prefer to subscribe by email. Is that an option? I didn't see a way to subscribe in your sidebar.

thanks!

G.P. Ching said...

I agree that shameless self promotion is annoying but can't deny the power of social media in establishing a platform. Plus, social media sites can be an important way to connect with other writers and groups of readers that might be interested in your material. Goodreads is a great example.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thanks all of you for a fascinating discussion. Sarah, I've been noticing many of the things you point out. Some people's blogs I have enjoyed following until it becomes all about the book and nothing else. I want to hear about it, yes, but not to the exclusion of all else. Balance is important in all phases of life.

Darcy Pattison said...

Get real!
We’re a community of writers; as such, we want to talk about how to write, issues we’re writing about, our writing life, our non-writing life and–guess what?–our published works. How could it be any different?

You said, “The community we’re building is a community based on friendship.”

Of course. But that friendship is based on a mutual interest in books, writing and publishing. If we didn’t share that, we wouldn’t be friends, we’d drift apart.

Given that common experience, why would you partition off one part of a friend’s life and declare it off limits? Especially when they are SO excited about the publication of their work? We get so little recognition for what we do anyway, I’d hope that the writing community would understand the desire for someone to just say a nice word.

I’m reading a book about how actors build emotional relationships and the advice is to always choose the strongest positive emotion in an interaction between characters. To find a positive thing to fight for. To fight for the love in the relationship. I like that advice. It means, I’m excited for your publication. (I may or may not BUY your book; depends on the genre you write and if I like that genre; depends on my current budget constraints.) But choosing excitement over irritation seems like a community building, friendship building response to me.

Hey, send ME your good news! I'll cheer.
Darcy
www.darcypattison.com

Gregory K. said...

Besides a hearty "What Darcy said!" may I also link to today's example of Twitter not being a tiny echo chamber:

Twitter: Banned Books' New Best Friend

Again, it's not directly sales related, but the idea that shilling is marketing isn't one I agree with anyway.

Anonymous said...

I think a good point here is that many people are "natural" bloggers, and "natural" users of social media in a genuine and enthusiastic and honest way. I'd say that Cynthia's above mentioned blog [Cynsations] is a great example - something that shows a genuine personal passion for putting information out on the internet, and which also includes news about her own projects, life and books.

I think there is a huge difference between that and someone using blogging or social media in a forced, contrived, I-gotta-do-this-to-sell-my-book, bang people on the head way. My own pet peeve/rant material is people using a publishing blogs comments feature to post a fake sounding comment just to plug their book. I am not saying mentioning ones own work in a comment never has a place - of course it can have a real place when it genuinely adds to the conversation, but I am talking about the obvious "I made up this comment just to mention my book title again" ones.

Overall - I find all this all to be more a case-by-case thing. It is really the quality and spirit of WHAT people do with internet tools that makes the difference, not each particular tool or format or venue as they continue to pop up. Too true, the internet can reveal a hidden social beast side in some people, but by and large pushy people will be pushy on FB or Twitter or whatever, just like they were pushy at a party or event or on the phone back in the old days. Thoughtful and socially considerate and informative people usually come off as thoughtful and considerate and informative no matter what new medium they use, and so - if they also happen to be really genuinely INTO blogging or twitter or whatever, these will have the potential to be real platforms for them and can be really enjoyed by other people.

janni said...

Darcy said (hi, Darcy!):

But that friendship is based on a mutual interest in books, writing and publishing. If we didn’t share that, we wouldn’t be friends, we’d drift apart.

I've been thinking about this, and I think I disagree. Thinking about my blog readership (and admittedly, I can't read their minds!) ...

If I stopped sharing what I think of as ego-posts (news of publications, sales, reviews, etc) I don't think very many people would drift away from my blog at all. (I think these are the posts Sarah is focused on in her post.)

If I stopped posting anything writing related--lost all of my writing process, writing life, etc. posts, which aren't about my books so much as my work day--then I'd lose more readers. Maybe half, maybe even a little more.

But I'd still, I believe, have a community of online friends reading my journal, chatting with me and me with them.

For me talking about writing is only one aspect of my relationships with people online. It's sort of like with any set of friends--some friendships are based on shared work, and will go away without them--but others are based in any manner of other shared interests, and so would endure without the book talk.

But very few of my online friendships are based exclusively on me talking about and trying to sell my own books, as far as I can tell, or require that to survive. :-)

janni said...

Gregory:

I agree the success of #speakloudly to promote awareness of banned books has been amazing. But I think the reason it's been amazing is because it's been about dealing with an issue that struck our community deeply, and had to do with books we loved ... especially Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, which has touched many many lives.

The response to it was the sort of fan response Sarah talks about--a fan response by those who loved the banned books, and by those who love books in general and want to defend them.

This is very different from what would have happened if, say, instead of an entire community embracing the idea that "hey, book banning in general and banning of this book we're all already fans of in particular is really disturbing," as happened, Laurie Halse Anderson had gotten online and said, repeatedly, "Hey, buy my book!"

The success of #speakloudly to my mind supports the idea that social media are more effective and interesting when used to promote conversations among people about things their passionate about, and less so when used by authors to promote their own work.

Alma Alexander said...

Oh,this is so huge. Yes, I ABSOLUTELY agree on several points.

Somebody who joins in an online conversation of whatever stripe with only one thing to contribute (ME ME MEME LOOKIT MY BRAND NEW BOOK ME ME ME) very quickly becomes more than a nuisance, becomes his or her own worst liability. If this writer cannot listen as well as talk (s)he is not worth including in that conversation.

Yes, I too am shy in real-life - but in a situation where I am in my own blog, talking about the life I lead as a writer and about the things that interest and occupy me (and yes, occasionally a cute story about my cats creeps in) I am wearing a slightly different persona. I blog in several different places, some more personal and general and some more writerly, and I have no idea whether anyone has ever bought a single copy of any book of mine because they read my blogs. But that doesn't matter. That isn't WHY I blog. I blog because I have something to say and a place to say it.

I enjoy Facebook, up to a point - but I prefer a "real" blog, adn my base of operations is my LiveJournal blog - this gets "ed" to FB as "notes" so even those who don't directly read the LJ blog get to see those entries. Yes, I also have a "fan" page - which I have never shilled for or invited people to join and become fans, it's entirely voluntary, and frankly it's the LEAST interesting of all my web presences.

Promotion - especially cold call promotion - is something I dislike, very very much. I find it hard (believe it or not) to collar people and attempt to persuade them that I'm the best thing since sliced bread. I hate doing it. I'm evilly bad at it. And yet, in today's publishing climate with the publishers relying more and more on what the authors do, a certain amount of it is necessary. And so I do it. I resisted Twitter for a long time because I believed - and still do - that nothing that I wanted to say or convey could be done in 140 characters without making me look like, well, a complete twit - I think, if I have something to say, that I need the space to say it properly. But I succumbed, recently. I have a twitter account now. I don't use it for promo, I don't use it often, but it's sufficiently prevalent that I felt I needed a presence there - so I'm there.

But if you want to see what I really think and see and write about, go back to my blog. That is a far more "real" window into what I really am. And no, if you go back to the blog you will not be importuned to buy my books. There will be news about the things I write and sell, sure, but I'll leave it up to you as to whether you want or need to go and find those things. The Internet is NOT my own personal soapbox. But I do welcome conversations, in blogs, at Facebook perhaps, although I'm getting far more chary about who's trawling around Facebook these days.

I love meeting readers who have found my books, and have opinions about them which they want to share. I love, also, reading the blogs of other writers, my friends and colleagues, and seeing what their lives and careers are doing these days. Writing is the loneliest of professions, it's sometimes NECESSARY to have this sort of connection with other people...

Kristan said...

A friend linked me to this post, and all I can say is: RIGHT ON! You said everything I've been thinking, only better. Thanks. ;)

Anonymous said...

This post is very interesting, though I will extrapolate even further. I can get quite bored following review blog if there is no real interaction.

I am not sure people instinctively realize yet that on the web, while we can reach billions of people, if everybody who has something to say or sell is trying to reach everybody else, nobody can pay attention to anything. If everybody is autopromoting like crazy, and like everybody else, then they are all targeting the same people - who have finite numbers of minutes and neurons to devote to those. some will have advantages, will be genuinely wittier, more empathic, doesn´t mean much.

My interpretation of what you are trying to say is that authors should go for quality rather than quantity or loudness when establishing ties with readers - I agree, can not but agree.

As a reader who is just a reader, and does not want to blog, or write or be BFF with anyone, I am not TOO interested in twitter feeds or blogs full of chat and cat pics. Gosh, specially not cat pics. But I really like when they make info about forthcoming books, or IMPORTANT things related to their books ( not blogger XYZ, average number of readers 2, has given 4.75 stars to my latest book!) obvious on their sites, particularly with simple unspammy (infrequent! once or twice a year, or once per number of books published) newsletters or rss feeds. I know this is the age of facebook and twitter, but rss allows me to filter, the more people facebook and twitter, the more I depend on rss for things! If I follow a 1000 people on facebook, there is no way I can check everything they say, and stuff I really want to know ( new book news! ) will get lost. so authors, do help readers to filter what is important, please.

Teresa

Patricia Stoltey said...

I have to agree that our online presence does not sell very many books. I originally established a website and then a blog, and branched out into social media, because it seemed agents and publishers wanted authors to have an online presence.

I don't know if it will help me get an agent, but it has given me entry into a new world of wonderful friends. I've also had the opportunity to expand the audience for other authors who do guest posts for me. I need to cut back the time I spend (and get those new books written), but it's hard not to check on my cyber-friends every day. :)

Jenn Chushcoff said...

It's been fascinating to read your post and all of the comments. This is a very hot topic. I've often wondered about the line between promoting books and online social interaction. I think the key here is "interaction." The networks we create need to be "give and take." I value my online connections with other writers and enjoy dropping in on blogs, reading tweets and FB posts.

It's the blatant, repeated READ MY BOOK messages that leave me cold and send me tapping the unfollow button.

Both Greg and Darcy had some great points. The message is to build a community of shared interests, which includes sharing things that happen to us, even if it is a new book!

I was skeptical about Twitter, etc, and then I heard Greg at a SCBWI meeting. He won me over and I started an account the next day. Since then, I've met and connected with so many interesting people. I've read tweets that have led to connections with agents and writing opportunities. In turn, I've shared the same. The key is balance, which I think is Sarah's main complaint- and I have to agree.

Also, with limited budgets, publishers like their authors to get out there a bit more. The key, I suppose, is finding the balance between your public and personal persona.

Social media is a great tool, especially for introverts. But there's a wrong way and a right way to use a tool. If social media is used correctly, we make new friends and connect in a meaningful way. If not, you shut yourself off from the conversation.

Anne Belov said...

Thanks for this post. I can't think of anything I less like to do than try to do all this social media as a marketing tool. No thanks. Keep up the good work, and thanks for the justification for me not to do waht I didn't want to do anyway.

Kristin Wolden Nitz said...

I started a blog out of sheer peer pressure. It was something that I was SUPPOSED to do. I'm keeping it up not because I get so much traffic, but becase it's a place where I can get up on my writing soapbox for a few paragraphs to share a technique or to whine about an issue I'm facing. I've also been tracking the progress of my novel. I can see how long it took me to finish various chapters. And then I provide "behind the scenes" looks at the writing of various books just in case any fan of a book does stop by. Rare, but it happens.

lora96 said...

I read blogs I enjoy. Several of these are penned by authors whose books I've never read. I like their voice, humor, and personality. The subject matter of their particular books simply does not interest me as a reader.

I still follow the blogs.

My goal with my own blog is to make friends, enjoy babbling about topics that interest me, and maybe amuse a few people in cyberspace.

That's all.

I'd be scared stiff if someone told me to market myself with the thing.

Penelope said...

One of the best blog posts I read all week.

Richard Mabry said...

So very glad to see that someone else shares my belief that social media posts that are patently self-promoting rank right up there with telephone solicitors who call in the middle of dinner. Both get a quick brush-off in my house.
Glad Nathan Bransford mentioned this blog in his own--which, incidentally, doesn't particularly hype either his book or his agency. Refreshing, that.

Robin L said...

Clearly I have lost my ability to respond to all these comments, so I just want to say how much I am enjoying hearing everyone's thoughts on this. So many great things to think about as we navigate these new and tricky waters...

R. L. LaFevers

Kim said...

Yikes, thanks for this post..there goes my marketing plan..i must find plan b..

goodman1138 said...

Great discussion on a confusing (and apparently SENSITIVE!) topic. I suspect that the real issue is one of sincerity or genuineness. Maybe Greg is effective because he is an expert on social media for authors. He thinks about it, and studies it. He uses it well, and is very clear about his goals and the underlying reasons for what he's doing online. His genuineness (and excitement) comes across when he lectures at conferences, and when he blogs. By contrast, the author who is insincere or overly aggressive in attempting to connect and (either directly or indirectly) sell books or build a readership, risks diminishing their integrity - or the integrity of their work. It such an issue now because the same author who had such a limited reach in the old days now has potential access to millions of people. Combine this with the natural anxiety about the success of your book, diminishing support from publishers, and the natural desire to use (ALL) the tools that are available, even if they're not right for you, and it's not surprising that there's so much insincere shilling that just doesn't work or, worse, if offensive. So I really get the different sides of this argument. But one other side (how many sides do I get here?) is that we're all becoming skilled at sifting and filtering through garbage or solicitations that are insincere. I wonder if this stuff is even on the radar of kids who read? And if it's just experimental in the sense of people trying whatever they can, and there will be the natural attrition based on what works and what doesn't which, in the end, will go back to who is sincere and who is not.

Angela Perry said...

Great post! I'm particularly happy because this is exactly how I feel about social networking. Hooray for validation :)

Botanist said...

What a breath of fresh air, not to mention a relief!

I blog about family, vacations, building a pirate ship in the back yard, but very little about writing. I thought I was just strange, but now I don't feel so bad.

Thanks for ranting!

A. R. Braun said...

I agree. I'm at the point of finishing my first novel, but I've been in some anthologies, and self-promoting doesn't work. It just ticks people off. I hate doing it and, like you said, I'm an amatuer at it. I've been killing myself with guerilla tactics that aren't working. Frankly, I'm sick of wasting my time. My "Like" page on Facebook is highly unliked, while my goof-off page thrives. It's easier to be someone's friend anyway.

Kathryn Magendie said...

I think a lot of authors querying or about to query agents/publishers are under the impression they must have a successful blog/website/twitter followers before they even publish because they are told that, sometimes by the agents/publishers themselves - so, off they go . . . "promo'ing" away.

I blog/twitter/FB because otherwise I'd be pretty reclusive up here on my mountain in my little cove in a small town with about 900 to 1000 people (during off-season anyway). I don't get out much -- and Lucky Me my editor tells me to "write the next book(s); don't wear yourself out with all this stuff. . . " bless her. But still, at times I have felt the pressure to do social networking because ... well, I don't really know - maybe it's that "it's expected" bug biting me.

I just couldn't do the "fan" page on Facebook - it felt icky to me- and I don't even call people "fans" --they are Readers of my books, not fans; but that's just me.

I don't troll for followers or friends even it if means my numbers are modest, and my blog posts are about my life and etc (though, yes, sometimes I tell news about my books - same as I'd tell news about a promotion or other happy yipee yo kay yay thing if I wasn't a writer! ;-D )

I gave away copies of my first book as "contests" (usually "the first person to comment" kind of thing)- because I thought it was "expected" (that word again!). Now, I'll sometimes give away another author's book or whatever -- I tried the "go do this and that" contest just this Friday to give away an author's book and a magazine subscription (for a good cause) and it was a pain in the arse to ask people to go do all this "look here, say this do that" thing -ugh-- so I won't be doing that again *laugh*

Whew - that was a ramble, wasn't it?

Kathryn Magendie said...
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Kathryn Magendie said...
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Marisa Birns said...

You've said things I've been thinking about lately.

Especially this: "Authors who self-market are not reaching new readers via social media. They are reaching the same very relatively small group of friend-people over and over and over again."

I accepted a friend request on Facebook and immediately was sent their page to "like". It annoyed me, yes, because I understood that it wasn't friendship they wanted after all.

And, I'm not a new reader for this person's work.

As a writer, I want to write. Marketing is another profession.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'm an author with six books and a blog - and I have to agree that blogging does not sell books! However, I do think blog tours make an impact if the author goes outside his or her sphere of influence.
Constantly blogging or journaling or commenting about one's book is indeed annoying, too!

David Anaxagoras said...

I once had a comment left on my blog from the *assistant* of "the famous screenwriter, Mr. Xxxxx Xxxxxxx", asking if I wanted to exchange links. First, there are no "famous" screenwriters. Second, if he couldn't be bothered to interact with my blog personally, then no -- I'm not linking to his blog. And of course, wouldn't you know it, he had a screenwriting book coming out he wanted to promote.

Guess who never, ever gets a mention on my blog?

Katie Alender said...

And yet it's very hard for authors, because the message is coming directly from publishers and agents that they MUST be out there, online, in more places the better. At the SCBWI-LA conference, the panel of editorial directors suggested that authors spend 50% of their time writing and 50% on marketing. Horrors.

I've recently made a change in the way I view Twitter: to me, it's now a trade publication. 95% of the people I interact with are authors, book bloggers, or book sellers. So I tailor my tweeting to those people--bearing in mind that by now, I have a "personal" (as personal as you can get on the internet) relationship with a lot of them. And word of mouth on Twitter can definitely raise your profile among that subset of people, though they may not make up a large percentage of readers.

However: I must contradict one point of your argument based on a conversation I had recently with a group of teenagers. They largely ignore Twitter in favor of Facebook, as you say.

BUT they actually prefer fan pages for authors and books they like. Because they have a very savvy understanding of "friends of friends" and what it means that all of those people can see their photos, etc. If they "like" my page, they can follow me without being followed. Except in rare cases (the squeakiest wheels), they don't really want to be followed by an adult, and have all of that adult's friends able to view their content.

With authors and other adults, I am willing to friend. But for teens, I'm sticking with my fan page. It's a way to respect their privacy and my own.

Dianne said...

great post1

Victoria Dixon said...

Great post. I love my blog. I love being able to spread the word about contests, markets, good news for me and others, but it consumes my writing time. HATE that part. Wish there was a good way to have lots of time for both, but time is like money: you never have enough. I did make a yahoo group for authors who like writing in Asian settings or with Asian characters (like me) and that may be one of the best things to come out of my blog. It's directly helped me and a lot of others (much to my surprise).

Ron at CM said...

Much of what you say is valid--with the assumption that the publishing world will continue for the next twenty years like it has for the past two hundred.

Only five years ago, the eReader was a new-fangled very rare and expensive toy. Many sources project 2010 sales of 11 million units. Toss in the iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Kindle Apps for just about every device known to man.

I honestly believe that any writer not at least establishing groundwork for social media connection and promotion should give some thought to hanging up the keyboard.

In the future you may have to do it to survive as a writer. Life is 140 characters long...

Those who learn and master this part of 'tradecraft' now will be better off for it.

Ron

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