After being told for several years by every guru in the business (most of them styled as “social media experts”) that as a writer I must focus my attention on self-promotion through social media, I now consider myself to have become a social media expert myself — at least when it comes to matters writerly.
And I am telling you that those other social-media experts (and the publishers that parrot them) are full of crap. When it comes to book promotion, your time is far better spent on other kinds of marketing activities, or even in writing your next novel, than it is being anywhere on social media.
For about five years I have read books, blog posts, articles and tweets on the subject of book marketing and networking, and I have Facebooked and Tweeted and LinkedIned until my smile, my whistle and my chains have been rattling and ready to fall off. I have examined the situation closely, tracking who comes to my web pages and blogs from where, and who buys my books and when – and what happens to the buzz about other people’s books on social media sites.
And here’s the bottom line, my fellow writers: nobody goes on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn (or Tumblr or Reddit or even an Amazon forum) to read about your book or mine. They are especially uninterested in our novels. They might possibly be interested in a non-fiction book if they think that what it contains is going to help them somehow (change a tire or make a million dollars or find inner peace), but the creative stuff . . . ? Forget it.
I have only to look within myself to see what should have been obvious five years ago. I’m a writer and an inveterate reader and I never go on those sites to read about new books – in fact, I try to tune out social media messages that have anything to do with books. Such messages are usually boring, and they make me feel guilty because I know I’m wasting my time there, and that I should be working.
There are good reasons why Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are a waste of time for novelists and other creative writers and if anyone had been using their brains they would have figured them out a long time ago. Here they are:
- Rarely if ever since Gutenberg has anyone ever wanted to read a book because the author said he or she should read it. (Most of us have also never been interested in reading a book just because the publisher told us to read it.) Social media do not alter that reality at all. What readers want to read are books that other people – independent people, whom we respect – tell us we’ll enjoy, not what the books’ authors insist we will enjoy;
- Most book-reading folk (i.e., intelligent people) aren’t interested in advertising and promotional copy, or in watching writers pat themselves on the backs for winning awards or getting great reviews. They are interested in discussions and opinions about books. They are interested in two-way exchanges about literary matters – not in one-way communications.
Any Facebook group that is related to writing is as much of a waste of time when it comes to book promotion as is the rest of the site. Most writers don’t buy books from other writers, and those groups are choirs, to which we, their members, sing. Furthermore, Facebook “Pages” devoted to fiction writers don’t seem to do much good. (On a related note of abject honesty: if you are a writer with a blog about your writing, I am probably never ever going to read it. I barely read my own.)
So if you’re not appealing to me, and I’m not appealing to you (in a way that puts me in mind to buy your book, I mean: you do, of course, appeal to me in every other way), and both of us are writers and readers, what the hell are we doing on Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter?
Well, we are not working on “self-promotion” as we like to think we are, and as our publishers tell us we are (they really believe it’s true. That’s how much most publishers know about book promotion). What we are doing over there is wasting time – just like everyone else. I like to think of Facebook as the equivalent of the office water cooler, since writing and editing are such solitary activities, and so in a way my visiting there is healthy. I am not arguing with the “social” aspect of social media. In fact, I love it. Too much, most days. :)
Also, in my opinion (which is rarely humble, as regular readers will know), if all we are doing on Facebook is self-promoting — which is what quite a few writers do – and we are never interesting or funny, we are not only not attracting readers, we are turning them away. I have hidden the posts of several widely published, bigshot authors who are my Facebook “friends” from my F/B news feed because I can’t stand listening to their self-congratulation any more. (As they may well have done with mine!)
And as far as Twitter and LinkedIn? The utter lack of interest in novels or writing-related posts on those sites is deafening. In reality, social-media interest in novelists is restricted to only the really major players. The Rowlings, Gaimans, Atwoods and Rushdies may attract attention for what they have to say (which is, please note, not normally related to their books), but nobody gives a damn what the rest of us think, about anything.
When I’m on social media sites, I tune out almost everything that has to do with books (aside from industry news and such lovely pages as the one maintained by the Paris Review), and if I am ever looking for a new book to buy or read, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Reddit are the last places in the universe I would ever think to go to find out what I might enjoy. (Maybe GoodReads, but maybe not even there. More likely a book reviewing site or a magazine or news publication.) The reason I’m on Facebook is not to locate reading material: I’m there to look at memes, make smart-ass jokes that nobody gets, diss members of the government, read some juicy gossip, find out how my friends are doing, and complain about the phone company. That’s why you’re there too: admit it.
The take-away from this? As writers, we should focus our promotional efforts on trying to get people to talk about our books (review them, read and recommend them, give them awards, take them to their book groups, write articles or blog posts about them) instead of trying to get people to buy them.