I’m at a writing conference, and during just about every session, authors keep asking the same questions.
And they aren’t looking for answers.
They are looking for permission not to give a damn about their readers.
They ask stuff like “I know I’m supposed to use Facebook/Twitter… but do I have to?”
They say stuff like “I just want to write, I don’t want to do any marketing. Can’t I just pay someone else to do all that for me? Can’t I pay someone else to manage social media or write blog posts?”
Or “But in terms of interacting with readers on Facebook, how effective is it? Is it really worth my time and effort?”
What I hear is:
“I don’t want to get to know any of my readers. I’m not interested in them. I don’t want to have to fake caring about them. I don’t want to give up my time talking with them.”
Blogging and posting content is for sharing cool stuff you think your readers will like.
Social media is for chatting with readers and getting to know them.
Building an author platform means being approachable enough that you can form a solid bond between you and your readers, so that they become your champions and fans. That doesn’t happen if you are paying someone to do marketing for you, or hiring someone to do your social media (which just shows readers that you’re lazy and you don’t care about them, which makes them unlikely to support or rave about you even if they liked your books).
Marketing is not complicated or difficult or confusing.
Marketing means producing quality content that people enjoy or find interesting, that’s separate from what you’re selling. This can just be a link to an interesting article you read recently, or a provocative question. But it won’t work if you honestly don’t give a shit about your readers and don’t want to get to know them.
And if that’s you (and it seems to be about 80% of the writers I’ve met this weekend) then you don’t have a marketing problem. You have an ideology problem. You want to be a celebrity writer that lives in a golden palace, cut off from the rabble you write for.
That might have worked 30 years ago, but business has changed.
You want to focus on producing art, without actually asking people to read it. If so – burn your book and get a real job.
There are enough selfish writers in the world already. Success is reserved for the exceptional human beings who are willing to share themselves, their time, their love, their advice, their knowledge, joy and sorrow with other people rather than hiding behind the pages of their books.
Is it worth it? Yes – forming relationships with lots of other human beings who like your work by being nice and caring about them is worth it. Maybe not in terms of immediate book sales. But it’s certainly more effective than being an asshole.
UPDATE: I intentionally made this blog post a little strong and confrontational. But it’s not very helpful. So I’d like to expand the topic. Do you have to spend time on social media? In my opinion, yes. And that may sound exhausting – except that it really doesn’t take more than 15 minutes a day. So while you may defend the rigor of artistic solitude, there’s really no way to justify not having 15 minutes to spare for your fans and supporters.
How to do social media marketing.
Make a Twitter account and link it to your site so people can follow you.
Once a day, check Twitter and see if anybody mentioned you or your books, or shared something you wrote. If so, reply and thank them.
If you write a blog post, share it on Twitter – with a nice picture if you can and some hashtags (keywords so people can find you).
Make a Facebook page or use your personal Facebook page (if you don’t use Facebook, start. Just make a personal page).
Check in once a day and see if anybody posted anything. If so, reply.
Facebook isn’t very powerful for marketing, but it is a good way for people to feel like they’ve become friends. It’s a good way for people to get to know you.
If you want to spend more than 15 minutes, you could also use Reddit or LinkedIn. Answer people’s questions. Engage. Be helpful.
You don’t have to talk about your book, or share excerpts or promotions or anything, although you can share stuff you’re working on, your thoughts, challenges you’re facing, things you’re excited about. Treat Twitter and Facebook like your best friends and share stuff that’s important to you (not stuff you’re trying to sell).
If you like taking pictures, take them and share them on instagram and pinterest. Why? No reason, you’re just sharing beautiful things with other people who also appreciate beautiful things.
Will it make a huge difference in sales? No – not right away. But over time it will build up traffic to your site, and connect you with more people.
That’s 30 minutes a day. If you are as helpful as I am, you’ll also get a lot of email. I spend over an hour a day answering email – and yes that’s not the best use of my time… or is it? Producing more work won’t matter much if I don’t have a platform to promote it from.
I feel like spending an hour and a half a day connecting with people now will help me do big things (like buy a castle) when I want to. But that’s because I know what I’m talking about – this is how the internet works. This is how marketing works these days. This is what people mean when they say you need to build a platform. Would I rather be sitting on beach in Portugal sipping rum and painting landscapes? Sure. On the other hand, spending an hour and a half each day doing something a little tedious, which allows me to sell a lot of books and write full-time without having to work for someone else and wake up early in the morning to go to work, is pretty amazing.
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.
Thanks Derek for the great reminder. It’s so easy to get caught up in the weeds of tactics (facebook v twitter, to blog or not to blog, etc). Before you know it, you find yourself complaining and dreading these “chores.” It’s the classic downfall of establishing tactics without a strategy or correct purpose. The more I ponder it, the more I’ve decided my purpose can’t be “to sell more book” – that’s too me-driven and will lead to desperate tactics or endless chores. Instead, if I set my purpose as “develop a relationship with each new reader” (I don’t have any yet, so they’re all new), then it shifts my attitude towards how I view marketing. But here’s the real rub – I’m an introvert and making new friends has always be super hard. Crowded parties makes my skin crawl. So finding a 1000 new friends is terrifying, but also the key. I’m not looking for a sale but for a reader who loves my work – a human being. Maybe there’s a few other authors and future authors in the same predicament as me: ready to push out of my comfort zone but still needing to find the right platform that meshes a healthy strategy with my personality. Thanks again!
I think that’s a great way to look at things: how can I help people, how can I connect with readers. All you have to do is invite people to connect with you, ask them questions and then write them back. It may not help you sell the one book you have right now, but it helps you build a powerful platform. Big platforms and mobilizing a whole bunch of people at the same time has been the secret of the bestseller lists for the past 5 years. You could easily make the argument that having a big platform is more important than having a good book. Luckily, since introverts are usually good at writing, and actually more interesting and expressive than big talkers, connecting with people through words online shouldn’t be a difficult thing for you. Ask questions, post useful content, help people, respond. Don’t sell your book. Don’t promote yourself. Just put yourself out there and be nice: how people feel about you as a person is as important as whether or not your books are any good (I know several writers who have huge platforms, and everybody loves them, even though their writing isn’t stellar). I also know guys who are kind of jerks and confrontational – but the honesty and transparency of their personalities allows people to connect with them. Be personal. People follow bloggers to find out about the person, not just for the work.
Great post, Derek, and a good reminder that online promotion is based on participating in community, not pushy sales techniques.
Excellent post! I agree with every word.
Thanks for your response; I knew this post would be controversial – I agree the mythology of the “outsider” artist who leaves beyond society, who goes outside the cave and comes back to reveal truth, is alluring. And for writers who have already built a career a decade or two ago, if you’re still making enough money and already have name recognition, great. Being social would help you find more readers and build a much more passionate tribe of people, but it isn’t necessary. On the other hand, if Steven King were publishing today and competing with the thousands of other writers, I’m pretty sure he’d fail. He got lucky because he wrote Carrie during a “Satanic Panic” and rode the wave of interest generated by blockbuster movies and novels immediately preceding him (he didn’t get lucky, he deliberately wrote something commercial, which is just smart). It was a short book; today he’d have to publish for .99 cents and self-promote. Publishers today (in my opinion) wouldn’t touch a book like that. I’m also not very social. I’m also an introvert, and I’m selfish with my time, and I prefer to work on amazing projects that excite me, and that’s how I contribute to the world. But I’m also living in a time period where nobody is ever going to read my books unless I make a big deal, do marketing, have a lot of supporters, and make a lot of friends. I don’t have the luxury of resting on my laurels. If I want a big palace, I need to sell a ton of books, and for that to happen, I need to create stuff that goes viral and have a large enough platform for what I produce to get any visibility. If you don’t need to sell more books, or hit the bestsellers list, and you can just drop a book out there without worrying about how much it sells – that’s fine, you don’t need social media. But I don’t think you can make the argument that you wouldn’t do even better, or sell even more books, if you made more of an effort to connect with your fans.
Yes, it’s all about a genuine conversation. An interesting conversation between two or more people. Everyone gets something out of it and a lot of positive energy can be generated.
“On the other hand, if Steven King were publishing today and competing
with the thousands of other writers, I’m pretty sure he’d fail. He got
lucky because he wrote Carrie during a “Satanic Panic” and rode the wave of interest generated by blockbuster movies and novels immediately
preceding him (he didn’t get lucky, he deliberately wrote something
commercial, which is just smart).”
I barely know what to say to this remark, but I’ll try. I’ve worked with writers for decades. Many of them who started since the age of social media are earning a very good living writing, and you have probably not heard of, or read, the majority of them. Stephen King succeeded because he wrote good books that tapped into people’s fears; storytelling at its best. He “connected” with his fans far before social media hit the scene. To suggest he would “fail” (whatever that means) today, is, in my opinion, a bit arrogant and misguided.
Sometimes the writing speaks for, and sells itself. I’m a big fan of social media, but it isn’t the be all end all. Some days I despair over the easy access to it by bad writers. Most days I embrace it as another way for very good, unknown writers to get discovered. I don’t agree it’s an absolute requirement for sucess, at least how I define it.
I understand your feelings; and this conversation can’t go anywhere since there is no way to demonstrate that a famous writer wouldn’t be able to succeed today without social media. Sure, it happens. If you write well and people discover you, great. I know a ton of brilliant writers with brilliant books who can’t get anybody to read them, because they don’t have a platform and there is too much competition. The world has dramatically changed, and what it takes to get published/become a successful writer today is very different than what it took even just 5 years ago (but almost a different universe from what it was 20 years ago). I understand you are resisting social media; that’s fine, it’s your choice. But I would never in good conscience tell my followers that “they don’t need social media” or “social media is not important for book marketing” – because that’s not at all true.
I hear you Derek. The reverse is also true – there is also no way to say a writer would “fail” today. I also know many gifted writers who struggle – but it has been my experience these past nearly 30 years that those who stay with it do succeed.*
I was very careful to say that I am a big fan of social media. I think it’s a brilliant community business tool. I also did not state that it’s not needed, nor that it isn’t important for book marketing. I just don’t happen to agree with you that all writers must do it themselves or otherwise they “fail.”
* I think a good jumping off point for a rational discussion on it would be to define success. If it’s earning a living as a writer, I know plenty of writers who do it without directly engaging with their readers through social media. If it’s FAME and earning a living you are talking about, that’s another story.
Thanks Nancy, sorry if I misrepresented your position. I know this post was more incendiary than usual, which was probably a mistake on my part.
Absolutely not! Write your truth. Nothing moves forward without vigorous discussion.
In case anyone is wondering, Derek lives what he is recommending here. He is one of the most helpful and engaging people I have met online. Thanks for the post.
Ah thanks Jeff! I’m going to use this project as a way to force myself to do a ton of videos too (1 question = 1 video). It’s something I know I need to do even though it makes me uncomfortable… but after doing a hundred or more I should get over that hurdle.
It’s taken me many failed Twitter accounts and blogs to finally get it. I don’t think what I’m doing is perfect, but I understand why it needs to be done. And the cool thing is, once you start interacting with people, you do start to care. It’s easy to forget there are real people behind all those usernames and avatars.
Thanks for the comment; I was the same way too, I was blogging and online for a couple years before I started doing things “the right way” (I’m still doing a lot of things wrong, but I’m getting better). But the big shift in my thinking was when I stopped focusing on the art I wanted to make, and started thinking about whether I was providing anything people cared about – that’s the secret to success, but you have to think about other people (I don’t believe you should just follow your passion and create what inspires you. It works some of the time, but rarely – whereas making something other people will like works a lot more of the time).