— Mark Paxson
When I started writing and then thinking about submitting short stories and eventually publishing my work, a common refrain was “You gotta have a blog. You gotta be on Twitter.” There was this emphasis on having a social media presence. After years of curating a social media presence, I’m not sure all of those experts are right. But then, maybe it’s just me.
A writing acquaintance had a contract with a small publishing house for his first two books. He writes cozy mysteries. A genre I had never heard of until I started reading his. After those two books, the publisher refused to consider anymore because he didn’t have much of a presence on social media. Sure, he had a blog, but he didn’t blog much. He was also on Facebook, but wasn’t super active. As far as I know, he never got on Twitter.
It’s a shame that his future efforts were rejected, not because of the quality of his writing or whether his books could sell, but because of his relative invisibility on social media. It’s another instance of traditional publishing going by something other than the quality of the story to make decisions.
What I’ve come to realize is that, except in incredibly rare circumstances, being on social media does not produce huge sales. To be honest, I’m not even sure what those rare circumstances are. I don’t know anybody who claims their social media presence has produced a lot of sales.
Earlier I said, maybe it’s my own fault. My social media presence is all over the place. I talk politics on my blog and on Twitter. A lot. I post pictures of food and beers and my trips out into the world. I blog about family life. Work life. I share all sorts of things on my social media outlets. It’s not just about writing.
And what I don’t do is constantly hawk my books on my blog, on Facebook, on Instagram, or on Twitter. When I publish a book, I’ll send a few tweets out, announce it on my different blogs, try to push it on my friends via Facebook. Then, every once in awhile when a good review gets posted, I’ll quote from it and remind people that I still have books out there in the world for them to consider.
A lot of writers I follow, particularly on Twitter, tweet and retweet blurbs about their books on a regular basis. Weekly and, in some cases, every single day. When I look at their sales on Amazon, it doesn’t look like they’re doing much better than me. So …
Here’s what I think I’ve figured out. On the one hand, my blogging and tweeting has produced some sales. Those sales, however, come mostly from people who, although we’ve never met, I’ve developed a connection with via social media. Bloggers I follow and who follow me where we have regular “conversations” via our blogs. Or the same on Twitter. There are a lot of great people I’ve “met” through social media and many of them have become regular readers of my books. As have I of theirs.
My reading audience basically consists of about 100 people. Friends and family, and those social media acquaintances with whom I’ve formed a bond. Beyond that, I don’t see anything I do on social media having any noticeable impact on my book sales.
With my latest novel, I ran an Amazon ad for a week. It produced no sales. I also tried one of those services that promises to tweet your book to their tens of thousands of followers and to feature your book in an email to even more of their followers. It produced no sales. (With both of those efforts, the price for my book for Kindle was $4.99. I wonder what would happen if it was .99 or free.)
On some level, I get it. I’ve never bought a book via an Amazon ad. Nor have I ever bought a book from one of those email/Twitter services. To be honest, I don’t even crack open their emails anymore. Why? Because the vast majority of books they feature are in genres I simply don’t read — like romance.
If I’m unwilling to buy a book via any of those avenues, why would I expect other readers to buy my book that way? Well, because it worked once. With my very first novel. EReaderNewsToday did wonders for sales and downloads for One Night in Bridgeport. Since then, however, nothing has worked. Nothing. Except for developing relationships with others. That, however, is a slow way to build a reading audience.
So, writers and readers out there … what about you? Does being active on social media produce results for your books? If you’re a reader, do you buy books via any of these social media outlets? And, if social media doesn’t work, what’s a better way to do this?
I’ve read a lot of blog posts about social media and indie authors lately. The comments on those posts are all over the map. Some say they find a specific social medium to be helpful, others don’t. Same with different kinds of paid advertising. I’m starting to think it’s kind of like writing–there is no one right answer, which means we all fumble around until we find something that works for us.
Caveat: I don’t do social media. My blog(s) and Goodreads are it. No Facebook, no Twitter. So I really have no business opining about it (even though I just did).
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I have a blog and a page on DeviantArt devoted to my paintings, with some mention of my books. Like you, I started a blog for my writing when I first published. I use it as a writing exercise in which I talk about my stories, myself (mostly for the benefit of my future biographers) and the odd things that interest me, like exploring Europe virtually from the cabs of trains, plus a few reviews. It brings in maybe 300-400 real viewers a month. This, and making occasional comments on blogs with links to my blog, is the extent of my social media. I have no evidence that they actually bring in any/many sales.
Social media may work for the celebrities in a genre, but it won’t make you a celebrity by itself.
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It’s the last line … social media works for pre-existing connections or to advance already existing celebrity. It’s really difficult for us commonfolk to create any kinid of a ripple.