What the hell happened with social media? We were told that the fierce publishing-industry lion wouldst lay down with the fragile disenfranchised-author lamb and share the cool bounty of the literary watering hole. They promised that we’d be able to get all warm and snuggly with readers across the world while just happening to shift millions of copies of our noir circus thriller on the side. We were assured that from now on, becoming a global writing success would be easier, quicker, cheaper, and much more amenable to the uninterrupted wearing of Marmite-stained pyjamas.
So how did our glorious peer-to-peer revolution turn into a riot of BDSM fan fiction trilogies, ‘15% OFF MY NEW SCIFI EBOOK @GREATDISMAL LOVES IT BUY NOW’ tweets, and £250 workshops from seven year olds offering to gift us the secrets of social self-promotion success?
The truth is, it’s our fault. Most writers persist in labouring under a series of illusions about what social media is and isn’t, can and can’t do; illusions that generate huge frustration and anxiety. Weeding out these pervasive myths can be painful at first, but the sooner you identify exactly if, and how, these channels fit with your skills and aims, the sooner you can get back to that draft. So let’s go.
1. Social media is a great marketing tool
Social media is a rubbish marketing tool. This set of technologies was designed to help us build relationships and share passions, not become the delighted recipients of targeted messages from strangers trying to steal our attention and our money. Attempting to establish yourself online once you have completed your manuscript, for the sole purpose of flogging said manuscript, will feel like bashing your head against a brick wall. Wrong hammer, crooked nail.
Example: Frankie Sachs outs the book spammers in fabulous style.
2. It’s the perfect place to talk about you and your book
Ah yes! Just like how people love it when you corner them at a party and bend their ear about your brilliant opus, right? Wrong. If you focus on connecting with likeminded people on their own terms, garnering inspiration, reading others’ work and having interesting debates, your online community probably will develop curiosity about your own work and evolve into readers somewhere along the line. But you need to give in order to receive.
3. It’s quick
Getting someone who likes expressing themselves in 140 characters to commit to 80,000 words – let alone Vols II and III of your Downton/alien trilogy – requires a reader relationship more akin to a marriage than a one night stand. Building large-scale engagement in social media that really will drive sales takes serious man-hours, and requires a hefty emotional investment, too.
Example: Self-epublishing specialists Joanna Penn and Louise Voss both recommend spending 20% of your time writing and 80% of your time networking through social media to get results. That’s as quick as treacle.
4. It’s cheap
See above. Your time is money. It may well be better spent making your book really good. This is historically the reason why authors have preferred to pay agents and publishers to have ego-stroking lunches with influential people in Soho House, so you can have Marmite on toast and write, instead.
Example: Rob Eager writes eloquently on the hidden costs of social networking.
5. You can keep your personal and professional selves separate
Because we all love getting close and personal with Author: The Brand? You can’t treat social as a PR project. You have to find what you love about this way of communicating, and bring an authentic sense of your own self to the playground. If you really hate that idea, if you think it’s all so much timewasting, you simply shouldn’t be there. We can tell.
Example: @lindasgrant is a self-confessed one-time sceptic who learned to love the Twitter beast – and Twitter loves her back.
6. You just need to be yourself
This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t don a sexy and efficient business hat. Be strategic. Understand what you want to achieve. What proportion of your time will you spend talking about yourself, versus asking others questions or sharing their content? Figure out who your target audience is, where they are talking, and be as helpful, interesting and relevant as you can. Sure, look at shoes on Pinterest, but don’t pretend it’s work.
Example: Michael Hyatt used social media to get his book on the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-seller lists, but it took some serious tactical planning.
7. You need to be on every new platform
Whether it’s Path or Soci or MySpace (again), there will always be a box-fresh platform promising to be the next best thing, so you need to keep your head and choose the tools that most suit your personality and target audience. A witty satirist who loves peddling opinions about breaking news? Twitter’s your tool. A lengthy pontificator penning an epic historical drama? You may do better with a blog. Your protagonist is a photographer? May I suggest Instagram?
Example: Dennis Cass used video to brilliant effect with his ‘Book Launch 2.0’.
8. Facebook is the holy grail
It is very difficult to gain any kind of meaningful professional traction on Facebook. Liking a page or post involves minimal effort, but also minimal passion. Facebook a good place to spread the word amongst your family and friends, but they’re probably in your corner already; and self-promotional messages grate in the midst of the intimate chat and photos. Sure, use Facebook, but don’t depend on it.
Example: Some sobering examples of the meaninglessness of Facebook Likes.
9. You can always pay someone else to do it for you
It might seem easier, but this is a big fat waste of time. The whole joy of social media is that it cuts out the middle man between you and your readers. Why on earth would you put the middle man back in? Again, if you really hate this stuff, don’t do it. There are more than one way to skin a cat. If this blade doesn’t fit your hand snugly, go back to the drawer.
Example: If the thought of this doesn’t make you die a little inside, you’re already a corpse.
10. It’s the best place to generate word of mouth
No, it’s the best place to easily see word of mouth. US researchers Keller Fay consistently report that 90% of WOM still occurs face to face. So if you’re only thinking about how to be conversational online, you’re ignoring the iceberg beneath the tip. Team up with local bookshops, cafes and reading groups. Seed some copies on trains and planes with personalised notes. Focus less on the venues for where the conversation will happen; focus more on creating the sparks that will ignite it.
Example: Keller Fay’s The Face To Face Book is mandatory further reading.
Molly is a writer and journalist, as well as WOM Evangelist for 1000heads, the leading global word of mouth agency, where she helps businesses such as Nokia, Skype and Mars harness the power of word of mouth and social media. She loves forests, cities, unicorns and gin, and is currently, inevitably, working on her first novel.