Writer Susan Kiernan-Lewis wrote a blog post a couple of months ago entitled “The Great Social Media Flim-Flam.” If you want to see writer frustration with having to deal with social media, go on over and read it, because it’s one of the best examples I’ve seen. If you don’t want to read five hundred words of it, here’s a key excerpt:
“Is it possible that the prevailing belief that having an online platform is essential to a book’s success is wrong? Are we all just the cool kids playing with the latest gadgets and wanting them to be essential and really they’re irrelevant? Is it really the author’s platform that’s important? Is that why YOU buy a book?
Isn’t it about the damn book?”
Okay, first off, yes, it is about the book. If there isn’t something appealing about your book, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend promoting it. Notice I said “something appealing.” I chose those words carefully. Plenty of books that have a lot of problems do well; some of them even do very, very well. But there has to be something about them that makes people want to read them.
However, a key point I think Ms. Kiernan-Lewis may be missing is that social media presence for writers is not about sales.
Yes, I just said that.
Social media is not about sales. We may want it to be about sales because sales are easy to measure. And what writer doesn’t want sales? I’m not saying social media never causes sales; if you look at the pie graph in that blog article, it claims 23.9 percent of book discovery happens via social media (I combined blogs and social networking sites to get that figure). But that’s only a quarter of the whole pie (at least for now), and probably some of those people are going to get the book from the library or borrow it from a friend.
Social media is about marketing. It’s about building brand awareness (and for writers, your brand is YOU). It’s about weak ties and networking and relationships and being a presence. Marketing is important if you are trying to sell something. The problem is, it’s more nebulous to measure than sales. Sure, you can look at your follower count or your blog traffic or count your likes and retweets and +1s. But when you think about what those numbers really mean, well, it’s hard to say. Higher is better, but beyond that? *silence in the room* Yup, that’s marketing for you.
Marketing and social media is also for the long haul, which makes it critical to formulate a strategy that works for you. Otherwise, say hello to burn-out. That’s why I recommend using social media in a way that you enjoy, or at least in a way not completely odious to you. If you’re forcing yourself to do something you hate, whether that be daily blogging or tweeting or posting on the service du jour, then it’s time to rethink your strategy. If you feel frayed around the edges from your social media activities, then maybe you need to pull back a bit, rest, and re-group. The ultimate goal is to find a balance that is sustainable for you (and this balance is going to be a little different for each individual). The way to find this balance is through time and experimentation, and it will change as your life changes. For example, I’ve had to adjust my own strategy the last few months when I’ve been deep in novel head space.
I wish I could tell you social media doesn’t matter for writers, that it’s all some mass delusional idea. But it does make a difference. When someone has heard your name several times, they’re more likely to give your book a second look at the store. They’re more likely to click on over to your book on Amazon and read the summary and some reviews. If it looks interesting, they’re more likely to take a chance and buy it. If they’ve read an interesting essay you’ve written, they’re more likely to talk about you and spread the word. Etc., etc. How social media works and helps you is the subject for an entire series of posts, but if you know anything about network theory, then you have an idea of what I’m talking about.
So the real question when thinking about social media isn’t if it matters. It’s figuring out how you can participate in social media without becoming overwhelmed or wanting to throw your computer across the room. It’s figuring out the best use of your time so you also have enough time to write that next novel. It’s experimenting to integrate social media into your life in a way that works for you.