This week I read a really interesting interview with Gillian Flynn’s agent, Stephanie Rostan, about whether or not social media sells books.
Gillian Flynn, if you’re not familiar, is the author of the fantastic Gone Girl, frequent topper of bestseller lists worldwide and soon to be a movie David Fincher is rumored to be directing and Flynn herself is currently writing the screenplay for. (She’s also the author of Sharp Objects and Dark Places, which are even better than Gone Girl, I think.) According to Publishers Weekly, Flynn was one of the top 3 bestselling authors in the US last year, but she neither tweets nor blogs, and although her website looks cool, it’s only occasionally updated with book news and events.
— Debbie Ridpath Ohi (@inkyelbows) February 12, 2013
So if one of 2012’s biggest selling authors has never as much as read a tweet (let’s just presume), let alone composed one, why is the internet full of people—me included—saying that if you want to sell books, social media is the way to do it?
Because, like, it takes AGES.
And it doesn’t always work.
And anyway we just want to WRITE.
If you write full-time, do it sitting down and like to reward yourself with calorific treats, then you may have a problem with the expansion rate of your arse. (I know I do.) Let’s say you do, and let’s say you want to shrink it. The internet says this will involve exercising, eating less, eating only pretend food (with labels that say “Now With a New, Improved Taste!”), drinking gallons of boring water a day, switching from caramel lattes to black coffee and getting used to the constant sound of your stomach growling. But you have a writing friend who eats only Big Macs, drinks only melted Ben & Jerry’s, snacks on butter-coated cubes of lard and writes in bed, lying down, and she hasn’t gained a pound since 1997. Do you look at her, look back at your diet plan and say with a groan, “But do I HAVE to?”
“But I just want to WRITE!”
Of course you don’t, because you know that your friend’s metabolism is obviously an implant from an abduction experience she must have had when she was kidnapped for a night by an advanced alien race during her teenage years, and that while she can scoff Big Macs without gaining weight, you only have to glance in the general direction of a McDonald’s and your jeans start to feel tight. The same goes for waking up looking like Cindy Crawford. She just has to wake up, because looking like Cindy Crawford comes naturally to her. You, on the other hand, probably need some Touche Eclat and a blusher brush. (Again, I know I do.) And Gillian Flynn is traditionally published with two extremely well-received books already under her belt, Gone Girl was readily available on the just-inside-the-door shelves of all major bookstores in the countries it was published in, and it was positively reviewed in the New York Times, Time, The New Yorker, Publisher’s Weekly, The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly and People magazine, just to name a few.
So does Gillian Flynn have to tweet?
Yes, probably. Because you have to do what you have to do.
Now I’m not talking literally about tweeting, specifically, but of course you are going to have to get off your butt and do whatever you can to help sell copies of your book, and yes, that includes using social media. You have to do what you have to do. Yes, we all know of examples of self-published authors who don’t tweet or blog or use Facebook as much as we do, and they’ve sold truckloads more than us. But so bloody what? This is like the whole “JK Rowling is self-publishing” thing again. She may be, but what’s it got to do with you? Nothing, unless you are also a billionaire from your book sales, had eight movies break box office records and there’s a large section of Universal Studios devoted to the characters you created.
We all want to “just write”. But you’ll never be able to just write if what you write doesn’t bring money in, because then you’ll have to spend at least eight hours a day, five days a week doing something other than writing. You’ll only make money by selling books, and the first step in selling a book is to inform a potential reader than it exists.
For a self-published author, social media is the only gateway to a global audience that doesn’t charge a toll.
So yes, I think you have to.
At least until you’re on the bookstore shelves and reviewed in The New Yorker, anyway.
(And FYI, I discovered Flynn long before Gone Girl was even announced. I heard about Sharp Objects, looked it up, ordered it online and after devouring it, got Dark Places too. I never came across her in a bookshop or read a review in print media until Gone Girl was released, so how was it that I heard about her in the first place?
Oh, yeah. A Twitter friend was reading it and mentioned it online. So THROUGH A TWEET.)