Social Media for Authors: [Groan] Do I HAVE To?

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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.

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?”

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“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?

Hell no.

Do you?

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.)

35 thoughts on “Social Media for Authors: [Groan] Do I HAVE To?

  1. Karen says:

    I’ve read all Gillian Flynn’s books and loved them, and originally discovered her while browsing books in my local library – which is still how I mostly discover authors I like, though I have downloaded several books recently via social media.

    As a writer, I’m learning to accept my own book will not sell unless I get word out to the public, but it’s so hard when it doesn’t come naturally! There’s a fine line between promoting your work and getting up people’s noses, and I’m not sure I’ve found the balance yet – I’m working on it 🙂

  2. Anna says:

    Seems this would apply not only to self-published writers, but those traditionally published, but possibly lesser-known as well. Few can sit back to rest on their laurels any more.

  3. minalobo says:

    “…you only have to glance in the general direction of a McDonald’s and your jeans start to feel tight.”

    *Precisely* why I never wear jeans (or, God help us, jeggings). Thanks for the tough love. 🙂

  4. Kim says:

    I absolutely love reading your blog. I’ve been following it for (I’ve got to think pretty hard here) about a year and I have not once been disappointed.
    Also, I can’t deny that the little reading voice in my head develops an Irish accent (or, from your persepective loses its Canadian accent) every single time.

  5. Debra Eve says:

    Guess I’m the only one not on the Gillian Flynn bandwagon. I found the narrator’s voice in Sharp Objects grating and the denouement went down too fast for me…it seemed too obvious and contrived. I’ve been considering picking up Gone Girl because of all the press, but can’t quite bring myself to do so.

    But I agree that she’s someone who certainly does not need to tweet! Great post.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I don’t think that’s exactly the same subject, as this seems to be an argument about the merits of using social to sell books. As I’ve blogged about before, using Twitter etc. to advertise your book is a total waste of time and extremely annoying for everyone subjected to it. But using social media to build an audience, connect with readers, find supportive blogger friends, etc. DOES sell books and generate income for writers, just indirectly. It’s certainly not a one size fits all, but it DOES work — I’m proof of that.

  6. Maximum Know-How says:

    And if you’re hoping to do more than self-publish, agents and publishers want you to have a thriving social media “platform” BEFORE they’ll give you a serious look.

  7. Martin says:

    It’s all horses for courses. What works for one, won’t for the other. I don’t have a professional face book page and I rarely tweet, but I do blog. I enjoy it for one and it’s slowly building a smallish audience for me.

    However, if I get a multi-million book and film deal (yeah right) I may just give up the tweeting.

  8. Lis Sowerbutts says:

    If you are already famous and write a book you don’t need to do extra promotion, the rest of us do, totally agree with you on that.

    What I do think is missing though – is that social media is a start not, an end. The purpose of blogs and social media is to get potential customers on your emailing list so you can announce new books and book promotions. Your mailing list is the ONLY thing you actually control except for your own self-hosted blog.

  9. ericdeeter says:

    Do you think it best to keep tweets etc. focused on topics close to your book or books? That is, do you work to craft a persona with social media? I tend to tweet things that interest me, and they may not relate to the books I’m working on.

  10. Catherine says:

    She’s so lucky and must be a damned fine writer. I think it’s all about time division. Writing is for the times your brain is light and focused. Networking for when you’re on the outer rim of that energy. It should be a side dish!

  11. crystaljigsaw says:

    Don’t I know it?! My recently released second self-published book has been pimped, tweeted, shared a gazillion times and enjoyed the #1 spot in Kindle free Romance downloads. It’s still being pimped, tweeted and shared a gazillion times and is shooting up the paid Amazon charts, now in the Top 100. Social Media is my road to (hopefully) achieving some sort of success. Though I know I’ll never be *that* author, I’m enjoying the ride. If I make billions in the process it will be a bonus!

    (Love the pink typewriter!)

    Kathryn Brown
    Aka Crystal Jigsaw

  12. Melanie Jo Moore says:

    When I saw the title and the picture of that bratty little child, I knew this was a blog for me to read. Does anyone else feel like they are trolling for prostitues when using social media? “Hey baby! You like what you see here?” Pimping ain’t easy, neither is pushing your own books … but hey, I’m going to ride the social media wagon until the wheels fall off.

  13. Rosemary Orchard says:

    I’ve discovered so many authors via social media – whether it was them guest posting on a blog, someone linking to their blog, liking a book on Facebook, or tweeting about it. And I love following my favourite authors on Twitter and Facebook – it helps me keep track of upcoming books, get sneak peeks, etc!

  14. ivinviljoen2 says:

    Hello Catherine. I believe if your marketing is regular and valuable on social media (or Twitter), and it’s got a planned funnel, then it could work. But if you don’t have a marketing plan, it won’t.

  15. Jessie says:

    Cindy Crawford is a great example because looking like Cindy Crawford doesn’t come naturally to her – she’s one of the celebrities who admits it!

    Point being that even authors that haven’t had to “social network” had to network. Just a little more privately, perhaps.

  16. Tara Reed says:

    Thanks for another great post, Catherine.

    Coming from a PR background, I can attest that no matter what your product is, it can impossible to convince a client they need to spend time on social media – usually because someone else they know who is successful doesn’t do it. And when you do finally get through to them, they want every Facebook post or tweet to be about their product, expecting that people will (obviously) be compelled to share the magical tweets resulting in record-breaking sales.

    Doesn’t work that way.

    As writers on twitter, connecting with other writers, it seems feeds are only about their books, their books’ ranking on Amazon, their books’ best lines, their books’ 10% of Amazon, and it’s b-to-the-oring! Where’s the sharing of interesting articles, that hilarious Taylor Swift Trouble Goat YouTube video? Even your thoughts on the episode of The Bachelor. Bring the funny! Bring you!

    Sure, tweet your own horn now and then, you’d be remiss not to, but more than anything – be you! We spend so much time looking for our “voice” as writers that we don’t realize that we can find it in 140 characters or less – or even in a short blog post. That’s what’s going to bring in and convert fellow tweeters into reader, and hopefully our books encourage them to stick with us for the next book. Even the next tweet.

    As an aside, I find that tweeting is a great way to learn word economy as a writer. Limiting your thoughts to (ideally) 120 characters is one heck of an exercise.

    • Suzanne Cowles says:

      Well said. I’m new to Twitter, but in only two weeks I’ve found great links to websites for articles/info that have helped me in this field. I used to consider myself the “Google Queen” for searches, but social media makes it easier to connect with the right people.

      The downside is that it takes time away from writing and can be annoying with spam, but so are most things involving the Internet.

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