Social Networking - does it really work?

Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and promoting your book on the Internet

Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby Mira » 09 Jul 2010, 08:09

Hi,

I've been grappling with this issue for abit, and I haven't reached a conclusion, although I'm leaning toward the 'against'. I was wondering if anyone else had any thoughts about this.

I know the new big push is for authors to social network on the web as a form of marketing. This is different than authors just going out and making friends, it's more about selling books. So, I see some advantages, but I also see disadvantages.

Here's what I see:

The advantages:

- Authors connect with other people who can give them information, support, ideas, a sense of community.
- Authors can provide information about their book easily through blogs, websites, etc., so readers can have immediate access
- IF the author is personable and skilled, they MAY create a SMALL fan base.
- Once the author has a good book on the market that is already selling, a personable web presence can help develop a more loyal fan base.

The disadvantages:

- The primary disadvantage that I see (not everyone may feel the same) is it encouarges manipulative relationships. People make friends just to try to sell their book. Yech, yech, yech. Yech.
- There is no proof that this works.
- It's time consuming and distracting.
- IF the author is not as skilled at web interactions, it backfires. Although well-intentioned, people come off badly, and this can turn people off.
- Another primary disadvantage is it is seen as replacing other marketing strategies, which may be much more effective - such as advertising.

Again, I'm leaning against, or maybe for a very cautious utilization of the strategy. Does anyone else have any thoughts? Anyone seen this work?
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby Margo » 09 Jul 2010, 08:27

Ah, the question is, does it work for what?

Is the purpose to make connections with other writers and industry professionals, or is the purpose to sell more books?
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby polymath » 09 Jul 2010, 09:35

Several courses I took in college dealt with the practicalities of networking. Course sections included business networking, social networking, promotional networking, networking for writers, editors, publishers, and readers. Sociology, political geography, orientation courses in study skills and vocational marketing, technology courses, business and research writing courses, and writing as a business coursework were front loaded with networking methods and purposes.

One primary failing I see in networking is unfocused purposes mixing messages.

Writing workshop networking shares wisdoms, asks questions plaguing interested writers, provides suggestions, tests product before discerning audiences, tests reader rapport.

Writer self-promotion networking's sole goal is generating product buzz. Anything that doesn't is fluff, including signing one's own praises. There's a fine, bright line between gloating and promoting. All too often I see one-sided networking content favoring gloating. Me. Me. Me. I am the world. The world is me. I'm going to think a narrative being promoted is heavy in author surrogacy, and in conclusion, often right. Not my cup of Jello anyway.

Business promotion networking's sole goal is letting consumers know a product or service is available and they have to have it though they didn't know it.

Social networking is interpersonal social interaction.

Writer networking admittedly involves all four, but mixing messages dillutes message. Building audience rapport is the core purpose for writer networking. Does it matter to readers and fans a writer broke up with a lover yesterday? Will a polemic diatribe against the mediocrity of the publishing industry as it exists in all its glories and failings bring readers to the page? Unlikely. Declaring what's available isn't worth reading preaches to a choir of nonreaders. Everyone else won't believe it. Focus is key. What's done has been done, but usually not as focally purposed as it can be done.
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby steve » 09 Jul 2010, 10:06

"It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction." ~ Jonathan Franzen
Read one of the best stories by Borges.
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby polymath » 09 Jul 2010, 10:34

Franzen's technology savvy is apparent in his writing. So is his attitude toward technology. He accurately uses high tech motifs to cause complications. He doesn't live in a paper age community, nor is he a hermit by nature. I happen to know of writers he socially networks with.
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby steve » 09 Jul 2010, 10:41

Perhaps you're mistaking email with flogging your wares on a blog/facebook. No writer worth his salt does that.

The social networking platform as used by publicists is obscene, for any type of artist.

And as mentioned already, it doesn't work.

All the faux-networking around event books like "Angelology" and "The Passage" may or may not earn publishers back their advances.

"The Help" meanwhile got to the top the old fashion way.

Mira wrote:- IF the author is not as skilled at web interactions, it backfires. Although well-intentioned, people come off badly, and this can turn people off.


I disagree with this a bit.

The two best writer blogs I've found are/were John Crowley and Tom Disch's.

Both were started by these old school cats with limited tech experience. Their posts are/were genuine and amusing and full of insights into their personalities.

Tom of course has left us, but I still like reading what he posted.
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby Margo » 09 Jul 2010, 12:07

Okay, I'll wade in.

Doing something like this, exchanging ideas online in a public forum, can be great. This is the only forum I participate on, but I follow several others. I have had fantastic experiences with getting inside info, learning about open anthologies, discovering more resources, finding excellent recommendations for workshops and agents and editors. The thing I think people need to be careful of (me included) is coming off like a jerk. Sometimes our opinions are strong opinions, and sometimes our debates are spirited, but 99% of people are still going to maintain a level of respectfulness and professionalism. The 1% who do not are doing themselves no favors.

Blogging can also be good, I think. Some writers use it not only as a way of telling fans what's going on with their writing but also include writing tips, glimpses into the industry, etc. I appreciate this kind of blogging. It involves an element of 'paying it forward'. It speaks to a certain innate helpfulness in a person. Of course, some authors are hyping writing books right next to their novels, which is a bit of a turn off for me, but I can't deny that some genuinely talented people are doing this. I've learned things from reading their blogs, too, so can that really be all bad? I should mention I have also seen embittered writers commit professional suicide with blog rants, like agent and editors have no chance of seeing them. Agents and editors did see them. One agent actually pointed out that this sort of behavior is noted. No one wants to work with a difficult person, even if they write well, when there are so many talented nice writers waiting to be discovered.

Facebook/MySpace/Twitter I can't stand. None of my favorite authors have anything interesting going on at all on their Facebook fan pages. Their websites are far superior in that respect. I'm not sure what anyone could say in 140 characters that could be anywhere near as helpful or interesting as a blog post.

So to the final question. Does it work? Does it sell more books or speed up the word of mouth? I think it does to a small degree. The next question is whether the effort would have a bigger pay off if invested in writing, continuing to improve as a writer, mastering craft, experimenting with new techniques in short stories, etc. You have writers like Konrath, however, who spend 75% of their time promoting (in person and online) and 25% writing (his figures, not mine) and honestly believe that promotion makes the writer far more than the writing. I seriously disagree...while he's on his way to the bank, so I doubt my opinion will hurt his feelings.

My advice: write, write, write, work on short stories while you work on your novel, get your name out there in magazines (agents and editors read them, too, ya know), write, get an agent and a traditional publisher, write, write, write, put up a good web site and maybe a blog a few months before the book comes out, write, write, write some more short stories with a byline that mentions when your book is coming out, write, write, and write.
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby maybegenius » 09 Jul 2010, 20:16

As Margo touched on, it really depends on the way you are using it.

Social media has HUGE potential for success. The trick is: you MUST find something people care about, and you MUST be genuine. The problem with using social media for the sole purpose of hocking your book is that... people don't care about your book. Not at first, anyway. You have to get them to care about YOU. In order to do that, you have to set out with the mindset that you're using social media to make connections, REAL connections, with people, not potential buyers.

Once people genuinely care about you and your success, they will want to support you. And if you impress them, the word-of-mouth potential is incredible. That's how books sell - someone reads a book, loves it, and recommends it to others. Again, and again, and again. People creating a hashtag and discussing your book on Twitter? HUGE.

It is definitely possible to use social networking to your advantage. Look at Kiersten White, who has developed a serious following and is much touted about the blogosphere, Twitter, etc. Harper Teen is pushing her book, and they believe in her. AND HER BOOK IS NOT OUT YET. It's being released next month. She has that following because she is a sweet, funny, clever woman who people like and want to support. She's friendly, writes about both pertinent and silly things, and gives advice as best she can. If all she did was use her blog and Twitter to push her book, I guarantee she wouldn't have nearly the following she does.

Social media has immense potential to reach people. When the Haiti earthquake happened, Twitter exploded with discussion and people who wanted to help. The buzz and donations were huge, because people care. If you want to succeed with social media, you have to tap into that. Don't use it because you want to sell books - use it because you want to meet people. That's how it works :)

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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby Quill » 09 Jul 2010, 21:55

I can't see myself ever blogging. I think it's too time-consuming, and I don't have much to say. A facebook page could be a compromise for me, as the entries can be shorter, less regular, and there isn't the pressure to comment on everybody else's all the time.

On the other hand, I can see myself working up a really interesting website in support of my books, one with updates and added content.

I think an investment in promotion is needed, don't get me wrong, and for each author that will look different. I definitely don't plan on letting my work (swim or) sink in the marketplace after all the work of getting it there. At least not without a reasonable effort on my part.

Some of it is out of our control, no matter what we may do.

Some may say I need to be busy building a platform before that day comes, but I'm going to wait, and keep working on my actual book and on improving my actual craft. Meanwhile, Bransford Forums is a great watering hole itself to that end, and fulfills a major social networking role for me.
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby Mira » 13 Jul 2010, 09:12

Very interesting comments.

Steve - I meant only if the writer is unskilled can it backfire. There are many authors who are very personable and interesting on-line. But not all, and those are the ones I'm thinking about.....are we still in disagreement?

Maybegenius - Kiersten White is a terrific example. She is extremely skilled at social networking. She is vivacious, lively and tremendously likeable on-line. And yes, there is buzz about her book. So that's all to the good. But here is my question: let's say her book comes out, and it's not very good. (This is a hypothetical. I wish Kiersten the best, and hope her book does tremendously well). But for argument's sake, will all the social networking that she engaged in sell the book if it's not good? And my other question is this: did she really NEED to engage in all that social networking? If the book is good, wouldn't it have sold anyway?

I'm not asking these questions because I'm afraid of social networking. I just wonder if it works? Look at the huge amount of time Kiersten (for example) must put into all of these web connections. Is it worth it?

and Polymath - I think your point about focus is well said.

Finally, what Margo and Quill said brought up another point for me - are social networking and promotion the same thing? I think they aren't. I see Konrath doing a ton of promotion, but I don't see him doing as much social networking, for example.

Thanks for the discussion!
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby maybegenius » 13 Jul 2010, 14:48

Mira wrote:Maybegenius - Kiersten White is a terrific example. She is extremely skilled at social networking. She is vivacious, lively and tremendously likeable on-line. And yes, there is buzz about her book. So that's all to the good. But here is my question: let's say her book comes out, and it's not very good. (This is a hypothetical. I wish Kiersten the best, and hope her book does tremendously well). But for argument's sake, will all the social networking that she engaged in sell the book if it's not good? And my other question is this: did she really NEED to engage in all that social networking? If the book is good, wouldn't it have sold anyway?

I'm not asking these questions because I'm afraid of social networking. I just wonder if it works? Look at the huge amount of time Kiersten (for example) must put into all of these web connections. Is it worth it?


That's really difficult to say, and I guess we're going to have to wait till the book comes out and starts selling to know for sure :) But based purely on her following and the buzz surrounding her series, I'm betting she's going to sell very well. The opening page(s) of Paranormalcy have been posted online, and the voice she writes in is very similar to the voice she blogs in - "her" voice, basically. People like to read her blog, and I'm betting they'll enjoy that voice in book form.

As for whether or not she NEEDED social networking to reach the level of sales she'll have anyway, I suppose anything is possible. But the level of novels, especially YA novels, that are released every year is exponential. For every book we see on shelves, there are hundreds more that the big chain bookstores don't even carry. Of those that DO make it to shelves, only some will meet their sales goals, and only a few of those will reach bestseller status. Authors have to find a way to break out from the pack, and I think using social media to one's advantage can potentially be one of those things that sets an author apart.

Even books that aren't "good" have potential for word-of-mouth sales, and word-of-mouth sales can go off the charts if they bleed into Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. I forget who did it, but there was a study at one point that showed that people are several times more likely to buy a product they've heard/seen endorsed somewhere. It's as if they're looking for verification that others enjoy the product before they take the plunge.

Is it worth it? I couldn't say. I think that's a personal choice, which is why I'm behind the idea that you should only use social media because you LIKE it and WANT to use it, not because you feel like you have to.
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby AnimaDictio » 16 Jul 2010, 09:11

Making friends on the Internet is pretty much just like making friends in person. If you're shallow, people will realize it rather quickly. If you're substantive, people will be attracted.

Social networking is just communication, not much different from talking or email or smoke signals, as far as I'm concerned.
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby Margo » 16 Jul 2010, 10:41

AnimaDictio wrote:Making friends on the Internet is pretty much just like making friends in person. If you're shallow, people will realize it rather quickly. If you're substantive, people will be attracted.

Social networking is just communication, not much different from talking or email or smoke signals, as far as I'm concerned.


Problem being, electronic communication encourages some people to say things they know would be destructive if said face to face. There is a sense that the rules are different for electronic communication, especially with people one has never met in real life. Can be destructive to one's career if someone gets out of hand (frustration and jealousy being major factors). Anne Rice. Laurel K. Hamilton. More than a few mid-listers.
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby Susan Quinn » 16 Jul 2010, 17:34

This is a great thread, and a fascinating topic that I've been thinking a lot about lately.

I agree with the comments that social networking serves many purposes, not primarily to sell your book. In fact, not at all to sell your book, not really. What you are doing in social networking is building connections to people who like you for whatever reason: because you have quippy tweets or interesting blogs or provide content or inspiration or entertainment. All of those connections, just like your friends in real life, are people who like you first, and may or may not like your book. Heck they may not even like your genre!

Then you have to write a good book. The kind of book that generates its own buzz and will sell by word-of-mouth. As Donald Maass says in his book "Writing the Breakout Novel" (I'm reading it right now) word-of-mouth is the only way any book breaks out of the few thousands of sales. You can start with buzz, or even promotional marketing from a big house, but if a book doesn't capture people's attention, where they stop their friends in the street and say you have to read this, it's not going to "breakout" in a substantial way. Even if you have a popular blog. Even if you're a tweeting maven. Because if there was a simple formula for success, Random house would have patented it and be sitting on a pile of cash.

Writing books is tough. Selling them is harder. Spending time devoted to the craft is really never wasted, and a certain amount of social networking, in the manner that works best for you, isn't going to hurt. Getting the balance right is something I'm still trying to find!
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Re: Social Networking - does it really work?

Postby Margo » 16 Jul 2010, 20:28

Susan Quinn wrote:As Donald Maass says in his book "Writing the Breakout Novel" (I'm reading it right now) word-of-mouth is the only way any book breaks out of the few thousands of sales.


I heard the same from Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

On a Maass note <does the Maassketeer salute>, I found the Breakout Novel Workbook even more helpful. It completely changed the way I was thinking about writing. However, I think the newest one, Fire in Fiction, is probably the best of all his books.
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