Authors and social media

Authors and social media

Authors and social media

Are authors and social media compatible? Why would authors want to bother at all about social media?

Before we answer that question: do we know what social media is, anyway, at least in terms of its utility to authors?

Merriam-Webster online says social means “tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others.” Oxford online says media is “the main means of mass communication.”

These two definitions blend to give us “means for mass cooperative, interdependent communication relationships”. I interpret that to mean social media platforms allow users to potentially access all other users (and it is said one-seventh of the world uses just one of these platforms); once in touch, people can stay in regular contact both as individuals and as part of groups; and once contact is regular, people can establish longer-term relationships. Read authors–authors, authors–readers and readers–readers.

You want to keep that “relationships” part of the definition in mind. Seen another way, social media offers a whole lot of tools that enable people to indulge in their inherent instinct to preen, and while they are at it, to build audiences and then to unleash their acquired impulse to sell. It would appear authors and social media can work together. Social media gives authors the opportunity to do the preen, make the scene and earn the green.

Aha. Really?

There is debate about the green part, about the utility of social media in selling books. I have a long way to go before I make guru (how I hate that word!), but my experience so far is that an active social media presence does get you some sales. Active means author, publisher and reader communities. Some means not enough to make you feel like a king, as in Stephen.

I confess a few of these sales arise through swap-buys-and-reviews arrangements with other authors. Novice authors can beg, but not choose, right? If you are a novice, every sale helps, especially if it gets you a review on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. So what if it is a quid pro quo sale?

Reviews matter, believe me. Every time I get an email from Amazon telling me one of my reviews helped a buyer make a decision, it thrills me because the magic also works the other way around, in your favor.

Here is what I think: social media is ideal for building up a strong identity, a presence. The primary value of that presence does not lie in the sales it generates. Social media is great for authors to stay in touch with each other and with readers. It helps them keep abreast of trending genres and other topics of interest. It helps them stay in touch with the latest developments in the publishing scene: self, traditional, vanity and all the hybrids. It helps them stay informed on which author did what to give his or her book a boost, and on what worked.

Yes, authors and social media can work together.

As an author, you use social media tools to help you stay in the public eye. Preferably, you should stay the primary tool that produces original content to sustain your social media presence. There are tools that abet in lifting others’ content, and even tools to make over other’s content to look virgin, if that is the way you want to go. It is not the way I choose to go. These tools are not fool proof.

There are tools that help you build up flocks of fans, followers and friends by buying them, if that is how you want it. You should not. Purchased fans, followers and friends are like extras in a movie. They are there until the zombies-marauding-through-town shoot is done, then they move to the next set for the cheering-spectators-in-the-stadium gig.

You would do better in the long run wowing folks by simply being yourself. That means your constant presence and your content. If you ask me—I am no guru, remember—you do not want to do any blatant selling. You do want customers, but as a lesser priority on social media—the key word in social media is social. Only as an afterthought should your social media pages serve as bookstores and lures to your other bookstores, including your author’s website.

You should not leave any sales avenue unexplored, but you want to keep in mind that aggressive buy-buy-buy means defensive bye-bye-bye.

I am very sure that authors who have tasted success on social media were those who already had an extent of fame and fan following.

Here is why you should not ignore social media.

It makes an unknown Korean rapper with a weird new dancing style YouTube’s 2012 King, as in Stephen, because his song and antics notch up a billion hits.

It helps a tweet-savvy Kenyan-American with a pinch of Hawaiian/Indonesian beat his all-American, all-white opponent in the race to become the president of the USA—not once, but twice.

It enables Tweet Pie, an online recipe book with 140-character Twitter recipes with a charitable raison d’être, become one of the all time great examples of successful use of social media muscle.

It helps common people to prevail in their rumbles with authoritarianism, obfuscation and plain dishonest politicians (is there any other kind?).

It enables Paulo Coelho to keep his finger on the collective pulse of his readers, about 8,900,000 of who follow him on Twitter and a jaw-dropping 15,600,000 on Facebook. Even if you make the preposterous assumption that all of Coelho’s Twitter followers also follow him on Facebook, you are talking about 15.6 million! If a miserable 0.1% of them buy every new book of his, he has made 15,600 sales. Earth shaking? Yes, for a novice like me.

Neil Gaiman has about 1,940,000 followers on Twitter and somewhere near 670,000 on Facebook . He conducted a fascinating experiment using those followers: he “crowdsourced” answers by asking them questions and built stories around the twelve best answers.

Salman Rushdie interacts actively, hands on, with his  670,000 (give or take) Twitter followers. He does not have a sustained presence on Facebook, probably a result of a clash he had with the site in 2011. Facebook tried to play clever by forcibly changing his page name to Ahmed Rushdie, his first name on his passport, but backed away because of the ugly reaction from Rushdie’s followers.

Rushdie believes authors benefit from active discourse involving their fans, critics and anyone else in general.

Looks like authors and social media do work together. I wish I could do a Coelho, but will settle for a Gaiman or a Rushdie.

Social media has huge power: the power of the mob. It connects billions of people and helps them stay in touch. Mostly free. It gets you referrals. It gets people talking, which means word-of-mouth power. As an author, you want people talking. You want them talking both good and bad, because on the personal front you can always do with some salve for your ego, but on the practical front you want to know where you can improve. I hope you agree that you can always improve.

You may not know when your big day is going to come, when your book is going to go viral, but you want to be ready for it. You want to tell your online contacts about it, because they will tell their online contacts, who will tell their online contacts…

The news is more than 150 Kindle Direct Publishing authors each sold in excess of 100,000 books during 2013. They evidently did not have the marketing clout of traditional publishers pushing their books. They did not splurge on print, voice and TV ads. Almost indisputably, not one of these books featured in The New York Times bestseller list or received a boost from Oprah.

Logic says social media played some part at least in the success of those 150+ authors.

Do you agree with that last statement? If so, any examples you can actually talk about? If not, why do you disagree? Your fellow readers would love to know.

Authors and social media

by Venkatesh Iyer time to read: 5 min