Don’t get me wrong: I love singing in choirs, and I’m all about the mutual back-scratching that group support implies. In terms of publishing and social media, this means retweeting, following back, posting comments, inviting guests to contribute to blogs, or simply clicking the ol’ LIKE button. At the high end of the scale, this list includes downloading freebies or purchasing books, reading and posting reviews on Amazon.
♥ Sign on for my excellent GIVEAWAY throughout April 2015: WIN $50 in books from Powell’s Independent Bookstore! Click for details! ♥
Over the past year, I’ve done all these things as often as I honestly could without lapsing into obsession. Well, okay, I admit I did become obsessed with socmed for several months—bewitched by its alleged potential for launching my self-published books beyond the circle of personal acquaintance. I craved a wider readership of people who’d never heard of me before. I wanted to launch off the ground, if not into the stratosphere.
If tweeting and posting could help me achieve that, then I was more than willing to try. I gave it my all.
At one point, Twitter suspended me for seeking new followers “too aggressively.” Even then, I made an effort to exchange individual messages and welcome every new follower who joined my flock. For weeks on end, I issued 30 tweets a day or more on an array of topics aimed to engage a diverse range of folks, many of whom were (Surely!) just waiting to “convert” into readers of my books.
There were rules to follow: I never tweeted promos more often than 3:1, the magic formula. And I kept it up in spite of a growing sense of nausea as I struggled to devise clever ways of saying, “Check out this great read!” In fewer than 140 characters, of course.
I had consulted a PR guru. Social marketing was the tsunami of the future: the quickest, cheapest, and most surefire way to establish my reputation as a writer and promote my books throughout the virtual universe. Expectations were high since I got onto Twitter not long after Bella Andre and others made their big splash. Everyone was hoping a reliable strategy had emerged—”Grow your online tribe!” Sales and readers were sure to follow.
Once the euphoria began to wane, it was important to remember that success still depends on genre, luck, and elusive factors like one’s affinity for self-promotion.
No doubt it’s obvious that this account of my socmed career entails a trek down the stony path of disappointment. Did all those tweets and posts sell books? In a 14-month period, between two titles, I sold just under 300 copies. Scarcely a handful of those sales can be credited to socmed activity of any kind. Instead, my family-wide email campaign generated numbers, as did face-to-face events like festivals and signings.
And yes, I tried an online giveaway.
Really, I don’t mean to whine. I am grateful for every purchase, every comment, every review. Still, fellow writers may want to realize that I fell far short of my dream: the great majority of my customers are folks who already knew me, or knew of me through secondhand acquaintance. Ongoing word-of-mouth did not take off, however, and my work remains earthbound.
Basically, a failure to launch.
“Indie authors” are supposed to be entrepreneurs, dividing our time between creativity and marketing. For me that balance has become precarious. Call me old-fashioned, but tweeting and posting are incompatible with writing as I once knew it. While thousands of us send out the same plea, day after day—”Buy me! Read me! Ditto all your friends!”—socmed has recruited precious few readers to my cause. So I hereby announce an extended vacation. The air waves will be a tiny bit less crowded with @anesam98 no longer adding to the clamor.
This blog has been great fun and will still enjoy a future. Please feel free to weigh in below with comments, disagreement, or personal experience. I love to host debate in these pages.
Disappointment means nothing when I recall the wonderful people I’ve met online. In the course of my socmed career, I enjoyed these encounters more than I ever expected. Connection has brought me delight and a sense of genuine, if intangible, success. Sincere thanks to all, especially—
The generous and brilliant writers who contributed posts to this blog and made my website a far more interesting place than it could have been otherwise. These include @jbchicoine @BradParker @thesuzettebrown @dumbbumcomics and @PMCoomer
Thoughtful and compassionate commenters who made my day, time and again, creating a priceless sense of engagement: @KVaselopulos @hectorhoraciova @Micsova @AyersEdits @PinchinLane @TerryTyler4 @PoeticFlow310 @Karenlsullivan9 @JacqueeT @medarlinv @TreeTop Orchid @mikeydbii @markvanderpool and, of course, the intrepid @FredWebster10
Tweeps who reached out to me across continents, from entirely different walks of life, with humor, fellow-feeling, and encouragement. The list would quickly cover this page, so forgive me if I mention just a few shining examples: @Corkytp @TamieDearen @ALittleMissie @tomkohlt @KlaraCharlton @MarkTheShaw @seams16 @Kindlemojo @JAEL488 and @Billward10Bill
Also, special thanks to Sage Adderley and all the wonderful bloggers who took part in my online tour. Each feature was a treasure and much appreciated.
Best wishes to all. I hope we’ll be tweeting together again in the literary choir some day soon.
One of the highlights of launching my last books was writing a guest blog post for you! Thank you so much for that opportunity.
I’ve had a similar experience with launching books, though I have not delved into socmed to the extent you have; my tolerance before burnout is pretty low. I have found that Twitter connected me with other writers, which, as you expressed, has its own perks, but writers are not my target audience. In all honesty, aside from my personal acquaintances, I’m not sure where my readers are coming from (perhaps Goodreads lists?), and they are not gushing in—more like a steady trickle across the board. I can see the importance of having five novels published. One book does sell another, even if slowly.
I believe you’ve done an admirable job of marketing your first novel, even if you feel your promotion of it failed, it did indeed launch! Again, I think our perspective on success always goes back to expectations and motivations. If you want to be a serious career writer, keep writing more novels and your chances of discovery will increase. For me, in part, I simply wanted my books off my hard drive and out there so people could read them (it gets expensive printing off copies for friends!). I think it would be awesome if my books made it onto some status-building list, but realistically, that’s not going to happen, especially with my lame media presence.
One thing I would like to say about the whole social media thing—the more I immersed myself in it, the more I read about what I was supposed to do to get discovered—the more it influenced, even twisted and distorted my expectations and sense of satisfaction. Having backed away, I’m much happier and feel better about myself and my books, even if they aren’t hot sellers!
The sense of serenity you bring to this often-harried process is a real gift to me, JB. You are my guru of patience, perseverance, and well-contained expectations! I do find it difficult to juggle the conflicting demands of writing and marketing, which I think calls for much consistency rather than anxious fluttering in many directions at once. I applaud you for backing away and focusing on the really important vocation of writing itself. Thanks so much for your thoughtful (virtual!) friendship.
Thank you for the tip of the hat, Anesa! We’re all in this together!
I have to echo what J.B. says here. Part of my publisher’s philosophy is that it’s the second and third book that sells the first, and this has been my experience. All my books are slow-burners, and I really like it that way. I don’t go overboard with social media–okay, maybe I’m a slight FB addict–but I learned a long time ago that writing was about the way I live my life, not about the success of a single book. However, letting a book go does require a period of grief, and it comes with every single one, no matter how successful. I’ve learned what that signals is that it is time to get going on the next one! Keep them coming, Anesa!
Just maybe I launched my 2 books too close together? It seemed as though folks who’d bought and/or reviewed the first one reacted with a bit of, “What? Do I really need to do this again?” That’s probably because we relied heavily on personal friends and connections as first readers. Ah well, live and learn.
In any case, I love the idea that my books may eventually sell each other. Thanks so much, Paula, for that encouraging reminder. Your support means the world to me.
I think we would all agree that your present mood comes as no great surprise.
Letting go of a creative work is hard, knowing how much you have invested in it, and readership is hard come by in any climate.
Social media isn’t always friendly towards us either. It can be insidious in raising our expectations or present us with a yawning bear trap if we get it wrong. It satisfies me, at least, to know that, whatever happens I can still remain part of that great conversation which is English letters.
Your work is sensitive and, really, is always your own. Dare I presume to bring that great poem of Tupper’s to your notice – the first two lines from ‘A Dream of Ambition’ :-
‘I left the Happy Fields which smile around The Village of Content
And sought with wayward feet the torrid desert of Ambition….’
You have a great provenance but if you must take a sabbatical from your blog then you must but we will all miss it for the stimulus it has given us and for what we have learned from each other by subscribing to it. If you do then let’s hope it’s only au revoir!
Stay in touch.
I especially appreciate the reminder from Tupper, Fred! That’s important to keep in mind. You are very considerate to share such good words amid my disappointment. I should be experiencing an improvement in attitude when spring arrives. All best to you and yours–
My dear friend….how you made my day on Twitter ! Thank you for the honor. The friends you and I have made on here are so valuable and loved.
Mutual respect and friendship mean so much.
We said and I salute you !
So grateful, as ever, for your attention & support, Suzette! XoXoXo
First of all, thanks so much for the mention!
Secondly, I’ll give you some good news: the average self published book sells just 100 copies in its whole lifetime. So you’re above average!
The next remarks are general, I am not saying that you personally have made these mistakes! I don’t think the constant posting of fascinating articles ‘works’ – I see it all the time, people posting their daily links to news articles in the hope of looking interesting, etc. I think it’s just a matter of being genuine – if you happen to see an article that you think is great, then post it, saying how great you think it is, too, or WHY you enjoyed it – I reckon the mistake so many people make is just putting the title of the article and the link. Borrr-rring! You engage people on Twitter by being personal. Tweeting articles and observations with relevant pictures is good, as well. As far as tweeting your books goes, i think ANY variation on ‘check out my book’ is a waste of time – obviously you want them to check it out, or you wouldn’t be tweeting it. Better to use those few precious characters saying what it’s ABOUT. No amount of “5* reviews!!” “I couldn’t put it down!” “#MustRead” works, because there are too many of them. I don’t sell thousands and thousands of books, but I think the best thing you can do is write blog posts that are nothing to do with your books and writing, and tweet them using the #MondayBlogs hashtag, or #SundayBlogShare, or #wwwblogs (on Wednesdays) – not forgetting to do lots of RTs, of course!! – that way you get them passed around to all sorts of other people, people you don’t follow and don’t follow you. Articles about your own books or writing in general will, mostly, only be read by your existing readers and other writers. Book blogs are good, too. The very best thing you can do, of course, is to write another book!!
I see Socmed more as a way of getting known, leading to book sales, rather than as a way of directly selling books. There’s a subtle difference! Thanks again, and remember – it’s a long game. x
You are the best for stopping by and sharing your favored Twitter techniques, Terry. It all rings true, even as I must admit, “Guilty as charged” to several of the deeds that fall short. I’ve taken a welcome break from the antics of socmed but now find I must get back at it. Most definitely, I will keep your advice in mind this time around.
Winter turns out to be a good time for me to get new projects underway. It was reassuring to start the next novel this past month with hopes of capturing the same readers who enjoyed the last one and hopefully more, as well. Now if only I can find that sweet balance between marketing and creativity! You help me believe it really does exist. All best–
Thank you for such a nice message, Anesa. Putting your work and yourself out there is a courageous act, and I’ve watched your ups and downs as a fellow writer. We never know whether we will toil in obscurity, or find moderate success as have you, or hit the lottery just right, but it’s the writing that’s the thing. The fear and the frustration and sometimes the joy and ever so rarely, that fugue state where it flows effortlessly–that’s the prize, even more than recognition.
You made the characters in your novel so vivid I can still describe them, just as I can recall characters from Marilynne Robinson’s books. I hope you will continue your writing, and take time off from the marketing chores.
All the best,
Yours is the perspective I try to always bear in mind, Karen: the writing IS the thing, “and ever so rarely that fugue state where it flows effortlessly—that’s the prize, even more than recognition.” Thank you for reminding me yet again and for your kind words about OO. Here’s hoping I manage to crank out another installment of the local doings in southern Ohio.
And hoping you enjoy a great year, as well, wherever you may sail!
Anesa: I resonate, though I’m not trying to sell books. Twitter can be a big expenditure of energy and an investment of time. I sometimes have trouble just preserving the sense of peace I need to think. Do what you feel benefits your writing most; that’s why you’re there. Or not.
I love your philosophy, Paula. “Do what benefits your writing most”–that should be our motto as independent authors, not “One more tweet before I go to bed.” And preserving inner peace above all. Thank you for sharing this very fine perspective.