Part of the Indie Author Series
The conventional wisdom today is that every author—and especially the self-published author— needs a strong social media presence.
This core assumption is reinforced by agents, publishers, publicists, and other authors. Some agents won’t even take on a new client unless that writer has a Facebook following of at least 500 and a Twitter following in excess of 5,000. At minimum, you also need a website; but you should also blog, guest blog, and have a Pinterest page for your each of your books, right?
And of course you need to interact with your readers, even if they’re only potential readers, and respond to them on each of the platforms you’re active on. Even if it takes time—hours every day—away from your writing, maintaining a strong online presence is something no writer can ignore. Because it’s all about community, right?
I’m not convinced. In fact, I think it’s hogwash.
So then why does everybody think these things are so vital? Try:
- Herd instinct
- Every writer’s natural inclination to displacement activity and doing anything to put off the hard work of actually getting on with the book
- Narcissism (I’d like to think this last only applies to a small minority)
But I submit that what a writer actually needs is:
- To write more
- A way to let that readership know what books they’ve written and where to find them in the reader’s preferred format
- The ability to let readers know about new or upcoming releases
Look at your own reading habits. Like me, you probably have favorite authors whose new novels you buy as soon as they release, right? But do you feel a burning need to interact with each of those authors? Would you stop reading them if they didn’t have a Facebook page or Twitter feed you could follow? If you didn’t know about their cats, their family life, and their thoughts on the state of the world? Of course not (unless you’re much needier than I suspect, in which case you should probably skip to another post).
But you do want your readers to know the moment your next book appears.
Fortunately, there are two things—and just two—that will meet your readership’s core needs and leave you with far more time and energy to write: a website and an email list.
A well-designed and maintained website can fill all your readership’s needs in that you can tell the reader about yourself, post excerpts from and links to your books, supply news of upcoming releases, keep a blog (if you feel it necessary), and provide a contact form or email link for the occasional fan mail that makes it all worthwhile.
An email list—strictly opt-in—used at most once a month or when a new book releases is probably the single best way other than word-of-mouth to publicize your work and stay in touch with your readership. The terrific thing about an opt-in email list is that it’s optimally targeted: it goes out to only those people who are actually interested in your work—your readers.
There are counterarguments. If you write middle grade or childrens' books, your readers may have different expectations, and a (limited) social media presence may be of some help. Or perhaps you enjoy community, and a lively and varied dialog with people across multiple platforms, and that interaction sparks ideas and gives you energy. Well, fair enough.
But against this, weigh the inarguable cost of the time spent needed to maintain an active social media presence (not to mention the distractions, video-watching, and web surfing go with that).
Say you spend just an hour a day (I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt) on Facebook, Twitter, your writing blog, etc. In a year that amounts to around 350 hours, which is the equivalent of ten thirty-five-hour weeks. And this doesn’t even address the effect that regularly fragmenting one’s time and attention has on the creative mind.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I can get a good first draft of an 80k-word novel done in ten weeks just writing three hours a day; give me ten weeks of seven-hour days and I could probably do a decent first revision on it, too. So if we accept—and I do—the other, far more solid conventional wisdom that the best thing an author can do to gain more readers is release more books more frequently, that pretty much clinches it, wouldn’t you say?
This isn’t just idle talk on my part. I’ve already pretty much ditched Twitter—I never liked it and thought it was a waste of time from the get-go—and am about to begin substantially winding down my Facebook presence. My current blog will return to a website, which it originally was, and I’m starting to build my email list. I don’t deny that the process is scary, but so is letting go of any security blanket. I’ve thought long and hard on this, and I’m convinced that it’s the right thing for me. Whether it’s right for you, only you can decide. But I do know that fear, insecurity, herd instinct, and unquestioning acceptance of conventional wisdom are terrible reasons for doing anything.
Do you think a strong social media presence is something a writer can’t do without? Do you ever question the perceived value of community?
Dario Ciriello is the founder and editor of Panverse Publishing, a small press with a mission to break the rigid barriers of category and genre and put story first. His Panverse Anthology authors have been nominated for both Hugo and Nebula awards, and the winner of the 2011 Sideways Award for Alternate History. On the novel front, his authors include T.L. Morganfield, Bonnie Randall, Doug Sharp, and Don D'Ammassa. His own work includes Sutherland's Rules, and the travel memoir Aegean Dream. Panverse is currently open for novella submissions.
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