In Praise of Social Media

I went to an amazing panel yesterday, which was part of Social Media Week.  It featured New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin (author of “The Happiness Project”), über-talented ICM agent Kate Lee, former Martha Stewart exec turned author and gardening blogger Margaret Roach, Tumblr guru Mark Coatney, and was hosted by the fabulous Miriam Parker, of Mulholland Books.  The topic under discussion was how authors could use social media to promote their work, and I wish that all first time authors—or third or fourth or eighteenth-time authors, who are scared or reluctant to engage with social media—could attend a panel like this.  I will try to distill the key points here.

  1. Social media provides authors with a chance to own the conversation about themselves.  When people google you they see the beautiful blog or website or Tumblr you maintain, not the registry listing from eight years ago when you attended your high school friend’s wedding.  Authors should reserve their name and/or nickname as a domain name, so nobody else can claim it.
  2. Social media is about creating a community of people who will engage with your work, and this takes time to cultivate.  Too many people wait until their book is out to start doing this, when the time to start is now, before you’ve even written the book.
  3. Writers resist point #2 because they think of the writing for their book as being the “real” work and everything else as being secondary.  In this changing landscape there is no such distinction.  “It’s not true any more, if it ever was, that writers can take the approach of ‘I write the book and you figure out how to promote it.’”  This is Gretchen Rubin, folks, New York Times bestselling author.
  4. Authors complain that this process—of blogging or building a website; of being on Facebook or Tumblr—feels like a job.  “Yes,” said Kate Lee.  “That is why you signed a contract.”
  5. Writers should aim for ubiquity over exclusivity.  Gretchen said she could have sat around and waited for a major print newsweekly to run a 10,000 word excerpt and pay her handsomely for the privilege.  But she might have been waiting for a long time, and so instead she wrote pieces for the Huffington Post for free, because it was another opportunity to get her name out there.  Everyone on the panel agreed that it is often only on the third, or fourth, or sixth mention of a book that people will want to go out and buy it—hearing about it once is not enough, even if that place is the front cover of the Times book review.
  6. Online reviews are powerful precisely because the people who are writing them are often doing so for free.  Mark pointed out that he is more likely to buy a book based on a Twitter recommendation than a print review, because he feels that the people making them are doing so out of a more personal passion.
  7. Writers resist getting involved in social media because they feel it’s narcissistic or because they are shy, and not comfortable talking about themselves.  But in fact one of the best ways to make friends online and to build a platform is to talk about things other than yourself—to make recommendations, to point out things that you like, to make observations about the world.
  8. The last point, which is my own, is that what is there to lose?  No traditional print outlet is not going to review your book because you are on Facebook, nor can one easily envision the bookstore buyer who sets your novel aside in favor of the author who doesn’t maintain a website.  Plus it’s more gratifying than it seems it should be, when you get those emails that a new person is following you.

2 Comments

  1. Posted February 8, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

    This is a really interesting post. One question to point 8. Is it better for authors not to engage in social media than to do so half-heartedly? Or is any effort better than none? For instance, authors that accumulate Facebook friends but rarely post a status update create a sort of empty presence. Also, do you encourage (strongly?) your authors to respond to FB messages or @ Tweets?

  2. Evan Gregory
    Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink | Reply

    I think social media is an important factor in the success of many authors, but I also don’t think it’s a necessary prerequisite, or even an imperative. Certainly there were best sellers before Twitter, and there will be best sellers long after Twitter becomes the new Myspace.

    The thing that still sells books is word-of-mouth. Though the internet can act as a giant megaphone for the word-of-mouth, it’s still the fundamental building block of any book’s success.

    I would encourage authors to experiment with social networking. If it’s a natural fit for your personality, and if it helps you engage with your readership then by all means set aside a certain amount of time in the day to pursue it.

    But if your Klout score is sinking by the day, then maybe social networking is not for you, and you should get back to work on that half-finished manuscript.

One Trackback

  1. By Monday Tally: For the Love of Clicking Links on February 14, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    […] authors really get how to use social media—this summary of a recent panel of authors hits many of the main points of why it’s important and how to do it well. A great read […]

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