The question comes up periodically as to whether it’s absolutely necessary to have an online presence, so I thought I’d break this question down into bite-sized pieces because, let’s face it, “online” is an oversized beast. You have the usual suspects; Twitter, Facebook, a blog, a website, LinkedIn…and it all begins to overwhelm, right?
So what’s necessary? Or mandatory?
For starters, nothing is mandatory, and no one is putting a stapler to your head and forcing you to make merry with the Internet. However, the question becomes academic when editors are looking at a book contract. The first thing the sales guys ask for is the promo plan. If I come out and say that the writer lives under a rock and barely has running water, they will laugh me out of the zip code.
No Islanders, Please
Not everyone is in touch with their inner hambone, so what do you do if you’re just plain shy? Well, it makes things a lot more challenging for your editor. Gone are the days where one can pull a Hemingway by writing from exotic locales while drinking with the natives, and sell bajillions of books. It’s all about promotion and publicity – and sitting on an island (no matter how intoxicating) won’t let readers know that you and your book exist.
Of course, your editor and promo teams do their bit by blasting your book out to the national accounts, local bookstores, libraries, media, and reviewers. But be aware that no matter how far and wide your publisher blasts your book, sales depend on one thing; the reader who will buy the book, love it, and talk about it. And this is where social media can be a big help because they reach millions of potential readers with a single keystroke.
Connecting with a large audience vs. Hit ‘n Run
It’s not enough to simply start a blog or sign up for a Twitter or Facebook account, blab about your book, and boOm, instant sales. Those of us who have been involved with social media will attest to rolling our eyes at the “Hit ‘n Run” author. These guys do nothing but talk about themselves and their wonderful book, and always include a link to Amazon. They don’t cultivate online relationships and treat those friends like, well, friends. Instead, they barge into TwitterLand or comment on blog posts with the link to their book and a thinly-disguised suggestion to rush to Amazon and buy their book.
They only take; they never give. This isn’t effective social media. Just because people aren’t sitting across the table from you doesn’t mean a departure from social niceties. If you want people to engage with you, you have to give them something to engage with. The more you give of yourself (and I’m not talking about handing out your locker combination), the more people will be attracted to you. Give and Take is much better for your literary career than Hit ‘n Run.
Having an online presence is two-fold; not only are you meeting new people who have the same interests as you, but it’s the main chance for your readers to learn more about you. Now, that may squick you out because you’re a private person, but many readers who love a book have a natural curiosity about the author. A blog, FB, or Twitter account satisfies a reader’s author fix.
You don’t have to reveal your shoe size or true color of your hair (personally, I have no clue about mine, other than I’m sure it involves lots of gray). I know a few very private, shy people who have a lovely online presence because they deflect away from their personal lives. They’re great about interacting with others by asking how they’re doing, did they finally get over the flu, or how’s that broken toe.
It Takes Time
One thing that bothers me when looking at submissions is when the author says they “plan” on getting involved with social media. For starters, this shows me they are true neophytes. You don’t sign up with FB, Twitter, or start a blog and expect instant attention. It takes time…LOTS of time to gain a readership. If you aren’t established now, then the social media promotion doesn’t flip up my Vickie Secrets.
Who Is Reading Me?
Your potential readers, for one. It’s just like what Ma Bell used to sing on their commercials; “Reach out and touch someone.” Only you’re reaching out and touching lotsa peeps. And you never know who may stumble across your blog or Twitter feed. I’ve received many emails from reviewers or journalists who read a blog post or saw my Tweet about a particular book of ours and wanted a review copy.
While at the ALA last Sunday, a librarian told me that she read my tweet about Ann Meyers Drysdale signing copies of her book, YOU LET SOME GIRL BEAT YOU? at the Consortium booth, and wanted to be sure she got her copy because they were planning on ordering for their library. We’ve also received interview requests because of a tweet Annie did. Huzzah to social media.
People of like minds will follow your blog, Twitter feed, or FB page, so it’s important to pander to that crowd. If you wrote a book about inverted belly buttons, then it’s a good idea to focus to the inverted belly button crowd with tweets or blog posts.
Networking is the most valuable friend in the publishing business (well, any business, for that matter), and social media allows you to network on a much larger scale – provided you’re doing it right.
What do I write about?
This is a big ticket item that plagues lots of blogs. The author has no real idea what to write about, so there’s no cohesion…which means, no steady readers. Too many fall into the trap of writing about being writers, which won’t necessarily appeal to those who will buy your book. I’ve noticed many popular author blogs focus on appealing to their readers by writing about their genre and how it mixes with their lives.
Tawna Fensky’s blog is a prime example of this. She’s extremely clever and always manages to incorporate the romance genre and how she views the world through that prism. The result is hysterical because she taps into the most common denominators that many can relate to. I don’t even read romance, but I did buy her book. Multiply that times a whole lotta other people, and you have an author who is going to sell a lotta books…and I can attest to that because I’ve seen her sales on Bookscan.
But Tawna began her blog two years before her book came out. That’s what I mean by planning ahead, knowing what to write about, understanding that lots of influential people could stumble across your blog, and appreciating the natural curiosity of blog readers.
Maintenance: Once Involved, Stay Involved
Is there anything worse than going to someone’s blog and seeing their last post was in June 2011? You can see the cyber cobwebs in the corners. It’s depressing.
If you’re gonna do it, you hafta maintain it…which is laborious, especially blogs. You need to come up with new blog posts all the time, and there are times when the creativity just ain’t working, and the well runs dry. The easy move is to just abandon it. Problem is, it’s easy to stay away, especially if you’ve been blogging for a long time. You need to come up with fun stuff that keeps it entertaining for you, too.
Maintaining your presence, whether it’s through writing a blog or hanging out in Twitter or FB, is about balance between your real life and your online life, so you need to consider how often you’ll blog. Every day or three times a week? You want to avoid losing readers, so it has to be often enough to keep them coming back.
Lots of this stuff gets lost in the ether, so it’s a lot of time spent with possibly little rewards. Interaction can be overrated, and if you’re just not into that, then put up a website. This gives your readers someplace to go to find out more about you and your book. It’s a great place for reviews and links to upcoming events, or news articles.
End All, Be All
There are plenty of readers who don’t follow social media and buy books from talking to friends, trolling the bookstore, or reading the newspaper. That’s why it’s important to have a well-rounded promo plan.
In the end, whether you involve yourself in social media is a personal decision. Your editor can’t make you do it (though you’d be insane not to at least have a website), but I’ll wager my margarita budget that they consider your social media involvement (or lack, thereof).
When I’m considering offering a contract, I check the author’s online presence because I know readers will check. It’s great if they already have an active blog with lots of commenters. Personally, I don’t care if they’re on twitter or FB because I’m not wholly convinced those two mediums sell a ton of books.
Conversely, I get a case of butterflies if an author intends to rely solely on social media as their promotion plan because promotion is a multi-pronged attack. It can be a huge benefit (provided it’s done right), but it’s not meant to serve as a replacement from all other promotion.
The end game is this: If you’re going to do social media, do it right. Is it necessary? Depends on your personality, the kind of book you’ve written, and your ability to appeal to your potential readership. It can be a lot of fun or akin to giving the beagle a bath. Tread carefully and mindfully.