Self-promotion through social networking has become a huge issue for aspiring authors.
I spent last Friday and Saturday at Writing in a Digital Age, a conference organised by The Literary Consultancy at which the likes of Hari Kunzru and Kate Mosse discussed the opportunities and challenges of being a novelist in a networked world. One question that came up again and again was: how do I get people to read and buy my book using social media? It was an understandable preoccupation. The publishers on the podium said that the first question their marketing department ask when they pitch a new talent is how active said talent is on social media.Random House even runs an in-house training programme to get technophobe authors online. E-publishing success stories – which often translate into traditional book-deal success stories too – are regularly attributed to grassroots social media advocacy.
As I listened to the assembled audience, many of them sounding truly terrified, ask how they were supposed to generate Amazon reviews, use Twitter to drive sales, and get bloggers to write about their masterwork, it was obvious how much anxiety and frustration the issue generates. Because most of these people had found out a simple truth for themselves: social media is a terrible marketing tool.
There, I said it.
Trying to establish yourself online once you have completed your manuscript, for the sole purpose of flogging said manuscript, will feel like bashing your head against a brick wall.
However. Social media is wonderful for building relationships, particularly relationships hooked on shared passions. If you want to use it to connect with likeminded people, get inspiration, read others’ work and have interesting debates, they’re great. And if you focus on doing those things, your community probably will develop curiosity about your own work and evolve into readers somewhere along the line. But this takes time and emotional investment. You can’t treat it like a PR project. You have to bring an authentic sense of your own self. If you really hate that idea, if you think it’s all so much timewasting, you really shouldn’t be there. We can tell.
In one early panel, Orange Prize-winning novelist Linda Grant spoke about how she initially hated being forced onto Twitter by her publisher. It seemed so banal, so pointless. Then one day, sitting writing inside the house while snow feel outside, she noticed a number of tweets posting pictures of buses skidding hopelessly down her street accompanied by warnings not to venture out. As she put it, “something clicked.” That community had suddenly become relevant to her in an practical and personal way. From then on, she realised that if she treated Twitter right, it would treat her right too. And she didn’t even have to push sales messages out there for her readership to grow.
This may sounds stupidly obvious, but it is evident that many writers are still torturing themselves with what they ‘should’ be doing when what they ‘should’ be doing will leave them feeling exhausted and grubby. The simple fact is that if you don’t learn to love social media for its own sake, it will never learn to love you.