Thursday, October 4, 2012


So you've passed all the hurdles that seem to block your path to publication and you're finally a published author.  Congrats.  Now the publisher asks you the question they will ask every author when they offer a contract.  "What will you do to promote your book?"
Well, of course, you'll immediately tell them how many followers you'll accumulate on Facebook and Twitter.  And how active you'll be online to promote your work.  But is that really effective?

I've assembled a group of three prominent authors who use social networking sites to do a variety of things, including as a promotional tool.  Claude Bouchard is an Indie author who publishes thrillers.  He has almost 300,000 Twitter followers.  Luke Romyn publishes a darker type of thriller and he has over 225,000 Twitter followers.  Our third guest is Bob Mayer, who is a NY Times bestselling author who's sold over 4 million books worldwide.  He has over 10,000 Twitter followers himself.

None of these writers go online strictly to sell books.  As a matter of fact I can say with complete certainty they enjoy their time being socially active with writers and readers alike.  I asked them five questions which might help understand how effective social networking really is anymore.

Claude Bouchard
Here they are:                                                                 

 1- How many books do you suspect you sell each month as a direct result of Facebook or Twitter, or any other online site?

Claude Bouchard:   I’m pleased to see you’re starting with an easy question, Gary. The honest and correct answer is, “I don’t have a clue.” I do have people occasionally telling me they just bought one of my books but most don’t. Twitter and Facebook are communication mediums which have definitely served me well in getting my name out there as an author. I have no doubt this has resulted in some direct book sales but it has also led to network development with writers, bloggers and other creative types. Social media has opened doors to interviews, such as this one, book reviews, hell, I even found an agent along the way for a time, though that’s a subject best not discussed on a public forum. All of the above contribute to generating sales and all stem from social media. If you insist on a specific number of monthly sales directly attributable to Twitter and Facebook, I’ll go with the Doug Adams theory of 42.

Luke Romyn
Luke Romyn:  Such a question is near-impossible to answer without direct confirmation from each individual buyer. Quite often people will claim to have bought books when they haven’t – for whatever reasons, I’m never sure why – whereas many remain anonymous, and I have no idea if sales are from my networking, other means of marketing, or mere happenstance.

I’d love to think thousands of sales are a direct result of my salesman skills on Twitter, but reality dictates this is probably not the case. What my time online does create is an online presence which radiates out like a great spider web, hopefully building momentum along the way and gathering notice from those who matter: my readers.

Bob Mayer:  Very few. Overall, I feel few books get sold that way, but when there is a special promo or FREE, social media can help get the word out there. Social media can be useful for other purposes such as promoting a workshop or conference.

Bob Mayer

2- Do you notice a significant drop-off in sales when you’re away from these sites?

CB: A year or so ago, I would have answered yes to that question without hesitation. Since, thanks to continually growing exposure, successful promotions and so on, my monthly sales have increased by as much as 2000% and a certain level of sustainability seems to have made its way into the equation. I should probably send the Amazon algorithm a thank you note.

LR:  I would like to think so. I spend significant time on these sites promoting my books along with networking and it would be extremely demoralizing to think I was just wasting my time. However, that said, on a recent trip to Vietnam where it was impossible to log in every day, I didn’t notice any great drop-off in sales. However, I had some wonderful friends on Twitter and Facebook (whom I’d met through networking) who promoted my books while I was away. So rather than sales as a direct result of posting about my books, perhaps the sales are more of a cumulative effect of long hours of getting to know people and they in turn recommend your writing.

BM:  No. In July I was on deadline and had to do a lot of writing so I spent very little time on social media and I saw no difference in sales.

3- How much time do you spend on social networks each day?

CB:  Hmm? Hard to say. PC is on from around 6:00am until 5:00pm and I open tabs for Twitter, Facebook, email, website, etc. They are up all day but I’m not active on them at all times. I do a fair bit of tweeting, chatting with people, promoting my work to a lesser extent and that of others to a greater one. I’ve sent an average of 146 tweets per day since joining in August 2009 so a cumulative two to three hours daily is a fair guess.
LR:  Far too much. After a while it becomes a near-addiction, and even though I might not be Tweeting or Facebooking I might still be lurking in the shadows of the networks, seeing what’s going on in my absence. Now that I say it like that it sounds kind of creepy. Hmm....
A better answer, however, would be that I have my sites open whenever I’m on a computer, so that while I’m writing or editing I often check up on things, and if something piques my interest I’m likely to chime in. The trick with this, however, is to avoid getting dragged away from your writing into the magnetic abyss that is social networking, and before you know it hours have passed and not a word of worth has been writ.

 BM:  After attending the Discoverability Conference in NY, I am now focusing time on Facebook and Goodreads. I'd say around an hour a day.

4- For you, what is the most significant benefit to being socially active online?

 CB:  As discussed above, I don’t believe the bulk my book sales are the direct result of Twitter and Facebook activities. However, my presence on these platforms, particularly Twitter, where I now have close to 300,000 followers, has certainly helped getting myself known. Let’s be realistic. If I had published my seven novels as I did but had never linked up to social media and simply let the books try to sell themselves, I doubt I’d be selling even half a dozen units per month. Being present, being visible on Twitter, Facebook, interview blogsites and the like are all elements which have played a role in my growing success as an author. What I believe is key is actually being ‘socially’ active versus continually shouting ‘BUY MY BOOKS’.

 LR: I have met so many people in the writing industry who have selflessly helped me along the way. Not just other writers, but editors, publishers, marketers, and readers, many of whom have assisted me in ways I could never have imagined. Doors have been opened and contacts made through the simple tapping on a keyboard to a stranger on the other side of the planet. Not all of these contacts are of benefit right now, but who’s to say where things may lead in the future.

During a recent contract negotiation, for example, I was presented with a proposal for foreign translation and rights. Everything seemed fine to me, but I passed it on to a networking friend who worked for a very large foreign publisher, asking if she could look it over for me. She in turn passed it on to one of their main contract specialists who went through it with a fine-toothed comb, finding that while it was completely legitimate in its claims, some of the clauses were open to a great deal of interpretation in the eyes of the law. I pointed these out to the publisher and he was able to amend the contract in a way that suited us both. If I’d never met my friend through Twitter she would have never been there to help me and I might have signed a contract I later regretted. Now I’m happy and confident with the decision I made, and all because I met someone through being socially active online.

 BM:  Not selling books but building platform. Making connections. However, a danger I see is the incestuous relationship where writers are only talking to other writers. I think we have to expand our networks.

5- Would you still choose to be as socially active if you were forced to use a pseudonym where no one would know your real name or which books you'd written?

CB: Under such circumstances, I would definitely be less socially active as any book or writing related discussions would be eliminated from my social media activities. To be clear, I wouldn’t be less social, simply less socially active.  

LR:  That’s an interesting question. I have a lot of friends in my life outside writing who use Facebook (not so many on Twitter, strangely enough) and I see the way they use social networking to chat and interact with people they see every day. This makes absolutely no sense to me, but seems to be the norm these days. The voyeuristic obsessions I see seem quite odd at times, and it’s probably why I prefer Twitter. I want to talk to people, to interact with them, rather than creeping around and sneaking a peek at their private lives wherever possible – but perhaps I’m just weird.

To answer your question though, while I don’t think I would be as active, I would definitely be on there in some way, shape, or form. As I’ve said previously, social networking is a wonderful way to meet people from all over the globe; there’s no other way that I’ve heard of that you can do that. I can get online and ask someone in Alaska what the condition of a certain road is like during winter and then incorporate such details into a novel. I can chat with a person in Russia about how life was during the fall of communism, and how dramatically their life changed. These are things I can’t discover unless I personally call someone on the phone or happen upon the exact phrase or setting I’m searching for on Google.

And it’s all for free.

BM:  I wrote under four pen names over the years. I've now consolidated them all under my own name, so this isn't an issue for me. If I had to write under a pen name, I think it would be almost fruitless to try to cover it and my own name. I have enough trouble with the fact I write in so many genres. On Goodreads I have to split my time between Thrillers and Science Fiction

Overall, I believe social media doesn't really sell books, but it does build platform. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but the vast majority of writers would be better served by writing more content, rather than more social media.