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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

Re: Authors don’t need ‘friends’

This article from the Globe & Mail made me laugh. Apparently, authors shouldn’t waste their time making ‘friends’ online, and apparently social networking doesn’t work. FYI, yo.

Yeah, I feel strongly about this subject. I believe that social networking works. I’ve done it for my job, and if you can make it work, then yeah, it can be an awesome thing. But there’s no set way that will tell you exactly what works and what doesn’t – it varies depending on your product, your audience, etc. And it can take a lot of time and effort in order to make it work. Is it worth it? If you can get it right, then hells yeah.

Anyway! About the article!

There were a couple of bits that really had me scratching my head. The first was when he was talking about what kind of books people read, and how to market said books. One sentence in particular says, “The question of how to market books – particularly fiction books, which few people want to read – is one of the most hotly discussed in publishing.” Yeah, I’ve no doubt that the marketing of books is discussed in publishing. I do a lot of marketing stuff at my job (albeit, not in publishing), and I know that marketing is an integral part of growing and even maintaining ANY business. But to say that few people read fiction seems a little… hard to comprehend for me. Are there really that few people who read fiction compared to people who don’t? If you look at all people in the world, then I suppose the subset of people who read fiction WOULD be small – but if you just look at people who read, is the subset of fiction readers really that small?

But the big paragraph that made me go “huh” was this one:

Sure, I believe that an author’s friends and family might join a book’s promotional Facebook group out of kindness, as a show of support for that author. I don’t believe that these supporters will necessarily create a flare of publicity that will cause other non-friends to go out and buy a book. I believe that an author might create a small or even a large following for a blog about the writing and publishing of a book, or a blog of amusing personal reflections, but the people who read such a blog are interested in the author’s life or the author’s personality and not necessarily in her fiction. The people who buy her book, as opposed to reading her blog, are those who would buy it anyway.

Not necessarily. I probably wouldn’t have heard of a lot of authors if they didn’t have a blog, or an LJ, or if they didn’t vlog, or didn’t belong to various online communities. I wouldn’t have picked up their books had I not had exposure to them online, either because it wasn’t available where I was shopping or it didn’t look like something I would typically read. So what drives me to buy their books after getting exposure to their online presence? It’s their voice. The way they write their blogs. Yeah, if I enjoy that, then I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy their books. Take, for example, Maureen Johnson. Read her blog a long time before reading any of her books. And her blog is brilliantly written. So of course, I’m going to expect that of her books. But I may not have picked up those books before had I not specifically been looking for them, because they look a little chicklit-ish, and I have a tendency to rant over chicklit too much.

So! Just for kicks, let’s see some of the author’s I’ve read books by because of their online presence. And I’m talking the author, not the publisher or a marketing company. The actual authors themselves. As mentioned, I read Maureen Johnson’s blog long before I read any of her books. Same with Cassandra Clare and Maggie L. Wood. Big fan of John Green before reading his books. Again with Cleolinda Jones. Sure it’s not a huge percentage of authors I read. But at the same time, if you think about it like that, well… say one person reads Not Yet Popular Author’s blog. And because they find Not Yet Popular Author’s blog relatable/awesome/hilarious/whatever, they decide to buy Not Yet Popular Author’s book. And they love it. So they tell other people using their blog/LJ/twitter/youtube account/etc. about Not Yet Popular Author’s book and/or blog. And so the social networking and having a blog for the author definitely pays off.

As far as saying that social networking won’t bring your book to the bestseller list immediately, well, maybe not. But who is to say that traditional marketing that is done for your book will guarantee a spot on the bestseller list? And wouldn’t it be better to use both traditional and non-traditional means to market your book and your brand? That way, for example, you’re going to get the people who only read the newspapers and don’t user social networking, but you’re also going to get those who don’t read traditional newspapers but are big on Twitter (or whatever big thing happens next).

I think the author of this article missed a really big point – that the purpose of social networking is to build relationships. And the best way companies or authors or whatever can use social networking is by remembering that. The reader, or the customer, is going to be receptive if they feel they are interacting with a real person, not a corporation, or not someone trying to get money from them.

No, you’re not always going to get some crazy underground movement through social media that surges said author’s popularity to NYT Bestseller List overnight, but to say that the blog won’t cause people to buy your book unless people were going to buy your book anyway is silly. It’s all about exposure. If you don’t get your name out there, how are people going to find you?

Not to say that the whole article made me shake my head. He does have some good points. Yes, if all books are being advertised the same way, but one book just uses paper fliers stapled to telephone poles, then that one book whose paper flier you see stapled to a telephone pole will stick out for you. Obviously. If it’s the only one doing that, yes. It’s different, it’s caught your eye, and ultimately it’s done through that sort of advertising what bunches of others have been trying to do through different means. But if everyone did that, you’d stop noticing it after awhile. It would go the same way through other media – like say you were in a movie theatre and a book trailer showed with the other coming attractions. Yeah, book trailers are big online but not in theatres, so that specific one would be different and would catch you eye.

But to say that social networking doesn’t work for authors trying to sell books – that’s just a silly supposition!

What do you think? Do you find that social networking influences what you read? Are you more likely to read a book where you don’t know about the author through social networking? Are you more likely to read something that is advertised on a poster stapled to a telephone pole, or one that you hear of through an author’s blog/twitter account/facebook page/whatever?

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 9:38 pm July 22, 2009.
Category: Day to Day

  • rachel

    I am going to have to post my rant about this piece of trash article tomorrow. I am so mad tonight and I am grrrrrrrrrrr-ing through my writing.

  • rachel

    p.s. this author has never been popular. EVER! And his colleague, who by some chance happened to end up on the Canadian bestseller list for six weeks, is usually the frontrunner in remainder bins at Book City.

  • Court

    Rach – Am looking forward to what you have to say. As far as what Mr. Smith has said… well, I just think he doesn’t understand the purpose of social networking, is all.

  • Memory

    That bit about nobody reading fiction threw me, too. I know only a handful of readers who stick exclusively to nonfiction; almost everyone else reads a mix of fiction and non.

    As far as social networking goes… well, I can think of plenty of authors I discovered through social media. LibraryThing has been a big one for me; I’ve given several authors a try because their LT accounts brought them to my attention.