One of the first pieces of advice a fellow author gave me was to establish an active and engaging social media platform. The belief was that authors who put themselves out there and engage with readers on a regular basis build up a brand for themselves and loyalty that will eventually create some kind of foundation for their career to rely on.
So I tried it. Hell, I still try it. But saying I've been successful on the social media front would be a huge stretch. In light of that, I thought it would be interesting to write a post looking at both the reality of social media engagement from an author's perspective, and then to dive into my own reasons for not being active.
What does social media activity look like from the average indie romance author? If I am truly sticking to the "average" part here, it looks like this:
1) Very infrequent posts. The author will typically only make a post when they have a specific product they are trying to boost or sell, like a new release or some kind of giveaway to boost a book in their catalog.
2) Impersonal posts. The author doesn't post pictures of their coffee in the morning or what they had for dessert. No cat pictures or kid pictures. No stories about how they got stuck at the DMV today. It's strictly business.
3) Unresponsive in comments. They don't typically respond to many comments on their posts or their page, for that matter. These authors aren't checking their social media daily to keep up with activity. They are just logging on to make a new release post and then moving on.
I could probably pull out a few more generalities, but I think these are the three main points worth getting into. It probably sounds like I'm bashing "the average" author, but I'm not, because I'm one of them. I'll go more into my personal reasons toward the end of the post, but for now I want to set that issue aside and move on to the other type of author and how they engage with social media.
This type of author genuinely enjoys interacting on social media with fans. From them, you can expect the following:
1) Daily posts. They will often post multiple times a day, even.
2) Personal and business style posts. They might be pitching a new book, hinting about what's coming up next for their new release, posting teasers, etc. On the other hand, they might also be talking about their everyday life and getting to know readers.
3) Extremely responsive. They'll like your posts quickly, respond to almost every comment, and make you feel like they are genuinely interested and engaged (because they are!)
I've pretty much set up two sides of a spectrum here. There's obviously the authors who completely neglect social media, but those are rare. Most at least put in a bare-minimum kind of effort, so I'd consider my example of "average" to be near the minimum level of engagement you'd see.
Here's the thing. I would never, ever argue that it's better to be inactive on social media. The authors in the active category have a very clear leg up on everyone else. They really can make connections with fans and build a loyal foundation of people who will want to read their books in part because they know the author as a person and that knowledge enriches the reading experience.
And this is a big "but", you can't fake that level of engagement. No one ever told me this when I was starting out. It was presented more as something you'd learn like a skill and get better at. Instead, I've come to realize there are two really simple question at the core of every author's engagement level. "Do you enjoy this?" and "Do you have time for this?"
To an extent, I think enjoyment can have a way of making time where there doesn't seem to be any, but I think a lack of available time can also be a pretty huge factor, enjoyment aside.
Here's the problem. Somewhere along the way, authors who didn't enjoy social media figured out they could incentivize their posts and basically buy the reaction a post would get from an author who had put in the work. If you say you have a new release and you're giving away $20 worth of prizes as long as people share and comment, then viola, you get 200 comments and 100 shares, even though your posts usually get 2 likes and 0 comments.
I'm pointing at myself here, by the way.
This was a problem for the same reason paid newsletter building giveaways were a problem. If you build a newsletter from people who only signed up to win prizes, then your newsletter is full of people who are only there for free stuff--people who could care less that you have a new release.
We saw a rapid decline in the usefulness of newsletters because of how many authors were doing huge newsletter building giveaways every month. Eventually, everyone had a 20,000 person newsletter where only 10% of subscribers even open emails, let alone click on links.
Facebook has gone in the same direction.
Huge giveaways are great for getting shares and comments, but they aren't great for actually selling a product. Let me give an example from my own experience.
I used to always do a big Facebook giveaway for my new releases. I'd also track the link I shared on Facebook with an affiliate link so I could see how many sales came from my post. I recently had a new release giveaway post where I gave away $40 in prizes and got over 300 comments on my post. In total, 14 people purchased my new release from that post.
What does that mean?
It means the visibility I bought with my giveaway was largely useless. I wasn't really buying visibility for my new release, I was buying visibility for the fact that I was giving stuff away.
I'm led to this conclusion. If an author doesn't cultivate a real genuine platform of interest on social media without relying on giveaways, then they are primarily spending their time engaging with a subset of people who are only chasing freebies. Maybe people from this group occasionally buy books, but many of them are only connected to the network of authors who post giveaways like this because they can easily enter dozens of giveaways a day and hundreds per week.
In other words, there's very little point in doing a half-hearted approach to social media. The real fans will be buried beneath the ones you had to pay to engage with your posts. If you try to just post your new release without any incentive to comment or share (like I've tried before), you'll be met with a token comment or two and five or so likes without any shares.
That leaves authors with a few choices. They can keep paying for engagement and hoping there is some intangible benefit in getting that many comments and that much interaction with their new release post, even if the numbers don't seem to back it up.
They can give up on social media all together if they know they won't ever have the energy or the personality to be an active force.
Or they can try to find some way to become the type of author who really does pour their heart and soul into social media activity and builds a platform around it.
For me, I know the last choice isn't an option. I've tried being the social media butterfly, and I just don't have the schedule to allow it. I only seem to be able to segment my brain in a certain number of areas before I start failing to hit my word count day after day. I also don't personally enjoy the kind of posts that seem most popular--like digging up some kind of quote and plastering it on a colorful background, or posting pictures of half-naked men. So keeping up with the comments on that kind of post and searching for that material on a regular basis is too much like a chore for me to know I'd stay with it long-term.
I decided the best option for me is to use my blog and my newsletter to put myself out there. It's not the most orthodox way of doing it, but I enjoy writing these blog posts, and I enjoy writing my newsletters. I doubt anything I'm doing on this blog is helping me sell books, but I can at least feel good about knowing there's a place where I am putting an honest part of myself out there instead of trying to force a fake version of myself through social media.
That's about it for this post, but I did want to make a quick mention on the side that I'm going to try to get back into making more regular posts. I've kind of been dealing with a slump/minor depression for this past month and it has been bleeding into every draft I've typed up until now. I figured I'd save everyone the pain of reading my pessimistic, depressing posts and just keep trying until one came through that didn't sound so bleak. So here we are! Haha.
Anyway, I'm still in a bit of a slump, but I'm chipping away at my next standalone book and hopefully will have it ready to go by the 18th next month.
Here's to hoping I get some cheery, happy posts out in the meantime!