Monday, August 25, 2014

If a writer writes in a social media vacuum, are they really writing?

Trying to research possible agents, and finding numerous quotations about how they always google prospective clients, and almost certainly pass if there is no web presence. Googling my (fairly uncommon) name brings up a number of people, many of whom are apparently authors, and at least one is dead. Some time ago I tried to get myself interviewed (one success) and also wrote a short piece for an e-magazine, then painstakingly answered each person who commented, which took me an entire evening. Neither activity translated into any sales whatsoever.
I have read articles insisting that I should be out there blogging, twittering, building a "platform" (hope not to fall through it!) and generally jumping through hoops to connect with … somebody? I have read other articles saying that unless you really enjoy this activity for its own sake, have something to say that people will find useful, or have a lot of spare time, you're better off just continuing to write. All caution that you shouldn't actively try to "sell" your book(s).

I am feeling more and more dejected about this, especially as writing – the important stuff! - happens only  when I can snatch a few illicit moments (recipe for FRUSTRATION). And what on earth should I blog about anyway? As a writer of fantasy (often romantic), I feel people are not going to flock to buy books by someone who cannot comment on her working day (would get me the sack immediately); doesn't want to put her private life out there (every year the police give schoolchildren the serious warning which they possibly ignore but I take to heart); does write for a site about nervous horse riders (a huge attraction for every fantasy reader, I'm sure); and can't provide a useful service for readers (how to give intramuscular injections to livestock? where to buy beading supplies in a small country town?).

You see my problem (and at this point may be rolling your eyes and sighing). The nitty gritty: is this trend as widespread as it appears to be? Do writers now have to be accomplished  business people and publicists to get anywhere? I don't expect my mechanic to do plumbing as well, nor do I rush to read all about what my favourite authors are doing (OK, most of them are dead too), but am I just a dinosaur who should get real?

You've raised some important points - which is why I've published the entirety of what you sent - and these are points that trouble a lot of writers. 

From my point of view, whether or not I take on a writer always depends on whether or not they can write - and the writing I'm interested in is the manuscript they've submitted. If they have a web or social media presence, that's nice but not essential - social media profiles/presences can be built, but great writing is hard to find. There's also the fact that you can pay someone to build and manage a social media profile for you but you still need to be able to deliver a great manuscript, and it's harder to get paid help for that.

Managing a social media presence can also take up a lot of time, and it's disruptive of attention - you can flit in and out of Twitter but that doesn't help you sustain concentration as you try to write your novel. In fact, it can make it increasingly harder to concentrate as you 'lose the habit' of writing fiction in favour of developing the habit of tweeting. For that reason, too, I'm not that fussed about authors having a social media presence before I take them on.

We also have no data to prove that social media presence leads to increased book sales for any author who does not get a contract because of their social media presence - that is, if you're an author who has become famous for your blog, we can expect that your blog will play a large part in the promotion of your book, but if you're an author who has written a great novel, is having a blog going to help all that much? We just don't know. So I'm loath to tell authors to spend a lot of time blogging when it could be disruptive of their attention and consume a lot of their time without any discernible benefit to their writing career. 

Of course, we may get data soon - and if it's demonstrated that social media is important to some or all all types of writers, then those types of writers will need to engage with it. But if we do get that proof that social media is so important in the promotion of the book, that's actually something the publisher should provide a lot of assistance with - to the point of undertaking to do all the social media for authors who simply aren't great at it. And some aren't - their Twitter voice isn't engaging, or all they do is implore people to buy their books. Those authors should stay away from social media - but if they absolutely need to have a social media presence, the publisher should help them with it rather than let them hoist themselves on their own petard.

And here is where we start to look at the suite of services publishers can offer writers - and at whether or not 'new contracts' should start to accommodate them. If one author is great at social media and can handle everything themselves, should they receive the same royalty as someone who needs a publicist to do it all? It's entirely plausible that the social-media-adept author might start to think there should be some allowance made for what is, in effect, an extra skill that they're bringing to the publishing contract. And what happens if that particular author has to choose between publishers - one publisher offering them a slightly higher royalty rate in recognition of this skill, and the other not? Will this start to become a factor in the author's decision making? Perhaps not. But perhaps it will. 

In the meantime, though, my advice would be to focus on your writing. I'm sure I'm not the only agent in the world who is more interested in how an author writes their manuscript than how they write their tweets. 


Raquel Byrnes said...

I think that you're right that it is an extra skill...but at least its a learnable one! I'm slowly but surely learning...sigh. :)

Anonymous said...

Really interesting question. I write romantic fantasy as well, but most of my social media is about what I love to read and watch (tv movies) which I assume may be similar to my readers. I also help other writers in my genre promote their books as they're released, and maybe if the stars line up, they'll help me promote my new releases. I don't mention my family or my hobbies, so my privacy is intact. I think if you're genuine and passionate about what you love (and it relates to what you write) you'll interest readers.

megge said...

I am delighted to find this article. As a writing person working on memoir the whole social network thing is a huge and debilitating distraction. Good writing demands consistent attention. It's an act of passion and commitment. Wearing two hats is like having two heads and as a writer I do best using just one.