Lately, social networking has often been hailed as a kind of great equalizer to help writers connect better with fans and sell more books. It’s a way to connect with fans, show that you’re a real person, and show the human face behind your stuff so they might be more inclined to support you. But, as guest writer Daniel Kalder notes in a Publishing Perspectives editorial, too much emphasis on social networking as a sort of publicity cure-all is fundamentally misguided for several reasons.
For one thing, it runs the risk of turning into specious “magical thinking”.
What do I mean? Well, consider the following essential truths about publishing: crap sells, except when it doesn’t. Quality never sells, except when it does. Good men die screaming in the gutter; the wicked flourish. To quote William Goldman: nobody knows anything. Given that we live in a state of total chaos, it is only natural that individuals study the chicken’s entrails for guidance. What’s that spelled out in the guts? Blogging! Facebook! Awesome! What could go wrong? Blogging is free, plus you can subvert the hierarchical media model and go direct to your readers. Wait for it, but here comes the magical thinking: Hey ma, lookit me! Any minute now I’m going to go viral and everybody’s going to buy my book!
The problem is, Kalder points out, if you build it they will not necessarily come. Or if they do come, they might not stick around very long—the next YouTube video is only a click away.
Further, blogging and social networking require skill sets that many writers simply don’t have. After all, writing is usually a solitary activity, meaning that the authors don’t have to interact that much with other people. And when everybody is blogging or social networking, how exactly are you going to stand out from the crowd?
If writers are going to engage in social media or blogging, Kalder says, they should do it for the right reasons. Whatever they do, it should be something they enjoy doing for its own sake, so they won’t burn out if it doesn’t pan out right away.
Kalder has some good advice here. While social networking, blogging, and other self-promotion has helped a number of authors, such as Joe Konrath or John Scalzi, it is not a magic bullet, and not only does it take effort on the part of the author, it also takes time in which he could be writing other books. And as I noted in May, too much community-building with fans can have its own pitfalls.
Still, if it’s something writers are comfortable with, it can certainly be a rewarding experience—especially for those whose works can easily be obtained electronically, while recent contact with the author still has readers in the mood to impulse-buy.