72524c27-e63a-43b1-8374-ad3e9ad8b0f3Lately, 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.


  1. Chris, could you do an article on the news at Adobe this week and what the changes might mean for “social” sharing of ebooks? Thanks.

    Social, password-based content protection

    The release of Content Server 4.1 enables “social” password protection for PDF and EPUB eBooks. Like before, Content Server operators can protect PDF and EPUB files using identity-based authorization. Under this identity method, eBook files are authorized to a specific user who authenticates using his/her Adobe ID and password. With the release of Content Server 4.1, publishers and content distributors now have the additional option to protect eBooks using “password-only” authorization. Under password-only authorization, eBooks are not associated with an Adobe ID; readers only need to enter a password to access the protected content.

    This new option enables a new level of flexible “social” permissions for publishers and book distributors. With this option, readers only need to enter a password to access content and are enabled to share their eBooks with those with whom they entrust their password. Because Content Server 4 operators determine the password requirements, some operators may choose to make the password something users are unlikely to share (retail account password, credit card number, etc.). This is not a requirement, however, and other operators will choose to enable passwords that facilitate sharing. For security, any password users enter to authorize content is converted to a non-reversible one-way hash of the string.

    Devices and applications that use Reader Mobile 9.2 SDK will support files protected by this new password-only authorization.

  2. “Devices and applications that use Reader Mobile 9.2 SDK will support files protected by this new password-only authorization.”

    It’s my understanding that they’ll only support it if the manufacturer enables support. Unless 9.2 is a newer version than what the new Sony’s are using. Sony opted out of supporting password style DRM (aka eReader/B&N style DRM) on their new devices even though it was available to them.

  3. How come Sony opted out? Gee, Kindle just setup their own lend a kindle book that is very similar to this. Seems to be something Sony (or Kobo or any other ePub reader) would want to add to their features to make them more marketable–lord knows Sony needs it because of their high prices. I am hoping this will start making more in-roads into DRM so that we will be able to do more loaning of ebooks in the future and that we can use any device to do it, not just Nooks loaning to other Nook owners.

  4. “too much emphasis on social networking as a sort of publicity cure-all is fundamentally misguided for several reasons.”

    This is just a lazy reactionary straw argument opposing an assertion that was never made. I have been reading a lot of blogs, articles and comments across the net for most of the last year and I have not read this assertion.

    I have read many such articles and blogs claiming that in the new world of ePublishing where Publishers are continuing to reduce their spend on marketing and targeting is almost exclusively on a small number of big sales books, writers need to make direct contact with their prospective and existing readers through all kinds of social media in order to promote themselves and help readers penetrate the fog of gazillions of books and eBooks.

    That is a very different thing from anyone claiming it as a magic bullet or a cure all.

    I have to say also that leaving my gripe above aside, this is a really negative assessment of a strategy without any evidence to support him. His only real points against it are that writers are not always good at it, that they might burn out, ‘everyone might do it !’ and the totally idiotic ‘downside’ article quoted above.

    What a lot of tosh. That some writers don’t fancy a bit of hard work communicating with their readers is their own personal choice and they have to get it into their heads that they can’t just sit in a back office and expect money to roll in. On burnout, I would imagine that burnout would be far more likely as a result of too much writing than too much contact with readers. The ‘downside’ article is hardly worth commenting on except to say that I have hardly ever read anything so downright stupid. I hate using that word but it really deserves it.
    The world changes constantly. Life is like that. The Publishing world is changing. Personal habits and leisure activities are constantly changing. Writers have to go with the flow if they want to succeed. That goes for everyone else so writers cannot expect to be protected.
    As the marketing of eBooks takes off and readers have thousands and thousands of eBooks to chose from at their fingertips without bookstores to make their decisions for them, writers have to decide for themselves if they are willing to get off their #¢§€’s and stand out from the crowd in order to sell their books and see them read by more people. It’s a free country. If they don’t want to they don’t have to. But if they don’t they have to live with the consequences.

  5. The comment above asking for an article on Content Server 4.1is lifted directly form the Adobe site …..

    The last thing needed is another security product on top of or instead of DRM, can’t people see this ? readers are paying a full price for their eBook. They should be able to own it fully and use it freely without any permission of some publisher or retailer. Insane.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.