Social Media as a Book Marketing Tool
I've been hearing for years that blogs are dead. I reckon that this here blog is proof that ain't exactly so.
It's true that subscribers round these parts are rarer than hen's teeth. After doing this for almost 11 years I haven't managed to round up a single subscriber. Figure it must be my settings. Maybe it's not possible for people to subscribe - or at least impossible unless they too have a "Blogger" site. Then again, no one has ever come to me and said, "I tried to subscribe."
So why do I carry on?
It's also true that I do get a fair amount of traffic on the site. Any post that gets fewer than 20 views on the first day is a bit of a flop, and most can be counted on to amass 50 to 100 views over the course of a few days, weeks or months. Some hit 100 or 200 right out of the gate. Even without subscribers. I generally get a minimum of about 10 visitors a day even on bad days, as long as I post regularly.
I was pretty happy with this until a few weeks back when Moss Whelan talked me into doing a video. This followed a conversation where I expressed my fondness/passion for artifacts, so he suggested that as a topic. I downloaded some editing software, which I may try using one of these days. But I fell back on the more impromptu method Moss suggested, "Just start talking and see what happens. Don't edit. Try to go a few minutes in a single take. Then put it out there so people can see it. May take a couple tries, but eventually magic will happen." So I did and it did. By the end of day one, I had more subscribers to the You Tube channel than I ever got for the blog. This was more than a surprise, it was a revelation.
Should I give up the blog altogether and pour that energy into building a You Tube brand? I don't think so. If there's anything I've learned about the world wide web over the years , its that it is fickle. I can't see it ever cycling back to the point where traditional blogs get popular.
Just as I'm pondering this conundrum, my dear friend, Sally McBride, e-mails and asks if I have a newsletter on Substack. Why no, Sally. I do have a brand new newsletter with about 20 subscribers, but it's not on Substack. In fact, what the hell is "Substack?" Luckily her e-mail also contained a link to a New Yorker article all about it. Turns out SubStack is a subscriber based newsletter model that spurns advertising. It's sort of a cross between the traditional blog/newsletter models and Patreon. The cost of production is low. The income comes from a tiny niche unearthed by the writer/publisher and the damn things are apparently often financially viable.
I keep my eyes peeled, always on the look-out for the next big thing. I'm always up for a challenge and don't like the idea of becoming a dinosaur before my time (despite my appreciation of the King Crimson song, "I'm a dinosaur, somebody's digging my bones..."). The only real problem with Substack is that by the time somebody writes an article about something for The New Yorker - the phenomenon is probably already past its best before date. There is no more getting in on the ground floor, although the trend is starting to blossom and is probably already in the process of mutating (virus-like) into variations on the original idea.
Who could have imagined me coming up with a viable scientific idea? Wonders never cease. Now I only need wonder what I can parlay all this into. Maybe I can catch a wave and surf the zeitgeist for awhile! Lol. We'll see.
Traditional Social Media Channels
I have confirmed (per the warnings by many self-publishing gurus) that the usual social media channels are terrible short term tools for selling books. You'd almost certainly sell more books by standing on a street corner hawking them to passers-by. Facebook is onlyinterested in getting you more Facebook followers. and more likes. Twitter seems focused on getting as many followers as possible without concern about how many are genuinely interested in you or what you're doing. They all want you to be interested in them and what they're doing. Things like "Writers-Lifts" and other pyramid scheme like approaches get you lots of metrics in the analytics side of things, but result in virtually no personal connections. You may have stats to demonstrate your growing reach, but there is no tangible benefit to that reach beyond the numbers. I drop into Instagram once a month and see a few pictures of friend making breakgfast, showing of new book covers, posing in front of monuments and so on. The next month brings variations on the same themes. For an app that seems contrived to give spontaneous glimpses into people's lives, it seems so static and narcissistic that I've never really gotten into it. Snapchat, Tumblr, Medium, Reddit and Quora each have their strengths but it's impossible for anyone without a media team to participate in more than a few of them. I think we owe it to ourselves to discover and experiment with as many of them as possible - but only toward the end of deciding where best to put our time and energies.
What social media does that street-corner sales cannot is help you to gradually build your brand and solidify a fan base. It lets people get to know you as a person, which will hopefully make them more amenable to buying your books and telling other people about you on the long term. I suppose this is why posting videos helps. In these days when making personal appearances, doing real life author tours and book signings and going to literary and fan events is pretty much impossible. The only way authors can make an impression on potential readers is online. Making videos and appearing on podcasts gives people a sense of personal connection. Problem is, the author doesn't get to meet readers the same way. Zoom conventions have become a bit of a thing - but I think we need to adapt to the new media a bit better. Zoom doesn't work when people talk over one another. Unlike a real life party or social gathering, you can't splinter off into groups and start separate conversations. So everyone is forced to either join in the main conversation, wait patiently and hope talk turns to something you find more interesting, or else leave. Chances are, if you leave, you won't come back. I'm sure there is software out there somewhere that not only allows but promotes splinter conversations. If you know of something, please leave a comment on this post so I can track it down and start using it.
Perhaps the best format would be to have "conversations" - inviting a couple of interesting people to participate in an online format where others can watch and listen. Then once every 20 minutes or something - open it up to questions. Allow people to connect personally with the conversationalists and possible set up private conversations between themselves and the invited "speakers." Maybe people could send invitations "Joe Blow would like to talk with you about the mating dance of the eight legged-barracuda" "Annie would like to have a conversation about whether any sort of life could survive on Venus." "Bob Smith asks what you're working on and has some questions about certain characters in your latest book." "Nancy Dance wants to find out if you've experimented with recreational drugs and how that experience has affected your writing and your perception of the world."
The guests could accept one conversation at a time and keep going as long as they want. Those conversations could be labelled as open or private by the participants.