Saturday 9 November 2013

The Myth of Social Media Selling Novels for Writers

With other writers I was recently asked by Debbie Taylor  of the excellent Mslexia Magazine to fill in a questionnaire about the role of social media in my professional writing life. This made me think more deeply than usual about this issue. Social media have a kind of role in my professional life. I am occasionally on Twitter and Facebook and I do write this blog.

I do know writers who communicate very successfully and with great bezazz on Twitter and Facebook. They write about cooking, gardening, politics, people and all kinds of fun and frolics. They turn a charming and interesting face to an interested cyber world. One friend has built up a following of 40,000 readers by writing warmly and wittily about just this kind of thing. Through her I have learned that writing well in a hundred and forty characters is an art in itself.

But when we come to professional fiction writers  the whole thing is rather more complicated. Many fluid and witty Twitterers and Facebookers clearly do it for sheer fun and delight. They possess 140 character magic. The witty novelist Marian Keyes has the magic and is a joy to follow  just for the anarchic, creative fun of it all.

But the fun seems to have flown out of the window for some writers who are seduced by the growing myth that social media will sell your books. Some aspiring writers do their duty and enter the field like busy bees saying, in one way or another, read my book! buy my book! At first I thought this point of view was valid and I do sympathise with this strategy in a world where publishers invest less and less in promoting and marketing their not-already-famous writers. And - wonderfully - writers themselves are taking up the torch and going down the independent publishing route. Social media must seem like a gift.

The problem is that while I sympathise with the social-media-sells mantra, I have yet to see audits, evaluations or statistics that prove the success of this process for novelists, poets or short story writers in terms of sales. The already best-selling and wonderfully twitterer Marian Keyes hardly needs any cyber-boost.

Perhaps the Mslexia survey will begin to fill that gap?

It seems to me that a degree of success can be traced in terms of  the selling-success of writers who blog and twitter about their publications, which are based on a business model about how to succeed (‘in ten easy steps!’) by using social media to promote your book, or promote your business.

They use their own success in writing on this theme to assert it can succeed for you, the creative writer. I’ve bought some of their publications myself with the idea that they might provide one  answer for the fading fiction market. In reading them I see they all have the same message -  that if you follow their rules you can uses social media to sell your creative work. It clearly does sell their own book-products  but as far as I can tell only provides yet another arena for anxiety and failure for the harassed unpublished or newly- published original writer.

But I have to say that for me the use of social media works on a peculiarly idiosyncratic level. The way in which is works for me – as you will see from this post – is that it is an avenue for fun and a feeling of satisfaction. 

I post all kinds of stuff on here on Life Twice Tasted:  

  • scraps of work in progress, or not progressing
  •  emerging ideas about the writing and editing process 
  •  stories about my novels and books as they emerge 
  • reflections on novels I have written in my time
  • the vagaries of the publishing world (although I try not to whine - so bo-oring!);
  • the vivid and growing adventure of independent publishing 
  • reflections on books and authors I admire and who inspire me
  • idiosyncratic elements of grammar and syntax
  • episodes from my (rather long) life 
I find now that in doing all this I happen to be creating a kind of archive of my writing, and my writer's life. And this  inspires a vague and tentative hope that here at Life Twice Tasted I am able to share some fragments of my writer-self that a wide range of writers and readers may find interesting.

And although - as you see here -  I have designed Life Twice Tasted to be a kind of showcase for all my novels and it enjoys an average of five thousand page-views a month, I have no idea whatsoever whether or not this blog increases my book sales in any way that is not merely incidental. My book and Kindle sales do go up incrementally but they might have done this anyway. And now many of my books are on the second-hand carousel of Amazon and other on-line sites. How would I know how many of them are re-sold in this way? I am delighting at the thought of these novels having a second reading - a second life -  although there is no profit to me.

I can hear business-model gurus groaning at my un-business-like approach, I disobey other rules as well. We are told to write short snappy posts – kind of bite-size pieces for those of short appetite and attention span. Well, as you see here, my posts are longish and essay-ish and don’t underestimate the intelligence of many of my readers. (If you have read this far you are one of them…) Also my posts - though they frequently focus on the writing process -  cover a wide range of themes. Apparently that’s another taboo.

But, even though I don’t have the 140 character magic (mentioned above) I do go on Twitter and Facebook as well -  posting occasional casual and quirky elements from my daily life, I will also mention it  if I have a book out or a book launch in view. I will also post there the theme of the current post on my blog. If Twitter folk  are interested they might click through to take a look at Life Twice Tasted. If not they will click on to other possibly more enticing things. Fair enough.

So, if it’s not about selling books, what is a writer’s blog about? Whatever happens, the medium must be the message. A writer’s blog should be well written and interesting in itself – seriously interesting, seriously funny and seriously original. If - by the by -it sells a few books, in tens, hundreds or thousands, that for me is just a bi-product.

So for me writing posts for the blog is an end and a pleasure in itself and it must stay that way. Once it becomes a means to the end of spurious fame and fortune then it becomes tatty as an over-used apron. I think the notion that exploiting social media to achieved worldly success for creative writers is at best wishful thinking, at worst a damaging myth.

Definitely a work in progress...

I am not being disingenuous when I say that truly, I love writing on Life Twice Tasted for its very own sake. For me the blog is a living, growing thing, like a forest that becomes more intricate in time. Like the thousands of less-than-famous essayists of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries I write my pieces for for personal satisfaction and very small reward.

For me it is a respectable, if not profitable, occupation … 

in addition to writing the novels, of course.

And here are some very different blogs that demonstrate the qualities I admire 

The writing-wise wise and wonderful Writing Junkie 
The wittily toothsome Licked Spoon /
The lyrical gardener and cat lover Pablo's Friend 
The wise, witty and humane 60 Going on 16 


  1. I have to agree with you.
    For me writing is an end in itself.

  2. We are in agreemenr on that, Al, as with many things. wx

  3. I think you do your blog for the right reasons Wendy - it's not about selling books, it's about having a conversation with other book-lovers, communicating with friends, sometimes just talking aloud. I'm not sure it sells any books at all, but it's fun!!

    1. Like you Kathy, I write my blog for all these reasons - I like your 'talking aloud ' reason. Hadn't thought of that. And always for fun... wx



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