By Amy Brown
Part 3 – continuing the discussion from Part 2: How to make a living as a writer
Writing has long been known as the lonely profession. The writer in her garret, perhaps a cat for company, certainly a shelf full of books, a cup of coffee, and in desperate moments, a bottle of whiskey—those are the images we tend to think of, to romanticize. I loved Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Dalton Trumbo in the excellent film, “Trumbo,” who took the solitariness of his craft so seriously that he would prop himself up in the bathtub with a wood tray to hold his typewriter, a bottle of whiskey and a supply of cigarettes—even his family was banned from entering.
These days writers are expected to be extremely social creatures, with their own websites, Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram accounts. The more social media platforms, the better, say the advisors. Be part of the conversation, the chatter. But does it matter? Does it bring the writer new readers? Does it sell books? A panel of authors debated this question at the Venice Book Fair and Writers’ Festival, and they had mixed opinions. For David Hagberg, a suspense writer who has authored over 70 books since the mid-1970s, the answer is a decisive “no.” A social media presence does not sell books—at least not in his experience. He put effort into his website for awhile but he found it was taking precious time away from writing, so he abandoned it along with any else to do with social media. There was no difference in his sales; in fact, he said he sold more books after he dropped his website.
Author Don Bruns, on the other hand, finds that an active social media presence rewards his efforts. He now has 110,000 Twitter followers and he said that he once got a book contract via Twitter. A UK publisher contacted him, nothing they hadn’t seen any new books from him in about 18 months. Did he have something new in the works? Indeed he did, and his agent sent it on to the publisher and they bought it. And how did this publisher find out about him? “Oh, we follow you on Twitter.” That’s the kind of social media success story that would keep me sending out 140-character snippets of brilliance, in hope of the same!
Susan Klaus said she finds maintaining an active author Facebook page worthwhile. It’s a great way to build an audience and interact with them, she says. She says that being able to boost your page or a post at a very modest price is a good investment, as you can reach a much larger audience and one which you can select, to some degree; you may reach with only 10% of your fans, but they’ll be the hardcore fans. Or you can figure out how to engage readers with your content, and perhaps get as much of a positive response as paying to boost the page. Some excellent tips are found in this blog by the UK digital self publishing firm Reedsy.
If you’ve published 70+ books like Hagberg and you’ve got a solid readership, perhaps you can skip the whole social media thing. But for other writers like myself, still wanting to build a readership, a fan base, maybe even pique the interest of an agent or an editor, we need to be chattering. So see you on Facebook…or Twitter…or Instagram..or Goodreads…or the next big Internet app.