Friday, October 12, 2012

The Ineffectiveness of Social Media?

You might like to read a recent article concerning the subject of this blog post title--about the ineffectiveness of social media. Here it is:

I think that I can rightfully comment on the theory that social media in all aspects of sales -push for books is not really cracked up to what it's touted to be. And may in fact be much worse than currently evaluated. I just self-published for the Amazon Kindle Select program, and this time I watched my numbers very closely after initiating certain media campaigns. I have to stress that I didn't, nor will I ever pay for ads or any type of publicity. I'm not into tagging, buying reviews or spamming my family and friends for likes and purchases. I have a very small family-relative population, and not that many close social  friends. It's interesting to note that FaceBook and Twitter (per the article), two of the largest social media platforms, are very unlikely to produce any sales at all, no matter if you have 100 or 10,000 friends. Their pages are swamped, awash with hints and outright pleads to "buy my book." It seems that Facebook and Twitter have become the default bookstores and have been so for quite some time. They were actually designed as meet-up locations for people as social platforms for conservations, views and introductions.

Interesting that the article claims that there are now about 1.1 million self-published books out there, all of them competing with each other for front-row-center attention at the same time. That's a hell of a lot of head-knocking. It also seems very plausible that about 10% of all those authors are the ones doing most or all of the selling, with about 50% making less than $500 a year. There is another collective who claim to be the mid-list self-published who can rope in $2000 to $5000 a month—we don't have actual figures on this yet.

After 70 days of exposure, my own title has made about 14 sales and two borrows. And this has been the result of a massive promotion campaign which ate up about three hours a day, each and every day nonstop. I doubt the average self-published author even came close to what I did, where I went and how I used the different social media resources. It's just too much time away from writing. I did not spam FaceBook and Twitter, hardly mentioning my book on either more than once per day. But the fact remains that my posts there did amount mostly to book adverts, with an occasional “how y'all doing?” type post.

I'm certain that about four to five sales came from direct buyers from writing groups, and the rest resulted from free book giveaways. All that media blasting, about 210 hours, sold a mere four or five titles that copped about nine dollars. Add in the freebie books sales for a grand total of about $24, factoring in the 35% and 70% royalty rates. Can I say that social media doesn't work? From my position and what little notoriety I had, it did not work in any way, shape or form like I expected to. A very painful experiment. But an honest and sobering evaluation. It seemed everywhere I went I found others just like me listing every title they had, if not once, multiple times over days and weeks. All of us crowding for the same front-row-center platform.

Major or minor caveat: I'm in the Select program. I don't have all the other e-tailers stoking my coffer. That includes Smashwords, Goodreads, Kobo, BookStrand, Fictionwise, B & N and all the others.

Am I disappointed? Yes. Surprised? No. I went into this with my eyes open. The article mentions a real eyeopener; those who have become rich and famous pretty much got in on the ground floor of Amazon self-publishing, or at least in the last year. That makes sense and I heartily believe it, because that's where the low prices, particularly the $.99 ebook sprang from. At that time it was all the rage, causing a tsunami of purchases from readers who packed up their devices with every free and cheap title out there.

Another thing that was not so surprising: Most of the self-published titles out there are short stories and novellas. They are all listed as books, which can create some confusion. Even the true full-length books that I saw were all typically under 300 pages, with most of them in the 140 to 220 range. I have no doubt where the majority of the claims of “write as fast and as many as you can” came from. They are short titles, and they're written by very fast and tireless writers. And damn it! Wouldn't you know it? I don't write lean or short. I'm 300 pages and upward, except for true YA titles. So where does that leave me? Right now, outside the winner's circle.

As for the “bubble” thing. I hate to say it, but this is a current gold rush apt to be sapped for everything it has until the streams are dry and the disappointed miners bow their heads in disgust and vacate their claims. Anywhere when you have such competition, gluttony and over supply, you're headed for an implosion. And I don't wish to see this. Is is possible this self-publishing bubble will burst in 18 months? Yes. I'd add another six months to that doomsday figure, but I believe we're headed for it. It's simply not true that there are enough readers to consume all of these books and stories at the rate they're gushing into the marketplace. If we don't have a bubble burst, we'll see a decline in self-publishing because the average author won't be able to get a foothold at all. And this is happening right now. Crowd the market more and it's not going to get any better. Chasing algorithms, tagging, fake reviews, likes, bagging friends, email blasting, spamming are just some of the desperate devices being used to drive sales for the almighty buck, which is happening right now. What's next besides all of the publicity departments and companies out there that want your dollars because they offer “The Ultimate Program to Help you Attain Ebook Riches.”

So what about the advice of writing and listing more and more books, books in series, serial novels, novellas, shorts and special single editions? Type until your fingers fall off? And when you discover that doing this is not working anymore, or not working like it used to, will you pull back and reevaluate your career direction? Who will be profiting from this in the future? Answer: Amazon and the reader. You will have to work harder and faster than ever before. You might finally realize that typing speed does not equate to great literature and sales, but that just maybe, quality, patience and perfection does.

I've heard self-publishers rant time and time again that they don't need agents and publishers to stand in their way of writing success. It's true. But they don't need you either, bub, and probably won't for the rest of your self-publishing life. That's because they have only to scan and acquire the best-selling self-published authors, you know, that 10% club that you don't belong to? So that will leave you kicking and squirming in the trenches with the rest of us.

I hope you have a huge fan base with a ton of blog subscribers. I hope you have thousands of friends on Twitter and FaceBook who really like you as a person. I hope you've written a really neat series of full-length novels in your favorite genre. I hope that you've already jumped aboard the self-publishing train before it started to clog up, and that you already have a solid reader group who can't wait for your next installment. I hope you are in that 10% club at this moment. I hope that you continue to write and publish thoroughly edited quality prose. I hope you never resort to chicanery and hitting below the belt when it comes to self-promotion.

As for me, well I hope that someday, maybe in the near future, I'll have a turnaround and my book takes off and makes some sales. But I'm not holding my breath. I have to go back to my agent and a few publishers, who've I neglected for the past couple of months. I don't owe them an explanation. I owe myself one.


  1. Hey no fair. I'm relying on grandiose ideas and inflated optimism to get me through these non-financially rewarding writing times... and then you got and post some realism. Shame on you. :P (I hope you know I'm absolutely kidding.)

  2. Gottcha ten-four. Man, I wish, hope and pray that I'm wrong and things will go on without upset. If you're self-published, kjcolt, I'll wager major bucks that you're doing better than I am or that you'll hose me, hah! I came from the wrong direction and with hang-fires. It's really impossible to judge one stand-alone book and I admit to that. I'm going on a ten-day blog tour in the near future--I might see something. I might see something during the holidays. But I can say my experience has been a near bust. My expectation might have been a bit high, as well.

  3. I have to ask; if you had an agent and publishers in the past, why did you set out on the self-publishing route? Just curious really.

  4. Hi,Rob. Purely an experiment. I had a backlist title that wasn't doing anything and I got an early rights release. Since my agent had four of my freshest titles and was busy with them, this title was appropriate for a sacrificial lamb. My intention was to watch the difference in rank and sales between small press trade books and my first self-pubbed title, given that they both received the same amount of intense promotion. I had a recent release, The Wolfen Strain, by which to make the comparison.

  5. Boy, that sounds like an absolutely brutal amount of work. I almost wince to hear the miniscule payoff. But (setting aside my own selfish relief that maybe now I don't have to fret about my 80 Twitter followers and 13 blog subscribers) I am glad to hear that you went to the wall with it at least once, so now you never have to lie awake wondering "what if I'd just tried harder / done more / sunk more hours into it?"

    Here is a question, though, since you're further down the road than I am: do you think your agent and publishers will still judge you by your social media traffic? Are those numbers still relevant, even if all they do is keep you competitive with the Joneses?

  6. Hi, Tex. Good question--it's excellent in fact. Because editors and agents are STILL suggesting that we put in all imaginable effort into social media as a kicker to brand our name and raise awareness. My agent hasn't implied as much, but I know she feels it's important. Almost all small publishers I know, and even the larger ones still insist that this route is viable. It's only now in the current stream of things that field studies and surveys being taken that we are finding out the truth about what social media can and cannot do. We who use it constantly, are on the front lines and can see what's working and what's not. I predict there will be a general shift to other techniques and promotion plans in the future--the new e-book gift cards, being just one of them.
    I'm concerned about self-published e-books, since they rely almost entirely on social media promotion. I'm only one author whose tried this my way, and I just don't see the numbers to justify it. Perhaps this is why so many writers/authors are saying "forget about it and write another great book."

  7. Hey, thanks so much for the deep thought! I have been getting that same vibe too. Like, even if doing 8 hours of homework a day doesn't actually make you any smarter, you should still do it, because you don't want to be perceived as the slacker kid when it comes times to ask your professors to write recommendation letters for you.

    ... or something.

    I hope you're right, though - you know, that at the end of the day, the real contest is decided not by "who has the most Twitter followers" or "who has the highest Amazon ranking" but "who wrote the best book." Bringing said book to the attention of the general public is a whole different ball game, but I am delighted to hear there are new promotional avenues still emerging. Please update us when you can - it's rare to find someone who's walked both sides of the street, and I appreciate having the benefit of your double perspective.

  8. Thanks for following the blog, Tex, and all the others. I can never say that my own self-promotion route has been a failure. I have sold books, where that title did NOT move a single copy in 18 months with the publisher. It's a win, but with limitations. I'm damn sure others have had much better results, evidence that I'm still new to the game and learning. These other more successful writers-authors are more innovative and probably using other means that draw more attention and sales--blog tours, guest spots--bookmarks, postcards, guest panel appearances, even signings if they have print copies. These are things I haven't tried or found the time for. Rest assured that I'm following this closely and if I hit on something that works, I'll blab it here for all eyes to see.

  9. Well, I know of a few indie authors that have gained success from writing a series and having the first book or a "prequel" free. Get people hooked on your writing and they will buy the rest of your books.

    One off the top of my head is Jenny Pox by J.L Bryan. It's not the "best" written book ever, but the story is good and people keep buying his stuff...all because they get a taste of his writing for free.

  10. erlessard, that's the direction my publisher and I headed. The prequels worked as a good draw for quite a while then things slowed down.I'm contemplating a true full-length sequel now instead of pounding out more shorts. That would afford us more leverage.