Monday, January 6, 2014

FAQ: To blog or not to blog

First up, OMG Fortune's Pawn did so well as the Kindle Daily Deal yesterday! Thank you everyone for helping to spread the word and make it a success!! Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog...

Back in November (before my life went crazy. Ahhhh, those innocent days!) I had a ton of fun doing my annual National Novel Writing Month Q&A thread on the Fantasy forums. There were a lot of good questions, but a few in particular came up over and over again. I was very happy with my answers, but these days you have to dig through 13 pages of forum posts to find them, and no one likes that. I still want to get the info out there, though, because these are clearly the issues that weigh on people's minds! So to preserve the information I put out, I'm going to be doing a series of posts here on my own blog answering these Frequently Asked Questions, starting with the single most popular query:

Do I need a strong social media presence as an author?

Agent blogs must really be pushing this, because people were obsessed with this question! I can see the anxiety. I mean, writing a book and trying to sell it is a daunting challenge already, but then be told you have to go out and gather a huge herd followers on Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram/Goodreads/etc and maintain a popular blog/website? That's a lot of pressure.

At this point, I feel the need to reiterate that I'm not an agent and I haven't been a new author since 2010, but I do have a little experience with the author side of this whole "publish books" thing, and I'm just going come out and say that I think people are putting too much weight on this as a requirement. 

When you're trying to convince someone to take a chance on your book, be it an agent, publisher, or the general reading public, it's nice to be able to say "oh, and I also have 500,000 Twitter followers and get 1000 comments on every blog post." Preexisting popularity is a good sign that you've got something to offer. It makes you seem less like a risk and more like a success bandwagon (with a built in potential audience) everyone wants to ride. But while it's undoubtedly much easier to get people on board if you're already a star, none of this changes the fact that you still have to have something amazing to give them once they get there.

As much as publishing has changed over the last few years, one core fact remains as true as it ever was: the book is everything. An new author with no web presence and an amazing book will beat a new author with a huge social media network and a lousy book every single time. That said, of course, people with huge networks usually have all those followers precisely because they're entertaining and amazing (see The Bloggess and Hyperbole and a Half as two fantastic examples), but the impressive social media reach is the effect, not the cause. They became popular because they created something other people wanted to read, not the other way around.

So to anyone out there wringing their hands over the idea that a giant social media network is somehow vital to being a successful author, don't. I'm not saying you should ignore social media. You need to have a website up with basic information no matter what, and having professional accounts on the major social network sites you enjoy is also a good idea. This is your business front, the professional face you show to the world since writers don't have shop windows. (It's also a good way for potential agents/publishers to see whether or not you're crazy.) 

That said, no one expects you to have a huge social media reach yet. They'd love if you did, of course, but it's hardly mandatory. A great blog/Pinterest/Instagram account is always a bonus, even if it's not writing related. So if you already have a social media platform you enjoy, go for it! But if the idea of blogging regularly makes you break out in hives, don't worry about it. No one wants to read a blog where every post is "Sorry I took so long to blog," anyway. To get started as an author, all you need is a clean, sane, professional presence on the web and a great book, and you can guess which of those is the most important.

I hope that helps relieve some anxieties! Again, this is just my opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. Still, I've yet to meet anyone in publishing who would turn away a book they loved because the author failed to meet the required number of Facebook friends. Social media presence can be built later, but a good book is priceless. Never let the hype take your eyes off the prize: writing a book everyone will want to read.

Happy writing!
- Rachel


Anne Lyle said...

My experience has been similar - my publisher did ask about social media presence in their author questionnaire (a document you fill in after you sign with them), but even the mention of it sent some writers who planned to submit to them into a total tizzy!

I think, though, it's simply that they want to know what to expect when working with you to promote your book. Will you need a helping hand, or are you totally social-media-savvy? That's a big difference from "you must have a platform", which as I understand it is mainly a requirement for non-fiction authors, particularly those who don't have "celebrity" status in their field.

J. Leigh Bralick said...

The hardest thing for me is, how do readers find your great book if it's piled under heaps of other people's books? Especially people who may have more marketing savvy than you do, or know more people, or have more money for promotions, or whatever? Especially if you're an indie author, it can be really daunting. How do you get noticed?

A lot of people, I think, look at blogging/tweeting/FB/etc. as a way to get people to know/like/trust them, and hence be willing to buy their books and tell all their friends and relatives and grocery baggers about the awesomeness that is your book. But even in social media it's becoming just as hard to get heard/noticed as it is in the book-selling world.

I wish I knew the answer to this conundrum. Well, obviously if I did, I wouldn't be in the situation I'm in, bemoaning the lack of visibility in, well, life... ;)

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