Jim C. Hines is the author of the forthcoming Libriomancer, about a magic-wielding librarian, flaming spider, motorcycle-riding dryad, and other miscellaneous fun. He’s written seven other books and more than forty published short stories. Jim hangs out at www.jimchines.com and other online sites, but occasionally pokes his head back into the real world. (Mostly for the ice cream.)
If you’re a writer, you’ve probably encountered the common wisdom about social media. These days, in order to succeed, a writer has to have a website and a blog and a Twitter and a Facebook and a Tumblr and a Pinterest and a Google+ and a Goodreads, and if you don’t, you will plummet into obscurity, a forgotten FAILURE forever and ever!
Do me a favor. Since you’re already online, open up another window and do a search for Suzanne Collins’ blog. Nothing? Try searching for J. K. Rowling’s blog. Stephenie Meyer’s?
Wait, Meyer does have an update feed on her website … which mostly seems to be updates maintained primarily by someone else. Rowling has a Twitter feed, but it has only a handful of updates from the past few years. It seems like these authors have somehow managed to do all right for themselves without being active on all the social media. I could name more, but hopefully this is enough to make my point that you really can succeed as a writer without spending every free second updating various websites and feeds.
This might sound odd coming from someone who’s active on Facebook and Twitter, made a Tumblr feed for a goblin advice column, and spends a lot of time blogging. I do believe these things have helped to get my name out there, and have led to more people finding and reading my books. Social media can be a useful tool. But it’s not a requirement, and it’s not as easy as folks sometimes make it sound:
- Build your Facetwibblogger+ page.
Most of us can point to authors who have become online superstars, folks like Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi, who get tens of thousands of hits every day. Over on LiveJournal, authors like Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire have thousands of followers and routinely generate hundreds of comments.
The thing is, these people have spent years building their online presence. It takes a great deal of time and work, and none of them are doing it because they’re “supposed” to. Nor are they doing it just to promote their books. I’ve studied these authors and others to try to learn how to improve my own blog, and one of the things I noticed is that the most successful author-bloggers are those who, the majority of the time, aren’t talking about their own books at all.
Compare them to Author X, who joins all the sites because that’s what he’s supposed to do to promote his book. He posts reviews of his stuff, links to Amazon and other sites, and … nothing happens. Eventually, he gets frustrated and gives up. Virtual dust soon blankets the Twitter feed. His Facebook cover photo is a tumbleweed, his wall empty save for those Happy Birthday wishes from six months ago. Because, while most of us will tolerate the occasional ad or self-promo, very few of us want to tune in to watch a neverending infomercial.
I believe every author should have a website with their publications and a way to contact them. Beyond that, if you decide to build an online presence, do it because you want to. For me, I spend time online for the people. For the community and for the conversation. I hate playing salesman, and the last thing I want to do is spend my time and energy pushing books on people. I’d much rather geek out about Avengers or Doctor Who, or jump into a conversation about sexism in the genre.
You build a name by being interesting, not by hard-selling yourself and your work. People can and do succeed with a minimal online presence. If you choose to get active online, remember you don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to share things that make you uncomfortable. You don’t have to do what That Other Author did – just because it worked for her doesn’t mean it would work for you. If it’s something you choose to do, then find the way you can enjoy it. The rest will follow in time.
(P.S. – I wrote this from the perspective of a “traditionally” published author. For someone who is self-publishing e-books, I do think it’s a lot harder to succeed without more of that online marketing presence. As always, everyone’s experience is different, and there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all advice.)