Friday, 11 September 2015

Social media and me

This week I'm guesting on the lovely Jenny Kane’s blog. (Go and have a look: it’s fun!) So I’ve got a week off from trying to think of amusing or interesting things to talk about on my own blog. Instead, I am thinking about the whole business of social media: what we do and why we do it.

Note that I am talking about the “business” of social media. If you want your friends to know what you had for breakfast, that’s between you and your friends. And I still use my personal Facebook page in a quaintly old-fashioned way to keep track of my social life. But what I'm talking about here is authors (I write books, remember) whose use of social media is part of their job.

Make no mistake about it. For an author today Facebook, Twitter and blogging is part of the job. All publishers encourage it: some (thankfully not Accent) insist on it. The unfortunate thing is that many (most?) authors do not take naturally to social media. Oh yes, they can turn out a lovely blog post, but they often struggle to "engage" with their readers. It's hardly surprising. Writing appeals to the sort of person who is happy spending many hours alone with a word processor and relates especially well to characters who exist only in their imagination. They do this for months or years, and then their book is published and suddenly they are told that they must get out and meet people and deal with individuals who can't be written out of the story if they do anything inconvenient. I was once at a meeting of successful authors with major publishers who were being told that they had to get out there on Twitter and Facebook: an audible groan ran through the audience.

“Engagement”, though, is now essential (it seems) to selling books. The death of traditional publishing (and, make no mistake, it has died – even in those companies that we still think of as traditional publishers) means that thousands of books are out there fighting for the attention of readers who have few ways of separating the wheat from the (let's face it, substantial) chaff. In this situation, readers will go for writers that they know – which means established authors they have read before or, in the case of lesser-known people (me, for example), people who they "know" through their social media presence.

For me, the natural way to reach potential readers seems to be this blog. I write historical novels which assume the readers are interested in immersing themselves in a different world for at least a couple of hundred pages, so I imagine that they are the sort of people happy to read up to a thousand words or so in a blog post. This format also allows me to talk about the historical background to my books, aspects of writing (including posts like this one) and occasional entirely random stuff like opera reviews or posts about tango. I’m lucky in that I quite like writing this. I can be self-indulgent once in a while, as today, and sometimes people seem to particularly enjoy such posts. (I was astonished when a piece so self-indulgent that I nearly didn't publish it became one of my most popular posts: Apples and oranges.)

The problem is that, just as people can only find the books if something – hopefully the blog – directs them there, so they can only find the blog if something lets them know of its existence. Hence Facebook and Twitter.

At first, my Facebook author page mainly had links to the blog and to books of mine that were on promotion, or books by other Accent authors that I wanted to tell people about. Apparently, though, this doesn't "engage" people enough. If you have an author page, Facebook even sends you a weekly e-mail to remind you that the number of "engagements" that you made in the last week was not up to scratch. So, with dreadful inevitability, to Twitter. The problem with Twitter is that the average tweet has a life of, apparently, around six minutes. This means that if you want anybody to see it and re-tweet it to their thousands of followers (the Holy Grail of Twitter) you have to post every few hours or there is little chance of visibility. Actually, the logic of this argument suggests you should post every seven minutes, but sometimes you can take logic a little too far.

So now, like many authors, I spend much of my life on Twitter and Facebook trying to encourage people to come and read my blog. Every month, it seems, many of you do. I'm currently averaging around two thousand page views a month, which isn't really all that many but does give me a warm glow inside. (So if you are reading, thank you so much.) There is one tiny problem with this, though. That is that my blog does not generate any income at all. Like most authors, I only make money from writing when people pay for my books. Unfortunately, two thousand people a month are not buying them. Some are, and I'm grateful, but really not that many. And there are some peculiarities in the way that promotion and sales work. For example, the majority of my blog readers are American and, when I put book links on social media, the majority of people who click on them are American too. But since I switched to a UK publisher (the lovely Accent Press are based in Wales), sales in America have been much less than sales in Britain.

Blog hits in last month by country. USA, I love you!

It's all very confusing.

Of course, it's not all about sales. It's also about feedback and reviews. Feedback when you write to me through the comments at the bottom of this blog (and I do read all of them), or respond to a Facebook post or a tweet. It's lovely when people do, but it really doesn't happen that often. A couple of times people have got in touch just to say that they have read and enjoyed my work, and this almost justifies social media on its own, but I'd really enjoy hearing from more of you. You can write on this blog, message me on my Facebook author page, or reach me through my twitter handle: @TomCW99.

Reviews, on the other hand, are when you tell everybody else how much you enjoyed my book, and they are important, as I posted in my last blog piece. (Which, unfortunately, doesn't seem to have resulted in any more reviews, though hundreds of people have read it.)

Anyway, I’ll continue to write this blog. And post on Facebook. And tweet on Twitter. But if you’re reading this, could you please do something for me? Choose one of the following, according as to the amount of time and/or money you think the blog is worth.
  • Get in touch. Say, ‘Hello!’ 
  • Follow me on Twitter, ‘like’ my Facebook page or follow the blog. (Not that ‘following’ on Blogger achieves much unless you are on Google+)
  • Write a review and publish it on Amazon or Goodreads or both.
  • Go mad and buy one of my books. Cawnpore is on offer this month, so a mere 99p/99c will give you guilt-free blog reading for the rest of 2015.

If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading. Normal service will be resumed shortly. In the meantime, do read all about tango and sex in my post this week on JennyKane’s blog.

PS I promised on Twitter to give a shout out here to all my followers and I just realised that I've only thanked the people reading the blog. I'm sorry. I really appreciate my Twitter followers too, especially the ones who retweet and the ones who helped me navigate the Twitterverse when I first arrived. You're all lovely.


  1. :) I've done all of the above but the Goodreads review ... and I'm in the United States, too!

    So are we engaged? I suspect that could get awkward. ;)

  2. One of the nice things about having a small (for want of a better word) fan base is that I have come to 'know' some of you over social media. It's one of the best things about it. And I am truly grateful for the support you have given me. I love it when you mention me on your own blog. Are you ever going to write anything for me over here?

    1. Why thank you! It would be a pleasure; do you have ideas as to a subject? I've been less than productive with my own blog of late.

  3. I love reading your blogs! And your tweets, and your Facebook posts. And I'm not in the UK or USA! But you know all that. I wish your piece on reviews had generated more reviews for both you & me, as I shared it widely. This week maybe?!

  4. @Kiwimrsmac: Thanks. I enjoyed your blog post here. It was one of the most popular ever posted. I am keeping my fingers crossed for reviews.

  5. I read your blog and Facebook page Tom, but I understand the problem. Readers of blogs don't necessarily buy books. I see Accent is expanding their markets this fingers crossed. :)