Columns > Published on October 5th, 2016

10 Reasons Why Social Media Doesn't Do A Damn Thing For Writers

"I did all this hard work, built up all this social media, and still no one's buying my book? What's up?"

We've all been there. And what's up could be that your book sucks (likely) or your social media sucks (likely), but it could also be that social media is worthless for writers.

That's my premise. You knew that from the title, right? Let's get to it.

Your Book Is Your Baby

This is not a good thing in this context.

You know how it is when someone you know has a baby, and the first couple days online are fun, then it gets tedious, then the kid is like 8 years old and you're thinking, "When is this person going to stop posting all these damn pictures of this kid?"

You are bothering people with your constant talk about, pictures of, and links to your book.

Your book, it's your baby. I get it. When it's your baby, it's special. But it's only special to you and a very small circle of friends and family. Your baby is not special to the population, in general. Unless you're a huge author. When Stephen King shoots out a baby every couple months, people care. They want to see the cord get cut, they want to see this new, afterbirth-smeared resident of the world. But when you do it? Who cares? More to the point, who cares enough about your baby that they'll lay down cash?

I'm going to set up a hypothetical for you. Imagine if you will, an acquaintance of yours on Facebook has a baby. 

Now, imagine that, in order to see pictures of this baby, you have to click over to Amazon and pay 99-cents. They're great, studio pictures, the kind they take where a family goes to train tracks or an old barn or whatever bullshit, but they ain't free.

How many people are going to pay that 99-cents? How many people would you expect to do this? Your mom, your close friends, maybe? And after that? Maybe a couple weirdos?

Same shit for your book.

The Ghostbusters Mistake: We've Crossed Streams

Sorry, but even if I want to buy your book, what I really want to do, when I'm on Instagram, is look at more Instagram.

Am I following Pete the Author? Pete who's my buddy? Pete the Book Marketing Machine? Pete who tweets a Demolition Man joke-of-the-day?

I think I speak for most authors when I say we've cross-pollinated and put all these things into one. If you follow an author, you're going to get book updates, writing stuff, their political opinions, what they think is funny, all this stuff, and it's all intermingled. 

And that means our followers are intermingled too. My Twitter followers are people I know, people I followed who followed me back, and women who seem to know about other women in my area who are mostly naked. Listen, spambots, I'm aware there are women in my area. I live on Earth. Tweet at me when there's a werewolf or a cursed mummy out and about. THAT'S news.

What does this mean? Let's say you have five-hundred Twitter followers. How many of those followers have followed you specifically to hear about your books? 

When I tweet a joke, I please a segment of my followers. When I tweet a link to some political story, I please a segment of my followers. When I tweet a book-related thing, I please a segment of my followers. So, in reality, I might have 500 followers, but when I tweet about my book, I'm speaking to a small audience that gives a hot damn.

Your number of followers don't mean shit.

Do You Want To Click A Link Or Stay Where You Are?

Link me to your book on Facebook? Link in your Instagram profile? Great.

I don't want to click a link. I could be wrong here, but I think that most people, when they look at a Facebook or an Instagram, they're not all that interested in clicking a link that takes them FROM the thing they like to a different, unknown thing.

This problem is mitigated on a computer, but if I'm doing app-based social media-ing, like most 2016 humans, I don't want to open a browser to look at your stuff. I want to keep looking at what I'm looking at. Sorry, but even if I want to buy your book, what I really want to do, when I'm on Instagram, is look at more Instagram.

Algorithms Are Our Enemies

It's no secret, most social networks operate via algorithm, which means the more popular something is, the more popular it becomes. And it's no secret that photos and videos make the most popular, most shareable content. And you're a writer, right? Working in words? Not as many pictures and videos?

And I assume most of us are linking to a longer piece or book, and most social media is not in love with that. In fact, Facebook, for one, has taken to eliminating clickbait headlines from its streams. Why? Well, if you're an optimist and believe in the good in people, you could choose to believe it's because they're helping us out, because there really aren't 17 Ways To Be #Blessed This Summer, and because #12 won't blow your mind. Or you could use your brain and realize that it's in the best interest of Facebook to keep you on Facebook (and Twitter to keep you on Twitter, Snapchat to keep you on Snapchat...).

Social media is actively working against you linking people to your content.

Is Anyone Saying They Want More Ads In Any Venue?

Because that's what you're giving them. 

I certainly prefer to see ads for stuff I believe in, like books, but that's mostly due to the fact that there actually IS a book behind that ad. Believe me, there is no job where you dress up as the Halo guy and play video games for money, despite what Facebook has told me for the last 15 years.

The sidebars are full of ads. Ads pop up on so many sites. The internet is full of ads. You're putting them in yet another spot. You're part of the problem.

You're In A Phone Instead Of In The World

As a writer, are you going to come up with better material by looking at your phone or by paying attention to what's going on around you?

It doesn't have to be all one or the other, but I'd encourage you to look at things as a writer, not an Instagrammer. When you see something awesome, instead of thinking, "That will look amazing once I throw in that X-Pro II filter," maybe you should just keep looking at that awesome thing and thinking about it instead.

Instead of posting things and putting them away in the social media box, let them stay on your mind. Let them keep tickling a different part of your brain.

We Confuse Social Media-Ing With Working

It's too easy to get on social media and make posts and feel like you've accomplished something. 

You're not. It's not important. 

This is not helpful to you as a writer. This other thing to check on, this additional outlet for your attention, it's not helping you write. And when we confuse anything but writing with the work of writing, we're making a mistake.

The Best Thing You Can Do Is Not Screw Up

The most important thing to do on social media is not screw up. The most important thing is not to make something great, not to make people laugh, not to do something that entertains people. It's to not screw up.

That's a pathetically low bar. Think about it like this: if I apply that goal to my real life, I've had a good day when I didn't just shout offensive stuff aloud all day at work. Big deal, pat on the back. I do that like...more than half the time.

When the best outcome is not blowing it, why do we spend time wondering why social media isn't doing more for us?

You're Posting 2016 Election Jokes

It's too easy, everyone. That's low-hanging fruit. Leave it for those who can only reach that high. You're better than that.

Steps To Make It Bearable

You might not agree with me here. That's cool. I'd still encourage you to use social media with a few caveats.

1. Consider the ratios. How many book links are you posting versus other things of interest?

2. How are you going to post about your book in such a way that it's interesting to someone who doesn't know or care about you?

3. What makes your book posts different from every other author's?

4. Can you incorporate something besides text and a link, and can that something be good content in and of itself?

5. Are you doing social media because you like it? Awesome. Just quit pretending it's a business thing.

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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