Columns > Published on December 30th, 2020

Writers Don't Need Social Media

Social media. We hate it, but as writers, we have an excuse: “It’s part of the gig!”

For us, it’s NECESSARY! All the hate, the stupid arguments, all the politics, all the getting angry at celebrities we don’t even really know for doing things we don’t understand...it’s all part of the game, right?

Somehow, we’re all just trapped in this fucking dystopian nightmare where writing down stories also involves shit like Snapchat filters and TikTok stardom?

That’s what I thought, but now I’m asking: Is it, though?

Is it necessary? Is what you’re doing with it necessary?

Could you be a writer without social media?

But, But, But

Every time I talk about this, I get a bunch of feedback (ON social media, of course) saying that I’m a huge idiot. This feedback comes in two flavors:

Flavor One: I’ve sold A TON of books thanks to social media, and you’re a HUGE idiot.

This feedback always comes from a writer you and I have never heard of. It’ll be someone who wrote either a bizarre-looking novel of self-discovery or something like a 10-minute summary of a pop business tome.

Flavor Two: Hey, as long as you’re writing, expressing yourself, sales don’t matter.

Let’s just address both flavors at once: If I wrote an article called “Why You Can’t Run a 4-Minute Mile,” I’d get some feedback from a handful of people who’ve done it, and I’d get some feedback from a handful of people who were like, “Dude, it doesn’t matter. The run is in your HEART!”

And while those are both fine statements, I guess, I’m still correct. Almost everyone, if not everyone, who reads that column will not be able to run a 4-minute mile. So, saying “YOU can’t” is accurate.

Maybe some of you are reaping huge rewards from social media. But most of you aren't.

ROI

Ask yourself: What’s the return on investment with social media, and how am I measuring it?

Most of us will do a vague, “I’m building a brand,” kind of thing, but what does that mean, really? Just “the more tweets, the better”?

How confident are you that social media brought in book buyers? Are you able to directly attribute these sales?

Have you compared social media use to other forms of advertisement?

How does social media compare to pricing deals you can set up?

The whole premise that social media marketing is worthwhile (FOR YOU), without some real-world testing, is bullshit speculation. And nobody does the testing. Why? Because we all know what we’ll find: It’s not all that helpful, and we have no excuse to use social media.

The Gamble

You add content to their platform, for free, and the implied promise is that you’ll gain notoriety.

The comparison of social media to a slot machine is used a lot to make the point that sites like Twitter reinforce user behavior, like doomscrolling, but less common is the comparison for someone trying to market their shit. Social media marketing and social media "just for funsies" work the same way.

Lots of you probably have 100k tweets under your belt. And yeah, you pull that slot machine’s arm 100,000 times? You’ll have some wins. 

It’s a lottery. Some will make HUGE gains, but almost everyone will expend resources for no gain whatsoever. There's very little meritocracy on social media, very little work in, product out. It's as good as random.

Scummy Behavior

You’ve seen it. The tweet that goes something like

“Let’s boost indie authors. Retweet this and tag your favorite!”

You retweet with your favorite indie, perhaps not realizing that you’re also retweeting the image the original tweet’s creator added in, usually the cover image for their own book.

This is some scummy shit. By pretending to give a shit about indie authors, this person is boosting their own signal on the back of other indie authors.

This is the worst version of the post meant to elicit responses the original creator doesn’t give a flying fuck about. It’s just a more complex version of “What’s your favorite Halloween movie?” or the slightly more creative “I’m looking for horror books. Let me hear what you like!” Nobody gives a fuck what randos on Twitter like. If I want a list of horror movies, I will not ask Twitter. That’s idiotic.

Remember, when a fellow writer tells you that social media is an absolute necessity, they aren’t just giving you an economic fact, they’re defending their own shitty behavior.

It’s Not Just Money

Does social media make you happier? I don’t really hear from people who love being on social media. Hell, even a cat adoption resource I follow gets a boatload of shit every time some yahoo thinks, based on their zero experience, that a cat is being mistreated in some way.

When you’re on social media and selling your stuff, consider whether the exchange of happiness for book sales is worthwhile. How many times has social media wrecked the entire day for you, and what’s the monetary value of that?

Even if social media IS a tool that improves your sales, what are you willing to give up for those sales?

Working for Free

We don’t pay writers, but you do get publicity.

That’s the classic line delivered by bad publishers, right?

If you think that deal sucks, how about this one:

We won’t pay writers, and there’s a worse-than-random chance you’ll get any publicity at all. AND any publicity that you do will be done by you.

That’s the promise of social media. You add content to their platform, for free, and the implied promise is that you’ll gain notoriety. 

Most of us wouldn’t consider that deal from an indie press. Why are we doing it for multi-billion-dollar corporations?

Hurt

What are the chances of social media hurting you versus social media helping?

There are plenty of folks out there looking to write articles about the latest online kerfuffle, real or imagined. There are not a lot of people looking to write articles about what a good Twitter follow you are.

Nobody can make a judgment about how you use your Instagram in light of a national tragedy if you don’t have one.

A Better Plan

Stop working for the man, start working for you.

Write a lot, write good stuff, and then pay someone to do your social media for you. OR, write a lot, write good stuff, work a full-time job, and pay someone to do your social media for you.

I’m a fan of the tipping point theory, which in this case would probably say that when you’re first starting, the publicity you do isn't going to be effective. As you grow a little bit organically, you’ll have a base, and from there, marketing is a bigger deal.

Why are so many of us acting like medium-famous authors when we’re not even mildly famous yet? Me doing a bunch of social media promo is like me looking at flights for the author tour in my mind.

Make That Money

Social media takes the world's content and uses that as scaffolding to sell ad space. You post on Instagram, and in between your pics and your buddy's, there's a paid ad for some bullshit. 

Make that money for yourself. 

Write more blogs, fewer tweets. Set up ad revenue for yourself on your site. Set up links to products using sites like Bookshop to make a few bucks off your work.

Post your pics on your web site, not your Instagram.

If you Tweet a joke a day, throw that shit on Patreon, release them to people who pay you a dollar a month. Maybe you won’t make anything, and if that’s the case, then you know the monetary value of your sense of humor.

Stop working for the man, start working for you.

Wants and Needs

I’m not here to tell you that writers CAN’T use social media. I’m here to say you don’t have to.

If you like it, great. Have a fucking blast. 

But if you hate it, do the legwork that lets you do the math. You'll find that even if social media brings you a handful of sales, it’s not the make or break of your career.

And if you want to be a writer, not a social media manager, convert your time online to time writing another book. Maybe it doesn’t sell, but at least at the end of it you’ve got a book.


Get Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier at Bookshop or Amazon

Get The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains Paperback by Nicholas Carr at Bookshop or Amazon 

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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