Sunday, June 20, 2010

Social Networking: To Be or Not To Be

Those of you who read my blog know that I rarely post a personal comment. I'm actually a shy person - I was the kind of kid who watched from the sidelines, the kind of teen who hid behind her books, and I'm the kind of adult who doesn't like the spotlight.

But I wanted to post on this topic, even if it feels a little weird, because it's piqued my curiosity. And the topic is...just how much social networking/personal marketing does an author have to do?

I was chatting with my critique partners the other day about social networking, and I made the rash statement, "I've been hearing that publishers expect you to have an online presence." They looked at me as if I'd told them they had to eat dirt (or something nastier) in order to get published. "Why?" one of them - a published author of award-winning books, who doesn't blog or tweet - asked. "Well," I said, "um..."

Good question.

I've been reading a number of discussions on various blogs about the concept of author "branding" as part of our publishing persona. I think this concept of branding is tied to my assumption that having an online presence is an essential part of my job. That in order to sell my books I have to blog, tweet, and Facebook. I certainly do all those things, and I think they've helped introduce my books to readers. I think.

But I also know that they take time - time away from writing - and frankly some of my online stuff makes me feel...awkward. As in tweeting "visit this blog where I've been interviewed!" Whooee, mama. Sure, I'm a writer who wants to be read. But why do I feel like I'm screaming "look at me!"?

And branding - that's a whole other level. I have some really smart writer friends who say it's essential to develop a personal brand. I have some equally smart writer friends who scoff at the notion. I wish I knew what "branding" really means. Other than the cowpoke thing that turns my stomach (yep - done that.)

So, here I am, standing alone in the wind, so that I can toss out a few questions to you all. How much social networking do you think is necessary for writers to do? How much is too much? Does it really help us sell our books?

What do you think?


Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

My thought is to simply set aside the whole fret of "marketing benefits" and simply participate in the conversation of books, online and off, to the extent that you're comfortable doing so.

If I say, "Thank you to so-and-so blog for hosting me today. We're talking about X, if y'all would like to join in." It's about a lot more than me. It's about being appreciative and sharing thoughts and inviting others into the conversation.

Sometimes you'll share news of yourself, in same the way you would with any off-line circle of friends or community.

But most of the time you'll be speaking more broadly, about a variety of folks and books and topics, just like you do in "real" space.

As for your "brand," that's nothing more than the qualities associated with your byline.

If you're Janet Fox, your brand is mixed category (fiction and creative nonfiction)'s's academically's a smile and sparkle.

No need to be intimidated by catch-phrases or industry posturing. Your strongest "brand" is in being yourself.

Janet Fox said...

Thank you for that thoughtful response, Cyn. I like that you take the whole subject into a deeper realm - the discussion of the world of books.

It's very helpful to me to think of it in that light.

Lisa Gail Green said...

I've heard so much on this topic lately! I understand the purpose to be that publishers want to know we are capable of contributing to and in some cases doing our own marketing. That it makes their job a little easier. But, although I think it helps, I do understand your point of view. I've heard others say - and I like this A LOT - that you should do it if you enjoy it. For example, I really like blogging and tweeting and the other authors I meet. It's something I truly look forward to. So, for me, its simply a matter of making sure I balance my time. I do that by limiting the amount of times I blog (though I keep to a strict schedule it's twice a week). Anyway - that's my two cents on the subject!

Janet Fox said...

That's a great two cents, Lisa. I think I need to pull back a bit and give myself limits. Because, like you and Cyn, I like the connection - just not the overwhelming feeling that I must be "on" all the time.

Blythe said...

I'm working on this myself. It can absolutely be a time suck, but it can also spur me on a little bit. I'm inclined to be reclusive (not shy) and isolated--social networking has made that more optional than mandatory.

In terms of selling books, I haven't been able to find any solid research or evidence to prove that social networking does that. There may be other values to doing it.

Branding: I'm trying to juggle being Blythe the Indexer and Blythe Woolston, author. I manage to do it as a human being, but I sometimes wonder if my online persona is a little Jekyll and Hyde. The discourse and audience are so different...

Janet Fox said...

Hi Blythe - Yes, I'm finding that whole balancing act difficult, too. Which is why I posed this question!

I like what Cyn said here - the suggestion is that your "brand" is you, the whole person. And that really we don't need to worry about it past that point.

I think Blythe the Indexer brings a whole new thoughtful approach to writing, through reading.

Thanks for all these great comments.

Vonna said...

There may be no solid evidence that an online presence helps sell books, but if I regularly read a writer's blog, I regularly buy that writer's books. I also request/recommend local libraries to buy their books. Facebook and twitter postings of "buy my book" don't work for me unless that person and I typically reply to one another's comments.

Janet Fox said...

That's a really great point, Vonna! In fact, I get a little overwhelmed if someone is constantly posting about their own book and nothing else - I find it a turn-off.

Koreen said...

Janet, thank you for this post. I've wonder the same thing and recently joined Twitter as a result (even though I already blog regularly). Like you I've read so much that says if I ever want to get published, I better come as a packaged deal and at times it's overwhelming. I'm glad I'm not alone.

Janet Fox said...

I'm so glad this is helpful, Koreen. I'm finding all your comments extremely helpful, myself! Just knowing that it is a double-edged sword, yet it can be managed - which is, I think, the key.

Janet Fox said...

For those of you who might have linked to this post and are interested, here's an interesting video on this issue:

A.J. Cattapan said...


Yes, social media does affect your book sales. I'm proof that it worked for you.

I first read your post on the Guide to Literary Agents website about how you got your agent. That led me to you blog. Admittedly, I didn't buy your book right away, but I tucked it away in my memory as one to watch out for.

Last week, while I was at the bookstore picking out books for the summer school reading class that I teach, I saw your book on the shelf! I bought it, I read it, and I reviewed it (very positively!) on my blog.

So yes, social media does lead to sales. If you hadn't posted on the Guide to Literary Agents blog, I probably never would have picked up your book at the bookstore!

Thanks! Now I have to go visit Yellowstone. :)

Janet Fox said...

Dear A.J. - What a wonderful comment and affirmation! And I'm so pleased that you liked Faithful - and now I'm off to read your blog! :)

hugs - j