Facebook. MySpace. Twitter. Blogs. Websites. Internet listservs.
Somehow it has become an absolute necessity for writers to use them all, and use them frequently, in the hope of enticing readers to buy books. Like love-starved hermits hoping to make a human connection out there in cyberspace, we sit at our computers, tapping away, posting here and posting there, trying to hawk our books without actually sounding like we’re doing a sales job. Be interesting! Be funny! Be shocking, if you can’t be anything else! The whole point is to attract attention, make people want to know more about you — make people want to read your books.
I had a website before my first book came out. After some resistance, I joined other writers to start this blog. Heaven knows I’m on enough internet listservs. But I refuse to join MySpace, which I’ve always associated with teenagers and pedophiles. I held out against Facebook for a long time before I finally gave in recently. Twitter? No way. Okay, I have a Twitter account, I even have a couple of followers, but I have never tweeted. Not yet.
It’s astonishing how obsessed writers have become, in such a short time, with creating a “cyber presence” that readers will encounter at every click of the mouse or touch of a mobile device keypad. Look at the numbers, though, and you’ll understand why that potential audience is irresistible.
Try to absorb this fact (gleaned from the January/February issue of Scientific American Mind magazine): If Facebook were a nation, it would be the fourth most populous country in the world. (The U.S. is the third.) With more than 250 million members on every continent, six-year-old Facebook is way ahead of the older MySpace, which has 125 million users. Twitter has millions of users, but every source I’ve consulted gives a different figure. Is it only seven million or is it 75 million? Whatever — a lot of people are tweeting and following, and writers see them all as potential book-buyers. Facebook seems an especially promising source of new readers, because its fastest-growing membership segment is the 40 to 60-plus age group, more likely than the kids to spend money on books.
But does it work? Considering how much time social networking eats up, is this an efficient way for writers to reach readers? In the short time I’ve been on Facebook, I’ve noticed that most of the messages being exchanged are between writers who know each other — friends chatting about their daily lives. Most writers who have both personal Facebook pages and fan pages have a lot more friends than fans. Even in a universe as vast as Facebook, writers have formed an insular little society of their own. Facebook seems to serve the same purpose in writers’ lives that internet listservs do: providing relief from the isolation of writing. Anytime we feel the need, we can reach out and make contact online, tell somebody what we’re doing or thinking, find out what they’re up to (not much, usually).
In the latest issue of Publishers Weekly, nonfiction author Melinda Blau writes about her own experience with using social media for book promotion and confesses that, like many writers, she let it spiral out of control and take over her life. All her time online hyping her book hasn’t led to fame and fortune. Time to quit, she says. But she’s not giving up social networking entirely. She’ll do it just for fun now, not for book promotion.
I’m torn between wanting to do everything I possibly can to make readers aware of my new book (the title is Broken Places, and it’s out in February, in case you haven’t heard) and feeling a little desperate about spending time online when I could be writing. Because I’ve always been shy, online socializing and promotion has an undeniable allure. Where to draw the line is the question.
Are sites like Facebook useful only for socializing, or do they help writers find readers? What do you think? Have you ever bought a book because you “met” the writer on Facebook or MySpace? If you’re a writer, do you think social networking has helped you increase sales?