The power of blogging and social media

I often wonder just how much all my online effort pays off. On the one hand, I see the hits this site gets (over 5,000 a month) and, even though people seem reluctant to comment much, it’s a very well-traversed corner of the interwebz. And I like it here, so I plan to stick around. I’m also very well aware of the need to build a profile online, a platform to make people aware of the fact that I’m a writer and that I have great books that are worth their time and money. I also have other fiction here on the site that is available to anyone for free and I like sharing that. I enjoy sharing news of other places that I get published, like the Oddville Press story recently, and I like sharing news about other writers.

So it’s all good, but does it really work on anything more than my ego?

Well, my books are selling well enough. Slow and steady. I’d certainly like to sell more, become a global phenomenon with hordes of rabid fans that dress up as the characters in my stories, but who doesn’t want that? It may happen to some degree, it may not – I’ll be writing anyway, so I might as well keep up the author platform and keep myself out there.

But every once in a while you come across something that reignites your faith in the power of blogging and social media. I often read Nathan Bransford’s blog. Nathan is a literary agent for Curtis Brown and blogs about all things related to his job, from writing good query letters to what’s hot at the moment and everything in between. Of course, given that his blog is so massively popular, he also gets back a good view of the zeitgeist from all the comments on anything he writes.

Yesterday he put up a very simple post:

You Tell Me: Where Did You Hear About the Book You’re Reading?

Last week we all shared what we’re reading at the moment.

Marketers and publicists and literary agents and everyone else interested in sales wants to know: how did you hear about it?

Also: where did you buy/borrow/acquire/steal it from?

At last look there are 194 comments on that post, with all kinds of books listed. Here are just the first three of those nearly two hundred comments:

Anonymous said…

Reading The Strain. Heard about it from Colleen Lindsay on Twitter.

Liana Brooks said…

Just finished Trouble with Demons. Won it from a blog promoting the release.

joelle said…

I used to do a lot of library browsing, but now I have a friend who is a MG/YA sales rep for Penguin Canada and she gives me about 35-40 ARCs every few months. My library use now is pretty much requests based on what I read about on blogs or personal recommendations from friends.

The bolding is mine, obviously. The number of times words like Twitter, blog, Amazon, Goodreads and so on crop up among those comments proves that online activity and social media is by far the strongest influence in readers these days. I was also pleased to see that good old fashioned libraries still get a look in. Old and new, co-existing. With books. Bliss.

So yes, social media and online activity is certainly worth the time and effort that it takes. Moreso, it’s absolutely essential if you want to be noticed out there, particularly if you don’t have the marketing behemoth of a big publisher backing you.

So what about you? Is social media working for you? Do you use online recommendations like those mentioned above to select your reading material? Leave a comment.

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23 thoughts on “The power of blogging and social media

  1. Alan, I had not heard of you until I saw people re-tweeting your remarks. I started following you and talking to you directly and realized what an interesting person you are and THEN bought Realm Shift (and yes, entered a contest to win an autographed copy ^_^). I am now a fan as well as a well-wisher — all because of Twitter!

  2. Hello Alan,

    I think having an online presence works for me but it’s hard work. I have to juggle fiddling around online with actual writing and that leaves little time for either or.

    I often think it must take years of solid online networking to be recognized, earn a following and to get 5,000 hits a month on a website. I barely get that many hits a month and that’s in page hits not visitors.

    But as a consumer and a writer, when folks start talking about a book or a website online, I usually have to check it out myself. So the trick is to create online buzz but that’s also the hard part . . . for me.

    Side note: I love your helpful links for writers on Twitter.

  3. Hi Leslie

    You’re right about the time it takes. I’ve been blogging regularly since early 2006 and combining that with all my other online activity and it’s only just starting to bear fruit.

    I think it’s also backed up by the fact that I now have two novels out and a bunch of short stories and other stuff published, as well as guest blogs at other sites and so on. I’ve spent a long time building up a profile and backing it up with as much work as I can. And it’s only just beginning to work!

    (Glad you enjoy the links.)

  4. At the moment the main way I expand my to read list is from books mentioned by blogs and podcasts — so it definitely works. If you’ve been reading/listening to someone online for long enough there’s a way in which you know them and can take their recommendation.

  5. I can tell you what else works for you: You’re knowledgeable, social, friendly and respond to most of your comments which is a plus.

    That kind of personality online is very magnetic. And I’m not just trying to feed your ego. Well, maybe a little bit . . . but it’s fun. *smile*

    Good stuff!

  6. Michael – I agree, and what you say also backs up Leslie’s comment after yours.

    Leslie – Thank you very much!

  7. I’d ritually sacrifice for those sort of monthly numbers 🙂

    I keep plugging away, visiting blogs and forums and tweets in the hope that aforementioned events may some day trickle back my way.

    It’s a dream, but a nice dream.

  8. Social networking is responsible for probably about 99% of my sales. Plus…well, I think it’s fun as well. It IS hard work, and can be a time suck if you’re not careful, but well worth it.

  9. So with the number up can I stop visiting your site 50 times a day? 😉

    Being serious now – an online presence for what you do is essential. As highlighted by this post, people as likely to be influenced by a tweet than a flash ‘new release’ book display – possibly more so. Blog, Twitter, Facebook etc are all informed by everyday people and there is an element of trust in what someone might say about a book – why would you say you enjoyed a book if you didn’t? On the other hand, a bookstore chain promoting a new release, however good it may be, has an underlying tone of ‘we want to shift as many of these as we can’.

    Things have shifted drastically in the last few years and for the most part people don’t have the luxury of being able to spend an hour or so browsing a bookstore for a hidden gem. Especially as many bookstores just carry the same old mainstream stuff and anything not in that category has to be ordered in – once that happens a couple of times you stop bothering with the bookstore and head straight to Amazon.

    This trend has already seen the death of many record stores. Not too many years ago in the UK there used to be an Our Price record shop on every high street as well as several independent stores. You could go in and just browse for music and every now and then have the euphoric joy of discovering something amazing. Our Price is gone now and many independents have closed down leaving the big Virgin/HMV type stores that carry the same old mainstream stuff. Great when they have a 3 for 2 offer, but ultimately the browsing experience has diminished considerably. How long before bookstores go the same way? Online is now the new browsing method – you can find what you’re into and a place that will sell it to you, often with next day delivery!

    Back to the power of social networking, many companies have seen the power of this and actively use it – how many times have you seen buyer reviews or ‘what others have said about this product’ and I have certainly been influenced both into and out of purchasing something based on what other people have said.

    Now here’s the irony…
    As a writer, a purveyor of words on paper, you absolutely have to have an online presence and work hard to maintain it, whereas myself, a mobile computer technician, I have absolutely no need for an online presence at all!

  10. Thanks for comment, Graham. You make excellent points, all the moreso because you’re a consumer and you’re talking from the point of view of someone that buys books only, rather than someone that is also writing and trying to sell books.

    It’s very easy for people like me to become convinced of the things I wrote about in this post because it’s in our best interests to believe them. Having an unbiased, consumer response like yours is incredibly encouraging.

    And yeah, the irony of a computer technician not requiring an online presence while a writer of books does is not lost on me. The world is a funny old place.

  11. Yup.

    I’ve never been a big fan of subscribing to services providing a big bunch of links for me to click on. I’m not sure I’m in the majority, though, because I’ve been amazed at the number of people following my fiction-links twitter account (@onlinefiction) and actually clicking through to check out the fiction featured. Odd, to my way of thinking, but it works.

  12. Naomi – I tend to be quite arbitrary with the links I click, often based on how much time I feel I have. But I know it works, so I take advantage of it. In all honesty, I’ve found some really interesting stuff by clicking links that crop up on Twitter. And some… not so interesting stuff too.

  13. I must admit that the blogosphere has introduced me to a treasure trove of authors and their works, since I started digging around. I’ve been pointed towards some very entertaining novels, gotten peaks at short story publications and periodicals–hard to come by in my neck of the woods–and a plethora of sub-genres I would have ignored in the past.

    It’s good stuff. 🙂

  14. Rabid Fox – Thanks for chiming in. It’s good to know that all the work authors are doing on the net really does pay off. After all, in the “old days” people would often read books recommended by friends and family. Now that circle of friends is global. Doesn’t it make you all warm and fuzzy inside?

  15. Alan;
    ]’ve been utilizing the web for promotion and dispensing information as well as securing reader comments, but I’ve been resisting some of the new more social networking venues such as Facebook, and Twitter. I’m a pretty private person, and I have concerns about throwing myself wide open to all kinds of crazy emails and implied personal contact. What are your experiences, on a personal level, with the demands placed upon you by your involvement with these new tools? Can I continue to do without them?

  16. Richard – frankly, no you can’t! Building an author platform these days means being available in a lot of places. You don’t have to use them all, but I would strongly suggest using some. You can give as much or as little information as you like. You’re no more open to crazy emails or anything like that than you are posting a comment here really.

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