Social media, by its very nature, is ephemeral. It passes by like leaves in a wind and most people see only a fraction of the content posted by people they actively follow. The chance of being exposed to new followers is even slimmer than your existing followers actually seeing something you post for them. Social media has always been this way to some degree, but the rate of degradation is increasing exponentially. Who knew putting our primary means of communication in the hands of capitalist babymen would be a bad idea?
Anyway, there’s nothing we can do about it. It will always be affected by the vagaries of capitalism and the petulance of mediocre men. But what we can do is account for that to the best of our abilities. The problem with degradation in any form is that things break up into ever smaller parts. This means that every time we try out a new form of social media, every time we grab our handle on the next big thing, we lose a massive proportion of folks following us elsewhere. Not everyone tries the new thing. Not everyone wants to move to something else. Most people, frankly, don’t give a fuck.
That’s fine too. Real life is more important than social media. The problem for folks like me is that social media is an aspect of real life. I’m a lowly midlist author. I don’t get huge print runs, I don’t sell books in massive numbers. Most of my books never see a bookstore shelf. For me, maintaining a career means constantly trying to gain readers. I would love to just sit back and write my weird books and have a big enough readership that I didn’t need to do anything else. That’s simply not the case. I do have a small but dedicated readership and I genuinely love each and every one of them. It’s amazing that I have as much of a career as I do, and I take nothing for granted. But the only way to continue this career is to continue growing my readership. And the only way to do that, for me, is through a powerful social media presence.
It would be awesome to go viral one day with a tweet from Stephen King, or a BookTok hit video by a reviewer with a million followers, or maybe King Charles III photographed reading The Gulp while he’s waiting for his next gold seat to be made from the tears and labours of regular people, but none of that is likely. It could happen, but I can’t rely on it. All I can rely on is constantly working my arse off to spread the word about my stuff. To raise awareness that I’m here doing this, that I’m actually pretty good at it, that the people who take a chance on reading my stuff tend to really enjoy it. Given the nature of the business and the facts of geography – Australia is lovely but it’s a metric fuckload of kilometres from literally anywhere else – the only way for me to constantly reach people is through social media. And I’ve worked hard as fuck to build up a presence there.
For me, like most writers, Twitter became an incredibly powerful tool. I really enjoy the kind of interaction Twitter creates and it was a brilliant place to connect with readers. Until the fuckknuckle Emerald Heir came along with all his money and his delusions of intelligence and sprayed his rancid shit all over the place. Yes, I am fucking bitter about it, actually. That useless, deluded arsehole took something heavily flawed but also incredibly powerful and turned it into a fucking bin fire. It’s still there now, and it’s still useful to a degree, but it’s like a fish washed up on a sandy shore, gasping for breath and sure to expire any time soon.
So what does that mean for the rest of us? What does that mean for lowly midlisters like me trying desperately to build a readership? Where do we go?
Given that wherever we do go costs us followers, centralising and using things we actually control becomes ever more important. Nothing is permanent. I’m writing this originally for my blog. I’ll send it out as a newsletter through Substack too (more on that in a minute), but my own website is the most permanent thing I have. It’s as safe as anything online can be. But it’s useless for reaching people as they have to actually come to it. When we use social media, we go to places where people are already hanging out and we reach them directly there.
The way I see it, the very nature of social media and online interaction is changing, and we need to change with it. Any platform can implode at any moment. I always grab my username on every new thing that comes along, just in case it does become the next big thing, but it’s pretty unlikely that anything will. I think we’ll see places becoming smaller instead of bigger, niche communities and gated gatherings. Things like Mastodon are already exploiting that very principle. So I think we need to address this changing situation primarily in three important ways:
- Most importantly, have your own website. A place you control that can’t be taken away from you short of an EMP taking down modern civilisation. That’s a place where people can always find out about you, about your work, and contact you if necessary. They have to come there, but you can always get them there with a simple link.
- The old email newsletter. Yep, it’s coming around again. It never really went anywhere, but it became a bit passe when microblogging and generalised social media exploded. Now it’s becoming important again, because it’s a way to communicate directly with people, right into their inbox, without billionaire insecurities fucking you with algorithms. But even newsletter platforms can collapse or be taken away.
- Like the Beatles said, get by with a little help from your friends. When my existing readers extoll the virtues of my work on their social media feeds, in their family and friend groups, at work, screaming in the faces of strangers at a bus stop, all that stuff is absolute fucking gold. Nothing builds a career better than enthusiastic word of mouth.
This threefold approach to staying here is the best way to have a secure presence. But, sadly, it potentially won’t actively encourage growth. We still need to be out there using whatever other means of reaching people we can find. But if I spend all day cross-posting everything to fifteen different platforms, I’ll never get the actual writing done. I have to be choosy about where I direct my attentions and hope for the best. So while I have a bunch of accounts all over the place, I will rarely visit most of them. I’ve refined my efforts to the following:
My website: This will always be, as it has always been, the hub of my online presence. All you need to know about me and my books can be found here, and anything important will be posted to the blog.
Substack: Yes, this platform turns out to have a pretty shady practices in terms of who it actively publishes and promotes. But aside from that, for people like me, it’s still a very slick and powerful newsletter platform. It lets me gather people who actively want to hear form me and reach right into their inbox whenever I have something important to share. It also has other added blogging and social aspects that I may use to some degree. Currently their Notes function is causing Musk to shit his emerald pants, so that’s interesting.
Patreon: This is another place where people want to be and I can reach them directly. You can find stuff there for nothing, but most things are accessible for a few bucks a month. This really helps me, as that small but regular injection of cash makes a huge difference to a struggling artist like me. And I get to provide extra content to people who really want it.
Twitter: Despite the Muskian stench fucking up the place, it’s still there and still the place where I get the most engagement. And I also don’t believe in giving up ground to fascists, so I’ll stay and fight to the bitter end.
Instagram: This is a place I’ve been for a while, and I like it. I dig the imagery and while the interaction and actual engagement I get there is very limited, it’s still somewhere fun that’s also different to all the above.
So there it is. For now. The social media landscape probably changed again while I was typing this, but I’ll post it to my blog anyway. And I’ll send it out as a Substack newsletter and share that link around. And then wait to see what happens. What I really want to do is write my weird books and sell enough of them that I can write more. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask. I’m not quitting any time soon.