Saturday, April 28, 2012

Social Networking, the New Word of Mouth

I recently read a blog post, a retweet on Twitter, written this past fall (2011) and emphasizing that social networking isn’t built to sell books. It’s an interesting post with lots of stats and facts and irrelevant findings that concludes what sells books is not the internet, but good, old-fashion mass media—television, newspapers, radio interviews…books made into movies. Yes, I’m rolling my eyes at this point. In defense of the author, he was talking about traditionally published authors, which leaves me at a double disadvantage, first because not even near the majority of traditionally published authors have mass media available to them and as a self-published author I’m impeded yet again. The “thing”, he emphasizes, that sells books, even bad books can outsell very good books written by talented writers, is name/face recognition. He used, for example, works by Snookie and Kim Kardashian. 

But I need further clarification here. Which comes first, the author or name recognition? Based on the examples the poster put forth, I conclude “name recognition.” Being an author has nothing to do with it. Of course, all of us traditionally ignored for the “beautiful people” already know this. And how in the world could even “mass media” accommodate recognition of every author published in a year? And I’m just talking about the traditionally published ones; don’t even start thinking vanity and self-published authors. Hawking those recognized by the vast populace is simply good business to make money, and the people able to exploit mass media are backed by those with much deeper pockets than I have. For me, mass media is a non-starter.

Oh, and lets not overlook having my book made into a what? A movie? I beg your pardon? Does he mean have my book made into a movie as if it were a matter of personal choice? No one has opted to turn my stories into screenplays. I’d do it myself, but screenwriting is different from book writing, and breaking into “movie writing” is even harder than breaking into traditional publishing. I’m comforted that I’m not the only slacker out here. Most traditionally published authors aren’t rushing around making their books into movies either. But on a more serious note, no one would turn one of my novels into film. My books are pro South and the hey-day of Randolph Scott and Gary Cooper doing battle with corrupt carpetbaggers and marauding Yankees passed with the 1950s. You want a film about the South made into a movie, present the South in a bad light or one where we see the “evil of our ways.”

No, good books, like old soldiers, just “fade away” or become legend based on word of mouth and a readership that survives the ages.

I don’t think the blog poster’s findings surprised many of us authors, traditionally published or otherwise. We know the value of mass media, we know who gets it and we understand why, and we know we’d all love to have it—and most of us who’ve been around a little while know we never will. I was a little surprised, however, at his pooh-poohing our use of the internet. I think, from his context, he believes we’re looking for pie-in-the-sky, hundreds of thousands of sales in a month, but I’m not developing an internet presence under the deluded belief that Twitter or Facebook or this blog will serve as a substitute for mass media attention. I’m using social networking for just that: social networking. I’m looking for my readership.

Do any of you authors out there remember that pitch technique that evolved a number of years ago—a one liner that compares, then meshes your book with two familiar things to help an editor, agent, or even a reader understand what your story is about (i.e. “Alice in Wonderland meets Starwars”)?  Now does that give you some idea of what the prospective story is about? Me neither, but the technique was all the rage. Maybe it still is—I’m out of the pitching business. But I digress.

Regardless of my thoughts on the technique, I did give the description of my work some thought, and I now liken my work to a cross between the romance, adventure, and happily-ever-after of Zane Grey’s westerns and the dark beauty, violence, and glory of Frank Yerby’s Old South.

The Zane Greys and Frank Yerbys of this world are no longer desired by traditional publishers. They’re not deemed popular with the majority of book buyers and are therefore a bad investment. I get that. But there is a readership for those kinds of books, and there always will be. A niche if you will, one big enough to satisfy a tiny publishing house with a practical print run and books in digital format. That’s why I’m focusing on my social networking. I’m looking for that niche. And I do believe that once I’ve found those readers, I will sell more books than I’m selling now. Oh duh!

Thanks for reading,


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