Friday, May 20, 2011

An Online Presence

The other day I did something SHOCKING and STRANGE.

I bought a book.

"That's not shocking and strange!" you might exclaim.

Well, true. It's not. Especially for me. But here's the kicker: I bought a book written by an author I had never heard of. This author had NO blog, NO Twitter, NO Facebook. NOTHING.



Does your face look like that when I say I bought a book from someone with no online presence?

Probably not.

Because chances are, you have, too.

How many times have you gone into a bookstore or logged onto Amazon and just picked up a book not for the author's name, but because the book looked interested? Most people buy books that way.

I bring this up because I was lurking in the background of a YALitChat recently, and saw several people ask variations of the same question: how many followers do I need to have on my blog before an agent or publisher will notice me?

The answer to that question is simple: none.


Calm down. CALM DOWN. A blog, or Twitter, or Facebook are not a book. An agent will not sign you because of your blog. A publisher will not pay you an advance because of your online presence. They want a book.


"But!" some of you say, "But! They might want me more if I have a book and an online presence!"

Maybe. I can honestly say that I've bought some books only because I knew the author through her online presence first. And we all know of stories where someone was "discovered" because of her blog (or whatever). But chances are, that's not the reason why you'll be found. Sorry. But, statistically, MANY more writers are "discovered" because their book is good, not because of their online platform. (And wouldn't you rather be known as the writer with the amazing book, rather than the writer with the blog?)

You want a number? Okay, how about this: Hyperbole and a Half started out as a blog, and the author recently announced she had a book deal. This is a case where I'd be willing to bet money that the blog had an impact on the book deal. You want to know how many followers Hyperbole and a Half has? 52,555. Fifty-two thousand, five hundred and fifty five. So, sure. Get that many followers and you've something significant.


(Honestly, though? Hyperbole and a Half still doesn't have a book deal because she has over 50k followers on her blog. She has a book deal for the same reason she has over 50k followers: because her work is effing hilarious.)

Long story short? Numbers don't matter.


Think about the analogy I gave above. Think about yourself when you go into a bookstore. Don't you usually buy a book because the book looks good, not because you know the author online?

Yes, online social media can help. But you should do it because you like it, and you should do it in such a way that writing always comes first. You never have to apologize for not being a good blogger, or for not even having a blog. In the end, never forget: the book sells the book. Not the online media. And for you aspiring authors, the same principle applies: your book will land you an agent and a book deal. Not your blog.

29 comments:

Gennifer Albin said...

I agree. Social networking can be a time suck, so I took a 4 month break and finished my book, and now I'm happily posting again. But I have to put limits on the time I spend reading blogs and tweeting!

~Enamored Soul~ said...

Wow, I love this post. My first YALitChat discussion, I brought up the same thing, and was attacked by many aspiring authors querying - they said that some publishers asked them about such numbers, and that I didn't know anything. And I am sure they are right, but I am also sure that if the content of your manuscript speaks for itself, then a publisher has no reason to worry about how to publicize it, or how to get the world out. Social media helps...but it's not the ENTIRE game. At least I, for one, cannot believe that.

Kathryn said...

Such good advice. Social networking is no doubt important, but it's shouldn't be a crutch. Enjoy your new book!

Tracy Loewer said...

So true! I rarely go into a bookstore looking for a particular book/author. Part of the fun is browsing around to see what I can find - it's like a treasure hunt. Most of the time when I find an interesting book at the store (and I love it), I go home and see if the author is online. It's definitely not necessary, but the fangirl in me is always disappointed when they don't have that presence.

Liza said...

"You should do it because you like it."
That's the best reason to do anything. No one told me to start writing a blog or twitter. I did that for me. The result? The camaraderie that I found in the writing community has helped me stay focused on my writing goals. Because of that, I find social networking invaluable.
My two cents: If social networking supports The Writing, either through a sense of community or accountability or whatever, AND you have fun doing it, then of course why not have an online presence. But, if it distracts from The Writing for one reason or the other (you hate it, it's too time consuming, etc), then definitely it's doing more harm than good. Besides, when someone is not having fun on social networks and is just going through the motions, it's painfully obvious and again is probably doing more harm than good.

Cathy Keaton said...

I always pretty much buy books based on either word-of-mouth or because the book's premise is interesting to me (a good cover helps, too). It is so rarely because I found that author's blog and started following it, or follow them on Twitter.

I honestly think people who emphasize having a strong online presence are forgetting how authors have for centuries managed to become best-selling authors without any online presence whatsoever. However did Jane Austen do it without Twitter & Facebook? Lol.

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

YES!!! Everybody gets SO SO SO hung up on how many followers they must have or posting EVERY.SINGLE.DAY! And in the end it doesn't have much to do with getting an agent or selling your book--or even necessarily reaching your target audience--a lot of people following writers blogs before their book is out are just other writers. Im almost certain my agent didn't even check my blog before signing me--she thought I was much older before we chatted on the phone. She loved my book--that was all that mattered. I do happen to love social networking and find it fun. But when I have nothing to say, I don't worry about it. Because it does not make or break you.

KM said...

OMG I LOVE Hyperbole and A Half! And I will be one of the first people in line to buy her book on release day. :)

I totally agree that sometimes we as aspiring writers forget the most important part about networking: that we're doing it because we want to WRITE. A lot of times, we worry about how many followers we have and not about how our actual book is coming along. At least, I'm guilty of it, anyway :)

Pam said...

This is a great post. When I buy books for me I go into a store and browse the synopsis. I have always said authors shouldn't be forced to go online if they do not want to. It's not going to make for great promo if the author is a technophobe or has no wish to be there socializing. I do think however it is the publisher's responsibility to have a information dump of a book site so fans can at least search for them and get a page with their books and synopsis on it.

Chris Phillips said...

So what you saying... If I'm getting this right... is that I only need 52,244 more followers and I will have a book deal?!? Sweet!

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

SO true. I blog because I love it. Some of the best writer friends I've found (and my CPs) I met through blogging. And it's a fun place where I can ramble and be silly about irreverent things. But that's pretty much all I expect to get from it. The rest comes down to WRITING.

Josin L. McQuein said...

It amazes me how often writers go searching for something other than their writing that will open the door for their... writing

If you don't think your writing can stand on its own, then why should anyone bother to pay you for it?

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great post, and so true! It doesn't matter how many twitter, facebook, or blog followers you have. You've got to have a book to sell. Period.

Kae said...

I completely concur. : ) I think that if you're blogging/tweeting for any reason other than becoming a part of the community, and sharing thoughts, then you're doing social networking for the wrong reasons. A 'platform' should only come when you have a leg to stand on - which, for most people, comes after they've found success in the 'real world'. Not the other way around.

Until then, the most important thing is to have fun with it! Not worry about it.

And personally, most of my favourite books came from authors who are - or were - social networkingly insignificant. It's all about the stories. : )

I'm Just Sayin said...

Nice post. I completely agree. And I think it's only good to have an online prescense if you really love doing it. Otherwise, people aren't going to read what you have to say and it's not doing you good anyway, right?

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of the opinions here. It's all about the writing.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

So true, Beth! Great post. :-)

Miriam Forster said...

Yes. This.


And on that note....*cough* Have you stopped by my blog lately? :)

http://msforster.blogspot.com/2011/05/ahhh-we-sold-book.html

HWPetty said...

I was just thinking what a horrible disservice it would be to a writer to get a book deal based only on their online popularity. That book is DESTINED to fail, if it's not good enough.

Having a presence online is great, because it can lead to people picking up your book who might not have otherwise. It can also be an encouragement to hang out with other writers online. But the BOOK is always the thing.

Speed Reader said...

Thanks, that's a very interesting article!

I'm not an aspiring author, just an avid reader. And as a reader, I do go online after finishing most books to see if I can find out more about the author .... Has s/he written other books that are already published? Are there new books coming out? When? What are they about? Is there any bonus material or extras related to the book that is posted online (like deleted scenes, etc.). All the other stuff (blog, twitter, FB, etc) is hit or miss as to whether I keep up with it.

Gregory K. said...

Oooh! Oooh! I get to be the first person to say "welllll, good post BUT...." Look, there's no question people succeed all the time without an online presence. That, however, has nothing to do with people who succeed because of or with the help of their online presence... something else that happens all the time (more so outside of the children's/YA space so far). We don't have to diminish one approach to say another one is valid. They are separate arguments.

You are totally correct that numbers don't matter in the absolute. Presence, however, can matter: I know writers signed by agents because of their blogs, an author who sold foreign rights because of Twitter and another because of a blog post, and I am an author who got a book deal in part because of a blog post going viral (when I had next to no "followers"). There are too many success stories like this to count or to ignore.

We'd all like to believe that it's all about the book. But it's not and never has been. We all know of fabulous books that did. not. sell. We know of "crappy" books that did. Marketing, word-of-mouth, luck, and so much more plays into the sales of a book (and sometimes into the publication of a book). It's certainly not all controllable by an online presence, but that is one thing that can, as you note, help. It surely isn't required, but since it CAN make a difference in every part of the publishing equation, if an author (aspiring or otherwise) thinks their blog can make open doors/create sales/create opportunity, they may in fact be completely right. That doesn't mean you have to have one. That's a different position entirely.

There's a happy medium... and CALM DOWN is great advice on all sides. And while I don't think "the book" is the key to sales by itself, there's one thing I'm totally sure of: if there is no "the book," a huge platform has nothing to help. So that does mean, in the end, the writing needs to be the focus... at least for awhile :-)

beth said...

Good point, Gregory!

Certainly an online presence can help; I was thinking more along the terms of people who think there's a formula for success, and think that a certain # of followers (in whatever media) will be the golden ticket to publication. Certainly, online media can help--as others have pointed out, through networking, and as you yourself pointed out through things like going viral, connections, etc.--but even so, those situations are much more about content than quantity. By which I mean, even in an online social media platform, the content was what you create has a greater chance of success that having a certain # of followers. Your example of a blog post going viral despite not having followers is exactly what I mean :)

Gregory K. said...

Indeed, we agree on that. And here's a great post by Seth Godin that shows visually how it's not about the big numbers.

G.P. Andreas said...

I have to say that I have never, ever, ever... bought a book because of an authors online presence, simply because I don't care if they are online or not. Frankly, I don't care much at all about what they do blog-wise follower-wise or anything-else-wise as long as I like their writing. I go into a bookstore and read the inside jacket or the back, look to see if they have a series etc.. and go from there. Other than that all my other reads are generally referrals. Thanks for allowing me to rant!

Jamie said...

Amen Sista!~

(Although-- randomly my platform building DID land me a sweet marketing job in social media... but that was SUCH a coincidence.)

Miriam Forster said...

Okay, now that I'm more awake, a for reals comment this time. :)

I love this point. The Internet spits out a lot of random numbers that can mess with a writer's head: Blog followers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, Google Analytics, hit counters, RSS feed...

And it gets worse after you're published, with Amazon rankings and Bookscan numbers and Goodreads reviews. It's really easy to become numbers obsessed.

Learning to ignore all those random contextless numbers is good practice for anyone. Numbers don't define us. Words define us.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post. Most kids don't read our blogs or tweets sadly and find books through word of mouth and going to the bookstore like you do.

It's important to keep the social networking in perspective. Now if you could just control me so I limit my time doing it.

Ricki Schultz said...

I gave a talk about online presence at a conference in Georgia last weekend and directed them here, actually -- and I hope some of the folks see this post! Yes, while while it can be important, it's only part of the whole.

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