It’s common for me to read a headline or social media post from someone positing things like:
- “Now that everyone is sending a newsletter, inboxes have reached a breaking point. If you are a writer, don’t bother starting one.”
- “With the podcast renaissance that started in 2012, we have now passed the peak of the podcast wave. They are simply less effective than they once were to promote a book, the marketplace is too crowded, and most people listen to the same huge podcasts that would be near impossible for you to be featured on.”
- “Everyone I know has left _____ social network. It’s not what it once was, I can’t recommend you use it anymore. I’ve left it myself.”
- “People are tired of Zoom, nobody wants to do online events anymore.”
These headlines will often be accompanied by some compelling data. “Did you know that the global newsletter unsubscribe rate is now 43%, the highest it’s been in 15 years?” Or “With 300,000 new bot accounts being created each day, one has to wonder, how on earth would you stand out on social media?”
All the stats and specific quotes above were totally made up by me, by the way, just to make a point. They sound compelling, right? Maybe as if, in your gut, they feel true. That social media has changed. That podcasts aren’t what they once were. That there are too many newsletters, and nobody likes email anyway. That Zoom was a fad.
If you are someone who writes or creates, without these channels, how will your work reach people? I’m asking seriously. Because every additional answer has the same logical response of also being “over and done” or “too crowded,” such as:
- Print media (rapid decline in the past 5-10 years?)
- Radio (overtaken by streaming media?)
- TV (a fractured audience now that they compete with unlimited streaming channels dividing people’s attention?)
- In-person events at bookstores (“I heard no one goes to events anymore. I saw a Tweet about an author where only 2 people showed up.”)
- Advertising (“I’m tired of ads, and honestly, I think everyone is.”)
- Offline Retailers (“Stores won’t carry a book unless the author is famous or has a solid track record of thousands of sales.”)
- Online Retailers (“I heard 2,700 new books are published every day. How will I stand out on Amazon?”)
Again, the data/quotes above are made up, but I’ve heard similar reasoning over the years.
In some ways, it is rational and logical to feel that nothing works anymore. But to me, this is a totally freeing concept. Instead of fretting, “What is the exact right place to share about my book?!” you can instead stop worrying about trends. You can just share in a manner that feels reasonable and approachable to you.
I spend my days helping writers share their work and engage with readers. And what I see are counterexamples to every statement proclaiming a certain channel is no longer relevant. Let’s explore one: “social media doesn’t work to promote books.”
I want to share the story of one social media post that seems to have changed the trajectory of a writer’s career in a very positive way. If you have been online at all in the last week, I imagine you may have heard a version of this story already: first-time author Chelsea Banning posted a Tweet about how only 2 people showed up to a book signing, and then famous authors such as Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Min Jin Lee and others responded. Her Tweet went viral.
Chelsea has been sharing the outcomes of this, and it’s really incredible. What she and her books have been experiencing since that December 4th Tweet:
- Obviously: receiving validation and a direct message from famous authors is just amazing.
- Lots of media featuring her or wanting to interview her, including NPR, Washington Post, The Guardian, People, Kirkus, CBS, CNN, and others. She even shared: “Ok, I’m getting emails for podcast and radio shows and how do I tell which one are legit or not? Help! Is there a certain I should go about this?”
- Book sales! After the Tweet she shared: “reporting 474 digital copies of my book sold so far in the last couple days. YOU ARE ALL SO AMAZING THANK YOU SO MUCH.” Also you can find Tweets like this from readers: “I shared your post the other day and my friend bought a copy right away.” She also sold out of her own personal stock of books that she was signing and has to order more.
- Book reviews. Here is one on Amazon that illustrates how the Tweet lead to a reader: “I just saw a tv news article about no one showing up at the author’s first book signing, and since I had my laptop on my lap, I logged in to Amazon and looked at the sample first few pages. (I do love that Amazon enables one to take a first look.) The first paragraph pulled me right in, I downloaded it, and I know what I’m doing for the rest of today. I don’t think she really needs to sit in bookstores to sell this book.”
- Bestseller rankings and Amazon algorithms: because people bought the book after the Tweet, this moved the book up into Amazon’s lists and algorithm. At the time of writing this, she is currently “Best Sellers Rank: #615 in Books,
#3 in Arthurian Fantasy,
#5 in Folklore,
#6 in Historical Fantasy”
- Publisher interest: she self published this book, and then after the Tweet said: “I’m starting to get requests from pub houses. I’ve gotten one from Italy and one from Germany. Um. Help? Should I query for an agent now? Since I’m already (self) published, how does this work now?“
- A library in Kansas Tweeted that they now have Chelsea’s book on order, after they read about her Tweet going viral.
- Followers and subscribers. She now has 12,700 followers on Twitter. I don’t remember how many she had before this viral Tweet, but it was much less. She has also been encouraging people to subscribe to her email newsletter, which I imagine has seen dramatic growth.
- General awareness and SEO: Google her name or search for it on social media, and you will find so much now. One person shared: “Yep, here from Reddit. 27 thousand people up voted the post about you and about how some authors replied to ya.”
- A deep sense of personal fulfillment. When her book hit #1 in the Arthurian Fantasy category on Amazon after the Tweet went viral, she shared: “YA’LL YOU DID THIS!!! 😭😭😭😭 You made my lonely 14 year old day dreamer’s dream come true! I used to get a trouble in class for writing this story instead of paying attention and omg!!“
- A sense of connection to a supportive community and other human beings. She shared after things went viral: “I love the writing community so much.”
Are there many serious problems and concerns with social media? Yes. Does social media still “work” in the way we hope sometimes: that it connects writing and art to readers in a compelling manner, and can make a writer feel validated and successful too? Yes to that as well.
It’s difficult to know which path to take to share your writing and feel a part of a community of readers. Are newsletters, podcasts, and social media too crowded? Maybe. Does that mean you should ignore them? That’s for you to decide. But if you do, determine where you will put your energy to connect with readers instead. Find that path that is right for you. I encourage you to do a few things:
- Don’t worry if you read a headline or compelling statement from someone that some specific channel or marketing tactic is dead. I’ve sent out a weekly email newsletter for 15 years. I imagine I’ll do so for 15 more, even if newsletter become passé.
- Experiment. This week I was talking with a writer about Chelsea Tweet, and the writer mentioned that if only 2 people showed up to an event, they likely never would have posted about it on social media. Which is fine! Choose what works for you. But it’s a good lesson that we never know what will work in terms of capturing people’s attention around our creative work.
- Develop a plan so you don’t always feel like you are making up a strategy to share your writing day-by-day. If you don’t know where to begin, take a look at my Creative Success Pyramid or Human-Centered Marketing ethos.
Maybe you are reading this and thinking, “Dan, this is a one in a million feel good story. That’s great for Chelsea, but the odds of this happening to me are near impossible.” But if you look at some of the other Tweets Chelsea has been sharing recently, promoting the books of other authors, trying to give them attention. This, of course, is a power that you have too. To uplift others.