Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How's Social Media Working for You?

by Matt Sinclair

This past weekend, I attended a nonfiction agent panel conducted by the New York Writers’ Workshop. These panels are done in coordination with the organization’s pitch weekends, where writers learn how to and then pitch their manuscripts directly to editors, which sounds like a great program, though I’ve not done it myself.

I've attended these panels before-- both for nonfiction and fiction-- and met several different agents, many of whom are household names in the households of aspiring authors. This time, the agents on the panel were Peter Rubie, CEO of Fine Print Literary Management; Katherine Fausset, an agent with Curtis Brown; Rita Rosenkranz head of the Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency; and Richard Florest, an agent with Rob Weisbach Creative Management.

The panels are great opportunities for writers in the NY area to get a sense of what these agents are looking for, and as Fausset said, you can slide mention of these workshops in your query letter as a small demonstration of your dedication to the craft and to answer the question about why you’re pitching your manuscript or proposal to the specific agent.

To be honest, this particular panel reiterated a lot of the basics that most of us have heard before, and I’m not going to go over them point-by-point. The good news is nonfiction is currently a strong market for writers, especially if you have built a strong platform. One tidbit I found particularly interesting that I wanted to share here: If you can show that your self-published book -- fiction or nonfiction -- sold at least 5,000 copies, your ability to succeed in an agent’s eyes goes up significantly. Of course, 10,000 is better, and they’re not saying that they’re going to rep that specific book that you self-pubbed, but they’d be willing to hear your pitch for the next book. But if your first book still had an audience to meet, then maybe they would pick it up. It’s not common, but it happens.

I also enjoyed the discussion of “community,” in other words, your reach on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. But, as Rubie said, “No one knows yet how social media translates to sales.”

I spoke with Rubie after the panel and he explained that there really are no metrics to determine what a strong community means in terms of sales. Part of the problem is that things are changing so quickly that the value of something as a measuring tool is ephemeral. Basically, what worked last summer might have run its course by Thanksgiving. Moreover, followers don't translate to product moving out the door. You might have 1500 Twitter followers, for example, but it’s entirely possible that fewer than ten of them will buy your book.

To be honest, I'm starting to wonder if I, and most writers without major marketing teams behind them, are approaching social media the right way. I know Twitter is a great way to develop conversations with your audience, but I'm not sure it sells books. Facebook? I've found it invaluable to rebuilding friendships with those I went to school with. And I've met writers I wouldn't have met otherwise. I might even have sold a book or two, but probably not a lot of them. My blog? Let's just say it is in the midst of a rethink.

Although the panel didn’t discuss this, it reminded me of the concept of “influencers,” which is a term used in advertising about the specific word-of-mouth folks who can really change people’s minds (Oprah being the most often-cited example, back when she still had a ratings-dominant television show.) Not everyone’s Oprah. But you probably have an influencer or two in your lists of followers. If you are the type of person who understands how to drill down into your twitter and Facebook following data, if you can quantify your audience that way, you might be able to drive home the potential audience for your book to an agent. More power to you. In fact, if you know how to do that well, I might want to chat with you…

Indeed, I'd like to hear from you on a few things. How is social media working for you? Do you have any real metrics for how it's helping you build your audience? Or do you use it for other purposes?

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which earlier this year published a short story anthology called Spring Fevers, available through Smashwords, Amazon, and in print via CreateSpace. EBP's latest anthology, The Fall, will be released in late October. Both anthologies include stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette; R.C. Lewis and Jean Oram also have stories that will be in The Fall. Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68
 

17 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm not published, so I can't answer that question. But the books I buy come from the recommendation of the friends I've made through blogging. Sooooo, if it weren't for ME blogging, those authors would have sold one less book. lol

Matt Sinclair said...

I think that's entirely valid. I think we writers need to keep track of these types of things as best we can, since we only have so much time, so much energy and must spend it wisely. We already need to keep writing, after all!

Sophie Perinot said...

Thoughtful post Matt. I think you are right about influencers. I tweet cause I like to tweet. I facebook to see my friends. Yes, my FB page that is actually for my book (as opposed to my personal page) has connected me with some fantastic (and devoted) readers, but does it bump sales? Probably not by much. On the other hand, appearances on the blogs of "taste-makers" in my genre--I can see the effect and see it pretty immediately.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Lit. I think the fact that you enjoy tweeting comes through, and in effect, that will help you build an audience, which is vital. But an audience and sales are not a one-to-one ratio. I think a lot of writers forget or don't realize that. Other writers are less concerned about sales because they don't expect to make money, which also is fine. But if we buy into the system of feeding each other (publishers and agents make money off writers whose books sell, etc.) then we need to understand what accomplishes what.

Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks for your comment, Richard. I think we also need to all define for ourselves what "success" is. Is it sales? Is it community-building? Is it a number of followers? It's differnt for all of us.

Jean Oram said...

One thing to mention on the 5000 copies bit--I've heard agents say that they want those 5000 copies to be copies SOLD, not a freebie thing.

As for social media, I like it for networking and support. I think it helps me spread the word about posts on my blogs. If you can gain readers (not just people popping over to your blog/site for a one-time deal) I think it increases your chances of a sale. BUT you need to use your blog or website to convert those readers into buyers. That is the real job of your blog or site if you are trying to sell people a product or build your email list, or what-have-you. Social media is a way to spread the word and draw people back to your selling base. You have to provide value though. (It can't be all ME-ME-ME!!!) I don't think you are going to make many sales directly off of social media. At least not in the way the majority of people use it.

That's my two cents.

Matt Sinclair said...

Yes, Jean, you're absolutely right on both counts. I did say "sold" in the post, and I wondered whether I should emphasize that we're talking actual sales, not author copies given to friends or even the freebies as a contest prize. Sales that can be tracked to the ISBN. Your comment on the social media is also right on target, in my opinion. It's not a "if you build it, they will buy" equation. Social media are tools, but sometimes the tool you need is to sit on an authors panel rather than to tweet. Different tools for different goals.

Jean Oram said...

I think it probably depends on the audience as well, Matt. Some audiences are more likely to click and buy on a whim than others--they may need to see the whites of the author's eyes first (like on a panel).

Paul Dillon said...

I think social media has more impact for non-fiction authors. Fiction is notoriously difficult to market and, from what I’ve seen, even quality bloggers with a high number of unique visitors often don’t appear to sell many fiction books. It takes a whole lot of effort to build up, say, a 15k+ unique visitor blog. I’m not saying social media is a waste of time; it’s not, but a fiction writer’s time would be better spent focusing on the next book and keeping social media time strictly budgeted.

Jessica L. Foster said...

For me, social media is a way of making writer friends. It's a way to find people who can help me and people who I can help.

LD Masterson said...

I'm not published yet so I'm talking theory but I have noticed author-bloggers tend to get into groups where everyone is very supportive of each other, promoting each other's latest release, etc. But once the new book has made the rounds in that little circle (or for some, that good sized circle), everyone moves on to promoting the next new release. I know I do a lot more congratulating than buying. I simply can't support every blog friend with a purchase.

Matt Sinclair said...

@paul an interesting comment on nonfiction. Most nonfiction writers need to have a strong platform to convince an agent and publisher that there's an audience for a book. Twitter and frequent (constant?) blogging and responding to comments on other blogs in a person's field of expertise are excellent tools for building a platform. They're not the whole tool box, of course. I think they should also be part of the fiction writer's tool box, but they're not always the best tool for certain tasks.

Matt Sinclair said...

@Jessica Yes, it's excellent for that. I'd say that's a perfect example of having the right tool for the job.

@LD I've seen the same thing and continue to see it. That's where the value of an appropriate marketer and publicist come in, and frankly, most of us without major publishers behind us -- and even some of those who have strong backing -- can't afford to hire that type of help. I believe most writers -- fiction and nonfiction -- need to get some of those skills into their personal toolboxes too and hone them. We don't need to know how to run a national marketing campaign, but we should all have a template for a press release, for example.

Jemi Fraser said...

Intriguing post. I started up a blog and joined twitter in order to learn the ropes of being an author & to find out about the publishing world. In those ways, it's been very successful for me. I feel I'm almost ready to have my stories head out into the real world, so now I need to rethink how I do things as my purpose will be changing a bit. So I have no data at this point, but maybe in a year or so I will! :)

Matt Sinclair said...

@jemi maybe we can do a follow-up months down the road.

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