Is Twitter relevant for me as a reader? I mean, I know I’ve been told a million times how critical it is to me as an author, but how about as a consumer of books, as opposed to a shameless self-promotion machine?

Another fair question is, to what extent does Twitter help me, versus suck my time and my will to live?

The answer to the first question is easy. Of the 15 or so books on my kindle that are currently unread, I’ve heard about 100% of them from Twitter. Now, that may well be it’s because I spend what small amount of free time I have, when not writing, on Twitter, thus I am what I eat. Having said that, Twitter has been undeniably important to my reading habits, and I’ve discovered several good authors I would never have encountered had it not been for their tweets.

How about as an author?

I’ve been told by my marketing guru friends that I shouldn’t be tweeting more than a couple of times a day. I’ve been told that posting repetitive tweets hawking my books is annoying, and the mark of a rank amateur – which I cheerfully confess to being. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a book marketing guru, and I can honestly say that if you ask 10 folks who have done well on the indie author circuit, all 10 will give you a different answer to the question of how much to tweet, what kinds of tweets to put out, how much to retweet, etc. etc.

Here’s what I’ve concluded.

First, I think that the social networking thing is evolving so quickly that it’s almost impossible to stay current on what actually works. Because what worked last week might not work this week. And because nobody seems to have any idea as to what will work next. As an example, we’ve all read the self-help tomes advising us to write a heart-warming, seemingly sincere blog that will then go viral, propelling us to success. Except that hasn’t happened. To anyone. Not a single person I can think of. Or know of. Or have heard of. If I’m missing someone in the last eight months who followed that counsel, please leave a comment and point me in their direction. Because I don’t know of them. Which leads me to conclude that trying to do so is probably right up there with the following the advice, “Start a burger restaurant selling cheap, mediocre crap, and then build them all over the world, and brand them with a cute cartoonish character – and you’ll be rich!”

In other words, I am of the opinion that those helpful tomes advising you on how to spend ever-larger amounts of your limited time on “going viral” are of questionable value. Or no value. As in, nobody has been able to achieve success following the formula, ergo the formula isn’t what made the author successful. Seems straightforward to me. If I publish a tome advising that dogs barking causes cancer, because my dog barks a lot at the mailman and he got cancer, then the test would be to check for other examples of that causal effect. Which has led me to be a big party-pooping buzz kill on social media, in general, and the hours spent working it versus the reward seen from the work. I have read the books on establishing a brand, and building a following, and Facebooking and Tweeting and everything else, and have applied myself with singular diligence. But I have no idea if any of it matters.

If one clocks the number of hours one would have to be on the various platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Triberr, etc. etc. etc.) one would quickly conclude that being a piece worker in a Malaysian sweat shop pays better on an hourly basis. So yes, I think you can reach people, but it’s a question of effort versus return. I could also reach a certain penetration rate if I stood at the beach and handed out cheerfully-colored 10 page excerpts of my work. I’m quite sure if I did so 15 hours a day, my penetration rate would increase, at least in an absolute sense – I’d see more readers giving it a whirl over their margaritas, the more hours I stood there. But that doesn’t mean it would be a good idea to do it.

I guess I’m questioning the usefulness of posting dozens of tweets per day. The salesman in me understands that frequency is key, but the marketer in me understands that sales and marketing are after different goals – sales cares about selling today, marketing is about positioning my brand (if bitter, old, cynical, clown-hating alcoholic misanthropes are a brand).

I think I’m going to try something in the next few days. I am thinking I’ll just stop tweeting for three or four days, and see what happens. If sales plummet, then I will know that Twitter is critical to broadening my reach and spreading the good news of Russ. If sales stay flat or increase, it will give me at least anecdotal evidence that it doesn’t much matter, and I would be better off throwing a tweet out every so often, and leaving it at that. I honestly have no idea which it will be. But I am interested in finding out, because as far as I can see, social media is consuming a large percentage of my time, which means I’m not writing, or living, when I’m doing it. So a part of me really wants it to not much matter, and just be yet another folksy truism that turns out utterly false.

I’ll let everyone know how it goes.

As always, it’s a great experiment.Ironically, I will be depending upon Twitter to spread the word about this blog. The circular futility of the act is not lost on me, but I can still laugh about it, so hey, at least I have that.

On other news, I am plowing through the edits on my next book, The Voynich Cypher, which has turned out much better than I’d dared hope. It will be somewhat of a departure for me – more of a pure suspense/adventure book than a conspiracy thriller. Hopefully it will be warmly embraced by young and old, rich and poor, male and female, black, white, brown, yellow, or of whatever orientation – religious, political or any other differentiating metric you like – and will be a mega hit, enabling me to infuriate my critics as well as the angry throng of clowns that continues to congregate on my front lawn once I’ve had a few pops to take the edge off (and don’t tell me we haven’t all been there). Alternatively, maybe a few people will think it’s a good book, in which case I’ll probably write another.

That’s all I have for today, folks. Kindly comment, if you feel a need to vent. Or don’t, and instead Tweet something. I’m sure I’ll see it amidst the thousands of messages that fly by every hour…

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Comments

  1. Thu 09th Feb 2012 at 7:53 pm

    I think your conclusions are sound, Russell. As an indie publisher with several authors’ works to promote and build, we’re constantly looking for the most effective tools. There is value in social media interaction, but I believe it’s ultimately about maintaining relationships with your existing readers, not with directly selling to those readers in the first place.

    Let’s face it, when everyone is doing it, and we’re all suffering a constant barrage of electronic communications screaming (directly or indirectly), “Buy me!”, we just tune it all out at some point.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 09th Feb 2012 at 8:47 pm

      That’s my ultimate take. There’s probably some benefit to keeping your name in front of folks, but at what cost? Hours of your day? Pissing them off because they tune out or feel like they’re being spammed?

      Although on this I’m torn, as I confess I do buy books I’ve seen tweeted to me, maybe for the 500th time. So I’m guilty of it working on me, even though I instinctively and intellectually dislike becoming a spam bot.

      I think in the end, there’s probably some finely tuned mix, but it will change before you get it right – because we’re all evolving real time, thus yesterday’s techniques aren’t going to necessarily work today or tomorrow. It’s frustrating, but I have to believe it’s the same for trad pub midlist authors as well. How do you grab readers so they give your product a whirl? I’ve spent money on ads (to zero effect), given away free books (to positive overall effect, with two free right now), been interviewed dozens of times, blogged like there’s no tomorrow, Facebooked, etc. etc. My solution is not to go all Luddite on your ass, but rather to question the effectiveness of what I’m doing, and like a good skeptic, to always demand proof, even from myself. So I continue to experiment. I’m skeptical that most of the techniques advocated as last year, or the year before’s wisdom, are effective today (if they ever were). Maybe it’s just me. One thing I do know is that without readers, you may be a writer, but you won’t be a very happy one. Thus the quest continues.

      I have to say it would be huge relief to be able to just tweet a few times a day. I’m really rooting for that option. I’ll keep everyone posted.

      Reply
  2. yoon
    Thu 09th Feb 2012 at 10:28 pm

    I don’t know if you want to hear from the buyer’s point of view, but since you put this topic out in the interwebz, here it goes.

    I’ve been on twitter for 4 years (“deleted” facebook account and don’t get on G+ much). I don’t tweet much. I’m not trying to sell or promote anything. I’m there for news, info, deals, laughing at funny tweets, keeping tabs on my friends and reading what people like you have to say. People like “you” in this case the author of a book I read and liked. So for me, constant hawking of your products does squat. When I started stalking you on twitter, I listed you on my authors list and books list. But then whenever I looked at the tweets from the members of that list, your tweets were taking up so much space, I had to take you out of those lists. Most of your tweets are advertisement, and I kind of learned to tune out those tweets. I’m not saying you shouldn’t because it’s the way you chose to use twitter and if I didn’t like it, I could always unfollow you. It’s my choice to follow you since I also like the second book of yours I’m reading now and when you do choose to tweet something other than promoting your books, I’d be interested in what you’d have to say.

    In my opinion, it’s better to get people to follow you and get interested in you by tweeting something witty or funny or completely meaninglessly stupid (for example, @robdelaney, @BorowitzReport, @BigBenClock) and promote your products once in a while. Otherwise it’s like a TV channel that only contains infomercials.

    As for the successful blogs, maybe Dooce and TheBlogess?

    Sorry for the long ramblings. I’m not a writer as you can see.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 10th Feb 2012 at 12:19 am

      My instinct is consistent with yours as a reader. Because I’m also a reader. So I get annoyed by the infomercials, but also have to confess I’ve bought books because of them. For the first seven months on Twitter, I killed myself to write 20 to 30 fresh, topical, funny tweets per day, while writing full time. But a funny thing happened. I stopped having a life, because between writing books, and social media, I was working from 7 am to midnight, seven days a week. So I started cycling through promotional tweets as advised. But in the end, it feels a little cheap and dishonest. So I want to see if it’s having an effect, or not. Because if not, I’d prefer to return to having a life and only interacting when I have something to say, as opposed to broadcasting news/book tweets hawking something. Then again, I hate most ads, and yet they work, so I may be working against myself on this. But in the end, I suppose doing self-pubbing as opposed to chasing a tradpub deal has a lot for me about doing things my way, versus buying into a machine.

      I just don’t want to become the machine I tried to avoid.

      Your input is always welcome. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answer. But I want to find out.

      Reply
      • yoon  –  Fri 10th Feb 2012 at 1:39 am

        I agree with you that ads work and that there is no right or wrong answer. And don’t get me into rambling about my history of buying stupid things because of ads. As I said, I use twitter to find deals if once in a blue moon I spot one among thousands of tweets, and obviously I’m not the only one. There probably are people who catch your tweets and get interested and buy your book. I wish you best of luck whichever way you go.

        Reply
  3. Thu 09th Feb 2012 at 10:30 pm

    I came to Twitter and other social media fairly recently, from a “promotional” standpoint. Like everyone else, I was told that you had to do it to “build your platform” or whatever. However, I agree with your thinking on how it appears to be largely ineffective.

    On the other hand, what Twitter has done for me has been something worth a great deal. I have found a lot of like-minded people – authors and otherwise – as well as had a lot of fun with them. I’ve also learned a lot from others who have gone before.

    So, I think your concept of Twitter being good for staying in touch with existing “fans” but maybe not so great for finding new ones might be correct.

    On another topic, you mentioned you’re currently working on a book entitled The Voynich Cypher. That sounds REALLY interesting! The Voynich Manuscript is one of those things in my list of ideas for story hooks and I’d love to see where you go with it! Looking forward to it!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 10th Feb 2012 at 12:24 am

      Afraid I beat you to it on Voynich. I found it fascinating, and I’m hoping that the finished product gets some traction. Although I will cheerfully admit that I didn’t attempt to build an entire novel around arcane speculations as to authorship or content. That would have been relatively obvious, but not the way my pea brain works. I just found the story of it fascinating, as well as author speculations, coupled with the way it’s stumped the best minds in cryptology for a century. I thought, hey, that’s a great backdrop. Hopefully the ensuing tome captures some imaginations. I can say with confidence it will piss off quite a few, as it’s controversial, to say the least. Then again, that seems to be my talent, so might as well do what you’re good at…

      Reply
      • Brandon Luffman  –  Sat 25th Feb 2012 at 11:04 pm

        LOL! Well, I look forward to seeing what you do with it!
        :-D

        Reply
  4. Caroline Gerardo
    Thu 09th Feb 2012 at 10:54 pm

    Oh Rhett whatever will I do? no monkeys clowns dogs chasing loose women harlots screaming for more snarky quips at ignoramousouses ? no guns no funny ?
    We all stop and see if the silence kills ‘em?
    I bet your sales remain the same.
    The concrete building blocks of your work can live on with a rest, just don’t go dark on us forever JohnBoy. hugs

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 10th Feb 2012 at 12:20 am

      As always, Caroline, you are a fresh, welcome addition to my universe.

      I guess we’ll see what we see, eh?

      Reply
  5. andy holloman
    Fri 10th Feb 2012 at 12:34 pm

    russ – couldn’t have said more snarkily myself…

    i’m on soc. media overload, but then i don’t have your reproductive success in birthing out titles so quickly…..so i would put the twist on your most intelligent argument that it truly DOES matter where one is in the process of building, the,,,,,,,you know……. ok, you know what i’m gonna say – PLATFORM (i kno, i kno, …i also loathe the word)

    i think we writers live in interesting times

    *cheers * (sound of shot glasses of tequila clinking)

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 11th Feb 2012 at 9:25 pm

      Agreed on building a platform. But the real question is, what makes readers buy your book, versus one of the million other books they could buy? Being good? There are lots of good books. Generations of them. Centuries, even. And now, with free books coming out of everyone’s ears, you don’t even have to pay to get a lot of them. The consumer wins, but I’m not sure that they ultimately do, because at some point the talented authors stop writing and do something else that pays better, leaving only the dross – I mean, poop is free, but I don’t eat it. Now my dogs…

      Reply
  6. Fri 10th Feb 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I’ve tried the stop tweeting thing and the beat goes on. However, then I find I’m missing my twitter friends and I stay up late at night to follow and converse with them.

    Yes, I’ve added many books to my Kindle, yours included, because of tweets. So I think it’s beneficial. On the other hand, do we need to tweet all the time? I don’t think so.

    That said, tweet when you feel like sharing with those of us who follow you. When you’re busy with your WIP, well, we’ll understand. Yes, you do need a life, now and then, and probably a fair amount of tequila too. Don’t we all? I write better drinking those Tequila Sunrises in the afternoons (not every afternoon, mind you) and Margaritas are great for inspiration too.

    Anyway, spend more time writing and living. When you decide to tweet, we’ll all be waiting for your irreverent words of wisdom.

    Reply
  7. Reinharden
    Sat 11th Feb 2012 at 7:14 pm

    The trick is getting other people to tweet about you. Of course, the hard part of that trick is actually make it happen.

    Anyway, one doesn’t “go viral” because one posted a million times. ;-)

    Yes, it’s kind of obvious, but it’s still true…

    reinharden

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 11th Feb 2012 at 7:29 pm

      I’m not sure that getting other people to tweet about you necessarily does the trick, either. I think the plain truth is that nobody has the faintest idea what will make the next big thing happen. Not the last big thing, which human nature begs to assign post hoc reasons to. But the next. If I had to put my money on it, I’d wager it won’t be for any reason any of the books have yet said. Meaning they are all relatively worthless as anything but well-intentioned advice from the juju man. “Rub these sticks together, spit there, turn around three times,” and so on. The problem is that a lot of all this depends on luck, of which being in the right place at the right time is a part. But that doesn’t satisfy our desire to believe we can control the process, and so we come up with all these processes by which we attempt to do that which can’t be done. I guess we’ll find out if tweeting is one of them.

      Reply
  8. Sun 12th Feb 2012 at 10:25 am

    My question is, who is buying those few books (few is the optimum word here) I am selling? Would the demographics reveal only other authors? We merrily purchase (or grab free) books from our twitter author friends because we want to support and be supported. That’s all fine and good, warm and fuzzy, and we go to bed with the notion that all is right in the world. Then we awake in the morning, hungry, digging for change to pay for the first cup of coffee, closing the afternoon with the last shot of tequila while calculating how many books we have to sell to pay for the next bottle, or the next bag of prime roast? Where is it getting us? I’ve got 50+ books stacked up on my Kindle, and a few real books on my bookshelf, that I don’t have time to read or properly review (my New Year resolution) because twittering and such has become so all-consuming. Don’t even ask me about my WIP. What WIP?

    Fortunately I do not need book sales to survive, though my retirement income is a tad slimmer than I’d like. Chances are, if I ceased all this silly writing altogether I’d have a few more dollars (less spent on internet, domains, hosting, computers, iPads, printers, ink, materials for book promotion, printing costs for those given away to family and close friends, author associated memberships & therapy) I’d probably have time to read and play, retire gracefully with my wife, travel, enjoy my grandchildren and maybe discover some of the joys of being a senior citizen.

    This is sounding better and better all the time. Think I’ll put my iPad aside and go nap on it.

    Reply
  9. Sun 12th Feb 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I’ve been pondering this very topic over the last few weeks and dare it to say, I have not come to any solid conclusion except to say I don’t know if it works or not. My ultimate goal with twitter was to try and drive some traffic to my blog where I could at least have more space than 140 characters to get my message accross or give a sample of my writing style, thus possibly attracting a few new readers. This I do know. If I stop tweeting about my blog, my web traffic falls to an abysmal number. Sales of books do not seem to sway one way or another. As a rookie author trying to hawk my single entry into the publishing world, I still only expect minimal sales until I build some type of folowing. Another book is just around the corner for me and then the third shortly after that. I believe by then I should have some idea of how all this social media plays into the business model. I’ve seen some statistics showing that only about 11% of sales can be attributed to any type of social media and that word of mouth, or the ‘viral’ thing will be what really makes your books take off. Still 11% is not a number to ignore, but to count on social media completely will probably be a mistake.

    I really liked what yoon said above as this type of open opinion is things I need to hear. If I’m tweeting the crap out of my book on amazon and only succeeding in annoying people, the ‘free’ advertising benefit is actually counter productive. Of the success stories I’ve read using social media, I believe some other component, mainly that the book or story is good, played a much bigger role than the actual amount of time spent shouting to the internet to buy my book. Somebody told a friend and then they told a friend and so on…

    Yoon also make a good point in that if you’re tweeting “Buy my book! Buy my book!” You’ll probably be ignored and become little more than white noise. I know I tend to skip over those types of tweets more than others. When I get on twitter and bash clowns or compare my stories to a taco dinner or anything that is unusual or funny, I sell more books. I spent the day a couple of weeks ago tweeting only humorous messages and did not tweet a single link to amazon or my blog. Sales were pretty good that day. I need to try this a few more times for it to be definitive, but it sure looks like being yourself seems to go over better with the readers more so than shoving it down their throats. Just my two cents. Keep these posts coming Russell. I learn something new on every one. Be well

    Rich

    Reply
  10. Napoleon
    Tue 14th Feb 2012 at 4:12 pm

    It is a shame that blogs likening your Mother to famous sporting figures hasn’t worked.
    I tried Mike Tyson, Diego Maradona, Michael Vick etc. None of it worked.

    Even political figures like Colonel Gaddafi and Stalin didn’t help.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 14th Feb 2012 at 4:32 pm

      Yes. And I was going to go the famous pedophile route, but Michael J and Pete T were over-exposed, no pun intended. So we do what we can. Perhaps I can find someone famous with a terminal illness I can express solidarity with? Either that, or put up more kitty snaps? All with complete sincerity, of course…

      Reply
  11. Thu 01st Mar 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Russ, I think you channeled me when you wrote this. Thanks for the post.

    Reply

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