Does Social Media Really Help With Success?

By JodyHedlund, @JodyHedlund

How much of a role does social media play in pushing a novelist toward success? Does a strong online presence equate strong sales? Do authors without blogs or twitter have less success? Or are there other factors that influence success more than social media?

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know I believe social media is important. It's critical in a lot of ways.

One, it allows us to develop a team of writers and readers who support us and promote our books, especially around a release. They can help create a lot of buzz.

Second, social media allows us to connect with our readers in a variety of formats. When they take the time to reach out to us through facebook or twitter, we can be there to interact (just like we would at a book signing or other event).

And third, for those who are self-publishing, a strong web presence is even more important in spreading book buzz (although with the overwhelming numbers of writers now self-publishing, I'm beginning to wonder how anyone can be heard above the clamor—but that's the makings of another post on another day.)

Yes, social media is vital to the modern author on many levels. I'm not arguing that.

But, in all the social media hype over the past couple years, have we elevated its importance too high? Does social media really give a boost to an author's sales, land them on best seller lists, get them bigger publishing deals, or turn them into national celebrities?

After several years and several books, I've decided that even though my social media presence is fairly strong, it has NOT been the most significant factor in my success.

In fact, I've done an informal comparison with another author friend who started publishing about the same time I did. We're both in approximately the same spots in our careers. Same genre. Same publisher. Same high quality of editing and cover development. Same overall marketing. Same general audience.

We have a lot in common.

But our approaches to social media have been different.

This friend decided she wasn't going to have a blog or get on twitter. She maintains a website and personal facebook account. But beyond that she limits herself.

On the other hand, I do just about every social media out there. Through consistent hard work and determination, I've been able to build significant followings on most of my sites. I've made a large number of genuine, wonderful connections as a result of social media.

If social media makes a big difference, then you'd think my sales and my success would be significantly higher than that of my fellow author since I have a large web presence.

But the truth is that my friend and I are very comparable. In fact, in some aspects, she's probably doing better than me.

The conclusion I've come to is that for fiction writers, especially traditionally published, social media can create buzz, but there are other factors that play a larger role in whether an author achieves success.

Here are a few of the more significant factors:

• Getting a stellar review from a major review site like Publisher's Weekly.

• Having significant publisher marketing dollars behind the book.

• The publisher's sales department and inroads they have at various brick and mortar stores. (For example, getting into Walmart or a big box store can really boost sales.)

• Placement of books in bookstores. (For example, my publisher is able to display some books in prominent positions on the ends of aisles.)

• Getting the support of book buyers and retail distributors in displaying the book in high traffic reader areas (in catalogs, flyers, or front pages of online stores).

All of the above can help propel an author to success at a faster rate and wider scope than what an author can accomplish on her own through social media. Because really, what we do in our limited scope on twitter or blogging is merely a blip in the wide-world of publication—especially with so many other writers on social media all scrambling to be heard.

While we may not have control over many of the factors that can lead to success, we do have control over THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR OF ALL. And that is this: Write a compelling, knock-your-socks off story. And then keep writing the absolute best books you can, book after book. 

Building a readership takes time and quality books. When we deliver amazing stories to our readers time and time again, we'll slowly expand the scope of our reach.

That's what my friend has done. She protects her writing time and focuses on writing award-winning stories with each book. And it's starting to pay off for her. She's finaling in contests and making the best seller list.

I certainly don't advocate giving up on social media. I'm still planning to utilize it to the best of my ability. Why not take advantage of every little bit of help in promoting our books?

But, we can't let the social media hype get in the way of what really matters most to a novelist—the STORY.

As fiction writers, we need to spend our best energy and time on what's going to ultimately help our careers the most: growing in skill and writing excellent books.

Do you think social media has been over-rated in its importance in the success of an author? What factors do you think help make an author successful?

Photo Credit: Flickr by thinboyfatter

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