Do Writers REALLY Need to Use Social Media Anymore?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

With the rapid growth of self-publishing, many writers have stopped putting stock in social media as a marketing tool. Instead many writers are focusing on output–creating more content to get in front of readers with the hopes that the writing itself will be the biggest marketing tool.

Essentially the strategy over the past year or two has been for writers to put a permanently free (aka perma-free) book out there to act as the catalyst to draw readers to their other books. But in order for the perma-free book to work at maximum potential, it usually has to be the first in a series. It also helps if the author has a decent backlist.

However, with every author now attempting to put out a perma-free book, the free book market has become glutted. If you're like me, you probably have dozens of free books on your Kindle that you haven't gotten around to reading yet. Unfortunately all of the free books have undermined the value of ebooks (but that's a topic for another post!).

Of course writers are trying other ways to get content in front of readers (in addition to a perma-free book). They're writing enovellas, eshorts, serials, and republishing out-of-print backlists.

But the question always remains (one I'm asked frequently by other writers, especially new ones): "How do get the word out about all of my content? Even the stuff that's free or relatively cheap isn't garnering much reader attention nowadays. So how do I get my books noticed?"

In the not-so-recent past, the typical answer would have been: "Build a social media presence, develop relationships. Then your friends and followers will want to help you get the word out because that's what friends do for each other." (Or something like that.)

All of us were at different parts of the path on the journey to publication. So those of us who were coming behind would cheer on and promote those farther ahead. And those farther ahead would do the same for friends once they landed their first deal.

With the explosion of the indie movement, the publishing journey is much shorter with fewer differentiations along the path. Almost everyone who wants to be published is published. And so that means everyone needs help with promotion at pretty much the same time as everyone else. Basically, we're all in the same place of needing to get the word out about our books.

In fact, as I thought about my early blogging friends, most are published or are in the process of it. Many of us have the same circles of influence. Some of us even have the same readers. And while we can support each other as best we can, I can only imagine that at times readers' eyes glaze over at the barrage of promotion they get from all of us.

In addition to the over-saturation of promotion among social media, the nature of social media is constantly in flux. New ways of relating come up that make the not-so-old seem antiquated.

Does that mean social media is fairly useless to writers as a marketing tool? Should we just throw in the towel and do nothing?

At this point, I  don't think writers should close up their social media accounts. Yes, I think a writer's focus should remain on producing content. We should have a perma-free book even if it's only a novella (like mine) or an eshort. We should continue to have a large volume of books (including backlist) available for purchase; occasionally we should even put them on sale to draw attention to our front list books. We can make use of BookBub and other promotional sites.

But we can't completely neglect social media. With patience and perseverance, with consistency and a little more creativity, the various outlets can still be an effective way to reach readers with the news of our books.

Above all, social media is an awesome way to connect with readers on a more personal level (and not just when we're trying to promote our book). I want my readers to know I'm here, I'm available, and I appreciate them. I don't want to be the kind of snooty author who sits away in her ivory tower pumping out book after book with the attitude that I don't have time to mingle with the masses.

Rather, I'd like to be known for my warmth, compassion, and accessibility. To me, being an author is more than just about my books. Yes, I want readers to find hope and enjoyment in the stories I tell. But I also want to be known as a real person who cares. Social media allows for that . . . if we do the work to make it happen.

What about YOU? What do you think is the role of social media in the writer's life nowadays? Has it stopped being an effective marketing tool?

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