My heart sinks whenever I look at a social media ‘timeline’. All that information, all that ‘content’: random, fragmented, unceasing. What is a brain evolved for — or so the scientists tell me — a primitive existence on the African savannah supposed to make of it all? What am I meant to do with it all?
But I need to raise my social media game, I really do. Every authority on independent publishing, every successful independent author, will tell you that a writer needs a social media presence. There is this thing called ‘social proof’ and without it, you’re a loser. You may as well not bother. You may as well not exist.
So I’m going to sign up for my fourth Facebook account soon. I created the first one when I read somewhere that every independent author should be on Facebook. But I tried it and decided I didn’t like it: the Facebook interface was clunky and my feed was filled with unsolicited garbage. And I had no idea how to build a following.
I got my second account when I decided it was time I tried Facebook ads for my City Trails series. The experiment, admittedly a short one, was not a great success. I didn’t get any sales. One thing really puzzled me: why do people bother ‘liking’ an ad if they’re not going to click through to look at the product description? Social media is full of such mysteries.
Eventually, I set up my third account when I wanted to have another go at Facebook ads, this time for one of my fiction series. I didn’t get very far. Facebook blocked me from advertising almost immediately and told me this decision could not be appealed — ever. No reason was given, but I wonder if it was something to with them regarding pen names as inherently suspicious. What exactly are you hiding, mister?
So here comes Facebook account no. 4. I want to have another go at advertising my fiction on the platform. As the likes of Mark Dawson and David Gaughran are always pointing, Facebook has more reach than any other platform in the world. In all those billions of users, there are going to be a few who are interested in your book’s niche. I’ve done the SPS Ads for Authors course so I may as well put it to use. The Facebook interface is still horrible and no doubt my new timeline will be as full of garbage as the other ones, but it’s a small price to pay.
In between those Facebook forays, I’ve tried Twitter and Instagram. Now Twitter is fine in small doses. Sure, there are loads of loons lurking there, but there’s also a ton of interesting or learned or funny people, and sometimes you get all three in one person. But it’s really hard to build a following there nowadays, especially if you’re a fiction writer. I’m certainly not witty enough or controversial enough. And like all these platforms, you have to invest a lot of time in it. I’d rather be writing. So I keep a private Twitter account going, to follow all those interesting, learned, funny people. But that’s separate from my authorial activities.
Instagram was fun for a while. I posted some interesting photos of my travels and got a bit of engagement and I know about the #bookstagram hashtag (much abused, like all hashtags). But gosh, it’s a lot of work to build a following. So it’s back to Facebook for me, where I’ll have the necessary social presence and be able to advertise. It’s still horrible to use, but at least there’s a proven method for flogging books there.
The other platform I’ve been trying this year, which I suppose you could call a blog-social media hybrid, is Substack. My fiction serial The Cryptic Branch is running there. Now Substack has had a ton of publicity in the last couple of years and there are many writers doing very well out of it. But most of those are in the non-fiction sphere. As it stands, Substack is just not set up for fiction writers. There is, for example, just one big category, ‘Fiction’, which we are all shoehorned into. No genres or sub-genres to help with discovery.
I joined Substack because I wanted to try writing a fiction serial. And I’m really enjoying it — but I’m not building an audience. The successful serial fiction authors — and there are a few — spend an awful lot of time on the platform, commenting on other posts, joining discussion threads, and recommending other authors. And they’re not just publishing fiction episodes. They do writing advice, Substack advice, and other non-fiction pieces. Substack is their major theatre of operations. They’ve gone all in on it.
I never wanted to go all in on Substack. I’m much more focused on book writing and publishing. And if Amazon Vella had been available in the UK when I started the serial, I would have gone down that route. So it’s no surprise I haven’t got much of a Substack audience. What all these engagements with social media have taught me is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all, and you may as well pick one and give it as much attention as you can. While remembering that, the most important thing is to get your writing done each day.
So I’ll be back on Facebook soon and this time I’m going to stay there. And I’m going to go through the whole identity verification hassle so they don’t block me from advertising this time. Though how that’s going to work with my various pen names, I don’t know yet. To paraphrase John Ruskin, every increased social media platform loads us with a new weariness. But if I can make it work and flog some books and even get some interaction with my readers, who knows, I might even start enjoying it.