Do Fiction Writers REALLY Need a Social Media Platform?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Platform, platform, platform. As a writer, you’ve heard it a hundred times. You need to have a website and a blog, be active on social media—at least Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, build your list to market to, and network in the community. But what if you hate—I mean, really hate—social media?

Kristin, a WOW subscriber, emailed me the other day with this very question. She is actively trying to find an agent and simultaneously looking for a indie publisher. She had posted a few of her manuscripts on, a somewhat questionable site according to literary agent Janet Reid, that “connects writers, agents and publishers to find manuscripts,” and received a bite from an indie publisher who was interested in her work but required her to take a class on social media before she signed with them. She declined. She said that if she had to participate in social media then she might as well give up on her dream of publishing and just write for her own pleasure. She hates social media that much.

So, do fiction writers really need to be active on social media? Here’s the short answer: No, you don’t have to participate in social media as a fiction writer.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a recent example:

I’m currently reading this summer’s blockbuster novel, The Girls by Emma Cline. Twelve publishing houses got into a bidding war over this novel and it ended up selling for seven figures to Random House as part of a three-book deal. Emma, a debut novelist with no social media accounts (rare for a twenty-something millennial), reportedly received a two-million-dollar advance for this novel. Emma had no twitter account, no blog, not even a website at the time she garnered an agent and sold her novel (she now has a website and Facebook fan page, which was most likely, built by her publicist). She didn’t have very many publishing credits either, but the two she had were good ones: a meditation on Greenland in Tin House and a tween girl’s scary coming of age in The Paris Review. So how did she land this jaw-dropping book deal with no social media platform and little publishing experience? She’s a darn good writer with a unique voice and is dedicated to her craft. I personally think her prose is so different from what’s out there right now—it’s really descriptive, poetic, and flowery in a good way—it’s what sold the book.

There are plenty more—Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, for example, has a website and a Facebook page, but has never been active on social media. Looking at her Facebook page now, it hasn’t been updated in five months, and she has no blog and no twitter account. In an interview with HuffPo, Gillian’s literary agent, Stephanie Rostan, answers the question of whether authors should invest their time in social media: “For fiction authors, trying to ‘sell’ their personality may not be as useful for getting someone to read their book for the first time—this isn’t a popularity contest, it’s about the reading experience. I do think readers like to form relationships with authors whose books they love, but that comes AFTER they’ve read the book.”

This is a new trend I’m seeing, where debut authors are creating a website and a social media profile near the time that their first novel publishes—probably because their publicist has done so for them. But even then, connecting with readers on social media has its downfalls. Consider this post by The Muffin’s Cathy C. Hall, where she reports that Amazon is deleting book reviews from reviewers who are connected with the author on Facebook.

Okay, great, you may be thinking, but what if I want to go with a small indie publisher or self-publish my novels and I don’t have a publicist? The answer is still the same. You don’t NEED a social media account to sell your novels. In fact, if you’re constantly plugging your book, your followers are going to get sick of the barrage of promotion. If you’re using social media, then it should be to connect with readers on a personal level.

I’m not saying that you should completely neglect all social media. I’m just saying that if you hate it, then don’t give up your career as a novelist because you think you need it to succeed. Instead, focus on your writing and be the best writer you can be. Garner more publishing credits in literary magazines. Enter reputable contests. Keep querying agents and publishers. Or if you’re self-publishing, consider putting your first book, novella, or collection of short stories up for perma-free on Amazon. Focus on finding early reviewers with sites like NetGalley or within your writing community. Consider a book giveaway on GoodReads for publicity. Make use of book discovery sites to attract new readers. Produce more content. The point is, there are many things you can do besides spend your time on social media.

What do you think? Do you still need a social media platform as a fiction writer? Is it an effective marketing tool for you or a time suck? Weigh in!

As publisher of WOW! Women On Writing, Angela Mackintosh knows that social media is an integral part of the WOW community and helps writers connect and share resources. Personally though, she doesn't like Facebook and only uses it to stalk her friends periodically, but appreciates LinkedIn.


Cathy C. Hall said...

Excellent points, Ang,and I'm not just saying that because you mentioned me. ;-)

I think publishers are beginning to see that platform is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing--and that when a writer isn't comfortable with social media, it comes through in posts, tweets, whatever. Better to be the best writer you can be than do the social media thing begrudgingly!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Angela--Great post. It gives writers like me--a person who hates Facebook--hope. (And I love Cathy Hall's last line in her comment. Another reason to continue trudging forward like I've been doing so far.)

Savannah said...

I landed my agent because of connections within social media. The changes I would have gotten this agent otherwise were pretty much zero. I'm a fan of social media to a point. However, I have not seen how social media helps to sell more copies of books, at least for mine.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Savannah ~ that's awesome! Thanks for sharing. I know a few authors who landed their agents through social media too, and some through a twitter pitch fest. You mentioned that you wouldn't have gotten this agent otherwise...does she/he accept email queries? I'm just wondering because some agents are no longer accepting email queries unless requested. For instance, one of instructors, literary agent Sally Apokedak, only accepts queries from writers she's met at conferences or that know her through her online courses.

Sheila Good said...

Thank you! I have a horrible time keeping up with all the social media. This article was a God-send. I'm writing about it on my blog tomorrow.

Savannah said...

Thank you. I became friends with an author who's agent was commenting on the client's FB page and I mentioned in a comment that I was looking for an agent. The agent mostly accepts adult fiction and non-fiction, but I am/was a published children's author, and she loved my work enough to take me on as a client. I guess you could say it was a special request ;)Even with published work through small publishers, I had been unsuccessful at landing an agent for over 5 years!!

Angela Mackintosh said...

@Savannah ~ That's what I call being proactive with social media! Congrats. :)

Angela Mackintosh said...

Thanks, Sheila! I'll stop by your blog tomorrow! :)

Cathy ~ I agree with Sioux - love your last line!

Sioux ~ We are FB hating sisters. ;) LOL

Marcia Peterson said...

This post is both comforting and inspiring. Thanks, Ang!

Anonymous said...

Kristin here, everyone, of the newfound fame found in Angela's post. My preference to post anonymously is in keeping with my phobia about Social Media. While I acknowledge that this phobia is out of control, and that I must take measures to correct it, I am also comforted by the notion that good writing may still be something that some publishers are seeking first and foremost.

My experience with Indie publishers has, so far, been unpleasant; their insistence that I be actively promoted on a social media platform strikes me as code for "doing their job for them," and one even tried to sell me self-marketing courses as part of the deal for signing their contract. This is another angle on the concerns raised in Angela's post; there are those in the industry exploiting the fact that social media is the oxygen so many people breathe, and trying to make a quick buck from it.

In my efforts to find an agent, I am discovering a direct correlation between age (and experience) and whether the agent insists on a platform. Those who are very young often seem to suggest that it is mandatory. Those same very young agents, though, often express their wish-lists in terms of favourite television shows, rather than written literature: "I'm looking for a cross between Grimm and the Gilmore Girls..." I am frankly just as happy to bypass those professionals in favour of those who appreciate the uniqueness of voices that only a written narrative can achieve.

As I said to Angela: if this means that I am stuck writing only for personal pleasure, then that might be better than the alternative.

Margo Dill said...

I don't know if you NEED it, but I do think it helps. (Please don't throw stones--wink, wink) I know I sold more books when I was actively marketing due to my social media presence, and I definitely got speaking engagements/editing jobs because I was out and about on the social media pages. (Maybe it makes you easier to approach and find?) We've been talking a lot about this in my writing group and basically, we decided you have to have SOME marketing plan. It doesn't have to include social media (although I always think going on FB or even Pinterest is a great idea and FIND all those old friends because they will want to buy your book!), but you have to have some marketing plan. You can not just put your head in the sand and write and expect books to sell unless you are famous. I think you can ask any author that and they will tell you the same thing. :)

Margo Dill said...

Last thing: Sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zone to be successful. :)

Angela Mackintosh said...

@Kristin ~ I think we need to investigate that indie publisher who was trying to sell you social media courses! That is a new one. And yes, I see more people using TV shows as a reference for what they want in literature. It's all melding together...

@Margo ~ Yes, it helps, especially if you enjoy it. I think people can tell if you don't. I've been preaching the importance of a social media and platform in general for years, but I've noticed a shift with debut authors over the past couple years, and I think effectiveness of social media is waning as it becomes oversaturated. I didn't say to stick your head in the sand, the last paragraph of the post has a few alternatives to social media and there are plenty more ways to get creative. And here's the thing: if readers love your book they're going to do some of the social media marketing for you. They will share with their friends, and so on. I think it's less effective for the author to market her own book on her own social media accounts than if others are sharing your book. I've read several articles lately on conversion rates of book sales (using Nielsen BookScan numbers) to an author's social media account followers and the conversion rates average around 1-2%. Sure, that's 2% more that are purchasing your book, and if you enjoy social media marketing then it will be worth it, but if you don't, there are other alternatives.

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