Tuesday 29 October 2013

Just Because Social Media is a Tool Doesn't Mean You've Got to Be A Tool Too.

By Candy Gourlay

Social Media is not the way, the truth and the light. It is a tool. Just a tool.

Just because it's a tool doesn't mean you've got to be a tool too.

I added someone I didn't know on Facebook the other day. He was already friends with several of my writing contacts. He declared himself an author so, fair enough, I thought.

Immediately I got a message - not a private message, but a message on my wall. 'My new book Title of Book, is now on Amazon ... it's about ... etc etc'

By posting on my wall, he was promoting his book to all my contacts. I deleted him immediately.

And then I felt guilty.

Because his publisher/agent/editor probably told him: 'You've got to blog/tweet/facebook'. And he was only trying to be a good author.

Oh but come on! Do you really think that posting a link to your book on a total stranger's wall will make you a sale?


There is nothing wrong with promotion. But promote to people who want to be promoted to.

When is a weed, a weed? When it's growing in the wrong place. When is junk mail, junk? When it targets the wrong person.

We knew that even in the dark ages of direct marketing (You don't know what direct marketing means? Remember when you used to get those letters in the post? No? Then you're waaaay younger than me!).

The problem is: the internet and it's VAST possibilities have triggered a kind of marketing fever.

Suddenly all the marketing tools are there, accessible to anybody. And they're mostly free! Suddenly we're seeing stuff go viral on the internet and we're all thinking, 'I want a piece of that!'

Some wise guys have even figured out a way to make money by farming likes on Facebook.

And then suddenly we were all 'content marketing' because Google changed its algorithms so that we would create better quality content. At the same time, Google wanted our content to always be new and fresh. Which means we have to blog more frequently to score with Google.

[On Notes from the Slushpile, we've all got better things to do than to blog for the sake of fulfilling Google's desires, so we've put up a notice there on the right. Please, follow us via email. We don't intend to up our blogging frequency sometime soon - we're too busy writing and doing our day jobs.]

Now Social Media has become ascendant and what does Social Media thrive on?... wait for it ... TRIVIA! So suddenly the advice is to create stuff that people can share. Which is hard on those of us who haven't got cute cats.

(Read this great post about the clash between Content Marketing and Social Media by my marketing guru Nick Usborne)


The fact is, the online world is suffering from marketing fatigue. Who isn't fed up with the hardsell status updates and tweets appearing on our feeds? The fact that everyone's trying to game the internet and get in on the action has got users suffocating under the mountain of information.

My author colleagues have long debates on when it is acceptable to post a heads-up about the latest publication/prize/book launch. We all know that this is important but we are afraid of pissing off our real friends (the not-real friends will just hide us on their FB feeds).

Recently book review blogger Sister Spooky wrote that she'd had enough of Blog Tours.

I wonder how much blog tours ACTUALLY help promote a book and if people even want to read/follow a tour. I find them interesting, but even as a blogger I know there are certain kinds of posts I won't bother reading. "Exclusive extracts" hold no interest for me because I'd rather just read a whole book when it arrives. Sometimes I'll take part in posting extracts if I'm really behind an author or want to show my support, but would rather pick another kind of post. People rarely read them. SISTER SPOOKY

I've never done a blog tour although I've considered the possibility many times. By design, a blog tour should be about raising your profile with new audiences courtesy of your host blog. Perhaps it would be effective in a big place like America. But within the UK, aren't we just talking to the same audience from different blogs? I don't know.

(If you're wondering how to do a good book tour anyway here's some great advice from the Curiosity Killed the Bookworm Blog)

Sister Spooky mentions that being contacted by publicity departments for viewing figures left a bad taste in the mouth. To be fair, the publicity departments are probably under pressure to produce data.

All the marketing geniuses declare that a campaign is only useful if there's data to study. Which is true. But at the risk of treating a generous human being as a marketing tool? No, no, no!

(I've said it before and I'll say it again: Being Human is the Best Kind of Marketing)


Have you noticed how there are so many blog titles these days that are 'Five Tips to ...' 'Ten Ways to ...' 'Six Things ...'?

That's because web metrics show that such titles get more readers.

But here are some tips anyway:

1. If you're going to blog, blog well. Don't just blog because your publisher told you to. Don't just dash it off because you've sworn to blog everyday. A blog post is a long-term investment. It will continue to be found long after your tweets have gone to tweet heaven. So blog well.

2. Don't bother with building a new platform (knocking on doors, inviting strangers to your table). Everyone's doing that and you'll end up with a lot of irritated strangers. Instead, identify who your audience is and go to your audience. Guest blog on blogs that are read by your audience. Join their groups. Hang out in their hashtags. Find their Tumblr fandoms.

3. Serve your audience. The problem with some self-promoters is they think it's about talking about themselves. Be human, dammit!!! Think: what does your audience need? Put them first. Make stuff for them to share on social media. Look at John Green making videos for young adults. Write about things they care about.

4. DON'T BE A SALESPERSON. There are people employed by your publisher who do that. Your job is to be the author. Think of your favourite author, the one you have friended on Facebook. What do you want from him or her?


When you read marketing blogs they talk about the 'call to action'. It's a prompt - a link, a button, a message that tells the user what to do next.

You're an author, not a publicity department.

So your call to action is not BUY MY BOOK, it's ... READ.

Who you are is not about blogging or tweeting or facebooking or tumblring, it's about writing the best book you can write.

Your online presence should not focus on self-promotion, but reaching out to your readers.

Your readers are not search engines. If you start thinking in web metrics, you might find yourself serving only the great god Google ...

Be human, be human.

*Apologies for the lack of pictures. I was too tired.


  1. Yes, yes and yes again!
    There've been so many posts over the last few months (I did one months back) about authors needing to do what they do best, and yet the clarion call from publishers for authors to have a social media platform just seems to become more strident. I read something the other day about having to be on Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr - in addition to being on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google +. It's all too much - especially since I'm pretty sure way too much of the activity misses its target market. If I look at the number of authors following me on Twitter I wonder why - I'm not their target market; I'm way too deep into my dotage!
    At the end of the day, as the article which Vanessa posted on FB yesterday said, the only thing that really counts, the thing that realises good sales figures is the book itself, which, if it's a good book will build sales figures by word of mouth.

  2. I so agree, Candy - have been saying this for ages. But "And he was only trying to be a good author" is too lenient. He maybe was just doing as he was told. But the mark of an intelligent human being is to *think* before doing as they are told. As my mum used to say, "so would you jump off a cliff if they told you to do that?" You're still 100% responsible for your own actions, even if someone told you to do them. So don't let him off - he might not have been evil, but he was an idiot!

    1. Well ... we are all idiots about a lot of things. A lot of authors have not spent enough time on the internet to realise how they're coming across. They have to learn how to look before they leap.

  3. Excellent advice, Candy - you wise woman, you!

  4. I was friended by a writer who was friendly and lovely but she kept posting her online book launch on my wall. After she did this 4 times in a week, I as politely as I could, as her not to do that and pointed her towards a post by Kristen Lamb on how to use social media to promote your books without pissing off people. She said she totally understood (which she didn't) and then unfriended me. Which is fine, 'cause she was badmouthing a writing association in her home country, and that didn't bode well for how she was going to behave. Ah, the things we learn. Thanks for your post, Candy. :)

  5. What an excellent post, Candy - thank you very much

  6. It seems that you're doing a bit of analysing lately, Candy - The industry, being an author, and now social media. I think we could all do with stepping back from time to time to get a clearer picture of what's going on as getting a sense of perspective and reality is always good. And that author was rude. Would he behave like that in reality? I think not.

    1. Cyberspace feels like outer space to some people. They forget that there are real people out there. Thanks, Maureen!

  7. Excellent article, Candy. You hit the nail on its pointy head.

  8. And have fun bloggie pals!!! Enjoy your blog, your own personal space in the big wide world of the internet! Take care

  9. This is an excellent post, Candy. I think I reinforces the idea of doing what we do because we love it--whether that's blogging or tweeting or keeping up with friends via facebook or, of course, writing. Using social media primarily as a means to sell a book or promote yourself seems as dodgy (and pointless) as writing a book just because you want to make money. We're lucky to have these platforms, but their real use, I think, is as a place to talk and learn and offer support, not as a forum for selling or boasting.

    1. But I acknowledge it's hard to find a balance. Especially if say, you're an author who DOESN'T normally spend time on the Internet and think you've got to get out there. Thanks, Jane.

  10. Great post Candy. Couldn't agree more.

  11. I think this is a real conundrum for independently published authors because they have no choice but to be their own sales department. I think the answer would be to to keep the sales persona wholly separate from the author persona.

  12. I found that so helpful, as I do get anxious about promoting and although I have not done what that author did, I can imagine going against my instincts and doing it to combat my own shyness and reluctance, if you know what I mean. A lot of writers are basically shy, and we see other people promoting their stuff, and worry that we should just try harder. I know that I forced myself to mention the name of my upcoming book when I made a (relevant) comment on a book about history books, and now I worry that was similarly inappropriate. Sigh. It is difficult getting this right. As authors we are told on the internet that we can't just sit back and expect the publishers to do all the work, but we can go to the opposite extreme. Thanks for the reassuring calmness - I won't fret about not being v comfortable marketing my book, I will get specific advice from my publishers and agent, and I will get on with what I love - writing the next! I really hope the name check I forced myself to give my book on the History books site wasn't inappropriate. Thanks for yet another very good blog.

    1. I don't think think there's anything wrong ending with a strapline "author of ..." or "my new book is" ... ir using the url/name sign in. As long as your comment was sincere and not just to plant a link to your book (we get spammers for all sorts of crazy products leaving links in the comments of this blog - it's actually hilarious and and we're thinking of featuring them in a blog post about pointless spam).

      The thing is: Internet users are streetwise to tricks like that. Better to use the url/name function when leaving a comment ... then people will check you out because your comment is interesting and not for any other reason.

  13. "As authors we are told on the internet that we can't just sit back and expect the publishers to do all the work" - indeed. We have done the work of writing the book. Don't let them forget that! :-)

    The purpose of a traditional publisher is to produce and sell books. We could do it ourselves (by self-publishing), but choose not to. So we should be wary of choosing not to and then doing it anyway. No one should be persuaded to do more marketing than they want to, in any medium. If you look in your contract you will probably see a clause saying that they have complete control over the production and marketing of the book. Hoist with their own petard!

    1. I think these are new times though and we authors do have to participate in marketing and getting the word out there ... it's the HOW we need to work on.

  14. Amen to all this. My platform is about 99% authors, so I post authorly things for them to look at and write authorly blog posts. If I ever get a children's book published, I hope some of them will want to read it, but they aren't my main audience and I wouldn't treat them as such. So, on a purely marketing level, I'm not building a very good platform, but on a personal level I'm just fine, thanks :-)

  15. Nice post. If I get too many people trying to market something constantly on my news feed, it's bye-bye. I'll post the occasional blog post from my blog if I think it's particularly good but, then again, I don't write my blog for a living, just for fun.


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