Why social media sucks for authors

Every now and again I rail against social media in this space. 

I have my reasons: Social media has poisoned our political discourse. What happens on social media has become a source of chronic anxiety for teenagers and twentysomethings. 

Social media sites aren’t about “creating community” or “fostering dialogue”. They’re about capturing the lion’s share of expression on the Internet, so that Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey can monetize your attention. 

Social media is a corporate money-grab. That’s all it is. 

But how is social media especially disadvantageous for authors? Let’s focus in on those points below (in no particular order):

1.) No one goes on social media to buy a book. 

Most people are on Twitter to kvetch about politics. Facebook users are there to find out if that mean girl from Central High School, class of 1996, is still hot, or if she’s gained weight like her mother did at forty.

Instagram is where guys go to look at hot women, and where hot women go to show off.

Oh, and celebrities. Jennifer Aniston recently joined Instagram, and she almost broke the site.

Speaking of Jennifer Aniston, here’s an example of what’s big on Instagram:

Jennifer Aniston Shares a Sexy Photo of Her Open-Back Dress on Instagram: ‘Jen in Black

Now, does that sound like a great venue for selling your historical novel set during World War II?

2.) Organic discovery is declining across all social media platforms. 

This is by design. The reason is simple. If you’re a business of any kind (and an author is a business, for our purposes here), social media sites want you to purchase ads.

Why? Social media sites have virtually no other source of income (other than selling user information to advertisers, as we’ve recently learned). 

If your announcement of your new book organically reaches your 3,500 Facebook followers, Mark Zuckerberg makes no money from that. If you buy a Facebook ad and give Zuckerberg $0.30 for every person who clicks on the post, however..

Well…you do the math. 

3.) It’s easy to get in political trouble on social media.

Social media is filled with snark and political vitriol. 

I don’t shy away from politics and current events. About 25% of the content on Edward Trimnell Books can be classified as political and social commentary. I genuinely enjoy exploring issues in the news. 

When I post on my own site, though, I usually think before I post. When commenting on a particularly sensitive topic, I take the time to clarify my position. I reread. I edit. I say to myself, “Naw…someone is going to twist my words, if I post that.”

I’ve made it a rule never to write a blog post when I’m actively angry about something in the news—that is always a recipe for looking like a jackass (at least, for me it is).

Such caution is far more difficult to maintain on social media, which is by nature reactive and real-time. The formats of social media posts (especially Twitter) are biased toward brief, bumper-slogan statements (280 characters).

If you’re an author, you won’t be on Twitter anonymously, but you’ll be arguing with lots of people who are on Twitter anonymously, and who will therefore say anything. They don’t care about the consequences. 

In frays like this, with that Tweet button right there, it is easy to post something that you will later regret. 

Social media sites like Twitter have recently caught flak for censoring conservatives. Basically, if your political views fall anywhere right of Joe Biden, then most of what you say is probably “hate speech” by Twitter’s yardstick. 

But perhaps you have the “correct” (i.e., fashionably leftwing and progressive) political views. You have a COEXIST bumper sticker on your Prius. You wear a rainbow bracelet everywhere during LGBTQ Pride Month, even though you’re straight. You honestly believe that banning plastic straws in American fast-food restaurants is going to offset all the raw pollution that they’re spewing out by the second in New Delhi. You would describe Greta Thunberg as “wise beyond her years”.

Well, that doesn’t get you completely off the hook. You can get in trouble, too, on social media. 

Chuck Wendig, a far-left science fiction writer, was fired from his Marvel Studios gig (as a story developer for the brand’s Star Wars comics) because of what he said on Twitter in October 2018.

This happened in the aftermath of the contentious Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Wendig went off on Republicans in profane and borderline violent language. Since Twitter is generally a leftwing environment, Wendig assumed this would be okay. But someone from Marvel Studios saw the tweets, and they weren’t okay with what Wendig said. So they canned Wendig. 

Chuck Wendig, because of his politics and his contrived edginess, is a polarizing figure. People either love him or hate him. My guess is that Wendig was egged on by his supporters, and goaded by his detractors. In the heat of the moment, he simply went too far. 

That’s easy to do on social media. Especially Twitter.

4.) Social media is declining, anyway.

The time people spend on Facebook has been declining for several years now. Twitter is losing traffic so rapidly that it has become unattractive to the advertisers it so desperately needs to stay afloat. 

Social media really took off around 2005, with YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter all launching within a period of just a few years. 

But the Internet thrived long before any of these sites existed. There’s no reason to believe that it can’t thrive without them. Social media isn’t important or necessary. Social media has convinced us that it’s important and necessary.

Perhaps social media is a trend that—like so many trends throughout history—is characterized by a natural rise, peak, and decline. Predicting the future is a fool’s game, but there is evidence to support the notion that social media is on the way out. As anyone who was online before 2005 can tell you, online expression does not require social media. 

So this raises the question for you as an author: Do you want to invest (either time or money) in shrinking platforms?

What should you do, then?

Believe it or not, people actually marketed books online before social media, too. Here’s how you can market your books without Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites:

1.) Your author website/blog

There is a current groupthink in the (indie) author community that “websites don’t sell books”. 

Au contraire. Bestselling science fiction author John Scalzi got his start when an editor saw the serialization of his first published novel, Old Man’s War, on his blog, The Whatever

Trad-pubbed science fiction authors Cory Doctorow, the aforementioned Chuck Wendig, and Charles Stross all maintain regular blogs/websites. 

Look up their Alexa rankings sometime. With all that traffic, it’s hard to believe that they aren’t leveraging at least some of it to sell books. 

Rather than “blogs and websites don’t work”, maybe it’s more accurate to say that indie authors have never learned how to leverage author websites and blogs. 

2.) Mailing list:

I hate mailing lists as a consumer. You aren’t going to get my personal email address unless you can promise me a weekend with the Swedish National Women’s Volleyball Team in return. 

But lots of authors still swear by them. A mailing list, like an author website, is something that you own, that is yours forever. You can’t be deplatformed from your own mailing list.

3.) Ads on the retail sites:

For most authors, this is mostly Amazon, i.e., AMS ads. The bidding market for AMS ads has become overheated in recent years. But at least the traffic on Amazon is there to buy books—not to look at Jennifer Aniston’s black dress.

The Consultant: FREE on Amazon Kindle November 5th & 6th

A novel of an ordinary American trapped in North Korea.

Amazon description:

**The most oppressive regime on earth has taken you prisoner. And they have a mission for you!**

Barry Lawson is an American marketing consultant traveling on business to Osaka, Japan. After striking up a conversation with a woman in a bar, he agrees to accompany her back to her apartment.

But the mystery woman is not who she seems. Days later, Barry wakes up in a cell in North Korea.

He discovers that the North Korean government has abducted him for a specific purpose. The North Koreans don’t plan to ransom him. They want him to work for them.

But Barry is determined to escape—whatever the cost.

His allies are a Japanese abductee, and a beautiful American woman who understands the North Koreans, and speaks their language.

With a U.S.-North Korean summit fast approaching, a coup plot shakes the very foundation of the Pyongyang regime. Barry chooses this moment to make a desperate dash for freedom. But he and his fellow escapees risk death at every turn.

‘The Consultant’ is a thriller ripped from real-life headlines, with unforgettable characters and nonstop action!

Get it for FREE on Amazon Kindle, two days only (November 5 & 6)

Read it for FREE in Kindle Unlimited any time!

New to Kindle Unlimited? Check out the FREE trial.

New on Amazon: ‘I Know George Washington’

Available FREE for subscribers of Amazon Kindle Unlimited:

($2.99 for non Kindle Unlimited subscribers)

I Know George Washington: and other stories: five dark tales

View it on Amazon!

Five dark tales of crime, supernatural horror, and suspense…

In Tennessee, a father and his adolescent daughter must battle two evil men who harbor sinister intentions toward one of them.

In Zacatecas, Mexico, a recent college graduate takes a job as a private English language tutor for a wealthy family. But the entire household is hiding a horrible secret.

In Virginia, a young stockbroker’s colleagues insist that George Washington, the First President of the United States, is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

In rural Ohio, curiosity compels two travelers to stop at an abandoned schoolhouse with an evil history, and a reputation for ghostly activity.

In western Pennsylvania, a junior high student learns that his beloved teacher is not what he purports to be. 

A collection of five unique stories, each of which contains an unexpected twist.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the stories in this collection:

“The Van”: While traveling through Tennessee, a single father and his 13-year old daughter encounter two men who take an unwholesome interest in one of them. 

“Thanatos Postponed”: A recent college graduate takes a job as a private tutor at the estate of a wealthy businessman in Zacatecas, Mexico. But there is something horribly wrong in the palatial residence high in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. 

“I Know George Washington”: A young man’s new work colleagues insist that George Washington is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

“One-room Schoolhouse”: A young couple stop at an abandoned schoolhouse in rural Ohio. The schoolhouse is reputed to be haunted. 

“Mr. Robbie’s Secret”: a beloved English teacher is not what he appears to be. 

I hope you enjoy these stories.

Warren’s war on Big Tech

Elizabeth Warren has declared her intention to break up Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

But what exactly does that mean?

Google

You already have plenty of other choices. There’s Bing, Yahoo! and many others.

Here’s a list of at least 14 search engines that you can use instead of Google, right now….no action from Elizabeth Warren or the federal government required.

Amazon

You already have plenty of other choices here, too .

Did you know that you can order stuff from Walmart online? You can!

Nor is Walmart your only non-Amazon choice. Take just about any product that you would ordinarily purchase on Amazon and Google it. Excuse me!– Bing it!–and you’ll find alternative sources.

No action from Elizabeth Warren or the federal government required!

Why do you purchase so much stuff from Amazon? Admit it: It’s because Amazon provides excellent customer service and competitive prices. Shopping on Amazon is a pretty seamless, and overall pleasant, experience.

What’s to stop other retailers from doing the same?

More to the point…What the heck is Elizabeth Warren going to do about any of it? Is she going to make Barnes & Noble more competitive?

Oh, give me a break. I’m in the book business, folks. And I can tell you that Barnes & Noble has screwed the pooch with every opportunity they’ve gotten since the dawn of the e-commerce era. B&N is still stuck in 1995. And they were great in 1995. Today–not so much.

Facebook

My general loathing for social media is documented throughout this site. I don’t only despise Facebook. I also detest Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, and Snapchat.

But here’s the thing: Facebook is a freakin’ website. How is Elizabeth Warren going to break up a website?

No one forces anyone to go to Facebook, or any other social media site. Nor is what social media provides in any way essential to daily life.

But as long as you’ve got millions of people who will go bonkers over the prospect of following a Clinton-era actress on Instagram, social media has a market. Never underestimate the stupidity of the masses.

***

In summary: 

1.) There are already at least 14 alternatives to Google.

2.) People use Amazon because Amazon makes buying stuff online cheap and convenient.

3.) Social media is idiotic, but so are lots of the people who are obsessed with it.

I don’t love Big Tech. The very sight of Mark Zuckerberg makes me cringe. But the government can’t change the consumer preferences that led to the dominance of Google, Amazon, or Facebook.

Our preferences created these monopolies, to the extent that they exist.

Do you want Elizabeth Warren telling you where you can buy lawn furniture?….Or where you get to see photos of Jennifer Aniston?

That’s what the Warren War on Big Tech is all about, at the end of the day: the government (i.e., a future President Warren) picking winners and losers.

Ebook resale rights, and the end of ebooks

Writing on The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder reports that a French court has awarded consumers the right to resell downloaded digital games. Hoffelder predicts that this ruling will eventually be extended to ebooks. 

For all we know, Mr. Hoffelder may very well be right. 

What this would mean, then, is that when you visit Amazon, you’d find used copies of ebooks for sale, just like you now find used copies of physical books. 

We can also predict a new business model: the website that exclusively sells used ebooks. 

Physical books vs ebooks

The sale of used physical (paperback and hardback) books is mostly uncontroversial. This is for two reasons:

1.) Limited substitutability:  A used book is seldom a true substitute for a new one. There is wear and tear. The binding may be cracked. The cover might be dog-eared. And what are those funny stains on pages 236 and 237…the ones that look suspiciously like bodily fluids? 

2.) Limited resale potential: There is a one-for-one limit on the physical books you can resell. Buy one copy of Stephen King’s latest novel, you can resell one copy. 

Oh, and someone is going to have to pay for shipping, packaging, etc. This means that used book reselling is inherently a low-margin business. 

Ebook reselling would not be restrained by the above factors. 

Buy one copy of a digital book, and you can copy and resell the thing a gazillion times. There would be no limits, and few transaction costs.  

Amazon would probably attempt to establish a one-for-one resale limit. But there would be no such limit at the third-party sales sites. Ebooks would be copied by the millions, and resold by the millions.

The end game: the end of ebooks

I understand the argument in favor of resale rights. The argument exists. 

But here’s the rub: Once you establish mass, above-board resale rights for ebooks (or any digitally downloaded product), you completely eliminate the incentive for anyone to produce such a product in the first place. 

The excuse they’ve been looking for

Let’s start with the big five traditional publishers: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster.

Traditional publishers have resisted ebooks since their inception, because ebooks cannibalize physical book sales. (Ebooks also opened up new avenues of competition from small publishers and indie writers.) 

Traditional publishers are itching for an excuse to simply stop issuing ebooks. A legally recognized secondary ebook market would be the excuse they are looking for. 

What will they do instead? Simple. They’ll go back to what they were doing a decade ago: They’ll only sell physical books. 

Ebooks aren’t inevitable. 

The digital utopians who predicted the demise of the paper book fifteen years ago have been proven wrong many times over. In fact, physical book sales have regained a portion of their market share in recent years, while ebook sales have leveled off. 

The simple fact of the matter is: The publishing industry doesn’t have to make ebooks available at all. Ebooks will exist only so long as they’re profitable to make and sell. 

Yes, scanned and digitized pirate ebooks of the megabestsellers would still find their way on to the Internet. But if the content stops coming through the regular channels, sooner or later the Kindle, the Nook, and all the other e-readers will be abandoned by their manufacturers. That sort of thing can and does happen, as anyone old enough to remember the Betamax or the 8-track can tell you. 

This means going back to the age of reading ebooks as RTF and PDF files in front of a computer screen….but only the ebooks that find their way onto the black market.  

What about indie authors? 

Indie publishers are already losing money from Amazon’s decision to move to a pay-for-play marketplace, in which almost no books are sold without paid advertising anymore. If every ebook sold can suddenly be resold a dozen or a thousand times, look for indie authors to stop publishing ebooks, too. The margins simply won’t be there. 

What would I do, you ask? 

I’m a big fan of free content. (I serialize a lot of my fiction on Edward Trimnell Books.) I’m not a fan, however, of giving online pirate sites new ways to make money off creators. I’d continue to publish free content here on my website, and sell paperbacks

But as for publishing Kindle versions of anything? Every Kindle book I sold would simply be copied many times over and (legally) resold. What would be the point? 

Conclusion: The ebook may be an endangered species.

Contrary to past predictions, many consumers still haven’t adopted the ebook. Publishers are suspicious of them because of intellectual property concerns. 

Far from being inevitable, the ebook is a tenuous thing. 

If a secondary ebook market becomes the law of the land, we may quickly reach the point where there are few new ebooks to resell, because so few are being published anymore. 

‘The Consultant’ is now live on Amazon!

This book was partially serialized here on the site. Now you can get it on Amazon.

I’ve enrolled The Consultant in Kindle Unlimited for 90 days… so those of you who are members can read it for free. 

Paperback also available. Audiobook version coming soon!

Amazon description:

**The most oppressive regime on earth has taken you prisoner. And they have a mission for you!**

Barry Lawson is an American marketing consultant traveling on business to Osaka, Japan. After striking up a conversation with a woman in a bar, he agrees to accompany her back to her apartment.

But the mystery woman is not who she seems. Days later, Barry wakes up in a cell in North Korea.

He discovers that the North Korean government has abducted him for a specific purpose. The North Koreans don’t plan to ransom him. They want him to work for them.

But Barry is determined to escape—whatever the cost.

His allies are a Japanese abductee, and a beautiful American woman who understands the North Koreans, and speaks their language.

With a U.S.-North Korean summit fast approaching, a coup plot shakes the very foundation of the Pyongyang regime. Barry chooses this moment to make a desperate dash for freedom. But he and his fellow escapees risk death at every turn.

The Consultant is a thriller ripped from real-life headlines, with unforgettable characters and nonstop action!

Get The Consultant on Amazon.com!

‘Eleven Miles of Night’: $0.99 through 8/30!

If you haven’t read Eleven Miles of Night, now is the time to read it for only $0.99. 

And remember that this title is FREE in Kindle Unlimited!