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.