The Empty Theater: Writers on Twitter, Facebook and Good Reads

The Empty TheaterNever again. I promised myself never again.

A few years ago, my novel My Problem With Doors was published by iPublish Press, a publisher out of Canada. Being a new press and from a different country, it was quickly proven difficult to get the book on shelves in bookstores or to get the work any attention on Amazon and elsewhere.

I was (and still am) very proud of the novel, and began to make as many calls as I could to make my book a success, in the very least in the area I live. First, I met with the local arts council and garnered their support. Working with a popular bookstore in the area, a reading and event was planned around the book. The local newspaper reviewed this novel ahead of the event (gave it a great review!) and even my local NPR station promoted the reading as an event coming up.

Yet..

When the event took place only friends, co-workers, and family were there.

Not even members of the local arts council showed up!

While everyone there were very positive, bought all the books available (and I was grateful they showed up), I felt a little ashamed, like somehow I had failed my book and my dreams. I know that sounds a little dramatic, but, hey!, I am a writer and I get dramatic about a lot of things. It’s in my blood.

It was that evening that I promised myself I would never put myself in that position again. The next time I give a reading or an event I would be at a place in my writing career where I wouldn’t feel like I was standing in front of an empty theater.

Never again.

Ever since I started this blog, I decided I was not going to sugarcoat any aspect of the world of writing and my place in it. I’ve shared embarrassing stories about my books and about myself. Things that have even shocked and angered some readers, but I realized that if there is one thing I can give my readers that is unique… well… that would be me.

I’ve never promised the writers who follow my blog the “answer” or the path to the holy grail (But some still from time to time ask over comments and e-mail). There are no holy grails, and if there were one, I don’t have the map to it. I’m not Indiana Jones (but I wish I was). I focus more on what they can expect, advice from someone who has been in the trenches. Set realistic expectations. As I said in an earlier post, there are two paths to writing success: sacrifice or luck. And I have found, as more and more writers enter the fray (this is a very, very congested market), luck is becoming the norm for finding that success.

A Jane Austen DaydreamThis year, I had two books published. One, A Jane Austen Daydream, was published by Madison Street Publishing. And as those that follow my blog or other accounts can attest, I truly believe in the book and want it to succeed, find its audience. See, the book is more than just a tribute to Jane Austen (since I give her a fictional adventure in it reminiscent of her own novels), but also a somewhat experimental work of literature. I truly think I do something new in it that has not been done before. And I want more people to experience that twist, talk about it. New ground has been broken!

In promoting the book, I have been working with my publisher (who has done a wonderful job lining up interviews and reviews throughout the country and world), but I have also been trying a few things on my own. See, I get the e-mails and notices, like other authors do, about the “golden tickets,” the tricks to make a book take off. And I had to try them. My book deserved a try, I could never argue against just that.

While I am still in the midst of fighting the good fight for A Jane Austen Daydream, I thought I would share what I have experienced so far on Twitter, Facebook, and Good Reads.  Here is what I have learned via each site, each possible online empty stage beckoning us on…

Twitter

fail-whaleI had a writer once write to me saying that some agents will only take a writer seriously by the amount of their followers. That was new news to me. Has anyone else heard this? I have over 24,000 now (@SDSouthard) but I don’t have agents knocking on my door. But who knows? I have issues with maps on my iPhone, they might be experiencing that as well right now.

The fact is a majority of those 24000 are people that simply want me to follow them. They want the numbers as well. Personally, I only follow other writers. It’s my club! These are my people! So if someone says they are an author, I don’t care the genre or title, I will usually follow them. (Plus, I write a lot of writing posts, like this one, that I like to believe other authors might enjoy and benefit from reading.) And of those 24000+, I think I have had only a conversation with about a thousand. Most seem to be on a service of some kind where they just tweet their ads for their books at me.

While I am skeptical that anyone will check out a book based on only 140 characters, I decided to try Twitter Ads last week. One thing I like about Twitter Ads is they allow you to pinpoint your audience. You can actually target followers of different accounts. So, for example, if you write a mystery, you can target accounts of famous mystery writers, believing their followers might like more books like that. That is a neat touch.

Over the course of two days around 6000 saw my promotional tweet, but of those only around 80 clicked on to the Amazon page. From what my publisher tells me there were only a few purchases during that span of time from there.

So did it justify the money I spent for the tweet to be promoted like that? Sadly, I would say not. It didn’t even break even.

However, I would say, unlike Facebook promotions, Twitter has a much better plan in place with their targeting service. Who knows? In a few years, as more and more people join this social media, it could be a good tool. Right now, though I was only marginally impressed.

The one thing Twitter has, its ace in the hole, is the possibility to break through the list of followers via retweets and the right hashtags at the right moment. It’s all about capturing that eye.

Facebook

 FacebookWhat happened to Facebook?

Do you remember when it was fun to be on it? Catch up with old friends? Now it is so overly filtered that friends I think I am following I don’t see unless I visit their pages. And no one does updates anymore! The conversation that used to be so fun on Facebook is gone, replaced by pictures, advertising and videos of cats people like to share. It’s all about sharing now, but nothing original.

Honestly, there are days I consider dropping Facebook and I would if it wasn’t for my writing page and some of the sites that give me updates on writers, movies, and shows I like.

Facebook offers the option to promote pages or links you put up on your page. Like all writers, I have a page for my writing (here). Anyway, over the last few months, I think I have promoted a post about half-dozen times. Many times they are around my novels, but never directly to amazon; I like to give my readers something more. So I will link to a review or an excerpt or an article about it or an interview or a giveaway, etc. via this blog. Facebook looks at the followers of my writing page and makes a decision based on those followers (and their followers) who to promote the post to… at least that is what they tell us. We really have no way to actually visit those other accounts to see it in action.

And we have all seen these promotions. Usually, for me, I get them because one of my friends decided to like a clothing store or some random candidate for office. Suddenly, my home page is flooded with pictures and little notes to click for more info. I think we all can agree that these promotions are really annoying.

Well, one of those annoying posts was mine! Hi and sorry…

Facebook, like Twitter, will give you an update on the numbers. While the first digit can be rightfully overwhelming (for example, 9000 have seen your link in one day!), the rest are the ones where you can take a deep breath of disappointment (the clicks and the likes).

As you can tell, I’m not sure where Facebook is going as a site, and their lackluster promotions just is another spot of curiosity for me. Then when you consider your reach is really only as far as the pages you visit, the people who friend or follow you (on your page), it feels so, so limiting.

Facebook could do better, and sadly it once did.

Good Reads

Good ReadsIs anyone on Good Reads not a writer? Honestly?

It seems a bulk of the people on the site are authors… or librarians. There are a lot of librarians. Let me correct that, everyone seems to be a writer or a librarian.

I tease, but seriously, I love the concept of Good Reads, I just worry us authors and our aggressive nature to sell our books might have scared off everyone else!

See, writers promote their books on the ads on the sides of the screen, in giveaways,  in quotes (sometimes that writers do themselves), in recommendations, in forums (which sometimes may include a note from others that plead please don’t), in updates. in created events, etc. Some even review their own books which you can do on Good Reads (a practice that always makes me feel a little sad when I see it happen).

I said that I love the concept of Good Reads. I do! I love the giveaways, the possible conversation with other readers and writer (just like I do on Twitter), it just can feel overwhelming as I get dozens and dozens of requests each day to follow someone. Sometimes followed by an e-mail later asking me to read their book.

When I have had a giveaway around a novel, the numbers are always wonderful. What I especially love are those entries that add my book to their “to-read” list. Awesome! However, the book moving from that list to the other (“currently-reading”) seems to be the trick.

The one thing I am nervous about doing on Good Reads is the Writer Q&A. You see these from time to time. A writer will create a forum–sometimes even daring to call it a “fan club;” seriously, a writer shouldn’t run their own fan club–where readers can ask an author questions. Yet, I can’t help but think of the empty theater image again. Walking onto that stage and no one being in the audience.

Looking back over this post, it feels all doom and gloom. That actually wasn’t my goal when I started it. I have hope, I always have hope.

See, what people don’t remember is that a few decades ago, you didn’t even have these mountains to attempt. Yes, just a few decades ago, all there was was agents, and then publishers and smaller publishers (indie presses) and self-publishers. And beyond, the book stores and libraries, there were no eBooks, no amazon. Just sweat and a lot of pleading with bookstore managers.

Now, thanks to the internet, anyone can publish, self-publishing is almost free. And, as much as I like to complain about Facebook, Twitter, and Good Reads, all writers–from the successful to the struggling–are on the same turf, the same stage.

Yes, we are all equal here, fighting and hoping for the same dream.

You see, we all carry our own empty theater with us, looking for an audience to fill it.

Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, CoverIf you liked reading my review, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen DaydreamMaximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous DareMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!

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35 responses

  1. All the those media platforms … I know! Sometimes I, too, come one second away from closing out my Facebook account. To be honest, I hate Facebook. It changes so often that I no longer have a clue how to navigate it. What I hate most right now is seeing posts I care nothing about (who IS this person, and did I really friend him/her?) and never seeing posts my real friends. As for twitter, before I follow someone I take a look at their tweets, and if all I see are repetitive promos I don’t bother to follow back. What’s the point? But you forgot the best author platform (though I guess it doesn’t qualify as social media) and that is your blog. I think that’s where you truly excel!

    • Thanks! It’s so weird to think of my blog as a social media tool since I put so much work into it. It feels like my short stories to me, not as important as my novels, but still a unique creation. If that, or any of this, makes sense. LOL

      Cheers!

  2. When it comes to social media, I do it because “they” say I should. I don’t spend too much time worry about it and expect little from it. I do however spend a lot of time on my blogs. Those are part of my writing and like Deb Trotter said, that’s where you really get to shine…Public speaking and readings are in my future, but I haven’t decided how I feel about that yet. Thank you for this post.

  3. I really like and agree with your post. (stepping on soap box) I do nothing on GoodReads; to me it seems like a waste of time. I didn’t even know about the site until I seen it on Twitter. Facebook is a joke, there is too much drama. I hide people from my timeline then the drama goes away; I ignore paid for promos. Twitter is my fav. I agree that there are ALOT of authors that use some sort of auto-tweet engine; I don’t like that. If all they do is promote, I unfollow. I want to know who they are; not what they are selling. There are so many businesses that want your hard earned money it is annoying. People need to tweet their own thoughts more and as you suggested, ‘be original’. (stepping off soap box) Thank you.

    • I’d recommend giving Good Reads a chance. As a reader it can be fun if done right.

      Oh, I hid a lot of people on Facebook (the last election helped me with that! LOL). You can lose the promotions though. They are always waiting like zombies in a horror movie.

      Cheers!

    • I said this in a previous post (and got some pushback), but I believe writing is only 10 percent of the gig today. The rest is PR and marketing. It’s that work and effort that in the end will make or break a career. I can write the greatest book in the world, but without the marketing side no one will know.

      I dream of the day when I can just focus on my books and my blog posts, but I am not there yet. Not even close.

      Cheers!

      • I’m a social media coach & I believe writing is 80% of the gig. Your best promotion is your next book. Others say writing is 75%. Check out Kristen Lamb, Dean Wesley Smith, and Russell Blake.

      • Russell Blake went from selling less than 200 books to in 18 months selling I believe 100,000 books in a year. Dean Wesley Smith & his wife have been in the biz for 30 years as writers (trad & self-published) as well as run a small press. Pretty much any success story I know the authors had at least 5 books/short stories out (or were writing fan fiction). Write fiction everyday. Write shorts to fill out your backlist. Look into anthologies to get your name seen (kickstarter & indiegogo are great places to find out about open submissions). Seriously your books are your best promotion. Hugh Howey had a number of books/shorts out. He barely promoted Wool. When Wool went big his other books/shorts began selling. Belle Andre combines books & promotion publishing maybe a book a month. Ruth Cardello I think it was the 3rd book in her series before she began to see real sales. Scott Nicholson one of the best-selling unknown horror authors – in the top 10 is constantly putting out new books & cross-promotes by creating boxed sets with other authors in his genre.

        I could go on. But… No it’s not a sure thing. But the more books/stories out the better chance you have of getting “discovered”/lucky/having a hit on your hands. Or maybe just a steady income.

      • Well, I’m all for people writing more (and I do write a lot with three unpublished books in my possession right now), but I’m nervous about promising anything, which is a lot of what the marketing stuff I reference do. Like there is a path, a yellow brick road with steps to follow. The Arts is all right brain, never logical.

        When you consider how many books and writers there are in the world (and I can’t help but believe sometimes there are more authors than readers), it just feels difficult, even for the best writers of our generations. I’d love it if more books, and better writing will see an author through to their dreams, I just don’t think it is possible for everyone sadly in this congested market. Nothing is guaranteed, no matter how good the book. There is just so much room at the top.

        I’m not a big fan of self-publishing since a self-published book has so much going against it from the start (reviewers won’t bite, bookstores won’t put them on their shelves, libraries will turn away, etc.). And stories of others who find success, need to be balanced with the sheer number that disappear on amazon searches after a week. Usually, my advice to authors considering self-publishing is to give your book 6 months to a year of trying to find an agent or a traditional publisher (maybe even an indie publisher), before going self-publishing. The book deserves at least a chance for the big leagues.

  4. I’m not yet a published author. I am a social media coach. A lot of what I’m doing on social media is building my fan base so when my books come out I’ve got a good foundation. I also work with several authors on using social media more effectively. So my perspective may be different.

    I always thought as a writer that my fan base would be readers rather than authors so I’m pretty lenient in who I follow. My numbers are only around 2,000 but I’ve tried to grow slowly so I can get to know my followers a bit and have conversations. Most of what I do is retweet interesting post ranging from writing & social media to feminist issues to gaming, parenting, cooking photography, and other misc. My followers range from authors, other social media coaches, doctors, lawyers, real estate, bloggers, moms, readers, librarians, drag racers & crew members, and more. Frankly I have no idea how many of these people have found me.

    FB its still possible to have conversations. I use filters so I don’t see pictures and other things that don’t interest me so I do see conversations happening. On FB pages you can make memes to work as conversation starters. Anytime you want someone to do an action like go to a page having a link is really helpful as people are generally lazy & if it requires more than 3 clicks to do something many give up. So if I hear about a book but have to go to Amazon & search for it I’m not likely to do it. Ads on FB I ignore/don’t see/block.

    I’ve joined a number of groups on Goodreads and I participate as a reader. I know a lot of readers who are not writers/wannabe writers. If you are mostly looking at reviews its not that obvious. But if you join active groups within genres it’s different. Many of the participants on the Georgette Heyer group are readers not authors. A few of us are authors/wannabes but the majority of the group are fans of Heyer and Austin. The same is true for a couple of the urban fantasy & paranormal romance groups I’m on & David Estes YA group & the science fiction & fantasy group & CJ Lyons mystery lovers group… Umm yeah I belong to a number of groups in different genres related to my personal likes, my own writing, my clients writing.

    It’s not just numbers that count. It’s the quality of the numbers. 1,000 true fans is worth more than 100,00 followers who aren’t invested in you or your work. When agents are looking at our social media they aren’t just looking at the numbers, they are looking at the interactions, and whether we are interacting with our ideal readers. Same with publishers – is that following leading to real sales. 1,000 true fans can sell 100,00 books. 100,00 uninterested followers can’t.

      • Yeah FB not letting people who like your page easily see your post stinks. There are ways for them to make sure they do but it’s more than 3 steps & they have to see someone post how to see pages & then remember to do those steps for all the pages they really want to see… Like that’s going to happen. Since they made the change the most of my “likes” that have seen a single post is half.

  5. I am so intimidated by social media sites and the “empty theater” it’s not even funny. It’s hard to say what to do on the web. I have avoided a lot of promotion for my own book, afraid to scare people off. I find my stuff going unshared and un-retweeted… Yet, I follow this boat load of authors who spam my on my FB author page and Twitter with their books & excerpts wanting me to repost them. But they don’t share the love. That’s why I’ve stopped sharing some of my follower authors with my follower readers. Then there’s Goodreads, where I had an event and sent the winners the books months ago. GR has a rule that if we win the book, we must post a review but they don’t give a time span. Should the review be posted within 6 months? I gave away my books months ago but never got those guaranteed reviews. So, there really are no true rules there. Some days, I just give up because it’s just hard to know what to do.

    • Well, the big thing I recommend for all writers, the first rule- write for yourself. Then anything else that happens, good or bad, is something extra. If you are happy with your writing, who cares about responses, reviews, etc. If you focus on that, it is easier to enter the “theater” for good or bad.

  6. Yeah, I’ve never really seen Facebook or Twitter as viable promotional vehicles. I try to keep my contact lists smalls so that they remain useful as services – otherwise it’s too hard to sift through the flood of content to keep up with the people you’re actually interested in!

    As for Goodreads, though, I guess haven’t run into the author congestion that you have. I use it more for the reader side than the writer side of things, and only a few of the friends I have on there are fellow authors.

    • That’s great. I do really dig GoodReads, and there are potential stuff for authors to do to promote their books (Giveaways, events, etc.) so dive in! But it can also be too much as well- recommending one’s book (which I tried once or twice to no avail), quotes from the book (I don’t do this, but others do. Someone did quote one of my books though, which was very flattering), etc. Between you and me though it can be depressing sometimes seeing the list of what people are actually reading. The English Major in me does sometime need to take a deep, deep breath. LOL

      Cheers!

      • I’ll give you that – seeing what’s popular (or, if feeling particularly masochistic, reading some reviews thereof) can be a good way to get the cringies. (>^-‘)>

      • My quotes from “the not finished book” has gotten chuckles and comments. Because I use GR as a reader and don’t make judgements on others reading I’ve been able to recommend friends work on a couple groups as well as when people ask “what should I read”. But this only works if you know the group so you know what they like and they know you so they trust you are recommending something they’d enjoy not just pushing a friends work.

        The thing is that social media is about building relationships NOT promotion. When you are about others and what interest them they become interested in you. Had I not been literally hit by a Mack truck in March 2012 I’d be in a different place than I’m in now with my blog and followers but I would not have learned as much from having to cut back and slow down. The people’s books I buy are rarely the ones promoting their books. Its usually the ones who I’ve learned something from or been entertained by & its always someone who made me feel like I mattered whether I bought their book or not.

  7. I appreciate your sharing these insights, Scott. I’ve always known that success doesn’t magically arrive after typing the words ‘The End’, but your stories from the trenches have helped me understand the publishing/marketing process more intimately than I would have.

    • I’m so glad! That really is my goals with these kind of posts, and hopefully inspiring readers to check out my own books as well, fill the theater. LOL

      Writing and books are my passion, and I like to educate and share about the art. So could these posts also be considered therapy? Possibly…

      Cheers!

  8. As Tasha says, the key with social media is focusing on building relationships. I have met some wonderful writers through Twitter and Facebook. After a history of “real” exchanges, I’ve explored their blogs, websites, books. Over time, I find myself buying their books rather than just waiting for a free promotion. I am a writer, but I LOVE to review books. Books by the writers I’ve gotten to know through social media always end up at the top of my review list. I am just starting to branch out into Goodreads both as a reviewer and as a participant. It was easy for me to build relationships rather than push my own stuff because I had nothing to push!

    I have three novels ready to go and dozens of short stories, but I have been dedicated to a traditional publishing model. Yup. A happy rider of the query-go-round. I’ve gotten close to the golden apple several times. But it just hasn’t happened. This is after building a solid publication history with my short fiction and after winning major fellowships. I knew something had to change when my state’s arts council awarded me a $5000 grant for a pair of short stories that two years later I STILL have not been able to place in literary magazines. So, I know for sure that the writing is not the issue. Now, I’ve decided to try the self-publishing route. My time sitting back learning the ropes has shown me what seems to work and what seems to put readers off. Whether this will pay off when my first novel comes out in November, who knows. What I do know is that I will at least be in the game…my work will be out there and have a shot at building a readership.

    By the way, Scott, you are one of those writers I met via Twitter. I bought A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM, reviewed it, tweeted about it and mentioned it on Facebook. So your efforts have paid off in at least my case. MAXMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE is in my Kindle and on my reading list!

    • I’m glad to have you in the theater! LOL

      Congrats on the grants, crazy you couldn’t get those same stories published. You’d think having that in the query letter would have helped. That’s the problem with this market today, good things get missed.

      Sounds like your comment could be the start of your own post.

      I’m glad you found me on twitter!

      Cheers.

  9. Pingback: Author Marketing 101: Do you really need social media?

  10. The only reason I have the gumption to join this conversation is Scott sent me a ‘friend’ invitation. I came over to see who and what he was about. I like the discussion. I write plain vanilla romance novels and was once traditionally published. Back in the day, romance books sold by word of mouth. Certainly no respectable print media reviewed romance books. I’ve been in the ebook market for about a year and a month. It was a rude awakening to learn I’d have to build a web page, a blog, a FB author page, a Goodreads author page, ditto for Amazon and B&N, join Linkedin, Twitter, participate in blog hops, and fork over $$$ for promotions before a title even sold once; plus scramble for reviews and readers. I have managed a few reviews–but every social media site I visit is crowded with other authors–all looking for readers/buyers. Avid readers have smartened up–they no longer buy books. They’ve built FB pages and blogs, set themselves up as reviewers and collect free books. Clever people. Every book that has been on the NY Times best seller list in the past forty years had an after market in the used book store where the an author garnered new readers. Same with the romance genre. A romance title might sell fifty thousand copies new, but turn twice in the after market, which created a fan base of a 150,000 readers and boosted sales for the author’s next book as soon as it hit the shelves. There’s no after market with ebooks–so we get one paying reader. On any weekday a reader can download from Amazon or B&N about 150 free reads–more on weekends when authors are doing special promos. That is a heck of a lot of competition–even for a 99 cent book–whatever the genre.

    • Definitely a different world, sometimes it almost feels like chaos, since so much of the structures that gave order have fallen away.

      Everyone is an author, everyone is an expert, and the playing field is almost level. Honestly, sometimes it terrifies me for the art because it is all so loud and crowded out there.

      I’ve found my blog a great way to connect with readers and writers. But, as you say, it is free. My publisher did a free campaign for my new book A Jane Austen Daydream once. It was just two days and over 7000 downloaded. I keep thinking, just imagine if those were sales…

      Thanks for writing and reading! I hope you will check out more books and posts. Cheers!

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