I disagree. Social media is a MUST for writers.


how important is website traffic to writers?

Fiction writers face peculiar challenges when it comes to generating search engine traffic.

Sabine Reed, in a guest post on published here, tackles a topic of perennial interest to writers: how much time should we spend on social media?

It’s a good question and her answer is a thoughtful one, but I don’t think it goes far enough.

Sabine makes the following, very valid, points:

1. Google is by far the biggest source of online traffic. She points to this study, which notes that

social media sites do not drive traffic like content sites and search engines do, and it’s not even close. That means that, while all those retweets are nice to see, apparently, few people are clicking the actual link embedded within the tweeted message.

2. Writers need to generate saleable content. The corollary being: if you’re wasting hours a day on Twitter, you’re not writing your novel. And yes, that’s a problem.

But while I agree on both of those points, I don’t think they tell the whole story.

So let’s look at the problem a bit more closely — and tell me if you think I’ve missed anything here!

Yes, Content is King

As Sabine also mentions, the not-so-secret secret about driving Google traffic is to publish good content.

But what is “good content”?

It is text that Google’s bots determine to be

  • Relevant and
  • Authoritative

Relevance = keywords. Authoritative = linked.

This is a relatively straightforward problem if you are operating in the world of non-fiction.

Say I want to promote my dog books. All I have to do is write articles and blog posts about dogs, and dog training, and adopting a companion dog. There’s my keyword-laced content that all relates to dogs.*

Can Job by Kirsten Mortensen

Hello? Anyone looking for articles on Taylor or Miles? Didn't think so...

I also network with other people publishing articles about dogs, and over time they link to my blog, which gives me authority.

This isn’t difficult to do, especially if you’re working in subject areas that are relatively narrow and don’t have  a lot of competition. I’ve done it lots of times, both on my own blog and for other peoples’ blogs.

But when it comes to fiction, what keywords are you going to use?

If someone hasn’t read my novel Can Job, then it doesn’t matter if I write 500 articles about Borschtchester, New York, or Miles Chacuderie, or the DipTych Digital Division of DipTych Corporation.

Nobody’s going to Google those terms, because they are all made up.

Now if you write genre, you may be able to get around this. It’s arguable that there are sets of keywords specific to certain genres that you could use as Google bait. Publish 500 articles about dragons and wizards and fairies, and you could find your blog generating traffic from people who want to read about dragons and wizards and fairies.

Lucky you.

Me, I’m not so lucky. Even my book about fairies isn’t really a paranormal so much as a romantic comedy with a paranormal twist.

So what about links?

It’s a funny thing, but links without focused content aren’t really useful from a search engine perspective.

Example. The New York Times has published articles about dogs. (“Asymmetric tail-wagging responses by dogs to different emotive stimuli,” anyone?) And The New York Times gets linked by bloggers, at the rate of probably a zillion links per nanosecond.

But type “dogs” into Google and The New York Times does not get top ranking.

Links without focused content aren’t an effective way to generate high visibility via search engine rank.

So although Sabine makes valid points, I think we need to re-frame the issue.

Social media is not about generating website traffic.

For writers . . .

Social Media is About Long-Term Word-Of-Mouth, Not Short-Term Traffic

That statement would give the heebie jeebies to your average SEO professional.

Your average SEO professional focuses on driving website traffic. He/she has to. When your goal is to get people to spend  money, website traffic is critical. It’s a critical link in the process of online lead generation and/or sales.

waiting readers

Your audience is out there -- and chances are they'll find you by word-of-mouth.

But as a novelist, I don’t care as much about traffic as about something more nebulous.

I’ve actually been wrestling with what to call it. It has aspects of “visibility” and “brand” and “platform.”

But ultimately what I need to do is generate word-of-mouth referrals.

And the way to do that is to be available when people want to connect — specifically, people who love books.

In fact, this relates to another point Sabine makes in her post:

Writers should write. The more books you have out there, the greater the number of people who will find out about you.

She notes that JA Konrath, among others, reiterate this point all the time.

But why does it work?

Word of mouth.

Write a great novel, and people talk about it. They recommend it. They publish positive reviews about it. And when they do, other people buy copies. And those people recommend it. And so on.

Which is where social media comes in.

Social Media Augments This Process

Social media can act as an amplifier.

Savvy writers know this. Watch them. They’re not tweeting to get people to go to their websites. They’re tweeting to start conversations about their books.

Yes, you need to strike a balance. You have to be conscious that time you spend on social media is time you aren’t spending on generating saleable content — novels or short stories.

But IMO it’s not accurate to say that Amanda Hocking’s success is based on the fact that she wrote a lot of books instead of doing any promotion. To quote Hocking herself: “The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting.”

So not only has Hocking invested her time in marketing, her success  can be directly attributed to social media — specifically, to word-of-mouth about her writing, which was spread and amplified via social media.

My advice, then?

Writers need blogs. They need Twitter accounts. The need to be on Facebook and probably a bunch of other sites like GoodReads.

And they need to invest time in connecting with people on all of those platforms.

What do you think?

* Yes, I just promoted my dog books. Heh.



This entry was posted in Blogging, Social Media, Twitter, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to I disagree. Social media is a MUST for writers.

  1. John Wiswell says:

    If you can successfully game the way search engines function then I can see that being all you’d have to do. The Huffington Post is famous for tagging popular misspellings of actors’ names so people who search for the wrong names will see them at the top of Google. This habit nets them millions of hits per month.

    But for the aspiring writer, I can’t imagine not trying any popular avenue. If it doesn’t work or you can’t stand it, then back off. Surely there are award-winning, best-selling authors who don’t use Twitter, or Facebook, or blogs. You can barely get Thomas Pynchon to do an interview, for crying out loud, and he’s a living member of the American canon. But since I’m not, I’ve got to try what I can.

  2. Kirsten says:

    I agree 100%, John. I also think there is a place for paid advertising for aspiring indie writers, but I’m still wrapping my head around that one…

  3. I think the points made are definitely from a different perspective than that of a fiction writer–and specifically, that of an Indie Author or Indie Publisher who’s publishing eBooks in a digital marketplace. It’s one thing to try to use eCommerce to sell brick-and-mortar widgets, but I’ve been online since 1985, I saw the first eCommerce: O’Reilly Books (ORA) which specializes in computer science related subject matter, had the first one built in late 1993 by a group of 100% female programmers and they built the second one as well–for Amazon in 1994–then ORA published a book on how to “do” that still-specialized form of coding (called “CGI scripting” back then) You know how ORA’s books became the de facto standard in documenting the new technologies as they emerged? WORD OF MOUTH :) That and the branding established by the funky animal colophons on their books :)

    Amazon made it the old-fashioned way, by establishing themselves as “first” (the first online bookstore, which again, was not true since ORA was first but ORA was a publisher, Amazon was a store-only) and putting their customers and customer service as their #1 goal (back in the 1990s, not now, of course)

    Customer service for a widget-maker or seller of brick-and-mortar goods involves face to face sales. The concept, as you note, Kirsten, translates directly to eBook sales and online “face to face” sales activities. If an Indie Author is not available to “speak” to their public and sell their goods, why would anyone buy them? Solely on the word-of-mouth recommendation of a friend? That might generate 20% of an Indie Publisher’s revenues but the Indies are finding it far more common to generate click-through’s by online word-of-mouth activities. It might take blogging, email newsletters, participation in discussions on sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing, but it DEFINITELY involves being “reachable” on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. It’s impossible to generate a fan base as a seller of eBooks without being available to the fans online.

    Bottom line: Digital sales require digital selling. To say that spending time on Twitter is wasted because “while all those retweets are nice to see, apparently, few people are clicking the actual link ” is a naive remark by someone not involved in the eBook market. Even the Big Six traditional publishers have written into the contracts with established, midlist authors the requirement to participate in “Twitter and establish and maintain a blog and Facebook presence.” If the Big Six (who are 10 or more years behind the curve on realizing people will read eBooks) can grasp the need for social media enough to contractually REQUIRE authors to participate, I think the RTs aren’t just for thrills.

    I also got a kick out of the “apparently” in that remark. As in, apparently, she does NOT get RT’d? haha, yeah, now I’m being snarky so it’s time to close this. Good dicussion–always good to spark a debate!


  4. Kirsten says:

    Great comment, Sarah!

    I have a marketing idea that I want to run by you . . . so get ready, incoming, incoming…

  5. Awesome post Kirsten, mind if I link to it? I think writers of every stripe could benefit from reading this.

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