Truth, Lies, and What it Means to Win
As a novelist, the two questions I’m asked the most are “What is your book about?” and “How many books have you sold?”
I love answering the first one. Writing was my passion before it was ever my job, and when someone asks with sincere curiosity about something I’ve created, I’m thrilled to share. Yet the second question feels a lot riskier. Part of me wonders what weird rules of society even cause people to ask this—do they also ask restaurant owners how many customers they’ve served?—but I can only assume good intentions. Either they’re excited for me and want to celebrate, they don’t know many novelists and are genuinely interested in the business side of it, or they’re considering a publication of their own and are wondering how lucrative it might be in six months’ time. Maybe a few people simply want to ridicule my low numbers and so-called artistic endeavor, but I suspect most of those are only in my head. Hopefully.
So here it goes: truth, lies, and what it means to win. On second thought, I’ll put the bad news first.
- Marketing on social media is easy.
- I am more interesting than 99.9% of the internet and its users.
- Tweeting about a book will generate instant sales and dedicated fans.
- The whole world will immediately know about my book because (a) it’s published and (b) it appears prominently on a Facebook author page.
- Bloggers make thousands of dollars sitting at home in their pajamas.
- Any sentence ever uttered that describes a book as “passive income.”
Basically, it boils down to the myth that writers can type a few words, click a few buttons, and watch the money roll in. Sorry, but there is no magic formula.
- Effective marketing strategies have short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. Visibility is only part of the equation. Especially on social media, promotion has to be meaningful, targeted, and interactive.
- I am one interesting voice among millions (billions, maybe, that sounds more depressing). Rising above the noise is necessary, but it’s not just about being louder than everyone else. Social media marketing is about reciprocity and collaboration. People care about people who care about people.
- In real life, I don’t say hi to a stranger in the grocery store and then suddenly have a lifelong friend. Just because people follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page, it doesn’t mean they trust me. Building a following is about engagement and consistency over time, not a sudden spike in numbers.
- We are inundated with people’s online fundraisers and multi-level marketing scams. It takes some repeated efforts for anyone to actually recognize my book in a crowd, but experts will agree that social media users don’t just want a sales pitch. They want quality, enriching content. People need to buy into what I’m offering for free before I ask them to buy what I’m selling.
- I sometimes wear pajamas when I blog.
- Behind every “passive income” royalty check are untold hours of writing, revising, editing, and marketing. People who do make decent incomes on YouTube or Amazon Kindle didn’t just wake up one morning and find themselves there. It’s hard work, not magic.
So is writing just a bleak, meaningless wasteland? Absolutely not. While perhaps any art can be defined as “beautiful but impractical,” there are real, useful connections that have come from my social media efforts. Laying the groundwork takes time, and most rewards are not monetary. Yes, I sell books, and I want to keep selling. But winning is realizing that there’s a whole lot of giving that must come before getting.
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