Will You Buy My Book If I Tell You About My Cat – Social Media for Fun and Profit

First, I’d like to tell you a few things about my cat. I’d like to, but he’s been gone for more than two years, after a long and mostly happy life, and it turns out that his passing might have seriously decreased my capacity to sell books.

For years now, publishers have been pushing their authors to build online platforms – a much safer thought than getting authors to build actual physical platforms which people might stand on – as a way to keep their names and selves out there (wherever there is), build the brand and ultimately drive sales. So, we’re all madly tweeting, FBing (a verb as of 2012, I think), blogging etc, and how’s it going? Are we selling books, are we just making noise or are we doing something else entirely, perhaps being part of some new kind of scattered rambling conversation that rolls on for its own sake?

With people who aren’t writers now making an income teaching people who want to be writers how to build the platform from which to launch themselves, some considered cynicism seems due, and it’s come in the form of this article in the Guardian.

If I’d been better at this, I’d have put that link at the bottom, since I just lost most of you already, didn’t I?

Anyway, in case you’re still here or have come back, how about that 80/20 rule? Or in fact those 80/20 rules? If you’re supposed to spend 80% of your time creating a marketing wwwhirlwind and only 20% writing, plus spending 80% your marketing time being generally charming and only 20% promoting your wares, does that mean your working life, best-practise-wise, should now be 64% about crapping on? I mistakenly thought that was about the ratio for my personal life instead (with the rest of it taken up with horsey rides and complaining about the government).

I don’t think that there’s the clear connection some people had hoped for between tweeting, FBing, blogging, etc and sales, and maybe the numbers are starting to show that. But publishers will still make authors do it because publishers lose nothing if an author burns time, and because there’s the perception that you’ll start sliding back rapidly if you don’t do it.

In one sense, this disconnect is a great thing. These media weren’t set up for making money for users (or set up to be monetised by them) and the less effective they are at that the more we’ll all want to be here. If they were great selling tools, we’d be swamped by the selling side of them soon enough and we’d all start looking away.

Yes, my publishers made me come here. Is it making me sell a lot of books? I seriously doubt it, and the evidence says I’m right. But there’s a conversation to be part of and there are ideas to bounce around. A writer’s brain needs that. There are good reasons to stay here, now that I’m in the neighbourhood.

How do I go with my 80/20s? I spend nothing like 80% of my time marketing because it’s the writing part of the job that I actually like, and I stick with it in the old-fashioned hope that, if I write something people might want to read, I’ll still have a chance in the mad new world. Some people might buy it, read it and tell their friends. Word of mouth is still the thing that most authors’ careers are built on, even if the word now has dozens of new ways of spreading.

Am I spending 80% of my 80% marketing time telling you about my cat, my meal plans, etc? No. Not 80%. There’s no cat and every Monday night we get the exact same takeaway order from the exact same place. This is such an entrenched pattern that I now have to tell them in advance if I’m not coming, or they’ll cook it automatically. No one needs me tweeting about that every week.

If the right thought occurs to me, yes, I’ll put it out there, since that’s the game we’re all playing on Twitter etc, but what that regular takeaway order says is that a vast part of my finite brain and almost all of my imagination is taken up by being a writer and that, by 8pm, it’s beyond me to have a fresh thought about food ordering.

Because of that, more than 20% of my tweets are likely to be about writing. It’s in my head a lot of the time.

Plus, you know you actually want that because my short stories are ideal for your morning commute and my novels perfect for those evenings when you’ve had just about enough of people cooking against the clock on TV. And my books make great gifts for almost all the family (new product range for under-14s coming soon!).

So, please feel welcome to monetise me as often as you’d like to but, when I start blogging about my fictitious cat, remember to become suspicious. The dirty, dirty manipulation will be underway.

PS – Okay, since posting yesterday I have now heard from several people saying they’ve bought my work in response to my tweets, blog posts, etc. To which I say, keep it up people. Continue to defy the naysayers and their dispiriting stats. Hey, why not buy even more of my stuff? If we work together like this, we can make them look really stupid.

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24 Responses to Will You Buy My Book If I Tell You About My Cat – Social Media for Fun and Profit

  1. jecmacd says:

    About time with the under-14’s cause the grown-ups in this house have had all the fun for far too long. Aren’t you glad you blogged? Cause now I’m going to tweet and fb how much I’m looking forward to getting my kids as hooked on your writing as I am. There’s your word of mouth right there. Seems your publisher knew something after all : )

    • nickearls says:

      Excellent. I really don’t have the time in my life to be a responsible cat owner right now. This is all going to be much easier if people just do what they’re supposed to and buy the books. Thank you. And thanks for the web 2.0 word of mouth too.

  2. Dimity Powell says:


  3. Opinionated Scamp says:

    Thanks for putting something of yourself in your social space. I’ve stopped subscribing to authors whose publicists make obvious paint-by-the-numbers posts about their pets.

  4. Cally Jackson says:

    Thanks for the chuckle, Nick. That 80/20 figure is astounding and seems counter-intuitive to me.

    As a soon-to-be self-published author, I’m hoping that my ‘platform’ helps me to sell books, but it’s also been extraordinarily helpful for other reasons already. I’ve received a great deal of support, advice and encouragement from other writer-bloggers, and I believe that being part of the social media world has helped me with my writing and quest to self publish. In saying that, there’s no way I ever intend to spend 80% of my potential writing time in the social media world!

    • nickearls says:

      I realise I’m one of the people who congratulated you on your platform-building, but you’re right – the connections it’s allowed you to make are real and valuable. And I’ll also still be hoping it can help you sell some books.

  5. Nick,
    it’s a great article, isn’t it? I’ve got to admit it took a great weight off my shoulders. Even experts like Thomas Power, who cofounded Ecademy, and Set Godin, a very respected blogger, put the figures for returns on all the time invested in social media at about:

    Seth Godin: 50,000 followers might lead to 23 products bought,
    Thomas Power: 10,000 leads to 1.

    Take your pick. Either way two experts in the SoMe field say the return on investment (ROI) isn’t good.

  6. Josh says:

    The fact that you have to notify your takeaway place if you’re not coming every Monday is definitely tweet-worthy. Also, one of the main things I came away from reading the post with was wondering “What was his cat like?”

    Sorry about that.

    • nickearls says:

      My cat was great, though snot was a problem due to rhinitis. One day, when sales are flagging, his life story will be serialised here.

  7. Love your honesty, Nick.
    Every business who decides to use social media as part of their marketing, promotion, awareness or whatever, needs to know what they want to achieve, and to use it the way it suits them.
    I decided that I will use only the ‘tools’ that work for me, not those that the gurus tell me I should be using.
    So stick to what is right for you, and keep doing what you love doing – writing, writing, writing.

  8. Kate says:

    What I don’t understand, is that we have spent years and years learning to be cynical about the reward to promise ratio put forward by advertising and marketing…suddenly social media turns up and the general consensus is that if it comes from a tweet or facebook or better yet, the a tweet or post by the person themselves, it must be true!

    How is social media with respect to books any different to any other advertising method they have tried in the past? All of which pale in comparison with word of mouth. Either the publishers have lost the plot or the general public has… not sure which is more concerning.

    But yes to coffee in a few weeks. Social media is not a total loss. Oh you wanted more out of it than a single book purchase (which I was already going to make) and a coffee? Hmmmm maybe you could write about vampires…

    • nickearls says:

      I suggested to my publishers that we might hire a bunch of Olympic medallists to endorse Welcome to Normal on TV (and plenty of them would be good for a tweet or two as well) but for some reason the idea didn’t get up. Seems to work for Swisse pretty nicely though.

  9. Kate says:

    PS I chose not to discuss my disdain for the twitter feed that now accompanies the news.

  10. This is not a post I wanted to read after deciding I needed to boost my online/social media presence in the hope of creating some interest in my novel before it’s published! I think the social media scene probably works better for writers who are only publishing e-books, as it’s so easy for people to clink on a link and download a book. I’m aiming for traditional publishing and in that case I think that using my personal network of friends and associates and doing personal promotion will be just as effective as far as sales go – and more fun. (I’m thinking of the wine and cheese).

  11. Quokka says:

    So, are you in line for a smack from your editor if you don’t casually mention to us on FB, twitter and here that we should all go vote for your book?

  12. nickearls says:

    You’re so right. So right, in fact that I’ll let you in on the plan. While subtlety is thin on the ground so far this century, no one responds well to relentless needy bombardment. Patchy needy bombardment is another matter. The other thing we’re factoring in is that people don’t tend to vote in the middle. So, I put word out when voting opened, and watch for me doing another casual but unmissable push just before voting closes. And then watch me lose to William McInnes anyway, while he just stands back and displays none of my desperate vote-seeking behaviour.

  13. Quokka says:

    Heh heh. So true.
    I haven’t read The Fix yet but somehow I doubt it has that winning Jerry Springer element that the public so adore. If you want to win that prize you should have written a stinging tell-all narrative detailing the unhappiness of your marriage, the vapidity of your in-laws, the the occasional drunken thump that left someone bleeding in the gutter, the tedium of your sex life, and then develop some sort of terrible disease so that no-one dare raise their eyebrows at your utter lack of boundaries.
    You’re just not trying hard enough.

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  15. woolfoot says:

    Hi Nick – I have been doing my bit to bring ants to this platform building picnic (though no one has really noticed since my platform is like a popsicle stick). Anyway, I am heartened to see someone with a regular Reviewing Stand sort of platform – something worthy of the old Soviet leaders on May Day – start questioning the worth of social networking for marketing. Here’s a link to my blog post on this. (Honestly, my hammer and nails and boards are nowhere in sight but I’d be interested in your thoughts). http://lasthouse.blogspot.com/2012/05/philistines-on-their-platforms.html

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  18. Danielle says:

    RIP Doug. Keeper of the “k” key on the keyboard. Leaver of headless rat lawn ornaments. Snoozer of olympic ability. House guest interrogator straight from Mossad.

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