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.