A minute or two ago, I gave a very short reaction to a depressing post on the state of the publishing industry (“The Ten Awful Truths of Book Publishing“). I found that post thanks to Christopher Meeks, who blogged on Huffington Post about the need for today’s writers to be both writers and marketers.
Personally I think that to some extent, writers have always had to be marketers. After all, we’ve always had to sell at least one person on our writing if we wanted to land an agent and a publisher, and what do you think all those old-timey book tours and book readings were about?
Of course, the marketing expectations for writers are much much higher now. To make their numbers in an era of declining book sales, publishers have cut marketing efforts to the bone. Which is why you can find writers on social media outlets everywhere in a desperate hunt to build the platform that will prop up their sales in a world when the average non-fiction book is doing well to sell 250 copies a year and 3000 copies in a lifetime.
Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and blogs are held up by the experts as staples of any writer’s online self-promotion tool kit. For the most part, I agree. But lately I’ve been meditating on the actual usefulness of Twitter for new writers trying to build a platform from scratch.
It’s just so noisy. Ironically, while Meeks appears to accept Twitter as an essential plank in a writer’s social media platform, his post on the subject neatly captures my own unease.
Whenever I read tweets, my screen soon tells me of the tens or hundreds that have been added in the last several minutes. I asked a friend how he keeps up with the stream. “I don’t read them,” he says. “I glance at a few and just tweet.”
Judging by my own behavior, that friend is not alone. I can easily believe that most Twitter users are the same way (especially those folks who follow thousands of their fellow Twitterers). Which makes me wonder, if everyone is sending tweets but no one is reading them, what’s the point?
(In this respect, Twitter seems to be infected with the same illness plaguing the publishing industry itself — to wit, more and more people are writing books but fewer and fewer people are actually reading them.)
Other authors may complain about the need to blog, but blogging at least gets me writing every day. Even if no one visits my blog, blogging still makes me a better writer. I’m not sure the same can be said of a 140-character Tweet.
When I take a step back and look at all the noise on Twitter, I can’t help but wonder whether the key to using Twitter to build a platform is a bit like the key to owning a home in Boston. I’ve often thought that the most practical path to homeownership in Boston is to have bought your house 30 years ago before wages stagnated and prices really began to climb — or better yet, to have inherited your parents’ place. As relatively new Boston residents (we’ve only lived in the area some dozen years), both paths are closed to us. When it comes to Twitter, I can’t help but wonder if the most practical path to building a platform is to have joined the site in 2008 (the equivalent of 30 Twitter-years ago) when relatively few people were using the service, or, like the Neil Gaimans of the world, to have brought to Twitter the influence of a platform built in another medium.
It seems to me that for a new writer just building her reputation and with a lot of work still to do on the fundamentals of the craft, the hours it takes to create a compelling Twitter stream and convince thousands of people to follow it would be better spent somewhere else–like editing my actual book.