Monday, November 8, 2010

Social Media - Novel-selling magic dust or huge waste of time? (GUEST POST!)

There are tons of aspiring authors (including myself) blogging and tweeting because we love to write and share information and talk to strangers. Also, there are rumors that it's what we "should" do to increase our chances of getting published and, later, selling more copies of our novels. But does it work?

Today the FNC is turning over the blog to debut author Matt Stewart, who released his first novel ... on Twitter. And then got a lot of press. And a book deal. (It's an adult novel, but we won't judge. It sounds pretty awesome.) Plus, he's a marketing/PR guru by day. Who better to weigh in on the question?

Pay attention people: he knows what he's talking about!

Aloha first novelists (and first novelist readers) – I’m Matt Stewart, a first novelist (surprise!). My debut novel The French Revolution came out on Bastille Day (get it?) and I’m thrilled to say it’s been warmly received by critics. You can read the reviews here.

I’m mildly infamous for first releasing The French Revolution on Twitter in 2009. Hang on—release a book on Twitter? How the heck does that work—and who’d want to read a book on Twitter anyway? There’s a long story behind my Twitter gambit, which you can read here, but the short story is that nobody wants to read a book on Twitter. However, most people won’t read long form anything—short story, novel, whatever—when they don’t think it’s a reasonably good use of their time. They will, however, read a text message or tweet, because they’re short. I think I write attention-getting sentences that might encourage you to learn more, or even buy the whole book. Think of it as watching a few minutes of a TV show before ordering the whole season.

My Twitter experiment was covered in media around the world, and I later landed a book deal--a hardcopy version was released this year. (NOTE: The French Revolution is much easier to read in traditional book form.) Victory!

Time and time again, you’ve heard that social media like Facebook and Twitter are the wave of the future. If you’re tech-savvy enough to read this blog, you’re likely on one of those platforms, and maybe even both. Stories like mine support the idea that social media can build a readership that translates into successful novel releases. But don’t get the idea that social media is some sort of magic pixie dust—there’s a lot of hard work behind translating social media into meaningful reader relationships. Here are a few lessons from the road:

Social media lets you break rules to build buzz. Want to put your book out on Twitter? Post chapters on Facebook? Release a book trailer video? Some call those ideas gimmicks that circumvent standard book promotion; I call them hooks that help demonstrate that you’re an interesting person worthy of fifteen bucks and ten hours of reading time. Social media makes it easier than ever to test out new ideas that might just grab you new fans.

You call the shots. Anybody can open up a Facebook or Twitter account—you don’t have to be an expert, or endorsed by mainstream publishing. With a good idea and some elbow grease, you can make magic happen on your own right away. In an industry that often feels painfully slow, that's a liberating experience.

Social media takes time. We’re not talking a ton of time – call it a half-hour a day. But that adds up. And to learn to be truly effective in building a fan base through social media, authors have to learn to not only participate, but also be relentlessly interesting and assertive in reaching new people. Like anything, there’s a learning curve.

Traditional media still does way more than social media. Nobody would have noticed my Twitter story had I not been covered in the likes of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and CNN. For better or worse, old media has a much bigger reach. You don’t have to be a professional PR expert to get the attention of old-school media—but it sure does help. (Disclosure: my day job is in PR/marketing).

Credibility counts most. Ultimately, people buy books that they believe are worth the time and money, and that usually means they have to be exposed to a book several times before they buy. Quick social media gimmicks won’t get you that kind of credibility—you’ll have to grind out the long haul of being interesting, going to events, and even writing guest posts on first novel blogs.

Long story short? Try it. While social media isn’t book-selling magic dust, it IS good, reliable fertilizer to grow a fan based over time, making for an impressive weapon in any author’s arsenal.

Matt Stewart’s debut novel, The French Revolution, has been called “wildly imaginative,” “brilliant,” and “an excellent achievement,” and was named a Notable Debut by Poets & Writers. He’s mildly infamous for releasing the novel on Twitter first. His stories have been published in Instant City, The Millions, McSweeney's, Opium Magazine, and more, and he blogs for The Huffington Post and The Nervous Breakdown. Grab his free French Rev iPhone app on You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks, Matt!

Your turn! Do you think having a social media presence increases an author's chance of selling more books (or even getting a book deal)? Whose book have you added to your TBR or bought because you loved the author's blog/Twitter feed/website?

My thoughts: Having a blog or Twitter presence doesn't generally help OR harm your chances of getting an agent or deal -- your book will get you that! But I definitely think social media can help authors get more readers when their book is published -- I know that if I love a person's blog, I'm much more likely to pick up his/her book!


  1. as a blogger, I find twitter a great way to interact (or just read tweets) w/ anybody, and that includes aspiring novelists. i think its a great platform and when used well (i love teaser tweets and stuff like that) it can definitly build connections and help spark interest :) great guest post!

  2. I don't think having a blog hurts, but if your book isn't good, it won't sell. I do think it helps to create buzz for your book and create a way you can communicate with other authors and fans. But I think you should do what you can for where you are at, which is why I'm not ready to blog.

  3. Hey Natalie - I'm the author. Ultimately, you're right--the first thing you need to focus on is writing an amazing novel. That said, there are a lot of amazing novels out there, and most readers reach for trusted names like Stieg Larsen and Stephen King. Blogging can help make first contact with potential readers and start breaking down those barriers.

    Case in point: I just got your attention, and you probably never heard of me before! You may not buy the book, but at least you've heard of me. That's how it starts.

    Thanks for the note.


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