For Writers, Social Media Should Be Little More Than Playtime

Posted: September 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

by David Bain

NOTE: You may freely copy and repost or reprint this article as long as all links, the above byline, this note, and all following text remains unchanged.

Writers need to understand this:

Social media – your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, etc. –  is playtime.

It does not significantly affect your sales.

Actually, it might affect your sales a little if you’re already established somewhere beyond the small/indie press. And getting listed on a popular book blog, for instance, will definitely affect your sales (at least temporarily).

But for the bulk of us, it’s playtime.

Yesterday, I hit 35,000 followers on Twitter.

I’m in awe at that number. That’s as many people as live in my smallish Indiana county!

So I tweeted these words in celebration: “Hey! 35,000 followers! Hi to 35,000 people! Here’s a test: How many of you will say ‘hi’ back?”

The first ten minutes generated exactly 28 responses.

Including exactly one guy who told me to “go fudge” myself.

There were only about a dozen more responses over the course of the next hour or two.

I love all my Twitter followers – seriously, even the ones who tell me to go fudge myself … because, hey, we all need to be humbled from time to time – and it was fun seeing the initial flood of responses (thank you, everyone who responded!)  but let’s face it. If you’re thinking of using Twitter as effective advertising instead of just a fun means of communication, that’s a pathetic response percentage.

28/35,000 = .0008

That’s not even a real percentage in my book.

I don’t even want to comment on what that percentage might mean.

Okay, actually, I do:

What it basically means is that if I tweet about my thrilling new novel, DEATH SIGHT (due at the end of October), to 35,000 people, I can expect that only about 28, if that, might actually act on it and click the link and check it out.

Your guess is as good as mine as to how many of those who click would actually buy it.

This is out of 35,000 followers.

Translated to the non-electronic world: You put an ad in the newspaper about your book signing, and it goes out to every resident of your small Indiana county. Twenty-eight souls show up. And some number significantly less than that leave with your book in hand. (Twenty-eight people would probably be a decent number, in reality. I’ve seen less show up for instantly recognizable authors speaking at big city book festivals.)

Not to reduce people to mere numbers – I really do like the connectivity aspect of social media – but I’ve amassed this follower total in a little over a year (about 13 months). I have a feeling it would have taken Stephen King just a little less time to amass as many, would he care to directly join the Twitterverse firsthand.

But I also bet that, given the same number of followers, he would also have achieved a slightly better response percentage in the first ten minutes.

The point I take away from this: Keep writing.

Nothing else, no other self-promotion unconnected to a larger, established advertising-based network, really works.


Oh, I’ll keep doing the social media thing, sure. Of course.

Because I enjoy the hell out of it. Interacting with what few fans and active followers I do have is one of the daily joys of my waking life. I’ve had some wonderful experiences via Twitter. For instance, although I’ve solicited none of them in advance, all the five-star Amazon reviews for my first novel, GRAY LAKE – – are from strangers whom I’ve come to know on Twitter after they’ve either read the book and posted their review or tweeted me, letting me know how much they enjoyed it.

I can’t deny that Twitter has certainly resulted in a few sales for me.

But only a few – probably not even the majority.

I still think only my writing itself – my writing, my constant labor, and whatever luck might erupt into my life – will be the only factors to give me anything approaching a break-out bestseller.

Thus, my focus remains on writing – on novels and stories and essays and the occasional poem – not social media.

If you see me here on my blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, you’re seeing me having fun.

One more time:

Social media is playtime – it’s a sparkly pastime, a great way to connect and interact – and I love you dearly for choosing to spend your time with me in this manner.

But it’s hardly the key to success, and should not be treated as such.

NOTE: This essay also appears in my $.99 ebook TEN SHORT ESSAYS ON WRITING.

  1. Missed your hello last night, so Hi! Great post. 🙂

  2. Akira says:

    Or it means they are one of those who are like me who read it, but do usually not do things just because they are asked for it but only if they are interested in it – as I might be in your book but not in silly “hi back” tweets 😉

    • davidbainaa says:

      Good point. Just saying the response is probably comparable; I doubt a ton more people will click through on a post about one of my books – for instance, my tweets about blog posts like this one usually result in a dozen or less views. I’ll continue making them, but people seem to tolerate my more “spammy” self-promotional tweets, hopefully because they also see there’s a real person there interacting in between them. I keep at the promotional tweets because, well, they do result in a tiny trickle of sales every now and then, but were I not having fun with the real interaction, it probably wouldn’t be worth maintaining the account just for advertising purposes – and I do see too many accounts which seem to be set up just for that.

      • Akira says:

        I agree – partly. I think it all depends on what your are trying to promote. People who follow your Twitter are very likely to either having read one of your books or being interested in your books. This, however, does not mean they are also interested in reading your blog/blogs in general. I for my part read about 2-3 books a week at least, when I’m on vacation or got more time it’s more likely to be 5-10 books. I do, however, only read a couple of blogs on a regular basis (to be honest, I even only read two blogs – Sarah Rees Brennan’s cause I love every single word this woman writes and one of my friend’s) plus some people’s tumblr. This is the first time I’ve ever been to your blog and I only came here because your tweet had me curious about it. I did read more or less every tweet you’ve written since I started following you, though. Same goes for most writers I follow and I very often pick up their new books or read short stories they wrote. In fact most books I’ve bought in the past months I found out about on Twitter or facebook since they’ve been recommended by other writers or friends who also read a lot.

        So what I’m saying is, it might seem as if Twitter wasn’t suitable for advertisement but truth is, it is – just not the way you might imagine it to be. I would never have found out about you were you not on Twitter and usually if something is true for one person, it’s also true for a whole bunch of others.

      • davidbainaa says:

        That’s a good point too. I guess I say myself in the post that I’m staying in it for the connections, not so much for potential sales.

  3. michaelkrose says:

    Hi, Dave. I’d say that the vast majority of people who I *know* have read my books, I met on Twitter. But out of, say 100 sales I see come through on Amazon, how many of them found me through Twitter? Well, there are five possible routes to my books that I can think of:

    1. Twitter
    2. Facebook
    3. My blog/website or my speculative fiction webzine
    4. Someone else’s blog/website (guest posts, interviews, kind mentions, etc.)
    5. Seeing it on a chart or “also bought” list on Amazon.

    I’d probably kill three or four people (well, at least two) to know how many of my 100 buyers found my book via each of those different routes. Alas, I have no way of knowing. But I have a feeling that most of them have come from Twitter or seen my books on Amazon charts/lists. Why? Because at least one of my books tends to be on the Science Fiction>Series chart at any given time and because Twitter is, by far, where I do the majority of my advertising.

    Regarding your experiment: You sent out a single tweet and got x amount of responses. If you do it again today, you’ll probably get a similar amount from new people. Let’s call it y. Saturday, do it again and get z responses. So, the effectiveness of Twitter marketing is not the formula x/35,000, as you’ve listed above. It’s x+y+z+every other promotional tweet you send out/35,000 (or however many followers you have.) You’ll never get 35,000/35,000 who see and take action based on your tweets, but you add new followers every day. These are people who’ve *never* seen a tweet about your book. And as long as you aren’t sending out a dozen tweets an hour (which will piss people off and make them unfollow you), I think a sustained flow of promotional tweets will continually get new eyes on your work.

    Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Thoughts?

    Michael K. Rose

    • davidbainaa says:

      I totally agree with your x+y+z formula. But I still think it doesn’t result in many sales – it’s certainly not a way to get rich quick. I’ll keep doing it, of course, but I’m shifting more of my focus to creating new material than self-promotion than previously.

      • michaelkrose says:

        I have seriously cut back on the promotion as of late. Still, there is always the “household name” factor. Even if someone doesn’t buy your book based on a promotional tweet, the more they see your name or the name of your book, the more likely they are to come to the conclusion that you’re *somebody* and may buy one of your books when they come across it in the future. For a nobody like me, that’s definitely something to consider. :oP

        Michael K. Rose, author of the thrilling sci-fi adventure novel SULLIVAN’S WAR! (See what I did there?)

      • davidbainaa says:

        But that’s also a good point. I do want readers to know I’m not going away. Nor am I going to rest on my laurels, such as they might be. And 28 + 28 + 28 would add up, eventually. But the percentage still doesn’t add up to the sort of number most writers midlist or below desire or dream of.

  4. michaelkrose says:


    Besides writing more books, what do you think is the best thing a writer can do to increase sales/exposure/number of panties send in the mail? I know some fantastic, I mean blow-your-hair-back-and-change-the-way-you-look-at-the-world writers who hardly sell a thing. So it doesn’t seem to be just about writing “good” books. There has to be some marketing angle that those who “make it” take advantage of that the rest of us don’t. Or is it just luck? Scratch that, I don’t believe in luck. Let’s call it random circumstance.


  5. […] above, he also has a blog that helps authors. One post that he has that I found real interesting: For Writers, Social Media Should Be Little More Than Playtime. David has over 30K Twitter followers. He came to an interesting conclusion after doing a quick […]

  6. […] above, he also has a blog that helps authors. One post that he has that I found real interesting: For Writers, Social Media Should Be Little More Than Playtime. David has over 30K Twitter followers. He came to an interesting conclusion after doing a quick […]

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