Written by A Guest Author April 4th, 2019

Sociable Media: Face-to-Face vs Facebook

By Bill Arnott

Something happened when I hit middle age. A knock at the door, someone holding a clipboard, explaining I was required to start using social media, Facebook being a necessity along with nighttime peeing and early suppers. Not that a clipboard-toting person actually came to call, but I did have a friend strong-arm me into using Facebook. He even got me some new friends. Who knew we were so popular?

My first nonfiction book hit bestseller status not through social media. Yes, I had a website. We used email. But we weren’t using Facebook, Twitter, or Amazon. I spoke to people. I arranged readings. I had books with me wherever I went, getting to the first five thousand in sales one and two copies at a time. Partial proceeds went to a national charity. This helped. People in part bought books for a greater good – another copy for a friend, a few for gifts. A sense of community.

Now, I’m a proponent of social media, in all its time-consuming wonder. But my books still sell predominantly through personal interactions: readings, writing groups, literary events and shows. In other words, doing all the things we as writers hate doing – going out in public, interacting with people. Like most authors I’m an introvert, although I hide it well. Yet every time I force myself out of my comfort zone I’m amazed at the good things that come about as a result. Most people are the same. Given a choice between mingling with strangers or pajamas and Netflix, the decision’s easy.

I’m not going out expressly to sell books. I do it for the same reasons I exercise. I know it’s good for me and once it’s done I’m invariably pleased I did it. I look back and have actual friends as a result. I’ve made real connections. I’ve even built my brand and often sell some books. Books that people buy because they know me. Trust’s been established. We see this with fiction and nonfiction alike. Readers want to know their authors. You can be as honest or deceitful as your writing. I’m a proponent of sincerity. I’ll fib to make someone feel better. I’ll embellish to enhance a punchline. But I won’t lie.

That comes through in writing as it does in person and your social media presence. Readers might be tricked into getting a writer’s book but it won’t happen more than once (pseudonyms aside). When I’m using social media I look for ways to showcase others, building up fellow artists and colleagues wherever possible. I don’t believe anyone gets a bigger piece of the pie. I simply see ingredients for more pie. Ringo Starr – a hero of mine – is a fine example, a talented individual capable of writing great singalong songs, who continues to surround himself with enormously talented people. Like me, he’s not one to measure pie in pieces.

This kind of collaboration’s evident in a number of public libraries that offer writers opportunities to showcase their craft, reading from both published and unpublished work. In Vancouver it was called VPL New Voices. Now it’s Writers Showcase, featuring both emerging and established writers. Four or five writers read in turn. There’s opportunity for Q&A and readers’ publications are available for sale. This happens several times a year. In addition, many libraries actively promote Indie authors, buying self-published books, and authors can apply for royalty equivalents through Canada Council for the Arts’ Public Lending Right Program.

Whether discovered online or in person, writing groups continue to be an excellent means of learning, sharing resources, further establishing brand and providing opportunities to sell more books. It’s fun and supportive. Everyone’s innovative when it comes to promotion. One of my colleagues sets up a table of books at craft fairs and swap meets, giving a slice of cake to every book buyer. (“Angel food works best!” she says. And she’d never even heard my pie analogy.) The second edition of her memoir sold over five thousand copies without social media.

Meanwhile, another group member credits his sales to a perpetual online presence – promoting his youth fiction through Amazon, Goodreads, and a strong website. Partial proceeds to charity bolster his success. Others in the group don’t want the personal visibility that can come through social media. Author websites, on the other hand, can provide greater anonymity. But all agree a strong network of email contacts remains the surest way to reach a readership and prospective book buyers, particularly for subsequent publications. When it comes to network contacts and brand building, email is ownership, social media nothing more than short term rental.

Private functions, guest readings and literary events, promoted through email and social media – posters, announcements and invitations – have consistently been my most effective means of branding building, promotion and book sales. I’ve seen this succeed with traditional and self-published alike. Pick the venue based on you and your readership – class it up or make it funky – whatever fits.

Like most of us, technology’s cut my attention span. So whether I’m attending or hosting, I want a well-paced program, collaboration and multimedia the best way to deliver that, music and visual art accompanying a reading of your written word. Your presence – your brand – grows, the whole greater than component parts. People want to take part. To hold a memento. Promotion brings us together. A book is our tangible takeaway.

Social media’s essential to any author wanting to build brand, promote their work and sell books. Like all tech it represents greater efficiency and increased effectiveness. But never allow it to replace what best represents your brand as a writer. And that’s you.

Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling nonfiction author of Wonderful Magical Words and Dromomania. His poetry is in the League of Canadian Poets Heartwood and Paper Dart Press UK PLAY anthologies. Bill’s poems, reviews and articles also appear online.


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