He's mad as Hell and he isn't going to take it anymore. The late, great Peter Finch in Network.
The further I travel along the road to ‘building a social media presence’, the more I’m beginning to suspect that like the start-up, this game is rigged.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining (well okay, I am a bit). I’m also not suggesting that ‘winning’ at social media is impossible, but it isn’t a level playing field.
Been posting for a while and no one biting? Don’t worry, just keep going, eventually they will! Why not change your content? Do polls! Guest blog! Copy what the leaders in your niche do! Experiment! Find what works for you. The advice flies so thick and fast, it’s like a game of whack-a-mole.
Apart from here, I post mostly on Twitter, the platform I’m assured is the best for self-published authors, at least those authors who aren’t posting book reviews or gorgeously crafted images of book hauls, like they do on Insta and TikTok. But so far, my feed feels like an endless round of follow-for-follows and writer uplifts, and that’s when it doesn’t feel like screaming into the Void.
I’ve never been keen on the follow-for-follow route. What use is 20K followers who never interact with your posts, and so are unlikely to notice your announcement that your book is out? But the screaming into the Void feeling does explain why the most successful Tweeters are the most provocative and combative (or already famous). While full-frontal assaults have a definite place in Fantasy (I think of books like Tim Hardie’s absolutely cracking and relentlessly grim Hall of Bones here), slanging matches are probably best avoided, at least until one is an (ex)billionaire.
But what does this have to do with start-ups? Allow me to tell you a story, and I promise not to go Network on you.
At a start-up bootcamp I attended pre-Plague (2016), I was told every day that if I wanted to succeed, I had to work 24/7 and dedicate my entire life to my idea.
As I was passionate about said idea – passion being another key requisite for the startup wannabe – the threat of hard work didn’t faze me. But then, the curtain was drawn back.
“When, or should I say if,” our exhorter-in-chief announced to nervous tittering during one of our final ‘inspiration hours’ (yes, they really called them that), “you get VC funding, you’ll spend it on prototyping. And I mean every single penny. Don’t even think of paying yourself a salary. And that goes for your employees.”
It was clear from the blissed-out faces around me that the rest of my cohort had drunk deep of the KoolAid, but like the great Marlena Shaw, my first reaction was okay, but then in that case, how am I going to pay rent, bills, bus fare or indeed, buy food?
When I had the temerity to ask, I was frostily informed that keeping my head above water was ‘irrelevant’.
“An Angel investor lends money in the expectation they’ll get it back, with a profit, they aren’t in the business of paying your rent.”
But if these Angels (who clearly did not have wings) weren’t in the business of paying my bills then who was? Because if I was dedicating every waking moment to making good on their investment without taking a salary, when was I supposed to make the money to stay alive?
I came to the conclusion that either the exhorter-in-chief didn’t know what he was talking about, or his advice was predicated on a number of possibilities; that I lived with my parents, that I had a Sugar Daddy, that I was a Trustafarian, or that I had already sold my first company and was investing the millions I’d made into my Idea from the bespoke confines of my luxury co-living space – although in that case, I wondered why I should bugger around with angels.
And so back to social media.
Of course it’s possible to develop a devoted Twitter following, who not only like your every cat photo, but also pre-order your book by the hundred thousand, but that road is not one the pre-published author can easily follow.
All the strategies I read about How To Get There though, offer unhelpful examples of how X or Y raked in the likes, followers and later, the spondoolies, by setting up their account, without acknowledging that when X or Y ‘first’ took to social media, they brought with them a name and an audience, and so yes, OF COURSE, that first book chapter was eagerly read by tens of thousands and NATURALLY, that Kickstarter campaign broke all records. Or that X was Ariana Huffington. Or 13, and so all their friends, and friends’ friends to infinity and beyond, already spent all day doom-scrolling social media following, liking and reposting anyway.
But I’m not one for despair and so I came up with a new plan. Rather than Tweeting about my book or retweeting random fantasy/scifi-ish things, I’m going to focus part of my social media time on promoting fellow authors. Less in the hope that when it comes time, they will return the favour, but because I want my Twitter feed to be more than memes, writer uplifts, and TMI pleas.
And so I’m working on a VERY short author interview vlog show. I’m thinking 4-5 minutes, which will combine irreverent, rapid-fire Q&A, followed by the author chatting about their book, that can be posted in its entirety here, and broken up into chunks for social media.Think of it as a kind of quiz show-meets-book promo.
The idea just came to me this week, so I’m still fleshing out questions, and thinking about the format, as well as ways to minimise my face time – for Mr. DeMille, I am not sure I’ll ever be ready for my close-up – but I think it could be fun, a chance to meet fellow authors and help them promote their books. And who knows, it might even bring me the followers that for now, have no real reason to follow me meaningfully, when there are so many others out there.
As ever, do let me know what you think. And if there’s a question you think I should include in the Q&A, let me know, too.
Talk to you next week.