Publishers should help authors to identify their digital skills, but social media is “not the most important thing”, writers and industry insiders have told The Bookseller.
Authors should feel comfortable with any digital activity they are asked to undertake, using tweeting, blogging and other online platforms to build an audience, rather than explicitly becoming a tool to sell books.
Kristen Harrison, founder and publisher of creative agency The Curved House, said it was “important to have presence and visibility, either driven by the publisher or the author or both, but people put a lot of emphasis on promotion, which is the number one way to demotivate an author and turn readers off”.
She added: “A lot of authors feel a huge amount of pressure to get online to publicise their books and support their publisher’s work. They should be using it to grow their audience. That is much more organic. I think it should be used as an extension of themselves and their work. It has to be really comfortable for them. You can push the boundaries a bit, but ultimately an author needs to be comfortable with what they are doing and saying online. The worst thing is for authors to think they should be doing things a certain way, or to be on a certain platform.”
Author Benjamin Wood, who is active on Twitter, said that online media had “begun to resemble an air balloon that has to be inflated with the tepid gas of ‘content’ every day to keep from crash-landing, and this presents a problem for most writers”.
“Online media is the most natural place for authors to be placing their work, but readers are notably impatient on the internet,” he continued. “What we tend to see authors contributing to online news sites are short, sharp, entertaining but frustratingly insubstantial pieces, and I can’t help but think an opportunity is being missed.”
Piers Alexander, whose self-published book The Bitter Trade is now being serialised in e-book and audio formats by digital publisher The Pigeonhole, said digital media such as tweeting and blogging was “a very good way to engage and stay in touch with readers and influencers, but it’s not the most important thing”.
“Most of the meaningful interactions I have on the internet and social media are with people I’ve connected with through readings, activities and reader groups,” he added. “I think one real person you have met in the flesh is at least as important as 20 blog readers, 50 Facebook ‘likes’ or 500 Twitter followers that you don’t have a real connection with.”
Headline communications director Georgina Moore said it was important not to place pressure on writers, and that not all authors were digitally savvy. “I am very much of the belief that you shouldn’t force anyone to do something that won’t come naturally to them,” she said. “You can tell pretty quickly whether someone is a natural at something like Twitter or not. If you feel you can deliver [on Twitter] with encouragement and help, that’s great, but if not I don’t think you need to be on it. I don’t think it’s good to say to an author: ‘You have to be on Twitter.’”
Moore said Jill Mansell was one author who was “brilliant” on Twitter, but that Headline had worked with other writers who did not have a social media presence, creating buzz for their books using a strong hashtag and identity on Twitter. Moore cited the case of author Penny Vincenzi, who “struggles because she’s a person of many words”, so blogging has proved to be a better medium for her than Twitter.
Moore said it was easy to “get a clear idea from talking to an author about what they want to do and can do” and that it was “then about the rest of the team filling in the gaps”.