blogging · Book marketing

Social media: a message in a bottle

3928105188_3e98ca7eb3_zYou’ve seen this week’s Undercover Soundtrack? I want to tell you how I met its author, Dave Newell.

He emailed me out of the blue because he’d run across a comment of mine on a blog written by Nathan Bransford. It was a post about the difficulty of self-publishing literary fiction, and Dave – whose work is indelibly literary – was asking if I knew where those readers hung out on line.

The funny thing is, I left that comment more than two years ago. When I look at it I was talking about episode 2 of My Memories of a Future Life, which had just gone live. Oh, nervous days – I probably wrote it in the hope that it would lead ME to a secret vast land of literary readers. (It didn’t; I should probably work on that.) Probably no one else took much notice, and so it stayed there, falling under new comments and posts, sedimenting into the substrata of the ever-renewing, multiplying internet. Then two years on, Dave Newell typed a few words into Google and it led him there.

We struck up a conversation. I don’t know that I was much help with his problem, though we had fun talking. But I did offer him a guest spot on The Undercover Soundtrack, which I’m very glad he took. Especially as I then had an email from a fan of the series who told me how excited he was to discover this author. (I’m sure there were other converts too, only they didn’t email me to share.)

So does this story have a bigger payoff? Does it end with a hardback deal, an Amazon landslide, a red carpet? Actually no. But it does end with a special reader, who was charmed by a post by someone he’d never heard of. As Dave Newell leaped on a random comment by someone he’d never heard of, which had been made by someone visiting a blog hoping to find likeminded folk. A chain of strangers finding they have kindred interests; that’s rather nice.

Author platforms are also on my mind because this week I was a guest speaker at an online author marketing conference called Get Read. A message we heard constantly was that platforming is a long game, and we might feel like we’re getting nowhere, giving so much of ourselves and wondering if anyone notices. This episode reminds me to keep the faith.

It also reminds me that platforming is full of contradictions. That for all its widewidewide reach, it operates at a micro scale, person to person. That our blurts on websites and social media seem trivial but are actually eternal, and might be summoned to the top of a search by the right Google spell (just like bad party photos). The take-home point of my GetRead session was this: be yourself and stay gregarious. Anything you write might find a new reader, an ally, or a friend.

Thanks for the pic SergioDJT

It’s a bit of a different post this week, but I’d love to discuss this question. Has someone found you because of a comment, post or a tweet you’d long forgotten? Have you followed a trail and made a worthwhile contact?


37 thoughts on “Social media: a message in a bottle

  1. Blogging – don’t know how this ugly term took hold for something so unique and wonderful – is a synchronicity device. Hardly any of the friends I made over the years read my blog, and if they do I wouldn’t know. Yet every time some stranger from the blue finds my little island and signs up to read my sporadic posts, a warm little feeling spreads in my heart. It’s like a little bird has descended on my windowsill and looks at me, curiously. And I think, maybe my perceptions, what ever comes on my wavelength, does chime with some beings in the world out there, possible readers of my books to come, who knows. In a nutshell, it makes me feel less isolated as a writer.

    1. Ashen, I agree. For a long time I refused to use the word; it was so ugly. Your comment restores the elegance.
      I well remember the excitement the first few times an email arrived from an invisible watcher of my blog or a reader of one of my books.Like finding Man Friday’s footprint. And far more people read us than ever come back and introduce themselves. Correction: I never get tired of it.

  2. This is actually the best explanation of the social media connundrum I’ve ever read. This is exactly how I went from knowing no one online to knowing some truly amazing people. The payoff hasn’t happened it sales but it sure has happened in community. Great post. 🙂

  3. This week for all sorts of reasons I posted a ‘is this really worth it?’ blog, contrary to my usual, partly in sympathy with a similar cry of despair from another blogger, but also because I realised I was being bent of of natural shape by the insistence (inner insistence) on a ‘platform. I am with Course of Mirrors on the ugliness of internet terms! Blogging, Platforms et al (If interested the link is here

    But your invitation to endorse the richness to be found in a single reader could not be passed up. I have made probably half a dozen new friends in a year, and each one is a deep friend, and been more loyal, more constant, more supportive than those I know less virtually. I do wonder whether the bond formed by a book read ( or an opinion shared) is an inner friendship that cuts to the core of who we are like filleting a fish straight out of the sea.. Your story suggests this is why you were remembered by Dave Newell and I found you and others through your Undercover and Blogs in a similar manner. But then I believe in the ‘twitch upon the thread’ of collective consciousness, and time being irrelevant…or I would not have written a whole book on the subject!

    1. Hi Philippa! I know you’ve had a reluctant relationship with social media so I’m pleased this helped. It’s ghastly to think of it as a mould you have to fit; done properly, you should find the places where you feel at home – exactly like making good friends.
      I also remember when you and Course of Mirrors met by chatting about one of my posts and felt a matchmaker’s glow of pride. I think I might have remarked on it to you when we met at the London Book Fair – I knew you’d get on.

      I love your point about the bond formed by reading. A book is such a private experience, formed of the author’s voice interpreted by the reader’s thought processes and internal image library. We make it out of who we are, exactly as you say.

  4. Roz, Dave Malone and I met online (years ago) when he left a comment on one of my posts for Jane Friedman. We’ve been working together ever since. He edited my memoir collaboration with Deirdre Gogarty, and I edit everything he writes, even his guest post for you. It’s a match made in comment heaven.

    1. Hi Darrelyn! How fabulous. I knew that you and Dave Malone worked closely together, but had no idea that it started with such a chance encounter. I think I first met you when you sponsored Porter Anderson’s Writing On The Ether column, and that led me also to Dave Malone.
      And Twitter is so useful. I’ve ended up working with plenty of people who I know because I struck up conversations with them on Twitter.

  5. Roz, I think you got it completely right when in the comments you likened this to seeing Man Friday’s footprint. Whenever a reader or writer reaches out to me, I can’t help but look around in amazement and think: “There’s someone else out here on this island?!” Beautiful post, and it’s been a pleasure chatting with you and some of your readers the past few days. They’re a wonderful group!

  6. I have met so many people and found so many cool blogs and other sites via an old forgotten link or post. I’m glad that forgotten posts remain live on the interwebs for wandering souls like myself to encounter, whether by diligent searching for obscure topics, or simply by a lucky twist of Google. 🙂

  7. Thanks for this post, Roz. I’ve yet to publish my book or really build a platform, but the little bit of dabbling I’ve done in Twitter and reading author blogs has been fun and also kind of incredible. It’s so easy now to connect with people around the world. And I know we say that is amazing all the time, but really it is! You live in the UK, I’m in San Francisco and I read your blog all the time and am greatly enriched by the words of author wisdom you share. Pre-internet days, if we were lucky enough to connect at all, we would have had to settle with being pen-pals at best – Remember pen pals? Do they even exist anymore? Anyway, thanks again for another insightful post.

    1. Ellisha, I know what you mean. When I started my blog I didn’t have a book to promote. I was blogging just to see what it was like. After a couple of months I accidentally broke something, which meant the blog went off line (it was self-hosted and I did something dumb with the controls) – and I suddenly felt I’d been put in solitary confinement. Although I hadn’t got a huge readership, I did really enjoy the contact with interesting and likeminded strangers. I felt if my blog wasn’t up, I had vanished.
      And pen pals! Gosh, yes, we used to write letters. Actually I used to write exceedingly long ones, in tangled handwriting. My friends were in for a lot of reading.

  8. Hi Roz. I’m really glad I read this because a) I often do talks about social media for authors, too and b) I’m doing one on Saturday and c) your post rather beautifully encapsulates an important part of my message! Do you mind if I quote from it orally (and send my audience to your blog)? I’ll be putting a blogpost of resources up on my blog for them to coincide with the workshop, so I’ll add it to that, too.

  9. Hi Roz, I am in agreement with you – although many people have switched over or concentrate on Twitter I believe blogging is still the best platform in the long term. I have been blogging for six years and even on days when I don’t blog I still get lots of visitors – because I have simply been around a long time and have talked about an eclectic range of subjects. Of course, some of these readers move on quickly but a good percentage also stay for over an hour and many too have come back repeatedly over time. I haven’t published a book yet but I am hoping that these people – my readers – when they see I have something more tangible on offer might be be tempted to purchase a book. I have also met some wonderful people ( and a few nutters!) who have really helped me with my development as a writer.

    1. Jane, it’s great to meet you! I’ve only been at it for four years, so that makes you a real old-timer (in internet years, you understand). I was talking about this at the GetRead conference last week – how the microblogging platforms like Twitter and Facebook are very effective, but we need a home base to invite people back to, where we can express our personality, interests and whatever makes us peculiarly ‘us’. And you’re obviously finding the right people if they stay for an hour – I actually have no idea how long people spend here, but I do see they dig around. Thanks for dropping by and do come back again!

      1. My writer’s group has had an ongoing discussion about social media and the most effective way to develop a presence online. This whole concept of authors “building their platform” has caused continued frustration and disappointment when results seem so slow in coming.

        Individually we cycled through trying different things, or giving up on certain things. We encouraged each other to keep going, we all felt it was important, but couldn’t say conclusively how or why.

        I’d begun to feel that, for a fiction writer especially, it would have to be a long-term investment. It would be a process of making friends and finding kindred spirits.

        Seeing your post felt like a confirmation of that tentative conclusion, and thus, very timely! 🙂

        1. Teddi, glad to have helped! And you make a good point about choosing what to give up – we can’t do every platform well enough to make it meaningful.
          I have a constant struggle with Google +. Everyone tells me it’s so important because it’s Google. But by the time I got there I was already doing Twitter, FB and my blog, and the controls work differently, so half the things I try go wrong. Then the other week it suspended my account, telling me that I was an impostor and demanding I prove who I am! Insane! I’ve got it back, but I must say it’s made me like them even less. Especially as Google is notorious for dropping services – remember Google Reader?

  10. I’m slightly off-the-topic of this particular post, but I want to say that Dave’s book, like My Memories of a Future Life, Red Lory is very well written and reminded me a little bit of The Wild Palms.

    1. Hi there! Thanks so much for the feedback – I followed the link to your blog, and you won a new follower. Your recent post highlights my favorite passage in literature: The opening to Of Mice and Men; it’s is like none other.

      I’m ashamed to say I’ve yet to read The Wild Palms, but I will be correcting this shortcoming very soon.

      1. Don’t be ashamed that you have yet to read The Wild Palms. I don’t categorically recommend it — to you or anyone: it’s a poorly paced novel and not easy to get through, BUT it has passages of great beauty, and those passages are what I was referring to when I said that your book reminded me a little of it.

        Ms. Morris, you’re overly complimentary — and it’s one of the many things I love about you.

  11. I’ve been blogging for a while now – I got into it via a discussion about how to reach readers (even Fantasy authors have problems with that) back in 2011; after a brief stint wrestling with Weebly, I ended up on WordPress.

    One of the things that I love about this particular host is the stats – seeing that people are actually coming to my page and reading my ramblings (even in the small numbers that I get) and even the post that they use to find me.
    My third most popular post is “Poetry, Pam Ayres, 50 Shades and Banana The Poet” – Not sure if it’s the 50SoG reference or the Pam Ayres one that brings people in…

    The other stat I like looking at is the country’s one – seeing where your readers come from is eye opening. There are more views from FB than there are from Twitter (not surprising considering that I spend most of my social media time on FB) but there’s also a large chunk of views coming from search engines.

    I don’t kid myself that everyone that views me in whichever place (FB, Blog or Twitter – other social media is available) but I can hope that I they are inspired by me in some way for whatever creative endeavour they choose to do. If they buy a book as well, then it’s just the icing on the cake.

    1. Hi Kira! I like those maps too! And the detective trails that help you see where people came from. Sometimes it’s completely mystifying when you see the searches that brought them to your doorstep. And I’ve found it’s fun to go poking around in WordPress at large to find a new unknown person who’s writing fab stuff. WordPress did not pay me to write this comment, but they rock!

  12. Lovely post, Roz. And yes, I’ve had a few surprises over the years. In my debut novel, my protagonist visits a psychic. I guess some of the scenes seemed so real that someone in my community who does past lives regression called me up and invited me for tea. I have yet to go but I plan to soon. And there have been others out of the blue. Fun!

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