Oh, and there's an excellent article here - Social Media Scamsters, by Laura Miller - which picks out aspects of Morrison's argument which I very much do agree with. It's an excellent article, I think.
Anyway, apropos of this, I received a question for Dear Crabbit. (My bold.)
Do you feel that it's necessary for unpublished/newly published writers to have an online presence?
People scold me for not having a twitter feed or blog dedicated to my work, and that I'm missing out on people who could potentially be interested in it. But then on the other hand I hear advice from writers such as Ewan Morrison [same link as above] telling me that 'all social media sells is social media'.
So Crabbit, I am torn. In 2012, is having a twitter feed a prerequisite for having a healthy career in publishing? I don't have any problems personally with social media, but just feel that it probably should be a genuine endeavour (such as your own).Ewan Morrison may be right about many things, and he's asking very good questions, but he is wrong when he says: 'all social media sells is social media'.
One other thing that social media sells is, self-evidently, Ewan Morrison. (And any other author, including, I have to hope, myself.) His articles have been discussed on social media; I only came across them because they were tweeted; discussion has taken place on Facebook, Twitter and blogs, and, I suspect, Google+ and anywhere else where people congregate online. More people know about him, and therefore his books, because of social media and it's likely that, for example, next time the people who've heard about him see one of his books they are more likely to look at it more closely, taking them a significant step closer to buying it. Same applies, I'd argue, for any writer who is behaving well with social media.
I agree with his unpicking of how social media are less good at directly selling books than many believe - the figures he quotes tally with my own experience (not always a good measure, I know) and most are figures I've seen often before (also not a good measure, but still!) But social media also provide very good ways of revealing people - in this case, authors - and nowadays many readers like to read books by authors they feel they "know". If nothing else, the names of authors using social media are likely to be better known than their peers who aren't on social media. Brand recognition. (Let me say, as I've often said in the past, that this is not why I spend time on Twitter: I do that because I have fun there, learn things and make friends. It's my water-cooler. But I can't deny the benefits I've found there, in terms not just of enjoyment and learning but also of increasing readership.)
Remember that outliers - whether Amanda Hocking, EL James or JK Rowling - should always be seen for what they are: exceptions, and their success is usually unpredicted or unpredictable, and unrepeatable. Try to emulate them if you wish, but don't expect it to work out the same way even if you do exactly the same as they did. You need magic fairy dust, too.
But, leaving that aside, let me unpick the email I received, which is the point of this post:
1. Is it "necessary for unpublished/newly published writers to have an online presence"? Depends what you mean by "presence" and "necessary". It's very hard to seem as though you have something to offer before you have a book; but, being online also (and, in my view, more importantly) means learning, and making friends and contacts. So, I believe it's not essential to life as we know it, but it's pretty useful for life as we live it. If by a "presence", you mean an online place where people can find something about you, then yes, absolutely. But it does not have to be a complicated, extensive, or sophisticated presence: a simple web page would be sufficient as a start, with succinct information about you and, ideally, a way to contact you. Something dynamic, such as Twitter or Facebook, is useful but only if it is dynamic. A static, under-used Twitter or FB presence is worse than none at all.
2. "I'm missing out on people who could potentially be interested in it"? No, you're missing out on people in whom you could potentially be interested. You can gain a lot, learn a lot.
3. "all social media sells is social media" - not only is this, as I said, patently untrue; it's also missing the point. Social media is not an end in itself, though I'm sure Facebook would love to think it is; it's about what you can do with it. It's a vehicle for connecting. Some of the companies behind it may be big and bad and selfish and may indeed be selling themselves (of course they are!) and there are unattractive aspects to that, but in terms of its use, it's very useful.
4. "having a twitter feed a prerequisite for having a healthy career in publishing"? Not before you're published, no, in the sense that it's not the case that you won't get a publishing deal without one. However, you know I'm a big fan of Twitter, because it's fun, and I learn things and I like to chat and listen, so, at some point in your career I believe you will find it very useful. But if you don't want to, you DO NOT HAVE TO DO IT. (I'm only shouting because I want publishers to hear.)
5. "a genuine endeavour (such as your own)"? I'm not quite sure what this means, though it sounds complimentary! But I think all good Twitter activity is "genuine". I don't think it works when people fake it or get others to do it for them. And if it does work like that, I don't like the idea.
If you're writing non-fiction, you definitely do need a platform (eg and blog plus Twitter) but for fiction, far less so. [Edited to add: I'm talking specifically about the need for a platform when attracting an agent or publisher.]
Don't do anything you don't want to do. Write first, think about the rest secondarily. But you might have a lot of fun and learn a lot if you engage in whichever bits you feel might work for you.
It's also worth noting that Ewan uses Twitter very actively, so I don't think he's meaning to suggest you shouldn't do it... I'll ask him on Friday.
He's also written a fascinating Guardian piece today about fanfic. How did I hear about it? Twitter. I'm another step closer to buying one of his books.