Last week I was invited to speak about using social media to promote your creative business.
I just thought I was. (I was actually invited to be one of five members of a panel discussion at Brooklyn Winery during which I drank too much and acted contrarian too often). Thus, I prepared a speech I never gave. I hate to waste "content," so here it is:
Any one who tells you they have the secret to helping you gain social media followers is a snake oil salesman.
You want to know the one BIG secret: be famous.
It doesn’t matter how shitty of Tweeter you are...if you’re famous, you’ll have followers. Think of the most famous person you can that doesn’t have a Twitter account. If they signed up tomorrow morning, they’d have several hundred thousand followers by the end of the day. Even if all their posts were about what hair products they’re currently using.
Lady Gaga can post about her lunch and Beiber can post about a shit he just took and they keep gaining followers. No one cares about their content. Even the famous people that are supposedly “quality” Tweeters--Ashton for instance--write absolute garbage (AUTHOR'S NOTE: I composed this piece before Ashton's major Twitter gaffe). My least interesting friends are far more interesting.
The only celebrities worth following are very good comedians and very uneducated professional athletes. Sometimes I think some of the athletes I follow are speaking another language. If this talk had slides, right now a slide would pop up that showed a Tweet from Antonio Cromartie.
For the rest of us, from the conditionally famous on down, we have to provide brief content that is interesting. There’s nothing more frivolous and unstable than social media followers. They are so fickle.
For instance, you all might be bored by me, or disgusted by me, or repulsed by me. But you paid $5 and you’re several subway stops from home and there’s free wine (AUTHOR'S NOTE: There actually wasn't. Not even for the "talent") so I’d really have to be boring or disgusting or repulsive to get you to stand up and leave. Not true on social media.
Write a boring or disgusting or repulsive thing on Twitter and there’s a certain kind of social media follower (a high percentage actually) that almost takes pride in UNFOLLOWING.
“I CANNOT believe he wrote two mildly unfunny Tweets in a row. Not only am I unfollowing--but I am going to @ him and tell him that I am unfollowing him.”
People on social media are fucking nuts. They demand a bizarre level of excellence for something that is FREE and easily ignorable.
But if that’s what they want, then that’s what you have to give them. I have lots of interests and I used to Tweet about lots of things. I’m a craft beer fan, I used to have a craft beer blog, so I used to occasionally Tweet about fancy beers I was drinking. And a small percentage of my followers loved to hear about that. But the VAST majority didn’t care. They knew me, and followed me, because I’m “Aaron Goldfarb,” the comedic and satirical novelist. So one Tweet about beer, or Syracuse basketball, and they held their mouse above the unfollow button. Two or three Tweets about that subject and “Unfollow.”
The same goes for self-promotion. One or two Tweets per week about what you’re doing, where you’re speaking, what Tumblrs read by only five people have an upcoming interview with you, and your followers can deal with it. Any more, and they will unfollow you with no prejudice.
So I actually like to think of the Twitter arena as the stage, just like I mentioned before. I sit here and I try to be interesting and informative and funny. I’m not sitting here spending the majority of the time talking about an article I was quoted in, or another interview I gave, or a book I have coming out next year. I’m not talking about a good beer I had yesterday or my thoughts on Syracuse basketball for the upcoming season (promising). If that was my brand, maybe--but for better or worse it’s not. Mine is to be funny and entertaining and when I am--and not TOO profane--I gain followers, I gain RTs, and I gain conversations and sharing. When I’m not, it’s at best a wall of silence, at worst followers start dumping me like a bad habit.
And that’s one final thing I’d advise--don’t pay attention to any of this. Sitting here, I can see who is listening to me. I can see who is laughing and who is twiddling their thumbs and what attractive women are beguiled. I can see if any one stands and walks out on this. And that would fuck me up if that happened. They might have gotten an emergency phone call, or drank too much free wine (AUTHOR'S NOTE: Impossible), I don’t know--but if they walk out on me, my head would be fucked with. And it’s easy for the same thing to happen on social media.
It’s easy to notice, “Holy shit, I lost 20 followers today!” and start wondering why and analyzing what you Tweeted and then trying to Tweet things more in line with what you think doesn’t lose followers. But don’t do that. Don’t pay attention to your number. Who cares why you lose fans? Just trust me that you will eventually, and at worst slowly but surely, gain fans if you just follow your focus--whether that’s being entertaining or being interesting or being perceptive or being news-breaking. Whatever your reason for being on Twitter and creating content is, be the best you can be at that, and don’t self-promote too much, and don’t talk about what you’re drinking too much, and for God’s sake don’t fucking Retweet Andy Borowitz too much--and you’ll do all right.
But what do I know? I barely have 2000 followers.
Exactly 366 days ago, I was just another schlub. The next day my first novel "How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide" was released and my life completely changed. I've learned so much these past 365 days, like:
1. It's always better to tell people you're an "author" as opposed to a "writer." Everyone is a "writer" in this day and age, but few people are "authors."
2. The book industry is fucked.
3. It's still much better than the film industry though.
4. And, most of the people I've met in the book industry are really awesome.
7. And for the few people that do read them, it's like pulling teeth trying to talk them into leaving an Amazon review for your book.
8. By my math, and who knows if I'm right, 20% of book purchasers actually read the book, and less than 1% of that leave a review on Amazon.
10. Amazon also really fucking hates curse words, unless they're in the title of a bestseller.
12. Don't wear a hooded sweatshirt to an author event either--you'll look like a real asshole. Or Mark Zuckerberg. Or both I guess.
15. There's no shame in selling your ebook for a mere $.99 even.
16. Shame is having a book no one wants to read, even if it was free.
17. Formatting your book for Kindle and epub is a piece of cake, even if you aren't a computer whiz. And what an incredibly powerful skill for a writer to have. If you're an author and you're not learning how to get your books online, you're making a critical mistake. (I taught myself using Joshua Tallent's great book.)
18. It's actually really easy to get a pretty good ranking on Amazon. At least for awhile.
19. Especially within genre top 100 lists.
20. Especially if the genre is really niche, like "women's lit" which is where Canadian Amazon files "How to Fail" for some reason.
20B. Who knew there was a Canadian Amazon?! (Whatever the case, my women's lit book is sold out there.)
21. It's almost shameful how few books you actually have to sell to get a good Amazon ranking--but, authors, don't let the public know this on the day you sell a mere 50 total copies and crack the overall top 1000.
24. Bookstores are dead. Bars will never be.
25. There is no glamour in being on a book tour. It's a lot of constant travel, lugging heavy shit, being shit on by strangers, staying in roach motels, and eating at Waffle Houses and reststop Roy Rogers at 4 in the morning.
27. Being in love while on the road and away from my girlfriend for 30 days was like the toughest thing in the world.
28. Especially when I was spending most nights sleeping in cramped h/motel beds with my manager (below).
29. But it also kept me focused.
33. Authors get tons of free shit.
35. Your dedication page is a great way to truly touch people in your life with just a few keystrokes of thought and effort. (But NEVER tell your dedicatees that.)
38. The best self-promotion is producing good content.
39. But never be afraid to tell people what you want them to do, buy, retweet, and attend.
40. Just don't do it too much or people will quit listening.
41. There's no better calling card than a book.
42. A book also becomes your resume, and perhaps you should bring it to job interviews.
43. You better look more handsome than you've ever looked before for your official author's photo because you're gonna have to stare at that stupid thing for a long, long time.
45. Yet, twice in the past week, random people have told me I look like Dexter in my author's photo.
48. It's weird having people ask for your autograph. Though fun to sign your name like you actually are someone important.
49. You aren't though. Or, actually, you are, you're just no more important than you were before you'd had your book published and were a "nobody."
50. You're still a nobody to the world at large. 99.9% of authors are.
51. And if you sell just 1000 copies of your book, your book has sold better than 99% of books ever released.
52. That fact is sad, but you'll still tout that percentile in interviews.
53. It's much easier to get important people to take your call, answer your email, and meet with you when you have a book.
54. You now have the same profession as Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Jonathan Franzen. How cool is that?!
55. You absolutely have to become a renaissance man, or an "author-preneur." You must be a designer, a marketer, a publicist, a "personality," a speaker, a salesman, and about a zillion other professions that have nothing to do with writing.
56. Don't be too excited by the good reviews, nor too upset by the bad reviews.
57. Those average reviews will leave you wondering though. Average reviews will make you feel like you didn't push the envelope enough.
59. There will always be shittier books than yours that sell much better.
60. Sales have nothing to do with the quality of your writing.
61. They most significantly have to do with a mix of marketing, luck, spending money, and paid placement. (Although there's really no silver bullet.)
62. Publishers pay lots of money for "placement" at the front of bookstores and in airports, it has nothing to do with quality.
63. And we wonder why the NYT Bestseller list is littered with such shit.
66. People from your hometown you deserted long ago will now think you a celebrity, and treat you accordingly on your rare prodigal son returns.
67. Friends will assume you're now much richer than you truly are.
68. Your parents will finally be proud of you.
69. Women will want to sleep with you, even if they haven't read your book.
70. Even if they've never heard of it. Or you.
71. Kissinger was right--being a "published author" is a great aphrodisiac.
74. Being mentioned on Olivia Munn's Wikipedia page has led to nothing.
76. Having a Wikipedia page impresses people--even though any one can have one.
77. You can't use your Wikipedia page (mobile) as a "form of picture ID" to get into a bar.
78. Once you're a published author, talking someone into interviewing you is very easy.
80. Having a lawyer on retainer is so much more expensive than you'd ever imagine.
81. There's no excuse for how slow the publishing industry is with everything.
82. Getting a book into the marketplace is much cheaper than you'd expect.
83. Drinking every night is now considered part of my job. Or, at least my quasi-celebrity lifestyle.
84. Goddamn, I'm a good drinker.
85. Most people that buy your book won't read it.
86. That includes your friends.
87. You'll be shocked to learn that even after a year of release, some of your best friends haven't even read your book. Better not to ask so as to not embarrass yourself.
88. I really like public speaking now. Especially if I'm speaking about myself.
89. "The Art of Fielding" is the best novel I've read in the last year, maybe even several years.
94. Teaching at your alma mater is an amazing feeling. And makes you feel old.
95. Even though they're adults, technically, once you're the teacher, they're just college "kids."
96. Quit worrying about optimizing your online presence and just fucking create your art. "Ship" as Seth Godin says.
98. No Shabels. Not a one.
99. For better or for worse, "How to Fail" will be a part of me for the rest of my life. I think.
101. I think it's about time for me to come out with my second novel. Look for it in 2012.