Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Is it really true that novels are rejected because their author doesn't have enough Twitter followers?

I just saw this online and I am horrified. Is it really true that novels are rejected because their author doesn't have enough Twitter followers? I know that platform is a big deal for non-fiction, but is it really the same for novels? At the level indicated here, where the book quality seems secondary to the follower count?
I’ve commiserated with novelists who say their books have been rejected by big five publishing houses partially because they don’t have enough Twitter followers and talked to others who feel pretty sure they’ve been turned away from media jobs for similar reasons.

In case anyone outside the publishing/media biz is wondering if this is a thing, it is very much a thing.

Authors nowadays are expected to shoulder the lion’s share of marketing their own books, and social media is viewed as the best avenue for doing it. Publishers are absolutely going to give more attention to a new(ish) author with 50,000 twitter followers than someone with 5,000 because the first one has demonstrated that s/he already has an audience and knows how to work it.
I know someone who wrote an ok but not great ya-novel. She went all in on social media and became everyone’s bff and supportive big sister and scored a book deal for two more books and a movie deal out of it. She is very, very good at social media. Meanwhile, I also once talked to a well-established author who’s written several acclaimed novels in her remote cabin in the middle of nowhere who was lamenting the death of author as a solitary profession. Times are certainly a-changing. I feel bad for the loner author.

First, you're comparing apples and orangutans.

"Acclaimed" as in well-reviewed, prize winning, is assessed with a very different lens than "relentlessly commercial."

Relentlessly commercial, as in ok not great YA, means you need fans.

Acclaimed means your book will be review driven, but NOT reviews from social media. In other words, School Library Journal isn't going to review your book cause they saw you and your seven million BFFs tweeting about #TeamButtonweezer.

SLJ looks at the marketing material from the publisher, and maybe some trade journals like Kirkus and PW.

Movie people look at sales numbers first. They don't care if a book is good or bad, they're not going to read it anyway.

If something is selling, it doesn't matter if the Boston Globe said
"But the amount of utter trash in the volume is almost infinite — trash of conception­, execution, dialogue and sentiment. Whoever buys the book on the strength of the author's reputation­, will be cheating himself of his money, and we believe we shall never see the man who has endured the reading of the whole of it…."**

But to your larger question: there is no way to know the degree of truth in this. Each agent has her own experience, and the stories she hears from other agents. There is no reliable way to assess this phenomenon objectively.

But, yes, when a novelist has a following, it helps.

Think about it. If you were going to invest money in a book, would you rather invest with someone who has an established following, or someone who needs to build one?

There's no wrong answer to that, but you can see why bottom line conscious, risk averse publishers are looking for authors with platform even with novels.

And that's cause there's very little other choice. Word of mouth sells books, and increasingly word of mouth is online.

So, what does that mean for you?
Recognize that writing IS solitary. Your fans aren't going to come to your house and make you tea while you sweat blood.

But PROMOTION is part of your job if you want to publish.  Know it, be prepared to do it. You don't have to be JA Jance, but you can't be JD Salinger.

Don't fret that you don't know how, and even if you did you don't want to.
Learn how it's done, and figure out first steps you can take now.

You just need a plan to start.
And a mailing list.

**This is an actual snippet from a review.
Can you guess the book?


Kitty said...

Can you guess the book?

There's something fishy about that review.

Alex Johnson said...

Wow--that review... My dream is to receive a review of my writing with as much passion and ferocity as this one. Preferably a good review. But I'll take what I can get. Hell--I'm sure the reviewer in this case remembered this book for a long time.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am dying to know who the review is for. I will resist googling but I have to know. Please, someone tell me. I have a feeling it will be someone we all know really well and for a book that sold a gazillion copies.

Colin Smith said...

The problem with these kinds of worries is they detract from the writer's Job Number One: Write a cracking good novel. Yes, we do have to consider marketing and promotion. That's part of publishing whether you go traditional or indie. But you need something worth promoting first.

As for the quote... I'm resisting the Google urge and thinking it's got to be about a famous novel. The style and use of male pronouns suggest either an older reviewer or an old review. And the book's author has/had a reputation. Two very different novels come to mind. Either THE GREAT GATSBY, or THE STAND.

Andrew Arno said...

Infinite Jest?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

And I thought promo was all about bookmarks and what the ladies sitting under the hairdryers said to each other.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Claire Bobrow said...

I didn't Google or look at the other comments (yet!). Is the quote about...Herman Melville/Moby Dick?

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

While I realize that the term "social media" refers to all formats, it seems to me (in the publishing/author/writing/agent world) it mostly means: twitter.

I'm one who prefers FB. And I'm not sure I understand what makes twitter better. When I post in a writer's group on FB, really, any group, there is all sorts of interaction, conversation, discussion. When I tweet on twitter, there are some "hearts" but no interaction. I see the exact same thing with people who have way more followers than I do - likes/hearts on their tweets with no interaction. How is this better?

I don't understand the draw of twitter. I'm interested in educating myself, truly, but it feels void compared to FB. Do I just need to engage more on twitter?

nightsmusic said...

I haven't used Twitter in years. It's become a minefield of really p*ssed off people and constant arguments. I really hope other platforms can make up for that. Then again, I'm not at the point where I need to worry about it yet.

Kaphri said...

Okay, I have to guess. Fifty Shades of Gray? I haven't read it, but I've heard it was poorly written. But hot! So it sold tons. Otherwise, it must have been some great classic.

Anyone know?

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Yesterday, it was meet-and-greets, today its virtual interactions.


As to the quote- Moby Dick?

Craig F said...

Sounds like a Harry Potter book.

Twitter follows might be important with a couple of the little boutique agencies, some other agents might not even know what Twitter is.

My feeling is that if your submission is tied with someone else's, a google search will happen. The winner of that will move on.

I am probably wrong, but then I though my query was pretty damned interesting and well written, it has gone where I want to yet, though.

Adele said...

Hmmm. The Boston Globe quote sounds old-fashioned, so without Googling, I'll bet Gone With The Wind.

Luralee said...

I must be an Apple. A little sweet, a little tart, and I bruise easily (metaphorically speaking.) Oh and I make great pie.
I’m definitely not an orangutan. Posturing and poo throwing for a few bananas. Ugh.

Amstr said...

Perhaps James Joyce’s Ulysses?

Beth Carpenter said...

:...who has endured the reading of the whole of it" makes me think it's a long book, so Atlas Shrugged?

Barbara Etlin said...

From the diction and the use of "he" and "the man" instead of "he or she" or "they" I'm guessing it was an old review. The Boston Globe has been around a long time. I'll guess MOBY-DICK."

Kate Larkindale said...

Is the quote from a review of Moby Dick? I can't help thinking I've seen that somewhere before...

Alyssa R said...

Well, I was wondering if I should make a Twitter account, under my pen name and for my writing. Guess I know the answer now.

The review isn't of Doctor Zhivago, is it? I tried reading it because it was a gift from my uncle. I think I fell asleep somewhere in the middle. From the time I first started to the time I finished, it was a good couple months. Took me two tries, and a week of not reading anything else, to get through it.

Kelli Mahan said...

Google-free (and mostly coffee-free as yet), I agree with those guessing Melville, but I don't think it's Moby Dick. I think it's PIERRE.

Richelle Elberg said...

Moby Dick for 5oo Alex

RonC said...

I was going to guess Jaws . . . but, yes, the review language points to something pretty old.

I think all industries, not just publishing, vastly overestimate the impact of social media on actual sales. That said, can't argue that a following doesn't help in some fashion.

A few months ago I took pride in not having a Twitter account. Since I started querying I'm now---very slowly and still a bit reluctantly---trying to learn how to build a presence.

KDJames said...

The first name that came to mind was Mark Twain, but I wasn't sure whether he had written the book or the review. That guess was wrong, although I think Twain and someone (?) had a sort of ongoing public dispute in commentary form about each other's work.

Anyway. I put that first sentence into google and quickly found the entire thing and Holy Blistering Review Batman. You all should track it down if for no other reason than to be grateful the Globe has probably changed review etiquette guidelines.

As for promo, I try to think like a reader. Luckily, I am one! I don't think I've ever bought a book because the author tweeted or FB-posted about it. But there are a handful of sources online whose reading tastes fit mine pretty closely and they do influence me.

Maybe I'm naive, and a hopeless disaster in terms of ever being a "successful" writer, but I think SM should be about making friends. Genuine interactions, on whichever platform works for you. If those friends someday choose to promote your work (because they enjoy/admire it!), that's a bonus. It shouldn't be the intent behind your SM involvement.

Brenda said...

I’m betting on Hemingway for the irate review.

I can vouch for the fact that agents creep potential clients online, as we do them. I’ve never made it past the stalked stage myself, but there’s always hope.

Emma said...

As always, the last to post... I gave up and googled that thing and I agree with that review heartily. I can't stand that author's work. Any of it.

As for twitter. I don't know HOW it helps people. I have seen an author do very well via Facebook, but mostly because the author had already published and built on the success of the first book to garner followers and a "street team" of well-wishing readers and fellow authors. I've been trying to grow my following, which means I now follow many more people. My feed is chock full of people posting about their books and I basically just scroll past. It used to be full of interesting people who said funny things, but those people are now lost among the multitudes.

I can think of maybe one author whose work I bought based on something someone said on twitter and it was a book I would have bought anyway because it was a genre I like.

In other words, I'll do what I'm told and do my best, but I will probably always have fewer followers than others and I... just don't know.

John Davis Frain said...

Well, Emma, you're practically begging someone to chime in. (Since KDJames showed up early today, I'll carry the torch!)

The review reminds me of the Johnny Depp meme.

British dude: You are without a doubt the worst writer I've ever heard of.
Johnny: But you've heard of me.

Probably on Twitter, which is why we need to have more British dude followers.

Keep writing!