This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Sabbatical From Social Media

            One of the most famous advertising aphorisms ever has been attributed to many people; the first time I came across it, it was credited to F. W. Woolworth: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”
            It’s been coming into my mind lately as I’ve been thinking about the ways I’ve been promoting my mystery novels. Before self-publishing the first, The McHenry Inheritance, on Amazon, I hired a social media consultant to teach me the ins and outs of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin. I don’t like those things, but they’re not going away soon, so I figured I’d better learn the basics.
            For the past two years, I’ve been aggressively promoting my two books on social media to the best of my learned ability. They seem to be slowly gaining a modest audience and helping sell each other, but the one thing about which I have no idea whatsoever is how much, if at all, my social media efforts have helped sell the books. I haven’t an atom of hard information on that point.

What if No One Advertised?

            Back in 1989, when I had just become editor of a daily newspaper, our corporate group, Scripps-Howard, held a gathering of all the editors and publishers. A featured speaker was Christopher Whittle, who at the time was attempting — unsuccessfully, as it turned out — to launch a TV channel aimed at schoolchildren.
            In the course of his presentation, Whittle said something I’ve always remembered for its boldness. I’m paraphrasing, but it was that the dirty little secret of advertising is that it doesn’t work. He maintained that Ford, General Motors, Procter and Gamble, et. al. could eliminate their advertising budgets altogether. If they did, he claimed, the worst that would happen is that they would lose about 1 percent of their sales, but the money saved on advertising would more than compensate for that on the bottom line.
            Was he right? I don’t know, but he certainly could be. And lately, I’ve been entertaining the heretical question of what would happen if I stopped using social media to promote my books. If nothing else, I’d certainly have time for more writing.

Try It for a Month

            To hone in on one area, I looked at Twitter. Do I see more book sales on days when I tweet about a book and get retweeted extensively? Some days yes, some days no. But even on a day when Twitter is kind to me and the sales are good, I still have no way of knowing whether there’s any causation behind the correlation.
            The one conclusion I’ve drawn from running free-book promotions on Kindle is that how well my book moves seems to depend on how many people are shopping in the Kindle store that day. I’ve been in the top 50 of Kindle free crime fiction on days when I had 50 downloads, as well as on days when I had over 500 downloads. The number of people looking for free books on any given day seems to matter more than what I tweet.
            In any event, I’ve decided to take a sabbatical from social media for a month, and will not be posting anything in October. I doubt that anyone will notice, and I doubt that it will give me any relevant information on the impact on book sales, but it may clear my mind a bit and help me go back to using it more effectively.
            And if nothing else, I’m hoping to get more work done on my third Quill Gordon mystery.