Do you need a writer's web site? — the megaphone

Megaphone, brochure, soapbox, or the full ride?

If you’re an independent author, do you need a web site?

Yeah, you need a web site to claim as your own. But, you have options.

For writers of novels and nonfiction books, a web site is useful for maintaining an online presence, to ensure that anyone interested in your work—or, hopefully, interested in finding more of your work—is assured of locating it. That’s the base reason for maintaining an online presence, to direct readers to your books.

So the question is not “Do you need a web site?”, it’s “How should you maintain an online presence?”

Over the years I’ve noticed how various fiction writers, from big-name to small-time, have established themselves online. I see four approaches:

  • The megaphone

  • The brochure

  • The soapbox

  • The full ride

The megaphone approach

It’s tempting to eschew building a custom web site and rely exclusively on social media for spreading the word about your books. No Wordpress, no blog, no custom domain name—plain ol’ Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram, etc. I call this the megaphone approach.

I would never say this approach is doomed, but it does require a kind of dedication mere mortals like myself don’t possess. However, it’s possible (even likely) to build up an active, thriving social media presence—tons of friends, lots of likes, great share ratios—and not have it translate to books being read or purchased.

First, consider a social media approach I’ve witnessed which doesn’t appear very successful: The self-promoting fire hose. This is the author who does nothing but spurt a steady stream of, in essence, free advertising to his or her social media followers. And by steady, I mean daily, or even more frequently.

From the reader’s point of view, this is gratuitous to the point of annoyance. Yes, repetition is key to successful advertising, but if someone is voluntarily following you, they probably would like to read something other than your constant promotion.

Success on social media is usually framed in terms of engagement. Hitting your followers with a fire hose of advertising is not engaging. What is, then?

Social media has been fine-tuned by technology companies to amplify hot takes, the (troubling) intersection of celebrity culture and politics, moral outrage, controversial news, and so on. None of these are particularly amenable to getting the word out about one’s latest book, unless you’re writing on some hot and trendy topic. Your newest novel may be a steamy romance between a cowboy and a corporate vice-president, but it will have a tough time finding a place in a never-ending feed of opinions on Donald Trump, the Kardashians, COVID-19 in schools, and pro basketball players feuding via Twitter posts.

The world of book publishing? Not so sizzling, as it turns out. The world of your books? Even less so, to be honest.

If you’re seeking social capital, then by all means, yes, social media is the place to do it. A tended, cultivated Twitter account can grow to tens of thousands of devoted followers. But it’s a treadmill with no OFF switch—the moment you take a breather and stop posting, you risk losing followers, and online significance. What’s more, you’ll probably find yourself writing mostly about politics, celebrities, and movies/TV rather than your book, or even books in general. Social media is good for sharing personal events, too. It’s a fine way for an author to humanize him- or herself to their readers.

Could the megaphone approach sell your books, though, or find you new readers or fans? I’ve never met or talked with an author who lived and died by social media. Every successful writer I’ve spoken to frames social media as complementary to a broader online presence. Social media may drive a few readers to your books, but it’s your books that will drive readers to your social media accounts.

In other words, if you bust ass and post hard and earn tens of thousands of dedicated followers on Twitter and Facebook, don’t expect to post an Amazon link to your latest book and watch 10,000 copies get sold in a matter of hours. The megaphone approach might bear fruit if your books are about the same hot topics you used to earn those followers in the first place. Might.

If you write literary fiction, fantasy, or romance, I just don’t see how the megaphone approach could work. If you write mystery, crime, or police procedurals, then you might have an angle—but only if you’re constantly penning novels “ripped from the headlines,” Law & Order-style. That’s like sprinting a marathon, though.

You can’t ignore social media, but it’s not the magic pill, either.

(And note that I’m talking here about using social media to grow a base of readers. Using social media to connect to other writers, get news on the industry, etc. is perfectly fine.)

Next time, I’ll talk about the brochure web site.

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