This post in short: I think authors are increasingly being expected to be ‘social media famous’ or at least very popular on social media in order to get publishing contracts.
For those of you who’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that self-publishing a book gives the author complete control over the entire publication process – this includes marketing (oh the joys of capitalism!). And of course, with a generation of tech-savvy individuals on the rise, many people take to social media to promote their book. But it’s not only self-published authors who use social media to promote their work, traditionally published authors do it too!
I follow a number of my favourite authors on twitter and while they do promote their books they also tweet about their everyday life! To me it definitely seems like authors are required to be celebrity figures in order to stay relevant, retain followers, and keep the interest of big publishing houses. For example, young-adult author, Laini Taylor is very active on twitter with 42.8 K followers, posting several times per day about her books, life, politics, and really anything else:
I’ve seen this trend with many authors – mostly young-adult authors – on my twitter feed, so I decided to dig a little deeper and see if this trend is mostly just relevant within the genre of books dedicated to young adults and teenagers or if authors of ‘adult’ books do the same thing. So I took a look at Chapters Indigo’s “Best Books of the Month” page (on May 20, 2017) and looked up the authors of the #1 book in each genre (that are predominantly fiction) and this is what I found:
Table created by Amy Coles
Basically, every author has their own website or blog and every author (except one) has over 16 thousand followers on Twitter. If you look up the Twitter feeds of each of these authors, you’ll find that they all post (almost) daily about their books and life. To me, this is pretty promising evidence to suggest that a large social media following can help get you published – the only problem is that these numbers reflect the number of Twitter followers after an author has already been published and we can’t know what those numbers were prior to their books being published.
So I dug a little deeper.
In an article called “Who gets to be a writer? Exploring identity and learning issues in becoming a fiction author”, Patricia A. Gouthro, an education professor at Mount Saint Vincent University, looks at the identity of a ‘writer’ online and indicates that:
Increasingly publishers expect authors to set up websites and use interactive social media such as facebook or twitter to connect with their readers…With the expansion of social media, the identity of being a writer is increasingly gaining public prominence.
One of the key words that Gourtho uses here is “increasingly” which suggests that authorship and social media are continually coming closer and closer together. I see this as following the trend of social media becoming more and more widely used – the more social media is being used by consumers, the more publishers will expect authors to be active on social media. It only makes sense! I mean, for a publisher who is responsible for funding and executing the marketing of a novel, an author who is active on social media is basically free labour and free advertising!
An article from 2013 in Publishers Weekly called “Teenage Tweetland” also recognizes that “most [American] teens live on social media—which, unlike advertisements, is essentially a free way for publishers and authors to reach them, and the friends, librarians, and booksellers who influence them.” See how they specifically refer to teens? Looking back on the table I made about authors and Twitter followers, you can see that the #1 author under the category “teen” has the most Twitter followers at 94.5K of all the categories examined. Although it’s not conclusive evidence, it is enough to further suggest that, especially for younger readers, authors thrive on social media. So as this younger generation ages and new generations grow within our technological age, it’s likely that we’ll see more and more interaction between readers and authors on social media.
Because of this growing trend of author-reader interaction on social media and because of the free book publicity, authors with more followers on social media are more likely to get published than those with less. Even if an author is not the best writer, editorial teams can help – but you can’t force masses of people to follow you on social media and be interested in your book!
Still don’t think Twitter followers matter to publishers?
Think about books published by celebrities – better yet, think about the recent ‘book boom’ from YouTubers. If you follow some of the bigger channels on YouTube, I’m sure you’ve seen books being published left and right by YouTubers. Some of these include “The Pointless Book” by Alphie Deyes, “The Glam Guide” by Fleur De Force, “Binge” by Tyler Oakley, and “Girl Online” by Zoe Sugg (here’s a longer list of YouTuber books). These books can range in genre, including both fiction and non-fiction works. Of course many of these books have been accused of having ghost writers – but that’s a topic for another day 😜.
Why do you think all of these YouTubers we able to traditionally publish books? Chances are that YouTubers don’t all have special authorial talents. I would argue that it’s because of their mass following on social media – publishers can basically guarantee that a big YouTuber’s book will sell well which guarantees the publishing house a sizable profit (again, thank you capitalism). The same can be said for mainstream celebrities (if you like to recognize a distinction between celebrities and YouTubers).
In an article in The Guardian called “As celebrity books boom, professional authors are driven out of full-time work“, Danuta Keen explains that “In the last two years comedians and YouTubers have rushed into the market, some signing six-figure deals, while professional authors’ advances slipped to as low as three and four figures.”
This trend of professional authors struggling to make money in the presence of celebrities who are coming out with books can also explain why authors are becoming more active on social media – it may be to help them compete to celebrity “authors” who are already well-known.
So while it may not be completely necessary to have a large social media following, I see it as being very beneficial to authors who are looking to compete with celebrities for publishing contracts or even just to publicize their book more and make more money! On a more generous sounding note, a large following on social media can also help authors connect to an communicate with their dedicated fans.
How necessary social media followings are can’t quite be quantified, but as Gouthro implies, it is constantly growing ever more necessary.
What do you make of authors being active on social media? Do you think it will really help them stand out to publishers and get a publishing contract?
Do you think the trend of author-reader interaction on social media will increase in coming years?
Do you think this sort of ‘public authorship’ is forcing authors to essentially become celebrity figures?
Let me know!