October 15 – 21: “How much value do authors place on social media?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? How much value do authors place on social media? This week we’re joined by ITW Members Colin Campbell, Ellen Byron, Lee Murray, Sandra Ruttan and DiAnn Mills as they discuss authors and social media. Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along!


Sandra Ruttan has had her foot partially severed, survived a car crash in the Sahara Desert and almost drowned. Between disasters she stays busy with her writing, family and dogs. Her sixth novel, The Spying Moon, was published September 2018 by Down & Out Books.



Lee Murray is an award-winning writer and editor (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows). Her latest thrillers include New Zealand military thriller INTO THE SOUNDS (Severed Press), and supernatural crime-noir, TEETH OF THE WOLF (Raw Dog Screaming Press) co-authored with Dan Rabarts. HELLHOLE, a volume of subterranean thriller stories, including novelettes from Jonathan Maberry, Michael McBride, and Sean Ellis, is forthcoming from Gryphonwood Press in December.


Ellen Byron writes the Cajun Country Mystery series. A Cajun Christmas Killing and Body on the Bayou both won the Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery and were nominated for Agatha awards. Plantation Shudders was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. Mardi Gras Murder, just released, was deemed a “winner” by Publishers Weekly. Ellen’s TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly OddParents; published plays include the award-winning Graceland.


Ex-army, retired cop and former scenes of crime officer Colin Campbell is the author of British crime novels Blue Knight White Cross, and Northern Ex, and US thrillers Jamaica Plain, Montecito Heights, Adobe Flats and Snake Pass. His Jim Grant thrillers bring a rogue Yorkshire cop to America where culture clash and violence ensue.


DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.



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  1. I had a nice short response typed up and ready to go. I really did. Then a couple of things happened.

    One was this thread on Twitter (https://twitter.com/caffeinenights/status/1049034673920364544?s=19) which starts off with a publisher telling authors that blog tours are a waste. The publisher and one of their authors argue, book bloggers take offense and it gets pretty ugly.

    The other thing that happened was that an author had a contract terminated because of Tweets they’d made. (https://twitter.com/ChuckWendig/status/1050825209006182400?s=19)

    In light of these developments, I felt I had to say more than I initially planned. Now, the level of importance an author places on social media can vary greatly. The real question is, how important should social media be for authors?

    Generally speaking, I think authors place too much emphasis on their social media presence as a means of selling books. Google search ‘does social media help sell books’ and you can read plenty of articles that state social media doesn’t sell books. I think if you could compare the trackable sales to the actual volume of book promotion happening from companies and authors on Facebook, Twitter, etc., you would find that a lot of the promotional efforts fail to directly produce significant sales.

    However, social media can facilitate book sales by raising profile. I Google search authors and titles. I haven’t always lived close to a bookstore, so it helps me decide what to look for when I go shopping. I read a lot of author interviews and they influence my decisions.

    When I go to an author’s website I find it odd if they don’t have links to interviews or features or reviews of their books online. If a person puts a book out and nobody is talking about it, that isn’t a very good sign.

    It’s also important to note that some publishers and agents consider an author’s social media presence before they offer contracts.

    I think that social media can be an effective way of developing connections with other authors and interacting with readers. It can help shape an image of a person that can help interest them in your books and may be a contributing factor when a person purchases a book.

    The level of response to the Caffeine Nights blog tour thread demonstrates that people are paying attention. I heard about it from a discussion on Facebook. It’s important to note that what may seem to be an offhanded tweet to you can spread far and wide. Social media does have reach, and the book blogger discussion and Chuck Wendig’s situation with Marvel are just two of the most recent examples that demonstrate that. Chuck Wendig’s story was picked up by mainstream media and it turned up in my primary news feed on my news app.

    Now, it can be argued that social media cost Chuck contracts. However, the level of attention the story has received may lead to other opportunities for him and increased sales of existing titles. In a few months, perhaps Chuck will offer some insights. One thing I’ve noted is that he is still maintaining the same social media presence he’s always had, and Chuck is one of the rare authors who has an active social media following and has used it to raise his profile effectively. I can only assume he thinks it helps more than it hurts. And let’s not forget that a viral Twitter thread turned into a movie credit for Chuck Wendig (https://www.tor.com/2018/09/14/chuck-wendig-sam-sykes-viral-horror-twitter-you-might-be-the-killer-trailer/).

    As for book bloggers, I essentially started Spinetingler Magazine as a blog. I had studied journalism and been trained to write reviews, but it was very much an undertaking by a fan of the genre. Authors such as Laura Lippman and Stuart MacBride were willing to do interviews, even with a relatively unknown site. These authors promoted their interviews on social media. That brought readers and the audience grew to the point where issues were downloaded thousands of times.

    We never charged for author interviews. We never charged to run features. We never charged for anything but the rare bits of advertising we sold.

    We did have authors tell us they got a jump in sales after reviews. And we did have agents contact writers we published. A few authors credit us for giving them their first publishing credit. So, we may be insignificant nobodies to some, but to others, we were an asset.

    As for reach, one of the greatest social media book disasters of all time happened on a blog. In 2011, a blogger named Big Al wrote a review of a book called The Greek Seaman (http://booksandpals.blogspot.com/2011/03/greek-seaman-jacqueline-howett.html). The author descended and criticized the reviewer, and things spiraled from there. Last I checked, the book was no longer for sale, but it does have its own Wikipedia page outlining the drama. That mess was talked about far and wide, on other book blogs and on social media sites.

    These days, I do author features and reviews at Toe Six Press. I do not charge – seriously, who does? Since doing this, I’ve been amazed by a number of things:

    1. Many authors do not have websites.
    2. A lot of authors do not have contact information available.
    3. Most authors do not respond when invited to do an author feature to promote their books. From March to October, approximately 75% of authors I invited to do an interview or feature didn’t respond, declined or said they would and then didn’t.

    What conclusions should we draw from this?

    1. Each author must decide how they will use social media. Will they just be themselves and not worry about what people think? Will they only talk about books and book-related issues? Will they use social media for personal purposes only and stick to close friends and family?

    2. Each author must decide what their objective is. Is it to appeal to agents and editors? Is it to network with other authors? Is it to connect with readers? Is it just for your own entertainment? How you conduct yourself should be in support of your specific social media agenda. And understand you’ll be evaluated for it. Some people are little more than products online and only talk about themselves. Others engage on all sorts of topics. Different personas will appeal to different audiences.

    I personally believe it’s important for authors to do features and interviews on blogs and book-related sites. Authors can support enthusiastic fans who are devoting their personal time to their passion. We can’t complain about the lack of review sources and then refuse the opportunities presented to us.

    Now, individuals have to balance their time and commitments, so they can’t say yes to everything, but the more quality sites talking about books and authors, the better. This will not happen if authors won’t engage and I’m baffled by authors who don’t want to talk about their books.

    The most important thing for authors to bear in mind is that people use social media to feel connected. When authors don’t interact and engage it’s disappointing for readers. All it takes to make some people’s day is liking their Tweet or replying to them. No, we can’t reply to everyone. However, if you’re a person who only talks about your closest friends and nobody else or only interacts with certain people, others will notice.

    If your intent is to use social media to stay in touch with friends and family (and not to promote books) then do not friend authors and readers you have no intention of interacting with, because it comes off as rude if you show you’ll only talk to some people. This is the other thing authors have to keep in mind about social media: despite what your objectives are, unless you use tough privacy settings anyone can watch and read. And they may draw conclusions about you from that, so it’s important to remember that much of what we say and do online will influence people’s perception of us, whether that’s our intention or not.

    PS I love being able to connect with people online, particularly writers and readers from around the world.

  2. Hello again, Sandra, and thank you for all the fantastic support you give to other writers! [She waves!] I agree that the recent shenanigans surrounding Chuck Wendig’s social media is alarming and disappointing. However, I also agree that Chuck is one of those rare authors who has managed to use social media create other exciting writing opportunities, so there is an element of taking the good with the bad. Your comments about engagement are spot on. Authors need to do more than simply post their book cover ad infinitum – they need to engage with readers on a personal level in order to generate and maintain an enthusiastic readership. But there are other reasons for using social media, as you clearly point out.

    For myself I have a love-hate relationship with social media. When I’m writing, it’s rarely helpful except as an means of procrastinating. I sometimes use it as a handy quick-fire research tool, even if the accuracy of results can be questionable. How many people out there like Brussel Sprouts? Please raise your hands! However, as a way to connect with readers, industry professionals, and writer colleagues, I find it invaluable. I use social media to inform myself about market trends, new releases, and literary events, as well as current submission calls. I don’t pay much attention to analytics, but I know I couldn’t get word out about my work without social media. And when you live at the arse-end of the world and are essentially invisible ‒ New Zealand is often left off maps, for example https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12043486 ‒ it provides a simple way to connect.

    1. Hi Lee! Happy release day tomorrow!

      I agree about procrastination! I wonder what you think of different social media venues? I have a love-hate thing with Twitter because it is impersonal and often like the wild west, but I see more about books there and it doesn’t feel pushy to me there. On Facebook, people complain about even inviting friends to like pages and the emphasis seems to be more personal.

      Which sites are working best for you?

      1. Thank you! I use Facebook mostly – mainly because I am a hopeless technophobe. I haven’t really got the knack for twitter, and although I once opened Instagram account, I can’t work how to get back into it, which gives you some idea of how incompetent I am when it comes to social media! Happily, most of what I post to Facebook can still be automatically posted to twitter, which saves some double handling. I use a mix of personal and promotional, where promotional means other people’s books and rarely my own. Interestingly, my writer colleagues who write for YA tell me that for their target audiences, Facebook is a waste of time – it’s only old people on there according to my kids – and places like Tumblr and Instagram might be more effective for reaching that younger readership.

  3. Without readers, writers have no reason to labor months over a novel. Their value is the reason we write. Readers pave the way for us to find encouragement and satisfaction in the writing process. We are entertaining them with a story that fills us with passion.

    Social media is the number one method of communicating messages, whether it is conducting meetings, sharing stats and data, news, or exchanging photos with family and friends. The separation of personal and professional communication has merged together to keep up with the latest news and trends. The world is mobile, and that means knowledge is accessed through online and mobile devices, and it doesn’t matter the language or culture because everyone with a mobile device can be reached.

    Savvy writers hang out on social media platforms where readers lurk and post. This is an opportunity for writers to answer a question, point a reader to a specific site, and contribute to the conversation. The writer who explores social media with the goal of selling more books defeats the purpose of community involvement. We are making friendships and bettering lives. And if any of those readers choose to purchase a book, our openness may be a deciding factor.

  4. Below is the glib answer I prepared before the deadline, then I read Sandra’s post and she puts me to shame. I feel like I should invoke the first rule of fight club, never talk about fight club. Since I can’t even come close to sounding as informed as Sandra, please find my glib response below. That’s below mentioned twice in case you missed it.

    None whatsoever. The downside of social media is it leaves you open to anonymous comments and snide remarks by faceless cowards who wouldn’t say it to your face. Unfortunately having a social media presence is a required part of being a published author so we’re stuck with it. That’s the rant part over.

    On a brighter note, social media does allow positive feedback and provides a personal connection to your readers, publishers and fellow writers. In that regard it has proved invaluable. Just letting everyone know that you’re attending Bouchercon for instance, and keeping in touch after the conference. I discovered several photos I didn’t know were being taken at Bouchercon St Petersburg and made several new friends on Facebook. Also there is the advertising potential, if done sparingly. And of course you can always post your cat’s breakfast or your latest baby pictures.

    1. Believe it or not, my initial prepped response was all about how authors overestimate the sales potential through social media. For me, I especially think Facebook is ineffective if your goal is to sell. Now, you can connect with some reader groups there, and that might help with profile, but I certainly wouldn’t spend money on ads there. All the writers I know who’ve tried different strategies seem to feel it isn’t that effective.

  5. Social media has been extremely important for me, but mostly Facebook. My readers skew older, so more of them are there than on other platforms. I also find Facebook more fun. I got into Twitter for a while for political reasons, but since I have to be careful on SM regarding that, I had to pull back. I do Instagram, but much less frequently than anything else because I can only share from my phone and I don’t take that many photos on my phone.

    On FB, I’ve been able to build a following of readers, join groups created by readers for my genre, and even start my own small street team. I’ve also joined contests that have helped me build my newsletter list of subscribers. The only drag is that much as I steer readers to my Author page, they always end up sending me personal requests that I feel obligated to take. So my personal page is packed, meaning I miss a lot of stuff from longtime friends unless I check my Close Friends list. But I honestly think being able to connect with readers through social media correlates to sales increases.

  6. BTW, I raced to get my response up because I’m sick with a cold and slept in. Sandra, your comment is so compelling. I should really add that in general, I fear social media will be the downfall of civilization because people think they can say whatever they want without consequences and the nastiness and downright bullying is horrifying. But as an old Italian saying goes, the fish stinks from the head down.

    Sometimes social media flat out depresses me. I was using Twitter to vent politically because I figured my readers aren’t there, and then I lost a reader who happened upon my feed. It puts me in a bind because I want to express myself but I need to use social media as a marketing tool. For me, these days it really can’t be both, and part of me feels guilty about that. But it also offers a good lesson in self-restraint. I’ve stopped myself many times from posting something I might regret due to my concern about pissing people off. It’s an id v. super-ego battle, but it’s way better to maintain control and saving venting for cocktails with friends!

  7. I see we have a wide range of opinions about the value of social media for writers. For me, it works to establish a community on the platforms where my readers hang out. My theory is face-to-face interaction with readers establishes trust, and social media provides that. Do I guard my time? Am I a writer first? Absolutely!

  8. Finally from me, the best social media is meeting readers at Bouchercon and other conventions. From there connections spread. It may not sell lots of books but it does spread the word.

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