The Insanity Behind the Pressure to Have “Numbers”

by Jami Gold on October 20, 2011

in Writing Stuff

Screen filled with ones and zeroes

Confession:  I broke one of the unwritten rules of the Writer Code.

I ranted.  In public.  On an agent’s blog.

And yet I’m still here to tell to the tale.  In fact, the agent responded to my comment and then—in a show of fantastic grace—emailed me to make sure I didn’t take offense.  We ended up having an honest and heartfelt email conversation about the issues plaguing the publishing industry.

But I wouldn’t recommend trying that at home, kids.  *smile*

On Tuesday, Rachelle Gardner’s blog post was titled “Author Marketing & Platform: *It’s All About the Numbers*”  She explained that when agents submit proposals to publishers, the marketing folk want hard numbers: blog page views, monthly unique visitors, Klout score, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc.

I understand what she was saying.  Marketing departments speak in numbers, and if we speak their language, they’ll better understand a proposal.

What Publishers Don’t Understand

If you’ve read my post from last week, you know my opinion of how selling books is not about social media numbers.  So…  I ranted.

“[I]f this is what publishers care about, they’re doomed.”

Rachelle replied to my comment with an overall counter-rant about how so many people were taking her post the wrong way.  (She followed up with an email to make sure I understood her reply was to everyone in general and not ranting at me.  That’s a great example of real class.)  On her blog, she said to me:

“This post was ever and only about your platform and how to express it in numbers that a publisher will understand.”

My argument was never with Rachelle and what she was informing us about the nature of the business.  My disagreement is with those publishers who think ability to sell books (i.e., platform) can be measured by social media numbers.

As social media maven Kristen Lamb said at Jane Friedman’s blog that same day:

“Theoretically, I could hold up my White Pages and say, “I have 30,000 friends.” But how many of those people know me? …

In the end, do I really have 30,000 friends, or just a list of meaningless names and equally meaningless relationships?”

So I replied on Rachelle’s blog (yes, I apparently had a death wish on Tuesday):

“I’ve seen Twitter accounts with 20K followers and zero tweets … The follow-back group on Twitter has huge numbers of followers…that don’t listen to or care about them. … But I seriously doubt the marketing departments take that into account, and that’s the problem with relying on numbers alone to form an impression.”

The Numbers Are Meaningless

I’ve talked many times before about how the real power of social media is compounding our numbers through our network, our tribe.  This is why the numbers don’t give even a tenth of the picture.  But the potential misleading nature of trusting in these social media numbers goes beyond that.

My Tech Guy got into the debate on Rachelle’s blog with a jaw-droppingly sinister plan:

“The numbers you’re quoting are all easily hacked. So for publishers to be metric driven when those underlying metrics are easily faked shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Social Media and the Internet. …

If you gave me a week and $2500, I could:

Add 50-500K daily hits to a web site …

Pay a service to run up Twitter / Facebook numbers …

[H]ire an office in India for a week to post real blog comments, set up hundreds of fake accounts, and do enough cross communication to make them all seem real. Those accounts could be used to run up Klout, RT comments, follow me, talk to me.”

(And can I just say I’m glad he’s a certified white-hat hacker?  Sheesh.)

Ever Feel Like Taking Your Ball and Going Home?

As part of my email exchange with Rachelle, I said:

“[J]ust like any situation where people are reduced to a number, this concept rankles writers. … I have personal relationships with best-selling authors, but by reducing my connections to a number, those influential friends of mine count the same as a spammer.

So a post like this, where I understand what you’re saying, but where it seems like publishers are putting the emphasis on the wrong things, makes me question my values.  Should I be cheating the system to make my numbers look better?

My answer is if that is/was the truth of the publishing industry, I wouldn’t want to be a part of it. …

[T]here’s a general fear among writers that the numbers-people [at publishers] have more power than the words-people.  We hear more stories every day of editors loving books and the marketing people shooting down the possibility of an offer.  What message does that send?  That the numbers are more important than the words.”

And in an email reply that she admitted was depressing, she said it is true that the numbers-people have more power than the words-people.  (The only reason I’m not quoting her here is because I don’t quote from private emails without permission, but I’m not twisting the meaning.  Believe me, I wish this wasn’t true.)

This is why I started my initial rant with my opinion that corporate publishing—that is, large publishing companies where the acquiring editors are some of the least powerful people—might as well be doomed.

We’ve all heard that it comes down to great content.  That we need to write a great book.  At some publishers, that concept is a myth.

The Way a Business Should Look at the Numbers

I don’t disagree that numbers can indicate something, but to paraphrase Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, I do not think numbers mean what the marketing people think it means.

For example, I have a higher Klout score than NYT best-selling author James Rollins.  I don’t for a second think that means I’d be able to sell more books than him.  I have more Twitter followers than many best-selling authors.  I wouldn’t expect to sell as many books as they have simply because of that fact.

That’s my point.  If I decided to self-publish, I wouldn’t make assumptions about my sales based on my numbers.  That would be a stupid business decision.  And yet that’s exactly what some publishers are doing.

Let’s take a look at two self-published authors I know.  Author A has 3 1/2 times the number of Twitter followers of author B.  A’s blog is mega-popular; B’s blog is small potatoes.  A’s stratosphere-high Klout score is 19 points higher than B’s excellent score.

Guess which one sold more?  A lot more?  B did.

Why?  Because the words do matter more than the numbers.  B’s story resonated with people.  They read the story and loved it.  They told others about it.

What Publishers Need to Understand

Word of mouth is what sells books.  Not direct selling.

And authors cannot do their own word of mouth.  So the numbers of the author don’t matter as much as the numbers of those who spread the word for them.

The marketing folk don’t like that reality though, because they can’t measure it.  Instead they’d rather latch onto the meaningless with fingers in their ears.

I get it.  Long round-ish numbers are sexy, all their smooth curves and open circles.  But just as a man can’t tell if a woman will be a good wife by the curves of her hips, a publisher can’t tell if a writer will sell well by the curvy zeros of their follower numbers.

Now we have to hope publishers learn this lesson before putting themselves out of business.  The divorce settlement between abandoned authors and publishers would leave them both broke.

Do you disagree with me?  Do you think social media numbers can be used to predict sales?  Do you think agents are enabling publisher’s delusions by playing along, or are they doing the best they can in an impossible situation?  Do you have any suggestions for how to correct publisher’s misunderstanding of how social media works? If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would you change?

Pin It
80 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

India Drummond October 20, 2011 at 5:59 am

I agree with you 100%. What many authors are starting to realise is that blogs and twitter don’t sell books. Meanwhile, the publishing industry is saying, “Ooh, blogs! Everyone should have one.” as though they’d just discovered that such a thing exists. (Blogs and Twitter are great for a lot of things, but NOT for selling books.)

Reason #45 why self-publishing was the right path for me. I can be my own numbers person AND my own words person, and I know when to listen to each of them–and when to tell them to sit down and be quiet.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 8:01 am

Hi India,

Thanks for sharing your experience! Blogs and Twitter are great, but as you said, unless we’re non-fiction authors with a solution to a problem, direct selling on those platforms does not work. And I love imagining you telling different sides of yourself to sit down and be quiet. :) (I right there with you.) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Manon Eileen October 20, 2011 at 6:06 am

A great post, Jami, and I agree with you all the way.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 8:04 am

Hi Manon,

Thanks. I wish this wasn’t true. It would be nice to know a secret recipe to best-seller-dom exists. And I wish these types of publishers weren’t so delusional that they were stressing writers out for no reason. And I wish publishers would figure this out because I don’t want them to go out of business. But… *sigh* Sometimes reality is a sad place to be. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Cyndi October 20, 2011 at 6:10 am

Right on target, Jami. Thanks for spelling it out so eloquently!

I’m still not ready to take the self-pub route (more me-out-there than I can handle right now), but the oft-repeated numbers game played by traditional publishers is certainly depressing.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 8:16 am

Hi Cyndi,

The good news is that not every traditional publisher shares this single-minded focus on numbers. When I was talking about Rachelle’s post on Twitter, my friend Roni Loren mentioned that she got a book deal with Berkley in the past year and was never asked by her agent or publisher what her numbers were.

And certainly some genres might have a tighter correlation between numbers and success than others. And even within publishers, some imprints might have more numbers focus than others. So we shouldn’t assume this applies to all publishers. At least not yet. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

PW Creighton October 20, 2011 at 6:28 am

Exceptional post Jami. Although, I’m not quite sure I would be quite as bold as to rant on Rachel’s blog. You certainly earned a purple heart. :-) While we could’ve looked on in horror at the numbers-people in the past, today is a much different world. Content is king. An indie author that does everything right can easily blast past the numbers oriented publishers. As Bob Mayer has been saying, Authors are the modern gatekeepers. Our work and capabilities are stronger than ever. It’s always been on us but numbers aren’t it. Numbers, metrics, help give us guidance but that’s not the measure of success. Writing is like social media, our measurements are qualitative not quantitative.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 8:22 am

Hi PW,

LOL! Yes, like I said, I wouldn’t recommend others try it. It helped that I respect Rachelle (she really is one of the good ones) and that I was ranting against the publishing climate she described rather than at her personally. :)

And you’re absolutely right that numbers can give us guidance. (I know I said in the sub-headline that Numbers Are Meaningless rather than saying that Numbers Can Be Meaningless, but controversy makes for interesting conversation. ;) ) They can be used to give vague ideas and hints, or show us where we could work on strengthening our platform. But they cannot–and should not–be used as a metric to predict success. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

PW Creighton October 20, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Well said!

Reply

Sarah Pearson October 20, 2011 at 7:21 am

Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been clutching at since I started reading all about this stuff.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 8:23 am

Hi Sarah,

Yes, I saw it floating around your head and decided to put it into words. ;) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Jami's Tech Guy October 20, 2011 at 7:47 am

Oh great Jami, now everyone is going to see my horns instead of my halo gently resting on top of them.

Seriously though, it is a very good and bold post. The publishers had to have seen big changes coming to their business model for years. Their equivalents in music (RIAA) and then movies (MPAA) have been battling change with different results. But sadly, it seems book publishers took a mostly ‘head-in-sand’ approach to the changes instead of being bold about this new world. (So far the best approach to technology has been the MPAA who started releasing DVD’s with additional content so consumers would feel they were getting better bang for their entertainment buck.)

Instead you see publishers like Penguin suing authors who self-publish their backlist.

-TG
@jaytechdad

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 8:33 am

Hi Tech Guy,

Hey, you should be famous–you got Christian-writer agent Rachelle Gardner to snicker at a sex joke on her own blog. LOL!

Yes, much of what we’re seeing here is the same stuff Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath have been talking about how the publishers cling to their dwindling print edition power rather than looking at how to grow with the changes. Rachelle’s post on Wednesday proposed that publishers aren’t the enemy (and I don’t think they are–I do, however, think they’re making stupid business decisions, and that makes me sad because I don’t want them to go away) and that they were blindsided by the technology changes the same as everyone else. While it’s true that everyone is having to adapt, it’s not quite true that they were blindsided. As you point out, these changes have been affecting different media/content methods for ten years, so they had enough warning if they were less blind to the true nature of content selling and how it differs from product selling. This focus on numbers shows that they’re still looking at it from the product selling perspective. *sigh* Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Michele Shaw October 20, 2011 at 8:34 am

Great post, Jami. I agree with you. I read Rachelle’s blog the other day, and it really depressed me. I have (what I consider to be) a fairly large Twitter following, but I don’t think all of them would buy a book of mine. I hope those I count as friends will help me spread the word as I am more than happy to do the same for them, and if nothing else, I just appreciate their moral support. That’s really what it’s all about. (for me) As I’ve said before, if I put even more time into sm, I won’t be writing. I’d rather write.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 8:50 am

Hi Michele,

*sheepish look* Yeah, obviously it didn’t depress me so much as make me upset–in a ranting kind of way. :)

I’ve seen enough evidence that social media and blog numbers do not translate into direct sales that I wasn’t about to let an article like that make me paranoid, but I worry about other writers and what kind of stress that might put on them. As you said, it’s more important to write, create a backlist (which is yet another piece of evidence that publishers make stupid business decisions, as too many of them let backlists languish, but that’s a different post :) ), and look to build up volume over the long term (and yet another concept publishers have an issue with). *sigh* Okay, now I’m really depressed. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

KarenG October 20, 2011 at 9:09 am

Excellent post, Jami, summarizing an issue that people just can’t seem to agree on. I doubt very much that your comments and email exchange with Rachelle hurt your chances of anything, because agents are fast losing the power they’ve held on writers for the past couple decades. Maybe that’s why so many of them are promoting this idea? That being online doesn’t really help you? Because being online is a huge help to writers and is opening doors for them in a major way, possibly threatening the agents’ livelihoods in the process?

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 10:56 am

Hi Karen,

No, I don’t think my comments hurt my chances at all (and not just because she doesn’t represent my genre ;) ), because I do understand where she’s coming from. It hurt her to read my opinion that publishers are doomed–and I certainly didn’t intend to hurt her–because this is her livelihood. If publishers go down, her job is at stake. I honestly think she’s doing the best she can, given the situation of what some publishers are fixated on. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Jen J. Danna October 20, 2011 at 9:14 am

Your tweet on Tuesday brought the comment section of Rachelle’s blog to my attention. I’d read her post first thing in the morning and was discouraged by it’s message, but I hadn’t looked at the comments. What an eye opener. First of all, kudos to you for making a rational and logical argument all while remaining respectful and polite. Brava!

Nice Inigo Montoya reference. That made me smile… :)

I very much agree with your argument. Having a social media platform is important and is a great way of getting us out there, but the book is really the most important aspect of our lives as authors. I’m sure publishers aren’t just looking at the numbers, but when you are talking proposals (either non-fiction or the standard fiction proposal of a synopsis + 50 pages), they don’t have a lot of words to base their decision. And I’m afraid that they might put too much faith in numbers that just don’t carry as much weight as they would give them.

Thanks for a thought provoking discussion and for stepping in to lead the charge.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 11:07 am

Hi Jen,

Thanks for thinking my rant was logical and rational. I tried not to make it too “ranty.” :)

And I certainly hope that publishers are looking at more than just the platform numbers. If social media numbers were all they were looking at in a proposal, they’d be toast already. But my point is that they do seem to think that numbers can predict sales, and they can’t do that. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Laura Pauling October 20, 2011 at 9:20 am

That post upset me too but for slightly different reasons. For me it was one more piece of advice that seems so contradictory out there. A lot of writers that I observe that do well and sell big – have small blogs and barely tweet. So that tells me it’s not just about the numbers, even with publishers. That some companies recognize a great story, see some web presence and go for it. Or authors grew to have big numbers after they became a best seller.

So I agree, numbers don’t predict selling. A great story will. I also know a self pubbed author, who is agented, that is doing very well. She barely blogs or tweets. Social media got the ball rolling but the great story took over.

I’ve also seen big bloggers with wide influence not able to get a book deal, so clearly, it’s about more than just numbers.

So given all I see, I don’t understand where Rachelle’s post came from. I think it was misinterpreted. The subtext behind that post said to me – you need these numbers if you want to get published. But later she said that’s not what she meant, so yes, I do think her post was taken the wrong way – by most people.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 11:22 am

Hi Laura,

You’re absolutely right! We’ve seen both extremes in the last couple of weeks–both the blogging-is-dead and the numbers-are-everything ideas. It makes it confusing for those writers who want to follow “official” recommendations.

I think what Rachelle was trying to do was let authors know how to speak marketing language when it comes to describing our platform for a proposal. And on the face of that, I completely understand her point and her goal. But the underlying message is that marketing people think social media numbers actually provide useful metrics to predict success. That is what I disagree with.

Publishers used to want to know if a debut author knew any published authors who would provide a blurb. That’s a valid question that shows the reality of how connections work. A flat number that doesn’t take into account the depth/quality of connections misses the point of networking. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Alivia Anders October 20, 2011 at 10:46 am

Jami, your post speaks volumes. It’s depressing to see and know that publishing houses, and the community as a whole, think that just because you have a 50k following base on Twitter means you’re going to sell millions of copies of your book, CD, audio-tape, what have you. But like your ‘white-hat’ hacker buddy said, it doesn’t take much to fake those numbers. Hell, even for less of what he proposed I could have one of my techie friends from HS do all of that work and then some!

This is why it doesn’t matter if you have the biggest following in the world. What matters is the passion behind it AND the story. I truly believe both have to go hand-in-hand. If you love something, you’ll do anything for it, and when your item, be it CD or book or painting, is great, it fuels your fire and ultimately others too.

I love to use JK Rowling as an example because to me she is THE example. This woman loved her story, cultivated and loved her characters like children, and you saw it in the pages, in the detail of her craft, and how she pushed for her book against every odd. She didn’t have those numbers, but someone saw a great chance in her story and wanted to push for it, too. They felt her fire. And that’s how it goes. You have passion for something great, people will see it and want to know more. Numbers mean jack.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 11:32 am

Hi Alivia,

…it doesn’t take much to fake those numbers. … I could have one of my techie friends from HS do all of that work and then some!”

Good point! And the more pressure the publishers put on writers to have the “right” numbers, the more some people might see that as a viable option. I don’t want to think about “Gee, if I follow this person or tweet to that person my Klout score will go up/down.” That’s not genuine interaction.

The “motivational quote” Twitter accounts have some of the highest Klout scores out there–and they’re bots! The day I saw that Twitter bots have more influence than all the real people I knew is the day I decided to ignore Klout. :)

And great thoughts about what passion for our work can do for us. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Carradee October 20, 2011 at 11:16 am

If my time writing web content has taught me anything, it’s that conversion rates matter a whole lot more than numbers. Someone who can get their message to 200 people with a 50% conversion rate is doing a whole lot better than someone who can get their message to 20k people and have a 0.5% conversation rate, even though the numbers are the same.

Why? Because that 20k person is doing something wrong. Someone who’s “only” reached 200 people doesn’t have to stretch so far to find more; someone who’s already reached 20k has to look further.

Reply

Carradee October 20, 2011 at 11:17 am

In that first paragraph, by “even though the numbers are the same”, I’m talking about the sales numbers. Both examples sell 100 widgets.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 11:34 am

Hi Carradee,

Great point! Yes, all this talk about numbers is really promoting the idea of inefficiency, isn’t it? I’d rather do more with less. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Pamela V. Mason October 20, 2011 at 11:57 am

And so I’ve decided to ignore the agents, the editors, the publishing houses and all the other contradictory advice they dish out, and go my own way.
I’m not one to burn bridges, but I’m also not going to waste my time jumping through prescribed hoops, only to have the hoop holder require even more. It’s a shame how manipulated the whole publishing world – traditional as well as indie epub’d – has become via networks, blogs, scores, tags, lists, yadayadayada.
The gold nugget of your post is “Word of mouth sells books.”
I’ve decided to concentrate on my work, my community, my online presence as far as my words as whom I associate with –
Quality over Quantity
Thanks for throwing yourself under the bus for the rest of us here Jami! If anything else, you’ve made a positive impression in the agents’ – and us lowly wordslaves’ – eyes.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Hi Pamela,

Thanks for throwing yourself under the bus for the rest of us here Jami!

LOL! Well, I hope that rather than throwing myself under the bus, that we can figure out a way to give publishers a wake up call to stop fixating on things that don’t mean what they think it means. We should be spending our time on writing and craft–and yes, using social media to build a quality network. But stressing over meaningless numbers is only a waste of time. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Melinda Collins October 20, 2011 at 12:29 pm

“I hope that rather than throwing myself under the bus, that we can figure out a way to give publishers a wake up call to stop fixating on things that don’t mean what they think it means.”

Uh-oh….now my brain is turning….what a remarkable idea there, Jami. Writers working together to make the publishing industry see what is *truly* important. Definitely an interesting idea…… ;)

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Hi Melinda,

If you have any brilliant ideas, let me know. :)

Reply

Elle Strauss October 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I love how you’re not afraid to get into it–good for you!!

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Hi Elle,

LOL! I think I should be afraid. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Melinda Collins October 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Great post, Jami!

I had some mixed feelings over Rachelle’s post myself, though I didn’t get on there and express it like I should have….guess I let it fester a little instead. But kudos for stepping up, girl! I’m like you, I respect Rachelle and enjoy her blog a lot, but that post was a bit of a shocker for me too (at least until she explained what she really meant).

What bothered me was a mix between what you’re so eloquently stating, and what Laura has stated above: It’s truly about the words and the writing! There are successul authors out there who do *not* have a blog and/or Twitter, and they’re still selling the heck outta some books! Those are the mixed feelings I had, and I have to say, it got me a little conflicted so I had to stew on it a bit. If it conflicted me – because all new writers hear that you really don’t *need* a blog – then I *know* it conflicted other writers who are just starting their journey into becoming a published author one day.

Self-publishing really isn’t for me, so I’m looking forward to working with a publisher one day – hopefully soon, right? :) – and it is extremely disappointing and scary to read posts/articles that state the marketing departments in publishing houses are telling editors ‘no’ on offering contracts simply because the #’s aren’t there – even though the book itself was phenomenal. Like you said, publishing houses have been around a helluva lot longer than blogs, Facebook and Twitter, and they were selling the heck outta books back then….so why are they leaning against these social media programs that just might, one day, no longer be as ‘hopping’ as they are today?

Grr….. now I’m ranting a lil’! LOL! Sorry ’bout that! I’m definitely glad We Are Not Alone! :)

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Hi Melinda,

Luckily, not every publisher is fixated on these numbers. I mentioned above that Roni told me her agent and editor never asked for them before she got her book deal. So don’t lose heart. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Melinda Collins October 20, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Very true…I did see that. It’s still a little disappointing, but like you said, there are the select few out there who don’t fixate on the numbers. :)

Reply

Gene Lempp October 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Having spent the past 15 years of my life working for one of the largest PR firms on the planet I can attest to the fact that PR & Marketing are all about facade. Perception is the King and do not bother to tell him that the new suit he bought is really just air or he will get very upset and have your head mounted on a pike. Better to be naked and publicly humiliated then to admit being wrong.

It is sad. It is true.

I mentioned in a comment here last week that true influence cannot be measured. That statement is based on my years of experience.

Here is an example of true influence. Kristen Lamb, Social Media Jedi Master of Writers, works hard to build her audience. She cares about them. She posts relevant and visceral material that everyone can relate to. She wraps it in her own self-deprecating humor that puts all of us at ease. On Twitter and Facebook she is personable, helpful, super cool. If she said to me, Gene try this out, it would carry a considerable amount of weight because my opinion of her is high and she has done everything to prove she deserves that opinion. I’m 99% likely to take the advice as a result.

Marketing cannot quantify this individual to individual influence and that is the heart of the matter. Therefore, they take what they can quantify, even it is meaningless and use it to build a facade that justifies their actions and decisions.

Jami you are right on target and while it is a pity that so many traditional publishers are missing the mark the odds of them waking up are small. Perhaps one day someone in the industry will have an epiphany, however, it is difficult to pull oneself out of an established rut. According to information I learned in Bob Mayers Write It Forward class, there is a 5% chance of making a change that lasts.

But then that is just another number :)

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Hi Gene,

Marketing cannot quantify this individual to individual influence and that is the heart of the matter. Therefore, they take what they can quantify, even it is meaningless and use it to build a facade that justifies their actions and decisions.

Yes, that’s pretty much the impression I had after all this. I wish it wasn’t so. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Nina October 20, 2011 at 1:06 pm

EXCELLENT post!

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Thanks Nina! :)

Reply

Roxanne Skelly October 20, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I’ve been rethinking this a bit, and I might be diverting from other folk as far as social media.

In traditional marketing, I suspect two things sell books.
First, the book needs to be places where people buy books, and it needs to be visible. So where do people buy books? Amazon, B&B, and some brick&mortal stores. So ya gotta get the book to come up when people do Amazon searches, when people buy similar books, and so on. And ya gotta simply be in brick&mortar stores.

Second, you need mindshare. You need to be more interesting than the other millions of books out there. Social networking is part of that, but I’m starting to doubt that it’s as relevant as people seem to think.

Twitter, blogs and facebook pages? I’ve thumbed through the friends lists of various authors, and honestly, a fair portion of the folk are fellow writers. And the rest seem to be hard-core fans.

Blogs? Hardcore fans and writers.

Review sites? Hardcore fans of the genre.

To really sell, you need to break out of that hardcore fan box. Personal recommendations from friends? I don’t get them often. I’ve perhaps seen them once a year on facebook. I’ve only received recommendations in bookstores by the owner, or from friends. And those friends simply hand me a book, which doesn’t result in an immediate sale, but may result in a fan.

Perhaps in other demographics (YA), things are different, but for mid-list authors, I just don’t hear about them.

Personally, I’d focus on real-life word-of-mouth, which isn’t reflected online. And I’d focus on making my book stand out via a great cover. And…I’d definitely try to get my book to show up on Amazon when people buy books from best-selling authors.

And someday? I’d like to get my book into airport kiosks and supermarkets.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Hi Roxanne,

Yes I agree that real-life word of mouth is important to have a breakout book. We look around online and see tons of these other writers, so we assume that all writers are online. Not even close. In my local writers group, less than a quarter of the writers are online in social media–maybe even closer to 10%. The same holds true with the population in general.

My parents are voracious readers, but they don’t tweet or go to reader review blogs or author sites. They have an informal reading group with their friends and share all their favorite reads. Real word of mouth stuff. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Laurie London October 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I missed out on all of this yesterday, so I’m glad you brought it to my attention.

“My disagreement is with those publishers who think ability to sell books (i.e., platform) can be measured by social media numbers.”

I agree with you, Jami. Good social media numbers can’t be counted on to translate into sales. Just looking at my own buying decisions, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book by authors whose blogs I follow regularly. Sad, but true. Words matter, social media numbers do not. I may connect with them online and think they’re delightful people, but if what they write isn’t my cup of tea, I won’t buy it.

Regarding Klout, I have a pretty decent Klout score, much higher than a lot of authors. Does that mean I sell more books than them? Uh, no. I think it’s because most book buyers are people are like me. Words matter. Uber social media numbers do not.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Hi Laurie,

I agree. I’ve occasionally read outside of my genre, but only by a degree. For example, even though I usually stick to paranormal or historical when I read romance, I’ll occasionally stretch out to contemporary or inspirational romance. But that’s a far cry from a memoir or horror. Unless I’m really close to the author, I wouldn’t buy something too far outside my interests. The words come first. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

vicky dreiling December 7, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Purchase decisions are complex. Soc Media works best by creating awareness~the first step in purchase process. See my blog which is part of my website. FYI I spent ten yrs in Corp.
Marketing. Most writers don’t understand marketing or how consumers make purchase decisions.

Reply

Jami Gold December 7, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Hi Vicky,

Soc Media works best by creating awareness~the first step in purchase process.

Yes, I agree. Social media is very much about connections and networking–which creates awareness of our existence and hopefully our products. The problem comes in when someone looks at the social media numbers and thinks that will work out to a nice, even ratio of sales (one sale for every x number of followers). As you said, purchase decisions are much more complex than that. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Elizabeth Mueller October 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm

One can easily get lost in all of this. I worry so much about the numbers to the point that my shoulders feel like rocks. I agree with you though, I could have 2,000 followers yet have only 3 comments post a day over at my blog. What about someone who has 200 followers and has 50 comments a day? I’d go with the smaller number with more traffic, wouldn’t you?

And I agree, one author, by word of mouth, is dang HARD to get the word out. I try to motivate my followers by sharing my booty with them. Event that’s hard, too! I think every author needs a personal PR, but alas, some of us aren’t lucky enough to have one.

I enjoyed your post, thanks for keeping it real.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Hi Elizabeth,

Great point! Which audience is more likely to get involved with helping spread the word of mouth? The one that never leaves comments or the one that does?

The other reason that authors can’t do their own word of mouth is because people don’t trust a self-interested salesman. If a car salesman tells you a car is great, that means nothing. If a neighbor who really knows his stuff tells you a car is great, that means a lot. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Elizabeth Mueller October 20, 2011 at 3:42 pm

*booty as in swag, LOL ;)

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 4:01 pm

ROTFLOL! Thanks for the clarification. :)

Reply

Lynn Kelley October 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Bravo, Jami! Excellent points and I agree 100%. And yay for your cool tech guy!

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Hi Lynn,

Thanks! And yes, he’s kind of scary sometimes. :) I’m glad he’s on the good guy side. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Stacy Green October 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Jami
Thanks for stepping up to defend the rest of us, so to speak. I’ve decided that while I’m still going to query agents, my focus probably going to be on digital publishing. I’m not ready to self-publish yet, but it’s an option. But after reading Rachelle’s post, I kind of wondered why I was even bothering, you know? Marketing is something I’m trying to learn, but I don’t think I could ever come close to having the numbers the Bigs want you to.

Thanks for this post. It definitely helped!

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Hi Stacy,

after reading Rachelle’s post, I kind of wondered why I was even bothering

No one can tell you what you want, but if it’s your dream to have an agent, I still say to go for it. Remember the saying that the only way to guarantee failure is not to try. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Teresa Robeson October 20, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I just want to say that depressing as all this focus on numbers is, your post have given me much hope that I could still make it if I just penned a good enough book. Thanks!

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Hi Teresa,

Thanks! I’m glad for that, as that’s actually what I took away from it. That what will really determine whether we’re successful is still under our control: writing a good book. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Gibson October 20, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I’m like Apple. My product is my marketing. That’s the hope anyways. I have a very small social media platform, so I figure I have to write the best damn book I can. If anything, I hope to get the numbers because people like my novel and find me after finding my novel.

Reply

Jami Gold October 20, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Hi Gibson,

You probably saw the same video I did about Apple and product marketing. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Sarah October 21, 2011 at 3:13 am

I saw this on twitter and I’m glad I did! This is a great post, and very logically lays out a great argument. Even though the reality of numbers-worship is still there, reading this post has certainly calmed my anxiety about it. Thanks!

Reply

Jami Gold October 21, 2011 at 7:13 am

Hi Sarah,

Yay! Thanks for letting me know. I worried that this post would create a big depression-athon. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Kerry Meacham October 21, 2011 at 4:17 am

Okay, I’m not a published writer, and I still have a lot to learn about craft. That being said, I’ve been in sales and marketing now for 20+ years. I can tell you that 99.9% of marketing people are going to try to find a number they can hang their hat on. A number gives them two reasons to feel safe. Initially they believe the number is an accurate barometer of reality, so they believe their own BS. But the second, more important, reason is that it covers their patooty if things go wrong. The thing with selling books is that the majority aren’t homeruns anyway, so they can cover their butts for a looooooooong time before someone says, “Hey, this doesn’t seem to be working.” Then at that point they’ll start looking for a different better number to use to determine who will be successful. Sad but true. My two cents, for what it’s worth.

Reply

Jami Gold October 21, 2011 at 7:17 am

Hi Kerry,

Yep, I hear you. Numbers are just the nature of the business–for all types of businesses–especially for certain departments like marketing. I think the problem here is how much power these marketing departments have in some publishers. I don’t blame the marketing folk for doing their jobs, but when they’re using these made up numbers to veto everything and everyone else in the company? Yeah, that might be an issue. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Brooklyn Ann October 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Wonderful post, and I completely agree. I just got on to Klout and found some funny stuff. I have a great score but my list of things I’m influential about is odd. Like Amazon Kindle….and politics? Besides my big Squeee back in August when I got one for my b-day, I rarely talk about my kindle. I talk about the books I’m reading, not the format. I almost NEVER talk about politics and when I do, it’s so non-partisan and lukewarm that I doubt it influences anyone. Another friend is allegedly “influential” about Coffee. She’s MORMON. She doesn’t even drink coffee. She talks about chocolate a lot though. :)

Really, all that matters is a good book…but I do believe that author blogs CAN sell books and I will be blogging about that after the Haloween festivities.

Reply

Jami Gold October 21, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Hi Brooklyn Ann,

Funny stuff. I think my Klout says I’m influential on iPads, and I don’t own one and have never mentioned them on Twitter because it’d be spam bait. :)

I think author blogs can bring exposure to an author’s name, but for fiction titles, using blogs for direct selling seldom works, in my opinion. I’ll be interested to see you take on the issue. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Sonia G Medeiros October 22, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Jami, thank you so much for this post. It’s so dicouraging to hear that big numbers can mean more than a good story to some publishers. Maybe that’s not all that factors into the decision, but I’m willing to bet it does factor big in a lot of cases. It’s encouraging to hear you remind us how important real connection is and not just a “spray and pray” kinda tactic. I don’t know if my numbers are “good enough,” but I know that I do enjoy the community I’ve encountered through blogging/twitter. I think that I have made genuine connections. I’ve certainly fell in love with the writng of authors I might not have found without being on social media…or at least not found until they were huge and didn’t really have time to interact with us little people as much. :D Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Jami!

Reply

Jami Gold October 22, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Hi Sonia,

Aww, thank you! Yes, the community I’ve met through blogging and Twitter means so much to me. That’s why I blog. Not for the numbers or the recognition, but for the honest desire to help my friends and soon-to-be friends. *hugs* Thank you for the comment!

Reply

Mark Noce October 24, 2011 at 8:40 am

A lot of great truths here! Thanks for the insights:) Cool blog too!

Reply

Jami Gold October 24, 2011 at 8:42 am

Hi Mark,

Thanks! I appreciate that. I hope this article helps. :)

Reply

Nancy S. Thompson October 24, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I think you truly speak for many of us writers in this post. Of course, I agree, all the way, but more than that, I have seen the proof that these numbers that Ms. Gardner is always spouting off about don’t matter nearly as much as she would have us believe. I know many writers who have huge armies of followers, but they are not successfully published authors. And I personally know a few authors, young ones, too, who have much smaller audiences yet they have published incredibly successful books. They were scooped up by major (yes, one of the big six) publishers even though they lacked all the numbers Rachelle holds in such high regard. So while I respect and follow Ms. Gardner, I don’t find much truth or value in those numbers at all.

Reply

Jami Gold October 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Hi Nancy,

Interesting point! There might be difference of opinion between what a salesperson (agent) thinks is important to sealing a deal–as they guess at what facts, figures, and details will stand out with a publisher–and what the buyer (in this case, a publisher) thinks is important.

Again, I think Rachelle’s point was to inform writers about how to express their platform in numbers, which is not a bad thing to understand. But because of her goal of wanting to sell the publisher on her author, she might be emphasizing these facts differently than the publisher actually expects. Food for thought. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Cynthia Robertson October 26, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I agree with you, Jami. I read Rachel’s post too, and while I love her posts and knew she was just telling us how publishers operate, it is clear publishers methods are flawed. Many people have loads of followers…who they never really communicate with. It’s not enough to have numbers. A community of caring friends can do more, IMO.
It’s disturbing to think there’s such a disconnect between this reality, and publishers expectations.
Great post!

Reply

Jami Gold October 26, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Hi Cynthia,

Thank you. I just hope that more publishers fall (or will fall) on the side of knowing these numbers aren’t the end-all-be-all predictor of sales and success. Thanks for the comment!

Reply

Todd Moody October 27, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Bravo! Nail on head. I keep thinking some publishing house is going to come along and figure out that treating writer’s like valued commodities and offering reasonable contracts will drive them to the top of the heap. I’m not going to hold my breath though.

I’m just glad I have a good friend who happens to specialize in contract law.

Reply

Jami Gold October 27, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Hi Todd,

I wish there was an easy answer for which publisher always played fair too, but yes, your friend sounds like a good one to have. :) Thanks for the comment!

Reply

What do you think?

80 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Previous post:

Next post: