Making It as an Author: Friends, Family, and Social Media Just Won’t Cut It

Like many aspiring authors, I used to think if I could only get a book published, then all my writing woes would be gone. And like every actual published author I’ve ever spoken to, I now know how naive that idea was.

The thing is, we like to think of ourselves as different. Special. We’re the hero in our own lives, and the heroes in the story always end up overcoming the odds. It’s been drilled into us by years of narrative. And so we come up with reasons for why it’ll be different for us. The one I hear most people say is that they have a tremendous support group. An active blog. Tons of friends who will spread the word of their new book far and wide.

I don’t doubt that people have many family and friends. I don’t doubt that they have an active social media presence. But where I do put on my skeptic glasses is when they claim that presence and those connections will translate into success.

To put it bluntly: your book just doesn’t mean nearly as much to everyone else in your life as it does to you.

Don’t get me wrong. There will definitely be people in your life who will go and spread the word about your writing. But they will be few and far between, and sometimes who does do it will surprise you just as much as who doesn’t.

I don’t mean this as a slam to my friends and family. I definitely feel like I’ve been supported in my efforts as an author. I just realize and acknowledge that there’s only so much that support can get you. As an aspiring author, you look at all your friends and family and see each one of them going to give you reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Those hordes of reviews will translate into people taking notice of your book, and BAM! You’re sailing into the sunset.

Folks, I’ve got 795 Facebook friends. MEMORY THIEF has 64 ratings and 30 reviews on Goodreads. VODNIK has 294 ratings and 86 reviews. CAVERN OF BABEL has 9 and 4, respectively. I think anyone can do the math pretty easily. Does this mean my friends don’t love me? Don’t care about the fact that I’ve written novels?

Not at all. It means they haven’t read them, or they don’t use Goodreads, or they didn’t like them, or they haven’t had time to write a review, or any number of things. And that’s okay.

You will naturally hear of exceptions. Hear of authors who made it big because they already had a big following before their book came out. But the fact that you’re hearing about those authors means something: it means that story is an outlier. Something different from the norm.

So what can you do as an author to make a difference? To move the needle?

You can write better books, and you can get better luck.

Yes, you can try to force feed your book to all your friends and family. You can blog like a madman. You can turn into a walking advertisement. And I suppose there’s a chance that might work for one or two people (though imagine all the people they’re alienating and annoying in the process). In the end, people share things with other people that they really loved. That they’re passionate about. And your friends and family love you for sure. But they’re not sharing you. They’re sharing your book.

You are not your book.

So if you want more people to love your writing, write better books. Write books that simply have to be shared. That demand other people go out and tell other people about them. Books that cause complete strangers to become your fans. It’s the one and only thing authors have any real control over: the quality of their writing.

What’s the last book you recommended to a friend or reviewed online? Why did you recommend or review it?

And then there’s luck. You can put yourself out there and hope that luck smiles on you, but all I know about luck is that it only comes to those who have their hat out, ready for it when it does. It’s no guarantee that it will, but you hope for the best.

All while writing the best books you can.

I don’t mean for this post to be depressing or discouraging. But I do think it’s important any aspiring artist has a realistic view of what success will take. You can dump a whole lot of time and effort into building a robust social network, but I think taking all that time and putting it into developing your craft would be a better use of it, unless you like social networks. (Which I do, so . . .)

There’s always the real chance that my personal experience is different than the majority’s, but I’m basing this post not just on my experience, but on the conversations I’ve had with other author friends. So they’re a bit more robust than just a single sample size.

In any case, to those of you about to write, I salute you. It’s a tough business, and not for the faint of heart. Keep at it!


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