Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In which the science nerd drops some data...

by Chris F. Holm

If you've been following along on my posts since I joined Criminal Minds, you've probably realized by now that I'm a huge nerd. But what you may not realize is that I'm so nerdy, I turned pro.

See, in my day job (yes, I have one, and unless your favorite author's name is King or Rowling, odds are they have one too), I'm a research scientist. And as such, I tend to scoff at anecdotal evidence. You know the kind I mean. "Our breakthrough program helped Tom here buy a beach house, drop three pant-sizes, and marry the prom queen, all by only eating foods that start with the letter Q*! (*Results not typical.)" So, when tackling a question near and dear to my heart, namely "Is social media a worthwhile tool?" I thought it best to look at the data.

I'm a big believer in the notion that the best way to network is to stop trying to network. So although this post is not about how to use social media, but rather whether or not it can prove worthwhile to an author, let me take a sec to throw in my two cents about the how: Don't be a carnival barker, constantly hawking your wares. Relax. Make friends. Have fun. Be yourself. (Unless you're an actual, honest-to-God carnival barker. Nobody likes a carnival barker.)

It should be noted that my sample size for this study is one author; i.e. me. But I'm far too lazy to poll others just for a blog post, so n=1 will have to do.

When I was shopping for an agent, one of my key selling points was that I was an established short story writer. And I frequently hear from folks who tell me they picked up my debut novel because they read a short of mine. (How many folks? Again, I'm far too lazy to count 'em up. "But without hard numbers," you ask, "isn't this claim anecdotal?" To which I say: "Shut up.") So I'm going to lay down a basic premise that, as far as exposure is concerned, short story publications are a VERY GOOD THING. Settled? Okay, then. Let's continue.

To date, I've had 21 short stories accepted for publication. Of those, 9 were over-the-transom (meaning, for those unfamiliar with the antiquated term, that they were submitted unsolicited.) Which means (watch this fast math!)... 12 were submitted upon invitation. 5 to print anthologies. 2 to print magazines. 2 to ebook anthologies. And 3 to online magazines. Oh, and there was a by-invite reprint of an over-the-transom tale I neglected to add to the total, so that I wouldn't count the story in two columns.

Most of those 12 were paid. A couple were favors to friends. The reprint was for charity. One of the unpaid ones went on to garner an Anthony nomination and an inclusion in THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011, the latter of which wound up paying more than all my other short fiction combined, and introduced my work to a whole new audience of readers. And here's the kicker: every single one of those 12 invites - the majority of my 21 total accepted stories - came about due directly to relationships forged on social media. (Twitter's my addiction of choice, by the way, though I'm on the dreaded Facebook as well. Feel free to pop by either and validate my existence.) And that doesn't even count more nebulous (dare I say anecdotal?) benefits such as connecting with fans and secretly hanging out with cool people via your smart phone whilst in line at the bank. (Really, writer-boy? The bank? You haven't set foot inside a bank in a decade.)(True enough, snarky parenthetical, but that's not the point.)

Now, obviously, your mileage may vary. And note that the benefit of social media for me was a byproduct of actually, you know, socializing. No one wants to hang out with a human spambot, so please please please don't use my post as an excuse to annoy the crap out of friends and strangers with blatant self-promotion. But if you're asking yourself whether social media is worth it, well... these data don't lie.

Speaking of blatant self-promotion, we're officially less than one month out from the release of the second novel in my Collector series, THE WRONG GOODBYE. The Collector series, for those who don't know, recasts the battle between heaven and hell as Golden Era crime pulp. If you'd like to learn more about it, or fingers-crossed even order a copy, click here. (Blatant self-promotion over.)


Meredith Cole said...

I like your numbers, Chris!

At every single book event I've done, something good happened. It just wasn't always what I was expecting.
I think if you approach social media with an open mind and curiosity about others (just like you described), you're bound to have some great results.

Chris said...

I'm pretty fond of 'em myself, Meredith. (Speaking of numbers, how the heck's my humble little nerd-post going to compete with Hilary's juggernaut? Poorly, I suspect.)

Vicki Delany said...

Human spambot. Love it! I see that Hilary's post yesterday got a lot of response. This is obviously something people feel strongly about, and so they should.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Great post, Chris. I receive a lot of invitations to events from connections I make on Facebook. There's a definite theme running through this week's posts: carnival barker = bad; genuine, sincere interaction = good.

Chris said...

Thanks, Vicki! And Sue Ann, if that's all folks get out of this week's question, we've done the world a service.


Josh Stallings said...

Chis, I am one of those fools who read your short fiction and was hooked. Twitter was how you came to my attention, but all the yelling in world wouldn't have had me eating up your writing if you didn't have the goods. Lately the focus is so strong on numbers and marketing that I sometimes forget what a wealth of practical knowledge and comradeship other writers can be. As you pointed out most of us do this for love of craft, very few are knocking out the bill, so I must remind myself to keep my eye on what I love. Marketing be damned, I love writing and writers. As long as I continue to sell enough books to pay for the coffee it takes to write 'em, I'm doing ok. See you around the playground.

Fiona Johnson said...

Getting to know so many writers through social media is wonderful, so much to learn from such a generous and varied group and you're just one of them!

Chris said...

Kind of you to say, Josh. I'll see you at B'con! And to Josh and Fiona both, I don't get folks who see their social network friends as mere purchasing agents. I don't hang out on Twitter, FB, or blogs to hawk my stuff. I hang out there to spend time with my tribe.

Alan Orloff said...

Good analysis, Chris! Good things do happen when you least expect them. (I was considering making a career switch, from writer to carnival barker, but I think I'll stay the course.) Like you, I'm on both Twitter and Facebook, but Twitter scares me (hashtagphobia?).

Chris said...

Twitter once frightened me as well; Hilary and Sophie Littlefield dragged me kicking and screaming into the fray. Now, I kid you not, some of my closest friends are folks I met through Twitter.

Facebook, on the other hand, gives me hives. I confess, I only signed up at the behest of my editor, and I'd cancel my account in a second if I weren't trying to build an audience...

Reece said...

I've also been a Twitterphobe, but you actually make it sound fun. It sounds like you're doing this social media thing the right way. Nice post.

Chris said...

Thanks, Reece! As Hilary says, Twitter's a cocktail party. Once you learn a few basic conventions, it's easy to pop in and out as time allows, and chat with interesting folks. To me, FB's about connecting with folks you already know (and getting data-mined along the way.) Twitter connects you with NEW people, which is cool for, say, a writer in the wilds of Maine who doesn't know many local authors.

Gary Phillips said...

I was first invited into an anthology years ago because the editor at the time lived down the block from me and one day my son -- now 25, buffed, tatted and taller than me (sigh) -- was a kid then and with his sister, liked to play with her dog Samson. He saw books in her house and she told him what she did and he told her I was a writer.

My son the agent.

Oh, and my second time getting into an anthology was Ed Gorman calling me on the phone. To this day, having been in a few collections Ed edited or co-edited with the late Marty Greenberg, we've yet to meet.

Go figure.