Stop worrying about social media and do the work
The reasons I’m taking a breath and trying not to panic as *that* social network crashes and burns 🔥
There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth about how difficult Twitter has become of late and how fragmented social media is becoming for all of us. It’s understandable. For years, we’ve been told that we need to build our platforms, primarily by our publishers, who want us to be able to promote our work to the widest possible audience. Up to now, Twitter has been the easiest place to do that, especially for writers. It’s based on words, after all, and words are our power. Many of us have spent years cultivating a following only to see it fall away.
The anxiety I felt when the great Twitter migration began sent me running to any alternative that reared its head. Mastodon. Hive. Project Mushroom. The list went on and on. I even toyed with going back to Tumblr! What was I thinking?! The panic was real, and I wasn’t alone. As my friend Gareth L. Powell laid out in his recent post:
“Two years ago, I felt I had a decent online presence. I was helping people on Twitter and cultivating a small-but-growing crowd-funding community. Now, when I look at my social media, it’s like looking at the burnt, smouldering remains of a seaside village after a Viking raid. The stone shell of the town meeting hall is still standing, but the people who used to meet there have fled.
It’s hard not to despair.”
I was the same. For a while, it even felt like I had a new job. I wasn’t a writer anymore; I was a professional social media tester, bouncing from one sign-up page to another, followed by a frenzy of desperate posts on my legacy accounts: ‘Hey, I’m on this, I’m on that. Follow me here. See you there.’
It was all-consuming. So I stopped for a couple of reasons.
First of all, as Gareth alluded, those hard-worn followers can suddenly vanish if the platform crumbles. That’s why I first returned to blogging and then moved my posts over here to Substack. Yes, on paper, my Substack numbers aren’t anywhere as impressive as they are on Twitter. At the time of writing, I have just shy of 1,700 subscribers as opposed to 23k on Twitter, but man alive, it’s hard to keep those Twitter followers engaged, especially when the algorithm is working against you. Most don’t even see my posts. Twitter aims to keep you scrolling on and on and on and on, every tweet just another shout into the ether that is forgotten as soon as you see the next quip, burst of outrage, or cute cat picture. (And hey, I like a cute cat picture as much as the next person, not to mention cute dog, guinea pig, or rabbit pictures, for that matter!)
Thanks to the stats Substack provides, I know that most of my subscribers actually read these words, a large number of those engaging actively with the posts, leaving comments and clicking links. And I’m so grateful - thank you, thank you, thank you! And if Substack vanishes, I can simply take my followers to a different newsletter platform. Cue maniacal laughter; you’re never going to be rid of me, bwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaa.
(Sorry. Please don’t unsubscribe! I won’t do that again. Probably.)
Secondly, while publishers want us to have huge numbers of followers, actually having huge numbers of followers doesn’t necessarily mean you will sell any more books. In fact, it’s notoriously hard to convert followers to book sales, no matter how much you post.
Author Erin Bowman put it well in her recent Reflections on a decade after debuting:
“Books can go viral without the author even having a presence online because true virality happens when readers go bonkers for the book, not when the author makes cute videos. It’s when thousands (or millions) of users on a given platform begin discussing a certain title, often without the author’s involvement, that things take off.”
Which leads me to the third reason, and this is the biggie. No matter how panicked I felt as Twitter imploded, my job isn’t social media. My job is to write stories!
As authors, the platforms we build are never as important as the stories we write. The energy spent maintaining follower numbers would be far better focused on creating and honing new worlds, new characters, and new experiences. Yes, I realise having a large audience seems essential, especially for indy and self-pub writers trying to push their work out to as many people as possible, but you need that work in the first place. You need to be sat in front of a keyboard hammering out those all-important words (or scribbling them in a notebook, whatever method works for you.) I enjoy being here and have fun interacting with you all in the chat, but social media should always be a sideshow for a writer, not the main event.
So don’t panic and stop worrying about having to start all over again on a new network. Enjoy the challenge of building a following if you want to, but most importantly, do the work. Write stories. Create universes. Spin magic.
I so much prefer your newsletters and Substack content. It is more thoughtful and leisurely than the manic craziness that is Twitter, Intagram, etc (mind you having grown up in the 80's everything seems frantic). Thank you for your content, no matter what platform it is on. It is a pleasure to read.
I needed to hear this. It's all too easy to get distracted by the shiny thing and when you don't know if the shiny thing will last... plus I want to write, not make Reels or TikToks or whatever, darnit.