A Pound of Flesh per Click by Jim Thompson

Share Button

The gurus write that an author should spend 80% of their time writing and 20% of it promoting their work. I wish someone would explain to me how to accomplish that. To promote books effectively, it’s more or less the other way around. And it’s getting harder to promote every day.

There exists a syndrome I call Aggregation Aggravation. Most authors suffer from it. I belong to almost every social networking site and professional organization of merit available to authors. In addition to writing novels at the reasonable pace of one per year, I write articles, essays and book reviews at a rate of about 75 per year. These are already placed in respected journals, web sites, etc., so I know that they will published and read. Aside from the enjoyment I derive from writing them, they keep my name out there so that when a year has passed and a new novel is released, people don’t scratch their heads and think, sounds familiar, James who?

I also write specifically for my friends, family, and readers. My total contacts from Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and a couple other networks total several thousand. Most are in some way connected to publishing. In general, I’ll approve a writer as a contact upon request. Anyone who had the fortitude to write a novel, for good or ill, I want to support. I sometimes offer debut authors guest blogs, will sometimes critique an unpublished writer, I answer every email, try to be helpful if I’m able, but they’re killing me. All of them. The self-published authors, hereafter to be referred to as SPAs, the social networks. Almost all of the internet tools I used with success, a short time ago, are now failing. The internet is, every day, becoming more and more like Walmart.

First, the SPAs. I don’t know if the estimate held true, but 300,000 new SPA novels were expected to be published in the fourth quarter of last year through online programs, most notably Amazon’s author program. There are at present over a million offerings in Amazon’s Kindle Store, and another 600,000 expected from SPAs in 2013. It feels as if each and every one of them is spamming me. And spamming me across the board, on every social network. I’m deleting over 100 SPA messages per day at present.

I, of course, try to interest people in my novels as well, but I seldom refer to my work in the pieces I write to be published on web pages that aren’t mine, and on my own, my blog, FB et al, most of the content is meant to inform or entertain my audience. I don’t tell people how great my books are. I would prefer that they decide the merits of my writing or lack thereof for themselves. Instead, I publish reviews, interviews, items I hope of interest about my career, and these things account for about a third of my total content.

I got spammed by an SPA not long ago and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I offered some unsolicited advice, but kept my tone civil, something along the lines of the paragraph above, suggesting content besides being informed of the greatness that is her masterpiece might interest me, but her approach was a terrible turnoff and ensured that I would never read anything by her. Her reply: “Everybody knows this is how you do it,” told me I was pathetic and knew where the delete key was if I didn’t like it. I didn’t bother to reply that NOBODY likes it, just took her advice and used the delete key.

Not long after, I ‘friended’ an SPA on Facebook, and within minutes, she posted the cover of her book on my page. It really pissed me off. Apparently, for her, our friendship meant that my space was to be her billboard. I plastered the covers of my last four novels on her wall, essentially covered it, then wrote to tell her how pleased I was that we were to be such close friends that we could feel free to do such things. She also told me I was pathetic. Self-publishing gurus have told SPAs all this is acceptable, when they attend ‘webinars.’ And like everything in this P.T. Barnumesque self-publishing industry, that expert advice doesn’t come cheap. I wonder if they tell their clients to call their naysayers pathetic? I was two for two being pathetic. Or maybe I’m just pathetic.

I’m going to discuss Facebook for the most part here, but they aren’t alone in the topics I discuss. I need to pick one, or this would become a book, and I find their sins the most egregious at present.

Aggregation, the linking of a chain of sites so that when I post on my blog, it appears on my other sites as well. FB, Twitter, Linkedin, various apps. An internet IT expert helped me set it up. It was painstaking and time consuming. And I used to enjoy posting on FB. Everything isn’t about books. I use it to keep up with friends and relatives, post articles or images I find of interest. The stuff most people do with it. Facebook introduced Timeline and blew my aggregation system to pieces. I have two pages, a personal page and an author page. They screwed up my system so badly that I have to share a post with myself to get it on both pages.

Before Timeline, my FB posts were read by 800-1300 people a week, depending on how active I had been in posting. When Timeline started, that number was reduced to 250-350 per week. Their new algorithm-based distribution system decides who will likely want to read what I write, based on various criteria. FB delivers to the greatest number of my contacts when, believe it or not, I write about my cat. I read two sets of statistics today. One claims that FB delivers to 5%-10% of contacts. The other claims 12%-16%. Either way, it greatly reduces my incentive to post at all. People can increase the reach of their posts. For a price, and it ain’t cheap.

All the major social networks have now introduced a pay-per-click program, mostly used by people selling something. The average per-click cost, across the board, is 50 cents. Want to destroy your competitor’s marketing campaign? Get all your friends and neighbors to click and not buy. You can also now message a stranger for a buck. Oops, there went your privacy. That stalker you have a restraining order against—I’ll bet he has a buck.

On the subject of privacy, FB bought Instagram, but they made a slight policy change. They claim to own the right to any images you post and the right to sell them, without any compensation to you, without even informing you.

But it doesn’t stop there. FB is test marketing a new program in New Zealand. For the low low price of SEVEN DOLLARS, you can ensure that your post will be highlighted, go to the top of the wall. And not only the walls of your friends, but also those of strangers. How many people you will reach isn’t stated, but a huge number is implied. FB now has over a billion users. For seven dollars a day, you can make yourself a star.

Wonders never cease.

James Thompson
Helsinki, Finland
January 8, 2013


With his first internationally published novel, Snow Angels, James Thompson proved himself Finland’s best and most popular representative in the rise of Nordic noir. It was selected as one of Booklist’ s Best Crime Novel Debuts of the Year and nominated for an Edgar Award, an Anthony Award, and a Strand Critics Award. His novel, Lucifer’s Tears, has received critical acclaim from all quarters, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus, and was selected as one of the best novels of the year by Kirkus. Helsinki White was released to critical acclaim in 2012. The fourth book in the series, Helsinki Blood, will be published in March, 2013. He is also a reviewer for The New York Journal of Books and holds a Master’s degree from The University of Helsinki. The first three books in his Inspector Vaara series have been optioned for film.

Share Button

Related posts: