A recent Guardian article titled “Why social media isn’t the magic bullet for self-epublished authors” has been making waves in the ebook world. While many disagree with Morrison’s opinion, there were also multiple factual mistakes in his article. We understand ebooks and social media can be vast, overwhelming fields, so we’re here to correct some of the most glaring inaccuracies.


“Self-styled eSpecialists such as Penn often invoke the 80/20 rule which advises that, as a sales person (in this case an author), you should spend 20% of your time writing and 80% of your time networking through social media.”

      We have been unable to find any articles on Penn’s site which espouse this particular 80/20 rule. To the contrary, Penn has an article detailing ways to fit writing into your schedule. In another post, she outlines time management strategies (with no mention of spending 80% of your time marketing).
      The 80/20 rule may have been a rewording of the Pareto principle. In business terms, it’s linked to the idea that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers. It’s about refining your business to achieve better results, not a breakdown of an average day.


“She claims that when tweeting and Facebooking you should spend ‘80% of your time posting about things other than your book, and 20% selling’….Margulies advocates that authors blog and tweet about hobbies and personal activities: things you like, and which you think will draw other people to you. Essentially, 80% of your tweeting should be about cats, food, sport, what’s happening outside your window – all the things that millions of non-writers tweet about.”

      This 80/20 rule is one of the principles of social media marketing. Morrison misses the boat on this one by implying 80% of the tweets should be about your personal life. This isn’t true; tweets don’t have to be only promotional or personal. With this rule, the 80% refers to tweets within your industry. For writers, that could be tweeting about the writing process, asking and answering publishing questions, participating in ebook-related Twitter chats, linking to industry news, or using hashtags such as #writetip to share advice. Certainly, talking about your pets and vacations can put a human side to your account, but those things are far from the focus. 80% of your tweet should serve to establish you as a credible figure in your field; 20% of the tweets should be links to your products.

“Most self-epublished authors hold down a day job, so let’s give them three hours a day, after work, for author activities. That’s 1,095 hours a year. Reduce this to 20% (since you have to spend 80% of your time covertly self-promoting online), and you get 219 writing hours a year, which works out as 18 12-hour days to write a book.”

      This paragraph is based on a misquoted principle. These numbers are entirely irrelevant.


“If you want to learn their methods, you can attend one of the hundreds of new courses that have sprung up, and pay hundreds of pounds to master your 140 characters.”

      True, there are sites which charge a lot to teach you about social media. There are many sites which offer free advice on tweeting and self-promotion, PopularSoda included. Our personal favorites include DuolitWise Ink, Jane Friedman, and Joanna Penn, as well as the Twitter accounts of Writer.ly, Jonathan Gunson, and Porter Anderson.

“Book Tweeting Service will write your tweets for you. Its tweet plans start with a one-day plan at $29 (£18). While this frees time to actually write, the downside is that your tweets may not come across as particularly “you”, which might alienate any followers you already had.”

      Book Tweeting Service is just that: a service which will tweet about your books. They don’t write personalized tweets for private accounts (at least, not yet). The service is more like a billboard and less like a ghostwriter. They’ll blast sales links to your books on their accounts, which may be useful in conjunction with other social media tools, such as book tours and guest posting. They’re not intended to be a year-round service, which makes the exorbitant figure of £10,000 completely nonsensical. If there’s any confusion about the distinction, their Twitter profile should clear it up: “We promote your latest release, author website, book blog, book trailers etc to 60,000+ genuine followers on our Twitter accts. Please book early!”


“3. Get family, friends and Facebook friends to post reviews on Amazon”

      The section under this bullet point starts off talking about Amazon, then shifts to Facebook, and inexplicably ends with a paragraph about social media in general. Let’s talk just about Amazon right now:
      It’s true that receiving a bunch of reviews at once will bump up your book in the Amazon rankings. However, we’ve not seen pleas for fake five-star reviews met with anything but derision. On reddit, a thread from last year involved a self-published author soliciting positive reviews for his ebook. Because of the backlash, he deleted his account.
      However, it’s possible to use these reviews in a legitimate way. In practice, we’ve seen writing communities band together in workshopping a piece, then reviewing the finished ebook as soon as it goes live on Amazon. We can’t think of better reviewers than people who are genuinely interested in it.

“But does giving your books away for free work? A test case is another author I know who went on to the Amazon free deal for a day and entered the top 10 Kindle Free Chart. He had 700 downloads within four hours. However, over the next day, when the price had gone back to £4.99, and in the three weeks that followed, the total number of copies sold was zero. He had, somehow, failed to build his platform.”

      Morrison doesn’t mention the writer involved, so we can’t check his back catalogue. And the back catalogue is the yin to free ebooks’ yang. Yes, it used to be that offering a book for free was enough to stimulate sales. As the market became saturated, that’s no longer the case. These days, offering free ebooks is a strategy best employed when you have other ebooks which aren’t free. It seems strange, but it makes perfect sense. If you give away a book for free and impress your readers, what does that reader do next? If you have multiple ebooks in your back catalogue, the reader may go searching for more. But if you’ve only one book, the reader has no choice but to move on.

“In publishing terms it has recently been revealed that 10% of all self-epublishers make £75% of all the money; that 50% of self-published ebooks make less than $500 a year (£320, or 87p a day); and that 25% doesn’t cover the costs of production.”

      We’ve spoken with dozens of authors who realize they will probably not become rich (or even solvent) through ebook sales. Besides that, though, these statistics don’t differentiate between high-quality ebooks and error-ridden (yet published) first drafts. Quality control is another issue entirely, but the point remains: not everyone should be making money from self-publishing simply because they have the ability to self-publish.


“A small number of writers make a lot and everyone else wallows in the doldrums of minuscule sales. The only difference is that those at the top are selling 100,000 copies at 99p, not at £4.99, or £8.99 – which in real terms represents a massive shrinkage of the market.”

      We’re wondering what he means by “shrinkage of the market”. The sales seem to be the same. Only the price has changed, and that’s for the better. PaidContent has a great breakdown of author percentage profits using the example of Eric Goldman and Rebecca Tushnet. Goldman is quoted in the article:

            “[A] $150 casebook may have a $110 price wholesale (or less). At 10% royalties to the authors, Rebecca and I would share $11. At the $10 download price, Scribd takes $2.25 a download, leaving us author royalties of $7.75.”

      On the smaller scale of £8.99 and 99p, we can use similar math. It’s not uncommon for a writer to receive 15% from the sale of an £8.99 traditionally published book. This is about 60pp profit for the author. An ebook selling for £1.49 would net the author £0.97 from Amazon’s 70% royalty plan. The author makes more money per sale with the ebook.

“A new study by Reuters shows that four out of five Facebook users have never bought a product or service as a result of advertising or comments on the social network site. Facebook. Facebook can’t prove that it can monetise its 900 million-strong base of users, and as a result it has lost 26% of its value since the IPO launch.”

      Facebook is only one site in the social media constellation. Besides Facebook, sites like Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, Smashwords, Tumblr, and independent forums provide online social opportunities to connect with potential readers or other selfpub authors. Besides Twitter and Facebook, no other social media sites were seriously discussed in this article.

“There may be hundreds or thousands more Kindle authors out there who are not reporting their astronomic sales, but given that Kindle authors spend 80% of their time self-promoting, one assumes we’d have heard about them.”

      The 80% self-promotion idea has already been discussed here.

“Or is [Amazon] protecting itself from the accusation that it is the only winner in an online market intended to skim millions from millions of hopeful new writers, who themselves will only ever see minuscule returns on their investment and effort? “

      We’ve already shown how authors can make more money per sale with ebooks than traditional publishing. The end profits will be about the same per unit. Of course, there’s the possiblity for hard-copy books to sell more units because of their bookstore presence. According to Morrison himself, though, “It also turns out that the ebook market now looks a lot like the old mainstream model. A small number of writers make a lot and everyone else wallows in the doldrums of minuscule sales. “
      This discussion ignores another issue entirely: writers who cannot get their manuscripts accepted and traditionally published. Agents do not accept all manuscripts. Amazon does. We’d rather have 100 sales of our books in a year than have our manuscripts sit abandoned in a desk drawer, rejected time and again.

“Do you want to spend 80% of 80% of your time Facebooking about cats in the hope that you’ll make a 2.12% increase in sales on a book you had to write in 18 days? Do you want to spend 80% of your time creating unpaid market propaganda for the social media industry?”

      Again, these percentages do not seem to come from any of the named sources.