Monday, November 21, 2011

Why querying isn't a popularity contest

A few weeks ago, Meghan Ward posted about the whole Klout thing, and how it became an unhealthy tool, and she stopped using it. Her post was partly inspired by a post from agent Rachelle Gardener, who suggested that agents care about your Klout score--and that you should include it in your query. (To be fair, Rachelle also said Twitter numbers and Facebook fans in the same sentence. She wasn't necessarily referring to unpublished writers, although that wasn't clear.)

But the notion of including social media following numbers in our queries annoyed me. Because most of those stats are a popularity game. You can fix those numbers if you pay people or trick them into following you (not to mention the overriding fact that having huge numbers of followers does not indicate a great social media presence, because you aren't able to actually keep up with 60,000 different people). The idea that what can essentially be tricking or paying for your popularity might make a difference in representation seemed unfair.

Then last week, John Scalzi has a great post on "de-Koutifying," or the process of ditching the morally questionable Klout.

Scalzi said,

In other words Klout exists to turn the entire Internet into a high school cafeteria, in which everyone is defined by the table at which they sit. And there you are, standing in the middle of the room with your lunch tray, looking for a seat, hoping to ingratiate yourself with the cool kids, trying desperately not to get funneled to the table in the corner where the kids with scoliosis braces and D&D manuals sit.

I clicked over to Klout’s “perks” section not long ago — “perks” being the freebie things the service wants you to market for them — and rather than being presented with a selection of perks available to me, I was presented a list of perks I wasn’t qualified for, because apparently I wasn’t smart and pretty and popular enough for them, although Klout seemed to suggest that maybe if I did my hair a little differently, or wore some nicer shoes (or dragged more people into their service, making myself more influential in the process) maybe one day I could get the cool perks.
No, no, no! Klout, No! If I had a virtual rolled up newspaper, I'd bap you on your nose! This is shameless and gross marketing, and as Scalzi says, "At which point I decided that Klout was actually being run by dicks..."

But let's get back to the whole popularity thing in queries. I understand where agents are coming from when they say they look at such numbers like Klout scores and blog vistors, I do. They're saying they want a marketable client, one that is attractive to readers. I get that! And of course agents want that!

But when it's a fixable score, we have problems. And as Scalzi says, Klout's scoring criteria is highly suspect.

In my opinion (and you can take this from my 15 years of experience in marketing and not as a writer who uses social media), here are the reasonable parts of social media for an unpublished, querying writer:

Twitter. If you have huge amounts of Twitter followers and you're an unpublished writer, then you should be a celerity or a successful business person. Otherwise, you should interact with as many other tweeters as possible, but not be focused on gathering followers. Followers come when you interact genuinely with others.

Facebook. I don't make my personal Facebook page public and I've stopped using a "public" one because it's against Facebook's rules. I could set up a fan page, but this might be just me---asking people to be my fan at this point is kind of crunchy. I'll save it for when I have news that needs following. Bottom line: have a Facebook page for more intimate connections (by "intimate" I mean photos rather than having affairs, gutter mind!), but don't do it unless you're comfortable with sharing your private info. Have a fan page instead if you feel ready to do so.

Blogging. Huge numbers of followers don't always result in tons of comments, but I would say that in general, the more followers you have, the more successful your blog. And yet, I also think longevity and content and frequency of posting are also equally important metrics. (Maybe I'm just saying that in my defense since I don't have a million followers, but I don't think my blog is a complete failure, either.) Bottom line: work hard on your blog. Interact with followers. Build your content. I think it matters.

Here's the sad fact of all this, though. Rachelle Gardener was right when she said publishers care about numbers. Of course they do! Numbers are what they deal with! But I also think that if you work at the outlets that do matter, you'll get there. Klout is not one of those outlets, not with questionable score metrics and "opportunities" to increase the score.

Thoughts? Do you have a Klout account? How do you use it? What social media outlets do you think are important for querying writers?


Liz Fichera said...

I don't understand Klout. More importantly, I don't waste my time trying to out-Klout Klout. I think that when you start worrying about the social media numbers, you miss the point. The point is to connect with people and build relationships, IMO.

Linda G. said...

I don't have a Klout account, and nothing I've heard about it recently makes me inclined to get one. To me social media is about making connections with people, not with numbers.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Another blogger told me about Klout, but I never got around to checking it out. Glad I didn't. I blog because I enjoy it and not because it's some form of competition.

DL Hammons said...

What's sad is that nowhere in all of that discussion is the quality of the book mentioned! When did the system get away from focusing on the material and start paying more attention to the author (and their followers)?

Diane Henders said...

I looked at Klout and decided I didn't care. It falls into the same category as worrying about what strangers think about me: a waste of energy and a great way to get demoralized fast.

I'm not sure I'd be concerned about it in terms of impressing a potential agent, either. I would hope an agent would take the time to look at all aspects of my work and my platform and make an informed decision rather than taking a single (dubious) source as gospel. Seems to me, if an agent is too lazy/busy/slapdash to look at the whole picture, I probably wouldn't want to work with him/her anyway.

But maybe that's harsh. Hope it doesn't affect my Klout score. *Snork* :-)

JEM said...

Uff, I'd never even heard of Klout until you posted this. Pretty sure I'm not checking it out, either. I understand the need for social media, and I enjoy blogging, but I find sometimes that worrying over followers and comments and tweets and facebook friends is REALLY distracting from actually writing. So I've tried to refocus my efforts to become the best writer I can.

Lt. Cccyxx said...

I've not used Klout myself but some friends have and they report bizarre experiences. I notice you don't mention good, old-fashioned hits or pageviews (on a blog or website). Wouldn't that be at least as important as followers or comments? Certainly if you have a website and want to sell advertising that's what they care about.

Honestly, as an unagented writer *of fiction,* I just can't see myself sticking this sort of thing in a query letter.

Sierra Godfrey said...

In further proof numbers do matter, check the big news from PW about the Intern's bookdeal and note the blogging numbers at the end-- this is a book deal announcement.

In a six-figure, two-book pre-empt, Molly O’Neill at HarperCollins’s Katherine Tegen Books bought North American rights to Hilary Smith’s YA debut, Midnight at the Radio Temple. Laura Rennert at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency handled the auction for O’Neill and said the novel, which is scheduled for summer 2013, is a coming-of-age story about a teenage musician who uncovers shocking family secrets during “an unforgettable summer of love and chaos, music and madness.” Smith was behind the now-defunct anonymous publishing blog, The Intern (, in which she chronicled toiling away as an unpaid laborer in the editorial department at a nameless publishing house; the blog became something of an industry phenomenon in 2009, drawing, at its height, 10,000 visits per month.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Liz, you’re exactly right—when you worry about the numbers, you miss the point. Still, somebody’s worrying about them, and I wish they wouldn’t.

Linda, agree—so what do we do when it matters to publishers?

Stina, I must confess that I enjoyed, for a while, a little Klout number competition based on Tweets with Meghan Ward, but that was a friendly competition and really, I’m up for any kind of competition. But it ended pretty quick because my care factor in my Klout number couldn’t be sustained.

Don, Exactly—the quality of the book isn’t the foremost thing and that’s what disturbed me most.

Diane, yes to the fast demoralization. You do hope the agent cares more about your work. I hope so, too.

JEM, It IS distracting from writing, I agree!

Lt., Oh hits count. See the PW announcement. They count. They shouldn’t, but in the Intern’s case, it did help. Which is funny considering she was anonymous! Blog traffic matters even when you’re ANONYMOUS! (Take note, Lt.)

Lt. Cccyxx said...

Noted, Sierra. Thank you.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I never really bothered to check out Klout, although apparently I was on it somehow. I ditched it after reading Scalzi's post. :)

Social media is totally social for me ... and yes I'm published and have books to sell too. And my friends buy my books! #supercool But I also hope to have readers who love my book first, and me second. :)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Hi Susan! Thanks for commenting. It seems I'm preaching to the choir on this stuff! I'm so glad :) I look forward to checking out your books!

Meghan Ward said...

Well, you know how I feel about Klout! I haven't stopped looking at it entirely, but I have stopped letting it affect the way I tweet/Facebook, etc. I've stopped playing the Klout "game." As for numbers, I just sent out a couple of queries, and I did include my social media stats (minus Klout) IN MY QUERY. I think it matters, and that agents and editors do care, and that the worst that can happen is that they ignore the stats and just read my book, which is fine with me.

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