Writing vs Social Networking: Which “pie” is yours?

What part of your writing workday is actually spent writing? How much time do you invest in Social Networking? [InfoGraphic]

Time spent Writing versus Social Networking, for aspiring authors [InfoGraphic]

Cherry Pie Chart for aspiring authors

click image for full-size view

After months of careful observations and interactions with people like me — folks with more than one job who host small-market websites and write for grocery money — I’ve crafted this wildly unscientific “pie” chart. Have a look, and see how your distribution of work tasks compares.

For comparison, So Write Us talked to five published authors about their average workdays. 

Pie chart shows Authors' time spent writingI asked each writer to consider what percentage of his or her workday was spent writing (or editing, revising, creating new content of any sort), versus engaging in any aspect of Social Networking.

Here are their answers:

  • Andrew E. Kaufman, bestselling author of The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted sent a detailed reply that boiled down to “less than an hour a day” spent on Social outreach.
  • Nathan Bransford, former literary agent and now popular author of the Jacob Wonderbar series said, “on writing days it’s about 90/10.”
  • Rebecca Forster is the USA Today and Amazon bestselling author of the Witness Series (and more). She wrote: “I work … seven days a week. Writing is perhaps 50% of the day and social media 50%.”
  • Jake Needham lives in Asia and pens the bestselling Jack Shepherd thrillers. An expert Twitter user with over 26,000 followers, Jake agrees with Nathan “at about 90/10.”
  • Robin Tidwell was interviewed here after she released her debut novel Reduced. She estimated that her typical workday was “about 5 hours writing and about 3 hours social networking.”

Why such a big difference between the two pie charts?*

*(doesn’t that pie look absolutely delicious? I had to go out and buy one last night. Seriously.)

Here are some of the advantages published authors have over those of us still struggling along:

  • Agents to handle the business stuff
  • Editors to polish that final draft to perfection
  • Predictable pay for their writing efforts allows greater focus on writing
  • Author websites are complete and don’t need constant attention
  • Larger audience for Social Networking gives better return for less work

Meanwhile, many of us continue to spend hours each week reading advice articles and help forums online. We visit our friends’ and peers’ websites to leave comments and encouragement.

We use Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest and StumbleUpon and Google+ and email to try to maintain and grow our networks and get the word out when we publish articles.

We do what we can.

Some of us have found ways to streamline our Social efforts and to earn some decent money from the time we do spend writing. Others among us may be poised to join the ranks of authors like the ones I listed above, and all that work will have paid off.

I’ll bet each of those successful authors once had a pie that looked a lot like the one at the top of the page.

»original Cherry Pie image from jessicafm

questionHow does your workday compare to the chopped-up cherry pie up top? Have you sworn off Twitter or cut back on Facebook time? Have you found a way to make your writing pay the bills? 

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Comments

  1. Jim Bessey says:

    By the way, my huge thanks go out to the five quoted authors who took time out of their busy schedules to reply to my inquiry. Without exception, each was gracious and sincere in his or her response. I have nothing but respect and admiration for every one of you. And I love your books, too! Thanks again.

  2. Hey Jim. Congrats on getting contact with those respected best selling authors.

    I will be the first to admit I spend too much of my “Prime time” on filler tasks like social media. But that is because I am a people person. Being in the office all day I start to go bat crazy! I crave human interaction.

    May not be the most productive but it’s what I love. Maybe I will do better to find the happy medium. Maybe there should be a 3rd pie!

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Thank you, James.
      There are dozens of probable pies, I’m sure. And spending time connecting with people is almost never time wasted. I’ve made some invaluable friendships that way. “Human interaction” is crucial to what we do, isn’t it?
      One thing I learned the hard way about Facebook, tho — STAY AWAY from anything created by Zinga! Talk about a “sucking vortex”… -grin-

      • hahahahahahahahaha Poker, Scramble, Words, Hanging….. I had to limit myself to after hours only. My and my Cece start to get pretty darn competitive!

        • Jim Bessey says:

          My youngest son got me hooked on FarmVille 2 years ago, James.
          We BOTH had to quit when we realized the hours we were losing. I tried WordsWithFriends, hoping to entice my 82-yr-old dad (who lives 20 miles away) into playing, since he loves word games. Tho he spends plenty of time online, he just didn’t enjoy playing “virtual Scrabble.”
          Those games are wonderful for social entertainment, but every one is cleverly designed to keep you “stuck” on the site for far too many hours.
          On the other hand, my whole family loves getting together with a dish-to-pass on a rainy Saturday evening for Game Night.

      • Where’s the like button?!

        • Jim Bessey says:

          You can Share, Barbara! -grin-
          Thanks for dropping by. I know how busy you are. I have to admire a woman who has “brevity” down pat!

          • Normally I do not read article on blogs, hwveoer I would like to say that this write-up forced me to take a look at and do it! Your writing taste has been amazed me. Thank you, very great post.

          • Jim Bessey says:

            Thank you so much, Irina. What sort of reading do you normally like to do, otherwise?

  3. Very interesting, Jim.

    Like you, I work full time in addition to my blog. But out of my available “blog time” I would say i spend way more time on design, email, promotion, and all that. The five authors made me think that I should probably spend a little more time focusing on my writing. At the very least, I should probably have a more formal time management plan in place.

    There are several take-aways for me from this one. Good work.

    • Jim Bessey says:

      You are one of the most effectively-organized guys I know, Gary!
      Sending emails from 30,000 feet; replying with a personal note to new Subscribers, and so on.
      “Formal time management” is probably a smart approach. I’ve had to resort to prioritized To-Do lists to ensure that I actually get things done. Time spent strictly writing (or creating an infographic–anything creative counts) is certainly my favorite time.
      But we do have to do all the “design, email, promotion” etc. or we are writing into a vacuum, which sucks. (Pun?)
      Thanks once again for your help and advice, Gary.

      • Ha. Writing into a vacuum does suck.

        Perspective is a funny thing, isn’t it? When I do all those things you just listed, I don’t feel like I’m ultra-organized. I feel like I’m just keeping up. Sometimes we all need to step back and see ourselves the way others do, I suppose.

        Let me ask you, though – What about you, Jim? How is your day job/writing/other tasks time split up? I’d be interested to hear how you fit it all in, too.

        • Jim Bessey says:

          Something always has to suffer in the equation, doesn’t it, Gary?
          One of the reasons I love camping so much is for its enforced isolation. At home, I’m never without a book to read, the laptop connected with multiple windows open, and a To-Do list nearby. My poor wife has learned to put up with my multi-tasking; she knows when it’s time to physically drag me away for dinner or breakfast out.
          We should talk sometime soon, you and I, Gary–and compare notes.

  4. I agree with Gary that those 5 published authors have motivated me to look harder at how much time I spend networking. There is great value in it – especially for those of us who are just getting going in our writing or blogging businesses. But there is great danger: those networks have a tendency to suck you in, and even though you were just going to take 5 or 10 minutes to spread the word about your latest post, next thing you know an hour has gone by checking, chatting and checking out someone’s latest photos or video.

    So what comes first? The publishing, or the discipline? The age-old question…

    • That’s a great question, Sarah. One I can’t confidently answer yet.

      In my head, I personally try to create first and publicize second. Not that I succeed at it, but that’s what I *think* I’m doing at least! :)

    • Jim Bessey says:

      You’ve stated the case perfectly, Sarah: “There is great value…but there is great danger…to suck you in.”
      As to your rhetorical question, I know that Nathan Bransford spent 1000’s of hours writing blog posts and hosting a wildly popular forum during his journey from lit’y agent to pub’d author to CNet’s Social Media expert. Andrew Kaufman posts extremely popular quick-topics on FB while he’s writing and revising his upcoming novel. Robin Tidwell has worked her butt off creating websites, Twitter accounts and FB pages for her current and upcoming novels. Rebecca Forster answers her emails personally, without templates. I met Jake Needham on Twitter, in response to something I had Tweeted…
      I picture them all with unkempt hair, hunched over their keyboards, balancing writing and promotion while abandoning food and sleep!

  5. First of all, Jim, your infographic made me hungry!

    I think I spend WAY too much time on social media, email, etc., when I should be spending time on guest posts and my book proposal. Your authors are good role models for me to re-set my priorities!

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Me too, Bobbi!
      I really did have to stop on the way home from a dinner outing last night to buy my own cherry pie. (It’s all gone now!)
      You are THE Guest Post Pro, from what I’ve seen, Bobbi. And time spent on book proposals is never wasted. With your energy and great attitude (not to mention talent), I’m sure great things will happen for you in return.

  6. I’m like the authors – I spend very little time on marketing. But that’s just because, at the moment, I have nothing I think should be marketed. When my first product comes out, I”m sure that’ll change.

    • Jim Bessey says:

      You’ll have that product as soon as you’re ready, I’m sure, Amit!
      Do you market your site, or do your faithful readers find you on their own? (Great site name!)
      Some days I sit back and try to recall what life was like before Facebook and Twitter and all the others. I remember being part of a very small but dedicated writing critique group online, via CompuServe (now gone). I also remember spending hours writing short stories (longhand!) that no one read until years later, because I had no place to properly publish them.
      Now we all must have “smart” phones (smart phone COMPANIES!) in order to stay connected even while we sleep… -sigh-

      • Actually, I get most of my traffic from google (which I convert to subscribers using my free eBook).

        I’m not too worried about traffic right now, as I’m focused mostly on learning…. but writing stories that no read until years later! Oh man. I don’t think I could do that.

  7. I suppose it’s the teacher in me, because like teaching, I spend much of my time writing. My pie is quite a bit different from yours, Jim. Speaking of which…I finished all my dinner and there is not a piece of pie to be found in this house. I settled for a few caramels – not pie, but made the sweet tooth happy just the same :)
    I’m always thinking about writing. Sometimes, an idea will stew and simmer for days at a time. I’ll rework it in my head a dozen times, just like when I used to make lesson plans. I’ll dream about it, test it, manipulate it, maybe even recruit some guinea pigs (who have no idea what I’m talking about, btw) and randomly discuss abstract pieces. Once I’m good with it, the technical aspect of typing it out on screen is easy enough. After that, I read it out loud … several times usually, editing away as I do so.
    Proper time management is crucial, especially when there are deadlines to meet. I make a point to think faster when I’m working for clients and dealing with deadlines and such. Good business sense helps in most fields, after all.
    Regarding social media and the time I spend there, I’d have to say it is limited at best. There are only 24 hours in a day, and I’ve no desire to extend them,or drive myself crazy, by trying to fit way too much into the quantity I have readily available to me.
    Fabulous article, Jim! Very enjoyable to read and sticks with me too…I still want that silly piece of pie ;)

    • Jim Bessey says:

      And when you DO write and publish, M.J., the results are delightful and engaging! (Note that we have solid proof of that right here on the site! -grin-)
      I’m glad our pies are different, from writer to writer. No good generalization goes unpunished. Without that diversity life (and writing!) would certainly be dreadfully dull.
      I’m also sorry I finished that delicious cherry pie, M.J. — I’d have been happy to share!

  8. Well, I guess we all have the view of spending too much unproductive time in social media. What I try to enforce myslef into is fixing minimum amount (or time) of writing I have to complete that day – only AFTER it is completed I entitle myself the right to appear in facebook, twitter and get to e mails. Do not know if it will work or not, but at least I make sure that part of my time at least produces something to be shared later on.

    • Jim Bessey says:

      I love your idea of “writing first, social second,” Ani,
      It’s a tough rule to follow sometimes, but you’re right in that at least “something” gets done first.
      I do believe that social networking of many kinds, used with clear objectives in mind, can be surprisingly productive. In fact, sometimes the results of apparently casual conversations can be astounding, leading to lifelong friendships and/or beneficial business arrangements.

  9. Very impressive article, Jim.

    There are days when I don’t get onto Facebook … and as far as LinkedIn or Twitter or …. any of the other social sites are concerned, I rarely visit them. I find it a task to have to keep up with many sites. However, when I am on Facebook, I spend some time going over posts and commenting. The support system I find at Facebook as a writer is incredible and that is one of the main reasons I hang out there.

    At Facebook, I am also a part of a very strong poetry group – the Tanka poets. There we have a daily writing exercise called the Tanka prompts. We write our Tanka and post them there; most of them written spontaneously. Quite a few of my poems have been published in their anthologies at CA, and hence I find Facebook-time very rewarding, as I learn something new everyday.

    So to me, it all depends on what kind of pie we want versus what kind of pie we are forced to have. I find many writers forced into socializing in the hope that their work will sell for pennies a page view, that is, IF their pages are viewed as expected. It’s a gamble. Works for some but not for all. My opinion is that before we venture out into networking our writing that doesn’t have consistent incomes, we should get back to square one… and ask ourselves why we wanted to be writers and what our initial dream was when we stepped out into the writing world. If it was only for articles, then so be it – stick to articles and market them at SN sites. But if you wanted MORE, then maybe its worth your time to work on achieving that objective – of going beyond articles to BOOKS, or plays , or the more educational work that so many Universities and Colleges pride themselves on possessing.

    I am not against social networking. but not having an objective and then hoping it would pay off to spend a great deal of time at such sites doesn’t work for me.

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Thank you, Mandy.
      You’ve made some wonderful points. I’m not “against” social networking either. In fact, it has changed my life and introduced me to an incredible group of talented writers I would never have met otherwise.
      You hit the nail on the head about “not having an objective and then hoping it would pay off.” You can’t achieve much without setting goals and plotting a course. “Hoping” good things will happen by accident simply because you are “there” rarely works out well.
      I’m sure many of us wholeheartedly agree with your statement, “The support system I find at Facebook as a writer is incredible and that is one of the main reasons I hang out there.”

  10. Love the pie graphic – Bravo. I have worked to limited my time on social media and try to set a time limit each day – but try to do some every day. I get so tired of seeing ‘junk” out there and am bored silly with most social media. I have unsubscribed to linkedin groups that were clogging my email inbox and little of interest. It does have it place but spending too much time and not living…not an option.

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Thank you, Jane!
      I’m sure LinkedIn groups are tons of fun if you are directly involved in them for personal or business reasons. You’re right, though, about those piles of emails. I had to switch to “weekly digest” format to cut down on the deluge.
      “Time limit” is a great idea, one I’m sure I’d violate daily. Usually I just keep plugging along until my eyelids get too heavy.
      Funny, too, that when I’m writing or editing a new article I’ll suddenly realize that 3 or 4 hours have gone by, seemingly in a flash.

  11. This is a great article Jim…and it made me realize something. I probably spend 75% or more of my time writing, 15% on life, and 5% on FB and other social media. The remaining 5% is daydreaming, planning, and ‘doing essential stuff’. I like the writing part of the pie best, but it’s really out of whack considering living LIFE should be what it is ALL about. The baker says it needs adjustment. “:)

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Well, really Raymond, you forgot about SLEEP!
      And dinner! Yes, The Baker is right, especially when cookies have emerged from the oven.
      The reality of whatever our personal pies look like is that we have all made real and valuable connections with other people by using the power of social networks. There’s a lot more to it than reconnecting with old classmates you never liked in the first place, isn’t there?
      One day soon, Raymond, I’d love to actually meet you in person, my friend!

  12. Hi Jim,

    Great article, great pie chart, great responses. I especially like Raymond who spends 15% of his time on life. I see that I was the highest in time spent on social media at 50%. I have to say that, like James, the social media is my ‘community’ and not just a marketing tool. When I’m stuck with a plot problem, when I just feel a little isolated some days, I love interacting with readers and other writers. When I was traditionally published I did many more speaking engagements and signings so I saw real people. Now they are in cyber space. So thanks for giving us a forum to discuss the way we work. I feel like I’ve had two lives as a writer: Traditional and Indie. Both have been exciting and time consuming and wonderful. :)

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Thank you so much for responding, Rebecca.
      Your love of your readers has been clear to me since the very first time I contacted you, just to say “loved your book!”
      By the way, I love your books! I know you have written in more than one genre, but my favorite remains the Witness Series. Still on the edge of my seat, ready for your next installment. Great writing, engrossing plots, and lovable characters — you do it all just right, Rebecca.
      I chose you and each of the other four authors because I knew you all enjoyed connecting with your readers (each in widely differing ways, too). There was nothing scientific about this survey, of course. It was 50% fun and 50% introspective.
      Thanks, Rebecca, for joining in our conversation.

  13. Same here, Jim, it would be great to meet every one of my writing friends and associates–it would be wonderful to meet you too, bud. Social networking does have it’s benefits, no doubt about it, we meet some pretty good people and make excellent friends.
    Thanks, Rebecca Forster, I am happy to see someone appreciates the concept of enjoying life in addition to writing . Writing CAN consume us completely if we allow it to do so; hopefully we not only become better writers, but also become astute enough to recognize . potential disaster. before it happens and take evasive action. Even though it may not seem like at times, there are valuable aspects of life that can be beneficial to writing while you….get out there and live too!

    • Raymond, A writer MUST enjoy life. That’s where we get inspiration for characters, learn about the pacing of unfolding stories, find out about real drama. I do a ton of stuff. I play on a competitive tennis team – whacking something clears the mind – I love to travel, sew, quilt. Always hanging around family and going to the movies. If a writer becomes too insular we lose that spark. I love the way you think :).

      • Rebecca, I could not agree more, characters do develop from the observation of humanity, life as it happens, it’s legion of emotions, it’s foibles, fables and fantasy entwined with cold, hard reality. Should we become too isolated, we not only lose the spark and excitement offered that stimulates creativity, but we also become indifferent, alienated and ultimately lose access to the resource itself–which is incredibly valuable to any writer astute enough to observe when given the opportunity. It is an interesting contradiction that the more we live and the better we become at ‘life’, the better we should become as writers too, but it takes ever more time….ha! I like your suggestion, whack something, do something exhilarating and observe the reactions and life as you do… “:)

        • Whack something, make something. I’m big on using your hands when you’re a writer. Create something you can touch or compete in something you can win. It really changes your mind set. You come back to the computer energized. Sounds like we’re on the same page LOLOL

          • Rebecca, I’ve always made a point of getting out to spend time whacking and building stuff, exploring, prospecting and everything else I can think of. I do get great satisfaction from ‘working with the hands’ –and gardening too. Mundane physical work can clear the mind in an amazing way too–not a bad thing. Writing my blog benefits from variety immensely -and for fiction— I tend to write my best dialogue while doing mundane, repetitive work that must be done. Life is what you make it, and you are absolutely correct-it energizes! No doubt we’re on the same page! “:)

  14. Great pie chart, Jim ;-)

    My real job is in marketing, so social media is a big part of that, which probably makes me quicker than most in navigating my way through the forest of social sites out there.

    One thing I would recommend to you all (and I recommend it to all the small businesses I work with) is to choose just two social media sites (maximum!) and focus on creating and posting content and sharing information on those. It’s easy to spread ourselves too thinly, and then not reap the benefits that we should be getting for the time put in.

    One of the sites you choose could even be a forum – one where you regularly interact with other forum members and are allowed to talk about, or post your new content.

    The two sites you choose will be dependent on your blog business focus and where your target market hangs out. And the one you find the most enjoyable to use!

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Outstanding advice, Angie.
      Our Author Challenge gang (see About Page) all got together originally on a writing site’s forum, using one of the Lounges. What followed were hundreds, maybe thousands, of posts and replies. Many of us still talk to each other all the time, because of that one forum. Forums can be VERY powerful for networking.
      Thanks for saying “TWO” and not some larger number, Angie. That’s reassuring for me, because I keep gravitating to just two as my favorites, yet feeling like I should “try harder” on more Social formats. The problem is, every site demands interaction, following and followers, and posts of some sort. Seriously, there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day to do that effectively and still get anything creative done.
      You stated: “It’s easy to spread ourselves too thinly, and then not reap the benefits that we should be getting for the time put in.” –Exactly!

  15. Hi Jim,
    I prioritize and work in blocks of time.
    Getting up early to write before anyone else wakes gives me a sense of achievement that I have attended to the most important thing first.
    It is only after I have written and had breakfast with my partner that I attend to email and social media.
    I try to prioritize work in blocks of time to try and fit everything in with social media being last on the list.

    • Jim Bessey says:

      You’re a smart lady, Priska!
      Some of my own best/favorite creative works were done on Sunday mornings while my family slept on, unaware. I love the quiet and soft light of dawn — so peaceful that you can concentrate perfectly.
      Thanks for a good and solid piece of advice. (If only I would learn to adopt it! -grin-)

  16. Hey Jim,
    Normally people just give you an infographic or brief commentary on an infographic that someone else created. But no, not you. You had to give us an original infographic AND valuable commentary. :)
    I’ll admit it took about 10 seconds to think something other than, “Man, that’s a funky looking pie.” But once I studied the pie I got the context right away and the implication for me was pretty clear without any commentary.
    This said to me, “If you don’t create, then there’s nothing worth mentioning on social media.” And that’s why I’ve intentionally shifted a lot of my work time from consuming to creating.
    Awesome job on creating something original and inspiring other people to write about it!

    • Jim Bessey says:

      I’m humbled by your response, Joel, and rendered nearly speechless.
      This is the first time I’ve ever created something like this post, and the effort taught me some valuable skills. Thank you, sincerely, for your kind words, Joel.

  17. Wow, well, my pie is definitely different – both in good and bad ways!

    Good: my Facebook slice would be itty bitty as would my twitter and email slices. At first I spent WAY too much time on Twitter, but I’ve managed to moderate that a lot more recently.

    Bad: Not nearly enough writing time. Though to be fair, I have a tendency of writing in chunks of time, giving myself a whole “day off” here and there.

    • Jim Bessey says:

      Ah, but Kim, you’ve left out your A-List Bloggers slice, haven’t you? (evil grin)
      I agree with you: my best writing is done in “chunks of time,” so I tend to envy those who write according to a disciplined schedule.
      One of my favorite authors, Robert B. Parker (now deceased), turned out six pages a day, day after day. That’s how you end up with 3 series characters, a TV series, and a still-running TV-movie series (Jesse Stone, played by Tom Sellick).
      What do you do on your “days off”? –something outdoorsy or physical? Also, do you have a method of social promotion you prefer? –email, for instance?

  18. Aw, this was a really nice post. In idea I would like to put in writing like this additionally – taking time and actual effort to make a very good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and by no means seem to get something done.

  19. Just one question on Rebecca Forster’s quota:
    If 50% is Writing, and 50% is Social Media, then where do other activities (e.g. reading to get informed,etc) fit?

    • Education is part of the social media work. Sharing with other authors I know, following twitter posts of interesting articles. Reading for pleasure has fallen by the wayside sadly. Vacations are reading for sheer pleasure.

      • Great to see you, Rebecca. It’s been too long.

        I need to do some catching up with your most recent releases. Hope you have a wonderful holiday and a joyous New Year!
        (And a bit of free time for some leisure reading, too.)

        • Hey back, Jim. Just published Forgotten Witness and then left town. Marvelous to have time to read and kick back. But, as you know, you never really leave it all behind. Inspiration everywhere, in every conversation. Guess I’m not real good out downtime LOL. Have a wonderful holiday and we’ll all hit the ground running in 2014.

          • Sounds great, Rebecca.
            I’ll be sure to pick up my copy of Forgotten Witness. I’m pretty sure that would bring me up to date. Happy New Year!

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