When I work with authors who have a book launch coming up, and they’ve so far kept social media out of their life, three questions immediately arise:
- Do I have to use social media?
- If so, which social media sites should I use?
- What should I do on social media?
There’s an unfortunate Catch-22 for every author in this situation: If your only motivation to use social media is that you feel you must to market and promote your book, your efforts are likely to be undercut by your own means-to-an-end approach. Your communication may exhibit less curiosity and interest in others, and be more focused on book sales—not to mention you’ll be entering social environments where you’re a stranger in a strange land, unaware of the local “language,” etiquette or history. For first-time authors especially, the existing social media community is rarely clamoring for you to join them and talk about your book, unless you already have an audience or readership (a developed platform) through some other means.
However, to ignore social media entirely is to ignore where the majority of your intended readership is probably showing up on a daily basis. It’s an opportunity to learn about your readership as well as better establish your platform—but not necessarily an opportunity to hard sell the book you’re about to release (assuming that release is less than six or twelve months away). It takes time to develop relationships and build trust—to belong to a community—through social media. Just as you wouldn’t ask someone for $20 right after meeting them at a party, you wouldn’t ask people on social media to make a purchase right after becoming acquainted.
So where does that leave you?
Take the long view—which is always your best bet with any social media activity. Let’s answer those three questions more directly.
Do authors have to use social media?
No. If you hate, dread, avoid, or rail against social media, don’t use it. There are other things you can do: write guest posts or articles for websites and blogs, be a guest on podcasts or vlogs, do your own audio or video content, teach online classes, organize in-person events or signings, participate on private message boards, be a guest at book clubs, and reach out directly to people in your network through a personal email (which is always underestimated and undervalued as a marketing and promotion tool).
Assuming you have the funds, you can also hire someone to create and manage social media accounts for you. It won’t be cheap over the long run, and it may not give you much return on investment, but if it seems a “must” that you have something (because your publisher or agent says so), then hire out its care and maintenance. You won’t be alone in doing so.
Which networks should authors use?
There isn’t a single answer to this question that works for every author. It depends on the work(s) you’re writing, what your strengths and interests are, and where your audience might best be engaged.
However, Facebook is by far the biggest social media network and is considered the most important for authors of general-interest works that appeal to the traditional demographic of book buyers (adult women). For an author looking to reach the most people in one place, and gain excellent marketing insights and advertising opportunities, it’s hard to do better.
To gain more insight on using Facebook:
- Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide
- The Pros and Cons of Using a Facebook Profile But Not an Official Business Page
- Best Practices for Author Facebook Pages and Groups
If you’re trying to reach a younger demographic, or if your content is very visual or multimedia driven, then it’s worth considering Instagram or Pinterest. Pinterest especially is a strong choice for nonfiction work in the categories of crafting, home decor, fashion, and other stereotypically female-dominated interest areas. Serious nonfiction writers and journalists—or those writing anything with a predominant current events angle—should consider Twitter.
What should authors do on social media?
Whenever I’m asked this, my mind goes blank, maybe because it’s like asking me how you should be as a person. Or what you should do with your free time. Or what you should be curious or care about. I have no idea.
As is often repeated, it’s called social media because it’s supposed to be social. When authors ask me “What should I post?” they’re likely thinking there’s some marketing playbook or strategy guide they need to follow in order to produce results. While that can be true once you have a foundation established—once you have work out there, some kind of following, and a readership that’s interested in what books you’re releasing next—at the beginning stages of your activity, what you should post is a fairly personal consideration. Mostly, it needs to be sustainable, or something you can continue doing indefinitely. Social media rewards you showing up, consistently, with a voice, personality, or message that will become identified with you over time. If you only show up when you have a book to promote, you’re not going to be effective. If you only show up to talk about yourself, you’re not going to be effective. If you only show up because you’ve been told to, you’re going to become boring or insufferable—the No. 1 cardinal sin of social media.
Once you do have a baseline of interest, here are some posts to help you become more strategic in your use:
- How to Be Active on Social Media Without Losing Your Mind
- How to Run Short-Term Social Media Campaigns
- How to Use Facebook Contests and Giveaways to Build a Fanbase
- When Less Is More on Social Media
There’s a ton of bad advice out there about book marketing and promotion, and lots of it relates to social media. While there’s no harm in copying other authors’ approaches or strategies on social media, or experimenting with the advice you read or hear about, I find that every author ultimately has to come up with their own unique approach—which evolves over time as your career grows and as your experience grows. Plus, the social networks themselves are ever-changing, and everyone has to adapt their techniques over time. Probably the best mindset to have when approaching social media is flexibility and patience.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.