As an author and social media marketer, I spend a lot of time thinking about the intersection of books and social media. I also know intimately the fatigue and overwhelm that comes from feeling like you have to be not only creating great work, but forever seeking new and ingenious ways to promote it. The quickest way to tire yourself out in this process is to set your eye on the wrong target, creating a Sisyphean struggle that is more likely to leave you feeling defeated than accomplishing even the most modest of marketing goals.
When I ask most clients what their goals are in hiring me, I usually get some version of “to get more followers and sell more books.” I encourage them to think both bigger and more deeply about social media. Here’s why: You know those folks you see on Twitter who have 20,000 followers, but are following 21,000 people? This is a perfect example of when follower count becomes absolutely meaningless as a metric. How could anyone have even the tiniest interactions with that many people on a regular basis? They can’t.
Numbers are helpful as a part of the picture; I’m all for tracking follow count, engagement, web traffic, conversions, Amazon ranking—these are all helpful indicators of progress. But becoming too obsessed with numbers ignores the social aspect of social media. Would you walk into a party with the sole mission of making twenty new friends? More likely, we go into social situations (even those specifically meant for networking) hoping to deepen our connections with our existing circle, meet some new and interesting people, learn some new things, and open the door to future opportunities and collaborations. Here’s how this translates to your strategic social media efforts as an author.
1. Conduct market research
In ye olden days before social media, more of marketing was guesswork. But now there’s so much data on who’s reading, buying, and talking about which books, it’s mind-boggling. Before your mind gets too boggled, here’s how to drill down and get some helpful insights:
- Start with a list of ten or so books that fall into the category of what we industry types call “comp titles”—books that have a similar audience to yours.
- Look up these titles on social media, as well as Amazon and Goodreads. This will give you a concrete idea of who your audience is and how they’re discussing the books, as well as what else they’re reading, and what else they’re interested in.
- If you’re in the pitching stage, this can help you find and research agents and publishers (most of whom are active on social media).
- Once your book is on sale, this can help you narrow your audience by looking at people who bought your books and seeing what else they bought, giving you real info on which books share an audience with yours: if you see several that pop up again and again, read them! It’s an amazing opportunity for insight into how readers are interpreting your books.
You have many more marketing tools at your disposal than authors in the past. Don’t overlook them.
2. Connect with influencers
You’ve probably heard of influencer marketing, but what is it and how can you use it? Influencer marketing sometimes refers to massive global brands paying thousands of dollars to an Instagram star with a million followers for product placement, but it can also work on a much smaller level. Many brands take advantage of the potential reach of bloggers, You Tubers, and podcasters who’ve built sizable followings, and authors should too.
First, let’s define an “influencer.” Really, it’s anyone on social media who has a following they’re regularly engaged with. One of the things I love about social media is that it makes “word of mouth” marketing—that much ballyhooed but often elusive magic—visible and quantifiable. You can see people getting excited about things their friends (or “friends”) love. Obviously, the bigger the person’s following—so long as it’s a truly engaged following—the more reach you’ll get, but don’t discount those who have a smaller but engaged audience. Check out places like the #bookstagram hashtag on Instagram to find a plethora of these folks. A word to the wise: These relationships are most meaningful when built over time, so be present by engaging (liking and commenting on posts), so that you’re not reaching out of the blue when you pitch them.
3. Network with other authors
Authors as a collective community are crucial to all of our careers. We need support when we’re starting out, and often, we rely on each other for things like blurbs, joint events, spreading the word, and even just support and commiseration in this difficult and often lonely business. It’s easy to reach out to fellow authors on social media: it doesn’t feel invasive, and lest you doubt the power of these connections, I will tell you that two of the guests at my wedding last August were fellow writers who I originally met via Twitter. It used to be that unless you lived in a big city, your opportunities for networking with authors and book folks was limited. Not so anymore. Use social media to support your fellow authors if you want them to do the same for you.
4. Create opportunities by just showing up
There is something I like to call the “serendipity effect” of being on social media. These are the difficult to quantify but very real opportunities created by being a regular contributor to the social sphere. Because I’m active on social media, I get many more opportunities than I would otherwise. Clients, speaking gigs, introductions to people who’ve made my professional and personal life better in myriad ways, have all come my way simply because I’m on social media and being myself. Being on these platforms makes me approachable. Likewise, when I’m looking for speakers for an event I’m working on, professionals to collaborate with, and authors to feature, social media is often my first stop.
5. Create fans and evangelists
Fancy tactics aside, I believe that the audience for a book is built reader by reader. Survey after survey shows that people mostly get book recommendations from their friends. So how do you make it happen? Here’s something I’ve observed in the year since my book has been on the market: the readers who I have some kind of meaningful interaction with on social media—for instance those who’ve been giveaway winners or even whose posts I’ve commented on—are much more likely to spread the word that they loved the book, post a review, etc., even if I don’t specifically ask them to do so.
When you’re wrapped up in the publishing world, it can be easy to forget what an accomplishment it is to be an author, and that it’s special to readers to hear from you personally. Many people on social media don’t live in New York or Seattle or any place they can go and see authors in person, so it’s meaningful to hear from someone whose work has moved them. And since connecting with readers is kind of the whole point of publishing books, it makes sense to use your social media as a natural extension of that work.
I’m on a mission to get authors to have fun with their social media, so if a festive hat and a cocktail help, have at it! Just not too many cocktails: remember, the internet is forever, and every good party guest knows when it’s time to call it a night.