Social Media and the Author

Is social media marketing simply a distraction from other, more productive activities, or does it work to move books?

You may have wondered this from time-to-time. There seems to be little correlation between your number of Twitter followers and your sales figures.

Most authors are not good marketers. We seem to either over-enthuse about our books, to the point we drive people away, or we are so meek we barely mention ever having written a book. We think to ourselves, isn’t that the kind of thing my 2,500 fans ought to know?

Since we aren’t terribly well-versed in the dark arts of sales and marketing, it is easy for us to believe we are doing it wrong. That can also make us vulnerable to all sorts of bad advice and outright scams.

Brandon Mendelson is the author of a top-selling book critical of social media as a marketing tool. Brandon says, “I applied everything Gary Vaynerchuck, Chris Brogan, Scott Monty, Guy Kawasaki, and others were saying and found nothing worked.” You can find an excellent interview of Mendelson HERE.

He characterizes the social platforms as toolsโ€”neither inherently good nor bad, but confirms it is incredibly difficult to track ROI, despite representations to the contrary by any self-proclaimed expert.

Further complicating the issue is that two of the top selling authors of 2012 did not invest much time in social media at all. If authors can reach those kinds of sales figures without engaging on social media at all, how important could it possibly be? See HERE for an interesting interview of Gillian Flynn’s literary agent, Stephanie Rostan.

Because return on investment is so difficult to determine, it is quite impossible to say with any conviction whether Ms. Flynn’s book would have done even better with a concerted social media campaign, or whether those who attribute their success to specific SM efforts may have done as well regardless.

If all your marketing eggs are in the social media basket, that’s probably a mistake, but that doesn’t mean SM marketing is a total waste of time. I would wager dollars to navy beans that some of your sales to people in far-away places are the direct result of connecting with those people through the medium of an internet platform.

Unfortunately, the law of diminishing returns applies here. Doing a lot more on social media may not yield a return that justifies the extra cost in time and effort. Those numbers are different for each of us. There is no universally-applicable formula.

What authors are after is book buzzโ€”that rare confluence of energies that can catapult a book from obscurity to success. To even have an opportunity, a book has to have exposure. Obviously, the use of social media provides some exposure, but SM is still only a single element of an overall marketing strategy.

We’re all out there looking for the one thing that works to generate that buzz. In doing so, we often make assumptions based on data that are partial at best, or inherently flawed at worst.

In a sense, marketing a book is like fishing. The results may vary wildly from day-to-day. A spot that yielded good results once produces nothing the next time. The sparkly vampire lure somebody used to catch that trophy fish doesn’t work for you at all. Some days you catch a few and some days you don’t even get a nibble. Every once in a while, somebody who doesn’t know a thing about fishing and who is doing absolutely everything wrong gets a big strike. It can be frustrating when people are having great luck upstream and downstream from you if you’re having no luck at all.

If the analogy holds for you, do what fishermen do. If the customers aren’t biting, change lures, change fishing holes, change the time of day you fish. If facebook seems fished out to you, drop your line in Lake Twitter, Pinterest Cove, or the Gulf of Goodreads. There will be days you’ll come home empty-handed. The way to succeed may not be clear, but it helps if you’re out there trying.

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

34 thoughts on “Social Media and the Author”

  1. I know I spend far too much of my valuable time on social media – including email. It takes away from time to write. It’s like looking for the holy grail. No one knows where it is and we find ourselves fishing everywhere to no avail.

    1. I’d have to say the majority of my book sales and reviews have been a result of social media interaction. That’s still not a lot, and nowhere near enough to quit my day job, should I ever find one.

  2. I have cut my time down on social media sites. Trying to inform readers is not going to happen with me chatting to my writer friends, 24/7. The only way to reach my readers is … to write books. Now I have a happy mix on that side of writing, I need to get the blogging side in check. I follow so many, and feel guilty about not visiting, or not leaving a comment. This is a time suck for me, and I hate not to visit, as so many supported me from the start. Circles. ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Thanks for this valuable post Stephen. I love the fishing analogy – it sure takes a lot of patience to market our work! Both sides have good points for doing SM or not. For me the jury’s still out.

    1. I don’t believe there are any magic numbers/ratios. We each have to find our own balance. I do think social media help, just not as much as we wish it would.

  4. I like your analogy to fishing. I think if you are going to use social networking as a marketing tool you have to diversify both in the platforms you use, as well as your marketing strategy. You somehow have to pull off constantly reaching new readers without turning off your current ones. Its a difficult stunt to pull off and a balance between being underexposed and overexposed on each platform. Social anything, if it is to be used to ones advantage, is a difficult thing to do if you are socially awkward. Many really great people are not at their best in any social situation, let alone one that exposes their voice to potentially millions of people. Some people aren’t socially awkward enough, resorting to “look at me” boastful tactics, shock jock mentality, and being intentionally abrasive. And for some that works (for awhile).
    Good article, I agree with most of the comments here as well. I do think a patient approach to marketing is the best. Just like fishing. You don’t cut bait and leave just because your not catching anything. Not if you are a true fisherman. Of course a real fisherman isn’t there for the fish, but the fishing. If you find a type of marketing you love doing, you’re probably going to be good at it and ultimately be rewarded for it.

    1. “If you find a type of marketing you love doing, youโ€™re probably going to be good at it and ultimately be rewarded for it.” I love this Ed. The only cousin to social media I enjoy is blogging and I’m beginning to think it’s the only one that will work for my in the long run.

  5. Great post. Knee-deep in editing a sequel and overhauling the first book for a 2nd ed. has kept my social media time(and sadly IU time) to a minimum recently, so I guess I’m asleep in the boat. Hope I don’t wake up with a sunburn.

  6. In essence, if you want to sell books, you have to be everywhere potential readers hang out – whether it’s SM or direct mail. Unlike the movie, if you (just) write it, they will not buy.

  7. Excellent post – food for thought and I definitely agree about trying different options with regard to marketing books! Fishing analogy was great! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Great post, EM! “Dark arts,” indeed. I suspect the best use of social media, for fiction authors, is to figure out a way to engage readers, not just other authors, in a conversation. And as soon as I figure out how to do that, I’ll let y’all know. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Thanks for this post Stephen. At the moment I feel like a trawler casting a wide net in the hope of catching just one or two sci-fi fans. I suspect I’m in the wrong spot but they’re elusive little beggars and I don’t know where the right spot is. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I think that’s a common feeling. It’s also hard to know when to move from one spot to another, when hanging in a little while longer might pay off. At least we can all swap fish stories! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Really great post, Stephen. Thank you. Also there is that old marketing adage “The Rule of Seven” that states a prospect needs to hear or see something about what your selling at least 7 times before they will buy. I have no idea if this is still true, or if it was ever true, but in my experience regarding books, I think it is about right. After I’ve noticed a specific book and seen it here and there a few times it can sometimes pique my interest so that I’ll check it out and decide to buy. I think this may be where using social networks can be effective.

  11. Good one Stephen,
    You’ve raised some good points. We can’t determine ROI with social media, but I like you, know that I’ve had quite a few successes through social media. Does that mean that’s all we do? Of course not.

    We must diversify, when I go offshore to fish, I might be trolling ballyhoo for dolphin but at the same time I have a kite up with some live bait to hit the sailfish.

    The important takeaway is, you need a plan. A half-hazard approach just spins your wheels.

  12. I sort of take a philosophical stance to social media in regards to peddling my wares: if I think of it, come across it in my research, or itโ€™s pointed it out to me, I eventually give it a go; nothing ventured nothing gained. And although I have to wonder if itโ€™s worth all the time it takes me away from my writing (and it does take me away quite a lot), I canโ€™t take the chance that the one thing I donโ€™t bother doing might be the one that would have tilted the scales.

    Thanks for the great post, Stephen.

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