Book Marketing and Social Media: Do I Have to?

book marketing and social mediaIndies Unlimited recently received a letter from a reader packed full of questions about social media and book marketing. Should I join Twitter? Do I need a newsletter? My book won’t be released for another year; should I start marketing now?

Shawn Inmon wrote a very helpful post covering various marketing strategies he’s found to be useful and that he wishes he’d begun sooner. But as the minions sat around the gruel pot discussing the issue, I brought up the possibility that a “nay” post might be in order to share a different point of view.

So here I am. That’ll teach me.

Some history: I originally published with a small publisher out of Washington State. Upon accepting my book for publication one of the first questions they asked was, “Are you on Facebook?” I was. “Twitter?” Absolutely not. “Pinterest?” What’s that?

I was left with instructions to open an account on Twitter, open a Gmail account to establish an author email, and begin blogging on Xanga (remember them?). As time went on, the list of demands grew. Establish an author page on Facebook. Join Pinterest and Instagram. Participate in blog hops. Fill out your Google + account. And on and on.

For TikTok, I haven’t been able to crack the code yet, and some readers suggested I bite the bullet and buy TikTok followers.

When I finally left that publisher, the first thing I did was start closing accounts. And one of the first things to go was my blog.

Consider this:

According to WordPress, 18,300,771 new WordPress blogs were created in 2014. That’s 49,997 per day. Those blogs produced a total of 555,782,547 posts over the year. WordPress’ most recent numbers show that users produce 54.2 million new posts per month. Think about that for a minute. And that’s just WordPress.

According to Wikipedia, Pinterest has 70 million users (other sources report the figure closer to 100 million). Twitter claims 316 million active monthly users. You can see where I’m going with this.

Now, I’m not saying not to do these things. I’ve probably sold a book or two myself through social media platforms. But have I sold enough through all those platforms combined to make it worth my time? That’s the question, and my answer may be different than yours.

Here’s what I do know. The authors I’ve seen be most successful marketing through social media treat it as a job. They blog, tweet, and/or post consistently, often multiple times per day. They’ve settled on a common theme in order to make their posts interesting and give them some cohesion. (By contrast, I found myself blogging about an upcoming book event one day, while blogging on a news event the next month, and hosting an author interview a few weeks after that). They run their social media campaigns as a business, with a clear vision of where they want to go and how they plan to get there.

Mine was more of a shotgun approach. Tweet today, blog next week, post a book cover on Pinterest.

I suppose my point is, it’s not that I think social media marketing doesn’t work; it’s that it doesn’t work for me. It’s not a good fit for my personality, and that shows. I’m not outgoing enough to join virtual groups and gangs (I don’t do that in real life, either), and I’m not convinced enough of the value of it all to dedicate the sort of time and effort it would take to see if it truly makes a difference. And the time and effort is enormous; remember, you’re competing with literally millions — tens and hundreds of millions — of other users.

I maintain a website so people can find me if they so desire. I maintain a Twitter account so I can tweet interesting articles and blog posts I come across. And I’m on Facebook with a personal account, but not an author page. I also use paid advertising for my books.

My way isn’t necessarily the right way; there is no right way, and that’s the beauty of it. My reason for thinking maybe we needed to present a “nay” post was simply to let other folks know, ones who cringe at the thought of spending the day on social media, that they aren’t alone. When they feel that twinge of guilt for not jumping on the next social media bandwagon, they can know I stand united with them. Separately, of course.

Author: Melinda Clayton

Melinda Clayton is the author of the Cedar Hollow series, as well as a self-publishing guide. Clayton has published numerous articles and short stories in various print and online magazines. She has an Ed.D. in Special Education Administration and is a licensed psychotherapist in the states of Florida and Colorado. Lear more about Melinda at her Amazon author page

52 thoughts on “Book Marketing and Social Media: Do I Have to?”

  1. Hail kindred spirit!
    I have to say though that I do love my blog. It’s ‘me’, and in that sense it’s my most powerful branding tool. Whether it ever helps me sell any books is another matter entirely. I suspect I’ll be one of those overnight successes that took 20 years to get there. 🙂

    1. Blogging can be a lot of fun. Heck, there are times now I have something I want to say and end up realizing I have no place to say it. 🙂 I think it was the constant pressure of, “You need to blog every week!” that did me in. The more I was told I needed to blog, the less I found myself able to blog. And I’m with you – if I ever “win” this race (whatever that means), it’ll definitely be as the tortoise. 🙂

  2. It’s nice hear that we don’t HAVE TO DO any specific thing. What we decide to do is going to be an extension of who we are and what we’re comfortable with. As A. C. said, I can’t say that my two blogs have sold many books, though they do help me keep up a presence of some sort online. I wouldn’t say they’re mandatory, and now that Facebook shows very few author’s page updates on the timelines of people who have liked our pages, I’m not convinced an author’s page is mandatory either. Of course, I tend to rebel against admonitions that I MUST DO this or that as an author. 🙂

    1. LOL, I have the same reaction. My first impulse when I’m told I “have” to do something is to look around and see who’s doing it, and whether or not it seems to be working for them.

  3. Love this post. After going the other route for so long it’s wonderful to see that other people actually feel the way I do. I worked on Social Media until I literally made myself ill. I’m trying the other approach now and feel it’s a much better fit for me. Thank you for your thoughts and good luck!

    1. Thank you, L., and good luck to you, too! I can relate – I absolutely dreaded all the stuff I’d been told I needed to be doing. It felt wonderful to start closing down accounts. 🙂

  4. I have a problem getting my head round how posting anything on social media is supposed to boost book sales since anyone who reads my posts already knows all about my books and has probably read them, So it’s basically preaching to the converted. Where are the sales in that?
    I sell far more books by going and talking to real live people. They enjoy being able to ask questions and often buy multiple copies in order the be able to give signed copies as gifts.
    I also give away free bookmarks, which make excellent reminders of m other titles! 🙂

    1. I’ve had the same thoughts, Ian. It isn’t as if I have a rotating list of friends on Facebook. I meet new people as I go along, of course, but for the most part the people I know who want to read my books have read my books. I do post about sales or new releases because friends and family want to know, but I definitely don’t think of my Facebook account as a marketing strategy. Having said that, I know there are people on the flip side of the coin who’ve had very successful social media marketing campaigns. The beauty of self-publishing – we’re free to explore different options until we find what works.

    2. You make a very good point, Ian. Think personal – build a reputation in your own back yard through local bookshops and local media first, dealing with real people. Maybe because the internet has made our market a global one, we are tempted to think we have to attack the whole world at once. We don’t. Like you, until a couple of years ago I sold as many books within fifty miles of where I live as I did to the rest of the world. Global social media is all very well (I am starting to use Facebook, though nothing else), but books sell predominantly through word of mouth and reputation, and the best way to achieve those is to start at the centre and work outwards, not the other way around.

      1. Ironically, I sell very little locally but my books sell well enough in my parents’ town to be stocked on the shelves of the local Barnes & Noble. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!).

  5. Another kindred spirit here! I find myself spending so much time Tweeting and reading Facebook posts that I don’t have time for writing. I can’t help wondering if that’s why other writers tell us we should do it – if we aren’t writing we aren’t competing with them!

    1. LOL, Frank, I hadn’t considered that angle! 🙂 It is a rabbit hole, though, isn’t it? One post leads to another, to a link, to Twitter….It’s easy to get lost down it.

  6. Great post, Melinda. It’s a good reminder that (1) there are a zillion options for promoting books online and (2) we don’t have to do them all–or any of them; we can pick and choose the methods that work for us. Oh, and (3) those options can and will change almost daily, which means we can re-evaluate and change what we’re doing–or not. There’s no one correct formula, but most likely a unique, distinct formula for each of us. Indies unite! Separately, of course.

  7. I totally agree, Melinda. Social media takes up precious time…writing time, family time, the entire day and nighttime! I’m trying to maintain a balance between keeping a presence and keeping my sanity.

    I haven’t found social media to be an effective tool for marketing/promoting my books, but rather to make connections. I enjoy IU because I feel like we’re all “birds of a feather.” IU also provides the most helpful info for writers. I think that authors must prioritize where we want to be and why.


    1. Great points, Linda – with so many options and so much advice available, we absolutely have to prioritize where we want to be and why. I *try* to stick to online sites that’ll teach me what I need to know, but every so often I must admit I get caught up in Facebook and lose track of time. 🙂

  8. This is great, Melinda. Ultimately we have to (sorry about the “have to”) be our authentic selves. I’m not a social butterfly, and it’s hard for me to play one on screen, as it were. I gave up blogging and trying to be something I’m not. Thanks for a realistic look how versatile marketing can be.

    1. Thanks, Candace. I can absolutely relate. I’m not a social butterfly, either. I prefer small groups of trusted friends – throwing myself out there to the cyber-unknowns is terrifying to me. Thank goodness we have other options!

  9. Good stuff, Melinda. I’m on Facebook a lot, but Twitter makes me nuts, and I forget to update everything else. I went in over the weekend and overhauled my Pinterest boards, and realized in the process that I hadn’t updated my minion board for IU in probably a year (sorry, Kat 🙁 ).

    Someday, we’ll all be making enough money to hire some social-media-savvy person to do all this for us. In the meantime, I’m focusing on the site I seem to have the best feel for, and updating the others when I get a chance.

    1. Wouldn’t that be nice! LOL! I have to admit Twitter confounds me. I love being able to click on a button and share posts and stories I think are interesting, but for the life of me I don’t understand how conversations take place in 140 characters. Is it characters? See? That’s how much I know about Twitter!

  10. post would be well received, Melinda. 🙂 I think authors are tired of being told they “have to” do things that run counter to their natures.
    If someone has absolutely no feel for any type of social media (that’s how I feel about Twitter) then they probably won’t enjoy it and won’t find success with it. To me, all marketing does essentially the same work – it shines a light on our work, rescues it from the sea of anonymity. I think there are many ways to accomplish that. It certainly doesn’t have to be social media. It could be a blog, guest blogging, paid ads, street teams, or getting lucky and having Amazon recommend your book in an email to Oprah. The other option is just to publish more books and hope to trigger some Amazon algorithm. As in all things, I think there are many paths to success and each author needs to find their own way.

    1. Thanks, Shawn, I totally agree that each author has to find his/her own way. One thing I learned is that if a particular way of marketing doesn’t fit, that shows. My blog posts were a mess. Hopefully they’ve sunk to the bottom of internet-land never to be found. 🙂

  11. Thanks so much for this! I am floundering right now, trying to weed out the marketing drek from stuff that works–I hear people say they did such and such and had 4,000 downloads in 2 days, meanwhile I do the same stuff they mentioned and I have 300 downloads. what am I doing wrong? I plan to click on your ‘paid advertising’ link–I recently did a FB ad and have had 450 clicks from 39,000 reached–is that good or bad?

    1. Hi Nikki – it’s tough to weed out what works from what doesn’t, because it’s different for everyone. For example, the one Facebook ad I tried some time back generated about half the clicks you got. Definitely check out the “paid advertising link” above, but also check out Martin Crosbie’s extremely helpful list of promotional sites, which includes nearly all of my favorites:

  12. Melinda, you have led right into my UI post tomorrow! Steve Scott says in “My Blog Traffic Sucks” that you must remember one basic thought. “My blog only attracts x readers. Other blogs attract 10x readers.” So post on more popular blogs. Like IU. Like you and I do (and all the rest of the minions).
    Here we go, riding on Kat’s coat tails to glory!


  13. Yes! Good post! I made reviving my blog a goal this year, and have somewhat achieved that goal. But I’m left to wonder: So what? My last relatively popular post didn’t sell a single book or entice a single subscriber. I’m doing this every week for what? I’ve promised myself to sit down with the data at the end of the year and make the decisions then, but putting at least some of this behind me is likely to be part of it. The only reason I hesitate at all is that I have a background in marketing, so keeping my hand in is also a way to stay current in the field. Also, I know I still have plenty to learn. But if I don’t intend to ever return to that field, there’s really little point to making that such a priority.

    1. Thanks, Sandra. I can definitely see the benefit of keeping your hand in the marketing aspect of publishing, in order to keep current in your field. I did that for several years, too, by writing articles on mental health issues (my background is in psychotherapy). I’d still do it, except most of those sites and sources have dried up, and like you, I’m not certain I ever plan to go back to that career. But your experience and background puts you in a unique position to explore and track what works and what doesn’t. I’d love to see your data analysis at the end of the year!

      1. Melinda, I wish it DID leave me in a great position to track results. When I worked in marketing I wrote the copy — OTHER people tracked results. So I know very well that tracking matters, but how to get it done at anything but the most simple level still confounds me — it’s one of those big things on my list of things to do. But yes, I will share anything useful that I can figure out.

  14. Thanks for the post, Melinda! What it suggests should make a lot of people take nice, deep breaths, and that’s always a good thing! 🙂

    As I’ve maintained about every “rule” handed down to writers — from being told to shelve our thesauruses to the mandate to publish four books a year to get discovered — NONE of these rules work for everybody… and some are just plain silly. Even counterproductive.

    And I agree that, given the sheer glut of traffic and word count out on social media and blog platforms these days, those who we most want to connect to — the readers — get so inundated, we risk turning them off to new information: one spin through Twitter is a bombardment of countless book posts!

    We each find our way in. The most important thing is to love what you do and do it well, so that when people find your work, however they find your work, they truly enjoy it.

    1. Agreed, Lorraine – love what you do, and do it well. For some, that might mean keeping their head down and writing multiple books per year. For others, it might mean blogging and interacting on social media first, and writing second. For others, it’ll fall somewhere in between or somewhere completely outside the lines. It can be hard to search among all the “rules” out there to find what works best; I think remaining flexible and not getting too caught up in the “must dos” helps.

  15. Long before my novel was released, my publisher, Switch Press (an imprint of Capstone Publishers), sent me a package detailing the many social media platforms and the reach of each with regard to the particular audience I was trying to cultivate. It was written in my contract that I would avail myself of some of these, so I dutifully opened Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Amazon author page, and Wattpad accounts. Maintaining all of these has been next to impossible, and I have largely concentrated on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, though I’ve used Pinterest to some extent and posted supplementary material for my novel on Wattpad. (Instagram is difficult because I have no cell phone.) I’ve also set up a website, which I believe can be one of the most potent mediums by which to draw readership — providing you can first drive people to your site.

    The problem I have found with much social media is that for a debut author like me it has proved to have had little initial value. It was only once the ARC of my book was released (back in April) that I began to see some advantages to it. At that point I did have some interaction with readers through Twitter; but even now, with the book in wide release (it came out on October 1st), I’ve yet to see the sort of influx of followers — on any of the platforms — that would translate into increased sales.

    I think social media is a far more potent instrument once you’ve an established fan base of readers who are interested in your book(s). Once you have such a fan base, I would imagine they’d tend to follow you on various platforms, and this in turn would help generate interest in your subsequent books (and eventually translate into increased sales). But for the debut writer like me, effective deployment of social media is a constant struggle, and there are days when I feel like Sisyphus, rolling that infernal rock up the hill, only to have it roll back down to where I started. It takes up a lot of time, and except in a few instances, I’m not sure it’s worth all the effort I put into it.

    1. I think you’re right in that once someone is established, readers will follow and support them from platform to platform, but for the new author it’s extremely difficult to get established. I’m not convinced it can happen solely through social media, but I’m sure there are plenty of authors out there who could prove me wrong.

      Your publisher told you to open accounts everywhere, my ex-publisher told me to open accounts everywhere….And so did everyone else’s. I think there was a time that had a better chance of working, before everyone else was doing it. My husband has a friend who started blogging back in 2008-2009 at just the right time, and got noticed by just the right people, and is now a full-time blogger making over $10,000 a month. But that’s one person out of many millions.

      I do think it’s important to be “out there” and available, whether through a website, Twitter, Facebook, etc., but I think it’s just as important to explore other ways of marketing and drumming up interest.

  16. I totally agree with you with regard to how in the early days of social media platforms they may have been a more effective instrument for promotion. But that time has passed. Now you find Twitter and Facebook (among others) are crowded with writers of all stripes promoting their work. The consequence of this is that we’re all shouting to be heard and thus none of us are. It’s all an annoying buzz to other users who tend to tune it out.

    There’s also the fact that you really don’t want to be constantly barraging followers with pleas to buy your book. Frankly, I don’t know what the answer is, but I fear that if I don’t participate I may be failing myself and my publisher. So for now I carry on and enjoy the few successes with the media that I can.

    1. Lindsay, when I run a book promotion, Facebook is my most effective mechanism. Other than promos or releases, I hardly ever post about writing or my books. I’m also a photographer, so I post pictures. I share interesting articles. A person has to be on social media to be social, not just to market, like you said. So that means putting in the effort. Karen Dodd talks about how she got her social media platform up and running before she was even published in this article: And I think that is the way to do it – to build your base before the book comes out. Anyway, those are my two cents.

  17. You’re so right, Melinda. The real problem is in getting noticed in the first place. Once you are recognised, people

    So what’s the key to getting recognised?

    1. If I knew that Ian, I’d be a wealthy woman. Or at least a recognized one. 😉 The most effective means I’ve found – and again, it’s different for everyone – has been paid advertising using some of the sites listed by Martin Crosbie in my link above. My guess is it really takes a mix of all of the above, stirred in with a dash of luck.

  18. K.S. Brooks — I have no argument with what you say with regard to building a base long before you publish. Unfortunately for many authors, they don’t find this out until it’s too late. Being traditionally published, it actually took about two years from the date the publisher purchased my book to the day of its release, so in theory I would have had that time to get things going. However, the publisher didn’t bring the whole social media issue to my attention until the end of last year. I set things in motion as quickly as I could, but to use any of it effectively would apparently require a much better knowledge of it than I have. In ten months of Twitter I have managed to acquire a measly 1200+ followers. I’ve never really figured out a way of generating larger numbers faster in the demographic that is likely to be interested in my book, which as I see it is problematic when it comes to using a platform like this as a means of producing sales.

    In my months on Twitter, I’ve kept posts about my book to a minimum, largely focusing on milestones — the various stages of editing, the release of the ARC, the first reviews, etc. It was only upon the official release of the retail version (on October 1st) that I increased posts about the novel, but I continue to Tweet and Facebook about other things because I realize that nobody wants a steady diet of adverts and such. What I’ve tried to do is create a sense of me over that time — though, again, I’m leery as to how that might translate into sales.

    I’ve read articles by successful self-published authors arguing that social media platforms are of limited use these days and that for them e-mail lists are the most critical tools in their arsenal and the one thing above all others that results in sales. I’m not sure if or how that would work for a traditionally published author like me, nor would I have any idea as to how one might go about creating such a list and deploying it to maximum effect.

    I do think social media can be useful; I just don’t think that for many authors it is as efficient an instrument for manufacturing awareness as many publishers would believe. The reason for that, in my opinion, goes back to what I mentioned in my previous comment: social media platforms are now saturated with writers (and others) flogging their wares, and in such an environment people tend to tune out all that noise. I know I do, and I know many others who partake in social media do likewise. So it all comes down to making yourself heard above the roar. If there’s a secret to that, I’d sure like to hear it, because right now I’m definitely struggling.

  19. A most interesting discussion. I suspect that for most writers, a “business-card” web presence (webpage/social media) is sufficient. As one who has been doing web work since the very beginning (1992), I think there are only three reasons people go as briefly as possible to web pages: a) transactions — like shopping, reservations, booking; b) informational resource, usually via search engine; and c) ongoing information/entertainment so compelling that it’s bookmarked and part of daily routine. Most web stuff doesn’t rise to those standards and is hence a) ignored and b) a waste of precious time.

  20. Thank you for relieving me of a load of guilt I’ve been carrying for not doing enough: blogging, posting, marketing. I have ADD and, in order to get myself dressed (matching shoes), I must Keep It Simple. I face enough distractions while completing my third Granite Cove Mystery. The pressure to engage in ever-new social media sites is unrelenting. I’m glad to find someone who is more involved in the writing than the promotion. And thank you for directing me to the professionals who you’ve vetted. A year ago when I was promoting my second mystery at an assisted living facility, after having lugged in 40 pounds of books (and not selling one), I looked out at a sea of faces. Half of them were asleep with mouths agape. It was not a good venue, I decided. I’m wising up: Too soon old, too late smart. Thanks for your smart advice. Sharon Love Cook

    1. Thanks so much for visiting, Sharon, and believe me, you aren’t alone! I, too, had a ton of guilt, but when I realized I was spinning my wheels and wasting time when I could be writing instead, the guilt melted away. 🙂

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