The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers
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Pitch Your Book to 10,000 of Your Closest Friends
Prevailing wisdom has it that social media are the key to marketing a book. Your company is requested on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, even YouTube. The folklore contains a germ of truth, given that as a book author, you personally are the main marketing engine for your products.
Along with this advice, we often hear legends of authors who have sold thousands of books by running campaigns on various social media. This, too, may be so. But with a caveat.
Social media marketing requires you to build large followings of real people—not the kind of bots that show up on Twitter and emanate computer-generated “follows.” You need human beings who recognize your name, whose names you recognize, and with whom you have something resembling conversations over the Internet.
You find these people by tracking down and “friending” (or “following” or “connecting with”) everyone you’ve met since before you were in preschool: classmates, fellow workers, friends, relatives, friends of relatives and relatives of friends . . . and on it goes.
It’s best to have built a large following before you have something to market. If you submit a book proposal to an agent or to traditional book publishers, they will want to know where you’re active in social media and how many followers you have. It’s a selling point in trying to persuade a mainstream publisher to buy your book. If you’re self-publishing, you want to have created a pre-existing interest in you and in your subject, so that you have an established audience for your book.
Some say that Goodreads is the most effective social medium for self-publishers. This was true before Amazon acquired it, and it apparently remains so. You can establish a presence at Goodreads as an “author,” thereby giving yourself a little cachet. But that will not excuse you from working steadily to build and maintain your readership there.
Social media marketing requires you to post something almost every day on every platform. But what you post cannot be blatant advertising for your books or products. You must create the effect of real-world conversation on a wide variety of topics, most of them immaterial. Think of social media as small talk, translated to the Internet. It’s a vast cocktail party, without the highballs and canapés.
Unless you serve them to yourself, that is.
At Goodreads, the topic is usually books and book reviews. Conversations may spin off a book discussion, but most people seem to haunt Goodreads because they like to read and talk about what they read.
Because it brings you a built-in audience of book readers, Goodreads is potentially your richest field among the social media. Like any facet of doing business with Amazon, it can also be intensely frustrating. Personally, I gave up on Goodreads after it repeatedly rejected an ISBN that I copied directly from Bowker’s website, making it impossible for me to market the book there.
In the past, too, Goodreads has suffered from very nasty trolling. As a result, some authors’ book sales have been irreparably damaged. Amazon has taken steps to deal with the abuse, apparently with some success. However, you should be aware that the potential for personal attacks, blitzes of negative reviews, and faceless bullying exists and probably will never completely disappear.
Facebook has “Groups” whose topics focus on a wide variety of subjects. If you’re a genre writer, you can find people who love your genre, be it science fiction, romance, detective cozies, or whatever. You’ll also find groups of aspiring writers and groups of publishers. These represent ready-made potential readerships.
However, know that you cannot simply advertise to members of such groups, any more than you can on your own timeline. You have to engage them in conversations. This is time-consuming and creates a significant distraction from the real writing that you’d like to do. Nevertheless, if you want to market your book, you don’t seem to have much choice, unless you hire someone to do the job for you.
FaceBook does sell advertising, notoriously now that the company is overriding the adblockers of people who prefer not to be subjected to that kind of intrusion, and even more notoriously after the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Because Facebook Ads can, in theory, be closely targeted to specific interests and demographics, some people say they have good results. This claim, however, is controversial. A number of customers have complained that Facebook Ads represent a bottomless pit into which to throw cash.
I hired a marketing agent to create and manage a Facebook Ads campaign for my novel, Fire-Rider. It sold exactly zero copies. The cost was high, and I felt the money was wasted.
In any event, you certainly should make your publishing efforts known on your personal timeline. Those who are most likely to buy your book are people who know you in person.
Twitter has hashtags to attract subscribers’ attention. Use the platform’s “Search” function to find active hashtags (#amwriting, for example) and include two or three relevant tags in each post. As I write this, Twitter still limits post length to 140 characters—the hashtags, the URL you post, and each image soak up some of those characters.
Thus, speaking of time sucks, creating a Twitter post that works can be a time-consuming challenge. Here, too: if you’re corresponding with real people, you’re better off to emit small talk rather than obvious sales pitches.
A drawback to Twitter is the number of machine-generated tweets, likes, and follows. Several apps exist to automate tweets and post them at optimal times of day. You also can install a WordPress plugin that will automatically tweet each new post. These aren’t necessarily bad things. But they do indicate that some portion of the traffic at Twitter isn’t entirely human.
LinkedIn can be useful, because it not only allows you to blow your own horn in a resumé-like context, it connects you with people in the publishing industry and enables a kind of high-level shop talk that can let you highlight your topic or discuss issues related to writing and publishing.
The level of conversation at LinkedIn differs from all the other social media sites. This is not the place to post photos of your kittens. Think of it as social media in a business suit. You want to come across as professional and serious. That characteristic makes some kinds of books eminently marketable on LinkedIn, just because of their nature. (Think books related to business marketing, for example.) With other kinds of books (fiction, inspirational, cute kitten stories), you’re probably better off to deflect the subject of your LinkedIn content to business aspects of your endeavor (what marketing ploy just worked successfully with your collection of inspirational sayings? What demographic buys the most cat books?).
Blogs are another form of social media. If you write engagingly enough and often enough, over time you can collect a surprising number of followers. And you can use your blog openly to plug your books, either in a given post or by installing widgets in a sidebar with links to your book’s Amazon address.
The whole idea of participating in most other social media is to drive readers to your blog, where you can entertain them with lively posts and showcase your wares. Often I post links to posts at the Plain & Simple Press blog, hoping to draw readers to the website, where they can find out more about all our books.
In that line, Pinterest is said to be especially effective. Experienced bloggers will often say that Pinterest drives more traffic than any other social media.
Pinterest features nothing but images with links to personal and business websites. The appeal escapes me, but it is very popular. Lacking any capacity to appreciate the marvels of Pinterest myself, I hire an expert who optimizes my site for Pinterest, creates correctly formatted images, and posts them on Pinterest so as to bring readers over to the Plain & Simple blogsite.
Similarly, it’s possible to automatically link your blog posts to Facebook and Twitter. Networked Blogs is one way to accomplish that.
Your blog can tie into another form of social media: the newsletter. Add a “subscribe” function, and you can easily gather viewers’ email addresses. A program called Mail-chimp will vacuum up the addresses, create a master mailing list, and allow you to send newsletters to everyone who has subscribed. Some people believe a newsletter is the most effective marketing tool for businesses trying to reach customers—and that includes authors trying to reach readers.
YouTube is another popular social medium. Probably the most effective way to reach viewers here is to post how-to-do-it videos. This requires you to have an adequate video camera and learn how to post the file, which is not very hard. I’ve posted lectures for my online students there and found it an easy way to personalize the message. To create the degree of professionalism needed to sell a book, though, you probably should consult with a videographer: someone who has some training in making polished, stumble-free videos.
Podcasts are popular among many social media users. These are comparable to old-fashioned radio talk shows, only without the annoying ads and untethered to a time slot. You do need some broadcasting skill to create an effective podcast. Take a course or hire someone to help produce the thing.
In my experience, the best bet is to reach out, in the persona of a human being, to as many “friends” as you can gather on LinkedIn and on Facebook; to try to capture as many email addresses as you can from your blog; and to send out a newsletter as well as blogging regularly. And hire a social media marketer who really is an expert on how the systems work.