Tough Love for Authors: Why You Must Care About Your Social Media Platform
A few months ago, I was speaking with an author who was disappointed in the book sales for her most recent book. I thought a lot about the reaction she had to her novel. It was a fine story, with strong literary appeal. The publisher was a small press, with likely not a lot of money for publicity. The author had a broad personal network, and I’m sure most of her friends bought her book and recommended it to their friends. She had a little book tour when it launched. I’m unsure if she had a publicist or what other efforts she made to push those words out into the world.
However, I do know a bit about her social media presence. In my opinion, that’s where she fell flat and she continues to do herself a disservice by letting it languish. Before the book deal was signed, she had a Twitter and a Facebook account with followers in the hundreds, but didn’t spend much time with either of them. In the two to three months leading up to her book launch I saw a flurry of tweets and Facebook posts about the book, and a few articles and anecdotes about places and things related to the story, but really not much else of substance. Two months after the book launched the flurry died into a slow, barely existent, plod.
I get it, really, I do. Not everyone wants to spend time in the world of social media when they would rather be writing. Some people don’t have the aptitude or desire to be so social with people they don’t know. Many others are just confused by it.
If that’s the case, then don’t do it. Seriously. Why bother if you are so miserable about it?
But if you aren’t going to bother, then you need to do some heavy thinking about what you want in your writing career. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the world of publishing is in a bit of an uproar. Agents are struggling to figure out what their role is when it’s so easy to self-publish. Publishers are trying to understand how they can compete against giants like Amazon and small self-publishing houses. Authors who use self-publishers have to pay for their own editors, printing, cover artists and publicists. These days, even if you do have a book contract, there is very little, if any, money going to authors to help them sell books. Plus there’s the fact that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get your book noticed in a world of mass information and digital and technological noise.
This is where I think authors need a little tough love. Don’t complain about the pittance in sales your book has had when so much of the responsibility—and opportunity— lies in your own two hands.
At this last year’s Muse & the Marketplace conference, I heard novelist Randy Susan Meyers say something similar to a small group of writers. This is by no means an exact quote, but essentially she said that “You have two choices when it comes to publicity for your book. You either pay for it, or you work for it.” In other words, you either pony up for a publicist, which can be quite costly, or you work hard, by building your network, hoofing it around to book readings, telling everyone you know, and very definitely by working your social media system, all the time. And if you aren’t paying or working it, then you essentially have no right to grumble.
I think that most authors trying to publish know this at their core. So they do what my author friend did and work, work, work for a (small) period of time before and after the book comes out. And then they stop.
If you want to write, then do it for the joy of writing. That’s a completely separate thing than wanting to sell your book. In today’s world, few authors have the privilege of having a patron. That means if you want the book that you have sweated over to get into the hands of thousands, or let us hope, millions, you’re going to have to pay for it or work for it.
If you want to make a living as a writer, you either need riches, that elusive patron, a lot of luck OR you approach it like a business, with a plan that not only includes the development of your product (the book) but an approach for marketing that product on your own, in the event no one is there to help you.
Businesses know that you can’t rely on a month or two of marketing around a product launch in order to remain viable. They have to be vigilant, consistently working on their tactics to bring awareness to the product to drive sales. Sometimes there isn’t a lot of money for promotion, which means they turn to more creative ways to be heard. And in this day and age, that’s usually social media. Sometimes small budgets mean they can’t hire out. They have to do it in-house. When the product launches, they don’t stop promotions a month afterward. They develop new promotions and tactics to get their product into the hands of their consumers.
If you don’t have a book out yet, start now with the slow development of your platform. Build it over time. Ten minutes a day will go miles toward helping you build a network of people that may be interested in buying your novels. Don’t wait until the last minute then shove a string of “BUY MY BOOK” messages at people. That rarely works. You need time to build credibility, likability and trust. Start small, perhaps with one social channel that you feel is easiest. I recommend Twitter, Tumblr or Google+ as Facebook has made changes that no longer make it a viable platform for writers and artists unless you are willing to pay for your message to reach your audience. Start small and devote a little time each day to:
- Sharing useful or entertaining content (only 10% of which should be about you and your book) or
- Engaging with other people through questions and commentary on their posts or
- Following interesting people, with the hope they may follow you back.
You need a good mix of all three of those things, regularly, over time—time that shouldn’t have an end date.
That’s important—that this level of activity doesn’t have an end date. You should never stop marketing yourself. If you are consistent, if you are diligent, your audience will grow and with that, the chances for the book you are marketing. I can’t tell you how many inactive author friends that I regularly purge from who I am following on Twitter. I wish I could shake them! If you stop engaging in your channels just a few months after your product is on the shelves, then there is little hope for you. Who is to say what day some person of influence sees a tweet of yours or engages with you on a social channel in some fashion (You like cats? Me too!) then decides you are interesting enough to learn more and then sees you have a book ready for the buying?
For example, author Joy Castro once dreamily tweeted out about actors that she would cast in a movie of one of her books. Her cast included a young actress. The woman’s mother saw the tweet, bought the book, and subsequently, the rights for the book ended up being optioned. All because of a tweet.
By slowly nurturing my social channels, I’ve built an audience that is highly relevant and useful to me in ways that I never dreamed. I’ve had agents reach out to me on Twitter. I’ve been offered speaking opportunities because I was connected to someone via social media. I’ve found experts to ask questions about details related to my stories. I’ve made fantastic friends with people that followed me online then I met at a conference. Best of all, I absolutely know that my social network will be instrumental in helping me sell my book when it’s ready for the world.
As for how to build your network, there are a slew of resources out there. Stay tuned to future posts from me on that topic and you can also check out some of my past tips and tricks for building your social media platform.
Photo by Chuck Rogers via Creative Commons License on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/3ipr8
Crystal King is a 30-year marketing, social media and communications veteran, freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet. She is the author of the FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and THE CHEF'S SECRET about the famous Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi. Currently Crystal works as a social media professor for HubSpot, a leading provider of Inbound marketing software. Crystal has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet writing center. A former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in media res. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at her website: crystalking.comSee other articles by Crystal King