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Some Basics of Social Media for Authors

First, try for a title that is more catchy than mine.

Over the last couple of months, a number of authors have asked me what they need to do on social media to help sell their books. I plan to post a few basic how-to guides over the next couple of weeks, but let’s start with some basic principles.

Social media activity is the best indicator of a books likely sales success that I’ve seen. I can be almost certain that books written by someone active on social media, with some action taken at least daily, will be selling.

Social Media Is Social

I can often identify a critical error in the basic questions authors ask. They want a quick, proven method of getting information about their book out to others over social media and generating sales.

It won’t be quick. It’s hard work.

While there are people who propose such methods, most of the money made with those methods is made by the people proposing them. Yes, there are some quick methods to get people’s attention and get some sales, but rarely do these quick approaches work long-term. Beware of any method that suggests a little-time-and-little-effort approach. Such approaches tend to sell lousy books to people who won’t read them.

Which brings me back to the heading: Social media is social. While you can reach many, it starts with taking the time to build online relationships.

You’re going to have to listen to people as well as give them your message. You’re going to have to provide value in that relationship. You may not think of real-life relationships as something in which you and others provide value to one another, but relationships do provide value. How many times have you gone to visit a friend’s house and spent the entire time listening to them talk? How often have they invited you over so you could just talk the entire time. It’s an exchange.

Social media requires much the same thing. The medium is different. The method is different. People remain very much the same.

Social Media Value

What are some of the things you can do to provide value via social media and create a relationship with potential readers?

  1. You can post content that is itself of interest. This might involve book quotes, opinions on key topics related to what you write, general information about your field(s) of study, and references to resources on those fields. You may be afraid that providing information that is also contained in your book reduces the value of your book. If you have to worry that quoting a few lines will diminish your book’s value, you might need to take another look at what you wrote.
  2. You can post personal information that helps people get to know you. There are many cliched types of items that are posted on the internet and are the stuff of jokes. You don’t want to go overboard on any of these, but don’t avoid topics just because they are cliched. This is social media. Think of it like small talk. If you are good at cooking or baking, pictures of food you’ve made can be interesting. It can also be interesting if you’re recommending a restaurant. Avoid repeatedly posting just what you have on your plate when there’s nothing extraordinary about it. If you have a cat, cat pictures are fine.
  3. You can “Like” or otherwise approve of posts by others. You may wonder why you should spend time on this when it’s not about your book(s). This is a form of interaction, similar to waving to someone across the room. The other day I walked up to my pastor after church just to give him a one-sentence congratulation on his current sermon series. If I was reacting to it online, I could just hit the “Like” button.
  4. You can comment constructively on what others post. Sometimes this is just a friendly exchange, such as “I’ve eaten at that same restaurant and I like it too.” What does that have to do with selling books? It builds relationships, and when that person becomes interested in the subject of your book, they will be more likely to think of you. That’s when posts such as those listed under #1 can be especially effective. When I say “constructively,” I mean that you comment in a way that provides helpful information. This doesn’t necessarily mean agreement, but if it sparks debate, it should spark constructive debate. You’ll accomplish little by starting a flame war, and if your book is a serious study of your topic, you may well drive serious seekers away.
  5. You can post links to resources online. This is quite straightforward, but I have occasionally encountered authors who are afraid to mention other books, lest they lose sales. Again, if you have provided value to a person, they are more likely to look to you for information later.
  6. You can review books by others, whether on your book topic or not. Again, this is a way of exchanging information. I gained a significant number of followers some years back after reviewing a couple of popular books, ones that were selling way out of my own league. People read my reviews of those books and then came to look for more. Again, remember the word “constructively.” Flame wars can bring followers, but they also drive followers away.
  7. You can be a courteous netizen. This means that generally that you don’t push people beyond your relationship with them. If you follow all these suggestions you may have friends and followers you only know if you’ve seen them on your follower lists. Don’t pound these casual acquaintances with direct messages. I have blocked people for sending me direct messages (under whatever title on the social media platform you’re using) when we did not have an established friendship or business relationship. Be conscious of the way you’re using other people’s time.

Social Media Advertising

So you’re doing the things in my previous list, and you’re wondering when you get to advertise your book.

You can do it all the time, provided you think about your readers/viewers. How often do they want to hear you say, “Buy my book”? On the other hand, how often would they like to see a book quote, or a short post relating some key topic of your book to current events?

Your mix should include about 1 in 4 posts that reference what you’re selling, but none of that should be simply a “Please buy my book” comment.

Here are some items:

  1. Pre-release announcements
  2. Cover image
  3. Pictures including your page layouts
  4. Short, meaningful quotes
  5. Release date announcements
  6. Release event announcements
  7. High points in sales
  8. Awards (if you didn’t buy them)
  9. Future plans for writing, teaching, commenting

Paid Advertising

Paid advertising is still valuable, but it is best built on an existing social media platform. Get a following first. Then when people see a paid ad, they will come to an active community.

If you’re an Energion author, email me (pubs@energion.com) or call me [(850) 525-3916] if you want to add any paid advertising that I have not already provided in the plan.

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