3 Things to Avoid When Social Media Marketing for Your Book

Thursday, December 08, 2016

When it comes to social media marketing, even though I am personally comfortable using it and have been successful in my marketing efforts through a range of channels, I sometimes feel at a loss when authors specifically ask me what they should do. It’s like trying to tell people how to be themselves or how they should behave in public—we’re all quite different. However, it is easy to tell authors what they shouldn't do on social media.

Decide to get on social media specifically when your book launches

When I consult with authors who have a book ready to publish, one of their immediate questions—if they’ve never before used social media—is: What social media accounts should I join and what should I do there?

Unfortunately, an author in this position is likely to have a very dissatisfying experience. Authors using social media strictly as a means to an end—book sales—are not likely to be patient enough to engage and have meaningful interactions. They give up long before they gain momentum or can recognize the larger value of building relationships on social media

On social media, people want to be informed and entertained. While it can be a sales and marketing tool, it doesn’t work that way if you only join it for that explicit purpose. People have to know you and trust you first, as in most sales and marketing relationships.

It’s OK to join social media when your book launches, but don’t expect it to pay off in marketing terms until your second book comes out. If you plan to be a one-book wonder, and have no interest in social media other than book sales, then avoid an emphasis on social media marketing in your overall plan.

Focus primarily on your book while on social media, not your readers or the interest areas and themes related to your book

Social media can have a bad reputation for being full of narcissistic, “look at me” messages—which ends up making it seem acceptable or appropriate for you to model your own behavior on that stereotype. 

But by far the most successful use of social media involves focusing outward, not inward. To be interesting, you have to be interested in others and demonstrate curiosity about the world. If all your posts focus on your book, or on yourself, you’re missing the point of what builds an audience and makes social media marketing a successful tool.

Of course, this begs the question of what you should post about on social media. Quite simply, the things that interest you, obsess you, delight you, upset you. Some authors recommend choosing two or three topics or areas that you’ll focus on when using social media, to help create a focused brand or identity, which is good advice.

Automate everything

When you are visible and participate on social media, you quickly reveal whether you’re worth paying attention to. Some people don’t bring anything to the community that’s worth a listen, or—to limit their time commitment—they automate everything that’s posted. People can tell when you’re an automaton, and that’s by far the easiest way to get ignored on social media as an individual. 

Still, I don’t like to give prescriptive advice on social media because so much depends on who you are, who your books are meant to reach, and what your long-term goals are. At the very least, I can promise that a long-term view of social media is the healthiest and most productive attitude you can adopt. If you can foresee yourself using it for years to come, it’s worth investing your time and energy in. If you plan to abandon it as soon as your immediate book marketing needs dissipate, look for other strategies and tools.

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Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential publishing industry newsletter for authors, and the former publisher of Writer’s Digest. A frequent speaker at writing conferences, she has delivered keynotes on the future of authorship at the San Francisco Writers Conference, The Muse & The Marketplace, and HippoCamp, among others. She has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017).