“You have to be on social media. You simply HAVE to,” is something you’ve likely heard before. If you were to believe this advice, you’d be under the impression that a new author’s career is made or destroyed on the back of every tweet and ‘gram. That your social strategy forms the backbone of every book launch. Which is… less than true.
In this post, I’ll try to cut through the noise and explain the role social media can play in marketing a self-published book.
First, let’s answer the big question.
Is posting on social media an effective way to advertise your book? No. It is not.
Unless you're already an influencer, Instagramming about your book’s release five times in the first week will not realistically move the needle and sell many copies. Getting ten friends to retweet a post is nowhere near as effective as getting ten friends to buy and review your book.
If you have visions of creating viral content that will explode your online profile, you need to reel those dreams back in. Creating a video or a stunt that people will share and endlessly meme is not something you can do easily or on the cheap.
So… what is social media actually good for? Let’s break it down by each major platform.
This is what most people think of when they think of social media. The authors who tend to do best on Twitter are the ones with opinions they aren’t afraid to share. Think Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. If there’s a hot topic of conversation that’s taking place around your niche, you can lend your two-cents as an author who’s also working in the same field. It’s a good way to get your name seen, so long as:
1) You have something interesting to say.
2) You’re not trashing other people’s work.
That’s not to say that you have to pretend to like all YA novels if you’re an aspiring YA novelist. But it really doesn’t help you to pan or troll another author on Twitter. This will eventually come back to bite you.
Instagram is a mostly visual platform—one that values insight into peoples’ lifestyles. So you’re going to need pictures, ones that ideally share a bit about “your life” if you want to build a following there. (I put the shock-quotes there, as Instagram accounts often portray a curated persona, rather than an accurate impression of someone’s real life).
In any case, you can do a bit of digging around to see what sorts of things your prospective readers like to see on Instagram. Do they want to see your workspace? You writing your book in a cafe? At the very least, you can feature an early printed version of your book in front of an interesting background.
Facebook isn’t just for staying abreast of your relatives’ political views—for writers and authors, it’s also a great source of camaraderie and support. You can join groups and support fellow authors with similar interests (and, in turn, ask for their help) and even search for beta readers and critique partners.
There will also be massive groups where readers of your genre will congregate. You might be tempted to drop a quick plug for your book in one of these groups but trust me, almost all of them don’t appreciate unsolicited promos.
As well as building your online tribe, Facebook offers one of our only recommended advertising options for indie authors. For as little as $5 a day, they let you reach terrifyingly specific audiences (for example, “male, aged 15-35, fans of Danielle Steele, living in Caerphilly, Wales”).
While it’s mostly known as the place where you look for your next job, LinkedIn is a great platform for nonfiction authors. In a lot of cases, people will self-publish a nonfiction book as a way to support their business or professional prospects. After all, no one will believe you if you call yourself “the best CPA in Dallas” but everyone will be impressed to learn that you are the author of Texas Taxes: Rounding up Your Returns in Record Time.
So if you have published a book that’s relevant to your industry, why not share it on the platform that prioritizes work connections?
As with almost all aspects of marketing indie books, the author will be responsible for taking care of social media. When you have enough income rolling in, you might consider hiring a virtual assistant to take care of it, but for now, be careful not to spend too much time updating your accounts. Pick just one or two platforms (ideally ones you already use) and stick to those. If you do more than that, you’ll spend more time on social media than you will on writing and selling books.
Social media is a tool for slowly building your platform as an author, but without spending big bucks, it's not really a potent advertising tool. With that in mind, have fun with it—and remember to play nice!