So You Think Social Media Won’t Sell Your Books?

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sell your books

Every indie author hears the message, “You have to use social media to sell your books.”

But is it true?

In any language, social media is the queen of discoverability. But – and this is a huge but – does social media marketing sell your books?

Hmm. Let’s consider this question.

If we look at great literature, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and even Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the first novel, we already know that they succeeded in publishing.

They didn’t have to worry about Tweeting regularly or posting status updates on a Facebook author page twice a day.

It’s a silly issue to consider, isn’t it, since social media wasn’t around in 1610 (in Cervantes’ case)? All of the above authors rose to fame without the benefit of what’s considered – in today’s world – as marketing requirements.

If we were to look at Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train andInto the Water, I can’t tell at this point whether Goodreads or other social media fueled her success, or whether it was just the book that caused her book to skyrocket toward financial success with social media helping along the way.

However, she was the 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards winner, which readers vote for, so on Goodreads, she had a considerable presence, and that must have played a role.

There are several commercially successful authors today that according to a HootSuite article, use social media to further their engagement with readers. They are Margaret Atwood, Paulo Coelho, Stephen Fry, and Neil Gaiman. I would add Hugh Howie to that list and Isabel Allende, who has an excellent Facebook page that she updates herself.

Okay, this is what I think: Neil Gaiman, Hugh Howie, and Isabel Allende, all bestselling authors, use social media to further their success. Hugh Howie is, I believe, the only author on this list who self-publishes.

Then we can look at another group of authors – Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, and Nick Stephenson – who are also popular and sell hundreds of thousands of books as self-publishers. They not only make money off of their book sales, but they also sell courses to help other indie authors find similar levels of success. Hasn’t social media played a huge role in their success?

If your listen to Joanna Penn’s podcast, you know that she credits a lot of her early success to social media, and especially Twitter.

So, let’s end this diatribe of mine and look at our original question: Does social media marketing sell your books?

Five Tips to Help You Sell More Books

This is what I think.

  1. If you write a book, find an agent, and get a publisher, great. But guess what? You’re going to need to learn how to use social media. I have several clients who are traditionally published or who hope to be traditionally published and, feeling overwhelmed by social media, hired me to handle it for them. So, whether you hire someone or not, it needs to get done. Traditional publishers understand the importance of social media, and they want their authors to use it. Many publishers won’t consider a new author unless they are active on social media and have an email list.
  2. If you plan to self-publish, please don’t wait until the book is written to start marketing it. Find time to learn about one or two platforms that your readers use and start posting information as soon as you have an idea for your book. I always advise authors new to social media to first pick one social media that their readers use and once you conquer it, select another network.
  3. Use Goodreads. Savvy authors who join groups, create groups and are active on Goodreads enjoy higher sales. Charles Duhigg wrote Habitand joined Goodreads. Then he started a group. There was so much interest in his book due to the group and his participation on Goodreads that a publisher contacted him. The rest is history. His book made the New York Times bestseller list, and he’s since published a second book.
  4. Social media, in and of itself, won’t sell books. There, I said it. It’s how you use social media that can support book sales. For example, if you have a website and a self-hosted blog, how will people learn about it? Through social media. If you host contests and giveaways, how will prospective readers learn about them? Through social media. Do you have a permafree book? You need social media to get the word out about it. And you’ll want to invest in some social media advertising. Some authors (Adam Croft, Mark Dawson) have attained quite a bit of success with Facebook ads. (By the way: Facebook is one of the four queens of discoverability. The other three queens are Apple, Google, and Amazon.)
  5. Finally, let’s say that you’ve joined the Kindle Select Program on Amazon. You schedule your promotion and rent some lists. What you need to do next is leverage these efforts with announcements on social media and even a Facebook ad.

If you want discoverability, you need social media. There’s no way around it.

Social Media Just for Writers 2nd Edition

Whether you’re setting up your social media for the first time or wanting to take it to the next level, get the newest edition of Social Media Just for Writers.

I would not limit this book to the audience of only writers, it’s a great resource for anyone that wants to take full advantage of the online platforms available. Janet Kinsella

Frances CaballoAuthor of this blogFrances Caballo is an author and social media strategist and manager for writers. She’s a regular speaker at the San Francisco Writers Conference and a contributing writer at Frances wrote several social media books including Social Media Just for Writers and The Author’s Guide to Goodreads. Her focus is on helping authors surmount the barriers that keep them from flourishing online, building their platform, and finding new readers. Her clients have included authors of every genre and writers’ conferences. Not sure how you’re doing online? Sign up for her free email course.

Practical tips for marketing your books on the social web






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  1. Frances,

    Thank you for this wise and tested advice for writers. Every writer needs to learn to properly use social media and not waste tons of time on it. Your article is appreciated.

    Straight Talk From the Editor

  2. Hi, Frances! I’ve been reading your articles for years…thank you for all of your advice.
    I have only recently begun to enjoy using social media. I think writers have to find the fun in it, or else it will feel like a downer. I do all of my marketing on Sundays. A writer friend of mine does one hour each day before writing. Another at midnight before bed. I think a schedule is important, so the writer still has time and energy to create, and not feel bogged down by the marketing side of things.

    Question: At the end of your article, you mention “Kindle Select.” I thought that when an author uses Kindle Select, the writer can not advertise their books elsewhere (like Apple, B&N, etc).
    Thanks in advance for your response.

  3. Love you how say social media can support your book sales. If an author hopes to get their book discovered – whether it’s on Amazon or on their website – people are probably not going to just stumble upon it. Most likely, social media is how they will learn about it online most likely. The authors who have more success with book sales using social media are those who realize it’s not just about asking their audience to buy their book. It’s more about them as the author, their brand, and the value they bring to their audience with the messages they post. Once their audience gets to know them, like them, and trust them, then they are more likely to purchase their book.

  4. Thanks fo the information. I really need to get to grips with Goodreads. I’m useless with it, although I think I’m getting better.

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