Hate It All You Want: Social Media Can Sell Books

See full issue for 2015 08-31

I struggle with book marketing. The perfect formula for selling books eludes me, as it seems to do with most authors. However, I have had some success in terms of sales. I’m not rolling in cash, but my books sell steadily. Sometimes they even sell better than steadily. I don’t always know why my books sell or why they don’t, but I have learned that the majority of my sales are thanks to marketing via social media.

In the old days, promoting yourself and your books involved getting out on the street, literally, and meeting your readers via book launch parties and signings. In terms of media, authors worked with print magazines, newspapers and journals to publish book reviews, press releases, or ads. Talk about time consuming, eh? Your book’s success depended on getting your name into the right publications, which often meant a bit of help via PR firms and literary agents. The old days were definitely not indie author friendly.

Today, it’s much easier for us, because we have the Internet. *angels singing* Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads and a hoard of other social media sites, authors are a click away from accessing thousands of readers. So why is it so hard to sell a damn book? Because, my friend, there is no perfect formula, and we tend to focus on “established” forms of marketing instead of what will work for us. Social media is constantly evolving, and that means authors must evolve as well with our marketing. (By the way, I’m far from evolved, but I’m working on it.)

I’ve learned a few things along the way that work (for me), and I’d like to share those things with you.

First, I learned that social media gives you a fast, inexpensive (free, even) way to share your book and yourself with a potential audience of thousands, but it doesn’t actually sell the books. That’s on you. Not every platform is going to work for every author. Which one should you use? I say try them all. The perfect platform depends on your book’s audience, so let’s take a look at the most popular options:

Facebook is a vast, all-consuming time-suck, but it also makes a fantastic marketing tool. Yes, it’s full of people you know, but it’s also full of people they know, and people their friends know. My point: thousands of potential readers.

Friends and family want you to succeed (most of them anyway), so they’ll share or like your books and your links. This means your posts reach their audience, and their audience’s audience. It’s slow, yes, but it does work.

However, just sharing links is not taking advantage of Facebook’s marketing potential. Utilize Facebook’s “pages” to create a page for yourself or your book. Use the Events tool to hold a virtual book launch. Try the Facebook ads to target your ideal audience. It’s true, Facebook pages and ads don’t sell a shit ton of books, but they can lay the groundwork for future sales, and they’re a good way to build an audience. Explore and learn what Facebook has to offer before you write it off as a waste of your time. You might be surprised.

Maybe you’ve already done the Facebook thing, and you’re at a standstill or it’s just not working for you. That’s okay, because there are other sites that might give you better results.

Twitter, for example, has a mishmash of all kinds of folks. Some of them have hundreds of thousands of followers. This means that someone in that mix will want to check out your books. You just have to reach them, which means learning how to use the Twitter to your advantage. Don’t go on there and be a link-tweeting, “buy my book” begging, attention whore. Before you get into shameless self-promotion:

  • Re-tweet other posts
  • Tweet quotes from your books and from other authors’ books
  • Reply to other tweeps
  • Don’t send messages to every follower (because it’s annoying)
  • Tweet covers, book trailers, and other cool promotional shit
  • Learn how to use hashtags (and let me know how it’s done, because hashtags mystify me)
  • Be a presence, not a nuisance.

Maybe Twitter isn’t your thing. I get it. Not everyone can sell themselves in 140 characters or less, and it does involve a lot of time and effort. There are still other options, such as LinkedIn. Yes, LinkedIn is a site designed for connecting to other professionals, but in terms of book marketing, it can be a massive networking opportunity that requires very little time or effort from you.

So, fill out a LinkedIn profile, make connections, and make sure your books, links to your books, and your blog/website details are on your profile. Link your account to Facebook and Twitter, and you’re done. The setup of the site does most of the work for you.

Google+ can work in a similar way, but I haven’t yet cracked the Google+ secret to book marketing. So far, it is merely a place where I’ve posted my links. I’m told Pinterest and Instagram can be useful too, although other than posting my book covers, I haven’t fully utilized these sites either. However, I’m still researching their potential. I’ll get back to you after I’ve turned that old pallet outside into a home office.

Finally, there’s Goodreads. Ah, Goodreads.


Okay, while Goodreads has been extremely useful for building my author platform, it has a few issues, in my opinion. If you’re smart about it, this site can be wildly helpful in terms of finding your audience. My advice, though, is to avoid getting sucked too far into it. Use it to build an author profile, but keep in mind that Goodreads folks are brutal reviewers, and Goodreads groups are massive time sucks, so once you’ve got your books listed, get the hell out of there. It’s purely a visibility tool. Trust me. You don’t want to dive into that rabbit hole for long.

Now, once you’ve selected a few social media platforms, it’s time to get yourself a reality check. Be aware of a few social media myths.

Myth: Social media can make you famous.

Sure, you might be Twitter famous for a day or a week. You might even make a big enough impression to become a Facebook legend. Odds are outside of that particular social media platform, you’re not famous at all. Social media alone will not make your book suddenly sell millions of copies.

The truth: Social media is simply a way to reach potential readers. The more book reviews you get, the more connections you make in real life and via a variety of social media platforms, the more popular you’ll be in general. So, if you’re only focusing on building up your list of followers, you’re doing it wrong. Work on building connections.

Myth: Social media sells books to friends and family only.

While social media won’t make you a superstar, it will help you find readers. Yes, initially, your social media marketing will only engage people you know, but in time, it can connect you with a web of other folks you don’t know.

The truth: As I mentioned before, the number of followers you have doesn’t translate directly into sales. It’s not quantity that matters here. It’s the type of followers you’re collecting. If you have 10,000 followers for example, but only 1,000 of them are readers, then it’s likely that only 100 of that thousand read the genre you write in. Of that hundred, odds are only 50 of those folks actually buy books online, and it’s likely that maybe a dozen of those folks will buy YOUR book over the hundreds of books they’re inundated with every day via social media. (Note: These numbers are fabricated by me to use as an example. There was no scientific study or anything closely resembling research involved.)

So, you have 10,000 followers and that’s awesome, but in terms of book sales, well… you do the math. Thousands of followers mean you might sell a few books, but without utilizing other social media tools and without constant engagement, you’re not going to sell enough to quit your day job.

You might be wondering why, if one platform won’t sell my books, do I do it? Why bother with social media at all? Surely, publishing books and focusing on writing is the wiser approach. Well, yes and no. You have to keep writing, obviously, but publishing alone won’t sell anything. If you write it, they won’t come, because they don’t know it’s there. I know authors cringe at the thought of getting onto social media platforms. They’re time consuming and they don’t produce predictable results. What works for my author friend here didn’t work for me, and what worked for me might not work for you. It’s all confusing and makes no sense.

Welcome to the publishing world, baby.

Social media is one tool. You can use other avenues as well, but keep in mind that one single tool can’t build an entire house.

You following? Good.

Don’t be afraid to get it wrong. Try all the options available to you and figure out the best strategy for selling YOUR BOOKS. Don’t worry about what Joe Successful did. His books aren’t yours. His readers aren’t yours. There is no magic formula, nor is there a foolproof, easy way to market. You have to put in the time and research to figure it out for yourself. Yeah, it sucks. Life tends to do that.

Instead of bitching about it, get online and figure it out. Whichever social media outlet you use, make sure you add an author photo, fill out your entire profile, and engage other members on the site BEFORE you begin marketing via likes, shares, comments, retweets, etc. Trust me; no one likes a spammer.

And if you’re looking for a friend to get you started, you know where to find me.


Renee Miller

Visit Renee Miller‘s website.

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