by Will Viharo
Almost every blog about writing – including this one – touts the merits of exploiting one’s one self-made social media campaigns to properly promote your literary efforts.
But just how effective are these meta marketing techniques? Are you wasting your time even trying?
Once again, the answer is more complex than the question…
A couple of months ago, this controversial post by author Michael Alvear caused quite a stir in the indie lit community because it basically confirmed what many authors had long feared: self-promoting your books via your own social media platforms is virtually hopeless.
The resulting outcry was a mix of support and backlash, depending not only on one’s perspective, but one’s experience. Invariably, those two are linked.
Alvear isn’t a novelist. He writes non-fiction books with titles like Eat It Later: Mastering Self Control & The Slimming Power of Postponement.
Not that he needs my advice, but I might reconsider that title. It could use a little slimming itself.
His well-taken point was that most accessible promotional tools for authors – particularly Facebook, but it could extend to any number of popular platforms including Twitter and Instagram – are essentially useless, at least from a purely investment point of view.
Via exhaustive data the author traces the success rates of his own posts. And they are rather disheartening. Still, his story is not necessarily yours. And it sure isn’t the same story for Amanda Hocking, whose incredible self-made success turned into a lucrative major contract deal with millions of built-in readers, all kicked off via her own modest social media network, nothing else.
You Can’t Win the Game If You Don’t Even Play
Despite some dispiriting data, the reality remains: there are no absolutes or hard-and-fast rules in this business. It’s always a crapshoot. All you can do is keep rolling that dice.
Perseverance is the most single effective promotional tool an author can employ, and that’s easier said than done.
Social media is still your best bet, because unless you have deep pockets and can buy a one page advertisement spread in the New Yorker, loaded with laudatory quotes from professional peers and bestselling celebrities alike, the social media network you build on your own – for free – is still your best bet.
And that includes both independently and traditionally published authors, because unless you have a famous brand name, you’re going to have to toot your own horn if you want to increase and sustain awareness of your work. That’s the hard truth. But the good news is it's also never been easier to be your own publicist.
But does it actually sell books?
Let’s put it this way: without Facebook and Twitter, hardly anybody would know my books even existed. Sure, that doesn’t translate into millions of copies sold, or even thousands, but you have to start somewhere.
Second best promotional tool any author can afford: positive word of mouth.
Even a few glowing customer comments on Amazon, or compelling book reviews on literary blogs, can get that ball rolling enough so eventually, reader feedback will do most of the work for you.
Not that it ever ends. If you want to keep your books alive in the marketplace, you never stop promoting them.
When Is A Lot Too Much?
Depends on who you ask, and when. If a portion of your Facebook “friends” get easily annoyed by your constant reminders of your book’s existence, they probably aren’t going to buy a copy anyway, so if they unfriend you, no big loss, from a strictly commercial viewpoint.
And if they really are your “friends,” they will fully understand your need to pimp your own stuff.
If I see someone’s repetitive self-promotional posts on my Facebook feed, I don’t block them. I may ignore them, but they don’t bother me. But then I can relate. Most of my friends can’t. But because they’re my friends, they cut me some slack.
My feeling is, if someone doesn’t appreciate that my Facebook and Twitter accounts exist primarily to share news about my work and to build my brand name, as opposed to a gallery of lunch pictures or random chitchat or a political soapbox, frankly I don’t need their friendship.
And as a fellow indie author, neither do you. Don’t take it personally. Be yourself. If someone else doesn’t like it, that’s their problem, not yours.
Whispering in the Bullhorn
Of course, there is such a thing as crude oversaturation. Toot your horn, but no need to pound your chest. It’s actually hard to know when you’re sharing too much or too little. I can’t count the number of times I’ve shared a “reminder” linking to one of my book’s product pages, and then heard from a number of my followers that had totally missed the first twenty posts on the same subject! It’s so easy for any of your posts to get swallowed up and lost in that constant flood of virtual information.
So I say the more the better. It simply increases the odds that they’ll actually get seen.
As for paid promotional posts, which naturally are Facebook’s preference, I hear conflicting reports on their effectiveness. It is true Facebook actually limits the views for any posts pitching a product, particularly on fan pages, which is why I have multiple fan pages, one for each of my books. And frankly, I get many more “likes” on my personal profile page than any of those. I still keep them up, though – because why not?
You never know who’s paying attention.
Recently, a friend let me know that actor Clark Gregg – famous for portraying S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Coulson in several Marvel blockbusters and now the hit TV series – inexplicably posted a cropped image of one of the self-published book covers from my Vic Valentine, Private Eye series (Fate Is My Pimp, art by Rich Black), on his Instagram and Facebook accounts!
Naturally, the response to his mysterious post was far more pervasive than any of my own updates about my books. The Instagram post alone garnered a slew of positive comments from around the world, most about that provocative title, with 12,000 likes (and counting)! The Facebook page also had well over a thousand likes and multiple shares.
But to be honest, none of this has resulted in any increased sales for any of my books, at least not yet. This proves just how capricious “fate” can be, even when you try to rig it via unsolicited social media plugs from total strangers that happen to be popular celebrities.
But bottom line: consciousness of that one book’s existence increased by leaps and bounds, and may pay unexpected dividends in the future.
Especially since my all-new Vic Valentine novel Hard-boiled Heart was just published by Gutter Books.
My editor and superstar author in his own right, Joe Clifford, always admonishes me not to make social media announcements on the weekends.
Hard-boiled Heart went live on Amazon this past Friday. Did I wait till Monday to alert my followers?
Of course not. I started sending out the purchase links via my Twitter and Google Plus accounts Friday evening, and then the next morning on Facebook. Not just once. Several times. Sure, most people are probably missing it because they’re engaged in weekend activities, not sitting in their cubicle surfing for random distractions.
But that’s okay. Because I shared it again this past Monday as well.
In case you missed it, I actually shared it again just now.
So the moral of this story? Too much is still never enough. Never skip an opportunity to pitch your books to a target (or convenient) audience out of undue humility, shyness or laziness. In fact, make your own opportunities. Don’t let Fate be your pimp. Be your own.
Because you never know when some famous TV actor will notice and share it, for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
How successful have your social media platforms been in promoting your work?
PHOTO: DAVID CHAPPLE