How NOT to use social media to sell your book

You know how you know you should keep your mouth shut or go ahead and write the blog but then not post it…but you do anyway? As a result of a few recent posters assertions on the benefits of social media to sell books, I find myself compelled to revisit the whole Social Media: Waste of Time or Important Way to Sell Your Books? argument. The bloggers that triggered this urge in me have recently reasserted their beliefs that creating a warm ‘n fuzzy social media clam bake of “good friends” can be effective in selling books.

I think that’s bollocks.

As I understand it, their basic tenet goes like this: the best way to use social media to sell books is to support each other as writers—instead of obnoxiously, repetitively hawking our wares. Just be nice and don’t overtly sell your books and eventually sales will come to you. Whether it’s via superficial friendships with other writers or infiltrating chat sites of likely prospective readers of your books, I have to say I still think using social media in this way to move books off the e-shelves is like pushing a pea up a hill with your nose. On a skateboard. Backwards.

Going a step further, I’m ready to stand up and announce after careful examination of the available facts and discussions with a lot of people who have sold a ton of books via Twitter, that I think social media might well be useful as a spamming tool to blanket the universe with your name and your latest release and trigger sales which, if the book is any good, might possibly spur a word of mouth thing. Okay, it’s obnoxious, I’ll grant you. But so are the commercials on television and every once in awhile they do alert you to something that might improve your life.

If you think spending time on Twitter or even Facebook telling people bits and pieces of your writing life is going to do SQUAT for your sales overall you are just plain DELUDED. (Sorry, didn’t mean to shout.)  And if you’re doing it for that reason, please do all of us—and yourself—a favor and sign off now. I’m not saying it’s not great to find an online community of like-minded people and if those people give you an atta-girl now and then, all the better. But if you are fooling yourself into believing that you are gathering a henhouse full of love that is going to rain down upon you when your time comes to release your next book then you are not only wasting a whole lot of time on something that won’t happen, but your main purpose for connecting with people is self-serving and devious. (Great basis for a friendship!)

Don’t get me wrong, I think social media can be great for developing a community of like minds. Writers are solitary people. We’re not the Unabomber, (most of us), but writers don’t hate being alone. So yes, I can see reaching out via the Internet to connect with other writers—I frankly love doing that—and then

So then if you write a 5-star review for me, I’ll write one for you…

scurrying back to my cave to knock out another 2K words. Social media is fun and I’ve had a few LOLs with people I’ll never lay eyes on whose wit and insight I enjoy.  But I have my hands full pushing my own career without spending thirty minutes a day promoting someone else’s in the hopes it’ll come back to me someday. Why can’t we just let the work speak for itself and use social media to announce it? Thems that is interested can dip into the constantly moving Twitter stream, and them that ain’t can let it go by. Don’t get your knickers in a twist because people are trying to sell you their books. So far, nobody’s holding a gun to your head to buy.

I think it still comes down to the  maxim we writers all seem to accept: if you want to sell more books, write more books, and make each better than the last.

Thoughts? Comments?

22 thoughts on “How NOT to use social media to sell your book

  1. Thank you! I’m a website content specialist (including social media) in my dayjob, and while it has great potential to create community, social media is often used as a marketplace. A very loud marketplace. It can be great for exposure, in terms of word of mouth, but folks following your twitter and FB accounts are not going to feel beholden to buy your books. The best use of social media by writers that I’ve seen is the occasional personal post that reminds me a) they’re human, not superhuman fiction machines, and b) they have helpful tips on balancing writing time.

    • I think a lot of the resistance to believing it can’t help is because we all enjoy it so much we want to believe it’s really useful on top of being fun. I do believe nonfiction writers have a leg up on us fiction writers in that way. I don’t believe fiction writers are served by having a platform the way nonfiction authors are–and a platform is an easy fit with social media. Plus, it’s hard thinking so much of our success is left to chance. Even wonderful books, if they’re not widely discovered, won’t significantly benefit the author (at least financially). But thinking we can make something happen if we just wrestle this social media beast to do our bidding is just wishful thinking. It’s having a good product and a whole lot of luck. One you can make happen. The other…

  2. You’re the first writer I’ve come across with this perspective and I am glad you put it out there. I’ve been doing the “Kumbaya” method of marketing for a while now and it has gotten me nowhere in terms of sales. It has opened one or two networking doors, gotten me three interviews so far, but again…even though I would write for free, that’s not why I threw caution to wind and adopted the crazy hours putting words to page, then editing those words, then editing those words again, then putting out the capital to get those words printed or uploaded, etc. lol.

    So, again, thank you for putting things back into perspective.

    • It’s hard enough just to write a damn good book and keep on top of basic promotional activities (mailing out review copies, running sales, rewriting blurbs and updating websites with any news re: awards etc.) without “Kumbayaing” (love that word!) or schmoozing for no obvious result! Better to get back to the keyboard and bump that word count!

  3. It’s life, talk to your friends, share thoughts and ideas, if you’re so inclined, make new friends, Hemingway had friends ( some of them were writers) he hunted with them, competed with them, fished with them, fought with them, drank with them. they enriched his life, became characters in his books, but don’t think he depended on them to build his carrier by buying his books. social media is at it’s best when it’s used for connecting, bonding, discussing, making friends and networks. But as a Marketing tool it tends to wear out friends and friendships. If I get one more tweet from cousin Fred asking me how the kids are, while not so cleverly camouflaging a plea to “please help him out by buying his new book” I’m gunna scream. Let’s keep the “social” in “social media” and do your Marketing in the Market Place. You’ll build better friendships and sell more books, some of them to your friends, not because you tweeted them, but because your book was a good read.

    • I like to have separate Facebook pages, one for me, personally for friends and family and one for me as an author but I’m constantly cross-pollinating them with readers and relatives and the way I look at it is if my friends/family are interested in what I’m doing author-wise, they can look around my author page. Twitter is different. I cannot believe you can have a meaningful relationship via Twitter, (there I said it!) If I can spam-bot fifty “my book is 90C for three day only” tweets to 10,000 passersby and ten people click on the link, what’s it hurt? You are only as obnoxious as people allow you to be! That said, I never sell on Facebook but I will say what I’m up to.

  4. You know, I think you’re right! I’ve been at this whole “social media as a way to market my books” thing for a year now. And before that I was into the whole “social media to meet new people and have some interesting exchanges” thing for multiple years. Honestly, I would prefer to stick to the meet new people for the sake of meeting people (because I happen to like people) and not as a tool to sell, sell, sell. In fact, I just experienced a MAAAAAAJOR increase in sales of my books … and it had absolutely nothing at all to do with how much time I spend on Twitter or Facebook or any other site pimping books (and everything to do, I believe, with pure, dumb luck!)

    But I sure am happy to have found you as a virtual friend through social media, whether you buy my books or not! =D

    • And me, you! In fact, for me, you are a classic example of the kind of person/author whose journey I enjoy hearing about (even if I didn‘t enjoy your books, which I do.) But for example, I also read Dean Wesley Smith’s blog (altho I don’t interact with him like I do you on FB) but I can tell his books aren’t my cup of tea. Doesn’t mean I don’t want to be friends! 🙂 BTW Congrats on your major increase in sales. Got any tips you can pass along as to why?

      • I don’t know about tips, but as soon as the final numbers are in I am going to do a long blog post about the most terrifying and lucrative two weeks of my writing life! 0_0

        But yeah, social media is definitely for being social, as far as I’m concerned.

  5. Thank you so much for this reprise as well as your original post “Social Media Flim-Flam”, Susan! This helps so many of us who just don’t see the point of all the platform-building for a fiction writer. I do understand how it will work for a non-fiction writer, but for a novelist? It just doesn’t make sense. And also, the common point made by proponents of this method of marketing say that it’s about making friends. Well, someone can be my friend, but either their book is my idea of entertainment or it isn’t. Even if I were best friends with Stuart Woods, I still wouldn’t read his books. They’re just not for me (but clearly, for millions of others, his books are the bomb)…

  6. I don’t think social media sells books. It is a great way to make contact with some great people – and I’ve certainly done so. But a sales medium? No. It’s to do with the nature of social media as a human phenomenon, which is different from ‘the rest of the web’ – too much to outline in a comment, and I need to get my thoughts in order; I’ll post on it in a week or so myself.

    For me, what sells books is radio work. Seriously. The radio audience are readers – way more than TV. I’ve just spent a month plugging my book on interview to as many stations as my publishers could organise, and that was a LOT.

    Hard promotional work certainly pays off – but it has to be in the right direction. And, as Merry points out, I think dumb luck counts, too!

  7. Pingback: The great social network book selling myth « M J Wright

  8. I like twitter for its randomness, really it is a needle in a haystack thing in my mind and for that reason I don’t take it seriously as a sales tool, but there’s a chance I’ll be alerted to an interesting article/blog/book review.

    I loved watching all the coded live messages during the recent French Presidential elections (it being illegal to publish any polls on the day) but all the creative metaphors were out on the #RadioLondres hahstag, it was better than live TV!

    Sometimes I’ll see a writer or blogger I’ve come to know and we’ll have a random chat from one Welsh village hilltop in Snowdonia to this little town in the south of France and yes, I have purchased books from some of those contacts, much in the same way I may have done if I had read an article/review in the newspaper, but not through any promise or loyalty to the writer – but because I think they have written a book I will really enjoy.

    Small sales stats no doubt and not worth it if the writer isn’t genuinely interesting in participating in the big game that social networking is, I think its necessary to have a clear and realistic objective and for generating sales, this is only a very, very small part of the mix of tools required, if indeed it is required.

  9. Bravo Susan. It’s nice someone is taking a stand at the whole Social-media-is-God movement. The same tired arguments are brought up again and again, usually by “experts” who haven’t sold anything, but call themselves “experts”, because, well, because they can.

    Your flim-flam blog is one of the best I have read on the topic. Everyone should read it before even thinking of using TwitBook.

    Your blog gave me the courage to finally ditch Twitter and Facebook. As I recently wrote on my blog, the social media emperor is naked.

    • Thanks, Shantnu! Enjoyed your post and thanks for linking back to me in it. Marketing your book is a long hard haul but it helps to not make it harder by going down blind alleys, which is what using social media feels like to me.

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