Chip MacGregor

June 17, 2016

Ask the Agent: Is social media effective for selling books?


Someone wrote to say, “I notice there are a lot of authors who seem to spend every waking minute on Facebook and Pinterest and Twitter. From your perspective as an agent, is social media an effective tool for selling books?”

I’m of the opinion that internet marketing by authors is not only helpful, it’s probably essential in the new publishing economy. An author needs to engage with people in online communities in order to generate exposure and, hopefully, sales of his or her book. But I don’t think a lot of writers understand how to access it. They start a blog, but don’t understand how to make it successful. They’re on twitter, but it’s about nothing more than “what I had for dinner” and “kids are sick with the flu.” Who cares? And how is that helping to sell books? May I offer ten thoughts on the effective use of social media?

1. Know why you’re doing social marketing. You should have a purpose in mind when you join Twitter, post on Facebook, or connect with people on LinkedIn. You are trying to connect with friends, introduce yourself to people, and share your passion and message. You are NOT just trying to sell copies of your book, though certainly any book you’ve written that falls within the boundaries of your interests and personality will doubtless reflect who you are and what you think. Here’s the key: Don’t promote — participate. 

2. Study the social media market. Take a look at who is going where, what’s being said, and what the response is. Get involved with forums and discussion boards, participate on consumer review sites, and stay on top of your online communities. Make sure to Google your name, and check out things like BlogTalkRadio. You should know about bookmarking and tagging, as well as content aggregation.

3. Target your audience. The core of author marketing still comes down to this: Figure out where your potential readers are gathered, then go stand in front of them. If you discover people interested in your topic are all reading one e-zine, then by all means start going there yourself. Find a way to get in front of those folks, and do it long before your book comes out. When publishers talk about “building a platform,” this is just as important as speaking regularly or hosting a local radio talk show.

4. Participate in multiple venues. Don’t just blog — blog, then respond to everybody who comments. Go visit their blogs and leave comments. Check them out on Twitter. The key is to get involved in the lives of others so that you can begin to develop relationships. And please don’t roll your eyes at this, as though it were beneath you as an author — the fact is, authors have always had to make an effort with readers. Sometimes it was via letters or in the aisles of bookstores; now it has moved into an online conversation. Make your participation a daily activity (but set a time limit so that you also get some writing done).

5. Use every relationship you have. (Okay… I’ll admit I don’t like telling you to “use” your relationships. Maybe it would be better if I said “maximize” your relationships.) Let people know what you’re doing, but listen as much as you talk. Everybody tunes out a salesman, but everybody listens to a friend. Connect with everybody you can on Facebook. Collaborate with others. React to books on Amazon, to movies at Rotten Tomatoes, to travel at TripAdvisor. Create content for YouTube and Flickr. Join GoodReads. Participate in Pinterest. But don’t monopolize the conversation. Remember that the basic strategy is still the same — engage people in interesting conversation. What’s changed is the technology for doing so. Find ways to engage people in conversation, and thus create communities.

6. Offer strong content. No matter how good your networking skills are, you still have to hold readers with your words. So if you’re going to blog or write articles, don’t dash them off — spend the time creating great words. Even a short post is a reflection on your writing ability.

7. Move people toward action. Make very clear to everyone how they can be in conversation with you, how they can learn about your topic, and how they can get involved with others who share your values. This is the part of social media that is frequently missing. Again, don’t use it to sell a book or product — use it to develop relationships.

8. Make this your lifestyle. You’ve got to do this consistently, day in and day out, if it’s to be successful. There are billions of people on the web, and if you drop out they will all move on to someone else. Therefore, determine that every day you’re going to spend some time marketing. Maybe tell yourself you’re going to take an hour a day, or a couple hours three times each week, and use it to build your platform.

9. Good is better than fast. Remember that it takes a long time to foster a great friendship. So do this every day, then be patient. Don’t expect immediate miracles. Social marketing is slow, and it takes time. But we all know that our close friends and family are the people we can count on when we need them most. Imagine if you had increased your circle of friends so that thousands of people cared about you and were checking on you. When you do a book, they will all want a copy. (And that means you can’t start this the day your book releases. If you want it to be effective, you need to get going and put in months of work, so by the time your book comes out, you’ll be ready with your social network.)

10. Start now. It doesn’t take a huge budget or a vast plan — just start listening. You can set up Google Alerts to look for conversations about your topic. Then join into the discussion. If you take the time to listen, you’ll discover ways your book fits into the social media space. Be authentic. Be yourself. Tell the truth.

Would love to hear from authors who have wisdom to share!

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  • Ruth Douthitt says:

    Great advice, Chip! Most writers I know are introverts (I am one…) so delving into social media is difficult. In fact, promoting themselves and their books is awkward for them. As YOU know, I love social media! Because I am an introvert, it forces me to be social. It is excruciatingly difficult for me to work a crowded room. I’m usually the one standing in a corner having a panic attack. But I love my author page on Facebook because I use it to encourage other writers and spread valuable resources out there for writers. I also have a page on Facebook about my running and an artist page in addition to my book page. Yes, that’s FIVE pages on Facebook (including my personal page…) that I manage! It’s been fun and I have connected to many people all over the world this way. I also participate on Instagram and love it. But that’s where I draw the line. I don’t have time for Snapchat or Tumblr or Buzzfeed. Maybe someday, when I become a best-selling author and can quit my day job, I will join more social media sites. I highly recommend social media. Have I sold more books as a result? Probably not, but hopefully I will as I learn more about creating ads on FB and Instagram. There’s so much to learn! It can be fun. As with most things, it’s all in the attitude.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Love that you shared this, Ruth. Your comment is maybe more important than the blog post itself. Thanks!

  • Theresa Lode says:

    Great advice, Chip. Thanks so much. I went into a cave for a few years grappling with this whole uncomfortable thing of social media. When I was a kid and more more of social butterfly I would have loved the opportunity to amplify my voice more. Now, not so much. But I do want to connect with my tribe and to do that, I must dive in.
    It’s good to read your blog again! You’re just awesome. 🙂

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks for the compliment, Theresa. Social media can just be a monster — sucking up all our energy, interest, and time. But it can also be a great tool to help us market. Finding the balance is the hard part. Making it all work is tough.

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