Chip MacGregor

October 15, 2012

Is social media really all that helpful?


I’m of the opinion that internet marketing by authors is not only helpful, it’s 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’re 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 The Ooze, 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 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 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 to “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 Spill, 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 — 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.

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.

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.

Hope this helps you think about the notion of “marketing your book.” The old techniques are passe’ — time to move into the new world.

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  • michelle l. grover says:

    Thanks, Chip. One more chapter before sending off my query, then back to the blog at A couple of questions: How important would you say having your own domain is (vs. blogspot or wordpress), and is it acceptable to blog once a month (vs. once a week, or daily)? Greatly appreciate your insights. –michelle

  • social network book says:

    Amazing post….!!!!! really I appreciate it..

  • Ane Mulligan says:

    Something I forgot to say is that it’s important to form a relationship with another writer/s prior to forming a crit group. ACFW has patterned their Scribes crit group after our Penwrights in that it starts out a large group, where the members are encouraged to form bonds of trust with a few and break off into a small crit group. It’s working!

  • Very helpful, Chip. I’ve always done a lot of social media, but I need to do it more and better. This tells me how. I just wish I had more time….I need to study these for a while and just pick one and pray about how I can improve and apply it….and I need more time!!!! And a Hillbilly Clone! Dang a day job! 🙂

  • Gabrielle Meyer says:

    I love that you said this is a lifestyle – it really is – and we need to view it that way. Being intentional, consistent and authentic are key ingredients to building a successful social presence. I started blogging seven months ago and I’ve been blown away by the relationships I’ve been able to build in that time.

  • kathleenf says:

    Oh, thank you, Chip! It’s always a thrill when editors say they are looking for what I write, and it almost makes me want to…dance when I hear that something I love doing is the best marketing technique. I love to serve, help, and listen.

  • Becky Doughty says:

    Ah. The other side of the coin. If there’s a coin, there MUST be two sides, right? Like so many have said, I’m reading a lot about platform (particularly blogging) NOT being necessary for new fiction writers in particular. I must admit, I do not understand why it wouldn’t be necessary regardless of what kind of material one writes.

    As I commented elsewhere, I was under the impression that having a blog was a good way to show an agent or editor my willingness
    to play along. I thought it gave additional info to them – AND to my
    readers – about me as a person and a writer. I thought it demonstrated a
    willingness to participate in my own marketing, evidence that I’m
    willing to invest my time and effort into carving out a niche for myself
    in the industry. I thought a blog was a good way to be “available” to
    them and my tribe – public figure vs. recluse writer, you know?

    I’m always having to strive for the right
    balance with my blogging vs. writing, but I LOVE the people who come and go, who contribute,
    who guest post, who comment, who ask questions.

    To me, blogging is so much more than just a platform.

    My motto: It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be present.

    Thanks for your post today, Chip. I’m feeling a little better about staying the course.


    • chipmacgregor says:

      Blogging is great, Becky. But it’s not for everyone, just like writing fiction isn’t for everyone, or reading Homer isn’t for everyone, or going on television isn’t for everyone. But it’s a great way to make ourselves available to our readers.

  • Ashley Farley says:

    Your post is motivating. I’ve been wondering lately if all the time I spend trying to create my platform is worth it, but I’ll forge onward, using your suggestions as a guideline.

  • Did NOT roll my eyes–I’ve been surprised to see a plethora of posts lately about how UN-helpful blogging is for aspiring authors. I find that for every media outlet I add, I find new friends and people who are interested in what I’m writing. In other words, I target MORE of my target audience.

    And most social media starts slowly, but I’ll say that twitter is a very FAST way to branch out quickly. Hashtags make things simple, and twitter suggests new people to follow every day. At first, I was following WAAAY more people than followed me, but now we’re just about breaking even (maybe 6 months later?). Not hard at all. And I don’t think I’ve posted about my sick kids even ONCE…

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Good. I’m tired of hearing about your kids, Heather. Especially little Bobby and his cute sayings. :o)

  • simmerartist says:

    Thanks again, Chip—for all your extremely helpful information and wise advice 🙂

  • Meghan Carver says:

    I’ve been reading that some others are saying social media just isn’t paying off and writers shouldn’t spend so much time with it. So your post is quite timely for me, Chip. I’ll keep plugging away. Thanks.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I think there’s a lack of evidence to suggest blogging leads automatically to book sales. But I’m not convinced that means there is a lack of merit to blogging.

  • Jan Cline says:

    You don’t know how timely this is. As a conference director and writers group leader I am constantly touting the need to be more aggressive in Social Media. Now that I have a book coming out in a few weeks I find myself lacking in what I have been preaching. This week I will sit down and make a SM plan and this list really helps. It’s still scary to me the amount of time and mental energy it takes to do it right.
    Thanks so much…

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Ha! Sometimes we know what to do, but just don’t do it. I’m guilty of that myself, Jan. Stick with it.

  • Melissa Tagg says:

    Such good stuff! (Although, I will admit the idea of Pinterest reduces me to a puddle of insecurity…I just don’t feel crafty enough.) My favorite part of your post is toward the end:

    Be authentic. Be yourself. Tell the truth.

    I really think when we take that to heart, it makes the whole social marketing thing a little easier–or at least less intimidating. Social media is so much more work when we’re attempting to craft some cool persona rather than just being who we are and enjoying ourselves and enjoying others. Yeah, it takes time. But if we care about our careers, we’ll be willing to put in the work…and when we’re authentic, I think it feels less like work and more like relationship-building.

    • Meghan Carver says:

      Melissa, you don’t have to be crafty to be on Pinterest. To start, just repin other’s pins. Pinterest is about so much more than DIY crafts. You can pin quotes, Bible verses, recipes, organizational ideas, printables, pictures of clothing you like (even from an online catalog), pictures of period clothing, pictures of places you want to visit. I try to include my own photo or image in every blog post so that it is pin-able. One of my most popular pins (and blog posts) is about rubbing the bitter out of a cucumber. My image was simply a close-up photo of my husband’s hand holding a cucumber with all the white bitter yuck frothing out of the end and the words, “Rub the bitter out of a cucumber.” Don’t forget your URL on the image! Our culture is so visual that I don’t think we can ignore Pinterest. It’s also a great way to find inspiration for writing or research for your WIP. I was intimidated by Pinterest at first, but just observe for a while and you’ll see you don’t have to be a crafting goddess to make it work. Sorry for the length, but I feel your pain in being craft-challenged.

    • Melissa Tagg says:

      Sweet, thanks, Meghan! Maybe I will brave another look at it. Hehe… 🙂

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Glad you liked it, Melissa. And thanks for the tip on Pinterest, Meghan. One of our agents, Erin Buterbaugh, is going to be talking about Pinterest with the authors we represent at our annual marketing meeting next month. Should be interesting. And I’ll remember to rub the bitter out of my cucumbers…

  • Thanks, Chip. As always, good info. Now… I’m not rolling my eyes… but I get a little frustrated with the whole social media thing because it takes so much time. I was replying to everyone on twitter, and on Facebook and on my blog… then I couldn’t keep up with making dinner, or writing… I almost didn’t have time to blog… much less write! How do you engage with all those readers personally, and still have a life? or write? Am I doing it all wrong or is it assumed that I’ll hire someone to do the social media aspect of it all? I’m still a wife, and mom, and writer. How much social media is enough social media?

    • Melissa Tagg says:

      Hi Carla, I don’t know if this will be helpful, but I have a writing friend named Edie Melson (if you already know her and I’m being totally presumptuous, sorry). But she has a blog at and every Monday she writes about social media. She’s seriously savvy. 🙂 Anyway, she wrote a post a couple months back about how she spends 30-45 minute a day for the bulk of her social media. And she’s one of the most active social media gals I know. For whatever reason, I can’t get the direct URL from that particular blog post to work, but it’s her post from August 27, 2012 that talks about how she manages to do it all in half an hour (although she does say she takes quick five-minute looks at other times throughout the day). Just FYI in case it’s helpful. 🙂

    • chipmacgregor says:

      There’s the rub, Carla. If we spend our time writing, we don’t have time to market. If we spend out time marketing, we don’t get anything of value written. The curse of contemporary writers.

  • Pauline Chandler says:

    Thanks, Chip. This is such helpful advice. I especially like the idea of finding out where my potential readers gather and going ‘to stand in front ot them’. I’d add ‘where my potential buyers gather’ too. For me, as a writer of children’s books, that would be parents, teachers and librarians. I’m not great at this, but I’ll now try harder after reading this excellent post. #Pauline Chandler #Warrior Girl

    • chipmacgregor says:

      That’s still the best marketing advice i know — find out where your readers are, and go stand in front of them.

  • Karen Morris says:

    Thanks so much for the timely tips, Chip.

  • sally says:

    And DON’T roll your eyes at this, as though it were beneath you as an author

    ha ha I can just see this. I know writers who roll their eyes.

  • Amy Simpson says:

    Practical tips for navigating the storm, love it. Great information here, Chip!

  • Kathryn Elliott says:

    #HelpfulPost 🙂

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