I've engaged in a lot of discussion recently with other authors about book promotion. Across the board, it's all something we have to do, and the general consensus is, nobody exactly loves it. Some of us don't mind it, and some of us downright hate it, but nobody really loves it, and the main reason is because it takes a lot of time away from doing what we really love to do, which is write books.
Thoughts on social media:
Like most published authors, I have a professional website, I'm on Facebook (both a regular account and an author page), I tweet, I Instagram, I'm on LinkedIn, and I have this blog. To keep up with all of it is time-consuming, and I know I don't keep up with any of it nearly as well as I should.
So when I get to talking with other writers (which I had the pleasure of doing at last month's ThrillerFest), the big question we always ask each other is, "What are you doing that's working?"
My good friend Hilary Davidson wrote an article not long ago for the National Post (a national Canadian newspaper) called "Sorry, but social media won't sell your book." She said:
"When I talk about social media, I emphasize the social part. It’s about connecting, not selling."
And I wholeheartedly agree. Nobody likes being barked at, either in person or online, and that's exactly what it feels like when an author tweets about their book twenty times a day, and constantly posts links and quotes to it on Facebook. When you do this, you turn into a marketing bot, and it's boring. And annoying. And people tune you out. And eventually they hide you, or unfollow you. You know why? Because they already know you wrote a book. You're telling the same people the same thing over and over again. So in terms of increasing sales, that doesn't really work.
A big-name author I recently met in New York said that while he has over 150,000 "likes" on his Facebook page, those "likes" don't actually translate to sales. A hundred people may "like" and comment on any one of his Facebook posts promoting his new book, but those same hundred people won't necessarily buy that new book.
So what does work? Using social media to actually socialize with other people. Social media works best when you talk about yourself, and things people can relate to, and when you feel accessible and real to others. The majority of retweets I get are not from the tweets where I talk about my books, but when I tweet interesting articles I've come across online. When I talk about movies, TV shows, or other people's books, I usually end up engaging in interesting discussions, and inevitably, I "meet" new people and gain new followers. And it's these NEW followers who could become new book buyers, which of course, helps my sales.
In fact, my biggest crop of new followers happened after I tweeted something that had ZERO to do with writing. And this tweet, with the hashtag #WorstSummerJob, actually ended up on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (it's the last one Jimmy reads, but they're all funny!):
Thoughts on book tours:
It was interesting to learn that a lot of bestselling authors no longer go on book tours. I was part of a panel at ThrillerFest last month called "Going Out or Going Online?", which debated whether book tours or social media was better at selling books. The general consensus was: neither work perfectly well. Book tours are expensive. As marketing budgets get tighter for publishers, it's becoming less profitable for them to send authors on these multi-city book tours, because the majority of readers who show up to these events have already bought the ebook. And you can't really autograph an ebook. Which means that the bookstore hosting the event doesn't sell a lot of books, and if they're not able to sell a lot of books, what's the incentive for the bookstore or the publisher to have an author there?
Times are changing, indeed.
So what can authors do to promote their stuff?
I'm in no way an expert at any of this, having only put out three books so far. But I've been saying this since the beginning, and I still stick by it: The best thing a writer can do to promote their books is to write the next book.
Over the past couple of months, with the pending and subsequent release of THE BUTCHER, I noticed a spike in my sales for CREEP and FREAK. CREEP was released in 2011, and FREAK in 2012, so these are now my backlist titles. Why, suddenly, did I sell a whole bunch of copies in the past couple of months? Because of THE BUTCHER. The hype (if you can call it that) for the new book reminded readers that I have two other books already out, and so THE BUTCHER sold more copies of CREEP and FREAK for me this past month than any amount of social media or book events did for those two titles in the past year.
My best advice:
To my fellow writers who are overwhelmed about online promotion and books tours: Keep writing. Tweet and Facebook and do all that social media stuff, yes, and be accessible and real while you do it. Attend as many book events in person as your time and budget allow, because it's always a good thing to connect with readers and network with other writers.
But first and foremost? Always, ALWAYS be working on the next book.
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