Self-Promotion for Authors: Social Media Wrangling

elly-tweetingIt happens all the time. I’m meeting with an author to talk about promoting their book….and they have that look in their eye—gleeful, nervous panic. “I’m going to have to start using Twitter!” they proclaim. I want to say “There, there, no you don’t.” But while that might be good advice, the opposite might also be true. 

Here’s a handy list of social media book marketing tips for the uninitiated:

You don’t have to do it all

Just because you wrote a book does not mean that you have to sign up for Twitter, open accounts on every platform you’ve heard of and some you haven’t, or spend hours a day figuring out how to navigate various social media platforms while battling anxiety about spamming people or looking silly. If exploring the wide world of social media sounds fun, then go for it, but if you have limited energy for such things then choose your battles wisely. 

Use the social media that you already use

If you’re already active on Facebook and feel comfortable using it, then by all means go ahead and make yourself a Facebook author page. Build it up the same way you built your personal presence there way back in the day—slowly and organically, engaging with your friends, family, author/publishing colleagues, and—increasingly as time goes by—random strangers. If you’re at ease and confident talking about your work and other topics you care about, your community will be too.

It is very likely that you’ve written a book for people with similar interests and demographics to your own, which often means you can stick to what you’re already familiar with. But then again, you might want to branch out. Here’s the real litmus test:

Go where your readers already are

Who are your readers? Where are they going to find out about and rabidly discuss your book? That’s the place you need to be. To find out, choose one to three books that are most similar to yours that came out in the last year or so and feverishly search every social media platform for the titles and authors. 

Choose your social media platforms based on your readers rather than your subject matter. For instance, a vegan cookbook author might well find their biggest audience on Pinterest where food photos reign supreme. But if their book’s community is younger and hipper, Tumblr is probably the way to go. If your audience is teenagers, head to Snapchat. If you’re trying to reach men, try Twitter. 

The rule of thirds

I learned this rule from Culinary Cyclist author Anna Brones. When posting on social media in your professional capacity, you want to follow these rough proportions:

1/3: Broadcasting: Promoting and linking to your own stuff

1/3: Sharing: Posting relevant links or ideas by other people, whether colleagues, fans, or experts

1/3: Conversation: Engaging with your community about topics of mutual interest, including asking questions, or letting a bit more of your personal world come through

Links are key

Try to include a link and an image with everything you post. Link to the publisher’s page for your book if at all possible. People are excited about your book—help them get their hands on it!

Images work

Some social media platforms are entirely image-based. The ones that aren’t will show your post to way more people if you include and image or a video. Images can be literal or related in some more poetic or funny way. They don’t have to be works of art—phone photos and screenshots are great. Make a game of coming up with a graphic to go with half your tweets or posts.

That said…images are what feed the algorithms this week. Next week, who knows!

Be prepared

Do you like social media a little too much? Don’t want to spend your entire day clicking and scrolling? Just don’t have time for this stuff? Once you’ve figured out where you want to be and have a basic understanding of how your chosen platforms work, then take a step back and do like the pros—and make a schedule. For instance, maybe you’ve decided that three posts a day on Twitter at three different times is what’s right for you. Draft out 3 ideas or topics per day for the next week. When you come across an article you want to share, see a review of your book go live, or finish a blog post, add it to your schedule instead of immediately logging in and getting caught in the vortex. Then at the appointed times, check your cheat sheet, log in and quickly post, respond to anyone who’s engaging with you, and get out unscathed.

If you love planning ahead then think about what you’ll post leading up to your book publication date, your release party, or any relevant holidays.

Never pay for social media advertising

It offers no benefits. Nuff said. [Edited, 2018: Algorithms have changed since this was originally written, and now judicious use of Facebook ads can be helpful in selling books—but that may all change again.]

Build it slow and steady

Be patient and consistent. Post every day. Try new things and keep doing them if they work. Engage with people as equals. Find people who do it really, really well and emulate them. Be yourself. Have fun. 

This is an occasional series called Self-Promotion for Introverts, geared towards Microcosm authors but hopefully useful to a larger field of shy people with something to promote. The last post was about Getting Psyched for Self-Promotion. You can read more publishing lore like this in Joe Biel’s book, A People’s Guide to Publishing.