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Social Media for Authors is About Relationships, Not Marketing

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When I was at the Florida Writers Conference this past October, I met more than a few authors with books in the conference bookstore. There was one author in particular that I’d enjoyed talking with over the course of the conference, and had gotten to know her fairly well.

I’ve been on a rather strict “no new books” diet for a few years, but will break it occasionally if a favorite author has a new book. But I had such a good time talking with this woman that I bought a couple of her books in the bookstore, and just snuck them into my bookshelf once I got home.

I bought them because we had connected, and I wanted to be supportive. I’m not even a regular reader of her genre, I just wanted to help my new friend.

There’s an old saying among sales professionals that “people buy from people they like.” For authors, that means getting our fans to like us. It means getting them to support us and tell their friends about us.

You need to treat your readers and fans like friends. You don’t have to take them to coffee or lunch, but you should connect with people, have conversations with them, and build up some basic relationships if you want to sell your books.

While it would be great if you could meet with every one of your readers and make them feel special, it’s just not possible. But social media can make that happen, and to extend your reach all over the world.

Conversations, Not Advertising

One mistake authors make is treating social media like free advertising. Their messages all shout “Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book!”

Ask yourself, do you watch TV commercials, or do you fast forward through them? When I ask that at writers conferences, nearly everyone admits they skip them. We hate advertising. We don’t watch it because it’s annoying and intrusive.

Similarly people avoid social media users who shout “Buy my book! Buy my book!” but don’t do anything else. I can tell you, I’ve never bought a single book from authors who only advertise on their social channels. It’s clear they don’t care about their readers, so why should I care about them?

I also see authors who bulk up their Twitter numbers, amassing as many as 270,000 Twitter followers. Except I know it’s all done through trickery and deceit, which means they’re not real connections. The author doesn’t even care about those 270,000 people. She just sees them as customers. I usually block these people completely, and would certainly never buy their books.

Just have conversations with people. Ask questions and see who answers. Respond back with your own thoughts. This is how you’d do it at a book signing or cocktail party, so do that online. Find out more about people who like your work, and connect with the kinds of people who you think would like it. Take an interest in the things they talk about. As you develop relationships with them, they’ll want to support you and your endeavors as well.

Finally, create a search column on Twitter for #hashtags or keywords related to your book’s topic. Whenever someone tweets that term, it will show up in your column. Respond to those comments or ask questions. Start a conversation to show you’re interested, and share your own ideas.

Relationships, Not Announcements

Again, this does not mean being friends and buddies with everyone you meet. You don’t have to hang out together, but you should at least make that person feel like you’ve noticed them.

These are the people who will come up to you at a book signing and say, “I’m Hazel from Des Moines!” I can tell you, having been on both sides of the table, it’s a big thrill when an author recognizes a fan and are pleased at meeting someone they’ve communicated with. That person feels so special, it can make their week.

I’ve got two favorite authors who I occasionally chat with on Twitter. Nothing lengthy or in-depth, and not very often. I don’t even expect them to remember me if we ever meet (although one of them did when I met him at his book signing in Portland, Oregon).

Regardless, I’m big fans of their work, and will always buy their new books, as well as recommend them to my friends. Their only investment in our “relationship?” Five minutes of Twitter time once or twice a year.

Partner With Other Authors

How many books a year do you read? Just one? Do you read just one book and then quit until your new author comes out with another one?

Of course not. If you’re like most other writers, you read like a fiend. That means you’re constantly on the lookout for new writers. And if you’re like me, once you finish a book, if you can’t find any more by that author, you’re probably in the mood for one in the same genre or style.

What if that author told you, “if you liked that, you’ll enjoy this one by my friend?” Wouldn’t you be more likely to check out that new book, because you trust this author?

So what would happen if you were to recommend one or two of your author friends to your fans, and they did the same for you? If you each had 5,000 Twitter followers, and you occasionally retweeted each other’s book announcements and interesting tweets, you could easily double or triple your audience, which could have a significant impact on your sales.

Your fans already trust you, so when you recommend another author, they’re more likely to check that author out. And that author’s fans will do the same. Again, it’s all about relationships, only now you can let your relationships grow exponentially with just a little work.

Promoting your own work is so much more than ads and email newsletters. It can just be logging some time on a couple of your favorite social networks and building relationships online. Start finding fans, having conversations, and making them feel special. Show that you appreciate them, and they’ll show their appreciation when you have a new book for sale.

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Writer & Marketer

Erik Deckers is a professional writer and marketer. He has co-authored four books on social media marketing and personal branding, owns a content marketing agency, is a newspaper humor columnist, and was the Jack Kerouac House writer-in-residence for Spring 2016. He is currently working on the third edition of Branding Yourself, which is all about personal branding and self-promotion via social media. He's currently reviewing the galley proofs for an October publication.

6 Responses

  1. Tricia Pimental
    | Reply

    So well said, Erik. This concept is one of the hardest for many writers to fully grasp.Thanks for your post.

    • Erik Deckers
      | Reply

      Thank you, Tricia. I think a lot of writers struggle with both the confidence to market their work, as well as whether one should “market art.” I know a lot of writers want to be judged on the quality of their work, and think marketing is beneath them. Still others worry that their work is “not quite good enough” to be seen by the public at large. We have to get over both of these ideas if we want to grow as writers.

  2. Jill
    | Reply

    Yes, a little genuine interest in your
    prospective buyer goes a long way. Thanks Erik.

  3. Temple Emmet Williams
    | Reply

    I could not disagree more with you about social media, although I do agree that eyeball-to-eyeball contact sells more books than any other approach (with the exception of venues such as BookBub or ENT, and personal e-mail lists).

    Social media as a selling tool is essential for Indie Publishers. We cannot match the budgets of major or mid-sized publishers. It is one area where we can run effective “ad campaigns” to at least try to level the playing field (which, of course, we can never do).

    Twitter works. Ask the current administration in Washington for verification. So does LinkedIn, Facebook. Goodreads. Google+. Many others. Take those away from Indie publishers and writers and you may as well just throw them and their work in the dustbin. Many excellent, talented Indie writers lack the ability and the youthful exuberance to be road warriors, selling books face-to-face with their audience.

    • Erik Deckers
      | Reply

      Actually, I think you and I agree. I’m positing that writers should absolutely use social media as a sales tool, but to treat their readers and fans like friends, rather than customers and viewers. It’s possible to build relationships, as superficial as they may be, and still be in selling mode. This is how “social selling” works.

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