Social Media Secrets Book Marketers Don't Tell You—Part I: How to Avoid Twitter-Fritter and Facebook-Fail

First: many thanks to Indies Unlimited, which named this blog to its 10 Blogs and Websites Every Indie Should Know. If you're an indie, or thinking of going indie (self-publishing or small-press), do follow them for great tips and news from a very savvy team of writers.

Most writers these days know a good book isn't enough to get you successfully published. Any agent, editor, or book reviewer is going to Google you first—often before they'll even read to the end of your query. Certainly before they request a partial or a book to review.

What comes up on that Google search can make the difference between getting an agent, publisher and reviews—or languishing in obscurity.

Yes, of course it's possible to become a successful author without an online presence, the same way it's possible to get hired for a corporate job if you write your resume on parchment and send it by carrier pigeon.

But your chances are a whole lot better if you conform to established standards.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about how authors spend too much time doing meaningless busy work trying to "build platform." 

But I didn't say authors can ignore social media entirely. Social media is our most important tool for getting our books discovered.

Being on social media takes you out of the confines of your own backyard and puts you into the global marketplace. It makes the difference between hawking your book on a local street corner and getting it in front of millions of readers all over the world.

Thing is: we need to learn to use this tool effectively.

Unfortunately, a lot of marketers don't seem to know how to do that, so they bully authors into wasting a huge amount of time playing meaningless number games.

Understandably, some authors are getting annoyed. Last week, much-lauded literary author Benjamin Anastas quit Twitter and vented in an eloquent blogpost. It got a lot of cyberink and sparked some interesting pieces by Jane Friedman and Porter Anderson.

Mr. Anastas voiced his many quarrels with Twitter, most of which boiled down to: Twitter is no good for selling books, and therefore a waste of time.

Thing is, he's right on the first point, but not on the second.

To me, it sounded like somebody saying he was going to get rid of his phone because it's not good for selling aluminum siding to strangers who are just sitting down to dinner.

Mr. Anastas is a smart man, so I suspect the problem is he was never told what Twitter is really for. (Maybe because his marketing department doesn't know either.)


Here is the big secret about Twitter: 

It is not a direct marketing tool. It is a method of communication.

Kinda like a phone. Here's some stuff Twitter IS good for:

1) Quick communications with a large number of people. 

Example: When I was in despair trying to get this blog's Feedburner email program to work last week, I Tweeted asking for help. Within minutes, I had several suggestions, plus a step-by-step guide for converting to a free Mail Chimp email service. (Thanks, Molly Greene!)  I hope I've done it right. Do tell me if you've subscribed and you're still not getting your email notices, or if it's missing from your rss feed.

2) Getting up-to-the minute news from anywhere on the globe.

Example: When there was a tornado in Tuscaloosa, and I wanted to know if my Tuscaloosa friends were OK, I went to #TuscaloosaTornado and found hundreds of real-time Tweets telling what neighborhoods had been hit.

3) Giving your friends a shout-out (and occasionally yourself.)

Example: When I saw that a friend who's a newly minted agent had been mentioned in Publishers Lunch, I Tweeted it, with a @ message to her. It was the first she'd heard of it, so it was a two-bird stone. I informed her of the good news and at the same time let a lot of people know about her new agency.

And yes, you can toot your own horn occasionally. You can certainly Tweet "my book was just nominated for a RITA" or "I got a rave review from Big Al."

But only do this a few times. Imagine you're phoning your friends with the good news, not cold-calling everybody in the phone book.

However, the most important Tweets might be for a friend's triumph. This week, a Tweep posted a link with an @ message congratulating us on our Indies Unlimited kudos. I thought—"what a nice thing for her to add a special Tweet to me. Who is she, again?" I visited her blog, was intrigued, and bought one of her books.

Yeah. That's how it works.

4) Connecting with people. 

Example: Somebody asks a question on this blog. I take some time with the answer and want to let the commenter know there's an answer waiting. If her name leads to a Twitter profile, I tweet her a heads-up. Yes, I could send an email or DM, but a Tweet lets other people who might be interested know the post is there, too. I might add a hashtag like #blogging if that's what it's about.

That way we've made one connection on the blog and another through Twitter. That means we'll take more notice of each other the next time we meet online.

5) Sharing information and talking about it.

This can be anything from Tweeting a tsunami warning for your patch of coastline to links to your own newest blogpost or an article about the new Veronica Mars movie (especially if your tweeps are mystery lovers.)

Example: A few days ago I Tweeted a link to an article about the copy of J.K. Rowling's pseudonymous book that sold for $6000+ and added I thought this thing was getting silly. A few people Tweeted back their responses, including Tweep AJ Sykes who said "Agreed. Or maybe it's ugh-greed."

Clever and funny. And I remember him saying some wise things in a comment on Jane Friedman's blog last week. So now he's on my radar as a clever, funny guy. I see he writes steampunk. Not my genre of choice right now, but I ever make the steampunk plunge I know where to go first.

See how that works?
Yes, you can tweet that a great book is free or on sale. And that book can be yours, but don't do it more than three times a day. In between other stuff.

And you can Tweet other people's books, too—but only if you genuinely think your followers will like it. Tweeting books you haven't read may seem to be "friendly" to your fellow authors, but it's not friendly to your Tweeps. And it can backfire if it's not a book you'd recommend to a real life friend. Somebody who writes violent thrillers has no business asking a writer of children's books or cozies for a Tweet. It's OK to say no.

Especially since simply Tweeting book titles at strangers does not sell a lot of books anyway. That's what Benjamin Anastas was right about.

But exchanging information can make connections. It's those connections that will get you known so that somebody might want to buy your books some day.

But you don't have to spend a lot of time on those connections. Mr. Anastas complained of Twitter being a time suck—and it certainly can be. But only if you let it.

And that's another way Twitter is like your phone. A phone can't dominate your life if you don't turn it on. Don't dump the phone, just don't pick up if you don't want to talk.

And those marketers who say you should be adding 20 random Tweeps a day so you can amass half a million followers?

That's like saying you should buy a phone with the numbers of 500,000 strangers programmed into it.

If they don't want to talk to you—what exactly is the point?

For more on Twitter—especially for newbies—see my post on Twitter for Shy Persons.

And for some info on how some clever people are making Twitter more useful for book marketing, check out Julie Valerie's review of BookVibe.  It's a new program that analyzes Twitter streams for book discovery. It sounds as if there still are some bugs in it, but it may mean that Twitter will be a better place for direct marketing in the future than it is now.

Now for some Facebook secrets…

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on Facebook. I'm kind of a Facebook hater. But that's partly because it's taken me so long to learn to use it. For at least a year I didn't post anything but links to my blog, bits of publishing news, and announcements of my book launches (Yeah, I launched 7 in a year, plus 3 anthologies. I guess I didn't have much else to talk about.)

But this year I started posting literary cartoons, inspirational stuff about books, and a few jokes. All of a sudden, I started having fun conversations on FB.

And this week I saw a great post from Kristen Lamb that gave me an a-ha moment.

It solidified all the stuff I've been learning by trial and error for the past six months. (Lots of error.)

1) Don't just "friend" people.

BE a friend. Connect with people in a non-phony way. NOT writer to fan. Person to person.

2) A personal "friend" page is more valuable than a "like" page.

You can stop humiliating yourself begging for "likes." They mean absolutely nothing if people don't make return visits. And why do you want that Christian picture book writer to like your BDSM erotica page, anyway? It will do nothing for you and will signal Facebook to send some very unwelcome advertising her way.

People would rather be your friend than worship at your feet. Don't expect people to "like" you if you don't do anything likeable.

3) Nonstop bragging isn't especially likeable. 

How weird is it that I have to say that? But I do. That's because marketers tell us to advertise 24/7. When what we should be doing is joking around and getting to know people.

4) LOLCats, Oprah-quotes, and funny stuff from George Takei will sell more books in the long run than all those "book launch party" pages, pleas for tweets, or those links to Publisher's Lunch. (Yes, I'm seriously guilty of that last one.)

As Kristen said in her post: "People can’t connect emotionally to yet another DBW article about how Barnes and Noble’s stock is tanking. They CAN however connect to kittens, Sharknado, tales of missing socks, superheroes, kid stories, pet stories, Mayhem and Grumpy Cat."

5) Facebook author pages don't get much traffic because you can't use them to interact with people. They just sit there saying "worship me." All most of us do is post news about our books. Which snoozifies pretty much everybody if it's non-stop.

Here's Kristen again. "There are writers who seriously believe that Facebook is out to get them because their fan pages are being hidden. NO. It’s just that, in the Digital Age, there is a steep price for being boring."

I wish I'd read Kristen's post three years ago when I started on Facebook. I've wasted a lot of time being boring. Here's another quote:

"Engage us, talk to us, stop selling to us and guess what? We will like coming to your page. And we will have fun and "Like" stuff, comment and SHARE your content." It's worth reading her whole post.

6) The most important Facebook pages aren't your personal pages or your author page. (Or those endless promotional "event" pages.)

They are your friends' pages.

If you visit your friends' pages and make them feel like equals rather than minions, and encourage them through their triumphs and crises, the way you'd like them do do for you, they will reciprocate.

And they might even be interested in reading your next book.

Yeah. That's how social media works. It's, um, social. And as with all social interactions, the best rule is always the Golden one.

In August, I'm going to post Part 2. I'll be talking about how blogging revived my career, and I'll divulge the #1 blogging secret no blogging guru will tell you. 

So what about you, scriveners? Have you been feeling the way Benjamin Anastas does about Twitter? What do you think you could teach marketers about social media? Any tips to add about Twitter and Facebook?


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