Why Social Media is Still Your Best Path to Book Visibility

by Anne R. Allen

A lot of marketing gurus are advising authors to cut back on blogging and social media and go back to the email marketing of the last decade.

"The author with the biggest mailing list wins," has become a mantra with self-publishing gurus.

Go to most blogs and websites these days and you'll be assaulted by a pop-up window that demands you subscribe to a newsletter before you even get to see if the site has content you're interested in. (I'm glad to see that book marketing guru Frances Caballo agrees with me about how obnoxious those pop-ups are.)

Some vendors won't even let you get a glimpse of their merchandise unless you surrender your email address for spamming purposes. These companies are paying big money for advertising, just for the privilege of slamming their cyber-doors in the faces of potential customers. (Because who cares if you make any sales, right? What's important is helping the pop-up cartel take over the world!)

I assume they are following advice from the same marketers who tell authors to stockpile the addresses of everybody we've ever brushed electrons with in order to spam them with daily tips, interviews, recipes, and "calls to action" (buy my book, review my book, why haven't you reviewed my book, pre-order my next book, and seriously, why haven't you reviewed my book?)

This is because, they keep insisting, "spam newsletters sell more books ."

These experts must have access to statistics I don't. But until I see proof, I'm not dropping my blog for a clunky old newsletter.


Because I hate getting newsletters. And I like to follow that Golden Rule thing.

Are Emails More Effective than Social Media?

The "biggest email list" contest has led to a tsunami of emailed crap. And mostly the people getting the emails are other authors—the people least likely to have time to read them.

My inbox is stuffed every morning with more and more emails I never subscribed to from authors I've never heard of in genres I don't read. Some of them send me three or four copies at the same time.

I can't delete and unsubscribe fast enough. But it now takes me at least an hour just to delete emails every morning and evening.

That's time I could spend actually reading a book.

Unfortunately, many of them don't even have an unsubscribe button, so I have to write the author personally and ask to be deleted from the list.

Here's a quote I recently saw on Facebook from UK author Vivienne Truffnell:

"I got an email, a promotional email in fact, from someone I have zero recollection of knowing a thing about. On the small print, it said, "you're getting this newsletter because you have either interacted with me on my blog or on social media."

Well, as far as I am concerned, using my email address when I might have made a random comment on a random blog post is not fair usage. Mining that sort of data is simply going to annoy. Unless I actually deliberately choose to sign up for a newsletter, sending me such a thing is akin to shoving leaflets down my cleavage because I merely smiled at you in the street."

Vivienne's not the only one who's tired of the newsletter oversharing. Author/Editor/Speaker Roz Morris recently posted a "Manifesto for a sustainable, ethical and rewarding online life."

Her number one rule?

"You don't have to bribe me to sign up for your newsletter. If I enjoy your tone and style, I'll sign up."

And my co-author of How to be a Writer in the E-Age and Amazon superstar, Catherine Ryan Hyde,  minces no words when talking about her dislike of newsletters:

"For years I've been encouraged to keep an email list of readers, but I have always refused. I feel that emailing you to tell you I have a new book out is spamming you. So, though you give me your email address for the purpose of giveaways, I don't save those addresses or use them for any other purpose. I put news on my website, on my blog, and on my social media pages, so you know where to find it. If you want it."

And this attitude hasn't hurt her sales one bit. She is consistently one of the top authors on Amazon. There are weeks when she outsells Stephen King and J.K. Rowling.

Why I Like Blogs Better than Newsletters

I realize we are at odds with all the "experts" here, but why are people so sure a newsletter is more useful than a blogpost? I have a feeling it's one of those marketing fads—like those loathsome pop-ups—that have more to do with a sheep-like herd instinct than actual sales figures.

Logic would say blogs are better.

I do subscribe to newsletters, but I've subscribed to them since before I'd even heard of blogs. I get Publisher's Lunch and read it carefully every day, and that's officially a "newsletter." Plus I been getting C. Hope Clark's Funds for Writers newsletter for years. She's one of my sources for contests for the "opportunity alerts" here, and her articles are top-notch. But I'm disappointed when I can't share them.

I also get Elizabeth S. Craig's newsletter because she's a huge help to other writers and she only sends mailings about four times a year when she has a new book out. Plus there's always a yummy recipe.

I also get my local "Nightwriters" writing club newsletter and the one from my local chapter of Sisters in Crime because it has news about my friends.

But I subscribe to at least five times as many blogs as newsletters. I don't have to download them or wade through them to get to the good stuff. Most blogposts have one main subject per post, although they also make a mention of author news or a new release.

Yes, obviously some authors manage to maintain both a blog and a newsletter, but I don't know how. Personally, I like to reserve a little time every day (miniscule as it may be) for writing those book things. I'll bet you do too.

When Email Marketing Does Work Better than Social Media. 

So should you jump on the "party like it's 1999" email newsletter bandwagon?

Newsletters are good for some things. I'm not quite as fierce as Catherine about them and I think it's okay to send out an announcement when you have a new release. (As long as readers have specifically signed up for the notice, and you're not releasing new bits of McFiction every week.) But do note that Amazon allows readers to sign up for those notices through them, so you really only have to send notices to your Nook and Kobo readers.

Newsletters are also necessary if your target demographic isn't likely to be on social media. If you write for the very old or the very young, you may find email (or even a snail-mailed postcard) provides a better way to reach them.

Some of my fellow Boomers stare at me with a mixture of terror and scorn when I mention I'm a blogger. 

"I wouldn't know how to read a blog," they say. Or "I have no idea what that means." Or "the Internet is just a passing fad." Or "saddle up old Bessie. I don't need one of them new-fangled auto-mobiles."

Okay, I got carried away with that last one. 

But clearly, those are people who need newsletters. 

And if you're selling children's picture books or even chapter books, a lot of your customers are probably bookstore owners and librarians, and they may not be much for social media either. And your "age three-to-five" pre-readers are probably not following you on Twitter. 

There are also people who really, truly hate to blog. If you find a blog is too public and you only want to communicate privately with a small group, then email will better suit your needs. 

But every time you're tempted to send out a newsletter, ask yourself "would I like to find this amongst the other 500 emails in my inbox tomorrow morning?"

Remember you can send out your blog, just like a newsletter. Use a subscription service like MailChimp and they will send out your blog to subscribers as often as you tell them to. You can put anything in your blog that you can put in a newsletter.

But that newsletter isn't going to raise your profile with the general public. You need a blog and other social media for that.

Social Media's Importance in Visibility

I'm not saying we should all be using social media to sell books 24/7.

I often advise authors: don't waste so much time "building platform!". A whole lot of the social media stuff marketers tell you to do is just time-wasting busy-work.

And yes, social media sites can disappear or kick you off for weird violations of unwritten rules, or start charging money for more than a handful of people to see your post.

But unless you're already wildly famous, you need social media.


Because social media gets you into the search engines.

If you're a new writer, your search engine profile should be top priority. You need to get on Google's radar much more than you need to get into the spam folder of somebody who's already bought your book.

Newsletters only reach people who already know you. The people you really want to reach are new readers.

85% of new traffic to this blog comes from Google (and a bit from Bing.) The rest comes from Facebook and Twitter.

Search Engines Matter!

Any agent, editor, translator, audiobook narrator, 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, sample audition script, or a book to review.

What comes up on that Google search will make all the difference.

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 follow established protocol.

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 to people you already know or getting it in front of millions of readers all over the world.

But You Have To Do it Right

Most authors waste much of their social media time. As I have written before, a lot of clueless authors (and their even more clueless advisors) have made Twitter a river of never-ending spam.

Understandably, people are tired of it. And anybody who was told that never-ending spam was going to sell books is getting fed up with social media entirely.

They say: "Twitter is no good for selling books, and therefore a waste of time."

They're right on the first point, but not on the second.

Here is the Big Secret about Social Media:

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

Kinda like a phone.

A phone can be a useless time-suck if you keep it turned on all the time and check it every five minutes and get into endless conversations about your friends' shopping trips, political opinions, or what they're cooking for dinner.

Does that mean you should abandon your phone? Go back to using the telegraph? Carrier pigeons? Smoke signals?

No, it means you should turn the thing off when you're working. Only check in when you want to engage with people. I usually check in with social media morning and evening. With maybe a quick stop at lunch.

Once you've made social media friends, when you have a new book, a great review or an sale event coming up, tweet and share it to all those people.

Use the 20% - 80 % rule. That means only 20 % of what you put on social media should be about business. The rest is about engaging with people as friends.

Why? Because the business stuff only matters if people care. And they will care because they know you. You're the person who tweeted the link to that great article that helped them get unstuck with the WIP. You're the one who always has the funny Grumpy Cat stuff. You're the one who made a supportive comment the day they got fired or their dog got sick.

Is Twitter a "loud, shallow waste of time"?

There's been lots of complaining about how Twitter is "a loud, shallow waste of time" as Joss Whedon said when he quit Twitter in May. And yeah. It is...a good deal of the time.

But so is your phone, if you only talk to loud, shallow people.

Should you Quit Facebook because it isn't as User-Friendly as it Once Was?

Lots of writers are complaining that Facebook isn't useful anymore because so few people can see your author page posts unless you pay.

But your author page isn't that important. Think of it like an entry in the Yellow Pages of the phone book. It lets people know who you are and what events you have coming up. You can post there a few times a week with some things of interest to your fans. But that's not where you make friends.

You make friends on your personal page. You don't use the personal page to promo your book all the time. Yes, Facebook will now block you if you appear to be using the personal page for mostly business.

But when you're engaging with your readers as friends, not as a "target market," you're not likely to get blocked.

And if you follow the 20%-80% rule, you're fine mentioning your book—even on Facebook. Or steer friends to your author page.

The Most Important Social Media 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 to 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.

And don't feel you have to be on every social media platform there is. Choose the ones where your readers are most likely to be. If you write for younger people, you'll want to be on Instagram or Tumblr. Facebook will more likely reach an older crowd. If you write for women in their 20s-40s, Pinterest may be your most useful venue. If you are interested in tech and marketing, Google Plus is the place to be. (It will also get Google's attention.)

And for some great specific info on how and when to use social media, here's a fabulous list and downloadable "cheat sheet" from Frances Caballo.

What about you, Scriveners? Have you abandoned any social media sites? Are you sending out a newsletter? Do you find it sells more books? I know I've stated some strong opinions here, but I know newsletters must be working for some of you, or the marketers wouldn't be pushing them so hard. If they work for you, how long have you been sending them out? Are they more useful than a blog for you?

Coming up in the Blog: Next week we're going to have a visit from screenwriter and radio talk show host David Congalton to talk about HOW TO BE A GOOD RADIO GUEST. Radio and podcasts are another important way to get your books "visible".

In September, we'll have a visit from Mr. International, indie superstar Mark Williams (aka the quiet half of "Saffina Desforges"), who's going to tell us how to get into the international market and connect with translators. 


99c Countdown! 

It goes up to $3.99 on August 15
It's only on sale in the US and the UK, alas. 
(The Zon's policy, not ours.) 

by Anne R. Allen and #1 Bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde

Not just for indies, and not just for authors going the traditional route. This is the book that helps you choose what path is right for YOU.

Plus there's lots of insider information on using social media and dealing with critiques, bullies, trolls, and rejection.


The Central Coast Writers Conference. One of the best little Writers Conferences around! You can attend Anne's workshops on How to Write 21st Century Prose and How to Deal with Reviews and even have her critique your work. The inspiring keynote speaker is ZombieLit superstar Jonathan Maberry. September 19-20.

Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest $4,000 in prizes. Entry fee $10 per poem. Submit poems in modern and traditional styles, up to 250 lines each. Deadline: September 30.

Real Simple’s eighth annual Life Lessons Essay Contest FREE to enter, First prize: $3,000 for an essay of up to 1500 words on: "What Single Decision Changed Your Life?" Would your world now be completely different if, at some point in the past, you hadn’t made a seemingly random choice? Deadline Sept 21.

BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline: September 15.

Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers  Entry Fee $15. A prize of $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of the prize issue is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not been published in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,200 to 12,000 words. Deadline: August 31. 

Creative Nonfiction magazine is seeking new essays for an upcoming issue dedicated to MARRIAGE. TRUE STORIES about marriage from any POV: happy spouses, ex-fiancees, wedding planners, divorce attorneys. whoever. Up to 4000 words. $20 Entry fee. $1000 first prize. Deadline: August 31. 

"I is Another" Short Fiction contest FREE! UK's Holland Park Press seeks unpublished short fiction, 2,000 words maximum, inspired by Arthur Rimbaud's famous declaration "Je est un autre" -- "I is another". Write a story in the first person about someone who is not you but which is about a subject close to your heart. Therefore the storyline will really matter to you but the story should not be autobiographical. It should have a strong theme such as betrayal, sorrow, lust, jealousy or revenge.  £200 prize, plus publication Deadline: August 31.

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