Marketing Your Book on Social Media? How to Avoid Scams

Self-publishing and social media have empowered writers in ways we never dreamed of a decade ago.

They've also forced us to learn a lot of stuff we never used to have to bother our artistic little heads about.

These days, whether you're trad-pubbed or indie, the rise of social media has put a lot of the responsibility for book "visibility" into the hands of the author. Some of that is good—it's nice to be in controlbut a lot of it is a major pain in the patoot. And the wallet.  

Unfortunately, the people making the most money from the indie movement these days seem to be the people providing marketing and other services to authors, not the writers themselves.   

In the early days of the "Kindle Revolution" we were all wowed by the fabulous Cinderella stories about superstars like Amanda Hocking and John Locke, who put a bunch of ebooks on Amazon, promoted them on free social media sites, and made millions. We were told all we had to do was to make some Facebook friends, put up a snazzy page on MySpace, follow some peeps on Twitter, and bingo! Instant Kindle riches!  

Funny how those names are never mentioned any more isn't it? Amanda went over to the Big Five and became an ordinary mid-lister and John Locke lost a lot of cred when it turned out much of his success came from phony paid reviews.

And now, five years later, with tens of thousands of new ebooks being published every week, the market is saturated, e-readers and tablets are packed with more content than we can read in a lifetime, and authors have to learn marketing skills or remain invisible in the ever-swelling marketplace.

These days, most indies are fixated on the power of the freebie book and the bargain-ebook email newsletter. That's because they work for a lot of authors.

For writers who aren't in the publishing game yet, the newsletter campaign works like this: you discount your bookor make it freeand buy advertising from a daily newsletter that sends news of your book sale to targeted readers. 

Those newsletters are lucrative, and their numbers grow daily: Ereader News Today, Bookbub, Pixel of Ink, FreeBooksy, the Fussy Librarian, Kindle Nation Daily, EBook Bargains UK, Free Kindle Books and Tips, The Books Machine, Books Butterfly, BookGoodies, and ReadCheaply are a few that come to mind, but there are dozens more. The bigger the circulation of the newsletter, the higher the cost of a one-day ad and the tougher it is to be selected as a client.  

Bookbub, the Rolls Royce of bargain-ebook newsletters is so selective very few authors can get in, and the prices are prohibitive for new writers (now $2300 for a one-day ad for a $2.99 mystery novel.) The others are effective in some genres and not others. It's always a gamble.

There are some newsletters and promotional sites that charge a lot less than the biggies. Some are free. Some work, some don't, again depending on genre. For some great info on them, check out Nicholas C. Rossis' blogpost on his results from using free book promo sites.

But here's the thing: the benefits of the price reduction promowhether or not you advertise in a newsletterare minimal for a new, single-title author. Price reductions and freebies are most effective if you have a substantial backlist and use the freebie or sale book to introduce readers to an established series.

So what other kinds of marketing can new authors use? What about paying for social media marketing? Is it worthwhile to pay for Twitter ads?

What about Facebook? Forbes reported that Mark Dawson made over $450,000 from his books in 2014 using Facebook advertising as a core part of his book sales process. Can the rest of us do that? What really works in terms of bringing in sales and increasing the bottom line?

What about all these scammy people who sell Twitter followers and Facebook "likes"? How can you tell a real fan from a ghost from a "click farm"?

BTW, the one thing I can tell you does NOT work is asking established authors to promote your book for you. We all have our own books to write and market. Asking frantically busy authors to donate time to promote the books of newbies for free will just get you unfollowed and unfriended.

But paid social media advertising is something else. It seems to be working very well for some people. But how do you make sure the plan you're looking at will work? I haven't tried paid social media ads yet, so I asked award-winning marketing expert Chris Syme to guest post for us today and give us the skinny on how to tell a legit advertiser from a spammer...Anne 

How Writers Can Recognize A Social Media Advertising Scam

by Chris Syme @CKSyme

When it comes to online advertising, authors are often frustrated. There are so many options, it is hard to recognize the good from the bad. And to top it off, there are differing accounts on what works and what does not. So what's an author to do?

First Things First: What's Really a Scam?

Before we dive into the scams, let's talk about the reality.

Online advertising (including social media) is a fairly new endeavor so it is not surprising that results are not consistent yet. 

Facebook advertising has only been available to small businesses for a few years and it is constantly evolving. As a result, consistent best practices are tough to pin down without lots of testing. If you take into account budget, sector (books, sports, beauty products, whatever) goal (website clicks, conversion ads, etc.) and audience, it makes advertising on Facebook a challenge to maneuver. But not impossible.

Yes, some have reached their goals with Facebook ads, and some have not.

That doesn't mean that Facebook advertising is a scam. It can be done correctly and successfully. Facebook's ad platform is built on marketing best practices and if used correctly can be a good channel for supplementing book sales or building an email list.

There are many reasons why some ads fail, but I've found the most common one is when audience, budget, and goal do not match. 

  • The targeted audience is too big or too small. 
  • The budget is too small 
  • The length of the campaign is too long or short. 
  • Maybe you're trying website clicks when you should be using download as a goal. 

Going deep into all this is a post for another day. I just want to make the point that ad campaigns do fail…everywhere. Print, radio, TV, online, magazine, and emailall fail if done poorly, but that doesn't mean anybody has been scammed. 

Paid advertising takes some skill, so be prepared to spend time learning out how to optimize your chances of success.

(NOTE From Anne: As I've mentioned before, all writers would do well to add copywriting to their skill set these days. We need to learn to sell ourselves in our blurbs and ads. For more on how to write a good blurb, see Ruth Harris's post, 8 Tips for Writing that Killer Blurb. No matter how much you spend on advertising, if the copy doesn't sell the book, we're wasting our money.)

The Good, The Bad, And The Really Ugly

So we've established that sometimes legitimate ad platforms can produce poor results when not used well. But there is a huge difference between ads that fail on legitimate platforms and platforms that are just hype. 

In order to recognize the scam platforms we are looking for a couple indicators:

1. Best practices in marketing are clearly violated. 

This is where your due diligence comes in. For instance, with a little research from legitimate marketing companies like HubSpot and Buffer, we can find out how to use hashtags (#tags) correctly. 

HubSpot, a free source of top marketing research, reported early in 2014 that hashtags can raise the engagement of a post, sometimes by as much as 55%. People wanting to game the system then started a practice called hashtag stuffing where posts consist just of hashtags thinking they were getting peoples' attention. 

Buffer, another reliable data source, followed up Hubspot's research seeking to find out how many hashtags were the right number. 

They found that TWO were optimum and anything over two caused engagement rates to drop severely. Most people can tell innately that a tweet full of hashtags is annoying but it is nice to have research to validate that gut feeling.

(I ditto that! Tweets full of hashtags make me crazy. I'm so glad to hear they don't even work. So people can stop that now, okay?...Anne)

If you come across a service that uses hashtag stuffing, run the other direction. One that likes to target authors is called Tweet Generator. Another is whose services I have tested. 

A better option is to develop a team of ambassadors on Twitter that will help you magnify your messages. Use your loyal readers to help.

(But make sure they are actually loyal readers. Following random strangers and expecting them to do your advertising won't sell books. But it WILL get you unfollowed...Anne)

 Do the work yourself and save your money.

Also, an analysis of this company's top 20 influencers did not produce one account that would be in the market for my books.

My $19 produced zero sales and zero new Twitter followers. Maybe I should have spent more money.

But alas, here's a review from author Stefan Edmunds, who purchased a five-day tweet package. Also no sales.

Scam artists know what they are doing. They are playing on people's pain points and ignorance. 

They can build fake followings completely on accounts that follow back automatically. Keep in mind that all you need to start a Twitter account is an email address. It's an ugly, dark business. There is no verification to make sure that real people are setting up accounts. These companies abound on the internet. 

Hint: if their website looks like it was put up in ten minutes and has no names of real people behind the company or an about page with contact information, beware.

2. The company uses deceptive marketing messages to fool prospective buyers. 

Scamming websites often make outrageous promises about their audiences and their results. If they say they have hundreds of thousands of fans, that doesn't mean that any of them are qualified book buyers.

Or even real people.

Buying followers is also very common (and cheap) on Twitter and many of these followers are fake accounts set up by "farms" of online workers setting up and maintaining fake accounts to service scamming websites. If they say they have 500,000 followers, look at their accounts. See who their followers are.

I ran a test with a couple different promotions just to see what kind of results I could get. The company I used boasts three different Twitter accounts with 375,000 followers. 

I want to add that it is fairly easy to amass Twitter followers if you know what you are doing. For instance, this particular company is supposedly followed by LeBron James, according to the report I ran on their followers on the Social Analytics site, Simply Measured

But the real LeBron James only follows 184 people. 

So, on a whim I looked through them all. This company was not there. And, their fake LeBron James has only three million followers while the real King James has 23 million. This LeBron James page is a fake account built to fool people into following. It has been followed by millions of people who think it 's the real thing. At three million, it adds impressive numbers to their fake reach numbers.

If you are really interested in trying a paid Twitter promotion, try one just for authors run by someone with publishing experience. Also try searching for reviews of the company on Google.

Once you learn how to recognize the snake oil, you will save yourself a lot of grief and money.

Not all digital advertising opportunities are created equal. But the first step is being able to distinguish the legitimate offerings from the scams.

If you have a question about advertising platforms, send me an email at I 'll do my best to find you a good answer.

Chris Syme has over 20 years experience in communications and marketing and is the principal of CKSyme Media Group. She is a former university media relations professional, a frequent speaker on the national stage, and the author of two books on social media: Listen, Engage, Respond and Practice Safe Social 2.0. Her agency won the 2014 SoMe Award for Social Media Agency Of The Year. Her new book, SMART Social Media For Authors is now available on Amazon for pre-order here. You can follow her on Twitter @cksyme and get more information on her agency’s blog for authors here.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have any questions for Chris? Have you ever bought an advertising campaign that fizzled? Do you think it was a scam? What advice do you have for new writers who want to advertise their book on a budget? 


Available for pre-order on Amazon

Social media is confusing. You're worn out trying to replicate the success of other authors without much luck. Before you give up, get some common-sense advice from a 20-year marketing veteran.

Author Chris Syme believes that trying to mimic the success of other authors is a dangerous and expensive strategy. If you understand the "why" behind marketing tactics, you'll learn how to make strong marketing decisions that will produce results.

In SMART Social Media For Authors you'll discover:

  • The five rules of SMART marketing and how to use them to develop your first successful plan 
  • How to identify must-have social media channels that fit your goals 
  • The fundamental planning steps most authors skip at their peril 
  • How to run short- and long-term digital advertising campaigns 
  • And much, much more! 
If you've struggled to make social media work for you, then you'll love Syme's user-friendly, easy-to-implement, and to-the-point social media strategies.

Buy the book to get your marketing on track today!


The Poisoned Pencil: New YA publisher open to submissions! The well-known mystery publisher The Poisoned Pen now has a YA imprint. They accept unagented manuscripts and offer an advance of $1000. Submit through their website submissions manager. Response time is 4-6 weeks.

Open call for the Independent Women Anthology: short stories (flash fiction included), poetry, essays, artwork, or any other woman and/or feminist-centered creative work. 10,000 word max. All genres but explicit erotica. $100 per short story, $50 for flash, poetry, and photography/artwork. All profits will be donated to the Pixel Project Charity to end Violence Against Women. Deadline January 31, 2016 with a goal of publication on International Women's Day, March 8, 2016.

TETHERED BY LETTERS' FALL 2015 LITERARY CONTEST ENTRY FEES: $7-$15 Currently accepting submissions for short stories (1,000 to 7,500 words, open genre), flash fiction (55, 250, or 500 words), and poetry (maximum of three pages per poem). All winners will be published in F(r)iction. All finalists will receive free professional edits and be considered for later publication. The prizes are $500 short story $150 flash fiction, and $150 for poetry. Multiple entries accepted. International submissions welcome. Deadline December 1.

The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.

The IWSG Short Story Anthology Contest 2015.  NO FEE! The top ten stories will be published in an anthology. (Authors will receive royalties on sales.) Eligibility: Any member of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is encouraged to enter – blogging or Facebook member (no fee to join the IWSG). The story must be previously unpublished. Entry is free. Word count: 5000-6000. Theme: Alternate History/Parallel Universe. Deadline: November 1st

$20 ENTRY FEE. 7000 word limit.The winning story will receive $2,000 and publication on the site. Second and third place stories will receive $200 and $100, publication, and all story winners will receive a critique. Fifteen finalists will be recognized online and have their stories read by the VanderMeers. Deadline October 31.

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