…helping you tell a better story

Why Isn’t My Social Media Selling More Books?

My week is full of marketing meetings with authors. And, since this is the twenty-first century, at some point every conversation about marketing comes back to social media.

We’ve all heard that authors need some kind of social media presence. But all social media is not the same, and it certainly doesn’t all get the same results. If you’re a new writer wondering why your Facebook page or Twitter feed isn’t generating the kind of attention you think it should, ask yourself a few questions:


1.       Am I being social, or am I self promoting?

You’ve seen the accounts, with a long string of spammy sales messages with more exclamation points than substance. “Buy my book!” “Look, I have a book!” “Hey, my #book is for #sale—go buy it!!!!”

If you are only using social media to promote your book and try to generate immediate sales, you’re missing the point, and you’re turning off your readers.

Social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and whatever else is new this week—is not an advertising platform.

Let me say that again: social media is not an advertising platform.

It’s not there as a billboard or a place for you to announce a sale and then disappear. It is a place for real people to connect with one another around shared interests, and for authors to let fans (and curious future fans) peek behind the curtain of their experiences.

People come to social media to be, well, social. They want to be entertained and engaged. They want to connect to each other. One writer I talked to this week expressed hesitation about launching a social media presence. “I don’t have anything to say yet about being an author.” But as we talked about another writer she admires, she admitted that she regularly checks out his Instagram feed. “I just like to see that he’s a real person, and feel like I’m connected to his life.”

Your readers want to feel connected to your life. They don’t go looking for your pages to find out how to buy your book—they have Amazon for that. They go to find out who the person behind the book is. They want to know what an author reads, what you think about, and what makes you smile.

The point of social media is not to sell more books this week, but to cultivate loyalty and connection with people who will support the rest of your career.


2.       Am I talking to the right people?

Do you know who your readers are? Who are the people who are drawn to your books, or (if you haven’t published yet) your genre? That’s who you should be writing social media content for.

Don’t fill your social media time talking about writing with writers! A lot of authors fall into the social media trap of connecting with their colleagues, not their fans: writers follow each other, and they commiserate about how they’re spending their days writing, and they join writing circles and discussions. Or we socialize online with the people we know in real life: our old high school friends, extended family, and neighbors. They “like” our news and pass along warm greeting to our spouses.

These kinds of connections takes a lot of time and you may feel like they’re “doing marketing,” but it rarely results in attracting new readers. Why? Because they’re not engaging with their audience.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: No book appeals to everyone. Even the Bible and Harry Potter, two of the most famous series in the English language, have detractors. There is a certain type of reader who will be drawn to your memoir/romance/environmental thriller. And that type of reader shares other common interests and activities. As you branch out past those messages about buying your book, be intentional about sharing content that will meet them there.

If you’re writing women’s fiction, think about the things that the people who read women’s fiction like. (Hint: families, relationships, inspiring stories, beautiful homes, dreamy destinations.) How can you incorporate more of that in your content? If you’re writing fantasy, let your imagination soar and engage with the people who love to think about different worlds through art and ideas. If you’re a historical fiction writer, what cool photos did you discover while researching? Is there something in the news that relates to your international spy thriller (either the one you’re writing or the one that’s already out?


3.       Am I being patient?

Building a social media network, like writing a book, takes time. Check your expectations: are you disappointed that readers didn’t flock to you just because you created an account? How often are you showing up yourself? Just as it’s hard to build an author career with only one book, it’s hard to see social media success if you only share something once a month. People need to see you being consistent, and interesting, and worthy of their time and attention.

So if you’re serious about building your fan base and connecting with your readers, pick one channel of social media and commit to really developing it for six months. For example:

  • Every day I will write 3-5 Tweets and spend time replying and interacting with others in my community
  • Three times a week I will add a photo to Instagram, and I’ll spend time weekly replying and interacting with others in my community.
  • Twice a week I will write new Facebook posts (preferably with pictures), and I will answer every fan who comments or shares on my wall.

(These are just examples of schedules, by the way, not scientifically proven numbers or the “right” amount to engage. That’s up to you.)


And then there’s the secret weapon for every writer:

Share photos of your dog/cat/parrot/hamster doing adorable things. Yes, it’s shallow. But researchers agree: people love cute pet pictures. I talked to a writer just this morning who shared that “every time I post a picture of my dog I get three times as many views as when I post something about [the very serious subject of her book.]”

So here, just for you all: this is my writing assistant, Comma, who contributed opinions (and cat fur) to this piece:

Seattle-20120127-00223 (1)


Now I expect this blog post to be liked, shared, and commented on twice as much as my last one.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for Beth’s mailing list:

Subscribe to Beth's quarterly newsletter to get publishing tips, news about upcoming events and new releases, and more:

Latest Post

  • It’s Up to You to Get Noticed (Before You Self Publish #5)
    If you want to self publish, you will have to work to get noticed. Here we are at last, on the final point of this blog series “Before You Self Publish.” So far we’ve talking about the importance of thinking like a CEO, the danger of releasing a book too soon, the value of print, and the importance of the...
    Read more