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Does Social Media Sell Books?

After many years of being active on social media, and having accumulated reasonable followings, I’d have to say that the answer to this question is no, not directly.

I don’t know how many times a day I see, ‘Check out my book’, ‘You’re invited to an event’, or ‘Download my book for free.’ My reaction to these messages, which for me number in their hundreds every day, is to ignore them completely. Exactly the same as most people do I think.

However, social media offers the logical temptation to sell stuff, especially to those who are new or inexperienced. After all, there is a whole world out there and it’s just so darn easy to send a little message out to millions of people saying, ‘Buy my stuff because I’m really so cool’.

My own experience has been that direct selling like this doesn’t work at all. After many experiments, misadventures and missteps, I can honestly say that sending out hundreds of messages with a buy link to your book on Amazon is a complete waste of time. Not only that, it is a sure fire way to create a negative image of yourself, which results in annoying people and therefore losing followers.

Of course I try to promote my own books and would love to sell thousands of copies each month, but it’s just not going to happen by simply sending out thousands of messages saying,’ Buy my fantastic books’.

What does work though, is the slower process of building your name recognition and reputation as a provider of relevant, useful and perhaps entertaining information relevant to your domain as an author. A well written and maintained blog linked to social media is the logical means to do this, as is intelligent posting of articles from around the Internet.

Commenting on other blogs is another great way of leveraging social media and building your profile. One means I use to take this even further, is to share some of my blog’s comments on Twitter. This serves a few useful purposes. Firstly it creates great content on Twitter and of course directs new readers to my blog, and at the same time it gives exposure to my commenters and their blogs to my 40,000 followers. Every commenter on my blog can add a link to their latest blog post. Share and share alike as the saying goes. It also helps start a conversation, which is what social media is all about. I did try this on Facebook, but it was a failure, bordering on counterproductive. It proved that there are ‘horses for courses’ on social networks, so you do need to think about how you use each platform.

A Facebook Page I believe is a necessity. The power of the ‘Like’ button and 800 million users means there is unlimited potential. While it may seem slow at first to build an audience on Facebook, it is worth the effort. While my own blog may get only a few ‘Likes’ on each post, every now and then one post will attract many more and my following increases. But again, this is a platform where trying to sell directly simply doesn’t work. It’s very much about building your reputation and profile.

Stumbleupon and Pinterest are useful platforms, but they don’t create a conversation. They are helpful however in gaining exposure for your books and reviews. While you do need to post other content so you don’t look like you’re simply flogging books, they allow people to discover your books and take a look. There are many other useful networks such as Goodreads, Shelfari and Author’s Den, and these are sites that lend themselves to promoting your titles a little more directly.

As with everything it comes down to balance. While you do want to let the world know about what you do, and what you have to offer, social media is more about marketing and reputation building rather than selling. By all means, post the occasional buy link to your books on your website, Amazon, B&N or Smashwords and links to reviews you receive. But make sure there is a lot of informative information and intelligent conversation in between.

My advice is to be patient with social media, and as your reputation and name become better known, people will find your books when they are ready and sales will follow.

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10 comments

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  1. Yvonne Hertzberger

    Those of us who have been doing this for a while would, I think, agree. And the other piece of the pie in becoming known and gathering a following willing to spend money on our books is t have several available. It does seem that having at least a half dozen books to our name gives us more apparent legitimacy in the eyes of readers. It’s a slow process, one I have yet to conquer.

  2. lisa

    A good introduction to the topic and much-needed, if my twitter feed is anything to go by. Every social media site is very different from every other site. In my experience, facebook is far more personal and builds relationships. When someone sees what you are about and gets to know you, perhaps they will buy a book. This works more within specific genres. For instance, a long-standing friend of mine wrote a book about a particular music scene that many of my other friends have been a part of for decades. Thus, we all supported his effort and bought the book. I don’t think this would work in a less-specific genre.

    Where facebook may work however; is to build those relationships then announce links and progresses to other more business-oriented sites, like a twitter account, or goodreads.

    I find goodreads has encouraged my book buying awareness significantly, far more that any other social media. People go there specifically to find out about books. Many times by reference, sometimes by twitter-related exposure. If I come across an author on twitter, I will often seek out their books on goodreads and decide there and then. The occasional reminder on twitter is ok….but I have seen authors repeat the ‘buy my book’ tweet several times a day. This doesn’t lend me any insight into them and is a bit annoying. It’s like an ad all day. Social media is about relationship-building. My favorite author-twitterists amuse me, offer insight, talk about the process, etc. Neil Gaiman is fun to follow and aside from projects talks about music, moving, life with dogs, etc. Leveraging that exposure into selling books is something that can be done, but not in a direct, ad-like way.

    As an example: my twitter account is only a few months old, launched when i started my new photography site and business in the USA after working abroad for some years. My interest in books has lent me to acquire many authors on twitter, and I usually follow back. I have looked at many of the authors’ books on amazon and also on goodreads. One author, whom I’d never heard of before; posts witty, surreal, insightful tweets all day long. I don’t think he’s attempted to sell his books even once a day. I just like him. His books are now on my ‘to read’ list on goodreads, which has a link to amazon when i’m ready to read him. I’m not trying to discourage anyone here, this is just merely my own experience with twitter and book-buying….a straw poll, if you will.

    I worked as an art director for many years…as a team member with marketing departments and project launches in every type of environment. Launching new products is a tricksy business, and I can see where the urge to sell one’s beloved work in a direct way would lead many to treat social media as a free advertising service. It’s not, though. It’s about building relationships. Whether they buy your work has more to do with trust and interest, than either a deal or repetition.

  3. Tony Mc Manus

    I’m just starting out in social media and just feeling my way into Twitter. I find that there is a lot to learn which will no boubt come with experience. I have noticed many authors ending their tweets with a repititious “buy my book” or something similar. And yes, I do find it annoying. So from my point of view, it doesn’t work. If I am put off by it so others will be also. I think the article is sound and on target. Patience is the key. Build a good blog, build relationships, become known and liked and the sales will come. I buy thet.

  4. Phil Williams

    Excellent article, and all very true. I haven’t been doing this for very long (I’ve only just got around to publishing a book), but it strikes me that social media is about building a community rather than directly building sales. Certainly sales may come from a strong community, but that has to happen organically rather than by direct calls to action (and that’s certainly the angle I’ve been taking, both in creative and business writing – to build enough material that people read it and want more, as opposed to building material pushing them towards purchases). Which is a very long term thing.

    What’s been interesting me lately is the proliferation of Twitter users selling Tweet advertising, for $5 or so spreading your message to 250,000 of their followers or what have you. I don’t understand why a single one of those 250,000 followers would see a message relating to a completely out of context product and think it’s a good idea to make a purchase. Especially as those accounts must just churn out unrelated sponsored links. It’ll just be white noise on the twittersphere, which is certainly how it appears to me whenever I see accounts spewing out link after link of ‘Buy this book!’. No one’s going to care unless they’re familiar with you, no matter how many followers you spam.

  5. Lynn

    As an avid reader and Twitter follower of many a writer, I agree. I unfollow those writers who consistently promote their own book, especially when they quote reviews. It’s annoying. I want to know who you are, what you do when not writing, what you read, or just random funny comments. Build a following with interesting tweets/comments, have a dialogue with your followers (i.e., respond). You don’t have to respond to everyone, every time. But show that you are listening and interested in what other people have to say. That makes me interested in you and want to learn more about you and your books.

  6. Kimberly

    This is so true! When I first joined Twitter, I followed author after author, hoping to build rapport with other people walking in my shoes…but so many of them ONLY post plugs for their books. Now, I follow people–writers or not–who make me laugh and interact with me in a personal way. That makes my experience so much better and makes me more likely to buy their work.

  7. Darlene Jones

    Derek, I certainly don’t have as much experience as you when it comes to marketing my books, but so far my path mirrors yours in that I don’t find the “buy my book” approach viable. I’m trying to build my reputation in other ways – blogging for one and participating in Linkedin and Goodreads discussions.
    Hopefully this will lead to sales down the road.
    Darlene

  8. Melissa Kinnel

    I feel like I become desensitized when I find an author’s entire Twitter timeline filled with self-promotion. It’s like they’re a robot. I rather find out about the person behind the book(s). Tweeting AT people gets you nowhere. There has to be some socializing in there somewhere; hence, why it’s called social networking.

  9. Diane J. Reed

    This is a really helpful article on the value of social media for any kind of promotion, and I appreciate the author’s honesty about what works and what doesn’t. Also the sage advice of having a little patience is always wise. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Ty Patterson

    As a new author, self published on Amazon, using social media is a learning curve, a journey, that everyone goes through. it can be shortened by learning from other peoples’ experiences, but the learning curve remains more or less the same

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