Whether you’re an author, artist, comic book writer, or game designer, social media can be a valuable tool. But a tool for what? Using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram “effectively” as an author is one of the things I’m asked about most in my freelance publicity work, and the answer can be deceptively simple, but it’s not what many creators want to hear.
So often, creators want a magic bullet to sell books. A lot think social media is that magic bullet, and when it doesn’t work for them, they lament that they are doing something wrong, or that it’s Facebook’s fault, or that something is broken. And as a creator myself, I completely get the frustration. But the thing is, sometimes things don’t work because you just aren’t using them right. You CAN use a screw driver to drive in a nail. I’ve done it. Smash the butt end against the nail enough and it will eventually go in. But not in the best way. Not the fastest way. Using the proper tools for the job can save a lot of energy and time, and using the tools themselves properly does the same.
You know how Petyr Baelish goes on in Game of Thrones that “chaos is a ladder?” Well, the same is kind of true for marketing. You create one form of content, and if someone is interested in that content, they become curious about your other content. They will climb to another level to explore that content. But first, they have to be enticed to look at that first content to begin with. And this is where a lot of authors go wrong with social media.
See, a lot of authors think of social media as a publicity tool. But here’s the thing. Even though some PARTS of social media can be used for publicity, on the whole, social media is a marketing tool. What’s the difference? Well, marketing is the content you create, basically (simplified). You want people to pay you? Your marketing gives people a reason to pay you. It’s what people are paying you FOR—your value. According to the American Marketing Association, their official definition of marketing is “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” So…what does this boil down to? Marketing is offering clients/customers something they find valuable so they hang around, and even eventually pay you for it. How is social media a marketing tool? Well, you create content on social media. Those are your posts. Your images. The links you share. People look at those posts and say, “oh, I’m not interested in that,” and leave. Or they say, “Cool!” and follow you.
So what’s publicity, then?
Publicity is the act of making people AWARE that the content exists. And social media provides opportunities for that, as well. When other people share your posts with their friends? That’s publicity for you. When you take out an ad, that’s publicity for you, to get more likes on your page, or get people to see your book.
If I were to share a link to Charlaine Harris’s new series on my Facebook page, that is marketing on my side. I’m providing some content for my followers that they will hopefully find interesting, and because it’s about books, it’s part of my brand. But at the same time, my sharing that post is publicity for Charlaine Harris, because it is making others aware of her content.
Now…let’s look at how some authors use social media.
“I have a new book out! Click here to learn more!” “My newest book is out! It’s about werewolves and sharks and brontosauruses in space!” “Don’t forget, my new book is coming out!” “Like Anton Strout’s urban fantasy? Then you’ll LOVE mine! Check out my book on Amazon.”
Going back to our knowledge that social media is a mostly a marketing—not publicity—tool, when you look at posts like that, what is the person who is posting that branding themselves as? Remember, branding is like writing: show don’t tell. You can have a brand statement, and scream it from the rooftops, but unless you ARE that brand, unless OTHER PEOPLE see you as that brand, it means nothing. I could say “I’m a monkey astronaut!” as my brand statement, but my followers still know I’m a just a book nerd who plays games. Because that’s how the content I provide portrays me. So what do those above posts say about the person posting them?
They are a pimp.
There’s no content there that makes me believe this person is an author I want to read books from. How do I know I like her stuff? That last one was the closest thing to being somewhat intriguing, but even so…pfft. People are blind to stuff like that. They hear people proclaiming to be things all day. They scroll right by it because it’s NOT CONTENT THEY ARE INTERESTED IN.
If you are a fantasy author, you KNOW your readers want to be whisked away to a magical place.
“I went for a hike this weekend and saw this awesome tree. It looks like a gateway to fairyland or something.” “My cat is staring at ghosts again.” “I love researching stuff for my books. This weekend I got to wield a real battle axe. Those things are way heavier than you’d think! Kind of makes you appreciate Gimli in a whole new way.”
When you are so focused on book sales, posts like that might seem silly. After all, selling your books is how you want to make a living! But in reality, posts like those are what draw people—and keep them following—your page. What you are saying is interesting to them. Then after a while, they will learn that you have books out there. If they like what you say on social media, then they might check out your books, too. After all, you wrote them!
Social media was created so that people can be social with one another. MOST people (not just authors, but everyone) use social media to talk to their friends, to tell folks what they are up to, to share stuff. When you, as an author, use social media, think of how everyone else uses it—how it’s MEANT to be used, and in doing so, you’ll be using it in the most effective way. Social media is meant to cultivate engagement between people. One way to tell if you are actually doing this or not is to think about what feelings you have and what you want others to feel when you make your post. Not actions—FEELINGS. If you want someone to click a link—no, that’s not the most effective use of social media. If you want someone to feel excitement, that is. If you feel excited, that is. There is a huge difference between posting, “Here’s the cover to my new book, coming May 23,” and “Wow, I just got a look at my cover, and I couldn’t wait to show you guys. Look at Johann. He looks EXACTLY how I pictured him when I wrote his story. See that sword? Wait till you guys find out where he gets that from. I LOVED writing this book, and I really can’t wait for you to read it. What do you guys think of the cover?” There’s a big difference between sharing a link for a blog post: “Check out my latest article on O&FP, about social media for authors!” and “So many authors have come to me really frustrated because they aren’t getting the results they want from social media. I gave the subject some thought, because I know how hard these people work and I know there are definitely ways they can use it more efficiently. I ended up writing an article on the subject! Let me know what you think. Did I cover all the bases?” The first example is pointing at something. The second is showing people why they should go there by providing a little actual content.
Appeal to the heart, with sincerity. Post about things you are interested in, that move you. Even if it’s not what your book is about, don’t be one note. Post about your food, post your pets. Comment on other people’s posts. ENGAGE. Once people experience you being social, they get to know you. Once they get to know you, and you mention you have a book you’re working on, they will take the first step. “What’s your book?” Then you can make a new post, “A lot of people have been asking me what I’ve been working on: It’s a superhero novel with a twist. I got the idea when I was watching some construction workers one day, and thinking to myself, we’ve seen tons of nerdy skinny guys become superheroes with the opposite attributes. What about a big burly guy? And what would that change do for his perspective on the world? Can “weakness” be some sort of power on it’s own?” Talk about your work and what gets you excited about it. Your enthusiasm will be contagious. THAT is what will get your followers engaged, and what will make them more likely to search for your book on their own. You can’t make people click on a link, but you can entice them by making it irresistible because you’ve elicited an emotional response from them in some way. You’ve gotten them excited. Once they love you on one rung of that marketing ladder, they are more likely to follow you up to the next rung.
One note about content on social media. There are some folks who will say to avoid controversy, or to only post positive things, or to avoid politics. What should you do? Give it some thought. My opinion is that this is something that only YOU can decide. People don’t like a fake. And like it or not, who you are, you’re life view, bleeds into your fiction. You might as well be true to it on social media as well. But make it a conscious decision, so that you are prepared for any consequences.
Can you post links on social media? Sure you can. But make sure it’s only a small piece of the puzzle. Want book publicity? Take out an ad or encourage folks to share your posts that have actual content in them that represent you and your work. You can’t MAKE people publicize your work, but you can ENTICE them to do so by creating content that both you and they love. By engaging with them. By just being yourself, rather than a pimp.
Unless, you know, you ARE a pimp. Then...carry on!
Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy stories where heroes don't always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. Her fiction has most recently appeared in the anthologies Champions of Aetaltis and Kaiju Rising II: Reign of Monsters. Melanie is the co-director of the Gen Con Writer's Symposium and the publisher at Outland Entertainment. She's the co-editor of the anthology MECH: Age of Steel and editor of Hath No Fury, and she is a blogger and general b*tch monkey at The Once and Future Podcast.