How Successful Authors Use Social Media to Sell More Books

How Successful Authors Use Social Media to Sell More Books

This column is excerpted from Guide to Literary Agents, from Writer’s Digest Books.

GIVEAWAY: Chuck is giving away a copy of his book, Create Your Writer Platform, to a random commenter. Comment within one week to enter! (Must live in US or Canada to win.) (UPDATE: Marjorie won!)

Increasing your author visibility through different online channels allows you to meet readers, cultivate an audience, and increase your discoverability to sell more books. But finding your ideal social media channels is not the easiest thing to figure out and implement.

That’s why I’ve reached out to some experts for advice. I asked six different platform-heavy writers — three nonfiction, three fiction — for their best general advice in terms of using social media. Here’s what they had to say:

Do you have any general advice for writers looking to market themselves and their work via social media, promotion and platform?

Mignon Fogarty: Creator of Grammar Girl@GrammarGirl

“I think you really have to enjoy interacting on social networks or you won’t do it well or stay with it. You can’t force yourself to do it; you have to find the things you like and do those even if they aren’t the most popular. For one person it might be Twitter, for another LinkedIn, for another YouTube, for another podcasting, and another blogging.

Also, I think some authors are too afraid to ask people to buy their book. I spend hours (and hours and hours) of my time answering people’s questions without compensation, so when I have a new book out, I don’t hesitate to post about it. I believe I’ve earned the right to market my products.

On the other extreme, I see a lot of authors jump into Twitter and immediately start doing nothing but push their book. They haven’t earned the right to market their products, and all they do is turn people off.”

Mary Kole: Former literary agent and author of Writing Irresistible Kidlit@kid_lit

“I have gotten flack for saying this before, but I am sticking to my guns: do it well or don’t do it at all. There are billions of blogs and websites out there. On the Internet, if you build it, they will not automatically come. You have to give people a good reason to spend their precious time on your real estate.

Don’t blog or tweet or Facebook because you think you have to. Your reluctance will ooze from the screen. Don’t engage if you can’t keep it consistent, both in terms of timing and in terms of quality.

Figure out what you’re best at, then do that well and forget the other stuff. You should have some online presence, but you don’t have to jump into everything all at once, especially if you’re going to do it badly or irregularly.” (Like this idea? Click to tweet it).

Dr. Lissa Rankin: Author of Mind Over Medicine@Lissarankin

“Stay true to your integrity. I can’t tell you how many times I have said no, even though it sounded like such a good platform-building opportunity.

Listen to your gut (which I call your “inner pilot light” — that wise part of you that really knows what’s best for you, your body, your relationships, and your business). Don’t let fear rule the show.

In the beginning, I said yes to everything because I was afraid I’d miss an opportunity, and I wound up quickly burned out, depleted. But you can’t lead or heal from a place of depletion. You must heal yourself first in order to change the world. That’s the one lesson I’d share with aspiring authors/visionaries/healers.

Don’t let platform building spiral you downwards. Fill yourself first. Learn to say no. Create healthy boundaries. Raise your vibration. Attract others who share this vibration. Avoid the temptation to get sucked into doing everything for everybody. You are enough doing exactly what you’re doing. Resist the urge to continually do more.

Billy Coffey: Author of Snow Day, @billycoffey

“Whether fair or not, getting your good story into the hands of the public now depends in large part upon your reach, and your reach depends in large part upon your savvy with blogs and social media. That can be a scary thing.

Writers are notoriously withdrawn and even shy. The idea of having to ‘put yourself out there’ can be tantamount to having to tap dance in front of a firing squad. But it can be done. I promise that, and I offer myself as proof.”

Amy Julia Becker: Author of A Good and Perfect Gift@amyjuliabecker

“My biggest warning is that you can’t do it all. I’ve tried to approach platform building like organic farming. I’m cultivating what grows (my audience, hopefully), but I’m trying to do so without gimmicks and with integrity and respect for the writing itself. I hope that this is a sustainable method that will also bear fruit, so to speak, with a faithful and steadily, if slowly, growing audience.

I think a lot about limitations and possibilities. If I limit my time platform building, I open up time for family or exercise or working on a larger project. If I focus on the possibilities of platform building, I limit my time for those other things. I try to keep it all in balance rather than thinking that I can, or should, do it all.

Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a freelance editor. If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my editing services. Thanks!

If you could go back in time and do it all over again, what would you tell your younger self in terms of platform?

Mignon Fogarty: Creator of Grammar Girl@GrammarGirl

“I knocked myself out for a year doing my email newsletter every day and for one quarter doing my podcast twice a week — and in retrospect, I don’t think it was worth the effort. Weekly is enough. The benefit from publishing daily and podcasting twice a week was minimal.”

Mary Kole: Former literary agent and author of Writing Irresistible Kidlit@kid_lit

“This may sound like bad advice but: Blog less! I was killing myself trying to blog three times a week at Kidlit, then I added two extra blogs and tried doing those twice a week, too.

The result? I’d travel or freak out and let the blogs go to seed for a while, and that was altogether worse than blogging less frequently because dead blogs and silence are the ultimate online networking sins.

It’s very possible to have a platform with the ‘less is more’ philosophy, as long as you focus on the absolute quality of your efforts.

Gina Holmes: Author of Crossing Oceans and Dry as Rain

“I would tell myself that helping others succeed would translate into the biggest personal success. I would tell myself to go ahead and build my wings on the way down, and not to stress over every little number, setback, or failure.”

Dr. Lissa Rankin: Author of Mind Over Medicine@Lissarankin

“Oh, if only someone had told me to put a free opt-in in the upper right corner of OwningPink.com three years ago! After two years of great traffic, we had only 1,200 people on our newsletter list. (The sign-up was buried way down on the page and there was no free gift to entice people to fill it out.)

The minute someone told me to offer a free gift, we got 5,000 new sign-ups in a month! Free teleseminars and telesummits (I’m about to do my first) are another great way to grow your newsletter list quickly.”

Billy Coffey: Author of Snow Day, @billycoffey

“I would have definitely started building my platform earlier. My younger self was stubborn and ignorant. I was one of those people who thought I could buck the system. And yet everything I’ve been able to achieve to this point is the direct result of finally understanding the importance of platform.

Amy Julia Becker: Author of A Good and Perfect Gift@amyjuliabecker

“My greatest success has been my blog. I’ve wasted time speaking without pay, especially when there is travel involved. I’ve also wasted time (and money) creating a website. Don’t get me wrong, I needed a website, but I should have been far more realistic about how much time it would take and what that time is worth.

In addition, I would have begun blogging and writing short essays from the start. Not only would I have gained readers (and perhaps a book contract) much earlier, but I also would have benefitted as a writer from blogging.

Blogging has improved the quality of my writing, and it also gives me a place to try out ideas. Most days, I write something, and two or three people comment on it and a few dozen share it through social media. But every so often, I write something and it provokes dozens of comments and hundreds of shares. I pay attention to that type of reaction because it means I should possibly write more about the same topic.”

Special thanks to those writers who chimed in with answers.

Don’t forget to comment to be in the running for Chuck’s book giveaway! You could win a free copy of his latest book, Create Your Writer Platform. (UPDATE: Marjorie won!)

Other TWL Guest Posts by Chuck Sambuchino:

  1. The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

  2. When Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

  3. Querying Literary Agents: Your Top 9 Questions Answered

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

Filed Under: Marketing
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148 comments

  • Thanks so much for this helpful post! Social media and platform-building have often seemed overwhelming to me, but I’m starting to get the hang of it…These writers’ comments were helpful.

  • Debra Eve says:

    Glad to see nonfiction writers represented here, Chuck. Dr. Rankin’s advice particularly spoke to me, “You are enough…” It’s so hard not to compare and especially silly considering that much of social media is a Ponzi scheme (sorta) — the earliest ones in get the most ROI. I’ve found time and perseverance to be the biggest allies of social media marketing.

  • What a wonderful collection of ideas, folks. Finding our audience in the sea of possibilities can be a daunting task, but when our gladness meets the world’s need (who said that…?) connecting with people is a good thing.
    Thanks, authors, for your insight and thanks to Chuck for this roundup of social media experience.

  • I appreciate these comment from authors. It is so easy to have your head spin with all the platform building choices. Nice to hear from the voice of experience. Thanks!

  • sabrina says:

    I agree with one of the advisers who stated writers are introverted, almost innately. We just want for people to have an experience in our world, and if it were not for the economy, and some of us making a genuine living, i highly doubt we’d charge a penny. We write for the love of words, and the artistry in it! So, yes… i desperately understand that i am within the quandary of building a writer’s platform.

  • Peggy Frezon says:

    Great post! It takes so much time networking and marketing my books on social media, and that’s the big problem. Sometimes I feel like I’m not even brushing the surface of all I could–and should–do. But then, if I spent any more time on social media, when would I write?

  • “Stay true to your integrity.” I agree so profoundly with this. What are the themes of your novel? Within the themes, you will find your deepest beliefs as an author. Blog about those themes and you will be aligned fully in your integrity. And I believe you will organically draw to you not just those who also hold your beliefs, but because themes are universal truths, you’ll draw a large crowd of followers.

    Don’t lecture. Don’t tell people how they should change their lives lest you put them off. Just pose the questions. Just pose ideas and concepts, and let your readers think for themselves. This is true for novels, blogs and for life. BTW, I’m a writing coach.

    • Ellen H. says:

      Great advice! I find myself telling people what they should do instead of letting them decide what they think. No wonder they lose interest.

  • Jen McConnel says:

    Great post! I love hearing the diversity of experiences.

  • R Lee Barrett says:

    It is a real challenge to use social networking to raise awareness about a book and make it seem natural. My FaceBook page is replete with drag racing, cigars and Bruce Machart. If I am trying to peddle a fee more copies of Barge Pilot, it often feels forced or desperate.

  • Sabrina says:

    I’m so excited about this book!

  • Deborah says:

    Great advice – now I need a column on getting an agent!

  • Andrea Zander says:

    Interesting advice–still not always sure what I would blog about while writing fiction: “today I wrote”? But good advice nonetheless. Thanks.

  • Stella Rawlings says:

    Great advice – thanks!

  • Suzanne Pick says:

    Great topic. I’m in the process of getting my author web page set up.

  • Diane Riggins says:

    Great post! Loved the advice that was given!

  • Barb says:

    Great post! Lots of good advice and food for thought. Although everyone’s experience is different, learning what others have learned the hard way is always an advantage. I particularly liked Amy Julia Becker’s comment that blogging improved the quality of her writing and gave her a place to try out new ideas.

  • Heather says:

    I have the most trouble sticking with a new media. Once I learn how it works, I seem to lose my motivation.

  • Nikki Archambault says:

    I am curious as to how much of my novel to post about on Facebook. I mean I wouldn’t want someone to take my concept because I revealed too much of the plot synopsis on social media. Any thoughts?

  • Victoria says:

    I’m a highschool student hoping to self publish this year, and this post really helped! Thank you very much for posting!

  • Janna says:

    I’m trying to get my first book published and would love to learn more information about how to use social media to promote myself.

  • Melissa says:

    Very interesting advice, especially those who said to stick to your passions & not try to do everything. 🙂

  • Nancy Keaton says:

    I often tell myself I need to be doing more, more, more. So it relieves me to see these writers saying to know your boundaries and more isn’t always better.

  • Franziska says:

    Sounds like a super helpful book! Exciting!

  • Daisy says:

    Great article! Thank you for sharing this information. Very helpful!

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