Social media is everywhere; on our phones, on our computers and even in a follow request at the back of our new favourite book next to that witty little author’s bio. But why? Why has social media become such a necessity to the literary world that now even publishers recommend a high social media following? And how do you tap into the wealth of opportunity it provides?
There are countless reasons why social media is beneficial to any industry, but for now I’ll focus on those for all the writers out there.
The social media telephone
In the age of “Fan-Girls” and “Fandoms” fan bases are bigger than ever, this being no exception in the literary world. Novels are so entirely in one’s own head, that it’s hard not to create a personal, possessive bond to the books, characters and even the author. J. D Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye said “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”
And that’s where social media steps in. Platforms such as Twitter act like said phone and allow you and your fans a direct line to one another.
Solidify and build your fan-base.
Being able to chat to someone you hero-worship or respect is amazing. It makes your readers feel acknowledged, special and valued. And so they should! It’s because of them you are who you are and you do what you do. Answering questions on what your character’s favourite colour is, where the inspiration came from for your newest novel, or even sharing fan-art, could solidify a fans status into super-fan.
This loyalty and commitment is invaluable – especially when your new book comes out. The bond and loyalty that can be created through social media may be the difference of “Well, I’m not sure on the blurb…” to “Of course I’m going to buy it! They’re my favourite author!” Prolific, best-selling fantasy author Neil Gaiman is an excellent example of this; take one look at Gaiman’s feed and nearly every post is in response to a fan, (one of his 2.43M), with a sprinkle of self-promotion in-between.
Still need proof that this dialogue and social media can serve to actually grow your fanbase? A number of questions for Gaiman happen to be “as a newcomer to your books, which ones would you recommend?” A clear indication that Gaiman’s social media presence alone is helping to build his considerable fan-base.
Book launches and making your fans feel special
Social Media is the ultimate space for promoting book launches or drumming up excitement pre-launch. In July 2011 Young adult, bestselling author John Green’s novel ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ hit the #1 bestseller spot – before it was even published. So how on earth did an unpublished book with no front cover fly to the number one spot?
Green – who at present has 5.14M followers on Twitter, Nearly 3M on Youtube and a strong Tumblr account – is no stranger to Social Media and he knows exactly how to use it. On a magical Tuesday in 2011 Green posted the title of the not-yet-finished book on both Tumblr and Twitter. A short while later he tweeted he would sign all pre-ordered copies, and to close up he read out a short passage of the novel on his Youtube channel. By 9pm that evening ‘The Fault in Our Stars” hit #1 on Amazon.
No gimmicks, no big bucks, no publishers; just the exceptional utilisation of a loyal fan base.
Now though this formula will not work for everyone, it does give a good indication as to what tricks and social skill authors can utilise. John Green spent a lot of time building his marketing platform, growing his followers and fans before he even began the process of a book launch. This is a necessity; a high social media following establishes your credibility as an author whilst building your brand. However social media followings don’t grow over night. Start as early as possible, before you have even started your book – and then when the time comes your audience is ready and waiting.
Sneak peeks and excerpts
Platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr are excellent for sharing sneak peek excerpts just as Green did, as well as offering little nuggets of updates to keep fans excited and eager for your next book. Turn every step in your publishing process into one your followers can be excited about.
New book cover? Encourage fan drawings or guesses as to what it will be, begin a count down until the cover is revealed. Sequel? Share an extract between two favourite characters or potential lovebirds your fans and followers are “shipping” from the first book.
Build your audience, drum up the excitement, and ensure a kernel is always fizzing to keep them desperate for more.
Inspiration and visualisation
Never underestimate the value of an image. Chances are your readers are fascinated by the inside of your head, where your characters came from, who they look like, what inspires you and endless questions. Pinterest is not only incredibly valuable to your creative writing process in order to find inspiration, but it allows you to share that inspiration with your readers.
Don’t overdo it
Remember who you are, and what your brand is. Authenticity is one of the most essential aspects of social media, especially as an author where you are effectively selling yourself, or at the very least your imagination. Don’t confuse readers by posting about things that are irrelevant to you and your brand. Readers are following you because they love the way you write and the way you think, social media is an extension of this; be you.
Pick the right platforms
Young adult author – Social Media is definitely for you, your main fan-base is from the millennial era, raised on a host of technology. Twitter and Tumblr are young, vibrant, and allow for easy two way conversations and sharing.
Specialist “How to Garden in Pembrokeshire” Author – Tumblr, most likely, is not going to be your friend. Find relevant forums, discover where your main target audience is and focus your effort on these platforms. Pinterest is visual and perfect for all ages.
Finally, don’t overdo the book promo. Yes, this may be your number one reason for having social media, but be smart. Unless it’s a book launch, less than 10 percent of your social-media posts should promote your book. Earn the right to ask for new readers by providing excellent content and conversation.
Writing comes first.
First and foremost, you are a writer. Writing should always come first. Writing, deadlines, press releases, book tours, blog posts, social media… all of this is stressful and time consuming, and when it comes to the hierarchy of importance; writing wins. Every. Time. Even so, it doesn’t mean you can’t maintain a social presence.
If you ever find yourself in this position don’t be afraid to give yourself a break and share fellow authors’ work, share articles, share fan comments, curate wonderful content that requires no more than a quick google search and keep the creative juices for your book.
Don’t Expect Sales
It’s not impossible to utilise social for sales, (John Green is irrefutable proof of this) but when it comes to publishing and social media, sales take the back burner.
Social media in the literary world is a community. Through social media you can acquire invaluable feedback from your readers, some well-deserved praise, meet other like-minded people who could potentially be interested in your book, and even strike up conversations with bloggers creating the opportunity for some excellent book reviews.
But best of all it allows you to interact with your readers, and share your world just a little bit more.
Always remember that what works for other people may not work for you. Research your genre, know your brand and find a formula that fits.
By business development manager – Laurie Fuller