The Author’s Guide to Social Media: Using Twitter to market the books you wrote.

24 February 2012 by 26 Comments

I got a tweet yesterday on my private account–not that it’s protected or anything, but I just mean, on my non-book account–from an author imploring me to check out his work online. I had never encountered this author before, and I really had no bloody idea why on earth I should want to check out his “fiction” in a magazine–no, I mean really, I had no idea why he had approached me or what about me made him think I might connect to his work. A quick glance at his Twitter told me that he didn’t really know why I would like it, either–most of his tweets had the same indiscriminate message blasted at a number of targets: Check out my work “X” at website Y!

Being the sweet, caring, and politic person that I am, I told him he was doing it wrong.

To my surprise, he answered back. “Please enlighten, I am too new to Twitter.” How to encapsulate it in 140 characters? I promised him I’d write a blog about it, so here I am, writing a post about it. He’s not the only person who can benefit from this information, really–I get and see a lot of ill-advised tweeting from people who think it will help boost their sales, but don’t understand that Twitter is not an advertising forum.

If you’re an author who has heard that social media is the way to get readers, but you don’t know how to do it or it hasn’t been working for you, fear not–I’m here to help. This post is specifically about Twitter, but the basic concepts can be used for any social media.

Problem: You post lots of information about your writing, but not very many people are following you or visiting the links that you post up.

Would you watch a television channel that was all commercials, or peruse a website that was all ads? Unless the channel or site was dedicated to exceptional examples of advertising, I’m guessing that you would not. Building your Twitter account with the primary aim of using it to directly market your books–such as by Tweeting random people “Hey you should read my book” or only posting about events related to selling your book–means that you’re basically creating a “channel” that is wall-to-wall advertising. The people that you do manage to get to follow you will probably mentally block your feed within a week.

Solution: Spend the majority of your time on social media building genuine relationships and putting out desirable content.

Social media is called that for a reason–be social! Talk to people. Make friends, remembering that the person who goes on incessantly about their own projects comes off being a tiny bit self-absorbed. Instead, ask people about their projects. Form collaborations, or guest post on blogs. Put yourself out there, and be generous and genuine. Or, barring that, be wickedly funny. People on the internet love the lulz. You get followers because there’s something in it for them to follow you.

Not talking about your projects may seem counter-intuitive, but remember what I said about the all-advertising channel. People will turn it off. You can talk a little bit about your projects, but know when ease back. Good things to post are (brief) information regarding events, upcoming publications or appearances–”news,” in other words, especially items that would be helpful to other people. I personally find you can get away with repeating “news” once or twice if you space it out, but too much repetition causes that mental off-switch that you want to avoid. (People on Twitter can be a little tetchy, too. The etiquette rules are quite complex and can be difficult to grasp before you have been there for some time. Playing it safe is better at first.)

Problem: You put out awesome content, and you have a decent amount of followers, but people are still not reading your books.

So, you’ve done step one–you have developed into an awesome tweeter, people are willingly following you–you might even have more followers than you are following at this point, and it’s kind of a big deal when you cross that threshold for the first time. But your sales are still pretty abysmal. What gives?

Solutions: Various potential solutions.

One problem is that you might not be connecting with the right audience. People on Twitter tend to run in circles a lot of the time; I myself have two different accounts, and my follower bases couldn’t be more different, save a few core people that follow both. A very few. My @thebooksluts account has–you guessed it–a lot of readers, writers, and a few publishers that I interact with regularly. My personal account has far more political followers, along with people who are local to where I live, and some people who cook, because I connect with people very differently on that account than I do on my booksluts Twitter. If you write crime thrillers but, because you play video games, have a lot of RPG aficionados as Twitter friends, they’re probably less likely to read your books. Not that you should dump your gamer friends, but consider widening your audience to connect with bookish types who like crime thrillers.

If you have acquired a few trusted confidants, try DMing them and asking if there’s something you’re doing wrong or that you could be doing better. Don’t come off needy or whiny, just that you’re looking for tips to improve communication without being spammy. I find that doing this privately is the best route, as any other conversations are very public, even if they don’t “feel” public. Your friends might be able to give you some great insight.

Make sure, too, that all of your social media is working together. If you’re linking people from Twitter to, say, a blog, and the blog is turning people off for some reason, or your website or what have you, it might not be because of your tweets at all.

Problem: I found someone on Twitter who has a book blog or a website and I want them to feature my book, but after I tweeted them a link, they basically told me to piss off or they ignored me. What did I do wrong?

Starting a conversation with a link to your work is like asking someone out on a date while showing them your genitals. A little romance first would be nice! And really, if you’re trying to (ahem) expose yourself to people who will read your book, this is the way to go, rather than approaching random people on social media. Why? Because book bloggers and websites that feature reviews have fans who want book recommendations. You want people to read your book, and the blog audience wants suggestions on awesome new books to read, so it’s really a match made in heaven if you can get the reviewer on board.

Solution: Romance us, dammit!

First, read the blog or website that you want to be on, or think that you want to be on. You might find out that you actually do not want to be on the site–maybe you write books that the reviewer doesn’t tend to enjoy and he or she would give you a bad review, or maybe the blog audience isn’t your audience.

See if there is a protocol for pitching a book to the person for a review or a feature. Many book bloggers have this on their site. If they have this, then you just follow the protocol. Following the protocol scores MAJOR POINTS because a lot of people? do not follow protocols. A lot of people do not bother to read things that have been posted up, or seem to think that those posts do not apply to them, or something. It makes us predisposed to warm fuzzy feelings when instructions are followed.

If there’s nothing like that on their website, and you have ascertained that your book goes with their audience and their tastes, start by saying something like this: “Hey! I was reading your site and I loved it. I especially liked review of X. I wrote a book that is quite similar to X, do you accept books to review?” Approaching the person like a human being and letting them know that you actually have read their blog will get you in quicker than indiscriminate tweeting; asking if they accept books rather than “will you accept my book” is smart, too, because it’s less pressure for them. If I feel like I’m being pressured, I almost always say no.

Tip: Don’t try to be tricky and sneak your book into conversations that are not about your book. Seriously. Even if you try to make it seem funny, it’s not funny because we know what you’re doing, and it makes us feel like pieces of meat that you look at with dollar signs in your eyes. “Got a vacation coming up, huh? Does that mean you’ll finally have time to read my book?! Eh?! I’m just kidding, we kid, oh this is so funny–but no, seriously, are you ever going to read my book?” Yeah. Don’t do this.

Remember, above all: social media =/= social marketing.

Nobody goes to social media because they desire marketing. Even super famous people with a zillion followers don’t spend all their time sitting around saying “buy my book/watch my show/etc!” They wouldn’t have a zillion followers if they did that. The point of Twitter, if you’re using it to connect with your current or potential future fanbase, is that just being on Twitter and doing a good job at Twitter reminds them that you are there. It’s exposure. And sure, when your newest book gets published, you’ll want to tweet about it–”So happy! My new book finally hit the presses today!”–but the way you would share it with friends, not consumer sheep.

How ’bout you guys? What turns you off when it comes to Twitter marketing? Have you found any tactics to be successful? Tell us in the comments!


Susie is the Bitch-in-Chief at IB and is also a contributor at Food Riot. She's an ice cream connoisseur, an art fanatic, a cat-mommy of three, and a wife. She runs the @thebooksluts Twitter account and may be slightly addicted.

26 thoughts on “The Author’s Guide to Social Media: Using Twitter to market the books you wrote.

  1. Yeah, sometimes I think I’m too nice. I don’t feel I should spam twitter with stuff about my books. I get enough spam about other people’s books, but it’s not me, so I don’t do it. Of course, then I wonder whether these guys are more successful. I mean, I hate pushy marketing. I don’t watch over-hyped movies (still haven’t seen Avatar). And I would dream of asking you guys to review my stuff because it’s urban fantasy, not your scene, so to speek. (Which doesn’t stop me subscribing to your blog. It’s a great blog.) So, I can hope some people read this and stop spamming Twitter. Really. Please.

    • I’m glad you like our blog :D we still totally dig you even though urban fantasy is not really our scene.

      You’re definitely not too nice if you are not spamming! People are VERY sensitive to being marketed to on social media. You’re smart not to fall into the trap!

  2. This post is right on the money. In the last year, I have only bought books from people I follow on Twitter. They mentioned their book without being overbearing. And they were interesting and entertaining about a wide variety of subjects.

  3. I have to admit – I am followed by quite a few authors. Some are big names, some are up and coming, some I have never heard of. I’m not quite sure how I got myself into this position, but okay. I love books, and I read when I can, so fine. I will follow most authors back IF I see that their feed is not all “READ MY BOOK” constantly. And there have been a few of those that I followed before I implemented this process that were the WORST offenders. And I did exactly as you said – I mentally blocked their feed. And before long, I just stopped following them. I’m on Twitter to connect with people – famous, not famous – it doesn’t matter. But if you spend your entire feed trying to sell me something or spamming short URLs with no description or only retweeting other people, I will drop your ass like the proverbial hot potato.

    I love to read. But I have a limited amount of time to do it in, and right now, I don’t get paid to write reviews, so I will decide what I read and when. You can either get to know me and let me get to know you or go away.

  4. Could not agree more.

    There’s a guy who sent me a DM soon after I started following him, which asked me to RT something about his book.

    Have looked at his tweets, and they’re 90% about him hawking his book. Even if the book is good, I want nothing to do with this guy.

    I’m not even a book reviewing site.

    The social part of social media is the part these people just won’t ever get.

    • AAAGGGHH I hate when people ask for RTs. I’m like.. No? If I wanted to RT you I would do it because I wanted my followers to see the content, not because you asked me to do so. Unless it’s like for charity or something, then I would RT it.

      • YES PRECISELY. Thank you!

        It is one of my biggest twitter personal peeve. Even if that particular tweet is extremely interesting, I wouldn’t RT simply because it ends with a “… RT pls? :)” As if a “:)” will disguise you blatantly pimping out your tweet. >:(

  5. This is one of the most helpful blogs I’ve read. Being new to social media–or at least new to it in the sense of marketing–I so much appreciate nuts and bolts articles like this.

    • You’re welcome! I may do a short series on this topic, going over some various internet sites that authors would use to get the word out about their books (Shelfari/Goodreads, personal websites, blogs). Stay tuned! :)

  6. Great advice here for Twitter newbies. Social Media can be extremely daunting for the unaccustomed. I think it’s great that you took the time to spell it all out… I also think it’s great that this guy was open to asking for help. By doing more of this, we’re helping cut back on the spam/advertising too!

    • I just wish he hadn’t deleted his tweets to me–because I wrote this post but now I don’t know if I want to send it along! I might embarrass him or something.

      I also think there are a lot of sites out there giving BAD social media advice, so, I’m trying to help do my part to counteract the misinformation :D

  7. Thanks for these tips. I’ve been twittering for about two weeks, and it does seem at the moment like a lot of people shoutig into a darkened room, hoping someone is listening!
    Really helpful advice – thanks for helping make some sense of it! :)

  8. This is a great post. I’m fairly new to using Twitter, too, and I agree with what you said about spam-blasting people with “ads” all the time. I enjoy just engaging people, but like anyone else, I want to be read. I’d like to find and walk that line of reaching people without it feeling forced or pushy. I’ve learned that when it comes to a potential audience, they like the idea of building a relationship with the writer/tweeter/Facebooker. People don’t seem to mind being touched as much as they mind being shoved or pushed over. I don’t mind the re-tweeting and sharing, either; but like you, I’d rather not be asked to do it. I feel like if it moves me without someone’s pushy nudge, then it may move my friends/followers, and so I’ll share it, anyway. Anyway, thanks, again. Going to share this, now, if I can find the right buttons. :)

  9. I would like to thank you for posting this … the timing couldn’t be better. Like some of the others replying here, I’m new to the online social-networking game. Positive, constructive posts like this are much appreciated. I too am diving into the self-publishing waters and I’m beginning to understand that the social aspect is far more important than “the product.” If spammers would stop and think about it for a second, they’d probably be the first to complain if they were being pitched with every tweet or email. Kudos on some great advice.

  10. This is a great post! Way too many people need to read this!
    I have found that people who advertise their books by saying the first three people to retweet this will get a free ecopy of my book is pretty effective. Giving away free copies HAS to be a good way to get your name out there. Right?

    And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a free copy of a book, how about a short story you wrote? or the first 10 chapters? Just some ideas…

    • I like people who are solutions-minded. Giving away free copies can never hurt if you’re a new author trying to get noticed!

  11. Pingback: The Author’s Guide to Social Media: How to build your media empire and take over the internet. | Insatiable Booksluts

  12. Thank you so much for taking out the time to educate so many new authors about the nee not to be obnoxious. I found it very helpful.

Talk to us!

%d bloggers like this: