Promoting your Book on Facebook and Twitter is a Total Waste of Time

"Facebook author pages (like this one of mine) are a waste of time" Mary W. WaltersWorse, it’s probably turning off many of your on-line friends.

After being told for several years by every guru in the business (most of them styled as “social media experts”) that as a writer I must focus my attention on self-promotion through social media, I now consider myself to have become a social media expert myself — at least when it comes to matters writerly.

And I am telling you that those other social-media experts (and the publishers that parrot them) are full of crap. When it comes to book promotion, your time is far better spent on other kinds of marketing activities, or even in writing your next novel, than it is being anywhere on social media.

For about five years I have read books, blog posts, articles and tweets on the subject of book marketing and networking, and I have Facebooked and Tweeted and LinkedIned until my smile, my whistle and my chains have been rattling and ready to fall off.  I have examined the situation closely, tracking who comes to my web pages and blogs from where, and who buys my books and when – and what happens to the buzz about other people’s books on social media sites.

And here’s the bottom line, my fellow writers: nobody goes on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn (or Tumblr or Reddit or even an Amazon forum) to read about your book or mine. They are especially uninterested in our novels. They might possibly be interested in a non-fiction book if they think that what it contains is going to help them somehow (change a tire or make a million dollars or find inner peace), but the creative stuff . . . ? Forget it.

I have only to look within myself to see what should have been obvious five years ago. I’m a writer and an inveterate reader and I never go on those sites to read about new books – in fact, I try to tune out social media messages that have anything to do with books. Such messages are usually boring, and they make me feel guilty because I know I’m wasting my time there, and that I should be working.

There are good reasons why Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are a waste of time for novelists and other creative writers and if anyone had been using their brains they would have figured them out a long time ago. Here they are:

  • Rarely if ever since Gutenberg has anyone ever wanted to read a book because the author said he or she should read it.  (Most of us have also never been interested in reading a book just because the publisher told us to read it.) Social media do not alter that reality at all. What readers want to read are books that other people – independent people, whom we respect – tell us we’ll enjoy, not what the books’ authors insist we will enjoy;
  • Most book-reading folk (i.e., intelligent people) aren’t interested in advertising and promotional copy, or in watching writers pat themselves on the backs for winning awards or getting great reviews. They are interested in discussions and opinions about books. They are interested in two-way exchanges about literary matters – not in one-way communications.

Any Facebook group that is related to writing is as much of a waste of time when it comes to book promotion as is the rest of the site. Most writers don’t buy books from other writers, and those groups are choirs, to which we, their members, sing. Furthermore, Facebook “Pages” devoted to fiction writers don’t seem to do much good. (On a related note of abject honesty: if you are a writer with a blog about your writing, I am probably never ever going to read it. I barely read my own.)

So if you’re not appealing to me, and I’m not appealing to you (in a way that puts me in mind to buy your book, I mean: you do, of course, appeal to me in every other way), and both of us are writers and readers, what the hell are we doing on Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter?

Well, we are not working on “self-promotion” as we like to think we are, and as our publishers tell us we are (they really believe it’s true. That’s how much most publishers know about book promotion).  What we are doing over there is wasting time – just like everyone else. I like to think of Facebook as the equivalent of the office water cooler, since writing and editing are such solitary activities, and so in a way my visiting there is healthy. I am not arguing with the “social” aspect of social media. In fact, I love it. Too much, most days. :)

Also, in my opinion (which is rarely humble, as regular readers will know), if all we are doing on Facebook is  self-promoting — which is what quite a few writers do – and we are never interesting or funny, we are not only not attracting readers, we are turning them away. I have hidden the posts of several widely published, bigshot authors who are my Facebook “friends” from my F/B news feed because I can’t stand listening to their self-congratulation any more. (As they may well have done with mine!)

And as far as Twitter and LinkedIn? The utter lack of interest in novels or writing-related posts on those sites is deafening. In reality, social-media interest in novelists is restricted to only the really major players. The Rowlings, Gaimans, Atwoods and Rushdies may attract attention for what they have to say (which is, please note, not normally related to their books), but nobody gives a damn what the rest of us think, about anything.

When I’m on social media sites, I tune out almost everything that has to do with books (aside from industry news and such lovely pages as the one maintained by the Paris Review), and if I am ever looking for a new book to buy or read, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Reddit are the last places in the universe I would ever think to go to find out what I might enjoy. (Maybe GoodReads, but maybe not even there. More likely a book reviewing site or a magazine or news publication.) The reason I’m on Facebook is not to locate reading material: I’m there to look at memes, make smart-ass jokes that nobody gets, diss members of the government, read some juicy gossip, find out how my friends are doing, and complain about the phone company. That’s why you’re there too: admit it.

The take-away from this? As writers, we should focus our promotional efforts on trying to get people to talk about our books (review them, read and recommend them, give them awards, take them to their book groups, write articles or blog posts about them) instead of trying to get people to buy them.

101 responses

  1. This is interesting, Mary, coming off your “Facebook Launch” from a few weeks ago. True, people don’t necessarily visit Facebook to be inspired and learn great things. Keep in mind Facebook started when a group of horny college boys wanted a way to keep track of “hot chicks.” So, it’s not exactly a repository of “Greatest Generation” stories. You’re truly accurate, though, in stating that writers don’t work for other writers. Writing is a give and take business. We may be hermits to some extent, but we’re not that insulated, like say, a group of comic book aficionados. I have a blog and a Facebook page, but I know it’s not all about me. I just simply want to share my thoughts and views with the world and hope to make a connection with someone along the way. The best promotional tool is the product itself. A book should be appealing enough to attract some interest. That’s where a well-composed synopsis and marketing come into play. They have to work together. Writing is so incredibly risky. You’re only as good as your last book.

    • I totally agree. I am just saying that once you’ve put the well-composed synopsis and marketing package together, don’t just dump it on facebook and twitter. You need to actually try to reach out to people who will read your book and tell other people about it.

      We had lots of people to the launch, and I still think that was effective, but it wasn’t just a regular series of posts.

      And a few friends have bought the books. It’s just that not many have, and I don’t blame them because I don’t think that’s my timeline is the right venue to be pitching it.

  2. OK, Mary, so now that I know you’re not even READING my posts I can pack in my new-found joy of blogging ;P Seriously, though–okay, not so seriously, but earnestly: of course you are right that folks don’t read books by authors just because they are told by authors on social media how great their books are (how’s that for a run-on sentence without taking a breath), BUT in my (more humble than yours) opinion, authors who scream and shout on social media about how great their books are really just trying to be noticed by the odd reader of their genre so that THEY will read and hopefully talk about their book on social media. No? If word of mouth is the way books are promoted (and I agree 100%) then isn’t there a place for self-promotion through social media channels? And isn’t the idea to plant the seed often enough that SOMEONE will read your book, talk about it and encourage others to go out and buy it? If not, then hallelujah, my work here is done. Now I can get back to doing what a writer should be doing.

    On another note, I never, EVER go on-line to find books. Hell, I have shelves full of books I have bought that I’m DYING to read if only making a living (reading for research & writing) didn’t get in the way. To curb my book-buying/not reading overwhelm, I’ve made it a rule that I’ll only buy a book from an author I have either met, heard a reading from, or fallen off a bar-stool with. Still, I have barely any time to read for pleasure. Sigh.

    • Love this, Christine. Especially the bar-stool part. And yes, of course, when there is a really interesting person on Facebook I am more likely to investigate that person’s book. But the constant barrage of tweets and posts about book after book after book just doesn’t do anything for me, and it doesn’t seem to lead to sales. (Most of my facebook friends are in the USA, but most of my book sales are in Canada.)

      I’ve noticed that lots of people come to my blog from Reddit, but almost none from Facebook or Twitter, which is interesting. But Redditors are also the hardest of any social media users on people who do direct book promotion (which is fine with me). They read this blog becuase they are interested in marketing their books. I don’t think I’m likely to sell any novels by writing this blog (or any of my other blogs). I should just get to work on the next novel!

      However, i am now moving forward to consider the marketing initiatives that I really think DO work. We’ll see what happens with them.

    • P.S. About your “new-found joy of blogging”…. Yes. I write my blog posts because I like writing. It may be misdirected energy, but at least I’m writing.

  3. Right on MW! I am new here but I am already glad every time I see you have posted something because I think you have a firm grasp on reality and speak the truth. My own view is that social media has one very specific use in promoting our creative work. You can tell your friends about it once – then maybe once again when you win the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, or Martin Scorcese acquires the film rights – events of that magnitude. (It would probably be better if one or more of your FB friends spread this kind of news – I see agents doing this kind of thing for their authors on twitter all the time – better yet if one of them could post a link to a newspaper story about such achievements!). In this initial announcement mode, you can point your friends to your book’s web page or FB page in case they have any interest. Presumably some of your contacts are ACTUALLY your friends and might be interested to check out your work. Maybe a few of them will spread the word. I don’t think this can hurt and it might help, but the key thing is then for you to SHUT UP about your book in social media and move on, as you suggested in your previous post on this topic, to trying to find communities of readers who might actually be interested in your work. (For instance, my book is about time travel and the time machine in question is a vintage English three-speed bike. I love these bikes, quel surprise, and I have participated in a forum regarding their care and feeding. I will let people there know about my book and I will be sure to send that media kit you mentioned to some of our nation’s vintage bike shops…)

    If you’ll forgive me, here’s a link to a blog post I wrote about all this that echoes some of what you say here. My education continues. Can’t wait for your next post.

    • :) !! A vintage English three-speed bike. Love it. (P.S. Just read the blog post to which you linked – yup. We’re definitely on the same page.)

  4. Most people don’t know how to use social media effectively. One should NEVER spam social media with “I wrote a book”, “Here’s my book”, “Go look at my book”. Social media is a *medium* through which to be *social* – in other words, be used to develop or maintain relationships.

    The Return on Investment on social media is intangible – it cannot, and should not, be measured in terms of dollar turnaround. It is social media suicide to do so. The point of social media is to get *other* people talking about you – those are the numbers you should be looking at. (I mean, FB’s metrics are in terms of “how many people are talking about this” and “how many likes/shares”. FB knows their medium, take their lead.)

    What YOU are supposed to do is give people things that are *shareable*. A bio about yourself is not sharable. A very funny quote or picture on something timely and topical *is* shareable. So say you wrote something funny (or poignant, or whatever) about the snow storm that just happened in Canada and the US. I, as a fan of your writing and who followed/liked you, would have that show up in my feed. I think it’s hilarious. I share/retweet. My friends see it. My friends think it’s funny and wonder who this retweet originally came from, and they click on your @username. Now my friends, who previously did not know of you, know of you.

    That is the value of social media. Social media is not about dollars. Social media is about letting people know you and feel connected to you in a carefully crafted, but organic way. Using it for push advertising is a failure to understand what social media is.

    • Absolutely correct. Social media do not exist for selling books — or selling anything. If you are already selling lots of books, you may sell more. But F/B and Twitter are social sites — not sales sites.

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  6. You’re right about twitter and facebookpaging not getting sales. I only get book sales when I’ve published something new. Although, I do have to say that the only books I’ve read in the past two years have been giveaways, tweets or facebookpaged shares that I’ve come across. When I go to Amazon to look for new reads I find myself overwhelmed, so I just leave it for when I see something tweeted at me that I like the looks of.

  7. I’m not a regular reader here, but I might be from now on. This was entertaining. And in some ways quite deafening in truth. I, like you, have hidden many people from my Facebook news feed because if I had to hear one more word about which award, which 5 star review, which best seller’s list… I was going to opt for the ‘going postal’ on Social Media massacre. It’s gotten incredibly out of hand. We are typically, us writers, a solitary bunch, many of us introverts, but we’ve also had to become marketing experts without training, without knowing what the hell we’re doing or supposed to be doing. I don’t discuss books with people on Social Media. I hate promoting myself. I do it sometimes because I’ve been told and taught to believe in this digital age that we have to keep our names and books in front of people. I don’t though necessarily believe it means we have to beat readers, fellow authors, bloggers, etc… over the head with it. I talk about coffee, food, that I am writing the next book, my love of football and nascar, how much people annoy me. I like to have conversations. If you buy my books, great. If you don’t, maybe I will have made a friend. I have a Facebook page and I’ve yet to figure out what the point or purpose is. Authors get on my nerves with the way they do tend to quote reviews and pontificate about their books and their accomplishments. I don’t buy their books. I, instead, unfriend, and unfollow them. I am more likely to look into their books if they actually are able to talk about something else. This was a fun post to read. I’m glad I found it.

  8. The point of social media is to connect with your fans, and give them a REASON to buy your book/music/movie/scarf/whatever. You don’t go onto FB and repeat “I wrote a book, buy my book.” You go on there, you be yourself, and you connect with people that have interest similar to you and/or your book

    Read this, and replace the word “music” with the word “book” and it still applies.

    And you’re right, FB/Twitter aren’t sales sites, but that doesn’t mean they can’t lead to sales. There have been a couple of authors that I’ve found through FB that seemed like people I would like and so I gave their books a shot and ended up liking them and have become an avid reader of their work.

    • Well, that is good news (that you’ve found writers you like to read on F/B, Twitter). That happened to me on authonomy (not much else did that was good) and once or twice on the ABNA forum on Amazon. I do have lots of writer friends on Facebook and Twitter. But most of them aren’t the types who hammer you over the head with their books and how many pages they’ve written today. ;)

  9. I agree with every word you say, Mary. And I thank god that I’ve saved myself a mountain of time by never really cottoning to FB (it’s good for activist stuff I’m involved in or I wouldn’t bother at all). I do use Twitter, but for the same reasons you mention: news, politics, humor, snark. It is definitely a guilty pleasure. My sense that social media was not effective for book-selling was strengthened when one of my books won an international award (one sponsored by Scholastic, Atria and other notable publishers) and–no surprise at all, given that it was a self-published ebook–did not seem to generate any sales at all. A few. Ridiculous! I now think that self-published literary fiction is an almost impossible sell because readers have no reason to trust your credentials or way to find out about you in the first place. This is heart-breaking, but it “is what it is,” at least for now. I love it when writers like you are bold enough to state the truth about social media vis a vis selling self-published books. Stop the sales pitches, folks–hardly anyone is buying if it’s not nonfiction that they are already interested in or a genre they devour (erotica, fantasy, military exploits, etc.).

    • Congrats to you, Rebecca. Yes, it’s an uphill claw for self-published writers at the moment when it comes to promotion. I’m trying to work it out on this blog — but until we gain some cred with reviewers, we’re SOL. I’ve had several books traditionally published, too, and the publishers were terrible at promotion, so this isn’t really new. But I am tired of being hit over the head on social media sites. Your book on the other hand — well, could you give us a link? (I met an editor from Atria at a literary festival where I was a panelist last year in Anguilla. She was intelligent and wonderful: Malaika Adero.)

  10. This is just as bad as all of the posts saying authors MUST use social media. Social media to sell anything DOES work, when it’s used correctly. I am an author who runs the ad program for a reader community on Facebook. Over 6 different Pages we have 20,000 readers who just come to get daily deals for their ereaders. That’s it. Our blog gets 10,000 views per day, again, just to get free and low cost ebooks for their ereaders. They aren’t there to chat, they click and go. Our affiliate reports SHOW that readers click the links on Facebook and buy the book and other items online.

    This group and site were NOT built overnight, which is sadly what a number of authors think social media should do. It’s 2 years old.

    What people MEAN to say when they make such posts is that you need to have a long-term strategy for your social media spaces. Plan out a 6 month strategy of how often and what you will post, then look at the results. Who are you? What’s your value? If you are an author with many books, you can get away with mostly hocking your own links. However, for most authors to build a fan base they need to be INTERESTING and not one note, which is no different than if you say “buy my book” or “all democrats/republicans/owls/barnyard animals are stupid.”

    If you’re reading this post thinking all social media never sells anything, and want to wrap yourself up in that to feel better about ignoring a free marketing channel, go ahead. If you’re not seeing results from what you’re doing on social media, read up on what works and what doesn’t. There’s even an MIT white paper on the best ways to get a RT on Twitter for crying out loud, it’s not like people haven’t studied this stuff! And if you are seeing results from social media marketing, write up a blog post about what’s working for you and why. Share stats. Talk about ways to be clearer communicators, not spammers. And eventually, our social media places will be better for all.

  11. If you don’t mind, I’m going to comment one more time and then I’ll go back to what I’m supposed to be doing which is, writing the next book. But what Mystic5523 said about giving books a shot when there’ve been authors who were of interest and a person they might like… I’ve done that a lot. If we connect on some way beyond the ‘I wrote this, 300 people gave it 5 stars, and every reviewer on the planet loved it, go buy it’ plane, I’m often very tempted to see what they write and if it’s not of interest to me, I’ll still keep it in the back of my head to suggest to someone who would like it. I know when I’ve talked about my books on Twitter/Facebook, some will inevitably go look and a few will purchase, but for the other 95% of the time, I’d rather tweet with someone about coffee or shopping or how much we hate water but have to drink it anyway, than I would about ‘go buy my book’… Same for Facebook. The report with authors, readers, reviewers, publishers, editors, cover artists, and other industry professionals is much interesting and fun and likely to keep me from being kicked to the curb on lists than the constant promotion…

  12. Bravo for saying this.

    This is one of those things almost everyone discovers, but is scared to say out loud, out of fear of offending the Church of Social Media, which says that: You have to “social” to sell anything.

    We are told we have to act friendly and all mushy, so people will like us and check out our websites and books. No one says how manipulative this is- acting friendly with people you otherwise wouldn’t hang out with, just with the off chance that one of them may buy your book.

    Anytime someone writes a blog like this, the usual excuse brought out it: “You are doing it wrong.”
    This is the classical excuse by consultants, and anyone else trying to sell you something. It is a way of blaming the victim – “We have this perfect system that guarantees you sales. Oh, it’s not working? Well, you must be doing it wrong.”

    It is always you who are wrong, for the Church of Social Media can never do wrong! Well let me say something – if something fails for the majority of people that try it, it is the system that is wrong, and not the users.

    Susan Lewis has also written about how the whole social media thing is a giant scam:

    I also wrote about how social media encourages shallow and selfish behaviour:

  13. Well, I got to your website because someone else posted on twitter about your ranting on social media and I never hearf of you before. Plus, I`m from Brazil, so I bet you dont even publish your work here.
    I guess that this proves social media works, if you know how to make them work. Just not the way you and your publishers seem to think they work.
    Self-advertising is dumb. Specially on social media tools. Other people advertising you, works. Social media is no different than word-of-mouth advertising, but on serious steroids.
    Accept that and it may be of use. Ignore that, and you will bonk you head on the wall, just like you found out you were doing.

    • As it turns out, my books are available in Brazil. Here’s one. I agree about the self-advertising, but I also don’t like to feel like I’m being “courted” by people who aren’t really interested in me, but just want me to buy a book of theirs someday. And I’m not interested in doing that to other people, either.

  14. I will say that paid advertising on Facebook has been a bomb. My main Facebook account is just for a few friends/family where I complain about the weather, bills, and life events. Rarely do I accept others into that domain.

    However, I toot my horn on my two FB pages for my author pen names and the books I write under them. What I do get in return are comments about my books from readers, who are too shy to write reviews. If I didn’t have that feedback, I’d probably throw in the towel. So for me, my author pages on Facebook are a good place to interact with readers and build relationships.

    The only time I focus on “buy my book,” is if I have a new release and it does generate a small amount of sales early on. When I’m not sharing another book release, I find it a good place to keep in contact, interact, post some funny stuff, and keep me out there in front of readers. When someone stops by and says, “hey, great book,” I say thanks. For me that’s what works. As far as Twitter…a waste of time, but I have my FB posts automatically post to my Twitter page, but I rarely log in.

    • I have many friends who are writers on F/B and their announcing a new book is certainly something I appreciate. You’ve taken it one step further as far as being considerate of your facebook friends, which is to talk about your book on your author page. Good plan.

  15. Mary, Thank you for having the courage to say what just about every other writer must surely be thinking (I know I have). I find all social media to be a colossal waste of time, and I don’t indulge. But I do know that I’m going to somehow have to get my novel OUT THERE (wherever OUT THERE is, these days), and I’m still at a total loss as to how to do that. Best wishes to you, and thanks again.

      • Mary–
        About a month has passed since you posted this essay. In the interim, have you gained any wisdom regarding marketing for self-publishing writers? Anything you can pass along? I’m about to release a new novel, and I remain as clueless about how to help get the word out as ever. Please advise.

        • I’ve written quite a few articles about things you CAN do and I am about to reorganize my Table of Contents or List of Posts or whatever you call it to make them easier to find. In the meantime, type “Tip of the Week” into the search box to the right of the posts, and you will find a number of them (some tongue in cheek, some serious). I will be writing more on this subject soon. Thanks for asking! And good luck.

  16. Great article! I tune out loads of Twitter posts telling me to read certain books (some who’ve posted here), and I tend to unfollow anyone who spam posts. I don’t understand how it can work for them. I once paid for a tweeting service to announce one of my new releases and no one bought a single copy. So I’ll never try that again.

  17. I’m totally baffled by people who claim they don’t sell any books through maintaining a presence on FB and Twitter. As someone commented above, if that’s really true, you’re obviously doing it wrong. I probably average a half dozen messages a day from people I didn’t know before who tell me they just discovered me through FB or Twitter, and then bought most if not all of my published novels. And if I HEAR from that many new readers, how many others are there out there that I DON’T hear from. Let’s see…call it 6 new people per day buying, say, 4 books? That’s almost 9000 copies a year sold directly because I’ve said a few words on social media. I figure that’s not too shabby. It’s certainly worth MY time…

  18. I’m unsure about this article, because most of what you’ve been saying seems to be “this is obvious to me, because this is what I do”.
    The part about people wanting two-way discussion rather than one-way communication is right, but that applies to more or less every form of communication, and a non-interest in advertising is a non-interest in advertising in general, which isn’t specific to social media. (Plus, I’m a bit confused as to why you think two-way communication can’t be caused by social media. “What do you think of the new book? What did you think of the characters, the writing, the plot?” Instant discussion, just add water.)
    I’m also confused as to why you don’t seem to think authors can’t be independent people, people we respect. What I think the internet has done very well is break down the barriers — the writer is no longer an elusive creature with a capital “W”, s/he is a human being. There are authors on social media who I appreciate because I respect the work they’re doing and I’ve respected the work they’ve done so far. I listen to them because I know I enjoy their work, and because I respect them as people. Anyway, my point is that if you treat your social media place as just a place to talk about your books, about your writing, about yourself — use it as a place for conventional advertising — then obviously you’ll fail. It’s more a place for open letters, lead-ins to conversations.

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  21. Like Woolfoot, I am new.
    In a way, I wish what you say were true–but it’s not. At least not entirely. The evidence? A great many really badly written books are becoming financial successes. Yes, some awful traditionally published books have always made money, but not in such numbers. The only explanation for this is that, although some successful indie authors are inept as writers, they are clever in “gaming the system,” especially the Amazon system. A knowledge of online marketing has greatly reduced the need for a writer to produce a good book.
    But I’m with you all the way regarding Facebook. Not to put too fine a point on it. anyone who Friends and High-fives and all the rest of it in order to peddle a book is a stoat.

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    • There’s always money to be made, isn’t there? In this case, the money gets made by setting yourself up as an expert who assigns most of the marketing tasks to the writers. Susceptible to the risk of hope triumphing over reason, the writers actually pay the experts for assigning to them–the writers–almost all the work. Not a bad racket, but definitely a racket. It happened to me–correction, I made it happen to me. Caveat emptor.

  23. You are right in many aspects, but since we actually sell most of our books by word of mouth–others telling others about out book–then one can work fb and twiiter to their advantage. I review books and because my reviews are so well liked 99% will read my book. I get to know people on twitter and face book and especially Linked In and through knowing me, they learn to like me, then as I hang out bits of my book as treats to a puppy, they take an interest in my book and eventually buy it. Of course they all love the book so much that they ‘loan ‘ it out to friends, neighbors and family and there goes the royalties..So it is slow and takes time but in this ecomomy nothing else is working and you are not giving alternative marketing ideas–most of which also don’t work either. And book signings in the few book store that amazon hasn’t destroyed are a waste of 2-4 hours. The big boys give their books away so underpriced that no one is going to buy from an unknown author, no matter how much chocolate and lollipops to draw the kids to my table, that I dangle in front of uninterested faces..

    • Thanks for this message, Micki. I have several other posts on this blog that offer promotional ideas that work better than F/B and the others mentioned here, at least in my opinion, and I have more on the way (they’re called “tips of the week”). I’m glad you’re having more success on the social media sites than most people seem to be. I will be writing a blog post about bookstores in a week or so — don’t get me started on that subject (yet). :)

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  25. Well said. It’s very boring watching authors running around forums looking for the Magic Social Media Marketing Formula–some combination or use or abuse of FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., that will transmute their base marketing efforts into gold. Before the current self-publishing/social media boom, people in publishing circles used to talk about developing word of mouth. What happened to that word-of-mouth concept? What happened to the idea that, as an author, you focused your efforts primarily on writing a great book, then did your best to push the word-of-mouth boat out by promoting the book in the sense of giving interviews about the ideas contained therein, or soliciting reviewers to review your book because it met their criteria for a work they should be interested in, then hoped momentum would develop in the form of that all-important word of mouth?

    Of course, developing word of mouth isn’t easy–it wasn’t easy before the advent of social media and it isn’t now. It may even be harder now precisely because there are so many authors jumping up and down and shouting “Look at me!” using social media. Also, by using social media to market themselves in a crude way that is totally lacking in imagination or finesse, authors are sending the subliminal–maybe, in fact, overt–message that they are likely to lack imagination and depth as writers as well as self-advertisers. Which may not actually be true.

      • Perhaps the whole thing (social media) would seem less contrived and trivial if there were more evidence of critical intelligence, and a willingness to use it. The “social convention” in place is that any observation that isn’t complimentary is a personal attack. Anything less than a boilerplate, “Wow, Michelle, that’s great!” is not welcome. Too bad. All actual positive comments mean little in such a climate of booster-club cheerleading.

        • I think that is the crux of the matter, Barry. Reviews and other discussion about books — agreements and disagreements — are interesting. Boosterism isn’t. The “social” part of social media is (mostly) all about “feel good,” I guess. I was just thinking how unlikely I’d be to go see a movie if the director were blasting me with “Go see my movie!” messages on F/B or Twitter. If someone ELSE on Twitter (someone independent) tells me I should see it, I’m more likely to listen. And, to extend your idea, if that person is writing the tweet with the intention of sending it to the director, it has less impact than if s/he is just saying it because s/he liked the movie so much she feels the need to share the news.

          • Does anyone care to comment on the use of paid advertising? In April I will publish the first ebook installment in a mystery series. This side of turning myself into a trained seal or dog-and-pony show, I want to do what I can to get the word out.

            • Hi Barry, I’ve only attempted paid ads once, with fairly interesting results. I put an ad on Goodreads (they have an inexpensive “click” ad program) and in the very short time I ran the ad, had over 90 people add my book to their to-read list. But having said that, I’m not sure that more than a few people actually bought the book. Am thinking that if I do it again (which I might), I’d place the ad in conjunction with a price-drop (or something similar). It was a nice, inexpensive, fairly-gratifying way to enter the world of advertising. If you haven’t looked at their program, give it a shot.

  26. Hi Mary – I have been following along with interest here (way to go, you!) and can’t resist jumping in once more to doff my hat at Mr. Trower for his succinct and accurate comment. (I just signed up to follow your blog Mr. Trower). I also wanted to note that several commenters seemed to have mistaken your point, which I understand to be social networking for book marketing purposes is ineffective and wrongheaded. Nowhere did you say that writers shouldn’t have an internet presence for the purpose of making themselves available to readers. Having a twitter account or an FB page where readers can find the writers they like seems to me a fine thing. I am sure there are lots of writers who enjoy a back and forth with their readership and that such back and forth might be good for book sales (though it strikes me as venal and underhanded if that’s the main reason for encouraging this interaction but that’s the kind of pureheart that I am).

    Didn’t we all learn in those documentaries about the California gold rush that many of the real fortunes were made not by the miners, but those who sold them tools, lodging, clothing etc. at hugely inflated rates? Not to put too fine a point on it, but we have a modern equivalent today with wannabe writers and the marketing experts.

    • Thanks for this. Another great comment. And yes, I am really into social media and blogs as platforms for social exchange, and as ways to establish and maintain a presence as a writer/author. The title of my blog post says what I intended to say/discuss here: that the sites mentioned are not places to be posting what are essentially no more than barrages of ads for books. I loved Marcus Trower’s comment about the lack of imagination demonstrated by some of these self-promo campaigns.

  27. Pingback: Are you wasting your time promoting your book on Social Media? - Page Readers | Page Readers

  28. I completely agree with you – a total waste of time, as I blogged some time ago (here: But I would take exception just to one (small) statement you make: writers DO buy books from other writers, who else then? After all, we may be writers but we are all readers! Indeed, we got our passion for writing from our reading!

    I’m completely convinced that the famous “buzz” that sells books always starts from the writers’community. Not much of a secret, this! After all, Tolkien made it because he was an Oxford don (or was it Cambridge? I don’t remember) and his peers (most if not all writers) enjoyed his work and touted it around!

    • I agree with your point about writers buying books. I’m an avid book buyer (too avid) but what I was saying is that I tend to find the books I want to read by reading reviews by others who are independent of the book’s production. I don’t buy books by all my writer friends (I can’t afford it. I am blessed with many writer friends!) and having them tell me to buy it on Twitter isn’t going to change that. I am going to buy the latest David Mitchell instead, because I know he is world class, or find a new writer through a book review at the NYT or Guardian, or check out the Booker winners and nominees. I’ve been reading for a lot of years and I’m very picky about where I find my books. I don’t (normally) find new writers I want to read on social media.

  29. I just love this! I totally agree! I recently published my first book and feel BAD that I don’t know how to promote it, that nothing I do seems to make any difference, that I’m a total failure as a promoter of my own work. In order to cheer myself up, I went off and…..starting writing again! I actually found myself feeling depressed at the thought of all the promoting that has to be done so your blog discovery comes as SUCH a relief. I believe my books will sell if I put them out to be sold – this seems stupidly simplistic but somehow strangely right (for me, anyway.) Perhaps it depends what you want: I want to sit in my ivory tower and ignore the world and think weird thoughts. It looks like I’m going to have to rely on those weird thoughts to sell my books because honestly, I bloody hate Twitter, FaceBook is just wasting my time, I cancelled my LinkedIn link and hardly anyone reads my blog.

    • Yes. Keep writing. When you have three or four books out there, the odds of your having some impact with any self-promotion you do go waaay up. (I’m working to get my early books, now out of print, online for that reason — it’s important to build a critical mass.) I also believe you can only do the kinds of promotion you are totally comfortable with and if that means NONE at this point, then none is (are?) what you should do. Even commenting on blogs like this one attracts attention to you (as I wrote about here in one of my Book Promotion Tips of the Week), so thanks for stopping by. (And if you could add a link to your blog, it would be great. :) )

  30. Keeping it simple, i’ve read at least five books from my facebook friends, and that was after we became facebook friends. Maybe a couple more. Still haven’t read Don Valiente, but I need the right opportunity to start it. I think that FB is not a selling tool, but it is an awareness factor that will lead others to buy the books.

  31. Great post, Mary! My one-time St. John’s buddy John Aragon pointed me to this site of yours. Concur with your take-away: “The take-away from this? As writers, we should focus our promotional efforts on trying to get people to talk about our books (review them, read and recommend them, give them awards, take them to their book groups, write articles or blog posts about them) instead of trying to get people to buy them.” Will be hunting through your site for promotional tips. Cheers! @hg47

  32. There is some generalizing here. MY twitter is useless. I don’t have many “followers” and almost all of them are other struggling writers, who seem to want me to follow them so they can hawk their books to me, even if their books are in genres I won’t go near. They follow me, so I follow them to be polite and then get twits thanking me that make it seem like I’m their biggest fan. It’s nuts. My facebook feed is now out of control and seems to include almost everyone I met at Authonomy, and it’s become almost exactly like authonomy — a nonstop plug fest.
    BUT, I don’t think the problem is facebook and twitter. I think the problem is I’m doing social networking wrong. There are people who have lots of non-writer followers, who really look at them in almost a “leadership” role. It’s not all about “selling” in an overt way, but it’s about establishing a “brand” and a persona. Whatever it is, I can’t do it. I’m desperate to break out of the writer-ghetto and reach my audience. I’m completely flummoxed about how.
    Then there are people like that guy who wrote Wool, who just wrote something that people connected to and they found him.

    • Marion, I agree with everything you say. It’s a mysterious process in many ways, but at least we know one thing: blasting plugs for your book at your followers on FaceBook, Twitter, linked-in etc. is more likely to make enemies than book sales. (Also, never heard of Wool. Will have to google it.)

    • Marion, you hit the nail on the head. I’ve struggled with the same thing, and have finally given up. I just don’t know how to reach a wider reading audience. The crazy part about that is I have a “traditionally” published novel out there, and my Indie, and I still can’t get enough crossover to get the Indie going. Best of luck to you.

  33. Marion – I’m so passionate about this particular blog by Mary that this is the second time I’m commenting. I agree with everything you say. I haven’t a clue how to reach my audience with the result that my book sales are utterly dismal. I hate being plugged at all the time and dropped Authonomy because of it. I dream of being “found” without any effort: my own brilliance just drawing them in (hardiharhar) and the idea of having to “make friends” with potential fans fills me with horror. Not that I’m unfriendly, it’s more a matter of don’t know how, don’t want to, want to write…..there doesn’t really seem to be a solution. Some people like Amanda Hocking spent 8 hours a day promoting herself and keeping in touch with all her fans, with the result she was snapped up eventually by an agent. But her books are awful and somehow I’ve lost the point of what I’m trying to say! Should probably stick to writing fiction…..
    I think as writers we need to find another way that is more agreeable to us – as writers – to promote our work, something that doesn’t involve turning us into the sort of people we don’t want to be: wild-eyed, frantic salespeople thrusting our goods under other people’s noses who want nothing more than to slam the door in our faces.

    • I’ve actually been looking at Hocking and other more recently successful novelists to figure out how they did it. One thing that I’ve noticed is that romance readers (in all there sub-genres) seem much more open to indies, and the lines between readers and writers are more fluid (hence it makes sense the 50 Shades was initially Twilight fan fic). There are actual online communities of readers, review blogs that readers pay attention to, forums in which they participate. The successful writers are part of their communities. Whatever you might think of writers like Hawking, she is both of her community (which was not being served by trad publishing) and she is meeting a need of her community.

    • susannahjbell, glad you left your link because I agree and sympathize with everything you’ve said. And, guess what, I’m now following your blog so something is working here! You can follow mine, too, if you want, though I’m a children’s writer.

  34. We’ve already discussed this a bit via tweets, Mary! I know that at one time I was doing so many retweets in order to get them back that I’d get unfollowed by people who might have read my books – yes, that was a mistake. We make them, and if we’re wise we learn by them, and listen to the advice of people who succeed. Twitter and facebook, yes, as I said, it works for me! I suppose it depends how you do it. As I said in a tweet, I keep my personal Facebook page book free – apart from to tell people when I have a new book coming out, or if I am doing a free or cut price promotion – this means I make a book related post about once every three months, but I post on there most days!! I think people on there started reading my books because my status updates made them laugh, and I always had plenty to say for myself, long before I published books on Amazon!!! Mostly, I use my author page on FB for observational humour, the odd cartoon, that sort of thing, to mention other people’s free books, or to show off about a particularly good review, but I don’t do that too often!!!. I think the mistake a lot of people make is seeing FB as a promotional tool. It isn’t. You can’t just start using FB and expect to sell books via it, if you’ve never used it before; people don’t go on there to be sold to.

    As far as Twitter goes – well, I’ve bought many, many books because the tweet has interested me, and many, many people have bought mine too. Maybe you’re finding it doesn’t work for you because you don’t like it, either? When I’m composing tweets I think about the ones that have led me to buying a book. I’ve discovered my favourite books of last year through a tweet – I read one of his, loved it, read all the rest, and extol his virtues far and wide. Happily, some of my readers have done the same for me! Goodreads – I use it as a reader, as much as a writer.

    I’ve heard all this stuff about building platforms and brands, and I hate it all, hate all the marketing cliches. I think marketing is more about common sense and psychology than anything else. Often, it’s a subliminal thing. Endless subject, anyway!

    • I think you are a very sane person, Terry, and you are using social media AS social media (i.e., for networking) rather than as a sales vehicle. That’s what I do, too. When I’m on twitter, I’m not thinking about selling my books (usually). I’m thinking about finding and sharing wit, intelligent thoughts, useful advice etc etc etc. If that leads to book sales, it’s a side benefit. Sort of like finding someone out there to dance with, rather than someone to take down with a body check. ;)

  35. Elaine – many thanks! The FB/Twitter problem is never going to go away. Promotion is so horribly hard for the self-published. If you don’t have what it takes, you just drown. This is me going down…..!!

  36. Mary–
    I’m convinced that, as used by writers for matters related to their writing, social media has an objective that’s being overlooked: to generate an interest in the writer, not the writer’s work. The ultimate objective is something like meat tenderizing: schoomzing, high-fiving, glad-handing, “liking” and the rest of it is all meant to soften up readers, to the end of generating something like an obligation to be positive about the writer’s work. After all, you’re not supposed to trash your friend’s writing.
    What do you think?

    • I totally agree with this, Barry. But as far as an immediate tactic for the purpose of arousing interest in a book — or even in a writer — it is not a great tool. It is a long-term, on-going investment. I think of Facebook as my “water cooler.” Since I work alone, it is an opportunity for me to hang out and chat with other people, and to take a break from my work from time to time (actually, I was doing that too often so have recently taken a break from Facebook itself!) The fact remains though that when I look at where the clicks to my blogs are coming from, other sites are far more productive: e.g. LinkedIn and Reddit. When I post that I have a new blog out on Twitter or Facebook, almost none of my FB friends bothers to check it out. I can only presume that they are equally interested in my books. :)

  37. Thank you, Mary.
    I guess the simple reality is that I’m too long in the tooth for water-coolering (although that’s exactly what I’m doing right now, isn’t it?) . I’m willing to tweet, and I’m also happy to seek the kindness of strangers in my search for reviewers–that’s the extent of my “marketing plan.” My hope is that finding reviewers who like my book will lead to word spreading. And there’s a third leg to my plan: putting out more books. As others have noted, assuming a writer writes well, the best way to sell more books is to have more titles for sale (another reason for giving the water cooler a wide berth).
    It’s refreshing to see the realpolitik of self-publishing being discussed. Thanks again.

    • Barry, I think you have nailed what I will ultimately prescribe as the best way to promote books, particularly novels (in some thoughtfully developed future post in which I will expose the naked truth of what I have learned so far) and it is three pronged: 1) schmooze (this is a life-long initiative, and includes both real people and those of you who are only virtual people); 2) get other people talking about your book rather than focusing on talking about it yourself; and 3) get a “critical mass” of books out there (this has always been the best advice for published authors who are fretting about sales: Write the next book). (And re: the water-coolering: Yes you are. And no one is ever too long in the tooth for that, as long as one’s fellow sippers are congenial and interesting. The ones who aren’t, are busy flogging their books on F/B and Twitter and telling me that I don’t know what I’m talking about, as someone did today on LinkedIn, so we’re all happy.)

      Thanks for the positive feedback.

  38. I found this post refreshingly real, Mary. You’ve put into words what I have not wanted to admit myself. Heaven forbid I disagree with what internet marketing gurus have drilled into my head. To their credit, no one recommends blasting adverts for your book nonstop. But I feel like I did what I was “supposed” to do. I took several months, almost a year in fact, carefully building a following, sharing, posting, engaging, RTing, branding myself as an author. When it came down to Launch Day for my book I think it mattered very little. Most of the books sold came from my family member’s (Mom, Aunts, and cousins :) and loyal friends promoting the book to everyone in their email contacts and friends lists. Since then, I’ve pulled way back on social media, even taking over a month off completely. I’m only just now getting back into it. I’ve found the real value right here. Links folks post to valuable info like this that helps me feel validated and more focused in my efforts.
    I’d also like to say I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments and their replies, as well. Thanks!

    • Your experience is heartbreaking, but eloquently said, which speaks well for your writing. And that’s a problem, too — even if social media DID work — who has time to write? Thank you for writing.

  39. Well said! The more I fiddle with Twitter the more I realize what a bunch of nonsense it really is. Writing the next novel is a much better use of an author’s time.

    When I was in college earning an engineering degree, my physics professor told us that anything that will fit on a bumper sticker isn’t worth saying. Same goes for the 140 characters of a Tweet.

  40. Same experience here. I have spent YEARS trying to promote, in every way possible, via various social media sites. Have now, after utter and complete failure, close all those sites down. Very discouraged, and more than a little cynical. It has become clear to me that this is NOT the way to get noticed. Thank you for your article. Daniel (August) Hunt

  41. I couldn’t agree with you more. The astonishing thing is that what passes for prevailing wisdom is not only the opposite of your view, but the opposite of wisdom. Social media is at best the very small tail on the very large dog of legitimate validation.

    • Exactly! Even the big publishers insist that their writers get themselves on Facebook and Twitter, and start a blog. So many distractions for the writing process that do nothing to advance one’s career. Hugh Howey has some of the right approach — just keep writing and publishing and writing and publishing and eventually you build a critical mass. Which is why I need a publicity person!

  42. Pingback: Inside Marketing: Self-Promotion Overload | Hamilton Springs Press

  43. I know I’m late to the party here. I’ve expressed this sentiment to writers for years, but you know what, it does not matter to them for the most part. Much of the attraction of Facebook has more to do with feeding the author’s ego than it does with book sales. If every 1,000th person who liked a Facebook post brought a book then it is all justified.

    Since you’ve written this, getting people off Facebook to buy a book or visit a blog has become even more difficult, Facebook is shows posts that which do not foster engagement on Facebook less frequently.

    But the worst part is, as writers double down convinced they are simply doing something wrong, because no one has brought their book as a result of their social media effort. The Other sites and publication that could do a much better job intelligently discussing, reviewing, and sharing a curated list of books struggle to survive or never event get started.

    There are indications Facebook will allow people to sell books directly from the platform in the future. For many authors Facebook is their online presence–Eventually the web, as far as books are concerned will coalesce into a combination of Facebook/Amazon.

    Finally I would not downplay the adverse impact of the social aspect of social media. Here are a few books you may want to check out:

    You may find this article “Authors Don’t Need Twitter” interesting too:

  44. Pingback: 12 Social Media Mistakes for Authors to Avoid - Anne R. Allen's Blog... with Ruth Harris

  45. Pingback: How to promote a book – lazy ebook promoting – Planet Psyd

  46. In 2019 you are still right Mary. What is saddening is that the Facebook, Linkedin, twitter groups you describe are still flourishing…are we all still so blind? Or is it desperate writers that keep them going? I was recently invited to join such a group by an eager friend who has Amazoned (not really published is it) his new novel. I went along and yes those poor misguided people rushing around liking each other…as if that somehow sells books. I joined in to support him, then thought enough…and sent him a link to this page. Cruel to be kind…and at least you will get the blame not me. He may read these replies…nah he won’t will he. Keep telling it as it is Mary.

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