Authors: Post About Your Book As Much As You Damn Well Please.
The struggle is real enough — let’s not invent more reasons to drive ourselves crazy.
If you’ve written a book, there is no rest for the weary. Now you have to promote it! But not too much. Or at least not too often. Or, like, often, but in sneaky ways that don’t seem like you’re promoting it. And make sure you apologize to your followers in every other tweet so they know you feel bad about the fact that you have to do this. (But not so bad that you don’t definitely want them to spend their hard earned money on the book you’re sorry about promoting.)
Sound familiar? Yeah, I’ve been there, done that four times now and it never gets any easier or less onerous and icky.
For example, although sales are looking good for my new book, it still doesn’t have a lot of reviews on Amazon, which means the potential for “discoverability” (a bit of jargon that makes me want to die a little as I type it) remains low. So recently, in an effort to goose the algorithm, my publisher suggested that I go on social media and encourage my fans to write reviews.
It felt weird, but again this is not my first rodeo; I dutifully took to my feeds. However just as I began making the rounds with my “If you loved it (or even just liked it), I’d be so grateful” spiel, this post from a friend on Facebook stopped me in my tracks:
An author I know just posted 4 times in less than 24 hours and every one was about her book. And it’s not launch week. Sorry but now unfollowed. Please, take note. The ratio is 10 posts not about your book to 1 post about it. The same 20% of your followers see all your posts and the rest don’t see anything. So it really is overkill.
Double ugh, actually, because this wasn’t just any old Facebook friend. This person also happens to be an author, and runs a business specializing in the marketing of . . . wait for it . . . BOOKS!
So they weren’t just blowing off steam on Facebook the way I do when the people Airbnb’ing the house next door get so loud I decree that Reggaeton should be outlawed. My friend well and truly meant this whole “ratio” business as professional advice that I, an author, should be taking in order to successfully promote my books.
Now I felt icky, weird, and confused. An author telling other authors to lay off the book posts? This seemed puzzlingly sado-masochistic. Plus, I may be no Will Hunting, but by my calculations the above-cited pattern works out to only one post every six hours. I know hardcore prescription painkillers you can take more often than that. How much harm can it do?
I was about to say as much in the comments, but then I remembered that’s where civil discourse goes to die. And if it’s true that only 20% of our combined friends would see that thread anyway, I figured I may as well take to my preferred soapbox — from which I can potentially reach thousands of icky, weird-feeling fellow authors worldwide with my counter-argument, which is thus:
POST ABOUT YOUR BOOKS AS MUCH AS YOU DAMN WELL PLEASE.
Look, is it true that some authors promote their books all day every day in annoying fashion? Yes. But I forgive them, for they know not what they do. Or how to thread tweets.
And honestly, who among us — author or no — has a perfectly calibrated feed, six-hour increment upon six-hour increment? On Facebook specifically, who doesn’t occasionally annoy their friends with too many cat, dog, or baby pics?
You know what (and who) I’m talking about. If I unfriended or unfollowed all of those people, the only things left in my feed would be ads for West Elm and egg freezing.
Why shouldn’t an author promote their work as much as, say, Jim and Susan promote little Jimmy Jr.’s star turn on the tee-ball circuit —and without being penalized or publicly scolded for it? After all, I’m proud of what I made, and my books are just as important to me as other people’s kids are to them. I don’t even like children, but I can’t imagine telling a parent that “launch week” is the only acceptable time to go nuts with the photos, can you?
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Okay, fine, Scrooge McMarketing Professional might say, but books and kids are different. I’m not trying to sell you my kid. Overposting is tacky. You need to be more STRATEGIC.
I hear you on the tacky thing — and that’s why I try to be as entertaining and informative and self-deprecating and appreciative and full of snazzy .GIFs as I can when posting about my books. Ah, #AuthorLyfe.
What I don’t understand is how “Don’t post so much about your books” is a good strategy for moving product. Why place arbitrary limits on how often we’re allowed to spread the word — especially for your average toiling-in-obscurity writer whose only access to affordable advertising comes in the form of social media? I mean, hopefully one day we’ll all be selling enough books that we can hire professionals to navigate distasteful promo for us — a win-win if ever there was — but until that day comes, if nobody knows about our books, we will sell exactly no copies. It’s just math.
So where does that leave us?
Well, as my real estate broker husband is fond of saying, “Maximum exposure equals maximum price.” Whether it’s an Upper West Side two-bedroom or a strip mall Barnes & Noble, you gotta get ’em in the door. Makes sense, right?
Right. But now imagine that my husband went to the trouble of scheduling an open house, but then let only one out of every ten clients who showed up to the building come inside the apartment. The rest he’d make small talk with on the sidewalk and then they’d leave, highly unlikely to make an offer on something they never saw.
This strikes me as deeply counter-productive.
In my husband’s case, he’s looking to get maximum eyes on any given property in order to drive the price of that single product to maximum heights via competitive bidding. As an author, I’m aiming for maximum eyeballs on my social media posts in order to drive maximum traffic to the buy links contained within, and maximize individual purchases of my books. Same idea, different product — but we’re both in it for sales.
So what, I ask, is the goddamn point of dedicating all those hours a day to racking up and interacting with all those friends and followers if I’m then supposed to be stingy with information about THE THING I WANT THEM TO BUY?
Experts — including my Facebook friend-who-is-also-an-author-and-a-marketing-professional — might say The point, Sarah, is that by bleeding the feed with book posts, you’ll turn off some people who might otherwise have eventually bought what you’re selling.
Okay, sure. Sounds like a plan.
I’m the first to tell you, I’m no expert in this realm. But when it comes to “How to Successfully Market Your Books On Social Media,” I’m not convinced there are any experts. If there was a foolproof plan for marketing a book to bestsellerdom via social media, I’m pretty sure I would know about it, given that it’s the Holy Grail authors and publishers have been seeking since 2007 or thereabouts.
For fifteen years before I started writing my own books, I was an editor at New York City’s top publishing houses. Toward the end of my tenure, social media became a regular cog in the marketing plan for any given book, which led to me spending hours counseling my authors on “best practices” that shifted daily, like sands through the hourglass.
I bemoaned the ones who just couldn’t get the hang of it. Don’t start your tweets with an @! We’ll never sell a single book! And I cheered the ones (okay, the One) who sailed their way to 5 million Twitter followers. Surely victory and the #1 spot on the Times list will be ours!
But the truth is, some authors with no social media savvy broke through, and others with legions of followers sold mere dozens of books. There is no secret formula. There is no One Ratio to Rule Them All.
- Try to keep the cat pics to the personal handles.
- Retweet anyone who calls me a genius.
That’s it. No muss, no fuss. As many posts as I feel like posting and as little guilt and overthinking them as possible.
The way I see it, people who are moved to follow or friend me are most likely doing so because they’re interested in both what I have to say (70% my books, 20% politics, 10% cats/pizza/other) and can tolerate the frequency with which I say it. If they become uninterested that easily, they probably weren’t going to buy my shit anyway.
Further, most of my real-life friends were peeping my feed long before I started using it to pimp the No Fucks Given Guides — just like I was there before they had kids who are now old enough to hawk Girl Scout cookies online. It’s not like we lured each other in under false pretenses. Hopefully most of them are getting a kick out of my new career as an anti-guru; however, I accept that some may have decided to mute me until I get over myself. (Don’t hold your breath, guys, I have two more books on my contract.)
Regardless, whoever you are, if you decide you’ve had enough and need to cut the cord, I bid you glad tidings. But I’m not going post less about my books in hopes that that’s what might get you to buy one of them someday.
THAT. MAKES. NO. SENSE.
Like, I didn’t start watching Killing Eve because BBC America was kind enough to pepper me with nine non-ads for every one ad. I tuned in because they blanketed me with the awesome power of Sandra Oh.
So yeah, maybe I lose a few followers who become disenchanted with my itchy Insta-finger, but maybe I also sell a few books to friends who see my fourth FB post in twenty-four hours and think Right! I keep meaning to get that, and then click the artfully-placed buy link or trundle off to their local indie to pick up a copy.
In any event, I’m a big fan of “whatever works.” And in my personal experience, maximum exposure seems to be doing the trick — inasmuch as I post a fuck ton about my books and they’ve all been bestsellers. Obviously, that could just be a coincidence. Correlation does not imply causation, etc. etc. Don’t @ me.
But I can tell you what definitely doesn’t work — for either your sales or your mental health — and that’s being shamed into posting about your book so rarely that it might as well be a shitty iPhone pic of the full moon.
Don’t be shy, guys. Writing a book is hard, and in some ways promoting it is even harder. You’re allowed to be proud of your baby. Shout it from the virtual rooftops! Spread those buy links around the internet like Johnny Motherfucking Appleseed if it makes you happy and keeps your publisher off your case.
Just do what feels good. Don’t apologize for it. And if someone calls you a genius, go right ahead and retweet that shit.
You earned it.
Sarah Knight is the New York Times bestselling author of five profane self-help books (and two journals) with 2.5 million copies in print worldwide. The newest is called Fuck No!: How To Stop Saying Yes When You Can’t, You Shouldn’t, or You Just Don’t Want To.