For self-published authors, your social media page is essentially free advertising, and at first it all seems too good to be true: you set up a page on Facebook and Twitter and wait for the fans to come rolling in, ready to buy.
Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. Major corporations hire marketing experts to manage their accounts, and established thought leaders already have large followings.
But the good news is, that with the right strategies, you don’t need to start with a huge following to stand out in sea of tweets, posts, and updates.
Here are some of the ways that five self-published authors harnessed the power of social media to generate book sales.
Create a Facebook Group (Not a Page)
At the tender age of eight, Emma Sumner is already the self-published author of The Fairies of Waterfall Island. Her father, Sean Sumner, created a Facebook group to keep followers connected with her author journey.
Facebook groups are preferable to Facebook pages because they create a more intimate atmosphere with better engagement, especially since Facebook’s new algorithm has dropped fan pages’ organic reach and made Facebook much more of a “pay to play” medium. A group environment also helps followers feel more involved with the book’s production process.
“We updated group members weekly on the progress of the book with video updates on topics like the cover design and others. As the book progressed, we invited more and more people to be part of it. This gave us a group of about 200 people that were ready and willing to help us promote the book by the time it was done,” says Sean Sumner.
Sumner used a landing page and email auto-response system to gain a “launch team” of followers, and give them instructions on how to purchase and help promote the book when it was ready.
“This helped us get both digital and print sales to spark the Amazon algorithm to recognize us, plus it got us several reviews early which helped tremendously in long term sales as well.”
Sumner donated proceeds from the launch to Autism Speaks. Aligning with a charity boosted support for the book, gave followers another incentive to share the story, and also gave additional reasons for media outlets such as local news and TV stations to cover Emma Sumner’s debut children’s book.
Host a Competition
Stacey Greene wrote her first book, a fiction titled Stronger Than Broken: One Couple’s Decision to Move Through an Affair with no prior marketing experience—but she decided to invest in whatever a Kindle Fire cost at that time, open a competition for anyone who purchased and reviewed the book, and offer the book at a promotional rate of $0.99.
“I had a Kindle Fire Contest for anyone who made a verified purchase of the book during a specific three-day period. Then, they had to post a “verified customer” review within the next two days. I took all of the reviews that were posted during that period of time, put them into a bag ,and videotaped a friend reading a few of the reviews and picking the winner. I sent the video to everyone on my email list and ordered the Kindle Fire to go directly to the winner,” Greene explains.
Additionally, having several reviews all come in at once boosted her ranking on Amazon.
She promoted the competition to a fairly decent email list she had acquired from some of her other home-based businesses, and posted it on Facebook and Twitter.
Don’t have the money for a Kindle Fire? Start with a Goodreads competition instead. The only cost is the price of shipping your book to the winner, and the competition is even open to those who don’t already follow you.
Participate in a Relevant Event
Professional bartender Johnny Welsh wrote Weedgalized in Colorado: True Tales From the High Country, featuring on-the-ground stories from Colorado’s historic transformation into a cannabis-friendly state. The book doubles as a reference guide, listing dispensaries, strains, and more.
His technique was to use social media to include followers on some of the early decisions of the book creation process (such as allowing them to vote on their favorite version of the cover), and to keep fans informed on the book’s subject matter, release date, and how to purchase pre-release copies.
He kept old followers in the loop, gained new ones, and boosted sales, when he tabled at a relevant event.
“Since my topic is cannabis related and Colorado, I participated in a pre-release campaign at a 420 (marijuana) celebration. I had pre-release bookmarks with a synopsis and photo of book cover. I took many photos from this event with people holding up a mock copy of my book, and these went on all my social media sites. Comedian Ngaio Beallum was present and I also have a photo of him holding up my book,” says Welsh.
Collect Early Feedback
William L Ruff is a self-published Kindle author who is currently in the process of re-releasing his first novel, Sh*tty Beijing Bike. When he started writing, he wanted to emulate the drive and determination of writers like Hugh Howie, but there was a problem—he didn’t have any readers, and he didn’t know if he was any good at writing.
“I’d finally written enough that I thought I might have a book, and I was dying to know what people thought of it. Of course I thought it was great, but what would other people think? If I was serious about pursuing a career in writing, I needed to be able to put something out there myself, and potentially hear that my writing was terrible,” he says.
He found these reviewers on Facebook, at events, and through flyers posted around town.
He used a Google form, and requested detailed notes, including the reader’s age, location, and whether they would recommend the story to a friend.
“All of their feedback was useful. I had people giving feedback on grammar, general responses like ‘Give me more,’ and questions about things that might have happened before or after, which was great. I also had people tell me a section contained too much exposition and that they didn’t want to read any more, and so I had to figure out a way to change the exposition into actions and dialogue. I finally had an understanding of how I sounded to various readers, and an outline of how I could get better,” says Ruff.
The end result of his review collection efforts was 100 new email subscribers, over 130 new Facebook likes, and of course, better writing skills.
Ruff has even more tips for you on his own blog, so check out this post if you’d like to read more.
Choose Your Keywords Wisely
When social worker and freelance health writer Iris Waichler wrote Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents, the award-winning non-fiction author picked the best keyword that reflected her book theme—”caregiving”—and started from there.
“I went on Twitter and Facebook and found the caregiver sites that have the biggest following. I contacted them and volunteered to write an article or asked about being a contributor. This cost me nothing and immediately I had a large number of people who knew I had an interest in caregiving.”
This also helped Waichler with networking. She asked the editors if they would review or pitch her book, and approached caregiving experts for testimonials she could use for book ads.
“At the very least, at the end of my articles I could pitch it,” she says.
Now It’s Your Turn
Social media is a free tool that, when used correctly, can substantially boost your book sales. The key is to use social media strategically.
Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads are great platforms for self-published authors to interact with fans, but should be used in conjunction with other tools and techniques that will draw the fans to these pages in the first place.
So if your book’s sales numbers aren’t where you’d like them to be and your social engagement is dwindling, it may be time to get out a pen and paper, brew a cup of tea, and start plotting your social media strategy.