As I’ve been revising my blog posts into a book about my first year of independent publishing, I’ve found a significant amount to revise. Mostly its because I’ve learned more about the process since I first wrote various posts. Usually I know what changes I need to make, but on the topic of self promotion my choices are less clear.
As I’ve written before, there are many who say that the use of social media networking is the author’s friend. At first this seemed like a no-brainer to me. It’s FREE, and provides a means to connect with readers and establish a relationship with them so that they’ll be more interested in buying books. It’s important to be genuinely friendly and not just say, “Buy my book,” over and over again. One method to do this is to find a topic you really enjoy and discuss that, not your book. It’s a pretty well established principle that people prefer doing business with people they like, so all this makes sense.
Except there are people and surveys that suggest that spending time on social media networks isn’t really very productive, as measured by sales. Joe Konrath reports that after watching his sales very carefully in relation to when he did blog tours or gave national interviews, he found that his sales barely moved. Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch both recommend spending your time writing the next book rather than promoting the last one. In a survey done by Bowker and Romance Writers of America, readers reported that they were not influenced to buy by reading an author’s Tweets, Facebook, or their blogs.
I know I’m not. But even knowing this, I still find the the idea that using social media is the author’s ticket to big sales seductive and hard to ignore. It suggests that we have some measure of control, that we have a way to directly influence buyers. If even traditional publishers expect their authors to get out there and hustle, it must work, right?
So what’s an indie author to do? Does social media work, or not? How do we tell the world our book exists? How do we find our audience?
I feel a little disingenuous telling you that social media doesn’t work when I haven’t given it the full court press myself. Even though various surveys’ data suggests it’s not much use, I use Twitter occasionally for a brief announcement that a book is free (not what social media experts say you’re supposed to do), and Facebook a little more because it amuses me. But does it help my business? I think a few people have found my books because of it. Is that enough to justify the time spent? That’s harder to say. When you’re starting out every sale is a singular and special event. An author friend says she notices a small spike in sales when she occasionally mentions her books. Two others have used Goodreads’ contests to good effect.I blog because I read advice two and a half years ago that said I should build my online platform before I publish. I enjoy the blogging, but has it helped my sales?
I can answer the last question with a qualified yes. I’m pretty sure I’ve made sales because other writers found my blog. That led to me being invited to guest post to a wider audience because, and to teach a class on indie publishing. So that, at least, has been worth the time invested.
I’ve also used price manipulation to attract readers. At various times I’ve made my books free on Kindle Select. (You can make your books free without being exclusive to Amazon, but it’s a little more complicated, and you won’t have as much control over the dates. I use KS because Amazon has, for the moment, the biggest share of the online market by far, and I like making money from Amazon Prime borrows.) I firmly believe that many, many more people have discovered my books because they were free than would have through social media, and it took up much less of my time.
What I’ve concluded from reading various points of view is that authors need to use different tools when they’re at various points of their careers. A brand new author with no publishing history most needs to write and publish multiple books, but they also need to do a little social media to at least let their friends know they have a book out. Once a writer has a few books out, then it might make sense to spend a little more time promoting, like soliciting reviews. But even then, writing should be the top priority. I, for one, am not a fast writer, so the best use my time is to create the books that my fans are asking for. Later, when an author has an established following her need for social networking diminishes again, as word of mouth is her primary and most effective promotion.
That’s the plan I’m using for now, until I see data that convinces me to change course. Because in the end, it’s our books that readers want most, not our Tweets.