How Successful Authors Use Social Media to Sell More Books

How Successful Authors Use Social Media to Sell More Books

This column is excerpted from Guide to Literary Agents, from Writer’s Digest Books.

GIVEAWAY: Chuck is giving away a copy of his book, Create Your Writer Platform, to a random commenter. Comment within one week to enter! (Must live in US or Canada to win.) (UPDATE: Marjorie won!)

Increasing your author visibility through different online channels allows you to meet readers, cultivate an audience, and increase your discoverability to sell more books. But finding your ideal social media channels is not the easiest thing to figure out and implement.

That’s why I’ve reached out to some experts for advice. I asked six different platform-heavy writers — three nonfiction, three fiction — for their best general advice in terms of using social media. Here’s what they had to say:

Do you have any general advice for writers looking to market themselves and their work via social media, promotion and platform?

Mignon Fogarty: Creator of Grammar Girl, @GrammarGirl

“I think you really have to enjoy interacting on social networks or you won’t do it well or stay with it. You can’t force yourself to do it; you have to find the things you like and do those even if they aren’t the most popular. For one person it might be Twitter, for another LinkedIn, for another YouTube, for another podcasting, and another blogging.

Also, I think some authors are too afraid to ask people to buy their book. I spend hours (and hours and hours) of my time answering people’s questions without compensation, so when I have a new book out, I don’t hesitate to post about it. I believe I’ve earned the right to market my products.

On the other extreme, I see a lot of authors jump into Twitter and immediately start doing nothing but push their book. They haven’t earned the right to market their products, and all they do is turn people off.”

Mary Kole: Former literary agent and author of Writing Irresistible Kidlit, @kid_lit

“I have gotten flack for saying this before, but I am sticking to my guns: do it well or don’t do it at all. There are billions of blogs and websites out there. On the Internet, if you build it, they will not automatically come. You have to give people a good reason to spend their precious time on your real estate.

Don’t blog or tweet or Facebook because you think you have to. Your reluctance will ooze from the screen. Don’t engage if you can’t keep it consistent, both in terms of timing and in terms of quality.

Figure out what you’re best at, then do that well and forget the other stuff. You should have some online presence, but you don’t have to jump into everything all at once, especially if you’re going to do it badly or irregularly.” (Like this idea? Click to tweet it).

Dr. Lissa Rankin: Author of Mind Over Medicine, @Lissarankin

“Stay true to your integrity. I can’t tell you how many times I have said no, even though it sounded like such a good platform-building opportunity.

Listen to your gut (which I call your “inner pilot light” — that wise part of you that really knows what’s best for you, your body, your relationships, and your business). Don’t let fear rule the show.

In the beginning, I said yes to everything because I was afraid I’d miss an opportunity, and I wound up quickly burned out, depleted. But you can’t lead or heal from a place of depletion. You must heal yourself first in order to change the world. That’s the one lesson I’d share with aspiring authors/visionaries/healers.

Don’t let platform building spiral you downwards. Fill yourself first. Learn to say no. Create healthy boundaries. Raise your vibration. Attract others who share this vibration. Avoid the temptation to get sucked into doing everything for everybody. You are enough doing exactly what you’re doing. Resist the urge to continually do more.

Billy Coffey: Author of Snow Day, @billycoffey

“Whether fair or not, getting your good story into the hands of the public now depends in large part upon your reach, and your reach depends in large part upon your savvy with blogs and social media. That can be a scary thing.

Writers are notoriously withdrawn and even shy. The idea of having to ‘put yourself out there’ can be tantamount to having to tap dance in front of a firing squad. But it can be done. I promise that, and I offer myself as proof.”

Amy Julia Becker: Author of A Good and Perfect Gift, @amyjuliabecker

“My biggest warning is that you can’t do it all. I’ve tried to approach platform building like organic farming. I’m cultivating what grows (my audience, hopefully), but I’m trying to do so without gimmicks and with integrity and respect for the writing itself. I hope that this is a sustainable method that will also bear fruit, so to speak, with a faithful and steadily, if slowly, growing audience.

I think a lot about limitations and possibilities. If I limit my time platform building, I open up time for family or exercise or working on a larger project. If I focus on the possibilities of platform building, I limit my time for those other things. I try to keep it all in balance rather than thinking that I can, or should, do it all.

Quick note from Chuck: I am now taking on clients as a freelance editor. If your query or synopsis or manuscript needs a look from a professional, please consider my editing services. Thanks!

If you could go back in time and do it all over again, what would you tell your younger self in terms of platform?

Mignon Fogarty: Creator of Grammar Girl, @GrammarGirl

“I knocked myself out for a year doing my email newsletter every day and for one quarter doing my podcast twice a week — and in retrospect, I don’t think it was worth the effort. Weekly is enough. The benefit from publishing daily and podcasting twice a week was minimal.”

Mary Kole: Former literary agent and author of Writing Irresistible Kidlit, @kid_lit

“This may sound like bad advice but: Blog less! I was killing myself trying to blog three times a week at Kidlit, then I added two extra blogs and tried doing those twice a week, too.

The result? I’d travel or freak out and let the blogs go to seed for a while, and that was altogether worse than blogging less frequently because dead blogs and silence are the ultimate online networking sins.

It’s very possible to have a platform with the ‘less is more’ philosophy, as long as you focus on the absolute quality of your efforts.

Gina Holmes: Author of Crossing Oceans and Dry as Rain

“I would tell myself that helping others succeed would translate into the biggest personal success. I would tell myself to go ahead and build my wings on the way down, and not to stress over every little number, setback, or failure.”

Dr. Lissa Rankin: Author of Mind Over Medicine, @Lissarankin

“Oh, if only someone had told me to put a free opt-in in the upper right corner of three years ago! After two years of great traffic, we had only 1,200 people on our newsletter list. (The sign-up was buried way down on the page and there was no free gift to entice people to fill it out.)

The minute someone told me to offer a free gift, we got 5,000 new sign-ups in a month! Free teleseminars and telesummits (I’m about to do my first) are another great way to grow your newsletter list quickly.”

Billy Coffey: Author of Snow Day, @billycoffey

“I would have definitely started building my platform earlier. My younger self was stubborn and ignorant. I was one of those people who thought I could buck the system. And yet everything I’ve been able to achieve to this point is the direct result of finally understanding the importance of platform.

Amy Julia Becker: Author of A Good and Perfect Gift, @amyjuliabecker

“My greatest success has been my blog. I’ve wasted time speaking without pay, especially when there is travel involved. I’ve also wasted time (and money) creating a website. Don’t get me wrong, I needed a website, but I should have been far more realistic about how much time it would take and what that time is worth.

In addition, I would have begun blogging and writing short essays from the start. Not only would I have gained readers (and perhaps a book contract) much earlier, but I also would have benefitted as a writer from blogging.

Blogging has improved the quality of my writing, and it also gives me a place to try out ideas. Most days, I write something, and two or three people comment on it and a few dozen share it through social media. But every so often, I write something and it provokes dozens of comments and hundreds of shares. I pay attention to that type of reaction because it means I should possibly write more about the same topic.”

Special thanks to those writers who chimed in with answers.

Don’t forget to comment to be in the running for Chuck’s book giveaway! You could win a free copy of his latest book, Create Your Writer Platform. (UPDATE: Marjorie won!)

Other TWL Guest Posts by Chuck Sambuchino:

  1. The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

  2. When Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

  3. Querying Literary Agents: Your Top 9 Questions Answered

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

Filed Under: Marketing


  • Chris P says:

    I would love a copy of the book to help get my writing jump-started.

  • Dorothy Shamah says:

    Thanks, Chuck…love that those who shared said what I had hoped would be true.
    Good work..

  • Pamela says:

    I try hard to do all the right things to build my platform. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’ll take all the help I can get!

  • Ron says:

    Writing is what I do almost every waking moment. It’s how I get everything out of my head to make way for more things. I have a website but no idea what to do with it. This has been a helpful column.

  • Shelby J. says:

    My first novel is still in (incomplete) first draft. When I try to plan ahead I see lots of advice to have a good platform. No matter how much I have read on the subject, I remain confused about where to go, when and how much.

  • Julio Saldana says:

    I see now what I must do. I must come out of my shell and let people laugh at my mistakes because I will grown as a writer. My ego is our of tue

  • Diane Lockard says:

    I am in the process of publishing a book for eight to twelve-year olds, Growing Up in Montana, and your book showing how to use social media would be terrific!

    Diane Lockard

  • Laura Bartlett says:

    Thank you! Great info! Social media can be confusing!

  • elise says:

    Great blog post, Chuck. Thanks for the useful advice.

  • Lydia says:

    It’s nice to see blogging isn’t dead after all, and gasp, even encouraged! It’s ironic how much contradictory information is out there regarding social networking tools. I agree that you need to find what works best for you. Whether that be a blog, or Twitter, or FB, or what have you.

  • Sunny Kelley says:

    I’m So Glad to learn- some of the hang ups I have experienced lately aren’t uncommon!

    Thanks for Sharing!

  • Heidi U says:

    Great feedback from all of these authors. So helpful to get advice from people doing it. Thank you for sharing the information!

  • Brenda Roberts says:

    All of this is great information! The techno!ogy is evolving so rapidly it is overwhelming! But I am willing to stay in the game!!!

  • Kristie L Foreman says:

    Thank you so much for the articles above. I have heard opposing sides of this argument, Blog or not to blog. I was happy to hear someone say there was no right answer but suit it to ourselves as long as we are in the game. The last article I read stated “If you don’t have a twittler account, get one.” I am in the process of writing my books and am not ready to open myself up to full-time blogging, tweeting etc. I have created a website as a start. My digital cover is in the works. When the cover is finished I will be uploading the first two books. Then I will be in a better position to blog or answer any questions about the books or myself. As for now, I am creating a bit of curiosity with a small group of family and friends. Wish me luck for growth and getting to a comfortable level of blogging success in the future. Thanks again. K

  • Erin Smith says:

    I write as often as I can. The writer’s that are featured on your blog and in your book offered great advice. I am just starting out, and trying to think about how to build my platform is hard. This is a great book for aspiring and published writers alike!!!

  • Gia Saulnier says:

    I have found Social Media really great to help promote our small events and now my picture book. However, I would say it’s a reap what you sow thing. I do also want to put my two cents in to say that NOT everyone is online (shocking, I know). Make sure that you also have business cards with your website and other social media sites that you have available.
    Get social with your Social Media. Make it a conversation rather than make it a sales pitch every single day, not only will you lose customers but you will most likely lose followers and worse friends.

  • Krys H says:

    Great tips. It can be hard to put yourself out there and try to sell your work.

  • CC says:

    It seems logical to me to use social media to sell books. I’ve checked out several sites to see what some of my favorite authors do for their platforms. Unfortunately, many of these are okay to sad. The really good stuff is done by the fandoms. Sometimes, I think it would be easier to invest in groupies than a blog. The only way to get fans is to write a memorable book. The only way to get a book read is to have good advertising where people are going to see it. It’s a vicious cycle.

  • Shela says:

    Great advice. It is nice to hear from several people, what worked for them, and what they wish they did differently. I know for me it feels a bit awkward to put myself out there, but hopefully with time and practice I will figure it all out. Luckily there are people and places, like this column, to seek the help I know I will need. Thanks.

  • Lindsay says:

    Very helpfui; thanks!!

  • Leigh says:

    Quite informative! Thanks!

  • Christopher Reeve says:

    I would like to express much gratitude for this wonderful advice. I found the article to be helpful and well rounded. I praticularly enjoyed the fact that both fiction and non-fiction were well represented. It is also helpful to read the comments posted. I feel that this has been pratical and sound advice. Thank you for this community and this forum.

  • Jeff Oddo says:

    Chuck, I love the premise of the book and the feedback the others provided. I’ve worked in corporate PR for over 10 years and a big portion of my job and work day is to help the executives I support build strong personal brands. I always counsel them with the same advice: there is no “magic bullet,” you cannot automate the process and, most important, you can’t build a strong brand and platform in social media if you do not have the time or the temperament to SOCIALIZE.

    Social media, in my mind, is like an author doing a book signing at a small, local bookstore. The turnout will be light at those initial signings, so you have to do a lot of “hand selling” of your books. You have to “sell yourself” before you can sell your books. Authors in those situations often put a lot of time into building those initial personal relationships (after all, with a small turnout, authors are forced to spend quality time with those customers).

    But guess what? Those personal exchanges create a powerful and personal customer experience. That one reader, provided the book is a quality read, will tell 3-4 friends and provide a glowing recommendation. That begins the process of building your platform.

    It takes time. It takes hard work. It takes a social personality. It takes a commitment to be consistent and to provide valuable content to your community. That is how you build a strong platform.

  • Em says:

    This was a helpful article. Makes me think about how I’m blogging, not just that I’m blogging. (and I’d love a copy of the book!)

  • Florian Pekazh says:

    Very interesting article, thanks for sharing 🙂