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 OwningPink.com 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!

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151 comments

  • Sharon P. Lynn says:

    This was a great way to remind people that social media is a tool for writers. We don’t need to let it overwhelm us.

  • April D says:

    I enjoyed reading the different author perspectives on best approaching social media. Lots of food for thought, here – Thanks!

  • Tina G. says:

    Great post!
    This reminds us all of two things I think we often forget as we get caught up in things. 1. Enjoy what you do 2. Less is more
    Thank you for a good read.

  • Wanda Argersinger says:

    Even with all the evidence, I hear writer’s say they don’t have the time; they don’t want to bother; they just want to write, have adoring fans; they just want to write.

    All writer’s need to interact with their readers and social media makes that ‘chore’ not so arduous.

  • Dawn says:

    As some others have mentioned, I hesitate, too, to share too much of my writing on a social media platform, but I’m very intrigued by this article and am willing to open myself up a bit more to new possibilities. After all, you can’t get anywhere staying in place, right?

  • Andre Cruz says:

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  • Yilin Wang says:

    Great advice on social media. Thank you for sharing! The point about doing what you enjoy really resonate with me. I’ve been trying to get onto some social media networks but they just didn’t interest me so I gave up…

  • Emily Wenstrom says:

    Such valuable insights! One of my resolutions for this year was to “do less” including for my blog, and this reaffirms my sense that I don’t need to be working at it constantly in order to do it well. Thank you.

  • Reba says:

    Encouraging in a way to see how most writers share the same frustrations. I get so engrossed in writing & promoting my grief book for widows that sometimes that I have to remind myself not to let WRITING about life get in the way of LIVING my life and SHARING my life with my family.

  • Veronica Blake says:

    This article came at a perfect time for me, because my FB writing page was just hacked last week and I’ve been worried about whether or not I should start a new one. Since I’m looking for a new agent for my latest book, I was worried if I didn’t have a presence on as many media sites as possible, I wouldn’t have a strong author platform. After reading your great advice and the advice of everyone else who commented here, I’m going to concentrate on the sites where I feel I am most comfortable, like my blog and Twitter. Since receiving no help or support from FB when my page was hacked, I don’t feel very good about being there anymore. Thank you so much.

    • Mildred R Holmes says:

      Your personal Facebook account controls your Facebook page. Or one of your administrators, if you have another admin.

  • Sharon Hughson says:

    I have been following Kristen Lamb’s advice from Rise of the Machines: Authors in the Digital Age. It doubled my blog followers but I still haven’t completed all ten steps in her “to do” list.
    I just don’t really follow any of my favorite authors online (who has time to do that with writing and reading to become a better writer and keeping up with regular life – chores and cooking and such), so it’s hard for me to fathom that someday my readers will want to follow me online.

  • Connie says:

    Thanks for including @ info with all these helpful comments!

  • Marjorie Eldred says:

    What great information! Thanks to all who shared their journey and hard-earned wisdom. Building a platform has to be the most daunting part of the writing journey for me. Thanks for the chance at what has to be my most-needed book!

  • Tamy Burns says:

    Thank You All!! (Sorry, My Phone Is Capping Each Word.) I Am A Firm Believer In Building Relationships And Helping Others. That, To Me, Is Success.

  • Bob Jones says:

    Very valuable content. So glad I read this. Especially enjoyed the responses under “what I would could tell my younger self about platform.”

  • Lynne Schuyler says:

    Really great advice from the writers; this posting had substance and details. I love it when examples are used and some depth is added to advice given. Thanks!

  • Kate larking says:

    Interesting. Thanks for posting this.

  • Kelly says:

    I really love what Mignon said. It speaks to authenticity. Thanks for the tip!!

  • Olive says:

    This is a great topic. As a relatively new writer it’s been really hard for me to figure out what I need to do to create an authorial presence. I’ve been caught up creating social media sites and then found I don’t have time to manage them all. That last comment from Amy about creating a blog and just writing… That really resonated with me and that’s what I’m going to try to do.

  • Jaime Geraldi says:

    Thanks for this awesome opportunity! *fingers crossed*

  • Robin McCormick says:

    Great info! Thanks for sharing.
    I would love to win your book. It is one I need to add to my shelf.

  • Laura Baker says:

    Interesting, informative & helpful excerpt. I enjoyed reading the personal perspectives in the quotes from different authors! Social media doesn’t come easy to everyone, it’s one big learning experience.

  • Paula Howell says:

    Platform building can definitely be very overwhelming. It’s great to receive very useful bits of advice from others who don’t mind sharing their wealth of experience with those who are just starting out…or who are still trying to figure out what works for them. Thanks for sharing!

  • A. E. Lowan says:

    Thank you for this helpful article. We just started our Twitter account a few weeks ago, and it has been a new experience. Very much like talking into a cacophony. We’re looking forward to seeing how we can apply these tips to expand our platform in the new year!

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