Guest post: Social Media Isn’t a Numbers Game

More food for thought on marketing yourself from our friends at authoright . . .

The wave of social media has crested, the rush is over and the dust has settled; now that everyone has migrated to cyberspace, it’s time to start thinking about how best to use it. When given the advice to ‘use social media’ far too many authors take that to mean ‘gain as many followers and likes as possible, and then ruthlessly plug your book as often as you can.’ No, this is not the way forward. The truth is that social media alone - even if used effectively - isn’t going to sell your book, and the sort of activity described above might even harm sales by putting off potential readers.

When authors first create their social media profiles the usual starting point is to connect with other writers, as it will often be your peers who’ll be most likely to give you a helping hand by mentioning you in tweets or ‘liking’ your Facebook page. They tend to do this in the hope that you’ll return the favour. This ‘follow me and I’ll follow you back’ method isn’t entirely inadvisable as it can be a great way to kick-start your social media activity and gain your first few followers. However the reality is that if you’re only connected to other people trying to promote themselves and their own books, you’re all just shouting over each other and no one detached from that sphere is listening.

It can be tempting, especially when you see other self published authors with thousands of followers, to stick with this method until you get a serious number of connections. The truth is though, that 1,000 followers from other writers with no interest in buying your book are far less valuable than 10 genuine fans who are keen to know more about you and your work. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the number of followers an author has can bear little relation to how many books they’ve sold. Some might even have paid for fake ‘fans’; you can buy 500 Facebook ‘likes’ for around £40 or $60 if you know where to look. In short, having a huge social media audience is only useful if it’s made up of potential book buyers, so buying ‘likes’ or concentrating on getting other authors to follow you back can be a waste of valuable time and money.

There is a belief that potential readers might look you up on social media sites and be put off if they see a small number of followers. Frankly this is just not true. One of the UK’s best-selling self published authors of 2012, Nick Spalding, has just under 600 Facebook ‘likes’ and most of these will have come from fans who’ve looked him up after reading his books, not before. If someone does inquire before buying your work, they could be put off if they see a Twitter feed filled with ‘BUY MY BOOK’ spam, whereas if they see something interesting, personality or opinion driven, or just a good bit of old-fashioned banter with readers they may be more inclined to get involved themselves.

This advice may well be seen to contradict the belief held by many that social media is the best platform ever invented for targeting potential readers. Evidence from successful self published authors would suggest that while it may be part of the marketing mix it shouldn’t be the be-all-and-end-all. Best-selling Sci-Fi writer J.A. Konrath has achieved massive success self publishing his work, yet he claims to have done relatively little promotional work via social media platforms. He gives his view on social networks on his blog

‘My take on Twitter and Facebook is similar to my take on advertising. Maybe it'll bring in some sales, but I haven't found it brings in enough to justify the time and money spent. I have 10,000 followers on Twitter. They don't follow me because they are anxiously awaiting news of my next published book, They follow me because of what I have to offer. Namely, information.’ 

Nick Spalding shares a similar view to Konrath. In an interview with IndieIQ he explains:

‘I have a Facebook page, a blog and I tweet. I’m not an avid user of any, but I always like to read what the audience think of my work and social media gives me a chance to interact with them, even if it is sometimes on a superficial level due to workload. The best thing about social media is that it gives readers a chance to communicate directly with a writer, which I’ve always thought is pretty cool. I don’t think it helps with sales much though, in my experience.’ 

So social media should really be used as a tool to connect with the readers you’ve already attracted and as a place where you can establish yourself as a brand for those discovering you for the first time. As yet, it’s use as a platform for finding genuine new readers remains somewhat unproven. It’s certainly a great way to announce giveaway days or little incentives designed to help boost word-of-mouth coverage of your book. If you’re going to transform social media ‘success’ into sales, then you’ll have to be more innovative and creative than simply sending 20 ‘BUY MY BOOK’ tweets every day. Can anyone honestly say that they’ve bought a book on the basis of an author telling them to do so on twitter or Facebook? I haven’t. I have, however, followed authors whose novels I’ve already read in the hope of being informed of future releases. It can be tempting to play the numbers game when counting ‘likes’ or followers seems like an easily quantifiable measure of ‘success’, but don’t overdo it as it could distract you from engaging in more useful forms of promotion, or writing from your next project.


  1. Jonathan Gunson, author of the Merlin Mystery published by Harper Collins and seller of 350,000 copies of his book recommends building an author platform where you talk about the 'world around your book' to create interest rather than the hard sell. He talks about the four step approach - AIDA - attention, interest, desire and action as stepping stones to sales. He also makes the point that a marketing-savvy author with a platform is more likely to be picked by a publisher or agent over one that doesn't have that advantage. Is this true?

  2. My own take is to use a blog primarily as a means of writing rather than as a means of selling writing. In other words, it's a shop window revealing something about what I (will) have to offer. When the time comes I will use other means of publicity to bring people to my blog and thence to my book.

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