Monday, February 7, 2011

How Does Social Media Sell Books?

100_5048A question I frequently get, and which I heard a lot this weekend at the Cape Fear Crime Festival, is “Does social media sell books?”

Many writers worry about spending time away from writing. Between the demands of job and family, it can be hard to even find time for writing. They want a good reason to invest time in social media.

What does social media give a writer? A platform.

Platform: When a writer has a healthy platform, it indicates to an agent or publisher the size of the potential audience that the writer can reach, promotion-wise, on their personal network. Or, as former literary agent Nathan Bransford put it:

Platform is the number of eyeballs you can summon as you promote your book.

The important thing, of course, is not to over-promote to this network you’ve established. That's the fastest way to lose followers. A subtle approach is always better.

Your platform leads to a certain amount of name recognition: Let’s say there’s a writer named Bob. Bob worked for years writing a book, edited for ages, crafted a query, honed a synopsis and his publishing dream finally became a reality. Now his book is on the shelf and online with thousands of other books. What makes Bob’s book stand out from the others?

He did write a great book. Is it his reviews? Not too many readers follow reviews, though. Is it his back cover copy? His cover art? Those things do help…but what can help more than anything is name recognition for the book title or author or some recognition of the cover art. I’ve had readers email me that my book almost jumped off the shelf at them because the cover and my name were familiar—their eyes went right to it.

I’ve done the same thing myself. I took my daughter to the book store into the children’s and YA area in early December. She asked me to help her find a book—and we were in a rush, needing to get to another event. “Could you pick one out, Mama? I can’t decide,” she said. I scanned the shelves and one of Janice Hardy’s books seemed to leap at me. “Here you go,” I said. “Let’s give this one a go. Ms. Hardy is a great writer.” And off we went to the register.

Have I ever met Janice in person? No. I know Janice from the blogging and Twitter world. She writes amazing posts on the writing craft. Would I have gone right to her book—bypassing hundreds of other attractively-packaged children’s books that were nearby-- without knowing Janet online? I think eventually we ‘d have discovered her wonderful books…but it would have taken us a lot longer.

I’ve heard writers worry over the fact that their social media is only reaching other writers—who are also promoting their own books. The only way I can answer that is to say that I’ve had very healthy sales and nearly sold-through my advance on pre-orders alone for last summer’s release. Who knew about my book before it came out? Writers did. They might have bought the book to support me or because of curiosity or because they thought a family member or friend might like it. But I believe that my strong numbers were nearly completely due to writers.

With social media, unless you’re tracking clicks over to a buy link, you may not have data to directly tie in your social media efforts to your sales. My data is limited to reports of sales that I’ve gotten from my network (messages from followers that they’d purchased a book), and sales in general.

But I believe that building a platform through social media results in sales. What’s more, my agent and editors believe it, too. These days, in fact, agents and editors will likely consider a writer’s platform as part of the overall package that includes their writing talent.

I know several of my regular readers have had great success with social media promoting. I know that even aside from promotion, that we all get a lot from our online network of writers. What is your impression of social media promo, either from what you’ve observed or what you’ve tried?