by Lisa Norman
Every day, authors ask me how to survive the current social media meltdown.
Here is some of the bad news authors are focusing on:
There’s no denying it: these statistics are concerning. If you are an author who has built their entire platform on Twitter or Facebook, you may feel lost as to how to proceed.
There are some statistics out there that make it seem like very few people read anymore.
But there’s hope! Let’s dig just a bit into some options that can break our dependence on specific platforms and empower our marketing at the same time.
I’m a chronic optimist, and I’ve been teaching authors creative ways of dealing with social media for years now. So, let’s change our focus! Allow me to share some tips to help you weather changes in the social media environment.
Studies show that social media following alone is terrible at driving book sales.
Yes, TikTok is a current exception to that trend. Publishers and authors are rushing to build platforms on TikTok, to move their marketing dollars to TikTok, and to struggle to replicate the success that some authors have had there.
The problem is, they’re missing the point of TikTok and how those successes came about.
I don’t want to say that authors and publishers can’t have a powerful presence on TikTok, because some certainly are doing it. But the big success stories that we see were not driven by the authors! The big successes were driven by fans sharing books that they loved.
There’s a wholesome, grass-roots sort of feel to some of these book recommendations that drives sales in powerful ways.
Now yes, this has become a moneymaking business for some of these TikTok influencers. They’ll feature your book on their platform, for a price. I don’t have a lot of faith that these financial transactions will have as much power as a 16-year-old girl crying over the ending of her favorite book.
The most powerful TikTok sales are driven by fans recommending books they love, not by authors saying “buy my book!” This is the way of social media.
I’m not saying that you can’t sell books through social media. What I am saying, though, is that the size of a person’s following does not translate to number of books sold.
There’s a difference between followers and super-fans.
Super-fans don’t just buy books, they sell them.
Social media is a great place to meet people and get to know them. It is a place to make friends and connections with people you might not meet otherwise. Social media is a place to meet and cultivate new fans.
Followers are just potential fans. Don’t show me your follower numbers. Show me your super-fans, the ones who can’t wait to buy your books and who can’t wait to tell others about them.
Give me 10 super-fans over 10,000 followers any day.
Want to dive deeper into this? Check out my marketing wheel analogy in a previous WITS article.
When you are in an enormous space with millions of people vying for attention, it is easy to get lost in the noise. You may be able to buy your way to a bit of notice, but when the money dries up, so does the attention.
Instead, if you find a small space filled with potential super-fans who love topics you are passionate about, you can meet amazing people, form lasting friendships, and make connections that can change a career.
One author I know has a tiny following, but among her devoted followers is an influential blogger in her niche. That one contact could open up connections with other bloggers in her niche and get her book a lot of exposure.
A super-fan with a marketing background contacted another author I know. When the fan realized the publicity challenges authors deal with, they took over marketing the book so the author could focus on writing the sequel. Don’t we all want to have a super-fan like that?
When you are in a small space, you can build connections with people who care about your success and want to help. We call these people our street-team. I’ve worked with marketing pros, and they tell me you can’t buy the power of a committed group of super-fans functioning as your street-team.
Look at any highly productive, successful author. I bet you’ll find a tight-knit group of super-fans.
If you’re dealing with marketing stress and forcing yourself into a toxic environment that is bad for your mental health, you may be wasting your time.
Here’s what I hear often: “Social media doesn’t work!” and then there’s a sigh... and a pause... and then a confession. “I hate it.”
And we wonder why social media isn’t working for them? Often this is followed by “shoulds” or “have tos” that they’ve heard, often from marketing advice intended for corporations rather than creatives. Here’s the good news: you don’t HAVE to be on any platform you don’t want to be on!
Find a space you love. Go there for the fun. If you need to set a timer and limit your time on social media so that you get your writing done, you’re on the right track.
I remember a time before social media. Actually, I remember a time before the internet, but we won’t go there. I’ve watched social media platforms rise and fall. I’ve seen massive platforms that I adored (anyone remember Compuserve?) rise and fall.
You don’t want to build your business in someone else’s store.
Social media is great for meeting people, but in the perfect marketing scenario for writers, you’re going to bring them home to a place that you control.
If you are bringing your ideal fans back to your special space, it doesn’t matter when the platform you met on goes away. You can stay in touch via your email list!
Some authors are even building special gathering spaces for their fans. I was in a discussion recently with a group of authors who were wondering if maybe private forums were going to make a comeback.
I don’t know, but it is interesting.
Yes, the economy is looking pretty bleak. The BookScan (official sales) statistics for most genres these days are concerning. Note: books sold through author websites don’t show up on BookScan. Neither do ePub sales. Neither do library sales. There are vast swaths of the industry that are not always reflected in statistics.
Some people are even cutting down on their doom-scrolling through social media platforms and replacing that time with digital story reading. Much better for mental health.
In the past, I’ve mentioned the warning given by an Ingram representative to a group of publishers back in 2021. He warned that digital reading was a trend the industry must pay attention to. We don’t want to miss the trend towards transmedia-centered, fandom-centered, online digital reading.
... and many other fiction platforms are seeing growth.
We talk about the way people skim when reading these days. Especially, young professionals in our modern world want content that is available to them whenever they have a moment.
In the past, you would read a book and turn the last page and feel sad. You wanted the book to go on. Maybe you’d reach out to that author, try to find more books. But we accepted that losing the story world was a part of reading the book.
That is not how modern readers want to experience a story. They want to turn that last page and then have discussions with others who have read the book. They want to delve deeper into the characters and the topics of the book. Give them an opportunity to engage with the author and the story world, and they become devoted super-fans.
As we go into 2023, it looks like budgets may be tight. People may not be going on fancy vacations or spending money on expensive physical books as much as they have at other times, especially not with the increase in printing costs. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t looking for adventure and escape! People need an escape from the everyday onslaught of bad news.
Ah, but many of these newer venues don’t pay authors very well. Many super-fans are deeply aware of this problem, and they are happy to support their favorite authors. Fans are supporting their favorite authors through platforms like Patreon, Ko-Fi, and Kickstarter in exchange for stories.
In a discussion on Discord, an artist made this cat picture as a joke because I'd said that cat pictures rule the internet and we were talking about learning to ask fans for support. If you like it, maybe go throw a dollar at Nnie. Because that's how creatives stick together! That's how Ko-fi works.
Authors who have learned to embrace their super-fans, cultivate them, give them what they want, are seeing potential new opportunities where others are seeing disaster. I’m a big believer in author experimentation. It can be all too easy to do things “the way they have always been done.” But we often forget that even those ways were experimental at one time.
I grew up before social media. I remember a time before the internet. Go back into history and think about the revolution caused by the printing press. Look at the way committing stories to paper changed the forms storytellers used to craft stories.
Story is vital to human life. Story isn’t going away. But there are shifts in how people are choosing to interact with those stories.
As authors, we are especially prone to losing our creative energy when surrounded by negativity. Let’s share some positivity!
What are your secrets for success in the current social media environment?
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Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that she wrote her first novel on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, you can find her wandering the local beaches.
Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, LLC, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.
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