How authors and author marketing services are ruining social media

6651806_lI’ve been slow to adopt to social media.

I’m only finally getting used to and starting to enjoy Twitter, mostly because I have an iPhone now and the user interface is more intuitive.

People follow me and I follow them back; because I operate in self-publishing circles, that means I have a ton of authors and author services on my Twitter feed.

Depressingly, I’d say about 90% of authors I come in contact with come off as spammy self-promoters. Even more depressingly, the author marketing services, author networks and self-published book promoters come off the same way.

And these are the people that are taking authors’ money to do promoting for them.

 The RIGHT way to use social media to promote your book or business

There’s a very simple rule: 90% of your content should not be about yourself or your book. You should be sharing other people’s posts, researching and finding useful information online, helping out people solve problems, and making positive relationships by providing value.

I know authors who tweet about their book 20 times a day, each time trying to use a clever new twist, sale, giveaway, prize or description.

Advertising takes repetition: if you are paying to advertise, people may see your ad 25 times before finally wondering what it’s all about and clicking the link.

But social media is not advertising.

Since the majority of self-published authors and small presses and author marketing services are doing things wrong, authors joining Twitter for the first time may just adopt these poor practices.

First of all, if you aren’t selling books, you’re probably not ready to be marketing anyway (unless you’ve checked your conversion rates, which I wrote about here).

If you are ready to be marketing, know this: you shouldn’t be marketing.

Marketing is dead. You can’t go out there and promote your book to everybody you know. Sales and promotions won’t really work.

They may seem to work in the indie community, because everybody is doing it and indie authors support each other, so you’ll make sales and get support from other self-publishing authors. But you’re not reaching the much broader market of everybody else.

Everybody else is made up of savvy consumers who got used to sales-speak and are cynical, hesitant and mistrustful. They won’t trust you when you tell them your book is awesome. In sales talk, you’re trying to make a “cold sale” – selling something to a stranger who has no reason to trust you.

First, you need to build a trusting relationship. And you can’t do that by selling or marketing your book!

Since you shouldn’t be soap-boxing your own book, you have a couple options (you should use both):

1) Build a platform

You build a platform by being awesome, being nice to people, helping them out, giving away free stuff.

You can, of course, build a platform of fans who love your writing – but that doesn’t happen until after they’ve bought and read your book, and you can’t get that ball rolling by telling them to go read it! That happens later.

For now, resist the urge to tell people about your book all the time and try to drive sales. Break that bad habit. Focus on making real connections with people – all people, big and small, not just the big-wigs who already have a following. (Don’t flatter or be ingratiating. Never ask to buy someone a cup of coffee and pick their brain).

How to provide value: comment on other people’s blogposts or Facebook posts or tweet. Share their stuff. Offer constructive feedback (not just praise). Be a connector – introduce people to each other when they can both benefit from the relationship, even though you won’t profit from it. Do a ton of favors. Focus on building social Karma (always do favors, never ask for them or expect them).

The most selling you should be doing is a very small by-line after the content, or perhaps at the end of your emails, saying a little something about your book (“X is the author of This Book, a supernatural thriller set in Maine”) with a link to the Amazon page. That’s it. That’s enough. If you do someone a good turn, and they appreciate and like you, eventually they’ll want to find out more and buy the book.

After you have a big platform – ideally at least 1000 people on your list or network who genuinely know and like you – you can talk about your book a little more (but there’s still no need to break the 90/10% rule).

2) Get someone else to promote for you

Enter Author Marketing Services and Networks. Some of these are communities or networks. Some of them offer very valuable tools or services that you can use, and are well worth the price. Others promise to promote you to 100,000 people for $50 a month (or something like that). It’s OK to pay someone else to promote your book. And while technically this gets you off the hook – because if they are being annoying at least people aren’t annoyed with you – you really don’t want to be associated with anything annoying.

A lot of author marketing services or networks have a huge following, but keep in mind those are most likely other authors also interested in book promotion tips. So when they are promoting your book, they are promoting it to a ton of other authors who have their own books to market. It may lead to sales, but it isn’t a finely honed group of potential readers that you’ve carefully selected as your target reader group.

Before you sign up with any, make sure you watch how they interact with social media. Is it only a bunch of book promotion stuff? Do they provide any valuable tips or content other than “Get this cheap/great book available now!” If that’s all they do, and they promote hundreds of books, pretty soon everybody is going to stop listening to them. (Do you know any readers who are passionately looking for new indie books to read all the time? If so, they probably trust friends or reviews much more than a website that will promote any book that pays them to).

A more recent thing I’ve noticed is that some author marketing networks have set up affiliate programs and free web pages for authors, which means you have a lot of self-promotional authors promoting their page on the network, or promoting the network itself in hopes of a payout. Both are slightly less annoying than just self-promotional spamming. (Or perhaps more so, because I see several dozen different authors promoting the same links or message).

Should you join? Sure – but try to find a book promoter/network/marketer who provides value to a wider audience than just self-published authors. Otherwise you aren’t really reaching buyers.

Find out exactly where and how they will promote your book, and make sure to track conversions. Also, don’t spend a lot – test out some small marketing campaigns (under $100) to see if they provide any value.

A very wise colleague of mine said recently, if you don’t like your Twitter feed, it’s your own fault.

Unfortunately, since my businesses are all tied to self-publishing, and because I want to support indie authors, I’m not ready to go through and “stop following” all the indie authors on my list for being spammy and self-promotional. But I may have to in the future. For now, I hope this article (and others on this blog) will help indie authors sell more books without abusing social media.

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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