Wednesday 9 November 2011

Can Twitter sell books?

I write books. A lot of my friends write books. Tons of people I vaguely know write books. Let's face it, everybody's bloody writing books by the look of my Twitter feed. 
And it seems everyone is publicizing them on Twitter because that's what we've been told is a Good Idea, thanks to posts like this and many others.

Anyhow, I read this blog post this morning by this guy I'd never heard of before, The Red Pen of Doom (yeah, right) who reckons that 'The Twitter' is not for selling books.  In fact, he insists, social media is not an effective marketing tool. End of. It's a long, long, looooong post and he goes in for a bit of a slathering lovefest over literary agent Nathan Bransford and then spends a lot of time comparing him with some woman called Snooki.  And then he does a bit of maths which, let's be very honest, I skated over.  But, the bottom line as he sees it (to save you trekking through it all) is this:
"You could spend three years building a popular writing blog and getting to 10,000 Twitter followers or 100,000 followers and it wouldn't be as useful as 10 minutes on a cable reality show with a weekly viewership of 3.5 million."
Well, okay.  Put like that...
Then he goes on to say. "Social networking - it's not social media, kids - is for meeting people. For having a dialogue, not a monologue where you spew links to your blog and ask people to buy your book."
"If you want to reach a mass audience, you must use the mass media.  Must.  Not "should." Must. IT IS REQUIRED."

Oh Red Pen of Doom, you really are a bit of a pompous arse, aren’t you?  J But some interesting points there.  Anyhow, I posted the link up on The Twitter (I’m warming to The Twitter) and there was a bit of a flurry of despond and spluttering and naysaying.  A lot of ‘what’s the point?’ and ‘but it can go viral’ and ‘well, it sure as hell ain’t working for me’. 

And The Amazing Frankie pointed me to a blog post which had me in stitches and has some damn good points (read it! It’s far more entertaining than TRPOD).  

But really, when authors become publishers, how do they market themselves?  How do you market yourself? Do you market yourself at all?  Should you?

If you’ve got a mainstream publisher, of course, they do it for you.  Well, that’s the general idea and they do - to a point.  It very much depends on who you are and how much money they’ve shelled out on your advance.  I was reading the lament of a mid-list author in The Author the other day about how her books sank without making too much of a ripple because of lack of enthusiasm, shall we say.  

It’s demoralising, innit? You've won the Holy Grail - a pukka deal with a mainstream player and, even then, you sink without trace?  And then, just to add salt to the wound, even if you do get an enthusiastic publicist, very few are imaginative. Which is where, you'd think, social media should come in.  Which is where authors (wildly creative, surely, by their very nature?) by and large should come up trumps. Yet they don’t.  By and large, they just shove tweets out there, saying Buy My Book. 
Do you buy books because of something you’ve read on Twitter?  Honestly? I don’t. Or very very rarely. And only if the author or their publisher is saying stuff that engages me, that interests me, that makes me think or touches a chord. Not if they're just endlessly yelling Buy My Book!  

So, where does that leave you/me/us as writers who would like to sell books?  I don’t entirely agree with TRPOD. I think social media can be useful; I think it’s part of the package. When authors say they won’t use social media I think they’re being precious and, frankly, a bit daft. It’s a platform, it’s there, use it.  There is always that blissful off-chance that your oevre will suddenly go viral and whizz around the globe like a speeding snowball gathering adoration and dosh as it rolls. 

But mainly I think The Twitter and The Facebook and The YouTube and so on are primarily places to show readers that you’re human, to glimpse the real person behind the blurb and the photo-shopped author pic taken ten years ago. Unless, of course, your book requires you to be a Deep Person of Mystery. In which case, you need acolytes. *smile* 

But is social media, however well executed, enough?  I don’t think so.  I think TRPOD has a point that, in the flurry to embrace what we used to call ‘new media’ we’re forgetting old media.  So how do you do that if you haven’t got a press department with a hotline to the book editors?

Forget the book editors, I’d say.  Sending your precious CreateSpace or Lulu copies to book editors on the nationals is a waste of time, energy and money (unless you have a REALLY strong hook to hang it on or it divulges the secret sex life of royals or namedrops pop stars, in which case I'd suggest you go first to Max Clifford and get a good lawyer).  Honestly, I’ve worked on the papers and I’ve seen the book editors' offices – you need crampons and rope to climb over the parcels to get to their desks.  Check ‘em out – they all have killer biceps!

Think, think, think.  Think tangentially.  Think features, rather than reviews.  What is the theme of your book (yes, I'm talking fiction as well as non-fiction)?  Does it tie in with any current news stories?  If so, big that up.  Think local. Start with local newspapers, magazines, local radio.  Think precision.  Tailor your pitch to the publication – why would their readers be interested?  Think specialist.  There are magazines catering for absolutely everything nowadays, every bizarre mouse-hole of human existence. Got a caravan in your book?  Take your pick of caravan titles.  Set in the country?  Hellfire, you’re spoilt for choice.  Parcels play a key role in your manuscript?  Hey, Packaging News might love a break from discussing paper weight. 

Thing is, you never know what gets picked up and taken to a wider, larger audience. Press breeds press.  The big TV shows look to the nationals. The nationals look to the regionals and the regionals look to the locals.

What I’m saying comes down to this, I guess.  Bottom line. If you want to sell books, don’t overlook any form of marketing.  Think outside the box. Be creative.

Do I do it myself?  Nah, course I don't. Mainly cos I’m rubbish at self-publicity and, hey, I never follow my own advice. *smile* And anyhow, my books are all in my past really.  I put a bunch of them out on Kindle because people kept emailing me asking why they were out of print.  So they’re there. If people buy ‘em, that’s great. If not, no big deal. I kept the price cheap cos, hey, they’ve already earned their keep.

Future projects?  Hmm.  That depends.  But I promise you this: they won’t just involve whacking out links on Twitter, that’s for sure.  


DD's Diary said...

Great post as ever, Jane, and loads of tips on marketing that I probably won't take as I, too, am hopeless at that. Of course when my book is out on kindle I shall bombard you with tweets shouting 'buy my book!!!!'. But you know that already xx

Philip Whiteland said...

Typically well thought out and well written. I read the original TRPOD post and pretty much agreed with what he said, without the hyperbole and Americanisms. I've been going through much the same thought process and had come to much the same conclusion as you. Oddly enough, I might actually do something about it!

Exmoorjane said...

DD: let's face it, hon, you and I put far more effort into our hypothetical re-enactment of the Tooting Popular Front than we do to our book marketing.. :)

Phil: I suspect you will! Your writing is a clear case in point - you could easily go the local --> national route with huge success, I'd imagine. Keep me posted.

Sessha Batto said...

Somehow I doubt the sex lives of gay ninja will suddenly become a locally (or nationally or anywhere to be honest) trending topic ;) But if it does I swear I will jump on the bandwagon . . . really!!

Exmoorjane said...

Sessh: Ah, but you have the speciality market sewn up (so to speak). :) Whole loada gay mags AND sex mags AND martial arts mags out there...not to mention Japanese history/culture etc. So flay 'em!

Expat mum said...

Great post. I have to warn though, that if anyone does get a good, traditional publisher, there still won't be much in the way of marketing. They tend not to spend much money on authors unless they're already A listers, or as you've said, have a hook that they know will grab everyone.
Social media can attract people to your blog, but that still doesn't mean they're going to buy your book. You really have to sit and think about your intended audience and then go after them specifically. No point marketing a book to the masses, if you know it doesn't have mass appeal. How many books really have mass appeal anyway?

Exmoorjane said...

EPM: Ah, I obviously didn't make that point clearly enough. Absolutely right - there is very little marketing budget in traditional publishing, unless you're a guaranteed bestseller in the first place. Great, huh?
How would you suggest identifying and going after your target readership? Think a lot of people would love some tips on that.

F said...

To me, social media is a place where readers and writers can have a conversation. Of course if you have a book out there, you're always selling on some level, but I think the essential point is this:

If someone comes to my Twitter or my Tumblr, it's because they already found out about me!(!!)

So why would I waste the opportunity to develop that relationship by shouting, "Look at me! Buy my book!" over and over and driving them off.

There's nothing of substance in "[insert title here]" by [insert my name here] now .99 in the Kindle store! [insert link]" and there's no personality there. There's nothing to interact with or connect to.

I get tired of seeing it a dozen or more times a day each from some writers I follow. If it bores me silly, and I know how cool these people are and how hard they're trying just to keep their books afloat out there, it must be deadly dull to casual reader that doesn't even have that sympathy.

And I think that is the unbreakable commandment in the reader-writer relationship.

Thou shalt not bore me.

Tattieweasle said...

Exactly don't write anything off socila media local media peculiar trade magazines.... I have yet to write my bestseller....

Esther Montgomery said...

Have no experience of this but reckon everything is so new on the internet (almost) everything is worth a try -as long as it's not too distracting.

Otherwise, everything is a mystery.

Many years ago, there was a two or three sentence article in The Times which told everyone the job I was doing. Don't think I am secretly interesting. I am not. Nor was the job interesting or exceptional. Were the sentences worth printing? No. Totally bizarre - yet on the strength of them a Daily Mail journalist came and waited outside my house to interview me when I got home and photographers came to my place of work. If only I had had a book to promote at the time.

Randomness and mystery!

K.C. Woolf said...

Thanks for voicing my thoughts (and voicing them so well. =) )

I've never bought a book from someone who keeps spamming 'buy my book'. If they do so all the time, I wouldn't follow them; if they start doing it too often, I unfollow them without guilt (which really means something!)

However, I've bought quite a few books - or will buy, when they are published - from people I got to know online as people who've got something to say I'm interested in hearing.

F said...

Which isn't to say (RE: my blog post & previous comment) that I don't think people should talk about or link their work and projects in Twitter. Of course you should. I'm following because I'm interested in those things.

Just make it personal, something I can interact with (Jane does this really well). That means more than just a title and link--ask a question or make a comment that adds value to what you're linking. (And don't link too often. :)

And talk about other things besides. I've started looking at past tweets of people that follow me, rather than just profile blurbs, before I follow them back. If it's just a stream of plugs for their work, I skip them.

(Just wanted to add that.)

Exmoorjane said...

Frankie - I might just pin that quote to my PC - 'Thou shalt not bore me' - is what every would-be writer should keep in mind At All Times! You are so right...about all of this. I should be sterner with my Twitter following really. :)

Tattie - your specialisation came to mind when I was writing that...but the Packaging News pic came up first! Go write the book, hon!

Esther - Damnit, yes - chance missed. I still think back, ruefully, to my chance to be on Oprah (yup,Oprah!) - but Fate said no (vid got lost in transatlantic post hey ho).

KC - yup, some people have intriguing online presence and for sure I'd buy their stuff.

Frankie - and again, nicely put, m'dear. :) My criteria for following people is that they engage in an interesting manner..or say things that make me stop and think or go, 'shit yeah!'
Mebbe time for another cull. :)

Anonymous said...

The market has 3 main problems:

(1) Quality - whether traditional of self-publishing, a lot of books fall short.

(2) Subject matter - too many people writing on obscure (often self-indulgent) topics that most readers are never going to engage with.

(3) Fragmentation - millions of Twitters, blogs, Facebook pages, etc to read. Great for everyone to have a chance to write, but so easy to get lost in all the noise.

If you want to be read, you really need to be part of a larger "brand" (be it a website, movement, group, etc) that other people out there regard as being a portal for identifying quality reads.

Anonymous said...

Just like real life, it's hard to strike up conversations with Twitterspherers that you don't know, so we all end up shouting at people instead of interacting!

Patricia said...

Am currently expanding Twitter use to raise traffic on my blog. Though we do not sell anything, we recently began to review books. In an attempt to earn some money from the blog, the book reviewed are linked to their Amazon page, so I can effectively track sales from the reviews. And yes, to my surprise, every review yields two or three sales, (a few cents as far a revenues for the blog is concerned) so Tweeting about a review does yield sales. To give an idea, the blog has about 10k visitors per month, so not that many sales after all, but a few nevertheless.
So, It got me thinking that an author's blog might increase the sales of the author's book by using Twitter to raise traffic to their blog and, since their main product is their book, they might end up selling more books. One never knows ...

Alison Cross said...

He's got the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the social media thing, I think. No-one is much impressed by a twitter feed that purely churns out links to Amazon and Buy My Book content.

Let's just say that you've written a book on Tarot (my area of interest).

Let's assume that you've done the leg work and got a few tarot people as you have a blog where you can happily excerpt a bit of your newly published Tarot book. You tweet a link to that blog post either generally or directly to those Tarot people. Either ask for an rt or just hope that they do, choice is yours.

Or you could search for the actual title of your book and chip in to someone's conversation about it?

Or you could search for something that your book is specifically about. such as 'Tarot for a beginner' and then contact those people who have tweeted that they are beginners in Tarot and suggest your boo.... that sort of thing.

It's about widening your range of windows to potential customers - FB, Twitter etc.

To continually 'broadcast' links to products on amazon etc will completely turn people off. It's about creating and sustaining relationships on social networking sites.

Oh I could talk about this for hours- and sadly my webclients have to endure it too!!!!

It won't make you rich, but you cannot afford not to be involved in it :-)

Ali x

Sally said...

Loved this post! It really hits the point home. Your book is your baby and only you (the Author obviously) can take reasonability for it. If you want to sell a book it primarily up too you! Well it would be rather naive to discount any marketing tool.

Sally said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I have bought lots of books thanks to twitter, but never from authors who tweet about their own books. Twitter is a great place for people to discuss books and the best ones will get talked about a lot. Word of mouth recommendation is spread much faster on twitter than the real world. If you want to use twitter as a good marketing tool you need to a) write an outstanding book b) get it into the hands of people who tweet alot. I would argue that there isn't much point in authors being on twitter themselves. Self promotion is quite hard to avoid on twitter and is a big turn-off for me as a reader.

Wispy Author said...

Jane, I was introduced to your excellent books by Authonomy. There are likely less than 10000 people on there, but you hooked me :)

I would say that all publicity is good publicity. How many cable access TV channels does ANYONE watch? Good Lord. I haven't had Conan O'Brien ringing me up and begging me to do a spot. Silly rabbit, the internet and social media does tons of stuff. Try a facebook ad, they're cheap and reach millions.

F said...

@saveeverystep --
I disagree. (Well, someone has to. It's the internet after all.)

I think it's phenomenally easy to strike up conversations on Twitter. You just have to read what someone else says, think about it, and respond thoughtfully.

Some people may not continue a conversation; maybe they're shy, maybe they're self-absorbed dicks, maybe you're trying to talk to @neilgaiman or @wilw or someone with like 100K followers and untold @ messages already.

Personally, I always enjoy when someone takes the time to read and answer a tweet of mine, and I try to respond back. I don't think I'm the only one.

Fiona @nlpmum said...

Oh Frankie, don't assume that anyone who comes to you on Twitter knows who you are.... they might know who someone you know is or even someone who knows someone you know but it's pretty likely they have no clue unless you're an A lister (maybe you are, I don't know).... Anyhow, I think SM can be useful to get people hooked into you and your story and if you use it well you can build an email list which you can then market to in a targetted way - post tempters/ first chapters/special offers etc. Then you've really got something to go on. Twitter is good for driving people to your blog in the first place - then it's up to you to find ways to show people what you're about and why you are iresistible to them.

CF Winn said...

Very impressed with this post. You've given me idea after idea...and of course they are way outside the box...just like all of my characters. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'll see you in Field and Stream...maybe.

Ashen said...

Thanks Jane, food for thought. Self- promotion, when it comes to it, will be a total pain, but I take note of your ideas … current news stories … local newspapers … magazines … radio … think precision … The SPECIALIST thingy cracks me up, undeniably, there is power in concrete objects … here I come … mirrors, bridges, herbs, mules, horses, dogs, snakes … and polished black pebbles invested with magic – one to go with every book … But really, ideally :) I just want to be discovered and keep writing, damn it.

Anonymous said...

I only recently started Tweeting, but even the newbie figured out rather quickly that there is a Netiquette that must be upheld. Red Pen Guy must have missed that email. For one thing, pushy sales person is not my bag, but the social-networking sites are rife with helpful blog links (such as the one that got me here) that are useful to writers and can help me find "my people." It doesn't hurt to have e-acquaintances with common interests, and to develop a mutual back-scratching relationship. As everyone seems to agree, platform is not just one outlet, it is the (exhausting) combination of a million things. Twitter/FB/You tube may not be as successful as a slot on prime-time TV, but it's free and therefore, worth the effort.