Can Social Media Really Sell Your Books?

by | Nov 9, 2016

Every indie author hears the message, “You have to use social media.” But is it true?

Of course. Claro que si. Bien sûr. Na sicher.

In any language, social media are often considered the kings of discoverability. (Yes, discoverability is now in the dictionary. And why the word queens isn’t used is a topic for another post.)

But – and this is a huge but – does social media marketing sell books?

Hmm. Let’s consider this question.

If we look at great literature, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and even Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the first novel, we already know that they succeeded in publishing. They didn’t have to worry about Tweeting regularly on a daily basis or posting status updates on a Facebook author page twice a day.

It’s a silly issue to consider, isn’t it, since social media wasn’t around in 1610? All of the above authors rose to fame without the benefits of what’s considered – in today’s world – as marketing requirements.

Successful Authors Who Use Social Media

If we were to look at Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train, I can’t tell at this point whether Goodreads or other social media fueled her success, or whether it was just the book that caused her book to skyrocket toward financial success with social media helping along the way. However, she was the 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards winner, which readers vote for, so on Goodreads, she had a huge presence, and that must have played a role.

There are several commercially successful authors today that according to a Hootesuite article, use social media to further their engagement with readers. They are Margaret Atwood, Paulo Coelho, Stephen Fry, and Neil Gaiman. I would add Hugh Howey to that list and Isabel Allende, who has an excellent Facebook page that she updates herself.

Okay, this is what I think: Neil Gaiman, Hugh Howey, and Isabel Allende, all bestselling authors, use social media to further their success. Hugh Howey is, I believe, the only author on this list who self-publishes.

Then we can look at another group of authors – Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, and Nick Stephenson – who are also popular and sell hundreds of thousands of books as self-publishers. They not only make money off of their book sales, but they also sell courses to help other indie authors find similar levels of success. Hasn’t social media played a huge role in their success?

So let’s end this diatribe of mine and look at our original question: Does social media marketing sell books?

Using Social Media to Sell Books

This is what I think:

  1. If you write a book, find an agent, and get a publisher, great. But guess what? You’re going to need to learn how to use social media. I have several clients who are traditionally published and, feeling overwhelmed by social media, hired me to handle it for them. So whether you hire someone or not, it needs to get done. Traditional publishers understand the importance of social media, and they want their authors to use it.
  2. If you plan to self-publish, please don’t wait until the book is written to start marketing it. Find time to learn about one or two platforms that your readers use and start posting information. I always advise authors new to social media to first pick one social media that their readers use and once you conquer it, select another network.

  3. Use Goodreads. Savvy authors who join groups, create groups, and are active on Goodreads enjoy higher sales. Charles Duhigg wrote Habit and joined Goodreads. Then he started a group. There was so much interest in his book due to the group and his participation on Goodreads that a publisher contacted him. The rest is history. His book made the New York Times bestseller list, and he’s since published a second book.
  4. Social media, in and of itself, won’t sell books. There, I said it. It’s how you use social media that can support book sales.
    For example:

    • If you have a website and a self-hosted blog, how will people learn about it? Through social media.
    • If you host contests and giveaways, how will prospective readers learn about them? Through social media.
    • Do you have a permafree book? You need social media to get the word out about it.
    • And you’ll want to invest in some social media advertising. Some authors (Adam Croft, Mark Dawson) have attained quite a bit of success with Facebook ads. (By the way: Facebook is one of the four kings of discoverability. The other three kings are Apple, Google, and Amazon.)


So if you want discoverability, you need social media. There’s no way around it.

So how can you sell thousands of books, or more? Start by writing a great book that your readers will adore and recommend to all of their colleagues and friends. But before you finish writing that book, learn how to use social media. What’s the huge benefit of social media? You get to talk with your dedicated readers. How cool is that?

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Janice

    Thanks for the inspiration. How do I get on good reads?

    • Frances Caballo

      Janice: Go to and sign up for an account. It’s that easy.

  2. Dan Holmes

    I’d like to interview you for my Good Content series on creative people and how they create.

  3. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    Did you mean Hugh Howey?

    Or is there indeed a Hugh Howie who indie publishes and is very successful?

    Just wondering.

    • Frances Caballo

      Yes, I did. I’ve asked Joel’s assistant to correct my typo. Thanks for pointing it out!

  4. Michael W. Perry

    Favorable reviews on retail outlets such Amazon will always help. But each book is different and needs to be marketed differently. Social media won’t reach readers who disdain social media.

    Genre fiction has channels to get a book reviewed, but what would Tolkien have done in early 1950s when the readership for fantasy was almost microscopic? He was fortunate that The Hobbit did well as children’s book. His follow-up chldren’s book turned out far different and shaped literary history. He did have friends such as C. S. Lewis who could review it. And yes, Amazon would have gone ballistic about that sort of thing. Lewis would be banned from reviewing and Tolkien punished.

    You could also take G. K. Chesterton’s approach. He reviewed, rather critically, one of his own books. I looked for but failed to find a link to it. I seemed to recall that it was rather funny.

    In my case, I just finished the fourth in a series of books about hospital care, a book called aptly Embarrass Less directed at hospital staff. I’m now wading through the websites of 2000 nursing schools to find just the right professor. That’s a grind I hope I never have to repeat. That said, each time one of those four becomes a textbook, that’s probably a couple of dozen sales.

    If you’re not rendered uncomfortable by the idea of fans, developing a mailing list of them would help. But if most of your sales are probably through Amazon and it wants to control who contacts them like it wants to control everything else. This Youtube video, with it’s almost 17 million views, will never be Amazon’s corporate theme song.

    Beautiful song and marvelous singing by great Doris Day.

    –Michael W. Perry, Embarrass Less: A Practical Guide for Doctors, Nurses, Students and Hospitals

  5. Brahms

    Not all social media are equal. Authors don;t talk about it, but all know that almost all their Twitter followers are other authors, who don’t buy books and don’t even read other people’s promo tweets.

    We all do it because we’re supposed to and because it gives an illusion of visibility. The reality is that twitter is a bunch of writers standing with their fingers in their ears shouting their heads off.

    Facebook is different, but building a following is a slow game. Goodreads makes sense.

    Most of the advice given by people who make their living out of advising would-be authors is stale, untested or simply impractical. Social media changes fast and its effectiveness changes. Fiction and non-fiction are not the same from a marketing point of view, and most of the gurus are in non-fiction as far as I can see.

    So what does matter in marketing fiction? Reviews, reviews and reviews.

    • Frances Caballo

      Brahms: Thank you for joining the conversation. I do agree that reviews are critical.

  6. Ernie Zelinski

    No doubt a great and useful article for many authors.

    A little clarification, however, if I may.

    You say, “If you want discoverability, you need social media. There’s no way around it.”

    I disagree. There is a way around it. In fact, there are many ways around it. One of my principles of creativity advocated in my seminars and books is that there are always many solutions to any problem. Unfortunately, most people only see one or two solutions and stop there.

    You also say, “If you have a website and a self-hosted blog, how will people learn about it? Through social media.”

    Not necessarily so, given that I have several websites on which I advertise my books and which get no traffic because of social media. I still get a lot of traffic on these websites, however. (I was recently offered $15,000 for one of the websites because of the traffic.) People don’t come to my websites because of social media; they come there because of my websites ranking high on Google and other major search engines. For example, search for ‘retirement poems’ on Google and you will see that one of my webpages is in the number 1 spot in the organic results out of over 1.98 million webpages vying for this spot. Search for ‘best retirement websites’ and you will see that one of my other webpages is number 2 in the organic results on Google out of 6.34 million webpages vying for the spot.

    Of course, social media can be effective for certain authors in marketing books. Social media, however, can just as easily be totally ignored for marketing a book. One can still make one’s book a blockbuster bestseller. In fact, I plan to do just that with my next book. I intend to sell over 100,000 copies of my next book in the print edition without using any social media at all.

    Here is one of the better articles that I have recently read about book marketing, by someone who knows what he is talking about:

    Rob Eagar talks about the power of giving away content for free and capturing the email addresses for book marketing. Note the comment: “Email is driving a lot more customer traffic than social media and other referral sites.”

    For my purposes, I don’t even have to use Facebook advertising or any other type of paid advertising for giving away content as a marketing tool. Indeed, I have been giving away content for many years by having people come to my websites due to the websites’ high ranking in Google searches. I intend to do the same for marketing my next book. I am not even sure that I have to capture the email addresses of potential readers, as effective as email marketing can be.

    Incidentally, I do wholly agree with your statement in the last paragraph:

    “So how can you sell thousands of books, or more? Start by writing a great book that your readers will adore and recommend to all of their colleagues and friends.”

    To be sure, the best marketing tool is and will always be word-of-mouth advertising that is the result of writing a “great” book. But keep in mind, as Mark Coker once said, “good isn’t good enough.”

    Ultimately. these words of wisdom apply:

    “Even the most careful and expensive marketing plans cannot sell people a book they don’t want to read.”
    — Michael Korda

    • Frances Caballo

      Michael: I’m so glad you joined the conversation. Yes, email marketing is more effective than social media but that doesn’t mean that social media isn’t worth the effort or that it doesn’t have its place in marketing. I happened to see the article from Book Business yesterday and also enjoyed it. I’m glad you provided a link to it so that others may read it as well.

      • Ernie Zelinski

        Actually, my name is Ernie. But I have been called a lot worse names than Michael. So no problem.

        My point was that social media is not necessary when you, in fact, implied it was necessary. You did say, “If you want discoverability, you need social media. There’s no way around it.”

        Fact is, I don’t need social media as some other authors don’t to be successful. I learned to self-publish my books in part by using the advice of Robert J. Ringer.

        Robert J. Ringer is the only person to the best of my knowledge to write, self-publish, and market three #1 “New York Times” bestsellers in print editions. His self-published books sold over 10 million copies in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Not so long two of Ringer’s self-published books were listed by the “New York Times” among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

        In short, Robert J. Ringer didn’t use social media to sell millions of his self-published books in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Today Ringer and other self-published authors can be just as successful (more successful than 95 percent of writers) without the use of any social media.

        To repeat, I will prove this by having my next book sell over 100,000 copies in print without the use of any social media. Given that I have three books which have each sold over 100,000 copies in print, I may just know what I am talking about. As Jack Canfield said, “Results don’t lie.”

        Ernie J. Zelinski
        International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
        Author of “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
        (Over 300,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
        and “The Joy of Not Working”
        (Over 295,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

        • Frances Caballo

          Ernie: Thanks for your comments again. So sorry that I called you Michael earlier. I think that there are authors that can do well without social media but for the majority of today’s indie authors, social media is necessary for discoverability.



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