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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?
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