7 Reasons Why Social Media Isn’t Growing Your Fiction Readership (And What to Do About Them)

by | Aug 7, 2013

By Jason Kong

Jason, a frequent contributor, last posted here Giving It Away: Why Fiction Authors Should Offer Free Ebooks. Today he tackles a tough subject for fiction authors—are you really getting all the results you want from you social media efforts? Read on for his thoughts, along with specific suggestions, to help your readership grow.

A waste of time.

That’s your conclusion after endless hours of updating and linking and sharing. Everyone says how great social media is, but for you, it’s fallen well short of expectations.

Sure, you’ve met some cool people and had some fun conversations. You’ve been interesting enough to get a few subscribers to your feeds. But the big promise was to gather an audience, a group of readers united by an interest in your fiction.

That hasn’t happened.

Don’t give up on social media just yet. I’m going to identify some common obstacles that may be blocking your way, along with suggestions on how to address them.

Let’s get started.

Reason #1: You’re attracting the wrong people

Suppose you love talking about creativity.

You constantly blog, tweet, and post about improving your creativity, interesting creative projects, and examples of creative people.

Let’s assume you draw in people around this topic. Now ask yourself: will this gathering care about your fiction?

It’s possible some will. But if your primary goal is to build a readership for your stories, you’ll want to share content that likely attracts those type of people, not just possibly.

This can be a tough adjustment. When your life has many facets and writing is your outlet, you can’t help but type about politics, parenthood, and anything else on your mind. My recommendation is to use a separate social media account, a different place to simply express yourself.

Keep your online platform just centered on your storytelling. This singular focus will make it easier to gain traction.

Suggestion: Zero in on your readers’ interests that relate to your work. Gear most of your conversations and updates around those interests.

Reason #2: You’re selling too much

This is a tricky one, because it’s really a matter of degree.

You absolutely should not be shy about what you offer. The people who enjoy your fiction will want updates on your latest project or publication.

On the other hand, promotion beyond a certain point can lead to annoyance, and ultimately turn people away.

Social media may be a direct connecting medium, but that doesn’t mean you should use it to directly sell. People are looking for reasons to pay attention to you, to click follow or subscribe. It’s up to you to identify those reasons.

Suggestion: Instead of trying to close sales, generate and maintain interest in your writing abilities. Giving away a free story is a great way to bring in new readers as well as please current ones.

Reason #3: Your signal is lost in the noise

Getting someone to opt-in to your social media channel feels like success, because everyone wants to make their subscriber numbers go up.

But the reality is that attention is fleeting. To understand this better, examine your own feeds. Out of the hundreds or thousands of people you chose to follow, how many are really on your radar?

Getting someone interested enough for a social media follow is an important first step. You may have gotten heard, but to keep that privilege you have to earn it again and again.

If you are in a position to stay relevant by firing off updates with little thought or care, then more power to you. The rest of us needs to be more cognizant about what we say to ensure we aren’t forgotten.

Suggestion: If you want to be someone worth following, you’ll need to constantly reward people for their attention. For example, feel comfortable enough to recommend books by other authors in your genre if you believe your readers would like them.

Reason #4: You’re not publishing fiction often enough

Why do people get addicted to social media?

Because they’re always on the hunt for new. They want the latest update, the next bit of interesting content. That’s true for your followers too.

But above all, they want more of your fiction.

That’s the point of this whole exercise, isn’t it? Having an online platform and using social media is supposed to connect readers with your stories. When your intended audience starts showing up, don’t keep them waiting too long.

Granted, even the most proficient novelist can’t crank out enough material to keep up with demand, but in a recent guest post Joanna Penn had a good suggestion of writing more fiction, of varying lengths.

Why not try your hand at a short story or some flash fiction? Each finished product is another opportunity to introduce someone to your larger body of work. That will also lead to more exposure and ultimately, a bigger overall readership.

Suggestion: Experiment with different story lengths and formats. See what happens and do more of what works for you.

Reason #5: You’re ignoring your fans

If growing a fiction readership means making it bigger, then you may believe the pathway to success is interacting with strangers. Engage with enough new people and some of them will stick around.

This is both hard and inefficient.

The alternative? Encouraging the people who already like your work. Heighten their enthusiasm by strengthening the existing relationship.

Fans have a way of bringing in new fans, through their recommendations and referrals. Not only is word-of-mouth marketing effective, it doesn’t cost you a cent.

Besides, conversing with people who appreciate you is far more fun than with those who don’t know you, and may not even want to.

Suggestion: Bond with your fans by regularly delighting them. How can you make them feel special? What can you give them to cause celebration?

Reason #6: You don’t use analytics

You’re using Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and any number of social media channels.

Which one is sending your home base traffic? Which links to your landing pages are leading to sales?

If you don’t know what’s working and what’s not, how can you improve your results?

Sometimes personal observation isn’t enough. Trying to figure out behavioral patterns through what you notice amounts to little more than unverified guesswork.

If you own a website or blog, then you can use free tools to dive deeper behind the scenes. Take advantage of these resources to see what the data tells you.

Suggestion: You don’t have to be a numbers geek to glean something useful. Dan Blank shares some useful tips to get started with analytics.

Reason #7: Your effort is misplaced

How much you get out of social media isn’t necessarily a function of how much time you put into it.

Your key to more followers isn’t posting more frequently or having more conversations. Nor is it constantly checking your feeds to see who said what.

A readership develops because they have something to value and talk about. The best way to accomplish that is to give them more fiction. Writing good stories, as always, should remain your top priority.

Good storytelling will lead to a fan base, and then social media will start returning results. You’ll see more links, retweets, and likes. Your voice will start circulating and your reach will expand.

Joel has even proposed not significantly investing in blogging until you have a readership. I think that makes a lot of sense.

Suggestion: Work on your craft, refine your voice, polish and publish. That’s what matters most. The better your writing, the better social media will work.

Over to you

Which of these reasons resonate with you the most? And what do you plan to do about it? Let me know in the comments.

book marketingJason Kong is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He also runs Storyrally, an email-based subscription that helps fiction writers with their online marketing.

You can learn more about Jason here.

Photo by mkhmarketing.wordpress.com

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Enstine Muki

    Well, considering the Social Media on the edge of selling anything is not good point.

  2. Hiten

    Attracting the wrong people and selling to much are the most common problems with Social Media users these days. To convert , we must find the exact reach.

  3. Krrish Bhagya

    Your presence on a social network is notworth much if you’re not sharing content with your followers.Only you can tell what works for you and what feels right.

  4. Andrew J Patrick

    I’ve been operating under the “if you build it, they will come” idea for some time. Haven’t seen the dividends yet, but i’m hopeful.

    Elmore Leonard didn’t have a hit until he was 60. I can live with that.

  5. David Rory O'Neill

    Hi Jason. A fine post that addresses many issues I’ve been worrying over. I have been very careful and slow in my approach to social media. I find writing easy in comparison to the social media mine field. I have 13 works in my catalogue and do spend much more time writing than selling. I have recently made use of one of Joel’s wonderful templates to re-design all my books. This with new professional covers, has brought me to a place where I feel confident about laying out a social media campaign.
    I have been aware of making mistakes in the past – to a very small audience thankfully. I have only just started on Twitter, have a facebook page and a decent blog. All have very low numbers and I’ve made no effort to increase those numbers yet for exactly the reasons outlined in your post. I want to be sure I ‘m doing it right and aiming at the right people.
    The fact is, most social media involves writers talking to other writers. Not a good use of my time I’ve found. I have learned from people like you and Joel but I’ve still not happened upon the magic trick for reaching readers or rising in the fast pool of self published work on Amazon and elsewhere.
    I’ve looked at price points and I’ve tried free things. (One book I offered free on Smashwords got not a single taker! And yes it is worthy but it’s not had it’s make over yet.)
    KDP select got a few thousand downloads on various titles a year ago but that produced no sales that I could detect.

    I remain a little worried that I might never find a path that leads to meaningful sales even when I do get it all right and follow the best advice.
    (I should say my work has had 4 and 5 stars reviews form real readers. The quality is there in the work and it looks right now too.)
    Pieces like this give me hope that I might be on the right path and need patience and more time.
    Thank you Jason. (and Joel)
    Regards David Rory

    • Jason Kong

      David: Thanks for the comment.

      Hang in there. Getting 4 and 5 star reviews from real readers is huge. It really is a tremendous leap to get from nobody to somebody. The growth of a readership can be very slow at the beginning. But what you may find is that the time it takes to find 50 dedicated readers may be the same time it takes to find 200 after that.

      Fans tend to attract more fans.

      • Peter J Story

        Ah ha! This may be the single greatest tip I’ve read yet. Thanks!

  6. Heidi Sinnett

    As a newly agented author, one of the things we’re told over and over is to have an online presence. That means blogging, Facebook, Twitter etc. It takes a long time to establish yourself and gain readers/followers, which also draws you away from the real goal—writing.

    I need to learn to draw in more readers who will stick around until I get that first book published, and I think your idea of posting more flash fiction or short stories is a fabulous idea. It seems almost too obvious that this is what I should be doing! Thanks for making some great points here. I’ve printed this article off so that I can refer to it when I’m lamenting that no one is visiting my blog.

  7. Matt

    I’ve been pretty ignorant of how analytics work. I’m working to educate myself on how to better use them, but this article reminded me of how much I need to get caught up.


  8. Jeanette Baker

    Really good information. The entire social media thing is so overwhelming for me, a print author who is accustomed to having nearly all promotion done by her publishers. It’s slowly starting to come together but, frankly, finding enough time to write a novel in a reasonable amount of time, managing self-publishing and a day job can be frustrating. I appreciate your suggestions which make a great deal of sense.

  9. John Richardson

    As a long time blogger, I’ve had good results with social media and blog readers with my non-fiction books. Since they are written around the same genre that I blog about, readers are naturally interested in them. When I put up my first fiction title, I was dismayed that this book drew only a third of the traffic that the other books did. I’ve decided, in the future, to go with a pen name and separate social media accounts for my new fiction titles. As you alluded to above, it’s a whole different ballgame.

    • Jason Kong

      John: Thanks for sharing your experience.

      As Joel here at The Book Designer and others have pointed out, the approach to fiction and non-fiction writing isn’t exactly the same. There is overlap, certainly, but authors should be wary of advice applied broadly that is really specific to one of the types and not the other.

  10. Liz

    Great, great article. I’m definitely guilty of number one – trying to help indies, when it reality it should be more for readers. Sounds like I need to rethink some of my future posts as well as pay attention to the other pitfalls too! Thanks for this :)

    • Jason Kong

      Liz: I hope you don’t think I look down upon helping others. I’m definitely in favor of that, as well as learning through writing/blogging and connecting with other authors.

      But that’s just one area writers need to be concerned about. And it won’t necessarily overlap with the readership that you also want.

  11. Rebecca Vance

    This is a great post, and it hits on what I’ve been wondering about. I just started blogging a little over a year ago. I had become interested in writing years ago, when I was in college, but gave it up until last year when I entered an early retirement. Now I had the time I decided to actually write my first novel. I read up on everything, and to get started, it said that you must build a platform early. So, I decided to write a review blog for other debut authors like myself. I wanted to help with exposure for other “newbies” and hopefully attract readers interested in reviews. I have gained a lot of followers on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook from this. The problem is that they are all other writers. I know they read too, but it isn’t the readership that I had envisioned when I started. These are all great contacts, but will that be helpful for when I have something to publish? I am wondering now, if I will need a separate blog when I publish. I do intend to self-publish, but I am not very far into my book, so it is going to be several months or even longer before I am ready. Any suggestions? I appreciate any advice you can give me.

    • Jason Kong

      Rebecca: While it’s true you’d rather have a platform earlier than later, the most effective way for a fiction author to accomplish that is to attract readers through her writing. Which is another way of saying that writing stories people want is part of the first step, the last step, and all the steps in-between.

      I would recommend a separate website/blog, focused on the readers of your work. Start with the basics: who you are, what you offer, and how to keep in touch/contact you. But spend most of your time getting your stories published.

      Keep the platform you’ve built around debut authors, for mutual support and learning. But be careful that you don’t over-invest here either. Keep writing. :)

  12. Karen Inglis

    A great article, with some important food for thought. I am constantly torn between my instinct to want to share my experiences with self-publishing children’s book with other authors, and the even more important need to try to engage on social media with my book buyers who (just to complicate matters!) aren’t necessarily my readers (as those readers are all 3-5 or 8-12!). My blog stats make it clear to me that whilst I get many hits for my self-pub advice, only a small number of those turn into book sales for my children’s books. I’ve therefore recently (finally) launched a separate website for readers and buyers of my books [https://www. kareninglisauthor.com if you’re a parent!] and will be paying just as much – if not more – attention to that…going forward!

    • Jason Kong

      Karen: Well done using analytics to get additional clarity on the behavior of your audience!

  13. Vickie Johnstone

    Great post. I’ve been in the indie publishing game since 2011, and I keep writing, but the marketing side doesn’t get any easier. You’ve put down some good points to think about. I find it hard to find my potential readers or fans. Thanks! :)

    • Jason Kong

      Vickie: Gaining some initial traction is the toughest part of this, no doubt. Once you have some readers that you have a communication channel with, some fans eager to read the next thing you write, then marketing becomes a little less difficult.

  14. Tom Bentley

    Jason, a thorough and insightful post. I discussed with you before my mixed messages, in that I write fiction but also am a marketing copywriter, so I blend those two subjects, however inharmoniously, in my social media efforts (and on my website).

    It does make sense to divide them, but I’m among the many who lament—how do you make the time for it all (and get real writing done too)? Prioritize and discipline, I suppose, which I haven’t gotten down yet. Thanks for the thoughtful material.

    • Jason Kong

      Tom: You probably have it tougher than other writers, since you are committed to both your copywriting responsibilities and fiction writing.

      But to answer your question, I think the real key is understanding what truly is important to what you’re trying to accomplish (defined here as building a readership for your fiction writing).

      I think most of us can agree that a lot of authors spend a ton of time in social media with little to show for it, which is why I wrote this article. Spending too much time blogging instead of writing your next story can be another example.

      You’re right that it comes down to prioritization and discipline. With the caveat that your prioritizing among the most impactful activities.

  15. Lynne Cantwell

    Great tips, Jason. To be honest, I have been ignoring analytics as something geeks pay attention to. Guess I need to stop doing that, huh?

    • Jason Kong

      Lynne: You’ve brought up something that deserves it’s own line of discussion.

      It used to take a lot of experience and skill to benefit from analytics, and the required investment was too high.

      Since then, the tools have gotten better and more user-friendly. The learning curve isn’t as steep. You can get something useful from analytics with a fairly minimal amount of resources.

      That being said, the main formula in my mind is to work on your stories, get them in front of people inclined to like them, and keep in touch with those people. If you can do that, you’ll be in great shape.

  16. Jay Warner

    After reading your post I can see clearly that I’ve been going at things backwards. I’ve only given the social media thing a half-hearted effort and I’m not spending enough time on writing good stories which is my true goal. Thank you, Joel, for pointing me in the right direction!

    • Jason Kong

      Jay: Social media does have a learning curve, and no one gets everything right the first time around. Everyone stumbles a bit.

      But it is so easy to get sucked into social media activity, where it becomes a distraction to your writing. You definitely don’t want that.

  17. RJ Crayton

    Great article. Social media has been on my mind a lot lately, and this article was just what I needed. Thanks for the concrete pointers.

    • Jason Kong

      RJ: Glad you found it useful!

  18. Steve Vernon

    This is great advice for ALL of us indie-writers.

    I’m still trying to figure this trick out. My problem is – as in Jason’s example – I absolutely LOVE to talk about writing. So I attract a whole lot of writers – and, while writers love to read they might not necessarily be looking to read MY books.

    Meaning that Jason is dead right.

    Great blog entry.

    • Jason Kong

      Steve: It’s tough, isn’t it? You love your craft, as you should. And it’s so tempting to using Twitter or a blog as some kind of virtual avatar, where you can express the different aspects of your self.

      Unfortunately, the connection between people liking what you think and what you offer as an author can be really thin.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Some authors, like Joanna Penn, have kept both streams of content going, writing for other authors on one site, while developing a site strictly for readers of her kinds of thrillers on another site. While it’s twice as much work to maintain, it does allow you to freely express both sides of your interests.

  19. Shirley Ford

    What a great article. I have lots to learn. Will now consider starting another blog when my next book is finished, and concentrate on all things to do with my books, writing etc. Thank you

    • Jason Kong

      Shirley: I’ve heard someone say you shouldn’t heavily invest in social media until you have something worth sharing. I think that’s smart advice.

      Still, it’s a good idea to give someone the option to stay in touch with you, if they’re interested. So no reason to completely abandon your current blog. :)

      • Shirley Ford

        Thanks for reply. I won’t abandon my existing blog, as I have followers, but I will keep now keep that for items in the same field as now and start a new ‘book’ one when I have something useful and interesting to say.



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