Wednesday, May 1, 2013

# Marketing # Post

Why Authors Shouldn't Promote Books on Social Media

Yes, you read that title right. I said authors shouldn't promote books on social media.

For those who are aiming their latest title square at my head or about to point out that I have my own book covers posted on this blog, let me explain what I mean.

How many unassuming authors have tried joining (or returning to) a social network lately? Quite the experience. Let's take the example of Goodreads, the social media forum where hoards of readers gather. In a place where rabid book fans are clustered, one might think authors would be treated like rock stars--or at least equals. Right?

Not so much.

Get an author account on Goodreads and you'll quickly find yourself buried under special rules, warnings, and exclusions. Groups have lengthy, highly restrictive guidelines prohibiting author promotion. Some don't allow authors to contact other members privately. And if you do click open that private message box, Goodreads itself posts a warning at the top advising authors to review their guidelines for "best practices in writing" to other members.

Seriously, "writers" need a special rules FAQ for how to write a message?

Am I bashing Goodreads for harrassing poor, innocent authors? No way. They were practically bludgeoned into it, and they're hardly alone. Authors are fast becoming social pariah on social media, and it's important that we understand why. 

Why is there an increasingly hostile climate toward authors on social media?

One word: PROMO. Too much, too often, too in-your-face. Here's a glimpse at how some users view their experience with book promo on social media: 

"The worst authors to follow are those who automate links to their Amazon page twenty-four/seven. I mean, come on, if you're a 'writer,' shouldn't you be a little bit more creative than that?"

"I'm reminded of visiting Hong Kong, (where) one was constantly accosted on the street by Indian men waving knock off handbags in your face as they yelled 'Madam, handbag, Madam'."


If you walk into a bookstore, do you want a salesman following you everywhere, waving books in your face shouting, "Buy this! Buy this!"? I would leave in disgust and probably never return. So Goodreads has, in effect, created a climate where readers can relax and browse without the hard sell. And other social networks have rules designed to do the exact same thing.

I've had readers admit they have unfollowed, unfriended, or refused to buy an author's books because of interactions on networks. When I ask folks about book promotion on social media, I get comments like these:

"With a constant barrage of direct links to everyone and their mother's book, readers get tuned out pretty quick..."

"If an author follows me or sends a request, the first thing I do is look at their feed. If they have a lot of promo and not enough value, I don't bother."

So what's an author to do when there are books to move? A clue lies in the quote just above.

Bring value to your readers, not hype

Take a look at your social media streams. Is the majority promo? Links to reviews, where to buy your book, pats on the back for writing achievements, your new cover, release announcements, the latest contract signing, etc.? This is not a public service to your following. It is advertising. Advertising is spam, especially when dosed out in large quantities. And on certain networks, promoting on a personal account can get you suspended.

"Authors who are getting it right are the ones who offer something of value to their audience...Your followers are actual human beings."

"Social media has really altered the reader/writer relationship, sometimes for the better, but sometimes for the worse."

"Authors (should) not take their virtual megaphone and blast their 'buy' pages on an hourly basis. Authors (should) create a relationship with their audience."

What is value and relationship? Two-way interaction. Content. Offer interesting tidbits that have no hidden agenda to sell your book. Share links to other people's posts or photos/pages of interest. Be yourself and be someone people want to shake hands with, not shield themselves from.

Sell yourself, not your book

This comment from a fellow author sums it up best:

"You are the Brand. Sell yourself, not your latest book."

Social media is a great way to do just that. Rather than treat these networks as places to blast the trumpet about your awesome book, look at them as a perfect opportunity to get in the trenches and simply talk to people. There aren't many more convenient ways to develop an author/reader relationship than right from the comfort of your office chair.

But does this work? Here's a quote from an author with nearly 34,000 followers:

"...(I) make them laugh, repost other interesting tweets, promote OTHERS and not just me... I average about 75 new followers a day without trying."

And these:

"I've sold many more books by engaging in a conversation with someone and just being me than (by) adding links on a constant basis. I promote other authors I like and respect, and if they like and respect me they do the same."

"Personal interaction is the best way to get the word out there... the key is to have solid followers who you interact with...and want to spend their hard-earned money on you. You, not the book you keep haphazardly spamming everyone about."

So should you EVER mention your books? Of course. But far too many people promoting their products on the internet believe the key word in social networking is "networking" when in fact the real focus should be on "social". 

"I have no problem with authors who post their links or talk about their books, as long as they interact with people, add something to conversations around them...and just have a personality besides pushing their books."

Next time you hop onto a social network, don't sell your book! Be social, be interesting, be you. Talk to people about what they are interested in aside from your book and they will likely be far happier to hear that you have one.

What do you think? Should authors promote books on social media?

Credits: Special thanks to Armand RosamiliaJaden Wilkes, Christa Wojciechowski and the anonymous contributors who offered their thoughts for this article. Please visit their links!

J. Rose Allister is the author of more than twenty-five books, primarily romance and erotic romance. A former editor, submissions director, and internet author promoter, she currently works as a mild-mannered hospital secretary by day, naughty writer by night. Connect with her on Twitter or Goodreads. She loves talking to people!


  1. Good stuff. Totally agree.


  2. Great article. Thanks to Col Bury for the link!

  3. Great article. Now, let me tell you about my book....

    Just kidding. Many people promote their cute kitty pictures, and religious slogans, and pictures of their gardens and grandkids because that's what they're interested in. Some of my author friends talk about their books for the same reasons. It's what they're thinking about, so they share it. To survive online, we all cut each other some slack. But I agree, it can get out of hand.

    NOW do you want to hear about my book???

  4. Thanks for posting this, Jade. It was a great idea to include others' points of view. I think many authors just don't know how to market their book and have no idea that what they are doing is considered 'spam.' I hope this will raise some awareness.

    Good luck out there authors!

  5. Some promotion is fine. I think of the Sword & Laser community on Goodreads, which has its own dedicated sub-board for self-promotion, which any interested members can visit and support at any time. I also think of /r/Fantasy on Reddit, which welcomes the occasional post that a book has just been released or has been discounted for the weekend.

    Twitter is the one that I have a hard time figuring out. You can post three times a day and barely anyone will see it, but if I see all three of such posts, it churns my guts. The appearance of trying hard on promo is just sad.

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  7. Outstanding post! I've been feeling this way for months now. I instantly glaze over at all the promotion. I want to know about the writing experiences of other authors. Writing is such an isolating endeavor. Social media gives us all an opportunity to reach out and share our individual journeys; we seem to be missing the point.

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  9. Offenders of constant shouting do the same old same old: same posts, tweets or whatever, over and over again with none or minimal changes in the wording and images and ill-thought ideas for good advertising, and so prospective buyer’s antennae tunes away from the old; searches for the new, the exciting, the creative, and I’ve noted that mostly these shouters are the ones displaying limited knowledge of the writing craft within the work they hawk so fervently. Good writing will find readers. Undernourished writing thrown to the masses, on the other hand, serves only to make the good writing harder to find.

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  11. I had written a comment about the design and how awful it is to read over two colours (red and pink). After posting the comment the design changed to a be much clearer. Upon reloading I went back to the pink and the red. Awful. The page doesn't load properly. Just to let you know.

    1. So sorry you had this experience, and it's quite weird. This site is not red and pink, but white background with gray text. I've never heard anyone say this before.

    2. It's red and pink for me, too... hard to read and annoying. Thought it was on purpose.

      Good info in the post, though!

  12. Weird. Looks fine to me. Good post. I wonder how bad we will get bombarded now that twitter has opened up its "promoted by" to everyone to purchase ads. Guess it was invite only before. I think twitter will turn into one giant ad stream with little content.

    I'm not sure how many authors would take advantage of that though.

  13. Looks fine to me too.

    I think a lot of authors, especially new ones, blast their book everywhere because they don't know any better. I'm ashamed to admit that I did the same when I first started out, but realized what I was doing when I started blocking people on Twitter who were posting their Amazon link 15X per day.

    Now I see social media as nothing more than being a way to talk to people and share cool things. Sure, I'll make a post about one of my books once in a while, but only if it's something new or relevant.

    Besides, talking to people is a lot more fun than scripting an automated Amazon link to run every few hours. Odds are it will bring in just as many sales, and you end up making friends instead of alienating people.


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