An aspiring author’s greatest fear is that she’ll spend years slaving over a novel only to release it to the world and nobody buys it. When a book flops after an author has invested countless hours trying to make it a success, that’s a tragedy.
Every author longs to impact readers, but people won’t magically flock to your stories. First you must find and maintain an audience. To prevent your efforts from being a waste, allow me to refute three common misconceptions about this process.
Myth #1: Publishers Handle All the Marketing
This is more an exaggeration than a myth. At the beginning of my writing journey, I was blessed to attend a dinner where a professional lectured on how to achieve publication. He gave this advice:
“Start building an email list.”
What? Heresy! Where’s the angelic publisher to save me from all my marketing woes?
The speaker explained that publishers expect authors to do their own marketing, with the exception of occasionally promoting a famous individual. Publishers are not marketers. They are distributors who place material in bookstores and catalogs.
However, this may not be true in every case. Policies vary and some novelists get lucky. In general, though, avoiding marketing and hoping a publisher will transform you into a full-time author is like waiting for a fairy godmother to arrive in the mail.
With that in mind, you may be wondering if self-publishing would be more beneficial since you can keep all the royalties. Traditional publishing has legitimate advantages, and I’m not telling you which route is better, but take your decision seriously. Self-publishing can be a lucrative option if you do it correctly.
Myth #2: Blogging Is the Best Way to Build a Platform
A platform is any outlet that puts you in touch with a group of people, such as a billboard, your soccer team, or a blog.
Blogging is cool. However, I’ve seen numerous young writers declare that they’re going to build their platforms. Exciting! Then all of them announce that they plan to accomplish that goal through a blog.
Do you sense a bandwagon?
Though blogging can be an excellent tool for growing a readership, it’s not a silver bullet or definitive choice. If you’re considering blogging, please think before you act.
First, is God leading you to create a blog, or are you doing it because it’s a trend? If you can’t pinpoint your purpose, don’t do it.
Second, are you equipped with a proven technique for drawing traffic to your blog? I don’t know if you’ve tried this, but if you type “best blog ever” into Google, yours likely won’t appear in the top results. You may blog for years and have less than a dozen people stumble upon you. Hope is not a tactic. How are other successful bloggers attracting visitors? SEO, Pinterest, guest posting? Developing an effective strategy will save you lots of time.
Third, assess your other options. Blogging consumes copious amounts of time. I can’t guarantee it, but with ingenuity you could probably devise more efficient methods to gather a following. Virtual summits, giveaways, and cross-promotions are three ways authors can expand their email lists with minimal hassle.
Again, I don’t want to bash blogging here. It has many benefits.
- Occasionally it can be used to gain a mind-bogglingly large audience.
- It enforces habits of discipline and helps you craft a message.
- It provides opportunities to interact and bond with readers.
I could go on, but that’s for another article. All you need to understand is this: blogging is not the holy grail.
Myth #3: Social Media Sells Books
Pardon me while I jump off a bridge.
Sometimes social media produces favorable results, and it does play a role in marketing. Statistics, however, paint a dim picture of social media if you’re relying on it to close a sale.
- More than 1,000,000 Twitter followers results in almost no sales.
- Organic Facebook reach (followers who will see your post in their feeds) can be as low as 1.2%. (If you compare that to the 70% open rates I’ve gotten on emails before, the numbers are sad.)
- Engagement of 1% on a Twitter post is considered high.
- Instagram engagement rates are considered good between 3.5%–6%.
- This interview of a major literary agent from 2013 reveals that social media is not a mover and shaker. And that was back when engagement rates were much higher. (I also love how this article lays out a broad, balanced, and intelligent view of social media’s relationship with book marketing.)
Furthermore, social media is distracting by nature. Just because someone scrolls to your post doesn’t mean they’ll stop to read it. They might get sidetracked by a cat meme.
If you believe that spending hours on social media will turn you into a successful author, I beg you to reevaluate the cons.
Don’t disregard social media entirely, though. Here are a few solid approaches you can take:
- Grow your email list with paid ads.
- Remind people that your product exists. Many of your followers will hear about your book through your email list or website and be interested but delay purchasing it. When K.M. Weiland released Storming, I contemplated buying it but didn’t initially. After encountering an ad for it every time I visited her blog, though, I finally broke down. You don’t sell a book through social media, but you can nag readers when they’re on the edge.
- Experiment with Pinterest, which is a search engine that’s less competitive than Google. Pins will continue accumulating views months after you post, and you can increase blog traffic whether you have a following or not. If you’re inventive, you might even be able to boost your email list through it. Whether Pinterest will work for you depends on your strategy and design skills, but I think it has more potential than other social media channels.
- Connect with influencers. Chances are, convincing ten people to sell a hundred books for you will be easier than selling a thousand books yourself. This is why several people have said that the best use of social media is to form relationships with influential people (i.e., other authors).
- Join Facebook groups. After contributing to the community, you could promote your incentive for signing up to your email list (if the rules permit).
- Forget social media! Your stance may be different, but I’ve personally decided that I should focus on more fruitful marketing strategies.
More to Learn
I’ve described pitfalls to watch out for, but that knowledge alone won’t lead you to a thriving author career. In an upcoming article, I plan to outline the basics of how you should be building a platform.
At the very least, I hope this article has cleared up some of the confusion surrounding marketing. If your eyes were opened in any way, I’d love to hear how. And I may have missed a prominent myth or an important sub-point. If so, fill me in below!
Many moons ago, a series of suspiciously providential events led Daeus to cast his lot among the worldwide community of Christian storytellers. Since then, no reports indicate that he has come back out. Perhaps he is lost among those fine gallivanters forever. Rest in peace, Daeus Lamb.
Daeus dreams impossibly large (which doesn’t bother him a bit) and tends to bite off more than he can chew. To read his books, including one free one, follow him at daeuslamb.com
*prints the whole thing out and pins it on her wall*
One thing I would note is that social media–while it might not be good for selling your book–can be good for connecting with people. Commenting on other bookish and writing-related posts can help you find more like-minded people. For me, marketing isn’t about selling things, it’s about connecting with readers, and that’s not something that can only be done in email lists. I think the approach to marketing is slightly different for every author.
For example, there’s some authors who have no social media at all, but are still very successful in the sales view. Other authors, like Nadine Brandes (to add an actual example), have a great network of relationships online. Authors like Nadine are so much more real and relatable because they are there to connect with their readers and become friends with their readers, and I think that’s more powerful.
If you connect with your readers, you can have more impact on 50 readers, than if you don’t connect with them, but there’s 100 people reading the book.
Yes, networking is a great use of social media.
I like the forget social media point, @Daeus-lamb. I can’t wait for the next article.
Will there be more articles on making a living as a writer?
To my knowledge, there are none lined up yet except my next article, but in the near future, we do want to make the business of writing a larger focus at Story Embers.