Friday, June 14, 2013

Social Media Marketing: Here to Stay or Gone Tomorrow?

An article I recently read caused the writer in me to ponder the future of book marketing via social media. The piece might be a downer to some or a challenge to others. Or perhaps it expresses the view of one person who tapped into a sea of stats and turned his findings into an op-ed designed to dampen the dreams of writers in search of book sales. Or it may be a well-thought-out evaluation that reflects the proverbial handwriting on the wall. For me it’s a challenge — I love challenges — but check it out for yourself here.

The book-publishing world has plunged from the ranks of standardized, regulated industries into a free-for-all. Anybody can jump into the foray and grasp at its elusive straws. Rules don't exist within its vague boundaries, logical organization has left the building, and the proverbial needle in a haystack looks like a sure find beside the unrealized hopes of myriad writers. Credibility takes a back seat to gimmicks, schemes, and outright lies. Or so the article implies to me. Social media — specifically Facebook and Twitter — as a viable vehicle for e-publishing promotion, he indicates, is doomed to slither off into extinction and leave behind disillusioned authors without that marketplace in which to showcase their wares.

Is e-pubbing through social media destined to suffer a premature death? If it does, surely something more marvelous will surface to take its place. Writers and marketers, who possess some of the world’s most innovative imaginations, will not be deterred when old dead-ends segue into new highways to success. The noted article may accurately prophesy the end of an era that has seen mind-boggling growth. On the other hand, social media as a marketing tool may evolve from its current state as an unruly adolescent into an organized, mature, and effective location where readers can stroll among virtual bookshelves without the frustration that marks today’s online pandemonium (spoken like the intimidated Internet illiterate I am, but I’m sure I have company). Perhaps some form of business media will take on e-pubbing while its social counterpart goes its separate way. Illustrator and web designer Shannon Parish, who works mostly with writers, suggested that audio books could come into their own as a new force in the industry.

Tucked beneath the article’s harsh prediction lie huge opportunities for honest, well-earned success. Even now, out of the chaos, new authors and e-published works emerge to claim a profitable place within the reading community.

How can we avoid the potential for crashing if social media marketing fails to produce sales? One answer is collaboration. Building a team of proven professionals can spell the difference between outrageous success and overwhelming disappointment. The vast majority of us can’t do it alone…but that’s a topic for next month’s article.

Have you found social media to be an effective marketing tool? If it disappears, do you believe a literary Phoenix will rise from its ashes to rekindle (no pun intended) book sales? How do you think the bookstore of the future will serve those who just want to write?


Writer and editor Linda Lane helps writers to write well. She believes the best relationships between editors and authors create a learning environment that fixes ailing stories and hones needy craft. Writing is a profession, and professional writing is a learned skill that can be sharpened through the editing process. This summer she will be adding book reviews to the list of services she offers through www.denvereditor.com. Visit her there to see how she and her team can help you realize your dream of creating a great book.

28 comments :

  1. It's actually overwhelming to me. I don't have hours to spend on it like--apparently--other people do. Slow Internet doesn't help.

    And, while we're on the subject of finding success through social media--apparently people who are readers and not writers are not on the social network. They don't read blogs, they don't go find you on Amazon. I've sprinkled cards around town, but that doesn't seem to help either. I've lost any faith in the idea that "social media' will sell my books to any "success".
    Good article, I'll go check out the other one in a bit... oh, and I've shared this on my "social media network" lol

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  2. I view social networking as a way to hang out with people who are interested in the same things I am and who read the same books I do. Those elements find their way into the books I write, so the people I hang out with are part of my potential audience. So I don't spend hours "on it"; I go and see how my friend M is doing; I check whether J has posted an interesting recipe; I visit L for some well-timed advice. Relationships, not marketing.

    The Internet and its social "clubs" will continually evolve and platforms will die off and be replaced (remember MySpace?). It's expedient to have your own independent website/blog and mailing list so that you're never putting all your social eggs in one basket. When one closes down you can roll with the next. Usually they overlap a bit (or a lot - think Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest) so you will probably find yourself already on the next big thing when the old big thing begins to fizzle out.

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  3. I would miss Facebook and certainly utilize Twitter. I'd hate to see it go because I enjoy getting to know other writers and people I wouldn't otherwise meet in other states/countries. I can't imagine it fading into obscurity. It could change. I has been my primary mode of marketing. As such, I'd say it is slow but worthwhile.

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  4. Lorelei, I agree with the overwhelming aspect of using social media as a major marketing tool in book sales. It seems to work for some; but those I know personally who've had success in that game have taken this route as a part of a larger marketing program, not the only road to the park. Millions of independently published books have glutted the market in recent years. Some are homeruns; many others get lost on their way to the ballpark. Finding your niche -- the marketplace that works for you -- can be a frustrating process.

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  5. Linda:
    You wrote: "Credibility takes a back seat to gimmicks, schemes, and outright lies. Or so the article implies to me."

    That's the way traditional publishing has operated since the printing press was invented and maybe even before that when copies of books were handwritten. People are always taken in by smoke and mirrors, flash, and especially lies disguised as truth. In short, that's what sells, whether in politics, music, movies, or books.
    That it's true in self-publishing as well means that human nature is alive and well.

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  6. As the name implies, Elle, social networking is primarily for socializing. This underscores the need to have a personal website to promote you and your book(s) -- with perhaps a link or a brief reference to that on the social sites wherever you are and whatever is permitted. And I do remember MySpace; I haven't heard or even thought about that for a lo-o-o-ong time.

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  7. We certainly do have to be smart and careful about how we use social media for marketing. Several years ago authors were told to "be out there promoting your books" so we all did that without realizing it was the wrong approach. I agree with Elle that what we do on FB and Twitter and visiting blogs should be about making friends. I know I have made a number of friendships doing that that I really treasure. Has it led to book sales? Probably not. I have reached a point that I don't know what pushes sales and what doesn't.

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  8. Diana, sounds like social network marketing is working for you, albeit it a bit slowly. Maybe sometime you can share effective approaches to this apparently unpredictable marketplace.

    I, too, enjoy meeting people whose paths I would never have crossed were it not for the Internet. Typically, however, this has happened through my editing work rather than social networking. :-)

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  9. Anonymous, human nature has many aspects, and what we are is what we choose to be. Unfortunately, the almighty dollar often takes precedence over integrity. At least with self-pubbing, we can CHOOSE who we are rather than having to appear as close comrades of those whose values we do not share.

    I live in the Canon City/Colorado Springs, Colorado, area where fires are currently raging, and the worst of human nature has reared its ugly head. We've heard reports of isolated looting and vandalizing of evacuated residents' cars and belongings. However, the beautiful, giving side of that same human nature has been far more prevalent. Strangers have opened their hearts, their homes, their pocketbooks, and their pantries to many of the evacuees and even their animals. Stories of incredible sharing and caring abound. So human nature at its best is also alive and well.

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  10. I've been involved with publishing companies since back in the 80s and the almighty dollar has ruled that industry as it does any other. As far as "social networking", that has the same unfortunate ring as "global warming" when we have harsh winters. One has to understand the dynamics on a very deep level and most do not. Social marketing is no different from marketing in the old days when the hot thing was networking groups that met for breakfast and exchanged business cards. Or TV ads. It's just more convenient and you meet more people a lot faster. Another example is running an ad in the newspaper. Unsuccessful businesses complain an ad didn't bring them any sales. But that's not the purpose of newspaper advertising in the short run. Its primary function is to build name recognition over a long period of time. Online marketing is no different. This blog is a good example of effective social networking. For several years, we've had a daily post from different writers, and we get a solid amount of regular traffic... without a lot of fancy tricks and gimmicks... just consistence and regular product and advertising. Slow but steady. That's how social marketing online will work promoting an author and books. Have a decent product first, and then get names (author and book title) out there on a daily basis. Pretty simple. Not easy, but simple.

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  11. Excellent comment, Dani. My piece is not intended to indicate agreement with the cited article's author, but only to share his content because I've heard a number of debates on whether social media marketing sells books. Every one of your points is valid and should be seriously considered before writers assume this marketing avenue isn't worth their time, when in fact it may be well worth it.

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  12. Honestly, I have no clue ... I remember setting up my website, my blog, my Fazebook page, my Twitter account and thinking, 'Now I'll just sit back and watch the book sales roll in ... how can I miss?' What I didn't realize at the time was that having a presence on the 'Net is similar to getting your name in the phone book ... only worse ... in the phone book, I'm one of a hundred thousand ... on the 'Net, I'm one of a billion ... heck, I can't even get family members to pay any attention. If social media goes away ... or morphs into something else ... it will have no impact on me.

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  13. Great analogy, Christopher. Now if you'd paid (one way or another) to have one of those peel-off refrigerator magnets stuck to the phone book cover that people could save - your name would be more noticeable, huh? And maybe more likely to generate some sales, if you had a book to sell. A good book. Keeping your name in front of reading faces is the challenge with social media, just as it is with any advertising. There's also another part of this to keep in mind - social media gives you direct contact with potential readers, and readers LOVE being able to chat with authors they read. Meeting authors online and having a real and personal conversation with them is one of the things I really like about today's publishing world, and something that was sorely missing when I was a book rep back in the 80s. Then, we rarely had direct contact with authors, even if you worked for a publishing company. If you are personable and engaged with your reading audience online, you are creating a market for yourself. Don't miss that opportunity!

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  14. Love your perspective, Christopher. By the way, I visited your website. I was so intrigued that I'll definitely make a another visit.

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  15. The essence of life is change. If we as writers do not adapt...

    I enjoy social media. I remain uncertain as to how it affects sales, but I know that at least some people have seen my books through these efforts.
    For some of us, this is the only way we can address advertising. There is a fine line between social interaction and publicity...I try to envision a cocktail party where I get to enjoy friends and talk about work!

    Change is inevitable but now that the world is communicating, I seriously doubt anyone will be willing to stop.

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  16. Even though I have many failed experiments to my credit, I still very much believe that social media will be crucial for my books sales. All my failed experiments taught me some valuable lessons. The beauty of social media is its flexibility. There are 9 billion ways to promote any project with some creative thinking.

    As someone who will self publish, I have to be the one creating opportunities for promotion. I've seen the traditional routes writers take and I'm looking for something different. If it's not there for the finding, then I'll create that too.

    The only limits for social media are the limits we put on them.

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  17. Patrickoscheen, how right you are that change is inevitable! As writers -- whether traditionally or self-published -- we must use whatever means are available to us to let readers know that our book is out there...and it's a great read. Now a virtual cocktail party where a book is discussed over a drink sounds creative to me. :-)

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  18. Cairn, thinking outside that clichéd box has some great advantages. Fresh, innovative marketing strategies may get you to your goal, and I applaud your determination to do something different. Those who take the "road less traveled" often enjoy the trip of a lifetime. I wish you much success!

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  19. Just to follow through with Christopher's analogy a little further:

    Yes, it's like having your number in the billion-member phone book. But imagine, at pretty-much random, there are other numbers printed in large print in the phone book: these are general party lines that anyone can call at any time, and those people calling that number at the same time can all chat to each other. Some of those numbers are linked to specific interests - "Call here if you love dogs and want to chat with other dog owners". The randomness makes it a bit difficult to find these numbers, but once you do, and once you hit a popular number, you could eventually run across a few dog owners who would also enjoy reading your mystery novel with a dog protagonist - who do read it and then call into their favourite chat number to tell other dog owners about a fun cosy mystery book with a dog as the main character... rince, repeat (and at this point you're not doing the marketing; your fans are).

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  20. Patrickosheen is right, that social media is like a big cocktail party, with participants from all over the world. You're supposed to have fun and, oh by the way, mention your book sometimes. I buy books I hear about via social media, and others buy my books after they get to know me via various social media outlets. People who feel they know you tend to buy your books. I've "met" a lot of interesting people and gained opportunities thru social media. I don't have a bestseller, but after 8 years, my little memoir still sells, now mostly the e-book version, and almost always because of social media.

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  21. Ah, yes, Elle, what starts as a casual mention of your book to people who are already interested in your topic ends up as a virtual grapevine of online sales as the word gets around. And the real beauty of this is that others do much of the marketing for you.


    Linda Austin, your experience proves that patience and perseverance can pay off. Sometimes we're so like the hare who dashed off the starting line and then got sidetracked that we forget the slow but focused tortoise won the race. Of course, it pays to have a read-worthy book, and you must have that, too.

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  22. Anonymous, often digital dialogue seems less threatening, more impersonal, less likely to infringe on time and space. The warmth (or chill or violence or...) of personal interactions gives way to a device that keeps the other person(s) much farther than arm's length away. I'm not suggesting that face to face meetings are wrong; quite to the contrary, I grew up with radio, neighborhood picnics, and knowing who lived next door, as well as down the block. Times change. Customs change. Neither are necessarily for the better -- they're just different.

    A commercial currently playing on TV uses this lack of personal interaction to advertise...paper plates, I think. Funny that I remember the ad but not the name of the product. I don't that was the company's intent. (lol) However, it does suggest that I miss those good old days.

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  23. I've banded together with a group of authors and we've formed the Booklover's Bench. We help each other out, and although we're still new, we are seeing expanded reach. Whether it's doing a lot for sales is (I think) always going to be an intangible. I think one has the most "success" if one remembers the main word is "Social."

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  24. Networking is a great way of promoting, Terry, whether in a small group or on a large social media site. One never knows when a book may go viral and forever change the course of the writer's life.

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  25. I read Elle's note with interest ... but did not understand it. I think that is my trouble ... I just am not savvy enough to follow the random threads. I love email ... someone sends me a note and I respond. Fazebook just baffles me ... I have no idea who is talking to who about what.

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  26. I once read a great interview, with Gillian Flynn's (GONE GIRL) agent, that pointed out the shortcomings of the way most authors use social media. They spend too much time talking at the world about their writing, instead of writing a book that people will want to talk about. Flynn's book benefitted hugely from social media because people wanted to talk about it, just as if they were standing at a water cooler in an office somewhere.

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  27. You're not alone, Christopher. But, you know what? You're already doing it here, even if you don't realise it. You are a known regular and, I assure you, many readers look forward to your humourous comments. I'm sure a number of those have already clicked through to your web page to see what else you have to offer.

    A "next step" you might want to consider is creating a simple newsletter with some of your humourous annecdotes and offering this to peeps who want to sign up for it on your home page. That way you create a mailing list of people who would be interested in hearing about a new book you have coming out...

    Check out Mail Chimp, which is free.

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  28. I can't say for certain about social media. The only thing certain about it, is that people will continue to use for a while.

    It has become a part of their daily lives. That is hard to ignore.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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