Author marketing isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon (more on that later). I often see authors do marketing on social media only when they have a new book coming out, which always puzzles me especially when they have a backlist. Surely, you want to keep selling things that you’ve already written? Another big mistake I see is when authors only begin marketing a few weeks (or even days) before their new books drop. Most of the time, authors resort to begging friends and family to pre-order their books on Amazon (which ends up screwing up their Amazon algorithm and making it difficult for the site to recommend it to the right readers). Another big mistake is relentlessly posting book covers (which ends up screwing the social media algorithm because it thinks it’s the same image, ensuring that the posts get seen by fewer people). It doesn’t matter if your book is photographed in different locations, by the way.
I’ll be the first to say that it’s debatable how much social media helps authors actually sell books (especially compared to mailing lists), but if used correctly, they are an amazing way to create branding and spread awareness about books. It’s here I want to explain that excellent author marketing on social media doesn’t have to be an all-consuming task that takes you away from writing.
Author marketing is like brushing your teeth
You may not like it, but it has to be done. However, like dental hygiene, you have to make sure what you’re doing is effective and consistent (it’s a marathon, after all). It’s important to have a goal and an author marketing strategy. I’m a big believer in strategies, especially when it comes to social media, because they allow you to spread out marketing in manageable increments. With the right strategy, you can keep word of mouth going about your books (and other things you might be selling, like courses or merchandise) and still have the flexibility to ramp up promotions when you have something new or important coming out.
If you brush your teeth and floss regularly, your dental checkups are going to be easy and painless. In much the same way, if you keep your author marketing consistent (even if it’s low-key), it will be a lot easier to push something. I’ve previously written a post about some basic promotional tactics to get you started, but for those who need an example of what a long-term author marketing tactic might look like, I’d like to use the “Dear David” viral Twitter thread as a very useful case study.
“Dear David” illustrates why marketing is storytelling
For those who aren’t aware, “Dear David” began in 2017 when an illustrator and writer, Adam Ellis, began Tweeting about a strange dream he had and a possible ghostly presence in his apartment. You can read about the entire thing here, if you have no clue what this is about. (Warning: probably best if you don’t read this at night if you’re easily spooked.)
Essentially, Ellis kept up a series of posts that ended up getting a huge amount of attention and interest, drawing people into a narrative that kept them riveted. Whether or not this is a hoax, it’s clear that “Dear David” is a fantastic example of how social media can be an effective tool for author marketing simply by using it to tell a story (which is something authors should be good at in the first place).
Think of author marketing as a chance for you to tell a story about yourself and your books. It’s not about asking people to buy something (that is NOT marketing, that is selling). Marketing is telling a story that helps people understand what you write about and what they can get from you. It’s not holding up a book in their faces and asking them to buy it without any context.
With that out of the way, what are the lessons that “Dear David” can teach us about author marketing on social media?
Nothing attracts attention more than something mysterious. Neuroscientists have long known that curiosity is one of the greatest tools in marketing. “Dear David” started off with a puzzle that intrigued people and made them curious to know how the whole thing would end.
How can authors use this for their own marketing on social media? Again, this goes back to having a good strategy in place because authors need to think of their posts as part of a larger narrative. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with standalone posts, but if you see your page as a long-running serialized story with plot developments and interesting characters, it makes for a more engaging experience.
You’ll find that a lot of people who do well on social media have narratives that trigger curiosity and interest. Along with many others, I follow a farmer with a mean rooster to watch the development of the rooster’s ongoing hostilities with his goose nemesis. If a chicken with a bad attitude can hold the attention of thousands of people, surely authors can come up with a storyline that does something similar.
Let people get involved
“Dear David” also gave people a chance to be part of the story. They analyzed the pictures and videos, shared their own spooky encounters, and provided possible scientific explanations for what was going on. If you build enough intrigue in your posts, you won’t even have to ask people to engage. They will naturally want to do it.
Towards the end of the “Dear David” saga, you’ll notice that people were actively asking Ellis where he was and if he was fine. Social media is uniquely set up to encourage people to invest in a storyline, and it’s really important that authors take advantage of this.
Again, going back to the author marketing strategy, authors need to build in opportunities for followers to get involved and be part of the storyline. Everyone loves to be part of a fun narrative, and it’s easy to give people a chance to exercise their creativity as well, whether it’s coming up with ideas and solutions or getting a chance to tell their own stories.
One of the things I always remind authors is that asking people to buy their books is not the same as offering them something of value. In fact, readers are the ones offering something of value to writers: their money and time. It’s not the other way around, and it’s a good idea for authors to remember this when they’re doing marketing, especially on social media.
Although it’s certainly fine to let your followers know that you have a new book out (or you have a great backlist), this doesn’t provide any value to them. The value lies in the storyline that you build in your marketing. In fact, it’s the cheapest and fastest tool authors have to show that they can tell a story. If an author can’t even sustain a compelling story in a form as simple as social media, it doesn’t really build confidence that they can sustain a compelling story in a book.
“Dear David” seems to be on its way to becoming a series or a film, and it’s already built a great foundation of marketing through word of mouth and with a great story angle that others can write about, thus spreading the promotions even further.
This is something that all authors can and should do for themselves, as well. Just take some time to look around–even if you don’t have a creepy hallway to photograph, there’s always a story that you can share.
If you need help with your author marketing strategy, feel free to drop us an email and set up your free 15-minute consultation!