I’ve noticed what appears to be a percolating trend out there on the Internet: fatigue with social media. From people letting their blogs slide to celebrities quitting Twitter to an entire university taking a week off, it seems like quite a few people out there are needing a break from the web.
Though, I suppose if you’re taking a break from the Internet it means you’re not reading this right now. Conundrum. WHAT IF I YELL OUT LOUD CAN YOU HEAR ME??!!
Anyway, according to my completely unscientific Pulse-of-the-Internet-Meter (patent pending I’ll sell it to you for seven billion dollars), it seems that a lot of people out there are having a collective “Wait, why am I doing this again?” moment when it comes to social media. So I thought I’d circle that back to books and a recent topic in the Forums:
Does social media work? Does it help sell books? Have you bought books because you heard of them through social media? Or do you simply follow the people whose books you’re already familiar with? Do you think the time spent is worthwhile or is it a glorified time-waster? Are certain activities more productive than others?
Poll below. If you’re reading via e-mail or an RSS feed you’ll need to click through to see it.
I'm the wrong person to ask. I don't blog, am not on Facebook, don't tweet. Or Tweet. Whatever. Any my house is overflowing with books so I'm trying to use the library more these days. I read books because I hear about them from friends, or because I already admire the author's work, or I see a review that piques my interest in NYRB or the Sunday book section of the 3 newspapers I read, etc. etc. Yes, I'm aware that makes me a Luddite. There's something that feels awfully "me-too" about the corporate use of social media, though; I mean, I'm just not sure what I'd stand to gain from following Trader Joe's on Twitter.
Ted Cross says
I haven't yet bought any books that I have discovered from social media, though I have encountered some unpublished writers whose books I would seriously consider if they ever did get published. Also, I have found a couple on Authonomy that I would certainly buy if only some publisher was paying attention and picked them up.
Dixon Bennett Rice says
I use FB quite a bit, mostly to keep current on trends, who the new agents are, what's being overdone, etc. When I'm stuck, I get good advice from FB friends. I'm not using FB to sell my books, since it's mostly other impoverished writers plus the occasional agent or editor, but maybe it'll eventually help start a buzz going.
Beth Barany says
In short, yes, social media does help sell books.
Why? Because we're reaching out to people who wouldn't already know us and sharing, connecting, BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS!
Word-of-mouth is the NUMBER 1 way books are STILL sold. Online that translates to word-of-mouse.
Like always, these referrals come from trusted sources.
When a stranger refers a book to you would that make you run out and get it?
Probably not. Not until you created a connection with this stranger. And voila! This stranger is now your friend. Or at least someone whose advice you value. (To the degree that you trust them, right?)
The operative word in your question is HELP.
Social media is just one way out of many that we can connect with others, introduce them to ourselves, and our books, and increase the possibility of making sales.
I'm reading Rock Paper Tiger right now because of your blog and Lisa Brackman's tweets.
Adam Heine says
Here on the other side of the world (Thailand), social media is all I have to tell me what books are any good. I can't browse a bookstore (unless I want to buy Harry Potter or Twilight, I guess), and there are few things more tedious than "browsing" Amazon when you don't already know what you want.
Well, I hope so:)Social media and mom blogs is my only plan to sell my new educational picture books! Don't tell me I need plan B and C! Yikes.
If someone whose opinion I value gives me a good book review, I'll likely buy the book. Whether they send me an email or message on facebook or a homing pigeon, it doesn't matter.
Social media just makes it easier to get a message out. Of course, if the recommendation is biased at all, ie someone who'll profit from the book sales, it goes straight to the delete box.
J. T. Shea says
Anonymous 2:17 pm, Lynn Viehl deducted her agent's commission, her estimate of her own expenses, and her personal income tax to arrive at a 'net income' of about half her $50,000 advance.
$453,839.68 divided by 61,663 net sales equals $7.36 per copy sold of a mass market paperback listed at $7.99, and so is probably the gross sales less the author's royalty rather than the publisher's gross profit. The publisher paid Viehl about 11% of the gross sales to that point.
Various commenters on the Genreality site also queried Viehl's maths. Likewise Nathan's analysis (which he links to above) at the time, which was nearly a year ago.
BTW, I do consider a 6% to 8% author royalty too low, and would happily pay 10% more for books if it went to the authors!
I might as well throw my opinion in, too, for what it's worth.
I love facebook for the fun of playing games with my favorite authors and top A/Es. I appreciate status updates that are funny, poignant, or informative. I like the Networked Blogs feature, but all of those page and event invitations are a waste of time. I don't have time to make the rounds to visit all of them.
I think the thing I find the most useful (other than the all-important researching) is blog posts from A/Es. I keep up with my favorite authors and critique buddies, as well. Other than that, I believe the Internet is a huge vortex. It can suck you in and never spit you back out.
Professionals, including publishers, telling authors to get actively involved in online social networking a year before your book comes out is like telling people to try crack a few times on weekends to see if you don't get more out of listening to music.
KM Fawcett says
Nathan, since I'm buying your book as a result of following your blog, I voted yes. Apparently, it's working for you. 🙂 The real question is, to what extent does it work? How many people are buying your books due to social media? 1? 10? 1000? 10,000?
In the last two months, I have purchased two books that I only found out about from social media. There's a third I'm keeping my eye on for the next time I have spending money.
However, when I was extolling the virtues of Twitter to a fellow author, her comment was, "It was made for personalities like yours." If Twitter/Facebook/Blogging only work for a select group of writers, it stands to reason that it will only work for a select group of readers. A solid marketing campaign has to go beyond the social media craziness, or there are people who will never hear of our books.
Lila Swann says
I like to purchase my friends' books, which usually equates to the blogs I read. Of course, if I knew them in real life, I'd be just as compelled to read their books (so the social networking aspect isn't why I buy the books). Otherwise, I find out about books the old-fashioned way (word of mouth or in a bookstore).
Since I'm a teen and I write YA, I tend to focus on the social networking things that I would want MY favorite authors to do. Before I decided to tweet as a "wannabe writer," I didn't have a Twitter and didn't know a single teen who did. I never use my Twitter. It's just not an teen thing, and since I'm trying to reach teens, it's pointless.
Quite frankly, I don't think young adults go trawling for books based on author's web pages. It works the opposite way – I look up my favorite authors' webpages if I liked their books in the store.
It's always nice to see blog posts (especially ones about writing) from my favorite authors. It makes me all giddy inside, and makes me appreciate them even more for what they do. In that scenario, the author gets brownie points, I'm more likely to check back for updates, and I'll be more likely to buy their next book (or at least know about the author's upcoming releases).
I tend to buy books because I either see them at a store (or online) and think they look interesting, or because someone recommends them to me.
I've never bought a book based on Facebook or Twitter or anything of that sort. To be honest, I've only ever even looked up two or three authors online, unless we're talking about going to Amazon or Wikipedia to find more books they've written. And one of those is my favorite author and it's because he's hilarious and I love reading his interviews.
Mary McDonald says
It depends. The Facebook Kindle page can definitely sell books. If I post on there, I almost always get some sales. Problem is, the board moves very quickly and nobody scrolls down for older posts.
Twitter–I'm sure it can for some, but I'm Twitter-impaired. I have one. I tweet, but I don't get all the hashmarks and such.
My book is only available as an ebook, so I concentrate my efforts in places where people who have ereaders hang out, consequently, I spend a lot of time on the Amazon forums now. Just by participating, and not even posting often about my own book, I can get sales as there's a good mixture of readers and authors.
I'd love to say my blog helped sell books, but it doesn't. My blog buddies are supportive, but I can only trace maybe a dozen sales back to my blog in three months. Not that expect followers to buy the book, but there's been limited word of mouth there.
I'm more likely to have my book mentioned in an Amazon thread with a direct link given by the poster to my Amazon page. That sells books.
Social media sells books to customers who use social media. But it is only one tool and even eauthors need to realize not all of their readers are tapped into the ebuzz.
J.T. Shea, I realize that Lynn Viehl wrote her blog articles last year and that Nathan wrote his analysis of it last year, and I read over Lynn Viehl's financial figures very carefully. My point remains: $24,517.36 net profit for 1-1/2 years of book sales does not mean that a New York Times best-selling author is making anywhere near what someone like J.K. Rowling makes. Sometimes when people hear "New York Times best-selling" author, they think the author's rich and that all their social media time paid off in a really big way. The reality is that perhaps it paid off in a very modest way, if at all.
Does anyone know how The New York Times Best Seller List is actually made? It's not what most people think. It's used more to encourage people to buy books on the list, rather than an accurate account of the actual highest-selling books.
Here's a rather illuminating explanation of how it really works by author Jamie Ford, author of HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET: here.
Dan Poytner writes in this article: "Bestseller lists are compiled by several periodicals, and they use different methods. In addition, there are national, regional and specialty lists. National lists. The New York Times editors select 36 titles they feel might be best-selling titles for the week and poll some 3,000 bookstores across the U.S. The stores are asked to fill in the number of books sold next to each title and to write in fast-moving books not on the list. Of course, if a book is not on the list, it is not likely to make the top ten that week. But it may be added to the list by the editors the following week."
Typo: I meant "Dan Poynter," not "Dan Poytner".
Social media is like cheese: too little, and you don't know what you're missing; too much and you pig out on bloat.
I think a lot of people are figuring out what a time suck casual social networking can be. It's fine for teens exchanging photos of their navels, but for writers (and anyone else using social media as a gateway for stuff), things have to be a little more sophisticated.
Micah Maddox says
Congratulations on another milestone in your journey Nathan!
I saw a book trailer & loadsa publicity for a book I thought I'd probably like – but it didn't really tell me what the book's about or let me read a few pages – so I won't buy it until that happens.
In general, the internet takes up too much of my writing & family time, but on the other hand, sites like this are valuable & interesting.
I experimented with a blog, but I don't see the point unless I have a book coming out. Twitter: takes so long just to read other tweets I don't usually bother to tweet myself!
Social networking seems to work for YA books, but not as well for adult titles from what I've seen.
Nicole MacDonald says
I believe it works well. It's a cheap and easy method for getting news international in the comfort of your own seat. Look at Joe Konrath.
Thinking about it, there is another model being missed here. If you take the comments section as a representation of internet 'noise', sorry 'hype', then some interesting numbers play out.
(Rough estimate) 90% of the people on the comments have said "yes" to Social Networking being the numero uno sales point – but that isn't that surprising as most people who extensively use Social sites are used to typing out their thoughts almost on reflex. Now, only about a third who POLLED, agreed. Lets do some more numbers…..
621 POLLED, so that means 236 people agreed. About 112 people Commented Positively, contributing to internet 'noise' (about Half) Giving us a neat and tidy ratio of around 20% to work with.
So of all the people you COULD sell your book to, 20% of the people will inform a further 20%. However, that leaves 60% untouched by the internet.
If you ignore traditional "word of mouth" then out of 5 people, 1 will buy it online, then create internet 'noise' spurring another person to buy it. 3 people are unaffected.
If we now bring in Word of Mouth, the model can change drastically. Out of those 5 people only 1 person is online and passive (The target audience for creating a lot of 'noise), meaning that by pandering to social Media you require 1 (maybe 1.5) people to Word of Mouth it to 3 non-online people and 'hype'-ing it to the person who follows social media but only in an information gathering method.
Therefore, it is arguably a better to appeal SOLELY to the 3 people through traditional methods, instead relying on them the Word of Mouth-ing it to the 1 person on the Net creating the 'hype', who in turn informs the 5th person.
So to the 1 other person reading this post….HELLOOOO!!!!!
I don't think social media automatically helps, but good, sincere, social networking ie: actually interacting and connecting with people can make a big difference.
Social networking helped my book sales. Some of the folks who only know me through my blog have also posted online reviews, or promoted the trailer etc, for which I'm extremely grateful.
Sadly, all too many people seem to think they're networking when they're actually just broadcasting. If there's no personal connection, I imagine that's about as helpful as spam mail.
Jill Wheeler says
I've bought several books recently just because of the author's social media skillz…
PARANORMALCY (love Kiersten's blog)
SISTERS RED (Jackson can sing and dance!)
SIREN (again, love Trisha's blog)
So… blogs might not sell TONS of books, but they at least sell a few.
Thinking about it, there's actually a different way of using Social Networking. Being a nerd I ran the figures and got this.
If we take the microcosm of this post as the internet, then the comments section represents internet 'noise', sorry 'hype', created by any particular topic.
(Rough estimate) 90% of people on the comments board posted in positively, which isn't that much of a surprise considering people who extensively use and enjoy social media are used to typing out their thoughts in soudbite bursts almost reflexively. However, of those POLLED half said it had little relevance on their book life. So, lets run some numbers!!!!
666 have been POLLED. That gives us a fedback of 253 Positive results. Those 253 people have accounted for 115 Comments, which represents, a nice neat 50%(-ish) return in 'hype' for what people like. However, 60% are unaffected by internet 'noise' and contribute almost nothing to it. This gives as a roundabout figure of 20% (Ok, it's 17.26% but who's counting) doing all the work, generating interest for around 40%, of which they are part of.
At first this seems like a slice of the market that is too huge to ignore. However, there is another way of looking at it.
If we discount Word of Mouth and focus purely on Internet presence, Social Media 'hype' looks like this: Of every 5 people who COULD buy your book, 1 will buy the book and comment, generating the 'hype' that convinces another person to purchase. 3 people are unaffected. In otherwords, 40% market influence.
Now, reintroduce Word of Mouth.
If you were to concentrate SOLELY to the offline market, you could rely on the those 3 people to 'Word of Mouth' it to the 1 person who posts online through social media. They will then generate the internet 'noise', reaching the last person in our chain of 5. Et Voila: 100% market influence.
So for every comment we make, we are basically influencing 2 people – one will tell two other people, and one will stay quiet.
To the two people reading this Comment……HEELLLLOOOOOO!!!!!!
ginny martyn says
I heard you yelling and decided to take a break from my self-imposed exile to respond.
Social media is in the perfunctory stages of development. While many still cling to it like fairy dust, the truth is that social media will have to ‘jump the shark’ soon in order to save itself. The problem with self promotion is that is goes stale…real quick. People don’t care what you’re selling even if it’s good. Self promoters who praise social media as their vehicle to move books either; a) haven’t reached their own 100th episode or; b) don’t know they are annoying people. The modernity of social media hasn’t changed the traditional salesman. They are as obnoxious as they always were, and like the telemarketer, the Avon lady, and the door knocking religious zealot our decision to log off is the technological equivalent of screening the call or slamming the door.
Ginny, I love you.
I clicked yes, but I have to quantify that response. (Yes, it's necessary. The OCD said so.) 😉
Social media helps me find books. The Internet is the ultimate word-of-mouth advertising. I hear about an author or a book online and I'll check Amazon or B&N or the author's website for an excerpt. If it catches my attention, I buy it. If I'm not sure, I'll borrow it from the library.
There are a couple of bloggers who will recommend a book, and I'll check it out. The key is I have to have an excerpt of the book. Like an agent, I need to see pages to see if it's worth my time and money.
I don't buy based on a summary or a blurb, though they'll get me down off the fence.
Teralyn Pilgrim says
From my own personal experience, I don't read books that I've heard about on the internet… and I don't read books that my friends have read, for that matter. Finding books on the internet takes too much time and isn't a valid way to see if the book is any good, and my friends have a different taste in books than I do.
I'm most likely to read books that other authors I respect recommend, ones that have won awards, and ones that are featured in bookstores. If I get the opportunity to listen to an author speak, I always go and I read the work before hand. I admit, I'm also more likely to read a book if I saw the movie and liked it. Those things draw me in much faster than anything on the internet.
Liz Fichera says
Writers who only use social media to promote their books is a turn-off. Only using it as a sales tool feels kind of like when the phone rings at night during dinnertime–you know when you pick up the phone some guy is going to try to sell you carpet cleaning or insurance.
Jenny Brown says
Web activities with content sell books, which is why you can create a nonfiction bestseller online using a content rich blog (like this one.)
But the "I'm so thrilled about the release of my upcoming novel" posts do nothing but bore everyone but the authors' family and friends. And that is what 99% of novelists do on social media.
My novel is coming out Sept 28, but what will sell it in the quantities needed to keep my publisher excited about me will be the fact that it will be, albeit briefly, on Walmart shelves where readers too busy to read boring and repetitive review sites will pick it up and scan through it.
I just don't think there's enough hard evidence to prove it's worth too much time and effort. Sure, you can sell books. But when you break down your cost versus the number of sales, is it worth it? Really? Because it's not sales an author needs–it's SALES. There's no actual proof the sales are that great.
If it was a magic solution, well, it would magically make every book a bestseller. It doesn't. Can it help? Sure. But to what degree? Probably very little, so make your efforts match the outcome.
The cost of social time-sucking, however, is very great, and few are really discussing that. What's your time worth? Could it be better applied to something else? And it can be detrimental to your reputation. How many people have crossed off an author, agent, etc. because of something online? I have. Quite a few, actually.
On a personal note, there's something to be said for turning off and getting back into life. About finding balance. I think this backlash is reassuring. Go BE with your family and friends and your work and STOP tweeting about it constantly instead of living it. Focus on them, give yourself back to them. The rewards might be greater than any sales.
I see the power of social media for selling books to be mainly indirect. Blatant self promoting tweets probably won't get you far, but it can help you build your platform, which will help you land a publishing deal to begin with. It will also help spread word of mouth faster among readers who enjoy your book and recommend it to others. Some people may be easing up on their use of social media, but it's not going to fade out and will continue to lend itself to faster-than-ever networking and buzz.
Claire Dawn says
I think writers follow other writers. Generally, unless you're a bestselling author, you probably don't have that big a nonwriter following.
I've bought every book released recently by a blogger I follow.
But like I said, I don't think it helps with selling to nonwriters.
How many comments are you getting now on average vs. a year ago, Nathan?
Margo Gremmler says
Thanks for your post, Nathan.
I wanted to add that the one-week ban of social media on the Harrisburg University campus is part of an experiment to have students reflect on social media's importance in their lives. Yeah, I know – not what I expected either!
Just making sure your readers didn't assume (as I would have) that the profs were just fed up already. 😉 Which they probably are anyway…
ginny martyn says
It makes us [writers] buy each other's books. It has next to nothing to do with whether or not readers buy our books.
Social media helps, but it will not make a book more than it is. For me blogging has been a great way to learn about the business and meet fellow writers. With that in mind, I try not to let it take over my life. When it starts creeping in too much, I cut back. Plus, for me at this point, writing is more important than reading and commenting on 100+ blogs. This summer I completely stepped away from it.
YES. The social media can help sell your books based on positive feedbacks.But who are actually reading books nowadays? Probably FEW of us. All I know it is best or rather better to READ BLOGS or NOVELS posted on blogs.The problem is how you can make money from blogs. Talking about REAL MONEY.
J. T. Shea says
You mean there still is a world outside the internet? I knew I shouldn't have super-glued my fingers to the keyboard…
Anonymous 9:38 pm, after tax personal income is still not 'net profit'. Whatever the intent, the impression of both Viehl's 2009 post, and your 2:17 pm comment, was that Penguin ripped Viehl off. I broadly agree with your later critiques of both the NYT and social media.
Interesting, Anonymous 9:58 pm. So the NYT best-seller list is not based directly on sales at all!?
BTW, today is the 120th anniversary of the birth of a British woman whose eighty books sold twice as many copies as Stephen King and J. K. Rowling put together. She died long before 'social media'.
It helps to a degree.
Perhaps location plays a key role(as in which part of the world you live in), access to other forms of marketing/learning/sharing/enjoyingliterature, and availability of information/books.
It sounds like a lot of people in the comments have a really strange view of what social media is about. Is Twitter a lot of updates about what someone ate for lunch? Of course it is; it's called Twitter, not Deeply Involved Discourse. It, and all the other forms of social media, are just other ways for people to talk. And just as if you were to walk into a crowded room with lots of different conversations going on, some are going to be mundane, some will be interesting, some will be arguments, all sorts. And just as word-of-mouth will always be what really sells a book, social media is just another way to facilitate that word-of-mouth.
I do know this: I have helped people find and buy new books on Twitter, on Facebook, on Goodreads, in blog comments, on the subway, in the street, on a park bench, by using Foursquare…all of it. How can you hate something that gives you such an opportunity to talk to readers?
Are some authors, companies, or people being rude when they talk about their books using social media? Sure, but no more rude than if you wouldn't shut up about your book in real life. The good authors and bookish people on Twitter or other social media balance out their messages and provide something worthwhile.
Kathryn Magendie says
Social networking has certainly sold books for me, and helped me not to be so reclusive, to learn to be a little more social (both online and off)
However, it can be a big sucker of time and energy. Lawd. There are days when I want to throw my laptop into the creek and go laughing barefoot into the forest. . . . la la la tee dah!
J. T. Shea, you're completely and totally wrong if you think I was saying that Penguin ripped off Lynn Viehl. I was NOT saying that, and I don't think that AT ALL! Here's what I'm saying: It might NOT be worth putting in long hours of social media time, in addition to putting in long hours of writing, in order to earn less than $30,000 of disposable income for 1-1/2 years. MY MAIN POINT: People tend to say, "Oh, social media time is well worth it because you can get on the New York Times Best Seller List, just like J. K. Rowling!" … BUT you never hear anyone say, "Oh, social media time is well worth it because you could make $30,000 in disposable income for 1-1/2 years, unlike J. K. Rowling who doesn't spend any time on social media!" Most writers earn only as much as Lynn Viehl did, or even less than that, even after making it onto the New York Times Best Seller List. OK, that's as clearly as I can possibly make my point.
If you post or tweet or whatever the kids are calling it and expect people to magically find you, I think you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
I think it can be very helpful, though, if you take a directed and thoughtful approach to it.
It is easy enough to find a website for people that are passionate about the thing your book is about. They will be much more receptive to hearing about your book (and reading it) than if you sent out a generic plea for readers on a random social networking site.