Monday, August 27, 2012

Social Media and Book Sales

It's an article of faith among publishers, publicists, various marketing gurus and quite a number of writers that an author must be a committed user, producer and consumer of social media. Before publication of India Black, my publisher sent me an extensive guide to establishing a web presence.  If a writer isn't writing, then she should be updating her website, blogging, tweeting, posting on Facebook, or otherwise using social media to market her work.  We are advised to brand ourselves and to understand our target audience.  Since I'm interested in selling my books, I've read dozens of articles and interviews with P.R. types on this topic.

There's only one problem with this advice.  Not once have I seen a publisher or public relations expert trot out the data proving that a jazzy website or a fascinating blog translates into book sales.  I suspect they don't provide this information for a simple reason:  it does not exist.  I sometimes wonder if we've all bought into this canard because the alternative-that we don't really know what drives book sales-is so much less appealing than pretending we can boost sales through a flurry of activity.  Certainly social media allows authors to keep in touch with fans but as for driving sales, I'm not convinced.


  1. I don't think that social media drives new sales in the sense of converting someone who's never read your books into a die-hard fan. I don't surf the web looking for author sites.

    The sites I read are the ones where I already like the books. In other words, I've bought your books before so I like your characters and worldview and I'm interested in what will happen next. The background materials, such as picture of India's gun, are interesting from that perspective, although I'll buy your books without them.

    The lack of a website or social media won't stop me from buying but I may not buy as quickly, either because I may not know when the next book is coming out or, being the fickle reader I am, I'm now glomming on another author. So building that relationship and controlling access to that information could help you to front-load sales, which I presume would be helpful in dealing with a publisher who's factoring in what sells in to the decisions on what to commission, and what to promote. That in turn, depending on your genre, could move you up the publisher's list. I presume that authors that make the bestseller lists, if only for a week, get more love from a publisher than those who steadily sell for years.

  2. I wonder if it varies by genre -- certainly I've seen some rabid devotion in the YA sphere -- so if an author puts out a limited edition e-book short story set in the universe, etc there seems to be a rush on buying it -- I wonder if it reaches readers it might not otherwise?

  3. You both raise some interesting points. Eve, you are absolutely correct that front-loading sales is critical. Spent any time in the publishing industry? Sounds like it. If an author sells 50,000 in the first week of release and thereafter sells none, she'll make the NYTimes bestseller list. The author who sells 50,000 over six months will not. Don't hold me to those numbers-I can't recall exactly when and where I saw them, which seems to be the case with me a lot these days. I do agree that staying in touch with readers through social media is vital(it's also fun). Thanks for your insight into what you find interesting on websites and blogs.

    Audra,I think you may have identified one of the interesting things about genres and readership. I'd bet that YA readers are more comfortable with technology, social networking, and may prefer their eReaders to paper content. I know that Sisters in Crime commissioned a study to learn how readers chose books, and there were two fascinating findings. One was that the average mystery reader was a female between 55 and 65 years old. The other is that the number one reason readers chose a book was a recommendation from someone they knew. Whenever I do a signing or speak to a group, I always ask how many people participate in social media sites related to books, like Goodreads. The number is usually less than 10% of the attendees, and there are a lot of puzzled faces in the crowd. Thanks for you comments.

  4. I can only speak for myself--but as a reader, and a life-long reader at that, I have never let media influence my reading. I do belong to Goodreads and other social media sites. For a while I had a subscription to the London Review of Books. I might look at "official" reviews....but that never really made me go out and buy a book. It's always been recommendations from trusted sources (whether that was in the good old days when it was a friend or mentor or now through book-bloggers I've learned to know and trust in the virtual world). That always trumps media. Always. So, even the 10% mentioned above may not necessarily buy and read your books just because they are hooked up media-wise. I