Social Media for Writers: On Building an Author Platform
Aspiring novelists typically know they need a completed manuscript to land an agent or publisher, and certainly to self-publish their book. What they aren’t sure about is whether they need a social media presence and what it can or can’t do for them. So today we’re answering your #trending social media questions. Let’s go!
Do I need to have a social media presence to get a book deal?
Nope. In fact, if social media isn’t your thing, then stay off it, because the inauthenticity will show and there’s nothing worse. As a bonus, the less time you spend on socials is more time you can spend on your manuscript.
Can having a big online following land me a book deal?
Absolutely. But we’re talking 100,000+ followers. A million is even better. It doesn’t matter what the platform is – YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, etc. – having a massive following on any of these can launch your writing career. But here’s something to chew on: Once you have a massive following, why bother seeking a publisher? Publishing through a Big 5 has perks, to be sure, but most of those perks are helping you find a readership for your book. If you already own that readership, I’d wonder if their offer – even a six figure one – couldn’t be out-earned by self-publishing smartly.
Can having a social media following help me sell more copies of my book?
Yes, but not nearly as many as you think. I’ll spare repeating that, but know I’m repeating it in my head. Assuming your account focuses on writing, a shocking number of your followers will be other writers hoping to make their dream come true, and even though they’ll support you through encouragement, they may not necessarily want to buy your specific book. And even if they buy the first one, they may not buy the next. What having a decent social media following may do is land you paid speaking appearances and invitations to book events, because event organizers will want to tap into your following to get more foot traffic or ticket sales.
I want a social media following. Can you just tell me how to do it already?
Sure! First, pick a subject. Think of it as your main character. It can be reading, writing, parenting, knitting – whatever. Now for those minor characters. These could be members of your family, your hobbies, your day job – whatever. Your main character should take up 80% of your posts and will be why followers stay engaged. The other 20% will be used to give followers a sense of who you are, and to make you as a person interesting. To be clear, your main character does not need to be writing. And if your main focus is cooking, as an example, that doesn’t mean you need to sell your followers a cookbook. You can create a massive following of gardeners, write a science fiction novel (with a tiny nod to gardening in it…or not), and guess what? A percent of your followers will buy your fiction book because gardeners are readers too! So are llama enthusiasts. So are nail technicians. Not enough of them will buy your book to pay your bills (short of having a massive following), but some will.
Second, to build a following, you may need to do some following/unfollowing to get started. Yep, it’s not glamorous, but very few want to follow an account with only a handful of followers. Get yourself up to 1,000 followers or so and then concentrate on organic posts / videos to grow your platform. Remember to engage with your followers and with other accounts, as all social media platforms’ algorithms like that. Set weekly and monthly goals and evaluate each and every posts’ performance. Post more of what does well. This may mean changing your writing-focused account into an interior design-focused account. Don’t forget to tag other accounts in most of your posts and use relevant hashtags. Don’t use irrelevant hashtags. The algorithm hates this. The algorithm is real. Respect the algorithm.
Third, pay for some ads. If you really want to scale quickly, it’ll take cold, hard cash. I wouldn’t do this with the intention of getting a book deal, but I would if I had plans to utilize my platform beyond a book deal. In other words, if the book deal was only one step on your path to become a mogul.
Will a modest-sized platform sway a publisher who is on the fence to publish my book?
No. Three years of online conversations with various, high-profile publishing professionals through the Scribbler subscription box has proven this. An enormous following can help, but not a small or medium-sized one. Hit 100,000 and publishers will give an admiring nod. Hit 30,000 and they may even think to themselves, “This writer would probably do well on tour.” But again, if you dislike social media, take a hard pass, make yourself a Tom Collins (the perfect spring/summer writing cocktail) and get back to work on a killer manuscript, which will land you an agent or book deal, without a single selfie.