As our final exam for my social media class, we’ve been asked to create a social media strategy for a product. Since I’ve published five books and know lots of authors who are tearing their hair out over how to effectively publicize their work, I thought I’d create a social media strategy for a new book. So, would-be author, I’m assuming at this point your book has been accepted by a publisher and is in pre-publication stages. Most publishers will do some minimal PR but these days, it’s up to the author to create buzz. And that is where social media comes in.
If you are self publishing, you definitely need this advice. You are the expert on this book, by the way, so you’re the driving force behind getting this work on the map. The first rule of a social media strategy is goals. You need to set them for your product. Set some goals, ie get on the NYT bestseller list by next May. Set small goals and big goals. Here are some lofty ones:
• Add 100 Twitter followers in a week
• Increase sales to 10 percent in a month
• Build and promote a Facebook fan page and get 50 likes per day
• Get reviewed by the Wall Street Journal or similar publication
My fourth book, “Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do About It,” sold the best of all my books.
If you have the time and staff to do that, wonderful. Put together a list of places where you would like your book reviewed and send it to your publisher’s PR office. Most publishers I’ve dealt with have one overworked person managing all the PR, so that person may be a little slow to help you out. They may or may not ignore your list, but at least give them something to work with or think about. The PR folks, I’ve found, are a bit more on the ball if they think the author is monitoring their progress. With my fourth book “Quitting Church,” the PR at Baker Books sent a copy to the Wall Street Journal, which ran a full column about it the day after my book came out. I was beyond delighted about this, but one doesn’t get such breaks every day. (When I approached the Journal with book #5, they ignored me so go figure). If you can’t get your stuff mentioned in the top publications, set your goals a bit lower to something like this:
• Tweet your book/article/reviews twice per day
• Submit your book to three review sites per week
• Have one live author event a week
Let’s assume your book is good, it meets a felt need and has broad market appeal. Establish your brand early. Work with the designer of your book cover in terms of color and design and use that same design on your Facebook page, in letterhead (which you can create in InDesign) and even in business cards. Figure out a few social media platforms you’ll concentrate on to market your book. What do you do best? Twitter? YouTube? Podcasts? Blogging? Facebook? Pinterest? Instagram? Where is your main audience? Even if it’s not Facebook (and for a lot of us, it is), create a Facebook fan page. On it, ask people to buy your book. Concentrate on the platforms that work for you and create high quality content.
Post really interesting questions and problems on Facebook, so people can answer them and start great discussions. On your Facebook page, list contact information, speaking dates and appearances. Try Facebook ads for the book. They are not expensive. Recently I’ve been working on a magazine
article about Nadia Bolz-Weber, a most unusual Lutheran pastor who’s also a weight lifter, is covered with tattoos and heads up a church in Denver that’s called House for All Sinners and Saints. She’s very profane, a former alcoholic and walks around in black tank tops and pants. Her command of social media is amazing. She posts outrageous tweets; she has a column in on the religious multi-blog site Patheos and she is always doing fascinating things that she tweets about. She’s got 22,600 Twitter followers and 39, 354 folks following her Facebook page. She’s latched onto a huge public dissatisfaction with organized religion. Call up her name on Google images and you’ll see pages of photos of her. She’s got her brand down pat, plus she has an amazing twist on the Bible and Christianity that brings people back for more. Study what she does to see how one person can leverage themselves into celebrity just through Twitter and Facebook.
One person who has got lots of good book promo ideas is Michael Hyatt, a former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville. He formed a group of people that he called his “tribe” to whom he turned for advice on things such as titles, subtitles and jacket covers. This is a good idea to copy. Find a group of people who will stick with you until the book is published and well on its way. Make sure these folks are committed for the long haul. (Note: For my fifth book, I too enlisted 10 members of a ‘tribe.’ They promised to lend me moral support and pray for the book. They all dropped by the wayside within a year or two. Not surprisingly, the book took 15 years to get into print!)
“Knights, Maidens and Dragons” continues to sell, as it’s a lovely book of Victorian-era tales.
Sometimes people drop into your lap who are willing to help. After my third book, “Waiting for True Love: And Other Tales of Purity, Patience and Faithfulness,” came out, I was approached by Julie Hiramine, a kind woman from Colorado who loved my book and wanted to sell it off her web site, Generations of Virtue. She had ideas for renaming and re-branding the book. Once WFTL went out of print, I took her advice and self-published it as “Knights, Maidens and Dragons: Six Medieval Tales of Virtue and Valor” but without the illustrations. I paid a friend to design the cover as I didn’t have the rights to the one for “Waiting for True Love.” It took me 10 years to get the rights to the illustrations from the publisher, but when I did, Chalfont House out of Dumfries, Va., published it with the illustrations, with new inks and with an up-to-date layout.
Secure endorsements and use the name of the first endorser to nab other influential endorsers. Then form a launch team. These are the people who get special attention from you. Before publication, they get a free electronic copy of the book, of course; access to any tele-seminar you may give, a private Facebook group, a Skype conversation, etc. In return, get them to mention your book and what they think of it on their blogs and social media platforms. You may include your ‘tribe’ with your launch team or have them be different groups altogether. Here are suggested times on best times to post on various social media:
Facebook: 1-4 pm
Twitter: 1-3 pm
Pinterest: 2-4 pm and 8 pm-1 a.m.
Instagram – 7-9 a.m., 5-6 p.m.
Google+ – 9-11 a.m.
If you haven’t already, join Hootsuite. Its autoscheduler allows you to schedule Facebook and Twitter posts. Its browser extension Hootlet allows you to share content (on Chrome and Firefox). You can also follow all your social accounts on there. Before the book comes out, create and schedule several weeks’ worth of tweets on Hootsuite so there can be a constant flow of book-related material going out during your busiest time. Have original content. Include blurbs from the book or photos or even an infographic.
“Days of Fire and Glory” took 15 years to get out. It’s my best book but I did poorly in terms of getting good promo for it.
Make your tribe promise to review the book on Amazon right before the book comes out. (Hyatt recommends they do so four weeks in advance). They can say what they think. Give them URLS they can paste into their Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. Instead of just you doing all the PR, you are backed by your tribe and launch team. What you want is for people to buy this book within a short window of time so there’s an uptick in sales that will help you make it onto a bestseller list. Ask all your friends to buy it the week it’s released. Then hit up more bloggers to review and tweet the book. You’ll have to arrange a lot of this in advance in order for them to get a copy in time to read and review it. I’ve reviewed a lot of books as a newspaper reporter and what most authors don’t realize is that journalists are overwhelmed with books and often don’t get around to reading them until months after it’s out. Which is why you can’t always count on professional reviewers. Be sure, however, to have copies of the book to Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal four months in advance. If you mail it two or three months in advance, they won’t touch it. I know this from sad experience with book #5. I was with a small publisher that had no social media strategy plus they sent review copies out weeks too late. “Days of Fire and Glory” is the best book I’ve ever written but I was working full time, had just adopted a small child and I couldn’t get my mind around ways to publicize it. I was invited to speak at a charismatic conference at Oral Roberts University where I pitched the book, but I sold almost no copies. The weekend it came out, I threw a launch party for journalists during an annual convention of religion writers on the top floor of a skyscraper in Minneapolis. Lots of scribes made off with my book but not one of them reviewed it. Well, nine months later when I visited a city where one of them worked, she wrote a piece saying that I would be speaking at such-and-such a church. The missing ingredient here was a good social media strategy.
I’ve often used this photo of me speaking at St. John the Divine in Houston about “Days of Fire and Glory” for their 2010 Lenten series as an example of how my need to promote my book dovetailed with their need for a speaker.
Back to your strategy: Think up events around the book so you can create a buzz and at least have the appearance of activity. Publishers these days aren’t so hot when it comes to marketing, but one thing they can do is get you on radio shows. Radio folks are always looking for content, so think up an alluring title for your presentation and pitch it like crazy. Some of the bigger shows are tough to reach but you might hit them on a good day. For instance when my book “Quitting Church” came out, my mother contacted a top Seattle radio station and asked host Dave Ramsey to interview me, as I was going to be in town. It was Christmas and the host knew he had several post-Christmas days to fill up, so he asked me to drive downtown on Dec. 27. I scheduled a booksigning that afternoon at a local Christian bookstore, so I was able to tout the signing on the show. Anyway, if you’re out in public doing anything book-related, make sure someone snaps a photo of you doing it and blog and tweet that photo like crazy. The idea is to look active, involved, busy and happy that your book is selling.
Hyatt came up with a stratagem that’s worth repeating: If anyone bought a book at a store or online and emailed him the receipt, Hyatt would send them several self-help videos on things like how to write a winning book proposal, become a best-selling author, etc. Which is why it’s a good idea to have some professional videos of YOU lecturing or speaking that you can package as a freebie for people who buy your books. Put stuff out there on YouTube that showcases you and the book, even if you have to pay a college student to film and package it. (Students are always looking for projects to fulfill class requirements, so consider approaching a professor to ask to be referred to one of his/her best students. And that you are willing to pay). There’s a whole different audience out there that cottons to anything video-related and you don’t want to miss those folks.
Here’s a local authors event I appeared at in Hyattsville in the summer of 2012. Together we pushed the event on our various platforms and actually got a good turnout. I am on the far left.
It’s OK to do the traditional kinds of PR: Email blasts to media (I actually have such a list); book fairs (which are very time intensive and usually don’t yield much in sales but they do get you out in the public and provide photo ops if you need content for your blog posts); speaking engagements (these are gold in terms of selling books); and being part of an author’s group, as they tend to share connections, offer support and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Booksignings are very 20th century and notorious for not doing much for sales unless you’re J.K. Rowling but if you have friends who will host one in a private home with you as a speaker, free food and of course plenty of books, go for it. Get your church or university to host an event for you, too. All these activities need to be listed on your Facebook page and blog.