I've been a Twitter power user since 2009. It's my favorite social media platform, and to be honest, it's how this introvert manages a social life 🙂
But many authors make mistakes with their social media marketing. In today's article, Dan Blank gives some tips on how to use social media effectively to help you find readers.
The most common mistake I see people make in social media is to use it as a publicity channel.
Quite frankly, many writers see social media as their lone marketing channel. Having grown up in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, they treat it as one would a television commercial: they buy “air time” and repeat their advertising message as often as possible.
I have seen this many times, you look at an author's book proposal, and the marketing plan consists of vague mentions of engaging in social media, starting a newsletter, and well, lots of hoping. Because in reality, they have no idea who their intended audience is, how to reach them, and what engages them.
Instead: let's turn that vague hope into a clear plan of action.
I want you to consider using social media as a research tool that leads you to your readers.
Let's go through it step-by-step.
In my new book, Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience, I outline a way to visualize doing so:
- Create a gateway that leads people to your writing, and the ways it inspires and entertains readers.
- Open up that gateway up to your ideal audience by learning about them in practical ways.
- Lead your ideal readers through your gateway in a way that is human, meaningful, and full of joy.
Today's post will focus squarely on aspects of the second and third steps. Let's dig in:
Find Comps to Understand the Marketplace
Authors may be familiar with the term “comps” or “comparable books” — identifying books similar to yours. These are typically used in book proposals to illustrate to an agent and publisher how your book fits into what readers already want, and how it also offers something unique.
Whether you are pursuing traditional or self-publishing, comps provide a useful tool to understand the reality of how people find and experience books like yours, and how word of marketing works for your specific genre or topic.
What I find is that identifying comps stumps many writers. The truth is:
- Their comps tend to be too aspirational. they choose books they hope will have an impact as these other books did. They choose successful books instead of choosing books that resonate with readers in the same ways.
- They are confronted with the fact that they simply don't know the market for their books. They don't read within their genre or topic, and their framing for it tends to be within landmark books from decades ago. In realizing this, authors can be overwhelmed and confused, and the result is often they justify that their work transcends the current marketplace. Therefore: they can skip doing any research into it.
In order to find your comps, I encourage you to use a system across retailers and social networks.
What you are hoping to find is a list of 5-10 comparable books which have been published within the past few years. Ideally, you want these comps to have at least 30 reviews on Amazon. While they can include huge hits, take notice when you find a comp that doesn't. For instance: everyone can point to the elephant in the room in a genre, but it takes a deeper understanding of the market to notice a sleeper hit.
Work through this system:
- Amazon: to find a starting point for comps. Dig into the categories you publish within. Find a handful of books you feel may be comps and vet them to see if they hit the mark. Then notice the other books that Amazon recommends you check out. One by one, do the same for each book you find until you have a solid group of 5-10 possible comps. Now, dig into reader reviews for these books. Read every single one of them. Take notes of phrases you see mentioned again and again.
- Goodreads: You can repeat the process for Amazon on Goodreads. They may suggest different books for you to check out and add to your list, and the reader reviews may be unique as well.
- Google: Now Google these authors. Do they have a website? If so, use those to lead you to their social media profiles. If those aren't obvious, do some searches on the author's name with the social network name next to it. For instance: “Dan Blank Twitter.” Or, “Dan Blank Facebook.” Take note of what social networks they are active on, and if they have worked to develop an audience.
- Twitter: This is often the most “public” of social networks for many authors. Even if they personally spend more time on Facebook, they may view Twitter as their primary social network as an author.
- Facebook: is a mixed bag for authors, because it mashes together their personal connections with their public persona as an author. Some authors have been able to embrace this and develop their voice on this platform, be it a personal profile or an author page.
- Instagram: What I love about Instagram for this type of research is that often it is the most personal of the social networks. An author who uses Instagram is nearly required to be sharing original photos, and you tend to get a sense of who they really are, and what they are passionate about.
Of course, you could add other sites and social media to this listing, depending on the genre or topic, and individual author. My overall point is to connect research you do on a retailer's website to social media research.
Now, let's use this to learn more about the marketplace surrounding your books, and your ideal readers.
Observe the Social Circle of Your Comps
Do you remember the days before the internet? Back in the 1990s or earlier, if you wanted to engage in an arts scene, you may hang around a cafe, event space, gallery, or performance venue. Perhaps you would walk in and observe who knows who, you would note who seemed to be a “player” in the scene, and you might even look for ways in to conversations and to be a part of in-group.
(If you are like me, you failed miserably in this, but still.)
When you find your comp authors and seek them out on social media, observe the social circles: actually see the names, faces, and habits of your ideal readers. On the social networks mentioned above (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc), note:
- Where they show up — what channels. Where are they active? How active are they? What do they share? Does it resonate with their audience? Do they have followers?
- Who do they pay attention to? As you scroll through their posts, are there others that they mention?
- Who do they follow on Twitter or other social networks? This is a good way to find others in your genre or field.
- Who mentions them? Do a Twitter search on the author's Twitter handle to see who mentions them, and in what context.
- Who else does the social network suggests you follow? Just as Amazon recommends books, sometimes a social network will recommend other people to follow.
- Who follows them? Look at the names, faces, bios, and click through to some of their profiles to see what they share.
Use what you find to better understand your comps, your ideal audience, and to continuing mapping out the marketplace you would like to be a part of.
Instead of focusing on “influencer marketing,” where you are one of thousands of people vying for the attention of a celebrity author, focus on how this research helps you better understand readers and what engages them.
Don’t think of how you can target these people to pitch them with your book. Again, going back to the cafe in the 1990's metaphor… consider how this allows you to sit down next to the “in” crowd and slowly become a part of the conversation.
Use the Least Crowded Channels to Make Connections
In 2007, if you were an author on Twitter, that simple fact may immediately forge a connection between you and any other author on Twitter. No longer. If you want to truly reach others authors, colleagues, and readers, simply “liking” their page, following them, or signing up for their newsletter is only the first step in the process, not the last.
Consider: what is the least crowded channel by which you can reach those who can help you better understand your ideal audience? Perhaps this is an author who you want to ask questions to. Or a bookseller, teacher, or librarian. Or a reviewer, podcaster, or blogger. Or even reaching out directly to readers.
Some things to consider trying:
- Direct emails: send a thank you email to other authors and those you hope to connect with. Ask simple questions of advice. Show them that their work has affected you in a positive way.
- Video replies: increasingly, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and other networks are allowing you to reply to people via video. I realize that 99% of you will cringe at this idea, but I ask you to consider how powerful it is to see someone's eyes and voice as they react to something you shared.
- Show up in person: I know an author who is designing their book cover and was stuck between two options. Not only did he involve his readers in the process, he also printed out the two book covers, drove to his local Barnes & Noble, and asked two employees there which they would choose. It turns out, they loved being asked, were excited to learn about his book, and had strong opinions about which cover they would choose. This is is a least crowded channel because you could never email Barnes & Noble corporate and get an answer. Yet anyone local to a bookstore has this resource at their disposal.
- For events: If you do a talk at a bookstore, library, or conference, instead of spending your time talking to the organizer or reviewing your notes, seek out other speakers and spend one-on-one time with the attendees. Ask questions about why they are here, ask about what books they love and why. Then, when you get on stage: mention these people.
- Be extraordinarily generous: this is a least crowded channel because it is so rare. Especially if you seek the attention of someone who is prominent in your field, don't just be mildly generous, be ludicrously generous. Don't just give away a copy of their book, launch an entire campaign around their book. Make it so generous that these people couldn't possibly ignore you. One example from outside the book space is this video that Sarah Dieitschy did a year ago. She crafted a well-made video about super popular vlogger Casey Neistat. He loved it so much that he featured it on his own channel, and Sarah jumped from 4,000 subscribers to 40,000 subscribers in a single day. Now, a year later, she has more than 150,000 subscribers.
In an age where everyone seems to be overwhelmed with social media and media in general, find a way to make a meaningful connection in the least crowded channel.
The strategies above to use social media to find readers have worked again and again for authors I work with.
What else would you add to the list? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Dan Blank is the author of Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. He is also the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers and creative professionals share their stories and grow their audience. He has worked with hundreds of individuals and amazing organizations who support creative people, such as Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Sesame Workshop, Workman Publishing, J. Walter Thompson, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer's Digest, Library Journal, and many others.